Mushrooms

Unless you know your mushrooms well, it is difficult and dangerous to forage for them. I heard a story about someone who put a poisonous one in the basket alongside all of the edible ones before realising their mistake and removing it. She and her partner ended up in hospital with severe poisoning after eating the edible ones that had touched the poisonous one.

However, there is a simpler way of harvesting them if you are a scardy-cat like me. You can buy your own mushroom kits.

Mushrooms are the fleshy and edible bodies of several species of microfungi – fungi which bear fruiting structures that are large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

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Potato and Mushroom recipe – coming soon…

Identifying mushrooms requires a basic understanding of their macroscopic structure. Most are basidiomycetes and gilled. Their spores are produced on the gills and fall in a fine rain of powder from under the caps. At the microscopic level the spores are fired off and they fall between the gills in the dead air space. As a result, for most mushrooms, if the cap is cut off and placed gill-side-down overnight, a powdery impression reflecting the shape of the gills is formed. The color of the powdery print, called a spore print, is used to help classify mushrooms and can help to identify them. Spore print colors include white (most common), brown, black, purple-brown, pink, yellow, and creamy. While modern identification of mushrooms is quickly becoming molecular, the standard methods for identification are still used by most and have developed into a fine art harking back to medieval times and the Victorians, combined with microscopic examination. The presence of juices upon breaking, bruising reactions, odors, tastes, shades of color, habitat, habit, and season all have to be considered.

Mycophagy, the act of consuming mushrooms, dates back to ancient times. Edible mushroom species have been found in association with 13,000-year-old archaeological sites in Chile but the first reliable evidence of mushroom consumption dates to several hundred years ago in China. The Chinese value mushrooms for medicinal properties as well as for food. Romans and Greeks used mushrooms for culinary purposes. Food tasters were employed by Roman emperors to ensure that mushrooms were safe to eat.

The terms “mushroom” and “toadstool” go back centuries and were never precisely defined. Between 1400 and 1600 AD, the terms mushrom, mushrum, muscheron, mousheroms, mussheron, or musserouns were used. Mushroom and its variations may have been derived from the French word mousseron in reference to moss (mousse). Yet difference between edible and poisonous fungi is not clear-cut, so a “mushroom” may be edible, poisonous, or unpalatable. Cultural or social phobias of mushrooms and fungi may be related. The term “fungophobia” was coined by William Delisle Hay who noted a national fear of “toadstools”. The word “toadstool” has apparent analogies in Dutch padde(n)stoel (toad-stool/chair, mushroom) and German Krötenschwamm (toad-fungus, alternative word for panther cap). In German folklore, toads are often depicted sitting on toadstool mushrooms and catching, with their tongues, the flies that are said to be drawn to the Fliegenpilz, a German name for the toadstool, meaning “flies’ mushroom”. This is how the mushroom got another of its names, Krötenstuhl (a less-used German name for the mushroom), literally translating to “toad-stool”.

Many species of mushrooms seemingly appear overnight, growing or expanding rapidly. This phenomenon is the source of several common expressions including “to mushroom” or “mushrooming” (expanding rapidly in size or scope) and “to pop up like a mushroom” (to appear unexpectedly and quickly).

A mushroom develops from a nodule, or pinhead, less than 2mm in diameter, called a primordium, which is typically found on or near the surface of the substrate. It is formed within the mycelium. The primordium enlarges into a roundish structure of interwoven hyphae roughly resembling an egg, called a “button”. The button has a cottony roll of mycelium that surrounds the developing fruit body. As the egg expands, the mycelium ruptures and may remain as a cup at the base of the stalk or as warts or volval patches on the cap. Many mushrooms lack a universal veil, a mycelium, therefore they do not have either a volva or volval patches. Often, a second layer of tissue covers the blade like gills that bear spores. As the cap expands, the veil breaks, and remnants of the partial veil may remain as a ring around the middle of the stalk or as fragments hanging from the margin of the cap. All species of mushrooms take several days to form primordial mushroom fruit bodies, though they do expand rapidly by the absorption of fluids.

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Mushrooms are great in stir fries

The cultivated mushrooms, or common field mushrooms, initially form a minute fruiting body, referred to as the pin stage because of their small size. Slightly expanded they are called buttons, once again because of the relative size and shape. Once such stages are formed, the mushroom can rapidly pull in water from its mycelium and expand, mainly by inflating preformed cells that took several days to form.

Many mushroom species produce secondary metabolites that can be toxic, mind-altering, antibiotic or antiviral. Although there are only a small number of deadly species, several others can cause particularly severe and unpleasant symptoms. Toxicity likely plays a role in protecting the function of the basidiocarp: the mycelium has expended considerable energy and protoplasmic material to develop a structure to efficiently distribute its spores. One defense against consumption and premature destruction is the evolution of chemicals that render the mushroom inedible, either causing the consumer to vomit the meal or to learn to avoid consumption altogether. In addition, due to the propensity of mushrooms to absorb heavy metals, including those that are radioactive, European mushrooms may, to date, include toxicity from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and continue to be studied.

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So far we have tried using Taylor’s mushroom growing kit. It hasn’t been great – so far we have one big, beautiful mushroom, and nothing else. But I’ve been doing my research and have looked up how to grow mushrooms indoors and outdoors, as well as including the Taylor instructions below…

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Taylor’s Grow Your Own mushroom kits…

  1. Empty the mushroom compost in the bottom of your lined box and lightly firm. Spread over the ‘Casing Layer’ (which has been moistened with half a litre of water) and lightly mix the two layers together leaving the surface rough.
  2. Rest the lid on top of the box at an angle and put in a warm place for about a week and a white fluffy mycelium should appear on the surface.
  3. Remove the lid and place in a cooler dark location, use a mist spray to keep the surface damp.
  4. Mushroom should begin to appear after about a week, pick them as small or as large as you like.

Indoor sowing information… 

You need 20kg (45lbs) of well rotted compost for 100g spawn. Make the compost from fresh, strawy horse manure, or straw supplemented with organic nitrogen. The best compost for mushrooms is horse manure. Make sure the compost is free of worms and invertebrates which will eat the spawn. The manure will be “clean” if composting temperatures are reached. A cellar, shed, cool greenhouse, shelter or even garden frame can be used. Beds should be about 25cms (10 ins.) deep, boxes 15-20cms (6-8 ins.) deep. Tightly pack with compost. It may heat up after packing so leave until the temperature is steady and no higher than 21C (69F). Scatter the spawn over the surface and mix in until it is about 2 to 3 ins deep Firm the surface again and cover with a damp newspaper to keep the compost dark and moist. The compost will become covered in white fungal threads in two to three weeks. When the compost is fully colonised (covered with white threads) remove the newspaper. Cover the compost with 2.5 cm (1 inch) of casing. Casing may be either 50% garden soil 50% peat plus 2 or 3 handfuls of lime per bucketful of casing, or 50% chalk and 50% peat. Peat free compost can also be used but add the chalk or lime. Before using the casing it should be thoroughly wetted and allowed to drain. Keep the casing layer evenly moist but not wet. Use a fine rose watering can or mist spray. Mushrooms will first appear as tiny pin points 3-5 weeks after casing. Air humidity must be kept high at this point (about 85%) to allow mushrooms to develop. They will grow in a flush approximately every 10 days. Pick by twisting the cap until the mushroom comes away and avoid damaging the small ones nearby.

For outdoors…

Sow from Spring to August. In grass areas lift 25 cm (10 ins) square turfs, 4 cm (1.5 ins) deep and about 60 cm (24 ins) apart. Loosen the underlying soil with a fork. Where no animal or garden compost has been added recently, or where the soil is poor add well rotted farm manure, garden or mushroom compost. Spread the mushroom spawn thinly over the soil and mix to a depth of 1 cm. Press the turf down firmly and moisten in dry weather. The soil below should not get saturated. A good dressing of humus – limed peat, rotten horse manure or old mushroom compost is recommended. Choose a lawn or pasture where the soil is rich, moist and contains plenty of fully decayed organic matter. In the garden it will thrive best in lawns which are not to acidic and therefore do not grow moss. Neglected lawns and around compost heaps are good sites. Growth will depend on the weather. Mushrooms grow best in warm damp conditions and once established they should continue to thrive if the weather is warm and the turf is kept moist. Growth produces patches of greener grass. Mushrooms grow best at an even temperature of about 16C(60F). They do not grow well below 10C(60F) or above 20C(68F).

Mushrooms are an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that helps lower elevated blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke. One medium portobello mushroom has even more potassium than a banana or a glass of orange juice. One serving of mushrooms also provides about 20 to 40% of the daily value of copper, a mineral that has cardioprotective properties. Mushrooms are a rich source of riboflavin, niacin, and selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant that works with vitamin E to protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Male health professionals who consumed twice the recommended daily intake of selenium cut their risk of prostate cancer by 65 percent. In a Baltimore study, men with the lowest blood selenium levels were 4 to 5 times more likely to have prostate cancer compared to those with the highest selenium levels. One cup of raw onions equals 2.2g of protein which is pretty high for plants. Mushrooms are therefore very useful for vegetarian or vegan diets as a source of protein and vitamin B and D.

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Mushroom and Orach seeds

I’ve been using mushrooms more this year and have come round to liking them in a number of different dishes. They are a great replacement for chicken in casseroles, brilliant in stir fries (Garden Stir-Fry – the way to use up unwanted veg), I like them just fried in butter with rice and salad for a quick lunch, or fried with Orach seeds. They are a traditional side to egg and bacon, or just egg and toast. An addition to chicken pie. Mushroom risotto, addition to carbonara, raw in French salads with raw green beens and hard boiled eggs. Yet my favourite new-found-new-liked recipe is mushroom and cheese omelette – the best omelette around.

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Mushroom and Cheese Omelette

(Serves 1)

-2 eggs -100g grated cheddar cheese -3-4 button sized mushrooms, sliced thinly -Knob of butter, for frying -Salad, to serve

  1. Beat the eggs together in a large bowl, thoroughly otherwise the whites and yolks won’t mix properly to create that beautiful yellow colour.
  2. Mix in the grated cheddar and sliced mushrooms.
  3. Melt the butter in a frying pan, swirling it round to cover the entire surface. Tip in the contents of the bowl and swirl it over the surface of the pan too.
  4. Allow it to cook on one side for a couple of minutes. Then, using a scraper, gently lift up half of the omelette and flip it over the other half. This encourages the other side to cook whilst preventing you from tearing the omelette apart.
  5. Once the outside is starting to brown and the inside looked cooked (the cheese will be melted but you want the egg part to be cooked), flip the omelette onto a plate and serve alongside a salad or some crusty bread, rice or potatoes.

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Recipe: Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

This is a really nice, warming, simple dish to make. Depending on what you have growing in your garden, most of the ingredients can be sourced from there too!

You can vary this vegetarian meal entirely. You could add other greens like spinach, kale, swiss chard, pak choi to the gloop. You could add soy sauce, Lea and Perrins, salt and pepper, maple syrup or other seasonings. You could add chilli. You could add some melted cheese to the final plate or find some meat for a meat-eater. Add some herbs from the garden too? This is just a simple, basic recipe which apart from baking the potatoes which takes time, is really quick to make and very nutritious too.

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Home grown potato, runner beans, onion and garlic (not tomatoes or kidney beans this year…)

Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

(Serves 2-4)

-1 baking potato per person -Olive oil -1 onion -2 garlic cloves -450g tomatoes (tinned or prepared to be cooked like tinned ones) -400g kidney beans (tinned or ready cooked) -Butter -Runner beans or peas

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C. Wash and poke holes in your potatoes and bake in the oven for about 1-2 hours.
  2. To make the kidney bean dish, slice the onion up thinly. Fry gently in a pan of olive oil. Dice the garlic and add it to the pan before tipping in the tomatoes. Bring to the boil and stir the ingredients together. Add the kidney beans to warm them through.
  3. Boil a pan of water and cook sliced runner beans or peas. Drain.
  4. Remove the potatoes from the oven and cut in half. Mash each half with a generous amount of butter. Add the greens to the side of the plate along with the kidney bean dish. Enjoy. Store the left over kidney bean gloop in the fridge for up to three days in a sealed container.

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Beans Means Heinz

So I didn’t get a lot planted this year because I was away from home for a couple of months, but we did get the potatoes in and the beans are being harvested now – last  year’s beans!

We left our bean roots in the ground rather than dig them up by accident three years ago. We grew other things in the same trench over the winter so it was heavily guarded with double portions of horticultural fleece that protected it from the frost. We were in awe when the next spring, our old beans grew back. Since then, we have tried to protect all of our bean roots that we leave in the ground. This year we have a few that have re-grown for their third harvest, we have more that our on their second, and my mum managed to sow a few extra this year in another trench while I  was absent.

I have been enjoying delicious beans boiled for dinner almost daily for a week now. I had to of course have them as part of my favourite dinner of all time – Baked Potato, Cheddar Cheese, Baked Beans and Runner Beans. 

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Preheat your oven to 200C. Cut out slug damage (if homegrown potatoes) or prick holes in the potato, to let the steam escape while cooking. Bake the potato in the oven for an hour, I like to leave mine in for another half an hour so that the skin is really crispy.

Boil a pan of water and add the sliced runner beans, turning the hob down to a low flame. Remove from the heat after about 8 minutes, drain.

Heat the baked beans in a pan over a medium flame. Remove from the heat once hot.

Grate enough cheddar cheese to serve.

Remove your potato from the oven, cut in half and mash a generous amount of butter into each part. Add the runner beans and the baked beans to the side and sprinkle cheddar cheese over the top of the potato and butter.

Enjoy!

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March – sowing and growing

There are too many plants that can be started off indoors/outdoors in March to name! But here are a few to get you started…

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Carrots – Carrots – sown one trench outside under fleece

Spinach – Salad – Spinach – planted out ‘Turaco’ spinach sown last autumn in a cold frame with fleece and started off indoors ‘Barbados’ and ‘Emelia’, onto ‘Samish’ soon…

Lettuce- Salad – Lettuce – planted out lettuce sown last winter in the cold frame with the spinach and sown some seeds indoors

Radishes – Salad – Radish – sown outdoors under fleece between other crops

Celery – Celery – batch sown indoors

Celeriac – Celeriac – ”

Courgettes – Courgettes – sown indoors

Squashes – have yet to plant ‘Honey Bear’ and ‘Sunburst’

Quinoa – Quinoa – batch sown indoors

Chickpeas – Sown indoors, first time trying them this year!

Broad beans – Broad Beans – ready to plant out under fleece

Peas – started off indoors but can be sown directly now – post hopefully coming soon…

Okra – Okra – couple damped off so planted some more indoors

Rocket – Salad – Rocket – sown indoors, not doing so well…

Watercress – sown indoors

Herbs – sown the parsley and coriander so far

Fenugreek – damped off, need to sow some more indoors

Cucumbers – Cucumbers – sown indoors, doing best at moment, please stay that way!

Tomatoes – germinated very well indoors

Potatoes – time to think about planting them outdoors under a lot of earth and some cover

Turnips – just sown some

Purple Sprouting Broccoli – just sown some (as well as some more Calabrese Broccoli) indoors AND just harvested first batch of last year’s crop the other night to have with some of the last dug up potatoes from last season with baked beans, cheese and frozen homegrown runner beans – yum!

Leeks – Leeks – indoors

Spring Onions – indoors

Beetroot – indoors, on my list

Cabbages – Cabbages – ‘Red Rodeo’, ‘Advantage’, ‘Caserta’ – sown indoors

Brussels Sprouts and Brukale – Brussels Sprouts – quickly sow before it gets too late

Kale – The last of the Kale

Sweet Corn – on my list but I know from experience that I can still get away with sowing it in May, indoors

Rhubarb – Rhubarb – time to feed and start forcing

Fruit Trees/Bushes – time to feed!

There are bound to be plenty more veggies to sow/plant out as we plough on through the first month of spring. Temperatures are finally warming up but hang onto some fleece – the fruit trees might be lured into a false spring, deadly for blossom and fruit production… Make sure anything you sow outside/ plant out is wrapped up under cover, nice and snuggly. It will be a shock to the system if they are exposed to Britain’s ‘spring time’ too early!

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FLOWERS TO SOW INDOORS:

French Marigolds

Cosmos

Viola

Lavender

Geraniums

Calendulas

Lupins

Sweet Peas – they are ready to plant out under cover

There are BILLIONS more… 

 

Sweet Potatoes

It will never work… but I bought two Sweet Potatoes to ‘chit’… then we used one for supper because we decided a) it won’t work, they are too difficult to chit and then keep alive in England and b) if it DID work, we didn’t want that many! They were giant… 

Sweet Potatoes are famously difficult to grow in England because of our bad weather in comparison to South America or Africa where they thrive. We should really stick to our normal potatoes, which is fine by me because I think they go with more meals, but it is fun to try out these new vegetables. Despite its name and look, sweet potatoes are nothing like potatoes. They taste different, are from a different family etc. They are a completely different vegetable hence why we decided we might as well give it a go and try growing one despite the odds being pretty much stacked against us! If you buy your sweet potatoes to grow properly online (which is probably better than me getting one from the market, this process has a very poor succession report) then they will arrive often as plug-plants to make things easier. Read on to find out some interesting history, nutrition and how to grow facts about sweet potatoes, as well as a yummy recipe at the bottom… 

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Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the morning glory family Convolvulaceae. Its large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous root are a root vegetable. They are also known as yams (although the soft, orange sweet potato is often called a “yam” in parts of North America, the sweet potato is botanically very distinct from a genuine yam (Dioscorea), which is native to Africa and Asia and belongs to the monocot family Dioscoreaceae), or kumara. Sweet potatoes are only distantly related to potatoes, they aren’t from the same ‘family’ but that family is part of the same taxonomic order as sweet potatoes, the Solanales. Although the sweet potato is not closely related botanically to the common potato, they have a shared etymology. The first Europeans to taste sweet potatoes were members of Christopher Columbus’ expedition in 1492. Later explorers found many cultivars under an assortment of local names, but the name which stayed was the indigenous Taino name of batata. The Spanish combined this with the Quechua word for potato, papa, to create the word patata for the common potato. The first record of the name “sweet potato” is found in the Oxford English Dictionary, 1775.

The plant is a herbaceous perennial vine. It bears alternate heart-shaped or palmately lobed leaves (sometimes eaten as a green) and medium-sized flowers. The edible tuberous root is long and tapered, with a smooth skin. The colour ranges between yellow, orange, red, brown, purple, and beige. Its flesh ranges from beige through white, red, pink, violet, yellow, orange, and purple. Sweet potato cultivars with white or pale yellow flesh are less sweet and moist than those with red, pink or orange flesh.

The origin and domestication of sweet potato is thought to be in either Central America or South America. In Central America, sweet potatoes were domesticated at least 5,000 years ago. In South America, Peruvian sweet potato remnants dating as far back as 8000 BC have been found. The sweet potato was grown in Polynesia before western exploration. Sweet potato has been radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islands to 1000 AD, and current thinking is that it was brought to central Polynesia around 700 AD, possibly by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back, and spread across Polynesia to Hawaii and New Zealand from there. Sweet potatoes are cultivated throughout tropical and warm temperate regions wherever there is sufficient water to support their growth. Due to a major crop failure, sweet potatoes were introduced to China in about 1594. The growing of sweet potatoes was encouraged by the Governor Chin Hsüeh-tseng (Jin Xuezeng). Sweet potatoes were introduced as a food crop in Japan, and by 1735 was planted in Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune’s private garden. It was also introduced to Korea in 1764. Sweet potatoes became popular very early in the islands of the Pacific Ocean, spreading from Polynesia to Japan and the Philippines. They are featured in many favorite dishes in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and other island nations. Uganda (the second largest grower after China), Rwanda, and some other African countries also grow a large crop which is an important part of their peoples’ diets. The New World, the original home of the sweet potato, grows less than three percent (3%) of the world’s supply. Europe has only a very small sweet potato production, mainly in Portugal.

The plant does not tolerate frost. It grows best at an average temperature of 24 °C, abundant sunshine and warm nights. Not really suited to the UK. Annual rainfalls of 750–1,000 mm (30–39 in) are considered most suitable, with a minimum of 500 mm (20 in) in the growing season. The crop is sensitive to drought at the tuber initiation stage 50–60 days after planting, and it is not tolerant to water-logging, as it may cause tuber rots and reduce growth of storage roots if aeration is poor.

Unlike normal potatoes, sweet potatoes are grown from ‘slips’. These are the long shoots that have been removed from ‘chitted’ sweet potato tubers. ‘Slips’ don’t have roots, although sometimes there are signs of small roots beginning to appear. The roots will grow once the ‘slip’ has been planted. Whilst it is possible to grow your own ‘slips’ from supermarket sweet potatoes, most supermarket varieties are not sufficiently hardy to grow well in the UK so crops are likely to be disappointing.

When they arrive the ‘Slips’ will look withered, but place them in a glass of water overnight and they will quickly recover. The next day you can plant them up individually into small pots of multi-purpose compost. When planting sweet potato slips, it’s important to cover the whole length of the stem, so that it is covered right up to the base of the leaves. Sweet potato plants are not hardy so you will need to grow them on in warm, frost free conditions for 3 weeks or more until they are established. Warm, humid conditions will quickly encourage the slips to produce roots. They will most likely need to be grown completely inside a greenhouse in the UK climate in large pots filled with good compost and lots of feeding. Sweet potatoes have a vigorous growth habit and long sprawling stems. In the greenhouse it may be useful to train the stems onto strings or trellis to keep them tidier.

Varieties to consider:

‘Georgia Jet’ – considered to be particularly reliable.

‘T65’ – its red skins contrast nicely with the creamy, white flesh.

‘Beauregard Improved’ – a best selling variety, producing smaller tubers with a lovely salmon-orange flesh.

‘O Henry’ – richly flavoured, has a slightly different, bushier habit than other varieties and produces it’s tubers in a cluster which makes for easier harvesting.

Sweet potatoes can be used soon after harvesting, but they will store well for several months if the skins are cured properly. Lay them out in the sun for a few hours immediately after harvesting and then move them to a warm, humid place for 10 days – a greenhouse is ideal. Once the skins have cured they can be stored in cooler conditions provided that they are kept dry. In late summer, approximately 12 to 16 weeks after planting, the foliage and stems start to turn yellow and die back. Now is the time to start harvesting sweet potatoes, although they can be left longer if you prefer larger tubers. If outdoor grown, lift them before the frosts or they will be damaged.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). They are also a very good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6. Additionally, they are a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and phosphorus.

Sweet potatoes can replace a normal potato in any recipe, but they do have a slightly sweeter taste so some things might not go with it as much (I can’t quite picture my all-time favourite baked potato and baked beans being quite the same with the sweet potato). I’ve had sweet potato stews that were yummy, curried sweet potato recipes are out there, sweet potato salads, baked and stuffed with humous, tofu, lentils, coronation chicken, ham, bacon, eggs. We’ve seen the sweet potato brownies and muffins and breads (have not tried any of these, I must admit). I like them boiled with greens and cheddar cheese – they go very well with cheese. In fact, the best meal that includes sweet potato that I have had is Cauliflower-Sweet Potato-Cheese. Now that is a good combination. And here is a recipe:

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Cauliflower-Sweet Potato-Broccoli-Cheese

(Serves 6) 

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 large broccoli

For the cheese sauce: 

  • 7g butter
  • 1/2-1tbsp plain flour
  • 300g-400g grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 pint of milk
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Rinse and cut up the cauliflower into pieces. Peel and cut up the sweet potato into small chunks. Put both in the pan of water and reduce the heat to low. Boil for 5 minutes before rinsing and cutting up the broccoli and adding it. Boil for about another 5 minutes or until all the vegetables are cooked.
  2. To make the cheese sauce: Put the butter in a saucepan over a high heat to melt. Add the flour, stirring. Take off the heat and stir until combined. Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring. Warm it up over a high flame, stirring. Wait until it bubbles, then turn it down and let it simmer, so it is a thick sauce. Turn of the heat and stir in the cheese a little at a time until dissolved.
  3. Turn the grill onto high or the oven to about 180C.
  4. In a large ovenproof dish, scrape the drained vegetables into the bottom and scrape the cheese sauce over the top. Scatter extra grated cheddar on top, if you would like to have a crispy topping. Place under the grill or in the oven and cook until it is brown on top (it will be a few minutes under the grill, longer in the oven).
  5. Serve hot, with more vegetables like peas or runner beans if you would like.

My other favourite variation is Cauliflower-Potato-Courgette-Broccoli-Cheese. Yum. 

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February Sowings

List of edibles you could start sowing indoors in February:

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Cucumbers: Passandra, Marketmore, Crystal Lemon.  For more information on planting cucumbers, visit my cucumber page: Cucumbers

Calabrese Broccoli – Ironman F1 – Calabrese Broccoli

Cauliflower – All Year Round

Spinach – Emilia and Barbados Salad – Spinach

Peppers – Californian Wonder

Aubergine – Black Beauty Aubergine

Rocket – Salad – Rocket

Onions – bulbs (outdoors under cover) and seeds

Shallots – seeds

Brussels Sprouts and Brukale – Maximus and Petite Posy Brussels Sprouts

Lettuce Salad – Lettuce

Tomatoes – Shirley, Gardner’s Delight, Sungold, Losetto…

Radishes – Salad – Radish

First early potatoes (outdoors under cover)- e.g. Swift, Red Duke of York, Epicure, Rocket The MIGHTY Potato

Garlic (outdoors) Garlic

Herbs indoors

Beetroot – Bolthardy

Spring Onions

Cabbages – Caserta

Oriental greens – e.g. komatsuna, pak choi, mizuna, mitzuna)

Okra

Cape Gooseberries

Rhubarb (forcing time) Rhubarb

Broadbeans – Masterpiece Green Long Pod, Aquadulce Broad Beans

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I’m bound to have missed lots – anyone got any ideas to share??

 

Aubergine

January is the month to keenly get ahead and start sowing your aubergine seeds indoors!

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Aubergine (Eggplant, American and Australian or brinjal, Asian and African), Solanum melongena, is a member of the nightshade family, grown for its edible fruit. A Solanum, it is related to the tomato, pepper and potato. Like its cousin, the Tomato, the Aubergine’s popularity was stifled in Europe and North America until relatively recent years due to its association to nightshade. Where as the Tomato was believed to be poisonous, the Aubergine was believed by superstitious Europeans to induce insanity and was unaffectionately known as the “Mad Apple” until only a few centuries ago.

It is a delicate, tropical plant that is only half-hardy – meaning it stays put indoors in rainy England. The stem is often spiny, the flower whitens to a pretty light purple. Botanically classified as a berry, the fruit contains numerous small, soft seeds that, though edible, taste bitter because they contain nicotinoid alkaloids like the related tobacco.

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Aubergines have been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory. The Aubergine’s scientific name “Melongena” is an ancient name for Aubergine in Sanskrit. About 500 B.C. Aubergine spread into neighbouring China and became a culinary favourite to generations of Chinese emperors. The Chinese saw the Aubergine differently than the Indians did and soon developed their own unique varieties. In particular, they preferred smaller fruited Aubergine, as well as differing shapes and colours. The first known written record of the plant is found in Qimin Yaoshu, an ancient Chinese agricultural treatise completed in 544.

From India and Pakistan, the Aubergine soon spread West into the Middle East and the far west as Egypt and northward into Turkey. The Turks alone are believed to have over 1000 native recipes calling for the use of Aubergine in many different ways. The Moors introduced the Aubergine to Spain were it received its Catalonian name “Alberginia”. The numerous Arabic and North African names for it, along with the lack of the ancient Greek and Roman names, indicate it was introduced throughout the Mediterranean area by Arabs in the early Middle Ages. The vegetable soon spread throughout Europe. The 16th century Spaniards had great respect for the Aubergine and believed its fruit to be a powerful aphrodisiac, an “Apple of Love”. The Italians too, held the Aubergine in very regard and called them “Melanzana”. The English were responsible for coining the name “Eggplant” in regards to a variety with egg shaped, white fruit that they became familiar with, yet strangely, they refer to them today by the French name of Aubergine, which is a corruption of the Catalonian name “Alberginia”. A book on agriculture published in 12th century Arabic Spain described how to grow aubergines. There are records from later medieval Catalan and Spanish. The aubergine is unrecorded in England until the 16th century.

Because of the plant’s relationship with other nightshades, the fruit was at one time believed to be extremely poisonous. The flowers and leaves can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities. It has a special place in folklore. In 13th century Italian traditional folklore, the Aubergine can cause insanity. In 19th century Egypt it was said that insanity was “more common and more violent” when the Aubergine is in season during the summer months.

In 2013, global production of Aubergines was 49.4 million tonnes. More than 1,600,000 hectares (4,000,000 acres) are devoted to the cultivation of Aubergines in the world. 57% of output comes from China alone, followed by India, Iran, Egypt and Turkey as the following top producers.

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Aubergines require a little attention when grown at home. They like sun and are easily knocked off their steady course to maturity so they should be grown under cover.

I start mine off under cover in January otherwise they never seem to grow/develop fruit during the year. February-March is kind of the final deadline.  I start them off in compost in old tall yoghurt containers with holes punctured in the bottom to release water. I place them in a seed tray in the warmest room in our house (my dad’s bedroom is my propagator) and when they have germinated, I put them on the windowsill to get lots lot light during the day before putting them on the floor by the radiator again at night to keep them warm. Once they are big enough and the weather has improved, I pot them on in very large pots of compost in our greenhouse. As the plant grows, it must be supported by sturdy canes. Fortnightly comfrey or seaweed feeds will help to encourage the flowers to fruit. Mr Fothergills recommends spraying the flowers to encourage fruit to set. Be careful- those pretty purple petals are easily damaged.

I have tried growing ‘Black Beauty’, a popular breed. I was given some long, thin, purple-marbled styled ones (that I don’t know the name of) by a friend to grow last year. They unfortunately were not very delicious – they just would not ripen or swell properly. Other recommendations by research suggests: Moneymaker, Rosa Bianca and Slim Jim (especially if you live in the chillier North).

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You will hopefully be able to harvest from August-October. Don’t wait for the aubergines to reach supermarket size, just like courgettes or cucumbers. Snip them off whenever they reach 8cm in length and up to 18cm or so. Mark Diacono, Otters Farm, suggests salting aubergine slices for half an hour, rinsing them, patting them dry, before using as this can get rid of bitterness.

It will mostly be the weather/growing conditions that injure your crop. Otherwise known pests are aphids and red spider mites. Companion planting with basil is one human approach or parasitic controls.

Aubergines are an excellent source of dietary fibre. They are also a good source of vitamins B1, B6 and potassium. It is high in minerals copper, magnesium and manganese. Aubergines are rich in antioxidants, specifically nasunin found in aubergine skin – which gives it its purple colour. A potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger, nasunin has been found to protect the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes. Cell membranes are almost entirely composed of lipids and are responsible for protecting the cell and helping it to function. The lipid layer is crucial for letting nutrients in, wastes out and receiving instructions from messenger molecules that tell the cell what to do. Research indicates that phenolic-enriched extracts of Aubergines may help in controlling glucose absorption, beneficial for managing type 2 diabetes and reducing associated high blood pressure (hypertension). Aubergines may also help to lower LDL cholesterol levels, likely to due to nasunin and other phytochemical in the fruit.

Aubergines come in a wide array of shapes, sizes and colours. The varieties range from dark purple to pale mauve and from yellow to white. The longer purple variety is the most commonly eaten. Aubergines have a very neutral taste, which allows them to be combined with many other ingredients. They are especially good when prepared with garlic (think Baba Ganoush dip) and herbs such as marjoram and basil.

A fresh aubergine is firm and has a smooth, very glossy, dark purple skin and white, spongy flesh. A ripe aubergine has a matte gloss and yields slightly under finger pressure. Its weight must be in proportion to its size: excessively light aubergines can be limp and dehydrated.

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Aubergine is used in plenty of cuisines worldwide. They are curried in India; they are also roasted, skinned, mashed, mixed with onions, tomatoes and spices and then slow cooked gives the South Asian dish gojju. Another version of the dish, begun-pora (charred or burnt), is very popular in Bangladesh where the pulp of the vegetable is mixed with raw chopped shallot, green chilies, salt, fresh coriander and mustard oil. Sometimes fried tomatoes and deep-fried potatoes are also added, creating a dish called begun bhorta. In a dish called bharli vangi, brinjal is stuffed with ground coconut, peanuts and masala and then cooked in oil. Aubergines are also deep fried as in the Italian parmigiana di melanzane, the Turkish karniyarik of the Turkish and Greek moussaka (yum).  It can be sliced and deep fried, then served with plain yoghurt (optionally topped with a tomato and garlic sauce), such as in the Turkish patlıcan kızartması (meaning fried aubergines), or without yoghurt, as in patlıcan şakşuka. Perhaps the best-known Turkish aubergine dishes are imam bayildi (vegetarian) and karniyarik (with minced meat). There are PLENTY of recipes from different cuisines worldwide to choose from, take a look on they internet to be inspired! One of my favourites of all time is the dip baba ganoush: roasted aubergine, blended in a food processor along with tahini paste, lemon juice, diced raw garlic, salt and pepper and served with raw parsley sprinkled on top, a mixture of your favourite salad leaves and Manneesh (sesame and thyme coated flatbread) for dipping – delicious with homegrown boiled potatoes or rice too. It is like another version of humous (which we all know I’m a fan of…).

Aubergines are also stewed in the classic French Ratatouille and here I offer my recipe that I used to cook the (few) Aubergine I managed to grow/harvest 2016 season. If you are lucky, you will be able to make the entire dish using homegrown produce!

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Ratatouille 

(Serves 2)

  • Olive oil, for frying in
  • 1/2 – 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 aubergine, sliced into small chunks
  • 1 courgette, sliced into discs
  • 1 red pepper, sliced into small chunks
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 200-400g fresh tomatoes, sliced in half
  • Salt and pepper, for seasoning
  1. Heat the oil in a large pan. Fry the sliced onion and aubergine, turning it down to simmer.
  2. Add the sliced courgette and pepper. Add the diced garlic and the tomatoes, stirring to combine.
  3. Leave to simmer for at least 15 minutes – 30 minutes, the longer the better, stirring now and then.
  4. Once the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes have broken down, releasing their juices to become a sauce, add salt and pepper for seasoning and remove from the heat and serve hot in dishes.

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