‘Abundance: How to Store and Preserve Your Garden Produce’ by Alys Fowler

a book review

Bowls of strawberries and heaps of gooseberries are a familiar sight in my kitchen at the moment. My courgettes and crimson flowered broad beans are loving the amazingly long-lasting sunny spell and even the runner beans are now snaking up their rustic wigwams vigorously. Very different to last summer when it was mainly mud that I brought in from garden to kitchen. Happily it seems an apt time to review a book called ‘Abundance.’

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I’m already a big fan of Alys Fowler’s writing and broadcasting about growing your own foodie treats and making the most of our wild larder. Her lovely book ‘The Edible Garden’ (subtitled How to have your garden and eat it) is one of my favourite places to turn to for inspiration when I’m planning planting in the midst of winter. I’m very partial to planting calendula and cavolo nero together in the garden, the majestic dark green leaves looking splendid against the vivid orange flowers and I have the beautiful photos of calendula and cavolo nero in Alys’ own garden to thank for this idea.

In her recently published book, ‘Abundance’ she writes about how to make the most of gluts from the land to enable you to still eat well in the leaner winter months.Including classics such as Raspberry Jam and apple sauce, Alys also offers unusual ways to preserve your  harvests, with some fascinating facts on how different cultures have developed their own techniques for pickling, fermenting and drying and interesting nutritional information.

Torshi Lift-Pickled turnips and Powidla (Polish Plum butter) may sound exotic but the recipes suggest they’re an easy way to both preserve and add an exotic glamour to home-grown produce. Gorgeous photos (and my own memories of pickling turnips with beetroot) reminds me that the turnip recipe is a glorious bright pink colour too.  While Kale crisps look like a delicious way of persuading fussy young eaters to eat their greens – and maybe the cavolo nero that I’m so partial to could be used here?

Similarly to Diana Henry in ‘Salt Sugar Smoke’ Alys reminds us of the satisfying feeling that a store-cupboard full of preserves can give us:

“We store up a lot more than ripeness when we store away our produce; we store up a summer of hard, enjoyable work. If done well, we take all those vitamins and minerals, all that well-nourished soil and health and offer it up to those we love when the garden has all but gone to bed.”

dried broad beans

All good reasons to freeze a few bags of the wild strawberries that are hanging down enticingly below my lavender (as Alys points out it’s almost impossible to collect enough tiny wild strawberries in one go to make jam, but you can freeze batches until you have enough) to make the lovely Wild Strawberry Jam. Not that I need another reason after reading Alys’ enticing instructions:

“This jam will not set well. Run with its sloppiness and spoon into Greek yoghurt or let it race across butter.”

As both a gardener (she trained at the Royal Horticultural Society, the New York Botanical Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew before working as Head Gardener, then presenter for BBC’s Gardeners’ World) and inspirational cook, Alys imparts some excellent gardening advice in ‘Abundance’ before dealing with harvesting, storing and preserving. It’s interesting to read just how important getting the soil right is to preserving its fruits. Alys points out that too much nitrogen (often favoured by large-scale farmers aiming at quick, bountiful harvests for the supermarkets) can affect the plant’s metabolic rate and although this aids fast growth, it also ages the fruit faster:

“Conversely, an abundance of potash (potassium) in the soil has a positive effect on storage.”

So when we add potassium-rich comfrey, seaweed, green manures and animal manures to our plots, it’s nice to know we’re already benefitting the winter larder.

I like the sound of the health benefits for our winter stomachs too. In the ‘On Fermenting’ chapter, Alys describes delicious ways for using the sour, salty taste of pickles made this way and explains that fermented foods, “..are hugely important to our health, containing a unique mixture of good bacteria and vitamins.” Reminding me of some of the lovely sauerkraut type fermented cabbage recipe that I want to try in the lovely Dale Cottage Farm Diaries.

A good reason too to try Kimchi, an ancient pickle thought to originate in China. A way of preserving different winter vegetables using salt, Alys refers to a Korean study which has found that the good bacteria in kimchi can kill off bad bacteria such as salmonella. As I line up my kilner jars and admire the flowers on my pickling cucumbers, I like to think this means that pickling truly is good for you.

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Abundance by Alys Fowler (Kyle Books, £16.99) Photography: Simon Wheeler.

 

 

pressed flowers and pink blue tack

As Ruby heads out to into the garden armed with a pair of scissors, I’m feeling glad that I don’t have perfect herbaceous borders. Calendula that self-seed like crazy and natural/semi-wild areas of native wild flowers (or some might say, less romantically, messy areas of weeds) are a benefit when you have a 5 year old who loves snipping the heads off flowers regularly.     DSC05268

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She’s partial to cutting thyme too (it happens to have lovely purple flowers at the moment) which is handy as I hadn’t got round to giving it a much-needed trim.

The other thing I’m feeling blessed with is pink blue tack. Something that was mentioned on the last letter to Father Christmas (it had been sighted and much coveted apparently in the school cloakrooms) but that the poor, over-worked soul unfortunately couldn’t find or make. So when I was asked to review some Bostik stationery which included this mythical product I jumped at the chance. Apparently it’s available for a limited time. My success at procuring it may just mean that Mum is elevated out of the mud of the star chart for at least the start of the summer holidays.

blu tack pink

I have been sent classic, original blue tack too and as my daughter is still as prolific an artist as she is a flower picker (for pressing, making home-made birthday cards, and mixing potions or ‘perfumes’ which are obviously generally muddy, foul smelling and dabbed liberally on any unsuspecting adult wrists) this is coming in very handy for attaching pictures to our kitchen beams.

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The pink version, I suspect, may be kept as something precious for a while though.

The Bostik Glu pen I was sent has been enthusiastically tested when Ruby made a very last minute birthday card with pressed flowers before a birthday party. I liked the fact that it doesn’t contain solvents, isn’t messy and was particularly grateful that it dried very quickly! Ruby, who is very partial to adhesives (we get through a lot of glue-sticks in this house with a lot of very abstract creativity) seemed to like the novelty of a glu pen. I think it would be useful for more intricate craft projects with older children or adults too as the tip allows quite precise application.

glu pen

As I stopped sowing sweet peas and beans in loo roll tubes a while ago, Ruby has been delighted to stash a huge amount away. She has plans to make a giant spider in the summer holiday so I think blue tack and glue may come in quite handy. If the glorious sunshine continues, I have hopes of her doing lots of making outside. So you never know, I may even get away without loo rolls glued to the kitchen table!

 

This post is sponsored by Bostik to whom I am very grateful for the pink blue tack.

july in my kitchen & making dukkah

In my kitchen this July……

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  …….I’ve been making lots of elderflower cordial. There have been several  batches (I put a few in the fridge then freeze the rest in plastic bottles so I have a year round supply. Lurking in the corner looking like one of Ruby’s dubious potions, I stir it when I remember then decant through muslin. So refreshing on these summery days diluted with fizzy water or in ice lollies. Lovely too in gin & tonic. And the borage is flowering at last for pretty ice cubes. The recipe I use for elderflower cordial  is here.

 

In my kitchen this month I’ve been slow-cooking lamb. Marinated in lots of garlic, rosemary and olive oil then cooked for hours in a really low oven. Perfect to put in the oven with hardly any preparation time, leave to cook while I picked Ruby up from school and spent a sunny hour or two at the playground. We returned, dug a few new potatoes from the garden, picked some greens and mint and had a really easy, totally delicious dinner. Savoured all the more as it was a gift from our farming neighbour who said it was a thank you for favours. All we remember doing is making some pigeon scarers out of sticks and old cds for his field of Swedes growing next door to us – and this was an evening’s entertainment for Ruby. So we were totally grateful for lovely generosity and several tasty dinners.

The lamb flaked off the bone tenderly and the leftovers were great the next day with the flatbread I made here (it freezes well), houmous, tsatsiki and salad. The salad was a sort of fattoush, with lots of parsley, mint and radish from the garden added to tomatoes (not home-grown yet) toasted flat bread and lots of lemon juice.

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It seems just right for the prolonged sunshine we’re very much enjoying at the moment and I enjoyed a similar salad with my friend Chava, who took the lovely pictures in this post. We had it with flat bread and dukkah, which was very tasty with lots of fresh mint.

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I base my Dukkah on the ever-inspiring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s version in River Cottage Everyday. This time I used almonds instead of Hugh’s hazelnuts (I bet English cobnuts would be great in this later in the year though) and golden linseeds for the seeds (my own laziness urging me to use what I had in the cupboard rather than going shopping). Of Egyptian origin this blend of coarsely ground seeds and nuts, fragrant with mint, is also lovely on fish, with halloumi or just with olive oil and flatbread as a snack.

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Dukkah:

A handful of nuts of your choice

½ tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

2 tablespoons seeds such as seame, linseed, even sunflower.

½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes

½ teaspoon sea salt

A handful of mint leaves, shredded

Toast the nuts dry in a frying pan (Hugh toasts them in the oven, which you can also try) until they are slightly coloured. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds until they just begin to release their appetising aroma. Bash them with a pestle and mortar until broken up coarsely.

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Toast the seeds until golden too. Add the nuts, seeds, chilli and salt to the spice mix and bash until the nuts are broken up into small pieces. Stir in the mint and prepare to dip.

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This can be kept for a few weeks in an airtight container, although I then add mint to half of it and use this portion first then add mint to the rest fresh when I’m about to use. It makes a nice gift, in fact I’ve made it with Ruby before for family Christmas presents as she’s quite partial to a bit of pestle and mortar activity.

In my kitchen I’ve also been enjoying having the glass doors open most of the time – how lovely to have the sunshine streaming in (Is this really an English summer?!!), and to savour a little breeze. And try not to notice the large patch of weeds that I STILL need to get round to clearing. I let them get too established while I enjoyed the prettiness of the pretty buttercups. Until I get round to finishing this pesky job, I try to keep my gaze firmly fixed on the lush flowers and veggies.

In my kitchen there are still daily bowls of strawberries and regular colanders of gooseberries.

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In my kitchen there’s lots of podding activity. Ruby’s purple podded peas and tender little broad beans.  As my daughter hasn’t been keen on peas lately it’s great seeing her enjoying the sweetness of freshly picked home-grown ones. Of course the pretty flowers and beautiful purple pods help.

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While I lazily pod broad beans for risotto, I think that this has to be one of my favourite months for food from the garden. Topping and tailing and podding are such relaxing things to do in the kitchen too – allowing my mind to drift into daydreams of my favourite broad bean pasta with lots of parsley and garlic….

I’d like to include this in Celia’s lovely Fig Jam and Lime Cordial In My Kitchen gathering for July.

 

 

bread and jam for Ruby

Bread and Jam are on my mind at the moment. Strawberry and gooseberry gluts have me reaching for the preserving pan, while Ruby has been reading Bread and Jam for Frances, a lovely children’s book about a faddish eater.

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Frances loves bread and jam. She likes it so much that she eats it for breakfast, lunch and supper too. And she’s quite happy with her unbalanced diet until she starts to notice the variety in her friend’s lunchbox, the poached eggs on the breakfast table and the spaghetti and meatballs her family are enjoying. Frances begins to wonder what she’s missing.

I was introduced to ‘Bread and Jam for Frances’ by Sofia Dyson, whose Bread and Jam business makes gorgeous little girls dresses. The name Bread and Jam seems such a perfect match for the retro style dresses which are so comfy, perfect for little girls who like to climb trees and find treasures to stash in the generous pockets. Sofia and her university friend, Lisa Swerling came up with the name partly because of this book and also because they remembered bread and jam luring them away from lectures as students; they would scoff while discussing lovely fabrics.

You can see the dresses here and brightening up my washing line here:

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Ruby is loving the book as much as the dress. including the song:

“Jam on biscuits, jam on toast,

Jam is the thing that I like most.

Jam is sticky, jam is sweet,

Jam is tasty, jam’s a treat-

Raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry,

I’m very

FOND……OF…..JAM!

And when she recently had a week or so of really struggling to get to sleep at night, I decided it was worth trying a new routine. After her bedtime story, Ruby could try reading in bed herself for the first time. I hoped this would make her sleepy, but of course she was so excited by the idea that sleep was the last thing on her mind!

She chose ‘Bread and Jam For Frances’ and at least it made bed feel like a nice place to be again. The rapid progress in learning to read that children make in reception class at school still seems so exciting to me. As I love snuggling under the duvet with a good book myself, it seemed so lovely that my daughter was enjoying this treat.

What wasn’t quite as lovely was how I ended up running up and down the stairs like a yo-yo on the first night of reading in bed! Every time Ruby came to a word that she didn’t know, she’d call me up. When this got to the stage where I was barely downstairs before being called up again, I came up with a brainwave. Post-its!

As Ruby had just acquired some post-its in a lurid shade that were particularly pleasing to her, I suggested the following night that each time she came to a word she was stuck on, she could add a post-it and then we’d have a look at all the words in the morning. It worked a treat. She happily snuggled into bed with her book and post-its, I got on with the “boring jobs” I’d told her I had to do downstairs.

But later, when I had a peek in at my sleeping daughter, I had a curious look inside ‘Bread and Jam  for Frances’. After a couple of pages I saw this:

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Then, a page later, a few more post-its:

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But the next page looked like this:

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 I ‘m not sure if tiredness made the words tricky or if it was just the sheer pleasure of using the post-its but whatever the reason, it gave me a good giggle.

I suspect that the moral of this book about not being a fussy eater may be lost on my daughter. But it has got ME thinking. About healthy jam as well as nutitional variety.

While it’s gong to be a long time until we’re bored of strawberries on muesli, strawberries with cream, strawberries with greek yoghurt, strawberries and ice-cream, there are lots more strawberries than we can eat at the moment, even with visitors.

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The least perfect ones are being frozen for future smoothies, but it’s definitely time for some jammin’ too. Preferably on a rainy evening (I can’t resist spending these gorgeous warm ones outside), with Bob Marley playing.

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I’ve been browsing Diana Henry’s wonderful ‘salt sugar smoke’ and have definitely decided to make her gooseberry and elderflower jam. Probably some Sarah Raven inspired gooseberry and thyme jelly too. But it’s the strawberry jam that gives me a dilemma. While I love a fresh-tasting, soft-set jam and the healthy very low sugar nature of Diana Henry’s ‘nearly strawberry jam’ totally appeals (75g sugar to 350g strawberries) I know that in the depths of winter it will be quite comforting to have a long-lasting traditional strawberry jam (1kg strawberries to 1kg sugar and juice of 2 lemons) in the store cupboard. I normally make lots of ‘fridge jam’ too, where I just simmer half the weight of sugar to fruit for 5 minutes – healthier, nicely soft-set but doesn’t have the lasting qualities of traditional jam.

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If given a taste test, I’m sure Ruby would opt for the sweetest jam of course. But I would like to feel that home-made jam can preserve some of the goodness of a summer glut without being as packed full of sugar as a commercial variety. So that the sweet treats I feed my family and friends at least verge on the healthy side.

Yet I’ve already been asked by my daughter if we can buy, “some of that lovely, really red jam with no bits in” that she’s tasted in jam sandwiches at a school picnic. So the jammin dilemma seems to sum up the feelings I often have when cooking for my daughter; trying to feed her wholesome, home-produced food without her feeling she’s being denied. The last thing I want to do is pack her full of sugar or junk food, but I don’t want her to grow up craving treats that seem more exciting than they actually taste because she doesn’t get them at home.

My answer of course to the jam dilemma perhaps says a lot about my enthusiastic (or just plain greedy?!) attitude to food. I’m going to make it all.

Not all at once of course. I don’t want to miss out on any of the spells of good weather that can be relished outside. I’ll just freeze gluts and, when there’s  a rainy evening and I have time, I’ll make a little jam. Mainly the lower sugar varieties but I’ll make a few jars of the traditional variety too, and we can enjoy them as a sweet treat after or during a good walk. Or on hot buttered toast on a chilly winter’s day.

In the meantime, the bread and jam this week is flat-bread and rhubarb and rose jam. Hopefully a bit of variety in the spirit of ‘Bread and Jam for Frances’ although the dukkah with mint and fattoush salad I also made to go with the flat-bread would perhaps seem a little more adventurous. More on those another time though.

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The rhubarb and rose jam is the one here. In the summer when the woodburner isn’t tempting me to make my stove-top flatbread, this is the bread I make regularly. It’s very easy, puffs up and can be split into a pocket like pitta to be stuffed with salads, mint, houmous, anything you fancy. It’s also good with curries or chilli. I sometimes make it with all white bread flour if we’re craving lighter bread but spelt flour or wholemeal flour adds a lovely flavour as well as feeling healthy. So, very similarly to my jam-making, I tend to vary the proportions of white/spelt flour depending on mood.

 

Recipe for Oven Flat-breads:

Makes 4 large pitta type breads (a little large and puffier than pitta)

300g unbleached strong white bread flour, preferably organic

150g spelt flour (Gilchesters is good)

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon dried yeast

350/400ml warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the water and pour into the flour along with the olive oil. Knead for about 5 minutes on a floured surface until the dough is soft, elastic and smooth. Depending on the amount of spelt flour you use, you may need to  add more water early in the kneading if the dough feels too dry/firm.

Set aside, covered by a cloth for an hour (this can be nicely imprecise depending when you’re ready to eat) then heat oven to 230C, divide the dough into 4 and roll out on a floured surface to ovals about 3 mm thick.

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Transfer to 2 lightly floured baking sheets and bake for 5-10 minutes until the bread is golden and cooked, puffing up slightly without being crisp.

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Warm out of the oven, it’s lovely with rhubarb and rose jam and a coffee or a mint tea. It feels a bit like an Arabian nights type of breakfast or a Berber snack to be served up in the Atlas mountains with the mint tea poured from a silver teapot.

While I’m in fantasy land, ‘Bread and Jam for Frances’ may inspire my daughter to eat enthusiastically, without any encouragement, all of the concoctions that I place in front of her. More likely, we’ll both end up agreeing with Frances:

“Jam in the morning, jam at noon,

Bread and jam

By the light of the moon.

Jam….is….very….nice.”

 

If anyone has noticed that the photos are dramatically better than my normal shoddy efforts, all of the pics in this post are taken by my lovely photographer friend, Chava Eichner who I enjoyed scoffing bread and jam with.

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