There are many things that you can pick in the garden at the moment, and many more to come, but four of my favourites for this time of year are:
The delightful prolific, golden yellow flowers of zucchinis come in male and female forms. Both are picked and used in cooking. Pick male flowers by detaching them with the long skinny stem still attached. While female flowers are picked using a knife, by cutting the small zucchini where it connects to the plant, so that the flower and zucchini are still connected. Remove the green sepals and shake to make sure no insects are hiding inside. Use the flowers by stuffing with ricotta and fresh thyme leaves, then batter lightly and fry. Or just use them fresh in salads, added to scrambled eggs or lightly fried on their own.
The large, thistle-like flower heads can be picked at various stages, but are properly mature once the buds are swollen but the scales still soft and green, about the size of a cricket ball. Harvesting the main bud encourages lateral buds to develop. If the artichokes are picked very young, then there is no need to remove the ‘choke’ at the centre of the flower. The stems, leaf bases and heart (without the choke) are the parts eaten. Best harvested an hour or less before cooking. Boil or steam, and serve with butter and freshly ground black pepper, yum.
Late spring/early summer is the perfect time to grow and harvest succulent basil leaves. And there are so many different types. Why not grow lemon, lime, liquorice, Thai or even green pepper basil. Or lettuce leaf forms of sweet basil with big crinkled leaves. All forms of basil appreciate regular pruning to encourage new growth. To do this just harvest them regularly. Use scissors to tip prune the top 5cm or so of the plant whenever you need it for cooking. Basil will keep in a vase with water for a few days but it is always best used as fresh as possible. Pesto sauce here I come.
Garlic bulbs are ready to dig up once the bulbs have swollen and are made up of clearly defined cloves, but before the skins shows any sign of splitting. The leaves should still be green and growing with 4-6 leaves left, unlike onions which are harvested when the tops have died back. Using a garden fork, dig the whole bulb out of the soil and shake off any excess dirt. Don’t remove the leaves. You can eat the whole plant green, using leaves, stem, (and scapes, umbels and bulbils for hardback types) in any dish that benefits from the sweet, strong garlic flavours. For more complex flavours and long storage, they need to be cured. Hang the plants bunches in of 4-8 in an airy, dry position out of direct sunlight. Leave for 4-8 weeks. The dryer and hotter the conditions the shorter the time needed.
First published: November 2019