Archive for the ‘Harvest’ Category

I have to confess that I prefer most of my food fairly plain and unadulterated.  Apple crumble is a case in point, because I normally like to keep it plain.

However, I’ve spent the last two weeks being ill with flu and a chest infection, so I decided I needed a few more vitamins to fight off the winter germs.  We have got a wealth of red fruit in the freezer, just waiting to be put into pies and crumbles, so I decided on a change.

I sprinkled a load of sugar on to taste.

The red fruit adds a nice pink colour to the mixture.

I included coarse oatmeal in the crumble to add a bit of bite:

The result was pleasantly tart, and a very vivid red colour!

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Fallow period

When I look at this blog, it reminds me of how little we have done on the allotment this year. I think after years of graft with fairly small yields, we needed a break.  The strawberries in particular were so disappointing that I was on the verge of giving up altogether.  Mostly it was just losing the habit of going there all the time.

We have been lucky enough to have a lot going on this year.  I lost the end of my finger in December, we moved house in February, and then we seemed to spend every weekend or holiday going up North to see our distant families.  We had two wonderful family holidays in the Isle of Wight and Scotland, then Fern started school this Autumn.  Only now are we catching our breath back!

Nature was still kind to us.  We got some fantastic crops with very little input, like the potatoes.

Later this year we are hoping to get a greenhouse for the first time, and I think this will give us renewed enthusiasm for growing.  I think having had a fallow period will do us (and maybe the soil?) good.  I am just about to pay this year’s allotment invoice, and this was definitely a moment to reflect on the next stage of our allotment progress.

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Despite trying my best to grow strawberries and raspberries year after year, we have never really had much success (see picture below for this year’s harvest!)

We have a relatively huge space dedicated to them, and have painstakingly planted, weeded, watered and checked the crop.  We got a handful this year, but it was all very disappointing.

Things came to a crisis point when we recently ran out of the 2008 supply of homemade jam.  As we used the last drop, with no sign of our own glut, something had to be done.  So we went to Garson’s pick your own farm, in Esher, Surrey.  What a find!  There are as many as 40 crops you can pick throughout the year, depending on season.  They have popular crops such as strawberries in succession, so you can pick them more or less any time from spring to autumn.

I can’t quite put my finger on why our home-made jam is so special and so essential in my kitchen.

It could be that the jam is made with fresh and ripe fruit, usually on the same day as picking?

It could be the dash of balsamic vinegar that Nigella recommended?

It could be the gooey lumpiness which it has, rather than the pert jelliness of shop bought jam?

Whatever it is, it makes it well worth the hours of picking, preparing, cooking and putting into jars.  I am so looking forward to that first batch of scones with cream and jam.

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This has seemed like a year off tending the allotment.  Although we have visited often, the daily/weekly visits have not been possible.  Aside from mowing the lawns and paths weeding (of course), there hasn’t been a vast amount to maintain.  We definitely aren’t aiming for prize-winning standards, or even keeping up appearances.  The plot has to take its place alongside the other demands on our time.

We have also had a very odd year of weather for gardening.  It started off with a freezing cold spring (May), then overnight turned boiling hot and dry (June to mid-July), and late summer (Jul/Aug) seems to have been a monsoon (good old St Swithun).  In early summer, our crop plans were defeated by the difficulties of watering through a drought, whilst accomodating two full time jobs, two kids and a full calendar of holidays and long distance family celebrations.  We have had a fantastic year as human beings, but less so as gardeners!

So we were thrilled to find that the apple trees have been busy while we were away.

Every year seems to bring something special from luck rather than judgement, and here it was.  Jamie has promised to make a tarte tatin later, so I will post photos of the results later.

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It has been so hot and so dry, I am starting to feel like we are in a record drought, at least locally.  Surely a hosepipe ban must be just round the corner?  Perhaps I have a short memory, but for all the grass to be brown, dry and dead by this point in July is unusual.  There’s been no decent rain for 6 weeks. Plants in the garden look very stressed, and are succumbing to weird, new insect attacks with strange symptoms.

Because we can’t get to the  allotment every day to water, our crops are pitifully small.  I have peas that have barely grown out of the ground before flowering, potatoes that look more like chilli peppers in terms of plant size (photos will follow).  I know from friends who are managing to water often, this could be a record summer for the diligent gardener.  Sadly for me the lazy gardener, this will not be the case.  Our soil is very dry at the best of times, but now it is like a desert.  I have learned to welcome the highs and the lows equally, knowing that without the failures, the successes aren’t as precious.  Gardening alone has taught me this valuable life lesson.

The lavender up at Mayfield is looking brilliant at the moment, and really is an inspiring sight.

The lavender festival at the Stanley Road Plots is a couple of weeks away:

Carshalton Lavender Weekend 24th – 25th July 2010

Fortunately lavender thrives in dry conditions!  When it comes to gardening, the expression that springs to mind is “every dog has its day”.

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One of the things I love about Stanley Road allotment site is the gossip that gently feeds its way round the plots.  Sometimes gossip can be hurtful and harmful, but other times it’s a godsend, like when tomato blight is working its way down, or when a site inspection is imminent.

We recently heard a rumour that someone has been stealing strawberries.  Other plotholders have noticed them going missing.  I did wonder why we hadn’t got any yet, because normally we would reap the first harvest at the end of May.  Every time I have checked the plot there have been none ripe, despite lots of rain and sun recently.

It was disappointing as we have been building up to this strawberry harvest for years, weeding, feeding and watering vigilantly.  Some of the plants are supposed to be at their peak this year, and we were hoping for enough to make jam.

On the other hand, we’ve no evidence that anyone has taken any, and so for now, I think I will jump to the conclusion that it’s our own neglect rather than someone else taking our crops!

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When the first rhubarb comes in, it marks the start of the cropping year for us.  There is something fantastically symbolic about it, because it is the first spring crop to come through on our plot.  Technically there are other crops coming in all year round, but at this time of year they are mainly leftovers from the previous season.

For example, we picked the last of our sprouts and ate them on Easter Sunday.  Spring onions are now cropping prolifically.  Last year we were astounded by a perfect cauliflower that sprouted in March after a long, unpromising dormancy over Winter.

Rhubarb on the other hand marks the start of the growing season.  It is the new season’s growth that you crop and eat.  Something that was lying dormant in the soil sprouts in a very short time, and provides you with an all-new crop.

Forcing it gives you an even earlier crop, and a tastier, rarer one.  By excluding light from the sprouting plant, you force it to reach upwards and produce pale, tender stems.  You can only force each plant once every few years, then you need to leave it for a couple of years to regain its strength before cropping it at all again.

It has become a tradition in this house to herald the first forced rhubarb of the year with a bit of a fanfare.  This year it feels very late, although we aren’t sure if this is to do with this year’s cultivar or the cold spring.  Obviously the classic partner for rhubarb is custard, and I have to say that rhubarb crumble and custard is a firm favourite for the rest of the year.

However, the perfect, pale pink stems of the first forced crop demanded something more glamorous, so Jamie made ‘Rhubarb Creme Brulee’.  Which, at the end of the day, is actually just a posher version of rhubarb and custard!

A real spring treat for Easter Sunday.

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