Tag Archives: Cut flowers

Scaling the rhubarb mountain…

Alliums and tulips

It’s at this time of year that the rhubarb goes into overdrive: sunshine one minute, heavy showers the next – perfect growing weather! Despite cutting back my rhubarb bed when I downsized from a full allotment to three-quarters, the two smaller beds I created seemed to have expanded beyond all expectations. Every time I go up, I cut armfuls of strong stems, but it still looks just as abundant the next time I arrive. I give lots away, of course: I sent my son and his fiancée home with loads this weekend, and thrust yet more at my mum when we called in for lunch on Sunday. I even took some up to a friend in Cheshire when I went to my goddaughter’s wedding over the beautiful May Day holiday weekend.

Needless to say my menus feature rhubarb pretty intensively at the moment: roasted rhubarb & orange compote with homemade granola and natural yogurt is my breakfast of choice. You can’t beat a good old-fashioned rhubarb crumble or a traditional rhubarb pie with its mandatory (and delicious) soggy bottom either. Sometimes, however, you fancy a change, and I recently revisited a recipe from one of my first ever cookbooks, Jocasta Innes “Pauper’s Cookbook” from my student days, still my original dog-eared, much bespattered paperback version from the 1970s. The original recipe calls itself a rhubarb pie, but to my mind a pie has to have a top, whereas this is more of a tart with just a pastry base. It’s delicious, whatever you call it, and reminded me almost of the delicious Rhabarberwähen I sampled in Basel during my year abroad – heaven on a plate! I must track down a Swiss recipe for one of those too…. In the meantime, here’s my take on an open rhubarb tart. I often make enough pastry to make a spare case; they keep for a good couple of weeks in a tin in a cool place.

Rhubarb & Cinnamon Tart – serves 6

Rhubarb tart

1 part-baked 24cm shortcrust pastry case (see this recipe or use your own)
750g rhubarb, chopped
1 lemon, grated rind and juice
150g brown sugar
1 heaped tbsp cornflour
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix the sugar, grated lemon rind and juice, cinnamon and cornflour in a bowl and sprinkle half this mixture over the bottom of the tart case, top with the chopped rhubarb, then sprinkle the rest of the sugar mixture on top. Bake at 200°C, Gas 6 for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the rhubarb is tender. Cover with foil if it starts to get too brown at the edges. Serve just warm or cold with whipped cream or crème fraiche.

A chance conversation on Facebook led to my next rhubarb solution: rhubarb & ginger gin. I’ve yet to taste the results, of course, as it will have to steep for a month before it’s ready, but I can’t see why it shouldn’t taste divine: rhubarb, ginger, gin & tonic – what’s not to like? I’ll let you know in a month’s time whether it’s as good as it sounds – fingers crossed! Sarah Raven’s recipe for rhubarb & ginger vodka appealed most after my online searches, adapted for gin and tweaked to fit my 2 litre Kilner jar. I used Aldi’s Oliver Cromwell London Gin, which gets excellent reviews and won a gold medal in the International Wine and Spirits Competition earlier this year.

Rhubarb & Ginger Gin

Rhubarb and ginger gin

800g rhubarb, chopped into small chunks
1 litre gin
400g granulated sugar
5cm piece root ginger, peeled and sliced
thin strips of orange peel from 1 orange
1 vanilla pod

Put the rhubarb, sugar, ginger, orange peel and vanilla pod into a 2-litre Kilner jar and pour over the gin to cover completely. You probably won’t need it all; I reckon I used about 900 ml. Shake vigorously, then put in a cool place for 1 month, shaking every day to dissolve the sugar.

After 1 month, strain into a jug and decant into bottles. Serve with tonic and ice for a perfectly pink long drink for the summer months. Roll on June!

Garden flowers with alliums and tulips
Tulips and alliums from the garden
Advertisements

Flowers for the house?

Bridget's arrangementOne of the things I love most about having an allotment is that it enables you to grow masses of flowers to cut for the house. With only a small rear courtyard garden and a not much bigger front garden at home, I can only really pick small seasonal posies without spoiling the display in the garden, which of course lasts for much longer if not picked! I love to see colour all year round, so the garden at home is planned for a succession of colour, but I get so much pleasure from that when I’m working from home, or coming in and out, that it seems criminal to snip more than a few flowers here or there. It’s lovely, too, to have bunches to give away when visiting friends for dinner – a hand-tied arrangement is often far nicer than anything you could buy and people are always thrilled that you’ve grown them yourself.

dahlias in situDown on the plot, however, I have a whole bed dedicated to flowers: mainly dahlias that stay in the ground year after year and have now reached monster proportions! So much so, that I really need to think about lifting and dividing them this autumn to make room for new varieties. I’ve also squeezed in some gladioli, which don’t take up much room and are far more effective used for picking than standing awkwardly in a flowerbed, and a couple of cosmos plants. I have a framework of blue-hued sweet peas (Singing the Blues from Mr Fothergill’s seeds) alongside my mangetouts and have been picking huge bunches every couple of days since the beginning of July – heaven!

sweet peas in situNext year, I’m planning on growing even more flowers by sacrificing a potato bed. I used to grow three beds of potatoes, 20 tubers in each, covering early, salad and maincrop varieties, but I cut back to two last year, when my boys left home, and I’ve realised that even two beds is far too many for one, even if I give them away to visitors! Wireworms and slugs tend to get there before I can with the later crops, and then there’s blight at the end of the season, inevitable on a large allotment site. Far better, I’ve decided, to devote another bed to flowers, preferably earlier-flowering varieties so I can extend the cutting season.

Sweet peasI already grow sweet William and wallflowers as decorative edging to some of my vegetable beds, and I have daffodils under my apple trees and tulips in the asparagus beds, along with beautiful lilac opium poppies. Yet I’m craving peonies for lavish armfuls in early summer, plus those useful early annuals such as Ammi and Bupleureum for adding white and lime green froth respectively to spring and summer arrangements. Alchemilla mollis I already have in abundance at home, and a visiting friend this weekend had the inspired idea of using golden yellow dill flowers to accompany my deep red, pink and white dahlias – a stunning combination, as you can see above! Our local florist at one of my favourite local tearooms, Beal’s Barn, often has fabulously decadent double ranunculus in her spring arrangements and that’s another bulb I’d like to try in my new bed, possibly with freesias too, on a friend’s recommendation. Hardiness may be a concern, but if the dahlias survive the winter, there’s every reason to suppose these might too.

Glorious gladioliAt this time of year my house is already full of flower arrangements – I counted as many as 14 in one go, from tiny posies of sweet peas or roses in my office, to statuesque vases of gladioli and big, blowsy bunches of old-fashioned dahlias. I love it!

Dahlia Sugar Diamond July 2015