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stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

spinach cookingI bet spinach producers were involved in the invention of Popeye. Perhaps the animator was a son of a spinach farmer or scion of a canned vegetable family. Children watching the cartoons in cinemas probably bayed for tinned spinach when they got home. Sales must have soared. I can vaguely remember tinned spinach as a child before the advent of those dinky little frozen nuggets.

The tinned stuff was pretty vile but I didn’t hold my nose and chomp. Although I envied the strength of Popeye I didn’t want to end up looking like his wife, Olive Oyl. Were her parents very prinky or was the writer’s typewriter going easy on the i?

I assumed that she must eat tinned spinach too. She did not even have to use a can opener having Popeye to hand. With a sturdy squeeze of the can, the tops popped off.

In fact, I reckoned that tinned spinach was all that they ate. Presumably she glugged a tankard of olive oil every day. Back then olive oil wasn’t in every house so I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. It looked like something to be avoided – she looked so greasy.

I love spinach now, more as an ingredient in a dish rather than a vegetable on the side. The Olive Oyl antipathy still runs deep.

We tried growing spinach here but the plants went to seed so fast that we barely had time to eat it. I have discvered since then that spinach needs loads of water. Now we grow Swiss Chard – slightly stronger tasting but similar. It’s a cut and come again crop. A fat row planted this time last year has only now finally gone to seed. The guinea fowl and Carol the Maran hen love it as a treat so I’m going to sow two rows this year.

Meanwhile I have been buying supermarket spinach but it has spoilt within a couple of days, two weeks running. I had left in the larder. This evening I read the pack carefully. I hadn’t noticed the directions in print so small that only a mouse would read, “Store in the refrigerator.”

I pulled open the squeaky fridge door. No room.

Even though the mouse directions informed me that it was washed and ready to eat, I plunged the spinach leaves into a basin of fresh cold water. If you shake the leaves and toss them into a large saucepan you have the perfect amount of water to cook and not drown the spinach leaves.

Spinach only takes a few minutes to cook. Remove from the heat once the leaves start to wilt and drain them in a colander. They’ll continue to cook while they drain, giving you perfect spinach. The spinach water is also a great addition to a soup or stock as it’s full of flavour and packed with vitamins.

Cooked spinach keeps happily in the fridge for a few days, only takes up a quarter of the space of raw leaves and can be tossed into numerous dishes for colour and flavour.

Olive Oyl, eat your heart out. When you stretched and stepped from the page perhaps they forgot to draw you a fridge.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Natasha

    I think I’ll try a row of this too.

    The creamed spinach sounds delicious. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Natasha

    Hi – I get good, fast and delicious results with perpetual spinach – delcious and freezes well! Have you ever made creamed spinach? HFW has an great recipe where you steep the milk in grated carrot, onion, bay and peppercorns strain and make a lovely white sauce to drop your blanched leaves into. It was a hit with my grandfather who really doesn’t like spinach (i didn’t realise this when selecting the veg for that supper!) but had seconds he enjoyed it so!!

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Pat

    Perhaps I should give spinach another go. It seems silly to abandon it especially now I have all these tips!

    Hello Joanna

    I was given creamed spinach too. Very nasty and wishy washy.

    Thanks for the tip about cutting spinach back when it goes to seed!

    Hi Michelle

    I’m going to try your tip for lettuces.

    Now I feel all fired up and will definitely plant some spinach.

  4. michelle sheets

    Hi Fiona,
    I read a tip on saving lettuce from bolting, and I was going to try it on my spinach today since its going to seed. I read that if you dig up and replant your lettuce it stops the bolting process. I’ll throw in Joanna’s tip into the process too, and we’ll see what happens.

  5. Joanna

    I can remember being aged 9 or 10 at someone’s house and having to eat something I think was frozen called creamed spinach – cream, just minced up into a smooth and utterly inedible mush. I was the least fussy of children, known in the family as the dustbin, and loved the spinach my father grew.

    We just cut our spinach plants back when they’ve gone to seed, and they soon start to be pickable again.

    Oh yes, and I think you’re right about the canning people being behind Popeye – how else to explain the rise of something so utterly unnecessary?


  6. Fiona, try growing a second crop of chard and spinach over winter. I had great success with them this winter. Have froze the rest of my chard now for winter soups and going to do the same with the spinach. And thinking of starting my next crop of chard today. Just love these two vegetables!!!

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