Wednesday 8 December 2010

Cauliflower leaf soup

The cauliflower crop was very successful on the allotment this year. We therefore had a glut of both cauliflowers and cauliflower leaves. I wasn't entirely happy with throwing the leaves onto the compost heap so I did a search and found nothing of interest in terms of cauliflower leaf recipes. So I set about creating my own.

Cauliflower leaf soup is the result. It contains nettles and nasturtiums as well. I filmed this video in the summer on how to make it.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Snow damage

I paid a visit to the allotment this afternoon. We now have about 30cm of snow in Sunniside and it has caused some damage on the allotment. The roof of the fruitcage has been wrecked. It has collapsed under the weight. The issue now is how to replace it next year. Do we put a wire netting roof on, or one that cane be removed in the autumn? We'll decide next year.

The snow has put an end to plans to make more leaf mould, gather hawberries for making ketchup and digging up Jerusalem artichokes.

The snows have arrived

I have been in London and North Wales during the past week but am now home. I haven't been to the allotment yet but know what condition it will be in. We are under about 20cm of snow. This may mean that the remaining cabbages still in the ground are ready frozen but it also means that no work can take place there.

The good news is that when I returned home I found a couple of pheasants had been delivered by Johnnie, a friend who goes shooting. I'll be plucking and gutting soon!
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Wednesday 24 November 2010

Breadcrumbs and using up the sausage meat

We found some pork sausages in the freezer recently and used some of them to make toad in the hole. Alas, the sausages were awful. We were about to throw them out but my hatred of food waste kicked in and I came up with an alternative. I made a meat loaf with them.

To do this, I removed the skins and put the meat into the food mixer along with three leeks, garlic, fresh herbs, bread crumbs, an onion and a couple of eggs. I also added in some left over gravy and cheese source from a previous meal.I then mixed them all together and baked them at 180C for 90 minutes. We ate a slice with some fried up potatoes and runner beans left over from a previous meal. It wasn't the best meal I have made but it wasn't bad.

Most of the meal therefore consisted of ingredients that most people would throw out. Admittedly we had to buy the eggs and the onion (our crop of onions is close to being used up) but the rest were either leftovers or came from the allotment. The loaf will do us for about three meals.

We keep a box of breadcrumbs in the pantry and I advise everyone else to do the same. Breadcrumbs are a useful ingredient and can be made easily from stale ends of loaves that would otherwise be thrown out, fed to the birds or put on the compost heap.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

How to make sweet mince

It's autumn so thoughts turn to mince pies. And also to how I can use up the pears and apples that I picked in the early autumn but which won't survive storage over the winter. Using them to make sweet mince was the solution. So, in this video, I show you how to make sweet mince using apples and pears.

Making leaf mould

leaf mould Nov 10

November may be the time when most of the crops are harvested but there is one resouce that is abundant at this time of the year and should be harvested in large quantities: tree leaves. They make an excellent compost and soil conditioner. The problem is they take at least a year to rot down.

To make leaf mould, rake up fallen leaves in an area away from main roads and put them into large, bin-liner bags. Store the bags for a year in the corner of the garden or allotment. During the year, the leaves should rot down and their volume considerably reduced. You will then have a good quality compost ready for use. (If you feel the leaves have not rotted sufficiently, leave them in the bags until the following spring).

Thursday 18 November 2010

Newsletter now ready

At last, I have got round to writing the first edition of our newsletter about our attempts to become self-sufficient. So here it is. If you want to receive future editions by email, send a message titled "garden subscribe" to

Self_sufficient Newsletter No 1 November 10 (Email)

Monday 15 November 2010

Rosehip jelly

I wish I had made a video about this and I may well do so as I still have plenty of crab apples left and there are still rosehips to pick. Today I made rosehip jelly. On Saturday I got an unexpected supply of crab apples. My mother had spotted them whilst out walking the dog so she phoned me to tell me where they were. When I went to pick them I decided they were not crabs but small eating apples, though they are a bit tart. I also found a load of rosehips so I picked them as well.

So, how to make rosehip jelly:

half fill the jam pan with apples (chop the larger ones) and rosehips. The ratio to each other is up to you but I suggest to get sufficient rosehip taste, the weight of rosehips should be at least 40% of that of the apples.

Cover completely with water and apply heat to boil the mix. When you have reached boiling point, turn down the heat to simmer the contents for about 2 hours, so that the apples have pulped. Add a bit more water if needed.

Strain through a jelly bag and measure the liquid. Put the pulp to one side.

Put the liquid into the jam pan and boil it. When it has reached boiling point, add sugar - 1kg for every litre of liquid. Bring the liquid back to the boil and keep boiling (and stirring) until the setting point is reach. (To test, put a spoonful on a plate and leave to stand for a couple of minutes - if a skin forms, it is ready.)

Pour into warm, sterilised jars.

The jelly is a lovely red colour.

You can use the pulp to make fruit butter rather than throw it onto the compost heap. Put it back in the jam pan and add water, sufficient to ensure it is a wet pulp. Reheat the pulp and boil it for about 5 minutes.

Allow to cool and then press it through a sieve. Return the resulting puree to the jam pan (measure it first), then boil it. As soon as it boils, add a kg of sugar for every litre of puree.

Bring it back to the boil and keep boiling until the setting point is reach (check in the same way as above). Then add to warm, sterilised jars.

I may have a go at making more rosehip jelly. I've still got a pile of apples left to use up so it may be that I'll do a video about it as well. Watch this space.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Use leftover lemon skins to make marmalade

If you use lemons in jam making (they are a good source of pectin for jams and jellies for those soft fruit that are low in pectin) don't throw out the lemon skins. Use them instead to make lemon marmalade. We put lemon skins into a bag in the freezer and keep adding to it until the bag is full when we boil them all up to make marmalade. This video shows you how.

Saturday 13 November 2010

How to make a sweet cucumber and gerkin relish

The greenhouse gave us a huge crop of cucumbers this year and the allotment provided a seemingly endless supply of gerkins. So we made them into a sweet relish. The video shows how you how to make it.

How to make blackberry jam

Another late video from me so apologies! Blackberry jam is very easy to make and blackberries are abundant in the late summer and early autumn. So I recommend this one for those starting out in jam making.

Here's the video on how to make it.

How to make cauliflower cheese

We had a glut of cauliflowers on the allotment this year and during August we filmed a few videos about cooking cauliflower recipes. Alas, we've been a bit busy recently and have only managed to edit the videos slowly. This one is about how to make cauliflower cheese, always a great Brotish classic dish.

I've already posted up how to make aloo gobi but coming up are cauliflower and stilton soup, piccalilli and summer green leaf soup (which contains cauliflower leaves).

Friday 5 November 2010

The smells of an autumn kitchen

Our kitchen has a lovely autumn smell at the moment. Berries and apples, sweet mincemeat and homemade bread. Wonderful!

The berries and apples are in the jam pan at the moment, simmering away as I make another batch of hedgerow jelly. And I am making a vast quantity of sweet mincemeat. I am using a bag load of wild pears I picked recently along with some of the wild apples I picked a couple of months ago. The mix will stand overnight and tomorrow it will spend a bit of time in the oven before the brandy is added.

Bread baking was also done today for the next week. Finally, I am about to have a large jam tart with cream. I made it a couple of days ago with some of last years jam (bramble butter). We need to use up the old stocks to make room (and I am also running out of jam jars).

And finally, another of my bottles of elderflower champagne blew its cork in the garage today. I'm down to 15 now.
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Monday 1 November 2010

How to make hedgerow jelly - the video

Autumn brings a great crop of wild berries and fruit from hedgerows. I've been out recently picking blackberries, sloes, elderberries, hawberries, crab apples and rosehips. One of my favourite autumn preserves is hedgerow jelly (and its by-product hedgerow butter). In this video I show you how to make them.

Sunday 31 October 2010

How to make crab apple jelly - the video

There are still plenty of crab apples around and they are great for making jellies - they are packed full of pectin, that all important ingredient for setting jam (along with acid, heat and sugar!)

We make crab apple jelly most years. It can be spread on jam but is also very pleasant with cold meats.

Saturday 30 October 2010

Filming for the Horticultural Channel

The Horticulture Channel is being launched in March 2011 and I have spent today being filmed for it. The producer came up from London today with camera and we headed off to the allotment and the local woodland to shoot some footage before heading back to the kitchen to film there as well.

The website is being developed but you can visit it at

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Bye-bye piccalilli

piccalilli Aug 10

The plan to become self-sufficient can have some unintended outcomes if we don't think properly about what we are doing. If we have a surplus, we get a table at a local makers' market so sell it and to promote what we are doing to encourage others to grow at least some of their own food.

Alas, we took all the piccalilli we made in August to our first makers' market last week and ended up selling it all. This was a mistake. We have made 7 jars and we should have held some back for ourselves. We have had great reports from those who bought a jar but we never had the chance to taste it ourselves. We will have to wait until next year to make some more!

I do have a video filmed about how to make picalilli. It's not edited yet. Things have been a bit busy recently. I'll try and get it sorted soon.

Pink fir apple potatoes

pink fir apple potato Oct 10

I'm not sure if I need some therapy for this but I have been raving recently about how good the pink fir apple potato is. It is one of the crops of potatoes we grew this year and we are very pleased with the results. It has a lovely pink skin - though how fir apple comes into the name is not something I can answer.

Cook them in their skins which are after all their most nutritious part. Lightly boil them. Very good as a salad potato.

This is one we are hoping to grow again next year.

Going nuts about hazel

hazel Oct 10

If you haven't yet got in your hazel crop it is probably too late. The squirrels would have beaten you to it. Hazel nuts are one of our wonder foods. They are high in vitamins and essential oils. But what really interests us in the protein. They are stuffed full of it. And as we aim to become self-sufficient, having a good supply of protein in the face of reduced meat consumption is really important.

Over the past month I've been out picking hazel five times in local woodland. Most will be used in nut loaves. We have stored them in a hessian sack in our garage. Nice and cool and dark there.

Friday 15 October 2010

Jam production line

hedgerow jelly Oct 10

I am having a jam-making day. Yesterday I set away some hedgerow jelly and having strained the pulp overnight, today I carried out the final stage of turning the strained liquid into jelly. I then pressed the pulp through a sieve and made hedgerow butter from the puree.

Not content with that, I made some bramble jelly using some leftover blackberries and crab apples. On the cooker at the moment is a pan full of crab apples which I will use for making crab apple jelly.

Tonight however I am off the jam treadmill. Instead I will be making pear and apple chutney. The apples were picked wild in September but I picked the pears over the weekend from a derelict orchard near our village.

And finally, if you haven't picked your hazel nuts, get them as soon as possible. They won't last much longer. I've been out five times to pick them and have gathered about 6kg. That's our protein supply guaranteed for a few months!

(Photo is of the hedgerow jelly ingredients - minus the sugar of course)

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Another fully self-sufficient dinner

I should have posted this on Sunday but I'm running a bit late on things at the moment. On Sunday we had a fully self-sufficient meal. For starters we had corn on the con. Main course was pheasant, roast parsnips and roast potatoes and sage and onion stuffing. The only disaster was the stuffing itself. The sage was rather old (dried and left over from last year). Nevertheless, it was a good meal.

I have subsequently stripped the pheasant and the meat will be chopped up and mixed with mashed potato and coated with breadcrumbs to be fried, later this week. The bones were used to make stock for a leak, potato and nasturtium soup. I picked the leaks on Sunday. They were actually thinnings but I had no desire to see them go to waste.

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Beekeepers' meeting

We are planning to keep bees and in August we went on a beekeepers' course. As a result we joined the Hexham Beekeepers' Association. Tonight was the first meeting we have attended. It was a question and answer session. All useful stuff for us. We are definitely going ahead with getting at least a couple of hives even though it all looks a bit daunting. I'll keep you in touch with progress.

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Saturday 2 October 2010

The problems of storage

Our freezer is full. We have no room for another. In the allotment world, this counts as a mini-disaster. As the crops come in, we are desperate for storage space.

I extracted from the freezer earlier this week a bag of lemon skins to make into marmalade. This barely scratched the surface in terms of freed up space. There is a large bag of blackberries in the freezer as well and my plan is to use it in a hedgerow jelly recipe. But it rained and rained through the week, preventing me from picking the other berries I need. As I have now come down to London for a few days, the jelly will have to wait. So the freezer continues to be full.

What we have no space for are the runner beans and cabbages. Dad is kindly donating space in his freezer for the beans though there are still loads to come in. I'm rather concerned about the cabbages however. They are still on the allotment and the rabbits are getting fat on them.

We are pickling what we can. Runner bean chutney is interesting! But we are going to have a big sort of all the food stores when we get back to free up freezer space. Were we to get to the bottom of our chest freezer, it could be interesting what we find!

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Friday 1 October 2010

Lemon marmalade

Lemon marmalade does not at first thought appear to be something a person into self-sufficiency in the UK would produce. After all, we don't grow citrus fruits. we buy them in the supermarket who have had them imported over vast distances. We do however use lemons in some jam making, especially with soft fruit which has insufficient pectin to allow the jam to set. Lemon is high in pectin so we add the juice to the jam mix.

I've made quite a bit of blackberry jam recently so we have been getting through quite a few lemons. So here's a tip you may want to try to cut down on waste. Save the lemon skins. Add them to a bag in the freezer and when it's full use them to make lemon marmalade.

Boil up the skins but keep a few fresh skins for shredding. Add the shreds to the strained liquid and reboil, adding 1kg of sugar for every litre of liquid.

Check for the setting point then add to warm, sterilised jars. the result is a good sharp marmalade, produced from something that would otherwise be thrown onto the compost heap.

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Friday 24 September 2010

How to make blackberry vodka - the video

It's autumn so there is an abundance of blackberries. In this video we made blackberry vodka.

How to dry tomatoes

We have a glut of tomatoes from the greenhouse but didn't want to freeze them or preserve them by making them into a pickle or ketchup. So we had a go at drying them. This is how we did it.

Allotment update - August 2010

Sorry this is late. My excuse is that I've been away for quite a bit of September. The video covers our beekeeping course, harvesting potatoes grown in bags and picking cauliflowers, runner beans, tomatoes, baby leaks etc.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Making blackberry jam

The wild blackberry crop is in full swing now. Yesterday, in less than an hour, I picked over 2kg from one corner of Lotties Wood, next to our village of Sunniside. Blackberries grow everywhere and you will find a good supply of them growing in urban areas as well. Blackberry jam is easy to make and it is one I recommend to people who ask me for jam-making-made-simple recipes. I used the blackberries I picked yesterday to make 9 jars of jam. This is what you have to do.

Blackberry jam recipe

Put your blackberries into the jam pan after weighing them.

For every kilo of blackberries add the juice of 2 or 3 small to medium lemons.

Apply heat and bring to the boil.

Keep the pan simmering until the fruit has become a mushy pulp.

Stir in the same weight of sugar as weight of blackberries and bring back to the boil.

Keep boiling until the setting point is reached (to test for this put a tablespoon of jam onto a plate, allow to cool and if it forms a skin, it has reached the setting point).

Then add to warm, sterilised jars.

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Friday 17 September 2010

More blackberries

I walked over to Lotties Wood, on the edge of our village of Sunniside, this morning to check out the hazel. It's not quite ready yet. What I picked instead was a tonnage of blackberries that will keep me going for a while. And there are mountains more still to pick. My first job is to make blackberry jam which I will set away in a few minutes.

The blackberries are early again this year. In my youth we used to call school half term in October "Blackberry Week" as that was when we went picking blackberries (sometimes we called it potato picking week). I wonder if climate change is changing the times when wild crops are ready for picking.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

The price of food

Consumer Prices Index announced today at 3.1%. This is higher that the Government's target though not unexpected. The pressure on inflation is coming from two sources - air travel and food, both of which we need to use more economically anyway. My confession is that I have just stepped off a plane, one of three flights I am making this year. I am hoping to have an air travel free year next year though I can't guarantee it. What I can guarantee is that next year we will be closer to our goal of food self-sufficiency. The rising cost of food is having only a marginal impact on us simply because most of what we eat we have either grown or foraged. It's a lifestyle choice for us but it is one that is paying a dividend, despite the hard work! Nevertheless, I have been predicting food price rises for the past three years, hence one of the reasons why we decided to become more self-sufficient.

Changing eating habits, growing what you can, wild food foraging and most importantly, avoiding food waste can have a major impact on a household budget. As food prices continue to rise, we are all going to have to be more intelligent with the way we get our food and use it.
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Sunday 5 September 2010

More crops

Three trips to the allotment were needed yesterday to carry back everything we picked (though one trip involved picking blackberries growing next to the allotment.) We picked more tomatoes, runner beans, gherkins, cucumbers, rhubarb, cauliflowers and cabbages.

The tomatoes were semi-dried in the oven for four hours and then stored in a jar of olive oil. Everything else has gone into the freezer, including the cauliflower leaves (steamed first).

We kept one cauliflower aside however to make cauliflower cheese. Watch out for the video on this. I'll edit and post it up soon.

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Saturday 28 August 2010

Unstuffed leaves

My plan last night for dinner was to stuff some cabbage leaves with paella rice. What had stimulated me to do this was an attack on our cabbage crop. A pincer movement of rabbits and slugs had declared war on bed 2 and had plundered our otherwise beautiful cabbages. So we can't leave the cabbages for too long in the ground. We need to pick them and use them. Cabbage strikes me as something notoriously difficult to make interesting. Nevertheless, I'm going to give it a go.

I steamed some cabbage leaves to soften them. Into the paella I added from the allotment onions, a shallot and tomatoes. From the supermarket came a bit of chorizo sausage. The cabbage leaves however turned out to be a bit too small for stuffing. The experiment didn't quite work. So, I simply laid them on the plate to make a bed for the rest of the meal (which included some new potatoes - the first of our crop - and home made nasturtium pesto).

How to make nasturtium pesto

Last year we grew nasturtiums on the allotment as a food crop. They have a habit of spreading and smothering everything in sight. This year we didn't plant any but we still have plenty of them! So we have been harvesting nasturtium leaves for use in salads and soups. However, I had been planning to make nasturtium pesto so in this video I have a go at making it.

It turned out to be rather tasty. Our plan had been to use it on some pasta but we decided instead to put it on some boiled new potatoes from the allotment. Very nice!


I mentioned the other day that we went on a beekeeping course last week at Bill Quay Community Farm in Gateshead. The course tutors were Mark and Kym Pritchard who keep bees out in the Tyne Valley near Hexham.

During the course, a swarm of bees appeared so we trooped out to watch Mark and Kym capture it.

We also checked out the bee hives.

We hope to start keeping bees next year. Watch this space!

Friday 27 August 2010

How to make strawberry and gooseberry jam

Plenty of strawberries on the allotment this year so we decided one way to use them up was to make strawberry jam. Strawberries however are very low in pectin so to get the jam to set, you need to add fruit that is high in pectin. That normally means adding lemon. This time however we opted for gooseberries. These are high in pectin and are a great complement to strawberries. See the video to see how I got on.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Watch out for cauliflower recipes

The glut of cauliflowers on the allotment has forced us to test out lots of recipes. So far I've made aloo gobi, stir fry, cauliflower and greenleaf soup and cauliflower and stilton soup. Shortly I'll be making picalilli and then cauliflower cheese. Any further suggestions and recipes are welcome.

Watch out for the forthcoming video on using the cauliflower glut I have been filming. It's not finished yet but I hope to have it on YouTube soon.

How to bottle fruit

Bottling was a common way to preserve fruit before freezers were widespread and in an attempt to keep the skill alive, I taught myself bottling last year. This year we are doing more bottling. Our freezer is full so we have to bottle fruit if we are to stand any chance of preserving it for use over the coming months.

In this video I bottle gooseberries and cherries.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Thinning and cropping

We spent a good part of the day on the allotment yesterday thinning leaks and parsnips and cropping cucumbers, gherkins, onions, garlic and tomatoes. I had feared that both the onion and garlic crops were going to be poor. Neither was as good as we have had in the past but my worst fears were not realised. We got modest crops from both though the red onions were poor (the white onions were much better).

The leaks should have been thinned some time ago but hopefully they will now have space to grow, as will the parsnips. We kept the thinnings. I used the leak leaves and the stems of the onions that had bolted to make vegetable stock. This was then used to make a cauliflower and green leaf summer soup. That's the rather fancy name I have conjured up for this recipe. The idea behind it is that I wanted to use cauliflower leaves rather than throw them away. I'm rather proud of the final result as it was a great soup yet most ingredients would otherwise have been thrown straight onto the compost heap.

I'll post up the recipe shortly.

On a beekeeping course

Today David and I have been on a beekeeping course at Bill Quay Community Farm in Gateshead. The course is provided by Mark and Kym Pritchard. Their website is: It's been an interesting and enjoyable day and we are going back tomorrow for the 2nd part of the course.

Our plan is to get bees soon (though probably next year) but we want to learn the ropes before going ahead. Reducing our intake of commercially produced sugar by producing our own honey is a key step towards becoming self-sufficient.

By an amazing coincidence, a swarm of bees was found on the farm this afternoon so we all got kitted up and rushed out to watch it captured and placed in a box to be taken to Northumberland where the Pritchards live and keep their hives.

Friday 20 August 2010

Jam tarts, apple pies and aloo gobi

After a frustrating day trying to deal with an email system that rejected every attempt to send a group email, and having spent quite some time writing an article for a publication I edit, I decided to abandon my office for the kitchen this evening to make jam tarts and an apple pie.

We still have some jam left from last year and we want to use it up as soon as possible as we need the storage space for this year's preserves. 24 jam tarts barely scratched the surface but they did taste fantastic! I also made an apple pie from the apples I bottled last year. I've not tried it yet so can't comment on its quality. The apples were a bit of a mush as it was not my most successful attempt at bottling fruit (it was also my first attempt so I was learning the hard way!)

I also had a go at making my first aloo gobi today. We still have a load of cauliflowers growing on the allotment so cauliflower recipes are popular reading with us at the moment. If you are interested, our cooking with cauliflowers will be on a YouTube video soon. We've filmed (today) how to make aloo gobi but we will also be filming how to make cauliflower and stilton soup, green leaf soup (using cauliflower leaves) cauliflower cheese and deep fried cauliflower with a dip. There may also be a cauliflower curry coming up soon as well.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Something has been eating our broad beans

We think mice are the culprits but nearly all our broad beans pods have been nibbled from our bean plants and are left in piles around bed 2 where they are growing. The sides of the pods have been knawed away. This is rather disappointing as broad beans are an important crop for us. They go with most meals and I also use them in making bean loaves and veggie burgers. Last year was an excellent crop. This year the success looked to be repeated until those little critters got to them.

Anyone any recipes for mice? I think I will refer to my ancient Roman cookbooks!

Monday 16 August 2010

Bottling, rhubarb, cherries and gooseberries

bottled fruit Aug 10

If like me your freezer is full and you want to try a more traditional way to preserve produce, try bottling it. I first tried bottling fruit last year, learnt from my mistakes and now find it quite straightforward. In the past month I have bottled gooseberries, cherries and rhubarb (admittedly not a fruit but regarded as such by most people).

My mistake last year was to use kilner jars that were too large. Get some kilner jars that are small enough to be completely emmersed in your deepest pan.

Top and tail gooseberries before bottling but don't stone the cherries. Rhubarb should be cut into lengths of less that 2cm. Pack the fruit as tightly as possible into the jars.

Sugar syrup should contain 200-250g of sugar per 600ml of water. Pour the sugar into warm water in a pan and bring to the boil. Leave to boil for a minute then allow to cool slightly (only slightly) before pouring into the fruit filled jars. Seal the jars. If you are using screw top jars do not fully tighten the lid. This is because you will now add the jars to a pan of warm water. Make sure there is a table cloth or a wooden pan stand in the bottom of the pan as the jars could crack or break if they are in contact with the base of the pan when being boiled. Apply heat to the pan. The water should completely cover the jars. The rubber ring in the kilner jars should allow out the pressure during heating. Not fully closing the lids on screw top jars will also allow out the pressure.

Heat the pan to close to boiling point and allow to simmer for a couple of minutes. At that point, they are done.

If you want to use honey instead of sugar, recipes I have seen suggest that is quite workable. As an historian, I guess that using honey has a much longer history for bottling fruit than sugar. So far I haven't used honey as we don't have our hives yet. However, we are going on a beekeeping course soon!

We are planning to use the bottled fruit in pies and desserts later this year.

Break in at the allotment

Over the weekend there was an attempted break in on our allotment. We have a little shed, not one you can stand up in, but more like a cupboard with the roof being the door. Someone had tried to force it open but nothing was taken.

Then on the allotment this evening our neighbour called round to tell us he had had a break in over the weekend and equipment had been stolen. Alas the route the thieves had used was through our allotment. The hedgerows with the derelict allotment next to ours was cut back by the owner recently with the result that gaps have opened up. So tomorrow we are going to fence off the whole length of if, all 12 metres.
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A good crop of cauliflowers and cabbages

cabbage cauliflower Aug 10

This photo was taken a week ago. The cabbage and cauliflower crops are coming along very well. We are having to pick some of the caulis now before the florettes open out and grow separately. So far we have had cauliflower cheese and caulifloer and stilton soup. I want to have a go at aloo gobi, one of my favourite Indian dishes. I've never made it before but I have eaten it many times. I'm also planning some spices fried cauliflower dipped in a sauce. I'm still hunting recipes for this.

We didn't grow cauliflowers last year and the year before that when we did manage to grow was more an excuse for a crop than the real thing. So we are very pleased with this year's produce.

How to make raspberry and rhubarb jam

raspberry and rhubarb jam Aug 10

I made this jam last night. It is very easy to make and tastes lovely. The raspberries were picked wild though we are very much at the end of the season (though we have some late summer raspberries growing on the allotment). The rhubarb we grew on the allotment.

What to do:

The ration of raspberries to rhubarb varies according to taste but I used slightly more by weight of raspberries to rhubarb simply because of the quantities I picked (900g of raspberries to 800g of rhubarb).

Chop the rhubarb into lengths of less than 1cm. Add raspberries and rhubarb to the jam pan. Add the juice of two medium lemons for every kg of raspberries and rhubarb. Apply heat. When it boils, leave it simmering until everything has pulped. Then add sugar - same weight of sugar as total of raspberries and rhubarb.

Bring back to the boil and keep boiling until it reaches the setting point. The add to warmed jars.

Saturday 14 August 2010

Watch out for those wild fruit and nut crops

For me, the wild fruit season starts in late June when the cherries are ripening. We are now towards the end of the wild cherry crop and having just been to my house in London, it is clear that the crop there has now all but gone. Any fruit that was left on the trees there would have been gobbled up by the wood pigeons weeks ago. Further north at my house in the North East of England, the cherries ripen later but even now, in mid August, there won't be many left. However there will be plenty of other fruits now ready for picking.

I am on the train from Crystal Palace to Victoria in London at the moment and can see a great crop of blackberries and elderberries along the railway embankments. It is still a couple of weeks to go before we can start picking elderberries back in the North East but the blackberries are beginning to ripen there as well. So be ready with jam and wine making recipes - and pies as well! Try bottling the fruit as well for later use. One of my videos still waiting to be edited is about bottling cherries. Use the same techniques with blackberries. The video should be posted up soon (I may even try to edit on the train to Newcastle this afternoon).

Rowan, or mountain ash, are ripening as well. They are very common though rowan jelly, which is easy to make, is a bit of an acquired taste though it goes well with cold meats.

Apples are also beginning to ripen as well. Check along country lanes in particular. The bad habit of some drivers of irresponsibly tossing their litter from their cars does sometimes result in seeds in discarded apple cores growing into trees. The apples are free for the picking so go get them. Watch out for crab apples as well. They will be ready soon. These are best used in making jellies as they have a good level of pectin. I've never used them for anything else but have set myself the task of finding other uses for them.

Raspberries are still in abundance and you can't beat raspberry jam. Pick them by the bucketload.

Check out old orchards and road verges for pear trees. You will be surprised how many you find. Further south they will be ripening soon. Up north give them a few weeks.

Rosehips are now ready for picking. They can be used in jam making. We are going to dig out wartime recipes for rosehip syrup. Rosehips are very high is vitamin C.

The gooseberry season is probably at an end now but keep your eyes peeled in hedgerows. There may be an odd bush that hasn't given up its bounty yet.

Sloes are just starting to ripen in London. They still need a couple of weeks but get the sloe gin recipes ready. They can also be used in jams and jellies. It will be a bit longer before they ripen up North.

And so on to nuts! Food foragers and those trying to become self-sufficient love hazel nuts. They are the wonder food of the community. They are packed full of protein and oils. Lotties Wood, next to our village of Sunniside in Gateshead, has hazel in abundance. They aren't ready yet but further south they are starting to ripen. Do not hang around before picking them. You will be in an intensive competition with grey squirrels for hazel.

Beechnuts will be ready soon though they tend to elude me. Whenever I pick them they are little more than dried out skins inside the husks. However I am not prepared to give up on them yet.

Acorns will need about another 4 weeks. We use them for making flour. Admittedly you have to be heavily into food foraging and self-sufficiency to do this. I am keen however to look at other ways to use acorns. When I was in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco last year, I heardof people there collecting acorns and cooking them. But I did not witness it first hand and since then my attempts to find anything on the internet has drawn a blank. If anyone can help me on this, I would be eternally grateful.

And finally sweet chestnuts. They aren't ready yet. They probably need at least another month. When they are ready you will need heavy gardening gloves to pick them. As well as roasting them they can be used to make flour for cakes. We've not tried it before as we didn't have enough but we did use them with hazel to make nut roasts. If we get a big enough supply, we will definitely be making flour. We have an eye on a woodland near David's sister's house. I found loads of sweet chestnut trees there at Christmas last year. Too late for picking at the time but this year we are planning an expedition there.

So happy foraging!
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Friday 13 August 2010

How to make cherry vodka

We've been making fruit licquers recently. In this video we make cherry vodka but you can also see our sloe gin and raspberry gin at the end. Before you ask, we used Sainsbury's Basics Vodka. Don't use any expensive brands.

Thursday 12 August 2010

How to pickle gherkins

Gherkins in abundance from the allotment and in this video we pickle some in a sweet pickling vinegar.

Monday 9 August 2010

Coming up

I came down to London last night and will be here for a week. I have a meeting coming up with a DVD producer who is interested in some of my video work. My London home is in Upper Norwood so I will also be using the time here to make a short video about wild food growing in Crystal Palace Park. The point of it is that even in urban areas, there is plenty of free wild food waiting to be picked. Hopefully it will be filmed, edited and uploaded before the end of the week.

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Disappointing garlic crop

Our winter garlic has proved to be somewhat disappointing. Planted in November and harvested yesterday, some of it had gone rotten. None of it was of the good size we got last year. We do have our spring planted garlic to pick but I fear that is not up to much either.

If you are expecting a good garlic crop, one thing we found over the last year was that good storage is important. We hung all our garlic in our garage (nice and cool, little direct light and we don't keep the car in it.) But by the start of this year, we found it was drying out. So, I suggest splitting a good crop. Half to be hung up; the other half stored in olive or cooking oil.

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How to pickle gherkins

gherkins Aug 10

The summer glut of gherkins is in full flood so I have put together this recipe for a sweet pickling vinegar to pickle gherkins. I went for sweetness as 2 years ago when we last had a successful gherkin crop we pickled them in ordinary pickling vinegar and found the end result disappointingly sharp.

So here's the recipe for sweet pickling vinegar and how to pickle gherkins.

The first job to do is sprinkle salt on the gherkins and leave them to stand for 24 hours. Then rinse them.

Pack pickling jars or large jam jars with whole gherkins. Slice longways those too large to fit in or where whole gherkins won't fit the space left.

To make one litre of sweet pickling vinegar you will need:

One litre of white wine vinegar
400g sugar
1 tablespoon of mustard seeds
2 teaspoons of celery salt
2 teaspoons of turmeric
one teaspoon ground mace
2 cinammon sticks
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds

Put the vinegar into a pan and begin to heat it. Add and stir in the sugar and then add all the spices and seeds. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. (Actually, I say this makes one litre but in reality a bit of the liquid is lost to evaporation.)

Let the vinegar cool but when it is still hot pour onto the gherkins, filling each jar to the brim. Seal and leave for about 6 weeks before starting to use.

Pickles gherkins can keep for quite some time. The ones we pickled 2 years ago are still being used by us, even though we were disappointed at how sharp was the taste. The ones we have pickeld this year however are likely to be used up more quickly.

Below: me with 2 of the 8 jars made in the first batch of pickled gherkins.

gherkins pickled AUg 10

We'll soon be doing some pickling recipes with chopped gherkins and cucumbers. Watch this space.

Explosive elderflower champagne

On Saturday it was Dad's 80th birthday party held at my sister Esther's house in Newcastle. I supplied the homemade elderflower champagne. Two bottled are from last year, one from this year. All had a good fizz to them but when I opened the bottle made this year, the cork shot out. Fortunately, I was in the back garden. Nevertheless, the cork followed quite an impressive trajectory over the garden shed and landed some distance down the street!

And then overnight 4 of the 30 bottles I made in June decided to fire off their corks in the garage where they are brewing. Most of the bottles have corks rising from the nozzle and are only held in place by the wire cages put on them when they wwere first bottled. I fear however that we will lose more of them before the year is out.

Meanwhile, watch out for forthcoming posts on making red champagne. I first came across red champagne when I was in the Crimea five years ago. I haven't made it before but I guess I can ferment blackberry and elderberry juice in champagne bottles. The later blackberries will be better as they tend to be more juicy but setting it away in October should mean we can be drinking it in time for Christmas.

Christmas potatoes are growing

A couple of weeks ago we reported that we had received some potato tubers for summer planting and cropping in time for Christmas. We have planted out three potato bags, each with 4 tubers and I am now pleased to report that they are sprouting and shoots are just breaking the surface of the compost.

The potato bags were a good investment. We grow plenty of potatoes on the allotment so the bags are an addition for us. However, for people with no allotment and only a small garden - or indeed no garden at all - potato bags are very useful. They can be used on patios, balconies and flat rooves.

Our greenhouse is too small

greehnhouse Aug 10

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago and since then, the plants inside have grown further. Inside the greenhouse we have 7 varieties of tomatoe as well as aubergines, peppers, chilies, basil and cucumbers. At the moment the cucumbers are cropping prolifically. We are testing recipes this week for relishes and pickles for cucumbers and gherkins so watch this space for forthcoming posts and videos.

The big problem we have is that the greenhouse is simply too small (it's a 6 X 8). We are thinking of using the plots behind the greenhouse for a polly tunnel. We will make a decision on that shortly.

Meanwhile, we are about to be met by a tidalwave of tomatoes. This year for the first time we are also growing beef tomatoes. They are all green at the moment but are already a good size.

Thursday 5 August 2010

Some of our recent pickings

Here are some of the crops picked recently.

strawberries Aug 10
These strawberries will be used in jam making. The plan is to make gooseberry and strawberry jam. Strawberries have very little pectin but gooseberries have more and using them together means we have a jam that sets rather than runs.

Soft fruit by the bucket Aug 10
Cherries and gooseberries. I've been picking plenty of cherries recently. The red/yellow cherries are very sweet so tomorrow I'll be bottling them. The black cherries have been made into jam. More about that soon. The gooseberries came from our neighbour Vic's garden. There were too many for him to use so we swapped him some jam for the chance to pick his fantastic crop of gooseberries. A pie will also be on his way to Vic shortly (and yes we will be making a video on how to make a gooseberry pie!)

gherkins Aug 10
We have gherkins by the bucket load. These ones have now been pickled in sweet spiced vinegar. In the photo you can see they are sprinkled with salt - the start of the pickling process. As will have a video about pickling gherkins coming up shortly. It's already filmed but we haven't edited it yet.

Shallots Aug 10
A pile of shallots. This is the first time we have grown them and we had a good crop.

Cherry Vodka

More cherry vodka was bottled yesterday. This batch was started last year and I have to confess, we forgot about it. Over the weekend I rediscovered the kilner jar containing the vodka and cherries. I bottled the licquer and we are keeping the vodka pickled cherries for use as ice cream toppings or in trifles and pies. I have picked a large quantity of cherries in the past few weeks from trees in local parkland so yesterday I also set away another batch of cherry vodka. Watch out for the video coming up shortly also filmed yesterday on making this rather pleasant fruit licquer.

cherry vodka Aug 10

Above: the recently bottled vodka. Below, the pickled cherries which will be used as toppings or in pies and trifles.

cherries preserves in vodka Aug 10

Sunday 1 August 2010

July allotment update

This is the latest video on how we are getting on on the allotment.

An update on bed 1

bed one jul 10

This is bed 1, taken last week. This is the oldest bed on the allotment - so this is the 3rd year we have had crops from it. Top left to bottom right: potatoes, leeks, parsnipsa and celeriac.

The leeks will need thinning, a job I've lined myself up for over the coming few days. The thinnings will be eaten as baby leeks.

Notice the nasturtiums in the bottom right of the picture? We keep having to strip them away from the path. Almost as quickly as we chop them back, they have grown to fill the space. We tolerate them on bed 2 where they grow between the broad beans and don't cause too many problems. If they get onto bed 1, they will smother everything.

Cabbage patch

cabbage patch Jul 10

It's sad but yes, we are getting very excited about our cabbage patch. After the disaster of our winter cabbages (eaten by both the rabbits and slugs), the cabbages we sowed in the spring as in pristine condition. We are going to get a heck of a crop.

cabbage Jul 10


sweetcorn Jul 10

The sweetcorn we planted on bed 3 is coming along very well. We have 26 plants growing and we have now found corn cobbs beginning to develop. We grew sweetcorn last year but the results were at best modest. Hopefully this year we are heading for something more substantial.

bed three jul 10
This is bed 3 where the sweetcorn is growing (towards the left of the picture). It shares the bed with garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, courgettes, a blackcurrant bush and shallots, though the latter have now been harvested.

Summer fruit jam

The current abundance of strawberries and raspberries from the allotment was added to last week when we gathered in our crop of red currants. I decided to make a summer fruit jam of all three together. Using the red currants in this way meant there was a good supply of pectin and I did not have to add lemon. This is what I did:

900g strawberries
400g raspberries
400g red currants

All the fruit was added to the jam pan and heat was applied. When it has all pulped down, add in 1.7kg of sugar (ie the same weight of sugar as fruit) and then bring back to the boil. Keep boiling for a few minutes until it has reached the setting point (to test it has, put a spoonful on a plate and leave it to stand for a couple of minutes. If it develops a skin, it has reached setting point.)

This jam is a lovely mix and has a fantastic red colour.

summer fruit jam Jul 10 1
At this point the fruit is beginning to pulp down.

summer fruit jam Jul 10 2
(At this point the fruit has turned to a lovely red coloured mixture.)

Enjoying a sloe gin

As I write this post, I am sipping a lovely sloe gin. It was bottled about a month ago, have been set away in a kilner jar last autumn. I've had a look at the sloes growing near our house and they are coming on well. You can use them for more than just gin. There are jams and jellies to make this autumn as well.

One wild crop that has been very successful this year is cherries. Councils love to plant cherry trees because they look pretty in the spring when covered by blossom. My interest is the fruit that starts to ripen in June. Last year, the crop was largely gone by the start of July. I had been in Iceland in the last week of June 2009 filming geysers and waterfalls. My plan had been to pick cherries on my return. And on my return, I found all the cherries had gone. This year they just keep on coming. Bucket loads of them. I was out again this afternoon picking cherries. I have already made cherry jam. More jam will be made tomorrow and I'm planning some cherry fruit leathers. Watch this space (the cherry jam video will be filmed tomorrow).

Today I also picked a bucketful of gooseberries. Our neighbour Vic told us there were too many for his own use so invited us to pick the fruit in his back garden. One of the jams I will make is strawberry and gooseberry. The advantage with this mix is that gooseberries have pectin, strawberries don't. The combination will set. And we have plenty of strawberries on the allotment. Watch out as well for some of the gooseberry pies we will be making soon.

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Wednesday 28 July 2010

Late July update from the allotment

We seemed to do plenty of weeding over the weekend. Yet the allotment still seems to be full of weeds! What are no longer on the allotment are the shallots. I picked them on Sunday along with the redcurrants, and another batch of raspberries and strawberries. Back in the kitchen, I turned all the fruit into a summer jam - recipe to follow.

I am concerned about the garlic. Last year we had a fantastic crop. I lifted a couple of bulbs from the ground on Sunday and they were unimpressively small. We'll leave them a few days yet but I am expecting a disappointing crop. Perhaps the weather - our coldest winter in 30 years and a dry spring - have affected them.

Gherkins and cucumbers however are doing well. We have now picked a large number of gherkins and we'll be pickling them shortly.

Fruit growing on the allotment

Latest video from the allotment and we decided to focus on our fruit crops. We have plenty of raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants and red currants. Watch out for the jams, pies and fruit drinks we have made.

Friday 23 July 2010

Christmas potatoes

They arrived in the post today: 4 small bags of seed potatoes. This is definitely an experiment for us. The potatoes will be planted this weekend in potato bags and should be ready for harvesting at Christmas.

The varieties we have are Bambino, Vivaldi, Maris Peer and Carlingford.

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Thursday 22 July 2010

Raspberry picking

raspberries jul 10 2

This evening we spent a bit of time picking more raspberries on the allotment. I've got enough to make about 2kg of jam. I need to check on the wild raspberries near our village though last week when I looked, they still had some way to go before they ripened. When they are ready, raspberry jam output will rocket!

Wednesday 21 July 2010


shallots jul 10

We have never grown shallots before but this year we decided to have a go with them on bed 3. I'm pleased to report that have come along well and we will be picking the crop shortly.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

As requested - courgette, gherkin and cucumber photos

A reader has asked me to post up some photos of our courgettes, gherkins and cucumbers so here they are.

cucumber jul 10
Cucumbers in the greenhouse. We have loads of them. A very successful crop and we will be looking at recipes to use them up shortly. I may even stretch to doing a video.

gherkin jul 10
Last year's gherkin crop was a complete failure. This time we are about to be hit by a glut of them. Definitely one for pickling. And there will be a video on this soon - we'll probably film it next week though we are still searching for a recipe for sweeter pickling vinegar.

bed 3 jul 10
Having posted up all my recent photos onto Flickr (click on the above photos and you will be taken to my Flickr account) I have just realised that I haven't any close ups of my courgettes! The above photo is of bed 3. You can see the courgettes growing in front of the artichokes. We've already had a few meals with courgettes and we are on the outlook for interesting and challenging recipes to try. If anyone has any ideas, please send them to me.

Busy as a bee

We are thinking of getting bees so when we were at the Northumberland County Show in May we handed over our contact details at the Hexham Beekeepers Association stand and then forgot all about it. That was until we got an email from them last month inviting us to visit a site they have in the Tyne Valley where we get to open some hives and handle some bees. The pictures below were all taken on our visit. The hood makes me look as if I am wearing a nuclear fallout suit!

Since the visit we have signed up for a weekend course in August that is being held at Bill Quay Community Farm in Gateshead. I'll keep you in touch about how we get on.

Beekeeping Jul 10 2

Beekeeping Jul 10 6

Beekeeping Jul 10 3

Beekeeping Jul 10 5

Strawberry puree - watch out for ice cream

The strawberry crop is coming along magnificently so over the weekend we picked what we could. We were never going to eat our way through them so i pureed some and put them in the freezer. The plan is to make strawberry ice cream. That means laying my hands on my ice cream maker that someone in my family has (possibly my sister Esther). David has used the ice cream maker in the past. I haven't but I have wanted to have a go for some time. Watch this space!

I'll probably video my efforts.

Last winter I also planned to make ice cream using recipes used in Georgian country homes 250 years ago. That would have meant getting some ice from the local lake. I was going to video it as well as part of a series I am hoping to produce on historical cooking. Alas, I never got round to making Georgian ice cream but later this year I'll give it a go, assuming we have some ice.

Sunday 18 July 2010

A glut of cucumbers, gherkins and courgettes

The greenhouse is full to bursting at the moment and the cucumbers are taking up a large amount of floor space. Last year was our first with the greenhouse and everything was arranged rather haphazardly. This year we were better prepared but nevertheless, it is difficult to get inside, past the most amazing cucumber crop. Meanwhile, out in the allotment itself, the courgettes are in full flow and this evening, I had a look at the gherkins and discovered there were far more than we anticipated.

This is a big imporvement on last year when our gherkin crop failed. Two years ago we grew them and they were a success. We pickled them and then discovered that the vinegar tasted too sharp. Now we are looking for recipes for sweetened pickling vinegar though as yet have found nothing. We may end up creating our own recipe.

As for the cucumbers we have been using them with sandwiches and lunches but we are probably going to have to pickle some and give some away. The courgettes are in danger of appearing as a side dish with every meal we have!

We are now at the point where we have decided not to do a weekly shop. We now only go shopping for those basics that we are not providing ourselves - sugar, lemons, flour and milk spring to mind. The freezer is full and we are desperate for space so only the absolute minimum of bought food is coming through out front door. We have loads in the freezer to keep us going for weeks, including peasants and ducks plus some of the beans we grew last year. And we still have salted vegetables and bottled fruit from last year to use up as well.

How to make blackcurrant jam

The blackcurrant bushes we planted on the allotment last year have given us our first crop which I picked last week. I turned it all into blackcurrant jam. The video above is how I did it.

One thing to remember about blackcurrants (and red and white varieties) is that they are high in pectin so there is no need to add lemon to get the jam to set. We use the same weight of sugar to fruit. Other recipes I have seen use more sugar. It depends ultimately on how tart you want it. Some recipes add water as well. We didn't this time but were I making jelly instead, I would.

Friday 16 July 2010

More raspberry jam

Our early summer fruiting raspberries are in full flow at the moment, producing a good crop of fruit. I had a raspberry picking session last week and another yesterday. Both resulted in 4 jars of delicious raspberry jam. I also checked on the wild raspberries growing near our village. They aren't ready yet but I'm looking forward to a good crop in August.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

How to make nettle soup

The best time for nettles for soup making is in the spring when the plants are your and less bitter and woody. Nevertheless, you can still pick young leaves in July for making into nettle soup. In this video, which admittedly was filmed over a number of different days (you can spot that with the different shirts and stubble growth on my chin!) I make nettle soup but add into it some potatoes left over from last year's crop.

The stock was made from pheasant bones. We traded jam for pheasants earlier this year with a friend who goes shooting. The vegetables used in the stock had all see better days so using them in the stock was a good way of using up food that would otherwise have been thrown onto the compost heap.

Saturday 10 July 2010

Lemon marmalade

lemon marmalade jul 10

If like me you get through more lemons than you can shake a stick at, don't throw out the lemon skins! I use lemons extensively in jam making - I squeeze them and use the juice as a source of pectin to set jams containing fruit such as strawberries which have very little pectin. Without pectin, your jam won't set. But I end up with piles of lemon skins as a result. And I hate to see waste.

Put the skins instead into a bag and put them in the freezer. Keep adding to them until you have a reasonable quantity. At that point, add them to a pan, cover completely with water and heat until boiling. Leave to simmer for at least an hour.

Shred two whole, seedless lemons (if not seedless, squeeze them then shred the skins.) Then strain your boiled lemon skins and put the skins on your compost heap. (If any one can tell me a further use of boiled lemon skins please tell me!)

Measure the liquid from the boiled lemon skins. Put the liquid into a pan along with the shredded lemons. Bring to the boil. Add a kilo of sugar for every litre of liquid. This makes quite a sharp marmalade so add a bit more sugar if sharpness is not what you are after. Keep boiling until you hit the setting point then add to hot jars.

I've just made 8 jars from lemons used to make rhubarb and ginger jam. It won't last long! We love this stuff and the rest of the family is well supplied with lemon marmalade as well. But it's been a good use of something that would otherwise be thrown onto the compost heap.

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Weeding and the risk of rabbits

David weeding cabbage patch Jul 10
(David weeding the cabbage patch on bed 2)

Just back from a weeding session on the allotment. I decided it was time to weed out some of the nasturtiums that have been growing on beds one and two. They are uninvited guests, growing from seeds dropped from the plants we grew last year. I don't mind some growing as they make a nice salad crop but they have the tendency to smother everything in sight. On bed two they were smothering our chard crop. Indeed the chard had come off quite badly. Hopefully, with the nasturtiums removed from that part of the bed, the chard will grow again.

I left the nasturtiums that were growing amongst the broad and runner beans. I suspect the beans will come off better.

Meanwhile, the cabbage patch is coming along very well. We have protected it from hungry bunnies with netting left over from the fruit cage. However, the cabbages were outgrowing the netting and we also needed to get in to weed the patch. So we have taken the risk of removing the netting. The patch is now weeded (see David working on it in the photo above). Fingers crossed that the local rabbit population does not descend on us for a summer time feast.

cabbages jul 10

This is the cabbage patch on bed 2. We have some cauliflowers (at the top of the picture) though at the moment there is a great deal of leaf but not much flower.

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Friday 9 July 2010

Potato and nasturtium soup

Last year we planted nasturtiums on the allotment as a food crop. The leaves and seeds have a pleasant peppery flavour. We didn't plant them this year but we have plenty of them growing on beds one and two. Instead of ripping them out and putting them on the compost heap I have brought some back to the house to make into soup with some onions and potatoes. I used pheasant stock and some dried rosemary as well. I'm rather pleased with the results though next time I think I'll add more nasturtium leaves.
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How to make hazel nut burgers

Hazel nuts for us are something of a wonder food. They are packed with protein, oils and vitamins and grow wild in abundance. We gather bag loads in the autumn and they last well into the following year. I recently used up the final hazel nuts from last year to make hazel nut burgers. Here's the video on how to do it:

Monday 5 July 2010

How to make rhubarb crumble

I have an abundance of rhubarb on the allotment. We've made pies and chutney. We've frozen some of it though the freezer is now full. But we've also made rhubarb crumble so here's the video.

Wednesday 30 June 2010

My rain dance has worked

The dry weather we have been having recently has left me worried about the effect on our crops. In particular, the wild cherries here in Sunniside are looking a bit small. They are already late. This time last year they were all ripe. I was on holiday then and when I came back, they had all been eaten by the wood pigeons. The cold winter must have delayed things this year and we are still waiting for them to ripen. I'm also concerned about the potatoes we have on the allotment. Some will be ready for harvesting soon. As a basic food crop for us, it's important we get a good supply.

A couple of days ago I nearly did a rain dance on the allotment. It turned out I didn't need to. On Monday evening we had a heavy downpour. It gave the ground a good soaking. Our water butts also filled up. So, fingers crossed, and perhaps with a bit more rain, the crops will continue growing.

Sunday 27 June 2010

Cherry pie

I was in London last week. Amongst my plans was sorting out my garden there (I have a house at Crystal Palace though Sunniside in Gateshead in the North East of England is my home). I barely scratched the surface of the garden but I did spot that some of the local cherry trees were covered in fat, ripe fruit. I couldn't resist the temptation to pick a tub of cherries and make a cherry pie.

I also had some blackberries pickled in whiskey which have been waiting to be used up since last autumn. We had long since drunk the whiskey but now I found a use for the blackberries. They made it into the pie with the cherries. The result was rather pleasant.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Rhubarb crumble and pies

We have quite a surplus of rhubarb on the allotment at the moment. The quantity is more accident than design. At the start of last year, we thought our rhubarb had died out. We bought more and planted it. The problem was it hadn't died out at all. Now it is all growing strongly. So I have been cooking with rhubarb quite a bit recently.

Yesterday I made a rhubarb crumble. I have a video on this coming up soon. The day before I made 2 pies. And last week, I made rhubarb and ginger jam.

I'm off to London on business for a week but when I'm back, I'll be making rhubarb chutney, more pies and anything else I can think of.
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Tuesday 8 June 2010

Sweetcorn planted and greenhouse reorganised

Sunday was a weeding day. It was also used to reorganise the greenhouse. Whilst I planted the sweetcorn seedlings into bed 3 (having removed any weeds), David sorted out the greenhouse. Last year we made the mistake of having the pots with tomatoes growing in them on the tressle table. The result was we could hardly get moved in there. So the table came out and grow bags with tomatoes and aubergines went on the floor. The bench was left in for the pots with the peppers.

Friday 4 June 2010

How to make pheasant burgers

We had some leftover roast pheasant (we used the bones to make stock) and a pile of dry bread. Combined together they make great burgers, which we ate tonight with pear chutney I made last year.

Pheasant burger recipe

Turn your bread into breadcrumbs
Mince or shred the roast pheasant meat
Chop one large onion
Mix the above together and add in a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil.
Beat at least one egg and add to the mix. The egg is needed to bind everything together. If necessary add more egg until the burgers hold together when shaped.
Fry or grill to cook.
Then enjoy.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Allotment update - May 2010

This is the latest update from the allotment. Crops are beginning to grow.

Greenhouse update

This is the latest update from the greenhouse, filmed over the weekend. Many of the seedlings have been planted out into the allotment already but we have some crops that will remain in the greenhouse: tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and cucumbers.

Sweetcorn will be planted soon in bed 3.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Growing carrots in bags

carrot bag May 10

We have tried - and failed - to grow carrots in the ground on the allotment. This year we are trying out these carrot bags. This photo was taken about three weeks ago so the carrots have come on a bit since then. We'll need to thin them shortly. For now, this experiment appears to be working.

Raised bed

raised bed May 10

This is the raised bed we have installed on bed 4. As you can see we still need to fill it with earth on the right hand two thirds of it. That will come from the pond we are planning to dig to the left of the raised bed. One third of the bed has been filled with compost from grow bags and potato bags we used last year. We've planted beetroot, radishes and some herbs.

Saturday 29 May 2010

Runner bean wigwams

runner bean wigwams May 10

The photo above was taken about 3 weeks ago. We have 3 runner bean wigwams on bed 2, though not on the same part of the bed as they were last year.

We have 3 varieties planted: Galaxy, Scarlet Emporer and an unknown variety from David's uncle and aunt that grew very well last year (better than any other runner bean!).

Since the photo was taken, the beans have been growing and some are now around 5-6cm tall.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Cabbages and cauliflowers under netting

cabbages May 10

The rabbits has a fantastic meal out on our winter cabbages in January. And what they didn't get, the slugs and snails did. With the entire crop having succumbed to these little critters, we planted summer cabbage and cauliflowers in bed 2. We grew them from seed in the greenhouse and David planted them out three weeks ago. This time, cabbage-munching bunnies can't get at them. We had some netting left over from the fruit cage and this now covers the cabbage patch.

There has, however, been one awful consequence. I found a dead bullfinch under the netting. It must have got trapped there.

The above photo was taken about 2 weeks ago. The seedlings look a bit sickly. However, I'm pleased to say that they are coming on well.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Lots of rhubarb

rhubarb May 10

We are heading for a bumper crop of rhubarb this year. It has become something of a tradition in our household now to make rhubarb and ginger jam every May and June. This year will be no different. I'll also make some rhubarb chutney and of course, pies and crumbles.

Friday 21 May 2010

Getting excited about sweetcorn

They say simple things please simple minds. For some reason we have been getting very excited about our sweetcorn. As each visit to the greenhouse goes by, it seems another sweetcorn or two has sprouted. We now have 24 growing. There are still more to sprout.

Last year we grew sweetcorn for the first time. We got a modest crop though we left some of it too long before picking it. The mice had a fantastic meal of the best cobs!

When they have grown sufficiently in the greenhouse, they will be planted out on bed 3, next to the fruit cage.

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How to pluck and gut a pheasant

This video is a bit late. I shot it in January but since then I've been rather tied up on my business and my involvement in the general election campaign. However, here it is. I had to learn last year how to pluck and gut pheasants and ducks after being given some by a friend who goes shooting.

Spreading strawberries

strawberries May 10

I took this photo a couple of days ago of the strawberries in the fruit cage. They are spreading rapidy and much of the ground in the fruitcage is now covered by strawberry plants. Indeed, some have spread under the netting to grow outside the fruitcage. We are happy to let them spread for the time being but we will need to start managing them soon

One of my plans this year is to use the flat roof of our garage as a growing space for plants such as strawberries, nasturtiums and courgettes which spread over the ground. The roof garden plan may need to be brought forward.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Clearing the derelict part of the allotment

When we took on the allotment 3 years ago, it was entirely derelict. It had been out of use for at least a decade and had suffered from a small amount of flytipping. A large, brick greenhouse had occupied the centre of the allotment but had been demolished and the rubble left lying on the allotment.

Over the past three years we had brought two thirds of the allotment into cultivation. The remaining third has, over the past few weeks now been cleared. We cheated and got someone in to do it for us. The result is a much bigger plot than we expected (showing how overgrown it had become) so it is about 40% of the allotment. In addition we have large piles of rubbish and rubble that need to be removed. Our incinerator was used on Saturday to get rid of some of the wood and brambles but frankly it barely scratched the surface.

I walked around the cleared site this morning and thought about possible uses. I'm still wanting to get chickens so it could be a good locaiton for a chicken run. There will be plenty of space left over for crops.

cleared allotment May 10 5

The bricks were from the demolished greenhouse. We are not sure what the corrugated iron was from but we will probably keep it to set up another rainwater collecting system. We collect rainwater in butts from the greenhouse roof but this is not enough for our needs. We have no mains supply on the allotment either.

cleared allotment May 10 3

This photo gives some idea of the size of the newly cleared space.

cleared allotment May 10 2

And this one shows some of the rubbish we need to dispose of.

Sunday 16 May 2010

More weeding and clearing

My presence on the allotment has increased a bit recently as I get back into the swing of self-sufficiency following the major disctraction of the past month that limited my chances to grow and secure my food supply. Yesterday was spent weeding the lavender bed on bed 4. Okay, so it's not food but lavender are great for attracting bees and other pollinating insects to the allotment.

Bed 4 is about to have some radical work. The raised bed has been constructed and I poured into it bags of old compost that were used for growing potatoes last year. We also need to add more and therefore have something of a compost shortage at the moment.

Bed 4 is also going to be the location for the pond we are planning to dig. There are frogs in the area but we want more of them to eat the bugs. Here's to hoping that in the spring next year, the pond will be a neat little breeding centre for them. Getting the pond dug and established now will give them a good lead in time.

Meanwhile, Kev has done an incredible job at removing the undergrowth on the disused part of the allotment. It looks even bigger than I ever anticipated. Lots of space but lots of work to bring it into cultivation.
A bit delayed caused by other events (in other words my involvement in the recent UK democratic process!) but here is April's video update. We'll be filming the May update soon.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Beans, seeds and weeds

Even if nothing else grows weeds seem to and a lot of time recently has been spent digging and weeding.

The fruitcage has been repaired and the surprise was how strong and heavy the snow must have been to bend the metal tubes that make up the cage. It took a lot of effort to straighten them.

Broad and runner beans have been planted. Three wigwams for the runners for three different varieties - Galaxy, Scarlet Emporer and an unknown variety from David's uncle and aunt that grew very well last year.

Seeds planted earlier in the year are growing well - the courgettes in particular which have come on from seeds to small plants very quickly. Planted this weekend were Swiss Chard seeds outside together with cabbage and cauliflower plants that had been grown from seed. Also sweetcorn has been planted in pots in the greenhouse.

Kev (the person clearing the abandoned part of the allotment) is doing a great job and soon we will have a bonfire and then start digging it over.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Beds and Planters

This weekend we have put in a raised bed. We cheated and bought a kit from a company called LBS Garden Warehouse. The bed is put together with fastenings that will hold hoops and polythene if we buy the next part of the kit. We think we will because it would be useful to have a polytunnel.

Bed 1 has been dug over and planted with potatoes. We have gone for Kestrel, Majestic and Pink Fir Apple as the varieties this year - just for a change not any particular reason. We also have planted leeks, parsnips and half a row of chrysanthemums. The latter were a free packet of seeds which filled a patch in the bed.

We have also put two varieties of potatoes into planters (potato bags). In these have gone Charlotte and Mayan Gold. We always have a problem with carrots so this year we are trying carrots in a shallow planter to see what happens.

The seeds in the greenhouse seem to be doing well and this weekend we also planted courgettes.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Spring salads on their way

It is a miserable day today on Tyneside. Rather a pity after yesterday's sunshine. However I can see through the rain that the dandelions, wild garlic, raspberries, hawthorn and brambles are all producing a good crop of fresh green leaves. They make a great wild spring salad. Time to get picking!
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Sunday 28 March 2010

Rosemary & Rhubarb

Although we have planted some herbs on the allotment we didn't plant rosemary as we had a large bush of it in the garden. However not all of it survived the winter so we have cut out the dead branches and are going to trim back the rest of the bush - possibly drying some for storage.

New growth is also appearing on the rhubarb plants as they begin to show above the soil. Again this is something we wondered had been lost due to the cold winter. Maybe Spring really has arrived.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Spring at last - perhaps!

The bad winter has delayed work on the allotment this year and we still have to repair the damage done to the fruit cage by the heavy snow falls. However the weather is now better and we have been digging the beds over in preparation for planting. Also as a result of the bad winter the water butts are full.

The greenhouse has been cleaned and tidied. Seed potatoes are sitting in seed trays chitting. We have gone for different varieties this year and also have some in very small quantities for growing in bags.

We have planted various seeds - tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers for the greenhouse along with some herbs. Others such as cabbages are for planting out later.

Onions (red and white) along with spring garlic. Five tubers of Jerusalem artichokes have been planted today. This is an experiment as we haven't grown or eaten them before.

Projects we want to start soon are a raised bed to help increase drainage in an area of the allotment which can be quite damp. Also we want to create a pond to give a home to the frogs we keep finding.