Saturday, 22 June 2013

Resurrection

I haven't written for a long while and had actually forgotten about this blog until someone asked me about it this week.This got me thinking and I decided to resurrect my blog!

The allotment is still going well, we have been constructing a greenhouse, building some raised beds and of course weeding. We still get huge enjoyment from being done there and do spend a lot of our spare time at the plot.

Yesterday we picked our first strawberries, and what a treat that was, beautiful red jewels and they were so sweet! I have high hopes for the strawberry patch this year and I have been enthusiastically researching recipes.

I want to try some different flavour combinations, last year I made Strawberry and Elderflower jam and lots of traditional Strawberry preserve so I think the time is right to be more adventurous. Strawberry and Mint is a nice combination and I thought about making a preserve combining these two flavours or maybe a fruit vinegar would be an interesting option? I have also been given an ice cream maker and I will be making some lovely strawberry ice cream.

Otherwise I am a bit unsure of what else to do and I have been scouring my books for inspiration, my Husband just wants to plump for normal jam - apparently Robinsons Jams have been very successful doing just that! I will keep hunting and hoping for a bumper crop!

This is  a picture of our harvest yesterday.


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Dan Lepard's Sticky Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake

Dan Lepard's Sticky Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake

This morning we went to the Allotment for the regular meeting, but after the previous nights heavy rainfall there was little we could do on our plot itself and returned home rather despondently. Its at a time like this some home baking cheers all concerned up!

I had noticed this recipe in my copy of 'Short & Sweet' by Dan Lepard - this is quickly becoming my favourite cook book with the Easy Carrot Cake and the Butterscotch Banana Cake now firm favourites in our house! I often make Cricket teas for OH's teams and I having seen this recipe I thought it would do nicely for the high expectations of the cricket players, but a test run was certainly in order first!

I had all the ingredients required so set about making the cake. I was really pleased by how light and creamy the cake batter was looking and how zesty the cake was already. I already had some lemon zest in the fridge. I had required the juice during a jam making session yesterday and didn't want to waste this bounty, luckily I had the perfect quantity.

Once the cake had been cooked I had to make the 'sticky' part of the cake, dissolving sugar in some Lemon juice over a low heat. Because I didn't want to use any more fresh Lemons for just the juice and no zest. I had some concentrated Lemon juice in the fridge and decided to use that. For me this wasn't lemony enough - there is a definite difference in strength from concentrated and fresh Lemon juice. I ended up adding some more Lemon juice!

Here is the finished cake




The OH was a bit unsure about adding Poppy seeds to a cake but he really enjoyed it and I am certain went for seconds on the pretence of doing the washing up :-)

It was fantastic and definitely my new favourite recipe for Lemon drizzle type cake, moist and soft with the Poppy Seeds adding a lovely look and texture. The only gripe I have, and is my own fault, I wish I had used all fresh Lemon juice for the glaze. I love Lemon flavours and I think it would have been a bit stronger without the concentrated - perhaps another test run is in order?!

If you want to try the recipe, Dan Lepard has published a slightly modifiedversion here  http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/jul/28/foodanddrink.recipes1 , I am not sure how the tweaks to this version affect the cake, I am going to stick to my version from Short & Sweet!

And now the sun is back out so we are waking back to the plot to collect some Strawberries - a lovely day after all, sunny weather and cake!


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Strawberry Jam Recipe

The main reason I wanted to get an Allotment and persevered with 3.5 years on the waiting list was because I wanted to make my own Strawberry Jam. Today I did just that! Last year our Strawberry plants were only a few months old and did not produce much fruit at all - this year there is much more and I took the opportunity to make some Strawberry Jam.

I am quite picky about my strawberry jam and wanted to change my recipe from previous attempts using pick your own produce. I found them too sweet and the strawberry flavour did not shine through enough. So, my mum lent me a copy of  'The Country Housewifes Handbook' a WI book which was printed in 1939. My Nan 'borrowed' this book from her Aunt Floss and neglected to return it, my mum had done similar and now I have carried on the family tradition and have done the same! The book looks like this
It really does contain some great recipes and some of them are identical to my up to date WI book - and why change something that obviously works!
There are a number of recipes for Strawberry Jam, I decided which one I wanted to use and had to adapt for the quantity I had as I only had 700g strawberries. Unusually no water was required in this recipe and I was a little dubious but it really worked, a set was found quicker so the strawberries tasted fresher and more vibrant looking.

Ingredients
700g Strawberries - as fresh as you can get, hulled and any bad bits removed before weighing.
700g Caster Sugar
Juice of 1 lemon.

Method
Place a layer of strawberries in a mixing bowl, cover with sugar - build up these layers until you have used all the strawberries and sugar and leave in the fridge overnight.
Place some saucers in the freezer and prepare your jars
Place the sugar and strawberries and lemon juice in a preserving pan (or large saucepan) heat very, very gently stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Once all the sugar was dissolved turn up the heat and boil vigorously for 10 mins, test for a set.
Continue boiling if setting point is not reached then leave to cool for a few minutes. If there is scum on the jam drop a knob of butter in and stir vigorously (I needed a couple of knobs)
Pot and seal.

Please do give this recipe a go if you want a vibrant, fresh tasting Strawberry jam - I love it!





Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Harvesting crops

Apologies for the long silence! I have been really busy recently, because I am getting married in a couple of weeks eek - happily the plot hasn't suffered too much but my blog has!

The weather has certainly played havoc with the crops recently. The carrots and swedes have failed to come up even after a second sowing. They will germinate but then the weather has changed and they have been rained off and/or consumed by slugs - very disappointing! Still I am going to try again, may as well see - after all what's the worst that can happen!

Strawberries are in full flow now and I think I am going to make some Strawberry jam today - just a couple of jars. I have never managed to grow enough strawberries to make jam with before so this will be a first! The broad beans are fattening nicely, but we will leave them another week or so before harvesting as we planted them late this year thanks to our plot mice - which are still in evidence and living quite happily in the hot bed composter which is now the rhubarb patch!

Our onions are nearly ready and I think I will tread them over soon as we don't need any bigger onions than we have. The garlic still needs a little bit of time however.

As my previous posts have said, we were hoping to get a second plot next year, the one next to ours. Unfortunately we didn't get it -which we didn't mind too much but it was a shame. We are however fighting off the weeds from this plot - its been uncultivated since the new owners have taken over and the seeds are blowing everywhere now - its very disheartening but we will just keep on hoeing and keep on top of them all. The weeds are also growing over our shared path and I am wondering if it would be ok to strim these down because they are stopping us from walking alongside ours, I am not sure - in the interest of plot harmony I don't want to tread on any toes!

Still allotments aren't easy and we have had our fair share of failures this year but I still love our plot!




Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Foraging Season

Foraging in earnest is nearly upon us and to distract me from the awful weather we have been having I have book marked a few recipes I intend to try this year (produce providing of course!)

Wild Garlic Pesto - this is in season as the moment! Indeed we took a walk along the South Downs to see if there was any to be found. I have never picked this before just come across it upon walks. Unbeknownst to me at the time Wild Garlic does not like the chalky soil of the South Downs. However we found some on the way home in the car. It is easy to spot as you can smell it in the air! Unfortunately in amongst the Wild Garlic was a dead Badger which had been hit by a car so we decided not to use this batch. The search continues - I know of some likely spots now I have read up on it so I will be searching again soon.

 There are some plants which may make you ill that look like Wild Garlic so if you cannot smell garlic in the air or on your fingers if you touch the plant please do not pick it!

The Wild Garlic recipe I plan to use is in the River Cottage Hedgerow book by John Wright.

Also in the same book I think I will try. Elderflower Delight as well as Elderflower Champagne. We made this last year with little success so will persevere to get it right. The Elderflower Delight is a new recipe I am looking forward to trying.

My OH discovered a patch of Wild Strawberries growing at his place of work last year so I plan to pick some of these and use them to make the Wild Strawberry Brandy in the River Cottage book also.

And now onto River Cottage Preserves - another favourite of mine (can you see a theme developing here!) I am hoping we will have enough Gooseberries and Strawberries this year to make Jam from the Allotment. The last Strawberry jam recipe I used I found a little sweet, hopefully this will be more to my taste. There is also a recipe for Green Gooseberry and Elderflower jam. Last year I made a bath of this using Gooseberries frozen from the previous year and fresh Elderflowers and it was divine! Indeed I am less generous with giving this as presents than I am with my Blackberry and Apple Jelly! I also would like to try a Rosemary Jelly and Spicy Crab Apple jelly. There is a great recipe for Spring Rhubarb relish as well which I think will have to wait until next year when we have a good crop of Rhubarb.

Pickled Garlic is another recipe I am longing to try - I think we should have enough Garlic this year to ensure some spare cloves for me to make this. The recent rain has at least helped to swell all our Onions, Shallots and Garlic.

I also want to try making some bottle fruits this year, all in all I am going to be busy!

Lat week was very exciting, I found a Rumtopf jar in a charity shop. I have been looking for one for a while, I am really looking forward to trying this out. I think I will start by adding Cherries. The idea is you preserve seasonal fruit as the season progresses in layers in the jar, covering with Sugar and Rum to make a delicious liquer and boozy fruit combination. At least we can get excited about the months ahead even if the weather is slowing us down!



Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Introducing.. our new Hens! Plus a competition to name one of our new ladies..

Sunday morning was very exciting for me and I was up bright and early after a very late night the night before. I felt like it was Christmas ha ha!

We went to collect our new Hens - hoorah! Bella our existing Hen has been on her own for a week or so now after we lost our oldest Ex-Bat Houdini. We had had her nearly 4 years so she had a very good innings considering her first 24 months or so would have been horrendous.

We collected our hens from a back yard breeder in the New Forest who also sells at Salisbury livestock market. I had done my homework with the breeders, getting recommendations and taking a long while to chose who we got our new hens from. He breeds lots of hens and gave us a tour of his plot of land - we saw his baby chicks, his cocks he is raising for meat birds and heard about his pigs - he has another small holding he keeps these at! I must admit I was very envious and told him we just had our small back garden and an allotment - but it turned out he started just like that too so there is hope for us yet!

We got our hens home and I left them in their box in the hen house to acclimatise and they eventually found their way to the outside pen. Bella was quite nice to them at first and then proceeded to bully them, one chicken against four and she was adequately winning! This always happens when you introduce new hens to each other so I have not been unduly worried as we have been through this many times before with our ex-batts. Though I must say this has gone much more smoothly than ever before, I am not sure if that is because they are less aggressive birds (Ex-Batts have to fight for everything when in their cages - space, food, the right to sleep etc so they are often quite bolshy) or because we are more used to doing this now.

Anyway, two days in they are coming out of their house to eat and drink and being chased back by Bella again but they are getting braver and braver. I give them a few hours each day when Bella is free ranging in the garden and they all come out together then. It is ever so funny watching them when Bella is in the house. Their head's keep poking through the door whilst they are plucking up the courage to run to the food or water and then one comes tumbling out the door, almost as if the others have pushed into her saying, 'go on - its your turn, I went last time!'

So here are some pics of our new birds. First we have our yet as named hen - I thought I would offer the naming of the chicken to any readers of this blog. Please comment with your suggestion and we will chose a name at random (if there is more than one suggestion that is!)

 
She is a beautiful Rhode Rock and befits a pretty name I think anyway!

This is Margo


This is Jennifer


And this is Penelope


The girls are just coming into lay but they are only laying mini eggs at the moment, so far they have laid 4 - 2 for the last two days and one softie this morning so we will see if we getting any more. They really are a lovely bunch of Hens and I think Bella will fit in very nicely with them. My partner is smitten as well and is building them a second storey dust bath! I will post pics once it is finished and they are using it - he is always making bits and bobs for our chicken house, they are better equipped than we are these days!




Saturday, 14 April 2012

Rainbows

The weather this week has been very changeable, we have had sun, rain, thunder lightening and a couple of times all of them together!!

I am glad we held off till last weekend to plant our potatoes, the ground was so dry until this week. Hopefully all the rain we have had will make for lovely potatoes. The one problem we had last year was lack of rain.

We planted out the rest of our broad beans this week - we have 80 plants in all so I will see if that is enough for us to freeze and have for a year round supply. These plants replaced the ones the field mice munched every single one of!

We also planted out our replacement red onions - lets hope we have more luck with these ones. And our two further Rhubarb plants - they were given to us as a thank you for some plants we had passed on. These were grown from seed so I don't think will be ready for any pulling until next year, perhaps the year after. Still at least they are in their rightful position now. This time last week we had one Rhubarb crown, now we have 6, something always comes up!

We dodged the rain all evening to get the crops in and just as we finished a beautiful rainbow appeared.


Off to collect our new chickens tomorrow, very excited!