Tag Archives: allotment

hooray it’s asparagus time (and some more foraging)

5 May

This is a mixture of what could have been three dinners ( if there had been enough of each). Linguine with nettle pesto, roast asparagus with parmesan and a foraged salad ( allotment weeds again*) with feta cheese.

English asparagus season is brief, about eight weeks from early May through June, but thanks to the gorgeous Spring we have been enjoying its early this year and has been on sale locally, and in some shops for a few weeks now.

As I’ve already mentioned I love asparagus but wince at both how much it costs at other times of the year and at the ecological of it being shipped half way round the globe (most often from Peru). Also I think the fresh stuff tastes so much better! You can still get ropey asparagus at this time of year but many shops are good at getting it on sale quickly, if you can pick it up from the farm or pick your own, so much the better. So for the next few weeks I will enjoy eating asparagus with a clear conscience, go get some and give it try, but be quick it won’t be around for long!

*Chives, hawthorn leaves, mint, garlic mustard and sorrel.

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optimistic courgette planting

2 May

I’ve already mentioned that previously courgettes have grown very well for us, we now have an ever-growing list of recipes for using them up; from courgette bread to courgette jam to go on it and all sorts in between.  This year, in an attempt to achieve a mixture of flavours we are growing a green variety, yellow, the amusingly shaped  tromba d’albenga and

butternut squashes (last chance saloon for these as they didn’t do well last year). This year, to try to make finding the fruit less of a challenge and for a bit of crowd control in the planting we have tried a more structured way of planting, rather than just chucking the seed in the ground and crossing our fingers!

It might not look like it but there is a plan at work here…honest. Each half bottle sits on top of a mound of soil, compost and manure and has two seeds planted under it. It should act like a mini green house helping the seeds germinate faster and helping keep them warm if the temperature dips. That’s the theory.  They might need it as I have a sneaky feeling we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the recent lovely weather but fingers crossed the seedlings should stay warm in their little domes and we will have another bumper crop.

dandelion fritters – give these a try!

29 Apr

Inspired by out adventures with Fergus last week on our last trip to the allotment The Man and I were on the look out for anything edible that we had previously considered a weed! It’s been a real eye opener, and I feel I can justify my lazy attitude now, I’m just growing alternative crops, not encouraging weeds! We grow dandelions almost as well as we grow nettles, and at least they have the advantage of being pretty! Shallow? Me?

Pretty yes, and tasty too! Dandelion leaves are edible, we tasted them when we were out foraging,  they were too bitter for me, but I’d encourage you to try them and see. The flowers and stems are also edible. We ate the flower petals scattered over a salad, but Fergus also suggested a savoury tempura treatment and many web sites suggest adding honey or maple syrup which is where this idea came from.

First pick your flowers; legally you need permission from the land owner before you pick anything, as ours came from our allotment they are fair game. Also you need to be careful not to pick too close to roads, anywhere that has been sprayed with chemicals or peed on by dogs etc! Boring maybe, but I felt I should say it.  When picking, leave enough of the stem to act as a handle when cooking and eating, think of them as a floral lolly pop.

For the batter I used a drop scone batter; you will have some left over, but you can make pancakes the next day which is no bad thing.

Ingredients

As many dandelion flowers as you wish.

125 g self-raising flour, 2 tsp caster sugar, 1 egg beaten, 1 tbsp melted butter, 150 ml milk, 4 tbsp sunflower oil. Other batters will also work just as well.

Runny honey, maple syrup, golden syrup *sauce of your choice.

Dunk the blooms in the batter and shallow fry in hot oil until browned and crisp. Serve together, the stems will act as a handle. I think they look incredibly pretty too!

Dip in chosen sauce or syrup and enjoy!

You should experience a range of tastes and textures, sweet syrup, crispy batter, soft petals and then a slight bitter finish. The Man and I ate them up with relish and they are certainly and accessible and tasty way to begin experimenting with foraged food. Also, like the nettle pesto, I find a certain satisfaction in finding a use for something I’d otherwise consider a nuisance.

gardener’s revenge – nettle pesto

10 Apr

I one thing we have always grown really well on the allotment are nettles! It really isn’t intentional, but we seem to grow a super strength variety. One caught me today, stinging me through a glove and I spent a good five minutes, nearly crying, trying to find a doc leaf to rub on the sting. It still hurts now 3 hours later; they really are weapons grade nettles!

I made loads of this, some to freeze and some to eat straight away.

125g blanched nettles ( about 1/4 carrier bag)

2 garlic cloves chopped

50g pine nuts

60g grated parmesan ( or other hard cheese)

80 ml extra olive oil

1tbsp lemon juice.

First blanche the nettles in boiling water to de sting them. Drain the nettles, and leave to cool. When cold, combine with other ingredients and blend until smooth. This recipe makes a very thick pesto, so you can add more oil as you wish but it is easier to get into ice-cube trays ( my prefered method of freezing) and add more oil or other ingredients when you come to use it.

To be honest I didn’t detect a particularly nettley taste, the cheese and garlic take centre stage, but it is a fantastic green colour; and knowing I had made something tasty out something that pains me on a regular basis made it all the tastier!

Disclaimer. Wear gloves when picking nettles. Only pick from an area you know has not been sprayed with weed killer or other nasties. Just the top leaves will do, please pick responsibly! Remember to rinse the nettles before cooking to remove any bugs, grit, etc.

happy friday

8 Apr

The rest of the world seemed to be in one beer garden or another as I cycled to the allotment, but it has been a lovely day and gorgeous evening. The pear and apple blossom is out on the allotment and looks beautiful.


This is our dwarf pear tree, we have had it for over two years and haven’t had a single pear ripen on it, they fall off or the birds eat them; but it’s impossible not to feel positive on an evening like this!

green shoots

27 Mar

The days are getting longer and warmer and it feels like it’s very  nearly beer garden weather so that must mean it’s time to get planting seeds like chillies and tomatoes.


These little beauties are a mixture of Scotch Bonnet, Habanero and Cayenne chillies so won’t be for the faint hearted when they are ripe. We will have to wait until then to work out which is which as I didn’t label them straight away and now can’t remember which is which. We are going to have a go at growing them inside this year as our green house wasn’t quite hot enough for the normal peppers last year and these will definitely need a bit more heat, they also look quite pretty.

If all twelve plants make it we could have an awful lot so if you have any recipes to share please let me know, I’d love to hear them and will post about them here.

You say potato…

17 Mar

Sunday was the first day I’ve felt really warm sunshine on the allotment this year, it’s not difficult as we haven’t been that often. The excitement of the promise of warmer days led to the possibly rash decision to plant out first early potatoes . It feels like a bit of a gamble, last year we lost a whole row to a late snow fall  but I trust the wisdom of the more ahem… senior allotment holders and they have planted theirs so damn it so will I! I love digging up potatoes, it’s a very strong childhood memory for me and I still get a child like thrill from digging up a plant and searching for the potatoes in the fine, crumbly soil underneath it.

We are growing two old varieties this year Shetland Black;

with funky purple skin and a purple ring in the flesh, and Home Guard. Developed around the Second World War and apparently good for chips!

Last years problems aside, potatoes seem to grow very well on our patch and have been great for breaking up the soil making it easy to dig and plant other crops the next year. Planting is simple too, dig a hole approx 20cm ( or a trench if you’re being traditional and feeling energetic) line with manure or fertilizer, pop in the potato with most the little shoots facing upwards.

Plant 30 cm apart in rows and cover well with earth, but leave a mound or a ridge so you can tell where you have planted them. They can be left to their own devices until the green shoots appear, then you need to rake earth up over them to stop light getting to the growing potatoes and to force the plant to produce more. apart from watering they don’t need much attention, I hardly bother weeding them, but I am lazy; if weeds bother you then by all means weed them! If you are pushed for space, or are even more lazy than me, you can even grow them in containers. Fingers crossed in July we should have tasty potatoes.

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

2 Mar

We made a tentative visit to the allotment last weekend, I’ve been keeping it ticking over but we hadn’t done any meaningful work since well before Christmas and the very cold snap. I’ve felt a little judged recently when I turn up looking ready for some serious digging and then scarper ten minutes later with a bag of veggies, leaving the plot to look decidedly battered!

Fairweather gardeners? Probably, but at least it keeps up our enthusiasm and doesn’t become a laborious chore. One thing that also keeps us going in possibly our least favourite bit of the year are the signs that spring is nearly here, like our rhubarb which is looking like it is going to have another productive year.

We’ve found it very easy to grow, it was the first thing we planted on the plot and it was flung rather carelessly in but it keeps coming back year after year.I always think it’s a strangely prehistoric looking plant, or had a touch of the triffid about it, indeed its leaves are poisonous; and it has a history as a medicinal plant used for purging the body (lovely). I prefer to use it in crumbles, fools or to make a syrup to go with sparkling wine in a rhubarb belini. We will still have to wait for those for a few weeks as it needs to do a bit more growing, but it’s always a sign to me that winter won’t be around for too much longer.

New Year Resolutions

16 Jan

I haven’t posted much about the actual allotment on here yet, but that’s mainly because we haven’t mastered growing much through the winter and thanks to the recent cold snap any thing below ground (parsnips) has been too frozen to dig out, and above ground hungry pigeons have eaten all the cavalo nero.

Whilst the man and I are still working out what to grow this year over the past three years there are a few things which we have resolved not to bother with this year.

  • Radishes; grow brilliantly but turns out neither of us really like them (I had a memory of not really being keen on them and suspect The Man was being too polite to tell me he didn’t like them either).
  • Beetroot; for two years we’ve struggled to get them to grow, then struggled to use them. Cheap to buy either cooked or pickled, and with the latter someone else has dealt with the mess of cooking them.
  • Broccoli; just can’t get it right, always tiny and then eaten by the pigeons!
  • Melons; a bit of a “look at me” thing to try to grow, we’ve only ever really had one worth eating a year, which works out at the same cost as buying on one so probably not worth it really

Still, on a more positive note the rhubarb is starting to grow again; always reassuring when the winter has been so cold so far, and it does still look rather pretty.

I suppose the over all resolution is  to grow things we like and to have more fun with the allotment, it can be difficult to keep on top of things when you can only spend a little time there a week, but we both agree that we love having the space, it’s great for a beer and bbq; and having a reason to get outside in the fresh air. Here’s to 2011!

 

Prince of Squashes

9 Jan

Winter squashes can be kept for a long time and this one has been hanging round the flat since late September, but it’s the New Year, and a long with the Christmas cake it has taken on the air of a guest you can’t get rid of after a party!

I did think I might need a saw to cut it up but thankfully it wasn’t as tough as I was expecting, so after a bit of wrestling and some “don’t try this at home” knife work I managed to hack it into reasonable sized chunks. I roasted and froze most of it as there is only so much I can face eating, even if we have grown it ourselves and the rest go made into a pasta sauce with chorizo, ricotta and sage.

  • Cook enough pasta for two (linguine or spaghetti are best, amount depends on how hungry you are).
  • While the pasta is cooking fry chorizo chunks till they start to crisp and fat runs out, (drain fat at this point if you wish), add cubes of cooked squash to heat through and add a table-spoon of ricotta to make a sauce. Keep warm and season with additional salt, pepper or paprika to taste.
  • When the past is almost cooked throw in some spinach or green leaves ( a concession to New Year healthiness) and drain when cooked. Add two more spoons of ricotta to the pasta, fresh or dried sage and some grated cheese and nutmeg and until the pasta is coated.
  • Serve with the squash and chorizo mixture on top of the pasta.

I loved it, The Man said it was “a triumph” and I’d definitely make it again. Deeply savoury chorizo, sweet soft squash and comforting creamy linguine, gorgeous.

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