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)


Tuesday 24 October 2017

Harvest Monday - autumnal

Well, I was coming in late with this week's post as I'd spent yesterday evening peeling chestnuts. But then after writing the whole thing it disappeared, so this second time round I will be a bit more brief!
With all the strong winds, my remaining courgette plant looked worse for wear, so I picked the last few fruits rather than lose them to rot. The ends had gone a bit soft so I cut them off, but the rest was good.
One of my green butter nuts was later to grow and ripen than the others, and the end of it had started to rot (in the shed where I was curing it), so I cut that bit off, which still left a large fruit.
You can see where it wasn't cured properly yet, the flesh is pale at the stalk end still. It had a lovely sweet aroma though.
Yesterday I picked some chard and kale. These particular chard leaves were from plants which self germinated in the compost mulch around the raspberries. They're much more lush than other plants around the plot so just shows the benefit of a good mulch.
At home I bottled up the apple cider vinegar (simply apple peel, cores and water) that had been fermenting in large jars on the kitchen worktop. After straining off the solids, there were four bottles altogether- these two were actually a similar colour, it's come out a bit pink in the photo. They should darken over time too. The flavour is quite sweet as they were dessert apples. As you can see from the bottles, Jan has been enjoying an occasional G and T.
I'd bought a lovely organic red cabbage from Folland Oragnics on Norwich Market, so looked for recipes to combine it with sweet chestnuts, and found this one - score, roast and peel the chestnuts, slice the red onion and cabbage thinly (my own red onion), cook it down a bit with sugar and water and lots of spices, then add the chestnuts and chopped apple.
It took most of Sunday afternoon to make but luckily was very tasty!
I wanted to cook up the rest of the chestnuts yesterday and looked up an easier to peel method, and found this one - slice nuts, bring to a simmer in hot water, roast in oven and then put in a covered bowl to steam. It sounds faffy but was quite easy really, apart from all the peeling...I think the skins came off a lot easier with this method but I should have prepared them in smaller batches as there wasn't an even cook across the lot. I didn't get any photos either but the link above had some helpful instructions and pics.
Earlier in the week these peppers in the lean-to were still a bit green...
But by Saturday they'd fully ripened..
Such a nice colour...
After quartering them I sliced them and froze the slices across three freezer bags, for using later. Ideally I'd not use plastic bags but my freezer is pretty full and the bags were easy to squeeze in. I also need more of those glass tubs (well, Christmas is coming up, hint hint).
Also from the lean-to we've been enjoying winter salads, growing in the old tomato pots. The last few days we've had coriander leaf, winter purslane and sweet rocket in our sarnies.
Finally a shot of the smaller winter squashes, currently occupying the kitchen shelves...there are cream of the crop, sweet dumpling and blue kuri. Almost too pretty to eat but I'm sure I'll force myself. I'm planning on taking a pic of all the squashes together at some point, including the monsters but I'll have to shift things around. It'll be good to see them together though.

Thanks for reading, I'm linking in late with Harvest Monday, kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.


Monday 16 October 2017

Harvest Monday and a trip to the coast

I only took a smattering of veggie pics this week, but here they are...first up, some curly kale and Nero kale. I'm planning on spreading a bit of compost round the plants soon to give them a bit of a feed, as they've been in the ground for several months already.
From the lean-to greenhouse at home, I picked a couple of ripe sweet peppers. There are quite a few still to pick, so I just need to make sure they don't start rotting on the plants before I get round to harvesting them all. Maybe I'll freeze some of them.
These two went into a tasty pasta dish, mixed up with some basil pesto made from some of the plants which were being cleared from the smaller polytunnel at the market garden where I volunteer.
I finally got round to sorting out the potatoes that I'd lifted a while back, giving the lounge quite an earthy aroma for a while. At least I laid down some newspaper before tipping them out of the old compost bags they'd been temporarily stored in, in the kitchen, (which wasn't a great place, it was too warm and light, so a few had even started to sprout a bit, and it's those I'll use up first). The rest are now in a big paper sack in the brick shed outside, which keeps cold but frost-free.
Other harvests include daily pickings of salad leaves for our lunch sarnies, mainly lettuce and rocket at the moment. The lettuce outside is nearly finished but the more recently planted-out leaves in the lean-to are growing away quite nicely whilst the weather isn't too cold yet.
I always look forward to a bit of chestnut foraging in Autumn. The weather was forecast to be fine for most of today so a friend and I headed off to a couple of woods not too far away, along with her little girl (13 months old, awww). Well, it seems to be a good year for them, we collected a couple of tubs each without too much problem, and enjoyed a pleasant wander through the trees in dappled sunlight (this was before Norfolk caught the very edge the hurricane this evening - it's now cold and windy).
There was quite a spectacular sunset this evening though - completely underdone in this photo. In reality it was a lovely (or spooky) orangey glow (having gone completely dark from 4.30pm, then brightened up again)
Yesterday was another beautiful autumn day, so I caught the train up to Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast (people were actually swimming in the sea, it was so warm) and then swapped to the Coasthopper bus, along to Salthouse and Cley, for a very enjoyable walk - first heading inland a bit and then back to the coast for some birdwatching at the nature reserve.
View down to the marshes and sea.
Across the marshes, looking to Salthouse
Across the pools and reedbed, looking towards Cley
A lovely sound and sight - the pink footed geese are back for the winter, flying over the reserve in mid afternoon with their gentle 'wink wink' calls.
They were headed inland, maybe to feed on the arable fields?
Anyone interested in birds - I also saw marsh harriers, black tailed godwits, snipe, ruff (winter plumage), two kestrels (one of them had a bit of a 'to do' with a marsh harrier), lapwings, little egrets, plenty of different ducks (shelduck, widgeon, gadwall etc), curlew and more. Quite excitingly, I heard a water rail on the edge of a pond (they sound like a squealing piggy) and also Cetti's warblers. Oh and saw a grey seal swimming past the beach. And turnstones on the prom at Sheringham (they're always there, so cute). Not a bad day. My top money-saving tip for this journey (or similar trips to the coast) is to buy a 'bittern line day ranger' ticket at the train station, which is only £9 and includes all your train and Coasthopper bus journeys for the day...bargain.


Back to the veggies, I sowed my Autumn broad beans this week, and will plant out the garlic soon too. I have a few last winter squashes which I put in the allotment shed to cure, to bring home as well. Thanks for reading, I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday, kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.


Monday 9 October 2017

Harvest Monday - hanging on to summer veggies

Down at the allotment I had a pleasant surprise - my best courgette plant had pushed out another fruit. I was pleased I hadn't got round to clearing that bed yet! If we have a bit of decent weather (which is looking like a possibility later in the week) I might get another one too.
I podded a load of the blauhilde beans from the allotment - they look really lovely. I quite enjoy the podding, apart from when there's an unexpected manky bean inside (which doesn't seem to be indicated from the outside of the pod so not sure what causes it).
I ended up with a nice big bowlful that I made into a stew which lasted several meals.
I've been clearing the bed where I'll be planting Autumn broad beans, and in the process harvested a load of self-sown rainbow chard that would otherwise be in the way. I love the brightly coloured stems (the yellowy photo doesn't do them much justice) -
And a nice amount of leafage too. I added the chopped stems and leaves to the bean stew as well. The fiddly thing is making sure you've got rid of all the tiny baby snails that have been making their home in the chard. I find them wandering off round the kitchen.
The baby snails have been enjoying the kale leaves as well. Here's some that escaped the munching. I've made an effort to weed around the kale now, to reduce the hidey places for the snails. I've also been sorting out my compost bays and last year's leafmould pile, starting to cover the beds with protective mulch for the winter. The worms will do their work, taking the goodness into the soil without the need to dig it or even fork it in, which has many benefits that I won't go into right now.
I've had a huge crop of apples this year from my four dwarf trees - in particular the Charles Ross eaters (which were huge) and these Caroline dual-purpose (which are actually quite sweet too) - several colanders of these alone. My other two trees did pretty well (Katy and Discovery) but they needed harvesting and eating a while back. I'll make sure to give all the trees and fruit bushes a good layer of mulch too. I've stored a couple of trays of the Carolines in the shed (with each apple wrapped individually in paper).
At home I've finished clearing all the tomato plants from their pots in the lean-to greenhouse, and the remaining toms are slowly ripening together. I've brought this tub inside now as it gets so cold at night (and sometimes during the day).
So, in the ex-tomato pots I've been planting out previously sown winter salady things, like winter purslane (here with some self-sown corn salad from the allotment). I also have sweet rocket, mizuna and coriander, plus dill and a couple of other things that were spares from Eves Hill Veg co where I volunteer. So it's nice to see the lean-to still providing some food despite the change in seasons (I still have a bit of lettuce outside in the garden too).
And the sweet peppers in the lean-to are doing ok too, continuing to ripen slowly as well. I also picked a couple of green ones that were showing signs of damage. Unfortunately I lost a nice big one that I hadn't noticed was rotting on the plant.
I was going to head to the allotment today but it was a bit drizzly on and off, so I cleared some of the beans from the back garden instead, inbetween showers. I had a problem earlier this spring with weevils emerging from last-year's saved borlotti beans, so didn't actually have that many to sow, but ended up with a reasonable amount from half a wigwam of beans. I'll pod and cook-up the fresher beans, and save the drier pods for sowing next year (keeping a closer eye out for weevils).
The beans are lovely, they remind me of mini camouflaged birds eggs.
I grew some more blauhilde up the fence behind the wigwam, and they looked about right to harvest aswell - more podding required.
There were a few that could be eaten as flat beans, plus in the other bed the runner beans had a handful of nice ones too.
Out at Eves Hill Veg Co this week (not-for-profit market garden where I volunteer), the two polytunnels are also reflecting the change of seasons, with cucumber and tomato plants being cleared for winter salads. They're looking really healthy.
And some of the winter squashes are curing inside too. We harvested the remaining crown prince, which was a fun treasure hunt, spotting the delicious fruits amongst the underlying clover green manure. There are still lots of the small sweet dumpling squashes to harvest, which we'll get this week.
In the smaller polytunnel the basil is just about coming to an end so we each took some bunches home to make a tasty pesto. I combined mine with toasted walnuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Ooh that reminds me, I have foraged a few walnuts from a tree near the allotment....I've had my eye on the young tree for a few years, waiting for it to start producing nuts. I'll have to see if there's actually anything inside the shells.
Back to the polytunnel - some lovely salad plugs that will fill the rest of the beds once the summer crops are all finished. Yum.

So there's still plenty going on. I'm hoping to get my garlic and broad beans planted out on the allotment this week, and continue clearing beds and mulching, plus collecting leaves for next year's leaf mould. I didn't get round to creating new strawberry beds, so I might take a look at the old ones, and see if I can at least take out some of the older plants.


Thanks for reading this week, I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.