Category Archives: Plants and Trees

Ham Wall, Somerset Levels

Ham Wall

Here is a post that has sat in my drafts folder for several years. I am not quite sure why it has sat there, maybe I couldn’t decide on the photos, maybe it felt too personal, I really can’t remember. At a time when the Levels are experiencing their worst floods in years I thought it might be a good moment to share one part of them that I know and love as they have been and hopefully will be again one day.  All these photos date from May 2011.

Walkway

Before I baked there were birds to take me out of myself and make my heart leap with joy and long after my last loaf has crumbled to dust there will be birds.  And before I baked and before I had dogs, we used to go out all the time to see them.  Now our visits are rarer but we still go down to the Levels when we can.

Clouds on the Levels Continue reading

The Leaning Tower of Pesto (wild garlic again)

Zeb on the Wild Garlic Trail

The south-west and west of England are a good place to find wild garlic (allium ursinum) though I have seen it growing along the banks of the River Cocker in Cockermouth, tucked in the damp trough of the old Mill Race.

Mill Race At Cockermouth

If it likes a spot it will surely but slowly colonize the ground. It likes damp and it likes light dappled shade, and it comes into flower more or less as the trees start to leaf up, though you can pick the leaves much earlier in the year when it first emerges.  Once the canopy has filled out and the trees are in full leaf overhead,  the leaves shrivel and the wild garlic plants set seed and vanish for another year. You can also buy bulbs from suppliers on the internet if you want to try growing it in your garden.

Garlic Slopes

I first came across it many years ago as a student when I walked from Wooton-under-Edge to Bath on part of the Cotswold Way with two friends, much fitter and light of foot than me. It was a hot weekend and I was glad to get out of the bright sunshine in the cow pastures and bridleways and walk through a cool green wood for a time.  The pungent and distinctive smell of garlic was everywhere, starry white flowers drifting up the slopes, with bluebells and cow parsley layered in.  I remember wrinkling my nose and saying, ‘But that’s garlic!’  I think I thought then that garlic only grew in warmer Mediterranean countries.

Garlic everywhere

The memory stayed with me for many years and when I moved to Bristol eight years ago and found it growing in almost every damp woodland here I researched it, realised it was edible and now pick some every year to use in my cooking. It has become very trendy and fashionable and is sold at farmers’ markets in London and around the country.

 If you were in one of these woods in January you wouldn’t really believe that come May they can be carpeted with garlic, I reckon it is one of the safer plants for the beginner to pick and eat as the smell of the leaves is so distinctive, having said that bluebells and anenomes are poisonous so do make sure that you can distinguish between them. I have read also that some people confuse lily of the valley with wild garlic. I have never seen them growing together here, but again it is worth bearing in mind. I have some older posts on this blog with close up photos but if you search internet images you should find many photos and descriptions to help you. It is worth noting that the plants do vary in size. The ones we picked yesterday were very big and tall, but the ones I see more locally are shorter and smaller.

one last pic of the wild garlicThe plants die back in the summer and all that are left are the bulbs hidden underground till next year, so it really is very seasonal.

I haven’t picked much this year, just one lot that I used in the semolina bun bread last month and at the weekend on our walk I thought I would grab a dog bag’s worth and make some pesto to put in the freezer as the ‘season’ is almost over.

Wild Garlic Pesto

I can tell you what I did and what I put in it, but I haven’t got really good quantiities for you as I made it by eye and taste.  Pesto is one of those Humpty Dumpty words these days as people seem to put what they like in it, some people leave the cheese out altogether, some people add lemon,  but it is a convenient word so I use it here.

Leaning Tower of Pesto

  • A well packed doggy bag of garlic leaves, flowers and buds, probably 500g or so
  • About 200 g of finely ground Pecorino hard cheese ( a sheep’s milk cheese with a strong taste which I prefer to Parmesan)
  • About 150 g of coarsely ground hazelnuts, I like it a bit chunky! It seems a waste to put expensive pine nuts in there as the garlic taste is so strong I don’t think you would be able to taste the pine nuts to be honest.
  • salt to taste
  • Good olive oil or cold pressed rapeseed oil to blend

IMG_1740IMG_1743

We put the garlic in the food processor and added olive oil until the leaves were chopped up, then added the other ingredients and held back on the oil to make a thick creamy paste. I don’t like pesto when it it very oily.

I then spooned it into little 2.5 cm tubs and put them in the freezer. I have read that some people freeze them in ice cube trays and then pop them out and store them that way, but it is one more process and I am a lazy person!

I had held back a handful of leaves and Brian made this wonderful dish which we had for supper with the Black Badger peas that I had cooked a few weeks back and frozen.

The Black Badgers have quite coarse skins but these seem to have softened up in the process of being frozen and defrosted and I think they are fantastic.

Brian came up with this which reminded me of really good hippy food from the 1970s and 80s -think Cranks, and Food For Thought and the Hare Krishna restaurant on Soho Square. We ate them with a piece of Cumberland sausage and some pita bread and some steamed purple sprouting broccoli.

Black Badgers with Wild Garlic and Pecorino and Parsley

Brian’s Hippy Cheesy Garliccy Black Badger Peas

  • 250g of well cooked  British Black Badger Peas (bought from Hodmedods)
  • One Medium Onion finely sliced
  • A handful of wild garlic leaves and flowers chopped lightly
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon mixed spice
  • water
  • 100 – 150 g of left over grated Pecorino cheese
  • a handful of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley to finish
  1. On a low heat in a good heavy pan
  2. Sweat the onion in 2 tbps of butter and  a slosh of olive oil till translucent and soft
  3. Add the chopped garlic leaves and stir for a minute or two
  4. Add the Black Badgers to the pan
  5. Sprinkle the spices in and stir well
  6. Add 2 – 3 tablespoons of water to this to stop the BB’s catching on the bottom of the pan
  7. Cover with lid and check from time to time that there is liquid in the pan, top up if necessary, but you only want enough to stop them sticking, not swimming!
  8. Grill your sausage and steam your purple sprouting broccoli for extra vegetabley goodness
  9. Bake your flat breads – I made pita once more, such fun making pita bread so any excuse!
  10. Before you serve, take the pan off the heat add the grated Pecorino and stir in, put the lid back on and leave to melt in and through the dish.

 If you can’t get Black Badgers, you could make something similar with locally grown peas or beans.  They are full of good fibre and protein and often overlooked in favour of perky fresh vegetable;  we lived on dried pulses in years past in this country, survived on them through the winter and the hungry gap when the new crops hadn’t come through yet.

What were the traditional winter foods where you live – before the days of freezers and 24 hour everything available all the time shops?

Hard Choices

The mud has dried and there are snowdrops on the bank

The mud has dried and there are snowdrops on the bank

“Is this a hard choice for you?’ he demanded.

Yes! I cried. “Oh,” he said, springing back up cheerfully. “In that case, it doesn’t matter. If it’s a hard decision, then there’s always lots to be said on both sides, so either choice is likely to be good in its way. Hard choices are always unimportant.”

From the New Yorker 28th Jan, 2013 “Music to Your Ears”  by Adam Gopnik 

Snowdrops in the woods

Snowdrops in the woods

As I sat by the bedside of my mother in law yesterday,  as I have many times in the last year, I was catching up on the magazine I subscribe to – the New Yorker.   I confess I didn’t quite understand the physics part of this great piece about how we listen to music and how the way we have listened has changed over time –   but I was interested enough to read on as the cognitive sciences and the insights generated from them are really what fascinate me most intellectually and articles like these give one some sort of access to the world of science which otherwise passes one by. Music, emotional maps, time, culture, fooling the brain – always ready and willing to be fooled –  who could not be curious at least to read this?

(The New Yorker article is reproduced here in full apparently with permission, so I will put a link in) Continue reading

I held the camera low to the ground trying to grab a picture of this allium, either chives or crow garlic, probably the latter, growing strongly in little clumps at the base of this Bronze Age mound at Badocks Wood.

Zeb always seems to get in the pictures whether I want him to or not,  but I like the way his tail echoes the bent piece of allium so I thought I would show it to you.

I am looking longingly for the first signs of the wild garlic, but it will be a while yet.

Limeblossom Tea and Madeleines

limeblossom tea in glass teapotThere is a game that people play in which they confess that they have never actually read a famous book or literary classic. It’s a curious game since it involves an admission of failure, and to win, you must have not read something that everyone else in the room has read. There are many books that I haven’t read, or ones that I have picked up and attempted and then simply abandoned, splayed on a side table, or rediscovered with a bookmark placed a telltale eighth of an inch inside, waiting patiently, as books do, for your return, only to be put on a shelf or recycled to the Oxfam bookshop.

Continue reading

Random Garden Trees (1)

It was all a dream, I didn’t really write that poem. Today is the day after…

So lets blog. OK what shall it be, how about three trees from the garden?

First up the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) the one that has ridiculous purple-pink flowers on bare twigs and heart-shaped leaves on the ends? Such a strange tree.

Why is this innocent tree called a Judas tree? My friend Mercedes tells me in Spanish it’s called a Love tree on account of the leaf shape.

This is the tree we bought when it was less than twelve inches tall and then someone sat on it and broke it. It’s done pretty well in the last five years, though it does have a tendency to cling to its seed pods and rattle them loudly in the Spring in a slightly creepy way. We had intended to buy another cercis tree, the Forest Pansy or Eastern Redbud but they didn’t have any that day so we came home with this one.

I did see one of these at Southmead Hospital which is enormous, so just remember tree, I’m watching you…

Next up, another relative newcomer to the garden. This acer came from Westonbirt Arboretum, which has a wonderful collection of acers in the Silk Wood, which is the part that they let you walk your dogs in. We like the Silk Wood for its cool calm and long avenues, its boggy potholes (Zeb likes these particularly) , woodland spring flowers, blossom and autumn leaves.

The Silk Wood Spring Fair is on this weekend, might go tomorrow…

And the third and  youngest of the three, a rowan. One of the upright ones that doesn’t spread too much. We took its support down two months ago and this is how it looked last week, covered in fresh white flowers, to be followed by red berries later on.  A good tree to have in the garden.

Today, while we were weeding and hacking back a space-greedy clematis cirrhosa, we found five hazel nut seedlings which the local grey squirrel had carefully planted last year.

We are creating our own tree nursery – I have no idea where all these baby trees are going to go, but we are looking after them till they grow up and can find new homes of their own.

When I grow up I want to live next to a forest… where do you want to live?

The extra pictures

These are the ones that should have gone in the post yesterday, only I hadn’t taken them till after I wrote the post. Some of the blossom is from my neighbours’ gardens and I have included a shot of a thatched cottage on the High Street. The plum blossom is alongside the big field in Badocks Wood.

Please do identify the blossoms if you know them, to me one pink flower on a twiggy tree is not always easy! ( I think I know mahonia, forsythia, cherry and the magnolia stellata is in my garden.)

As you can see the sun didn’t quite make it through the clouds but I think today might be the day. Have a lovely weekend ! (Brian took the magnolia pic on his Canon G10).

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PS If anyone is curious about the history of the thatched cottage at 166 Henleaze Road, Google books has The Henleaze Book by Veronica Bowerman and you can read about the cottage on Page 32. (There is a lovely photo of it being rethatched included there too) What is  striking about Henleaze is that much of it was farmland and large houses until comparatively recently, a good example of the way cities develop, taking in more and more land for housing as their populations grow; the local quarries have become a children’s play park and a swimming lake.