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Rich pickings from the plot

The blue skies and sunshine of the last week or so have been lovely but the resulting cold nights are much less welcome. Parts of the country experienced their first frost last night and, although it is the middle of September, it just feels too early to be having frost. I’m just not prepared for the colder weather yet, no logs for the wood burner, no pallets chopped for kindling. We were fortunate to escape the very low temperatures last night but the prospect of it spurred me on to go up to the plot this morning to harvest some of the produce. The French beans, courgettes and fennel will all suffer if the nights continue to get colder and it would be a shame to lose them, so I thought I’d better start harvesting.

It has been such a short growing season, with a lot of these plants only getting into their stride in mid-August coupled with the threat of frost putting the kibosh on ideas of an Indian summer. Still, looking at my basket of produce I’m pretty happy with what I’ve managed to produce.

I’m particularly chuffed with my celeriac and Florence fennel. Carrying them back from the plot this lunchtime felt like I’d been given a trophy. It was slightly tempting to raise them aloft as I walked past one of my fellow plot holders in a triumphant gesture to show I can grow veg and not just flowers.


I’ve never tried celeriac before and had read that it could be a bit difficult but it has been really easy to grow. I started off the seeds very early in mid-February and planted them out in May and other than pulling away any leaves that have fallen down around the sides I haven’t had to do anything. I think I have been helped somewhat by the wet summer. By all accounts, they don’t like to dry out but there wasn’t much danger of that this year. Today was the first harvest. A vegetable that wouldn’t win any beauty awards it has an unusual flavour, similar to celery but milder. It is something I had never even eaten until about 2 years ago when I saw Sophie Dahl use it in a recipe on TV, for a bubble and squeak type dish. The recipe looked so good I thought I’d give it a try and I wasn’t disappointed. Half of it will be used to make that recipe tomorrow night but, for tonight, I think a bit of celeriac remoulade is in the offing. It sounds really quite fancy, celeriac remoulade, but it’s only small batons of celeriac mixed with mayonnaise, lemon juice and I use a little dijon mustard. A very tasty accompaniment to all sorts of meals.

And, I’ve finally cracked growing Florence fennel. I’ve tried in the past but they’ve never got beyond seedling stage always devoured by slugs. This year, I managed to get 5 to a big enough stage to plant out at the plot and they have all swollen to very respectable sizes. OK, 5 fennel bulbs isn’t exactly self-sufficiently but I’m so pleased I’ve managed to grow them that I’m encouraged to attempt more sowings of them next year. My favourite way to eat the bulbs is to slice them into chunks and roast them in rapeseed oil. They are lovely mixed with other roast vegetables such as peppers and courgettes and go particularly well with fish and pork.

I’m picking so many raspberries at the moment. Pretty much a large bag-full every day, it’s a good job they freeze well.

The borlotti beans have been a real success. The opposite of the celeriac, these are real beauties. The pods start off green with the faintest mottling of red but as they develop the green turns to cream and they end up looking as if they’ve been splattered with a paint gun, as the red increasingly becomes more dominant. I have been picking them at this stage and then podding them and using them in casseroles and soups. The beans inside are stunning, creamy white or eau-de-nil, often with streaks of red on them, too; disappointingly this colour disappears once cooked. Their lovely creamy texture when cooked, a little like butter beans, more than makes up for this, though. Today’s harvest are destined for a minestrone soup at the end of the week. So not such a bad harvest after all.