A big piece of root ginger is one of the indispensable flavourings I need to round out the flavour of the fruits and vegetables I grow. Just like lemons, olive oil, butter, garlic and salt, it is something I try never to run out of. I use it sliced into coins and smashed to flavour dhal or peeled, grated and added to fried onion and garlic as a base for curries before adding spices. When grated, it can be pressed through a sieve to make ginger juice, which can be added to cocktails and fruit compotes or to marinade chunks of rhubarb before they go into a tart.
For a home cold remedy, cut ginger into coins and smash, put in a cup and add a tablespoon of honey and the juice of half a fresh lemon and top up with boiling water. When you have grown your own stem ginger, you can bruise it and add it to stocks and soups as you would lemon grass. The leaves can be used layered in a steamer with fish on top and in soups and curries too.
You may be forgiven for thinking that the culinary use of fresh root ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a relatively recent development in the UK, but its introduction dates back to Roman times. For the Romans, ginger was a highly prized import from the east, but it was used mainly medicinally. In India, where it has been used for around 5,000 years, it is still used in Ayurvedic medicine to combat stomach ailments and nausea. By the 15th century English cookery books were awash with ginger in both sweet and savoury recipes, but by the 18th century it was more likely to be found dried and used as a powdered spice in a pudding or a cake.
- Large thumb fresh root ginger 1
- Sugar 400g
- Water 250ml
- Lemons 2
Fermentation is the way to create life even in the grip of winter’s maw. In Food in England, the food historian Dorothy Hartley describes how as a child she loved to watch the ginger beer ‘bee’ (so called because it makes a faint humming sound) bubble up and down in a jar on the kitchen windowsill. In cold weather fermentation may take several days to a week to occur.