Thursday, 31 May 2012

How to plan a herb garden


A herb garden will provide you with fresh herbs for culinary or medicinal purposes all year round. But if you do not want, or do not have sufficient space, for a herb garden you can grow herbs in containers or in existing vegetable or flower beds.

If you have sufficient space, here are some ideas on how to create a  practical herb garden. Start with a sunny but sheltered spot which is preferably near the kitchen, so that when cooking you can easily pick herbs to use fresh out of the garden. 

Many herbs originate from the Mediterranean area and will do well in rocky, relatively dry soil, remember that they evolved in conditions of good drainage. This means that they do need some water, but the soil should be moist not wet. So while soil preparation is minimal it is not non-existent, a mix of sandy loam and clay or a good compost will support a good range of herbs, but it must be well drained.

Designing yourself a herb garden is a simple task. Start by measuring the space available and making different plans of assorted shapes until you have a few good ideas to work with. Simple forms such as square, triangles, circles or half-circles are a great way to begin a structure to plant your herbs. The design options are entirely up to you, draw a plan of the space available and get designing but take into consideration the number of herbs and relative size of the herbs you want to grow and their accessibility. You might also want to incorporate paths which can be paved with bricks, stones or even old wood to make access easier and add some charm to your herb bed.

Obviously the choice of herbs depends on your personal tastes, whether you want them for cooking, cosmetics, fragrance or medicinal purposes, but these are our favourites (in no particular order): 

Annuals - parsley, coriander, basil, aniseed, rocket and summer purslane.

Perennials - bay, rosemary, mint, sage, oregano, thyme, lavender, chamomile, chives and fennel

For detailed advice on how to grow and care for the herbs of your choice go to http://sites.google.com/site/cyprusgardener/home/herbs

If the herbs you want to grow are annual and you want to grow a large quantity to harvest and dry at the end of the season then you can make additional plantings anywhere in the garden. In fact, these can be incorporated into your vegetable beds, as herbs such as basil, coriander and dill, will attract beneficial insects which can help with pest control.

Culinary herbs, that are perennial, might not take as much space since you cut only what you need and a few plants should be enough to see you through the season and can be placed in a more permanent bed. Use the space you have available to grow the herbs you find most useful. Another consideration is if you are growing certain herbs for pot pourri or dyes, you will need a much larger space. 

It's important to plan the distribution of you herbs from the beginning. When growing, various herbs will take different forms. Some herbs grows thick but short in height while others are long and lean. Certain herbs have the tendency to grow and crawl about and can even behave like vines. This unstructured mixture can seem totally out of control especially during their peak season of May through June. 

Ten uses for the herb rosemary

We have some well established rosemary bushes growing but we are not using as much as we should. So we thought it would be useful to make a list of its many uses. A list which will remind us what we should be using our rosemary for.

1.   Make a rosemary mouthwash - http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.com/2011/09/make-your-own-herbal-mouthwash.html

2.   Use a disinfectant - simmer leaves and stems of rosemary, sage and lavender in just sufficient water to cover for 25 minutes. Once cool, strain, bottle and use to wipe over sinks, toilets and baths to provide a fresh scent.

3.   Make flavoured oil or vinegar, infuse rosemary in a bottle of olive oil or vinegar, for 6-8 weeks, to flavour .

4.   Add rosemary flowers to sorbets or dressings to add a mild rosemary flavour.

5.   Make rosemary tea which is said to be good for digestive problems.

6.   Soak and use tougher stems for BBQ skewers

7  . Make an infusion with two tablespoons of dried rosemary added to one cup of boiling water. Leave for      ten minutes and use as a hair tonic, after shampooing, to help treat dandruff.

8.   Add to roasting vegetables, rice, pizzas, fish, lamb, chicken and when baking bread.

9.   Add to a hot bath to aid aches and muscle fatigue.

10. Add to soups and stews.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Make Your Own Mulberry Jam

A jam to make when mulberries are season, which is from May to June in Cyprus and is delicious mixed in porridge on a cold winters day.

Ingredients needed are: 2.75kg of either white, red or a mixture of mulberries; 1 green apple or home made pectin, 100ml of water; 50ml of freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1.4kg of sugar

If you would like to make your own apple pectin use the following link - (http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.com/2011/06/making-your-own-apple-pectin.html)

Wash the mulberries, chop the apple very finely (the apple is not needed if you are using your own homemade pectin). Place the mulberries and chopped apple in a large bottomed pan and add the water, lemon juice and half the sugar. Gradually heat whilst stirring continuously until the mixture releases sufficient liquid and the sugar dissolves. 

Turn up the heat, add the remaining sugar, and continue stirring until the mixture boils. Boil hard for at least 15-20 minutes and check for setting by placing a small amount of jam on a cold saucer and after a minute check to see if a skin has formed. Continue boiling and checking until a skin forms on the tested jam.

Once a skin is apparent, turn off the heat and pour the jam into cleaned and sterilised jars. Once cooled, keep in a cool and dark place and your mulberry jam will keep until mulberries are ready again the following year to make another batch.

Mulberry Bush Fruit

Mulberries are now in season and we have recently tasted both white and red. White mulberries are very sweet and have a honeyish taste whilst the red are less sweet and taste something between a raspberry and blackberry. Once picked the fruit does not keep very well and is best used within a couple of days.

We have planted two mulberries which have yet to fruit. One was a very small tree which was growing in the same pot as a purchased plum tree. After three years it has reached a good size and will hopefully fruit next year. The other was dug up from a stream bed and it larger but to our disappointment we now suspect it's a male tree which will never fruit. We are considering whether to graft a female onto it or dig it up and replace with a fruiting mulberry.

Mulberries are quite drought tolerant, will grow in most soils and enjoy a position with full sun. Other than providing some fertilizer during the winter and mulching in the spring, mulberries require very little care and are not bothered by many pests or diseases. Pruning is only required to retain a desired shape and to remove any damaged wood and this should be carried out in mid-winter.

Mulberry fruit not only tastes good, it's nutritionally an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and is also useful for baking, juicing and makes a lovely jam. Mulberries can be sun dried and used instead of raisins when baking muffins or cakes.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Herb Garden

Just spent two days re-edging the herb garden beds. The winter and spring rains washed away the edging and compacted the soil which needed breaking-up. Establishing plants has been slow with some adapting quickly to the soil and climate and others dying after one hot summer.

Looking back at our original plan we had listed 50 herbs to grow but have so far managed to establish around 20 but we are adding more every year and are on the lookout for varieties suitable to the Mediterranean climate.

We plant some annual herbs monthly to ensure a continual supply of coriander, parsley and rocket. The basil is started early in the propagator and we plant plenty to permit us to dry enough to keep us going until the next planting.

Perennial herbs which have done well include chamomile, chives, comfrey, fennel, garlic (we use the tops and allow the bulbs to re-germinate every year), lavender, various mints, oregano, rosemary, sage and.lemon balm. And our bay tree is now getting to a decent enough height where we no longer feel guilty removing a few leaves.

We have self-seeding marigold, linseed, poppies and dill. To fill gaps we sow sunflowers and have two large areas of Jerusalem artichokes which, if we can as they are notoriously difficult to clear completely, we will re-locate when other herbs are available to fill the space.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Cypriot Koulouri or circular sesame seeded bread

Koulouri is a traditional Cypriot circular bread, with a hole in the middle, and is coated with sesame seeds. Cypriot koulouri tends to have a crunchy or even hard coating, in comparison to similar breads in the region which are often softer. There are many different village recipes and in various combinations some may also include cumin, anise, fennel or caraway seeds. Cypriot bread was, and in some cases still is, traditionally made using a sourdough starter and baked in an earth oven. Cyprus has for centuries had a reputation for it's bread making, as the ancient writer Ebulus wrote in the Middle Ages, "Tis a hard thing, beholding Cyprian loaves, to ride carelessly by, for like a magnet, they do attract the hungry passengers".

Have a try at making your own koulouri, using the following basic recipe which can be baked in a kitchen oven and you will enjoy the aroma that will fill your kitchen.

Ingredients:

150g sourdough starter or 1.5 Tbs of dried yeast
850 grams of flour
2 tsp salt
2 Tbs of crushed anise seeds
3 Tbs of sugar
1-2 cups of water
50 ml of olive oil
250g-350g sesame seeds

Method

If using dried yeast this needs to be activated as per the instructions.

Sift 850 grams of flour into a bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the center and add the sugar, anise seeds, olive oil and sourdough or activated yeast. Mix in well, start kneading by continually adding sufficient warm water to form a dough. You may need to add a bit more flour to get your dough to the right consistency.

Place the dough in a bowl, cover with a cloth and leave until it has doubled in size. This, depending on the temperature, will take from between one to two hours.

Re-knead for another 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 15-20 or so portions and roll them into thin sausage shape, about 35 cm in length. Dip these in warmish water and roll them in sesame seeds before pressing the 2 ends firmly together to form a ring.

Preheat the oven to 220C, lay the sesame rings on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on the outside.

Your koulouri can be enjoyed either warm or cold and in Cyprus is traditionally accompanied by olives and halloumi or hellim cheese.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Collecting poppy seeds

One of our vegetable beds has been covered in poppies this year. Rather than dig these up, we have let them ripen to collect the poppy seeds which we use when bread or roll making to add a crunchy and nutty flavour.

The seeds are ready for collection when the head turns from green to brown to signify the seed head has dried. We have previously collected seed by shaking each individual head into a jar but this is very time consuming.

This time we cut off the heads and collected them in a bowl. Placed the heads on a tea towel, crushed them with a rolling pin to release the poppy seeds and sieved them to remove any bits of husk. The process worked quite well, using a large holed sieve and then one with a much smaller gauged holes to remove smaller bits of husk. Any collected poppy seeds should be stored in a sterilised airtight jar in the fridge and used within 6 months.

Poppy seeds are tiny and 600g contains about 1 million seeds but the seeds are rich in minerals which include iron and calcium. These seeds have been used for centuries for their medicinal value and are used in cough syrup preparations and to treat insomnia.

People often worry about using poppy seeds because of their narcotic properties but ripe poppy seeds only contain minute amounts, hardly traceable, of morphine and codeine.

Indoor gardening - Sprouting Seeds, Cress & Mustard

Growing cress or mustard and sprouting seeds or pulses in the kitchen could not be any easier and the outcome is a lovely and very nutritious addition to salads, sandwiches, soups or omelettes.

The seeds are relatively cheap to purchase but we have found they are even cheaper if you buy in bulk (E-Bay - 8000 cress seeds for 99p) or even sprout organic pulses purchased from health food shops.

Sprouting is simply the process of germinating seeds and there are many suitable to choose from - alfalfa,  soya bean (which are sold as bean spouts), fenugreek, aduki or mung beans, rocket and onion - just to name a few.

We have found the best container to use for sprouting is a wide mouthed large glass jar which can be covered easily with a cloth and secured with an elastic band. Place you seeds in the jar, normally about one tablespoon is enough, and clean the seeds by rinsing in water. After rinsing, seeds are left to soak in warmish water and depending on the type of seed this can take from 20 minutes to 12 hours. After soaking, rinse again and pour out, whilst swilling the seeds around, as much water as possible to ensure the seeds are not too wet.

After soaking, which increases the seeds water content, they left somewhere at a temperature of between 13-21°C to germinate. Seeds will begin germinating within a day or two and have to be rinsed, depending on the seed used, between 2-4 times a day to keep them moist but not soggy. Depending on which seed is used, after 3-5 days they will have grown to 5-8 cms in length and will be ready to eat.

Growing cress or mustard (or both together) is an even easier process. Simply place some kitchen towel in the bottom of any suitable container such a shallow bowl or saucer (or a good use for those disposal plastic containers) and dampen the paper towel with water. Sprinkle seeds all over the surface and place somewhere warm but not in direct sunlight. Everyday just add a bit more water to keep paper and the seeds moist but not too wet and your cress will germinate in 2-3 days. The cress or mustard is ready to use when it's 8-10 cm tall after about 5-7 days. For continual supply, start a batch once a week.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Mosquito Season in Cyprus

The mosquito season begins  in Cyprus at the end of May and usually lasts until the evenings turn chillier towards the end of October.

We had fly screens installed on all our windows and doors during construction, a lesson we learnt whilst living in Australia for a period in the 1980's, which keeps out flies, moths and wasps mosquitoes seem to find a way in.

There are apparently 33 species of mosquitoes resident in Cyprus which range from quite large ones to a tiny and lightly coloured species. We seem to have more of the tiny ones which are difficult to see against our cream walls but we do manage to vacuum up a significant numbers every morning from their favourite haunts which keeps the numbers down.

Every night before we go to bed, we plug in the spiral mat heater, which has tablet inserts, which give off a strong odour but it's preferable to being bitten and we have got used to the smell. These devices are available in most supermarkets along with replacement tablets. 



We leave our bedroom windows open, to cool us, and it does reduce the strength of the odour but still deters the mosquitoes. We have also started making our own repellent from one part disinfectant and four parts baby oil which we use on our arms, shoulders and faces, which are the only body parts the mosquitoes can get to unless they find a way under the bed sheet. 

The trouble is that even one mosquito buzzing around your ears is enough to keep you awake until you can find it and vacuum it up or swat it. Thankfully, malaria was eradicated in the 1950's from Cyprus so bites are not dangerous.

We seem to get most bites whilst relaxing in the evening. The trouble is you don't feel the bites until you feel itchiness and see the red lump and by this stage the mosquitoes are usually nowhere to be seen. We have found that applying vinegar to the bitten area seems to provide instant relief and is very soothing.

Apparently mosquitoes breed in standing water, so we make sure we don't leave any puddles close to the house but whatever we do some bites are unavoidable and are part and parcel of living in the Mediterranean

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Make your own sourdough

Sourdough is a rising agent used in baking which contains lactobaccilus culture or in other words which is made using airborne wild yeast bacteria to form a starter. Sourdough is used for in baking rather than use of a commercially produced yeast.


Bread in Cyprus was for generations made using sourdough in earth ovens. Apparently use of sourdough makes baked goods have a distinctive flavour, bread has more air bubbles and baked goods will last longer before going stale.


Sourdough is surprisingly easy to make by putting a few tablespoons of organic flour in a jar and stirring in enough warm water to make a thickish paste. The mixture is then covered and placed somewhere warm but not too hot to develop. The mixture may take up to a week to form sourdough and all you need to do is just stir it occasionally. Eventually, little bubbles will form throughout the mixture and your sourdough will be live. 


Once you have successfully made some sourdough. feeding it will keep it alive. Stir the sourdough, then add enough flour and water to double the volume and place it in the fridge. Cooling the sourdough will slow the rate at which the yeast consumes food. Every time it stops bubbling, feed it again and if you find that your sourdough is getting too much either use some or reduce it's volume. If the jar looks a bit unsightly change it and your sourdough will stay alive for years.


Happy baking. Off to start a sourdough batch now.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Stuffed Globe Artichoke Hearts

We have had a very good crop of globe artichokes this year and there are still plenty of artichokes on the plants. We have been looking for new recipes to try and today adapted and tried a stuffed artichoke heart recipe. We cut and cleaned 20 artichokes this afternoon in readiness which we kept in lemon juice to stop blackening,

The outcome was delicious and it produced a lovely aroma whilst cooking. If you would like to try our recipe it's as follows.

Ingredients: 20 globe artichokes cleaned to leave the hearts, 250g of minced beef, olive oil, 1 chopped onion and 3 chopped garlic cloves, 4 Tbs of rice, a sprig of coriander, 4 finely chopped tomatoes, a quarter tsp of curry powder, paprika, ginger and cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

(1) Cook the rice for 10 minutes in a cup of salted water
(2) Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil for 5 minutes
(3) Add the beef mince to the onions and garlic and cook for 15 minutes or until browned
(4) Add all the spices and salt and pepper to taste to the beef mixture
(5) Add the part cooked rice and chopped parsley into the beef mixture
(6) In a large bottomed pan, pour in a cup of water and add a dash of olive oil and salt
(7) Stuff the hearts with the mixture and place in the pan.
(8) If any mixture remains add on top of the hearts and place the chopped tomatoes on top
(9) Cook for 30-35 minutes until the hearts are tender

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Globe Artichokes


One of the culinary delights at this time of year is the abundance of globe artichokes (cynara cardunculus) which is a thistle headed perennial plant.

Globe artichokes are best planted from offsets in November and you can expect to harvest 10-12 heads per plant between April and June. Ours are now in the second productive season and we have a glut of them. We have been busy cleaning and freezing artichoke hearts for use in cooking with broad beans or to use in many other recipes. The heart comprises of the fleshy base which is delicious raw and the mass of the artichoke, called the "choke", is inedible. 

Globe artichokes are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, folate, magnesium and dietary fibre. 
Studies have shown that artichokes contain a very high amount of antioxidants in the form of phytonutrients. Among the most powerful phytonutrients are cynarin and silymarin, which have strong positive effects on the liver and help to detoxify harmful chemicals from the body.


Recent studies have also revealed that globe artichokes help with digestive troubles, irritable bowel syndrome and in lowering high blood pressure. 

When artichokes are in season, find as many recipes as possible to include them in your diet. 

Pea and Mint Soup

We have have had a very good crop of peas and broad beans and have spent the last four days podding. We have blanched and frozen quite a lot of  peas and broad beans and are also sun drying some for winter soups and stews.

Having finished podding today, what a better lunch could we have than a pea and mint soup. Try our recipe for a quick and delicious soup.

Ingredients: a finely chopped onion and one garlic clove, olive oil for frying, 3 cups of peas, a cup of fresh mint or 50g of dried mint, 750ml of vegetable stock and salt and pepper to taste.

Preparation: (1) fry the onion and garlic until soft (2) add the peas, mint, vegetable stock and slat and pepper to taste (3) cook for 15 minutes, blend and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with some crusty bread

Gardening in Cyprus - Jobs for May

May feels much warmer as summer is on the way. The sun shines nearly every day and the temperatures average a minimum of around 10c to 20c and a maximum of between 22-28c but there can sometimes be a heatwave with temperatures soaring to 32c. There can still be the odd rainy day, often a heavy thunderstorm, but these don't tend to last more than a couple of hours, after which the sun shines once again. 

Locals still tend to wear long trousers but the sweatshirts are removed for t-shirts. There is plenty to do in the garden to keep gardeners busy during the month.

Plant annuals, perennials and shrubs – including climbers.

Deadhead annuals and perennials to stimulate continuous flowering.

Keep the roots of fruit trees damp to ensure that forming fruit swells

Spray fruit to prevent problems with such things as leaf curl and fruit moths using appropriate organic sprays.

Weed strawberry beds and harvest the fruit as it ripens.

Plant out watermelon and melon plants and if not already done plant out marrows.

Plant out cucumber plants

Cover soft fruits with netting before they ripen – these are the only fruit other than grapes that we lose to birds if not protected.

Prune out lower growth on grape vines.

Plant out tomato plants.

Plant out peanuts (monkey nuts)

Sow leeks

Plant out sunflowers

Sow summer purslane

Sow rocket and salad leaves

Sow onion seeds

Sow butter beans and chickpeas

Happy gardening for the month and if you require any further advice or information go to 
http://sites.google.com/site/cyprusgardener/home