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Archive for the ‘Strawberries’ 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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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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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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Last year, a very kind lady on the site gave us enough of her strawberry surplus to make jam.  The batch was so large that the very last jar is still in the fridge.

Unfortunately, this year we got quite slim pickings from the strawberry plot.  We had enough to eat fresh, but no major gluts of strawberries to make into jam.  I wasn’t even a real fan of jam before we made our own, but it turned out to be one of those home mades that are really worth it.

The fresh, intense fruit taste was better than any shop bought equivalent.  I have to admit that I am not that keen on the usual array of home-made combinations, like rhubarb jam with ginger or whatever, but plain old strawberry jam has been made into a million cream teas, puddings etc.

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Punnets of strawberries going for a song in the supermarket, which I just couldn’t resist.   Only 80p each, but they had to be used quickly.  Luckily it is one of the easiest things to make, even though I did only finish just before midnight.

Strawberry Jam

1 kilo strawberries
1 kilo preserving sugar
2 tbsps of balsamic vinegar (or balsamic glaze in my case)
juice of 2 lemons
Lots of clean jars, freshly run through the dishwasher

Comments: It doesn’t actually taste of the lemon or balsamic, but they give it an extra kick.  In the case of the lemon it provides the pectin to set the jam (or it is supposed to).  In my experience, the recipe above with preserving sugar never bloomin sets, but it does look and taste gorgeous.  An easier version is to use jam sugar, which has pectin added.  It is cloudier and a bit more like the ones in the shops, but it does set.

  • First you measure out 1kilo of strawberries and 1 kilo of sugar.

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  • Put them in a pan.  I ripped up the strawberries because they were very large, but smaller ones can go in whole.
  • Heat up slowly, but not too slowly, stirring every so often.

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  • Once it reaches the boil, time it and start testing after about 5 mins.  Check by putting a teaspoon onto a saucer, and if it wrinkles, it is ready.  Leave for a little while to cool down before filling jars and putting the lids straight on.

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Tip: Leave the jars in the dishwasher until you are ready to fill them.  I find this keeps them totally sterile and no need for further sterilising.

Serve with home-made scones, heated in microwave for 20 secs, plus clotted cream.  Yum, and totally unhealthy.

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These days, although we would all love to eat fresh, fully prepared, home cooked meals every day, it is sometimes hard to do much more than re-heat a ready meal in the evenings after work.  Especially, ironically if you have been at the allotment till 7pm (!).

But Saturday is our foodie day.  We love to think about what we can incorporate from the plot on the menu that night, and we have the time and energy to try something new, rather than a tried and tested recipe.

This weekend we had little else to do, so we worked in four new dishes with our own home grown stuff.

First on the menu was Chicken in Marsala sauce.  This is cheating a bit, because the only ingredients from the allotment were bay leaves and thyme, but it is worth noting nonetheless.

Ingredients:

Chicken quarters or thighs, skin & bone on.
1/2 bottle of Marsala wine
A few sprigs of Thyme
2 Bay leaves
1/2 head of garlic
Splash 0f olive oil
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to season
Fresh parsley
(optional) mushrooms

The basic recipe follows the standard chicken one pot meal, like chicken and tarragon.  You fry off the seasoned chicken in olive oil till it goes brown, then add the other ingredients, leave it bubbling away for a while, keep an eye on it, then reduce down the stock that’s left.

Reducing the stock is particularly important in this case, as you end up with a really nice sweet, sticky sauce, which coats the chicken really nicely. The final step is to chop the parsley and add just before serving.  We followed this with:

Strawberry and Vanilla Custard Tarts.

Strawberry tarts

Strawberry tarts

These were made with Colin and Gail’s eggs which we think explains why they have an amazingly yellow colour.

Ingredients:

Ready made sweet pastry
Vanilla pod
300ml Double Cream
5 egg yolks
75g granulated sugar (or vanilla sugar)

Line small tart tins with sweet pastry.  Bake blind for 10 minutes then allow to cool.

Make the vanilla custard, by heating up cream in a saucepan with the vanilla pod.  Beat together the egg yolks and the sugar in a separate bowl.  Carefully drip in slowly some of the warmed milk, and beat until smooth.  Continue doing this with about 1/3 of the milk then return the mixture to the saucepan with the rest of the milk.  Heat carefully.  When the custard begins to cool it will set, and then you can add the strawberries and custard to the tart cases.

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Days like these are what allotmenting is all about.  A horrible first day back at the office, with everything as usual in complete crisis and over schedule, blah, blah, blah.  I finally got out at 7pm, and went straight to the allotment, carrying the cares of the world.

A balmy evening and we arrived to the sight of fellow gardeners happily tilling the land.  In our case an explosion of strawberries and flowers meant there was a bumper crop in store for us.

Little hands collecting the crop

Little hands collecting the crop

The girls were squealing with excitement as they picked the ripe strawberries.  We ate some off the plants, but had enough to bring a whole bucketful home.

Allotment June 1 004

Eden noticed that her rose had flowered, and was thrilled to find it has an amazing fragrance.  The rest of the roses have bloomed, along with the peony.

Sarah Raven eat your heart out!

Sarah Raven eat your heart out!

As we packed up and headed for home, there was contentment mixed with excitement about having ice cream and strawberries for supper, and the prospects of a great summer ahead.

Allotment June 6 001

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Finally, look at these little lovelies that were picked at Stanley Road yesterday.

First few red strawberries

First few red strawberries

They tasted wonderful, and the girls enjoyed them straight from the plants, with no added sugar.  Amazing how they will eat things straight from the plant that they would never try on their own in the house.

There are lots more to come, as we have dedicated two full strawberry patches at Stanley Road to them.  My favourite crop by far…

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