Calabrese Broccoli

Calabrese broccoli, an edible green crop from the group Brassica oleracea, from the cabbage family is harvested for its flowering head. Broccoli has large flowering heads, usually green in colour, branching out from a stalk in a tree-like structure from a thick stalk, which is edible, surrounded by giant leaves. The growing style resembles a cauliflower very much.

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‘Ironman’ Calabrese Broccoli – July 2016

The world ‘broccoli’ comes from the Italian word ‘broccolo’, translating as the ‘flowering crest of a cabbage’ and is a diminutive form of ‘brocco’, meaning small snail or sprout. The broccoli we know today is the result of careful breeding of cultivated leafy cole crops in the northern Mediterranean starting in around the 6th century BC. Since the Roman era, broccoli has been considered a unique ingredient in Italy. It is considered that broccoli was first brought to England from Antwerp during the 18th century. Broccoli was first introduced to the USA by Southern Italian migrants but was not well-known until as late as the 1920s where it was written people ate the heads ‘like cauliflowers and the stems like asparagus’.

Calabrese broccoli was named after Calabria in Italy and is what most people refer to when they say ‘broccoli’, rather than sprouting broccoli or purple sprouting broccoli. Cabbages were being grown in what is now Turkey and spreading through the Mediterranean. During around 8th century BC, migrants to Italy supposedly brought the purple sprouting broccoli that established itself in Tuscany. The Romans were quite taken by the vegetable and it became a standard favourite in Rome where the Calabrese variety was developed and adored. Roman farmers named it ‘the five green fingers of Jupiter’. Apicius, cookbook author of ancient Rome, prepared broccoli by first boiling it and then brushing it ‘with a mixture of cumin and coriander seeds, chopped onion plus a few drops of oil and sun-made wine’. The Romans served the broccoli with creamy sauces, flavoured with various herbs and cooked it in wine. Roman Emperor Tiberius’s(14 BC-37 BC) son loved broccoli excessively. Excluding all other foods, he gorged on broccoli prepared in the Apicius manner above for an entire month. When his urine turned bright green and his father scolded him severely, he finally abandoned his beloved broccoli. Catherine de Medici of Tuscany may have been the first to introduce broccoli to France when she married Henry II in 1533. She arrived in France with her Italian chefs and armfuls of vegetables, including broccoli. However, the first mention of broccoli in French history was not until 1560.

The first mention of the vegetable in literature in England names it as ‘sprouting cauliflower’ or ‘Italian Asparagus’. It was not particularly popular when it arrived during the 18th century. Commercial cultivation of broccoli in the USA can be traced to the D’Arrigo brothers, immigrants from Messina, Italy, whose company made some tentative plantings in San Jose, California in 1922. A few crates were initially shipped to Boston, where there was a thriving Italian immigrant culture in the North End. The broccoli business boomed, with the D’Arrigo’s brand name ‘Andy Boy’, named after Stephano’s two-year-old son, supported by advertisements on the radio publicly advertised the green vegetable. Nowadays, broccoli is not so much the ‘stranger’ to the kitchen garden as it was once called by an English writer. In 2013, global production on broccoli was recorded at 22.3 million tonnes, China and India accounting for 76% of its production. Spain, Mexico and Italy were the secondary producers, 0.5 million tonnes annually.

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Broccoli can produce poorly in hot summer weather, growing best at an average 18-23C (64-73F). When a cluster of flowers have grown in the middle, large enough to eat but still green and not turning brown or bolting, the Calabrese broccoli is ready for harvesting.

This is my first year growing a Calabrese broccoli and I was amazed at the results, expecting it to be incredibly difficult and unlikely to ever grow a large enough floret to eat, much like cauliflowers (I harvest mini-ones, not the full sized ones you find in the supermarkets otherwise they will have bolted if I leave them to get bigger). But I have managed to pick a fair few biggish ones, multiple at a time to prevent bolting and because they were still only I would say medium sized but they looked and tasted like proper broccoli! I was very chuffed. The variety I have grown this year is ‘Ironman’, (Sow: January-June, Harvest: June-November).

Sow the seed 0.5cm (1/4inch) deep in a tray of compost. Keep moist and at a warm temperature. I grew mine in a warm bedroom in January and some later ones in March. Once they had germinated, I put them on a sunny windowsill during the day time and then put them on the floor near a radiator at night time again when it was dark and chilly. Once the plants are large enough to handle, gradually accustom them to cooler conditions (I moved them out of the heated bedroom to a cooler windowsill permanently until they were large enough to plant outside). Transplant into well-fertilised soil that has been Blood, Fish and Boned, manured, composted and mulched. Transplant 45cm (18inches) apart, allow 60cm (2inches) between rows. Plant firmly up to the lowest leaves and water well (all brassicas require constant watering). As frost will most likely still be loitering, fleece well for the next few months until all risks of freezing temperatures have gone. Once you remove the fleece, you need to net the broccoli with insect netting to protect your crops from birds, but most particularly cabbage whites that will wreck havoc. It is best to do this immediately after you have removed the fleece.

To harvest, cut the heads from the plants with a fair chunk of stalk and you should get some smaller side-florets following on from your main harvest. They need to be harvested before the flowers on the head bloom bright yellow. Calabrese broccoli is best steamed or boiled: bring a pan of water to the boil. Cut the broccoli florets from the stem, then, using a knife, shred the tougher outside bits of the stalk and cut up the tender inside into match-sticks. Place them both in the pan of water, turning down the heat and leaving to simmer for a few minutes until tender – you don’t want them to be rock solid but you don’t want to leave them too long or they will be a pile of mush and turn tasteless. The other way of cooking broccoli that I like is to add them to a stir-fry. They make a delicious addition and if you do not care for boiled stalks then this is the way to eat them as they accompany an oriental dish wonderfully. The other way is eating it raw, which I have done, but it is for those who really like the strong flavouring of brassicas. Store any cut raw broccoli wrapped in a plastic bag in the fridge and use it as soon as possible, within a week of harvesting.

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Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin C (20% Daily Value) and vitamins K, A and E. It may be important to note now that not a lot of vegetables include such a significant amount of vitamin K. There are also many nutrients in broccoli including potassium, zinc, fibre, beta carotene, calcium, iron, plus many other essential benefiting nutrients, including carotenoid compounds lutein and zeaxanith. This vegetable can benefit our health, well-being and lifestyle in many ways due to its powerful combination of vitamins and nutrients. It can support and strengthen many areas of the body, such as the digestive system, liver, eyes, heart, skin, and the immune system. Broccoli has been suggested to aid the body in fighting major diseases including cancer and heart disease. This vegetable is rich in energy boosting vitamins that can decrease stress levels and influence concentration, alertness and vitality. Raw broccoli contains several amounts of B vitamins and manganese as well as reducing levels of sulforaphane. However, cooking it does remove these particular nutrients so if you like broccoli raw as well as cooked, then dig in.

Broccoli could potentially help to reduce cholesterol and high-blood pressures due to its nutritional content of enzymes, as well as osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer, as mentioned previously. There has also been research into the possibility of broccoli preventing adult-onset diabetes. Chromium, found in broccoli, boosts the ability of insulin to perform better in people with slight glucose intolerance.

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Eat your broccoli boiled or steamed with any dish that you would eat a cooked green: pasta, rice dishes, roast dinners, it goes very well with cheese… Funnily enough, recalling broccoli as a kid, I remember loving it with spaghetti Bolognese (excluding the mince) with lots of cheddar cheese melted on top of it. Try adding broccoli to your cauliflower cheese, along with boiled courgettes and perhaps potatoes/sweet potatoes if you have any hanging around – a delicious mix.

Fry it in oil and other flavourings for a stir fry and serve with noodles…

Roast or bake it along with carrots and parsnips to serve with your roast chicken and potatoes…

Or try this combination for a simple, hearty and nutritious weekday supper: Sausages and Rice with Vegetables.

Mix and match the vegetables and accompaniments for anything you like. For myself, I eat Glamorgan sausages (vegetarian, containing leeks, potatoes and Welsh cheddar cheese wrapped up in a breadcrumb coating) while my family eat organic free-range sausages. You can also swap the rice for potatoes if you have an influx of them too.

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Sausages/Glamorgan Sausages with Rice and Boiled Vegetables

(Serves 6)

– 6 -12 organic sausages/ 6-12 glamorgan sausages – 400g rice – 1 large (or equivalent) broccoli – 1 large cauliflower – 150g peas – 100g kale, de-stalked – 4 medium sized courgettes – 4 medium sized carrots – To serve, optional, redcurrant jelly, cranberry sauce, mint jelly, mustard, gravy, sliced onions fried in olive oil

  1. Preheat oven 200C. Put the sausages on a non-stick baking tray and leave in the oven for about 15 minutes until starting brown on bottom. Turn them over and cook them for about another 15 minutes until brown on top.
  2. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Tip in the rice and turn the heat down to simmer. Leave for about 20 minutes, until the rice has absorbed all of the water (stir in occasionally to encourage it). Once the water has gone, take off the heat.
  3. Bring another large pan/lots of smaller pans of water to the boil for the vegetables: cut the broccoli into florets, take the tough outer skin off with a sharp knife and cut the stalk into strips. Put into a pan of boiled water and turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 8-10 minutes or until tender. Cut up the cauliflower into florets and cook it like the broccoli. Place the stripped kale into a pan of boiled water and turn it down to a simmer, leaving it to cook for about five minutes. Cut the courgettes into small circles and put in a pan of boiled water, turning it down to simmer, for about 8 minutes. Peel the carrots and cut them into circles and put in a pan of boiling water, turning it down to simmer, for about 10-12 minutes. Cook the peas in boiled water for about 2 minutes.
  4. Once the variation of vegetables are done, drain them all.
  5. Serve the sausages with the rice and assorted vegetables and any optional additions desired.

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Glamorgan Sausage  with rice, boiled broccoli, courgettes, cauliflower and peas
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Raspberries

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Raspberries, Rubus, are of the rose family. They are a widely commercial fruit crop, grown in all temperate regions across the world. Many of the modern commercial raspberries are hybrids of Rubus ideaus and Rubus strigosus. Recent breeding has resulted in thornless cultivators that stand upright strongly without the need of staking.

They are believed to have originated from Eastern Asia. Archeological evidence has shown us that Palaeolithic cave dwellers consumed raspberries and that the berries have been part of the human diet for centuries although the canes were not cultivated until about the 4th century. Raspberries were associated with fertility and in Greek mythology, raspberries were white until Zeus’ nursemaid, Ida, pricked her finger on a thorn and stained the berries red. Rubus ideaus translates as ‘bramble bush of Ida’. During the 13th century, the juice of the berries was used to stain artwork red.

The black raspberry is Rubus occidentalis with a distinctive flavour. Purple raspberries are hybrids of red and black types. They can be found wild in a few places, such as Vermont. A blue raspberry is a cultivator called ‘Columbian’, a hybrid of a purple raspberry, black and red. There are about 200 different species of raspberries in total. Raspberries have also been crossed to create the wonderful boysenberry and before that, the loganberry. My gran gave us a loganberry last year and we purchased a boysenberry plant this year after discovering ‘Bunny Loves: Boysenberry Jam’ when on holiday in Dorset a couple of years ago.

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Raspberries are grown for their fresh fruit market and their ease at being frozen, pureed, dried and made into wonderful conserves. Traditionally they were a midsummer crop but due to cultivation and travel, they can be obtained all year round. We often start picking our own around June until late autumn, often coinciding with the frosts.

Raspberries need ample sun and water and thrive best in a soil pH 6-7.

Raspberries are a rich source of vitamin C, 26g per 100g serving, and dietary fibre, 6% total weight and one of the highest recorded in whole foods.

Raspberry leaves can be dried and used for a flavoured tea that can soothe the digestive system and ease cramps. There was a time when the leaves of the raspberries were values higher than the berries due to their medicinal uses.

Raspberries have long been associated with herbal remedies. Today, we recognise cancer and heart disease fighting properties within these berries, notably ellagic acid. Raspberry tea is recommended to women after childbirth to ease pain, a mouthwash can be made including raspberries that prevent gum bleeding and the tannins in dried raspberry leaves can soothe sunburns and other minor burns. Raspberries also contain antimicrobial properties that can inhibit Candida albicans, a trigger for IBS. Like strawberries and other dark berries, raspberries fight macular degeneration and promote healthy eyesight.

The biggest threat to your raspberry fruits will be birds. If you have a severe issue, netting or bird scarers are the only defence. We fortunately have so many, our birds seem to run out of steam and target the strawberries, blackcurrants and redcurrant bushes more often. As far as diseases are concerned, raspberries can develop severe root rot from an overly-wet ground that can destroy the plant itself. You want to make sure the raspberry is well-watered when it is fruiting but is planted in well-drained soil to prevent this tragedy from happening – otherwise you will be forced to get rid of your plants and start again and Verticillium wilt can stay in the ground for years at a time.

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Raspberries are usually sold as dormant bare-rooted canes. Plant them 45 cm or so apart in well-fed soil in rich, rotted, organic matter. Leave 2 metres between rows of summer-fruiting varieties and 1 metre for winter-fruiting varieties. Raspberries are shallow rooting so resist planting them too deeply. Summer raspberries produce fruit on canes that grew the year before so do not expect any produce the first summer. Each cane fruits only once so remove the old canes after harvest is over to leave room for new ones to grow. If the canes flop over, tie them to bamboo sticks or some other prop to hold them up and make them easier to pick (we finally did that this year and it is making it a lot easier for us, and regrettably most likely the birds too, when harvesting them). Autumn raspberries ripen their fruit on the current year’s canes so they will not produce anymore the next year. Raspberries are very good at spreading suckers and creating new plants, hence why we have so many which we are very pleased about! If you do not want to extend your crop, pull up the baby plants as the sprout. It is recommended to replace your raspberry plants at around ten years. If you are considering growing one in a container, autumn varieties are smaller and are more suitable for you.

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Summer raspberries should be ready for picking from mid-June to August and autumn varieties will ripen from August to October. Keep an eye on them as they ripen and mould quickly. Keep picking as it encourages more growth from the plant. They are delicious eaten fresh but we almost always have a glut which I am happy about as I freeze them and make them into our ever-popular raspberry jam. Otherwise, I am happy to use frozen raspberries in baking, such as cakes.

Fresh raspberries can be eaten on their own, with yoghurt or ice cream, whipped in cream to make a fool, baked in a crumble, tart or pie, made into a fruit leather, bottled for preserving or juiced with apples or blackberries for a drink.

I start the raspberry recipe collection with my latest discovery, Nigella Lawson’s lemon and raspberry muffins (‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’). 

Lemon and raspberries pair quite nicely together. I would try replacing the raspberries with blueberries when they are in season, or bilberries if there are any ready for picking now. Happy baking!

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Nigella’s Lemon-Raspberry Muffins

(Serves 12)

– 60g butter – 200g plain flour – 2 teaspoons baking powder – ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda – 150g caster sugar – ¼ teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter) – Juice & finely grated zest of 1 lemon – Approximately 120ml milk – 1 large egg – 150g raspberries

1. Preheat the oven to 200C and line a muffin-tray with 12 large paper cases.

2. Melt the butter in the microwave or in a pan over a medium flame. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, sugar, salt (if using it) and the lemon zest, finely grated.

4. In a measuring jug, pour in the lemon juice, then enough milk to reach  the 200ml mark. Beat in the egg and melted butter.

5. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir briefly , until just combined. Fold in the raspberries gently.

6.Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and bake in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes. When cooked, the tops should spring back to your touch and be golden coloured. Leave in the tray for about ten minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

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The MIGHTY Potato

I do love potatoes. I love cooking with them. Eating them. But I particularly love to grow them. They can be easy to grow and take care of themselves quite well as long as they get space, food and water – and you keep your fingers crossed that the blight will miss you or will hit your crops in August rather than May or June.

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The potato, the perennial Solanum tuberosum, is the world’s fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and maize. The potato’s cultivation in South America my span back 10,000 years but tubers do not keep well in archeological recordings and therefore precise identification of those that have been discovered is difficult. However, the earliest finding was found on the coastal sight of Ancon, central Peru, dating 2500 BC. Potatoes provided the Inca Empire as a principle energy source, perhaps their predecessors and the Spanish successors too. At 10,000 feet altitude, occupants of Peru could freeze the potatoes and preserve them as a food source, turning them into ‘chuno’. The Spanish fed chuno to silver miners during the 16th century that funded their country.

The Spanish Conquistadors carried the potato to Europe. Sailors of Basque’s families began to cultivate the crop along the Biscay coast of northern Spain. Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with bringing potatoes to Ireland in 1589 where they were established near Cork. It took nearly four decades for the vegetable to spread across the rest of Europe.

The Spanish army spread potatoes amongst the peasants where they went. To begin with, the vegetable took up so much space on land that was reserved for livestock that potatoes were restricted to garden growers rather than fields. It was in the 1700s that the French and German governments and noble landowners promoted the rapid conversion of fallow lands into potato fields. They had discovered that potatoes were easier to grow in a European climate rather than wheat or oats during the ‘Little Ice Age’ where temperatures rapidly dropped – potatoes continued to grow when other staple crops failed. Famines during the 1770s also contributed to their rise in popularity. Thus, the potato became an important staple crop in northern Europe. By the 19th century, the potato had replaced the turnip as the most popular crop to harvest.

The potato had three main advantages during the 19th century: it had a lower rate of spoilage, its bulk satisfied hunger and it was cheap. In England, potatoes were popular for the urban workers to grown in their backyards for an inexpensive source of food. The potato became equal to iron in its ‘historically revolutionary role’ (Friedrich Engels).

In Ireland, the expansive potato production was due to landless labourers renting tiny plots of ground from land owners who were interested in raising cattle and grain for market. A single acre of potatoes and the milk of one cow was considered enough to feed a whole family in a rural population. However, in the 1840s a major outbreak or potato blight swept through Europe after originating from the Americas. A lack of genetic diversity, especially in Europe, from the low number of varieties left the crop vulnerable to disease. The blight destroyed potato crops all over Europe but the damage done to Ireland where the working class relied on potatoes was significantly awful as their main food staple disappeared in 1845. The Lumper potato that was widely cultivated in Ireland before the strike of disease yielded large crops but was poorly resistant to blight. Dependence on the Lumper turned to disaster. The Irish Famine led to approximately a million deaths due to starvation and disease that attacked the weekend bodies that were lacking in nutrition due to the sudden reduction of food. There was a massive emigration to Britain, the US and Canada during this time and did not start to settle until the beginning of the 20th century after around a million had left.

Blight remains an ongoing problem in Europe and the US. During the crop year of 2008, many potatoes certified as organic were sprayed with copper pesticide to control potato blight. On analysis, these potatoes contained a low value of pesticide residue but the highest amongst the fifty vegetables analysed.

There is not much one can do with blight, only grow early varieties to try to beat the inevitable disease. Blight strikes when it is hot and moist, usually in late summer like August when we seem to get a period of high rainfall (hence my fears for this years wet summer weather after such a dismal June). The disease causes the potatoes to rot. The tell-tale signs are dark blotches on the leaves. At the first sign, cut away the foliage and burn, do not compost as the disease is airborne. Try and leave the infected plant in the ground for a couple of weeks to allow the skins to mature and hope that when you lift the potatoes, they have developed enough to be eatable and have not rotted down to mush.

Other problems one might encounter when grown potatoes are potato beetles and moths that spread infections to the plant. Another is the potato cyst nematode, a microscopic worm that thrives on the root and causes the plants to wilt. Its eggs can survive in the soil for year, hence the importance of crop rotation. The other is potato scab – just peel your potatoes well. The same attitude should be taken for slightly green potatoes that have been exposed to light: peel and cut the green areas out before eating unless all of the potato is green. Then I am afraid you will have to discard it.

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When growing potatoes, I like to class them as First Earlies, Second Earlies and Maincrop varieties and generally plant them in that order.

I dig a trench – it doesn’t need to be too deep, about one or two stabs with a spade will do – and fill it with well-rotted manure and soil before applying a good layer of mulch over the top to hold in the nutrients and moisture. Potatoes love a well-fed and watered bed with acidic soil. Potato scab is more of an issue in alkaline soil.

‘Chitting’ is nice and easy. Place the potato tubers you are going to plant in a dry, cardboard holder. We use our multiple of egg boxes or those cardboard containers they stock yoghurt containers in at supermarkets (I shamefully buy trays worths when I go for my breakfast). Leave the container on a windowsill in the light during early spring. The seed potatoes develop nodules, or chits. These are the beginning of new growth. When you have two or three chits, you can start planting.

To plant once chitted (as early as February or March they can start going in), dig a hole in your prepared trench or bed, 10 cm down for Earlies, 20cm for others. Place your potato in, chits up, and infill, forming a small mound so you can recognise the spot where your new shoots will start coming through. Leave 30cm gaps between each plant. It is a good idea to place some fleece or another cover over the top if you are planting them out early on in the year and the frosts are still around when the leaves start to grow – frost will damage the leaves and slow down the growth of the crop. As the green leaves start to grow, it is traditional to ‘earth up’. You rake up the surrounding soil to create a ridge along the line of the potatoes. It is to stop the light from reaching the top few potatoes that might show above the soil. Otherwise, they turn green and become inedible. Our ‘earthing up’ involves us putting a circle of well-rotted manure around the plant on top of more soil and then applying another layer of mulch. This feeds the plant at the same time in our sandy soil. Potatoes will benefit from a liquid feed very couple of weeks if you can get round them all. Pinch out the flowers as they appear to increase your yield.

To harvest, lift First and Second Earlies as you need them, starting from perhaps May or June. These are the traditional boiling potatoes, think of those tiny Jersey New potatoes we eat with a crisp salad on a summer’s evening.

Maincrop potatoes, our nice, big, baking ones, should be ready for lifting sometime in July or most likely August. Place the potatoes on newspaper to dry, turning them over to make sure both sides are dealt with. Store them in hessian sacks in a dark space. We use our cupboard under the stairs where it is quite cold as well as dark.

We discovered last year that even after all the plants contracted blight (quite late) the potatoes still kept better when left in the ground than stored in our house. We planted so many potatoes that we continued to dig them up in perfect condition into the new year, even after frosts. The leaves had died and gone but the fully grown potatoes still remained. We dug up the last in January meaning we were eating freshly dug up potatoes I had harvested on Christmas Day and Boxing Day morning as well and New Years Eve’s roast dinners we annually hold for relatives. This year, we will not be digging up the potatoes in a rush, we will be taking them when we require them as the year goes on as I really believe they store better in the ground. As long as you follow crop rotation and ensure that you did up all of the potatoes you plant each year before the new growing season to avoid ‘volunteer potatoes’ that can harbour blight, then you should be fine.

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Now there are around 4000 varieties of potatoes but we have bred standard, well-known ones, resulting in around 80 types being available in the UK.

Earlies I have tried and loved: Swift, Red Duke of York, Charlotte, Foremost, Epicure

Main crops: Picasso (my favourite for baking with), Sarpo Mira, Sarpo Nero, Desiree, Sarpo Blue Danube

There are of course plenty of others, especially popular varieties like Kind Edwards. Try and test as any as you like Sarpos are popular types as they are supposedly more blight resistant.

In 2013, it was reported that about 368 million tonnes of potatoes were produced worldwide. Two-thirds were for human consumption, the rest divided for animal fodder and use as starch. In October 1995, the potato was the first vegetable to be grown in space.

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Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, assisting our immune systems as well as many bodily functions. They are considered on of the best sources of potassium (they have more than a banana), vital for normalizing blood pressure and transmitting nerve impulses and helping muscles contract. One medium potato with the skin contributes 8% of our daily fibre intake that may help reduce cholesterol. They are a good source of B6, helping our bodies make nonessential amino acids needed to make various proteins, required for the synthesis of haemoglobin, an essential component of red blood cells. One medium-sized potato provides 6% of our daily recommended intake of iron. Another major component of haemoglobin that carries oxygen to all parts of the body, iron also has a critical role within cells assisting in oxygen utilisation, enzymatic systems, especially for neural development, and overall cell function everywhere in the body. The protein in potatoes is approximately 3g per serving. When combined with another protein source, like cheese or beans, potatoes are an excellent meal for someone who does not eat meat and relies on plant-based proteins.

For culinary purposes, varieties are often differentiated by their waxiness. Floury, or mealy (baking) potatoes have more starch (20–22%) than waxy (boiling) potatoes (16–18%). Potatoes can be cooked in many ways: boiled, baked, microwaved, mashed, roasted, fried, made into chips, dried into crisps… Personally, I love a good baked potato with a crispy skin, mashed with butter with perhaps some cheddar cheese sprinkled on top alongside a salad, or baked beans, peas or runner beans. Cut in half, microwaves and then at the last-minute placing strips of cheese on top, microwave them again until the cheese has melted and then serving the halfs with baked beans was another childhood supper. Otherwise, I like mine boiled, my brother likes his mashed with butter and a little milk, my sister adores them roasted.

I will be sharing plenty of potato recipes but to begin with, here is one I discovered earlier this year. It was after I had made Red Bean and Potato Moussaka ( Books – Cookery). One of my favourite parts of the dish were the par-boiled potatoes on top with the melted, browned cheese. I thought that it would be delicious as a meal on its own, like a different version of Potato Dauphinoise. We tried it and it was simple and delicious with either cooked vegetables (warming winter meal) or a salad (light and crunchy summer meal). This can be done with early potatoes or main crop ones cut into chunks.

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Potato Cheese Bake

(Serves 6)

– 75g butter – 900g (1kg) potatoes, peeled and sliced  -300g cheddar cheese, grated                 – Salad to serve with (lettuce, cucumber, spinach, watercress, rocket, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, beetroot…) or cooked vegetables (peas, runner beans, broad beans, boiled carrots, kale, cabbage…)

  1. Preheat oven 200C or put the grill on high.
  2. Bring a large pan to the boil. Add the potatoes and allow to simmer until cooked. To check that they are done, stick a fork into a potato and hold it above the pan. If it slides off easily, then it is cooked. If it remains stuck on, leave it to cook a little longer.
  3. Drain the potatoes and spread a layer over a long, oblong ovenproof dish. Cut the butter into chunks and mix into the potatoes in the dish. Scatter a thick layer of cheddar cheese over the top.
  4. Put the dish in the oven or under the grill to cook until the cheese had melted and turned brown on top. Under the grill this will take approximately 10-15 minutes, but keep an eye on it just in case as the time will vary. In the oven, this will take longer, perhaps even up to half an hour. Again, keep an eye on it.
  5. Serve with salad or cooked vegetables.

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Carrots

Homegrown carrots taste delightfully sweeter, fresher, crisper and have a far more pungent smell than ones we buy in supermarkets. If one can grow a carrot successfully and scrape back the soil to reveal a little glint of orange attached to the feathery green leaves (that resemble parsley and dill as distant relations), then they can feel very satisfied and like a proper vegetable grower.

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First carrots harvested June 2016

Carrot, a root vegetable, is usually recognisable to us as that bright orange crop but it can be found in black, purple, white, red and yellow. In fact, the orange colouring was the last to be developed from the list. The cultivated carrot originated from the wild carrot, initially coloured white. There are white rooted carrots still around today, mostly used for animal feed or as a novelty crop.

Carrots have an ancient history. Fossil pollen from the Eocene period, 55 to 34 million years ago, has been identified to belong to the Apiaceae, the original carrot family. It is said that the carrot dates back to about 5,000 years ago, first cultivated in Persia (areas that are now Afghanistan and where the wild carrot is still popularly grown today). From there, carrot seeds were sold by caravans to neighbouring African, Asian and Arabian lands where the cross-breeding began. Historians have been able to show that this particular vegetable was important to our ancestors in Egypt from the evidence of numerous carrots being placed in tombs alongside the dead pharos and drawings of carrot harvests in hieroglyphic paintings. During this time, the carrot was grown purple. This was before a mutant occurred, removing the purple pigmentation and creating a new species of yellow carrots (where our known orange ones eventually derived from and hung around). The orange carrot is thought to have developed in the early Middle Ages, after hybridisation with a central Asian species. The first European author who mentions red and yellow carrots is the Byzantine dietician Simeon Seth during the 11th century.

After its popularity in Egypt, carrots were medicinally used in Ancient Greece and during the Roman period although they do not appear in many scribes where parsnips had a more preferred role for harvesting. For a time, the word parsnip was interchangeable with carrot due to the confusing similarities between the two. Bitter and hard to eat, carrots were used to heal many illnesses and as use of a sexual aphrodisiac. In normal cooking, Romans boiled them and covered them in dressings and various herbs.

By the 13th century, carrots had moved to Japan and were being cultivated in the gardens of France and Germany. In  the 1600s, they were brought to the New World, Jamestown and Virginia in particular. During the Middle Ages, carrots continued to be confused with parsnips and some believed they originated from the same plant, mostly because carrots during this time were still white or purple rooted. It is thought that the orange colouring of carrots was not ‘stabilised’ until around the 17th century in the Netherlands after that mutation rid them of their darker outer-colourings. Yellow carrots had been gifted to the ruling House of Orange. After years of selective breeding, Dutch carrots were designed to no longer be bitter in taste, becoming Daucus Carota.

America were amongst the last to accept carrots in its cuisine. They only became customary after the Great War when soldiers returned home with knowledge of European dishes, French ones in particular, that had helped them survive their ordeals during military combat. The modern popularity of the carrot in cooking can be traced to English meals during World War II where the government actively encouraged the population to grow and cook the hearty vegetable as a way of increasing people’s consumptions of important nutrients during rationing and lack of imports.

Today, the carrot is a traditional vegetable, shared between horses and humans alike and is a customary delight of children’s diets. The average person will consume 10,866 carrots in a lifetime. Currently, China produces the most carrots in the world. In 2010, they produced 15.8 million tons. Purple carrots (still orange on the inside) were first sold commercially in British stores in 2002.

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Carrots have a rich supply of antioxidant nutrient beta- carotene and vitamin C. Different varieties of carrots contain different amounts of antioxidant phytonutrients. For example, red and purple carrots have a rich anthocyanin content and orange carrots have outstanding levels of beta-carotene (which makes them orange in the first place), 65% of their total carotenoid content. Due to the richness of antioxidants, carrots are advertised as being beneficial for our cardiovascular systems that need protection from antioxidant damage, particularly for our arteries that carry highly oxygenated blood. A study in the Netherlands suggested that carrots are the best food for reducing these cardiovascular diseases. Participants in the investigation who ate 25 more grams of carrots than other studies had a significantly lower risk. Those who ate less carrots, had a higher risk or having a cardiovascular disease. Carrots also contain anti-inflammatory and anti-aggregatory properties that prevent excessive clumping together of red blood cells, protecting our bodies from the inside pretty well. Other studies suggest that carrots are beneficial in reducing cancer, especially colon cancer but more research is required in these ares as to how much they help.

The tale that carrots help you see in the dark was in fact a World War II propaganda stunt circulated by the British to mislead their oppositions, suggesting that their RAF pilots ate a diet rich in carrots that helped them to see their enemies at night in order to hide the technology they were using. From this story, the belief that carrots improve our eyesight became ‘an old wife’s tale’ but there is some truth in the myth. Vitamin A, that carrots contain a fair amount of, helps the eye convert light into a signal that can be transmitted to the brain, allowing people to see in low-light conditions. Also, the cornea in the eye can disappear when one is lacking in vitamin A. Therefore, carrots might not give us super-night vision, but they will help to protect our eyesight a fair amount.

The other carrot nutrition story is that eating too many can turn one’s skin orange. This is, oddly enough, true, mostly noticeable in the palms and soles of the feet. This is called carotenemia and is fixed by reducing one’s intake of carrots.

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Carrot seedlings, 2015

Varieties I have grown:

Baby Carrots – Sow: January May

Autumn King 2 – Sow: March-July

Amsterdam – Sow: March – July

Flyaway – Sow: March – July

Eskimo – Sow: March – July

Sugarsnax – Sow: March – July

They can all be harvested from the summer until winter, depending on when they are sown and how kind the weather is for us.

These are all orange varieties. It would be fun to try growing different coloured ones but they do have a reputation for tasting woody. I believe Mark Diacono once wrote that their taste resembled eating a trowel…

Carrots are best sown direct into a finely prepared patch of soil. Most people advise not to plant carrots in manure to prevent forking carrots. However, as we work in such barren, sandy soil, this year I took the risk and dug a small amount of very well-rotted manure, compost and mulch into the soil a while before planting the carrots. It helped enormously for us – last year my carrots were tiny and took forever to germinate and grow to reasonable harvesting size. This year we have already picked a fair few in good shape and they have been delicious. I have only come across one forked carrot so far but to be honest, I am not too fussy. They taste the exact same even if they look comically odd.

Sow carrot seeds in drills, 1cm (1/2 inch) deep, trying to leave about 30 cm (12 inch) apart. Sowing the tiny seeds can be very hard and they do like to ‘bunch’ or ‘clump’ together, giving you patches of carrots rather than an even spread. Water the area well – inconsistent watering can lead to irregular growth and splitting in the carrot root so be wary of droughts.

Carrots should be sown successionally every few weeks for a steady supply throughout the year. Try not to sow them too close together as they are a nightmare to thin and release volatile chemicals that will attract carrot flies.

Carrot flies are the worst pest for carrots. They need to be guarded with a cover all the way around to keep the bugs out. This year we have stuck bamboo canes into the soil and draped fleece over like a tent so as not to crush the carrot heads this year. We then pinned the fleece to the ground to make sure no flies find a way in. Mark Diacono, River Cottage ‘Veg Patch’ book suggests comfrey or seaweed solution discourages carrot flies and improves plant growth. Companion planting of chives (we have done that this year around the edges) or spring onions work well, the strong smells deterring the carrot flies. French Marigolds are also great too and look beautiful. I always pop a few in close by for beauty if not purpose.

Other pests I have had slight problems with previously have been slugs and snails that munch underground. This is likely to happen if you leave your carrots in the earth over the winter months.

Harvest your carrots from May onwards when the tops are orange and the carrots look big enough to gently pull up from the ground. Leave the smaller ones to have the chance of getting bigger.

If you are planning to store them rather than eat them straight away, wash them, dry them and place them in a crate full of slightly damp sand or in paper sacks that exclude the light. Otherwise, you might be able to leave the carrots in the ground for a few months, especially over winter. They will keep better this way than in the fridge.

I like to eat my homegrown carrots raw, freshly pulled up from the earth. They taste best this way, finely sliced into matchsticks and eaten alongside more salad, perhaps with pasta or a baked potato and cheese or put in a dip. Otherwise, of course one can boil them and eat them with other vegetables with perhaps a roast dinner, sausages or fish and potatoes, see my recipe for Chicken Casserole:https://wordpress.com/posts/thekitchengardenblog.wordpress.com , or they can be finely sliced or grated for a stir fry or a Bolognese or Chilli Con Carne, see below. Or roasted in the oven after being sliced and drizzled with olive oil. Another classic is carrot and coriander soup or, for the juicers out there, carrot juice, blitzed in a processor. There is, of course, the popular carrot cakes as well if you ever have enough. The tops of the carrots are edible too for those with an acquired taste. My ducks love them so I share them out instead.

Chilli Con Carne 

Chilli Con Carne is best cooked with lots of grated carrot in it.

The chilli makes this a very warming dish. You can use any beans grown from your patch, podded, like borolotti beans, haricot beans, soy beans, broad beans, or stick to the traditional kidney beans you can buy canned or dried for soaking. Exclude the minced meat if catering for vegetarians. If you leave out the chili, this immediately becomes Bolognese to serve over spaghetti with cheese or a lasagna filling. It freezes well. Serve with lots of other vegetables from your kitchen garden, like peas, runner beans, broad beans, broccoli, kale, cabbage… I also like to add some greens into the actual dish itself, often kale or swiss chard, perhaps pak choi, komatsuna, perpetual leaf spinach or normal spinach. 

(Serves 6)

– 450g prepared and cooked kidney beans/ borlotti beans/ soy beans/ broad beans etc. – Olive oil  – 450g minced meat (omit if vegetarian) – 2 large onions, finely sliced – 2 large cloves of garlic, finely diced – 6 large carrots, finely grated – 800g tinned tomatoes – 300g of greens (kale, lettuce, swiss chard, pak choi, spinach etc.), de-stalked and shredded – Dash of soy sauce – Dash of Lea and Perrin’s – Salt and pepper – 1 chili (or more, depending on how hot you like your meal to be), de-seeded and finely diced – 400g basmati rice, to serve – Peas, runner beans, broccoli, kale, to serve

  1. Fry the minced meat in an oiled pan until well cooked and browned.
  2. In a separate frying pan, fry the cut up onion in olive oil over a high heat. When it starts to brown, turn it down to a low heat and leave it to simmer. Add the grated carrot and allow to fry until the carrot is cooked (turn up the heat and stir if you can hang around the stove to speed it up).
  3. Add the tinned tomatoes and diced garlic and stir. Add the greens and stir in to wilt. Add a dash of soy sauce, Lea and Perrin’s and salt and pepper. Stir in.
  4. Add the cooked beans of choice and the mince to the con carne, stirring in well. Leave to combine flavors for at least ten minutes over a low flame. Add the cut chili and stir in well. Leave the ingredients to combine over a low heat, simmering.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil and add the rice. Turn the heat down to low and leave it to cook for about 20 minutes until all of the water has been absorbed.
  6. Bring another pan of water to the boil and add peas, runner beans, broccoli, kale, any green vegetables of your choice. Once cooked, drain.
  7. Serve the Chilli Con Carne over rice with the vegetables alongside.

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Weekly Update:26th June 2016

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My favourite rose in our garden under a pear tree flowered this week

What a wet June it has been!

Thank goodness the sun is meant to shine today and I am glad it did so on Friday – it was my brother’s 14th birthday!

It was fitting that we harvested our first carrots during his birthday week as he is our carrot and cucumber monster. We made burgers and chips to have with our salad on Friday and his classic dish – pasta, cheddar cheese, tuna and mayonnaise, pitta bread and salad last night. I made him his requested coffee  walnut cake (nothing to do with garden produce, only the duck eggs I used are home produce, oh dear) and today I will be baking his second favourite, a marble cake as a surprise. It means a busy, wet week but I have managed to get something done in the garden:

  • Weeded and fed one of the runner bean trenches (yup, we have three this year).
  • Weeded and fed purple sprouting broccoli babies, perpetual spinach (which I picked for the first time and used it along with kale and komatsuna on top of a pizza earlier this week, see recipe: https://wordpress.com/posts/thekitchengardenblog.wordpress.com ), Chinese broccoli and Aztec broccoli.
  • Cleared and mulched paths.
  • Weeded and fed young cauliflowers.
  • Ripped old cauliflower leaves infested  with cabbage white caterpillars and tried to coax the poultry into eating the. They unfortunately have never cared for them but the ducks love brassica leaves so I think they might eat a few by mistake when they are on the actual cauliflower leaves…
  • Netted my new cauliflowers.
  • Weeded and fed turnip patch.
  • Mum cleared away a trench of old forget-me-nots and moved some overcrowded raspberries there.
  • Mum planted out more peas I had grown indoors.
  • Mum gave the cucurbits a milk/aspirin anti-powdery mildew spray which they will really need in this weather.
  • Mum netted more strawberries, a blueberry bush and a redcurrant.
  • Mum potted on half the cucumbers into larger containers.

Continuing to pick strawberries, raspberries, salad leaves, radishes, beetroot, peas, broad beans, first carrots, first blackcurrants (just a couple darkening now). I’ve got a couple of courgettes almost ready and a cucumber on the way…

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Produce picked for a supper this week: lettuce, spinach, rocket, carrots, beetroot and radishes

Salad – Spinach

 

 

 

 

IMG_2085.JPGI better admit it now: I am a big fan of spinach. I eat it pretty much daily, it is my favourite green leaf. I tried it once with houmous slathered thickly on a crust of warm, homemade whole-wheat bread. It became a lunch time favourite and I have not looked back since. It goes very well with lots of meals, raw or cooked (I prefer it raw). Luckily, spinach is easy and quick to grow once you have got it going.

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Last year I planted under the cover of fleece in March the varieties ‘Barbados’ and ‘Emilia’ (February-August sowing times). I did likewise this year with this variety as well as planting in March ‘Samish’ spinach (March-August) which germinated pretty well too.  These are really tasty varieties that I would recommend and should be ready to harvest within a matter of weeks once sown. The sudden heat has made a lot of mine bolt but they are still pickable and edible. I have just sown some more in my runner-bean trenches. When the leaves rot down, they are supposed to provide the beans with nitrogen and the beans in turn provide them with shade. They can be bought at Mr Fothergills, at least but you can find lots of popular spinach varieties everywhere.

Also, at the end of last year, in October we sowed some ‘Turaco’ (August-October) spinach indoors before planting it under the cover of fleece in a trench alongside some winter sown peas. This is a hardier type of spinach ideal for winter sowings. It has been ready to harvest since some time in April but have now bolted quite a lot now (still picking them, though). The leaves are big and dark green and deliciously prolific. It has been a joy to be able to harvest my own spinach again this spring and summer and not to pick up the guilty plastic bag of soggy green mush I usually slip into the trolley at the supermarket.

Sow spinach direct (or indoors before planting out), 2.5 cm / 1″ deep into prepared, fertile soil, allowing 30 cm / 1′ between rows. Keep  well watered and fed as they continue to grow and sow some more every couple of weeks, like you would do for radishes or spring onions, to ensure a continuous crop. If you are sowing outdoors, early sowings will need the protection of a cloche, fleece or a cold-frame. Harvest the leaves when they are around 3cm or so above ground level, to encourage more growth and when each plant has at least four leaves growing.

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Like lettuce, spinach can bolt but it does not taste as strong as poor lettuce does. However, when it bolts, the leaves become tiny and you have to pick quite a few to get a good bunch. Therefore, I would recommend adopting the successional sowing attitude and sowing perhaps a new bunch once a month or every couple of months, depending on how the weather is and what your needs are for fresh salad.

Other ‘spinach type leaves’ I have sown in the past include Swiss chard, a member of the same family, as well as most recently ‘Perpetual Leaf Beet Spinach’ purchased from the Real Seeds Company. I sowed these indoors and have recently planted them out between some purple sprouting broccoli with some radishes for extra companion planting points! They are doing quite well. I have not bothered sowing Swiss chard since I first planted it two years ago in August, I think. It has grown back every summer after dying off over winter and self-sown some babies every year. We have a lot this year, despite my mum digging some up for my sister’s fete this weekend. Swiss chard should only be eaten cooked otherwise it tastes gross. Treat it like you would kale or any other oriental green – rip of  the chunky stem that tastes quite strong and rip the leaves into little pieces before chucking them in a stew, stir fry or on top of a pizza or wilting it down for a side dish.

Spinach is considered to have originated from the Persia, or Iran. It found its way to China during the 7th century when the king of Nepal sent is abroad as a gift. It was brought to Spain by the Moors around the 11th century and was known in England as the ‘Spanish vegetable’ for some time. Compared to most vegetables, spinach is rather new. A sweet historical story is that spinach was the favourite vegetable of Catherine de Medici, alive in the 16th century who left her home in Florence to marry the king of France. She brought her own cooks with her so that they could prepare her spinach dishes just the way she liked them. Now, if a dish is prepared on a bed of spinach, it is called ‘a la Florentine’.

Nutritionally, spinach is high in vitamin K, A, manganese, folate, magnesium, high levels of iron, copper vitamins B1, B2, B6, E, C, calcium, zinc and potassium. Additionally, it is a good source of dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. This mixture of nutrients gives spinach superb status in the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory department. However, due to the high oxalate content found in spinach, people are often concerned about consuming too much of this leafy green raw. Oxalates are naturally occurring organic acids found in a wide selection of foods that can interfere with our absorbing of calcium or, ironically, iron, the major nutrient spinach is famous for (thin Popeye). Oxalic acid binds with calcium, making it unusable in our bodies. However, oxalic acids are broken down when heated so steamed or sautéed spinach and when spinach is cooked, nutrients like vitamins A and E, the protein found in the green vegetable and other nutritional benefits are easier for our bodies to absorb. Some of the other nutrients, like vitamin C, folate, potassium, and others, are more plentiful for our bodies when we eat the spinach raw. The iron content does not change whether you decide to eat it cooked or raw. You will absorb the iron if you eat something rich in vitamin C alongside it so consider pairing it with other vegetables and fruits. To conclude, varying the way we eat spinach, sometimes raw, sometimes cooked will give us the full range of nutritional benefits.

 

 

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Try eating spinach raw with any salad or as a green in your humble lunch time sandwich. Another lunch time favourite of mine is to make a rice salad with spinach, lettuce and rocket, perhaps some avocado (which I hasten to add, I do not grow) or sauerkraut (which I have yet to try making myself). It is also delicious on top of a bowl of chili con carne, raw or cooked.

To cook it, add it in any dish like casserole, stew, curry etc. To cook it on its own, wilt the leaves of the spinach in a little butter over a medium heat in a frying pan. Serve with some additional falvourings if you would like: salt and pepper, chilli, ginger, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce… Serve it alongside a baked potato with butter and cheese or swirl it in some rice with some cooked chickpeas.

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Weekly Update: 4th June 2016

It has been a really tough week. The garden has been neglected but I am sure that it was very happy to be watered by all that natural, torrential rain. It could have done without the chilly temperatures though but the squashes and courgettes look alive, for now…

This week I have:

  • Planted out all of the orach (Real Seeds Company purchase).
  • Planted out the lupins in a flower patch next to a bee hive while they were trapped indoors during the rain – haha, finally! They don’t care much for my presence …
  • I also planned lupins in the areas of the squash patch (they are meant to make them taste better?) and some dotted around the place as they will get quite big and needed a lot of space.
  • I weeded the rhubarb and fed and mulched it.
  • I weeded and mulched some paths to try and keep the weeds at bay for a while.
  • I weeded the quinoa and amaranth patches that are impossible to weed when the sun is out as they are too close to the bee hives again so I made the most of the foul weather.
  • I weeded and mulched a lettuce patch.

I think that was it. Not a very productive week. However, we did harvest our first bounty of pea pods to have with out homemade matte paneer curry with rice, lentil Dahl, naan, lettuce (of coarse) and cucumber raita (sadly not homegrown cucumber, yet). They were really delicious. I will have to sow as many as I can this month before I run out of time!

This week mum:

  • Planted out the rest of the lettuce from indoors that I had sown too close together… oops.
  • Dug up and planted some plants into small containers for a fete my sister has to sell them at next weekend.
  • Planted out the thyme from indoors around brassicas.
  • Tied up the blackcurrant bushes that were falling over from their laden branches – the bees are going nuts over the berries this year, particularly the raspberries. YUM.
  • Netted some strawberry patches.
  • Cleaned up some of the debris still inside the greenhouse, we are so bad at cleaning.
  • Cleaned around the outside of the greenhouse.
  • Pruned and tied back a budlier that was shadowing the greenhouse.
  • Poured liquid feed over the carrots, beetroot and some kale when it was not raining.

Here’s hoping the weather improves and that it is a better week all round next time. Come on June, give us a good summer please.