Crumble Mixture for Fruit
The key to good crumble mix is the ratio of flour to sugar/butter. This recipe will provide four generous portions, but just adjust the amounts in the same ratio for more people (or bigger portions!)
Use your hands to rub the flour and butter together until they form a 'breadcrumb' like mixture. Combine with sugar (and chopped walnuts/cinnamon if used)
Spread over the fruit mixture - some sweetened rhubarb with crystallised ginger is perfect at this time of year but, in summer, can be replaced by sweetened damsons or plums with mixed spice then, in autumn, apples or pears with dates.
Bake in a heated oven at 200degC for about an hour, but check at five minute intervals after around forty minutes - the top should be golden brown and the fruit syrup should bubble up around the edge of the dish.
Spinach and Bacon Salad
Fresh greens complemented by salty bacon and crunchy bread A meal for two or side dish for four to six...
Wash and dry the spinach leaves.and put in a large bowl.
Cut the bacon into small strips and gently cook with a little olive oil in a frying pan until the white fat turns golden. Remove the bacon and allow to cool.
Meanwhile cut the bread int o cubes and fry in bacon fat/olive oil (add more olive oil if the bread absorbs it and the pan goes dry) until they turn golden brown Turn off the pan.
Dress the spinach leaves with the vinegar and seasoning. Stir in the bacon slices and sprinkle the bread cubes/croutons over the top.
A quick and easy way to preserve any surplus rhubarb. Delicious on its own or mixed with lemonade or a sparkling wine.
Ingredients (the exact proportions don't matter, so you can add adjust the relative amount of fruit and sugar to suit your own taste):
Simply soak all of the ingredients and store in a cool dark place. I use 2 litre kilner jars, but any air-tight container will do. Initially the liquid will need inverting or gentle stirring every day or two to stop the sugar from setting. It is ready to bottle (or drink!) after 3-4 weeks - when the liquid turns a pale shade of pink and the rhubarb turns a pale brown/green colour.
You can leave it for much longer (up to a year) and the rhubarb taste becomes more pronounced.
For a special treat add two or three vanilla pods.
Kale and (Wild) Garlic
This side dish can be prepared with garlic but has a more subtle flavour if you use wild garlic leaves which are at their best in early April just as the plants start to flower.
Ingredients (per person)
Blanch the kale in salt water and drain. If you are using 'ordinary' garlic, crush the garlic and gently fry in olive oil before adding the kale. If you are using wild garlic, add raw to the drained kale and gently coo in the olive oil until wilted.
Squeeze the lemon over the mixture and serve while hot.
Rhubarb and Custard Tart
Makes one 300mm (12”) diameter tart (8-12 portions).
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C (425°F) and Line a circular tin with the pastry and bake blind for 10-15 minutes.
Warm the milk and cream gently but do not boil. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod and add to the milk/cream. Add the sugar, egg yolks and flour and whisk together, allow to cool slightly and pour into the pastry base.
Arrange the rhubarb pieces on top of the custard and bake for 25 minutes. Serve warm or cold.
Spring Greens with Lemon Dressing
Nutritious greens with strong lemon flavours for a healthy (and tasty) side dish.
Make the dressing by mixing the garlic, lemon juice and zest, olive oil and some seasoning together.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, then add the broccoli and greens, and cook for about 5 mins until tender. Drain well, then toss through the dressing and serve.
Asparagus is one of the first crops of the year to emerge, helping to fill the shortage of crops that can be harvested between winter and April. Although takes a while to establish an asparagus bed it requires little maintenance and can produce delicious spears for more than twenty years. Freshly cut asparagus is much sweeter, tenderer and generally superior to that bought in a supermarket.
To plant asparagus, dug a trench 20cm (8”) deep with a slight ridge in the middle. Lay asparagus crowns over the mound, at a distance of 45cm (18”) with the roots laying over the side. Then cover the crowns with a layer of soil to a depth of 5-10cm (2-4”), and then backfill the trench adding plenty of compost and/or manure – this will act as a mulch, keeping the roots moist and helping to control weeds.
The asparagus tips should begin to emerge quite quickly but resist the urge to pick them for the first two years which would weaken the plant and reduce future crops. In the first autumn cut the ferns back to a height of 5cm (2”) the ferns when they turn yellow-brown, and cover with a good layer of mulch.
In the meantime keep the ground weed free but do not hoe (this can damage the tender roots just below the surface). Also remove and destroy any asparagus beetles from the plants – these tend to emerge in warm weather.
Repeat this the following autumn and begin harvest the following spring. To harvest cut the asparagus spears below the surface when they are no more than 20cm (8”) tall.
Sprouting Broccoli with Chilli and Anchovies
An unusual accompaniment to simply grilled meat or chicken. Enough for 4-6 portions.
Trim the broccoli, blanch in salted water until tender and drain.
Roughly chop the garlic and fry gently in the olive until soft. Add the chilli flakes and anchovies and cook until the anchovies have broken down and thickened the olive oil. Add the broccoli and warm through.
A simple and economical meal using seasonal leeks. The following makes four servings for a light supper or lunch.
Mix the mashed potato, leeks, butter milk and seasoning in a bowl. Divide the mixture into four and spoon into individual oven dishes to approximately 1cm (½”) below the top of each dish.
Form a hollow in the mixture in each bowl and crack an egg in the hole. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top of each dish and bake in a hot oven the eggs are cooked and the cheese has browned.
Brussells Sprouts Salad
Raw fresh Brussells Sprouts are surprisingly good raw in salads – give them a go in this variation of a Waldorf!
Pre-heat oven to 180°C and toast the nuts for 10 minutes. Allow to cool and chop or slice thinly.
Peel the sprouts and slice thinly. Put them in a small bowl and toss with the dressing and seasoning. Slice the apple and stir in with the sprouts.
Crumble the cheese and loosely toss with the sprouts/apple. Sprinkle with the nuts and serve.
Chinese Style Chard
An accompaniment to an oriental meal or quick and easy snack on its own.
150-250g (6-8oz) of chard
1 tbspn sesame or sunflower oil
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbspn dark soy sauce
Chilli seeds (optional)
Blanche the chard in salted water for 2-3 minutes and drain. Heat the oil in a hot frying pan or wok, add the chard and garlic (and chilli seeds if you like additional spice). Stir occasionally for 3-4 minutes. Add the soy sauce and stir for a further 2-3 minutes.
Serve with additional soy sauce to taste.
Broad beans can be planted from October through to February, but the earlier they go in the better the crop is likely to be, but spring sown crops will produce only a few weeks later than overwintered plants – so if you haven’t planted yet there is still plenty of time. Their early flowers attract insects so they will help to pollinate other crops.
Plant in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter dug in.
Seeds should be planted 50mm (2”) deep, 20cm (8”) apart in rows that are 60cm (2’) apart to allow air to circulate around the established plants (road beans are susceptible to chocolate spot in cool, damp weather. Water every two weeks during dry weather. Beware of slug/snail damage when the plants begin to emerge. If your plot is exposed then the compact shape of dwarf varieties will protect them from the wind.
‘Pinching out’ the tops of plants regularly has two benefits: it encourages pod growth (rather than foliage); and it encourages fewer blackfly which are attracted to younger, sappier leaves.
The beans should be picked (from around May) by pulling the pods sharply downwards and are ripe when the beans within are about the size of the top joint of a finger. The flowers are also edible and can be added to salads.
Tuscany Black Kale (Cavolo Nero) Salad
An unusual accompaniment to grilled meat, fish or chicken. Serves 4.
Remove the kale leaves from the rib, chop into 50mm (2”) lengths and blanch in salted water for 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly and allow to cool.
Makes 6-8 jars
Roast the pickling spice with the salt for 15 minutes, then crush in a mortar and pestle.
Chop the pumpkin, tomatoes and onions, and cook in a pan with the vinegar sugar, raisins/sultanas, chopped garlic and chopped chilli. Bring to the boil and add the ground spices and salt. Simmer until the mixture thickens and then pot in sterilised jars. Allow to ferment for at least two weeks before use.
The squash chunks should retain some of their firmness and provide a ‘nutty’ texture. - perfect with a strong cheddar or to accompany a curry.
Serves four – delicious with turkey, gammon and roast pork.
Boil, peel and trim the parsnips and boil until soft (10-15 minutes). Drain and reserve the water. Blend the cooked parsnips with the butter and cream. Add the reserved water until it has the consistency of a sauce.
Return to the pan and season to taste.
This American favourite is even better when it’s made with home-grown pumpkins or squashes – delicious (hot or cold) with whipped cream.
Boil the squash/pumpkin in salted water for 15-20 minutes. Drain thoroughly and allow to cool. Blend all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth. Pour into the pastry base and cook for 40-45 minutes at 200°C - although the timing will depend on the moisture content of the pumpkin. Check at 30 minutes and then every five minutes, and reduce the oven temperature to 150°C if the pastry or topping are showing any signs of excessive ‘darkening’ (burning!).
Squashes are nutritious, delicious and attractive. They also offer a wide variety to choose from.
Most of us grow our plants from seed – it can be a challenge but it’s the cheapest and most rewarding method. The following tips can give your plants a head start and valuable extra days’ growth.
Plant seeds during April in approximately 1cm deep in rich compost and allow to germinate in a warm place. Keeping them above 15⁰C should result in seedlings after 10-14 days which will be ready to harden off towards the end of May. Meanwhile prepare their beds by removing all weeds and large stones and fork in well-rotted manure/compost and a handful of slow release fertiliser – squashes are ‘hungry’ vegetables.
Plant during warm weather and place them at least 60cm apart (1m for trailing varieties). Water sparingly during the first few weeks as young plants are prone to rot. Gradually increase the amount of water as the plant grow.
Pinch out when the stems reach 60cm (usually around the height of summer) and, if there are more than 5-6 fruit on each plant pick off the excess to encourage growth. As the fruits grow raise them above the ground to prevent damage through mould and pests.
Preserving Vegetables and Fruit
Preserving is a simple way of using fruit and vegetables, and it’s homely and satisfying to have jars of jams, chutneys, pickles and relishes in our cupboards. It is the perfect way of using surplus produce when there is a glut. And, by making them ourselves, we have control over their ingredients and can avoid the use of unnecessary colourings, flavourings and preservatives. They also make ideal gifts.
The nutritional value of all food deteriorates after it is picked. Preserving fruit and vegetables this is further reduced by washing, cooking, leaching and degradation. Many of these are unavoidable but can be limited by, preserving in oil rather than a sweet sauce, by pickling large chunks rather than grated vegetables, and by storing in cool dark spaces. And, although there is some loss of nutrients, preserved vegetables have historically helped to combat starvation and prevent scurvy throughout northern European winters. But the main reason for preserving fruit is to extend the shelf life of our produce, and, perhaps far more importantly, the taste!
Preserving doesn’t need any specialist equipment (although items such as preserving pans, jam funnels, and sugar thermometers are an advantage) and they require ingredients that are commonly available in any supermarket.
Even after giving away some of your produce to friends you may still be left with more than you can use - what a lovely problem to have!
Preservation is all about reducing the rate at which our crops decay.
Freezing is the simplest, quickest and most convenient means of preserving, and it is easy to store crops in small batches as they ripen. Most vegetables can be blanched then drained and frozen. Tomatoes, peppers and courgettes can be used in pasta sauces and ratatouille that can be frozen. Soft fruits can be open frozen straight after picking or cooked as syrups or purees and then bagged in small or large quantities.
Making jam is probably the most common/popular method for preserving fruit and soft fruits produce some delightful jams/conserves. Add sugar (similar weight to that of the fruit) and a lemon per kg (2 lb) of fruit and heat the mixture until a drop creases when dropped o a chilled saucer. Pour into sterilised jars when hot and seal the lids (these will produce a satisfying ‘pop’ as the contents cool). Try adding crystallised or powdered ginger to apple or gooseberry (or other tart fruits) to strawberry jam.
Pickling – preserving in vinegar or a vinegar-based sauce – can provide a delightful range of colours and flavours from simple pickled onions and other vegetables through ploughman’s pickles to mango chutneys and classics such as piccalilli. They should generally be left for at least one month before use to allow the flavours to combine and mature. Fruits – particularly apples, plums, pears and gooseberries - can also be cooked with sugar and vinegar to produce chutneys and pickles that are delicious with cheese and cold meats (mix 500g plums with 500g sugar and 250ml of white vinegar for a delicious cheese ccompaniment!).
Bottling is less common but not difficult – simply pack fruit or vegetables into bottling jars and cover with syrup, water or brine, then cook and seal them at high temperature to ensure that there are no bacteria present.