Winter cooking

The rosemary in the back garden is doing well enough that even at this time of year, I could go out and hack four decent-size sticks off it with no concern:

Four rosemary sticks and a pile of rosemary leaves on a chopping board, knife next to them

When I took that, I’d already put half the leaves into the roast potatoes; I’m going to leave the rest to dry on the back of the worksurface.

They were for this somewhat unusual in-season recipe: Swede On A Stick. I promised to find something interesting to cook with a seasonal vegetable. I forgot to soak the skewers, but hey, it’s been raining off and on for weeks so they were pretty damp anyway. It was very tasty! Not entirely worth the hassle (assuming you like swede anyway, which I do, and would happily just eat it plain), but a nice change.

Swede chunks on rosemary skewers in a heavy orange griddle pan on the stove

Also used from the garden, thyme for this bean and leek recipe (kidney beans worked fine instead of white beans, for the record, and conveniently we had a half-empty bottle of white wine mouldering in the fridge), and a bit of parsley to sprinkle on top. We had roast potatoes with it (is it too soon after Christmas? I thought not.).

Excellent in-season eating all round. Then I left someone else to clear up and went to have a nice bath.


Vegan lentil loaf

I have been making this at Xmas for well over 10 years, and every so often someone asks me for the recipe and I spend ages digging through my email for it. So here it is, for future reference. It is based on a Rose Elliot recipe, but hers had egg and cheese in, and fewer tasty things like garlic and Marmite.

Lentil loaf: serves 4-6 as part of big roast dinner

6oz split red lentils
8 fl oz water (may need to add more)
1 bay leaf
1 medium-sized onion, peeled & finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
2oz mushrooms, washed & finely chopped
1.5 oz fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt & pepper
splash soy sauce (to taste)
herbs to taste – thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano are all nice, depends what you have on hand.
Marmite (to taste)
Nutritional yeast to taste (optional)
1 tbsp soy lecithin or egg replacer (optional)
Marg & dried crumbs (optional) for coating tin

Put the lentils, water, & bay leaf in a saucepan & simmer gently until lentils tender & liquid absorbed. Add more water if necessary, but only a little & as needed or the loaf will be sloppy. Remove bay leaf.

Meanwhile, fry onions, mushrooms & garlic gently until onions are transparent.

Preheat oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Prepare 1lb loaf tin by putting long narrow strip of greaseproof paper on base & up narrow sides. Grease tin with marg, & sprinkle generously with dried crumbs if using.

Mix lentils, onions, mushrooms, garlic, & rest of ingredients. Spoon into tin & level top. Bake uncovered for 45-60min, until firm & golden-brown on top.


  1. Nutritional yeast has a nice cheesy taste, but is non-essential. Soya lecithin/egg replacer helps the stuff to bind together, but we don’t use it for anything else so don’t have it in the house, & I don’t bother. It just means it comes out a bit less sliceable.
  2. It’s a very forgiving recipe, generally.
  3. It keeps well in the fridge. You can also make it a day in advance & heat it in the microwave, or make it as far as ready-to-bake, leave it in the fridge overnight, & put it in the oven the next day (which is what we do at Xmas).
food, growing things

Adventures in Parenting: food from the garden

It’s taken a looong time this year (possibly because of June’s dreadful weather), but finally I am regularly harvesting food from the garden*. Carrots (my first ever really decent carrot crop!), courgettes, little cherry tomatoes, chard, and the last of the garlic.

Simultaneously, L has started on solids, which is great fun. We’re doing baby-led weaning, so I’ve been putting slightly more effort into lunch (ie not just hummous sandwiches) then just giving L some of whatever I fancy eating. If possible, including at least a little of our back garden veg. Stir-fried chard, courgette, carrot, and a little garlic, with rice or rice noodles; a few halved cherry tomatoes or some rocket on the side; pasta with garden veggies in a tomato-y sauce; steamed veg with a baked potato.

L is a big fan of courgettes and carrots (most of it eventually ends up on the floor, and thence in the dog, but he grabs and sucks and gums with enthusiasm). The first time I gave him a cherry tomato, he pulled the most peculiar face and drummed his feet on the high chair, and I assumed he must not like it. But no; when it fell out and I put it back on the table, he grabbed with enthusiasm and shoved it straight back in, for another flapping-and-grimacing session. I guess tomatoes must be pretty intense (and home-grown fresh tomatoes even more so) after six months of breastmilk.

Seeing him starting to experiment with food has been fun; being able to share food that I grew with him has been fantastic.

It’s not that I want to be parenty-high-horse about it. L is also eating plenty of stuff I didn’t grow; and I don’t garden because I think it’s better for L, although I do want to reduce household food miles**, but because I love doing it. It’s one of the non-parent things I’ve tried to keep up while submerged in newborn parenting.

But I love growing food, and I love eating food I’ve grown, and I love being able to include L in that. Some of those plants I planted (or watered, or thinned) while carrying him in a sling over the last six months. I harvest them while he plays on the grass, and then we both eat them. It feels like the way I want my life to fit together, with the various parts of it feeding (ha!) into one another.

And then I blog about it, and the words join into the same pattern.

* There’s been salad all summer; but we haven’t eaten that much of it. I have to conclude that we just don’t eat much in the way of salad leaves, even nice ones, and intend to plant much less of that next year.
** Not that our tiny back garden meets more than a fraction of our food needs, although I’m trying to improve on that over time as I work out what’s best to grow.


Spring harvest!

This week: the first harvest of broad beans from the garden. Two generous and insanely tasty portions eaten with baked sweet potatoes and baked tofu.


And a big bowl of fresh green leaves – the lettuces have really liked the damp weather. (I fear they may bolt soon now we’re having a heatwave.)


food, growing things

Vegan chickweed pesto

There’s not that much growing at this time of year; but you will find fresh chickweed in UK gardens and allotments, even in the middle of the snow. It’s usually considered a weed, but in fact it’s edible, nutritious, and even quite tasty.

You can eat it raw, but I’m not very enthusiastic about it like that. Alternatively, you can treat it like spinach leaves and wilt it before eating. Or you can make chickweed pesto, which is what I did.

When harvesting chickweed, take only the tops of the plant. The lower leaves are tougher, and also by taking the top, you just encourage it to branch and produce more tops for future harvesting.

Chickweed pesto recipe

  • A few good handfuls of chickweed tops (I had maybe a couple of packed mugs’ worth).
  • Handful of pine nuts or sunflower seeds.
  • 1–2 cloves raw garlic (if you can leave the pesto overnight to mellow), or 2 tsp minced garlic / garlic paste (if you want to eat it immediately).
  • Tbsp nutritional yeast (use parmesan for a non-vegan pesto).
  • Generous pinch of salt.
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil (add as you need it while blending).

Throw all the ingredients into a blender and keep blending until it looks like pesto. Add the olive oil as needed to help the blender out (you can also add a very little water), and as needed for texture.

It worked well on pasta, but I also enjoyed it on crackers for the next few days as a mid-morning snack. And since chickweed will, apparently, grow on my allotment regardless of what I do, I might as well make the most of it, especially at this time of year.


Experiments in free(ish) jelly

It’s been a fantastic year for berries, so I decided the time had come to experiment with rosehip and hawthorn jellies.

Finding a sufficiency of rosehips and haws to cook up was straightforward; half an hour in the local park with a shopping-bag produced enough for a small jar’s worth each of rosehip and hawthorn jelly. I took maybe a third, and left the rest for the birds. There’s plenty I can’t reach, anyway.

My first attempt at rosehip jelly turned out more like a cross between jelly and syrup. Rosehips don’t have much pectin, but I didn’t have any to hand, so I threw some lemon juice in, and relied on boiling it down to get it to setting-point. This was probably the root of the problem. It was also a little too sweet (at 1 lb sugar to 1 pt juice).

My first attempt at hawthorn jelly turned into hawthorn toffee instead, and had to be boiled back out of the jar. Haws do have plenty of pectin, but more importantly, there was a small quantity to start with (so easier to make mistakes), and I got involved with something else and went slightly too long without checking on it. It was very tasty, though (at 0.75 lb sugar to 1 pt juice).

Last weekend, I had another go at rosehip jelly, but with a double-handful of haws in to provide the pectin. Initial tastings indicate that it’s done fairly well, although I thought I might have detected a slight underlying bitterness. I’ll see what happens when I finish the test-jellies and open one of the jars.

Basic recipe:
– Pick over the hips or haws. In theory you should pick off all the twig parts, but I only took out the worst of them, on the grounds that it gets sieved anyway.
– Put into a pan, and cover generously with water. Boil for a while, mashing with a potato masher after 10 min or so.
– Strain through a jelly bag (or a muslin cloth) after about 30 min. If you leave the bag to drip, the jelly will be clear, but you’ll have less of it. I always squeeze, myself. If you haven’t got time to finish the job today, you can put the juice in the fridge overnight at this point.
– Put the juice into a pan with 0.8 lb sugar to 1 pt juice (this is my current ratio; experiment according to the sweetness of your tooth). Rosehips need either added pectin, or pectin-containing sugar.
– Bring to a boil and simmer until it sets. Test for setting by spooning a dab onto a plate and leaving it for a minute. Pull your finger across the dab, and if it wrinkles, it’s good to go.
– Put into sterilised jars (sterilise by washing with hot water and putting in a 100deg oven until dry, after which you must REMEMBER THAT THEY ARE HOT), put a jam paper circle over the top, and screw on the lid.
– Label once cool.

(It’s only free-ish because the sugar costs money.)

food, growing things

Planting salad leaves in late summer

It may already be the end of July, but it’s not too late to plant a few salad leaves for this season. Unlike a lot of vegetables, which really do need the whole of the summer to produce a reasonable crop, loose salad leaves are sufficiently fast-cropping to be worth planting in July or even August.

Rocket germinates very fast and is worth planting at nearly any time of year. Throw a few rocket seeds into a pot or into the ground, cover lightly with soil and water in well, and you should start to see seedlings within a week or two. Rocket is actually better started either well after midsummer (so, about now) or well before it (early spring), as around June it will bolt (run to seed) much faster.

Leaf lettuces (lettuces that grow lots of single leaves rather than forming a ‘head’) are a better bet than headed lettuces for late planting, as you can start picking leaves as soon as there are a handful of true leaves on the plant. Lollo rosso is one popular option; as is royal oakleaf. Real Seeds sell ‘Bronze Arrowhead’ oakleaf lettuce seeds. I’ve had great success growing these lettuces at all times of year, and they taste great; however, they do take a while to germinate.

Most lettuces, helpfully, are at least a bit frost-hardy, so you can expect them to keep cropping well into the autumn. You can extend this further by building a cold frame. Last year I had rocket and bronze arrowhead lettuce growing throughout the winter, even when it snowed. The plants outside the cold frame survived, but didn’t grow any new leaves until the spring.

Finally, if you have any pea seeds left over, or can get hold of some, they’re also worth planting late. Some mange tout may yet produce a proper crop (experiment!), but at the very least, you can harvest and eat the pea tops as salad.

food, growing things

Germination and experimentation

I’ve had better success with carrot germination this year than in previous years, on both allotment and balcony. This might be due to very thick sowing; the rate is still poor, but the actual number is higher. Carrot seed doesn’t last from year to year, so you may as well sow the lot and thin if necessary, especially given the tendency to poor germination. Turnips and parsnips, on the other hand, have been worse than previously. According to the packet, turnips shouldn’t be planted in May (presumably due to pest problems?), but as we’re now into June, I planted another couple of rows this weekend, along with some more carrots and beets.

Another interesting suggestion in the book I mentioned in my last post is to reconsider advised planting times. The author mentions sowing French beans as a late summer catch-crop, sowing brassicas in June or July to avoid pest problems, and sowing carrots in June (advice which I’ve seen before elsewhere). What I’ve mostly taken from this is to experiment. Once the squash have gone out into the space reserved for them, I’m going to start planting other seeds into any spaces I have left, and see how they do. After all, the worst that happens is nothing, right? I should, though, probably keep slightly better records than I have tended to in the past.

Experiments started so far:

  • Late May carrots and beets.
  • Early June turnips, Brussels sprouts, and kale (some under protective hats, some not, mostly because I ran out of protective hats).

Experiments yet to be carried out:

  • June leeks.
  • June mange tout. (I have already planted some on the balcony.)

Last year I conducted some accidental experiments with tomatoes, as my tomato seedlings didn’t get out into their final pots until July. The result: fewer tomatoes, and most of them still green by October when I finally had to take them in. (I did get some very nice green tomato chutney, though). This year, the first seedlings were planted out in early May, and they’re already starting to flower. I’ve also found in the past through experimentation that tomatoes do much better in pots on my south-facing balcony than on the allotment, so the balcony is crammed with them and I’m looking forward to the first eating.

Experimental gardening does invariably involve a few failures, but at the least you wind up better informed about why the usual rules are what they are; and you may get surprisingly positive results. The usual rules are really just guidelines; it’s only practice (and experiment) that gives you information about your space.


Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

It is once again the time of year when the rhubarb crowns go from “tiny new spring-announcing shoots” to “enormous rhubarb-triffids” pretty much overnight. Rhubarb crumble is good, as is rhubarb jam, but I thought I’d try something different this spring, and make rhubarb juice.

I used this recipe (summary: chop stalks into inch-ish chunks, cover with water, add a teaspoon of honey, boil for half an hr, then pour off the juice), and got 700ml of juice from maybe 10 decent-sized stalks. A teaspoon of honey was plenty (I might not bother with any at all another time).

The juice is nice neat; but even better with a little vodka, a couple of icecubes, and a sprig of mint. Very refreshing.

I turned the leftover pulp into rhubarb bread, using this vegan banana bread recipe. I estimated the volume of rhubarb pulp at about 2 bananas’ worth or a little more, so halved all the other quantities, and cut out the water as the rhubarb was pretty damp. Cooked for an hour at 180oC, it came out wonderfully. A bit like rhubarb crumble in cake form.

Next time I might try rhubarb liqueur.