August 2009


Here’s some of this week’s haul. Definitely a glut for our little household. Unfortunately the picture had to be taken indoors as it’s getting dark by the time I get home from work (honestly, the tomatoes are a lovely deep red, and the beans aren’t that insipid really). Getting home late doesn’t just mean dodgy pictures – it also means very little time to actually cook and eat any of it!

The strawberries are just a day’s worth: we’re getting enough for breakfast each day and they disappear quickly. We’ve also already eaten about 500g of tomatoes, and another 500g of aubergines. More large aubergines, the first finger aubergines, runner beans and a second crop of French beans are begging to be picked, and there’s a couple of sacks of lettuce and land cress to foist onto my work colleagues tomorrow, if I can get up early enough to pick it. Feeling a little overwhelmed…

(but thrilled too)

Snail stories: chapter 347. Recently, the mollusc situation has settled down a bit. They’ve had a nibble at my beans, taken out some flowers, but nothing out of control and for the most part seem happy to confine the majority of their munching to the compost bin.

But the front of our flat is unexplored territory. Next to the path is a tiny batch of bare soil under some tatty bushes (a rose and a flowering shrub of some sort; I can’t eat them so haven’t investigated further…). There’s a drain cover tucked under there too. It’s bare, not because of the shrubs, but because this is where snails rule. Not even weeds survive. It’s ill-advised to put the rubbish out without sturdy shoes as at night the front path becomes a mollusc motorway.

But I was desperate: one of my mystery squash seeds – from a mixed pack so I don’t what variety it is until it fruits – came up late, and then quickly outgrew its tiny pot. No more space, pots or mud in the garden, so I decided to enter Snail Central. Mystery squash was planted out with some of my spare marigold plants – just before some early evening rain.

I ventured out about 11.30pm to hear a noise like a distant cement-mixer. Esther had told me that she tracked down her midnight munchers by sound more than torchlight, and now I see what she means – this really was astonishingly loud. So I followed the sound, and this is what I found…

The hordes ascend - how many can you count?

The hordes ascend - how many can you count?

Much of the plant already stripped bare. A healthy looking leaf left on the top-right, though? Not for long..

All in a night's work

All in a night's work

I will survive

I will survive

The marigolds had already gone – I’d planted 12. These pictures only show the half of it. As I shone the torch around I found more advancing from the edges of the bed, and further battalions positioned on the path.

All in, I picked over 30 snails that night.  The next night, about 18. Then ten, and when I got down to two, I knew I was winning. I also learned that snail photography and murder definitely attracts more interest from the neighbours when it is undertaken in the front garden. That stereotype about the British twitching lace curtains? It’s true, even if these days it’s Ikea blinds.

Luckily, the squash was determined. I pointed it towards the rose stem, and it has shot for the sky. I’ll have some very strange looking rose-hips next month…

The picture above shows the first delicate bloom, which looks and feels like tissue. I’m hopeful it’s a cucuzzi, or ‘Sicilian serpent’ – I think curling fruits, over a metre in length, will look lovely in the rose – and provide a good meal.

OK, so the Burgess Buttercup are pretty, just more robust than 'mystery squash'. Here, they are shown enjoying the fine weather of a British summer.

OK, so the Burgess Buttercup are pretty, just more robust than 'mystery squash'. Here, they are shown enjoying the fine weather of a British summer.

The flowers are quite unlike the bolshy, gaudy yellow, coarse flowered winter squash (Burgess buttercup) I have elsewhere. I’d normally describe it more favourably, but it’s irritated me.

I was thrilled to start with: I love the way it romped through the garden like a triffid, hooking on to pots, tables, cracks in the stone, fences and me, if I stood still for more than a minute.

Bu then it got mildewy in the weeks of damp weather that have constituted the ‘barbecue weather’ forecast for July, and I cut back the yellowing leaves to slow the spread. Long  stretches of stalk, bald except for yellowing leaf-stumps, don’t look so jungle like.

Success and failure

Success and failure

Then, despite an abundance of bees, the first ten fruits did not set. So I had to initiate some early morning sex sessions, with the aid of a paintbrush to transfer pollen manually. All round satisfaction resulted, with both the fruits I assisted now fattening – the picture on the right shows the difference between bees and brushes!

But now, the plants are producing nothing but male flowers. I hope they haven’t given up – I’m still holding out for a glut of squash that I can store for winter meals. And I’d love to save seed, following Mr H’s excellent instructions, but I need more than two fruit if I’m to bother.


Male burgess buttercup bud. Better looking like this than deep-fried - when it resembles like the sort of fast-food chicken products commonly sold in 'buckets.'

The next reason I resent them is really my fault, but I’m blaming the Burgess. I’ve been cooking with my male courgette flowers quite a bit – mainly adding to frittatas.  So when I had this annoying surplus of the Burgess flowers I decided to be  a bit fancy in the kitchen. I don’t normally like fiddly cooking, but I’ve seen the flowers on sale at Borough market for a pound a piece, so thought I should use them well.

So I made a herby ricotta stuffing, fiddled about picking the bitter stamens and greenfly and ten other forms of insect life out of the flowers and then fiddled about putting the stuffing into the flowers, and wrapping the fiddly ends up, then fiddled about making batter, dipping fiddly flowers in flour then batter, then deep-frying them, while also reducing some balsamic vinegar to drizzle over the finished masterpiece. It was all a bit laborious, and even providing my own pretentious chef-fy commentary didn’t remove the feeling that precious minutes of life were being forever lost to me. But then the big moment:  I presented my work of art to He-who-lives-with-me with a flourish, and he made all the right sort of admiring noises. Until he started eating, and then he went rather quiet and seemed especially focused on mopping up as much of the artistic (and sweet) balsamic drizzle as he possibly could. “This balsamic is really nice” he said, very keenly.  “Is there any more?”

If only I’d found out before all the fiddling that winter squash flowers can be incredibly bitter. Now I’m incredibly bitter, and that’s the end of fiddly-stuff for me.

Which is a shame, because I think the recipe would be very nice – with summer squash. I found it here, if you fancy fiddling – with summer squash.

More exciting brown parcels in the post! One parcel included a packet of asparagus pea seeds – something I’ve never grown before and  which was chosen to help satisfy my ravenous new-vegetable urges. The merits seem many: Very attractive (edible) flowers, don’t need much fussing, and producing lots of interesting shaped pods which (at least when eaten young) can be used like peas but with a special hint of asparagus about them. I’m also informed that the roots can be used like sweet potato, and dried ground pods were once used as a coffee substitute. Great!

No phots of Asparagus Peas yet, for obvious reasons. So here's my eggplant, with a good dozen eggs in the brood.

No phots of Asparagus Peas yet, for obvious reasons. So here's my eggplant, with a good dozen eggs in the brood.

Well, depends who you ask. Journeying through cyberspace tonight, I have been enormously entertained by the inventive and poetic descriptions of its flavour offered by its many, many haters. I select a few that pleased me for your delight, oh fellow wanderers of the ether:

  • “pencil sharpenings”
  • “palate-lacerating tasteless razor blades”
  • “vile mutant vetchy thing”
  • “spiky cardboard”
  • “Waste of garden space” – practical concerns here
  • “NOT for eating- unless you have someone you really, really do not like over for dinner”
  • “pre-digested blotting paper.”
  • “Even the hens weren’t keen” – damning indeed
  • “tasted of unpaid bills” – very evocative

Wonderful descriptions – nearly all from the Cottage Smallholder and visitors. Cottage Smallholder seems to have given a host of closet asparagus pea haters the release they’ve needed.

Call me perverse, but I think I’m even keener now.

Most commentators acknowledge they at least look nice. But the flavour? Even a seed company is hedging its bets… “a unique gourmet flavour “

And Nigel Slater, a man I have a lot of faith in,  a man who knows tasty food, (and knows that you’d prefer not to fart about with it if you don’t need to), and whose enthusiasm is a big part of his charm, dismisses them too: “they aren’t really something for the kitchen”.

I’m obviously going to ignore all this wisdom and plant them anyway, and I might ignore all the other wisdom about when to plant and try and squeeze a few in now.

I’m going to like doing so too, even if I don’t like them. But I’d love to know if there are any fans out there – or even someone that thinks they’re okay … I’m holding out some hope that maybe some of those above just didn’t pick them young enough (the name asparagus pea might also be inspired by the fact that, like asparagus, they are best eaten young and as soon as they are cooked). Wishful thinking, I know, but the fun of trying something new outweighs it all, even when certain disappointment lies ahead.

My gardening (and blogging) time has been limited by two jobs demanding my attention (ostensibly taking the same amount of time as one job, but that ignores the doubling of overflow and emotional energy). So I have lots of stored-up posts: of miniature fashioned-at-playgroup greenhouses somehow still bursting with exciting plants; of early-morning squash sex (a story of first-time fumbles and disappointment, developing into a mutually satisfying relationship); of triumph against the odds with the mollusc masses; of how even a few containers can yield a glut; of Oh!-bergine satisfaction, (and of much more painful wordplay likely in future posts). But for now no time to inject new posts into the ether.

tomato heaven

Except circumstances conspire. Remote email access is down, so work for tonight is on hold. And the most tangy, acid-sweet bursting of home-grown joy brings me to the keyboard. The wholewheat pasta, feta and purple basil pictured (it is purple basil, not burnt bits) were merely there to stop the pleasure of these cherry tomatoes becoming too overwhelming. The simplest thing – they were just put in a low oven, with a sprinkle of olive oil, sea salt, pepper and a touch of crushed garlic. But they slow cooked down into such intense and perfect mouthfuls that I’d probably be happy if these were the only things I’d grown and cooked all year.

I refer you to my previous comment.