Oyster Leaf and Kale Salad

Comments very welcome!

I made a salad at the allotment today. A salad bowl and a bottle of salad dressing (dressing made out of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, grainy mustard, salt, maple syrup, finely chopped garlic chives and poppy seeds) came up to the plot with me.

Salad bowl and bottle of salad dressing

Into the bowl went two perennial vegetables that have been growing at the plot for a while but which we haven't eaten much yet; oyster leaf (Mertensia maritima - also called oyster plant or sea bluebells) and ice plant (Sedum spectabile). In the photo below the oyster leaves are the glaucous blue leaves and the oyster leaf flowers can be seen in front of the leaf on the left. There are quite a lot of oyster leaves in the bowl but when they are coated with salad dressing they lose their blue colour and don't stand out so well. They have a pleasantly salty tang. Ice plant is a succulent with glaucous green leaves. Its flat pink flower umbels are often seen in autumn covered with tortoiseshell butterflies. I thought the leaves might be bitter at this time of year but they had a fresh, mild, slightly lemony juiciness to them.

Bowl of oyster leaf and kale salad

The bulk of the salad was shredded kale. After a munch tour of the perennial kales to see which had the least bitterness I decided to use Daubenton kale. (Asturian tree cabbage came second in the least bitter stakes). The kale was shredded and massaged a bit to make it juicy and a few other leaves were added: young sea kale and sea beet leaves and New Zealand spinach or Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides). And I added two Sunset apples, a few halved cucamelons, and some Calendula petals and borage flowers.

I ate some of the salad for lunch and took the rest home. We've just polished off the rest of the salad with chilli beans and rice (and oyster mushrooms!). We had some friends around and I learnt something which surprised me. Not ever having eaten oysters I didn't know, but it seems oyster leaf really does taste of oysters!


Wild Cabbage Update 2


This is the last of the five wild cabbage plants I planted in the spring of 2013. Dead. And its fellow survivors (see last update) died earlier this year too.

Dead wild cabbage plant

To give them credit as this was their third season they had made it to the rank of perennial (living for more than two years). Only just - but the possibility of perenniality is in there. My plans now are to grow more plants from seed and keep a look out for longer-lived specimens to then propagate by cuttings.

Since first writing about wild cabbage I've learnt that many botanists consider that some or possibly all of the wild cabbages that grow around our shores have actually escaped from earlier cultivation and naturalised. See link for a discussion of this and support for the idea that cabbages were first cultivated from wild plants growing in the Mediterranean region. Perhaps it follows that the genetic make-up of 'wild' plants, having come from plants in gardens, allotments and fields whose ancestors came from diverse locations abroad, will vary between separate locations in the British Isles even more than if they were native. So I'm interested in sourcing seed from a variety of wild populations. A trip to Staithes, on the North Yorkshire coast, is planned at least. The wild cabbages that grow there are known as Silverwhips.

And looking back over that last update I'm going to try a different care plan for my next lot! I had left one of my original plants to flower freely. It appeared to die but then started to produce leaves from the base.

Wild cabbage plant producing new leaves at base

True it then copped it, but probably because I let it go too short of water during the summer. If it hadn't died of thirst perhaps it would have had more vigour and gone on to have enjoyed a longer life than the plants that had to keep producing more and more flower shoots as I repeatedly pruned them to prevent them from flowering.

Incidentally, unlike that one wild cabbage that appeared to come back to life, the plant pictured at the top of the page was truly dead. I left it for a good long while to make sure!


Living mulch - covering old ground.


Two years ago I wrote a post about ground covers I was trying to establish around the perennial vegetables to avoid having to weed and to keep in moisture. How have things on the ground worked out since then?

The creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) looked neat around the sea kale in the spring...

Creeping Jenny growing around sea kale in the spring
Creeping Jenny growing around sea kale in the spring

and is still doing a great job.

Creeping Jenny growing around sea kale in late summer
Creeping Jenny growing around sea kale in late summer

The kale is healthy despite the vigorous growth of the ground-cover. I do some occasional weeding of couch grass and dandelions. The couch grass has never been completely ousted from this plot and it emerges through the creeping Jenny. I don't think it would invade from a distance though, unlike the dandelion seeds which sneak in everywhere! The creeping Jenny spreads into the paths given the chance but is easy to pull out with the hands. I will also pull its stems back a bit from the crown of the kale plants over winter. They might be protective from winter wet but I'm concerned about the opposite effect - that stems that die and decompose may cause rotting at the neck of the kale.

I have changed things around in the garden quite a bit over the last couple of years in order to find combinations of plants that will be self-sustaining. I can't quite remember why, but the wild strawberries are now around the elephant garlic and globe artichokes and cardoon. Earlier in the year they had formed a dense mat and were fruiting prolifically but now the couch grass has invaded quite badly. I may need to pull back the strawberries and dig it out as it will compete strongly with the vegetables.

Wild strawberries growing around elephant garlic
Wild strawberries growing around elephant garlic

In another change I've recently pulled the Siberian purslane out from beneath the brassicas. It spread quickly and formed a dense cover (it is the flowering mass beneath the tall kale on the left in the photo below).

Siberian purslane growing under perennial brassicas
Siberian purslane growing under perennial brassicas

But it has grown increasingly messy as the season has gone on, and besides, I don't especially rate its flavour. I've resown the area with clover. Clover is a nitrogen fixing legume (the Rhizobium bacteria which live in nodules on its roots acquire nitrogen from the atmosphere which is then made available to the clover). As I understand it, if I cut the clover at intervals it will shed root tissue as it seeks to re-establish a balanced root to leaf ratio. Then this plant material will breakdown in the soil and become available to the nitrogen-hungry brassicas. But whether the clover can cope with the shade beneath the brassicas will need to be monitored.

I carried out my plan to plant silverweed around the skirret and, as I hoped, it did prove effective to harvest tubers from both plants at the same time. (Silverweed produces crisp, tasty but tiny tubers. I'm interested in growing and regularly harvesting various silverweed plants in the hope of finding a plant which produces bigger tubers).

Silverweed growing around skirret
Silverweed growing around skirret

There is more thinking to be done on this one though because the silverweed has struggled to re-establish a thick cover on the bed in the following season making some weeding necessary. Allowing a fast-growing annual ground-cover such as winter purslane (whose flavour I prefer to Siberian purslane) to reseed itself in the plot alongside the silverweed might work. (You might note in the photo above that most of my skirret plants didn't make it through last winter. I'm not sure why. New plants from seed have been planted to the right, currently mulched with grass clippings).

Here is the chamomile covering the Babington leek bed.

Chamomile growing on the Babington leek bed
Chamomile growing on the Babington leek bed

There is no sign of the leeks - the leek flower stems with their top-setting bulbils have been harvested and the leek bulbs will lie beneath the soil until they emerge in late winter/early spring. I've started to intermingle non-flowering garden sorrel plants with the chamomile to increase the harvest from the bed. In March last year I wrote, "The chamomile was chosen for its anti-fungal properties in the hope that it might guard against leek rust. But it is the Treneague form, very ground-hugging, and I'm wondering now whether a slightly taller plant, perhaps the species Chamaemelum nobile, might be better for promoting longer white stems on the leeks." Reviewing this now I can say that the leeks didn't get rust last year but they did this year so the 'guarding against leek rust' idea didn't work. And the chamomile (sold to me as Treneague) flowered and so revealed itself to be the species Chamaemelum nobile (Roman chamomile) after all! As its height is now quite a bit more than the four inches often quoted I'll be interested to see if it helps to promote longer white stems on the leeks next year.

Of the other ground covers I mentioned in August 2013 (lamb's lettuce, bugle and creeping thyme) I am now less keen on lamb's lettuce as a ground cover which I planted around the asparagus but which formed a huge mass of fibrous moisture sapping root by the end of the season (came in like a lamb and went out like a lion really!) I planted bugle in the deep shade beneath the Daubenton kale but I'm not sure if it is still there (I forgot to look on my last visit). The creeping thyme has done its job though.

Creeping thyme
Creeping thyme

Here it is around some tree onions and chicory.

Creeping thyme with chicory and tree onions
Creeping thyme with chicory and tree onions

It hasn't spread over the whole bed yet so I allowed wild forget-me-nots to fill the gaps (the now grey foliage masses in the fore- and background) but I like the idea of planting white and purple forms of the thyme alongside this pink one.

And that just about covers it!


Consider the Lilies


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

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!


Summer in the Perennial Vegetable Garden 2015


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
Giant chives
Giant chives
Pearl onion
Pearl onion
Variegated Daubenton
Variegated Daubenton
Ewiger Kohl
Ewiger Kohl
Wild hyacinth
Wild hyacinth
Three-cornered leek
Three-cornered leek
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


Kaldirik dolmasi


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 (should be cornmeal! - please see comments)
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.)


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.