Onion soup

Despite being June, it’s definitely soup weather. I’ve already made several of my classic green soups, mainly using Swiss chard, herbs and assorted bought vegetables but this week I’ve also been experimenting with onion soup. I’ve got a bit of an onion glut. The autumn planted allotment onions are absolute stunners. Here they are back in early May:

20190505_160930Since then they have grown even bigger and more beautiful and have been the subject of much admiration by passing allotmenteers. Meanwhile the overwintering red onions in the garden have also done really well, even though they were planted in the dark, back in November . However, they are beginning to go over a bit and are  in danger of some kind of nasty rotty, blight thing. So, anticipating serious onion glut, I thought it was time to think of a way of cooking the garden ones. Soup seemed the right thing and cream of onion soup seemed more appropriate for these lovely fresh things than French onion soup.  Recipe, adapted from several books, but very basic:

Cream of onion soup

  • A bunch of onions – as many or as few as you have to hand
  • A glug of olive oil
  • vegetable stock
  • a little cream or milk
  • assorted herbs: tarragon, chives, mint
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Carefully wash the onions to remove soil and wildlife
  2. Chop them up roughly, include some of the green shoots if you’ve grown them yourself
  3. Fling them in a large pan with a glug of olive oil
  4. 20190612_200505Simmer very gently with the lid on the pan, stirring frequently to stop the onions browning, for about 15 minutes
  5. Add hot stock and bring to the boil
  6. Liquidise
  7. Add a small amount of cream or milk (not necessary but makes it a little creamier)
  8. Throw in some random herbs – this one has chopped chives20190611_130249This is one I made earlier. The second one came out a little greener than this because of the added onion shoots but tasted pretty good, just the same.

The perfect recipe for a miserable cold June night or even a lovely sunny one.

London flowers

I’ve been away again and not gardening or blogging as much as I should. I was in London for a family event but I sought out some floweriness even in the big city.  As part of #30DaysWild I tried to find some wildness in the city parks and found these glorious (if not actually wild) foxgloves.

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There is a bee in the white one on the right, making it a little bit wild:20190608_130113The highlight though was my adult son’s suggestion to go and look at the roses in Regent’s Park. He’s always been a flower lover and it was entirely in keeping that we made this detour to sniff flowers:

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.. just roses though, no embarrassing photos of him now or when he was four (though there are many).

Now I’m home and the garden is growing beautifully and the wildlife is doing what wildlife does:

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Over at the allotment, things are less cheery as the slugs and snails have demolished my peas but the beans and onions are doing well and I’ll sow some more peas in the hope that they’ll catch up.

 

Thirty days wild

It’s June, so it’s time for #30DaysWild – an annual event run by the Wildlife Trusts  to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature. I try to appreciate nature every day, not just in June, but the 30 Days Wild event makes me try that little bit harder. My busy city life doesn’t usually allow me time to do some of the more adventurous things suggested by the Wildlife Trusts but I try to find some joy in nature in my garden, my allotment and in the urban landscape. While it’s easy to find wildness in the garden and allotment, I can also find nature walking to and from work, taking a moment just to listen to the birds or to notice the wildflowers growing between the paving stones or the roses escaping from the gardens. I’ve followed 30 days wild for a couple of years now – see previous posts here and here and even tried to do it in December  to lift the winter gloom.

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December was a bit of a struggle, but it’s easy to find joy in nature in June. The start of the month has proved a little challenging as I was travelling and busy with work but I shared the shelter of marble pillars outside an art gallery with a little bird, as a thunderstorm raged around us:

20190530_154555Now I’m home and able to enjoy the simple pleasures of a bee on the clover which has rooted in the paving in my front garden:

20190602_122638and the rose ‘Shropshire Lad’ which I planted beside the back hedge to provide scent and colour where there used to a conifer desert

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I’ll keep tweeting some wildness every day on my twitter account @GreenBeanJackie  If you look at the #30DaysWild hashtag you’ll find lots of other people enjoying nature in extraordinary and everyday places. I hope you all have a wild month!

 

 

A stressful time of year

Today I had to dig up my awesome rainbow chard plants to make way for cucumbers and runner beans:

20190525_111939[1]Most of this sadly had to land in the compost bin, but I saved a big bucketful to live on for the next few days:

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We are subsisting almost entirely on rainbow chard and rhubarb at the moment which is probably not a good thing. Never-the-less I felt dreadful pulling these up when they still have some life in them. So I’ve planted out some tiny replacements in the wildlife area. These plants seem to be so robust that they might just grow there and can act as perennial vegetables for longer next year if they survive:

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Then I planted out some baby cucumbers and runner beans in the empty beds

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You may have noticed some more rainbow chard in between the bean poles. Just making sure that we don’t starve next May when that is all there is.

This moment in the garden always feels a little nerve-wracking. Planting carefully tended seedlings, grown from tiny seeds, out into the big scary world, full of slugs and snails, cats, cold, drought and invading weeds. However, I’ve put my tried and tested slug and cat protection devices out and covered the cucumbers with a cloche. Usually enough plants will survive to provide a bean and cucumber glut in August but there’s always a sense of uncertainty. That’s the excitement of vegetable growing – the uncertainty, the stress of not knowing, the creative cooking required when everything succeeds and the joy when things work out well.

 

Cottage garden

Warm sunshine, pouring rain, warm sunshine again – it’s party time for the weeds in my garden and allotment. This morning I tackled the weeds in the front garden, which if you’ve been paying attention, is a former paved over car parking space, converted to what can only be described as a ‘cottage garden’.  In other words it is full of herbs, lovely flowers, interesting wildlife and a lot of weeds. The weeds creep under the paving and up through the bricks unnoticed until I go out and get down on my hands and knees and haul them out. While down there I get to notice all the other fascinating things going on:

 

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that the Canterbury bells are flowering and so are the chives. The Canterbury bells are amongst the most prolific weedy things but they are beautiful. The chives are more deliberate and their flowers will adorn a few salads. I’ve just noticed the jolly snail underneath the chives.

20190519_174200The cherry tree is covered in fruit – I’ll wait and see if any of the cherries get to ripen before the birds snaffle them.

20190519_174645The ladybirds have been very busy all month and have now started producing babies, which, I hope, will eat even more of the aphids which are afflicting the roses. The roses are beginning to flower though – first of all the wild rose:

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and then the Gertrude Jekyll

20190519_174209The Benjamin Britten will be next, with lots of buds about to open. Underneath the rose bush and lurking behind the water butt, I found the other essential of the cottage garden:

20190519_174720Bella is losing the territory battle with the invasive Chelsea at the moment and so has taken to hiding behind water butts in the front garden in the hope that no one will notice her there.

Yesterday, while the weeds enjoyed the downpours, I didn’t do any gardening but we had a visitor, an old family friend from Denmark . I had made a big pot of green soup from the rainbow chard, a garden salad and a rhubarb cake,

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hoping she was the kind of person who would appreciate garden produce. It turns out she was a vegetable gardener herself. She loved the soup and the cake and went away with the remains of my rainbow chard seeds to grow herself.  The rhubarb cake is rather good, based on a tried and tested recipe for apple gingerbread but using rhubarb instead.

Rhubarb gingerbread *

(makes one loaf sized cake. Double quantities for a square cake)

  • 75g butter
  • 75g sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 1 tblsp black treacle
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1tsp ground ginger (or grated fresh ginger)
  • about 250g of rhubarb puree
  • 1 egg
  1. Grease and line a loaf tin (or use double quantities to make two small cakes or one large square cake)
  2. Melt the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle in a pan
  3. Sieve the flour and spices into a large bowl
  4. Beat in the syrup mixture, the apple puree and the beaten egg
  5. Pour into the cake tin and bake for about 50 mins at 180C /Gas Mark 4

*Recipe based on ‘The Apple Book’ by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan. Just as good with apples instead of rhubarb!

 

Planting peas

I didn’t get much gardening done this weekend: housework, walking thousands of steps round Edinburgh and visiting relatives took up too much time, which was, mostly, not a bad thing.

However I did get out for a couple of hours this evening and moved the pea glut onwards. The peas have germinated beautifully in their pots in the seed palace. So I planted them all out with various anti-slug and anti-cat devices.

There are four varieties here: Carouby de Mausaune, Pea Prussian Blue, Sugar pea ‘Norli’ red flowered ‘Grijs’ and the heritage ‘Salmon Pink’.

Pictures from previous years (apart from Prussian Blue which is new to me this year) to see how they should turn out if all goes well:

I have a few more waiting in the seed house to go to the allotment so we should have a decent glut this year, as well as the glorious flowers.

Meanwhile, we had our first, and probably only radishes in a salad:

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These are the beautiful, if unproductive radish purple plum, grown from last year’s seed

It’s still too cold to move the tomatoes and cucumbers out to the seed house but at least I feel that the vegetable season is seriously underway.

 

On not growing cauliflowers

Last night I was out for a meal with some visiting work colleagues at a rather overpriced hipster restaurant. Since we don’t eat out much and when we do we tend to go to the same old places, I was a little out of touch with what the trendier menus have to offer. I made the error of ordering the ‘cauliflower steak’, which is, apparently, a ‘thing’. I thought it sounded alright until I realised it was basically some unappealing couscous, topped with a great lump of charred cauliflower. I was too polite to make a fuss but compared to the joy which is a well made cauliflower cheese, it was a serious disappointment. Everybody else, tucking into their meaty plates, seemed to have heard of this abomination but chose not to warn me. It was, otherwise, a very pleasant and sociable evening, with considerable laughter, if only the others laughing at me for my poor choice of meal.

But what does this have to do with gardening? Three things

  1. The ensuing discussion about cauliflowers provided an opportunity for me to pass on some education regarding vegetable growing to my colleagues. For example that, despite the restaurant’s claim to serve local seasonal produce, it is unlikely that cauliflowers are in season in Scotland in May. This enlightened my colleagues to all sorts of things about me, ‘you do have a hobby other than work then?’ . I didn’t mention the blog.
  2. My left alone at home assistant had a much better meal: leftover green soup, made the night before from very much in season Swiss Chard (although he did miss out on the entertaining conversation, laughter and some overpriced red wine):

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3. I have never successfully grown a cauliflower and am not further tempted to try. But I will continue to buy them from time to time from farmer’s markets and make them into proper cauliflower cheese, as God intended them to be served.

Update – how to cook a cauliflower –

  1. purchase from farmer’s market (don’t attempt to grow yourself)
  2. Break into florets – that’s how they are designed!
  3. Steam lightly and smother in cheese sauce (with some added home grown onions)*

 

*permitted vegan uses of cauliflower include cauliflower curry (thanks Tootlepedal for the reminder), cauliflower soup and the satisfying crunch of cauliflower in piccalilli

 

Juggling rainbows

It’s May and should  be the time to get lots of things going in the garden but the last week has been too nippy for me to dare put very much outside or even out to the seed palace.  The tomatoes are taking over the windowsill inside and I haven’t yet sown any courgettes, marrows or runner beans. I could get going with digging my runner bean trench but the raised bed identified for the beans is still full of onions which are not quite ready to harvest. That’s the trouble with rotating vegetables round a few raised beds.

However, at the allotment there is a little more room for manouvre . The allotment onions are also doing very well:

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There is currently no queue to take their place and a separate bed has been identified for the runner beans and peas so I got out the spade, soaked some newspapers in a bucket and got the the bean trench going. I’ll sow the beans in containers at home and take them along to plant out in a few weeks. For details of how I dig my bean trenches, see here.

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I usually plant rainbow chard in the middle of the runner beans as they seem to survive ok over the summer under the shade of the beans, slumber a little over the winter and the spring to life in the spring.

Last year’s gardens rainbows have just put on a growth spurt:

We had a visitor to entertain for tea tonight. Another veteran gardener who appreciates a home grown meal. There’s not much in the garden or allotment at the moment, other than the chard, rhubarb and some spicy salad leaves:

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So rainbow curry it had to be. Rainbow curry is a make-it-up-as-you-go-along dish, requiring nothing other than colourful vegetables and some spices. (Don’t add the rhubarb though. It is much better used as a pudding.  For details of an unsuccessful rhubarb curry, see here) Here’s what I did tonight.

Rainbow curry

  • A good armful of rainbow chard
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Spices as preferred: ginger, coriander, cumin, mustard seeds usually – add chilli if you like it hot
  • 3-4 potatoes
  • a handful of spicy salad leaves
  1. Scrub the potatoes, chop into rough chunks and parboil till just tender
  2. Wash the rainbow chard very well to remove any visiting wildlife
  3. Separate the stalks from the greeny bits
  4. Heat the spices in a large frying pan
  5. Add a splash of oil
  6. Throw in the chopped onion, garlic, and rainbow chard stalks
  7. Stir fry for 5-10 mins
  8. Add the parboiled potatoes
  9. Meanwhile, cut up the green bits of chard into manageable bits and bring through the boil in the potato water and leave to strain
  10. Once all the frying vegetables have cooked 10 mins or so, add the cooked chard
  11. Just before serving, add some chopped spicy green salad leaves

20190505_192212It got a little overcooked so not as colourful as it should have been but it tasted fine. Serve with rice, nan bread, chutney, or whatever other extras you have in the fridge.

There’s still quite a lot of chard to come and the spicy salad is looking very promising. What’s more, I’ve got next year’s rainbows started and ready to plant out when it gets a little warmer and once I’ve cleared the raised bed with the onions in it:

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Baywatch

I’ve been on the hunt for a new bay tree since losing the last one to the dratted vine weevils

I found one in a pot in my local DIY store

 

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But being from a DIY store rather than a proper garden centre, it had not one but, I think I counted, sixteen plants crammed into this tiny pot.

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I hate waste , so I planted one rooted cutting in the herb bed in the front garden, where it looks a little out of place but hopefully will grow tall and strong, and the others all in individual pots. They won’t survive in pots in my garden as the evil weevils will seek them out to destroy but I’ll pass them on at a plant sale some time soon.

Meanwhile, I have been working up this year’s pea glut:

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In another attempt to deal with waste, I plant these in cardboard coffee cups. I plant these in the garden where the cardboard rots away, sometimes leaving a film of plastic which I then dispose of. I know we should’t buy these at all but sometimes they are hard to avoid and I try and give them a second lease of life by bringing them home and filling them with peas. The labels, you will note, are also repurposed – cut from a plastic food carton and lasting for several years.

I’ve also sown a few pea seeds straight in the ground – it will be race to see which do best in the battle against snails and other pests.

In other newts*

…the frogs are back!

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We’ve missed seeing them in the pond since last summer but the sunny weather has brought them back. We spotted at least two but I am sure there are more lurking in the undergrowth. We also have newts, dozens and dozens of them. They are harder to photograph as they flit about just under the surface rather than sitting still like the frogs. Bella is intrigued by all this underwater excitement:

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We also have an invasion of ladybirds:

I love these tiny creatures, even more so because they eat aphids. I’ve been trying to encourage them on to the roses which seem to suffer most of the tiny greenies but it’s lovely just to see the ladybirds, whatever they are doing.

It’s been lovely weekend, spent mainly in the garden, feasting our eyes on this glorious wildlife, entertaining a random collection of relatives and passing musicians and feasting ourselves on various delicacies, including an unseasonal Christmas pudding, bought in enthusiasm at a bargain price in late December. It was eaten outside, for an Easter feast. I was looking for an edible flower to decorate with – or at least something that wouldn’t poison us – rosemary seemed the most suitable

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Happy Easter, or Happy Spring, or whatever you celebrate, I hope you celebrate it well

*Thanks to my older son for the pudding and the title of today’s post