14 Oct 2009

One size fits all …

Folded tree on right, Snapped tree on left.  (Middle tree not a lemon)

A few weeks ago when placing our Orchard Order, we added lemon trees thinking it would be so educational for the kids to watch lemons growing… nothing at all, of course, to do with the usefulness of having a ready supply for the occasional G&T or Tequila shot - although, now you mention it …  (And yes, apparently these particular trees are hardy enough to bear fruit even in the UK.)

So, today:  Arrival of lemon trees.   In gardening terms, this is the equivalent of getting a new puppy and should have generated a surge of excitement but, as it happens, turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.   The supplier had packed them into one-size-fits-all boxes and literally folded them in half to get them in!  [Sighs with utter disbelief.]  Hello??  Is there anyone with a brain in there?  Needless to say, branches are snapped off and phone calls will be made...

13 Oct 2009

Blueberry Thrill …

Welcome to our world - our new arrivals!

The hot news of the day here is the arrival of our Blueberry Bushes - were we excited?  OhYes!  We love blueberries. Immediate thoughts of next summer's harvest:  blueberry pies, blueberry cake, blueberries picked straight from the bush - blueberry heaven!   The packaging around the shrubs was Very Clearly Labelled:  Bottom (Heavy) and Top (Light) …

And then we found ourselves wondering, "Which part of that didn't the van driver understand?"  One of our bushes arrived with it's bottom in the air and understandably, after hours of plant yoga, no longer at it's best.  There is a very happy outcome to this though;  L contacted the supplier - the (newly) highly recommended Wiggly Wigglers - and they immediately offered to send another bush and gave advice on pruning the damaged one, which they said we can keep.  They are very nice people, and we thank them.

10 Oct 2009

Seedy Saturday …

 Share the Love…  
Butternut Squash seeds (I hope you don't throw yours away!)

Have I  mentioned that we're in the Borough of Camden (yes, reasonably close to that Market/tourist magnet -  more info here).  Far more interesting though, I've just heard that today is the launch of Good Food for Camden with various events being staged across the Borough, including Apple Day (with prizes for the best Apple Cake!), tours of growing spaces and my nearest event a seed and produce swap (with food tasting and plants to take home) at Somers Town (round the back of the British Library).

Gosh, I do love the fact that we have all this great stuff going on.  So, spur of the moment decision, I'm off to flaunt my wares. Don't look at me like that.  I'm talking about my veg - as you well know - and possibly a few swopsy seeds in my little seed packets.

I'm going with my Investigative Reporter hat on, and camera, and will report back on Monday.

Thrilling times, folks, thrilling times. 

If you can get to this event, check out What's On in Camden for times, etc. (the map's wrong, go by the postcode).

9 Oct 2009

Oh My Gourd!

Change of plan folks - and my Secret Surprise cakes will have to wait for another post.  (Sorry, 'bout that but I have an urgent veg/soup situation).

I've been granted permission to harvest one of L's butternut squash, lovingly grown on her YorkRise allotment and, having recently tasted the most delicious B'nut Squash soup made by my niece, I had to make a batch and bring this bowl of goodness to your attention.  A soup, by the way, which can be made in haste whenever a quick and satisfying lunch (or supper) is needed for extra guests or hungry children – my family are all soup-makers and use whatever veg we have available.

Here we go:

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

You will need:
1 Squash, 1 Sweet Potato, 1 Onion, 1 litre (2 pints) chicken (or veg) stock, 1 oz butter.
Optional:  a few fresh herbs (dill, coriander, parsley) - finely chopped, swirl of chilli sauce, homemade croutons.

Melt butter slowly in large pot or casserole dish.  Chop onion, add to pot. Cover with lid so that the veg 'sweats'.  Peel and dice squash and sweet potato.  (In case you're wondering, I don't use garlic in this recipe as I make my chicken stock with garlic, but you can add a clove or two if you wish.)

Add diced veg to the onion in pot, replace lid.  Leave to cook for about 10 - 15 minutes on a very low flame (we're still just softening the veg), but check and stir round from time to time.  Add the stock.   Season with a quick grind of sea salt and pepper.  Bring just to the boil, then simmer on a low heat for about 40 minutes.  Allow to cool and blitz in a blender. (If you blitz before cooling,  you'll blow the lid off your blender if it's over half full - and scald yourself in the process.  Believe me, I know.)  Or leave chunky if you prefer. 

Blitzed to a puree and waiting to be heated through for lunch.
Either way, heat up a bowl for lunch, garnish with herbs, croutons, creme fraiche or chilli sauce - any or all of these! - and chunks of warm crusty bread …

Here's a thought:  Instead of adding chilli sauce at the end, you could chuck a finely chopped chilli in at the beginning with the other veg - or add a dash of Tabasco sauce during the simmering. 

8 Oct 2009

Just Sow Stories …

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."  
~Theodore Roosevelt

Excuse me while I just chortle gleefully and give thanks for the fantastic weather we've been having.  And, yes, I am talking about the rain over the last three days.  It was just what we needed to give our newly sown seeds a good start, and - correct if I'm wrong - aren't the clouds supposed to keep the warmth down on earth level and keep the frosty nights at bay?  And today's glorious warm sunshine has been the icing on the cake. (Mmmm, caaaake…  check back tomorrow for the weekend recipe - cupcakes with a surprise!)

Anyway … last weekend, as I worked in the VegPatch, I decided that it's only just no longer September.  We're an Urban VegPatch (cities being warmer than the countryside) and taking global warming into consideration as well, I thought there might just be time to get some more seeds in the ground.  ("He that waits upon fortune is never sure of a dinner."  Wise words indeed from Benjamin Franklin).  So, maybe it was a bit foolhardy, but another five lots of veg have gone into the raised beds and I'm keeping my fingers firmly crossed for a slow descent into winter.

So, what d'ya reckon?  Could I be channelling Percy Thrower at the moment? (What do you  mean, who's he! I'm not that old.)

The view this bright and sunny morning. The parsley is huge after all that rain!

October Overview 
Still eating: lettuce and other salad leaves, radish, parsley (and from YRG allotments: butternut squash, tomatoes, sweetcorn, tomatoes).
Almost ready:  beetroot, salad onions, green tomatoes
Watching:  L's enormous Hallowe'en pumpkin ripen!
Just sown:  Kale (Nero di Toscana), winter spinach (Scenic & Viking), Raab (broccoli), garlic, blue radish (Hils Blauer Herbst und Winter).
Still to sow:  Green Manure (Phacelia tanacetifolia) for next year's beds. Allegedly improves soil structure and revitalises soil.  I've also just dug sand into our heavy soil… we'll see.
On order for November delivery:  Fruit trees (apple, pear, Victoria plum, Morello cherry); UK hardy lemon, early and late raspberry canes, blueberry bushes, watercress seeds.
Still to buy:  Horticultural fleece for the chilly months ahead and some cloches.
On the lookout for:  a nice cheap wooden greenhouse.  Anyone got one going spare near London?

6 Oct 2009

From Plot to Pot …

 (Photo courtesy of BBC Dig In Recipe booklet)

Here's a little something you gardening cooks might enjoy… a little pdf booklet of simple vegetable suppers from Nigel Slater (well known TV chef in UK).

His recipes are inspired by the vegetables grown from free seeds distributed as part of the BBC's Dig In project, for example - Carrot Fritters, Stove Top Squash with Toasted Crumbs.  As Nigel says, "Growing your own grub is the best seasoning your food can have."  (Er, Nigel, let's just keep it real. Home grown might taste better but nothing substitutes for salt and pepper in my book.)

See what you think.  Download the booklet from the BBC website here.  (And enjoy the rest of the site while you're there … there's a little blog about the project with some good tips for winter veg.

5 Oct 2009

Cardoons (I think)!

 Found on a recent walk round …
Okay, I may be getting a teeny bit obsessed with seed collecting.  My eyes now rake across the content of other people's gardens and process the location of any seeds worth gathering.  This beauty stopped me in my tracks a couple of days ago.  A seed head about 9 inches across, fluffy and spiky.  What a beaut! But still standing up (and in someone's front garden) so off limits.  However … on the return journey I noticed quite a few seed heads lying on the ground within easy reach (Yayy!) - and quite obviously neglected by the householder.   So I've rescued one and have since been dissecting, pulling and photographing.

I didn't know what it was but after a very satisfying flick through 'RHS Garden Plants and Flowers', I have my answer: it is a Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) or, possibly, Wild Thistle Artichoke.  

Apparently it's almost a weed, grown for architectural interest in UK gardens, loathed by farmers as its parachute seeds (plumose hairs with achenes attached) settle happily into their crop fields.  See what a little bit of reading will do?

Forgive my naiveté, and stop laughing seasoned gardeners, but this learning curve is what makes gardening so compelling.  And imagine my surprise when I found out from Sarah Raven's book 'The Great Vegetable Plot' that you can eat the stems! Awesome. Apparently they do it all the time in the Mediterranean.  

Yes, you're right … I really should get out more …

Achenes (ahem) on blue linen
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