Peas, please!

Peas – those round, sweet, green things – even people who don’t much like veggies seem to approve of peas. It’s the perfect instant veg, to be whipped out of the freezer and cooked at a moment’s notice, but let me assure you they are even better when picked and eaten fresh.

Lots of people think growing peas is a bit of a waste of time and space… but they have probably never picked them and eaten them straight from the pod. They are so sweet and so delicious! I pick a few at a time, as they mature on the plant, and steam them for a couple of minutes, then run them under cold water and add to my salad alongside my home-grown leaves and broad beans creating a garden salad ­– delicious.

Peas are one of those things that we think of as essentially ‘British’. Fish, chips and mushy peas, pie and peas, pea soup… but as is so often the case when you look into it, they are a relatively recent arrival on our shores and originate from north-west Asia!

But our climate suits them perfectly and they thrive here. As a nation we certainly love them – we eat far more than any other country in Europe, chomping around 9,000 each per year. That’s a lot of peas! Fortunately, they are good for us combining fibre and protein with vitamins and minerals and must be the most popular of the ‘5-a-day’… or is it ‘10-a-day’ now? I can’t keep up!

They are relatively easy to grow either from seed, or you can buy them as small plants. The only real problem is with pigeons… they love them! Having lost an entire crop in one day a few years ago, I now cover them with netting. Even then, they still get a bit nibbled. But to me, the sweetness, the vivid colour and that pleasing ‘pop’ of the pod makes them all worthwhile

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Elderflower and strawberry jam

Making your own preserves is a very satisfying thing to do. Those pretty rows of little jars full of homemade goodness make me feel very pleased with myself! It’s always good to try and ring the changes and, although strawberry jam is a huge family favourite, I thought the addition of elderflower sounded fun.

Ingredients:

  • 2kg (4lbs) strawberries
  • 2kg (4lbs) preserving sugar
  • Juice from three lemons
  • 8 large elderflower heads

Method:

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

To intensify the strawberry flavour, prepare the berries and put them in your preserving pan (or large saucepan) add the sugar and lemon juice and leave (covered) overnight.

Now start to heat them slowly and add the elderflowers. This should be done by first shaking the flowers (adding creepy crawlies to jam really isn’t a good thing) and then picking off the flowers and add to the strawberry mix.

Stir well and bring to the boil for about 5 minutes. Skim off the scum that may form on the surface.

If you have a sugar thermometer then boil until it reaches 105ºC and then test a small spoonful on the cold saucer. Place the test spoonful and saucer in the fridge and within 5 minutes it should have formed a skin that wrinkles when you push it. If this doesn’t happen then boil again for another couple of minutes and try again.

Once you are happy that it has reaching the setting point, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes and fill the sterilised jars.

This is particularly nice with scones and Devon clotted cream – me biased, not a chance!

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James Wong – what a great writer!

James Wong – what a great writer! Just occasionally I come across a writer or a new book that really grabs me and this was the case with James.

The first book I bought was ‘How to Eat Better’ which I saw mentioned in Good Food magazine. It’s really fascinating and has masses of facts that made me exclaim out loud as I read through… possibly a little annoying for Richard! Did you know smaller (and therefore cheaper) blueberries are better for you than the big ones – green asparagus is much better for you than white? Lazy people rejoice as apparently the vac packed and cooked beetroot has as many good things going for it than boiling and peeling your own… and so the list went on.

I felt sorry for Richard listening to my reading out paragraphs aloud and so bought him (and his brother) a copy of James Wong’s ‘Grow for Flavour’ which has so many tips and tricks that help in the garden. For example – watering tomatoes with seawater gives them a much better taste – giving hard to germinate seeds like parsley a quick dose of soluble aspirin helps them along – and yes you guessed, Richard is now reading out bits to me from his book!

Finally, having been so interested in his other books I treated both myself and my sister (I love giving books) to ‘Grow your own Drugs‘ – Kate was a little worried as it had to get through the mail and therefore the Jersey Customs department but, so far it all seems to have gone swimmingly! As I have a summer cold at the moment I was very taken with the recipe intended to help colds and flu – Echinacea Ice Lollies. This contains 80ml of vodka and that alone has to cheer things up! But there are plenty of other ingredients that should ease the throat. Disappointingly, the vodka is to soak the Echinacea root and doesn’t actually make an appearance in the finished lolly – hmm, sad.

Just thought I would share these titles with you – I love books with useful hints and tips and James is certainly an author I will look out for him in future programmes – he has shared a TV series with another person I admire – Dr Michael Moseley and has covered the Chelsea Flower show with the BBC team … I will be keeping an eye out!

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Dad’s garden!

Many fathers love gardening so this dad’s garden design is great for Father’s Day or as a dad’s birthday card. But, as plenty of Mums enjoy gardening too, it’s a really versatile and unisex card that you can change to suit!

The main image comes – as many of my favourite cards do – from the Jane Shasky ‘From the heart of the Garden’ CD.

Ingredients:

Quick ‘how to’:

  1. Trim some kraft card to slightly less than the main card and attach to the card blank. Cut some green spotty paper or card (or any other backing paper you have) to about 7½” square and diecut some trellis corners into it.
  2. Attach that to the main card and then cut out a large flower shaped piece of beige spotty card – or draw round a circle to get a piece that will fit without covering the corners.
  3. Layer the main image from the Jane Shasky CD (in the decoupage section) onto green card and add to card. Cut out and build the decoupaged layers.
  4. Finally embellish with a couple of ivy corners diecut in green and the ladybirds and letters – the great thing about this design is that you can tweak it to suit whoever you like using whatever you have and that’s always an easy solution!

 

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Pansies in a teacup

 

Pansies in a teacup – it’s a gorgeous card, isn’t it? I love it – ok, it’s flowers, and as you know… I always like flowery cards. This, as always, is a relatively simple card to create – thank you dies and a few other techniques thrown in for good measure!

Ingredients:

Quick ‘how to’:

  1. Print out some lace backing paper, the tea cup and pansies from the decoupage section of the CD – print it out several times so that you can have as many layers as you wish.
  2. Edge the larger piece of backing paper slightly smaller than main blank with the gold pen by holding it at a right angle to the edge of the paper and just sliding it down, attach with double sided tape.
  3. Stick a smaller piece of backing paper (same height just chop an inch or so off each side) onto some card to strengthen it and then attach to card using glue gel or foam pads.
  4. Now die cut the borders and add those. Cut out the topper and mount that onto the same white/cream card and attach that with glue gel or foam pads. Now decide how many layers of teacup you would like and likewise pansies. Attach all of those with glue gel. Finally using the last teacup, cover it with glossy accents or diamond glaze or whatever shiny substance you like using to make it glossy. Leave to dry and then add that to the card.
  5. The pansies on this example have all been die cut in white and then coloured with alcohol ink pens – but if you hate colouring then you can die cut in yellow, purple and green and paper piece the flowers.
  6. Arrange them in a nice group on the bottom right, fix with glue gel and your card is finished!
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