Perennial Vegetables

As I looked around the garden recently I became aware of how dependent I am on vegetables that come back year after year.

Rhubarb has magically sprung up over the last month or so with its huge scalloped leaves creating a dramatic edge to the main vegetable garden.

It’s  accompanied by delicate clumps of  chives in the gravel path which have just started to bud and will soon break out into spiky purple flower heads.

Next to them are four thriving artichoke plants. I was given the slips by a friend, Julie, a couple of years ago and last year we had our first real crop. I will divide them next March and give some away.

Stridolo or bladderwort in the foreground has paired up with another perennial – artichoke.  The new strawberry bed was under the fleece to the left of the picture but that has now been removed!

And then between the artichokes and some gooseberries is a stand of sorrel which never fails at this time of year.

The other side of the garden is a bed of five year old asparagus which has been cropping for the past couple of years. It should last another fifteen or twenty as long as it’s kept well weeded and mulched and the thuggish horseradish next door doesn’t move in and take over!

All of these plants are perennials and they provide a much needed bridge between the winter veg and the new season’s sowings which won’t really yield much until June.

There are a good few self sown plants which are providing us with food – the wild rocket is flourishing since it turned a little warmer. Coriander has surprised me by establishing itself with no effort on my part. Parsley is so prolific I’ve been potting up unwanted plants and giving it away.

The apple and pear trees are in full blossom and a thornless blackberry’s been heavily pruned and then trained along a rough home-made hazel trellis.

The new strawberry bed looks pretty healthy and a few flowers are heralding the possibility of some fruit in this first year. I’m currently trying to decide whether to mulch with straw or not.

On the annuals front there are lots of seedlings ready to take the place of veg like ruby chard and oriental mustard that’s bolting and going to seed. I have a great selection of squash including my favourite Uchiki Kuri or red Hokkaido Kuri, and hundreds of pricked out celeriac – many of which I will give away.

A colleague has given me the seeds of a yellow lumpy courgette, variety rugosa fruilana. Apparently – despite it’s ugly warty appearance – it is delicious. Can’t wait to try it.

I have been given tomato seedlings by a couple of generous friends – Roma from Janet who’s also given me peppers and some tenderstem broccoli to try out. The others were heirloom varieties from Caroline down the road – who runs a community garden in Great Yarmouth.

My leek seedlings are looking good – they will be planted in shallow clumps of four or five rather than singly in deep holes.

So for the time being all I really have left to do is sow my beans which will go in home made potting compost over the next week or so.






Spring Clean

What a fantastic day!

Blue skies. Quiet neighbours. Time to spread compost made this winter on the vegetable beds and remake the heap for more.

Also a brilliant opportunity to tidy up.

We removed the fleece for the day and found claytonia/miners lettuce, chinese mustard leaves, lettuce, red chicory, and rather small chard. All the leaves are really taking off with the warm weather.

The self sown forget-me-nots have not flowered yet – perfect time to hoe them out and include them on the new heap along with duckweed from the pond and other unwanteds like dead nettle and wild mustards and a couple of thistles and groundsel.

It was hard physical work emptying the compost heap and remaking it – layering the weeds with half made compost from my two black dalek bins.


This was moved to the main heap



There were lots of tiger worms in evidence – a good sign.

The heap has also had some wood ash and urine sprinkled through it as well as half rotted leaves.

Some of that was very wet and slimy so I included a few layers of ripped up cardboard and old newspaper.




A bit further down in the garden towards the orchard and other compost heaps there are plenty of good things to eat.

This took about two or three weeks to force. I’ll pick it tomorrow to stew and eat fresh. Some of the other crowns are still almost dormant – but when they get going I’ll make rhubarb and lemon chutney.

These garlic chive seed heads should naturally self sow and will come back elsewhere nearby – you can also propagate clumps by division.

The ruby chard is still glowing along along with nearby clumps of snowdrops that light up this shady area of the garden.

I harvested the purple sprouting broccoli and some winter salad leaves – I shared some with Rebekah who helped me this morning.

I was pleasantly exhausted after five hours in the garden – so much so I had a cheeky pint of homemade cider to refresh myself when I’d finished!

Seeds update:

I’ll do a proper post next time – but so far radish in modules are germinating well.

Calabrese also reaching for the light and the first Greyhound Cabbage is through.

But no sign of the spinach.

The lettuce looks as if it’s “damping off” – I think I overwatered it and it’s going mouldy on the surface of the compost. I might have to sow some more!

You win some – you lose some!

Mustard Leaves – good stir fried or pickled in salty brine





Fruit Sorbet

A couple of weeks ago I looked out onto the garden and saw tiny orange globes hanging from an evergreen shrub in the main border.

I knew my father had planted the Japanese bitter orange as an ornamental specimen. It has shiny smooth green leaves and small fragrant white flowers in spring and early summer that stand out against the dark green yew hedge. It also sports the most vicious looking thorns a couple of inches long!

But I’d never really noticed the small orange fruit. I picked some of them and left them to settle in the kitchen while I wondered what to do with them.

Two weeks later – after Christmas – my friend Steve, came to stay again and pruned the apple and pear trees as well as the quince.

I cut back the gooseberries and redcurrants which were overgrown and tangled in the centre of the bushes to give them some air and to stop disease from creeping in.

The blackcurrants will have a third of their branches taken out when I harvest the fruit in summer.

And the Damson and Victoria plum trees will be pruned in the early spring or summer after the risk of silver leaf disease is over.

“Prune in June,” says Steve!

I’ve also coppiced the hazel tree – which really was overgrown and shading some of the vegetable beds. I cut the whole lot down to the base of the main trunk.

It should send up new growth which will make new hazel poles for use as supports. The twigs I will use as pea sticks.

I also turned the compost heap, forking a lot of the main pile into two black plastic dalek style bins – it’s breaking down nicely and should be ready for the new growing season in a couple of months time.

In other news: We are still able to pick salad including lettuce and curly endive growing under thick fleece, as well as parsley and chrysanthemum greens and stridolo – an Italian herb. I brined some oriental mustard leaves recently which are very tasty – and pungently hot!

Leeks have been great in soup and raw grated beetroot has been a refreshing salad with sliced orange and half moons of red onion dressed in red wine vinegar and olive oil.

As well as cooking together – Steve produced some amazing meals. I’ll post three recipes of his – using the ruby chard you can see below – next time.

He also found a use for the bitter orange which is very similar to Japanese wild orange or yuzu. It’s not eaten as a fruit but is used primarily for it’s scented juice and zest.

He used this to lace a black fruit sorbet with a tantalising tang of citrus.

Steve defrosted some of our blackcurrants and blackberries and macerated them overnight in sugar before adding a small amount of gin, the zest and tiny amount of juice from the bitter orange as well as an ordinary orange and blending it.

Then it went into the freezer and emerged a grainy, luscious sorbet the like of which I haven’t tasted for a long time.

He did the same with tayberries (a kind of raspberry), redcurrants and ordinary orange zest and juice with a couple of large jiggers of gin.   Again – a taste sensation!

What I liked was he didn’t try to sieve out the pips – he used the whole fruit – and I think it’s better for that. Anyway – the basic recipe is from this amazing website.

It’s worth mentioning that Steve didn’t use an ice cream maker or take the sorbet out and stir it as it was freezing and it still worked.

Thanks Steve. You’re a culinary and horticultural wizard!

Finally – I wish everyone a very happy, productive and resilient year ahead.

Thank you for reading my blog.

You can see Steve half way up the Bramley apple tree to the left of my head!




Leek, Chestnut and Apple pie

My friend, Rachel, who’s a fellow master composter, came for lunch last weekend bearing a gift of some shelled, peeled chestnuts.

I decided to make a pie.

The usual combination is chestnut and mushroom – which, quite frankly, I’m sick of and anyway I didn’t have any mushrooms.

So I thought about what was at hand in the garden and came up with Leek, Chestnut and Apple!

The apples are now picked and in storage in trays and with any luck will last most of the winter.

The leeks are most summer ones that have not run to seed.

Actually I’m surprised how well they’ve grown as it’s the first year I’ve grown them in clumps together – three to five or so together – rather than singly in deep holes.

My no dig guru, Charles Dowding (who I was lucky enough to hear speak last weekend), is right – plants like growing in groups with their mates rather than on their own!

The apples are Bramley cookers so they have a slightly astringent sour element to them – perfect for a savoury, almost festive pie.

I must admit I was lazy and used shop bought pastry.

I rolled it out and filled it with the mixture that was heavily seasoned with my favourite new spice – freshly ground white pepper – and a few sprigs of thyme.

I promise you this is good pie.

It was great with mash potato, carrots and gravy.

Slice the leeks along their lengths and wash in plenty of cold water to get rid of the muck and grit inside their leaves
Leek, Chestnut and Apple Pie
Author: Cath
  • 3 medium leeks
  • 3 medium cooking apples
  • 1 large white onion
  • 150 g fresh, peeled and cooked chestnuts
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 block shortcrust pastry (500g)
  1. Slice leeks in half down the middle along their lengths and wash thoroughly.

  2. Chop the leeks (the green and the white parts) and chop the peeled and halved onion.

  3. Peel and core the apples then chop them as well.

  4. Heat olive oil in wide frying pan and add chopped leeks, onion, apples and chestnuts as well as the whole sprigs of thyme. 

  5. Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent it browning or sticking.

  6. Meanwhile roll out 2/3 of the pastry to line a shallow quiche or pie tin about 10 to 12 inches in diameter and prick the base lightly with a fork.

  7. Cook the pastry blind (with greaseproof paper and beans holding it down) for ten to fifteen minutes - unless you have an aga or solid fuel stove in which case you can place the whole pie including mixture and top on the solid bottom of the oven and it'll cook it all at the same time.

  8. Season the leek, chestnut and apple mixture well with salt and ground white pepper and remove the thyme sprigs.

  9. Add the mixture to fill the (baked) pastry case and then roll out the last third of the raw pastry in a circle big enough to fit over the top and damp the edge lightly with water.

  10. Lift and cover the base and filling, press down firmly round the two edges with a fork and trim with a knife. Then prick or make a slash in the top so the air or steam can escape when cooking.

  11. Bake in moderately hot oven (180C or 350F) for about half an hour or until golden brown.

  12. Slice and serve with veg and gravy.



Leek, Lemon and Walnut Pilaf

I have lots of leeks in the garden that need eating – as some of them are running to seed.

I’ve also been fighting a virus so I came up with a dish that contains lots of vitamin C (parsley and lemon) and alliums (shallot, fennel and leek) – perfect for boosting your immune system!

I thought I’d adapt the recipe on the back of a packet of Freekeh for a Leek Pilaf.

I also included some of my first “late” bulb fennel.

Half of the fennel went into the pilaf – the rest I diced and used to make a salad.

I combined it with a few roasted walnuts, half  a chopped apple dressed with a pinch of salt, cider vinegar and olive oil and some finely minced parsley.

In August or September I stupidly planted out some of the fennel in a spot that was too shady and so – desperate for light – it bolted.

But it’s produced the most wonderful umbellifers of acid yellow that along with late-flowering orange calendula and creamy chrysanthemums have brightened up garden at this dismal time of year.

The rest of the fennel looks as if it will be edible – I must mound up the earth/mulch around the pale white bulbs as I’ve found that makes them bigger.

So what on earth is Freekeh!

I’d never heard of it until recently – but it is common in the Middle East.

It reminds me of bulgur, which is the cracked wheat used in tabbouleh – but it has a very different taste.

Freekeh is the young green wheat that’s been smoked and roasted.

Please ignore the erroneous weight shown on the digital scales! This is about 125g of Freekeh which I think, when cooked, is plenty for about four people alongside a salad or another side dish

I first came upon it a year or so ago in a local wholefood store and then, searching for a recipe, stumbled across one by Ottolenghi in his book, Plenty.

It was slightly too complex for my taste as it had too many competing flavours – the freekeh on it’s own has a strong smoky aroma and taste.

And he served it with yoghurt – which I thought was not really necessary.

But it did whet my appetite and curiosity and so I present you my simple take on Freekeh Pilaf.

Leek, Lemon and Walnut Pilaf served with Fennel and Apple Salad
5 from 1 vote
Leek, Walnut and Lemon Pilaf
Servings: 4
Author: Cath
  • 250 g leeks, quartered lengthways and chopped
  • 50 g bulb of fennel, diced
  • 1 shallot about 50g in weight, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme or double the amount of fresh
  • 1/2 lemon zested and juiced
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 125 g freekeh or bulgur wheat
  • 200 ml vegetable stock
  • 12 walnut halves chopped
  1. Pour and heat 2 tbsp olive oil into a wide, heavy frying pan or large saucepan on a low to medium heat.

  2. Add the finely chopped shallot, diced leeks and fennel and if you have no fennel just use an extra 50g of leeks to make up the weight. Soften for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't brown.

  3. Rinse the freekeh in a sieve and add to the pan of leeks etc along with the thyme and the vegetable stock.

  4. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed (Do add a little more liquid and cook for five minutes more if the freekeh is a still a little crunchy).

  5. Then take off heat and let it stand covered for 10 minutes.

  6. Roast the walnuts under the grill or in the oven for a few minutes - don't let them burn! 

  7. Stir in the zest and juice of the half a lemon. 

  8. Top with walnuts and parsley.