the vegetable garden in January

leeks growing in the garden
 
Leeks are the mainstay of our winter garden, standing upright in their serried rows like an army assembled in the vegetable bed with their spears pointed upwards. They’re easier to dig out in cold weather than parsnips that often have to be prized out with half the garden clinging to them and easier to find than the Jerusalem artichokes that are marked only by a stub of stalk. In fact they are virtually all that’s left in the garden now apart from a few artichokes and half a dozen carrots that we seem to be sharing with slugs.
 
leek dibber, spade and fork
 
The leeks are Bill’s department. For some reason I am responsible for beans and tomatoes, Bill for the leeks and potatoes while the rest of the vegetables are sown by whoever happens to be in the garden at the right time. The tiny leek seeds – always Musselburgh because they taste good and there are hundreds of seeds in a packet  – are sown outside in the summer. When they reach pencil thickness the plants are transplanted into the growing bed using Bill’s patent scaffold pole dibber to make a hole about fifteen centimetres deep into which the plant is dropped. Each hole is then filled with water, which washes the soil down around the roots and of course gives them some moisture. The plants gradually thicken to fill the holes, giving a good long blanched tender stem below ground with the dark green leaves above.
 
leeks
 
Even in miserable weather like we had this morning when it tried to snow but soon gave way to sleety rain, it’s little effort to dig a few leeks and slice off the roots and leafy tops and bring them inside to wash. And then give another wash just to make sure all the gritty bits of dirt are well and truly sluiced away.
Today, the leeks were used for Leek and Potato soup, which is just the thing to eat on a cold damp day. Did you know that if you melt your butter, add your carefully diced leeks, onions and potatoes, put them to sweat on the hob and then go off for half an hour to do something else, completely forgetting them, that they will catch on the bottom of the pan? When the stock and milk is added, the brown bits can be scraped up but the resulting soup is a sludgy beige colour instead of a delicate pale green. The taste is a cross between Leek and Potato soup and Brown Onion Soup – sort of Cream of Brown Allium Soup. Not unpleasant but not necessarily a soup to repeat.