Parsnip & cheddar soda bread

Tomatoes, be gone with thee! Courgettes, au revoir! With summer’s veg glut over, roots are making a return to my kitchen and amongst them, the humble trusty parsnip. Not that they’ve come from the allotment – we do have a few tiny plants, more seedlings really, that will stay in over winter to see if they fatten up (although my hopes are not high). Nope, farm shop parsnips it is and their rich, vaguely-spicy sweetness is a welcome addition to October dinners.

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One of last year’s allotment parsnips – this year’s didn’t germinate so well and are still tiny

It’s easy to see the parsnip as merely a useful adjunct to a winter roast – and a roasted parsnip chip is truly brilliant, provided that it’s not over-cooked…burnt parsnip being surprisingly easy to make, and horrid. But I’d urge all cooks to think a little more creatively: these roots are cheap-as-you like and their sweetness can take the strong flavours of chilli, spice and cheese with ease. Their dense texture makes for a creamy, satisfying soup, or try them baked in a creamy gratin to sit next to sausages or a pork chop.

Today I whipped up this soda bread, studded with strong cheddar and grated parsnip, which is great alongside a steaming bowl of soup for a nutritious and simple supper. It’s easy, inexpensive and vegetarian – and sometimes, that is just what it needed.

First, preheat the oven to 180c and prepare some baking parchment on top of a baking tray. Slice and sweat 1 onion in a drizzle of olive oil until it’s really soft – around 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, grate 1 parsnip (I don’t bother to peel mine) and 50g strong cheddar using the coarse side of the grater. In a bowl, stir together 175g self-raising flour (white or wholemeal), a pinch of thyme leaves, a pinch of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Add the vegetables and cheese to the bowl and give it a stir to combine.

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Mix flour, parsnip, cheese, onions, salt and pepper in a large bowl

Then whisk an egg with three tablespoons of milk, pour onto the dry ingredients and stir until you have quite a loose dough. Don’t overmix – it will stay a little craggy. Shape the dough into a rough ball and place on the baking tray.

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Add beaten egg and milk to bind to a soft dough

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Shape into a bowl and place on baking parchment

Using a sharp knife or a bread scraper, cut half-way down the dough to make a cross (don’t cut all the way through). Dust with a little flour and then bake for 40 minutes or so, until risen, golden and hollow-sounding with tapped.

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Make deep crosses with a knife or metal bread scraper, then bake

You’ll open the oven door to find this crunchy-topped light savoury loaf. Leave it to cool for a few minutes but have this warm, maybe with soup, and definitely with lots of butter! It doesn’t keep brilliantly so try to eat it the loaf in one sitting.

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Parsnip and cheddar soda bread

Recipe adapted from River Cottage Every Day.

Carrots and spring onions: hope over experience

A whole weekend passed with no outdoor time. We did a restaurant review on Friday night, headed to Tamworth for Matt’s mum’s retirement party on Saturday and then my friend Tune came for lunch on Sunday. Usually, a friend ‘coming for lunch’ means that you get angsty working out what to feed them and are then left with a mountain of washing up as reward. Not so with Tune. She’s from Calcutta, is an amazing cook and turned up bearing enough food for the entire street. These are the friends we need in life.

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The Scrabble letters say it all

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Proper Indian food. The green beans with coconut were properly delicious but the Kashmiri lamb takes some beating.

Both of us also had to fit in several hours work. I’ve been editing a book tracking the recent social history of Birmingham’s Stratford Road, which for years has been the arrival place for new migrants to the city. You might know it as the Balti Triangle. Editing a book essentially means staring at a laptop for days on end until the brain goes squiggly whilst getting cross at mis-placed apostrophes. So with the manuscript more-or-less signed off, I took two hours yesterday morning to escape. There was important work to be done.

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Daffodils are hanging on in there

The seedlings have outgrown their windowsills and needed sending off to big school, aka the greenhouse. For most gardeners this is not a big deal. For me it’s a commitment: once they’re in, I have to visit every day (or at least every other day) to make sure they get the watering they need. I’ve been putting this move off for several days, but no longer. The beans responded by shooting up 3cm, literally overnight, and we now also have baby corn, courgette and purple sprouting.

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Another year begins in the greenhouse

Another fast mover is the hop. I reckon this seemingly innocuous plant could take over the world; it’s already up to my mid-thigh and was barely a tiny shoot at Easter. The same can not be said for the broad beans which, despite being in flower, are laughably pathetic.

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Hops now come to mid-thigh

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Comically small broad beans. Other people’s are now two feet tall!

Of the seeds planted at Easter, only two brave little kale seedlings are through (I need to get on with sorting out a bird-protection system). Compared to a fortnight ago, when the ground was soft and yielding, today it is caked and hard, like the top of a chocolate pudding. I forked over an area to accommodate carrots, parsnips and spring onions, scattered the seed, and hoped for the best. This is the triumph of hope over experience – last year none, repeat NONE, of the carrots germinated and I had to re-sow most of our other seeds in May after the early lot failed.

To join them, I planted three pinks, which are in flower too early but whose scent take me straight back to my mother’s garden in Worcestershire.

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Dianthus, or pinks, are a classic flower of the cottage garden



Tomatoes, sunflowers, sweetcorn, courgettes, violas, chillies, parsley, coriander, basil to greenhouse.

PSB, sorrel and lollo rosso outside, still in seedtrays

Sowed carrot, parsnip and spring onion. Planted out pinks.


Started off more basil, squash, cavalo nero