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.



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.


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
  • !/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
  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.


The Japanese Influence – cucumber salad

The first year I was in Japan I lived in a small town called Sukagawa in Fukushima.

It’s famous for its peonies.

I’ll never forget the care the people that ran the Botan-en took over their blooms.

Many of them had paper parasols shading them from the harsh summer sun.


This is a photo of a similar garden in Chiba ken

Annual festival

That’s true of most gardeners and farmers in Japan – they take great pride in and care of their produce.

In fact a lot of fruit is grown inside individual paper bags as an organic method of protecting it from pests.

I’m not sure they did it with cucumbers but Sukagawa did have an annual festival to celebrate the vegetable.

I used to find that funny when I was living there in the early 1990’s.

Poignant reminder

This year I’ve grown cucumbers for the first time – and I’m savouring every mouthful of the crunchy light vegetable.

It brought back wonderful memories of living in Fukushima prefecture – tinged with sadness about what’s happened there since then.

One organic farmer in Sukagawa took his own life after his cabbage crop was irradiated and his home was damaged in the earthquake.

And it’s reminded me how lucky I am to be able to grow my own food and how precarious life can be.

New take on an old favourite

I’ve still maintained my links with Japan and late last month I invited to supper  Morita-san, who was visiting from the small mountain town of Nagawa in central Japan.

I was delighted when he told me his favourite vegetable was pickled cucumbers and made my version for him – inspired by this Ottolenghi recipe.

The method isn’t there but it’s pretty easy to imagine how it all goes together!

Top tip is – the thinly sliced red onion is marinated in the dressing for 45 minutes before combining with the thickly sliced cucumber and crushed ginger and garlic.

It goes a gorgeous deep fuschia pink.

Easy pickle

And as well as growing my own cucumbers – under glass and outside – the allotment project where I volunteer gave me some of their haul!

Karen, who works there, told me to pickle them in a large jar with one tablespoon of salt topped up with cold water!

No boiling water or sugar – just chop them into large sections (the smaller ones I left whole) and add a few stalks of fresh dill.

I’ll report back next time!

If you try it just make sure you release the lid every now and then as some fermentation will take place and the jar could explode!



Splendid Summer Solstice – red onion and rocket pizza

I have been so lucky with the wide variety of lettuce that have sprung up – most of them from saved or swapped seed.

Some overwintered and provided the first greens of the year despite the vicious cold spell we had in early March.

The others have thrived once they escaped the confines of the modules I sowed them in.

Salad bed
The new bed of garlic chives and leeks interplanted with lettuce has been a success – beans and chard are also doing well but the cucumbers and peas don’t like it as much and growth has been slow

And now we’re reaping the benefits – picking just as many leaves as we need (the plant is allowed to stay in the ground to continue growing – a tip from no dig guru, Charles Dowding).

In the kitchen we’ve been making big bold salad bowls by adding at least three varieties of basil, garlic chives, fresh parsley and frothy fronds of fennel.

Purple star-like borage flowers and the yellow and white petals of Shungiku or chrysanthemum greens that have flowered have been the final touch – so beautiful that it seems a shame to eat it.

Elsewhere in garden

The beetroot are swelling, the peas are podding and the broad beans are almost big enough to coax out of their vivid green velvet jackets.

There are the first signs of fruit on the courgette/zucchini plants and the apple and pear trees have just had their “June drop” – that’s when they shed some early fruit giving the ones left on the tree a good chance of reaching maturity.

The early Florence fennel has produced crunchy white edible bulbs (mound up the earth around the bulb as it’s growing to encourage this).

I have served it raw in a salad with zingy, slightly sharp Valencia oranges from Spain!

I shall sow some more this weekend which should see us through to Christmas if protected from very cold conditions.

Sowing florence fennel after the longest day reduces the chances of it bolting

Mister Motivator

I’m sure Steve will hate being called that – but that’s the effect he had on a visit last weekend.

He’s a fellow gardener, cook, river swimmer and Sacred Harp singer from Bristol.

We accomplished a lot in the garden.

We planted out pumpkins and cabbage.

We weeded and heavily mulched the badly neglected raspberries with the last of my home made compost – and they seemed to perk up almost immediately.

We also built a new compost heap – combining and turning two smaller heaps to make a new mother heap in the bay we’d emptied.

Tiring but satisfying work.

Steve surveying the veg garden before a day’s hard work – we went swimming and relaxed the next day

This growing season has been wonderful so far because of the help and encouragement and advice I’ve had from friends.

I’ll leave you with a rough recipe for rocket, red onion and oregano pizza.

Another good combo is pre-wilted and chopped spinach or swiss chard with onion, tomato sauce, capers – baked then topped with fried crumbled sage leaves.

5 from 1 vote
Red onion, rocket and oregano pizza
Red onion, Rocket and Oregano pizza
Servings: 8
Author: Cath
Pizza dough enough for 2 x 26cm pizzas
  • 1 tbsp instant dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 400 gr plain or strong bread flour
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  1. Mix dry ingredients together.

  2. Add water and oil mixed together first.

  3. Make a smooth dough and knead for between 8 and 10 minutes or until you can pull and stretch a section of dough so thin it makes a window you can almost look through (Steve Brett's top tip).

  4. Grease or flour a large bowl and transfer the dough and cover. Leave until it's doubled in size in a draught free place.

  5. Knock back and leave for 45 minutes.

  6. Divide in half and roll out thinly. Leave to rest for 5 minutes.

  7. Cover with thinly sliced red onion (mine were a gift from friend Dianne Chittock), rocket torn into small pieces, then a cup of tomato sauce, and 2 tbsp (yes that much!) oregano and then drizzle on 1/3 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  

  8. Bake for 15 minutes in a very hot oven or until edges are crisp. 

  9. Slide onto an oven rack for a further five minutes to crisp the base.

Red onion, rocket and oregano pizza

Recipe courtesy Stephanie Alexander, The Cook’s Companion