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Archive for the ‘Pumpkins and squash’ 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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Midwinter

Midwinter

Reflections on winter

Although nothing really goes on at the allotment during Winter, plants are hibernating and starting to prepare for their next season of growth.

In the same way, gardeners are musing the possibilities for next year.  One of the things I love about the British seasons is the necessity of downing tools for a couple of months.  Each year offers a second chance at things that didn’t work and excitement about trying something new.

First visit of 2009

We popped to the allotment today to put the Christmas tree back and get some digging and weeding done.  It was great to be back out in the fresh air.  The strawberry patch was looking overcrowded by weeds, so we cleared them and the annual beds, ready for the year ahead.

This year’s seeds have arrived

I have heard from many sources that newer varieties are bred for uniformity and qualities that make them suitable for cropping on a large scale (like maturing at the same time).  I am not really bothered about mass production, but I really want my crops to taste good – otherwise what is the point?  I thought it was worth trying older varieties that were bred for flavour.

I have bought a selection of interesting seeds from ‘The Real Seed Company’ and will be growing these alongside some more modern versions.

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This year’s selections are as follows:

‘Ashworth’ sweetcorn: reputed to be a very early variety – so should ripen while we are visiting the allotment every day in summer, rather than ripening once we have slackened off and the birds get to it first.

‘Long Lisse de Meaux’ Carrot: Red blunt tipped carrot for late season harvest, and old French variety chosen for its excellent keeping qualities in a cellar, apparently.

‘Waltham’ Butternut squash: An improved butternut that is mostly neck, with a rich flavour.  Also stores well.  Hopefully this will be a nice tasting squash – they are such good value to grow if they taste ok.

‘Patisson Blanc’ Patty-Pan Squash: French heirloom variety of white scallop squash with flat white fruit.  Delicious used young as if a courgette.

‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ Climbing French Bean: A very rare bean. The tall plants have purple flowers and beans with green or red tinged pods.  One of the best beans ever from the Cherokee Indians.

‘Golden Sweet’ yellow-podded mange-tout peas: Incredibly rare.  Tall plants with lemon yellow pods.  This will be a good addition to last year’s purple podded peas.

‘Gardener’s Delight (supersweet Irish version): small red cherry tomato with very sweet flavour.  I am on a search of a tasty home-grown tomato which will ripen properly outside.

‘Leaf Selection’ Coriander: slow to bolt coriander.  The usual problem with Coriander is the speed with which it sets flowers, changing the leaf shape.  This will hopefully avoid the problem.

‘Winter Marvel’ Winter butterhead lettuce: A cold resistant lettuce from France.  Something to fill in the gaps before spring gets going.

Hot off the press

We got a letter today telling us that we have been given a plot at the very sought after ‘Warren’ site, which is walking distance away.  There are only ten plots there, and I have been on a waiting list for a plot there since September 2000.  Of course we could never leave our beloved Stanley Road plot, but having one walking distance away might prove useful, especially if we ever move house closer to it : ).

The new one will be for growing vines and fruit cages, whereas we will keep annuals on the Stanley Road site, because the social aspect means we will probably go there more often to keep an eye on things.

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Thank goodness. I finally had a cooking frenzy and stuffed the squash with a mix of red onion, garlic, mushroom and parmesan.

Ready to go in the oven

Ready to go in the oven

They looked fabulous but I have to say that I agree with Doug’s analysis. They weren’t unpleasant, but didn’t really taste of anything. Next time it will have to be a stronger tasting filling. If I could just find a more interesting flavoured variety then it would be a fantastic vegetarian meal.

Still not enough cheese

Still not enough cheese

Oh yes, and Barrack Obama won the US election. What an exciting moment of history.

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Yesterday we popped quickly to the allotment, inspired by the pumpkin display at the farm shop. I decided that it was best to harvest our ones before either frosts or another rainy spell like we have had. It was quite exciting taking the girls to pick the pumpkins after admiring them in situ for ages. I have looked the names up on google, and it turns out that we have got some gourmet Italian varieties, which should be quite tasty and ideal for putting in ravioli parcels and for roasting. We may even have a spaghetti squash (the yellow one in the picture below), but can’t be sure until we open it up.

I struggled to carry them all – they did look a lot larger once I had packed them up ready to take home. I have now put them on the patio to ripen further. Apparently you are supposed to leave them in a sunny but frost free place – the patio seemed ideal.

Pumpkins ripening on the patio

Pumpkins ripening on the patio

The tomato sauce tasted okay – verging on edible as they say. Thankfully, before I came under pressure to eat some, Jamie came home from work in one of his ravenous moods, and ate almost the whole lot. The residue in the fridge just didn’t look very appetising, particularly once he had described it as ‘disgusting’, but I suppose at least it didn’t go to waste.

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Doug gave us these small and very dark green squashes, which look interesting. He said to fill them with cheese and admitted that they are fairly tasteless (hence the cheese I suppose).

However, I can’t really picture them tasting nice with salmon which we are having tonight, and they look as though they will probably survive a day in the fridge. We absolutely must remember to eat them and not let them go off in the fridge.

To be oven-baked stuffed with cheese

To be oven-baked stuffed with cheese

The main attraction on the plot at the moment is the giant pumpkin that has emerged from one of my squash plants. I bought a variety pack and had no idea what was going to come out till they fruited.

Taking pride of place...

Taking pride of place...

Where’s the harvest festival when you need it? Hope we get the chance to exhibit it with the girls – maybe at the usual Wisley autumn thing?

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