Monday, 25 June 2012

Purple-flowered, yellow-podded mange-tout on the allotment

Today I made a quick visit to the allotment to check that the wind of recent days hasn't done too much damage. Happily, everything seems to be growing well, especially the mange-tout peas which are covered in exquisite purple flowers. Each pair of soft lilac petals encloses an inner set of richer, deeper purple. I'm growing the variety 'Golden Sweet', which produces yellow pods that are just starting to develop. I couldn't resist eating one, even though they're a bit small - it was sweetly crunchy and very tender.

I've got plenty of parsley growing at the allotment which I'm harvesting now for salads and omelettes, as well as borage which I'm growing for its edible flowers. I've heard that borage stems can be cooked as a vegetable too, but I'm yet to try that.

Particularly exciting are two crops I'm growing for the first time. Huauzontle (or Aztec Broccoli) produces edible leaves and flower shoots which are apparently very tasty steamed. I'm also growing quinoa plants for grain. Both plants look similar at the moment, just like seedlings of Fat Hen.

Behind them (in the picture) are tree cabbage plants under mesh to protect them from pigeons. These are supposed to grow as a short-lived perennial, giving harvests of cabbage leaves for at least a couple of seasons once established.

I'm also growing courgette 'Black Beauty', runner bean 'Scarlet Emperor', winter squash 'Burgess Buttercup', Achocha (Fat Baby), Globe artichoke, camomile, bronze fennel, Sanguisorba (salad burnet), spring onion 'Kyoto Market', carrot 'd'Eysines', radish 'Munchenbier', red orach, beetroot 'Sanguina', chard, and probably more that I can't remember! I'll write about them all as I harvest them. Meanwhile, I'm planning to start sowing this week for some more quick summer crops as well as for winter and hungry-gap produce.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Courgette and Beetroot Salad

Occasionally, in the almost-constant downpour of rain that has been summer so far this year, a rare day of sun happens to coincide with my day off work. A salad lunch in the garden always seems to be a satisfying way to make the most of such temporary warmth, so I combined courgette 'ribbons' (cut with a peeler) with chunks of boiled beetroot and topped them with Calendula petals and shredded mint leaves, as well as a dressing of oil and balsamic vinegar, sea salt and pepper. I love the flavour combination of mint and courgette, which I first tasted in a soup at a farm-shop cafe. I wish I could say the courgettes and beetroot were home-grown, but mine aren't quite ready yet, although the petals and mint both came from the garden.

Yesterday I planted out into the garden the watercress cuttings which I rooted in water some weeks ago. They have grown into reasonably-sized plants since being potted on into containers, seemingly able to cope with slug and snail attacks, so I thought I would move them on into the ground to see how they get on there. 

They have a rather sprawling growth habit (perhaps because the weight of the stems are usually supported by water?) which caused them to trail out of their pots so that instead of forming upright clumps of leaves the stems now lie across the soil. I'm hoping they will root where they lie and spread about to fill the space I've planted them in - a semi-shaded patch of deep, damp soil near the pond.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Hawthorn flower tincture

A little more than two weeks ago I got married. Four days before that I was using precious pre-wedding time on one of my two days off before the big day to pick hawthorn flowers. Obsessed? Maybe, but one has to take these opportunities when they arise!

It was a calm, sunny Sunday in mid-May and I saw the chance to finish making the Hawthorn tincture I'd started back in August last year (see my earlier post if you're curious). My plan was to make a tincture using hawthorn berries (which I did) and then finish it by using that tincture to steep hawthorn flowers, producing a complete hawthorn tincture. I just had to wait for the hawthorn blossom, and last month when the hedgerows were full of the sickly-scented white flowers I took my chance.

I spent an hour or so in a small meadow near where I live, happily and unhurriedly picking the small bundles of blossom, taking only those which looked freshly opened or even with a few unopened buds. At home I simply bundled all of the flowers into my bottle of hawthorn berry tincture, using a wooden spoon handle to push them in and topping up with a bit more vodka to make sure all of the plant material was covered. I then added the date and contents to the label and put the bottle in a cupboard, hoping I would remember to give it a shake every few days. I'd kept a small handful of flowers back to try as a cup of fresh hawthorn blossom tea, which was sweetly refreshing and more than a little soporific!

In several weeks' time I'll be able to taste the finished product. Most of the information I could find about making this sort of tincture varied in terms of how long the flowers should be left steeping before straining, ranging from ten days to two months. I'll try six weeks as a reasonable compromise.