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Friday, 21 August 2015

The day I bit into a begonia and was inspired...

I've never understood the attraction that begonias have for some people. Mama for example loves them. That's my Mum by the way - and the last  time I went down to Somerset we went looking for the right ones at a huge garden centre in Somerset. We didn't find them, and I can't say I was bothered ., I don't think so. Mind you, I'd never thought of eating one either , until two weeks ago, that is.

I was near  Ipswich at Jimmy's Farm in Suffolk where Thompson and Morgan have their own trial ground, and  a number of us were being shown around the flowers, fruit and vegetables , before sitting down to a delicious lunch.That's when I bit into a begonia which decorated the rather lovely apricot pudding.

The begonia leaves tasted of citrus surprisingly, a delicate flavour, and even more surprisingly I was impressed with the most vivid begonia collection I've ever seen. Mama would have been in her element oohing and aaahing, especially at the Evi Bright Pink begonia. .

It's amazing what has been done in the trial ground which is on a hill and had previously been left to grass. In a season, that empty space is now a glorious technicolour  display of lots of new varieties of plants. Yes, I know it's a cliche but apt and technicolour, well when there's pots of blue, pinks purples,yellows, oranges, reds, magentas massed together,'s quite an overwhelming sight.

Michael Perry, aka @thegardening_greek on twitter, or the gorgeous greek as he's also been described, was our irrepressible  host around the displays.

Now this plant hunter is not short of word or two but there again he had a lot to talk about and so many new exclusive plants to introduce.

In the midst of all the riotous, in your face colour, it was lovely to see a huge mound of Cosmos Cupcake.....the cool grey green foliage and the simple beauty  of the flowers made an attractive sight.

 But the flower I lost my heart to that afternoon was a Scabiosa Kudos.

The delicate symmetry, the shade, just called out to me, and there's up to thirty blooms per plant. If I hadn't been on my best behaviour, the whole pot of them would suddenly have mysteriously found its  way into my car and would have come back up the A 14 with me. Mind you it was very hard to resist the temptation to get my spade out of the boot of my car (doesn't everyone carry one?) and dig up major parts of the planting scheme to take home.

But by now it was time for Colin Randel,the Vegetable Development Manager to introduce some new vegetable varieties to us...

My eyes honed in immediately on the peas. I'd not grown enough this year, and the terrain peas which Colin was handing out for us to taste were delicious and sweet. Lots of peas in each pod too.If you like Hurst Green Shaft then you'll like these  even more. I did when I was told there's more resistance to pea beetle, and the fact that you can grow them later than many other peas. Apparently in Colin's growing trial with Terrain last year, he sowed a last batch on 4th August and they were still cropping in mid November, when there was a very hard frost.

 "Go on" he urged," give them a go" I have done , and that's why I was on my hand on and knees on my allotment the following evening, bottom in the air, sowing the peas when I was surprised by one of the other allotmenteers. But I digress......and I will let you know how my late pea sowing trial goes.  Next year though I'm going to be trying another of Colin's new varieties of sugar snaps called New Horizon, with a good flavour and a satisfying crunch.

We also tasted some new varieties of tomatoes...... I might give them a whirl but  for me, well my heart still belongs to Thompson and Morgan's Sweet Aperitif, which is my favourite cherry tomato of all time....bursting with flavour, an easy grower and quite prolific.

Kale of course is one of the veggies that has come in from the cold and is now an oh so fashionable superfood. I love it as it's so reliable, so I was pleased to see and taste the new variety Midnight Sun, which  be eaten raw or steamed. A plus point is that within sixty to seventy days, you can be eating it as a baby salad.

And then Colin came up with a surprise.....

Now you wouldn't normally put the following two words together would you? Wasabi and rocket....both hot little who thought of combining the two? Does the combination work? Well yes, it's very tasty, makes an attractive clump in a pot or in the ground, but I would use it sparingly in a microsalad, with peashoots, or a sweet beetroot leaves.

A final surprise  for me was this

I'd never seen one...and didn't realise that the berries were edible. Now this is what I call a multi tasking plant. It looks beautiful, like all fuschias , but the berries  taste a bit like kiwi fruits. These plants can be grown in tubs on the patio and in the fruit garden. Last year, there was one plant of this variety, now there's 400,000....amazing.

I had such an interesting day seeing many of the new varieties of flowers, fruit and vegetables which  will be featured in the 2016 catalogue.

There was almost a sensory overload, so many visual delights, tasty treats to eat and scents to inhale. I came away with  so many new ideas of what can be achieved, and  the sounds of so many fascinating conversations with both the experts at Thompson and Morgan -, the enthusiastic  and knowledgeable Paul Hansord, Michael Perry and Colin Randel and  the garden writers who were my companions for the day.

Friday, 7 August 2015

A day of fancying a fritter from the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi

So, it's Friday again, which means I've been going through my cookbooks to try a new recipe
Something savoury I thought, something without meat.

Yotam Ottolenghi sprang to mind immediately, but then it was decisions decisions....which book of his shall I cook from? I have two, "Plenty" and "Jerusalem", and I love them both. What shines from every page  of both books is a strong narrative and a sense  of continuity though cooking. Many of the recipes have survived  turbulent times, and years of change for families and friends mentioned in the books.

Last night, I wanted something tasty, yet not too exacting. I flicked through the pages of "Plenty", and there it was, a recipe I've been meaning to make for ages. Leek fritters.

Ok, I have a feeling that some of you reading this may be turning up your noses at the thought of a fritter, even perhaps channelling your inner Lady Bracknell..."a fritter?" But at certain times they  can hit the spot in a very satisfying way. Especially when leeks are involved. Plus spices.

So let's begin shall we?

Ingredients include leeks, shallots ( I used onions), chilli pepper, spices, egg white etc.....

How to make

After sautéing the leeks and shallots until soft, you gradually add all of the other ingredients...and at this stage the mixture is rather sloppy, as you can see by the state of the bowl....

I made eight fritters, and I'll definitely be making these again. They're so creamy, light, and the subtle spices don't overpower the lovely flavour of the leeks.

I may have eaten more than I should have, even though they're quite filling. In fact I did eat more than necessary, but my defence is M'lud, I simply couldn't resist just another bite, and then another....

There's also a coriander sauce to accompany the fritters, but last night, I just sprinkled them with a couple of squeezes of a lemon, and that was just enough for me.

Another recipe from "Plenty" I tried for the first time was a salad ,which I first encountered at my friend Debbie's house. Oooh I did enjoy it...a beetroot, walnut and orange salad - on page 15 of the book, if you're interested. The earthy sweetness of the beetroot, the crunch of walnuts and olives, and the sharpness of the citrus made a delicious combination.

So I made it, and in our eagerness to dive in and eat, no photographs were taken, but trust me, again, this recipe is a winner. But then again, for me, all of Yotam Ottolenghi's recipes are....I've not encountered one that's a dud yet.

He's also in that rare band of chefs and writers who  establishes a real connection with the reader. Whenever I read one of his recipes, I feel hungry, I need to make it...and I somehow smell the finished creation before I've even made it.

There's only one other writer who makes me feel that way, and that's the wonderful Nigel Slater.
Alas he doesn't run a restaurant, but Yotam does ,and I can't wait to finally get down to London to visit one of them. It could be dangerous though, I might decide to work my way through most of the menu and get stuck behind a table, unable to leave or waddle back to the train. But hey, that's a risk I'm willing to take.

The complete recipe for leek fritters can be found here or in the book itself, which is so good, I refuse to lend it to anyone else.

"Plenty" by Yotam Ottalenghi ,published by Ebury Press, 2010.