I have been away from home a lot lately and so I am sending a short newsletter this month.
Towards the end of February I visited the new Brighton Community Gardens with Peggy. As we approached the gardens, I smiled broadly, finding the place so inviting. We were met by one of the volunteer workers (there are 100) who explained a lot of things to me. About half an acre in size, the gardens have been built up with loads of manure and compost; most necessary when the base is sand. Lush vegetables and fruits and flowers were planted in attractive beds, there being for example 23 varieties of tomatoes. All of the produce is offered to the voluntary workers, some being made into chutneys and jams in the kitchen on site, and some sold to raise funds. The tunnel house was a mass of very healthy vegetable plants growing on for planting out, or for sale at the plant stall in the garden. My one disappointment was that I hadn’t taken my camera. Full information about these gardens is available on www.nbgardens.org.nzIn the last newsletter I sent some information about the proposed Christchurch Community Gardens exhibit at the Ellerslie Flower Show. I didn’t go to the E.F.S as I was in Philadelphia to see the Philadelphia Flower Show, but I had an email from Peggy Kelly, the instigator of the Christchurch Community Gardens, saying that they had received a silver award for their exhibit. That was good news.
I have just returned from a visit to Blue Mountain Nursery in Tapanui. A friend and I had a wonderful day with Denis Hughes who showed us around his extensive nursery and explained a lot of his propagating work to us. This man’s knowledge is so extensive and we came away quite overwhelmed. I do recommend that you look at the website and the catalogue if you are considering new plantings for your garden. Denis, as many readers will know, is responsible for producing many new plants and we are lucky to have him. www.bmn.co.nzPhoto 1 by M.Long: Agapanthus ‘Blue Mountain’ produced by Denis Hughes and photographed in my garden in September.
Next month I will write about my visit to the Philadelphia Flower Show.
(Click the images to enlarge or view the gallery)
Gathering some ingredients for a salad recently, it registered that some of the herbs I was adding to the colander would soon be shutting down for winter and that some ideas on using them and preserving them, plus a recipe, might be a good topic for March.
Many herbs will be fine in the garden over winter, such as bay, parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, majoram and even coriander, which prefers the cooler days if given a bit of shelter, so it's good to focus on preserving the summery tastes of herbs such as basil, dill, tarragon, chervil etc. However, if there is a glut of parsley or coriander in your garden just now then here are some great ways of making the most of them too.
Pesto can be made and stored in the fridge for several weeks, or frozen. A basic recipe includes nuts, lightly roasted (up to a cup), 2 or 3 handsful of chosen herb (parsley, basil, coriander), 1 or 2 cloves, crushed, of garlic, juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste) and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of parmesan or feta. Put in a whizz, blender or mortar and blend to a slightly textured paste. Slowly add olive oil (1/2 to 1 cup) to make the consistency you prefer. Put into small jars, cover with oil and store in fridge or freeze in small containers or iceblock trays and then store in plastic bags and use over the winter. Use on pizzas, as a filling with cheese in scone spirals, dollop onto winter soups etc.
Herb butters are a yummy treat on seasonal vegetables or with meats and fish or chicken dishes. Soften 250g of good butter at room temperature (don't be tempted to rush the process by microwaving or heating in the oven; it melts the butter too much), place in a bowl and add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Prepare herbs (wash, dry and chop), add to butter and beat with a spoon to thoroughly combine the ingredients. Scoop onto a piece, or pieces, of waxed or baking paper and shape into a log/s. Chill until needed or freeze the wrapped logs in sealed plastic bags. Cut into slices to use. For fish use dill, parsley, chives, basil etc and perhaps add some lemon zest; for chicken there's French tarragon, of course, rosemary, thyme, coriander and chervil; for red meats try rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, majoram and even horseradish. You might like to also try chilli, kaffir lime leaves or lemongrass as additions.
Microwave-drying retains the fresh green of herbs such as basil, parsley, coriander. chervil etc and then these can be stored in airtight containers in a dark cupboard or frozen to add to winter recipes or to crumble over dishes. Use freshly-harvested, clean, dry herbs; seperate the leaves from the stems and lay leaves on a paper towel. Microwave on high in 30 second bursts, checking between bursts, until the herbs crumble easily. The herbs can also be dried in a slow (60 degrees) oven or in a warm, airy place out of the sun, but the colour is more drab.
There are also flavoured oils and vinegars and there are many recipes online for these.
Now here's a recipe that uses some of the greens that are abundant in the garden at the moment and seasonal mushrooms if you're fortunate or, if you've not got them popping up in a field near you, then Portobellos from the market will be nearly as good!
Remove the stems from the mushrooms and chop.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the spring onions or leeks, garlic, anchovies and the coriander stalks if using.
Saute until it begins to soften and smells good! Add the mushroom stems and cook until softened. Add the tomato if using and then feta or tofu and heat gently, stirring until it starts to melt. Stir the herbs through, taste and season.
Lay the mushrooms on a lined or oiled baking tray and pile the filling on top. Pack it in quite firmly.
Bake at 200 degree for about 15 minutes until the mushrooms have softened and are cooked.
If you would like to make this a more substantial meal, add cooked rice or quinoa, about 1 cup, when sauteing the filling.
Other vegetables can be added too, such as grated courgette, carrot or pumpkin, corn kernels, sliced Cavolo Nero etc...add these when the mushroom stems are added to the pan.
* The anchovies are not a dominant flavour, but add a delicious depth to the overall flavour. If you're concerned about the amount of salt that it might add to the dish, soak in milk for 5 minutes before using.