Hands up, who’s spent a lot more time gardening over the last year or so? You’re not the only one! From first-time growers to the more experienced, people have been spending more time gardening.
If everything went to plan, you should now be busy reaping the rewards of all that work, harvesting an excess of courgettes, tomatoes and other goodies. So, if your freezer’s full and you’re fed up of ratatouille, why not share the bounty by making some produce-based gifts for Christmas.
Here’s what we’ll be making this autumn. You’ll need a good collection of jam jars or preserving jars, and some fabric and ribbon!
Curried Courgette & Chilli Relish
The humble courgette is one plant that seems to succeed for everyone. When you’ve made all the soup and cakes you can eat, try preserving some as a relish. It’s a great way to prevent waste and makes a very welcome Christmas gift. Our Customer Service Manager, Emily, found a great recipe to share:
Makes approx. 5 jars.
1kg grated courgette, water drained (see below)
1 very large onion (white or red), finely chopped
2 ½ tbsp salt
250ml vinegar (any vinegar is fine)
225g caster sugar
½ tsp ground pepper
1 tsp salt
1 red chilli, finely chopped (seeds removed, unless you like it hot!)
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tbsp wholegrain mustard
½ tbsp ground turmeric
½ tbsp cornflour (made up as per packet instructions)
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp ground coriander
The quantity of chilli and curry powder can be varied to taste.
Removing water from courgettes
There are a couple of ways to do this. Traditionally, courgettes and other watery vegetables are salted, left for a while for the water to drain out, squeezed and rinsed.
Emily prefers to grate the courgette and keep it in the freezer (a great way to store it when you have a glut, it can then be added to meals as you’re cooking!). She then defrosted it in a sieve over a large bowl overnight - a really easy way to remove the water.
The courgette water can be used in smoothies, for cooking veg, in stock, or even in a courgette martini!
Mix everything – except for the courgette and onion – in a large pan and bring to the boil.
Add in the courgette and onion, bring back to the boil, then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pour into sterilised jars whilst still warm.
A note on pickling. If you’re planning to pickle your produce the first thing to consider is its freshness because the fresher it is the better. If you suspect yours is past its best, then it is better to use it for jams or chutneys instead.
Courgette and Mint Soup
This one is useful for eating up courgettes that have been picked for a few days.
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped or grated
2 small courgettes, chopped or grated
A pinch of salt
A generous handful of mint
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add half the oil. Over a medium heat, sauté the onion until soft, but not browned. Add the courgettes, season and cook for about five minutes before adding the peas and stock. Add extra water to cover the ingredients if necessary. Bring to the boil, then simmer for a few minutes. Check the seasoning, blend the mixture, thinning with more water if needed.
Mincemeat is a great way to use apple windfalls or extras that you’re struggling to store. Bottled up in nice preserve jars it could be added to a hamper. Alternatively, it would make a useful donation to school Christmas raffles or local community fairs.
BBC Good Food has an excellent, simple recipe to try.
Raspberry infused gin or vodka
Homemade tipples are always a favourite and so easy to make.
Use 500g of raspberries and 250g of sugar per litre of gin or vodka.
Add the raspberries and sugar to a sterilised preserving jar, pour in half the vodka, seal and shake well before adding the remaining vodka.
Store the well-sealed jar in a cool, dark place, turning the contents daily, for the first week. After 2 to 3 weeks, strain the liquid into bottles and label.
Jamie Oliver Tomato Sauce
This is a really easy way to get rid of a kilogram of tomatoes – yellow, orange, red or even green. Follow the recipe from the Jamie Oliver website or the ‘Jamie at Home’ cookbook and, in just over an hour, you’ll have around 500ml of a delicious, tangy ketchup with just a little heat, that lasts in sterilised bottles for up to six months.
Most herbs can be preserved easily when dried. Simply hang herbs upside down in a warm, dry and airy place, covered with paper bags to prevent dust from settling on them. Once they are crispy dry, crunch them into airtight jars and they’ll keep you going until next year’s crop.
No-sew lavender bags
English lavender should really be pruned in the second half of August to help the new shoots to harden before winter, but if you’ve left it for the bees and butterflies to enjoy a while longer, then now is the time to give it a hard prune.
Ideally, you would use the flower buds to make scented bags as they have the strongest concentration of essential oil but, rather than waste what you chop down now, you can still dry the seeds for lavender bags.
To make these really simple bags, once the seeds are dry, cut some small circles of fabric (use a saucer or side plate as a template), place about a tablespoon of seeds in the centre then gather up the fabric and tie a piece of ribbon around to secure it.
With all of these relatively simple creations you can spread the joy of your garden among friends, relatives and neighbours this Christmas. Or even just relish a little reminder of the enjoyment and pleasure you got from growing it all in the first place!
Setting up your beds for next year
Don’t forget, once you’ve harvested all your produce, the soils in your beds and borders may need to be revitalised. Make sure you’re using a suitable soil, in particular for edible crops – check that it is certified as suitable for residential home-grown use. Find out more in our Guide to selecting the right topsoil.