23/08/2015

Consider the Lilies

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It was glorious summer at the allotment yesterday and the insects were loving it.

Red admiral butterfly on buddleia

But summer is a sort of hungry gap for me where perennial vegetables are concerned. There's still plenty of the almost-all year-around crops like kale, rocket, watercress and sorrel. And there would be plenty of fresh green growth on other leafy vegetables such as Good King Henry and bladder campion if I was already in the habit of chopping them down in early summer when they start to throw up flowering shoots. (I've realised that this is important seasonal work - yes work! - in the perennial vegetable gardener's annual round).

But exciting vegetable fruits like the tomatoes, beans and summer squashes which are being harvested from the annual garden are lacking in the perennial vegetable garden. There are possibilities: less well known fruits like those of the snowbell tree or the clammy ground cherry, and also attempts by breeders to develop hardier versions of tender perennial vegetables or perennial versions of annual ones. But no fruits yet which really satisfy the desire for juicy summer veg.

There are plenty of edible flowers. Firstly lots of bright and beautiful petals to incorporate in salads. I don't really count these as vegetables, being less substantial and used in small quantities. But fat flower buds like those of the globe artichoke and daylily are another matter.

Globe artichoke
Globe artichoke
Daylily
Daylily

Globe artichokes are one of the few perennial vegetables that appear in conventional gardening books so there is plenty of information on how to grow and cook them. Daylilies are uncommon fare here but popular in China (see my daylily post from July 2013).

I cooked our last globe artichoke yesterday but being in experimental mood thought I'd try the buds of the related cardoon too. Usually it is the leaf stalks and leaf midribs of the cardoon which are eaten after being bundled up in cardboard to blanch them. If you've grown your cardoons from seed and planted them out in spring they will be about 3 feet high and ready to blanch in autumn. See Au Potager, a wonderful French gardening website, for details. But I'm growing my cardoon as a perennial and it attained this height in April after being planted last year.

Cardoon in April
Cardoon in April
Cardoon in August
Cardoon in August

I mean to try blanching and harvesting the leaves next spring (and then I should follow Martin Crawford's advice to do this every other year so the plant can regain its strength).

Here are the cardoon and globe artichoke buds I picked and cooked and ate:

Cardoon and globe artichoke buds on grass
Cardoon and globe artichoke buds in basket

There are several ways to enjoy globe artichokes but the very simplest is to steam the heads whole until the scales pull away easily from the rest of the bud (which takes anything from twenty-five to fifty minutes) and then taking each scale in turn, dip its base into melted butter and scrape away the fleshy portion of the scale with your teeth. And when you've eaten all the scales, remove the fibrous choke with a spoon and enjoy the succulent artichoke heart which lies hidden beneath it. (This video from Brandi Milloy is great for the extra details.)

Artichoke bud scale
Artichoke bud scale
Artichoke heart
Revealing the artichoke's heart

Cardoon scales
Much tinier cardoon scales
Cardoon heart and scales
Cardoon heart in centre of picture

The cardoon bud scales were as tasty as the globe artichokes but less fleshy and too small and fiddly to bother with again. The heart was perhaps two-thirds the size of the globe artichokes and again equally delicious. I'm not sure if I'd bother with the hearts again either though, especially as the bees adore the open flowers, but, just in case, it's good to know they are there!

Another plump summer flower bud that is recommended for eating is that of scorzonera. If you know of more please do leave a comment below!

31/07/2015

Summer in the Perennial Vegetable Garden 2015

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Here are the summer update photographs for the plants in the Spring in the Perennial Vegetable Garden 2015 post. (Photos here from 2013/4 and 2014/5).

The 'giant chives' I wrote about in April hasn't been gigantic yet. But I won't finally judge it until I have improved the organic content of my Allium beds and given it longer to get established.

No summer photograph for asparagus appears below. I made up an asparagus bed years ago but, stupidly mis-reading the directions, planted far too deep and only the odd thin shoot ever appeared. I tried replanting the old plants last year and was delighted when my first shoots of asparagus appeared in spring. But they proved, alas, to be the first and last shoots. So I've now dug out all the plants and will buy new ones in the autumn.  (The quamash and golden garlic don't appear either as their foliage had died down and I could find nothing to photograph).

Oyster Plant
Oyster Plant
Pignut
Pignut
Giant chives
Giant chives
Pearl onion
Pearl onion
Variegated Daubenton
Variegated Daubenton
Ewiger Kohl
Ewiger Kohl
Horseradish
Horseradish
Wild hyacinth
Wild hyacinth
Three-cornered leek
Three-cornered leek
Grassnut
Grassnut
Bladder campion
Bladder campion













Oyster plant - Mertensia maritima
Pignut - Bunium bulbocastanum
Giant chives - Allium ledebourianum
Pearl onion - Allium ampeloprasum ssp. ampeloprasum
Variegated Daubenton - Brassica oleracea var.'Daubenton Panache'
Ewiger kohl - Brassica oleracea (translation 'ever-lasting cabbage')
Horseradish - Armoracia rusticana
Wild hyacinth - Camassia leichtlinii
Three-cornered leek - Allium triquetrum
Grass nut - Triteleia laxa
Bladder campion - Silene vulgaris - known as 'carletti' in Italy

28/07/2015

Kaldirik dolmasi

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Today has been fun. I've been finding out about how to cook oriental borage, Trachystemon orientalis. I first heard of this perennial vegetable when Emma Cooper mentioned it on her website leading me to an article by Susanne Masters. I was interested. Discovering that I could buy it online from The Beth Chatto Gardens I added it to my wish list but then forgot about it for a while.

About a year later our son sent us a link to some photos he'd taken in Bangor in Wales, mostly of birds, but including the shot below. I had to check but yes, those were the flowers of Trachystemon orientalis and I came home with a cutting after our next trip to visit him in Bangor.

Trachystemon orientalis in flower
Trachystemon orientalis (photo by Ewan Tindale)

So 'Abraham, Isaac and Jacob' (a common name for the plant) is now growing in a pot in a shady spot in the garden and this month I started to find out how to cook with it.

Trachystemon orientalis growing in the shade
Trachystemon orientalis happy in the shade

From a comment from GreatScot from Ankara on davesgarden.com I've learnt that Trachystemon is....
"highly edible and grows in the Black Sea mountains in Turkey. Much like spinach it needs a very good soak and rinsing several times because of the bristles, it is a lovely food, stem and flowers included, when chopped and added to sautéed chopped onions, then whisked eggs stirred in and allowed to cook through. Salt and pepper to taste. It is a seasonal plant and not available except by foraging for it, so when I finally learned its Latin name and then found my favorite ‘Kaldirik’ on the internet, I felt like a discoverer."
and from Bob Beer, commenting on the entry for oriental borage on Plants for a Future website,
"This is a common plant in the Black Sea area where it is known by a bewildering number of names: Hodan, Bodan, Bodana, Aci Hodan, Ispýt, Ýspit, Salut, Tomara, Tomare, Kaldirik/Kaldirik/Kaldýrýk/Kaldýryak, Doðuhodaný, Zýlbýt and there are probably more. It's a great plant, good to eat and as a tough garden plant that provides both attractive flowers and a tough groundcover that can stand up to fairly harsh conditions. It also tastes good. :)"
Bob Beer is an American musician and plant-lover who has lived in Istanbul for many years and has an interesting blog Bahçe Hastası - Garden Freak in Istanbul where I found out more:
"..the rhizomes are cooked in various dishes (but I find them slimy); the petioles are gathered and pickled and are one of the most popular pickles in the Eastern Black Sea region."
I got the impression that kaldirik is usually gathered earlier in the year than this but one recipe I came across, kaldirik dolmasi (stuffed kaldirik) seemed to be using older leaves so I thought I'd try that one. Several online recipes written in Turkish were put through Google Translate (with some quirky results, 'go ahead with our internal mortar'!) and this video was enjoyed (very much enjoyed - worth a watch) before I felt able to piece the following recipe together.

Kaldirik Dolmasi
500g kaldirik leaves
1 lemon
250g cornflour
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
1 egg
salt and black pepper
100g butter
1 tblsp tomato puree 
500g yoghurt 
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the juice of the lemon and boil the kaldirik leaves for three minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. 
  2. Chop the onions finely and mix half of the chopped onion with the cornflour, chopped garlic cloves, beaten egg and enough water to make a sauce with the consistency of a thin custard. Season quite generously with salt and pepper. 
  3. Taking each boiled kaldirik leaf in turn, place a tablespoon of the filling on the leaf a small distance from the lower edge, fold the lower edge and then the sides of the leaf over the filling and roll it up. Place all the rolls in a single layer in a saucepan. 
  4. Fry the rest of the chopped onion in the butter until softened and golden and add the tomato puree and sufficient water to pour over and cover the rolls. 
  5. Simmer the rolls with a lid on for 15 minutes on the oven top.Transfer the rolls to a serving dish and spoon yoghurt over them before serving.
I hope that is roughly right at least - if you are Turkish and/or familiar with cooking kaldirik dolmasi  and I've got the wrong idea please leave a comment below and correct me. But it seemed to work and here is the result:

Kaldirik dolmasi (photo by Ewan Tindale)

With their flavoured, floury filling the dolma were rather like dumplings and the tomato and onion sauce that they were cooked in was especially tasty. It was comforting food. (I also gleaned from my researches that the dolma can be made from dried leaves so you could enjoy them in the depths of winter as in this second great video here.)

22/06/2015

Grow your (Perennial) Veg and Eat It!

Comments very welcome!

It has been an odd day of contradictions. Our email provider phoned me about the feedback I'd left online about not wanting to communicate with them by phone. And the recipe I was loosely following to make tonight's tea instructed me to boil no-boil lasagne sheets. Ah well, perhaps it all fits together - my thoughts today were about another contradiction - growing veg and not eating it!

Of course we do eat it - but I find it quite easy to trip up on making the very most of it - due to the usual factors like lack of time or energy to pick it, or not having a recipe to mind that everyone will like, or forgetting to buy an accompanying ingredient for the dish I did have in mind. This won't do at all, I want to seriously shorten our shopping lists and eat delicious, home-grown, organic, sustainable food as much as possible.

And the food in the backyard larder is shouting to be used. The wild rocket is spilling over the path to the backdoor:

Wild rocket sprawling under bike and onto path

And the Caucasian spinach on the wall is putting forth lots of big juicy leaves :

Caucasian spinach growing up trellis on wall

I know it's all about planning really. Carl Legge has some good words on this in The Permaculture Kitchen, advice about making notes a week in advance about what you have ready to harvest in the garden or allotment or can source locally, who will need feeding and when, and ideas for what to cook. It's advice I once again committed to following today! So I made a token start with the lasagne. I picked a bunch of garlic chives and cooked them with the last of the leeks from the allotment, let them simmer in two tins-worth of chopped tomatoes from the cupboard and flavoured the resulting sauce with salt and pepper and oregano from a pot by the back-gate.

Pot of oregano

Then I collected big handfuls of Caucasian spinach, Daubenton kale and wild rocket from the backyard, steamed and chopped them and mixed them into 450g of cottage cheese I bought from the shop earlier in the day. The sauce and the cheese/greens mixture was layered up with the boiled no-boil lasagne - just 3 minutes boil - I almost dared leave out this step but thought it might be essential with the no-cook cottage cheese sauce (I did like that easy sauce!) And then the dish was covered and baked for thirty minutes. We ate it with a green dressed salad from the garden too: more wild rocket, mountain sorrel, musk mallow, apple mint, parsley, salad burnet and lettuce.

In a fit of exhaustion a few weeks ago I bought a jar of tomato sauce and a jar of white sauce to make a lasagne. It wasn't good, it was slimy and very salty - I would have been happier with marmite on toast! Tonight's meal was delicious - here's my son polishing off the last of it:

Serving of last portion of lasagne in dish

Nothing special, just an ordinary meal for an ordinary Monday - I'd love to be using home-grown tomato sauce, perhaps even home-made cottage cheese - or a home-grown vegan alternative. But this was enough for today, a small step towards a more consistent and mindful approach to sustainable eating.

19/06/2015

Fresh Perennial Vegetable Dip

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Looking for ways to use sea beet and Caucasian spinach leaves today I whizzed up this fresh perennial vegetable dip.


Into the blender went 200ml sour cream, 100ml mayonnaise, 250g of perennial greens and herbs (about equal amounts of sea beet, Caucasian spinach and garden sorrel with smaller amounts of welsh onions, bronze fennel, salad burnet, parsley, lovage, golden marjoram, oregano and parsley) with sea salt and black pepper. Once blended and in the bowl I sprinkled the dip with smoked paprika.

Vegetables and herb ingredients for a dip
Sea beet leaves at the front here
and Caucasian spinach leaves at the back

My elder son loved this. Stew would have liked a garlic flavour in there (I have green garlic, garlic cress and hedge garlic growing and could have used any of those). I kept going back for more (it was especially good with sticks of juicy red pepper) but I also made a mental note to use slightly less lovage and sorrel next time. I'd also like to try a vegan version, perhaps with creamed cashew nuts and soya yoghurt.

There are a few sea beet and Caucasian spinach plants for sale on my website and a selection of other perennial vegetable plants.

31/05/2015

Daubenton Doubling

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Yesterday I brought home cuttings material to start off a new batch of green and variegated Daubenton kale plants. Plants from the existing batches are being sent out to people on a waiting list as they become established but I'm looking forward to having some 'buy it now' plants available on my website. For anyone wondering how to multiply their own plants I describe below how I do it.

Daubenton kale
This is Daubenton kale. It's a perennial kale that forms an attractive mound of mild and nutty-flavoured leaves which are available all year around. The plant is usually propagated by cuttings. It rarely flowers and even then usually produces only a few flowering shoots which may or may not set seed.

Daubenton kale was first described by the French naturalist Louis Jean-Marie Daubenton - or D'Aubenton - (1716 – 1800). Daubenton, who was responsible for introducing Merino sheep from Spain into France, wrote, "Instruction pour les bergers et pour les proprietaires de troupeaux" ("Advice to shepherds and owners of flocks") and it was in this book in 1782 that he first describes 'choux de bouture' (cuttings cabbage):
It is a variety in the species of cabbage, unknown to botanists ; it was cultivated in small gardens, in the commune of Montbard; it throws out lateral branches, the lowest of which bend quite to the earth, while the rest of the growth is directed upwards: — the part, which touches the earth, takes root, and produces new cabbages, which are perpetuated from year to year, and which form so gross a mass, that it is necessary to destroy a part of it. It is called choux de bouture, because it is planted in this manner without sowing ; its branches are broken off and given to sheep : it does not head, but produces a great many leaves, when it grows in a good soil, well dunged.
In a latter edition he elaborates:
It is difficult to have a fairly large amount of cabbage for the numerous flocks: one must sow, transplant, watering for several days, and this care must be repeated annually; it would be too time-consuming and expensive for farmers. I would not consider that cabbage was of any advantage for the diet of flocks, had I not met a variety of cabbage that one can have without sowing, transplanting or watering, it is also unknown to naturalists and farmers: it resists frost, like kale and collards, and is better for their livestock because its cultivation is very easy. One can multiply by cuttings; just cut its lateral branches, which are in large numbers and put them in the ground, to soon have a whole field of new plants. The leaves are smaller than other cabbages; but their juice is also abundant; they may serve as food for the shepherds as well as the sheep;.....
See note below*.

Variegated Daubenton kale
Here is "le chou Daubenton panaché", variegated Daubenton kale. I believe panaché is simply French for 'variegated' but I think this plant also has panache!


I haven't been able to trace its history. I've often wondered how closely related it is to Daubenton kale as its leaf shape seems a little different. I haven't had mine long but so far it does seems to have a similar growth habit and a similar taste.





This is how I do Daubenton cuttings. There are other ways: woodier stem portions without leaves will root when pushed into the ground and I'm told that root cuttings work well for brassicas also.

Leafy side shoot of Daubenton

Take a leafy side shoot.










Cutting with heel

Cuttings taken with a heel may root more quickly....










Cutting with some of its leaves removed

(...but as I'm trying to make plants of a suitable size to send in the post I usually shorten the cutting). Removing most of the leaves helps the cutting retain moisture whilst it is establishing roots.







Prepared cutting.

One prepared cutting.










Rooting hormone

Rooting hormone may help but is not necessary.










Cutting inserted in compost

Insert the cutting in a pot of compost (I use a general purpose peat-free compost).









Pot covered with plastic bag

Cover the pot with a ventilated plastic bag. (As I usually propagate kale in batches of pots I place the pots in a tray and use a plastic tray cover.) Ventilate the bag more - or remove it altogether - if you notice mildew growing on the cutting.






Older leaf wilting on cutting

Don't worry if at first older leaves wilt, yellow and drop.










Leaves turning brighter green

When the roots start to grow the leaves turn a brighter shade of green.









Roots emerging from base of pot

The cutting is ready to plant out when roots start to emerge from the roots of the pot.









Daubenton kale growing in a half-barrel

Daubenton kale growing in a half-barrel in a semi-shaded situation.















*[In later editions of the book there are notes added by other botanists to the effect that propagation by cuttings is not unique to Daubenton's kale (most brassicas can be propagated in this way).

Before delving into the history of Daubenton kale I'd been assuming that it is perennial because it rarely flowers (so instead of setting seed and then dying it just keeps leafing up year after year). But it is the way that it flops to the ground and roots by itself that seems to earn it the description of 'vivace' (perennial) in the nineteenth century (it is not unique in this either but rather belongs to a group of branching bush kales, Brassica oleracea ramosa, cultivated since antiquity).

I've read recently that, because of accumulated mutations, plants tend to lose their ability to reproduce by seed if they are propagated vegetatively for a long period. So does Daubenton kale need to be reproduced by cuttings because it rarely flowers or does it rarely flower because it is reproduced by cuttings?! Perhaps its perennial nature may not be greater than that lurking in the genetic make up of many flowering brassicas - except in its 'flop and root' tendencies. Anyway I will make sure I don't stake my allotment plants in future.]

26/05/2015

Plants for a Shady Backyard Larder.

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The shredded bark has just had its annual renewal in our backyard so whilst things are looking tidy I've taken a photograph.

Photo of The Backyard Larder backyard

Despite the sunlit scene above it's basically a shady garden. It is overshadowed on three sides by two or three storey brick walls with slightly lower walls to the south (right hand side of the photo). So sunlight visits this space patchily and fleetingly as the day passes. It lights the area close to the house first and slowly spreads down the path, arriving late and promptly pulling its tail behind it during the winter months but lingering for a while after lunch in the summer before leaving by the garden gate. At the summer solstice sunlight reaches the front edge of the bed on the right for a short time at midday. But at the start and end of winter it may illuminate the shelves on the left hand wall but will not reach ground level anywhere in the garden.

Perennial vegetables that I've found will grow here so far are:

In the narrow left-hand bed

Salad burnet
Garlic chives
Wild rocket
Garden sorrel
Caucasian spinach
Garlic cress
Babington leek
Tree onion

In pots or raised beds in the centre

Daubenton kale
Pink purslane
Skirret
Watercress
Red-veined sorrel
Mountain sorrel

In the bed at the back and right-hand side

Dwarf golden hop
Solomon's seal
Apple mint
Musk mallow
Ostrich fern
Sweet violet
Good King Henry

I want to add at least Welsh onion and everlasting onion to the mix. And, having recently had our first taste of hosta shoots (excellent eating!), we're looking forward to having a hosta collection here too.