Monday, 31 October 2011


Today is 31st October - Halloween. I want to show you the "spooky" beans I harvested today:-

Seriously, I was pleasantly surprised to be still harvesting beans on the last day of October. Today I picked 160g of "Aintree" Runner beans, and 220g of "Cobra" French Beans.

Usually by this time of year the beans have all finished, and their supporting canes have been taken down and stored away, safe from the Autumn gales, but this year has been exceptional in many ways so I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. "Make hay while the sun shines" they say, so I'll just make some hay...

Sunday, 30 October 2011

(Not) Every one's a Winner

I know that lots of you are Tomato fans / afficionados / addicts, so maybe you would like to know about a tomato-themed competition that I entered recently? I didn't win it, but it was fun to take part and the other entries have given us some more great ideas for cooking with this lovely veg.

Maskotka and Tumbling Junior Yellow

The competition in question was "A Taste for Tomatoes", hosted by lovethegarden. The comp was organised for them by a lovely friendly lady called Brittany, and you can see the details of not only the winners of this competition, but also the other participants, on her website tellittothestars. Have a look and see what great recipes were submitted... The competition was judged on this occasion by famous food blogger and writer James Ramsden, whose work is published in some of our highest-profile newspapers.

My entry was the one about green tomato sauce with pesto.

Perhaps it was a bit too obscure to merit winning a prize! I suppose not that many people have access to green tomatoes (and I don't mean ones that are green simply because they are not ripe).

Green Zebra

Lovethegarden are bound to be hosting more competitions like this in the future, so I strongly urge you to take part. As they always say "You have to be in to win!" If you think that nobody ever wins these competitions you see advertised, think again. For instance, Jane has won us a VIP trip to Masterchef Live on 11th November, including overnight accommodation and £500 spending money. If you are interested in finding out about such things, visit her website The Competition Grape Vine

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Oh No, not MORE lettuce!

No, not lettuce. But salad, definitely. Whilst I do like lettuce in my salads, I also like other things, so I thought I would show you some of the "other things" I have in my garden at present.

The first one is Catalogna chicory. The Chicory family is very diverse and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. This type is grown for its tender young leaves, which are harvested very young - it doesn't produce a heart like many of the others. Actually, the leaves look a lot like Dandelions. They are "denticulate" - in other words they have serrated "teeth" along the edges. My Catalogna came from a freebie pack which I got with a seed order. It seems OK, if rather unexciting, but I'm not sure that it is one I would grow again. Maybe as part of a mixed Baby Leaf Salad? I expect it can survive quite cool temperatures, which would be a bonus.

This is Land Cress, sometimes described here in the UK as "American Cress". It grows quite happily in normal garden soil, though it prefers damp conditions. It is quite long-lived and will self-seed if you allow it to. I pick individual leaves on a cut-and-come-again basis. The flavour is pretty peppery, which I like. A little bit of this can really liven-up a salad.

This is a young Curly Endive plant. It's not really ready for picking yet, but I'm impatient and I have sometimes been known to pick a few leaves from an immature plant when little else is available. This sort of Endive is grown just like lettuce, and used in the same way. It has a sharper, less sweet flavour than lettuce. I like that, but I'm aware that it doesn't appeal to everyone. You can reduce the bitterness by blanching the mature plants for 10 days or so before harvesting.

This one is Good King Henry. It's a plant that is used much like spinach. Its older leaves need to be cooked, but the tiny ones work well in a salad. I love their spearhead-like shape. The flavour is a bit bland though.

These are Nasturtiums. Most people grow Nasturtiums for their ornamental value, but their flowers and leaves are edible (as are the seeds). I can vouch for the fact that the flavour of the leaves is very distinctive and peppery, though I have never eaten a flower so I can't tell you whether they are nice to eat. They would certainly bring plenty of colour to a salad, even if you didn't eat them.

The little tiny leaves are best for eating; the bigger ones can be a bit chewy!

Of course if you want colour in your salad, you could do a lot worse than grow some Radicchio...

Another edible flower that is sometimes used in salads is the Calendula or Pot Marigold:

Finally, I have Purple Basil. This is also an ingredient that adds a wonderful colour to any salad. Its flavour and aroma is strong, so I tend to use Basil sparingly. I often put some whole leaves on or in a salad to "perfume" it, and then remove them before we eat it.

And just in case you thought you were going get all the way through a "Salad ingredients" post without a picture of a lettuce, here's one for you...

This youngster is a "Marvel of Four Seasons", but whether it will cope with our Winter season remains to be seen!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Late chillis and an exercise in one-handed photography

We've had a lot more Autumn sunshine than is normal for October in the UK, and my chillis are loving it. Many of them have decided to produce some more flowers, hoping for a second crop. If I had a greenhouse, I would move my chilli plants into it right now, because the plants themselves still look full of vigour, but it can't be many days now before we get frost, so I think their days are numbered.

Flowers on the "Serrano" chilli plant - 20 October 2011
The Serrano chilli plant has produced only a modest crop so far. Most of the fruits have been very small, like this:

(By the way, this is where the one-handed photography starts. I couldn't get the chillis into a good photography position without holding them!)

The latest batch of Serranos has been much more typical in shape - longer, in other words.

Some of the "Pinocchio's Nose" chillis have grown to a good size. On the packet of seeds is says "Fruits may grow up to 25cm in length", but I'm not sure where you start measuring. Is it the beginning of the stem? Or the shoulders of the fruit itself? However you measure it, this is a big chilli.

This variety has been a lot slower to set fruit and a lot slower to ripen than the other types. These huge ones may have to be ripened indoors.

"Medium Long" has lots of ripe fruit now, looking very much like miniature Bell Peppers / Capsicums:

Only two or three of the "Cherry Bomb" ones have turned red. There are lots of green ones though.

While we're on the subject of late harvests, I must just mention that I'm still harvesting Runner beans. The overall appearance of the plants is decidedly tatty:

But despite this, I was able to pick this little collection last week. Notice that it includes the "non-conformist" one I showed you a few days previously.

Well, tatty foliage or otherwise, I'm not taking those plants down until one of two things happens:
A (preferred option) - the beans in the next picture get big enough to be worth picking, or
B - frost kills the plants.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Hamburg Parsley

Most years I try to grow something new, something I have not tried before. This way I don't get stuck in a rut, growing the same old things year after year. It also gives me the opportunity to try out a few things that are hard to find in the shops. This year I have experimented with Hamburg Parsley. This is a veg that has two uses: you can use the foliage just like conventional Parsley, and you can use the roots like Parsnips.

I sowed a small row of seeds next to, and at the same time as the Parsnips, that's to say in the first week of April. After thinning the plants when they were small I have done nothing to them, apart from water them every so often. Now, six months later, I have pulled up the first ones to see what has been produced. Just like Parsnips, you can see the foliage well enough, but the root is down below ground and you can't get much of an idea about how big it is until you pull the plant up. This is what I got:

The foliage is quite luxuriant. It looks, smells and tastes just like flat-leaf Parsley.

But the roots are very small, and not particularly choice.

They are much smaller than Parsnips. The biggest one is about the size of my index finger.

I think that even if I harvested all of my plants in one go I'd just about have enough for one serving for Jane and myself, so instead I plan to use them as flavouring ingredients rather than vegetables. I'll put these three into the beef casserole I'm planning.

The verdict: I don't think I'll grow this stuff again. The yield is not big enough to represent good VSR (Value for Space Rating). I'll use the space for more Parsnips, which usually do well for me, and stick to the normal type of Parsley.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Cavolo Nero with Polenta

Some of my Cavolo Nero has reached maturity - and hence found its way into the kitchen...

This became part of a meal that made use of several home-grown veggies, namely Cavolo Nero, beans, tomatoes and chillis. In this picture the tomatoes are absent because they were in the form of sauce, which came out of the freezer.

Griddled Pork escalopes, served with Soft Polenta with Cavolo Nero,
and Runner beans in tomato sauce (serves 2).

2 Pork escalopes, beaten thin
150 g Polenta meal
300 ml water
6 large leaves of Cavolo Nero, central veins removed
1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced
25 g Parmesan cheese, grated
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
300 g Runner beans, sliced
200 ml tomato sauce (preferably home-made)

  • Put the onion into a small frying pan with a little oil, and cook very gently until golden brown.
  • Put the griddle pan on to heat, aiming to get it really hot while all the other things are being done.
  • Boil the Runner beans for a few minutes until tender, drain them, put them back into the pan and add the tomato sauce (mine was a tub of the stuff I made a few weeks ago), heating it over a low flame until warmed through.
  • Meanwhile, using the 300 ml water (or more if required to achieve the desired texture) make the polenta according to the manufacturer's instructions (only a total of about five minutes required), add the Parmesan cheese, and stir into it the Cavolo Nero leaves. The soft leaves perform much like spinach - they wilt rapidly and need very little cooking. Stirring them around in the hot polenta for a couple of minutes is all that's required.
  • Add the chopped chilli to the polenta and stir well to distribute it evenly. 
  • Cook the pork escalopes quickly in the hot griddle pan, taking care not to over-cook them.
  • Serve, garnished with the onions.

Wine recommendation: a nice light Italian wine, such as Chianti.

Vegetarian option: replace the pork with an omelette, or a fried egg.

For another variation on the polenta and Cavolo Nero theme, see THIS POST from back in January...

P.S. I am entering this post for the "Simple and in Season" recipe link-up on  Ren Behan's website. If you haven't discovered this yet I think you should have a look. It's FABULICIOUS!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Red and yellow, light and shade

The onset of Autumn gives our gardens a new, though brief, lease of life. Where there were soft greens and muted purples there is now a myriad of different vibrant reds and yellows to be seen...

Cotinus "Royal Purple"

Cotinus "Royal Purple"
The Blueberry bushes have long since delivered their berries, but now they are brightening-up the garden with a stunning display of red foliage.



Even the Greek Oregano, green throughout the Summer, is joining in the Autumn festivities with a surge of pinkish-purple leaves at its tips.

Greek Oregano
My collection of Cornus (Dogwood) plants produces a huge range of different colours at this time of year.




The Nasturtiums are still going too, though they have only produced a few flowers. I know I sowed them too late in the year; I'll remember that next time.

These are leaves from the tree we call the "Fish" tree (on account of the smell its flowers have!) - it's actually a type of Sorbus:

Arty one...