Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Joy of...............Cauliflower.

After the controversial, and may I say ground breaking decision to plant my Cauliflowers in a circle, (the circle signifying the head of the flower). I was not surprised that they were failing.

Apart from the planting I felt that I had done everything correctly.  I planted the plugs in moist soil and watered them well in, I had netted them straight away, to stop the greedy pigeons, and as we get very little rain in East Anglia I made sure they were never dry.
Despite all this devotion all I seemed to have grown was a mass of green leaves, I was actually wondering if you can cook them.

So I decided to remove the netting.  As I did this I pulled away some of the leaves, I was surprised to see the most perfect whitest Cauliflower head I have ever seen, I moved to the next plant and I actually squealed, another one just the same. It's hard to convey the absolute delight that I had in this discovery, most people on the allotment had told me they could be tricky so I think I had anticipated failure.

Buoyed by my success and dreaming of cheese sauce, I went to harvest the cauliflower.  It was at this point that I realised that I didn't know how to harvest a cauliflower. Do I pull up the whole plant, or do I just remove the flower? I walked around the allotments there was not a soul about, so I decided to ask on Twitter and sat all forlorn waiting for a response. @AllotmentMate, who Is a sort of allotment Superhero (not sure if he has a cape) came to my rescue, he very promptly tweeted Cut just below the Cauli taking a few leaves with it.

I did feel a bit of a fool, but it's always better to ask when you don't know, so thank you very much Ian.
I had also left the shed keys at home so was unable to get to the right tools for the job,  fortunately I had I pair of scissors and a nail file in my handbag so the beheaded was an old fashioned execution rather than the guillotine.

Everything we ate that night was  produced within a mile of our house, local Lamb, potatoes and Cauliflower cheese, very satisfying.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Crab Apple

Fiona and I have started a tradition, and although it is only in it's infancy (2 years) I feel it will run and run. The annual picking of the crab-apple.

There are 5 crab-apples trees that Steve and I often admire whilst walking the dogs. Beautiful throughout the seasons, from their lovely blousy blossoms to the ruby red fruits that they display so amply now.

These trees are fully laden with the most glorious crab apples and it is such a shame to waste such 'gorgeousness' so Fiona and I took the short walk, me with the trugs and Fi with the more professional, and high fashion, harvesting bag which fits jauntily over the shoulder.

We harvested the fruit picking side by side talking about plants, flowers, food and books, and as always time slips sideways, and you suddenly realise that you have greedily picked more than enough, and carrying them home will be decidedly awkward. Its very odd but once we picked them they look as much yellow as red.

Getting the juice from the fruit is no longer the arduous task it once was, the Steam Juicer has dispensed with any need for muslin and waiting. That last sentence reads like an advert, I don't mean it to but it is such a fantastic utensil and saves so much time and mess that it is a wonder that more people don't have them.
The juicer uses gentle steam to open up the fruit cells, so that the juice drips into the juice pan which can then be used to make jellies or cordial.

Fill the bottom pan with water and place on the hob to boil, the juice collecting pan fits snugly a-top, this is where the juice collects, add on the steamer basket with the washed fruit and then the lid, don't worry about pitting the fruit or removing stems there is no need. Once the pan is boiling it will take 40 to 70 mins, for the steam to puff up the fruit and release the juice which falls into the juice pot.

Once we had enough juice we could set about making the jelly (no pun intended).

We used Fiona's recipe of course and although she likes it hotter than me, I went along with the chilli to juice ratio which resulted in the most delicious Jelly, the sweet and hot is a perfect companion to cheese, cold cuts, and I even use it on my curry.

You can find the recipe here 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Weeding (will it ever end)

The definition of a weed is any plant that is, in our opinion growing in the wrong place.

I honestly thought that come October the weeds would have stopped growing or at least slowed down, we have not weeded for a while and the weeds are smothering the soil. I'm not sure if this is usual,or if it's because of the mild weather we had recently. Whatever the case, I don't like it.

I am sort of tempted to spray something poisonous to get rid of them, I know that some of my fellow 'allotmenteers' embark on chemical warfare, but I will of course resist.  Organic growing isn't something that I really thought about,  but I have never used weed killer because it does not feel right. I want to try and do what comes naturally.

I do have an excellent tool for the job however, the Cape cod weeder.  It's a fantastic little device, it looks like little scythe.  The tool cuts the weeds below the surface on the forward and back stroke, I also turn it on it's side and with the point, nick out the weeds that have grown right next to the precious plants.
It does not come cheap however, I paid £17.99.  It's a De Witt tool and therefore extremely well made, and it was worth every penny as it makes short work of unwanted greenery, and does a really thorough job.

Cape Cod Weeder

However I am still on the look out for a long handled weeding tool.  My friend said that she'd heard about something called a Swedish Hoe, so I Googled it.  This proved not to be a good idea as things of a dubious Swedish nature appeared.  If I had been looking for a hot tub with a Swedish lady my search would have been over immediately. Having inserted garden into the search, the response to Swedish Garden hoe was not much better, displaying only Dutch garden tools.  Friend rang up in a panic, said she'd got it wrong, it was a Hula Hoe (I didn’t choose to delve into why she got it wrong).
I have located one but it only has a short handle so I will have to be patient.

Job done (until the next time)

Weeding is quite therapeutic.  I think it is about seeing what needs doing, working methodically and looking back at what you've accomplished, even though it won't last.
And whilst you work listening to the birds singing, the leaves rustling and the occasional thud of an apple falling to the ground , today I had a Blackbird as a companion, a happy opportunist waiting for a juicy worm.
Even better than that I had my husband with me helping, and making tea.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Fragrant Pear Chutney.

We have a plethora of Pears on the allotment, and I hate the the sight of them fallen and rotting on the ground, the waste of such a delicious fruit really upsets me so I have been determined to use as many as I can.

Behind our plot is a communal area with Apple, Pear, Plum and Walnut trees. Having already gleaned the Damsons and made Jam, and with my freezer bursting with cooking apples I set to task to find a perfect pear formula.

I quickly rejected my Grandmother's recipes for Baked Pears, as it took over six hours of slow baking and I get very nervous of old recipes that say “allow 1 pound of sugar loaf”.

I am also mindful of being thrifty so I really want to use only what I have in the larder so having gathered my stores and plundered my spices I have made a Pear Chutney.

Fragrant Pear Chutney

1.5kg Pears
425g Onions
450g Tomatoes
250g Raisins
5-6 Peppercorns
600g Demerara Sugar
100g Brown sugar
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp Ground Ginger
750ml Cider Vinegar


Peel, core and chop the pears into sugar-lump sized cubes (I got a little bored so the latter ones were a little larger, but it didn't matter)
Peel and chop the onions 425g was 2 onions
Slice the tomatoes
Chop the raisins

Put all of the above in a large heavy bottomed saucepan I used a preserving pan, simmer gently, and stir at intervals so the bottom doesn't catch, which will affect the taste. Simmer until the fruit and veg has softened.
Wrap the peppercorns in a bit of muslin and tie to make a little pouch and add to the mixture with the rest of the ingredients.
Simmer the chutney, and stir at regular intervals, for 2-3 hours,the chutney will thicken and darken.
When you are ready to decant, remove the peppercorn pouch, (obviously) and pot up the chutney in sterilised jars.

To Sterilise the jars wash and rinse them and place them in the oven at 160 c for 10-15 mins and boil the lids.
For Chutney always use vinegar proof lids that are non corrosive.
Store in a cool dark place and leave to mature for 2-3 months.
I have named it thus because the gorgeous aroma filled the house, it was slightly Chistmassy.

Chutney is usually better when left to mature but I have to confess that this tastes good already.  It certainly passed the taste test with my friend and master blogger Fiona

Now I have to work out what to do with the rest of the pears !

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Beetroot (Warning: some viewers may find some scenes disturbing)

The Beetroot is ready for harvesting, and we have rather a lot of it. This is because when I sowed the seeds, I used most of the packet, and  wrongly assuming most of them wouldn't grow, so when they did I didn't have the heart to thin them. Nevertheless they are all a good size.
Having gathered my crop I went home to prepare them.

Cut away the leaves with 3 cm of stalk and the roots remaining . Wash the beetroot under cold running water.I use my pressure cooker which I love, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook a large batch. I know people are nervous of pressure cookers, so if you prefer to boil, put the beetroot in a saucepan of cold water bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 1-2 hours. This will depend on the size of the beetroot.

There is a somewhat earthy smell during and after cooking the beetroot, to avoid this you can wrap each one in foil and bake them in the oven at 400°F/200°C Gas mark 6 they take can take 2-3 hours but no smell.Whilst warm remove the skin, I always use latex gloves, so the process takes the appearance of a medical procedure, so please excuse the gruesome photographs, but it is so simple this way and less messy and rather satisfying.

Once cooked you can do with them what you will. I am pickling some and making a Jelly with the rest.

Sweet Pickled Beetroot
1 kg of cooked Beetroot 
1 Litre of vinegar it can be pickling but I think cider is nicer.
6 tablespoons of sugar Heat the vinegar and add the sugar, keep stirring till the sugar has dissolved.Make sure you have sterilised jars ready. (I sterilise mine by putting them on a hot cycle in the dishwasher).
Put slices of beetroot in the jars and cover them with the vinegar.Seal with the Lid straight away.I kept some of the small beets and left them whole, placed them in a jar poured over the vinegar.
Label and date.

The next recipe is so simple but is delicious with cold meats or Cheese. My Aunt would always bring this over on Boxing Day.

Aunt Shirley's Beetroot and Raspberry Jelly.

1 Raspberry jelly 2 tsp caster sugar 1 lb 450g) cooked and diced beetroot.
Quarter pint/142ml Cider vinegar
Dissolve jelly in half pint water plus sugar. Add vinegar and diced beetroot.
Leave to set. Keep in fridge.


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

But you can't eat Freesias, can you ?

The idea when I got the allotment was not only to grow vegetables, but to grow flowers for cutting, and although I wish we'd gone for 10 rods rather than 5 (that's another story), I am still determined to make space for beautiful blooms.

I had already made an area for Sweet Williams and Wallflowers, they have been in for sometime, and are well established and flourishing.

Deciding what else to grow was made easy by the fact that whilst browsing the online seed catalogue, I noticed that some of my favourite flowers were in the sale.

Lily of the Valley is a flower ,and fragrance that I have always loved, but have had limited success with growing it at home, so perhaps I will have more luck at the allotment. My Grandmother used to call it the May Lily so I'm assuming that is the flowering month.

I have also chosen Ornamental Alliums, Superglobe, and Drumstick. A mixture of medium to tall alliums with large globe shaped heads, which should flower from May to June.

Last but by no means least, Freesias. I love their scent and have planted 40 mixed colours.  I've never grown them before so have high hopes. ( By the way did you know that Freesia flowers are 'zygomorphic' which
 means that they grow along one side if the stem in a single plane.)

Whilst planting, Ray sauntered down to our plot to see what progress we had made, Ray has 15 well farmed rods, and grows just about everything from cabbages and beans to blueberries and peanuts.
As he cast an expert eye over our patch he asked what I was sowing? “Alliums and Freesias”I told him. “But you can't eat Freesias, can you?
I reassured him that I was also planting Lily of the Valley which is really a herb, a small consolation.

As virtuous as growing your own food is, growing flowers feeds my soul.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


It is always the simple pleasures in life that mean the most,and now added to that list is eating home grown vegetables. It was a  few weeks ago that Fiona said to us that we should be eating the spinach as it was ready.

The way to pick the spinach is work your way down the row and take one or two outer leaves from each plant, by the time you have finished, you will have gathered quite a large bunch of glossy green spinach leaves, I work on the basis that you should have 8oz 225g per person.
If you pick spinach this way the plant won't suffer and will continue to grow, with fresh new leaves appearing from the centre.

We have been eating the spinach for a while now, which is no hardship for me as I love it, I cook the larger leaves and use the younger smaller leaves in a mixed green salad.

The Borecole is a different matter as I had never tried it before, so again when Fiona cast her expert eye over our allotment, she mentioned the the borecole was ready to pick, I explained my reluctance to do so, as stupid as it sounds the plant looks so lovely that I don't want to spoil it by harvesting the leaves.

It has to be done though and you treat the borecole like you would spinach and just cut the outer leaves leaving the inner leaves to keep producing, Fiona said that the flavour improves once there has been a frost, but with the gorgeous weather we've been having the last few days, that seems a long way off.

The good news is, I love borecole it was delicious, which is a relief as we have plenty of it, but the greatest pleasure is still, watching it grow.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Shed - Noun: A simple roofed structure used as a storage space or a workshop.

Although the delivery of the Shed was promised early afternoon, I knew with the certainty of any previously disappointed home delivery customer, that it would arrive considerably later that the agreed time. So when the driver rang me at 5.30 to say he was 30 minutes away I was not the least bit surprised. I gave him directions to the allotment and said we would see him there.  Our friend Ed had kindly offered to come and help us unload.

The Shed man was friendly and cheerful despite being on his own, and having to make 13 deliveries in one 
day (with us being the 13th.) before making the 2 ½ hour journey back to his depot.

Having delivered of us one shed I casually asked how long he thought it would take us to build, his response was “about an hour”.

Well he is either deluded, a liar or has a strange sense of humour because it's now 4 days later and we still haven't finished.

Following instructions is never easy, but once we'd identified the various sized battens we could make a start. Floor first, then frame with double door. Steve and Ed accomplished this the first night.
The next evening (it had to be evening as we both work) we put up the wall panels. All this takes time as neither of us are the handyman type and distinguishing what screw to use took up most of the time.

The next stage was the roof....unfortunately we had not done a thorough job of ticking off the inventory and therefore found we had no roof battens. Slightly stressed I went in search of spare wood. There was no need as there are allotment angels in the form of Fred and Janet.

Fred , it turns out is one of those people that can do just about everything, not only did he have wood of the correct dimensions he also had know-how !
So whilst Janet made us a cup of tea, Fred and Steve put the roof on. There were also a few gaps where the shed sides didn't quite meet, Fred was able to make them disappear with a hefty swipe from his mallet.

By the time the roof was secured and we'd put in the perspex window it was dark , so we left the felting of the roof for the next day and hoped it wouldn't rain overnight.

We spent the next day finishing off.
We decided to insulate (I use the term loosely), by lining the shed walls with left over bubble wrap, we have then lined the walls with Hessian, the effect is very pleasing, plus the shed smells lovely.

I already had a small camping stove, I think I may have bought it the week we got the allotment, and we have brought an old table and few chairs from home.
As we were building our shed.......I really should stop calling it that, because although I may use it for potting up, or storing a few garden tools, it has become apparent to us that we will use more to sit down and have a cup of tea in, and we are anticipating guests as it will take many 'cuppas' to repay Fred and Janet for all their help and kindness to us.

Monday, 12 September 2011

So far so good.

It's been about six weeks since we took over allotment 43a, and I am amazed how things change, and yes I know we are there to grow things but when you actually see how the vegetables evolve and develop it is truly a wonder how fast the process is, and I am sure I could see the difference from one day to the next.

The spindly donated cabbages have now become large healthy and robust, and their little hearts are almost full.

The January King cabbage, has grown blue green leaves slightly ablush with purple, , the leaves are large, in my mind preparing to protect it from the worst of the winter weather, where not even a severe frost can harm it.

We have already eaten some of the spinach, grazing from the outer larger leaves ,leaving the inner leaves to continue to grow,and produce a new crop.

The Beetroot looks on the face of it to be thriving obviously, we don't know what’s going on underneath but the tops look nice and we have harvested some of the smaller leaves to add to a salad.

The Black Tuscany Kale and Borecole look healthy enough, but in all honesty I don't know what they are meant to look like, and as I've never had Kale I'm not even sure that I like it.

The Leeks that we have grown in clumps, so far,appears to be more successful that the traditionally planted ones, but time will tell, and the lettuce are so good that I wish we planted more.

Today we have planted Winter peas and Purple Sprouting Broccoli, we also succumbed to an offer we couldn’t refuse, Quince bushes at £3 each from our local garden centre, flourishing specimens already with fruit on.