Sunday, 27 July 2008

Dwarf French Beans Overload

Our first sowing of dwarf green beans came to a total of half a dozen, maybe a dozen at most. However, the second crop which are some seed that were sent to me by a swap partner in america have done really well. We would have eaten then but due to having access to the neighbours 2 large pots on their patio, the beans on there were a lot bigger and needed using first.

That was the plan at least. When we then looked again at ours yesterday they were getting a little too big too. So they went into the freezer along even more beans from the neighbours' pots!
The next glut i think we are going to have is runner beans, as you can see from the photo below. Some of them will have to be picked from the shed roof - yes, there is a shed behind there somewhere!! I've be using a step ladder to get up there to tidy them, train them and take the tops out. Its actually worked well as a growing method.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The End of the Alphabet

The Great Big Veg Challenge have reached then end of the alphabet and have released a book to celebrate. Ok, so i'm not a mother looking to try and get a child eating vegetables, but i do eat a lot of them myself. Plus, with all the veg in the garden (and now the beans from a neighbour which i am looking after whilst they are away for a bit) i am always after new inspiration.

Also, i just had to have the book, as i had been following their alphabet journey from quite early on in the alphabet on my RSS feed.

The book is wonderful, it has so many funny little stories to go with each vegetable.

To celebrate the book and the end Charlotte was asking for people to email vegetable faces in, as a little competition. So here's my entry:

I wanted to use as much from the garden as i could, so the hair (green beans and rocket), eye brows (sugar snaps) and nose (broccoli) are from the garden.

However, the ears (potatoes), mouth (red pepper) and eyes (mushrooms and olives) are not. i was going to use my few blueberries for the centre of the eye but they are fruit rather than vegetables. But i'm sure you could debate whether many of the others the are "true" vegetables. I always thought a vegetable was something that grew underground, like a carrot, and a fruit was over ground, so technically cauliflower and cabbage would be fruit. Who knows!

Friday, 25 July 2008

2 + 3 = all i'm going to get this year?

Maybe one more but i certainly won't make double figures this year. Shall have to look up some pruning and care tips to encourage it for next year. Maybe design in a new house/cage too.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Last of the baking practise for the show - cheese and olive scone bake

I was going to leave baking this until next week, but due to my car not starting i was feeling rather stressed yesterday. I had planned to go to Chelmsford, as there were things i wanted to look for there. So with feeling stressed and stuck at home, i decided that baking would take my mind off the car and could take out my frustrations with the mixing.

I was a little confused by this recipe, cheese and olives scones i had an image of in my mind but cheese and olive scone bake? I read through the recipe and everything seemed straight forwards until the end. It wanted the dough rolled out to fit a 12" x 9" roasting dish (which i struggled to find, but managed to find a pyrex that size eventually) and then marked into 12 squares. "mark" - what does than mean? How deep do you "mark" squares i wondered? just score the surface? cut half way through the dough? and the last phase of the recipe said "cool on a wire rack" so how do you separate the squares? cut them to give straight edges? or breaks them rustically?
And from reading the show schedule, i need to break them, as i am supposed to present "4 on a plate". Well, the recipe worked fine. No trouble at all, apart from the fact that i almost sprinkled the parmesan on top too early! It need 15 minutes in the oven first before the parmesan goes over the top and then another 5 minutes just to finish it off.
When it came out however, i was concerned it wasn't cooked as it felt very soft, but i need to remember that things firm up as they cool. I guess i just panic too easily. We ended up having a piece each at dinner last night and it was lovely. (Yes, i even had a piece - a smaller corner piece mind you). I thought it was possibly a little undercooked but mum said she didn't think it should be cooked for any longer. And thinking about it with the cheese stirred into the mixture and some moisture from the olives, it would be a moist scone. And the top was not too brown.

So yes, i think this one could be a success. And as i only need to present 4 square i can take 4 from the middle that are perfectly square instead of the rounded corners!

Too Big but then also Too Small!

I'd purposely left a cougette on the plant, as it was already a big large to slice into rounds to have as a side veg. so i thought i'd let it get a little larger in order that i could stuff it for dinner.

however when i picked it i found it was a little too large..... (it's a teaspoon next to it)

it was the perfect width but just a little (ok - a lot) to long. So i ended up having half of it, mum used another quarter for her ratatouille and the remainder is still in the fridge! although it had better get used pronto as the next courgette is ready for picking or that will end up a marrow too!

I also decided to thin out my first sowing of beetroot yesterday. i decided that although i dislike pulling beetroot before they get to a decent size, if i wanted anything decent for the show in a months time then i needed to give them the best chance possible.
Again from the teaspoon you can see what babies these really are, but the leaves will do for a nice salad too.

Wild Flower Crops

When i visited the PYO in Wimbish near Thaxted in Essex (Grace's Farm shop), although their PYO wasn't huge they had planted a couple of fields of wild flower crops. I can't remember all the flowers but i know there was certainly a corn flower in the mix.
The field that caught my eye was through a gap in the hedge, so i'm not sure it was actually anything to do with the fruit farm.
I think it was a field of Borage, which has medicinal uses, culinary uses and if often used in companion planting to protect other crops.

I just loved the 2 blocks of colour side by side.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Essex PYO Farms - 3 Reviews

I love the summer and the growing season, giving love and attention to my little plants which grow into big plants. Then in return for my nurturing they give me back some wonderful produce which has no comparison to that from the supermarket.

After watching Jimmy's Farming Heroes and seeing his visit to the Pea farm in East Anglia i realised why my sugar snaps taste so much sweeter than those bought from a shop, not just a supermarket but markets and farm shops too. The Pea Co-opperative (a group of farmers who all work together for the harvest) have just 2 hours to pick, shell, wash, blanch and freeze their peas to keep the flavour and also the vitamins to a high enough standard. When i buy sugar snaps from a shop, who know how long they've been there yet last night i picked my peas at about 6.30pm, steamed them for literally a minute as i like them very crisp, about 7pm and had finished eating them by 7.30pm! You can get fresher than that.

However with limited space in the garden, which is pushed to the limits as it is, there are certain things i don't have room for and certain crops that you need a fair amount of plants in order to get a decent yield and crop. With soft fruit and sweetcorn being the main 2 of these, this is where PYO farms play a key role in food freshness for me (and potatoes too but i don't know a PYO that does potatoes!)

I'm lucky enough to have a PYO within 10 minutes driving distance from me, and having visited 2 others in essex i've realised how good my local farm really is, so i'll save the best review until last! The other 2 i've visited are both about a 40 minute drive however they had different fruit that i wanted to try. The 3 Farms are Cammas Hall Fruit Farm, Grace's Farm Shop (brief details here) and Lathcoat's Farm.
Lathcoat's - from their website i could see that this farm was fairly large, with a farm shop on the site too. When i eventually found the place, after giving myself a tour of the out skirts of chelmsford (it is easy to find i just forgot to print the map). They had a blackboard by the little hut which had details of what was currently ripe, or too ripe and how much was left and which patch to pick. When i went, in season were strawberries, raspberries, there were a few redcurrants, the gooseberries were extremely ripe (too ripe for my taste), the boysenberries were starting to ripen, as were the blackcurrants and the first line of plum trees were ready and finally the cherries were pretty much finished.

I was looking for the boysenberries, as i hadn't tried them before, but decided to pick up some plums for mum, as i know she loves them, and some strawberries to keep me going on the long journey home.....

After looking at their map, i set off in search and managed to find what i was looking for quite easily. The boysenberries didn't really wow me, but then thats not the farm's fault - that's just my expectations! What i was amazed at thought was the amount of fruit ripe and ready for picking but not only that the amount that was going to waste. There just seemed to be a distinct lack of organisation and timing. All the varieties of strawberries were ripe at the same time and there seemed to be no rules as to where you should specifically pick. The strawberries were on tables which normally means that they don't go as moudly as when they are on the floor because the ripening berries can hang over the sides. However here there were so many ripe strawberries there were more than people could pick. They also didn't appear to have a team of pickers here to pick for the farm to then sell on to shops and businesses.

They also do a rent-a-tree scheme here with 4 apple varieties but even tho they guarentee you a quantity, there's no guarentee over the quality....

Overall verdict - Too much fruit and not enough people to pick it. Prices were reasonable but seeing all the moudly fruit made feel a little sad that there was so much waste.

Grace's Fruit Farm - turns out they only have 4 fruits for PYO here although they sell more in the shop but you can't PYO. Fruits available for PYO are strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and loganberries. I went here to try loganberries, and although i could certainly taste a different flavour (unlike the boysenberries which just tasted like giant blackberries to me), it still didn't capture my tastebuds enough for me to want to specifically get them again.

The canes were on a 2 hillsides with loganberries and blackberries in one field and strawberries and raspberries in another next to a wild flower field (i presume to help with pollination), The rows were a little untidy, with thistles and weeds growing well in between, which made it rather difficult to get to the canes. There also seemed to be large gaps in the canes, especially in the raspberries which seemed to just trail off and fade out towards the end of the rows. The other thing that put me off here was that the strawberries were on the ground which meant a lot of moudly ones with the damp weather we've had - in fact more moudly than ripe i think! The overripe fruit was not just an issue on the strawberries but also the logan berries too.

It made me realise how much easier strawberries on table are to pick and how used to it i have become. The last time i picked from the floor i just have been about 8 when i was closer to the ground myself! Not only that, but i also thought the rows were extremely close together, meaning there was no room to step in between because the strawberries were hanging down into the furrows were you are supposed to step, so unless you pick from the outside row - which of course most people have already done - you are treading on mouldy mush and trying not to squash any decent strawberries.

overall verdict - lack of organisation, more of a side line business to the farm shop which had more nick nacks than food at any rate. not somewhere i'd rush back to.

and now saving the best until last.....

Cammas Hall Fruit Farm

To get to the fruit you have to enter through the barn where they have the tills and scales and also a supply of ready picked fruit in case you don't have the time (or energy) to PYO. There is local apple juice, last year there were local plums when in season and this year they have also had their own homemade jam. Cammas Hall has both fruit and vegetables for PYO, increasing their different produce each year. The only item that is only available ready picked and not PYO is the blueberries which are under cages. The strawberries are divided into section with about 3/4 rows of tables per section, and they normally have one section set for picking at one time, which gives the other sections chance to replenish and means there is little waste - however it can also mean that supply can be low when the weather is sunny or when the conditions mean they aren't ripening as quickly.
The same strategy applies to the raspberries, however there never seems to be a lack of crop with them. There are a couple of rows of blackberries, blackcurrant, half a dozen rows of gooseberries, a field of sweetcorn, half a field of broad beans and this year they have introduced onions and also french beans.

They also pick, pack and sell to other companies in large quantities which means less waste. The pickers start at the far end of the rows but due to the length of the rows the pickers and the public never seem to meet! the staff also keep the grass cut, they cut off the runners and generally keep the farm extremely tidy and neat.

Having visited those other 2 recently, i realize how wonderful cammas hall really is. i can only hope they keep growing and increasing the types of produce they have, however the main field is now full but i'm sure they own more of the land around - maybe i should suggest they introduce PYO beetroot!!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Playing with Photoscape

I've been playing around with photoscape quite a bit recently now that i have my all sing all dancing camera - well, compared to my last one it is!! So thought i'd share some of my creations.
This colourful montage is a combination of the picture i took of the gardens and flowers at Bressingham, when we went last weekend for D's birthday.
Here are all four baked items for the show, with one of the platters containing half of each cake/tart/cookies, that D took to work.

And finally a quick snap shot of some of the harvests so far this year: Carrot, Sugar Snaps, Kale and Brocolli. Using a macro shot of some raspberries (from the PYO not the garden) as the background.

Healthy Baked Cheesecake (and Yummy Too!)

I found a baked cheese cake recipe in The Ultimate Low Fat Baking Cookbook, that i borrowed from the library. It was the only recipe that i found in there that i thought i would feel able to eat some of too, which was what my aim in getting the book from the library was. Plus i've always fancied trying a baked cheesecake, as i've never even eaten one let alone baked my own.

The recipe was pretty straight forwards, and although it looked set after it had had it's baking time of 30 minutes, it just didn't look as golden on top as the picture in the book, but i didn't want to bake it for any longer as it was starting to crack on one edge. So i turned the oven off and left it in there for another 30 minutes as it said.

I was hoping to turn it out after that 30 minutes but when i touched the top of the cake it still felt sticky and would have stuck to my hand. So i left it and had dinner, however by the time i came to cut it, after trying to lift out the slices and failing because of the greaseproof paper that was lining the bottom, i had to turn it out. I did it using a plate, fully expecting the top to stick to the plate, but to my surprise (and delight) once i had peeled off the lining paper and righted the cake there wasn't a mark on the top.

It was set all the way through and tasted lovely, even mum admitted to that! I think because i was a healthier low fat recipe, and the fact that i was eating some too, she thought it would lack on flavour, but not in the slightest.

I'll certainly be using the recipe again, however next time i might try some different fruit - maybe raspberries or gooseberries.

Worst Harvest This Year

And the award goes to...................

The blueberries. I may get a couple more if they ripen up but i don't think it'll even reach double figures this year. It is partly my fault i think. Firstly i didn't prune it at all at the end of last year and secondly i left that little mesh cage on it and i think so of the berries got too close to the edge and in reach of the birdies. More lessons learnt there!

And i know i say its the flavour not the quantity but i'm not sure i can even convinvce myself of that in this case - but then i haven't tasted them yet.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Baking Summary

Well none of the cakes came home again! which is a good sign. D made a comments form too where suprisingly the cherry cake faired very well. The worst comments were that it was "a bit dense" and one person comment how the "cherries were at the bottom".

There seemed to be few comments on the cookies - it seems they disappeared quickly, and too fast to taste and make a comment!

The Almond Bakewell was well liked and only one person commented on the pasty "a 'bit' undercooked??" so even they were unsure as to whether it was undercooked or not. Someone else said the jam was "a bit non-descript" whereas another person said the "apricot jam a nice suprise and change from raspberry". Sadly one person who, like many seemed to be trying a piece of each, said there was "none left" by the time she got there and the most helpful comment i think for the bakewell tart was "Yum Yum Piggy Bum".

The Honey and Banana Teabread, the thing that kept coming up was that the honey was too strong, overpowering and left an aftertaste of nothing but honey - and i didn't put in all the recipe wanted!! but it was commented that it was nice and "moist".

Yellow and Green Harvest

Whilst i was tying my sugar snap peas i realised there was enough to have for dinner.
They are the sweetest, crispest and most certainately my favourite vegetable after beetroot of course!
Then i decided to see how the carrots were getting on, as i didn't think i had thinned them enough, but i discovered some decent sized carrots
big enough to eat as "baby" carrots! I decided to trim the straightest one to how i think it's supposed to be for the show, the booklet says trim stems to 3 inches.
Bring on more harvests like this!!

A little ball of white joy

The garden has got so chaotic now and there is so much going on both there and in life in general it seems that i have decided to stop the weekly photos. But i will still post new developments and photos of harvests which is starting to happen more frequently now.

But when i was watering and bug spraying yesterday i came across this! - hiding in the cabbages (which also feel like they might be starting to heart up!) - my first ever cauliflower!

Ok, so it's only the size of a golfball right now but it's exciting nevertheless - gives me hope for the other 3 cauliflower plants. I don't know what happened there, i planted lots more seeds than that, however i seemed to end up with lots of cabbage (i'll be eating a lot of coleslaw and balsamic red cabbage then!) and plenty of brocoli.

next year i think i'll sow less cabbage and more caulis! Its a long learning process, veg growing, in fact i don't think you ever stop learning.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Baking Practice 4/4 - Honey and Banana Teabread

The Final and longest recipe, or rather longest cooking time, was Honey and Banana Teabread.

A pretty straightforward recipe, however i had misread it slightly and didn't have quite enough Honey, so i used all the honey i had for the mix and whilst that was baking i popped out to buy some more for the topping.

I also had trouble finding the nibbed sugar for the topping. I could only find it online and even then the first item i ordered wasn't what i was looking for - the grains seemed too small and i may as well have used granulated sugar! so i tried again and managed to get what i was looking for this time.

On slicing it, the loaf seem beautifully moist and with all that banana and honey (even tho it wasn't quite the whole 6 tbsp!)

I think this is another success that i will do again for the show (so long as my tasters think so!).

Baking Practice 3/4 - Chocolate Chip Cookies

This was probably one of the most successful recipes, but then possibly the most straight forwards of the 4 as well!

I didn't have any trouble. Nothing burnt, nothing stuck - i mean they're cookies - how wrong can you go with cookies?

They all came out pretty circular, apart from one, so i think these will definately be going to the show. Plus they took the least effort and time.

Baking Practice 2/4 - Almond Bakewell Tart

Recipe number 2 was Almond Bakewell Tart. I always thought that the jam was red, so either strawberry or raspberry maybe, but this recipe called for Apricot jam. I also needed to add about double the cold water pastry ingredients to make it come together in a ball so it could be wrapped in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 30 minutes. Once it was rested for 30 minutes and rolled out the consistency seemed fine, although the amount was a bit tight when it came to lining the flan tin and a little patching was required.
As it was cooking there seemed to be a huge bubble rising in it. I thought that despite pricking the base of the pastry before adding the jam and then the almond filling that the problem was my pastry but on slicing the tart, it seem that there is simply an air bubble, because i thing the pastry looks ok. It seems crisp and crumbly and looks cooked on the bottom too.

The problem with this recipe is that as i really dislike almonds which means i've never had a bakewell tart so i'm not too sure what it should be like! Hopefully my taste testers at D's work will pass on some feedback.

Baking Practice 1/4 - Cherry Cake

I picked up the schedule for the Countess of Warwick show last week, with plans to enter the vegetable showing classes (providing i have something worth showing by the bank holiday weekend!) but whilst looking through i discovered the baking classes, craft categories and some photographic categories as well.

With it being D's birthday this weekend, he normally takes strawberries and raspberries in from the PYO, but with it being a busy and long weekend, there wasn't time to get them and if i had picked them friday they wouldn't have survived until monday. It seems that we may have struggled to get some if we had tried anyway, as mum went to get a few for us Saturday night and a few is literally all she got! So i offered to bake instead - a perfect opportunity for a practise run! And i'm certainly glad i did!
So there are 4 recipes, starting with the cherry cake.

Doesn't look too bad does it? A bit "well done" round the edges, however i think that is more about me knowing my oven. I set the temperature to the normal oven setting rather than the temperature for a fan oven.

Which is why from this angle you can see how much it has erupted like a volcano!! Which of course then meant the topping of demerera sugar cracked into pieces.

From the outside i could still see cherries near the top however on slicing it seems that the majority had sunk to the bottom. Mum said from her experience the trick was to lightly dust the glace cherries before adding them to the mix.

With 3 other baking classes i may decide not to enter this one, especially as the other 3 recipes were more successful. Although i did manage to do all 4 in about 6 hours, and that includes all the washing up after each one too!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

New Toy!!!

Well i finally settled on a brand and make of camera, the job then was just getting hold of one before they sold out! The camera i had seen at a price that suited my budget and was recommended by a small independant camera shop was being discontinued it turned out as of couse with all technology these day it was being replaced by a newer model which was already in the shops. So my panic then was to see if i could quicky find anywhere else that still had some and see if they were selling them any cheaper.

Many of the main electrical superstores no longer seemed to stock them and those who did weren't cheaper than the independant stores, and i didn't really want to but something like a camera online. With technology i like to have somewhere i can take things back to in i have any trouble. So my choice was this:

Shop 1 - £200 package deal for the camera, a 1GB card and a standard panasonic case


Shop 2 - £170 for the camera, then i found a case for £15 and a 2GB card for £12, so £197 in total
obviously i went for shop number 2 - more storage and a case of my choice. so it's fairwell little Canon Ixus II!

It's served me well for 4 years, but its running out of steam, however despite this i think mum wants to use it as an intro to her first digital camera. I'm not sure how well it will work tho anymore, the screen seems to go purple when you try to take photos.
And hello to my new friend the Panasonic Lumix TZ3!

This side by side comparison shows the LCD screen difference - the Canon screen was about one of the biggest 4 years ago as well!

Anyway i have lots of playing to do - lots of settings and functions to find my way around but i'm already pleased with the quality of picture it takes. I took these last night.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Monday Photos

Sorry about the lack of photos last week but we were away (more of that in another post). We got back to a rampaging and wild garden which after getting some food in on sunday, we spent tidying up and watering as i don't think it rained here at all while we were away.

All tomatoes seem to be doing well.

The ones in the front garden had a drip feeder so have grown a bit more than those in the back garden.

Yet actually the first fruit have appeared on the ones on the patio!

The sugar snaps have out grown their wigwam.

Just hope we don't get any more strong winds!

The strawberries from this basket are unbelievably sweet, not sure if its the varieties or the fact it gets more sun than the planter on the patio.

i love just walking past and picking and eating the odd one thats ripe. although there were a few ripe yesterday so i gave them to mum to put on her cereal this morning.

despite being drowned whilst the drip feeder was being set up before we went away (which means i still havenn't need to water it!) one of the new seeds did germinate. i need to put some more compost round them tho and earth them up and stablise them a bit more.

came home to our first decent sized courgette, which mum had half of and i used the rest in a batch of ratouille.

first sowing of beetroot are finally forming roots - maybe i should feed them some worm wee........

Well i did have an almost ripe blueberry - it was huge too - but when i went back the next day it was gone!! it was by the edge of the cage so i can only think a bird got there before me sadly. might have to put the bigger cage on it.

second sowing of beetroot is coming on - might be time to put in the 3rd

Like the strawberries these are extremely sweet and wonderful to just pick the odd one as they ripen. birds got to a couple while i was away tho.