When you love kitchen gardening as much as I do, it is a bit of a strain to leave it behind for 3 weeks to go on holiday. To lessen the strain, firstly, I have perfected the timing of my summer holiday to slot neatly between the end of broad beans and the beginning of the French beans, and between the end of the soft fruit and the beginning of the tree fruit. Secondly, I make sure there are people back home who can keep an eye on the plot whilst we are away and to keep picking the produce to stop them going over.
Before leaving on holiday I went around the plot picking everything that I could to take away. The peas and mangetout were winding down but I got a small bag of each. The broad beans I thought were over but got a few new pods from re-grown shoots. The first of the French beans were ready so I picked everything I could from these. I pulled up a few beetroots and cut all the courgettes. When freshly picked like this, it is possible to expect these vegetables to last at least until the end of the first week away. I added these last pickings to my previously harvested onions, garlic and 3 different variety of potatoes. Three varieties of potatoes may sound excessive, but when you are away for 3 weeks it is nice to be able to cook potatoes in different ways and each variety is particularly suitable for certain cooking techniques.
Our holiday destination was our little cottage on the north coast of Scotland. It is a very basic affair with a tiny galley kitchen but the kitchen is well stocked with utensils and vessels. It has an old but spacious fridge, with a dodgy door that has to be held shut with a bungy cord. It also has an electric cooker with an oven and 3 working hob rings. Work surface is almost non-existent but it is surprising what you can cook when you put your mind to it. I could, of course, live on ready-meals for a week, simply reheating them in the microwave that’s so old it doesn’t even have a rotating turntable and probably microwaves the kitchen as much as it does the food inside. But I’m a foodie at heart and part of being on holiday is enjoying lovely evening meals. I’m happy to cook as long as Steve does the washing up. And he’s happy to do the washing up as long as he’s well fed!
When on holiday we tend to choose luxury items that we wouldn’t normally eat every day so our first meal was roast duck, roasted Sharpe’s Express potatoes, carrots, tiny broad beans and peas. If cooking duck at home I would have strolled into the front garden and grabbed a bundle of fresh sage then stuffed the cavity with sage and onion. In the absence of fresh sage I decided to concoct a stuffing from the flavours I did have to hand. I finely chopped up a red onion, a clove of garlic, some root ginger, an inch of celery, a small yellow courgette, a mushroom and a rasher of bacon. This I stirfried for a few minutes in some olive oil then put it in a bowl with breadcrumbs made from two slices of wholemeal bread. I squeezed it together before stuffing the crop and the cavity with the mixture before roasting the duck. And very tasty the stuffing proved to be.
The next day we headed west around the coast. It was a beautiful sunny day and as we drove home later that evening I was struck by the picturesque beauty of the Kyle of Tongue in bright sunshine. We pulled off the road to take a photo and to my surprise there was a huge fennel bush growing at the edge of the layby. I guess not everyone would recognise a fennel bush when they see one, but for a kitchen gardener it was an easy identification. As megrin sole was on the menu for that night’s dinner I took the liberty of gathering a few sprigs of the fennel and back at the cottage I grilled the fish on a bed of fresh fennel.
The next day was another epic roast meal but this time it was a beautiful Scottish leg of lamb. Again, at home, a trip to the herb garden would be in order to pick a sprig of rosemary and then I would stab the leg all over, pushing in a slice of garlic and a piece of rosemary into each slit. With no rosemary to hand I sent Steve out to retrieve some of the wild thyme I could see growing outside the kitchen window. As usual I inserted garlic into every slit but this time a piece of thyme went in with it. Then I seasoned it all over with salt and pepper before spreading a good dollop of mustard all over it. This was accompanied by Kestrel roast potatoes, the last of the peas, carrots and some roasted yellow courgette. I had never roasted courgettes before but it was simple to do. Firstly I cut the courgette into chunks then tossed them in a mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper and dried mixed herbs. I then placed them carefully in the roasting tin with the potatoes, skin side down, and cooked them for the last 20 minutes of the roasting time. They were beautifully sweet with a lovely herby flavour.
After that, the next meal was a little simpler. Boiled gammon and baked potatoes. It still took an hour to cook but an hour when I could get on with other things. The potatoes, by the way, were overgrown Charlotte potatoes. Usually known for their boiling ability, I discovered last year that when left in the ground too long and grown too large, they actually make brilliant baked potatoes with lovely crispy skin. The secret to a crispy skin on a baked potato is to rub it with oil and a little salt before baking. Then to finish the meal, a few salad items such as tomatoes, cucumber, celery and some homegrown beetroot, cooked that morning after breakfast.
So for the first week at least, we managed to eat homegrown vegetables and enjoy the lovely flavours of the season.