Amazon.co.uk Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Review: Truvia

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Stevia
Stevia, Stevia rebaudiana

Over the summer, I just about gave up sugar for a while. I swapped sugar on my porridge for sliced banana, and my afternoon snack for a banana. After trying to get used to drinking filtered tap water all day for a while, I went back to squash (cordial) and tried the sugar-free versions. I’ve never been a big fan of artificial sweeteners, but it was bearable.I allowed myself a spoonful of sugar in my morning tea, and then I was done for the day.

The results were interesting – after the first few days I would be hit with unpredictable sugar cravings that were unbearable and had to be fed (but only in tiny amounts). Eventually those receded, but I didn’t feel any noticeable health improvements – I just felt deprived. I don’t really like bananas, and after I found some unidentified webbing in one bunch, I couldn’t bring myself to buy any more. There have been too many horror stories of deadly poisonous spiders in bananas this year for my liking!

So I gradually reintroduced sugar back into my life (although I have replaced my sweet afternoon snack with something healthier from Graze). The swap that lasted longest was using Truvia in my tea at work, rather than sugar. I drink green tea at work (my current drink of choice is Pukka Serene Jasmine Green, which includes lavender and chamomile) so I don’t have to take any milk in. I bought two boxes of Truvia sachets over the summer, and the second has just run out.


Trivia, made from Stevia
Truvia sweetener sachets

I chose Truvia because it isn’t an artificial sweetener – it’s a natural product (although it has to be processed into a sugar substitute) made from the Stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana), and with a long history of use in Asia. It has only been certified for use as a sweetener in the UK in the last couple of years. I have grown Stevia myself, buying both plants and seeds from Suttons. It’s weird to bite into a leaf, because they do have a uniquely sweet flavour. My plants have been the victims of the upheavals of recent years, but it’s definitely a plant I will be growing again soon.

So… after several months, how do I feel about Truvia? Well, it’s definitely better than artificial sweeteners, but it does have a slight taste (a bit like licorice, I think) that affects the flavour of your tea, and it doesn’t have the same mouth feel as sugar. I haven’t bought another box, I have gone back to sugar for the time being, but I would definitely go for Truvia if I wanted to reduce my sugar intake again.

How about you – have you tried Truvia?

Posted in Blog on Dec 20, 2014 ·

Tags: reviews & food.

Gardening offers 14/12

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Frosty ivy
Wintry ivy

Whether you’ve got some Christmas shopping to do, or are getting ahead on stocking next year’s garden, there are some good bargains around at the moment.

You can get free P&P on everything at Thompson & Morgan (including their range of Christmas gifts) if you order before midnight tonight, using the discount code TWBP36YZ.

Place an order worth £25 or more with Harrod Horticultural, and you can add a free watering can to your order by entering the code WGCAN – it’s worth £9.99.

Cool Chile are offering a 10% ‘Christ-mex’ discount if you order using the discount code XMEX14, which is valid until midnight on Wednesday 17th December 2014, which coincides nicely with their last order dates for Christmas.

Graze have a special Christmas offer on – sign up via this link and you’ll get free boxes to start off your subscription.

Rocket Gardens have a discount code, HOLLY that gets you a larger discount if you use it sooner. It’s worth 20% off until midnight Monday 15th December, then 15% off until midnight Wednesday 17th December, and finally 10% off until midnight Friday 19th December 2014.

And there’s 15% off everything at SarahRaven.com until midnight tonight for anyone using the discount code CHEER!

Finally, not only is Stephen Barstow’s long-awaited book – Around the World in 80 Plants – finally published, but it’s available for a special price (£14.96, RRP £19.95) from the Green Shopping Catalogue. It would be an ideal gift for any gardener interested in unusual edible plants :)

Have you come across a good gardening or foodie offer? Feel free to spread the Christmas cheer and leave a note of it in the comments!

Posted in Blog on Dec 14, 2014 ·

Tag: offers

The Botanist's Pocket

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A strange thing happens to you when you become a keen gardener or a botanist – you start to wander round stuffing bits of plants into your pocket. It might be a cutting you’re hoping will take root in your own garden, or some seeds that just happen to be ripe when you’re walking past, and so prove to be irresistible. I’m sure there are some people who are organized enough to have suitable receptacles handy, but all of the ones I’ve spoken to who own up to this acquisitive behaviour* fall into the other camp, and have to improvise with what they have to hand. Just think of the forgotten wonders that would sprout out of our pockets if we left our clothes outside in the damp!

This is what has made it into my pockets over the last week or so :)


New Zealand Flax
Phormium tenax seedpods

These seedpods are from one of the New Zealand flax plants that thrive on the campus where I work. They’re magnificent plants, and their flower stalks reach for the sky.


Fat Hen
Chenopodium album

And these are the seeds of a common weed, Fat Hen. It springs up all over my allotment site (and some people harvest it as a salad crop), but these seeds came from a plant that I pass by on my way to work in the morning. I wouldn’t harvest the leaves, they’re in prime dog-walking territory….

Which plants have you carried home in your pockets?



*I am not condoning the theft of plant material from gardens that are open to the public – a perennial problem it seems, and a worrying one. If you fancy something you’ve seen growing in someone else’s garden, then ask nicely what it is. Gardeners are usually more than happy to share information; you may be given propagation material to take home, or be directed to the plant sales table to purchase your own specimen.

Posted in Blog on Dec 10, 2014 ·

Tag: seeds

Glutbusters: December 2014

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Frosty oca
Frosted oca Oxalis tuberosa foliage

I was beginning to think that my new garden might be the opposite of a frost pocket – a frost haven, if you like. Despite the sinking temperatures, and frost appearing outside the garden, there had been none inside. But this morning there’s a touch of frost on the ‘lawn’ (it’s mostly weeds), so that hope has gone out of the window! It might not be a frost pocket, but my garden will have to endure the winter weather that’s on its way.

On the bright, cold days it’s nice to potter about in the garden, doing a little bit of tidying up, and seeing how the winter crops are coming along. My onions are sprouting strongly now, and the chard has been growing as well. The birds are flocking to the newly installed feeding station – I shall have to go out and refill the bird seed later on. We’ve added a woodpecker to the list of visitors! With the arrival of the frost weather it’s important to remember that our feathered friends may need a source of fresh water as well as food, and to break the ice on the water dish after a frost.

We’ve had a long autumn here in the UK, but it seems as though winter is here now, which means it’s time to plant bare root trees, whilst they’re dormant. I’m not ready to do that in my garden yet – we want to get the hard landscaping done before we start thinking about planting – which is frustrating, but it does give me some time to ‘observe’ and see where the winter sun comes and and things like that.

One of the plants I definitely want in my garden next year is a grape vine. It might not be a choice for a GlutBusters garden, given that we hardly have a Mediterranean climate, and a harvest of edible grapes is not guaranteed. But as well as fitting in nicely with my Middle Eastern theme, a grape vine had a lot of advantages that may – at first glance – be overlooked. Now is a good time to plant a bare root grape vine, and there’s lots of varieties to choose from.


Grapes
Homegrown grapes

GlutBusters grape vine advice


  • If you already have a grape vine in your garden, then now is also a good time to prune it. You can shorted some of the prunings and bring them inside as hardwood cuttings, if you’d like more vines. (Or you can wait until late spring/ early summer and take softwood cuttings.) I’ve had completely neglected vine cuttings root, it’s an easy process!

  • Vines take up vertical space, which is a boon in a small garden. But it’s also possible to grow them in containers, as standards, if you’re really pushed for space (or want a variety that may need a little extra protection to crop well – you can move it when necessary).

  • There’s more to a vine than grapes. They’re stunningly ornamental plants, with beautiful fresh foliage in spring, which turns to heavenly shades in the autumn.

  • And they’re great for providing shade – if you have an arbor or a pergola for them to grow up, you can give yourself a cool spot in the heat of the summer.

  • Choose a dessert or wine grape variety according to your preference. But if the summer is poor and your grapes don’t ripen properly, don’t despair – try turning your sour grapes into verjus, which was a popular culinary souring agent before citrus fruits became widely available.

  • That fresh spring foliage is edible, you can use your vine leaves for dolmades and other wrapped delights. You could even preserve some for future use, by freezing or picking them.

  • In a bountiful year, if you have too many dessert grapes to eat at once (!) they can be dried, or turned into jams and jellies, or juiced.

  • There are different varieties for outdoor or protected cropping, so you can choose which works best for your space.

  • Different varieties also have different ripening times – early, mid or late season. Within the constraints of your climate, you can choose different varieties to extend your harvest season. Most varieties are self-fertile, so one plant of each would be enough.

  • Grape varieties don’t grow ‘true’ from seed, and are bought as plants – so an excess is not likely to be a problem! But they are easily propagated if you want more plants, or to share with friends.

  • As with all fruit, thinning is vital – a painful process for the gardener, but the result is bigger, tastier grapes.



Autumn vine 2
A grape vine’s autumn colours


GlutBuster alternatives

If you don’t fancy a grapevine, then there are a range of other vining edibles that might fit the bill. Kiwis are lovely plants – Jenny is a self-fertile variety with beautiful furry leaves and stems with a red tinge. If you have room for a male and a female you’ll have heavier crops of fruit on the female (and one male can pollinate several females). Plus, there’s a male variety called ‘Adam’ that has lovely, pink, variegated foliage and puts on a good show. But it’s not a small plant. For a smaller scale planting, look at Kiwi ‘Issai’, which is a different species and a ‘cocktail kiwi’ – its fruits are smaller, and hairless.

Hops have attractive foliage (especially the golden variety) and the young shoots and leaves are edible – it’s considered to be a gourmet, seasonal, perennial edible. You’ll need a female variety to produce the hop flowers that can be dried for use in sleepy pillows, or for flower arranging.

Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) is the tuberous nasturtium, an unusual (but increasingly available) edible that clambers. With attractive (and edible) foliage and flowers, it makes very good use of space.

A plant I’m hoping to grow next year, but have never grown before, is the Maypop (Passiflora incarnata). A cold-hardy passionflower, it is reputed to have both stunning flowers and tasty fruit. It is deciduous, so it won’t give you year-round interest, but if it is as good as it promises to be then it will be a real edimental (ornamental edible).

There are also some annual options for climbing plants. Runner (pole) beans, of course, but also climbing gourds and squashes. I saw a lovely edible archway that consisted of grape vines, kiwis and bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) over the summer. Fruit, shade and flowers – albeit on a rather larger scale than most of us could manage.


Bottlegourd flower
A bottlegourd flower


GlutBuster buys

If I’ve sold you on a grapevine, then Victoriana Nursery Gardens have a large selection to choose from, as well as a detailed article on how to train grape vines.

Or if the rapid approach of Christmas is making you a bit nutty, then Otter Farm are currently offering a 15% discount on their almond, hazel and sweet chestnut trees. You just need to use the discount code nuttydiscount when you place your order, and your tree(s) will be delivered in the new year.

This one is an affiliate link, but I am genuinely hoping that Santa will bring me one of Suttons’ cuttings tube kit for Christmas. It’s a Victorian/ Steampunk style doofer for rooting water cuttings, all test tubes and alchemist-chic.


GlutBuster Star


Flat-leaved parsley
Flat-leaved parsley

I have already been referred to as the Grinch this year, because I don’t like Christmas food. I detest mince pies, Christmas pudding and Stollen. I can eat, but would rather not, roast turkey. Brussels sprouts… pah! A decent chocolate log, that’s what makes Christmas. Growing up, I much preferred Boxing Day, as in our house that meant boiled ham and parsley sauce. Heaven.

From two sowings a year, parsley can be a year-round feature of your garden (with a little protection in winter if the weather is particularly nasty – or a pot on the kitchen windowsill).

Whilst its flowers may not meet our definition of attractive, they certainly fit the bill for beneficial insects such as lacewings and hoverflies, so don’t despair when you parsley flowers and sets seeds (which you could save for next year).

Curly parsley is the traditional British garnish, but the flat-leaved versions are generally thought to have a superior flavour (and they’re easier to chop!). According to A Taste of Beirut, Lebanese parsley is delicate and silky, much finer than Italian flat-leaved parsley, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of Lebanese parsley and so far I haven’t seen it for sale.

As well as making a good garnish and culinary herb, parsley can be the star of dishes such as tabbouleh salad and persillade (which is a a bit like a parsley version of pesto), so sow some indoors now for early harvests next year!


GlutBuster top tip for December

Water is always a problem in winter – there’s often too much of it, and sometimes it’s frozen solid. In fact, it’s often issues with water that kill plants over winter, rather than the cold per se. In wet weather the root zone can become waterlogged; if it’s dry or frozen, roots can be starved of water for days, with plants dying of drought. The key is to improve drainage where possible (remove saucers and trays from underneath containers), protect plants from deluges and remember to water if it’s dry or the soil is frozen.


That’s the GlutBusters newsletter all wrapped up and delivered in time for Christmas ;) What are you doing in your garden this month?


Robin

Posted in Blog on Dec 7, 2014 ·

Tags: GlutBusters & fruit.

Book review: Grow a little fruit tree

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In my last garden I had a little orchard of four fruit trees, which lived in the chicken run. There was an apple, a pear, a cherry and a plum. They were all grown on dwarfing rootstocks, sold as ideal for small gardens, naturally small trees. They came with the instructions I would need to follow to keep them pruned, which I dutifully tried to follow.

I largely failed. The birds ate any cherries before they were even ripe. The plum tree became infested with wasps (even though it had no fruit). The apple tree, Saturn, was lovely – it produced a good crop and the apples were lovely, but there were so many that they had to be stored, and I had nowhere to store them. The pear tree grew like topsy, I was forever trying to take the top out of it. It grew hard pears; no one ate them.

Now I have a smaller garden, and although I would like to include some fruit I would like it to be more manageable and suitably productive. I may have found the answer in “Grow a little fruit tree”, a book written by Ann Ralph that extolls the virtues of small trees.

Rather controversially, Ralph doesn’t believe in growing trees on dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks – she is convinced that a larger rootstock leads to a healthier and more stable tree, and that any fruit tree can be kept small simply by pruning it twice a year. There is a key step early on, which I won’t reveal here, but her focus is on summer pruning, which reduces the vigour of the tree and keeps it manageable. Combined with ruthless fruit thinning, you’ll have small, healthy trees that produce a suitable quantity of fresh fruit for much of the year. By keeping your fruit trees smaller, you’ll have space for more varieties, to spread your harvests, or try new things.

And because the trees are kept manageably small, pruning them remains a simple and manageable task that you can complete with your feet firmly on the ground. There’s no need for ladders or unwieldy long loppers.

But you do have to prune the tree twice a year – fruit trees are domesticated species, and they can’t thrive without human intervention. Let them go feral and they’ll give you poor crops, suffers from pests and diseases and rapidly spread out of control.

“One sure way to disenchantment with fruit growing specifically or gardening generally”, she writes, “is to relinquish attentive participation”. But the benefit of regular interaction with your tree is that you get to know it well, and can appreciate and enjoy its seasonal rhythms.

“Grow a little fruit tree” is partly a manifesto for a small tree mentality, and the simple pruning methods Ralph promotes, but it’s also a manual for looking after your trees. It discusses soil and compost, pests and diseases, rootstocks and the importance of selecting the right varieties for your tastes and climate. As Ralph points out, if you stop looking simply for varieties that will be the right size for your garden and instead look for varieties that meet your personal requirements, you’ll be on route for a much tastier harvest.

And it’s a technique that fits in well with my GlutBusters idea – “Home gardeners typically do better with reasonable amounts of fruit”, Ralph says. Rather than a glut of apples or other fruits that fall to the ground and rot because you can’t harvest them or eat them, you could have a garden of edible delights in manageable quantities – whether you have a big family and enjoy preserving, or are in a household of one with no storage space.

The book has a brief glossary, and there are colour photos throughout, together with some lovely botanical illustrations. It is written in a friendly, conversational style, and is never patronising or confusing. So if you’re thinking of adding a fruit tree or two to your garden, and would be interested in knowing more about keeping them small and productive, this could well be the book for you. Small is beautiful, they say :)



Grow a little fruit tree
by Ann Ralph

Kindle edition, £9.86, published 10 Jan 2015.
Paperback, 168 pages, £10.38, published 1 Feb 2015.
ISBN 9781612120546
Publisher: Storey Publishing

(In the US, the paperback edition will be published on 30th December 2014, and the Kindle edition on January 10th 2015.)

Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of the ebook by the publisher, but these words are my own.

Posted in Blog on Dec 4, 2014 ·

Last modified on Dec 7, 2014

Tags: books & GlutBusters.

Review: Flamingo Gifts

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There’s nothing like adding a few personal touches to the garden, to really make it your own. My garden planning is very much in the early stages, and there’s not much I can do until the weather perks up a bit. So it was nice to be offered a box of goodies from Flamingo Gifts to review, and to be able to choose a few things that will make the garden feel like mine next next year.


Goodies

Flamingo Gifts pride themselves on offering some unique gifts, and they certainly had an eclectic and interesting range of items to choose from. I thought the blue enamel folklore teapot would be perfect for serving one of my homegrown herbal teas next summer, it’s so pretty. And the antique silver tea light holder will give a welcoming light in the evening (and if I put a citronella tea light in there, some protection from flying wildlife!).

The kissing corner sign is just a little bit of fun – I’m going to hang it on the arbor :)

Those were my choices, but the nice people at Flamingo Gifts threw in a couple of surprises. The Orla Kiely apron will be very useful – it’s a short gardening apron, with several pockets, so hopefully it will stop me leaving my secateurs lying around all the time. (They ended up in the compost bin once… it was a while before I saw them again.)

And just in case we’re in the mood for a prehistoric party, there’s a 4-foot inflatable brachiosaurus. We’ll have trouble keeping him on his feet in this windy garden, I imagine, but I think my nieces will love him! Apparently he’s “made by the world’s leading manufacturer and designer of inflatable dinosaurs”, which is mind boggling.

What quirky touches have you added to personalise your garden?

Posted in Blog on Nov 30, 2014 ·

Last modified on Nov 30, 2014

Tag: reviews

A garden of succulent edibles

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Egglings
‘Egglings’, planted with succulents

Whilst I was munching my way through a particularly nice sandwich one lunch time, I began pondering the word succulent, and its various uses. In terms of food, succulent means tender and juicy. In my mind it has the same slightly indecent feel to it as moist, luscious, lush and pleasurable. But succulent food is definitely a good thing.

For a botanist, a succulent plant is one that has one of more fleshy parts that are used to store water in arid conditions. Sometimes the definition includes geophytes, whose storage organ is entirely underground, and sometimes it doesn’t.

And horticulturalists often make a distinction between succulents and cacti (for a botanist, cacti are succulents (but not all succulents are cacti)). For the sake of the following discussion, I’m going to stick to plants that are obviously succulent – those that have the characteristic swollen leaves and/ or stems.

Born and raised in a temperate climate (which is currently insisting on being very wet), I tend to think of succulent plants as unusual and ornamental. But, in fact, there are lots of edible succulents that we could include in our gardens. (And perhaps I should, since my inability to keep anything well watered is legendary!)

One that might be found in a British kitchen garden, if it’s a diverse one, is purslane. Portulaca oleracea is often considered to be more a herb than a vegetable, but it’s a very nutritious, annual succulent plant. Apparently it contains Omega-3 fatty acids, and you can enjoy its fleshy leaves raw or cooked. I think I’ve tried to grow it in the past; I don’t recall what happened to the plants – I don’t think any were ever eaten.


Samphire
My little samphire plantation

Samphire (Salicornia europea) is a salt marsh succulent, which it is possible to grow at home. Victoriana Nursery Gardens sell samphire plants. I tried it once, and it’s fun because it has to be watered with salt water (so you have to be careful where you grow it, as salt water kills most things). I didn’t realise at the time that it was an annual, so I forgot to eat any before it died back. A happy plant should self-seed, so I will have to try that one again at some point. Rock samphire is a perennial, but possibly more difficult to cultivate. I have at least had the opportunity to try eating samphire. On my recent trip to Kew Gardens I selected a potato salad for lunch. It was made with roast potatoes, samphire and preserved lemons, and oh my gosh it was delicious. I’ll have to work out how to make that at home. First, preserve your lemons….

Another halophyte (salt-loving) succulent plant is Salsola, or agretti, Salsola soda. It can be grown from seed (which you can source from Seeds of Italy and Real Seeds); if I remember correctly then it has a short shelf-life and has to be sown the year you buy it. I had some last year – my notes tell me I sowed some in May 2013. Since it was rather a turbulent year, I don’t remember getting very far with it! I’ll add it to the list of ‘do overs’.


Succulents
Succulents growing in the RISC Roof Garden

If I were to mention the topic of ‘edible succulents’ to a savvy gardener, I would expect them to bring up the houseleek (also known as Hens and Chicks, Sempervivum tectorum). I’ve never (knowingly) grown it, but it’s a good one for green roofs and gravel gardens, and a reasonably common garden plant. I don’t think I know anyone who tucks in, however. Have you tried it?

I once tried (and failed) to add the Hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis) to my greenhouse collection. It is a succulent grown for its fruit; amid dire warnings of its invasiveness (which is true, it’s a big problem on the south coast), mine simply failed to thrive.

And one I would like to grow (and once had seeds for, but they are long past their sow-by date) is the ice plant, Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, which is rumoured to be a nice, perennial, succulent salad plant. If you’re going to grow it then make sure you have the right ice plant – this is one of those times when the common name is applied to several different species, and if you’re going to put something in your mouth you need to know exactly what you’ve got!

The ice plant and the Hottentot fig are related – they’re both in the same plant family.


Dragon fruit
Dragon fruit cacti are easily grown from all those seeds…

I’ve grown one cactus for its edible fruit (my dragon fruit, a Hylocereus species), although it never produced any, and eventually succumbed to the winter weather when I couldn’t bring it indoors. I’d like to try and Optunia species, some of which are hardier. The prickly pear is O. ficus-indica, but the cactus pads are edible as well as the fruit. Some species are spinier than others, so the difficulty of harvesting your meal varies.

There are edible species amongst the Agave, including one famous for being made into tequila :) And Aloe vera has edible pulp, although I don’t know anyone who prepares their own from a houseplant. It’s a useful plant to have around, although according to Raw Edible Plants, the houseleek shares its skin-soothing properties, and is much easier to grow in a cool climate.

Then there’s the vanilla orchid, but it’s hard to grow a vanilla crop in cultivation because there’s a special technique for manual pollination you have to grasp (the job is done by an insect in its natural habitat). And Basella rubra or B. alba, Ceylon or Malabar spinach, which I keep meaning to grow. And Hibiscus sabdariffa (roselle, or sorrel) is on the list for next year already.

Have you got any edible succulents in your garden? I’m not sure a definitive list exists anywhere, but I thought it was an interesting topic.

Posted in Blog on Nov 29, 2014 ·

Tags: unusual & ethnobotany.

How many posts do you want?

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This is my 24th consecutive daily blog post, and there’s only a few more days in November, when I challenged myself to write a blog post every day. Some days have been quite a challenge, but overall it has been fun and I have enjoyed emptying my brain onto these pages. Quite a few of you have left comments, or sent me messages on Twitter (thank you). I haven’t done any statistics, but it feels as though a higher rate of posts from me is producing a higher rate of interaction from you.

But as November draws to a close, I have a question. Is daily blogging something I should aspire to on a long-term basis? Are you enjoying having something new to read from me every day, or are you getting a little bit overwhelmed? Have you got a stack of posts bookmarked to read when you have more time?

What do you think would be the ideal frequency for me to produce new posts?


How many blog posts do you want to read?

  • 1-2 a week
  • 3-4 a week
  • 7! 7! a week
  • As many as you can feasibly write, you delightful creature :)

Acepoll

More polls: Create


Posted in Blog on Nov 28, 2014 ·

Tag: writing

Thanksgiving in Space

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Sweet potato
The sweet potato (yam) may adapt well to living in space

Over the past few months I have been looking at how future space missions might be able to grow and raise their own food, so I thought it might be nice today to see how the astronauts on the ISS are feeding themselves this Thanksgiving. They’re lucky – they don’t have to eat worms! NASA has supplied them with a special Thanksgiving meal that includes ‘traditional’ dishes: irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized candied yams and freeze-dried green beans and mushrooms. Dessert features thermostabilized cherry-blueberry cobbler.” Yum.

If you fancy a taste of space food yourself, then NASA have helpfully supplied the recipe (formulation) for their freeze-dried cornbread dressing. Making your own is a little more involved than the preparation the astronauts face – they just need to add water!

They’ve also been sent a new toy in the shape of a space Espresso machine, so they can have a decent cup of coffee – if they can figure out how to drink it ;)

Now the ISS astronauts aren’t growing their own food to eat yet, but space agencies around the world have been experimenting with growing food in space and choosing the most appropriate space crops. NASA says that the traditional Thanksgiving sweet potato could well be on the list:


“The sweet potato may be one of the crops chosen for crews to grow on deep space missions. It provides an important energy source — carbohydrate — as well as beta-carotene.

The sweet potato is able to adapt to a controlled environment with artificial sunlight. It is highly adaptable to a variety of vine-training architectures. The main shoot tip, or the end of the main vine, is the only really sensitive part. It sends hormones throughout the plant that stimulate root development, which is important since it is the roots that become the sweet potatoes. The side shoots, if picked when young, are tender and can be eaten in salads, improving the plant’s usefulness.”

The trip to the space station may be furthest that a Thanksgiving dinner has travelled so far, but even on Earth some of the ingredients may have travelled further than you think to end up on your plate. Check out this lovely article from Smithsonian science on where your favourite Thanksgiving foods originated.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Brown Turkey
Would you believe I’ve never taken a photo of a turkey? So here’s a Brown Turkey fig instead :)

Posted in Blog on Nov 27, 2014 ·

Tag: space

Review: Burford Garden Company

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Over the past few months, Ryan and I have been undertaking a tour of some of the local farm shops. The best are treasure troves of unusual foods, many of which have been sourced from local producers. The worst… well, lets just say that one popular shop very close by has fallen from favour, after I discovered that I needed a high-powered microscope to find the lamb in their ‘lamb samosas’. They would have been more accurately named ‘onion samosas’.

We had a more enjoyable experience when we went to the Burford Garden Company, which is a bit of a way away, but well worth a visit. I had been once before, years ago, and remembered it having a farm shop, so we thought we’d take the plunge.

Firstly, it has a nice garden centre. They had a wide range of edible plants on offer. At that point we hadn’t moved, and didn’t have a date for moving, or I might have been tempted to splash out on a few! Indoors they have a wide range of gardening sundries, including some very nice ones, and have expanded their stock into some interesting home and garden lines. Nothing is cheap, but it’s fascinating to wander round and look at all the pretty things on offer – from books and wrapping paper, to furniture and ornaments, to clothes and shoes.

Having wandered round most of what was on offer (there’s another shop, more on that in a bit) we found the farm shop, and I was stopped in my tracks by a delightful array of spices. But it was getting a bit late, and we were hungry, so we thought we’d better eat first. And this is when we discovered that the canteen-style restaurant is something a bit special. Award-winning special, including some ingredients that are grown on the new onsite kitchen garden.


Hake with fennel
Hake with fennel

Now it’s a little while since we went, so you’ll have to forgive me that I can’t remember exactly what my meal entailed, but it was a little complicated. I chose hake with fennel, and as I stood at the counter the server assembled it onto the plate with the careful attention you would expect from a chef in a good restaurant. She was calm, she did not hurry (but nor was she slow) and I was fascinated by the process. She seemed quite pleased when I proclaimed it the prettiest lunch I’d ever been served!


Sausage and mash
Sausage and mash

Whilst queuing, Ryan had decided on burger and chips, but the guy in front of me had the last one. Ryan’s second choice was sausage and mash – and as you can see, it was a masterpiece in its own right. He proclaimed it to be delicious, and wolfed it down.

As the day out was a bit of a pre-move treat, we’d also selected dessert – great slabs of cake. Ryan had tiffin, and it suffered the same fate as his lunch. Mine was hazelnut shortbread, and it was divine, but it was so large I saved half and brought it home to eat later.

So whether it’s lunch time or tea time, if you find yourself at the Burford Garden Company, I thoroughly recommend you stop for a bite to eat! We’re looking forward to a second visit in the near future.


Spice rack
Spice science in the kitchen

But… back to the farm shop, which was where we headed once we were fed. It’s not really a farm shop – it’s an impressive deli with a huge range of products. There was intriguing charcuterie that I really couldn’t identify. I was tempted by the spices and bought myself a lovely set of test-tube spice racks (my kitchen is developing a bit of a ‘scientist at work’ theme).

And it was here that I was introduced to the delights of M’hencha, a Moroccan desert involving thin layers of pastry, rosewater, pistachios and citrus – Burford is a stockist for the M’hencha company. We brought home a M’hencha cake, and ate it warmed up (as suggested) and it is heavenly. Not as rich or as strongly flavoured as baklava, but a similar kind of thing. You can’t eat too much in one go.

As we exited the building, we were well fed and had been on a little bit of a shopping spree, and we felt as though we’d had a grand day out. But it wasn’t over….

Not only was there the kitchen garden to ooh and aah over (sadly the gate was closed and I had to look from the path – there was a lot of rosemary), but there’s an upmarket toy shop as well. We loved the cuddly animal heads for wall mounting; I wish we had space for the elephant! There were also lovely, high quality toys in wood and metal. Old-fashioned things, I suppose, many of which would delight the young at heart as well and the genuinely little.

If you wanted to, you could combine a trip with a visit to the town centre of Burford, which is a picturesque Cotswold village. Not only does it have an old-fashioned sweet shop (Ryan’s favourite destination), but there’s a bookshop that also sells hats. It’s well worth a mooch, if you’re in the mood for something a little different from the usual high street fare.

Posted in Blog on Nov 26, 2014 ·

Tags: reviews & food.

Unless stated, © copyright Emma Cooper, 2005-2014.