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Gluten-free blackcurrant clafoutis

blackcurrant clafoutis gluten freeHere it is!

After some experimenting I actually think this is better than the standard wheat-based recipe. I’ll post the recipe itself later today!

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Interview time …

radio sussexRadio Sussex rang me today to ask if I was on my plot – I think they already knew the answer as ‘the interview van was on its way’ and so I got to spend half an hour with the lovely Simon Jenkins, who is always so enthusiastic about allotments and gardening generally that it’s a joy to be interviewed by him (was it wrong to announce, “gardening is like sex, if it’s not fun you’re doing it wrong?” I think I heard a bit of an intake of breath at the Radio Sussex end of the line, when I said that).

polenta bakeWe talked about the five ways gardening, specifically growing food, is good for you: physically, mentally, emotionally, environmentally and nutritionally.

I introduced Simon to tayberries and I think he’s a convert. He liked the raspberries too, both golden and traditional. And of course, by the time I’d demonstrated all of those, I had a reasonable handful of fruit. Back at home I had a bowl of blackcurrants that I’ve been waiting to use up, so I knocked up (gosh, I’m really in the sexual metaphor mode today, aren’t I?) this gluten free cake with the berries – it’s utterly delicious and really simple to put together. Sadly, the recipe didn’t make it into The Allotment Diaries, because I hadn’t perfected it, but maybe the next book …

A good day all round!

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Allotment recipe: rose and summer fruit jellies

rosepetal jelly 1These pretty little jellies can be made in moulds and turned out, but I never do that as our jellies usually end up being transported around in their ramekins. We had jelly for breakfast at the plot this morning and OH will take another with him to work for his after-lunch dessert. They are pretty simple to make and look utterly stunning, especially if you make them in clear glass tumblers so the suspension of the fruit can be fully appreciated. It is possible to make a version of this with agar agar for vegetarians, but I haven’t found it to be so successful in suspending fruit. I’ll try to dig out an alternative recipe that involves infused sugars and post that tomorrow.

rosepetal jelly 2Ingredients

    4 leaves of gelatine
    400ml water
    200g white caster sugar (golden/unrefined sugars don’t work for this recipe)
    40ml rosewater
    100 grams fresh fruit (I had a mixture of red and golden raspberries, white and red alpine strawberries, ordinary strawberries and tayberries)
    Rose petals – these are rosa gallica, because I love the effect of the stripes, although if I had Ferdinand Pichard that would be my rose of choice as it’s even more dramatically stripey!

rosepetal jelly 3Method

1. Chose your containers and put enough fruit in to cover about half the bottom – you want to be able to see each individual fruit, not pile them on top of each other. Hopefully this uses up about half your fruit.Chill these containers for about half an hour.
2. Put the gelatine in a shallow bowl and cover with cold water for a minute. Squeeze out the water and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
3. As soon as the water boils, tip in the sugar, stir to fully dissolve and remove from heat. Add the gelatine to the hot liquid and stir until dissolved.
4. Add the rosewater and then tip into a large jug and set aside. Don’t chill the mixture, leave it at room temperature.
rosepetal jelly 45. Take the containers from the fridge and pour the cooled but not yet setting jelly over the fruit, to about half way. Replace the containers in the fridge until the jelly is just firm, then repeat with the rest of the fruit and the jelly which should still be liquid if you’ve left it at room temperature. Chose your prettiest rose petals and with the handle of a teaspoon, just sink each petal under the surface of the jelly.
6. Replace in the fridge for about an hour – they should set nicely.
7. Apparently you can turn out these jellies by filling a bowl with not-quite boiling water, dipping the containers in it, then inverting them over a plate. I’ve never bothered and the truth is, most of our jellies get eaten with the fridge door still open, and us standing in front of it to nosh them – they are so tasty in this hot weather!

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Potato blight – treatment and a recipe!

roasted newIt’s a high blight risk period, and sure enough, when we were at the plot on Sunday for the Open Gardens, we saw some tell-tale signs in our first earlies. Now it’s been an unusual year already, with first earlies still in the ground for many of us, and the arrival of a Smith period was almost a guarantee of blight.

Smith periods are warm and wet, or, in our case on Sunday, not that warm (everybody else was having temperatures in the twenties and brilliant sunshine and we were having mid teens) and very humid (because there was a sea fog) and then, as we watched, potato leaves began to yellow, then fold, then brown patches appeared. There’s an outside chance it could have been something other than blight, but we’ve learned our lesson well.

There are two scenarios around potato blight on our site. 1 – Cut your haulms and cut your losses. 2 – Don’t cut your haulms and count your losses. The fungal spores can spread on the wind, and travely from foliage to foliage, and they multiply rapidly in warm, damp weather.

This is the first year for five years we’ve tried growing maincrops and it looks like we’re going to struggle to keep them blight free. I got ruthless. We dug the first row – lots of small but perfect tubers – cut all the greenery of all the rest of the first earlies (three rows) and bagged it to remove. The cutting away of all green growth stops the fungal spores being washed down into the tubers and infecting them. We’ll dig up all the rest of the first earlies over the next ten days, once their skins have hardened a little.

roasted new 2Now we just have to hope for less Smith periods so that our second earlies and maincrops might make it through. Hope, but not expect. On a site of our size, with the preponderance of blight that we have in both potatoes and outdoor tomatoes, we were pushing our luck and we knew it.

In less populous sites, where blight is less prevalent, you might get lucky with spraying, although the sprays available to allotment holders are weak compared to those used by commercial growers. Good planting hygiene is vital with excellent spacing between rows and lots of air circulation – and once again we packed in a few more spuds than we should have done. I don’t think that cost us our crop, I think we’d have got blight anyway, but it’s a lesson we regularly fail to learn, and perhaps it’s time to go back to not growing so many potatoes, focusing on blight resistant varieties and giving up on maincrops once again.

So if you get a lot of small first early potatoes, how do you cook them?

roasted new 3One of our favourite ways to use up tiny (smaller than walnut sized) new potatoes is smashed potatoes.

Ingredients

1. 500 grams very small new potatoes, washed
2. 2 tablespoon of capers or pickled nasturtium seeds if you have them
3. 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
4. 3-4 stems of rosemary, with leaves stripped from stems
5. 4 tablespoons olive oil
6. 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (if you made chive vinegar last month, you can use that as a good replacement)

Method

• Boil your potatoes in lots of water so they can circulate freely – say around 10 minutes.
• Preheat over to around 220C or gas 9
• Drain well and tip into a bowl with the nasturtium seeds or capers and half the olive oil. Mash very lightly, so around half the potatoes are broken, then add the herbs and seasoning to taste, stirring well to combine.
• Tip into a tinfoil lined baking tray or silicone baking dish and pour the rest of the olive oil on top, pressing down well with a wooden spoon or spatula, then drizzle the vinegar over and bake for 30-40 minutes.

The potatoes end up with a crispy brown top and a creamy under layer which is utterly delicious hot or cold. It’s almost worth having blight!

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Chive vinegar update – one week on

chive vinegar bottled This is how the chive vinegar looks after a week – I wanted a fairly mild infusion for salad dressings so I decanted it and bottled it. Isn’t it beautiful?

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Floral salads – stunning ways to use allotment crops

chives 1I was going to post this yesterday, but I had to rewrite the recipe and the post – I’d made several references to it being a ‘Nigella’ type recipe, which is the shorthand I use to describe something home-made but also rather voluptuous and impressive. Today I don’t choose to talk about Nigella at all – her privacy, her personal life and her relationship with her husband are entirely her business.

So instead, let’s take another well known chef and shove this recipe into his ballpark. I think it would work well to describe this as a ‘Heston’ type recipe too, for quite different reasons: namely, it’s an alchemical recipe and it’s stunningly spectacular.

It’s also incredibly easy.

chives 2Ingredients

• As many chive heads as you can gather. My recommendation is to get a blend of the wide open, pale lilac ones, which contain the highest concentration of the volatile oil that gives the chive its flavour, and a goodly number of the less open, darker pink heads, which contain less oil but more colour. Mixed together about 70% pale to 30% dark, you get the best flavour and the best colour too.
• Wine vinegar – the lighter in colour the better. I find Italian wine vinegar tends to be a little more golden than French, don’t know why, different grapes perhaps? For this I’d use the French.

Method

chives 31. Cut the heads with just enough stem to hold the florets in place. Cut too short and they will fall apart, too long and the flavour won’t be as delicate.
2. Wash the flowers, but don’t leave them in soak as that will wash away a lot of the flavour. Rinse well to remove any insects and either spin in a salad spinner or dry gently in an old tea towel.
3. Put the flower heads in a jar, packing them quite tightly. Pour over the vinegar. Seal. Put in a cool dark place. That’s it. This is a cold infusion vinegar – simple, isn’t it?

After just 48 hours you will see the colour form in the vinegar and if you open the jar now, it will already have a lovely oniony redolence. Leave for between two and six weeks, depending on the depth of flavour you like, and then strain and rebottle in a sterilised container.

The final vinegar will fall somewhere between blush pink and neon fuchsia, and have a quite pronounced garlic odour but a more subtle onion flavour. Keep in the fridge and use up within three months.

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June allotment recipe

soldier bean flower saladIf you grew drying beans last year, this is the month to use them up, so that you can enjoy fresh beans in salads and other dishes. Home-dried beans are at their best if eaten before they reach a year of storage, so this is a good time to try out some hearty summer salads, as the hungry gap still has a big grip on most allotments and there isn’t too much fresh produce to be harvested yet.

We grow soldier beans for salads and because they are bush beans that only need a single stake to support them, and borlotti beans for baking and pasta, but in previous years we’ve grown Cherokee Trail of Tears, navy beans, and limas. It’s a great way to have protein-rich winter store cupboard food. Remember that allotment grown beans may cook quicker than shop-bought dried ones as they probably haven’t been stored for as long or desiccated so much.

Ingredients

Salad
200 grams dried beans
Large handful of spinach, washed and torn
Large handful of rocket, washed and torn
Optional: celery leaves, lovage leaves, fennel fronds or seeds (all of which are said to reduce the flatulence caused by eating beans!)

Dressing
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or home-made tarragon vinegar
1 tablespoon walnut oil
Pinch salt
Pinch pepper
Fresh thyme, minced

Method

• Cook your beans gently until tender (usually 25-35 minutes for soldier, navy, lima and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, longer for Borlotti beans) and refresh under cold running water.
• In a large bowl, combine the two kinds of greens. In a smaller bowl, mix the beans and any chosen flatulence-reducing herb.
• Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad. Chill if not eating immediately.

In the photo I’ve added rosemary and rocket flowers to the salad, along with some oriental leaves and a couple of sliced radishes – we throw in whatever we have around!

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