Monday, 18 September 2017

Making Mushroom paté

Yesterday, Sunday 17th September, Jane and I celebrated out 40th Wedding Anniversary. To recognise this significant milestone, we decided to do something different, but something connected to a pastime we both enjoy - cooking. We booked ourselves onto a pasta-making course called "A Passion for Pasta", taught at the Cucina Caldesi cookery school in London by Carmela Sereno Hayes. Here we are, posing for the camera:

During the day we learned a lot about pasta and how to make it - there was a lot of hands-on involvement - and we came away thoroughly inspired and determined to make homemade pasta at every opportunity!

One of the things that impressed us most was the amazingly tasty fillings that went into those Ravioli you see us constructing. With this in mind I have made a filling based on the proceeds of a recent fungi-foraging outing. I had managed to get a significant number of Hedgehog Mushrooms (Hydnum Repandum), Penny Buns / Ceps (Boletus Edulis) and Birch Boletes (Leccinum Scabrum), all of which are fungi I can now confidently identify.

Hedgehog Mushrooms

For my pate I used all of the Ceps and Birch Boletes, and about half of the Hedgehog Mushrooms. This conveniently filled my frying-pan. It was probably 250 - 300 grams.

This was my method:

Clean the mushrooms and cut into 2cm chunks. Unless the mushrooms are very dirty, clean them with a brush and avoid washing them with water.

In the frying-pan, heat about 2 Tbsps of olive oil and 25g butter, and use this to fry either a finely-chopped stalk of celery, or (as in my case) the thick stems of 4 or 5 Celery Leaf leaves, along with 3 cloves of Garlic and 8 olives (both roughly chopped). Add some herbs, according to taste. I used a Tsp dried Oregano and a little sprinkle of chilli flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

After about 2 minutes, add the mushrooms. Fry over a medium heat for about 10 minutes or until most of the water content of the mushrooms has evaporated.

Allow the mixture to cool slightly before blitzing to a paste in a food-processor. You could leave it fairly chunky, but since mine was intended as a filling for Ravioli, I wanted it to be quite smooth.

Having made this pate I now realise how nice it would be if used in other ways too - for instance as the "Duxelles" in a Beef Wellington, or simply spread on a slice of Sourdough toast and topped with a piece of gooey Fontina cheese warmed under the grill!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Runner Beans: when Enough becomes Too Many!

My 12 "Scarlet Emperor" Runner Bean plants have produced a huge crop. We like Runner Beans, that's for sure (they are probably my favourite Summer vegetable), but you can definitely have too many of them! For the past few weeks we have been eating fresh Runner Beans about 3 times a week, and I have frozen about 3 kilograms of them for use during the Winter, but they still keep coming.

On Thursday, having not been out in the garden much for a couple of days (due to the bad weather), I picked over my row of beans very thoroughly - much more thoroughly than before, evidently. The beanpoles are 9 feet tall, and allowing for about one foot being underground, that still makes them tall, and sometimes it is tempting to just pick the easily-accessible beans. This time I stood on the wooden edge of the raised bed and had a really good search amongst the uppermost foliage. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I found quite a lot of very mature pods up there:

Over-mature pods

Overall, my efforts yielded 1.25kgs of pods, which is probably enough for about four or five 2-person servings. Because of this (and the fact that we already had a big bag of them in the fridge), I felt justified in sorting them into two piles - Good ones and "Over-mature" ones:

Over-mature Runner Beans are nasty. They are really tough and stringy, and the inner linings of the pods are like fibrous plastic! At this stage, the only thing worth doing is to dry the pods and use the actual beans inside, rather than the pods themselves. In my next photo you can see how big and swollen some of the pods are, with each individual bean's shape visible.

So, the over-mature pods have gone into the airing-cupboard to dry out, while the Good pods have been kept for eating fresh. Many of these pods are very pale, because they have been lurking in the foliage and hidden from the light. I think this is quite a good thing - it's like blanching endives to make them sweeter and more tender!

Good pods

You might be wondering why I didn't just leave the over-mature pods on the plants. Well, the reason is that if you leave them, the plant will slow down or cease production of pods, thinking its job is done, whereas if you pick them it will keep on producing more pods in an attempt to "secure the succession" by setting viable seed.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Playing the Diva

One of the varieties of cucumber which I have grown this year and last is called "Diva" (aka "La Diva"). I have had a few problems with it...

Last year the plant I grew produced mainly male flowers (remember, this is a variety often claimed to be all-female), and it only produced a few fruits late in the season. I queried this with the seed merchant (T and M), who replaced my pack of seeds with two new ones and urged me to have another try. I did. This year's performance has been even worse! I got one solitary fruit, early in August:

But now, when it's surely too late for any fruit to mature, the blessed plant has gone and set about six little fruits all at once!

They are all right at the top of the now very sorry-looking plant. Despite pinching-out it only produced one solitary sideshoot.

T and M told me that "all-female" cucumber plants are still prone to produce male flowers when they are stressed. I don't really think mine have been stressed. I have certainly given them plenty of water and feed, and they haven't had to cope with any extreme weather. I don't know about "Diva"; I think I'll change its name to "Snowflake"!

Maybe I have inadvertently discovered a cucumber variety ideally suited to cooler climates?

I won't be growing this variety again, and next year I will try something different. Do you have any recommendations? (For growing outdoors, of course.)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


Today I had a furtle in the Roots bed. Sounds very dodgy, doesn't it? The word "furtle" (which can be a verb or a noun) can be defined as "A cursory examination of the contents or details of something."  I was looking to see how my Parsnips are coming on. For several months now (since being sown on March 27th, in fact), they have been out of sight, shielded from view by their covering of protective Enviromesh. I have been aware of their slowly bulking-up foliage straining against the mesh, but until now I have not had a proper look - I've been taking more notice of the Carrots at the other end of the bed.

Well, today I took the Enviromesh off and had that long-overdue proper look:

I think the Parsnip foliage has probably almost stopped growing now. It certainly seems to have flopped a bit. By the time the roots are fully mature the leaves will have completely died down, and we haven't yet reached that stage, and in any case, Parsnips are sweeter after they have been exposed to a bit of frost.

So then I did my furtling, which consisted of scraping away some of the soil to see what size the Parsnip roots are. They look OK, though not huge:

Hopefully they will grow a bit more still, so I don't intend to harvest any for a month or so. Without actually digging up any of the Parsnips it's not possible to see whether they have been affected by the disease canker, which they normally get to some degree or other, but I didn't see any damage around the crowns, which is encouraging.

Meanwhile, although the Carrot patch is looking much more thinly-populated than it was, there are still plenty more carrots in there:

Carrots in the foreground, Parsnips at the far end

I furtled amongst the Carrots too, drawing the soil away from them to have a good look.

One or two of the carrots showed a little slug damage, but there didn't seem to be any damage from Carrot Root Fly, so the Enviromesh has done a good job again. I have been harvesting small batches of carrots as required for several weeks now, and it looks as if this will continue for several more weeks.

After taking my photos I drew the soil back up around the shoulders of the carrots, because if they are exposed to light they go green.

Inspection finished, I put the Enviromesh back on - the Carrot Root Fly season is probably over now, but there's no point taking any unnecessary chances!

Saturday, 9 September 2017


It's always a little sad when the garden begins to look "over". Although I do have some vegetables for the Autumn and Winter, and even some PSB growing away strongly for next year's harvest, most of the contents of my Veg Plot is always stuff that matures in July, August and early September, so on its last legs now.

After yielding a satisfyingly huge crop, the tomato plants have been completely de-leafed now and only have a few fruits left to ripen.

The Runner Beans are past their peak now, though they will probably go on producing pods for at least another month now. Lurking in amongst the foliage there are plenty more bunches of fast-swelling pods like these:

But at the same time, I notice a few like this too - limp and yellowing, ones that will never mature.

My solitary Courgette plant is on its last gasp too. I have removed all the old, mildewed leaves, but the plant is determined to keep producing more.

This week it put out another flower, so maybe I'll get one more fruit before the season ends. Unlike many gardeners, I have not been inundated with courgettes. I think my plant has produced 9 or 10 fruits, and we have managed to keep pace with them. Our attempts to learn to like this vegetable have met with a modicum of success, but I don't think I'll be growing it again next year.

The things I sowed in the pots which formerly held potatoes are looking OK. I have harvested a small but viable crop of French Beans, and now the Carrots and Leeks are shaping-up quite well:

Carrots in ex-potato tubs

Leeks in ex-potato tubs

The Purple Sprouting Broccoli is getting big now - pushing up strongly against the mesh that protects it from butterflies.

I'm reluctant to remove the mesh just yet, because there are still some Cabbage White butterflies about, but it's getting to the stage where keeping the mesh on may be doing more harm than good, because it may be restricting the growth of the plants. I can't raise it any further, because the piece of mesh is not big enough!

It will soon be fruit-picking time for me. This will not take very long! One of the six fruits on my pear tree fell off today, which I interpret as a sign of maturity, so the other five may be picked soon.

Pear "Concorde"

My "Winter Banana" apple tree only produced four fruits this year, and they have all been attacked by some wretched boring (literally) insects (someone suggested Codling Moth grubs). Two of the fruits started to rot, so I picked them and salvaged what I could. Their flesh is surprisingly dense for an apple, but juicy and tasty too. Hopefully next year I'll have more.

Apple "Winter Banana"

My other apple tree ("Laxton's Superb") has not been affected by the boring insects, and has quite a lot of small but very handsome fruit on it. They are supposedly ready for picking in October, so not long now...

The days are drawing in now, and already the nights are much cooler. The garden in the mornings is dewy and festooned with spiders' webs. Soon it will be time to get the cloches and coldframes back into action. After a blazing hot June, Summer never really "took off" this year and Autumn is upon us already.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Rainbow veg

They say that for a healthy diet you should try to eat foods of many different colours, because they each have different nutrients. I think I will probably be healthy enough with these:-

This is what I picked today - carrots, beetroot, tomatoes and chillis.

The beetroot are "Cylindra" ones.

The chillis are a mixture of "Cayenne", "Aji Benito" and "Ring of Fire".

The carrots are also a mix of several different varieties. Most of them are nice and smooth and regular, but then there is this one:

I didn't pick these today, but I wanted to show them off in any case. They are "Ananas" tomatoes. The trio jointly weighed 1119g. The biggest one (front, left) was 425g.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Nearly a glut

As regular readers will know, this year I have been concentrating on Quality rather than Quantity in relation to my veg-growing. Only, the tomatoes don't seem to have got that memo...

Jane and I have been away from home for a week, looking after her elderly mother while her usual carer was on holiday. Returning home, we are now confronted by what could almost be described as a glut of tomatoes.

Today, therefore, we have been "slaving over a hot stove" and converting many of the tomatoes to sauce, semi-dried tomatoes etc. Since we already have quite a lot of plain tomato sauce in the freezer, I made a batch of sauce which included onions, garlic and chillies as well as tomatoes. Likewise, Jane made a batch of semi-dried onions with olive oil, salt and dried oregano, as a variation on the plain versions we had made before going away.


Cherry tomatoes "Sweet Aperitif" and "Sungold"

As well as the tomatoes we have had 3kgs of Runner Beans and about 200g of French Beans to deal with. After reserving a decent quantity for eating fresh, the majority of the Runners have been blanched and frozen.

The French beans are from the plants I have grown in the pots which formerly held potatoes. It's not a big yield, but a very welcome second crop, and a nice change from Runners.

Dwarf French Bean "Processor"

Thanks to my team of Garden Helpers, the veg-plot is in pretty good shape despite my absence. The only bad news is that one of my precious Leeks has decided to bolt.

Leek flower-bud or "scape".

I'm going to dig it up shortly, and hope that it is still edible. Let's hope that its siblings don't go the same way!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Images of September

With the glorious Bank Holiday behind us now, we move into September and start thinking about Autumn. I'm still hoping for more good weather though. September is often the best month of the year, and it's too soon to start worrying about frosts and such!

Some of my flowers have only just got going, like this Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff", for instance. This is its first bloom:

Similarly, the Lobelia Cardinalis is only just beginning to take off. With its dark purple stems and brilliant scarlet flowers, its colour scheme is very similar to that Dahlia!

My Rudbeckia "Goldsturm", normally at its best in early September, has not been very impressive this year, but this is because I lifted it last Autumn and divided it into several smaller plants. These have been getting established and building up their strength this year (only 3 have flowered), and next year I expect I'll have a much better display.

The white Achillea (aka Yarrow) has done well though, putting up several tall flower-stems. They contrast very nicely with the dark leaves of the nearby Purple Sage.

The "Sunspot" Dwarf Sunflowers are all finished now. The biggest one grew to about half a metre tall. I have cut off the flower-head, and I aim to dry it. If the seeds look any good I'll keep a few for sowing next year; otherwise they'll be bird food.

A Sunflower of a different sort has made an appearance in the garden this week. It's a glass sunflower-shaped bird bath.

Jane won this thing in a competition. I have to say that's it's not something we would have chosen to buy! I don't know whether any birds will find it attractive (I think maybe its brightness could put them off), and I have visions of a succession of disappointed bees accidentally falling into the water!