26.09

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Oh September. What a month you’ve been! I feel as though I’ve barely set foot in the vegetable patch, other than quick trips down here and there to collect veg for dinner or pick kale for a smoothie on Ottie’s request (I know, so middle class ;).

What with being nine months pregnant and having a baby the size of a watermelon getting in the way of pretty much my every move, the nights drawing in so fast now we’re moving into autumn, plus work and all the last minute preparations that come the month before a baby is due, it’s become so tricky to keep on top of the gardening lately!

In fact, it’s made me feel kind of sad at times seeing the weeds growing as fast as the vegetables in amongst the neat rows I planted back in spring, slug damage galore on some of the brassicas thanks to the nettles providing such a perfect hiding place for them along the bed-edges, and caterpillars eating away unchecked at a few of the kale plants.

But I’m trying to remind myself not to fret too much, that I can only do what I can do, and that even the biggest of weeds can be pulled up come next spring!

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We’re moving into the season of brassicas now, and it’s so satisfying watching them grow. Most of the kales and swedes were netted until just a few weeks ago, but since they seemed to be fast outgrowing their tunnels I braved removing the netting, and for the most part they’ve been fine!

To take us into the colder months, I’m growing a few different types of brassicas- ‘Cavolo Nero’ and ‘Red Devil’ kale, ‘Filderkraut’ and ‘Savoy’ cabbages, and a variety of swede promisingly called ‘Best Of All’! I’ve found kale such a satisfying thing to grow this year- being able to nip outside and pick three or four big, iron-rich dark green leaves to go alongside my meals is amazing, and the taste is a world away from the bags of pre-chopped, dried out curly kale I used to buy from the supermarket! I’m really, really hoping it lasts the winter…

The swedes I maaaay have gone overboard on- if they all grow to full size, we’ll have a good 10 or so to harvest later in the year! And beyond carrot and swede mash, I’m not that sure what I’ll do with them…answers on a postcard please!

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The promise of leeks to come…

I can’t say that our leek harvest will be particularly large, but it will be exciting nonetheless! We’ve maybe got 8-10 leeks that have made the grade- next year I’ll know to sow 10x as many, and also that they like a lot of water during hot weather to keep them from frazzling!

Still, I grew them and they’ll be delicious just for that fact alone I’m sure. I’m thinking of cooking them into some sort of gratin with potatoes and a creamy sauce, which is making my mouth water just thinking about it…

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This time of year is just so colourful isn’t it? What with the trees beginning to change colour and lose their leaves, the bright pink and red and yellow Swiss chard stems, and dark ruby of the beetroot leaves, the garden’s looking just as beautiful as it did back in the height of summer.

I’m excited to see the beetroot I planted as a second crop (after my failed attempt at onions…) do so well! They should be ready to pick around December time, and will accompany many a meal of sausage and mash I’m sure. I’ve grown them in multi-seed clumps again, with up to four beetroot seedlings per position. As they grow I just pick out the largest from each group, leaving the others to grow on longer. It’s worked so well the rest of the year, and has provided more food per row from the soil than traditional spacing!

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The Borlotti bean crop is still coming along, though since I’m leaving them to dry and only after the beans themselves instead of the pods, it feels like the most meagre harvest so far! But they do look so beautiful hanging from their teepee, and the dried beans will make a lovely addition to soup or a stew later this winter I’m sure.

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Perhaps the vegetable I’m most excited about though are my prize butternut squashes! Ironically of the two plants I have growing, it’s the that seemed to be lagging behind for weeks on end that’s suddenly put on a burst of growth and produced three full size fruits. They still have a little way to go before they’re that familiar tan colour and so ready for picking, so I’m just praying the weather doesn’t get too cold and nip them with frost before they fully ripen!

We’ve already had a mini butternut squash from the other plant already, which we cooked into a massaman curry a few nights ago with lots of coconut milk and some homegrown carrots too. It was the most delicious thing, creamy and warming and the squash itself was soft as butter too! I was so proud, ha!

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And that’s the round up for my little vegetable patch this month! I’ve managed to snatch some time in the last few days to pull up weeds, tidy up all the mess that had gathered round the edges of the beds throughout the summer, and just generally do a little maintenance before the weather turns truly cold (and before I pop!).

Our jobs for the coming couple of months are more about maintenance and preparation for next year- we’ve got compost to order ready for mulching all the beds over, two new 1x4metre beds to fill ready for raspberry canes going in later this winter, and four bulbs garlic to plant too! I’ve promised Ottilie she can help with that job, so I’m looking forward to a half hour of gardening soon with my favourite girl <3

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13.08

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And just like that, my favourite time of year has arrived!

Despite the berries seeming to be remaining stubbornly red and inedible for weeks up until just recently, the hedgerows all around the farm have suddenly exploded with ripe fruits. We’d been picking odds and ends whilst out with the dogs, purple-tinged handfuls to nibble on whilst we walked, but decided that a proper blackberrying excursion was in order if we were ever to have enough for making the first batch of jam of the season.

So in between Friday’s frequent bouts of thunder and rain, we donned wellies and raincoats, grabbed a few Tupperware boxes, and headed off towards the fields…

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The hedgerows around where we live are so wonderfully abundant, we were rewarded with a kilo of fresh, delicious berries that took us just half an hour or so to pick!

In fact, we must have gathered way more than a kilo, but the smallest member of our team was determined to eat as many berries as she could whilst we picked! She’s discerning about it too, a pro at spotting ‘big juicy ones’ and letting us know if we’d handed her a berry that was a ‘bit sharp’.

But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised- ‘backbees’ was one of the first words she ever said, and she was picking and eating them before she could even walk!

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My Mum always describes Ottilie as being an urchin, and I totally see her point! <3

I think it’s the mess of curls that never seems to be tamed (despite our daily attempts to brush, clip, and ponytail it…), her chin that forever bears the marks of whatever fruit she last ate (the battle to wipe it is a constant struggle!), and the permanent cheeky twinkle in her eye that does it. She’s just like I was as a child- forever slightly scruffy and at her happiest when outside. It makes me so happy to see.

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And it isn’t just Ottilie who loves blackberries, but Ted too!

He picks them from the brambles himself, disregarding the red ones and beelining for any that are plump, dark, and juicy. Isn’t he smart?

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With our boxes and tubs mounded high with berries and a little girl stained purple from face to fingertips, we headed home to get on with making a big batch of fresh blackberry jam!

Recently one of Jason’s Aunts recommended I track down a copy of one of Margeurite Patten’s preserving recipe books, advice I willingly followed not least because Auntie Sue has reputation for making the most delicious jams and chutneys! It’s the most old school book (with imperial measurements which always, always reminds me of cooking with my Grandma!), and a blackberry jam recipe turned out just perfectly for us. We couldn’t wait and tucked into one of the jars the next morning, spreading it thickly onto toast and pancakes at breakfast time. It’s completely and utterly delicious!

And since I’ve already got half a dozen more recipes bookmarked that I want to try, I think we might need to head back out and get picking again soon…

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07.08

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If there’s any one vegetable you can always count on to be plentiful when growing your own, it’s the courgette. Last year I had three plants growing in the tiny garden of our old house, and such a bountiful supply I promised myself that in 2018 I’d cut back to just two plants.

But in reality? I’ve somehow managed to end up with five, yes, FIVE plants of differing varieties, and we’re picking an average of two courgettes a day. Last weekend we picked NINE. It’s madness, madness I tell you!

So what to do with them all? Well, we’re cramming them into just about every savoury recipe going (from risottos and pastas, to fritters and salads), I’ve made batches of pickles and chutneys, but my current favourite way to use these sweet summer squashes up is to bake them into a loaf cake.

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The cake itself is the simplest thing to knock up (even with the help, or hindrance, of a toddler), and is absolutely delicious too.

It doesn’t taste exactly of courgettes, in the way that carrot cake doesn’t taste exactly of carrots, but it does have a certain undefinably ‘green’ flavour that works so well alongside the freshness of berries or some citrus zest. I’ve been topping it off a simple lemon glaze more often than not, but this time, thanks to a distinct lack of lemons available in the house, I had to get creative with a few of the first blackberries of the season instead.

Simply warmed through, crushed, and then mixed with a small mound of icing sugar, it made the most delicious topping for the cake. And oh so seasonal, too!

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The recipe is one I’ve adapted from BBC Good Food, though minimally it must be said. Mainly through laziness (I didn’t have self raising flour first time I made it and so replaced with plain flour and just doubled up the baking powder), and also I’ve removed the sultanas because does anyone really want sultanas in a sponge cake? I think not.

Makes one loaf cake.

Ingredients:
350g courgettes
250g light brown sugar
125ml sunflower oil
3 large eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
300g plain flour
2tsps baking powder

- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and grease and line a loaf tin with parchment paper.

- Grate the courgettes, then put them all into a tea towel and wring out as much of the moisture as you can.

- Add the courgettes to a large bowl, and add in the sugar, oil, eggs, lemon zest (if using), and vanilla extract. Mix together. Tip in the flour and baking powder, mix thoroughly, and then pour the batter into the lined cake tin.

- Bake for 50minutes-1 hour, and then allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack.

- A simple and delicious glaze can be made by mixing icing sugar into fruit juice (lemon, orange, grapefruit, mashed berries…) until a smooth runny consistency is achieved. Allow the cake to cool completely before icing.

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If you have a go and make it yourself, do tag me in a photo on Instagram! I’d love to know how you get on!

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Posted in CAKE, COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, EATING SEASONALLY, FROM MY HOME TO YOURS, KITCHEN GARDEN, RECIPE, SUMMER

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31.07

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There’s something quite magic about stumbling across something edible, when out in the countryside. I’ve become a bit obsessed with scanning the hedgerows whenever we’re out on walks or driving along the lanes near where we live, watching out for berries or tree fruits or whatever’s in season at the time.

I feel so fortunate every day to live somewhere with such an abundance of wild foods available, and so inspired by our beautiful surroundings to learn more about what edible plants and fruits are growing all around us.

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It all began with wild garlic season back in early spring.

A chance sighting of a sea of glossy green leaves whilst driving along the lane about two minutes from home, a hasty stop, and minutes later Ottilie and I were picking as much as we could cram into a bag I found stashed away in my car.

Some went to making a batch of vividly green pesto that I froze into blocks for use over the months ahead (we’ve only just finished it!), and the rest was wilted down, combined with cooked fresh nettle tops that we picked from the uncultivated area of the veg patch, and used to fill homemade pasties for a delicious, iron-rich dinner.

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Next came the elderflower.

Side plate-sized sprays of delicate off-white blooms that arrived just as Jason’s hay fever did, leaving him so swollen in the face he looked as though he’d spent a weekend having Botox, not doing something as innocent picking flowers and turning them cordial.

Our rookie adventures in cordial making haven’t been as successful as I’d have liked though. We didn’t realise that we needed to add Campden tablets to give it a long shelf life, and so our bottles have all become cloudy and suspicious looking. It seems a waste to throw it down the drain, but I suspect that might be its sorry fate…

But we’ll try our luck with the berries instead when they ripen later this year. I’ve got plans to make elderberry syrup (apparently a potent homeopathic cold and flu remedy), and elderberry vinegar which, by all accounts, is the most divine cooking ingredient imaginable and as good as the finest balsamics!

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Above, sloes ripening on a blackthorn bush, and below the first of the windfall eating apples. We made sloe gin a couple of years ago and it was the most delicious, warming drink the following Christmas! Hoping we’re able to do another batch this year…

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And now, even though we’re only at the beginning of August, the late summer and early autumn wild fruit bounty is looking tantalisingly close to being ready.

The farm track up to our house is lined with both apple and (I think? I hope!) crab apple trees, as well as one tall and statuesque walnut tree. I’ve got grand plans for storing up a freezer full of stewed apples for pies and crumbles, and making as many jars as I can of delicious, cinnamon-flecked apple compote to store through the winter months.

And over from our house, around the stables and up the lane, are more blackberry bushes than we could ever hope to find. I’ve got the fondest memories of going blackberry picking with a little Ottilie on my hip last year, who insisted on a ‘one for me one for the pot’ rule for all the ‘backbees’ we collected together.

This year we’ll be picking blackberries with an Ottilie who can very much help herself, so it’s just as well there’s enough to feed the 5000 all around the farm or else we’d be lucky to get enough for a jar of jam!

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And now that I’ve well and truly caught the foraging bug, I’m so keen to know more about how to eat from the landscape around me!

Do you pick and eat wild foods? Has anyone read any brilliant books about foraging I should know about? And does ANYONE know where a girl can find a damson tree in the Surrey Hills area?!

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