episode 6 | show notes & advice
A key player in a colour-packed garden, and a true love of Sarah’s and Arthur’s, is the beautiful dahlia. With the low level of maintenance of a perennial and the growth of cut-and-come-again flowers, it’s no wonder there’s barely a patch at Perch Hill that isn’t decorated with a ‘stained glass carpet’ of dahlias.
For your kitchen table this week, ‘grow, cook, eat, arrange’ focuses on rhubarb; a vegetable Arthur would consider right at home in a Beatrix Potter novel. Sarah shares her tasty syllabub recipe, with some advice on growing rhubarb in a forcer for maximum sweetness.
in this episode, discover...
- Using forcers to grow sweeter rhubarb for cooking
- Sarah’s delicious syllabub recipe
- Harvesting rhubarb by candlelight
- Rhubarb’s cultural importance on the west coast of Scotland
- The origins of Sarah and Arthur’s love affair with dahlias
- Bringing dahlias to flourishing growth
- Sarah and Arthur’s ‘Desert Island dahlias’
links and references
dahlias and rhubarb
The key thing with rhubarb, besides its versatility in recipes, is that it provides something delicious to eat in spring, at a time when there is little else in the veg garden.
Our favourite varieties which we grow at Perch Hill
• Early (from March) = Timperley Early
• Mid-season (from April) = Stockbridge Arrow
• Late (from May) = Victoria
- It’s fine in dappled shade
- Incredibly persistent and easy plant which can survive for centuries in a garden.
- You can force it under a terracotta forcer, or even an upturned dustbin. Pile some heat-giving manure around the crown. The exclusion of light gives a sweeter, more tender stem.
- Rhubarb are super hungry and thirsty.
- Mulch with plenty of manure every autumn.
- Easy to propagate from outer sections of a clump after a couple of years. Lift, divide and replant with lots of organic matter added to the new planting position.
- Wait for at least a year after planting before you start to harvest, to give them time to develop a good root system.
- Always pull, not cut, and then it’s cut-and-come-again. Just give it a firm tug near the base of the plant.
There are too many things for us to say about dahlias, but here is my recipe for the dahlia lasagne and practical advice for how we bring the tubers into growth now, in March/April.
- All good for butterflies and bees
- ‘Bishop of Auckland’ – single crimson with dark foliage
- ‘Blue Bayou’ purple-lilac
- ‘Totally Tangerine’, terracotta colour, brilliant for pots as not too big
- ‘Totally Tangerine’ (as above)
- ‘Rip City’ – huge, curvy, dark crimson, fully-double (and ‘Ripples’ its purple brother)
- ‘Café-au-lait’ – very fashionable and incredible ivory colour
- ‘Lou Farman’, ‘Sarah Raven’, ‘Molly Raven’ and ‘Schipper’s Bronze’ – all bred by us and incredibly beautiful and unusual.
Bringing Dahlias into growth now, in March or April
Just like potatoes, dahlias are tubers which originate from warmer climes. To get them cropping faster, with our cooler temperatures, it’s worth forcing them into growth a little early by planting them into pots indoors, in late March or early April if you can.
Planting Dahlia tubers inside
Plant into a 3 litre pot. A 2 litre size is often too small for bigger tubers and you don’t want to squeeze them in and damage the root. A big pot also allows the tubers to grow happily until the frosts are finished, at which point they can be planted in the garden.
Plant each tuber in peat-free, multi-purpose potting compost, just under the compost surface, not buried deeply.
Plant them growing point or remains of last year’s stems pointing up and the tubers (which remind me of a bunch of sausages) hanging below. Water well.
Place on a heated propagator, sunny windowsill or frost-free greenhouse, until they start to shoot (which may not be until the end of April).
Water very sparsely every few days, only when the compost is completely dry. Once you see shoots appearing from the top and roots visible in the holes at the bottom of the pot, plant out into the garden, but only if the chance of frost has passed (end of May in most of Britain)
One of my favourite spring puddings. It’s quick and easy to make, as well as being light, frothy and delicious.
• Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
• 100g caster sugar
• 6 stems of young pink rhubarb (about 500g)
• 2 cardamom pods
• 2 star anise
For the syllabub:
• 284ml double cream
• Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
• 3–4 tablespoons Grand Marnier, dry sherry or white wine
• 100g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5.
Warm the orange juice in a pan and dissolve the sugar in it.
Cut the rhubarb into sections the length of your thumb and cook in the orange juice with the zest, cardamom and star anise for 8-10 minutes. Then cool the fruit. To make it super-easy to eat with a teaspoon, you may want to blitz it for an instant to get a smooth puree.
To make a syrupy juice, lift out the rhubarb pieces and boil up the juice until it thickens.
To make the syllabub, put the cream, lemon zest and juice, alcohol and sugar into a bowl and beat for several minutes, until the mixture becomes thick and light.
Remove the cardamom pods and star anise from the rhubarb.
Put the rhubarb into individual glasses, spoon the syllabub mixture over the top and chill for a couple of hours.