Scanning the vegetable beds, I don’t feel like I’ve got much growing at the moment. And yet, through January and into February, I’ve managed to harvest a ‘pleasing sufficiency’ of greenery from the garden.
There’s still a few leeks left, albeit the scrawniest ones. I don’t think they’ll grow much more, so they’ll get the chop soon. I’ve harvested the laughable swedes (more about those later). The adolescent Russian Kale and Cavolo Nero aren’t quite at ‘War & Peace’ proportions but have filled out to a stage where they might not miss an appendage or two. And there’s plenty of perpetual spinach.
The most rewarding crop, however, is still the salad leaves. Luscious beetroot leaves, spicy rocket, perky winter purslane, sweet lambs lettuce, some red mizuna and an abundance of flat-leaved parsley. Which leads me on to…
The weekly Salad Ceremony
It seems very unseasonal to be banging on about salad again at this time of year. In a ‘normal’ winter the outdoor ‘cut and come again’ salad plants would have been beaten by the frost by now. But in this very mild weather it has kept going, although a little slow to regrow.
As a result I’ve been careful not to over-pick them, to ensure the plants keep alive and produce more leaves. Once carefully washed, gently dried and then tossed together in a sparkly glass bowl, they are jewel-green and alive with flavour.
This process has turned into a bit of a reverent ritual on a Sunday afternoon and reminds me of a Japanese tea ceremony.
When you think of all that uneaten salad that is scraped off restaurant plates, and picked out of hamburgers… or bags of pre-washed supermarket salad leaves, thrown out slimy and unopened…. It makes you more appreciative of the work and attention that goes into growing delicate food, and just how precious it really is.
So whilst I’m in the frugal frame of mind it brings me nicely on to…
Taking the lament out of Lent
Now, I’m not in any way a religious person in the true Religious sense. I had that well and truly drummed out of me by the attempt to drum it into me at various schools.
But when you grow-your-own you do start to have an understanding of why, if you had to pick a month out of the calendar to wilfully starve yourself, February seems a pretty sensible choice. In the old days, stocks of yummy things, that would have been preserved in the autumn to tide you through the winter, would be starting to get a bit thin on the ground by now. You’d be realising that any jams, pickles and dried foods you have left are going to have to last you for a few more months yet.
Even today, when you haven’t anything homemade left to put on your pancakes, you do start to wish you hadn’t given away all your best jam as Christmas presents.
A stitch in lime saves nine
Luckily, a ‘top tip’ I stumbled across recently suggested slicing and freezing lemons and limes as soon as you buy them, so you can use them fresh just when you need them.
This is particularly apt for me as I am partial to the odd gin and tonic. But I always have half a left-over lime hanging around afterwards. And this brilliant idea means that you have a two-in-one ice-and-slice on hand, at any time.
So,whilst they’re fresh, slice and freeze them. Space the slices out on a tray first and then pack them once frozen into a jar. That way they won’t stick together and will be easier to use pick out individually as and when you need them. They stay lovely and juicy and are also quick to defrost under the grill for other culinary uses…
Which is exactly what we did this morning with our pre school-run Shove Tuesday pancakes!