I haven’t made a lot of soups in my time – carrot and coriander once years ago and a vegetable broth at River Cottage – but I have always wanted to make pumpkin soup with a homegrown pumpkin.
We did really well with the pumpkins this year and after my siblings had carved their spooky faces into two of them for Halloween, I turned one of them – forgotten which one, might have been Bob or Reg… – into soup. Cruel, but it was either that or feed him to the pigs.
Here is my super-duper easy pumpkin soup. You could add more seasoning to it of you would like more flavour. I have heard suggestions of chilli and peanut butter before…
Serves… a lot. At least ten people.
-1 medium sized pumpkin, 1.5kg, de-seeded -Olive oil, for roasting and frying -1 large onion, sliced -700ml boiling water -1 generous tsp Bouillon vegetable stock powder – A pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C. Cut the pumpkin up into chunks and place on a non-stick baking tray. Drizzle generously with olive oil and place in the centre of the oven. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until the pumpkin wedges are cooked and perhaps browning a little. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
In a deep-based pan, fry the onion in olive oil until golden brown.
Place the pumpkin and the onion in a food processor and blitz until mush.
Add the tsp veg stock powder to the boiling water and mix well. Slowly pour into the food processor and blitz the pumpkin again.
Scare the contents of the food processor into the pan and bring to the boil, stirring. Add the pinch of salt.
Serve hot in bowls. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Can be frozen too.
-Large knob of salted butter -1 large onion, finely sliced -2 garlic cloves, diced -450g chopped tomatoes -300g basmati/ risotto rice -200g shiitake or button mushrooms, cut into tiny pieces -2 handfuls of pak choi or spinach, shredded and de-stalked -Snap peas, to serve
Melt the butter in a large frying pan on the hob. Add the onion and fry until golden brown. Add the diced garlic followed by the chopped tomatoes (you ca use fresh or tinned, whatever you have on offer) and rice.
Bring the mixture to a high heat so that it is bubbling, stirring in the rice as it cooks. If the tomatoes start to dry out, boil some water in a kettle and add to the frying pan. Continue to stir until the rice has absorbed the liquid.
Stir in the chopped mushrooms. Leave until they have cooked a little in the mixture before stirring in the green pak choi or spinach leaves. Allow them to wilt.
Remove from the heat and serve onto plates with pea pods on the side. Enjoy.
Now, I don’t grow bananas. England isn’t that kind, even in the south. But I do love bananas. I do eat bananas, a lot. And I would love to grow bananas. But because I can hardly keep citrus trees alive and I’ve already half killed to plums and a pear in my short gardening life-time, best not to go there…
But I’ve done my research and I present to whoever can grow bananas an ‘all you need to know page’, I hope!
Banana, an edible fruit, botanically a berry, produced by several kinds of herbaceous plants in the genus Musa. In some countries, bananas used for cooking may be called plantains. The fruit is variable in size and colour and firmness, but usually elongated-ly curved with soft, rich flesh in starch covered in the middle by a rind that can be green, yellow (yay), red, purple or brown. The fruit grows from the top of the plant, hanging in clusters. Almost all bananas come from the wild species Musa acuminate and Musa balbisiana.
Worldwide, there is no sharp distinction between “bananas” and “plantains”. Especially in the Americas and Europe, “banana” usually refers to soft, sweet, dessert bananas, particularly those of the Cavendish group which are the main exports from banana-growing countries. By contrast, cultivatorswith firmer, starchier fruit are called “plantains”. In other regions, such as South East Asia, many more kinds of banana are grown and eaten, so the binary distinction is not useful and is not made in local languages.
The word banana is thought to be of West African origin, possibly from the Wolof word banaana, and passed into English via Spanish or Portuguese
All the above-ground parts of a banana plant grow from a structure usually called a corm. Plants are normally tall and fairly sturdy, and are often mistaken for trees but what appears to be a trunk is actually a “false stem” or pseudostem. Bananas grow in a wide variety of soils, as long as the soil is at least 60 cm deep, has good drainage and is not compacted. The leaves of banana plants are composed of a “stalk”, petiole, and a blade, lamina. The base of the petiole widens to form a sheath – the tightly packed sheaths make up the pseudostem, which is all that supports the plant. The edges of the sheath meet when it is first produced, making it tubular. As new growth occurs in the centre of the pseudostem the edges are forced apart. Cultivated banana plants vary in height, depending on the variety and growing conditions. Most are around 5 m (16 ft) tall, with a range from ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ plants at around 3 m (10 ft) to ‘Gros Michel’ at 7 m (23 ft) or more. Leaves are spirally arranged and may grow 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) long and 60 cm (2.0 ft) wide. They are easily torn by the wind, resulting in the familiar frond look. When a banana plant is mature, the corm stops producing new leaves and begins to form a flower spike or an inflorescence. A stem develops which grows up inside the pseudostem, carrying the immature inflorescence until eventually it emerges at the top. Each pseudostem normally produces a single inflorescence, also known as the “banana heart”. After fruiting, the pseudostem dies, but offshoots will normally have developed from the base, so that the plant as a whole is perennial. In the plantation system of cultivation, only one of the offshoots will be allowed to develop in order to maintain spacing. The inflorescence contains many bracts between rows of flowers. The female flowers, which can develop into fruit, appear in rows further up the stem, closer to the leaves, from the rows of male flowers. The banana fruits develop from the banana heart, in a large hanging cluster, made up of tiers (called “hands”), with up to 20 fruit to a tier. The hanging cluster is known as a bunch, comprising 3–20 tiers or commercially as a “banana stem”, and can weigh 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb). Individual banana fruits (commonly known as a banana or “finger”) average 125 grams (0.276 lb), of which approximately 75% is water and 25% dry matter (nutrient table, lower right). The fruit has been described as a “leathery berry”. There is a protective outer layer (a peel or skin) with numerous long, thin strings (the phloem bundles), which run lengthwise between the skin and the edible inside. In cultivated varieties, the seeds are diminished nearly to non-existence; their remnants are tiny black specks in the interior of the fruit.
Farmers in SE Asia and Papua New Guinea first domesticated bananas. Recent archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence at Kuk Swamp in the Western Highland Province of Papua New Guinea suggests that banana cultivation there goes back to at least 5000BC and possibly to 8000 BC. It is likely that other species were later and independently domesticated elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is the region of primary diversity of the banana. Areas of secondary diversity are found in Africa, indicating a long history of banana cultivation in the region. There are numerous references to the banana in Islamic texts beginning in the 9th century. By the 10th century the banana appears in texts from Palestine and Egypt. From there it diffused into North Africa and Muslim Iberia. During the medieval ages, bananas from Granada were considered among the best in the Arab world. Bananas were certainly grown in the Cyprus by the late medieval period. Writing in 1458, an Italian traveller and writer wrote favourably of the extensive farm produce of the estates at Episkopi, near modern-day Limassol, including the region’s banana plantations. Bananas were introduced to the Americas by Portuguese sailors who brought the fruits from West Africa in the 16th century. Portuguese colonists started banana plantations in the Atlantic Islands, Brazil, and western Africa. North Americans began consuming bananas on a small scale at very high prices shortly after the Civil War, though it was only in the 1880s that the food became more widespread. As late as the Victorian era, bananas were not widely known in Europe, although they were available. Verne introduces bananas to his readers with detailed descriptions in Around the World in Eighty Days in 1872. The earliest modern banana plantations originated in the Western Caribbean zone, involving the combination of modern transportation networks of steamships and railroads with the development of refrigeration that allowed more time between harvesting and ripening. Their political manoeuvres gave rise to the term Banana Republic for states like Honduras and Guatemala. The vast majority of the world’s bananas today are cultivated for family consumption or for sale on local markets. India is the world leader in this sort of production, but many other Asian and African countries where climate and soil conditions allow cultivation also host large populations of banana growers who sell at least some of their crop.
While in no danger of outright extinction, the most common edible banana cultivar Cavendish (extremely popular in Europe and the Americas) could become unviable for large-scale cultivation in the next 10–20 years. Its predecessor, Gros Michel discovered in the 1820s, suffered this fate. Like almost all bananas, Cavendish lacks genetic diversity, which makes it vulnerable to diseases, threatening both commercial cultivation and small-scale subsistence farming.
Bananas are a great dietary source of potassium. One medium-sized banana (118 grams) contains 9% of the RDI. Potassium is good for protecting your heart from disease, by lowering your blood pressure. Eating a good amount of potassium can decrease your chance of heart disease by 27%. Also, potassium is good for you hair and nail growth, keeping them strong and un-brittle. Dietary fiber has been linked to many health benefits, including improved digestion. A medium-sized banana contains about 3 grams of fibre. Bananas contain mainly two types of fiber:
Pectin: Decreases as the banana ripens.
Resistant starch: Found in unripe bananas.
Resistant starch escapes digestion and ends up in our large intestine, where it becomes food for the beneficial gut bacteria. Additionally, some cell studies propose that pectin may help protect against colon cancer. Bananas are often referred to as the perfect food for athletes, largely due to their mineral content and easily digested carbs. Eating bananas may help reduce exercise-related muscle cramps and soreness. The reason for the cramps is unknown, but a popular theory blames a mixture of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
So what do you do when you (are lucky) and grow a large number of bananas or have a large bunch sitting in your kitchen, quickly turning brown?
Well, here are some ideas to incorporate bananas into your daily diet:
Sliced up on cereal or porridge with milk for breakfast is great.
Mashed with strawberries makes a good light pudding or snack.
Sliced with greek yoghurt is delicious.
Banana and peanut butter/Nutella on toast anyone…?
Sliced or mashed banana with milk and a dash of sugar.
Banana smoothie/ milkshake
But the best recipe for browning/very brown that they are past edible, is banana cake.
My favourite is Chocolate Banana Loaf (what a surprise), but to begin with, I offer you this plain version. Never toss your brown bananas away, just shove them in this delicious cake, or if you have too many, bananas freeze very well. To defrost, put them in the microwave and mix them into another cake batter later on.
Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly known as rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves (similar to hemlock needles) and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea” – how beautiful!
The plant is also sometimes called anthos from the ancient Greek word ἄνθος, meaning “flower”. Rosemary has a fibrous root system. It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia, but is reasonably hardy in cool climates. It can withstand droughts, surviving a severe lack of water for lengthy periods so perfect for the really sandy soil gardens. Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) tall, rarely 2 m (6 ft 7 in). The leaves are evergreen, 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) long and 2–5 mm broad, green above, and white below, with dense, short, woolly hair. The plant flowers in spring and summer in temperate climates, but the plants can be in constant bloom in warm climates; flowers are white, pink, purple or deep blue. Rosemary also has a tendency to flower outside its normal flowering season. It has been known to flower as late as early December, and as early as mid-February (in the northern hemisphere).
The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the “Rose of Mary”. Rosemary was considered sacred to ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary. Rosemary was often entwined into a wreath, dipped in scented water and worn by brides at the alter. The wreath symbolized fidelity, love, abiding friendship and remembrance of the life the woman had led prior to her marriage. The crowns and garlands of rosemary at weddings, in turn, led to the lays, or amorous ballads of the Troubadours, 1100 – 1350, referring to rosemary as “Coronary”. Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Henry the Eighth’s 4th wife, wore a rosemary wreath at their wedding. At that time, wealthy bridal couples would also present a gilded branch of rosemary to each wedding guest. Robert Hacket, in a wedding sermon in 1607 said, “Let this Rosemarinus, this flower of men, ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your heads and hearts.” Rosemary root was “seethed in wine vinegar” and the lotion was then used to wash the feet of a thief. The lotion was thought to sap the strength of the robber so that he would not longer commit robbery, steal or do any further harm. The Countess of Hainault, Jeanne of Valois (1294 – 1342), sent her daughter Queen Phillippa (1311 – 1369), wife of King Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), an accounting of the virtues of rosemary and it is presumed a number of plants or cuttings accompanied the gift. The original manuscript can be found in the British Museum. The Countess suggests that laying the leaves under the head of a man while he sleeps will “doth away evell sprirites and suffereth not the dreeme fowl dremes ne to be afearde.”
Bancke, in his work Herball from 1525, suggests techniques to use rosemary as a remedy for both gout of the legs and to keep the teeth from all evils. He also recommended that smelling rosemary regularly would “keep thee youngly”. Serapio suggested that a garland of rosemary worn about the head was a remedy for the “stuffing of the head, that commeth through coldnes of the brain”. He also says that rosemary grew so plentifully in Languedoc (a former province in south-eastern France) that “the inhabitants burne scarce anie other fuel”.
Rosemary was also believed to offer protection from the plague. In 1603, when bubonic plague killed 38,000 Londoners, the demand was so high that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful. To put that price increase into perspective, one price list from 1625 indicated that one could obtain 18 gallons of good ale or double beer with carriage delivery for only 3 shillings or an entire ‘fat pig’ for 1 shilling.
Rosemary has long had a popular reputation for improving memory. The Guardian reported in 2017 that sales of Rosemary oil to students in the UK studying for exams had skyrocketed because of Rosemary’s perceived benefits to memory (that was the summer my mum started feeding my sister rosemary for her A-Level exams…). The plant has also been used as a symbol for remembrance during war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” (Hamlet, iv. 5.). In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are worn on ANZAC Day to signify remembrance; the herb grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Rosemary history includes a number of references to its reputation for strengthening the memory and as a symbol for remembrance. Greek scholars were known to twine rosemary in their hair when studying for exams in the hope of aiding their memories. According to one old ballad:
“Rosemary is for remembrance
Between us day and night,
Wishing that I may always have
You present in my sight.”
Parkinson (1567-1650), the King’s Botanist to Charles I, mentions that in countries where rosemary was well-suited and grows to a large size that thin boards of rosemary were used to make lutes and other instruments, carpenters rules, and a myriad of other implements. The French believed that combing their hair once a day with a rosemary wood comb would prevent giddiness. Rosemary wood was so prized that unscrupulous merchants would often use less expensive woods and simply scent them with rosemary oil. In Spain, rosemary was used as a protection against witchcraft and menaces on the road. George Borrow mentioned how he came to learn about this superstition in his work The Bible in Spain (1843). He first mentions meeting a traveler who had adorned his hat with rosemary and later mentions a lady, who concerned for Borrow’s own safety, offered him some for his own hat.
In 1987, researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey patented a food preservative derived from rosemary. The chemical called rosmaridiphenol, is a very stable antioxidant useful in cosmetics and plastic food packaging.
Set out rosemary in spring, planting seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart. Plants are slow growing at first, but pick up speed in their second year. Feed with a good fertiliser and keep well watered. Mulch your plants to keep roots moist in summer and insulated in winter, but take care to keep mulch away from the crown of the plant. In the spring, prune dead wood out of the plants.
Since it is attractive and drought-tolerant, rosemary is used as an ornamental plant in gardens and for xeriscape landscaping, especially in regions of Mediterranean climate. It is considered easy to grow and pest-resistant. Rosemary can grow quite large and retain attractiveness for many years, can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges, and has been used for topiary. It is easily grown in pots and the ground cover cultivars spread widely, with a dense texture. Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open, sunny position. It will not withstand waterlogging and some varieties are susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral to alkaline conditions (pH 7–7.8) with average fertility. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot (from a soft new growth) 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.
Rosemary leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffing and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. Fresh or dried leaves are used in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. They have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma which complements many cooked foods. Herbal tea can be made from the leaves. When roasted with meats or vegetables, the leaves leave a mustard-like aroma with an additional fragrance of charred wood, compatible with barbecues.
Mum’s Herby Bread
-1tsp fast-action dried yeast -500g strong white bread flour -1tsp salt -1tbsp sugar -380ml tepid water -20ml olive oil
For the herbs: -1 handful rosemary -1 handful thyme -1 handful sage -2-4 large garlic cloves, diced -olive oil, for brushing
Add 1tsp of yeast to a large bowl. Add the flour, salt and sugar. Mix in a little bit of water at a time, turning over the ingredients with your hands or an electric machine’s dough hook. Once you have a sticky, but not soggy dough consistency, tip into another large bowl coated with the olive oil. Cover with a tea-towel or a plastic bag and place in a warm location (airing cupboard is good), for about an hour or two, or until the loaf has risen.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. Roll out the dough onto a surface dusted with semolina or flour and knead into a round shape. Place on a lined baking tray. Brush with olive oil before scattering a handful of rosemary, thyme, sage and diced garlic cloves on top.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. The bread will be golden on top and will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Not to try and scare fellow gardeners but hey, its not far off till March – the biggest sowing month of the year!
This is when my sowing indoors becomes nuts, but because of the frosts there is little you can sow directly outdoors at this time of year still.
What you can sow are the hardy things like Broad Beans, winter Salad – Lettuce, Meteor Peas … but they all need to be sown under horticultural fleece and, ideally, a cold frame.
But do you know what is a good idea to sow directly outdoors first thing in the season, that has to remain under the cover of fleece the whole year round thanks to pesky flies? Carrots.
Carrots don’t like to be transplanted, they need a lot of time to develop, and need covering from carrot flies anyway so why not make a little bed and sow some seeds?
To make you want to grow your own carrots, here is a recipe to get you enthusiastic. Do you know what carrots go great in? Bolognese.
*To make it vegetarian, omit the meat. You can put pre-soaked or canned kidney beans in instead, but you don’t need to add more protein if you are serving it with grated cheese.*
-Olive oil, for frying -1 large onion, finely sliced -4-6 giant carrots, or the equivalent as small ones -2 garlic cloves, finely diced -x2 450g cans of tinned tomatoes -500g beef mince (optional) -Dash of soy sauce -Dash of Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce -Pinch of salt -Pinch of pepper -Spaghetti, to serve (about 500g) -Peas, runner beans or broccoli, to serve -400g grated cheddar cheese, to serve
Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onion and the grated carrot together, stirring the contents. You want the carrot to lose some of its orange colour, to cook, but you don’t want it all to burn.
Once the carrot is cooked, add the tinned tomatoes and the diced garlic. Mix in well.
In a separate frying pan, fry the mince meat if using. Once cooked, add to the sauce, or if using kidney beans, drain if from a can and add to the sauce straight away instead. Mix well.
Add the flavourings and stir. Leave it to come to the boil and then turn the flame down and allow it to simmer.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in boiling hot water until cooked through. Bring another pan to the boil and cook the greens.
Serve with a helping of spaghetti and greens, the bolognese on top, and a good helping of grated cheddar.
Left overs can be used for chilli con carne (just add diced chilli) or for lasagne.
I always struggle with finding a vegetarian protein at Christmas and then I struggle to find one to pair with cranberry sauce afterwards. Cheese is always an option, it famously goes well with cranberry and redcurrant, but I’m not a huge fan of it at the moment. I love cranberry sauce with potatoes, and Brussels sprouts (Recipe: Potato, Brussel Sprout and Cranberry Bake), but that isn’t enough protein to tick the boxes for a well-balanced meal.
I tried red split lentils last night. I like red split lentils because I don’t have to soak them for hours before hand when I need an instant meal, they are very nutritious and filling and never taste how you think they are going to (they have a lemony taste to me). I use them a lot in daal (Courgettes and carrot Daal) but they are actually very nice just boiled, plain. And even more nice with a little bit of sweet cranberry sauce added to them.
Do you know what else goes really well with cranberry sauce? Runner beans. I dug out a packet we froze from this years harvest.
I’ve got another 3 1/2 large jars of cranberry sauce from December left to eat up… 🙂
Lentils, potatoes, runner beans and cranberry sauce
-4 medium sized potatoes -250g red split lentils -8 serving spoons worth of runner beans -4 generous tsp of cranberry sauce, to serve
Pierce holes in the potatoes and place in the microwave. Heat for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and squishy and have cooked through.
Meanwhile, bring a small pan of water to the boil. Add the red split lentils and simmer for about 15 minutes or until they have absorbed the water and are cooked. If there is any spare water, drain, and put to one side.
Bring another pan of water to the boil and add sliced beans into it. Boil for about 6 minutes or until the beans are cooked. Drain.
Place a potato on each plate and slice open. Spoon lentils next to it and 2 serving spoons of runner beans. Add a large dollop of cranberry sauce to serve.
I will admit it – I used to hate carrot cake. The idea of a vegetable in a cake, an orange vegetable at that, was just crazy. But, now I can literally eat my own words. I’ve had at least three different types of really good carrot cake recently, but the best so far has been a recipe my mum made from the River Cottage Veg Patch handbook.
Now, she adjusted the recipe a bit. She added more dried fruit, salted butter instead of oil and any extra salt, instead of apple sauce she grated a whole apple and a pear (in a food processor) because our trees have been so generous this year, she ground the walnuts up (because that’s our trick ingredient to a good homemade cake) and she made the mistake of adding the syrup that is meant to go over the top at the end into the actual cake, but it was so much better. It wasn’t sickly sweet or sticky then, it made the cake instead moister and more delicious.
It is a darling of a recipe and very good for you too!
River Cottage Carrot Walnut Cake
– 150g sultanas, raisins, currants -220g self-raising flour -1 tsp baking powder -1 tsp ground cinnamon -1 tsp ground ginger -Pinch of ground cloves -220g light brown sugar, plus an extra 3 tbsp for the syrup -116g salted butter -Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange -2 eggs, lightly beaten -225g apple and pear, coarsely grated -270g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated -80g walnuts, ground -1 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a 20–22cm square cake tin, about 8cm deep, with baking paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves.
In a large bowl, whisk together the 220g sugar, butter and orange zest until well combined, then whisk in the eggs until the mixture is creamy. Fold in the apple and pear, followed by the flour mixture until just combined. Next fold in the grated carrots and ground walnuts.
While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. Put the orange juice into a small saucepan with the 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Warm over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Fold into the cake with the sultanas.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, until a fine skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the cake appears to be overbrowning before it is done, cover the top loosely with foil.
Stand the cake tin on a wire rack and leave to cool. Serve hot or cold. Store in an air-tight tin.