Putting your garden to bed…

scabious

Scabious, always so vibrant.

Gardening is such a wonderful thing! It’s good for you physically and mentally and you get lovely flowers of fruit and veg as a reward for all your effort. I must say I am really enjoying the new hour-long editions of Gardener’s World. I did wonder if an hour might drag but it is a tranquil, yet inspirational, hour on a Friday evening – just lovely!

It is easy to think that come the Autumn the garden just goes to sleep until Spring but that’s not the case. Your garden needs help ‘putting to bed’ in all sorts of ways. Put in the work now, and it will pay dividends in the Spring.

It’s always good to be thinking about colour in the garden next year, planning ahead and sowing now will save you a lot of money too. Sow hardy annuals, such as cerinthes, scabiosa and cornflowers, for flowers early next summer. You can also plant wallflowers, pansies, forget-me-nots and other gorgeous spring bedding in pots and borders. And, to keep interest in your garden now, how about planting up containers for autumn colour, using cyclamen, heathers, heucheras and other colourful bedding plants?

One of the best ways to save money and feel chuffed by your own efforts is to collect ripe seeds from your favourite flowers and store in labelled envelopes, ready to sow in spring. I can confirm it is a very good feeling to see the seeds start to germinate.

As you know, I have really been getting into growing veg this year and I want to try and keep greens growing in my raised beds so I am going to sow some hardy greens such as kale, lamb’s lettuce and mustard, for delicious winter pickings.

Rather than splashing out on supermarket-grown herbs, why not pot up herbs, such as chives and parsley, and place on a sunny windowsill to use during winter?

If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse you could plant prepared hyacinth bulbs in pots or hyacinth glasses, for fragrant indoor flowers at Christmas – lovely! You could also plant dwarf spring bulbs in pots, including irises, crocuses and scilla, for early flowers. Remember to keep your eye out for pests and diseases in the greenhouse, and tackle any you find immediately.

Finally – garden maintenance! I know it sounds dull, but these routine jobs can really make a difference. If you have a pond, put netting across to stop autumn leaves falling in and rotting. And, finally,­ and this one is very important – clean out water butts and check downpipes in preparation for autumn rains and leaves. There’s nothing worse than looking out at the pouring rain and seeing your gutters overflowing and knowing that someone (ideally Richard!) will have to go outside and clear the blockage!!

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Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!

widecombemare“Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!”

…so goes the well-known Devon folk song about a man called Tom Pearce, whose poor old horse dies after someone borrows it to travel to the fair in Widecombe with his many, many friends. Although not at all funny for the grey mare, it is a humorous song and often performed by rowdy crowds (all NINE verses of it!) that have enjoyed a little too much cider! It’s such a well-known song that the term ‘Uncle Tom Cobley’ has come to be used as a colloquialism meaning “anyone and everyone”.

widecombehistoryPossibly because of the song both Widecombe and its Fair are famous throughout the country. Widecombe-in-the-Moor, to use its full name, is a picturesque village in the middle of Dartmoor, with a magnificent church (the interestingly named Church of Saint Pancras!), visible from all the surrounding hills and tors and known as ‘the cathedral of the moor’.

widecombeproduce

Widecombe Fair takes place annually on the second Tuesday in September, attracting thousands of visitors to the tiny Dartmoor village. It is still a traditional event full of farmers and local craftsmen and as popular with locals as visitors and well worth a visit. My partner in crime writing, Julia, went along this year to take some photos and soak up the rural tranquillity and a way of life that has gone on for centuries in the Dartmoor valleys.

widecombeanimals

There were sheep shearing competitions, cattle, sheep and pony classes, vintage cars and agricultural machinery and some stompingly good live folk music in the beer tent from morning through to midnight! The obligatory produce tent, crammed with huge vegetables, jams and flower arrangements (and you wonder where we get our inspiration for the Swaddlecombe books?!) is always worth a visit. There was also an interesting area dedicated to ‘Living History’, complete with thatchers and other traditional craftsmen demonstrating their skills. Add to this ferret and terrier racing and the intoxicating smell of steam engines and you have the perfect rural day out!

widecombeadam

Left to right: Was the Reverend Ruminant present at the Fair? Certainly looks like his car! Adam Henson and his BBC film crew… and a traditional bit of ferret racing!

Such is Wideombe Fair’s fame, Julia spotted Adam Henson, the farmer presented from BBC1’s ‘Countryfile’ programme, busy filming at the fair… so, if you keep your eyes peeled you might get to see it on TV!

 

 

 

 

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Easy salmon & pinto bean pâté

Here are a couple of recipes that have proved useful for me when I have friends or family round for a meal. As I have mentioned before I am currently dieting with Slimming World and it’s certainly helping me come up with family-friendly alternatives to the higher calorie, more traditional recipes that I have been used to.

Both recipes could be thinned down with more liquid if you wanted to turn them into dips instead of pâtés – depends what you want them for really!

EasyPatesSalmon, lemon and parsley pâté
Here I used fresh salmon that I cooked in the microwave (only takes 2 or 3 minutes) – but you could use tinned salmon or bought ready cooked salmon.

  • 200g salmon
  • 200g quark (or light Philadelphia, or fromage frais)
  • Handful of fresh parsley
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • Few tablespoons water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Teaspoon (or more) Waitrose crushed chilli (a cooks ingredient in a jar, but other brands would be fine)

Method

  1. Make sure the salmon has no skin or bones – then chuck (technical term) all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking – if it seems too solid then add more water (tablespoon at a time and whizz).
  2. If you don’t have a food processor then a stick blender would work or even just forking it all together.
  3. Serve with toast, or brown bread and butter or as a dip (add more water) with crudities.

Pinto bean, chickpea and sweet chilli pâté
This recipe is ideal for any vegetarians you may have to feed, or just for meat eaters that love chilli!

  • 1 tin pinto beans, drained
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained
  • 3 cloves garlic (or less if you aren’t a garlic fan)
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Few tablespoons of water
  • Blue Dragon light sweet chilli sauce
  • Waitrose cook’s ingredient crushed chilli (or any other brand)

Method

  1. Drain beans well (I usually rinse them quickly in the sieve) and then put all the ingredients into a food processor except the last two. Whizz until smooth – then decide how much chilli sauce and chillis you want to use – I would suggest one or two teaspoons of the chillis and then several tablespoons of the sweet chilli sauce.
  2. Whizz again and check the taste – alter the seasoning and if necessary add a little more water.
  3. Again this could be thinned with more water to make a dip with crudites – or served as a pâté with warm rolls or toast.

 

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Dry your eyes!

OnionChoppedI use onions in cooking most of the time. However, it can be a very tearful experience, as I am sure you all know! I find red onions seem to catch me out more than most and I can be found sobbing over a Bolognese sauce if I get a really strong one.

So why do onions make us cry? I decided to look into it, after a recent tearful stir fry experience, and discovered something I hadn’t known before – much of it is linked to the sharpness of our knives!

Apparently, chopping onions with a blunt knife makes tears much more likely. When you chop onions with a blunt knife, the blade bruises the surface of the onion rather than slicing straight through. This means enzymes are released that can irritate your eyes. Using a very sharp knife when cutting onions can reduce that as it’ll slice right through, rather than crush the skin.

But what is it in onions that causes our eyes to water? It all starts underground as onions absorb sulphur from the earth. This creates a class of volatile organic molecules and when you push a knife through an onion it crushes the cells and releases amino acid sulfoxides to form sulfenic acids.

OnionsThese then react with the air to create a volatile sulphur compound that, when it comes into contact with our eyes, creates a burning and stinging feeling. The tears are our eyes trying to wash the acids away. Most of the acidity is concentrated in the onion’s root.

But dry your eyes and try some of these helpful tips the next time you’re making Bolognese or any other onion-based delight.

  1. Use a sharp knife
    As identified above, make sure you use a sharp knife – this will cut through the onion more smoothly and cause less crushing which will release less acid.
  1. Put it in the fridge/freezer
    Try putting the onion in the fridge 30 minutes before chopping it or in the freezer for 10 -15 minutes – the cold will inhibit the release of the gases. But don’t keep them in the fridge all the time as this will soften them and make them go off quicker.
  1. OnionGogglesOpen a window
    Chop your onions near an open window so the breeze can waft away the acidic fumes – or even a fan or vent if you have one.
  1. Leave the root
    Chop the onion while leaving the root on so as not to release fumes from the most concentrated area.
  1. Soak it in water
    Chop the end off the onion and then put it straight into a bowl of water to soak. The water will draw out the acid making you tear up less when you chop it. However, this could make your onion taste slightly weaker.

And if none of those work… why not treat yourself to some very fetching ‘onion goggles’ now widely available on line!

 

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Anyone for tennis and strawberries?

StrawberryWimbledonThink of Wimbledon… and think strawberries! The two things are always linked in my mind from my earliest childhood memories. Amazingly, around 27,000 kilos of strawberries are consumed during Wimbledon plus, I am sure, an equally huge amount of cream and champagne!

The red heart-shaped strawberry crops up in images all over the place, it is just so very pretty! But it’s not just a pretty face – they are also good for us… that’s minus the cream of course!

Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K as well as providing a good dose of fibre, folic acid, manganese and potassium. They have been used throughout history in medicinally to help with digestive ailments, teeth whitening and skin irritations. It’s thought that their fibre and fructose content may help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing digestion and the fibre is thought to have a satiating effect. And did you know their leaves can be eaten raw, cooked or used to make tea?

3StrawberriesThe vibrant red colour of strawberries is due to large amounts of anthocyanidin, which also means they contain powerful antioxidants and are thought to protect against inflammation, cancer and heart disease. Add to that the fact that a 100g serving of strawberries contains only 32 calories and they really are a bit of a wonder fruit!

Strawberries have a long history and have been enjoyed since the Roman times. Native to many parts of the world, hundreds of varieties of strawberries exist due to crossbreeding techniques Like many other fruits, strawberries make their claim in history as a luxury item enjoyed only by royalty. It has been alleged that newly weds were entitled to strawberries with soured cream as a wedding breakfast, believing them to be an aphrodisiac… I never cease to be amazed by just how many things are supposed to have this effect!

StrawberryTeaWhile British strawberries grown under glass are available from about March to November, the outdoor growing season is short and runs from the end of May through July. To achieve maximum yields during this short season, farmers protect emerging berries from the muddy soil by spreading a layer of straw around each new plant – hence the name strawberry.

Well, It’s been a great Wimbledon this year and I’ve managed to catch the odd glimpse – fingers crossed that Andy Murray can win again. I may be caught nibbling the odd strawberry as I watch the finals over the weekend… enjoy!

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