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’ […]
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.
- 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.
In winter, we inhabit the allotment at a different pace to other seasons. It’s a good time to look at shape and structure, reflect on how the plot functions, repair and replace where necessary, and sort out any maintenance we’ve neglected during the summer months when our attention is focused elsewhere. The site will have regular supplies of wood chip between now and March, as trees and hedges are pruned and chipped, so the paths on our plot will have a good thick layer that should last through to autumn. Moving worm bins; a recycled wheelie bin with a tap fitted is one of our current tasks to replace the smaller bins that are scattered across the plot.
Between the rain and the gales, this winter feels like an extended autumn that will turn into spring before we’ve experienced cold. We’re at the beginning of February, and it’s definitely not been a cold enough winter. We need a cold winter; the apple trees need 1000-1400 hours at 7oC or lower to enable them to overcome bud dormancy; so with garlic, which needs at least 30 days at temperatures at 10oC or lower to persuade the cloves to split, then swell. The lack of cold has also made timing winter pruning difficult; apples need pruning while they’re dormant, but the higher temperatures have reduced the usual seasonal routines to emergency guesswork.
The allotment hasn’t reverted to its usual winter monochrome; the small red rambler by the shed has held tenaciously onto its leaves, refusing to revert to winter leaflessness; the strawberry plants have sat in a state of permanent anxiety, sickly blossom intermittently emerging in response to a rise in temperature or a dose of weak sunshine. The Kales are also looking sickly, due to mild temperatures that haven’t allowed them to rest, while their resident bugs have just continued bothering them. The white fly momentarily succumbed to the hard frosts that descended in mid January; we all breathed a momentary sigh of relief: real winter, the pests would at last be frozen out! No – this didn’t last long enough. The Irises we re-planted had their flags pruned against the wind and now new shoots are beginning to show. The elephant garlic is growing vigorously and there are signs of the other garlic beginning to sprout. We planted crocuses late, three weeks ago, and already they’re starting to push through. The poached egg plants are thriving, yet, being annuals, the cold should have killed them off.
With this intermingling of seasons, the plants we welcome for their flowers in winter: jasmine, cyclamens, hellebores, are reminders of what ‘should’ be happening, but also disturbing harbingers of a spring about to emerge from an interminable autumn restlessness. The seasonal rhythms are out of synch and everything feels discordant. This coming year is going to see exhausted perennials in need of extra care, feeding and vigilance.
It’s been cold today, but sunny, one of the few fine days we’ve had recently, a welcome return to more normal winter temperatures. We continue clearing, replacing old disintegrating scaffolding boards, mulching and generally using this time to repair & rethink the structure of the plot.
Four years ago we bought three varieties of apple as feathered maidens, to grow alongside a Cox that Teresa had renovated, and an old gnarled apple tree, both of which were on the allotment when we took it over. The older tree hasn’t cropped for two or three years, but when it last did, the apples were delicious, so we’re hoping this year it might crop again. The Cox was struggling, the roots barely anchoring it in the soil. It was replanted, pruned, mulched generously with seaweed and leafmould; last autumn it repaid this care with a really healthy crop of good sized fruit, some of which we pressed during our annual Apple Day on the allotment site.
Having reviewed the fruit we grow & eat, we replanted our fruit bushes & pruned & mulched them properly, a winter task that has usually been neglected, due to time & lack of confidence in how or when to prune. We also decided to move the 3 apple trees as they were too crowded; they are just small enough to transplant safely, with time for their roots to settle & recover before they’re winter pruned, in late February/March. In 2014, Teresa had successfully grafted 2 Green Costard apple scions, a local Sussex variety, & now, as 1-year maidens, they needed a permanent site.
Last week we prepared an area to bring the trees together where they would be easier to manage. Having dug and prepared the bed, we carefully excavated around the trees & lifted their rootballs intact; they were bedded into their planting holes & mulched with seaweed and horse manure, then staked against the high winds that have been a feature of the last few months. Together with the Cox and the old apple tree in front of the shed, we now have an orchard.
We’re south west facing, gardening on the slope of a valley. The soil’s rich on the valley floor, from years of adding, working, improving, and we’ve managed to enrich the chalk ridges up the valley side too, but the soil’s still not as good as the lower beds.
Because of the aspect, we’re in sunshine a good part of the day, and catch the late evening sun too, and so we’ve decided to build another shed at the top of the allotment; the soil, what there is of it, is poor, mostly chalk ridge. So we scavenged joists from a building site nearby, enough to construct a large platform. The shed’s yet to be built but it’s enough at the moment to sit up here on a winter afternoon; it’s peaceful, relaxing.
A couple of days ago we sat watching one of our resident Robins feeding from a fat ball we’d crushed into a tray. In the middle of the garden, just below the existing shed, Blue Tits, a Blackbird, and a pair of Jays fed from birdfeeders hung on one of the apple trees. A Robin pecked at the debris, below.
We’ve been repairing beds, pruning and weaving the hedge on both sides of the allotment, and excavating to begin making a pond. We need space to grow, but we also need places to sit, relax, enjoy the variety of wild life that will hopefully colonise the area as the pond becomes established. Still, it’s early days, nothing but a hole in the ground and a mound of earth and muddy chalk at the moment.
The allotment’s often quiet at this time of year, a few people scattered across the site, but otherwise not much evidence of activity. It’s lovely sitting on the platform, and we can imagine the shed, which will be built, one way or another, over the winter, assuming we can find one on Freecycle, or maybe by word of mouth.