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 😦 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 ¼ 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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Update June 2018

Quick update!   …

Lots of netting currently going on in the garden. Fortunately been able to pick lots of strawberries before the birds got to them. Picked the first raspberries yesterday.

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Lettuce is harvested daily, more cucumbers today (reminder to self, unsure about Femspot variety but Passandra as fantastic as always). Broadbeans continuing. Picked first snap peas and podded peas today. They were delicious.

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Finally some spinach is germinating. I have had real trouble with the seeds this year and bought a new packet from Sainsbury’s to give it one final go. No sign of my carrots though…

 

Strawberry Jam

Remember my love of jam? Not that I am trying to hit you over  the head with it or anything…

I fell in love with raspberry jam a couple of years ago. Then it was homemade plum jam. Then blackcurrant. This year, it has been strawberry. I just can’t get enough.

You will remember my overly-excited post about harvesting enough strawberries to make strawberry and rhubarb jam (Recipe: Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam) and hoping that one day I would pick enough to freeze for purely strawberry jam? Well, my dear friends, that dream came true and it is a sweet, sticky, yummy dream, perfect for finishing off August with slathered on homemade toast and butter.

Strawberry jam is a little tricky: the fruit is very low in pectin meaning it is most likely going to end up running all over your toast or scone so pectin rich liquid (what I use) in abundance or pectin jam sugar is pretty much an obligation. Then there is the sweetness of the fruit. You don’t want to overly sweeten  the jam with sugar otherwise it becomes sickly. To counter this, I would advise using lots of lemon – this will also add pectin to the mixture. Finally, do you want whole strawberries in your jam or just a straight jelly? To get rid of the whole fruit, you need to simmer the fruit down to mush. For my batch, I chose to go halfway – stew the fruit before adding in the sugar so that it created a jammy sauce for some whole fruit to float in.

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Strawberry Jam

(Makes 2.25kg)

– 1kg strawberries – 1kg granulated sugar – Juice of at least 3 lemons – 135 ml Certo Apple liquid pectin

1. Put the strawberries in a large pan over a high flame. Stir the fruit as it begins to bubble and some of the juice starts to ‘leak’ into the pan so that the whole berries are swimming in the sauce. Add the sugar and lemon juice, stirring in.

2. Stir over a high heat and then allow the fruit to stew, checking the temperature with a jam thermometer. When it has reached boiling point, allow it to bubble furiously for at least ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Meanwhile, put a china plate inside the freezer so that it is cold. Spoon a small dollop of jam onto the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute. Take it out and run a fingertip straight through the middle of the jam splodge on the plate. If the jam ‘crinkles’ and leaves a trail as you push your fingertip through, then it is done. If it doesn’t, continue to boil the jam and check to see if it is improving. Once it is nearly done, turn of the heat. Pour the liquid pectin into the pan and stir in. Check the pectin test again to make sure that it is setting. Allow the jam to cool slightly, for probably at least half an hour.

4. Once done, bottle in sterilised jars (place wax discs over the surface to preserve it longer before putting the lid on) and store in a cool, dry place overnight, allowing it to set. You can use the jam from the next day onwards.

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Recipe: Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam

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I picked the last of the rhubarb just in time to make two batches of strawberry and rhubarb time, something I have been whining about for a long time of getting round to doing. It tasted pretty good and a great way of padding out your strawberries to make enough jam if you are lacking. It is like a burnt pink colour when it is done and looks lovely in the jars. I used fresh rhubarb picked straight from the patch and strawberries I had defrosted from the freezer, gradually adding to them over the weeks to build up enough for 100g worth.

When using jam jars, if you are planning to keep them for yourself, you can use any jar you like from a shop bought produce. If you are planning to sell them, you need to purchase some unlabeled jars without any slogans on them – it would not do to sell homemade jam in a Bonne Maman jar so keep those lovely ones for yourself. Also, I would recommend investing in some wax discs to put over the surface of the bottled jam before you put the lid on to prevent it from moulding quickly. Lots of jam that I made last year, perfectly well and sterilised, has still grown a little mould on top whenever I now open it. It is slightly unappetising.

On that charming note, here is the recipe:

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Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam

(Makes about 4 370g jars worth)

– 500g rhubarb – 500g strawberries – 500g granulated sugar – Juice of 1-3 lemons – 1/2 bottle of 250g  Certo Apple Pectin (or another form of pectin)

  1. Cut the rhubarb into pieces, about 2cm big, to help it break down quickly and so that you do not have large chunks of rhubarb balancing on your toast. Put it in a large pan with the strawberries. Turn the heat up high and  bring to the boil, stirring to prevent burning.
  2. Add the lemon juice and sugar, stirring them in.
  3. Bring the entire mixture to a  furious boil, stirring occasionally. Allow it to boil for probably about ten minutes, until the mixture is thickening.
  4. Meanwhile, put a china plate inside a freezer to use for testing the pectin later on. When you are ready, put a small dollop of the jam onto the china plate a put it back in the freezer for a minute or two. Take it out and run your finger through the middle of the jam – if the mixture wrinkles, it has enough pectin in it. If it does not, continue to boil the mixture and check again continuously.
  5. When ready, turn the heat off and stir in 1/2 bottle of liquid pectin of choice to make sure that it is set. Allow the mixture to cool completely before bottling and placing a cool, dry, dark place overnight to allow it to set.
  6. To sterilise jam jars, preheat the oven to 150C and put the jars and lids inside for about five minutes until they are hot to the touch. Using oven gloves, remove from the oven and leave them to cool completely before using.

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Strawberries

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First garden and wild strawberries picked this year, 2016
The garden strawberry or Fragaria has been cultivated worldwide for its delicious red fruit. The first garden strawberries are believed to have been bred in Brittany in the 1750s through a cross of Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America and Fragaria chiloensis that was brought from Chile in 1714. This new production of strawberry as replaced the woodland strawberry, Fragaria vesca which was the first strawberry species cultivated in the 17th century.
The strawberry fruit was mentioned in ancient Roman literature, referring to its use in medicine. The entire strawberry plant was used for medicating depressive illnesses.
The French started taking the woodland strawberry into their gardens to harvest during the 14th century; King Charles V had 1,200 strawberry plants in his royal garden. During the early 15th century, French monks used strawberries to illuminate manuscripts.
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Netted strawberry bed
During the 16th century the strawberry plant became more of an interest in the world of medicine and botany as more scientists began to name the various species of the plant. In England, the demand for strawberries had increased by mid-century. Thomas Wolsey invented the combination of strawberries and cream in the court of Henry VIII. By 1578 instructions for growing and harvesting strawberries were written.
In the 17th century, the species Fragaria virginiana was introduced to Europe from North America, an important part in the history of the strawberry as it produced the fruit we recognise on our supermarket shelves today. It gradually spread through Europe but it was not until it was introduced to the Chilean strawberry in France that it produced the modern strawberry. Strawberry cultivators vary. On average, a strawberry plant has about 200 seeds on its external membrane.
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Garden Strawberry
The time to plant strawberry plants is late summer and early autumn to allow the roots to establish into the soil that will still be warm.
Choose a spot in the full sun for the best harvest, a plot where you have not grown any of the Solanaceae family or chrysanthemums, susceptible to verticillium wilt of the leaves. Prepare the ground well with well-rotted manure dug in along with some Blood, Fish and Bone and dig in some mulch for good measure before sprinkling a generous amount over the surface to suppress the weeds. Dig a trench or holes and spread the roots of the plant widely, making sure that the crown is level with the surface. Allow 50cm between your plants, ideally but strawberries are not too fussy when it comes to space. Water and firm in. Keep the plant well watered over the next few weeks as they become established.
I have to admit, I have been amazed at the hardiness of wild strawberries. They spread like wild-fire in the garden. We have so many, I can afford to lose a few when weeding every now and then (they grow everywhere: vegetable beds, under trees, flower beds, in the middle of the paths, even in the grass). Over the last year when I was clearing and extending the vegetable plot, I dug up large collections of wild strawberries and shamefully and lazily abandoned them in piles. They all survived, even those dug up in boiling hot sun and left with their roots not planted in and no watering offered. If anyone ever wants something easy to look after (and spreadable), wild strawberries are the way to go.
To prevent the strawberries from spreading too much, snip off the runners. After the fruiting season is over, Mark Diacono, ‘River Cottage Handbook: Fruit’, recommends that you ‘snip off all old fruiting stems, runners and leaves, give your strawberry bed a good comfrey feed and add more well-rotted manure’ to encourage a healthy growth for the next season. Diacono also suggests that strawberry plants should be replaced after four years.
When the strawberries start to grow fruit, place straw underneath them to prevent them from rotting from contact with the ground.
Depending on the varieties of the strawberries you have, you can be harvesting the fruit from May until October. I certainly have earlier varieties in my garden. A tip I learnt from my online gardening course (MyGardenSchool : www.my-garden-school.com, ‘Advanced Vegetable Growing and Self-Sufficiency with Sally Nex) was to pot some strawberries inside the greenhouse over winter. Following this advice, I got a slightly earlier harvest of strawberries than the ones developing outdoors. It is a good trick if there is a late spring or summer.
Pick the berries when they are coloured or give slightly under the pressure of your fingertips if they are still a little white. Wash and eat straight away (I give the green tops of the strawberries to the poultry or pigs) or freeze.
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My biggest pest pain with strawberries are birds. They leave most other things alone, I still get a good crop of raspberries and blackcurrants but they seem to adore strawberries and redcurrants so these are the two things for me to net straight away. They will always manage to get through the netting (you need large enough holes for the pollinating bees to get through over strawberry beds) but netting does drastically reduce the amount of fruit stolen. I am all for sharing and being kind to nature, I love having my little robin friend in my garden and the blackbirds and thrushes but if they have the opportunity they will eat the whole harvest immediately – which is what happened last year. Determined not to be defeated again, I have been less fussy about how red they are, they taste just as delicious pink or with a little dash of white if they are not completely ruby-red, and we have been netting patches as much as possible. By the way, turning one of those hanging garden baskets people grow flowers in upside down is great protection for a single strawberry or small collection.
Other pests for strawberries are of course slugs and snails.
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Wild Strawberries, netted this year
Strawberries are not too fussy about companion planting. Plants that are beneficial to strawberries themselves are: Borage (makes fruit taste nicer and attracts beneficial insects), Bush Beans (acts as a fertiliser, nitrogen-fixer. It also repels some beetles), Caraway (attracts parasitic wasps and flies that get rid of strawberry pests) and Lupin (fixes nitrogen in the soil like Bush Beans and attracts honey bees).
Plants that do not agree with being planted alongside strawberries are members of the cabbage family (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, etc.) as they stunt their growth and as I mentioned previously, the members of the Solanaceae family (potatoes, aubergine, tomatoes, peppers) as these are members of the same family as strawberries and diseases will be spread. Strawberries should be left to the same patch to establish themselves unless it is necessary to move them. Planting them in a bed alongside, say potatoes, will build up the risk of infecting your strawberry plants with a disease and that would be a shame. Strawberry plants are an investment for a number of years, after all.
To save space, as well as strawberry beds, we plant them around fruit trees and bushes where they can be left to stay along with bee friendly flowers to attract the pollinators to the strawberries and trees themselves.
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, a good source of manganese and other nutrients in less significant amounts. They contain modest amounts of unsaturated fatty acids in their seed oil. Research suggests that strawberry consumption may be linked with lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases and that the phytochemical found in the fruit have anti-inflammatory or anticancer properties. Strawberries could possibly lower rates of hypertension and inflammation as well as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Certain studies suggest that strawberries lower LDL cholesterol levels too.
As well as being eaten fresh, strawberries freeze well (I would recommend washing and storing them in a plastic bag or an old yoghurt or ice cream container after removing the stalks and any mouldy/bird pecked parts from the fruit to make it easier to use later). They make excellent preserves but are low in pectin to be wary when making jam to use some other source to make the solution set. Some people dry strawberries and include them in cereal bars. In the industry world, strawberries are used in milkshakes, ice creams, yoghurts, smoothies, as artificial colourings and flavours as well as many other things. The famous Wimbledon Tennis Tournament’s popular summer time pudding is strawberries and cream. In Sweden, strawberries are traditionally served as dessert of Midsummer Night’s Eve (so it is perfect to post the following recipe now). In Greece, strawberries are usually sprinkled with sugar and dipped in Metaxa, a brandy. In Italy, strawberries are used in a number of desserts and are popular in gelato alla fragora. 
Childhood favourites of mine were mashed bananas and strawberries, the fruit dipped in cream and sugar, or a chocolate fondue, mixed into FAGE Total Greek yoghurt or cut up on top of Green and Black’s chocolate ice cream. Strawberries go marvellously with any chocolate dessert like volcano cakes or in particular alongside a Victoria Sponge cake.
The recipe I offer you is a Swedish one I came across that revels in both garden and wild strawberries as well as elderflower. The cake itself is easy to make and assemble as long as you provide time for allowing it to cool before preparing it. I decided it tasted at its best the day after it was made after being kept in the fridge overnight – the whole assemble tasted so much cooler and fresher, but it can of course be eaten straight away! It is a lovely summer time pudding that will look lovely and impress your family and friends.
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Strawberry and Elderflower Cake
Strawberry and Elderflower Cake 
(Serves 10)
For the cake: – 4 large eggs – 200g caster sugar – 50g plain flour – 80g self-raising flour – 2tbsp baking powder
For the filling: – 4tbsp elderflower cordial – 1 heaped tbsp icing sugar – 150ml double cream – Strawberries, in quarters, about 250g is ideal but it can be more or less
For the topping: – 100ml double cream – 4tbsp elderflower cordial – Wild strawberries, to decorate
  1. Preheat the oven to 175C. Line a 20cm/9inch deep cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar on a high speed until the mixture is thick, creamy and airy.
  3. Mix in the flours and the baking powder until thoroughly combined.
  4. Place in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes – 60 minutes until a skewer inserted leaves clean. Leave the cake to cool completely.
  5. To make the filling: in a small bowl, whisk the elderflower cordial and the icing sugar together. In a separate large bowl, whisk the double cream until soft peaks form. Mix in the elderflower mixture until combined.
  6. Cut the completely cooled cake in half using a large knife with care. Spread the cream over the surface of the bottom half of the cake. Sprinkle generously the cut up strawberries over the top. Place the other half of the cake on top.
  7. To make the topping: whisk the remaining double cream until it forms soft peaks and then mix in the elderflower cordial. Spread the cream over the top of the cake and dot wild strawberries on the surface. Serve in slices. Store in an airtight container inside the fridge (I think it tastes better once chilled but try it straight away too). Serve with more fruit if you have plenty to spare.

 

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Jumbleberry Jam

My sister is currently raising money for her trip to Tanzania next summer. One event she had to do lately was set up a stall at a fete. As chief jam maker of the house, it was way of contributing. Problem was there were no berries for picking and the jams I had from last year were gooseberry, bramble jelly and apple jelly, all packaged in Bonne Mamen jars (you can’t sell it in a branded jar) and quite old with goodness knows what growing under the lids… It was the perfect time to dig out all of the plastic bags and yoghurt pots containing mixtures of fruit that had been shoved inside the freezer as they were ‘too much effort’ to go picking through. A mixture of raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, strawberries, jostaberries and tayberries went in the pot together and ended up with something pretty edible and with a wonderful name I found online – ‘Jumbleberry Jam’. I only made 15 jars and my sister sold 11 (15 and a half, I got to keep and eat the half jar as a cook’s perk). The blackcurrants dominated the mixture along with the raspberries – just as well as those are two of the best jams in the world!

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I am a jam enthusiast. First it was raspberry obsession, then I discovered blackcurrant, homemade plum (shop ones are always disappointing), bramble jelly, apple jelly, gooseberry, boysenberry and of course strawberry. I would love to try making strawberry jam one year but there is no way I will manage to harvest enough this year. We have been eating them fresh every evening and I need at least 1kg for a couple of jars worth – I will have to shelve that fantasy for the time being and stick to making raspberry and allowing myself the occasional indulgence of buying strawberry jam from Sainsbury’s.

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I must admit, I am famous for making runny jam that doesn’t set, even when I add bottled pectin from the shops. However, I think I have worked out how to do it now: do not be impatient about boiling (get on with another job in the kitchen and keep an eye on it rather than standing around waiting), do not be afraid of using lots of lemon juice and use bottle pectin, especially when making jam with berries low in pectin or fruit that has been frozen (they lose some pectin that makes the jam set). The Jumbleberry jam set very well – too well, it was solid and only just spreadable, but after experience I would say most people prefer very set jam to the kind of jam that runs off your toast and goes everywhere but inside your mouth.

This is the perfect recipe for anyone who has old fruit hanging around in the freezer to clear out to make way for this year’s pickings. Enjoy!

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Jumbleberry Jam

(Makes enough for 4 medium sized jars)

  • 1 kg mixed berries and currants – 1 kg granulated sugar – Juice of at least 1 lemon, three is best or more – Half a bottle of — pectin
  1. In a large plan, place the fruit and turn it on to high flame. Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir in until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring now and then.
  2. Place a china plate in the freezer in advance for the pectin test.
  3. Allow the fruit to boil furiously for more than ten minutes, stirring occasionally to see how it is going. When the mixture starts to feel slightly gloopy and sticks more to the spoon without looking as runny as it did before when it drips off, remove the plate from the freezer and add a dollop onto the surface. Place it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes then take it out and run your index finger through the middle. If the jam is set and wrinkles where you push your finger through, it is ready. If it does not, continue to boil until it does so.
  4. Once done, turn off the heat and pour in the pectin, stirring it in. Leave the jam to cool.
  5. Preheat the oven to 150C and sterilise the jam jars and the lids inside – they are done when they feel hot to the touch. Remove these from the oven and allow them to cool.
  6. Once the jam has cooled slightly and so have the jars, ladle the jam into the jars, place a wax disk over the top if you have any and put the lid on top, using a damp cloth to clean up any spillage running down the sides. Place the jars overnight in a cool place. They will be ready for eating the following day and should last for months.

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