Monday 11 January 2021

Life on the Weald - December 2020

Life on The Weald - December 2020 

"Wealding and Shielding"

Out for exercise - Boxing Day

Life continued to be dominated by the Corona virus. When the temporary lockdown ended on 2 December a tougher tiered system of restrictions was re-introduced with the promise of a relaxation of lockdown over the Christmas period and the approval of a programme of vaccination. But with rising cases in mid December, and the discovery of a new strain of the virus, London and much of the south-east (but not Brighton and Hove) was moved up to a higher risk tier and it was also announced that the proposed relaxation of restrictions over the Christmas period would apply for one day only on Christmas Day.  Two days before Christmas it was announced that as from Boxing Day, Brighton and Hove would join London in Tier 4, the most restrictive.  The government also reintroduced "shielding" for the clinically vulnerable.  We had chosen to continue shielding when the government advice changed in the summer, so the new guidance made little difference to us.  We haven't been shopping since the first lockdown in March and are reliant on home deliveries. Throughout all the different lockdown regimes we have been allowed to go out for exercise and thankfully that has included going to the allotment.  Luke has suggested we retitle the blog "Wealding and Shielding"!

On 3rd December we took advantage of orur stoe of squashes.................

3 December - pumpkin

...and made pumpkin curry.  There was also enough to make pumpkin soup which has gone in the freezer.

pumpkin seeds, ready for roasting

And not wanting to waste anything we roasted the seeds with spices for snacking.

After a dull, wet start to the month on 4 December the skies  cleared and we had some amazing sunsets.
Hove beach 4 December

Surprisingly, the tomatoes we had rescued at the end of November, had ripened in the kitchen 😊

Home-grown Tomatoes 5 December

Not much was done on the allotment at the beginning of the month but I did check from time to time that everything was OK.  I was very pleased that the Douce Provence  peas had survived the heavy rains and the crushed eggshells seem to have protected them from slugs and snails.

Douce Provence peas 12 December

Around mid-December, with a lull in the bad weather, I sowed some more broad beans and covered them with fleece and prepared a space to plant out the broad beans growing in pots at home.

17 December - broad beans sown

The broad beans and peas sown in October and November were all doing well.

17 December - broad beans directly sown in November

17 December - Kelvedon Wonder peas & aquadulce broad beans

Apart from the brassicas and chard there was little to harvest on the plot but plenty in the foodstore.  We decided to combine the Borlotti beans grown in the summer with freshly picked cavolo nero kale to make ribollita  a traditional Italian stew.

18 December - Borlotti beans

18 December - Cavolo Nero

Christmas Day was cold, but clear and then, on Boxing Day, Storm Bella struck  with heavy rain and fierce winds of 70 mph which brought down some of the beach huts on Hove promenade.

Boxing Day, Hove Promenade

Boxing Day, Hove Promenade

Storm Bella was followed by a drop in temperature and heavy frosts. A trip to the plot on 30 December revealed a frozen water tank

Ice on the water tank - 30 December

Shards of ice - 30 December

Despite the heavy frost, I was pleased to see that the garlic had begun to show green shoots.....

30 December garlic

 ...and the Douce Provence peas were still surviving as well as the broad beans and late sown spinach & beetroot .

30 December beetroot and spinach

As the November directly sown broad beans were looking OK, I decided to plant out the latest batch that had been sown in pots at home in November and were in the garden hardening off.

17 December - planting out the broad beans

In order to give them a bit of protection from hungry slugs and snails I scattered a mixture of egg shells and coffee grouts on the surface of the soil.

Broad beans and a dusting of eggshells

This was my last visit to the plot in 2020.  Apart from the leeks, it had been a reasonable year in terms of produce and with lockdown there had been fewer diversions, resulting in more time than usual being spent on the plot. I have ordered my seed potatoes; I have cut back some of the plum trees; the broccoli and kalettes are looking good and I'm feeling fairly optimistic about 2021 - for the allotment anyway.

John Austin
Hove, December 2020

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Recipes: Lemon Sole

Recipe: Whole roast lemon sole

Lemon sole

It's early June and we are still in lockdown due to the Covid19 virus and as I am in isolation and shielding, am unable to go to the shops. Fortunately, however, I live about a kilometre from the Portslade harbour and FISH, our local wholesale and retail fishmonger, delivers fresh from the boat to my door.

This week they were offering wild lemon sole.  It's not a true sole and it doesn't taste of lemon and its name is probably from the French name, limande.  That, in turn, might come from the French word for a file/sander in view of its rough sandpaper like skin or the French word for silt referring to its habitat.  Whatever the derivation of its name, it is related to the flounder, dab and plaice which are known as Dextral flatfish.  Flatfish such as Turbot, Brill and Megrim sole are Sinistral flatfish.

The thing about flatfish is that, although they start out in life like most other fish, with a rounded body and one eye on each side of the head, at some stage, for some reason, they turn on to one side and spend the rest of their lives in this position. Some species turn on to their right side and others to their left.

Having done so, they swim along the bottom of the sea on their side and the downside skin becomes paler and paler and the uppermost side changes colour and darkens, often to mimic the surrounding seabed, providing camouflage.  At the same time the eye and the nostril on the underside gradually move and migrate to the uppermost side.

Species which turn on to their right hand side and have their eyes and nostrils on the left are called Sinistral and if drawn or photographed with the mouth up the right way would be pictured with their head on the left and tail on the right.  Those with their eyes and nostrils on the right are called Dextral and should be pictured with their head on the right and tail on the left.

Whatever the differences, this recipe is suitable for all flatfish - and also round fish such as seabass or varieties of sea bream.  You will need to adjust the length of time for cooking according to their size and thickness,


1 Lemon sole
1 Lemon
1/4 preserved lemon (or zest of above)
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic
1 piece fresh ginger (app 2 -3 cms)
cherry tomatoes
fresh herbs
olive oil

deep slashes on the top side (right hand side)

deep slashes on the underneath (left side)

garlic and ginger

Place slivers of ginger, garlic and lemon in the slits you have cut in the skin.  As I have a plentiful supply of Preserved lemons , I used the peel of these instead of fresh lemons/zest.

If using preserved lemons, go easy on the salt seasoning; the lemons are very salty as they are preserved in salt.  

Heat the oven to 200C (Fan oven 180C)

fresh herbs and cherry tomatoes

Put some fresh herbs, in the body cavity of the fish with any remaining ginger and garlic. Lay the fish on a sprig of fresh herbs and a couple of bay leaves in a roasting tin or dish, surrounded by the cherry tomatoes.  I used fresh basil and savory but oregano is also very good. 
If you are using fresh lemon, slice ½ lemon and add the slices to the roasting dish. Add the cherry tomatoes and drizzle a little olive oil over the skin of the fish and the tomatoes. 

Roast in the pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes. Check that the fish is almost cooked and beginning to come away from the bone.  Pour over a small glass of dry white wine, dry sherry or dry vermouth and a squeeze of lemon juice and replace in the oven for a further 5 mins. 
Roast Lemon Sole - ready to serve

Remove from the oven, spoon over the juices in the pan and serve.

John Austin

Hove, June 2020

Friday 1 January 2021

Life on the Weald - November 2020

Life on the Weald - and Lockdown 2 - November 2020

 A bright November day. The approach to the allotment - 6 November 2020

Sunday 1 November should have been a day for tasks on the plot - but with heavy rain and gale force winds, it was another day indoors!  And the night before, as Covid cases and deaths rose dramatically, the Government at last conceded that action was necessary if the NHS was not to be overwhelmed with thousands dying.  So, on Thursday, 5 November, having previously rejected the calls from the Opposition for a short-term, circuit-breaking lockdown (as recommended by the government's own scientific advisers), the Government announced a new national "Lockdown 2" to last until the beginning of December.  The intention is to "flatten the curve" -  to reduce pressure on the NHS which would otherwise be on the brink of collapse.  No doubt, as soon as lockdown is lifted, the numbers will rise again and we may be locked into this cycle until an effective vaccine is available.

It seems my i360 abseil attempt is cursed.  Having been postponed three times due to adverse weather conditions, it has now also fallen victim to Covid19.   The i360 is now closed to the public and will not re-open until the New Year and our "jump" has been rescheduled for 13 March 2021.

On a brighter note, despite the rain, we did venture into the garden on the first day of November and managed to harvest a fig before the squirrels got it.

Our first fig - 1 November

It wasn't fully ripe, and was only just turning purple - but it was deliciously sweet and full of flavour.

1st November

The tree is only two years old and this was the first year that it has fruited, so we are looking forward to harvesting some figs in 2021.

On 4 November the weather had improved and we paid a brief visit to the allotment to see how things were progressing.  We lifted the fleece where we had sown some early peas and broad beans and were pleased with what we saw.  They had not been eaten by the mice (or rats) and the seeds had germinated.

4 November - a peek under the fleece

4 November - peas and broad beans

The broad beans that had been planted earlier were also doing well.

4 November - broad beans

On 6 November, the car had gone for its MOT and as it was a bright sunny day I walked to the plot. It's just over a mile on foot - less than half the distance by car as the railway line is not a barrier for pedestrians.  I took a stroll through the Aldrington foot tunnel and was pleased to see a graffiti tribute to the NHS.

6 November - Aldrington foot tunnel

On arrival at the allotment, I took advantage of a brief rest in the sunshine by the pond.

6 November - The pond

I did a a little bit of tidying up - no hard labour - and harvested some kale and chard.

On 10 November I did some tidying up in the garden at home. The Chocolate Habanero (one sole fruit) was looking OK but as I thought it would not survive outdoors for much longer I brought the pot indoors, initially putting it in the front porch.

10 November - Chocolate habanero and Hungarian Wax

Upstairs, in an unheated room, the medlars were bletting well, but needed regular inspection to remove any that might be diseased or growing mould.  Fortunately there were none at this stage and they looked almost ready for processing.

12 November - Medlars

12 November - bletting going well

On 13 November I was back on the plot and picked our first kalettes.

13 November - Kalettes

They would be a nice accompaniment to my roast monkfish.

Monkfish fresh off the boat from Portslade harbour

Monkfish ready for the oven

I was now harvesting kalettes regularly

15 November - more kalettes

The chocolate habanero that I had brought indoors at home was looking good so on 22 November I decided to rescue the remaining chillies in the garden.  It's almost December but the "hot lips" salvia seems to have burst into life again and is covered with red and white flowers.  Usually at this time of year they are all white.  As it is in full flower, I will have to put off cutting it back until February!

Hot lips - Salvia 22 November

The Trinidad Scorpion chillies were small but had survived the drop in temperature so this was another candidate for bringing indoors. 

Trinidad Scorpion - 22 November

I harvested quite a few hot wax peppers and a few Kashmiri chillies (which were still green) as the plants appeared to be dying.  One of the Kashmir plants looked salvageable so that was also brought indoors.  I pulled up the remaining tomato plants which had all died back but some had green tomatoes which I hoped might ripen indoors.  The pots and troughs in which they were growing were needed to plant my spring bulbs.

A selection of chillies and tomatoes - 22 November

Enough of the garden - back to the plot!  The broad beans and peas that I had planted in October were thriving, as well as the shallots. 

Broad beans sown in pots in October and planted out

23 November Kelvedon Wonder peas, sown directly - 

23 November
Broad beans that had been sown directly in the soil

23 November, Shallots

On 25 November the medlars at home looked ready for jelly making.  They had bletted well and were now quite squishy and very sweet.

a ripe medlar

Medlars boiling with a couple of lemons

I had ordered some some early pea plugs that I had forgotten about so soon after they arrived I planted them out on 28 November.

Douce Provence Peas - 28 November

On 30 November, I harvested most of the remaining chillies from the plants that had been brought indoors.  The purple cayenne had been particularly productive.

Purple cayenne - 30 November

Purple cayenne, Chocolate habanero, Trinidad scorpion and Kashmiri chillies

During the month we have benefitted from the squashes (butternut, Crown Prince and pumpkin) harvested earlier and we still have a supply to see us through December. There are many tasks to be completed over the winter and we hope that the new Covid19 restrictions (due to come into effect on 3 December), our health and the weather allow us to continue.

John Austin
Hove, November 2020