Wednesday, 28 July 2010

I got sunshine in a bag.

I'm guessing that Gorillaz didn't have Rowan berries in mind when they talked about sunshine in a bag but look at that photo and tell me it's not appropriate. The children and I gathered about 4lbs this afternoon having learned our lesson from last year when we left it too late and were faced with several treeloads of old, wizened berries. I've waited almost a year to taste Rowan jelly so it'd better not disappoint!

The big discovery of the day though was a Mulberry tree. That kind of makes up for the loss of our Quince tree to municipal tidy mindedness last year and, rather neatly, this one was a Xanthe spot ("Blackberries Mummy!") to Willow's initial Quince tree spot.

We didn't recognise it outright, it's like nothing I've seen before. A towering, full size tree with what appeared to be large red and black blackberries tumbling from the boughs and plopping softly onto the grass below. I took some fruit and leaves home and 5 minutes on Google images identified them for me. The plan is to go back next week (after our action packed weekend) and fill as many ice cream tubs as we can get our hands on, then it's Mulberry cook-a-thon ahoy. I haven't actually tasted them yet as by the time I got them home and identified them, they were looking a bit battered, but there seem to a lot of people out there on t'interweb who rate them highly.

I reckon Apple need to come up with a new i-phone app. A bit like that mobile phone thing where you can play some music to your phone and it identifies the track for you. When in the field one should be able to photograph a random wild fruit, send it to a website somewhere and get an instant, reliable id back so you know whether to add it to your picnic or give it a wide berth. (you can have that for free Apple, though a complementary i-phone wouldn't go amiss)

Anyhoo - this year's preserve wish list is below. This is a list of everything I either made and considered a huge success last year, or missed an opportunity to make and want to try in 2010. Hopefully there will also be plenty of ad hoc foraged gluts to deal with along the way too.

Courgette Pickle (done)
Apple and blackberry butter
Pickled damsons
SeaBuckthorn jelly (the gelatine kind, not the preserve kind)
Rowan Jelly
Sloe Jelly with Port
Red Wine Jelly
Cherry Plum chutney
Cherry Plum cordial
Blackberry and elderberry cordial
Plum Ketchup
Sloe Jelly
Pears in Cider/Red Wine/Perry

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Our First Cucumber

This is what Xanthe considers to be an appropriate 'I grew a cucumber!' pose, it's unclear exactly why. I hadn't planned on growing any cucumbers but we were at a car boot sale a few weeks ago and saw a stall selling vegetable seedlings for 50p each. I offered to buy one each for the children for their section of the allotment, Willow chose a tomato plant and Xanthe chose the cucumber.

I have to admit I didn't think too deeply about either plant, just stuck them in the ground and watered them. The cucumber has romped away, so far we've had this one and the curly one in the previous picture and we still have a few babies too.

The broad beans have finished now so it feels like we're in a vegetal stasis. We've got Rainbow Chard and courgettes a-plenty but are still waiting for the Cavolo Nero, sweetcorn, pumpkins, borlotti beans and runner beans. I also dug out the religious carrots* and have planted peas instead so I hope my allotment book is correct when it says I'm not too late to get a pea crop. I've also planted some red Pak Choi which should be interesting.

My poor home veggie patch is very neglected this year so I'm hoping to lavish some attention on it this week (children permitting) I've just planted my salad tray with a mixture of my favourite mizuna and peas (as a cut and come again salad crop of pea shoots, not for the peas themselves) I figure that should be a nice mix to use either as a salad or a stir fry crop.

I have to admit that, overall, my crops seem to be a little unbalanced in that they're all either green and leafy or beany poddy. I think that's kind of inevitable given that I'm not too keen on root veg which is probably just as well given the wireworm problem. Next year I think I'll mix in some alliums somewhere along the line though I have to keep to my philosophy of growing crops which are either expensive or hard to find in the shops. I'm thinking green garlic but not sure what else. Any suggestions?

* Holy.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

..... is for Cucumber.

Here's Xanthe's cucumber helpfully teaching her the alphabet. I'm not sure that teaching via vegetables is the way to go though, as it appears to have glossed right over A and B.

Did anyone else tell that silly story as a child, you know, the one that goes "It was a dark, dark night, in a dark, dark house ...." I've adapted it slightly for the allotment, "It was a hard, hard plot, with hard, hard soil in a hard, hard year, watered with hard, hard water by a gardener with hard, hard hands and a hard, hard heart" (all true apart from the heart business)

Our woes have been added to with the discovery that our carrots weren't eaten by carrot fly but by wire worm. A neighbouring plot has lost potatoes to the same pest. Apparently they have a three year life cycle so it could be 3 years before we can successfully grow root vegetables.

However, it's not all bleak. Today I harvested the remainder of our broad beans, we've had about 10 kilos in total so I think that can count as a successful crop. The courgettes and rainbow chard are also cropping well at the moment and the pumpkins, borlotti beans and cavolo nero are coming along nicely too. I am a tad concerned that the sweetcorn isn't growing as quickly as I'd like but fingers crossed.

The courgettes are doing so well that I've been able to kick off the 2010 preserving season with my first batch of courgette pickle (below), hopefully there'll be a few more to come. I've got an exhaustive wish list for this year's preserves, more of which anon but suffice to say I've got my eye on the Rowan berries next .......

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Biggest Lollo Rosso in the World!

After my whiny last post I felt I had to redress the balance somewhat with the astonishing Lollo Rosso I felled this week.

Lollo Rosso is a firm favourite in my back garden veg patch. I can usually buy a tray of about dozen plug plants for a pound or so from a car boot sale in the spring and this is mostly enough to satisfy my salad needs for the whole summer season. They're really easy to grow, fortunately slugs and snails don't seem to like them, they will doze happily among the stems but don't seem to be tempted to actually take a bite.

My harvesting technique is a tad unusual in that I don't chop the whole plant, I leave them to shoot up like a rocket til they nearly touch the sky and then pluck the biggest individual leaves from the bottom. I've always done it this way because I usually need just one or two leaves at a time for sandwiches and this method keeps the remaining leaves in good condition on the plant rather than languishing at the back of the salad draw.

A rather pleasing side effect is that the plants are allowed to grow into these amazing giants. The plant in the photo is just over a metre, we couldn't see the top of it, it got so blooming high. What you can't quite see is how the leaves grow in a very regular spiral around the stem, giving it a geometric, sculptural look. Adam can regularly be found in his bear skin, playing Tarzan of the apes in the back yard Lollo forest.

I took the unusual step of toppling an intact specimen as I promised a few veggies to Debbie who kindly donated a small mountain of horse manure to my allotment enterprise. I stripped this one of it's leaves and gave her a bag of Lollo Rosso along with some broad beans and courgettes.

Now, a handful of QI points to anyone who figures out the musical classic I've been alluding to throughout this post .....

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

When Good Allotments Turn Bad.

It's not all roses (so to speak) in the land of Grow Your Own. For the past few years we've grown a fairly small amount of veg in our garden but have foraged vast quantities of fruit, this year with the allotment, I was hoping for similarly vast quantities of veg. I'm now realising that I probably had unrealistic expectations for our inaugural allotment year.

After a couple of days of heavy rain softened the soil to a workable consistency I decided to dig up a few carrots - and just look at what I found! I'm assuming this is the work of the dreaded carrot fly but I'm happy to be told otherwise if anyone disagrees. I haven't seen any actual insects, just the bore holes left behind. So that would be a resounding 'no' to my earlier question "will shade netting provide any protection from carrot fly?". Almost every carrot I pulled up seemed to be affected so that's goodbye to my carrot crop this year.

I'm also a bit concerned about this year's runner beans, they've flowered profusely but the flowers seem to be falling off without producing any beans (both at home and on the plot) After careful searching I've found 2 baby beans on about 8 plants so don't hold out much hope for runner beans either.

The soft fruit section of the plot is also ailing. My raspberries completely failed, haven't got a clue why, they were from 2 different sources, different varieties planted at different times. Out of 8 canes, I think 2 or 3 put up a few tentative shoots before they died off, never to be seen again. The redcurrants seemed to be doing well at first but have now taken on a yellowy tinge and haven't flowered (maybe I'm expecting too much for their first year?) The strawberries have been OK but we haven't had as many as I'd hoped.

It doesn't help that the fruit corner is infested with Horsetail (or Marestail, or Devil's Fingers, depending on where you live) My plan next year is to double the size of the strawberry bed and move the fruit section (aka '3 enfeebled redcurrant bushes') to this year's 'fallow' section which we set aside for the children to play in and give the children Horsetail HQ instead.

To add insult to injury, my elderflower champagne didn't work out this year either. I think the hot and humid recent weather is responsible for the slimy film of mould growing across the top of the flower heads, such a shame as it smelt marvellously alcoholic as I tipped it down the sink and I could do with a stiff drink to be honest!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The less fragrant side of foraging .....

Today was the Samphire open day, we visited last year and had a great time so decided to repeat the experience this year. Sycamore Farm was idyllic as ever and my back garden was scruffy as ever upon our return home. I'd like to think that for 364 days of the year the Farm is as weedy and mis-matched looking as our allotment and once a year, Karen springs into action and spruces the place up for visitors before slipping back into languid slobdom and allowing the bindweed to take over. But however much I'd like to think it, I sincerely doubt it's true! Something tells me it's probably this charming all year round.

By the time we arrived the smallholding tours were full, so we missed out this time round, but spending such a glorious day eating our onion marmalade pork pies in the shade of a sycamore to the strains of a folk quartet was not such a shabby way to spend an afternoon.

Back home we took our foraging into new territory. Brewer's Green has played host to a traditional, horse drawn, covered gypsy caravan for the last 3 weeks or so which made a diverting addition to the school run. Once the itinerant owner had moved on, I noticed the vast quantity of horse manure left behind. So today, Adam and I popped over with a spade and some bags and scooped up a couple of sacks full. Just enough to fill our second compost bin to the top so we now have two bins full of horse manure which feels like money in the bank!

Despite my pleasure and pride in my splendid muck heap, I decided not to photograph it for the blog and went for our infant pumpkins instead. They're loving the hot weather and seem to be growing before our eyes, here's hoping they continue to do so well.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Today's Home Grown Haul.

The first courgettes of the season! Hurrah! I discovered them in typical courgette fashion, ie "Good Lord! When did that pop up? Better chop it down quick before it turns into a marrow", it was even more of a surprise as it turned up on the runtiest plant on the allotment, one which was chilled by the late frost this year has sulked ever since. I was sure that my pampered courgette in our toasty, sheltered back garden would win the race but it's fruit are looking quite weedy in comparison. I'm very excited about making my courgette pickle again this year, it proved really quite popular so I'll be making lots this round.

Continuing on the squash theme, I'm growing 3 pumpkin plants for the first time this year. One Crown Prince from seed saved from the pumpkin Rachel gave me last year and two anonymous orange ones I bought from the garden centre and then forgot to keep their labels (oops). The anonymous plants are huge and have begun to set lots of little fruit. I've read that I need to keep a maximum of 3 fruit per plant to get them to a decent size so I chopped a few little ones off but have kept about 5 fruit on each, I'm fearful that if I go down to 3 straight away there's a risk they may fail for some reason or other. I'll wait til they get a bit bigger (they're golf ball sized at the moment) and then chop the two weakest/smallest off.

Has anyone out there grown summer squash other than courgettes, Patty Pan or similar? I was thinking of giving them a go next year but I'm not sure what they taste like, are they just courgettes in a pretty dress?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Elderflowers are my Raison d'Etre.

Well, the Norfolk Kitchen Raison d'Etre rather my actual being I suppose (you'd have to ask my parents about that one)

I think it was 2008 when I last made Elderflower Champagne, in the summer of 2009 I was wondering whether to make some more but was dismayed to realise I no longer had the recipe. It was then that it occurred to me that a kind of kitchen diary cum recipe scrapbook would be really useful, not just for recipes but also for recording the wild fruit we'd picked and - lo! - Norfolk Kitchen was born.

I never did get round to making Elderflower Champagne last year but have done this year. I kept things simple and used the River Cottage recipe (in 2008 I seem to recall endless Googling before amalgamating 2 or 3 recipes) I've cut it fine with regard to the elderflowers though, most have already wilted and begun to turn into tiny, green berries but, feeling somewhat foolish in my floral dress and nettle beating wellies, I managed to find just enough fresh blooms. Still, I'll be glad of the berries come crumble season.

On the way back home I investigated a local bullace shrub and found it laden with juvenile fruit (pictured), all around the foraging season seems to limbering up, ready for the main performance in a couple of months. I've seen cherry plums just beginning to blush red and baby apples burgeoning quietly in the hedgerows. Time to draw up my 2010 preserves wish list ....