Tag Archives: organic

Shoots of Anticipation

1 Mar

Salad drawer

Salad drawer

It’s the first day of March, the official month when Spring starts to break through the grey and green shoots push their way up through the ground looking for light and opportunities to spread their seeds.

Growers are ablaze with excited chatter about which seeds to try out this growing season. A friend of mine who has been growing in London for years recommended The Real Seed Catalogue, based in Wales. They only sell open-pollinated seeds (non-hybrid) in a range of rare heirlooms and modern strains bred for flavor, not for the needs of supermarkets.

You automatically become a member of their seed club through requesting seeds. This is due to EU legislation, which in practical terms means that in the EU there is now an official list of vegetable varieties, so varieties not on the list cannot be sold to the public. Through the membership you are no longer seen as a member of the public, and get the change to grow amazing seeds with many a story to their name, and play a part in protecting seed diversity.

Seeds come with much anticipation, nurturing that potential through the right conditions for germination to the first seed leaves and then the emergence of true leaves, you know the plant is really determined to grow. This is the first bit of magic which largely happens under the soil’s surface. Now new life is here, we need to make the most of it by working within natural cycles to make the most out of its potential.

I’ve been a bit keen this year and ordered my seeds at the start of February. I’m growing in containers as I live in a converted school, so the playground is my edible challenge. We’ve upcycled an old drawer and a hardboard container from a skip by drilling some holes in the bottom for drainage, linning it with plastic and given it a lick of paint, perfect for an urban kitchen garden. They are all right by a sunny south-facing wall, so the tomatoes should be in their element.

The drawer is perfect for cut and come again salad leaves so I’ve gone for some Shungiku, a favorite of the Japanese and very peppery. I’m hoping some of my companion plants from last year reseed or I may buy some small plants to replace them in early May.

I’m trying out some more vine tomatoes as they flourished last year, although they were a bit tightly packed and did require lots of watering. This season the variety is an early cropping vine, Stupice, from 1954 Eastern Europe, a little larger than the average cherry tomato and known for its heavy cropping and rich flavour. They will be undersown with some mixed Nasturtiums to add some diversity, food for pollinating insects and ingredients for salads or butters.

Smells of summer

Smells of summer

I’m also really excited to be trying out some mouse melons, which are a tiny type of lemony cucumber. A natural climber known for its heavy cropping and stunning little fruits. Perfect for summer salads and pickling!

Containers are made for climbers so continuing with that theme I couldn’t resist trying some green pole beans, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, originally from the native North American Cherokee people. As they were driven from their land in 1838 by the US government in a forced march to make room for European settlers, they carried the bean with them and it has been passed on ever since. One of the most famous seeds of solidarity.

Which interesting varieties are you trying out this year and where do they originate from?

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My vegetable of the month: Beetroot

24 Nov

We’ve been getting juicy earth covered bunches of beetroot in our seasonal organic box for the last two months. Get the memories of bad Borscht out of your mind now.

I’ve roasted them for hours in the oven with garlic in their skins served with creme fraiche, pistachoes and lime zest, cooked them and made an autumnal salad like my grandma does with grated carrot, roasted sunflower seeds and bite size pieces of orange, if available with a yogurty citrusy lemon dressing.

I really wanted to do something with a South East Asian twist and came across a recipe in Leiths Vegetarian Bible, don’t be sacred, it’s a fab book, even if you love eating animals. My brother gave me the recipe book whist I was at university and it continues to inspire me and is quite ideally stained with beetroot.

BEETROOT, COCONUT AND LIME SOUP

30g unsalted butter

1 medium onion, sliced

3-4 stalks of lemon grass, trimmed and sliced

800g-900g beautiful purple tender cooked beetroot

1/2 pint of vegetable stock – Bouillon or homemade

1 x 400ml can of coconut milk

juice and zest of one lime

salt and black pepper

Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche and lime zest

1. Melt button in a heavy bottomed pan, add the onion and lemon grass and fry over a low heat until soft.

2. Peel and trim the beetroot (after cooking in boiling water). Cut into largish chunks. Put in the pan with the stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3. You’re nearly done. The smells should be amazing. Puree the soup in a blender with the can of coconut milk.

4. Pour the soup back into the cooking pan and add the lime juice and season with salt and pepper, taste. Reheat and top with a dollop of creme fraiche and some lime zest. Serve with toasted Sourdough or Rye bread!

(Recipe adapted from Leiths Vegetarian Bible, 2002)

Don’t be intimidated by beetroot, it’s an amazingly comforting and versatile vegetable. You should still be able to get your hands on some, get cooking.

(Nick Saltmarch)

(Rebecca Clarke)

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