Cold weather delights by Helen Babbs
By: Steve Ott
I can see the shape of a squirrel beyond the drips and the skeletal form of my neighbours’ nearly naked sycamore. I braved a trip to the garden earlier to pick some chervil for lunch. Taking the opportunity to inspect my pots, I discovered that the squirrel has lifted the netting and dug up the bulbs I planted a couple of weeks ago.
I had a great afternoon tidying up from summer and planting those bulbs. I got as soily as I possibly could, and managed to make my rooftop space look a little more respectable. The spent beans and tomatoes were taken down, fallen leaves swept into neat piles for composting and I semi sorted out my various pots and containers. I then planted garlic, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth and alium bulbs. At the weekend I went to Columbia Road flower market and bought more aliums and some anemone bulbs, which I’ll plant when I’m feeling brave enough to spend prolonged periods out in the cold.
Tidying up the pots and dead plants meant pulling up my one and only carrot. It’d been sharing a container with a tomato for months, after its siblings fell victim to the killer combination of a heat wave and a holidaying owner. The carrot’s leaves above ground had been looking large and luscious for a while, and I was expecting the vegetable to be nothing short of enormous. Bracing myself for an almighty tug, I heaved it out of the soil. It was majestic, at 3cm long. Possibly the smallest carrot I’ve ever seen and one of which I’m rightly proud.
Produce wise, apart from masses of carrot, my aerial, edible garden is currently providing me with parsley, chervil, rosemary and bay leaves. I’m a huge fan of soup – it, along with porridge and super thick socks, is the best thing about winter. All these fresh herbs are making my soups, stews and casseroles taste rather amazing. But generally fresh produce is a little sparse. Now is the time for eating preserves. I haven’t expanded my repertoire into jam making just yet, but I recently met a lady from south east London who has.
Peckham couldn’t be described as a posh part of town, Penny Greenhough’s council flat is no palace and she doesn’t fit neatly into the role of domestic goddess. But over the last six months she’s become the Peckham Pickler, an alchemist of sorts, foraging for wild fruits and nuts and transforming them into an array of truly local preserves.
Her kitchen is filled with jams and jellies, sauces and syrups, relishes and chutneys, in a rainbow of colours that gleam in shafts of winter sun. Fruit picking and preserving may not be typical urban pursuits, but Penny’s Peckham is an edible one and her welcoming home has become a tiny jam factory.
I spent a morning in Penny’s kitchen last week for an article I’m writing and, lucky me, I left with a jar of ‘membrillo’ (a quince jelly that tastes great with manchego) and some sloe chutney, both homemade from fruit foraged nearby. So, while my own produce is thin on the ground, I can indulge in a little from south of the river.
One last thing to share this month is a short animated film I’ve made about compost. It’s aimed at kids and has a very homemade feel, but hopefully you’ll like it. It’s called ‘The Rotten Journey – a soil story’ and you’ll find it on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jruwgDcK2C0
Read more about Helen’s north London roof gardening adventures and other tales of urban growing at: www.aerialediblegardening.co.uk
Current Issue: June 2013
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