Gooseberry & Elderflower Curd

gooseberry

The gooseberries on the plot are looking fabulous at the allotment. We’ve got one of the slightly more unusual red varieties of gooseberry, and their dark red jewels are protected by a barrier of thorns. I like the fact that these berries are surrounded by vicious spikes, it means the fruits don’t tend to get eaten by the usual marauding flocks of animals and birds, and there is an increased sense of satisfaction in picking them without getting too spiked!

Gooseberries are a great fruit to have on the plot. They pretty much look after themselves, and you can get two crops from them; one when you thin the small green (and rather sharp) fruits to make space for the main crop, the other as the red bulging fruits ripen. The flavour of these later fruits is distinctly floral, with a pleasing balance of sweet and sharp. Perfect to add a bit of zing to an afternoon crumpet. An old fashioned thing perhaps, curd is a brilliant addition to your breakfast table. Simultaneously tart and sweet, its velvety texture gives a touch of luxury to the morning toast.

The classic curd is lemon, but as my allotment is not on the mediterranean coast, the search for a tart and flavoursome fruit has taken me to gooseberies. The quinteseentially English early summer fruit.

You will need 

500g gooseberries
3 sprigs elderflowers (or a dash of elderflower cordial)
100ml lemon juice
125 unsalted butter
450g granulated sugar
200ml strained beaten egg (4 or 5 eggs)

Cook the gooseberries, lemon juice and elderflower for a while until the fruit collapses and the juices flow. Allow the puree to cool a bit, then rub through a sieve to form a puree. Mix the puree, butter and sugar together in a basin over a pan of boiling water. Stir until the butter has melted and you have a smooth texture. Take off the heat and allow to cool a little (about acceptable finger dipping cool). Pour the strained beaten eggs into the berry mixture, then whisk over the boiling water until thick and creamy. Pour into sterilised jars and allow to cool fully before spreading on hot toast, using in a cake, or just dipping in a spoon for a quick taste!

Rhubarb and Strawberry Cordial

This year seems to be a great year for rhubarb and strawberries. The plot is awash with bright red berries, and the rhubarb is looking more and more like its giant cousin, Gunnera. As the weather hots up, its always good to be able to turn to a homemade thirst quencher, with the sweetness of the strawberries contrasting with the tart rhubarb.

You will need (Makes about 1.5 litres)

1kg rhubarb (chopped into large chunks)
1kg strawberries
Granulated sugar
1 tsp Citric acid (if you want to keep coridal for long time)

Place your rhubarb & strawberries in a large saucepan.  Add 200 ml of water to the pan. Bring slowly to the boil, crushing the fruit gently with a wooden spoon or, as I did, a potato masher, as it heats. Continue to heat gently until the fruit is soft and the juices flow. Scald a jelly bag or muslin square and suspend over a large bowl or pan.  Tip the fruit into it and leave to drip overnight in an undistrubed place. t

The next day, take the juice and pour into a clean pan. For every 1 litre of juice add 700g sugar (or to taste). If you want the cordial to last for a long while, then add a tsp of citric acid at this point. It prevents fermentation occuring in the bottle, ensuring you don’t have any exploding bottles later in the year. Heat the mixture gently to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat. Pour immediately into warm, sterilised bottles, leaving a 1cm gap at the top. Seal. Once cool, I like to enjoy my cordial with ice cold sparkling water.

I’ve Been a Bit Preoccupied Recently

Regular readers may have noticed that posts have appeared a little less regularly over the last few months. The main reason for this is the growing realisation that I’m becoming caught up in the world of community baking, and I’ve less and less time for the allotment and writing the blog. Talking about my mental health issues, through Spade Fork Spoon, and recently when explaining the concept behind Stoneham Bakehouse as a bakery for the community, has been of real help to me. Hopefully I’ve helped others by showing that it is possible to get yourself on the journey towards an even keel, and having an allotment, and cooking, is a way which can help some.

As a man, I do feel that it’s somehow harder to admit failings, and talk about our wellbeing. With Men’s Health Week ending today, I wrote a post for the Bakehouse site, I’d like to share with my Spade Fork Spoon readership. Click on the image below to have a read. I intend to continue to write Spade Fork Spoon, so will be back posting about the recipes and stories in my changed life soon (well, soonish). 

 

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.

Friends, Neighbours and Allotmenteers

One of the brilliant things about the allotment is the way it brings people together. Unlike in some places (and probably some in our city) people of all backgrounds are drawn to each other to talk, to share and to help. There is a real sense of community when you venture onto the allotment site.

When I walk through that gate, Peter or Mo will usually be at the site office an give me a wave, or offer a weather forecast. As I venture down the track to our plot, I’ll get a nod or a hello from one or other of the plot holders. Some people I just know to say hello to; but others, like my direct allotment neighbours are friends. When I was at my lowest and the allotment was the only place other than the house I could feel safe, talking to them about the plot and life was of real help. They know more about me than some of my real neighbours. Non-judgemental listening has been their gift to me; listening as I explained how I felt. In returrn I would listen to their problems, would offer my thoughts on this and that. All this quite literally over the garden fence.

The community spirit goes beyond words though. When my strimmer didn’t work recently a guy arranged for someone else to strim the path and areas on the plot perimeter. Just before leaving the plot yesterday my fabulous neighbour, Jean, brought me some rhubarb; “I know the kids don’t like it love, but you can treat yourself”. She knows me too well. I don’t treat myself enough, and as the kids really don’t like rhubarb I don’t bother with it too much. But I really like it. So this morning I had roasted rhubarb on my porridge, and loved it. Thank you Jean.

Getting in and out of a Pickle

Of all the elements of a Japanese meal, the pickles are my favourite. I love the acidity and punch they give to any dish. Pickling is a great way to preserve vegetables at their freshest, making use of their youthful crunchiness to prepare a brilliant condiment to many dishes. Pickling, like fermentation and other food preservation techniques, has become more popular recently; and one of the reasons must be the way in which it allows you to stop wastage of different vegetables, extending their life.  This ability to use up vegetables you have in excess makes pickles the friend of the allotmenteer. Noone who has an allotment hasn’t encountered the courgette glut, or been overrun by runner beans. With the ability to pickle the excess, these gluts are more manageable. I’ve already got too many cucmber plants growing in (and out of) the greenhouse, so I started thinking about the plan to manage the situation.

Last week I received a hamper from the people at Farmers’ Choice, an online free-range butchers and grocers. They have the tagline ‘from Dirt to Doorstep’, and pride themselves on their high standard of animal welfare and local producers. The food box I received had a mix of meat (a free-range chicken, mince, pork chops), as well as a range of seasonal veg. Included in this were spring onions, radishes and cucumbers; the perfect vegetables to perfect my pickling.

Cucumber and Radish Japanese Pickle

You will need

3tbsp cider vinegar
1tbsp caster sugar
1tbsp mirin
1 cucumber
300g radishes
1 spring onion
1/2 tbsp fine sea salt

Start by preparing the pickling liquid, combining the vinegar and sugar and stirring until the sugar is disolved. Finely slice the radishes and spring onion, before halving the cucumber and scooping out the seeds. Finely slice the cucumber into half moon shapes. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt, mix together, then leave for half an hour or so. The salting will draw out moisture, increasing the crunch in the vegetables. Thoroughly rinse, then dry, the veg before placing in the pickling liquid. Place in the fridge, the pickle will be ready after an hour or so.

pickled veg

I served this pickle with some of the chicken made into a delicious kebab. Marinated in a lemon juice and mint, the meat had a great flavour and complimented the pickle brilliantly. The pickles would also make a super accompaniment to a burger, the acidity of the pickled radishes and cucumber cutting through the meatiness of the burger.

I’ll be saving some of my veg gluts to pickle later in the year, they’re a great way of extending the shelf life of vegetables and providing a zingy accompaniment to dishes.