Category Archives: Recipes

First harvest of 2010: radishes

This year RB and I decided to try our hand at inter-cropping and catch-cropping in order to make the most of the space in our vegetable patch, and radishes were the perfect easy and quick choice. We planted our first catch crop of two rows about 6 weeks ago in what will be the sweetcorn bed, and they quickly reached maturity. We have harvested 16 and will pull up the rest for a dinner party we are having later.

I must confess I have never purchased radishes in my entire life, so I was a little bemused as to what we were going to do with them at maturity. In practice, they barely had the chance to make it back into the house! The crunchy texture and sweet-yet-peppery taste are wonderful and make a great addition to a salad or as a snack with hummus.

We have already planted the seeds for the next catch crop in a bean bed, and later we will inter crop in the runner bean bed. We are aiming to have radishes all summer long.

The last harvest of 2009

RB and I spent a solid day working in the garden today. Between sowing seeds, clearing beds and pruning back bushes, we’ve been busy!

We pulled up the last of our leeks this morning, the last of our 2009 vegetable garden. It is amazing to think that we planted these guys nearly a year ago – they are extremely tolerant considering this is the coldest winter we’ve had in the UK in over 30 years. These leeks are the ‘Meziers‘ variety, so they are long and thin. For 2010 we are going to try a fatter variety, although we may not be enjoying them as long as we did these.

It is zero degrees here, so we decided to make a leek and potato soup to warm us up when we came in around sunset. It is so easy to make, and really warming. Some crusty homemade bread and a small pile of crunchy toasted chorizo on top gave it an extra kick and turned the modest soup into a treat.

Butternut squash tortellini

A few weeks ago RB and I harvested our butternut squash and have been very pleased with the taste. Having recently been to a cooking class I decided I had better put some of my new skills to use and make Ravioli – only a last minute decision turned them into tortellini.

Ravioli/tortellini do take time, but they aren’t as difficult as they may seem. You don’t need a pasta machine, although one helps – I made do with a rolling pin and good old-fashioned effort.

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Find a pasta dough recipe using ’00’ flour.

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Create your filling. Mine is on the right, made of butternut squash, garlic, salt and sage. On the left I mixed together the last of our home-grown vegetables as an accompaniment which I threw into the oven with olive oil and sea salt.

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I used a cookie cutter to cut the shapes and dotted them with filling. Make sure the surface is well floured to avoid sticking, and that your dough is SUPER thin. You should be able to read through it.

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Use a paint brush (or your fingers, as I did) to paint water on the edges before closing into the shape of your choice.

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Serve with sage gently cooked in butter. Et voilà!

Harvesting sweet corn

Sweet corn brings back California for me, with barbecues and Mexican food being two of my favourite culinary categories. I really wasn’t confident about the prospect of getting cobs in Southeast England, but it has been with great pleasure that we have harvested 7 this weekend.

You know to start thinking about harvesting sweet corn when the silks (the hairy tassels at the top of the cob) start to brown. Sweet corn should be picked in the ‘milk stage’, when a milky liquid is drawn from pressing a fingernail into a kernel. If the liquid is watery, it’s too early, and if doughy, it’s too late. Be sure to pull the husk down sufficiently when testing, as the tips of the cob are most immature and can deceive you into thinking they’re not ready.

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There’s not much magic to harvesting sweet corn: just hold the stalk with one hand, hold the ear at the base with the other. Twist the ear firmly downward, like turning a door handle. Sweet corn starts to lose its sweetness as soon as it’s picked so it’s best to harvest when you know you can eat it, otherwise refrigerate.

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For lunch we rustled up a simple dish using corn, onions and green bell peppers from our garden with a bit of Spanish chorizo. We sweated the onions and then fried up the rest of the ingredients – it was wonderful!

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Success with celery

When I was researching what to grow this year, I invariably came across celery being described as everything from difficult to grow to the devil’s food. That was enough to make me want to do give it a go.

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We decided on ‘Full White’ self-blanching celery from the Real Seed Company. We planted them in seed trays, transferring them individually to 10cm pots until the roots were well established and peeping out the bottom and then finally planting them out in their raised bed – the photograph above is shortly after planting them out into a block of 30 plants.

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The two biggest threats to celery are lack of water and slugs. We kept them fairly well-watered and benefited from regular rainfall, but planting them in a block seems to be the best help as the leaves shade the earth and minimise weeds. And as for slugs – we just ignored them. Yep, they were there, but their actual damage was minimal.

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Celery is key to a good vegetable stock, another benefit to our kitchen garden – no need to use those artificial stock cubes. We have also added it to salads and as part of bean stews. The flavour out of the ground is really spicy.

One thing is for sure though: two people don’t need 30 heads of celery! In fact, RB keeps harvesting them and we end up composting 90% of each head as it remains unused, even though in a little water they last a week.

Now that we have conquered growing celery, we may have a debate on our hands about how much we grow again next year, if any.

Cooking with our first tomatoes

We have finally harvested the first of our tomatoes, the Rose de Berne and Millefleur varieties. The Millefleur should really go red, but as they were so soft and juicy we couldn’t resist picking them yellow.

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We were in a bit of a hurry for supper, so we diced up the tomatoes with garlic and basil and then combined the mixture with some gently cooked through courgettes and onions from our garden.

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We then poured this over our favourite pasta, De Cecco fusilli, with cubes of fresh buffalo mozzarella.

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It was delicious!

Redcurrant and strawberry jam

Yesterday RB harvested about a pint of redcurrants, as well as a handful of blackcurrants and strawberries. I decided to make a first attempt at jam.

After reading a few jam recipes online, I interpolated my own simple formula: 1 part fruit to 1 part sugar, measured by weight. It seemed too easy, and after my crabapple debacle in the autumn I was not confident of the result, but it managed to set beautifully.

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I put the fruit and the sugar in a small pot over medium heat to melt the sugar for 10 or so minutes first, checking the liquid on the back of a spoon to ensure the sugar crystals were all disintegrated. I then brought the jam to a boil and allowed it to simmer for 25 minutes. I can’t recommend the cold plate trick, as it didn’t work for me and yet the jam was firm and jam-like once cool.

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Do follow sterilising methods for jars. I haven’t bothered with sealing as this small jar will be in the fridge and won’t last more than a month! It is delicious on RB’s homemade bread and oatcakes.

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