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

 

Post halloween pumpkin feasts

However you spent halloween, at a fancy dress party, shepherding little ghosts and ghouls round on the trick or treat circuit or staying up to scare yourself to death on fright films, now that it is over let’s get down to the serious stuff – cooking with pumpkins.

I did a quick run through the books on my shelves and pumpkin recipes on line and came to the conclusion that there is no excuse for not using the flesh from the pumpkins used to decorate the porch for the ghostly evening. I try not to get on my high horse in these blogs but the waste of food in the form of pumpkins really upsets me.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the U.S. in 2014 were only used for lanterns before being trashed and in the UK we are no better. The UK buys over one million pumpkins during October – around 90% of annual pumpkin sales. Once carved, the majority are thrown away with around 18,000 tonnes ending up in landfill according to the North London Waste Authority (NLWA).

Don’t give me the stories about nobody in the house liking pumpkin – would they be able to identify it in a lovely vegetable stew? or not knowing what to do – I found 20 pages of recipes from all over the world in my Ecosia search. Let’s aim to reduce that figure by next halloween.

So how about it?  Send me your favourite pumpkin recipes. The three best will win a copy of Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen and I’ll publish them in future blogs.

For more information on what you can do with scooped out pumpkins this Halloween, a selection of handy recipes can be found on the Love Food Hate Waste website 

One of my favourites is Pumpkin Bread from Flavoured Breads by Linda Collister

Ingredients

700g pumpkin or winter squash, 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil, 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (don’t be tempted to reduce this), 2 teaspoons of golden caster sugar, 15g fresh yeast*, 350g strong white bread flour, extra flour for dusting, 1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt to glaze.

* or use 7g sachet of dried yeast, mix with the flour before adding the pumpkin puree.

Method

Peel, remove seeds and dice the pumpkin into 1cm cubes, you need 400g. Cook this without water, either roast or steam. Put in a processor with the oil and puree until smooth. Then allow to cool until just luke warm add the salt and sugar.

If you are using freash yeast mix in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of warm water. Mix the paste into the puree.

Measure the flour into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Spoon in the puree then mix in the flour to make a soft dough. Turn our onto a floured work surface and knead thoroughly for 5 – 10 mins (or 5mins in a mixer on a dough hook.

Shape into a round loaf and put on a baking sheet covered to rise until doubled – about 1 1/2 hours.

Press your thumb into the middle to make small hollow and brush with the egg glaze. Score into segments with a sharp knife then bake in a preheated oven at 200c, 400F or gas 6 for 30 mins, until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack if you can without eating it before it cools (very difficult). It makes a lovely bright orange loaf that looks and taste great.

 

 

Country Captain a Dish of Two Continents

I find it interesting how dishes make their way round the world starting off in one country only to be taken up as ‘a local dish’ in other. Take Kedgeree for instance, an dish originating in India, that became a quintessentially English dish and the iconic American Hot Dog, an import from Germany.

Whilst looking for recipes my book, Recipes for an Unknown Kitchen, I found a recipe for Chicken Country Captain  in a hand written recipe book written by a G. Watson, a fabulous find, crammed with recipes and marked through with smudges and grease marks, a book that had been used well, covering a period from 1940s to 1960s.

What an unusual name I thought, looked it up and found that the dish comes from the southern states of America where there are hundreds of different versions and states vie as to where it originated. However it didn’t stop there, it seems that the dish did originate in India finding its way to America where it has been adopted as a classic southern dish.

I found a recipe Country Captain Vegetables in the Indian 1947 edition of Indian Cookery by E. P.  Veerasawmy (also spelt Veeraswamy). Veeraswamy, in Regent Street, is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the UK, opened in 1926.

So here are both recipes in honour of National Curry Week, but which Nation?

Chicken Country Captain

This version is very simple, Anglicised and very tasty. The chilli powder gives it a kick so reduce it to your taste.

4 x chicken portions

100g ghee or vegetable oil

A large sliced onion

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground chilli

½ teaspoon salt

Method

Fry the onion in the ghee or oil depending on your preference until it is crispy and caramelised but not too dark. Remove it from the pan and place on a plate with some kitchen roll to drain. Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary then add the turmeric and chilli, fry briefly then add the chicken. Cook on a medium heat to ensure it is cooked through thoroughly, turning it regularly. The cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken portions but cook for about 30 minutes then test. Cook for the first 15 minutes with a lid or cover on the pan then remove it to reduce any liquid. I have also tried this using a tablespoon of the Curry Powder from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen and it works really well. Serve with rice cooked your favourite way and with the onions on top.

Country Captain Vegetables

This is a good way of using up those left over vegetables or the odd collection of vegetables that seem to live in the veg box at the end of the week, any mixture will do.

 

 

 

2lb (1 kg) cooked cold vegetables chopped in chunks of around 2cm.

I large onion, finely sliced (or the equivalent in sliced spring onions)

2 cloves garlic thinly sliced lengthwise.

4 fresh or pickled chillies ( or less depending on the heat you want)

1 dessertspoon of curry powder

1 tablespoon of cooking oil or ghee

I tablespoon vinegar or tamarind water

Salt to taste

Method

Lightly fry the onions and  garlic. Toss the vegetables in a bowl with the curry powder, add the chillies and sprinkle the vinegar over and mix. Add the vegetables to the pan with the onions and garlic and sautee. Salt to taste. Serve with rice and fresh scraped or desicated coconut (optional). Again I have used my own curry powder but use whichever is your favourite.

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.

 

 

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.

My Favourite Bean Dish

A great dish for the summer with the fresh baby broad beans coming through.This comes from In One Pot by Blanche Vaughan, a great book with dish after dish that I want to try.

Broad Bean and Dill Pilaf 

250g basmati rice

20 unsalted butter

1 large onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves. sliced

1 teaspoon ground allspice

250g broad beans, podded

20g bunch of dill, chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Soak the rice in plenty of water with a pinch of salt while you are preparing the other ingredients.

In a heavy-based pan, melt the butter over a low heat. Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and fry gently for at least 5 minutes. Once the onions are soft and sweet, add the garlic.

Drain the rice.

Turn up the heat and add the allspice and rice the the onion mixture. Fry for a minute, stirring so that the rice is coated with butter. Season well and add the broad beans and dill.

Pour over enough cold water to just about 1cm over the surface and cover with a piece of baking parchment and then the lid.

Turn the heat under the pan to medium and cook for 10 – 15 minutes or until the rice is soft and the water absorbed. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for a few minutes before serving.

This isexpecially good served with tahini yoghurt or cucumber raita. I have also used fennel when I can’t get dill.

What’s in a name?

One of the side pleasures of gardening are the fabulous names of flower and vegetable varieties. I am captivated by flower variety names especially roses. Who could resist Spirit of Freedom, Dizzy Heights or Teasing Georgia, all climbers, or Tess of the D’Urbervilles (sigh) or Eglantyne (was she a Borrower?) or Snow Goose (a rambler reaching for the skies) or for your lover, Thinking of You. Reading rose catalogues is a trip through a garden of imagination. And while we are on roses how about Pretty Lady (a showy floribunda) or with a scone Lady of Shalott (a spiced tea rose). My advice, if ever you feel a little lacking in romance read a rose catalogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegetables on the other hand have some weird and wonderful names. I am a bit of a tomato freak (I have nine varieties on the go this year) and have found some great varieties at seed swaps where you find the best names. I couldn’t resist Bloody Butcher and Jazz Fever even though I have no idea what they are like. Livingstone’s Favourite and Mrs Fortune went straight into the basket as well with the aptly named Green Zebra and Yellow Headlights. What about Sub Arctic Plenty, which was allegedly developed in the 1940′s for U.S. military to provide tomatoes to their troops in Greenland or Ivory Egg, a great plum tomato that looks a bit like a duck’s egg and tastes lovely.

Ne Plus Ultra pea says it all there is no better than this variety which is going great guns on the plot.

But beans seem to have the edge. My favourite, again from a seed swap is the lovely French Bean District Nurse, a rampant, prolific and tasty purple spotted bean, or Good Mother Stallard or Lazy Wife and there is always French Bean Trail of Tears which, so the story goes, were the beans carried in the pockets of Cherokee Indians on their tragic forced relocation from North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains to Oklahoma in 1838-1839. A bean planted for each person who died along the way.

Perhaps one day there will be a rose named after me – Rita’s Romance or  more likely something like Rita’s Red Hot Radish!

And one more for luck

It’s almost the end of National Asparagus Month and here is the easiest Asparagus recipe (apart from just just adding lovely salty butter and fresh cracked pepper) from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (a great book). The recipe does call for elegantly thin asparagus but it doesn’t grow that way on my plot.

Although is is the end of Asparagus month the season goes on through June so enjoy it for another month, make the most of this lovely vegetable. This is what seasonal eating is all about, enjoying food at it freshest and looking forward to it each year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chilled Asparagus in Dilled Mustard Sauce

Ingredients

1 lb asparagus

1 cup of firm yoghurt

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

1/4 cup mayonnaise (optional)

2 tablespoons minced dill

2 tablespoons of minced chives

salt & black pepper to taste

Method

Snap off and discard the tough bottoms of the asparagus. Steam the spears until just tender. Remove them immediately from the heat, rinse under cold water and drain well.

In a small bowl combine the yoghurt, mayonnaise (if you are using) mustard and whisk until smooth. Season to taste.

Arrange the asparagus and drizzle over the sauce. Although the recipe calls for minced herbs I have used finely chopped as I prefer the flavour, as always it is up to you.

 

want to buy the book? click here

Another Yummy Asparagus Recipe

It must be the showers but the asparagus is growing great guns on the plot. Celebrating both National Asparagus Month and Nation Vegetarian Week here is a lovely simple dish. It makes a great dish for lunch or breakfast. Sauteed Asparagus with Eggs and Parmesan, this quantity serves 2 people. This comes from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection a classic book that should be on everyone’s shelf. Can you believe it was published 1993?

Ingredients

8oz (225g) asparagus, washed and snapped to remove the woody end

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 hen’s eggs or 12 quails eggs

1 tablespoon parmesan shavings

salt and freshly milled pepper

Method

Use a vegetable peeler to shave off thin slices of the cheese.

For this recipe you need two frying pans or a frying pan and a griddle pan. In the first (or the griddle pan) heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over a high heat, add the asparagus stalks, then immediately turn the heat down to medium. Move the stalks around and turn them so they are a little toasted at the edges. This should take 3 -4 minutes but will depend on their thickness. When they are done, turn off the heat, add the balsamic vinegar and let them keep warm in the pan while you cook the eggs.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the other frying pan and cook the eggs over a medium heat. If you are using quails eggs break the shell with a sharp knife as cracking the shell will break the yolk.

Arrange the asparagus on a warm plate with the pan juices. top each portion with 1 hen’s eggs or 3 quail’s eggs and season. Then sprinkle on the parmesan and serve (as Delia says) pronto!

As one of my favourite ways of serving asparagus is simply with Hollanaise sauce, I have combined the two and added Hollandaise on the side.

This is so tasty I could eat it every day.

 

Want the book? click here

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!