It's been a tough old summer for gardeners. For those in drought affected areas it's been difficult enough not having water to refresh the garden, but even harder to watch what will grow run to seed before maturing, a common event when plants become stressed. Whatever the cause of vegetables "bolting", be it overcrowding, under-feeding, dramatic ups and downs in temperature, or dryness, you can't help but feel down when you think of all that cultivation, soil-enriching, and hard-gathered mulch going to waste, not to mention the cost of seed.
In my garden this summer, it's my precious leeks that have decided to reach for the sky instead of fattening up. I blame the dryness. Even though I did have access to water pumped from a nearby stream, the sprinkler just didn't deliver moisture in the same way that rain does with the result that I now have two hundred leek plants going to seed. But I haven't time for despair and that's because, as with all thrifty gardeners, I'm determined to salvage what I can from an otherwise disasterous situation.
All week, I've been digging up the bolting leeks, splitting them down the center with a sharp knife to remove the hard, central core, and then dicing and slicing the outer leaves. The result is a string of delicious out-of-season leek-based dinners from leek-and-potato soup to leek quiche and Romanian leek pastries – yum! And although I'm not one to preserve and freeze, preferring to eat seasonally, this emergency situation has seen me rendering down saucepans of leek into sweet parcels that will pack away in the freezer ready for winter use (it will be a treat in August not to have to wade through the mud in gumboots to dig for leeks in the garden).
The leek-recovery process is not the first time I've employed such salvage methods in the garden. I once pureed washing baskets of bolting spinach, stalks and all, into creamy risotto and soup bases. Bolting onions became the basis of delicious soup stock, and the outer leaves of Chinese cabbages that were running to seed were every bit as delicious as the hearts would have been when shredded into salads and stir-fries.
Of course, processing a bulk of seeding vegetables does leave you with a spare garden bed that you would otherwise not have had – and that's a bonus. Will I leave my empty leek bed fallow for the winter, or sow it out in a frost-proof crop such as broad beans or mizuna? Watch this space!