Leek Week

  
Last week it was all about the leeks. After months of holding their rightful place as the longest vegetable standing, it was time to pull them. They’re often the last vegetable I harvest mainly because they can stand in the ground over winter and they give me a little of my gardening mojo back just when I need it! 

I have grown leeks in the past but unfortunately they have had quite a few spots of leek rust, so last year I ditched the fancy varieties and stuck with a tried and tested reliable variety: Musselburgh. 

  
To my delight, not a single leek has any rust! 

Not one! 

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, they aren’t going to win any country shows for size but, skinny as they are, I’m delighted they’ve made it through the winter unscathed! 

  
  
Washed and trimmed within a few hours of pulling, they were transformed into a hearty Leek and Potato soup and the remaining leeks were treated to being part of a leek and cheese tart. Just from this trugful, I managed to get 4 portions of soup and 6 portions of leek tart! 

  
That definitely makes the Leeks the stars of last week! 

That’s Shallot

  
 One of the most rewarding things about growing your own veg, is that you get to make and enjoy some pretty awesome food with the produce you grow. Onions are probably my “go to” staple vegetable of choice when I’m cooking at home, but I’ve never really paid much attention to their close relative, the shallot. 

In the past few seasons of growing, I’ve got a little stuck in a rut with regards to the types of vegetables I grow. Call me crazy but I want to like the food I’m going to be eating! But then isn’t it a gardeners duty to try to push the vegetable boundaries and try and grow new and exciting things? 

Enter the shallot

  
Here in the North East I feel it’s still a little early to get the shallot sets straight in the ground, so I’m trying a little experiment by starting them off in modules. 

It’s fair to say that the sizes of the bulbs vary but I’ve only got these modules to hand so they’ll just have to do! It’s not like they’re going to be there forever, more like a couple of weeks to get a jump start on the growing season. Once they’ve started to shoot and it’s slightly milder, I’ll transfer the sets to the open ground at the allotment. With a bit of luck, they’ll be ready to pull in July! 

The Great Potato Fake-out

  

This week at the allotment I’ve noticed a few crops are starting to show signs that the time for harvesting is getting closer.
The quick crop radishes have suddenly bulked up and I was delighted to see the different coloured radish tops poking up out of the ground. 

I’ve been patiently waiting for what seems like forever for the strawberries to ripen and within the last week they’ve finally decided to put me out of my misery and turn a gorgeous deep red. 

   
   
The broad beans have continued to flower and the first pod has been picked, just as a tester to see how they’re doing! I’m more than happy with the sight of more and more beans developing and that there’s no black fly in them yet…happy days! 

   
   
The peas have started to flower, which I’m really pleased about, especially after I was so late in sowing this year. The peas are a double podded variety (Hurst green shaft) and there are loads of double flowers dotting about the crop. 

   
 Bolstered by the happy sights at the allotment I thought I’d chance my luck and check on the potato progress. For the first year ever, I’ve got flowers on the potatoes. I never realised how pretty they are. 

  
The first potential potatoes for me this year will be the international kidney. Earlier in the week I had a little dig around the bottom of the potato mound and lo and behold I discovered a lovely perfectly formed potato. 

  
Brilliant. 

This must be a good sign I thought. 

They must be ready I thought. 

They’ll make a lovely potato salad for lunch on Sunday I thought. 

   
   
Not quite the haul I was expecting! 

Not to worry, at least I know they’re growing, I’ll leave then another 3-4 weeks and I think they’ll be perfect. 

The taste of summer

  
I’ve been a busy bee over the last couple of weeks, particularly in the kitchen. The best part of growing your own food has got to be eating it. Hands down, homegrown tastes the best each and every time, no matter what it is or what it looks like. I’ve been eagerly waiting for this specific time of year as the two things which sing “summer” to me are in season right now. 

Elderflowers and Strawberries

Until last year, I’d never really tried anything with elderflowers in it but since then, well, it’s a different story! Last June I made strawberry and elderflower jam and I’ve got to say, the lift the elderflowers gave the jam was amazing. This year I was keen to make more jam and perhaps some cordial too to make the taste of summer last a little longer. 

Armed with strawberries and elderflower heads (foraged from the trees which overhang the allotment fence) I got to work. 

Elderflower Cordial

  
Makes enough for one medium sized Kilner bottle

10 elderflower heads

300g caster sugar

1 pint boiling water

25g citric acid

One large orange

One lime

1. Gently rinse the elderflower heads to remove any little creatures. 

2. Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl and pour in the boiling water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and allow to cool slightly

3. Add the citric acid. Slice the fruit and add to the syrup. Finally pop in the elderflower heads. 

4. Cover the bowl with either a lid or cling film and allow to infuse for 24 hours. 

5. Strain the cordial through a sieve lined with a muslin square and transfer to a cooled sterilised bottle 

Elderflower and Strawberry cordial

  
Makes enough to fill 2 medium sized Kilner bottles with a little left over for “quality control” testing! 

10-15 elderflower heads

750g caster sugar

25g citric acid

225g strawberries (halved and hulled)

1 large unwaxed lemon

2 pints boiling water 

1. Gently rinse the elderflower heads to remove any little creatures and place into a large heatproof bowl. 

2. Add the sliced lemon, the citric acid and all of the sugar. 

3. Pour over the boiling water and stir gently to help dissolve the sugar.

Allow the mixture to cool for 10-15 min.

4. Add the strawberries and stir the infusion. Cover the bowl with either a lid or cling film and allow the mixture to rest. 

5. The mixture is going to infuse for about 72hours and will need to be stored in a cool darkish place. Give the strawberries a squish with a spoon to release their lovely flavour and stir the mixture twice a day. 

6. When ready to bottle up, strain the syrup through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth and pour into cold sterilised bottles. 

7. Quality test the leftovers poured over ice with some sparking water, a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint, summer in a glass 

Strawberry and Elderflower Jam

  
Makes enough to fill 3 standard sized jam jars

900g strawberries (washed, halved and hulled)

1kg bag jam sugar with added pectin

8-10 elderflower heads

Juice of 1 lemon

1. Gently rinse elderflower heads

2. Layer the strawberries and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Just before you’re ready to add your final layer, pop in the elderflower heads, add the last layer of strawberries and sugar and cover with a lid or cling film. 

3. Leave the fruit, flower and sugar mixture for 24 hours. The sugar will draw out the juice from the strawberries and by the time you’re ready to make the jam, there’ll be a lovely syrup suspending the strawberries. 

4. Carefully remove the elderflower heads and prepare the make the jam. 

Pop a small plate in the freezer (to check the jam has set later on) and put your scrupulously clean jam jars into a cold oven to sterilise while you’re making the jam. Turn the oven on and the temperature up to 120 degrees C

5. Put the fruity jam mixture into a large heavy based pan and add the lemon juice. It needs to be quite large as the jam mixture will rise and bubble like mad! 

6. Over a low heat, stir the syrup until all the sugar has dissolved. Don’t rush this step, you need to make sure ALL the sugar has dissolved otherwise you risk the sugar catching the bottom of the pan and burning. 

7. Once the sugar has completely disappeared, slowly increase the heat until the jam temperature comes up to 104 degrees C. If you don’t have a jam thermometer, don’t panic, you’ll know it’s pretty much there when it’s at a vigorous rolling boil. 

8. Let the jam boil for 4-5 min then remove from the heat. Grab your small plate from the freezer and using a spoon, drop some of the jam onto the plate. After 30 seconds push the mixture gently with your finger and see if the jam has formed a skin. If it has, you’ll see the skin wrinkle up as you push the jam- the wrinkle test! If it’s still quite runny, pop the pan back onto the heat for another minute or two then test again. 

9. Once you’re happy that the jam has reached its setting point and you’ve got wrinkly jam, you can remove the jam jars from the oven and carefully start to fill the hot jars with the hot jam. 

10. Once filled, pop on a wax disc and close with the lid*. 

Leave the jam to cool completely and store in the cupboard. 

Now I’ve got that fresh taste of summer bottled and preserved so anytime I need a taste of sunshine, even on the coldest of days, it’s just a trip to the kitchen away. 

* I usually boil the lids in a pan of water for about 20 min to sterilise. 

  

  
    
    
 

 

Out with the old

  
Today I made a start on clearing the vegetable beds at the allotment. Most of the vegetables were harvested last year but I still had a few leeks left to pull, so out they came! 

 

Lovely leeks

 
These are the ones which haven’t bolted. Unfortunately they all got a slight smattering of rust so I’ve lopped off their leaves and just brought the stems back home to make into soup. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if they’d be OK to eat but after a quick google search I’m assured that as long as the stems are ok, they’re good to use. I’ve not put the infected leeks and leaves into the compost though, they’re destined for the burning bin next week, along with all the other debris that’s been gathering at the allotment over the winter. 

 

Rust spots on the leeks


Once the leeks were out I spent an hour removing old canes and netting along with the remnants of last years crops. I’d left the Purple sprouting broccoli over winter as the planting guide said it’ll be ready to harvest in February/March…I must’ve been too slow as its already in flower (doh!) 

Yellow flowering purple sprouting broccoli

Ah, well, out it came, so the beds are now empty, save for the usual weedy suspects! My plan over the next 4 weeks is to cultivate each bed so that the seedlings I’ve got growing now can be transplanted as soon as they’re ready. 

 

Empty beds

  
Last, but not least I spotted some nasturtium seeds as I was sweeping the path. I loved having these flowering along side the vegetables, although I’ve heard they’re notorious self seeders…I wonder where I’ll find them growing this year! 

  

Back in the game

  
What a whirlwind the past 6 weeks have been.  There’s been a camping trip, a new school, a country show, a black belt and a house move, which unfortunately has left very little time for the allotment. At times, it’s really stressed me out when I’ve known there’s loads to do at the plot but there’s simply been no time to do it. 

For the first time in weeks I had a couple of hours free last weekend so I hightailed it along to the allotment. 

It was great to be back, just stepping through the gate I could feel weeks of stress slipping away…until I saw the weeds! I didn’t want to spend my first visit in ages simply weeding so I decided to lift the rest of the onions instead. 

  
I’ve had a bit of a mixed result with the onions, I’ve had some tiny ones, some huge ones and a few had bolted but on the whole they’ve all grown and they’ve been pest and disease free so I’m calling them a success! They’re now laid out on a table in the garden at my parents house to dry out so that they’ll store for use over the winter. 

  
The apples were looking good too but I’m never sure when to harvest them, so I gave a gentle twisty-pull to a few and just took the ones that came away in my hand. 

  
Plans for the apples are crumbles and pies, and perhaps an apple cake. I really would like to make some kind of jam/jelly with them but I’m not sure if that would be weird or not? Might try apple and blackberry jam with a few elderberries thrown in for good measure, in essence autumn jam, you never know, it might be delightful, or it might be the most awful thing ever, anyway, I’ll give it a go!

With preserving things in mind I come to my tomatoes. At the start of the summer I’d had big salad-like plans for the tomatoes, as well as slow roasting them to intensify the flavour, similar to sun dried tomatoes. However I’ve only got one single red tomato. Not really enough for slow roasting really is it?

  
I do however have loads of green tomatoes so chutney making will be on the cards next week. 

  
With time pushing on I quickly dug up a few potatoes to take home for tea. The yield from the potatoes has been really good but they have been a touch on the small side. (Must manure next year) Only a few had been nibbled so discarding those I collected my haul and headed home. 
  
My head is now full of plans for the allotment over the autumn. I need to clear the old crops (peas/summer brassicas) and collect the squash before the first frosts. The winter vegetables are coming along nicely with the kale looking healthy and Brussel sprouts just starting to form at the leaf bases so I’ll need to make sure I harvest those regularly.

  
 I’m going to revamp nature corner by re-digging the pond and using a preformed liner to help maintain water levels and encourage more wildlife to the plot. My biggest challenge however is going to be the pampas grass. I think it’s days on the plot are numbered and although it’s going to be a nightmare to dig out, I could use the space more effectively.

So, with the house move out of the way, I’m back on track. I’ve got a plan, and over the next month I’ve really got to get to work. Once the pampas grass is out, I’ll be able to get more spring bulbs planted and I’ll have to re-stake the cordon apple trees as they’re practically horizontal with all the fruit on them (poor things!) 

Oh, by the way, I think I might just hold the record for the slowest latest early sweet corn crop…it’s just started to grow cobs now! 

Happy Autumn folks!   

Tonight’s the night

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It’s here. The night I’ve been waiting patiently for. The night that I’ve been imagining over and over again in my head for weeks has finally arrived.

Tonight, I’m making Raymond Blanc’s pea risotto as featured on Kew on a Plate. Since watching the series I’ve been dreaming up ways to use my freshly picked allotment produce to their fullest potential. The risotto dish from the “Spring” episode really caught my attention, mainly because all of the vegetable was used in the dish, nothing went to waste, and if you’re growing your own vegetables you want to eat and enjoy as much of the vegetable as possible.

The peas at the allotment are finally ready for picking so just before tea time, I headed along to collect as many pods as I could so that I could make the risotto with the freshest peas possible.

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The process of making the risotto starts with the shelling of the peas, unsurprisingly there weren’t a lot of offers for help with that job!

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The pods are then blanched for about a minute then plunged into really cold water. The pods and the water are then blitzed in a food processor to make the greenest pea stock you can ever imagine, and it’s this which is used to cook the rice in.

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Pea shells ready to be turned into stock

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Pea stock

A small portion of the peas are then sautéed in a dash of the pea stock to make a pea purée. The purée on its own is absolutely delicious. The taste is so fresh I could’ve easily just sprinkled some chopped mint on the top and eaten it with warm pitta bread! But no, risotto was calling and I had a recipe to follow.

Back on track I started cooking the rice in the pea stock. It’s cooked slightly differently to the traditional method of risotto cooking. Usually you add the stock to the rice a spoonful at a time stirring until the liquid has been absorbed, but this method called for all the stock being added at once and then cooked gently until the liquid had been absorbed. Only the last 5 minutes are spent stirring the rice, which will bring a lovely creamy consistency to the food.

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Rice and stock together at last

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Lovely creamy risotto

The purée is added along with a good handful of fresh Parmesan cheese. Only at the last moment are the peas cooked, making sure that they keep their texture and sweetness and above all else, their freshness.

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The finished dish

Needless to say, it was well worth the wait.