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

Friday, October 30, 2009

An Indian Summer?

London has been enjoying some unseasonably warm weather in the last few days. Almost up to 70degrees at times, which has encouraged my Autumn sown Isle of Wight Garlic to show its shoots! Just enough warmth encourages the seed clove to put down roots and send up a shoot. I think I will cover the patch with a bit of fleece in Winter just to keep the worst of the weather off. Meanwhile indoors I have given pride of place to my lovely red Rouge vif D'etamps pumpkin. Ted Senior has been keeping an eye on it too!
Once every 5 weeks I get a half day from work, and whilst in central London I have been playing 'Tourist in my own Town' resolving to visit London landmarks I have not seen for 40 years. I am only a stones' throw from some world class attractions so why not join the masses.
Westminster Abbey just seems a lot smaller inside than you imagine.
Poets Corner, Newton's Tomb, the Coronation chair (minus the stone of scone) well worth a visit.
Then my legs took me to St Pauls Cathedral where I climbed up hundreds of steps to the Whispering Gallery, then up another hundred or more steps to the stone gallery viewing point, then up another hundred or so steps to the gold gallery right at the top. From here you can see all round London. Pictured above is the Central Criminal Court otherwise known as the 'Old Bailey' you can just about see the sword of truth in her right hand and the scales of justice in her left.
You can get a good view of the Millenium footbridge across the Thames. Fondly known as the 'wobbly bridge' after some engineering resonance problems shortly after opening!
Now, boys and girls.... this last picture is of the steps of St Pauls... Think... Mary Poppins... and a certain song should come into your head!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Last Pickings!

This small helping will be savoured and appreciated like no other. These are the last pickings from the garden. Just a few sheltered tomatoes remain outside and now is the time to pick the last ones as we are having a bit of a frost most nights now. A late starter was the Dixie Golden Giant tomato and the Great Wall of China took their time to get going as well. Always a good idea to have some earlies and lates to eeek out the season. Sungold were the best, the earliest as well as the latest! Cream Sausage tomatoes were fun, and Chocolate Cherry are a must keep. Now all we have are horrible, insipid supermarket tomatoes until next June...sigh!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bulgarian Giant Leeks!

I dug my first Bulgarian Giant Leeks today. I am very pleased with the final result. These are about an inch thick and the shaft of the biggest ones is nearly 3 feet long, add a couple of feet on to that for the green leaves and that is definitely a giant leek! I saw them in the Dobies catalogue last Autumn and thought they might be a bit of fun. These I will definitely grow again next year. I didn't look after them as well as I might have, so who knows, with a giant helping of well rotted manure and much more rain and watering than we had this Summer - who knows how much bigger they might grow next year?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Having an Appley Weekend!

It really is an apple extravaganza of a weekend! At the RHS Wisley they are having a Taste of Autumn festival to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the first Bramleys Seedling apple. Of course, no Autumn show would be complete without a spectacular display of pumpkins and squash. Every conceivable variety you could think of, and experts on hand to answer any veggie questions.
You can see the lovely pale blue Crown Prince squash in the foreground, and the unmistakable Turks Turban squash below.
A veritable feast for the eyes and gives me ideas of which varieties I might like to grow in the future.
The Autumn show at Wisley also offers a free apple identification service, you take along at least 3 apples from a tree and the expert will identify the variety for you. This is no mean feat when there are thousands of apple varieties to chose from.
For Matron, no trip to Wisley is complete without a stroll through the fruit orchard. All those windfall apples...seems a shame to leave them there... a few may or may not have been 'liberated' from their fate! This is my favourite place to be at this time of year!
A few of these windfalls did make their way back home with Matron!
Finally, not to be outdone, my local fruit orchard Home Cottage Farm had their open day yesterday. Local producers and growers must be supported, so I did. These are the last of an amazing crop of Cox's apples. A real testament to the reasons why you must eat fruit and veg which are produced in season, and not stored in a refrigerator for 6 months then transported round the other side of the world. These apples were heavenly!

Friday, October 16, 2009

HHot Hot HHorseradish!

Horseradish is one of the easiest crops to grow down on the allotment. In fact, you don't have to do anything to it, nothing at all. The only snag comes when you come to dig it up this time of year to find that horseradish roots can go feet down into the ground and you have to dig a big hole to get a decent sized root. Peel and chop your horseradish root.
I implore you to use an electric chopper, and keep the lid firmly on. The fumes from chopped horseradish will cause you PAIN!
I used every precaution, held the bowl at arms length and held my breath for as long as possible, but still ended up with a painful face full of tears!
Can you imagine grating this by hand???
Add soured cream to the grated horseradish and you have the most wonderful, wonderful accompaniment to roast beef. I just LOVE mixing horseradish with cold cooked beetroot, those flavours were just made for each other. Do you have any ideas for foods which go well with horseradish? Matron would like to hear from you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quince Cheese

No, this has nothing at all to do with dairy products or cheese as you usually know it. A fruit cheese is a fruit desert made with pectin rich fruit such as damsons, plums or quinces. I have never made it before, I am quite pleased with the results. A crucial aspect of the quince is that it is extremely pectin rich. Pectin is a protein which helps set jams and chutneys. Quince seeds are especially rich in pectin so they are an essential part of this recipe. Wash and chop the quinces and just cover in water, add some lemon juice and bring to a simmer for about 40 minutes until quite soft. I left this cooked quince overnight to cool before sieving out the pips and the skins until I had a thick puree. For each pint volume of puree you will need to add one pound of sugar. This recipe reduces down considerably so you will want to start with 2 or 3 pints of puree.
Then simmer slowly,
Stirring constantly,
For about 3 hours,
Or as long as it takes to draw the spoon across the bottom of the pan and still see the bottom of the pan, that can be an awful long time! Then pour the very thick, ruby red paste into a pan which has been greased with oil or glycerin.
Then leave overnight to set. You should be able to turn this out onto greaseproof paper and cut into squares or diamonds. Sprinkle caster sugar over them and dry for a further 24 hours.
This should be kept in an airtight tin, eaten as an after dinner treat or snack. I will keep mine in individual small cake/muffin cases.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Autumn Colours

Although lots of fruit and veggies are dying back this Autumn, there are some stunning colours on show in Matron's garden. I am torn between leaving these lovely crabapples on the plant to cheer up the garden, or to pick them and make some jelly. That's a tough decision. This Swiss Chard will continue to provide colour right the way through Winter and into Spring next year. I have planted a Rainbow Lights selection so I also have yellow, orange and white chard.
This is one of the flowers on my Jerusalem Artichokes. Most of them are 12 feet up in the air on top of the tall stems, but here is one nearer the ground. I look forward to digging them up later, after a frost has sweetened them a bit more.
I am looking forward to enjoying this Lemon/Lime cross on Christmas Day with my gin and tonic!
A small show of my greenhouse chilli Numex Twilight. These little finger chillis are fiery hot and come in a rainbow of different colours which ripen to red.
Which one of us does not have a maze of spider webs all over the place at the moment, they are beautiful if you look closely.
We've had a bit of a warm spell in London over the past few weeks so these runner beans that I am saving for seed have started to produce more beans! These will be left on the vine as long as possible to produce seeds for next year.
The last colour in this lovely Autumn display is........
White with black spots!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Matron's Naughty Vegetables!

I told you I couldn't grow carrots! Do you remember that a few weeks ago I gave Buddy a DNA breed test? I was curious to find out what breeds were in the mix... to make this fine fellow. Well, the results are in. They are shocking! Apparently he is 75% German Shepherd, 25% Border Collie....and wait for it...
25% DALMATIAN!......
I nearly fell off my chair! then I found some spots!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Quince Identification

Whilst out on a foraging expedition 'somewhere in England' recently I came across these fruit, just waiting to be picked. They are most certainly from the quince family, I was thinking that they were Japonica or Japanese quince? they appear to be round, apple shaped quince as opposed to pear shaped quince. I had a look on the internet last night and I'm not sure, there are lots of varieties. They are destined for the cooking pot, quince jelly, quince cheese and even a few slices to jazz up an apple pie. Does anyone out there have any ideas as to which variety these are? Update on the sloe gin... after just one day the colour is starting to come out of the sloes. Each day the bottles are gently agitated to help dissolve the sugar. The colour will gradually deepen to a dark cherry.... by about Christmas time... I think.
Now, hold on to your hats... I must make it clear once more, dear readers, that Matron does not do flowers - because you can't eat flowers. Having said that, I have been growing some ginger in pots in the greenhouse and I thought you might like to smell these! These ginger roots I brought back these ginger lillies from the island of Madeira a few years ago. The variety is Hedychium Gardnerianum for those that are interested. The perfume is just completely wonderful at the moment. The whole greenhouse is filled with a heady, tropical perfume! I just go in there for long periods and breathe deeply. Ahhhhh!
Well... ginger is edible, after all!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sloe Gin and Garlic!

Yesterday I managed to obtain a big bag full of sloes! A wonderful friend found a plentiful supply at a secret location 'somewhere in England' and went out to pick some for me. I put them in the deep freeze overnight to help bring out the sugar content. Armed with a plentiful supply of cheap, duty free gin I set to work this afternoon making 4 bottles of sloe gin. This will not be ready for tasting until about Christmas, and will be properly ready in about 6 months to a years' time. Well worth the wait! It has a wonderful but more grown up taste of cherry brandy.
Perfect timing down on the patch yesterday, I managed to dampen and break up enough of my dry, hard soil to plant my collection of Isle of Wight garlic. We have had no rain for weeks and the soil is difficult to work at the moment.
Today however, we had the first rain in ages! perfect timing.
I'll keep a close eye on them over Winter and look forward to a harvest next year. Fingers crossed for this time, I do not have a good track record with garlic!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Blighty Potatoes

It's not all bad news by any means! I have a lovely clump of garlic chives which is flowering and setting seed right now. Garlic chives are a flatter version of regular onion chives, they are lovely in a salad or a potato salad.
A few weeks ago I chopped the tops off all my Sarpo Axona potatoes as there were the first signs of blight. I have left the whole row in the ground and it has been completely dry here for the last few weeks, I thought I would lift them. Only a couple of potatoes had been blighted. Here you can see the inside of the potato has gone creamy yellow and very soft. The smell is horrible, a sort of rotting drains smell!
Happily, all the other potatoes appear fine. I dried them thoroughly in the sunshine for a couple of hours and put them in paper sacks in the dark garage. I will check them every couple of weeks but I'm sure they will be fine. These Sarpo Axona potatoes are 'blight resistant' so I can only imagine that another variety would have been blighted much more.
Finally, I dug up a bit of a horseradish root this week. We have had no rain here for quite a few weeks and it has been warm and sunny. The ground was like concrete and I was only able to dig down about a foot. Nevertheless, this will make lovely hot, hot sauce!
Thank heavens for blenders and food processors nowadays. Can you imagine using a hand grater to make horseradish sauce! Please don't even think about trying that!