We’ve said goodbye to summer and the labour-intensive work in the garden over the warmer months and hello to the lower maintenance time of the cooler weather.
A crop of onions, leeks and garlic is always a bonus to the home cook and some can be stored after they mature and used during the coming seasons. They are not hard to grow and their flavor fresh out of your garden makes the produce out of the supermarket seem very bland and uninteresting, lacking in looks and flavor.
Another keeper is pumpkins – if they are cut after the vine withers and dies off, stored in a cool, dry place with a constant temperature, they will keep for months and the flavor is amazing.
Top of the agenda during the winter months are cabbages, cauliflowers and brussels sprouts. Grown from seedlings they seem to take forever to reach maturity, but the wait is worth it.
They do need monitoring to make sure that the white cabbage moths don’t eat them all for dinner and they must be kept dusted or covered under fine netting to keep them safe. They are at their best both in flavor and in vitamin content when fresh from the garden.
A spare cauliflower can be used to make a lovely pot of Picalily Pickles – the recipe is an old one my Gran brought out from England in 1921. It’s easy to make and a great keeper, I’ve kept it for three years in storage.
Now is also the time to buy in your bulbs ready for spring and summer flowers. Bulbs grow well in pots so they’re great for balconies or patios. Look for big, firm bulbs and plant them three times as deep as their height, with their shoot facing upwards. You’d be amazed how many people plant them upside down. Don’t overwater them or they may rot.
Start with: 1 cauliflower, 3 zucchinis, 3 large onions, ½ cup salt.
Finely chop all vegetables and put into a large plastic bowl or bucket with salt. Mix through and cover with water. Leave overnight.
Next day, tip into large boiler, bring to boil for five minutes, then strain off the water.
Add 3 to 4 cups sugar, 1 level tablespoon salt, a pack of pickling spice tied in a cloth and cover with enough white vinegar to cover plus an extra 1.2 centimentres (usually takes 2 bottles). Bring to boil for approximately 15 minutes.
Thicken with a mixture of 1 ½ cups plain flour, 2 tablespoons mustard and 1 heaped tablespoon turmeric mixed together with water. Boil a further 10-15 minutes to cook the flour, stirring frequently, remove the spices tied in the cloth and bottle into hot bottles. Seal with paraffin wax.
If it’s too thick add more vinegar; if too thin add more flour mixture.
If it’s not spicy enough add more mustard, but remember that flavor will improve and grow stronger when stored before using.