Thursday March 27th 2008, 5:16 pm

rasberry canes waiting to be planted

Today is positively spring like. It really feels like the first day of spring and for me that means getting a washload of laundry underway and pinned out on the line to dry in the fresh air. Of course my optimism could be short lived but at least for the moment life has a uplifting vibe.
My bed is surrounded by gardening books and bits of paper detailing my horticultural hopes for the season ahead. I am always way too ambitious but at least in March anything seems possible. The four edged beds, they can hardly be called ‘raised’, that I made last year are in pretty good shape; dug over, weed free and raring to go with any freshly-dug bare earth covered with hessian coffee sacks to keep them safe from marauding cats.
The globe artichokes which were planted last year are looking very lush (I think I was supposed to have cut them down to the ground over the winter but I forgot) and the rhubarb (Glaskins Perpetual – I chose that variety just for the name) is also looking very promising.

Globe artichokes

I have a few more new beds to dig, nowhere for my chitting potatoes to be planted and rasberry canes that need to go in somewhere. Gardening can be another of lifes big pressures if you don’t approach it right and it can cost a fortune as well. I don’t have a greenhouse and with limited windowsill space in the house I am trying to be realistic. I’ve still got lots of viable seeds from last year that I will be using up this year but I don’t need acres of tomatoes, just a handful of plants and likewise with other vegetables. So why do I think I have to grow everything from scratch?
Last year when I had not got round to planting something on time or else my carefully nutured seedlings disappeared overnight when the slugs had a snack attack, I started looking for ready-grown plants to buy. Mail order veg plants, ready to go in, is an increasingly growing business and you can now have a whole vegetable plot delivered to your door based on square metreage.
This trend is becoming apparent on ebay too and I feel sure this is likely to be a real boom area. I wouldn’t feel comfortable buying in my whole garden like that but I have been finding some really great things on ebay to help lighten the load. So far this year I have bought in a great selection of raspberries from Blacklands Plants and they arrived in the post in excellent condtion, have pre-ordered 5 organic tomato plants each one a different variety from helenchenplants who is growing some really interesting varieties of tomatoes, chillies and aubergines, and found unusual beetroot seed, burpees golden and chioggia, from Pelican Seeds. Last year I bought in leeks, sprouting broccoli and cavola nero plants on ebay because it was too late to plant from seed and they are all still doing very nicely. This is definitely the way to go.

Beau enjoying the spring sunshine


Sunday March 16th 2008, 3:10 pm

blood oranges

I bought some unwaxed oranges the other day and had a nice suprise when I cut into them to find they were in fact blood oranges. I think both of these properties mean that they aren’t good keepers. The season for blood oranges is from December time to the beginning of April. I could make an exotic cocktail with them or use them in a salad with beetroot or something equally colourful but they are so fantastic as they are that no other preparation is needed.

Friday March 14th 2008, 6:30 pm

Edward Bawden illustration for Good Food 1932

I went up north for a few days last week and made sure to visit the car boot sale in Preston whilst I was there. It is the best sort of car boot, in so far as there is always so much total rubbish on sale that it fills you with optimism that a bargain is just waiting to be found in one of the grubby house clearance boxes.
I only bought 3 old cookery books but felt that my rummaging time was time well spent. One of the books, Good Food by Ambrose Heath, is an absolute corker. Unfortunately, it long ago lost its dust jacket (which I would love to see) and from the outside it seems quite uninspiring, battered linen, aged and discoloured beige, but inside is such a treat. It is often said that nothing is new and this book clearly proves the point. It is set out month by month with recipes using seasonal produce and rather than the recipes being laid out in the usual manner it has running text with the recipe headings written in the margins. A bit like Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. I bet you anything that in the editorial meeting when they came up with the format for Nigella’s book they thought they were being groundbreaking. In fact they were pipped to the post by 70 years, Good Food was published in 1932.

Good Food by Ambrose Heath 1932

To make the book even more fabulous it is illustrated by Edward Bawden, with an image to represent each month as well as some smaller incidental images of cooking implements and produce. If only it still had its dust jacket, I imagine that would be really special. Of course now I am on Ambrose Heath alert and am looking out for more of his books. Apparently he was a very prolific cookery writer (1891-1969) and wrote around 100 books on just about every food subject and ingredient under the sun. I would particularly like to see ‘Open Sesame – The Way of a Cook With a Can’ published in 1939 (sorry Delia, he beat you too it).
Anyway, keen to try out some of his recipes I spotted one for Orange Jumbles, which are a flat sprawling biscuit made with flaked almonds and orange rind and juice. I am getting ahead of myself here as they are in the April chapter but as we can usually find oranges of some kind all-year-round and recipes with funny names are always a good thing then why not?. I decided to experiment and have had to make them a few times to get the recipe right – hard work but somebody had to do it. I have substituted some of my Seville marmalade as an ingredient, missed out cochineal, who on earth uses that these days, and they seem to have worked out pretty well. Ambrose didn’t seem to believe in molly-coddling his readers and the recipes are suitably vague on technique.
Of the Orange Jumbles he writes, ‘To say that they are indescribably charming really describes them’. If I wasn’t so busy eating my way through a plate of jumbles I’d say ‘I couldn’t agree more’.
Here’s my recipe for Marmalade Jumbles.

Edward Bawden illustration for Good Food 1932


Saturday March 01st 2008, 4:30 pm

kitchen tools

This week I bought a couple of 50’s kitchen units and found these tools in the drawer. I can now do crinkle-cut chips and butter curls. I particularly like the tomato knife but don’t know quite how the design is so suited for cutting tomatoes. It is a great shape all the same.

Saturday March 01st 2008, 2:29 pm

I almost bought How To Cheat At Cooking, Delia’s new book today. I picked it up in the supermarket and it was the first opportunity I had had to look inside. In fact it is a really lovely book, the feel of it, the style of it and the colour of it, all appeals to me. The photography is lovely and the type of food is just what I like. The book did get as far as the check-out in my trolley before I managed to abandon it, but it was a tussle. I feel that the only way to form a rational opinion about the book is to buy it and if it wasn’t Delia I wouldn’t care.
I did try to have a quick look at the recipes and noticed a quiche that you assemble using amongst other things, ready-cooked bacon pieces. That must save you all of ten valuable minutes. I can hear the complaints now from the quick-fix generation, that they have to wait 30 minutes for the quiche to cook. Perhaps a sandwich would be quicker. Can you buy ready buttered bread? Actually did you know that you can use mayonnaise from a jar instead of making it yourself? I didn’t read that in the book but thought of it all by myself.
How To Cheat At Cooking would make a good all round, day to day recipe book if only it told you the how not-to-cheat recipe alongside the ‘how to cheat’ version. In fact I don’t really understand why they didn’t arrange the format in that way because then everyone would have been happy. Of course like most people, I am capable of making the conversion myself but presumably the people who the book is aimed at aren’t able to do this the other way round.
This week I found my old copy of ‘Frugal Food’, Delia’s book from 1976. I think we are all allowed to change our minds over the years but I couldn’t help noticing her statement that ‘ instant foods cost a fortune’. An excerpt from the book: ‘Actually I’m not so sure that all this time-saving really does save time. I once watched a lady standing in a long check-out queue with just a large bag of frozen brussels sprouts (they were at the time 30 per cent dearer than the fresh ones). She was In the queue for a good 10 or 12 minutes; she could, had she wished, have sat in her own kitchen and peeled fresh brussels sprouts in the same time.’
Obviously before online shopping.