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Gardening: fresh veg for the Christmas table

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Gardens play such an important part in our lives throughout the year, so nothing could be more rewarding than bringing a tiny part of them indoors for Christmas. You can enjoy this as part of your feast or a table decoration. Get a buzz by nipping out to the garden on Monday morning for a fresh, last-minute treat.

Luckily for me, the garden provides everything for our meal, including the centrepiece, a large, succulent roast goose, but if you’ve only got a window box, it may still give you something.

I love arming myself with a basket and spade and setting off for the kitchen garden to dig up the veg. On the way back to the house, I’ll get some tasty Avola potatoes for the goose stuffing and Mayan Gold tatties for the best wedges ever.

But, sadly, things may not be quite as easy this year. I woke up this morning to an overnight temperature of -10C and had a choice of issuing my poultry with ice skates or taking my life in my hands by pounding their pools to break the ice.

The ground is rock hard at the moment and we’re living on veg I dug the other day, just before the Arctic blast. I certainly can’t predict what the weather will be like when you read this, but if the cold snap persists, harvest the Christmas dinner today.

On the veg front, my picking list includes carrots, parsnips, leeks, potatoes and sprouts for the main course.

Garden veg frozen by the weather needs to be treated differently to veg from the freezer. If the ground is rock hard, start the process today. Use a fork, not a spade, to loosen the top 2cm-5cm of soil round the carrots, parsnips and leeks. The soil underneath is perfectly soft. Then dig deep with a spade – parsnips have long roots, up to 30cm. Bring whole plants, soil, foliage and edible parts, into a cool room, as a shed may be too cold.

Over the next couple of days the plants will gradually defrost. Knock off any soil that comes away easily tomorrow morning and, later in the day, wash and clean up the plants, removing any outside leaves. This slow thaw prevents the plant cells from bursting and helps retain flavour.

Sprouts will only need 24 hours to return to life and I also like taking some endives, hoping they’re in a half-decent condition under a cloche. These deliciously bitter leaves go beautifully with a goose liver starter.

Surviving leaves in the herb garden, such as Salad Burnett, leaf celery and sweet cicely can be picked on Christmas morning, as can sage: if frozen, they should recover in time for cooking.

The conservatory or greenhouse provides bay, rosemary, thyme and juicy rocket, parsley, chervil and parcel leaves. Again, harvest on the big day. And a window box? If growing thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley or chervil, make good use of it.

And why not include some tasty edibles in your table decorations? If you still have some small red or russet apples left, polish them up with kitchen towel that’s been dipped in light vegetable oil. Their bright sheen, set against a green background, makes them irresistible at the end of the meal. Small sprigs of rosemary or bay work well as a green backdrop.

Holly and slightly poisonous ivy leaves are fine for other arrangements, when set off with bunches of hawthorn or cotoneaster berries. I can still pick slightly poisonous holly berries from my trees, a depressing sign that thrush numbers, like those of so many other birds, may be in dangerous decline. I would normally also recommend rosehips, but see most of mine have turned to mush after the harsh frosts.