Let us Grow Lettuce

I gave this a go recently out of sheer desperation. We had a big hole in our garden ready for autumn/winter planting and an inspection looming just a few days away. With nothing left in the garden centres we were racking our brains how best to quickly fill up the mini plot to make sure it looked like we weren’t just needlessly making a big hole in the garden. As it turned out, they didn’t even look at what we’d done to the garden, but at least it gave us a solid push to get our stuff sorted for the year!

I was trawling through the supermarket and there it was… a pack of lettuce. But not a cellophane wrapped cut lettuce head or ready to eat bag mix, it was those “still growing” fresh varieties that are all the rage right now with force grown lettuce jam packed into a small container of thin soil that last just a few days longer than normal if you get them home to sun and water quickly.

Not this one but something just like this (from the mysupermarket website):

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The lettuce is tiny and delicate – and that’s good if you’re into that but it you want something substantial you should think about replanting it. Yep, turns out that this little tray of lettuce has so many seedlings in it, a third of this small tray produced two packed rows of lettuce on my mini plot. They toughened up in no  time with a temporary poundland polytunnel which lasted just long enough to prepare them for their new outdoor life (about a week – not worth the pound).

This is the little beauties a week later after I removed the destroyed polytunnel.

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Not only did they survive, but they have grown very well, given a new lease of life they took to the new average soil very well no doubt starved of nutrients long ago in their little tray and have become good sized plants. I am now just a few weeks later cutting leaves off for my salads without much thought. The leaves are still also relatively delicate and they aren’t tasteless, tough abominations.

Considering this tray of lettuce cost me £1 (from the reduced section) and I easily have more than 10 lettuces out of a third of the tray I’d call that excellent value for money and a great fast turnaround for the vacant autumn plot. I’m definitely recommending this trick for anyone in need of fast lettuce or looking to get some lettuce seedlings out of garden centre season.

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What to do with the odd one out tomatoes

It’s the beginning of tomato season.. and only one or two tomatoes are ripe while the rest wait patiently to ripen in little clusters of reasonable quantity.

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The very first tomato that ripens you will probably eat and comment on how amazingly sweet your tomatoes are compared to the shop standard. But what could you do with the small clumps afterwards? They aren’t enough to make a meal just yet so you’d be forgiven for keeping some shop tomatoes in the fridge still.

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Well this year I’ve decided to dry a few in my dehydrator. It’s sunny, so for fear of flies I didn’t want to leave them out in he sun – but if you have good weather and appropriate netted racks this would be ideal. You can also choose to pop them in the oven on a low heat.. say around 50 degrees c and this will do the same job as your dehydrator.

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Cut the tomatoes at least once to expose the gooey centres and line them up on baking paper. It helps if they are all roughly the same size as this provides an even drying process.

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Make sure they are thoroughly dry throughout to prevent spoiling later on. When completely dry, you can store them in jars and keep adding more as and when they ripen.

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These dried tomatoes are full of flavour and make great additions to soups, risotto/paella, tapas, sauces and more. You can use them up now, or wait until tomato season is over to get a bit of extra seasonal milage out of them.

How to Crystalise Flowers

This is a fun little activity I discovered recently while looking for things to do with my foraged flowers. I had a variety of wonderful edible flowers and I already had more teas than I knew what to do with. It was then I came across the traditional fun and creative Victorian activity of flower crystalising. This is a really easy way of storing flowers and doing a fun and creative activity with the kids. It’s also very easy – you don’t have to be a whizz at cake decorating to get this one right.

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Step one is to to pick a bunch of edible flowers to use. Try to avoid going for ones from the shops, as these can often have harmful chemicals on them. Picking from your own garden is best – where you know exactly what they have been exposed to (or hopefully not exposed to!). Many flowers will also throw out extra blooms when a few are picked so you don’t have to worry about impacting your garden display.

Make sure you check out a reputable list of edible flowers and identify your flowers beforehand with absolute certainty.

I tried a range of flowers at first including hawthorn, daisy, geranium, poppy, forget me not and ground ivy. Not every flower will taste of anything but sugar – but it is worth noting you feel much less impatient when doing the larger flowers – although the forget me not were definately worth the strain!

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You then need one egg. Just one egg will do a large amount of flowers so you shouldn’t need any more than this. Separate off the egg white – this is the bit you want to keep for once! Give the egg white a good whisk – quality eggs will be a bit thick and will need breaking down to be more easily usable.

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Next get a clean (preferably unused or specifically kitchen based) fine paintbrush. Dip it in the egg whites and proceed to “paint” your flowers. Make sure to paint each petal on both sides and paint any parts of the flowers both showing and hidden (getting under any leafy bits and between petals etc).

Next get out some sugar. Castor sugar is preferred as it is finer and more delicate, but I used granulated sugar and it worked out just fine really.

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Dust both sides of the flowers being careful to cover as much as possible. Then place face down on greasproof paper and leave to dry. Once dried the flowers will go hard and will store easily. You can pop them in a dehydrator to speed up the process. You can then pick them up and place them delicately on top of fairy cakes… or whatever you please. They will retain thier shape and form and vibrance.

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Viola!

Primrose Tea

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Primrose! The lovely little five petal delicate flower we love to have in our gardens – is totally edible! Both leaves and flowers can be eaten, but Primrose tea is made from the leaves.

 

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You can use the leaves fresh or dry them out and store them for future use.

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Fill a tea strainer with leaves, and then let it steep in hot water for a few minutes. The water will turn a pale green colour. This tea tastes liek an everyday geenric herb tea – it doesn’t have any kind of real flavour to it. I added the primrose flowers to the top of my glass to liven it up a bit and improve the flavour and content. This means you get a wonderful nose full of the smell of flowers everytime you take a sip too, which is highly relaxing!

 

20160325_155117 20160325_155107In the early days of medicine, the Primrosewas considered an important remedy in muscular rheumatism, paralysis and gout. The herb has sedative propoerties.
Not to be mistaken for other similar varieties and cross cultivators (evening primrose – also made into teas and tinctures, cowslip, oxlip).20160325_155103

Jelly Ear Hunting

Sometimes it is handy to get a look at a foragable item “in motion”. Pictures do not often do it justice when thinking about location and 3D appearance.

For this reason I have produced a short clip of my jelly hunt this year in a well known mushrooming spot in Birmingham.

View the video here.

 

These jelly ears were found in a man made wood consisting of Pine, Fir/Spruce and Elder. Jelly ears are commonly found on dead elder trees and here was no exception. For help identifying Jelly Ears for yourself you can also check out of Jelly Ear Identification post.

 

For comparison here is a picture of some of the jelly ears I found yesterday both fresh and old.

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How to Make your Own Real Tomato Sauce

Do you have a thriving tomato plant in your home, garden, polytunnel or conservatory? Great! Then by now you are no doubt getting handfuls of tomatoes from it and looking at more unique ways of serving them up. This is a fantastic way of preserving the tomatoes and gaining a tasty sauce you don’t need to feel bad about adding to your dishes. This sauce keeps for up to 12 months sealed and 6 weeks once opened (if stored in the fridge when open). It tastes great too!

Ingredients

  • 2.5kg tomatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tsp ground black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ginger (ground or juiced according to taste)
  • dash of chilli according to personal preference
  • 600ml white wine vinegar
  • 250g white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

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Method

Roughly chop the tomatoes and onion, and place in a large pan with all the spices. Add the vinegar and bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add the sugar and stir until dissolved then bring to the boil. Once boiling point is reached reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.

When the sauce is thick and pulpy blend or sieve the mixture according to your preference and store in an appropriate rubber sealed bottle.

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How to Make Goat’s Cheese (Chevre)

Goat’s cheese (Chevre variety) is a light and soft crumbly cheese with a lemon zest. It’s a traditional favourite and making it for yourself can save quite a few pennies even if you don’t own your own goats. Standard store bought goat’s milk will do the job and one carton does roughly three ‘rolls’.

You can also use some plants instead of lemons to coagulate the milk such as Nettle, Sorrel and Yarrow. However I am still experimenting with these so more on these later on.

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Ingredients

  • 1/3 Carton of Goat’s Milk
  • 1/2 Lemon

Method

Heat the Goat’s milk until it reaches 180c. The milk should suddenly expand and go crazy in your pot attempting to boil over. Immediately turn off the heat and remove the pan from the hob.

Add Lemon Juice and let it sit for a moment. The milk should curdle but it will be difficult to spot this as it’s quite a subtle thing with goat’s milk.

You shouldn’t have to wait more than a few sceonds.

Place a muslin cloth over a bowl and pour the mixture in. Allow it to sit for at least 2 hours. The cheese will sit on the top. The liquid is called whey and can be used in a variety of ways including as rice stock water for extra flavour.

Wrap the cheese curds in baking paper and store in the fridge to firm up over night.

Poppy Seeds

Name: Poppy Seeds

Location: Gardens, Parks, Sidewalks

Months: June, July August

Edible Parts: Seeds

Caution: Make sure you correctly identify the poppy flower before proceeding.

11707669_10153431218346774_2369336470591199918_nPoppies of all sizes and colours make wonderful nutrient rich seeds to add a little extra to your cooking.

11009351_10153431218326774_1672489493683074233_nAfter the flowers have bloomed the pod develops and then dries out. All you have to do is tip it over and the seeds will pour out of the holes at the top of the pod.

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Yarrow

Name: Yarrow

Location: Grassy areas, short grass or long

Months: All Year Round

Edible Parts: Leaves, flowers

 

11233555_10153264774586774_8925260634467739934_nWhile this is a picture of Yarrow on my allotment, I can assure you this plant grows everywhere and you are as likely to come across it as you are to find docks or dandelions. Often hidden in short grass the plant Yarrow can appear to be horizontal for most of the year only revealing itself by a few well trodden on curls of leaves in parks and pathway grass. However, at this time of year it also starts to grow upwards as it attempts to throw out some flowers and it can get very tall in the right location.

The leaves and flowers of Yarrow are used in salads and yarrow oil is also used in shampoo. Some people chew on yarrow to relieve toothache. In the garden it makes an excellent compost activator. Medicinal uses include easing the symptoms of fever, colds, gastrointestinal issues including IBS symptoms and to induce sweating.

 

WARNING: Do not consume excessive amounts, may contain thujone, cause drowsiness and increase urination. For some people, it can also cause a skin irritation.

Borage

Name: Borage

Location: Grassy areas, plots, gardens, forest floors

Months: All Year Round

Edible Parts: Flowers, Leaves

WARNING: Not to be confused with Foxglove and Comfrey.
Foxglove – feel the leaves, are they soft and fur like? If so then you probably found foxglove before it flowered which is poisonous.
Comfrey – Flowers are purple instead of blue. Comfrey is the perrenial version of borage which is annual.

 

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Borage works much like Comfrey in the compost bin as a brilliant plant stimulant for leafy growth. However, it is also considered an edible herb with tasty crisp leaves (if a bit furry). Some report they taste liek cucumber but I am less convinced. The flowers are also edible and as such make a brilliant garnish and addition to salad mixes.

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Collected leaves and flowers from the borage plants on my allotment. Many garden shops now sell borage seeds to grow yourself and they excellent plants for attracting bees.

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Borage leaves and flowers used to boost the contents and appearance of Elderflower cordial. I found that in this mixture the leaves slowly turn neon pink from the tips inward creating a pleasing and pretty drink garnish.