Early PSB

Over the past few weeks I have been watching my early PSB (purple sprouting broccoli) just develop day by day. Nature is truly fascinating because since the Winter solstice 21st December the days have been getting longer and the plants are definitely reacting to this! In the past 10 days the lead shoot on my early broccoli has doubled in size!! It amazes me that plants are just so sensitive to brightness and daylength. This variety is an extra early PSB called 'Rudolph' which is usually ready to harvest in January (that's tomorrow!) I also have a few plants of standard PSB which should be ready in March so I should have a good succession of fresh Broccoli until Summer now!
Even the side shoots are starting to show now. I am thinking that when I do decide to cut off the lead shoot then the side shoots will start to grow more quickly.
I am salivating at the thought of a plate full of freshly steamed PSB !! Happy New Year everyone!

Mid Winter Veggies

So, Christmas day came and I was out on the patch to see what I could dig up for Christmas dinner. You can just see the neck of this parsnip 'hollow crown' peeking up above the surface of the soil. Excitement builds... what will it be like? Not that bad! I grow my veggies on heavy London clay soil which I have worked and enriched for the last 25years. Not really light enough for really good root vegetables, they prefer sandy soil. My parsnips were shallow and forked, but enough for a satisfying feed.
Other veggies I picked were some leeks. Quite small this year, not really a good Summer and I think I planted them a bit late, but still very tasty. And Jerusalem artichokes 'fuseau' which made a great addition to the plate.
Boxing day was a fantastic sunny, cold day so I went out and enjoyed a whole day's digging and tidying up! Isn't it great to get out there and blow out the cobwebs. I turned over my compost heap and mulched my rhubarb with a thick layer of compost! So satisfying to get a good day of work done down on the allotment!

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone out there in blogland a Merry Christmas! On Christmas Day I will be digging up a few parsnips, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes. Christmas dinner wouldn't be Christmas dinner without fresh veggies! Bon Appetit!!

A Traditional Caribbean Christmas Drink

Gosh! I love new experiences and new discoveries along the fruit and veggie line! I was visiting my usual West Indian fruit and veggie shop this week when I saw these strange red fruit for sale. I was told that it was 'Sorrel' - hmmm. A discussion then followed, I know sorrel to be a green leafy herb like spinach that you make into a sauce and serve with fish... er no, not this one! This sorrel is prepared from the red sepals of the Roselle plant (hibiscus sabdariffa). Traditionally available at Christmas it is used all over the Caribbean to make a Sorrel Drink. From the recipes I have found, it looks as if you pour boiling water over them, adding spices such as ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and oranges and lots of sugar. Leave this mixture to steep for a couple of days. This sweet drink can be drunk chilled with ice, but can also be laced with quantities of Caribbean rum.... looks like I might be having a merry Christmas after all!

Lifting and Dividing Rhubarb

It is at this time of year that you can maintain your rhubarb plants. Under the soil you will find a hard woody mass which contains the crowns, or buds for next year's crop. Rhubarb needs a good frosty period in order to ripen the crowns and produce a good crop. A good hard frost is just what it needs. Rhubarb is a greedy feeder and needs lashings and lashings of compost and manure. Here you will see that I have dug up a clump of about 4 or 5 crowns to give to my friend Stan for his veggie garden. Rhubarb does tend to get a bit tired and congested if you don't lift and divide your crowns every few years or so. It gives them a new lease of life.
This variety is Timperley Early. Once you have lifted and separated some new crowns and re-planted them, you must allow the plant a whole year to recover and you must not pick any rhubarb the following Summer. Then after one year you can start to pick sparingly. After about 3 years it will be in its element and producing a great crop. If you are not dividing your rhubarb this year, then take the time over the next few weeks to mulch a good few inches of well rotted manure on top of your rhubarb. It will pay you back in pies and crumbles next year!
And here is my crown of rhubarb being planted at its new home at Stan's house today. All I asked in return was a bowl of homemade parsnip and apple soup, and some freshly cooked chocolate brownies. A fair exchange, don't you think?

Wet Winter Veggies

It is just so dark and gloomy out there at the moment, it was a pleasure to see my Ruby Chard making an effort to show some beautiful colour. These were planted back in June from seeds which I purchased in Warsaw, Poland. They really love their hardy Winter veggies over there! Despite the gloomy weather the colours are wonderful. This time of year spinach and chard do not look very impressive and it might be tempting to pull them up and throw them away.. but please don't! They will start to grow again in Spring and you will have a great harvest right up till early Summer (isn't it great to look forward to gardening pleasures next year?) I've not grown this variety before, I look forward to picking some in the Spring. Normally I grow Swiss Chard Bright Lights or Rainbow Lights for spectacular colour.
I took a peek inside the greenhouse as well today. Inside a heated seed propagator and under several layers of fleece are my pineapples from the Azores. They rooted well this Summer and I am trying to keep them alive over Winter to see what I can do with them next year. The secret is to keep them as warm and as dry as possible over Winter. Start feeding and watering when it gets warmer next year.
Just to give you an idea of the awful conditions in the garden at the moment. Everything is under at least 8" of water - only some of the raised beds are poking out.
Perhaps I should start growing rice!!
Oh well, out with the wellies!

Christmas Photo Shoot!

Well, there's nothing in particular going on down on the allotment today so we had a photoshoot in the back garden. Howz this for a Bearded Collie ??

Bulgarian Giant Leeks

I couldn't resist something I saw in the Dobies 2009 seed catalogue. This picture caught my eye, and I thought I would have to get some Bulgarian Giant Leeks. From this photo it looks as if they might reach about 2 or 3 feet long! Has anyone tried them? Seed packet arrived in the post this morning.
I might try growing batches in succession throughout the Summer and see how hardy they are. I just love leeks because they are the only thing still standing on the allotment right the way through the Winter.

Matron's Spiced Christmas Chutney

Here is a wonderful recipe which I adapted from a basic apple chutney recipe, but with a Christmas spices flavour. You must prepare your spiced vinegar in advance. Bring 1 pint of malt vinegar to the boil with generous quantities of your favourite spices. I used star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Boil gently for just a minute or so, then leave all the spices in the vinegar to cool down completely, ideally leave for at least 24hours or longer for the flavours to develop.

Peel and chop 4lbs of cooking apples
peel and chop 1lb of pumpkin and dice into roughly half inch cubes
chop 1lb onions (red onions if you like)
3oz fresh grated ginger
1lb brown sugar
grated rind and juice of an orange
4oz dried cranberries
4oz dried mixed fruit
half a pint of mulled wine (gluhwein)

Put all the ingredients except the sugar, into a large pan and bring to the boil and simmer until reduced. This might take 30 minutes, but there is enough pectin in the apples and pumpkin for a good consistency. Then add all the sugar to the mixture and stir gently and continue to simmer until it has reduced further. You may like to add more of your favourite ground spices (I do!)

This recipe is a slightly sweeter chutney but you can decrease the sugar if you like, the flavour improves on keeping - fantastic on cold meats or cheese!

The Original Pumpkin Pie

There is always so much pumpkin to use when you grow your own! You will find that a half of a pumpkin when it is dry roasted in the oven will produce only about 2 cups of puree. I sieved my roasted pumpkin and left it to drain excess water overnight and it halved in size. Norfolk Million Pie is the old English recipe from East Anglia which was taken to the New World by the Pilgrim fathers and enjoyed at a first Thanksgiving meal when they arrived. I made one today, here's how it goes!
Line an 8" pie tin with pastry
One cup of sieved pumpkin puree (8oz)
6oz dark Muscovado sugar
3 eggs, beaten
5oz single (light) cream
ground nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
2oz dried fruit (sultanas)
2oz jam (apricot,plum or greengage)
Line the bottom of your pastry case with a layer of jam, then mix up all the other ingredients into a bowl. Do not be alarmed at the thin consistency, it will set. Pour the pumpkin pie mixture into the pastry case and grate more fresh nutmeg on the top if you want (I love nutmeg!).
Make a pastry lattice over the top of the pie with the leftover pastry bits. Put in a very hot oven gas *8 or 220C for just 10 minutes, then without opening the oven door turn down the heat to gas *3 or 170C for a further 35mins or until cooked.

Is it Winter Yet?

I was thrilled to see that my early purple sprouting broccoli has its first head showing! This is the first time I have grown the variety 'Rudolph' supposed to be an ultra early crop. Perhaps I will be enjoying some festive Rudolph on Christmas Day? I mentioned a couple of blogs ago that my broccoli plants are more than 5ft tall this year and I don't know why. A couple of things have occurred to me - 1. I have grown pumpkins on this patch for the last couple of years so it has had plenty of manure. 2. This Spring I grew my broad beans on this spot, I deliberately left the root system, complete with nitrogen nodules in place in the soil. This seems to be a likely reason. My leeks have not done so well this year. It has been a wet Summer but I would have thought that leeks might have enjoyed that. I would describe my leeks as 'satisfactory' this year, no more. I usually blanch up the stems by using toilet roll tubes, but didn't bother this year. I have seen an interesting leek variety in the Dobies catalogue for 2009. I thought I might try the Bulgarian Giant Leek. Very long stems, about 2ft long and early maturing. Has anyone tried them?
Beetroots have been bad too! For the first time I tried a long slicing variety, 'Cylindra'. The first sowing in March did not germinate at all. A second sowing in June resulted in about 4 germinations from several hundred. This third planting I sowed in modules in the greenhouse in August and pricked them out in place. The main problem in this spot is that all the neighbourhood cats use the lovely soil as a toilet and most of these little plants were dug up or buried. Grrrrrrrr!
Yesterday, after warnings of a really cold weather front moving in - I wrapped up my Japanese banana 'Musa Basjoo'. The main stem had been cut back to about 4ft and I wrapped it in fleece, then a thick layer of dry straw, more fleece and a loosely tied plastic bag over the top so that it can breathe. See you next year, my friend!

Madeira - A Tropical Paradise

I've just come back from a short break on the Island of Madeira. Besides the wonderful tropical gardens and landscape, I was visiting a friend who helps to look after some of the stray dogs on the island. Couldn't resist sharing this puppy with you! It was just so wonderful to see tropical fruit growing out there! When these fresh fruit are in season and just freshly picked, the taste is heavenly!
Pomegranates and cherry guavas.
Guavas and dates.
Mangoes and custard apples.

Bananas and Cerimans... Cerimans?? these are the fruit of the Monstera Deliciosa or Swiss Cheese plant. You will recognise these as common houseplants but this fruit tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a banana. It is also known as a fruit salad plant for that reason. You pick off the green scales to reveal a sort of a cream coloured mushy sweet corn cob. The taste is delicious..but.... it has very tiny, hairy spines which tingle on your tongue like eating a cactus! The sensation is not as pleasant as the taste!
Well, Matron has broken one of her cardinal rules to bring you a couple of flowers!!
Above is a plumeria. Such a heavenly scent!
And the most famous flower on the island, the Strelitzia or Bird of Paradise Flower.

Plant Swapping!

I made a really good swap this week! I was talking to a friend who lives down in Hampshire and she mentioned that she had managed to take several successful cuttings from a pomegranate tree. I was fascinated to find out what her secret was.... she had no idea! She just struck the cuttings several years ago and they just all took! no idea why! We chatted some more about our gardens and she was envious that I just had so many side shoots from my Japanese Banana plant - I didn't know what to do with them all.... so this week we agreed to swap a pomegranate for a banana. Everyone happy!
I must do some research and find out what sort of conditions these pomegranate trees enjoy!
These are some of my lovely crab apples! Believe it or not, this tree was bought 2 years ago in Lidl wrapped in a cheap cardboard box, for just £1.99.
Such a good year for apples of every description this year, so this little tree has done brilliantly. I managed to pick just a pound and a quarter of crab apples today, these were immediately turned into two lovely jars of jelly.
Just a glorious colour, and so filled with pectin that it only took 10 minutes of boiling to reach a set.

The Original Pumpkin Pie

I was browsing through an old cookbook this week and came across a seasonal recipe for the original pumpkin pie. When the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in the New World and sat down together for a thanksgiving meal, the recipe they knew from the old world (over here!) was actually called 'Norfolk Million Pie'. The word Million was the original old English word for melon, marrow, pumpkin or any squash. The difference in this recipe was that the pastry case was spread with a layer of apricot jam or marmalade, and a handful of dried fruit, currants or sultanas was put into the pumpkin mixture. This was decorated with a pastry lattice top. So when my colonial cousins tuck into what they assume is the most American of American pies... it is actually from Norfolk, England! sorry guys!

More Last Pickings!

I haven't been out to my greenhouse for a couple of weeks, much too gloomy and wet down there. For want of anything better to do today I ventured out there and found a wonderful late Autumn surprise. All the foliage of these Moneymaker tomatoes had died back but there were just about half a dozen still edible. Skins might be a bit thick, but the taste is the best I am going to get until next May. Likewise these Sungold-ish tomatoes..... You might remember earlier in the season I was having trouble ripening these tomatoes. Well, they never did ripen!! something in the genetics perhaps? but these were from seed which a couple of generations ago were Sungold F1 but they have reverted back into a larger, plum shaped tomato which does not ripen. Perhaps the big supermarkets would be interested in these... theirs never ripen properly either! They were like this back in June - Wow! a 6-month shelf life!
They are vaguely edible, if you like them sharp! I might splash out next year and buy some F1 seeds.

Storing vegetables for Winter

I just couldn't resist sharing a photo of these lovely Brussels Sprouts. I confess that I didn't grow them but buying them on a big stem like this is irresistible! I also came across a large quantity of parsnips and beetroots while travelling up in Lincolnshire recently. The landscape up there is very flat and very fertile, and you will see miles and miles of arable farmland. Vegetable farm shops are springing up everywhere.
I made a clamp when I got home to try to keep the root vegetables fresh throughout the Winter. This really involves layering them in cold sand or clean compost or peat. Just build up the layers and keep them stored in a cold dark place.
Whenever you need them just dig down and pull a few more out.
They should keep clean and fresh for months like this.