Monday, 15 January 2018



With our new allotment on The Weald in Hove we have acquired an old apple tree which was laden with fruit and we have used a lot of it for making Apple Jelly.

I make apple jelly most years but have just realised that I haven't posted any recipe.  Well here it is, just plain and simple basic apple jelly.

There are two basic things you need to know - 

 for every 1kg of apples you will need app. 1 litre of water - or just enough to ensure the fruit in the pan is covered;

 for every 600mls of juice you obtain you will need 450g of sugar - that;s 750g of sugar for every litre of juice  - or as my mother and grandmother would have said "a pound of sugar to a pint of juice"

You can use ordinary granulated white sugar but I would always recommend buying preserving sugar as this will produce a clearer jelly. You could use jam sugar, which has added pectin, but you really don't need this with apples as the pips and core are rich in pectin and you will always get a good set.


White Sugar
Lemons (2 for each 2kg of apples)


Put some of the water in a pan and add the juice of the lemons - I usually add the squeezed lemons as well. Wash the fruit and chop in half or quarters depending on the size of the apples and place in the pan as you do so. Make sure the apples remain just covered with the water as this will prevent discolouration.

Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes until the fruit is very soft. You can mash with a potato masher at this stage.

Sterilise a clean jelly bag with boiling water. Put all the fruit into the jelly bag and allow to drain over a clean bowl overnight - or for at least 12 hours (but no more than 24).  

Jelly bags and stands are readily available in cookshops and on-line, but if you don't have one a couple of squares of muslin will do either draped over a colander or large sieve or pinned/tied to the legs of an upside down stool or chair (which is what I used to do when I made jellies with my mother in my youth) with a bowl underneath.  Just make sure the muslin is clean and has been sterilised with boiling water.

Do not prod or squeeze the bag!  Its very tempting as you can always extract more juice and it is thick and sticky and will aid the setting BUT it will make the jelly cloudy. Squeezing won't spoil the taste; it will increase the quantity, but you won't have that beautiful clear jelly.

I have seen some recipes where the strained juice is left covered overnight whilst the remaining pulp is boiled up with half as much water as the first time round, then left to strain overnight and the resulting juice added to the first batch. But in my case the pulp went straight back to the allotment and into the compost.

Measure the juice and put in a stainless steel pan and add sugar in the quantity (pound to a pint) as in 2 above. Heat gently, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved then bring to a rapid boil. Keep a watchful eye as it may suddenly foam up. Take care that it doesn't boil over by lowering the heat.

Boil rapidly until the setting point is reached, probably after 20 minutes - but could be shorter or longer.  The best way to test for setting point is with a thermometer, which should read 220C, but I don't have one (must put it on the Xmas Wish List!), so I rely on the cold plate method.  Drop a little of the jelly on a cold, dry plate and leave in a cool place for a couple of minutes. If it forms a skin which wrinkles when you draw your finger across it then setting poin has been reached.  If it doesn't, boil a little longer and then repeat the test.

When setting point has been reached, remove from heat and skim off any scum that appears on the surface with a metal spoon. 

The jelly can now be poured into warm, sterilised jars and the lids screwed on tightly.
You should have a beautifully clear jelly.  The jars should be stored in a cool dark place as the jelly will darken and lose some clarity with age.

To prevent this, the best suggestion is eat it as soon as possible and if you have too much, give it to your friends and neighbours.  You will be very popular!  It is delicious on toast or can be eaten with hard cheeses or meat, especially fatty lamb or pork, or you can add a spoonful to your gravy (or jus).  If you have a glut of apples - or can find some crab apples, which make superb jelly - you can experiment with herb jellies by adding rosemary or thyme or sage. You will find countless ideas and recipes on the internet. And if you have quinces available (Japanese quinces are frequently found in October in suburban gardens - from the Chaenomeles bush) you can add these to the apples to make a beautifully perfumed jelly.
I posted a recipe for Quince Jelly a couple of years ago.


John Austin

Hove October 2017


Asian style, oven baked cod -

with courgette & beetroot spaghetti and silver chard

This recipe is basically for the cod (or any firm white fish) - the courgette, beetroot and chard are there because we have a glut on the allotment - luckily we love all three and the added bonus is they are good for you!

Ingredients (for 2)

2 generous portions of cod fillet (150-200g each)
Olive oil or sunflower oil and/or butter
2 garlic cloves, (chopped or minced)
Fresh ginger (about 2cms) peeled and chopped or grated
1 small red chilli
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
Salt and pepper to season
juice of half a lemon
1/2 glass dry white wine (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan oven).

Cut two pieces of cooking foil large enough to make a parcel for each portion of fish. Place each fillet on an oiled piece of foil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, spread the chopped garlic and ginger over each fillet, sprinkle over the chopped chilli add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and drizzle over the light soy sauce. (I then folded up the edges of the foil and added a splash of dry white wine but this optional).

Scrunch up the foil to seal the fish in a loose parcel - some space is needed so that the fish steams as it cooks and remains moist.

Place the parcels on a baking tray and put in the pre-heated oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Strip the leaves from the chard stalks. Cut the stalks in pieces about 1 cm and gently soften over a medium heat with olive oil or butter and a chopped garlic clove.

chopped chard stalks

chard stalks softened in olive oil or butter with garlic
Slice or roughly chop the chard leaves
shredded chard leaves
Gently steam the chard leaves for 2-3 minutes, then add to the softened chard stalks and cook for a further 2 minutes.

Spiralise the beetroot and courgette and steam for 2-3 minutes.

spiralised beetroot and courgette
When the fish is cooked, put a portion of cooked chard on a warmed plate....

....and top with the lightly steamed beetroot and courgette

Unwrap the fish and place each fillet on the pile of vegetables and pour over any juices from the parcel.

If you don't have chard, beetroot and courgettes, this is excellent served on a bed of wilted spinach with creamy mashed potatoes (and the mash is even better with some added chopped preserved lemons ).

John Austin

Hove August 2017

Monday, 4 December 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald - November 2017

Life on The Weald - November 2017

The weather wasn't particularly good in October and in the early part of November the October storms continued. We've had lots of rain which has meant that digging has been difficult even on the occasional bright sunny days.

Nevertheless I think we have made real progress and at the beginning of the month began to erect the shed!

The autumn has brought some glorious colours - we have harvested our Spanish pumpkin

 ....and back at home, have brought the Habanero chili peppers indoors to finish ripening.

We have begun work on our new plot but sadly the neighbouring one has been left and become overgrown.  It is particularly sad as it was a well maintained plot and much cared for by its owners who have just not had the time this year to manage it.  It has not been helped by the fact that the vegetation on our newly acquired plot had encroached on theirs and it was difficult to discern where the border should be.

the neighbouring plot
I did make an attempt to clear the border area but now the site representative has marked it out and it seems that, in my enthusiasm, I went a bit too far and have cleared an area on the neighbouring plot!

the demarcation line

The area on the right of the tape is ours and to the left is the vacant plot!  But it's not all
bad news as, having cleared some of the neighboring plot, this will stop weeds encroaching on ours.  The other good news is that much of the rubbish which I thought I would have to clear is actually not on our side of the boundary. The brassicas we inherited on our side have survived and are healthy - we have cabbages and brussel sprouts!

Sylvi has been working hard cutting back brambles, digging out bramble roots and plum suckers and clearing the area where we have decided to put our shed.

In the first week of November we built a frame, consolidated the ground with stones and rubble and laid paving stones in preparation for the shed.

the base

We had acquired the shed from a neighbour a year ago - and it appeared to be in a fairly poor condition then and has been lying on the ground for several months since.

With help from Sylvi's son, Luke, we actually got the shed erected in a couple of hours on Saturday morning 18 November, just before the rain came down!

The shed on Saturday

Despite having been lying on the ground for some months, it was surprisingly in reasonable  condition and is fairly sturdy.  There are a few repairs that need to be made but it should last us a good few years.

The following day, the weather was quite different - a bright sunny day and my nephew Charlie and his partner Fran came over and painted the shed with wood preservative and it's looking fine -

The shed on Sunday

Sylvi has now installed a window but we need to re-hang the doors and do some patch repairs to the roof but we are very pleased with the result so far.

More good news - the neighbouring plot has been let and we have met our new neighbours and I think we are going to get along fine.

As far as the crops are concerned, the broad beans I sowed in October are now showing through -

Aquadulce broad beans

- but I think they might need a bit of protection in case of sudden frost so I will probably put some fleece over the frame.  We sowed three more double rows in November so we are looking forward to a bumper crop next spring, and we are still waiting for the peas to show which we also planted last month.

There is also good news on the shallot front as the ones we planted in October are looking really healthy -

We also lifted our first leeks to share with the family and are reasonably pleased with them, but I could have planted them deeper.

We have cleared an area along the border with our new neighbours and successfully transplanted several blackcurrant bushes from Luke's old allotment at Mile Oak.


Moving two large redcurrant bushes may prove to be more problematic.

The long awaited wood chips have arrived so we have made a start on renewing the path which now divides our two half plots.

Hopefully there will be further deliveries and we will be able to complete the path in December and renew all the minor paths between the raised beds.(if we have any time in the run up to Xmas!)

John Austin

Hove November 2017

Saturday, 18 November 2017

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald - October 2017

Life on The Weald - October 2017

Perhaps the post should now be called "OUR ALLOTMENTS" as we have formally taken the tenancy of the neighbouring half plot so we now have a full plot to manage.

The new plot has been neglected and overgrown for a couple of years, although a young man did take it on for a short while earlier this year and with the help of one of the neighbours planted some potatoes and brassicas which we are now discovering amongst the wilderness.

There are also dense growths of nettles which would indicate that the soil is rich in nitrogen and phosphates.  We will strim the nettles and let the leaves rot down in situ or add to our compost before attempting to dig out the spreading roots, rhizomes and stolons. Nettle leaves are a good compost accelerator.

this is how most of the plot looked when we took over

and this is how it looks after strimming

We have strimmed the edge where the plot adjoins our original plot and where the weeds, bindweed and couch grass were encoaching on our path and now we need to dig out the couch grass and bindweed.

On the positive side, we have also acquired a prolific apple tree and several plum trees well as several brambles which are coming up all over the plot

We have also acquired a greenhouse, which has seen better days and may not be salvageable.  As a temporary measure we may cover the frame in netting and use as a fruit cage for our blueberries.

Our blueberries are growing in large plots as they require an acid soil and South Downs chalk is not their cup of tea.  They are growing in ericaceous compost.  They cropped heavily this year and I had planned to harvest them but left it a week too late because when I went to pick them they had all gone.  I am assuming it was the birds (and not a person) -birds seem to know just when they are at their best.

our original plot

We needed space to plant our garlic and shallots but most of our existing beds still have some produce although we have cleared the area where the courgettes and tomatoes were grown (and there is still a pumpkin to harvest) and we have planted the first of our Eden Rose and Printanor garlic and some Griselle and Jermor shallots

Whilst Sylvi has carried out a Herculean task of clearing the greenhouse and the area behind to prepare the base for our shed, (which we hope to erect by the end of the year),
I have been refurbishing some raised beds, transferred from Mile Oak and clearing a space for them on the new plot.

In the smaller one I planted some Electric red onion sets early in the month...

 ....and some Autumn Gold, towards the end of the month.

And we also planted our first double row of aquadulce broad beans.

But time to enjoy some produce!  We are eating spinach and chard almost daily and have just sampled our first Crown Prince squash.

And despite the fact that its October, I have just picked what will probably be the last of the autumn raspberries.....

....and picked loads of apples

...which we have been transforming into apple jelly...

....which will be some comfort as we contemplate the hard physical tasks ahead next month, the shortening days and the rain, the wind and the cold!

John Austin 

Hove, October 2017