The weather is definitely milder and I was able to start planning for my 50th birthday. It’s not until July but 7 Ps as they say. I am already reasonably sure of one thing that I will want to eat – new potatoes, butter and fresh mint. I don’t have a cow but mint I do and as for potatoes…
The What-whats really are a boon. The eggs they lay are welcome but they help much more than that. I follow Charles Dowding’s no-dig and raised beds allotment philosophy and just add a layer of compost to the surface annually. I’ve had my best compost ever this year, thanks in part to the chicken litter that gets added to the bin once a month. The compost was just right, clean smelling, light and crumbly. I was surprised as I hadn’t kept it particularly dry over the winter but my two bins are in a sheltered corner of the garden under a large weeping willow which seems to have kept the worst of the rain away.
Not only do they improve my compost but I’ve let them on the raised beds during the winter. They clean the soil well of overwintering bugs and I’m sure the surface raking has not damaged the structure. The poo is good too.
In went the Pentland Javelins and I was pleased to see many little wriggling baby earthworms in the soil. These do the digging for me, processing the top compost back into the soil. Charles has taught me that digging destroys soil structure and my crops keep getting better following his guidance.
The last of the leeks came out today and although I like the idea of growing them, they don’t seem to like the idea of growing here. I guess the soil and climate are against them, my potagers are close to a pond and the soil is quite compacted and wet 4 to 5 inches below. Nevertheless I have a good few in the kitchen waiting to be cooked.
Leeks and potatoes. Vichyssoise? Leeks and potatoes together? I take one out and then plant the other, they don’t coincide for me. However, this reminds me of when my Grandad was breathing his last in the Johnson hospital in Spalding, Lincolnshire. There were two wards, the other being maternity. I don’t know how comforting the sound of newborn babies crying was on the the terminal ward but for me it seemed reassuring and natural. Things ending, things beginning.
It was also St. David’s Day last Friday so I couldn’t pass the opportunity to celebrate with my leeks. I’m not Welsh but that matters not one jot. I’ll celebrate anyone’s national day, be it bigos with my Polish friends or haggis. Despite a little research I don’t know what the Welsh eat to celebrate their national day, anymore than I know what the English eat on April 23rd. So here is what I’m doing with my leeks. I thank the late Arto der Haroutunian for this recipe. It is on the same page (110-111, Classic Vegetable Cookery) as an Armenian Baki Sumpoogi Moussaka or ‘Lent-Style Aubergine Pie’. Like all well-used cook books there are stains aplenty on these two pages. I’ve cooked both many times.
Arto doesn’t indicate where this recipe comes from, but with the use of leeks, cream and nutmeg it is completely at home here in Belgium.
You will need a pie dish, big enough.
Pre-heat the oven to 170°C (moderately hot).
1/2 kg puff pastry. Make it if you wish. If not, make sure it is a 100% butter puff pastry.
50 g butter
1 large thinly sliced onion
750 g leeks, trimmed, washed, thinly sliced and drained
125 ml double cream
2 heaped teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon ( or more if you like) salt
1/2 teaspoon black or white (better I think) ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
Melt the fat in a large saucepan, add onion and fry gently until soft but not coloured. Golden-brown is not wanted here. Add the drained leeks and cook for 10 minutes or so, until soft, but again, not coloured.
Beat the cream, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg together and add to the leeks.
Put the leeks into the pie dish and cover with the puff pastry. Decorate as the fancy takes you. Brush with the egg yolk.
It will take a half-hour or so. Eat hot with some green vegetables. The sprouting broccoli is nearly ready.
© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be