Home sweet home and the garden is looking good
I’ve returned to two moulting chickens and a dishevelled garden. Gertrude (the bluebell) has lost so many feathers that she looks almost plucked. Thankfully the new feathers are appearing as fast as the cold weather.
How lovely it is to be home, to come back to ripening Egremont Russets, to fat runner beans ready for shelling, a small, but pleasing harvest of achocha (a strange South American cucumber) and many and various greens. After being on the road and so much restaurant food, however good, a simple home cooked meal feels honest and fulfilling in a way that no chef cooked meals can ever achieve.
The night I returned we had a first hard frost that raced across the garden taking with it the tomatillos, the papalo (a Mexican coriander substitute) and the last of the Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes that are still holding on. I’ve harvested what fruit and leaves were left to make a sort of salsa in honour of all the good Mexican food I ate on the West Coast. What was left of the red tomatoes I dried in the dehydrator (you can do the same in your oven on the lowest setting with the door slightly ajar, to let out moisture, it takes several hours). The flavour is intense once dried, not as sweet as sun-dried toms, but good enough for pastas and stews. I finely dice them and then mix them up with dried chillies, salt, rosemary and dried garlic and thyme, sometimes I add a little sesame or juniper berries and use this as a herb mix for sauces. It makes a small harvest go a very long way and when you open the jar this intense waft of late summer comes out. It’s a pretty looking mix too.
I’m eager to dig up my yakon that has put on an incredible amount of growth over the summer. It’s a tender perennial with a large edible tuber (much like a Dahlia) that tastes of pear. I’ve got a small mountain of English walnuts that I harvested from the centre of town and plan to make an alternative Waldorf salad from Mark Diacono’s book ‘ A Taste of the Unexpected’. But Mark tells me I need to be more patient and wait a little longer till I harvest. Apparently they mature very late in the season.
On the other side of the tracks (literally my house is one side and the allotment the other of a railway line) the allotment is looking good, surprisingly so for two weeks absence. I sowed a lot of green manure just before I left, mustards, Phacelias and grazing rye that and the slowing growth of the weeds means I came back to a rather tidy looking allotment. The turnips, oriental greens and autumn carrots are fat and healthy. The pumpkins have ripened and there were a few minute baby squash that I harvested attached to the tips (you can eat the young tendrils and leaves as well) and fried in butter, a delightful, if slightly odd dish.
Strangely the Russian red kales, my least favourite of the family, had been stripped by the pigeons, but the Asturian tree cabbage and black Tuscan kale, cavolo nero, has been left alone—perhaps the pigeons aren’t that discerning? The tree cabbage (giant pale almost lime green leaves) is almost tall and sturdy enough for a pigeon to sit in—I guess I shouldn’t invite trouble...
Alys Fowler is a garden writer and presenter of BBC Gardeners' World.