Lockdown life continues at Bridge Cottage with all its ups and downs and levels of emotion. I worried this week that I was over-sharing on social media. Was I showing too much of country life and the garden? Was I upsetting folk that are locked down in cities, in flats and apartment blocks without access to gardens or the countryside? I spent a couple of days away from social media to reflect, but I got lonely. I missed the connection. I missed having people to ‘talk to’.
I decided I needed to keep posting and chatting to the followers of my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, so I expressed my worries, and then shared a picture of my kitchen disaster when I took my eye off the ball whilst making dandelion honey. The comments came flooding in from folk who said they enjoyed my posts, reassuring me I wasn’t blowing my own trumpet, and I encouraging me to carry on.
Here at Bridge Cottage, we garden using organic gardening methods, and pest control sometimes means thinking out of the box. I came up with the poem at the top when trying to keep the pesky pigeons off my cabbages using old CDs strung up on string – I noticed they were pilates CDs, and the line ‘do pigeons to pilates’ stuck in my mind. I’m no poet; it’s just a bit of fun.
Plastic bottles chopped in half do make good mini cloches to keep the frosts and rabbits off my brassicas. I’ve grown the seedlings in the greenhouse, then hardened off before planting out this week. So far, there are two types of kale, and a primo cabbage. I took a look back at the old Bridge Cottage Way blog I used to write over on Blogspot – the photos made me smile, and the garden has changed to much. I love the photo of Tim with his cauliflower – here’s the link if you want to watch it too: A Wander Round the Garden in May. I see I was covering cabbages with pop bottles back then.
When Tim’s finished the log store he’s been building next to the sauna using reclaimed pallets and other repurposed bits and bobs, we will be building a frame to put netting over which, fingers crossed, will keep the pigeons and cabbage whites away from my greens.
How are your gardens growing? Have those with no gardens managed to grow anything in pots?
I’ve jumped on the bandwagon of those turning their hands to baking sourdough bread this week, and thanks to Gilchesters who delivered flour, and to The Boy Who Bakes for his excellent tutoring, I have managed to make a decent loaf. I am hooked!
They may need to widen the door frames when I come out of lockdown.
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Several of my friends are growing their own veg for the first time, as they turn to being as self sufficient as possible, during these difficult coronavirus times. I’ve been growing my own veggies for yonks here at Bridge Cottage, so I thought I’d share some tips I’ve learnt along the way, plus some tried and tested family recipes.
Last year’s leeks are all but finished, but have provided some welcome fresh veg throughout the winter and early Spring. It’s the beginning of April now, and time to plant the seedlings in the veggie patch. Leeks provide a welcome crop throughout the year, and are a wonderfully versatile veg. I’ll pop some of my favourite recipes below.
Start your leeks off in a deep pot – they like to send their roots deep down, and this will help strong plants to grow. Just sprinkle on top of seed compost, and then cover with a fine layer. Pop somewhere fairly warm, a windowsill or greenhouse if you have one. I like to set my leek seeds away in March, but you may get away with it earlier if you are in warmer climes than Northumberland. Don’t be tempted to put too many in the seed tray, or you’ll end up with far too many and they’ll be all choked up. We’ve been a bit heavy handed with our seed sprinkling – you might want to give them a bit more breathing room than we have here!
Don’t worry if you’ve not done them as early as this; and April or May sowing will be fine too. I should add that we’re in the northern hemisphere here!
Once your seedlings are large enough to handle – you need a
good bit of growth at the top, tease them gently apart, and plant out in the
veggie plot using a dibber or stick to make deep holes (about 15-20 cm deep). Don’t
you just love that word, dibber. It instantly conjures up memories of helping
my grandad in his garden. I have my lovely son to thank for making me my
dibber. If you don’t have a dibber, find a stout stick! Pop your seedling in
the hole and fill with water from a watering can. Plant with enough space so
you can get a hoe in between rows to keep the weeds down later on That’s all
there is to it!
You will be rewarded with delicious, nutritious leeks to
feed yourselves and your families.
Here are some tried and tested recipes the family have loved here at Bridge Cottage. They all serve a family of four, so scale down for smaller portions. We are meat eaters, so have included bacon in the Leek and Bacon pudding, but feel free to leave it out.
Top tip – when washing leeks, slit the tops with a deep
cross and hold unside down under running water, teasing out layer to get all
the soil out. Nowt worse that a crunch of grit when you munch!
Cheesey Leek Gratin
4 large leeks
½ tbsp plain flour
Approx. 1 pt milk
100g cheddar cheese
2 handfuls breadcrumbs*
Fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
*(whizz up some stale crusts in a food processor – top tip:
keep a bag in the freezer so you never have to throw away stale bread)
Wash the leeks well, and chop into chunks. Sauté
in the butter for a couple of mins until just tender. Stir in the flour, and
then add milk a little at a time until you have the consistency of double cream.
Add grated cheddar and season with salt and pepper. Pour into an overproof dish.
Mix the breadcrumbs with chopped parsley, season and place
on top of the leeks. Bake in a medium over for 10 minutes, or until breadcrumbs
Leek & Bacon Pudding
125g / 5 oz wholewheat flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
50g / 20z shredded suet
2 chopped leeks
3-4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 tsp mixed fresh herbs or ½ tsp dried
I medium egg
Mix together flour, baking powder, suet, leeks, bacon, herbs
and season with salt and pepper.
Mix with egg, adding a little milk if necessary, to make a
soft dropping consistency (so mixture drops off spoon when held aloft)
Grease a 600ml/1 pint pudding basin and put in a piece of
greaseproof or parchment paper to just cover the bottom.
Put pudding mixture in basin. Cover with greaseproof paper
and foil and tie with string.
Steam for 1 ½ hours. If you don’t have a steamer, place a
saucer in the bottom of a large pan, and cover with boiling water. Place
pudding on saucer and put lid on pan, topping up water when necessary.
Serve with parsley sauce.
There are, of course, lots of other recipes for leeks – we love a leek risotto, or that old favourite, leek and potato soup. Feel free to tag me in any Instagram postsor on Facebook or Twitter with your own leek recipes, or let me know how you get on with these. You can also leave a comment using the box at the bottom of this page. Feel free to share any of my posts amongst your friends. The more we grown our own, and keep away from supermarkets the better!
Last time we talked about using nettles and wild garlic, and it has been fabulous to see all your delicious creations. I’m so glad the blue cheese, wild garlic and nettle scones were such a hit! They were just the comfort we needed here at Bridge Cottage in these worrying times.
I do hope you are staying safe and practising social
distancing. Take care everyone, and til next time,
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I’ve always known wild garlic was delicious, but who knew nettles were so tasty? I’m trying to avoid going to the supermarket in the midst of this coronavirus lockdown and so am turning even more to the land, to see what is ready to eat in the garden. This is Northumberland, there is precious little ready in the veggie patch in early April, apart from some rocket and spinach planted in the autumn that is going to seed in the greenhouse, and rhubarb that is almost there but not quite.
The wild garlic is wonderful at the beginning of April, and I’m lucky that I don’t have to go further than my own garden to get some. You may well find some on your permitted walk; look for shady spots under trees. Nettles are a wonderful source of goodness, full of many nutrients, and the young tips can be harvested and used in cooking. They will sting you if picked without gloves, but once cooked, the sting disappears
I’ve used both in cooking this week, and thought I’d share
six of my favourite recipes with you.
Blue Cheese, Nettle and Wild Garlic Scones
225g plain or spelt flour
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt, half tsp English
50g cold butter
125g blue cheese (or any strong
2 tbsp washed & chopped wild
garlic & nettle tops (chives work well too)
60ml cold milk
1 beaten egg
Scones are best handled as little
as possible. I use a food processor, but mixing by hand is fine
Sift flour, baking powder, salt
& mustard. Grate in butter, cheese, & mix with wild garlic and nettles.
Mix in egg & milk with clawed hand, adjusting amount of liquid to give a
soft, slighty sticky dough. (Scones are better on the wet side rather than
Tip onto floured worktop and
handling as little as possible, knead gently then press down into a flat shape
about 3cm thick. Cut into shapes, top with a little cheese or egg & milk from
the jug you used.
Bake at 220 deg (200 deg fan) Gas 7 for 12 minutes.
Serve with butter. Delicious with some wild garlic and nettle soup.
Tomato, Wild Garlic and Nettle Soup with Orzo.
I small onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
Knob butter or 1 tbsp olive oil
Wild garlic & nettle tops (I
use a colander or large bowl full)
I pint stock (chicken or
450g tin tomatoes or passata
2 handfuls orzo pasta or any
small shaped pasta
Sauté chopped onion and celery in a little butter or olive oil for five mins on a low heat, then add stock, wild garlic and nettles. Cook for ten minutes, then blend with a food processor. Add the orzo and cook until soft. Season with salt and pepper.
If you don’t have tomatoes in the store cupboard, or haven’t been able to get any pasta, don’t worry. You can add chopped potato to give the soup some body, and a green soup with wild garlic and nettles is equally delicious.
Wild Garlic and Nettle Spanakopita
My friend in Greece says
traditional Greek Spanakopita is made with lots of green leaves, wild fennel
and sorrel as well as spinach. I found some red sorrel in the garden and used
this with wild garlic and nettle tops, but spinach or chard leaves also work
Bowl full of leaves – eg wild
garlic, nettle tops, spinach, wild fennel, chard
Nutmeg, salt and papper
Gently fry onion for five minutes
with a knob of butter or tablespoon olive oil in large saucepan, place washed
greens on top, stir, and put lid on to wilt the leaves. Turn a couple of times,
then drain using a colander. Chop roughly using a pair of kitchen scissors and
leave to drain.
Mix beaten egg, cheeses, salt and
pepper and a grate of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in wilted and
Roll out half a pack of puff
pastry and line a greased tin (mine is a square, 20cm x 20cm but a round one if
fine too). Place mixture in and roll out rest of puff pastry to top.
Make a small cross in the middle
to let out the steam, and brush with beaten egg or milk.
Cook in a hot oven, about 220 deg (200deg fan) gas mark 7 for about 20 minutes or until risen and golden.
Wild Garlic Pesto
This is so simple to make, and so
tasty. It freezes very well to be used throughout the year. You can add
nettles, and I’ve made rocket pesto successfully too.
This recipe uses pine nuts, but
in these lockdown days, or if pine nuts are too pricey, use whatever you have
to hand. Walnuts or cashew nuts are a great substitute.
Same with the cheese – parmesan is
ideal, but I didn’t have any and am avoiding going to the shops for feat of
Covid_19, so used come cheddar I had in the fridge.
Large bowl of wild garlic leaves,
Half pint olive oil
100g grated cheese
2 handfuls pine nuts, cashew or
Place everything in a blender and add olive oil until consistency of shop bought pesto. Simple, and oh, so tasty! Serve with pasta.
I hope you enjoy some of these recipes from the Bridge Cottage Way. I’ll leave you with a photo of the bridge that gives this blog its name, and my patch of wild garlic.
Remember to forage responsibly to
protect wildlife. Avoid any areas that are frequented by dogs and wash foraged
leaves carefully! During coronavirus lockdown do not drive to nature spots to
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In these dark days of the coronavirus, never has it been more important to grow as much of our food as we can. Many of my followers over on my Facebook page, Sue Reed Writes, have said they are filling pots and buckets, digging up flower beds, and starting their own veggie patches, many for the first time. Whilst I appreciate not all have access to a garden or yard, and garden centres are out of bounds, there is still plenty we can do, even if it is only sprouting seeds on a window-sill in a jam jar. (I’ll write more about that in a few days).
This may inspire you to get an allotment when all this is
over, we loved our allotment when we lived on industrial Teeside. It was a
community with dozens of surrogate grandads, where advice and plant swops were
bountiful. My sister-in-law had an allotment, and rather than grow veggies on
it, used it as a place to meet with friends and have barbecues. We can only
dream of those times at the moment, but they will come again, take heart.
I’m an old timer and have been growing my own food since I
was knee high to a grasshopper, learning from my Nana and Grandad, and parents,
who, as wartime children, grew up with the habit of growing food in the garden.
They were told to Dig for Victory, and I see that hashtag is now trending on
My grandad was famed for his green fingers, and I remember the
story of him putting in a stick to support one of his prize fuchsias only to
have it turn into a peach tree. My fingers may not be that green, but I do have
lots of experience, and am more than happy to impart that knowledge to you.
I wrote a blog for seven years, The Bridge Cottage Way, named after the house, we live in, and wrote about living as sustainably as we can, using what we have, and reducing the drain on the planet’s resources. There is a wealth of information there. Do give it a visit – the blog that is, not the house! I would like to revive this writing, and will write regular gardening posts here, as well as give tips about foraging and eating seasonally. I’ll also add recipes that I love. I do think that in these Covid19 days, we need to return to traditional ways of providing our own food wherever we can. I am certainly thinking twice before heading to the supermarket.
This week has been mainly about sowing seeds. Traditionally, peas should be planted on St Patricks Day, but it was far too cold to put them in the ground here in Northumberland, but I’ve put some in seeds trays in the greenhouse. I’m growing two varieties of peas, and two types of mangetout this year. I’ve just finished pruning last year’s summer fruiting raspberry canes, so will use the pruned sticks for pea supports. I’ve tyed the new season’s canes to the chicken wire for support. these are summer fruiting, with the fruit coming on the new growth. Autumn fruiting shold be chopped down as soon as they have fruited.
If you’re thinking that you left it too late to but plant pots or seed trays, try making your own using cartons and pots from the kitchen. I wrote about this on the Bridge Cottage Way blog, in Reducing Plastic Consumption by Making Your Own Plant Pots. There are also plenty of places selling seeds online, so don’t let Covid19 be the excuse for not growing! I went to ebay and found plenty of places sending out seeds.
I’ve put broad beans in the ground this week and have covered them in some black weed suppressant I had lurking in the shed. A black bin liner will do the job too. It’s not really to suppress the weeds, but to keep the frost off and warm up the ground. It’s still cold at night, so beware of setting off anything too delicate. Leave all those tender plant seeds for a bit, like courgettes, runner beans, cucumbers etc, especially if you live in colder climes like me.
Tomato, leek, and chilli seeds can be set away now, along
with lettuce, beetroot, chard rocket and spinach. I love beetroot, and so does
my mother. My husband says it is the food of the devil, so maybe it is a woman
thing? Do you like beetroot?
What’s available right now? You may have seen some wild garlic on your permitted one walk a day, without even realising what it was, and what you can do with it. I wrote about Wild Garlic – Food for Free, the other week. Hugh Fearnley-Whittonstall has given us some recipes for using nettles, and I like to mix wild garlic with nettle tops. We have our own chickens here at Bridge Cottage, and a wild garlic and nettle tortilla or a quiche will be on the table at the weekend.
Rhubarb is ready in the garden too, and I wrote about that a while back in Wrestling Rhubarb. The rhubarb gin recipe is wonderful, although I’m now tee total, so none of that for me! There was a post about rhubarb too on the Bridge Cottage Way blog – It was called, ‘Seasonal Eating – April’ It’s worth a look for some great rhubarb recipes or just to see a fresh young face!!
Many are saying compost in in short supply, and I’ve just
had a flashback to me collecting the tops of mole hills from the field where we
lived in Upper Weardale many moons ago! This is a time to make the best of what
we have, so be inventive, swop seeds where you can, and give any spare rhubarb
you have to your neighbours. Keeping your two-metre distance of course and
washing any donations thoroughly.
These are difficult days for us all, but I hope my posts will bring a bit of distraction, and inspiration as we navigate our way through the coronavirus.
Sending love to all from isolation in Northumberland.
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There are three factors that have influenced the writing of this post about wild garlic. Firstly, with the coronavirus scare causing panic and fear, I have had a strong urge this week to be by myself, out in nature, breathing in fresh air and getting as much vitamin D as possible through sunlight on the skin to boost my immune system. There is a wonderful feeling to be found as the garden wakes up from its winter slumber, the rhubarb thrusts its ruby red stalks skyward, and the wild garlic leaves appear.
Secondly, I got issue 85 of Mslexia, the magazine for ‘women who write’, published here in the north-east, Caroline Sanderson’s feature about the pain of writing memoir with interest. In the ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ module of the Creative Writing MA I am undertaking at Newcastle University, our tutor has asked us to place ourselves as the protagonist back in the place where we were at the age of which we are writing for. My young adult novel is taking me back late teens, a time which holds many painful memories for me. Alice jolly, who wrote the memoir ‘Dead Babies and Seaside Towns’ wrote that ‘you can’t write a good memoir without spilling blood’, and I am bleeding.
To take a break from the blood-letting, other writing is
necessary, and so to preserve my mental health, I return to The Bridge Cottage
Way and share my love of foraging and food for free with you.
Lastly, I cleared out the freezer – a job I’ve been putting off for far too long. I found several bags labelled ‘wild garlic pesto 2019’, made this time last year, and in need of being eaten before I make the next batch. It is a heady concoction, full of flavour, that goes splendidly stirred through pasta, with a slice of salmon on the top. (see below for the recipe)
Is wild garlic just a northern thing? It is typically found
in sheltered woodland, often near a source of water, and can be recognised by
its bright green leaves and pungent smell of garlic when walked on or when the
leaves are rubbed. It grows in abundance along the roadside here in
Northumberland, under the trees as you drive past Ridley Hall and Allen Banks,
and along the bank side of our little burn. The leaves appear first, closely
followed by the delicate white flower, as seen here, and wild garlic, or ransoms
as it is sometimes known as, can be found growing from March through to June.
The smell of wild garlic for me, is evocative of the day we
moved to Bridge Cottage back in early June 2003. As I drove along with a car
full of boxes, marvelling at the beauty of the Northumberland countryside, a
pungent pong wafted through the car window. It is food for free, and the year’s
first foraged crops: seasonal eating at its best.
Here are some suggestions for cooking with wild garlic, The Bridge Cottage Way:
Add a couple of good handfuls of wild garlic to about 200ml
of olive oil, a handful of nuts (eg walnuts, cashew or pine nuts), 50g grated
parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, and blitz in a food processor.
Add your pesto to pasta for a simple but tasty lunch or rub
onto chicken. Wild garlic and chicken go very well together.
I like to make several batches and freeze in small bags.
There is nothing better in the depths of winter, than to go foraging in the
freezer and finding little bags of spring wild garlic pesto to use for lunches.
Wild garlic leaves can be added whole to salads or chopped
according to taste. Use instead of spring onions for a mild, oniony taste, but
with the added zing of garlic. They make an interesting addition to a cheese
sandwich married with a touch of mayonnaise.
Salad dressing can also be made more interesting with finely
chopped wild garlic leaves or add to mayonnaise or butter.
In his iconic foraging guide, Food for Free, written many moons ago, Richard Mabey tells us that wild garlic goes handsomely with tomatoes
Richard tells us to ‘take advantage of their size and lay
them criss-cross over sliced beef steak tomatoes’. I like to chop them finely
and add to chopped tinned tomatoes for a quick and tasty tomato sauce that can
go with pasta, or as an accompaniment to fish cakes.
Alternatively, make a simple tomato salsa, by chopping fresh
tomatoes with finely chopped wild garlic, and fresh deseeded chilli, and a
squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
Wild garlic can be used with young nettle tops for a
healthy, delicious soup, or for the meat eaters amongst us, simply add to
chicken stock and blitz for a delicious wild garlic soup.
I’m off to pick some wild garlic to use tonight with some
simple mayonnaise to have with chips.
It’s nearly the end of May, and despite having had several
pickings of rhubarb already, there is a bumper crop. With the family all out
for the day, today seemed the day for tackling it. I’m pleased with how the day
has gone, and thought I’d share some recipes with you.
There is also bottle of rhubarb gin in the cupboard, which will be shaken daily until the sugar dissolves, and will be shared with my sister in law, Kate, at my daughter’s wedding. It was my sister in law who was responsible for introducing me to my husband, Tim, when we were at teacher training college together in Isleworth back in the early eighties. Amazingly there was enough rhubarb gin left from last year to take this photo. Apologies for the chipped glass!
It’s really easy to make your own rhubarb gin or vodka, and
the same method applies for any fruit such as raspberries which is equally
Rhubarb Gin Recipe
Just chop up slender stems of your pinkest rhubarb (if they are too fat they won’t go into the neck of the bottle). Put into a clean, empty bottle until half full. Add a good slug of sugar. I don’t like mine too sweet, so only put about 100g in. You can add more. If you have any Sweet Cicely around, you can use this instead of sugar. Top up with gin or vodka, pop the top on, and shake every day until the sugar is dissolved, then leave well alone for a few weeks. Strain before drinking It’s really that easy!
It’s goes really well with tonic, soda or Prosecco, or drink neat over ice. Cheers!
I’m told that once all the gin is drunk, the alcohol soaked fruit makes an excellent crumble.
Another favourite, newly mastered this year has been rhubarb souffles – thank you to Michel Roux Jnr and Gardener’s World for the recipe! They are not hard to make and are suitably impressive. Just keep the oven hot and don’t open the door until you are ready to serve.
My mum is a huge fan of stewed rhubarb and it was a staple of the Sunday dinner table with rice pudding when I was a child. My husband, however, wouldn’t thank you for rice pudding, (says it reminds him of school dinners) but he does have a favourite rhubarb recipe. It is for Rhubarb and Orange Merinque.
Wash and trim rhubarb and cut into short
lengths. Place in shallow oven proof dish.
Grate rind and squeeze juice from orange. Place
in measuring jug & make up to 450 ml / ¾ pint with water
Place demerara sugar and cornflour in a saucepan
and gradually blend in the liquid. Bring to boil, stirring and simmer for 3
minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
Stir egg yolks into orange sauce and our over
Cook in centre of a moderate oven Gas 3, 325F,
!60C for 20 minutes. Lower temperature to cool, Gas 2, 300F, 150C.
Meanwhile, whisk egg whites until stiff and dry,
whisk in half the caster sugar and whisk until stiff again. Fold in remaining
Spread meringue over mixture in dish and return
to oven to cook for a further 20 to 25 minutes until it is golden brown and the
rhubarb is tender.
I hope I has inspired you to have a go at growing and cooking rhubarb. If you don’t grow rhubarb, you really should! Find someone who does, and ask them to divide a crown for you in the autumn, or pop down to the garden centre to buy one. It loves a good dollop of well-rotted compost over the winter, and will serve you well for years to come. It’s the first fruit to be ready in the new season and is a very welcome crop indeed.