This is the first year that we’ve had reasonably sized currant bushes. We’ve lost one white currant bush, which we’ve had to replace, but the red currants have been fantastic! Here’s the crop we’ve taken this year – they are gorgeous!

Potato Harvest

For some reason, despite the amount of cloud and rain we’ve had this year – the good old spuds have done well, better than I had hoped, and better than our neighbours! We did manure the patch a lot over winter, I can only assume this has helped 🙂 These are the earlies (first and second) – Arran Pilot and Red Duke of York first earlies, Nadine second earlies. The Nadines were particularly scrummy – the Duke of Yorks weren’t the most prolific, but to be honest I’d pop all three of these in again next year!

As ever an escapee chook is on hand to help out with any pesky worms we might dig up…

Raspberry Shortbread

Jay’s recipe for raspberry shortbread … not in the traditional sense.
250 g plain flour
75 g sugar
175 g butter

Mix flour and sugar in a bowl. Rub in butter. Knead to form a smooth paste. Chop a handful of fresh raspberries in half. Throw into the shortbread mix, mix around with your hands. Out onto a floured board, plenty of flour, roll to 1 cm thickness – chop into squares – onto tins covered with greaseproof paper – into oven approx. 150oC (fan oven) for 30 minutes – until pale and interesting … with a lovely raspberry ripple effect throughout.
Serve warm from the oven with fresh raspberries. Delicious.

Hedgerow Jelly

A receipe borrowed from Ashridge Trees’ website 🙂

This an excellent recipe which can be adapted to accommodate almost any hedge (and its fruit).  Please remember to check that something is safe (if you are not sure) before cooking and eating it.

On average these will yield about 2kg of jelly
3lbs (1.4kg) crab apples, windfall apples or cooking apples
2lbs (900g) in total of blackberries, elderberries & sloes as available
2lbs (900g) in total of rowan berries, haws & rose hips as available
Juice of 1 lemon

Wash the apples, and if you are using cooking apples chop them roughly.
Wash and drain the blackberries, elderberries & sloes.
Wash and drain the rowan berries, haws & rose hips.
Put all the fruit except the rowan berry batch in a large, heavy- based pan with all bar a tablespoon of the lemon juice and add cold water to the level of the fruit.
In a separate pan put the rowan berry batch and the remaining lemon juice and cover with water.
Bring to the boil, then simmer gently until all the fruit is tender and well broken down – the rowan berry batch will take longer to soften.
Strain both panfuls through a scalded jelly bag for at least 4 hours. Do not squeeze the bag.
Measure the strained juice and weigh out 1lb (450g) sugar for each pint (575/600ml) of juice.
Pour the juice back into the pan and heat very gently. Add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
Bring to the boil and cook rapidly until setting point is reached.
Skim, pot and seal in the usual way.

Sloe Gin

Simple minds like simple things – Sloe Gin is one of the simplest things to make, and will, in excess, give you a simple mind:

450g of sloes, washed, cut (I just make 3 or 4 scores across each with a knife), plopped in a clean jar. Add 350g of sugar (I use light brown soft for a richer flavour), and 75cl of gin – cheap stuff is fine, don’t go wasting your Bombay Sapphire on these 😉 Leave for 2 1/2 months, shaking every week. After 10 weeks, decant through a muslin cloth into the final bottle and it’s ready to drink, just in time for Chrimble – yay!

Pickled Shallots

And here are the first batch of pickled shallots – the Picasso and Red Sun, both red varieties. With the roof of the mouth bite we got last year with our pickles, I’ve decided to refine the same recipe as they really were omnipotent onions. This year, same preparation as last, topped, tailed and soaked in a strong sea-salt brine solution for 24 hours. Then drained well, the vinegar boiled, and poured over the onions ready in their jars. Needless to say the jars have been scrubbed clean and left to dry first. The vinegar mix was one third spiced malt and two thirds balsamic. I went for a fruitier balsamic – Aldi did a decent one that wasn’t too tart, which hopefully will make these onions the equivalent of a winter stout beer – strong, rich and not many needed.

The next batch of shallots will be the yellow varieties, and for those I’m going to use one third spiced malt and two thirds cider vinegar, which will hopefully make a lighter, fresher, crisper flavour to accompany this balsamic version. I may even add some fresh tarragon to the next mix – I feel it might work, and you never know until you try! That’s this coming weekend’s job, along with damson gin making 😀

Garden Gate Sales up on Last Year!

It’s a bit of a mashup this one, but this was the first day the Merrybower Growers stuck produce on the front (tongue still firmly in cheek over the name, but not sure the public is aware). With the glut of onions and shallots we knowingly planted, it was time to see if the passers-by were up for some oniony goodness. A stretch of 5 sunny days meant we could get them hanging on the fence at the front so people could see them as they walked by, and hopefully would remember to bring some money the next day. Although we’d grown several varieties of onions and shallots, we only put out for sale the Tris di Cipolla (lovely mix of three Italian onions, red, white and brown), and the Sturons. We kept the Centurions back for ourselves as we had less of them and they store well. The Sturons were monstrous in size – I really should have taken some photos of the stonkers. We also kept the Bedfordshire Champions for ourselves as about half of those had started to flower so they ended up in the freezer, which meant I’d like to keep the remaining strings for us to use fresh.

I’m chuffed to say that in the 5 days they were out, we sold about two thirds of them, about £30 worth, which is about one third of our seed costs per year to feed the family. We could have sold more, but we gave some away to family and the weather turned, which made leaving them out not an option. Next year we really could do with a cart that could be left out, with a small roof on. I’ve learned though, and now we have a sign with ‘Jersusalem Artichokes Coming Soon’ on, to build up expectations. All good fun!

We’re also getting ready for a marathon pickling session – the shallots here are the Picasso red shallots, perfect picklers I’ve been advised. This tray is one of sixteen we’ve pulled up, four each of Picasso, Red Sun, Yellow Moon and Golden Gourmet.

And finally, the ratatouille. Out of desperation of friends coming and what to feed them, I realised we had most of the ingredients for a decent ratatouille – garlic, onions, aubergines and courgettes. Only the tomatoes were thin in the ground so we had to resort to tinned (we need a 10′ x 8′ greenhouse for tomatoes alone I fear, the amount we could get through). This is one batch – the next batch was frozen ready for winter – yay for the new chest freezer!

Onion Harvest!

2011onionday2I vaguely remember talk of a European Butter Mountain when I was a kid. Well, we’ve produced an onion mountain here at Merrybower 😀

All four of us braved the gorgeous sunshine to pull a few hundred onions up, and even more shallots – possibly around 1,500 in total. Smiler bagsied the job of watering the trees (well – he was bagsied). Of course, the gorgeous sunshine is as reliable as a pair of paper pants, so we took refuge under the picnic blanket, eventually making a break for it all huddled in a tonne bag. Yes, the rain was *that* bad! What fun 😀

Fruit Crumble and Onion Thinnings

Suz’s parents, Colin and Jackie, came up for the day and, as usual, helped out massively. Colin topped the broad beans, getting rid of a few black fly in the process, much to the chagrin of the resident ladybirds. He also started to pull the old raspberry canes out, ready for next year, apart from the autumn raspberries of course, which haven’t fruited yet.

Down the patch it was a variety of jobs that were done – the last of the strawberries were grabbed, with the nets left off so the resident blackbird family can feast on the leftovers. The gooseberries were also picked – Hannimake Red and Yellow varieties, and the currants (red and white) were also picked. The bushes are of course bigger than last year, but still no enough were picked to do anything useful with on their own. But Suz had a notion that a summer fruit crumble might be in order. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was gorgeous – rhubarb, currants, strawberries and raspberries, so there was tart and sweet all in one. With a dollop of creme fraiche, simply devine.

One last job down the patch was to thin the Italian variety onions we sowed from seed. This barrow is just the thinnings which, after Colin has topped and tailed them with the help? of Smiler, will be used in an onion soup. The success of these seeds make me wonder if next year we should just grow onions from seed, as it’s non too difficult.

First Cucumber!

Nothing to get too excited about, but seeing as though it’s a first for us, I had to post it here to show that we do indeed own a cucumber. Huzzah!