Every now and again I catch a programme on the Food Network. A couple of months ago I caught an episode of Baking with Anna Olson where she did upside down cakes. One of the recipes was Lemon Berry Saucing Cake. I decided to wait until the fruit in the garden was ripe before I gave it a go. I have managed to collect wild strawberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, red gooseberries and blackberries.
The dessert was surprisingly easy to make. I started by making a fairly runny batter which consisted of half a cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of plain flour, a pinch of salt, 1 egg yolk and 2/3 of a cup of semi-skimmed milk.
I took the egg white and whisked it until it started to form peaks. The white was actually quite runny, suggesting the egg was quite old, even though they were only bought a few days ago and still had 10 days until the 'Best Before' date.
I managed to find 4 mis-matched ramekin dishes which I buttered and coated with sugar. I put a layer of berries in the bottom of each, using different combinations of the ones I mentioned above.
These were the only 2 matching ramekins. The puddings were baked at gas mark 4 for 35 minutes. The ramekins were in a bain marie to help them cook evenly.
I was surprised at how well the puddings turned out. The one pictured here had mixed fruit in. The one I ate was mainly gooseberry with some blackcurrant and strawberry. The balance of sharp and sweet flavours was about right and the pudding had a good cakey texture with a good layer of sauce on top.
I had tried to grow Summer Ball Courgettes a couple of years ago but it was a bad year for courgettes for me. None of the plants did well and I didn't get any courgettes. This year has been better and so far I've picked a smallish one.
The only other things I've harvested so far have been herbs, a few wild strawberries, and some chillies from last year's plants.
Earlier this week I dug up a load of dandelion roots so I cleaned them and dried them so I could have a go at dandelion coffee. I dug out my copy of Richard Mabey's Food for Free and it was very vague so I looked up a few websites for more info.
In the end I roasted the roots at gas mark 6 until they were dry and crumbly (but they hadn't gone very dark), ground them up in a pestle and mortar and ended up with only 1 tablespoon of bits.
I put the bits in a jug, poured over a cup of boiling water and left it a few minutes before straining into a cup. I think I probably needed more roots because the drink was a bit weak but most noticeably it didn't resemble anything coffee-like at all (I am reminded of Arthur Dent and his cup of something which was "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea").
The flavour was like a cross between unsalted potato crisps and something a bit like parsnips. I'm not sure whether to try again the next time I dig up some roots but my first attempt wasn't great. At least it was better than the cornsilk tea or the hyssop tea, which were my previous attempts at drinks from the garden.
This year we seem to have a house full of chilli plants. There are several on the windowsills in both the upstairs and downstairs front rooms. The upstairs chilli plants get a bit more sunlight during the day and were the first to start to ripen.
This afternoon I noticed there were 3 bright red chillies so I harvested them to add to our regular saturday night pizza. They seem to have a decent amount of heat and flavour. There are a lot of green unripe chillies on the plants so it looks like it might be a good chilli harvest this year.
It looks like, at long last, the almost continuous rain has ended and summer has arrived. The garden is growing again, and some courgettes seem to have appeared on one of our plants almost overnight.
When I left work this evening, it was a bit toasty in the car. The thermometer actually measures the temperature underneath the car rather than inside but I can easily believe that it was over 40c, since the car is practically a mobile greenhouse. The temperature originally read 42c when I first got in but by the time I got my phone out to take a photo, it had dropped a degree.
A few weeks ago I planted two pots of rocket and left them on the windowsill in the front room so they would get plenty of sunlight. I had two different packets of seed and thought it would be a good idea to compare them. Unfortunately I forgot to make a note of which pack went into which pot so now the rocket is grown, I have no idea which is which.
One of the packets is clearly doing better than the other, with the plants growing at roughly double the rate. Unfortunately this is the year when I forgot to label most of the things I planted. I have several different types of chilli pepper and tomato growing in various rooms of the house and in tubs in the garden but in most cases I have no idea what is growing where.
Some of the chilli plants are doing quite well and have a few flowers on them but the tomatoes aren't doing very well. A lot got eaten by slugs and some seem to have been affected by the bad weather and haven't grown an inch in several weeks. The courgettes seem to be doing ok so far so at least there will be some veg from the garden this year. The less said about the strawberries, the better. None of the seeds germinated. Same for the parsley. I will have to buy fresh seeds for next year.
Last year I bought a pack of seeds from Garden Organic at Ryton. It was described as 'Edible Leaves, Roots and Shoots' and contained a collection of wild plants which are commonly described as weeds but which are edible. I planted the seeds in a tub in the garden and last year I made some crispy seaweed from some of the leaves, and managed to save some Wild Mustard seeds from one of the plants which grew.
I left the plants over the winter but yesterday I decided to dig them up so I could reuse the tub for a more productive crop this year. I found two large roots:
This plant turned out to be Wild Carrot. I washed the root and had a chew on a small piece. It was very tough and fibrous but did have a slight carrot taste.
It took a bit longer to identify this but I managed to work out that it was Common Mallow. This is a relative of the Marsh Mallow, which gave its name to the soft and fluffy sweet. It is possible to boil the roots to extract a gelatinous substance which could possibly be used to make a version of the original marshmallow so today I decided to give it a go.
I peeled and chopped the root then simmered it in a small amount of water. I then whisked the slightly gloopy water with some caster sugar, vanilla essence and pink food colouring. The mixture was a bit runny and kept splashing everywhere so I cheated by whisking in some cornflour and returning it to the pan.
The end result was a soft sweet tasting jelly which did not resemble an actual marshmallow sweet at all.
Yesterday, during one of my regular trips to the compost heap to empty the teapot, I noticed a couple of tiny strawberry flowers:
Earlier in the autumn I cut the strawberry plants down, ready to plant more in the spring, but a few weeks later some of them had started to regrow. The warm autumn might have confused the plants but I didn't expect flowers to start appearing during the winter.
A couple of years ago I tried to grow Butternut Squash and one of the plants did quite well and we got 2 squash off it. This year I haven't had a single squash but the plant has grown huge and taken over half of the garden. It has covered the leeks, carrots and shallots so our crop of those has been very poor too.
The recent warm weather seems to have confused some of the other plants in the garden. I recently cut down one of the pepper plants and the wild strawberry plants but some small green shoots have appeared. I expect the strawberries to do ok over the winter but I will probably have to put the pepper somewhere sheltered to see if it survives the winter to give it a good head start in the spring.
I am still getting tomatoes and chilli peppers from the garden although things are ripening quite slowly now. At least those two crops have been successful this year and I have made roast tomato soup several times, often adding some other veg, such as peppers and courgettes, to the roasting pan.
We were in Tesco yesterday and we bought a selection of bottled drinks, including their own brand active electro-lite sports drink. It tastes ok but we were surprised when we read the ingredients. Among the list of 'fruit and vegetable extracts' it lists Radish and Sweet Potato. I'm not sure why these are in the drink, I can't taste radish, but it must be there for a reason.
This afternoon I made a fruit smoothie which, as far as I can tell, didn't contain any vegetables at all. We had some melon which had gone very soft and over-ripe so I liquidized it along with some of the wild strawberries from the garden and a kiwi fruit. The strawberries were straight from the freezer so the smoothie was nice and cold when I drank it.
Last month I mentioned the feral sunflowers which appeared in the garden. One of them is now at least 7 feet tall and towers above me so I needed to point the camera upwards to take the photo below.
Last year I sowed some poppy seeds in the far corner of the garden to add a splash of colour. I bought a packet of seeds from the supermarket and scattered them liberally all over the patch. When the flowers had finished blooming and the seed heads had dried out I collected the seeds, along with some seeds from purple poppies which were growing on the pavement halfway down our road.
In the spring I got the pot of seeds and scattered a lot of them in the corner plot again as well as in a couple of small trays of compost. A lot of the poppies have grown but so far the only flowers to appear have been a light purple colour. They seem to be very delicate because most of the time whenever I see a poppy, there are only a couple of petals remaining.
I photographed the poppy below in our garden this morning. I didn't touch the flower when I took the picture but about 10 minutes later the petals had started to fall off.
Last year I planted two types of sunflower - traditional yellow sunflower seeds which I picked out of the hamster food and red sunflower seeds which I bought from a seed supplier on ebay. I planted some more of the same this year but I noticed that there were more sunflowers growing in the garden than the ones I planted. The ones which had self-seeded seem to have grown faster than the ones I started off in the propagator.
There were sunflowers sprouting in the courgette tubs and in several of the plant pots where I put tomatoes and peppers. Most of these had to be uprooted but I left some of those in the larger tubs. One of these is pictured above.
While I was in the garden to photograph the sunflower I noticed that the tomato plants were wilting slightly and the compost in the pots was dry. Now I thought this was slightly odd because there was a lot of rain during the day. I even commented to someone in the office that the rain would be good for the tomatoes. I don't think I am growing a special type of waterproof tomato. I expect it might be the tall fence blocking the rain. Something similar happens with the strawberries, which are on a set of metal shelves which means the lower trough gets less rain than the one on top. This means I sometimes have to go out and water them even if it has been raining.
Last week I ordered a couple of books from Amazon, both from the 'Collins Gem' series:
- Wild Flowers by Martin Walters
- Food For Free by Richard Mabey.
They are both small pocket sized books which will be ideal to take with you on walks in the countryside. One useful feature of the wildflowers book is a flower-type index where different flower shapes are listed alongside different flower families. It's a useful aid to identification. So far it has helped me to identify Wild Mustard (which was part of the Edible Leaves and Shoots mixture from Garden Organic) and Petty Spurge and two kinds of Willowherb (which grow as weeds).
The Food for Free book covers similar ground to the Edible Hedgerow book I bought from River Cottage. The book contains more plants but with less detail and should be useful to help locate and identify unusual things to eat.
Most of the plants in our garden are there for one reason: to provide food. There are a few flowers there to provide a splash of colour, the biggest at the moment is the Clematis:
We originally bought the clematis because we had bought a trellis and needed something to grow up it. A couple of years ago it died off but when it grew back it was more vigorous than before.
We bought some viola plants about the same time and they lasted a couple of years before being eaten by slugs.
They managed to spread seeds around the garden and this plant established itself at the edge of the herb bed, next to the veg patch.
I don't know whether violas have a good or bad effect on other plants - I'm not really up to speed with companion planting but my brief reading on the subject suggests that they go well with herbs so I'll leave the plants there for now.