Winter is Here!

Clearly.  There has even been scraping of the car window screen in the mornings and on a couple of days, the frost has still been on the grass as evening has arrived.

DSC_0148Brrrrr, time to cook Boston Beans with the remaining barlottis that were hastily brought indoors from the greenhouse, where I’d left them to dry out, still attached to the vines.  I’m lucky the mice didn’t get them.  I always make beans as it’s such a nice staple tea to have in the freezer, neither of the boys will touch them so it’s just for me.  I use this HFW recipe, only I add some tomato puree and I cook the belly pork separately, so all the fat doesn’t end up in the beans, I know the fat is very flavoursome but I can’t face the calories.  When I freeze it, I spoon the beans into a container then place a few chunks of cooked pork on top, to reheat it I make sure the belly pork is still hovering on the beans, that way it ends up nice and crispy – yum!  I’d show a photo, but the truth is it looks a bit like brown mush, tastes heavenly though!

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The garden is now dormant for the winter.  I tried (quite half heartedly, if I’m honest) to make sure it was tidied and ready to plant up, come spring.  I finally got the garlic in.  I ordered a small variety box this year, just for the change, but still from The Isle of Wight Garlic Farm, it’s been a while since I tried elephant garlic (which isn’t really garlic at all but a variant of leek, I believe) so I’m excited to see if it grows (I struggled last time).  I haven’t ordered potatoes or shallots yet, they’d normally have been paid for by now, ready to arrive in the New Year, but I’m unsure about my plans to grow either this time.

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Indoors we are getting ready for Christmas.  The boys have their fabulous sock advent calendar (from Germany) and I decided to re-use my Betty’s one, bought a couple of years ago, but filled with my favourite Lindt truffles.

DSC_0151 The cake has been given a layer of marzipan and icing, then finished with some cute vintage style decorations from Cox and Cox.

DSC_0154Since this photo was taken, half the cake has been eaten!  I’d rather it’s that way then it sits there for weeks, possibly months on end and everyone looses their Christmas sweet tooth and it gets abandoned.  My verdict on trying Delia’s Creole Christmas Cake?  Good decision, I LOVE it and will be cooking it going forwards…until I get bored and fancy a change, that is.

I have more to write about but I just want to get into the habit of posting again, so for now I’ll leave it here :)

Winter is Coming…

I realise that I’ve been absent for ages now, if you read my other blog you’ll know life has rather been getting in the way, but it’s all nicely settled down and I hope to get back to regular blogging.DSC_0192 The garden has pretty much ground to a halt.  There are a few splashes of colour hanging on,DSC_0194 the zinnia sprite is still going strong in the cutting patch, as are the cosmos and some marigolds.DSC_0188 The borders are looking less pretty, but I was totally thrilled to see the Japanese anemone that I planted last year has taken, I did have my fingers crossed when I saw a few shoots earlier in the season, but I’m so pleased to have at least one bright spot amongst the green and browns.

DSC_0187 I’ve managed to keep up with the lawn, sadly since I took this photo (I’d just trimmed the hedges of the vegetable patch, which are finally filling out) it has got a bit out of control, but too late now as it’s far too wet for any more mowing.DSC_0176 With the promised cooling of the weather, I brought the remaining chillies and red pepper plants indoors to rippen. The greenhouse is still full of tomato plants which appear to be hanging on in there!!  One frost and they will sadly be gone.DSC_0179 The squash were also brought indoors, the gem/rolet need eating soon, but the others are scattered around the house looking pretty for Halloween before they get added to a Sunday roast.DSC_0181Indoors, I felt like cooking, so I cracked on with Christmas cake.  I can now cook cake with alcohol again, I did try one year without but it was dry and didn’t keep very well, perhaps it was the wrong the recipe I opted for….anyhow I’m going for it this year and I’ve made Delia Smith’s Creole Christmas Cake, the above bottles were required for the pre-soaking!!!  I’ve made it, as I always do, in October so I can ‘feed’ the cake over the coming weeks with a little more liquor, no idea which of the above I should use so I’ll have to read up for advice there.DSC_0028 It got me thinking that I never did post about some of the Christmas gifts I bought last year.  I had a kind of food and drink theme going on, I was trying to source drinks made in Britain.DSC_0032 There was Chase potato Vodka, Edinburgh Raspberry Gin (which I was told was very nice) and my favourite, King’s Ginger.DSC_0033 The Cherry Brandy (which is partly what had started the idea as I’d had a chat with my Brother about our getting a glass of Cherry Brandy at Christmas when we were older teenagers) came from SLOEMotion in Yorkshire, I even bought a bottle for myself and the Sloe Port and Truffles from the same, were given to my Sister.DSC_0035I bought some fun skull shot glasses to go with it all.  I was quite pleased, as I find it hard to buy for the men of the family, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a basket each of British bottles.

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As I had all the fruit out, I figured I may as well make the pudding (using my Gran’s recipe, as always) and some Mincemeat (the Delia version).  I can feel my fingers twitching to keep going but I’m not eating flour at the moment and ideally no sugar, so most regular baking is out.  Annoyingly, there is a Sticky Parkin recipe in this month’s Country Living that I’m not sure I can resist, so that might be my one baking treat this month.  As for the garden, it’s not in bad shape, I did get out there and do a quite tidy the other day and since then it’s mostly rained.  I’m not sure where we will be living next year, which puts a dampener on my usual joy of planning, but I think I’ll still browse seed catalogues and get some lists together and for now there are a few crops still in the ground (chard, kale, beetroot and spinach) so I’ll try not to abandon those as I often do when the weather turns.

Hopefully, it wont be such a long gap before my next post!!

Sweetcorn…

We have just eaten the first of the sweetcorn from the garden.  I waited, patiently, for the silks to turn totally brown before picking the first ears, although I couldn’t resist the odd nail into kernel test (you’re looking for a milky liquid to squirt out, if it’s clear they aren’t ready yet) but I know from my impatient past that if I do the nail test too often, it make’s it easier for the earwigs to move in and I do not like earwigs.DSC_0186 I planted the variety Lapwing this April, starting them indoors for planting out after the last frosts.  Only 10 of the plants survived a rabbit attack and instead of the usual 4 per row in my raised beds, I crammed them together in 2 rows of 5.  As this is quite a small area for wind pollination to take place, I gently stroked the top pollen onto the silks each time I passed the plant and in doing so (I like to think!) that I made sure there were no missing kernels (each individual silk has to be pollinated in order to form a kernel, hence the idea that you need to plant in large blocks, ideally 4 x 4 minimum).DSC_0189

If there’s one crop I will always make room for it’s corn, the taste is so amazingly delicious, so much better than anything you could buy.  I’ve mentioned in the past how even my oldest, Felix, will eat a fresh cob of corn and one of his worst nightmare vegetables is frozen or tinned sweetcorn.  As we’re away on and off over the next week or so, I decide to freeze the remaining cobs so they don’t go past their best.  I simply didn’t have time to blanch them and one recommendation I found is to leave a couple of leaves in place and freeze the corn raw, so this is what I’ve done.  I’ll be interested to see how they taste once cooked directly from the freezer.

That’s all :)

Tomatoes, potatoes and ‘TomTato’…!

We ate things from the garden this weekend, which kind of makes it all feel worthwhile.

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Last night I made pizza, using the first of the tomatoes.  It seems a shame to be roasting and pureeing home grown tomatoes, I feel as though they should be eaten raw, maybe in a salad, but the sad truth is I don’t do raw tomatoes, it’s the only thing I don’t eat and F is the same. DSC_0193Luckily, my youngest LOVES all vegetables so he has been snacking on the little cherry toms – Ildi – which I think deserves a place on my yearly list, as they are cropping beautifully with huge clusters of tiny fruit.  The Brandywine above were roasted as they were a little damaged underneath, where the weight (they are MASSIVE) had pushed into the edge of the bench where I’d propped them to mature, but C is looking forward to eating some sliced in his vegi-burger bap, at a later date.

DSC_0195There’s the first of the plums (San Marzano), these are also cropping well, in fact this year is looking good for tomatoes in general.

DSC_0198 Which brings me to a TomTato update.  As per this earlier post, the TomTato is a tomato plant grafted into a potato, so I should get a crop of both.  The plant was quite expensive so I’ve been looking after it with regular feeds and it’s been growing happily outside, in one of my large pots.

DSC_0201The potatoes are showing their first flowers

DSC_0204and I was excited to see the cherry tomatoes colouring beautifully, almost like the Thompson & Morgan promo photo below…..

8830534975518almost!

DSC_0205My other large potato pot, full of Lady Christl has given us its first meal, I grubbed about and managed to pull out a few tubers for our lunch and they were delicious, eaten with a little butter and salt.  It’s a new variety for me, I nearly always grow Charlottes but these are equally lovely.

The broad beans are nearly over, they are getting a little large now, today’s were blanched and then the skins removed and the beans added to a feta and pea salad.  C had a courgette (zephyr), also from the garden added to his frittata for lunch (the rest of us eat meat, so we had Jerk chicken), so all in all it was a good day for eating garden produce.  If I’d been better organised we’d have also pulled some carrots and the sweet corn is almost ready, but ideally needs a few more days.

Off the water and feed the greenhouse now, and enjoy the last few days of sun, before the rain arrives :)


We’re having a heatwave…

I started writing this post on July 16th, but the title still stands, we are most definitely still feeling the heat here in the UK.  It’s left the grass brown and the flower borders are struggling, but I have managed to keep the patch vaguely watered and the greenhouse gets a daily dose.DSC_0017 Earlier this month, I was very lucky to be invited along to the Hampton Court Flower Show.  I took some photos on my iPhone, but they aren’t great quality so I’ll skip posting them.  I really enjoyed the show, it’s the second time I’ve been….my main thoughts are there are less show gardens than I expected and they are quite difficult to see after midday, due to the crowds, we were lucky to get around most of them pre-lunch and then zoom through the flower tents afterwards, which are a real treat.  I bought some plants back, mostly for the boys

DSC_0022 C got a new succulent for his room, I was told that if we snap off the flowers, let them dry out for a couple of days then push them into soil, we’ll get new plants, so we are certainly going to try this.  I’d also bought the boys fly catchers, but these have gone into the bathroom so I remember to keep them watered (with rain water only), otherwise I’m sure they’ll be dead in a week.  The grass on the left is ‘bunny tails’ which has, as the name suggests, little fluffy tufts of grass heads on medium stalks.  It’s gone into the giant planter that has sat empty for months, along with herbs but that deserves a post of it’s own.DSC_0034 My crazy mixed bed where I threw all the reminder of the flower seed packets in has been dominated by self-seeded poppies.  They grow all over the garden and I’m making a point of removing the heads so I have a little more control over where they germinate next year.  They are nice, but not quite the shade I would choose.  I prefer darker reds, these are more of a pink hue, still, they do add colour when there isn’t a lot else going on.

DSC_0027The same bed is now full of marigolds (Indian Prince) which also self-seed all over the garden.

DSC_0188These are top of my ‘cut flower’ list so I don’t mind at all, they look a little scruffy in the photo as I’ve just been away for a few days, so the poor garden has dried terribly and no-one has been picking or dead-heading the plants.  You can see a single cornflower trying to push through, and there are nigellas as well, out of shot.
DSC_0195The only flowers I specifically planted that have made it are zinnias (just about to flower) and cosmos.  This chocolate colour was not expected though!  I was sure I’d be getting hot pinks but this might be another self-seeded number as it originally appeared in the gravel and was transplanted to its new spot in the raised bed.

In the next week, I need to get any winter veg started and hopefully we’ll get to eat the corn, potatoes, courgettes and broad beans that are nearly ready.  I HAVE to get some work done outdoors, but the heat is getting to me and I’d rather not go out there unless I have to.

DSC_0061I’m also up against it with my sewing work.  I’ve managed to finish and list this ‘gardening’ apron, but there is so much to get done for the busy season that is Autumn/Winter in the shop.  Too many things and not enough hours, but then isn’t that always the way :)

 

Garlic Crop 2014…

I pulled the garlic in late June, as rather stupidly, I had forgotten that using the sprinkler to water the patch (it’s very hot here at the moment and hand watering wasn’t cutting the mustard, the ground needs a good daily soak to keep the plants happy) meant I was also watering my garlic, which I had left to start drying out in the ground.

DSC_0139As a result, rust was just beginning show, it’s very mild and I know from last year that it wont effect the crop and it’s long-term keeping but it made sense to get the crop out of the ground and to remove any leaves badly affected before leaving the bulbs to dry in a sunny spot.DSC_0146I’ve just checked back in the blog but it appears I never wrote down the garlic variety I bought from The Garlic Farm last Autumn, I’m pretty sure it’ll be Solent Wight or the usual Albigensian….I have  feeling Albigensian.  I was worried that the mild winter might have stopped the growing bulbs from forming cloves, but it appears not to have.

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I planted much less than I normally do, I bought a bag of four large bulbs (I’ve struggled in the past to find places to put all the cloves and I’ve ended up growing them in all available spaces, including in the flower borders) and they were also planted closer together, but I was much more diligent about watering and feeding the crop.  In return I have nice, uniformly large bulbs, not enough of them to see me through the entire year (once these are used up, it’ll be the first time in years that I have bought garlic) but I think I’ll stick with these smaller quantities, going forward.

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They have been drying for some weeks and yesterday I plaited them up.  I good few were left loose in a big bowl as they need using first (the bulbs have split as they dried, offering the cloves less protection in the long run)
DSC_0150and a few were used green, as they are on the edge of beginning to rot, from sitting in the wet soil.

I have to do some general catch-up posts for this blog, it’s been hideously hot out in the garden so I’m really just tending to the basics, but we’re finally eating quite a bit of produce so I’ll try to write a few posts in coming weeks, and get back into the swing of regular blogging.

Blackcurrants Galore…!

I’ve just spent the majority of the day dealing with this year’s blackcurrant harvest.  If I could only grow one berry bush, this would be it, I love the smell when you brush past the leaves and I can’t think of a nice flavour.

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Last year, I took picking time as an opportunity to also prune the bush, removing older stems to make way for newer ones.  In doing so, I think I rather over-pruned and was a bit worried about how much fruit I’d get this season.  I needn’t have worried, there was plenty, even with my rather rubbish attempt to net the plant that had still allowed the birds to remove half the berries.  Altogether, there was at least 3 kg of very ripe fruit.

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So, what to make?  I’ve got more Cassis and jam than I know what to do with, so we’re back to blackcurrant ripple ice cream again, which is YUMMY so I’ve put aside 1.2kg to make two more batches.  I then searched for new ideas of what to make.  Ice cream always leaves me with left over egg whites, so the obvious choice was a Pavlova.  I found a great recipe here, but used my normal method for the Pavlova itself, which is largely taken from Nigella and is as below.

Blackcurrant Pavlova

4 egg whites

225 g caster sugar

1 tsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Blackcurrant Puree (see later in the post)

300 ml double cream

200 ml half-fat creme fraiche

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4/350ºF and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
  • Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until it is all incorporated. Sprinkle over the vinegar and vanilla extract and whisk again. Mound onto the prepared parchment forming a fat circle approximately 20cm in diameter, with a slightly raised ridge around the edges.
  • Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 150°C/gas mark 2/300ºF and cook for about one to one and a quarter hours.  You are aiming for a crisp outside but a soft, mallowy inside.
  • Turn off the oven and open the door slightly,  let the meringue cool completely before removing.

It’s at this stage that I departed from the recipe I linked to above.  It advises gently stewing the berries with sugar and serving the mixture both marbled with whipped cream and some on top.  I did stew the fruit, as advised and tasted it, it was too tart for the boys (M is away at the moment, so it’s just me and the boys for a few days) so I added more sugar then left the topping in the fridge until needed.  On second tasting, I decided that they wouldn’t like the seeds either, so I actually used some of the puree I’d pre-made for ice cream instead.

  • For the topping, mix 300 ml double cream, whipped and 200 ml half-fat creme fraiche (folded gently into the whipped cream) and marble through some blackcurrant puree.

Blackcurrant Puree

600g blackcurrants

60g caster sugar

dribble of water

Method

Mix the above in a pan and gently heat until the berries are very soft.  Cool a little, then push the mixture through a sieve to remove all the pips, resulting in a thick puree.  Taste and add more sugar if required.

(you would only need a fraction of this for a Pavlova leaving more than enough to be mixed into a 4 egg, custard ice cream base mixture, for a ripple ice cream)

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It didn’t look nearly as pretty as berries dripping over white peaks of whipped cream, but oh it was yummy, a total success and probably a new regular favourite, if I can bear the amount of sugar added to the egg whites to make meringue without my teeth aching in protest!

The rest of the berries were made into puree that has been packed in the freezer for ice cream at later dates.

DSC_0160What else?  I made walnut and seed bread using the No Knead method.  It was nice, quite a heavy loaf as I had to use wholemeal flour in place of granary and the ratio was more wholemeal than white, as opposed the normal half and half I would go for.  As I was also planning pizza for tea, I found myself sifting some Wessex Mill Honey & Seed bread flour I found in the cupboard, so that I could use the plain, white flour left behind for pizza base.  It was quite interesting (I thought) to see what has been added to the mix….the little squares are of honey.  I felt guilty ‘wasting’ such lovely artisan flour, but there you go.

DSC_0161The boys were happy though as they LOVE getting to choose their own pizza toppings.  C’s always looks the prettiest with its mix of vegetables, F and I both tend to pile ours high with pepperoni, and in my case, anchovies.  Yum.  Incidentally, I tried making the cauliflower base for M a couple of weekends ago (as he generally doesn’t do carbs, especially flour) it’s been doing the blog rounds so I’m sorry, I’m not sure who did it first but this is the version I used.  It was good, really quite passable as an alternative to a regular flour base and one I’ll be doing for myself in future.

All we need now is some rain for the poor garden.  Although I water the veg patch and greenhouse each day, I leave the rest to survive on its own and to be honest, it’s starting to look very parched.  Roll on those thundery showers we keep being promised!