When I’m in the kitchen at home, I’ll usually have the radio on. Last week was a good listening week with A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson featured as the book of the week on Radio 4 (it’s available on iplayer if you missed it and want to catch up). I’ve been wanting to read this book, but haven’t got around to buying a copy yet, so I tuned in each morning to listen to the excerpts. Dave Goulson is a bumblebee expert, and has written a book that mixes stories about his life with loads of information about bee biology. There was lots of interesting facts for a bee nerd like me, and two of them are already being put into action in the garden…
Firstly, I found out that borage is a great bee plant, not just because it produces lots of nectar, but because it produces that nectar quickly. This means that a borage flower that’s been visited by a bee will have more nectar available for another visitor after just a couple of minutes. Oh, and another interesting bee fact is that a bumblebee can tell how recently a flower has been visited from a scent left by the feet of other bumblebees. I already had some borage seedlings growing, but have now planted more seed to ensure plenty of borage nectar all through the summer. Borage is really easy to grow, and it’s not too late for this year if you want to plant one of the best bee flowers around. I’m taking inspiration from this photo that I took in the Botanics in Edinburgh last summer, and will be planting it with cornflowers and calendula.
The only thing I haven’t managed to come up with for borage is many edible uses for the plant – anyone have any suggestions beyond freezing the flowers into ice cubes?
The second thing I’m going to grow plenty of this year is beans. According to A Sting in the Tale, the pollen of all legumes is particularly rich in protein – so peas, lupins and clover are all good too. And these plants aren’t just good for bees, they have nodules on their roots which are home to nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Leaving the roots of bean and pea plants in the soil after harvesting them, increases the nitrogen content and leaves the plot in good condition for a nice leafy crop of brassicas to follow.
Now, you’ll have to excuse the recipe I’m adding to this post – it’s completely unrelated to either borage or beans… and is a bit of a cheat because it’s a combination of two recipes that I posted before. But this is a loaf we’ve been enjoying over the weekend, and you might like it. I’ve been making lots of the spring leaf pesto that I posted a couple of weeks ago – it’s been really popular with the children, and we’ve had it stirred through pasta, with Greek yoghurt as a dip, and as a pizza topping. Last week I had some spare pizza dough, and was in experimental mood, so the dough was rolled out and spread with pesto, then shaped into a loaf and baked. The resulting bread was soft, chewy and full of flavour, great with a salad or served with olives as a starter when we had some friends visit.
Having admitted that this has been cobbled together from two previous recipes, I’m not sure if it qualifies for entry in this Ren’s Simple and in Season blog challenge for May. But seasonal it is, with a collection of leaves picked fresh from the garden used to make the pesto… so maybe I can enter it after all.
(based on the recipe for pizza dough from Polpo)
250g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1tsp dried yeast
1 tbsp olive oil, plus a little more to grease the baking sheet
about 150ml warm water
a few spoonfuls of homemade spring leaf pesto
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the yeast and olive oil, together with enough water to bring everything together to make a soft dough.
Tip the dough onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic. Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with some cling wrap or a clean, damp tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until the dough is almost doubled in size.
Place the risen dough on a floured board and shape into a rectangle. Roll this out until it is reasonably thin, but not so thin that you’re getting holes in the dough. Leave the rolled out dough to rest for about 10 minutes.
Spread the dough with pesto to cover the whole rectangle except for a narrow border around the edges. Roll the dough up and tuck the ends under to form a loaf. Place the loaf on an oiled baking sheet and leave to rise for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190oC, 375F, gas 5. When the dough is risen to almost double in size, bake for about 25 minutes – it will sound hollow when tapped underneath if it is done. Cool on a wire rack.
Andrea Mynard said:
I let borage self-seed all around the garden too, so good to hear how attractive it is to bees. Afraid I haven’t been much more adventurous so far than using the flowers in ice cubes and to decorate cakes. I read recently though that it has strong anti-ageing qualities – do you think this still works if in an ice cube in a G & T?!
Definitely worth a try!
Lisa the Gourmet Wog said:
Delicious! I especially love the shot of the lady beetle
Thanks for the Dave Goulson link – this sounds right up my street as I think I’m turning into a bumblebee nerd too!
The bread looks lovely too and I think any meals made from left overs are terrific. I hate waste and it looks so fresh and more-ish.
There’s lots of info on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s website too, if you’re looking to feed an emerging bumblebee obsession!
What a great way of using up your spring leaf pesto, a lovely full flavoured loaf. I like all your facts about borage, which I think I have in my garden although i too could do with some ideas as to how to cook with the flowers. I guess they may be ok in salads?
I’ve just found this blog with loads of ideas for using borage leaves – http://honest-food.net/2009/08/06/the-courage-to-cook-with-borage/
I listened to a Sting in the tale, it was fascinating, I’ve been bee spotting in the orchard all week!
We were seeing quite a few bees last week, but the windy weather seems to have them all hiding away again now.
That bread sounds nice. I have bought some Borago laxiflora – a winter hardy borage. Still have to sow the annual variety. A leaf or two is nice chopped in potato salad made with mayonnaise or oil and vinegar. I love using the flowers as decoration too.
I haven’t seen the winter hardy borage – but it sounds like something I need to look into. Thanks for the potato salad idea, I’ll try it once the plants are big enough to start taking some leaves.
I love borage in the garden it seeds itself beautifully – did you know that you can eat the leaves.
I’ve just discovered that the leaves are edible – taste of cucumber I’m told. But aren’t they quite hairy?
Tossed some borage seeds into a ‘problem’ site just last week. None of it finds its way into the kitchen, but I love having them around for the bees. Planted with bronze fennel, it’s a striking combination.
The bronze fennel and borage combination sounds good – I have plenty of fennel in the garden, so I’ll be pinching your idea to try here!
Jacqueline @How to be a Gourmand said:
Thanks for the tip about the Radio programme. I love listening when I’m experimenting in the kitchen so I’ll see if it’s still available on iplayer. What a good way of using up the spring leaf pesto. Beautiful photos.
There’s nothing like a good radio programme to help the cooking along – especially those 10 minutes of kneading dough!
Food and Forage Hebrides said:
I need to try and catch Dave’s programme- I’m a confirmed bee nerd but don’t get enough time to do as many surveys as I would like. I leave my borage for the bees, sadly still vile weather here, so yet to see many bumblebees this spring (v. few honeybees here). Thanks.
There aren’t many bumblebees here either, even the solitary bees seem to have retreated somewhere warmer. When you say ‘Dave’s programme’, does this mean you’re on first name terms?
Food and Forage Hebrides said:
Not that he knows it 🙂 I’ve met him once, but some of his PhD students have worked on bumblebees here and I helped them find sites/info. He is also associated with BBCT which I have worked with out here on surveys (great yellow bumblebee). He has written some fine papers on bumblebee ecology/population dynamics. My PhD was about wasps and the world of Hymenoptera is a small one!
You mix with some interesting people. I’ve been reading some of Dave Goulson’s papers to feed my bee nerd habit!
Food and Forage Hebrides said:
Good for you! Must admit I am falling behind on bees and wasps – my work world is entirely marine now…
Food and Forage Hebrides said:
A bit, but more on birds, and most work on policy development and advice for offshore renewables – wave, tidal and wind. Challenging work, but that’s why it’s interesting. I find marine inverts fascinating though!
dedy oktavianus pardede said:
Damn i love pesto with pasta..
never try with bread before…
tempting to try..
btw, dis u use macro lenses on the bee pic ???
The lens is a zoom with a macro setting. It was originally used on an ‘old fashioned’ film camera, but now I use it on my digital camera and it seems to work well.
Your pesto bread may not be related to beans and borage but it sure looks delicious.
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