Category Archives: allotment

Bank holiday Monday: Burgers & crumble

It’s been a full-on bank holiday weekend. We have seen two of our favourite families; the Olivers on Friday night and the Osbornes Sunday night. The weather yesterday was not too bad, by British bank holiday standards, so we got out the barbecue and planned a sumptuous vegetarian feast. Now, one of the best things about spending all day cooking for friends, is that dinner the next day is always fast to prepare and delicious.

We got up to the allotment for about five hours this afternoon and left it feeling like it was finally looking not too bad for May. We emptied the loam from the wooden compost area, filled it with manure to rot down, got the runners and broad beans into the bean bed, got the red onion sets in and transplanted the parsnips, wired the raspberry bed posts even higher, attached the guttering that fell of the shed to the polytunnel frame and had a fire! Okay, stuff that should have mostly been done in March, but at least we have some greenery in some of the beds now. Late May allotment

The strawberries are fully in flower, and we have some ripening in the polytunnel, the raspberry flowers are developing and the rhubarb is looking plump. So we cut some off to bring home for crumble. Burgers and crumble not a classic combination, but so quick, simple and fresh tasting.

Menu: Carrot and chickpea burgers and Rhubarb crumble. The burger mix, pitta breads, bulgur wheat salad and tikka marinated vegetable skewers were left over from yesterday’s dinner.

The vegetables were cooked as a curry and served with the bulgur instead of rice, and the burgers were fried on the hob – much faster than trying to barbecue although they suit the char-grilled taste well.

Carrot & Chickpea burgers:

  • 750g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp tahini paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • zest 1 lemon, plus 1 tsp juice
  • 150ml pot natural (or soya) yogurt

Based on the bbc good food recipe –
Method:

  1. Put 1/3 grated carrot in a food processor with the chickpeas, onion, 2 tbsp tahini, cumin and egg. Whizz to a thick paste, then scrape into a large bowl. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan, tip in the remaining carrot and cook for 8-10 mins, stirring until the carrot is softened – it will become more golden as it is cooked. Add this cooked carrot to the whizzed paste with the breadcrumbs and lemon zest. Add seasoning, then mix together well with your hands.
  2. Divide the mixture and shape into burgers (we got around 12 small burgers from this quantity). Cover and chill until serving. Mix the yogurt with the remaining tahini and lemon juice, then chill.
  3. Fire up the barbecue, or heat a non-stick frying pan and brush the burgers with the remaining oil. Cook the burgers for 5 mins on each side, until golden and crisp. We served with pitta breads straight from the oven.

Pittas served with burgers. Carrot and chickpea burgers.

While the burgers were in the pan, the rhubarb was washed, chopped and put on the hob. It was not too long a wait for piping hot crumble, again, courtesy of a quick search on the BBC good food website.

Rhubarb oat crumble:

  • 500g rhubarb, chopped into chunks the length of your thumb
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 140g self-raising flour
  • 50g oats
  • 85g butter, chilled (or vegan equivalent, like Pure)
  • 50g light brown muscovado sugar

Method:

  1. Tip the rhubarb into a saucepan with the sugar. Cover and simmer on a very low heat for 15 mins. When soft and sweet enough, pour the rhubarb into a medium baking dish.
  2. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. To make the topping, rub the flour and butter together until you have a soft, crumbly topping. Then add the sugar and oats, mixing together by hand or machine. Spread the topping over the rhubarb and bake for 30 mins or until golden brown on top.

Cooking rhubarb.   Mixing the crumble.   Crumble out of the oven.

Rhubarb oat crumble.

We served with a spot of Alpro soya cream.

A delicious end to a wonderful weekend full of friends, laughter, fresh air and good food.

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Broad bean risotto

I ended up having quite a disastrous year at the allotment: Too many unplanned jobs arose through the key seed-sowing time. That, plus stories from our allotment neighbours of mice decimating their ground-sown peas and beans, led me to never quite getting around to planting enough in time. I did, however, manage to sow enough field beans (var. ‘Wizard’).

2014-08-13 20.20.542014-08-13 20.21.05What a star crop! They fared better than the few longpod broad beans in the ground through the drought, and were less scarred by the winds a few weeks back. They are smaller than standard broad beans, but are prolific and taste fabulous. What’s more, if you crop them young there is no need to remove the skins. In fact, it’s our first year of growing this crop, so I have not seen old beans – you may never need to skin this variety.

As soon as I had enough broad & field beans, we sat down to a favourite risotto:

Broad bean & lemon Risotto
Serves 4

1-2 handfuls de-podded field beans
Other veg from allotment, chopped

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5oz Carnaroli or Arborio risotto rice
A good glug of dry white wine
1 pint Marigold veg stock, near boiling
1 Strip of lemon peel
1 Bay leaf and handful chopped mint
Handful herbs from garden (thyme & oregano both work)
Seasoning

Juice from 1/4 lemon
25 g butter/vegan equivalent
Small handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped

1. Prepare the vegetables and herbs, and make the stock. Good risotto requires you to stir and add liquid gradually, so ideally you need to be ready to go before you add the rice. If you have time/space, make the stock in a pan next to the rice pan and keep it heated. Use a large, flat-bottomed pan for the rice.

2014-08-13 18.01.122. Lightly fry the onion in the oil. Well before it browns, toss in the garlic and stir for another minute. To brown the rice or garlic would spoil the flavour.

3. Add the rice, lemon peel and bay leaf and stir to coat with oil. After about 30 seconds, you will hear the rice beginning to crack. Stir to make sure the rice is toasting evenly for a minute or so.

4. Add the wine. Prepare for the sizzle and steam cloud! Stir until evaporated.

5. Add 1 ladle of stock to the rice and stir, gently and consistently.

6. When the rice has absorbed the stock, add another ladleful. The stock should be hot when added, which is why it is best to have it in a pan over heat, rather than poured from a jug.

7. Add the vegetables at around this point. It takes about 20 mins for risotto, so allow 8-15 mins for the veg depending on cooking times. Field beans require about 10 mins using this method, as does courgette.

8. Keep stirring and adding a ladleful of stock when the liquid has been absorbed / evaporated. The rice and liquid should be keeping a creamy consistency by now.

9. When cooked – al dente rice and liquid gone, remove from heat. Remove the bay leaf, lemon zest and woody herbs if used. Squeeze the lemon over the rice and stir. Add the butter or vegan spread and seasoning, and stir. Do this step quickly, stirring fast to cool the rice to slow further cooking. This dish should be glistening!

10. Serve with fresh mint.

I may not make the most perfect risotto in the world; I believe it is quite an art. But the kids love it, and it’s a great Monday night dinner to finish off any white wine leftover from the weekend.

Pea and mint is another tried and tested recipe, that works ever so well with mangetout from the plot. I grow 3 varieties of mint in the herb garden; the spearmint complements the peas fantastically, and I find the chocolate mint works very well with the broad beans.

2014-08-13 18.54.26

Inspirational planting plans

Some 3 1/2 years ago, I took the boys to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology in the northern reaches of Mid Wales. I had wanted to go for a while, and I have wanted to return ever since – what a fantastic day out.

A chance to see the working of a retired old MS-2 turbine
A chance to see the working of a retired old MS-2 turbine

Built on the site of an old slate quarry, the C.A.T. seeks to put a positive solutions-based approach to reducing our impact on our wonderful planet earth. There are lots of interactive displays and zones to help bring to life issues of sustainability through education and fun. Not only did I find it engaging, the boys did too, and that’s a really important thing in the quest for sustainable living.

Educational displays on composting, including the worm slide that leads to the bowels of the worm's earth
Educational displays on composting, including the worm slide that leads to the bowels of the worm’s earth

I suppose what I remember the most is the organic gardens. Now that I have time to design and implement some changes at the allotment, I looked back through our holiday pictures for inspiration. This photo was the key to my planting plans for 2014.

Companion planting in the organic gardens
Companion planting in the organic gardens: leaf amaranth with poppy ‘Ladybird’ alongside nasturtiums, lettuces and oregano

Co-planting flowers and vegetables as companions will be the main theme in our allotment beds this year, particularly after the Phacelia / Broad bean success last year. And I managed to track down a trusted supplier of edible Amaranth seeds (and Gardener’s World magazine will be shipped with a packet of ladybird poppy seed in next month’s March edition). More about the Real Seed Catalogue tomorrow (also in Wales!) but for now, some lovely pictures from an amazing day out.

Interesting vistas and group planting around every corner
Interesting vistas and group planting around every corner
Advice in action - saving the planet's natural resources
Advice in action – saving the planet’s natural resources
Recycling old materials into ponds and planters
Recycling old materials into ponds and planters
Planters with vegetables in every corner
Planters with vegetables in every corner
Information regarding the food cycle
Information regarding the food cycle
Edibles gardens
Edibles gardens
Creative play facilities for children of all ages
Creative play facilities for children of all ages
Climbing nets on the wooden play course
Climbing nets on the wooden play course

 

"There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience" Archibald MacLeish
“There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience” Archibald MacLeish

The aesthetic of growing plants in a multitude of containers and situations might not be to everyone’s taste, but I love it. And it’s been great to see it incorporated in the ‘Veg Street’ community vegetable growing project in a North London borough started by Naomi Schillinger and others. See the book here.

9 things for 2014

It’s our 9th year on the plot! And starting the year a little late…here are 9 things I want to do / make / change this year:

  1. Build new wooden compost bins
  2. Clear the shed
  3. Put in a row of raspberry canes
  4. Put in stronger posts and windbreak fencing
  5. Fix the guttering on the shed and get a new 2nd water butt
  6. Prune the plum tree
  7. Spend much, much more time at the allotment
  8. Find even more timely recipes for our fresh fruit and veg
  9. Blog it!

Happy New Year to all you veggie growing & cooking enthusiasts :)

Tomatoes!

Barely time to share all the amazing things we’ve been eating from our plot this year, I really hope that will change now my studies are coming to an end. The poly tunnel has made a massive difference this year.

Early August
Early August

Our allotment neighbour John gave us a few tomato plants, plum, sub-arctic and cordon (Sungold?) varieties. They complemented the tiny-tom, beefsteak and gardener’s delight that we grew. Marvellous! I have to say that the sub-arctic have been no earlier than the others to ripen, considerably later than the cordon varieties, the latter of which have been far superior in taste and texture.

Late August
Late August
Early October, plenty left to ripen
Early October, plenty left to ripen

Everything went in late this year, partly the late spring and partly the poly tunnel taking our weekends up…but we have been enjoying the tomato harvest over the last fortnight. We picked 3.5kg last week, and another 3.5kg on Monday this week. There are a fair few ripening on the vines still, maybe another 2kg, and we must have had about 1kg’s worth of the first to ripen last month, plus those we picked for the village show.

I’ve been trying to get creative with recipes so no one gets bored of this very small window of home-grown harvest goodness.

So far, the tomato dishes we have made are:

“Mediterranean soufflé”

“Tomato foccacia”

“Roast tomato and lentil soup (served with spiced yoghurt)”

“Pappa alla pomodoro soup”

We have also been using them in generic minestrone and stew type dishes, as well as including a handful of sweet cherry toms in the boys’ lunch boxes for school. I’m just about to go and make a big batch of roast tomato and pepper sauce for the freezer while they are still fresh. Recipes to follow…

Phacelia and bees

A friend spotted the offer from the Soil Association for a free packet of phacelia seeds this spring. I duly sent off for some, and gave them to the boys for growing on their bed at the allotment.

Sowing bee friendly seeds for the kitchen garden and allotment
Sowing bee friendly seeds for the kitchen garden and allotment
Little helper J getting busy
Little helper J getting busy
J watering the seeds he's sown
J watering the seeds he’s sown

They have been carefully tending to them, and keeping the weeds (mostly) in check. They were absolutely delighted when the flower heads started bulging.

Emerging phacelia blooms
Emerging phacelia blooms
Phacelia in flower with calendula starting to follow
Phacelia in flower with calendula starting to follow

We have never grown this plant before, and I’ve been quite taken with their fractal aesthetic. As well as being able to enjoy a splash of lilac in the boys’ bed and with the beans, the bees have been loving them too :) And that’s what it’s all about really.

Bee on the phacelia
Bee on the phacelia
Phacelia in the bean bed
Phacelia in the bean bed

The Poly Tunnel Problem

Last year, we were definitely going to mend our lacerated polytunnel. Then an unforeseen health issue arose, which took us out of action for months. This year, we researched our options, measured up and bought the required materials at the start of the year.

We got our aluminium base rails and polythene covering from LBS Garden Warehouse near Colne. Excellent service!

We watched YouTube videos, and as we suspected it was a lot more difficult and considerably more painful than the videos suggest, and of course the results don’t look quite the same. But apart from several helpful discussions with neighbouring allotmenteer John, some of his timber and elbow grease with cutting through metal, we did it all on our own. I didn’t think we would, how brilliant that we managed it!

Here are some photos to show the progress over two days, and our nearly-ready-to-plant in polytunnel. We only have to bury excess on the long sides, but as they are already tensioned through the rails, this is a less demanding job. We definitely think the extra expense of rails – and aluminium rails over wood – was worth it, given the two of us managed most of it with just a little help from our little helpers.

The aluminium rails affixed to the hoops
The aluminium rails affixed to the hoops
Unfolded polythene along side the hoops
Unfolded polythene along side the hoops
Inserting the tension rail to trap the polythene into the aluminium rail
Inserting the tension rail to trap the polythene into the aluminium rail
Cut through the door, and stretched and pleated the polythene around the door frame
Cut through the door, and stretched and pleated the polythene around the door frame
Tidied away for the night, with excess polythene from the front and back threaded through and weighted down
Tidied away for the night, with excess polythene from the front and back threaded through and weighted down
A rather taught looking skin
A week later: a rather taught looking skin that’s already weathered a storm
Digging the trenches front and back
Digging the trenches front and back
Backfilling with soil, and burying the excess a foot away from the tunnel
Backfilling with soil, and burying the excess a foot away from the tunnel
Covering the beds with the left-overs to help warm the soil. Hope we can start planting next weekend!
Covering the beds with the left-overs to help warm the soil. Hope we can start planting next weekend!