-Olive oil, for frying (a generous amount) -1 large onion, finely sliced -2 medium sized courgettes/ zucchini, grated -2 large garlic cloves, diced -500g tomato passata (you can use tinned tomatoes but passata gives this dish a better texture) -Handful of fresh oregano leaves -1tsp dark soy sauce -1 1/4tsp Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce -500g spaghetti, cooked -250g parmesan, grated -Runner beans, cooked, to serve
Fry the onion in the olive oil in a deep-sided dish. Add the courgette and continue to fry until the courgette is starting to turn crispy and the onions are golden brown.
Add the garlic followed swiftly by the passata and an extra cup of water. Stir.
Tear the oregano leaves and stir them in along with the soy sauce and the Lea and Perrins. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Serve the sauce on top of cooked spaghetti with a handful of grated parmesan and some runner beans.
But it is getting tricky to get the courage up enough to venture out into the heat trap in the veg garden to pick the fruit.
Someone told me this has been a really good year for strawberries, all due to the time the rain fell this winter (which I thought was all the time. Incessantly. Non-stop). It has certainly been a good strawberry year for us. I’ve been eating them all the time for last couple of weeks.
On top of the strawberries, the raspberries have taken off, along with the red currants, boysenberries, jostaberries and the blackcurrants. I think I almost had a breakdown end of last week due to the overwhelming amount that needed to be picked.
Strawberries are those red gems in the veg patch. They are so good for so many different recipes. You have Strawberry Jam, Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam, Strawberries and Elderflower Cake. Strawberries are amazing with natural Greek yoghurt, chocolate cake (which we have been having a lot of, of course), chocolate mousse, mashed with banana (oh, childhood), banana and strawberry smoothies. But one of my recent-ish discoveries has been how good strawberries go with just plain old vanilla ice cream.
It is no surprise that they go wonderfully well with some food chocolate ice cream (because what doesn’t go well with chocolate ice cream?), but as I am not someone particularly ecstatic about the idea of vanilla ice cream, I was very surprised when I had to eat it for dessert at one time in my life, how well the mixture went together.
The subtle vanilla twang and the creamy consistency of the ice cream got marvellously with this juicy berry, but it also looks so spectacular together: the red and white colours mixing together.
I have been replicating that dreamy match lately with some homemade vanilla ice cream (oh yes, I have recently discovered how yummy and easy it is to make ice cream, even without an ice cream maker).
So, lots of strawberries? No problem! Here is your next recipe…
Lots of netting currently going on in the garden. Fortunately been able to pick lots of strawberries before the birds got to them. Picked the first raspberries yesterday.
Lettuce is harvested daily, more cucumbers today (reminder to self, unsure about Femspot variety but Passandra as fantastic as always). Broadbeans continuing. Picked first snap peas and podded peas today. They were delicious.
Finally some spinach is germinating. I have had real trouble with the seeds this year and bought a new packet from Sainsbury’s to give it one final go. No sign of my carrots though…
Remember my love of jam? Not that I am trying to hit you over the head with it or anything…
I fell in love with raspberry jam a couple of years ago. Then it was homemade plum jam. Then blackcurrant. This year, it has been strawberry. I just can’t get enough.
You will remember my overly-excited post about harvesting enough strawberries to make strawberry and rhubarb jam (Recipe: Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam) and hoping that one day I would pick enough to freeze for purely strawberry jam? Well, my dear friends, that dream came true and it is a sweet, sticky, yummy dream, perfect for finishing off August with slathered on homemade toast and butter.
Strawberry jam is a little tricky: the fruit is very low in pectin meaning it is most likely going to end up running all over your toast or scone so pectin rich liquid (what I use) in abundance or pectin jam sugar is pretty much an obligation. Then there is the sweetness of the fruit. You don’t want to overly sweeten the jam with sugar otherwise it becomes sickly. To counter this, I would advise using lots of lemon – this will also add pectin to the mixture. Finally, do you want whole strawberries in your jam or just a straight jelly? To get rid of the whole fruit, you need to simmer the fruit down to mush. For my batch, I chose to go halfway – stew the fruit before adding in the sugar so that it created a jammy sauce for some whole fruit to float in.
– 1kg strawberries – 1kg granulated sugar – Juice of at least 3 lemons – 135 ml Certo Apple liquid pectin
1. Put the strawberries in a large pan over a high flame. Stir the fruit as it begins to bubble and some of the juice starts to ‘leak’ into the pan so that the whole berries are swimming in the sauce. Add the sugar and lemon juice, stirring in.
2. Stir over a high heat and then allow the fruit to stew, checking the temperature with a jam thermometer. When it has reached boiling point, allow it to bubble furiously for at least ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Meanwhile, put a china plate inside the freezer so that it is cold. Spoon a small dollop of jam onto the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute. Take it out and run a fingertip straight through the middle of the jam splodge on the plate. If the jam ‘crinkles’ and leaves a trail as you push your fingertip through, then it is done. If it doesn’t, continue to boil the jam and check to see if it is improving. Once it is nearly done, turn of the heat. Pour the liquid pectin into the pan and stir in. Check the pectin test again to make sure that it is setting. Allow the jam to cool slightly, for probably at least half an hour.
4. Once done, bottle in sterilised jars (place wax discs over the surface to preserve it longer before putting the lid on) and store in a cool, dry place overnight, allowing it to set. You can use the jam from the next day onwards.
I picked the last of the rhubarb just in time to make two batches of strawberry and rhubarb time, something I have been whining about for a long time of getting round to doing. It tasted pretty good and a great way of padding out your strawberries to make enough jam if you are lacking. It is like a burnt pink colour when it is done and looks lovely in the jars. I used fresh rhubarb picked straight from the patch and strawberries I had defrosted from the freezer, gradually adding to them over the weeks to build up enough for 100g worth.
When using jam jars, if you are planning to keep them for yourself, you can use any jar you like from a shop bought produce. If you are planning to sell them, you need to purchase some unlabeled jars without any slogans on them – it would not do to sell homemade jam in a Bonne Maman jar so keep those lovely ones for yourself. Also, I would recommend investing in some wax discs to put over the surface of the bottled jam before you put the lid on to prevent it from moulding quickly. Lots of jam that I made last year, perfectly well and sterilised, has still grown a little mould on top whenever I now open it. It is slightly unappetising.
On that charming note, here is the recipe:
Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam
(Makes about 4 370g jars worth)
– 500g rhubarb – 500g strawberries – 500g granulated sugar – Juice of 1-3 lemons – 1/2 bottle of 250g Certo Apple Pectin (or another form of pectin)
Cut the rhubarb into pieces, about 2cm big, to help it break down quickly and so that you do not have large chunks of rhubarb balancing on your toast. Put it in a large pan with the strawberries. Turn the heat up high and bring to the boil, stirring to prevent burning.
Add the lemon juice and sugar, stirring them in.
Bring the entire mixture to a furious boil, stirring occasionally. Allow it to boil for probably about ten minutes, until the mixture is thickening.
Meanwhile, put a china plate inside a freezer to use for testing the pectin later on. When you are ready, put a small dollop of the jam onto the china plate a put it back in the freezer for a minute or two. Take it out and run your finger through the middle of the jam – if the mixture wrinkles, it has enough pectin in it. If it does not, continue to boil the mixture and check again continuously.
When ready, turn the heat off and stir in 1/2 bottle of liquid pectin of choice to make sure that it is set. Allow the mixture to cool completely before bottling and placing a cool, dry, dark place overnight to allow it to set.
To sterilise jam jars, preheat the oven to 150C and put the jars and lids inside for about five minutes until they are hot to the touch. Using oven gloves, remove from the oven and leave them to cool completely before using.
So there are plenty of fruits and vegetables in the world and only so many hours to talk about how to store them. Perhaps we should start with what is around right now and work from there?
Salad leaves – Lettuce, rocket, watercress and other cresses, like land cress or crinkle cress, (watercress wilts quickest) and spinach (wilts second quickest) are best eaten straight away once they have been picked and washed. To store it, I put mine in containers in the fridge mostly because I know I will be using it over the next few days. Other people keep theirs in plastic bags or between kitchen roll. If you have left the salad out for too long and it has wilted, leave it in a bowl of cold water to rejuvenate it before refrigerating it immediately. You can freeze green leaves, like spinach or lettuce but they will be incredibly soggy and are only useful for cooking. You might as well stick to fresh leaves rather than freezing them.
Carrots – If you are using them over a couple of days then they can be again kept in the fridge in a plastic bag or a container. Otherwise, the traditional way of storing them is in a cool, dark place in a box filled with dry sand. This can also be done to swedes, celeriac, sweet chestnuts, parsnips, celery and beetroot (celery will keep in the fridge for ages. Swedes and celeriac can be left in the ground for months at a time).
Peas – Best eaten as soon as they have been podded if consumed raw. If they are slightly too old to be delicate enough to eat raw, pop them into a pan of boiling water for 2 minutes, drain and serve. To freeze them, once you have boiled them, place them in freezing ice-cold water for a few minutes until cool. Place them in plastic bags ideal for the freezer, make sure no air has been caught inside. Freeze them and use over the next few months. This is the same technique for runner beans, broad beans or sweetcorn (by the way, sweetcorn loses its taste rapidly after being picked. It needs to be cooked and eaten or frozen asap).
Onions – Once pulled out of the ground, lay them out on newspaper to dry out, turning them over so that both sides are dealt with. Then, suspend them from the ceiling in a cool room or inside hessian/netted sacks. We use our utility room as it is very cool and is not too light.
Garlic – harvest the bulbs whole from the ground and place in a cool, dark place. We keep ours on a low-down shelf in out kitchen. When using, take one segment from the entire garlic bulb at a time, peel and use. From my experience, homegrown garlic tends not to keep as long as shop bought garlic so only pull them up from the ground a little at a time, don’t be tempted to harvest them all at once.
Potatoes – I worked out last year that potatoes can be left in the ground for a long time and you do not need to rush to dig them up unless you have a wire worm or slug problem. Even if they have blight, they will keep better in the ground rather than out of it. However, to store them once they have been harvested, copy the same technique used for drying onions, laying them out on newspaper and turning them over. Then put them inside hessian sacks in a dark place, like a cupboard under the stairs to prevent them from turning green and becoming unusable.
Berries – If you can’t eat them all fresh at once because you have a glut or want to spread them out for later in the year, freeze them in plastic bags or containers once they have been washed and slightly dried. To use them, defrost well and drain the excess liquids that will taste a little to fridgey. Some berries like raspberries, blueberries or grapes should taste fine uncooked once they have been frozen. Other berries, like strawberries, have such a high water content that they will taste strange once defrosted raw. I prefer to use my frozen fruit for jam or inside cooked puddings, like muffins, cakes, stewed fruit dishes, crumbles or pies. I save the fresh fruit for eating uncooked.
Summer squashes: Courgettes – You might have been starting to pick some already. These are best sliced from the plant, washed and cooked straight away but can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, depending on the variety and the ripeness of the vegetable. Best stored in an air-tight container or a plastic bag. Boil, fry, grill or roast them. Courgettes cannot be frozen because of their high water content, much like strawberries. Winter squashes (e.g. Butternut squashes and pumpkins can be frozen once they have been roasted – Slice, into small pieces, lay out on a baking tray and drizzle generously in olive oil. Roast in a preheated oven of 180C for about 40 minutes or until they are browned. Allow to cool. Place in plastic bags and freeze straight away). Courgettes and cucumbers will only become sloppy mush when frozen so do store them only in the fridge or eat straight away.
Cabbages: Can be stored whole in the fridge for a few days. If the outer leaves start to brown, wilt too much or go mushy, peel them off and discard them and use the rest if unaffected. If cooked, cabbages can last in a container for about three days. This is the same for cauliflower and broccoli (broccoli seems to brown slightly quicker out of the two when stored in the fridge).
Spring Onions – Can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days. If the outside skin starts to dry up or the stem wilts too much, cut and peel the outside coating off and use what is underneath if it is unaffected.
Radishes – Likewise, they can be stored whole in the fridge or cut up and kept raw in a container for about two or three days before they will start to brown and become un-appetising.
Kale – Store in an air-tight container, raw, for up to a week maximum inside the fridge. Once cooked, store in a container for two or three days in the fridge.
Oriental greens – Think Pak Choi, Tatsoi, Komatsuna, Chinese Cabbage, Mibuna, Mitzuna, Mizpoona… Once cooked, they can be stored for about two days. Raw, they might be able to last a little longer in the fridge before they wilt or turn to liquid. Treat them more like spinach, liable to becoming soggy after some time being picked.
Tomatoes – It might be slightly early to write about tomatoes but it is getting close enough. I did not know until last year that tomatoes keep their looks and taste longer if stored outside the fridge. Gardner James Wong (‘Grow for Flavour’) suggests keeping them in a fruit bowl. We tried this last year and it does work well. It also allows some of the slightly under-developed ones to ripen. If freezing the tomatoes, dunk them briefly into a pan of boiling water to shed their skins before placing them into cold water, likewise for the beans and peas. Store in plastic bags in the freezer and use in dishes where you would use cooked/tinned tomatoes or make tomato chutney.
The garden strawberry or Fragaria has been cultivated worldwide for its delicious red fruit. The first garden strawberries are believed to have been bred in Brittany in the 1750s through a cross of Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America and Fragaria chiloensis that was brought from Chile in 1714. This new production of strawberry as replaced the woodland strawberry, Fragaria vesca which was the first strawberry species cultivated in the 17th century.
The strawberry fruit was mentioned in ancient Roman literature, referring to its use in medicine. The entire strawberry plant was used for medicating depressive illnesses.
The French started taking the woodland strawberry into their gardens to harvest during the 14th century; King Charles V had 1,200 strawberry plants in his royal garden. During the early 15th century, French monks used strawberries to illuminate manuscripts.
During the 16th century the strawberry plant became more of an interest in the world of medicine and botany as more scientists began to name the various species of the plant. In England, the demand for strawberries had increased by mid-century. Thomas Wolsey invented the combination of strawberries and cream in the court of Henry VIII. By 1578 instructions for growing and harvesting strawberries were written.
In the 17th century, the species Fragaria virginiana was introduced to Europe from North America, an important part in the history of the strawberry as it produced the fruit we recognise on our supermarket shelves today. It gradually spread through Europe but it was not until it was introduced to the Chilean strawberry in France that it produced the modern strawberry. Strawberry cultivators vary. On average, a strawberry plant has about 200 seeds on its external membrane.
The time to plant strawberry plants is late summer and early autumn to allow the roots to establish into the soil that will still be warm.
Choose a spot in the full sun for the best harvest, a plot where you have not grown any of the Solanaceae family or chrysanthemums, susceptible to verticillium wilt of the leaves. Prepare the ground well with well-rotted manure dug in along with some Blood, Fish and Bone and dig in some mulch for good measure before sprinkling a generous amount over the surface to suppress the weeds. Dig a trench or holes and spread the roots of the plant widely, making sure that the crown is level with the surface. Allow 50cm between your plants, ideally but strawberries are not too fussy when it comes to space. Water and firm in. Keep the plant well watered over the next few weeks as they become established.
I have to admit, I have been amazed at the hardiness of wild strawberries. They spread like wild-fire in the garden. We have so many, I can afford to lose a few when weeding every now and then (they grow everywhere: vegetable beds, under trees, flower beds, in the middle of the paths, even in the grass). Over the last year when I was clearing and extending the vegetable plot, I dug up large collections of wild strawberries and shamefully and lazily abandoned them in piles. They all survived, even those dug up in boiling hot sun and left with their roots not planted in and no watering offered. If anyone ever wants something easy to look after (and spreadable), wild strawberries are the way to go.
To prevent the strawberries from spreading too much, snip off the runners. After the fruiting season is over, Mark Diacono, ‘River Cottage Handbook: Fruit’, recommends that you ‘snip off all old fruiting stems, runners and leaves, give your strawberry bed a good comfrey feed and add more well-rotted manure’ to encourage a healthy growth for the next season. Diacono also suggests that strawberry plants should be replaced after four years.
When the strawberries start to grow fruit, place straw underneath them to prevent them from rotting from contact with the ground.
Depending on the varieties of the strawberries you have, you can be harvesting the fruit from May until October. I certainly have earlier varieties in my garden. A tip I learnt from my online gardening course (MyGardenSchool : www.my-garden-school.com, ‘Advanced Vegetable Growing and Self-Sufficiency with Sally Nex) was to pot some strawberries inside the greenhouse over winter. Following this advice, I got a slightly earlier harvest of strawberries than the ones developing outdoors. It is a good trick if there is a late spring or summer.
Pick the berries when they are coloured or give slightly under the pressure of your fingertips if they are still a little white. Wash and eat straight away (I give the green tops of the strawberries to the poultry or pigs) or freeze.
My biggest pest pain with strawberries are birds. They leave most other things alone, I still get a good crop of raspberries and blackcurrants but they seem to adore strawberries and redcurrants so these are the two things for me to net straight away. They will always manage to get through the netting (you need large enough holes for the pollinating bees to get through over strawberry beds) but netting does drastically reduce the amount of fruit stolen. I am all for sharing and being kind to nature, I love having my little robin friend in my garden and the blackbirds and thrushes but if they have the opportunity they will eat the whole harvest immediately – which is what happened last year. Determined not to be defeated again, I have been less fussy about how red they are, they taste just as delicious pink or with a little dash of white if they are not completely ruby-red, and we have been netting patches as much as possible. By the way, turning one of those hanging garden baskets people grow flowers in upside down is great protection for a single strawberry or small collection.
Other pests for strawberries are of course slugs and snails.
Strawberries are not too fussy about companion planting. Plants that are beneficial to strawberries themselves are: Borage (makes fruit taste nicer and attracts beneficial insects), Bush Beans (acts as a fertiliser, nitrogen-fixer. It also repels some beetles), Caraway (attracts parasitic wasps and flies that get rid of strawberry pests) and Lupin (fixes nitrogen in the soil like Bush Beans and attracts honey bees).
Plants that do not agree with being planted alongside strawberries are members of the cabbage family (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, etc.) as they stunt their growth and as I mentioned previously, the members of the Solanaceae family (potatoes, aubergine, tomatoes, peppers) as these are members of the same family as strawberries and diseases will be spread. Strawberries should be left to the same patch to establish themselves unless it is necessary to move them. Planting them in a bed alongside, say potatoes, will build up the risk of infecting your strawberry plants with a disease and that would be a shame. Strawberry plants are an investment for a number of years, after all.
To save space, as well as strawberry beds, we plant them around fruit trees and bushes where they can be left to stay along with bee friendly flowers to attract the pollinators to the strawberries and trees themselves.
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, a good source of manganese and other nutrients in less significant amounts. They contain modest amounts of unsaturated fatty acids in their seed oil. Research suggests that strawberry consumption may be linked with lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases and that the phytochemical found in the fruit have anti-inflammatory or anticancer properties. Strawberries could possibly lower rates of hypertension and inflammation as well as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Certain studies suggest that strawberries lower LDL cholesterol levels too.
As well as being eaten fresh, strawberries freeze well (I would recommend washing and storing them in a plastic bag or an old yoghurt or ice cream container after removing the stalks and any mouldy/bird pecked parts from the fruit to make it easier to use later). They make excellent preserves but are low in pectin to be wary when making jam to use some other source to make the solution set. Some people dry strawberries and include them in cereal bars. In the industry world, strawberries are used in milkshakes, ice creams, yoghurts, smoothies, as artificial colourings and flavours as well as many other things. The famous Wimbledon Tennis Tournament’s popular summer time pudding is strawberries and cream. In Sweden, strawberries are traditionally served as dessert of Midsummer Night’s Eve (so it is perfect to post the following recipe now). In Greece, strawberries are usually sprinkled with sugar and dipped in Metaxa, a brandy. In Italy, strawberries are used in a number of desserts and are popular in gelato alla fragora.
Childhood favourites of mine were mashed bananas and strawberries, the fruit dipped in cream and sugar, or a chocolate fondue, mixed into FAGE Total Greek yoghurt or cut up on top of Green and Black’s chocolate ice cream. Strawberries go marvellously with any chocolate dessert like volcano cakes or in particular alongside a Victoria Sponge cake.
The recipe I offer you is a Swedish one I came across that revels in both garden and wild strawberries as well as elderflower. The cake itself is easy to make and assemble as long as you provide time for allowing it to cool before preparing it. I decided it tasted at its best the day after it was made after being kept in the fridge overnight – the whole assemble tasted so much cooler and fresher, but it can of course be eaten straight away! It is a lovely summer time pudding that will look lovely and impress your family and friends.
Strawberry and Elderflower Cake
For the cake: – 4 large eggs – 200g caster sugar – 50g plain flour – 80g self-raising flour – 2tbsp baking powder
For the filling: – 4tbsp elderflower cordial – 1 heaped tbsp icing sugar – 150ml double cream – Strawberries, in quarters, about 250g is ideal but it can be more or less
For the topping: – 100ml double cream – 4tbsp elderflower cordial – Wild strawberries, to decorate
Preheat the oven to 175C. Line a 20cm/9inch deep cake tin with baking parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar on a high speed until the mixture is thick, creamy and airy.
Mix in the flours and the baking powder until thoroughly combined.
Place in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes – 60 minutes until a skewer inserted leaves clean. Leave the cake to cool completely.
To make the filling: in a small bowl, whisk the elderflower cordial and the icing sugar together. In a separate large bowl, whisk the double cream until soft peaks form. Mix in the elderflower mixture until combined.
Cut the completely cooled cake in half using a large knife with care. Spread the cream over the surface of the bottom half of the cake. Sprinkle generously the cut up strawberries over the top. Place the other half of the cake on top.
To make the topping: whisk the remaining double cream until it forms soft peaks and then mix in the elderflower cordial. Spread the cream over the top of the cake and dot wild strawberries on the surface. Serve in slices. Store in an airtight container inside the fridge (I think it tastes better once chilled but try it straight away too). Serve with more fruit if you have plenty to spare.