Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, the day of the year with the least hours of daylight but also the point when days will start to get longer again from here on in.
Although it can be gloomy and potential depressing, I rather love the blue late afternoon light that descends on the garden at this time of year. You would think there wouldn’t be that much to harvest in the kitchen garden, but I’ve got as much as I can keep up with at the moment. The challenge is to get out and harvest it when it’s dark, cold and damp. And washing it takes forever.
While digging up, hosing, scrubbing and trimming the parsnips it did cross my mind that I could have bought a bag of ‘ready to cook’ ones in a plastic bag at the supermarket within seconds, rather than the hour it took me to prepare my own. But the lovely smell of freshly dug parsnips is a joy in itself. Cleaning vegetables is a muddy, sodden affair in winter, and your hands get very cold rinsing salad leaves of slugs and mulch splashes one at a time. But their vibrant colour and flavour does make you really appreciate and enjoy every single one of them.
Mild weather returned after the deep hoar frosts of a couple of weeks ago, which led to the vegetable plants looking particularly bedraggled and slimy. I was starting to feel a bit despondent with it all, so I forced myself to get outside on Sunday and have a good tidy up, and this has made a huge difference to my spirits. It was surprising how much fresh perky veg there was to harvest once damaged outer leaves had been trimmed off and fallen leaves and weeds removed.
I also built a couple of makeshift compost heaps, using two crates from firewood deliveries and disguising them with some old pallets propped up in front.
And I’ve started to use the cauliflowers that survived the frosts; the first one thinly sliced into ‘winter trees’ and fried with some beaten egg. Simple and delicious. This was a bit of an experiment for a dish I’ve got in mind for Christmas Day. I’ve also been really enjoying the Italian cabbages that I grew from seed. They have such pretty pink-to-purple leaves and are really tasty. The variety is called Cavolo Versa ‘San Michele’, and I got mine from Franchi Seeds of Italy.
Have you been out in the garden or allotment this week? Have you got any winter vegetables you’re pleased with?