Saturday, 8 March 2008

Rhubarb, the first tarragon and cleaning out the pond



The crowns of rhubarb are erupting with new, crinkled leaves, looking like some kind of alien life form, mysterious and rather sinister in close-up! But I am looking forward to eating the young, pink stems when we take up the old, terracotta rhubarb forcer. Rhubarb is delicious flavoured with sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata, which is luckily in leaf at the same time. Its aniseed flavour helps to naturally sweeten sharp fruits (rhubarb is technically a vegetable) and means you don't have to add so much sugar.

We have just eaten the first tarragon of the season! Wonderful. The plant is grown in the greenhouse soil under a gravel mulch and is now some six inches high and full of flavour. We had it with chicken - the sauce made of creme fraiche, vermouth, a little mustard, garlic and finely chopped onion. Of course, I'm talking French tarragon here - the inferior Russian tarragon, though hardy, is really not worth cooking with. It is coarse and lacking in flavour and, spreading like mint, is a bit of a pest.

Yesterday I cleaned out the pond in the greenhouse, a rather smelly job! It is there to provide a haven for the frogs, our natural predators that patrol the plants for sale - a splash pool that they take advantage of in particular in summer when their heads are just visible above the surface. Using a bucket, I scooped out all the water and murk, running it through a sieve so I could rescue all the newts, frogs, snails and dragonfly larvae. Whilst these waited in another bucket, I washed all the gravel and empty water snail shells from the bottom by running a hosepipe into the sieve to clean it all. Then the pond weed was washed and I could refill the little pond - the water at the garden comes from a spring so there was no problem in using it. Lastly, I could release all the wildlife back into the pond and today the newts are lazily swimming about in their nice clean pond.

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