Collecting Mustard Seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use mustard seeds in these Indian curries:

Courgettes РRed Lentil Dahl

Okra РCurried Okra

Curried Potatoes and Bread maker Naan Bread

Cucumbers РPaneer Curry

Runner Beans

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here are some recipes to try runner beans with:

Raw runner beans dipped in homous.

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

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

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

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

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

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Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti

 

Raspberry Curd Cake

https://wordpress.com/posts/bellasbakingsite.wordpress.com

 

Raspberry Curd Cake

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All of our raspberries are harvested and frozen for this summer’s season. I am using them to make lots of jam, but not only am I trying to make room in the freezer again for the runner beans (oh dear) but I am trying to use up the eggs of our many chickens and ducks that are laying non-stop.

My mum showed me this great idea ‚Äď raspberry curd.

I thought of an equally good idea ‚Äď raspberry curd cake.

I’ve already been making my lemon curd cake for a few years now, so why not try raspberry curd instead? Uses up raspberry and eggs, perfect!

Well, the curd was a little runny and when I created my cake mix, it looked bubblegum pink. This kind of frightened me a bit. It looked alright once cooked. When I cut a slice, it was very pink. I carefully tried a bit, with extra curd as a sauce, and wow, I actually thought it was alright! To me, it was better than the lemon curd cake, despite being pink!

If anyones curious to try it, the recipe is below. Have fun!

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Raspberry Curd

‚Äst4 egg yolks ‚Äď 250g sugar ‚Äď 200g butter ‚Äď Zest and juice of 2 small lemons ‚Äď 210g raspberries

  1. In a pan, whisk together the yolks and sugar until combined.
  2. Mix in the butter and lemons. Over a low flame, whisk the mixture, as if you are making custard, until it has thickened. This may take some time.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the raspberries so that they breakdown and the mixture becomes pink coloured.
  4. Leave it to cool completely before using it in the cake (below), spreading it on bread, or storing it in preserved jars in the fridge for up to a month.

Raspberry Curd Cake

‚Äď 75g butter ‚Äď 150g sugar ‚Äď 2 eggs ‚Äď 150g self-raising flour ‚Äď 1 tsp baking powder ‚Äď 4 tbsp raspberry curd

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 1kg loaf tin with baking paper.
  2. Beat the butter and the sugar together in a bowl until creamy.
  3. Mix in the eggs, followed by the flour and baking powder.
  4. Finally, mix in the curd until thoroughly combined.
  5. Scrape the contents of the bowl into the prepared tin. Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Test to see in the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre. If it comes out clean, it is done.
  6. Leave the cake to cool in the tin before transferring it to a wire rack.
  7. Serve the cake in slices with more of the curd spread on top. Store in an airtight container for three days.

 

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Mother’s Day

It is Mother’s Day tomorrow and even though I am not at home right now and unable to make one of the greatest people in my life a special cake, give her a hug and a bouquet of primroses from the garden and I can’t spend the day with her, I offer you the link to my baking blog to inspire everyone to roll up their sleeves and get baking for the perfect, homemade gift for their mum. Top the baked item with edible primroses from the garden, the perfect spring celebration!

https://bellasbakingsite.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/mothers-day-make-something-special-for-a-special-person/

Flowers for the buzzy bees Рlink to edible flowers post for future cake decorating ideas

Celeriac

Celeriac (Apium graveolens var. rapaceum), also called turnip-rooted celery or knob celery, is from the same family as Рyou guessed it Рcelery. It is cultivated for its edible roots and shoots. It is sometimes called celery root too.

Celeriac is derived from wild celery, which has a small, edible root and has been used in Europe since ancient times.¬†While what the early Greeks called¬†selinon¬†is mentioned in Homer’s¬†Odyssey¬†in 800 B.C., celeriac did not become an important vegetable until the Middle Ages. It was first recorded as a food plant in France in 1623, and was commonly cultivated in most of Europe by the end of the 17th century.¬†Celeriac was originally grown in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. Today, the vegetable is still popularly grown. It hasn’t taken off in America as much but give it time, it took a while for the Brits to adjust to the ‘ugly duckling’ of the veggie world…

Today celeriac is uncommon outside of Europe or W. Asia, and is not widely used in Britain. It is popular in France (where it is used in the classic dish céleri rémoulade Рmatchsticks of celery in a flavoured mayonnaise) and Italy.

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‘Prinz’ is recommended. I tried ‘Monarch’ last year and have sown the same this season.

Sow celeriac like celery: indoors in March, in modules in a warm place, keeping it moist before hardening off and planting out. Link to celery planting conditions: Celery

Plant them out 40cm apart. I plant my celery and celeriac in the same trench, just because they are both of the same family and both like the same conditions. For the permacultural enthusiast, try sowing leeks between them. They are a good companion plant that is meant to attract beneficial insects and deter the nasties.

Celeriac takes a lot longer to reach maturity in comparison to celery. Harvesting won’t begin until September or winter but they are frost hardy and can be left in the ground without protection until March. However, I urge you to earth them up and to not leave them too long – mine rotted in the wet winter weather we had this year and I didn’t get a chance to harvest many. After harvesting, store with the leaves removed to increase its life-span.

Typically, celeriac is harvested when its hypocotyl is 10‚Äď14¬†cm in diameter.¬†However, a growing trend (specifically in Peruvian¬†and South American cuisine) is to use the immature vegetable, valued for its intensity of flavour and tenderness overall. It is edible raw or cooked, and tastes similar to the stalks (the upper part of the stem) of common celery cultivars. Celeriac may be roasted, stewed, blanched, or mashed. Sliced celeriac occurs as an ingredient in soups, casseroles, stews¬†and other savory¬†dishes. The leaves and stems of the vegetable are quite flavoursome, and aesthetically delicate and vibrant, which has led to their use as a¬†garnish. Never underestimate the wonders of celeriac or celery in stocks – along with carrot and onion they really make a wonderful tasting, hearty stock to use in risottos or soups (see:¬†Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock).

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Celeriac contains no cholesterol or fat and provides an excellent source of dietary fiber.

Celeriac has the ability to absorb flavours without losing itself and works well with many partners. Mark Diacono recommends eating it with cream or layering it with potato to create a new dauphinoise recipe. Peel the celeriac, cutting off the knobbly parts and blanch in the water for a minute and then wash with cold water, if you are eating it raw. Cut it up in matchsticks and mix it with Greek yoghurt and slices of apple. Or carrot and beetroot for a colourful root vegetable salad. Try adding it to mashed potato, mashed potato and garlic, or mashed swede and carrot. It was delicious cut into tiny pieces and boiled/steamed alongside veggie/normal sausages, boiled potatoes and other boiled vegetables with cranberry sauce or redcurrant jelly and gravy. Alternatively, boil it, add some butter and finely chopped herbs, like parsley or dill for a side dish.

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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 Hs√ľeh-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¬†¬įC, abundant sunshine and warm nights. Not really suited to the UK. Annual rainfalls of 750‚Äď1,000¬†mm (30‚Äď39¬†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‚Äď60 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 ‚Äėslips‚Äô. These are the long shoots that have been removed from ‚Äėchitted‚Äô sweet potato tubers. ‚ÄėSlips‚Äô don‚Äôt have roots, although sometimes there are signs of small roots beginning to appear. The roots will grow once the ‚Äėslip‚Äô has been planted. Whilst it is possible to grow your own ‚Äėslips‚Äô 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‚Äôs 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:

‚ÄėGeorgia Jet‚Äô – considered to be particularly reliable.

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

‚ÄėBeauregard Improved‚Äô – 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‚Äôs 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 Рa 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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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 Рmeaning 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 ‚ÄúAlberginia‚ÄĚ. 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 Рwhich 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¬†patlńĪcan kńĪzartmasńĪ (meaning fried aubergines), or without yoghurt, as in¬†patlńĪcan ŇüakŇüuka. 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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