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 brown.
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 posts or 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,
Cheerio from the Bridge Cottage Way.