Thursday, 21 February 2013

Winter catch-up!

By the end of October our garden beds were looking good, full of pak choi, turnips, kale, radishes, winter lettuces, perpetual spinach, kai lan, lamb's lettuce, purple sprouting broccoli and carrots, not to mention self-seeded claytonia everywhere.

The greenhouse was full of pots of rocket, mustard, pak choi, lettuce and spring cabbages.

The saffron came up but didn't flower, which was disappointing. I've been feeding it all winter to try to build it up for next year. I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be this floppy...

On the plot, we had a few leeks doing well, and our over-winter onions and garlic got off to a great start. We even managed to pick a couple of big bags of chickweed for the dinner table, and turned them into a creamy green sauce to serve with rostis and poached eggs with lots of parmesan.

In November, I was given a mushroom growing kit for my birthday, and proceeded to grow lots of lovely pearl oyster mushrooms. The kit, from Fungi Futures, is easy to grow indoors and produces three flushes of mushrooms over a couple of months.

Good, huh? Growing mushrooms like this is fun and a great experience, and it's amazing to watch how fast they grow! This kit makes a great gift, but it's a rather expensive way to get your mushrooms and there must be more cost-effective alternatives to grow them long term... I've always been a bit put-off by 'gourmet' mushrooms as I find some varieties rather rubbery and weird, but now I can safely say I like oyster mushrooms so maybe I'll see what I can do about growing some more...

In December I discovered this wonderful recipe for Seville orange cheesecake - the best orange cheesecake you're ever likely to taste and possibly the bestest ever cheesecake ever. And, being someone who doesn't like traditional fruity spicy Christmas desserts, I made this equally awesome choc-and-nut Christmas pudding for the big day. The recipe is adapted from a Delicious Magazine recipe, but after a trial run I decided there was plenty of room for improvement, so here's my version.

Choc-and-nut Christmas Pudding
  • Grease a 1.5 litre pudding basin and dust with cocoa powder to prevent sticking.
  • Beat together 175g unsalted butter (at room temp), 100g caster sugar and 60g soft brown sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Beat three medium eggs into the mix, a little at a time.
  • Stir in then sift in 100g plain flour, 45g cocoa powder, 2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda and fold in thoroughly.
  • Fold in 50g chopped hazelnuts and 50g ground almonds, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 2 tsp mixed spice, 75ml full-fat milk, the zest of one large orange, and 150g chopped dark chocolate (or dark chocolate chips).
  • Pour into the pudding basin and seal with greaseproof paper, foil and string - Lesley Waters shows how here. Then put the pudding basin in a large pan with a lid, add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the basin, cover, and simmer for two hours. Make sure the pan doesn't dry out.
  • For the sauce, place 125g dark chocolate (broken up) in a jug with 2 tbsp golden syrup and a good splash of brandy. Heat 250ml double cream and 150ml full-fat milk in a pan until almost boiling, then pour over the chocolate and stir until it makes a smooth, glossy sauce. (If it doesn't come together, transfer to a bain marie and keep stirring, or microwave it for a few seconds at a time, stirring in between, until it does.)
  • Unwrap the pudding, run a knife carefully round the edge, and turn it out onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar or add other decoration as desired, and serve hot with the chocolate sauce.
It's dense and crumbly and rich, just like a Christmas pud should be, and full of chocolatey goodness with lots of nutty crunch and just a touch of spice to keep things festive. It's best served hot, and don't forget the brandy and chocolate sauce!

In January, during a mild spell, we harvested our Jerusalem artichokes. The crop was smaller than I was expecting - I don't know if they didn't do very well (I didn't notice them flower) or if we just missed them in the heavy clay soil! I read somewhere that they were good for breaking up heavy soils but they were extremely hard to dig and even harder to find, caked in clay! I'll soon find out how many we missed when those we left behind start growing in spring...

I picked a few more bits and pieces from the garden, and was delighted to find I could put a whole meal together with homegrown ingredients - in January!

I slow-roasted some pork shoulder with herbs and red wine til it was fall-apart tender, and served it up with pureed Jerusalem artichokes, fresh patio-grown new potatoes, braised turnips and baby onions (stored from summer), and garlicky kale and chard. It was a fab meal and so satisfying to be able to do that in January, even if it was just the once! The Jerusalem artichokes were a new one on us and we were both very pleasantly surprised by their sweetness and flavour. I do hope we get more next year!

I've had three chilli plants overwintering on my windowsill, all full of fruit which I seem to use up terribly slowly (I'm too used to just chucking some powder in), so I picked them all, strung thread through their stalks and hung them up to dry.

We're in February now and the garden's looking a bit sorry for itself, having spent several weeks under snow recently. My remaining radishes are rotten, the pak choi is bolting (already??), and the outdoor winter lettuces have vanished. The carrots are doing about as well as they always do for me - I might as well give up sowing carrots altogether! The greenhouse lettuces are doing really well, but a late family of caterpillars ate most of the rocket and the rest has now bolted. The broccoli is not really big enough in its containers - I'm getting the feeling it really needs to go in open ground.

I've had quite a few pickings from my winter garden - kale has probably fed me most, and the Jerusalem artichokes and winter potatoes (fleeced on the patio) were definitely worthwhile. There are still quite a few turnips, winter lettuces, lamb's lettuce and pak choi to be eaten, claytonia as always, and some very small spring cabbages which I hope will reach a useful size as spring comes on. The perpetual spinach and chard are just starting to get going again and signs of new growth are everywhere. Hurrah!

And of course, the sowing has begun for the new season, with leeks in pots outside, and slow-growing chillies, peppers and aubergines on the windowsill. I started them early this month - later than last year, as they got a bit much to cope with before planting out, but still early enough, I hope, to give them a decent head start and an earlier crop.

Writing this, I've just remembered I started my first early potatoes about this time last year, and this year I haven't even bought my seed potatoes yet! I must get a move on! The plastic greenhouse is on its last legs, poor thing, and needs replacing, and I must find a pot for the plum tree I've ordered too. I haven't even thought about broad beans yet and I dread to think what the allotment is looking like right now! February 21st? It's practically March!


Sue Garrett said...

I posted a while ago that my saffron (new this year) had had only one flower and had lots of comments saying people had the same experience so maybe it doesn't do much flowering in its first year

Nome said...

Ah, that's useful to know, thanks. Fingers crossed for next year!

Roger Distill said...

It's good to see you blogging again, Nome. I hope you have a really good year, growing and eating your produce.

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