Saturday, 19 August 2017

the late summer garden

 August is coming to an end and the heat of a few weeks ago has dissipated. There is a hint of Autumn in the air.
 Not that I mind. I like the onset of Autumn
My pale skin  means I have never enjoyed extreme heat. The gentle warmth of Spring and Autumn are much more my thing.

In the garden, there are signs of the changing seasons. The fresh lush green growth of Spring has faded. In its place come russets and browns. The odd crinkly brown leaf, a withered stem, indicators of what is to come.

And on the allotment, the Rosette apples are ready to pick.
A delicious, crisp, sweet eating apple.
They are not perfect specimens, it has to be said, but what's a blemish or two between friends!

The plums, other than those that have been transformed into jam or tucked up in the freezer have been consumed.
My breakfast for the past week or so has been softly stewed plums with creamy yoghurt, a sprinkle of nuts and seeds and a drizzle of maple syrup.

The past couple of weeks have been very busy.
Aside from tending the garden and lottie, we have been helping lovely daughter and her husband move house.
 I have been on duty helping to pack, clean.
Mr digandweed was allocated the important job of entertaining Tiny Girlie and keeping her out of mischief!

I'm looking forward to a slightly quieter week ahead!
Hoping your week is a good one.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

river cottage plum jam

Plums -  after last year's massive harvest I was expecting a smaller yield this time round.
The tree on our allotment is only small, barely taller than I am, but once again it has produced a huge amount of fruit.
 70 lbs at a conservative estimate.
They are delicious, but there's only a certain amount of plums a person can eat. 
The carefully staged photo below belies the true situation.
I will admit to being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of fruit.

Mr digandweed, laden with bags, has been knocking on neighbours' doors plying them with plums.
Lovely daughter took more bagfuls to her Nature Play group.
 The freezer is crammed with plums; the fridge with plum compote.
It has become obligatory to eat plums at every meal!

So it was time to get out the preserving pan and start some serious jam making.
This year for a change I tried the River Cottage recipe from the River Cottage Preserves handbook.
Plum jam is one of my favourites.
Easy to make, as the good quantities of natural pectin produce a reliable set and delicious to eat.

The ratio was 1.5kg of plums to 1.25kg sugar.
And the yield  8 x 340g  jars.

The jam is now safely stowed away in the cupboard and spread on hot buttered toast in the winter months to come, will be a delicious reminder of summer.

Have a happy weekend!


Sunday, 16 July 2017

water kefir.... or another foray into fermentation.

It was lovely daughter who first introduced me to water kefir, the slightly carbonated fermented drink which is full of beneficial probiotics.
Like many fermented foods, its origin is uncertain but it has probably been consumed in certain countries such as Mexico and Tibet for centuries.
Making water kefir at home is simple, though initially you do need some water kefir grains.
The term water kefir grains is a slight misnomer, as they are not actually grains, but resemble jelly- like crystals.
The grains are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts, which when fed with sugar and water produce the beneficial drink.

There seem to be different methods for making the kefir and this website has lots of interesting information, but the method I used was as follows:
Place 4 tablespoons of water kefir grains, 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar and 800ml water into a clean kilner jar (or similar).
Stir, cover with a cloth, (but do not close the lid) and leave on the worktop for 48 hours during which time the liquid should start to ferment and may bubble slightly.
After this time, strain, reserving the liquid and place the water kefir grains into a small jar, cover with water, add a teaspoon of sugar to feed them, place the lid onto jar and store in the fridge ready for next time.
The reserved liquid will be quite sweet at this point.
It is now time for the second fermentation,which is best done in a flip top bottle.
So pour the liquid into a suitable bottle and again leave on the worktop for 24 to 48 hours.

 During this stage the bacteria feed on the sugars;
the liquid becomes cloudy, more carbonated and far less sweet.
It is important to 'burp' the bottle from time to time by gently opening the lid, otherwise when the lid is finally released the contents will spray in a huge fountain covering walls, floors and yourself with precious liquid!
I speak from experience!

During the second fermentation, you can flavour the water kefir with lemon rind and pieces of root ginger which can be placed in the bottle, alternatively it can be flavoured by adding ingredients afterwards.
Having tried both methods, I think the latter is probably preferable as each drink can be flavoured in a different way.
For example, lemon, lime or fruit juice can be added to the glass and then topped up with water kefir.

Unflavoured, the water kefir is an acquired taste, rather like a cross between flat lemonade and ginger beer, but it becomes more interesting when flavoured.
I'm definitely a 'newbie' when it comes to fermentation but it's a very interesting subject.

Friday, 7 July 2017

early morning ...

To beat the heat and keep up with watering on the lottie, mr digandweed and I made a plan-
we get up early and arrive at the allotment before the world is barely awake.
Now, I appreciate this is not everyone's idea of fun, but for me ( and mr d) early morning is the best time of day!
Quite often we are the first and only people there. We climb over the main gate, (having forgotten the key yet again) and walk down the path, sheltered by the hedge, to our plot.
The peace and quiet envelop us. Between us we water everything with just birdsong for company.
The plants are grateful for their early morning drink.
There is plenty to harvest. Although the strawberries have finished (just an average crop this year, though still delicious) there are still bowlfuls of glistening blackcurrants.
Some of the bright berries bounce to the ground as I reach into the bush to pick them. I leave those for the birds, there are plenty more for us.

There are gooseberries too; green ones and red ones. This year, some of the sweetest, juiciest red gooseberries I've ever tasted. There is Swiss chard to pick, broad beans and the first of the climbing beans. The butternut squash are romping away and the plum and apple trees are heavy with young fruit. Only the beetroot have let the side down. Despite sowing a couple of rows and for reasons beyond me only one or two have germinated.
With a basket full of produce, we return home to a cup of tea and breakfast.

This year, in an attempt to cut down on sugar consumption, I decided to make a puree with the blackcurrants rather than jam.
I lightly cooked the berries in the microwave with a drop of water, then sieved them and sweetened with a tiny amount of vanilla sugar.
The resulting sauce is full of fresh blackcurrant flavour and is delicious stirred into any number of things.
A favourite at the moment is spooned over creamy yoghurt for breakfast.
The leftover puree also freezes well.

Since our homegrown beetroot are almost non existent, I bought a bunch of fresh beetroot from the shop and along with the broad beans from the allotment made a delicious salad.

The recipe, Shaved beetroot salad with peas, broad beans and dukkah, is another one from my favourite free magazine Waitrose food.
A link for the recipe is here.
In case, like me, you are wondering what Dukkah is, a quick google reveals it is a rather delicious spice blend which can be bought or just as easily made at home. A recipe can be found here.

Do give the recipe a try.
It is light,delicious and just right for a summer's day.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

afternoon tea..

'There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea'  Henry James A Portrait of a Lady.

I couldn't agree more.
The last few strawberries from the allotment, a slice of homemade cake and a cup of tea is more or less my idea of heaven!

Here is a cake perfect for an afternoon tea time treat.
Mary Berry's Crunchy Top Lemon Cake from Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book.

A soft, fluffy cake with a pleasing hint of lemon and a crunchy top to add texture.

(I know there is a lot of sugar in this cake and sugar is one thing we all seem to be trying to reduce. But it is a tea time treat after all so I reckon it's allowed!)

Happy weekend one and all.


Monday, 12 June 2017

allotment tasks

It's a busy time on the allotment, so all help is gratefully received.

There are important tasks to be done: watering, stroking the thyme plant to release the aroma and ....

... most important of all, pouring water onto the paving stones to see how they change colour.

We picked the first of the gooseberries and several bowls of strawberries plus some radishes.
There are beetroot, broad beans and swiss chard to come soon.

And if you have red onions and cucumber, (or other crunchy veg) either homegrown or bought in your fridge, here is a very quick and simple pickle to add a pop of flavour to summer meals.

Recipe adapted from the June edition of Waitrose Food magazine.

Hoping the week ahead is a good one for you.


Sunday, 4 June 2017

a taste of summer

Is it just me or is there a proliferation of buttercups this year?
The meadows round here seem to be have an abundance of these sunny little flowers.
So good to see.

And on the kitchen windowsill, these little seedlings which with a bit of nurturing, will hopefully produce lots of delicious Butternut Squash later in the year.

On the allotment, the artichokes are growing well. I'm hoping they will be an improvement on last year's harvest.

It seems a little early to be picking them, but they are already quite big.
Not sure what to do. Any ideas?

Self seeded Sweet Williams from the allotment and cornflowers, scabious and roses from the garden.

And finally, a delicious summer lunch using English asparagus in a creamy filling on puff pastry.
The recipe is from Kellie at Food to Glow. Her blog is a real treasure trove of inspiration and information.

The recipe can be found here.

I loved the addition of capers in the filling and dressing, which gave a lovely hint of acidity.


Saturday, 20 May 2017


Beautiful Holkham beach on the North Norfolk coast.
Miles and miles of almost deserted sand.

Mr digandweed and I walked several miles along the seashore on a beautiful, albeit rather windy day, to Wells Next the Sea .....

... a pretty seaside town and harbour where we had lunch.

....and then walked back again through the pine forest and dunes which fringe the shore.

Simply beautiful!


Sunday, 14 May 2017


Climbing bean : Cobra

I have 9 of these little plants waiting to be planted out on the allotment shortly.
No long, leggy, spindly bean seedlings this year! Finally, I learnt my lesson and instead of getting carried away and sowing the seeds in March, I waited until the last week of April
It took some nerve!
Within a week of sitting on a sunny windowsill they had germinated.
Always a magical moment - how does a new plant grow from a small brown seed?
And I am rewarded with strong, sturdy plants.

I also saved some seed from last year's butternut squash.
These too have germinated and I have 4 small squash seedlings to plant out.

And at last, after a couple of very cold days last week, we have some warmer weather.
Warm enough to have lunch in the garden today.
This recipe from the April edition of Waitrose Food is light and summery.

Quick and easy to make ... and delicious too.

Hoping the week ahead is a good one for you.


Saturday, 6 May 2017

Old Sulehay Forest

It was mr digandweed's birthday last weekend.
We went for a walk with Tiny Girlie, her mama and daddy to the most magical of woods not far from here.
Old Sulehay forest is just one of a few small fragments remaining of Rockingham Forest, an ancient  royal hunting ground which originally stretched from Wansford to Kettering.
We wandered through acres and acres of bluebells and wild garlic ...

amidst Oak, Ash, Field Maple and Hazel.
We listened to the birds singing high up in the branches and spotted holes in some of the tree trunks made by woodpeckers.

When our legs got tired ( that would be the older people, for Tiny Girlie seems to be able to walk for miles!) we spread out a rug for a picnic lunch. 
A nearby tree stump became a 'table' for the birthday cake and much to Tiny Girlie's delight we lit a solitary candle and sang 'Happy Birthday'

Mr Digandweed declared it to be a most perfect birthday party!

Time was short in the run up to Mr D's birthday, so the cake in the woods was a rather nice carrot cake from M&S
but later in the week, with an accumulation of bananas in the fruit bowl, I squeezed in time to try out a recipe from queen of cakes - Mary Berry.
It proved to be a success.
A delicious, moist cake with a texture not unlike gingerbread and lovely honey overtones.

Here is the recipe should you wish to try it.

I'm hoping the sun is going to make an appearance later for there is gardening to be done!

Happy weekend.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Lately on the lottie - April end ...

Mr digandweed and I spent a couple of hours sprucing up the allotment the other day.
I love it when the grass paths are freshly cut.
Everything is looking green and healthy, weeds included!
The plum blossom has gone over now. Last year the plum harvest was a bumper one. Sometimes it seems that the tree takes the following year to recover, so we will wait and see what this year's crop is like.
Lots of beautiful blossom on the apple tree too.
( The beautifully tilled earth beyond the plum tree is our neighbour's plot.)

I planted up a new bed of strawberry plants, as some of the original plants are about 5 years old and didn't fruit very well last year. But I now can't bring myself to pull up the old plants!
I'm also having a bit of an issue with the raspberry canes.
When we planted them about 3 years ago, I had no idea how invasive they would become. 
Despite digging out some of the runners the other week, yet more have appeared. They pop up all over the place, sometimes several feet away from the original canes.
What to do?!
Though they are delicious, I am seriously considering removing them altogether.

This is a busy time of year on the allotment, with seed sowing, planting and weeding to be done
.... and watering. 
So far this year Spring has been very dry and cracks are already appearing in the ground.

I pulled a few sticks of rhubarb to bring home.
And if you have rhubarb, you have to make crumble.

Gooey and crumbly - the perfect comfort food!

The sun is out.
I shall make a cup of tea and sit in the garden awhile.

Happy weekend one and all!