Onions and garlic and how to store them

onions beforeIf you’ve grown summer onions, they will be juicy and sweet and they really won’t keep for long. If you’ve grown onions to keep over the winter, then they’ll have less juice and they will keep through the winter, if you give them proper treatment. Garlic is like storing onions, only more so!

onions dryingFirst – let them cure. If you harvest as the tops bend over, they need between two and four weeks to cure (the necks become dry and thin, the outer layers become paper thin, the roots desiccate completely) in an airy place – not too hot and definitely not in direct sun which steals the subtler flavours. Airy is vital: moisture is the enemy of onion and garlic while it’s curing.

garlic beforeSecond – only when the roots are completely desiccated, and the skins have become papery, do you clear away the outer layers, particularly if they are muddy or damaged, until you reach a complete, dry layer. Then trim back the roots with so they are as short as possible and finally brush the roots with a soft brush – a soft old toothbrush is ideal, to remove any lurking grit, mud or other nasties that could harbour bacteria that will lead to rot.

You might string your onions – there’s a great description here. We don’t, we store them in wooden trays.

For garlic, if you want to, you can string them too. Repeat the process as for onions and if the necks are still soft and you don’t have evidence of rust, plait the garlic together. We’ve got rust this year and I prefer not to plait as my experience is that there’s a higher change of garlic getting rot if it’s plaited with rust on the necks. Instead I shorten the necks back and make a hole about two inches down with a large darning needle carrying a thick cotton thread. Then I knot the thread by the neck, move on a couple of inches and thread on another garlic. You end up with something more like a horticultural garland but as the heads don’t touch and have excellent air circulation, they seem to keep better.

onions and garlicYou can just cut cured (no longer soft/moist or bendy) necks off completely and store your garlic in a cotton bag, a wooden drawer etc. It’s a choice – some like one thing, some another. While storage methods are personal, cleaning your cured onions and garlic is vital to keep them in good condition for as long as possible – and it’s very satisfying!

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Progress and harvest

Thornless blackberries

Thornless blackberries

Butternut squashes - very prolific this year

Butternut squashes – very prolific this year

Soldier beans almost ready to harvest

Soldier beans almost ready to harvest

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Allotment fruit recipe – gluten free blackcurrant clafoutis

First of all, I apologise for the delay in posting the recipe – we’ve had quite a few more gluts to deal with and I just haven’t had time to do anything other that water the plot and harvest and process all the courgettes, kohlrabi, cabbages, cauliflowers, broad beans, tayberries, raspberries and blackcurrants that we’ve been coming home with.

So, the recipe!

Ingredients

• 400 grams currants, washed and strung
• 4 eggs
• 200 grams full cream milk
• 125 grams caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 80 grams ground almonds
• 30 grams cornflour

Method

Heat oven to 180 Celsius.

Using a large bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly and when they are light and blended, pour in the milk in a slow stream, still whisking, then the sugar in a similar fashion, the vanilla, ground almonds and cornflour.

Grease a 22 to 25 cm cake pan, pie dish or quiche dish. Tip the dried currants into the base and spread out. Pour the batter over the top.

Cook, uncovered for 25-30 minutes and then sprinkle with sugar while still warm.

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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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Crown Prince Squash bulking up!

103 crown prince july 13Gosh – first Crown Prince squash … that’s looking very good indeed!

It’s rained a lot of today, so I’m mainly tying things up and pinning things down, and putting these big squashes (that seem to have almost appeared overnight) on tiles and flat, smooth pebbles so that they don’t sit on the damp ground (how lovely to be able to feel moisture in the soil) and develop rot or get attacked by slugs, snails or woodlice.

Its our first year of growing Crown Prince, and I’m thrilled at the way they are racing ahead of both the Turk’s Turban and the Butternut squash.

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RHS Garden Magazine, giant courgettes etc

Garden MagazineJust retrieved the latest copy of The Garden from the post box – very exciting, as always, and doubly so as the cover promises ‘The Best of Hampton Court Palace Flower Show’. Yes, that is a giant courgette above the magazine. There are three of them – the result of me not getting to the plot as often as I would have wished last week.

If anybody remembers the story in “Minding My Peas and Cucumbers” about the woman who built a play fort out of her overgrown courgettes … I’m at about the ‘toddler teepee’ stage of glut courgette construction!

Anyway, I’m terribly disappointed to report that ‘the best’ does not include any photographs of Adam Hewson, Kate Bradbury and myself rocking the RHS book pavilion with our wit and horticultural erudition (okay, Kate did that, I provided a reading from “The Allotment Diaries” and tastings of pickled nasturtiums and chive vinegar, plus discussion of the tyranny of some allotment committees).

adam kate meSo just to redress the balance, here is a picture to prove that not everything exciting at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show was green and rooted in peat-free compost.*

*Photograph courtesy of Brie Burkeman.

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Allotment rules – the law of diminishing returns

103 tayberry handfulFunnily enough, as I type this, Rebus has just learnt this law. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks but you can certainly introduce them to immutable laws.

We used to own another Cairn Terrier, whom Rebus cordially detested, by the name of Falco. Falco loved to eat … well, anything, to be honest: cardboard, vegetables, gravel, cat poo, flowers, socks, fruit … especially fruit. He used to eat any kind of fruit, but especially windfall fruit because he was a little dog and that was what it was easiest for him to scavenge. He would get terrible bellyache from eating little green windfall apples but it never stopped him. So we learned to reward him with better food – if he brought in a rock-hard windfall apple, usually brown and bruised and rotten on one side and as bitter as sour grapes, we took it from him and gave him a little dog treat.

Rebus never ate, or brought in, a single windfall. He was contemptuous of the process and scornful of Falco. However, since Falco died, several years ago, Rebus had decided it’s his job – after all, somebody needs to do it, right?

rebus camouflagueNow Falco was greedy and probably ate three or four apples for every one that he brought in. Rebus is conscientious and brings in every apple he finds. That could be a lot of treats!

So the law of diminishing returns has to apply – he gets a big treat for the first one, a small treat for the second one, half a treat for the third one and a pat on the head for the fourth. He never brings in a fifth apple.

It hasn’t rained here for weeks and weeks and weeks – there was a dribble of drizzle on Wednesday night but it was really insignificant in the face of parched earth and empty water butts! It’s going to rain tomorrow (all day apparently – hurrah!) and I am utterly sick of watering. We can use hoses at the allotment but it’s really a waste of effort for all kinds of reasons – plants need water at their roots, the soil doesn’t need water (unless you’re germinating seeds) and every time you water it you (a) encourage weeds to germinate, (b) stop the roots heading down to find water and encourage them to grow more shallowly.

103 harvest 9 sept 10So dig down and see where your soil is still damp. Usually it’s still wet four to six inches (9-12 cm) below the surface and most roots reach that far. Some plants need a lot of water like winter squashes and tomatoes – water them by all means. Others don’t need that much and watering them to the same level is a waste of time, effort, water and may even damage their productivity. So a lot of what I’ve been doing in the past three weeks is hand watering into plastic bottles sunk in the ground. It’s exhausting. It’s necessary but exhausting.

The law of diminishing returns applies here too. I don’t water courgettes or radishes in this weather – they can die for all I care! They’re low value crops and they usually recover from quite drastic ill-treatment if it doesn’t continue too long. Peas and beans lose out next because while they are great crops, the amount of effort I put into watering them doesn’t get a great return. Perennials get watered with love and care: our new fruit trees and bushes and our asparagus will still be feeding us in five to twenty years time – the return on the investment this year is four to twenty years of harvest – the opposite of diminishment.

So apologies for absence, but the watering can has been calling me …

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