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This site is dedicated to seeking out the rural idyll. It is a dream to live a simple rural life for many especially if you spend too much time jammed on trains going to big cities. The reality may be different but there is no harm in dreaming.

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

Recipe for pointy cabbage

This works with any cabbage leaves but spring or pointy work well as does January King.

You will need one pointy cabbage ( the central bits not the thick leaves), one garlic clove ( a segment) crushed, about 50 grams thinly sliced chorizo or about 3 cms of Hungarian spicy sausage (Waitrose)- chopped up into small cubes – about 3 mm square

Wash and slice the cabbage into thin strips, if it has a thick vein – cut this out and just use the leafy bits.  Heat some oil in a Wok or large saucepan, I use olive oil but any will do. Add the chorizo or spicy sausage and quickly stir fry- the pan will start smoking and the meat will crisp up.  Add some crushed sliced garlic- about one segments per cabbage and quickly stir, before it turns brown add all the chopped washed cabbage. Take care as the water on the cabbage will cause the oil to spit.  Stir for one to two minutes until the cabbage has wilted a bit. I like my cabbage quite crunchy but if you like it softer then keep in in the pan for a bit longer. Add a small amount or ground pepper and serve. It goes well with buttered new potatoes, roast potatoes or on its own.  As a variation start by frying an onion until it is nearly soft then follow the recipe.

Vegetarians or those without the spicy meats needed can just use a chilli, thinly sliced with or without seeds if you want hot or not so hot.

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.

What to do with the produce?

Here are some simple recipes that I have been using over the last few weeks with the allotment harvest.
Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos before I ate the food. I suppose this proves how great it was.
All these recipes are for two people and can be scaled up. If I have inadvertently borrowed your recipe, please let me know and I will give full credit.

1. Stuffed Courgette  flowers based on a recipe from the River Cottage Handbook No 4 Veg Patch

Slowly fry until softened but not brown a finely chopped onion then add
3-4 small courgettes, cut into small pieces, salt and cook until soft. Add to the softened mixture a small clove of crushed garlic and cook for a minute or so.  Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool a little.
Make a batter of  about 100 ml cold fizzy water, 75 g flour – I use 00 Italian white plain flour as it is very fine and can be mixed with the water easily, add a pinch of salt and the yolk of an egg, beat with a whisk until a fine smooth batter like emulsion paint.- refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Carefully part fill a deep pan with frying oil – I use olive oil but groundnut would work. A deep fat fryer would also work.  Heat the oil to around 180c – Watch it and take care not to set fire to anything or spill it.

While the oil is heating – do keep watching the oil during this to avoid setting fire to the Kitchen! Using courgette flowers (either the male ones or any that were on the end of the courgettes themselves), gently spoon in the fried courgette and onion mixture and lightly twist the petal tips to close the flower. Once all the flowers have been filled  ( 6-10 depending on the size of courgette), take the batter, whisk then dip each stuffed flower in the batter and immediately add to the hot oil. Only cook 2-3 at a time. They will be golden in about a minute, remove onto kitchen towel to drain and put in the next three flowers until the are all cooked. Put on a serving place, lightly  sprinkle with salt and serve

2. Spicy green beans
This is a quick and tasty way to use all those runner or french beans

Take a handful of beans- around 200grams, top and tail, then chop up to around 3cms long. French beans can be left whole if you prefer. Heat some olive oil in a pan or wok and when hot put in the beans and quickly stir. Add 1 teaspoon of ground cumin seed and 1/2 tea spoon of hot paprika – smoked works best.
Stir and add a crushed and chopped clove of garlic. The garlic and spices will coat the beans. After about a minute, add some tomatoes, either finely chopped fresh or tinned or passata. Just enough to coat the beans- around 100 grams. Cook until the beans are as soft as you want and the tomato is a paste.

3. Stuffed marrow or overlarge courgette.

Quantities vary with the size of the marrow but I used this amount for a marrow that was about 35 cms long and two courgettes which were each about  25 cms

Heat some olive oil in a pan or wok and add a finely chopped onion, turn down the heat and cook until the onion is soft- about 15-20 mins.  Add  about 200gms of mince- lamb, pork or beef  and cook until brown. Vegetarians can add finely chopped mushroom instead of the meat.  when cooked remover from the heat  and add around 100 gms of bread crumbs and  if you have it  a good handful of fresh origano and parsley. The mix in an egg , stir together.

Cut off the ends of the marrow and slice horizontallly down the middle. Scoop out the seeds and the stringy bits around the seeds.  Using a larg preferally low lipped dish or tin, loosly line with foil which should be oiled or buttered on the inside ( for you to put the marrow on).
Fill the cavity of both halves of the marrow with stuffing and smooth down. put the two halves together and tie around with cotton string. put onto the buttered foil and make the foil into an envelope loosley around the marrow. Put in the oven at 180 C for around an hour until the marrow is soft and the juices have started to run into the bottom of the foil.

To serve, carefuly remove the marrow from the foil onto a serving plate, cut the string and remove and cut the marrow in rounds each with some suffing inside. Eat with new potatoes or rice.

If you have any left over, refrigerate for up to 2 days.   Slice up in rounds and lay in a gratin dish. cover in chopped tomato or passata and grate a thick layer of cheese over the top. Bake in oven  for around 30 mins at 200 until the cheese has melted and browned. If it take too long put under the grill to finish off. Most hard cheeses will work. I tend to use Cheddar.

4. Lebanese Moussaka
This is very tasty and does not have any cheese or dairy based sauce.

Cut up one medium sized aubergine, first in half  then into slices- you should be able to get 6-8 slices per aubergine.  Heat some olive or groundnut oil in a saucepan or deep fat fyer until it is 180 C. Fry the aubergine until goldern brown- it is best to do 3- 4 slices at a time and then drain on kitchen paper.
Chop up one onion and fry in a pan until soft then add two crushed, chopped cloves of garlic and 3/4 of a can of tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Line a gratin dish with the aubergine, then cover with cooked chickpeas – I use a tin of brown chick peas. Cover the chickpeas with the tomato, onion and garlic mixture and finally cover with thin slices of tomato, drizzel with olive oil and a light twist of salt and pepper and put in the oven at 180 C for around an hour but check after 40 minutes to ensure that it has not dried out. The Tomatoes on top should be soft and beginning to brown and everything else should be soft and succulent. Can be eaten hot, warm or cold.