In the Bleak Midwinter…

… I came up with a good idea.

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Parsley

Last year, I managed to eat something from my garden pretty much every day (apart from the days when I was away). This year, I want to chart it. I’d really like to try to quantify exactly how much food I have been able to grow/ preserve/ consume myself and make some sort of analysis as to the benefits of home growing.

I have been involved in permaculture design and implementation for the last 18 years, having completed my PDC (Permaculture Design Course) in Brighton back in 1999.

In that time I have managed farms, kept livestock, been a founder member of both Brighton Permaculture Trust and Paramaethu Cymru (Permaculture Wales), lectured and taught on Patrick Whitefield’s Sustainable Land Use course, run a landscaping company Edible Landscapes Ltd and small scale enterprise The Pesto Manifesto, and work with the Zero Carbon Britain team at the Centre for Alternative Technology, as well as raise my three lovely children. In my spare time, I co-ordinate the permaculture areas at the Glastonbury Festival, Green Gathering and Buddhafield.

This year, I’m hoping to join the first tranche of students at the Centre for Alternative Technology on the MSc in Sustainable Food Production and Natural Resources.

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Halloumi Adventures

14209620955_9d0f435783_o It’s that delicious point in the year – vernal equinox. The time of year when day is equal to night. Yet there is still snow on the ground. It’s been a harder winter than usual, with more snow here than in a fair few years. The animals seem to be undeterred though – frogs spawning aplenty, lambs bouncing in the fields and courting displays from the garden birds.

At this time when we are coming to the last of the standing veg in the garden, an offer of raw unpasteurised cow’s milk for a nominal price has been warmly welcomed. And so begin the Halloumi Adventures!

Homemade halloumi is a bit softer than shop bought, and less squeaky, so suits the youngest child in the house. He has sensory processing issues – where some textures and sounds are obnoxious to him. Squeaky cheese is one of them!

There is a bit of equipment needed for this, but nothing you won’t already have if you are an inveterate jam maker. A large Maslin (jam) pan, a sugar thermometer, some muslin or a linen tea towel and a colander should do it. And some patience! This recipe will take an afternoon, so put on some tunes and have a clock ready.

Halloumi Recipe

5 litres raw milk

1/2 tsp vegetarian rennet

1/2 tbs salt

Instructions:

Slowly bring the milk up to around 35°C in the Maslin pan.

Add the vegetarian rennet, stirring gently.

Turn off the heat and let it sit for an hour. It will start to look like jelly.

Cut the curds with a long knife, slicing it into 1 inch cubes. You will see the curds come away from the watery whey. Leave it to settle for another half hour.

Start to heat the pan again and, very gently, bring the mixture up to around 38°C – take it slowly, this should take around half an hour.

Line a colander or large sieve with the muslin or tea towel, and place over another large container to collect the whey. Later we can use it for making ricotta – more on this in another post soon.

Scoop the soft curds out of the Maslin pan into the colander, and leave to drain for about about an hour. It will start to firm up.

Now it’s time to poach the curds. Slowly heat the whey to 85°C  and add 1/2 tablespoon of salt.

While the whey is warming up,  turn out the cheese out on to a chopping board and slice into 2in wide rectangles.

Watch the thermometer, and when the whey is at 85°C, gently place the cheese into the liquid using a slotted spoon.

The halloumi will rise to the top of the pan after 20 – 30 minutes. It is important to try to keep the liquid at 85°C during the poaching.

Remove the halloumi and drain again. It will be quite soft, but again will firm as it drains and cools down.

Then – it is ready to eat!

Pan fried or grilled, it is delicious on sourdough bread, with a drizzle of olive oil and a tomato and olive salad.

 

If you can’t eat it all at one, it is quite easy to store in brine:

Dissolve 100g salt in half a litre of boiling water. Add half a litre of whey.

Cool and pour the liquid over the halloumi and keep it in the liquid in an airtight container – it will keep for a month in the fridge (write the date onto the container).

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Broad Beans, and what comes after?

BroadBeanDwarf

I don’t really like broad beans.
OK, I don’t really like the beans themselves, but I always grow the plants – they are so pretty with their purple flowers and quick growing habit.
They fix nitrogen into the soil, so I always chop them off an inch above the soil when I do harvest them, rather than disturb the roots by pulling them up. Sometimes, I’m luckier to get a smaller secondary crop later in the season.

I’m already thinking into the future for these beds. Brassicas are the next in the rotation plan – they are nitrogen hungry so use a lot of the nitrogen brought to the top soil by the beans. I love the purple sprouting broccoli, so my seeds were sown into seedtrays inside a few weeks ago, and should be ready to plant out by the time I chop the beans.

So what will I do with the beans this year? I set a facebook challenge to my gardening and cooking friends to find the best broad bean recipes – I need to be convinced!
This is the one I shall be trying out in a few weeks, I’ll report back to let you know if it passes muster.

Broad Bean Hummus

Ingredients
450g/1lb fresh broad beans
100g/3½ oz tinned chickpeas (save 6 tbsp of the liquid from the can)
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 heaped tbsp tahini
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt
pinch ground cumin
pinch ground white pepper
pinch caster sugar (optional)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Cook the podded broad beans in a pan of boiling, salted water for a minute or two, or until tender. Drain and cool in iced water. This makes the next step much easier.

Make a cup of tea, put the radio on and remove the skin from the bright green beans.

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and smoosh until completely combined.

Serve with crackers, carrot sticks or felafels.

Basil Infographic

I’m developing some information charts for herbs in the wellness garden on the Glastonbury site. The plants currently being tended here in Wales, and in Bristol, all have gentle medicinal properties and have been used safely for generations.

I’ve been playing with the infographic site Piktochart, and started with my all time favourite herb – Basil. Reputed to be hard to grow, it’s a herb that I have an affinity with and have grown commercially.

new-piktochart_21911634_e79271d94facaef5563ec2ff293b3ecf0434eeb5

Planting a wellness garden

wellness-garden-1.jpgGarden Plan – Glastonbury Festival Permaculture

I have just returned from the first work weekend on our gardens at Worthy Farm – the home of Europe’s biggest music festival. A dry weekend, with some sun, saw us building the first three planters for our wellness garden.

Designed as a small breathing space in the mayhem, it will be planted up with a variety of herbs that promote physical and mental wellness, with an emphasis on colour, scent and texture.

I’m now working on a set of infographic cards to be displayed with each plant… and have a new  found respect for graphic designers!

Golden Risotto

I got a shock when the dogs came in from their morning ablutions this morning. Big face dog, Bryn, was peppered in snow. I looked up from my bleary eyed coffee machinations, and it was indeed snowing. Great!

it snowed

It snowed

Snow can be a real headache here in Wales. In 2010, my village was snowed in for the best part of two weeks, and we relied on a farmer from a well-known yogurt factory to deliver milk and bread.

Most people that live out in the hills have a well-stocked larder, as winter storms aren’t uncommon. If London had our weather, the media would maybe take climate change more seriously…

So today calls for some real comfort food. A flavoursome risotto, spiced with the saffron threads I diligently collected in the autumn.

Saffron crocuses aren’t hard to grow if you get the soil conditions right. It loves a freescreen-shot-2017-01-22-at-09-18-38 draining site, and can happily get by with low fertility. It must have full sun, especially when they flower in October. I have a small raised bed devoted to them, just a metre square, and for a short period of time they make me dizzy with pleasure. The picking is a delicate, meditative affair, plucking the three stigmas (female sex organs) from each flower.

Did you know…

  • saffron is the most expensive spice in the world?
  • has been cultivated for over 5,000 years?
  • was introduced by the Romans?
  • costs £4,000 per kilo?
  • is almost exclusively harvested by hand?
  • it takes 150 crocuses to produce a gram of saffron (about 500 threads)?

They need to be carefully dried; I have a dehydrator to do this, but a low oven (about 40C) or on a silicone sheet next to a radiator or in an airing cupboard will work too.

So, to the joy of saffron risotto. I love that the Arborio rice used for risotto is grown in Europe- it soothes my locavore sensibilities. Carnaroli, another medium grain rice is grown here too, and makes a much creamier dish.

Saffron Risotto (serves two)

Ingredients:

Small white onion, finely chopped
25g butter or 1 tablespoon oil (nothing too heavily flavoured, a light olive oil will do)
1.25 litres golden stock
200g carnaroli rice
A glass of white wine
50g unsalted butter, diced
50g Parmesan or Grana Padano (for a vegetarian option) cheese, grated

Directions:

Bring the stock to the boil. I make mine with left over veg saved for this: carrot tops, celery leaves, rosemary, shiitake mushrooms, thyme, fennel, onion and the green ends of leek, parsley stalks and a pinch of peppercorns, then add salt at the end to taste.

Strain the stock and add a teaspoon of saffron. Marvel at its golden colour change!

Melt the butter or oil, and soften the onion in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Add the carnaroli rice. Turn up the heat, and stir to coat the grains with butter.

When the rice is hot, add a small glass of white wine, and keep stirring until it has evaporated.

Start adding the stock, gradually. Stir in a ladleful at a time, until it has nearly all been absorbed.

The rice begins to soften after about ten minutes. Keep testing it as you add the stock. When the stock is all added and it is cooked to your taste, add the unsalted butter, cheese, and beat it firmly with a wooden spoon, until the risotto is rich and creamy.

Check the seasoning, then serve immediately.

 

After Blue Monday – Grey Tuesday?

It’s already 17th January. The dog is pacing for her second walk of the day, and I know it will be dark in less than two hours. While she forages in the bin for cat food pouches, I lean on my bedroom windowsill looking at the garden in stasis.

Of course, it’s actually teeming with life down there. Microbes, fungi, nematodes, micro-organisms are all cracking on, gently turning the mulch to soil; the discarded stems and leaves delicious food for the invisible.

When we had the very brief cold snap, I lay the Christmas tree over my corn salad Rainy woodlandseedlings to protect them from frost. It’s probably time to rescue them from the pine needles.

Mmm, pine needles. They smell so evocative. A hint of winter, Nordicity and hygge.

Remembering Susun Weed’s words on pine sap, I think I might create her pine needle vinegar.

 

Pine Needle Vinegar

Ingredients

500ml apple cider vinegar*

12” of pine branch, cut into 2” pieces

 

Directions

Place the fresh pine needles into a wide-mouthed jar and add the apple cider vinegar.

Soak for 6 weeks, strain and taste.

 

I’ll report back to you, as this is a new one on me.

*  I started making my own vinegar last year, when I forgot about a batch of kombucha. If it is overfermented, it makes a great and healthy vinegar, and I also use it as a cleaning spray 🙂

A perfect pot luck lunch offering

In a week that has seen gale force winds, snow, hail and a return to work – what can I have possibly eaten from my garden? You’d be surprised.

On day two back at work we had a pot luck lunch. You know that thing where people bring in food and share? That.

Fresh ripe red cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes

 

Our theme this month was Mediterranean. I scoured the fridge and pantry for inspiration. I found lots of dried rosemary and oregano, a jar of passata from the last of the summer tomatoes and my final crown prince squash. What’s more Mediterranean than ratatouille?

Outside, the bay tree saplings are hanging on, so I took just a couple of leaves from them to add to the flavour, and I found my stash of dried shiitake mushrooms.

Shiitakes are really quite easy to grow here in wet mild Mid Wales. I lived on a farm that produced these commercially when my kids were small, and have grown them ever since. They are really easy to dry, and seem to last forever. When dry, they add a lovely smoky depth to sauces, ragouts and vegetarian stock – although I’m not so keen on them as a mushroom, as they have quite a chewy, meaty texture.

Winter Ratatouille

The trick to a good ratatouille is to roast the veg individually, then combine in a good thick herby tomato sauce.

Ingredients (made enough for 15)

1 small crown prince squash (or 1 large butternut), peeled and cut into inch square pieces

6 peppers, cut into large chunks

4 medium onions, cut into quarters

4 courgettes, cut into half moon shapes about the thickness of a £1 coin

2 aubergines, thinly sliced

100ml olive oil

1 bulb of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

2 shiitake mushrooms

Passata, at least 1 litre

1 tbs balsamic vinegar (optional)

Sea salt

Rosemary

Oregano

Directions

Preheat the oven to 200C

Lay out each of the veg into separate baking trays, putting the full head of garlic onto the same tray as the peppers.

Drizzle approx. 1tbs (25ml) olive oil over each veg (squash, garlic & peppers, onions, courgettes & aubergines) and a pinch of sea salt.

Roast each veg tray until cooked – about 20 mins for most, a bit longer for the squash.

Combine all veg in a large pan (I used one of my jam pans for this).

Cover with passata and add the shiitake and balsamic, if using.

Simmer gently for 30 mins.

Taste, season (try adding a tsp or two of sugar here, it intensifies the taste of the tomatoes) and serve with crusty bread and salad.