It’s been a crazy year down at the vegetable plot with all the seasons out of kilter. Long periods of dry, cold weather, sudden torrential downpours and then hot sunny periods to dry the soil out, it’s a wonder anything grew at all.
Nature fought back, and amazingly all the vegetable growers round about have reported bumper crops. And because summer started so late, everything started producing at the same time, so suddenly we were all harvesting armfuls of stuff we couldn’t even give away.
However, we are used to an embarrassing period of over production. Our vegetable garden sits somewhat closer to the North Pole than the equator, so the growing season is shorter than if we were further south. Over the years seed producers have developed many different varieties so, with careful selection, it’s possible to select plants that can be harvested over several months. Even so vegetable growing entails long periods of waiting, followed by a short period of plenty, this year more than ever.
Runner beans, broad beans, french beans have been in abundance, and the freezer is stuffed full of them. The garden has kept us well supplied with rhubarb, and a steady flow of raspberries, even though these were only planted last autumn. Potatoes have done really well and we are still enjoying the early crop. We have started lifting the main crop. These are perfect for roasting, and will also store well in heavy grade paper sacks.
By a quick calculation the whole crop should keep us going well into next year, possibly up to the beginning of next year’s harvest. We will carry on digging them up over the coming weeks so that the ground they occupy is cleared fully by the end of October ready for the follow on late autumn planting.
Other crops have to be harvested as soon as they are ready. Typically they start off as a trickle and then move into full swing with an avalanche of surplus vegetables. Beans are not too much of a problem. As the first few become ready to pick they can be added to salads, or even crunched straight off the vine. Open freezing on a tray works best for most vegetables, then it’s simply a matter of storing them in plastic bags. The leeks aren’t ready yet but I’ll probably leave most of them in the ground until needed. Leeks are perennials and go to seed the year after germination, so they are genetically programmed to survive all but the hardest winters.
The biggest problem for most vegetable growers is what to do with surplus courgettes. Delicious at first, they can quickly become a running family joke and you can’t have courgettes with every barbecue.
They do however make excellent chutney, and the open structure of the courgettes soaks up all the flavours. I was a bit concerned that with the extended simmering needed to make chutney, the courgettes themselves would turn to a mush. This does not seem to happen. There are a number of different recipes on the internet but the version I am using at the moment is a mixture of the best, with some added personal touches. So the ingredients I use are:
- 1 kg courgettes, peeled and diced
- 1 large apple (preferably a bramley), chopped as above
- green or red pepper(you’ve guessed it) chopped as above
- 1 large onion, chopped fine
- 1 crushed garlic clove
- 250 ml white wine vinegar. Supermarket own brand is fine
- 250 gm soft light brown sugar
- 1 tbs finely chopped ginger
- 1 tbs English mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
- 1/2 tsp salt
Method: Place all the ingredients except for the spices into a large casserole and bring to the boil. Sprinkle the spices in and stir thoroughly so that they are evenly distributed. Simmer for 45 – 60 minutes stirring occasionally or until all surplus liquid has evaporated. I usually crush half the ingredients with a potato masher otherwise it can be a bit lumpy. Then ladle into sterilised jars and cap off. The chutney will easily keep for several months but is unlikely to remain uneaten that long. We have it with cold meats, bread and cheese, goes really well with pork pie…..
Then if you are growing your own tomatoes as well you will have another glut on your hands as soon as they start to ripen.
You can solve both the courgette and the tomato problem with that old favourite, ratatouille. We had that recently on a trip to France where it was served as the standard vegetable in a little ramikin. Effectively a mixture of vegetables that you can eat hot or cold, it also freezes well provided you don’t overcook the ingredients. There are plenty of recipes around, but this is one of our favourites.
Time to sign off. We’re running out of time and I’ve got to go harvesting again. And not just in the vegetable garden. The hedgerows are bursting with sloes this year, ready to be turned into sloe gin.