Leek and Potato Pies -Veg from the Garden

I love the quiet time after Christmas. It’s so peaceful here. No rushing about trying to keep up with the world. I hold on to that feeling of calm for as long as I can. I’m reluctant to drive to the shops. So I look about the house and garden. Leeks and potatoes are plentiful, so I make one of my favourite recipes, Leek and Potato pie. They are easy to make, and it’s lovely to come indoors from a session in the garden and find tasty little pies for tea. Dashing about, dealing with shopping, parking and self service tills that never seem to work, can all wait for another day.

INGREDIENTS

A quantity of shortcrust pastry, or 2 rolls of filo or 2 packs puff pastry, rolled out and cut into approx 12cm squares.

800g potatoes, chopped into approx 2.5cm chunks

2 leeks

2 red onions

25g butter

1 heaped tbsp plain flour

200ml milk

130g cheddar cheese

Pinch of salt/black pepper

Optional. If you have them:

Pinch of paprika and cayenne pepper

Half tsp Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce

Pinch of mustard powder

Chopped chives, sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley.

1 beaten egg for glazing

METHOD

Boil the potatoes until they are just cooked, but still slightly firm. Drain and set aside to cool.

Melt the butter and add the leeks and onions and cook gently until soft.

Add the flour and cook gently for 2 minutes, stirring the mixture so it doesn’t burn.

Remove from the heat and add a few tablespoons of the milk and stir well to incorporate. Add the rest of the milk, a bit at a time, stirring well.

Return to the heat and cook for a few minutes until the sauce thickens, stirring to prevent burning.

Remove from the heat while you grate the cheese.

Add the grated cheese, the seasoning and optional ingredients.

Gently fold the sauce mixture into the cooked potatoes.

Divide the mixture between the pastry squares. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray.

Pull the four corners inwards to meet in the centre, folding one corner over the other like closing an envelope. Pinch along the folds to hold the folds together. Some beaten egg will help the pastry to stick together.

Brush the pies with beaten egg.

Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and the filling is piping hot. The parcels may open up a little as they bake.

Sprinkle over some reserved fresh herbs.

TIP

Make picnic versions by using silicone muffin trays.

Vary the recipe by adding whatever vegetables you have in store. If you eat fish, you can add tuna. If you are vegan, use soya margarine, soya milk and brush the pies with almond milk. Add chestnut mushrooms and chopped nuts instead of cheese.

PASTRY RECIPE

300g plain flour

1tbsp or 15ml baking powder

150g butter or margarine

3-4tbsp or 45-60ml water.

METHOD

Put the flour and baking power in a basin. Rub in the fat until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add sufficient water to give a soft but manageable dough.

Note: use warm water if using wholemeal flour.

The photo below shows filo pastry pies, made in muffin trays.

They don’t have to be perfect shapes. Enjoy!

Six on Saturday. What’s in flower today.

Enjoy a tour of my garden on a rainy Saturday. The temperature feels mild at 8C. I can hear a woodpecker in the orchard. Our farming neighbour is cutting the field hedge across the lane. We’ll be able to see the cows more clearly in spring. Speaking of spring…I was surprised to find so many flowers today.

Calendula Orange Flash. Grown from seed last summer. Supplied by Mr Fothergills. I’ll be growing these again in the cut flower/ veg patch. They last a week in a vase.

Calendula Fiesta seedling. Mr Fothergills again. Fades from lemon to white. Very pretty. The edges of the petals look like they’ve been cut with pinking shears.

Snowdrops. Earliest they have ever flowered here. Galanthus Elwesii variety. Originally from snowdrop festival sales at Hodsock Priory, Nottingham. It will soon be time to make a visit again. I always take my Mum, and we usually stay over in the converted stables. A little bit of luxury, midwinter. Does you no harm at all.

In my unheated poly tunnel, Chrysanthemum White Stallion is providing a few flowers for jam jar posies. Bought as tiny £2 cuttings from Chrysanthemums Direct at the RHS Malvern Show three years ago. The weather is so mild, the plants are starting to shoot early. I’m taking new cuttings today. Well worth growing. I also recommend Arctic White and Lollipop. They produce masses of blooms. All grow in 10″ pots, John Innes compost. Stand them outdoors all summer. Take in before frosts, to protect flowers. My father in law used to stand the pots in a glass-roofed corridor between the kitchen and the garage. A cold frame would also be suitable.

Alstroemeria from the poly tunnel. Just keeps on flowering. To force them into growth, pull all the flowers and leaves in September. Stop watering for three weeks, then feed and water well. The dormant period seems to encourage them to flower from November to February. Just when we all need something cheerful.

I love growing cut flowers for friends and family. I learned how to grow -for all seasons- on a course at Common Farm Flowers. Never has £100 been so well spent. I learned which varieties to grow and how to get the best out of my poly tunnel and greenhouse. I grow cosmos and sweet peas in the summer in 10 3m by 1.2m beds with little herb-edged paths in between. This year I’m growing love-in-a-mist, chrysanthemums, carnations, ammi majus, cornflowers and poppies.

And finally, I love green flowers and Helleborus foetidus is a favourite. I was just about to pick some flowers, when I spotted these ladybirds. Just shows how mild the weather has been recently. I left them undisturbed.

I’m joining in with Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/12/six-on-saturday-12-01-2019/ . Thanks to the Propagator for hosting this meme. Please feel free to join us.

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Houseplant Trends – talking on the radio

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06vgzy9

I took part in an interview for BBC local radio today. I’m live from my greenhouse at home at 1.47.39 on the timeline. Talking about youngsters getting involved in gardening by growing houseplants. No one would know, but there’s a disgruntled robin flapping around my head. He obviously considers my greenhouse his territory. I fielded him off with a spider plant. Quite funny now. Slightly off putting at the time. Do have a listen in when you have a minute. And you can laugh if you like. I won’t mind.

Houseplant Trends

I like to keep an eye on trends. I might not join in, but it’s good to know what’s in fashion. I want to keep up with the conversation. Growing houseplants is one trend I approve of.

Plants are big news on Instagram right now. Millions of people are posting photos of plants and how they are using them to enhance their homes. The hashtag #houseplants has 287,000 posts. #Plantsofinstagram has 2.2 million posts.

The RHS says social media is one of the driving forces behind the houseplant revival.

Matthew Pottage, curator at RHS Wisley, says millennials who perhaps don’t have a garden, but have a window or a windowsill are behind the latest trend.

He appeared on BBC Breakfast TV this week to talk about the latest craze. He says lots of people don’t have their own gardens, but houseplants are one way of getting involved in gardening.

Matthew suggests the spear-shaped mother-in-law’s tongue would be the best plant for a beginner. It’s virtually indestructible. Other plants showing a revival right now are indoor ferns, Swiss cheese plants, and devils ivy (Epipremnum.)

The houseplant revival is just one aspect of young people getting involved in gardening. Matthew says they are growing salads, herbs,tomatoes and micro-greens on windowsills and in window boxes and balconies.

The RHS Wisley plant shop has seen sales of salad and vegetable seeds overtake those of flowers. And conifers are also on the rise, with Wisley seeing a 50% rise in conifer sales. People are looking for low maintenance structural plants- such as conifers.

I had a look at Instagram and the trending hashtag #plantsofinstagram which has 2.2 million posts.

The hashtag #plantshelfie also has 65,700 posts.

Matthew says houseplants are good for cleansing and purifying the air. He recommends the devil’s ivy plant, which takes quite low light levels. Photos on Instagram show the plant being draped over curtain poles and along book shelves.

Pollution levels are often higher indoors than out and contain a mixture of substances emitted from furnishings, detergents, paint, carpets, and also dust, fungal spores and bacteria. These are thought to contribute to the condition known as “sick building syndrome” where people suffer from a range of illnesses; eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, fatigue, and breathing difficulties. Scientists say plants have the ability to clean up our air to a certain extent by absorbing and capturing harmful substances.

Plants have been shown to contribute to improvements in mental and physical wellbeing. Reduced blood pressure, reduced fatigue and headaches, and patients in hospital report a decrease in post-operative pain where they can see some greenery.

In my home, I’ve bought a peace lily which has white spathes and green spear-shape leaves. I’m hoping it will work hard, capturing pollutants in the air, helping us to breathe more easily.

Science shows our homes, workplaces, schools and hospitals can be better places to be with the addition of plants. In some studies scientists found plants helped towards an improved mood, reduced stress levels, increase in work productivity, an increase in speed of reaction, and better concentration spans, as well as increased pain tolerance in hospital settings.

What houseplants are you growing right now? Are you joining in with the # hashtag craze on Instagram. I tried it last night to see what would happen. I didn’t quite get the 5,000 “likes” one instagrammer received for her houseplant post. I’ll have to keep trying!

* Just discovered it’s #HouseplantAppreciationDay. Well, why not join in.

Winter Walk at Melbourne Hall.

Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire will be open this Sunday, January 13. It’s a rare chance to see the house and gardens in winter. I usually post reviews of gardens I’ve visited. But this time I’m giving advance notice as it’s such a lovely opportunity to see behind the scenes, out of season.

Photo credit : Andrea Jones.

Lady Ralph Kerr will host the event between 11am and 3pm. There will be a guided tour of the house, accompanied by classical guitar music, after which you’ll be able to explore the gardens. The special opening coincides with a feature in the January edition of Homes and Gardens Magazine.

Tickets cost £10 and include a glass of mulled wine and a slice of apple and pear pie provided by Master Chef professionals finalist Sven-Hanson Britt.

There’s also a tearoom just outside the garden gates which will be open for lunch, teas and cake. I can vouch for the cake. It’s absolutely delicious. And there’s usually a log fire to sit by.

For more information, the website is http://www.melbournehallgardens.com. Tickets are available on the day. Note: There’s no card reader, so payment is cash.

The magazine article was by award winning photographer Andrea Jones. I reviewed Andrea’s book, The Garden Photography Workshop, in a blog post here. https://bramblegarden.com/tag/workshop/

In a Vase on Monday- flowers for Christmas

In haste. As I’ve just found another Christmas present to wrap. I bought it months ago and stashed it in a “safe place.” I’ve only just remembered where said place is! If ever I give the impression of being well organised, don’t take any notice. I’m running round in a panic half the time. Anyway, for my last IAVOM of the year, here’s some photos of my front door wreath. I’ve run round the garden and collected evergreen foliage. In the poly tunnel I found white alstroemeria, cut back in August and forced for December. White Stallion chrysanthemums have been flowering since October. They are just going over, with a pink tinge to the petals. A perfect match for pittosporum. There’s two sprigs of scented freesia left over from a birthday bouquet. They last for ages in a cool place. I always prop everything up in front of the potting shed window where I can see if there are any gaps.

My favourite hedgerow ivy and bits of conifer set off the flowers. Silk tassel bush and Scots pine add a Christmassy note. And there’s always rosehips in everything I make.

Meanwhile, all our five bar gates have been draped in willow hearts. Something to cheer the walkers as they pass by.

Wishing you all a wonderful, peaceful and happy Christmas. Thank you to Cathy for hosting my favourite meme, IAVOM. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/. I’ve enjoyed joining in this past year. Looking forward to seeing what you are all growing in your gardens in 2019. I’m excitedly perusing the seed catalogues already! And hoping to be more organised in everything I do.

Last Minute Christmas Presents for Gardeners

Here’s my last minute recommendations. I would love to receive any of these. They all last longer than Christmas Day. Prices vary, depending on special offers and discounts.

1. Vouchers for a course at Common Farm Flowers.

https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/workshops.html .

I joined the Grow Your Own Cut Flower Patch course a few years ago, and I’m self-sufficient in flowers for my friends and family. There was enough information to grow plants commercially, if I had wanted to. I’m delighted to be able to wander about my garden at any time of the year and create beautiful hand tied bouquets and pretty jam jar posies. There’s something special about home-grown flowers. It’s all a matter of planning and knowing what varieties to grow. Georgie is an excellent teacher. After attending one of her courses, you feel as if you can conquer the world. It’s a rather wonderful feeling!

Courses on offer range from £15 for a garden tour to £290 for a painting course.

Courses: Flower Farming, encouraging wildlife, social media for small businesses, starting a kitchen table business, grow your own wedding flowers, hand tied bouquets.

2. RHS Membership. From £61.

Develop your gardening skills with an RHS membership package. Membership includes unlimited entry to RHS gardens, discounts for show tickets, personalised advice, and entry to 200 partner gardens. The RHS magazine,The Garden, is worth the membership price alone. It is packed full of inspiring ideas and information. Written by experts we all trust. I always look forward to my copy, and it keeps me up to date with new plants, ideas for recycling, using less plastic in the garden and information on the latest research into plant diseases. It’s great to see The Garden magazine will be delivered in recyclable paper packaging instead of single-use plastic next spring.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shop/special-offers/active-offers/rhs-gift-membership-offer

3. Support the Woodland Trust with a membership package. £48.

Explore 1,000 Woodland Trust woods. A walk in a wood lifts your mood and re-energises you. It will do you a power of good.

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/membership/

4. Membership for St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital. £36.

We all rely on our wildlife, hedgehogs in particular, to help us combat slugs. This is a wonderful way to support wildlife and learn more about them.

https://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/top-navigation/help-us/membership.html

5. Join The Hardy Plant Society. £17 a year.

A great way to discover more about hardy plants, find like- minded gardeners and join in with events such as talks and slide shows, conservation and plant sales. There’s two issues of the The Hardy Plant magazine a year, free advice and a chance to take part in the free seed distribution scheme.

http://www.hardy-plant.org.uk/whyjoinus

6. Charles Dowding No-dig course. Various prices. Approx £150 a day.

Learn all about growing all kinds of vegetables and fruit, productively and with less effort. Charles has helped me to garden with a poorly back. I fractured my spine in a car crash 15 years ago. Without his advice, I would probably have had to give up my one acre garden. With his no-dig techniques, I have managed to keep on top of weeds, and grow all the fruit, veg and flowers I want to, without aggravating my spinal injuries.

I hope these last-minute suggestions have been useful. If not for Christmas, they make a lovely birthday present.

What’s the best course, or membership, you would recommend? Let me know so I can share your ideas too.

Coming up in the new year, I’ve been invited to try out some weekend holidays for gardeners. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ll be taking my Mum with me, of course. Something to look forward to in 2019.

Family Favourite Recipes- Ginger Clusters

Ingredients :

230g 8oz plain chocolate

60g 2oz raisins

1 tbsp rum (optional)

60g 2oz Stem ginger, finely chopped

method:

Melt 110g 4of of the chocolate in the microwave. Mix the raisins with the rum and ginger. Stir into the melted chocolate. Shape into small balls the size of a walnut. Leave to set on non stick paper. Melt remaining chocolate and dip the clusters in it. Keep in a cold place until required.

I’ve used Waitrose crystallised ginger and chocolate buttons from http://www.chocolate-alchemy.co.uk/ . These are very gingery. Adjust the amount of ginger to taste.

Six on Saturday -Making Light

Midwinter. I love saying the word. It’s like a sigh. Midwinter. Dark and gloom until 21st of December – and then the days get lighter. Hurray! Meanwhile, to bring some cheer, there’s fairy lights.

It’s mild today, 9C but windy, so I wrap up warm and head off down the lane to forage for foliage. Sound seems to carry further in winter. I can hear our neighbouring farmer calling his cows. They are as tame as pets, and well tended. The calves line up along the hedge to watch me.

I find willow stems; soft grey catkins breaking through already. There’s plenty of twigs with dried oak leaves. On one side the hedges have been trimmed. But across the lane, the hedges are high. Dog roses wind around the trees and mingle with wild clematis. I have a basket to carry the findings home. There’s fluffy seed heads from Clematis vitalba, and rosehips as red as sealing wax.

Scott’s pine and trailing ivy will be useful evergreen. Above my head, a robin sings, quite unconcerned by my intrusion. It’s good to see a young hare in the field. He crouches down in the long grass when he spots me, but I can still see his ears.

Back through the field gate. A pheasant has taken up residence in our paddock this winter. He’s a joy to see, strutting around and flying into the cherry trees to roost at night. I hope he survives the winter – and evades the hunters. We can hear the guns from our garden. Glad to provide a sanctuary to any creature needing safety.

I’ve decorated the five bar gate with a circle of dried clematis stems. Not a perfect circle. Not a perfect gate. We’ve had it since we moved here. It’s covered in moss and creaking loudly, but I can’t bear to replace it. I get attached to old familiar things. Dried hydrangea heads make a focal point, and there’s always rosemary for scent.

Back to the potting shed to make my arrangements.

I’ve saved some Chinese’s lanterns, physalis, from the garden. It’s hanging from the rafters to dry, along with hydrangea heads. To add a bit of glitz (unusual for me, I know) I give the hydrangea heads some silver spray. It highlights the delicate flowers of hydrangea Annabel. So beautiful in summer, and winter too. It’s a favourite of mine. The fairy lights are mouldable wire florists lights from Wilkos. You can use rechargeable batteries.

I turn around and there’s a robin and two wrens in the potting shed roof. I shall have to leave the door open for them. They can stay, as long as they don’t eat all of my rosehips.

Luckily there’s a kettle in the potting shed. Time for tea, and a piece of Mum’s fruit cake. I hope you’ve enjoyed this ramble around my garden and down the lane. I’m joining with with https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/six-on-saturday-08-12-2018/ for his SixOnSaturday. Feel free to look around at my other posts while you are here. Catch up with you next Saturday.

Book prize draw winner- The Creative Kitchen

It’s been a good year for new books. One of my favourites recently arrived in the potting shed is The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty.

The publishers kindly offered one free copy for a prize draw for this blog. I’m always grateful for a chance to pass on goodies to readers. And I’m delighted to announce that the winner is June at https://thecynicalgardener.com/ .

Please take a look at the discount code on my review which gets you the book for £16 including postage. Here’s the link for the review https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

I’m making peppermint creams for Christmas presents using Stephanie’s idea for mint sugar. The kitchen smells divine, and the mints look really pretty.

Thank you for reading this blog. Keep popping back for more news. A whole pile of books have just arrived in the potting shed and I’m just starting to work my way through them, so keep an eye open for more prize draws and offers.

Are you making any Christmas presents this year? Get in touch and share your favourite recipes and ideas for gardeners and cooks. It’s great to share hints and tips with each other.

I always look forward to your comments. Please also feel free to share this blog on any social media platform you like. It all helps to spread the news.