Growing your own winter soups

news: Growing your own winter soups

ANYONE WHO has spent a winter in Portugal, knows the delicious, warming soups that fill you up even before reaching the main course. These soups invariably involve cabbage of some sort, in a form much more palatable than the wet green dollop served up in British canteens. It may seem odd to be thinking of warming soups in the middle of summer, but now is the time for sowing brassica seeds to provide fresh winter greens. You can sow seeds for broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages. If you want to grow more vegetables for inclusion in your soup, you can put in some potatoes and some carrots too.

Growing brassica

Cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli (green and purple) are all grown in very similar ways. They vary in their time to maturity so check the seed packet before sowing. With a little forward planning now, you can guarantee yourself ‘fresh soup’ from the garden from November through to May.

• Sow brassica seeds into a seedbed, fairly thinly about one centimetre deep, in soil that you can keep moist for the next month or so. They can be sown in partial shade to avoid too much drying out in the hot August sun.

• Germination usually takes about ten days. Thin the seedlings to stand about five centimetres apart from each other.

• The seed leaves (two heart shaped leaves) appear first, soon to be followed by the ‘true‘, more ‘cabbagey’ looking leaves. When they have five ‘true’ leaves they are ready to be moved from the seedbed to the permanent bed.

• The permanent bed (where the cabbages will grow to maturity) should contain rich soil, and not acid soil. Transplant the small plants on a cool day or in the late evening – taking care to keep as much soil around the roots as possible. Water them in well and keep wet for the first week or so. Each plant should stand between 30cm and 60cm apart, depending on how big it will eventually grow.

• Cabbages and broccoli are pretty tough plants, and once established, can take a bit of neglect, although should always be adequately watered. Cauliflower, on the other hand, needs attentive ’parenting’, perfect soil and careful transplanting – they should be transplanted into exactly the same depth in which they were growing.


You know when your cabbage, colly or broccoli are ready because they look ready – as simple as that! Cabbages can be picked before maturity and taste quite sweet but if left too long, the outer leaves become tough. If you notice it unravelling from its ball shape it is about to bolt, so pick it quickly. With broccoli, many varieties are ‘pick and come again’ types. You need to pick the florets before they open up (even if you have to throw them on the compost heap) to keep the plants productive. If your cauliflower seems that it is never going to grow the flower bit, don’t despair – be patient. The flower often appears and grows rapidly just when you have given up all hope.


My version of Portuguese soup may not be as authentic as some would like, but it’s easy and tastes good.

Chop all the cabbage leaves (or colly, or broccoli, or green beans) up into very small pieces to fill about a third of a pan. Add enough peeled potatoes to fill another third of the pan. Cover in water, add a chicken stock cube and add anything else you fancy, a bit of chouriço, some cubed ham, a little presunto – you decide. Bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes start to break up. With a fork, mash the potatoes up and stir in to thicken the soup. Add salt and pepper and never forget to pour in a good slug of olive oil!

This soup enables you to use any excess vegetables you have, and can be adapted in a myriad of ways – the flavour is superb.