07.08

Cider-with-Rosie-summer-vegetable-recipes-7

If there’s any one vegetable you can always count on to be plentiful when growing your own, it’s the courgette. Last year I had three plants growing in the tiny garden of our old house, and such a bountiful supply I promised myself that in 2018 I’d cut back to just two plants.

But in reality? I’ve somehow managed to end up with five, yes, FIVE plants of differing varieties, and we’re picking an average of two courgettes a day. Last weekend we picked NINE. It’s madness, madness I tell you!

So what to do with them all? Well, we’re cramming them into just about every savoury recipe going (from risottos and pastas, to fritters and salads), I’ve made batches of pickles and chutneys, but my current favourite way to use these sweet summer squashes up is to bake them into a loaf cake.

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The cake itself is the simplest thing to knock up (even with the help, or hindrance, of a toddler), and is absolutely delicious too.

It doesn’t taste exactly of courgettes, in the way that carrot cake doesn’t taste exactly of carrots, but it does have a certain undefinably ‘green’ flavour that works so well alongside the freshness of berries or some citrus zest. I’ve been topping it off a simple lemon glaze more often than not, but this time, thanks to a distinct lack of lemons available in the house, I had to get creative with a few of the first blackberries of the season instead.

Simply warmed through, crushed, and then mixed with a small mound of icing sugar, it made the most delicious topping for the cake. And oh so seasonal, too!

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The recipe is one I’ve adapted from BBC Good Food, though minimally it must be said. Mainly through laziness (I didn’t have self raising flour first time I made it and so replaced with plain flour and just doubled up the baking powder), and also I’ve removed the sultanas because does anyone really want sultanas in a sponge cake? I think not.

Makes one loaf cake.

Ingredients:
350g courgettes
250g light brown sugar
125ml sunflower oil
3 large eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
300g plain flour
2tsps baking powder

- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and grease and line a loaf tin with parchment paper.

- Grate the courgettes, then put them all into a tea towel and wring out as much of the moisture as you can.

- Add the courgettes to a large bowl, and add in the sugar, oil, eggs, lemon zest (if using), and vanilla extract. Mix together. Tip in the flour and baking powder, mix thoroughly, and then pour the batter into the lined cake tin.

- Bake for 50minutes-1 hour, and then allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack.

- A simple and delicious glaze can be made by mixing icing sugar into fruit juice (lemon, orange, grapefruit, mashed berries…) until a smooth runny consistency is achieved. Allow the cake to cool completely before icing.

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If you have a go and make it yourself, do tag me in a photo on Instagram! I’d love to know how you get on!

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Posted in CAKE, COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, EATING SEASONALLY, FROM MY HOME TO YOURS, KITCHEN GARDEN, RECIPE, SUMMER

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31.07

Cider-with-Rosie-foraging-10

There’s something quite magic about stumbling across something edible, when out in the countryside. I’ve become a bit obsessed with scanning the hedgerows whenever we’re out on walks or driving along the lanes near where we live, watching out for berries or tree fruits or whatever’s in season at the time.

I feel so fortunate every day to live somewhere with such an abundance of wild foods available, and so inspired by our beautiful surroundings to learn more about what edible plants and fruits are growing all around us.

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It all began with wild garlic season back in early spring.

A chance sighting of a sea of glossy green leaves whilst driving along the lane about two minutes from home, a hasty stop, and minutes later Ottilie and I were picking as much as we could cram into a bag I found stashed away in my car.

Some went to making a batch of vividly green pesto that I froze into blocks for use over the months ahead (we’ve only just finished it!), and the rest was wilted down, combined with cooked fresh nettle tops that we picked from the uncultivated area of the veg patch, and used to fill homemade pasties for a delicious, iron-rich dinner.

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Next came the elderflower.

Side plate-sized sprays of delicate off-white blooms that arrived just as Jason’s hay fever did, leaving him so swollen in the face he looked as though he’d spent a weekend having Botox, not doing something as innocent picking flowers and turning them cordial.

Our rookie adventures in cordial making haven’t been as successful as I’d have liked though. We didn’t realise that we needed to add Campden tablets to give it a long shelf life, and so our bottles have all become cloudy and suspicious looking. It seems a waste to throw it down the drain, but I suspect that might be its sorry fate…

But we’ll try our luck with the berries instead when they ripen later this year. I’ve got plans to make elderberry syrup (apparently a potent homeopathic cold and flu remedy), and elderberry vinegar which, by all accounts, is the most divine cooking ingredient imaginable and as good as the finest balsamics!

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Above, sloes ripening on a blackthorn bush, and below the first of the windfall eating apples. We made sloe gin a couple of years ago and it was the most delicious, warming drink the following Christmas! Hoping we’re able to do another batch this year…

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And now, even though we’re only at the beginning of August, the late summer and early autumn wild fruit bounty is looking tantalisingly close to being ready.

The farm track up to our house is lined with both apple and (I think? I hope!) crab apple trees, as well as one tall and statuesque walnut tree. I’ve got grand plans for storing up a freezer full of stewed apples for pies and crumbles, and making as many jars as I can of delicious, cinnamon-flecked apple compote to store through the winter months.

And over from our house, around the stables and up the lane, are more blackberry bushes than we could ever hope to find. I’ve got the fondest memories of going blackberry picking with a little Ottilie on my hip last year, who insisted on a ‘one for me one for the pot’ rule for all the ‘backbees’ we collected together.

This year we’ll be picking blackberries with an Ottilie who can very much help herself, so it’s just as well there’s enough to feed the 5000 all around the farm or else we’d be lucky to get enough for a jar of jam!

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And now that I’ve well and truly caught the foraging bug, I’m so keen to know more about how to eat from the landscape around me!

Do you pick and eat wild foods? Has anyone read any brilliant books about foraging I should know about? And does ANYONE know where a girl can find a damson tree in the Surrey Hills area?!

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Posted in COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, EATING SEASONALLY

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27.08

Cider-with-Rosie-blackberry-jam-5

G O O D B Y E   S U M M E R

Blackberry season always feels like the beginning of the end of summer, doesn’t it?

I’ve been picking berries a few times a week for a good few weeks now, and built up a stash in my freezer with the idea of making jam. I’ve been on something of a jam kick lately, after eating so many delicious kinds made by our friends Lizzie and Tania’s sweet Maman in France at the beginning of the month.

And so, it was to Cathy’s recipe that I turned for my first foray into jam making…

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A kilo of berries (mine were frozen), left to defrost and macerate in 800grams of sugar overnight, and then mixed with the juice of a lemon. Bring to the boil in a large pan, and then cook for 20 minutes. Do the ‘wrinkle’ test by pouring a little of the juice onto a clean plate and then let it go cold- if it forms a skin that wrinkles when pushed with your fingertip, it’s ready to jar.

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Pour the jam out into clean, sterilised jars, and screw the lids on tightly. And that’s it! I tasted a jar the next morning, spreading the jam onto freshly buttered toast and eating straight from the chopping board. Quite possibly the most satisfying piece of toast I’ve ever had!

And you know the best thing? When I nipped out to take the photos of the brambles that I wanted for this blog post, the hedges were so heavy with berries that I ended up collected another great bag-full.

So I think I’ll be making more jam again quite soon…

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Posted in AUTUMN, EATING SEASONALLY

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14.08

Cider-with-Rosie-Kitchen-garden

D I G   F O R   V I C T O R Y

For pretty much my entire adult life, I’ve wanted to be good at gardening. I always loved the idea of growing my own vegetables and fruit, dreamed of being able to base my evening meal around whatever was ripe and ready to pick in the garden that day, and was so taken with the idea of being so connected to the natural environment around me.

I have the most vivid memories of growing tomatoes in a little grobag on the patio with my Grandma as a little girl, and of the smell of warm vines and earth and fish food in the greenhouse at my Nanny and Grandpa’s.

I’m not sure what exactly’s been the catalyst for this year being the year that I really got going with my garden, but something’s just clicked and now I can’t imagine life without gardening in it! It’s incredibly gratifying, therapeutic, and an amazing way to find some peace at the end of each day.

To be honest, I have an inkling that becoming a mother has something to do with my love for gardening and growing our food. I’m keen to be kinder to the environment, love knowing that the veg I feed Ottilie is organic and as fresh as it gets, and am proud to be sustaining our family in a small way. Basically, I’m a pair of linen overalls and a toe ring away from my transformation into a hippy earth mother being complete…;)

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Since sharing snippets of the progress of my little garden over the past few months I’ve had so, so many requests to put together a post about how I got started, and so, here we are! All that I’ve learnt during my first summer as a grow-your-own obsessive!

R E A D   +   R E S E A R C H

There is a plethora of information out there on getting started with growing veg, both in book form and online. One of my favourite resources has actually been Instagram- there is a whole community of gardeners who share updates from their allotments and kitchen gardens, and the tips and info I’ve picked up from their knowledge has been great! Searching through hashtags like allotment, kitchengarden, growyourown, allotmentlife, homegrown, ediblegarden, urbangardenersrepublic will bring up some really inspiring accounts!

Hollie Newton’s book ‘How to Grow’ has also become my Bible over the past few months, with both tips for growing and delicious recipes for the fruits and veg you produce. It’s so simple to follow, fun to read and full of such helpful info, I really can’t recommend it highly enough. Or the delicious recipe for runner bean kimchi that I now add to at least 60% of my meals!

I also love Charles Dowding’s YouTube channel- it’s a bit less accessible, but has amazing advice and demonstrations about a method of gardening called ‘no dig’, which basically involves using layers of compost to build the soil structure rather than doing masses of digging every year. It’s fascinating and something I’m wondering if I can replicate in the large containers I use for most of my veg growing. Alys Fowler’s series ‘The Edible Garden’ is also beautiful and so so inspiring. I watched the whole series on a website called archive dot org, which I’m not certain is entirely legit but doesn’t feel especially dodgy either, so…

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S P A C E

I always had the impression that you needed masses of space to grow veg, but in actual fact, you can grow almost anything in pots, boxes and containers! The big black tubs you can pick up in places like B&Q are cheap and great, but I’ve also used regular terracotta pots (£4.99 from Homebase!), a big vintage metal tub I found in an antique shop (£30, and it’s massive), and wine crates from my local Majestic (a fiver a pop, money that’s donated to Majestic’s chosen charity each year)!

So far this year in containers I’ve done- potatoes, Chantenay carrots, courgettes (the bigger the better when it comes to containers for courgette, they’re monster plants and like to sprawl!), cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces and rocket, strawberries, sugar snap peas, and Swiss chard.

If you do happen to have space for a bed, there are tutorials for building raised beds online that look so simple I feel like even I could manage it myself! We only have a small amount of actual garden bed space that gets decent sun (our garden is tiny!!) and so I’ve used most of it for runner beans and then put one large courgette plant down the far end, with a jungle of nasturtiums growing in and around them all.

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T I M I N G   +   P L A N N I N G

Gardening and growing veg takes a fair bit of planning- who knew?! The newfound appreciation I have for my food is staggering- having seen the months of growth and nurturing that goes into every bean, carrot, potato and lettuce leaf, I could cry with guilt if I ever have to throw something in the bin that’s gone soggy in the fridge!!

Early Spring, March/April time, is the start of the ‘growing season’ (i.e. when the bulk of vegetables can be sown from seed), but even now there’s plenty to be planted up! Lettuces and leafy greens like spinach prefer cooler temperatures and will keep going through the Autumn, and look so lush and lovely in pots on a deck or patio.

To get an idea of what to plant when, back in Spring I spent time noseying through all the packets of seeds at the garden centre, reading on the back of each packet when the recommended months were for sowing, planting out and then harvesting. I’ve also got this book arriving today which supposedly is an amazing month by month guide for a year of homegrown veg!

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^^ Baby cavolo nero kale seedlings popping up! This pot had a courgette plant in it until the end of July, and once the plant finished fruiting I pulled it out, chucked in a layer of fresh compost, and sowed some kale seeds. Kicking myself for not starting the kale off in a seed tray a few weeks ago though to get going with growth before planting out!! ^^

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Y O U   W I N   S O M E ,   Y O U   L O S E   S O M E

Between the slugs and the caterpillars, the blights and the mildews (who even knew those were a thing?!) it can seem like you’re destined to fail before you’ve even started! I’ve definitely had my fair share of disasters this year, but by and large, the good has more than balanced out the bad.

Some losses though, for example…

Sugar snap peas. A late frost at the start of May killed off my first sowing when they were only an inch or so high, then the caterpillars moved in when my second sowing had just begun to bear fruit and ate their way through most of the leaves, and then a random mildewy-type thing spread over all the plants! BUT, the peas themselves, though few, were insanely delicious!!

Rocket. I’ve tried twice to grow rocket this summer, and both times it started flowering and was finished before it even started. I’ve since learnt that it was just too hot for rocket this summer, and so I’m trying again with another sowing…

Swiss chard. There’s a nasty bug called a Spinach Leaf Miner fly that’s been eating my Swiss chard from the inside out, and no matter how many times I take off the affected leaves I keep finding more and more damage. I need to work out a way to net it all, even though it’s in a container…

It’s funny though, because even the things that don’t work out don’t feel like failures. It’s a learning experience, and is all part of the fun!

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Whilst I don’t feel like I’m experienced enough to share any real tips of my own, there are a few things I’ve learnt this year that’ve been so valuable…

- Nasturtiums are the ultimate sacrificial plant! I read that they’re ideal to plant alongside runner beans as they’ll entice away any caterpillars and slugs, and it’s worked a treat. They’ve been munched to within an inch of their lives in parts, still look great in their own way, and my runner beans are healthy and happy! Hooray!

- Don’t waste super sunny spots in the garden on greens. Lettuces, rocket, spinach, and Swiss chard are all perfectly happy in semi shady spots, and the sunny patches can be kept sun lovers like tomatoes and beans!

- If in doubt, buy bigger pots or containers and give your plants more space than you think they’ll need. I put two tomatoes into one not especially large terracotta pot and they’re not very happy for it! Ah well, I’ll learn for next time!

-  When you’re told to give runner beans plenty of water and to put a mulch (a.k.a. a top layer of compost/manure, etc.) around each plant, don’t ignore the advice and think you know better. I managed to bring mine back from the brink during the early summer heatwave, but nearly had a very sad bean-less season after they got so dehydrated the flowers started dropping off without ever turning to beans!

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I think this might be the most mammoth post I’ve ever written, so perhaps we’ll leave things there for today! I’d love to share more from the garden over the coming months, and would love to know if there’s anything specific you’d like to read more of.

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Posted in COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, EATING SEASONALLY, GARDENING, KITCHEN GARDEN

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