Thursday, 10 March 2011

Weeders' Weekly - what is there to harvest in March?

Early March is traditionally the "hungry time of year" if you're trying to live off what you grow (which I'm not, but it's a way of seeing whether your veg plot is doing all it can at this time of year).  If you haven't read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" about trying to live off home grown and local produce for a year in the southern Appalachians, you should - it's really interesting, and funny and inspirational.  Much of her chapter about "Hungry Month" is a hilariously detailed account of turkey courtships, but she also talks about lack of veg and how grateful she is for frozen and bottled garden produce from the year before.

So I thought I'd see what I could eat from my garden in early March - it's better than I thought

Red chicory- bitter, but fine to eat raw when it's young, like this.  When it's older it makes a fantastic risotto.  I bet you didn't know it could cook.
Jerusalem artichokes- but maybe this is cheating because I should have dug them up last autumn
Mixed overwintered salad greens
More salads- you can't have too many
Landcress- the easiest of all.  Very hardy and seeds itself.  Related to watercress.  Delicious!
Last few leeks
Purple sprouting broccoli just getting going
Kale- a miracle- it's started to grow really tender side shoots which are much quicker to cook than the big leathery leaves

 Now these plants - nettles and ground elder- shouldn't really be growing in the garden anyway - although if you have enough space you could allow some nettles because you can eat them, make plant food from them, add them to compost and they support quite a lot of different insects and caterpillars but they're liable to spread to where you don't want them.

New nettle growth

Watch Alys Fowler, a Guardian's gardening writer, eating nettles here.  Nettle risotto really is worth making - especially if you have an old bag of risotto rice lingering in the cupboard.  Don't worry if you don't have stock - you can use a stock cube or some vegetable cooking water or if you put about half a glass of white wine in with the softened onions just before you start adding the liquid and let it bubble vigorously that gives a really good flavour.  I've just discovered at the library "Wild garlic, gooseberries... and me" by Denis Cotter, chef of Cafe Paradiso in Cork, (has anyone been there? what's it like?) with lots of recipes for home grown veg and  foraged ingredients.  He has a very engaging style, and recomends using nettles in "any way that suits simple greens such as spinach", such as in egg dishes (omelette, quiche, frittata), risotto or pasta.  I've just seen a recipe for nettle beer - I'm  trying that as soon as possible- it sounds a bit like elderflower champagne in that no real brewing techniques are required

You need rubber gloves for picking nettles

Ground elder - an infuriating weed- but edible!

Ground elder is hard to get rid of.  Like bindweed and couch grass (the unholy trinity of perennial weeds), it can re-grow from tiny bits of root and in our heavy clay soil bits of root are almost bound to break off as you try to dig it up.  A better (but untidy) method is to smother it for at least a year under cardboard with plastic sacks on top weighed down with bricks or stones.  Alys Fowler (the nettle eater) tried a method of making a "lasagne" of card with layers of organic material to get rid of difficult weeds - watch her here, but I thought that the top layer of card would get too dry and blow around, hence the unattractive addition of the old sacks!

If you can't get rid of it, try eating it!  The classic "Wild Food" by Roger Phillips (with the romantic outdoor cooking photos) tells us that ground elder was introduced into Britain by the Romans as a culinary plant (well, gratias, not, for that) and cultivated throughout the Middle Ages to be used as a spinach-like vegetable.  He's says it's delicious cooked in a tablespoon of butter and very little water, gently for about 10 minutes, stirring continuously, then tossed in butter before serving.  Maybe only the butter makes it edible, but here it is being prepared outdoors:

photo from "Wild Food" by Roger Phillips

1 comment:

  1. As always, Informative, hilarious and good pics too...however re.'you may have an old bag of risotto lingering in the cupboard' comment...nothing in my cupboard is there long enough to linger and the only 'old bag' in my home is probably me!.....


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