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.

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.

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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.

 

 

Apples Galore – Apple Snow

What to do with all the apples? I have a few favourite recipes that I haul out every year and then I’m looking for new ideas. This is a lovely recipe I found while I was writing Recipes for an Unknown Kitchen and is now on the regular apple recipe list, it is instant comfort food.

Apple Snow (G. R. Moores)

This recipe came from a time when people weren’t worried about eating raw egg white as the topping isn’t cooked. If you are concerned about this you can either make Italian meringue or used cooked meringue to top the dish. As with most home dishes there are a lot of versions of Apple Snow most of which add the meringue to the apple pulp. This is rather like an apple trifle.

Ingredients

Base

3 – 4 trifle sponges or left over cake, 200g cooking apples cored and peeled, Juice of a lemon, 30 g sugar, 100ml water

Custard

2 egg yolks, 30g sugar, 300ml milk

Meringue

2 egg whites, 1 tablespoon sugar

Method

The amount of sponge will depend on the size and shape of the dish you use. Put the sponge in the bottom as for a trifle. Cook the apple with the sugar, lemon juice and water until pulpy. This needs to be fairly liquid to soak the sponge. Cover the sponge with the cooked apple. Make the custard by mixing the egg yolks and sugar, heat the milk and add to the mix. Return to the pan and heat stirring constantly until thickened. Do not boil as the mix might curdle. Pour the custard over the apple. Cool in the fridge for 15 – 30mins. Whisk the egg whites, adding the sugar when the mix has thickened. Continue whisking until it forms small peaks.

Store in the fridge to cool

Alternatively, you can use the easy cook version by using tinned custard and crumble bought meringue over the top, much quicker.

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This weekend is Apple Affair at West Dean Gardens a great weekend don’t miss it.

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.

In Praise of Giving – Home Made Stuff

Yesterday I was given a posy of flowers from my friend’s garden, beautiful pink roses and lady’s mantle to be precise. I can’t tell you how good that made me feel.

I wrongly tend to think that giving flowers from my garden or something I have cooked is the cheat’s way out of giving a present or that I am a bit of a cheapskate. I took a bottle of rhubarb and elderflower cordial that I had made to a party last week rather than wine and questioned myself all the way there.

Wrong! wrong! wrong! Time to have a rethink.

Giving hand made presents seem to have been replaced by the need to show how much you care by how much you spend. Are we measured by how much we spend on each other? I know that those people who I call friends are not in any way like that, so why do I still so often suffer under the illusion that I need to prove my affection by spending money rather than time on them. I love receiving hand made or second hand gifts, chosen because the giver knows it is something I would love rather than consider where it came from or how much it cost. So why do I not practice more of what I appreciate from others?

True the same person who gave me the flowers gets a jar of my chutney every Christmas and my brother would rather have a jar of my Marmalade than the bought variety.

So, in future I intend to give more to friends and family in the way of time through something I have made or grown as a first option rather than a second choice.

and follow my own mantra – Every day give something away.

 

National Allotment Week

There seems to be a week for everything and this week is National Allotment Week celebrating the Great British tradition that is the Allotment.

In 2013 they have decided to theme the week with a ‘fruity’ feel in celebration of the variety of sweet and succulent crops you can grow on a UK allotments. Too often allotments are thought of as places that only grow the humble potato or everyday carrot, but in truth they offer a cornucopia of delicious treats – from sumptuous strawberries, ravishing raspberries and glorious gooseberries through to beautiful blackberries, precious plums and appetising apples.

Allotments need protecting from development plans and budget cuts, so now is the time to act. If you think your site is under threat then there are several things you can do.

Interested in finding out more? http://www.nsalg.org.uk/news-events-campaigns/national-allotments-week/