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!

 

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Mushrooms

Our allotment has, as regular readers will have realised, been pretty wet recently. Not great for getting jobs done, but it has been a real bonus for the mushroom spores which have been blown onto the allotment or hidden in the soil. All over the plot there are mushrooms popping up from between bits of wood chip, or from underneath some discarded leaves. Every time I see a new crop appearing I have an urge to pick them and turn them into a delicious mushroom dish. The problem is, that I know there are a good number of mushrooms which may result in my gorgeous ravioli, risotto, or mushrooms on toast, causing me to have a serious stomach ache!

I’ve found myself a solution to this mushroom dilemma though – grow mushrooms myself. And the people at the Espresso Mushroom Company provide the way of doing it. Fresh mushrooms for you to pick, without the risk of causing yourself to be ill. The added brilliance to the Espresso Mushroom Company’s kit is that the mushrooms are grown on recycled coffee grounds. Apparently, each of their Kitchen Garden kits contains coffee from 100 espressos. Meaning, that as that is more coffee than you’ll drink in the time it takes to grow three cycles of mushrooms, you are ‘coffee-neutral’! As an avid drinker of coffee, but concerned about the impact anything I consume has on the environment, the sustainability of this product is a real winner.

The kits themselves are incredibly simple and easy to get cropping. Just open the box, soak the coffee grounds and mushroom spores contained within a plastic bag in water, pop back in the box and wait. A daily spray of water will, after a week or so, see the mushrooms beginning to fruit. Within another week you will have a super crop of edible mushrooms (the delicious oyster mushroom in the case of the kit I had). As you can see from the photos above, you get a decent crop, and the slightly older mushrooms can always be dried and used as porcini if you don’t get round to eating them all. Fresh, safe to eat, mushrooms which you can pick from the comfort of home, what’s not to like.

The Espresso Mushroom Company provided me with one of their Kitchen Garden kits to review.

How to train tomatoes

Whilst tomatoes should have been planted out by now, you can still get them from nurseries and garden centres, ready grown and ready to nurture to cropping. The smell of fresh tomatoes, let alone the unbeatable taste of fruits picked from the vine, makes growing them well worth it.


Once your tomato plants have grown to about a foot in height, support them with a cane or stick at their side which you can use to tie them into as they grow. It’s importance to tie the. plants to a cane before they have a chance to drop, as this encourages them to grow up and produce more fruiting spurs. As they grow, pinch out all side shoots of your cordon tomatoes, but you can leave the bush types well alone to fill out. Once cordons have formed six or so fruiting trusses you should pinch out the tops. In reality I tend to let them hit the roof of the greenhouse, then pinch out the tips.


I under-plant my tomatoes with basil, as basil and tomato go together. It makes it easy to make a basil and tomato salad, but also has a preventative effect on aphids. Companion planting with French marigolds – tagetes – also works as the aphids will be repelled by their smell. Watering is crucial for consistently good fruits. Before the flowers have formed, water once a week or so and feed once a fortnight. Once the flowers and fruit have formed, water twice a week and feed once a week. What tomatoes don’t like is inconsistent watering, this tends to lead to splits and problems with bottom rot. Like children, they appreciate a routine and will repay you when they are looked after in a consistent way.

Once ready ripe, keep picking, this will help to extend the harvest as long as possible. It also means you can use them in a range of delicious recipes. Check out some tomato recipes here.

Peg Plant Labels

As the sown seed trays mount, knowing what is likely to emerge from them becomes increasingly useful. I’ve always used the standard white plastic type, writing on them with a Sharpie and cleaning it off each time I need to change the plant it marks. When clearing out a cupboard recently I found some old wooden clothes pegs. So, I decided to use some of my blackboard paint to convert them into plant markers. I like using natural materials, rather than plastic, whenever possible; the fact that I can move a marker to a different pot easily, or wash off the chalk writing is a bonus.

To make these plant markers is an easy process. Just paint the pegs with blackboard paint (I used a mix of dipping them in the paint and using a paintbrush), allow to dry, then write on them with a chalk pen.


There’s also still time to nominate the blog for Best Food Blog in the MAD parent blogger awards. To do so please go to http://www.the-mads.com/vote/ vote for a Best Blog of your choosing and then vote for Spade Fork Spoon as Best Food Blog. Thank you!

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Cime di Rapa

My wife and I really like Purple Sprouting Broccoli and grow it at the allotment. However, we can’t grow it all year round and refuse to pay for the imported crops out of season. Earlier in the year I discovered an alternative – Cime di Rapa. This is basically a variety of broccoli (despite the name referring to turnips) and although not known in this country is widely grown and eaten in Italy. One of the key advantages if this brassica is its speed of growth – different varieties range from 30-90 days from seed to harvest. The fantastic Franchi Seeds sell a number of varieties (I grew Cime di Rapa Quarantina, a 40 days variety).

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I sowed the seeds with 10cm gaps between each station (sowing a few seeds at each stop). Once sowed Cime di Rapa does pretty well left to its own devices. I’ve thinned some of the rows to get larger plants; but as the leaves alone can be eaten as greens, this is not necessarily needed. When the plants are at a reasonable size the flower heads can be picked and used as you would Purple Sprouting Broccoli. In Italy, it’s often eaten a part of a pasta dish, Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa is one of Puglia’s signature dishes.

I’ve used the Cime di Rapa as an accompaniment to Pork Chops stuffed with sage and bacon. The greens were treated very simply; steamed, then tossed in garlic infused olive oil and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice. The slightly bitter flavours contrasting brilliantly with the sweet pork meat. The wilted greens also make a great bruschetta topping.

Writing this post has reminded me – I’m off to the plot in a moment to sow some more Cime di Rapa.