Wednesday 31 July 2013

Harvest Helpers

We had friends Reny and Calvin staying over the weekend and Reny did well with picking blackcurrants (9lbs) which I made into Blackcurrant Jelly for them to take home a jar.
Then yesterday more friends, Cathy & Jim from Dorset, came and picked broad beans (3 big buckets each weighing 11 lbs plus quite a few eaten as we went), raspberries, tayberries and loganberries and cherries from the big wild cherry tree. It's good to have some extra help when everything is ripening at the same time and it's a lot of fun!
I'm keeping a log of this year's harvest. Take a look at what we've got so far >>

Saturday 27 July 2013

Bindweed and other niche specialists

Bindweed reaches the top of delphiniums.
My mind wanders when I'm in the garden,and sometimes it results in entries on my business blog like this:

Raspberry Ice-Cream

The hot and wet weather has produced a good harvest of all the berries including the Raspberries. I love raspberries just as they are but a really nice way of using them is Raspberry Ice-Cream.

I use a recipe based on one from Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall's The River Cottage Cookbook.
This is his first or at least an early book and is full of country cottage garden wisdom and delicious recipes.

500 g raspberries
4 large eggs or 5 medium (yolks only)
150 ml water
100 g sugar (white granulated is fine)
500 ml double cream

Put the water and sugar in a pan and heat slowly stirring until the sugar has melted. Gently boil until it becomes syruppy. Set aside to cool a little.
Press the raspberries through a sieve to generate a thick puree.
Separate the eggs. Keep the whites for macaroons or meringues.
Put the yolks in a large bowl and whisk with an electric hand whisk, balloon whisk etc. Gradually add
the warm syrup and keep whisking until thick and custardy.
In another bowl whisk the cream till fairly thick but not solid.
Now mix together the eggs and cream and stir in about half the puree.
Place in a plastic tub suitable for the freezer and place in freezer for about 3 hours.
Remove ice-cream. It will have started to become solid round the edges. Stir it up with a fork or spoon (the idea is to break up the ice crystals into smaller ones so the ice-cream doesn't get solid. Stir in the remaining raspberry puree leaving a ripple effect. back in the freezer and should be ready in a further 3-4 hours.
Of course those with an ice-cream maker will need to adapt this a bit.

To make the meringues or macaroons:

4-5 eggs whites
150g sugar
100g ground almonds and a few flaked almonds for the macaroons.

Place the egg whites in a large round-ish bowl and using a clean whisk whisk until stiff then add about 150g sugar and whisk again so it's nice and stiff and glossy. If making macaroons add 100g of ground almonds and stir in.

Turn on the oven to 160 deg C. Place a baking parchment or grease proof paper on two flat baking trays. With a large spoon scoop up dollops of the mixture and arrange on the tray with space around to accommodate some expansion. Place a flake of almond on the top of each macaroon.
Cook in the oven for around 30 - 45 mins until they are firm to the touch.
Getting perfect meringues is difficult because the exact temperature of the oven (they all vary) and the moisture content in the oven (i.e. are you cooking a stew at the same time?) can affect the firmness and crispness. Don't worry - they'll taste fine anyway.


Tuesday 23 July 2013

Much-needed rain

After two rather dull but humid days at the weekend we had a violent thunderstorm yesterday evening and this morning it's pouring. Just the thing to fill up the water butts!

Having seen the weather forecast for Coleorton yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours harvesting raspberries, loganberries and tayberries which were ripening fast in the heat and would get ruined with the impending downpour.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Hot & dry

We've got a proper summer! Actually I can't remember many summers recently where we have had so many consecutive hot, sunny days. It's 30 C  out there this morning.

Of course we British gardeners always complain about something and now WE WANT RAIN!
All 4 rainwater butts are empty, and the green pipe and spring which produced so much water during last year's official wettest on record   have long since dried up. So it's out with the hose and using tap water - not good because it's got chemicals in, because we're on a meter and because we try to be self-sufficient and using mains water seems like a cop-out.

I don't really care about the flowering plants, although the roses and oleanders are looking a bit droopy, but the vegetables and fruit are starting to produce big-time and need water. Plums and apples in particular will just drop their small fruit if they get thirsty.

There is still some moisture in the soil, thanks to our record-breaking wet winter and spring so hopefully established plants will send out roots to reach what they need.

Friday 12 July 2013


Juicy ripe redcurrants
Today I picked this year's first batch of redcurrants. I only had half an hour to spare and picked 4.5 lbs off just one bush.

The last two years we've had to put nets over the 6 redcurrant bushes to stop the blackbirds and pigeons raiding them. They would completely strip the currants and be so bold that they were stealing currants on the other side of the bush as we were harvesting.

This afternoon I was being scolded by a blackbird the whole time I was picking. There's a self-sown bush down by the pond which we leave uncovered for the birds, mostly frequented by blackbirds and robins.

Monday 1 July 2013

Gooseberry Meringue Pie

Fantastic weekend! Sunny and warm - so spent nearly all Saturday & Sunday out in the garden. Lots of tidying, weeding and cutting down. But also some harvesting - 4 lbs of lovely spuds from the second pot of Sante potatoes, fresh crispy Tom Thumb lettuce for lunch and gooseberries for a Gooseberry Meringue Pie for tea.

Gooseberry Meringue Pie recipe:

Basically similar to lemon meringue pie but much simpler and arguably even more yummy.
(Sorry - no photo 'cos it got eaten before I could get out the camera).

1 lb gooseberries
6 oz self-raising flour
3 oz soft margarine
2 tablespoons milk
2-3 eggs
7-8 tablespoons granulated white sugar

Prepare gooseberries:
Top & tail 1 lb gooseberries with scissors, clean off any brown mildew and give them a good wash. Lightly cook them either in oven or microwave (no water needed). They should still have some shape rather than be totally mushy.
Add 3-4 tablespoons sugar (check for your taste and depends on how ripe the gooseberries are).

Make a pastry case:
6 oz self-raising flour
3 oz soft margarine
2 tablespoons approx milk
Mix soft margarine into the flour with a fork (very easy) then add milk and mix into a dough - using your hands if necessary.
Grease a 8 ins shallow pie dish.
Place the dough in the dish and press it out into the dish and making a small lip round the edge.
Cook in oven (Fan 170C) for 15 mins then remove from oven. The pastry will have puffed up in the middle so bash it back down to pie shape with the back of a spoon. Pop it back in the oven for a further 10 mins. (This method is much easier and gives better results than baking blind with beans).

Make the meringue topping:
Separate 2 large or 3 smaller eggs. Put whites in a bowl and whisk with balloon whisk or electric beater till stiff. Add 4 tablespoons sugar. Whisk again till thick and glossy.

Put it all together:
Mix the egg yolks into the cooked gooseberries and pour into the pie case.
Pile the meringue on top.
Cook in oven 150C for 30 mins till meringue is slightly golden and crisp. Sometimes the meringue goes all gooey instead of crisp (depends on what else is in oven maybe) but it's delicious anyway..

Serve warm with cream.