Introducing The New Urban Farmer
Fourteen months ago, I never would have dreamed that now I’d be considering rescuing banana skins from the pavement to put in my compost, shouting obscenities at slugs, reading seed catalogues in bed, and daydreaming about horsepoo. But since my husband Dan and I were granted our allotment in Tottenham, North London, in November 2005 after a 3-year wait, our lives have been blessed with lovely muck, dirty fingernails and an endless cornucopia of gorgeous homegrown veg. Even now, at the tail end of winter, we’re still feasting on leeks, curly kale, rocket and broccoli.
The relatively large plot (10 x 25 metres) is 3 minutes walk from home. It sits opposite a church and a mosque, and the police station is within spitting distance. Contemplative weeding sessions are occasionally interrupted by a convoy of police vans screaming off to the latest incident, but mostly it’s a fertile oasis of tranquility. Locals from the multi-ethnic community frequently poke their noses through the fence railings for a chat. Several cats drop by for a stroking from time to time, and our fellow allotmenteers are a friendly bunch - a retired Jamaican who’s a mine of knowledge, a young Swedish herb and fruit specialist, and four others. We all exchange seeds, baby plants, surplus produce and advice. Each plot-holder has a shed, and ours has become our second home, comfortably decked out with chairs, a radio and lanterns - the perfect spot for a thermos of tea when it rains.
As a professional cook and food writer, I knew one day I’d probably make a decent gardener, and there’s nothing like committing to an allotment to start to the long road to green-fingerhood. But a year and a bit on, I’m still quite the novice. Short winter days mean we only get the forks out at weekends, and now it’s time to start pulling up and cooking what remains of last year’s planting, and work some goodness into the soil, ready for our first crop rotation. Seeds are at the ready and potatoes are chitting away. I’ll update you regularly from our urban paradise, and from the kitchen.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Store your leeks at home in a jug of water like a bouquet - they’ll keep longer.
Lavish Leeks in Saffron and Orange Sauce
Slice about a pound (450g) of leeks quite thinly. Sauté gently in a generous knob of melted butter (60 g / 2 oz.) until soft and just beginning to colour. Sprinkle in a tablespoon of plain flour and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring. Gradually add 200 ml / 7 fl. oz. freshly squeezed orange juice with a pinch of saffron filaments. Season well with salt and pepper. Stir while the sauce thickens. Best served right away.
(Originally published by The Times online)