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.

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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.

The Macro Allotment

“And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.”
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Sensitive Plant 

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.

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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.

Happier Living at the Plot

The allotment has become a place of calm and happiness for me over the last few years. It’s separation from life at home and work, offers the chance to look at things differently with a new pair of eyes. The people at Action for Happiness have ten keys to happier living and I reckon the allotment fulfills them all in some way. great dream

One of the great things about allotment sites is the way people support each other. Fellow allotment holders talked to me when I was feeling down, and relating to these people helped me to not feel isolated in my depression. From receiving gifts of seedlings from my neighbour, to returning the favour by giving her some spare cucumbers, contact with other members of the community was really helpful in helping me to accept how I was feeling and manage my emotions. Visiting the allotment, with out doing anything other than being there, offers therapy in itself. Just looking, appreciating, taking notice of the minute beauty of the plants growing (whether weeds or crops) allows one to find meaning in life; enables you to dispel thoughts of uselessness and pointlessness. When I had left work and my mood meant my confidence was low, the allotment also gave me direction. I needed to be there to weed, to tend the seedlings, to pick the strawberries; and so I had to go. As my confidence grew I could try new things, unlock my creative side which had been supressed. My reslience was also improved as I saw that a slug attack was not the end of the world; that I could sow more seeds; that the greenhouse could be rebuilt after the storm. Now that I’m more on an even keel, with more of a positive mindset, the allotment still offers me a place to go for peace and solitude. It also gives me a chance for physical work. An afternoon digging and weeding is as good a excercise as any gym. The Allotment Gym if you like. A gym for your body and your mind.

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.