Monday, 13 August 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald July 2018

Life on The Weald July 2018

We missed the end of June and the beginning of July on the allotment as we had escaped to the sun in Spain – just in time to coincide with the heat wave at home!  Thankfully, Luke was on hand with the hosepipe and prevented total disaster.  But after a very wet and cold winter it has been one of the driest and hottest periods on record in southern England.

No, these are not my tomatoes.  They are local from the area south of Alicante and north of Murcia and we found  them at the Lemon Tree Market, Montesinos/El Moncayo, south of Guardamar (Mercadillo de Campo de Guardamar) 

After a week of superb vegetables, fruit and seafood......

................we returned to England where the heat wave and drought continued throughout July.

In June  I had planted a grape cutting given to me by my eldest son, Damien, taken from the vine in our old home in Charlton.  It had been grown from a cutting from the vine that grew at the old Mind day centre at Ormiston Road in Greenwich and had been taken in the 1980s!  More than 30 years later, my new cutting seems to be thriving and I need to clear a spot in the wilderness around the shed on the allotment to transplant it.

On our return to the UK, we found the cardoon in full bloom.  It is majestic and beautiful but once it has flowered, I fear it has to go.  It is useful in attracting bees when in flower but it takes up too much space and consumes a great deal of water.

Cardoon 16 July
As a result of the drought the foliage on the onions and potatoes has died down earlier than expected but the onions are a decent size and looking healthy.

Onions 16 July

Red onions 16 July
Sadly, however, the shallots have not fared so well and are much smaller than last year..
Shallots harvested 20 July
....and the same is true of the garlic.
garlic harvested 20 July
I think I must have been away at a crucial time when they needed watering as the foliage had all died back by the time we returned from holiday.  On the good side, we have harvested our first crop of outdoor cucumbers and they taste great.

First cucumbers of 2018

I lifted the first row of Charlotte potatoes.  Fortunately, unlike the Rocket crop, they had not been attacked by slugs but they were rather small, which is clearly the result of the drought.  Having cleared the area where they had grown and the area where I had lifted the Rocket potatoes, I planted out my first batch of leeks. I must make sure to water them regularly during the early stages to get them established.  I planted them out in a traditional method, making a hole about 6 inches deep and dropping in the young plants - not filling in the soil but watering the hole regularly as the soil naturally falls back in as the leeks expand.  If the plants had been bigger, I would have made deeper holes which would have given more white part, but I will gently earth up as they develop with compost to increase the white content.

winter collection of leeks
Fruit has also been a victim of the drought and the berries are much smaller than usual.  This may also be partly due to the fact that I moved and transplanted the bushes last autumn and they may not have had time to fully establish.

22 July blackcurrants 
I find picking blackcurrants very tedious, which is a pity because along with raspberries they are one of my favourite fruits.  Luckily we enlisted the help of my nephew Charlie and his partner Fran to do some of the picking.

22 July blueberries
 We also removed the nets from the blueberries and then picked our first harvest. The blueberries are growing in large pots as they will not thrive on Sussex soil, so they are grown in ericaceous compost and occasionally fed with a liquid feed that I use for the camellias at home.

Although there are lots of cabbage white butterflies about, our kale (cavolo nero - Tuscany black) and purple sprouting broccoli appear to be caterpillar free (so far) but I am aware from past years how quickly that can change and with devastating consequences.

Cavolo nero is said to be at its best after the first frosts in October but it is cropping well and I see no reason to wait, so we have had our first pickings - and it was very good.  The beauty of cavolo nero is that it is a cut-and-come-again vegetable.  

22 July Cavolo nero - black Tuscan kale
In order to conserve water and stop erosion, I have mulched as much as possible using grass clippings from the lawn at home between the rows of potatoes and using the wood chippings provided at the allotment on bare ground and around established plants.

Wood/bark chippings are a useful mulch as they slowly break down adding nutrients and texture to the soil. It is not advisable to use wood or bark chippings as a mulch around young plants, however, as in the process of breaking down they will rob the young plants of nitrogen.

We have the benefit of 3 wormeries where we compost all our vegetable kitchen waste plus shredded paper and old egg boxes.  We have been spreading the composted material around our beds as a top dressing and mulch.  The liquid run-off from the wormery is a very rich fertiliser which we dilute and use particularly on the brassicas and chard - anywhere where we need good leaf growth.

The climbing French beans were coming along and between the two rows I had planted a pumpkin hoping to train it out of the raised bed.  It is rampant with a mind of its own but I have just about managed to train it.

Pumpkin growing between French climbing beans 25 July
 We also managed a small portion of runner beans from our first picking.

the first of our runner beans 25 July

We lost a few more allotment days at the end of the month as I was involved in the Ride London cycling events over the last weekend in July.....

Ride London 28 July, The Mall
...watching, not riding!

28 July, The Mall
And then my daughter, Zoë, came to stay for a few days with her partner, John and his mother Lenore who was over from New Zealand.  I did manage to drag them to the plot on the last day of July, when they helped gather the last few blackberries and blueberries that were left.

Lenore, John and Zoë 31 July
 John also managed to spot a couple of cucumbers 

Pepinos - outdoor cucumbers 31 July
 We harvested a few courgettes of reasonable size

courgettes 31 July
 whilst others were almost achieving marrow proportions 

I suspect we will be making marrow and ginger jam, courgette cakes, courgette Soufflés, vegetable curries with courgettes and courgette soup during August !

John Austin

Hove, July 2018

Friday, 3 August 2018

Broad Beans - Habas con jamón

Habas con Jamó  (Broad beans with serrano ham)

The following recipe uses Spanish serrano ham - cured, air-dried Spanish ham (prosciutto in Italian).  The term serrano comes from the Spanish word, sierra and means "from the mountains" 

There are variations of this dish, such as habas con chorizo, using chopped chorizo instead of ham, broad beans with pancetta/smoked bacon or a mixture of Serrano ham and chorizo.  In Murcia, I have also had habas con morcilla (Spanish black pudding). Broad beans are very versatile.

For a starter for 4 people or as a side dish you will need

50 mls olive oil
500g of fresh podded broad beans*
100 - 200 grams Serrano ham (or similar)
2 shallots (or one small onion chopped or similar quantity of spring onions sliced)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 glass white wine or fino sherry
sprig of fresh oregano and fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper

If the broad beans are fresh and young, there should be no need to pre-cook them (*frozen broad beans work just as well). If the beans are a little older you may need to steam them for a couple of minutes before adding. If they have passed their best and a little pale - like the chef - they can be steamed for two minutes and then the outer shell removed and discarded to reveal bright green beans within.

Add the oil to a frying pan and gently fry the onions and garlic till softened. Add the chopped ham and heat gently for 5 minutes - add more olive oil if needed.  In this recipe I have used finely sliced ham but if you can buy the ham in a piece it can be coarsely chopped,  In Spain it can be bought ready chopped rather like lardons.

Add the beans and half glass of wine or dry sherry and the chopped oregano and continue on a low heat for 10 minutes. (Cover if you have a lid) Season with freshly ground black pepper (and salt if needed - but the ham may be sufficiently salty itself). If the dish looks too dry you can add half a glass of water and or oil during this final cooking stage.

Stir and serve garnished with chopped parsley.

Variations - Use Chorizo instead of Serrano ham - or a mixture of both. If using chorizo, chop finely and fry gently before the onions to extract the oil from the sausage. Also, if using smoked bacon or pancetta, fry this gently before adding the onion.

Oregano or marjoram goes well with this dish but you could try mint or garnish with mint instead of parsley.

And if you don't have broad beans, try this dish with French beans or flat/runner beans - Judias con jamón- but the beans will need to be steamed before adding to the dish.

The great thing with this dish is that you can vary the quantities - more garlic, more beans, different herbs, longer cooking times.........

......good cooking.

John Austin

Hove, August 2018

Broad Beans - Fūl midammis (ful medames)

 Fūl midammis  -  

Middle Eastern dish using dried fava beans

Ful medames (Mudammas)  is a spiced fava bean “stew” often eaten throughout the Middle East and North Africa. There is evidence of ful in Egypt dating back to the 4th century and I have read  that the beans were buried in large pots in the ground – mudammas means "buried", hence the name.

Besides being inexpensive and easy to prepare (although a lengthy process if using dried beans) it is a very nutritious and filling dish often eaten for breakfast. It is slow to digest because of its high fibre content, so it releases a steady stream of energy for several hours after consumption, keeping hunger at bay for longer. For this reason it is a popular dish during Ramadan for suhoor,(sohour) the meal served before sunrise and morning prayers.
Ful is packed with goodness -  lots of protein, antioxidants, vitamins B1, B6 , B9 (folate/folic acid) and minerals,iron, copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium and is one of the highest plant sources of potassium.  The absolute essential is dried fava beans, but some recipes may also add lentils (which help to thicken the sauce) or even chickpeas.

Dried fava beans from my local Middle Eastern deli

We have several Middle Eastern shops nearby but if you don’t have one or cannot find dried fava beans in your grocery shop or supermarket you will probably find them in a Turkish shop where they may be called Bakla.

The cooking time will vary depending on the quality and age of the beans but usually they will need 2 – 3 hours.  If you cook more than you need, they will keep for up to a week in the fridge.   Pour the excess cooked beans into a container with an airtight lid and let it cool.  When cold pour the juice of one lemon on to the surface.  Put on the lid and store in the refrigerator until needed.

The essential ingredients are dried beans, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic but almost all versions also have cumin.  Here is my basic recipe which will be more than enough for 4 - 6 people or will keep in the fridge for several days.

Essential ingredients

300g dried broad (fava) beans
150 mls olive oil
juice of two large lemons
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 - 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed


Rinse the dried beans under running cold water, place in a large bowl and cover with fresh water. Make sure there are two to three inches of water above the beans as they will absorb a lot - and leave to soak for several hours or overnight adding more water if necessary.

Rinse the cooked beans with cold water and drain.  Place the beans in unsalted water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil, then simmer with the lid on until tender, about 2 ½ to 3 hours - adding more water if necessary to keep them covered during cooking.

When the beans are tender, remove the lid and continue simmering to reduce the liquid or pour off any excess liquid – there should be enough to coat them but they should not be swimming. Remove two tablespoons of cooked beans, mash them and return to the pan and stir. This will thicken the sauce. 

Remove from the heat; add half the oil, half the lemon juice, the cumin, garlic and a teaspoon of salt. Adjust seasoning to taste adding more oil, lemon juice or salt as required.
It can then be served warm, possibly topped with chopped tomatoes and parsley.

A Ful breakfast


When the beans are cooked it is possible to add other ingredients. (If you can’t be bothered to soak and cook the beans you might find some ready cooked, canned or bottled which will save a great deal of time and fuel!)

It is generally acknowledged that the original ful was an Egyptian dish but there are now many national and regional variations and some would claim it as their national dish.

You could add finely chopped onions that have been cooked gently in olive oil until soft (with or without the addition of chopped tomatoes or tomato paste) which can be stirred into the beans with the cumin. Some recipes add crushed coriander seeds as well as cumin.

You can make spicy tomato ful by adding 1 tablespoon of tomato paste or passata and 1 teaspoon of harissa paste or half teaspoon of chilli powder, cayenne, or chilli flakes.

Another possibility is Tahini Ful.  Add 1 tablespoon of tahini paste mixed with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. There is also a variety in Egypt of Butter Ful where 1 -2 tablespoons of butter are stirred in to the final mix.

Usually it is served with warmed flatbread and often with hard boiled eggs, halved or quartered on top or with olives and tomato salad, or cucumber and yoghourt or for a more authentic Middle East dish, labneh.

As you can see it is a very versatile dish so you can experiment with your favourite herbs and spices and create your own signature dish.

Good cooking!

John Austin

Hove, August 2018

Broad Beans

Broad beans - they're my faves!

(Thanks to Caroline Bull for the headline pun)

Broad beans did not feature in my childhood diet and yet they have come to be one of my favourite vegetables.  My wife, Sylvi, had also not experienced broad beans in her childhood diet but first came in contact with them in the early stages of secondary school in biology lessons on reproduction - the sex life of the broad bean.  My encounter was later, in botany in the lower sixth, when we were studying negative and positive phototropism and geotropism - but I still hadn't tasted one!  They weren't included in school dinners and I had never seen them in the local greengrocers or the Co-op.

I think my first taste came in my early twenties and I wasn't greatly impressed as they must have been rather old - they were dry, fibrous and fairly tasteless.  Soon afterwards, however, I discovered younger ones which hadn't been boiled to death and I became an ardent fan.

In my late twenties, I discovered that they were easy to grow on the allotment which I then had in Charlton.  Like most allotment produce, a lot come all at once when friends and neighbours become beneficiaries - but fortunately, broad beans are one of the vegetables which freeze well without impairing either the texture or the flavour.  You just need sufficient space in the freezer.

The pictures below are of last year's crop in Hove.

I have tried sowing them in November/December and February/March.  November sown beans will crop two to three weeks before those sown two to three months later - but the great advantage is that they usually crop before the blackfly arrives.  This year the crop from the ones sown last November has been excellent but the February/March sown crop has been a great disappointment.  I think that in future I will sow more broad beans but only in November.

In view of the favourable comments about my broad beans from friends in France, Spain and Italy, I decided to devote a blog to this great leguminous vegetable. In France they are known as fèves, in Spain habas, but faba in Galicia and faves in Catalonia and Valencia and also faves in Italy.

Broad beans are very nutritious.  Fresh beans, whether cooked or raw, are a good source of folic acid, iron, manganese and dietary fibre. Fresh or dried, they have no saturated fat or cholesterol and contain a high concentration of thiamin, vitamin K, vitamin B-6, potassium, copper, selenium, zinc and magnesium. They are also an inexpensive source of protein. 

Another plus is that, when growing, broad beans have a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil which thrive on nodules on the beans' roots.  Nitrogen from the air is converted into other nitrogenous compounds which are deposited in the soil and which will benefit both the growing beans but also next year's crops that are grown in the same spot, without the need for artificial nitrogen rich fertilizers.  This is one of the reasons why crop rotation (which I wrote about in January) is so important.

In England, broad beans tend to be served plainly boiled or steamed as a vegetable accompaniment to a main course. In Spain they are often treated as a dish in their own right - often cooked with serrano ham as habas con jamon - one of the most delicious tapa, or with chorizo. In Murcia, I have had habas con morcilla, broad beans with black pudding (blood sausage) - and good it was!

Dried, they have been an important part of the food supply across the Middle East and north and east Africa for centuries. In Arabic they are alfawl, and appear in recipe books and menus as fawl, fool, fūl, fuul or foul - most notably seen in the famous Egyptian dish, Fūl midammis  (or just ful or ful medames), eaten widely across the Middle East at breakfast time. Egyptian falafel, taameyya/ta'ameya, said to be the original are made with fava and not chickpeas.

The basic ingredients of fūl are soaked and cooked dried fava beans with olive oil, garlic and cumin. There are very many regional adaptations and it is a classless dish.  I have eaten fūl for breakfast in Aleppo, Damascus, Cairo, Amman and various places in Lebanon and Palestine as well as a side dish in Ethiopia. I have eaten fūl in 5 star hotels, hostels, on the street and in refugee camps.
Fūl may have many added ingredients such as chopped parsley, onion, lemon juice, chili pepper or harissa, Za'atar (Zatar/Zaatar) and other vegetable, herb and spice ingredients.

I am posting two recipes - one using fresh beans, habas con jamón and one for dried beans, Fūl midammis.

freshly podded broad beans from the allotment

dried fava beans from the deli

John Austin,

Hove, August 2018

Saturday, 21 July 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald June 2018

Life on the Weald, June 2018 

June is very much a month for harvesting with an opportunity to make some late sowings.

We have had several pickings of raspberries - the taste was excellent but because we have had one of the driest couple of months on record they were not as plump as last year....

the first raspberries of 2018
....but they were delicious

The raspberry canes are a bit choked by couch grass in some areas so may need digging up and replanting in the autumn.

Our redcurrants looked reasonably well, having been moved from Mile Oak in the autumn

Sadly the birds (I am assuming it was birds and not poachers) stripped the lot before we had time to pick them. Building a fruit cage is onbviously a task for the autumn.

The outdoor cucumbers which I bought from the Allotment Holders' sale were looking good at the beginning of the month but need some encouragement to actually climb up the netting which I have provided.  The ones I grew from seed are just a couple of inches high.

Cucumbers 11 June
Cucumbers 26 June

Although we have been watering regularly, the lettuces are beginning to bolt.  Some were grown from seed planted in the winter and having survived the cold and the wet at the beginning of the year, it would be sad to lose them now.

One crop that seems to have done very well is the onions and we will be harvesting and drying them off later this month or next.

Onions - Autumn sun

Red Onions - Electra
In the meantime a spot of hand weeding is required!

I have managed to clear a raised bed to sow some dwarf French Beans which hopefully will be up next month.
Raised bed ready for the French beans
Meanwhile the runner beans seem to be surviving the drought

And we have erected a new frame for some climbing French beans (and planted a pumpkin in the middle of the rows).

The purple sprouting broccoli has been planted out.  We have protected the plants from pigeons with mini-cloches made from plastic bottles and will keep a watchful eye for caterpillars.  The plants look very vulnerable!

What we had hoped was a Globe Artichoke is regrettably a Cardoon.  It's very decorative and no doubt will be stunning when the flowers open - but its not an artichoke!  Its over 2m tall and has a spread of 2m so it is taking up a lot of room and no doubt depleting the soil of water and nutrients.  So, sorry but it has to go.

The courgettes, marrow and pumpkin plants are all looking good.  I bought the plants from the Allotment Holders' plant sale as the ones I had grown from seed had all been eaten so I am not sure what varieties they are or which are the marrows and which the courgettes!

I have planted them in what was an overgrown wilderness of couch grass, nettles and bindweed next to the cardoon, where the previous plot holder had grown cabbages and sprouts and obviously some Duke of York red potatoes which we keep unearthing!

Courgettes and marrows

And at the end of the month we had the first courgette in flower.

Courgette in flower
We have harvested our peas - Kelvedon Wonder - and they were so good we have made some more late sowings of both Kelvedon Wonder and Boogie.

Our first peas - best eaten from the pod!
June was the month to dig up the first early potatoes and the first to crop were the Rocket variety.  This is supposedly the earliest cropping variety but various sources suggest it is not best for flavour.  They are right.  They do not taste like the freshly lifted new potatoes I remember from my youth.  They are just bland potatoes.  They also don't look like new potatoes as they are the size of baking potatoes!

Early Rocket potatoes
They do seem popular with slugs though!  Many were pitted with large holes made by slugs -some were still in residence but most had been vacated only to be re-occupied by woodlice!  I lifted one plant of later Charlotte potatoes to see if they had suffered the same and they had not.  Speaking to my colleague and fellow plot holder, Simon, I discovered he had the same problem and only his Rocket potatoes were affected by slugs and not the other variety he had planted.   Well, that's one easy decision - I won't be growing Rocket again.

We had a few surplus seed potatoes, Vivaldi and Nicola, and some old plastic recycling boxes in which we made some late plantings - so hopefully will have some new potatoes before Christmas! And we are making sure they are well watered.

Earlier in the year I had planted a mixed collection of lettuces bought from the garden centre and we have lifted our first from the crop and it was very good - lollo rosso.

Our first Lollo Rosso 
There is still no sign of rain in what has been the driest June on record and at the end of the month we're off to Spain!  Bad timing.  Urgent need to recruit volunteers for watering duties.

John Austin

June 2018, Hove