Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A Parsnip Feast

I love parsnips and grow lots every year, but I may be accused of being a little unimaginative when it comes to eating them... With two recipes this good, though, I don't care.

There's a recipe for 'Spicy Parsnip Soup' you'll find all over the internet and in loads of cookbooks. This is very similar, but roasting the veg instead of boiling them really brings out the flavours better, I think. This was passed on to me by a friend - I don't know where he got it from - and makes about six servings.
  • Mix 1tsp crushed coriander seeds, 1tsp crushed cumin seeds, 1/2tsp turmeric and 1/2tsp mustard seeds with 2tbsps olive oil.
  • Cut a large onion, 700g parsnips and two large tomatoes into chunks. Put them all in a bowl with the spiced oil, add 2 whole garlic cloves, and mix well.
  • Spread out on a baking sheet and roast at 200C for about half an hour, until soft but not too coloured (or the soup will end up a murky brown instead of lovely yellow!)
  • When cooked, liquidise the veg with about 500ml veg or chicken stock until smooth. Return to the heat and simmer gently, adding more stock until the soup reaches the consistency you want (I recommend about a litre in total).
  • Season to taste.
  • Just before serving, add a splash of lemon juice.
It's soooo parsnippy!

Of course, any good bread is great with a soup like this, but why not go the extra mile...?

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Parsnip and Thyme Bread is a dead easy soda-type bread (recipe here) that combines grated parsnips, grated cheese, fried onions, thyme and black pepper in a gorgeously stodgy and moist loaf that's frankly fabulous all by itself, and goes great with soup or stew. If, like me, you're still using up the winter's parsnips, you must try this.

Parsnips... How do you eat yours?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Busy Busy Busy

Eddie and I have had a week off together this week - aaaah, bliss. And what great weather for it! Of course, we've taken the opportunity to catch up with everything in the garden and the allotment, which has meant a pretty busy week!

I've sown all my seeds for March at last - there's just some chard, corn, squashes and beans left to sow in a few weeks' time. I've sown purple sprouting broccoli, calabrese, swedes (Angela and Marian), sprouts (Evesham Special), spring cabbage (Offenham), courgettes (Astia F1), squashes (Sweet Dumpling, Butternut and Crown Prince), plus summer savory, catnip, rosemary, tarragon, sage, Thai basil, red basil, and dozens of marigolds, poppies, poached-egg plant and cornflowers. And some more Angelle tomatoes to replace the seedlings that we lost.
My seed collection is getting a bit silly. Am I the only one that accumulates tons of half-packets of seeds past their use-by date? I don't want to just throw them away and I don't want to use them in case they don't work! I've tried to thin them out a bit this year but my seed drawer still looks like this:

It's sorted into families: peas and beans, flowers (annual and perennial!), herbs (annual and perennial), tomatoes and peppers, brassicas, curcubits, salad veg, and miscellaneous! And I keep two big bags of silica gel in there to keep moisture low - I don't know if it does any good but it seemed worth a try.

Also, on the plot, we've dug several beds over and planted our onions (Stuttgarter Giant, in an effort to get some decent sized bulbs this year!), shallots (Picasso) and garlic (French Cledor), and sown parsnips (White Gem, which always do really well for me).

And it's not just us that have been busy - there are plenty of signs of life appearing on the allotment too. We have radish seedlings...
Spinach seedlings...
Broad bean shoots...
And look!
Asparagus! In March! We usually don't see it until the first or second week of April. I'm very excited!

The pond is full of frogspawn...
And the purple sprouting broccoli is finally sprouting...
Ha! I want to say spring is definitely here, but 'British Summer Time' begins tomorrow!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Wild Food Night

We veg-growing types are always trying to eat in season, of course, and proud to eat food grown locally - even in our own gardens - but the ultimate local seasonal fodder isn't that which we grow, it's that which grows naturally in our own locales. Last night we attended a 'Wild Food Night' hosted monthly by The Country Bumpkin, a catering company passionate about cooking with the seasons, using wild meats and foraged greens, supplemented with a few home-grown veg and handmade preserves and sauces.

The evening was held at the Red Lion pub in Woolmer Green, though they use several venues dotted around rural(ish) Hertfordshire. For £20 per head, the set menu of two starters (and bread basket), a main, an extra 'taster' dish and a dessert is excellent value for money, and it's a great opportunity to try new foods!

For starters, we were treated to a delicious nettle soup (I've certainly noticed those new nettle tops pushing through on the allotment - perhaps I should make use of them myself), and a homemade houmous topped with a really zingy wild garlic pesto, served with a horseradish and black pepper breadstick.
The main was smoked venison sausages (from local fallow deer) served with wild chive and garlic new potatoes, onion gravy, and sauted leek and courgette (not local!). I have to say, personally I found the smoky flavour rather overpowering in this dish, but otherwise it was lovely.
The taster dish was hogweed and onion bhajee, with a homemade paneer and nettle dip. Couldn't say I learned what hogweed tasted like, but wow, the dip was fantastic!

And finally, for dessert, we had a generous slice of Victoria sponge filled with bramble jam and elderflower cream. The flavours were really delightful and perfect for a sponge like this.

What a great meal, and a fun, relaxed evening! I recommend it to anyone, and will be sure to go back as often as I can.

The Country Bumpkin also runs foraging days to introduce people to wild foods and even teaches catching and preparing game. I'm very tempted... They also specialise in hog roasts, cater for private events, organise a farmers' market in Woolmer Green and are soon to open a tea room and farm shop. In 2008 they became 'Local Food Hero Champion' for the region in UKTV's Local Food Hero competition. Well deserved, I say!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Sausage and Pumpkin Casserole

I LOVE winter squashes (in case my 'Pumpkin Party' post wasn't evidence enough). They last for ages, and you can do so much with them. They store for so long that, despite a not-that-great harvest, we still have one left! And I thought it was about time we shared this year's favourite pumpkin/squash recipe. The spicy squash stew of last year hasn't had much of a look in this winter, to be honest. It's been all about this:

Sausage and Pumpkin Casserole
(Serves 4. Originally from Matt Tebbutt here, but this is how I make it:)
  • Fry eight sausages in a knob of butter until golden brown all over (5-8 minutes).
  • Add a chopped onion, two or three cloves of garlic (chopped), a big pinch of dried sage, and another knob of butter. Stir and cook 3-5 minutes.
  • Add diced pumpkin/winter squash (something close to 400g). Stir in. 
  • Turn up the heat and add 1 tbsp white wine vinegar. Stir and allow to evaporate for a few minutes.
  • Add 1 tsp sugar, a can chopped tomatoes, a can of cannellini beans (drained and rinsed), another pinch of sage, and enough chicken or veg stock to nearly cover. Season (you probably don't need salt, but be generous with the black pepper).
  • Bring to the boil, then place in a preheated oven at 180C for about an hour. (Keep covered for half an hour, then take the lid off.)

I like to serve this with baked potatoes (just chuck 'em in when the casserole's in the oven) and peas or broccoli.

Oooooh, it's soooo good.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

First Sowings

I know, I know, I'm way behind. The good news is MOST of the things I'm about to tell you about were actually sown a few weeks ago - I just haven't had the time to tell you about it yet.

First, leeks. The past few years I've bought leek seedlings, because of some early catastrophic failures, but this year I decided to grow them from seed again and I'm pleased to report that so far, it's going well.
I've got three varieties on the go for maximum chances of success; Autumn Giant 3, Malabar, and Musselburgh. In the background above you may also be able to make out some very tiny Winter Gem lettuces.

This year I'm growing mostly Angelle tomatoes from the seeds I saved from a supermarket tomato last year. The plants are really compact (straight up, few leaves, not much support needed) so I figured I could grow a lot in a small space. However, they've been rather sickly from the word go and a lot have 'damped off', so now I only have half as many! I'm planning another sowing tomorrow...
I've sown a couple of Hundreds and Thousands (from saved seeds) and Sub Arctic Plenty too, and they're doing fine...

As always, I'm having terrible trouble geting any peppers to germinate - I just don't know what I'm doing wrong! The Jalapenos are okay...
...but my King of the North green peppers, Dedo de Mocha Sweet Aji peepers (smoky flavoured but heat-free, the packet says!), Kaibi no 2 sweet red peppers and Doux Tres Long Des Landes long sweet peppers are showing few signs of life (twenty seeds, one shoot so far...). Perhaps I'll have to invest in one of those heated propogator things after all... Anyone recommend one?

We've been busy sowing on the plot as well, with four rows of broad beans (Bunyards Exhibition and Aquadulce) just about ready to pop up I reckon. In our two raised beds, I've sown a mass of salady veg. In one, French Breakfast radishes, Giant Radishes, Boltardy beetroots, and assorted carrot seeds. (Am I the only one that accumulates bazillions of half-packets of carrot seeds, then still buys new ones each year just in case the old ones don't work? Well this year all the old ones have gone in, all mixed up, and even if half of them don't work I'll still have PLENTY of carrots.) In the other, three varieties of spinach, Bull's Blood beetroot (for leaves), land cress and some Little Gems. These are the beds the foxes like to dig in for some unknown reason, so we finished the job by covering one bed with a spare piece of plastic mesh, and the other one (rather hopefully) with zigzags of string. Fingers crossed...

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


It was a particularly harsh winter for most of us, and sadly some plants on the plot that should have overwintered seem to have bitten the dust.

We have just one Purple Sprouting Broccoli plant left, and not looking particularly enthusiastic about it:
And one of the 'Everlasting' cauliflowers is gone, while the growing tip of the other seems to have rotten away to leave a dead crater at the top of the stem. Not sure what this means... Luckily we have a couple of these plants spare, safe but pot-bound at home, so I have replaced the dead one and we'll wait and see what the other does.
It's not all bad though - we were surprised to find some leftover beetroots that withstood the winter in perfect condition! Time to make more chutney! And our parsnips and leeks (which we're still harvesting!) have done stupendously well, and continue to be reliable crops on our plot. I should have photographed the leeks before we ate all the biggest ones! But these are still very reasonably sized, healthy and delicious.
I was pleased to find one of my primroses popping up in a corner. I planted a few but last year they seemed to be losing the battle against the grass. There's no sign of the others.
I thought my perennial sweet peas had lost against either weeds or slugs too, but here they are, struggling away. They were sown last year and never got very big. As soon as I can I will set up some decent support for them and hopefully it won't be too long before we have gorgeous flowers climbing up our compost heap! They don't look like much at the moment though...

Finally, here's our chard making a valiant comeback - hopefully I'll get a few more handfuls of leaves before it goes to flower.
But that's enough about last year's plants... Next, this year's new sowings!
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