Looking Back – Part 2

In this second part of Looking Back, I’ve been pondering my culinary triumphs (and disasters) as I reflect on our first year as allotment holders.

1. What have you learnt over the past year?

Leave the cucumbers alone (see point 4).

2. What will you do differently next year?

I need to make more pickles and jams! There was a time in August when it felt as though I was preserving all the time, I barely left the kitchen! But, as it turns out, I didn’t make enough. I stashed the cupboard with about a dozen jars of  chutneys, just for us, and feeling more than a little bit pleased with myself, I anticipated this would get us through the next year. How wrong I was! We only have about three jars left. I forgot that Ade hoovers up chutney like there’s no tomorrow and I’ll need to make much more next year, particularly as I’d like to give some away as Christmas gifts.

AoF Preserves

3. What was your biggest success?

My two favourite creations this year were my Kale and Feta Summer Pie and my Spaghetti with Fresh Courgette Pesto – two very simple recipes which I initially threw together without much forward planning but which became my staples of the summer; delicious, fresh and so easy.

4. What was your biggest failure?

Cucumber jam. I didn’t even blog about it at the time, I was too traumatised. It was not long after I’d posted this piece recounting the Pickled Cucumber Catastrophe of 2013 and my high hopes for cucumber experimentation in 2014. Cucumbers, I have learned, are best sliced and thrown into salads and I should never, ever attempt anything adventurous with them. I don’t think for one moment that this rather uninspiring denouement should be the destiny of ALL cucumbers, just mine. I’m sure there are many of you who can pickle them with aplomb, it’s just me, it’s a curse I have, and I can pinpoint the exact moment I was struck with my cucumber curse…

…but that’s a story for another time.

cucumbers

5. What new thing will you try next year?

I’m looking forward to experimenting with all the extra vegetables our second allotment plot will give us, as well as the new crops  we haven’t tried growing before such as cauliflowers, celery and aubergines, but I’m also particularly interested in doing a bit more foraging next year. The allotment site not only has wild brambles for blackberry-picking, but nettles, rosehips and I’ve even spied an elderberry tree – I’m not sure if it belongs to anyone in particular but I would love to create some recipes with the flowers and berries.

There will definitely be more wild food experiments next year.

Roll on 2015!

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Glutton for Punishment

August, I have learned, is a month best spent in the kitchen rather than on the plot. Turn your back on the kitchen in August at your peril. While Ade skips up to the allotment for a quick water or tidy, before enjoying the rest of his weekend, I have found myself, forehead smacking repeatedly against the kitchen worktop, in increasing states of plant-provoked purgatory; ignore one glut for five minutes, and before you know it, a glut of something else has arrived.

Don’t get me wrong, you know I love cooking, but when you realise you have six bowls of tomatoes lying around the kitchen in varying degrees of ripeness and you’ve been chucking them into pasta sauces and salads like your life depends on it and you start to wonder what to do with them now that the freezer is already full of tomato soups and then the doorbell goes and your next-door neighbour is standing there, arms outstretched with two bags of Bramley apples he recently picked as a kind and generous offering to you and you thank him and think “That’s lovely, but today I’m meant to be dealing with the TOMATOES!” but you get side-tracked by the apples and end up baking them into some kind of tea-time treat as a welcome respite from all the tomato tomfoolery of late and upon retrieving the butter from the fridge you realise there’s actually half a marrow in there you were meant to be doing something with this week which somehow got forgotten amid Wednesday’s French bean deluge and then Ade returns from the allotment with a smile and another full colander of tomatoes, an even bigger marrow and some more French beans, THEN, my friends, you do start to feel a little bit frazzled.

fraught cookThe idea of taking on a second plot next year is currently making me weep. Not that I can indulge in weeping for long, I have tomato chutney to go and make afterall…
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In a Rut with a Glut?

During my lunch break the other day, I nipped around the corner to the newly revamped Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road to have a gander at their cookery books. What an Aladdin’s cave! Their food section is enormous. I came across this little gem which I ended up buying as it seemed such a useful book to have.
letspreserveit
First published in 1970, Beryl Wood’s Let’s Preserve It contains nearly six hundred recipes for preserving fruits and vegetables and has been a bible to thousands of cooks ever since, including Nigella Lawson.

With all the surplus veg we’ve got growing at the moment,  preserving is definitely the answer. I considered the book an investment; armed with this little compendium, I need never find myself in a rut with a glut again.

Despite having some very successful attempts at jams, chutneys and pickles, I’m still smarting from The Pickled Cucumber Catastrophe of 2013. It was an ill-judged episode, in which I recklessly decided to slice the excess cucumbers we had growing in the back garden and steep them in the  leftover liquor we had from pickling the beetroot. We waited a month or two. The results were… unimaginable. It tasted like radioactive frog spawn. Pickled.

However, not willing to admit defeat, and with an inability to throw food away, the jar remained in the cupboard. Every once in a while, I’d bring it out, trying to tempt Ade with a nonchalant: “I tell you want might go nicely with that Wiltshire ham, how about some of that pickled cucumber I made?” or “I’m sure it would go excellently with this cheese!”

My offers would usually be met with a terrified silence. Ade was never too vocal about it as he didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Although on one occasion, he was afflicted by a sudden and rather violent facial tic at the sight of the jar of pickled cucumber which I’d surreptitiously placed on the dining table, flanked by the pepper mill and a jar of Branston’s in an effort to make it look more appealing.

Back in the cupboard it went with an over-optimistic: “nevermind, it probably improves with age!”

Reader, it didn’t.

My pickled cucumber was finally thrown away two weeks ago as Ade needed the jar for his beetroot.
AoF Preserves
We have a glut of cucumbers in the back garden again this year, so I’m hoping that maybe with the help of Beryl I might be able to turn them into something a little more palatable. And maybe I’ll salvage my pickling reputation while I’m at it.

Here’s hoping.
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