Mizuna flowers

I’ve been growing mizuna as a leaf crop for some years now. In the past I just sighed and sowed another batch when the plants started to bolt, which happens quite quickly in hot weather. But last week some impulse made me decide to nip out the flower shoots to see if I could keep the leaves going a bit longer. And a further impulse made me pop one of the shoots into my mouth just to see what it tasted like…

Then I had to kick myself for all the years I’d just written the plants off as soon as they flowered, because the flower buds are LUSH! And, even better, having nipped out the leading flower shoot, the plants are now producing lots of delicious side shoots, so they’ll be productive for a lot longer. I will make another sowing, but it’s good to know that I’ll be able to keep on harvesting tender young flower shoots until the new batch is ready.

Mizuna a very easy to grow cut-and-come-again Japanese mustard green. Like rocket, it is relatively unattractive to the wretched molluscs which usually devastate any lettuce I try to grow. With successional sowings it has a long season outdoors here in the south of England and would probably grow year-round in a polytunnel. I primarily use mizuna raw in salads, but it’s also good in stir-fries and soup.

I buy mizuna seed from the Organic Gardening Catalogue.


Spicy roast chickpeas

Roast chickpeas are my favourite savoury snack at the moment. The only thing wrong with them, is that I can’t stop nibbling until the whole lot is gone! I’ve established that they keep perfectly well for two days in an air-tight container, but so far that’s the longest I’ve managed to spin a batch out.

How do you make them? Easy peasy and infinitely variable – Google for alternative recipes. What I do is this:

Rinse 250-300g of cooked chickpeas* in fresh water and dry them in a clean tea towel. Put the chickpeas in a bowl and drizzle a teaspoon or three of olive oil** over them. Add a heaped teaspoon of medium curry powder and a good shake of salt. Mix thoroughly to coat the chickpeas as evenly as possible with the other ingredients.

Spread the chickpeas on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cook in a pre-heated oven at about 200C for about 40 minutes. Give the tray a gentle shake and turn it if necessary after 20mins. You’ll probably need to experiment a bit with cooking times and temperature as all ovens vary. It’s important that the chickpeas are completely dried out and crunchy, but leave them too long, or have the oven too hot, and you’ll shatter your teeth trying to chew them. Luckily they cool down very quickly, so frequent testing is easy…

* I use dried chickpeas as I think they taste nicer than tinned, have no additives and are cheaper. I cook up a whole 500g bag at a time and freeze them for later use. A 500g bag of dried chickpeas costing about £1 at the time of writing yields over 1kg cooked weight. Even allowing for cooking and freezing costs I think this is less expensive than buying tins which contain 240g drained weight for 70-80p. The only downside to cooking your own is that they stink the house out while they simmer!
** I use the flavourless light and mild kind of olive oil for cooking.


Fig tree cuttings – a success story

Aren’t they looking good? These three were started off indoors last October and are well ahead of the outdoor cuttings I set at the same time. I started hardening them off last week and eventually they will stay outdoors all year round.

The outdoor cuttings have also started to sprout and it looks as though I’ll end up with at least eight young fig trees. Two or three will go to the community garden and one into my own garden. I’ll be giving the rest away to neighbours in the hope of reinvigorating the local fig growing tradition. I may even do some guerilla planting in suitable corners of public land so people can forage the fruit in future years. The more food we grow locally, the better in my opinion.

The parent trees are in the Tarring Fig Garden which date back to around 1745, if not earlier, and were once quite a tourist attraction with a tea room for visitors. Sadly most of the fig garden was lost to new housing in the last century, but the few remaining trees are protected and can be visited by the public once a year.

I thought it would make a nice link between past and present to have some descendents of the original Tarring figs in the new community garden. The current owners agreed and kindly gave me the cuttings. Having successfully produced more young trees than I need, I’ve expanded my ambitions and hope to encourage more people to grow a fig tree or two.

I haven’t actually grown any figs of my own yet, but I have a small tree in a pot that my brother gave me at Christmas and that will hopefully provide me with my first crop this year. It already has a number of fruit buds, so fingers crossed for clement weather!


Teabread


I’m still somewhat in the doldrums health-wise and all I can do about that is rest a lot and be patient. But starting a fresh new year and a visit from my brother has, thankfully, given my spirits a bit of a lift. So, in between long rests (when I mentally plan things I haven’t a hope of achieving!), I’ve been joining the rest of the world in doing a bit of space-clearing.

January is traditionally a month for eating from the store-cupboards, sorting out what needs to be used up and chucking out the lost causes. Since I started on (relatively) low-carb eating a few things have languished in the cupboards including some odds and ends of dried fruit. I did consider giving the tired old raisins etc to the birds, but having a) reached my target weight (yay!) and b) not had any Christmas cake or mince pies during the festive season I decided to have a go at making a gluten-free teabread.

My original recipe (which I’ve had since my teens) is as follows:

3/4pt cold tea
7oz soft brown sugar
12oz mixed dried fruit
10oz SR flour
1 beaten egg

Put cold tea, sugar and dried fruit in a bowl and leave to soak overnight. Stir in flour and beaten egg to make a smooth sloppy mixture.
Pour mixture into a greased and lined 8sq” cafe tin or 2lb loaf tin.
Bake at 180C for approx 1 hour (until skewer comes out clean).

Heaven know how long it is since I last used the recipe, but my mind boggled at the ingredients – SEVEN ounces of sugar?! As well as all that dried fruit? Yukkity yuk! Gluten-free flours are sweeter than wheat too, which would have made the end result inedible as far as I was concerned, so I left the sugar out. I also added an extra egg hoping it would reduce the GL a bit.

Actual ingredients:

large mugful of strong cold redbush tea
300g (approx) dried fruit and mixed peel
80g ground almonds
150g buckwheat flour
50g rice flour
30g chopped walnuts (because they needed using up too)
2 medium eggs
splash of lemon juice

The fruit hadn’t taken up all the tea after soaking overnight, so I spooned off some of the excess liquid on the basis that I could add it back if necessary, but wouldn’t be able to extract it of the mix was too runny. This turned out to be a Good Idea especially with the extra egg.

The result is very good indeed, though still on the sweet side for my taste. After several experiments to establish the optimum slice to butter ratio, the loaf been portioned and frozen for times when I crave a sweet carby treat. It’s amazing how much my appetite for sweet things has diminished lately. I’m not sure if it’s a feature of getting older or simply because I eat so little sugar nowadays that my tastebuds have become more sensitive to sweetness.

Do you have a favorite teabread recipe?


Indian summer

Hot October days remind me of a very special time in my life and even if they didn’t, sunshine in autumn is always a treat. The last few days have been fabulous with record-breaking temperatures, but the forecast is for cooler and cloudier weather later in the week. With that in mind, I took the opportunity to pick the last of my peabeans to finish drying indoors.

I cut the remaining tomatoes off their plants yesterday and hopefully they will ripen up over the next few days to give me a last taste of summer. I found half a dozen ripe raspberries on the canes this morning, but, apart from apples, that is pretty much the end of my 2011 harvest. It hasn’t been the best of years in the garden, but not the worst either and of course I’m already making plans for 2012…


September garden

As you can see the tomatoes are beginning to ripen at last. They seem to have been very slow growing this year, perhaps due to the unusual weather patterns. Thankfully they’ve avoided the dreaded blight, but it looks as though the fruits will be small in number and it’s getting late for them to ripen well out of doors. Still, a crop is a crop and I’ve had much worse years for tomatoes. I’ve only got the one large tub with two plants in it this year, so I’ll probably bring it inside soon to finish ripening on the vine.

Back in June I thought the courgette plants were going to die, but they rallied and are now producing more than enough courgettes for my needs. The runner beans went wild for most of August and I ate all I could stand, froze some, gave some away and composted the ones that grew to monster size before I noticed. Peabeans were less prolific, but I had a good few feeds from them. They are delicious, but elusive amongst their abundant leaves. They go from just right to too big in half a day, so I’ve left the last of the crop on the vine to mature and dry.

None of the fruit I have in the garden has done terribly well this year. Not terribly badly either, just smaller crops and smaller fruit. The blackberries were particularly poor and some of the raspberries seem to have been unevenly pollinated. There are a lot of apples on my neighbour’s tree, but they are very small compared to last year. Still, nothing has failed completely and I have had a bowl of raspberries pretty much every day for six weeks or so, and a few pounds of various berries stashed in the freezer.

This month I’ll mostly be tidying things up in the garden, especially things I don’t want to seed all over the place. The evening primroses and bronze fennel have already gone – I learnt my lesson with them a long time ago! I’ll save seeds I do want to keep, plant some bulbs in tubs for spring colour and enjoy the last few weeks of scent from the magnificent white nicotiana. I must also pop in some mizuna and rocket seeds for an autumn crop…


Fruity harvest

‘Tis the season of pudding eaten fresh from the garden – in other words, the raspberries are ripening! Later in the season when they are much more prolific I’ll start squirreling some away into the freezer, but for now I just savour the seasonal pleasure of wandering across the lawn to see if there are any ready to eat.

Loganberries are nearly over now. I find it quite hard to judge the point at which they are perfectly ripe – one day early and they are unpleasantly sharp, one day late and they go kind of soggy and watery. Mostly I freeze the lognberries to add a bit of interest to to stewed apples in the winter, picking a few each day as they ripen. Naturally I have to eat some of them as I go to check for ripeness.

Blackcurrants also mostly go in the freezer for winter treats, though I have used a couple of handfuls to tart up banana loaves. The sharpness of the blackcurrants offsets the sweetness of the bananas very nicely and it makes a change from lemon rind and juice.

J’s apple tree seems to have quite a good crop again this year, which is a nice surprise as I thought it might be due for a rest year. Other people are reporting poor performance from their apple trees, so it’s a bonus to be able to anticipate home-grown apples to go with the blackberries that are just beginning to set fruit at the bottom of the garden.