Today has been about assessing wind damage. The teasels, sunflowers and chrysanthemums all came a cropper at the weekend, the heavy stems keeling over horizontally in the strong wind. Inevitably the flowers then turned their heads towards the sun, meaning the stems are now bent at right-angles – not a great look for cut-flowers. The colour palette is gradually changing now as we head into late summer, with the first dahlias and sunflowers coming through, and the feathery spider chrysanthemums looking promising.
This is such a strange year for growing. It’s mid-August and the broad beans are only now coming into their own – today I picked a load to have alongside the first courgette. The first courgette, and it’s 9th August! Last week I planted out tiny savoy cabbage and kohl rabi seedlings for a winter harvest, mainly in hope rather than expectation.
I’ve been picking flowers for drying as well as for the vase. Tansy, cornflowers, poppy heads and teasels are sure-fire winners. I do not hold much hope for dried marigolds but I think it’s worth a go to see how they fare. The strawflowers – backbone of winter dried flower arrangements – are not looking hopeful, however. They languished in the cold-frame for weeks (I had to re-sow a few times due to slug damage) and therefore got planted out late, just a week or two ago. In my experience it’s the late summer to autumn plants that really thrive on our plot so there is still a chance, but we’ll need the weather to be kind (sunny, warm) for a crop.
Whilst I am harvesting, there has not been so much of the epic afternoons of fruit and veg prep as usual. Just one big bowl of blackcurrants to be topped and tailed, and beans in dribs-and-drabs to pod. The blueberries are now cropping, plus a few errant blackberries that survived the winter weed, and the raspberries still a few weeks away.
Produce processing is a summer chore that is also a joy. Chore because the task HAS to be done regardless of how much other work is in the way….but a joy because there is the chance to properly engage with what we’ve grown, be present in the moment and in the season. Soft fruit, green leafy veg and tomatoes are the usual time-takers, but this year I added a new one to the list: nasturtium pods.
Nasturtiums run rampant across our plot, all self-seeding after just one sowing years back. I do use the flowers and leaves in salads but mainly they’re there for the bees. Allotment neighbour Susan asked me the other day if I ever pickle the pods for poor-man capers, and the honest answer was Nope, I have never done this. Until now.
Pickled caper pods whisper to me of times past. They are product of the pottager and cottage garden; I can easily imagine them on an Elizabethan table as on a trendy salad in 2021. I have never eaten them but am drawn to the idea of an English, home-grown alternative to the caper. Here’s what you do – I can’t comment on the outcome as yet but will report back in November.
Pickled Nasturtium Pods (poor-man’s capers)
For one jar of pods, harvest about 100g of nasturtium pods. These are the seed pods of the nasturtium which swell and ripen once the flower has gone over. Pick them over for stems and errant leaves, then give them a good rinse under the cold tap.
Put the pods into a dish with 15g salt and 300ml water. Put the lid on then leave in the fridge in a day or two. The salting process helps to mellow the flavour of the final pickle.
When you’re ready to finish the pickle, clean and sterilise a glass jar and lid. Rinse the nasturtium pods and dry them well on kitchen paper. Pop the pods into the jar with a pinch of herbs and spices (I used 1 tsp coriander seeds and two bayleaves). Black peppercorns, dill and white mustard seeds would all be good. If you like a slightly sweeter pickle add 1 tsp sugar. Then fill the jar with white wine vinegar until it reaches the very top, about 200ml.
Pop the lid on then leave to pickle and mature for at least one month before eating.
Once mature, the pickled pods can be used in place of capers – in salads, on pizzas and with cheese.
Also this week:
Harvesting: Cornflowers, cosmos, tansy, last ammi majus, marigolds, dahlias, first sunflowers, teasels, achillea, last lavender, first courgette (FINALLY), nasturtium pods, wild rocket, a tiny handful of climbing beans, broad beans, chard, blueberries, first blackberries, last gooseberries. Could be harvesting kale and cavolo nero but leaving them for a little while longer. Every trip to Grove House leads to a bootful of beetroot, potatoes, stick beans, carrots and more blueberries.
Also: Pulled up lettuce and peas. Planted out strawflowers, lupins, delphiniums. Sowed beet spinach, salad rocket, quatre saison lettuce and mustard leaves.
Cooking: The weather has turned rainy with a chill in the air, so roast pork belly it is. Mousakka with summer squash instead of aubergine. Chocolate roulade with strawberries.
Also: Trip to Liverpool for work, the joy of a cappuccino in a new city. Inspiration for new shades of achillea and echinops at Highbury Hall.