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The vegetable garden is going through its fourth full summer, and as with most things that live outside year in year out, the seasons take their toll. Everything’s weathered down and all that new timber now looks silver and grey. The deer fence we had to ring the garden with looks more like a climbing frame, commandeered by all manner of wild weeds that coil their way unapologetically out of the banks and hedgerows. The vegetable beds themselves have settled in to a nice little routine of their own. In fact, they’ve settled so much, they now need regular soil and compost top ups. Some of my railway sleepers, that form the structure of the raised beds, are beginning to split with age, and the timber edging that surrounds the ground level veg patch is looking a bit sad in places. I’ve even had to replace the big drift wood post the garden gate’s hung from. Its base had perished, so it came over in the wind one morning, as I was going through it! A week or so blew by (as they seem too) before I had time to replace the post, and in the interim, the veg garden had quite a few four legged visitors pop in. All the tops of the carrots were nibbled off, messy holes were dug here and there, and the odd lettuce seemed to mysteriously disappear. Happily the garden gates fully functional again now, which helps keep our little furry friends, firmly, on one side of the fence. (recipe below) : )
I guess the only thing that hasn’t lost its shine is the greenhouse itself. That’s still going strong, and really only needs a quick scrub once a season to keep it looking sharp. I use a soft bristled yard brush with a few drops of washing up liquid squeezed over it, together with the hose and a bit of elbow grease, simple as that. It usually scrubs up real nice, as long as there haven’t been to many pigeons roosting in the ash trees above.
Tomato season is here again, (although, given the weather, you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t) and I’m harvesting a few handfuls each day. It’s always a pleasure, and something I look forward to very much. It’s the only real time I eat tomatoes over the year, so I like to make the most of them when I can. Thankfully, I’ve managed to keep the blight at bay, but it’s taken some doing. I’ve been super vigilant, ready to draw my secateurs from their holster at the slightest blemish. Anything discoloured get’s shot down immediately, no questions asked. This rather ruthless approach has paid off this year, and despite the damp weather and the below average temperatures we’ve had in Devon, I think were going to get this crop over the finish line, but only just.
On the whole the growing season hasn’t been bad, but it hasn’t been exemplary either. It’s been steady, lets say. Take my courgettes for example. Last year I had 4 plants, and they produced more courgettes than I new what to do with (chutneys still going). This year I have 6 plants and they’re producing half the quantity. I can’t figure it out. That same unpredictability could be applied to everything I grow to some extent. Last year the beetroot were disastrous, this year they’re as big as apples, and plenty of them. Right now, I’m harvesting a colander of runner beans every few days, last year - it was a basketful!
In the end, I suppose there is know knowing, and gardening’s unpredictability is really its attraction. If we know what’s going to happen, all the time, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. But in the same breath, if things never went our way, perhaps we’d get a bit tired of it.
Rabbit with cream, rosemary and anchovies
Wild rabbit is delicious, sustainable, economical and easy to cook, and in my view, at its best in late summer and early autumn. Most good butchers will sell Rabbit; they should happily joint it for you as well. Its far more interesting than chicken and just as versatile. A delicate rabbit fillet with toasted sourdough is a true pleasure; equally, tender rabbit satay spiked with, ginger, lime and coriander is on a par.
Here I'm cooking rabbit in a fairly familiar way, it’s slowly simmered with cream and rosemary until tender and giving but just before serving salty, sweet anchovies are added. I often use anchovies in my cooking. I find they add a full depth of flavour without being over powering or fishy. They work beautifully with the rabbit, melting into the sauce as its brought to the table.
1 wild rabbit jointed
1 large or 2 smaller onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped or grated
1 small red chilli (not to hot)
3 - 4 sprigs of fresh Rosemary
4 torn fresh bay leaves
8 - 10 Anchovy fillets in oil (‘Fish 4 ever’ are the best - www.fish4ever.co.uk)
500ml of water
450ml of double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the pieces of rabbit on a plate and season well with salt and pepper. Trickle over 2 Tbls of the oil in which the anchovies came, it will have a good flavour, turn the rabbit in the oil and seasoning. Heat a heavy based casserole dish over a medium heat, add the pieces of rabbit and brown them off all over. This will develop flavour and depth within the dish, remove the rabbit and set aside. Add the sliced onions to the pan, give them a good stir, cooking them gently for 10 - 12 mins until they begin to soften.
Add the garlic and chilli and cook for 5 minutes more. Return the rabbit pieces to the pan along with any juices, add the water, bay and rosemary and bring to the simmer.
Set a lid on the pan but leave it just ajar to allow some steam to escape, turn down the heat low and cook for 11/2 hours or until the rabbit is beginning to feel tender.
Remove the lid and add the cream. Cook for a further 30 - 45 minutes or until the cream has thickened and reduced by at least half.
When your happy with the consistency of the sauce and the rabbit is fork tender remove the pan from the heat and allow to rest for a few minutes.
Before serving add the whole anchovy fillets and a final seasoning.
Serve with sauté potatoes, good bread and a green salad
Recipe photos by Andrew Montgomery