Perennial desserts

Beating the hungry gap

In the UK, especially in upland Wales, spring really never happened at all in 2013. We went from a prolonged winter into the headlong rush for summer, practically overnight. Then there was no rain for critical weeks of the early growing season. Two days of sporadic showers produced a fine crop of weeds all of a sudden. Here where the growing season is short at both ends, it will be quite a while before ‘regular’ (ie. annual) crops are available from the garden.

Are we in a hungry gap then? No way, Jose! What’ve we got? WE GOT PERENNIALS in spades. Well, not in spades, actually. We prefer the no-till method here, being cunning and lazy gardenersJ

So what have we got? We got:

Angelica, perennial rocket, Welsh onions, 6 kinds of fancy sorrel as well as the common one, Sweet Cicely, bless her, LOVEage, perennial parsley, celery leaf (not strictly perennial but keeps self setting for years), Sweet Rocket (otherwise known as Dame’s Rocket) – heaven scent – in white and purply blue, rhoooobarb a-plenty, mints all over the place in many shades of green, oregano and wild marjoram, fresh young nettles, amazing dandelions, last year’s bolting spinach beet and land cress that THINK they’ve gone perennial, nasturtiums creeping around the edges of the new asparagus beds (roll on 2014), wild garlic, broom flowers, new luscious pink roses of ye olde Englande, anise hyssop, Chinese chives, and on and on….

What a larder! Season has hardly begun and there is so much abundance I hardly know what to do with it all! This perennial lark just keeps getting better. The cardoons now get really huge after 3 years in the ground and we are looking forward to a Bagna Cauda in October (blanched midribs in an oily anchovy auberginey fondue thingie – salivation break. The new globe artichokes are coming on nicely and will soon be ready to head for the forest garden.  Nine star broccoli (perennial cauliflower) is winging its way from the nursery to join the party, and the perennial Kale d’Aubenton (the only one the  b****y were rabbits didn’t get last winter is now in a cage and stirring, if slightly shaken.

Extreme weather? Climate change? Unpredictable seasons? No problem, well not a lot, for perennials. They have MASSIVE root systems. They can feed where annuals fear to tread. When it’s dry, they drill deep. When it’s wet they rejoice and grow like mad. Poor soil? What the heck. They seem to manage. Early this spring I tried to extract an emerging and very small patch of Buckler leaf sorrel to put in a demonstration bed at an event we were attending. In the end I had to sever the huge tap root and leave a large part in the ground. It snaked sideways and disappeared down deeper than my trowel could possibly reach. Gardener nil, sorrel 10 out of 10. The severed top part is doing very nicely in a new place and the bit left behind has put forth a mass of delicious lemony leaves in time for the summer salad bowls we are enjoying daily.

Salad not your bag? Or not the kids’? Get the green stuff down ‘em by stealth. Let them in on the Great Big Knife part and chop a goodly selection of everything edible perennial you can find. Chuck the finely pulverized remains into a big bowl and let them ladle spoonfuls of it onto whatever you’re having for dinner – goes great with big veg hotpots, especially if they include sweet potato, butternut squash or paprika (or all of the above). Oh yes, and a dollop of crème fraiche.

They still not touching it? OK – travel incognito: make it into pesto after the Big Chopping sessions. Add lashings of extremely good olive oil (oh, all right, extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed from the nice farm up the road, if you MUST), seasoning (magic ingredient: a pinch of Marigold bouillon, remember?) And grated (finely) Parmesan  or aged Pecorino cheese, or for the vegans, a big spoonful of organic white miso. Nuts? Well, only slightly bonkers, but smashed almonds are nice in this.  Then get stuck into the pasta and watch it disappear with this glorious pesto fresco. Oh so simple, and so good after a hard day. You may be tired but you will cook this like a dream, and the feeling is definitely heightened by a background of Italian opera (must be aria sung by sexy tenor), and a spritzer of the cooking (extra dry) cheapo Vermouth I insist you keep in the fridge (this is second only in importance to the Marigold bouillon for magical culinary feats with the bounty from your also magical garden/patio/window box).

Happy dining with love from Magic!

P.S. What with all the gardening and cooking, the Magic Gardener is having a hard time prioritisng, but promises follow up wisdom soonest on eating every part of your angelica, herbal tisanes, and doing it with Rose (her petals) and Sweet Cicely.