It’s Been a While

My trips to the allotment have really gone by the way side recently. Through a combination of spending more time working on the Stoneham Bakehouse, trying to spend more time with the family, and the rubbish weather we’ve had this summer, the allotment has taken a back seat.

The allotment, for the last couple of years particularly, has been really important to me. Really important for my recovery from depression and anxiety, really important for my family to get some space, and really important in providing us with a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit.  

 As Autumn shows its true colours, with beautiful ruddy leaves appearing on the trees, I’m inspired to get back to the allotment with some regularity. Being outside is always beneficial to my wellbeing, and I sometimes need to be reminded of how it can help me. I think with weather set to be fine for the weekend, a trip to the plot is needed.

Apples

With Apple Days happening all over the country, and the press claiming it to be the best apple year in decades, I thought I’d quickly post links to a few of my favourite apple related posts on Spade Fork Spoon. Without a doubt, apples are my favourite fruit, and there are no better apples than the plethora of apple varieties grown in the British Isles. I like to eat seasonally, so my first apple of the season is from our tree at the allotment (Beauty of Bath being one of the earliest of the earlies). That first bite into the crisp, slightly pink hued flesh, is a moment of delight, made more so by the long wait from the last of the stored British apples many months previous.

In a world where we are increasingly eating too much sugar in our diet, the apples natural sweetness can be our friend, adding a sugary hit to dishes without the need for additional refined sugars. Whether in salads, stews, cakes, breads, the apple is a cook’s friend.

Linked to the images below are some of my favourite apple related posts from the blog. Enjoy!

favourite fiveapples

Vegetable Pakoras

One of my favourite Indian foods are pakoras. I love this crispy, spicy, snack. It’s perfect as part of a meal, but equally good as a savoury treat. Eaten all over the Indian subcontinent they are a great way of using up bits of different vegetables, working well with cauliflower, courgettes, onions, potatoes, spinach, chard, aubergine…the list goes on. An added bonus for our family is that they’re inherently gluten free, due to their use of gram flour.

Simple in method, they do however need a few different herbs and spices to achieve the perfect pakora. For some, this would require a trip to the supermarket, or local ethnic shop (or both) to stock up on the necessary ingredients. I love having a range of spices in my cupboard, but sometimes the convenience of a spice mix is a godsend.  When I was recently contacted by Hari Ghotra about her Pakora curry kit, I thought I’d check it out.

The kit comes with all the spices and gram flour combined, and instuctions to make both vegetable and paneer pakora. There’s also a link to a video showing the process involved, but the recipe on the card is clear and easy to follow.  As mentioned before, pakora are very versatile, so I chose to use up a glut of courgettes, as well as some potatoes and onions. I love growing courgettes at the allotment, but if you look away for a moment, they seem  to grow in seconds, so another way to use them up is always handy. The one thing with using courgettes is that they have a lot of liquid in them, so after grating them they need to be squeezed of excess water, before combining them with the rest of the mix. Once your mixture is combined, it needs to be used pretty quickly, dropping spoonfuls into hot oil and frying until golden brown.

For a recipe which includes the spices needed to recreate the mix, see Hari Ghotra’s website, where you’ll also find a rnage of different curry kits and recipes to try. As a handy store cupboard emergency pack, these are pretty good. They certainly make it easy to turn a glut into a tasty, spicy treat.

A Salad for the Allotment

Since the Bakehouse has taken more of my time, I’ve spent less time at the allotment than I had been (and probably less than I should). With sightly less baking and teaching to do, I’ve managed to grab some moments to hit the plot and enjoy an open air lunch. There’s nothing better than a picnic, and having you’re own bit of ‘countryside’ to sit in and relax with a meal is brilliant. Packed lunches; whether taken to the allotment, in a picnic basket, or eaten at work; needn’t be boring. They shouldn’t be an excuse for an unhealthy mishmash of packets either. It takes very little effort to produce something which is both healthy and delicious.

I recently got contacted by the team from Simply Health, who were looking for some healthy packed lunch ideas. I like to use allotment produce, so a salad using the newest of beetroot and fresh herbs seemed a good idea. I love the earthy sweetness of the anti-oxidant rich beets, and teamed with the saltiness of a cheese like feta, its perfect for a summer packed lunch. Lentils are brilliant for salads, adding bite and a good source of protein and carbohydrates.BEETROOT

Beetroot, Feta and Lentil Salad

You will need (serves 2)

A bunch of beetroot
200g green lentils (Puy lentils are the best as they retain their bite the best)
Bay leaf
200g feta or similar cheese
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper

 

Start by trimming the beetroot of  the leaves (which if young can make a great salad), then cut into bite size chunks. Toss in a little olive oil and roast in a hot oven for 3o-40mins, until the beets are soft and slightly charred. Remove from the roasting tray and retain the beetrooty oil to make the dressing. Whilst the beetroot roasts, place the lentils in cold water with a bay leaf and bring to the boil; you can now get pre cooked lentils in packs, which saves time on this, but I like to always have a supply of lentils cooked and in the fridge, so cooking from scratch allows me to make more than I need. Lentils need about 25mins to cook, but check after 20 as its important they retain a bit of bite. Once ready, drain, and make the dressing by combining the retained oil, mustard, vinegar, and seasoning. With the lentils still warm, pour the dressing into them and stir, allowing the lentils to absorb some of the dressing’s flavour.

To prepare the salad, combine the lentils and beetroot, along with the finely chopped mint. Crumble the feta into this mix, before gently stirring the ingredients to ensure that every mouthful includes all the flavours. If you wanted, you could add salad leaves at this point (something peppery like watercress would go well), but I like the earthy nature of this salad as it is. Pop the completed salad in a sealable container and take it on your travels, to work, or (like me) to the allotment. Just remember a spoon or fork to eat it with!

 

June at Plot 4

So, summer has started and its rained all day for the first two days of the month! Still, it promises to be a good, and busy, month at the allotment.

With the transition from spring to summer, there is increasingly more to harvest from the plot. The salad leaves have enjoyed the gentle rise in temperatures and surfeit of water, producing a great crop of cut and come again leaves. We’ve also seen the Swiss chard in its last flourish, producing some beautiful glossy leaves, which have made their way into curries, tarts and pasta dishes. As the days get longer, with increasing amounts of sunlight, the strawberries have been getting close to ripening, and we should be enjoying their juicy sweetness very soon.

This time of year is brilliant for sowing, as pretty much anything will germinate rapidly, sprouting into life and onto its journey to harvest. I’ve been sowing more French beans, both climbing and dwarf varieties. Starting them off in plugs in the greenhouse to avoid the mice and rats getting the seeds before they germinate. I’ll also sow some cime de rapa; it’s very short period of growth allows us to fill gaps in the ground before planting out other crops later in the year. A succession of salad leaves, and even a few more peas will no doubt also be sown during the month.

With all the seedlings, and plants growing, there are many jobs on the plot at the moment; not least the unending battle to keep the growth of weeds under control. I’ve installed a new water butt at the top of the plot, and I’m looking to link it with the old one to allow me to collect the maximum amount of rainwater. The growing temperatures we hope for as June develops will bring an increased need for watering, so we’ll be using the longer evenings to nip to the plot for a quick water, weed and crop. Here’s to some warm evenings at the allotment; it’s one of my favourite times to visit.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

How to make Allotment Focaccia

As many of you may have noticed, I’ve been a little less prevalent in posting recently. The allotment has had to take a back seat as plans for the community supported bakery, and baking itself, have had to take precedent. Fortunately, the weather and season has offered me the excuse to put the allotment into hibernation with only a little guilt that I should be tending, clearing or digging. Plot 4 has been a critical part of my ongoing recovery and a place of safety from the Black Dog of depression, but as I move on, baking has joined it in providing me with the chance to be mindful. This recipe is therfore an important one to me; combining, as it does, two therapeutic activities and experiences in one food.

The great thing about having an allotment is having a range of herbs and crops that cna be used in all your cooking. My little garden at home, with a small herb planter, can’t sustain the constant use of a family, but the plot’s herb garden can. So, the herbs for this bread come from the plot; picked on a beautiful spring morning, their fragrance is brought to life topping this traditional hearth bread.

You will need
500g strong white flour
7g salt (plus more flaked sea salt to sprinkle on top of the finished bread)
7g dried yeast
60ml olive oil (plus more to  work the dough and drizzle on top of the finished bread)
310ml warm water
Your choice of herbs to top the bread with (I used marjoram and some chopped rosemary)

Start by mixing all the ingredients (minus the herbs) together to form a rough dough. Continue to knead the dough until it becomes smooth; using a little olive oil on the worksurface can help to stop the dough sticking, and help you to achieve the silken finish you’re looking for. The kneading will take about 10 minutes, after which you should form the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to ferment for a couple of hours.

After 120 minutes, take the dough out of the bowl, lay it flat, and fold it over on itself. Place back in the bowl for a further half an hour. Meanwhile oil a tray a 40×30 tray, then take the doughwith oiled hands and stretch it to fill the tray. Scatter your chosen herbs over the top and massage into the dough, making dimples usiny your fingers. Pour a little more oil over the dough and leave to prove for an hour or so. Bake in a hot oven (230°C) for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool a bit before taking off the tray and cutting into portions.

 

I topped this focaccia with simple herbs; but the beauty of this bread is that onions, potatoes, courgettes, even peppers, would work equally well. It really is a bread for the allotment.

May at Plot 4

 

The month of May is a significant one, being the month which ushers out the spring and welcomes in the summer. On a personal level, it has my birthday in it, and as such is a convenient point to analyse the year gone and reassess priorities. I find, as I start another year, the promise of better weather and abundant growth such a positive thought; one which can see me through darker days.

We are finally able to harvest some new crops. The rhubarb is looking beautiful and has been excellent in crumbles, as well as accompanying a granola and yoghurt breakfast, and a cheeky pasteis de nata. The first of the salad leaves are also coming to harvestable size; so we will be able to enjoy lettuce again fresh from the plot, instead of the bagged salads the supermarkets so like. Last month saw the mint at the allotment flourishing, so its time to enjoy its freshness in dishes like tabbouleh, salsa verde, and of course in mint tea.

The April sowings of beetoot, beans, peas and salads have all sprouted and are doing well, but its time to sow another batch to ensure a succession of crops. I’m also going to be sowing some parsnips, a bit late I know, but I think it will be worth it. Like the carrots mentioned last month, parsnips don’t like my clay rich soil, so I’m going to experiment with using a large bin with a good draining sand-rich soil in it.

With the evenings becoming longer there is more time to visit the plot and develop the baking day job, this meand that I can  keep on top of the ever growing list of jobs this month.  The crops already planted, need to be hoed between to control weeds and also create a “dust mulch” to conserve precious soil moisture. I try to water with a watering can in the cool of these evening visits, as it allows me to direct the water around the root area of the crops and the sun doesn’t get a chance to evaporate it before the plants can have a drink. The strawberries are already flowering and I will put some straw underneath the developing fruits to keep them off the soil, as well a water around the base of the plant to reduce any problems with mildew. 

 It all looks a lot to do. Still, there’s nothing like a bit of time at the allotment to make everything better.

Garden share collective badge
This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.