I look forward to visiting Leanne at the SAGE garden every couple of weeks because I always receive such a cheery welcome. She says that she never knows what she’s going to talk about and yet for twenty minutes or half an hour I say nothing (which is a rare thing indeed) and she talks me through what she’s thinking and what’s going on in the garden. I always come away having learned something. This week I learned something about weeds. She pointed at a massive weed growing in among her rows of corn. We walked over to take a look. It was an impressive plant. “It’s called Apple of Peru,” she said. “Look at how it’s found its way to the light above the corn.” There was another plant to the side of the rows of corn that was hardly more than 30cms tall. This one was sporting a beautiful lilac flower. Leanne is not worried by weeds; they have their place.
She showed me her rows of rocket. There was some purslane growing among them. You can eat purslane and Leanne says it will be used in the salad at her forthcoming SAGE Seasonal Spread. Purslane was commonly used in Elizabethan England arriving there from the Middle East. The leaves are rich in vitamins C and A, with some B vitamins as well. It may well be a weed but it’s good for you.
She has done her last planting as the SAGE Intern; she has put in a few rows of carrots for her successor. As she harvests her other crops she will be covering the soil with tarps as she starts the processes of helping the soil recover. Once these tarps have done their work it will be back to that prince among gardening implements: the broadfork . It was last September that Leanne introduced me to the broadfork, a fearsome weapon that looks like two forks welded side by side. It’s an effective weapon but hard work.
This may look like a row of dirt but, in fact, it contains a gift for the next SAGE intern
Leanne may be spending time planning for the arrival of her successor but that doesn’t mean that she has eased off with her growing activities. The cauliflowers whose progress I have been following so closely are looking like they might be about to burst forth. There are red cabbages, another vegetable that is a serious piece of gastronomic finery. I shall be looking forward to these; I have added my favourite red cabbage recipe to this article. There are baby cos lettuce for Caesar salads (“or anything else” says Leanne). There is broccoli and, says Leanne, “lots of leafy green stuff is coming.” The broccoli will go all the way through winter though most things slow down or stop in winter because the soil gets too cold.
Chinese braised red cabbage
1 large red cabbage, finely chopped (discard, of course, the white central stem)
3 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 hunk ginger (about a 2cm cube), grated
4 star anise
75ml rice wine
1 – 2 tablespoons soy sauce (use less if you are not particularly a salty person)
4 tablespoons brown sugar (you can use any sugar, I prefer brown)
Toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Add all the ingredients (except the sesame seeds and sesame oil)into a good-sized pan, adding the cabbage last.
Bring to a simmer and then cook for about 20 minutes (or until tender) on a medium heat with a tightly-fitted lid, stirring occasionally.
The cabbage will give off enough liquid so that things don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Stir through the sesame seeds and sesame oil before serving.
Red cabbage was created or evolved (depending perhaps on your view of the universe) to be eaten with pork. If you don’t eat meat … well, you can eat it with anything.