For the pomegranate lover: the easy way to grow your own




I love pomegranate, both the look of them and the taste, not to mentio the burst of crunch they add to a dish. I also loved seeing them growing wild when we were in Cyprus, like trees with Christmas decorations on them.

If you know a food lover who loves them too, then I think this new box from the Gluttonous Gardener would be a great gift.


Pomegranate Box from Gluttonous Gardenere


In this gift you get a young pomegranate plant in a terracotta plant. I imagine it needs somewhere relatively warm and sheltered once it’s big enough to come out of the pot. You’ll also get a bottle of pomegranate ketchup, to give you that burst of sweet sourness until it bears fruit.

Delivered in a lovely looking wooden crate, at £35 this is not a bad gift for something that will hopefully keep on giving for a number of years. That’s what I call a good gift, for a food lover or anyone else.


Lovely sale goodies at Hen & Hammock


I really like Hen & Hammock, it’s a great site with a well curated choice of products. Their sale has just started and there are some good choices of things either for yourself, or maybe thinking ahead to gifts you might need later in the year.


Veg Calendar from Hen & Hammock - perfect gift for a food lover who likes to grow it themselves


Probably one for yourself, but if you haven’t got one sorted already, then the Vegetable Calendar is attractive and might inspire you to definitely eat your five a day, or get some planting going on in the veg patch!


Oyster mushroom farm from Hen & Hammock


And if you want the easy approach, then how about the Oyster Mushroom Farm? You don’t need acres of land, and will be enjoying them sooner than you might think.

There are savings on seed collections as well, so you could definitely be getting your veg patch into order, for a little less. Worth a look!


A fruity summer ahead


I’m thinking of expanding the fruit I grow in the garden this year, as surely it has to taste amazing when you’ve just walked outside and picked it. And when I say expand, it won’t be difficult as last year’s total harvest was about 8 blueberries and 2 strawberries.


Cambridge favourite - a fantastic strawberry for home growers and food lovers


My strawberries are grown in a tower from Ken Muir, and I think it’s time I replaced the plants. I would like Mara des Bois and Cambridge Favourite, and hope to get to them before either MGG or the birds!


Pomegranate tree - a gift for a food lover who wants something different growing in the garden


If there was a fruit harvest that we needed here, it would be a pomegranate tree, as MGG and I both love them. I had never seen them growing until we were in Cyprus at New Year, and they looked like Christmas ornaments hanging on the tree. We have a south facing wall, so I’m hoping it would be worth giving it a go. Though it says we’d be waiting 4 to 5 years for it to fruit!

We lost our apple tree when we had some building work done, and miss both the fruit and the beautiful blossom in the Spring. If you want some variety, then try which has some great heritage varieties. I love the look of the Rosemary Russet, and I would love to find room for a quince as well.


White currants, black or red, they'd be a great gift for a food lover looking for a great garden too


I love all kinds of currants, but it can be hard to get hold of white currants, or else they are fabulously expensive. So I think it would be good to add some to the garden. And I guess it would be rude not to have one of each colour. Crocus have all three available to order for delivery during the Spring.


Tulameen Raspberry - a great gift for a food lover with green fingers


I love that there is a website called Berry World, and I thought it would be a great place to browse for some raspberry canes, but looks like it’s only wholesale. Raspberries are my favourite of the summer fruits, and I think it would be wonderful to have them growing in the garden. Again, I think there would be a threeway battle between me, MGG and the birds. Ashridge Nurseries have about 11 different types, so bound to be something suitable for any garden.

I think it would be a bit of a stretch for me to put all of these in the garden in one year, but definitely something to work towards. The thought of sun kissed fruit straight off the bush or tree is just too delightful for words. What are you growing in your garden that you’d recommend? I think it’s a great thing to do if you have kids as there is nothing to beat watching it grow and then tasting it at the perfect point of ripeness.


How will your garden grow in 2013?


How will your herb garden grow?


Maybe it’s a reaction to the rich food of Christmas. Or a lack of sunlight and a desire for it to be Spring. But I’m thinking about what I’m going to grow next year, and I’m not thinking only about the flowers. Well, not in the main.

No, next year I want to grow more stuff but knowing I don’t have a) heaps of time b) the inclination or c) the space to be self sufficient. But I do want more fresh herbs, more interesting salad stuff, and a new apple tree. If I was pushing the boat out, then maybe a quince tree too.

So, these are the places and businesses I’m looking at for help and inspiration, as I await the changes of Spring:

* Sarah Raven is always inspiring to me, and I love her website. Her seed collections are great, and I like the sound of the Chuck in and Harvest Herb seed collection, sounds like my level of gardening. Plenty of good gardening kit too.

* I’ve seen quite a lot from Allot In a Box, and it certainly seems like a well designed product. You could sign up to get seasonal boxes of seeds four times a year, or choose your own, the choices are great. The Kitchen Garden Box would seem like the kind of thing I need, though wondering if I can swap out the kale seeds!

* I have to be honest, I’ve not always got on well with growing stuff from seeds, which is why Rocket Gardens have always appealed, as they send you out baby plants. The instant herb garden sounds just right for what I’m likely to need.

* Manor Farm Herbs look like they have a great selection of herbs, from the normal through to things like Good King Henry, which is also known as Lincolnshire Spinach apparently. I’d also be buying up several Moroccan Mint plants, to make the freshest mint tea ever.

My other plan is to grow peonies and ranunculus, which would give me a trio of my favourite flowers along with the roses I already have. Let’s hope that it is a better growing season in summer 2013 than 2012 turned out to be! Anyone have any useful hints and tips for a pretty amateur grower then all advice welcome!


Sarah Raven does Christmas


I love Sarah Raven’s books, and her website is a great source of gifts, for foodies as well as keen gardeners. Whether they grow it themselves, cook it themselves or just stick to eating it themselves, sure to be something for someone on your list! Here’s what’s caught my eye:


Cut & Carve Tray - perfect gift for a food lover who loves a proper roast


* For those that like to cook up a roast on a regular basis, then I really like the Cut & Carve Tray, which will give you a secure place to carve, but also capture all the great juices. And it can go in the dishwasher, a definite plus in my book!


Perfect tray for breakfast in bed - perfect gift for lazy foodie breakfast in bed


* Got a lover of breakfast in bed? Or want to drop a hint to a loved one? This oak breakfast tray would definitely cut the risk of breakfast being more on the bed than in bed.


Gorgeous vodka set from Sarah Raven - great gift for a food lover who loves their vodka


* I’m not even mad keen on vodka, but love this vodka set. Perfect for shots, more likely to be sloe gin in my house than vodka. Fill the carafe with spirit of choice and put in the freezer, and stand it over the base filled with ice when ready to go. Pretty coloured glasses too!


Apple press - great gift for a food lover with a plethora of apples

* I am sure if you have your own apple trees then you’d love an apple press like this. If you always have an excess and wonder what to do, then this could be brilliant come next autumn. Local pig keepers will thank you for the leftovers too!


Grow your own vegetables - great gift for a food lover who wants the freshest ingredients right from the garden


* For someone who is vowing that next year they are going to grow their own, then give them a real incentive by treating them to some great seeds. The beginner’s vegetable garden seeds gives them some interesting but straightforward stuff to grow, like French beans, minature cucumbers, cut and come again Green Oak Leaf lettuce and cherry tomatoes. If they’re more experienced, then check out the large variety of single seed packets, for things like Green Globe Artichokes or Red Rubine Brussel Sprouts.

There are also great courses for cooking and gardening for cooking, and kit for the kitchen and obviously for the garden. A  taste of the good life for Christmas Day and beyond.


Overcoming a chilli crisis


Watch out, there's a chilli crisis looming

Whilst I was away I heard a news article about the price of chillies in Indonesia, where they are now more per kilo than meat. Given how much chilli goes into the average Indonesian dish, you can imagine the uproar! A lot of people are now trying to grow their own out there, which is most definitely worth considering.

I do have a passing interest, as most of our conservatory seems to have been taken over by chilli plants this year, as we tried to grow a whole heap of varieties, with varying success. So I thought I’d go straight to the expert and ask Craig, the Wahaca chilli expert, author of the We Grow Our Own blog and general green fingered guru to help make this year’s crop a bit more successful!

Craig, what do you need to grow chillies in the UK, and can they be grown successfully if you don’t have access to a greenhouse?

Ideally, the best time to start planting your chilli seeds is January or February. The reason for this is that it will give your seeds and plants a good head start, so that you can enjoy lots of lovely chillies throughout the summer months.

There are a few bits of basic equipment that you will need. You’ll need a plant pot, some multi-purpose compost, a spray bottle, and obviously your seeds! First fill your pot with the compost and firm it down. Spray the compost with the spray bottle, but the idea is keep the compost moist, rather than drenching it.

If you are using the Wahaca chilli seeds, snap off the matchstick carefully and plant it point end down into the compost to the mark on the matchstick. However, if you are using your own chilli seeds instead, just place them on top of the compost, cover them with another 0.5cm of compost, and then lightly spray it again with the water spray.

Now what your chilli seeds need are heat and moisture. You can help them along by covering the pot with clingfilm and putting it somewhere warm like a windowsill over a radiator, if you do not have access to a greenhouse or a conservatory. Check the seeds every day, and spray the compost again if it seems as if it is too dry. Remember the idea is to keep the compost moist and not wet!

Also, be aware that different varieties of chilli seeds take different times to germinate. On average they can take up to 3 weeks to germinate, but some hotter varieties can take up to six weeks, so just sit on your hands and be patient!

What chilli would you recommend people start with, as an easy grow? Which variety is the most versatile, and which gives the highest yield? And my daughter would like to know which is the sweetest (i.e. not that hot)!

Best varieties to start out with are Jalapenos, Serrano or Hungarian Hot Wax – very reliable. None are guaranteed to give the highest yield, as so many factors can influence how it grows. For example this year’s crop was less than last year due to the awful weather. Beginner’s chillies would probably be either Hungarian Hot Wax or Poblano. Tasty & fruity without too much heat!

How much watering/attention do they need?

Normally only need watering if the compost looks like it is starting to dry out, and more frequently as the weather grows hotter. Important not to water log the plants as it can rot the main stem and weaken the plant.  When the first fruit appears, you should add tomato feed in half the recommended quantity to the water for the chilli plants, or use a specialist chilli feed.

What’s the most common mistake people make when growing them?

Common mistakes are letting the just germinated plant get ‘leggy’; over watering, under watering, not keeping it in a hot place, as chillies like light and warmth!

Is it true the chillies get hotter the longer you leave them on the plant?

Very true!

Are there any chillies that can grow outside in the UK?

Chillies can be grown outside in the UK, and the further south you are the better chance you will have with them. The only ones that cannot really are the Habenero varieties and the other really hot ones, as they need the humidity and the warmth of a greenhouse or polytunnel.

What’s your favourite recipe using chilli? And your favourite product being produced with a chilli angle?

My favourite recipe including chillies would have to be the one that I cooked on the last series of Britain’s Best Dish, namely ‘Thai Spiced Mackerel with a Cucumber & Green Papaya Relish”. This got me through to the last seven in the country where unfortunately I was knocked out. There are so many good chilli based products out there, it is impossible to pick one! The only one I am not so sure about is chilli beer, as I have yet to taste a good one, and I do like my beer!

So, some great advice, and worth putting a few seeds in over the next few weeks if you like to keep it spicy. Even better, stop by Wahaca, have a great meal and then pick up the free chilli seeds in there. And if you’ve got some chillis to use already, here’s Craig’s winning recipe to inspire you!

Chilli shot by David Singleton on Flickr.


Quick pick – Patio veg planters for little ones


Think ahead to those warm, balmy days of summer when salad will seem like the most desirable dish going. And what can be better than just popping outside and getting a few very, very fresh leaves?


Funky patio veg containers

And is there a better crop to get kids involved with than growing salad? It’s quick, and fairly foolproof, and they’ll love these funky containers to get their crops going in. Just make sure they are well into the concept of sharing!

I found these at Garden Boutique, currently priced at £15.95.


You’re going to uni. Now what? A foodie perspective



A’level results are out and so a whole new batch of students will be heading off into the world, ready to fend for themselves and cook their own dinners. So, what kind of foodie student are you dispatching to uni and what do they need to see them on their way? Depends on where they already are on their food journey. Here’s a few suggestions:

The non cooking student

Oh dear, they’ve got through at least 18 years with no cooking skill at all. Maybe best put them into halls of residence that provide everything. Otherwise suggest either you need to give them a very rapid crash course in basic cooking at home, or a copy of Delia’s How to Cook. And get down to IKEA and buy them one of those kitchen starter sets.

The novice student

So, they’ve done a bit of cooking and know how to turn the cooker on. They may have cooked you dinner. They may know one type of pasta from another. They at least know what pasta is. They could be very popular though, as being able to cook could make them a lot of friends on their floor! Here’s a few thoughts for them:

* Provide them with their favourite recipes from home. You could cook them with them a few times, write them out, put them in a Word document on their laptop, make videos and post on YouTube…any way you can think of to give them a taste of home.

* If you’ve got recipes that need specific mixes of herbs or spices then you could package them up for them, as herbs and spices might not be top of their spending list. Craving for mum’s cooking is what set the idea for Spicentice in motion. Or add a few of the Spicentice packs into their packing.

* They’ll need some kitchen stuff. I would suggest they will need a large saucepan (one that you could get a steamer in as well) for doing pasta, which they may do a lot of, and you could give them a non-stick frying pan for fry ups, omelettes, even stir frys. A small non stick pan for scrambled eggs or beans. And then I would add a decent casserole dish in. I’ve had a Le Creuset one for over 20 years, and it’s truly the best for one pot cooking. Throw in a chopping board, a few decent knives and something like the Joseph Joseph stacking set, and they can cook up a huge variety of dishes.

* Give them a great store cupboard to start off with. Let’s face it, with this lot, there are a great combo of meals that they could produce. I would pack them off with: several kinds of pasta, including fettucine or pappardelle and fusilli or penne; two olive oils, one extra virgin, one ordinary and a more bland oil like groundnut; pesto, tomato puree, olive paste, anything to add extra flavour to just about anything else, likewise soy sauce and a reasonable balsamic; tinned standbys like chickpeas, tuna, salmon, tomatoes; rice for risotto and biryanas, bulgar wheat for pilaf  and cous cous. That should keep them going until their first trip home!

* Freezer bags or boxes, so that nothing goes to waste.

The Gourmand Student

Oh, this one you’re going to have to frisk before they leave!

* Check out what bits of your kit they’ve been using regularly in your kitchen, and buy them their own. Face into it, if you’ve got decent knives, good pans or exciting kit, then they’ll be off before you can wave them goodbye.

* Stock them with the goodies they might have got used to like Frescobaldi Laudemio Extra Virgin Olive Oil or a chunk of black truffle. You could also just give them the same products I listed for the Novice Student but at the best available level.

* They’ll be the king or queen of seasonal cooking, so perhaps sign them up for an allotment. That way they can have fresh, seasonal fruit and veg, and grow varieties that even Waitrose don’t stock. Try Landshare to see what’s available near the uni, or register for a plot. Sign them up to the Heritage Seed Library or check out Sarah Raven and pack them off with a year’s worth of unusual seeds.

* Give them a list of all the local food markets and farmer’s markets, as they’ll be their natural food hunting ground. Get them a trolley to lug home their precious food treasures in.

My favourite tip is to pack them off with a large cake, or a whole lot of cupcakes. Things perfect for sharing with your new neighbours. Tea and cake, perfect for every kind of student. Unless the novice can’t boil water!

Tomorrow, going to cover alternatives to the student cookbooks that would still set them up to have a great repertoire without going into debt.

Leaving home shot by Leafar on Flickr


Off to university


Beating the drum for beetroot

Loving the beetroot

As I was driving home in the pouring rain last night I was thinking about my beetroot in the garden. Mainly about the fact that it would really benefit from the rain as it’s pretty much minature beetroot at the moment.

This is a veg I came to late in life, I think scarred by the pickled beetroot of my youth. That and stacking shelves with the stuff at my Saturday job at Gateway. It’s amazing how much of the floor you could stain with dropping one jar of the stuff! This roasted beetroot with feta and cumin recipe changed my love of the beets.

Nigel Slater’s beetroot chutney recipe seems to have been a popular search term, and I guess if you get a glut then it’s a great way of using it up. I can’t find an online source for the recipe, but would imagine that it would be in Tender. If you don’t want to make your own then Jamie Oliver does a beetroot relish, which looks great, and goes well with beef and cheese.

My other favourite use of beetroot is for the surprisingly delightful Chocolate Beetroote Brownies recipe from Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache, one of my all time favourite cookbooks. These make a lovely squidgy brownie that is incredibly moist and, of course, that combination of dark chocolate and beetroot must make it a health food in my book!

I’m amazed to find that there is a website dedicated to the return of beetroot to our plates. Love Beetroot has recipes, history and healthy facts about the beet. I’m quite tempted by the Beetroot Risotto with Lancashire Cheese, and also by the Sticky Ginger & Beetroot muffins. It’s a superfood that is incredibly versatile and also apparently Nature’s alternative to Viagra. Not noticed that one!

And the other thing about beetroot is there are so many different varieties, so you can make a really interesting looking plate just with mixed beets. Sarah Raven has a “regular” one plus a golden beet and a stripy one called “Candy Stripe”. Thompson & Morgan can top that with 17 varieties, including a very interesting looking albino one. And then there’s my other favourite source, Seeds of Italy, who have 5 on offer including the more unusual looking Cylindra. Time to start thinking about next year’s crop whilst enjoying this one’s! 

Image courtesy of Love Beetroot.


Visiting the Ministry of Food


MGG and I headed up to the smoke yesterday, so that I could finally get to the Ministry of Food exhibition that I’ve written about several times. It always felt like it could feel like stepping into a current magazine article, but back in time when growing your own and minimising waste was a necessity, not a lifestyle choice.

And it did. So for those of you looking to be even partially self-sufficient, or reduce your food bills, or just live in a more sustainable way, then I think you’ll find it fascinating.

Who’s keeping chickens now? Well, they were doing that then.


Hens, the great recyclers


For those who are setting out on keeping bees, there was a useful poster. It appears modern beekeepers are doing it all wrong. You just needs a sports jacket, braces and a trilby, none of that silly white outfit!


Beekeeping for beginners, 1940s style


This was a family effort, and I know from my own experiences that involving kids in food growing makes them more likely to try the fruits (and veg) of their labours. Look at this lovely example of a cosy night in as a family planning your veg patch!


Happy nights of planting planning


I’d never heard of Gert and Daisy, but they were like the comedic front runners to Two Fat Ladies it seems. I loved the recording of them discussing cooking a murkey for Christmas, which turned out to be mutton.


Gert & Daisy cook a “murkey”


And some things never change it seems, even in wartime. I can imagine the faces of teens of today if the Oslo Meal was served up. Which are probably the same looks parents got in 1943!


Teens today, don’t know they’re fed


For those of us busy preserving and canning, it’s most definitely nothing new!


The WI to the rescue!


And for the fashionista foodie, I bring you the mushroom housecoat!


The mushroom housecoat


Which you could top off with the seed packet scarf.


Seed label scarf


I love that the Company of Cooks have followed through on the theme and converted the catering over to a version of the 40s as well. My corned beef salad with roasted beetroot was definitely retro but tasty, and even the kids stuff had things like carrots and salad cream, and cheese wrapped in greaseproof paper. The beetroot and cocoa cake was a bit on the dry side, and not packed with flavour, but interesting to try.


1940s style food in 2010


The big gap in my knowledge was that the years of austerity are after the war, and things really got tough then. You can see that you could cope when everyone was pulling against a common enemy, not to mention the Americans were sending food to the UK. That ended nearly as soon as the war did, and things got very lean. I love this picture from a butchers window, sums up the black humour of the day.


And you thought times were bad now!


We had a great day at the museum, and it was worth the ticket price for this exhibition. If you need other distractions, then there is also the Terrible Trenches on from the team behind Horrible Histories, so really something for everyone. If you want to see more, then there’s more photos over on my Flickr page.