Slow painting

Sunday 30 November 2008

Not natural

In late February or early March this might be a welcome sight. But in November...? I did a true double take when I saw the daffodils at the front of the plot not only through, but about 9 inches high. This is definitely a new trend over the past 10 years or so. I remember in the year my now teenage son was born looking out for the first signs of spring bulbs peeking through at the end of February. Over the years they've been coming earlier and earlier, but never as early as this.

Tuesday 25 November 2008


For some time now I've been meaning to post about kale. It's the current (only) star of our plot. I am a great fan of kale. Husband and children less so. I'm inspired to write this post by the epic three-part ode to kale at A Corner Garden.

This year I've deviated from the traditional Scottish varieties such as Pentland Brig or Westland Winter and have gone European with Cavolo Nero. The photo above shows it looking less nero than it actually is, because of the combination of sunny day and a hurried point and shoot with earthy hands. I don't know whether it's the refined Italian nature of Cavolo Nero, or because I didn't warn the family of its presence, but I sneaked it into a stir fry at the weekend and none of the usual grumbles were raised.

Kale and I have a long history together. It's part of one of my earliest memories: holding my grandmother's hand while walking along the pavement - oh so far - to a neighbour's house to get some kale to put in the scotch broth. My maternal grandparents lived in the fisher town of a village on the Moray Firth coast. It's now a trendy conservation area, but then it was just where the trawler fishermen lived, in rows of houses gable end on to the sea to take the brunt of the winter storms. There was very little room for gardens, but my grandmother's friend Bessie had a small sheltered plot in which she grew kale. I think that was it - just kale.

The broth making was a long process. First the barley and dried peas were soaked overnight. In the morning the vegetables were diced small - carrots, leeks and onions only. They were put to steep in a bowl of water while the beef was brought to the boil and skimmed. I remember thinking that the bowl of cut-up vegetables looked like little jewels.

The beef used in broth was a particular horror of my childhood known as boiling beef. Properly known as 'rolled brisket', it provided the stock for the broth, and made it into a meal. I hated it. Fatty, grey, hideous. I think it was probably rather tasty, but I never got that far. Shudder.

Anyway, the barley etc was added to the pan with the beef, and a long boiling ensued. Towards the end, but much sooner than I would do it now, the vegetables were added. Last of all, shreds of the precious kale were put in. The broth was served as the first course, followed by the ghastly boiling beef, along with potatoes. The broth was made in such huge quantities that there was enough for several days. After the first couple of days the beef ran out, and at this point the potato was added to each soup plate at the point of serving. Then I was in veggie heaven. Broth does improve each day, and 'second day's broth' (but without the beef) is a true delight.

So when I make broth, in goes the kale. I also use that staple of the Scottish kitchen, broth mix. I don't know if this can be bought anywhere else in the UK - perhaps just over the border in the North of England, or in trendy food stores in London. Here's a very hurried photo I took today. In fact a dreadful photo, but on a hectic working day it's the best I could do.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Ordered - at last

Finally! I don't know what's slowing me up this autumn. Well, I do - non-stop school activities and teenagers' social lives. So the time is going on and I had a panic that I had ordered nothing for next year's growing. A flurry of activity at the weekend will see the following on the way to us:

First Early: Charlotte; Maincrop: Desiree

And because I wanted a traditional floury potato, British Queen. It was very difficult to find a floury tattie. All the descriptions were of 'waxy flesh'. At last I found British Queen at Mr Fothergill's.

On the onion front, I've found that this year's Red Baron haven't kept as well as promised, so I've gone for New Fen Globe. Shallots will be Topper and Jermor.

But I still have to find garlic. Marshall's was sold out.

Sunday 9 November 2008

All my own work

This time, it's all my own work. No 1970's plastic twine here - just good natural jute. And what a pain it was too. It took me more than twice as long as if I'd used my Dad's electric blue plastic stuff. At first it wasn't too bad, but as the sun dipped towards the horizon it got colder and colder - and damp. The jute twine began to tangle and snarl. The damp cold made my fingers clumsy. The twine got so damp, and so stressed with being wound round the wire that it broke, again and again. I only managed to tie in one row of canes, top and bottom, before dusk and cold forced me to stop.

When I get back to do the second row, hopefully next weekend, it's plastic for me.

Saturday 1 November 2008


Raspberry canes all thinned and tied up firmly for the winter. Impressive. Except that these are my 82 year old father's raspberries, whereas mine are in goodness knows what state because we've been so busy with other bits of life. Note my father's signature electric blue plastic binder twine. I came home from our trip north with a good hank of it for tying up our raspberries. Now we just need to get along to the plot and do it.