Green Plum Pickle

Following on from my last post, I have become an ardent fan of unripe green plums.  I used the kilo of plums that did not fit in the chutney pan to make some highly experimental green plum pickle.  Since pickle does not keep very well, I tried some for my lunch today. I am converted.green plum pickleRecipe below – warning no guarantee of preserving quality of these. My supply is in the fridge just in case.

Green Plum Pickle (experimental) – makes about 5 jars

  • approx 1 kilo unripe plums
  • a handful of garden courgettes
  • 2 onions
  • salt
  • 300ml vinegar
  • 100g sugar
  • spices – eg black peppercorns, mustard seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  1. Wash and stone the plums and cut into thin strips
  2. Wash the courgettes and cut into thin strips
  3. Slice the onions
  4. Layer all the vegetables in a large bowl with a good sprinkling of salt on each layer – leave for several hours
  5. Rinse the vegetables well in cold water and leave to drain in a colander
  6. Meanwhile, boil the vinegar with the spices, sugar and garlic and leave to cool slightly
  7. Pack the vegetables into sterilised jars, leaving about 1cm space at the top
  8. Pour over the vinegar mixture until all vegetables are submerged
  9. Cover and store in the fridge

Enjoy

Pickle can be eaten more or less straight away.  Chutney has to mature, so I haven’t tried this year’s green plum chutney yet.  Off to pick some more plums though before they go and ripen.

 

Green plum chutney

The plum tree is weighed down with fruit this year.

WP_20170805_12_25_58_Pro

Last time we had a crop like this, an entire branch fell off, laden with unripe plums.  This broken tree led to the silver lining that was green plum chutney. The tree seems to have recovered but this year I thought I would avert disaster by harvesting some unripe plums in advance and making chutney.  I picked 3 kilos, barely leaving a dent in the crop but aware that at least the branches were 3 kilos lighter:

WP_20170805_12_45_14_Pro

Now to make the chutney but I couldn’t find a recipe anywhere.  What did I do last time? I had no idea so had to look up my own blog to find out.  Which involved sitting down, turning on the laptop and getting distracted by other people’s blogs, tweets, cats and news.  It was so much simpler when you just reached for a recipe book.  I first came across the bizarre practice of googling recipes one year when we were on holiday and my boys had an urge to get up early and make oatcakes for breakfast (as you do).  I was amazed ‘But we don’t have a recipe’.  ‘We just looked one up online’.  Astonishing, but now I find myself tempted to do this too when my faithful recipe books can’t supply the answer.  As I’ve explained, this brings many hazards so it is usually better to rely on the books. We have a whole shelf, mostly well used and rather battered:

WP_20170806_12_11_32_Proand including some of my absolute favourites: The Apple Book and Plain Cookery Recipes .The book that I use the most though is a hardbound notebook where you write down your recipes:

WP_20170806_12_50_56_ProMy mother gave me this when I first left home as a student and it has followed me around since.  Usually I follow the ‘make it up as you go along’ approach to cooking and don’t rely on recipes at all but this book contains several important family recipes: The Christmas Pudding*, the Christmas Cake and the endlessly useful Plum and apple cake recipes . In this little book I can also find Green Tomato Marmalade, Plum (or rhubarb) flapjack , lavender biscuits, rosemary Christmas trees. If I can’t find a recipe in there, I can usually find what I need in one  of the cookery books on the shelf.

But not what to do with 3 kilos of unripe plums.  My previous blog post helpfully told me to adapt a green tomato chutney recipe. Here’s what I did this time (duly adapted from a green tomato chutney recipe in one of my faithful books).  I included a couple of not yet ready cooking apples from the Howgate Wonder as it is also threatening to collapse under the weight of fruit this year:

Green Plum Chutney

  • 2kg green plums
  • 3 onions
  • a couple of cooking apples
  • 450ml malt vinegar
  • 350g brown sugar
  • a 2cm piece of fresh ginger (or equivalent dried ginger)
  • a handful of peppercorns
  • a glug of green ginger wine
  • 1tsp salt
  1. Wash, stone and slice the plums
  2. Chop the onions
  3. Peel, core and chop the apples
  4. Put everything in a large pan and cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently until the chutney had thickened (probably about 45 mins)
  5. Pour into warm, sterilised jars

WP_20170806_11_59_15_ProDuly noted in my recipe book for future reference:

wp_20170806_12_55_34_pro.jpgThe observant and numerate among you will have noticed that the above recipe only uses 2 kilos of plums – that’s because they wouldn’t all fit in my big pan.   So I have one kilo left, and today I’m going to try and work out how to make them into plum pickle – several reliable books have been ransacked for relevant recipes and I am in the process of adapting them for the ingredients I actually have – watch this space once I’ve worked out how to do it.

*You’ll notice that I haven’t given you the recipe for the Christmas Pudding.  It is an ancient and secret recipe which has been passed down from mother to daughter over several generations – I will pass it on to my sons in due course.

Spiders

There is a family story that my grandmother insisted that if she got the chance of reincarnation, she would return as a spider. It is many years since she died but spiders have often appeared at auspicious moments in the lives of the extended family, so we like to believe that she got her wish. There are always quite a lot of spiders in our house (we’re not very good at housework) and out of respect to my grandmother, we always take great care to look after them, usually putting them carefully out in the garden.

WP_20170804_20_15_36_Pro

But this one has assertively taken up residence in the kitchen and has been chomping its way through fruit flies, much more effectively than the insect eating plants. It started off on the glass on the kitchen door, quietly leaping out for any passing fruit fly.

spider

Then I noticed that it had moved to the ceiling. Today it has woven a miraculous web above one of the kitchen cupboards.

WP_20170804_20_15_36_Pro

We’re going to have be careful opening and shutting the door but I reckon it can look after itself and will probably move somewhere more sensible soon.  And there’s always the possibility that my grandmother is keeping a close eye on us and making sure that we are all ok.

Meanwhile, since the exciting matter of the vine weevil massacre, the insect eating plants have been rather docile, although flourishing. The fruit flies in the kitchen don’t seem to be interested in them but they are growing away nicely anyway.  I’ve moved the venus fly trap around a bit to see what it might catch but it has also been rather ineffective at catching anything. I noticed today that it had a green and white fly infestation. What exactly is the point of an insect eating plant that gets greenfly? I removed them and fed them to the sarracenia (pitcher plants).

 

Anniversaries

July is a month of anniversaries in my family: happy and sad in equal measure. Several family weddings clustered in late July, including my parents who were always up for a party: celebrating silver, ruby and golden weddings with wild family parties over the years. As my generation creeps into late middle age, we’ve started to have these anniversaries ourselves, although we’re not so good at parties. We did have a little party in the garden for our own silver wedding a few years ago and the sun shone. Several people gave us ‘silver wedding’ roses. Today I noticed one in full bloom:

WP_20170727_15_56_55_Pro

But July has also been a time of loss and remembrance, including my own father and an aunt and uncle, all round these anniversary dates. I like to wander round the garden and look at the flowers and remember those we’ve lost. Here are today’s other joys:

WP_20170727_15_55_48_Pro

Lily, with a background of craw’s taes and ostespermum (sorry for the combination of Latin and local names but that’s how I know them)

WP_20170727_15_20_43_ProWater lily

WP_20170727_18_33_01_ProWP_20170727_18_33_14_Proand bees, always bees.

A little autumnal

It’s been distinctly autumnal here this weekend. Yesterday’s rain was impressive but today it’s just been depressing. It stopped for a while this afternoon. I had a discussion with my assistant about who should go and buy milk and who should use this break in the weather to potter in the garden. He reckoned I would be better at pottering so offered to go and do the shopping. This was a call to achieve something serious so I did my roughly twice yearly rotation of the compost bins. I have three compost bins: two plastic cone shaped ones and one made out of a water butt which froze solid one year, making it rather useless at holding water:

frozen water barrel

So I start the compost in large cone 1, move it to large cone 2 once the first one is full and then move the finished stuff to the ex-water butt.  It’s a rough and ready approach it but seems to work.  Today I was particularly excited by  actual steam coming off the compost, suggesting that something is going right.  Anyway it is a mucky job involving interesting smells and lots of slugs and minibeasts but is rather satisfying in the end. I didn’t take any photos – it probably wouldn’t have been good for the camera phone so you’ll just have to believe me.

Then the sun came out so  I enjoyed the bees enjoying the lavender for a while.

WP_20170723_16_49_00_Pro

Then it started raining again so I came back inside. This evening the sky has rewarded us with yet more stunning colours

WP_20170723_21_31_00_Pro

So I went for a little wander round the garden to try and appreciate what’s good. It feels a little transitional just now. The broad beans, potatoes, raspberries and strawberries are more or less finished. The peas have been magnificent and keep on coming. The heritage pink peas have been great – see here for more about these.  They are a little odd, producing one big cluster of flowers at the top of the plant.  I thought they were finished but they’ve produced a second flush of flowers, promising more peas to come:

WP_20170720_19_57_01_Pro

I got these peas in an anonymous brown envelope at a seed swap last year.  They are a heritage variety and apparently they are quite unusual – lots about them on this blog – but they have been a happy accident and I’ll try and save some seeds myself so I can grow them again.

Meanwhile the runner beans are flowering along with some gorgeous sweet peas. Unfortunately they won’t produce peas but they smell lovely:

The apple and plum trees are groaning with fruit. But I’m really not ready for autumn yet.

Green soup and redcurrant relish

We’re having a very mixed weather this week – sunshine one minute, pouring rain the next. This morning I went out in the rain to harvest some broad beans. The sun came out, so I harvested rather more than I’d planned, cut back the plants, sorted out some entangled peas, cut down some more rainbow chard, rescued a younger generation of beans from the already gigantic broccoli plants and then it started to rain again.

WP_20170715_13_29_51_Pro

It was beginning to feel like soup weather so a perfect time to make a massive pot of green soup, with all this bounty:

WP_20170715_15_21_44_Pro

Green soup – usual recipe: swiss chard, broad beans, tarragon, mint, slightly elderly peapods with added broccoli leaf and fresh peas.   And then the sun came out again so we decided to have it in the garden. And then it started raining again so the soup got a little watered down.

Even the autumn fruiting raspberries are confused, fruiting prolifically and ripening at least two months early this year, in time to join the redcurrants, strawberries and summer fruiting raspberries.

WP_20170714_18_37_37_Pro

Most of these have been eaten fresh in bowls with breakfast cereal in the mornings, or with cream or ice cream as a pudding.

I did feel a little overwhelmed by the redcurrants so made them into redcurrant relish – recipe here .  It has not set as well as it should and there is far too much.  The recipe said it made one large jar so I made double quantities which made seven medium jars.  I may have misread an ingredient somewhere as I was seriously multitasking when I made it. The recipe also says it keeps for three weeks so we may be having a bit of a runny redcurrant relish with everything thing going on for the next wee while.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

When I dug up the car park and created a huge bed in the front garden I intended to grow vegetables.

Since it is in a lovely sunny spot, the idea was that I would increase my vegetable growing space and grow lots of tomatoes and other sunloving things. The trouble is that they have never done very well. I’ve tackled this every year with yet more compost, green manure, nitrogen fixing plants such as beans and I water when I remember. One year I had a magnificent crop of overwintered broad beans but otherwise everything tends to go straggly, get eaten by snails, dry out with the faintest whiff of sunshine and generally fail to thrive. The reason for this is that it is lovely and sunny but it dries out too quickly because the monstrous sycamore in the corner of the garden has stretched its endless roots into my lovely compost and helped itself to all the good things in the bed. Putting yet more compost into this is only feeding the sycamore.

Meanwhile, the herbs that I planted round the edges of this plot have been in their element. I’ve had magnificent rosemary, sage, thyme, lovage, oregano and tarragon – no parsley, I’m afraid. These plants have been trying to tell me something. The lovely vegetable patch in the front garden is not suitable for vegetables but it is perfect for herbs. And the bees love this.

WP_20170610_14_43_23_ProWP_20170610_14_43_20_Pro

So, I’ve finally decided to give up on the front garden vegetables and turn it into a proper herb garden instead. It is a bit odd having a herb garden at the front but the peculiar arrangement of our house means that the kitchen door faces into the front garden and it is just as easy to dash out there for a pinch of herbs for the soup or salad as it would be go out the back. I keep a collection of pot bound herbs right at the door

but, despite what all the books say, most of my herbs don’t seem to be very happy in pots. They are getting rather overgrown, the dratted vine weevils are nibbling their way through their roots, while the slugs and snails are helping themselves to the juicy green bits.

So today I’ve planted out the bay tree in the middle of the ‘vegetable bed’

There are still some struggling broad beans which may yet do something, as well as some chives, newly transplanted.  You’ll see in the close up of the bay the tell-tale signs of vine weevil munching.  I’ve kept some cuttings back to grow in the pot in the hope that they will root before the weevils get to them and provide new plants just in case of a very cold winter.

I’ve planted out some more chives and garlic chives and split up the happy tarragon, oregano and thyme to let it all spread about a bit.

There are still daffodils lurking underneath:

Sometimes you just have to let the plants decide where they want to grow and give up on the grand plans. It’s never going to look like the tidy herb gardens in the garden design books but here’s hoping that everything will do well, bring joyful daffodils in spring, provide us with fresh herbs most of the year and keep the bees happy in the summer.

Rainbow curry

WP_20170702_19_35_54_Pro.jpg

At last the garden is beginning to bring forth its summer harvest. The strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants are earlier and more productive than any year I remember. This is probably because of the extremes of sun and rain during June but the strawberry bed, dug out and planted back in March is also partly responsible.

WP_20170312_17_34_14_Pro

After years of trying to grow strawberries in pots and battling with the vine weevils, this year they are just ripening nicely under the cat barriers. Even the slugs don’t seem to have found them yet.

WP_20170625_11_17_00_Pro.jpg

WP_20170630_18_05_04_Pro

The peas and broad beans are doing their thing. I had a few days on my own last week so was able to gorge on  green soups and broad bean guacamole.  I also created a rainbow curry, which I really enjoyed, but has gone down well with the rest of the family too so must be ok. Most of my recipes are based on the make it up as you go along principle and so are hard to write down, but here’s a version that might work

Rainbow curry

Cooking times are not at all precise but the secret is to not overcook anything except the dried beans which must be nicely mushed in advance.

Quantities are not precise either

Ingredients should depend on what you have in your garden

  • handful of dried beans of your choice, cooked until mushy – I’ve been using mung beans which take about 20 minutes but you could use almost any kind of dried bean though most would take more advanced planning
  • about 2 cloves of garlic  – chopped
  • a red onion – or 3 small red onions if they’re anything like mine – chopped
  • about an inch of fresh ginger- chopped
  • spices : I’ve been using cumin, mustard seeds and a fiery chilli mix
  • a good armful of Rainbow chard – separate the leaves from the stalks, chop the stalks into small pieces and cut up the leaves
  • a handful of fresh broad beans or peas
  • a couple of fresh tomatoes cut into quarters
  1. Dry fry the spices in a large frying pan
  2. Add a tablespoon of oil
  3. Add the garlic, ginger and onions and cook until soft
  4. Add the chard stalks and cook for about 5 minutes
  5. Add the cooked beans and a little extra water if necessary to keep everything moist but not overcooked
  6. Add the chard leaves and cook for a bit longer
  7. When everything is looking ready, add the fresh tomatoes and broad beans and peas and cook for a few minutes until everything is hot

Serve with rice or new potatoes, yoghurt, mixed with mint and cucumber, and home made pickle or chutney from the store cupboard

In the winter, we seem to survive on root vegetable soups and stews. The joy of this time of year is eating vegetables straight from the garden and making up recipes like this

Tangle

WP_20170624_15_59_03_ProThis month’s combination of sun and rain has brought lush growth in the vegetable patch. I thought I’d better do something about the equally lush weeds and overgrown hedges.  Underneath the escallonia, I found this tangle of flowers and greenery.  None of these are weeds though.  Here there is clover.  If not exactly planned, it is at least welcome.  There is also campanula.  I can’t quite remember how it came here but it’s lovely anyway.  And there is a lot of campion

campionThe campion has self-seeded all round the garden, from plants that we brought from our old garden.  It carries particular memories of summers by the sea and a small boy who loved flowers.  That small boy, all grown up now, was also the motivation behind the purply flower in the tangle:

WP_20170624_15_59_09_ProWe bought this plant when the boys were very small.  It was a wet day, things were getting a little fractious indoors but I had spotted an advert for a plant sale at the local church hall. These were the ‘Doing the garden‘ years, when we resembled the family in Sarah Garland’s lovely book.  There was a bit of a battle going on.  I was running out of vegetable space but the boys wanted more flowers.  ‘Let’s see if they have any bargains and we’ll try and find a space for them?’, I’d said, hoping to pick up some extra courgette plants.  When we got to the hall, it turned out to be a rather posh affair: not bargain plants at all but quite expensive individual varieties of flowers.  No vegetables. We came home with this little purple plant. We found a home for it and it has flourished, coming up every year and lovingly moved with us to our new home. I think it’s a kind of geranium but perhaps another plant expert can keep me right here.

The yellow flower in the photo is Craws’ Taes, otherwise known as Birds’ Foot Trefoil.  It reminds me of my own childhood and summers in the far north of Scotland. I loved it then for the contrast between its local name and its posh official name.  I love it now for its bee-attracting properties.

That tangle of wild, and not so wild, flowers is full of wildlife and full of memories

Flowers of the night

One of the joys of the #30dayswild project is going into the garden in the late evening. At this time of year there is still a little light in the sky well past 11pm. The weather has been mostly pleasant and so in search of some last minute wildness, I’ve wandered into the garden to see what I could see and hear as the light begins to leave the sky. For the last few evenings, the sunsets have lit up the sky with glorious colour:

WP_20170619_001.jpg

Tonight we’ve had a thunderstorm so the sky is not so clear. The rain has stopped but I can hear the whole garden dripping with water falling from the trees and bushes. The lawn is covered in snails, out for a late night picnic. What is more startling though is the sparkle of white flowers. In this very late dusk I can see philadelphus, bog cotton, daisies closed up for the night, the white rim of a variegated mint, forget-me-nots, night-scented stock, white sweet peas and oxeye daisies. The white flowers of the mange tout peas can still be seen and the pink flowered peas which flower at the top of the plant look like sparklers on bonfire night.

My camera cannot capture this, though these photos show the flowers around the pond a little earlier in the evening:

WP_20170614_22_39_45_ProWP_20170614_22_40_10_Pro

I read somewhere that you should grow white flowers because they attract moths and insects in the evening, providing food for bats. I didn’t plan for this late night show but tonight I’m inspired to grow more.