Tag Archives: gardening

Foodie ramblings: gardening? anyone for beetroot?

Following Joanna’s wonderful blog on pheasants the other week, another food-related post. About gardening. Sort of.Well, more a ramble, really, but there is some (vaguely) writerly stuff at the end. Promise.

Confession time

Gardening? I am “NotAGardener”. There,  I have said it.

NotAGardeners” will know how inadequate they feel when they see a well tended veg patch, straight lines of leeks standing to attention, beans and peas running riot over a network of canes. Lettuces, cabbages, potatoes – to say nothing of herbaceous borders bursting with colour, flowers waiting to be picked to adorn the dining table. It would be (naturally ) groaning under the weight of food I have grown, harvested and prepared with my own fair hands.

Gardening? Nah

Oscar Keys oscartothekeys, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

I would love to do it, I really would.

Some nights I lie awake and imagine my garden looking like Monty Don’s Longmeadow, full of greenhouses and raised beds bursting with flowers or eminently edible produce. Alas, although the spirit is willing the flesh, as they say, is weak.

After one session of gardening I feel like this…

And to be honest, I would much rather be doing this…

Pauline Borghese as Venus VIctrix

It is my own fault

I do not apply myself to the task as I should, cutting corners, rushing jobs. I know final results would be well worth the effort but alas, I fall by the wayside. Let’s be honest here, I’ve been trying for almost half a century. Ever since I saw Felicity Kendall being self-sufficient in Surbiton. I think I am now beyond hope as far as gardening goes.

When I sighed for a greenhouse, my family built one for me.

It is a thing of beauty and I use it for growing herbs, and for sheltering my bay tree in the winter.

But I feel I should be filling it with exotic fruits and flowers.

There have been a few successes…

Srl, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Last year I managed to get outside at the right time and sow tomato and courgette seeds and – joy of joys – they grew. It worked. But that was one season.

One. Season.

And nothing like the abundance shown here!

Come this spring, the weather wasn’t good and I stayed indoors. True, my perennial herbs are growing in their pots, my bay tree is still cowering in the greenhouse out of the wind, but there are no vegetables. Nothing I can make a meal from. Sigh.

My excuse?

Woman businesswoman working, files, clockI have commitments. People to see. Books to write. Deadlines to meet. 

I don’t enjoy gardening that much.

So I have to come up with some other way to get my veggies.

Solution

Easy: I will let someone else grow the veg.  So I now have an Organic Veg Box delivered once a fortnight.

My local veg box

I know I am in a very fortunate position to be able to afford an OVB. (But let me tell you it is nothing – NOTHING – to what I have spent over the years on seeds, plugs, young plants, seed-trays and compost, etc. etc.)

However, it is more than a 100-mile round trip  to the nearest big shops/supermarkets. AND my OVB comes from from a nearby farm, so I am supporting my local economy. What’s more, the root vegetables are gloriously muddy, so I am getting my hands  dirty.

Back to the Veg Box

I like it, I really do, but this is the Highlands of Scotland. Not for us an abundance of soft fruits & salads (although the raspberries, when in season, are delicious).

The season for fennel, lettuce and French beans is quite short, so there are lots of root vegetables and greens. This means the challenge of finding things to do with the carrots, potatoes and kale. To say nothing of the beetroot and red or white cabbage. You would be surprised how many meals you can get out of a red cabbage. When there are only two of you. Okay, I relish the challenge, and my culinary repertoire has grown enormously.

A brownie point for that, at least.

The Writerly Bit

Writing energy

Buying locally-grown produce in season does make me think about 18th century living. Wealthy families might have hot houses or walled gardens capable of growing more exotic foods, but most existed on what was grown in their immediate area.

Live cattle and geese could be driven for miles to market, but without refrigerated vans, fresh food didn’t travel that well. When I am writing a Regency, I spend quite some time trying to work out what my characters would be eating in a particular season.

Which meant a bit more research for my latest wip…

It’s  a Christmas story and includes pomegranates. (Don’t ask – too complicated. You will have to wait to read it). I  have it on good authority that pomegranates were being grown in England in the 13th century: Alexander Neckham, Augustinian Abbot of Cirencester, mentions them in his De Naturis Rerum (an early encyclopaedia, to you & me).

Pomegranates were established in English gardens by Tudor times and grown in glasshouses in the 17th century. So, it is perfectly feasible for my Regency character to have them growing in his hothouse.

But enough about my book…

What about other authors?

Food is often used as the way to a character’s heart. Quite rightly, too, in my opinion. I am sure you can name numerous authors, but here’s a couple that spring to mind.

Katie Fforde is a self confessed foodie. She often writes about food in her books – Thyme Out (my personal favourite) and Recipe for Love, to name but two.

                                          

And my latest find is Veronica Henry’s The Impulse Purchase, a delicious story of a mother, daughter and granddaughter who work together to restore a country pub to its former glory. They are all excellent cooks so, of course, the pub food has to be top-notch, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t disappoint. It is full of foodie descriptions that make one’s mouth water.

And talking of Impulse purchases…

Friend and fellow author Louise Allen  bought a “small scruffy disbound book” which turned out to be a treasure trove of recipes and household remedies. She published it under the title Mock Oyster Sauce & A Cure For Corns. As well as a lot of receipts there is a remedy for Gout, two for Cholera Morbus. Clearly a book that should be on every cook’s bookshelf. And I am sure some of these recipes have appeared in Louise’s own novels.

Finally, my ultimate favourites…

I couldn’t let this subject pass without reference to Georgette Heyer. Who can forget the Marquesa de Villacañas in The Grand Sophy, showing her practical side when it comes to dinner:

There is a way of preparing fresh-killed chickens, so Vincent shall at once kill me two chickens, for chickens this woman tells me there are in abundance, and I shall contrive.”


And Frederica, worrying herself silly about poor Felix while the Marquis of Alverstoke summons up the courage to “put his fate to the touch.”

Only Frederica isn’t attending. She is trying to remember the name of an excellent jelly the vicar’s wife recommended when the boys were recovering from the measles. What could have been a tender love scene turned into a laugh-out-loud moment when she remembers it is Dr Ratcliffe’s Restorative Pork Jelly.

There is a recipe for Dr Ratcliffe’s jelly, too…

You will find it in “A New System of Domestic Cookery: formed upon Principles of Economy: and adapted to the Use of Private Families.” Catchy title, what? It is written by “A Lady”, later identified at M E K Rundell.

The book is available online, if you want to try it for yourself, and it also has such nourishing concoctions as Beef Tea, Tench Broth and Rice Caudle, all under a section headed (ahem) “sick cookery”. Good luck with that.

They say confession is good for the soul

So I should be feeling better, yes? Able to get back to my day job (the writing) with a clear conscience. But the sun is shining today. There are green shoots appearing in the garden…

I should know better, I really should.

Where’s that seed catalogue…?

Happy gardening (if that’s your thing)

SARAH

Writing in Lockdown: challenges met, challenges missed

To begin with, I thought writing in lockdown was going to be a doddle. My normal working life was sitting alone for hours alone staring at a computer screen. Then there were those bursts of high energy word-cookery. What would change?

Actually, I was even crazier than that. Staying home and not seeing people, I thought, would give me oodles of time to complete the umpty-um projects on my 2020 schedule. Maybe this was the year I completed three books, cleared out the study, got to grips with social media and started exercising regularly.

Um – no.

The Big Freeze

snow in March 2016What actually happened was that I froze. Pretty much immediately. And completely. Could hardly do a thing.

It was a nasty shock. I was ashamed and a bit scared. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone.

The house got more and more of a tip. I started things I didn’t finish. But for a while I was self-isolating. So nobody knew.

That stage didn’t last. But struggling out of it took me time. And, from things I have been hearing, I’m not alone. Writing in lockdown can be harder than you’d think. Continue reading

New home, new garden…

Liz Fielding's new garden started as a messNew garden: with silver bells and cockle shells?

None of those here, when I moved into my new home last summer. The garden was  just a big neglected mess.

The first job was to clear out the weeds and paint the wall. When I say “I”, I confess I called upon the lovely Robert,  who got to work with a some serious tools and, once he’d cleared the bed, a paintbrush.

Liz Fielding's new garden after tough love and paintHere, with a little November sunshine to light it up, is the result.

All he left were a few plants hardy enough to survive the neglect. (I’m trying not to think about the huge store of weed seeds lying in wait for my hoe!)

There is a large deep pink hydrangea, a couple of buddleias to attract the butterflies and a well grown Clematis montana. It was in full bloom when I viewed the property last year and is just about to give me joy.

To begin at the beginning…

Continue reading