Archive for January, 2012

Chilli Monday – from shoots to toes

It was a bit of a chilly start this morning and according to the weatherman it’s set for the rest of the week. Not good news for our onions seeds which are still showing no signs whatsoever of sprouting – they need to get a move on. However, the chillis are romping away, so much so that they are in grave danger of going leggy very early on.

Chillis are up!

We’ve planted two types this year: Cayenne and Numex Twilight.  The Numex are a new variety on us – I was attracted to their colour. We did the Cayenne last year along with Ring of Fire and Apache – all were good and ended up producing a bumper harvest. Not good news for the recipients of our Christmas presents who all ended up with a variety of things made from chillis whether they liked chilli or not – chilli oil, chilli flakes, chilli jam, chilli jelly, chilli chocolate bark, chilli and lime chocolates, chilli vodka…the list went on. The rest were tied into ristras and left to dry so that they can be used throughout the year.

Chilli Ristras from the 2011 harvest

The chilli jam was a huge success and is the perfect thing with baked camembert and a chunk of bread – just what you need to warm you up on these chilly days. Have a look on the recipe pages (on the right) for the Chilli Jam and Chilli Jelly – well worth a go.

Chilli Jam & Chilli Jelly

Another thing that’s also worth a go, and is also along the chilli theme, are these:

Chilli feet

These are excellent if you’re the sort of people, like us, who are forever wandering off down the garden in your slippers and then paddling mud back through the kitchen (or worse still, leaving big clods of mud right through the house – yes, you have been caught in those wellies!). They’re called Backdoorshoes – simples. You stick them by the back door and slip them on every time you go outside. They’re brilliant, and come in all patterns – garlic, nuts and bolts, roses…to name but a few. I think they’ll made excellent allotment shoes come the summer.

Not convinced…have a look at this other pair.

Sprouting vegetable feet

Seville Sunday – the madness of marmalade

So, what do you do on a grimey Sunday in January? Well, you could go to church and confess your sins, you could go for a long walk to burn off some of that excess Christmas celebrating, you could put your feet up and read the papers … or, you could spent five hours slaving over a bubbling preserving pan making marmalade.

Now, the success of any recipe is to read the quantities correctly. So, when it says 1.5kg of Seville oranges, it’s a bit silly to tell the person doing the shopping that you need 2.5kg – because Sod’s Law says that on this occasion, for once, he will actually do exactly what he is told! So, three big bags of Sevilles later, here we are mashing the innards through a sieve and cutting a mountain of peel into even strips (well, to be honest, after orange number eleven we had given up worrying whether this was thick or thin cut marmalade – it was just a mish-mash of strips). This was never going to meet Robertson’s standards!

Seville oranges cooking

Realising we had in fact doubled the recipe from that originally planned, we now had to split the lot in two so that the preserving pan was big enough to cope with the volume. This obviously doubled the cooking time, so all the other jobs for the day (planting the two jasmine that we got yesterday in the reduced section for a £1 each – what a bargain) went out of the window.

Now, at this point it is worth pointing out that last year was the first year I had ever attempted making marmalade. Very naively I thought it would be the same as making jam – shove it all in the pan, boil it up till it reaches setting point, then whack it in the jars, job done – but oh no, this requires a lot more effort…or did I just pick the wrong recipe? I made three batches last year: the first batch I left too long before I bottled so it set in the pan; the second lot I burnt to the pan; and the third lot, once I had scraped the black sticky mess off the base of the pan, turned out perfect.

Anyway, after many hours of watching over a hot bubbling pan, too afraid to leave it in case it burnt to the bottom, we have nine jars and six Kilners of any-old-how-cut dark marmalade. It’s at this point I realise that this year I have followed the recipe to the letter (apart from reading out the quantities incorrectly, of course) and have used dark muscovado sugar. This would explain why it looks something like the sludge you would dredge out of the bottom of a canal. It’s now that I realise it really didn’t matter how the peel was cut – there is absolutely no chance of ever detecting it through this thick, dark sludge even after holding the jars up to a strong light. It’s then that I remember I used a light brown sugar last year. But don’t despair, the taste is yummy. It has a treacly taste and is not too sweet – it sort of grows on you, which is just as well seeing as we have so much to get through.

Seville Orange Marmalade - the finished result

If you fancy making the most of the Seville orange season then take a look at the recipe on the ‘recipe’ page.

After all that mediterranean orange growing I feel it could be a chilly Monday tomorrow – watch this space…

The great seed packet debate

It’s been a week of seeds – what variety to buy, who to buy from, waiting for them to arrive, putting them in the correct planting month of the seed box…then planting the ones for January…then realising that February and March seem to be taking up the whole of the seed box…then realising that we probably haven’t got enough allotted earth to accommodate all of them! uh-oh.

Anyway, the sowing has started: Onions – they went in last week – Ailsa Craig and Red Baron; Chillis – also last week – Cayenne and some other multi-coloured little number; and Sweet peas – they went in today – Spencer and Eckford varieties.

Let's get this planting started

In the whole seed buying process, we’ve purchased from old and new suppliers this year – the decision being made mostly on price. This has led to receiving a variety of different types of seed packet. Now, I know most people wouldn’t worry about the packet, it’s what’s inside it that’s important, but I have issues with seed packets (as well as most other things in life). The type of seed packet makes all the difference to the planting in my opinion. So, here are my issues on some of the packets we have:

Sow Seeds (www.sowseeds.co.uk) – I like this company – I like their contemporary, simplistic style (and they have a huge selection of chillis – always a plus), however, I do have issues with the packet. Because the paper used isn’t coated in any way, it soaks up everything and soon turns into a muddy coloured illegible piece of paper. Also, the sticker used to seal the packet has the dates printed on it. This is issue number two: I have to open the packet carefully without tearing the sticker otherwise this information is lost – annoying if I want to keep some of the seeds for next year. All this said, they do get a few gold stars for their Red Baron onions seeds – they were bright green. Now they may have looked like the sort of stuff you put at the bottom of your goldfish bowl, but they were dead easy to plant.

Red Baron onion seeds

D.T. Brown (www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk) – we’ve only discovered this company this year (even though they’ve existed since 1908) and so far are very impressed – they get a big thumbs up as they don’t charge p&p for seeds, so more packets for your money! We love a bargain. Now, their packets I like – nice coated paper so they don’t get all muddy and I even got some nice plant labels thrown in as well. But, I still have an issue – they don’t tell me how many seeds I’ve got in the packet. I’m a details person – these things matter!

The other issue I have is that neither company puts a picture on the packet. I know I’d have to pay more to get that so I’m happy to forego this luxury in order to get affordable seeds…but I do like a picture, that way I can see what it’s supposed to look like instead of having to remember what the heck Moluccella laevis is – ring any bells?

Am I just being exceptionally fussy or do other allotters have the same issues?

Perfection is our goal, excellence will be tolerated. J. Yahl

Out with the old, in with the new

Well, it’s that time again – the start of a new year and new beginnings. It’s out with those old gardening gloves and in with the new ones (why is it only ever the thumb and index finger on one hand that get holes in?), out with the old seeds and seed catalogues and in with the new ones.

Old gloves, new gloves

The Christmas/New Year break has been a time to reflect on the successes and the ‘things we could have done better’ of 2011. It’s given us time to draw up the plan for 2012 and ponder over all those seed catalogues whilst gently toasting our feet by the fire, large glass of red in hand. Let’s face it, we need to be conserving our energy ready for all that digging and weeding that awaits us in the spring – better than any gym workout and a darn site less expensive!

So, yesterday was spent ordering veg seeds. Admittedly there was a bit of fighting over what should and shouldn’t be grown, and then of course decisions had to be made over what variety of runners, onions, carrots, etc to go with. Decision making is not something either of us are good at so, as you can imagine, this whole process did take some time (and many cups of tea). Finally an order was placed for everything that could be agreed on. The rest will have to be sorted over the coming weeks along with the flowers…but that’s another whole afternoon and copious amounts of tea!

All in all we’re looking forward to the year ahead on our allotted piece of earth. It’s the first full year of having the greenhouse so we’re expecting good things from it (that’s if it’s still standing after the gales today). Whilst Cameron may be trying to depress us all with doom and gloom about 2012, we’re firmly in the positive Boris camp with the olympics and the Queen’s jubilee – perhaps that’s because one of us will also be celebrating their own jubilee (did somebody mention the number 60??).

Then of course there are the village shows in August. How we look forward to them – the weeks of preparation and stress over whether the onions are large enough, whether the dahlias are good enough to pick, whether we can muster up 10 straightish runners…you cannot believe the stress and tension there is in this house come August. But let’s face it, money is at stake here. Ok, so first prize is usually only a £1 but, as anybody who has ever entered a show will know, seeing that red ticket next to your pot of strawberry jam or heaviest marrow makes all that stress worthwhile. It’s amazing how competitive we’ve become – merely entering is no longer enough, we’re there to win and come away with at least one bit of silverware to show for all that hard work!

So, onward and upward – it’s time to start planting those onions…did we make a decision on the variety?!

Allotted Earth - the start of a new season