The Tyrany of Geometry

I was amused yesterday when I read India Knight’s article in the Sunday Times about the British and gardening. I do like her articles but this one particularly struck a chord and when India remarked ‘ I’m keener on higgledy-piggledy hollyhocks and courgette flowers than on perfect geometry, I laughed out loud.

I love gardening, my garden isn’t perfect and often stretches the balance between random and completely disorganised. But I love it I don’t want Little Miss Neat or Mr Tidy out there with me. I love the fact that the flowers bulge out of every corner in a riot of clashing colours and the raspberries are taking over the salad bed. What appear to be weeds are actually deliberate – sweet cicely, Jack-in-the-hedge and dandelions are all great in salads, although my neighbour thinks that is just an excuse.

However things are different on the allotment. Why? I don’t know but when growing veg on a larger scale I can’t seem to stop myself growing things in rows. The carrots, radishes and other roots are perfect in their lines and the sweetcorn marches in a set square. The runner beans supports are a marvel of symmetry.  A recent newcomer to the allotment plot remarked ‘gosh how organised you are, I wish I was like that’ – well I don’t. I don’t want to be a control freak.

That is until we have filled the gaps and still have plants to put in when my true untidy nature comes out and why I laughed at India’s comment, because one of the’allotment sayings’ that Terry and I have is ‘ we must rid ourselves of the tyrany of geometry’ as we stuff spare plants in any old corner. 

and I feel much better for it.

Packets of magic – never underestimate the power of seeds

Remember the story of Jack and the beanstalk where Jack foolishly sold his cow for 5 magic beans? He wasn’t undersold, his beans were the passage to a store of treasure in the sky. And it’s true – seeds are natures treasures.

I have just received a parcel of seeds for this season and I can’t tell you how excited I was when the postman dropped them off. Along with the store of seeds saved from last year this promises to be my food for the coming year, the provide the colour and scent of my garden, the taste of fresh sprouting seeds in my salads and a year’s fun sowing planting and harvesting. Who needs a gym when you have access to a garden or allotment a few packets of seeds and a few tools.

Seeds may be tiny, but they’re packed with nutrients like protein, fibre, iron, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. A seed is life. It is a living food. Seeds also provide most cooking oils, many beverages and spices and some important food additives. In fact food from seeds, beans, nuts and grains (all seeds) forms the majority of human calories.

To get the most out of them remember the golden rule – raw food provides the highest sources of vitamins and cooked food helps the body extract the highest amounts of minerals so vary the way you eat them. Salads, raw seed and nut dips for vitamins and added to bread, biscuits or toasted for minerals.

Eating sprouted seeds adds another dimension of flavour and texture as well either raw in salads or cooked in stir fries.

When the garden sends you broad beans…

Well the allotment is starting to take off on the picking front with broad beans, courgettes and runner beans and as usual I can’t keep up, so the broad beans are getting a bit big and I like them small and sweet.

The following recipe is not just something to do with an overload of broad beans, it is a reason for growing them! Thick, garlicky (is that a real word?) and herby.

Broad Bean Dip from The Taste of Health by edited by Jenny Rogers

This recipe calls for dried beans but I used fresh of course.

 

 

 

Ingredients

250g broad beans (removed from their jackets and peeled)

1 small onion

6 garlic cloves

A bunch of fresh thyme and a sprig of sage

2 bay leaves

110ml olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon or 1 lime

Salt & pepper

Method

If using dried beans soak them for a few hours or overnight otherwise just carry on with the recipe.

Put beans into a saucepan and cover with water.  Tie the 3 garlic cloves, the onion and the herbs loosely in a muslin bag and add to the pan. Simmer until the beans are tender then discard the muslin bag and water.

Put the beans into a processor with the olive oil, lemon/lime juice, salt & pepper and the the three remaining garlic cloves and process until they are a smooth paste.

yum yum

click here for the book

Reading the stock – Gardener’s Folklore

One of my New Years resolution, one that I actually stuck to, was to put time aside to actually read more of the books in my stock. After all, the reason I set up the shop was because I loved cooking and gardening (and drinking) and the books on the subjects.

So armed with a glass of wine I sat down to read a likely book, newly in – The Gardener’s Folklore by Margaret Baker. After all this is the time of year when I need all the help I can get in the garden and on the allotment.

One of the exciting things I came across was the Seed Planting Clock sold by W. Atlee Burpee Co of Warminster, Penn in the 1970-80s. What a brilliant thing! Made to show at a glance the time of day, day of the week, month of the year, phase of the moon, days of first and last frost and proper days for planting. I need one of these!

Anyway back to the book.

The author collected and sorted a vast number of old garden beliefs from Britain and North America, from 1973 to 1976 she appealed for instances of gardening traditions and received a raft of letters which she used, along with her research, to look at customs that were still observed and from the past.

The first chapter looks at influences of the moon, sun and stars and reminds us of just how ingrained planting, caring and harvesting has depended on the influences of the moon and sun since man began to practice horticulture. Something that has been lost with our gradual distance from the soil and our connection with where food comes from. Biodynamic horticulture has made a comeback over the past few decades and is now more popular than ever, no surprise as some of us try to reconnect with the earth.

Interesting too are the instances of ‘growing magic’ the next chapter. Some sound quite strange such as ‘whipping  and shooting idle trees’ and some are quite rightly damned to the distance past, I’m talking of sacrifices here! But many of these superstitions have a very practical basis however strange it may seem to us now. As Margaret Baker comments, ‘whipping and shooting trees would undoubtedly knock off surplus fruit spurs and by reducing the number a tree must support, improve the crop’

This is a truly readable and absorbing book. If you are in anyway looking at improving your growing, it wouldn’t hurt to look a little closer at how our forefather (and of course mothers) brought a little magic into the garden or orchard.

I know I will be.

Like this book click here

Totally Tomatoes!

It’s February, the time of year I start getting my tomato seeds on the go. As readers of my blog will know I am a bit obsessive about tomato growing and the hardest part of it is deciding which varieties I am going to go for each year.

Figures vary on how many varieties of tomato there are, but a conservative estimate is 7,500. So you can see my problem, I have only got room for about 10 varieties, that is if I want to grow anything else and I try to grow a mixture of outdoor and greenhouse, beef, plum, cherry,and of various colours, so the calculations are complicated. Add to that the fact that I have a shoe box full of tomato seeds and I to rotate them so that the seeds don’t get too old. 

The seeds I have come from a variety of sources, some bought from seeds suppliers, some I save myself or from friends’ saved seeds but mostly I get them from seed swaps. Over the years I have found some really interesting tomato varieties at seed swaps, at the Arundel seed swap we used to get a visitor whom we called Mr Tomato because he grew vast numbers and always brought along interesting varieties. It was from him that I first found Ivory Egg, Livingstone’s Favourite and Bloody Butcher. 

So what am I going for this year? On the large side I’m going for Cherokee Purple, a delicious sweet tomato great with a bit of olive oil and pepper and for small Piccolo, a sweet red variety I grew from seeds saved from a tomato that originally came from a ‘well known’ supermarket. One year the piccolo plant came through as an orange tomato that lasted on the plant until late November and stored in a basket until January. Replanted these seeds have stayed true and I call them Golden Piccolo, they will be in the greenhouse again this year as it is lovely to have fresh tomatoes in winter.

So where am I? Oh yes, the next is Jazz Fever, from Mr Tomato, a red fruit which I haven’t tried before. I always have to grow Black Cherry, my favourite large cherry, so sweet and juicy it is very hardy and prolific. Then Green Zebra and Ivory Egg both for the taste and colour variation. Then two from seed that I actually bought – Pomodoro Costoluto Fiorento from Franchi seeds and Crimson Crush from Dobies. The Crimson Crush I grew from plants last year, these are sold as blight resistant and whether that is true or not they were delicious and grew outdoor with no problems.

Then there is ‘Big Plum’ I don’t know if this is the right name but it certainly is a big plum and great for cooking and last but not least Sungold, whose little golden fruits brighten up a salad.

I think that’s eleven but who’s counting?

I’ll let you know how I get on and if I can restrict my self just to these. Meanwhile do visit your local seed swap and try new varieties. Here’s some options or look in your local press for one near you.

Seedy Sunday 

Garden Organic Seedy Sunday

 

Seasonal thoughts

One of the things I love about the allotment, and there are many, is that it really links me to the seasons.

I love the fact that in the spring that taste of the first asparagus reminds me that it is getting warmer even if it isn’t. But it isn’t just the foods, although moving from the summer glut of runner beans, courgettes tomatoes and salads to the first thoughts of roast roots and baked potatoes and warming comfort soups is permanently linked in my mind to the lighting of fires and walks in the frosty woods.

The summer brings the watering and weeding along with the fantastic glut of peas, beans, summer carrot and new potatoes and the long warm evenings (if we’re lucky) and the smells of cut grass and roses.

The preserving of the summer foods, making jams and chutneys, pickles and bottled fruit, leads nicely into fleeces and jumpers and the Community Apple Day and tidying the plot for winter.

So I’m just about to plant the broad bean seeds before it gets too cold and the planting of seeds makes me feel optimistic at any time, then I’ll eat the squashes and celeriac that are just coming ready with stewed apple and custard to follow. And it all feels so right.

So even though the winter evenings aren’t far away, a glass of mulled wine makes up for digging the frosty ground for the carrots and parsnips and there are always the plans for next years crops when Christmas is over.

 

 

Tomato Day – an obsessive’s day in the kitchen

I am a bit of a tomato freak and grow quite a few varieties all over the place every year, so I set aside one day in September to make the most of the end of harvest tomatoes. Friday was Tomato Day in my house. Turn off the phone, turn up the music, strip the tomato plants, get out the recipes and get cooking. Each year is a mix of old favourites and new recipes. This year thanks to a bloomin’ bountiful crop I came up with some lovely food and had a great day at the same time. And I still have lots of fresh tomatoes to enjoy.

Tomato Ketchup from Thane Prince’s Book Jams and Chutneys – Preserving the Harvest. This is THE BEST ketchup recipe I have found, especially as I use Elderflower Vinegar instead of cider vinegar. The mixture of spices really set it ahead of others and I have made it for the last three years since I discovered Thane’s book.

Tomato Soup, a great staple recipe I found whilst researching Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen, sounds fairly ordinary but it is hearty and warming and it freezes well. (page 112 if you want to make it).

 

Cherry Tomato Focaccia with Basil from Flavoured Breads by Linda Collister – all the better to dip into your Tomato Soup.

Tomato, Red Pepper and Red Onion pasta sauce with basil, an old favourite recipe to stock the freezer

 

 

 

Celery, Lentil and Green Tomato Warmer is new recipe from Greens 24/7 by Jessica Nadel. I won this book earlier in the year and what a fab book it turned out to be. A bowl of this was rushed round to a friend with a cold who needed a bit of nourishment the rest disappeared on Friday night!with for winter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, but certainly not least, Green Tomato End of Harvest Soup from In Praise of Tomatoes by Ronni Lundi. I love this book and although I have copies in my shop I have my own copy, never to leave the kitchen. This soup is absolutely great and I will be making it again – a lot –  with green tomatoes, onions, celery, squash, beans, courgette, corn kernels, carrots, greens (kale or collard), potatoes, thyme. Everything I have on the allotment – hurrah. I used runner beans, everything I cook has runner beans in at the moment.  I can’t tell you how delicious this is – so try it. Buy the book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

For In Praise of Tomatoes by Ronni Lundy Click Here

For Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen Click Here

Flower Shows – A Community Day

 

Last Saturday morning saw me balancing vases of herbs and flowers, a loaf of bread and a basket of cherry tomatoes, beans, onions and apples. I was off to the Arundel Flower and Produce Show.

I also have the fun of being on the team that organise it which means that the run up has been a bit frantic what with booking entries, finding spare tables, making sure the judges know where to go and when. Luckily as a team our group spreads the load of pre-show jobs so we all do our bit and no-one has too much to do.

But on the day it is all hands to the deck as entrants arrive with their precious loads of fruit flowers, veg and produce. 

Ours is a small community show and we have resisted the urge to expand it into an all-singing all-dancing marquee sized event, I think it has benefited from that as well, sometimes small is better. Our show has an atmosphere of ‘friendly competition’ and although the exhibits are judged against RHS rules people tend to enter for the crack rather than as serious competition goers. Having said that there are a couple of entrants for whom this is a major hobby and who spend the year raising perfect specimens, and their entries do raise the standard of the show and give the rest of us a target to beat.

It seems me that television programmes show flower and vegetable shows as full of obsessives and that we all have to plan for months, measuring our carrots and standing watch over our prize exhibits. In truth most small shows are full of people who jusr want a bit of fun, and yes, to show off a bit the lovely things they have grown. As I said, friendly competition is it, one family compete to win the Victoria sponge section of our show and the old gardeners versus the new growers has everyone discussing how the year has been, giving everyone a chance to moan about the weather, what has worked, which varieties are best and what has been a failure this year.

Perhaps I am swayed by the small thrill I get when I see a coloured card by my efforts, this year the bread, redcurrant jelly, cherry tomatoes and apples and the community feeling grown along with the fruit and veg.

It’s National Asparagus Month

Did you know there was a National Asparagus Month? No nor did I. I love, love, love asparagus, it is the first crop on the allotment and the thought of those fresh little shoots just makes my mouth water. This is what seasonal food is all about. Fresh from the ground it is unbeatable, lightly steamed with lashings of butter and a little pepper and salt, eaten with soft boiled eggs or as fresh asparagus soup and because it is one of those crops that has to be constantly picked I can share it with friends and family.

Anyway throughout May it’s National Asparagus Month – the perfect time to try out this delicious vegetable! The UK asparagus season lasts through May and June, so make the most of it.

Native to Europe, asparagus is a great source of fibre and is rich in vitamins A, B and C as well as folic acid – perfect for getting you fit and ready for summer.

If you are not lucky enough to grow asparagus buy as much as you can now while it is in season, choose firm but tender stalks with good colour and closed tips.  Asparagus soon looses its flavour and tenderness, so it is best eaten on the day you buy it

For more information, and all you need to know about asparagus, including events around the UK and great recipes go to the National Asparagus Month website.

So get ready for National Asparagus Month and start eating your greens this May!

It’s all go in the bean patch

The first glut of the year down at the allotment – I love it! The broad beans are going a bit mad and we are having problems keeping up with them while they are small and tasty. Not many black fly this year either.

So tonight’s dinner is Broad bean and dill pilaf. It’s on the cooker now so I will let you know how it goes tomorrow. Smells delicious.