Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Ginger. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Ginger. Sort by date Show all posts

14 Apr 2022

Ginger Nuts! How to grow fresh ginger (part 1)

 

I've been trying not to get too experimental with what I'm growing this year but ginger is a staple in my kitchen (so useful for warding off winter colds).  So, for the past few weeks, I've been nurturing a root into life in the dark warmth of my kitchen cupboards.

I last tried growing ginger seven years ago, and failed. But, inspired while watching Marcus Wareing's Tales from a Kitchen Garden on the BBC, my thoughts turned to the summer warmth in my sun trap of a salad garden and I decided to try again. And on my next shopping expedition, I came home with a sturdy chunk of promising looking ginger in my basket.

I've followed the method shown in episode 8 of the show where Marcus chats to a grower about spices. And that included ginger.  Compulsive viewing for a food grower - I now know where I went wrong before! 

As the saying goes ... if at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Especially as I've now seen a tried and tested method that practically guarantees success. (I'm nothing if not optimistic.)

So this is what I've done (so far) ...

  • First, sprout the ginger.  Soak the ginger chunks in water for a couple of days; that helps to revitalise it.
  • Next, seal the chunks in a clear plastic tub and store it somewhere warm.  I found the gentle warmth of the cupboard near to my oven perfect.
  • Finally, try not to forget about it! In a couple of weeks, buds on the ginger had started to form a tuber with visible roots (see main pic).  The whole chunk of ginger was then potted up into good peat free compost, leaving the growing shoot above the soil level and the new roots just buried. Keep the plant warm and the soil moist (never wet) and in six months or so, I should be harvesting my own fresh ginger. 
  • I used a 3 litre/7.5" pot because it's what I had to hand but a 10 litre/11" pot would be even better. I'll pot mine on once it's established. 
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a subtropical plant, thriving in humid conditions and nutrient rich soil. It spreads along the ground as it grows (hence the need for a big pot or greenhouse bed) and will need feeding weekly. 

Sprouted ginger root planted into pot.
Snuggled into it's new home ... 

Part Two of this post will be if/when this experiment progresses ... and my next experiment will be the lemon grass stalk previously destined for a pot of Thai breakfast soup but now sitting in a jar of water on my windowsill.

10 Jul 2015

Planting a ginger surprise



My inability to throw plants away is getting the better of  me.  Just this morning I checked the colander that I keep my onions/garlic/shallots in on the kitchen counter to see if anything needed topping up and found an old piece of ginger that had sprouted.  I found that quite thrilling, that a plant will just appear out of nowhere. In looking up how to plant and grow it, I've found that it's quite a common occurrence to look for pieces of ginger with buds on in the supermarket to start off a home-grown edible ginger plant.

Obviously, I have to try this.  Fate has forced my hand.

I have to plant it into a 6 inch pot, covering the ginger piece (rhizome) but leaving the bud just above the surface.  The soil should be moisture retentive but free draining. This is especially important for container grown plants where you don't want the soil to either dry out or become waterlogged.  I'm using some of my fabulous Wool Compost from Dalefoot (discovered at Chelsea!) as the rhizome likes to be kept moist; the compost is made of bracken and sheep's wool so is moisture retentive, nitrogen rich and peat free -  and the best I've found in a long time.

After planting, water the soil and leave in a warm, non-windy spot out of direct sunlight.  In this warm summer weather, I can leave it outside but bring the pot into a warmer spot, under cover, when the temperature drops below 50F.

By next spring, I should have a decent sized plant (up to a metre tall, if reports are to be believed) but it's the root (rhizome) that is edible and can be dug up and used as usual, using any new buds on the rhizome to start a new plant.  Fresh ginger and a lovely plant in one!

Has anyone else tried this? If so, I'd love to hear how you got on.


Spiked on a corn skewer, it's true size is about 2cm.
(Photographed on my tiny balcony.)



22 Sept 2016

Rich Tea

My life as a blogger occasionally takes me to some curious places.


One evening last week, for example, I found myself sipping tea in the company of Harry and David Rich. Who they, do I hear you ask?  Only the brothers who won gold at Chelsea last year with their garden - and shack on tracks - for Cloudy Bay!


Rich Brothers talking about their Chelsea Garden 'Vital Earth, Night Sky' 2014
(Click on link to watch short video)

The personable duo's landscaping business was already keeping them busy but winning at the Chelsea Flower Show two years on the trot augmented their rise to fame and, in the past couple of years, the brothers have been quietly raising their game.  As well as business projects, there was a garden installation for Saatchi's Chanel exhibition, a regular television slot on ITV's This Morning, filming with Charlie Dimmock (remember her?) to make Garden Rescue (there's just time to catch it on BBC iplayer) and now ... a collaboration with Australian tea company T2.

It was the tea connection that got me involved.  I received an email inviting me to an 'urban gardening event' in Chelsea's Kings Road. Intrigued, I asked for more details and learned that T2 were launching a limited edition range of veg patch teas with an in-store autumn garden created for the event by the Rich Brothers. Now we've all come to terms with fruit teas, herb teas and iced tea but vegetable tea? Visions of cabbage water were conjured up in my mind. I felt I should investigate - and I was very curious to see this autumn garden created by two luminaries of the gardening world.

I was pretty sure that the new Veg Patch teas would be delicious - what would be the point otherwise? - and I was right. If you drink juiced fruit and vegetables every day (which I do), the flavours look very appealing.  Of the four flavours Carrot Ginger & Turmeric was my first choice with Apple Kale & Ginger a close second. There are two more flavours: Green Tea + Spinach and Rooibos Beetroot & Broccoli. In the last two flavours, the green tea and rooibos were the dominant flavours but tweaked into deliciousness by the addition of red pepper, lemongrass, coriander and lemon verbena.



I love the concept of using herbs and vegetables to make tea.  I guess most of us have dabbled with freshly picked herbs of peppermint, lemon verbena, ginger and perhaps thyme (good for sore throats) but I would never have thought of adding dried vegetables. It makes a lot of sense when considering the health benefits of the ingredients used - turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory, kale and spinach are great for boosting energy, broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable with great anti-carcinogenic properties. So not only are the teas extremely pleasant to drink (and can be served hot, chilled or mixed into cocktails), they're also good for you. I'm sold - and we gardeners are fond of a cup of tea, are we not?

But did the 'urban garden event' deliver?  I feel very disloyal for saying no, not quite. But read on ... because that's just me. The plants didn't quite add up to my expectation of an autumn garden because, given that the new product was veggie teas, I anticipated raised beds filled with fennel, carrots, beetroot, kale and herbs. Just the sort of thing that Jekka McVicar does so well for her stall at Chelsea Flower Show. (She has her own tea collaboration - I forget with who.)

Perhaps my expectations were too literal. The planting was undoubtedly gorgeous, consisting of several groups of plants in large pots and planters. It was autumn inspired with several myrtle shrubs for their delicious scent, Pennisetum grasses for that gorgeous autumnal golden/pink glow and various Sanguisorbas to bring a berried burgundy to the display.  I gleaned all this from chatting to the two Rich brothers who, incidentally, are charming, funny, entertaining, chatty and very polite.  It's heartening to see that success doesn't seem to have gone to their heads.  I worked lots of questions into the conversation but the main one had to be, "Builder's tea or Veg Patch tea - which would you choose?"  And their answer, genuinely, was that they really like T2 teas, especially the Veg Patch ones. And on that, we agreed.




Veg Patch teas are a limited edition range and can be bought from T2tea.com at a cost of £16 per box. Londoners can see the garden installation at the Chelsea store in the Kings Road until early October.

22 Mar 2017

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday - Spring Harvest

~ Just add rice ~

Walking through the veg patch yesterday evening, I could see that strong winds had, yet again, done for my purple sprouting broccoli so I had to nip in and try to prop it up without having any string on me.  (Note to gardening self - always have a bit of twine in your pockets.)

There were a number of PSB stalks ready for cutting (luckily I had a pocket knife in my garden bag) to which I quickly added some yellow chard, Cavalo Nero kale, pink stems of Red Champagne rhubarb, plus a few salad leaves of wild rocket, sorrel, baby chard and baby beetroot.  And, just like that, I had the makings of a nice supper.  I just added some Camargue and Wild Rice to the cooked veg, and some stem ginger and yogurt to the rhubarb.  My first (almost) all veg patch supper* of the year.

Can I just say what good value the wild rocket has been this winter? I eat salad with everything, even breakfast if I'm having eggs, and these leaves have stood over winter as a really good cut and come again crop.



* Leaves of chard and kale were finely sliced and stir fried in olive oil with shallots, garlic, chilli and grated ginger; the stems were steamed with the broccoli stalks while the rice cooked. I usually add a dressing of tamari soy sauce to spice things up a bit as well.  The rhubarb stems were roasted for a short time in the oven then mixed with chopped stem ginger and plonked on top of yogurt.  I'm no chef but I like tasty fresh food!

19 Feb 2017

Never mind the roses

Hellebore atrorubens
~ Wisley borders, Valentine's Day - Hellebore atrorubens aka the Lenten Rose ~

It's rare that I can look back on a week so positively plumped with gardening goodness but the past seven days have been  just that - filled with gardening hygge, the feel good vibe that I get when surrounded by nature, chatting to fellow garden enthusiasts or getting my hands into the soil or around a pair of secateurs.

9 Apr 2017

Thinking pink: Rhubarb, how do you eat yours?

Red champagne, early March


Not only am I surrounded by blossom but there's rhubarb and purple sprouting broccoli to pick too - what's not to love about spring!  The rhubarb season is now well under way here in the south-east of the UK - and hopefully where you are too.

I'm spoilt for choice this year as both my Champagne rhubarb plants have got off to a good start this year with nice long pink tasty stems.  Since the above photo was taken, both plants have produced a flower stalk - swiftly removed by me - which shows they're not entirely happy growing under the fruit trees. I'll be moving both plants next winter into a sunnier spot with good rich soil.

The Glaskin's Perpetual that I grew from seed a few years ago has been a little slower off the mark. I can live with that though because a friend lets me pick from her very vigorous rhubarb growing on one of the allotment gardens in the flats. Lovely long pink stems have been brought into my kitchen since mid-March. Amazingly, this friend doesn't even like rhubarb so never picks it; I think that's why it's so healthy, its strength has never been depleted by regular picking! Until now, of course. ;)  She doesn't know what variety it is, could be Timperley Early going by the timing.

Using an old school crate to keep marauding animals away.


At the shared allotment I counted eight rhubarb plants. Eight!! They're quite small so the team thought a little experiment might be in order. A few weeks ago, we chose the runt of the litter to see if we could force a few stems; a tall black bin was placed over the plant and weighed down with a brick. In just a few weeks the bin was removed to reveal a few pretty stems - tall, bright pink, tender and with beautiful yellow green leaves. The proper time to force rhubarb is when the crown is just beginning to show buds - I must remember that for next winter after I've mulched around the plants.  The RHS advices to stop forcing rhubarb in April and not take any more stems from the forced plant so that it has time to recover, or to not pick at all from that plant for a few years.

With all these stems to choose from, I'm have a grand old time discovering new recipes.  At first I made a compote for yogurt by chopping the stems into 3" lengths, roasting them in the oven, cooling, then chopping stem ginger into this. Simple and tasty.

Then I got a little more adventurous as my niece was coming over for supper. I whipped up meringue for a pavlova, filled with cream and laid roasted rhubarb and chopped stem ginger over the top. Tasty and visually tempting.

Pretty in pink.


The stems kept coming so I turned to Nigel Slater's Tender II - a veritable tome of inspiration for fruit growers.  Sloe Rhubarb grabbed my attention; a simple affair of roasting rhubarb stems in the oven with a bit of sugar and a good slug of sloe gin. (Plus, later, a few blueberries.) Nigel writes that sloe gin can be hard to get hold of - a very good reason to forage for sloes in the autumn and the reason my foraging has produced a well stocked cupboard.  I served the delicious results with some single cream which Mr Slater says is not strictly necessary. Although sometimes it just is.

Loving the sloe life - and pleased to find a use for my grandmother's Victorian sundae glasses


With a team get together at the allotment yesterday, a cake was needed so a traybake recipe on the Tesco website looked appealing.  It was a bit of a faff to make with lots of washing up after but the results were surprisingly very very good. (The recipe calls for walnuts; I had a bag of mixed nuts so my topping also has almonds and pistachios.)

Perhaps not just for tea time?
It was not a cake of beauty but its looks belied the tastiness within. Think sponge cake with a layer of sweetened rhubarb topped with a nutty oaty buttery flapjack topping and you're there. It was very well received at the allotment and I can heartily recommend you give this one a go.  I haven't tried, but imagine this would also be very nice warm with custard.  The recipe is on the Tesco website here: Traybake

And speaking of custard, and with the sun beating down (at least for today), my next foray into rhubarb heaven will have to be rhubarb fool, with cream of course.

How do you eat yours?








2 Mar 2020

A visit from the Marmalade Cat

I'm not a keeper of cats although they do seem to show up regularly in my life. Many of the local households in this small corner of Camden Borough are home to a number of cats, many of whom patrol the grounds of the flats where I live.  I like to think of them as Top Cat and The Gang. (Remember them? Sixties cartoon hilarity from Hanna-Barbera.)



And the Top Cat in this little gang is definitely the marmalade cat in the above photo.  But there’s also a black/white Piebald (there used to be two, one of which was aptly named 'Bubbles'), one Calico cat (black, white, ginger), a tabby and two black cats with white socks and chest - shall we call them Tuxedo cats?   But it was Lady Marmalade who availed herself of a patch of sheltered sunshine in the garden. (Cats, like people, love to soak up the warmth of a sunny spot.)

I happened to glance out of my second floor window as she sat, eyes closed and face lifted towards the warm sunshine; I have a sneaking regard for this very aloof cat, she reminds me of my grandmother's beloved elderly ginger tom; he was a cat who spent most of his days sleeping, often on the chair outside her kitchen door. And, because my siblings and I were still very young, the temptation to stroke him was ever present. This, of course, was forbidden as much for our sakes as his - he was a cat who did not like to be fussed over. Except by Gran, of course.

Meanwhile, back in the garden, I watched Lady Marmalade move towards the spring border with intent. She slid gracefully around the silver birch and carefully hoofed it through the hellebores. But then a lifted paw started to explore the soil; she'd found the very (freshly dug) spot where I'd recently transplanted a dormant peony. To make matters worse, this area in the spring border is full of snowdrops and awaiting the imminent arrival of crocuses. Aarrgh!

I raced downstairs hoping to head off a potential disaster but, thankfully, all was well - sort of. The area had already been claimed by foxes (need I say more?), no further damage was done, and my feline friend sauntered slowly off the spot to sit facing away from me next to the watering can before slipping out through a gap under the privet hedge.


So now I know where to reinforce the fence, although I’m becoming accustomed to the idea that the local Top Cat gang are enjoying their visits to the garden.  I’m planning on growing Cat Grass and Nepeta, aka Catnip, this summer - I’m hoping it will keep them out of the flower borders where their presents of buried treasure are somewhat less than welcome!



By the way .... I actively discourage cats from exploring the veg patch garden by using a makeshift netting fence to barricade the plot. I arrived at this solution after years of frustration at finding cat poo hidden close to my root veg. That was seriously unpleasant and I learned that all gardeners need to be aware of the health risks cat poo can pose to children and other vulnerable people. Best to shift it as soon as possible; I carry a poo bag in my gardening tool bag.



25 Sept 2015

Three ingredients for a quick and easy warm autumn salad

I'm a big fan of warm salads and love kale for its many nutritional benefits (as well as being really tasty!) so this recipe is an autumn go-to, especially as I have most of the ingredients growing in the garden. (Pine nuts and pumpkin seeds being the exception.)



I make this Warm Carrot, Apple + Crispy Kale salad for supper regularly, adding a few freshly picked lettuce leaves from my balcony around the edge for added garden goodness. (It's also very good over basmati rice.)  It takes next to no time and - oh my goodness! - is spoon licking good.

It's so yummy that I usually scrape every last morsel from the roasting pan- but confess that I love the taste of aniseed so have tweaked the recipe to include fennel seeds (also growing in the garden and dried for winter use at the end of the year).

When I first made the dish, I added pumpkin seeds and pine nuts instead of the suggested mixed seeds (they were all I had) and I used fresh plump fennel seeds from the garden instead of dried.  I also used my whirly apple corer gadget to make rings which I sliced instead of laboriously peeling and making matchsticks out of an apple. (I love a bit of time saving, especially when hungry.)

I've also made it with extra heat by adding finely chopped red chillies and some finely chopped fresh ginger batons, and served with a poached egg on top.  I've also topped with grated cheddar, added chunks of feta cheese and sprinkled the egg with dried chillies ... although not all at once. I think this is one of those dishes that can be chopped and changed, quantities and ingredients, to suit.


Confession - there are, of course, more than just three ingredients in this recipe but I've focused on the main ones because they're available from the garden in the Autumn.

Here's my version of the recipe:

Warm carrot, apple + crispy kale salad 

(Prep 15 mins, cook 15-20 mins) (Roughly, serves 2 or 1 greedy person 😉)

Carrots - 3 med-large, peeled and cut into 6cm batons
Kale (curly or Cavolo Nero) - 4 good sized stalks
Apples - 3 medium (I grow Braeburn)3 teaspoons of fresh fennel seeds (or 1tsp dried fennel seeds)
2 Tbsp oil (olive, rapeseed, etc)
50g mixed seeds or nuts (I use 25g pumpkin seeds + 25g pine nuts)
A good drizzle of olive oil
Tamari soy sauce (optional or use ordinary soy sauce)
Seasoning (salt + pepper)


1.  Preheat oven to 180C, gas 4. Place carrots in a bowl and toss with the rapeseed oil and fennel seeds to coat.  Spread them out on a large roasting tin and roast for 5 minutes, then add the mixed seeds (or whatever you're using) and roast for a further 2-3 minutes until toasted and golden.
2. Add the chopped kale leaves (stalks discarded), toss with the carrots and seeds.  I drizzled more olive oil over the kale at this stage plus a drizzle of Tamari soy sauce and a grinding of black pepper.  Roast for a further 6 minutes until beginning to crisp.
3. Add the sliced apple rings, toss with other ingredients and pop back in the oven for two minutes.
4. Remove from oven, dish up and eat - on it's own, with a salad or as a side for a bigger meal. 




Do you like the sound of this recipe?  (Download the pdf here.)
Have you got any go-to favourites for your autumn garden produce? Share, please! 



9 May 2018

Awaiting Edith

Iris 'Edith Wolford' flower bud


There is so much to be amazed at in the garden at the moment.  I tidied up this border (the 'Washing Line' border) over the weekend, including taking old leaves off the iris rhizomes so I know for a fact that there were no flower buds there.  Just fans of sword shaped leaves which, in itself, adds to the overall visual interest.  And then, yesterday, these appeared.  Whoah, how did that happen?! (I'm guessing a few days of hot sunshine might have helped.)

Given the speed that the flower stem appeared, I'm now on a daily watch for the flowers themselves. This is 'Edith Wolford'; she's a classy Iris germanica, reliably flowering in May/June, and has been slowly spreading out across this border since I brought her home from the Chelsea flower show a few years ago.

I didn't realise how much I loved Irises until I saw Edith on the Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants stand.  It was a must-have, love-at-first-sight, moment.  She's a beauty with creamy yellow standards (the upright petals) and blue-violet falls (the downward petals) with an orange beard in the centre - looks a bit like a hairy caterpillar!  A stunner in the looks department and her presence in this border brings together the purple alliums, Erysimum Bowles' Mauve, lavender, Perovskia, etc, with the yellow flowers of Santolina (cotton lavender), alpines and yellow-green New Zealand flax.

The 'Washing Line' border in late May 2017 - see what I mean about blending with the rest?


Growers tip:
Something I learned during my Capel Manor days was that the top of the rhizomes (the roots that look like raw ginger) need to be exposed and baked during the summer in order to promote flowering the following year.  I made the mistake of covering the rhizomes when I first planted Edith and had no flowers the following year - swiftly corrected when I knew better! Since then (years 3 and 4, 2016/17) I've had more and more flowers, several on each stem, so am eagerly anticipating Edith's arrival this year.

The Back Story:
I wish I knew more about the naming of irises because I'd love to know who Edith Wolford was/is - I do love a bit of background. The name suggests a character from James Joyce or E.M. Forster but I like to think that she was a renowned actress, a diva, a famous beauty; the reality is probably that she was a pillar of the community, a friend or beloved relative.  My internet search reveals only an elementary school in Colorado, USA.  Do tell if you can shed some light!

Irises were originally purple (or so I've read) and represent royalty and wisdom - hence inspiring the French Fleur-de-lis symbol. Yes, that does translate as lily flower but irises were classed as lilies until the 18th Century.  The flowers were known long before that, being discovered by the Pharoahs of Egypt when they conquered Syria and also known to the Ancient Greeks who named the flower for Iris, goddess of the rainbow; to this day, irises are placed on graves to form a passage between heaven and earth.

I've only the one iris for now but every year think that I need some more, maybe a reflowering or later type. Hands up - anyone else in the Iris Appreciation Society?


21 Nov 2015

How to preserve an abundance of Achocha

If you grow achocha (or cucumbers), you'll know how many small fruits you get in the autumn. Here's two quick and easy preserves to deal with the glut, with a printable pdf for your recipe file.




So what do you do when nature has decided to dump your entire achocha harvest in your lap (metaphorically speaking) all at once?  You can either eat small green porcupine peppers for the next two weeks at every meal - a task fit to stretch anyone's culinary creativity - or you can turn to the preserving books on your (or the local library's) shelves.  I opted to preserve most and cook a few.

As a keen forager (when I have time) and grower, I have several excellent preserving books. Although there's a wealth of advice on the internet, I prefer the tried and tested methods that have made it into print. This time I looked through Piers Warren's How to Store your Garden Produce (reviewed here)  and, newly gifted to my collection, The National Trust book of Jams and Preserves. This is an extremely handsome book that has inspired a wealth of ideas for next year's garden produce.

I had to really think about which recipes I could use; after all, achocha is not your usual allotment fare. Botanically speaking, achocha (Cyclanthera) are classified as a subtribe of curcubits, the same family as pumpkins, squash, courgettes, gourds, melons, cucumbers and, yes, even loofahs. Having said that, they're not fleshy like pumpkins and the mature fruits don't have the watery flesh of melons and cucumbers. For cooking purposes, achocha can be used like a diminutive cousin of the sweet green pepper. However, the pepper preserving recipes I found seemed to be aimed at chilli peppers so in the end I decided I'd be safe treating the fruits as cucumbers.  Whew, decision reached.

You might at this stage wonder why I didn't consider freezing them. Well, apparently extreme cold breaks down the cell membranes so they turn to unpleasant mush on defrosting.  My chosen recipes of cucumber achocha jam and sweet cucumber achocha pickle sounded much nicer. I don't usually eat pickle but I dislike wasting food and had the pickle ingredients in the cupboard; also I was intrigued by the thought of cucumber jam. Hmm, savoury jam? A bit odd but I thought I'd give it a go and it turned out to be surprisingly delicious. The author, Piers Warren, suggests the option of adding a good pinch of ground ginger to the jam at simmering stage which I did - along with a pinch of cinnamon for good measure and the finely grated zest as well as the required juice of a lemon.



I've yet to try the pickle.  Apparently the original recipe will go nicely with fish and chips. Again, I got creative with the recipe by adding in yellow peppers, chillies and mustard seeds to my sliced up achocha and shallots - it should give quite a pop of flavour!

A printable pdf of my jam and pickle recipes can be found here; could be useful for those who've decided to give the seeds a go next year. I'm thinking now of growing achocha fruits specifically for making this jam next year - it's delicious on bread with cheese.


28 Jul 2014

Kitchen Garden Experts - Inspiration from plot to plate!

I'm not one to rush into things but I have excelled myself this time by only just writing about a book I received a goodly while back, 'The Kitchen Garden Experts'. I'm aware it's been reviewed elsewhere but let's look again, shall we?



It's a rather nice book about the collaboration between twenty UK-based restaurant chefs and the chosen ones on whom they rely to grow their veg. It's hard to categorise this book; after an introduction to each restaurant, it's part biography, part garden inspiration, part cookbook. It explores those restaurants that have thrown their weight behind the idea of home-grown/local, sustainable and seasonal food for their kitchens and how they achieve that throughout the year. The author, Cinead McTiernan, has obviously had unparalleled access to both gardeners and chefs alike as each chapter is full of their expertise, with the balance tipping slightly towards where it all starts - in the garden.

It's beautifully written with more than a passing glance into the reality of life in a large kitchen garden. It has particular relevance now, in the summer, as the garden starts to produce plenty of food for the kitchen but I'd not be unhappy to get this book for a bit of autumn or winter reading, at a time when we're all deciding what to do with our various plots in the following year.




Propagating geraniums to ensure plenty of plants for making Rose Geranium Panna Cotta with Blackcurrant Sorbet

The concept of plot to plate food of the freshest quality is not new - my grandfather grew all the veg for the kitchen in his enormously long back garden - but it wasn't a trend then, it was how you fed your family.  Of real interest in this book, for me, is the way that the chefs and gardeners work together to put seasonal, no-to-low miles food on the menu of their various gaffs; they listen to each other's ideas, growing and creating food with a modern combination of flavours.

My typed extract from the book

Putting the end product aside for a moment, I was fascinated to read the methods that the gardeners use to get the best from their gardens and how to get the quantities right. That's real talent, keeping enough seasonal salad leaves on the go to provide for meal after meal. Sounds a nightmare to me but there are golden nuggets of information to be gleaned here.

For gardeners like me, always keen to experiment and get the most from the space I garden, it certainly provides a good read; by choosing restaurant gardens located throughout the UK, from Perthshire to Padstow, there's a range of climates and situations that will surely offer inspiration and insight to a wide range of growers. There's even a map if you want to explore the restaurants and their gardens for real. There are tips throughout from gardeners speaking of their experience, advice on growing specific ingredients and an additional page per chapter devoted to 'kitchen garden secrets'.  A good index at the back will take you straight to a featured plant - either gardening or recipe, although the range is limited. (This is not an allotment how-to book.)



By showcasing both the head gardeners and the chefs together, with the restaurant that they work for (or own!), there is a nice continuum from plot to plate. Not all the recipes appealed to me but then I don't cook dinner party fare, just hearty fill-your-boots food for teenagers.  That doesn't mean that I wouldn't like to try raspberry cranachan or rose geranium panna cotta. There's a delicious recipe for a classic summer stew of ratatouille (what to do with that courgette glut!) and I quite fancy the rainbow chard and bean soup as well.

On the flip side, I could leave recipes such as the plate of 'Beetroot textures'; undoubtedly eye-pleasing, it's firmly in the fancy restaurant dish category - a meal of style over substance.  But that's just me - someone else might need a menu to impress and find this perfect.

Although my training is taking me towards garden design, I'm plot to plate obsessed and will always be first and foremost a food grower. I'm fascinated by every aspect of it, from foraging to unusual edibles to the benefits of growing your own and hunt out and save recipes using food that I grow.  A garden visit is made so much more appealing if there's a kitchen garden included and I'm curious to know how such food growing spaces are managed for effective production.  For all of these reasons, I found 'Kitchen Garden Experts' an absorbing read; it's a definite bonus that the book is visually beautiful* and engagingly written. I'm more than pleased to add this to my gardening bookshelf.



Here's a little taster of the 40 recipes to be found within:

Yorkshire pudding with puréed parsnips and roasted vegetables
Scorched onion with crispy rocket and pesto (with details of growing wild rocket)
Baked gooseberries with lemon verbena ice cream and flapjack
Baby courgettes with a garden herb mayo
Poached rhubarb with buttermilk pudding, honeycomb and ginger wine
Rosehip syrup (to serve with cheese and salad leaves)
Plum and almond flan
Leeks vinaigrette
Ratatouille
Two way runner beans
Fig Mozzarella and basil salad
Sorrell frittata

Hopefully, this black box below will work as a slideshow of a few recipe photos to whet your appetites!


There are many more recipes, of the type that you might find on Masterchef, eg Whitby lobster with quail's eggs and garden beans, and all the recipes have detailed instructions on how to prepare the food.  An opportunity to brush up on dinner party skills perhaps?


* photos by Jason Ingram who won the Garden Media Guild Photographer of the Year award last year.

Disclaimer: My thanks go to the publisher, Frances Lincoln, who sent me the book to review; it is available through their website or the usual online retailers.

1 Nov 2015

Autumn, you're looking good

Wisteria seedpods replacing the ubiquitous golden and red leaves of autumn. Gorgeous, aren't they?


This post has been a while in the writing.  I got a bit stuck because when I went looking for autumn, it just wasn't there. My mid-October trip up to Capel Manor gardens to meet up with friends provided me with lots of late summer planting inspiration but, apart from lots of acorns underfoot, autumn hadn't yet got started; trees were in full leaf, flowers were blooming and the sun was shining. Then we had the clocks going back which, although being a publicly devised event, seemed to be a signifier for the season to change. The ornamental cherry I can see from my second floor window has obliged by turning gold.


Also last weekend, as I went through my Capel photos and prepared to write a 'late summer' post, I was taken aback by a British gardener on Instagram writing "Winter's coming. Autumn's last days." Already? Surely not! The sun was shining and people were picnicking on Primrose Hill in t-shirts. Not a cosy cardigan in sight.  And besides, I've always thought of autumn as occurring between September and November, with fading summer at one end and the slow transition into the shorter and colder days ahead at the other. Winter months are then December to February (makes sense, no?) and, in March to May (Spring!), the garden starts to wake and we prepare for the year ahead. Anyone agree?

So here we are, a week later, and it seems that the tipping point has been reached.  We are now properly into autumn here; leaves are dropping and the veg patch's summer produce is winding down.  My creative brain is looking out for fallen leaves of all colours for a future arty moment, and thinking about evergreen foliage for festive wreaths, while my gardener's eye spots seeds to collect all around the neighbourhood.  Little brown paper envelopes are filling up with seeds of deep red salvia, maroon and pink hollyhocks, Cerinthe, Calendula, fennel, sweet rocket, sweet peas, Cavolo Nero and Achocha (the South American peppers that I grow). My chilli plant has optimistically been brought indoors.

This morning there was a deep mist hanging over north London after yesterday's sunshine; it didn't last as the sun burnt through to give us another day of clear blue skies. I have quite a bit to do in the garden still so I'm going to make the most of the dry weather while it lasts, particularly as I spent last Saturday digging out concrete posts in a friend's garden in constant drizzle! And for the rest of November I'll be enjoying autumn and prepping the garden for the winter months to come.

What are your thoughts - when does winter start for you? Have you wrapped up the garden or still enjoying a few lingering moments of summer glory?


As I don't want to just dump the photos that I took at Capel to the depths of Flickr, let's celebrate what could be growing in your gardens at the moment.

Magnolia bud, Passionflower, Ornamental ginger (Hedychium densiflorum 'Assam Orange') 

All these are perfect for late season pollinators:
Salvia cacaliifolia, Geranium pratense 'Mrs Kendall Clarke', Aconitum

The Daisy/Asteraceae family: Rudbeckia, Dahlia, Calendula

More daisies … and, hopefully, more bees!

Sunshine colour from  evergreen Libertia peregrinans, muted tones of Hydrangea 'Dark Angel' and I have no idea what this last plant is.  All suggestions welcome! 

Looking good at this moment: Shortly to slump Sedum, Callicarpa aka 'Beauty Berry' in its one annual moment of glory and Leycesteria formosa, boring all year but lovely seed pods in autumn. 





4 Mar 2020

Rhubarb, rhubarb, Let's talk

A neighbour’s rhubarb plant in mid February.  It’s going to get a lot bigger...

Growing rhubarb is easy, you say? A few years ago, I would have agreed, having grown an enormous Glaskins Perpetual from seed.  That plant has now gone, dug up with misplaced confidence that the other two Champagne rhubarb plants would more than suffice - umm, once they got going.

As if to thwart me, those two have never flourished. A handful of tantalising petite red stems appear in February ... and then, every year, it’s game over.  The stems wilt before they get big enough to make a decent compote ... or fruit fool ... or crumble. Or the crowns run to seed with, I have to admit, rather magnificent flower stalks.

I think I know what the problem is.

I trusted the advice that I’d read in some random internet space that rhubarb plants are happy to grow in light shade and so, foolishly, planted the Champagne crowns in the spaces next to my apple and cherry trees. With hindsight, the source of their struggles should have been obvious. They have to compete with the trees for water (I have mentioned the lack of a tap in this area, haven’t I?) and, I dare say, the trees are hogging any goodness that may linger in the soil. Plus, shade.

Time for a change.

At least one of these plants will be moved into the light.  A nice sunny spot in the veg patch with rich earth awaits. Or will do once I can get into the garden, weather permitting.

Meanwhile, I have permission to pick from a neighbour’s plant - the gorgeous beast in the top photo. Every year it produces a wealth of vibrantly red delicious stems, a few of which find their way into my kitchen.  I had the first poached stems of many a couple of weeks ago; they were yummy.

Pink rhubarb stems with their leaves on a bench



So, here’s little tip for poaching rhubarb.  Instead of using sugar to sweeten the stems, use a sweet jelly such as redcurrant (or other fruit).  I used some of the quince jelly I made last autumn and finished the compote with some pieces of stem ginger and some of the liquid from the jar.  It was very very good - not least for being my first harvest this year. Isn’t gardening just wonderful!


30 Oct 2017

Having the best time at the RHS London Autumn Show


I spent two days at the RHS Autumn Garden Show in London this past week and what a lovely, friendly, bumper show it was! Entry is by ticket, even for RHS members now, and proceeds are put towards funding garden apprenticeships at the RHS gardens, so who could complain at that?

As I've been many times before I almost didn't go, but looking at the online programme a few days before, it seemed interesting enough to draw me away from my garden tasks on a clear blue-sky day. At that stage, there was a talk or two that I was interested in and I thought I'd also pick up some onions and garlic for planting now in the veg patch. By the end of the first day, there was so much that I still wanted to see, do and hear that I knew I'd go back, complete with a timetable to try and fit everything in!

Third biggest pumpkin, same weight as a baby elephant!

The RHS have balanced out the entry charge by boosting the content of the show; there were talks, free workshops, library tours, foraging walks, flower arranging, and nature installations in addition to the usual retail fare of plants, bulbs, seeds, and associated garden ephemera.  Hungry tummies were satisfied with delicious fare available throughout the day from food sellers. My brie and red berries toasted sandwich from Elephant Kitchen will live on in my memory as possibly the most delicious snack ever! The cakes (gluten free) looked good too but I regretfully resisted.

The most delicious cheese toastie in the world. Official.

The Talks
The RHS use both their halls for this show but a crowd-pulling programme of hour-long talks throughout both days kept me in the smaller Lindley Hall for most of my time. Roy Lancaster spoke of his lifetime's work with plants, Anne Swithinbank talked of foraging in our gardens, Mark Diacono brought us inspiration for growing unusual tastes and Bill Oddie held forth on wildlife. With such an array of well known speakers, I quickly learned to get there early for a seat! For me, there were two stand out talks - Nick Bailey (tv presenter, author, designer) talked about the why's and wherefore's of growing unusual edibles in a city environment and Emily Rae (owner of Sussex based Plants4Presents) gave us the inside scoop on how to successfully grow spices such as ginger, turmeric, lemongrass and more.  Look out for my follow up posts on Nick, Emily and Anne's talks!

The Forest
In the middle of the room, an autumn forager's forest had been created by Jon Davies. Jon is incredibly passionate about gardening and food growing in a sustainable way (forest gardening) and has won awards for his garden designs.  I signed up for one of his mini tours of the forest and had all sorts of edible plants and shrubs pointed out to me. Every plant in the forest had edible or medicinal uses although, as passionate as Jon is about foraging, he admitted that some flavours, such as pine needles, take a bit of adjusting to!

Forager's forest ... or fairy kingdom?

In the forest extraordinary stacks of mushrooms grew on logs surrounded by ferns, hops and kiwis clambered up through the tree canopy, a small pond hid behind birch logs, and herbs, strawberries and alliums grew on the forest floor - the whole thing was beautifully lit, stunning and magical.  I loved it (can you tell?) and was surprised to see how many of the ornamental plants growing in my gardens are edible in some way. Liriope roots, Ajuga and Alchemilla shoots, wild strawberries, hips, haws and sloes are a few of the foodstuffs people would have survived on in pre-civilisation - plus a lot of plants that we now regard as weeds (dandelion, plantain, clover). I'm fascinated by all this and while I'm not about to turn my back on lettuces, squashes and the like, I love the potential for incorporating edibles into a perennial garden.

Sustainability
Continuing with the foraging theme, I found myself chatting to Croydon based enterprise Wild in the City. They offer outdoor experiences to reconnect city dwellers with nature, something which has been proven to offer so many health benefits. I know how much better I feel after being outdoors so I applaud this initiative.  Some of their courses are free (woodland walks, bushcraft, foraging) and some fund their work, such as basket making, spoon carving and charcoal making. I'm going to be looking out for those for next year. I hope this is the start of an idea that will spread - it could be a life changer for future generations.

Foraged finds from Wild in the City

I also had an interesting chat with Indie Farmer, Nigel Akehurst. He told me that he left the city a few years ago, returning to Sussex to help on his parents' farm and has no regrets. These days he both helps on the family farm and has set up The Indie Farmer online magazine and newsletter, an intelligent read about small scale farming and food culture. I looked it up when I got home and found it a very informative and thought provoking read. I like to know what's happening in the David and Goliath world of commercial food retailing and wouldn't have known of this resource if Nigel hadn't brought his enthusiasm and vision to share with visitors at the show.

The Workshops
Flower ball arrangements, herb seed sowing and learning to forage were on offer but I regretfully gave them a miss in favour of 'how to grow an avocado tree' and 'printmaking with leaves and flowers'. After packing in so much during the day, I felt the need for something soothing and creative. The avocado workshop promised 'guaranteed germination' so naturally I was interested - especially as the 80's trend of having an avocado growing indoors is back in fashion. (I'm not trendy but I confess I haven't succeeded with indoor plants since those halcyon eighties days.)  I have to wait to see if the method works, (post to follow if so!) but suffice to say that as the last participant on the last day, I came home with two potted up avocado pits plus a bag of leftover avocados to eat.


And the printmaking workshop? This, I loved. I'd been intrigued by the sound of hammering during the previous day and wandered past to see what was going on. What I discovered was a way to imprint fabric (or paper) with the delicate colours of the garden. We used heuchera leaves and viola flowers to create tiny works of plant art and I'm inspired to take this forward with plants from my own garden. Our tutor, Judith Baehner, is a advocate for green living, stylist, author, lecturer and awesome maker of terrariums. At the moment her books are written in Dutch, her native language, but I'm hoping a publisher will be found soon for her latest work 'The Plant Lab', named after her blog.  I had time to talk to her about her work and discovered a wonderful and gentle kindred spirit with a passion for plants and living a greener life.

Lastly
One tiny gripe, I found the marketplace exhibitors a bit sprawled and confusing.  Looking back through the programme this morning, I'm frustrated to see how much I missed, even though I went on both days! I would have liked to see The Salutation garden's display of flower skeletons and seedheads;  Wardian cases and terrariums; sanguisorbas from the Botanical Nursery; eco prints and natural textiles from Flextiles ... the list goes on.

How gorgeous are these? Succulents from Forest London

Although I seem to have missed quite a bit, I hunted down the houseplants from Forest London - and walked away with a tiny Pilea to care for. That was a good compromise because there was so much more to see, do and learn and, being me, I wanted it all.

So, did I get my onions and garlic? Yes! I was Pennard's last customer of the day; I love talking to those guys, they're so knowledgeable - and, very kindly, I was given an extra bumper bag of white onion sets to bring home.

Find out more about edible or medicinal plants from the PFAF (Plants for a future) database here.


Apologies for the absence of my first Wishlist Wednesday posts; the RHS show was just too tempting a prospect!  Not a good start but there's now lots more to add to my wishlist. 😍
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