Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The PSB thermometer

I often joke about this, but I really can judge the temperature outside from my armchair. Looking out through the glass doors I can see the Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants, and the position of their leaves gives me a good indication of the temperature.

If they are upright like this, the air is relatively warm:

Whereas if they are drooping downwards like this, it is cold - below freezing temperature!

When the leaves droop, the flower-head remains upright and is therefore much more visible.

This one is "Rudolph", and you can see that it won't be long before I can pick some spears from it.

The central flower-head of "Red Spear" has yet to form, but the side-shoots are getting bigger very rapidly.

OK, here's a test for you: what temperature is it in the photo below?

And here?

You probably guessed, we got our first frost of the year at the weekend. I would say it's about a month later than usual.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Putting the Asparagus to bed

'Tis done. The cutting of the Asparagus fern, that is. It has gone from this...

To this...

I have left the "stubble" a bit longer than normal, so that I can be sure I know exactly where each plant is. I am gradually replacing my old raised beds with new, much sturdier ones, and the Asparagus bed is due for replacement next Spring. My intention is to try to transplant the best of the plants, like this one for instance, which put up a lot of spears. Bear in mind that what you see here is only the ones I didn't harvest.

I'm not sure whether this one will make the cut. Individually the spears it produced were fine (amongst the biggest, in fact), but there weren't many of them.

In a similar vein... At the weekend I did, as promised, collect-up some of the fallen leaves in my garden, but not as many as I had hoped. The leaf-sucker / blower contraption doesn't perform very well unless the leaves are completely dry - which they weren't. After stopping about half-a-dozen times to unclog the machine, I gave up on it and did some of the task by hand. It was hard work and I didn't have the energy (or willpower) to do much. Furthermore the hand-gathered leaves didn't get chopped up like the machine-gathered ones, so they wouldn't be so good for composting. Whole leaves break down an awful lot more slowly than shredded ones! I now have three big sacks of leaves in the garage. Any takers?

Monday, 23 November 2015

Harvest Monday - 23rd Nov 2015

This week I harvested the first of my Brussels Sprouts. It wasn't a big batch of course; it never is in my garden, but enough for a 2-person serving. This batch was 270g when prepared for cooking.

This year I have one plant each of four different varieties of Brussels Sprout. These ones are from the "Brilliant" plant.  I have grown this variety a couple of times before, and it is always the earliest to mature.

My plants have (as usual) suffered a lot from an infestation of Whitefly, whose secretions promote the grown of the unsightly and debilitating Sooty Mould. Because of this I had to remove several leaves from each sprout, but the end result seems OK, if perhaps smaller than I had hoped. Last week we bought some Brussels Sprouts from a supermarket and they were absolutely perfect - not the tiniest blemish. How do they do that? I presume that loads of chemicals are involved...

I harvested more Carrots - but you guessed that already...

These ones are a mixture of "Early Nantes" and "Autumn King". The big ones are of the latter type.

There were a few slug-eaten ones and a few split ones, but still a decent quantity left for the kitchen.

They wouldn't win any prizes for good looks or uniformity, but once peeled they will be fine, and I know that they will be very tasty.

I cut another of the little "Mila" Savoy Cabbages. The outer leaves were a bit ragged - slug-eaten - but the heart was good and untouched by the molluscs.

"Small but perfectly formed", as they say.

I have picked a few more of the Rocoto chillis this week. They look just like plum tomatoes. In terms of texture and heat they are more like a pepper than a chilli - thick, firm flesh and a very modest heat level.

Here's a late addition to the post I drafted yesterday... I picked another batch of Brussels Sprouts. These ones are "Napoleon", about 200g.

That's my harvest for the week. Please drop by at Our Happy Acres and see what other people have contributed to Harvest Monday this week.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Jamaican patties

It's no surprise that almost every food culture has its own version of this type of food - the Cornish pasty, the curry puff, the hand-pie, the Jamaican patty, the empanada, the panzerotto, and many others. The reason is that they are not only delicious but also convenient! Since they can be made in advance if necessary, they represent a good option for food-on-the-go. Cornish pasties are allegedly what the Cornish tin-miners used to take for their lunch, supposedly discarding the crimped edge of the pasty which is the bit they would have held with their grubby hands.

Yesterday I made the Caribbean version, the Jamaican Patty.

I made these once before, and the recipe I used was so successful that I used it again this time. If you want to see it (maybe even use it?), then follow this LINK.

Last time I made the Jamaican patties, we had some as a starter before a main meal, but to be honest they were a bit too filling, so this time the patties were the Main Event. I deliberately made them smaller this time, so that we could eat just the quantity we wanted.

I was tempted to serve something else with the patties, like the Rice and Peas I did last time, but I resisted the temptation to overdo it. The patties are a good balance of protein and carbohydrate, they just need a vegetable accompaniment, so I served the patties with a sort of salsa / salad dish of my own invention, striving for a sort of Caribbean vibe.

It's probably nothing like what they would eat in Jamaica, but let's preserve the illusion shall we? My dish used diced fresh tomatoes (seeds removed, for texture reasons), some mild white onion,, some Spring Onions, one red and one green chilli (seeds removed), some mango and some fresh coconut. The amounts and proportions were all a matter of judgement based on our personal preferences (in other words, I made it up as I went along!). The final touch was to add the juice of a lime and a sprinkling of salt.

I can tell you, it was absolutely delicious. A good contrast of sweet and savoury, and lots of different textures too - we particularly liked the crunchy fresh coconut.

By the way, as well as the salsa, I also served the patties with a little bowl of Mango Chutney, which went really well with the strong curry flavour of the spiced beef.

Here is a little tutorial on making the patties.
(Read my earlier post, to which I linked above, in order to see how the pastry and filling are made.)
When the pastry is thoroughly chilled, cut it into pieces about the size of an egg (my mixture which used 250g flour was enough for 12). On a floured pastry-board, roll out each ball to make a rough disc about 5mm thick. Then use a dish of some sort as a template and cut round it with a knife.

Place a spoonful of the cooked spicy mince over towards one side of the pastry disc.

Then fold the other half of the pastry over the filling to make a semi-circular patty. Crimp the edges with a fork. [Hint: I misjudged the filling. The earlier patties had a lot more filling than the later ones! It would probably be best to divide the filling into 12 equal portions in advance, on a plate or something.]

Place the patties on an oven-tray lined with baking parchment.

Brush the patties all over with beaten egg,

Cook at 200C (180C fan) for 25 to 30 minutes, until nicely golden in colour. Then you get this:-

Why is the one at top right so much darker than the others, I wonder???

We didn't eat ALL of the patties in one sitting, so one of those is going in my lunchbox tomorrow, that's for sure!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A weapon for the War on Waste

Many of you will be very aware of the current strong interest in the avoidance of food waste, as promoted by Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall and others. Let's avoid today the subjects of over-production, excessive interest in the cosmetic qualities of vegetables, or the evils of supermarket ethics. I want to publicise one method of keeping fruit and vegetables in good condition for longer, which might help some people to keep, and therefore use, produce that might otherwise have been consigned to the compost bin. The "Stayfresh" bag.

Here in the UK there are several brands available, but the ones we use are made by Lakeland and are available either via the internet or from any of their many high street shops. As you can see here the Lakeland ones are officially called "stayfresh longer" bags.

The science of the bags is explained on the back of the packs:

The bags come in a range of sizes, but the ones we find most useful are the Medium (10" x 15") and Large (11" x 18").

Medium size. Price: £5.55 for 20

The large ones are particularly useful for long vegetables like Leeks, Celery and Runner Beans.

Large size. Price £6.55 for 20

It doesn't say on the packs how long these bags are supposed to last, or if multiple uses are recommended, but for what it's worth we wash them and re-use them several times and they still seem to perform well. Even when the preservative "Japanese stone powder" eventually fades, their durable plastic composition makes these bags ideal for storing vegetables and fruit. If nothing else, they help prevent soil etc from your veg contaminating the fridge!

By the way, the brightly-coloured plastic clip fasteners, called "Clippits" are also available from Lakeland.

Here we are - some bags in actual use...

This post is not a sponsored one. I just happen to think these are good products. We find that fruit and vegetables stored in them lasts about twice as long as it otherwise would.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Every cloud has a silver lining

On Tuesday evening we experienced our first real Autumn gale, an "ex-hurricane" dubbed Barney, which swept across the UK from the South West, bringing strong winds and heavy rain to most parts of the country. Here in Fleet we got off pretty lightly. It was certainly lively, but not enough to be damaging. I had been expecting (hoping??) that on Wednesday morning the trains to London where I have been working this week might be suspended, but no such luck!

In fact, the storm has done me a great favour - it has swept up the fallen leaves for me. Out at the front of the house everything had been covered in leaves from the Crab Apple tree, but those have all completely disappeared. I feel a bit guilty because they are presumably in someone else's garden now.
In the back of our property, the patio looks neater than it has done for a long time:

You can see that all the leaves are now piled up against the raised bed at the far end, where they will be much easier to collect. Likewise, here the wind has made a nice pile of leaves between my carrot bed (covered in Enviromesh still) and the little greenhouses parked against the wall of the house.

You might just be able to see that the mini greenhouses are weighted down with lines of bricks. I must have used enough of them, because none of the greenhouses were blown away.

The only damage in the garden was a few leaves snapped off the PSB, and a bit of the Asparagus blown over, though this can't really be counted as damage because I was going to cut it down soon anyway.

As long as I can muster the energy (my Fibromyalgia has been bad this week) I plan to get the leaf-sucker/blower machine into action again at the weekend. I will probably have to bag the leaves because my compost bins are full already. I do have a bin specifically dedicated to making leaf-mould, but since the leaves decay only very slowly it fills up more rapidly than I would wish.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Propagating Strawberries

I mentioned a few days ago that I was planning to pot-up some Strawberry offshoots, before they got completely covered in fallen Maple leaves...

Well, on Sunday I finally got round to doing this task. Let me show you the Strawberry plants before they got covered in leaves:. You can see here how the runners were spreading out in all directions and looking for a home in the shingle.

As some of you know, I grow my Strawberries in black plastic crates (you can just about make them out in the photos above). I have 4 of them, each containing 4 plants. My plan is to keep my stock vigorous by replacing one box every year with new plants grown from the offshoots. Here's Box No.1 lined up for the treatment:

A closer look at the runners reveals some nice strong plantlets, some of them with well-developed root systems already (I had to prise them out of the shingle with a trowel).

So, snip the plantlet off the runner, and stick it into a small pot full of moist compost. It's as simple as that!

Following my usual policy, I potted-up six plants even though I only need four. This allows for some casualties.

The little plants are now safely ensconced in one of the mini-greenhouses, where they will spend the Winter prior to being planted up in their crate (duly filled with fresh compost) in the Spring.

Job done!