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!

Greenhouse Update, Spuds & Onion Harvest

Just a quick one to show what’s happening in the greenhouse – everything’s growing, which is the idea I guess. One small issue with the cucumbers, some of them are turning brown when still small, and some googling reckons it might be to do with lack of pollination. Apparently bees are needed to move the pollen from the shorter male flowers to the female flowers that have a small cucumber behind them, as the pollen is quite heavy. But, bees really do struggle to fly through greenhouse glass, so you need to pull a male flower off and rub it against the female flowers. It’s seemed to do the trick, but time will tell.

In the barrow are the second early Potatoes – tried and trusted Kestrels – one of my personal faves. The onions are those we over-wintered, but heaven knows what variety they are! Whatever they are, it’s great to have some onions to tide us over, as we’ve only just finished those that were stored over winter.

Raspberry Jam & First Early Epicure Spuds

So it seems that all the soft fruit has decided to pick this week as the week to ripen. A glut of raspberries has meant jam making was to be again, no sooner than the jam pan had cooled down from the strawberry jam yesterday. Raspberries are my personal favourite – a depth of flavour that for me beat anything else hands down (except for, maybe, a really rip and juicy plum).

We’re also trying something different, in that this time Suz also used fruit sugar instead of normal sugar – again, adding pectin separately. This’ll give the jam a higher GI than normal, so better for controlling sugar rushes (useful for the diabetic).

On another side  of the patch, the 20ft row of Epicure first earlies was dug up. They’re a rather pale, slightly nobbly potato – but delicious! The crop wasn’t huge, and I’m not sure if that’s because they’re first earlies (first time we’ve grown them), or whether the lack of rain has really affected them, which I suspect to be the reason.

Strawberry Jam (and a tomato)

Okay – so the two punnets of strawberries we’d acquired to date became 6 punnets today. Faced with a glut of strawberries, and only so many strawberries a person can chow down, the decision to make ready the jam pan was made. The recipe used was as follows:

Strawberries with pectin enhanced sugar.
(Makes 3-4 jars, 455g – 1 lb) – (Type of Set: medium)

  1. Fresh strawberries: 800g / 1¾ lb
  2. Jam sugar: 1kg / 2 lb
  3. Water: none
  4. Knob of butter

Preparation
Clean jars in a bowl of hot water to which has been added a small drop of washing up liquid, rinse under a running tap. Leave to stand on some clean kitchen paper towel, tops down.
Set oven to its lowest setting, place jars, right way up onto oven tray and place on middle shelf.
Hull and wash strawberries, place in pan, using potato masher or liquidiser crush fruit into a pulp. Heat slowly, and pour in sugar, stirring continuously until dissolved. Add knob of butter still stirring, increase heat and bring to a rolling boil. Now start timing, do not boil longer that the time recommended, usually four minutes. Skim off scum with slotted spoon.
Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes to prevent fruit rising. Pot, cover and label.

Jaime our friend happened to be staying over and helped Suz with the washing up of the jam spoons – how kind.

On a totally different topic – we’ve got our first tomato. Hurrah! We shall feast this night.

Out With the Old, In With the New

Today was the day I plucked up the courage to empty the garage of the over-wintered veg. Not a job I particularly wanted to do, but seeing as though a new chest freezer was imminent, I felt it needed a bit of a clean in the garage before anything went in there. The onions had pretty much all had it, except for these shallots and garlic. I’m glad we’ve decided to plant more shallots this year, as they really do seem better for storing, and make cracking pickled onions! The old potatoes and parsnips also went to the brown bin – I wasn’t too sure about composting the parsnips, and I never compost potatoes incase they decide to take over the compost bin!

Another punnet of strawberries found its way into the fridge, and we’re starting the raspberries as well – my favourite combination 🙂

The first snap peas (mangetout) are also being pulled from the patch. So many in fact, that we’ll need to start freezing them!

Meanwhile, outside in the greenhouses – yes, the second one is now complete, the cucumbers are doing well, and annoying the poor rabbits that have to stare at them through the glass all day! The tomatoes are also doing well – the Shirleys better than the beef tomatoes, and I still need to add some sort of shade screen to the greenhouse before any more leaves turn white with the heat. The aubergines are also starting to look healthy and leafy – I have no idea when/if we’ll see any, but I have faith.

Pickled Onions

Having been sat in the garage for two weeks waiting for their moment in the limelight, time was finally found to do a spot of pickling. These were the Brown pickling SY300 onion seed that we sowed back in March and we were starting to lose some as they turned squidgy.

Basic preparation of the onions – spend an evening in front of the telly peeling and topping and tailing them. Give them a good rinse out in fresh cold water. Then pop them all into a bowl, cover with more fresh cold water and add plenty of sea salt until you can’t dissolve any more into the solution. Cover with something to stop flies/dust/dogs/children getting in and leave overnight. The salt leaches the water from the onions and will make for a crisper onion. The fact that it is sea salt in theory gives a clearer finish to the pickle.

Next day, drain the onions and pat dry to get rid of as much water as possible. As it was my first time I cheated and used ready-spiced pickling vinegar – I washed and popped into a 100 degree oven the jars. Not one for totally cheating, and feeling slightly adventurous, I mixed the pickling vinegar with balsamic vinegar – 2 parts PV to 1 part BV, and then brought the pickling/balsamic vinegar concoction to simmering point. Removed the jars from the oven, popped the onions in tightly and poured the warm vinegar in. The heated contents pulled the pop-up middle of the jar lid down to create a decent seal as it cooled. Job done.

Next time I’ll experiment with my own pickling spice mix, but gently does it 🙂

Sugar-free Chutney

Here’s one for all who would like a sugar-free chutney recipe. Suz has dug the recipe out that was used as a basis, it’s from The Cottage Smallholder site and is a recipe from Kate Auty, for a no-cook chutney.

The listed recipe uses soft brown sugar, but instead Suz added very ripe pears and fruit juice, raisins and cinammon to the mix. It was also cooked in the end, after 3 days had passed, before bottling – to get rid of the remaining liquid.

Recipe for Kate Auty’s No-Cook Apple, Date and Onion Chutney

Ingredients:
•    1 lb/454g of cooking apples
•    1 lb/454g of dates (stoned)
•    1 lb/454g of onions
•    1 lb/454g of soft brown sugar
•    1 pt/570 ml of malt vinegar (we use cider vinegar)
Method:
1.    Wash, peel and core the apples and skin the onions.
2.    Mince the apples, dates and onions using the coarse profile.
3.    Put the minced fruit and onions in a large glass or china bowl.
4.    Add the sugar and vinegar.
5.    Stir very well and stir once a day for three days, keeping it covered closely with a clean tea towel against flies.
6.    On the fourth day bottle the chutney in sterilised jars with plastic lined screw top lids and label. (How do I sterilise jars and lids? Why do the lids have to be plastic lined? See Tricks and tips below).
Tips and tricks:
•    Katey says that she tried chopping (instead of mincing) the ingredients one year and the onion didn’t break down as much as the apple and date and remained crunchy which spoilt the chutney.
•    Why do I have to use plastic lined lids for chutney?
The vinegar eats into metal lids that are not lined. If you use cellophane jam pot covers the vinegar evaporates through these and you are left with a dried up mess in your jars.

Green Tomato & Grape Chutney

Green Tomato & Grape Chutney

Whilst our tomatos were hit quite badly this year due to erratic watering, we have managed to get a few green tomatoes that needed using up. This bizarre partnership of green tomtatoes and grapes Suz discovered will be something different to try. I’m all for green tomato soup but after last year’s blight and the gallons of the stuff we ended up eating, I think it’ll make a pleasant change 🙂 The recipe can be found here.

On another plus side, Suz has added a maslin pan to her armoury, and the verdict is ‘fantastic’. Measurements on the inside, a nice thick base to distribute the heat on a ceramic hob, and it’s a whopping 9 litres, so it can double up as a spare jacuzzi. Result!

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