Macro Allotment

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”
–  Robert Frost

 

Advertisements

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.

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.

 

New Life, New Focus, New Balance

The last few years have been a rollercoaster for myself and the family. We’ve had a lot to deal with and have had some hard things to deal with. Without each other, our families and friends, I’m not sure we’d have kept it together. Throughout most of this time the allotment has been a place of escape, a place where the usual concerns in my life evaporated, and where gradually some brightness and confidence have emerged from the quagmire that is depression. fennel hopeThe blog was always a way of sharing these steps into a changed life. A log of the recipes (both literal and metaphorical) which have helped me on my journey. It still continues to be that, and writing things down offers me a therapeutic outlet. However, as the fog of depression and anxiety begins to thin, and the new life as a community baker emerges out of the gloom, the allotment has taken a back seat. Where once I found solice in getting to the plot and getting my hands filthy as I weeded, sowed and harvested; now the draw is to kneadinf, shaping and baking. Spare time once focussed on planting plans, seed thinning or recipe writing is being spent trialling breads, planning bakes and ordering flour. This change of focus is not unwanted. I like the new challenges; learning new skills is afterall one of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, and has helped me to build confidence and happiness. It is however all too easy to forget the good the allotment has done me. Afteer all, the ‘me time’ at the allotment has been instrumental in dragging me back.

One of the recipes for change the blog has charted is an improved balance in my life; and it is a new balance I seek now. Something which allows time for myself, family and friends; for home, the bakery and the allotment.

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.

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.