Mindless vandalism

I have been shocked that some of my neighbouring allotments have been badly vandalised. The plot which won one of the prizes last year and is a real inspiration to us all was broken into, the cages and gate smashed and the bean posts bend and broken. The allotment next to me had its gate smashed and the top of the tool box hacked into. My own plot is furthest from the main gate and the path and was not damaged although I do have a hoe which was thrown away by the vandals and I will return to the neighbours. I find it very difficult to understand why anyone would take even the smallest bit of pleasure from undoing someones very hard work. There cannot be any reason to cause such damage. We have all formed a local Allotment Watch group and although we hope this is a one-off we will have a few more people on the look out in future.

Vandalised bean poles

Broken cages and fence at the allotment Feb 2011

January Catch-up

It seems ages since I managed to add anything to the blog even though there has not been much to do in the garden and allotment. The kitchen has been very busy cooking up all the veg that is still in the freezer or in the garage. Time seems to have evaporated with the daylight.

I will try to do a bit of a catch-up.

December as many will remember was extremely snowy and cold. It was pretty difficult to get anywhere and the leek and sprouts were frozen into the ground.  The birds were having a hard time but at least there are still berries around and a lot of people are feeding with extra food.

I finally got around to fencing off the whole allotment, to start with as best I could as the ground was too hard to dig. Since the thaw, I have managed to bury the mesh and build what I hope will prove to be a rabbit proof gate from broken pallets. It is looking quite professional.

I managed to dig some leeks and also the few potatoes given to me by one of the neighbours and grown under a cold frame. We had ‘new’ potatoes in the first week of January.

My seeds are all bought and I have two new fruit  trees coming  in late January- a medlar and a quince. I am looking forward to putting them in.

I have managed to tidying up the garden and looking at my various pots, I was astonished to discovered the one of the pots with Duke of York red potatoes still had some sound potatoes and I was able to harvest 750 grams which went really well roasted with root veg and chicken. These potatoes have survived temperatures of down to -12C. They were in big pots and surrounded by compost but it is still a surprise they were not mush.

On a sad note the farmer in the field behind has pulled up our two hedges. I am not sure why as the field and hedges were a haven for wildlife and the field has not been used for crops or grazing for many years.

Winter allotment work

>Temperature is -2c and bright and sunny. Sunday is the only day I have time to work on the allotment. Last time I visited I found a rabbit under one if my cages. So now I have to put in a proper fence all round. On arrival I discovered that my kale has been stripped by birds. So it will have to go under a cage again.
The ground is so hard that to dig a suitable trench for the fence I needed a lump hammer to break up the frosted clay . Two hours later and I put the back fence in but ran out of daylight for a proper job on the front. So I have tacked an unburied piece of wire across the front as a temporary barrier. The rabbits will not be able to get under as the ground is too hard for them to dig.
It is too cold to harvest anything but I hope the kale grows back.

What to do with that halloween pumpkin?

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If you are as lucky as we were and your nice allotment neighbour gives you a good tasty but big and orange pumpkin you might like to try this.

1. Only carve the pumpkin on the morning of Halloween this is tricky if like me you have a 10 year old son who wants All Hallows to be a day and night long event. Oh, make sure you draw the shapes with  a non-toxic and washable pen!

2. Do light a candle in it but put holes in the top to stop too much internal cooking.

3. Once you have scooped out the seeds and other slimy stringy stuff , pick out the seeds (or ask someone to do it for you- a useful job for the very keen Halloweener)

4. Allow the sweet fest for trick or treating to take place

5. As soon as is safe, blow out the candle and put the pumpkin in a cool place – e.g. the garage.

6. Next day slice the pumpkin into segments- you can throw away the ‘face’ if you are squeamish or vegetarian ( i.e.don’t eat anything with a face’)

7. Set the oven to 180 C and put the segments of pumpkin onto a roasting tray, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper and dried crumbled chillies. Roast, flesh side up, until very soft – to help it along part way through score the flesh in a grid patten (about 1 cm square). This can take up to an hour but is usually around 40 minutes

7. Take the roasting tray out of the oven and allow to cool sufficiently to handle.

8. Scoop the flesh from the skin of the punpkin and put into a bowl.

9.  This can be used for many dishes
i) as an additive to risotto- heat through, and stir in to the rice just before the rice is cooked.
ii) add to cubed cooked potatoes, put in a baking dish with enough water or stock to give aound 5 millimeters of liquid in the bottom of the cover in grated cheese, Add breadcrumbs to the top and bake in the oven at 190 C until golden brown – about 30 minutes but do watch it. You can use cheese sauce instead of the grated cheese and stock for a more succulent dish.
iii) make soup- fry some onions in a large saucepan or stock pan until soft but not browned ( about 20mins on a low heat), add the cooled pumpkin and enough stock to cover the pumpkin with about 2cm of liquid above the flesh. Add a bay leaf and heat to boiling and then simmer for 10  minutes, add salt to taste, more chillies if you like the heat/ spice then take out the bay leaf and blitz with a hand blender or in a liquidiser – taking care not to burn yourself. If you want a thicker soup add cooked potatoes and blitz again.

10. With the seeds, arrange them on a flat oven tray, sprinkle with salt and if you like dried chili or paprika or pepper then sprinkle with olive oil and put in an oven at around 200C for 10-15 minutes. Test to see if they are crisp when eaten.  Once slightly brown and crisp allow to cool a little then use as a very health snack. You can rejuvenate the crispness by putting a handful into a small dish and microwaving on full for about 15 -20 seconds. This will warm them and crisp them up again
Enjoy

More from the allotment

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I have been very quiet over the last few months as it seems to have been one long harvest, runner beans by the sack load, courgettes by the tonne, so much salad, potatoes and onions that I now have two onion bags and four sacks of potatoes in the garage. I managed four aubergines, two large and one small butternut squash. A pumpkin, borlotti beans, cabbages, kale and purple sprouting have all done well.

The carrots were small but tasty especially when roasted in rape seed oil. The red chard has gown by the bucket load.
The artichokes have started to produce small buds which are delicious boiled for5 minutes, trimmed cut in half and covered in melted butter
The tomatoes have not really ripened but surprisingly seem to be turning red in the kitchen nearly two months after picking.

Still to come leeks, black kale and calebrese all doing well and I hope will overwinter
As an experiment I have planted out red and white onions and garlic- all went in at the end of September. In October I have under cover some winter lettuce, broad beans, beetroot and potatoes (to see if we can get any for Christmas.
Weeding has started in a flurry before the ground gets too hard or wet or both. I am leaving the runner beans up, there are still new beans forming, I hope the older ones have beans in the pods and I will be able to harvest these for the winter.
My herbs are flourishing, the Thyme below is flowering well as is the marjoram. Others need some cutting back.

Aldeburgh Food Festival, Snape Maltings, Suffolk 24-26 Sept 2010

A somewhat belated post following a great weekend at the Aldeburgh Food Festival at Snape.

The layout was different this year with more stands outside and more demonstrations and other events. The weather was pretty terrible particularly on the Saturday afternoon  but I was lucky enough to see some fantastic cooking and  demonstration  from Gerald King, the Butcher from  the Suffolk Food Halls in Ipswich http://www.suffolkfoodhall.co.uk/ . I learned more about brazing steak ( three types from the shoulder blade plus chuck and skirt) than  I realised was possible.

Gerald also demonstrates for The Suffolk Safari who has a stand and were cooking up foraged fungi for passers by.

Gerald the butcher
Suffolk Safari with puffballs
The main marquee had some great producers including an newly started business The Suffolk Providore
who have sources some fantastic local food and will deliver to your door- if you are in  North East Suffolk.
Sheila Dillon from The Food Programme on BBC R4 chaired a lively discussion (she is in the yellow top, below)

The cookery demonstrations I enjoyed the most were from Galton Blackiston from Morston Hall

Galton Blackison doing his demo with foam
and by far the most entertaining Thomasina Miers of  Wahaca who really brightened up a very damp afternoon.
Tommi Miers entertaining the crowds
A mention for  the exceptional food available to eat and try.
I had an excellent veal burger from local rose veal supplied by the Suffolk Food Halls in very trying circumstances
If I had had room I would also have bought the great Fish and Chips  from the award winning The Fish Hut.
A final word about a great development in primary school education is that Suffolk County Council are encouraging schools to grow their own as part of the curriculum and participate in cooking as well.

Fungi forage

This autumn has been the best for many years and I have been careful to gather the species I know and love to eat. The fields around St Albans were full of field mushrooms this year in late August and September, I have gathered many, and still have some of the smaller ones in the freezer – they do defrost well and will go into a stir fry or stew. In the same fields we have been lucky to have a number of giant and other smaller puffballs, surprisingly they are slightly harder to spot as they seem to like to appear under the hedges.

This Giant puffball was fried in butter until golden brown and eaten with poached egg.

My sons school has given me official forager status (with no liability on their part) and they have a great collection of fungi appearing. The most tasty has been the parasol which appeared in great abundance.

Out in the woods in mid August I spotted some oyster mushrooms high in a tree. I eat some fried in butter with garlic but the rest were riddled with maggots which proved very entertaining..

Just a note of caution- please check and double check any fungi you are going to eat, it is very easy to make a mistake and this can be fatal. I use at least two books and stick to a very limited group of edibles but even then check all the characteristics.

The book I find the most useful is: Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1

Chippings and fences

The Parish Council ground staff have been busy. All the clippings from the hedges bushes they have been pruning have been chipped and our very weedy access path has now been well and truly mulched. The problem is that it made my end allotment look rather odd- with no definable edge. Luckily one of my allotment neighbours has some spare wire which was just long enough to fence in the side open to the path. I am now on the scrounge for more wire for both ends. The post are not as upright as they could be as we are on a hill and I found it very difficult to keep things completely true. Still it all is secure and forms a nice border.

Courgettes and runner beans a plenty;  lettuces, carrots and shallots all doing well. My first potatoes have been dug and eaten- about 10kg from the 5 plants growing between the legs of the runner bean plants

I have also planted some Cavalo Nero for the winter- on of my favourites. It is protected by another of my net cloches. I could not bring myself to remove the regrown Tom thumb lettuce which has stated to sprout again.

>Allotment 17- more harvest and lots of weeding

>The last few weeks have been spent digging up comfrey, nettles and thistles which seem to grow as you watch. With such dry weather watering has been necessary every evening, which is fun to do but is playing havoc with my work shoes.

I have been harvesting lots of courgettes and runner beans, load of lettuce, radish and red chard and one or two more exotics such as kohl rabi, aubergine and two very small globe artichokes.

>Allotment 16- Sun, Water and weeds

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This week is scorching, there is a high demand for water and for some reason the weeds seem to grow as I watch. The cages are keeping the birds off the cabbages for now, my potatoes are in leaf, the onions are about 10 cms tall, and the first flowers are showing on my beans. The mixed salad is growing well but not enough to eat. Radishes are coming up well but the leaves seem to attract flea beetles so are full of holes.
 Pictures below show the current state of play and the strange cage constructions,