I was never a vegetable fan as a child. Potatoes? Well, they were a totally foreign land to me – as were, to my poor mother’s despair – carrots, cabbage, peas, parsnips and turnips. I did (sometimes) like Cauliflower Cheese, though. Broccoli was just making inroads into rural Ireland but as it was cooked like all the other vegetables, ie boiled to within an inch of its life to be served limp and tasteless, I didn’t bother with it. The first time I had carrots that arrived at the table with some texture was a revelation and, gradually, I started to explore the mysteries of the vegetable world.
A quick trip to the first Killavullen Farmers’ Market of the year last weekend produced an unexpected treasure. I pounced on a pile of just-scrubbed nobbly tubers on the Nano Nagle stand – Jerusalem artichokes. Also known as fartichokes (in my house anyway) they’re not vegetables that you come across too often. We tried to grow them last year but, as with so many of the things that we planted, the rabbits thought otherwise. Having read a lot about how they are a virtual weed in many gardens, I have high hopes of them turning up again but, until now, it has been an artichoke-free winter.
Last night the Husband and I headed along to the first 2009 get together of the North Cork Organic Group, no doubt tempted by the fact that the group was concentrating on seasonal food for the meeting! The newsletter, kindly dropped in by my Rockmills Neighbour, asked for recipes and, if possible samples, of dishes using root vegetables. Inspired by the proud parsnips that I had picked up last week at the Mahon Point Farmers’ Market, I decided to use them in a sweet recipe. If you can bake carrots into a cake then why not make muffins out of their sweeter sister?
Nights are dark and cold and my cooking has changed to correspond with the changing of the season. Anything that can be put into a pot and forgotten about in the oven while I get some work done scores particularly highly on my dinner scale and last night’s dish got full marks for maximum flavour with minimum effort.
The vegetable garden suffered this year. Not only was the weather appalling but the Husband, lulled into a false sense of security by our bunny-killing machine (aka Puddy Cat), took down the rabbit-proof fence – the week before the cat up and died on us. It didn’t take long before the rabbits realised that our newly planted leeks, beans and kale were an all-you-can-eat buffet. The only things that survived were a few plants of perpetual spinach, some Swiss chard – and, thankfully, the squash.
We didn’t have very many new potatoes this year so those that made it into the pot were treated like gold. We planted them, as normal, on 17 March – the traditional time in Ireland for planting the spuds, as far as I know, especially when they’re earlies – but the weather was nasty after that so I think more than a few simply rotted in the ground. Between that, the terrible summer, the death of our cat and subsequent rise in the bunny population (we must not have been eating enough Rabbit Stew) it hasn’t been an entirely successful summer in the garden. At least we’ve the hens to keep us fed and entertained, although when the weather was absolutely appalling there, last month, they seemed to go through a bit of a depression, egg laying dropping to just one per day. Fortunately they’re now back up to a three-a-day average – making a lovely accompaniment to the few potatoes that we managed to salvage.
Despite all the recent rain and bad weather, the range of vegetables available at the Mallow Farmers’ Market continues to expand. As well as his fantastic salad leaves, which I eat for lunch every day, Morris from Gairdín Eden has been selling huge bunches of rhubarb and carrots. I also picked up some parsnips this week, along with a jar of West Cork Eden Honey – perfect for Honey Flapjacks, if I can save some back from the Husband and his toast!