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Courgettes

Vegetable Garden

Seven jobs for your autumn vegetable garden

October 2, 2014

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden“And all of a sudden it was autumn”

The words from the social media stream of Foxglove Lane, one of my favourite photographic blogs, captured the almost overnight change in our weather. Our wonderfully long Indian summer is coming to an end. The leaves have started to flutter down in the autumn breeze and the hedgerows are giving us hints of the glorious shades that will soon adorn the landscape in their fall displays.

In the laneways the hedge cutters are busy trimming and tidying and thankfully those around us are doing so with sharpened blades that don’t leave the branches scared, torn and naked. The hedgerows are looking trim and tidy, ready to take the weight of snow that may befall them and the regrowth that springtime will bring.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenIn our homestead Mr G has been busy clearing out sheds so he has room to cut and store firewood and make space for workshop repairs, a never-ending pastime when you live in an old, rescued farmhouse.

And the garden… I’m beginning to despair at the lack of time I’m managing to find in my own. I do know however, this is a temporary glitch, soon I’ll be able to spend some precious hours inhaling the scent of soil and vegetation, preparing the garden for winter, hopefully before the rains come.

If you’re growing vegetables and are wondering what you could be doing outside now in the autumn days to ready it for winter, here’s seven jobs you could be getting on with. I keep adding to them, this was meant to be a list of five, and of course there’s plenty more, but I might frighten myself if I begin to list them all…

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenSeven Jobs in the Autumn Vegetable Garden

1. Pumpkins, Courgettes and Squash

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenThe days and nights are still warm but that could change, quick as a flash. Keep a close eye on your squash plants and the weather forecast as members of the squash family are frost tender. If you haven’t already done so, cut the stems of any plants that aren’t producing fruit and stop them growing. Small fruit are unlikely to amount to anything at this stage so its sadly time to get rid of them too. It may seem harsh but it will allow the plant to put all it’s energy into developing the remaining fruit on the plant. For more information on growing, harvesting and caring for squash, the RHS have a very useful information page here.

Courgettes will be coming to the end of their season and you may have noticed some whiteness on the leaves. This is likely to be powdery mildew and can be treated by removing the worst of the infected leaves from the plant and spraying the rest with a solution of 30% milk to 70% water. Don’t forget that plants have a natural lifespan and many will be starting to die off at this stage anyway so it may just be time to let nature take her natural course.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden2. Clear away dead plants and debris

Now’s a great time to get outside and clear away all the debris of plants that have finished growing. Compost anything that’s not diseased, tidy away canes and netting. Clear away dead leaves away from plants such as the brassica that will be overwintering.

3. Cover the Soil

Once you’ve cleared away all the old plants and vegetable debris from around your garden, you may be left with beds of bare soil. If you’re not planning on planting any vegetables to overwinter, it’s a good idea to cover the soil with well-rotted manure or compost then cover them with black plastic or cardboard to prevent the nutrients leaching out during the winter months and polluting water streams. This will not only feed the soil over the winter months but prevent weeds growing too.

If you don’t have access to manure or compost, most garden centres and online stores now sell green manures that can be sown and left to grow until the springtime before being dug into the soil before planting season begins again.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden4. Start Collecting Leaves

Leaves are a valuable source of nutrients and will rot down to create leaf mould that will turn into a wonderful soil conditioner. It’s a good idea to keep leaves separate from your compost area. Sacks can be purchased to keep them in or make a leaf mould bin using four fence posts and some chicken wire. The Secret Garden blog explains leaf mould in more detail and why it makes sense to collect our leaves.

5. Look After Your Rhubarb Patch

I spotted some very useful tips from the Real Men Sow blog recently that will tell you how to look after your rhubarb patch in the autumn. If you haven’t done so already, stop harvesting, let the leaves die down naturally then mulch heavily with well-rotted manure. Don’t cover the crowns completely is it may encourage rot to set in. Tending to your rhubarb now will make sure you get a good crop of stalks next year.

6. Harvesting

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenGrab what you can when you can! I’m pining for some time to preserve all the fruit and vegetable growing in my garden but have given up stressing about it. Berries (including hedgerow berries) can be frozen flat on trays then bagged up, ready for some quieter time during the winter months for jam and juice making. Apples can be washed, peeled, sliced and basted with lemon juice before freezing flat on trays, then bagging up. Runner beans can be blanched and frozen in handy sized bags and courgettes will keep for a while in a cool, dry shed. (Whatever would we do without a freezer?!)

7. Plant something new

Just because we’re approaching winter, doesn’t mean we can’t grow anything. Now’s the time to plant overwintering onion sets and garlic cloves. Oriental salad leaves grow well in our climate as well as winter spinach and hardy peas.

If you’d like more than seven things to get on with in the vegetable garden, check out the Garden Tips page on the tab above for a month by month guide, as well as some handy, free downloads. Oh and if you can think up any upcycling ideas for a pile of old bicycles, be sure to let me know!

Food & Drink, Lifestyle

Sunday Snap – Four vegetable birthday cake surprise

September 15, 2013

Dee's Cake

This really is a snap given there were people waiting to eat it! Today I’m sharing a lovely birthday cake surprise made by Mr G. The Carrot Cake is a Good Housekeeping recipe and the Beetroot and Courgette Cake as well as the Green Tomato Buns can be found on the blog.

(Just to put the size of this cake into perspective, here’s the carrot cake part of of it having just been presented to me.)

Dee's Birthday Cake

Vegetable Garden

Identifying Squash Seedlings

May 23, 2013

The following post comes hot on the heels of the earlier one today following a twitter comment from Rachel where she was wondering about how to identify seedlings.

Cucumber, squash and courgette are all in the Cucurbitaceae family of vegetables and their seedlings look remarkably similar. I’m sure many of us have planted modules full of the flat seeds in multipurpose compost, labelled them, watched them grow, potted them on to individual larger pots, forgotten to add new labels and then completely lost track of what we’d sown.

If this has happened to you this year, here’s a few pics that may help you to name your seedlings:  Continue Reading…

Food & Drink

The Prince of Squash – Soup Recipe

October 31, 2012
Crown Prince Squash Recipe

Winter squash harvest

This week we carved five squash/pumpkins to celebrate Hallowe’en – one of which was one of my precious Crown Prince squash varieties.

Grown this year from seed, I’ve watched three grow and develop and there’s a part of me that didn’t want to slice and bake the tasty fruit. Although the skin is a grey/blue, the flesh inside is a rich orange in colour and once roasted is one of the tastiest squash we’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. It develops a deliciously sweet chestnut flavour and when made into a soup is simply divine. As we were scooping out the flesh the scent of melons filled the kitchen, reminding us of the Crown Princes’ relationship with the rest the Cucurbita family.

Crown Prince Squash Recipe

Crown Prince Squash

If you’ve yet to grow a Crown Prince, I heartily recommend you try it next year as they’re easy to grow (instructions here) and are great for winter storage. If you haven’t grown them, try sourcing them in a farmers market – I bought my first one last year from a local organic farm gate.

This is my third squash or pumpkin soup recipe on the blog and the tastiest yet. The reason I keep posting them isn’t for their amazing flavour – pumpkin can be quite bland on its own, more that I’m hoping it’ll encourage you to use the flesh!

In my previous life before children, I’d scoop out the seeds and flesh before carving pumpkins and composting them. That was it. I was too scared to try cooking them and didn’t have a clue what to do with the flesh. In fact I have a vague recollection of thinking what a waste of food, there must be something I could make with it, but it wasn’t until I became a budget conscious mum and starting cooking more than mushroom curries that I found out what to do with it.

Given that there’s only so much squash soup a family can make, this year we’ll also be making pumpkin muffins based on the courgette cake recipe and will be roasting some of the seeds. I spotted this recipe for cocoa roasted pumpkin seeds on twitter from the Food to Glow blog and will be giving it a go.

Crown Prince Squash Recipe

Ingredients

Diced flesh from a Crown Prince squash
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 ltrs vegetable stock
25g butter
Lots of finely grated nutmeg to taste
freshly ground salt & pepper
150 ml milk

Carefully cut the top from the squash and scoop out the seeds and fibrous contents. You can’t save and plant the seeds from a squash such as Crown Prince as it’s an F1 variety (meaning that whatever you grow wont be like its parent). Rinse and place the seeds to one side so that you can make the cocoa roasted snack when the oven’s hot. Using a spoon, scrape out as much flesh from the squash as you can without damaging the outer shell. Place the empty shell to one side ready for carving. Spread out the pumpkin flesh on a roasting tray and bake in a pre-heated oven at 175ºC for about an hour.

Once roasted, melt the butter and cook the onion gently for 5 minutes in a covered saucepan, without colouring.  Add the potato, roasted squash and vegetable stock.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 mins until the vegetables are tender.  Cool a little, then purée in a liquidiser.  Return to a clean saucepan and stir in the milk, grated nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the soup into the empty shell for serving if you’re not planning on carving it.

Do you have any favourite squash recipes or links you’d like to share?

Crown Prince Squash

Crown Prince Squash

Food & Drink, Travel

Two Squash Soup & Kilkenny Food Camp

October 28, 2012
Thanksgiving Cornbread from Ron Wise at Savour Kilkenny

Thanksgiving Cornbread from Ron Wise at Savour Kilkenny

Kilkenny is buzzing this week with the sixth year of the annual food extravaganza that is Savour Kilkenny currently taking place. There’s so much happening in the Marble City – from cooking demonstrations  competitions, foraging and markets, tasting, talks and tasty tweet ups – every year the programme looks better and better.

Unfortunately I’ve yet to spend time at more than the atmospheric weekend market or for the third year running, Food Camp, but maybe next year we’ll make it to one of the evening meals instead of watching them unfold on twitter from the comfort of the sofa.

Blight Resistant Potatoes

Blight Resistant Potatoes on the Parade

I’m a big fan of the Food Camp which I’ve written about before and would encourage anyone who hasn’t yet been to one to make a date for next year.

Food Camp is a place where anyone with an interest in food is encouraged to talk about it. This sharing of passion sends you home motivated, worried, excited and above all more informed about aspects of the food world than you were four hours previously (or seven if you’re there for the day). This year was no exception. It can be difficult to choose which topic you want to sit in on as three run at the same time, but I wasn’t disappointed listening to Sarah Baker share her passion for teaching children of all ages about where food comes from and how to cook it, William Despard of The Bretzel Bakery confused that parents would sooner buy fancy buns than decent bread or Natasha Czopar share her knowledge and enthusiasm for raw food.

Savour Kilkenny 2012

Savour Kilkenny 2012

The last topic of the morning that sent me home uncomfortable about our future however, was from journalist Suzanne Campbell when she talked about sky rocketing global food prices that haven’t quite filtered down to us but soon will do.

Make no mistake, next year we’ll see food prices rise higher and higher, and they won’t be coming down in the foreseeable future either so we’re going to have to get used to paying a lot more for our weekly shopping. The global weather conditions – including droughts in the US to the long wet summers in Ireland and the UK will impact heavily. With our weekly or monthly housekeeping already stretched (and that’s before the November budget) surely it makes more sense than ever for people to grow their own food? Anything we can do to help keep our food bills at manageable levels has to be good and I for one will be planning to sow and grow more for my family next year.

In the meantime, this year we’ve had lots of squash growing in the polytunnel so when thinking about what to cook for the Food Camp lunch, given the event that it was, choosing to take a seasonal recipe along to the pot luck lunch seemed obvious. Slight confession here in that I didn’t use one of the several large winter squash growing here as my children had pestered my to buy some bright orange pumpkins for carving and we didn’t grow any this year. I did however, add some courgettes to the saucepan giving this a slight twist on the usual pumpkin soup. This recipe could easily be spiced up with the addition of some chilli or even a touch of five spice for a Far Eastern twist.

Winter squash harvest

Winter squash harvest

Ingredients

Diced flesh from a medium pumpkin
Medium Courgette, diced
4 medium potatoes, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 ltrs vegetable stock
25g (1oz) butter
finely grated nutmeg
freshly ground salt & pepper
150ml milk

Carefully cut the top from the pumpkin and scoop out the contents. Place the empty pumpkin to one side. Discard the seeds (or clean and roast) and spread out the pumpkin flesh on a roasting tray. Bake in the oven at 175ºC for about an hour.

Once roasted, melt the butter and cook the onion gently for 5 minutes in a covered saucepan, without colouring.  Add the potato, roasted pumpkin, courgette, carrots and vegetable stock.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 mins until the vegetables are tender.  Cool a little, then purée in a liquidiser.  Return to a clean saucepan and stir in the milk, grated nutmeg and season to taste.

To serve, empty the hot soup into the empty pumpkin and grate a little more nutmeg onto the top.

Ron & Mona Wise

Ron & Mona Wise  aka “The Chef & I”

My Savour Kilkenny experience ended by spending a few hours on the parade with two of our three children. Here we munched on the tastiest free range chicken baps, supped on Badger & Dodo lattes and hot chocolate then enjoyed meeting up with twitter friends and listening to Ron and Mona Wise talk and demonstrate how to cook a thanksgiving dinner…. mmmmm is all I can say to that, Ron’s stuffed turkey was something else and what a finish to a lovely couple of days.

The festival runs until Monday, 29th so you still have time to catch some of the events there.  See the website for more details.

 

Food & Drink

Courgette (Zucchini) Soup with Brie Recipe

September 5, 2012
Zucchini (Courgette) Soup

Zucchini (Courgette) Soup

This is a revamped blog post from a couple of years ago that is a favourite recipe in our house and a great way of using up lots of courgettes or zucchini as they’re known in most other parts of the world. It originated from The New Covent Garden Food Co Book of Soups.

Without the added Brie the soup is tasty (though on the thin side) and makes a quick lunch which my children often ask for when they spot a courgette laying on the counter top. We often leave out the cheese as it’s not an ingredient that’s generally in our fridge unless it’s been written down on the shopping list. However, if you’re looking for a thicker soup with that *something* extra to share with friends, do add it as it makes all the difference.

In the photo above the Brie was omitted and Parmigiano cheese added to the soup after it had been blended, along with a shot of cream (which for the life of me I can never get into that pretty swirl that chefs seem to manage! Mine resembles a distorted map of America!)

Recipe Serves 6

450g (1lb) sliced courgettes
1 onion, peeled and sliced
knob of butter
350g potatoes (about 2 medium)
1.2 ltrs vegetable stock
freshly grated salt and pepper
*optional 225g Brie, peeled and rind removed, or grated Parmigiano

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the chopped onion, cooking until it’s soft and slightly caramelised. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer gently for around 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. If using the Brie, stir in now and cook until it’s melted. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree in a liquidiser if you have one. Remember not to put the cap over the lid if blending hot liquids as it’s like to explode! Instead fold a cloth and cover the top.

Serve up the soup with lots of bread and grated cheese of any description if you’re not using the Brie.

What’s your favourite home-made soup?

Vegetable Garden

Three Sisters Companion Planting

November 27, 2011
Beans, Corn and Squash - Known as Three Sisters Companion Planting

Beans, Corn and Squash – Known as Three Sisters Companion Planting

Three sisters is a type of companion planting in the vegetable garden that the north Americans have traditionally used for over 6,000 years, both symbolically and beneficially.

Passed down through generations, the stories are that corn, beans and squash are sacred gifts from the Great Spirit. The planting season is marked by ceremonies to honour the three sister spirits.

Beans, Corn and Squash - Known as Three Sisters Companion PlantingAlthough we didn’t follow the traditional three sister planting to the letter in our own garden (I planted the seeds in blocks and not up and around each other), I can say without a doubt that we harvested bountiful crops of all three vegetables during 2010 when we experimented with this planting

Traditionally the beans are planted at the base of the corn stalks which are then used to support the growing bean stems.

The leaves from the squash shade the roots of the corn and beans and help to retain  moisture. The also suppress the weeds and their prickly stems discourage pests. Also the roots from the beans are nitrogen fixers which benefits both the corn and the squash.

This method is quite different from the commonly grown rows of vegetables used in crop rotation, as here the vegetable families have been juggled up, but it works. Their growth habits and nutritional requirements are quite different but complementary to each other.

I’d certainly recommend giving this method a try to look forward to using it again in my own garden.

Food & Drink

Recipe: Chocolate Courgette Cake

October 15, 2011
Chocolate Courgette Cake Recipe

Credit: photo credit: Wurz via photopin cc

The original recipe for this chocolate courgette cake came from the BBC Good Food but feeling impatient and not having all the ingredients in the press, it’s been adapted (and worked).

Today’s cake baking was saved for school home time knowing how much the girls like to help. Today our youngest came running in the door to see what I was up to and immediately put on her apron full of delight at the prospect of helping mum … the delight was short-lived and the smile quickly turned into a frown…

She spotted the courgette that was waiting to be fed to the grater in the food processor “ahh no – we’re not putting THAT in a chocolate cake!!” She loves cracking eggs and sieving flour however, so was persuaded to stay and give it a go. A few hours later when her big sister returned home she excitedly dragged her into the kitchen … “you have to try the chocolate cake – it has courgettes in and its DELICIOUS!”

She’s right, so here it is…

Chocolate Courgette Cake Recipe

Cake Ingredients (my version)

350g self-raising flour
50g cocoa powder
1 tsp mixed spice
175ml olive oil
375g caster sugar
3 free range eggs
a few drops of vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
500g grated courgettes
140g roasted pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Ingredients For the Chocolate Fudge Icing

100g dark chocolate 70%
75ml evaporated milk
75g granulated sugar
40g butter
few drops vanilla extract

Cake Method

Heat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 24cm deep cake tin.

1. Place the flour, cocoa powder, mixed spice and salt into a large bowl and combine.
2. In another bowl combine the sugar, eggs, olive oil, vanilla extract and grated courgette.
3. Mix the dry and wet mixture until almost combined then add the pistachio nuts.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for approx 50 min’s (use a skewer to ensure its cooked)
5. Cool in the cake tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling.

Chocolate Courgette (zucchini) Cake Recipe

Chocolate Fudge Icing Method

Put the sugar and evaporated milk into a heavy based saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil then simmer without stirring for 6 min’s.

Remove from the heat, add the broken up chocolate pieces and once fully incorporated, stir in the butter and vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Pour into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and once cool place in the fridge to thicken.

Spread the chocolate fudge over the cake and enjoy!

Have you tried eating vegetables in your cakes? If so, what’s your favourite?