Thursday, 28 April 2011

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard - Alleria petiolata (also known as by the less prosaic moniker of Jack-By-The-Hedge, Hedge Garlic & the even more unimaginative than 'garlic mustard' name of Sauce Alone) is a common sight here in North Lincolnshire, and the pretty little flowers are everywhere in the ditches & hedgerows where I'm out walking in the mornings. I mostly know Garlic Mustard as a medicinal herb. It's a tonic & used in slow-healing skin disorders & bronchitis.

But guess what? It's edible! In fact, people have been harvesting this wild green for hundreds of years (though John Evelyn's book Acetaria: A Discourse on Sallats had little success trying to persuade people to eat it raw & lightly dressed with olive oil & sea salt back in 1699. It took 300 years & a couple of series of Jamie Oliver for that to start getting around). The whole plant is edible, from tiny white flowers to the long white taproot, which has a horseradish flavour, and is best eaten from March to June. It's a biennial, meaning that it flowers in its second year of growth. The young, first years growth are best for eating, as it has quite a strong, bitter flavour with a sweet garlic note. It's a little too intense a flavour to just throw into a salad, but makes an excellent addition to soups, and can be finely chopped & added to cream cheese or mayonnaise for a cracking potato salad, shredded & thrown into tabbouleh or pilau rice or chopped & added to frittatas or omelettes. It also makes good herbal vinegar. But the best use is pesto, as by some vegetable alchemy, the bitterness & rough edges seem to mellow out.

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Large handful of Mustard Garlic leaves, washed (there aren't many insects that will brave this pungent weed, but it's always worth checking)
2 tbs vegetarian parmesan (I use Bookhams, though any hard cheese will do)
4 tbs olive oil
pinch of salt
2 tbs pine nuts or walnuts (optional)

Put it all into a blender & whizz until you have a good consistency (some folks like chunky, some prefer a smooth puree), adding more oil if necessary. Or more cheese. No harm in more cheese. Now you have your pesto, you can do pretty much anything with it. Add to rice dishes, quiche filling, top a baked potato & stir into potato salads. Or just toss it into some pasta.

Okay. Having no interest in the Royal Wedding, I'm off to the allotment to plant More Bloody Potatoes.

Monday, 25 April 2011

An Update (now with cat pictures!)

The heatwave continues here in North Lincolnshire, so aside from playing Portal 2* I've been out in the garden. The weed crop at the allotment is finally under control, and all the Jerusalem Artichokes & Broad Beans have been planted out. I'm even close to planting all the potatoes too (I thought I was finished, then a box from Thomson & Morgan arrived with a few kilos of Yukon Gold & Vivaldi in it. D'oh!). It's still a source of bemusement to me that MikeyFox & I are the only people at our allotment that don't believe in all gardening requiring a two-stroke engine (though are more than happy to watch people pushing hired rotavators over their weed-covered plots & learn the hard way about the root propagation of couch grass**).

Peas, carrots, beetroot, chard, parsnips & unusual roots are all safely in the ground, and the polytunnel is heaving with seedlings, which will all be coming out later on in May.
There is an old saying about the best way to check that soil is warm enough for sowing is to drop your trousers & sit on it. I prefer my own method

Not so good for shallots, though.

Alas, all this sunshine has caused the early arrival of my nemesis - Rapeseed!
Of all the things to be allergic to, it has to be this stuff. And what is one of the four main crops grown in Lincolnshire? You'll never guess. Here's a clue, I can see 5 fields of it from my house (and fields in Lincolnshire aren't small. The one I'm looking at now is 1km long! And full of rapeseed. Good for biofuel, bad for the sinuses.)

I cause conjuctival swelling & swollen nasal turbinates - ask me how!

Well, at least it's only lasts for a couple of weeks. And I have antihistamines to keep the dreaded mucousy horrors at bay.

Okay, off to turn an old cask into a strawberry planter. Hope wherever you are you have sunshine, good company, and an immune system that doesn't get in a flap in the presence of pollen.

*Wheatley! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

**And dandelion, and thistle...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Brugge it!

Hello, blog.
I'm back from Bruges. Well, I've actually been back for a week now, but been making the most of the good weather (isn't April supposed to be known for its showers?) & been out in the garden (digging, sowing seeds, weeding, pricking out, digging, potting on, weeding, sowing the ten thousand varieties of speckly beans I've been hoarding all winter and did I mention the digging..?).
Unemployment be damned, the tulips are flowering!

The holiday was an unexpected gift - 4 days in the lovely city of Bruges, travelling by ferry (and I'm a fox that likes to get her paws wet), with MikeyFox's family for his fathers 60th birthday. Having never been on a family holiday before, some things took a little getting used to (like Having An Itinerary & being woken up at 7am to Discuss Plans For The Day*). But since it was a free holiday it would be churlish to complain (especially when there were pubs to scuttle off to in the evening).

If you do find yourself in Bruges, I really recommend the Flanders Field tour. Run by the lovely Phillipe Uyttenhove, who takes you in his minibus around Passchendale, Hill 60, the memorials around Flanders where he grew up & the Menin gate in Ypres. It was real pleasure to spend the day with such a knowledgeable person filled with passion for his home & heritage. The website is here and you'll not find a better guide to the area.
(No pictures, folks. Didn't seem appropriate).

A few photos.

The Dijver canal and a weeping peach tree. As you can see, everything in Bruges is freakin' gorgeous.

A tour of the old brewery, De Halve Maan. There is a shiny modern brewery there too, making the famous Bruges Zot (Zot meaning 'fool') the only beer brewed in the city.

View of the city. The fancy pad in the middle is the St Salvatore cathedral


And the finest drinking establishment in all of Belgium, the Staminee de Garre. Tucked away in an alley round the back of the Basilica of the Holy Blood**, it's tiny, and the floors slope so violently that you'll spend the evening trying to stop the tablecloth sliding to the floor & the beers are lovely! If you can find it, try the wheat beer. Try all the beers!

And I'll leave you with this, from the St George Memorial church in Ypres.

A cross stitch tank cushion!
Right. Weeding.

*Which always ended up being stuck between a speed-walker who wants to get the Groening museum (nothing to do with the Simpsons - I checked) & Gruuthus done before 11am and a dawdler fiddling with his camera, while having little have-we-lost-someone episodes.

**Which we visited on the first day, though decided against any fondling of the Holy Plasma, favouring instead lighting a candle for MaFox & The Impending Surgery. Just because I was the only Heathen in Catholic School doesn't mean I'm not prepared to hedge my bets, y'know.