Last week two ladies came to the shop.
"We know of you by reputation, but I was expecting someone a lot older perhaps with a bun and a long skirt" said one of them.
I apologised for not having lived up to the image in their heads, I apologised for not being an elderly lady. They left saying how lovely the shop was, how charming my flowers, how odd it was that there was an actual dog in the window, but they also left a little disappointed in the actual real life Miss Pickering.
It is a strange thing when we know of people either through social media, films or books. When your favourite novel is turned into a film and the lead is not at all how you had envisaged them. Working on the allotment has opened up the opportunity to listen to podcasts, time is told by how many episodes of Private Passions have been listened to. I thought it might also be a good opportunity to listen to audio books, dead heading to Tolstoy, hoeing to Hardy.
Being read to is a very intimate thing, and audiobooks are not. I was left disappointed by the narrators, irritated, disappointed. Sadly i have yet to find any read by Rylance, Rickman or Horden. Not a local firm of solicitors, but Mark, Alan and Sir Michael. All three at my fantasy dinner party for their utterly beguiling voices.
and this is supposed to be about dahlias and rainbow chard. Of all the flowers I have grown the dahlias have been my pride and joy. Prolific flowerers, showy, a little too showy sometimes, all the shyness and reserve of a reality television star desperate to make their 5 minutes of fame count. They just keep coming.
and the chard. I didn't intend to grow many vegetables, the rainbow chard was grown for the stem. The rich tones very useful for foliage, for lining vases, and eating. Once the chard went in, it was followed by beetroot, lettuce, spinach, celeriac, squash, the marriage of food and flowers firmly cemented.
Chard has a wonderful earthy, slightly bitter flavour that is greatly enhanced by smothering it in cream and breadcrumbs. You have to treat the leaves and the stalk as two separate entities. Chop the stems into inch long pieces, sauté in a pan for 5 minutes, then add the chopped leaves and cook until they just wilted. Tip all of this into a shallow baking dish, add some chopped garlic, salt, black pepper and a good grating of nutmeg. You could also add mustard powder. Pour over cream, i used soya here but single cream or if feeling gluttonous, double would work too. It needs to just cover most of the chard. Sprinkle two large handfuls of breadcrumbs, some parmesan or nutritional yeast, a shake of olive oil and bake in the oven for half an hour or so at 190.
Serve with roast tomato, the sweetness and acidity cutting through the cream. Leftovers can be swirled through hot pasta with a little of the cooking water, or served on toast. You can also use this recipe but substitute the chard for any other leafy green vegetable.
It is warm and comforting, a little old fashioned.