Monthly Archives: October 2013

Brogdale apple festival, a review

Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection, hosted its Apple Festival – touted as the ‘Biggest and the Best Apple Festival’ on 19–20 October 2013. Being something of an apple enthusiast, and appreciating the importance of the National Fruit Collection in terms of the preservation of our fruit growing heritage, I was very keen to make a visit. On face value, Brogdale really ought to be in a position to put on a fantastic event for anyone interested in orchard fruits; I cannot think of anywhere else with such potential. As it is quite a long way for us to travel, we wanted to make the most of the weekend, and met up with our good friends Serafiina and Arto in London the day before, and went together on the first day of the festival. Continue reading

Is it worth keeping chickens?

One might well be tempted to ask this question at 6:00am on a cold, rainy day when the chickens need feeding and letting out of the coop, but generally I do not really think about it. In terms of feed costs, the eggs, which are of really superb quality, are certainly cheaper than supermarket offerings. However, the typical backyard keeper does not enjoy the economies of scale of the commercial producer, and when one factors in the relatively large capital outlay, for enclosures, electric fencing, the coop, feeders and drinkers, and so on, as well as the additional products needed for keeping everything, including the chickens, clean and healthy and free from red mite, it becomes a rather marginal proposition. Continue reading

Patisserie Lanka

French patisserie Lanka

Having recently expanded the content of the blog to include recipes, today I am making yet another digression by uploading a review of this wonderful patisserie. Whilst staying with our good friends Serafiina and Arto at their house in Hampstead, a visit to Lanka, Finchley Road, London, was recommended. We took some other friends with us on Sunday afternoon, and we were all very impressed, so I thought it definitely worth mentioning on the blog.

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Leek and butternut squash risotto

The happy confluence of winter squash, leeks, and a batch of good stock naturally led to a favourite risotto recipe. I enjoy making risotto, but it has to be done in the traditional way. I make them fairly often, but tend to avoid them when eating out; they can be adulterated with ill conceived ingredients and the texture is too often rather stodgy. The combination of leeks and roasted squash, though, makes a delicious risotto. Continue reading

Another colony of bees lost

Bees still bringing in lots of pollen

Today we were continuing to prepare the bees for winter. We had one colony, started earlier in the year, that was still building up; another that was looking good for the winter, having put quite a bit of stores away, although not producing any surplus for us; and the long deep hive, which had packed away over 100lbs of honey in the brood area. The odd thing about our location is how long the season extends. Many beekeepers will have prepared their hives for winter weeks ago, and honey removed by the end of August. In our sheltered southerly location, our bees persist in carrying on as though winter is yet months away. In the most recently started colony, they are still working at full speed, bringing in large amounts of pollen from various sources. As they have only had half of the season to build up for winter, we have been feeding them with sugar syrup for the last few weeks; we considered that there was still time for them to process one more liquid feed before we change to slabs of fondant. Continue reading

Winter squash harvest

Strange but delicious things found lurking in the undergrowth

Determining the exact moment to harvest the winter squash can be a little tricky. They want to grow and ripen for as long as possible, but gloomy weather, especially with the onset of autumn rains, is not good for them. Placing a tile or something similar between the squash and the soil to prevent them becoming too wet and rots setting in can help, although our soil is not very prone to being waterlogged. One also needs to keep a close eye on the weather forecast, just in case of an early frost. The sunny days of early autumn certainly seem to have turned to wet and cold, so it was time to gather them in, before the next round of rains. Continue reading

Cream of yellow pepper soup

Finding some great looking yellow peppers in the polytunnel put me in mind of a delicious soup we enjoyed on one of our trips to Tuscany, so I thought I would make the most of them and attempt to recreate this zuppa di peperoni gialli at home. I have no recipe, nor can I be sure of what the ingredients might have been, except that it was predominantly made of yellow peppers, as they contributed the dominant flavour and a fresh yellow colour. I have been trying to recall where we ate it, and cannot be at all sure, but I have a suspicion that it might have been a restaurant in a very old but beautifully converted lime kiln near Meleto. However, having spent quite some time in various parts of rural Tuscany, I suspect that it is not a common dish and perhaps hails from one of the neighbouring regions. In any event, it turns out to be ever so easy to create a truly delicious yellow pepper soup, very much as I recall it in terms of flavour and colour, and this one will definitely become a favourite. Continue reading

On the subject of stocks

As I was planning to post a simple soup recipe that calls for some chicken or vegetable stock, I thought I ought first to post some thoughts on various stocks, and some recipes, for anyone that has not prepared homemade stocks before. A good stock is the basis for all good soups and stews, a great many sauces, and various other slow cooked dishes. It can transform the bland into a rich and deeply satisfying dish. Whether one is preparing a vegetable stock, or chicken, beef, or fish stock, the basis will be certain vegetables, most typically carrots, onions, and celery; the mirepoix of the French or the soffritto of the Italians. Some dishes may be based on a prepared stock, whilst others may be built on a base of these stock vegetables.

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Disappointing second crop of sweetcorn

Our first crop of sweetcorn this year, sown on 30 April, was a great success. We grew a variety called Lark, which has given us excellent results three years in a row now. As with almost all readily available varieties, this is an F1 hybrid. Sweetcorn is one of those crops for which it is actually quite difficult to find an open pollinated variety, and one of the few hybrids that I still grow, although I am hoping to remedy that. One of the drawbacks of the hybrids, at least for the home grower, is that they tend to become ready to harvest at the same time. Whilst this may be advantageous for the commercial grower, who wants to mechanically harvest an entire crop at one time, it is rather the opposite of what the homegrower typically needs. Thus, we enjoyed delicious corn for a short period and then it was all over. Continue reading

The stored tomatoes begin to ripen

Tomatoes ripening in storage

Just over a week after putting our unripe tomatoes into storage, it was time to see how they were doing. I had already taken 2.5kg of green tomatoes to make a batch of chutney, and now it looks as though there are enough ripe tomatoes for a couple of portions of sauce. We found two or three with moulds forming and relocated them to the compost. I suspect they would store rather better if there were not so much grey mould about when we harvested them. Nonetheless, we are quite happy with their progress so far. Continue reading