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Drying red chillies

27 Sep

I’ve been growing my own chillies at home for a few years now. If you look after the plants well, they can keep fruiting from spring all the way through to autumn and beyond. There’s always a bit of a glut around late summer though, and if you preserve that glut well you can have home-grown chillies all year round. They freeze fairly well, and you can use them to make things like sweet chilli sauce or chutney, but my favourite way to keep them is to dry them. You don’t need any special equipment, just a needle, thread, and somewhere cool and dry for them to hang out for a few months. Here’s how you do it:

Pick all of your red chillies. They should still have the stalk and be fairly firm, if there are any soft bits it won’t work. Cut a long length of cotton and thread the needle. Pick up a chilli and pass the needle through the fleshiest part of the stalk. Repeat with all of the chillies, spacing them a couple of centimetres apart. They shouldn’t slide down, but if you’re worried you could loop the thread around and put it though the same hole again.

Tie a loop in each end of the thread, and hang it up somewhere. Here are my chillies in my pantry:

Leave for a few months until the chillies are fully dried out. They should be fairly hard, and you shake them you should be able to hear the seeds rattling around inside.

Once completely dried, you can remove them from the thread and put them in a jar, ready to be crumbled into your favourite spicy dishes. Alternatively, you could make your own chilli flakes by quickly pulsing the dried chillies in a blender or pounding them in a pestle and mortar. Either way, they will last for months.



No need for a veg box this week – home grown goodies from Mum

27 Aug

Wednesday is normally my veg box day, but I went to see my parents at the weekend and came home with this gorgeous back of fresh veggies! Going to visit my Mum’s allotment was one of the highlights of my weekend, she puts an awful lot of work into it but gets so much back in return. It’s not just the veg (although as I’ve said before about a million times that you can’t beat home grown), but the community and the satisfaction of putting love and effort into something and being rewarded. I don’t have a garden but don’t have the time for an allotment either, I am more than a little envious.

Anyway, my Mum said “lets just pop over to the allotment and pick a couple of bits for you to take back with you” and I ended up with all of this. We picked:

A massive bundle of beans. I think it’s going to be beans with everything for the foreseeable future.

Three different sorts of courgette – yellow, green, and round. The round courgette was more like a ball of marrow than a courgette. I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, stuffed it with felafel mix, and baked it.

A butternut squash. It’s still very under-ripe, but after a few weeks of sitting on a window ledge (sunny, but not in direct sunlight) it will be ready to go. I love squashes and I’m really looking forward to them being in season. My Mum is also growing massive pumpkins, so hopefully I’ll have one of those soon as well.

Some long peppers. She broke one of the “rules” of vegetable gardening and planted some seeds out of a supermarket pepper. It’s a bit risky because the seeds might not be fertile, or might produce peppers completely different from the parent plant, but luckily it did work and they’re absolutely beautiful, really fruity and with a much more interesting flavour than peppers from a shop.

A box of tomatoes. As you can probably see, they got a bit squashed in transit (I’m a public transport girl), but it didn’t matter because I decided on the journey to turn them into a bit batch of tomato sauce, after I spotted this recipe from JB at The sauce was delicious, somehow both fresh and rich at the same time. We had some over the felafel-stuffed courgette, and I’m about to reheat the rest to serve with some pasta, veg, and tofu.

She also gave me a couple of bulbs of garlic, not freshly picked but definitely home grown.

In my veg box this week – cucumber, raspberries, beans

30 Jul

This week we have:

I refuse to accept that someone doesn’t like cucumbers unless they’ve tried real cucumbers. I like supermarket cucumbers, but compared to organic or home-grown ones they’re watery, bland, and disappointing. I’d definitely recommend growing them – as well as being one of those veggies that is a million times better if you grow your own, they’re also really easy to grow and if you get a huge glut you can make a year’s worth of pickles for your burgers. Sadly we’re not growing them this year, but we’ve had one a week in our veg box for the past several weeks. As well as putting them in a salad, I also like just cutting off a chunk and nibbling on it.

Mr Veg teases me that I’m so ruled by my stomach that I’m not interested in growing anything that I can’t eat, and he’s absolutely right! I’ve finally (after seven years together) let him grow some flowers, they have absolutely no purpose but they make him happy, and I have to admit that they do brighten up our garden. Anyway, what does this have to do with raspberries? Oh yes, I’ve decided that when we have a house with a proper garden I’m going to fill the flower beds with as many fruit bushes as I can get away with, especially raspberries. I love the idea of pottering around the garden, picking raspberries and scoffing them while I do the gardening. Or sitting in the sun with a book and a glass of wine and a bowl of freshly-picked raspberries. Bliss. There’s a lot of different things I could do with these, but you know what? I’m just going to eat them.

Two kinds of beans
Another of my favourite things about the summer. We’ve got some speckled runner beans, and the darkest French beans I’ve ever seen. They’re so lovely to look at, it’s almost a shame to cook them as they lose the colour and end up green.


Also received this week: beetroot, tomatoes, red pepper, chard, sweet potato, courgette, spring onions, regular onions, apples, bananas.

Growing vegetables without a garden

1 Jul

Home-grown vegetables taste infinitely better than those bought from a shop. Here’s my top three reasons why:

  • Freshness. The flavour of many vegetables degrades with every second that passes. Produce from a shop is at least a couple of days old, potentially weeks or months old. If you grow your own you can eat them within minutes.
  • Breeding. Commercially-grown vegetables are generally bred to be uniform in shape, size and colour, because sadly that’s what consumers and supermarkets want. If you grow your own, you can choose seeds and plants that are bred for flavour.
  • Ownership. If you put time and effort into creating something, it increases your appreciation of the end result.

As a big vegetable fan, it makes sense that I would have a go at growing my own, and getting the best, freshest veggies I can get my muddy little hands on. I’m not going to let a minor detail like not having a garden stop me. We did have an allotment for a couple of years, but it is too time-consuming if you work full time – I’ll leave that sort of thing to my Mum, who is retired and has two amazingly well-kept and productive plots.

There’s plenty of different things you can grow in containers, even in a small space. We have pots and tubs outside our door and outside our kitchen window. Here’s a selection of what I’m growing at the moment.

Broad beans and courgettes (zucchini). I’ve got these growing in two old recycling containers, with drainage holes drilled in the bottom. Courgettes are very greedy plants, so there’s a generous amount of chicken manure in there to help them along.


Potatoes. We’ve been growing spuds in a patio potato bag for a couple of years now, with great success. It’s really easy, you quarter-fill the bag with compost and nestle the chitted seed potatoes about halfway down. When green shoots start to show through, cover over with compost, repeat until it reaches the top of the bag (this takes a few weeks). As with spuds grown under the ground, as soon as either the fruit sets or the foliage starts to die back, the potatoes are ready. If in doubt, stick your hand in the compost like a lucky dip and grope around to see if you can find any potatoes. I’m growing pink fir apples this year, which are my favourite potatoes ever – they’re knobbly, waxy, earthy, nutty… heaven!

Strawberries. I’ve already mentioned that home-grown tastes better, but wow… strawberries are proof of this. If you’ve never tried a real home-grown strawberry you need to find some and do it. You will never go back to the bland, watery supermarket offerings again.




Herbs. It’s great to get home from work, think “oh, I need a bit of rosemary for my roast potatoes,” and to be able to snap off a sprig before I even get in the front door. Here we’ve got lavender on the left, and rosemary on the right. We’ve also grown thyme in the past. Any woody herbs should work well in a pot.


Garlic. If you want to grow something easy, garlic is a great way to start. You get a whole bulb of garlic (from a garden supplier, not a supermarket), break it into cloves and stick them in a bit of compost in a container. Six months or so later, each clove will have turned into a whole new bulb of garlic. Let the skins dry out and they’ll keep for months. Here you can see the scapes (flower stalks) are starting to grow. If you cut the scapes down, the resulting bulb will be much bigger, and you can cook with the scapes too, they’re a bit like spring onions or chunky garlic chives.

Growing chillies indoors

16 Jun

I love gardening, particularly if the end result is something edible. I live in a flat, with a small amount of outdoor space but no garden, so my options are pretty limited. I’ve discovered that chilli plants work surprisingly well indoors[1], which is lucky because I love hot food and we eat a lot of chillies in our house. A chilli plant is fairly compact, easy to look after, and can be high-yielding. Here are my two top tips, the first is simple, the second is a bit quirky but it works:

Put the plant in a warm, sunny spot. Not only will it generally be more successful, but also the more light and heat the plant gets, the hotter the chillies will be.

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Outdoor-grown chilli plants would normally be pollinated by our friends the bees. Unless you’re particularly happy to invite bees into your house (and as much as I love bees I wouldn’t voluntarily have one in my house), the flowers won’t get pollinated and you’ll end up with pretty but sadly fruitless chilli plants. So, what are you meant to do? When we first started growing chillies indoors, Mr Veg tried pollinating the flowers by brushing them with a little bit of tissue. This is really fiddly, and to be honest I’m not entirely sure it works. Shortly after this, I saw a TV gardening programme where they were talking about bees pollinating tomatoes, and they mentioned that the buzzing of the bee makes the flower vibrate and somehow this shakes the pollen into the right place. When I found this out I wondered if I could use something to vibrate the plant and quickly pollinate the flowers, eventually producing chillies. To cut a slightly-too-long-story short, pressing an electric toothbrush (or any other vibrating electric gadget you may happen to have at home) against the stem for 10 seconds once or twice a week will do the job of the bees. This isn’t a practical joke, it really works!

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[1] You might be reading this in a hot country and wondering why on earth I’m not growing them outside. I live in the United Kingdom, where it’s just not hot enough outside. To get a decent result here we need to grow things like chillies, peppers, and tomatoes under glass.

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