Archive for ‘Grow Your Own’

January 7, 2013

Gotcha Oca! Oxalis tuberosa – A new root crop with a future?

by Ciaran Burke
An Oca tuber

An Oca tuber

I first grew Oxalis tuberosa about fifteen years ago. I received the seed from a seed list, it was listed as an alpine plant from South America. I grew it in a well drained compost, lean, without much fertilizer and it eventually produced an attractive yellow flower. It was quite nice. Last year I was re-acquainted with this Oxalis, under quite different circumstances. A gardening firend of mine, Carmen Cronin who runs the Clare Garden Festival gave me some tubers of a vegetable plant which she described as having shamrock-like leaves and that it came from South America. I suspected that it was indeed my old friend O. tuberosa, although she called it OCA and pronounced it Och- ah.

Young Oca plants being potted up into compost bags

Young Oca plants being potted up into compost bags

Well I was intrigued! The tubers were waxy textured and brightly coloured, some red, some yellow, others almost white. The following week I planted them in pots with the help of some students taking part on The New Growth Project course that we run in our garden. We watched the plants closely, all were curious to see how they would grow, would these funny looking tubers be a substitute for the beloved spud? We joked that one day people might be ordering bags of Oca fries to go with their burgers.

Oca plants potted up

Oca plants potted up

That was back in April. We planted the tubers in 2 litre pots of garden compost and later potted on the plants into re-cycled compost bags filled with more of the garden compost. These were kept in the polytunnel where we work with the students. The growth of the Oca was far more than I expected and by mid-summer we were battling for space with the South American vegetables.

Oca plants growing in the tunnel during the summer- they grow very big

Oca plants growing in the tunnel during the summer- they grow very big

Ocas are relatively unknown as a vegetable, apparently they grow them in New Zealand where they call them yams, which is a very misleading name. Oca or Oxalis tuberosa are related to wood sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, a native of Irish woodlands. The foliage is very similar being trifoliate and shamrock like. The foliage can be eaten, it has an acidic sour taste which is quite appealing, similar to sorrel.

Oca will grow vigorously, some of the plants produced stems 2 metres (over 6ft) long by the autumn. Oca are not suitable for growing outdoors in all parts of Ireland, early frosts will turn the fleshy stems to mush before tubers start to form. The plants have a short day photoperiodic response for tuber formation which means that tubers do not start to form and swell until mid-October. Covering the plants with polythene or fleece will help protect them from light frosts.

Frost in October killed outdoor Oca plants before their tubers developed

Frost in October killed outdoor Oca plants before their tubers developed

GROWING OCA – MY EXPERIENCE

I found that plants in the polythene tunnel also got frost damaged when temperatures went below zero degrees Celcius (32F). As the days got shorter the students and I checked the plants weekly. After the tomato plants were cleared from our upper tunnel we moved the plants that we had been fighting for space in our potting tunnel to the bed vacated by the tomatoes. We laid the trailing stems of the Oca on the beds. Along the stems small tubers started to form. Portions of the stems that were covered with soil developed larger tubers.  Next year I will earth up the tubers more as some close to the surface had holes eaten in them by birds. Otherwise the Oca were untroubled by pests and untroubled by diseases. I did not give any extra fertilizer to the plants while they were growing as the plants were growing so big, but addition of supplementary fertilizer low in nitrates might help increase the yield of tubers if applied late in the growing season. We kept the plants watered throughout the summer.

oca plants transferred into other tunnel- the long stems trailed onto the raised bed after the tomatoes had been cleared out

oca plants transferred into other tunnel- the long stems trailed onto the raised bed after the tomatoes had been cleared out

 

During late summer I experimented with taking cuttings of the Oca plants. They rooted quickly and easily and by Christmas most of the plants had made one or two decent sized tubers. I will use these plants for replanting this year.

One of the Oca plants grown from cuttings

One of the Oca plants grown from cuttings

HARVESTING AND COOKING OCA

Our first harvest of the tubers was made just before Christmas. Two good portions were made from a well cropping bag.

Red oca from one of the bags

Red oca from one of the bags

So after all this, how do Oca taste? On Christmas Eve my wife and I roasted our first harvest of red and yellow Oca tubers. Oca tubers can even be eaten raw, but i prefer to cook them. They can be fried, boiled, steamed, deep fried or roasted. After washing the well, they are easy to clean due to their smooth and waxy skins. We then tossed them in rapeseed oil and baked them for about 20 minutes until they were tender.

Oca tossed in oil and baked for about 20 minutes...delicious!

Oca tossed in oil and baked for about 20 minutes…delicious!

OCA ARE DELICIOUS! They remind me a little of a fried potato seasoned with vinegar.

So next season we are going to grow more Oca. I look forward to experimenting with them; I am going to take cuttings from the first flush of growth and see if the plants make more tubers, I will earth up the stems as they grow. I will also experiment with day length control, and try to induce tuber formation early by covering the plants with black polythene for a few hours each morning to produce a shorter day length.

I can see it now, fast food outlets on Saturday nights after closing time “Do you want Oca fries with your burger?” “Yes please!”

Oca tubers from one of the bags

Oca tubers from one of the bags

 

Moving some Oca plants in composst bags outdoors- these were covered with fleece

Moving some Oca plants in composst bags outdoors- these were covered with fleece

Tubers developing at the base of the plant grown from cuttings

Tubers developing at the base of the plant grown from cuttings

Oca grown from cuttings in late summer

Oca grown from cuttings in late summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 7, 2013

The First Weeds Are The First Harvest- Chickweed Soup Recipe

by Ciaran Burke
Chickweed soup... will warm you up on a cold day

Chickweed soup… will warm you up on a cold day

Happy New Year!

the weather here in the west of Ireland has been unusually mild, which is great in some respects; I can look forward to inhaling the sweet fragrance of Daphne bholua flowers in the next few days, the gorse bushes are about to flower and I can soon enjoy some sweet gorse flower cordial, about 2 months earlier than last year! The downside of the mildness is that weeds keep growing, some have not stopped at all. One that has kept a year round presence in our garden is Stellaria media, known as chickweed or mouse eared chickweed. Luckily it is a tasty plant that can be made into a delicious soup or included in a pesto. So the year’s first weeding session can also be this years first harvest!

Chickweed -Stellaria media

Chickweed -Stellaria media

Chickweed, Stellaria media, is an annual weed which can germinate at any time of year. Its botanical name refers to the starry white flowers that are produced at the ends of the lush green growth. Chickweed often grows in abundance in recently disturbed ground, the seeds are stimulated into growth by light. So when you have done a hard days work getting the flower beds all neat and tidy or sown some vegetable seeds in a carefully prepared seed bed, the first thing you can expect to see is a fresh crop of chickweed starting into growth.

Every one of its flowers is self fertile and each seed pod can produce 2500 seeds. These seeds can lie dormant in the soil for up to four years. When growing well they can re-seed within 6 weeks of germinating. Chickweeds foliage is rampant and can easily swamp out slower growing seedlings and young plants.

Chickweed -Stellaria media foliage

Chickweed -Stellaria media foliage

Chickweed is easy to remove by hand or by hoeing in dry weather. Disturbance of the soil does however encourage a new batch of seeds to grow. A troublesome weed for all gardeners, so what better way to exact your revenge than to eat it, turn it into to lunch or dinner and make a nice soup, it is easy.

Only collect chickweed from ground that has not been treated with weed killers, never collect from busy roadsides or  public places. Make sure you know the plant you collect is definitely chickweed, if you are not sure, never take a chance!

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CHICKWEED SOUP RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

  1. •1 Medium onion
  2. •2 Small potatoes
  3. •1 Litre of chicken or vegetable stock
  4. •2 Good handfulls of chickweed  pulled from the garden, only use fresh green growth which has not flowered.
  5. •Water
  6. •A good knob of butter and some olive oil
  7. •Salt and Black pepper
Diced onion, diced potato and chickweed - wash the chickweed well.

Diced onion, diced potato and chickweed – wash the chickweed well.

Preparation

  1. 1.Peel and finely dice the onion
  2. 2.Peel and finely dice the potatoes
  3. 3.Remove big stalks from the chickweed and wash well

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Cooking

  1. Melt the butter in some olive oil in a large saucepan
  2. Saute the onion until soft and golden but do not let it burn.
  3. Add the diced potatoes and stir in the oil for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add a little water, enough to cover the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are soft.
  5. Then add the chicken stock and cook until it is boiling.

    When onions are soft pour in the chicken or vegetable stock

    When onions are soft pour in the chicken or vegetable stock

  6. Throw in the chickweed leaves and simmer for about ten minutes.

    Cook until the potato is soft then add the fresh chickweed and cook for a further 5-10 minutes before blending with a hand blender

    Cook until the potato is soft then add the fresh chickweed and cook for a further 5-10 minutes before blending with a hand blender

  7. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Remove pan from the heat and use a hand blender to blend the soup.
Chickweed soup... chickweed has its own unique flavour...surprisingly delicious

Chickweed soup… chickweed has its own unique flavour…surprisingly delicious

Now serve and enjoy.

From the summer... Chickweed soup, seakale florets and sour thistle salad, a foraged meal...

From the summer, a foraged and home grown meal: Chickweed soup, seakale florets, sautéd nettle shoots and sour thistle salad with new potatoes from the garden,

November 22, 2012

Lemon and Rosemary Tartlets – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Rosemary is both a handsome shrub for the garden and a delicious flavouring in the kitchen. Rosmarinus officinalis, as it is named botanically is an evergreen shrub that grows to about 1.2 metres (4ft) and produces bright blue flowers in late Spring. Although it was killed by the hard winter a couple of years ago, it survive most Irish winters without harm. It is ideal fro pot cultivation and when growing it in the garden give it a postion with a good sunny aspect and a soil that is well drained.

The foilage when crushed releases its aromatic oils and the gastronomic mind sends rapid messages to the taste buds, the mouth starts watering. The mind usually summons up images of slow roasted lamb, pork steak or a pasta dish. One of my favourite ways of cooking freshly dug potatoes is to scrub the skins thoroughly and cut the tubers into thin lengthwise slices of about 2cm thick. Toss the sliced potatoes in some oil, olive or rapeseed oil, and then roll them in freshly chopped rosemary. Sprinkle with salt and cook in the oven for about 40 minutes at about 200 degrees Celcius. Serve with anything savoury, they are a delicious meal by themselves, make a garlic and yogurt dip, and prepare to stuff yourself, you wont be able to stop eating them.

Rosmarinus officinalis var. prostratus is a low growing rosemary with a spreading growth habit

But rosemary as an ingredient in a dessert is less usual, and when Hanna proposed baking lemon and rosemary tartlets I immediately said yes. The rosemary adds an aromatic flavour to the sweet lemon filling. This is a combination of flavours that works so well. The soft texture of the lemon filling melts on the tongue while the molars crush the pastry, rosemary sneaks up to surprise you while you are transported to taste bud heaven…

Lemon and Rosemary Tartlets Recipe (makes 9 tartlets)

Ingredients:

Pastry

  • 11/3 cup of  Spelt flours (1:2 whole grain : white)
  • 2 tbsp Muscavado Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Finely chopped rosemary
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup of cold butter
  • 1-2 tbsp cold water

Filling

  • 1 cup of yogurt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celcius
  2. Lightly butter tart pan
  3. Mix/crumble the pastry mixture together, only add the water at the end
  4. Press the pastry into the forms in the tray and bake for 15 minutess. Let cool before filling
  5. Mix the yogurt and sugar well
  6. Add the eggs one by one and the lemon juice and zest
  7. Mix well and put into the pastry
  8. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes
  9. Allow to cool before serving

November 11, 2012

Tom’s Tom- From red centiflor to little yellow pear

by Ciaran Burke

A few years ago we sowed some seed of a Tomato, the variety was called Tomato ‘Red Centiflor’. We purchased it from Irish Seedsavers Association. It grew well, a tasty little tomato. It bears its fruit in big clusters. The trusses, the fruiting branches f tomatoes, are packed with a huge mass of flowers and bear masses of small red fruit. We saved some seed of our own. Some of it we gave to my Dad, Tom.

The following year our seeds germinated and grew as we expected, masses of tiny red fruits on large trusses, but one of Tom’s plants of ‘Centiflor’ produced not round, but plum shaped red fruit, nice. In all other respects it was the same as the original variety, but the shape was like a tiny plum tomato instead of round. That is the nature of seed raised plants, genetic variation can lead to variants, new varieties. We encouraged Tom to save some seed. We sowed some seed this spring and the couple of plants that we grew produced masses of flowers in large trusses, and when the fruit appeared they were plum shaped, actually more like pear shaped.

It grew all summer and when towards the end of the miserable season the fruit eventually ripened they were yellow, not red! So from round red ones they have changed to plum yellow fruits. So this year we will save some seeds and see what comes up next year.

I want to keep the yellow pear shaped centiflor going so before the frosts finally put an end to the plants in the polytunnel I took a few side shoots off to make cuttings. Cuttings are clones, no variation. Tomato cuttings root very easily, even in a little water on the windowsill. I will try and keep it going through the winter and plant it in the tunnel next spring when the weather warms up again.

In the meantime, I will pickle the green fruits that I harvested yesterday using Helsinki Granny’s recipe that I used before. The small funny shaped fruit will look great in a jar and taste delicious with cheese.

Irish Seed Savers Association –LINK

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November 3, 2012

Finnish Style Cabbage Bake – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Some of the heads of cabbage in the garden are too big to use all at once. We cut a head of the white winter cabbage today, I was messing around with it when I brought into the kitchen, It was bigger than my head! Somehow from that Hanna was inspired to make a cabbage bake, Kaalilaatikko. The Finns have lots of laatikkos, not just cabbage but turnip, potato and carrot. All of which are a big part of the Finnish Christmas dinner. In addition there are beetroot, sauerkraut and even liver… Laatikoos are all quite similar, the main ingredient is combined with barley or rice, syrup, cream and topped with bread crumbs and baked in the oven. Thankfully I have not had to endure a liver version but I am very fond of the turnip, carrot and potato versions. So when hanna suggested Cabbage laatikko for dinner I was more than happy to help out with some cabbage chopping…

Me and my cabbage…

Our version of Kaalilaatikko is not loyal to the traditional version which includes minced meat and cream, we substituted green lentils seasoned with soy sauce and balsamic vinegar for meat and soya milk for cream. And on the top we used crushed Finn Crisp for bread crumbs, a rye based crisp bread, like a very thin Ryvita. They are available in shops in Ireland.

Crush the crisp bread finely

Ingredients

  • 9 cups of finely chopped white winter cabbage
  • 1 cup of green lentils
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/3 cup of brown basmati rice
  • 1 cup of soya milk
  • 4 Finn Crisps (2 Ryvita)
  • Butter
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 1tbsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp of soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp of golden syrup
  • 1 tbsp of dark treacle

Ready to serve…

Method

  1. Soak Lentils for a few hours in plenty of water, then sieve and rinse.
  2. Cover lentils with water with some salt, boil hard for ten minutes and then reduce heat to simmer until the water has boiled off and the lentils are soft.
  3. Add vinegar and  one spoon of soy sauce to the lentils.
  4. Par boil the rice for 10 minutes.
  5. In a separate sauce pan sauté the onion until soft then add the cabbage and stir fry for a few minute until it starts to become tender.
  6. Add salt and thyme.
  7. Add the rice and lentils to the cabbage.
  8. Mix the treacle and golden syrup together and then add to the cabbage, stir well.
  9. Transfer to a buttered oven dish with lid.
  10. Pour in the soya milk and stock (we used beef stock).
  11. Sprinkle with crushed Finn Crisps and add a few small knobs of butter.
  12. Cover with lid.
  13. bake in oven at 175 degress Celcius for 60 minutes.
  14. then remove the lid and bake for a further 15 minutes until the top had turned golden brown.
  15. Serve with lingon berry jam. We also had Hawthorn and Apple jam. You could use cranberry instead.

Cabbage Bake, Kaalilaatikko served with hawthorn and Apple Jam and Lingon Berry jam

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