Update: August 2018

Finally had a little rain which will help the newly planted lettuces settle in nicely today.

I’m so proud.¬†I finally made a homemade version of tinned tomatoes.

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It has been a dream for a long time. I use tinned tomatoes from the shop so often and I was feeling very guilty. It is so easy to make at home, and yet I have never tried it!

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Finally did it today, so I can cross that off my bucket list ūüėČ

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Garden is surviving – too many beans to pick ūüė¶ Did not get a lot achieved this week as I ended up helping my mum fix the road (long story) and getting lost on a dog walk with my siblings and carrying a heavy beagle back to the car (long story).

Aren’t these peppers cute? The orange one is a plant donated by a friend of my mum’s so I had to take a picture for him.

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And look at this giant onion!

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So it is my birthday weekend coming up and to celebrate good old 23, my newest book is available free on Amazon for 3 days, so go check it out.

Happy gardening everybody.

Courgettes, courgettes… update

So it has FINALLY rained.

I don’t like rain, but I am actually happy it is here because it has been weeks without a drop and I am relieved to be given a night off from watering the parched plants.

So as you may have guessed from the title, we have a fridge full of courgettes (zucchini). They are going in everything I am cooking at the moment, such as my dinner from tonight, dahl. For the recipe, check out my Courgettes page, Carrot and Courgette Dahl.

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Eaten with, of course, runner beans, and some kale. Using homegrown onion, garlic and mustard seeds as part of the spice base.

Runner beans: froze two bags today, cooked one container that I picked today for dinner tonight, and have another whole container to do tomorrow… before picking the next lot. Does anyone else feel like they have suddenly become blind while picking beans and always seem to miss some that turn into GIANT beans?

Bought a new bean slicer to replace the old one we broke which is making life a little simpler again. Anyone else tried standing there for over an hour slicing runner beans with a knife? I could not move my legs they got such bad cramp…

Pumpkins are beginning to grow – exciting!

Picked the few raspberries that are growing at the moment along with blueberries and wineberries today to eat with homemade cookies and cream ice cream for dessert (recipe on my other blog, here: https://bellasbakingsite.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/cookies-and-cream-ice-cream/ ).

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And to top off the day, it was nice to see and get a photo of something other than squirrels at the bird feeders… A nice woodpecker instead.

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A Jammy Week – update

It has been a week of making preserves here.

Mum made her jostaberry (gooseberry and blackcurrant cross) jam.

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I’ve just made blackcurrant jam and more raspberry.

Recipe: Raspberry Jam      Recipe: Blackcurrant Jam

Not much has been going on in the veg patch as time has been taken up with watering and picking, again. The raspberries are nearly over, the strawberries have finished. Now we are onto harvesting potatoes, runner beans and courgette/ zucchini by the bucket-load.

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Also picked this week beetroot, broadbeans, cucumber, lettuce, rocket, spinach, first tomatoes, blueberries, blackcurrants, loganberries, boysenberries, jostaberries, redcurrants, onion, garlic.

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A much of ALL homegrown produce Рcucumber, lettuce, rocket, spinach, potatoes, broadbeans and beetroot. Self-sufficient! 

Bad news is the birds are still being pesky. We have quite a few pairs of blackbirds taking up residence in the acre. They already stripped the morello cherry by sneaking under the netting and stripped a blackcurrant bush yesterday that got exposed. They are not very good at sharing…

Slugs and snails – touch wood – have not been trouble lately due to the hot dry weather but almost had a heart attack when I nearly stepped on a grass snake when I was locking up the other day.

And finally, celebrated my sister’s 20th with a homemade cake which I have to share because it has unicorns on it…

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To get the recipe, check it out here —¬†https://bellasbakingsite.wordpress.com/2018/07/18/sachertorte/

Have a good week, everyone!

Update: Summer Evening

Ah, what better way to spend an afternoon in July walking the dog, having a swim and then eating homegrown and harvested courgette and peas for dinner while reading a Thomas Hardy novel?

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Just the classic easy-go-to-when-can’t-be-bothered-or-am-in-a-rush meal: spaghetti, parmesan, ketchup (because ketchup is good) and the before mentioned courgette and peas.

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Does anyone else find it strangely satisfying to pod peas? I feel so proud when I see the little green circles inside the pods.

So: the update for the garden is literally hosing, moving the sprinkler, picking raspberries, picking strawberries, picking raspberries, picking reducurrants, picking raspberries, picking blackcurrants, picking raspberries, planning to pick jostaberries and failing, and, yes, picking more raspberries. The strawberries are nearly over and the raspberries have taken off. Slight problem: way too many to eat, not going to stand in a kitchen and make boiling hot jam in the only heatwave in England I will ever experience in my entire life, but all of the freezers are full except for one, which is typically broken (I mean, broken since last year and still not replaced because that’s how we roll). So it means literally shoving raspberries down other people’s throats before I start tearing my hair out. And stuffing the working freezers so much that it is too dangerous to try and open the doors now.

But today I made sure I picked some redcurrants and made our instant redcurrant sauce (available here at¬†Redcurrants) and my first mint sauce, which I will share soon, for the family’s sausages this evening.

So I haven’t really been doing any proper gardening ūüė¶ just picking and watering.

But I did harvest and eat my first early potatoes yesterday. They were ‘Charlottes’ and they were delicious.

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space2grow volunteering

Other news: the charity I’ve been helping with, space2grow, was judged two weeks ago for Farnham in Bloom. We’ve only been working since September so it was pretty amazing to already be showing it to other people and entering these community events. We aren’t getting our hopes up, but it was a great first presentation of the project.

For more information about the therapy or volunteering we offer, visit https://www.space2grow.space

All are welcome to our acre, even Sid the lab.

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So many strawberries… Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe

It is so dang hot.

Not that I’m complaining, I love you sun,

But it is getting tricky to get the courage up enough to venture out into the heat trap in the veg garden to pick the fruit.

Someone told me this has been a really good year for strawberries, all due to the time the rain fell this winter (which I thought was all the time. Incessantly. Non-stop). It has certainly been a good strawberry year for us. I’ve been eating them all the time for last couple of weeks.

On top of the strawberries, the raspberries have taken off, along with the red currants, boysenberries, jostaberries and the blackcurrants. I think I almost had a breakdown end of last week due to the overwhelming amount that needed to be picked.

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This blurry photograph is of 45 minutes picking of just strawberries. I didn’t even get half way through the patch, and I have eaten a few handfuls from the container already…

Strawberries are those red gems in the veg patch. They are so good for so many different recipes. You have Strawberry Jam, Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam, Strawberries and Elderflower Cake. Strawberries are amazing with natural Greek yoghurt, chocolate cake (which we have been having a lot of, of course), chocolate mousse, mashed with banana (oh, childhood), banana and strawberry smoothies. But one of my recent-ish discoveries has been how good strawberries go with just plain old vanilla ice cream.

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It is no surprise that they go wonderfully well with some food chocolate ice cream (because what doesn’t go well with chocolate ice cream?), but as I am not someone particularly ecstatic about the idea of vanilla ice cream, I was very surprised when I had to eat it for dessert at one time in my life, how well the mixture went together.

The subtle vanilla twang and the creamy consistency of the ice cream got marvellously with this juicy berry, but it also looks so spectacular together: the red and white colours mixing together.

I have been replicating that dreamy match lately with some homemade vanilla ice cream (oh yes, I have recently discovered how yummy and easy it is to make ice cream, even without an ice cream maker).

So, lots of strawberries? No problem! Here is your next recipe…

Strawberries and Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

(Serves 6)

-8 egg yolks -225g granulated sugar -300ml double cream -500ml full fat/whole milk -1 ¬ľ tsp vanilla extract

  1. Mix the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl.
  2. In a saucepan, bring the cream and milk just to boiling point. Pour the warmed contents of the saucepan into the egg yolk bowl and mix thoroughly.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and mix in well.
  4. Pour into an ice cream container and freeze until solid, about 6-8 hours.
  5. Allow to defrost slightly before serving in scoops with fresh strawberries scattered over the top.

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Parsley for acne

I had no idea until recently researching for a cooking book before trying it myself that parsley was good for getting rid of unwanted acne.

Parsley has been used for medicinal treatment for centuries, but has become just a herb we scatter on a dish to make it look fancy. We often reach for a shop bought bottle to wash or cure when we should really take a leaf out of our ancestors’ book and try simple homemade remedies.

Parsley contains a nice amount of antioxidants, which can help reduce the amount of free radicals (substances which may cause skin damage) in your body. Parsley contains beta carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A, essential for speeding up the healing process of wounds and wrinkles. It provides antibacterial and anti fungal protection, especially when made into an essential oil. This herb is very rich in vitamin C, apparently great for brightening the skin and reducing blemishes. Vitamin C stimulates the production of collagen, which is the substance that keeps skin looking young and vital.

I was very pleased to find this evidence as we grow parsley in the veg garden. It gives the older, perhaps damaged or nibbled leaves that we do not necessarily want to choose to eat, a use.

This is my currant face wash at the moment which I would like to share. I mix the parsley with honey and apple cider vinegar, both well known ingredients for giving a kick-start to our health in a natural way.

If the apple cider vinegar is too strong for your skin, dilute it with 2tbsp water.

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Parsley Face Wash

-1 handful of parsley leaves -1tsp honey -2tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar

  1. Tear the parsley into small pieces in a bowl.
  2. Scrape a teaspoon of honey into the bowl before pouring in the apple cider vinegar. Mix well.
  3. Using a make up wipe or cotton wool pad, smear the concoction all over your face, rubbing in well and trying to encourage the parsley leaves to stick to your flesh. Continue to rub in, paying particular attention to any spots, until all of the mixture has been used up.
  4. Leave on your face for 5-10 minutes and then wash with warm water and apply a gentle moisturiser on afterwards. Repeat every three days for best results.

*If the mixture starts to irritate (sting, burn) your skin, rinse immediately. 

 

Tomatoes

Tomato Рthe edible, often red, veg of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The plant belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae (potatoes, auberinges/ eggplants). The species originated in western South America.

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Wild versions were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red.¬†A member of the deadly nightshade¬†family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious.¬†This was exacerbated by the interaction of the tomato’s acidic juice with pewter¬†plates.¬†The leaves and immature fruit in fact contain trace amounts of solanine¬†which in larger quantity would be toxic, although the ripe fruit does not. Aztecs¬†used the fruit in their cooking. The Nahuatl¬†(Aztec language) word¬†tomatl¬†gave rise to the Spanish word “tomate”, from which the English word tomato derived. The exact date of domestication is unknown, but by 500 BC it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico.¬†The Pueblo people are thought to have believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination.¬†The large, lumpy variety of tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.¬†Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes¬†may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan,¬†now Mexico City, in 1521. Christopher Columbus¬†may have taken them back as early as 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in a herbal¬†written in 1544 by¬†an Italian physician and botanist who suggested that a new type of aubergine/ eggplant¬†had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be divided into segments and eaten like an eggplant – cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. It was not until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as¬†pomi d‚Äôoro, or “golden apples”. Taken to Europe, the tomato¬†grew easily in Mediterranean climates¬†and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, and was certainly being used as food by the early 17th century in Spain.

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Tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival in Italy. For example, the Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote how they “were to be sought only for their beauty”, and were grown only in gardens or flower beds. The tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy. However, even in areas where the climate supported growing tomatoes, their habit of growing to the ground suggested low status. They were not adopted as a staple of the peasant population because they were not as filling as other fruits already available.¬†The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692.

 

Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s.¬†However, by the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopaedia Britannica¬†stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups and broths.¬†They were not part of the average person’s diet, and though by 1820 they were described as “to be seen in great abundance in all our vegetable markets” and to be “used by all our best cooks”, reference was made to their cultivation in gardens still “for the singularity of their appearance”, while their use in cooking was associated with exotic Italian cuisine.

Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit, a berry, consisting of the ovary together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. However, the tomato has a much lower sugar content than other edible fruits, and is therefore not as sweet. Typically served as part of a salad or main course, rather than at dessert, it is considered a culinary vegetable. One exception is that tomatoes are treated as a fruit in home canning practices: they are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as vegetables require.

Tomato plants are vines, initially decumbent, typically growing 180 cm (6 ft) or more above the ground if supported, although erect bush varieties have been bred, generally 100 cm (3 ft) tall or shorter. Tomato plants are dicots and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing. When that tip eventually stops growing, whether because of pruning or flowering, lateral buds take over and grow into other, fully functional, vines. Tomato vines are covered with fine short hairs. These hairs facilitate the vining process, turning into roots wherever the plant is in contact with the ground and moisture.

The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a mutant “u” phenotype in the mid 20th century that ripened “u”niformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.

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Here are some to try growing: 

Garden Pearl¬†(Determinate) ‚Äď Sweet cherry tomatoes, happiest in large pots outdoors.

Marmande¬†(Semi-determinate) ‚Äď Large irregular fruits with excellent flavour, happiest grown outdoors.

San Marzano 2¬†(Semi-determinate) ‚Äď Classic flashy Italian plum tomato, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Golden Sunrise¬†(Indeterminate) ‚Äď Distinct sweet flavour, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Red Cherry¬†(Indeterminate) ‚Äď Prolific crops of sweet ‚Äėcherry toms‚Äô happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Tigerella¬†(Indeterminate) ‚Äď Good flavour and novel stripes on the skin, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Sungold F1 (Cherry) РAttractive golden fruits with a very high sugar content balanced with some acidity, Indeterminate.

Shirley F1 –¬†A much loved variety famed for its heavy yields of well-flavoured fruits – an outstanding hybrid.¬† Indeterminate.

Loretto F1¬†–¬†sweet cherry sized fruits with excellent flavour and a good choice for outdoor containers. Resistance to blight is one of the major benefits of this cascading ‚Äėbush‚Äô tomato. Indeterminate.

Alicante F1 –¬†One of the best for flavour and very reliable yielding a good crop of medium sized tomatoes. Indeterminate.

Ferline F1¬†–¬†A top quality tomato variety producing high yields of large and tasty fruits. Trials have shown that tomato Ferline F1 has excellent resistant to blight. Indeterminate.

Indeterminate – these varieties of tomatoes are the most common and are grown as cordons (single stemmed plants with side shoots removed). They will grow very tall – sometimes taller than 2.5m in very warm conditions.

Bush/Determinate – these varieties stop growing sooner than indeterminate varieties with the stem ending in a fruit truss. They are referred to as ‘bush’ and ‘dwarf’ types (suitable as hanging basket tomatoes) and don’t require any pruning.

Semi-determinate – these are similar to indeterminate varieties (grown as cordons) only they produce shorter plants.

Types of tomatoes:

  • Beefsteak tomatoes – 10¬†cm (4¬†in) or more in diameter.¬†Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life makes commercial use impractical.
  • Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a lower water /higher solids content for use in tomato sauce¬†for canning and are usually oblong 7‚Äď9¬†cm (3‚Äď4¬†in) long and 4‚Äď5¬†cm (1.6‚Äď2.0¬†in) diameter; like the Roma-type tomatoes.
  • Cherry tomatoes – small and round, often sweet tomatoes, about the same 1‚Äď2¬†cm (0.4‚Äď0.8¬†in) size as the wild tomato. Probably my personal favourite.
  • Grape tomatoes – are smaller and oblong, a variation on plum tomatoes.
  • Campari – are sweet and noted for their juiciness, low acidity, and lack of mealiness, bigger than cherry tomatoes, and smaller than plum tomatoes.
  • Tomberries – ¬†tiny tomatoes, about 5¬†mm in diameter.
  • Oxheart tomatoes can range in size up to beefsteaks, and are shaped like large strawberries.
  • Pear tomatoes are pear-shaped and can make¬†a rich gourmet paste.
  • “Slicing” or “globe” tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce, used for a wide variety of processing and fresh eating.¬†The most widely grown commercial tomatoes tend to be in the 5‚Äď6¬†cm (2.0‚Äď2.4¬†in) diameter range.

Heirloom tomatoes are becoming popular amongst home growers as they tend to produce more interesting and flavorful crops at the cost of disease resistance and productivity. The definition of an heirloom tomato is vague, but unlike commercial hybrids, all are self-fertile varieties that have bred true for 40 years or more.

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How to grow tomatoes

In England, we can be kind-of lucky and get some tomatoes off the vines when we grow them outside, but really it is easier to do it in a greenhouse as they will prefer warmer growing conditions.

Tomato seed is normally sown 6-8 weeks before the last frost date (March/April) although they can be sown earlier for greenhouse cultivation. Sprinkle your tomato seed thinly on the surface of good quality seed compost. Cover the seed with about 1.5mm (1/16in) of compost and water lightly with a fine-rose watering can. If only a few plants are required sow two seeds into a 7.5cm (3in) pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. The seeds generally germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C (70F). Keep the compost moist.¬†Pot on the tomato seedlings when large enough to handle, taking care not to touch the stem. Handle the plants by the leaves and transplant them carefully into 7.5cm (3in) pots. Take care not to expose the plants to frost, cold winds and draughts as this may kill them.¬†Tomatoes need a lot of water and feed (high potash) to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. If growing outdoors,¬†plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows.¬†Regularly pinching out of tomato side shoots will concentrate the plant’s energy into producing fruit.

One of the most common problems when growing tomatoes is tomato blight, which spreads quickly throughout the plant in wet weather, causing the plant to die and the fruits to decay. The symptoms are brown patches on all parts of the plant. It is much more common in tomatoes growing outside than tomatoes growing in a greenhouse.

Start picking your tomatoes as the fruits ripen and gain full colour. When frost threatens at the end of the season, lift any plants with unripe fruit on them and hang them upside down under cover.

Tomatoes contain excellent amounts of fiber, vitamins A, C (to resist infections), and K, potassium (controlling heart rate and blood pressure), and manganese. Good amounts of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper are other resources. In daily value, tomatoes provide 38% of what is needed in vitamin C, 30% in vitamin A, and 18% in vitamin K. Tests suggest tomatoes may be a preventive factor against prostate cancer. Lycopene flavonoid antioxidant has the ability to protect the cells even as it protects the skin from ultraviolet damage, and as a possible result, skin cancer. Lycopene in tomatoes has been proven to decrease oxidative stress and risk of osteoporosis and prevent serum lipid oxidation, thus exerting a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases. The coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid, in tomatoes, fight against nitrosamines, which are the main carcinogens found in cigarettes. The presence of vitamin A in high quantities has been shown to reduce the effects of carcinogens and can protect you against lung cancer. Tomatoes keep the digestive system healthy by preventing both constipation and diarrhoea. They also prevent jaundice and effectively remove toxins from the body.

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There are so many ways of using tomatoes and they are such a valuable crop to grow yourself. You can eat them raw, as part of a salad or cheese sandwich, cheese¬†toasty, stuff them, cook with them to make a sauce for any dish, fry them to go with your English breakfast, sun dry them, bottle or can to make your own tinned tomatoes, always a handy thing to have at hand for a quick meal…¬†

Here are some recipes that use tomatoes. Plenty more on the site!

Recipe: Mushroom Tomato Risotto

Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

 

Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti

Updated recipe: homemade pizza

Quinoa РChicken Casserole

Recipe: Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

Salad ‚Äď Rocket¬†– Pasta and tinned tomatoes and rocket

Keep searching for more recipes!