Getting to know you

This is the first year I’ve grown turnips.

At first glance they seem rather unglamorous.

But I’ve been making an effort to get to know them.

That’s still an ongoing process but I’m very pleased with the initial results.

The first attempt at a quick turnip pickle was a bit of a disaster – too much salt.

But second time around it worked a treat – the underlying sweetness of the turnip coming to the fore while retaining the bite.

I got the idea from “Japanese Farm Food” by Nancy Singleton Hachisu.

You could use purple topped Milano turnips – as I did. Or daikon radish aka mooli would work equally well. My turnips are still quite small – slightly larger than a golf ball.

The recipe calls for 675g of the topped and tailed vegetable sliced into 3mm rounds or half moons – I used less – but I’ve left the quantities as per the original recipe except for the salt which originally called for 27g!

Save a couple of handfuls of the young greener shoots and leaves in the middle and slice them roughly.

Sprinkle on a little salt (the recipe was too salty for me). I literally took several pinches and then rubbed it into the turnip greens and slices.

Then zest a lemon and slice it into very thin strips. Do the same to some peeled ginger (about a teaspoons worth). Add it to the turnip along with two small dried or fresh chillies.

Mix and leave for ten minutes. Eat alongside your main meal. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.

Kabu no shiozuke

To grow turnips, I sow four or five seeds per module and then transplant outside into a vegetable bed that’s been mulched well with about an inch of compost.

They do well in a clump of four or five – a bit like radish and beetroot which I grow the same way.

They’re a good early catch crop – and I may sow some for an autumn harvest or try daikon instead – sowing after the longest day.

When I harvest I take the biggest of the clump near the stem and twist and pull gently – holding the remainder in place with my other hand. They will carry on growing – repeat until you’ve used them all or they’ve gone to seed!

Pigeons like the young tops but I didn’t mind that too much so didn’t bother protecting them.

The greens are nice (as are radish) to eat. They’re slightly peppery and go well in a stir fry or blanched and then cooked with chilli and garlic.

I used this superb recipe.

 

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Sowing parsnips and carrots

Carrots and parsnips are the only veg I sow direct into the ground.

They don’t like having their roots disturbed whereas other seeds can be multi sown and then planted out when they’re bigger giving them a better chance against the birds and slugs.

Always sow parsnip from fresh seed. I picked up some Hollow Crown in the supermarket today – and fingers crossed they do better than last year when they completely failed to germinate.

I don’t have much success with carrots either – again dodgy germination seems to be the problem.

So despite the rain and the drop in temperature I’m giving them both another go, inter-sown between my rows of onions.

I’m hoping the smell of the onions and garlic will deter carrot fly.

Parsnip seed

I created four shallow drills by drawing the sharp end of my dibber across the veg bed, then watered them before sowing half with carrot seeds half with parsnip seed as evenly as I could.

I drew the earth back over them and tamped them down lightly with the back of the rake. No watering in needed as the drills are already moist.

I’ve also planted out some lettuce and kohlrabi seedlings.

Talking of carrots – I braised some shop bought ones with my indefatigable ruby chard. Just steamed in veg stock until almost all the liquid is gone.

The other vegetable that has overwintered despite everything is fennel. The bulbs are really quite small once I’ve peeled away the rough, frost-burnt outer leaves.

But they were delicious with crushed chopped garlic, olive oil and stock – again allowing the liquid to evaporate until there’s an unctuous sauce in the bottom of the pan which gets a hit of lemon juice stirred in right at the end as the pan comes off the stove.

So fresh and completely different from raw fennel which I know many people don’t like because of the strong aniseed taste.

The other thing I did was brine some oriental mustard leaves. It’s a key ingredient in several recipes I love including a silken tofu soup from cookery writer Fuschia Dunlop.

I’ve started growing them under fleece after I was given some plugs by the Escape Project at Swaffham.  They’re creating a therapeutic show garden at Chelsea this year!!

Previously I bought it ready made from a stall on Norwich market – imported from China.

Now I make it myself following this amazing recipe – although I only made a third of the quantity.

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A friend visits

I’ve just had a lovely hour walking round the veg garden with my friend, Sue Roe.

She’s a great gardener – in fact quite an illustrious one – with a pedigree as long as your arm.

The thing is she’s so enthusiastic and kind –  her visit was really motivating at this time of year when everything seems a little lacklustre.

She has the ability to see past the frostbitten straggly veg that I’ve left (in the hope it’ll regenerate once it’s warmer and give me a second harvest during the so-called “hungry gap”).

She also seems to understand why my garden is (deliberately) untidy; in very cold frosts the loose dry fallen leaves from nearby trees and hedges quite often act as a natural protective pocket around tender leaves like radicchio, chard and shungiku chrysanthemum greens.

Red chicory
Treviso chicory

I’ve also left the dry rocket stems and seed pods in situ which I think will act in the same way until some new self sown seedlings emerge. Then I can cut the dessicated stuff back to give the babies more room.

We also looked ahead to the coming year and agreed that simple is best. This year we’re both going to hold back from sowing seeds too early.

Having said that I do have spinach and french breakfast type radish seed to sow in the next week – most probably where there are gaps under fleece that’s been covering the oriental mustard, endive, claytonia and lettuce.

Leeks and onions can be also be started off under glass or on a windowsill as can module sown beetroot (3 or 4 seeds to a small inch square).

I quite like the idea of pea shoots this year as an early crop and am toying with growing microgreens on a window sill.

My Sarpo Mira potatoes are chitting slowly – they won’t be planted out until Easter.

I’m going to desist from anything that needs “unreasonable” levels of attention like indoor tomatoes, chillies and aubergines (eggplant).

I may grow some blight resistant tomatoes (Crimson Blush or Crimson Flush) or some more Gardeners Delight which seem to do well outdoors.

The raddichio I picked as we wandered around the plot is going into tonight’s supper – a risotto with onion, celery. a dash of vermouth – topped with torn basil and lightly roasted and broken walnuts.

Today’s harvest

And the dense head of red cabbage I picked this afternoon will go to make a lovely stir fry or coleslaw type salad. Sue took the other half.

The netted black kale and the purple sprouting broccoli are in their prime and protected from the pigeons. Must remember to pick some this week or next.

I have been madly using up my Hungarian Blue and Red Kuri squash/pumpkins.

They’ve started to rot at the crown – but if you chop that away you still have lovely sweet flesh that along with celeriac and red lentils and stock make a wonderful soup.

Slices oven roasted with a little olive oil and then dusted with Japanese seven spice or shichi-mi togarashi are delicious – if you haven’t got that a mix of chilli, salt, crushed toasted sesame seeds and paprika might be nice. Dukkah’s also an option.

In other news – I’ve finally bottled up the cider!

Tastes great. Very dry and very drinkable. Hic!

And I have stuffed an sterilised old sweet jar with persimmons to make persimmon vinegar. This is in anticipation of my plan to buy a tree and grow some here in Norfolk.

The jar is filled to the top and then covered with muslin held in place with a rubber band

I’m following Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s recipe in her brilliant book that I’ve just bought in digital format to read on Kindle Cloud Reader (a first for me and it was half the price of a real book!).

 

 

 

 

 

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A New No Dig Bed

We had a very productive day on Saturday making a new “no dig” bed with old flattened out bike boxes covered with an inch or two (up to 5cm) very rough homemade compost.

It’s where the old asparagus bed was and the ground has been “rested” for about 3 years.

I’m going to put a new strawberry bed on part of it.

I was lucky to have help from Rebekah for the first part of the day.

We were fortunate the weather had warmed up again after a few days of hard frosts.

I pegged out one of my late father’s old lines and neatened the edges where the grass had started encroaching into the veg garden.

It was just the right length and I had visions of him using it years ago when he first laid it out.

I used a semi circular edger and composted the grass/weeds that I gathered.

The spade was not for digging – honest! It just helped me to edge the grass sward. In the foreground to the right you can see parsley which is self seeding and germinating like mad

I also laid compost around the rhubarb and the rest of the fruit bushes that were missed out last year when I ran out of homemade mulch.

I mixed in some potash from the wood ash from our fireplace to lay around the redcurrants – apparently they like it!

As do overwintering onions which will have to wait their turn until I’ve had a few more fires.

I have inverted an old metal dustbin over one of the rhubarb crowns to force a few pale pink spears for an earlier harvest like I did last year.

Rhubarb
Last year’s champagne pink rhubarb which was forced. Once the bin is removed it quickly reverts to a dark green and red. The hazel behind it has been coppiced and the soil around it has been covered in cardboard to stop weeds and mulched with compost

I’m also weeding the gravel path with a flat shovel/spade – using it almost like a hoe to sever the weeds off at the roots. But I’ll have to be careful to avoid the beautiful clumps of chives which thrive in the edges next to the rhubarb. They spring back year after year then die back to nothing in winter.

This what the chives will be like in three months time – just about to break into spiky round purple flowers

The brick edging is also getting the same treatment – it should look very smart in a couple of weeks time.

I guess you could say this time of year is about preparation – my Dad always said a garden’s made in winter!

This includes going through old seeds, discarding some and keeping others.

I have ordered some new ones including two varieties of beans, “Greek Gigantes” and “Czar”. The former is for drying and keeping as a giant butter bean and the latter can be eaten as a runner bean or also dried for storage for winter soups and stews.

I’m going for celeriac this year and a new variety of beetroot, “Sanguina”.

I would like to plant a persimmon tree but I’m not sure which variety yet.

One of the enduring images I’ve retained of the late autumn landscape in Japan is the orange globes hanging on the bare branches of a tree that had shed its leaves — against a piercing blue sky.

Recently I bought some seed potatoes “Sarpo Mira” – a blight resistant variety from a lovely old fashioned ironmongers and DIY shop in Stalham. I might also plant red skinned “Mozart” as they were so good last year. They will need chitting on a windowsill before planting in April.

I’m planning go to the Norwich Seed Swap in a couple or three weeks time which yielded some great finds last year.

There’s a bit more compost to come  – this is maturing under the makeshift cardboard cover and should be ready in a month or so

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chrysanthemum Greens with Sesame Dressing

One of the wonderful things about having your own garden, plot or allotment is that you can grow vegetables you love but which otherwise are hard to obtain.

One of my favourites is chrysanthemum greens or shungiku, as they’re called in Japanese.

Not only are they really pretty – they have a lovely cream and yellow flower – they also taste great.

The flowers run to seed and self sow profusely, springing up throughout the veg garden. They are easily weeded out where they aren’t wanted.

They can be stir fried with other vegetables or blanched briefly in boiling water and then cold to make a Japanese salad or appetiser called goma-ae.

They are a key ingredient in sukiyaki or shabu shabu – a one pot stew that’s cooked at the table.

They are hardy and seem to grow for most of the year except the depths of winter when snow freezes everything in its path.

If you don’t have shungiku you can use spinach instead.

Don’t be tempted to use the leaves of conventional chrysanthemums!

Make sure the stems are edible – if they snap easily when picking  and don’t need a knife or scissors to harvest then they will probably be OK and not too stringy.

Otherwise just pick off the minor branches or leaves and use them – discarding the more woody main stems.

I tend to use the tops and sides and leave the main body of the plant to regenerate yet more succulent leaves.

Although it’s the end of November I still have wide range of edible vegetables in the garden including these spring onions and chrysanthemum greens or “shungiku”

Once blanched in boiling water and refreshed in cold the leaves can be chopped and mixed with shoyu (soya sauce or tamari), sugar and roasted freshly ground sesame seeds to make goma-ae.

They retain their bright green colour and make a simple, tasty and nutritious side dish.

I served this with plain white rice and a silken tofu soup which is from the recipe book Every Grain Of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop.

Remember you can use spinach if you don’t have shungiku.

Most recipes for this have a ridiculous amount of sugar (1 Tablespoon) – so I have cut it back to a quarter of that and I think it still tastes sweet enough.

The sesame seeds are dry roasted – either in a pan in a hot oven or under a hot grill for five minutes- or in a dry frying pan.

You can use a conventional pestle and mortar or one like this which is ridged and specially designed for grinding seeds (should be available online from a specialist Japanese importer – they’re called suribachi in Japanese) or one of the plastic grinders as seen in the photo below.

Chrysanthemum Greens in a sweet sesame dressing
Prep Time
20 mins
 
Servings: 2
Author: Cath
Ingredients
  • 300 g chrysanthemum greens or shungiku
  • pinch of salt
For the dressing
  • 3 tbsp lightly roasted or toasted white sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp shoyu or soya sauce
  • 1 tsp mirin
Instructions
  1. Put the leaves in a large pan of salted boiling water, and bring back to boil and remove them or drain after 15 seconds.

  2. Refresh in a colander with cold running water and then with your hands squeeze the excess moisture from leaves. 

  3. Lay stems together on a chopping board and slice with a sharp knife into 3 cm (1 inch) lengths.

    If necessary do this in batches.

  4. Squeeze again discarding any liquid and place in a medium to large bowl.

For the dressing
  1. Grind the freshly roasted sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle until roughly ground - you don't want it to be too homogeneous and fine.

  2. Add other ingredients and mix/massage it with the greens in the bowl - it's quite a dry dressing with not much liquid - don't be tempted to thin it down.

  3. Place in smaller individual bowls and sprinkle with a few whole seeds.

 

 

 

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