Allotmenting pt. II – A quick update

Since our last allotment post we’ve obtained and reclaimed the second part our allotment plot. This adjoins to the north of the bit we already had. We’ve managed to grow a few things and eat them. Here is a little update on our efforts and some of what we’ve learnt so far…

The empire expands! – taking over the 1/4 plot next-door

So, we got the second part (1/4) of our allotment, making us up to a 1/2 plot, or 5 poles. For reasons of demand, allotments are split typically into 1/4s and 1/2s these days with only veterans really having whole 10 pole or multiple 5 pole plots. Annoyingly if we’d known we’d expand I wouldn’t have wasted 1/2 a day re-building the beds that slightly went over the half way mark. Regardless actually wrestling the site to a state where things could grow took several cumulative days of effort. From speaking to others, this is pretty much always the case…

Allotment friends!

As well as a really interesting and lively group of local people who have allotment plots, we got a few critter friends too! We have numerous slow worms, birds, frogs, pretty insects (inc. dragonflies), and even a cat. We are particularly fond of our frogs, who seem to be very happy with our pond (made from an up-cycled bath as discussed in our last post). I was less positive about the allotment cat (as they are responsible for a vast amount of bird deaths – see CSE’s graph comparing to death’s from buildings/wind turbines), but after noting how many mice it caught (who might eat our mange-tout!) I might be slowly coming around.

Cooking from the allotment

We are amazed about how much we’ve got off the allotment so far. We are well on track to beat the money we’ve spent on the allotment with worth of crops off. A lot of it has been fortuitous, we’ve cashed in on what was grown in the soil previously and that amazingly survived our rebuilding of plots and re-taming the space. The highlight of this was a surprise asparagus, that provided many happy additions to dishes over a month period.

We’ve grown a ridiculous amout of courgettes and marrows.  As you may have seen, we even posted the favourite three of the marrow recipes we cooked (blog post: “Don’t feel Marrow-se about your courgettes!”).

 

Pestos & salads…

We tend to prefer lightly cooked vegetables anyway, but particularly from the allotment we’re finding the tastes and textures of them raw a real delight. Our first red cabbage went into a huge coleslaw, and we’ve already had an experiment with making a herb pesto using marjoram, oregano and garlic from the herb bed crushed up with bulk-bought pine nuts (from the lovely guys at Suma) and olive oil. Major plus point; you can make it dairy free, if you are lactose intolerant, as long as you put in some salt – we discovered the cheese is counterbalancing a lot of sweetness from the pine nuts. We’re now working on a little basil factory on our windowsill at the flat where it’s warmer in order to do version 2.

A spiraliser proved to be useful and we did a huge salad of courgette, onion, cabbage (all from allotment) with carrot, cashew, and sweet chilli sauce (not from allotment).

Finally, sorrel is a bizarre, intense and lovely lemon-tasting leaf which has really thrived and we’ve enjoyed flavour-bombing salads with.

The kindness/glut of others

In addition to our own growing, we’ve been kindly given a variety of things from other allotmenteer’s gluts. This has included parsnips, beans, and raspberries; all have at become the foucus of a meal. We’ve enjoyed returning the favour ocasssionally, but the the largest glut we’ve had was courgettes/marrows (there are still >10 marrows in our kitchen) and nearly everyone had enough this year (but we did manage to give a few to friends and family). Foraging bushes near the allotment has yeilded many kilos of blackberries, which hopefully will remain a nice addition to breakfasts and smoothies for many months.

Lessons learned

My wife and I have a rather low opinion of our gardening knowledge and general green fingered-ness, but as we keep up our ~2hrs each per week we are pleasantly surprised at how much we seem to be able to grow. Slowly we seem to be making progress and working out how to get more out of our space. A few things we’ve realised:

  1. Things grow. Particularly potatoes. Often the things you didn’t intend to grow do the best and you just have to work with that.
  2. Research is good. Getting allotment was a surprise and we decided to just take the chance and run with it, rather than our normal approach of hitting the books/internet beforehand.
  3. The more setup your site is the easier it is to look after and therefore the less time per week you need to spend on it.

So we went with the flow with (1) and are working on some plans for (3). For (2): We’ve slowly doing more research, but a lot of the big lessons learned have been experiential and on our plot.

Links

Don’t feel Marrow-se about your courgettes!

When does a courgette (or zucchini to our American friends) become a marrow….  

When you go on holiday!

In our little journeys into growing your own, there’ve been lots of surprises. Certainly the biggest (by weight) surprise has been the mad expansion of our courgettes whilst we were on holiday!

The 1st Haul

We returned to harvest seven handsome marrows and promptly realised we had no idea what to do with them.

Look at these beauties, the 1st seven weighed a total of 10.5kg!

Here’s what we’ve been doing to beat the glut without getting bored; if you have recipes to add we’d love to hear them.

Roast ’em

Our first point of call was roast marrow. We had two tries at this, both turned out well but definitely the second was best.

Falafel-stuffed Marrow

Ingredients

Recipe

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (fan)
  2. Mix the falafel powder with 150ml of water (slightly less than normal)
  3. Cut the marrow in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds and pulp
  4. Brush the oil thinly over the marrow inside and outside
  5. Roast the marrow for 20 minutes on a pizza stone
  6. Remove and fill with falafel mixture
  7. Roast for 30 minutes
  8. Serve

We found that the falafel went crispy on top and steamed underneath, which is what we were after. However we concluded the marrow was not too interesting on its own and could really carry more flavour.

Chorizo, tomato & paprika roasted marrow

Ingredients

  • 1 huge marrow
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 tbsp of ground paprika
  • 1/2 ring of chorizo
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp Bouillon powder
  • 1 tsp soy sauce

Recipe

  1. Admire your marrow
  2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan
  3. Cut the marrow in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds and pulp
  4. Peel, crush and finely chop the garlic cloves
  5. Brush a little bit of oil thinly over the marrow skin
  6. Mix the rest of the oil, the garlic, and the paprika in a small bowl
  7. Score the inside of the marrow deeply in a diamond pattern
  8. Drizzle the oil mixture on and spread it out all over the insides with the back of a spoon
  9. Roast the marrow for 20 mins on a pizza stone
  10. Whilst that’s cooking, chop the chorizo into bitesize chunks and fry for 5 mins in a large thick-bottomed pan.
  11. Tip in the tomatoes, puree, Boullion and soy sauce. Simmer & reduce until the marrow is done
  12. Put the tomato & chorizo mix into the marrow
  13. Roast for 30 mins
  14. Serve

Definitely go overboard on the paprika – the resulting oil paste soaks down the scored sections and gives the marrow colour and flavour. We loved this and it stored really well for lunches.

Bon Appétit!

Give Them Away

Next we dealt with another two by giving them to friends who eat healthily, but don’t have a growing patch of their own. One of them tried roasting their marrow with nut roast stuffing which they highly recommend. The other is still considering their options…

Bolognese

We also made our normal bolognese recipe (lots of veg, soya protein instead of mince) and put most of a marrow chopped up in that as a nice bulker. It’d also disappear into soups in a similar way.

Marrow & Stem Ginger Cake

I enlisted my work colleagues to eat and rate V1 for me and came up with V2 today. Based on the feedback, this is my optimised recipe. It comes out sticky and with a powerful gingery kick, I recommend it as a loaf cake but it also works as an iced circular cake.

As we all know, cake is a serious business and benefits from the application of SCIENCE (or at least, graphs) and so here is my peer-reviewed cake:

Gingery vs. Moist assessment

Based on this I put more ginger and more marrow into version 2!

Ingredients

  • 300g marrow, skinned cored and grated
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 200g butter
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 227g (1/2 jar) Lyle’s golden syrup
  • 175g (1/2 jar) stem ginger & ginger syrup (tried 4 places for this and eventually found it in Morrisons)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 thumbnail-sized chunk of ginger root, fine grated

Recipe

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius fan
  2. Line your tin, I use a silicone one so I just put a thin coat of butter on it and toss a teaspoon of flour in it
  3. Beat the butter and sugar together. Brown sugar is a right pain if it’s got lumps in so it’s really worth crushing those out first.
  4. Whisk the egg and beat it into the mix in little bits. The butter I use is Pure Soya Marg and it has a tendency to curdle when mixed with egg, so to avoid this I sieve in just a bit of the flour first.
  5. Pour in the syrup and mix
  6. Chop the stem ginger into chunks about 4-5 mm wide. Make sure to keep at least one or two pieces back and cut them into bigger bits, about a cm wide, so that there’s concentrated bits of ginger to bite into. This was a key innovation introduced after version 1!
  7. Stir the stem ginger pieces and grated root ginger into the mix.
  8. In a dry bowl stir the flour, baking powder and spices together. Sieve into the mix and fold in gently
  9. Tip in the grated marrow, and stir in as gently as you can (don’t want to lose too much air)
  10. Fill the tin and bake for 40-50 mins or until a skewer (or knife, if like me you don’t have any skewers) comes out clean with no cake mix on it
  11. Place on a cooling tray for about 5 mins but if you’re using silicone don’t let it cool all the way in there; turn it out fairly promptly
  12. Cover with a tea towel and allow to cool
  13. OPTIONAL – ice with buttercream. 1 qty butter to 1.5 qty icing sugar
  14. Enjoy the sweet victory of your work colleagues insisting you feed them more of your glut item

Our Other Ideas

Our Mums have been sending us lovely recipes and we’ve also had some recommendations off friends. We want to try courgette fritters, spiralised courgette noodles, ratatouille, and much more besides. But that is a matter for to-marrow…

The Situation Is Now Under Control

Its been a bit of a marrow-thon, but of our mighty glut only one marrow remains – handily when they get big their skins get thick, so it’s safe to store it for a couple of weeks. In the meantime our courgette patch has been giving us civilised normal sized courgettes which are sweeter and firmer. These are now slotting into our normal cooking habits (steamed with a meal, fried/roasted in slices, grated in salad, chopped in risotto) and saving on our grocery bill!

Links