Tag Archives: Chillis

Clock-changing time again…

Chrysanths and dahlias autumn 2018

This is always a busy time in the garden, tidying away the faded (or not so faded in some cases!) summer flowers and planting out my containers for winter and spring colour. The begonias and New Guinea impatiens have done brilliantly this year and are still looking colourful, but with the weather having turned decidedly chiller and frost forecast any time, the moment has come to take the plunge. Into the compost they went, and in their place I planted spring bulbs, pansies and wallflowers grown from seed in nursery beds down at the allotment.

This year I bought my tulips on a 20% off day at our local garden centre in Mark Cross: they had an excellent selection and worked out considerably cheaper than the Sarah Raven tulips I usually buy. In the large half-barrels in the back garden, I went for Creme Flag and White Flag in one, and a red and white selection of Carnival de Rio and Escape in the other, both offset with Sunset Purple wallflowers and pansies in berry shades. These were Taylor’s bulbs, marketed as Sherbet Lemons, and Strawberries and Cream respectively: I particularly liked the fact that the packets gave detailed information for each variety and they were packed in separate bags inside the pack.

In the front barrels either side of my rose arch, I went for a purple theme with a tulip mix, again from Taylor’s, called Purple Rain Fusion on one side, and Dancing Dolls (the ever-reliable Doll’s Minuet and its purple namesake, Purple Doll) on the other side. These were planted with pansies in shades of blue and purple, and Giant Pink wallflowers. In the last barrel, near the front door, I planted a tulip mix called Fondant Fancy (Infiniti and Mistress – here’s hoping the individual varieties all flower at the same time, as they are supposed to… Crocuses and daffodils were recycled from last year’s pot, so a literal case of pot luck – I’m sure they’ll be fine!

Having weeded some of the allotment beds so that I could plant my broad bean seeds last weekend, and taken down the tatty sweet pea tripod and gone-to-seed spinach and chard stems, this weekend was the turn of the garden at home for a change. A long to-do list (headed by finishing the containers) included sowing sweet pea seeds – I’ve never tried sowing sweet peas in autumn before, but after miserable spring germination performance in recent years, I figured I had nothing to lose! I’m starting them off indoors on the heated conservatory floor, but once they’ve germinated, they should be able to go out into a cold frame. I also potted on the cuttings I took in late summer: penstemon, cistus, anthemis, salvia, osteospermum and hydrangea. Most (with the exception of the cistus) had good little root systems, so should make nice little plants by spring. I also experimented with taking cuttings from my huge Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill, after chatting to a local nursery owner last weekend, who had said she couldn’t find one anywhere. Mine grows like a triffid, needing pruning twice a year, so worth a shot. It may well be too late this year, but we shall see…

With the onset of frost around the corner after a bitterly cold and showery day on Sunday, I brought my tender geraniums and tibouchina into the conservatory and put other tender specimens in my grow frame. This in turn meant finally harvesting my chillis from the fading chilli plants in the conservatory to free up space. The chilli plants have been yellowing and dropping their leaves for a few weeks anyway, so now was the time.

Chillis

It may have been too wet and cold to do everything on my list, but a good weekend, all things considered. The clocks may have gone back and there’s an hour less light for gardening in the afternoons, but the hatches are battened: let the weather do its worst!

 

 

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It’s that time again…

Marjorie plum tree

Yes, it’s official, autumn has arrived with a vengeance here in sunny (or not-so-sunny at the moment) Sussex. The children have gone back to school, the nights are drawing in and there’s definitely a nip in the air. It would be nice to have an Indian summer, extending the season just that little bit longer, especially after a dampish August, but it’s not looking likely on this week’s showing. Still, harvest time continues and I’ve got apples and plums coming out of my ears. Time to get the preserving pan out again…

Plum jam isn’t usually one of my favourites, as I find the skins, when cooked long and slow in the preserving process, can be quite obtrusive. Jelly is an option, of course, but never quite as satisfying as jam and certainly not right slathered in a traditional Victoria sponge or topped off with clotted cream on a scone. I scoured the internet for recipes that didn’t involve the skins, but didn’t find anything that took my fancy. I also had an urge to use cardamom pods and/or citrus to make a spiced jam, inspired perhaps by my current take on plum compote. This involves halving the plums and removing the stones (you can leave a few in if you like for their extra almondy flavour, but not too much as the kernels actually do contain cyanide!). Place in a rectangular ovenproof dish, sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of Demerara sugar, the juice and rind of one large orange, and add a star anise. Then roast for 30 minutes or so at 180°C/Gas 5 for a delectable, Spiced Roasted Plum Compote.

Diana Henry’s plum, cardamom and orange jam came close to what I had in mind, but included the orange rind, like a marmalade, and wasn’t strained to remove the plum skins. Finally, I decided to adapt one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s fridge jam recipes from “Fruit Every Day”. I’ve used this technique for a divine Morello cherry jam before now, and while you have to keep it in the fridge once opened, it stores perfectly in a cool larder before opening – and uses half the sugar of traditional jams, which has to be a good thing. I was pretty happy with the results, but see for yourselves:

Spiced Plum Jam with Cardamom, Orange & Cinnamon – makes 3 jars

Plum and chilli jam

1.5kg plums, stoned (I used my late-season Marjories)
750g granulated sugar
2 oranges, grated rind and juice
300ml water
8 cardamom pods, husks removed and seeds roughly crushed
1/2 cinnamon stick

Halve and stone the plums and put in a preserving pan with 300ml of water and the juice and rind of the oranges, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes until very soft and pulpy. Add the sugar, stirring until fully dissolved and bring back to the boil. Cook for 5-8 minutes until the right consistency is reached – drips should run together when you hold up the wooden spoon over the pan. Carefully pass the mixture through a large sieve into a clean jug or bowl and push through the pulp to extract all the jam. Then pour into sterilised jars and seal as usual (see here for method). Deliciously tangy and no chewy skins!

Chillis and tomatoes are also in abundance at this time of year, and whilst you can dry chillis for use in the winter, it’s also nice to make your own chilli preserves too – so much less sweet than shop-bought offerings and often with more of a kick too. I’ve shared Sarah Raven’s sweet chilli dipping sauce here before, but I also like her chilli jam recipe for a thicker preserve. I usually double the quantities Sarah suggests, but still find it only makes 3-4 small jars – you don’t need much, though, so it’s well worth experimenting. My son thinks the jam could be even hotter, but I like it just as it is. Of course, much depends on the heat of your chillis, and your tastebuds, so do apply caution if using unknown chillis. You could literally be playing with fire! I didn’t have enough Thai fish sauce either for the doubled quantities – why does it come in such small bottles? – so made up the difference with Worcester sauce. It does contain anchovies after all…

Chilli Jam – makes 3-4 small jars

1kg ripe tomatoes
6-8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
8 large red chillis, seeds left in if you like your preserves hot
large piece of root ginger, chopped
600g granulated sugar
4 tbsp Thai fish sauce or Worcester sauce
200ml red wine vinegar

Roughly chop half the tomatoes and blitz in a food processor with the garlic, chillis and ginger. Pour into a heavy saucepan. Add the sugar, fish (or Worcester) sauce and vinegar and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce to a simmer. Dice the remaining tomatoes finely and add to the pan, then simmer for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and turns slightly darker and sticky. Pour into sterilised jars as above and seal while still warm. Keep in the fridge once opened.

Now, what to do with the next batch of plums, I wonder?! Happy harvesting!

Leo near the plunge pool

Checking your pulse(s): lentils

lentils-628468_960_720

Dried pulses, and especially lentils, are an essential part of my store cupboard and really come into their own in the winter months, when fresh vegetables aren’t quite as vibrant or plentiful. I love lentil soups, such as Tomato & Lentil, or Carrot & Lentil, and often throw a handful of lentils into chicken broth or good old vegetable soup for extra body and protein. They’re pretty cheap too – a pack of dried red lentils or beans lasts for ages and is very reasonably-priced. The more exotic Puy lentils are even more delicious, holding their shape better when cooked to a slurry with herbs and lemony flavourings as an accompaniment to smoked fish or as part of a rich and wholesome sausage casserole – perfect winter comfort food! Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s take on Sausage and Puy lentil casserole is particularly scrumptious, although I prefer it with dried apricots rather than prunes (shades of school dinners…).

One of my favourites is a lentil curry I came across in my first ever (Tower) slow cooker manual, over 30 years ago now. I still have the book (taped together!), but I’ve adapted the recipe to suit our growing taste for spices and added extra vegetables over the years. I still make it in my slow cooker (not quite the same one; I managed to drop the earthenware bowl and ended up buying a whole new slow cooker), but it must be 25 years old now and still going strong – and as useful as ever! Such a lovely feeling to put it on in the morning when you know you’re going out all day, then return home to a lovely hot meal and the knowledge that you don’t have to cook (much as I love it usually!). Brilliant for chilli con carne, sublime for brisket of beef or a slow-braised ham joint with cider, apples and celery…. or equally good for mulled wine, steamed puddings (especially Christmas pudding!) and crème caramel! And of course, I always use it to make my stock with the cooked chicken carcass, onion, celery, chilli, herbs, vegetable cooking water and seasoning, left over night – perfect! A friend says she pre-cooks her pulses in the slow cooker after soaking them – I haven’t tried that, I must admit, but it sounds like a great idea.

Anyway, about that lentil curry. You can adjust the chilli content to suit your own taste: the first time I served this to one of my sons’ schoolfriends when he came to dinner soon after we moved south, he maintained it was REALLY hot, yet we find it quite mild using 3 or 4 home-grown Apache chillis (seeds included). If you know you’re averse to hot spices, or you think your chillis may be very hot, adjust accordingly. It’s hard to take them out after the event!

Lentil Curry – serves 6-8

Lentil curry

Olive oil

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3-4 red chillis, chopped, removing seeds if you prefer (or to taste!)

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

8-10 cardamom pods, seed removed and crushed

4 carrots, diced

3 sticks celery, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

1 large apple, peeled and chopped

1 leek, sliced

12oz red lentils

2 tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp tomato purée

1 litre vegetable stock (either homemade or use a stock cube or bouillon powder in water)

Seasoning

1 handful sultanas

Heat a good glug of oil in a pan and cook the onion and garlic for about 10 mins until softened. Add chopped carrots, celery, pepper, apple and leek, then add chopped chilli, spices and stir for a few mins until well coated. Add lentils and cook for another few minutes. Add tomato purée and stock, then season well. Bring back to the boil and cook for 10 minutes before adding a handful of sultanas. Transfer to the slow cooker for 7-10 hours on Auto/Low (3-4 hours on High). Serve with chopped coriander If you have it! Otherwise parsley or baby spinach work well…) and natural yogurt with rice or Naan. Freezes beautifully!

Party Frock and snowdrops Jan 2016

 

 

Sowing the seeds of summer

Gerrie Hoek

Despite the chill winds of mid-March, now is the time to start off those early seeds for summer crops. I sowed my chillis (Apache), aubergines (Bonica) and sweet peas and lobelia just over a week ago before escaping to the Alps for a sunny ski break. The lobelia (dark blue Crystal Palace) are up already, but no sign of the chillis and aubergines – not that I expected there to be! They can take up to 3 weeks, even in a heated propagator, so all the more reason to get them in early. You can, of course, buy young plants later on, but that’s much more expensive and I find they are more prone to disease and aphids if you buy them in, presumably because they are hot-housed in great numbers…. The sweet peas (Singing the Blues) are sitting 5 to a pot on the sunny conservatory windowsill and usually take around a fortnight to germinate. I soaked the seeds in warm water overnight this time before sowing; this used to be recommended practice, but advice seems to have changed in recent years, resulting in much worse germination in my experience – so back to the old tried and trusted methods! I usually sow another batch of seed straight out in the open in April too, and they invariably catch up by mid-summer, and extend the picking season too.

Today I’ve planted parsley (Champion) and basil (British Basil), both in small pots in the propagator, and also three kinds of leeks : Nipper for early baby leeks from September onwards, Pandora for mid-season leeks and the blue-green Bandit for late winter leeks. Last year’s plantings are still going strong; in fact, I’m probably going to have to lift and store them in the next couple of weeks to make room for the new-season crops! Yes, they are in the ground a long time, but such a good-value crop for very little outlay and effort…. I would hate to be without my leeks! Each packet of seed usually contains plenty for two years of sowing – watch out for parsley, though, as fresh seed usually gives best results.

I’ve also potted up some new dahlias from Sarah Raven, ordered a few weeks ago: I love browsing through her catalogue (www.sarahraven.com) and try and experiment with new ones each year, if I can find room! I jettisoned some single yellow dahlias I’d grown from seed last year, which didn’t go with my deep red, white and pink colour scheme down on the allotment, so just room to shoe-horn in a couple more! I’ve gone for a white and purple bicolour collection: Edge of Joy and Alauna Clair Obscur, as well as two pinks: a spikey cactus type, Sugar Diamond, and Gerrie Hoek, a pale salmon pink waterlily type – can’t wait! I find it’s best to start them in pots in my grow rack, allowing them to get going away from the harmful effects of slugs, then transfer them out when the shoots are growing well. Once they’re established, I usually leave them out to overwinter as they’re planted deep enough in the raised beds to withstand the worst of the winter weather, even when we had sustained periods of ice and snow a few years back.

Alauna Clair Obscur dahlia Sugar Diamond Edge of Joy

My final task of the day was to pot up the tuberous begonia corms I bought last year and had overwintered, well-wrapped in brown paper bags, in the shed. The corms had tripled in size since last spring and seem firm enough, so I’ve potted them up in large pots and put them in the grow rack with the dahlias – just hope we don’t get any severe cold spells now!

Just time after all that for a brisk walk down to the allotment with the dogs to bring back some leeks and purple sprouting broccoli to accompany my duck breast and parsnip purée for dinner. Sublime…

Passion for Preserving

Jars, backlit

It’s that time of year again, when the dew stays on the grass until mid-morning and the evenings start getting chilly. Despite pleasantly warm days, it’s feeling undeniably autumnal in the garden as shrubs are starting to colour and the late-season flowers are in full bloom: Aster Mönch has been at its splendiferous peak of lilac perfection for weeks, set off spectacularly by the golden yellow stars of Rudbeckia and the wands of orange and brown Crocosmia. Down at the allotment the harvest is in full swing: plums and apples aplenty, and lots of vegetables just calling out to be preserved for the dank, dark days of winter.

I love preserving: ever since I had my very first house and took to cooking and gardening like a duck to water, I’ve adored the alchemy of converting harvested goodies, preferably grown and picked by my own fair hands, into gleaming jars of jewel-like preserves for the store cupboard. It must be nearly 30 years ago that I was tempted by a Good Housekeeping offer of a preserving set with capacious pan, long-handled wooden spoons, a wide-angled funnel, jelly stand and muslin jelly bag. Bar the pan (which came to a sticky end after an ill-fated and ultimately burnt-on encounter with plum ketchup a few years ago…), I still have the rest – and they come out like clockwork every year. The jelly stand has been worth its weight in gold for straining elderflower cordial and redcurrant and blackberry & apple jelly, all three staples of my kitchen year.

At this time of year, though, it’s the vegetables that are calling out to be preserved. I ring the changes depending on what I have in glut proportions, but here are the three preserves I’ve made in recent weeks:

Chilli dipping sauce

400g granulated sugar

3 chopped chillis (mine are Apache, which I find germinates reliably and produces in abundance in my conservatory, hot but not too hot!)

5 garlic cloves, crushed

250ml cider vinegar

250ml fresh orange juice (3-4 juicing oranges)

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan (you don’t need a preserving pan for this, just a large saucepan will do) and cook over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until syrupy – i.e. when the drips run together when you hold up the spoon over the pan). Leave in the pan for a few minutes to let the chopped ingredients settle, then pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal. I find this makes just enough for a standard 450g jam jar, but you could use two smaller jars if you prefer.

Thanks to Sarah Raven for the recipe!

Chilli dipping sauce

Cucumber Relish

3lb cucumbers

1lb onion

2 green peppers

1 ½oz salt

1pt distilled white vinegar

10oz granulated sugar

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp black mustard seed

2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground mace

Peel and dice the cucumbers, finely slice onions and finely chop the pepper. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt and leave overnight, covered with a tea towel. Drain in a colander, rinse in cold water and drain again thoroughly.

Place remaining ingredients in a preserving pan, stir until sugar dissolves, then bring to boil and simmer for 2 mins. Add drained vegetables, bring back to boil and simmer for 4-5 mins, stirring constantly.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer into warm, sterilised jars (using a wide-necked funnel makes life a lot easier!), then top up with any remaining liquid. Seal with cellophane and lids.

Should make 4-5 jars. Ready in one week, but keeps for ages – delicious with cheese and cold meat.

I’ve had this recipe for years (as you can tell by the Imperial measurements!). It’s in my hand-scribbled recipe book, but my notes tell me it came originally from my friend, Bridget, a home economics teacher and keen fellow gardener.

And finally, my younger son’s favourite:

Spiced beetroot and orange chutney

1.5kg raw beetroot, trimmed, peeled and grated (much easier with a food processor; otherwise wear disposable gloves!)

3 red onions, chopped

3 apples, peeled and grated – you can use cooking or eating; whichever you have available!

Zest and juice of 3 oranges

2 tbsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp ground cloves

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

700ml red wine vinegar

700g granulated sugar

Mix together all the ingredients in a large preserving pan. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for at least 1 ¾ hours until the chutney is thick – or when you draw your spoon down the middle of the mixture, the resulting channel doesn’t immediately fill with liquid. Leave to settle for 10 mins or so off the heat.

Spoon into warm, sterilised jars and seal with cellophane and lids while hot. I find this makes 5 standard jars. It can be eaten straight away, but I think it’s better kept for a few months to mature and then keeps for ages in a cool, dark place. Again, perfect with cheese and cold meat.

Store cupboard