Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guest Post: Nigel the Gardeners' World dog

I don't normally do guest posts on this blog, not least because you don't really need yet another advert for garden tat. However, when I was approached by a TV personality, I went all starry-eyed and agreed that he could write a post. Well, I say write, but he had to dictate as he's not very good at typing.

For reasons best known to himself, he prefers to communicate in limericks. I asked him first to tell me a little about Monty, his veg growing and his taste in clothes...

"Now Monty grows many a gherkin
In his cords and his old leather jerkin
This rhyme is to teach you
That if you stand still, he'll pleach you
And that his hair resembles a merkin. Woof woof!"

He agreed to spill the beans on Monty Don's recent press kerfuffle, when Monty stated that the only way to kill lily beetles was by hand...

"Now my Monty's not academical
But he can sometimes get quite polemical.
He'll exhort you to splat
Those lily beetles flat,
And not mention the use of a chemical! Growl."
Finally, I asked about the new pond that Monty dug by hand in his garden, Longmeadow. There has been some criticism that the pond is the size of many people's gardens and that Monty's gardening plans are on a scale that many people just can't adapt in their own small gardens. Nigel spilt the beans on Monty's true plans for the pond...

"Now the pond was a big, big mistake.
In fact, it's more the size of a lake.
Monty's plan of action
Is to build a boating attraction,
And have Joe sell teas, coffees and cake. Woof"
 I'd like to thank Nigel for taking a brief break from rolling in compost heaps, to chat to me today. I hope he'll be a regular guest contributor to the blog. You can follow Nigel's occasional revelations on Twitter at @Nigel_Dog

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

The root of the barbarians

Or rhubarb as we prefer to call it, although it doesn't sound so exciting and testosterone-filled.

I have to admit that for a very long time I was not a fan of these pink sticks - in fact, family history has it that I threw up when forced to eat it at infant school, after I told them I couldn't eat it. Cue irate mother marching to school to remonstrate with the evil dinner lady. Needless to say, I wasn't forced to eat it again.
I avoided rhubarb for a long, long time after that. Until, in fact, we got our allotment. It's not as though I had a Damascene moment where I knew that I would now love rhubarb; I just felt that every allotment needed a rhubarb plant, otherwise an essential essence of allotmenty-ness was missing. Since we were growing it, SomeBeans persuaded me that we really should eat some of the stuff; and so I have, without the gastro-intestinal eruptions that I was expecting. Hoorah. The minimum that you can really ask of a food is that it doesn't cause you to up-chuck. The rhubarb indeed exceeded this minimum by actually being rather nice. I must have grown into this vegetable that masquerades as a fruit.

But now the perennial allotmenteer conundrum - what to do with all your harvest? We've crumbled extensively, and whilst I have made my peace with the stuff, something in me baulks at rhubarb jam, though I hear it is very nice with ginger. But you have to admit it doesn't look great. So, in the spirit of experimentation which led to the great parsnip cake disaster, I decided to make it into a cake. Instead of looking for an appropriate recipe, I thought I'd adapt one. So, out came the recipe for Dorset Apple Cake from SomeBeans' mum, and instead of apple, I chucked in rhubarb. I have to admit, I was full of trepidation when it came to tasting time. As was my official guinea pig, SomeBeans. Squidgy due to the liquid content of the rhubarb, it wouldn't last more than a couple of days, and is probably best stored in the fridge. It also is very crumbly. But surprisingly, it was extremely nice.

Cake success!


Cheshire Rhubarb Cake (an adaptation of Dorset Apple Cake)

8oz self-raising flour
12oz rhubarb sticks
4oz butter/cooking fat of your choice (though perhaps not lard!)
a little milk
4oz sugar
2oz currants - or if, like me, you don't have any in the cupboard, sultanas did perfectly well

For the topping/filling:
3oz butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar.

I forgot - I also added a bit of cinnamon to the mix, as everything is improved by a sprinkle of cinnamon - try a bit the next time you make chilli con carne.

  1. Sieve flour and rub in fat until mixture is like breadcrumbs
  2. Chop rhubarb into chunks 1-2cm in length
  3. Add rhubarb to flour mixture with sugar, currants and cinnamon
  4. Add enough milk to make a stiff dough
  5. Stir all together
  6. Spoon into two greased 7" tins and smooth
  7. Bake at gas mark 7 (220 Celsius) for 10-15 mins, then reduce to gas mark 2 and bake for 60 minutes
  8. Once out of the oven, sandwich the two layers together with some of the butter
  9. Cut up the rest of the butter, mix with the brown sugar and put on top of the cake.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Book Review – Kitchen Garden Estate by Helene Gammack (National Trust Books)

Let me start by saying that I was given this book by the publishers to review, but this has no effect on my comments.
Kitchen Garden Estate is a bit of a strange beast. Its sub-title is “Traditional country-house techniques for the modern gardener or smallholder”, but if you are looking for a practical guide to running your own smallholding or even for growing your own, then this, perhaps, is not the book for you. If, however, you have an interest in garden and estate history in relation to food production then this will be of interest. Having visited a few estates, and enjoyed looking at the productive gardens, I have to say I did enjoy this book very much. I won’t however, be transferring much of this to my day-to-day allotmenteering, though I must admit I do now hanker after a bee house.
After a brief historical introduction to growing your own, the author examines the development of the production of the range of foods grown on the grand estates of England and Wales. Alongside this we are provided with sample recipes from National Trust archives and contemporary authors. I'm very tempted to make the plum, apple and pear cake but rather less tempted by the eel recipe from Izaak Walton. Call me a wuss, but any recipe that requires you to re-slide the skin back over your meal before securing it where the head would have been if you hadn't just cut it off has me reaching for a ready meal instead.

The development of fruit and vegetable gardens over time, including overseas influences, is examined. The change from place of beauty to hidden utilitarian workspace (though often no less beautiful, with serried ranks of perfect veg and espaliered fruit) is charted as garden fashions change and landscaped parklands become more common. And it's always nice to read the story about Lord Leconfield and his banana.

Pinery at Tatton Park

Melon yard at Spetchley Park

Trained fruit trees at Tatton Park
It was interesting to see mention of 'crinkle crankle' walls, which I had come across when I lived near Suffolk (where they are common) but I didn't know the reason behind this style of wall until now.

Of course, most people don't have a walled garden. Nor do many have an orangery, such as that at Croome Park - estate owners in former times were keen to ensure that buildings in the landscape were beautiful as well as functional. This orangery was designed by Robert Adams, and had an underfloor heating system.

The orangery at Dunham Massey is not quite as grand, but still rather impressive - which was rather the point.

The author makes comment that little is new in the area of gardening and food production - the recent trend for forest gardening has been around for a long time.

Other areas covered include beekeeping, fishponds, dovescotes and poultry, and dairying. As someone who has some knowledge of modern dairy processing plants, it was fascinating to see what an 18th century dairy looked like - a thing of beauty with Wedgewood tiles and dishes. Sadly nowadays, it's all stainless steel - easier to keep clean, but utility writ large, and most certainly not a thing of beauty.

Whilst many of us might be able to make use of some of the fruit and veg growing techniques used in large estates, and even urban hen-keeping is relatively common, few can hope to have their own stew pond, dairy, model farm or deer park. This is perhaps where the sub-title of the book falls down.
Part history book, part gardening/smallholding book, part cookbook, supported by historical images, this is a book which may try a little too hard to jump on the 'grow your own' bandwagon. However, as a very readable look at how food production has developed over the years on large estates, it is very interesting.
Rather posh fish pond at Croome Park
Deer in my back garden Tatton Park
We might not be able to fit a deer park or a stew pond into the modern garden, but it's somehow nice to know that I grow some vegetables that the Tudors considered 'deintie dishes'. Thanks to this book, I can make that link to the past.
Kitchen Garden Estate - traditional country-house techniques for the modern gardener by Helene Gammack, published by National Trust. ISBN 97819078929127

(All photographs in this post are my own).