A Fragile Existence

Across the track, directly opposite our plot, there’s a hole where a hedge should be, the charred remnants of a shed visible. The lower gate to our plot is shattered, the locks on both sheds have been forced and the contents ransacked. We don’t leave expensive tools, don’t own expensive tools to leave. It’s the arbitrary nature of the act that’s unsettling; one shed damaged, another on an adjacent plot untouched, why? What remains of the shed opposite might be the most obvious and dramatic evidence, but sheds have been broken into all the way up the valley.

Thankfully this doesn’t happen often, it’s been five or six years since a similar incident on the site, our sheds not targeted that time. Looking at the chaos in the top shed, we’re not so fortunate this week. That said, two trays of elephant garlic remained untouched, apart from one bulb, the cloves separated and thrown onto the veranda, and nothing taken apart from a small lump hammer.

We’ve been on this site for over twenty years, arbitrary acts of vandalism happen; years ago, a caravan on the plot next to ours was set alight destroying our neighbour’s occasional workshop, but fortunately they weren’t at home. Allotments are havens of tranquility, but vulnerable too; all too easily disrupted.

The damage done, we replace boxes on shelves, repair the locks and get on with life on this plot; the early potatoes have been harvested, the beds refreshed and our leeks are in the ground now. We’ve picked our first beetroot; Madhur Jaffrey has a wonderful recipe for beetroot purée that we never grow tired of, and we’re growing Golden Burpee courgettes this year. They have a lovely flavour, are much firmer than our other varieties and planted into manure and compost which is a mixture of tea, egg shells, and banana skins. We garden on chalk which can be poor, so the nutrients in the tea mix are valuable for greedy crops like courgettes and pumpkins.

We’ve been making lots of courgette frittatas:
Courgettes seared dry on a skillet
Potatoes, cooked & sliced
Onions & garlic, sautéed
Mixed Herbs + seasoning
12 eggs

 

Beetroot & Orange Bread/Cake

A couple of weeks ago we picked the very last of the beetroot, Devoy, a heritage variety we saved seed from last year. They were smaller roots but still tasty, and they shouldn’t have survived so long in the ground. If we’d had any real cold weather they would have perished. But, no, they hung on, so we decided to make something with them, to celebrate their tenacity:

Over time I’ve developed a gluten free bread recipe & tend to use whatever oranges we have, so rarely weigh them, but I aim to use fruit or veg that weigh approximately 4-6 oz. although, don’t worry too much if its over that weight.
I always thought of this as a bread/cake until Teresa tried some & said it tasted like soda bread. And then when I was looking through the soda breads section in English Bread and yeast Cookery I came across a reference to ‘[…] soda bread is called in most parts of Ireland-cake or ‘a cake of bread’ […]

My bread/cake.
Ingredients:

1 orange.
3 small beetroot.
9 ozs. mixed rice flour/cornmeal/gluten free bread flour. Try different combinations of flours to see which you prefer (the bread/cake in the photograph is made with mainly cornmeal and a little left over rice flour).
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda.
1 medium egg.
Salt
Milk.

Method

  • Heat the oven to mark 7, 425 F, 220 C.
  • If you have a food processor, process the orange, after giving it a good scrub, and peeled raw beetroot; if you don’t have a processor, juice the orange, and mince the pulp, then grate the beetroot, into a large bowl. The results will be different, but equally tasty.
  • Combine flours, bicarb & salt & add to processed fruit & veg.
  • Mix all ingredients, adding egg and enough milk to make a dropping consistency.
  • Pour into a square 6-7” cake tin; bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until risen & a skewer comes out clean.
  • Eat within a couple of days, like soda bread this bread/cake doesn’t last.

 

gluten free soda bread_cake

 

 

 

Winter Garden

We had a good summer, but that seems an age ago now, a wonderful summer, glorious weather and abundant harvests, we’ve fed ourselves from the allotment, at least in staples. And now we’re picking the last of the fennel and beetroot. The chard’s slowed down but should keep producing as long as we don’t get any prolonged frosts. The Kale is doing well and we have leeks to pick.

We’ve found this delicious recipe, which Denis has modified for a gluten free diet:

Beetroot & Caramelised Onion Tart
Adapted from BBC Good Food: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1111644/beet-and-caramelised-onion-tart

INGREDIENTS

175g rice flour
100g buckwheat flakes or rice & buckwheat flakes
100g butter
100g grated carrots
3 large onions, sliced
3 medium raw beetroot, peeled and grated
3 medium eggs
250ml milk
Couple of serving spoons of Greek Yoghurt (optional)

Method

  • Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.
  • In a food processor grate the carrot. Set aside.
  • Pulse the flour, rice flakes and butter in a food processor until crumb-like, add the grated carrot and continue to process until the mixture comes together to form a ball. Alternatively rub the butter into the dry ingredients, add the carrots and press together until a ball is formed.
  • Carefully roll out the pastry and line a metal 25cm pizza dish or shallow tart case. The pastry may break up but don’t worry, it’s easily patched up when you’re putting it into the case.
  • Alternatively roll out the pastry on a sheet of cling film & ease it into the tart case. Chill for 30 mins.
  • Gently cook the onions in oil until beginning to caramelise.
  • Place the beetroot in the pastry case and cover with the onions.
  • Whisk the eggs, milk (& yoghurt if using) together, season and pour over the onions and beetroot.
  • Bake in the oven, lowering to 160C/140C fan/ gas 3 after 15 mins, for 40 mins or until firm and golden.

We’ve found that the mixture of rice flour & buckwheat flakes produces a wonderfully light crumbly pastry.

allotment winter

 

 

Beetroot: a love/hate relationship

My memories of beetroot are stained with the sour taste of it boiled, then pickled in malt vinegar, served on Sundays as part of our tea, along with boiled eggs, lettuce and cucumber, the egg yolk stained purple by the vinegar. My mother grew beetroot to pickle and to boil for salads; I refused to touch it once I left home, traumatised by these formative experiences.

Yet, its relative lack of pests, other than pigeons who peck the tops off if you forget to net the plants, and the occasional slug, makes beetroot such a lovely vegetable to grow. Full of vitamins, with white, yellow, orange and red varieties, the leaves also make an excellent green to eat. The Romans brought white beetroot to Britain, and you can get seeds of an open-pollinated white variety from Real Seeds in Pembrokeshire.

This recipe was the one that truly converted me to voluntarily eating beetroot; rather like a bright purple hummus, it livens up a salad, is wonderful with baked potatoes, and delicious in pittas with lettuce, or as a spread.

This is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. In her introduction, she tells us that a young nun called Protokliki, or ‘First Called’, in the Ormylia Monastery in Macedonia gave her the recipe. We make it without the bread, as Denis can’t eat wheat, or gluten of any sort. We bake the roots, rather than boil them – I’m obviously still traumatised by the thought of boiled beetroot. Very rich due to the walnuts, with an earthy flavour, a little goes a long way – it also stains clothes quite permanently if made with red beetroot. Simple and quick to make, weights are more a guide than exact – just pop everything into a food processor and taste as you mix.

beetroot [1]

Macedonian Beetroot Salad, or Pantzarosalata

Ingredients
180 gm/ 6oz of raw beetroot – can weigh slightly more as it will be peeled.
4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
30 gm/1oz of cooked potato [The alternative is the same weight of stale bread]
1 clove of garlic, peeled – I don’t think this is enough and we usually add at least 2/3 large cloves
6 tablespoons good olive oil (cold pressed, not light)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt – or to taste

Method
Bake the whole beetroot wrapped in foil, allow to cool; the skin should peel off really easily, just don’t wear anything too light as it will stain. Your fingers will definitely stain.

Put the peeled beetroot, walnuts, potato, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt into a food processor. Blend until smooth – it should have a similar consistency to hummus.  Enough for six people.

More courgettes, another recipe!

I promised another courgette recipe after posting about my courgette pancakes. It’s taken me a little longer than I’d intended, but I couldn’t ignore the opportunity offered by this glorious early September sunshine & have been busy planting & making late sowings of winter hardy vegetables in the hope they develop sufficiently before the autumn turns cold.

This recipe is American in origin but I’ve adapted it over the years. It freezes well & can be adapted to include whatever nuts & pulses you have available.

Teresa’s Courgette Loaf
Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb grated courgette
8 oz cooked brown rice
4 oz cooked continental lentils
2 oz toasted pumpkin seeds
4 oz toasted cashew nuts
2 oz mixed dried porcini/oyster mushrooms (soaked)
2 medium eggs
6 large cloves of garlic
2 tsp dried oregano/thyme
1/2 tsp basil
salt & pepper

Method:
1. Grate the courgette & drain the excess liquid by pressing it enclosed in a clean teatowel in a sieve. You can squeeze a great deal of liquid by twisting the courgette inside the teatowel – save & use the liquid in soup.
2. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl; if you use a food processor use the pulse control as you don’t want the mixture to become too mushy.
3. Place in a lined loaf tin: this quantity makes either 1x2lb loaf or 2x1lb loaves.
4. Bakes for 50 minutes in a preheated oven at 200C ;if you use 1x2lb loaf tin you need to bake the loaf, covered, for approx 2 hrs; place a tray of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to prevent the loaf drying out. Test with a skewer – it should come out clean when the loaf is cooked through.

Notes:
this recipe does need strongly flavoured nuts & seasoning otherwise it can be too bland;
Serve with a spicy tomato sauce with chilli & garlic; yoghurt dressing with cayenne pepper is also good.
experiment with different nuts & pulses & try different herbs to find the combination you prefer.
You could substitute marrow or pumpkin for the courgette.
ENJOY!

A superfluity of courgettes!

They’re like buses: they are either as scarce as hens’ teeth, or they arrive in convoy. Our courgette plants behave like buses: last year we picked exactly 3 courgettes from 8 plants, this year we are giving them away to complete strangers! The summer of 2011 in the South East UK was cold,wet & windy & the plants produced lots of male flowers. September was warm but it was too little too late.  Our pumpkins behaved in a similar manner & we only picked 6 mature fruit from a very vigorous couple of Italian Tondo Padana plants.

This year our earlier sowings in March for planting out in May failed to germinate; I re-sowed in May & they made it into the ground in mid June in time for the rains! However, I had them covered with large bottle cloches & they survived & started producing in July as the heat hit the South Downs. They’re slowing down now as temperatures plummet, & they’re unlikely to produce many more female flowers. Although pollinators have been less in evidence, we do have a wild flower bank & lots of Sage & Borage which attract a lot of bees & hoverflies into the allotment.

I thought you might like to try one of my recipes adapted from a traditional recipe, originally published by Arto Der Haroutunian(1982):

Teresa’s Courgette Pancakes [adapted from Middle Eastern Cookery, Arto Der Haroutunian, 1982/2010]

This recipe is based on Levivot or fried potato pancakes, taken with them by Russian Jews when they emigrated to Israel. Levivot are still called latkes by Ashkenazim Jews in the USA and Europe. Similar to Boxty from Ireland.
Courgette makes a good substitute when they’re in plentiful supply. You could also try them with grated parsnips or carrots if you have some to use up. Amounts are approximate so I suggest you try it & adapt to your own preferences.

Ingredients [enough for 2 hungry people]
1 large courgette or 3 large potatoes
1 small onion
2 small eggs or 1 large
3 tablespoons of plain flour (use buckwheat or gram/chickpea flour for glutenfree pancakes; try wholewheat flour instead of white flour)
1 teaspoon salt – (try and use good salt not cheap chemical laden varieties!)
black pepper
corn oil for frying
Variations:
2x tablespoons of chopped parsley or coriander
1x finely chopped fresh chilli
plain yoghurt [to serve]

Method
1.Finely grate the courgettes/potatoes (no need to peel skins, just scrub well)
2. Place in a clean teatowel in a sieve or colander to drain – place plate on top with something to weight it down with – leave for @15 minutes. Use teatowel to squeeze as much liquid as possible from the grated potato/courgette – save the liquid and use in soups.
3. Place grated vegetables in a large mixing bowl and grate the onion into it.
4. Add the flour, egg, salt and pepper and mix to a batter.
5. Add the chopped parsley or other ingredients if making a variation.
6. Heat ½ tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and when hot add tablespoons of the batter to make a 3-4 inch pancake when flattened with the back of a spoon or fork.
7. Cook over a moderate heat for 3 minutes, until brown. Turn and cook on the other side for a couple of minutes. 5-6 minutes should ensure the pancake is well cooked through.
8. Remove and drain on kitchen paper; serve with a tomato sauce or with fresh plain yoghurt seasoned with salt and pepper, or a pinch of cayenne pepper, if liked.

ENJOY!