Plot To Plate: Tomatillo Salsa

It’s that time of year, when fruit and vegetables are entering and exiting the kitchen faster than bemused lovers in a French farce. Bags of windfall quinces, cooking apples and boxes of plums are competing for space in the fridge and the green tomatoes (salvaged from the outdoor blighty plants) are attracting fruit flies on the work surface. Pasta sauces, stewed fruit, jams, jellies, pickles and chutneys are being bottled, frozen and consumed in large quantities, so it’s a relief occasionally to make a dish which needs no cooking and for which little chopping is required.

Spice It Up

Some of my favourite ingredients at this time of year are the spicy curry vegetables, fruit and herbs which we use for the Thai, Indian and Mexican dishes which we love. This year’s crop of tomatillos started ripening this week and the first tubful arrived from the allotment accompanied by thechorus – supporting roles being provided by ‘Red Czech’ garlic, ‘Numex Twilight’ chilli, red onions, Vietnamese coriander and tomatoes.

Supporting roles are being played by my chillies, red onions and garlic

Tomatillos

The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica or Physalis ixocarpa) is originally from Mexico and belongs to the Solanaceae family along with tomatoes, potatoes, cape gooseberries, aubergines and deadly nightshade. The fruits look similar to green tomatoes (although they can also be purple) and are encased in a papery husk. Unlike cape gooseberries, which I find crop late and produce poor harvests in my garden, tomatillos crop heavily outside, with 2-3 plants providing easily enough fruit for a family. Given space, the stems will bend and trail along the ground, often rooting from the trailing stems, creating even more productive plants. I’ve grown tomatillos for three years and the only issue I’ve encountered was last year when my seeds proved tricky to germinate, but in other years I’ve not had the same problems.

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The related Cape Gooseberry in its similar papery casing

Tangy Taste

These cherry-sized fruits taste like slightly tart tomatoes, but with a lime tang which gives the flavour added depth. I’ve used them fresh in salsa and guacamole, and a summer glut can easily be halved, frozen and then added to soups or casseroles at the beginning of cooking which gives the final dish a mellow fruity flavour.

Tomatillo Salsa

This year’s first tomatillo harvest disappeared swiftly into salsa – served with homemade mackerel pate on toast…

Ingredients

Couple of handfuls of tomatillos removed from their casing and washed (don’t remove until you plan to use them as it help to keep the fruits fresh)

Equal amounts of cherry tomatoes

1-3 chillies depending on variety and personal taste, chopped finely

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 small red onion, finely chopped

Juice from 1/2 – 1 lime

Handful of Vietnamese coriander (or annual coriander), finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

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Star of the show – ‘The Tomatillo’

Super-Simple Method

Mix the ingredients together in a blender

Add extra salt, chilli and/or lime juice to taste

Once the salsa is complete, the curtain can rise on a Mexican banquet or it can be enjoyed in my favourite way – with nachos, soured cream and our homegrown pickled chillies for supper with desperados (or in my case, a gluten-free beer like Celia).

Now I’m hungry! Time to make another batch of salsa…

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Our spicy prima donna is ready…

I buy my tomatillo seeds from Suttons (who are also selling tomatillo plants for 2018) and from Real Seeds. I’ve grown purple and green varieties – both crop really well and taste great.

Other ‘plot to plate’ recipes using our garden, allotment and hedgerow harvests include:

Plot to Plate: Courgette Tea Bread

Plot to Plate: Spiced Crab Apple Jelly and Crab Apple Fruit Leathers

Plot to Plate: Apple and Cinnamon Butter

Plot to Plate: Stuffed Summer Squash

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Plot to Plate: Cinnamon Poached Quinces

The whole house smells of Christmas and mulled wine – sweet, spicy and aromatic. We’re trying to make each of our quinces count as we harvested ten and after sending a couple to a friend, we were left with two for stewing with our apples and six for poaching. There will be none for jelly as we made tonnes of crab apple jelly in October and still have one pot of quince jelly left over from last year. I’ve also been trying to avoid using excess sugar, so I’ve created the syrup in this recipe with just a tablespoon of honey.

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Can’t beat local honey for flavour and low food miles

In its first year in the side garden, the quince (Meeches Prolific) was covered in delicate pink blossom. I’m a soft touch with fruit – rather than removing all the fruitlets as probably would have been advisable, I left eleven on the tree. So I’m expecting to have no fruit next year and I’m stocking up on quincely pleasures while I can.

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Quinces and apples from the garden

Ingredients

3 quinces

1 cup of water

1 tbsp honey

1 cinnamon stick

1 clove

1 tbsp lemon juice

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Quinces ready for poaching

Method

Peel, core and quarter the quinces (take care as the flesh is hard to cut). Place the quinces in the casserole dish with all the other ingredients.

Put the lid on the casserole dish and place in the oven at 160c for 1.5 hours until the quinces are soft.

Serve topped with yoghurt and a drizzle of runny honey.

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The yellow flesh turns the most beautiful light pink – we served the quinces with our homemade natural yoghurt and local Hertfordshire honey

Plot to Plate: Chilean Guava Cupcakes

These little beauties work really well in cupcakes as they hold their shape and pack a punch with tiny flavour bursts. They are a lovely plant to grow and thrive in a sheltered position as an edible alternative to box hedging. I’ve been growing Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae) for 3 years and have had harvests from year one (see my post on 6 Ways to Create and Ornamental and Productive Garden.) This year’s has been the most fruitful and harvesting these delicate red globes on the way home from school with the kids in October is a real joy. If Chilean Guavas are not available, these cupcakes are also good with blueberries, alpine strawberries or raisins.

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Shiny jewels

 

Ingredients

3 eggs, weighed

An equal weight of butter

An equal weight of golden caster sugar

An equal weight of gluten free self raising flour (or ordinary flour)

A few drops of vanilla extract

Half a cup of Chilean Guavas

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Ready to bake

Method

Crack the eggs and weigh them. Add to a mixer (or mix by hand). Weigh the flour, sugar and butter (softened) and add to mixer. Add the vanilla extract and mix all the ingredients together.

Split the mixture between 12 cupcake cakes and add the Chilean Guavas to the top of each cupcake. (As the mixture melts in the oven, the fruit sinks a little into the cake.)

Bake at 180ºc for 15 minutes or until firm to the touch.

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It’s afternoon tea time 😁

 

Plot to Plate: Spiced Crab Apple Jelly and Crab Apple Fruit Leathers

Crab apples have to be one of nature’s most beautiful fruits – with their rich colours and glorious sheen. And to gather them on a crisp October morning is a real seasonal joy. I’ve loved everything about cooking with these foraged beauties – their sweet smell with a hint of spice, their massed colour and their versatility. Here’s what I did with my basketful – two in one as the leftovers from the jelly are the only ingredient for the leathers. These recipes celebrate autumn and its crab apples in all their glory… 🙂

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These two crab apples were laden with fruit

 

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A basketful of fresh, rich baubles

 

We harvested these windfalls from a couple of crab apple trees around the corner. I left the fruits on the tree as they looked stunning and provided a great source of food for birds. There were more than enough windfalls to fill my basket and leave a river of red still carpeting the grass when we left.

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Washed and ready for boiling

 

Once the apples were washed, halved, the bug infested ones removed and I’d weighed them (2.6kg), they were gently simmered in 5 pints of water with a thumb-sized piece of ginger and 6 cloves until soft which took about 2 hours. No setting agent is required due to the high levels of pectin already present in crab apples.

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Just cut the crabs in half and boil in a large pan

 

 

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Hubble bubble – here comes jelly trouble

 

Then the mixture was strained overnight through a muslin bag strung on a coat-hanger to produce a large bottle of juice.

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After straining we were left with this sweet, rich liquid

 

We added 450g of sugar per pint of strained liquid and boiled it, stirring constantly, until it thickened and wrinkled when placed on a cold plate and gently pushed with a finger. This took us about 25 minutes, but each jelly sets at a different rate.

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Boiling for a second time with the sugar

 

The jelly was poured into sterilised jars. It is a glorious colour and has a distinctive taste with an aromatic apple flavour and floral overtones somewhere between rose and quince.

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The shiny jelly – great on toast or with meat or cheese

The leftover pulp was then strained through a sieve to remove the skins and cores. I sweetened it with a couple of dessertspoons of local runny honey which I mixed in – any sweetener could be used (or none) to taste, then spread it on a baking tray with a reusable baking sheet underneath the pulp.

 

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As I was doing this bit it occurred that you could do the same thing with well stewed cooking apples

 

The pulp was dried/heated at the bottom of a cool oven (about 60ºc) for around 7 hours or you could use a dehydrator. It is ready to cut into strips with scissors once the pulp has dried and can peel it off the baking tray in one big sheet. I love the waste not want not aspect to these recipes – and apart from the spices, honey and sugar it only cost us the price of the heat for cooking/drying. Frugal, seasonal and delicious – a real celebration of autumn joy!

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Fruit leather treats for the kids (and maybe mum and dad too!)

I saw a friend’s crab apple jelly today and it was a lovely orange colour – different variety of apples to mine, I guess. I don’t know what variety my crabs were and I’d be interested to know if there are favourites for jelly and other recipes. What varieties have you used and what is the verdict? How do you use crab apples in the kitchen – I’d love to have more recipes to explore. Do leave me a comment about anything crab apple and autumn foraging related. I love sharing my growing and cooking stories and it’s really great when I get comments about other people’s experiences – I’m learning so much – thanks  🙂

Plot to Plate: Courgette Tea Bread

Last week the courgettes were destined for savoury fare in my courgette and chilli cornbread. This week’s courgette production shows no let up, so I’ve been experimenting with sweet uses of courgettes. First I tried a courgette chocolate cake using a recipe from the Delemere Farm Goat’s Milk carton. It was meant to be avocado and chocolate, but ended up with grated courgettes in too (as with so many things in our house…) It tasted good, but I need to work on the moisture levels as it was a little dry – probably due to my substitution of gluten-free flour for ordinary flour.

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First attempt at a sweet courgette recipe – the homemade blackcurrant jam between the layers of the cake worked particularly well

So then I embarked on an old favourite – tea bread, but substituting some of the dried fruits for grated courgette. This worked a treat – the loaf was moist with no distinct taste of courgette – just a general fruity deliciousness.

Courgette Tea Bread

Ingredients

300g mixed dried fruit

150g grated courgette

200ml cold tea

250g gluten free self-raising flour (or could use ordinary wholemeal self-raising flour)

170g soft brown sugar

30g melted butter

1 egg

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Dried fruit and grated courgette soaking in the tea

 

Method

Soak the dried fruit and grated courgette in the tea for several hours or overnight. Add the flour, sugar, butter and egg to the soaked mixture and combine thoroughly.

Line a long loaf tin with greaseproof paper and pour cake mixture into the tin. Bake at 170ºc for 1-1.5 hours until the tea bread is firm to the touch.

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Hard to leave it to cool before slicing as it smelled so good…

Enjoy with a cup of tea, preferably in the sunshine.

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And relax…

 

 

 

 

 

Plot to Plate: Courgette and Chilli Cornbread

Everywhere you look at in my house at the moment there are courgettes of different shapes and sizes. In the sinks, the fridge and on the worktops. It’s a lovely problem to have and I’m intending to conquer it by including courgette in every meal and snack for the next few weeks. I might just let the kids off having it grated into their breakfast cereals if I’m feeling generous 🙂

So I’m starting a series of courgette recipes in Plot to Plate, beginning with this delicious cornbread which we’ve been enjoying for years and moving on to other ideas including some yummy courgette Earl Grey tea bread which I’ve been experimenting with this week.

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This beauty has been split between the cornbread and the teabread

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And this monster is lurking in the utility room sink…

 

Ingredients:

1 onion

1 red pepper

2 medium courgettes (I used 2/3 of this big one)

1 egg

4 tbsp olive oil

1 chilli (vary heat levels of the chilli to taste)

2 small sweetcorn cobs with kernels removed or 1 cup frozen sweetcorn

125ml crème fraiche

125g polenta

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tsp baking powder

250g grated cheddar cheese

1/2 tsp paprika

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Cooking the vegetables – the courgette, onion and chilli in the cornbread were all from the garden or allotment

 

Method:

Chop the onion and red pepper and grate the courgette. Add to a frying pan with 2 tbsp of olive oil and cook until soft. Cool in a bowl.

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Ready to be baked – I didn’t put the chilli in the bread because the kids don’t like it spicy, so I sprinkled it on top of one half and put paprika on the other half to show which was which

Beat the egg with remaining olive oil and add chopped chilli and cooled veg. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (except the paprika and 50g of grated cheese). Pour into a 21 cm diameter shallow cake tin and sprinkle the cheese and paprika over the top.

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Cooked and ready for action

Bake at 180ºc for 40 mins. I usually serve warm with salad, vegetables or soup.

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Courgette and chilli cornbread with olive and beetroot from the allotment – nourishing and tasty

Plot to Plate: Apple and Cinnamon Butter

If you have a glut of windfall apples and have already made a sticky apple traybake with this irresistible recipe from A Bookish Baker (for a gluten free version I just substituted gluten free self raising flour for ordinary flour), I would heartily recommend turning the rest into apple and cinnamon butter. You can then enjoy your harvest on toast, pancakes and in porridge throughout the rest of the year and into 2017…

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Teatime this week has been a nice cup of assam with a slice of sticky apple traybake 😁

Ingredients

450g cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced

450g eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

675g granulated sugar

475ml dry cider

1 tsp ground cinnamon

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Apples ready to go…

Method

Boil cider and continue heating until volume is reduced by half, then add apples, lemon rind and juice

Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook for 20-30 minutes until apples are soft

Once mixture has cooled a little, blend to a puree. Press through a fine sieve into a bowl

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This shiny puree is ready for the sugar

Measure puree into into large pan, add 275g for every 600ml of puree. Add cinnamon and stir well to combine

Gently heat the mixture, stirring continuously, until sugar had completely disappeared. Increase hear and boil steadily for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture forms a thick puree that holds its shape when spooned on a cold plate

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Decanting the butter…

Spoon the apple and cinnamon butter into warmed sterilised jars. Seal and label, then store in a cool, dark place for 2 days for flavours to develop

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This little lot will keep us happy for months

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Apple and cinnamon butter on gluten free buttermilk pancakes 😁

This recipe is based on one in a great book called Preserves and Pickles, by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhem which we use for many of our preserves, especially in the autumn.

Plot to Plate: Stuffed Summer Squash

I’ve sometimes grown fruit and veg in the garden and then had insufficient time, in the whirl of hectic family life, to harvest and/or cook it, which rather defeats the object of growing it in the first place. Now my youngest is at school I’m resolved to make more time to enjoy the fruits (and veg) of my labours and to share some of the recipes that have proved popular on the blog.

So here’s one I made last week with summer squashes I swapped locally for some of my excess chilli peppers…

Stuffed Summer Squash

Ingredients

1 summer squash

Approx. 50g soft goat’s cheese

1/2 red pepper

Handful of mint leaves

Method

Cut out the top of the squash and scoop out the seeds and membrane, discard

Roast the squash in the oven at 180ºc until just soft – around 40 minutes depending on size

Cut the pepper and cheese into chunks

Finely cut the mint

Mix pepper, cheese and mint together

When the squash is soft, stuff the centre with the pepper, cheese and mint mixture (the amounts will depend on the size of the squash) and put back in the oven for around 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the peppers are soft

Serve as a vegetarian supper for 2 with buttered crusty bread or a vegetable accompaniment to a meal for 4

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Like a cake, it looked rather too good to eat

 

We’ve also enjoyed a tasty alternative squash supper where we stuffed the cooked squash with chopped, fried chorizo and mushrooms mixed with cooked quinoa. Great for a complete gluten free supper in one delicious vegetable bowl.

Bon appetite 🙂

Hey Presto – Pesto!

It was too hot tonight to spend much time in the kitchen – what was needed was a quick supper for the family to eat in the garden. Salad is plentiful at this time of year, so add a bit of pasta on the side and job done. Pesto is great to mix with speedy pasta and luckily I’d made some earlier in the week. Here’s how I made it, plus some top tips on how to grow and harvest the basil and store the pesto afterwards…

Sowing Basil

I grow basil on the top shelf of the greenhouse (away from all but the best ninja slugs) and I usually grow sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) as it has the sweetest taste for pesto and salads. I’ve grown Thai basil in the past – I grew Ocimum x citriodorum ‘Siam Queen’ primarily for cooking Thai dishes. It has a stronger liquorice flavour which is lovely in a curry and is a more ornamental plant with its purple/red stems and pink flowers. It didn’t make such good pesto though, so I went back to sweet basil for my pasta dishes.

Seeds can be sown from February to June and take a couple of weeks to germinate in a propagator or a pot/tray inside a polythene bag. Once the seedlings are large enough, they can be pricked out into small pots. I tend to grow mine in pots (I pot them on a couple of  times over the growing season into larger pots and probably would grow them in bigger pots still if I had the room.) They can also be grown on a windowsill for the duration or hardened off after the risk of frost is over and planted outside in a sunny, sheltered spot. I’ve found this to be less productive due to low temperatures in past summers, but in a hot summer this would probably be more productive than greenhouse growing if you have enough space.

If you like the idea of growing different types of basil for pesto or other recipes these seed suppliers are a good place to start. Here are a few on my seed list for next year…

Thompson and Morgan – I like the idea of Basil ‘Lemonade’ adding a ‘sherbert lemon twist’ to a bowl of summer strawberries.

Kings Seeds – Cinnamon basil sounds tasty and ripe for some culinary experimentation. Lemon basil also appeals and I like the idea of adding it to Earl Grey tea. Especially when the tea is made from bergamot from the garden.

Nicky’s Seeds – Basil ‘Floral Spires White’ and ‘Floral Spires Lavender’ combine the ornamental and culinary, with pretty flowers on a compact plant. Sounds like it has real potager potential.

Top Tip 1:

If you don’t want to raise basil from seed it is easy to buy a cheap supermarket pot of basil and divide it. I did this one year when I needed plants for the school plant sale and mine had all been gobbled by the hungry and increasingly skilled ninja slugs.

Basil in pots is overcrowded and often doesn’t last long – convincing cooks that it is a hard plant to grow. With a few extra pots and a bit of compost, all the seedlings in the pot can be pricked out, given their own space and then grown on in a greenhouse, on a windowsill or in the garden. This gave me over 30 individual plants which all matured to be stocky sizeable specimens with many leaves over the course of the summer. Bargain!

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Some of the basil after its first mini haircut

 

Growing Basil

Basil likes warm conditions and plenty of water. It should also be fertilised once a month over the summer.

Top Tip 2:

I grow my greenhouse basil in pots placed in gravel trays. Although the plants shouldn’t be sitting in water, I do find they are happier in a more moist environment than many of my greenhouse plants. Without a gravel tray the water quickly drains away, but with it they can absorb more of the moisture and then any excess can be tipped away. (Although in practice I’ve found an occasional few days here or there sitting in water doesn’t seem to do them any damage.)

Even managed to squeeze some basil into the tomato hanging baskets

Harvesting Basil

Basil can be harvested throughout the growing season and is lovely in salads and well as in pesto. I particularly love it at this time of year in a basil, tomato and mozzarella salad with a mix of our red, purple, orange and yellow tomatoes.

Top Tip 3:

I generally harvest basil for pesto twice in the season. Pinching the plant out stimulates side growth, leading to a sturdier, more productive plant. I use the pinched out leaves for salad early in the season and then leave them for a few weeks to grow back. I then take most of my plants back to the lowest set of leaves and make pesto. Finally towards the end of the growing season I pinch the plants back to the lowest leaves again. This set of leaves usually makes the largest amount of pesto.

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This plant has been pinched back hard twice and is branching enthusiastically

 

Making Pesto

I collect a basketful of leaves from about 20 plants and then pick off and wash the leaves. These are blended with 50-100g of pine nuts, 1-3 cloves of garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 100g grated Parmesan cheese and enough oil to blend to a fairly smooth paste. I generally try the pesto when it’s blended and add more garlic, salt and/or nuts to taste.

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Late summer pickings

 

Top Tip 4:

This week I discovered I only had half a pack of pine nuts in the cupboard – disaster! I read about using other nuts in pesto so I added cashews to make it up to the right amount. The pesto was delicious and I’ll be trying different types of nuts in the future (pistachios and walnuts for starters) to see what works.

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Pesto ingredients with a mix of pine and cashew nuts

 

Top Tip 5:

The second batch of pesto invariably makes more than we can eat fresh, even in a particularly pesto-loving household. I have frozen it in little pots before which is a bit of a nuisance as it ties up all my containers for months, so this year I froze it in ice cube trays and then popped the pesto ice cubes into a bag when frozen. Leave out the cheese if freezing and add when you defrost. The pesto ice cube can just be stirred into hot, cooked pasta and it will melt with the cheese to create perfect easy tea.

Pesto ice cubes

What have you made pesto with and how successful was it? I’d love to try other greens in the future as well as different types of nuts…

Pesto pasta for all the family with a colourful garden salad

More delicious recipes from the garden to come in later posts. Follow the blog to get tasty updates…

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Grow your way to happiness…

It’s not been the easiest time in my life, but the past 5 years have been the making of me – mentally and physically. I’ve been a full-time mum for 7 years, having left the teaching profession to focus on being with the kids in their formative years. I’ve loved being at home, but have also had to deal with illness, culminating in a diagnosis of coeliac disease. Compared to what many people have to cope with it hasn’t been too bad, but it has still required a change of mindset and re-education where food and cooking is concerned.

During this time gardening has been a really positive force in my life and has inspired me to follow a new direction – training as a garden designer and setting up as a gardening blogger and writer. I’ve also become involved in several community garden projects including The Wynd Garden, The ‘In Bloom’ Garden and The International Garden Cities Garden in Letchworth, and the Triangle Community Garden in Hitchin. Through my volunteering I’ve seen how gardening can help people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to develop confidence, overcome problems and enjoy a meaningful relationship with the natural world.

I’ve recently had an article published in Free-From Heaven (a great magazine with endless lovely healthy recipes and stories) and hope it might help others to grow their way to happiness. I’m not sure I’m a prolific gardener and I don’t spend much time crimping pasties, but apart from that it’s all true!

The full text is reproduced below the image – do leave me a comment below with feedback and let me know how gardening/cooking has influenced your life. Thanks.

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My Free-From Life…

Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be up at dawn, exploring the natural world at its most active, listening to the dawn chorus and engaging with the day in its infancy. In reality most mornings I struggled to rise for work, or in the early days of motherhood, to soothe night-time toddler traumas. And much as I loved interacting with my kids, games, for me, were generally conducted from the sofa rather than the floor.

Then five years ago I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, like my father five years previously and slowly I began to understand the reasons why my expectations so far exceeded my abilities. I was tested because of my family history and registered positive in both the blood test and a biopsy. Initially we thought I was asymptomatic, but after a year on a gluten-free diet I realised other people didn’t try harder than me to get out of bed in the morning – they just had more energy than I did. My general health and energy levels, which I’d never thought of questioning, improved rapidly.

Over the past five years I’ve rearranged my life around new rules. I generally choose not to eat out as I’m extremely sensitive to gluten and have had a couple of bad experiences in the past, so as a full-time mum I turned to my house and garden, to growing, harvesting and cooking my own food as a way of regaining control of my life. Using my gradually developing energies, I learned to create the kind of food I feared I’d be missing now eating out was off the menu.

Initially I used the garden to provide ingredients for my cooking, but it quickly became something greater, an inspiration, an education and a growing passion. My garden became a haven, somewhere I felt comfortable, but also somewhere I was finally able to develop my relationship with the natural world. I started laying the first border into the grass at a stage where I could only manage an hour’s digging before retreating to bed, then laid paths, developed flower borders, nature areas and set up a productive, although small, fruit cage and three vegetable beds. As a family space, the garden gives us a base for finding essential oddments for craft activities, gardening with the children (as I write, they have a thriving bed filled with carrots, oca and enthusiastic nasturtiums) and a willow den, which my father and I built using willow whips, and which now can entirely absorb passing small children into its frondy interior in summer games of hide-and-seek.

Produce from the garden has been an inspiration in my cooking. As I’ve begun to master gluten-free cakes, biscuits and a variety of different pastries, the garden has provided. It has offered vegetables for Cornish pasties, raspberries and alpine strawberries for adding magic to cupcakes with the kids and baskets of fruit which my husband carefully transforms into jellies, jams and chutneys to see us through the winter. As my confidence in gluten-free cooking has grown, I have begun to create more ambitious foods. Birthdays now always mean a big gluten-free cake – anything from rainbow cakes to flower garden cakes and even an entirely gluten-free gingerbread house! Most normal recipes need a little alteration, but we think my cakes and biscuits are generally pretty similar to gluten alternatives.

Bread is the latest challenge – one of our New Year’s resolutions for 2016. Soda bread has been very successful, especially when eaten on the day it’s made – with a homemade soup based on seasonal vegetables from the garden. My first focaccia attempt would have been extremely useful as a building material, but had little culinary merit. Since then I’ve experimented with different flours, psyllium husks and flax seeds. The results are slowly improving and I’m hopeful that a soft, tasty loaf with plenty of added fibre is just around the corner. Perfect to spread with home-grown jam or to make into a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, with salad freshly picked from the garden.

I no longer feel the need to rise at dawn because I now engage with the world in a more immediate way. I’m out there, doing what I love, greeting the days with renewed energy, grateful for my new life and my good health.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please do follow the blog below:

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If you’d like to get involved with volunteering in your local area there are many community gardens throughout the UK. The BBC has a list of local gardening projects, the RHS runs the Britain in Bloom and It’s your Neighbourhood projects which offer local volunteering opportunities and the social and therapeutic gardening charity Thrive also has four community gardens around the country supported by local volunteers.

With thanks to my friends and family for their support and to all the garden volunteers who give so much and make so much of a difference.