Life in the Garden

This year I actually got around to joining in with the RSPB Birdwatch. Out in the garden with a cup of tea and a notepad to record what birds are out there. I don’t feed the birds in the garden, with two cats it seems a bit unfair to lure them in, but I do put food out on the extension roof, the birds can get at it but the cats can’t get the birds and it doesn’t encourage rats – a win-win all round. Weirdly it also means I can sit in the bath and watch the birds coming and going!

Anyway while I was out there I started going through what I am going to plant this year and wondering what wildlife I will have visiting me. We have the allotment for growing food so the garden is for playing in which means it doesn’t have to be too ordered and I like the fact that in  this small garden I can make a small wood pile for the stag beetles which I seem to have a few of every year. The little pond has newts and various snails, water beetles, fresh water shrimpy things and in the summer it throws up damsel flies and dragon flies. There are LOTS of slow worms which I love and the occasional hedgehog. I would like more and have built a hedgehog house which hasn’t been used yet, maybe one winter they will more in. Sadly the last hedgehog we had was eaten by an invading badger.

We do get butterflies although I’m not very good at identifying them and bees and I look out especially for the honeysuckle hawk moths in late summer that visit the honeysuckle outside the back door.

So I’m looking forward to a wild summer in the garden and planting according which luckily means lots of flowers to attract the insects.

As I write this it is Hedgehog Day, hopefully that is an omen and I will get the hedgehogs visiting the garden this year.

Hedgehog on a path (c) Chas Moonie

 

National Curry Week

As it is National Curry Week I thought it only right to share a few of my favourite curry recipes with you so over the next few days I’ll post them. A bit of a cheat with this first one as I have posted it before but it does deserve to be repeated.

One of the recipes that stood out for me while I was choosing recipes for my book, Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen, was a recipe for a curry powder mix. This came from a hand written notebook from William Sayer started in 1821 and the reason it caught my eye was the inclusion of a spice called Grains of Paradise which I had never heard of before.

So I had to look this up. Grains of paradise are peppery seeds from the Aframomum melegueta plant. They have been used in their native West Africa for centuries, and in Europe since at least the 800s. Today, they are commonly in use in Northern Africa as well, and less abundant in Europe. This spice is also known as alligator pepper, Guinea grains, or melegueta pepper. You can use Fresh ground pepper, sansho powder (prickly ash powder) or cardamom as a substitute. Grains of Paradise come from West Africa, where they grow on a leafy plant and are easily harvested. The name comes from Medieval spice traders looking for a way to inflate the price – it was claimed that these peppery seeds grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the rivers out of paradise. Although Grains of Paradise are now fairly rare and expensive, they used to be used as a cheaper substitute for black pepper. They have a zesty flavor reminiscent of pepper, with hints of flowers, coriander and cardamom.

I have recently also come across a book called The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, a marvellous book subtitled ‘The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks’ and lo and behold Grains of Paradise are included:

Amy goes into some detail about the plant but the bit that interested me was how the spice has hopefully solved a problem posed in zoos. Apparently captive western lowland gorillas often suffer from heart disease; in fact it is the cause of death for 40% of them. In the wild, grains of paradise make up 80-90% of their diet. A gorilla health project is now underway to improve the well-being of captive gorillas with grains of paradise.

How fascinating is that?

Meanwhile here is the recipes for the Currie Powder from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen. The Grains of Paradise are the little balls on the right in the picture.

As the original quantities are large I have provided the quantities here to produce just over 400g.

 Ingredients

260g Turmeric

10gCayennepowder

6g Cloves

12g Cinnamon

10g Grains of Paradise

95g Coriander Seeds

6g Ground Ginger

10g Cummin Seed

6g Fennel Seed

Method

You can either use pre-ground or whole spices. Grind the whole seeds and spices then add the ready ground spices. Give them a short pulse on the electric grinder or pound carefully in a pestle. Can’t you just smell it now?

Store in air tight containers. As William comments ‘This is the best currie powder I ever used’ It is a medium heat and is used just like any other curry powder. As a marinade and paste for chicken I used 2 tablespoons mixed with 2 crushed cloves of garlic and lemon juice and for a vegetable curry used 1 tablespoon.

British Pie Week – nearly missed it!

Nearly missed it! It is nearly the end of British Pie Week 4 – 8th March but if you nearly missed it don’t worry pies are good any time. It can’t be disputed that the pie is a staple in some of the best British food we have.  Why?  Because they are tasty and adaptable.

Gala pie, chicken pie, steak pie.  Followed by an apple pie.   Mmm …

Pie week was set up by pastry makers Jus-Rol who want to celebrate this fantastic pastry-filled invention with our very own pie week!

Here is a lovely cold pie from Delia Smith’s Cookery Course Part Two, one of my all-time stand by recipe sources (I love this woman and her books). Although I have cheated here and used bought pastry.

Cold Chicken Pie

I pack short crust pastry

1 x 41/2 chicken (cooked)

1 lb pork sausage meat

1 teaspoon ground mace

6 spring onions (finely chopped)

The rind and juice of half a lemon

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

I table spoon fresh chopped sage (or 1/2 tablespoon dried)

2 tablespoons of double cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

I beaten egg for the glaze

Method

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6

Divide the pastry into 2/3 and 1/3. Roll out the larger piece and line a 8 inch (20cm) round pie tin – although I have used a loaf tin to make the pie easier to slice.

Strip all the flesh from the chicken and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Place them in a bowl, sprinkle with the mace and season well with salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl combine the sausage meat, thyme, sage, lemon rind and 2 teaspoons of the juice. Pour in the cream and mix everything together well to make a soft mixture (rather like a cake mix), if necessary add a little more cream. Put one third of the sausage mix into the bottom of the pastry lined tin and spread it flat. Now put half the chicken pieces on top and sprinkle and remaining lemon juice, then add another layer of sausage meat, followed by the rest of the chicken and a final layer of sausage meat. As You can see from the photo I got the layers wrong but I don’t think it matters.

Roll the rest of the pastry to make a lid. Seal the edges with water and glaze the top of the pie with beaten egg. Bake on a baking sheet for for 30 minutes then reduce the heat to 350F/180C/Gas 4 and cook for another 1 1/4 hours.

I also made this with pheasant, delicious with a nice crisp carrot and red cabbage salad or hot buttered new potatoes.

Swapping is a Growing Habit

It’s that time of year when all of us gardeners are stuck with our noses in the seed catalogues making lists of all those things that are going to grow so successfully this year. The garden or plot is so full of promise.

But before you send off that order check that there isn’t a better and cheaper way to get your seeds.

Seed swapping is really popular, and for a good reason (or several).

Because you have a plant you love and want to grow again. - It could be the perfect blue campanula, the best tasting tomato or a champion pumpkin. You never know when a seed company will discontinue your favourite seed to make way for new varieties. Saving your own seed is the only guarantee.

To help safeguard our genetic heritage. - In the past 100 years we have lost over 90% of our vegetable varieties in the UK. Nowadays, just three corporations control a quarter of the world’s seed market, vying for power over the world’s food production and hybrid seeds (which cannot be seed-saved) are becoming commonplace in seed catalogues.

To save money - Seed from catalogues can be expensive. Saving your seeds means that you get more for less.

To help preserve our right to save seeds. - The industry continues to place more and more restrictions on farmers’ and gardeners’ right to save seeds. Variety patenting, licensing agreements, and restricted lists such as that maintained by the European Union, are industry tools to wrest control of the seed from the commons and keep it for themselves. Thankfully last month MEPs voted against a proposed seed regulation that would further reduce the seed market but we do need to vote with our purses.

To find some thing different – There are lots of seeds that you only find through seed swap. I have found some of my favourites at seed swaps especially tomatoes and my favourite pea, that you can’t buy on the market. So I will be taking my list to the Worthing Transition Town Seed Swap on the 14th Feb to see what exciting things I can find. click here for details

Can’t find a seed swap near you? Don’t worry, you can find seed swap sites on the internet. Here are a couple in the UK but it is a worldwide phenomenon.

http://www.gardenswapshop.co.uk/index.php and http://www.seedswappers.co.uk/

Remember – If you like what you eat, save the seeds.

Don’t know how to save seed?  Back Garden Seed Saving by Sue Strickland is the book for you Click here

Autumn comfort food

It’s grey, drizzly and grungy outside so time for a little comfort food. This is a taster from my new book Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen and comes curtesy of the 1940s. Irish Potato Pudding…creamy, filling and comforting on a cold day.

Irish Potato Pudding  (Anon)

When meat was scarce potatoes and cheese were a major part of the diet designed to fill on a short budget and rationing.

 

 

Ingredients

6 fair sized potatoes (or about 600g)

300ml hot milk

35g butter

50g grated cheese

2 eggs

Seasoning

Method

Cook the potatoes and pass through a sieve or mash very well until smooth. Heat the milk with the butter until the butter has melted., add this to the potato. The consistency will vary depending on the type of potato used but it needs to be more liquid than normal mashed potato as the baking will make it stiffer. Separate the eggs and whisk the whites until stiff. When the potato is cool mix in the grated cheese, the yolks of the eggs and salt & pepper to taste. The whites are then folded in and the whole placed in a deep dish. Add a little grated cheese to the top and bake for 30 – 40 minutes at 190oc/ 375of / gas 5 until the top is golden brown.

The Perfect Garden Read

The evenings are stretching out, the garden is looking perfect (well, in my dreams) and I’ve found the perfect book to inspire you gardeners while you relax after your labours. It’s titled Four Hedges A Gardener’s Chronicle by Clare Leighton. Originally written in 1935 this follows a year through Clare’s garden. Illustrated with woodcuts by Clare it is beautiful and absorbing. So get a comfortable recliner, a glass of wine and settle down in your own perfect garden.

Of course you don’t have to be a gardener to enjoy it, I’m not being gardenist.

Er when is it too late to say Happy New Year?

Is there an accepted point at which it is not on to say Happy New Year ? – has anyone set a date or does it just get more and more embarassing until you stop.

Through circumstances beyond my control, which most things seem to be nowadays, I haven’t updated the blog since Christmas. So Happy New Year to everyone, I hope 2014 will be everything you want it to be.

I love Christmas and the New Year and get tired and emotional – oh and fat, over the festivities. So January is time to consolidate, pull my socks up and make lots of soup. The year has started well, if not dry, and I’m looking forward to cooking, gardening, finding exciting books and sharing them, writing, dancing and at some point relaxing.

Before I start getting sensible, my friend Norma and I are off to a spa to start the year right, it is our yearly treat and I can’t tell you how much we love it. Then I’m back to a few book auctions and getting down to writing.

So I’ll try to keep up to date with the blog, sharing recipes, books, gardening tips I’ve found. You can keep me to it – meanwhile pass me the massage oil