Wednesday 30 September 2015

Ticking over...

At present my garden is "ticking over quite nicely" as the saying goes. (If you don't understand this, it means something like "idling"  - the way a car engine is when the vehicle is stationary).

I have done all the planting for Winter. The Brussels Sprouts are coming along well. Nothing needs doing to them at present, except perhaps removing any of the lower leaves that turn yellow. Getting rid of those promptly helps to reduce the risk of fungal infections, which are a definite risk at this time of year.

Likewise the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is quite happily doing its own thing. The plants are huge this year. You can see how they are pushing up against the netting now.

Size is determined by many factors, but amongst them is density of planting. This year I have only three PSB plants, whereas I usually have six. Sometimes Less is More!

The plants around the edges of that raised bed are Brokali and Savoy Cabbage. I recently removed some of the leaves of the PSB to allow the smaller plants to get more light.

When I planted-up that bed I had two Cabbage plants left over, so I kept them just in case of casualties. A few weeks later I put them into containers that had until recently held potatoes. They seem to be doing OK. A lot smaller than their siblings of course, but that's a good thing because it just means they will develop later, thus extending the harvest period.

The Leeks are still very small, which is worrying. I was hoping that by now they would be much bigger than this, but they are only about an inch in diameter.

OK, I'm not in any hurry to dig up those Leeks. It's not as if I need the space for another crop just yet, so they can stay there for another 4 or 5 months if they really want.

The beans will need to come down some time, but again I'm not in a hurry to do this, because there are still some pods developing. The "Jed's" plants have just about finished producing now, but the "Enorma" ones are still going strong.

The purple-and-green pods of the mystery French bean are big and fat now. Although since there is only one plant of this type there won't be much of a crop, I'm looking forward to it because I think I will save some seeds and grow them "properly" next year.

I have left a few pods on the "Kew Blue" for the same reason. I have been very impressed with this variety. It has been very prolific. Definitely worth growing again.

I very much doubt whether I will be growing any yellow beans - ever. My opinion has been confirmed: they produce a much smaller yield than either green or purple-podded varieties.

Next year I expect I will return to growing my old favourite "Cobra". I have missed it this year!

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Chicken casserole with fresh tomatoes

This dish of mine is loosely based on what in our family we used to call "Chicken Marengo". Having looked up Chicken Marengo I see that it is supposed to include crayfish and fried eggs, as well as wine, none of which our dish ever had, so I think it is safer to refer to it as just "Chicken casserole with fresh tomatoes".

We have plenty of fresh tomatoes available at present, and we are using lots of them in our cooking. For this dish I rather appropriately used some of the "Possena del Vesuvio" tomatoes. [Get it? Marengo = a place in Italy. "Possena del Vesuvio" = an Italian tomato variety.]

The reason why the photo shows the tomatoes in a bowl in the kitchen sink is that I put them there in order to skin them, which I did by pouring boiling water over them.

Chicken Casserole with Tomatoes
2 chicken breasts, skinned and cut into large chunks
500g fresh tomatoes, skinned and halved
200g chestnut mushrooms (or similar), sliced
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
750 mils good chicken stock
1 tsp dried Oregano
1 tsp dried Herbes de Provence
1 dessertspoon cornflour or other thickening agent
Approx 2 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
Salt and pepper to taste

Using about 1 tbsp oil, soften the onions in a casserole dish over a low heat until translucent but not brown
In a frying-pan, use the other 1 tbsp oil to lightly cook the chicken over a medium heat until just beginning to turn golden
Tip the chicken (with its juices) into the casserole dish
Add tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, stock, dried herbs and seasoning
Bring to the boil (on top of the cooker).

Cover and transfer to the oven
Cook in the oven at 160C for about 90 minutes
About 15 minutes before serving time, add the slaked cornflour or other thickening agent and stir in well
If the sauce is too thin (e.g. if tomatoes were very juicy, or if the mushrooms gave off a lot of liquid), take the dish out of the oven, remove lid, and boil hard for a few minutes to reduce the liquid.

I served my dish with lots of home-grown vegetables - roast potatoes, buttered carrots with chopped parsley, and Runner beans - but I think it would go just as well with pasta or with rice.

OK, that's half a kilo of tomatoes used. Only another 10 kilos to go then...  I'm not complaining though. I love tomatoes, especially home-grown ones!

Monday 28 September 2015

Harvest Monday - 28th Sept 2015

I'm almost (almost, I said) embarrassed to report the harvest of more tomatoes...

This batch weighed over 3.9kgs.

Yes, they are mostly green, but I am confident that most of them will ripen OK indoors.

We have made loads of tomato sauce for the freezer, but we have also made lots of dishes with fresh tomatoes. My little garden seldom produces a glut of anything, so it is quite nice to have "more than enough" of something for a change. I have even grieved only slightly over the fact that I have had to throw away a few blight-infected tomatoes.

I picked two more cucumbers. Again, not much to look at, but very nice when peeled.

The Spring Onions have done surprisingly well, and I pulled another dozen or so this week:

Those ones went into a Chinese meal that Jane made, along with some fabulous fresh young walnuts that she brought back from France. She watched them being shelled on the market in Ferney Voltaire (France). They were lovely and juicy, quite unlike the dry old things we normally have to put up with.

I have finally picked a significant quantity of ripe chillis this week. Bringing the plants indoors certainly turned out to be the right decision. The ones seen in this next photo were from the outdoor plants though.

These are mostly ones from the indoor plants. The bright yellow ones are "Aji Limon" and the pale greenish-yellow ones are "Blondie", while the black ones are "Calico". The red ones are a mix of "Cayenne", "Ring of Fire", "Indian Chilli Bullet" and "Caribbean Antillais".

Another small batch of Raspberries, and even one or two late-maturing Blueberries...

This is my contribution to Harvest Monday, hosted by Daphne's Dandelions. Please visit her blog to see what other people have been harvesting this week.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Pears in brandy

Recently a friend gave us a huge bag of pears - probably about 10 or 12 kilos of them - so guess what we've been cooking these last few days? Jane made some pear chutney, but I'm not a great fan of chutney, so when it was my turn I made some Pears in Brandy. We still have some pears left, so maybe I'll do a batch of pickled pears, like I have done once or twice before. We'll see...

Not having made Pears in Brandy before I looked on the internet for some recipes. I wasn't even sure whether you are supposed to cook them or just use them raw. Very soon I found just what I was looking for, a blog post about this subject with nice clear instructions, and some good relevant photos. The blog is called Our New Life in the Country, written by a lady called Sue, who describes herself as "...a 50 something townie turned country girl called Sue, who lost her heart to a sailor and started a new life in the country." Thank You, Sue, I followed your instructions almost exactly!

I peeled a large number of pears, estimating how many would fit into a large Kilner jar which I had available. As I peeled them I dropped them into a big bowl of salty water to keep them from going brown.

Then I quartered the pears, removed the cores and sliced each quarter into two pieces. After that they went into a large pan of water with a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I brought the pan to the boil and simmered the pears for a couple of minutes until they were tender.

Using a slotted spoon I packed them into the afore-mentioned Kilner jar, and one other smaller jar, before covering them with brandy. I used basic "value-style" brandy, though I suppose a purist would probably have used a decent Armagnac!

The small jar is to be given to the donor of the pears, as a way of saying Thank You. I'll have to urge her to leave them to mature for a while before eating them. I would think they would probably be OK in a month or so, but at their best at Christmas. I hope they are good, because I now have a LOT of them!

I plan to use mine as an accompaniment to desserts like ice cream, though I will also try them on their own, because I am quite partial to a drop of brandy...

Saturday 26 September 2015

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Regular readers know that I am exceptionally fond of growing chillis and tomatoes. To me, a ripe tomato or a ripe chilli is an object of beauty. Not only do I love to look at it, but I also love to feel it, because these things have a certain sensuous allure! ("Now he's really flipped" you're thinking...). Seriously though, don't you think this is a glorious sight?

More often than not the chillis we use in cooking are the "ordinary" red ones (like the Cayenne and Ring of Fire ones seen below), but I just like growing the other types for the range of shapes and colours they provide. We probably won't eat any of those black Calico chillis, but it was fun growing them.

Now what about this?

It's a fruit of the beefsteak tomato variety "Larisa", grown from seeds kindly given to me by Eddy Ceyssens in Belgium. It weighed about 250g. Not a perfect specimen I know, but very satisfying nonetheless. The colour is actually much more pink than red, though this doesn't show up so well in my photos.

Here is a view of the underside. Beefsteak tomatoes often have a rough patch at the blossom end.

This is also a "Larisa", but one of a much less regular shape:

Look underneath this one...

Right, so which would you rather have - perfectly round (boring and bland) tomatoes from the supermarket, or tasty tomatoes with character, from the garden?

Here's a photo of tomatoes (albeit under-ripe ones) and chillis together. Salsa, anyone?

Friday 25 September 2015

Parasols and twine

Having been working some distance away from home for the early part of this week (hence early departures and late returns), yesterday I had a good look round the garden and did some tidying-up and some harvesting. The cool moist weather really suits some plants, like the comfrey, which is looking very luxuriant again now.

Behind the Comfrey you can see one of my compost bins, and if you look very carefully you can see some white things around its base...

I have looked these up and I have concluded they are probably Shaggy Parasol mushrooms. There is a closely-related type called simply the Parasol Mushroom (it's less shaggy), which is apparently nice to eat, but everything I read about them warned me to be really sure not to confuse them with the shaggy version, which can be pretty toxic. The easiest way to tell the difference is to cut the flesh of one and see what colour it turns. If it goes red it is the shaggy version. Mine went brownish-red, which is enough to put me off them 100%.

Sticking to safer foodstuffs, one of the jobs I did was to tie up some Endives for blanching. Untied, the Endives are very much like a loose-leaved frilly lettuce - though some people find them too bitter.

Tying them up excludes light from the inner leaves, making them turn pale and losing most of their bitterness. All you do is gather up the leaves tightly and tie a piece of soft string or twine around the plant, like this.

Blanching takes anything from three or four days to a couple of weeks, so I shall keep a close eye on these. Tying them when they are dry is advisable too, since if they are wet they can rot pretty quickly without air circulating around the leaves. Jane and I love Endive - especially when it is blanched - with Lamb, so I suspect Rack of Lamb with Gratin Dauphinois and blanched Endive will be on the menu towards the end of next week!

As well as the Endives, my Salads bed still has plenty of Lettuces in it, and we eat Lettuce very frequently.

My successional-sowing arrangements this year have been spot-on! This late developer is "Devin", one of the Czech varieties sent to me by my friend Dominika.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Planting bulbs

Spring bulbs seem like such a distant prospect at this time of year, but if you want a decent display of flowers in the Spring, it's best to plan well ahead. Late September / early October is the time I usually plant my bulbs.

I normally buy a few new bulbs each Autumn, but I also keep the best ones from the previous year. Unfortunately my efforts at "doing the right thing" with my 'Soleils d'Or' daffs from the Isles of Scilly have not been very successful. Several of the bulbs had gone soft and squishy. I only managed to save about 15 bulbs (that's from 34 bulbs two years ago). This is a bit frustrating, to say the least! I also tried to save the bulbs from that Sarah Raven's Perfect for Pots selection I grew last time, but for some reason the bulbs had split into a multitude of little bulblets, and I'm not sure whether they are doing to be worth growing again. Wouldn't they just produce tiny (insignificant?) flowers?

Anyway, thinking about this issue I decided that this year I would not spend much money on buying bulbs and I would get ones only intended to last me for one flowering season. I noticed some good value bulbs on sale at my local Morrisons supermarket, so I bought some of these. Let me show you what I got...

First, this mixed bag of miniature Daffodils, 50 for £3.

Yes, I know there is no guarantee about how many of each there will be (they might all turn out to be the same), and there are no named varieties, but unless you are a very serious gardener (which I am not) I don't think this is a major problem.

I also bought two packs of 12 Tulips, at £2 each. The first is this selection of red ones, called "Red Passion".

And in stark contrast the other is "Sherbet Blend", a mix of pastel colours. Perhaps an unusual choice for me - I normally go for bolder colours - but just an "impulse buy".

About half of the Daffodils have gone into the big blue pot in which I grew red tulips last year. I haven't yet decided where to put the others. The Soleils d'Or and the tulips went into deeper terracotta pots. Here you can see them protected by wire grilles (shelves from my little plastic greenhouses). This is to stop foxes / badgers / whatever from nosing around in them, which is very necessary, I can tell you.

Round the side of the house (the less picturesque area that seldom features on my blog) I still have lots of pots of bulbs from last year, which I never emptied.

They are mostly Crocuses and miniature Daffodils like "Tete a Tete". It will be interesting to see whether leaving them in pots has worked any better than the ones I lifted.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Taking down the tomato vines

Well, despite all the trials and tribulations caused by weather, pests and diseases, the tomatoes have given me a decent crop this year.

However, all good things come to an end some time, and for my tomato plants that was last weekend.

After removing all useable fruit, I cut the plants down to a few inches above soil level. I did not compost them because many of them were infected with blight. Instead, they have gone into some sturdy old compost bags, awaiting transport to the municipal Tip.

The wall of the house is visible again!

I left one or two plants for a little while longer, because we have had some quite nice sunny days recently and I thought the fruit would benefit from remaining on the vines for a few more days. The ones spared "the chop" were mostly the blight-resistant ones like this "Ferline" one. Some of its fruit has already ripened and been used, but as you can see there is still a fair bit left.

A bit further along is "Crimson Crush", a new variety also with high resistance to blight. We have eaten some of its fruit and our verdict is that in taste terms it's OK but not as fantastic as it has been made out to be. Still if it will resist blight, it is likely to become popular.

I now have the unlovely task of disposing of the spent compost. I am not going to use it on my garden, because I know that it is contaminated to some degree with weedkiller. Remember this?

More trips to the tip will be necessary...