Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Blessed Abundance

I am sitting on an old stone bench, facing the chicken run. It was built as a step for mounting horses. The warm air has a sweet spring fragrance. The chickens are industriously inspecting the upturned earth in their run after Winifred and the young pigs finished their day’s work of plowing it up for me. It is the golden hour, just before sunset, where everything is still except for the cheeping chicks, clucking hens and twitters of the white-browed sparrow weavers in the honey locust trees. Zizou, our Jack Russell Terrier, has just jumped up to join me. She is leaning against my back and staring across towards Lesotho over in the distance behind me. Next to me is a bucket filled with a lanky cauliflower and a generous picking of broad beans. The cauliflower is for tonight’s chicken soup, Jewish Penicillin, a Jamie favourite. I will substitute it for the broccoli in the recipe because that is what we have in the garden. The broad beans will be in tomorrow’s salad for the Quilt Club’s lunch I am hosting. 

Barbara Kingsolver, in her wonderful book Animal Vegetable Miracle, calls this time of year The Hungry Season. It is the time when winter is over along with the last of the stored autumn harvest, but the new spring crops haven’t grown enough to be harvested either. It has been a tough year where our summer harvest was not as good as usual and we also lost all our carefully frozen vegetables, yet we are doing pretty well for the hungry season. I always shop in the garden, pantry and freezer before making the trip to town to buy food.

Last night I picked a bucket of rainbow chard and some young Egyptian walking onions. I cooked them up with 2 slices of chopped leftover gammon and served them in toasted sandwiches with a little grated cheese. The Swiss chard is such a faithful friend. It has carried us through the winter frosts and drought. Once the weather warms up it will probably go to seed, but not before new seeds have grown up in another part of the veggie tunnel to replace the existing bed.

The broad beans are taller than ever and starting to produce what looks like a promising spring harvest. Along with some mange tout peas, we have plenty of greens for the table in the form of self seeded butter lettuce, nettles, rocket, oak leaf lettuce, cabbages, kale and then some young Chinese cabbage and mizuna. The Chinese cabbages have started going to seed in the warmer spring weather, so I will use them whole in stir-fries, flowers and all. As always, I will try to use all my harvest, even if it is not perfect. In the hope that our few cauliflowers would grow bigger, I left them too long so now they are past their best but still perfectly edible. I plan to use them to make Indian pakora with the chickpea flour that needs using in my pantry (It is best served with Chai tea on a rainy day.)

The spring sowing has begun. We have rows of tiny carrots and beetroot, and lots of  hopefulseeds trays for the tomatoes, peppers and brinjals. Last years garlic’s and leeks are looking great and the new onion seedlings are doing well. It’s a good start.

We have plenty of our own pasture-raised beef in the freezer now, which will hopefully last us for a long time. In the not too distant future, some organic free-range pork will join it. The pork is rather too free ranging at the moment: the naughty rascals keep disappearing leaving us searching all over, hence their being put to work in the chicken run this week.

Marigold and Matilda are leading their chicks to bed as the sun dips behind the hill. I will shut them all in securely, feed the dogs, close the curtains inside and then finish making dinner while I watch the last episode of Miss Marple. Decadent Dad is busy in his leather workshop. Our son is at his drawing board. They are each playing their own music selection while they work, so I will wear headphones to hear Miss Marple while I cook.


  1. Hi Cath,
    I lost my whole crop last year. First to the water restrictions and then a flood that came through our neighbourhood, ripping out what was left of my veg garden. :( .... Looking forward to a fresh start this year. I have been lucky enough to have a guy assisting in our garden this year, which I am planning to utilize completely. Glad you had a great season.
    I’ve been wanting to ask for a while now, hope you don’t mind, what Swiss Chard tastes like? I don’t think I have ever tasted it.

  2. Oh Cindy, that is hard. Hopefully this season will be better for you. Swiss chard is what is sold in our local supermarkets as spinach. It's what most South Africans think spinach is. Spinach, on the other hand, has a more delicate flavour. You cook them both in the same way.