Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Plate of the Nation - foodies wanted!

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Mayfly Television is making a new Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall TV show called Plate of the Nation (working title), which will take a look at how we cook and eat as a nation to provide an insight into the very heart and soul of modern British home life.

The show is about what we cook and eat, how we behave with each other in the kitchen, who our self-appointed household head chefs are, what we talk about at the dinner table and how food brings us all together.

They are now searching for foodie families and households across the nation!

They are looking for everyone from carnivores to vegans to showy self-styled chefs to people who don’t know how to boil an egg, and everything in between.

They want couples, solo chefs, shared communal kitchens and raucous family homes.

Most of all they want households where the kitchen is busy and filled with laughter.

If this sounds like your house or one you know, they’d love to hear from you.

Email: or tel: 0207 148 6731

NOTE: expressing interest in a show is not a guarantee you will be chosen to take part
Data Protection: Mayfly Television will not share your contact information with any third party without your consent and have in place systems and practices to protect your data. If you are under the age of eighteen, please ask your parents to make contact on your behalf.

Posted in Blog on Jul 1, 2014 ·

Tag: food

Review: Waitrose Makhani curry paste

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Waitrose Makhani curry paste

My cow’s milk intolerance makes it quite difficult to shop for processed food – once you start reading labels it’s amazing how many products milk (or a milk derivative) makes its way into. In an ideal world we’d all be cooking every meal from scratch, from fresh ingredients, but it’s not always possible. I haven’t yet mastered the art of making a decent curry by hand, for example.

Curry sauces can be particularly problematic, so I’m glad to have found one that’s almost dairy-free (it contains some clarified butter) and that I really like. Waitrose Makani curry paste is £1.65 for a 200g jar (avoid the ready-made jars of Makhani sauce if you have a problem with cow’s milk, as they contain double cream). Each jar contains enough paste to make 2 or 3 meals, depending on how many people you’re serving, and how strong you like your curries. Once the jar is opened, it will keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks. If you don’t have a local Waitrose, you may be able to order online via Ocado.

I have three go-to options for using the paste, which is best added at the start of cooking. The first is the simplest – simply stirring it in for a dryish curry. You may need to add a little water to stop the sauce from sticking.

The second involves adding a tin of chopped tomatoes – you get a milder, saucier curry, with plenty of healthy vegetable content.

The third is my favourite, and by far the most decadent. I use either coconut milk or coconut cream to make the sauce. Again, the result is a milder and saucier curry – it’s divine, but you may want to factor in the extra fat content.

All three versions reheat nicely, if you find yourself with leftovers. Your home will smell like an Indian restaurant for a little while – it smells like a ‘proper’ curry!

This is, to date, the only curry paste/sauce I have found that I like and that I can eat, and I have been buying it now for several years. I am a genuinely satisfied customer, so if you’re a fan of the occasional simple curry then I recommend you give it a go :)

Posted in Blog on Jun 23, 2014 ·

Tags: food & meh!.

Book review: Kitchen Garden Experts

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Kitchen Garden Experts

If you’ve ever wanted to sneak a peek into the kitchen gardens of famous chefs, then Kitchen Garden Experts by Cinead McTernan, with photographs by Jason Ingram, will be a must-have book for you. Published by Frances Lincoln at the beginning of May, it takes us on a tour of twenty kitchen gardens in the UK that supply produce to famous chefs. For each site we get introduced to both the chef and the head gardener, and are treated to a selection of recipes for using homegrown produce in a very up-market way.

When I was doing my dissertation last year, I came to the conclusion that for an unusual edible crop to make it in a garden, it had to be supported by both a gardener and a cook (although those two roles could be played by the same, multi-talented, person). My idea is borne out by the gardens visited in the book – in many of them exotic edibles have been included by the gardener, often at the request of the chef.

We’re told that, at The Grove in Pembrokeshire, Head gardener David Butt “likes to grow unusual crops that are generally unavailable or expensive”. David has a pink variety of oca (Oxalis tuberosa), a tuberous vegetable originally from the Andes that allows chef Duncan Barham to add novelty to the menu. David and Duncan don’t think of their vegetable garden as a way to cut their food bills, but as the “very best way to ensure provenance” – a philosophy that will resonate with many home growers.

The citrus flavour of oca is also appreciated at River Cottage, where the leaves are used as a leafy salad vegetable or a garnish, in addition to the tubers.

At The Ethicurean in Somerset, grower Mark Cox shares my love of experimenting, and gives the chefs an intriguing array of crops. He includes quinoa and achocha, and loves electric daisies (or alien eyeballs!) – although the book notes the Ethicurean’s customers have yet to share his enthusiasm for this tongue-tingling flower!

A L’Enclume (Cumbria) staple dish involves a perennial crop that will be familiar to permaculturalists – Good King Henry. It sometimes gets bad press as one of those old-fashioned plants that was “forgotten for a reason”, but at L’Enclume it is a key ingredient of a signature duck dish. The restaurant also grows its own oyster plant, “an indigenous sea vegetable from the west coast of Scotland” that previously had to be sourced from a grower in the Netherlands.

A willingness to seek out and try new ingredients is a theme throughout the book, but the main focus is on more familiar crops. There are growing instructions for plants such as baby beetroot, rhubarb and radishes, courgettes, tomatoes and turnips. A plant has to be deemed delicious to be worthy of inclusion in these gardens; the section on Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons talks about their signature microgreens and courgette flowers.

Most of us won’t get the chance to visit these places in person, and to nose around the gardens. But Ingram’s photos bring the book to life, and make it the next best thing to being there. The only problem being that you have to cook the food yourself!

Kitchen Garden Experts
by Cinead McTernan
Hardback, 192 pages, RRP £20
ISBN 9780711234963
Publisher: Frances Lincoln

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

Posted in Blog on May 29, 2014 ·

Tags: books & food.

The ice cream shed

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My allotment doesn’t have a shed. I wish it did, because it would be somewhere to keep the rake (which is too long for my tool store) and to shelter from the rain. But on my fantasy allotment I wouldn’t use my shed for storage at all – I’d turn it into an ice cream shed. I’d need to run up a power cable for the ice cream maker and the freezer. Then all summer long I’d hide away in there, concocting flavours worthy of Willy Wonka himself, from the cool things I’m growing on my allotment (or that I could forage from the local hedgerows). And then, on summer days, I could open up the doors and sell ice creams to my allotment neighbours. When they’ve got to the point where they’re too hot to do any more digging, they can sit down and have a breather and sample one of my wares.

The most memorable ice cream I ever tasted wasn’t an Italian gelato, but a buffalo milk ice cream flavoured with lavender. It neatly avoided my cow’s milk intolerance and introduced a new flavour at the same time. It was the first ice cream I’d had in months, and a real treat. The trick with lavender is not to make the flavour too strong – like rosemary it has a bit of a medicinal edge to it that people find unattractive. It might take me a little while to perfect that one, tinkering away in my shed.

Oatly strawberry ice cream

I started my ice cream experiments last year. This oat milk strawberry ice cream was delicious, and an easy one to make from homegrown strawberries. The flavour really floods out, even seducing Ryan (who is not a big fan of strawberries). One my old friends sprinkles black pepper on her strawberries when she eats them; I can try adding a dash to the mix and see if my strawberry ice cream gets even better.

Frozen yoghurt is another speciality, easy enough for me to make with goat’s milk yoghurt. (The Nutella-flavoured sheep’s milk fro yo turned out to have a strange mouth feel, but I liked it.) Lemon curd is a lovely flavour, and a good way to use up some eggs if you have your own chickens.

The simplest flavours might prove to be bestsellers. The allotment has lots of fruit plants (blackberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants), and cooked down into a compote they are easily mixed into frozen yoghurt for a fruity sensation.

I can even do sorbets – the gooseberry bush furnished us with a lovely one last year, which barely made it into the freezer before it was scoffed. With mature rhubarb plants producing plenty of stems, there’s an opportunity there as well.

So… if I build my ice cream shed, what’s your suggestion for an allotment-inspired flavour? What would entice you back for a second scoop?

Beast Sheds Blog Competition

Posted in Blog on Apr 30, 2014 ·

Last modified on Apr 30, 2014

Tags: allotment & food.

Rapid pulse

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Ryan and I have been clearing out our cupboards and running down our food supplies, inadvertently doing so at the same time as the Guardian’s Live Better campaign was looking at food waste. In one memorable day I used up four spare eggs, making pancake batter and two batches of Snickerdoodle dough (one which went into the freezer for later) and roasted the butternut squash that had been sitting on the counter for… a while.

Mostly it has been less eventful, just making use of things we have on hand rather than buying more stuff at the supermarket. It amazing how many packets of this and that we have hanging around in the cupboards – it’s not even a big kitchen.

However, one of the cupboards has me stumped. It contains a lifetime’s supply of tinned lentils. Now, I quite like lentils, but I’m not Ryan is converted yet and my usual trick of just frying them up with an onion and some spices doesn’t make the most appetizing-looking dish. I could use one can to pack out the beef in a spaghetti bolognese. But what to do with the rest? I can’t even give them to a food bank, since technically they are past their use-by date, although I’m sure they’re perfectly fine to eat.

So… over to you. What can I make with my tinned lentils that will tickle the tastebuds. Leave your ideas and recipes in the comments. The more the merrier! There’s at least a dozen tins lurking in that cupboard ;)

Posted in Blog on Apr 12, 2014 ·

Last modified on Apr 10, 2014

Tag: food

Time for tea and snickerdoodles

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It’s a couple of days until the next stop on my virtual book tour, so it’s time to take off the pith helmet and put my feet up with a cup of tea and a biscuit. In my Smashwords author interview I respond to a question I was asked about my favourite biscuit – which has to be Snickerdoodles. You can’t buy them, you have to make them, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with Snickers chocolate bars, or peanuts in general. They are a divine, spiced* biscuit (cookie) that’s very moreish and goes very nicely with a good cuppa.

It turns out there’s a hierarchy of treats in our house. Snickerdoodles are at the apex, being preferred over everything else. Although they will physically last a few days in an airtight container, it’s hard to test that theory as they get eaten too fast. I made some to bring in to work, and the four shown in the photo above are the only ones that survived the onslaught. They won’t make it through another night….

The recipe I use for them is from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. According to the book, this recipe “makes about 12”, but Nigella either has the biggest walnuts on the planet, or she can’t count. There were 22 in my last batch….

Nigella’s Snickerdoodles recipe


250g plain flour
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
125g butter, at room temperature
100g plus 2 tbsp* caster sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp* cinnamon
2 baking sheets, greased or lined


  1. Preheat oven to 180°C or Gas Mark 4.
  2. Combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt and put to one side.
  3. Cream the butter with 100g of sugar, then beat in the egg and vanilla.
  4. Stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth dough (I tend to use my hands to bring it all together).
  5. Mix the remaining sugar with the cinnamon on a plate. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into walnut-sized balls. Roll each ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and arrange on your prepared baking sheets.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes, by which time they shoud be turning golden-brown. Take out of the oven and leave to rest on the baking sheets for 1 minute before transferring on to a wire rack to cool.


*I find this to be far too much cinnamon sugar, and there’s always a lot left over. It keeps well, so you can save it for the next batch. I have taken to making half the amount of cinnamon sugar, which is still plenty. You could always sprinkle it on your muesli in the morning, but it’s also a nice addition to flapjacks.

You can freeze the dough and defrost it to bake at a later stage. This is great if you’ve got an egg that needs using up, but no current desire for biscuits (is that even possible??). You could make a double batch of dough for some now, some later, but I’ve tried it and it makes working the dough hard, so you might want to make two separate batches at the same time.

What’s your favourite biscuit?

*the perfect choice for a plant hunter, since the spice trade did so much to drive exploration and the spread of plants across the world :)

Posted in Blog on Apr 11, 2014 ·

Last modified on Apr 10, 2014

Tags: food & spices.

Carl Legge's Oca pizza recipe

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As promised, an exclusive new oca pizza recipe from Carl Legge. I also have instructions on how to grow oca, if you’re giving it a go this year.

oca tubers

Oca is a very tasty and useful vegetable tuber. It grows well for me in North Wales. It’s good ground cover and polycrops well with taller partners such as tomatoes. Fresh picked and raw, many varieties have a lemony (oxalic acid) taste which goes after exposure to the sun. The cooked taste is sweet. The texture ranges from that of a slightly less crunchy water chestnut to a soft puree which depends on the variety and how much you’ve cooked them.

Cooked they can be steamed, boiled, roasted, fried or sauteed. They can be used in sweet or savoury dishes and preserved or frozen.

When we first started to grow them in 2011, I tried to find traditional recipes for them, without much success. Lost Crops of the Incas says that: “In Mexico, oca is commonly sprinkled with salt, lemon, and hot pepper, and eaten raw.” The other recipes for them I could find were for roasted oca, or oca used in meat stews.

So I thought I’d have a go at producing a set of new recipes for oca in its new home. I’ve already written about Oca Homity Pie and Warm Oca Salad.

Here I give you oca used as a pizza topping. I think this is a first on the internet, although I’m very happy to be proved wrong.

This is delicious! The oca are sweet and they have a little bite still. I think the oca look like jewels: the colour variation with fresh coriander garnish certainly makes a visually striking pizza.

oca pizza

Oca Pizza Recipe

This makes one pizza of about 23cm (9 inches) circumference.

Pizza is best cooked in an oven as hot as you can get it, with the oven shelf in the top half. So preheat your oven to at least 230°C, higher if you can. I cook my pizzas on baking paper on a granite baking stone. If you’re not lucky enough to have a baking stone or a pizza stone, make the pizza up on oiled greaseproof paper or tinfoil and then place on a pre-heated oven tray to cook. This will give you a nice crisp bottom.

This pizza is great at room temperature too.


For the topping

350g of oca, cleaned and any damage cut away
Some pesto (any of basil, wild garlic, rocket will do) or parsley persillade or similar (there are recipes in The Permaculture Kitchen for these)
200g mozzarella
1-2tsp ground coriander (best if freshly done with coriander seed)
1/3-1/2 nutmeg, finely grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olilve oil
Fresh coriander to garnish

For the pizza

This quantity of dough makes enough for two 23cm (9 inch) pizzas. It’s not really worth doing any less. So make a second pizza with another topping, or cover and pop in the fridge to make a pizza or garlic bread the next day.

500g of strong white bread flour (or Typo ’00 flour)
5g (1tsp) fast action yeast
5g (tsp) finely ground sea salt
30g (1tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
350g warm water (it’s best to weigh for accuracy)


Make the pizza dough first.

Pop all the ingredients together in a bowl. You can use your hands, a food processor, or a stand mixer with dough hook. Mix the ingredients together until all the flour is wet and the ingredients are well incorporated. The dough will be sticky, don’t worry. The wetter dough helps you get a thinner base. Cover and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Then do a quick knead of the dough like this. Bring the top (North) of the dough to the middle. Then do the same with East, South and West parts. Then do North-East, South-East, South-West and North-West. I call this a ‘Compass Knead’. Cover again and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Then do another Compass Knead and leave, covered in a warm place for 10 minutes. Do one final Compass Knead and leave in a warm place for 30-50 minutes until the dough has risen by 50-100%.

The dough is now ready to use. You can keep it in the fridge, covered until you need to use it.

While the dough is proving you can prepare the oca.

Steam the oca for 5 minutes and allow to cool. If you don’t have a steamer improvise with a sieve or colander over a saucepan, or just put 5mm of boiling water into a pan and pop the oca in there, cook covered and then drain & cool. The vibrance of the colours fades a little, so don’t worry.

Cut the oca lengthways in half.

Now assemble the pizza (your oven is preheated isn’t it? And if you need a heated oven tray, you’ve got that in too?).

Get your oiled greaseproof paper or tinfoil ready. You may find that it’s easier to handle the dough if you oil your hands.

Divide the dough in two. Make one of the parts of the dough into a rough flat disc with your hands and pop the other in the fridge, covered.

pizza dough

Place the dough disc in the middle of your paper or tinfoil and then gently press and the dough into the shape you want. Coax it, you want to gently stretch it into shape and size, not tear it. You can make a little border round the edge to keep everything in place.

Then take your pesto or similar (I used wild garlic pesto) and spread it thinly over the pizza base, but not the edges.

Arrange your oca halves prettily over the base with the cut side down. Press the oca in slightly to fix.

Tear the mozzarella into small walnut sized pieces and arrange these between the oca, overlapping them slightly.

Sprinkle the ground coriander and grate the nutmeg over the oca and mozzarella. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Drizzle a little extra virgin oilve oil over the pizza.

raw pizza

Pop the pizza onto your hot oven tray or baking stone and bake until the dough is brown and crisp and the mozzarella is nicely melted and has some colour.

oca pizza

Sprinkle over some fresh coriander leaves to garnish and lift the flavours and tuck in.

Simple and delicious, I hope you enjoy it.

There are recipes for delicious pizzas and much more in The Permaculture Kitchen.

Carl is launching his new book, The Permaculture Kitchen at the Edible Garden Show today, so if you’re going then make sure to seek him! If, like me, you can’t make it to the show this year then you can buy a signed copy direct from Carl, and there are details on his website.

Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation
Ad Hoc Panel of the Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation, Board on Science and Technology for
International Development, National Research Council
ISBN: 0-309-54691-5, 428 pages, 6 × 9, (1989)

Posted in Blog on Mar 29, 2014 ·

Tags: food & unusual.

Eating in the 50’s

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1950s Bristol Shoppers queue to get a bargain in the sales1950s shoppers queueing, by Paul Townsend

My mum showed me this list last time I went to visit – she’d received it via email from a friend, and I don’t know where it originated, but it is certainly thought-provoking. While I was doing my Masters degree, I wrote an essay on the factors affecting the adoption of new crops. When he marked it, the lecturer made the following comment:

The scale and speed with which the nutrition transition is unfolding world-wide – a fact not mentioned in the essay – attests to that and contradicts the assertion that ‘Societies have tended to absorb new foods slowly.’

One of my frustrations of writing the academic essays needed for my degree was that you’re not allowed to say anything that you can’t support with a proper academic references. Given the limited time you have for research, this does occasionally put a crimp in what you’d like to say. That societies tend to absorb new foods slowly was someone else’s opinion; I probably hadn’t given it too much thought.

My mum, who lived through the 1950s, confirms a lot of what is written below, and has volunteered to add plenty more anecdotes besides. I think it’s helpful sometimes, when frustrated by what feels like a very slow rate of change, to ruminate on just how far we’ve come.

Eating in the 50’s
  • Pasta had not been invented.
  • Curry was a surname
  • A takeaway was a mathematical problem.
  • A Pizza was something to do with a leaning tower.
  • Bananas and Oranges only appeared at Christmas time.
  • All crisps were plain; the only choice we had was whether to put the salt on or not.
  • A Chinese chippy was as foreign carpenter.
  • Rice was a milk pudding, and never, ever part of our dinner.
  • A big Mac was what we wore when it was raining.
  • Brown bread was something only poor people ate.
  • Oil was for lubricating, fat was for cooking.
  • Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves and never green.
  • Coffee was Camp, and came in a bottle.
  • Cubed sugar was regarded as posh.
  • Only Heinz made beans.
  • Fish didn’t have fingers.
  • Eating raw fish was called poverty, not sushi.
  • None of us had ever heard of Yoghurt.
  • Healthy food consisted of anything edible.
  • People who didn’t peel potatoes were regarded as lazy.
  • Indian Restaurants were only found in India.
  • Cooking outside was called camping.
  • Seaweed was not recognised as food.
  • “Kebab” was not even a word never mind a food.
  • Sugar enjoyed a good press, and was regarded as being white gold.
  • Prunes were medicinal.
  • Surprisingly, muesli was readily available, it was called cattle feed.
  • Pineapples came in chunks in a tin: we had only ever seen a picture of a real one.
  • Water came out of the tap, if someone had suggested bottling it and charging more than petrol for it they would have become a laughing stock.
  • The one thing that we never had on our table in the fifties…was elbows!

Posted in Blog on Jan 26, 2014 ·

Last modified on Jan 25, 2014

Tag: food

Book review: The Great British Vegetable Cookbook

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Sybil Kapoor, author of The Great British Vegetable Cookbook, has impeccable foodie credentials. And this is a book from National Trust Books, so you know you’re getting a high quality product. Its premise is that “cooking with lots of seasonal vegetables has always represented an ideal way of life in Britain”, and that we should be making the effort to cook and eat British-grown vegetables whilst they are in season. This isn’t a gardeners’ cookbook, there are no growing instructions – it assumes you will be buying ingredients, not harvesting them.

That said, some of the vegetables included will be hard to find unless you grow your own, or are a member of a vegetable box scheme with a large palette of ingredients. As the book says, one of the goals of the National Trust is to “nurture forgotten plants, such as Clayworth Prize Pink celery at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, Cottager’s Kale at Knightshayes Court in Devon, and scorzonera in the seventeenth-century inspired kitchen bed at Ham House in Surrey.” The book isn’t prescriptive – you won’t find recipes calling for a particular heritage variety – but you will find nice photos of National Trust gardens, and vegetables harvested from them.

There’s also the occasional historical recipe, including one from Upton House for buttered and spiced beetroot that is believed to come from the 1920s, and may not be the kind of dish the modern palate is expecting.

Beyond the introduction there is a chart showing when the various vegetables are in season, and then the recipes themselves are divided – somewhat arbitrarily in some cases – into seasons.

So you have recipes to use purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus and radishes in spring, but you also have new potatoes. There are some unusual inclusions – nettles and sorrel don’t normally make it into mainstream British cookery books. For those of you looking for new ways to use your mustard seeds, there’s a tasty looking recipe for stir-fried spring greens.

Summer begins with broad beans and spring onions and works its way through globe artichokes and tomatoes to aubergines and chillies – items not impossible to grow in a British summer, but easier commercially with a nice heated greenhouse.

Autumn follows on, with cauliflower and broccoli and a range of root crops, including salsify and scorzonera. Courgettes (and their flowers) are included here with squash and pumpkins, although Kapoor does have the decency to admit they should be in the summer section. You’ll also find recipes for lovage, fennel and celery, borlotti beans and mushrooms.

The list of seasonal vegetables is shorter for winter, as you would expect, visiting such winter favourites as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, chicory and endive, leeks, celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes.

The final section of the book, called “In a perfect kitchen” contains a selection of basic recipes for use if you have the time, space and inclination. It’s about making homemade stock, bread and pastry, and pasta. If you buy these in then none of the preceding recipes should take you too long; if you’ve got a free weekend and are in the mood to start from scratch, then you can do so.

All-in-all this is an attractive and reliable book that does explain how to make use of the seasonal bounty that Britain has to offer. It’s not all traditional recipes – it recognises that British tastes have changed over the last few decades, and there’s recipes for our favourite dishes from overseas.

The Great British Vegetable Cookbook
by Sybil Kapoor
Hardback, 320 pages, RRP £25
ISBN 1907892621
Publisher: National Trust Books

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

Posted in Blog on Jan 22, 2014 ·

Last modified on Apr 27, 2014

Tags: books & food.

Cutting the Mustard

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Apple mint mustard mix

We know that mustard has been a common ingredient in European food since the late 14th century. Prior to that we know that it was used medicinally, with its benefits mentioned by both Pliny and Pythagoras, and we think the Romans are responsible for spreading white mustard throughout Europe. A ‘hot’ plant, it has also long been considered an aphrodisiac.

English mustard powder is a mixture of brown and white mustard seed, milled into flour, with sugar, spice, salt, and citric acid. The white mustard seed provides the initial kick; the brown mustard the longer-lasting pungency. English mustard was originally made with a mixture of white and black mustard seeds, but after the end of WW2 this was gradually replaced with brown mustard, which is more heat- and drought- tolerant, and easier to harvest mechanically, and hence more economical to grow.

I have just mentioned the three types of seed mustard. Black mustard is Brassica nigra, brown mustard is B. juncea, and white mustard is S. alba. The pungency they provide can also be found (in differing levels) in other brassicas – horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) and wasabi (Wasabia japonica) being two more examples of plants used to deliver some heat to meals.

Mustard seed in its natural state hardly smells and doesn’t make your eyes water. It contains chemicals called glucosinolates (which vary according to the species). To produce the pungent mustard we know and love, the glucosiolates have to be mixed with the enzyme myrosinase – which is held separately. The two chemical mix together when the seeds are ground, but the reaction also needs water.

A basic mustard condiment therefore involves mixing ground or crushed mustard seeds with water or vinegar. Cold water gives you the hottest result; rather paradoxically, heating mustard makes it lose its ‘heat’. Mustard made this way is best used fresh.

There are plenty of ways to jazz up your mustard with other flavours – for starters you could try these mustard recipes from Mother Earth News.

Mustard seeds are also used in pickles, and can be fried as the first stage of preparation of some Indian dishes (an eye-watering procedure, I have found). And you can sow them and use the resulting sprouts as spicy microgreens.

There’s also a fourth type of culinary mustard – the pungent, leafy greens. These are varieties of brown mustard, usually considered to be Oriental vegetables, although their consumption is widespread throughout Asia. Some of them grow into large plants, so check the variety, but many are useful as microgreens or cut-and-come-again salad and stir-fry leaves.

Elsewhere in the garden, quick-growing mustard plants are often used as cover crops and green manures (remember they’re brassicas, and fit them into your crop rotation accordingly). Mustard has also been developed into biofumigants – plant-based pesticides.

Which just goes to show, these versatile plants really do cut the mustard. Are you a mustard fan?

Posted in Blog on Jan 18, 2014 ·

Tags: food & spices.

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