Glut or nothing

Maths is not my favourite subject – but even I can work out this equation.  Garden compost+Sun+rain+sun+rain+sun and a little more rain=far too much spinach.

Half of the trick of growing your own veg is knowing what to do with it when you get it.  Home grown veg doesn’t come in convenient bags in family of four quantities.  With most veg it’s all or nothing, drought or glut.  At this time of year the glut is
mainly in leaves, oriental leaves, lettuce and spinach.  It isn’t helped by the fact that my early season impatience for anything to appear usually results in my sowing far too much.  I also have to fight the temptation to stop sowing when the glut appears, forgetting that, while I have leaves in abundance now, if I don’t sow more, I’ll have nothing in six weeks.

So if you want to grow your own, it’s worthwhile taking a bit of time to think about storing and preserving.  I’ll be talking about how I store and preserve crops as the season goes on, but right now I’ll talk about what I’ve been doing with my overabundance of leaves.


Spinach going to seed

Gluts always seem to happen just as the weather is warming up, and you want to be anywhere but in the kitchen, cooking down several pounds of spinach.  But even though it might seem like an enormous task, don’t put it off.  Even if you don’t have time to cook and preserve, cut them down anyway – a plant run to seed is no good to anyone.  Pick off flower heads as soon as you see them, and try to avoid getting to that stage by not letting things get dry and cutting frequently.  Put them in a freezer bag or carrier bag, earth and all, as soon as they are cut, and seal.  Often leaves will keep in the fridge for several days like this (the exception being spinach which usually wilts).

I always try to cook things in the morning or evening (or even better get my husband to do it.)  Here’s what I’m doing with my current gluts.  Suggestions/recipes welcome:

Spinach:  Spinach soup is a staple for lunch in our house.  Traditionally I have used onion, potato, nutmeg, butter, garlic, spinach leaves and a good chicken or vegetable stock.   You can also use white beans such as butter beans  to thicken instead of potato, which is a good option for vegetarians as it adds a bit of protein.  You add peas or broad beans for sweetness, or a cruciferous
vegetable like Kale for an alternative to broccoli soup.  Spinach and potato curry is another option,  and I often just throw a bit of spinach into other dishes like bolognaise, not for flavour (you can’t really taste it) but for added vitamin value – if you chop it up small and don’t add too much the kids think it’s parsley.  Cooked pasta, with added butter, parmesan, crème fraiche or cream cheese and some wilted spinach is also lovely and very quick.

If I don’t have time for any of these options – which I usually don’t – I simply wash the spinach, shake a little of the excess water off, place it in a big pot, put the lid on and put it on the lowest heat possible for around 3-5 minutes, until it has all wilted down. Then squeeze it into little balls and put in freezer bags, and you have little parcels of frozen spinach to use whenever you want.

Kale:  I have lots of Kale right now – and I find this keeps for a long time in a plastic bag in the fridge.  If I want to freeze it, however, I blanch for two minutes in boiling water, drain into iced water, chop, whizz it in the salad spinner, and divide into meal sized portions in freezer bags (freezer bags are the world’s best invention, but I wish someone would invent an eco friendly version.  Maybe there is one out there?).  Kale pesto is also a good option, combine in the same quantities you would for normal pesto but instead  of pine nuts try toasted hazelnuts, or cashews.

Oriental leaves:  I blanch for thirty seconds and freeze in portions for adding to stir fries and oriental soups, but haven’t thought of anything else to do with these yet.

Lettuce:  My lettuce, lovage and pea soup was a great success, even with the kids, though personally I think it could take or leave the lovage.  Parsley would be a nice addition too.  It freezes really well.  There are various other lettuce soup options.  Other than that I have no other suggestions for preserving lettuces other than eat them as often as possible.  This year, my children have preferred the little gem hearts to the cut and come again leaves.  They are juicier and sweeter, despite not looking so pretty on the plate.

Investing just twenty minutes every evening picking and preserving what is doing well now, will give a stock of frozen veg for months to come, and save money and time on unnecessary supermarket trips later in the year.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post