A souper weekend

Over the summer we often have eggs at lunchtime, but as laying declines in the autumn and the weather turns colder I start to crave warming soups. I years long distant, I might have opened a tin, but my tastes have changed and now I just want home-made soups. Whilst I sometimes use meat stocks, most of my soups are vegetable-based. So, on Friday I went and bought in bulk from the regular stall in Newcastle Emlyn:

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my ‘haul’

I’ve spent much of the weekend in the kitchen. I started off with spicy parsnip soup – a Jane Grigson recipe. She is one of my favourite cookery writers and her ‘Vegetables’ book is pure inspiration. Second, I made spicy roasted pepper soup using a recipe from Riverford, but with a few modifications, including using yellow and orange peppers rather than red ones. Third, I made leek and potato soup – no specific recipe for this one, just leeks, onions, potatoes, chicken stock and water. Fourth, I made sweet potato and roasted pepper soup – inspired by, but not exactly the same as a recipe from a Women’s Institute cookbook. After this I’d still got ingredients left, so I made more spicy parsnip and more roasted pepper. I still have plenty more veg and I also have a freezer drawer full of portions of soup for two.

Buying in bulk means that the ingredients are very cheap and having room for storage means that I can take advantage of this; but also knowing what to do with all these raw ingredients is important. I worry that people who don’t know how to prepare fresh foods are stuck in a trap of being forced to rely on processed and pre-prepared meals. A friend mentioned the other day that at school in ‘cookery’ classes, all her son learned was how to put toppings on a pizza base and all about the dangers of cooking food for himself (hygiene issues, food poisoning etc). She said that he was so frightened by the horror stories of what could go wrong when preparing food, that he daren’t cook for himself any more. I could weep, but instead I will continue to share recipes and inspiration, to share home cooked food with my family and friends and to encourage everyone to cook their own food whenever possible.

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many lunches to look forward to

Filling the store cupboards

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plenty to choose from

I was planning to spend this weekend doing crafty things, but Friday morning dawned bright and sunny and I decided that it was an ideal time to take a trip to Newcastle Emlyn to buy cheap fruit and vegetables. I’ve written previously about the stall that appears early every Friday morning, and the bargains to be had. I visited a few weeks ago, but I wanted to take advantage of the summer produce once again… especially now I have those new cupboards to fill. So, I bought boxes of tomatoes, mushrooms, nectarines and pineapples as well as a small sack of onions; I added a couple of bunches of carrots, a cauliflower and some garlic to my haul and this is what the back of my car looked like for the trip home:

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no chance of those tomatoes and nectarines escaping!

That was Friday morning and since then I have spent most of my time in the kitchen chopping and peeling, roasting and milling, boiling and bottling. I’ve used most of my purchases, as well as veg from the garden and limery.

And now I have bottles and bottles of passata, pineapple and nectarines, a big pot of vegetable Bolognese sauce and another (almost – it’s actually still cooking as I write this) of courgette and carrot soup. I’m going to freeze the latter two in portions as I need to keep the rest of my bottles for apples later in the season.

And now I need a good long sit down. Have you had a busy weekend too?

Long-term investments

When you plant seeds, you know that you are making a deposit that will not show a yield immediately. Plant radishes and you will see a return in a few weeks, plant purple sprouting broccoli and it will be months before you get anything back (although it is always most welcome to see those tasty shoots start to appear in the depths of winter). Plant winter squashes and you are making a real long-term investment over the year.

It has been such a mild autumn, that we only got round to harvesting the final four of our shark’s fin melons today now that we’ve had a couple of frosts and the leaves have died back. We braved the rain to collect these fruits. The tough stems have been put onto one of the raised beds to rot down and return nutrients to the soil, whilst the fruits with their hard skins can be stored in a cool place indoors to be used as required.

One of them had a little rotten patch on the base, so that has been cut up and stewed in a little sunflower oil and its own juice. Once cool, I will freeze it in portions to be added to soups, stews and curries as required. It turns out to be a good addition to a winter vegetable soup, with onion, carrot, parsnip, leek, potato and kale. The less mature fruits do not need to have the seeds removed, which saves a lot of messing around, but I’m not sure about the biggest specimens. The largest one from today’s haul weighed over 4.5kg, which amounts to a lot of eating and well worth the effort to grow this unusual crop.

The seeds came from Garden Organic’s heritage seed library and I’m planning to save some seeds to plant again next year. This species does not hybridise with courgettes or other winter squash, so should breed true, but only time will tell.

It wasn’t really a high-risk investment even though I wasn’t sure what the return would be, and certainly it’s worth another shot next year… especially if it means you can be harvesting such good things in the middle of December.

The Preservation Game

Because we have a seasonal climate, we are unable to produce crops steadily throughout the year: sometimes there’s loads and other times there’s very little to harvest from the garden. And so, we preserve… those courgettes that we are sick and tired of in August will be welcome in our hearty soup in December, when the days of glut are a distant memory.

So, this week I have been preparing for winter by stocking the freezer with soup –  carrot and courgette and mulligatawny (see pictures above) – and passata made from oven roasted tomatoes.

Now, I look in the freezer and can savour the prospect of all sorts of goodies through the winter:

And as soon as I can manage to collect a load of apples from Perkin, I will be bottling those like mad too.

Daily pinta

Today's pint

Today’s pint

There used to be an advertising slogan in the UK ‘drinka-pinta-milka-day’… being lactose intolerant rather puts the kibosh on this, but currently I am picking  a pint of raspberries every day. It’s turning out to be a very good year for berries, so each day I go out to the garden with a plastic pint jug (that’s a UK pint, so 20 fluid ounces) and fill it with raspberries. Once it’s full, I come back in and don’t pick any more – it’s enough. Every day I have raspberries for breakfast with my homemade yoghurt and homemade granola… what a joy, especially if they are just picked, still sun-warmed from the garden. The remainder are being put into the freezer for a delicious taste of summer in the winter.

Yesterday's courgette harvest

Yesterday’s courgette harvest

And raspberries are not the only abundant thing in the garden… the courgettes (zucchini) are prolific. I picked a kilo and a half yesterday, despite the fact that the day before I had turned a kilo of the things into soup. I probably shouldn’t have planted six plants, but that’s what I’ve got! It’s quite early for a glut, but the weather here in June was so good that the plants have just romped away. Never fear, though, they do not go to waste. Apart from soup and courgettes fried in olive oil with garlic, we will be enjoying courgette moussaka (replace the aubergine with courgette), courgette risotto, roasted vegetable sauce… just not courgette cake – Mr Snail will not eat any sort of cake containing vegetables! What we don’t eat straight away will be turned into either soup or simply roasted in chunks and frozen. I love to have a freezer full of soup for use in the less abundant months – it’s so good to be able to defrost a block for lunch on a chilly day. So much nicer than opening a tin and I know what all the ingredients are.

On the horizon are runner beans, mange tout and shallots. All of these are grown without the aid of chemicals and from traditional seed varieties. I just want to remind you, though, that my vegetable patch consists of an area measuring 4m × 6m, with an additional 2.5m ×1m plus some pots and a 1.9m × 2.2m greenhouse, then I have 3m × 4m for fruit and herbs. So, it is possible to grow a significant amount of your own food in a really small space… you don’t need a farm. And all these crops help me control what I’m eating and cut down on food miles, to say nothing of making me feel a connection between my food and the seasons, the soil and the sunshine.

Squashy squash

You can't see the wrinkles from this angle

You can’t see the wrinkles from this angle

Now is the time when the skins of pumpkins and winter squash are ripening and hardening up. This allows us to store them over the winter in a cool place. If any part of the skin is damaged, however, there is a chance that fungi will attack and the fruit will rot in storage. So, I am keeping a sharp eye out at the moment.

As a result, one of our Boston squashes has been harvested. The top looked fine, but the underside was starting to become wrinkled, so it was brought in and dissected. In fact, I’d caught it before too much damage had been done, so only a tiny bit of flesh had to go on the compost heap.

Ready for roasting

Ready for roasting

One of my favourite ways to eat squash is roasted: chopped into chunks, drizzled with oil, sprinkled with a little sugar and cooked in the oven until it’s meltingly soft. This is how we consumed the first serving of our first mature squash of the season. Some of the remaining flesh has been turned into a creamy squash and sweetcorn soup, but I haven’t decided how to use the rest yet … so many nice ways to eat it.

The others in the garden seem to be undamaged, so I am hoping for good storage. If you plan to store any fruit unprocessed, always make sure it isn’t damaged and the skin is not pieced or blemished. This is especially the case for apples, some varieties of which will store well for many months if you are careful and keep them cool. It’s also important to check produce stored this way regularly – once one starts to rot, the damage can spread very quickly and destroy your whole harvest.

Which reminds me… the great High Bank apple harvest approaches… better get my preserving jars out!

Egg balls and brain balls

Looks like I’m not the only one thinking about soup at the moment. This is the latest post from the wonderful ‘Cookbook of Unknown Ladies’ blog:

Egg balls and brain balls.

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