When I first got my half an allotment plot back in January, I had to decide what to try and grow in my first year. I decided to concentrate on things that gave a good return on the effort required to grow them (things like beans and squashes that keep on cropping as you pick), and/or which were particularly tasty when home grown (beetroot, carrots) and/or which were expensive to buy (mange tout, purple sprouting broccoli, purple cauliflower). That meant I didn’t bother with onions or garlic, though I did grow salad onions and will do more next year, as they were delicious. Besides, I’ve never seen purple onions in the supermarket! It didn’t work quite as well in the brassica department, as the token cabbages were the only crop I have had so far, all my cauliflowers and calabrese bolted and my sprouts don’t looks as if they are going to be up to much either. Mind you, I have high hopes of the Purple Sprouting Broccoli donated by M! It also meant that I didn’t try and grow many carrots, and those I did grow – and that were free of carrot root fly damage – were eaten as babies, often raw.
(Actually I think one of the major plus points of growing your own is that you can pick it when very young and not feel guilty – nothing quite beats really young and tender broad beans, peas, carrots, beans.)
There were two slightly less usual vegeatables I was determined to grow, Jerusalem Artichokes and Celeriac.
Neither are particularly beautiful looking vegetables, and both can be quite fiddly to prepare, but oh, so worth it! I will wait until the first frost to check out my Jerusalem Artichokes, but I have been eyeing up my one celeriac for weeks now, trying to work out if I thought it would grow any more.
Yes, you read right, my ONE celeriac. I hadn’t ever grown them before, and hadn’t realised that the seedlings like lots of water. Only one of my plants made it to adulthood, at which point it was lovingly transplanted in to well manured soil and watered. A lot. Hopefully next year I will get a better crop – assuming I am here to harvest it – but the main dilemma this year was what to do with my one, fairly paltry, specimen. I love potato and celeriac mash, it makes a great addition to a rich stew, and roasts beautifully too. I had one plant, slightly larger than my fist, weighing in at an unimpressive 440g. So I made soup.
My reasoning was that with TNG being a “if it isn’t Heinz Tomato Soup I’m not interested” man, and MIL away in Arizona, FIL and I would get to enjoy a healthy sized bowlful without feeling bad about not sharing. So I carefully chopped out all the grungy bits, trimmed off all the roots, being careful not to waste anything even remotely usable – and the trimmings went in to the stock pot. I gently sweated the precious chunks of celeriac in some butter with an equal amount of potato, half an onion, some garlic and some seasoning until everything was getting soft (about 15 minutes). I added 500ml of rich ham stock and simmered until everything was tender (about another 40 minutes) and blitzed the result with a hand blender until smooth. OK, so it was only 40 minutes because I wanted to wait until half time, but football is important too!
As you can see, I like my soup stiff and gloopy, so that you can scoop out a wodge with a chunk of bread. I added some crushed lightly roasted walnuts to the top for crunch, and FIL added some Blue Shropshire. Some home made bread to dunk in, and there it was, lunchtime heaven.
When faced with only one celeriac, I kept telling myself “one is better than none”, and my soup certainly tasted the better for having been at least partly home grown. In the future I hope that it will also be our own onions, garlic and potato. However, there are some circumstances in which one seems pretty pathetic and impossible to turn in to soup.
When I was weeding the end of the roots bed I found that I had actually managed to grow a parsnip after all.
One single, solitary parsnip, no bigger than my index finger, though it was perfectly formed. I hadn’t realised that it had managed to hang on amidst the weeds at that end of the bed, but having noticed that I had pulled it up I had a good hunt around for any others. I found one, which I left in place. You never know, it may get larger than one of TNG’s fingers. So I suppose I can legitimately claim to have grown parsnips this year, but I will take next year off. I’ll save the challenge of home grown parsnips for when I have the space for them, onions, garlic, main crop potatoes, and as many celeriac plants as I can nurse to maturity. One day…