Thursday, 30 September 2010

A Hill of Beans

It's always bothered me that the phrase 'A hill of beans' means something of little worth. You'd think after over 9,000 years of keeping the human race going, being one of the first (and most easily) cultivated crops & growing in the poorest soil (so no matter how poor you were, or how lousy the patch of land you had was, you could grow enough legumes to keep yourself going), the humble bean could maybe get a little credit.
It's okay, legumes. I'm a pariah too.
You can save & store any of the bean family, though Broad & Runner beans are kind of slutty, so if you're saving for sowing next year, you should grow them in isolation. French beans don't usually cross with each other, so you should be okay with growing different varieties of them together.

Beans are staggeringly easy to preserve. Late September/early October is the best time to be doing it, as you'll need to get them harvested before the first frosts. Like most harvesting, it's best done on a dry day. Beans are best dried on the plant, so check your climbing frames for pods that have started to dry out & turn brown. Pick 'em & pod 'em (but don't leave it so long that they split open & spill their seeds. That's pretty disheartening). If they're not dry by mid-October, then you can pull up the whole plant & hang somewhere sheltered to dry out. If you don't have that kind of space, pick the pods & arrange on cardboard trays (or anything that's breatheable, for fear of the dreaded mould!) somewhere warm & dry, making sure that they get plenty of air circulating around them.

Once dry, shell the beans. This is one of the most soothing things you can be doing in your garden in October, it's like shelling peas, only they're bigger, fatter & come in a variety of beautiful colours & patterns. The photo above shows one of my haphazard seed piles. Once dried I'll sort them into groups, but for now I just like the way they look together! There's a mix of Borlotti di fuoco, Orca, Kentucky Wonder Wax, Scarlet Emperor, Trail of Tears, White Lady & Cosse Violette

Once shelled, spread out on trays & leave somewhere for a week or two (depending on how dry they were to begin with. When they are hard & brittle, they're dry. Don't resist the urge to run your fingers through them, small pleasures are what life's all about.
Once dried, you can pack them up in paper envelopes for sowing next year or swapping with other veg growers, or you can store them in a jar & use to make soups, stews, chillies & other beany delights.

You don't have to just grow beans for podding either. All beans taste good dried, so if you stop harvesting your green beans at about mid August you'll get a good crop of beans for drying in early October. How cool is that?

A fair trade for a cow, if you ask me.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Gather Ye Rose Spuds While Ye May

Robert Herrick must be a-spinning in his grave...

Thanks to District (F)10* and a chunk of garden, we have far more potatoes than we're used to (previous years have involved growing spuds in buckets for salad potatoes or assigning a corner of garden for them. Either way they've all been devoured by mid September), so one of the tasks on my infinitely extendable list of stuff to do has been storing potatoes (I know how to party. Oh yes).

Not that you'll hear me complaining. Digging potatoes is the closest I get to feeling like a pirate. I don't mean that I drink rum while gardening (Czech dark lager actually), digging spuds is the closest I get to the feeling of digging up buried treasure!


These beauties are Blue Danube potatoes from Thomson & Morgan. They're surprisingly large, and lovely to look at. The deep purple-blue skin colour fades to less-exciting brown on cooking. Aww.
If you've got lots of spuds, you're probably best off digging them up in one go & storing them. Left in the ground they are likely to get nibbled at, or the ground will freeze solid on the day you're craving mash & onion gravy. So dig up your spuds on a dry morning, and leave out in the sun for a few hours, to give the skins a chance to harden up (and will store better). It's obvious, but I'll say it anyway, use a fork to dig up your spuds. A spade will only lead to tears, and ready sliced spuds. No matter how careful you are, you will always, always spear the biggest, bestest potato with your fork. You'll miss all the weird-shaped ones, the rotten ones (that burst when you pick them up), the ones that an industrious slug has made completely hollow**, but that perfect baking potato? Skewered through the middle like Ming the Merciless. Make sure you've dug up everything, and turn the soil over a few times with a fork. Anything left behind could end up harbouring pests & diseases.

Sort through your potatoes & any with nibbles, mysterious burrows, spongy bits, greenness, corky places or funky looking parts won't store & should be used up soon (after the funky bits have been cut away, of course. Mash or fritatta hides a multitude of sins). After all that, the actual storing part is a doddle. They just need is to be kept somewhere dark, and in something (preferably a hessian or paper sack, but an old pillowcase, T-shirt with holes sewn up or anything you can cobble together will do. Even manilla envelopes) that will let them breathe. Store them in shed or garage, anywhere dry, dark & away from frosts.

They'll need an occasional check to make sure that no slugs were bagged up with them (unless it's that Keyser Soze slug. Steer clear of that guy).

Next time - Beans!

*Otherwise known as The allotment. Our slightly bleak, windswept chunk of impenetrable clay soil. No extraterrestrials creatures or Neil Blomkamp running around, just huge, deranged hares skulking in the Oca.

**You'll be torn between hunting down the little bleeder & having a little Reservoir Dogs re-enactment with it and convincing yourself that Keyser Soze lives & is a gastropod

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Hammering the Clamps

A special prize of a packet of seeds to whoever gets that particular pun...

The weather has turned here in North Lincolnshire, there's a chill in the air & blight on the tomatoes. So it's autumn, my favouritest time of year. Sod your sticky, sleep deprived summer and your colder than a well diggers arse winter, autumn is the time for me. The corpulent pumpkins dotted around the garden are ripening (some are so big that they've developed a gravitational pull), the bean frames are heavy with swollen, leathery pods of fat, speckled beans and I'm tearing around the garden digging, harvesting, clearing soil & working my way through the pile of produce that needs storing or preserving.

I've already blogged a fair amount about chutneys & pickles, but there are other ways of saving your home grown delights, and even some that don't involve vinegar (shocking, isn't it?!). This week, I've been making clamps.

A clamp is basically a way of storing root veg as far from marauding slugs & other root-chompers as possible. There are a few different methods, the most common being to put the veg in a pile in a dry, sheltered spot in the garden & cover with layers of roots & straw or soil, but I prefer to use boxes.
You can use wooden boxes, crates, banana boxes, basically anything you have lying around. I managed to fanangle a big, sturdy lidded beer box (it's basically a large plastic crate) which lives next to the wood store.
I tend to use sand when making a clamp, but you can use garden soil (you might want to sieve it or check for root-chomping beasties, though), shredded newspaper or straw.
The box can be stored in a sheltered part of the garden, or in a shed or outhouse. Anywhere dry and protected from frost. Wherever that is, be sure & put the box there before you start filling it - it will get pretty heavy when it's full!

Pretty much any root crop can be clamped - beetroot, carrots, turnips, parsnips etc. Make sure your roots are in good condition, no mysterious burrowings, nibblings, soft spots or brown bits. You'll also need to make sure that the thready end of root is still intact too. Don't worry about cleaning off the soil. Twist or cut the leafy parts an inch or two from the top (beetroot is less likely to 'bleed' if the leaves are twisted rather than cut). Put a layer of sand (or whatever you're using) in the bottom of your box and arrange the roots on top, making sure there is space between them.

Cover with sand, arrange the next layer or roots & keep on going until you run out of roots or space. Cover & make a note of when it was filled. With luck, they should be good for up to 3 months (so do it now & you can have have home grown beetroot for Christmas dinner!)

Next time - potatoes!

Monday, 20 September 2010

The First On In The Last One Gone

Woo-hoo, it's chutney recipe number 7! I almost managed a whole week of blogging. How exciting! Future posts will be about something else now, promise.

Since this is my last chutney blog for a while, it only seems appropriate that it should be the first chutney I ever made. So this is a recipe & conjured up shortly after moving to the House at the Top of the Bloody Great Hill, which had two overgrown apple trees in the garden (one had fruit, flowers & leaves on it at the same time every spring. I know enough about mythology to proclaim it The Tree Of No Eating*). The name is a little misleading, as the chilli just gives the chutney a little warmth, though if you want to add more chillis, go for it!

Chilli Apple Chutney

1kg (about 5) apples, peeled, cored & roughly chopped
200g raisins
500g brown sugar
500ml cider vinegar
2 red chillies, finely chopped
50g crystallized ginger (or you can use stem ginger), chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
A few grates of fresh nutmeg
1 tsp salt

Throw everything into a large pan. Bring to the boil & then simmer for about an hour until the mixture thickens.

Not everyone is as into cinnamon as I am, so you could substitute the cinnamon & allspice for black mustard seed, mixed spice or 5 spice powder.

*In mythology posessing a bough bearing fruit, flowers & leaves grants access to the underworld. And I've seen enough Bruce Campbell films to know what that kind of thing leads to...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Day Late & A Dollar Short

I meant to post this recipe yesterday, but went to Hull instead, so lots of staring at the Humber estuary & tidal barrier, getting over excited at the sight of derelict dry docks & eating far too much delicious food at the Green Ginger Cafe a freakin' adorable Vegetarian place in a narrow street in Hull called The Land of Green Ginger* at the bottom of Whitefriargate. If you are ever in Hull, check it out! The Aubergine Parmesan is delicious!

Anyway. Chutney.

Pear & Pecan Chutney

500g Pears, peeled, cored & chopped
500g Apples, also peeled, cored & chopped (it helps to have a big bowl of water with a splash of vinegar or squeeze of lemon juice in it to drop the apple pieces in while you chop**)
250g pecans, chopped (you can use walnuts or hazelnuts instead. I just have a thing for pecans)
250g shallots, chopped (there are lots of tricks out there to keep your eyes from watering while chopping onions. None of them really work)
250g raisins
25g ginger, grated
250g light brown sugar
300ml cider vinegar
1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp salt
1 tbs molasses (optional)

Pitch all the ingredients (except the Molasses of Debateable Usage) into a large pan. Bring to the boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat & simmer for about an hour, an hour & a half, maybe longer, until you have some thick, rich, fruity goo (you should be able to pull your spoon across the bottom of the pan and see a ribbon of pan bottom for a few seconds). Pear chutney can look a bit beige & depressing, so adding a heaped tbs of molasses will make it a little darker & glossier, without having an effect on the overall flavour. Spoon into clean, sterilised jars, and screw the lids on firmly. Label with something suitable & put in a cupboard & try not to think about it for a few months.
Goes well with cheese (especially cheese toasties), pies & poppadums. A heaped spoonful stirred into tagines & stews is something pretty special too.

*Most awesome street name ever!

**Cut apples turn brown when exposed to air, which can affect the texture, and generally make it all a bit ick. Dunking the cut pieces in acidulated water (fancy term for water with a bit of vinegar or citrus juice in it) prevents such ickyness.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Fig & Apple Chutney

I'm doing my best to avoid any puns on this one, and am making a point of having absolutely no ginger in this recipe*.
Sometimes life would be a lot less disturbing without Wikipedia. And people just kept to eating veg.

Moving swiftly on, fresh figs are in season about now, so make the most of it while you can. If you ever get tired of halving them, giving them a quick blast under the grill & serving with a creamy goats cheese (or a drizzle of honey & some yoghurt) then you could always give this a try.

Fig & Apple Chutney

600g figs (about 10. If you bought fresh figs with good intentions, but ended up eating them, dried figs work well too)
1 onion, chopped
500g apples, peeled, decored & chopped
400g demerara sugar
500ml white wine vinegar
150g sultanas
75g dried apricots, chopped
1 tbs yellow mustard seed
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp salt

You know the routine by now. Dump everything in a pan. Boil. Simmer for an hour, maybe a little more, until it's all thick & chutney-like. Spoon into sterilised jars, label & leave for a few months before eating.
A few variations...
200ml dry white white wine. It will take a little longer to thicken, but will be delicious.

50g sun dried tomatoes, blitzed in a blender, will give it a bit of richness. You could probably get away with a splash of red wine in there too.

Replace the mustard seeds, cinnamon & cardamom with chilli flakes, black pepper & the juice & zest of a lemon

*If you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky! And I'm never ever using the term 'ginger up' again. Brr!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Can You Feel The Beet?

Of all the veg I grow, beetroot is my favourite. I love their sweet earthiness and the vivid leaves, which are a real treat to cook with that you rarely experience with shop bought beetroot* (the young leaves add a lovely earthiness to salad, the older leaves can be cooked like spinach or chard. Well, they are chard. Kind of.). This year I've been experimenting with growing different varieties of beetroot. I've grown more varieties of the classic, round ruby variety than I can keep up with! But of the other varieties out there this year I tried Blankoma white (not that impressive, to be honest), the candy striped Chioggia (best sliced thinly & eaten raw, as cooking turns the red & white stripes into uniform pink), Cylindra (a red barrel rooted variety, one of this years favourites), Burpee's Golden (a round yellow variety that tastes slightly sweeter than the red & the leaves are delicious) & Yellow Cylindrical beetroot (the other favourite of the year! Tender leaves and creamy white flesh). It was the Yellow Cylindrical variety that I used to make this recipe (no stains, woo!)

Beetroot Relish (as opposed to pickled beetroot)

500g beetroots, any colour or shape (I used golden cylinder beets, which are almost identical to the red ones, but without the dreaded staining)
400g red onions, chopped
100g sugar
200ml red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
Black pepper
25g grated horseradish (optional. You could use 25g grated fresh ginger instead. Or the juice and zest of an orange)

Roast the beetroot in an oven at 180C for about an hour, or until cooked. Leave to cool & rub off the skins (they’ll slip off easily. If not, a sharp knife will help them along). Grate or chop as small as you can stand & put into a pan with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil & simmer, stirring regularly, for about 30 minutes, or until thickened. Spoon into clean, sterilised jars

*Presumably due to them wilting fairly quickly after harvesting.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Ploughmans Pickle (lucky Ploughman!)

Harvest time is pretty much over here in North Lincolnshire. The fields that were full of wheat & barley so recently are now brown & bare (though soon there will be a haze of green as the winter wheat starts sprouting).
I've always had a soft spot for the Ploughmans lunch* (a cold meal of bread, cheese, pickle and maybe an apple or a pickled onion), though North Lincolnshire Ploughmen seem to run on a diet of Fosters & Red Bull.

Moving swiftly on, here's a recipe for a Branston-style pickle, and a bit of a change for me, as I usually make fruit-based chutneys**, but the garden is crammed full of veg right now, so it seems like the best time to give it a try!

Ploughmans Pickle

The recipe here is a guideline, use whatever veg you have in abundance. Swede, cauliflower & gherkins all go well in this. You can add a few handfuls of raisins too, if you fancy.

285g carrots, chopped
285g turnips, chopped
285g courgettes, chopped
225g onions, chopped
225g apples, chopped
150g dates
250g demerara sugar
500ml malt vinegar (I usually suggest cider or white wine vinegar, but pale vinegar can make pickles look a bit muddy and unappetising, where you ideally want it to be so dark & dense that light cannot escape it. Kind of like a black hole but with carrots)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
2 tsp mustard seeds (you can bash them in a pestle & mortar, or leave them whole for a little bite)
2 tsp allspice, ground
1 tsp cayenne pepper

In the words of Dinosaur Jr – start choppin! Seriously, most of the time you’ll be spending on this is getting the veg all cup into ½ cm dice. It will take ages. You’ll regret ever taking up preserving, but it will all be worth it in the end, when you have all the neatly diced veg in a thick, rich, lip-prickling sauce. Promise.

Tip everything into a large pan & slowly bring to the boil. Reduce the heat & simmer until the veg is tender & the sauce has thickened. This can take anywhere between half an hour & two hours.

When it’s (finally) thickened up, spoon into clean, sterilised jars & seal. Then come up with a name for your pickle, label it & store it for 3 months (if you can wait that long). If there’s something left in the pan, scrape it up with a bit of crusty bread & blow on until it’s cool enough to gulp down without scalding yourself. Pickle hot from the pan is face-scrunchingly sharp, but worth every wincing mouthful.

*Despite sounding like something as bucolic and traditionally English as marmalade & casual racism, the Ploughmans was an advertising campaign conjured up by the Milk Marketing Board in the 1960's to make people buy more cheese.

**There is a lot of debate out there about the difference between a chutney and a pickle. As far as I can tell, a chutney is a sweeter, fruit-based preserve (but still with the addition of vinegar, otherwise it would just be jam) and pickles are vegetable-based and with a more pronounced vinegar flavour.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


This year was my first attempt at growing curcubits (the sprawly, fruity, juicy plant family of gourds, melons, squash and other scrambling vines that will take over half the garden if you let 'em) other than courgettes. Turns out, if you can grow a courgette, you can grow the rest of 'em too! So I've found myself besieged by pumpkins, cucumbers & gherkins. And I chuffing love it! (if you fancy growing gherkins next year, I recommend Hokus, an easy to grow, high yielding outdoor trailing variety)

So in a change from the usual chutneys, here's a pickle!

Pickled Cucumber

1kg cucumbers (or gherkins)
1 tbs sugar (optional)
cider or white wine vinegar
1 sprig of dill (optional. Unless you’re using gherkins, then it’s compulsory!)
1 tsp black peppercorns

With a sharp knife, cut the cucumber into painfully thin slices. I’m sure that there are food processor attachments that can do this sort of thing, but I have always taken the sharp-knife-and-backache approach. Arrange the slices in a colander (or the plastic inner mesh of a salad spinner), scattering with salt between the layers. This draws out moisture & helps vegetables remain crisp after pickling. Place the colander in a bowl, cover with a cloth & leave somewhere cool overnight.

The next day, take a moment to marvel at how much liquid has come out of the veg. Rinse thoroughly & pack into clean, sterilised jars. Add the sugar (if using) & dill to the jar & top with the vinegar. Seal & store in a cool, dry place for a few weeks. Once opened, keep it in the fridge.
What can you do with it? It's a really nice accompaniment to stir fries, goes well in veggie burgers, gives potato salad a nice bite & sour note & is surprisingly tasty in sandwiches.

This is one of those recipes that you can really play around with, all you need is to remember to slice them & salt them the night before. Need a few suggestions? Okay then…

Combine shallots, cauliflower florets & slices of carrot for a mixed pickle (add 1 tbs sugar to the vinegar for a sweet mixed pickle)

Slices of radish (or if you’re growing rat-tail radish, whole young pods) with fresh mint leaves or dill. Japanese daikon or mooli sliced or grated with ginger or chilli slices works really well too.

Cauliflower florets are a delicious, crisp pickle, and work really well with the addition of 1tbs of toasted coriander seed & 1 tsp toasted cumin seed (you can add a pinch of turmeric & yellow mustard powder for a bit of colour too!)

Celeriac, coarsely grated or thinly sliced, with 1 tbs yellow mustard seed and as much grated black pepper as you can stomach.

Florence Fennel, finely sliced with the zest & juice of a lemon and a couple of bay leaves makes a light, refreshing pickle.

Celery, finely sliced, makes a refreshing pickle.

Courgettes, deseeded & sliced, with whatever Mediterranean herbs you have lying around, is a good way of using up a glut.

Red cabbage & red onion, shredded, with plenty of black pepper.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Go Mango

Mango chutney is one of the most well known Indian style chutneys. The flavour is sweet, spicy & sour & can be chunky or a smooth puree (I like it chunky myself), and can be made with green (unripe) or ripe mangoes. It is usually served with poppadoms or puri (a delicious puffy fried pillow of unleavened bread).

Mango Chutney

750g Mango, devoid of skin & stone, and chopped into chunks
250ml white wine vinegar
400g sugar
50g raisins
1 chilli, finely chopped
Juice & rind of a lemon
30g ginger (a piece about the size of your thumb) grated
1 tsp each of salt, cumin seed, cardamom seed (or you can bruise the cardamom pods & drop them into the mix. Just don’t eat them when it comes to eating the chutney!), black peppercorns & nigella seed*
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Tip all the ingredients into a pan & slowly bring to the boil. Simmer for an hour (maybe longer if you’re mangoes are really juicy), or until the spicy fruit goop has thickened enough to draw a spoon along the base of the pan, giving you a Moses parting the Dead Sea moment. But with raisins.

Spoon into sterilised glass jars & seal (this recipe with fill 3-4 regular sized jars. Obviously it will fill more if you’re using tiny jars, and less if using large jars). Spend far more time than is healthy coming up with a suitable label for your jar. After patiently waiting 3 months (or weeks), open & enjoy. And plan how you’ll tweak the recipe for the next batch!

Keri-no-Chhundo (Gujurati green mango preserve)

6 small green mangoes
2 tsp chilli flakes
5 cinnamon sticks
3 cardamom pods
5 cloves
7tbs oil
6tbs sugar
1 tsp salt

Peel & grate the mangoes (this will be messy!). Mix with the salt & put to one side
Heat the oil in a pan & add the cinnamon, cardamom & cloves. When they start to sizzle, and the kitchen smells like Christmas, add the mango. Cook on a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened (this will take about half an hour). Stir in the sugar & chillis & remove from the heat. When the mixture has cooled, spoon into clean screw-top jars & keep in the fridge, where it should last 2 to 3 weeks.

*Or a spice mix of your own devising. Cumin, allspice & turmeric also work well together.

Apicklypse Now

Autumn is finally here. I'm sure of it not because we've got mist lurking on the ground in the mornings, or because I've been trampling through the ditches foraging for fruits & nuts*, but because most of my time is being taken up by preserving (meaning: endless hours of cutting veg up into 1cm dice**).

So to kick-start my return to Bloggery, lets see if I can post a preserving recipe a day this week.

*last week it was hazels, the week before apples & pears, the week before that plums & blackberries. This week must be elderberries then. Eventually I'll abandon all notions of the Gregorian calender & just go with lunar phases & whatever is being harvested. My birthday will be in the month of wheat-and-blackberries, Mikeyfox will be in Nowt-but-Bloody-Kale-Again.

**'what are you doing today, lil' fox?'
'Why I will be standing in the kitchen, trying to turn the entire contents of the garden into small cubes, which will get blanched & frozen, or boiled with sugar & vinegar & put into jars. Unless I get the screaming abdabs, which will probably end up with my building a fort out of kilner jars & chucking apricot slices at anyone who approaches who isn't Simon Amstell.