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, November 23, 2015

How to Dry Chillis

 These are the last few chillis that I have been ripening.  Now that we have just had our first frost of the year here in London, I brought these inside to dry. The two varieties I have here are Joe's Long and the wonderful Spaghetti Chillis.
 Chillis have a shiny, waxy coating that makes it difficult to dry them without access to the inside of the fruit. It is much easier to just snip open the chillis with a pair of scissors in order to speed up the drying process.
 So I lined them up on a baking the very bottom of the oven at the coolest setting.  I had a gas temperature which showed 1/2 at the start of the dial.  So leave them at the bottom of the oven to dry out.  This may take several hours.
 When they are completely dry they will be crispy. What a gorgeous ruby colour.
 If they are not completely dry it will be difficult to dry to a chilli powder and it will not store well. If it is at all damp it will deteriorate and go mouldy in storage.
 So I snipped them into a coffee grinder
and this natural chilli powder should last me a little while. Actually I have developed a bit of a chilli habit.. so I add it to most things nowadays.

Friday, November 20, 2015

How to Compost Leaves

 It is that time of year when you see piles of fallen leaves blowing around.  You can make good compost from them, but it is not quite as straightforward.  If you just pile up bags of dry, brown leaves then it really won't work.  Tree roots go deep into the ground and consequently they draw up all sorts of beneficial nutrients and minerals into the leaves, but the nutrients are not easily broken down without a knowledge of decomposition.  Like all compost you have to have a mixture of brown (carbon) and green ( nitrogen), as well as water and air.
 So the ideal way of collecting leaves is to put them on the lawn and then run a lawnmower over them.  Brown leaves have a woody substance called lignins, this makes them hard and woody and quite difficult to break down.  So if  you scrunch or chop the leaves with a lawn mower AND add fresh green grass clippings this is an ideal start for composting.  If you don't have any grass clippings this time of year then you can mix leaves with fresh horse manure to add nitrogen.
 I piled mine in some heavy duty bags, making sure they are well ventilated and moistened.  I will leave them in a shady corner of the garden all Winter and see if the worms can help turn it into compost.
Here's some I made earlier!   Looking forward to building my new raised beds next Spring.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Syrup

 Here's a lovely seasonal idea for using up extra pumpkin that you might have left over at home.  Those very expensive spice syrups that you get in your coffee are just so easy to make.  Here's an idea about how to make your own Pumpkin Spice Syrup.  You will need an equal quantity of sugar and water. So start with 1 cup of sugar (you can use brown sugar for additional taste), 1 cup water. Very gently bring the sugar to disolve over a gentle heat then add Cinnamon sticks, cloves, ground ginger and ground nutmeg. These are the traditional spices for pumpkin pie.  I then also added star anise and some vanilla extract.
 Just let it simmer very slowly for about 5 minutes until the spices have infused into the syrup.  I did find that ground spices work better here but you can use whole spices as well.  Add 2 tablespoons of cooked pumpkin puree and very slowly simmer for a few more minutes.
 This will be quite a thick and sticky mixture, but leave it to cool just a little but it must still be hot when you pour it into a jelly bag to strain the syrup out.
 The syrup doesn't come out easily and you will have to squeeze the bag gently to get most of the syrup out.  I don't think you will manage to get it all out, it is quite difficult so be happy with getting just most of it out.
This syrup tastes amazing! Use it to flavour your coffee, pour on pancakes, ice cream, stewed apple, porridge... anything you like. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce

 I had quite a few of these Joe's Long Cayenne chillis to use up.  The wonderful thing about growing this variety is the sheer volume of chillis produced on each plant.  These chillis didn't get quite enough light or heat this growing year so they are not super hot, but just warm enough to keep the cold out!  I thought I would share this Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce recipe.
 1" of peeled and chopped ginger root, 1 small red pepper, 1/2 cup white or cider vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 tabs fish sauce, 2 tabs sherry, 3 cloves garlic, 1 tab cornflour.  I used about this quantity of chillis as shown in the picture, but you can estimate by volume how much you want to use.
That's what the recipe said, but you can substitute fish sauce for light soy sauce, sherry for something like madeira or port, I used jam sugar for just a little extra pectin.  I also used arrowroot instead of cornflour for thickening.
 A food processor or chopper is really necessary to chop the chilli, ginger, garlic and pepper quite finely. I used some of the fish sauce to help it blend smoothly.
 Add the vinegar, sugar and other liquids and bring to a gentle boil for about 5 mins, stirring just to gently cook through the peppers and chilli.  Thin the cornflour with a little cold water and then add gradually to the chilli mix until you get the thickness you desire.  I prefer it to still pour out of the bottle, but you may prefer a thicker set like jelly or jam - its up to you.
    Pour into sterilized jars, close the top lightly and then steam the bottles in a bath of simmering water with the lid on for another 30 minutes in a large saucepan and then tighten up the lids before cooling.  This will help sterilize the sauce so it keeps for much longer.
This quantity only makes about 2 or 3 small jars, so you can double up the ingredients for more. Experiment with different types of chilli, this one isn't as hot as it might be but it is perfect for me.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Colossal Leeks

 I've been drying out a leek seed head from one of my Heritage leeks 'Colossal'.  Not many of this variety around nowadays,  in fact, it is in need of preservation at the Heritage Seed Library. I love letting leeks go on for a second year, and when they flower the bees just love them!  I love to let quite a few veggies go to flower to encourage the pollinating insects, and all of the onion family are a favourite.
 So I cut this seed head just before I left my old garden and brought it home with me to dry out thoroughly.
 You can see that each little flower on the head dries to a seed pod which contains 3 or 4 tiny little black seeds.
 Now I understand why some seed is just so expensive!  In this case I can't think of a mechanical way to separate the chaff from the seed.  Since most commercial seed sold in the UK is grown and produced abroad (mostly China) I assume they employ cheap labour to do what I spent yesterday afternoon doing!
So I have quite a good quantity of this 'Colossal' heritage leek seed to give away.  It needs sharing so this old variety is not lost forever.  It is a brilliant, healthy leek that stands well over Autumn and Winter.  If you want some seed, then please contact me via email giving me your name and address and I will send you some!