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Nature Is Wonderful….

This week has been another week of sunshine and showers.  It has also been quite windy at times and I have had to tie up some of my peas and sweetpeas, as the wind blew them away from their supports…..though no harm was done as you can see in the photograph below:

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I think nature has a way of dealing with all situations and the sunshine and showers are certainly helping my plants grow.  Rain is full of nitrogen so the garden is now looking lush and green.

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The sunshine and showers also produced the most spectacular rainbow in the sky (though my camera doesn’t really show the pure beauty of it as well as I would have liked).

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 Nature really is wonderful, but it is all too easy to take it for granted….I firmly believe that global warming is happening – every gardener has already seen the changes in the seasons – but it is so easy for us all to ignore and pretend it isn’t happening…..I know a lot of people think that it is a problem that just the goverment should be dealing with and yes I do think they should be doing more… however if we all did our own little bit e.g use our cars less, buy less ‘stuff’, recycle where possible, eat less meat, be mindful about using electricity, etc. then maybe it would make a difference.

I realise people won’t agree with me and I know how hard it is when you have children / teenagers in the house wanting ‘this’ and ‘that’, but every little bit we do (even the smallest things) will all add up.

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This week in the garden:

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This week I finally got around to using the extra comfrey feed that I made last year.  I never got around to using it as I still had some left over from the first batch that I had made last summer.

I really expected it to stink as it had been there since last year, but amzingly it wasn’t too bad:

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I strained it through and old rag and I managed to get three bottles of comfrey feed to use on my fruit and flowers around the garden, as it is so high in potash.  It is particularly brilliant for tomatoes.

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As my comfrey is still growing well, I started another bucket of comfrey tea off.  It only takes a couple of weeks to make, though I do tend to leave it stewing until it is needed:

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“To make comfrey tea all you have to do is fill a bucket with the comfrey leaves and stems and weigh it down with a brick and pour over cold water.  I cover it (to stop flies getting in) and leave for approx. two weeks. Be warned, by this time the smell is revolting!  Strain the comfrey tea liquid into another container and put the remaining comfrey in your compost bin.

To use it I put 2 cups of comfrey tea into a watering can and then fill it with water and give it a good mix”

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This week I noticed that my runner beans were flowering and they look very pretty.  However, I also noticed that they had climbed to the top of their supports, so I chopped the top of each plant off:

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By nipping off the top of each plant, they will become bushier and produce more beans lower down.

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Now that I had harvested my last spring cabbage, I decided to plant my curly kale seedlings….but first I decided to give the area a quick weed and remove the yellow leaves from the cabbages under the same net.  The yellowing leaves can harbor pests and diseases so it is always a good idea to remove them every so often:

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Incidentally the cabbages are growing well this year, probably to do with all the rain we have had:

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After this I raked in some blood, fish and bone and then planted three curly kale plants that I had grown from seed.  Hopefully if the plants grow ok then three plants will be enough for us over winter:

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I also tied up my jeruselum artichokes as one of them had fallen down……they are planted in a bottemless deep pot, to stop them from spreading and it seems to be working:

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Another job I finally got around to doing was to ‘prick out’ my wallflowers that I sowed a few weeks ago (they really should have been done by now).

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If you look really closely at the photo on the right, you will see tiny holes on the leaves…..these holes are made by the flea beetle….

“The adult flea beetle eats the leaves of most brassica’s (including wallflowers) and their larvae will eat the plant roots.

Bad infestations can kill the plants, however this is unusual.  I have found that seedlings are more suseptable to flea beatles, so if my plants come under attack I feed them regularly with a seaweed fertliser until they grow bigger and stronger.

In my experience the flea beetle will set back your seedlings, but it is very rare they don’t recover with a bit of care”

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I also transplanted the fox gloves I sowed a month or two ago, into bigger pots to grow on:

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  Foxgloves (digitalis) and wall flowers are both biennial plants, which simply means they grow one year and flower the next and then die.  When my plants are big enough in autumn I will plant them in the ground where they will hopefully give me a good display next year.

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Another job I did this week was to repair a bare spot on my lawn.  I raked over the area and then spread some grass seed that I had already mixed with compost.  I then covered it with my heavy plastic propagator lid to protect it from Judy (our dog) and I have made sure it has been well watered.

Hopefully the grass will grow well:

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I have also continued to tie up my outdoor tomato plants:

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And I have continued to dead head all the old flowers around my garden, so they produce lots more new flowers:

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This weeks harvest:

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The strawberries are doing well considering it is their first year (I ignore the books and don’t remove the flowers the first year and I have always had good crops).  I have had two harvests this week:

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The courgettes have finally decided to grow and I have picked two from my two plants this week:

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And I am still picking broad beans from the plants I sowed in January:

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I noticed that some of the pods were suffering from ‘Chocolate spot’, but the beans were fine inside:

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“Chocolate spot is a fungus that only affects broadbeans.  It leaves red-brown spots on the plants and the pods.  It usually affects plants in damp humid conditions, so if you have space you could put your plants further apart so air can circulate around.

In my experience chocolate spot rarely affects the beans inside the pods, so I actually ignore it and don’t do anything except give the plants a liquid seaweed feed to help them along”

I froze my broad beans to use over the winter when there isn’t too much around.  I always blanch them and then open freeze them on a tray until they are frozen….then I put them into a freezer bag:

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I have also been harvesting my peas.  I have been picking my dwarf peas and my climbing tall peas (which are an old fashioned variety called ‘peashooter’).  All my peas have done well this year and there are lots more still growing:

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It always amazes me that a whole basket of pea pods produce so few peas….but the peas are so sweet and delicious I can’t help growing them each year!

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My eldest daughter and Mr Thrift helped me to pick the pods this year and remove the peas…….I so love my family helping as it is a time we also chat about ‘this and that’ and laugh together.  I hope my daughters remember these time fondly when they are older.

I froze the peas in the same way I froze the broad beans….but I bet the peas won’t last until winter as we all love them!

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I didn’t want to waste the pea pods so I made a ‘pea pod soup’, which my daughter loves.  You can find the recipe here

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I used rapeseed oil this time instead of olive oil, which made a darker soup…..it tasted the same but didn’t look quite so appertising so I will use olive oil again next time:

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This week I have noticed:

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This week i have noticed my first raspberry on my ‘autumn’ raspberries (not sure why this one decided to grow early):

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My first mangetout are ready to pick (my youngest daughter has already spotted this and has been picking and eating them raw this week):

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My ‘mini’ pumpkin plants are covering the ground around my sweetcorn well – this keeps weeds down and the moisture won’t evapourate as quick if we get any more hot days:

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The dahlia tubers that I grew from seed last year and then overwintered in our brick outhouse, are starting to flower:

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And finally this week, I have noticed that the garden has lots of different types of bees and hoverflies visiting and this week I have spotted two different little frogs:

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This is a wonderful site to me as it shows me that my organic gardening methods are working and the beneficial insects are now coming to my garden, helping my garden to become more and more productive by polinating my crops and eating the pests, such as slugs and snails etc.

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Thank you for reading my blog this week.

I will be decorating our bedroom over the next week or two, so I have decided to take a two week break from my blog….I hope you don’t mind.

However I will be back on the 5th August as usual.

Have a great weekend.

XXX

A Problem With My Leeks….

This week nature has produced some beautiful sites.  It started with the most beautiful red morning sky last weekend:

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And then a covering of snow that made everything look very pretty:

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 I’m very pleased to say that the snow disappeared as quickly as it came and this week and I managed to get into my garden to start my winter ‘clean up’ and start my preparation for the new growing season ahead.

I started by emptying the compost bags I had in my greenhouse as I want to clean my greenhouse in the coming week.  Nothing really grew very well in these bags, but I think this was due to my watering system overwatering the compost and the dreadful, dull weather we had last year.

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I spread the compost over two of my beds to help improve the condition of the soil:

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I started to put manure around my rhubarb too, but unfortunately I ran out of it so I need to but some more.  However I did manage to surround one of my rhubarb plants:

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I then cut down my old runnerbeans, leaving the roots in the ground as the nodules add nitrogen to the soil, which will be good for my brassica’s which will follow them:

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Next I cut the tops off my jerusalem artichokes which I grew in a large bottomless pot to contain the roots.  I will dig up them next week to see if I have managed to get a crop:

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So this area now looks better, though I do need to tidy my utility area behind:

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I also turned my attention to my leeks which have been very disappointing:

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As you can see from the photo above they have been targeted by the allium leaf miner and some of my leeks have started to rot.  I have written about the allium leaf miner here, it is a fairly new pest in this country and only appeared in Britain in 2002.

The allium leaf miner only ever affected my onions at the allotment which lulled me into a false sense of security, so I didn’t bother covering my leeks with environmesh…..but unfortunately they were were hit hard this year, so I will have to make sure I cover ALL of my alliums from now on.

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I took the photo above of the small brown pupae that I found in some of them to show you.  They are approximately 3-4 mm long, embedded into the stem.The pupae will overwinter in the plant or in the soil.  In the spring, the adults will emerge from the pupae and lay eggs and the first generation of larvae will then feed in April and May. The second generation is likely to feed in mid-September.

But I am pleased to say, some of my leeks were ok, so I did get a amall crop:

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This week I also tidied a bed that I had covered with environmesh in the Autumn, to give a bit of protection for my summer lettuces.  The summer lettuces had been picked a long time ago and I thought there was nothing underneath, but to my surprise I found a row of winter radishes that I had sowed in late summer and completely forgotten about:

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They have grown lovely and so I picked one straight away and later grated it into the salad we had for tea:

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I had a quick weed around them and then put a cloche over them to give a bit of protection:

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I also picked some winter purslane (sometimes know as miners lettuce) that I had been growing in a pot in my greenhouse and also added it to our salad:

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I love being able to pick winter crops to add to salads and I am very pleased that I have acheived this in my new kitchen garden, though I want to do a lot better for next winter.

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I also sowed my first seeds this year, which I always find exciting:

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I planted overwintering broadbean (Aquadulce), which over the years I have found they grow best in pots planted this month and then transplanted in the spring.  I also sowed leeks and the remaining garlic cloves that I had left over and these wil sit happlily in my cold greenhouse for the moment.  I also sowed my peppers, but these will be kept inside a propagator in the warmth of my house for the time being.

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This Week In The Home:

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I sat and finally sorted my seed tin as it was in a bit of a mess.  I listed down exactly what seeds I have and I worked out exactly what I want to grow this year in my garden.

I now have a plan of exactly when I need to sow my seeds and what I still need to buy.

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I am hoping to grow even more this year in my new improved small kitchen garden.

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I then caught up with a few things for the freezer…..each are small things that help me a lot to save time:

My daughter wanted some chocolate chip cookies, so I made them and then froze them so that I can take just a couple out of the freeze each day, so she doesn’t eat them all at once:

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I sliced some lemons up and froze them on a plate, ready to put in a freezer pot when frozen.  This way we have a ready supply of lemon slices to add to water when we need a drink.  As the lemons are frozen they also cool your water down without having to use icecubes:

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I then made a double batch of white sauce.  I froze one of the sauces in a freezer bag after it had cooled down.  Next time I need a white sauce I will just defrost it and reheat it in the microwave.  This way it is easy to use it as it is, or just add parsley for a parsley sauce or cheese for a cheese sauce.

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I made and froze leek and potato soup in portions.  Again I can just defrost a portion and then reheat it in the microwave for my lunch:

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I made the leek and potato soup using the leeks that I dug up this week:

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A Leek and Potato Soup Recipe:

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800g potatoes peeled and chopped small

800g Leeks chopped

1700 ml vegetable stock

800mls hot milk

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Add the potatoes, leeks and stock to a large pan:

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Bring to the boil and then simmer, covered for approximately 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

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Heat your milk while you use a hand mixer to blend the vegetables to make them smooth and then add the hot milk to the pan.  Bring the soup back to the boil and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring all the time:

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 Serve and enjoy adding salt and pepper to taste!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a great week!

Kitchen Garden Photos & A Christmas Chutney Recipe

I thought I would start my blog post by showing you a wonderful sand sculpture I came across this week outside the ‘Richard III’ visitors centre in Leicester.  Apparently it took a lady called Susanne Ruseler just seven days to create it…..what a talented lady!  I think it is wonderful and I found it purely by accident as I walked past:

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This week in my kitchen garden:

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This week I turned my attention to sowing some winter seeds.

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I sowed mizuna, winter lettuce, winter purslane, winter spring onions and corn salad.  I am a tiny bit late sowing these seeds, but hopefully they will be fine.

At the moment they are in my mini greenhouse, as I am trying desperately to keep the squirrels from them.  The squirrels are becoming a nuisence in my garden at the moment, as they keep digging holes to bury the monkey nuts that one of my neighbours insists on feeding them….it also sends Judy (my rescue dog) into a mad barking session each time they come in the garden, so I really need to think about this problem and come up with a solution.

But for now I have used some chicken wire to try and keep them away from my seeds:

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Also this week I noticed the ’60 day’ raab that I sowed three weeks ago was ready to ‘thin out’.  I used scissors as normal to cut away the seedlings that I didn’t want (this stops any root disturbance for the remaining seedlings).  I will need to thin them again at a later date, but for now I left plenty of them in case the slugs and snails decide to have a feast on some of them:

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I have continued to harvest runner beans, tomatoes, beetroot, salads, spring onions and curly kale this week too:

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….And I noticed that my sweetcorn has really had a growth spurt and will soon be ready too:

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“Sweetcorn is ready to pick when the tassels at the end of the cobs turn brown and when you press your nail into a kernel the liquid comes out is milky”

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The phacelia that a sowed a few weeks ago is growing nicely now.  I won’t thin the seedlings out as it is a green manure that I want to grow thickly to keep the weeds from germinating:

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I will chop down the phacelia before it sets seed and then dig it into the soil to add nutrients ready for next year’s crops.

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The rest of the kitchen garden is doing well too and I thought I would be nice to show you some photos that I took this week:

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This week in the home…

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This week has been a very busy week here in my kitchen:

I started by making some more dishwasher liquid as I had ran out.  I make it using soapnuts and it works really well in our dishwasher and it is really easy to make:

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I also made a big portion of spaghetti bolognaise.  We had some for tea and then I managed to freeze four portions.  I always ‘pad out’ my spaghetti bolognaises with whatever vegetables I have to hand, so this one had carrot, runner beans and curly kale included in it.  I find the portions go further if I mix the spaghetti (or pasta) in with the sauce rather than layering the sauce on top:

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I then had a freezer disaster to sort out:

I don’t know if you remember, but a couple of weeks ago our small chest freezer broke and myself and my daughter had a mamouth cooking session to save the large quantity of vegetables that were in this freezer.

Unfortunately this week I had another ‘freezer disaster’…. the door of one of my other freezers was left open by accident.  Luckily again, there was no meat in this freezer as it was mainly full of allotment fruit, homemade cakes, scones and my bread rolls for the week ahead.

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I had been waiting for a spare few hours to make jams with the fruit that was left in my freezer, ready for my Christmas hampers, however this forced me to make them now instead of later.  So I spent a couple of days cooking yellow plum jam, gooseberry jam, strawberry jam and finally some plum and worcesterberry jelly….

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On the positive side, nothing was wasted again and this has created a lot more room in my second freezer, though I am sad to say I now have no fruit or vegetables left from my old allotments……so I must work out how to grow even more fruit and vegetables in my new kitchen garden next year!

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Beetroot from my new kittchen garden:

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This week I also wanted to use up the beetroot and apples that I was given last week (together with my own beetroot), so I made some beetroot chutney:

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……And I also wanted to use the remaining plums that I was given last week, so I made some ‘Christmas Chutney’ which uses cranberries and plums and a few lovely ‘christmas’ spices.  I have written the recipe below if anyone is interested.

  We will use some of the preserves that I have made, but a lot of them will be given at Christmas in the hampers that I make.

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Christmas Chutney With Cranberries & Plums

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500 grams courgettes chopped

500 grams plums halved with stones removed

400 grams granulated sugar

300 grams dried cranberries

600ml white wine vinegar

2 onions chopped small

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground mixed spice

1 tsp salt

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Add all the ingredients except the sugar to a large pan and bring it to the boil stirring all the time. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

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Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved and then simmer for a couple of hours or so, until the chutney is thick and chutney like.

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Pour the chutney into sterilised jars and store in a cool dark place for a minimum of three months to mature.

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Then enjoy it with cold meats and sandwiches at Christmas!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a good week!

Brandied Peaches & A Plum Cake Recipe

I wanted to start today by saying a big thank you to all the lovely people that leave comments on my blog.  Your comments have given me the confidence to continue writing my blog after I gave my four allotments up…..I was absolutely convinced at the beginning of the year that no one would want to read my blog when I started to just grow vegetables in my garden.

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I have always been conscious that my blog doesn’t really fit in with other catergories of blogs, for example it’s not just a vegetable gardening blog, or just a cooking blog, etc. as I cover lots of things that I do in my normal day to day life.

We live in a three bedroom semi-detached house, in a town near a main road…..I would love a small holding in the country, but in reality this will never happen.  So my blog is about making the best of what we have and through your comments I have realised that there are few blogs that do this and I am so glad you can relate to this.

Thank you for your continued support.

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This week in my garden I have been picking lots of tomatoes from my outdoor plants and I have got to say that my harvest is so much better on these plants than from the plants in my greenhouse:

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However, I have found a problem with one of my plants that I have in a pot.  Unfortunately I have found a couple of tomatoes that have ‘blossom end rot’:

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‘Blossom end rot’ is caused by a calcium deficiency and it usually seen when plants are grown in pots and growbags.  There is usually enough calcium in the soil, but unfortunately if there isn’t a good flow of water to the plant then it is unable to access it, also if fertilisers are added to dry soil then this can also restrict the uptake of calcium by the plant.

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My watering system that I use most days (on a timer attached to my hose on our water tap), hasn’t really been working very well this year.  I have found that some plants are getting too much water and some are not getting enough, so I need to be more careful about this.

I can’t save the tomatoes that are already suffering from blossom end rot, but I can pay more attention to my watering so I can correct the problem.

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My cherry tomatoes have now started producing tomatoes too and I am picking a few each day.  They are lovely and sweet and usually get eaten by my daughters in seconds….but that is fine by me:

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This week I have managed to make some passatta with the spare tomatoes and I have frozen this to use another time.  I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to grow enough vegetables in my small garden to be to have some left over for freezing…..I have been pleasantly surprised.

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I am harvesting a lot of perpetual spinach from my garden now too (which Mr Thrift absolutely loves) and this week I made one of his favourite meals with it…..Spinach and Poached Egg Florentine:

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I was also given some more produce this week…..some apples from my husband’s aunt and some courgettes, beetroot, and plums from my eldest sister.  I am very grateful for these, so if you are reading this…thank you so much!

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I made some courgette chutney with the courgettes my sister gave me:

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And I made two ‘plum cakes’ with some of the plums (one to eat and one to freeze):

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A Plum Cake Recipe:

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150g caster sugar

115g margarine or butter

140g self raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 eggs

Approx. 10 plums, pitted and halved

Icing sugar for sprinkling on the top

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Preheat your oven to 180C/ gas 4 / 350F and grease and line a cake tin:

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Beat the caster sugar and margaine until fluffy:

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Sieve the flour and baking powder into the butter / caster sugar and mix until combined:

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Add the eggs and mix:

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Pour the mixture into your cake tin and then top with the plums.

Put the cake in the oven for 35-40 minutes:

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Check your cake is cooked by inserting a skewer and if it comes out clean it is cooked.

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When it is cool, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with ice cream, custard, cream or some nice homemade natural yoghurt as I do:

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Enjoy!!!

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This week I started to think about Christmas and decided to make some brandied peaches for one of my Christmas hampers.  They take three months to mature, so it’s a good thing to do now whilst peaches are fairly cheap.  I found peeling them a bit fiddly, but I think they are worth it:

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Brandied Peaches:

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6 normal sized peaches

100 grams of caster sugar

Enough brandy to cover the peaches (approx. 600 ml)

1 litre sealable jar

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Start by slicing a small cross in the bottom of each peach and placing them in a bowl of boiling hot water for approx. 3 to 4 minutes:

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Take the peaches out of the water and place them immeadiately in a bowl of ice cold water for a couple of minutes and then start to peel the skin back.  I found it difficult to remove the skin on some of the peaches so I used a peeler on the more difficult ones:

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Cut the peaches in quarters and then slice each quarter in half again.  I discarded the stones and cut off any hard bits on the peach slices where the stones had been attached:

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I sterilised my jar (gas 4 / 180C / 350F for five minutes) and when it had cooled down I arranged the peach slices in the jar in layers, alternating with layers of caster sugar:

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I then poured the brandy into the jar making sure the peaches were covered.  I sealed the jar and gave it a gentle shake:

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I placed the jar in a cool, dark place and from now on I will shake it gently every week until it is ready in three months time.

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I think that is enough for this week, so thank you for reading my blog today.

  I will be back as usual next Friday.

Have a lovely week!

Courgette Sponge Cakes With Mascapone Cheese & Lemon Curd

Just wanted to say a big ‘thank you’ to ‘Argiolus‘ who identified the caterpillar I mentioned on my blog last Friday.  It is in fact an Elephant Hawk Moth and he has kindly given a link to some more interesting information about the moth here.

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I love receiving comments on my blog, so please keep them coming with your views, questions and answers, etc. which are great for everyone who reads them.

Thank you

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At the weekend Rowley fields allotment society in Leicester had an open day, so we went along.  We saw a wonderful plot (or should I say garden), so I took a photo to show you:

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How beautiful it was!

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This week at home I have once again been thinking about storing my crops, by putting my onions away.  They have been drying nicely for the last three or four weeks in one of my mini-greenhouses.

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I put them in a large netted bag in my storage boxes with my potatoes and they will store nicely over winter, provided I check them every so often for any that have begun to rot.

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At my allotment, my cucumelons are taking over my tomato plants and my poor tomatoes are struggling to ripen!…but dispite this, my polytunnel is heaving with produce:

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This week at my allotment I have been pruning my golden gage tree.  I don’t think it has been pruned for a long time and as a result I found there were a lot of dead, diseased and crossing branches to prune away.

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Also, I have been pruning my lavender bushes that looked so beautiful at the beginning of summer and attracted lots of beneficial insects.

When I attended horticultural college I was told that the council parks department use strimmers to prune their Lavender and after planting my hedge a few years ago, I also use a strimmer to prune my lavender and it works a treat.  Provided I make sure that I leave approximately one inch of the current years growth on the plant, then it grows back lovely the next year:

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I have also been picking lots of tomatoes from my allotment.  I am still expecting ‘blight’ as they succumb to it each and every year unfortunately… but as yet they are still blight free for the moment.  You can read about ‘tomato blight here.

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As well as making tomato and basil soup (the recipe is here), I have been making passata.

Passata doesn’t usually have any seeds in it, however I think life is too short to sieve the seeds out of the sauce, so I don’t.

All I do is wash and chop them in half and then cook them in a large pan with a cup of water.  When they are soft I use my stick blender to liquidise them until there are no lumps.

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I then poor 500 grams worth of sauce into bags in plastic pots and when it is cool I freeze the portions.  When it is frozen I remove the bags from the pots and put the nice rectangular shaped sauces in my freezer ready to defrost and use when it is needed.

I use the sauce in recipes like pasta sauce, pizza sauce or spaghetti bolognaise.

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 This week I have once again been busy making jams and chutneys.  I started with a beetroot chutney to use up the last of my beetroot.  My daughter and sister love this chutney, so I make it every year.

The recipe is here.

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I continued to use up the plums I picked by making more plum jelly and I also made plum ice cream sauce.  I made the ice cream sauce in the exact way that I made crab apple ice cream sauce here, but I just substituted the crab apples with the plums.

It is delicious drizzled over ice cream (especially the home made vanilla ice cream here).

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Unfortunately, I then realised I had nearly ran out of jars and I still have loads of fruit in my freezer to make different jams, etc.  I know if you buy new jam jars they can cost quite a bit of money, so I buy the cheapest jars from the supermarket, use the contents and then re-used the jars.

(Incidentally, I don’t buy pickle jars as the smell is hard to remove).

In the past I found ‘value’ marmalade was the cheapest, but this week the cheapest jars I could find contained ‘lemon’curd’ at just 22p per jar.

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I gave the contents of a couple of jars to a friend and I have been madly using the rest of them myself.

I started by making mini lemon meringues:

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My eldest daughter made a lovely victoria sandwich with lemon curd in the middle:

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And finally, we went to a friends house at the weekend and I took some little lemon curd cakes and I even managed to hide a courgette in the mixture too.  They did taste good, even though I do say so myself.

You can find the recipe below:

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Courgette Sponge cakes with Mascapone Cheese and Lemon Curd:

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6 oz of Margarine

6 oz Caster sugar

6 oz Self raising flour

3 Eggs

A few drops of Vanilla Extract

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 medium courgette

½ Jar of lemon curd

250g tub of mascapone cheese

20g icing sugar, plus a small amount for dusting

The juice and zest from one lemon

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Preheat the oven Gas Mark 5 / 375F / 190C

Peel the courgette, top and tail it and then grate it very finely.

Place the courgette in a sieve just to let any excess water drain away while you are making the cake mix.

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Sieve the caster sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl and then add the eggs, margarine and vanilla extract.  Mix until they are combined.

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Add the courgette and mix until combined.

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If the mixture falls off the spoon easily (dropping consistancy), then half fill muffin cases with the mixture.

(If the mix doesn’t fall off the spoon easily then keep adding a tiny bit of water and mix until it does).

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Bake for 20 minutes and then leave to cool.

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Remove the cake from the cake case and slice it in half and put a teaspoon of lemon curd in the middle

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Mix the icing sugar, mascopone cheese and lemon juice together and then spread it or pipe it onto each cake.

Top each cake with a small amount of lemon zest.

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Sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar to finish off the cakes

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 Enjoy!

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time next Friday.

Purple Bullace Jelly And Courgette Chutney

This week in my kitchen I have been busy using all the home grown produce that I have picked.  I always have a lovely sense of satisfaction when I use my organic fruit and vegetables, as I  know one hundred percent that no chemicals have been used to grow them and I think this also makes them taste better.

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This week my outdoor tomatoes have started to ripen and I have begun picking them daily.  They are a variety called ‘outdoor girl’ which are usually a little bit earlier than other outdoor varieties, however for some reason they are a little bit later than usual this year.

I am constantly checking for tomato blight as my tomatoes have only escaped once over the years.  You can see photos of tomato blight here, together with lots of information on what to do when you first notice it on your tomatoes, as some of your crop can be saved if you act quickly.

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With my first batch of tomatoes I made a big pot of tomato and basil soup, which we had for lunch with a loaf of warm, crusty homemade bread.  It was far nicer than any soup you can buy in a tin and it only cost me a few pennies to make as nearly all the ingredients were from my allotment.

You can find the recipe here.

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I am also still using all of the courgettes that my plants are producing.  This week I made my favourite courgette chutney….

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Courgette Chutney Recipe:

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2 onions chopped

500g tomatoes chopped

500g courgettes diced

300ml white wine vinegar

2 cooking apples peeled and diced

250g brown sugar

2 teaspoons mixed spice

1 tablespoon of mustard seeds

Thumb sized piece of root ginger grated

4 garlic cloves crushed

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Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil slowly, stirring continuously.

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Simmer for 2 hours uncovered, until it is dark and looks like chutney.

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Pour into hot sterilised jars.

( To sterilise jars, pop them in an oven for five minutes, gas 4 / 180C / 350F )

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Leave for 3 weeks before eating.

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This year at my allotment I had a bumber crop of strawberries.

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At this time of year I usually tidy the plants up a bit…. I remove the straw that I lay around the plants in the spring and put it into my compost heap.  I then cut the strawberries back to approximately 3 inches (8 cms) from the crowns.  It always looks harsh but they grow back really well.

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Cutting the strawberries back in this way helps the plant produce more fruit the following year, as the plant then puts all it’s energy into producing a strong root system.

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This is the second year my plants have fruited so I am not keeping any runners, so I cut them all off.

  If I wanted to increase my stock I would just peg down the runners with a large stone or wire, so that the new plantlets are in contact with the soil.  When they have good roots on them at the beginning of September, I cut each runner from their parent and replant it where I want it to grow.  This way they are settled before the winter and produce fruit the following year.

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Incidentally, I found this little fella under the old straw around my strawberries:

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I have been told he is a ‘death head hawk moth’ caterpillar.  He looks quite evil doesn’t he, but I left him alone as moths are hugely important for the food chain and some of them are great plant pollinators.

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This week I have been picking ‘Cucamelons’.  It’s the first time I have grown them and they seem to have taken ages to become established….and now they are taking over my polytunnel!

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When I was researching the cucamelon, I found some people loved them and some people hated them, so I thought I would try them for myself…..I’ve got to say I am somewhere in between.

I think they taste like a cucumber, but with a crunchy skin.  The plants have certainly given me a good crop, but after we all tried them, we decided we like normal cucumbers better….so this is one I won’t bother growing again (sorry James Wong).

However this year they will go to good use in salads, with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt:

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At this time of year I am thinking about storing my crops ready for the winter.  My potatoes have all been dried and they are now storing in sacks.

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  My french beans are doing well at my allotment this year and I have been busy blanching and freezing them, together with the runnerbeans that I am still picking:

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If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will remember that this time last year I gave the old tree in my woodland area a real good prune as I don’t think it had been pruned for years.  I had been told by a couple of people that I would be better off chopping the tree down as it never has fruit on it….but I decided to give it a chance.

I prunned away approximately a third of all the dead, diseased and crossing branches and I will continue doing this every August until it is back to how it should be.

….And after just one year of pruning it has rewarded me with a bumper crop…..

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The gentleman that rented the plot before me (my dear friend Eric) told me that the tree was not a damson tree, but he didn’t know what it was.  I think the tree is a ‘purple bullace tree’….I may be wrong, but it doesn’t really matter as the fruit makes a great fruit jelly…which I have been making this week, ready for my Christmas hampers:

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A Wild Plum, Damson or Bullace Jelly Recipe:

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First cut your plums in half just to make sure they haven’t been infected by the plum moth (discard any that have).  Don’t bother removing the stones. 

Put the plums into a maslin pan or a large jam making pan.

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Cover the plums half way up with water.

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Slowly bring the plums to the boil and then simmer until they are soft (approx. 15-30 mins).

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Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil and place some muslin or a clean tea towel into it and boil for 3 minutes.  Take it out of the water and wring it out and then leave to cool.

Tip the fruit into the muslin and let it drip overnight or for approximately 8 hours.  I find it easier to put the muslin over a colander that is already over a bowl, as it’s easier to pour the fruit into it.

In the picture below, you can see how I suspend my muslin bag over a bowl.  I have read that an upside down stool can be helpful to do this, but I have never tried it.

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The next day put some side plates or saucers in the freezer to check the setting point of your jelly later on.

Measure the juice.  For every 1 pint of juice, measure 1lb of granulated sugar.   Put the juice and sugar back into a large pan and bring it to the boil slowly, over a low heat, until the sugar has dissolved.

Also, as I don’t use jam sugar I add two tablespoons of lemon juice for every one pint of juice.

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When you can see no sugar crystals on the back of your wooden spoon, turn the heat up and boil hard until the setting point has been reached.  This can take quite some time.

(I always continuously stir my jams and jellies to stop them from burning at the base of the pan, however I have never seen a recipe tell you to do this, so it’s up to you).

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To check the setting point, put a small amount of jelly on a saucer from the freezer and wait for a few moments, push the jelly with your finger and if it wrinkles then the setting point has been reached, if not just continue boiling for a further five minutes and then check again.

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When the setting point has been reached, take the pan off the heat and leave it for fifteen minutes. If there is scum on your jelly, you can skim it off, but I just stir in a small knob of butter which does the same job.

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Sterilise some jam jars (gas mark 4 for 5 minutes)

Pour the jelly into the jars and seal with lids.

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Enjoy it for months to come!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday at my usual time.

A Frugal Week And A Mixed Fruit Jelly Recipe

To start with I thought I would mention a report that I read this week from the Soil Association, which I thought was interesting:

My allotment this week

My allotment this week

It states that “new research has found that there are significant differences between organic and non-organic food.  It states that new research from Newcastle University, published on Tuesday 15 July, in the British Journal of Nutrition, has shown that organic crops and crop-based foods – including fruit, vegetables and cereals – are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts”

A rather large cucmber from my polytunnel

A rather large cucumber from my polytunnel

“In other countries there has long been much higher levels of support and acceptance of the benefits of organic food and farming: we hope these findings will bring the UK in line with the rest of Europe, when it comes to both attitudes to organic food and support for organic farming.”

I have got to say, this is something I have suspected for a long time, especially as organically grown fruit and vegetables taste much nicer too.

If you are interested in the report you can read it here.

From my allotment this week

From my allotment this week

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It’s been a very frugal week in the ‘Thrift household this week.  I am still picking as much as possible from my allotment….fruit, peas, salads, etc. and now my courgettes plants have started to produce too.  Mr Thrift is looking forward to his first ‘cheesy courgette scones’ of the year:

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I also picked my first shallots this week and pickled a couple of jars of them.  As a family, we love pickled onions.

When I pickle onions, I don’t use a salt water brine as I think this softens the onions.  I use a method that my dad taught me – I cover them in only salt overnight, to draw the water out.  This gives a nice ‘bite’ to your pickled onions.  You can see my dad’s method here if you are interested.

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I’ve also been using up leftovers from my freezer.

I made a ‘leftover Chicken and veg pie’, which is just leftover chicken and leftover vegetables mixed together in a white sauce and topped with pastry.  I love using leftovers to make a new meal.

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When I make a pastry I always make double and freeze it ready for next time.

Also, after I have put the top on my pie I always have a bit of spare pastry, so I roll it out and put a bit of jam in it and make a small jam pasty for a treat.  My youngest daughter loves them and they can be eaten hot or cold.

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I have also been making some more laundry liquid using soap flakes, borax substitue and soda crystals this week.  You can find the recipe here if you are interested.  It takes just 10-15 minutes to make and it lasts for weeks.

I find it is great for every day washing and the last time I worked it out a few months ago, it cost me approximately £1.75 to make…. I managed to get 71 washes out of it, so this worked out at a staggering 2.5p per wash….the supermarkets can’t beat that!

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As I write today, I am also in the middle of making some more dishwasher liquid out of soap nuts as I find this saves a lot of money too (though I do still use a supermarket dishwasher tablet every third wash to stop the build up of grease in my dishwasher).

You can read how I make the dishwasher liquid here.

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The final frugal thing I have to tell you about, was a very frugal find at our local Tesco store.  We popped in for milk and we found a crate of bread that was ‘whoopsied’ (yellow stickered).  The dates were two days away on the Warburtons bread and one day away for the Hovis bread and they were selling them off for 3 pence and 2 pence, so we bought some for the freezer, together with some wholemeal pitta bread for just  2 pence too!

It’s nice to make my own bread but at those prices I couldn’t resist buying it!

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It was quite strange as there was no one around but us looking at the bread and we felt like we were naughty teenagers gigling as we put it through the self-scan checkouts, lol.

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This week at my allotment I have been picking worcester berries and dessert gooseberries (which look very similar) and white currants, red currants and a few blueberries.

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The blueberries were eaten by my eldest daughter within two minutes of bringing them home, however I used the rest of the fruit to make a mixed fruit jelly.

Jellies are easy to make but they do take longer than jams, as you need to let them strain over night.  I think it is worth the effort as it tastes delicious and it has no seeds in it.

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A Mixed fruit Jelly Recipe

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First I top and tailed the gooseberries and worcester berries and removed the stalks from the currants (I use a fork for this as it’s easier this way):

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I put all the fruit into my maslin pan (together with some frozen currants that I had leftover from last year).  I covered half the fruit with water and then brought the pan to the boil and simmered the fruit until it was soft (approx 15-20 mins).

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Meanwhile,  bring a pan of water to the boil and put some muslin or a tea towel in to it and boil for 3 minutes.  Take it out of the water and wring it out and then leave to cool.

Tip the fruit into the muslin.  I find it easier to put the muslin over a colander that is already over a bowl, as it’s easier to pour the fruit into it.

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I then I tie the muslin up over the bowl so the juice can drip down and I remove the colander.  MAKE SURE YOU DON’T SQUEEZE THE MUSLIM OR YOUR JELLY WILL BE CLOUDY.

Leave it to drip overnight or for approximately 8 hours.

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In the morning I measure the liquid and poor it back in my clean maslin pan.  I also put some clean saucers into my freezer to test the setting point of the jelly later on.

For every pint of liquid I have, I add one pound of normal granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice into the pan.

I then stir the mix over a very low heat until all the sugar has melted and there are no sugar chystals on the back of my spoon:

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I then boil the syrup hard stirring all the time until setting point is reached

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(To check the setting point has been reached, put a small drop of jam on one of the side plates from the freezer.  After a few moments, push the jelly with your finger and if it wrinkles it’s ready.  If it doesn’t wrinkle, continue boiling hard for another five minutes and test again).

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When the setting point is reached, take the pan off the heat and leave it for fifteen minutes.  If there is scum on your jelly, you can skim it off, but I just stir in a small knob of butter which does the same job.

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Sterilise some jam jars (gas mark 4 for 5 minutes)

Pour the jam into the jars and seal with lids.  I use the jars that have a sealable lid (i.e. the jars that jam is sold in, at the supermarket).  This way you don’t need to worry about wax discs to create a seal.  As the jam cools, the lids ‘pop’ and make you jump.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday as usual.