A Super Natural Halloween

Halloween is a scary time of year. Everywhere you look there are horror movies, monsters, ghosts, vampires and zombies. But perhaps the scariest thing about Halloween is that nobody really seems to know what it’s about anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore Halloween, it’s one of my favourite times of the year. The golds and reds, the snap of bonfires and fizzle of fireworks, the smell of winter in the air that carries tremendous nostalgia and happy childhood memories. As I’ve gotten older, though it has lost it’s charm.  Grown adults dressed like slutty bathtubs. Kids wearing costumes that cost a weeks wages and complaining when you give them an apple with their sweets. Gone are the days of wearing a black bag or a sheet with holes poked in them and standing by the bonfire eating monkey nuts and toffee apples. Now, it’s a greedy, vainglorious free-for-all that is a stark reminder of just how far we have come from our cultural connections to our food. So, what I’ve decided to do this year, is to have a more traditional Halloween, to bake and cook lots of Halloween food and to harvest all my crops that need to be stored. You can keep your ghouls and give me gourds, for the best thing about this time of year is undoubtedly the food.

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OH MY GOURD!

Halloween is a Celtic pagan festival, celebrating fire and food and the end of the growing year. All Hallows Eve itself was also believed to be the night when the spirits of the dead return home, and I like to think this is actually less spooky and more of a chance to remember the souls of loved ones lost and move into a new year with our demons laid to rest.

In Ireland, Samhain (which means summers end), was the time of year when crops were harvested and gathered for storage through winter, as such, Halloween is essentially, the most widespread harvest festival in the world.

The best food from the garden is in season at this time of year, kale, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips, celery, swedes, pumpkins, squashes. This is all the hearty food, the larder food that will keep you warm in the lean winter months, no wonder our ancestors made such a big deal of it!

Apples are my favourite thing about Halloween. Because they are in season, it’s easier to source locally grown, Irish varieties of apples. They don’t have waxy skin, they’re not too hard, bitter or bland. They haven’t been flown thousands of miles wrapped in plastic and covered in preservatives. Irish apples in October are sweet but tart, a little soft and a little crunchy, with the most beautiful flavour that to me is the epitome of halloween. I always loved finding apples in my swag bag on Halloween, they were nicer then the sweets, the crisps or monkey nuts, apples were my favourite halloween treat and still are.

I happen to be lucky enough to have parents who grow apples. They have two apple trees in their back garden. One grows in an area they’ve dubbed the “Apple Yard”, a square yard bed with a heritage Irish apple tree and loads of lovely herbs growing around it’s base.

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The Apples from the Apple Yard in all their Autumn glory

They also established the Apple Bay in the walled garden where they have their allotment. A beautiful orchard where they have a wide variety of different heritage Irish apple trees growing.

I have a bit of a halloween ghost story for you. The Apple Bay has a poltergeist. Seriously. In recent months, my folks have visited on many occasions, only to find disturbances in the orchard. Four trees have been recklessly cut down. A rose bush has been damaged beyond repair. Spring bulbs have been uprooted. The pathways have been blocked by mountains of muck. I’ve decided that since no real gardener would engage in behaviour that damages a lovely little orchard; I’ve come to the conclusion that while the Apple Bay is most certainly beautiful, it is also most definitely haunted. Spooky. However, despite the ghost, the apple bay remains a beautiful addition to their walled garden and I’m very excited to taste some of the supernatural apples from it this year.

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The haunted orchard

November is the perfect time to plant apple trees and I have a new project for the plot in mind so I’ll keep you all updated on my apple planting adventures next month.

Bobbing for apples is a Halloween tradition that we always played in my house growing up.  Traditionally, the first person to succeed in bobbling for an apple would be the first to be married and if the apple was placed under your pillow, you would dream of your future lover. This is a very promising prospect for me, so this Halloween I fully intend to fill my bathtub with as many (local) apples as humanly possible in order to increase my romantic chances.

In fact, come to think of it, much of the traditional Irish Halloween fare contains elements of romance or good luck so I propose we begin to view Halloween as less scary and more lovely.

Colcannon is something I’ve mentioned on the blog before. Mashed potatoes, onions and curly kale, this dish for me is the epitome of Halloween food. My mam made it every single year on halloween and to this day, it’s one of my favourite things in the world to eat. With potatoes and kale very much in season and a kitchen full of dried onions from the garden, it’s the perfect celebratory harvest dish. Colcannon also contains a super special ingredient that makes it second to none: money. Yum. My kale season is in full swing at the moment, with three varieties and fifteen plants, I’m sure I’ll have enough kale to feed a small army this Halloween.

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A bouquet of kale. (A bou-kale)

Barmbrack also contains gold in the form of a ring. This fruit cake has a gold band baked into it and whoever gets the ring will find their true love in the upcoming year. I’m seeing a trend here lads.

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My teeny-tiny pumpkin patch

Pumpkins are of course, the ultimate Halloween food, with carved pumpkins being the  main halloween decoration in most homes. Pumpkin carving has its origins in Ireland too, except instead of carving pumpkins, our ancestors used turnips, which is truly terrifying.

 Plus, turnips don’t really make a good pie, though fresh milan purple top turnips from the garden are absolutely delicious! I’m going to pop up a post tomorrow about how to grow pumpkins for next halloween so keep an eye out. Though perhaps I may not be the best person for that job. This is my first year growing pumpkins in the garden. I only grew one plant though and while it was meant to be a giant variety of pumpkin, my little pumpkins are very small. Football sized at best.

 

Halloween is the perfect time of year to begin to store your veggies through the winter season. I recently wrote an article in the autumn edition of GIY’s Grow magazine on how to store your veggies for winter so get your hands on a copy if you want some tips on different ways to manage your harvests.

In an effort to really celebrate Halloween food this this year, I propose this: take a step back from the commercial side of the holiday, eat really good food, celebrate your harvest. Take a moment to remember that growing food and harvesting it is a huge part of our cultural heritage and we should celebrate in style. Forget the sweets, crisps, jellies and candy. Eat apples. Eat Kale. Eat pumpkins. Have yourself a super natural Halloween.

I for one, am going to eat lots of barmbrack, colcannon and bob for apples in an effort to increase my chances of marriage and if I still haven’t met my filthy partner in crime by next year, that’ll be the true horror story.

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Plants Bants: Kale, the superhero of the veggie garden

You know on Halloween, just before you’d go out trick or treatin’, your Ma would serve you up a steaming plate of colcannon which you’d eat reluctantly in the wishes of finding some cash hidden inside? No? Then you’re not bleedin’ Irish.

Colcannon on Halloween is a distinctly Irish tradition for a distinctly Irish holiday. Plates piled high with potatoes mashed with onions, kale and butter has pretty much given kale a bad name (though whoever thought of it was a genius because it’s a seriously hearty nutritional winter dish and absolutely delicious). Most Irish people only know kale as “curly kale” or in it’s sloppy colcannon form and it was always a decidedly unglamorous food but in recent years, kale is making a serious comeback as a super food. You can’t enter any health food café or shops without encountering kale smoothies, kale crisps, kale salads, raw kale, kale is the current trendiest veggie going. Now, if you find yourself a bit turned off the idea of this super healthy veggie by the memories of mashed kale goop on Halloween, I’m here to change your mind.

Kale is hands down my favourite leafy vegetable to grow! In fact, I’m considering donning some spandex and fashioning myself a curly kale cape and swooping into people’s gardens and guerilla planting some kale. Fiona Kelly Kaley: The Curly Avenger. 

A member of the brassica family, kale grows supremely well in our temperate climate and is very easy to grow from seed. A large, leafy vegetable, kale is a welcome addition to any vegetable garden. Its beautiful broad leaves bring rich shades of colour to any garden and there are so many varieties to try which all have distinct flavours. Kale is packed full of Vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and antioxidants and is pretty much the best veggie you can add to your diet. So, if you’re looking for tips on growing this super food in your garden look no further, I’m here to champion this humble hero of the brassica bed.

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Kale Varieties:

Now, most people think of kale and just think of the curly green variety we were subjected to as nippers but there are many varieties of kale to try in your garden.

My favourites are Russian Red Kale & Cavolo Nero. This year I’m growing three different varieties of kale and currently have 18 plants which is definitely overkill but kale is ready to harvest later in the season than most other leafy veggies and it’s always nice to visit the plot in October and have plenty to still harvest.
Red Kale and Cavolo Nero taste distinctly different to green kale too so it’s nice to have a variety of flavours.

Sowing Kale:

Most people sow kale indoors and transplant it outside but I urge you to sow kale outdoors if you’re in Ireland, it will germinate in most soil, though rich, fertile soil is best as with all brassicas. I always sow my kale outdoors between May and June for an Autumn crop. Plus, sowing outdoors means less of the tricky transplanting business. Space your rows about 45cm apart and sow your kale and thin it out as it grows. Kale grows to be quite a large bushy plant so ensure you space the plants out enough to give them room to grow.

Transplanting Kale

If you have started your kale indoors, then it is essential to water your soil well before planting and give the plants plenty of water when you plant them, in fact, drench them in, create a puddle around your kale, it will love you for it. Space your plants 45cm apart.

Caring for Kale

Kale requires little care but it is very tasty so everything loves to eat it, slugs, pigeons, humans, more pigeons so it needs some protection.

Protecting your kale from slugs when they are young plants is essential. Beer traps are great for keeping slugs away from your plants and I’ve had great success with these. This year, I’ve also mulched my young kale plants with coffee grounds as a fertiliser and slug repellent and I have had zero problems with slugs on my kale this year. None. It’s a miracle. Coffee is just the gift that keeps on giving really.
Netting your kale is also essential to keep the birds from demolishing it (although eating kale is a pretty holy experience in itself the last thing you want is hole-y leaves).

Harvesting Kale

Kale is usually ready to harvest about three months after planting. Kale is a great cut and come again crop, simply pick the leaves from the top of the plant as needed.

I have a recipe here for kale and apple soup if you’d like to try something a bit different with your crops (it’s yummy, trust me). My Mam also has a super recipe for kale gnocchi so I’ll ask her can I share it with you guys during harvest season. I do urge you, if you are Irish, rekindle a love for colcannon, it’s really a great dish and if you’re not Irish, give it a try, it’s a carby-gloopy-buttery-tangy-kale-slop and it’s glorious.

Now, I’m off to get my sewing machine out, this Curly Kale Cape won’t make itself.

 

 

Fiona Cooks Food: Kale and Apple Soup

Hi All. Since moving house a couple of months ago, I haven’t been blogging at all. New routine, new challenges, new life. I’ve also had to learn how to cook. The horror. Considering that up until now, my idea of cooking consisted of sticking a pizza in the oven (and most likely burning it) this is a huge deal! It’s not that I hate cooking, I just hate stirring and tend to avoid it at all costs. This is a pretty disgraceful with me being a gardener with a huge amount of fresh ingredients to hand and so I have decided to begin cooking the food from my plot and writing about it. Warning, this may lead to a plethora of posts about charred veggies and my kitchen on fire. Watch this space.

Right now, the plot is in off season. The weather is bad, winter is ravaging my crops and a bad storm this week all but decimated what was left of my vegetables. I do, however, have a lot of Kale. Kale is one of my favourite vegetables so I’ve decided to try out a few new recipes as it’s in season, healthy, tasty and easy to cook.

Nothing says winter food like soup, and I currently have enough onions to feed an entire soup kitchen, so today I made a very simple and tasty kale and apple soup with walnuts.

I used two different varieties of Kale, both grown on my plot. I didn’t burn down the kitchen, though I did slightly over-toast my walnuts and there are bits of kale everywhere, but it turned out to be delicious and very filling.

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Ingredients:

175g Kale (duh)                                           450ml of Vegetable Stock

2 Apples (I used red apples)                   2 tbsp of cider vinegar

1 large red onion                                        Chopped walnuts

2 Carrots                                                       Créme Fraiche

 

Method:

Stab wildly at onion with carving knife while bawling your eyes out (pro tip: this is a very good time to have a cry about your ex, your bank balance or your dead dog as nobody will be any the wiser and will blame onion).

Peel carrots and roughly grate. This will be your gym time for the week. Ensure you do not grate finger.

Core apples and chop. Maybe use a third apple for inevitable casual munching.

Throw onions, apples and carrot into a large pot that seems large but when you’re adding the kale later, will seem like the smallest pot in the western world.

Add 450ml of veggie stock and 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar. Warning: do NOT take a casual swig of cider vinegar to “see what it’s like”.

Bring to the boil while undertaking the most tedious task of all time, stirring. (anybody who’d like to buy me a robostir for Christmas, I would very much appreciate it). Once boiled, lower heat – do not accidentally turn off heat on your impossible to work gas cooker – and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

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While this is simmering, gently toast some chopped walnuts on a pan. Gently. Black walnuts are not great. I tried. Not great at all. Remove from heat (this part is pretty essential).

Chop Kale. And by chop I mean rip apart with bare hands into small bunches and squeeze into the deceptively small pot. Do this a small piece of kale at a time, do not throw a load in and wildly have to stab down into soup with a wooden spoon. Allow this to cook for a further 3-5 minutes.

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Remove from heat without burning your new tea towel on the open flame of gas cooker and pour into a blender. Ensure the lid is on tight, kale is very difficult to remove from a ceiling. Blend soup and pour into bowl.

Add a dollop of créme fraiche and your toasted walnuts and serve. To yourself, because you’re all alone. Sob.

I had some toasted ciabatta with goats cheese with my soup. It was very tasty and wasn’t at all ruined by my tears.

Sit back, be amazed at your kitchen prowess and enjoy this very tasty and filling soup.

 

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