Sunday, 13 April 2014

Some things to sow..... now!!

Ahh. Spring has sprung.

Not only is the sun shining more often and the temperatures gently ambling ever closer to bared-midriff (fishbelly) level but we're a whole three weeks early.
There exists an old French saying, pertaining to sowing times and soil temperatures and bare bottoms being the instrument used to judge, but an elbow will suffice. With the balmy April weather we've been having, it's fairly safe to start sowing some of your favorite veg.

Here are a few things to get you started:

Asparagus Crowns - enjoy around June/July 3 years from planting. Resist scrumping too early, as you can really knock the plants back.

Aubergines - ready to pick in August. Best grown under cover.

Broad beans - should be plump and pickable around June/July, though I like them as fingerling baby pods.

Carrots - from June to September, depending on variety and size you'd like. I like to sow coriander amongst the rows to help hide them from carrot fly.

Celeriac - Lovely and slow, this delicious veggie is about ready in October.

Climbing beans - I little early I think, but you can always chance it and sow some more later. Ready June/July.

Cucumbers and Gherkins - lovely fresh and pickled! Ready around July/August.

Kohl Rabi - Such a great looking plant, in an odd way. Pick from May onwards.

Leeks - Ready from September to April depending on which sort you choose.

Peas - I've tried some purple podded peas this year. Pick from June onwards.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli - Actually, I prefer to sow this in May. The plants still produce lots of spears around January/April next year but are a little shorter, and much less prone to toppling.

Radish - Lovely, peppery little crunch-bombs. June/July.

Spring Onions - So good in broths and chopped into salads, ready around June/July.

Sweet Corn - Beware! Mice LOVE sweet corn seedlings and any vestage of warm fuzzy feelings you harbour towards the little mites will be snipped as neatly as all the rows of seedlings if they get to them. Those that make it will produce ears around July/September time.

Summer Squash - Not as commonly loved in the UK as in the States, but crookneck squash (scroll down a bit, till you get to the yellow knobbily ones) are delicious, slighlty crunchier than courgettes. June/August.

Sweet Potatoes - Ew. Sorry, but you try being forced to eat them as a child. Smushed, with melted marshmellows on top. Anyway, I've been asked about them often enough so if you'd like to grow the little horrors now is the time to get them going to harvest in July/September.

Tomatoes - Now thats more like it! Sow a wild mix of bannana legs, emerald cherry, yellow pear, black seaman, cream sausage, and ghost cherry for a delicious rainbow of tomatoey-goodness.

Sourdough - the most productive pet you'll ever have.

Meet Gerald. Gerald is a spelt/kamut/strong white and water mush mutt and has been sat burbling away on his special shelf in the kitchen for almost four months now.

He's pretty low maintenance; every three days or so (depending on the carb cravings) I scoop out a bit to make bread and in exchange he gets fed and plopped back on his shelf to grow and make odd noises. He bubbles away, making the occasional quiet 'pffft' and every now and then, threatens to overflow his kilner jar when things seem either a little to clean or quiet. Anthony has amusing concerns of a sudden growth spurt and on the drive back from a weekend away will describe in worried tones scenes where the door is wedged shut and the walls groan because somehow Gerald has managed to fall/crawl/grow tendrils into the giant bag of flour and spread like the blob. That's technically impossible, but I haven't said it.

So, we eat his children. He gets to chow down and grow fat on luxury 8 kilo bags of organic flour which the local shop buys in especially for him (they even know his name).

Now, bread has always been something of a challenge for me. Until recently my speciality was limited to semi-burnt door stoppers with the atomic mass of lead, impressive only for their ability to have been formed outside of a reactor of some sort.

Bake off got me going again. After a particularly hard days grubbing about in the garden, I settled down to bask in the regenerative powers of  whisky mac + reruns of The Great British Bake Off.

So I got to work. I knew I wanted to eventually make anything, to be able to just 'happen' to have homemade frozen croissants tucked up in the freezer. To be able to whip out a triumphant brioche from a picnic hamper and to bask in the satisfaction of having made that puppy myself.  However, haunted by the memories of embers, plumb bob rolls and the echos of fire alarms from breads gone by, I decided to stick with one recipe though and keep at it till I made something edible.

Perhaps it was the dutch courage which allowed my optimism to swell, past Paul Hollywood's prodding finger of doom (can't find a clip of the finger, but here's a fairly accurate version of his death-stare. Don't bother with anything beyond the first 30 seconds though) and the memories of the last smouldering remains to be recovered from the oven, but, I chose to start with sourdough. Enter Gerald.

The starter was easy.  Flour, water, stir, ignore. Plop plop. Bubble bubble. Gerald gurgled into life in a matter of days and this prompted me to sort out the question of what to do with him next. Having deemed as useless my usual approach of cobbled-together recipes from dubious sources, I decided to take a different tack. Methodical and, for once with regards to bread-making, following the instructions, rather than going off piste at the first opportunity. I'd have to get over having sticky fingers and relegate my adventure to a designated area of the kitchen with the most wipe-able surfaces. Poppy the cat is thankfully not a factor here - no, no, she's perfectly fine. But we're hip and cool townies now and she's currently terrorising OH's parents in the countryside till we move back to the farm.

The look, of love...
Crust by Richard Bertinet has been a huge help and has walked me through the processes and procedures enough to be able to have home-made crusty loaves on hand for snacking and sandwiches. Hopefully, soon I'll be able to begin my deviations from the recipe so as to provide tasty ideas and recipes of my own, but for now, I'm playing it safe.