Quest for the perfect tiffin – and allotment update!

Tulips at Perch Hill April 2014

I seem to be chasing my tail in the garden this year: despite the fact that the weather has been heaps better this year than last year, I still feel I’m way behind where I’d like to be and the allotment, half of it at least, is developing very jungly overtones! A combination of weekends away, guests at home and lots of work have taken their toll on my planting/tidying programme, so I’m having to concentrate on what’s really essential, like planting my pea seeds (mangetout Norli and sugar snap Sugar Ann). Also up there is erecting the crucial pea netting frame to stop the plumpest pigeons in the South East from decimating the crop – as has happened in previous years. I splashed out last year on one of those frames with balls at the corners in which you insert metal poles – surprisingly easy to erect, even for someone as technically challenged as me, and it withstood the worst of the wind and weather to remain standing all season – with a bumper crop! Try the Organic Gardening Catalogue if you fancy giving it a go: here.

Last weekend, despite having a full house over Easter, I managed to plant my salad and herb seeds: lettuce Little Gem, Swiss chard Bright Lights, perpetual spinach, coriander, dill, spring onions, rocket and parsley. I also sowed my root crops – carrot, beetroot, parsnips and swede under their protective layer of enviromesh – which has been in situ for a few weeks now to warm up the soil. I then leave it in place to protect the carrots from the dreaded root fly – seems to have been pretty effective the last few years.

This year I’ve had dreadful germination of the sweet peas I sowed at the beginning of March in the propagator in my conservatory at home: Fragrantissima from Thompson & Morgan– I’ve had this variety for years, but never had such poor germination before! I decided to sow the replacement packet straight into the ground, but I’ve planted the 9 healthy little plants I did get to germinate round the tripod too. I’m sure the later sowing will soon catch up as the weather gets warmer.

Still on the to-do list are mowing the paths around and through the allotment – I like to leave the grass long to encourage insect life and wild flowers under my apple and plum trees, but cut a grid pattern of paths between the trees. Unfortunately, I haven’t had any time to mow yet, so am hoping the forthcoming Bank holiday weekend will give me chance to catch up! Compost distribution and reconstruction of the pallet compost bins are also still on the list, as is weeding the knee-high weed patch that was supposed to be home to my main crop potatoes before I relinquish that part of the plot at the end of the year. I’ve a sneaking suspicion I won’t get round to it at all – it certainly looks a very daunting prospect: scary how soon the weeds take over if you don’t keep on top of them, and all the more reason to opt for raised beds as they are so much easier to maintain!

Oh well, baby steps….

Apart from visiting Sarah Raven’s beautiful garden at Perch Hill, just up the road from us in Burwash – those are her gorgeous tulips above – one thing I did manage to do this weekend was continue the quest for the perfect tiffin. My younger son is home in the final push of essays and revision before his finals in a few weeks’ time, so emergency sustenance was the order of the day. I’d almost forgotten about this recipe, but I think you’ll agree it’s definitely a firm contender for the best tiffin award! I think it was a Jamie Oliver recipe originally, now tweaked slightly: see what you think:

Chocolate fruit tiffin

100g butter

200g each of plain and milk chocolate

3 tbsp golden syrup

175g digestives, crushed roughly

350g mixed dried fruit (I have used apricots, sultanas, cranberries, dried blueberries and sour cherries; crystallised ginger is also good)

handful of sunflower seeds (or pumpkin, etc.)

handful of shelled pistachios (or coconut, cashews, unsalted peanuts, etc.)

Melt the butter, chocolate and syrup in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until combined. Remove from the heat and mix in the crushed digestive biscuits, fruit (chopped if large like apricots), seeds and nuts. Stir, then tip into a foil-lined tin. The original recipe uses a loaf tin, but I prefer to use a flat 7” by 11” baking tin. Pack down well (it will be extremely thick!) and smooth the top down. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight until set. Turn out and cut into squares.

Could also add mini marshmallows or crumbled meringue instead of some of the fruit and nuts for a rocky road variation.

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