Sunday 31 August 2014

Prolonging the harvest season

I wrote yesterday about the early advent of Autumn this year, but today I want to demonstrate that the harvest season is by no means over, and in fact a new phase of it is beginning.

This year I planted my Radicchio a bit earlier than I usually do, so that the plants had more opportunity to get big before the return of cold conditions. It's as well that I did so, with August being such a poor month in terms of the weather. When a head of Radicchio is ready for harvesting it sort of "bursts". The green outer leaves roll back, often dying in the process, and going brown and soft, to reveal the crisp red-and-white inner core of the vegetable. This one looks like a real beauty.

My Cucumber plants are evidently tired after a good run, but there are still a few fruits developing:

"Iznik F1"

I only have four pots of potatoes left now (out of an original 26). They are all "Pink Fir Apple". The foliage is yellowing, and developing brown speckles, which tells me that they ought to OK to harvest, but in view of the modest yield I got from the first one of these, I think I will leave the others for a little longer.

Many of my chilli plants have produced ripe fruit by now, even this "Red Habanero" one which was so badly damaged by hail back in the Spring.

"Ohnivec" has been the best performer in terms of the size of the harvest. It has very decorative fruits, which go through a range of colours in their ripening process. (Not to mention a range of physical contortions!)

I am experimenting with Leeks this year. I have only ever grown them once before, many years ago, and they were a dismal failure, but this time they look much better. I had planned for these to be part of my Late Autumn / Early Winter harvest, but I think some of them are about big enough to harvest already. I expect they will get bigger if I leave them a while, but I'm anxious to dig up one or two just to see what they are like. A couple of them have already bolted, and although I have cut off their flower-heads I expect they will be a bit tough. I want to be able to eat some of them before they all go that way.


I have four Swede turnips on the go, of which two are looking fairly respectable:

Hopefully these really will wait until late Autumn before maturing! Two of them, incidentally, show no sign at all of producing a swollen root or bulb. Maybe they are just late starters...

The "Cobra" climbing French Beans are having a bit of a late rally. Several new flowers have appeared, so if the weather over the next couple of weeks is anything like decent I will probably get a few more pods.


There are even a few tomatoes still to come. This one looks OK, doesn't it? This particular fruit is on one of the lower trusses of its plant, which were the least affected by the compost contamination problem.


These, on the other hand, are on the secondary growth produced as a result of allowing the sideshoots to develop instead of pinching them out as I normally would.


They are a strange shape, and still firmly green, but with a bit of luck (sunshine, I mean), they should make it to maturity eventually.

So, do you see what I mean? The weather has definitely turned, but the harvests still go on.

P.S. I dug up two Leeks. Couldn't resist the temptation!

I am very happy with those.  And wow, did they smell strong when I dug them up! The whole house smelled oniony when I brought them indoors.

Saturday 30 August 2014

Autumn already!

Autumn in August? Surely not! But yes, it does seem that Autumn has arrived already. Although the weather forecast for the next few days looks a little more encouraging than of late, it is still not what we would normally expect in late August and early September.

The garden already looks Autumn-ey. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I like the fact that the garden changes with the seasons. The rich red, yellows and golds of Autumn foliage is particularly attractive, but they are not with us yet. At present we just have that sort of faded, tired look that plants get at the end of their productive life. Here is a little selection of photos that illustrate what I mean:










French Bean "Cobra"

After a stint this week working in London, with no opportunity for dead-heading or other garden chores, I think the weekend will be devoted mainly to an all-round tidy-up operation.  

Friday 29 August 2014

Kofte with bulgur

This is my interpretation of a classic Middle Eastern (Turkish?) dish. I don't claim that it is authentic, but it is certainly nice!

With our weather here having turned very cold (down to 3.7C one night!), our thoughts have turned to Winter-style food; stuff that will warm you up on a chilly evening. In the past we have had a couple of very pleasant holidays in Turkey, and enjoyed the food we had there, and I'm sure this was in the back of my mind when I was deciding what to cook.

My version of kofte (aka meatballs) involves minced Lamb, seasoned with ground cinnamon, allspice, coriander and cumin, along with some dried oregano, some cumin seeds and a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes. To give the meatballs a softer texture and to help them stay together when cooking I added two slices of white bread (crusts removed), softened in milk. Using my hands to ensure that everything was well mixed, I shaped the mixture into balls about the size of an rather flattened golf ball:

I covered them in clingfilm and then put them in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm-up.

Later on, about two hours before dinner-time, I started the rest of the dish. First stage was to soften a couple of sliced onions in some vegetable oil in a large casserole. Then I added about a litre of home-made chicken stock and a pile (about 300g) of home-grown baby carrots:

Adding a little salt and pepper, I covered the casserole and put it into a low oven (about 140C), while I browned the meatballs.

At this stage I wanted the kofte to be browned but not cooked all the way through, so I gave them a minute or so each in really hot oil in a deep pan (I used our ceramic wok).

Notice that I only did a few at a time, to avoid crowding the pan, which would reduce the temperature too much. As they were done, I lifted them out and set them aside on a plate.

When they were all ready, I arranged them in the casserole, on top of the carrots and onions, and returned the whole thing to the oven, where they simmered away for the next hour and a half.

With about half an hour to go I removed the casserole lid to allow the gravy to reduce a bit and thicken. This is a very forgiving dish, and a few minutes either way would not be critical!

Meanwhile I made up some bulgur (cracked wheat). This is incredibly simple to do! I softened another finely-chopped onion in a deep pan until translucent, then added a measured quantity of chicken stock, brought it to the boil and added the bulgur. You have to follow the manufacturer's instructions on quantities, because they are not always the same. Mine had one and three quarters cups of stock to one cup of bulgur (to feed two people). When the stock returns to the boil, cover the pan and let it simmer very gently until the bulgur soaks up the stock (approx. 20 mins).

Finally, fluff it up with a fork. You can add embellishments such as raisins, pistachios or chopped parsley if you like, but I left mine plain. The taste was predominantly of the home-made chicken stock, which was deeply rich and flavoursome.

The final flourish, just before serving, was to add to the kofte dish a generous sprinkling of snipped chives, to give it some colour. Normally I would most likely have added chopped parsley, but I didn't have any parsley, and anyway, as Jane pointed out, the chives nicely complemented the oniony flavour of the broth.

I was very pleased with the level of spicing in the meatballs. This is something you learn to judge for yourself, and I think I got it just right this time. People like different levels of spicing, and it is not really appropriate to dictate to other people how much of each spice (and indeed, which spice) they should add. And anyway, the level of flavour depends on things like the freshness of the spices themselves, so "half a teaspoon" can be a meaningless term.

I served the meal with some salad accompaniments - sliced red radishes, crunchy Cos / Romaine lettuce and home-grown tomatoes covered with torn fresh Mint and sliced Spring Onions:

I don't have a photo of the plated-up dish to offer you. You just have to imagine it: take a portion of bulgur into your bowl; add a few of the kofte; add a few of the carrots; pour over the whole lot a few spoonfuls of the savoury broth; dig in...  Heaven!

This is what we call Comfort Food - unsophisticated, but very warming and tasty!

Thursday 28 August 2014

Are these failures?

Regular readers will know that I have had a good year for potatoes. The quality has been the best ever, and the yield has been respectable too. I don't keep detailed records of such things, so I can't say exactly how the yield compares with previous years; I just know that I have been very satisfied with what I have got - up till now. In this context then, maybe the following batch of Pink Fir Apple must be seen as a failure...

Those six tubers (Yes, I know it looks like seven, but one of them has two bits, joined at a right-angle) are the total yield from one plant, grown in one of my big pots. I must confess that I am disappointed. I had hoped for more. It's not even as if I have been impatient and harvested too soon, because apart from those tubers in my photo there were only two other really minuscule ones, so I don't think that waiting another couple of weeks would have made any perceptible difference. Normally when I harvest potatoes I expect to see tubers of several different sizes, but this plant had only these few.

After washing the potatoes I weighed them. They came in at a meagre 281 grams:

Still, they are quite good-looking potatoes again. Not particularly pink, considering their name, and with one exception, not particularly knobbly by the standards of this variety, but nice nonetheless.

Now what about the Carrots? Whilst the ones grown in my big Woodblocx raised bed are good (by my standards), the "finger" carrots grown (as I have done several times before) in black plastic tubs in a raised wooden planter, have been pathetically bad this year:

These carrots are small and very "hirstute" this year - they are covered in a mass of hairy roots.

These carrots are useable, and I'm sure they will be tasty enough, but they will need a huge amount of effort to make them fit for consumption. I know from my experience with a previous batch that I will need to scrape them with a knife: scrubbing will not be enough. Scraping about 50 tiny carrots will take ages!

So is that a failure? I think the answer is probably "Yes". I spent money on the compost (which was almost certainly the reason why the carrots were poor); I spent time on sowing the seeds, protecting them from Carrot Root Fly, and watering them. I even spent about a quarter of an hour picking through the compost to find anything that might be worth saving. And what do I get? Enough carrots for a small helping for two people. They had better taste nice!!!

P.S. Since drafting this post, we have eaten both the carrots and the PFA potatoes - both very tasty! I have to say that PFA beats all the other spuds I have grown, Hands Down, when it comes to taste and texture. I have to work on maximising the yield now...

Wednesday 27 August 2014


The other day when I was out foraging I found some patches of wild Horseradish. It's easy to spot because of its very distinctive leaves.

I suppose this Horseradish is feral rather than wild... Nevertheless, on a foraging trip something like this is fair game, so I did stop to dig some up, because I know Jane loves Horseradish sauce. I hate the stuff!

It looks most unprepossessing at this stage, but Jane assured me it would be great.

As you can probably guess, I planted one piece (the little bit on the left in the photo above) in my garden. I'll probably live to regret this, because Horseradish allegedly spreads rapidly.

On Saturday night Jane made a dinner with roast beef, which was an ideal opportunity for her to try making Horseradish cream. My role was to prepare the Horseradish, while she whipped some cream.

You treat it just like fresh Ginger - peel the rough skin off, and then grate the white inner part of the root:

Horseradish is pretty pungent, so you don't need much.

The grated root is then added to the whipped cream, and "Voila"... Horseradish Cream.

Good with roast beef. Allegedly....

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Hedgerow Jelly and Plum Jam

If you saw my post the other day about foraging, you will have gathered that over the weekend I was busy making jam. For me this is a new-found skill (I only started last Summer), but I have in Jane a skilled mentor who keeps me on the right track. It's just a pity that as a diabetic she can't eat the finished product, which is about 50% sugar!

I'm not going to describe the recipe for Hedgerow Jelly, because I wrote about it in detail this time last year, but if you want it you can find it HERE

Instead, I'll just show you some photos...

That huge pan of mixed fruit (Plums, Sloes, Blackberries, Elderberries, Apples) eventually made these three jars of Hedgerow Jelly:

Hedgerow Jelly
Having completed the Hedgerow Jelly I made the yellow plums seen below (about 1.8kgs) into a type of jam sometimes described as "Fruit Cheese" by boiling their sieved pulp with the pulp of a similar quantity of apples, and sugar. I used Preserving Sugar, which has some added pectin, to help the jam to set.

Wild yellow plums - very like Mirabelles

After finishing the Yellow Plum jam, I set about making some of the red plums into a chutney. This has a smaller proportion of sugar in it than jam, so I think Jane will be able to eat some of it.

Wild red plums. I treated then as if they were Damsons
 The plums were cooked with some raisins and ground Ginger, in a spiced vinegar, and then de-stoned (easier said than done, please note!), and boiled with sugar and more spiced vinegar.

Making Chutney

The mixture is boiled until it goes thick and sticky.

The Plum Chutney after reduction

I'll be interested to see what the chutney is like when it cools, because the recipe I used makes something that is much more akin to a jam than to the traditional "Branston Pickle" type of chutney. It seems a lot thinner. Perhaps when it cools it sets hard....

The day's work

So there we are: 2 jars of Plum and Raisin Chutney; 3 jars of Hedgerow Jelly; and 12 and a half jars of Plum and Apple Jam.

P.S. The following day I made some more jelly with the red plums!

These little plums are best made into jelly rather than jam, because it is very difficult to extract the stones. From these ones I made two and a half jars of lovely pink jelly:-

Here is one of each of the jellies I made:

Guess what I am going to be eating on my toast for the next few months?!

P.P.S. After making all that jam / jelly I still had about 3kgs of fruit left, so I just stewed it up for a few minutes to make a "Plum compote", which will be nice just on its own, but probably even better with some ice cream.

Obligingly, the skins of the plums came off during cooking, and I was able to skim off most of them, but the stones...well that's another matter. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief (repeated ad infinitum, I think!)