Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Harvest and thinking ahead

At this time of year, you can't walk in the allotment without finding something pick and eat!

Over the past week there was:

Raspberries (late fruiting)
Beetroot, Apples, Pears, Courgettes,
Broccoli, more Potatoes, Runner Beans.

The beetroot have been boiled with a little salt and pickled in wine vinegar - I read that the salt helps draw out the flavour and stops the water inside the beets from diluting the vinegar, thus increasing longevity.

(The wine vinegar was bought in an amazing deli in Ashbourne, Derbyshire)

Having cleared the onions and beans a month or so back, these beds have been dug over and plenty of compost put onto them - the worms and rain will take it down into the soil over winter - and then winter onions have gone where the beans were and winter cabbage will be going where the onions were.

Next month, the parsnips will be starting to come into season, along with the salsify, the leeks will be a little while yet, and there will be more apples, the remaining pears, pumpkins, more broccoli and cabbage and carrots.

Monday, 25 August 2014


At this time of year the freezer is creaking with the strain of having to contain all the soft fruit from the allotment!
Now, I personally don't play any part in the jamming process, picking yes but after that it's all my wife's doing. (see for more about this)

And it's award winning jam, well the local pub's annual vegetable show anyway!

There's plenty of books (see for one of our favourites) on the subject of making jam and I also don't want to give away any trade secrets, so I won't go through the process here, but suffice to say it is delicious, and varying quantities of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, rhubarb and damsons are used to make what ends up being sufficient jam for all year round use and a few for presents for others.

Little and Large Sweetcorn

In the allotment we grow both the full size sweetcorn and the mini ones, the latter are really quite useful for putting in stir fries - and cost effective as well! They freeze no problem, no preparation required, just bag them up.

Copyright Michael Smart 2014
It is really important not to let them grow too big. in fact, they are ready to pick only a day or two after the little yellow tassles appear. Letting them grow on only gives them an impossible hard centre and they don't taste great either if too big!

They are alway sown into peat, degradable, pots and then they are planted, pot and all into the our brassicas section of the allotment. A bit of manure and/or compost around them doesn't hurt, although you don't manure straying over to the rest of the brassica plot.

A strong wind can knock them sideways, so we plant them in blocks rather than rows to help protect them.

We don't put them near the big sweetcorn though, these were planted this year near the runner and french beans.

For stir frying, you can throw them in whole or cut lengthways down the middle, either which way about 10 15 mins in the wok with other vegetables should ensure that they are cooked.

Copyright Michael Smart 2014
Again, these were planted in peat pots and with plenty of compost. It is often preferable to give these a head start in the greenhouse or under cover.

I pick them when the tassles are brown and shrivelled, the problem is that you are never sure when they are ready unless you open them, a sort of Schrodinger's Sweetcorn! (in any case cats, Schrodinger's or otherwise aren't welcome in the allotment!)
You are supposed to open one, pinch one of the kernals with your finger and if it is milky white it is ok, but in general most people know what a ready to eat sweetcorn should look like. Don't open the leaves on one and leave it on the plant, woodlice and other bugs will get in and make their home inside.

To cook, boil for about 10 minutes or so, it's easier if you are doing portions to chop them into pieces before cooking as to try and chop up boiling hot sweetcorn is not the bext of ideas!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Fish and chips - a variation...

For 6 months of the year or sometime a little more, we have home grown potatoes. I have noticed that they are much denser than shop bought potatoes, jacket potatoes take 8 or 9 minutes to cook rather than 6 in the microwave.

They also make fantastic chips! Now, I know some people are wary, with perhaps good reason of deep frying food, both from the health side of things but also from the danger that a chip pan can present if not used correctly.

However, I always:

- watch the chip pan like a hawk during the warm up phase
- dry the potato chips thoroughly - water is not a good idea in a hot chip pan - it will spit and fizz
- test with a chip every so often to see whether the fat is hot enough - it is ready as soon as a chip put in starts fizzling straighaway
- toss the chips regularly to ensure even cooking and that they do not stick together or burn.
- keep watching to ensure safety, and turn the cooker down to lowest heat near the end or even off if using electric, the heat from the hob will keep the oil hot enough to cook with.
- remove the pan from the hot ring and ensure the cooker is switched off at the wall before serving.

If the pan does get too hot, it will start smoking. If this happens switch off immediately and remove the pan carefully from the heat. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then resume on a lower heat.

There is usually enough residual heat if using an electric hob after the chips are done to fry some courgettes and/or onions while you serve the chips and fish.

The fish is usually white fish, often cod or haddock, but ling, hake, coley, or pollock is suitable depending on taste, budget and how you regard the stock of fish in the ocean - cod and haddock being more over fished than the others.

The fish is coated in egg and done in breadcrumbs, in this case gluten free ones, in the microwave (if you are lucky enough to keep chickens on your plot then even the egg can be "local"!). The whole dish is served with baked beans though peas, mushy peas etc can be substituted. The advantage of using baken beans is that they can be quickly popped on a plan on top of the dish used to cook the fish in the microwave - as I said you don't want to be distracted from watching the chip pan.

Best carrots ever!

Some while ago I mentioned that we were growing carrots in a tyre stack.

The tyres came from a local tyre and exhaust place, as they have to pay to have them disposed of, they are grateful to anyone that can take them away for free!

The advantages of growing them in this stack are that they can have a very deep layer of soil and compost to grow into and that they are high enough up to be out of the way of carrot flies, who probably aren't able to get through rubber anyway!

So, some were picked for Sunday lunch.....

As you can see they are of considerable length! They are also completely whole and have no tell tale black marks from carrot fly infestation.

Sunday lunch also included the beetroot, peas, broad beans, runner beans and potatoes and a courgette, all from the allotment!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Summer harvest

Plenty of vegetables and fruit to harvest now, makes it all worthwhile, doesn't it!

An awful lot of blackcurrants (with more to come!)
Some raspberries (I think going away during their most productive time meant that the yield was down. Also I think some of the bushes are getting a bit tired.)

More broad beans, peppers from the pots in the house

And lots of onions!

Now the sun's out and things are warming up,  the sweetcorn and the courgettes are doing well