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.