Tag Archives: raspberries

Super breakfasts

It’s at this time of year that breakfasts become a real treat with all the soft fruit from the garden. Such bliss to have a constant supply of strawberries, raspberries and currants of all hues to perk up my breakfast bowl of muesli and yogurt. This year, I’ve even had masses of alpine strawberries some days too. This week it’s the turn of raspberries to take the abundance top spot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so plentiful: the canes are weighed down with fruit, hiding under the leaves, dripping with crimson loveliness. I’ve been picking pounds at a time, with plenty for jam (one of my absolute favourites and ideal for beginners, as it is cooked for a very short and defined time, so no worries about getting the set right), desserts of all kinds and ample left over for breakfast.

This jam recipe is adapted from my ancient – and falling-to-pieces – Good Housekeeping cookery book. I still refer to it for staple things like jam-making and this must be one of the first jams I ever made when I started preserving soon after I got married in 1983. I’d like to say I still have the same preserving pan I bought as a set from Good Housekeeping, but I managed to burn the base irredeemably with a particularly sticky chutney some years ago, so now use by mother’s identical model. Now in her 80’s, she hasn’t felt the urge to make jam for quite some time, and is happy to have my frequent contributions to her larder! I do still have the jam funnel, jelly bag and stand, and long wooden spoon though – not bad after 34 years’ service!

Easy Raspberry Jam – makes 6-7 jars

Raspberry jam cooking

3lb raspberries
3.5lb granulated sugar

Simmer the fruit very gently in a large preserving pan until the juice runs – this has to be one of the most tantalising aromas ever! Then bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, warm the sugar for a few minutes – I use the microwave. Add to the fruit and stir until dissolved, then bring back to a rollicking boil and cook for precisely 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into sterilised jars (see here for method), then cover with waxed circles/cellophane as usual. Another perfect filling for a traditional Victoria sponge, or served with hot buttered crumpets for breakfast…

Raspberry jam jar

I usually buy Dorset Cereals muesli (Simply Nutty variety), but it seems to have been getting increasingly expensive lately, along with a lot of other food (gee thanks, Brexit 😦 ), so I’ve been thinking for a while about making my own granola. A quiet spell this week gave me the impetus to give it a go. Many of the recipes I found had honey in, a real no-no for me, so I ended up cobbling together my own recipe based on various sources: Nigella Lawson, BBC Good Food and various other websites. The result is scrumptious, not too sweet, but nutty and crunchy at the same time – and I’m sure it has a lot less sugar than the oversweet and ridiculously expensive bought varieties.

Granola

Granola

2 tbsp olive oil
125ml maple syrup
2 tbsp agave nectar (or honey if you’re that way inclined)
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g oats
50g golden linseeds
50g pumpkin seeds
4 tbsp sesame seeds
100g flaked almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
100g dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice)
50g coconut flakes

Put the olive oil, maple syrup, agave nectar and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Stir in the oats, seeds, nuts and cinnamon (but not the coconut and fruit) and mix well. Spread out on two greased baking trays and bake at 150°C/gas 3 for 15 minutes. Scrape back into the bowl, stir in the coconut and cranberries, then return to the baking sheets and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until starting to colour. Remove from the oven and cool on the trays. Transfer to a large airtight storage container when cool.

Serve with natural yogurt (or milk if you prefer) and lashings of fresh fruit of your choice!

Granola with raspberries

I’ve written before about the redcurrant & raspberry pancakes I make for breakfast in season, but a revelation last weekend, when my younger son was home and in crêpe-making mood, was how delicious normal pancakes are served with just-warmed fresh raspberries and a sprinkling of sugar – divine! We tried them with nutella and raspberries too, but the nutella detracted from the raspberries in my view; now a drizzling of melted dark chocolate might have been a completely different story….

 

 

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Salad Days

Allotment harvest mid-June

We’ve been experiencing an unexpected heatwave here in the South of England for the past week or so, with temperatures over 30°C at their peak. Nothing unusual for many parts of Europe, to be sure, but pretty exceptional in the UK! My house has a north-south axis which works very well in these conditions, especially as my office and bedroom are on the cooler north side of the house, so working and sleeping aren’t too much of an issue.

Watering becomes of paramount importance to a gardener, though. I’m resisting watering twice a day, but trying to water pots and containers at home in the morning, and the raised beds at the allotment in the evening – to spread the load. It’s actually a very enjoyable process, as you can commune with Nature as you water and see what’s newly flowering/germinating/doing well. I’ve managed with water from my water butts so far, but two out of the three at home have now run dry and the allotment butt has been empty for a while – although fortunately water at the allotment comes from a trough and standpipe at the corner of my plot – very convenient! Our yearly subscription covers water costs too, so while it’s not metered to us (although hosepipes aren’t allowed), any huge uptake in usage could theoretically lead to a rise in subs for us all next year, as it is metered to the allotment association.

Allotment poppy June 2017

I love summer evenings up at the allotments: there are always a few people pottering around their plots, it’s incredibly peaceful (apart from my noisy dogs if people dare to walk past “their” plot – sorry, folks) and the sunsets are spectacular. A lesson in mindfulness at the end of a busy day…. This week I’ve managed to mow the grass (trying to keep on top of it so it doesn’t reach jungle proportions again!), get rid of some perennial weeds (docks, blackberries, the dreaded convolvulus) that were encroaching on the paths, do some weeding around newly planted beds and keep up with the harvesting: strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants have suddenly started to ripen at a tremendous pace, and the broad beans and lettuce are still going strong. Such a lovely time of year.

I’ve even made some comfrey tea for use as a fertiliser in three weeks’ time when it has steeped sufficiently. Having lost my comfrey patch a few years back, a healthy-loooking clump has sprung up near the communal bonfire site, so I swapped a wheelbarrow full of weeds for a barrow overflowing with comfrey leaves, stuffed them in an old chicken pellet container (with a lid to contain the stench!), covered with water and will leave to brew. It smells vile but the plants love it – and it’s free!

The strawberries have been epic this year – I’ve had enough for breakfast every day and to make strawberry ice cream, strawberry cheesecake, pavlova and Strawberry Coulis for the freezer (just blitzed in a blender with the juice of an orange and 1 tbsp of icing sugar). Yesterday there were even enough for the quintessential summer jam: strawberry & redcurrant to be precise, as the currants add pectin and make for a better set.

Strawberry & Redcurrant Jam – makes 5 standard jars

Strawberry and redcurrent jam

1.2kg strawberries
300g redcurrants (or gooseberries would work too), removed from stalks
1.5kg granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Hull the strawberries, chopping up any particularly large fruit and put in a preserving pan with the strigged redcurrants. Add the lemon juice and simmer over a low heat for 20-30 minutes or until very soft.

Strawberry jam making

Weigh out the sugar and add, stirring until it dissolves, then turn up the heat to a rollicking boil, stirring as you go. Add a small knob of butter to reduce any froth! Test after 5-10 minutes to see if it has set – I find the best test is to hold your wooden spoon over the pan and when the drips run together to form a bigger drop that breaks off sharply, the jam will be done. Otherwise, have a saucer in the freezer and place a little of the jam on the saucer, cool slightly, then push with your finger: the surface should wrinkle. You will need to take the jam off the heat while you do this test to stop the jam overcooking. Strawberry jam is notoriously fiddly to set, so test little and often. Mine was ready after just 5-6 minutes in yesterday’s heat.

When set, pour the jam into prepared jars (washed and sterilised in the oven on a low heat), cover with waxed circles and lids, then label when cool. Set aside for the perfect accompaniment for traditional Victoria sponges and scones with jam & clotted cream over the coming summer months…

When the weather is this hot, though, salads are the way to go. Quite apart from the fact that I’ve been getting back from the allotment so late that cooking isn’t an option, it’s really too hot to contemplate cooking. I love experimenting with whatever I have in the fridge or bring back from the plot, resulting in some delicious combinations. Lunch today was a refreshing Melon, Strawberry & Feta Salad served on a bed of mizuna with dill and mint to garnish – sublime! With Galia melon (not my own!), two kinds of strawberries (the large allotment variety and tiny alpine strawberries that run with gay abandon in one border at home), drizzled with a splash of extra virgin olive oil and a hint of balsamic vinegar, this really hit the spot for a cooling, yet tasty lunch. The salty chalkiness of the feta and the slight bitterness of the mizuna were a perfect foil for the sweet and juicy fruit.

Strawberry and melon salad

Other salad combinations have included Baby Broad Beans & Griddled Halloumi with toasted pine kernels and rocket, with a chilli, mint and lemon dressing, and my perennial favourite, Bauernsalat (farmer’s salad), inspired by one of our best-loved holiday hotels, the Tennis Hotel in St. Wolfgang, Austria, which simply consists of crispy fried bacon and potatoes scattered on a bed of fresh salad, with a herby yogurt dressing to accompany. So good – worth cooking extra new potatoes especially to make this! Anything goes – experimenting is half the fun. If something doesn’t work particularly well, just leave it out next time – but with fresh and homegrown produce, chances are it will all taste sublime.

Allotment sunset

Queen of the Crops

Soft fruit has to be one of the most rewarding crops a home gardener can grow; it does its own thing for most of the year and then suddenly, come June/July, you have more fruit than you know what to do with – not really a hardship, I’m sure you’ll agree! Given the price of fruit in the supermarket, where tiny punnets of raspberries cost a small fortune and often go off disappointingly quickly, this is somewhere you can save pounds. It’s also very hard to even find the currant family, or even gooseberries, in the shops these days, unless you have acess to a farmer’s market or pick-your-own farm.

Admittedly, it’s a good idea to net most of the soft fruit family; redcurrants are particularly prone to bird attack (even when netted!) and I’ve known gooseberries and blackcurrants disappear too, though whether due to birds or passing humans, I’ve never been quite sure… My raspberries seem to thrive without netting and I have a bonus crop this year from raspberry runners that have decided to take up residence underneath my Bramley apple tree – permaculture in essence!

The strawberries are usually first to arrive and have given me a good month of generous pickings: from strawberries on my breakfast muesli (such decadence!), to Strawberry Cheesecake, strawberry meringue and strawberry ice cream. Another old favourite, simplicity itself to make, is a Summer Fruit Crème Brûlée, a recipe I picked up on a Sainsbury’s recipe card many moons ago. The ice cream, another dead-easy recipe, is adapted from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook and puts shop-bought impostors well and truly in their place – you’ll never want to taste bought ice cream again!

Strawberry Ice Cream

Strawberry ice cream

500g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled if necessary
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lemon
300ml double cream
150g caster (or vanilla) sugar

Blitz the strawberries, orange and lemon juice in a blender. Add the cream and sugar until well mixed. Churn in an ice cream maker, or make the old-fashioned way by freezing for an hour or so, then whisking in the ice crystals and repeating until softly frozen.
Serve as is or with more fresh strawberries – divine!

Strawberry ice cream serving

Summer Fruit Crème Brûlée – serves 4-6

Creme brulee portion

250g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1 nectarine or peach
125g grapes
14-16 Amaretti biscuits
2 x 200ml tubs crème fraiche (I like the half-fat organic one from Yeo Valley, but full-fat is good too)
150g soft brown sugar

Arrange the strawberries, nectarine and grapes in a round 20cm soufflé dish. You can add a tablespoon of Amaretto at this stage if you wish, but I find the fruit makes its own juice as it chills. Place the Amaretti biscuits on top, evenly spaced. Spoon on the crème fraiche to completely seal the fruit and chill in the fridge for a good couple of hours.
Sprinkle over the sugar, completely covering the cream, then grill for 1-2 minutes (or use a blow torch if you have one!) until the sugar caramelises.
Allow to cool slightly, then serve to general acclaim.
You can of course, use any soft fruit of your choice in this recipe – raspberries are good too, or just strawberries.

My final recipe is an adaptation of my standard strawberry cheesecake instructions to accommodate the current raspberry glut. I ended up picking over a 1kg raspberries in torrential rain yesterday, so a cheesecake and delectable accompanying coulis seemed the way to go.

Raspberry Cheesecake – serves 8-10

Raspberry cheesecake

75g butter
250g Speculoos biscuits (I used Lotus)
150ml double cream
200g full-fat cream cheese
200g crème fraiche
Juice and zest of 1 lime
75g caster sugar
Few drops vanilla essence
Fruit to top: 500g raspberries

I make this in a shallow 30cm x 20cm rectangular tart tin with a loose bottom, but you can use an equivalent round tart tin if you prefer. Grease the tin with butter.

Melt the butter in a small pan and add the crushed biscuits (the old-fashioned way using a plastic bag and a rolling pin, or food-processor if you prefer). Mix and turn into the base of the tin. Spread out and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Whip the cream lightly with the sugar, then add the lime zest and juice, cream cheese, crème fraiche and vanilla essence, continuing to whip until the mixture makes soft swirls. Turn into the base and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight for the best set.

Top with fresh raspberries and serve with raspberry coulis if liked.

Raspberry Coulis

250g raspberries
Juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

Blitz the raspberries (I used the squishy ones from the bottom of my punnet after picking in pouring rain!) in a blender with the sifted icing sugar and add the sieved orange juice. Strain through a sieve to remove the seeds and serve with the cheesecake or with ice cream. You can add more orange juice if too thick, of course.

Spring Rush

Green roof_cropped

It’s at this time of year, after the clocks have gone forward, the sun finally shows its face and the soil gradually starts to warm up, that the rush is on to get everything going in the garden. It’s often a case of dodging the showers and making use of the limited time you have available to sow seeds here, prepare ground there and generally tick off all those spring jobs.

I sowed my first seeds two weeks ago, but most are now up and can be removed from the propagator to make room for the next batch: tomatoes (two old favourites, Sungold and Gardener’s Delight, and a new variety to me, Black Russian, a medium beefsteak heritage tomato, supposedly with an outstanding, rich flavour – we shall see!) and cucumber. I’m reverting back to Marketmore this year, a variety I used to grow with great success in my big greenhouse in Scotland, but I’m hoping it will like the conditions on the open allotment too, as I haven’t had a lot of success with other varieties I’ve tried outside to date.

Other jobs include planting up my new dahlias. I leave my existing dahlia tubers in the ground over the winter, well-mulched, and they seem to thrive, but as I’m cutting down on potatoes and adding another cutting flower bed at the allotment this year, it seemed an ideal opportunity to treat myself to a couple more! I ordered Café au Lait (from Crocus) plus Labyrinth and Wizard of Oz (from Sarah Raven), all in pastel shades that will extend my existing range of colours beautifully – and with half an eye to my son’s wedding next year, I must admit! These are started off in pots in my grow frame at home, then will go into the open ground when they are established and better able to cope with slug attacks. I’ve also started off my tuberous begonias, now huge tubers after two seasons’ worth of growing. I may have to ask friends for the loan of some space in their large glasshouse when I run out of room in the grow frame/conservatory windowsill for these monsters!

I also like to use fibrous-rooted begonias in my summer tubs as they don’t mind rain or shine and are also pretty slug-resistant. I buy the tiny plug plants from my local garden centre, sold in 24s for pricking out at home. In actual fact, each plug often contains two tiny plants and I invariably manage to get at least 60 plantlets once I’ve prised them apart. A very economical way of buying bedding plants, especially as these are notoriously tricky to grow from seed without specialist conditions.

Other jobs included dead-heading last year’s hydrangea flowers, another way of instantly tidying up the garden. These crispy flowerheads have done a great job of protecting the new foliage from late frosts, but we should be safe now to snip them off – although I once did this in late March when we lived in Scotland, only to have a very severe frost a couple of nights later, ending up with frosted new shoots and far fewer flowers than usual – you have been warned!

New rasp bed 2

Down at the allotment, I finally managed to finish digging over my new raspberry bed and have planted up the new autumn canes, Polka, ordered from Thompson & Morgan. Having lost all my autumn raspberries last year due to some unknown virus, I thought I’d try a different variety: Polka is bred from the classic Autumn Bliss, but it supposed to have double the yield. I’ll report back in due course! I also dug up some summer raspberry suckers from where they are thriving underneath the Bramley apple tree and made a new row of summer fruit too – you can never have enough raspberries! I’ve finally found a taker for the top part of my allotment, so won’t have my original fruit bed any more – but I don’t think I’m going to go short any time soon….

Raspberry Polka

All in all, a very satisfying weekend’s gardening.

After a meat-filled few days over Easter, with family and guests, I fancied something simple and vegetarian this weekend. There’s very little left on the allotment at this time of year (a few remaining leeks, parsnips, purple-sprouting broccoli and spinach), so I opted for an old favourite, based on spinach, originally from my friend Bridget up in Cheshire. This is so quick and easy, but delicious – life’s definitely NOT too short to stuff a mushroom!

Garlicky Stuffed Mushrooms – serves 2

Garlicky mushroom

4 large flat mushrooms (Portobello), wiped and stalks removed

Knob of butter

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic

2 generous handfuls of young spinach, washed, large stems removed and chopped

Seasoning

1 Boursin cheese

 Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the chopped onions and garlic. Cook until translucent, then add the chopped spinach and continue cooking for 5 mins or so until nicely wilted, then season to taste.

Divide the spinach and onion mixture between the flat mushrooms in a roasting tin and add 3-4 tbsp water to the base of the tin. Top each mushroom with a generous slice of Boursin (blue cheese or even goat’s cheese also work well). Cover the tin with foil.

Cook in a hot oven (180°C, Gas 5) for about 20 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for a further couple of minutes to brown the cheese slightly.

You can serve these with crusty bread to mop up the garlicky juices, but I like them just as they are – who needs meat with flavours as good as these?!

Berry Bonanza

allotment haul July 2015Summer in the allotment is a fabulous time for soft fruit and this year is no exception. From the end of June through to the end of July, there’s a constant stream of delicious berries to harvest, starting with strawberries, closely followed by currants, white, red and black, and on to raspberries. This week I’m also looking after my neighbour’s allotment whilst she’s on holiday and she has jostaberries too: a German hybrid of blackcurrants and gooseberries (hence the name: Jo-hannisbeeren (blackcurrants) and Sta-chelbeeren (gooseberries)). This makes a huge bush – my neighbour’s must be at least 8-10 feet across and this year, secure in its fruit cage, is absolutely dripping with fruit. I’m under instructions to help myself, and so have jam in my sights, but for now have just picked enough for a delicious compote to top a cheesecake – tangy and delightful, tasting of both its parents, but unique too – definitely one to try again! I usually make this recipe with fresh strawberries (as shown in the photo) or raspberries, but it was equally good with jostaberries and would work beautifully with blackcurrants too.

Strawberry (or Jostaberry) Cheesecake – serves 6-8

Strawberry cheesecake 75g butter

250g HobNob or digestive biscuits

150ml double cream

200g full-fat cream cheese

200g crème fraiche

Juice and zest of 1 lime

75g caster sugar

Few drops vanilla essence

Fruit to top: 500g strawberries (sliced) or raspberries

or 500g jostaberries or blackcurrants

50-75g sugar (to taste)

1 tsp arrowroot

I make this in a shallow 30cm x 20cm rectangular tart tin with a loose bottom, but you can use an equivalent round tart tin if you prefer. Grease the tin with butter.

Melt the butter in a small pan and add the crushed biscuits (the old-fashioned way using a plastic bag and a rolling pin, or food-processor if you prefer, but don’t overprocess: a chunky mix is good). Mix and turn into the base of the tin. Spread out and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Whip the cream lightly with the sugar, then add the lime zest and juice, cream cheese, crème fraiche and vanilla essence, continuing to whip until the mixture makes soft swirls. Turn into the base and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight for the best set.

Top with fresh berries if using, garnishing with borage flowers if you have any.

If serving with compote, cook the jostaberries or blackcurrants gently with the sugar until just cooked. Don’t be tempted to add water as the fruit will produce plenty of juice as the berries burst. Pour some of the juice into a small bowl and mix in the teaspoon of arrowroot, then stir the resulting mixture into the cooked berries over a gentle heat, until the mixture thickens slightly. Do not allow to boil, otherwise the mixture will turn runny again! Cool overnight and use to top the cheesecake just before serving.

My summer raspberries are just about coming to an end, and my autumn raspberries (along with many others on the allotment) have succumbed to a mystery virus this year, so I won’t be enjoying my autumn breakfasts of muesli, yogurt and fresh raspberries this year, sadly. It’s been a great season, though, and I’ve used raspberries in so many ways, including the following delicious summer pudding, great for a dinner party. This recipe originally came from the Beechgrove Garden TV show when we lived in Scotland, but I’ve adapted it slightly and it has been part of my summer repertoire ever since:

Meringue Roulade – serves 8

Meringue Roulade4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

25g flaked almonds

1 dsp cornflour

1 tsp lemon juice

150ml double cream

150ml natural yogurt

Fresh raspberries or strawberries (at least 250g)

Line a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment. Set oven to 160°C (fan) / Gas 4.

Whisk egg whites until firm and gradually whisk in the sugar until glossy and stiff peaks have formed.

Fold in the cornflour and lemon juice using a metal spoon, then transfer to the prepared tin using a spatula and gently level the surface. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds, then bake for about 20 minutes until just starting to turn golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Cut a piece of greaseproof paper a little bigger than the roulade, place on a large chopping board and gently place over the roulade. Invert the whole board gently so that the roulade is upside down on the paper. Carefully peel off the baking parchment.

Whip the cream until the soft swirl stage, then whisk in the yogurt. Gently spread over the meringue and top with the fruit of your choice. The more fruit you add, the more challenging it will be to roll, but the more delicious it will taste! You can always add more fruit on the side if you’re not sure…

Finally roll up firmly, using the paper as a guide. Think positive! Transfer onto a serving platter and serve to much acclaim!

The original recipe suggests serving this with raspberry sauce, but I don’t think this is necessary if you add enough fruit to cover in the first place….

The starting point for my final berry recipe was a recent Waitrose recipe leaflet that coincided with a glut of raspberries in the kitchen. I misread the recipe when I first tried it (more haste, less speed!) and forgot to separate the eggs. I also used gluten-free self-raising flour (Dove’s Farm) and halved the mixture – they were delicious! This morning I experimented again for my weekend house guests, separating the eggs, and using the full quantity and standard self-raising flour: they were even better! I also changed the proportions of yogurt and ricotta as I only had half a pot of ricotta left after the first time. Just goes to show that you can sometimes deviate from the recipe with great success….

Raspberry and Redcurrant Ricotta Pancakes – serves 4 hungry people!

125g self-raising flour (gluten-free works fine)

50g caster sugar

100ml natural yogurt

250g ricotta

1 tbsp milk

3 large eggs, separated

Zest of 1 lemon (or lime)

½ tsp vanilla extract

100g raspberries or redcurrants (or a mix of both)

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks, yogurt, ricotta, milk, lemon or lime zest and vanilla extract until well mixed. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually beat the wet yolk mixture into the flour, then fold in the egg whites, followed by the fruit.

Heat a knob of butter and a splash of oil in a large frying pan, pour off excess and place small ladlefuls of the mixture into the pan, in batches. I cooked four at a time in my large pan. Fry on a medium heat for a couple of minutes each side, turning with a spatula or fish slice when golden brown on each side. Keep warm (or serve to impatient breakfasters!) while you continue with the rest. Serve on their own, or with butter or maple syrup. Any leftover (ha!) are delicious toasted the following day….

Butternut squash and a blustery day…

Euonymus in full autumn gloryIt’s been an unseasonally warm, but blustery day here in the South-East – the perfect weather for walking dogs through autumn-hued forests and starting the great garden (and allotment) tidy-up. Having been on holiday the first week of October, then back to a change-of-season head cold, I feel as though the change from summer to autumn has happened almost overnight! All of a sudden the nights are drawing in, leaves are changing colour and the harvest definitely needs bringing in.

All my apples are in already, beans have finished and the last few courgettes are not really ripening, despite the residual warmth in the sun. On the plus side, the late-season sowings of salad and herbs I made in September are romping away, looking promising for winter greens if I can keep the slugs and frost at bay – I think a judicial application of organic slug pellets and a fleece overcoat might be in order!

Autumn raspberries are still producing, albeit at a slower rate, but still enough to top my breakfast muesli and yogurt a couple of mornings a week – which can’t be bad for October. The dahlias are also magnificent still, producing vases full of deep magenta, fuchsia pink and claret red blooms, with some spidery white cactus flowers for good measure. The stalks are shorter this year, but I can’t complain and I have so many vases for every eventuality that they always look good.

My Sarah Raven tulips finally arrived this week, so I made a start, late this afternoon, on empting my summer tubs in the garden – doesn’t seem two minutes since I planted them up for summer! The tuberous begonias I bought as tubers have been phenomenal this year, so I’m going to attempt to keep them over the winter. For now, I’ve just shaken off any loose soil and left them to dry out in a tray in the shed, but before the frosts arrive, I shall wrap them in newspaper and store in the garage overwinter.

I’m going to do the bulk of my tulips next weekend, when the weather will hopefully be a little colder. I’ve ordered orange Ballerina, deep-purple Recreado, deep red Couleur Cardinal and red and black Pimpernel – should be a sight to behold! And this year I’m reverting to planting single blocks of colour in each pot for maximum effect, rather than mixing them and risking them not flowering at the same time, as happened this spring.

Pickings from the allotment this weekend included calabrese, beetroot, kale, mixed salad leaves, coriander, parsley, leeks and butternut squash, the latter now being left in a capacious basket in the conservatory for winter use. Indeed, most of them are so huge, they are enough for several meals in one go (such hardship!). Recipe ideas to follow:

Butternut squash, leek and bacon risotto

Serves 3 (or 2 with enough left for arancini the next day…)

Half a large butternut squash, peeled (easiest with a vegetable peeler) and chopped into large chunks

Olive oil

1 tsp coriander seeds

100g smoked bacon, chopped

225g leeks, trimmed and sliced

150g arborio risotto rice

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

75 ml dry white wine

approx. 500 ml homemade stock (vegetable, chicken or ham)

1 dspn chopped fresh sage

2 tbsp Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

salt & pepper

To serve:

50g Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

Chopped parsley or toasted pumpkin/squash seeds to garnish.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Roast the chopped squash in olive oil, seasoning and crushed coriander seeds for 30 minutes. Turn oven down to 160°C, Gas 4. Cook the bacon and the onion in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 mins. Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the leeks and the rice to the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine and the stock, then the sage and seasoning and bring to boiling point. Finally stir in the roast squash. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 mins. Then stir in 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more liquid if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to oven and cook for a further 15 mins, before serving with extra cheese and toasted pumpkin or squash seeds as a garnish – or parsley if you prefer.

(Don’t forget to make arancini with any leftover risotto – delicious! See https://rhubarbandraspberries.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/bluebells-tulips-and-wild-garlic-a-bounty-of-bulbs/ for instructions.)

Butternut Squash Dauphinoise squash dauphinoiseThis recipe is courtesy of my BBC Good Food kitchen calendar, slightly adapted to the contents of my fridge. I often make potato or parsnip dauphinois, but had never tried it with squash and was pleasantly surprised. No. 1 son was home for the weekend and this made a delicious accompaniment to roast chicken, roast potatoes and home-grown calabrese.

150 ml double cream

150 ml milk

Bay leaf

Sprig of thyme

1 clove garlic

Grated nutmeg

½ large butternut squash, peeled and thinly sliced

Butter to grease dish

50 g Gruyère cheese, grated

Place milk, cream, bay leaf, thyme sprig and crushed garlic in a pan, bring to the boil, then switch off and leave for 10 mins to infuse.

Heat oven to 200°C. Grease an oblong, shallow ovenproof dish with butter, then add the thinly sliced squash in layers. Season, then pour over the milk and cream mixture including the herbs. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 30 mins. Then uncover, make sure all the squash is submerged and add more milk if you think it looks a little dry. Scatter over the grated cheese. Return to the oven for a further 30 mins until the squash is tender and the whole dish is golden. Serve with roast meat, sausages, etc. This amount makes enough for 3, but can easily be doubled to feed more.

And finally:

Stuffed butternut squash with sausage, onion and kale

Serves 2

1 medium butternut squash, halved and deseeded (but NOT peeled)

50g pearl barley

200g kale, thick stalks removed, finely chopped

2 good-sized sausages

Olive oil

100g halloumi or feta

1 onion, chopped

1 tsp harissa paste

100g cherry tomatoes, halved

½ Jalapeno chilli, finely chopped

Gruyère or Parmesan cheese, grated, to top

Roast the squash halves, cut side up, on a tray in the oven at 200°C for 50 mins – 1 hour, depending on the size of your squash. Meanwhile, cook pearl barley in a pan of water for 40 mins until tender, adding the chopped kale for the last few minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion slowly for 30 mins, adding the skinned and chopped sausage for the last 15 mins. Add to the pearl barley, along with the chopped feta or halloumi, tomatoes, chopped chillis and harissa paste, then season well.

Scoop out the tender flesh from the squash and add to the barley mixture, mixing lightly. Return to the squash shells, sprinkle over Gruyère or Parmesan to taste and return to the oven for 15 mins until nicely golden.

Enjoy!

This was based on a recipe from my Sainsbury’s Cook’s Calendar – obviously a good month for calendar recipes. My squash was so huge that I could only eat a quarter of it in one go and I did find that it wasn’t as good re-heated for lunch the next day: the barley seemed to have absorbed all the liquid so it was a little dry. Perhaps serve with tomato sauce if re-heating? First time round it was delicious however!

Leo and the logpile

 

 

First steps towards allotment downsizing?

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Now that there’s just me at home most of the time, I’ve decided that a full allotment is probably somewhat excessive. Last year I had rhubarb, plums and apples coming out of my ears in the relevant seasons and the time I have available to spend up at the allotments seems to have decreased In inverse proportion to my workload!

With four established apple trees and two plum trees right in the middle of my plot, a logical split halfway isn’t going to work, especially as I have my invaluable shed in amongst the trees, plus the compost heap, a cold frame, and the essential table and chairs for potting out and reviving cups of tea. The only solution, to my mind, is to give up the third at the top of my plot where I have all my fruit bushes. That section was the first bit I cultivated when I took over the plot as it already had established blackcurrant bushes in it, but they have decreased in vigour over the years, plus the whole area is infested with the dreaded couch grass. The bottom section of my plot, on the other hand, has my raised beds and the yields from this area are far superior to the yield from the top area.

So much for the old guard at the allotment who are vehemently anti-raised beds, regarding them as “television gardening”! Relatively new-fangled they may be, but I find it so much more manageable to go up and know I can tackle a couple of beds, rather than the daunting task of where to start in a whole expanse of plot. Then there’s the lack of digging – hurrah! – I’m all for letting the worms do the work – and the irrefutable fact that the yields are excellent. No need to compact the soil between rows as the beds are about 4 feet wide by 10 feet long, so reachable from all sides. I’ve put black weedproof membrane down between the beds and bark chippings on top, so it’s relatively easy to maintain. The idea had been to be able to get a wheelbarrow between the beds, but the chap I hired to install the beds didn’t follow my carefully worked-out plan as accurately as I’d have liked, so it’s a bit of a squeeze in places – but just about accessible nonetheless. They’ve been in situ about 7 years now and I’m going to have to replace some of the boards this year, but am having trouble getting any used boards from my usual supplier. The prolonged wet weather has meant that many of the large projects have had scaffolding out over the winter and it’s still not been returned, so they’ve no new used boards to get rid of yet. I’ll keep trying….

Anyway, back to the downsizing! Rather than do it all in one fell swoop, I’ve decided to gradually transfer some of my rhubarb (early and late varieties), a layer of my Invicta gooseberry and a couple of blackcurrant layers (Ben Sarek) to one of the raised beds this year. My redcurrants, already a second-hand gift from my uncle when I got them, are too large and old to move successfully, so I’ve bought a new redcurrant (Laxton’s) and I intend to move the relatively young whitecurrant bush from the old bed too. That was today’s job; next I hope to dig up some raspberry suckers, the autumn-fruiting Joan J and the summer-fruiting Glen Ample, which had their best-ever year last year, to go in another of the raised beds. Hopefully, by next season, these will all have established and I can relinquish the top third to someone on the waiting list! Watch this space…

In the meantime, the hellebores at home are beautiful this year, and all the daffodils and primroses are filling the garden with the scents of spring. A lovely time to be out and about in the garden…

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