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.


Rhubarb, weeds and a bunch of flowers

What a glorious day it has been today. I started in the garden, doing a little weeding, down on my hands and knees and was rewarded by this little gem of a viola, pushing up between the paving stones on the back patio:


Then I weeded the strawberry patch:

20190330_131903It may not look like much to you but I assure you it is a lot tidier than it was. While I was down on my hands and knees amongst the weeds, I harvested some nettles, dandelion and hairy bitter cress and made weed pesto:

Weed Pesto

  • bunch of fresh nettles
  • a few dandelion leaves
  • a few florets of hairy bitter cress
  • a handful of herbs, eg chives, tarragon, mint
  • a clove of garlic
  • a splash of olive oil
  1. Wash the weeds and herbs well
  2. Pour boiling water over the nettles to kill the sting
  3. Rinse
  4. Put everything in a container and whizz for a couple of minutes with a hand whizzer




Then, feeling I should do something about that old Mother’s Day thing, I went to visit my Mum. We don’t really do Mother’s Day in my house but following a bit of a little twitter spat about what gardeners should, or shouldn’t do to mark the day, I took her some rhubarb:


Since it was such a lovely day, I brought her back to my house for some cat and garden therapy. Her cat (now resident with us) was rather disdainful but enjoyed being outside.


Meanwhile Mum sorted out all the pots on my garden patio- I’ve never been much of a container gardener -mainly because of the nasty vine weevils which tend to eat everything, but Mum is a container wizard. Various things got replanted around the garden and she filled up some sad pots with bits of thyme, forget-me-not and random nasturtium seedlings. I’m looking forward to see how they turn out. Then she went and picked a whole lot of daffodils and wallflowers and arranged them nicely in a vase for me.


‘But Mum, I’m supposed to give you flowers and all I gave you was rhubarb’. ‘The rhubarb will be lovely. You enjoy the flowers’.

Happy Mothers’, daughters’, grandmothers’, granddaughters’, nieces’, aunts’, sisters’ and family in general day!



Daffodils always came out for my Dad’s birthday. Today he would have been 85. The daffodils have been early this year but there are plenty still in flower and more to come. Here’s some from my front garden in his memory:


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.


Yet another apple cake recipe

Thanks to the tomato, apple and courgettes gluts, there have been mutterings lately about ‘too many vegetables’ and that ‘vegetables with vegetables and vegetable sauce is not a proper meal’  at Reclaiming Paradise. So, when it came to making a start on the annual birthday cake marathon (everyone here except me has birthdays in October), I had to think of a way of making a cake that would help to use up the glut without being too obvious.  The result was Chocolate Apple Cake*:

WP_20181014_13_00_43_Pro[1](Pictured, partly hogged, complete with some birthday music)

Chocolate Apple Cake

*recipe based on one from Ruth Ward (1988) A Harvest of Apples

  • 450g apples
  • 50g raisins
  • 50g dates or apricots or similar dried fruit
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/tsp mixed spice
  • 1/tsp ground nutmeg
  • 225 g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2tsbp cocoa powder
  • 350g sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g chopped walnuts
  1. Peel and chop the apples
  2. Add the spices, and the dried fruit.
  3. Stew in a little water until soft
  4. Mash up with a wooden spoon
  5. Add the butter and mix until melted
  6. Leave to cool slightly
  7. Mix in the flour, cocoa and sugar
  8. Add the beaten eggs
  9. Beat the whole mixture for a couple of minutes
  10. Add the walnuts
  11. Pour into a large greased and lined cake tin
  12. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 180c

To make the chocolate fudge icing

  • 50g butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1tbsp cocoa powder
  1. Melt the butter in a small pan
  2. Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder
  3. Mix well together until smooth
  4. Add a little water to thin and mix well
  5. Spread over the cake

The cake went down well and has just had an additional endorsement from my brother, who dropped in for coffee and insisted on having two pieces. Praise indeed and it used up a few apples – only about two hundred left to go.

I didn’t feel brave enough to put tomatoes in the cake so am contemplating other possible uses. We have had a lot of tomato soup, tomato sauce and tomatoes, with tomatoes and tomatoes (not a proper meal) lately. The freezer is now full so I need to come up with more old fashioned methods of preserving them. As a birthday outing we had a little trip to Dundee. (To do this properly, I should have made Dundee cake but that wouldn’t have used up any of the gluts). We had planned to go to the new V and A exhibition but it was absolutely crammed with visitors intent on learning about design, or possibly just sheltering from the teeming rain. We avoided the crowds and went instead to visit Captain Scott’s ship Discovery, next door. We had been many times when our small people were small and we were happy to have another look. The rain continued to teem, giving the ship a certain maritime authenticity.  I noticed, as we went round the ship, that they took ‘preserved tomatoes’ with them to the Antarctic – I have just noticed that these boxes say preserved potatoes but they did have preserved tomatoes too:



I may need to check how they did their preserving back in 1901.



I’ve been away helping my mother in her garden again. She’s in the process of moving house and the garden needed a little tidying up. One of the things that was needed was to sweep up some of the autumn leaves that have started to accumulate at her front door.


There are only a few so far and it was easy to do, with the aid of my father’s trusty leaf grabbers.


Dad was always one for gadgets and these grabbers were probably his favourite garden tools. He used them every autumn in his battle with the leaves. In their previous house the battle was unrelenting and had a particular edge. Their house had no garden, just a small, flower-filled patio. Despite this, all the trees from the neighbourhood would drop their leaves and the wind would bring them to his front door. Dad would sweep them up and the next day there would be more, piling up and making a mess. When he discovered the grabbers, he was almost able to keep them at bay, but the battle raged every autumn.

Then my parents moved to a new house, literally round the corner from the old one. A smaller, more sensible cottage, all on one level, suitable for an older couple thinking about the future, but this time with a garden and a very productive apple tree. I’ve blogged about the apples before – here. The grabbers would be useful for the apple leaves, which Dad didn’t mind so much. At least they belonged to his tree and there were apples as well.  What he hadn’t realised, was that the leaves from all the streets round about would follow him round the corner to his new front door.  He swore the winds had changed so that, instead of piling up outside his old house, they now came to the new one.  So the grabbers came out again.

My mother has never been so bothered about the leaves.  She is more of a flower person, concentrating on keeping her pots looking nice. Here’s some from last year


So, since my father died, the leaves just pile up in the autumn until the wind blows them down the street. When I was doing my little bit of tidying at the weekend, I used my father’s grabbers and cleared the leaves from the front door. A couple of hours later, they were back.


The wind, or my father’s spirit, is still bringing them round the corner to land at the door.  When my mother moves, I wonder if the leaves will come too.


Back home from a little break involving much walking and talking and eating lovely things in the far north of Norway.  There wasn’t much gardening to be done but there was lovely scenery and good company. Northern Norway has the northenmost botanic garden in the world and it had some lovely things in flower in September

wp_20180906_19_15_46_pro.jpgI forgot to note down their names but I liked the colours.  We also had a couple of days in Oslo and spotted this unusual creature:

An important reminder to protect our natural world.  It was quite a short trip but now we are home and the garden is abundant.  The musicians have been looking after things at home, making serious inroads into the plum glut.  I felt a need to make some emergency plum jam to use up some more. This is ‘whole plum jam’, one of the easiest jam recipes:


Whole Plum Jam

  • 2 kg plums
  • 2kg sugar
  • glug of green ginger wine
  1. Wash the plums, cut in half and remove most of the stones – you can leave a few in
  2. Place the plums and the sugar in layers in a large bowl and leave overnight or for a few hours
  3. Tip everything into a large pan (it needs to be very large for this quantity)
  4. Add the glug of green ginger
  5. Heat slowly until all the sugar dissolves
  6. Boil until setting point is reached
  7. Remove any scum that forms
  8. Any stones that you left in will eventually float to the top – remove these. Some stones may remain but that doesn’t matter so long as you warn anybody about to eat the jam!
  9. Pot up into warmed, sterilised jars – makes about 6-7 jarsWP_20180914_20_33_52_Pro

As well as eating plums and creating beautiful music, the musicians have been playing football in the garden (our neighbour noted that ‘they are much better at music than football’ ) and being quite careful with my precious vegetables, though ‘there may have been one or two ‘windfall’ tomatoes’:

WP_20180914_20_31_33_ProThe tomatoes are doing extremely well.  There have been a few ripe ones as well as all these ‘windfalls’ and I’m still hopeful that a few more will ripen before the frosts hit. Now I just need to get along to the allotment to see how it has fared in my absence.

Autumn pleasures

It’s been a long week and it’s only Thursday.  Work is a little trying, extended family issues are rather energy-consuming and there are still musicians all over the house, overflowing into every room.  Don’t get me wrong, the musicians are delightful, just a little all encompassing. Anyway, coming home from work and feeling rather grumpy, I was trying to get into the garden to do some therapeutic composting of some paperwork, when I found a musician kneeling on a large sheet of paper covered in musical hieroglyphs and blocking my exit to the garden. Despite my joy at their presence in the house, this made me a little cross. ‘Enough! Out of my way! and please do something about the pile of dishes in the kitchen’ . ‘Oh sorry. I’ll move. By the way I cut the grass. Did you notice?’ . I hadn’t noticed but I was very grateful. In an instant all was forgiven and this unasked for grasscutting inspired me to do a little gardening myself. I did some pruning, smelled the roses:

WP_20180830_20_00_19_ProWatched some sleepy bees on the lavender:

WP_20180830_19_59_57_Proadmired the brilliant red of the rowan berries and rose hips:

and harvested some potatoes, beans and plums.

WP_20180830_20_25_39_ProWP_20180830_20_29_51_ProEquilibrium has been restored. I may even make another cake for the musicians.


The trouble with

.. courgettes is that they grow into marrows. We’ve had a bumper crop on the allotment this year and I’ve been struggling to keep up. My allotment keeper friend is not very keen on the big guys so I said would deal with them. Only, I didn’t get along to the plot for a few days and they grew even bigger and I couldn’t carry them all with my dodgy arm. I did get several home eventually. Fortunately my house has been taken over by a bunch of enthusiastic and hungry musicians (nothing to do with the Edinburgh Festival, just one of those things that happens when your young people grow up). They insisted on taking the most monstrous marrow and cooking it whole:

giant marrow(plates for scale, it didn’t even fit in our biggest casserole dish). In fact they cooked two marrows: the monster, which was stuffed with practically everything from the store cupboard plus some cheese, and its baby sister, which was created as a vegan version, with same miscellaneous filling but no cheese. These fed several hungry musicians, plus a few of us oldies for tea one night and the leftovers were turned into a rather good soup which fed us all the next day too.

You may not have spotted from the photo above, that the outside of the marrow was also tastefully decorated  to make it look like a bus – close up of windows here:

wp_20180815_21_59_06_pro.jpgThis was inspired, we think, by  The Trouble with Grandad by Babette Cole, a much loved favourite from when the musicians were much smaller. Fortunately we still have a copy so were able to remind ourselves of this glorious gardening story. I won’t give a way any plot spoilers, but lets just say that it features a similar giant vegetable which is not dissimilar to  our bus marrow.

Well done, young people for your creative efforts. Meanwhile, here is what is still waiting in the kitchen to be attended to (just saying):


I’ll get the pickle making juices flowing soon. I won’t be pickling the cucumbers though. They have been equally majestic, if rather more restrained in size,  this year:

WP_20180811_12_31_42_Pro (1)The cucumber plant in my cucumber frame has escaped out of its raised bed and started climbing up the hedge at the back of the garden:

wp_20180818_11_16_05_pro.jpgWonderful. But these are best just eaten raw in salads, or even straight from the plant as a mid-morning snack.