Election day

May 6, 2010

I went out to vote this morning and I’m happy to say that it wasn’t a wasted vote, but only because that was a lovely morning and my walk to the polling station is quite beautiful. I took it at a leisurely pace beginning with a gentle stroll through the walled kitchen garden to admire my small vegetable plot. The garlic which I planted out from ordinary shop bought bulbs last September is coming on nicely, as are the broad beans, spring cabbage and shallots. But it’s not been a particularly warm spring and some of the seeds are taking their time to poke through. I’m waiting on carrots, beetroot, chard, spinach beet and various lettuces and herbs sown outside, and I’ve got sweetcorn, french beans, runners and courgettes under the cold frame. Very pleasant. On the other side of the garden a team of men are building a new vine house for their lordships and that will look beautiful when finished.

From here I’m through the gate and following much the same route as Felicia took on the Easter egg hunt a few weeks ago. Past the pond and the water lilies are shooting through. It will soon be time to take the dinghy out on the water, probably when Felicia next comes a calling. From here I’m off through the woods, round the dell and over the hill. In times past one of the lords has had a servant dig out the top ten or fifteen feet of cutting so that the climb is not so steep, which is very thoughtful. This part of the walk in February is lined with countless millions of snowdrops which on a moonlit night illuminates a stroll to the pub magically, as if you’re walking through the Milky Way. Now its just over  the narrow footbridge and across the meadow, round the hexagonal dovecote, through the five bar gate and into the village. The polling station is in the village hall just along the road and needless to say trade is far from brisk.

On the stroll home I met my good friend Frank who suggested that we might just cross the road for a pint or two in The Crown which was an offer I was only too happy to take up. From there I stumbled home, did a couple of hours in the vegetable garden and then indoors to write this. Perfect day.

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I like to be seasonal when I cook, but in winter you don’t want to eat only turnips and sprouts so you just have to preserve a few things from the garden if you don’t want to buy supermarket stuff that’s been shipped halfway round the world. And, of course, what’s seasonal here in England is not necessarily seasonal in Cincinnati or Sidney or wherever you foodie fools live, so I’ll post these tips here and now and if it’s the wrong time of year for you then you’ll just have to write them down and stick them to an appropriate domestic appliance with a colourful and amusing fridge magnet.

Fresh green coriander (cilantro) seeds. This is a favourite ingredient of mine, so this year in your herb garden, patio or balcony sow coriander seeds. They are so easy to grow in most climates. Sow them in well drained soil in sunny position, and thin the seedlings to about 4-6 inches apart. After you’ve munched all the yummy broad leaves the plants begin to form the taller, more feathery leaves which will need some support with light canes to stop them collapsing.

As the seeds grow plump harvest them while still green, bag them up and freeze them (and, of course, use them fresh). They are super delicious. Use them as you would the leaves, adding them towards the end of cooking any Indian or Mexican meal, and in a salsa (finely chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, oil, lemon juice and green coriander seeds). You get a wonderful intense coriander hit bursting in your mouth.

They freeze well for a few months and you will wish you’d grown more. You will next year.

Garlic is at its best when fresh and juicy in June and July, but the stuff you buy later in the year has been stored for a long time and soon starts to shoot, giving it a bitter taste. So when it’s plentiful I like to roast the whole heads and freeze them. They last well, and give you lovely sweet, sticky cloves throughout winter which are easy to peel and require no pre-cooking. Keep them in the fridge after defrosting.

Sweet chestnuts. If you live near a sweet chestnut tree gather the delicious nuts as soon as they start falling in quantity. (If the prickly cases are cutting into your hands roll them with your foot and the nut will pop out.) When you get them home cut them in half, peel them and lay them in an ovenproof tray. Roll them in olive oil and salt them as liberally as the salt police allow, then roast them in a medium oven for 15 minutes or so. They make brilliant beer snacks. If you have lots of them you can pack the surplus into a sterilised preserving jar, pour over more oil to cover and seal. As you use them keep topping up the oil to cover them and they will last through to Christmas (if you haven’t already scoffed them all by then). Use them when cooking game, especially roast partridge, or add to any autumn/winter casserole.

Ginger. Here’s a cracker. When ginger is lovely and fat and juicy it’s so hard to resist buying a large lump of it, which you will use liberally in every meal for a few days and it will keep fresh in the fridge for a week or so before it starts to get all dried up and wrinkly (much like myself in many ways). Don’t throw it away or watch it shrivel to nothing. Peel it with a spoon (this leaves you no waste at all) and slice it to usable sized pieces, bung it into a preserving jar and cover with Chinese rice wine vinegar. It lasts for ages and is always there for those store cupboard meals, especially Chinese and Indian.

Broad bean tips. As your broad bean plants approach full size there is a danger that the tips will get attacked by blackfly which, if left, will decimate the whole plant. So just nip out the growing tips, but instead of throwing them away use them in a salad. If you don’t believe me eat them as you nip them out. Delicious.