Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Harvest Monday - nuts! And Science!

I wanted to try out some of the hazels from the allotment - it's been a few weeks since I harvested them and they've got a nice full flavour now. So initially, as I had half a red cabbage left (bought from Folland Organics on Norwich Market) I thought I'd try the spiced cabbage recipe from last week, using hazels instead of chestnuts. Jan dutifully started cracking hazels whilst I chopped the red onion and cabbage etc. She amassed a nice little potful...
Then I started doubting myself, whether the flavour would work as well, so instead I added some frozen chestnuts to the cabbage, and cut all the hazels in half (photos aren't very good due to poor light).
And made one of my all time favourites - toasted hazels, yum yum yum. Simply toasted in a dry frying pan, they taste so good. The stash of stored hazels wasn't dented too much, so there's plenty more of these to be made. And the catkins for next year are already formed on the two allotment hazel trees, looking good too.
The internet is awash with photos of winter squash at the moment so I didn't want to miss joining in. These were assembled together on our sofa, from their current homes on various shelves and tables downstairs. The three big, long ones underneath are the green butternuts, surrounded by sweet dumpling (stripey), cream of the crop (pointy) and blue kuri. It's hard to tell the size here but the biggest squash is about 16lb (according to my bathroom scales). So a good number of meals coming from that lot. We'll be having friends round to watch Stranger Things on tv soon, and I can see us cooking a squash meal (or two or three).
Out in the lean-to greenhouse at home I picked most of the rest of the sweet peppers, which were almost all ripe. I'd noticed some little flecks had appeared on a couple and it turned out they had grubs inside, eating away at the peppers, urgh - the flecks were their poo I think, like caterpillars leave. Anyway, I managed to salvage quite a bit of pepper flesh so lucky I didn't leave it too much later to pick them.
We're still eating nice fresh salad leaves in our sandwiches. Today I picked most of the outdoor lettuce that was left - it can't be long until the first frost and they probably won't last past that. I also picked some more coriander and dill from the lean-to, which make a flavoursome combination. Then on top, are some sprouted lentils which I sprout in a jar on the windowsill then keep in the fridge once they've got to the right size. (Though I remember reading years ago that those sprouted in the dark produce different vitamins...I'll have to look that up and see if I remember rightly). The bread is delicious organic sourdough from Timberhill Bakery, double-yum.
I've been to loads of food related events this week! Most were being put on as part of the Norwich Science Festival. There were so many sciencey events and loads were free as well, which is always a bonus.
I didn't get many photos but a quick mention - Nicholas Crane (from 'Coast' TV prog) talked about man's impact on the British landscape, which as we know includes the effects of agriculture past and present. Professor Alice Roberts talked about our history of taming species, the first covering wolves / dogs and also included the (possibly accidental) development of agriculture. They both have books out about their respective themes, so there's some Christmas pressie ideas for you. Both these talks ended with a question about where modern agriculture will go next? My view is, bearing in mind that the soils are trashed, we're losing species and increasing carbon emissions, a hastening move towards regenerative agriculture needs to be on the cards. Ecological farming and soil building, here we come (hopefully).
I also saw Helen Sharman (Britain's first astronaut) who was an amazing speaker (as was Alice Roberts). Interestingly they both shared the view that the long term future of humans will rely on colonising other planets, as for example, if a huge asteroid came along we'd be in proper trouble (not their exact words). Hopefully no big asteroids are heading this way anytime soon then.
The last day of the Science Festival (yesterday) was actually 'food and agriculture' themed (other days were Nature, Engineering, Physics etc). First I went to a talk on soils, focusing on the battles between all the microorganisms happening without many of us noticing. There is so much life and diversity in a healthy soil, it's amazing.
On a lighter topic, Tim Kinnaird (finalist of MasterChef who now runs a macaron business in Norwich), explained the science behind making the perfect macaron, which is actually surprisingly sciencey. There were some samples afterwards which I *may* have tried (very yummy).
Ironically his show (where recipes involve a fair amount of butter and sugar) was followed by one on the positive effects of eating plenty of fibre in your diet, but hey, a little bit of macaron every now and then is ok, eh. The final talk I saw described the fungal problem affecting bananas - interestingly, even though there are over 1000 banana species, there is mainly just one grown for commercial export (the Cavendish) and it grows as a clone (no seeds as they have been bred out). So there are these genetically identical plantations across the tropics, at risk to the fungus, which is spreading about quite nicely. Whilst there are methods for minimising the risk of spreading the fungus (footwear hygiene for example), the scientist who gave the talk, Dr Sarah Schmidt, is looking for ways to combat the problem. One of the methods involves identifying soil bacteria which inhibit growth of the fungus...so we're back to the importance of soils again. She has a website where you can find out more if you're interested.
Also this week I've been to the pre-launch of Norwich FarmShare's exciting crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for their new site. I'll say more about that next week, after the proper launch. And tonight, this very evening, I've been to the Norfolk Organic Group's monthly talk, this time about growing potatoes.....also very interesting, and with the added bonus of taste-testing some delicious freshly baked potatoes of different varieties that members had brought in. What a lovely idea.
Finally, a shot through the larger polytunnel at Eves Hill Veg Co (not for profit market garden where I volunteer) from Wednesday. All the summer crops have now gone but look at that brilliant winter salad. Yes I still have polytunnel envy.

Thanks for reading this week, it was a long 'un. I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

(PS I wrote this on Monday evening but then had iPad issues, so am publishing Tuesday instead)



  1. Your weekend's talks sound really interesting and varied. Those of us who are "home growers" tend to focus heavily on soil health so it amazes me that commercially this seems not to have been a priority, so if this is changing it is certainly all for the better really.
    I am envious of your hazel nuts ... how on earth do you stop squirrels from getting to them first?

    1. Hi Kathy, yes I'm really pleased I went along to the talks. There were loads of activities for families too.
      I know, it's crazy isn't it. Soil has been seen as an inert substance that you add artificial fertilisers to, and kill all the life off with pesticides, whilst compacting it with heavy machinery. No wonder it's all blowing away in the wind or getting washed into rivers. Fortunately the tide is turning I think, and soil regeneration is becoming more mainstream. And there are methods even large agro-businesses can adopt (e.g. Cover crops). Personally I think we need more small / medium sized growers, supplying food to local communities. I just saw the news and a British dairy farmer is now exporting milk to China, and this was seen as something good, it's ridiculous.
      Ah, luckily the squirrels haven't discovered our allotment site yet so my hazels are safe for now, phew.

  2. What a great haul of squashes you have there! I would think you would get quite a few meals out of those. Yuck on the pepper grubs though. I've seen those a few times here. Your 'sciencey' things all sound interesting, but the soil talk sounds especially interesting to me. It's hard to look at soil the same way once you realize how much LIFE there is in it, at least in soil that is well taken care of.

    1. Thanks Dave.
      Yes, I knew there was a lot of life in healthy soil but didn't realise quite how diverse it is. The scientist was an expert in soil bacteria and was basically saying the variety even within bacteria of the same type is huge. And another interesting point was that bacteria are more concentrated around plant roots than in the soil 'bulk'. The 'good' bacteria can surround the plant roots and prevent the 'bad' bacteria getting to them. Plus various fungi attach to roots to increase the root surface area, increasing opportunities for nutrient uptake etc. There was a lot of detail and I wish I could remember it all!

  3. We haven’t had any hazelnuts this year - maybe some creature got to them before we did.

    1. Hi sue, ah that's a shame. Yeah could be a creature got to them. I'm not sure what affects nut production, I remember getting a trayful two or three years back, but then hardly any last year, then masses this year. If you have plenty of catkins forming hopefully that's a good sign for next year.