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.

 

 

 

 

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Pumpkin and Herb Quinoa

I had a quarter of the last Uchiki Kuri pumpkin/onion squash left so I decided to roast it in chunks with a little olive oil rubbed into the skin.

Here are some Uchiki Kuri also known as Hokkaido Squash growing last year. They kept well over the winter in a cool dark place

I then cooked about a cup of quinoa. Rinse it first as it has natural saponins or soapy residue that cover the grains. I wash it in a sieve and massage it while running cold water over it.

I use the absorption method – rather like cooking basmati rice. I use 1 1/2 times the amount of boiling water to the amount of quinoa in the saucepan. Add a pinch of salt and simmer covered on a very low heat for 15 minutes or until tender and all the water’s been absorbed. I remove it from the heat and leave it for another ten minutes.

I then placed it in a serving dish and added a tablespoon each of chopped chives, basil and mint and the roasted chunks of pumpkin and folded it all in to the mixture.

 

I served it with freshly picked purple sprouting broccoli steamed until tender and then dressed with a few shakes of umeboshi vinegar (salty plum flavoured brine you can buy in most wholefood shops).

I made some crunchy croutons from some left over tofu (about 200 grammes) that I’d cubed and marinaded in a couple of tablespoons of shoyu (soya sauce or tamari), half that of mirin (sweet rice wine), an inch of grated ginger that was then squeezed for the juice, and a teaspoon or less of toasted sesame oil.

I then rolled the tofu in cornflour and gently shallow fried it in about a half an inch of very hot sunflower oil in a small frying pan – I did it in a couple of batches and then finished them off in the oven.

They were then served scattered over the PSB.

It was all served with a fresh homegrown multi leaved salad from overwintered lettuce, raddichio and claytonia (aka miner’s lettuce).

Herbed quinoa would be very nice with any vegetables tossed through it.

This served about four people.

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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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Sunflower Seed Cream Cheese

I hate to whinge but I’ve been suffering from really bad sciatica.

The physio thinks it’s referred pain from the lower lumbar spine.

The doctor thinks it’s bursitis or inflammation of the hip joint.

Then my acupuncturist suggested that I revert to the ‘healing’ diet I followed for a good year or two after I had breast cancer.

It’s  quite restrictive – but in the past it has worked wonders!

It was prescribed by biopath,  Gudrun Jonnson, who I used to travel to London to see.

Lots of leafy greens but no tomatoes or other nightshades (peppers, aubergines or potatoes) or citrus fruit and no bread or pasta.

And other stimulants like tea, coffee or alcohol are out.

One of the things Gudrun did leave on the list was seeds – as long as they are soaked overnight.

The seeds in the bowl are soaked for 12 hours and – as you can see – compared with the dried ones on the board they swell quite considerably

So I did that with some sunflower seeds and  drew inspiration from this recipe.

It’s called a dip but I think of it more as a cream cheese as I add chives, dill and sometime parsley which reminds me of the French cheese Boursin – that was so popular here in the 70’s!

I added chopped umeboshi plums (a salted plum from Japan) as well as lemon juice.

You can see the umeboshi plum at the back of the board behind the herbs and garlic

You could also use umeboshi plum puree or ume shu (a “vinegar” which is really the brine left over from the pickling process) – all are available in wholefood shops.

But you don’t need to use it if you want to just use the lemon juice on its own.

Anyway – feel free to follow the original or my version – either way it’s delicious.

By the way – the salad and beetroot is from the garden but the herbs in the cream cheese are bought!

Hopefully next year I can keep some going through out the winter without having to resort to the supermarket!

5 from 1 vote
Sunflower Seed Cream Cheese
Servings: 2
Author: Cath
Ingredients
  • !/2 cup sunflower seeds, covered in water, soaked,drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 whole umeboshi plums, chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp chopped dill
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives
Instructions
  1. Put all the ingredients, except the fresh green herbs, in a blender and grind to a smooth paste/cream.

  2. Stir in herbs and serve.

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Spaghetti with chard

Ruby chard yields great harvests throughout most of the year – especially now when it’s still mild and hasn’t been clobbered by frost.

It’s nice washed and wilted with either garlic sliced and softly sauteed in olive oil or sultanas or raisins and toasted pine nuts.

I’m also picking sprouting white and purple broccoli, bulb fennel, red cabbage, kale, parsley, chrysanthemum greens and wonderful salad leaves.

The overwintering garlic and onions, planted in autumn, seem to be doing well – despite some of the new shoots being nibbled by something! They’ll be ready later in the year in early to mid summer.

I’ll also sow some Bedfordshire Champion onion seed under cover next month to supplement these.

They and some shallot sets will be planted out in spring.

In other allium news – the leeks are almost all gone.

I’ve been madly cooking with them over the past month before they go to seed or succumb to rust. Look back at my previous recent posts to find the original recipes for my leek, chestnut and apple pie and the leek, lemon and walnut pilaf.

I’ve made some good leek and potato soups. One I tried to jazz up with white wine and lemon juice – it was OK but I realised simple is best.

This one was made on a rocket stove at the allotment and took more than 2 hours to come to the boil!

It was comprised of a couple of finely chopped shallots, a medium onion also chopped, and about three large leeks well washed and sliced or chopped – greens included.

I threw in a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and about two large peeled potatoes diced maybe 1.5cm or half and inch square.

And covered that with veg stock.

I cooked it for twenty minutes or half and hour.

Then I blended half of it smooth and left the rest chunky. I think a good handful of finely minced parsley lifts the whole thing.

Add a dash of soya cream or milk  just before serving if you like.

Cider update

Well I’m almost ready to bottle – I’m hoping to inveigle friends into helping me.

Tony Davey – a good friend of mine gave me a dozen of his one and a half litre Grolsch bottles which he described as ‘gold dust’.

He also passed on some of his old pressure barrels to make wine.

Thanks Tony!

I should be able to bottle half my 25 litres of cider in these 1500ml bottles

The three barrels he’s given me will allow a little experimental wine making – most likely with the glut of currants and gooseberries that are in the freezer at the moment!

These are some of his demi johns in his amazing wine cellar!

Back to the garden and you can see the chard’s a more intense ruby red than ever.

I’ve given bags of it away to friends.

I learnt a couple of new ways to cook it from Steve who came to stay over New Year.

He made a wonderful tomato, chard, olive and caper pasta sauce with garlic and onion and a slug of red wine.

It was so tasty I had thirds.

The other recipe was a chard and ‘cream’  sauce with nutmeg – also for pasta.

You need to wash the chard well (at least three times in my opinion).

Separate the leaves from the stems and roll them up and slice into thin ribbons.

You fry the chopped stems and onion first in olive oil for about 10 minutes and then add the chard leaf ribbons – stir frying with two spatulas to keep it all in a large frying pan.

Then add and stir in soya cream (I use Provamel) and nutmeg and a little vegetable bouillon  and cook for a further couple of minutes – delicious.

The key is not to swamp the spaghetti.

Spaghetti with chard
Servings: 4
Author: Cath
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 400 g Swiss Chard or Ruby Chard stalks and leaves included
  • 250 ml soya cream or oat cream
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
  • 1 level tsp ground nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Wash the chard well and separate the main bits of the stalks from the leaves. Cut off any ragged untidy ends of the stalk too.

  2. Chop the stalks into small dice the same size as or slightly larger than your chopped onion (no bigger than your finger nail) 

  3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion and chard stalks over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they don't brown.

  4. Then add the chard leaves which you've stacked, rolled and sliced into fine ribbons and cook for another five minutes - keep the leaves moving until they wilt down.

  5. Add cream and the bouillon and the nutmeg and cook gently for another five minutes until the cream has started to thicken and is well incorporated into the chard and onion. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

  6. Serve with spaghetti or tagliatelle ( about 370 g dry weight for 4 people). Don't be tempted to swamp the pasta just a couple or 3 tablespoons of the sauce per person should do.

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