Monday, 31 October 2016

The Final Pumpkin Recipe.......#itmightjustwork

It's Halloween and there have been children trick or treating for the last few hours and now there are fireworks going crazy all around us and I am about to give you the final, very special recipe.

 

But first a bit about how I got this recipe.

This year has been amazing, incredible and beyond belief. I have met some extraordinary people and done some extraordinary things. I have met and been humbled by people, amazed at their generosity of spirit and by how excited they are when they hear about Incredible Edible Bristol and how keen they are to get involved. I have been bowled over by kindness and moved to tears by stories of personal change. and i have spent a lot of the year wondering how this is where I am, whilst thoroughly appreciating that place.

So imagine that earlier this year I saw that Pete Lawrence, an allotment holder in Bristol, had just published a book and I cheekily asked for a review copy. Which he duly sent and I duly reviewed. It's a great book and the review is here. Of course at that point I had no idea of his background at the BBC or that he was setting up a production company or that we would end up doing any work together. But that is what has happened and you will be able to see the results the week before Christmas when it goes out on BBC1!!
 He's going to kill me but here's Ross!!

Without wanting to give the plot away, it highlights the work of our amazing volunteer gardeners, what volunteering with Incredible Edible has meant for them and how it has changed their lives, and it creates a stunning new garden in a community space for a community that will really appreciate it and use it for positive change.
 

Whilst working on this project I met Dave Myers, one half of the Hairy Bikers and a genuinely nice bloke who has been amazingly supportive and kind ever since we met. Cheekily on the last day we chatted about my pumpkin recipes and he promised me a recipe which, as yet is unpublished, but will be coming to a Hairy Bikers recipe book in a store near you soon!!

So cheers Dave! It's a pleasure to have worked with you. And cheers also to the lovely Pete, who is struggling to edit the programme as I type and who without lots of these opportunities this year would never have happened. I look forward to working with you more!!

 

But more than that, a huge thanks here goes out to Ross, volunter and pal extraordinaire, with whom this experience and others have been shared this year. A great guy who's story will touch you and who we will, I know, make a great gardener out of.

And here is the recipe!!

CHAPTER 8 SPICY CHICKEN 

Caribbean Chicken and Pumpkin Curry

This curry is very English Caribbean – no coriander, just Mediterranean herbs, so if you want a herb garnish, parsley is traditional. Traditionally this recipe is made with potato but we have found pumpkin and squash make great  additions to the recipe instead!!

A mixture of drumsticks and thighs, skinned BUT ON the bone
Juice of 1 lime
1 scotch bonnet, deseeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed or grated
3 cm piece of ginger, grated
3 sprigs of thyme or 1 tbsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1 tbsp spice mix or medium curry powder
2 tbsp olive or coconut oil
1 large onion, sliced
300ml chicken stock
50g creamed coconut (the sort in a block)
1 tbsp rum or brandy
500 gms pumpkin in 2 cm cubes

For the spice mix:

2 tbsp coriander seed
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1cm piece cinnamon
1 clove
½ tsp allspice berries
2 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp garlic powder

Put the chicken in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the scotch bonnet, garlic cloves, ginger, thyme, bay leaves and spice mix. Stir to coat – if you are brave, you will get much better results if you rub it in with your hands, but be careful because of the scotch bonnet. Leave for at least an hour, but preferably over night.

Heat the oil in a large casserole. Add the onion and cook for several minutes until starting to soften. Add the chicken and stir until the chicken is lightly browned. Sprinkle over the spice mix or curry powder and stir.

Pour over the chicken stock and add the pumkin. Stir in the creamed coconut. Leave to cook, covered, on a low heat for around 45 minutes, until the chicken is falling off the bone. Add a little more water if necessary.

When the chicken is cooked through, stir in the rum and simmer for a few more minutes.


To make the spice mix, toast all the whole spices in a frying pan until they smell aromatic. Immediately transfer them to a plate to cool, then to a fine powder. Mix with the turmeric and garlic powder. Makes more than you need, but it will store in a jar for a few months.

 



Friday, 28 October 2016

The joy of the pumpkin....

A long time ago I visited the Chelsea Physic Garden for the 1st time. It's a garden I'm always blown away by. The history of the garden, it's links to so many events in garden history including those links to  the plant hunters who are still to this day responsible for so many of the plants we grow in our gardens, always makes me feel that I am wandering through the corridors of British garden history. But on this occasion I came away with two real interests. The first was that I should discover more about the Salvia family, after spending time with the collection in one of the gardens greenhouses, and the second was to explore pumpkin and squash growing more.
In the garden there were different varieties of Japanese squash growing up tripods, with fruit beginning to form and I was mesmerised not just by the new varieties of food in front of my eyes, but also at their beauty.
 
So not being one to waste time, I ordered lots of seeds and got growing the following year. I'm guessing this was the late 90s and in our corner of leafy Bucks few folk grew these varieties and we had lots of interest from our neighbouring plot holders, particularly when we started planting into our compost heaps!
We grew them up tripods, across beds and in all our compost heaps. And we had a great harvest and we swore to grow more, experiment with new varieties and try lots of different ways of cooking with the flesh. It's fair to say I was hooked.
Nearly 20 years later the excitement of choosing which varieties we are going to grow in the year ahead is still palpable. We grow our favourites each year but always try to add something new, to add to the excitement of the harvest. The great thing about pumpkins and squash is they all taste different and so lend themselves to particular recipe types. And there isn't one that's disappointed us.
 
And to grow them? Well ideally they need a nice long season so we sow in March in modules  and keep them under protection until the roots have filled the modules. They then get potted into 1ltr containers as I feel 9cm is filled to quickly and who wants to spend their lives potting up? They then get put back under protection until early to mid May depending on the weather. Once all signs of frosty nights are gone, they go into the ground, with a thick layer of compost around them, and after a few weeks they romp away, not taking any notice of allotment boundaries, paths or roads. In good soil, full of rich humus, they need little attention other than plenty of water, but if you do see yellowing leaves, a good feed of a seaweed solution will soon sort them out.
What we always do is stop them growing at some point in August by cutting out the growing tips and this really helps with production of the fruits, and encourages them to ripen. 
Recently I was asked which are my have to have varieties, and I have to admit to always growing Turks Turban, Baby Bear, Jack O'Lantern, Crown Prince and New England Sugar Pie, and then interspersing with various others that catch my eye. I love Pink Banana and Sweet Dumpling, but have often to limit myself as there's only so much space and lots of other veg to grow too!! 
And before you ask, I buy lots of seed from the wonderful Pennards Plants as well as Real Seeds and Jungle Seeds and then pick up unusual varieties often at seed swaps and community events.
So that takes you through my pumpkin/squash obsession and I hope has encouraged you to give some different varieties a go!! 
 




Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Pumpkin Soup the Thai Way!

This is another simple recipe for pumpkin soup, but this time with a bit of extra warming kick. It's great for a quick weekend supper served with lots of crusty bread and is a recipe I go back to again and again.

You will need....

1 Medium sized pumpkin, peeled and chopped
Sunflower Oil
1 sliced onion
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 stick of lemongrass
3-4 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 can coconut milk
850 ml veg stock
lime juice and sugar for seasoning

Firstly roast the pumpkin for about 30 minutes until it is cooked.
Meanwhile add some oil to a pan and fry off the onion, ginger and lemongrass and cook on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes. Then stir in the curry paste, add the roated pumpkin, most of the coconut milk but leave about 3 tbsp in the can, and the stock and bring to a simmer. After 5 minutes remove the lemongrass, leave to cool for 5 minutes and then blend with a hand blender.  return to the pan to heat through and add salt, pepper, lime juice and sugar to taste and serve with a dibble of the remaining coconut milk.....

It could not be simpler!!

 



The importance of water

When my parents moved into their rural idyll in Lincolnshire one of the first things they decided to do, before they even knew if the house was going to remain standing, was dig an enormous pond. Well, I say they dug it but in reality we went up there to dig it while they looked after my daughter! They were determined to have running water around the garden and the pond was to be the beginning and the end of a stream that linked all the different areas of the garden. Eventually it became apparent that on their Lincolnshire clay it would take more than spades to dig this pond, and mechanised equipment was hired to finish the job, and almost as soon as the liner was in and the pond was filled the change in the gardens biodiversity was there to be seen. Whereas there was always plenty of birdsong, suddenly there were pond skaters, water boatmen and dragonflies, frogs and toads and it felt like the garden was buzzing and tweeting and properly alive. At one point that summer we sat on the patio watching hundreds of baby toads crossing the garden, like an amphibious swarm, heading to who knows where to do who knows what. It was an extraordinary sight.
 
But that pond taught me a vital lesson and that is that water in a garden is important for far more than looks alone. Whilst water is beautiful, and adds another dimension to any design, it's real power is that it brings in nature. 
Now we all know gardening is about controlling and manipulating nature but I've been thinking about this pond a lot recently, and here's why; it turned a garden, a manipulated and designed space, back to a far more natural place. It gave the herbaceous borders and rose garden a feeling of being part of something outside of the space and linked it with the landscape. It softened formal edges and the hard landscaping of seating areas and pergolas. It gave sound to the space, with the trickling of water as it moved around the garden. It felt like a door had opened and let nature back in.
Next year it will be 15 years since we dug that pond and that garden is gone to me, handed on to others. But I want to do the same both in my garden and in my allotment. Increasing biodiversity in that garden made mum a great gardener because she allowed nature in to fight the pests and diseases for her. Along with making compost and adding muck, which funnily was often down to me to barrow about as grandparent duties called, as soon as there was an issue, nature solved it. The house was always full of ladybirds in the winter, hiding in nooks and crannies and ready to rush outside as soon as the blackfly appeared on the roses, and those toads swallowed any slugs before they had a chance of getting to the prize winning delphiniums! And there were hedgehogs that snuffled about in the dusk, eating slugs as they went and leaving the snails for the thrushes to eat for breakfast.
And so my plan is for the tiny pond on my allotment, at the moment choked with duckweed, to be the centre of my allotment flower garden next year. I hope if I clear it out and plant some aquatics in it, that it will bring in the magic that I remember and go some way to reliving the magic of that garden in Lincolnshire. 
 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Pumpkin Jam Anyone?

I wonder if you might have had enough of pumpkin recipes yet?

Well in case you haven't here is another one from Danielle at Bishopston Supper Club, this time for pumpkin, apple and ginger jam which I can tell you is beyond delicious! The recipe for pumpkin puree is listed with the earlier recipe for brownies!!

Pumpkin, apple & ginger jam
500g pumpkin or any firm, orange fleshed squash (prepared weight), peeled, deseeded & diced into 1cm cubes or grated
350g cooking apples (prepared weight), peeled, cored & diced into 1cm cubes or grated
30g fresh ginger, peeled & diced as tiny as possible or grate with fine microplane-type grater
1 chunk of crystallised stem ginger, finely grated as above (If you're really not a fan of ginger, leave these out.)
250g pumpkin purée (optional)
1/2 tsp ground ginger (or to taste)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (or to taste)
2 lemons, juiced 
2 oranges, juiced 
700g granulated sugar
250ml water

Makes about 6-7 x 225g/8oz jars, 3-4 x 450g/1lb jars.
Place diced raw pumpkin, apples, gingers, cinnamon, lemon & orange juice, and water in a heavy bottomed pan, simmer gently until the pumpkin, ginger and apple chunks are tender, stirring occasionally. Grating the pumpkin & apple will mean it cooks quicker but I like the chunky texture of diced. Meanwhile, wash the jars in hot soapy water, rinse and sterilise in oven at 100c for 15-20 mins.
Add the pumpkin purée if using & stir in. Then add the sugar and stir to dissolve. (It helps to warm the sugar in a very low oven first.)
Simmer until reduced, thick and gloopy, there's no need to test for setting point with this jam. It's ready when a spoon pulled across the pan reveals the base.
Cool slightly then pour into the jars & seal with fresh lids or waxed paper discs & cellophane covers while still hot. Store in a cool, dry place and use within a year. Open opened, store in fridge and use within 4 weeks.

Now for some exciting news.....
I have a really excitng recipe to share as the final recipe, from someone I was lucky emough to spend time with at the weekend!! If you follow me on social media you'll probably guess....

Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Bit Of A Wobble And The Next Pumpkin Recipe!!

Some of you will recognise this feeling.
Brain fog. That thing where you can't think straight for a couple of days and that little devil in your head fights you everytime you try to do something positive.
Bit of a pain when you're trying to run a campaign and work with others and generally get on with things.
But just occassionally there is little else to do than allow yourself to give into it for a day or two because if you don't it escalates.
So apologies for the lack of recipe over the last couple of days but I'm back and todays is a corker!!

Again this is a recipe made by preserving queen Danielle at Bishopston Supper Club, and is one that she makes and sells through various places in Bristol, so I can vouch for it personally. It's delicious. And great to make if you have a bit of a glut of quinces if you are lucky, or apples and pumpkins!!
And of course you can do the maths and make more than this if you have a serious glut.

Pumpkin & quince (or apple) chutney
500g pumpkin, peeled, cored & diced (prepared weight)
500g quince (or cooking apples, or mixture of the two), peeled, cored & diced (prepared weight)
500g onions, peeled & diced
20g fresh ginger, peeled & finely diced or grated
1 clove garlic, peeled & finely diced, crushed or grated
300ml cider vinegar
250g granulated sugar
1tsp mustard seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp ground ginger


Once you've prepped all the fruit & veg, this is super easy. Place all ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until tender & reduced to a thick, jammy consistency. Again, the chutney is ready when a spoon pulled across the pan reveals the base. Cool slightly then pour into clean, sterilised jars & seal with fresh lids or waxed paper discs & cellophane covers while still hot. Store in a cool, dry place and use within a year. Open opened, store in fridge and use within 4 weeks.

Next recipe tomorrow I hope!!



Monday, 17 October 2016

Todays Recipe is from @Bishopston Supper Club.........Chocolate and Pumpkin Brownies!!

So as I wander around Bristol I am constantly, at the moment, being offered pumpkin recipes to try and I had one of these with my lovely friends at Bearpit Social last week and it was delicious!! Danielle, who's recipe it is, makes one, if not the, best brownie in Bristol as well as running Bishopston Supper Club, where Danielle concentrates on local produce, including meat that often comes from withing the city and veg that is often from her back garden!! Minimal food miles to say the least.
On a slightly different note I was shocked to say the least that Waitrose are offering 2 different types of pumpkin-one for carving and one for eating!! I am confused by this to say the least and all I can think is that they are grown on to be larger than the variety ought to be, making them somewhat dry. But what I would like to say is that Danielle's pumpkin puree recipe is good for any pumpkin however large it has become and can be frozen if needed too.
Also a word about Bearpit Social. If you come to Bristol you'll find the Bearpit at the bottom of the A38 and M32. It is a sunken roundabout that has some very definite issues but in it are some great businesses who are all about food. Bearpit Social is a fab cafe, which stocks delicious coffee and cakes as well as some awesome vegan lunches. Visit if you can, and also take a look at the Incredible Edible Bristol garden that is appearing in the space!!
So here is this brownie recipe. Below it is the pumpkin puree recipe too, which you will need for several more recipes as Danielle has shared several with me!


Pumpkin, pecan & salt caramel brownies
250g butter
250g 55% dark chocolate (drops or chopped)
Melt butter in a saucepan on a low heat then turn off heat & stir in the chocolate to melt. Leave to cool slightly.
240g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
Whisk eggs & sugar until pale, fluffy & doubled in volume.
90g plain or gluten free flour
75g cocoa powder 
(Sweeten 100g of the above pumpkin purée with a tbsp condensed milk or golden syrup and add ground cinnamon, mixed spice and finely grated nutmeg to taste. Add 1bsp cream cheese for a more cheesecake-style filling. Mix well & set aside.)
50g pecan nuts (optional)
50-100g salt caramel
Sift flour & cocoa powder into a bowl then fold into the sugar & egg mixture.
Fold in the melted butter & chocolate.
Ensure all is well mixed together without over beating and deflating the air bubbles.
Pour into a lined brownie tin. Spoon blobs of the spiced & sweetened pumpkin purée mixture, smaller blobs of salt caramel and roughly chopped pecan nuts on top of the brownie mixture then gently swirl around. Bake at 180c for about 20 mins ish. Every oven will be different, there needs to be a slight wobble when they're taken out. The brownies are best when still squidgy in the middle. Leave to cool then slice into portions.



And for the puree........
Pumpkin purée 
Place whole pumpkin or squash on a foiled oven tray and bake at 190-200c until soft, the time it takes will depend on the size. Leave to cool enough to handle then scoop out the flesh into a bowl, discarding the skin & seeds. Blitz in a food processor or with hand blender until smooth. Use as is with melted butter, salt & pepper stirred in for a tasty alternative to mash. Or use in puds etc.

It's worth pointing out that the puree can be made from any pumpkin, even those that are marked for carving rather than food.......

Back tomorrow with another of Danielle's recipes, this time for jam!!

If you want to know more about Bishopston Supper Club just click here!!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Pumpkins.........as skincare?!

So rather than a recipe I'm going to talk about other uses for pumpkin flesh......
Skincare!!
I'm, quietly, a bit of a skincare monster. I love creams and oils and have done since being a fairly young girl. I blame my grandma who always had a fine range of lotions and potions that she used to let me try out. As a teen makeup and skincare was something I loved and as I've become an adult, whilst I still love those lotions and potions, what's become really important to me is that the skin products I use are good for me and for the earth, natural and man made chemical free. 
I've lots of favourite brands, and recently became a very part time consultant for one of my favourites, Neals Yard, which is amazing and great fun. 
 
But then I saw an offer on Facebook for Angela Landford Skincare. Angela was a MasterChef finalist and began making skincare for herself and now is making natural skincare in Somerset. I sent off for the trial pack and having used it sent a Twitter message to say how much I'd liked it. And then something slightly strange happened!! Up popped the lovely Emma Britton of Radio Bristol Breakfast fame, who obviously knows Angela, and introduced me as the Queen of Pumpkins!!
To which Angela tells me that some of her skincare includes pumpkins!! Of course pumpkin is full of good stuff-vitamin A, B2 and B3, omega 3 and 6, potassium, magnesium and zinc, so it lifts and repairs skin. There is a forming serum and a night balm and I will be ordering some soon because I can't wait to see what it's like! All in the name of pumpkin research you understand!! 

I hope to find more people doing great things with pumpkin flesh-let me know if you know of anyone or anything.
Recipes will continue tomorrow!! 

Friday, 14 October 2016

Radio Pumpkin.....

Today the campaign to make sure pumpkins are used as food, as well as to carve, stepped up a notch as I was invited into BBC Radio Bristol's Breakfast Show to chat to the very lovely Emma Britton about pumpkins and food waste. Emma showed me some tiny pumpkins she had been given and asked what I would do with them, so having told her, I will now tell you!!
The variety is one called Baby Bear and the pumpkins are tiny, approximately about 3-4 inches across. They are great fun to grow and are delicious. 
 
So what's the recipe I hear you ask?! Well chop the top off so you have a lid, put a knob of butter on the top of the flesh and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until completely soft. Remove, add salt and pepper to taste and eat!! Perfect as an accompaniment to lots of dishes as a vegetable or great as a snack sprinkled with cheese.
Emma went on to suggest I need a superhero pumpkin outfit. I'm not so sure!!
 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Pumpkin scones?!? Oh go on then!!

So dear reader I thought a teatime recipe would be fun for today, but a savoury one. These are delicious and great to get kids joining in to help make too, and we eat them with cheese and chutney. They are great for that point on sweetens afternoon when you need something after a late breakfast or brunch, but aren't ready for dinner yet. And they freeze well too.
 
So all you need is......
40g butter
200g pumpkin flesh chopped into small pieces
225g self raising flour-don't put the bag away as you'll need more for dusting!!
1 tsp baking powder 
A (largish)handful of grated cheddar
A handful (smallish) of chopped herbs-we use parsley but anything leafy and fresh is fine
3-4 tbsp milk plus some for brushing.

Pop the pumpkin into a ban with water and boil until its tender and then drain, and mash and leave to cool off.
Then put the flower and baking powder into a bowl, add the butter and mix with your fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs. This is a great bit for kids to help with and you'll stay clean. Then use a knife to mix the pumpkin into the flour mix, add the cheese and herbs and a tiny splash of milk and bring the dough together, and then lightly kneed it for 30 seconds 
Roll out the dough to about 3cm thick and cut out scone shapes using a cutter, put them on a buttered baking tray, brush the top with milk and bake for 10-12 minutes on 180fan/200c or gas 6.
When they're risen and golden take them out and hide until cool. 
It's that simple and they are delicious!!
More to come tomorrow folks!!
 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Pumpkin Stew recipe.....

Today's recipe is for pumpkin stew and is one I have kind of used for years, but never really felt it was quite wintery enough in terms of how filling it is.
But then the great Pete Lawrence published his cook book and I realised I'd been missing an extra ingredient that makes this a proper hearty stew, and that ingredient folks is lentils!!
 

So here's the recipe......
I use a couple of medium sized red onions, a clove of garlic, 2 carrots and 1 medium sized pumpkin. Sweat off the onions and garlic in a pan with some olive oil, add the carrots and pumpkin once the onions are transluscent and cook them all together for 5 minutes. Then add a litre of stock, and around 200 grams of lentils and cook on a slow heat until the lentils are cooked. I serve it exactly as it is at this point, with salt and pepper to taste and a swirl of sour cream and some sourdough bread. Pete on the other hand, says remove the pumpkin chunks, blitz everything else in a food processor and then add the pumpkin and stir in some cream. He's a famous media type so offers a bit more style perhaps!! 
Whichever way you choose to serve your stew, it's delicious, rich and very filling. 
If you have Pete's book you'll see he also has celery in his recipe but I cannot stomach celery and believe it to be the work of the devil!! However, you might like to add celery....

Wordless Wednesday

 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Today's pumpkin recipe is......

Risotto!!
Pumpkin risotto is rich, filling and delicious. And it's easy to make which is always a bonus.
I know there are a fair few methods out there but this is mine, which works for me.
Chop up a small/medium pumpkin or squash, deseed and peel and pop it into a roasting dish with some garlic cloves, salt, pepper and a sprinkling of an oil of your choice, and roast in the oven on 180 for 40/45 minutes or until it's cooked. If you end up roasting too much don't panic because you can always use what's left to make yesterday's soup!! But to be honest, I don't think you can have too much pumpkin in this recipe.
Whilst your pumpkin is cooking slowly heat some stock on the stove. You'll need about 2 pints for 4 people. 
Once it's cooked you're ready to make your risotto. Fry an onion in some oil in a non stick pan, and add the cooked garlic from the tray the pumpkin has been roasted in. Then add your risotto rice(I use arborio) and ensure its covered with the oils in the pan. I use a good handful per person and then add a bit extra for good luck at the end! Then add a good glass of white wine and stir until that's all been absorbed by the rice. The secret to a good risotto is stirring!!
At this point add half the pumpkin and then a ladle of stock at a time, waiting to add the next ladle full until the rice has absorbed the previous one. Slowly as the rice absorbs more and more stick it will cook through and just keep tasting until it's cooked enough for you. Once there is only one more ladle of stock left add the remaining stock and the remaining pumpkin to the risotto along with a good serving of Parmesan or other cheese of your choice and salt and pepper to taste. I usually add a good handful of chopped parsley as well as the freshness of the parsley cuts through the richness of the rest of the dish.
Then turn the heat off and leave the pan for 5 minutes just to let all the flavours settle and then serve and eat.
 
The very lovely Ryan Lewis of @NagsHeadFarm also commented this morning that he asks for local pumpkin insides to be dropped to him for chicken food so if you really struggle to use all your pumpkin flesh, why not find a local chicken keeper and offer it to them? You might even end up getting some eggs back in return!
Next recipe incoming tomorrow!!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Please don't play with your food.....


I am a big fan of pumpkins. There are loads of different varieties from tiny Baby Bears to the enormous ones that are grown competitively. They're fun to grow, and great to eat in a huge variety of recipes; they can be roasted, spiralized, used in risotto, in pies, pastries and pasties, made into delicious soup and far, far more.
But what do we immediately think of when we think of a pumpkin? More and more they are part of our Halloween decorations, which of course is fine, but in so many households the precious flesh, that delicious orange filling, goes straight into the bin without a second thought.
Brace yourself for this but in 2014, 80,000 tonnes of pumpkin flesh went to landfill. 
80,000 tonnes when people are struggling to feed their children.
80,000 tonnes when we know children across the globe are dying, malnourished and weak.
80,000 tonnes when some older people are having to choose between eating and heating.
 
I deeply believe this is wrong. The core of my being screams when I hear these things and yet it continues. The supermarkets are as guilty as anyone, often selling the fruits as a carving kit, as if it isn't food and with very little information about what else you can do with a pumpkin but carve it. 
And as a nation we aren't used to cooking pumpkins and squash, with some people not having a clue how to prepare it, how to cook it or just what a great ingredient it is for so many dishes. And whereas we have books that relate to gluts of apples and the pumpkins cousin, the courgette, as yet a pumpkin and squash book is yet to appear.
 
So what to do about this enormous waste? 
Well this is just little old me but I'm going to try to blog as many pumpkin recipes as I can in the next few weeks in the lead up to Halloween and I ask you to join in. Share and cook the recipes, post recipes and photos of what you're cooking with your pumpkins and squash and be prepared to talk to people about the horror of this waste.
My first recipe is pumpkin and chilli soup which is the easiest recipe ever!!
Grab a pumpkin, peel and deseed it and chop it into pieces approx 1" in size. Pop the flesh into a roasting dish and roast for around 40-45 minutes or until soft, covered just with a sprinkling of olive oil and some salt and pepper.
In the meantime fry one onion and a chilli, chopped and deseeded if you don't want too much kick, and when your pumpkin is cooked, put it and your onion and chilli mix into a bowl. Add some stock, and blitz with a hand blender until smooth. And that is it!! 
Serve with a dollop of sour cream, and with a few of the pumpkin seeds, toasted, scattered on top. 
And if there's loads left over, it freezes really well.
 
Next recipe coming soon!!


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Helping the hedgehogs..........and other important stuff

This week, following a conversation at a meeting with Avon Wildlife Trust's new Chief Exec, Ian Barrett, about hedgehogs and slug pellets, and then a tweet from Ian linking a piece about toads being two thirds lost in the last 30 years, I began to really think about what seem to be really obvious links between loss of species that eat slugs and metaldehyde slug pellets. Now there's been lots of work done in this and I'm no scientist, so I'll post some links below, but my thoughts turned to why we use them.
I know lots of people work very hard to ensure they use only the organic pellets, but from the beginning of the season the garden centres and gardening sections of all the big superstores are full of metaldehyde type pellets. Usually these are next to advertising boards with huge photos of molluscs on, as if by mid March we need reminding of the blighters faces! For many years gardeners picked them up without thinking about the results on the local wildlife. Indeed that thought was never had. 
 

Hedgehogs, thrushes and toads were aplenty and our gardens were tidy places, places where nature was controlled. 
But today in 2016 there are some chilling stats.
We've lost 97% of our hedgehogs.
Thrush species are rapidly declining.
We've lost two thirds of our toads.
We've lost 90% of our wildflower meadows.
These stats aren't new. We know all this and so I wondered why we continue to use chemicals in our gardens that we all know are harmful to nature? 
I wondered what made us think it was ok?
But then I also realised that there's some really confusing advice out there, which leaves most of us scratching our heads and pondering.
So here are some thoughts......
Coffee grounds, whilst some feel they work, are not allowed to officially be used for slug prevention. So says the EU and that's why it's often hard to access them as giving away anything that's waste is complex. But equally they're great for soil conditioner and if that means a pile of it ends up round your prize Delphiniums, then I salute you!!
Beer traps whilst great mean the slugs are traipsing across your garden towards the yeast and will graze on the way, meaning they could munch your lettuces on the way to the pub!!
But beer traps can be a good part of a multi pronged attack.
Good, thick copper tapes do work but if you buy the thinner stuff, they're not overly bothered if they really want your prize dahlias. So unless you've got a fortune to spend, I wouldn't bother.
The organic pellets do work and as I write are deemed harmless to any creature who might eat said slug. But there is aquestion as to whether putting something that they like onto your garden, may just attract more molluscs in as they find them delicious. And who's to say they won't snack on your border before they eat the pellets? 
Nematodes do work but are an expensive option that will need applying regularly to ensure they work. Your neighbours of course won't have used nematodes so as their population becomes larger yours may end up increasing regardless of nematode use.
So what on earth do we do I hear you screaming. Well there are lots of options so don't despair. 
 

Dawn and dusk slug patrols are really necessary. I pick them off and put them into a bucket of salty water which despatches them. It's possible to pick a good many off both plants and paths at these times, and it definitely helps against the onslaught. I also go out straight after rainfall and pick them off. It's said that leaving a dead slug on a path will scare others away, but I'm definitely yet to be convinced of that!
But, that said, there are some really simple things that will save your seedlings without any outside help.  Pot them up from modules into 3" pots and grow them on. Once they fill these pots they'll be large enough to cope with most small infestations as long as you carry on with the dawn/dusk raids. Obviously this isn't useful for your beautiful herbaceous displays in the border as they appear in spring, but it's how to keep your new plants safe.
In the border there are ways of keeping them off. Egg shells, bran and coffee all work as long as you keep reapplying. There is product made of old bathroom suites crushed up that works an absolute treat sand rarely needs replacing, but equally broken and crushed bricks will work too.
But most importantly your garden needs its own biodiverse system. The smallest pond, some bird feeders, even if it's just a window feeder, a wildlife area that's a bit lost and untidy where beasts can hide, and feel safe. A hole in your neighbours fences for hedgehogs to wander through. Bug hotels, piles of rotting wood and even the dead heads of some plants are all important to encourage nature into your garden. And most importantly an understanding that if we over control, we actually kill off. That gardens need to support nature, rather than control it. 
A wise man, part owner of Common Farm Flowers, Fabrizzio Bocchia, was once heard to say 'look after the invertebrates, and you'll bring in everyone you need,' or something similar! So plant for insects, for pollinators and everything else, with perhaps a bit of persuasion, will come. 
It can be done but it's important to remember that you won't always win. And that doesn't matter because in the long term we will win if we stop controlling and start allowing. 
Now why this now? Well it's the perfect time to get organised!! Put up feeders, bird boxes, bug hotels now and by spring the birds will be in them. Make a wood pile now and you'll soon find frogs and toads nestling in with the autumn leaves ready to hibernate. You could even get a hedgehog box-I've never had one that was empty for long!! Start to plan your biodiverse garden over winter and by spring you'll see the difference. This is particularly important in cities of course. Recently we added a garden to a sunken roundabout in Bristol city centre and just planting lavender bought the bees rushing in to a space that had no wildlife in it at all. There's truth in the phrase, 'make it and they will come'!
And if you get to the point of feeling you must use pellets, please make sure they're organic the organic variety. 
Some people will of course ask why we should do this and what's so important about it really.
Well I'd like to think my grandchildren will be able to meet a toad or a hedgehog, and not rely on Mrs Tiggywinkle or Toad ofToad Hall to describe them to them. Don't you?!? 

 









Saturday, 1 October 2016

A trip to Arvensis Perennials

On Friday afternoon, on the last day in September which was warm and sunny, I finally made the trip into Wiltshire to see Arvensis Perennials who's site is just outside Bradford Upon Avon. Having had 3 very early starts and very long days, I was shattered an a bit of retail plant therapy at a lovely indie nursery was just what I needed. Having had a conversation with Arvensis via Instagram about the Eryngium yuccifolium I had seen at Hauser and Wirth, the Piet Oudolf garden which I visited recently and I will blog about soon, I really set off to buy one of these, but came home with a whole load more!!
 
The nursery is set up for wholesale really and the time will come I'm sure when it's only open to the public on specific days, but they'd told me to just rock up which I did. You have to love a nursery where you're shaken by the hand by both owners and sent off to make a list, so I did exactly what I was told!
The first thing that struck me was how clean and tidy the place was. There wasn't a weed to be seen, where the mypex on the beds was empty it was swept and clean, and the health of the plants was extraordinary. There are several large polytunnels set out into grasses, shade lovers, Mediterranean etc and then an outdoor space full of those plants that really do grow best outside with no fuss. And even outside not awed could be seen.
 
Now some of you will know that in my nursery days herbaceous perennials were where my heart truly lay, and to some extent still does. I marvel at the seasonal cycle of these plants and the way they change a garden through the year. I'd love to experiment more with them and I have a little personal project in the go that will allow this to start to happen, but more of that another time dear reader.
 
So what did you buy I hear you say.
Well I could have bought the lot!! I didn't buy any grasses because I simply couldn't make my mind up which to choose, but I did leave with a fine haul which included the Eryngium, Geranium phaeum Samobor, Helianthus, Lemon Queen, Ageratina altissima Chocolate, Kirengashoma palmata, Salvia sclarea Vatican White, Agastache Black Adder, Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing, a beautiful white Scabious, my favourite thistle in Cirsium Atropurpureum, a white Hesperis and a couple of ferns!!
 
So if you're looking at rejiggjng an area, look them up and take a look at their plant list because I can almost guarantee if you're looking for herbaceous perennials, Arvensis won't let you down.