Allotment Glut – Strawberry Time

My first strawberry of the summer.

IMG_5018

It’s never long before I have more strawberries than I can easily cope with. In the last week I have picked about 6kg from our badly overgrown strawberry patch. They grow despite me, not because of me.

IMG_5095

I have no idea what variety they are but they don’t keep very well and actually, they don’t have the best flavour when eaten ‘raw’. They make good jam though and I have some steeping in sugar ready to make strawberry conserve later today.

Last week while the country was enjoying a 30C heatwave was NOT the time for making jam. Instead I decided to go back to a recipe I haven’t made for a very long time – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s strawberry granita. Since I bought a mouli attachment for my Kenwood mixer this recipe has become even easier – no more pressing all the fruit through a sieve. Last time I made this I did as the recipe suggested and froze it all together, serving it by scraping it into piles of red crystals with a fork. That got a bit tedious after a while though so this time I froze the mixture into ice lolly moulds and the first batch has disappeared already.

Here is what to do. Mash and sieve (or put in your mouli) 1kg of hulled strawberries. Mix in 200g of icing sugar and the juice of a lemon. That’s it. Just freeze the mixture in whichever way you prefer.

IMG_5070

Of course, you then have the challenge of getting the lollies OUT of the moulds. I’ve been dipping mine, briefly, into a cup of boiling water and then squashing them gently. That seems to have worked.

Today I made a second batch of this mixture. Despite buying a second set of lolly moulds I still had a bit of strawberry juice left over.

IMG_5097

It made an awesome milkshake. Just what the doctor ordered for my littlest person who is at home with a raging temperature. Since strawberries are very high in vitamin C it might just help to fight off whatever virus is bugging him.

IMG_5096

Advertisements

The best and easiest ice cream ever

strawberry ice creamThis recipe came from my sister-in-law and like most of the recipes we use in this house, it is quick, easy and adaptable. For the basic ice cream you will need:

Half a pint of double cream

400g tin of condensed (sticky) milk

Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Be careful that you don’t over whip the cream as it can turn to butter in the blink of an eye. Fold the condensed milk into the cream and freeze.

That is it. No churning or mixing. Just freeze.

Now, the fun thing about this recipe is that you can flavour it in so many ways. My sister-in-law usually adds crushed crunchy bars to her ice cream so that was one of the first additions we tried. The combination of smooth ice cream and sweet, crispy, toasted sugar is delicious. Here are some of the other variations we have tried.

Chopped up After Eight mints (a bit like eating the mint Vienetta of my 80’s youth)

Chopped caramel bars (not so good – the caramel is too sticky).

Rum and raisin. The raisins were soaked in warm rum first and then folded in. Delicious.

Lemon curd. I think The Husband mixed some lemon curd right into the cream and he also  added some lemon ‘ripples’. Also delicious

Strawberry jam. As lemon, above and just as successful.

You can also adapt this recipe to use up excess fruit. For example, I’ve harvested over 15kg of strawberries in the last two weeks. We’ve been enjoying eating them on breakfast cereal, with clotted cream and scones and in smoothies but mainly, I’ve been making jam. However, one of my batches of jam never quite made it to the setting stage so I sieved it using my new/old vintage Kenwood mouli attachment and used it in a batch of ice cream. You could get a similar effect by using fresh strawberries. In fact, I used this recipe a few years ago and it was very good. It’s the same basic recipe as I got from my sister-in-law.

If I ever get around to picking the many gooseberries in our allotment I may try that variation too.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with this recipe. It’s not exactly healthy, but you only need a little bit of it for a very indulgent treat.

P.S. It’s too good for children.

 

Slug Paradise

We may not be enjoying the wet summer but the weeds and pests are. When the weather is bad, it’s easy to let your gardening duties slip. Unfortunately that has happened in our allotment. The Husband spent the day on Saturday trying to get to grips with the lush growth that has sprung up. I hope that you can see the fruits of his labours in these photos.

Our salad leaves and beetroot can be seen at the front of this ‘after’ picture. I don’t understand why some of them have bolted? I always thought bolting was a result of lack of water. How ironic that I planted them next to our water butts to ensure they could be well looked after. I suspect our water butts have been overflowing this year.

The tall yellow flowers in the first picture are parsnips that have gone to seed. I’m quite surprised that he cut them down because the insects love them and we’re suckers for bees and hoverflies. The daisies and dark red flowers (hollyhocks?) are in Son Number One’s patch. They do look pretty, even if they are a bit floppy and wild.

I think you can see the most dramatic change here. The patch of purple sprouting broccoli (psb for short) has finally been cleared. I’m really disappointed that we didn’t eat more of it. I discovered that psb and not wheat was what was giving me major stomach aches. I wonder if a different variety would be less difficult to digest? I love psb so if you’ve got an answer, please let me know. The bed next to our greenhouse has strawberries in it. As usual, they have produced lots of fruit, but sadly, most of it has rotted. The chap who does gardening at my children’s school told me he put his strawberries in pots this year so the fruits don’t touch the ground. Very wise. How did he know it was going to be such a wet year? I don’t think I will be making strawberry jam this year. To the left of the greenhouse are my onions that are still doing well. We consciously chose to plant more of these this year as they are so low maintenance. Potatoes and onions grow without needing the love that seedlings do and they don’t need much processing when they are harvested.

We have had some successes this year. The tough, perennial plants that can thrive despite an onslaught of slugs and a lack of sunshine are doing really well. Above are our globe artichokes. They are producing lots of lovely heads that are crying out to be preserved in oil. Just another ‘to do’ job to add to the list.

Finally, the soft fruit bushes are growing well, particularly the gooseberries. I have lot of plans for these. Hopefully, that will be my next post….

 

Allotment update

As usual, I seem to be getting very little time in the allotment. The last time I managed to do any work in it was a quick spell of weeding a couple of weeks ago. I pass our plot on my way back from Tumble Tots so it seemed like a perfect opportunity. Babykins was worn out from his tumbling and snoozed in his pushchair while I worked. This week, with the weather being so perfect, I decided to actually plan to stop on the way back. I set out with snacks at the ready. Typically, the boy decided to stay awake this week so my gardening has been postponed. Never mind, I’ll share the pictures I took last night when I sneaked out for half an hour.

It’s very pleasing to turn up and find that your seeds have germinated. I suppose that’s the benefit of not visiting regularly, you see more progress. Below are my peas, all three double rows have sprouted and look remarkably weed free.

The next two pictures are chard and spinach respectively. Not quite as weed free. I was hoping that by now I might have fixed that. Maybe I can sneak out again later?

I wish I could get a better picture of our strawberry patch. There are masses of flowers so I am looking forward to another bumper crop.

The gooseberries are swelling nicely. Last year I didn’t manage to pick them all and the birds had a lot of them. Must do better in 2012. I did make some fabulous gooseberry ice cream from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe. Fingers crossed we will have enough for another batch this year.

The raspberries are starting to flower…

and do I detect a hint of colour on the currants?

The globe artichokes are growing into all their leafy, statuesque glory. This must be at least their third year so it will be interesting to see what kind of a crop we get. We don’t do anything to them so they are produce for no effort.

If only the same could be said for all the stuff we grow.

Digging Days

We are starting to feel a mild panic about the state of our allotment. We have not spent anything like enough time in it this year. The beds are slowly getting turned over and dug but really, this is work that should be done in winter.

A few weeks ago I managed to plant a few rows of potatoes and two beds full of onions.

Son Number One and the Husband worked on the strawberry patch.

The first batch of seeds finally went in today: beetroot, chard, spinach, rocket and mixed lettuce. They should provide us with a crop, it will just be a bit later than it could have been.

Every year I promise myself that I will be planting rows of early peas in February but it never happens. Every year I persuade myself that I am too busy looking after the house and the children. Am I just looking for an excuse? I beat myself up with thoughts that if we were starving, I would make sure I was out there digging, hoeing and planting. Is that a bit mad?

I think the truth lies somewhere between laziness and lack of time. I must confess that I rarely even think about working in the garden during the winter months. As soon as spring starts to make an appearance, I really should make more of an effort. The trouble is, gardening and supervising a toddler don’t really mix. You might get away with it in a fairly tidy, safe back garden but not in our allotment where there are masses of uneven surfaces, sharp corners and nettles-a-plenty. I can’t turn my back on him for a moment. Not only are there dangers, but he is still of the opinion that he needs to test most things by putting them in his mouth. Lovely.

It’s not just toddlers you can’t turn your back on. Forget about a garden during April and this is what you will find when you go back.

So today, with Babykins safely playing at Grandmas house (and the other two next door with friends), the Husband and I got going with the digging and weeding. We had a bit of help from Son Number One later in the afternoon. He is starting to get useful. He managed to ride his scooter safely from his Grandmas house to the allotment, bringing our packed lunch with him. He enjoyed doing some ‘destructive gardening’. The photo below shows his efforts digging out the purple sprouting broccoli that is starting to go to seed.

There is always some interesting bug life to be found. I have no idea what this is. Son Number One pronounced it to be “Some sort of mini beast”. It was rather shiny and beautiful so I will be sad if I find out that it contains a garden pest.

There were plenty of ladybirds around today. Though I like seeing them I’m never really sure if this is a good thing. After all, if there are plenty of ladybirds surely that means there are plenty of pests around for them to eat. Still, I can’t help but think they are a cheery sight.

Another cheery sight was to be seen amongst our soft fruit. With very little effort from us, the gooseberries and redcurrants are starting to swell. You may also have noticed the strawberry flower above (with the ladybird). How exciting to think that in a couple of months they will be juicy, red fruits, ready to turn into quick desserts, ice cream and jam.

Now that I have bought myself the appropriate bowl, I might even get around to a summer pudding this year.

Remember the rhubarb patch I posted a picture of back in February. Back then it was mainly full of buds and promise. Now it is in all it’s leafy glory and we have enjoyed roasted rhubarb for our pudding for the last two nights. The Husband is even having it on his morning muesli.

We are lucky to have a babysitter on standby most of the time. Even more lucky that said babysitter can (mostly) cope with three children at once. I think it helps that the babysitter also enjoys the fruits of our labours in the allotment. She has been feasting on the purple sprouting broccoli and rhubarb over the last few weeks too.

Hopefully after our efforts today (and possibly tomorrow) there will be a few more things to tuck into when the summer arrives.