A new redcurrant recipe

I harvested most of the redcurrants today. They have been fabulous this year in the garden but not at the allotment. Another of the strange differences in microclimate between my two growing spaces.


I remembered making some less than successful redcurrant relish last year but couldn’t remember where I found the recipe – just checked, it was a link on the blog – here , but I didn’t think of looking on my own blog! Instead I ploughed through my various recipe books, failing to find a suitable recipe, and so decided to adapt one for red pepper relish instead. Let’s hope it works. Here is the revised version:

Redcurrant relish

  • 1 kg redcurrants
  • 375ml vinegar
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 medium onions (or one monster onion from the allotment)
  • 4 gloves of garlic
  • a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
  • 2 apples
  • 1 tsp of black peppercorns
  • 230g sugar
  1. Slice the onions finely and chop the garlic and apples into small pieces
  2. Put the onions, garlic, ginger, apples, and peppercorns in a pan with the vinegar
  3. Simmer for about 20 mins
  4. Add the redcurrants
  5. Simmer for a further 10 mins or so
  6. Add the sugar
  7. Simmer for about an hour until the mixture is thick
  8. Remove the peppercorns, which will float to the top
  9. Pour the mixture into warm, sterilised jars


The redcurrants, onion and apple were all from the garden or allotment. The apples were a couple of the windfalls from the amazing Howgate Wonder tree. When they are mature they will be the size of grapefruits but today these were perfectly big enough for this recipe.

There are a couple of things that didn’t quite go right with this recipe. First of all I’m not sure I weighed the redcurrants properly and secondly I did not follow the recipe when it came to the peppercorns – you are supposed to put them in a muslin bag and remove it when you pot up the relish. I couldn’t be bothered with this but discovered the cunning trick of just removing the peppercorns at the end – only I had rather more than the recommended teaspoonful:

20190801_211924It just goes to show that precision is not necessary when it comes to cooking – not in my house anyway. The relish should keep so I’ve filed it away for festive use in the dark days of winter.

In the meantime, we had summer again today and I spotted butterflies all over the buddleia and lavender in the front garden:


It’s been a scorchio day here as everywhere else in the country. I went for a wander and passed an in ice cream van, selling, among other things, mint choc chip ice cream:


I had been thinking about my Dad, as I often do at this time of year and now six years since we lost him. His childhood was during the Second World War, a time of rationing and few sweet treats. This led to him taking great pleasure in sharing childhood delights like ice cream with us. Ice cream in my rural childhood came in blocks from shops and was always vanilla, or strawberry or chocolate if you were very lucky. It was for special occasions like birthdays and, without freezers, it was usually a bit melted by the time it was served. The first time I had a mint choc chip ice cream was when we were out for a family outing in the ‘big’ town. My Dad saw someone walking towards us eating a ‘green’ ice cream in a cone. None of us had ever seen such a thing before. Lacking any sense of embarrassment, Dad stopped them, and asked excitedly where he could find this new green delicacy. They were a little taken aback: ‘Along the road, at the ice cream shop, where else?’ He rushed us all to the ice cream shop and we stared in awe at the astonishing range of flavours available: mint choc chip, rum and raisin (that seemed very exciting), real strawberry, raspberry ripple. He bought us all a green one just because he could. So I bought one today, just because I could and toasted his memory.

None of that has got anything to do with gardening but I did do a big green harvest of peas, beans and courgettes. I made a huge batch of pea and mint, courgette and watercress and generic green soup. some of it will go in the freezer but I don’t think I’ll risk pea ice cream. Apparently it does it exist but it seems an awful faff. I’ll probably stick to soup.


A garden feast

I’ve spent most of today at the allotment, tackling weeds and harvesting onions. Everything is coming along nicely although the peas are still rather straggly, which is strange as the peas in the garden raised beds are in full flourish, with their beautiful butterfly wing flowers:


The onions have been magnificent this year but feel a little overwhelming at the moment. I’ve also had an invasion of musical instruments, bikes, camping equipment, bags of laundry and random pairs of shoes this weekend. And that is a good thing, because it means that my lovely young people are around, filling the house with youthful noise and clutter and emptying the fridge. They are particularly good at helping to cook and eat their way through the fruit and vegetable gluts. This evening they helped to eat a feast from the garden, including a giant lettuce, with nasturtium garnish:


An enormous pan of onion soup, with added herbs and Swiss chard:


And the first broad bean guacamole of the summer:


They’ll be in and out over the summer, bringing friends and more musicians, who last year helped me eat my giant marrows – for more on that see here

Fortunately the marrows have just got going:


and in a few weeks should be big enough to feed my musicians.

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.

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:



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:


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,


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!


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:


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.


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:


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:




Last weekend I was away,  staying in a caravan, having a long lie while reading in a sleeping bag and listening to birdsong, then waking myself up by paddling in freezing sea. Here is a photo of fabulous gorse bushes with a wonderful coconut scent


It was all lovely but there was no gardening or allotment activity. So far, there has not been much this weekend either. I found myself at the seaside again, though much closer to home, wandering along Portobello Promenade in the icy wind and not at all tempted to paddle, despite the sunshine.

In the morning, before my trip to the beach, I did some foraging, on the local cycle path. In Wordsworthian mode I was wandering lonely as cloud and saw a crowd, a host of wild white garlic flowers:


I stopped to gather a rather large bunch, whisked them home, added a couple of handfuls of nettles from the garden and made weed pesto – for the recipe see here. except use wild garlic instead of ordinary garlic.

Spurred on by this culinary enthusiasm I harvested some rhubarb and have just put an ‘allotment cake’ in the oven. The recipe is from a book called ‘Bake a Difference’ by Bee Rawlinson and published by Traidcraft. I can’t find it online except through a well known international book sales outfit which I try to avoid, so it may be out of print.  The cake is a version of my tried and tested apple cake, except with rhubarb and grated carrots instead of apples. It’s still in the oven so we have yet to test it.  I have just been reminded by the younger generation that we haven’t had tea yet and cake (despite its healthy vegetable content) will probably not do. An offer of pasta with weed pesto was not greeted with enthusiasm so it may have to be something much more ordinary. Tomorrow, I hope, will be a gardening day.

Christmas at the allotment

Family commitments caused me to fall a little behind with the advent calendar but here are the last three photos. On the 22nd of December I spotted this Wintersweet’s tiny flowers in the sunshine. This shrub has only every flowered once, last year, when it produced one flower. This year it seems to have finally matured


Only two flowers in this photo but there are at least a dozen on the plant.

On the 23rd I spent the whole day doing my ‘annual’ housework and didn’t get out until after dark, so the photo for that day was rather enigmatic. There was a bit of light in the sky and it was rather beautiful but hard to capture.


Christmas Eve brought a beautiful frost,  showing up the loveliness of these self-seeded teasels. Much nicer than anything that you spray with silver paint:


I was fortunate to get out to the allotment to harvest my long-awaited Brussels sprouts, the single plant to have survived from my seed sowing earlier in the year:


The allotment was lovely and frosty and I was joined by the resident robin, posing festively on the apple tree:


So we had home grown sprouts on Christmas Day. Other home grown offerings included the holly on the Christmas pudding:


rosemary and thyme in the roast potatoes, and a specially made Christmas smoothie. A few days earlier I had found a prodigal apple, lurking in the undergrowth in the garden. It survived the winter and was untouched by vermin or slugs so was added to the Christmas smoothie:20181222_145224But the stars of the show were the award winning autumn raspberries, which I had been keeping for the occasion:


Belated Happy Christmas to all my readers.

Solstice soup

Today’s the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year but the one where we can start looking again for light and the promise of spring. It’s rained for most of the day but I went into the garden in the rain and hauled out masses of overgrown stuff from round the pond. The frogs like the overgrown weeds but I know that there are spring bulbs underneath it all and so worth hauling some of it out. It felt quite therapeutic.  I was called away from this task by a horde of musicians who have returned to take over the back room, having not quite finished the recording they started in the summer – for more on the musicians see here. The musicians are lovely, but hungry. We raided the freezer and found soup, made when the summer vegetables were in full production. Here is the courgette and pea (and are there any marrows in this? – well maybe). It doesn’t look very green in this photo but that’s because I photographed the steam.

20181221_130010[1]The courgette and pea was consumed rather quickly and then more musicians appeared so we had to unearth a tomato soup from the freezer as well, this one looking a little more festive:

20181221_131155[1]There are still no festive decorations up here at Reclaiming Paradise but a house full of young people eating their way through the summer’s vegetables feels like a good way to celebrate the Solstice.

Emergency carrots and a strange use for sprouts

There’s been very little done in the garden or allotment these past few weeks (by me anyway) and very little interesting cooking either.  But today we got the Christmas puddings made. My mother, now living much nearer to me, came over to help. The pudding recipe  has long family roots and, although I have been making my own puddings for decades now, my mother is the true expert  I thought I had been clever and got all the ingredients prepared but, at the last moment, noticed we had no carrots. Carrots in Christmas pudding? Essential apparently. I asked Mum if we could just add extra apples, or maybe a beetroot from the allotment. ‘No’ and ‘No’. Sadly we have no home grown carrots so I sent a senior assistant out on an emergency carrot hunt while we steeped the dried fruit in alcohol -‘I would just empty the whole bottle in, No point in leaving a tiny bit’. By the time the emergency carrot arrived the fruit was well steeped. Then came the ritual of everybody in the household contributing to stirring the pudding.  Good luck apparently and necessary that everyone makes a wish while doing so. We managed to round up one mother, two middle generation and one son while the other son contributed virtually by phone. Wishes were made but not disclosed – that would break the spell. Then the puddings  were put on to boil (we split the humungous amount of mixture between two pudding basins). Several hours later,  my Christmas preparations were complete.

20181202_203251[1]I may succumb to further preparations over the next few weeks but I always feel that, as long as we have a pudding, nothing else really matters.

Although spurned as a pudding ingredient the allotment beetroot went in a rather good beetroot, turnip and sprout curry. It doesn’t sound too good but actually it was. The sprouts were a bit of an afterthought. The recipe required peas but there were none.  I found the sprouts in the freezer and threw them in instead. Surprisingly it worked. The secret to this particular curry, however,  is the addition of fresh mint right at the end. I went out in the rain to harvest the mint and felt, for just a few minutes, as if balance might have returned to my life.