Fresh strawberry and rhubarb cordial

WP weekly photo challenge: fresh

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Fresh to me means produce straight from  my allotment, pesticide-free and naturally fed plants. I’ll give you the recipe for the cordial at the end, but first I’m going to show off some of my harvest, which despite the burning heat-wave we’ve been having, and my erratic watering, seems  to be doing pretty well.  The strawberries have been delicious – warm off the stem, or made into ice cream. We even outfaced the heat by having some in a crumble (i.e. baked with a butter-sugar-flour crumb crust) and served with some Greek yoghourt.

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And now the raspberries and blackcurrants are beginning to ripen which means it’s time to make jam with the raspberries and coulis with the currants, or Summer Pudding with both.

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And then there are gooseberries to make into gooseberry and ginger chutney, and gooseberry fool, or gooseberry sauce to have with grilled mackerel.

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On Saturday night, after a hard day’s picking, weeding and sowing, we had steamed artichokes served with crushed garlic in melted goat’s butter.

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And on Sunday night, after digging up some Charlotte and Red Duke of York potatoes, picking French and broad beans and broccoli, I steamed the vegetables and dished them up with salsa verde and a few grilled rashers of Wenlock Edge Farm bacon. Bliss.

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And now I’ve teased your taste buds to extremes, here is the recipe I promised you:

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

Leave to cool then strain through a sieve, pressing the pulp into the syrup. Add lemon juice and store in the fridge. To serve, dilute with chilled sparkling water, and add a sprig of mint if this appeals.

OR make a damn fine cocktail with some prosecco or other dry sparkling wine. I haven’t tried this myself yet, but I just know it will be wonderful – bellinis with bells on.

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And finally a shot of the marigolds and sweet peas that I grow amongst my vegetables to make the bees happy, and me happy when they have pollinated everything else.

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Happy summer to everyone who takes the

time to read my blog – lovely

people all of you.

AAA Challenge: A For Allotments

http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/aaa-challenge/

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A is for Allotment, and here is mine.  I inherited the shed from previous allotmenteers. It leans and snails roost in it. Last year I found a 1725 halfpenny in front of the door. The Team Leader has to come at regular intervals, armed with hammer and electric screwdriver, to keep the old place upright. He does the same for the tenant – me that is, not the snails.

When I’m not writing, this is where you’re most likely to find me, so  thank you, Frizz, for your ‘A’ prompt. I’ve been toiling on this plot for around six years now, and when I first started, the soil was as heavy as lead. Gardening on the shores of the Silurian Sea is hard work. In between the layers of soil from a decaying tropical sea (c. 400 million years ago) is bentonite clay. As a substance this may have many useful properties. In the allotment, it is a guaranteed pain in the back. When remotely damp, it clings to the bottom of your wellies until you have giant’s feet. In dry weather, it goes crusty and it’s like digging through bricks.

I have learned recently that this unappealing greyish clag is formed from volcanic ash. Sometime when Much Wenlock was lying down on the Equator, all those aeons ago as our world was shaping itself, there was a volcanic eruption of unimaginable proportions. I now grow my beans and peas its degraded outpourings. Below are some pickings from last year’s crop, so you can see it does work – with effort.

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I grow several varieties of broad bean including the lovely rose coloured ones which go pale mauve when lightly steamed. They don’t seem to mind growing in the heavy soil.

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I’m afraid my plot looks a bit rackety, tidiness being sacrificed to the time needed to dig, weed, and keep the wretched pigeons away. Almost everything has to be netted or covered with enviromesh at some stage during its growing. Recently I have been following ‘Garden of Eve’ and suffering severe poly-tunnel envy.

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To improve the soil, I grow areas of green manure, in this case mustard, but also phaecelia, buckwheat and alfalfa. It can be sown late summer or early spring and then dug in before it goes to seed. The difference in the soil afterwards is truly remarkable.

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Comfrey grows itself all over my plot. I tear it up and use it to protect seedlings or newly planted young plants. I also fill old compost bags with it, cut the corner off the bags seal up the top with a peg, and balance them over buckets lined up inside my leaning shed. As the leaves rot down the resultant brown gunky liquid collects in the bucket. It can then be diluted with water – 15 parts water to 1 part comfrey to make a really good crop feed. Comfrey  also has valuable therapeutic properties, and has been used to mend injuries for centuries, hence the folk name ‘knit bone’. The bees like it too.

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Unlike me, my fellow grower, Phoebe, has a beautifully neat plot. She also kindly mows my path. And that’s one of the wonderful things about allotments, not only can you grow delicious food (pigeons willing) but you meet such lovely, generous and creative souls up there.

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Phoebe has created these simple baskets across her plots at intervals. The uprights are embedded directly in the soil and the sides made with dogwood and hazel whips. Her aim is to use them for the rotting down of pernicious weeds like dandelion and couch grass, and then grow marigolds on top while this is all happening underneath. Gardening artistically.

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This is the allotment’s insect hotel to provide attractive accommodation for over-wintering insects. Also courtesy of Phoebe who begged some pallets from the local timber merchant. When he knew what they were for, he delivered them free to the allotment.

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This is the view from my plot. I can hear the clock of Trinity Church chime as I work, and the mewing of honey buzzards over the fields behind.

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I call this the Garden of Eden tree, also The Tree of Life,  because it has gloriously red apples in September. Phoebe created the wild flower garden in the foreground – lots of pink campion this year.

The bunting makes the raspberries look very festive and sees off the birds.

Below are two blogs that are well worth following for lots of useful gardening advice.

http://gardenofyvonne.wordpress.com/ Garden of Eve

http://peopleexcitedaboutcoexistence.com/ People Excited About Co-Existence

And when you’ve grown the produce, here are two great cooking blogs. ENJOY!

http://fromthebartolinikitchens.com/ From the Bartolini Kitchens

http://nourishingchow.wordpress.com/ Nourishing Chow

http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/aaa-challenge/

© 2013 Tish Farrell