Sunday, December 31, 2006

Solstice Solace

'The Hemulen woke up slowly and recognized himself and wished he had been someone he didn't know... He crept under the bedcover and buried his nose in the pillow, then he shifted his stomach to the edge of the bed where the sheets were cool. He took possession of the whole bed with outstretched arms and legs, he was waiting for a nice dream that wouldn't come. He curled up and made himself small but it didn't help a bit... He tried to find something pleasant to think about that would drive away his morning melancholy, he tried and tried and gradually a friendly and distant memory of summer came to him...'
I've been reading Tove Janson's Moomin books lately. When I was little I remember getting them out of the library but I think I only looked at the pictures. Well they are chalk full of warmth and wisdom.
So today (yet another grey one) I will curl up comfortably with some seed catalogues and console myself with the thought that it's only four weeks until Potato Day/Seedy Sunday and the days are getting longer...

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Here is what's on view right now on my allotment neighbour Luigi's plot. They looked just a bit festive. Radicchio I'm guessing.
This season generally triggers my gag reflex, and judging from the piles of sick that I tiptoe past on the way to work in Soho, it has the same effect on others. But on the plus side there is more time with friends and lots of good eating to be done. Which is why Thanksgiving gets it right - no present giving or papal waffle.
I'm just back from from celebrating Weihnacht in NordrheinWestfalen, near Münster. Along with all the Christmas markets, glüwein drinking and general bellringing I was initiated into the seasonal/regional 'grünkohlessen' experience. It is harvested after a few frosts from December through February. The kale is cooked with potatoes, onions and regional würsts, served up in a steaming mound and washed down with Weissen beer. I grew a lot of kale this year - cottagers and cavalo nero - and it's good to find new ways to cook it.
It's praises are sung on Here is a web translated exerpt...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Saint Ambrosius Day

Wrap yourself around a cup of mead and toast the patron saint of bees, beekeepers, candle-makers and anybody else with a hairy eyeball. It's time for me to reflect upon this past summer in our bee-loud glade. I won't say that everything that could possibly go wrong did, because next year is bound to prove me wrong. Our bees were very swarmy and twice beflummoxed us before we mastered the art of bee wrangling. Once the third swarm was re-housed, the bees decided to build comb on the other side of the dummy board rather than on the frames provided. So, when next we lifted the roof, all we could do was watch in horror as their wild comb collapsed in on itself. Then, in August, the varroa mites moved in (quicker than we ever thought possible) and all but decimated the first hive's population.
Well, we've tucked them up for the winter now and, fingers crossed, we'll still have two colonies come spring. On the plus side there was this -

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Well, I have delved into the first of my 6 Lady Godiva squashes - so called for they are naked seeded (hulless). And here is the payload, all 3 ounces of it.

I made the mistake of putting them on kitchen towel to dry. They are very sticky. It was as well there was no one around when I tore them all off again, re-soaked, cleaned them and laid them out - this time on an enamelled pan. The flesh ended up in a laksa pumpkin soup. Now I must study the entrails for portents of next season's harvest...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Class of 2006

Every year I corral all my squashes together for a group photo. I left it a bit late this autumn, and all the blue and green ones have mellowed to give a slightly monochromatic result (shrug).

Last year's haul


and 2003

I weigh them all as well, but I won't bore you with those details.

Monday, November 13, 2006

More Slow Food

Pictured below is 'Winter Luxury' squash which I grew this year - billed as one of the best for pie making. You just poke a couple of little holes in it and bake it at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, until it slumps (or follow Gracie Allen's recipe for roast beef, substituting punkin - one large prime rib of beef, and a smaller rib of beef. Put both in the oven and when the smaller one is burnt, the big one is done.) Then get rid of the seeds, and scoop the flesh into your best punkin pie recipe. The one I am currently using calls for some grated fresh ginger, which I think ups the ante.

Anyway, last year I carefully saved seed from a 'Blue Hubbard'. I've made a label for the seed packet and I'm thinking of giving away a packet containing 5 seeds and a pie recipe to the first 50 people to subscribe to my soon to be announced magazine.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Sloe Movement

We spent the past weekend on the South Downs - mostly walking (mmm, let's say putting one foot in front of the other on the homebound trek at 2 in the morning while surprising a sleeping grouse and more than a few cows along the way) , eating and drinking but also picking a shedload of sloes. The conditions were just right - frosty at night but bright sunny days. About a month ago I was very pleased to find just enough sloes on the lane leading to the allotment to make one bottle of gin. I picked them then and there because I knew that they would be gone by the time we had a frost in London. (Daddy Schlingmann wisely pointed out a few years ago that putting the fruit in the freezer overnight achieved the same end.) Anyway, there are now several gallons of the stuff, steeping quietly, in the far corner of the kitchen.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hello Darkness

Cue Simon And Garfunkel. Sunset Sunday night on the allotment - 16:40 - ouch. The cold and the dark both hit this week in one swell foop. But I liked the pink reflection on somebody's coldframe.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Winds Light to Variable

Here's one I took yesterday. Still 18 degrees, after the warmest September ever. Mind you it's raining again today. So far I've collected 62mm -!!!STOP PRESS!!! and make that 77mm- in our back garden this month and the Met office predicts rain for the next five days.
Lots of lady bug activity as well. I can't make a positive ID on these, although the 2 on the left have about 18 spots, they don't look like the 18-spot ladybird 'Myrrha octodecimguttata'. I think they are variations on the 10-spot 'Adalia decempunctata' perhaps. And the right hand one might be a 2-spot ?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rude Veg

On Sunday last, I unearthed the rest of my root veg harvest (barring the three parsnips that survived infancy which I'll leave to be sweetened by the first frost). Another 15 lbs. of beetroot, bringing the total to 35 lbs. (hoorah for Imperial measures)
And more carrots. Some with knobs on...

And a few plucked 'in flagrante delicto'...

The start of a karrot kama sutra.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Blind Taste Test

"The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies...
The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The onion has as many pages as War and Peace, every one of which is poignant enough to make a strong man weep, but the various ivory parchments of the onion and the stinging green bookmark of the onion are quickly charred by belly juices and bowel bacteria. Only the beet departs the body the same colour as it went in.
At birth we are red-faced, round, intense, pure. The crimson fire of universal consciousness burns in us. Gradually, however, we are devoured by parents, gulped by schools, chewed up by peers, swallowed by social institutions, wolfed by bad habits, and gnawed by age; and by the time we have been digested, cow style, in those six stomachs, we emerge a single disgusting shade of brown.
The lesson of the beet, then, is this: hold on to your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown."
Thoughts on Beta vulgaris from Tom Robbins 'Jitterbug Perfume'.
Yesterday, as part of the annual harvest, thanksgiving and stocktaking, I invited a few friends to participate in a blind taste-testing on the three varieties of beetroot that I grew this year. (pictured below in exhibit a)

The beets were cut into bite sized pieces and baked in foil with just a drizzle of oil for about an hour at gas mark 4.

With points awarded 3 for the favourite and one for next best, the results were as follows: Lutz Winter Keeper was a clear winner with 15, Detroit Red Globe second with 7 and Long Blood Red close behind with 6.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Vegetable Sideshow

Step right up ladies & gentlemen...
The Elephant Man
'Blunt-rooted Guerande' or 'Oxheart', the catalogue said "this unique stump rooted variety may grow as wide as it is long."

The Siamese Twins

Amazing Half Man

The Bearded Lady

Tom Thumb

About 10 years ago I saw Todd Brownings 1932 film 'Freaks' when the censors finally allowed it to be shown on TV. During the course of the one hour film, the so-called circus 'freaks' become the protagonists we all root for and the 'normal' people end up behaving and then looking like monsters/freaks.
I guess I start to look at those uniformly shaped clones in the carrot department of the supermarket in just the same way now. Vive la difference !