“I will help you with your allotment. But you should grow Indian food.”
My mother’s ultimate directive. And my leverage, when the plot needs digging over or the weeds suddenly try to start a revolution.
So the plot is a bit Bollywood.
This isn’t a new phenomenon though. There have been Bollywood gardeners here in Britain since the sixties. My mum-she of the directive-will come to the plot, and tell me the same thing. “Your Nana, he used to water his tomatoes, twice a day!” she would tell me. “We didn’t have an Indian shops back then, so we had to grow our own vegetables.
Oh, you should have seen his garden, the soil was black. Proper black!” As you can imagine, my little plot has a lot to live up to.
In the sixties, the newly arrived didn’t have the same fruit and veg that they were used to, so it made sense for them to transform their back gardens into allotments and grow the crops that they missed from home. Something I am very mindful of having my own allotment plot, especially as my mum helps; and not just with watering my tomatoes.
There is a distinct Bollywood theme on the plot. Mum would have large patches dedicated to mustard greens if I didn’t have a plan. Only a few days ago, she was asking for me to a get a hold of Perpetual spinach seeds. Now, what’s the difference between mustard greens and perpetual spinach, plus how at these remotely Bollywood?
Mum’s a Punjabi, the most famous Punjabi regional dish? Saag. Yes, the same saag paneer that you might find in your local curry house. Mum’s holy grail, is the large leafy mustard greens that only licensed farmers grow. You can get in the Indian grocery shops, and when you do; you are eating saag for days. Pop it into to search engine, sarson ka saag and makhi roti. Proper Bollywood food, and not just on the menu for your local restaurant.
Alas, the closest I get, is Perpetual Spinach, Kale and Chard. All of these make rather nice saag, I assure you, provided that you get there before the slugs and snails. And Onion Bhajis. They all make rather nice, crunchy, onion bhajis. Once you have grown your own saag, it’s very difficult to go back to the shop bought crop.
So from Spinach to Fenugreek. My mum’s other favourite. Traditionally, this a green manure. You can broadcast sow it across patches of earth, it will grow quickly and cover up soil you would rather use later. It’s also edible. Fenugreek-or methi-is a bitter compared to sweet spinach, but can still be curried and even stuffed into chappatis. Mum has that very intention, so when you arrive at the plot, the very first thing you see is lush carpet of green fenugreek taking in the sun. We will probably be harvesting right up to the end of the summer, as it is something of a cut and come again crop. You can always repeat sow, and if you parts of the plot you don’t need to play with it yet, you have a continuing supply. What you don’t eat, you can chop off and dig in.
There are currently potatoes growing on the plot. A recent harvest of Red Duke of York potatoes, led to Mum making Aloo mattar, that’s peas and potatos in a tomato gravy. Last year, that was Aloo Gobi. Honestly, I am not trying to make your mouth water. And if you go out for an Indian meal tonight, that is also not my fault.
Did I mention, the mooli? Mooli. The humble Japanese radish. About fifty centimetres long, these things are the subject of the annual mooli-gate discussion. To grow or not to grow. I don’t even like radishes, of the normal variety. Grated, these go into chappatis, or sliced into a salad. My problem? They get so big, and bolt. The seeds are sown, and then with the traditional British summer, you get bolted mooli plants. The only saving grace, is that the seed pods can be chopped up to create a spicy and crunchy curry with potatoes. I am sure that it is possible to grow mooli successfully; just not my plot. I have yet to get a single solitary worthwhile mooli. I yield to my mum’s advice though, once upon time, there was even radish leaf saag. I did not partake.
There is of course the Indian Kitchen staple of garlic, all very green and leafy right now. But in a couple of weeks, that will hopefully be taken up and stored. The observations from my mum, and assorted Bollywood Aunts is that the home grown stuff, is distinctly different to the supermarket generic garlic. Their firm belief being that it tastes better, fresher and has a rather good food feel to it.
So we have had saag, potatoes, mooli. No Indian meal is without spice, so of course there are chillies. Those chillies that have been blogged about previously are growing slowly and along with the possible tomatoes are destined for mum’s kitchen. There are three or four baby purple haze chillies waiting to ripen.
Whilst the plot has a traditional English feel with the roses and the soft fruit, bet you wouldn’t have thought that Gooseberries could be Bollywood? You know how you get a pickle to go with your poppodums? Well, that’s where the gooseberries are headed should they crop heavily and ripen. There might also be a quintessential gooseberry preserve, maybe some spirit infusion. The ultimate fate for the gooseberries on the plot, is going to be an gooseberry achar, just to be different.
All right, so the plot doesn’t wear sparkly clothes, and dance around to a musical theme tune. No, I don’t either. But it’s still Bollywood, with all the produce going into Mum’s kitchen and become what terms as being Indian Food. The next time you have a glut, may be you can curry your courgettes and runner beans. Perhaps your cucumbers can go into a raita. Those tomatoes that you have rescued from blight, blitz them and put them in your dhansak with your garlic.
Sparkly clothes and musical theme tune?
Well, that’s up to you!
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