Wednesday 29 July 2009

Slow go on sloes

I am down at my house in London for a couple of days. One thing I spotted when I first started the commute between Tyneside and London was how much earlier crops mature and fruit ripens in the south. So when I was wallking around Crystal Palace pary yesterday I checked out a set of sloes and found the fruit was turning ripening well. Up home they are all still hard green berries. I went back this morning hoping to pick some for gin and jam making. Alas. My calculations were wrong. They won't be ready for a couple of weeks. I will do something with them when I am next down in late August.

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Tuesday 28 July 2009

Some recent crops

Marrows and cucumbers. And aren't they big ones! The shape of the cucumber is the sort of thing that would have ensured an appearance on "That's Life" back in the 1980s. We have a bit of a glut of cucumbers in the sense that the greenhouse is producing them faster than we can consume them. As a result we have been giving them away and making them into a chutney or pickle. More about that on another day. The marrow was meant to be a courgette growing on bed 2. However, half the bed has been taken over by rasturtiums and the courgettes are a bit smothered by them though they are continuing to grow. The result was we didn't spot this one til it had got to marrow size. It was rather pleasant as a meal stuffed and roasted.

Anyone for pea? The pea crop is doing well so we are gradually licking them. David has the first batch ready for freezing. we have also kept the pea pods. They will help to make veg stock. Simple put them in a bag in the freezer and add to them til there is sufficient to use.

A healthy glut of beetroot. We have so far picked 5kg. We have pickled some and made some into relish.
Runner beans on bed 2. Note the abundance of nasturtiums. Note also how the left wigwam is doing so much better than the other two. The beans we planted on the first one can from Michael, David's uncle. The other two came from seed catalogues. Do it yourself is doing better!

I really enjoyed the strawberries. Yummie, yummie, yummie!

Sunday 26 July 2009

Dealing with all that beetroot

If there is one thing we are learning quickly it is how to deal with sudden gluts of food. With harvests starting to come in, we have a glut of gluts. We are currently dealing with a beetroot glut. 5kg have been picked from the allotment and more is on its way.

David did a search for recipes and found one from the BBC for beetroot and orange relish.

The recipe came via the BBC website from the Burrastow House Hotel.
450g/1lb fresh beetroot
450g/1lb onions chopped
2 oranges - grated rind and juice
1 tsp salt
6 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
350g/3/4lb sugar
570ml/1 pint pickling vinegar
1. To cook the beetroot, put into a large pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender. Drain, peel and roughly chop into small pieces.
2. Put all the ingredients into a large pan and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer until a good consistency is reached. Test for seasoning. Pour into sterilised jars.

Meanwhile, I had a go at pickling beetroot. I can across the following in an old cookery book at home.

Pickled beetroot recipe

1kg beetroot
2 medium size onions
900ml spiced vinegar

Boil the beetroot til it is soft and whilst it is still hot peel it (the skin, as I discovered, comes away very easily).

Chop the onions and slice the beetroot thinly.

In a pickling jar add the beetroot and onion in layers.

Heat the vinegar to boiling point then pour into the pickling jar, making sure all the beetroot is covered. Then seat the jar.

Pickled beetroot can be eaten after 3 or 4 weeks.

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Planning ahead for winter

Space is already being created on the allotment by the harvesting of crops. We are not letting it lie fallow for too long. The garlic has now come out of bed 2 leaving us with a 4 metre long strip to fill.

Planting for winter and spring crops is therefore underway. This is important as we need to secure our food supply during the colder months.

Last month I planted a row of swede seeds. Today, David has been planting carrots (for harvesting in mid to late autumn) and cabbages (for spring cropping).

Well rotted manure went onto where the garlic had been on bed 2 andthis was used for planting cabbage. The carrots and some more cabbage went onto the final, unused part of bed 4 which had been well manured in January. That means at long last the whole of bed 4 is now in use. Seeing as bringing bed 4 into use was one of our targets for the year, that makes me rather happy.

Meanwhile, I checked out some local wild cherry trees but the fruit is not yet ready. I'll give it a week longer.

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Allotment update no 5 - the greenhouse

This is the latest update video from the allotment featuring our new greenhouse!

Thursday 23 July 2009

Garlic galore!

We harvested our garlic over the weekend. An excellent crop. 56 bulbs were picked. In the second photo above you can see the larger bulbs on the left. This was the winter variety. It was planted in November last year and was just about the only thing we had growing over the winter. The smaller, spring planted variety is on the right. Both were cropped together.
We now have to learn how to plat them together.

Raspberry jam

More raspberry picking today. I found an excellent patch of wild raspberries whilst walking down the other side of the field next to Sunniside where I was picking yesterday. I am going back tomorrow but I picked half a bucketful of raspberries, roughly I think it was over 3kg.

We have used 900g to make another batch of raspberry gin (we don't drink it all ourselves, some of it will be for Xmas presents). The rest will be used tomorrow for more jam making, to add to the 14 jars I made on Monday (see photo above).

To make raspberry jam, here's the recipe:

1kg of raspberries

1kg sugar

2 medium sized lemons

Add the raspberries to the jam pan.

Squeeze the lemons and add the juice to the jam pan.

Heat the pan, stirring regularly. The aim is to break the fruit down to a sloppy wet pulp (see photo).

Keep sufficient heat under the pan to keep it boiling and stir in the sugar. Stir regularly to avoid the mix catching on.

When the jam has reached the setting point add to warmed jars.

If you like it that bit sharper, add in more lemon juice and include the lemon zest.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Gooseberry and elderflower jam recipe

I didn't get round to posting this up in June when I made it but it is a great jam so I thought I'd share it anyway. Gooseberry and elderflower is a traditional jam that never appears in the supermarket so people are not used to it. Once they try it however, they love it. Again, it's another good one for the self-sufficent household selling any surplus and is very easy to make, especially if you have gooseberry bushes in full swing of production.
This is what you need:
for every kg of gooseberries, you need one kg of sugar, one lemon, 200 ml of water and one handful of freshly picked elderflower, stripped from the stalks.
This is what you have to do:
Grate the zest of the lemons and squeeze them. You don't need the peel so freeze it and use it in marmalade making at a later date.
To the jam pan add the gooseberries, lemon zest and juice and elderflower. Pour in the water. You may need to add a small amount of aditional water if the gooseberries are dry, or less if they are very ripe and juicy.
Heat the pan and boil it until the gooseberries have disintegrated.
Keep the heat under the pan and add the sugar, stirring regularly and bring it back to the boil. Check for the setting point and once it has been reached, add the jam to warmed jars.
It's got quite a tangy taste. I particularly like a large amount of elderflower in my jam but individual tastes will vary.

Raspberries in the rain

I picked 3kg of raspberries on Sunday on the derelict allotment next to ours (the allotment is rented by a friend of ours and we will be helping her restore it soon). The fruit I picked made 14 jars of raspberry jam.

One thing I have spotted with jam is that people like to stick with the traditional types. I've market tested various somewhat revolutionary new types with friends but they always come back to the old favourites such as raspberry. So if you are trying to be self-sufficient but want to sell any surplus produce, when it comes to jams, stick with the traditional stuff. That's not to say don't try something new but don't expect it to sell well.

Raspberry gin recipe

I went out this afternoon to pick wild raspberries but after an hour, the heavens opened and I got soaked. I got about 1kg. They have been used to make raspberry gin. It takes about three months to make it but it is well worth the wait. This is what you need:

900g raspberries

200g white sugar

140cl cheap gin (ie 2 bottles)

2 vanilla pods

Large kilner jar

Put the sugar, vanilla and raspberries into the kilner jar and pour in the gin. Leave to stand for 3 months then strain and bottle the gin. Whilst it is in the kilner jar, you do not need to mix it or shake it. Just let all the flavour infuse.

Keep the gin-pickled raspberries as a topping for desserts.

This is my favourite fruit licquer but there are others we have tried in the past and will be making through the summer. More about them later.

Photo: the kilner jar containing raspberries and gin, set up on Tuesday 21st July.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Giving up my job for the Good Life in Sunniside

Readers of this blog may well be aware that I live in both Sunniside in Gateshead and London. I regard Sunniside as my home. I needed to be in London for my job. I was the intelligence analyst for the Liberal Democrats which meant I had to be in party HQ and Parliament most weeks. Hence the journeys to London.

My unit has been reorganised and as a result my job has been scrapped and replaced by two others. I was offered redundancy or interview for the new jobs. Initially I aimed to go for the interview but it was against a background of having a great many things I wanted to do in my own time which have been shelved over the past decade as I travelled between Gateshead and London. One of the big things that was shelved was the ambition of becoming self-sufficient.

So after much thought and deliberation, oiled by a significant redundancy cheque, I decided to give up the job and the London role, and head back to Sunniside for the Good Life, running the allotment and becoming self-sufficient.

So here I am, back in Gateshead running the allotment. There's no turning back now!
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Wednesday 15 July 2009


We are walking through Lotties Wood at the moment, next to our village of Sunniside. Apart from the exercise, the purpose is to look at what wild foods are growing. Last year. The hazel crop was terrible. Hazel nuts are an important food for those aiming to be self-sufficient. They are important sources of oil and especially protein.

I am pleased to say that this year's crop looks set to be a bumper one!
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Thursday 9 July 2009

Back from holiday

We have been away on hoilday for the past 3 weeks and so I have just come down to the allotment for the first time in nearly a month. We had feared that the heatwave would incinerate everything in sight! Fortunately, the opposite appears to have happened. I am amazed at how well everything is doing, though I can thank our friend Glenys, Dad and my brother Andrew who popped in to water the greenhouse. I have now picked our first cucumber and it's a big one!

As well as the crops doing well, so have the weeds. I suspect I will be doing a lot of weeding over the next few days.

Anyway, fuller updates will be posted up over the next few days.
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