Friday, November 30, 2012

Swedes... but not the blonde ones!

As November draws its final dew laden breath today, Country Living Magazine champions an unsung stalwart of the season... the humble swede.

Now I had never really thought of growing swede until now. Probably like most people, I’d characterised them as backstage boys rather than look-at-me divas but apparently they are an easy veg for a moisture retentive, fertile soil, like mine, and just now I’d rather like to be digging up some heavy roots, cloaked in a fringe of deep purple, tapering to gold, with hints of shocking lime. 

And here’s what I’d cook.

Very Vegetable Soup 
(from The Painted Garden Cookbook)

Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 thick slices bacon, finely chopped
2 waxy potatoes, cut into 1cm cubes
120g sweetcorn kernels (fresh or frozen)
200g swede chopped into 1cm cubes
1 apple, chopped
600ml vegetable stock
4 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped 
4 cavolo nero leaves (or 2 savoy cabbage leaves) ribs removed, sliced thinly
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the oil in a large, heavy pan over a low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until soft but not browned. 
Add the bacon and cook for a minute before adding the paoatoes, sweetcorn, swede and apple.
Stir well, then add the stock and the sage.
Cover and simmer very gently for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add the cavolo nero and simmer, covered, for a further 5 minutes, until the cavolo nero is cooked but not soggy.
Taste for seasoning; the bacon may provide enough salt, but do add a twist of black pepper before serving with chunks of warm brown bread.

P.S. As I’m sadly bereft of swede, I’ll be using celery as my understudy. There’s a verdant forest out there that needs eating before the slugs beat us to it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Secret Ingredient

Packed full of vitamins, (twenty times that of oranges... so they say) I always slosh an amber spoonful of rosehip syrup into my winter gravies and stews; it adds a lovely rounded fruitiness.

Some recipes advise picking after the first frost, which concentrates the sugars in the hips. The hips will also have softened and picking them turns into very sticky activity and anyway, I can't be organising my diary around a frost! So I opt for the artificial chill and simply pop the hips in the freezer overnight, having washed them first.

Here goes......

Strain through a jelly bag. Set the juice aside and repeat the process with the rosehip pulp. 
Combine your two lots of juice and boil fast to reduce by half.
Measure the juice and add 350 grams of sugar for every 600 ml of juice.
Boil hard for about 5 mins then pour into small sterilised bottles. 
Either freeze or store in a cool dark place.
Refrigerate and use within two weeks once opened.

Not restricted to gravy however.... try diluted with sparkling water, or hot water for a healthy tea or drizzled over ice cream or pancakes!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another special delivery

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Marcel Proust

A charming gardener came to my birthday party on Saturday night. Over a glass of bubbly Henrietta demurely revealed that she had potted up a few bulbs for me and left them outside in the cool, by the front door. 
What a thoughtful gift; I’ll get a string of little surprises all spring. 

What touched me even more, was the surprise that greeted me when I ventured to the doorstep the following morning in the bright autumnal sunshine... the bulbs were so beautifully giftwrapped they quite took my breath away... and that’s before they’ve even flowered. Thank you Henrietta.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New names for the register

Monday morning only really gets going once I’ve brewed some coffee and opened the post. This week a special delivery put an extra skip in my step... four appropriately packaged, lovingly reared, but surplus to requirement chickens.... live! 

I felt rather like a headmistress welcomimg the new boarders to the coop and showing them the ropes.
As nervous new girls, the four stick firmly together. Current head boy “Johns Junior” has been parading his best strut and prefect “Jenny” enjoys stamping her authority with a sharp peck. 

Reproved, “Nifty” the white one darts across the orchard at a spirited pace. Definitely one for the hockey team. While “Fifty” the largest of the brown trio keeps a sisterly eye on the smaller “Binky” and “Alex”, aware that they have been nudged out of the dinner queue... again. 
By nightfall however the dorm is quiet, with no absentees, so I think we’re all going to get on fine.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


There's something about turning 50 that compels one to sit down and make impossibly long lists....
Appropriately, my birthday was a perfectly sparkling autumnal day. So list in one hand, champagne in the other, I embarked on a feverish mission to pick seasonal blooms, rake fallen leaves, weed the parterre, harvest chillies and make a start on the marrow chutney....