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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!

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.

How To Make Strawberry Jam & Jam Making Tips

This week I was astonished to find see that strawberries are £2.00 for a 400 gram  punnet (or £2.50 for a 300 gram punnet of organic strawberries).  It’s a long time since I have bought strawberries and I didn’t realise they are so expensive and I would like to bet they don’t taste half as nice as homegrown ones, as shop bought strawberries are usually grown for their ‘long shelf life’ rather than taste.

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If you read my post on Friday, you will know that I am having a bumper crop of strawberries this year.

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We have been eating them on their own, or with yoghurt, or with a sprinkling of sugar and my youngest daughter has even been dipping them into melted chocolate.  They are delicious.

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I have also frozen lots of them, by laying the washed and hulled strawberries on a tray and then freezing them.  When they are frozen I put the strawberries into bags.  This way, they don’t all stick together and it is easy to just pick a few out of the bag when I need them.

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I use the frozen strawberries to make cordials, pies etc and my daughters like them in fruit salads (though they do go a bit mushy when they are defrosted).

I also use them to make jams for the christmas hampers that I give away to my family:

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Over the weekend I made another batch of strawberry jam for my daughter, as it’s her favourite.

Strawberries are quite low in pectin and pectin helps the jam to set.  I normally remedy this by just adding a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to my jam, as this is high in pectin and helps it to set.  However, I thought I would try an experiment this time, to find out if  ‘Jam Sugar’ with the pectin already added, would make a better jam, as lots of recipes recommend you to use this:

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So this is how I made the jam with the jam sugar:

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Strawberry Jam Using Jam Sugar:

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2 kg Strawberries

2 kg Jam Sugar

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Before I started, I put some side plates into the freezer for a few hours.  I used these later to test for the ‘setting point’

I washed and hulled the strawberries

I put the strawberries and jam sugar into a large pan (the contents rise as it boils)

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I put the pan onto a low heat and stirred comtinuously with a wooden spoon.

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I continued stirring until the sugar melted and I couldn’t see any sugar crystals on the back of my spoon

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At this point I turned the heat right up and boiling hard.  I always find that jam burns at the bottom of my pan if I just leave it to boil,  so I stir the jam continuously, though other recipes don’t tell you to do this.

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After approximately 5 minutes of boiling I tested for the ‘setting point’.  To do this, I put a small drop of jam on one of the side plates from the freezer.  After a few moments, I push the jam with my finger and if it wrinkles it’s ready.  If it doesn’t wrinkle, I continue to boil the jam.

I usually keep checking the jam every five minutes until the setting point is reached.

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When the setting point was reached I took the pan off the heat and stirred in a knob of butter to reduce the skum off the top of the jam.  I then left it for fifteen minutes, which helps to stop the strawberries from dropping to the bottom of the jars.

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While I was waiting I sterilised eight jam jars by placing them in my oven, gas mark 4 for 5 minutes.

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

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I managed to make eight jars out of the ingredients and the jam sugar was £1.99 per kg.  This worked out at just under 50p per jar, which is still cheaper than shop bought jam, however if I had used ordinary granualted sugar and lemon juice, the jars would have worked out at 25p per jar.

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My Review Of Jam Sugar

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So did the jam set better?….

When I was making the jam, it reached setting point far quicker than my method of using granulated sugar and lemon juice.

When I used the jam, was it any better?

Unfortunately the answer is “No”, it was the same as my jam.

Would I buy and use Jam Sugar again?

No, I don’t think it is worth the money.  Please let me know your thoughts on this.

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My Tips For Jam Making:

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Just to let you know, the pan I use to make jam is a ‘maslin’ pan which is deep enough for jam making.  Mine was second hand, which I purchased for £10 from ebay and it was worth every penny.

Jam making is easy once you have got the hang of it.  If you haven’t made jam before, I have written some tips below to help you:

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Clean equipment – Always use equipment that is scupulously clean and jars that have been sterilised.

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Fruit – Always use undamaged fruit. Fruit with too much damage will spoil the result and the jam is likely to deteriorate quickly.

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Pectin – Jams, jellies and marmalade set because of pectin. Pectin occurs naturally in fruit and when cooked with sugar the naturally occurring acid in the fruit, thickens and sets the preserve. Citrus fruit, blackberries, apples and redcurrants have high pectin levels. Soft fruits such as strawberries have a lower pectin level. If fruits are low in pectin then you can add fruits with a higher level of pectin to it or just add a few squeezes of lemon juice which will help them to set. When possible use slightly under ripe fruit when pectin levels will be at the highest.

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Sugar – I use granulated but you can use preserving sugar, but it is more expensive. Preserving sugar will help set low-pectin fruits, but I just add lemon juice to granulated sugar, which does the same job.

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Quantity – Don’t make too large a quantity at one time. Large volumes of fruit and sugar will take a long time to reach setting point, causing the fruit to break up and eventually dissolve in the jam.

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To test for the setting point – Place a few small plates or saucers in to your freezer for a while before you start to make jam, so they are really cold.  Pour a small drop of the hot jam on to the plate and wait a few moments. Push the edges of the jam with your index finger and if the jam wrinkles then the setting point has been reached.  If it’s not set, continue to boil it and check again in 5 minutes. Don’t overcook. It is tempting to keep cooking to achieve a firmer set. A slightly looser jam is preferable to one that tastes burnt or where the fruit has dissolved.  Don’t worry if you didn’t judge your jam setting point correctly and it’s runny, just call it a ‘preserve’ instead.

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Scum – There is always a little bit of scum on the jam after the setting point has been reached.  Skim it off with a ladle or add a tiny knob of butter and stir. This will dissolve the scum almost instantly.

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Leave the jam to settle – Always leave the jam for 15 mins away from the heat, once the setting point has been reached.  This will prevent the fruit from rising to the surface of the jar when you pour it in.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time of 4pm.  Have a good week.

Stop And Appreciate What You Have

I realised this week that I have been rushing around so much lately, that I have become very tired and I needed to re-charge my batteries.   With this in mind I decided to take a day off from the allotment.

My sping cabbages.

My sping cabbages.

As you have probably guessed by now, I’m not very good at sitting still and resting.  In fact I only managed to sit down for about five minutes, before I stood up to do something.

I sorted my three freezers out and made a list of what was in them.  I then made nine pots of jam with strawberries that I had grown last year and froze.  I changed the beds and afterwards I made some dairyfree ice cream for my youngest daughter (you can find the recipe here).

I did these things slowly as I didn’t need to rush, after all I hadn’t planned to do them today.  Strangely, this made me feel better, as none of the things felt like a chore, though recently they had.

It made me realise that I have somehow got into this routine of rushing everything, without stopping to take stock of what I need to do, or why I even do it.  I wondered why this had happened.

My homemade strawberry jam

My homemade strawberry jam

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will remember that one of my oldest friends passed away in February.  I wrote a tribute to her here.  Since then, I have been trying to get on with things as the British do, ‘with a stiff upper lip’.  What I realised today, is what I have actually been doing, is to do as many things as possible so I don’t have time to think about what has happened.

While I was slowly doing my jobs today my friend kept popping into my mind, probably because I finally let myself think of her and how much it hurts that I can’t see her again.

I have lovely happy memories of our times together, so why on earth would I want to lock these memories away so I can’t remember them?…I’ll make sure I don’t again.  I suppose this is part of the grieving process.

A robin that visits me daily at my allotment.

A robin that visits me daily at my allotment.

So today I have learnt that sometimes you need to stop and become aware of what is happening in your life and within you.  I concentrated on ‘just today’ and how I was feeling and now I feel better for it.

It has reminded me that I love the way we live and I feel so blessed to spend my days growing salads, fruit and vegetables and looking after my family.

Over the years money has been tight, as we chose for me to give up work, when our first daughter was born.  Looking back, I am very proud of how we managed. We have two beautiful daughters and a nice home. It doesn’t have posh furniture or the latest gadgets, but it is a ‘home’, where we have shared so many happy memories together.

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I wonder how many of you reading this blog today, have found yourself rushing around so much that you can’t see the wood for the trees?  Life is so short and it’s important that we stop and appreciate what we have.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I’ll be back on Monday.

Peas, Soup And A Frozen Yoghurt Recipe

Apparently, it’s the coldest March for fifty years and it definately feels like it.

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We have been quite lucky here in Leicester as we haven’t had too much snow, but it’s still impossible to work my allotment.  My potatoes and onion sets will just have to wait.

One day I will get my shallots into the ground!

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Before it began snowing, I did manage to transplant some ‘Forget-me-nots’ that had ‘self-seeded’ around my allotment.  I love ‘Forget-me-nots’ for this exact reason, as they self seed like mad and look so natural around my plot.

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I transplanted the ‘Forget-me-nots’ around my newly planted Snowdrops, that will remind me of my dear friend who sadly passed away in February.

You can read about the snowdrops I planted in my woodland area and why I planted them here.

‘Forget-me-nots’ are lovely, especially in between spring bulbs, so hopefully they will look beautiful in a few years when they have had time to self seed further in this area.

The RHS give details of how to grow ‘Forget-me-nots’ here.

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Another job I did manage to do before the snow, was to prune the Buddlia’s and the Lavatera bushes at the back of my plot, behind my ‘hazel’, which incidently I planted a few years ago so I can grow my own pea sticks and bean poles.

I left the Buddlia’s and the Lavatera bushes quite tall, as they have to compete with the hazel for light.  I planted them there for two reasons.  The flowers are great for the bees and butterflies and when I cut the hazel down, I will have something pretty to show through.

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At home, I sowed my first set of peas.  I am a little late sowing them this month but I suppose I’m late doing everything in the garden this year due to the wet weather.

I have tried different ways of sowing my peas, but I find it best to start them off in my greenhouse at home, in small lengths of guttering.

I use small pieces of guttering as I find the compost slides out easier from the smaller pieces than the long lengths of guttering.  I seal each end of the guttering with a piece of ‘Duct tape’, to stop the compost falling out:

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I fill the guttering with compost and sow my peas into it:

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The peas I sowed are a hardy variety called ‘Meteor’ which you can actually sow in Autumn and they will stand over winter under the protection of a cloche.  I find it better to sow them this month.

Incidentally round, smooth peas are hardier than the wrinkled varieties that are usually sweeter.  I took a photo of the two types of peas, so you can see the difference.

The pea on the left is ‘Meteor’, which is the hardier round, smooth pea that I sowed and the pea on the right is a wrinkled variety:

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My guttering will sit in my heated greenhouse until I just see them poking throught the compost and then I will move them into my coldframe.

You can read how I plant my peas here.

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Due to the weather I managed to do a few ‘catch up’ jobs at home this weekend.

I made some ‘Pea Pod’ soup for my eldest daughter as she loves this and I found a bag of pea pods lurking at the bottom of my freezer.

You can read how to make the soup here.  This soup is an old wartime recipe that is extremely cheap to make, though it is a bit like ‘marmite’….you love it or hate it!

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I finally got round to making some soup with my ‘Jamaican Pumpkins’.  These pumpkins are smaller than the halloween pumpkins I grow, but they are usually bigger than the ones in the photo below (I think this was due to the wet weather over the summer).  These pumpkins are also great for roasting as they hold their shape better during cooking.

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I made a spicy pumpkin soup.  You can find the recipe here.  I managed to get four portions out of one of the pumpkins, which I will freeze ready to take to my allotment for lunch, another day:

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I also topped up my ‘vinegar spray’ which I use in my kitchen as a mulitipurpose anti-bacterial cleaner.

I use white vinegar (which cuts through grease and grime) and a few drops of teatree oil (which is antibacterial).

You can read all about the old fashion cleaning methods that I use here.

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I then blanched and froze my allotment cauliflowers, that I picked this week.  I am very proud of them.

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I cut them into florets and blanched them for 2 minutes.

You can reading about freezing vegetables here.

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Finally, I thought I would experiment and make a ‘Healthier Ice cream’.  Technically, I can’t call this an ‘ice cream’ as it’s under 4% fat, but it tastes really nice.

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A Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt Ice cream Recipe:

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230 grams Strawberries

250 ml Natural Yoghurt

100 grams Caster Sugar

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Squash the fruit with the back of a fork

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Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together

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Pour into your ice cream maker

(refer to your ice cream maker for timings and how much to fill the bowl).

If you haven’t got an ice cream maker, just put the blended ingrediants into a container and freeze.  Remove from the freezer every 1-2 hours and mash vigourously with a fork to break up the ice crystals.

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Transfer the ice cream to a suitable container and freeze for a few hours until completely solid and then enjoy.

Strawberry Yoghurt Icecream Served with Crab Apple Syrup and Sprinkles

Strawberry Yoghurt Ice cream Served with Crab Apple Syrup and Sprinkles

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

As it’s Easter I’ll be taking a break to spend time with my family, so I will be back on Friday 5th April.

I hope you all have a lovely Easter.