Peppers

Peppers (Sweet Peppers, Bell Peppers, Capsicum) are from the species Capsicum annuum. Cultivars of the plant produce fruits in different colors, including red, yellow, orange, green, chocolate/brown, vanilla/white, and purple. Green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while the red, orange and yellows are sweeter and almost fruity.  The whitish ribs and seeds inside bell peppers may be consumed, but some people find the taste to be bitter. They are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant, are sweet and plump vegetables featuring either three or four lobes.

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Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Pepper seeds were imported to Spain in 1493, and from there spread to other European, African, and Asian countries. Today China is the world’s largest pepper producer, followed by Mexico and Indonesia. The earliest fossil traces so far are from southwestern Ecuador, where families grew their own peppers about 6,100 years ago.

The word pepper comes from the Greek word pipari which means the black spice. The misleading name “pepper” was given by Europeans when Christopher Columbus brought the plant back to Europe. At that time, black pepper (peppercorns), from the unrelated plant Piper nigrum originating from India was a highly prized condiment. “Pepper” was at that time applied in Europe to all known spices with a hot and pungent taste and was therefore naturally extended to the newly discovered vegetable (botanically a fruit but referred to as a vegetable in culinary use). Peppers were not hot but still looked a lot like the other hot peppers, chilli peppers. The pepper is the only variety of its genus that doesn’t produce any capsaicin which is the compound that is the heat in chili peppers. The lack of capsaicin in bell peppers is due to a recessive form of a gene that eliminates capsaicin and, consequently, the “hot” taste,

All of the bell pepper varieies start green and turn to red or yellow or orange etc. It is the same variety but each of the colors (besides green) is a different cultivar.

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Now, I haven’t been too successful with growing peppers but that was mostly due to being a bad mummy to them. I have known a neighbour to grow lots of delicious peppers. Because I’m in England, I have to grow then indoors, but I’ve included the outside instructions as well, below.

For greenhouse crops, sow indoors, February-April. A warm kitchen windowsill is all you need for starting these seeds. Sow thinly, 0.5cm (¼”) deep, in a tray of compost. Water well and place in a warm position. A temperature of 15-20°C (60-68°F) is ideal. Keep moist. Seedlings usually appear in 7-21 days. Transplant to individual pots when large enough to handle. Grow on in cooler, but not cold conditions. Plant out May-June, to large pots, growing bags or into warm, well-drained soil in the greenhouse border. For outdoor crops: delay indoor sowing until March or April. Gradually accustom plants to outside conditions (avoid frosts), before planting out 40cm (16″) apart, when frosts are over. Choose a warm, sunny, sheltered spot. Outdoor crops will be smaller and later than those in a greenhouse. Harvest: July-October.

Peppers are often harvested when the fruit is still green, but full sized. Allowing the pepper to remain on the plant and continue to ripen, changing colors from yellow, orange to red before picking pepper fruit, will result in sweeter peppers. Harvest with scissors to not break the branches of the plant. Peppers do not keep very long so try to use as soon as you have harvested them.

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I have tried ‘Californian Wonder’ from Mr Fothergills as well as ‘Northern Lights’, but there are plenty more varieties available. When you are buying pepper seeds, just look for ‘sweet peppers’ as other ones will be hot ones, that you might not want to get confused with!

Capsicum peppers are rich sources of antioxidants and vitamin C. The level of carotene is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers. Red and green bell peppers are high in para-coumaric acid. The characteristic aroma of green peppers is caused by 3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine (IBMP).

There are lost of delicious ways to have peppers. Stir fries are great, especially for the green peppers. I like the red ones raw as part of any salad as well as with melted Brie cheese on toast. Stuffed peppers are delicious with rice. But today I am sharing with you another way of fancying up my homemade pizza:

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Follow this pizza recipe Updated recipe: homemade pizza and after sprinkling the cheese on top, slice the de-seeded pepper/s into small segments and scatter over the surface before putting it in the oven and following the usual steps.

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Enjoy!

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Sweetcorn

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Sweetcorn (Zea mays convar. saccharata var. rugosa), is a variety of maize with a high sugar content. It is the result of a naturally occurring recessive mutation in the genes which control conversion of sugar to starch inside the endosperm of the corn kernel. Unlike field corn varieties, which are harvested when the kernels are dry and mature (dent stage), sweetcorn is picked when immature (milk stage) and prepared and eaten as a vegetable, rather than a grain.

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Ready for pollinating

The cultivation of corn as maize began over 8000 years ago in Mesoamerica, a geographical area which includes central and southern Mexico, and Central America. Corn was first domesticated from teosinte (Zea mexicana), an annual grass native to this region. Wild teosinte mostly has value as a fodder plant, as it provides very little edible seeds. The first archaeological evidence of domesticated corn comes from the San Marcos cave in Tehuacan and the Guilá Naquitz cave in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The corn in San Marcos cave is dated to over 5,000 years ago. The cobs from the Guilá Naquitz cave were dated to over 6200 years old. Humans first domesticated corn by selecting the teosinte plants that had the largest amount of edible seeds until they eventually provided a substantial food source. In the process, humans have transformed corn into a plant that can no longer self-sow and modern corn now requires breaking the tightly bound cob to remove the seeds. Wild teosinte, however, is very fragile and the seeds easily fall off and grow new plants. Without human interaction modern corn would probably cease to exist.

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Tassels – this is where the grainy seeds need to fall to pollinate

The Iroquois, Native American tribes, gave the first recorded sweetcorn, called ‘Papoon’, to European settlers in 1779. It soon became a popular food in southern and central regions of the US. Open pollinated cultivators of white sweetcorn started to become widely available in the US in the 19th century. Two of the most enduring cultivars, still available today, are ‘Country Gentleman’and ‘Stowell’s Evergreen’. Sweetcorn production in the 20th century was influenced by the following key developments: hybridisation allowed for more uniform maturity, improved quality and disease resistance, and, in 1933 ‘Golden Cross Bantam’ was released. It is significant for being the first successful single-cross hybrid and the first specifically developed for disease resistance. Open pollinated (non-hybrid) corn has largely been replaced in the commercial market by sweeter, earlier hybrids, which also have the advantage of maintaining their sweet flavour longer.

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Grainy seed tops

There are different varieties of sweetcorn – old types and supersweet types as well as mini types. Choose only one variety or they cross pollinate and make a gross hybrid that you don’t want.

I’ve only grown ‘Swift F1’ – and it is brilliant.

Sow in pots as early as March or as late as May, indoors. I use tall yoghurt pots filled with compost. Keep them in warm temperatures to grow with plenty of water and sunlight. Plant them out when they are about 7cm tall and the frosts have most definitely passed, May or June, 30cm apart. Sweetcorn is wind pollinated so plant them in clustered groups (picture the fields of corn grown on the country farms around Britain, all packed together) rather than rows to maximise pollination. Plant in soil that has been prepared with compost and well-rotted manure. I keep feeding mine with Blood, Fish and Bone and well-rotted manure or a liquid feed throughout the season to encourage the growth of the corn itself. Keep well watered in any dry periods. To increase pollination, try brushing the dusty pollen off the tops of the sweetcorn onto the tassels – this is where the corn will grow if pollinated. The tassels on the plant will turn yellow if fertilised. The cobs are ready when the tassels turn dark brown, July-September. To check, peel back the green covering and pierce a thumbnail into one of the niblets – if the liquid that is released is milky, your sweetcorn is ready. If it is clear, leave if a little longer but check daily.

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Undeveloped corn on the cobs – I’ve never taken a picture when they actually looked like ones bought in the shop, only the odd looking ones here 😦

The aim is to harvest sweetcorn in its prime. The sugars convert to starches rapidly once the corn leaves the plant and the taste will only become poorer as time goes on – same for asparagus and peas. Have the pan of boiling water ready, pick and plunge your cobs straight in. Or freeze them immediately (it stops the sugar/starch conversion process).

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Tassels dying back – the corn is forming

The only problems with sweetcorn are they take up space, they might not pollinate as reliably as insect pollinated plants (it will be very weather dependent) and if you have a problem with mice you might need to consider some protection.

For companion planting, consider the ‘Three Sisters’ from the USA: sweetcorn, beans and pumpkins. My first year I grew pumpkins with the sweetcorn. Last year I grew lettuces and radishes between them. This year I am considering a variety of cucurbits because they both enjoy the sunny conditions – courgettes, pumpkins and squashes, that is.

To cook and eat sweetcorn: it can of course become ‘corn on the cob’ – boil, grill or barbecue and slather in butter and hand them out for people to chew off the little gold nuggets. To remove the kernels from the cob, boil for a few minutes in boiling water (don’t add salt, it hardens the kernels), get a sharp knife and scrape them off into a bowl and serve. They are lovely with any meal that includes boiled veg, salads, mixed with tuna and mayonnaise is a traditional one, delicious with peas and baked potatoes mashed with butter, they are a traditional vegetarian option for the barbecue – try spreading some chill sauce over the top after grilling for a spicy taste. I think they are delicious also in a stir fry and a great addition to Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock. I offer you the other recipe that springs to mind when I picture sweetcorn – my mum’s sweetcorn fritters.

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Sweetcorn Fritters 

(Makes enough to serve 4 people a few each)

-260g fresh sweetcorn (if you are using bought canned, use a 325g tin) -100g gram flour (or plain flour, gram flour is made from chickpeas and adds extra protein) -3 eggs -120g cheddar cheese -80g Gruye cheese -50g grated courgette or 1tbsp milk, optional -Small knob of butter, for frying

  1. Scald the fresh sweetcorn so the corn comes off the cob easier. If you are using tinned sweetcorn, drain it and set to one side.
  2. In a large bowl, sieve in the flour. Make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and stir them into the flour to make a batter.
  3. Grate the cheese and mix it in. Ass the corn and either a little courgette or milk to make it a dropping consistency, only a little though.
  4. Warm up the butter in a frying pan and drop spoonfuls of the batter into it – four per frying pan. Fry on one side and then flip over, using a spatula, and fry on the other side. Press down on the batter – when it is no longer leaking liquid, it is cooked through. Place on a plate lined with kitchen roll. Serve with vegetables, salad, rice, potatoes, dips… ketchup?

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Mustard

Mustard plants are any of several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis in the family Brassicaceae. Mustard seed is used as a spice ( Collecting Mustard Seeds). Grinding and mixing the seeds with water, vinegar, or other liquids, creates the yellow condiment we buy from the supermarkets. The seeds can also be pressed to make mustard oil, and the leaves can be eaten as mustard greens.

The word mustard is derived from the Latin mustum or must, the grape juice that the Romans mixed with honey and the ground seeds of the mustard plant (sinapi) to create their mustum ardens, or ‘burning must’.

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(Photo from the internet – I don’t have many clear pictures of mustard plants despite there being such a huge quantity in my veg patches…)

Some varieties of mustard plants were well-established crops in Hellenistic and Roman times but it is historically noted that: “There are almost no archeological records available for any of these crops”. Wild forms of mustard and its relatives, the radish and turnip, can be located in west Asia and Europe, suggesting that their domestication took place somewhere in that area. However, historians have concluded: “Suggestions as to the origins of these plants are necessarily based on linguistic considerations”. Encyclopædia Britannica states that mustard was grown by the Indus Civilisation of 2500-1700 BCE. According to the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission, “Some of the earliest known documentation of mustard’s use dates back to Sumerian and Sanskrit texts from 3000 BC”.

The mustard plant was brought to Britain by the Romans via France and there are numerous Roman recipes that use mustard as an ingredient. However serious mustard production was first recorded in France in the 9th century, usually based in religious establishments and this then spread to Britain in the 9th century. By the 14th century mustard was being grown in various parts of the country including the area around Tewkesbury, where the mustard was mixed with horseradish and took the name of the town. Most mustard produced in the Middle Ages was based on using the whole or crushed seeds, mixing them with liquid and letting the mix mature. The mix was often dried, making it easier for transportation, and then liquid added again when required for use.

In the 18th century, with the developments in milling techniques the husks of the seeds could be more easily removed and the seeds finely ground. The first record of the production of mustard flour is credited to Mrs Clements of Durham in 1720 who managed to keep the milling technique used a secret for some time allowing Durham to become the centre of mustard production in the country and allowing herself to accumulate considerable sums of money selling her mustard flour. Once her milling secret was discovered, other entrepreneurs began to invest in mustard production. Most notable in the 19th century was Jeremiah Colman who began milling mustard at his flour mill in Norwich. His mustard became the English mustard, a finely milled flour, yellow in colour (assisted by the addition of turmeric) and very hot in taste.

Mustard is now a world-wide condiment and there are numerous companies involved in making, using and marketing the product. The whole or ground seeds are still an important ingredient in cooking, especially in India and Asia, while in Europe and the Americas the processed seeds are still used as a table condiment.

There are three main varieties: white (Brassica alba) brown (Brassica juncea) and black (Brassica nigra).

Recent research has studied varieties of mustards with high oil contents for use in the production of biodiesel, a renewable liquid fuel similar to diesel fuel. The biodiesel made from mustard oil has good cold flow properties and cetane ratings. The leftover meal after pressing out he oil has also been found to be an effective pesticide.

We use mustard as green manure. Green manure is created by leaving uprooted or sown crop parts to wither on a field so that they serve as a mulch and soil amendment.  Typically, they are ploughed under and incorporated into the soil while green or shortly after flowering. Green manure is commonly associated with organic farming and can play an important role in sustainable annual cropping systems.The value of green manure was recognized by farmers in India for thousands of years, as mentioned in treatises like Vrikshayurveda. In Ancient Greece too, farmers ploughed broad bean plants into the soil. Chinese agricultural texts dating back hundreds of years refer to the importance of grasses and weeds in providing nutrients for farm soil. It was also known to early North American colonists arriving from Europe. Common colonial green manure crops were rye, buckwheat and oats. Incorporation of green manures into a farming system can drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the need for additional products such as supplemental fertilizers and pesticides.

Benefits of using mustard or any other crop as a green manure:

  • When allowed to flower, the crop provides forage for pollinating insects. Green manure crops also often provide habitat for predatory beneficial insects, which allow for a reduction in the application of insecticides where cover crops are planted.
  • Suppresses other weeds from growing.
  • Green manure acts mainly as soil-acidifying matter to decrease the alkalinity/pH of alkali soils by generating humic acid and acetic acid.
  • Incorporation of cover crops into the soil allows the nutrients held within the green manure to be released and made available to the succeeding crops. This results from an increase in abundance of soil microorganisms from the degradation of plant material that aid in the decomposition of this fresh material.
  • Releases nutrients that improves the soil structure.
  • Reduces likeliness of plant or insect disease, notably verticillium wilt of potatoes.
  • Controls erosion.
  • Used for animal grazing, especially poultry.
  • Contains nitrogen that fertilises the soil without the need of commercial products.

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So I’ve continued to harvest mustard seeds to put in homemade curries, but my mum has gone one step further – she has started harvesting little young mustards and adding them to her egg sandwiches at lunch time. Here is her recipe:

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Egg and Mustard Green sandwich open (with beetroot in it and lettuce on the side)

Egg and Mustard Green Sandwich

(Serves 1)

-1 egg -2 slices of bread (or 1 large cut in half) -Butter -1 tbsp mayonnaise -1 handful of mustard -Lettuce, tomatoes or other salad, to serve

  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Stick a pin into the top of the egg and remove. Put the egg into the pan of boiling water and leave until it has become a hard boiled egg (completely solid). This could be between 5-10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat, drain the hot water and cover the egg in cold water, leaving it to cool.
  3. Spread butter over the bread so that both halves of the bread are covered on one side.
  4. Once cold, remove the egg from the pan and peel away the shell. Cut the egg into thin slices, then dice so that it is in lots of cubes.
  5. Mix the egg into the mayonnaise and then spread over the buttered bread. Add the mustard greens on top. Close the sandwich and serve with salad.

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Beetroot

The beetroot is the taproot portion of the beet plant, usually known in North America as the beet, also table beet, garden beet, red beet, or golden beet. It is one of several of the cultivated varieties of Beta vulgaris, grown for their edible taproots and their leaves, beet greens. Beta is the classic Latin name for beets, possibly Celtic origin before becoming bete in Old English in the 1400s. 

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Other than as a food, beets have use as a food colouring and as a medicinal plant. From the Middle Ages, beetroot was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially illnesses relating to digestion and the blood. Bartolomeo Platina recommended taking beetroot with garlic to nullify the effects of “garlic-breath”. Many beet products are made from other Beta vulgaris varieties, particularly sugar beet. During the mid-1800s, beetroot juice was used to colour wine. Beetroot can also be used to make wine nowadays completely, no longer just an addition to the drink made from grapes.

I’ve only ever used ‘Bolthardy’ but I think that it is a brilliant variety. Very rich, dark pinky-red colour, tastes pretty good and lasts in the ground for a long time. I grew too many two years ago and had loads left over in the ground (seeing as only three people in my family liked beetroot then). I thought they would just rot and I would give them to the pigs in winter, but they didn’t. I have been pulling them up two summers on. The outside is as rough as I thought it would be so I discard them, but the inside is still usable. Of course, I would recommend harvesting them in their first season as that will be when they are most delicious!

Another variety I have seen in a vegetable garden lately is candy coloured beetroot – white with pink swirls in it, called ‘Chioggia’. It is very pretty and tastes good too.

To grow beetroot seeds, sow thinly, March-July, where they are to crop, 2.5cm (1″) deep, directly into finely-prepared, well-cultivated, fertile soil, which has already been watered. Allow 30cm (1′) between rows. I discovered that mine grew so much better when the ground was fed with well rotted manure. Beetroots can be grown in shade, but they seem to prosper more in direct sunlight. Keep them shaded when starting off with horticultural fleece. Regular sowings every three weeks should ensure a continuous supply of young beetroots. Harvest June-October. Harvested roots can be stored in dry sand for winter use.

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Usually the deep purple roots of beetroot are eaten boiled, roasted or raw, either alone or combined with any salad. A large proportion of the commercial production is processed into boiled and sterilised beets or into pickles. In Eastern Europe, the beetroot soup borscht is popular. In India, chopped and spiced beetroot is a delicious side dish. A traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dish is picked beet egg. Hard-boiled eggs are refrigerated in the liquid left over from pickling beets and allowed to marinate until the eggs turn a deep pink-red colour. In Poland and Ukraine, beet is combined with horseradish to form popular cwilka. This is traditionally used with cold cuts and sandwiches or added to a meal consisting of meat and potatoes. In Serbia cvekla is used as a winter salad, seasoned with salt and vinegar, alongside meat dishes. As an addition to horseradish it is also used to produce the “red” variety of chrain, a popular condiment in Eastern European cuisine. A slice of pickled beetroot is combined with other condiments on a beef patty to make an Aussie burger. When beet juice is used, it is most stable in foods with a low water content, such as frozen novelties and fruit fillings. Beatnins, obtained from the roots, are used industrially as red food colouring e.g. to intensify the colour of tomato paste, sauces, desserts, jams and jellies, ice cream, sweets, and breakfast cereals.

Oldest archeological proofs that we used beetroot in ancient times were found on the Neolithic site of Aartswoud in the Netherlands and in Saqqara pyramid at Thebes, Egypt, which dates from third millennium BC. There are Assyrian texts that say that beetroots were growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in 800 BC. We can be positive that Mesopotamia knew about beetroots at that time because of these texts. Ancient Greeks cultivated beetroot around 300 BC but didn’t use the roots of the plants, only eating the leaves. They still respected the root and offered it to the sun god, Apollo, in the temple of Delphi and also considered it to be worth its weight in silver. Hippocrates used leaves of beetroot for binding and dressing wounds while Talmud, written in 4th and 5th century, advises eating beetroot, among other things, for longer life. Romans ate the roots but mainly for medicinal purposes. They used it as a laxative or to cure fever. Some used it as food as Apicius, the famous Roman gourmet, wrote a book called “The Art of Cooking” and in it gave recipes with beetroots used in broths and salads with mustard, oil, and vinegar. The root part of the beet was cultivated for consumption in either Germany or Italy, first recorded in 1542. The Elizabethans enjoyed them in tarts and stews. Medieval cooks stuffed them into pies. All these uses were an old variant of beetroot which was long and thin like a parsnip. This variety is thought to have evolved from a prehistoric North African root vegetable. The one that we know today appeared in the 16th and 17th century in Europe. It needed a few hundred years more to become popular in Central and Eastern Europe where new cuisines with beetroot started appearing. In 1747 a chemist from Berlin discovered a way to produce sucrose from beets. His student, Franz Achard, perfected this method for extracting sugar, leading him to predict the inevitable rise of beet beer, tobacco and molasses, among other products. The King of Prussia subsidized a sugar beet industry. The first plant was built in what is now western Poland. Today, around 20 percent of the world’s sugar comes from sugar beets. Beet sugar production requires 4 times less water than sugar cane production, making it an attractive crop throughout Europe. In Victorian times, beetroot was used to bring color to an otherwise colorless diet and as a sweet ingredient in desserts. Industrialisation allowed for easier preparation and conservation of vegetables, so beetroot became more available. The rosy betalain-rich juice of red beets was used as a cheek and lip stain by women during the 19th century, a practice that inspired the old adage “red as a beet.” Food shortages in Europe following World War One caused illnesses, including cases of mangel-wurzel disease. It was symptomatic of eating only beets. After the Second World War, because of the rations in some places, the most available vegetable was pickled beetroot in jars.

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The beet greens (leaves) are also edible. The young leaves can be eaten raw as part of a leafy salad whilst the older ones are better boiled or steamed, like cooked spinach. I find that the leaves are very strong tasting and don’t particularly like them. But my poultry love them. Do not cut the leaves, but twist them off to prevent the colour ‘bleeding’.

Many complain that beets have an “earthy” taste, which isn’t far off the mark. Beets contain a substance called geosmin, which is responsible for that fresh soil scent in your garden following a spring rain. Humans are quite sensitive to geosmin, even in very low doses, which explains why our beet response ranges from one extreme to the other.

They are rich in antioxidants, folic acid, potassium, and fiber. They also contain unique antioxidants called betalains, which are currently being studied as a potential weapon in the fight against cancer. Beetroot can lower blood pressure and may increase blood flows to the brain thereby preventing dementia. A 2010 study carried out by Queen Mary’s University in London found that drinking just one 250ml glass of beetroot juice a day dramatically lowered blood pressure for several hours. Nitrates lower blood pressure because bacteria in the mouth and gut convert it into the gas nitric oxide, which relaxes and widens the blood vessels, allowing blood to circulate more freely. Tests were conducted to see if beetroot would effect athlete’s performances. Athletes could run faster after drinking beetroot juice and cyclists racing in high altitudes had quicker finishing times, averagely 16 seconds quicker after drinking beetroot juice too. Betacyanin, the pigment that gives beetroot its rich hue, is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to possess anti-cancer properties. In 2011, a study carried out by Howard University in Washington, USA,  found that betacyanin slowed tumour growth by 12.5 per cent when exposed to prostate and breast cancer cells. I remember reading an interview a while ago in the Telegraph about tennis player Ross Hutchins who suffered from a variety of cancer. He had beetroot and orange juice every morning and evening. ‘Even when I was feeling really ill, I made sure I nailed eight beetroots a day,’ he says. The red colour compound beatnin is not broken down in the body, and in higher concentrations may temporarily cause urine or stools to assume a reddish colour, in the case of urine a condition called beeturia.

I really didn’t like beetroot. I really intensely disliked it. The first time I got myself to like beetroot was when it was grated with a leafy green salad alongside a baked potato with cheese and baked beans. I had to finish everything on my plate, including the beetroot, but surprisingly, I actually came round to it. It was ok grated into tiny pieces, not so earthy and overpowering. I was pretty happy as it meant I could grow it in the garden and actually eat it. They didn’t convert me into a radish or fennel fan, but beetroot was good enough. I have been harvesting my two year old beetroots and enjoying them at last.

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Grated beetroot on top of poached egg yolk on toast

Sprinkle grated beetroot over mashed avocado on toast, it looks beautiful. Another thing I like is grated beetroot sprinkled on top of toast that has been covered with butter and a poached egg yolk (I don’t like egg whites. I’m sorry I’m so fussy…).

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Avocado on toast with beetroot – this is two year old beetroot!

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Orach

Atriplex is a plant genus of 250–300 species, known by the common names of saltbush, orach or orache. It belongs to the subfamily Chenopodioideae of the family Amaranthaceae. The genus is quite variable and widely distributed. It includes many seashore and desert plants, as well as plants found in moist environments. The generic name originated in Latin and was applied by Pliny the Elder to the edible orachs. The name orach is derived from the Latin ‘aurago’ meaning golden herb. The name saltbush derives from the fact that the plants retain salt in their leaves.

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A native of Europe and Siberia, orach is possibly one of the more ancient cultivated plants. It is grown in Europe and the northern plains of the United States. A cool season plant, orach is a warm season alternative to spinach that is less likely to bolt. It can be eaten fresh or cooked. The flavour is reminiscent of spinach and is often combined with sorrel leaves. The seeds are also edible and a source of vitamin A. They are ground into a meal and mixed with flour for making breads. Seeds are also used to make a blue dye.

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An annual herb, orach comes in four common varieties, with white orach being the most common. White orach has more pale green to yellow leaves rather than white. There is also red orach with dark red stems and leaves (the one we grow) Green orach, or Lee’s Giant orach, is a vigorous varietal with an angular branching habit and rounder leaves of dark green. Less commonly grown is a copper colored orach variety.

I purchased our red orach seeds from Real Seeds Company that sells lots of heritage and exotic seeds. I planted them out last year and they self-seeded and re-grew this year.

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Orach contains significant levels of vitamin C and K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, carotenes, protein, anthocyanins, zinc and selenium tryptophan, and dietary fibre. Orach improves the digestion with the dietary fibre, improves the function of kidneys with its diuretic and laxative effect. Orach contains antioxidant compounds that prevent cancer from developing, the proteins, minerals, and vitamins stored in orach can help everything from hormonal regulation to enzymatic reactions that are required to keep our body functioning and boosting our metabolism. The high levels of iron and calcium boost red blood cell creation, circulation, and oxygenation of the tissues and organ systems. Orach possesses almost twice the amount of vitamin C as lemons or kiwis which are often considered the top fruits for acquiring vitamin C quickly, making Orach a very attractive plant if you want to keep your immune system running.

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Similar to spinach, but less than spinach, orach does contains significant levels of oxalic acid. This means that if you suffer from kidney stones, gall stones or gout, it might be a good idea to avoid orach and find these nutritional elements elsewhere and for others to eat small amounts of it raw.

As the seeds contain some protein, it is a good plant for vegetarians to grow as it provides some homegrown protein to add to their daily meals.

You can eat the seeds and leaves raw, or you can cook them. Cook the leaves like you would do to spinach. For the seeds, they can be fried or boiled. Add them to a salad or any other dish that includes grains like rice or quinoa or bulgar wheat. My first taste of the seeds was when I added them to a tomato risotto and they were really nice.

Broad Beans – Tomato Risotto. Add the orach seeds when the rice is starting to absorb the liquid. You can omit the broad beans if you like and just make a plain tomato risotto.

Here is another recipe I made including orach seeds…

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Garlic Mushrooms, Leaf Beet and toasted Orach Seeds

(Serves 2)

-200g brown rice -1 knob of butter -6 button mushrooms, finely sliced -1 large garlic clove, diced -6 leaves of leaf beet, perpetual leaf spinach, spinach or swiss chard, de-stalked -2 handfuls of orach seeds -Runner beans or another vegetable, to serve

  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the rice and turn the heat down to a simmer for about half an hour or until the rice has absorbed the water and is cooked. Leave to one side.
  2. Bring another pan of water to the boil and add the runner beans or another green vegetable you would like to serve with it. Remove from the heat when cooked, drain and leave to one side.
  3. Put the butter in a frying pan. Turn on the flame and leave it to melt, greasing the pan with it. Add the finely sliced mushrooms and fry for a minute before reducing the flame to simmer. Add the leaf beet followed by the diced garlic. Stir. Add the orach seeds allow them to toast a little before stirring them into the mixture.
  4. Remove from the heat and serve over spoonfuls of rice and vegetables. Refrigerate left-overs.

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Collecting Mustard Seeds

I was making curry for my birthday on Saturday (hello 22!) when I realised, to my horror I had forgotten to buy more mustard seeds from Sainsbury’s and we were all out 😦 But heh, never mind. Then mum got really excited and vanished off to the garden to pick some lettuce and returned with a bowl of mustard seeds she had harvested from the vegetable patch, aka the weeds I am always trying to get rid of.

Now, the two irritating weeds that flourish in my garden despite my best efforts (apart from nettles that just pop up everywhere from the manure we use, that I am at war with constantly after one stung me on the face last week and made me feel like a fool!), the most common to find are a) goosegrass, and b) mustard.

This year it has been even harder to keep the weeds under control after being absent for only a couple of months and it is harder to pull up the mustard when it starts flowering and your mum wants to keep it because the bees like it…

But we tried frying the mustard seeds in the curry, and I tried a fried one on its own, and it was really good! So I’ve started putting the unwanted weeds to good use and I am harvesting mustard seeds to store. I felt like a bit of an idiot for buying them for so long when they have been flourishing in my garden for years!

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It is really easy to harvest them. When the seed pods have formed and are dried out so that they are brown and crispy, like paper bags, get a pair of scissors and snip off the pods (or stems with the pods on, the pods are very delicate and will break easily and spill the seeds everywhere) into a container. Open each pod and empty the little mustard seeds into a container for storing, it is that simple!

We bought brown coloured mustard seeds from the shops, but our homegrown ones are black which are the variety my mum has tried to buy for so long to make curries. Apparently, they come from one of three different plants: black mustard (Brassica nigra), brown Indian mustard (Brassica junga), or white mustard (Brassica hirta/Sinapis alba).

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Grinding and mixing the seeds with water and vinegar creates the yellow condiment of prepared mustard.

An archaic name for the seed is eye of newt. Often misunderstood for an actual eye of a newt this name has been popularly associated with witchcraft ever since it was mentioned as an ingredient to a witch’s brew in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

These mustard seeds are known in Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi as sarson. They are also planted to grow saag (greens) which are stir-fried and eaten as a vegetable preparation, called sarson ka saag in Urdu and Hindi. Sarson ka tel (mustard oil) is used for body massage during extreme winters, as it is assumed to keep the body warm.

Mustard seeds generally take eight to ten days to germinate. They can handle a cold atmosphere and relatively moist soil. Mature mustard plants grow into shrubs.

Mustard grows well in temperate regions. Major producers of mustard seeds include India, Pakistan, Canada, Nepal, Hungary, Great Britain and the United States. Brown and black mustard seeds return higher yields than their yellow counterparts.

In Pakistan, rapeseed-mustard is the second most important source of oil, after cotton. It is cultivated over an area of 307,000 hectares with annual production of 233,000 tonnes and contributes about 17% to the domestic production of edible oil. Mustard seeds are a rich source of oil and protein. The seed has oil as high as 46-48%, and whole seed meal has 43.6% protein.

Use mustard seeds in these Indian curries:

Courgettes – Red Lentil Dahl

Okra – Curried Okra

Curried Potatoes and Bread maker Naan Bread

Cucumbers – Paneer Curry

Runner Beans

 

Phaseolus coccineus, known as runner bean, is a plant in the legume or Fabaceae family.

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This species originated from the high altitude regions of Central America. From there it made its way to Spain then eventually spread throughout Europe. The runner bean is believed to have first been introduced to England in the 17th century by plant collector John Tradescant the younger. The runner bean plant was grown for nearly one hundred years in Britain as an ornamental until the pods were rediscovered to be edible by Philip Miller of Physic Garden in Chelsea. Runner beans are easy to grow and a staple vegetable in British cuisine. In the 1969 Oxford Book of Food Plants the runner bean is described as, “by far the most popular green bean in Britain”.

The knife-shaped pods are normally green. However, there are an increasing number of other climbing beans that are purple or yellow for a variety of colour. (Maybe in another post…)

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Sow your runner beans in trenches filled with well rotted manure and compost. Sow the seeds indoors in deep pots of compost (tall yoghurt pots are ideal) with compost in April-May 2.5cm (1″) deep. Water well and place in a warm position and make sure the beans get plenty of light when they germinate. When the frosts have finished, plant the beans out into the prepared trench 25cm (10″) apart. Keep watered and protected from wind or too much sun by shading them in horticultural fleece. While you plant the beans out, stick a pole, such as a bamboo pole, next to each bean. Encourage them to climb up it as they grow upwards. Or sow outdoors May-July where they are to crop, 5cm (2″) deep, directly into finely-prepared, well-cultivated, fertile soil, which has already been watered. We often do some of each (as we love beans) – we start off with some indoors and add more outside when the weather warms up.

Over winter, do not pull your bean roots up. Leave them in the ground and cover with layers of thick horticultural fleece. The next season, the roots should re-grow and give you an early harvest of beans. This year we harvested beans from the roots of beans that we planted three years ago!

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Harvest the beans July-October. Pick off the beans gently, trying not to damage the plant or the flowers (which will be pollinated by the bees and made into the beans themselves). Try not to leave the beans until they get too big. Once the plant believes that it has enough large beans formed, it stops trying to produce flowers and your harvest ultimately fails. At the height of bean picking, we are often harvesting craters worth of beans daily and have far too much to prepare.

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To prepare beans for eating, I like to remove the tops (I don’t bother with the tails), string them if needed (but I prefer to harvest them before they need stringing) and to slice them in the bean grinder we have in out kitchen. I’m sure they are easy to buy on the internet, and are so worth it.

To cook them, bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the beans, turning the heat down to low. Leave to simmer for about 5-8 minutes, remove from the heat and drain.

To freeze beans, dip the beans in the boiled water for less than a minute, remove and plunge into icy cold water. Once they are completely cold, seal in a plastic bag and store in the freezer. This way, we often eat homegrown runner beans still on Christmas day.

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Variations of runner beans we have tried are: ‘Moonlight’, ‘St George’, ‘Firestorm’, ‘Wisley Magic’ 

They are all yummy. Growing your own beans is so much nicer than buying them from a supermarket. I remember loving runner beans from my gran when she used to grown them for us when I was little, before I every tried gardening. It was so disappointing to try them from the shop. If you ever try to grow something green, runner beans are so worth it.

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Runner beans contain vitamin K, folate, vitamin C and manganese. Legumes are a good source of fibre in general, and runner beans are no exception: 100 grams has 9 per cent of the daily RDA. And good fibre intake is essential for colon health, including maintaining healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Runner beans are a great way to load up on vitamin A, with 28 per cent of your RDA in 100 grams. This essential nutrient is important for eye, skin, bone and tooth health. Lutein, zea-xanthin, and B-carotene are some of the antioxidants are found in runner beans. Zea-xantin is thought to be important for UV light-filtering functions in the eyes. The beans inside the runner bean pods can be cooked and eaten on their own. They’re a good source of vegetarian protein, 20g per 100g of dried beans.

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Here are some recipes to try runner beans with:

Raw runner beans dipped in homous.

Boiled or steamed runner beans dressed in the juice of one lemon and tossed in sesame seeds as a side dish.

Favourite dinner: baked potato, baked beans, cheese and runner beans – Beans Means Heinz

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Eaten with your roast dinner, a cooked pasta dish, like bolognese or lasagne, with your potato and sausages, even as a side to pizza they are amazing.

Anything you would eat peas with, beans go very well with as an alternative.

I adore runner beans. If I ever had to grow one green vegetable in the garden, runner beans would be it!

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Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti