Pickled beetroot

 

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I really need to warm my poor, frozen hands up a little before I make a start on pickling my beetroot or I may not know if I am awash with beetroot juice or have actually lost a finger. The beetroot I am pickling is Boltardy. It has been steadily growing since I planted the seeds in april and I now have a fine harvest of deep red, round, firm vegetables. Beetroot seedlings need to be thinned to allow them to develop, a task I failed to do. As a consequence I have a mixed bunch of medium sized and marble sized vegetables. The reasonable sized ones I am pickling the little ones will be made into beetroot, pear and feta cheese salad; a delicious side dish to have with lamb and cous cous.

The first thing to do is heat the oven to 180 degrees gas mark 4. While the oven is warming, wash the dirt and the occasional slug off the beetroot and trim off the leaves. These leaves are too tough to be eaten so they are going on the compost heap. Wrap the beetroot up in foil and roast in the oven for 1-2 hours depending on the size.

While the beetroot is roasting the pickling vinegar can be made and the jars sterilised.

For 2 kilos of beetroot you will need

1.5 litres of malt vinegar                                                                                                          1 tbsp of black peppercorns                                                                                                10 whole cloves                                                                                                                     1 bay leaf                                                                                                                             250 g granulated sugar

Method

Put all the ingredients in a large pan, bring to the boil and boil for 1 minute. Turn the heat off and let the spices infuse for 1-2 hours.

When the beetroot is tender and cool, peel and slice. Place the slices into sterilised jars, warm up the pickling vinegar and fill. Put the lids on, store and enjoy.

A squash and a squeeze

Two winter squash plants, that have spent the summer weaving their tendrils across my plot, have yielded three good sized pumpkins. This optimum harvest has delighted the younger Broccoli’s in our household, who all have a pumpkin to call their own. IMG_1087

I am not a great fan of Halloween, it’s too ghoulish for me, but I do appreciate the creativity that goes on in my kitchen on this occasion.

The biggest pumpkin has already been allocated to the smallest child. During the growing season he fed his pumpkin a regular drink of beer in an effort to increase its size and, like many real ale drinkers, its girth swelled magnificently.

It’s the outer skin that attracts the children, a blank orange canvas on which to display their art. However its the richly coloured flesh that interests me, and the seeds, the flat husks of dormant life that will explode into being next spring.

I’m a sucker for a great name which resulted in my choosing a variety of pumpkin called ‘Magical’. I sowed the seeds singly, in pots on a sunny windowsill, in March. When all danger of frosts had passed, at the end of May, I planted the seedlings out. The soil had been enriched with well rotted manure in winter and the pumpkins were, well, happy as pumpkins in muck.

So that’s the kids sorted and my kitchen is awash with seeds, scoops, knives, secret diagrams and candles. Better not tell social services!!!

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As for me, I find small is beautiful and my attention has turned to the tiny little squashes smuggled back from Belgium. I want to collect the seeds from these and grow them next year. As any of you who have grown pumpkins will know, they don’t half ramble and can smother other crops in the blink of an eye. For this reason I am planning on using the space saving technique of growing upwards. Smaller squashes can be trained up hazel wigwams and arches and look superb in autumn. This will give me a greater variety of fruits and therefore a greater variety of flavour.

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I am planning on stuffing my little squashes with rice and spice and all things nice while the mischief makers walk the night gathering slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails.

For my stuffed squash recipe click on the recipe at the top of the page.

The Optimistic Gardener

My other half is sitting next to me, mostly hidden by the enormous newspaper we like to indulge ourselves in over the weekend. Behind this paper thin wall I hear giggling then full blown laughter, now he is in hysterics. He peers at me over the sheets, eyes lit up with glee. ” Come on then, out with it” I mumble pretending to be not at all interested.

He is reading an article, written by Sarfaz Manzoor for The Telegraph weekend. It’s a brilliant article about ‘a wife who sees the brighter side of life’. Sarfaz reflects on his struggle to live with an optimistic wife, a woman who is always late, always in a rush and always believing she can pack more into a day than is humanly possible. I want to hang out with his wife.

My husband is tickled by this read because he knows better than anyone that I too am a hopeless chronoptimist and will always have a glass half full. But of course I am. I am a gardener after all, an outdoorsy type, affected by the changing seasons that, right now, are wickedly luring me into cosy hibernation. I slide into this restful period happily, for I am confident of the explosion of new energy in spring. Surely all gardener’s are optimists, if we weren’t, would we ever get anything done? When we buy a packet of seeds and they tumble out of the packet, dry and lifeless, we have no doubt at all that a couple of weeks after planting, new life will emerge and we will be delighted. We will plant out our tiny offspring and revel in it’s maturity.

Even weeding is full of optimism, the satisfaction of surveying our beautifully hoed earth leaves us no time to contemplate the prospect of having to do it all over again in a week or two. And when we do, no doubt the sun will shine, the air will be fresh and we will enjoy a deep rooted sense of well being.

One of the tips in The Telegraph’s ‘How to cope with an optimist’ suggests that         ‘The next time the optimist in your life is late, pass the time waiting for them by muttering “punctuality is overrated” and smashing your pointless wristwatch into pieces.’

Chances are, if you are waiting for an optimistic gardener, they won’t own a wristwatch for they are indeed pointless. After all, who needs a wristwatch to tell you you can squeeze another hour of gardening out of a gradually shortening day, surely the moon is there for  reason…

Curiously Kooky Cucamelons

It’s always good to try something new and, with so many exciting new edibles available to grow, it would be remiss of me not to experiment. This year we have grown cucamelons and crystal apple cucumbers on the plot, along with the usual pumpkins, courgettes and squahes. We have indulged ourselves in curcubits of all shapes and sizes.

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Cucamelons are curious little fruits. When fully formed they are the size a gooseberry. They grow on climbing, leafy tendrils that grow wildly so are best trained up a support. We grew our cucamelon plants both inside the greenhouse and outdoors. The ones outside faired much better although I suspect the plants in the greenhouse may have suffered from a hefty dose of ‘well passed its sell by date’ seaweed fertiliser. Ooops.

The fruits are delicious. Imagine if you will the flavour of cucumber with a hint of citrus and there you have it, cucamelon. These bite sized bubbles of goodness are perfect for picnics and packed lunches are just for popping into your mouth as you wend your merry way through your plot. If there are any left they can be pickled or flavoured with spicy oil for a more sophisticated occasion.

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Cucamelons are high on my list of favourite plants to grow, not least because they come back every year, as along as the roots are protected from frost. However these fruits are so delicious you will want everyone to try them so why not grow them from seed. Plant the seeds in april in seed compost and allow them to germinate on a warm windowsill. When the plants are between 10-15 cms high and all danger of frosts have passed they can be planted out in a sunny position against a support. Fruits are quick to form and you may be picking from June to october especially when the autumn weather is as glorious as it has been this year!

 

Freshly pressed. Featuring apple juice and upside down cake

It’s apple season once again, my favourite time of year. As usual I have spent the growing season trying desperately to keep on top of my plot and failing spectacularly. But at least I am a constant, defeated gardener, as predictable as the seasons.

It’s the apples that keep me from despair. When the courgette leaves finally succumb to the mildew that has been threatening and the bean poles collapse under the weight of the burgeoning pods, I look up from the chaos underfoot and there they are, rosy and red, as enchanting as ant festive baubles.

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I have a fine collection of apple trees. One of the best and early croppers is a lost label variety from Woolworths which shows you how old it must be! It is about my height (5ft 2) and has a similar spread (I don’t!!) which makes it apple picking delightful and easy. The red flushed fruits have an almost soapy flavour which I love, they don’t store well so are usually picked to eat on the way to the raspberry patch, the cores tossed back into the plot as a way of lazy composting.

My Bramley is a Bramley seedling, grown from a cutting taken directly from the original tree in Nottingham to celebrate its centenary. It produces huge apples that store well. Next to it grows a small russet apple tree. This featured in my cider garden that was created for the RHS Tatton flowershow in 2008. My brief to the judges stated I was aiming to show how many varieties of apples could be grown in a small garden. The truth is, we spent most of our time researching the varieties of cider that could be made from a garden.

cider house rules

The Russet apples have a dull, burnished looking rough skin that isn’t to everyone’s taste, but bite through and it’s worth it. The flesh is crisp, white and flavoursome.

The other trees comprise of a Jonagold and a few more mystery apples. These I am considering training over arches like they do in the fantastic kitchen gardens at Tatton Park. Obviously my humble plot is nowhere near this size but a girl can dream…

 

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Every autumn we dream of making cider but it never happens. A happy afternoon picking apples, chopping them and putting them through the apple press is thirsty work. Inevitably the rich, golden nectar  proves too tempting and we share it out amongst ourselves and drink it greedily. It is delicious.

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Our apples that do store well often find their way into tasty desserts and, although I love a crumble, I prefer much prefer a cake. This recipe combines apples, cinnamon and sponge to create a homely, comfort food perfect for when those evenings draw in.


 

Upside down apple cake                                                                                                  Serves 6-8                                                                                                                          4-5 apples (any) peeled, cored and sliced                                                                        6 oz/175g unsalted butter                                                                                                    6 oz/175g caster sugar                                                                                                        6 oz/175g self raising flour                                                                                                  3 eggs                                                                                                                                  1 tsp cinnamon                                                                                                                    cake tin

Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees C /160 degrees C fan. Grease a cake tin with butter and line the bottom with greaseproof paper. Add a 1-2 cm layer of sliced apple to the bottom of the tin.. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the apple. In a bowl mix together the butter and sugar then add the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour to the mix and beat together. Spoon the mixture over the apples, spread evenly and bake in the oven for 50 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the tin. Irresistible served warm with custard or ice cream.

This is a pudding that I am sure Mary Berry would approve of, especially if it came with a tipple of local cider. Mmmm

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Warm green bean salad with summer savory dressing

I have just discovered a bundle of beans at the bottom of my canvas bag. I must have IMG_2265picked them at least four days ago, yet they are as perky as any I have stored in the fridge. I suspect I went out to pick the raspberries and, spotting the long slender pods dangling, I must have impulsively picked a crop and stuffed them in my bag. I have a medley of French beans, runner beans and the crisp pods of late sown mange-tout. Perfect for a seasonal mixed, green bean salad.

Most recipes call for green bean salads to be served cold, but I just can’t see the satisfaction in this. I like my green beans warm. Cold they go a bit, well, squeaky and unappetising. Running a cooked green bean under water ‘shocks’ it and who would want to eat a shocked bean? Not I, I want my beans warm, tender and relaxed.

This recipe is quick, easy, satisfying and you can mess around with the herbs to change the flavour. I use savory in my bean dishes as the effects of the herb is believed to alleviate the effects of the beans, if you get my drift.


Serves 5

300g freshly picked green beans                                                                                   3 shallots finely chopped                                                           

For the savory vinaigrette dressing                                                                                1 tsp Dijon mustard                                                                                                        1 tbsp white wine vinegar                                                                                              3 tbsp olive oil                                                                                                                 1 garlic clove crushed                                                                                                      1/2 tbsp finely chopped savory                                                                                       Salt & pepper                                                                 

  Boil the beans in lightly salted water for five minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the mustard, garlic, and a pinch of salt together. When the mustard and salt has dissolved gradually whisk in the olive oil. Finally, whisk in the garlic and herbs and season with ground black pepper.

Drain the beans and toss with the dressing. Delicious served with a poached egg or dippy egg.

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Southport flower show and a sherry sabayon

Southport flower show has the great honour of being recognized as the largest independent flower show in the UK. Initially run by the local council this historical celebration of all things horticultural has been wowing visitors since 1924.

This year the show had a Brazilian theme. I know, I know, I giggled too but I will endeavour to keep this post clean and avoid all inappropriate innuendoes.

On arrival we, the Broccoli family, nipped into the floral marquees to visit the plant stalls which were varied and good. Then off to the prize vegetable tent where we marvelled at the enormous leeks and pert gooseberries before being confronted by this mighty erection. Honestly it’s enough to make anyone blush!

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The show gardens were fantastic and hat’s off to the designers and landscapers who built them, just as hurricane Bertha decided to visit. The judges must have been impressed too as there was much silverware glinting in the afternoon sun.

But my reason for visiting was not just to wallow in this rich collection of horticultural delights, no, following on from last years shenanigans at the rhs flower show Tatton, I had been invited to give a cookery demonstration of a plot to plate nature.

So the night before the event I decided to browse a recipe book for a delicious dish that included seasonal berries. I like to cook whatever is available on my allotment and the fruit bushes were dripping with a colourful array of juicy berries. Blackcurrants, redcurrants and pink gooseberries all there ready for picking.

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In a delightful French cook I discovered berry gratin. Perfect. Berry gratin with a sabayon sauce. Hmmm sabayon, never heard of it but it looked simple. Egg yolks, got, sugar, got, sherry, happy to buy. And that evening I set about practising.

Charged with sherry I waltzed through the recipe putting berries in the ramekins then setting to work on the sabayon. Readers if you ever attempt a recipe that you believe to be written by a French cook, just double check, I didn’t. I got as far as making a fluffy mixture that I spooned onto my delicious berries then hit a hurdle. I had to broil the pudding for two minutes. Broil? Never heard of this american term before. Broil? Sounds like boil so I put it in the steamer, nothing, so I put it in the microwave, nope, so I lowered the dish into a pan of hot water, not that either. Desperately, I googled it. Broil, it means grill, or go at it with a blow torch. Now that’s my kind of cooking!

So I arrived at the food tent at the flower show and unpacked my battered saucepan and blow torch and set to work. Intoto kitchens  had provided an excellent hob and ovens and Chef Brian Mellor of Harthill cookery school was there to keep us all informed and entertained.( Although I’m not sure tickling the gardener/cook is conducive to a well executed sabayon!)

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www.brianmellor.co.uk    www.intotokitchens.co.uk

The seasonal berry gratin topped with sherry sabayon worked well and several visitors were keen to try it. For those wanting to have a go here’s how to make it.

You will need:

Freshly picked berries, 3 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons of caster sugar, 2 tablespoons of sherry and a sprinkling of brown sugar.

First put a couple of inches of water in a saucepan and allow to simmer. Next place the egg yolks, caster sugar and sherry in a jug or bowl and mix together. Place this mixture, still in the jug or bowl, in the pan of hot water and continue to whisk for about five minutes with the heat turned down low. You are aiming for a light fluffy consistency full of air and flavour, what you don’t want is scrambled eggs. When the mixture leaves a trail or, as Brian explained, you can make drip a figure of eight on the surface and it stays, your sabayon is ready. Remove from the heat. Fill four ramekins half full of berries and spoon on the sauce. Sprinkle with brown sugar and brown the surface with a blow torch or pop under a grill for a minute or two. The result is a delicious pudding of warm berries and boozy sauce. Mmmmmmm

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