Tag Archives: Grow your own

Super breakfasts

It’s at this time of year that breakfasts become a real treat with all the soft fruit from the garden. Such bliss to have a constant supply of strawberries, raspberries and currants of all hues to perk up my breakfast bowl of muesli and yogurt. This year, I’ve even had masses of alpine strawberries some days too. This week it’s the turn of raspberries to take the abundance top spot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so plentiful: the canes are weighed down with fruit, hiding under the leaves, dripping with crimson loveliness. I’ve been picking pounds at a time, with plenty for jam (one of my absolute favourites and ideal for beginners, as it is cooked for a very short and defined time, so no worries about getting the set right), desserts of all kinds and ample left over for breakfast.

This jam recipe is adapted from my ancient – and falling-to-pieces – Good Housekeeping cookery book. I still refer to it for staple things like jam-making and this must be one of the first jams I ever made when I started preserving soon after I got married in 1983. I’d like to say I still have the same preserving pan I bought as a set from Good Housekeeping, but I managed to burn the base irredeemably with a particularly sticky chutney some years ago, so now use my mother’s identical model. Now in her 80’s, she hasn’t felt the urge to make jam for quite some time, and is happy to have my frequent contributions to her larder! I do still have the jam funnel, jelly bag and stand, and long wooden spoon though – not bad after 34 years’ service!

Easy Raspberry Jam – makes 6-7 jars

Raspberry jam cooking

3lb raspberries
3.5lb granulated sugar

Simmer the fruit very gently in a large preserving pan until the juice runs – this has to be one of the most tantalising aromas ever! Then bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, warm the sugar for a few minutes – I use the microwave. Add to the fruit and stir until dissolved, then bring back to a rollicking boil and cook for precisely 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into sterilised jars (see here for method), then cover with waxed circles/cellophane as usual. Another perfect filling for a traditional Victoria sponge, or served with hot buttered crumpets for breakfast…

Raspberry jam jar

I usually buy Dorset Cereals muesli (Simply Nutty variety), but it seems to have been getting increasingly expensive lately, along with a lot of other food (gee thanks, Brexit 😦 ), so I’ve been thinking for a while about making my own granola. A quiet spell this week gave me the impetus to give it a go. Many of the recipes I found had honey in, a real no-no for me, so I ended up cobbling together my own recipe based on various sources: Nigella Lawson, BBC Good Food and various other websites. The result is scrumptious, not too sweet, but nutty and crunchy at the same time – and I’m sure it has a lot less sugar than the oversweet and ridiculously expensive bought varieties.



2 tbsp olive oil
125ml maple syrup
2 tbsp agave nectar (or honey if you’re that way inclined)
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g oats
50g golden linseeds (or milled chia seeds)
50g pumpkin seeds (or sunflower seeds)
4 tbsp sesame seeds
100g flaked almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
100g dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice; chopped apricots also work well)
50g coconut flakes

Put the olive oil, maple syrup, agave nectar and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Stir in the oats, seeds, nuts and cinnamon (but not the coconut and fruit) and mix well. Spread out on two greased baking trays and bake at 150°C/gas 3 for 15 minutes. Scrape back into the bowl, stir in the coconut flakes, then return to the baking sheets and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until starting to colour. Remove from the oven and tip back into the bowl, then stir in the fruit. Transfer to a large airtight storage container when cool.

Serve with natural yogurt (or milk if you prefer) and lashings of fresh fruit of your choice!

Granola with raspberries

I’ve written before about the redcurrant & raspberry pancakes I make for breakfast in season, but a revelation last weekend, when my younger son was home and in crêpe-making mood, was how delicious normal pancakes are served with just-warmed fresh raspberries and a sprinkling of sugar – divine! We tried them with nutella and raspberries too, but the nutella detracted from the raspberries in my view; now a drizzling of melted dark chocolate might have been a completely different story….



Cheap and cheerful chard – and child’s play to grow!

Leaf Beet Swiss ChardBefore I had my allotment and was reliant on deliveries of organic vegetable boxes to keep me in fresh veg, I used to groan when my winter deliveries were full of chard. What on earth do I do with this, I would think – and inevitably it would often end up on the compost heap, unused and unloved…

Now I grow my own, Swiss chard is one of my staple winter vegetables and I’ve discovered lots of delicious ways of cooking it. Chard is extremely good for you: it is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, vitamin E and iron – and it tastes pretty good too! It’s also extremely easy to grow: I usually sow it along with my spinach and beetroot and early salad crops in late March/early April (weather permitting). It germinates relatively quickly, doesn’t seem to be attractive to slugs (hurrah!) and provides young leaves for salads in next to no time, followed by large leaves and stems that crop until the following year. It’s remarkably hardy, even more so than the perpetual spinach I grow it alongside, and as long as you cut down any chunky stems that threaten to flower, it really does keep on cropping and cropping. I have grown ruby chard and the Bright Lights series of multi-coloured stems (yellows and deep reds), but I think the standard white variety has the best taste and performance in the ground: I grew White Silver this year, but there are plenty to choose from.

Golden chardAs a general rule, you can use the leaves as you would spinach, but the stems are delicious too. They tend to need a bit more cooking, so remove the leaves and slice the stems thinly, giving them 5 or so minutes more cooking than the leaves.

So what to do with this miracle veg? I use it chopped in stir-fries or curries for extra green oomph, but it also makes a delicious Chard Gratin if you boil the stems for 5 minutes, then add the leaves to steam on top for a further 3 minutes. Turn into a shallow gratin dish and top with a cheese sauce (add freshly ground nutmeg and wholegrain mustard to taste!), then grate more cheese (Cheddar or Parmesan) on top, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cook in a hot oven (200°C) for 20 minutes or so – delicious with casseroles, roast meat or sausages! You can do the same with Savoy cabbage for an interesting variation, and of course you could add onions or leeks if you wanted to ring the changes…

Sarah Raven also has some delicious ideas in her Garden Cookbook, including this wholesome soup, which I’ve adapted slightly to suit whatever was in my plot at the time:

Chard and Coconut Soup

 350g chard (or a large bunch – whatever you have!)

1 leek, finely chopped

1 large potato, finely diced

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil (or mixture of butter and oil)

1 litre homemade vegetable stock (or chicken if that’s what you have!)

400 ml tin coconut milk

Freshly grated nutmeg

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

Parsley to garnish

Prepare the chard by washing thoroughly (like spinach, it can be gritty), strip the green leaves off the stem and chop finely, then chop the stems separately.

Sweat the onion, garlic and leeks gently in the oil (or butter and oil) for about 10 minutes until soft, then add the potato and chard stems and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the leaves, stock, bay leaf, grated nutmeg and coconut milk, stir thoroughly and bring back to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until everything is cooked through. Allow to cool, remove the bay leaf, then whizz in a liquidizer until smooth. Season to taste and serve with fresh bread and parsley to garnish.

This should make enough for 5-6 generous helpings and freezes beautifully.

Another of my favourite chard recipes is a vegetable side dish with extra zing. It came originally from the recipe sheets that accompanied my organic boxes, so was actually my first introduction to the charms of chard!

Chard and Tomato Bake

Serves 4

Bunch of Swiss chard, leaves and stems washed and chopped separately as above

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

200g tomatoes, skinned and chopped

Grated juice of 1 lemon

Handful of fresh (or frozen) breadcrumbs

Chopped herbs of your choice: oregano, basil or parsley all work well

75g grated Cheddar or Parmesan


Prepare the chard as above.

Sweat the onion and garlic in the olive oil for 10 minutes or so until soft. Add the chopped tomatoes and chard stems and cook for a further 5 mins, then add the chard leaves, herbs and grated lemon rind. Cook for a few minutes, then season, turn into a shallow gratin dish and top with the breadcrumbs and grated cheese.

Cook in a hot oven (200°C) for 15 minutes or until golden.

Delicious with sausages, chops or roast meat.

My final suggestion for chard is another ever-so-slightly adapted recipe from Sarah Raven, again from the Garden Cookbook, but I first had these on a visit to one of Sarah’s fabulous garden Open Days at Perch Hill, East Sussex, luckily not very far from me at all!

Chard and Feta Parcels

1 leek, finely chopped

25g butter

200g chard, leaves only, finely chopped (or spinach)

200g feta cheese, crumbled

100g Parmesan, grated

Handful of sultanas

1 egg, beaten

Freshly ground nutmeg

Salt and pepper

1 packet filo pastry sheets

Extra melted butter

Sesame or poppy seeds to sprinkle

 Cook the leek in the butter until soft, then add the finely chopped chard for a few minutes. Take off the heat and add the crumbled feta, Parmesan, egg, sultanas, nutmeg and seasoning, mixing well.

Take one sheet of filo pastry and cut into 10 cm wide strips. Brush on one side with the extra melted butter, then put 1 tbsp of the chard mixture in the top right-hand corner and fold over into a triangle, then keep folding the triangle alternately down the length of the strip, ending up with a triangular parcel, several layers thick. Transfer to a baking tray, brush with extra butter and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Repeat with the rest of the pastry until you’ve used up the chard mixture.

You can freeze at this stage, or cook the parcels in a hot oven (200°C) until golden brown.

Scrumptious with a salad for lunch or delicious picnic fare – I’ve taken these to the tennis championships at Eastbourne as part of our “posh” picnic – perfect!

Plot with chard Jan 2015