Monday 30 September 2013

Just a few pumpkins then...

Sunday 29th... Meteo60 promised us rain all day, more or less heavy.
After a dry, fairly overcast but not unpleasant morning with Pauline stringing onions in the hangar while Tim submitted the freezer to a long overdue triage and turned the results into a vast curry, a sudden decision was made to harvest the pumpkins.

Our method of growing pumpkins developed by accident on our allotment, when a long strip of ground that had held raspberries became overgrown. We cut down the growth and laid it along the strip, covering it with black polythene to help it rot down and prevent regrowth. Tim then added all the raked up strimmings from the three allotments we had [one was only fruit!]. Come next June we cut holes in the polythene to find a good layer of compost in which we planted the pumpkins - and other members of the family cucurbitae such as courgettes. They grew like billy-oh and produced a wonderful harvest. The polythene absorbs the sun's heat and keeps the roots warm, suppressing weeds at the same time. We learned quickly that we needed to mark the position of the planting holes with canes so we could water in the right place.

The 2012 "maggot" being planted up...
tomatoes were planted at the top end [through polythene]...
you can see the polythene and rocks at top left.
The pile of dry grass is to cover the maggot once planted.

This system has evolved into "the maggot", which is built during the summer mainly from mowings out of the orchard and potager areas. This is covered in spring with three large tarpaulins roped together and pinned down with rocks. The tarpaulins have hatches cut in them where the plants go. At planting time the holes are filled with a mixture of compost and sieved soil, dosed with pelleted chicken manure then in goes the plant, with a cane to mark its place. The tarpaulin is then covered in further mowings to protect it from the sun and to give the fruit something to rest on.

The "Maggot" about a month ago [August 25th]

Pumpkins need room to grow... the maggot is 14 metres by 3 metres...
the pale leaves near the top end are the Red Kuri...
it has sent one runner down as far as the Yellow Crookneck...

and back up as far as the melons which are right at the far end...
a total length of around 20 metres!
The Crown Prince [the large dark leaves at the top end]...
has completely covered the nine square metre area between the Red Kuri and the Melons...
and had to be guided back on to the maggot almost daily!!

Viewed from the "Melon End"... the gap between the Crown Prince and the melons closed within a week.
The maggot base for next year is visible to the right...  all the dead cucurbit plants, the hay over the tarps...
and anything still uncomposted under the current maggot will be added to next years!
This year's empty maggot bed will become 2014's Spud & Tomato bed.

This year the plantings were:
     Grown from seed:
Pumpkin [potiron] Crown Prince: 1 plant
Butternut Harrier: 3
Butternut Hunter: 3
Cucumber Diva: 1
Cucumber Marketmore: 1
Courgette Rond de Nice: 1
Squash Yellow Crookneck: 3 (one died)
     Bought in:
Red onion [pottimarron] squash Uchiki Kuri: 1 plant
Courgette Iceball: 1
Melon Cézanne :2 [in one pot]
Melon Troubadour: 2 [in one pot]
Pumpkin Blue Ballet: 1 (died)
Patidou: 1 (nearly died)
We have been harvesting cucumbers, courgettes and crooknecks all summer, and blogged about them here and here. Iceball is an excellent courgette, very like Rond de Nice but paler, earlier and more productive. The melons didn't really get going until late August, Troubadour being earlier, richer in flavour and producing more fruit.

The Patidou struggled but survived to produce two fruit, still immature so we left them a little longer. I am now certain Patidous are what I have tried growing in the past without much success: Sweet Dumpling. It has a creamy skin with dark green stripes - very attractive.

Sweet Dumpling... the dark green stripes turn a rich orange when fully mature.
[Note the fertile baby Hunter butternut at the bottom left!!]
The Crown Prince excelled itself, producing no less than 8 fruits with a combined weight just over 28 kilos. The root looked like the claw of a monstrous bird, possibly a roc.

It really had its claw in!
There was some speculation over what would have resulted had we restricted the plant to one fruit - a pumpkin we couldn't lift?

The Red Kuri produced almost as big a plant, but only three fruit, averaging at a kilo and a half. The fruits are indeed onion-shaped, deep orange flecked with cream. This Japanese derivative of the French potimarron is not a keeper, but has a rich chestnutty flavour. When we have grown it before, it was the earliest to ripen, but not this one. [Small ones work wonderfully for individual Hoofearnlywhittingstall Pumpkin Soup]

The first barrow load....
all the Red Kuris, the biggest Crown Prince...
and the split butternuts [mainly Harriers]

The other seven Crown Princes

The second barrow with the other Butternuts... mainly Hunter.

So far we have harvested 16 fruits from each of the two varieties of Butternut squash, a total of 27 kilos in weight. Hunter and Harrier are part of a series developed for growing in British conditions and named after military aircraft  (yes, Hawk and Hercules as well). There is no difference that I can discern between the two varieties, neither in appearance, size, flavour or keeping quality. However the Hunters have gone bonkers and produced a second flush of fruits which are swelling nicely - normally, late fruits get rejected and rot off. It's as though the plants have decided that their first flush is ripe and they have time and energy to have another go.
You might guess that we love Butternut squash!

So... now we have a stairwell full of pumpkins!!

Sunday 29 September 2013

Roasted tomato and cumin chutney

Faced with a major influx of ripe tomatoes, I realised that we had just used the last of a favourite - roasted tomato and cumin chutney. It goes wonderfully with a strong-flavoured cheese such as a mature cheddar or St Maure chèvre, or with rich meats such as lamb or duck. We only used six large Lemon Boy tomatoes (makes a kilo) and hardly dented the pile of produce. Having used (for fourteen years! Blimey) Jeremy Lee's recipe from The Guardian of August 21 1999, I looked it up on the web and couldn't find it, although I did find Mr Lee waxing lyrical on the subject of spices a year later. So here it is in all its tasty glory! It makes three remarkably small jars - I use little terrines which were previously used for patés.

1 tbsp black mustard seeds
100ml malt vinegar
1kg peeled tomatoes
70ml olive oil
1tbsp cumin seeds
3 red Birdseye chillies, chopped
2 tsp minced red chilli (I used frozen chillis as our "Cayenne" turned out to be a sweet pepper)
60g root ginger, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1½ tsp turmeric
60g palm sugar or light soft brown sugar
2tbsp Thai fish sauce (Nam Pla)
Salt and black pepper
Nam Pla is very salty so you may not want any salt at all - I didn't

Put the mustard seeds into a bowl, pour over the vinegar and leave overnight.

Peel the tomatoes...

Next morning, pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Place the tomatoes in a non-metallic dish in a single layer and pour over the olive oil. Roast the tomatoes for an hour. Toss the cumin in a hot dry frying pan over a medium heat until it has darkened. Grind to a powder. Put the cumin, chillies, minced chillies, ginger, garlic, turmeric, sugar, fish sauce and vinegar/mustard seed mixture into a liquidiser. Blend till smooth.

Pour the spice paste into a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium flame and stir until it comes to a boil. Stirring all the time, simmer for 10-12 minutes. This is prone to spitting while cooking.

Add the tomatoes and simmer, still stirring, for another 15 minutes (depending on how juicy your tomatoes are) until the chutney has thickened. Watchpoint here - do not let the chutney catch on the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and  black pepper to taste. Pour into clean warm, dry jars and seal.

Just two and a half small jars...

 Store for two to three weeks before eating.

The first jars from the 2013 tomato harvest...

From Guardian ‘Living Food’, August 21 1999 – Jeremy Lee, Blue Print Cafe, Butlers Wharf London SE1

Posted by Pauline [not Tim]

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Chock full o'nuts

After the total failure of our nut harvest last year, when we didn't get a single walnut on our old tree, this year seems to be making up for it. This is probably down to the weather improving pollination, and the weather again, which has caused a crash in the population of small rodents. Today I harvested cobnuts and filberts from our bushes, planted in 2007 and producing a reasonable yield for the first time.

Hazel Nuts [Corylus avellana]

Cobnuts (avelines in French) are hazelnuts with attitude. Cobs and hazels are the same species, Corylus avellana, and we have a wild specimen in the hedge at the end of the orchard. Filberts are a different species, Corylus maxima, originating on the Balkan peninsula. The cobnut has a short husk (papery casing to the nut) from which the nut protrudes, whereas the husk of the filbert is long and covers the nut. The famous Kentish Cob is in fact a filbert. As the flowering of male and female flowers does not always coincide and weather conditions may be unfavourable, the Royal Horticultural Society advise that better pollination is obtained if two or more cultivars are planted.

A comparison... Filberts on the left, hazel cobs on the right.

Our allotmenting friend Andy Lawrence kindly gave us seven offsets (suckers or whips) from his Webb's Prize Cobnut which we planted in a diagonal across our orchard to separate the tree fruit area from the soft fruit. Over the years the littlest of these clung to life and finally established itself, while the others grew away strongly. All seven have fruited this year, the little one producing two clusters, but, hey, it got there! Today's harvest came to 457 grammes, or just over a pound, when removed from the husks, not vast but very satisfying. The husks are very long and I suspect they have some filbert in their ancestry!

The harvest, part way through tidying... Webb's Prize Cob are already bagged... the Halle'sche Reisennuss are being dehusked.

The filbert came from RV Roger of Pickering, North Yorkshire, an excellent source of orchard fruit tees, also bulbs and roses - and they deliver to France! We chose Halle'sche Reisennuss filbert for its splendid Wagnerian name, although it is also known as Hall's Giant. It came as a bush, I would guess about three years old, and has so far retained its advantage in size although filberts are smaller trees than cobs. After de-husking, the two sets of nuts look identical, and the weight of filberts came in at 451 grammes.

A close up of the Halle'sche Reisennuss filberts.

Finally we found a small handful of hazel nuts on the tree in our front hedge. These look very ripe and we probably lost a lot more - a reminder for next year to look for them before the cultivated nuts are ready.

We had already harvested about 150g of cobs and filberts, and a few others remain still to ripen, so I reckon the final yield will be something over a kilo. They will be perfect for hazelnut ice cream - recipes to follow!

Saturday 14 September 2013

Yellow soup

This soup can be made with conventional red tomatoes and zucchini-style courgettes, in which case it will be Tomato and Courgette Soup. The source is Elaine Borish's excellent "What shall I do with all those courgettes?" and for pictures see here.


4 medium crookneck squash, chopped (remove seeds if very ripe and use more squash)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
2 large "Lemon Boy" tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 litre chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh herbs e.g parsley, basil, chives, chopped

Heat the oil in a large pan. Cook the onions and squash on low heat for 10 minutes, covered,stirring occasionally. Add the boiling stock and cook for a further 20 minutes. Tip in the tomatoes and hit the pan with your whizzy stick until smooth (or allow to cool slightly and run the mixture in a food processor / blender). Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for a further 5 minutes. Serve with a garnish of your choice or allow to cool completely and serve chilled. Serves 6.

Thursday 12 September 2013

A Pain in the Crookneck

For the second year running we have grown Yellow Crooknecks....
they have rapidly become a  favourite.
We had three plants to start with...
one didn't thrive and eventually went to the "great composter in the corner"....
but the other two grew well...
very well...
very well indeedy!!
They are...

The crooknecks are the two, huge, dark green plants...The gap on the right is where the third was!

They are triffid-like...

And underneath those leaves the triffid hides its mouth....
with droopy yellow tentacles...
and I'm beginning to dream about the things!
Rank upon rank of marching, yellow, gooselike gourds!!

We have used Yellow Crookneck instead of courgette in any dish that will take it...
and in many, many others.
We aren't going yellow through jaundice...
it's them thar crooknecks*!!!

Not more Crooknecks!!!!..... please!

Not that I am complaining....
oh no!
Crooknecks are creamier and more dense in the flesh than a courgette...
slightly sweeter, too...
so we started using them as a courgette substitute because our real ones were very late.

They are great sliced and fried...
they are nice raw with mayo...
they are wonderful in a courgette and tomato soup...
which, as Pauline decided to use Lemon Boy tomatoes...

A Yellow Crookneck squash with a Lemon Boy tomato.

was an all yellow affair... quite a visual/taste experience...
and great cold, too!!

A large pan full of chunky yellow soup!

And this serving for one barely dented the surface...

Pauline also made a yellow Ratatouille for bottling...

Ratatouille using Yellow Crookneck

and a very yellow version of a marrow mustard pickle...
That looks wonderful in the bottle... all glowing!!

Yellow Crookneck Mustard Pickle

Then Ken posted a Stuffed Courgette Boat recipe...
right... another use...
so we did a version using the crooknecks...

Cheese stuffed Yellow Crookneck....

and that will be repeated, too!!

Stuffed Yellow Crookneck served with fresh "Moonlight" Runner Beans and new "Charlotte" spuds.

very fortunately...
we have this book...

"What will I do with all those Courgettes?" by Elaine Borish

...and all the recipes work with Crooknecks!!

*And possibly all the Lemon Boys...
we seem to have a yellow theme going this year....