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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Exotic Travels

I'm literally just off the plane from another of my exotic market expeditions.  This time to Istanbul and the famous Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Market.  Haggling over the price is the name of the game here.  This is just a taster of the wonderful sights yet to come.  More to follow.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Perfect Pollinators

 The bees and butterflies are just loving my garlic chive flowers at the moment.
 This Comma butterfly was very happy yesterday.  These flower heads have multiple flowers on one head so bees can pollinate many flowers at a time without having to fly to the next flower.
 I have observed that pollinating insects seem to prefer many vegetable flowers to flower flowers.
 I would encourage growers to leave a couple of veggies at the end of each row to go to seed for a few months for the sake of the bees.  Parsnips, beetroot, broccoli, leeks all produce wonderful flowers for pollinators.
 Meanwhile, I picked my biggest Beefmaster tomato yesterday. Not bad at 2lbs 6 oz... but the British record is over 5 lbs so I have a way to go to beat that!
My final tally of Winter squash is displayed here. They are being dried out and the skins 'cured' on a sunny windowsill indoors.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How to make Piccalilli

 It's that time of year again! One of my perennial favourites is this Piccalilli.  You need 6lbs of chopped veggies. One must-have ingredient is cauliflower, and most often with carrots, runner beans, onions and I use up a marrow (overblown courgette!) and some sweetcorn.  Soak the chopped veggies in brine overnight, then rinse and drain them.
 Bring 3 pints of clear distilled vinegar to the boil and add 4 teaspoons of dried ginger and 6 teaspoons of mustard powder and 9 oz white sugar.  Add the chopped veggies and simmer for 20 minutes.
 Lift out the cooked veggies with a slotted spoon and pack them into sterilized jars. Make sure they drain properly. Bring the vinegar syrup back up to a simmer.
 Make a thin paste from 4 teaspoons of dried turmeric powder and 2 tablespoons of flour.  Add the turmeric paste to the remaining hot vinegar and simmer it to thicken for about 2 minutes.
When the sauce is thickened, pour it on top of the veggies in the jars and using a knife just make sure any bubbles come to the surface before sealing the jars.  It should be ready in a couple of weeks.  Keeps for ages.  Great with cold meats and salad.. especially home made Scotch Eggs!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Green Tomato Chutney

 This is one of my favourite all time chutneys. Actually I still haven't finished all my spiced pumpkin chutney from last year's giant.  Green tomato chutney is sweet and tasty. Green tomatoes, apples and onions chopped up and sweated.
 A spice bag is indicated in the recipe, but I was given this wonderful spice packet to use.  It is made from the same heat resistant plastic or rubber that the baking sheets and tins are made from.
 Most recipes underestimate the amount of time needed to cook chutney. Mine said simmer for 30 minutes.. it was still watery liquid at that time.  I just keep an eye on it and stir regularly so the bottom doesn't catch. I made this in just about 2 hours.  White mustard seeds are added at the end.
The perfect accompaniment to cheese!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Crown Prince Squash

 Now all this Summer I had been thinking that all those volunteer pumpkins were Queensland Blue. But it is hard to keep track of which rambling vine belongs to which plant when they are busy rambling over each other, across paths, up drainpipes and into trees!  I have now come to the conclusion that these are Crown Prince Squash.  Still a wonderful Winter squash and a great keeper. They are a lighter, steely blue colour with a flattened round shape.
 Compare those to the real Queensland Blue which came out of a labelled packet. Darker blue-green with definite flat shoulders at the top. Still a brilliant Winter keeper. If the skins are cured well they will last all Winter and way beyond into next Summer.
So bring them indoors in a warm, dry, light place to harden up.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Eating Pumpkin Leaves

 I have been meaning to try this for ages.  Apparently it is quite common in Asia and Africa to cook and eat pumpkin leaves.  Not something I have ever heard of here in the UK, but yesterday I gave it a go!
 I chose the smaller, younger leaves that were at the end of the growing points.
 Definitely not the larger leaves... I might use those to wrap Christmas presents!!!
 So I picked a handful of young leaves...
 They were really clean, spotless... but I gave them a rinse anyway.
 Chopped them up and boiled them for about 10 minutes.
They were beautifully tender, lovely bright green colour, and the taste was lovely! Mild flavour probably a bit like Savoy cabbage but much more tender like spinach.   Well... not completely wonderful, the really off-putting thing about eating pumpkin leaves was the feel of all those little hairs and spines on the leaves... I could feel them inside my mouth as I was chewing and it felt hairy!!!  If I could find a hairless pumpkin leaf.. it would be a wonderful delicacy. Until then.. no thanks!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to Make Mozzarella Cheese

 With all my ripe tomatoes just waiting to be eaten, I've been buying lots of Mozzarella in the last few weeks until I found out just how easy it is to make at home.  If you Google 'How to make Mozzarella' there are lots of short films on just how to do that.
 You need to have Rennet and Citric Acid
 Then leave the milk to curdle at about blood heat and leave for 30 minutes. Cut the curds and heat a little more.

Now this next bit needs a bit more practice, but the curds have to be salted, heated more then kneaded and stretched into a smooth elastic dough... this almost happened but not quite.
It managed about half way there... still, it was delicious!...nb. this is not pink!.. the photo just came out that way!

Friday, September 06, 2013

Let There Be Light!

 I am just amazed at the number of Beefmaster tomatoes I have this year. A good half dozen of these giants on each plant, and yet more to come. So heavy on the vine that quite a few supporting sticks have snapped under the weight.
 I have been down and cut back most of the foliage to allow the sunlight on to the fruit in order that they might ripen fully.  They don't grow much this time of year, so don't need the energy from so many leaves. The tops of the plants and most of the foliage covering the fruit is now gone. You can see how many tomatoes on just one plant from this photo!
 The same is happening to these Alicante tomatoes. Normally these do better under glass in a British Summer but these have been spectacular outdoors here too. Off come the leaves and let the sunshine do its work on the fruit.
 All of my Queensland Blue squash plants were volunteers this year. They germinated from the kitchen compost I placed around the garden.  Here I put a barrow load in my runner bean trench back in Spring. You can see the runner bean arch on the right of the photo, but this one plant has run riot! I think it is trying to escape into a neighbour's garden. I have cut the growing points off each of the vines to help put energy into the fruit and not the leaves.
 The same applies to pumpkins and squashes. I remove as much foliage as I can in order to allow sunshine to ripen the fruit. In the case of these Queensland Blue Winter squashes, they keep much better throughout the Winter if they can develop a good ripe skin on the outside, sunshine really helps here. They have a lovely dense, dry texture like a sweet potato.
 These lovely Delica squashes from Seeds of Italy were ripe a bit earlier in the season.  These are good Winter keepers as well, so they have been up on a roof in the sunshine for a couple of weeks to ripen the skin and harden them off.
I left a few of these Lebanese Squash to grow large as well. They have a nice creamy colour to the skin, but I'm not sure at the moment if they keep well or not. Generally, the more watery the flesh (like a marrow or a courgette) the shorter the shelf life.