Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Teaching a half-italian to cure olives

I inherited two mature olive trees with my north-facing back garden. They aren't quite in the right place - no self-respecting gardening book would advise planting Olea europea in a location where not even the slightest ray of sunshine peeps over the rooftops in deepest winter. However, it is a very sheltered spot and  the high summer sun is soaked up and absorbed by the brick paving to create a micro mediterranean climate which seems have persuaded my trees to flourish gloriously.
So, for the second time in three years, they have produced what I think is a pretty abundant harvest for west London. Two years, ago, I wondered what to do with them, and as I wondered, they dropped and rotted. The wildlife wasn't interested - birds and squirrels tried them, but obviously find raw olives as bitter as we do. But this time around, I couldn't let all those fruits go to waste.
It might be a bit of a stretch to get my own bottle of extra virgin. So, although, I am not a big fan of the pickled cocktail olive (make that pickles in general), I am attempting to cure some of my Acton olives (friends, this could be your next birthday present). My Italian mother taught me to speak her language fluently and the secrets of making a mean lasagne, but olive curing was not part of her repertoire. So thank goodness for the web. It's probably a bit late in the season, but I'm trying two methods. One jar of brine, which I just have to leave alone for six months and one of water changed daily for a month to remove the bitterness, and then the brine can be added. My thanks go to the honest food blog. I will have to see if what works for Californian and greek olives works for London olives. I'm already looking forward to a Martini under the trees next summer.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Leaves, shoots and keyboards

I try to get to the office allotment about once a week. Even though it's only round the back of the building, it's not easy to prize myself away from the tyranny of Outlook (emails, meetings, more meetings). But today I did sneak away for a soul-enhancing half hour, returning to my desk with mud on my jeans, an armful of assorted leaves, and some almost fresh air in my lungs; the ever-busy Westway looms over our vegetables like an industrial crag, so the health benefits are dubious, but the mental boost is vast.
But what always amazes me in these dank, dark midwinter days, is that things are still growing. Early Broad beans are now over 6in tall, newly sown early peas are just emerging. The chard continues to produce leaves (we've had almost 8 months' cropping - it has to be the best return on any seed packet); late stir fry and salad mixes are flourishing, some gone very prettily to seed - have you ever noticed how rocket flowers are so delicately veined? And I remain hopeful that the very late-sown carrots will produce something worth eating. But I'd like to award my Crop of the month medal to winter purslane, a heart-shaped, lush-looking spinach-tasting leaf.