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.