Another Kitchen Garden Year at Herne Cottage

Hello one and all, I am back again to report on what’s been happening at Herne Cottage so far this year!

We started on the veg garden later than usual due to work and other commitments, beginning with a tidy of old pots and pruning in the patio area, as well as some vigorous de-weeding! We brought in a few tomato and cucumber plug plants to get us started and these were potted up along with some pretty spring bulbs and aromatic herbs. This gave us back our lovely relaxing patio area that is just perfect for unwinding in with a glasss of wine after a hard day’s gardening, and of course eating al fresco when the weather is good! We then got on with catch up sowings of lettuce, spinach, chard and peas a few weeks ago, which have started to push through in their seed trays this weekend.

There was a frost this week however, that caught us out after a good run of sunny spells, so the tomato plants have perished as they were left outside and we need to sow some more after all! With the longer days and warmer weather on the horizon, we should have some new plug plants in no time..

The next job to do this weekend was to clear the raised beds, again of old plants from last autumn as well as the weeds, and dig in some rich organic matter.

This helps prepare and improve the soil ready for planting out seedlings. We added in some chicken manure pellets, as well as our own compost, freshly sieved from the bottom of the bins. This is a very satisfying task knowing you are putting something useful back into the earth from your own kitchen waste recycling and helping the next years crop of veg grow beautifully! Home made compost is also great for seed sowing as has just the right consistency needed for the seedlings to push their roots through into.

The first seedlings to then go directly into the ground were radish and lollo rosso lettuce in one bed, with beetroot and marigold flowers in another. I am hoping these pairings will look decorative next to each other when they are in full growth, making the kitchen garden look ornamental as well as functional. In the greenhouse were sown our replacement tomatoes, french beans, courgette and curly kale. This year we have also sown runner bean seedlings saved from last years pods, so that will be interesting to see how well they come up as well. This is a great way to save money instead of buying new seeds every year. If you can let some of your crop go to seed for this purpose it again is a recycling process of the whole garden, putting back into the earth some of what you take out.

The redcurrant, blackcurrant, raspberries, blackberries and gooseberry plants have all now been pruned in our fruit garden, and the base of the plants de-weeded with a sprinkling potash feed to get them off to a good start. The gooseberries already have flowers on as well as the sloes so here’s hoping for another bumper fruit harvest this year. The neighbouring damson trees from the railway embankment are also nearly in full blossom (and very pretty) so we should have another crop of wild fruits ready to make into delicious damson gin again ready for Christmas!

Lastly in the fruit garden, our rhubarb donation from mother in law last year has several healthy looking stems, so will have to find a delicious recipe to use that in over the next few weeks for when it is ready to harvest. I am hoping it is around the same time as the gooseberries as that will be a tasty (sharp tasting) pairing!

A final look back at the garden to the newly tidied raised beds and that’s our job done for this weekend. Now all we have to do is wait for the seedlings to push through, then the next round of kitchen garden tasks will need to be done, including thinning, potting on, and weeding…. but that’s for another post :)

Bye for now and happy gardening!

Spinach seedlings

Spinach seedlings

Clearing the raised beds of weeds

Clearing the raised beds of weeds

Sieving home made compost

Sieving home made compost

Home made compost

Home made compost

Saving runner bean seeds

Saving runner bean seeds

Damson blossom

Damson blossom

Tidied raised beds ready for another year of vegetable growing

Tidied raised beds ready for another year of vegetable growing

Green Tomato Chutney

Did you have to get your tomatoes in this year before the frosts hit? Some were still green? Well here is an idea of what to make them into, delicious spicy Green Tomato Chutney. This is the first year we’ve made this at Herne Cottage and should be just perfect in time for Christmas!

Recipe adapted from ‘The WI Book of Jams and Other Preserves’

Green Tomato Chutney

Makes about 3 kg (7 lb)

2kg (4lb) green tomatoes
500g (1 lb) apples
250g (8 oz) raisins
625g (1 1/4 lb) shallots
15g (1/2 oz) root ginger
8 green chillies
2 tsp salt
500g (1 lb) brown sugar
600 ml (1 pint) malt vinegar

Chop the tomatoes, peel and chop the apples and shallots and put into a large preserving pan. Chop or bruise the ginger and put in a muslin bag with the chillies (whole). Add all of the rest of the ingredients to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Then simmer for about 3-4 hours until desired consistency is reached (about the same as a curry or stew). Remove the muslin bag and pour into warmed, sterilised jars. Cover and label.

Green Tomato Chutney

Green Tomatoes in Pan ready for Chutney!

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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Summery Moroccan Chicken with Harissa Vegetables

This dish is a perfect lighter roast for summery Sundays, preferably when it’s a good enough day to eat al fresco. You can get most of the ingredients in a good supermarket such as Waitrose or specialist markets and even health food stores. Maroque is also a very good website for Moroccan ingredients and kitchenware. Sumac is an unusual spice made from red berries often used in Middle Eastern cuisine. I will be posting a recipe later too for how to make your own preserved lemons so watch this space!!

Serves 4

Ingredients
1 medium – large whole chicken
1 preserved lemon, quartered
1 tsp Sumac
Generous pinch of Saffron
2 tbsp good Olive oil
1 tsp coarse Sea Salt
2 tbsp Harissa Paste
French green beans (as many as you like!)
Handful of cherry tomatoes
1 sliced courgette

Preheat oven to 190 degrees. Prepare the bird by rubbing the skin with Sumac, Saffron and sea salt. Into the cavity of the chicken add the preserved lemon quarters. Put the bird into a large roasting dish and drizzle with the olive oil (rubbing into the skin again if you wish).

Roast in the oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until no pink meat left and the juices run clear. Take out of the oven and keep warm until ready to serve by wrapping in foil and placing a clean tea towel over the top. Carve when ready.

In the meantime prepare the vegetables. Blanch the green beans in boiling water for a few minutes, then take out and drain. Heat some olive oil in a large griddle pan and when hot add the the courgettes and cook for a few minutes. Then add the drained green beans, tomatoes and Harissa paste and stir to cover the veg with the paste and olive oil. Cook until courgette and green beans are browned and the tomatoes are just beginning to release their juices.

Serve with roasted or sautéed potatoes and a good chilled Rosé wine. Enjoy!

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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