Sunday, 10 August 2014

Courgette chutney

It's been a year of firsts and with a current glut of courgettes what better time than to have an attempt at my first chutney.

After consulting a couple of cookbooks to get a general idea of what quantities I would need I settled on a combination of courgette, apple and onion. Half a kilo of courgettes fresh from the garden and a quarter of a kilo of the cooking apples and onions.

 It was simpler to make than I had imagined, all the above went into a large, heavy based pan with some sugar and cider vinegar. Added to this was some finely grated garlic and ginger and plenty of salt and cracked black pepper. These were just what I had to hand, the variations on spices and  ingredients that can be used seem to be endless. This was all left to simmer with the lid off so that the moisture could escape.
According to the books you can tell when a chutney is ready by passing a spoon through the middle of the mixture. If the bottom of the pan is exposed for a few seconds before it all closes back together then it is ready. The jars should be thoroughly sterilised as the chutney can be stored for well over a year this way. The mixture should be jarred while still hot with the jars having a plastic coated lid to stop the vinegar in the chutney reacting with any metal surfaces.

 Unfortunately for eager people like me chutney needs time to mature. I'll now leave this for at least two months before opening the first jar. With ten jars altogether it will be interesting to see how much effect the maturing has between the first and the last.

Sunday, 3 August 2014



My main aim this year was to grow and eat as many fruit and vegetables as I could find space for.  This, so far, has been largely successful with crop after crop ready for harvest. Growing my own has really moved me towards eating seasonally, enjoying food at its peak, from plot to plate often in less than ten minutes. When I need to supplement my veg patch I have strived to buy only British produce again dictating seasonality.
Far from being a burden this has been a real joy, with the only problem being deciding what to make with the abundance I have found in front of me. At the moment we are enjoying a glut of courgettes as I'm sure many other growers are. The timing of this has worked out perfectly, with the plants in the polytunnel now getting a little tired after giving me crops for the past two months the plants outside are now bearing fruit of a decent eating size.
These have been accompanied by early potatoes and shallots planted back in March of which the shallots will now be left out to dry and should store well into the winter.
My first sowings of peas and broad beans have now begun to come to an end. The broad beans will shortly be followed up by a later sowing extending my harvest season by a couple of months. With limited space however the peas were sown as one group so had to be enjoyed while we had them. This will need to be rethought before  next year as their sweetness and flavour was second to none, mainly due to being eaten so quickly after harvest before the sugars turn to starch.
The next glut will be runner beans, with three sowing in three different areas of the garden they all seem to be doing really well. Hopefully good news for my longest runner bean entry in the local show at the beginning of September.

As mentioned in previous posts the polytunnel has been a revelation with regards to growing tomatoes. I'm still yet to enjoy any but the sheer quantity that are beginning to ripen should make fantastic eating. With sauces, ketchup, chutney and of course fresh to name a few, there are a lot of ways to enjoy tomatoes so the more the merrier as far as I'm concerned.

 Looking ahead the pumpkins and squashes are coming along nicely and should produce a good few meals. This has been a bit of a sacrifice of vital space in the garden and I may plant them somewhere less valuable next year as they seem to be able to grow anywhere. Nevertheless I'm sure they'll taste great and see me through the chilly nights of Autumn.

Today I have sown cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, chard and swede to go in when the last of the potatoes have been dug up. I plan to get some more chickens to over winter on the reaming part of the veg patch, keeping it weed free and fertilising it at the same time.

It will be interesting to see when the veg in the garden runs out and the shops stop stocking British produce in the depths of winter whether there is a massive disappointment in eating something that doesn't quite live up to what I have produced so far this year. Or perhaps more meaningfully something that I haven't planted, protected and watched grow in to something spectacular that livens up my dining table. It's not a day I'm looking forward to and I'm already making plans to delay this further next year or possibly not even have to buy any vegetables at all.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Royal Welsh Show

This week saw the annual event that is the Royal Welsh show. Having gone last year for the first time there was no question that we would return again this year.

The show is a chance for farmers, smallholders and enthusiasts to showcase their hard work and dedication. With almost all areas open to the public it is a real insight into so many breeds of different animals all in their prime and all looking to impress the judges.

With a full schedule over the four days there is plenty for everyone to see. Although the show is largely livestock orientated, in the main arena throughout the day there were motorbike shows, horse parades, falconry displays and machinery demonstrations, along with much more.

Of particular interest to me were the poultry competitions and the vegetable and flower tent. I can only dream of growing vegetables to this standard at the moment but I can certainly appreciate the time and effort it must of taken to produce such perfect specimens.

Inside the permanent buildings were foodhalls, markets and stands showcasing the very best of Welsh artisan produce. These were very popular and are a great way for small businesses to showcase the fantastic products they have to offer, some you will find nowhere else and some you will not find better than anywhere else.

With the amount of stalls throughout the showground it would be nearly impossible to see it all in a day, thousands of people camp for the week with huge parties going on long into the night both in the showground and on the campsites. 

With demonstrations and classes going on wherever you looked there was something to entertain the whole family throughout the day.We managed to fit in a picnic whilst watching the eighty foot pole climbing competition. A feat in itself with the climbers making it look easy by completing in a matter of seconds. In the afternoon we relaxed and watched the junior sheepdog handler championships, a true skill and something which takes months if not years of practice and companionship between handler and dog. This was followed by a pair of spitfires spinning and twisting over the showground, something which I would never get bored of watching. 

With hundreds of thousands of visitors throughout the week the town comes to a standstill with horses bathing in the river and tourists filling the shops. The park and ride service to the showground was faultless with constant buses going to and fro, the staff around the show were equally enthusiastic from beginning to end despite the relentless heat, which we are not quite used to here in Wales.

Every week from now until the end September there are local shows in the surrounding villages. We'll be attending as many as we can and hopefully even entering some produce in one or two.