Thursday, 30 September 2010

Chutney and cake

Sometime back I put out a call on this blog for courgette recipes. Now I can report that the last of the courgettes have been turned into a fantastic cake by me (I used this great Nigel Slater recipe), and into chutney by my husband.
The cake, as you can see, was not a pretty one, but it was quite delicious; although it doesn't do a lot to enhance the reputation of courgettes, as not even the keenest courgette-hater would be able to detect the presence of green vegetables in amongst all the lovely nuts and raisins.
The chutney is a different matter altogether. In the same way my husband is not the biggest fan of courgettes, I'm not a fan of chutneys (except mango, with a good curry). I admit this could be a long held prejudice that has its roots in cheese and branston pickle school sandwiches which I liked even less than school rice pudding. However, I have been converted to a good rice pud in the last year, so perhaps this homegrown, lovingly crafted, home-made chutney will have the same effect. The chutney is maturing currently, so I will keep you posted on that one.
Meanwhile the last bean is hanging on to save for next year's seed; the last three green tomatoes are ripening on the windowsill; chillis and peppers have been picked, the aubergines have long since gone into ratatouilles, the basil into pesto. I can't believe it's all over for another year.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Parks, deck chairs, pavilions and the prince

You can find many things in London Parks. Some things are quite unexepected: a group of Scottish country dancers at a bandstand in Kensington Gardens, kilts and all, a couple of Saturdays ago. And this weekend I heard the Pope was in Hyde Park...
Some things are expected: deck chairs. If you were inclined to spend a lot of time watching out for random park eccentricities, you can buy a Deck Chair season ticket; £40 if you you're a student, oap, or a family; £100 if you are none of the above. Otherwise normal charges apply: £1.50 for up to an hour, £4 for up to 3 hours and £7 for the day. You'd only have to spend two weeks between March and October sitting on your backside in Green Park every day to make a season ticket worthwhile. I may invest in one next year.
Alternatively you could go and sit for free in the gorgeous Red Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery - well, you are asked to make a donation of £1.50, but that covers the exhibition too (Wofgang Tillmans just ended - some beautiful close-up plant photography amongst other things). The pavilion is there until 17 October and is really worth a visit on a sunny afternoon when the red translucent structure glows in the light. There's some great red planting too - chards and basils with cannas and crocosmias. It's very hot.
Right next door to the Green Park deck chairs, HRH Prince of Wales opened up Clarence House and its neighbouring palaces for a week or so for the so-called Garden Party to Make a Difference. While it was a good excuse to have a peek inside this otherwise closed garden - quite nice, formal borders, as you would expect, but not exceptionally inspiring, all the various eco themed displays (and some atrocious dancing) were a distraction. They didn't make me want to go home and change all my non-renewable lightbulbs and insulate my loft with sheep's wool and the whole thing seemed to be sponsored by big corporate retailers known by their initials (M&S and B&Q) trying to PR their carbon footprints.  The garden part had been curated by El Titchmarsh, and there were some inspiring displays of growing veg in small spaces (see above) - including a recreation of the St Quentin's Avenue gardens I visited earlier this summer, the Skip Garden at King's Cross, which is on my list to vist, and some quite attractive recycled overwintering homes for insects. Overall, I was not in a very receptive mood the day I went, but even so, I'm fairly convinced it's not going to become an annual event.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A bowl of pears and a punnet of blueberries

Abundance is not a word that I often associate with what I grow in my 15x35ft garden. I squeeze in what I can and I kind of like our micro-harvests. But this year, I am proud to announce the arrival of a bowlful of pears.
There have been three barren years leading up to this momentous event - one fruit the first year, then a few promising small fruits in the second year were abducted by the neighbourhood squirrel. So I am quite surprised that this year they have made it through a season and look and taste like real pears. And there has been such a good turnout of fruit that I have quite profligately left two to rot - I missed their falling, so the wasps had already started to attack them. The question is what to do with the rest of them? 22 in total, to be precise - which I think qualifies as a bumper crop.
They need to ripen a little off the tree, and will store for a month or so in a cool dark place, but I can't get the image of a pear tarte tatin out of my mind. Pears poached in red wine are also a favourite pudding. But I'd like to try preserving some - I remember my grandmother preserving peaches in Italy and I'm sure the same alcoholic method can be applied to pears. I found some good, if slightly cursory recipes here, but I'd love any tried-and-tested suggestions.
The almost-a-punnet's worth of blueberries is a much easier proposition - blueberry pancakes. No contest.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Punch and Judy, morris dancers and pigs

A while back I blogged about pigs in Holland Park. This week I found pigs, sheep, echiums, the Women's Institute, Morris Dancers, and a Punch and Judy stall right in the heart of the theatre district in the West End. Plus cheeses and a grumpy shetland pony. It was the 2nd annual  Phoenix Garden Agricultural Show.
In all the years I worked in the West End, I never knew the Phoenix Garden existed. That was back in the dark late 1980s, when it was just emerging from life as a car park and druggie hang out, and I was more interested in pubs and clubs in the area. Now, just behind Shaftesbury Avenue, in the shadow of the brutal Centrepoint tower and the charming spire of St Giles Church, there is a gorgeous garden.  All planted in raised beds made of recycled concrete or on a very thin layer of rubble. A fruiting walnut tree, rowans, self-seeded echiums, Clematis 'Summer Snow' a fast growing, drought tolerant climber that flowers for 4 months of the year, salvia microphylla, and managed brambles. It was a masterclass in hardy, urban planting and is a big hit with local wildlife. But there was a fabulous banana plant too.
What started out as a community project in 1984, set up by local residents now gets enough funding to employ gardener, Chris Raeburn 20 hours a week. A fantastically generous source of knowledge, Chris blogs here.
I loved these chickenwire chickens he made, stuffed with plane tree leaves. They take a long time to rot down and meanwhile offer a winter home to ladybirds and lacewings. Chris tops up the leaves in the autumn and then uses the leafmould when its ready.
While I was garnering inspiration and knowledge to bring back to our own local neglected green space, husband was busy investigating the tea stand, farmyard life and the punch and judy: adults and children alike were riveted by the sight of cute, if disinterested farm animals, and the spectacle of violent traditional puppetry in such a rare setting.