Writing this towards the end of May, which is probably still Spring for some people, but I’ve harvested my first batch of strawberries. Where I come from that’s a summer activity, as are temperatures in the high 80s and the fact that School is out. Yes!
Here are the strawberries in question. These must be an Alpine variety. I wasn’t really paying attention when I bought them: just grabbed up the four strawberry plants waiting for a new home outside the Duke Gardens shop and made them a new bed. The fruit is ovoid, not overly large and has that distinctive Alpine flavour. Really good with locally made ice cream from Maple View Farm!
My other new fruit ventures are moving along nicely, although please feel free to skip this paragraph if you find fruit bush updates boring. Blueberries are forming, which is great but puzzling, since the label told me I needed two different varieties of blueberry for cross-pollenation or the fruit wouldn’t set. Well, the second variety I bought are still tiny bushes, twigs really, not a flower in sight. Hm. Not that I’m complaining. Raspberries are small, hard and green as yet, as you’d expect; rhubarb is looking healthy. Skinny but healthy. I’ve harvested a small fistful of wonderberries too, which I’ve frozen until I have critical mass enough for jam. People have been wondering what they taste like. Well, the one I tried was okay. Not amazing. Perhaps I need to let them ripen further. They’re supposed to be a dull not a shiny black apparently, so I’ll double check with the next ones that they are looking dull. Oh and the fig tree surprised me a couple of weeks ago by growing back. Really thought I’d lost it, to the extent that I was about to dig it out and use the space for tomatillos or something. So glad I didn’t!
Peppers. Let’s just stop a moment and think about peppers, because I am rubbish at growing them. I can mostly get them to germinate, but then they take ages to grow. In the time it takes a tomatillo to be bursting out of its pot with a load of flowers on it already, begging to be planted out (this was true by mid April), my pepper seedlings have barely managed four leaves. So I gave them longer, allowed them to dehydrate between waterings to encourage their root ball to develop. A couple of them vaguely responded to that by popping out another leaf. I called time on them a couple of weeks ago and put them in the raised bed with the arugula. They were supposed to have the whole bed, but you can’t argue with arugula once it establishes itself. Four frying pepper and a couple of thai pepper plants. Three plants were still there a week later, although one of them seems to have shed all its leaves. I’ll see how they do, but I think, officially, this is the last year I attempt to grow peppers from seed. Next year I buy starts. Hold me to that.
Sage. Or Salvia. I now have four varieties: ordinary, pineapple, scarlet and meadow. I need to find uses for sage… Other than just wandering up to the pineapple sage and stroking it.
And finally, a recipe. Pesto with garlic scapes and arugula (rocket for those Brit-side).
When you find a recipe as part of a blog, there’s always a little preliminary story about it. I can’t decide whether I find that endearing or annoying (just tell me the recipe already!!), but here I am falling into the trap. Because there’s a history to the garlic I’m growing. It started out life as some old cloves lost and forgotten in the bottom of my fridge. I noticed (I’m sure it was already winter) that they had sprouted, and just decided to stick them in the ground. If they liked it in the fridge, they’d surely love winter in North Carolina. There were several cloves at that point. Most of them sprouted; three hung on in there. Last weekend I noticed long bud stalks on them, curling like flamingo necks. Bizarre and pretty. I took a picture for Instagram, but what was I supposed to do? Let them mature?
The Instagram community pitched in with advice, and so I found myself going back to the garden a couple of days later and picking what I now know to be called scapes. I thought my ignorance of all things scape was just a freak accident of me looking the wrong way all my life. But then I sent a picture of said scapes (see below) to my parents who have gardened all their lives, and their parents before them, and they said, “What on earth are they?” In fact they dropped everything to FaceTime me immediately and ask what I was holding in my fist with the rocket. So, maybe we just don’t grow this kind of garlic in the North of England.
Enough of the story, here’s how I made the pesto.
Ingredients: A good handful of arugula, roughly chopped; 2 scapes (which is all I had), chopped; scant 1/4 cup of pine nuts; about 1/3 cup of olive oil; zest and juice of 1/2 lemon; salt and pepper to taste; at least 1/4 cup of grated parmesan; about 1/2 lb penne pasta or similar.
Method: Toast the pine nuts first over a low heat in a dry pan if you want to (I don’t always bother). Throw all the other ingredients into a blender and pulse until nicely pulverized. Remove from the blender and mix in the grated parmesan. (If you plan to freeze the pesto, don’t add the cheese.) Meanwhile, cook your favourite pasta (I think with pesto you are supposed to eat penne-type pasta shapes, but if you aren’t Italian, just go with the shape that makes you happy). Toss pesto sauce with pasta and enjoy! Add extra cheese, I would. And pour yourself some prosecco. Everything goes with prosecco.