Tag Archives: soft fruit

Pudding prep

 

There is quite a stash of fruit in the freezer, waiting to be used up. For the most part, I plan to jam or jelly. However, over the last few weeks I have been harvesting raspberries every other day and stowing them away. The plan had been to be jam them. However, when it was announced that work would be hosting a Macmillan coffee morning, and that colleagues were invited to bake, I thought about what I might do to support the event. I was racking my brain for a while. It is not usual for me to experiment, make a bake and inflict in on my colleagues.

There have been crumbles and cakes made using allotment produce that have shared in the work kitchen. Depending on what it is, the bake doesn’t last long. The quickest to go and recently was a bakewell containing some home made jam. I remember putting it down, and coming back one hour later.

A handful of crumbs was all that was left behind. I have never seen a pudding move so fast, and stood there a little perplexed as to how and why.

I quite enjoy baking, I find it quite therapeutic; in most cases, I make a bake for home, and a second is taken to work. That doesn’t mean I’m a proper baker, I enjoy making mistakes and things, rather than showstoppers.

So with Macmillan Coffee morning 2017, it seemed quite straight forward to volunteer something. I just couldn’t think of what I might make.

Only, for youngest sister to look at me, and say cheesecake. “Make that cheesecake,” she said, “The baked one, you’ve not made on in a while. That was nice.”

If in doubt, ask your sister.

I haven’t made the baked cheesecake in a while, no, and it was nice. I think I have made a couple previously; one was with blueberries, another with strawberries, all the fruit was from the shop.

Now I have my own fruit; blueberries have come and gone, strawberries are not my thing, those raspberries have now got an opportunity to actualise their potential. They are going into Ms.Farmah’s baked raspberry cheesecake. I just need to find some white chocolate to go with it.

There is another reason why I wanted to support the event. Regular readers will be aware that two years ago, as a family we experienced the loss of my Maternal grandfather. Without the support of palliative care staff, his final days may have been even more difficult. Plus. he rather liked my allotment, and one of my fondest memories is Nana visiting. He would then ask what I had growing and what I planned to do with it all. So when I said my last goodbyes to him, I may have sent him off with a packet of sunflower and cabbage seeds. it seemed the right thing to do at the time.

So this year’s raspberries are not just raspberries. I have just harvested what might be the last batch to freeze.

Here’s to pudding.

 

Petal’s Preserve goes a bit…boozy #gdnbloggers

There have been a lot preserves made, in terms of jams, jellies and chutneys. I have also had a go at steeping fruit in alcohol to make liqueurs of a kind. This year, I have used fruit from the plot to test out my home brewing kit that was sat unloved for the best part of twelve months. Plus, we have a lot of courgettes, squashes and spinach flying around and this seemed a way of avoiding the gluts.

The recipe that I have used is simple enough-the Sister Sparrow fruit wine recipe-with fruit being placed into a fermenting bucket. Boiled sugar syrup is poured over the top, with yeast, nutrient and enzyme being added when the must is cool. This is left to ferment, before transferring and racking into an air-locked demi-john. Once clarified, the liquid can be re-racked. (This involves transferring from one vessel to another using a siphon and the best quality gravity that you can obtain. It is a two person job, and I tend to borrow a willing parent.) This involves drawing off the  liquid and avoiding the sediment of yeast et cetra at the bottom.

It all started with strawberries, there were quite a lot of them. This first batch was something of a learning experience, having not had a big enough bucket. I may have got a little enthusiastic with this one, and rushed the process. The wine is now bottled-prematurely,  I think-could have done with sitting for a bit and being racked again. It is however, a rather pretty pink, and tastes okay! I’ve wrapped it in brown paper, so that it doesn’t lose the pink colour.

So that was the starting point, and I have to say I was bit enthused as to what I might do next.

Today, I have some time working with two would be wines. The first, was summer wine. The second was apple wine. The summer wine involved rhubarb, left over strawberries as well a hotch pot of red, black and white currants. This was transferred into a demi-john, and will be left to clarify. This is the second rhubarb wine; a previous version involves the combination of Rhubarb and redcurrant, minus the strawberries. I have to admit, that when it is was in the Demi-John, it looked a lot like I had blitzed a plastic ‘My Little Pony’. (Please don’t do this, you do not wish to be in trouble; that is a figurative statement). That is two. Three, three involves blackberries. As a teenager, I read ‘Blackberry wine’ by Joanne Harris, so this was actually the thought in my head. If wine could talk! The batch made actually involves more than blackberries, there are plums and even more currants in there. The currants were rather rocking it this year! At some point, I will try and make some pure blackberry wine, rather than have additional ingredients.

Apple wine is a little different compared to my previous home brew experiments. I had quite a bit of apples stashed in the freezer as well as some freshly harvested ones. These were cored, peeled and sliced, combined and stewed down to a puree of a sort. Once this has cooled, the magic ingredients will  be added so that it can all ferment for a bit.

Think that actually brings the tally up to five different batches. With blackberry wine being considered, the aim of these is to practice. On the plot, there are three grapevines. These are boskoop glory and Madeline Sylvaner. Whilst these are dessert varieties, I believe these can be used to make home made wine. This is basically why I have grape vines!  Many of the experiments need to stay stashed for a while, they will need to mature and build their flavour. As nice as the strawberry wine was to sample, it will be cloistered away for a while.

Sweet and Spiced #gdnbloggers

You know, I haven’t sneezed so much this week. This may be down to the slightly wibbly wobbly weather. I am however now rather tired of seeing strawberries. As Wimbledon has drawn to a close, and the single handed champion-yes, that’s what the men’s winner is called-was told game, set and match; the crop has started to reduce.

With the strawberries waning, there are other things compensating.

We have blackcurrants and red currants; in an increased quantity to previous experience. In fact, when the rain abates, I will go double check the red currants that need harvesting. There are strings of the things, and the plants themselves are relatively new. I have yet to figure out what to do with the white Versailles currants. The red ones are most likely to be jammed or preserved in one way or another.  In harvesting black currants, I do quell and resist the urge to say  ‘this children, is where your ribena comes from’. And these are not diddly things, they are rather round and squishy berries, that really do evoke the memory of ribena.

As mentioned before, the strawberries are now dwindling. There are several pounds that have been frozen. As well as currants, raspberries are starting to come through. Having replaced the slightly dodgy canes, the newer ones are establishing. Donated by a friend and colleague,  this is a polka cane and this the pink fruit that you see. These are rather plump and juicy things that are being stored for jams and things. The yellow one that you see, is technically an autumn variety called ‘Fall Gold’. These do kick off rather early, and are just as good as the pink ones.

So there is a lots of sweet stuff.

Now the spicy

In the poly tunnel there are a number of different chilli varieties. What you see above are examples of purple haze cayenne and jalapeno. I have removed the purple haze as the poly is cooler than expected at this time of the year. It is now sat on the window sill next to unripe tomatoes, and hopefully it will turn to the bright red cayenne that is so familiar to chilli eaters. The jalapeno that you see, I found by fluke and you can see that it is actually a decent size. There are few other fruits forming on the plant, and I will keeping an eye on this one to see how it changes. Apparently, jalapeno crackle as they ripen and change colour. I have in the past, made jalepeno chilli jam. And I remember, the pain of having chopped them up. The moral being to wear gloves on handling. I have also spotted white flowers on the adopted apache, as well as the chillies such as prairie fire, patio sizzle, sparkler, orange habanero, coffee bean and devils rib. These are chillies that are smaller and a different shape to the familiar cayenne and jalapenos, with an altogether different flavour as well. Previously, there as been a good level of success with the patio sizzle. Small and pointy fruit, with one hell of a kick.

And no….I don’t paint my nails so that they match plot produce. Not really….honest.

2015; Bollywood Gardener and beyond

As a year of two halves, 2015 has been somewhat interesting but different. The first half of the year involved having the best of intentions. Seeds were sown, I had half a plan as to what I wanted to achieve. No different to what I might have done in previous years, I was going to use all my knowledge and experience to make  things better, bigger and more efficient. Then came July, 2015 became incredibly busy and in the tail end; I am only just recovering from a very hectic six months.

Let’s take the first six months, where by the growing season is starting. Plans are afoot, the world is full of promise. We are hoping to have a good year.

Tomatoes, chillies and aubergine were the focus of the first three months. Makings sure that the seeds were sown, that these germinated and the plants pampered. Pampered, as so many valuable lessons had been learned as to how they might be successful. It was touch and go for a while in the early stages. Half baked chillies and tomatoes can be a very scaring and intimidating experience, when you let them be in a hot room or poly tunnel. There were even aphids and bugs that needed to be dealt with.

In July, I hosted a workshop during the annual conference of the Association of teachers of Psychology. I spoke about horticulture and mental health, the benefits that teachers might gain for both themselves and their students. I had asked my Psychology colleagues to sow sunflowers in the Spring and also encouraged conference delegates to do the same in giving them seeds that were kindly donated by the information point. It was also at this point, that I finished the Level 3 Certificate in Counselling studies.

Then came the summer, with lots and lots of growing!

No one year will be the same as the preceding or following. Yet this year felt different. There was just something palpably different that made growing more of a challenge ad something beyond me being busy with work and studies. Last year, I remember being ankle deep in tomatoes, green ones; but there were lots of them. This year,I had a foliage, and not a lot of fruits. Positioned in the poly tunnel, the crop was meant to do well. Even the chillies appeared to have struggled this year. Whilst the poly tunnel seemed to have been filled with triffids, there was a muted level of success. Aubergines did themselves no favours once again. I must say every year that I will not sow them. I finally have proof that I might be better off without them. Lovely plants, the occasional flower; but diddly squat fruit even if the poly tunnel was a bit damp and sweaty.

And note the gadget! The apple one. Having acquired all of those apples from a plot neighbour (they were not scrumped, I had consent!) that was an investment and a half. Saved me hours. The home brew kit is still waiting in the wings. untested this year, maybe it will be used in the growing seasons to come. There were a number of pickles and preserves. The preserving pan was rather busy this year, even though the produce was a bit hit and miss.

With the plot ticking along, and the blog growing. Something else also happened. I had been lucky enough to write guest blog posts for WRG, via the fabulous Michael Perry. This was and still is one of the most valuable writing experiences that I have ever had. This actually triggered something more complex and more challenging than I first realised. Over the summer, the winner of the Big Allotment Challenge Rob Smith had written a short book.  One of my fellow counselling students, L.A.Cotton, had also burst onto the young adult contemporary genre (She’s epic, tell her I sent you) with phenomenal success.

These three things combined spurred me to be courageous and write something myself. June and July were turning points, and I remembered sending a message to both my sisters; saying that I wanted to write an ebook, and I would try and get it out by Christmas. That was it, I was going to do it.

Having written as mentioned previously, the guest blogs for WRG , one of them was about the Indian Inspiration on the plot. I think Michael Perry used the words ‘Bollywood Gardener’ or something similar, and I adopted the hashtag! This inadvertently became the start of the book. I wrote in a way I can only describe as feverish. I have the same frame of mind when writing the blogs, to be honest; and it’s part of the blog life. The book however was different in that this was thousands of words and trying to bring the assorted elements of the blog together. There was a lot of things that I wanted to include in my budget of 25, 000 words. I had a notebook-my blog book actually, the one that I take to the plot-and a pen. Scribbling ensued, and it’s hard to read my writing anyway. So when it’s all in very hurried, that doesn’t help with typing.

What I ended up with was ‘Playing with Plant Pots: Tales from the allotment’. Plus it was well before Christmas!

 

With a bright yellow front cover, you cannot miss it!

I am going to be naturally very biased, and say that I like my book. However, that is genuine. I like to share it, because I do honestly believe in my book. You might, for example, have writers out there, who will promote their books; but not necessarily believe in their own work. You know if you don’t blow your own trumpet, it’s difficult to get others to do the same.

Standing in the kitchen, leafing through my own book was rather surreal. My name was on a book, that I had crafted. Then there was the few hours that it was at number one. A fellow independent writer informed me of that happening, and that made my day, I tell you! I am determined to get back to the slot.

Then there was the swag. The merchandise. Again, this sounds likes trumpeting! Petal, the horticultural Obbit, has always been the online avatar of the blog. A registered trademark, she’s face (other than mine!) of the blog and social media presence.

 

As you will have read, this year may have been different to others; but it has not been quiet. So much has gone one, it’s no wonder that the tail end of the year is slower and more reflective. If it had all been plain sailing, there would have been very little learned, very little documented in the blog, and very little left to reflect upon.

For now, my only plan is try and sow chillies at some point, and plant my fruit trees when they arrive. I haven’t really thought about anyhing beyond that.

I thank you, for having accompanied me on the 2015 journey; and look forward to the one starting in the new year.

Happy new year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn: A review

The plot has been busy.  Very busy. With autumn, we have the opportunity to take stock of what has happened. It’s not necessarily an end of year review, that is reserved for New’s Eve. No, this is a case of reflecting on the journey that has taken place over the last ten months,

A journey, that started two days after Boxing day-i think-with the sowing of chilli seeds. That for me,  was the start.

As I come to pay my rent for the next year, I really must do that soon, I have a wealth of learning experiences going into what is my fourth year on the plot. It is with this milestone that I can see just how far I have come. Particularly with the grapevines. These take on average between three to five years to become established, and here we have our first ever harvest this year. The thin wiry twigs that were planted years ago, have become strong and fruitful. They do need extra support now, what was a temporary frame back then, now requires significant bolstering.

Another more concrete example, was the spuds. I have stopped counting now as to how many pounds or kilos, for that matter,  that have been harvested. I feel as though I have broken something of duck. Learned a technique if you like, how to best plant,  picked out appropriate varieties to gain a healthy and abundant crop. I am sure that I will be seeing Pink Fir Apple in my sleep.  They have most likely been put into every dish imaginable by Mum. Yesterday, I found one in Punjabi Khadi.

For the inside the poly tunnel, I am a little perplexed. There were tomato plants galore in there, with chillies and aubergines. The chillies, did okay; lessons were implemented. All were planted into pots, we had a none too bad crop of chillies. Aubergines, have reiterated their point as being a pointless exercise for me. I need to consider whether growing a seed, is equitable with rescuing plants from the garden center.

Eighteen tomato plants were sunk into the ground of the poly. They grew, they grew into six foot tall triffids that were defoliated from time to time. All they grew, was leaves. Maybe the occasional tomato. At a point where I might ordinarily be drowning in green tomatoes; there were none to be had. I was in a different time zone, when Mum found a single, solitary red one. She sent me a picture, to contain her surprise.  The questions that arise here, are two fold. Was it the selected varieties, or was the weather just generally a bit unaccommodating? I am going to say it was a reflection of both. Some of the varieties were the slower maturing ones, and I do think that the poorer weather-in comparison to last year-simply never gave them a fighting chance. Even the roses, suffered; but the gladioli kept going.

 

Soft fruit was a bit hit and miss. Strawberries, took flight, and we had enough to watch Wimbledon by. The runners are now running amok. Raspberries, well, the pink ones did precious little. With the autumn raspberries a bit confused and cropping quite well. Blueberries were a revelation, and for their first year did well.  Didn’t scrump as many plums this year-I do actually scrump with consent-so there was a lot less plum jam and jelly made. But lots of courgettes and marrows  lead to a relatively less busy preserving pan. For the first time ever, we had ice cream made using plot produce.  Something that I highly recommend, even I don’t really like strawberries.

With October starting, I have my seed garlic ordered; and will be trying to shoe horn time in between now and late November to get it sunk. I don’t tend to sow over wintering broad beans anymore. Beyond that, the major autumn winter task is to remove the dead plants and start clearing away. All the dead plants will most likely be composted where they are are, and covered with leaves and other organic material. Creates compost, helps improve the soil, and I am filling the raised beds til they are needed again in Spring.

Whilst everything on the plot is an achievement. There was something else. I wrote this.

‘Playing with plant pots: Tales from the allotment’

http://amzn.to/1OB7PqH : E-book
http://amzn.to/1VsJckt : Paperback

To find out more about it, you’re just gonna have to get it.

This can feel like a very depressing, dark and dank time of year. Especially when you have see the bright, blooming and bountiful delights of colour, crop and your own creativity. It then become difficult to see the light, more positive side of things.  Autumn and winter can be time of reflection, taking stock and making decisions as to how you would like to proceed. That is certainly the route that I will be taking. Tackling the plot bit by bit, setting lists to work through. It has taken six years to get to this point, so there is little point in hurrying.

I really need to go check the inside of my seedboxes.

 

 

 

Harvest and homebrew kick off 2015

The garlic foliage has dramatically keeled over, indicating that it is rather good to go. The seed garlic was sunk last autumn, having been purchased from the garlic farm. Over the years, I have brought and planted lots of different varieties of seed garlic. This was the first ever batch from the garlic farm, and I do have to say, I have not been disappointed.

IMG_5020

As of yet I have only harvested the one bed; I have two beds of over wintering garlic. The foliage had fallen over completely, was all very straw like and yellow. The bulbs didn’t take much lift, and moved out of the soil quite easily. The vast majority of the bulbs are very, very big. By far the largest that I have ever managed to sow and harvest. Big clumps, that are almost trying to split away from the main one. And they honk. Honk of garlic. There are assorted varieties here, and the purple ones are my own personal favourite. Not least because of their size, but because of their smell as that indicates the flavour they will yield. These are solid and stable cloves. What will happen now, is that they will be left to dry for at least a few weeks. The skins and peel should dry out and become crispy. These are better than good garlic bulbs, and I don’t do plugs of people just for the sake of it. This is produce that has come from an excellent seed producer and exceeded my expectations. I would certainly order again from The Garlic Farm.

Then comes the home brew.

Also harvested from the plot today was the last of gooseberries and and also raspberries. I am lucky to half allotment neighbours who ask me to liberate their excess fruit. I don’t ever filch fruit, by virtue of ethics, I always ask permission for the fruit is liberated.

With the gooseberries, this was always going to be their final fate for this year. I have so far made an experimental jam with them, and also an experimental Indian pickle. Their final fate, was to be used to infuse gin. There was a lot of experimentation last year with all sorts of fruit. An interesting learning experience, that produced interesting Christmas presents for family and friends. I also received, via a twitter conversation, really good advice from the lovely Thane Prince. Add coriander seeds to the gin. This advice worked last year, so I am taking it up again, having raided mum’s garam masala stash. Whilst I also plan to make some form of raspberry ice cream; the gin is one possible experiment with those that I have been looking at for a while.

The process is simple. Put fruit into jar, add sugar and steep. Then place into an airing cupboard and wait for a bit. The raspberry gin is apparently quicker than the gooseberry gin; a matter of only a couple of weeks. Gooseberries will be left for a while longer.

Raspberries getting a wriggle on

There are a number of different raspberry varieties that are on the plot. We have:

  • tulameen
  • glen cova
  • malling jewel
  • autumn bliss
  • polka
  • fall gold

Most are part of the all season collection that were planted last year. However, the autumn bliss, polka and fall gold are the varieties that specifically fruit as the autumn draws in. The all season collection was sunk last year, with the autumn bliss and polka varieties sunk last summer. The autumn bliss were the surprise quick croppers in autumn, having been rescued from a garden centre, and the polka were actually kindly donated by a friend and colleague.  The autumn bliss canes were cut down as suggested, so we shall see how these develop.

Pottering around today, I was looking to see if there was any sign of life in the large number of raspberry canes. Lo and Behold, the fall gold are showing green buds. This is somewhat surprising as the canes were only sunk recently. In comparison, the earlier planted canes of the all season collection are somewhat behind. They have rooted, there is resistance if you try and tug at the canes. However, the buds are only just forming at the knobbly bits of the canes.