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Tags: Foraging Courses Sussex, Foraging Courses UK, wild food courses., Wild food school, www.huntergathercook.com
I have never been an avid fan of January. It’s shit. Mind you, it rarely starts well: the post-festive period culminates with New Year’s Eve and the first day of the year kicks off with the inevitable hangover. The rest of the month is cold, wet and grey. It’s a time for being inside and if your house isn’t much warmer than outside (and our beachfront apartment certainly ain’t built for winter) then you just spend everyday wrapped up looking like the Michelin man. Warm food and warm drinks constantly needed. Another thing I have always found bizarre is the amount of people that give up drinking for January...if there was ever a time of year it is necessary, its now. Wierdos.
January is always a quiet time for me- that’s the nature of seasonal work, but it does have one redeeming feature- The first month of the year is a time for plotting, planning, scheming and conniving. I spend most of it playing in the kitchen and reading- ready for Spring and armed to the teeth with new ideas, recipes and knowledge to make Hunter:Gather:Cook courses the best they can be. Summer will fly by and before I know it, it will be Autumn- at least living in SW France gives me an extra 2 months of summer.
Anyhow, back to the subject of this long overdue post. Kimchi. The first time I came across this wonderful ‘condiment’ was 4 years ago in New York. My Brother was living out there and had found, what he could only describe as ‘tasty jarred farts’. I cannot imagine anyone, not even those you trust most, being able to bring you around to taste something with such a description: but I did…and by gad was it fine!
Kimchee has been on the to-do list for ages, actually since coming back from the big apple with my two tubs, which didn’t last long- but hey ho. Kimchi originates from Korea and is a fermented mix of vegetables and seasonings. It has been around for 3000 years and is a national institution in it’s home country- so much so that in 2010 there was a national crisis in Korea, a spike in the price of ingredients and kimchi itself left the Korean government having to subsidise imports of cabbage. Political food for thought indeed.
Coincidently, I noticed that Kimchi was tipped by the Telegraph as one of the top ten food trends for 2012 along with Ceviche (see that post here).Apparently natural fermentation of all kinds (esp.sourdough) is getting chefs very excited- Really? So as it was January I thought I may as well jump on the bandwagon and make some myself, being much in need of chilli heat at this time of year. Afterall, winter is a good time to put the wild food to one side and play with other ingredients, mainly because there is very little to forage.
You can get very bogged down in search of a simple Kimchi recipe- seasonal variations are rife in Korea, so here is one stripped down to its birthday suit.
First off, chop up the cabbage and place it in a bowl and toss well with the salt- the idea here is to get the salt to suck out some of the moisture from the cabbage and help create a brine. Leave for 1 hour.
Meanwhile finely chop all the other ingredients. Chillies are particularly difficult to find in France, partly because the general consensus in my experience is that the French are fannies when it comes to heat so they don’t stock them in the mupersarket- there is a reason the French word for man is ‘homme’. Fortunately the merry little town of Espelette (see here) is just down the road and Basque folks love a bit of fire! A bunch of dried chilli flakes and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper will give you more than enough heat if you are at a loss.
Back to the cabbage- it should now have decreased in volume by almost half, drain off the liquid, rinse the cabbage in cold water to remove any excess salt and pat dry with a tea towel.
Now mix all your ingredients together in the bowl, cover with a towel and leave in a cool place for 4 days, stirring once a day and tasting. You can pot it up earlier if you are happy with your level of fermentation.
Basically what is going on in the bowl is that the various microorganisms present in the raw ingredients, most notably lactic acid, is able to grow and perpetuate because of a more than 3% brine that you have created for your kimchi to live in.
HGC is still taking bookings, although there is barely any room left in May! Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Please do get in touch if you fancy becoming a 21st Century Hunter-gatherer: Not a bad idea considering the world is due to do something negative by the end of the year and according to the press, PETA are getting scientists to grow artificial meat. And here was I thinking vegetarians were just harmless and a little depressed because of a lack of protein.
Fresh off the slab at Capbreton Fishmarket.
Life in France is grand, plenty of January surf, although it is colder than a witch’s tit. Lots of fish being purchased from Capbreton Harbour. I thought since I lived by the sea I would go big on this in 2012- Bream is the current favourite. Moving inland this week to join the inbreds, have a garden instead of a balcony and build an entire kitchen from scratch- can’t wait! The French Kitchen and HGC France to come soon complete with tree houses.
Adios, Au revoir, Peas x
PS. Due to spam, of which some is difficult to work out if it is or not- I don’t reply to comments on the blog- if you wish to say sommat or have any questions, please drop me an email- email@example.com.
Not far from here, nestled amongst the foothills of the Pyrenees, sits a small traditional Basque village. The white washed houses and dark red beams so typical of Basque country are further accentuated by the addition of thousands upon thousands of plump red peppers strung up to dry on all the houses. This is not just any small village, Espelette, famed for the punchy little chillis is a national treasure and a cornerstone of Basque culinary heritage, so much so that it has classified with an AOC (Appellation d’origine controlee) much the same as a PGI (protected geographical status) we get in the UK.
France in general, and many of you may have also noticed this on your travels, don’t seem to be advocates of the chilli pepper. The Gallic palate is clearly not designed to embrace the spicy heat after centuries of being attuned to fine wines, strong cheese, and if I may be so bold to hit upon the presumptuous cliché of garlic and onions. Might I add, just to clear up a few things- Gauls don’t actually smell of these two fruits of the earth…or wear berets, or black & white stripy tops. But they do occasionally say ‘Ooh lala’ and are frequently seen brandishing baguettes, especially around midday. Down in this corner of South West France, and being so close to Spain the Espelette pepper has managed to gradually win over a fair few Frenchies, the dried, ground down peppers have replaced the use of black pepper in some cases: Bayonne ham (another AOC) is rubbed down with a paste of piment d’espelette during the curing process giving the ham a distinctive flavour. In Bayonne, many restaurants will serve ‘Bayonnaise’ a mixture of mayo and Espelette chilli powder- punchy and delicious with a bowl of frites.
The peppers themselves are grown in and around the communes of Espelette and Cambo Les Bains, vast fields of green are peppered (please excuse the Hugh Punely-Whittisism, but seriously, how many can he fit into one programme?!) with bright red chillis- quite a sight to behold in the open air, as opposed to being in the UK where they are shrouded in Polytunnel.
Espelette peppers are not all that hot- bite off the end of one and you would barely even feel a hint of warmth. However, munch down to the business end of the pepper, where the seeds are housed, and you will feel the endorphins start to flow as 4000 Scolville units assault your senses. This is a mistake I have made many a time when adding Espelettes to any dish, much like playing a game of Russian roulette with the fairly harmless ‘Pimiento de Padron’, a small green chilli from Spain and tapas favourite: the seeds are where the heat is and just because the flesh is bearable, the seeds will hit you where it hurts.
When I drove down to Espelette last week on a dual mission to see the village and explore the ‘Gaves’ or trout streams of the Pyrenees, I arrived to a very sleepy village, empty streets, the odd tourist (not sure if I classify as one or not) and millions of chillis. I browsed the shops and bought a rather expensive salami to go with my bread and cheese for lunch up on the mountain streams, not to mention picking up plenty of Espelette peppers- fresh and dried to play around with in the kitchen when I got home- perhaps with some fish?
As it happened, no fish, so soup it was with leftover bread. Basque soup to be precise, well my take on it at least. The chillis will create a gentle heat to the soup perfect to offset the winter blues. This soup is not so far removed from a good bolognaise sauce and as I made such a huge amount of the stuff, the rest was infused with a little red wine, reduced and thickened before being jarred up for later use. Thrifty.
Heat up a large saucepan and add the olive oil, finely chop the carrots, red pepper, onion, celery and garlic and stick it in the saucepan. De-seed and finely chop the Espelette chillis and add them to the pan and keep a few seeds aside to add for a bit of warmth if you fancy it, sauté gently for ten minutes.
Slice the tomatoes into wedges and remove the white cores. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt and sprig of thyme, lower the heat and place the lid on top to allow the tomatoes to gently stew down for a further 10 minutes.
Make up the Veg stock, and slowly add it to the pan, stirring all the time, turn the heat back up until everything is on a fierce boil, then turn the heat back down and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a bit then blitz it through a blender in batches- as to how long is up to you and how smooth you want your soup. Once blitzed, return to the pan and re-heat- adjust seasoning and serve, with plenty of bread and a dollop of sour cream if you think it is a bit to spicy for your liking.
Over the years my addiction to hot sauce has had to be controlled, I first noticed it becoming an issue whilst at university. Alongside Tabasco, Maggi seasoning also became a weakness, I soon found most meals began tasting of one or the other and felt it was time for a change. Thankfully the only thing that gets the Maggi treatment these days is a few drops when making a dressing or on spaghetti carbonara. My Tabasco kick comes once a day in mugs together with a beef stock cube, Worcester sauce and a good squeeze of lemon juice; the Virgin Bull shot is a welcome change from tea or coffee and keeps the junkie within a happy lad.
Gradually, the kick generated by a bottle of Tabasco began to wane. I wanted more fire in my belly, something guaranteed to bring a bead on and release a few extra endorphins. Encona became the new kid on the block. Working my way up the Scolville scale from Jalapeños to Scotch Bonnets was a bold decision indeed, a macho move in the world of the amateur hot sauce aficionado. Unfortunately, as agreeable as I found it, my stomach felt otherwise. Hot sauce hangovers can be more uncomfortable than snorting wasabi or eating a bag of holly. A good thing too, as I didn’t want to find myself tucking into extract sauces in a few years time.
During my time living in London, flat hunting was always quite an exciting time, despite the fact that flats to rent would drop off the market faster than a public school girl’s knickers at a polo match, eventually something would turn up. I only ever had one condition: it must have outdoor space.
Whether it was a Juliet balcony, a large window sill or even a disused patch of unkept ground (I think I had them all), I was always keen to make it into something worthwhile and productive, and what better way than to supply the kitchen with fresh vegetables and, on occasion, the odd invertabrate.
Six months living off wild food is no easy task, while planning my tree dwelling experiment; I felt it would be a good idea to take my inspiration from the transition of the Mesolithic to the Neolithic. Whilst probing the recesses of my mind for the archaeological knowledge stored away during my degree, I seemed to remember it was around 4000BC that the Neolithic kicked in, bringing with it the domestication of animals and crops.
As wonderful and diverse as the wild larder is, I felt it would need the support of a small, yet productive vegetable patch, carbohydrates for one. Burdock roots, dandelion roots and cattails are all very well, but why not have a glut of potatoes too? It would be good to have some crops to fill in the gaps where the wild foods are lacking.
Why ruin a perfectly good pumpkin? Every Halloween you see 100’s of ‘Jack-o’-laterns’ in peoples windows and porches each emitting a faint eerie glow through sketchy-carved out features, not that I am one to poo-poo a time honoured tradition. When it comes to the end of October I feel pumpkins should be purchased in pairs, not because they are particularly sociable vegetables, because one can be carved out and the other can be used for filling your belly.
As I remember I used to be a bit of a dab hand at carving pumpkins, I loved drawing as a child and to be able to put a scary face on a vegetable was something you don’t get to do everyday. The only down side I found with carving a mean looking pumpkin and sticking it by the gates was that no-one would get to see my handiwork (not at the end of a half mile driveway on the forest anyway).
The pumpkin’s association with Halloween was conceived in North America around the 1860’s and in folklore terms it had something to do with warding off demons. Cinderella used to get the fairy godmother to turn a pumpkin into a carriage when she went for a night on the town and even Harry Potter is quite partial to pumpkin juice or three.
It is that time of year again in which this hardy perennial has begun to show its face again. The supermarkets are beginning to stock them, but those of you who look to search them out have, like me, been munching on them since the end of November. The odd thing about this vegetable is it looks like a cross between sweet potato and galangal (a type of ginger), tastes like Globe artichoke and is related to the sunflower. That is one confused root vegetable! The name comes from the Italian word for sunflower; ‘Girasole’ which has over the years become Jerusalem. The plant is native to North America where the tuber like roots were often used in the past as a staple in much the same way as a potato. The native Americans often referred to them as sun chokes. The girasole was brought over to Europe in the 1600’s and introduced to France by Monsieur Samuel de Champlain. The plant itself acts in much the same way as weeds due to its hardiness and unless controlled can spread. So for this reason growing your own is remarkably easy.
There are so many different ways in which this wonderful vegetable can be transformed, mashed, roasted or pureed; it’s really all down to personal preference and experimentation. So I will give you mine, which makes for a superb, yet different starter.
Jerusalem artichokes with balsamic and Portobello mushroom.
• 1 Jerusalem artichoke finely diced
• 4 Portobello mushrooms
• Half a lemon
• 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
• A few sprigs of thyme
• Salt & pepper
• Butter for frying
Method: Once you have peeled and finely diced your artichoke, melt some butter in a pan and add the artichoke. Fry on a low heat for 5-10mins until softened, add the thyme, lemon juice and balsamic and salt and pepper and reduce on a high heat, when you reduce a liquid fast the flavours will remain strong and intense. After a few minutes of reduction remove from the heat and pour over your Portobello mushrooms, these should then be seasoned and placed in the oven at 190C for 10 minutes.
This is such a fantastic combination of flavours owing to the nuttiness of the artichoke, the beautiful flavour of the mushroom nicely cut by the balsamic. A simple starter which does confuse a lot of people and they will be bound to ask what the artichoke is…it’s in season now so don’t waste time, their not around for long!
I simply had to put this up, my friend Justin (the papster) told me about this. So as you can see all, credit goes to him! As we are not a country that can rely on sun, a cheap way of creating the condensed flavour you get from sun blushed toms is to simple and effective. first line a baking tray with rocksalt, take a pack of cherry toms cut them into halves and place on top of the salt and blast in the oven on 200c for 5-10 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave them in over night, the next morning chuck them in a jar with some good olive oil and enjoy! The flavour will be more intense than your usual tom and slightly salty, most of the moisture would have gone. Remember to keep the salt and use for the next 10+ batches, because you will do them again.
Chutney: The ideal Condiment.
Chutney is super. You cannot deny it. We all eat it in some form or another. The most common I suppose being mango chutney or Branston pickle, as well as other forms like lime pickle and piccalilli, we are all over it. Chutney has been around for hundreds of years, making its way to Europe in the 1600’s as a luxury product from East Asia. It is the Asia’s answer to the South American salsa in the way it is used.
Chutney is essentially made from fruit or vegetables reduced down with vinegar, sugar and spices. Naturally the vinegar acts as a preservative, often lemon/lime juice is also used. So this blend of sweet, sour and spice makes chutney an incredibly versatile addition to any kitchen and can be used with meats, cheese, fish, curries…the list is endless!
Traditionally, chutney is laid down at the end of summer when your garden should be jam packed with produce. I had planned to use the remainder of my toms and courgettes but had a brief sojourn in the Cooks islands for 3 months hence, my chutney making is a little late! Making a chutney is very much a labour of love and you really can use whatever you fancy in the veg and spice department, as long as you have a form of vinegar and sugar. I would say it is probably a good idea to make your first batch based on a recipe. For that there is a superb little book I would highly recommend, made by the infamous Mrs B; Mrs Beeton’s jams, pickles and preserves. Once you have mastered your first batch you can mix & match your own ingredients.
This recipe below is one I concocted as a perfect partner to cheese. I love chutney with a nice chunk of cheddar and a couple of good friends of cheddar are celery and apple, so in they went. As far as the spices went I know that apple and cinnamon are also pretty good mates. Chilli is a must to pack a little punch and a little smoked paprika to give it a more mature finish. To give it more of a country appeal and to maximise the apple hit I used cider vinegar. That was the basic train of thought when I was writing my list of ingredients!
• 1kg courgettes
• 1kg tomatoes
• 500gs apples (Coxs! Peeled, cored & diced)
• 500gs onions
• ½ packet of celery
• ½ packet of radishes
• 1 green chilli
• ½ red chilli
• 500gs sultanas (leave whole)
• 500g of light brown soft sugar
• 650ml of cider vinegar
• ½ tsp of smoked paprika (la Chinata)
• 1 tsp of salt
The spice bag:
• 30g of ginger, chopped into pieces
• 2 tsp black peppercorns
• 1 tsp coriander seeds
• 1 cinnamon stick
To begin with, which is a bit of a bugger, finely chop all the ingredients. This will take a while, so put on your favourite tunes and chop away! You could put it in the food processor but I feel you have more control over the size of the bits if done by hand, it looks better when potted and its much more satisfying.
You will need a big saucepan for this (something I should have thought about!), ideally stainless steel to prevent it sticking and burning. Put all the ingredients in the pan and add the vinegar and sugar, give a good stir.
The spice bag can be made from a bit of muslin or dish cloth with all the ingredients tied up inside, chop the ginger into small chunks and break the cinnamon stick up a little, once made drop it in the pan.
Slowly bring to the boil and gently simmer for 2-3 hours. Keep an eye on the pan and stir every 10-15mins. After 2 hours give it a taste to see if it needs any seasoning or a little more heat, Tabasco is a great way of cheating in a little extra kick. A good chutney should have reduced to a thick, dark finish. A good rule of thumb to see if it is ready comes from Hugh F-W; run a wooden spoon through the chutney and if it parts to show the base of the pan, the chutney is ready. Quite. My batch took about 3 hours till it was ready. Allow it to cool then you are ready to bottle it up.
When it comes to bottling up make sure you have already sterilised the jars you wish to use. Do this by placing them in a pan of water, bring to the boil and allow to cool. Place the jars upside down on a clean towel to dry out.
Spoon your chutney into the jars and seal immediately. The chutney should be left for a minimum of two weeks to give it a bit of time to mature and let the flavours to marry and mingle. You could eat it straight away but if you can bear it, leave it for a few months. Good things come to those who wait!
If you find yourself with a bit of spare time give this recipe a go. The results are incredible and to me it is the best chutney I have ever tried, not just because I made it, it is really good. Branston can kiss my backside, they can also kiss yours if you take the time to make it! You will find it hard to buy chutney again…I know I will. Feel free to share the wealth if you can with family and friends as great presents, after all it is Christmas. Chutney…done.
Anything that’s been pickled is guaranteed to reel me straight in hook, line and sinker. I have a true love for gherkins, pickled onions, pickled chillies, pickled eggs and banderills…the list is endless. So it came upon me one evening whilst eating crackers with cheddar and Branston pickle and a suggestion from my brother, that I felt it was time to bring my own meagre offering to the table. I cannot claim all the credit for this recipe, a certain Mr Norrington-Davies brought it to my attention in his cook book “just like mother used to make.” The method and pickling ingredients are the same, but I have played around with some of the ingredients to which I devoted an entire afternoon to taste and work out which veggies would most fit the bill, and which flavour combinations would work best. Of course if you have a fetish for carrots like Uncle Monty, then you can just use carrots as applies to any other veggie fetishes you may harbour…
The best thing was I was able to use up some of my own produce from the garden, the kohlrabi and radishes were a dead cert and although I did think about the carrots, they were far too small to warrant using. The trick to making the instant pickle is to chop all the ingredients as small as possible, perfect to put on top of crackers and eat along with curries, drop into soups or even have with a terrines. When I say ready-to-eat I mean it. Once this is cooled it is ready to go, but it certainly benefits from a couple of weeks maturing in the fridge. If you find yourself with a few less than fresh veggies in the back of the fridge rather than throw them, make yourself a pickle.
This recipe will make approximately 1 large jar.
Vegetables: (all to be diced finely)
• ½ cucumber
• 1 red onion
• ¼ celeriac bulb
• Handful of radishes
• 2 carrots
• 1 long sweet pepper
• 1 parsnip
• 2 kohl rabi (golf ball size)
• 50g salt
• 1 tbsp peppercorns
For the Pickling mix:
• 300ml white wine vinegar
• 200ml malt vinegar
• 250g caster sugar
• 1tpsp salt
• ¼ tsp turmeric or cumin
• 2 cloves
• 4 bay leaves
• ½ Scotch bonnet chilli finely chopped
• ½ tsp of coriander seeds
This really could not be easier…unless you got someone else to do it all for you…but then where’s the fun? First put all the pickling mix in a saucepan with 500ml of water and simmer until all the caster sugar has completely dissolved. Put all your finely diced veggies in a large bowl and pour the pickling mix over them so that they are completely covered.
Once the mixture is cooled, there you have it, pickle! Put it into your large jar and make sure the liquid covers the veggies just. Will keep up to 6-8 weeks in the fridge that is if you haven’t eaten it by then.
So simple and quick, well worth making and great for the summer. I would love to hear from any of you who take the time to have a go and tell me what you put in yours, or even your methods of pickling, other than drinking copious amounts of booze! As the summer draws to an end in the next couple of months my pickle production will turn into full on chutney-making, when I make the first batch, you’ll be the first to know…
After ten days in Mallorca and many meals later, one thing I must say is that mallorcan gastronomy ain’t up to much…don’t get me wrong I did have some superb meals, one very memorable meal was a El Molino in the town of Pollenca on the North shore. The food was outstanding, but the chef was English and had received his training throughout the west end at various restaurants including the ivy, it was Mallorcan cuisine done well.
The one thing I did enjoy thoroughly was the tapas, who doesn’t? One thing I had not had before was Pimiento de Padron, small chillies fried in olive oil and rock salt and served hot, truly outstanding. These chilli peppers are named after the town of Padron near Galicia in Spain. In the 18th century Franciscan monks from Mexico brought these little green peppers to Europe, each year they have a festival of pimientos to celebrate an important part of their heritage. Everywhere in Mallorca and Spain we went you can always get them and as you can see I had to go to the supermarket to get my extra fix! They couldn’t be easier to make and the most intriguing or if you like, off putting thing about them is the fact that 1 out of every 5 could be really quite hot. The majority are fairly sweet and well balanced as with normal peppers, but this makes the whole process rather like a culinary Russian roulette.
I am not sure whether it is possible to buy these peppers in farmers markets, but as I understand the 2007 season in fair-weather nation has sadly come to a close. You can obtain them from a farm in based in Hampshire over the Internet at www.ukpeppers.co.uk. If you ever come across these peppers it is so worth buying a bunch, as they are a superb quick snack.
It was with a mixed feeling of some excitement and nervous apprehension when I arrived home yesterday from 10 days in Mallorca…what had given me these feelings, you may ask? Burglary? Perhaps…the rent money? maybe. It was in fact the garden. Who would have thought that something like that would play with my emotions in such a cruel way? I never thought that something so insignificant would cause such a stir, but the simple fact is my garden has become something very dear to me for two simple reasons; firstly it is there because with a bit of hard work I made it so and secondly because it provides me with food on my table twice a day. So, to a certain degree it is a lifeline and at the same time it is my baby!
I had no qualms about my veggies not getting the drink they deserve; there has been more than enough harsh weather in the last week. So it was with sheer delight I noticed some of my beefsteak tomatoes where coming out, a bunch of courgettes had started to push through, the salad leaves were standing proud and last but by no means least the kohlrabi was looking just about big enough to sample…
When I say sample I mean try for the very first time, I must say it was a bit of a gamble to take on a vegetable I had never tasted and dedicate a section of my patch to it. All I knew was that it was a cross between a cabbage and a turnip and should not be left to grow bigger than a cricket ball as it starts to become woody and tasteless. You may call me superficial for wanting to add it to my patch because it looks quite cool and funky as vegetables go, but you cannot deny me the fact that I was taking an adventurous gamble into the unknown. The name kohlrabi is German in its origin kohl meaning cabbage and rabi meaning turnip. This amazing looking plant is part of the super food group of the brassicas family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel sprouts) so it is undeniably good for you. Both the spherical, knobbly, sputnik-shaped root of the plant and the leaves are edible in its entirety…great! Although I have never come across it in a supermarket, I am sure it is readily available in farmers markets and in the smoke of London town you may find it in Borough market or our new American happy shopper the Whole foods market.
As I parted the leaves that shot up form the plant below I got my first look at the treasure that had evaded my lips for so long, there were a few that were a little bigger than golf balls and were ripe for the plucking, lets not be greedy I thought, just the one for now. As you can eat it both raw and cooked I felt the best thing to do would to make a starter out of it and use both leaves and root for my first taste of this unusual vegetable.
So after pulling my first kohlrabi from the ground I decided to chop the root in half and chop into thin slices and scatter over the chopped up leaves. A light dressing of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a little salt and pepper seemed appropriate. Of course I tried it before dressing it and I was shocked by the sweetness it possessed, but then again you will never get the same sweetness from any vegetable that has been shop bought, as I have mentioned before 20 minutes after being plucked from the earth the vegetables natural sugars begin to revert to starch.
Once dressed I sat down in the garden to enjoy the fruits of my labour, a truly wonderful experience, I often get a weird sense of excitement when trying something for the first time and this was no exception. The flavour is tremendous, very cabbage like with the texture of a turnip and a natural sweetness I have only tasted in fresh asparagus. I think it would be a shame, nay an insult to cook this gorgeous little morsel, so it will remain eaten raw for as long as it lasts, I will most certainly be growing more in the future and I think it will be a firm favourite in my gardens to come. I may even bring myself to cook them in a way I can do them justice, but until that time I have the rest of the summer to enjoy the wonder that is kohlrabi and maybe some of my friends might just be lucky enough to have a taste too…but some how I just don’t know if I have enough to go round!
Pesto… if you dig about in your store cupboard or somewhere near the back of the fridge you will most certainly find, if not it has probably graced your kitchen at some time. Pesto is originally from the city of Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy and has been around since Roman times. In its original form it consists of basil, garlic, parmesan, olive oil and salt & pepper. That said the amount of variations that have cropped up over the last few centuries is staggering. The most common being the original green pesto, which now contains pine nuts and red pesto made from sun dried tomatoes.
For a number of years now I have been making my own pesto, it couldn’t be an easier base recipe and allows you to add or take away whatever you want. Variation is key, after some time you will settle upon what your preferred taste is in much the same way you would over a type of cocktail or sandwich.
Right now in the garden I have a real abundance of the peppery little salad leaf. I am a massive fan and it is one of the easiest salads to grow, there is only so much that can go in salads so I decided it was time to make some rocket pesto. As I said I have come by my preferred pesto mix and it doesn’t contain pine nuts, I think maybe because if the original recipe didn’t, why should mine!
• Bunch of fresh Rocket
• Small block of parmesan (30-40g) grated
• 2 cloves of Garlic
• 4-5 tbsp of olive oil
• 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
• 1 tsp lemon juice
• Salt & pepper
Finely chop all the ingredients, you can blend it but I find that chopping by hand gives a much more raw texture and looks way more appetising. Mix well in a bowl with a fork and that’s pretty much it. The best ways to eat your pesto as I am sure you all know, is to drizzle over pasta or use it as a dip for some nice crusty bread. Don’t be afraid to mix and match ingredients, pesto doesn’t have to be basil based. You can even make it half way between pesto and a salsa verde by adding a bit of mustard and some capers. The beauty of pesto is that there is no set recipe for it. Having said that I think I’m going to go and eat some I just made and photographed for this very entry!
Just before Christmas last year my girlfriend had had enough of our present dwelling and felt a change was due. House hunting is never much fun and comprises of a week or two of manic viewings and disappointment. I didn’t want to leave behind my window box and if I was, it would have to be for an upgrade. As luck would have it we found a lovely one bedroom basement flat which was perfect…it also had a garden, not a big garden but a beautiful bit of rocky wasteland all the same. We moved to St.Johns hill and became one of Clapham’s many “professional” couples. The garden was going to need a lot of work, but all I could picture were rows of lush lettuces and spinach, maybe some tomatoes and a wooden frame with sweet peas dangling off waiting to be plucked. In reality I had more than my fair share of graft to put in if my vision was to become reality.
It wasn’t until March that I did any work on the garden. First I had to choose what I wanted to grow, this was the easy bit as it involved sitting in an armchair going through catalogues and ordering my preferred veggies. The final list and what at this very moment is growing a little bigger everyday, metres from where I sit, goes like this:
• Lemon thyme, thyme
• Parsley (flat leaf & curly)
• Mint (apple)
• Lettuces (Lola rosa, Tomb thumb, Cos & Raddiocco)
• Pak choi
• Perpetual Spinach
• Potatoes (pink fur apple)
• Kohl rabi
• Sweet peas
• Runner beans
• Red peppers (pointed)
• Tomatoes (gardeners delight &beefsteak)
• Butternut squash
So there you have it a complete inventory to my patch. How I would manage to fit all that into a 13’ by 11’ space, I didn’t know, a more mature green fingured enthusiast might be appauled by the way in which it would be crammed in. To me however, it would be a beautiful sight to behold and pure bliss to water everyday before work, also this is a learning curve, as an excuse or not it puts my soul to rest.
The next stage was one I am glad I wont have to repeat for some time. As I mentioned my patch had more than its fair share of stones, way more! I spent a backbreaking 2 days digging and sieving the stones out of the soil, I had more than enough stones to fill in my little garden path and managed to find a 1950’s dump consisting of ink wells, bottles and allsorts. Once this was done I found the soil was actually pretty first rate, this meant spending less on buying in fresh soil. Bonus!
Planning the garden and working out what to put where was interesting, different vegetables prefer certain other vegetables as company, to avoid any disagreements or full on veggie punch ups I was going to have to tread carefully. I had to divide them up into sections. This was done first with string, the string would eventually be replaced with 6” by 2” planks to create a sort of raised bed. As luck would have it my brother had a pile of planks round the side of his house, so after some careful measurements I nipped round on a Sunday afternoon and cut some down to size. Once laid out and screwed together my garden had begun to look quite the little haven I hoped it would be.
Meanwhile my seedlings were off to a flying start and could wait to get their roots in, the majority of salad leaves and spinach were going to go straight in as seeds but the tomatoes, sweet peas, beans and potatoes were going to need to be transplanted. My soil situation was looking good but needed topping up to get the 3 foot depth and extra nutrients that would prove to be paramount to success. A quick trip to Homebase was in order and 20 minutes later and £20 poorer left me struggling to the car with 3 bags of organic compost and 3 bags of organic soil. All that remained was to empty them into the new beds and mix in with the existing soil. The carrot and beetroot patch were the only section that didn’t get a dose of manure, apparently it disagrees with them.
How to get a garden in three easy steps......
The finishing touch to the garden was a little gift to the peas and beans, a 5 foot miniture wig-wam of hazel uprights I had cut from Sussex were placed in the corner, which were then woven together with thinner lengths. I hoped both would oblige by climbing up it and adding a splash of colour with their flowers, but that remained to be seen.
Worth the effort? Definitely. Not only had I transformed the barren wasteland that was into something regimented and aesthetically pleasing, I had also laid the foundations for a summer packed with fresh produce metres from my kitchen. How well would everything do? Would the slugs and snails reap the benefits before me? Or would I be the one filling my belly with lush summer greens. Only time would tell, but I can tell you now, I haven’t gone hungry yet. The snails I have found creeping into the garden at the dead of night, although they don’t know it, are going to provide me with an interesting source of protein too....
After a bit of sun....
The way in which we are constantly drawn to new and different things as we grow up is all part of ageing. Wine often gets better with age, objects become antiques and their value is increased. I believe the same can only be said about the discipline that is gardening...vegetables that is.
If someone turned round and told me I was going to have a vegetable garden when I am 25, I would have laughed in their face and told them where to go. How times have changed and here I am with my first proper bit of land, which has been turned into a truly amazing little vegetable garden.
Only in the last few years has my interest in growing developed and that began through my passion of cooking, which began through my passion for eating. So, this whole saga along with life goes in stages and there is only one place to begin…when I was 5.
Gardening was certainly not a priority then, but more of a chore. My father would be out with the rotavator roaring down the proposed vegetable beds, churning up the soil and I had to go behind picking out rocks and more importantly worms for our regular fishing trips to the River Ouse. The greenhouse was host to big bushes of parsley, bulging bunches of ripe tomatoes and a whole host of various pots, trowels and other gardening implements. It was on a rough piece of ground next to this I was allocated my patch and as I remember I only grew carrots, and not many of them either. The mind of a child moves on very fast!
When the first signs of green fingers began to emerge 15 years later it was at university, this manifested itself in a) A basil plant on the window sill b) a couple of marijuana plants in a cupboard upstairs. To be fair both did very well but it was only the latter that held any real appeal as a student. From here I realised if I could grow an illegal plant, which wasn't even meant to grow in Britain’s harsh climate; I could grow anything. I studied Archaeology whilst at Newcastle and I had begun to specialise my studies in Hunter- Gatherers and the dawn of the Neolithic age, this gave me a different angle on the origins of what we eat and why, the domestication of plants and animals and its spread throughout the globe. So it was also to a certain degree in archaeology that lead me down this garden path (pun most certainly intended).
Thankfully we all grow out of being students very quickly and once I had come to London, got a job and my first flat, I decided now was the time to up the stakes. I had no real idea of what I was going to grow, let alone anywhere to grow it, being on the third floor of a small building just off Battersea square. I did however, have stacks of enthusiasm and a set of double doors with a juliet balcony with big steel railings. The idea came to me one evening as I was standing at the balcony; a sort of hanging window box would be perfect for the job. My cooking skills were becoming better and my range of recipes expanding, I wouldn’t be able to grow much but “container” gardening sounded very appealing.
This is the stage at which growing vegetables becomes firmly engrained in oneself, the fundamental building block on which all future gardening experiences, good and bad are laid. Container gardening is ideal for all that have a balcony or even a window sill, therefore perfect for city dwellers. To those of you who already have green fingers, I salute you and you know exactly what I am talking about. During my daily commutes, I would stare out of the train at all the disused gardens and empty balconies and wonder why more people hadn’t cottoned on to growing their own.
I am a firm believer of the phrase “if you a job done well do it yourself”, what I needed was not a run of the mill window box from Homebase, but something more sturdy and able to fit my balcony railings. As I worked as a set designer, I had an entire workshop and plenty of scrap wood to play with. Once I had knocked up a box that was a 1.5m x 50cm x 50cm, painted it black, varnished it and attached chains for hanging I was ready to go.
What to grow? As I mentioned earlier your knowledge increases with experience, so I went for herbs and salads, a great starting point. In my box I had a simple armoury of Sage, Thyme, Parsley, Bay, Chives and Rosemary. The rest of the space was left for Spinach, Cayenne chillis, Lola rosa, Rocket and Raddioccho. Not a bad repartee, I am sure you will agree. I felt that these worked best for me because they are mainly for flavouring my cooking experiments and fresh salads for starters.
The key to my success was for three reasons. Firstly, aspect. My window box was positioned so it got sun for most hours of the day. Secondly, my growing medium (essential for a good start and excellent results) consisted of 60% organic soil and 40% organic compost. Finally, I was three floors up and had no risk of slugs, snails and other insect problems. The only problem that did occur was the wilting of some of the lettuces due to lack of water and the spinach, rocket and lola rosa running to seed because of too much sunlight. Here I learnt two valuable lessons for the future.
It would not be for another year that I would be faced with a greater challenge as far as growing vegetables goes...and one that would allow for more variety and even greater potential.
This was it...