Sausage and (broad) beans on toast

It’s hard to believe that high summer is upon us already. As ever we’re trying to catch our breath, from several intense weeks of event management (me) and back-to-back fabrication projects (him)…but there is an end in sight. Which is well, because this time of year needs to be savoured, noticed, enjoyed. Harry and I disappeared to Sussex at the weekend to visit old friends, armed with bucket and spade. It’s so noticeably hotter and dryer down there, with golden fields ready for harvesting and sun-kissed calm seas.

We practically had the beach to ourselves

Back home, it’s time for a few remedial allotment jobs. The fruit cage, which never quite served its purpose, finally gave way to old age and was precariously close to collapse; it’s now been half taken down (because to take it apart properly would take too long and Matt’s always at work) so it sits haphazardly on its side, no longer a threat to Martin’s dahlias but at just the right height for me to whack my head on every time I take a look at the blueberries.

The fruit cage is no more

I’ve done a more thorough job of staking. My birthday present from Matt was my very own hammer, meaning I finally whollop the homemade oak stakes into the ground myself. Chrysanthemums, dahlias and sunflowers have now been supported with stakes and string – not the prettiest way of doing it, but it works.

Dahlias are supported with stakes and grids of string
The starburst chrysanthemums also need staking, as they can get to a good 5 feet tall

The week of hot weather has brought the harvest on. We have a sea of cerinthe, ammi and gypsophila, which is unexpected and joyous. Nestled amongst them are two courgette plants, which in the weekend I was away managed to give birth to two giant whoppers (marrows already!); I need to keep a closer eye on them. Behind them the climbing beans are finally starting to climb, and the sunflowers are shooting up. I like the mix of flowers and veg jostling for space; our allotment always takes an age to reach fruitfulness but when it does, it’s so satisfying.

The cerinthe, ammi and gypsophila have exploded, framed with beans and courgettes
Cornflower and calendula interspersed with self-seeded nasturtium

I’m now picking the last of the broad beans, plus the first of what I think as high summer flowers – the cornflowers, calendula, and this time for the first time, wine-coloured snapdragons.

Yesterday’s basket, with broad beans, chard, cornflowers, snapdragon and ammi

It’s the time of year when I have to make time for veg and fruit processing – as well as the broad beans I also had a trug-full of peas, which I had grown intending to eat as mange tout, but Harry was so in to eating peas from the pod, I left them in for a little longer. It look an hour to pod this lot, accompanied by Claire Balding walking the Sussex and Kent countryside on Radio 4’s Ramblings. Note the blueberries, coming fast now from my Mum’s bushes and also our own, plus the piddling handful of red gooseberries, the only ones to survive the pigeon attack.

Colanders of beans mean an hour’s podding
There’s potatoes too, a salad-drawer’s worth with more to come

On the flower front, I am not much of an arranger, but I do enjoy the contrast of the tall foxglove spire with the froth of ammi and gypsophila. There’s the odd dahlia now, plus jam jars full of English summer flowers – some garish, some tasteful, but always making a house feel more like a home.

Dahlia, foxglove, ammi, gypsophila
Garish: clashing colours of calendula, sweet peas, foxglove and cornflower
More tasteful: single shades of sweet pea alongside wine-coloured snapdragon

What to do with all the broad beans and peas? It’s a good question: both these vegetables have a tendency to glut, and given that Matt’s not home so much, there’s only really me who will eat them. I blanched the lot, to give them a few extra day’s life. Some will make their way to a creamy, herby, garlicky pasta dish, and others I’ll blitz with lemon and garlic to make a beany-hummousy-dip. And then there’s beans on toast, or even better, sausage and beans on toast. The sausage is actually a kind of do-it-yourself chorizo, made from minced pork, paprika, garlic and fennel. The beans are broad beans and peas. Hash them together in a frying pan, perhaps with a few sliced potatoes and a fried egg, or just a bit of feta, and you have an easy flavour-packed brunch, lunch or supper dish.

Sausage and beans on toast

Sausage and beans on toast
Recide serves 4 but if it’s just you, the ‘chorizo’ will store in the fridge for a few days, or can be frozen for another day. Inspired by River Cottage Reunion, though I’m not slavishly following their recipe

First, pod enough broad beans and/or peas for four people, or you could use frozen. Blanch them in boiling water for two to three minutes, then drain. If they’re really big, pinch the broad beans out of their skins.

Make your ‘sausage’. Take 250g pork mince and squish it together with 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, two chopped cloves of garlic and a good pinch of salt. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the flavours to come together.

To cook, heat a large frying pan and crumble in the sausage mixture – you may want to add a little oil to the pan to get things going. Brown the meat all over, then add one thinly sliced red onion and the beans/peas. Hash the meat and vegetables together, turning in the paprika-stained oil until it’s all cooked through. You could add a slosh of white wine to get a little steam going. Finally add some chopped parsley to finish.

Serve on toast with a fried egg, or perhaps a little feta cheese. Sliced cooked potatoes and courgettes are also a good addition to this.

Also this week:

Harvesting: Blueberries, a handful of gooseberries, cos lettuce, first chard, last broad beans, peas, first courgettes, mangetout, new potatoes, ammi, cornflowers, calendula, foxglove, gypsophila, dahlias, nasturtium. French beans, beetroot, courgette, raspberries, and blueberries from Mum’s garden. From the shops, excellent English cherries, proper tomatoes, early corn, watermelon and strawberries. Excellent Amalfi lemons from Cowdray farm shop.

Cooking and eating: I really need to start making an effort again. Blueberry, raspberry and gooseberry crumble cake. French bean and potato salad. Flapjacks. Sarah made two outstanding salads at the weekend: green beans with an orange dressing and toasted hazelnuts, and a freekeh salad with pomegranate, mint, parsley and finely diced red onion. Also a home-made fish finger sandwich at The Lobster Pot near Bognor. I find I have to have a coffee a day now in order to function, and there is always wine in the fridge.

Jobs: Staking flowers on allotment. Planted out dahlias and salivas in the garden, which is now in that straggly in-between stage that lies between early and late summer. Feeding pots once a week. Watering allotment. And WORK, all the time, obviously.

Also: Reading nothing, I am too tired. Watching very little, I don’t get time. Visited Chichester, Arundel and Denman’s garden in West Sussex, a dry gravel garden, very interesting, but Harry not happy so no time to linger.

The allotment season begins

For the past few weeks, there’s been a table of green seedlings in the sun room. Then the table of green was joined by several trays of dahlias, then a few more trays of rocket, cosmos and sunflower, and now there’s barely room to breathe.

Taking full advantage of our south-facing sun room

Particularly pleasingly, the false indigo that I started back in February have germinated. This was the tricky one that demanded scouring with sand-paper, piercing with a needle, soaking and heating – obviously I did none of these things, taking the view that if a plant has to be molly-coddled that much, then it’s not going to survive on our plot.

False indigo has germinated

Remembering my notes from last summer, I’ve been fastidious about thinning my seedlings this year. Thus far they’re all looking pretty healthy – but when I visit the allotment (for the first time in weeks) I’m confounded by all the new green life erupting, wild plants crammed in together, battered by floods and winds and all the stronger for it. I have yet to attempt making a stinging nettle risotto from allotment weeds but this spring may be the time to try it.

Speaking of winds, March’s gusts have left the greenhouse in an even sorrier state of affair. Two more panes of glass have slid out, leaving dangerous shards in the wilderness area. I’m pleased that I’m growing only the hardiest of tomatoes this year as what is left of our greenhouse will offer the slightest of protection against the elements; it will be a miracle if the structure lasts another growing season (every time I step in there I wonder if glass is going to rain down on my head).

The wilderness is re-erupting, with tasty-looking stingers.

Another greenhouse pane met a sorry end

The point of today’s visit was to plant out the broad beans, which have grown strong and fat in the cold frame. Two varieties this year – aquadulce claudia, which should flower pretty soon, and the pretty crimson flower. I’m also having a go at direct sowing a few rows, which never seems to go well on our plot but with the soil warming nicely, it’s worth the experiment.

Broad beans planted out

Really healthy plants this year

It’s still sparse out there, of course, but there are a few heartening clumps of green. The sweet rocket is galloping into growth, as is the sorrel, and there’s still pickings to be had from last year’s chard lucullus and beet spinach.

Sweet rocket is galloping into growth

Still pickings of chard and beet spinach to be had

On the To Do list: Start Sowing The Veg.

Also this week:

Sowing: Cosmos, sunflower, cornflower, rocket, brachyscome, achillea millefolium (yarrow)

Cooking and eating: Victoria sandwich with homegrown and homemade jam, rhubarb, apple & amaretti crumble with Jean’s rhubarb, noodles and pork tossed in kecap manis.

Plus: More illness – chest infections, blood tests & x-rays; visited Leicester museum to look at their Arts & Crafts collection.


Seeds of optimism

There are many life changes that come with having a small baby in the house. Some big (disturbed sleep, general worry) and some small but unforeseen. I had not realised, back in those summer days of waddling around as if nothing was about to happen, that my cooking would be seriously disrupted by Harry’s arrival.

To begin with, he wouldn’t let me put him down for more than a few minutes at a time. I quickly discovered that it’s impossible to chop, stir, fry, roast or boil with a wriggling baby in your arms. For this reason, between September to about early December I think I lived on tea, toast and hummus. He’s now happy to hang out in his chair or play mat for some time, but each day is different: On Monday he’ll babble to himself for an hour….then on Tuesday he’s having none of it and wants entertaining NOW Mummy!

So I’ve learnt to cook in short, sharp intervals. Anything that involves short periods of intervention or preparation work well – from the freezer pies that I can heat up after bedtime, to the quickly rustled-together poached egg on toast (there is still a general toast theme).

In recent weeks I’ve discovered that it’s possible to do bigger kitchen projects, provided that they need plenty of hands-off time. Last month’s marmalade is a good example, and this weekend I had a go at a blueberry couronne – a sweetened dough stuffed with cinnamon butter and blueberries, twisted and baked to gooey goodness. In total it took about 5 hours to make, but each intervention (making the dough, kneading, twisting) was less than 10 minutes. Perfect baby-friendly food.

Blueberry couronne

I used my recipe for apple buns, substituting the apples for blueberries and mixed spice for cinnamon. But instead of making buns, I baked the dough as per the recipe for chocolate couronne. Perfect for weekend brunching with the newspapers.

Perfect for weekend breakfasting

I don’t know if I can take the same approach with allotmenting…the challenges of gardening-with-baby remain unknown! But I did find an hour yesterday to sow the first seeds of the year, whilst the boys watched the Six Nations on the telly. Broadbeans, sweet peas and cleomes are now buried in their compost cocoons, ready for the strengthening spring sun to encourage them to life.

First seed planting of the year: sweet peas, broad beans, cleome

I now have the taste for planting but I must remember my plan to not do too much this year…no stress…no unnecessary hassle. It’s difficult not to get carried away with seeds; why plant 4 if you can plant 12? And before I know it, the allotment will be a jungle again!

Planting: Cleome, broad beans, sweet peas
Cooking: Beef cheeks braised in red wine, freezer-fruit crumble, coq au vin, blueberry couronne



Spring, sprung

Spring has undeniably sprung and not a moment too soon. Birmingham is now awash with yellow daffodils, on roadsides and in parks, and the early morning birdsong has picked up: there’s less of it here than in the country, but it’s a comfort nonetheless. If you know where to look, now’s the time to fill your boots with lush wild garlic. Forage for it now whilst the leaves are still tender and young, and it will bring a vibrant freshness to anything that you care to eat it with.

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Now’s the time to search for emerald green wild garlic

Encouraged by the weekend’s sunshine, but daunted at the amount of work that would need doing, I headed down to the allotment for what is only the third or fourth visit since Christmas. The greenhouse is surviving on a wing and a prayer: one gust of wind and it will be off, flying away as if trying out for the opening sequence of The Wizard of Oz. The grass is shaggy and long, there are tufty weeds emerging where they shouldn’t and the ground looks hard and cold….but on balance, it’s not in too bad a state at all. Nothing that a few hours of remedial carpentry (Matt) and grass strimming (me) can’t fix.

Plus there are still goodies to harvest. I planted this purple sprouting broccoli last April and it spent the summer covered in whitefly, but the winter chill has done its work. It’s now tall and lush, and cropping well – I’m not convinced that it warrants taking up a full eleven months of growing space, but it is good to be picking veg in the traditionally hungry-month of March.

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PSB ready for harvesting

I’ve been working out the growing plan for 2017 and the first planting – a set of healthy broad beans – has now gone in.

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This year’s allotment plan

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Broad beans ready for planting out

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First allotment planting of the year!

Back home in the ‘potting shed’ (i.e. the sun room/conservatory/junk room at the back of the kitchen) I’ve set up a temporary set of rickety tables and old newspaper, ready for seed sowing. Over the next few weeks I’ll get the 50-odd varieties of flowers and veg seeds going but for now it’s the turn of the tomatoes: the round yellow golden boy, the beefy fiorentino and a plum variety for passata.

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Inside, it’s time to sow tomatoes

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Hopefully Schofield will give them moral support

There’s also been a day of graft in the garden, though not by me. My folks came on Sunday armed with three David Austin roses for the new border (Gertrude Jekyll, Claire Austin and Mary Rose) and a host of alliums, which I’ve now supplemented with lavender Hidcote and some gorgeous white foxgloves. In a few weeks time we’ll have shades of pink, white and purple, hopefully giving way in the summer to dashing dahlias and cosmos. Spring: sprung.

Planted out: Broad beans
Sowed: Tomatoes
Potted on: Summer-sown marigolds & nigella
Harvested: PSB, Russian kale

Broad bean salad with mint

In these tumultuous times that we live in, I question if it’s frivolous to spend one’s time writing about food (and worrying about slugs). New government, a crumbled opposition, terrorism, revolution, environmental catastrophe – are we all doomed? And yet I’ve learned that in order to keep a clear head, it’s important to keep your feet firmly rooted to the ground. Immerse yourself in what’s real and meaningful, whether that’s feeding your family well or being kind to a neighbour. The world, and the happiness of people living on it, is determined not just from the big news events, but by everyone doing small things to improve our lot.

I’ve been asked a lot lately if we’ll be going on a summer holiday. Not likely, given that I’ve just sunk my life savings into this house. So day trips it is, not that they’re any cheaper, and yesterday took us to Chatsworth. They were gearing up for a BBC 6 Music gig later in the evening, so we mooched around the kitchen garden accompanied to the funk grooves of Craig Charles, Mica Paris and Lemar. And what a kitchen garden it is… bed upon bed of greens, brassicas, beans, redcurrant bushes dripping with fruit – and that’s before we got on to the cutting garden.

I aspire to this many slug-free greens

I aspire to this many slug-free greens

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The cutting garden at Chatsworth

Amidst the dahlias, sweet peas and roses stood this sea of delphiniums, majestic and proud. I’m inspired to give them a go next year on the allotment.

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A sea of delphiniums

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Nursery bed of crysanths. These will be spectacular in two months time!

Seeing this amazing veg patch, I can’t help but wish that this year’s allotment was better than it is. In my defence, it’s been a difficult summer (cold, gloomy, wet) and we’re under a siege of slugs. For the latter, I have finally succumbed to chemical warfare and now the beans, brassicas and greenhouse resemble an attack from the slime monster in Ghostbusters. Is it too late to make any difference? Time will tell.

But the harvest is coming: this week I’ve made the first blackcurrant ice-cream of the year (Matt’s favourite, recipe here: and there’s a bowl of crisp lettuce with every meal.

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Blackcurrant swirl ice-cream

But star of the show currently are the broad beans, half-way through their season and still small enough to need a quick simmer and a sharp dressing. This bean and mint salad is popping up on our table again and again: serve it hot, warm or at room temperature with grilled meats or as part of a veggie spread. To make it more substantial, tear in a ball of mozzarella or crumble in some salty feta.

Broad bean salad with mint
serves 2

Broad beans in their pods – about a colander-full

Really good extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

Fistful of fresh mint leaves, chopped (you could also add hyssop, parsley or tarragon)

1 lemon, zest and juice

Salt and pepper

Optional: Mozzarella, feta or shaved parmesan

First, pod your beans, preferably in a chair overlooking the garden. Bring a pan of water to the boil, simmer the beans for about 5 minutes then drain well. If they’re big they may need to be double-podded.

In the same pan, gently warm a good glug of olive oil, then chuck in the garlic. It needs to putter in the oil but not really fry; we’re after a good whack of garlic flavour here. Keeping the heat low, throw your beans into the pan and toss to coat in the oil. Add the herbs, lemon zest and salt and pepper, and toss a little more. Lastly, squeeze in some lemon juice to finish your dressing.

Serve hot, warm or cold, perhaps with some mozzarella, feta or shaved parmesan.

June Bobby broad-bean salad

What a difference a few weeks makes. At the start of June, with a chill remaining in the air, I was despairing of ever getting a crop of anything. But now – the pictures tell the story.

First up the tomatoes. My Dad told me that I’d caused them un-necessary stress (he often says that about his children) but maybe a bit of pressure early in life did them good, for they are now enormous and bear fruit.

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Greenhouse on 9 June

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Greenhouse on 21 June; everything has pretty much doubled in size

Outside, the lettuce, spinach, chard and beets were teeny tiny at the start of June. Now, the lettuce have hearts and I am gifting bags of greens to anyone polite enough to say they’d like some.

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The greens patch on 9 June…

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…and on 27 June. Actual proper lettuces!

On the other side of the patch, the artichoke and hops are trying to out-do each other with bolshy behaviour. The hops are taller, but the artichoke has the edge when it comes to statuesque elegance.

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The artichoke now reaches top of the (un-used) fruit cage

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Hops to the top of the hopolisk

Newly fashionable, the crysanths have been planted out  with the hope of long-lived stems for cutting later in the year. They nestle alongside the leeks and onions; autumn bounty.

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Crysanths and leeks out and proud in the summer sun

For now though it’s season’s pickings. Sweet peas and love in a mist; rocket and lettuce and spinach; redcurrants and (nearly) blackcurrants.

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Nigella in bloom – love in a mist

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Redcurrant dripping in fruit, glistening like glass beads

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Late June pickings

It’s not all unbridled success. I’ve had to ditch the cavalo nero and purple sprouting broccoli seedings, both neglected for too long, and half the climbing beans are a write off.

Speaking of beans, the first bobby beans are now to be found in Worcestershire farm shops; Matt claims they are Not A Real Thing and are actually French beans. But I’ve always known these super-long green pods as bobby beans. A Worcestershire oddity? Perhaps. Try them blanched and then tossed with savoury, herby, parmesan-y cream for a lovely side-dish. If bobby beans are Not A Real Thing where you live, this is also good with broad beans, French beans, runner beans and peas.

June bobby broad-bean salad 

Beans, sufficient for your dinner (bobby, broad, runner, French or peas)

Double cream

Chopped herbs, about 1 tablespoon. Soft ones are best; consider hyssop, savoury, tarragon, thyme, oregano.

Garlic – 1 fat clove, bashed and peeled but left whole

Salt and pepper


Lemon juice, to taste

First, trim your beans (I’ve used a handful of bobby beans and some sweet baby broad beans from the allotment). Blanch them in boiling water until just soft, then refresh under the cold tap.

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Blanch the beans and rinse under cold water

Meanwhile, warm a good splash of double cream in a wide pan with a smashed clove of garlic (leave it whole) and a handful of chopped soft herbs. I’ve used hyssop, tarragon, thyme and oregano. Savoury would also be good. Leave it to stand for a few minutes for the flavours to mingle, then remove the garlic.

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Warm garlic and herbs with cream

Finally, add the beans to the herby cream and toss the lot together, season with salt and pepper, and warm it all through over a low heat. Serve topped with lots of parmesan and perhaps a splash of lemon juice.

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Toss it all together, top with parmesan and slurp up the goodness

Planted out: leeks, crysanths

Picking: lettuce, spinach, sorrel, edible flowers, broad beans, strawberries, herbs, sweet peas, pinks

Chucked out: PSB and cavalo nero seedlings

Other jobs: Started feeding the tomatoes

Risotto primavera

Finding the time to really outdoors-it is hard. I’m darting from meeting to meeting, phone call to phone call, and of course email to email, organising designers, photographers, artists, advertisers, journalists. So at 7.30pm when I finally make it to the allotment, it’s a pleasant sight to see the foxgloves reach full glory. Their’s is the palest of delicate pink, and already seem a welcome source of nectar for the bumblebees.

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Delicate flowers of the foxglove

Sadly the bean apocalypse continues. What on earth is going on with these? Is it wind damage? I’ve put in an SOS request to my mother to see if she can shed any light. The prospect of a summer with no beans is too much to bear!

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Bean apocalypse

On the other side of the plot though the broad beans have come up trumps. Yesterday I made the first harvest of the season, and they popped out of their spongy cacoons tiny and emerald green, the size of my little fingernail (nb, I have very small fingernails).

First crop of broad beans

These, plus the baby sorrel, spinach, chard, a fistful of rocket, basil and oregano, make for a seasonal risotto primavera. This classic Italian dish uses the first spring vegetables; over there it probably gets made in February but in Birmingham it’s made in June. C’est la vie! I added a few asparagus spears to the mix – and also two precious baby sugarsnap peas from the patio.

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All prepped and good to go: asparagus, herbs, greens and beans

Risotto Primavera 

The quantities for this can very depending on what you have…it’s just a Tuesday night supper. Feeds two with leftovers.

Small mug-full of risotto rice

Butter and olive oil

1 shallot, finely diced

3 cloves of garlic, finely diced

Large glass of white wine

About 1 litre of really good chicken (or veg) stock, home-made and kept warm on the hob

Asparagus, sliced into 2cm lengths

Baby broad beans

Handful of freshest spinach, chard, sorrel, rocket or nettles, washed and sliced

Handful of herbs – basil, oregano, hyssop, tarragon – roughly chopped or  torn

Lemon, to taste

Parmesan, to taste

Butter, extra herbs, salt and pepper, to finish

In a large heavy-based saucepan, melt a knob of butter and splash of oil on a low heat. Sweat the shallot until soft, around 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for a few seconds until the scent rises. Season with salt and pepper at this stage. Turn up the heat, add the rice and toast for a minute or two until it starts to quietly crackle and pop. Add the wine and stir stir stir until it is nicely reduced and the rice shows the start of creaminess. Now add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed. It takes ages to cook risotto and this bit may take at least 30+ minutes; the rice must reach the stage of being nearly done but with the tiniest level of firmness remaining, suspended in a creamy buttery ‘sauce’.

When you’re nearly there, say 5 minutes before the end, toss in the asparagus and cook for a few minutes. Then add the beans and greens, cook for one minute, then stir in the herbs, parmesan, another knob of butter, salt and pepper and lemon to taste. The veg doesn’t need or get much cooking. Turn the heat off, pop the lid on, then leave it all to settle for five minutes. Give it a final stir then serve, with more parmesan and herbs.

Declaring war on weeds

What a glorious weekend! This was the view from British Camp on Saturday. Not quite coats-off weather, but nearly.

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British Camp, Malvern Hills

The warmer weather is causing sap to rise. Not just in the plants – there are buds forming and seedlings making their presence known – but also in the humans. Sunshine provokes activity, and I have had it with the weeds. The giant tufts of grass, the wispy mess of straw, the decayed bind weed – we’ll never totally win the battle, but I can make in-roads.

So, with the sun on our backs, the raspberries have been reclaimed from grass, buttercups and bindweeds. Some of the grass was so heavy I couldn’t physically lift it – there is some satisfaction in knowing that it’s now smouldering on the fire.

In an unexpected pay-off, with its choking weed blanket removed, I discovered that the rhubarb we inherited is actually very established and shooting. I’ve covered it with protective straw and crossed fingers for a summer resurgence. The next job is to mulch ALL the soft fruit so that the grass can never establish itself again.

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Raspberries cleaned, rhubarb straw-ed

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Burning up 18 months of organic waste

The broad beans haven’t wintered so well, with only six remaining. So I’ve direct sown three rows more, with a mental note to protect them against the birds in the next week or so.

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Sowing new broad beans with the over-wintered seedlings

And Matt got out his tools and re-felted the shed roof, a job that I wouldn’t have even noticed needs doing until the whole structure had collapsed. * This is why we’re a good team. *

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Roof repairs

Spring cleaning and direct sowing: the new year has properly begun.

Planted: broad beans

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