July in the Kitchen Garden

July was the month that the main harvest started and we’ve enjoyed plenty of peas, French green beans, courgettes, chard and lettuce to keep our kitchen larder stocked! The second early potatoes were also ready towards the end of the month and we’ve been enjoying those especially with seasonal fish suppers. The veg beds need constant weeding and tidying this time of year also to allow the veg to have the best conditions to come through, along with lots of watering and feeding to allow their fruits to swell! We’ve also been pinching out out tomato plants to allow them to concentrate on swelling their fruit and feeding regularly also. Towards the end of the month/early August the first kale and runner beans were ready to pick.

The fruit garden has been abundant this year for us, helped by the combination of some warm sunny days to help ripen the fruit, but also rainy days to help swell it and make nice and juicy! We were still picking strawberries well into the month, along with blackcurrants, blueberries and raspberries. The blackberries are also early to ripen this year and we have picked a good 500g already! Now the only decision left is what to make with them?!

Here are some pictures of our harvest:

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Strawberry & Gooseberry Jam

Here is a recipe for a lovely seasonal recipe of Strawberry & Gooseberry Jam. Perfect for using up a glut of home grown fruit, or from your local PYO farm (we are very lucky to have Grove Farm near us in Ivinghoe), or even from the supermarket. It doesn’t matter where you get the ingredients from really, as long as they are seasonal and fresh. The addition of gooseberries to this jam make for a slightly less sweet flavour and help the set as they have more pectin in them than strawberries alone. I have used and adapted an old WI recipe, and you can too depending on what you have available. Just remember equal amounts of sugar to fruit. Have fun!

Strawberry & Gooseberry Jam

Makes about 2.5 kg (5 lb)

750 g (1.5 lb) gooseberries
150 ml (1/4  pint water)
750 g (1.5 lb) strawberries (hulled)
1.5 kg (3 lb) sugar

Place the gooseberries and hulled strawberries in a perserving pan with water and cook gently until the fruit is soft and mushy. Remove from the heat.

Add the sugar and stir well until all dissolved (if not all dissolved the jam will crystalise in the jar later). Return to the heat, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 15 mins until setting point is reached*. Pour into warmed, sterilised jam jars, cover and label.

*To test for setting point I use the saucer method – just put some saucers into the fridge when you start cooking the jam, then when ready to test take the jam off the heat and spoon a teaspoon of jam onto the cold saucer. Put it back in the fridge for 60 seconds, take out and if the jam wrinkles when pushed with your finger, the setting point has been reached.

Strawberries and Gooseberries in the Preserving Pan

Strawberries and Gooseberries in the Preserving Pan

Strawberries and Gooseberries softening in the preserving pan

The fruit softening in the pan

Putting the strawberry and gooseberry jam into warmed jars

Putting the jam into warmed jars

The finished article - Yummy!

The finished article - Yummy!

June in the Kitchen Garden

Wow – what a lot of rain we’ve had this month. Still, it has been very good for our kitchen garden and encouraged it to grow rapidly (as well as the weeds – lots of frantic clearing needed yesterday!). It’s our first real month of proper harvesting and we’ve enjoyed lettuce, peas, mangetout and plently of strawberries so far. We also harvested the last of the Cavolo Nero (black kale) before the cabbage white butterflies have a chance to lay their eggs! The last of our self raised seedlings went in the ground and bigger pots (wherever there was room basically!), so we now have our runner beans, french beans courgettes and tomatoes well into full growth – along with everything else! The potatoes, beetroot, spinach and chard are growing well – and our artichokes are MASSIVE!! Shame you only get one per plant, but we have to say, they do look spectactular!! Will have to search italian recipe books for how to use these.

So how have we used all this harvest? Well, the lettuce speaks for itself and we’ve been enjoying lovely salad for lunches and dinners for most of the month. The Cavolo Nero went into a mushroom and cheese omelette, and we’ve been adding the few peas (if and when they make it to the kitchen!), to risottos, summer stews etc. Strawberries have been the best so far, and as well as having bowls of them with luscious double cream for dessert, Rachel has made the main harvest into jam today (see strawberry and gooseberry jam recipe here). They are still cropping too so we’re expecting more yet. Oh and we’ve had our first few raspberries and the redcurrants are ripening nicely too!

Our wild food foraging this month has been centered around the abundant crop of elderflowers there seem to have been this year. They are definitely the taste of summer as far as we are concerned, so we’ve made them into some Elderflower Cordial. This will give us a refreshing drink ingredient, or lovely syrup for those strawberries and some ice cream!

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading – do share your kitchen garden stories too and we’ll see you next month :)

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

First Raspberry!

First Raspberry!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Purple French Beans in Containers

Purple French Beans in Containers

First full punnet of strawberries

First full punnet of strawberries

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

Seville Orange Marmalade

During a cold January, there is nothing better than driving past our local farm shop and seeing the roadside notice “Seville Oranges Now In”. This means the very short season for these wonderful fruits has begun, and then begins the race to get our share, before they go away again in a  few weeks time. These fruits are very bitter and are best used for cooking, so it makes them especially great for making a batch of marmalade. This year I’ve bought enough to make two batches (2kg), and have put one kilogram in the freezer, whole fruits, so I can make the most of the season and still make lovely marmalade in July! The other kilogram has been put to use straight away in order to fill our storecupboard with some lovely amber coloured jars - nice and cheery after the end of Christmas, and until the Spring comes along again. The house has been filled with their lovely citrus aroma all weekend, and brightened us up no end.

So, here is a little diary of how I got on…

I found a recipe that looked like it would fit the way I like marmalade, which is very thin shred and lightly coloured. It is from the River Cottage Preserves book but I did adapt it slightly.

There are only three ingredients and these are:

1kg Seville Oranges
2kg Sugar (the book says demerera sugar but I used normal granulated – gives a ligher colour)
75 ml lemon juice

I started by squeezing all the juice out of the oranges into a large bowl. Then the saved peel and pith was all chopped into fine shreds (you can make thicker if that is your preference), and added to the juice. Make sure no pips remain! Then 2.5 litres of water was poured on top and left to stand for 24 hours to help soften the fruit peel.

The fruit soaking

The fruit soaking

The next morning the fruit and liquid was poured into my preserving pan and brought to the boil. Then it was covered with foil and slowly simmered for about 2 hours to soften the fruit peel further.

Once this was complete, the lemon juice and sugar was added to the mixture. It was stirred slowly to dissolve the sugar and then brought to the boil again. This time it was left to boil rapidly for about 35 mins until setting point was reached (to test for setting point take the pan off the heat, spoon a teaspoonful onto a cold plate, put in the fridge for one minute and if it crinkles when pushed with your finger, the setting point has been reached. If not return to the boil for another couple of minutes and test again). The book suggested boiling for 20-25 mins but I found I needed longer.

The mixture was then left to cool for about 8-10 mins and poured into warm, sterilised jam jars (see my previous blog post for how to sterilise jars) and sealed immediately. The end result? Lovely amber nectar to put in the cupboard (and one or two jars saved for our Mums :-) .

Pouring the cooled marmalade into jars

Pouring the cooled marmalade into jars

Marmalade jars

The finished product - 6 jars of lovely amber nectar!

January

A lovely fieldfare who visited this week

Last weekend we sat down and had a proper think about our plans, committing our thoughts to paper. The first thing I recorded was the weather as I would like to keep a record of this, to enable me to see trends and how it changes through the years. Then I began to sort through the old seed packets we had leftover in the drawer from last year. Seeds do last a while, so don’t throw away your packets until you are sure they are no longer of use. Even after the recommended sow by date you could still give them a try. However if you are after more reliable results, it may be better to start afresh. We were quite pleasantly surprised that we still have ample seeds to grow the main, staple varieties of vegetables this year, perhaps with a few new and unusual ones purchased from a reliable supplier. 

The other thing we began to have a think about is fruit. Last year we concentrated on growing mainly vegetables, to give ourselves a chance to concentrate on one area of growing properly, adding a new subject each year. So this year (along with obtaining some chickens), it will be fruit growing.  Looking through the D T Brown catalogue we made a list of the ones we would like to try, then made a more realistic list based on the space we have! I would love to ultimately grow the kind of fruit you don’t normally see in shops such as mulberry and medlar, but these trees can grow quite large, not practical at the moment in our garden. So we opted for a range of currants instead (red, white and black) along with some of the more hedgerow varieties (indespensible in preserving), and will try sloes and crab apples. Quince is the only other fruit we will try. I am intrigued by this fruit and hear preserves made from it are perfect with cheese. Should be a lovely addition to my Christmas gift hampers for friends and family this year! 

The next thing to do was work out the areas in our garden in which we would grow everything. Our raised beds are in place from last year, so it is just a case of rotating the crops around. Brassicas will go in the onion & pea bed from last year, then new onions and peas in the old roots bed. This years roots will go in the old potato bed, and the last bed which currently has asparagus growing in it, will have the addition of some strawberries this year. We’ve made much more space for the main staple crops like potatoes and onions too this year, as found our 2009 crops of these didn’t last very long once harvested! A few other marked areas in the garden will have broad beans, french beans, squashes, leeks and edible/medicinal flowers. Raspberries complete the picture next to the leek bed. 

So from all that, a list was made to send to the most suitable seed supplier and here is what we will order: 

purple sprouting broccolli, oregano, chard, kohl rabi, purple tomatoes, coriander, sea kale, yellow beetroot, pumpkin, red chicory, spring onions, purple french beans, thyme, garlic, calendula, nasturtium, clary sage, borage, currants, crab apple, sloe, quince, strawberries 

Not bad to be going on with! 

Lastly we made a plan for the growing year, of what we need to do and when. Here are our jobs for this month: 

1. Dig over ground ready for growing. Dig in green manures sown last autumn and dig over new areas for growth. Add in soil improver such as home made compost, chicken manure etc. 

2. Clean pots, seed trays and greenhouse thoroughly 

3. Fix broken panes of glass in greenhouse 

4. Weatherproof sheds 

5. Prune old fruit bushes and woody plants such as rosemary, lavender 

6. Order seeds and supplies such as fleece, netting etc. 

Well, I think that is quite enough for now, so better get started! I will leave you with an image of our raised beds in the snow, and above is a pictre of a little fieldfare who ventured into the garden this week looking for berries. These are normally found in the hedgerows but have been visiting lots of gardens in the recent cold snap looking for extra food. We were very pleased to have been able to help them :-)  

Raised beds in the snow

Raised beds in the snow