Saturday, December 21, 2013

Counting butternuts

I know, I know we are not supposed to count chickens before they hatch, but no old wife said anything about counting butternuts, did they? :)

So let's go counting...

Here is my main butternut patch below the fig tree near our pool. This is the same spot that grew beautiful egg plants and broccoli and cauliflowers in the last two seasons.

 This is the butternut patch at the pool...

These last two  are growing in a barrel at the pool too.

Five or six butternuts are in the pot.

I don't understand why there are gluts and lean harvests...we are just thankful for what comes when it comes. 

How is your summer garden coming along?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Just when you thought it was safe!

To go back into the garden, that is!

My last marrow post I ended with this note: "Only two more to go!" Well that was before I went to pick more that were growing.

We have loads more and while we have given many away, we were left with a huge amount which is exciting because even though we may be tired of having marrows with almost every meal, we can now start the grating and freezing process with clear conscience that we are not wasting fresh veggies.

I freeze them in portions and use them in veggie bread, fritters, pasta sauces, stews and soups in winter and gauging by the new flowers on the plants we have a while to go with harvesting and collecting this worthwhile vegetable.

I am also keenly aware that very soon the summer plague of mildew will hit my squash leaves which is always a sad event and even though I have tried numerous cures over the last 5 years we tend to let it take its course and then pull the plants up around the beginning of January.  If there were no mildew on the leaves we would have wonderful composting material but these leaves are thrown into the bin instead.

I do want to share this simple easy oven ratatouille recipe with you as it was simply delicious. Traditionally you use good layer veggies like egg plant and marrow but I only used marrow and sweet peppers.

I made a rich herby fresh tomato sauce by frying up about 4 crushed garlic cloves and one finely chopped onion then adding about 10 chopped tomatoes. A whole handful of fresh herbs - basil, thyme, oregano - went in along with 4 bay leaves and bubbled gently away.

Then I sliced up 4 large marrows and 6 peppers of different colours. I placed them in an oven dish, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and the tomato sauce and a good grating of Parmesan and then baked it for about 50 minutes. It was so delicious and the left overs were even better the next morning with fried eggs :)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Oh my Cherie (Cherry)

On Tuesday we went cherry picking. It has been something I have wanted to do for 3 years, but we never got to it. This year, having a dedicated partner, we loaded up the car with our 6 children at 7a.m. and headed out for Ceres.

Klondyke Farm was our destination. I waved goodbye to Superman ensuring him it would be about 2 hours to get there...and 3.5hrs later we arrived :)

We have been this way before but always to catch the winter snow in the Matroosberg, never at the beginning of summer to pick cherries. Even though the drive was terribly long and the roads under construction near the village, we were stunned by the quietness (well until the kids left the car) and the beauty.

What does one say when you have only seen cherries in plastic boxes at Woolies? And then you are faced with an orchard of hundreds and hundreds of trees all covered in these gorgeous pale pink to bright read to almost purple fruits?

Well, it's quite simple..."Can we eat off the tree?" The rule is NO, but they charge R20 entrance fee per person in case you just can't help yourself.

Shall I?
Then you walk looking for the best tree, the higher you go away from the parking area, the better the pickings. We each brought home 1kg of cherries. 

So what did we do with our 5kgs of cherries? The next morning (Wednesday) I pitted a bowl full and we had it with nut and seed cinnamon granola, double cream yoghurt and honey.

That evening I made a Sweet Cherry Pie...oh my cherie! Thank you Martha!

For breakfast the next day (Thursday) I pitted another bowl and made a cherry syrup by adding some lemon juice and sugar and cooking them until soft. This was the topping to almond and banana flapjacks along with yoghurt.

And Saturday morning saw me putting 700g into brandy, making 1 litre of cherry and port jam and a delicious cherry ice-cream for evening desert.

We each had to take turns with pitting them as it can become a bit tedious. 4 cups of fresh cherries went into jam along with 5 cups of sugar, 50g pectin and some lemon juice. Right at the end I added ¼ cup of port.

While this last picture doesn't do the ice-cream any good, this has to be the most decadent thing I have eaten all year. I used this basic recipe and then while it was churning in the ice-cream machine I broke in about 12 blocks of Sally Williams dark nougat chocolate.


I think if we go back again one year I will bring home 10kgs as the drive is so long and we could have doubled all we did and still not be tired of eating them.

Have you had a first cherry picking experience?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What to do with giant marrows

Or...the little marrows that grew!

It's squash season...I need to cut twice a week to keep the plants flowering and to harvest the courgettes at the "right" size. The last week has had me running around tidying up end of year details and the garden to do list is a little neglected at the moment.

On Friday evening I popped out to the garden to take a look around and found MONSTER MARROWS which have been diligently doing their thing and growing-and-growing-and-growing-and-growing-and-growing. This basket below was so heavy that if I picked it up by the handle I am sure it would have snapped.

So carrying my treasures I headed indoors and my children each gave a huge distressed sigh when they saw what they would be eating for the next while :) I promised them I would make the meals what I did with the ones I didn't give away...

The two largest ones were sliced and used as "lasagne" sheets. This was so delicious and filling that I fed 9 people on one medium dish of lasagne - 5 of them older teen boys with big appetites. I love cooking for people who enjoy food and it was great to watch them munch it down.

The mince should be really rich in flavours and filled with herbs and tomatoes. You layer it just the same as you would lasagne but do not put cheese in the dish only a good lot of Parmesan on the top. I didn't make a cheese sauce but poured 250ml of cream around the outside. The other hint is to do this early in the morning and then let the flavours soak through the marrow. I baked it for about 1 hour to make sure the marrow was cooked. It was superb and got the thumbs up from the kids.

The next dish I made was not my own recipe but this sage, sausage and walnut stuffed squash. It was surprisingly quick and easy to make and was really delicious too!

The next big squash went into "spaghetti" tonight. Once you have sliced the marrow in "sheets", julienne them as fine as you can. Fry them in some olive oil or butter and add your favorite sauce. I made a fresh basil pesto and stirred that in with some cream, topped with Parmesan and black pepper it was another scrumptious meal.

Now I just have two more to go....hang in there kids!

Linking up at Simple Lives Thursday and Raising Arrows and A Wise Woman Builds

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Gourmet chicken mince pizza

We have been experimenting with some gourmet pizza toppings sort of gleaned from our favourite pizza place which we cannot afford to visit right now. This is the one that my younger daughter came up with this week...

Make extremely thin pizza base from your favourite recipe. This one above is a gluten free base from Ciao Bella at the Earth Fair Market in Tokai. Cover with tomato paste, garlic and oregano.

Heat oven to 180 deg C with the baking sheet or pizza stone in the oven.

Fry up 500g of chicken mince - we use Funky Chicken mince:)
with some fennel seeds in a little olive oil.

Thinly slice 4 red onions and fry in some butter until soft then add 1 tablespoon brown sugar and a dash of basaltic vinegar.

Take out the pizza stone or baking sheet an put the pizza base on it.

Add the cooked mince to the top along with the caramelised red onions and a good helping of chopped pepper dews.

Top with slices of mozzarella and put back into the oven until the base is crispy and cheese melted 
(+/- 15 mins)

When it comes out, top with fresh avo slices and young rocket leaves.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Slow living November

I can’t believe the year is almost done. 3 days left of formal learning; 13 days left of work, 30 days left of 2013…it really flew by for me! Here's my month summed up as part of Slow Living 2013

NOURISH: It’s been an interesting nourishing month. I have been trying to use up pantry, freezer and garden goods and not give into a whim to buy something to cook a meal but rather stick to what I already have. I always cook from scratch but sometimes I just want something different to what I had planned on my week’s menu. This meant that this month we ate lots of kale, marrow, spinach, eggs, blueberries in muffins and things, fresh herbs instead of buying dried, globe artichokes, our small red onions & garlic heads, strawberries from the plant (while watering) and the last of the asparagus for the season.

PREPARE: Being strawberry season it was time to make jam. I bought in strawberries nice and cheap and made a lovely pot of jam using a recipe from the book “salt, sugar, smoke”. Excess marrows were grated and frozen for later use. Water will become an issue soon so buckets will reappear in the showers to catch water drips. We use these to water the pots around the front door.

REDUCE: Last month I made a weird cucumber climber from left over materials around the place and I am glad to say its working well.

GREEN: One of my precious, but rather silly children thought they were immune to sunburn even after repeated requests to make sure they are well covered when having a day at the beach with friends. Mmmmh…thankfully we have loads of bulbinella which has been applied liberally to a rather swollen forehead and cheekbones. It has brought immediate relief and the swelling has reduced.

GROW: The summer garden is growing beautifully except the corn. It got hip high and stopped and then began to produce tassels. I am not sure why but have a suspicion that the seed is not acclimatized to our South African soil. 

My elder daughter also planted up pots for the back yard with pretty flowers. I planted the last tomatoes out and eggplant and chillies. Next month I must think about sowing seed for a later summer garden.

CREATE: I create food…no time for knitting, sewing or anything else. However both my daughters “created” new businesses…my younger one has began selling spice mix jars and my elder homemade natural soaps.

DISCOVER: I discovered Feverfew this month. I was looking for a headache cure and happened on this article. And I have Feverfew growing in my garden – happy days.

ENHANCE: My son is now selling his free-range chicken and pork at the local Earth Fair market. He has asked his sister to join him in the business as it has simply become too much for him to handle alone and I need to step away and focus on my own business and younger children’s homeschooling more this coming year. To help them get their feet at the market I have done a few Saturdays there with them and have really loved chatting to likeminded people who are also passionate about eating the right food.

ENJOY: I always battle with this category thinking that I need to have something really special to share. I am actually a simple person and enjoy simple things. Every now and again there is something that is a real zinger, but for the most part I love our busy days, good meals with my family around the table, walks in the forest with dog & friend, the occasional breakfast out with Superman and working in the garden of the cool of the morning or evening.

I enjoy the way my kitties always come looking for me when I go into the veggie gardens and flop down purring wanting a scratch.

This month also held my annual trip to Johannesburg with my friend and business partner to the homeschool convention where we display our homegrown South African curriculum. It’s always a lovely time to catch up as we live about 2 hours away from each other and our normal conversations are business related but this weekend away gives us loads of time to chat and catch up with personal lives.
Tiffany says warm compost heap = perfect nap spot

That’s all for November! How was your month?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

For the love of marrows

Courgettes...marrows...zucchini...whatever you call them...but they are a summer staple in our home cooked meals.

I let most of the grow big so we can use them to bulk up stews, pies and pasta sauces or bake them into a vegetable cake. Excess are grated and frozen in portions.

 Tonight I made this galette...sooooooo yummy.
I didn't have ricotta so used feta and used phylo instead of homemade pastry.

And yesterday we had mini courgette omelettes with a spicy home cured bacon and tomato sauce for breakfast.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Being cruel to be kind - pruning tomatoes

Sometimes gardening can feel a lot like parenting as you wait for the fruit to come. There are times when you have to change the direction of a vine tendril, hook up a tailing part of a cucumber, or pull out the weaker seedling so that the stronger one can grow.

After first repotting in cocopeat
There are so many ways that this mimics parenting, directing children to more noble or worthwhile pursuits, picking them up when they have flopped down, asking them to give up something that is either detrimental to their character or is causing them to be divided in their interests. But seeing this is a blog about growing vegetables - rather than children - I will spare you the parenting chat and tell you rather about my bonding time with my tomato plants. 

I have lovingly nurtured these since September when I planted them as seeds. They were carried out into the sunshine on the fine days, hurriedly brought back in on the tempestuous days of early spring when the heavens emptied their watering cans.

We repotted them tenderly into larger pots twice over and then finally set them out into garden beds about a month ago. Each time they were set a little deeper in the soil to make a strong stem and it is said this will produce better fruit.

Traditionally I have always staked my tomatoes as they grow.  However, I found that the wind here in summer causes the gardeners twine to cut into the stems making a weak point where the plant becomes either broken or susceptible to pests and disease. So this year I am trying tomato cages, I think my cages are a bit small, but that's what I have for this year.

Toby - the garden work inspector
A few evenings ago I did the pruning thing. I feel rather cruel when I look at the beautiful strong growth and know that I am about to cut off all the lower branches so that more growth goes upward.

Sometimes tomatoes try to grow two main stems - one is the true stem the other is actually off the main and above soil level. By looking at the one that comes directly from the soil is the easiest way for me to tell which to nip off, which is obviously the one that is not coming out of the soil but off the side of the main stem. Hope that's clear to you readers :)  So that's the first thing to go. The next thing to be pruned are the side shoots until I have about 4 strong growing branches off the main stem.

I have found that this needs to be done within a month of planting out otherwise all the branches are starting to make flowers and then I feel doubly cruel! So snip-snip-snip and I end up with more of a tree shape than a bush shape.

These will be left to grow and I will fed them with worm tea for a few weeks and that should set the on their way to flower production and fruit bearing. 

While waiting at my son's tennis coaching today, I read this delightful memoir of Joe Hewit's first tomato growing experience. I wonder where I can get fish heads from? Not sure if Toby will approve.

I fear the cages are not going to be tall enough!

Linking up at Simple Lives Thursday

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Making the most of small spaces

Not everyone has large spaces where they can grow veggies, most of us home vegetable growers have average suburban plots and we try to combine a bit of flowers, grass, playroom and vegetable beds.

We live on 900square meters of which more than half of that is buildings, paving and pool. The rest is gravel pathways, chicken coop and vegetable garden. We have 11 raised beds, some 5x2m others 7x2m. On the paved areas we have wine barrels and pots and planters where we also grow vegetable.

We try to make use of the vertical space with hanging and wall baskets. I had plans to grow a granadilla over the fence as well as berries and espalier fruit trees against the walls. This has proven to be more troublesome that I thought it would be so has never gotten off the ground.

I wish I were able to say that we are able to grow all our vegetables, but I think if would be more than we could manage, so we are happy with the fact that we grow lots of vegetable according to the season and we enjoy it in waves.

For instance it is asparagus season at the moment. From our 10 plants (8in the ground and 2 in wine barrels) we eat more asparagus than we would if we had to buy it. It graces our dinner plates or salads at least twice a week.

All through winter we have eaten cauliflower, kale and spinach. Kale and spinach are still on the go. Yesterday I went peeping under the big courgette leaves and we have lots of them waiting for harvesting. Soon tomatoes will follow as will cucumbers and corn.

The key to growing loads of food in that small space, I have learnt, is that you must only grow what you like. Recently while reading Animal Vegetable Miracle I was intrigued by all the heirloom names of the potato and tomato varieties. I can only grow two or three types of tomatoes because of the spacing required so I go for the heirloom varieties that give big yields for each plant. Beefsteak is a good choice. Cherry tomatoes don't get to go in a bed, they have to be happy in pots in the back garden.

Potatoes have to be in the ground a long time so I only give two beds to them, and even though we will never grow enough to see us through to the next season we really enjoy the crisp fresh dug up spuds that we can harvest for a period.

The next thing with getting food from small spaces is to harvest the first fruits as young - small spinach leaves, small courgettes, small beans but then to leave a few to get big and freeze those for later consumption. Obviously beans can be grown to full pod stage and then dried and stored in a pantry.

Another technique we have tried is to plant a fast growing crop like radish with a slow growing one like beans. So in the bean tripod area we set up the tripod, planted 2 runner beans at each post then planted marigolds front and back against the edges and radishes and watercress along the long sides of the bed. The radish and watercress will be ready long before the beans cast shade over the lower bed.

When you start to think about growing food in an urban setting you need to look beyond what works in big spaces. Intermingling herbs with flowers with vegetables also works if you want to hold onto a flower border. In one place in our garden we have spinach, lavender, sage and evening primrose growing. I had dreams of pressing the evening primrose flowers eventually but that has not materialized yet.

Well, enough words…lets take a look at some of my small spaces so you can be inspired to grow in your small spaces…

The backyard is covered by brick paving except for one small circular bed which has a fig tree growing in it. This is where the bulk of the wine barrels and hanging baskets and my eclectic collection of pots are. The picture above is one of the two blueberry plants that we have which gave us a great daily snack, or at least some of us, each day for the last while. Planted at its base is a butternut and a tomato.

Another wine barrel with a butternut, asparagus and strawberry. The big flat leaf plant at the back of the barrel is borage which I encourage as it attract the bees.

 Under my bedroom window is a wine barrel with another blueberry which was planted late last summer and is not too happy. Around its base are small cucumber plants. In the pots in front are bush cucumbers, tomatoes and a lovely red chard.

We inherited this pot when we moved in and it held a Delicious Monster. It died :( and I replaced it with a curry leaf tree. Its very slow growing like Bay, and it needs to be in a pot. Around its base I planted rocket and 1 nasturtium plant. In the small pots my elder daughter put some flowers and some chilli plants.

This is a built up bed outside my kitchen which was here when we moved in. Since 2008 it has held runner beans, herbs, chilli plants, coriander and now it has a planting of bush beans. In this area I also have more hanging strawberry baskets and its where we tend our new seedlings.

I also use my compost heap for growing at this time of the year. I don't turn one of them and plant some trailing squash here. It covers the heap and trails up the fence at the back.

Outside our lounge door we have this funny shaped bed. It now holds spinach and kale, yarrow, a butternut plant and bulbenella. The pots around here have basil and sage and some shade loving perennials.

 So that's it. Do you have small awkward places that you can use for veggies or herbs?

I also hope you like the new blog look. I decided to splash out and get the kind folks at Cutest Blog on the Block to make me all ready for summer. What do you think?