Archive for October, 2012

October 25, 2012

Swiss Chard Tart Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Cutting the Swiss Chard Tart

Swiss Chard is a leafy vegetable which is much under used and a lesser known alternative to spinach. Whereas spinach had a cartoon sailor hero to promote its muscle growing benefits, Swiss Chard or Leaf Beet as it is also known has never been endorsed by a Popeye.

Chard is rarely sold in supermarkets as a vegetable but is easy to grow, tasty and can be attractive to look at too. We grew a mix called Swiss Chard ‘Rainbow Mix’ which has plants of various coloured stems, pink, red, white and yellow, and even plants with sealing wax red stems and dark leaves.

Swiss Chard growing in the garden

Like when sowing lettuce, I often despite my best preaching to others I grow too much, ending up with a glut. Luckily we found some recipes that we adapted to use large quantities to produce something really special; Swiss Chard Tart. A delicious combination of sweet and savory ingredients which includes dried fruit, port and parmesan cheese. Is it a dessert or a savoury dish, it is both, I think. It is a tart that defies classification, we simply call it DELISH!

Swiss Chard Tart with garnish of young leaves

Swiss Chard Tart Recipe


  • One Portion of my oat spelt pastry (see below)
  • 3-4 cups of Swiss Chard stems
  • 5-6 cups of Swiss Chard stems cut into 2.5cm lengths
  • 1/3 cup of golden raisins
  • Sherry for cooking raisins
  • 1/3 cup of sunflower seeds, dry toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 30g Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
  • 1/2 cup of light brown sugar
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 1/2 large cooking apple, peeled and thinly sliced

Pastry Recipe

  • 1 cup of Organic oatflakes
  • 1 cup of whole grain spelt flour
  • 4 rounded dessert spoons of dark Muscavado sugar
  • 90g butter
  • cold water

Pastry Method

  1. Place oat flaked in food processor and process into a coarse flour
  2. add the spelt flower and mix
  3. add sugar and mix well
  4. slowly add the butter while mixing in the food processor
  5. when butter has mixed in add a little water to make a moist pastry that is not sticky.
  6. wrap in baking paper and place in fridge for an hour.

Chopping the chard stems – a colourful mix

Tart Method

  1. Heat oven to 180 degrees Celcius
  2. Wash the chard leaves and remove the leaves from the stalks.
  3. Steam the leaves for about 10 minutes and than place in cold water to preserve the colour, squeeze firmly to remove excess water and set aside.
  4. Fry the chooped chard stalks in a tbsp of rapeseed oil until soft. (Add some water and cover the pan with a lid if they start to stick).
  5. Dry toast sunflower seeds on a frying pan.
  6. Meanwhile put raisins in a saucpan and cover with sherry, bring them to the boil and then simmer until the sherry is absorbed by the fruit.
  7. Chop up the chard leaves finely and add roughly chopped raisins and sunflower seeds. Stir together and add in the cinnamon, finely grated parmesan cheese and sugar. Mix well.
  8. Add in lightly whisked eggs and stir again to mix the ingredients.
  9. Roll out a little over half the pastry and transfer it into a tart tin (9inch -23cm diameter)
  10. Place chard stems into base and then add the mixture of leaves, finally cover with thinly sliced apple.
  11. Roll out the rest of the pastry and place on top of tart, prick the surface a few times with a fork or knife.
  12. Place in the heated oven and cook for about 40 minutes.
  13. After removing from the oven allow the tart to cool before serving.

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October 22, 2012

Blackberry Ketchup Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Blackberries are coming to the end for this year, but you might still be able to pick a kilo for this delicious recipe, Blackberry Ketchup. It is delicious with all sorts of savoury foods, use it instead or tomato ketchup. I love it with organic pork sausages that I buy at the market. It is easy to make too…

Backberry ketchup ingredients


  • 1 Kg of Blackberries
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp of dried chillies
  • 1 tbsp of yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp of cumin seeds
  • 200ml vinegar
  • 250g of light brown sugar


  1. Put blackberries in a large saucepan with about 200 ml of water and start to cook.
  2. Press the garlic cloves into the berries and add all the other ingredients
  3. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking for about 25 minutes until the fruit is soft.
  4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little
  5. Blend with the hand blender.
  6. Press through a sieve to remove seeds
  7. Bottle in sterilized jars.

When the ketchup has thickened it is ready to be sieved

October 20, 2012


by Ciaran Burke

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Every month I visit the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin with a group of people on The Garden School home study course. This time there was lots of autumnal tints to admire, some berries and flowers too. I was saddened to see that the great specimen of copper beech had eventually succumbed to old age, instead of its towering majestic presence there were huge slices of wood lying on the ground. Even great trees such as this must pass, and when a big one like this goes, it makes space for others to grow…

October 20, 2012

Testing Soil for pH…its easy!

by Ciaran Burke

Cabbage like most members of the Brassicaceae prefer high pH which also reduces problems associated with clubroot disease

pH. Two letters, one small, one big, not even a proper word. Yet, it is a term every gardener should be familiar with. Whether you grow vegetables, fruit or ornamentals, knowing the pH allows you to select the right plants for your garden and to maintain soil fertility at the optimum for better crops. pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of substances. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14. O is very acid, 7 is neutral and 14 is very alkaline.

Why is pH important to gardeners? Two things, first certain plants prefer acidic soil conditions; including Rhododendrons, Camellia blueberry bushes and most heathers. Secondly, pH has a great influence on the availability of soil nutrients, certain nutrients become unavailable at a low pH- magnesium and calcium, while iron and manganese are restricted when the pH is high. All nutrients are effected by pH and the widest availability of nutrients is at a pH of 6.5. For most vegetables a pH of 6.5 is ideal. So here is how to test your soil, its easy, you don’t need a white coat or a laboratory!

pH Testing kit, soil sample and sieve

What you will need is a soil testing kit for pH, a sieve and of course a soil sample. In larger gardens you can take a number of samples, but for smaller areas, it is often sufficient to take one from the front garden and one from the back. Take the soil sample from about 10-15 cm deep from soil that has not been modified with additions of peat, ideally it should be dry.

pH soil testing kit includes, barium sulphate, test tube, ph Indicator solution and indicator chart

This pH test kit does up to 30 tests, it contains a test tube with measurement markings, a bottle of pH test solution and barium sulphate, which is used to settle soil in the test tube, and a little spoon. Available from garden centers.

Soil pH test step by step

Step 1: Sieve your soil sample to remove stones and any debris such as twigs and roots of plants.

Step 2: Place a sample of soil into the empty test tube, up to the 1st line.

Step 3:Using the supplied measuring spoon place one spoonful of barium sulphate on top of the soil sample in the test tube. Barium sulphate is inert and helps to settle clay particles in the solution so that it does not become too cloudy .

Step 4. Add the pH indicator solution into the test tube filling to the third mark. Place the cap on top and then give the tube a good shake so that the contents are well mixed. Then leave to settle, this will take a few minutes. If the soil is has a high clay content, it may remain too cloudy. If this is the case, add another measure of barium sulphate and repeat this step.

Step 5:When the mixture has settle and the liquid clarifies you can compare the solution against the chart. Do this in good light conditions and hold the test tube about 1cm away from the white area of the chart.


Picture 6: a  neutral pH reaction

Most Vegetable crops prefer neutral or slighly alkaline soils

Picture 7: an acid soil reacti0n

This soil will be suitable for plants referred to as lime hating or ericaceous plants. Rhododendrons, will thrive here. Many hydrangeas change their flower colour because of pH, turning blue in acid soils and pink in alkaline soils. This area would be not ideal for vegetables, but the good news if you have acid soil in your vegetable patch is that you can raise the pH using calcium carbonate also known as garden lime.

Peat extracted from bogs is very acidic. Bogs are nutrient poor soils.

Camellia species and Rhododendron sinogrande will both thrive in acidic soil.

Rhododenrdron rigidum- like most members of the heather family, Ericaceae, Rhododendrons require acidic soil

Raising the soil pH

If you get an acidic soil reaction and you intend growing vegetables then the addition of garden lime is required. Garden lime is available from garden centres. The amount of lime added will depend on the degree of acidity, follow the manufaturers instructions so as to avoid applying too much. The chemical reaction which results in an increase in pH will take time, that is why it is a good reason to do it now in the autumn. If you apply ime now. Take another pH test in early February to check that there has been a sufficient rise on pH levels, if more lime is needed make a second application.

Lowering soil pH

Magnolia kobus- many magnolia species will happily grow in alkaline soils

If you have an alkaline soil it is good. Certain plants such as Rhododendrons will not grow, so my advice is grow other plants instead. There is a huge variety of plants that will grow happily in alkaline soils. In theory soils which are alkaline can be made acid with the application of sulphur, but this is an expensive treatment and care must be taken so as not to produce soil toxicity which can result from over application of sulphur. If you really want a Rhododedron or Camellia and you have lime soil, then the best option is to grow some specimens in containers filled with a suitable compost.

Testing your soil for pHis very easy to do, this little bit of information about our soil makes a huge difference when selecting plants and planning our garden. If you don’t already know, test your soil. Next time you visit a garden centre you are armed with the important information and it will make selecting plants easier. When the assistant asks if you know what soil type you have you can confidently reply, they will be impressed!

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October 20, 2012

I would like to thank…

by Ciaran Burke

I received an unexpected presentation last night, a “Certificate of Achievement” from a friend. I think it is the best certificate I have ever received. Thanks Diana!

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