So long 2014, you’ve been interesting


On the last day of 2014, that is what the plot looks like. A bit dreary, eh? Wasn’t always like that though.

But the plot has been through a fair bit. Least of all the elements of Great Britain.

Seeds were sown, never at the right time, or in the right amounts. Seedlings germinated, some made it, some gave up the ghost and keeled over. There were slugs and snails, puddles and problem cabbages. The heavy clay was unrelenting. Arid and angry in the sun, it didn’t hold much water. Damp and rained upon, it was soggy and sulky. There were tomatos by the ton, three chillies, just three. Despite a whole poly tunnel of leafy plants.  One whopper aubergine, the rest were all tiddly. Courgettes by the dozen.  Marrows, that you cuddled to carry.

There was a Baby Bruno. His seeds have now dried, and all being well, will go to good home. This was the year of the Hobbit trug, and boy did it earn it’s keep. So much so, one was donated to Gardening Leave to give them a hand. A case of share the love with that trug. Was made by the fab Loldeantimber you can find them here and tell them I sent you.

2014 has not been an easy year. That’s not to say others have been. It has been different, and has presented it’s own challenges. After all, no one plot is the same. And mine, is the worst on the site according to the secretary, in terms of the soil and slope. I have been told several times to move down the site and have a better chance. In my mind though, I think I have a fighting chance. It has taken me this long to the plot this far.

I would like to thank everyone who had read the blog over the last year. Thank you, for all the comments. Than you, for just reading. I don’t call myself an expert, but I do like to share what I learn and experience. If that is of any use to any one, then than that is one happy bonus.

Thank you, and a very happy new year to you all ^_^

Big Allotment Challenge: It’s Back! 2015

It’s back! The Big Allotment Challenge is back!

I watched this earlier this year, with a mix of curiosity and excitement. Of all the things to base a reality television game show. An allotment. Remember, we had already allotment wars, showing just the sort of Machiavellian mischief that could happen with mud, manure and marrows.

For the whole series, I was hooked.  A bit cynical throughout, huffing and puffing a little, as to how it didn’t necessarily reflect my experience of allotmenteering. My little 200sq metres, isn’t for example, in the back yard of what looks like a very posh country house. So my viewing, was a bit mud splattered, and fairly closed minded.

There were lessons to be learned though. Or at least nuggets to be taken from it. You’ll have to look through the assorted blogs, for the whole picture. The show inspired me to try aubergines again. I did. And I still don’t know how the contestants managed to grow them. I had diddly ones. Nothing from the seed’s I’d sown. but a few oddments from the shop brought one’s. In a poly tunnel, my crops, didn’t compare. So I am at loss, as to how those lovely people got those whopping big aubergines. I might just sow a couple of them, leave them in pots this time. Then there was the melon. Sown, planted, I didn’t get one of those either. It just snaked itself around the polytunnel.

The growing, seemed absent of wonky veg. Okay, the showbench is about pretty and perfect. Thing is, I don’t have perfect veg on the plot. I have beautifully ugly, a bit bruised, slightly worn around the edges, but still home made and mine, because of it. Don’t necessarily have pretty perfect ones. After all, if it’s edible, it’s going to be chemically and mechanically digested, and possibly taste good with it. If I can grow a perfect cabbage, then yes, I shall concede.  That was the ‘Grow’, primarily for the show bench.

The two things, that I took away from the make section. How to tie a handmade bouquet, when the roses have have thorns. I was glad to see the show have roses, there is something quintessentially English about them being in an garden. I have quite a few, including one that is supposed to be blue. It’s a funny shade of lilac, actually. As far as the flowers were concerned, I became aware of Gladiolus. And planted dozens and dozens on the plot, of all different sizes. High summer came, and the plot looked as though fireworks were going off in assorted directions. As for growing one that was perfect. Nah, it was pretty, that I can live with. And bumblie bees seemed to like them.

Then there was the eat section. And the world was re-introduced to the wonder that is Thane Prince. Prior the show, I have dabbled in the odd chilli jam, the odd chutney. But watching the show, the world of preserves became that bit broader and a bit more colourful. Makes sense really, you do have to eat the stuff you grow. Yet, there is only so many curried courgettes and aubergines that you can take. In watching the show, I learned how you make sure that a chutney was cooked, If you can part the mixture with a wooden spoon, and it stays parted. Then the job’s done. The Thane Prince torch test with Jelly, passing a beam through. Was also a nugget. Though I do intent to make a jelly-santa brought me a jelly straining kit-with edible glitter to see if the beam will bounce. I brought a jam pan, I wanted one anyway, having window shopped it throughout the series. I ended up making a lot courgette chutney, a lot of jam.  My second batch of blackberry jam, set rock hard, I didn’t have a thermometer at that stage. I had faffed with the cold plate test. I found a jam thermometer. My mama was all very excited at first. We had discovered how to make jam. So of course she was going to pick a pound of blackberries, and were going to make jam. But then came the rest. The chutneys. And lots of them. Mama’s enthusiasm has since waned. The assorted handful, yes, a handful -I gave away my experiments- in the pantry are a few too many and clutter the pantry.

Then there was the homebrew.  A case of, now I realise that I can do something with that.

The show did have good aspects. Allotmenteering was having a renaissance. The illusion that it was an old man’s game, was being shattered. Women could do it too, and it wasn’t as sedentary as you might think. In my own allotmenteering experience, I’m quite happy to bust those myths. Happy, to spread it’s assorted messages.

All being well, I shall be tuning in again. Apparently there have been some format changes. It will be interesting to see what these are, and what impact these will have.


Hot Yellow Sun: The chutney that worked…sorta

This year I intentionally grew yellow tomatoes. There were large yellow stuffer tomatoes, as well as smaller cherry tomatoes. There was a third plant with a citrus-y name, and the fruit were lemon shaped, but still tomatoes. I had also sown and grow orange habeneros, to join the tomatoes. Alas the habaneros didn’t come off. So we were stuck with the tomatoes, and one home grown chilli.

Compared to the red, white and green courgette and green tomato chutneys, this was a vibrant yellow chutney. The tomatoes held their form and flavour. It wasn’t quite as spiced as I would have liked, but quite sweet. I would definitely make this again, this was a highlight of the chutney and jam making experiments. I think I have the one jar left!

The chutney could definitely do with a bit more spice and flavour to it. I have found that with all of the chutney’s really. That whilst they are quite tart to begin with, on storage they do mellow. I need to figure out how to retain a burst of flavour. Plus, how to keep that flavour and not make it taste as though it was an indian dish and just curried veg.

Experimental Chillies: 2015

Inspired by the lovely not just jam, I have decided to carry out a chilli growing experiment. Chillies require a long season to get productive. This year, despite my best attempts, poly tunnel and all, I failed to get the crop that I wanted. In terms of learning experience, I have never had success with early sowing of chillies. I have tried the post boxing day sowing, the heated propogator sowing, the delayed till late february sowing. But I really did want to start sowing seeds as the frost descends and Britain has the coldest night yet. Plus I had compost in Dad’s shed for that exact reason.

For me, it is really important to reflect on lessons that I have learned previously. Those ‘oh, right, yes’ moments, that make it all worthwhile. Sowing the seeds, I was harking back to when I first started sowing. I have experienced more success germinating seeds on a window sill, compared to using a heated propogator. With the latter, the seedlings germinate, with all that bottom heat. Then they get tall, leggy,and keel over. With the window sill, this might take a little longer, but the germinated seeds send out a slightly more robust seedling.

There are four varieties chosen. These are Apricot, bellaforma, serrano, and cayenne. Cayenne were the first chillies I ever grew. Serrano, I am trying again with. This year, serrano grew well, Had lots of flowers, but not a single fruit.

The seeds have been sown four to a pot. I am not likely to prick them out. I have found that having chillies in cramped quarters is quite useful, and produces a good crop. I think I may have been too kind, in allowing generous space in the poly tunnel. The compost was moist to begin with. I have in past, struggled to maintain the moisture in the pots. These are then placed into labelled foodbags, into a gravel tray and positioned into a warm and light space.

Based upon previous experience, I don’t hold out much hope for such an early sowing. We shall see however! This is all very experimental.

A year is along time for a book

This time last year, I had found the Ian Fleming ‘Bond’ novels, as well as Sue Grafton’s ‘Alphabet’ series. The festive season, saw me stuck to the e-reader because of them. I have two of the Fleming Canon left, and with Grafton, I am on ‘Q is for Quarry’. I am putting of the Fleming books, as I can see myself being sad at them ending. This was somewhat heightened, when I watched ‘SkyFall’ for the third time, as well as few of the Pierce Brosnan ones. It’s Christmas, it’s not the same without Bond is some shape for form. I don’t remember there being a single Bond movie on last year, if you don’t have Sky. Positively spoiled this year. Then the new Bond movie was announced, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit smug. I know about S.P.E.C.T.R.E! I have always liked Bond is some way, the face of Bond was just a happy bonus. Reading the original novelisation does add to the depth of the franchise. You start to appreciate the nuances to a very complex character.

With Sue Grafton, I have found myself a bit stuck. I have got as far as Q, but I can’t seem to push myself forwards and through the book. The book does have a slight columbo, seventies feel to it. Yes, I know, it’s set in the 80’s. But I think it straddles the two decades, and there is a dusty quarry involved. I would quite like to get through to the end of the series. It’s not a bad series, some books are good, at breakneck speed. Others are a bit of an amble through the countryside when it is raining.

The ‘cousins at war’ series by Phillipa Gregory is also somewhat stuck. There had been the television series, I didn’t watch it. Sort of put me off really. The way that the book was written, it was as though the book was instructions how to film it.

History has featured a little too. Two books about The Plantagenets, one by Derek wilson, the second by Dan Jones, were very easy to read. Informative and quite accessible. That said, Lucy Wolsey featured recently. In the summer, having gone to Hampton Court, I read ‘Henry VIII: King and Court’ by Alison Weir.

For counselling, I finally got around to reading ‘Counselling for toads’. A very good, character rich description of Transactional Analysis. The one big book, that i was waiting for, was of course the return of Shardlake in ‘Lamentation’. Glad I waited, and I will probably read some of it’s predecessors.

There have been a few addtions made. I have succumbed, and got the first two of the Fire and Ice saga. As well as bernard Cromwells  Warriors series, and some one called D.K. Wilson. Oh, I tried to make a start on ‘The Godfather’. I have read the first chapter, and it’s hard. it’s very difficult, with lots of detail.

Today we jamm’d

Well, Chilli Jamm’d or jellied, depending on how you look at it.

Have been a bit absent with the festivities, so thought I’d pop back briefly. I haven’t made chilli jam/jelly in a while. I had wanted to make some for Christmas, and didn’t get around to it. I did manage to find a small amount that had been hidden in the pantry, for my Boxing day Brunch. A roast dinner toastie. It just had to be done. Plus there is a cheese board floating around that would benefit from the chilli jam.

For those of you not familiar with it, I use the nigella chilli jam recipe. I have however adapted it a little since. I was also slightly bereft of a working jam thermometer today. The one  have, no longer hits beyond 100 for some reason. I try and use it today, though, it got to 100. I used 2 large yellow sweet peppers, three scotch bonnet peppers, yes, three. And a fair bit of ginger. As well as 650 Ml of Cider vineger and 1lb of jam sugar.As per the recipe, sugar and vinegar was placed into the maslin pan. On a a low heat, and not stirred. Once the sugar was dissovled, I added the blitzed mix of peppers and ginger. I wore rubber gloves through out! I know what happen when you don’t wear the gloves. It hurts.

This mixture was then brought to the boil, and the thermometer managed to hit 100, and wouldn’t any higher. I am told though, that the wobblyness doesn’t matter. That I should aim for gloop more than anything. Cooled slightly, I then ladled into jars. It then cools, to set and have a solid wobble gloopiness to it. It’s not yellow, as you would expect. I think that’s because I did put two large sweet peppers in.With one pepper, it does definitely have less colour.

Jam is sat cooling, so we shall see later how gloopy set it is.

The Shoemakers Holiday: Hmm, interesting

As you are aware, I do rather like sampling Shakespeare. The opportunity arose for me to pootle to the RSC and have a gander into the Swan theatre. The one show playing was Thomas Dekker’s ‘The Shoemakers holiday’.

I had no idea about this play, I still don’t. But it was different. Like Shakespeare’s canon, it is Elizabethan. Big tick, I imagined a mental baseline, as to what I might expect.

I had dinner-not a nice experience, Indian restaurant that couldn’t quite get what I wanted. The ventured to the theatre. The swan theatre is smaller than the Shakespeare theatre, gives it a more intimate, relaxed feel. Right down to the bench like seating. Only I would get the seat, right next to the apron corner of the stage. I got a good view of stockinged calves, and the swoosh of costume kirtle skirts.

There is no staging, lots of props are brought in and out for the scenes. There was a rather useful trap door, and a couple of columns. I guess makes it easier, if you have several plays being staged at the same time. So I waited, the house lights went down, and I watched.

First thing first, I could only just understand the language. Shakespeare, I can understand. This was slightly different. it wasn’t as flowery or poetic as Shakespeare. Perhaps that is a reflection of the ‘real life’ nature of the play. I found myself thinking, trying to work out if I had got the gist of the words. That is more about my exposure to such a play, rather than construction of the work.  The fella who plays Simon Ayr is fab, as is the lady who plays his wife. Hodge is also good, perhaps though as I have seen the gentlemen who play those respective roles on the TV at somepoint. I’m not sure it was the best of stories, but the actors were good. The young king, I’m not sure if he is meant to be King Edward VI, but certainly looks like how he might have appeared. And the tudor kirtle thingies, that the ladies wore. Maybe ask Santa next year.

Whedon-verse day: The school and sixth form years

Today, it started with ‘The wish’. Moved on to ‘Dopplegangland’ and now we have random episodes of ‘Buffy the vampire slayer’. Those two must be the two episodes that I can remember most saliently, and watch them over and over, from time to time. Even though the focus is far from the titular heroine. That is what makes them good episodes, having a look at those on the periphery. Event the Xander episode, where he splits into two is a good exploration.

It all started many moons ago, quite by accident. I knew, that ST:TNG finished at 6.45 on BBC 2. Then it was time for Buffy, until 7.30. I watched it quite contentedly on and off oveer the school, with ‘Angel’ making it’s appearance during my time at Sixth Form. I used to record it, on a VHS, as it was screened at the Witching hour, and I would have school on the Monday morning. Eventually, I think it fizzled out, and I have no idea who subsequently screened it. We’ve never had Sky or cable in our house, so box sets were always the way forwards. There are whole schools of thought out there, with various views on the whedon-verse.

That  really was the era of the whedon-verse. I also found ‘Firefly’ and the spin off movie, Serenity. ‘Firefly’ is probably going to make an appearance this afternoon, along with a couple of episodes of ‘Angel’ perhaps. I rue the fact that disc 5 of season 2 has a crack down the middle. Those are episodes I shall never watch again! I never did get into the other whedon-verse things, though, even if they do tend to get cancelled.

Not sure I like the random episode currently on the screen. Buffy is being dramatic with Riley having been found in a vamp nest getting bitten.

There are episodes likes this, where things just don’t sit right.

I would go as far as saying that ‘Angel’ was in parts better. And, i’m not sure I ever liked the ending of ‘Buffy’. A case of, an ending for the sake of ending. The tail end of the seasons, make for slightly dated and cringey viewing. Spike, cordelia and Wesley transferring with ‘Angel’ was a good move. Nathan Fillion, morphed his creepy preacher guy, and could have a good thing with ‘Firefly’.

Yeah, not liking the current episode. Might just have to change it.

Hobbit Hombrew: Decanting Day-Festive Finale

Remember, please drink this responsibly. I have also had intermittent parental supervision as they wondered I was doing exactly. They know, and were watching carefully. That goes for all of you.

With nine days left to the big day, today was the last decanting day of the year. All of which was being decanted was made primarily for the festive season. Most of it will be festive gifts, hopefully. The one batch, was the plum brandy that was steeped three months ago exactly. That was the first to be decanted.  The rest, whilst I remember, was

  • Blueberry Gin
  • Blackforest Gin
  • Cranberries, raspberries and cherries in light rum

Having been decanted for the last three hours, I need to get that list down quickly, I assure you.

I learned a valuable lesson with the gin, from the lovely Thane Prince. She of Big allotment challenge fame, and one of Britain’s preserving Queen. Use coriander seeds in the Gin. Decanting those two, the gin gives a lovely spiced smell to it. No idea yet as to what it tastes like, I was trying to concentrate whilst I still could.

Most of what has been decanted today, is a beautiful pink or claret. The Plum brandy is less attractive. Perhaps it was the plums, the sugar or the spices, basically all of it; but its a very dark muddy brown. I assure you that there is no mud in there.

The gins and light rum have only been in brew for about six weeks. The raspberries had gone all very mushy, and just disintegrated with squishing.

Hobbit Homebrew: Decant day 3-Blackberries, brandy and pudding!

On the fourth of September, I harvested the last of the allotment blackberries and put them into a kilner jar. Added to this was some cheap brandy, and probably some star anaise and some spice along with some sugar. The jar was then sealed, and stashed away for three months. I have pedantically been counting down the weeks. Apparently, after three months the berries start to get a bit woody. So that was ringing my alarm bells. I was going to give the jar another week. Anyway,today I have retrieved the jar from storage. The liquid was all decanted off through a muslin cloth into clean bottles. The fruit, was saved and put into a simple crumble. It is cooking through in the oven as I type. This is the type of pudding that you cannot drive after eating. Ma’s kitchen starting to whiff of warm brandy, Probably should get some custard made. I had also saved the berries that were taken out of the dark rum a few months ago. I had secreted them into the freezer for safe keeping. Still have plums in brandy too, that should be done in the next week or so. This was also, yield another pudding. This close to Christmas, what’s another crumble?