Fact of the Week

Forced rhubarb in season now. Don't miss out!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The real love that dare not speak its name

A couple of weeks ago, the Hapless Gardener asked me if I would write a guest post for his blog, Growing up.  As a regular follower of the tales of his gardening exploits in Bristol, I readily agreed, only regretting my decision when he suggested that I write about an emotion of my choice.  An emotion?  I write about food and gardening, was I qualified to write about emotion?

When I sat down to put metaphorical pen to paper, I quickly realised that there was one obvious emotion linking the topics I usually covered in my blog: Love. So here it is, my musings on Love, as published in the Hapless Gardener's guest bed


Love is not a word usually associated with the garden.  Hobby, pass-time, pleasure, keen, weekend, amateur are all more commonly linked with the acts of sowing and growing, planting and mowing.  However, having been asked by the Hapless Gardener to write a guest post for his blog, Love is what I want to write about.

For the relationship between garden and gardener has taken the Hapless Gardener and me completely (and independently) by surprise.  It has been so overwhelming that we have both chosen to write about it in our blogs.

Let me explain.

The Love between garden and gardener is based on a few simple principles.  First, it is undemanding:  the garden asks nothing of the gardener except that which the gardener knows the gardener can give; light, warmth, water, time.  The garden, in return, rewards the gardener with stunning results year after year. 

Second, the Love between garden and gardener is unconditional.  Only if the gardener fails to nourish the relationship completely and for a prolonged period, will it wither and die.  Otherwise, the relationship is a constant, that survives the many changes life brings.  Once acquainted, the garden and gardener cannot imagine being without each other.

Together the garden and gardener share the miracle of new life.  The perfect combination of nature and nurture.  I know I am not alone in arriving home and rushing to the window sill/propagator/greenhouse to see whether my seeds have germinated.  Or in experiencing that flush of excitement in January when the first green shoots of spring start to appear.  (I fear I may be alone in encouraging my Delicata Cornell squash seeds to germinate by placing them, in their pots, on a hot water bottle topped up with hot water every four hours.)

The relationship between garden and gardener is about the fundamentals in life: light, colour, air, water.  It endows the garden and the gardener with a richness and a sense of harmony, otherwise often lost in the furore of modern life. 

So whether you have a window box, a herb patch, a pot of flowers outside the front door: an allotment, a London garden, or a huge, formal garden with sweeping lawns, Love your garden, see the best in it, cherish its strengths and work with its weaknesses.   And when you are lowering your tired muscles into a hot bath at the end of a long day in the garden, or marvelling at a bee sucking from a flower full of nectar, or cooking a simple meal to share from the produce that the garden has provided, celebrate all that the garden gives you.  Love and Life and Health and Happiness.   

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Tresco Abbey Gardens

Last week I had the incredibly good fortune to spend three days in brilliant sunshine on the Isles of Scilly.  There are lots of reasons to go to the Scillies (white sand beaches, cystar clear turquoise seas, island life) but none more so than to visit the Tresco Abbey Gardens.  The Gardens benefit from exceptional hours of sunshine and the warming effect of the Gulf Stream, both of which provide the perfect growing conditions for an exceptional variety of plants.  The photos speak for themselves...

Agapanthus growing wild on Tresco

Tresco Abbey Gardens

The Gardens are inspiring in their use of shape, and texture as much as in their use of colour
Sunlight streaming through a palm

Aeoniums galores!

The Tresco Children by David Wynne

A bank of agapanthus

The Cutting Garden
(poppies, rudbeckia, echinacea and sweet peas)

The Vegetable Garden

Campanion planting: tomatoes and marigolds

A Tresco gardener with flowers from the cutting garden for one of the rooms
Oenothera and agapanthus growing wild on the shoreline

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A very British summer

I have had a good summer for fish.  At the beginning of June, I was treated to lunch at Rocksalt, Mark Sargeant's new restaurant in Folkestone.  Perched on the edge of the harbour, the sea laps at the feet of the restaurant at high tide and at low tide the primary coloured fishing boats rest on the sandy sea bed.  On a clear day you can see France.  Whilst the restaurant is worth the trip for the views alone, the food is also superb.  Starters included pints of prawns, homemade taramasalata, cockles, crab with harissa on sourdough toast and broad beans dipped in minty salt.  We ordered almost one of everthing to share and there were unrestrained squeals of glee (probably audible in France) as everyone tucked in.  Next I had Dover sole, caught that morning, pan fried and served simply with lemon, Kentish new potatoes and tender purple sprouting broccoli.  The vegetables were the perfect compliment to the sole, whilst still allowing the fish to shine.  For pudding I had gooseberry and custard tart which was simply sublime. 

High tide at Rocksalt

Low tide at Rocksalt

Later in June, I sailed with friends from Falmouth to Fowey.  Having picked up a mooring, first stop was the fishmonger's.  Given the limited space to cook on board, we chose sea bass fillets accompanied by some wonderfully large handfuls of samphire.  Back on board, we baked the bass fillets on a bed of garden herbs and served them with an irrestisible combination of samphire and fresh peas - the sweetness of the peas the perfect match for the salty samphire.  Eaten on deck with a glass of white wine, it was the very best of British food and the best of the British summer. 

The Stiffkey marshes
July brought rain if only because I had planned to go
camping in north Norfolk.  Sea trout (in season from April/May to the middle of August) and prawns were the order of the day.  High Sand Creek Campsite in Stiffkey (pronounced 'Stukey' by the locals) looks out over the shimmering Norfolk flats, to the wide expanse of deep blue North Sea beyond.  Before dinner we wandered over the salt marshes to Stiffkey Creek for a swim (the water in the creek is an incredibly cleansing mix of fresh water and sea water).  Not a soul in sight, the 360 degree horizon our own, we floated on our backs in the creek taking in the cloudless blue sky and sea air in greedy gulps.  As we walked back over the flats to the campsite, carefree and light-headed with well-being, we picked samphire and ate it as we walked.  What was left we barbecued with the sea trout, which we ate in the evening sun looking out over the flats where we had picked the samphire only moments earlier.  On Sunday, we took the leftover barbecued prawns to Holkham Beach, where we lunched on  the prawns, unceremoniously, with hunks of fresh bread, whole tomatoes and cucumber.  Afterwards, sticky fingers (as well as our heads, shoulders, knees and toes) were  washed clean in the great blue basin of the sea.   

Holkham Beach

I have also eaten fish closer to home: barbecued mackerel stuffed with herbs and eaten on one of the rare summer weekend evenings when it was warm enough to sit in the garden until late; sea bass slashed and stuffed with basil, rosemary and garlic; pan fried mackerel fillets with a herb crust.  It has reminded me how much I enjoy fish and that I do not cook it nearly often enough.  It is easy to make excuses about it being difficult to get hold of and forgivable to be uncertain as to which fish are sustainable and therefore ok to eat.  And whilst fish does not grow in the garden and I cannot therefore simply open the back door and forage for dinner (as is currently my wont), it only requires a little extra effort to look up my local fishmonger (the very excellent F.C.Soper in Nunhead), cycle to the shop on Saturday morning and treat myself (and friends) to seasonal, sustainable British fish (a good fishmonger will be able to advise you what to buy), packed with essential oils and fishy goodness.  If you have herbs in the garden, on your balcony, in a window box, you'll need little else. 
Inspired by the prawn feast we had on Holkham Beach, I put together this prawn salad when I got home, which is really a deconstructed version of the prawn sandwiches we had on the beach but ever so slightly more elegant to eat!

Deconstructed prawn salad

Marinating prawns
For the prawns
10 raw prawns
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Parsley, finely chopped
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 glove of garlic, finely chopped

For the salad
250g ripe tomatoes
250g ripe tomatoes

Prawn salad
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 clove of garlic, finely chopped
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
1/2 ciabatta loaf
Olive oil
Parsley, finely chopped

Marinade the prawns in the lemon zest and juice, parsley, garlic and chilli.
Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze the juice and seeds into a sieve over a bowl to collect the juice.  Discard the seeds.  Add the red wine vinegar, garlic, chilli and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the tomato juice.  Season with salt and pepper.
Tear the bread into 3cm pieces and add to the bowl with the tomato juice.  The bread should all be wet; add a little water if you do not have enough juice.
Chop the tomatoes and cucumber into chunks and add to the bread. Add the parsley and drizzle with olive oil.
Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and cook the prawns in all their juices until pink all over.  Add to the salad and mix to combine all the ingredients. 

Sea bass fillets with garden herbs

Sea bass fillets
Olive oil

You can use almost any herbs you want for this recipe.  I used a combination of rosemary, oregano and basil.
Preheat the oven to 200C.  Line a baking dish with sliver foil, leaving a generous amount of foil at one end of the dish and the untorn roll of foil at the other end. 
Scatter herbs over the bass of the foil.  Lay the bass fillets on top and scatter further herbs on the fish.  Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. 
Cover the fillets with the foil, folding the foil at the edges to form a parcel.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Peas and samphire

Cook the peas in boiling water.  Wash the samphire in cold water.  Just before the peas are cooked, add the samphire and allow to warm through (a minute only).  Drain and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Enjoy x