Thursday, 31 December 2009

Christmas leftovers - part 2

What does 31st December mean to you? To me it meant the roast ham was on its use by date! So today I chopped 5 oz of it up to make some tasty pea and ham soup. This is a soup I usually make towards the end of July when I realise I have missed a few peas when picking them and I now have some old, slightly floury peas on the vine that are stopping the production of new pods. These mealy peas (some might call them marrowfat) are pretty horrible if included with the lovely fresh, young ones but they make a splendid soup. Despite the lack of old peas at this time of year I decided soup would be a good way to use up some of the ham and enlisted the help of good old Captain Birdseye for the peas.

Before I could make the soup though I needed to restock on potatoes. We still have quite a few in the ground, which are generally surviving well despite the inevitable slug attacks. However, just before Christmas my stocks in the bucket in my shed ran alarmingly low and with snow on the ground I panicked and resorted to buying a bag of King Edwards to see me through Christmas. It had been 6 months since I last bought potatoes and I was shocked by the difference in quality. OK, I didn't need to scrape a layer of sticky mud of these ones but they tasted dreadful. When I tried making them into chips I was mystified by the weird black/grey patches under the skin as I peeled them. These are not marks I ever find on homegrown potatoes and they do not appear in the gardening book sections under pests and diseases affecting potatoes. Steve reckons they are bruises caused by the general rough handling potatoes receive and this seems likely. Then once cooked they browned more than they should because they have been out of the ground for so long most of the starch has turned to sugar, and they remained limp and soggy instead of crisping up. Fortunately, they fared better roasted in a deep pool of goose fat so they didn't wreck the Christmas dinner.

But now with the snow gone (temporarily at least), it was time to dig up some more spuds. I probably could have eeked out the ones in the bucket for a day or two longer but to be honest my girls were driving me mad and they clearly needed to get out of house and run around a bit. So after several minutes of finding old clothes and pulling on coats, hats, gloves and wellies, we set off for the allotment. As an added incentive I told me youngest that she could practise riding her bike without stabilisers so we pushed her bike round to the allotment too and spend the first twenty minutes running up and down the allotment car park as she wobbled her way to learning to ride her bike. I'm pleased to say she managed it and we got it on video!

Anyway, back to the task in hand. I dug up 4 enormous parsnips first then a row of Charlotte potatoes. A few of them had been turned into bug hotels with a detailed collection of holes and chambers but most were fine. As you can imagine, clay soil at this time of year is terribly heavy and sticky and both the parsnips and the spuds were in need of a wash. Fortunately, I had come prepared with a pair of Marigolds so I tracked down my trug which was conveniently filled with rain (or was it melted snow!). I pulled the rubber gloves on over a pair of thin gardening gloves for extra warmth and rubbed the mud off the vegetables before throwing them into plastic bags to bring home. It was certainly better to leave the mud on the allotment rather than to wash it down my kitchen sink.

By this point my eldest was complaining of numb feet so I grabbed a couple of leeks and we all headed home. We all felt a good deal better for having got some fresh air and exercise, the girls had stopped grumbling at each other and I had some lovely fresh veg.

Then it was time to make the soup using the fresh potatoes, a onion from the shed and, of course, some goose stock.

Pea and Ham Soup (Serves 4-6)

Oil (for frying)
1 onion (small to medium)
1 large garlic clove
13 oz (370 g) potatoes
2 handfuls of celery leaves
1 pint (660ml) stock (or water)
1 lb (450 g) peas
5 oz (145g) cooked ham
Salt and pepper

Heat some oil in the bottom of a large saucepan or preserving pan. Chop the onions and fry until soft. Add coarsely chopped garlic and fry for a further 1 to 2 minutes. Peel and dice the potatoes and add them to the pan with the celery leaves and stock. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Cut the ham into small pieces and put about half an ounce (15g) to one side. Add the peas and ham to the pan and bring back to the boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat then puree it in a blender in batches until smooth. Pour into a clean saucepan and add water as necessary to thin. Add the reserved ham pieces and season to taste (being cautious not to over salt it). Bring back to the boil then ladle in serving bowls or into hot jars and seal immediately.

With 5 jars of beautiful pea-green soup made there was still a little bit of ham left so I chopped this up finely and decanted it into several freezer bags in small portions. This can be added to pizzas or to stir-fried rice or pasta dishes. So with the leftover dealt with, maybe I can start the new year with some new food!

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