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Growing in Uncertain Times

Growing in Uncertain Times

We are most certainly living in uncertain times.
This week, according to the press – proper press, not just scaremonger press, it has been reported that Russia have warned its people to be prepared for nuclear war with the west. The Pope, in a mass in Rome, told his audience that this Christmas might be the last!

How true this all is is little consequence. The fact is that this is the world we live in, and who are we to consider ourselves safe from want, disease and war when so many others are in the thick of it already? Otherwise sensible countries such as Germany and Finland have told its people to stockpile food, what are we to make of that?

So what has all this to do with me, someone into growing and cooking food at home? Well it’s simple really. The only defence we have as individuals is to grow food, starting now and getting into a routine, building up whatever land we have into food producing plots as speedily as possible.

It might be all rubbish! I bet it is all rubbish, I bet the powers that be would not press buttons causing huge death and suffering. But then I’m no gambler! So for me it is a question of security as well as healthy and tasty food, environmentally friendly food. And probably it will all blow over and I’ll be left with a great growing, food producing plot. If not, I’ll have something to eat if I am not on special duties jumping from planes and saving the world from the forces of evil (I wish!)
It takes time and patience to build up a plot. You can’t just rely on sticking a few seeds in the soil and waiting for a three course meal to pop up. On average it can take three years to get a good productive garden, so it’s best to start now!

Digging up miscanthus

I am sure that some people love miscanthus. Certainly the RHS website has a long list of them to grow. But once the not so little alien has gotten into your garden, it starts to turn your beds into a horrendous mess. Well, that’s how it feels to me. I can’t get about the garden like I used to and it takes over in those hard to reach places. It takes a small army, a tank with flame thrower and probably a few kilos of napalm to shift.(Well actually it takes just good old fashioned hard work, and plenty of it.)

It has has trials to be used as a biofuel partly because there is very little ash and you can fuel coal fired power stations with it. It also can produce a huge crop, upwards of 10 tonnes per acre. I actually don’t doubt this because the one I managed to get up filled a whole compost bin!

It is about 5 feet tall, and the flower stalks are about 7 feet high and it produces a lot of seeds which seem to get everywhere. Already in the garden there is not a bed that hasn’t been touched.

I think this beast was planted by the previous occupant as an ornamental plant. I wish they wouldn’t. Just because it’s pretty doesn’t provide enough justification to grow it. But then you’ll say, what about potatoes – they come from abroad, or lettuces from Rome. Well these plants have been here for hundreds if not thousands of years. Im not suggesting we shouldn’t grow stuff because our gardens are supposed to be ‘natural’ but I am suggesting that we don’t simply import stuff from all over the world ‘just because it’s pretty!’

Anyway, the miscanthus has got to go – anyone fancy a week here with a spade?

BBQ Sauce

BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce is a simple recipe which you can alter and experiment with as you go along. It is mostly used either as a dip or a marinade.


2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree or 2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 large tsp mustard powder
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
150 ml water

Heat the oil and cook the onions until they are translucent. You can add a clove of garlic for extra flavour.
Add all the other ingredients and bring to a rolling boil, except the tomato, which should be added last and beaten into the mixture. Cook for about 10 minutes.

This recipe has no salt, but you can add 1/2 teaspoon to keep it for about 2 weeks in the fridge. You can whizz the sauce to produce a smooth dip. However, it is great added to pork on a BBQ just as it is!



Quite why this is a North of England favourite I do not know. It is traditional to eat bacon and eggs with piccalilli, and much more besides. There are lots of variations, but real piccalilli has lots of cauliflower in it.


2.5 kg vegetables

Cauliflower florets, baby onions, chopped cucumbers or gherkins, chopped swede, chopped carrot, whatever you have but plenty of cauliflower!

1 litre white vinegar

160 g granulated sugar

25 g English mustard powder

25 g ground ginger

15 g turmeric

1 tbsp cornflour


Clean and peel all the vegetables you want to peel

Make a brine by dissolving 330 g salt in a litre of water

Soak the vegetables in this brine for 24 hours, then rinse and dry.

Place most of the vinegar (keep 2 tablespoons back), the sugar and the spices in a large pan and heat until the sugar has all dissolved.

Add the vegetables and simmer until soft – a good 40 minutes at least.

Make a paste of the cornflour in the remaining vinegar and stir well. This will thicken the mix. Bring to the boil again and simmer for five minutes. Label into sterilised jars.

Tartare sauce

Tartare sauce is the very thing for fish and is brilliant made fresh. The name goes back to Genghis Kahn who was the leader of the Tartar hordes. Though I am not sure they had a sauce quite like this.

4 egg yolks
1/2 level tsp English mustard
Pinch of salt and pepper
330 ml clear oil
Peeled and chopped garlic clove
10 g fresh parsley chopped
25 g washed and finely chopped capers
4 chopped baby gherkins
Juice of a lemon

Make the mayo first by mixing the yolks, lemon juice salt and pepper and mustard into a food processor and whizz.

Slowly add the oil a drizzle at a time until all is incorporated.

Then remove the mayo from the food processor and spoon in and mix the rest of the ingredients.

The key is to get all the chopped ingredients as fine as possible.

Keep cool and use within five days.

Ploughman’s Pickle

Ploughman’s Pickle

Listen to “Brown Pickle” on Spreaker.

This recipe for Ploughman’s pickle is pretty close to the one we all love. It is fairly easy to prepare and really does have that tang.You can alter the ingredients depending on who you have available. However, dates, apples, vinegar and sugar are important.


250 g peeled carrots chopped into 5 mm cubes

1 medium peeled swede chopped  into 5 mm cubes

5 garlic cloves finely chopped

125 g dates, finely chopped

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 good sized apples, peeled and chopped into 5 mm pieces

15 small gherkins or 1 cucumber chopped into 5 mm pieces

250 g dark sugar

1 tsp salt

500 ml malt vinegar

2 tbsp mustard seeds

2 teaspoons allspice

Combine all the ingredients in a large pan and bring slowly to the boil. When boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.

Simmer for 2 hours, stirring every few minutes.

If the mix is becoming too thick, add a little more vinegar or water.

When the vegetables are becoming soft, spoon into sterilised jars. Leave for at least a week to allow the flavours to develop.

Nutella alternative

Nutella alternative

Nutella was invented in the 1940’s as a hazelnut spread. This is a simple recipe. In France there is a history of using plants to make some products go further, such as coffee, which has a lot of chicory in it.


400 g hazel nuts
200 g caster sugar
50 g cocoa powder
1 – 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the hazelnuts in an oven at 180C for 20 minutes and then allow to cool.
All all the ingredients to a food processor and whizz to a fine paste. You will need to decide how thick you like it and add a oil a small amount at a time, until you have the consistency you desire.

Peanut butter

Peanut butter

Peanut butter is easy to make. All you are doing is whizzing the peanuts in a food processor with a tablespoon of oil for every 200 g peanuts. (Sunflower will do)
The actual amount of oil you use will depend nohow much is in the peanuts, so you will have to do a taste test to see if it is to your liking. Simply add a little more nuts or a little more oil etc.

Per 200 g peanuts add a half teaspoon of salt – thats a level half teaspoon if that makes any sense. About 2 g.

To make a crunch version, save some peanuts for the last whizzes of the processor, or you can bash them with a rolling pin!

You can add hazel nuts, almonds, cashews to make some pretty exotic peanut butters.

Sweet chilli jam with tomatoes

Sweet chilli jam with tomatoes

This is an archetypal chilli jam, not too hot, but can be as hot as you like.

You will need

8 red capsicums
8 small red chillies (This is where the heat comes from, so the quantity depends on you. 4 for a milder type, 10 for a real hottie)
8 cloves pf garlic
400 g can chopped tomatoes
800 g jam sugar
250 ml red wine vinegar (or cider vinegar)

Place the dry (except the sugar) ingredients into a food processor and chop until everything is in small pieces.
(If chopping by hand, wear gloves!)
Add the pulp to a pan and add the other ingredients and bring to the boil.
Turn down the heat and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring every now and again
Once it has thickened, you can pour into sterile jars.

Irish Sausage

Making an Irish sausage is a little confusing because the recipes you will find out there are all written by Americans, so this took a little research. The fundamental basis is a pork sausage with sage and allspice.

1kg (2.2 lbs)Pork shoulder
250g (8 oz) pork fat
150g (6oz) breadcrumbs or rusk
150ml (4oz) water

15g salt (3 level teaspoons)
25g chopped sage

3g pepper (3/4 level teaspoon)
2g (1/2 tsp) Allspice

You can add more sage if you like a stronger flavour, start small – you can always add more later.

Grind the meat and fat and add the breadcrumbs with an 8 mm plate in the grinder, then you can combine the rest. (If you wish, you can regrind having mixed the ingredients with a 6mm plate for a finer stuffing.)

Use very cold water, the amount of heat given off with this amount of rush or breadcrumbs is negligible, but it is a good idea to cool the water, as well as the stuffer once it has been sanitised.)

Stuff into pig casings and leave overnight before cooking or freezing.