Saturday 28 May 2011

Making elderflower champagne on the Horticultural Channel

Making elderflower champagne May 11 2

The next edition of the Horticultural Channel is on Sunday 29th May. In it I will be making elderflower champagne. I make it every year - I still have 10 bottles left from last year. We decide to include it in the programme as I get quite a bit of interest from readers of my blog and viewers of my videos in how I make it. It is also a fantastic drink to make.

Horticultural Channel can be viewed at 9am on Sunday 29th May on Sky Channel 166.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Leek and Bacon flan

leak and bacon flan May 11

We still have a few leeks growing on the allotment from last year so I made a flan to use some of them up. I added in a bit of bacon as well. Here's the recipe:

Shortcrust pastry for the base (self-raising flour, rubbed with half the weight of fat - I used margarine and a bit of water to bind it all together;

Roll out the pastry and put it into a flan dish or baking tray.

Chop a couple of medium leeks and add to flan dish.

Chop one or two rashers of bacon and add to flan dish.

Beat two eggs and pour over the bacon and leek.

Grate a small amount of cheese and sprinkle over.

Put in oven at 180C for about 20 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Monday 23 May 2011

The rotovator has arrived

rotovator May 11 2

Actually, the rotovator arrived a couple of months ago but we used it for the first time over the weekend. And what a fantastic bit of equipment it turned out to be. I did 3 hours worth of digging in 10 minutes! For the amount of land we now have to look after, it is a necessary addition.

Where is the rain?

When I saw the weather forecast for today I was left with a glimmer of hope that we would get some rain. We had gales this morning but it was lunchtime before the rain arrived. It was a downpour but it didn't last long enough to dampen the ground. On the allotment this afternoon I dug two trenches to plant potatoes but the ground was bone dry. We need soem rain - and we need it badly.

Sunday 22 May 2011

More potato planting

Bed 2 on the allotment is large - half the size of Dad's allotment up the road in the next village of Marley Hill but only a fraction of the size of ours. So it is quite a size and we have planted it out entirely with potatoes. Spuds are a staple crop for us. We have already experimented with using them as a wheat flour substitute and they are our most important carbohydrate source.

Three quarters of bed 2 were planted with potatoes last month. The seed potatoes I planted today were from Dad. He has been ill recently and so he has not been able to deal with them. He has also given us all his onion sets. So the issue now is what to do with the seed potatoes we have left - and we have plenty of them. Some will go the Dad's allotment which we are helping to run in his absence til he is better. Some will be used to grow potatoes in bags on our patio at home and some will go with me to London this week where I will plant them in our garden there.

Also planted today were dwarf beans into pots to grow up our new trellises and celery onto bed 3 which we grew from seeds in the greenhouse.
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Saturday 21 May 2011

Topping up with courgettes and cucumbers

We have grown a number of courgette and cucumber plants from seeds but some have been lost, probably as the result of gorund frosts after they were planted out into the allotment (they were grown from seed in the greenhouse). So we have planted more seeds in the greenhouse and most of them are growing. Nevertheless, when I was at the Whickham Fair in Chase Park, Whickham (in Gateshead, Tyneside) I couldn't resist the temptation to buy all the courgette and cucumber plants on the Children with Cancer charity stall. They will be planted tomorrow.

We've only done one trip to the allotment today, which was to drop off the compost we bought this morning and water the plants in the greenhouse and growbags. We will plant the cucumbers and courgettes tomorrow though the big job will be building the polytunnel. Watch this space for news on how we get on.

Friday 20 May 2011

Self-sufficient update: March and April 2011

This video is the update for March and April. It's now spring and after the worst winter for 50 years we are now suffering from the driest spring for 100 years. Wild crops are now ready for picking. I make various dishes with the wild leaves I gather in local woodlands. The potato and onions are planted and I show you how to make rosemary jelly.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Opening beehives

On Saturday I went to the apiary belonging to the Hexham Beekeepers Association in the Tyne Valley in Northumberland. We have 2 hives on order but the trip was to give us a bit of experience with handling bees before we start keeping them ourselves.

Monday 16 May 2011

Yet more weeding

I have spent a great deal of time over the past 10 days weeding the allotment. The big new compost bin we built is now full to overflowing and the compost heap next to it is growing into a mountain. Today I set to work weeding bed 5, in the top corner where we have raspberries, horse radish, gooseberries, rhubarb, broad beans and herbs growing, along with a few fruit trees. Whilst on my knees digging up buttercups, I could see just how much the raspberries have spread. We knew they were invasive when we planted them a couple of years ago but later this year I will dig some of them out to stop them taking over. I'll be looking for new homes for them.

Meanwhile, as I weed my way around the garden, I have been followed around by a blackbird which makes a meal of all the bugs and worms I dig up. She is getting rather tame. This afternoon she was right next to me chomping away at the worms. She was a bit more distant in this video from April in which she feasted in what was available on the raised bed on bed 4.

How to make rosemary jelly

This is a good recipe to try if you have a surplus of apple cores and peelings as well as plenty of rosemary growing in the allotment. It's great with cold meats but try it with roast lamb as well.

Friday 13 May 2011

Making nettle tea on the allotment

We have invested in a camping stove so we can now make tea on the allotment. On its first outing, we decided to make nettle tea.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

How to make a wild garlic and nettle flan

This is the final video I made recently about cooking with wild garlic and nettles. This is a very basic recipe.

Make shortcrust pastry (plain or self-raising flour, half the weight of flour as fat and a bit of water to bind it). Roll out and put into a flan dish. Chop some wild garlic leaves and add to the flan dish along with some small, young nettle leaves. Pour over some beaten egg, covering all the leaves. Then bake in an oven for about 15-20 min until the egg is golden brown.

Monday 9 May 2011

How to make bacon and wild garlic potato cakes

In setting out to become self-sufficient (we aren't there yet), and with my historian's hat on, I have been exploring what people ate during the years of rationing (1940-54 in the UK). The meat supply then was a fraction of what we have now and potatoes formed a large part of the British diet. After the fall of France in 1940, Britain's supply of onions was diminished to the extent that onions became prized possessions that were given as wedding presents. So wartime cookery gave me the inspiration for this recipe I created to use up leftover mashed potato. Wild garlic is one of my favourite wild foods and it contains all the benefits that go with members of the onion family. It also allows us to eek out our meat supply - at the moment all our meat other than pheasant and duck which a friend swaps with us for jam - is still supermarket supplied.

wild garlic and bacon potato cake mix Apr 11

Here is the recipe: chop a handful of garlic leaves and fry a couple of rashers of chopped bacon. Mix the chopped leaves and the bacon into the mashed potato and shape into cakes. Don't make them too thick as you will inevitably cook the outside and find the middle is cold.

Fry the cakes in a modest heat. Too high and you will incinerate the outside and leave the inside undercooked. Turn over a coupple of times until they are browned on the outside and then eat hot.

How to make a wild spring salad - the recipe

This recipe has a large number of variations depending on what you have growing wild near to you. Before picking however there are a couple of rules to follow: if you don't know what it is, don't touch it (there are plenty of poisonous plants out there and some that, though they aren't poisonous, could cause a few upsets or runs to the loo if taken in large quantities); and secondly pick away from busy roads or where people walk their dogs.

Wild leaves come in a variety of tastes and textures. Don't let one type of leaf dominate, go for about 6 or 7. The following are some of the commons ones to use: dandelion, dock, wild garlic, cow parsley, blackberry and raspberry leaves (both are quite dry so you will definitely need a salad dressing). I also add in early hazel and hawthorn leaves. These should be pale green and not fully grown when picked. Leave them any longer and they will be too woody to eat.

Lay the leaves onto a plate and then make your salad dressing. This is effectively a mixture of olive oil and white wine or cider vinegar which is then sweetened. Start with a table spoon of oil and two of vinegar. Mix together. Then add your sweetner. I have been using hawberry ketchup recently. I made it last year and it has a sweet flavour which I think goes well with the wild leaves. Pour in enough to sweeten the dressing to the level you want. If it remains too sharp because of the vinegar, add in a bit more olive oil. As an alternative, you can use sugar or honey.

Pour the dressing over the leaves. Then add some cold, boiled potatoes. The best salad potatoes in my opinion are pink fir apple. We grow lots of them (we planted a large quantity last weekend on our allotment). These potatoes have a slightly waxy texture which holds together well when boiled. A nice extra touch is to chop and fry a little bit of bacon until it is crisp and then sprinkle it over the potatoes.

Finally, if you want to make this into something of a feast, hard boil some eggs. Then slice them in half and scoop out the yolks which can then be mashed with some chopped wild garlic leaves. If you have plenty of eggs, mash some of the yolks with the ketchup. Spoon the yolk mixes into the egg whites.

And that's your wild spring salad ready for eating. If you watched edition 5 of the Horticultural Channel you will see me making this salad. Watch closely and you will see a bottle of homemade sloe gin on the table. A glass of it made a very pleasant addition to my picnic!

Typical - it chooses to rain now

We have had the driest start to spring that I can remember. No rain of any serious quantity for about six weeks. During that time I have had to work long hours on some of my other, non-gardening activities. Now that that work is behind me and I can get down to the allotment a bit more, it chooses to rain. Indeed, not just rain. We had a terrific storm this afternoon whilst I was weeding bed 4. When it stopped I emerged from the shelter of the greenhouse and found the ground too wet to continue weeding so I came back home.

Bed 4 is in need of a thorough weeding because it is the location for two new additions to the allotment - a pond and a polytunnel. We have a raised bed there already but the polytunnel will go onto it. The soil from the pond will be added to the raised bed, hence the need to remove every weed from it. I'll keep you posted as to how we get on.

Sunday 8 May 2011

Replanting the strawberries

We have been doing some serious work on the fruit cage recently. The roof was badly damaged by the snow in December so we have built a new one. I spent much of the afternoon assembling the netting for it. Within a few days we will put it on the fruitcage itself.

The strawberries are doign very well, indeed too well. I am a bit concerned that they were flowering in mid April. This seems remarkably early. Nevertheless, they have also been spreading and have covered much of the floor of the fruitcage. They have also spread onto the neighbouring land and I've spend a bit of time digging them out. I've brought most back to the house and this afternoon I planted them into grow bags which I put on the path in the back garden. We don't walk along the path very often so it seemed a good use for an otherwise unemployed space. With a bit of luck we'll have a good crop.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Wild garlic and nettle soup

This is another video from the series I shot recently on cooking with wild garlic. I find nettle and wild garlic go quite well together. In this recipe, I use wild garlic to make the stock and then add more garlic leaves, nettle to the stock to make the soup. I have added potatoes and jerusalem artickokes to give the soup some body.