My Big Basket Of Beautiful Borlotti And A Few Shades Of Africa

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I cannot tell you how excited I get about the prospect of the late summer borlotti harvest. I grow the climbing version, also called Firetongue or Lingua di Fuoco – you can see why – and just now the leaves are falling from the stems and leaving clusters of hot pink pods to light up my allotment plot.

I harvested the first row last week, prompted by the sudden appearance of a fungal looking disorder on some of the pods. Usually I let them dry on the sticks, but the ones in the header were quickly blanched and put in the freezer. This anyway means they are much quicker to cook – favourites in chilli, re-fried beans and bean soup.

I’ve been keeping my eye on the second row. They are at the other end of the plot, and seem to be drying nicely with no signs of infection. I showed the diseased pods to the Resident Plant Pathologist chez Farrell i.e. Dr. Graham, but all he said was, ‘It’s probably due to the funny weather.’ Which is a bit like going to the G.P.’s surgery with an ailment and being told: ‘there’s a lot of it about.’ Ah well. As long as I have lots of pods to shell I’m happy. Until you open them you never know quite what colour the beans will be. I’m easily pleased. When all is said and done, they are SO very beautiful.

The basket is a favourite too – made by the Tongabezi people of southern Zambia (they who were forcibly displaced from their ancestral Zambezi Valley lands by the British in the 1950s so Lake Kariba and the hydro-electricity dam – between what was then Northern and Southern Rhodesia – could be constructed.) I bought it long ago in the museum shop in Livingstone, near Victoria Falls. The beans are also grown in Africa where they are called Rose Coco, and sold by farm mamas who measure out the quantities in old (scrubbed) jam tins at their roadside market stalls.

It’s interesting the apparently unrelated resonances that, well, resonate down one’s personal time-line on a Monday morning here on Wenlock Edge.

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copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

In the Pink #17

In the Pink At The Allotment And That Includes The Cauliflowers

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I’ve not taken you to the allotment lately. It’s been hard work all summer doing the watering, protecting crops from scorching and defending the brassicas from butterfly onslaught. But just look what cropped up this week. (And yes we have eaten it).

You have to watch cauliflowers. They can sneak up on you. One moment nothing but a bunch of leaves, the next a big head enough for two. If you miss the moment of readiness, they can soon be spoiled by grazing earwigs – the rotters.

With this year’s prolonged drought there have been a few losses and some so-so results. The broad beans and peas struggled fitfully. The runner bean seeds did not want to germinate. The strawberries started off well, then fainted. Some of the greens went grey with white fly and other nasties. The sweet peas went to seed as soon they flowered, then were attacked by aphids and had to be chopped. The French beans, though plentiful, were unusually stringy right from the get-go. And the runner beans are only now appearing at a manageable rate, this with the drop in temperature.

The courgettes, on the other hand, simply galloped away and are still producing. This I do not understand as they like to be watered well, and I have not watered them well, though they did have plenty of compost to grow in. We’ve also had good raspberries, beetroot, carrots, onions, a few squashes, and Swiss Chard which has grown itself. The borlotti and butter beans and leeks look to be doing pretty well, and we’ve had tomatoes and mini cucumbers from the polytunnel. The star success is the sweet corn, both the crop from the seedlings I bought in, and the Lark variety I grew myself. Round of applause for the Lark please even if it isn’t pink…

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And we have asters, which are amazingly pink. I used to think I did not like them, but after last year’s gift from fellow allotmenteer, Siegfried, when he appeared on my plot with armfuls of them, I have been quite won over and decided to grow them too. Some of them come with their own crab spiders.

 

In the Pink #4

In The Constellation Of Echinops It’s Bee Heaven And Never Mind The Drought

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Watching the garden struggle over many rainless weeks,  I’ve been thinking more and more about drought-tolerant plants. And here’s a real winner – Echinops or globe thistle. It comes from the Mediterranean, but there are now many garden cultivars to choose from, some less sprawling than others.

I grew mine from seed a couple of springs ago. The plant here, is one of the seedlings I planted out at the allotment. It has had no attention from me this year, and its end of the bed has had not been watered. The prickly globes are just coming into flower and yesterday the bumble bees were all over them. And of course there can be nothing better for the vegetable plot than a few star attractions for the pollinators.

And then at the other end of the bed from the Echinops, and the tangible result of some good pollinating, is an already fat Crown Prince squash. I’m amazed at the size of it, given my erratic hand-watering of the mother-plant a couple of metres away.  I’m thinking of hiring it out to Cinderella. At this rate it will provide her, or even me, with a very handsome coach. Just need to look out for a good team of horses. Oh yes, and a few slick coachmen.

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Gatekeeper, Skipper And Blue And A Mystery Moth For Pete

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I found the allotment teeming with bees and butterflies the other evening. As you can see, the butterflies really love the oregano flowers. The little blue butterfly was too skittish for me to get a good photo, but I’m assuming it is a small blue or a common blue.

One of the best thing about Word Press is how one blogger introduces you to another although they are poles apart across the planet. In this case Ark down in Johannesburg who documents his garden’s wildlife visitors (please go and see his latest slide show of some of Africa’s loveliest birds) gave me a nudge to visit Pete Hillman who documents wildlife from his home in Staffordshire, the next door county to mine. He takes very beautiful photos and is a fund of knowledge over what’s what.

So now for my mystery moth. These are rubbish photos due to the high speed whizzy movements of the subject. I’m thinking it is a hawk moth of some sort. It was out late the other morning, pile driving the phlox flowers with a very scary proboscis. Most unnerving. Over to you, Pete…

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A Bit Of Magic On Monday ~ Quintessentially Exquisite Quince Flowers

I discovered the quince tree (Cydonia oblonga) at the allotment only last year. It was hanging in large golden fruits like overfed pears. They had a subtle fragrance too. And I was entranced. It seemed as if the tree had materialised from out of some ancient Persian painting. Later I discovered that this was indeed one of its homelands (in that belt of southwest Asia between Armenia, Turkey, North Iran and Afghanistan). On Saturday evening as I was going home, I caught the tree on the last lap of flowering – petals like finest Dresden porcelain. What a treasure. And then I started thinking about quince jelly and quince ‘cheese’ – the dulce de membrillo – as made on Spain’s Iberian peninsula and eaten with Manchego cheese. And then I thought how very generous is the plant world to human kind.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Spring?

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Dare one say it – suddenly spring seems more intentional, as if it’s meaning to stay for more than five minutes? These lesser celandines were blooming hell for leather yesterday when I was delivering stuff to the allotment. Even the spider seems to be having a bit of a sun bathe (apologies arachnophobes) rather than being sneekily on the hunt.

Things being transported to the plot included three black bin bags of leaves gathered from mother-in-law’s lawn (they will take a couple of years to turn into very useful leaf mould) and twenty new seven-foot canes. These last are not for this year’s runner beans, but for peas. After seeing last summer’s mega-pea-crop success of fellow allotmenteer, Dave, I thought I would give climbing pea Alderman a go. This is a heritage variety, apparently favoured by ‘good old boys on their allotments’, and not much to be found elsewhere.

You need to treat them like runner beans using plenty of tall supports because they may end up growing six to eight feet tall i.e. heading for around 2 metres. The beauty of this variety is that it crops without surplus production over several months. Whereas modern pea varieties tend to produce all at once, which is why you need to sow the seed successionally e.g. every couple of weeks, which can be a faff if you lose track of time.

At the moment the pea seeds are just germinating  (I sow in trays due to allotment mice), and yesterday I moved the first batch into the cold frame, so I truly am hoping that winter has gone. I will report back in a few months time on how this good old girl is getting on with the Alderman.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Having My Cake And Eating It ~ That Would Be Gluten Free Lemon Zucchini Cake

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This year I seem to have started off the zucchini aka courgette season with a glut. I anyway usually slice them into spaghetti strips or noodles to use, seasoned, sprinkled with fresh chopped oregano or coriander, and warmed through with a little oil or butter, instead of pasta. They go well with either tomato or meat based sauces.

But then as the harvest began to multiply beyond the sensible, including exceeding neighbour capacity, my mind wended towards cake. I remembered having a delicious slice of lemon courgette cake last year in a museum cafe.  So I did a trawl of recipes on the internet, and adapted a gluten free flour one found at The Pink Rose Bakery into a ground almond-polenta version. In fact I’ve been using ground almonds (and or polenta flour) in most of my cake recipes these days. They give much lighter, moister results.

So this is what I did:

Lemon Zucchini Cake

20 cm/8” deep cake tin, oiled

oven 180 C/160 C fan/350 F

Ingredients

250 gm/ good 8 oz of coarsely grated zucchini/courgette placed in sieve over sink to drain

2 large eggs

125ml/4 fl oz vegetable oil. I used groundnut

150gm/5 oz sugar. I used coconut flower sugar for its slight toffee flavour

112 gm/4 oz polenta flour

112 gm/4oz ground almonds

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder

3/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

zest of one unwaxed lemon, though zest of two would not hurt if you like lemon

Method

1. In large bowl beat eggs, oil and sugar together until smooth;

2. Stir into the batter all the other ingredients except the zucchini;

3. Gently squeeze any excess moisture from zucchini and add to the mix, distributing well;

4. Pour into tin and bake for around 45 mins until lightly browned and firm to the touch. I was using a fan oven. Probably wise to check after 30  mins.

5. Cool in tin for 10 mins. Turn out onto rack and sprinkle with coconut flower sugar.

Options: You could drizzle it with icing made with lemon juice and icing sugar, or maybe add a carrot cake topping, although we found the cake sweet enough without. I’m also thinking you could swap the lemon zest for orange zest, and use half a teaspoon of cinnamon in place of the vanilla essence. And I think the cake would be good served with fresh raspberries and creme fraiche. Unfortunately we have now eaten it before I could try out this last suggestion. But never mind. There are plenty more essential ingredients growing at the allotment.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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Daily Post Photo Challenge: Satisfaction

Storm Poppies

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Last Saturday I somehow lost track of five whole hours. There is so much to do up at the allotment – weeding, picking peas, strawberries and raspberries, digging up the new potatoes, tying up the tomatoes in the polytunnel, watering, feeding, turning the compost heap, sowing more peas, constructing pigeon defence systems, wandering about neighbours’ plots, taking a few snaps.

But one of the nice things about having the polytunnel is that when a storm strikes, I can potter around in there until the downpour  passes.  As you can see from the sky, we were in for a deluge, and I caught these poppies just as it was arriving. There was something malignant, I thought, about their stance. Something a little predatory about those seed capsules. Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time in the garden.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Still Life at the Allotment

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Mid October and the marigolds are still blooming up at the allotment. I love the way they simply grow themselves amongst my vegetables. In a mild winter they may flower into December.  It was also good to see this bee out and gathering pollen. These days, every bee is precious. Once we have killed them all with agri-chemicals, we can expect to starve. It’s as simple as that. My allotment empire has recently expanded – more of which in the next post – so I’m intending to grow more varieties of late and early flowering plants on my plot. Or maybe I should simply stick to marigolds, and let them grow EVERYWHERE. The flower petals are lovely in salads, and a herbal tea of marigold flowers is good for warding off flu. Simply looking at them makes you feel better. All that orange straight into the brain, lighting up the little grey cells as the days darken.

‘Happy Autumn’ northern dwellers.

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For more vibrant treats visit Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

Strawberry & Rhubarb Cordial

 

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This photo did not involve much travel on my part, only a tramp across the field to my allotment where the juicy, chin dribbling strawberry season has just begun.  Nor am I being very original since I posted this recipe this time last year. But on the basis that many of you may have missed it, or forgotten it – here it is again. Also since the previous posting I have indeed tested it (several times) with prosecco  and can thus confirm that it does beat a bellini hands down. I froze some of the cordial too, and it was still just as delicious in our Christmas cocktails. I also think you could churn it in an ice cream maker and make a delicious sorbet, or turn it into ice lollies or lovely pink ice cubes to drop into champagne. Here it is then:

 

Strawberry and Rhubarb Cordial

4 sticks of rhubarb chopped

300 gm/10 oz ripe strawberries, hulled and cut in half

320gm/11oz caster sugar

1 litre/1.75 water

juice of 2 lemons

Place the fruit in a heavy based pan, add sugar and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes until the fruit begins to soften.  Add water and increase the heat slightly. Cook gently for a further 15 minutes until the fruit is completely soft.

Leave to cool then strain through a sieve, pressing the pulp into the syrup. Add lemon juice and store in the fridge.  For non-alcoholic moments, dilute with chilled sparkling water, and add a sprig of mint.

Enjoy…

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copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

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