My first male guest here on kokblog is Johan Kohnke. Johan is a trained cook and worked for Restaurant Savoy in Malmö for some time. Today Johan has left professional cooking behind him and works with refugees. As Johan still likes to cook he often involves cooking in his job as a way for people from all over the world to get to know each other. Johan and I met years ago through my brother but never really got to know each other until Johan got me some rooks* this summer. The summer had just begun when he showed me his impressive summer project; a 225 square meter vegetable lot.
The Count and the Vegetable Garden
by Johan Kohnke
Divorced, rebooted in life, everything was piss! Desperate! But I found a home through blocket.se (like a Swedish Craigslist), a laborer’s cottage attached to a manor house, a place with history, people and lots of farming. The requirement to move in was that you had to be interested in gardening.
- ”I’m more than interested, my thought was to grow vegetables in the park”.
- ”No, dammit”, my new landlord, the count answered.
The lawn is treated meticulously by the count himself. He cuts the grass several times a week using three different grass-cutters.
- “Come here I’ll show you!”
The count thought it was more appropriate – a 100 meter patch behind the pigsty.
- ”Am I in heaven?”
Against the stable wall hung wires that used to hold up blackberries, pears, peaches, that previously were growing along the entire wall. The former gardener used to grow artichokes and had vegetable beds for melons.
I went there with my shovel intending to hand-dig the assigned plot!
- “Come with me, there is a plough in the barn! “
In the barn stood a Massey Ferguson 135 with a plough attached.
- “But I can’t drive!”
Okay, then I got a short lesson that was faster than you can read this sentence. The soil had been neglected for years, but probably because it was fun to drive a tractor, it took two hours to work the soil!
- “Would you like manure?” asked the count.
- “Well, damn yes!”
Old pig manure that had been left in the stable and newly “burnt” pig manure was driven out to the plot. Up in the tractor again and now it took just an hour for me to plough down the whole thing. The count looked damn pleased with the earth, when he squeezed a handful of soil in his hand.
-“This smells really good, it will be great, here it will grow”.
And it has been growing! Before my vacation I almost lost control over the plot, but I didn’t. The reward for all the hard work are my own potatoes, carrots, corn, radishes, dill, onions, spinach, beans and beets in decent quantities. Next year I will double the plot. Then there will be more of everything.
Potatoes are served best cut into quarters, rinsed in a bowl with plenty of water, let it run or change the water a few times so the starch will drain away. Then place the potatoes in a colander to dry. Bake for 30-45 minutes. Peeled carrots and parsnips can be baked in the oven for 20 minutes. Split in half and place on a baking sheet. Dab with olive oil and rosemary before baking.
Splitting a whole garlic in half, brushed with olive oil, is a luxurious treat. Make sure that everyone gets at least half a garlic head each. Beets takes the longest time. According to the rulebook, they should be baked on a bed of salt for almost an hour. It’s tasty!
You can also bake all the vegetables in one go. Trying to cut all the vegetables to the correct size so that they are ready at the same time is almost impossible. But worth a try.
Cut the potatoes into small wedges, slice peeled beets into pennies and halve the parsnips and carrots. Get all the root vegetables mixed together with plenty of olive oil, thyme and rosemary. Bake at 225ºC (440ºF) until the vegetables are baked through and have a great golden brown color (about 30-45 minutes). Fresh summer produce need much less time in the oven than vegetables you buy in the winter. Instead of burnt BBQ-ed meat, when the baking sheet is out of the oven it will be the centerpiece of the table!
Serve with a simple tsatsiki or a ”lazy” mixture of creme fraiche, freshly pressed garlic and salt. Or a piece of plain butter that will melt nicely with the cooked vegetables on the plate.
* The bird rook is an almost forgotten culinary specialty of South Sweden! If cooked together with shallots, celery and wine – it becomes an unforgettable treat.