Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Gooseberry and Elderflower Jam


Now summer is here, my attention has turned from garden rhubarb to gooseberries and elderflowers.
Elderflowers are so abundant in woodland around here, and are just fantastic for making enough jam or jelly to last until next year.

Gooseberries are expensive from supermarkets and greengrocers, but they are recognised as being an easy fruit to grow.

One of my favourite jams is the traditional combination of elderflower and gooseberry - it makes an gorgeously floral-scented and flavoursome preserve.

Gooseberries have enough pectin to set the jam even when using cheaper granulated sugar.   However, I do like to pay the extra £1 and make sure I get a nice thick set by using jam sugar.  It is up to you, of course.

The following recipe will give 3-4 jars.

Budget Salad Greens: Pea Shoots

Pea shoots are a fashionable and potentially expensive item. 

But... wait... don't leave just yet...!

Pea shoots are so easy and cheap to grow yourself.

1. Simply empty plenty of dried Marrowfat peas into pots of compost.
2. Keep them moist.
3. Little pea shoots will grow for you to cut and come again. 

Marrowfat peas are around £1 - £1.50 per large bag, which will give you an absolutely abundant summer supply.

They shoots and leaves are lovely in a salad or in sandwiches, and look so pretty.


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Taking it Outside - 10 suitable activties

It is great to get out into the garden when the weather is lovely.

We like to sit on and around the two loungers we have on the lawn.  Tots or littler ones can play within sight and the older ones can take their lessons in the sun.

I remember one teacher at my primary school who did this occasionally.  At the end of a hot day, she would take us onto the school field and we would sit in a circle for a story while we picked at daisies and the class hamster ran around in the middle of us.  That is one of the only occasions I recall not feeling trapped at a school; of actually being content and happy.

We have been taking some of our Literature work outdoors recently to do similar (no hamster, but the cat likes to take part by rolling around in the sunbeams nearby.)  The kids have taken notes without too much help, answered the questions afterwards without trouble, and generally seemed more motivated in the fresh air.  I had worried that being outside would distract them, that the play equipment would call to them, and they would rush through the answers.  When it did once threaten to go down that road, a quick reminder that we could go indoors if necessary for full focus... or stay out in the sun and play once the work was satisfactorily completed... seemed to do the trick.

10 activities suitable for taking outdoors are:

Five Simple Ways to Reduce Household Energy Costs

1. Use One Entertainment Appliance at a Time

If you are working on your laptop, use it for playing radio or audio rather than having the TV or digital radio on at the same time.  I keep the TV off at the plug - as it is behind a bookcase, the children cannot get to it easily and therefore eliminates the temptation to just switch it on when finished their studies.

2. Use the Microwave Wisely

If something cooks quicker in the microwave than the hob, such as vegetables or heating something through, then go for it.  If it would be about the same time with either appliance, like when cooking pasta or rice, then choose whichever you prefer for convenience or taste; the cost is approximately the same.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Rhubarb and Yellow Split Pea Curry

Rhubarb and Yellow Split Pea Curry with rice, lemon, and Rhubarb Chutney
This is gorgeous garden curry, especially if you use dandies or hawthorn leaves as the green, and is a lovely summery dish.  You could make it with peeled apples instead of rhubarb later in the year, when I would add a little more warming spice for the cooler evenings.

I often read not to add salt to pulses when cooking as they will toughen.  In this case, we want the yellow split peas to retain some bite for a nicely textured curry.  The rhubarb should also stay conspicuous in the finished dish so we do not want long stewing here; on High I would not go over 2.5 hours on the slow cooker.  If using the hob, give it 40 minutes of gentle simmering.  If you want more of a dal-like dish then cook for longer until the peas have broken down into a blanket like mush, and add the salt after cooking.

This is best over rice as a main dish, or it could be eaten from a bowl with flatbread. I guess you could make it as a side dish, but as it has plenty of protein, calcium, iron and vitamin C, it makes such a substantial, nutrition, and delicious main meal in itself that it would seem a waste (although it is good with a couple of chopped rashers or chicken strips added too - I have not tried it, but I would bet strips of lamb slices would be good as well.)

How I make it:

Rhubarb Chutney

Rhubarb and Pear Chutney
This is a gorgeous dark treacly old fashioned sort of chutney - the stuff of a real Ploughman's sandwich, i.e. with cheese, ham and/or tomatoes.
The rhubarb and onion can be played with in terms of quantities.  If I do not have enough rhubarb I use apple or pear to boost it like in the picture above (I had only one quarter quantity of rhubarb I should have, so boosted with pear.)

with Yellow Split Pea & Rhubarb Curry
I like to use jam sugar - I know this is quite unusual for chutney, but I like the set it gives.  I have used molasses sugar for this in the past, which does give a very good result too.   Using granulated sugar (which still gives a pleasant enough set) and treacle is the cheapest combination.

I find that the cheapest malt vinegar works best for this - it is enough to preserve the chutney but is weaker in flavour than the next brand up which prevents the chutney retaining the throat-catching hit malt vinegar can throw at you.

How I make it:

Beyond Rhubarb and Custard

Why Rhubarb?

Rhubarb is such a hardy vegetable that a root can be planted and left alone.  It will multiply to give you are fantastic crop and needs no tending at all.  When you have a few commitments in your life, then this is a great choice for growing.

It is also super good for you!  It is "very high" in calcium and vitamin C, with iron and vitamin A too.

When Rhubarb?

This depends on where you live.  Forced rhubarb is sold in UK wintertime, but this is grown under lights and false conditions.  My home-grown stalks in the UK peep above ground in May and continue to produce harvest into the summer.

What Rhubarb?

For those who weren't keen on the tangy rhubarb and custard sweets (me) or Grandad's favourite stewed rhubarb with custard (guess who again?), then fear not.  Rhubarb can be amazing in a number of other dishes, and apart from in Rhubarb Ginger Jam or tiny fluorescent green pink logs in crumbles, I prefer rhubarb as a vegetable i.e. in savoury dishes.

I find most success using it in savoury meals in the following ways:
  • Replacing apple with rhubarb in recipes such as in curries or when mixing with mashed potato for Heaven and Earth.
  • Replacing pineapple with rhubarb in recipes such as chicken stir fries (though serve with rice rather than noodles) or in ham/gammon dishes such as casseroles served over mashed potato.
It also makes a mean chutney, either an old fashioned sandwich pickle, or replacing the mango in a favourite mango chutney recipe.

How Rhubarb?

The stuff is proliferate, but preserves brilliantly (see above), and freezes excellently.  Wash, chop, freeze in a container and then use straight from the freezer in your cooking.  This ensures easy access to a very nutritious, free, home grown food all year round.

Do you have any favourite ways to use rhubarb?  Please share any tips below - I would love to read them!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Rhubarb, Pear and Ginger Jam

Rhubarb Ginger Jam is probably my ultimate favourite jam or jelly ever.  My love affair with it began when a friend of my grandmother would pass her a jar annually, and we would have it with thickly spread butter on thin brown bread.  So rich, so bad... and so good.

I currently have a small amount of rhubarb in a large pot.  When our garden is turned over, I look forward to turning a portion of the garden over to rhubarb, as we love it so much.  It is such an easy thing to grow and harvest - you basically leave it alone and it multiplies happily. I will post a few more of our favourite ways to munch the stuff this month too.

As our crop is fairly small at each stage of harvesting, I either freeze the stalks until I get enough to make a batch of jam or add leftover eating apples. (I actually peel and freeze half eaten apples and pears for this sort of thing - great for using up in ad-hoc crumbles and pies too.)

This year, I had pears and, of course, they are the perfect partner to both ginger and the tart rhubarb.

How to make it: