Love your lettuce!

What a Little Gem!If you think lettuce is just lettuce – think again! Before you start sowing and planting your salad leaves this year, give some thought about how you’d like to use it in your dishes once you have grown it.

Little Gem
What a gem it is – small and sweet! It is the perfect size if you’re serving up a salad for one. You can use the leaves whole or cut the head into quarters.

Cos
A flavoursome, long-headed lettuce with crisp, green, narrow leaves. Perfect for a classic Caesar salad with shavings of parmesan and croutons.

Cos lettuce works really well in a Caesar salad.Italian lettuce
These are fast growing, colourful varieties – they look great in the salad bowl or as a garnish. What I like about them is they are ‘cut and come again’ varieties, so you can pick them by the leaf, rather than as a whole head, and they will keep on growing. 

Iceberg
Years ago, I always used Iceberg lettuce as a crunchy base for prawn cocktails – the height of sophistication for a dinner party starter! It is a crunchy, crisp head lettuce, that can be cut into chunks, shredded, or the larger curved leaves used whole as a dish, or a wrap, for an attractive and healthy presentation. It keeps well in the fridge and can be eaten a bit at a time.

Versatile Iceberg makes a healthy bowl or wrap.When you pick your home-grown lettuce, wash your lettuce leaves in cold water, carefully checking for insects! Pat them dry with kitchen paper or use a salad spinner to dry them.

Try not to use a knife on your leaves as this can bruise them. Instead break or tear them into bite-sized pieces ready for use in your salad or sandwich.

 

0 Comments

Whisky and Orange Marmalade

I am sure this really ought to be orange and whisky marmalade but it sounded so much more exciting this way round! We have had a slight dilemma recently as my late stepfather was too gentle and polite to tell us that he had virtually stopped drinking whisky and so, every time he was given yet another bottle by the children or grandchildren, he would hide it away in a cupboard! So we recently discovered eight bottles of Johnny Walker in the cupboard in their bedroom!

Now Richard is manfully trying to help and not waste it (yeah, right,Richard!) but as we are both trying to diet and improve our health, it will be a very long time before we wade through that many bottles. So I started looking around for recipes that would incorporate the whisky without being foolish with it. I found this one on the BBC Good Food site so a big ‘thank you’ to them! This marmalade is delicious and, of course, you could use different alcohol – Cointreau sounds good. I also wondered about swapping the fruit and perhaps trying Satsumas?

Ingredients
This makes about 10 one pound jars so you could halve the amounts

  • 1.3kg Seville oranges
  • 2 lemons, juice only
  • 2 ¼ kg granulated or preserving sugar
  • 450g dark muscovado sugar
  • 150ml whisky

Method
1. Place the whole oranges and lemon juice in a large preserving pan and cover with 2 litres (4 pints) water. If this is not enough to cover the fruit, put it in a smaller pan. If necessary, weight the oranges with a heat-proof plate to keep them under the water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer very gently for about 2 hours, or until the peel can be pierced easily with a fork.

2. Warm half of the white and dark sugar in a very low oven. Pour off the cooking water from the oranges into a jug and tip the oranges into a bowl. Return the cooking liquid to the pan. Leave the oranges to cool until they are easy to handle, then cut them in half. Scoop out all the pips and pith and add these to reserved orange liquid in the pan. Bring to the boil for 6 minutes then strain this liquid through a sieve into a bowl, pressing the pulp through with a wooden spoon; the result is high in pectin, which helps to ensure the marmalade has a good set.

3. Pour half this liquid into a preserving pan. Cut the peel into chunky shreds, using a sharp knife. Add half the peel to the liquid in the preserving pan with the warm white and dark muscovado sugars. Stir over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and bubble rapidly for 15-25 minutes until setting point is reached. Stir in half the whisky.

4. Take the pan off the heat and skim any scum from the surface. (To dissolve any excess scum, drop a small knob of butter on the surface, and gently stir.) Leave the marmalade to stand in the pan for 20 minutes to cool a little and to allow the peel to settle, then pot in sterilised jars, seal and label. Repeat for the remaining batch.

4 Comments

Vegetable garden update!

Top to bottom: New little seedlings, fabulous kale, reliable rosemary and beautiful bay!I was so inspired by the few veggies we grew last year that I decided we would expand production a little this season. We have invested in some plastic cloches – not the fabulous glass Victorian bells I would have liked, but hey this veg growing lark has to have a budget! About a week ago we planted out the little raised beds under the cloches and as you can just see from the photo – baby plants are just appearing. So far we have radishes (a real favourite of mine), rocket, assorted salad leaves and exotic salad leaves.

We are bravely attempting to dig a large potato and carrot bed further down the garden as again these are veggies we eat often. Regarding less popular greens in this household(!) the kale I have just picked looks amazing in this photo doesn’t it? Well I thoroughly enjoyed it – lightly steamed and very yummy. Richard however ate it dutifully and tried to smile when I said let’s plant that again this year … I think we might skip that one! I failed somewhat with the cauliflowers and sprouting broccoli too so will probably skip brassicas altogether for now.

The other things I like growing in abundance are herbs. Hurray for all year round rosemary (due for a haircut to be used with Easter Sunday’s lamb) and my lovely little bay trees. The strange black wires you can see within the bay foliage are because I have solar powered twinkling lights wound through all the bay trees on the patio and very pretty they look too. My mint is sprouting nicely, as is the thyme and I noticed this morning my alpine strawberries (Grace’s favourite in the garden) are looking very happy too.

As you can see from my little one metre square raised beds on the patio… you don’t need tons of space to grow at least something. My next project is to sort out some really nice tomatoes… watch this space!

1 Comment

It’s all in the heritage…

I want to grow vegetables that are tasty and a little bit different. Supermarkets are full of mass produced ‘perfect’ red tomatoes and strawberries but sadly they are so very often lacking in taste. I have long been attracted to the vegetables that they used to grow in Victorian times with their unusual colourings, such as purple carrots, and interested in the whole ‘heritage vegetable’ idea. 

If you watch any of the many cookery programmes on TV you may well have heard the presenters talking about ‘heritage carrots’ and ‘heirloom tomatoes’ and the like. As so often happens, old-fashioned has become the new fashion! And thank goodness for that as many traditional types of fruit and vegetable have been all but lost in recent years, falling foul of EU rules and the rise of commercial agriculture. Now, the law and consumer attitudes are changing and ‘heritage’ or ‘heirloom’ crops, passed down through the generations, are making a comeback. 

Historically, thousands of different fruit and vegetable varieties were grown on a small scale for people who lived off the land. Many varieties up until the 1920s, maybe later, were bred for gardeners rather than for mass production. But with the move towards intensive farming, the focus was on a small number of crop varieties. Rules introduced by the EU in the 1970s restricted the trade of seed that had not been through an expensive registration process. Sadly, the result was that thousands of heritage varieties became extinct while many others declined. However…

‘Black Russian’ tomato.Last year EU laws surrounding non-commercial seed were relaxed and there’s been a surge of renewed interest in old-fashioned seed varieties, not least because of the recent trend for sustainability and home-grown vegetables and no – surprise here – it is also because many of the crops just taste better!

There are lots of interesting things about heritage veg – for example, look at a tomato variety called the Black Russian. Mainstream varieties are bred with a thick skin to protect them in transit on their way to the supermarket, but this traditional variety has a very thin skin, from a time when crops were eaten straight from the garden. And it tastes like a proper tomato too! 

One of the fascinations with heritage crops is their individual histories. Take this lovely story: The Trail of Tears Bean, a small, rich-flavoured variety, got its name from Cherokee Indians, who took the bean with them when they were displaced by American settlers in 1838. The bean is now an heirloom passed down through the generations and safe-guarded by Garden Organic in the UK. How wonderful is that?

‘Trail of Tears’.But the most important thing about of these old varieties may be in the genetic variety they have to offer in the future. As farmers have concentrated on producing few select varieties, the gene pool has shrunk. Experts say it is essential that we preserve these different varieties because we may well need them if one of the big commercial varieties fails… Yet another example of when biggest is not always best. I shall now go and research the history of my vegetable seeds before I start planting!

2 Comments

‘Vegging out’ is good for you!

It’s been a very mild, wet winter here in Devon and I haven’t been able to get out in the garden much at all as the ground has been so saturated. My lovely raised beds that Richard constructed for me last Autumn are sitting empty and calling to me to be planted. So far, I have had to keep my green fingers occupied by leafing through seed catalogues and Googling different varieties of veggies… but very soon it will be time for me to make a start!

I find Sutton Seeds (coincidentally, Suttons are based just down the road from me near Paignton) Facebook page and blogs very useful for ideas and for advising when to get on and do things. I was interested to see that they have designed a special range of vegetable and flower seeds with 25p from the sale of each promotional pack going to Cancer Research UK. Not only is this a vary commendable idea, it also links in to the fact that the actual act of gardening is good for us – in so many ways.

Here are some interesting facts from the Cancer Research UK website:

  • Around 3,400 cases of cancer in the UK each year could be prevented by keeping active.
  • Heavy gardening counts as moderate activity
  • Healthier diets could help prevent 1 in 10 cancers.
  • Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and can affect the risk of some cancer types, like mouth and throat cancers.
  • Choose fruit and vegetables with a variety of colours to help you include a broad range of vitamins and minerals in your diet. The chemicals that give these foods their colour are often the same ones that are good for you.

So gardening and growing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can play their part in keeping us healthy. And let’s face it, being outside in the fresh air is always an uplifting experience. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with plenty of wild birds, they can really enhance your gardening experience too!

Sigh… no, not my veg beds, but the most perfect veg garden ever at RHS Rosemoor in North Devon. They even have Peter Rabbit!A total of 15 different packets make up Sutton’s special range. Each packet contains 2 varieties. This helps to broaden the range of vitamins and minerals and also the range of colours. For example, the Mangetout Pea packet contains both Shiraz and Oregon varieties and so will produce both deep purple and vibrant green pods. Attractive, tasty and healthy!

I really enjoy my veg, so being able to grow my own will be thrilling and the flavours really are so much more intense than shop bought examples. I don’t have a great deal of space, so I will think carefully about what I grow and there’s lots of excellent advice online. If you don’t have a garden, or only a very small one, you can still grow all sorts of vegetables in tubs and window boxes.

To view the Cancer Research UK Vegetable Seed Range in full, please click here.

0 Comments