Season of plenty

The problem with writing an allotment blog is that there’s so much to do in the summer months that you don’t have time to write! Hence the lack of updates recently…

In a brief bid to remedy the situation, and thanks to my son taking some lovely photos of my burgeoning allotment this month, I thought I’d add a quick photomontage to keep things up-to-date.

Allotment with me July 2014

Despite the soggy start to the year, the mild spring and the recent spell of hot weather have meant it’s been a great season for most things so far. Raspberries and soft fruit came earlier than usual and went over quickly, but my well-stocked freezer bears witness to the plentiful pickings! I managed to harvest enough redcurrants to make my annual redcurrant jelly (indispensable with roast lamb: mix with grated orange rind and fresh mint from the garden for a delectable sauce), but then the blackbirds managed to get underneath my netting and stripped the lot overnight. Note to self: make sure netting goes to the ground ALL the way round next time. Gooseberries were equally prolific and in fact there are still some of the dark red dessert variety (Pax) left on for one more pie (see below). The early plums have just started and the autumn raspberries too…

plums and dahlias

The flowers are heavenly as ever: for me, one of the huge boons of having an allotment is being able to keep the house filled with vases of flowers from the first daffodils of spring, through wallflowers, sweet williams and poppies to the joys of sweet peas and dahlias in the summer months right up to the end of autumn. Bliss.

Asparagus, broad beans, peas – mangetout and sugar snap – and far more salad than I could ever eat have ensured a wealth of produce to choose from on the vegetable front. Courgettes are coming on stream too now and the beetroot are doing well as ever.

Allotment produce beetroot carrots

In a bid to halt the badgers that decimated my sweetcorn crop last year, I’ve erected a sturdy (I hope) chickenwire fence around the sweetcorn. I’m hoping the butternut squash underplanting the corn will manage to grow through and beneath the wire and not be constrained – so far so good. Let’s just hope the badgers aren’t sufficiently determined this year to flatten and trample the lot…

sweetcorn barricade

The onions don’t look as plump as they have in previous years, which makes me wonder whether I didn’t keep them sufficiently well watered earlier on. Garlic was a complete failure again, succumbing to black rot despite being planted in autumn in a bed which had never grown alliums before. The only saving grace was the elephant garlic I planted just as an experiment, which seems to have escaped the mould, as I had been promised it would. In future, I might just give up on the normal garlic, which obviously doesn’t like my heavy soil, and concentrate on the elephantine variety. Leeks always do well, thank goodness.

Leeks July 2014

Today I’m going to make a start on summer-pruning the fruit trees, which have put tremendous growth on this year, although they aren’t quite as weighed down as they were in last year’s epic fruiting season. Probably just as well! I’m expecting the early red Katy apples at home to be ready any day now – they always make me think of the perfect apple tree a child might draw. Bright red apples, sweet as you like, BUT they don’t store, so have to be eaten straightaway or transformed into a delicious pink juice.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite recipes for using up a glut of gooseberries:

Gooseberry & Crème Fraiche Tart

Sweet pastry:

5oz plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1oz caster sugar

pinch salt

2 tsp milk

2 1/2 oz butter

1/2 beaten egg

Sift flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Stir in sugar, egg and milk until evenly mixed, then work in butter (I find it easier if you grate it from cold) using fingers. Knead lightly to form a smooth dough, then chill in fridge for 30 mins. Do not leave too long, as it will set really hard and be impossible to roll!

When chilled, roll out on a floured surface (it will be very fragile, but can be patched if necessary!). Line a 9″ tart tin, then bake blind at 200°C/Gas 6 for 10 mins, then remove foil and beans and cook for another 5 mins until just set and golden.

Filling:

1lb gooseberries, topped and tailed

1 pot crème fraiche (200 ml)

4 egg yolks

3oz caster sugar

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Turn oven down to 160°C/Gas 4 and arrange gooseberries in the flan case. Whisk egg yolks, crème fraiche, sugar and balsamic vinegar together and pour over gooseberries. Cook until the custard is set – about 45 minutes depending on your oven. Lovely served warm, or equally delicious chilled the next day. Enjoy!

I often make twice the amount of pastry and freeze half, so I can use a whole egg rather than have half going spare. Similarly, the 4 egg whites you’ll be left with from the custard are perfect for my macaroon recipe (see https://rhubarbandraspberries.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/mouth-meltingly-good-coffee-macaroons/) or for Nigella’s chocolate macaroons in How to be a Domestic Goddess….

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