Spicy hazel and squash stir-fry

Well, there’s no photo because I was just too busy wolfing this down and I wanted to share it with you. I don’t think of this as a recipe because it’s just “bunging stuff in a pan”. You can use pretty much any glut vegetable and it should still be great. (And it just happens to be vegan.)

Ingredients (for two)

• 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
• One large onion
• 2 – 3 cloves of garlic
• Small stick of cinnamon
• 1 piece star anise
• 2cm fresh ginger, grated
• 1 jalapeño chilli, sliced
• 3-4 Demon Red chillies or similarly hot small chilli
• 1 Hungarian Wax chilli or green capsicum pepper sliced
• 2-3 medium tomatoes
• 2-3 patty pan squash or a couple of medium courgettes – sliced
• A handful of runner beans – sliced
• A very large fistful of nuts (always a good start – raw and unsalted) I used a mixture of hazelnuts and peanuts but cashews also work very well in this sort of dish.
• 2 – 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
• Lemon juice to taste – possibly some fresh coriander
• If you need to sweeten it you could try a splash of mirin or a dollop (technical term) of home-made plum jam.

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the dry spices and onion until the onion starts to soften. Add the garlic and ginger. Mix in, then add the other chopped vegetables. If the mixture starts to stick at any point, add a splash of water and stir.

When the vegetables are browning and softened, add the nuts and soy sauce. Heat through. If it looks dry you can add more soy sauce. Taste it. Maybe you
need a squeeze of lemon juice or the opposite – some mirin or even jam to sweeten it. When it tastes the way you like it, serve with brown rice.

August: harvest, cook. Harvest, cook. Harvest, cook…complain about the weather!

What an appalling summer! Anyway, I have spent August harvesting and cooking as the title may just have suggested. The summer squash have been good, the beetroot have been fantastic, cucumbers and tomatoes mediocre and apples pretty much non-existent. I blame the weather. I made a decision in June to eat something new every day to increase my repertoire. This meant I had a pile of cookery books constantly open on the kitchen table as I queued up recipes for the week ahead. The stand-out discovery was beetroot and chocolate ice cream. It was stunningly delicious. I found the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage, veg every day. There are several similar recipes online.

Chocolate and beetroot ice cream with autumn gold raspberries and brandied blackcurrants

Chilli-watch

Carolina Reaper Chilli growing in the greenhouse

Firstly, I am NOT a chilli-head. I used to love hot food, but now I feel as if my entire face is on fire if I eat all but the mildest chillies. However, there is something fascinating about them. I am drawn to them, even in the supermarkets where the range is pitiful. This year I am growing 8 varieties, two of which are at the very top of the Scoville scale: Carolina Reaper (the record for which is currently 2.2 million Scovilles) and the Moruga Red (maximum 2 million.) These aren’t available in our supermarkets and they can make you very ill indeed. The Scoville scale measures how much you need to dilute capsaicin (the hot stuff) before you stop “tasting” it. To give you an idea of what 2 million Scovilles might be, the common Jalapeno has a maximum rating of 5000. I’ve got some of these in my greenhouse as well. I’m already finding those too hot.

Hungarian Hot Wax Chilli growing outside in a bucket.

At the other end of the scale I am growing the misnamed Hungarian Hot Wax. This is usually harvested before it ripens to red and at this point is only about 1000 Scovilles. I have decided from now on I will grow these instead of sweet capsicum peppers which have never done very well in my garden. Hungarian Wax is such a versatile variety. I slice them onto salads and pizzas or stuff them with feta and garlic and grill them. I also pickle them. They are much easier to grow outdoors in this country than the hotter varieties which require heat and careful watering for the capsaicin to develop to its maximum potential.

In the kitchen

Pickled chillies

Ingredients for a small jar (This really depends on the size of your chillies – prepare 2 jars and be prepared to make more pickling liquid.)

  • 4 Hungarian Hot wax chillies, sliced
  • 5 tablespoons of vinegar (this could be white malt vinegar, wine vinegar or even cider vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds (optional – experiment with dry spices, perhaps use peppercorns for more heat, or a clove for more flavour.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method

  • Sterilise and warm a your jar
  • Combine all the ingredients except the chillies and put them in a saucepan with a tablespoon of water.
  • Bring to the boil and stir to dissolve salt and sugar
  • Pack the chillies tightly in the warmed jar and then pour over the hot pickling mix
  • Seal immediately
  • Check the lid as the jar cools, and tighten if necessary. The lid should have an indentation in the middle once it has cooled. This indicates a good seal.

Basil and borage

Today I harvested these beautiful leaves and flowers. Basil is one of my favourite herbs and I always grow several varieties because the choice in the supermarkets is so limited. Last year I had 12 varieties on the go, all subtly different in scent, colour, shape and flavour. Unfortunately I only have 6 this year because the weather was so bad early on. My favourite is cinnamon basil which is particularly spicy and fragrant. The only issue I have with basil is that it’s tender and doesn’t stick around long enough. This means I simply have to make the most of it while I can. I make lots of pesto, I use it liberally on salads and Italian bread and I make as much basil oil as I can. To do this, I simply steep as many leaves as I can in a jar of olive oil. I then leave the oil for about 3 weeks and then strain into a clean bottle. This allows me the taste of basil throughout the year.

The flowers in the picture are from my borage patch. I sowed about 100 seeds in the spring when the bees arrived. Bees love foraging on borage plants because they produce so much nectar. Sadly most of our plants have just been thrashed to the ground by heavy storms so I have salvaged some of their edible flowers. I sprinkle these on salads and set them in ice cubes. They have a delicate cucumber taste and are a very simple but beautiful garnish.

Historically borage leaves were used as a vegetable and the flowers were used to flavour wines and cordials. The plants were used in syrups which were then used to treat all manner of ailments and were thought to have a calming effect and to lift melancholy. I just like the colour!

In the kitchen – Basil Pesto

Pesto is something I detested until I made my own. The taste of home-made pesto is completely different from the foul, astringent sludge you buy in a jar. I don’t know what they do to it.

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons of pine kernels
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed with a teaspoon of salt
  • 55g of parmesan or pecorino freshly grated
  • a very large bunch of fresh basil
  • 150ml olive oil
Method

Put all the dry ingredients in a food processor and grind to a smooth paste. Then gradually add the oil with the motor still running.

Wash away stress with lavender

Lavender drying in the sun

Lavender is one of my favourite herbs. It has beautiful flowers, a wonderful scent and it is useful both in the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. It takes its name from the Latin verb Lavare, meaning to wash. This is supposedly because the bath-loving Romans used it to perfume their bath water. For centuries it has been widely grown across Europe and Britain, and its essential oil extracted for perfumes and medicines. Apparently English lavender has a higher concentration of the ester which gives lavender its calming scent, so caution is advised when using our native variety in food.

Medicinal use

Lavender has a calming effect and is used in herbal medicine to ease insomnia and stress. My mother-in-law spent much of her working life as a nurse, caring for elderly patients with dementia. They were often agitated and slept badly. The standard treatment was medication, but “Mum” began putting drops of essential oil of lavender on their radiators at night and noticed a significant improvement in their sleep patterns. After a while she even managed to reduce the drugs she was administering. I have great faith in her essential oil experiments and always have a small bottle of lavender in my washbag when I’m travelling. I also find that just having a bunch of dried lavender in a room can have a calming effect (until the flowers drop everywhere and annoy the Hell out of me….)

In the kitchen

People often ask me which lavender varieties are edible. I’ve checked and can’t find any which are poisonous, but obviously if you eat bucket loads of anything it could upset your stomach. I only have English lavender which is pretty strong. I suggest you try a tiny quantity of your own garden lavender and see how it tastes. Adjust accordingly the next time you cook.

Cakes, bread and biscuits

Try adding a spoonful of lavender flowers to your favourite plain biscuit, cake, scone and bread recipes. Add the flowers with the dry ingredients. The flowers can be either fresh or dried. They will taste stronger if dried. I frequently make a loaf which is half brown and half white flour, with a tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon of lavender (plus obviously water and yeast.) When cooked, lavender tastes almost like a very mild ginger. It’s not what you would expect.

I have also made lavender ice cream in the past. There are many recipes available online and most of them involve infusing lavender flowers in cream before making the custard element.

Lavender salt

I am a big fan of home-made herb salts. I would never buy them. They are ridiculously expensive, but easy to make and a real “taste sensation!” My nephew has come to expect a tub of this in his Christmas hamper every year. He says it’s great with meat and just a tiny sprinkle adds an extra punch to any meal.

Ingredients
  • 5 tablespoons of rock salt
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lavender flowers
Method

Crush the garlic into the salt and then mix in the lavender flowers. At this point you need to chop the flowers into the salt mixture to integrate them fully. All the recipe books tell you to do this by hand because a grinder will give you a fine powder which can clump together as the garlic dries. (I do use a spice grinder because I am perfectly happy with a fine powder. I “de-clump” it repeatedly with a fork as it’s drying!) Now spread the mixture onto greaseproof paper and either air dry for several days in a hot and airy room (I have a south-facing conservatory which is like an oven) or put in the oven overnight on the lowest temperature possible. You may need to fork through the mixture to separate the grains. Seal in a jar when completely dry.

Another herb salt I love is thyme and porcini mushroom (and garlic again as a binding agent.) I use the same method and roughly the same proprtions. It dries more quickly because I buy the porcini ready dried. This salt has a really intense savoury flavour. If you have the time you really must try it.

Summer scent and brain-boosting blackcurrants.

Summer has returned! After months of complaining about the rain and wind, as a Brit I am obviously now complaining about the heat. It’s only been about 29 – 30 degrees (80+ for our American friends) but it’s enough to drive us all to shorts with socks and sandals and the smell of burnt meat coming from neighbours’ barbecues. At the beginning of the month we had some good news about the health of our lovely old Labrador, so we took a short break to celebrate. We had a few days glamping in Suffolk and recharged our batteries ready for a summer of food production. It did us all a world of good.

The flower garden in July

In the past I’ve only really grown flowers as companion plants for my vegetables. Marigolds and nasturtiums are a favourite as they attract pests away from my tomatoes and beans. This year I’ve been inspired to grow more, as my greenhouse buddies have given me several varieties of flowering plants which are new to me such as Snapdragons, Galliarda and Penstemons. There is so much more colour this July.

I’ve also been cutting sweet peas for weeks now. They fill the house and garden with a heavy scent and they make a great present for kind friends who do me favours. They’ve almost become a form of currency.

My surroundings as I take a “Blogging Break.”

In the fruit cage

We have so many different types of fruit that I can never really retain all the weather and feeding information I need to explain why one fruit thrives while another suffers. Our raspberries are terrible this year but we’ve had twice the weight of blackcurrants. I can only assume it’s because of all the rain.

When it comes to superfoods, blueberries seem to have the best PR. Blackcurrants, however, can have four times the anthocyanin levels of blueberries, 38 times more vitamin C and double the antioxidant activity. (I’m quoting a study referred to in The Guardian.) Anthocyanins have even been linked with a reduced risk in dementia. I’m trying to find a way to eat blackcurrants raw (they are SO sharp) because cooking them really reduces the anthocyanin levels. That hasn’t stopped me making jam and I stew them very briefly to put in ice cream. Ooh hang on! My home-made Cassis uses raw fruit. I wonder if that counts….

The only way to get a reliable source of blackcurrants in the UK is to grow your own because they are very hard to come by in the shops. Apparently, a very large proportion of the UK blackcurrant crop goes to Ribena. This is because commercial growers can take 6 years to make a profit out of their crop and surplus can be difficult to predict. Ribena offers them favourable contracts which enable them to continue producing the fruit.

And on that note, bearing in mind that I am a linguist who last studied very, very basic science in 1981…..here is a recipe for brain-boosting/fogging, liver-damaging Cassis. After a couple of glasses you won’t care if I’m talking rubbish. Trust me!

Cassis Recipe

Ingredients

Note: This is overwhelmingly sweet to my taste so I use a lot less sugar. As long as you have alcohol and a reasonable amount of sugar it won’t go off. So let’s have no more complaints about the “vagueness” of my recipes. It’s not rocket science, darlings, use your initiative.

  • 450g of blackcurrants (or as many as you can get hold of)
  • 450g of sugar (if you have already lost most of your teeth – I think I used about 250g this time. Who knows? Life is short.)
  • 570ml brandy – or possibly a mix of brandy and vodka. I have 2 official recipes, one with brandy and one with vodka. I mix and match depending on what I have in the cupboard.
Method

Crush blackcurrants. Mix with sugar. Add alcohol. Stir to dissolve sugar. Put it all in a jar. Leave the jar on a windowsill for a month and shake it regularly. Strain liquid from fruit and put the liquid in a sterilised bottle. It is now ready to drink. (Having said that, I’ve been dipping into this year’s jar already….can you tell?)

Next – put the fruit in a lined baking tray and cover with melted chocolate. Allow to cool. Stuff face full of alcoholic chocolate. Next time anyone suggests you’ve put on weight, once they’ve peeled themselves off the floor, tell them it’s because of the menopause. Here endeth the lesson.

June: new projects and exhaustion

Sweet peas in flower in the herb bed

May came and went in a flurry of wind, rain and at times near zero temperatures. What the Hell was that about? While all this was going on I ran from greenhouse to vegetable bed, to shed, to conservatory. Coat went on, coat came off. Plants came indoors, plants went out again. I am now having regular physiotherapy. My physiotherapist doesn’t believe in old age…..bless. That’s easy when you’re in your twenties. To begin with he was very impressed at how quickly I improved my muscle strength. Now that everything in the garden has exploded into life sumultaneously, he has admitted that I am just “completely knackered!”

We’ve had two new projects on the go: beekeeping and a hidden scented garden. These have kept both of us busy on top of our usual workload.

Ian completed a bee-keeping course and our first hive soon became two because we discovered queen cells in the brood box. This suggests that the bees might be about to head off to pastures new, so we split the colony. A few weeks later and both hives are doing well. In one of them, the bees made some wild comb and we had to break it off. We managed to get about 2 tablespoons of honey out of it, which was very exciting. It tasted fruity, like no honey I’d ever had before. Even Chewy the Choc (our ailing old Labrador) has had the occasional drizzle over his medication. It provoked a rather heart-warming wag.

Our new hidden garden is still very much work in progress, but Ian has levelled the ground hidden behind our summer house, and with the help of cousins Sophie and John we have recycled bits of old conservatory and shed to make an enclosed space with planters. I sowed 9 varieties of sweet peas in October and they have been desperate to get into the ground. It’s a real sun-trap, so the scented plants we put there should be exhaling fragrance by the end of July. In addition to the sweet peas we have honeysuckles and jasmine, with a scented rose due to take centre stage once we have covered the weed membrane with sand and made an appropriate central bed.

Fruit and veg.

The various productive areas of the garden are now finally planted, although I do still have a few chillies and tomatoes to put out in bigger pots. I have about 6 different varieties of chilli this year. I can’t even eat the things any more, but I do find the plants a rather addictive addition to the garden.

We’ve managed to harvest our first ever artichokes. The plants are normally overtaken by ants making colonies of blackfly. This year we have just about beaten them to the fruit. I’ve harvested 3 batches of rhubarb, made jam and put some in the freezer for crumbles. The gooseberries are starting to make their presence felt, and thanks to the greenhouse we’ve managed to eat just a few very precious strawberries.

And then there’s the magnificence of the early sumer herb bed….but that’s another story for another day. I have an hour of watering ahead of me. TTFN.

Greenhouse glory

First Early Potatoes growing in a planter in the greenhouse

The same variety of potato growing in a planter outside

I spent 30 years having wistful yearnings for a greenhouse and now I finally have one. It’s already come into its own. We have beautiful chrysanthemums flowering in April rather than June, and some giant beefsteak tomato plants which are showing insanely early signs of fruiting.

Potatoes

In the kitchen: tip

We don’t actually eat that many potatoes but at the start of the first lockdown the supermarkets were a nightmare. They were packed with crazed lunatics panic buying anything they could get hold of. We just stayed away and decided we would live on last year’s crops and buy whatever we could from our rural neighbours. We bought 25kg sacks of potatoes. That’s a lot for 2 people. Inevitably they started to sprout. I simply refuse to waste food, so I cut off all the sprouts, peeled them, roasted them and froze them. I then reheated them from frozen in a hot oven for about 20 – 25 minutes. They were fantastic. I got the idea from a Mary Berry programme. She was giving people tips on how to make Christmas less stressful. If it’s good enough for Mary Berry then it’s certainly good enough for me. We had 80 of them in the freezer at one point. My friend was shocked, “How on earth are you going to eat all of those?” Very easily. People just don’t get it. If you ever have any leftover roasties, freeze them. It works really well.

As far as nutrition is concerned, a peeled potato loses about 33% of its “goodness” when boiled. If you want to avoid just eating a big lump of starch then leave the skin on.

A little history….

Here in the UK we are taught from a very early age that Sir Walter Raleigh brought the potato to England. Actually, it was brought over from Virginia in 1586 by colonists who had been sent to North America by Sir Walter Raleigh. He is reputedly the first person in this country to plant the potato, but he actually did so on his estate in Ireland, near Cork. (I doubt he was the one holding the spade….) It is said that he knew so little about the plant that he tried to eat the berries it produces. When he realised they were poisonous he ordered that all of the plants be dug up. At this point, his gardeners worked out that the tubers under the earth were a good source of food. Shortly after this, the potato was brought over to England but for some time they were only grown as a delicacy for the rich, rather than a food source for all.

Chrysanthemums in flower after starting life autumn 2020 in the greenhouse.

Fenland frost and foraging

The cold snap continues…

We’ve seen April snow before but I don’t remember having warm, sunny days to go with it. We awoke to a frozen garden, but by lunchtime I was weeding in a T-shirt. It’s all rather strange. The seedlings are gradually making their way back outside to the greenhouse and I am taking advantage of any warmth by preparing pots and vegetable beds. All the gardening magazines tell you to do this sort of thing in the autumn, but I suspect the people giving the advice are not also responsible for harvesting, cooking and preserving at the same time!

Chewy the Choc, soakin’ up the rays!
Nettles: in the kitchen
Nettles are not a nuisance – they are a crop!

At the weekend we had our first foraging session of the year. For some time I have been impatiently inspecting a rather generous patch of nettles and they are finally ready to harvest. Ian’s “signature dish” is Nettle Spanakopita. It’s a Greek pie made with filo and feta. The vegetable filling is usually made with spinach but Nettle is an excellent substitute. We use a recipe from BBC Good Food. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/nettle-spanakopita It’s great with a tomato sauce or a rich chutney.

Our next nettle product will be nettle beer. This is surprisingly good and has a slightly lemony taste, a little bit like wheat beer. It is usually ready to drink mid to late summer and is perfect to drink chilled after a hot August gardening session. I use the River Cottage recipe found here https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/may/18/homebrew-from-the-hedgerow I don’t use copper finings, and I now ignore the comments about drinking it after a week. It tastes disgusting at that point. It’s way too sweet. It’s much better to wait a couple of months.

Nettles: in the garden

Many gardeners dislike nettles because of their sting and because they are thought of as weeds. They’re actually very useful. You can make a plant food by soaking nettles in water. This “tea” contains calcium, iron and magnesium and is a good way to feed plants organically. Nettles also attract ladybirds. These then lay their eggs on the nettles and the larvae eat aphids and other garden pests.

Nettles: medicinal properties

In herbal medicine nettles have a reputation for being anti-asthmatic. Historically, the juice was extracted from both roots and leaves and mixed with honey to relieve bronchial ailments. Nettles have also been used in hair lotions as they are said to stimulate hair growth.

Nettles: other uses

Nettle fibres are very similar to hemp and flax fibre and historically were used to make cloth. During the First World War Germany/Austria ran short of cotton and used nettle fabric to make many items of army clothing. Similarly, when animal feed was in short supply, it was found that dried nettle made a very nutritious fodder.

Crumpets, cake and chrysanthemums

Crumpets cooking on the griddle

Happy Easter from Perry Maison! As often happens, we are moving out of spring and back into a rather chilly winter. We had 23 degrees last week and we are due for minus 3 on Monday. With this in mind I have been creating warm areas in my greenhouse and protecting as many of my precious seedlings as I can. I have brought the chillies and tomatoes back into the house, but I’m hoping the chrysanthemums and sweet peas can hold their own under cover.

The cold snap has coincided with Easter weekend, Ian’s birthday and a bad back. This means just one thing: kitchen time! Ian has chosen Nigella’s chocolate and blackcurrant cake as his birthday cake. Our blackcurrants were a real success last year and we’re still eating our way through them. This is the perfect way to eat them.

Ever since we met, (40 years ago….scary) we have allowed a full day of birthday treats and celebrations for every decade we’ve spent on the planet. So in 2021 that gives us the best part of a week! Long birthdays, priority vaccination, eyesight that prevents you from seeing how ugly you are – getting old isn’t such a bad thing, (yet!)

Today’s treat was a rather magnificent breakfast of home-made crumpets and far too much butter. The best thing about making your own is that you can add things to the batter. If you like to serve your crumpets with cheese rather than butter and jam, you can add herbs to enhance the flavour. I made a few with chives this morning. They were great. It’s a bit like making pancakes. The first few are never quite right: too burnt, too doughy, too fat, too thin – but by the end they are perfect. Of course, this means you have to eat loads of them so you don’t miss out on the best ones. Here’s the recipe we use.

Crumpets

Theoretically you need special crumpet rings to make these, but I guess you could improvise with heat-proof biscuit cutters. The important thing is that they should be rigid. They also need to be well greased. If you don’t have anything suitable you can make pikelets instead. Add a bit more milk to make the mixture looser. You are then effectively making mini pancakes with little bubble-holes in them. (And you will get more out of the mixture…win-win!)

Ingredients

  • 230g white bread flour
  • 230g plain flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 7g easy blend dried yeast
  • 510ml lukewarm water
  • 10g salt (I found this much saltier than the supermarket crumpets, but in a good way!)
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb (baking soda)
  • 140ml milk, lukewarm and if possible not 100% fresh (helps the “bubble”)
  • griddle/heavy frying pan
  • greased crumpet rings or improvised versions thereof!

The recipe says it makes about 18. I have no idea how many we made because we just kept eating them as they were cooking. We have lots left.

Method

  • Sift the flours and cream of tartar and add the yeast
  • Add water and beat to a batter
  • Cover and leave somewhere warm for an hour
  • Add the salt and beat in for about a minute
  • Leave to rest for 20 minutes
  • Dissolve the bicarb in the lukewarm milk and stir into the batter (add herbs at this stage if you want a savoury version.)
  • Heat an ungreased frying pan. Put a greased crumpet ring in the pan and add a ladle of batter. (If no holes appear in the crumpet you need to loosen the batter with more milk or a drop of water. Equally, if it’s too thin you will need to add some more flour.)
  • After about 7 minutes the surface will start to look cooked. Remove the ring, flip the crumpet and cook the top for a couple of minutes. This is the bit which requires practice. The cooking time will depend on how much batter you have in the ring and how hot your burner is. We found that the crumpets fell out of the ring very easily once the bottom was thoroughly cooked, and this was a good way to know they were ready to flip!
  • Eat them hot with butter and jam or cheese. If you can’t eat them all at once (lightweights!) then you can put them in the toaster to heat them up and “re-crisp.”
Herby crumpets with chives

Wind, wobelisks and woofage

Mahonia: edible flowers in the garden.

As I write, Chewy the Choc is warning us (and the entire neighbourhood) that a life-threatening compost bag is flying across the lawn. The soon-to-be sweet pea obelisks are standing at a jaunty angle, and my recent foray into the garden made me question whether I should in fact be wearing a helmet. It’s safe to say, we live on an exposed site.

Earlier in the week I made an unpleasant discovery. I found several hundred slug eggs and a large ant nest right in front of my beloved greenhouse. I got quite cross…and did this!

Ian has since turned it into a vegetable bed for me. (Keep me away from wallpaper as well…) This morning I sowed a couple of rows of beetroot. I have several varieties but the basic purple ones seem to be the most reliable. I assume that’s why they are the most common in the supermarkets.

Yesterday I uncovered our first few stalks of forced rhubarb and we enjoyed an almost health-conscious “crumblette” – about 2 tablespoons each. I have also picked a few mahonia flowers and put them in ice cubes. I enjoy serving these to my townie friends in gin and tonic. They say things like, “Oh how pretty! I didn’t know you could do that.” Then as the ice melts, I watch them nervously avoiding the flower before finally disposing of it when they think I’m not looking. (I find such things extremely amusing.)

Medicinal properties of Mahonia

Well my trusty encyclopaedia tells me that Mahonia is a shrubby, bitter herb that stimulates bile flow and releases toxins. It is used for skin diseases (especially eczema) gall bladder complaints and diarrhoea. Mahonia contains berberine which is used in food supplements. It’s supposed to lower blood sugar. I suspect you’d probably have to eat a whole forest of them to achieve that with flowers!

In the kitchen

The flowers have a lemony taste. They are good in drinks and on salads. I never take too many because they are high in pollen and bees love them. The berries are used to make jam and wine. I made Mahonia berry jelly one year. It tasted a little like blueberry.