Starting a vegetable garden is in many ways like having your first child; so much attention is paid to the pregnancy and birth that once that bit is out of the way you suddenly realise you have something you have to look after, tend and pay attention to for a very long time.
It might seem a bit early to post about produce gluts but as I’m preparing my planting for this year, I was reminded about last year’s harvest. When dreaming up my plot I paid careful attention to the construction of raised beds, the conditioning of the soil, the placement of the compost bin and how I might plant the rows of salad to create a stunning ornamental effect. What I completely omitted to take into account was how everything might mature at once. Perhaps a more practical use for my imagination would have been coming up with more ideas for dealing with twenty-seven courgettes and bags of Moneymaker tomatoes. At the end of the season I was left with a lot of squash of various sizes (including several monster marrows that I had let grow just because I wanted to see how big they would get), an insane amount of little tomatoes (more of which were green than red), a lot of chillies and some root veg that looked like they should be put behind a curtain at a Barnum freakshow and 20 cents admission charged to gaze on their misshapen and unfortunate forms.
Pumpkins were gutted and scraped and the flesh cubed and stuffed into freezer bags. The air was sucked out and the tightened packs jammed into the freezer but this still left an unholy amount of produce threatening to hang about in the kitchen or shed until they bloomed mould and sank into a puddle of gag-inducing unpleasantness.
As pretty much anything can be turned into a preserve, I decided to see what I could do with the glut before it all went off. One of the nicest things about making pickles and chutneys is that as long as you stick to the general principles and get the jarring up bit right, there is a lot of scope for creativity and experiment and my favourite recipe was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Glutney’ from his book The River Cottage Year, which is forgiving enough to allow a lot of improvisation.
The tastiest combination I found used an even amount of squash, pumpkin, tomatoes and apples. That seemed to create a nice balance and the flavour was rich and subtle. I made so much, I gave out quite a lot as gifts too, and everyone commented on the depth of flavour.