Thursday, 1 October 2015

lawn care and cooking

If tidying up the daffodil lawn is proving a quicker job than I'd bargained for, the bottom lawn is taking longer.  I went trotting down there this morning with a wheelbarrow full of ox eye daisy plants, but despite the fact that the Systems Administrator put the lawn tractor over it after we'd finished with the power scythe, the grass was still very lumpy.  The problem was that in places the long grass had completely fallen over, the stalks lying so close to the soil that neither the power scythe nor the tractor had managed to cut them.  Pressed against the warm ground and after a nice bit of rain, they were beginning to go slimy.

I did not have the heart to shove my ox eyes in among the rotting, brown, fallen stalks, and imagined the scene as a background for next spring's crocus and fritillaries.  It was not a good look. I realised that what I was after was the scrubbed, pale biscuit colour of the meadow areas at Great Dixter, and that if I didn't get rid of the remains of the long grass I was going to be irritated for months each time I went to the bottom of the garden.

I set to with shears and rake, at times reduced to primping up the fallen stems with my fingers so that I could get the blades of the shears around them.  I'm sure they don't do that at Great Dixter (though on second thoughts with all those keen horticultural students perhaps they do).  I think we should have cut the lawn earlier, at the very end of August and before our holiday.  We have visited Dixter in mid September and the long grass was definitely cut down by then.  And I think our grass is too rank.  We've been removing the clippings without feeding it for the past two decades, but that has not curbed its enthusiasm.

I've tried establishing yellow rattle a couple of times.  This semi-parasite feeds on grass roots and is recommended for weakening the sward in areas where you want to grow wild flowers.  The rattle has not taken either time, and I was rather dismayed to read on one meadow gardening website that rattle did not always succeed in very long and thick grass.  Oh dear.  The grass would be weaker if it was infected with yellow rattle, and the yellow rattle would establish on the grass if only it was weaker.

Meanwhile my week as chief cook continues.  Tuesday was chicken, leek, and mushroom pie, since part of the point of doing a whole roast chicken is to have enough for a pie.  We had chicken sandwiches for lunch one day as well, and there's still a jug of stock in the fridge waiting to be made into soup.  Even the cats got a bowl of meat picked off the carcass after I'd made the stock. The short indignant tabby thought hers was delicious, then suddenly remembered that she only ate proper cat food out of a tin and not human left-overs.

Last night was a recipe from Lindsey Bareham's big red book of tomatoes.  I think I must have bought my copy several years ago when I managed to produce a positive glut of tomatoes in the polytunnel, then it got rather lost on the shelves and I haven't cooked from it much.  I can thoroughly recommend her Tomato Bredie, a lamb and tomato stew from South Africa.  You sweat a generous amount of onion until it's tender and starting to brown.  She says to use Spanish, but Waitrose didn't have any and I made do with small essential ones instead, and browned them in butter rather than oil since I'm going through a butter phase.  Then you brown some lamb, and add the onions, a big clove of garlic, a bayleaf, a smidge of sugar, a dash of lemon juice (not too much.  I have learned from bitter experience not to smother savoury dishes in too much lemon), and some chopped tomatoes which you have laboriously peeled and deseeded.

Actually, peeling them is not too bad because you can dunk them in boiling water without worrying about the flesh cooking, as it's going to be cooked anyway.  Use the juice from the seeds: it is one of the tastiest bits.  Once it's all starting to look near cooked add some potatoes cut into lumps and go on cooking until they're done.  Which in my case took an unexpectedly long time and we ate embarrassingly late.  The Systems Administrator was far too polite to grumble, having also been caught out that way, but a famished look in his eyes gave the game away.  Lindsey Bareham gives exact quantities, but I don't think it's the sort of dish where you have to weigh the ingredients.  Just use a sensible size packet of meat for the number of people you want to feed, and a proportionate quantity of vegetables.

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