Down on the Allotment

Matron grows vegetables and fruit in a Hampshire garden. I've been growing veggies since I was knee high to a grasshopper. Some traditional varieties and old favourites as well as new ideas. I share my garden with my allotment assistant Daisy the Labrador. On Twitter as @MatronsVeggies

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Matron's Spiced Christmas Chutney

Here is a wonderful recipe which I adapted from a basic apple chutney recipe, but with a Christmas spices flavour. You must prepare your spiced vinegar in advance. Bring 1 pint of malt vinegar to the boil with generous quantities of your favourite spices. I used star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Boil gently for just a minute or so, then leave all the spices in the vinegar to cool down completely, ideally leave for at least 24hours or longer for the flavours to develop.

Peel and chop 4lbs of cooking apples
peel and chop 1lb of pumpkin and dice into roughly half inch cubes
chop 1lb onions (red onions if you like)
3oz fresh grated ginger
1lb brown sugar
grated rind and juice of an orange
4oz dried cranberries
4oz dried mixed fruit
half a pint of mulled wine (gluhwein)

Put all the ingredients except the sugar, into a large pan and bring to the boil and simmer until reduced. This might take 30 minutes, but there is enough pectin in the apples and pumpkin for a good consistency. Then add all the sugar to the mixture and stir gently and continue to simmer until it has reduced further. You may like to add more of your favourite ground spices (I do!)

This recipe is a slightly sweeter chutney but you can decrease the sugar if you like, the flavour improves on keeping - fantastic on cold meats or cheese!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Original Pumpkin Pie

There is always so much pumpkin to use when you grow your own! You will find that a half of a pumpkin when it is dry roasted in the oven will produce only about 2 cups of puree. I sieved my roasted pumpkin and left it to drain excess water overnight and it halved in size. Norfolk Million Pie is the old English recipe from East Anglia which was taken to the New World by the Pilgrim fathers and enjoyed at a first Thanksgiving meal when they arrived. I made one today, here's how it goes!
Line an 8" pie tin with pastry
One cup of sieved pumpkin puree (8oz)
6oz dark Muscovado sugar
3 eggs, beaten
5oz single (light) cream
ground nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
2oz dried fruit (sultanas)
2oz jam (apricot,plum or greengage)
Line the bottom of your pastry case with a layer of jam, then mix up all the other ingredients into a bowl. Do not be alarmed at the thin consistency, it will set. Pour the pumpkin pie mixture into the pastry case and grate more fresh nutmeg on the top if you want (I love nutmeg!).
Make a pastry lattice over the top of the pie with the leftover pastry bits. Put in a very hot oven gas *8 or 220C for just 10 minutes, then without opening the oven door turn down the heat to gas *3 or 170C for a further 35mins or until cooked.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Is it Winter Yet?

I was thrilled to see that my early purple sprouting broccoli has its first head showing! This is the first time I have grown the variety 'Rudolph' supposed to be an ultra early crop. Perhaps I will be enjoying some festive Rudolph on Christmas Day? I mentioned a couple of blogs ago that my broccoli plants are more than 5ft tall this year and I don't know why. A couple of things have occurred to me - 1. I have grown pumpkins on this patch for the last couple of years so it has had plenty of manure. 2. This Spring I grew my broad beans on this spot, I deliberately left the root system, complete with nitrogen nodules in place in the soil. This seems to be a likely reason. My leeks have not done so well this year. It has been a wet Summer but I would have thought that leeks might have enjoyed that. I would describe my leeks as 'satisfactory' this year, no more. I usually blanch up the stems by using toilet roll tubes, but didn't bother this year. I have seen an interesting leek variety in the Dobies catalogue for 2009. I thought I might try the Bulgarian Giant Leek. Very long stems, about 2ft long and early maturing. Has anyone tried them?
Beetroots have been bad too! For the first time I tried a long slicing variety, 'Cylindra'. The first sowing in March did not germinate at all. A second sowing in June resulted in about 4 germinations from several hundred. This third planting I sowed in modules in the greenhouse in August and pricked them out in place. The main problem in this spot is that all the neighbourhood cats use the lovely soil as a toilet and most of these little plants were dug up or buried. Grrrrrrrr!
Yesterday, after warnings of a really cold weather front moving in - I wrapped up my Japanese banana 'Musa Basjoo'. The main stem had been cut back to about 4ft and I wrapped it in fleece, then a thick layer of dry straw, more fleece and a loosely tied plastic bag over the top so that it can breathe. See you next year, my friend!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Madeira - A Tropical Paradise

I've just come back from a short break on the Island of Madeira. Besides the wonderful tropical gardens and landscape, I was visiting a friend who helps to look after some of the stray dogs on the island. Couldn't resist sharing this puppy with you! It was just so wonderful to see tropical fruit growing out there! When these fresh fruit are in season and just freshly picked, the taste is heavenly!
Pomegranates and cherry guavas.
Guavas and dates.
Mangoes and custard apples.

Bananas and Cerimans... Cerimans?? these are the fruit of the Monstera Deliciosa or Swiss Cheese plant. You will recognise these as common houseplants but this fruit tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a banana. It is also known as a fruit salad plant for that reason. You pick off the green scales to reveal a sort of a cream coloured mushy sweet corn cob. The taste is delicious..but.... it has very tiny, hairy spines which tingle on your tongue like eating a cactus! The sensation is not as pleasant as the taste!
Well, Matron has broken one of her cardinal rules to bring you a couple of flowers!!
Above is a plumeria. Such a heavenly scent!
And the most famous flower on the island, the Strelitzia or Bird of Paradise Flower.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Plant Swapping!

I made a really good swap this week! I was talking to a friend who lives down in Hampshire and she mentioned that she had managed to take several successful cuttings from a pomegranate tree. I was fascinated to find out what her secret was.... she had no idea! She just struck the cuttings several years ago and they just all took! no idea why! We chatted some more about our gardens and she was envious that I just had so many side shoots from my Japanese Banana plant - I didn't know what to do with them all.... so this week we agreed to swap a pomegranate for a banana. Everyone happy!
I must do some research and find out what sort of conditions these pomegranate trees enjoy!
These are some of my lovely crab apples! Believe it or not, this tree was bought 2 years ago in Lidl wrapped in a cheap cardboard box, for just £1.99.
Such a good year for apples of every description this year, so this little tree has done brilliantly. I managed to pick just a pound and a quarter of crab apples today, these were immediately turned into two lovely jars of jelly.
Just a glorious colour, and so filled with pectin that it only took 10 minutes of boiling to reach a set.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Original Pumpkin Pie

I was browsing through an old cookbook this week and came across a seasonal recipe for the original pumpkin pie. When the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in the New World and sat down together for a thanksgiving meal, the recipe they knew from the old world (over here!) was actually called 'Norfolk Million Pie'. The word Million was the original old English word for melon, marrow, pumpkin or any squash. The difference in this recipe was that the pastry case was spread with a layer of apricot jam or marmalade, and a handful of dried fruit, currants or sultanas was put into the pumpkin mixture. This was decorated with a pastry lattice top. So when my colonial cousins tuck into what they assume is the most American of American pies... it is actually from Norfolk, England! sorry guys!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

More Last Pickings!

I haven't been out to my greenhouse for a couple of weeks, much too gloomy and wet down there. For want of anything better to do today I ventured out there and found a wonderful late Autumn surprise. All the foliage of these Moneymaker tomatoes had died back but there were just about half a dozen still edible. Skins might be a bit thick, but the taste is the best I am going to get until next May. Likewise these Sungold-ish tomatoes..... You might remember earlier in the season I was having trouble ripening these tomatoes. Well, they never did ripen!! something in the genetics perhaps? but these were from seed which a couple of generations ago were Sungold F1 but they have reverted back into a larger, plum shaped tomato which does not ripen. Perhaps the big supermarkets would be interested in these... theirs never ripen properly either! They were like this back in June - Wow! a 6-month shelf life!
They are vaguely edible, if you like them sharp! I might splash out next year and buy some F1 seeds.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Storing vegetables for Winter

I just couldn't resist sharing a photo of these lovely Brussels Sprouts. I confess that I didn't grow them but buying them on a big stem like this is irresistible! I also came across a large quantity of parsnips and beetroots while travelling up in Lincolnshire recently. The landscape up there is very flat and very fertile, and you will see miles and miles of arable farmland. Vegetable farm shops are springing up everywhere.
I made a clamp when I got home to try to keep the root vegetables fresh throughout the Winter. This really involves layering them in cold sand or clean compost or peat. Just build up the layers and keep them stored in a cold dark place.
Whenever you need them just dig down and pull a few more out.
They should keep clean and fresh for months like this.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sea Buckthorn - yet another superfood!

Matron has been to the seaside! Growing among the sand dunes of the Lincolnshire coast were these Sea Buckthorn berries. I remembered reading about them recently and discovered they are considered to be full of goodies! Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae Rhannoides) is also known as the Seaberry or Siberian Pineapple. You can find all sorts of remedies which are made from sea buckthorn oil. Considered to be a powerful antioxidant, anti inflamatory and has been clinically tested as a remedy for all sorts of medical problems.
I didn't pick any this time, the area was being patrolled by the Lincolnshire wildlife trust wardens.... why?? see below.

Altogether now?...... Aaaaaaaahhhh!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

More Last Pickings

Yesterday I went out and picked a big bunch of spinach. These plants were planted in between my tomato plants in Spring as ground cover underneath them. This was an example of intercropping which seems to have worked well. The spinach suppressed any weed growth under the tomatoes, and now that the tomatoes have all been taken down because of blight, the spinach seems to have put on a growth spurt. Actually I pick two different pickings of spinach. One first picking of the outer leaves and the damaged leaves - to cook as a veggie supplement for my dog Buddy, and another picking for us humans!
I went out and picked this last lot of Vermont Cranberry Beans. These were seeds that I 'liberated' from George Washington's heritage vegetable garden at Mount Vernon, Washington. These are an ancient variety, from the Borlotti family, which date back to the 18th Century and which were the ingredient of the original Boston Baked Bean.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Eat The View

I came across a wonderful video clip whilst visiting Skippys Vegetable Garden. May I depart from my own veggies for one moment and bring your attention to a movement in the USA trying to encourage the next US President to turn at least part of the White House Lawn into a vegetable garden! Take a look at and the video clip. Enjoy!