Sunday, 25 April 2010

Butterscotch Sauce and Barbed Wire

Harvested my first batch of rhubarb yesterday. Not from the traumatised plants cowering behind the shed after they were brutally propagated over the winter months - I'm leaving those to recover and develop a good strong root system this year before I start amputating their stalks. These ones are from a patch at the other end of the plot that I will probably dig up and relocate next winter.

I followed a recipe by Denis Cotter from The Cafe Paradiso Cookbook for Rhubarb Shortbread with Butterscotch Sauce, which I've wanted to make since January, but rather than buying forced rhubarb from a supermarket, I've waited patiently till my own was ready to harvest.

Here's what I was trying to make (just take a moment to look at & admire that beautiful clear smooth & glossy butterscotch sauce):

And here is my effort:
Obviously you don't get to see the first batch of slightly burnt bitter tasting shortbread biscuits - I was totally engrossed in the new episode of Dr Who on TV so they were in the oven just a little too long. Those biscuits have been edited out of history and into the bin - but a 2nd tray that were on a lower shelf in the oven were fine.

Have to say it would've been perfect if it wasn't for the iffy butterscotch sauce. Followed the recipe very carefully, but as everyone knows, if you boil cream in a sauce (as I was instructed by Denis to do) it separates and goes all weird & splodgey.

Other than that, it was very delicious, so I might get the tippex & black biro out and modify Mr Cotter's book with a recipe for a butterscotch sauce I can work with, and try that one again.

Not a great deal of lottie action this week. I took a few days off work mid-week, & it's been warm & sunny for several weeks so the earth is hard as concrete - it's taking on that cracked crazed look that I remember really clearly from the long hot summer of 1976. Too hard to dig, so have just been watering stuff. But we've had a bit of rain in the night & this morning, so heading up there later on today.

But did get out and about on the Sussex Downs. Came across this near Wolstonbury Hill:
Do trees feel pain? My head tells me no, but my instinct & my heart very firmly say yes, they do. It wasn't just this one tree being slowly garrotted by barbed wire, there were a number along the side of the path. Poor things - if I'd had a set of pliers and some spare lengths of wire on me, I would've cut the wire & re-fixed the fence with a bit of give in it. Even if some landowner had come barrelling over the hill with a furious look and a 2-bore shot-gun pointed in my general direction.

But on a lighter note, the woodlands & hedgerows were looking utterly glorious & bursting into life after this long cold winter.

Just heavenly.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

It's not a pleasant pheasant

Arrived at the allotment site a few days ago (on a rare mid-week day off work) to be greeted by the sight of a pheasant casually, methodically, destructively and horridly working it's way along someones planting row, pulling whatever it was up one by one and tossing aside. I reckon it's the site dominatrix. Some fool had planted their runner beans way too early, and the pheasant is here to teach us all a lesson. "Haven't. I. Told. You. These. Beans. Will. Not. Survive. Planting. Out. In. April. See? Told you so".

I ran towards it flapping my arms like an ungainly emu to chase it away, off it flew with an indignant gutteral squawk. I think my card is marked - it'll trash my crops in revenge sooner or later. Word is out amongst the pheasant mafiosi. But revenge is a dish best served cold, so I'm probably in for it much later on, just as I'm about to start cropping. Pheasant season doesn't start till 1st October, so it has a full 5 months to wreak havoc. Not that I'll be shooting it. I've only had pheasant once - too gamey for me, and it almost took my back teeth out when I bit down on a piece peppered with lead-shot.

Still, good to see that whoever it was had replanted by yesterday morning, but this time their row is protected with what looks like yards of streaming video tape and lots of shiny CDs dangling from strings. I need to make something similar for my plot - so far it hasn't found my 4 short rows of peas, but both you & I know that it will.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Masochistic Psychotic Rhubarb

Rhubarb likes to be treated badly. Really badly. Here you see my rhubarb bed - the small plant bottom left, is one that was already in situ. The other bigger plants, are all from one that I dug up back in November as it was in a prime sunny location which I needed for sun-hungry plants. I thought the rhubarb would do well in the shady spot behind the shed. Ahem. Well, ok, truth is, I thought it'd do alright there and couldn't think of anything else that'd be happy in a spot that only gets about 10 minutes of sunshine each day.

I carefully & studiously read up on what to do, and found out that it was good to dig up the crown, split it, and let the frost get to it before replanting.

And then I did something completely different.

Nowhere did I read the advice dig up the crown some time in late November as best you can (leaving some of the root behind probably) hack into a dozen pieces with a spade, leave out in an exposed place for 2 months of the coldest winter in 30 years, allowing it to be buried in snow twice. Then in early-Feb think "Oh heck - rhubarb pieces are still sitting out by the side of the shed - better try & plant it to see if it survives". Which is what I did - and just look at how jolly & perky it is! The one on the right gets a bit battered by the wind as it whips round the corner of the shed but I'll keep an eye on it & see how it gets on - may move that one again eventually. I bet it'll love it even better if I wait till the wind has snapped off ALL the stalks.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Think I'm going potty

I'm living in conditions where I can't do anything without first considering the health, safety & wellbeing of hundreds of plants scattered throughout the house, hogging all the light coming in through the windows. Cannot open windows without moving trays of tomatoes & chillies. Cannot boil the kettle for tea without shifting aubergines. Cannot wash up without relocating the cucumber seedlings. And as for watching TV... well, let's just say that gymnastics are involved.

And that's just indoors. Out in the back garden there are the 2 mini 4-tier greenhouses to consider. Temperatures are warming up nicely now, so I noticed at the beginning of the week that everything was starting to look a bit wilty - so fresh air being the order of the day, each morning before heading out to work I unzip these, and I zip them back up of an evening when I get home.

I also have to remember to top up the food on the bird table. Two enormous big-bellied wood pigeons (is it me, or do they have teeny weeny heads?) have started visiting daily and gorging themselves on the seed that I put out for their smaller cousins. They're a bit of a pest and I don't like to encourage them - but now I'm on a chain-gang of endless seed provision, or my brassicas will get it in the neck.

Time to take some of this hardier stuff down to the plot this weekend - the 10-day forecast looking good, so worth taking a punt at planting some of it out now.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Those pesky curvy straight lines

Now, I've been gardening for about 20 years. I thought I knew what I was doing, but the plot..... oh, the plot.... Different kettle of fish entirely. Allotment gardening is all about straight lines. I had visions of vegetables marching smartly up and down the beds. All my plans were drawn with pen and ruler, vegetables stretching away to infinity & beyond. But now my onions & garlic are coming up, it's clear that everything I've put in so far has a distinct... how shall I put this?.... wobble. Mr SNAH says "why don't you just use 2 pegs and a bit of string next time to mark out the straight lines before you plant/dig?" and I wail back "but I diiiiiid!".

And as for my potato trenches....oh dear. Everyone else's at the site look like this:

But mine look like this:

Actually, I'm probably being a little kind to myself there.

Nevermind. My first earlies (Maris Bard, Vales Emerald & Homeguard) & seconds (Edgecoat Purple, Wilja) are in. An iffy planting line isn't going to have any impact on the taste, and with a bit of luck maybe it'll confuse any slugs intent on burrowing into the tubers before I dig them up. As I'm sure I read somewhere (ahem.... cough cough) that slugs working their way through underground crops only work in straight lines (couldn't possibly offer a citation on that). Least that's what I'll tell everyone, until I can get up there again to rig up a set of curtains around my potato trenches. I'll invest in some flowery Cath Kidson ones and maybe no-one'll notice - they'll blend in with the general springy springiness springing up everywhere. Oh the shame.

So, busy week ahead. I plainly need to redraft my plot plans, banishing all straight lines, I'll be going for the circular wavy look, by the way. It's the way forward.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Behold the poo mountain

Arrived at the plot just after the delivery of 15 tons of beautiful dark well-rotted hot n' steamy horse manure, all to be shared between 5 plot-holders. Spent 2 hours wheelbarrowing our share across to our plot - reckon we've got enough for the next year or two. Finished just as the heavens opened. It's only late afternoon, but today's been the best & most productive Good Friday EVER.