Friday, 28 August 2009

Nights are drawing in

It was only the other day I was reading a post from a gardener in Scotland about the nights drawing in, and the weather turning chilly in the mornings. This morning the spider's webs were across the path, and a cold wind was blowing along Gillingham High Street, not to mention the fact that it's virtually dark at 8pm now. I noticed how quickly the courgettes have come to an end too. 2 weeks ago they all looked healthy and I was inundated with fruit, yesterday when I went to the allotment garden all the Cavili plants have succumbed to powdery mildew, although the green courgette (either Parthenon or Black Beauty, the label was lost) still looks quite healthy. Whether I will get more fruit I don't know, there are no more flowers. The marketmore cucumbers looked a bit the worse for wear too.
Vicky has named the pumpkins, George is the largest, with twins Fred and Sam almost half his size. The plants still look quite healthy, although of course, they will set no more fruit. The butternut squash plants have set several now, the largest is on the self sown one from the bokashi bin, closely followed by the unnamed seed from Wilkingsons. Both the Hunter plants look pretty sick, with no squash set so far, so I think it is a bit late for these now.
The cabbage white and hawkmoth caterpillars managed to see off the cauliflowers, we didn't get anything from these, but there are still a couple of cabbages in the fridge, which I cut before the caterpillars totally ruined them. I still keep picking them off the sprouts in the hopes I will actually manage to keep them at bay until the weather turns cold enough to stop them. Typically, now the summer holidays are virtually at an end, there is so much to do in the garden. I need to clear out the finished plants and get a compost bin set up in the allotment garden. I bought some Japanese overwintering onions today, £2 for 50 from Wilkingsons, although it is a bit early to plant them yet. I also got some Cobra climbing french beans as these have done phenominally well this year, as well as some kohl rabi and some courgettes which are supposed to show some resistance to powdery mildew, all at 75% off. I saved over £5 on seeds I would have been buying next year anyway, and no postage or packing. I was in town anyway.
I have enough jam made now to keep us going for a couple of years I think, (golden plum, scotch bonnet and plum, chocolate habanero and plum, blackberry, blackcurrant, marrow and apricot, raspberry and a blackberry and blackcurrant mixture) as well as 2 plum based chutneys and a cucumber relish. I think I spoiled the second chutney though by adding some blackberries to it, an idea I'd seen in another recipe. Unfortunately the seeds have cooked very hard, which has made it a bit unpleasant to eat, although the flavour's rather nice. I do still need to make an apple and tomato based chilli jam though, as Daniel is not so keen on the hot plum.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Plum tired out!

A very hectic week, on Monday I was given loads of cherry plums, tiny black ones which were very ripe, golden ones that were ripe, and red ones that were a bit less. I've spent the week turning these into a variety of preserves, so they did not go to waste.
The over ripe black ones were used in Amanda's chutney recipe, instead of tomatoes. I think it's worked really well and I have 6 jars in the cupboard to mature, as well as half a jar for immediate eating.
The golden ones were lovely just to eat, but no way were we going to manage them all. I have 2 kg stoned and frozen on trays before bagging, so I can use whatever quantity I want during the winter. They also made a lovely golden plum jam, then, in case we got bored, I put some bruised ginger root, garlic and a chocolate habenero chilli into a bag, and stewed it in with the plums. I lifted it out before adding the sugar, and the jam has a fruity taste, with a hot garlic kick afterwards. I think besides being a good condiment to cold meat and cheese, it will be useful added to stir fries, instead of buying plum sauce.
Emboldened by this success, I used the small red plums to make chilli jam, with one scotch bonnet added to 1kg plums, and a chocolate habanero added to a second kg. Each batch made x 1lb jars of jam, so I now have a cupboard full, though it will soon empty when the boys leave at the end of the summer! A really nice fruity jam with the heat coming in later. A favourite with Matt, so I might see if I can beg a few more plums for another batch.
Last, but not least, I just picked the summer raspberries. They are definitely not such good quality as the earlier ones, but taking them together with the ones I have already frozen, I have enough to use the last of the pectin containing sugar, but this time I'll do 750g fruit, and add 250g of ordinary sugar, as the set was a bit too stiff last time.
I should go to the allotment garden this afternoon to pick stuff, but to be honest, I would just like to feel I have caught up for a while. I must go tomorrow though, as the last visit was Tuesday. Then I picked so many cucumbers that I used a kilo in cucumber relish. The problem was, the recipe called for green tomatoes, so I did sacrifice a few, but I don't want to lose too many. I like the relish, but it isn't sweet enough for the men of the family. I think after the 3 months maturing that is called for, it will have mellowed down, and maybe they will find it more to their taste.
All I had in bowls in the kitchen were tomatoes, but having just gone outside, I found a load of beans so these are now added, ready to go in the fridge. I need to pick the blackberries and blueberries, as well as giving everything a good water, because only the essentials got done yesterday becaues of jam and hospital visiting. I'm afraid to venture outside, as I will see yet another job to do, as well as all the housework that has piled up. Still the dust is very patient, it never gets fed up with sitting around waiting for me!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Marrow and Apricot Conserve

Continuing from yesterday, the sugar leached out all the juices from the marrow, so there were tiny pieces of what looked like dried apple in masses of syrup. The apricot had swelled a bit though. Anyway, in the spirit of experimentation, I put the whole lot on to boil, remembering halfway through that I was going to add the lemon zest and juice, so ended up just glugging in some lemon juice from the bottle in the fridge. Once the sugar had dissolved I put it on to a rolling boil, and let it get on with it, stirring occasionally. Things seemed to be a bit thicker after a while, so I used the thermometer, and found it read 110C, so as I didn't want to make toffee, I turned it off. The marrow and apricot were still floating, so I allowed it to cool a little, until it started to get pretty thick, and the fruit stayed dispersed. Then I potted it up, probably around 1.5 lbs I would think. It's a bit sweet and thick, but Dans tried it and loved it, said he's bagging a jar for uni, and it will be great on ice cream as well as toast. The conserve is a pretty golden colour, with the orange apricots lending deeper tones. I did intend to stir some flaked almonds in, and I think some alcohol of some description would go nicely. I might try a 'posh' version when next my courgettes end up as marrows.
I've now picked a good few blackberries, so decision time on what to do with those. I'm running out of jars though, so will need to go begging soon.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Plums and making marrow jam

After careful consideration, I decided to pick the plums, even though they aren't quite ripe. They will finish off indoors, so at least we will get them, not the wasps. The summer raspberries from Glen Ample are still ripening, but they do seem a bit mushy compared to earlier in the season. I've put some in the freezer for jam when I get around to it. This is a cunning link to my next plan, for those overgrown courgettes I mentioned. They will be turned into marrow and apricot conserve, rather than marrow and ginger. This is partly because I misread the recipe for the ginger one and I've started it off wrongly, and also instead of buying preserved stem ginger, Andy got me some ginger preserve, basically ginger jam. It seems a bit silly to put jam into jam, so as we've both made mistakes, I'm adapting a recipe from the Internet so as not to waste anything. The marrow is sitting in the bowl with the sugar until tomorrow, and is already marrow in syrup. I've chopped the dried apricots finely and put those in too. I also found some flaked almonds, which I think I'll add to the mix tomorrow. I'll let you all know how it turns out!

Monday, 3 August 2009

So frustrating

Well, two weeks into the holiday, and I've managed 3 acidents. the first 2 were annoying, severely bruised ankle and 3 burned fingers, painful, but didn't slow me down that much. However this lastest one is a bit more limiting. I was cutting up some watermelon on Saturday night, and sliced through my thumb nail and into the flesh below. 4 hours later I came out of casualty with instructions not to get the dressing wet for 5 days, after which, if I am careful, a full recovery will follow. Vicky was a star, she came running with the first aid box, but it was soon obvious that a plaster would not be sufficient, so she offered to come with me and her dad. She even came into the treatment room while they did the dressing, so 5 stars all the way.
As far as the garden, well I can water things if I am cautious, but I can't get a glove on and any pressure is still very painful, so other jobs are out. I had spent Saturday afternoon packaging up spare seeds for the Grapevine seed parcel swap, which should be on its way to me soon, so that will be a welcome diversion.
The spring cabbage seed I planted on Saturday is already showing through, and the plums have colour. I keep checking them so I get them before the wasps. I thought it was just around us that they were bad, but at the farmer's market on Sunday they were everywhere. The cake stall left one of each cake on display, and had to keep the others under wraps, and the punch stall had similar problems. It must be a good (bad) year for them.
At the moment the chillies are having a holiday in the garden. The greenfly infestation got so bad I brought in 12 ladybirds to help out, but I didn't realise the stupid things fall off the plants so easily. I was constantly rescuing them when they got stranded on their backs. I think because they were on the smooth window sill they couldn't right themselves like they would on soil. Anyway I felt really cruel, so I gathered them up and put them back outside. Then I realised we had, among the wasps, a number of hover flies. As both eat aphids, and I didn't really want them to come inside, I took the plants to them. This was on Saturday, and now, after a good squirt with dilute Fairy liquid, and a few downpours, the plants are looking much better. I hope to move them back in today or tomorrow as strong winds are forecast. (Well I will get the others to do it for me.)
I did get my cabbage, it was so fresh and crisp, lovely, and the caterpillar damage was confined to the outside leaves. We have been doing really well, the french beans have really taken off. I think Cobra will definitely be the ones of choice next year. I'm not so sure about my white flowered runners. In the garden many of the flowers have fallen without making beans, we have only had a few so far, so disappointing. The mini cucumbers planted at the allotment garden have done so though. They were a bit expensive, from T&M, but I picked 8 from 2 plants on Saturday. Mum likes these ones taken into the home for her. She can't manage a large one at a time as she has no fridge. The other ones at the allotment, I was a bit mistaken in. the seeds were given to me, and I was told they were like Telegraph, which I thought was a longish cucumber. These are short and spiky, like gerkins, although they taste nice if peeled. I won't be growing them next year.