Saturday, 30 July 2011

Summer Holiday

We're off on the annual Norfolk Kitchen summer holiday. Willow and Xanthe are making their first ever foreign trip to Eindhoven and are very excited about visiting De Efteling.

We'll see you back here next weekend.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Mirabelle and Ginger Cordial

It's only 3pm and I'm sipping a whiskey with Mirabelle and Ginger Cordial. All in the name of research you understand. Pity we didn't have any limes because a twist would've made it perfect.

Mirabelle and Ginger Cordial.
I'm calling the yellow bullace Mirabelles for this recipe as it sounds posher. I took about 2 or 3 kilos (didn't weigh them first) and simmered them in about half a pint of water til they were soft, bashing them up with a wooden spoon and a potato masher along the way to help the juice come out. Once they were cooked I strained them through a muslin lined sieve until the juice had dripped through. For every litre of juice I added 700g light brown sugar plus a tablespoon of ground ginger. I then warmed it through til the sugar dissolved.

And here the ginger problem began. It was the devil's own job to get rid of little clumps of ground ginger which dispersed grittily through the cordial, giving an unpleasantly strong gingery hit if you got one in your mouth. I whisked it which helped with the bigger lumps but made no difference to the smaller ones, in the end I strained it through a tea strainer while bottling up. Next time I may try fresh ginger juice instead although any tips on dealing with ground ginger would be gratefully received.

The children aren't madly impressed with this one but I remember hating ginger beer when I was Willow's age and this cordial leaves a definite lingering warmth on the tongue. It's not got the impressive glowing colour of it's companion, cherry plum cordial, having a rather more sludgy appearance (am I selling it?!) instead. Personally I really like it's sweet/sharp toffee edged flavour which makes me think of Christmas.

As aforementioned, I decided to mix up some cordial with whiskey, just for research to see if it worked and enable me to report accurately on the blog. Honest. As I say, a twist of lime seems to be missing but other than that it's a lovely drink. Feels like it should cure ailments at 10 paces. I'm sure other dark spirits would work well too, or as a syrup over vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Cherry Plum Ketchup

Here's the recipe from my plum ketchup experiment the other day. It's not quite got the HP sauce taste I was aiming for, maybe due to the lack of dried fruit compared to the Cherry Plum Chutney recipe, but it is a lovely, tangy, tingly on the tongue sauce and such a beautiful colour too.

Norfolk Kitchen Cherry Plum Ketchup.
2 kilos cherry plums
2 onions chopped
440ml vinegar (any kind except malt)
320g sugar
30g ground ginger
1tsp cayenne pepper
2oz salt
Generous pinch mixed spice

Stone the plums, add them to a pan with all the other ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes until the mixture is thick and jammy. Briefly blend everything together (I used a stick blender) then push through a sieve into a clean pan. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Makes approx 2 litres.

I'm not sure how long this will keep though I suspect it's not long as it's fairly light on the vinegar and sugar. To get around this I've got one bottle in the fridge and have put the excess into plastic bottles and stored them in the freezer.

The main advantage of home made ketchups versus shop bought, in my opinion, is their natural non-plasticy taste which gives them greater versatility. They're perfectly acceptable poured over most things I would never introduce to Heinz, like Pizza, omlettes or cheese on toast.

Right then, next on the experiment list: Yellow Bullace and ginger cordial.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The 2011 Foraging Season kicks off.

One advantage of the children getting a little older is that they can be put to work in the foraging season - here's Xanthe hard at it in the kitchen.

On Saturday we went out on our annual cherry plum harvest, I know everyone else seems to have been picking them for weeks already, but our usual spot is in the shady side of a very tall hedge and they seem to ripen later. For a change it was a gloriously sunny day (most previous trips to this location have involved wellies and pack a macs), the children decided to scamper off into the 'hedge' which is actually a narrow strip of woodland running along the back of the Diss Rugby club ground, but Adam summoned them back to pull their weight in the fruit harvest.

We've refined our technique after last year's marathon bullace harvest and went for a 'shake the tree' method rather than the 'selective use of the apple picker' method. Adam extended the apple picker to it's full length, wedged it onto a branch and shook like mad. The resulting monsoon of cherry plums and yellow bullace sent the girls into shrieking paroxms of delight - at least until Xanthe was hit squarely in the eye by a large cherry plum. After that we stood well back while the fruit bounced down on Adam's head.

Once the road was carpeted with fruit, the children were required to help, we all rushed around around frantically picking them up before any cars came along. It's a teeny tiny single track country road so cars aren't frequent, I think we only saw 3, but they do seem to come along just at the wrong moment and squash the maximum number of plums. We also had our annual "yes you can eat them" conversation with passing walkers who never seem quite convinced and refuse our offers to try one.

Yesterday I made our household favourite, Cherry Plum Cordial (made 4 bottles, one half used already) and today I'm going to try and amalgamate my Cherry Plum Chutney recipe with myPlum Ketchup recipe which should be an interesting experiment. I'm hoping it turns out a bit like HP sauce.

We picked 3 kilos of cherry plums and 4 of yellow bullace but I don't think it's enough! We're on holiday next week but I'm hoping to pick some more at the weekend and stash them in the freezer for processing when we get home.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Is next year always the perfect year?

Because this year never is never quite up to scratch. There's always that little tweak which will make next year the best one ever.

2008: I started small scale veg growing in my teeny tiny back garden. The mistakes were many and varied. I didn't even realise that broad beans aren't climbers and optimistically planted 3 plants inside a bamboo wigwam and was surprised when I only grew enough for one tiny meal. Next year, I thought, I'll know better.

2009: Had a more realistic idea about yields. Didn't do too badly, learned my mosaic virus lesson, started this blog. Refined my plans and felt confident of next year being the best back yard year ever.

2010: Acquired an allotment! Great news but scuppered best back yard plans as focussed on the allotment instead. Scaling up was a shock to the system and we struggled to keep the weeds under control. But I had ideas, made plans, changed tack slightly. Next year will best growing year ever.

2011: Acquired a second allotment! Great news but totally changed the face of my plans for my original allotment due to the need to incorporate a 'split site' strategy. Plans for re-arranging the original allotment severely curtailed by the dry spring locking my fruit beds into the concrete like clay soil. Come Autumn, I'll catch up with the re-arranging then next year I'll be able to instigate my plans properly. The manure is rotted and ready to go, my weed control strategies are in place, I know the difference between vine and bush tomatoes - it'll be the best growing year ever! (Won't it?)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

It's a Potato!

I defy anyone who was a child in the '80's to dig up a potato and not say "It's a potato!" softly to themselves every time they find one. (Here' the explanation for those who weren't) And while I'm on the subject, can I add to my list of life's small disappointments: thinking you've found a potato but it turns out to be a smooth stone. Bitter disappointment of this nature can crush your soul.

I've now sampled 2 kinds of new potatoes, my much sought after Ulster Sceptre and the more common place Aron Pilot. My Ulster Sceptre did give me a few childhood memory flashbacks. The taste, if I'm honest, is just potatoy, but the texture, smell and colour of the skin took my right back to those sweaty little 5lb bags we used to get from the shops.

What I did really appreciate was the floury texture. The Aron Pilot are far more waxy and not really very good for roasting or mashing but the Ulster Sceptre are a much more dual purpose potato - which explains why they were so popular in the chippies back home. The only downside is the yield, it was OK but the Aron Pilot are much more abundant.

I've not tried my Nadine yet but they're next.

In the meantime, if anyone would care to share their recommendations for floury tasting early potatoes with a high yield, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Good Life gets closer!

Our goal of expanding the Norfolk Kitchen empire into livestock by raising our own rare breed piggies in a local woodland is moving closer to reality.

You may remember back in April I talked about my involvement with Diss Community Farm. It's a community project a group of us have put together, initially in the hope of opening a community run farm next year. Things moved quicker than we anticipated though as we were offered 2 small plots of land, one for a vegetable growing pilot project and one for a pork raising pilot. I'm not personally involved with the vegetable project as I'm pretty much set up for my veggie needs with my allotments but I'm throwing my full enthusiasm behind the livestock project.

We've now formally launched the piggy project, we have about 16 people signed up to pay for the meat and to help look after the pigs. The big news is that we've secured a grant from a local company which will pay for our set up costs of things like fencing, pig arcs, feed bins etc This means that it's all systems go on the shopping front and we have a few days of hard work in front of us to get materials on site and to build the fences. (the photo is one of our members carrying one of about 60 pallets to the woods to be re-cycled as fencing)

It's really exciting to be actually moving forward at last. The land we're using is a small woodland of about 2.5 acres bordered by the River Waveney on one side, so it's a fantastic natural environment for the pigs and for small children too! The girls love playing in the woods, climbing trees and splashing in the river. I have to admit that buying into this kind of lifestyle for the children has been a major factor in my motivation for being involved in this project (that and making my own sausages and bacon) I'm really looking forward to a long, hot summer of visiting the pigs and playing in the woods.

By the way, if you're interested in what we're doing, we're having an open day at the vegetable growing pilot on Sunday.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

"The time has come" the gardener said,

"to talk of many things, of sheds and hoes and summer squash, of cabbages in spring" (with apologies to Lewis Carol)

I got a phone call last night from the secretary of the allotment association at our new Diss plot. We're not allowed our own sheds down there but instead have to rent one of the block of Council built sheds for the princely sum of £2 per year. The only trouble is that since the plots were divided in half there are half as many sheds as plots so there's a waiting list to get a shed. I've been waiting since I took on the plot in October and the phone call last night let me know I'd finally got to the top of the list so the upshot is - I have a shed!

This morning I went to investigate and transfer numerous things from our garage to the shed - including my treasured wheel hoe. It's much more convenient to keep it on site but I am a bit nervous about security, I'd be very upset if it was stolen. Not so much for the monetary value but the difficulty of getting hold of a replacement.

Now, I may not be cabbage looking but the purple sprouting broccoli certainly is. I bought a tray of seedlings from a car boot sale a couple of months ago, planted 5 of them, 4 have come up as broccoli but one has turned into a cabbage! Quite what my fellow allotmenteers make of me growing a single cabbage I don't know. Probably not as much as me growing enough summer squash to feed an army.

Talking of which - one of my growing goals this year was a basket of mixed summer squash and today I achieved it. I picked my first Patty Pan squash, aren't they amazing? I've not grown them before and I think I may have let these ones grow too big. I was waiting for them to turn snowy white like the picture on the seed packet but they're stayed vaguely green tinged, I'll probably pick them smaller in future. But look, Patty Pan squash, yellow courgettes and stripy courgettes, crook neck squash to come in the near future. This is why I have an allotment, you can't buy a basket like that in Tesco - I've got mixed tomatoes in my sights for next year.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Drink your own Garden!

Just a brief post to admire the colour of the Yellow Bullace wine Adam made last year, although it's not as beautiful as I remember thinking it was after drinking half a glass last night. It's really not bad for home brew especially considering Adam's 'chuck it in the bucket and see what happens' approach to winemaking.

I'm consulting the splendidly named charity shop find 'Drink your own Garden' for further wine making ideas although it talks about stuff like Camden tablets (for attracting Goths?) and wine nutrient. We've only ever bought sugar and yeast to add to the wild fruit/nettles/elderflowers we use and haven't died yet, although I am a bit reluctant to drink last year's batch of cider as it's a bit too sweet.

I'm not sure I'd want to drink our garden anyway what with all the chicken poo, I'm thinking I may drink the hedgerow though. Elderberry and blackberry wine for Autumn evenings 2012 I think.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Wheeled Push Hoe

A few weeks ago I went on a Diss Community Farm visit to Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm in Ipswich and there I made the discovery which could change the course of my allotment career!

Joanne at Oak Tree showed us her wheeled push hoe. This is basically a wheel on a stick which pulls a loop of sharpened metal just under the surface of the soil, thereby chopping the green tops off the weeds and aerating the soil in the process. (The photo at the bottom gives a back view of the blade.)

Once the rains started back home and our Diss plot filled up with tiny annual weed seedlings I realised that we had the ideal conditions for this bit of kit. The downside is that they're expensive, the one Joanne had was about £400 so I was delighted to find an Ebay shop selling them for £65 delivered.

It arrived yesterday and today I took it for a test drive. I love the look of it, like it's come virtually unchanged from the 19th Century. I had been a bit concerned that it might be too cheap and a bit flimsy but it's certainly sturdy enough for keeping on top of an allotment sized piece of land. The conditions at Diss are perfect for the wheel hoe, the soil is light and free flowing and there aren't any large perennial weeds with thick stems. It was really easy to use, the blade slipped through the soil like butter, decimating the weed population in it's path.

It comes with blades in 3 widths, I used the narrowest to enable me to get between rows of plants without disturbing them. It also has a pointy attachment which I assume is a tiller for making seed drills or earthing up potatoes etc this should be great for turning the soil over at the end of the season in preparation for over winter manuring.

I think the nature of the soil is probably key to the success of this hoe. I'm not sure how good it would be on heavy, clay soil like Bressingham. Certainly there's no way it could've smashed through during the dry spell but I may take it after some rain when the soil's soft and see how we get on. Likewise, even the light Diss soil may be too much after the rain when it's stickier.

But all in all, this is a fabulous tool for the allotmenteer and I'm mystified as to why they're not on the shelves of every garden centre in the land. Particularly at this price, they bridge the gap between a hand hoe and a rotavator nicely. I think this and the push mower at Bressingham are going to be the items that make my 2 allotments manageable.

This year's tomatoes.

2011 is the year I actually pay attention to my tomatoes. For the last 3 years or so I've bought a few garden centre plants, put the Gardener's Delight in the mini greenhouse and the Tumbling Toms in hanging baskets, watered them but little else.

A friend of mine called round last summer and expressed loud dismay at the state of my greenhouse whose plastic seams were creaking with the effort of containing plants of Little Shop of Horrors proportions. I did have a decent yield of tomatoes, enough to use fresh plus home made ketchup and green tomato chutney, but the tomatoes were all tiny and I'm greedy so if I can get more bang for my buck then so be it.

This year I have decided to pinch out in the approved way in the hope of getting bigger tomatoes. I'm finding all the greenhouse fiddling a bit tedious to be honest and the blasted things insist on growing every 5 minutes, it's housework outdoors really. I'm starting to wonder if it's worth it considering I had enough last year but we'll see. Maybe next year I should stick to bushy varieties and leave them to their own devices.

I'm also a bit worried about a couple of plants who seem to be yellowing excessively. I know it's usual to yellow around the bottom but it's usually later in the season and this time only a couple of plants are affected. As far as I can tell they're adequately watered and fed. One of the plants in question is pictured below so any opinions on the cause will be gratefully received.

My tomato Holy Grail is a tomato salad like the one Jamie Oliver made in his 'At Home' series which featured loads of different types of tomatoes, yellow, green, stripy, purple etc etc. I've hopefully gone some way towards it this year, I've got Gardener's Delight (seeds free from Mumsnet!), Mr Stripy (bought seeds), Tumbling Toms (bought seeds), Roma (plants donated by a friend) and hopefully some yellow ones (plants donated by another friend who thinks she may have got her seedlings mixed up)

Ideally, if I had, say, 9 plants, I'd like them to be 9 different varieties. The problem with this is that I'd have to buy 9 packs of seed as I wouldn't get 9 varieties of plants in my local garden centres. From the 9 packs of seeds I'd only use a few then what would happen to the rest? Would they keep long enough to use the next year? Or would they go to waste? This is all starting to look a bit expensive too ....

But look what I found yesterday! Packets of mixed seeds! With a picture looking like Jamie's salad! Now if only I could find courgettes packed in the same way, I'd be a happy bunny!