Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Granma Doris's Blackberry Vinegar

Talking to my old friend Jude the other day she mentioned my Gran's delicious Yorkshire Puddings which in turn led her to remembering her Gran, Doris's (aka 'Blossom') Blackberry Vinegar which, as children, they used to sprinkle over Yorkshire Puddings with a little sugar.
I had never heard of this, so checked in my Good Housekeeping 'Complete Book of Home Preserving', and there it was Fruit Vinegars.  It doesn't mention the Yorkshire Pudding bit, but says it can be used to replace wine vinegar in salad dressings.

Place washed fruit in a bowl and break it up slightly with the back of a wooden spoon.  For each 500g of fruit, pour in 600ml. of malt vinegar.  Cover and leave to stand for 3-4 days, stirring occasionally.  Strain and add 500g of sugar to each 600ml.  Boil for 10minutes then cool, strain again and pour into bottles, and seal with vinegar-proof tops.  Add a few whole pieces of fruit to each bottle, if liked.  Sounds alright doesn't it.
You can also make Herb Vinegars by filling bottles with sprigs of leaves from freshly gathered herbs such as rosemary, tarragon, mint, thyme.  Fill with red or white wine vinegar then cover and leave in a cool, dry place for about 6 weeks.  Strain, taste and add more vinegar if the flavour is too strong.  Pour into bottles and seal.  Again this can be used to make salad dressings.  (photo courtesy of Good Housekeeping)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Piddling Little Pumpkins

This morning at the allotment I decided to go exploring in the jungle of my Butternut Squash to try and find some fruit.  Up until recently all the flowers were male, and I despaired of having any squash to store for winter.  Here is what I found - two piddling little squashes about three inches long, and this one:-
about six inches long.  And that's it, literally, that's all there is, amongst about twenty feet of rambling stems that seem to cover most of the garden - three piddly little squashes.  What can I say!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Late Summer Seed Sowing

Broad beans can be sown as a green manure in September or the tops can be taken out and used in salads or lightly steamed instead of cabbage.

Pak Choi produce some tasty leaves in winter.  Sow in early September, and leave in clumps for salad leaves, or thin them out for larger leaves.  Pick them from November to February, they will keep producing if you pick off flowering stems (these can be eaten as well).

Salad leaves can be planted in stages for an ongoing supply right through the winter.  They are pretty hardy if covered with fleece or a cloche.

Other things to consider sowing are Spring Cabbage, Spring Onions and other Oriental leaves.  I always think it best not to leave the ground empty of crops, so I use green manures such as Phaecalia, which covers the ground, excludes weeds and it nice to look at too, with its pretty blue flowers.  This can be either dug in or hoed off and left to cover the soil.
At the moment I have my seedlings in containers which I will be bringing in to the greenhouse at some stage, once the greenhouse crops are cleared, but they can be left outside and given some protection.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Triumphs and Failures part 2

Definitely a triumph. 
This year I started my onion sets off in modules so as to get a good root system before I planted them, as last year the birds pulled them out as soon as I put them in.  The sets spent more time on top of the soil than in it.  It seems to have worked and I am pleased with the results, the onions are three times the size they were last year.

Spring onions have done well also, but the Shallots were a disaster, they all went to seed very quickly and I had nothing to harvest.

The Beetroot harvest has been mixed, neither a triumph, nor a failure.  They have remained fairly static, not going to seed but not growing much either.

Sweet peppers are another disaster, hardly any flowers on the plants and only one or two peppers on each.  One plant had nothing on it at all.  They were a new variety that I tried, mixed colours, which looked very pretty but weren't very productive.  I don't think I will be trying them again.  I usually grow peppers from saved seed and they do very well, so I think I'll revert back to the 'tried and tested'.

Whereas, the Chilli Peppers have done extremely well, there are dozens of peppers on the plant with plenty more to come.  They are ripening well and I will begin picking and drying them for use all through the next year.

So, what conclusions have I come to.  Well, I have mixed feelings - in the greenhouse the tomatoes did well, but the cucumbers and peppers not so well.  In the garden lack of rain was the main culprit, and no matter how much you water, there is no comparison with a good downpour of rain that really soaks into the ground.  I am not making excuses for the failures - some years are good, some years are bad - as gardeners we have to take the rough with the smooth.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Triumphs and Failures - Part 1

I think we have all suffered from mixed fortunes with our veggie growing this year, so as it is the end of the summer growing season, I thought I would look back and record what has done well and what has done not so well in my kitchen garden.
The first crop to be harvested and the last.  Every batch I sowed after this picture was taken, bolted, due to the dry weather, I expect.

Courgettes haven't done too bad, after a good start they slowed down a bit, lack of water again, I suspect, but I still had more than I could handle.  Patty pan squashes have been very prolific, I put three plants in, if I grow them again next year it will be only one plant.  Butternut squashes are rubbish this year, the fruits are only just starting to form, so I am sure they won't be ready before the first frosts.  Very disappointed, as last year I had a bumper crop.

Tomatoes in side and out have been excellent.  Unfortunately, the indoor tomatoes have now finished, but the Sungold outdoors are still fruiting well and don't seem to have been affected by the colder weather, although the winds we had earlier in the summer battered the leaves a bit.

The runner beans have been excellent, after a slow start, but they too are nearly over.  But the French beans have been very disappointing, running to seed very quickly.  I shall use them as dried beans over the winter.

I have struggled with lettuce this year, the dry weather has a lot to answer for.  I have been picking leaves every day, but as the picture shows, most of the lettuce bolted fairly quickly.  I have lots more seedlings in the greenhouse, coming on nicely, hopefully to see me over winter.

These are just a few of my triumphs and failures.  I shall post part 2 next time.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Potatoes - As Neat as a Clutch of Hens Eggs

Kestrel Potato
I pushed my gloved hands deep into the potting compost of the container that held my potatoes, scraped back the soil, and behold, these little golden beauties.

Admittedly, there aren't a lot of them, but when I think of them bubbling in the pan, then crushed, with a fillet of smoked haddock perched jauntily on top and a buttery chive sauce, I can forgive them anything.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Plum Crazy

Plums - Victoria, Damsons and Greengages
 Although the plum trees looked wonderful with all the fruits hanging in profusion, they were starting to drop onto the ground and they were attracting wasps, so I decided to harvest them all in one fell swoop.  I have been up and down the street giving them away to neighbours, but as you can see, there are still gazillions left.
So, what to do with them all?  As a young girl my Mum just used to serve them stewed with custard, or as a crumble or pie.  I prefer them fresh, but obviously they won't last long, now they have been picked.  If I keep them in a cool place they should be alright for a while, but still, there are an awful lot.  Bottling, freezing and pulping seems to be the only answer.  The problem is - I have no room left in the freezer.  Oh dear!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Record Breaker - I Think Not!

Runner Bean
 As I have posted before, it has been a great year for runner beans for me.  I usually pick the beans when they are half this size, but this one got away.  The longest, straightest bean I have managed and it is only 12" long.  Can anyone beat it - I expect you all can - oh well!

'Hestia' dwarf runner bean flowers
 I have planted three beans to a large container in the hope of getting some late crops, and am really pleased with their progress. They are full of flower, which I hope the bees will kindly pollinate for me. The containers  are raised  to try and fool the slugs.  I gave some seed to a friend and her pots, on the ground, have been decimated.  Fingers crossed - so far so good.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Out with the Old - In with the New

Bolted lettuce
 The time comes when you have to concede defeat.  Most of my lettuce have now bolted.  I have been picking leaves from them for most of the summer, but the dry weather has finally done its worst and the lettuce have given up.  But don't they look pretty.  I shall leave them for a while as I don't need the space yet.  I have new lettuce seedlings in the greenhouse, but I will wait a little longer before planting them out.  Hopefully, if they aren't attacked by 'you know what' then I should have a good supply for the winter months.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Tempting Tomatoes

Tomato - Consteluto Fiorentino
 For me the tomato season is nearly over.  I sowed four different types; Gardeners' Delight, Tigerella, Consteluto Fiorentino and Sungold.  The Sungold were planted outside and are a vigorous cherry type, and in my mind, the best-tasting tomato of all.  They are still going strong, despite the cold and windy weather.  The Gardeners' Delight ripened very quickly in the greenhouse and have now finished.  Can't quite believe I won't be picking any more.  I have frozen a good few kilos ready to make sauces and soups for the winter.  The Tigerella which are a medium sized tomato with paler stripes are just about hanging on with a few more to ripen and the Consteluto, which are a beefsteak type have finished completely.  I know other people who are still waiting for their tomatoes to ripen, so I can't quite understand why mine have come and gone so quickly.  I shall miss going into the greenhouse and picking fruit warm from the vine and feasting on them straightaway.  Guess I will just have to wait till next year now.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Pots of Potatoes

Charlotte Potatoes
 As well as growing five rows of potatoes at the allotment, I planted the spares in green potato sack in my garden at home.  I tried this for the first time last year, and the results were a bit disappointing, producing perhaps enough for a couple of meals.  But I thought I would give it another go and emptied the first of three containers.  The crop was a bit better than last year, but after all the care and attention and frequent watering, I am really not sure it is worth it. 

As an aside - this morning I picked a handful of runner beans and gave my two sheep one or two to eat as they love them.  I picked a few courgettes and put everything in a bag to take home.  One of the sheep knowing there were beans in the bag, thought it would be great fun to chase me round the field headbutting the bag trying to get to the beans, which ended up with all the courgettes being smashed to pieces, me being cornered (and, if I am honest, a little scared - he does have horns) with the bag raised above my head, yelling to frighten him off.  Good job we don't have neighbours,they would have thought I was a mad woman.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Caterpillar Squishing

Scarlet Kale
 There hasn't been as much Cabbage White caterpillar damage on the Brassicas this year, I think the weather may have something to do with it, but the last few evenings, I have been squishing caterpillars that have taken a liking to my scarlet kale.  The lay on the central rib mainly, but don't seem to do much damage, possibly because kale has such a tough leaf.  I like to grow this coloured kale, exactly because it is coloured and very ornamental, I have underplanted it with a frilly red-tipped lettuce which the slugs don't seem to touch.  So the whole patch is very colourful, I just wish I didn't have to spend any spare time I have in getting rid of those destructive little blighters.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Capsicums - Some like 'em sweet/Some like 'em hot

Capsicum annuum
 For a cook there are two types of peppers; sweet and hot, but the botanical divisions are more complex. Capsicum annuum is an annual or short-lived perennial with one flower in each leaf axil and includes sweet and hot peppers.  Capsicum frutescens is a perennial with up to three flowers per leaf-joint and has smaller pungent chillies.

Sweet peppers are rich in vitamin C and a digestive stimulant - can be chopped in salads, cooked and pickled.  Hot or chilli peppers enliven bland foods and give heat to curries.  The pungent capsaicin of chillies stimulates circulation and sensory nerves, disinfects food and eases sore throats.  The infused oil gives a warming massage for rheumatism.  Crushed chillies make cayenne pepper and flavour Tabasco sauce, dried paprika is popular in Hungarian cooking and helps prevent seasickness.

When harvesting cut them off with an inch of stem on each fruit.  If you have more than you can eat fresh, hang the vines up in a dry windy place to dry.  You may have to finish the drying process by hanging over a mild heat indoors.  The they can be stored until you want them for winter.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Beautiful Beans

Runner Beans
 After a slow start the Runner Beans are a triumph.  I didn't sow as many seeds this year, keeping my fingers crossed that the few that I did sow, would survive any onslaughts from slugs, snails and weather.  Thankfully they all survived.  I did put a pop bottle collar round them when they were planted to deter slug damage, but raising strong plants in the greenhouse helps.  In the wild runner beans grow in the Mexican mountains together with dahlias, begonias and lobelias which help bring the bees in to pollinate.  Fortunately, bees have learned the trick of opening up the petals to provide an efficient  pod-setting service.  Unfortunately, pollen beetles also like them which discourages the bees as they sit in the keel of the flower which will then be left unpollinated.  The more you pick the more beans will come, but leaving beans on the plant will result in stringy beans and production will stop. 

I have sown a late crop of 'Hestia'  in pots, they are a dwarf variety, I haven't tried these before, so it will be interesting to see if they produce beans before the frosts, and how many the plants will produce.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Cute Curcurbits

Green Bush Courgettes
Gold Rush Courgettes
Patty Pan Squash
 Don't you just love this family of veg.  They give of their best all through the growing season, and the patty pan squash, a new one for me, is a little beauty.  They are all prolific fruiters and of course anyone who grows them knows this, and I am sure we all have similar 'glut' problems of what to do with it all.  The vegetable marrow came from the Americas to Europe probably in the sixteenth century, but didn't reach Britain until the eighteenth.  Later cottage gardeners enthusiastically adopted it, not just to eat but to show off their gardening skills by growing huge specimens.  The courgette is a very recent introduction and it is simply a small marrow.  Trailing types can be grown over an archway or pergola or even an arbour in small gardens.  The cucumber which is part of this family was grown and introduced by the Romans, the Emperor Tiberius ordered that he should have one every day.  They were originally called 'Cowcumbers' and that if bowls of water were put under the fruit they would stretch and straighten to reach the water.
My butternut squash haven't done as well this year, on having a 'furtle' amongst the leaves this morning I found two tiny squashes about 2in long, so I doubt they will get to any size before the first frosts.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Plenty of Plums

Victoria    Damsons   Greengage
 The Plums in my garden are coming into their own just now.  The trees are heavily laden with ripening fruit, just begging to be harvested.  It has been a really good year for fruit so far, heaps better than last year, the trouble is - what to do with it all.  I prefer to eat Plums fresh from the tree, but even I couldn't possibly get through this lot.  A few of my neighbours will benefit, then there is plum jam to make, perhaps Damson Gin or Vodka, then I suppose I could stew a batch and freeze them.  But in the end I expect the wasps will have their fill and  spoil  a lot of them.  Nevertheless, it is a wonderful sight to see the branches dripping with goodness and signalling the beginning of autumn.

Friday, 12 August 2011

In the beginning ...

victoria plums, damsons and greengage
I have decided to start another blog that just features the vegetable growing side of my garden. Although the garden has mixed plantings of flowers, veg, herbs and fruit in the traditional cottage garden style my heart has always been with the edibles ever since I took on my first allotment many years ago.  There have been several gardens since then but the one I have now is the culmination of all the experience I have gained over the years.   I spend many hours a week tending my plots throughout the year and find time passing quickly when I am absorbed in the many and varied tasks. Of course, however much time I spend, it is never enough, the list of jobs to do is endless. Sometimes I long for the winter where I can look out of the window and know that gardening year is over and I have a little breathing space to make plans for the next year.  Then as the year turns I begin to look forward to Spring arriving and the whole cycle beginning again.

This blog will be the story of providing food for the table, season by season, the triumphs and failures; sowing, growing, harvesting and preserving - a journey  that I hope you will take with me.
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