A Sussex Allotmenteer’s Lunch

The Ploughman’s lunch is a British classic, and appears in many guises on the menus of pubs and cafes across the country. Whether it is steeped in tradition is debateable, but there is no doubt that the combination of bread, cheese, chutney and pickles is a winner. Teamed with a pint in a sunny pub garden, there is little better to consume on a spring lunchtime. So, when looking for something to take to the allotment for lunch, I often end up creating something Ploughman’s like. It is a real favourite of mine.

Merrydown cider recently gave me a couple of bottles and invited me to create a Ploughman’s as part of a Sussex food blogger challenge; so ever eager to promote local ingredients, I created this Sussex version of the classic. I prefer a cheese ploughman’s, so a bit of the wonderful Sussex Charmer is a must. Produced by Bookham Harrison farm, it combines recipes for farmhouse cheddar and parmesan to produce a creamy cheese with a bit of punch.

In terms of a bread, it has to be a crunchy loaf with a good crumb. I’ve long wanted to make a bread using cider, so used some Merrydown as the liquid in a loaf which combines wheat and rye flour. Based on a Richard Bertinet recipe, the result is perfect teamed with the strong flavours of the cheese and chutney.

cider bread

Cider Bread

You will need (makes one large loaf)

Pre-ferment
100g strong white flour
25g light rye flour
2g yeast
2g salt
90g water
Main bread mix
3g yeast
250g strong white flour
5g salt
150g good cider (I used Merrydown)
Start by making your pre-ferment by combining the ingredients together, kneading a little, then leaving for 6 hours or so. This helps to give a mature flavour to the bread. After this initial ferment; mix with the remaining ingredients and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and place it back into a bowl, cover with a tea towel or plastic and leave to prove for a further 45-60 minutes.
When the dough has proved for nearly an hour, remove from the bowl and shape into a batard. I placed mine in a banneton, but a floured tea towel would be fine. Cover and leave to prove for 1 and half hours, or until the loaf has nearly doubled in volume. To bake, turn the loaf onto peel (or the floured back of a baking tray), spray the inside of the oven with water, and then slide the loaves onto a preheated (240°C) baking stone or tray. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C, and bake for about 35 minutes until well coloured. The loaf should be hollow in sound when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

Apple & Cider Chutney

You will need (makes one large jar)

100g sultanas
1 pint cider (I used Merrydown Sussex Cider)
4 eating apples, peeled and chopped (there are lots of great varieties from Sussex, with my friends at Brighton Pemaculture Trust working hard to preserve them).
3 onions, finely chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 star anise

Start by soaking the sultanas in the cider overnight. In the morning, place the spices into a muslin bag and secure tightly. Put all the ingredients, including the sultanas with cider, into a large heavy based pan and bring to the boil. Turn down and simmer for a couple of hours, until the mixture achieves a sticky chutney consistency and the surplus watery liquid has evaporated. Whilst still hot put into sterilised jar and allow to cool.

 

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April at Plot 4

This month generally starts with a few days of beautiful weather. My wedding anniversary on the 2nd is almost always beautifully sunny. This year the greyness of March has carried on to the start of April, and my mood has only lifted now that the sun is shining (and I’ve managed to get the plot on two consecuetive days).

Having harvested the last of the overwintering crops last month, there is littlt to harvest at the moment. The Swiss Chard is still hanging on, so they will be used in fritattas, bruschetta and in soups. Supplementing this are the emerging nettles, mint and rocket. The fresh flavours of these new leaves are super in risottos.

The sowing has really started, with peas and broad beans about to be sown outside. The greenhouse will no doubt be groaning by the end of the month as more and more is sown (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, chard and courgettes will all be starting their life in modules during the next few weeks). The last of the potatoes will need to be planted, with the spaces between the rows being utilised to sow radishes and herbs like parsley.

As for jobs, there are so many. The gooseberries, and red and white currants, need to be pruned to prevent disease and encourage new growth. You need to remove the dead wood, then prune all the sideshoots back to a few buds from the base. You’re looking to shorten the branches by about 1/4. All the pathways also need clearing and covering with a new layer of woodchip, and on a theme of tidying the sheds need a good sort. And of course, the battle with the allotmenteers nemesis, the slug, starts afresh.

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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 Pizza Bianca Brassica

how to make pizza bianca brassicaPizza is undoubtedly one of my favourite foods and a sure fire winner with the kids too. There are so many possible things to top it with, but almost always they include the addition of a tomato sauce on the base. I do love this classic pizza, but I’ve recently discovered the pizza bianca; a pizza with no tomato. Somehow the lack of the tomato allows you to really appreciate the flavours of the pizza topping fully.

Brassicas are not the first port of call for the home pizza chef, but they offer a great alternative to the usual topping fayre. Cooked down with onions and garlic they create an unctiuous sweet and iron rich base on which to place your chosen cheese.

You will need (makes 6 small pizzas)

For the pizza base

3g dried yeast
150ml warm water
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping

A glug of olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
350g of spring greens, kale, cavolo nero or other brassica leaves (stalks removed)
75g mature cheddar, grated
75g mozarella
Salt and black pepper

Mix all the pizza ingredients together to form a dough. Continue to knead until the dough becomes more silken and springy. It’s impossble to say how long this could take, but after six or seven minutes you should be pretty much there. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm or a damp teatowel.  Leave to prove for an hour or so, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Whilst the dough proves, finely slice a couple of onions and a large clove of garlic, and slowly cook in a little oil until it is wonderfuly soft and transulcent. When the onions are done, add the finely shredded greens, allowing them to soften and combine with the sweet allium mix. Take the dough, divide it into 6, shape into balls, then roll out on a floured surface to about the thickness of a pound coin.

I find that pizzas in a home oven benefit from being placed onto a hot baking sheet. I use a piece of floured plywood to peel the pizza in to the oven and onto a preheated baking tray (set your oven to hot, as hot as it goes). The additional heat from below helps to ensure the crisp bottom required of a decent pizza, and aids the speedy baking of the dough. So, spread each pizza with the onion, garlic, brassica mix, then top with the two cheeses. Bake for 7-8 minutes until they are crisp and golden.

Time for Peas

I’ve been a little slack in getting the allotment back online after its winter break, so as the weather warms up and there are glimpses of spring-like weather its about time I got something in the ground. One of the pleasures of having an allotment is the fact that you can grow your own beans and peas. There is little in life better than shelling a basket of home grown peas (perhaps eating them pod as you pick them I suppose), and with this thought in mind I have set about preparing ground for this year’s peas, as well as sowing some in trays in the greenhouse.Pea Pods shelled of peasPeas sing of freshness and, as mentioned, there is nothing better than eating them super fresh from the pod on the allotment. However, this is not possible all year, and here we can rely on frozen peas. Frozen peas are frozen within a few hours of picking, so will almost always be sweeter than those bought in the grocers, as the sugars in the peas start to turn to starch as soon as they have been picked.

With a longing for the freshness of peas, and a reminder of why I was planting out the shrivelled peas on a cold day at the allotment, a pea soup was required. Pea soup on its own is a lovely thing, but for me pea and ham is a superior combination.

pea and ham soup title

You will need
knob of butter
2 spring onions, finely chopped
500g frozen peas
1 litre stock (I used vegetable, but for the best pea and ham soup, ham or pork stock is best)
Small handful of fresh mint
300g ham, sliced and diced

Melt the butter in a thick bottomed saucepan and as it starts to froth add the spring onions. Slowly cook the onions until they turn translucent and release their sweet allium flavour, before adding the frozen peas. Stir, and cook for a few minutes, before pouring in the stock and bringing to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, then add the mint and blitz until smooth. To achieve a truly silken soup, I like to sieve the pureed soup once it is a little cooler. Once you’ve achieved the texture you want, add the ham and season accordingly.

March at Plot 4

So much for the fresh hope for better weather, it seems to have been particularly wet over the last few weeks, culminating in the wettest day ever for the last 24 hours of February. The allotment is as a result undiggable and pretty much untouched in the a couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had decent days, but now I have work commitments again they have nearly always coincided in a meeting or a need to bake some loaves. Oh well, these things happen, and at least I spent the first morning of March at the allotment, with the kids, tidying the shed (oh, and having hot chocolate made on the woodfired stove).

I think March is perhaps the worst of the ‘Hungry Gap’ months, as the overwintered crops dwindle and there is little to harvest. There’s still Swiss Chard going, and the Jerusalem artichokes are lying in the ground awaiting harvesting. I find that they’re best kept safe in the soil, only digging what I need. Although, in the next few weeks they will begin to sprout and it will be time to harvest the remaining tubers before they start growing into hundreds of plants!

It’s definitely time to start sowing. I’ve been a little slow in getting going on this, but with a bit of spring sunshine around its time to really start. The seed catalogue has been studied and varieties ordered. Over the next few weeks I’ll get sowing more celeriac, cucumbers, the first tomatoes, and some salad leaves in the greenhouse, to take advantage of the spring sunlight. Outside it will be time to sow some broad beans and peas (which I missed sowing in the autumn). I’ve also got some carrot seeds ready to go into a large container. The soil at the allotment is not favourable to carrots, using containers with a sandy, free draining soil, enables us to have fresh (well shaped) carrots.

The jobs on the plot start to really add up this month with cleaning out of sheds, greenhouses and other areas of the allotment. Hopefully the soil will dry out a bit, enabling a good amount of diggning to be done and potatoes to be planted.

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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 Baked Eggs with Swiss Chard

Baked EggsUnlike some of my fellow Garden Share Collective bloggers like Dusty Country Road, Our Wee Farm and Strayed from the Table, we don’t have chickens on the allotment. I wish we could, as I love the idea of being able to go and collect fresh eggs each day, but one of the rules of the allotment site is no livestock. So, when I want to have eggs I need to get them from the shops and our local free range supplier.

I do however have a good supply of Swiss Chard, and enjoy using it in many different dishes, such as chard pilaf and chard and blue cheese tarts. This little light lunch is inspired by the desire for my own fresh eggs and my favourite allotment veg, the silken runny yolk perfectly compliments the iron rich earthy flavours of the chard.

You will need (serves 2)

2 eggs
150g Swiss Chard
A few knobs of butter
Salt & pepper
Nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Wash the chard and trim off the thicker bits of the stems. Place them in a large hot pan and cook until wilted. Stir in a small knob of butter and a grating of nutmeg, before dividing the chard between two buttered ramekins. Crack an egg into each ramekin, season with salt and pepper, and add another small knob of butter to each of the ramekins. Bake for a 10-12mins until the egg is just set. Serve with toasted sourdough or similar bread. If you’re pining for eggs and soldiers, as I do sometimes, why not serve toast soldiers to dip into the runny yolk.

February at Plot 4

The year has well and truly started now, and for me it has meant a lot of aborted trips to the allotment. My new role as project lead for Stoneham Bakehouse community bakery has meant that I have had less time to spend at the allotment. What time I have had, has often been thwarted by the rain and generally inclement weather. At least, at this time of year, a few weeks of little inactivity is manageable; although with the mild start to the year Jack Frost hasn’t been able to help me keep the perennial weeds under control, or break up the soil I’ve managed to clear. Still, a new month, brings fresh hope for drier, colder weather.

Although the plot is very much in a dormant phase, there are still vegetables to harvest. The brassicas which are overwintering under the protection of netting, are providing us with iron rich green leaves to accompany stews, go in soups or top pizzas. Yesterday’s evening meal was a delicious pizza bianca topped with an unctuous  combination of onions, garlic and kale. Jerusalem artichokes are at their best at the moment, especially pureed and accompanying fish. The onion supply from this year is dwindling, but I have plans for the production of a version of French Onion soup, using the shallots, red onions, and our last garlic (an English Allium soup if you will).

Last year I completely forgot about sowing any sweet peas, relying on a few bought plants later in the year to provide the allotment with these fragrant and colourful legumes. So this year I’m determined to get sowing soon, doing so in the protected cool of the greenhouse. Given the relative mild winter so far, I suspect the dahlias I neglected to protect and dig up in the autumn are probably fine. That said, I’m looking to pot up a few dahlia tubers in some compost, ensuring they are kept somewhere warm (well 10 degrees or above). As for vegetables (we haven’t eaten dahlia tubers in this country since they arrived in this country in the 1700s), I hope to start the early sowings under glass of cauliflower, celeriac and leeks.

The main jobs on the plot this month are ones of maintenance. The various beds need edging, weeding in some cases, manuring, and generally tidied up. Before the new sowings in the greenhouse I need to give that a good clean and sort out; the stormy winds of a week or so ago have loosened a few panels of the polycarbonate, so they need securing and sealing.  The raspberries also could use a bit of work; the autumn ones need to be chopped down to ground level, and the summer-fruiting varieties need last year’s canes removed too. The blueberries in pots will also benefit from a top-dressing of pine needles to improve the pH of the soil. The other main job is to secure the tool shed. As in every winter so far, the local rodent population have managed to nibble their way in and have been sheltering from the colder weather, whilst nibbing away at various pieces of kit. It’s time to reclaim the shed!

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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.