Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Gooseberries are not the only fruit

This is the time of year when all of the hard work at the allotment and in the garden starts to pay off.  In fact I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the stuff that needs picking, washing, topping, tailing, jamming and frreezing.  Every spare moment is spent trying to make sure none of it is wasted.  Above is just some of this week's haul.

The cherries are from my next-door neighbour, whose new cherry tree overhangs our garden.  The cherries are morello, so really need cooking, but they do have the most exquisite taste.  I'd definitely put in a tree myself if I had room.  I cooked these lightly with sugar, and served them over a vanilla cheesecake.

I've got more gooseberries than I can shake a stick at.  Ironic really, because when I took over the allotment a year ago, the two big gooseberry bushes hardly had a single leaf on them.  The wood looked ancient, and I thought about taking them out, in fact I was advised to do so.  But I gave them a year, and they have been covered in fruit.  I made a couple of jars of jam - not too much, as I've already made strawberry and strawberry and raspberry, and I've probably got enough to last a year now.  And today I made some gooseberry ice-cream from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe.  It was delicious, and two out of three boys liked it, which is pretty much a triumph in my book.

I drafted in a little assistance with the shelling of peas, by making it a competition.  Clever me.

Elsewhere there has been a little pond-dipping.  The tadpoles are still tadpoles.  Shouldn't they be froglets by now?  I worry that they won't be done by the time that autumn comes.

I'm off to wrestle with mountains of blackcurrants now.  I'm thinking a nice tart and then the rest into the freezer, which is rapidly running out of space.  But I'm not complaining, it is so very good to harvest these things, and to lay them by for the winter.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

A beautiful old pier, a picnic in the sun and the very latest in hairstyling - you saw it here first

I've been searching through the cookery books for things to do with gooseberries, blackcurrants and courgettes.  And then I saw this page and thought, we must go on a picnic before the rain comes.  So yesterday afternoon we did.

We went to Clevedon, in North Somerset, where this Victorian pier juts out into the Bristol Channel.  We spent a while on the little beach, doing things with sticks and stones and scrambling about on rocks.  It always amazes me how much boys love doing this kind of thing.  Nothing fancy is required, just a pebbly beach and a little freedom.

We checked out the lovely community bookshop, then the boys had a scoot along the front to the park.  We ate our picnic - humous and crudites, sandwiches, hula hoops, cherries and cookies - and then headed back to the pier, which had free access for the evening.  I used to work with someone whose favourite saying was, "If it's free it's for me".  I feel the same way.   So we wandered along the pier to the pagoda at the end, which is a tea room now.  We chatted to the men who were fishing off of the side and admired the sole that one of them had caught.  And the boys got to have a really good close look at the huge bait worms.  And I mean huge.  And apparently they had teeth and could bite quite hard.  Yikes.  I stayed well back and admired the view instead.

Back at the gatehouse to the pier there is a little shop with an art gallery upstairs.  At the moment there is a display of deckchairs that have been designed by various people, including the wonderful Nick Park, and that will be auctioned for charity. 

I loved the one with all of the Clevedon street names on it.  I have a bit of a thing for nice text.

Then it was time to head for home.  Clevedon is quite pretty in places, with lovely old properties.

It has that small town feel that I love, and most of the time it's quite quiet and peaceful, with a good sense of community.  Well worth a visit.

The rain finally came late this afternoon.  Summer rain, so welcome after long dry spells. 

The boys got soaked and made funny hairstyles with their wet hair.  Then while I was making tea and other half was dozing on the sofa, the littlest boy found a pair of scissors and went a little further.

Oh dear.  He took a chunk out of the back, some off the top and almost everything off of the fringe.  Then it must have occurred to him that maybe he would be in a little trouble over this, and he proceeded to try and hide the hair under people's beds.  He's been rumbled.  I probably don't need to say any more.

Monday, 22 July 2013

A year of allotmenteering

A year ago, just a few days before the start of the summer holidays, I got The Call.  After five years of impatient waiting, an allotment was available.  I'd already turned down one without a shed, back in a damp and uninspiring November, so I was thrilled when one with a shed finally became available.  It was very weedy, with seeding weeds chest-high, but it had previously belonged to the same man for 45 years and it had also been an award winning plot. 

I didn't grow much last year, just a few radishes and some courgettes, but I did spend a long time weeding and clearing the ground.  And then in the New Year it was time to begin.  I put in some garlic, which did beautifully, and gradually I added little things I'd grown from seeds and some plants from the local garden shop.  I pop down when I can, to battle the weeds.  Lots of things seeded last year before I took over the plot, so this year there are lots of things trying to take over.  And just lately I've been doing a lot of watering.  And quite a bit of picking.  And then I reached a point where it all felt just a bit overwhelming.

I think it began after the holiday.  The weather was hot, lots of water was needed, but I had a hundred things to do at home, and there was also lots going on at school.  I've had a little panic over all the time needed.  I really need to find a job, and I think while I'm at the plot I feel I should be doing something that actually earns some money.  And when I do find a job, I'm pretty sure I won't be able to keep the plot.  There just aren't enough hours in the day.  So I got to the point where I felt that the plot was something that maybe I'd be doing this year, but not next.  And yet.  And yet...

When I walk down there, and I see some really wonderful plots, when the children come along too and have fun "helping", exploring, picking things, when I leave the plot with a big bag of wonderful things, when everything is weeded and watered and in order, when I go to the open day and see what a great community is there, when I get to the site and close the gate behind me and enter a whole new world that moves peacefully and quietly, when I'm working there and I think about all the people in the almost 500-year history of the site that have worked there before me...  Then I think that I will try so very hard to hold on to this wonderful little plot of mine.  Weeds and all.

Can I show you around a little?  First we need to head down the path to the flatter plots at the bottom.

Here we are.  The one with the corrugated green shed is mine.  It's a bit of a doddery shed and it's not watertight, but it has its own resident bees and inside is a nice little chair and my wellies and I love it.

In front of the shed are a few flowers, squashes, tomatoes and fennel.

Further up there are beans, asparagus and beetroot.

And then at the top of the plot is the fruit.  Gooseberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and a little plum tree that I put in at the end of the winter.

 And a Japanese wineberry that I found in the "Free" area of the allotment, where people leave things they don't want.  I'm proud of this one; it sulked for ages, but I watered it, nurtured it, talked to it, and finally it started to grow.  I've heard they're delicious.

I think that for me being an allotment holder might be a thing of ups and downs.  Sometimes it will be a chore, and one I can barely fit into my life.  And sometimes it will just be glorious.  Today was a good day.

The soil there is fantastic and things are growing far better than at home.  The weeds (in places) are under control (after a fashion).  And rain is coming, so I didn't bother watering.  I've even worked out how to get the rest of the blackcurrants and gooseberries picked.  I shall turn it into a competition.  The boy who picks the most will win.  Now all I have to do is work out what to do with them all...

Back up to the top and along the dry grass path to the gate.  I hope the boys have happy memories of this place.  They all say they want to keep it, and on balance, so do I.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

It's been emotional

Ah, the end of term.  A mad whirl of concerts, presentations, assemblies, sports day, parties and farewells.  I always feel a sweet sorrow at the end of the summer term.  A whole school year has gone by in the blink of an eye.  Two wonderful teachers have left, the lovely boy in Year 6 who looked after my littlest boy all year has left to go to big school, a friend or two has moved and everyone is going up a year.  The biggest boy slips further towards the end of school, just a couple of years left.  The middle boy will be in Key Stage 2 in September.  And the littlest boy won't be one of the babies any more.  There will be a new batch, and he will be going ever onwards, ever upwards, growing, growing, growing. 

In a panicky moment of sentimentality I saved this little flower that the littlest boy gave to me on the way to school on Thursday.  It suddenly felt terribly important to hold on to it.

And whilst I almost can't stand the ending, I do so love the summer holidays, and the prevailing mood around here goes something like this.

At home, I've been pondering what to do with some of the produce from the garden and the allotment.  Last year was such a wash-out, but this year everything is going swimmingly and there are gooseberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries and tayberries.  I've been browsing Sarah Raven's "Food for Friends and Family" for summer recipes.  I do love a cookery book that's divided into seasons.

The garlic's in, and hopefully this should last us a year.

There are flowers too.  Something I love about summer is picking flowers for the house.  I very rarely buy them, but to have them around the house is always lovely, especially when they have hardly any flower miles and no added chemicals.

It's been hot and dry here, as over most of the UK.  Grass is brown and cows have slim pickings.  When it's really roasting, the best solution is sometimes a little umbrella.

We spent the afternoon at "our" country park.  I think this place is somewhere that will stay in the children's memories after they are grown.  They love the trampolines, the assault course and the animals.  Oh, and the acres of space.  I love the walled garden with its fruit and vegetables, the flowers and the wonderful views.

This afternoon the bees and butterflies were out in force.  There were literally dozens of bees on a bank of lavender in the big rockery which overlooks the river.  Lavender is one of my very favourite plants.  Such a beautiful scent and wonderful flowers, and it is an absolute favourite of bees.  I have never seen so many bumble bees in one place as I did today.

Back at home I am looking forward to taking things just a little bit easier than recently.  I'm looking at the shells we brought back from holiday and remembering the fun we had.

This one makes me think of chocolate.

And I'm going to be pottering a little more in the garden while the children are around.  Enjoying this rose, Rose de Rescht, and the white petunias I planted in my hanging baskets instead of tumbling tomatoes this year.

I have plans for the next few weeks.  Nothing ambitious, and not too many, but plans of outside adventures, picnics, water, scooting, walking, discovering, climbing, building and playing.  There will be games, library books, delicious treats, cookery, growing and picking, swimming and making.  And I can't wait.  If I had a Superman costume, I'd look something like this.

Let the fun begin.