November 05, 2013

Life on the Farm: Kitchen Garden Abundance

Last year I just kind of passively watched as the abundance of farm produce came and went with the summer and autumn seasons. I was too distracted by the move, settling the kids into school, finding a routine for myself, and updating our home to engage in any significant way with the vegetable garden or any of the trees – pear, apple, quince, elderflower, fig, blackberries – that the farm offered up. Granted, we didn’t actually have our own vegetable garden last year but on the farm there are two large ones maintained by other family members that I am always welcome to take from. Sure I would dig up the occasional carrots, potatoes or onions as needed, but I didn’t even make a small dent in the overflow of fresh food. By last winter I started making jam, and if you read my article in British Vogue about this process you’ll know that I used mostly bought fruit, as it was the middle of winter. When the late spring arrived, I found more surplus time in my day, and my husband and I planted a few raised beds of our own in the apple orchard behind our house. We planted arugula (rocket to you Brits), bok choy, rhubarb, brussells sprouts, corn, rainbow chard, peas, spinach, tuscan kale and artichokes. 

My favourite was the arugula. I am an arugula addict. I could eat it with every meal, and to have it there in my garden all fresh, ready to be picked and eaten each day for weeks on end was such a luxury. I found that I planted way too much bok choy. We ate it a few times, but then I ran out of inspiration to keep cooking it, so about half of it went to flower before we had the chance to eat it. The caterpillars got the brussels sprouts. I have cooked rhubarb six ways to Sunday, and I discovered a new favourite soup recipe made with the kale.

Just when I thought I was making headway with all the food in the beds, I returned from our summer holiday to even more abundance on the fruit trees than we had last year. I got through about 2/3 of the pears, eating them fresh and also making compote. I think I probably ate every single fig on the tree bar a few that got attacked by snails. But I have truly failed on the apple front. Hundreds have fallen to the ground. We have so enjoyed picking the occasional one off the trees and eating it fresh, and they’ve come in handy when the blackberries were ripe for making crumble. This week I am going to make as many batches of apple sauce as I can before they rot for good, but still hundreds will have gone to waste. I figure each year I make progress and next fall I’ll be more prepared. 

My final harvest of pears. I picked three baskets like this in one morning, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. Earlier in the spring, my friend Laura Bailey came to stay. She brought me the most incredible jar of pear compote from her garden, and I so enjoyed scooping a spoonful each morning into my bowl of plain sheep’s yogurt and granola. Laura was kind enough to share with me the recipe. Here it is: 

1kg (2.2lbs) of peeled pears chopped in cubes – weighed after peeling

300 grams (10 oz) of sugar

Juice of half lemon

125 ml (1/2 cup) water

Half teaspoon cinnamon

1. Bring everything to a boil for ten minutes and then simmer slowly for 60 to 90 minutes until the consistency softens. If the pears are hard, blast with the hand blender at some point during the cooking process.
2. Once the compote texture has thickened (similar to apple sauce) put the mixture into the jars and close with the lid.
3. Place the closed jars in a pan of gently boiling water and simmer for 30 minutes.

This recipe makes about five or six 8oz. jars 

I was elated when I walked into the garden one morning and realised my first crop of rocket (arugula) was ready to eat.  
My favourite way to eat rocket (arugula) is in a salad with avocado, olive oil, truffle balsamic vinegar, and Ottolenghi’s “seeds for salad.
This summer when I was in New York, I had lunch with my mentor in life, love and fashion Diane Von Furstenberg at her studio. As I was leaving she introduced me to her personal chef Jane Coxwell and gave me Jane’s new cookbook “Fresh, Happy, Tasty.” I have always loved the food Diane serves at her home and was so excited to get my hands on some of her favourite recipes. I especially love this stewed rhubarb over sheep’s yogurt for breakfast and have made it a handful of times in the last month. It’s easy to cook and gets even better after sitting in the fridge for a day or two. Here is Jane’s recipe:
1 1⁄2 cups agave nectar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
One 1⁄4-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 cardamom pod
Thin strips lemon zest, each about the length of half a finger
1⁄2 pound rhubarb stalks, cut into 4-inch pieces
Sheep’s milk or other plain yogurt, for serving, optional
1. Combine the agave nectar, vanilla bean and seeds, ginger, cardamom, and lemon zest in a medium saucepan with 4 cups water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
2. Add the rhubarb and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender, depending on the size of the rhubarb. Be careful not to overcook or boil, or the rhubarb will lose its shape and fall apart.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. It’s ready to eat! (I leave the ginger and vanilla bean in because they look pretty, but you don’t eat them.)
I felt like a real city girl when I commented to my husband that the “pears” lying on the ground under one of the trees in the orchard were really large. “That’s because they’re quinces,” he replied. There was just one tree, and I strongly felt that they shouldn’t go to waste now that I knew about them. Besides, I had just bought myself Kevin West’s great new book “Saving the Season” and I had noticed a recipe for quince paste, which I love to eat with cheese. Only trouble was that the recipe called for quince pulp which was a by-product of making quince jelly. I was excited by the idea of one batch of quinces making two separate products, and so I set about to make both.  Below is a condensed version of the two recipes. If you want more detailed versions, they are in his book. 

The quince is an ugly thing; a knobbly old apple-pear, too hard and bitter to eat; a country bumpkin; a coarse relic; perhaps a puzzle to some. 
But here’s what you do: rub off the fuzz until the waxy skin shines and exhales an orchard air. Chop the fruit into a large pot and add the cores in a muslin sack. Cover it with water to a shallow depth, and cook for 90 minutes or more until the fruit slumps. Strain off the pectin stock, and reduce it rather slowly with equal parts sugar and generous lemon juice. You will get a beautiful, rose-nostalgia jelly.
Now take the spent fruit, and press it through a seive, then reduce it with equal parts sugar, generous lemon juice, and white spices—dried ginger, coriander, and white peppercorns ground together. Cook it as slowly as you can for hours or even days until it’s dense enough to ball. Pour it out hot to form a thick slab, and air-dry for days or even weeks. What you will have is quince cheese—membrillo where Spanish is spoken—and it is the heftiest treasure of fall.
My quince paste, all wrapped up to give as gifts.
My Sunday harvest from the big kitchen garden on the farm. I roasted the onions and carrots with the chicken I made for lunch. I used the tuscan kale for my new favourite soup recipe. And I juiced the beets with apples and ginger.
My favourite apple tree on the farm.
The farm really saved me the other day when the kids announced they had to bring a carved pumpkin to school the following day. As it was too late to run to the store I was relieved when I remembered I’d seen some in my sister-in-law’s garden the week before. 

I have tried so many
crumble recipes now, especially during blackberry season. Blackberry and
apple crumble is my husband’s very favourite dessert. I have ended up combining
different aspects of a few recipes that I like and finally feel that I’ve
mastered it. Here it is:
for the filling
400g blackberries
500g peeled, cored
and sliced cooking apples
for the crumble
225g flour
2 tsp baking powder
175g soft butter (I prefer Lurpak spreadable)
175g demerara sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. 
2. Arrange the fruit evenly into a baking dish. (Some people sprinkle sugar over the fruit, but for me the sugar in the topping is enough).
3. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.
4. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture
looks like breadcrumbs. 
5. Mix in the demerara sugar. 
6. Spoon the crumble on top of the fruit, covering it completely.
7. Bake
for 25-30 minutes, until the top is crisp and lightly browned.
My husband’s favourite
vegetables in the garden are peas. When they are ready he will just plonk himself
down next to them and eat them raw until he’s satisfied. The kids have now
gotten into the habit too. We had a huge abundance of peas this summer, and I
didn’t get the chance to cook a single one!
One day in June, Christopher mentioned the abundance of elderflower blossoms on the farm. Although I love to drink elderflower cordial in England, I had no idea what the tree looked like. When he pointed to one right in the corner of our garden I climbed right up on the stone wall,  picked a basket full, googled a recipe, and made my own cordial. I have since discovered that elderflower cordial is not only delicious when mixed with sparking or flat water, but it is especially delicious with champagne or mixed into a gin fizz.


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6 years 7 months ago
The recipe you use for the pears, is practically the same as what I do. I peel and cut fruit, add a few tablespoons of water (and sugar if needed, especially for rhubarb) and then put the lid on and simmer away, until water/ juice covers the fruit, remove the lid and then let the water evaporate a bit. Put in a jar and then in the fridge. I saw it on an episode of Jamie Oliver once. I use whatever is in bulk at the Farmers market; pears, apples, rhubarb, strawberries separately or all together and have it on… Read more »
Imen McDonnell
6 years 7 months ago

Dear Amanda, so delighted to discover you via the NYTimes today. I am an American living on a lovely farm in Ireland, trying to maintain style with comfort…..will be back for more…amazing J. Crew layout! So sorry about your Murphy. All the Best, Imen x

6 years 8 months ago

P.S. I so love your blog – images, words, thoughts…and wish you would update every day 🙂 It is such a gift and I treasure the snippets you do share, thank you!

6 years 8 months ago

Too much Bok Choy? I highly recommend this recipe from Bon Appetit. Leftovers freeze well, and the steak can easily be left out or replaced with chicken/tofu/whatever! So good.

6 years 8 months ago

Another Passion/Inspiration for you! How wonderful!