Hail king cauliflower!

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that seem to be back in vogue all of a sudden due, in part, to some bad publicity. It recently hit the headlines when a supermarket received criticism for selling ‘cauliflower steaks’ (thick slices to you and me!) for more than the cost of buying a whole cauliflower! A case of ‘clever’ marketing – and the need for the consumer to shop sensibly, if ever there was one.

In these days of trying to eat more healthily and to consume less meat, the cauliflower has got quite a lot to offer. In my youth, I was not a fan. It was usually served soggy and grey having been overcooked or slathered in a tasteless cheese sauce. It’s only recently that the dear old cauli has been recognised as having a lot more potential.

I think its texture has much to do with its resurgence – it is substantial and can stand up to pickling, pan frying, roasting and even barbecuing. You can marinade it whole and roast it for a rather impressive looking vegetarian meal, or go completely the other way and break up the florets into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles couscous to create cauliflower ‘rice’. This is a really clever option as it creates a low calorie, healthy, low-carb meal or side dish and has only about a quarter of the carbohydrates of traditional rice.

While cauliflower has a distinctive taste, it also takes up other flavours well. I particularly like it in a curry as the florets stay firm and it tastes great with curry spices. The idea of steaks is a clever one – cutting big slabs of cauliflower and then cooking them in oil and herbs creates a lovely main course. Cauliflower cheese, when made properly – pre-cooked cauli mixed into a rich cheese sauce and then sprinkled with extra cheese and browned under the grill – is a super comfort food.

Cauliflowers are available pretty much all year round, which makes it extra useful when so many other veg have given up for the winter. Predictably, supermarkets demand their cauliflowers white and pristine but look out for cheaper creamier coloured ones from a greengrocer or farmers’ market. As long as they are clean and firm, they are perfectly fine. Of course, cauliflowers don’t only come in white… there are purple and orange varieties and the stunning looking Romanesco with its lime green pointy florets that look like some clever architectural design. It’s not strictly a cauliflower but is closely related.

Sadly, growing them yourself is not that easy and you need to be a pretty dedicated veg grower to succeed. They need plenty of space, a rich soil and then a cage or netting to try and keep cabbage white butterflies and greedy pigeons away! It’s one of those veg, like sweet corn and asparagus, that I find it easier to just buy when I fancy them. But if you want to have a go at growing them, you’ve still got a few weeks to get them planted. You’ll find lots of advice on how to grow them online, as ever the RHS website has it covered.

 

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“Rhubarb rhubarb!”

I do enjoy Gardener’s World – an hour of delightful diversion, relaxing and thoroughly good for you. Whenever Monty Don so much as mentions a plant that I have in my garden I instantly feel as if this makes me a Proper Gardener. So, imagine my excitement last Friday when he was talking about picking your first rhubarb of the year and went on to say how a breakfast of stewed rhubarb and yoghurt was one of the most delicious breakfasts you could eat… that was just what I had tucked into myself earlier in the day! The combination is so yummy (a top culinary term!) the creamy yoghurt and tart rhubarb – and what’s more, it makes you feel virtuous as a healthy breakfast choice.

I think rhubarb is a bit like beetroot or avocado, a very distinct taste and you either love it or hate it. I love it, and it is so easy to grow! Our rhubarb is only about three years old (you shouldn’t harvest from it in the first year), but it is huge! Wrestling the stalks off the plant can be quite hard work (you have to carefully pull and not cut) and the enormous leaves need to be cut off and put straight in the compost bin, as they are poisonous. Unfortunately, people have been poisoned after eating the leaves. This was a particular problem during the First World War when the leaves were mistakenly recommended as a food source!

Rhubarb is such an easy thing to grow and you get so much back from it and I, for one, like its rather exuberant appearance. Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable but it is treated as a fruit, despite its tart flavour, you really can’t eat it raw and must add sugar. It goes well with ginger and strawberries… as well as custard and cream! And let’s be honest – is there anything more wonderful than a rhubarb crumble? Do you like rhubarb? If so, what do you make with it? Do share!

Rhubarb grows in two crops, the first arrives early in the year and is ‘forced’, or grown under pots, or those lovely tall terracotta forcers made especially for the job. The ‘rhubarb triangle’ around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford is renowned for its production of delicate forced rhubarb, grown by candlelight inside sheds… I saw a TV programme on it once – fascinating!  You can read more about it here.

Forced rhubarb is a lovely pale pink, with lime green leaves, and it is the more tender and delicately flavoured of the two crops. The second, called main crop rhubarb, arrives in the spring and is grown outdoors and is what most of us have sprouting in our gardens. Its stalks are a deeper red, tinged with green, and its leaves a brighter green. It has a more intense flavour and a more robust texture than the forced crop.

Rhubarb is a fruit (or vegetable!) that has many health claims attributed to it. As ever, I think we have to take some of these with a pinch of salt – or spoonful of sugar in this case! Rhubarb is packed with minerals, vitamins, organic compounds, and other nutrients that make it a good healthy option. Some of these components include dietary fibre, protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, B complex vitamins, calcium, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Every serving of rhubarb provides 45% of the daily value in vitamin K, which supports healthy bone growth and can limit neuronal damage in the brain.

And if you’ve ever wondered why we use the term ‘Rhubarb rhubarb’… it goes back to 1852, when the theatre company of English actor Charles at the Princess’s Theatre, London would say the word rhubarb repetitively to mimic the sound of indistinct conversation in any crowd scenes, the word having been chosen because it does not have harsh-sounding consonants or clear vowels. So there you have it!

 

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Why butterflies are best!

Butterflies are unendingly popular – and not just popular with us crafters, but also the world. They are beautiful fragile fluttery little things (and sometimes not so little) that captivate us all.

Butterflies also demonstrate so well how a very average looking young person can change into a real beauty as they mature – sadly it sometimes works the other way too and stunning little Hollywood starlets can look wonderfully average as adults!

For those of us fascinated by crafting, of any type, the butterfly has many good points. They are beautiful in shape and colour and can be the focus of any project, blending with any natural world theme. But the best – and I mean THE best – reason why I use butterflies so often is that they are the best mistake coverer uppers (is that a word?!) ever

So many times I have slipped with the glue, designed something and then hated the spacing, or had a helpful animal or small child add a pawprint or handprint that I needed to cover to save my projects. Enter the butterfly either in 2D or 3D and your project is saved.

I have often cut a little extra butterfly out and used it to make the card better balanced. As I mentioned I have covered marks/glue that shouldn’t be visible, but also adding a butterfly can just give your project that perfect finish and extra lift. These Jane Shasky butterflies come in a pad brimming with little butterflies and you can use them as the focal points like these examples or grab one to flutter on the side of a topper to make something wonderful!

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The hedgehog – not such a prickly character!

Well, there’s a thing! I looked out of the kitchen window the other evening and there, trotting across the drive in the dusk, was a hedgehog!

Fifty years ago, this would have been an unremarkable event as these prickly little characters were regular visitors to our gardens but, like so many of our native creatures, they have suffered a huge decline over the past few decades. Sadly, it’s the same old story – the once common hedgehog is under threat from development and the loss of its habitat with hedgerows disappearing.

In just the last 10 years, hedgehog numbers have fallen by 30%, and there are now thought to be fewer than one million left in the UK. The Wildlife Trusts say that hedgehogs are disappearing from our countryside as fast as tigers are worldwide – isn’t that sad.

There’s something terribly endearing about hedgehogs, from their funny little round bodies to their twitchy noses – and let’s face it, most of us were brought up with Mrs Tiggy-Winkle! A hedgehog washerwoman who lives in a tiny cottage in the fells of the Lake District, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle appeared in 1905 and is the creation of Beatrix Potter.

They are such comical little creatures, toddling around like little old folk that it always comes as a surprise at how fast they can move, and how long their legs are when a turn of speed is required! The one in my garden positively raced off into the flower border when the outside security light came on.

When I was a child, we would always leave out a bowl of bread and milk. Sadly, we now know that hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so I don’t think any of us helped much, although we obviously meant well! Apparently, the best thing to give them is a dish of cat food. In the wild, hedgehogs live on a diet of invertebrates, such as snails, slugs and worms and can get through about 100 every night! Great news for gardeners, but of course you need to not use poisonous slug pellets.

Despite their beady little black eyes that appear so alert, hedgehogs have poor eyesight. They are quite curious animals and they do tend to fall into holes and get stuck, so make sure you cover up any open drains and gullies. If you have a pond, make sure you provide an access point so that hedgehogs can climb back out – this can be achieved by simply placing some stones at one end.

If you’d like to try and help and encourage hedgehogs, there’s really useful information on the Wildlife Trusts website.

Another really good website is Hedgehog Street 

 

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Milking it…

Lovely local milk in glass bottles in the village shop!

Sometimes, you just have to give a wry smile and resist saying anything… this was my reaction when I overheard some earnest 20-somethings discussing the environmental benefits of buying milk in a glass bottle from our local shop and what a brilliant development this was. It IS an excellent development and the aim of reducing plastic use is long overdue… but it’s hardly new!

As a child, I used to listen out for the hum of the milk float – a battery-driven vehicle (gosh, how very ‘green’!) and the clink of our pints of milk being delivered to the porch. There was always the rush to get to the bottles before the blue tits had pecked through the lids and got at the cream on the top! Amazingly… we even used to recycle back in the dark ages of the 1950s too! Every housewife would wash out her ‘empties’ and put them back on the step for them to be replaced with new bottles of fresh milk the next day.

We collected the silver foil caps and recycled them (care of Blue Peter appeals) and the trusty milkman provided an excellent neighbourhood watch facility, spotting when anything was amiss if a householder didn’t take in their milk. He also sold eggs, bread and tinned goods, amongst other things, and must have been an absolute lifeline for elderly customers. Fancy that – home grocery deliveries! Now, where have I seen that recently?

It is lovely to see milk in bottles back in my local shop although the realisation that the bottles were one litre rather than one pint took me a moment – I couldn’t understand why they seemed so large! The milk is from a local dairy so there’s no problem with ‘food miles’ and the cows that produced the milk would have been grazing in fields quite nearby. Who knows where the milk in our supermarkets comes from? And it seems sometimes we can’t even believe the cheery information on the label as some supermarket ‘farms’ are completely fictitious.

It sometimes seems to me that we rush headlong into new ideas and don’t think about the possible side effects, as with the dominance of the supermarkets and the loss of milk rounds and many of our high street shops. But most developments are, of course, huge improvements and we must be open to change. However, I for one will be very pleased if the milkman and his humming milk float make a return to our streets, perhaps other much-missed aspects of earlier decades will come back too…

 

 

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