7 July 2016

A nourishing winter garden soup

I've got a bit of a 'not buying' theme happening at the moment, but there are certain things it's very difficult to avoid buying, like food.

A productive garden means buying less food. It saves money, but requires you to spend time on it. Some things, though, take almost no time or effort, and butternuts are in that category.

Our frosted winter garden a few days ago.

Almost-free butternuts

One seed + a fertile patch of soil + a little of water = 10 or so butternuts.

Note that these butternuts will not, like commercial crops, be grown in depleted soils and have artificial chemicals added. Nope, they will be organic and bursting with the goodness of what the plant has extracted from your soil.

How to grow butternuts

In early September, poke seeds into a bit of compost in a pot with drainage holes. Keep it moist but not soaking wet. These are big, tough seeds that germinate very reliably (as in, like weeds), especially if kept reasonably warm.

About October, transfer the baby plants (or even just the finest-looking one) into a fertile spot, preferably next to a compost bin or pile, or where one has been so the soil is very rich. The growth of your plant depends entirely on this richness. If the spot isn't perfect, you will still get fruit, but they probably won't be numerous or have dark orange flesh.

Ideally, also plant it next to something it can climb on, like a fence. This means it will take up little ground space. It probably won't climb the fence by itself, so when you see a long branch spread out across the ground, take it up the fence and tie it there with something like old pantyhose or a T shirt cut into strips.

These things grow vigorously, so if you want to grow them exclusively over the fence you need to be vigilant about tying them up before the branches get away from you.

Water it when you think of it. An existing compost bin will provide it with a lot of the moisture it needs.

It's wonderful to see the flowers, then fruit, appear and develop.

In autumn, when the plant is starting to die off, cut off the fruit, leaving a good thumb-length of stem. Wipe the butternuts clean, dry them off and sit them in the autumn sun in a dry sunny spot for a week or two. This toughens the skins so the butternuts won't rot over winter before you can eat them.

Store them somewhere cool and dry. The danger here is them rotting where they sit on the ground, which I've found is more likely if the ground is concrete. Sit them on some wood or old sacks, perhaps.

The remainder of our haul in storage.

Turning them into nourishing deliciousness

The only way I truly love pumpkin, or butternuts, is in soup, although I'll happily tolerate them as part of a roast dinner with lashings of gravy.

I put much of my good health over winter down to my butternut soups. If I eat them regularly I need to take a lot less of this stuff. Although it's called Zinc Fix, it's got plenty of betacarotene in it (which the body turns to vitamin A as needed), and other zinc supplements don't have its miraculous effect, so possibly the betacarotene is doing some of the good work. Without it (and the soup, which is obviously also rich in betacarotene) my sinuses would be infected for much of winter, which is very debilitating.

The soup

This isn't my recipe, so I won't claim it. It's Nicky's tomato soup from the wonderful Nelson-based Homegrown Kitchen. I strongly recommend it, with the following changes:

- roast the root vegetables first (even the onion if you can) in oil, for more depth of flavour. You can include parsnip, too, and rather more butternut than the recipe calls for. Naturally where it says pumpkin or squash, I use butternut. I don't peel it first - the very thin but sneakily fibrous skin will feed your gut microbes.
- just use plain white vinegar if you don't have apple cider vinegar
- add a splash of milk rather than cream if you don't have cream, or omit altogether
- last time I made it I used lamb stock rather than chicken stock, made by boiling up bones from roast lamb, and included a few fragments of roast lamb meat. It made superlative soup.

It's wonderful with buttered fresh bread, or toast.

Yum. Freeze some in containers for future cold winter days if you can.

Hope you love it as much as I do, and may your winter be a healthy one.

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