Autumn kitchen

I’m always in two minds about this time of year – one the one hand, I hate the days getting shorter and the reduced opportunities for walks with the dogs, but on the other these couple of months are always associated with happy times in the kitchen, as I preserve the harvest (mine and that of others). So, I am choosing to concentrate on the positives and spend time enjoying the abundance.

I went and bought lots of lovely vegetables – many locally produced – on Friday and have spent the past couple of days combining these with some home-grown produce to make passata, delicious soups and a second batch of sweet, hot chilli sauce. This year has been particularly good for chillies in the limery: I grew lemon drop, trifetti, Trinidad perfume, red and purple jalapenos and hot cayenne. In total, I’ve harvested approximately 2kg, but I haven’t kept track exactly, as I often pick a few to use immediately. Anyway, there’s more than 1.6kg in the freezer, we’ve eaten lots and each batch of chilli sauce uses 100g. In addition, there are still some yet to ripen in the limery and also there are the outdoor ones to bring inside.

Since we are close to ScrapHappy day, I do want to point out the use of “scraps” in my soup-making. Whenever we have meat bones, I boil them up to make stock, then freeze this in blocks. I never use a stock cube or stock powder, I just use my frozen stock and add whatever herbs and spices I fancy. On the bottom left above, you can see two blocks of lamb stock added to the chopped and lightly fried vegetables that became leek and potato soup.

And so, my freezer is filling up nicely – soup, chillies and little blocks of passata, as well as stock and roasted peppers from earlier on in the year – all ready to fend off the winter blues.

Growing and groaning

The saga of the tooth continues – the first part of the root canal work has been completed, but it has awoken the infection and so I’m back on antibiotics. Hopefully the stuff I’m taking now will have less of an adverse effect on me than the last lot. Anyway, I have a few weeks to wait before the procedure can continue. In the mean time I’m sitting here, moaning gently and watching my garden grow….

I’ve photographed the good bits and carefully avoided the jungle elsewhere!

Sunshine and showers…

… no, hang on, that should read ‘torrential rain’.

So far this June we’ve had more rain than in the two previous Junes combined. This, of course, provides challenges when it comes to growing and I have been especially grateful for the limery. I potted up all my pepper and chilli plants with a view to trying to raise some outdoors this year, but then the wind and rain arrived and it seemed unlikely they would survive outside, so in they came. Some of the other plants weren’t so lucky and I lost several patty pan squashes that were still in pots – I think they simply drowned.

Nevertheless, we are now eating lots of home-grown food and that is always a joy. I have three courgette plants in the limery and they are way ahead of the outdoor ones and already supplying us with food. The jalapeno chillies (red and purple) are producing fruit, as are the sweet peppers, although none are ready to be harvested yet. We’ve already eaten lots of lettuce and many potatoes. The peas are starting to flower now, so I’m hoping for some of those soon and the little herb garden that I planted up a few months ago is doing well – especially the oregano.

As climate change takes effect, I feel that I’m going to need to be much more responsive to severe weather, so that having both indoor and outdoor growing space available will become increasingly important, as will growing in pots so that plants can be moved in response to the weather (this year potatoes, peas, beans and squashes/courgettes have been planted both in the ground and in pots). So far this year I have managed to nurture a variety of crops, but there will always be years like 2018 when, after the early summer, we were unable to raise things like lettuce because it was simply too hot. This year I’ve diversified somewhat and so we have carrots, parsnips and sweetcorn in addition to our usual vegetables. For various reasons, I haven’t grown any of these for ages, but I think it’s time to have a wider range so that if one crop fails, another might succeed. In short, I am trying to build more resilience into my garden and I hope that this means we’ll be able to supply even more of our food than before from the limited space available.

Make soil not war

I have been feeling extremely glum over the past couple of days, reading more and more about the myriad ways we are screwing up our planet, particularly with respect to climate change. What saddens me most is the lack of foresight of politicians and those who wield power (political or economic). For example:

  • Sadiq Khan telling the Extinction Rebellion protestors that London needs to get back to “business as usual”, when that’s exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.
  • The supervisory board of Bayer supporting the CEO, despite 55% of shareholders voting to express their concern over the company’s acquisition of Monsanto… and all the issues associated with the fact that glyphosate (remember that “benign” weedkiller Roundup?) has now been scientifically linked to cancer. OK, the shareholders are probably concerned over profitability, but even so, the board still don’t care.
  • A report (the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Report) extolling the virtues of a plant-based diet that, it emerges, was funded by global “food” businesses that make ultra-processed junk in their factories and (mis)sell it as being healthy for both people and planet… when reliable research is increasingly demonstrating the value of extensive, grass-fed livestock production for building soil and sequestering carbon and the adverse effects of diets that do not include nutrient-dense food, but rely on excessive carbohydrate intake. If you are interested, you can read more here.

I could go on, but it’s just too depressing.

Sometimes I feel as if I might as well embark on a gigantic shopping spree and sod the planet because it’s buggered anyway. And then I go into the limery and see what’s growing…

And so I remember the joy that comes with growing and nurturing the plants in a garden… a practical thing, but so, so important.

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a bed of potatoes

On Sunday, outdoors, I planted potatoes – one of the raised beds is now full. I saved the sprouting tubers from last year’s harvest, so there will really be no food miles when these produce a crop. This bed was constructed on an area where, when we moved to the house in 1999, there was no topsoil. We’ve worked very hard to create conditions suitable for growing vegetables. Whilst I was planting, Mr Snail scythed the front garden (man-power not fossil fuels) and the cuttings went in the compost bin, to be resurrected in months to come as vegetables. So, in our future we have peppers and chillies and courgettes and squashes and potatoes and lettuce and beans and peas and carrots and parsnips and kale… the carnivores will keep the flies under control, the passionflower will bring joy to our eyes and eventually we might even pick an avocado (the plant came out of my sister’s compost heap!).

If you read about combatting climate change, you will find all sorts of great suggestions, but for me, the greatest joy comes with growing. Nurturing your growing space – whether it’s a tiny terrace or a vast farm – is a real practical way to help the planet. In particular, making compost and building your soil is a wonderful and effective way to lock up carbon. So, whether you are composing with bokashi in an urban apartment or have vast hot compost beds on your allotment or smallholding, keep at it. These are genuine ways to save the world… and even if the politicians and big food succeed in their drive towards planetary annihilation, at least you’ll have a salad to eat whist the world collapses around you.

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

Food, glorious food

… all homegrown…

All photogaphed today (25 July) in (or recently harvested from) our garden and limery. Never let anyone tell you that you need lots of land to grow your own food. Our garden is about 6m ×20m, including the limery, and it’s still not fully utilized!

 

Blooming food

Some time ago a friend accused me of not liking flowers because I mainly grow food plants. I was a bit surprised that he should think this, especially looking round my garden at the moment at the amazing range of blooms that are in evidence. If you are ever concerned that planting fruit, herbs and vegetables will mean you can’t have a beautiful garden, think again…

And those are only a selection taken in about 10 minutes… there are also (or have been or will be) passion flowers, nasturtiums, pot marigolds, climbing French beans, potatoes, raspberries, comfrey, red currants, blueberries, squashes, mint, chokeberries and more. I don’t really select for the flowers, but if you do, you can ensure an amazing variety of colours and forms and still enjoy a delicious harvest.

What’s in your dinner?

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potatoes

At this time of year I feel particularly lucky to have access to growing space. We don’t have a very big garden and we have chosen to prioritise food production, so that means we don’t have flower beds or a lawn, just space for fruit, vegetables, chickens and compost, with some paved sitting space that we share with lots of pots of plants. We used to have more space for outdoor sitting, but the limery took that over.

My reasons are partly because I love growing food – being connected to the seasons, eating food fresh from the garden and clocking up food metres not food miles. However, I also like knowing exactly what sort of chemicals go into my food. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publish a ‘dirty dozen’ each year – a list of foods with the highest levels of pesticide residues. Although these data are collected in the US, the list is of interest wherever we live in the world. In 2015, the list was as follows:

  1. Apples
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Strawberries
  5. Grapes
  6. Celery
  7. Spinach
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap Peas (Imported)
  12. Potatoes

Closely followed by Hot Peppers and Kale/Collard Greens.

From this list, we grow Peppers (hot and sweet), snap peas (we call them sugar peas or mange tout, I think), potatoes, kale and some apples. The bulk of our apples come from friends who do not use pesticides on their trees, and the other items on the list we eat rarely or not at all. Of course you can buy organic produce and avoid issues with pesticides (and we often do), but growing your own delivers so many extra benefits.

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red salad bowl lettuce growing in a container

One of my particular favourite crops is salad leaves. I don’t think that there’s any substitute for freshly picked leaves. By growing your own, you can avoid packaging, the threat of salmonella, exploitation of workers and the use of chlorinated water for washing them – all issues that have been identified as being linked to bagged leaves sold in supermarkets (details here). And you don’t even need a garden – you can plant cut-and-come-again varieties of lettuce, along with oriental greens in pots, in window boxes, or in trays on your windowsill. Let the leaves grow up and then harvest them by trimming with scissors and allow them to grow back. If you plant a few trays in succession, you can supply yourself with a regular harvest for several months. And honestly, the taste just doesn’t compare with leaves that have been encased in plastic for a couple of weeks in a modified atmosphere so they don’t go off.

Herbs are another great windowsill crop and it’s lovely to pick your own fresh seasonings, even if you don’t have space to grow anything else.

So, however small your space, I encourage you to plant something to eat – you won’t regret it!

Peaceful Sunday

I was going to call this “Silent Sunday” and just post some pictures of the garden after a few days of sunshine and rain. However, I went into the fruit cage to take some photos and it was anything but silent, which large numbers of bees (not one of which I was able to photograph) buzzing around the raspberry flowers. So, rather, this Sunday is peaceful and pictureful, both outdoors…

… and indoors…

I hope you too are surrounded by peace and abundance today.

Sunny gardening

Us Brits are well known for being weather obsessed, so you will forgive me for telling you that the past few days have been glorious. The weather has been lovely and so this weekend has been all about planting. I had intended to complete my sketchbook contribution this weekend, but the timing of the good weather made it ideal for planting some of this year’s crops. The forecast for next weekend (when there are two bank holidays) is poor, so crafting is much more likely then.

In the past few days I have (whist wearing my new apron) potted up tomatoes and sowed lots of seeds: squashes, courgettes, a variety of purple sprouting broccoli that sprouts in the summer, chives, parsnips, asparagus peas, various lettuces, mizuna and rocket. I’ve cleaned out pots, weeded and removed brambles. From the shed I retrieved a plastic bin with a lid and filled it with nettles and water to turn into nitrogen-rich liquid feed – it gets stinky, but it’s good stuff and it’s free. And I planted a whole raised bed with potatoes and netted these to prevent Max (who I think is some sort of potato hound) from digging them up and eating them.

I’ve also been admiring the growth of other plants in the limery – lettuces, melons, lemongrass seedlings and carnivores:

The sun has gone in now, hence finding the time to write, but I am feeling very satisfied with my activities. What have you been up to this weekend?

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