Archive for the ‘Autumn’ Category

I find Autumn a bittersweet season.  On the one hand, it is quite nice to settle down to cooler weather and darker nights.  There is something relaxing about calming down and getting ready for winter, heating on, warmer clothes and hot dinners.  On the other hand, it is a sign of worse weather to come, of a long hibernation before the next growing season and of plenty of indoor days.

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Tempting though it is to start planning ahead for Christmas, autumn is worth savouring for itself.  Halloween  and Bonfire night sit nicely half-way between end of summer and Christmas.

In the vegetable patch, pumpkins have got to be the autumn king.  Despite all the weeds and the weather, the pumpkin still grows huge.

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This autumn has been amazing for weather – lots of long sunny weekends, perfect for long autumn walks.  I took this photo in Kensington Gardens the other day.  The birds were all perfectly lined up on the posts.  You would never guess you were so close to the city.

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Anyway, now for the useful bit – at least for those of you with children.  This recipe for home-made playdough comes from our local toddler group, Tots and Toys, and it is one of those fabulous ‘don’t think this is going to work’ recipes which feels a bit like magic when it does work.  Or at least that’s how we found it.

Home-made play-dough

2 cups plain flour
2 cups water
1 cup salt
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons cooking oil
a few drops of food colouring, (you can also add glitter etc.)

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First you put all the ingredients in a large saucepan over a low heat.  Stir until it forms a ball, keep stirring the whole time (it takes a while!).  When it has formed a ball put it into an ovenproof bowl to cool down.  When cool, knead and wrap it up in cling film.  Keep in an airtight container until playtime.  TIP: soak the saucepan straight away!

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Happy autumn – enjoy it while it lasts!

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I have a confession to make.  It is at least a month since I have even got to either allotment – I have just been too busy, too ill or too lazy.  I have spent the summer gallivanting around and have loved every minute of shirking my duties.   Jamie has been running there as part of his evening run to keep it ticking over, and he had reassured me that they looked okay (ish).

Today I got the shock of my life when I revisited them both.  All the crops that I had carefully sown have gone to seed or been overgrown, and generally looked very neglected.  This cabbage sums up the damage:

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The plot now needs some serious weeding and replanting for next year.

Despite the complete wasteland that the allotment seemed, I was still able to bring home some great picks of the day,which I have rinsed ready to put in the pot later:

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I am going to put the mix of sweetcorn, potatoes, carrots, peppers, chilli and borlotti beans into a huge cooking pot over a bonfire, along with some braising steak, onions, beef stock and some fresh tarragon picked today.

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This is all going into a dutch oven on the fire.  Watch this space, I will post the results tomorrow, if they were worth a look.

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I am going to eat my stew with oven roasted tomato and parmesan bread that I made earlier:

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This was made using the tomatoes from the plot a few weeks ago, which had been overnight-roasted according to the recipe on Make Grow Gather.  This created the perfect addition to home made bread:


So, two hours later, here we are with food cooking on the fire:

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I haven’t tasted it yet, but I can’t wait:

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It looks a lot better and browner after a few hours of cooking.  Here was the final result.  It actually seemed like a real Ray Mears kind of meal, with lots of whole veg and a bit of spice.

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Granted, it still looks pretty grim with the flash on the camera, but it tasted amazing, with a Central American accent, with sweetcorn, Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, chillis, peppers and potatoes.

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So, just as you catch yourself thinking that it is far too warm for bonfire night, the autumn hits with a vengeance.  We haven’t been able to get to the allotment for a fortnight now – the sunny days of late are a distant memory as snow, wind, rain and frost takes hold.

So what do gardeners do in winter?  What can you do once the long dark evenings put a stop to weekday gardening?  Well, in some ways, a rest period is welcome.  The grass and weeds slow down, the frosts kill back tender plants.  Only the hardiest and most self sufficient plants survive the winter, and they can all seem to look after themselves.  Most of your annual beds are cleared and ready for next year (or a green manure?), and thoughts turn to seed catalogues and inspirations for next year.

So we went to the Cotswolds for a weekend to visit Westonbirt Arboretum on a ‘garden lover’s break’.  A weekend of autumn leaves, good food and log fires with a bit of ancient English history thrown in for good measure.  We stayed at the Old Bell Inn in Malmesbury, in the shadow of Malmesbury Abbey, where King Athelstan was buried and the location of one of the infamous ‘Crosses’ of ‘Banbury Cross’ fame (When Eleanor of Aquitaine died, every place that her body was placed en route to London was marked with a cross).

The maple avenue at Westonbirt

The maple avenue at Westonbirt

The hotel was superb, with at least four separate lounges with log fires, and incredibly helpful staff.

The food was brilliant, and most definitely inspired us to do a bit of winter cooking. We came back brimming with ideas, including my usual ‘open a garden centre with a cafe’ dream. Maybe one day….

The starter!!!

The starter!!!

The pumpkin, incidentally, got a Halloween makeover, and is now the proud wearer of lip gloss and eyeliner – a mummy pumpkin, obviously.

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