In praise of peonies

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Fuschia-pink peonies in full bloom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I hope you have all been enjoying some warm sunshine these past few days. The temperature has shot up in the UK and we have all been experiencing long, hot, summer days, and records have been broken every day this week.

I am away from home this week and I know that when I return at the weekend, the lush garden I left behind last Saturday will probably be looking less so. This week’s post is a look back at one of my favourite garden flowers, the peony, which I captured before I headed away.

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Sunlight through peony petals. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There are 4 varieties of peony in the back garden. All have the delightful sweet fragrance that these blooms are renowned for, and to me, they are one of the quintessential old-fashioned blooms of  and established flower garden.

I hope you enjoy them 🙂

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Peonies and foxgloves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

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4 perfect peonies. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Strawberry, pomegranate and sumac salad (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

 

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Sweet and savoury combination of fruit, grain and herbs. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve been enjoying home-grown strawberries for a couple of weeks now. They have grown quite small this year, but they are still sweet and tasty. As usual, I never have more than a handful to use at any one time (jam-making is out of the question) and I usually end up eating them on their own. However, following a recent trip to London’s Edgware Road,  where I was able to stock up on a few of my favourite, more exotic, ingredients, I felt inspired to try something different.

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My micro-harvest of home-grown strawberries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Pomegranate molasses make an ideal accompaniment to fresh strawberries. I love the thick texture and semi-sweet flavour. It reminds me of sherbet sweets as it has a light acidic fizz on the tongue. It makes a good ingredient for a salad dressing as it adds fruitiness as well as subtle sweetness and tempers any vinegar you may add. Its thick texture means you can cut down on the amount of oil you use without noticing.

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Dressing ingredients for my strawberry and pomegranate salad. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Choose a fruit vinegar or white balsamic to add extra sweetness, and use a mild tasting olive oil or other vegetable oil to help bring out the fruit flavours without dominating the dressing.

One of my other purchases was sumac powder. An astringent, fruity powder made from dried berries. It has a high tannin content and reminds me of rosehips. It is the perfect seasoning for sweet berries. Just sprinkle a little on before serving as you would black pepper. A final note on seasoning, I didn’t add any salt to my salad as I didn’t think it needed any. Everyone’s taste is different, so add a pinch to the dressing or mix some into the quinoa if you prefer a more savoury note.

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Strawberry salad sprinkled with sumac powder. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 2 as a main course; 4 as a side

Ingredients

  • 250g cooked, cold quinoa
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Small bunch fresh parsley and coriander, roughly chopped
  • A generous handful of pomegranate seeds

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tbsp. fruit vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. light olive oil

To serve:

  • 150g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
  • Sumac powder or freshly ground black pepper, to season
  1. Mix the quinoa, onion, herbs and pomegranate seeds together, then whisk all the dressing ingredients together and toss half into the salad, and pile into a serving dish.

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    Preparing the salad. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Halve or quarter larger strawberries, leave smaller ones whole, and sprinkle on top of the salad. Season with a little sumac and serve at room temperature for maximum flavour.

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    Perfect little strawberry. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Rhubarb and almond jalousie (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Iced and sliced, rhubarb and almond jalousie. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I pulled my first stems of rhubarb at the weekend. The 3 crowns I re-planted back in the Autumn are doing well in their new patch (watched over by 2 stone rabbits), and it is looking likely that there will be plenty more stems before the summer is over.

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My first harvest of home-grown rhubarb. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To celebrate my first harvest, I have a simple rhubarb recipe to share this week. It’s a pastry classic, and gets its name from a slatted louvre window because it has thin slits cut across its top which give a glimpse of the filling inside. I’ve combined the tartness of the fresh rhubarb with the sweet, richness of marzipan, but I realise this is an ingredient not to everyone’s taste, so if you’re not a marzipan fan, simply leave it out altogether or make a thick vanilla custard instead and spread this across the pastry instead.

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Iced and ready to serve. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I gave a recipe for a Gluten-free rough puff pastry (with dairy-free & vegan variation) on my blog last year which you can use for this recipe, but if you don’t have time to make your own, SillyYak make a very good gluten-free, vegan-friendly pastry. Alternatively, for wheat eaters, roll out ready-made traditional puff pastry thinly and instead.

Serve this delicious pastry warm as a dessert with custard or leave to go cold and enjoy a slice as a pastry with a cup of coffee.

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 300g fresh rhubarb
  • 40g caster or vanilla sugar
  • 325g gluten-free, vegan puff pastry (such as Silly Yak)
  • 125g natural marzipan, coarsely grated
  • A little dairy-free milk, optional
  • 50g icing sugar
  • A few drops almond extract
  • A few toasted flaked almonds
  1. Trim the rhubarb and cut into short, even-thickness lengths. Place in a frying pan, sprinkle over the sugar and heat gently until steaming. Cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes until tender. Leave to cool completely. Cooking rhubarb this way means you will have little juice which is important in this recipe in order to keep the pastry crisp.
  2. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan oven, gas 7). Line a large flat baking tray with baking parchment. Divide the pastry into 2 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of pastry to make a rectangle 28 x 15cm.
  3. Sprinkle over the marzipan, leaving about 2cm pastry showing all round the edge, and spread the rhubarb on top. Brush the pastry edge with water or little dairy-free milk if preferred.

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    Preparing the bottom layer of the jalousie. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Roll the other piece of pastry to a rectangle slightly larger than the bottom piece and carefully lay the pastry on top. Press down the edges well to seal them together and slice off any ragged pastry to neaten the edge.
  5. Using a sharp knife, cut thin slashes through the top of the pastry to make the slatted effect. Carefully transfer the pastry to the baking tray, brush with dairy-free milk if liked and bake for about 30 minutes until browned. Leave on the tray to cool for 30 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool further.

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    Finishing and baking the jalousie. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. To decorate, sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl and mix in a few drops of almond extract and about 2 teasp warm water to make a smooth, drizzling icing. Use a teaspoon to drip the icing all over the top of the warm or cold pastry and then scatter with almonds. Transfer to a serving plate or board to slice and serve.
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    Freshly drizzle-iced jalousie, sprinkled with toasted flaked almonds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Slice_of_rubarb_and_almond_jalousie_ready_to_eat
    An iced slice, ready to eat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

Blue June

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Blue and white Columbine (Aquilegia). Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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It’s been quite a week in the garden. Long, warm days, plenty of sunshine, no rain, and everything is flourishing. As the spring colours fade and the bluebells diminish, the garden has come alive with all things blue.

Columbine (Aquilegia) grow very well in the garden and seed themselves each year. They are a great value flower, and fill in lots of the spaces in the borders and beds with their delicate broad-clover-like leaves and dainty ballerina-like flowers.  They are also flower for a long time.

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Hardy Geranium or Cranesbill. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Also long flowering are the geraniums which grow over the walls and trim the pathways round the garden. They love all the sunshine we’ve been having. The lupins are also doing well, and with no wind to blow them over (so far!) they are growing tall and straight and look truly magnificent.

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Blue-mauve Lupins. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Busy bee collecting pollen from a Meadow Cornflower (Centaurea). Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There are plenty of bees around in the garden which is a good sign. They seem to like lots of the flowers in the garden, but the Meadow Cornflowers are a particular favourite and the many clumps around the garden are alive with activity from lots of buzzing wee winged creatures.

Last spring I planted a couple of Himalayan poppies (Mecanopsis). I love these delicate, unusual coloured flowers but have been unsuccessful in getting them to flower. I was delighted to see that one has produced a long flower stem with lots of buds. The other is very much alive, so fingers crossed, it will flower next year. These poppies prefer a shady situation, my 2 are growing deep in a flower bed which doesn’t get direct sunlight. The flower is such a stunning shade of blue, you can see it right across the garden.

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Delicate and delightful, Mecanopsis. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

One final image, my gorgeous blue iris has opened up this week. It stands alone in a corner of a flower bed in the front of the house, and is greatly admired. I just can’t resist inhaling the bubble-gum aroma every time I walk past. Have a good week and enjoy the sunshine 🙂

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Iris Pallida. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

 

My beach-side harvest – Sea Kale (cooking tips and gluten-free/dairy-free/vegan serving suggestions)

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Sea kale growing on chalky cliff face. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A bit of a departure from my usual blog posts this week. I’ve had some time away from my home in Scotland, and spent a few days in Sussex, where I grew up, visiting friends and family, and enjoying some fine late spring weather.

On a walk along the South Downs, I climbed down to a secluded cove, only accessible when the tide is low, to discover sea kale growing on the sand and shingle beach and out of the chalky cliffs. The afternoon was still and warm, and the frilly edged, grey/blue-green leaves of the kale appeared silvery in the bright sunlight; the sweet smell of honey hung in the air from its many flowers which grow in clusters above the leaves.

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Secluded Sussex beach cove. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve never discovered sea kale growing wild before, and have never cooked nor eaten it. The opportunity and temptation was too great and I picked 2 or 3 of the smaller leaves from a few established plants. I knew that sea kale kept well – sailors used to take it on voyages as a source of vitamin C – so I put the leaves in a jug of water, in the fridge for a couple of days, before taking them back to Scotland to experiment in the kitchen.

As with most leafy vegetables, I guessed that the smaller leaves would be the most edible. Apparently, sea kale (Crombe maritima) is not actually kale, it’s a type of chard and belongs to the cabbage family. All parts are edible, raw and cooked. but in the interests of conservation, I picked just a few leaves.

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Small sea kale leaf. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

And so, to the kitchen. I treated the sea kale as if it were a leafy cabbage or curly kale. I gave it a good soak to remove any sand, etc, and then sliced out the stems. I shredded some of the leaves, and decided to roast the rest whole as I do with kale.

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Preparing sea kale. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Stems with balsamic vinegar – trim the ends and then slice the stems down the centre, lengthways. Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, drain well and pat dry with kitchen paper. Heat a frying pan until hot, drizzled with a little olive oil and stir fry the stems for 2-3 minutes until softened and browned a little. Turn off the heat, season with balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper. Cover with a lid and stand for 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with freshly chopped chive stems and flowers.

Leaves with garlic, chilli and soy – shred the leaves as you would Savoy cabbage and cook in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain well. Stir fry chopped leek and garlic in a little oil until softened and then add the boiled sea kale and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until tender. Season with dark soy sauce and sweet chilli sauce.

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Cooked sea kale stems and leaves. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To bake sea kale, choose the thinnest leaves, remove the stems if coarse, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place in a bowl and toss in a little olive oil, and massage it through the leaves to coat them lightly. Spread out on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and season well with smoked salt, pepper and caster sugar. Bake at 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas 6) for 10 minutes, turn the leaves and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until dark and crispy. Season with chilli flakes and serve with extra sugar and smoked salt for dipping.

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Roast sea kale leaves with smoked salt, chilli and sugar. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The verdict: if you like strong-tasting cabbage and seaweed ( which I do), then you’ll like sea kale. It’s not a flavour for the faint-hearted that’s for sure. It can be also be seasoned with other strong flavoured ingredients. I was surprised that it is not salty at all. Some of the slightly larger leaves had a slight medicinal bitterness to them, which makes me think that the much larger leaves would be inedible.

If you’re lucky enough to find some, it’s definitely worth trying. I feel fortunate to have stumbled across such a fabulous freebie courtesy of Mother Nature 🙂

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Also growing out of the chalky cliffs, a beautiful sea poppy. Image: Kathryn Hawkins