Thursday 29 November 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald November 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald November 2018

The first few days of November saw the demise of our Halloween pumpkin which we had hoped might dry out and be kept but alas it collapsed

We had taken out as much of the flesh as we could and had several meals of pumpkin curry and spicy pumpkin soup but had loads left over.  We pureed and froze some....

.... we made pumpkin bread...

and we saved the seeds....

...which we coated in cumin, coriander and paprika and roasted

Surprisingly, at the beginning of the month we were also able to harvest the last of the outdoor ridge cucumbers, which were excellent

We have a plentiful supply of cavolo nero, purple kale and spinach which will keep going through the winter months and the purple sprouting broccoli is looking fine.  We have covered the broccoli with netting which we hope will keep the pigeons off and stop them pecking off the flowering heads when they come.

There was much work to be done in November.  In September, I had started to get the beds ready for the onions, garlic and shallots as I intended to use autumn/winter planting sets. I had spread a mixture of compost from the wormeries and grass cuttings in the raised beds and added some top soil.  In October, I had forked this in with some top soil and now have raked it finely, lightly dressed with bonemeal and this month I have planted the sets - two varieties of onion, one yellow (Autumn Champion), one red (Electric); two varieties of garlic (Eden Rose and Printanour); and two varieties of shallot  (Griselle and Longor). It is necessary to keep an eye on the bulbs after planting as birds and other animals tend to lift them before they have rooted and if so they need to be re-planted.  

The middle of November has seen quite a lot of rain and most of the sets planted seem to have rooted.

With Luke's help we have removed the cardoon, although we may not have been able to get all the roots out as they went so deep but we now have a large hole to fill and an area to weed and dig ready for next year's brassicas.

The hole where once the cardoon grew

One of our neighbours has given us a few medlars, an old English fruit not seen much these days, and we need to find something to do with them.  They are a bit like apples but are very hard and acidic and not very pleasant when picked from the tree.  They need to be "bletted"  i.e. stored until they begin to rot and then they become soft an sweet.  I think we will try making medlar jam or jelly for which you need mostly bletted fruit but also some hard unripe ones for the pectin to get the jam/jelly to set.


Dog's arse

Given the laborious process of bletting to make them edible and their appearance and nick-name - Chaucer and Shakespeare refer to medlars as "open-arse" fruits; their name in French is cul du chien (dog's arse) - is it any wonder that they have fallen out of fashion!

Whilst waiting for the medlars to ripen, there is much to be done on the plot.  The leeks are faring well but need frequent hand weeding, and although they were planted out  quite deeply, I am earthing them up a little to increase the white proportion.

I have also experienced some problems with the black currants that I planted when we first got the allotment two years ago.  In a hurry to transplant them we didn't clear the area of weeds as well as we should so they have faced a problem of being choked by couch grass and bindweed.  Also in the rush to get things started two years ago, the raised beds are in odd positions and look untidy.  So this month I have lifted two of the currant bushes and moved one of the raised beds to where they were and have replanted the fruit bushes where the raised bed was.  We removed all the annual weeds, thoroughly dug the area and removed as much of the bindweed and couch grass as possible.  We added some good compost to the holes where we planted the currants and gave a top dressing of blood,fish and bone.

Where we relocated the raised bed, there is a Brussels sprout plant so we put a layer of cardboard down around it and covered the whole area where the frame would go with cardboard (and a little beyond) and lifted the frame over it.  The cardboard will help to retain moisture in the raised bed, will prevent perennial weeds such as bindweed from coming through and will eventually rot down.  On top of the cardboard we added a layer of compost from the wormery plus some of the soil from where the raised bed had previously been and also dug in some fresh lawn clippings.

We laid more cardboard around the raised bed and covered this with a dense mulch of woodchips and hedge trimmings which we use on all our pathways and between beds. If you are using wood chippings, make sure they are from a reliable source and disease free - we get ours through the allotment society and they come from a reputable local tree surgeon.

November is a good time to plant blackcurrants and unlike other fruit trees/bushes, they can be planted deeply with some of the stem below the surface as this will encourage the growth of new stems from the base.

Having transplanted the currants, I will apply a mulch, give them a chance to re-establish themselves and hard prune them in January. 

The second half of November has seen torrential rain and little opportunity to do much more work on the plot and our infrequent visits have been to feed the worms and harvest the greens.

But we haven't been idle as the medlars have ripened well (bletted

bletted medlars
and we have spent time in the kitchen making medlar jelly.

I suspect we will get little done in December due to the weather and the usual pre-Xmas panic, but hopefully we will be almost self-sufficient in veg.

John Austin

Hove, November 2018

Tuesday 27 November 2018



Something new to meddle with - 

"A fruit, vulgarly called an open arse; of which it is more truly than delicately said, that it is never ripe till it is as rotten as a turd, and then it is not worth a fart." 18Century Anon

Welcome to the world of Medlars!

European Medlars

A friend has provided us with some medlars from a local tree

Medlar tree, Hove 

The Common or European Medlar has been around for centuries and appears to have been popular in England before sugar was available.  The fruits are hard and sour and do not ripen on the tree and cannot be eaten straight from picking.  

Freshly picked medlars

They need to be “bletted” i.e. stored in a cool dark place until they begin to go soft and brown or just beginning to decay when the flesh becomes sweet and can be spooned out.  They are suitable for making making jam or jelly – but still require bletting first.

Although called the European Medlar (its botanical name being Mespilus germanica i.e. German Medlar), it appears to have come originally from Persia and according to the Royal Horticultural Society there are several varieties available in the UK.

The French call the medlar cul du chien (translation: dog’s arse)

Shakespeare called the fruits “open-arse”  which, I am informed*, could have referred not to an arse but rather female genitalia - which makes more sense when reading Mercutio's misogynistic remarks in Romeo and Juliet regarding Rosaline's "quivering thigh
And the demesnes that there adjacent lie"

Mercutio goes on to say:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.— 
O Romeo, that she were, O, that she were
An open-arse, thou a pop'rin pear.

I don't recall any of that from my English Literature O Level! (for any younger readers, O Levels were what is now known as GCSE - but harder!!!!).

D H Lawrence described medlars as "autumnal excrementa"

I posted the D H Lawrence poem ("Medlars and Sorb-Apples) on Facebook – it goes on for several stanzas - and it drew this response from my daughter, Zoë, 

Blimey! Bit deep for a fruit” –

Here’s an excerpt

"Delicious rottenness.
I love to suck you out from your skins So brown and soft and coming suave....."

- So here’s this fruit which the French thinks looks like a dog’s arse, Shakespeare likens to a vagina, Lawrence calls it excrement which can’t be eaten until it’s rotting – little wonder that it has fallen out of fashion!  

But, nevertheless, D H Lawrence loved them and others say they’re delicious, So, as mine were bletting nicely....

bletted medlars

 ...we tried one - 

It didn't look too appetising -

It was soft and squishy and could be spooned out.  It was quite good, however, with a taste of apple and date, sweetish but also with a tart aftertaste. I had some spread on toast - quite nice actually.

I decided to try making medlar jelly which is particularly recommended by Nigel Slater as an accompanient to roast pheasant or other meat. Here's my recipe for Medlar Jelly

In Spain we discovered a different sort of medlar......

Japanese medlar

Japanese Medlars

In May 2012, whilst driving to visit the waterfalls north of Alicante at Las Fuentes de l'Algar   (Les Fonts de l'Algar in the local Valencian language), we drove past fields of cultivated fruit trees laden with yellowish orange coloured fruits which from a distance looked like apricots but it was rather early for apricots and the leaves on the trees didn't look quite right for apricots, as this library picture shows.


On arrival at the waterfall we soon learned what they were called because they were present in large numbers in every food shop. They were on sale fresh as well as in cans and bottles and on the menu in every restaurant - they were Nisperos!

Although we now knew the Spanish name we were none the wiser until we were served them for dessert and tasted them.  They had a curious sweet and sour taste, a mixture of apple, citrus and peach, someone thought mango.

We bought some to take home

Subsequent Googling revealed that the Nispero is known in English as the Asian or Japanese Medlar (although it probably originates from eastern China from where it spread to Japan). 

Apparently it was introduced to Spain by sailors arriving in Valencia around two thousand years ago but was not much cultivated until the 19th century when it became popular around the Mediterranean. It is known in some countries as the loquat . It is suited to the same climate as orange and other citrus trees, so Spain seems an obvious place for it to grow and Spain is now the main producer of nisperos in Europe. The nispero is in the same family as the common European medlar, but a distant relative.

It is yellow or apricot coloured on the outside with soft, creamy yellow flesh with two to four large seeds in the centre. The skin is edible, although in Spain many people peel off the skin; but the seeds, like the apricot kernel, are poisonous as they contain quantities of cyanide compounds.

Unlike the European common medlar, it ripens on the tree and does not keep well so needs to be eaten soon after picking.  It is at its sweetest when fully ripe.

Because the seeds have cyanide compounds they cannot be eaten and most recipes that I have seen say they should be removed before using the fruits in cooking, although I have seen a few recipes which say the seeds can be tied in muslin and boiled with the flesh for jam and jelly making.  In Italy the seeds are used for making nespolino liqueur . There appear to be many varieties, with some containing less cyanide compounds than others. The fruit itself has a high pectin content which makes it suitable for jam or jelly making without using the seeds.  If I do get round to any jam making in Spain, I think I will err on the side of caution and remove the seeds!

Apart from helping jam to set, the pectin in medlars is also a rich source of dietary fibre, and very good for gut health. 

The Basque co-operative supermarket, Eroski, has a food website which says the Nispero fruit is very beneficial for health because of its high pectin content as the fibre retains water and 
“swells in the stomach forming a gel, which reduces the speed of gastric emptying and produces a satiety sensation, very useful for people who follow slimming diets. A pectin is attributed beneficial effects in case of diarrhoea because it slows down the intestinal transit, by retaining water. To this is added the richness in medlar tannins (more abundant in its juice), substances with astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. Tannins dry and deflate the intestinal mucosa (layer that lines the inside of the digestive tract)
“On the other hand, the pectin increases the pH (decreases the acidity) when the acid is well mixed and neutralized with food and the fibre itself, so the consumption of ripe medlars is indicated in case of gastrointestinal disorders (delicate stomach, gastritis , gastroduodenal ulcer, etc.) To the richness in pectin, citric, tartaric and malic acids are abundant in their pulp, which exert regulating and toning actions on the mucous membranes. Also, fibre helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and good control of blood glucose (blood sugar levels), so the consumption of medlars is beneficial in case of hypercholesterolemia and diabetes.”
According to Eroski, the Nispero is also a source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant which may help reduce the risk of degenerative diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and, given its high content of potassium and organic acids, is a good diuretic, increasing the production of urine facilitating the removal of grit and uric acid from the kidneys. It is recommended in case of gout, excess of uric acid, uric acid stones, and hypertension. 
So apart from the cyanide, it seems a good fruit to eat!
Despite Fonts de l’Algar being a major tourist attraction, and only 15km inland from Benidorm (that most British of Spanish seaside resorts), we heard very few English voices, most of the visitors being Spanish.  The nearest town is Callosa d'en Sarrià, which gives its name to the surrounding area renowned for the quality of its Nisperos, such that, like wines, they have their own protected DO (Denominacion de Origine)  “Nisperos Callosa d’En Sarrià’’ and regulatory body
But you don't have to go to Spain to taste them as Nisperos are now available in England for a short period in the season.  Waitrose sell them. In Spain they are sold by the kilo; Waitrose sell nisperos in packs of 6, describing them as having asweet flavour which is like a mixture of apricots, apples and plums”. Waitrose advise that they can be eaten raw but warns that the hard brown seeds and the membrane surrounding them should be discarded. They add that “They are particularly good for making into jams, jellies and relishes; if the seeds are included during cooking they will impart an almond-like flavour”Well that will be the cyanide!  You can decide for yourself whether you want the almond flavour.  Watch this space for a future recipe!

John Austin

Hove, November 2018

*Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008, November 11). Romeo and Juliet Sex Quotes from

Wednesday 7 November 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald October 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald October 2018

October has been a rather short month on the allotment!.  We returned from the US and Canada on 16 October and didn't see the allotment until the 18th.

We had seen the preparations for Halloween in Seattle

Strange fruit - Madison Park, Seattle

no shortage of pumpkins in North America!
and I wondered how my pumpkin was faring.

I was worrying unnecessarily as it finally weighed in at over 10kg

On arrival at The Weald, my priority was to harvest what I could of the beans, cucumbers, courgettes (now giant marrows) and peas.  Some of the beans were far too gone and stringy but we are drying some and saving the seeds for planting next year.

 The peas were excellent and it was obviously a good decision to do a late sowing and we continued to harvest succulent peas until the end of the month.

Some of the courgettes had grown to 2 ft in length - 

- some we have had stuffed and baked, others cubed and baked/roasted with peppers and tomatoes, some have been used for soups and some for jam (marrow and ginger jam is one of our favourites)

The leeks, the kale, cavolo nero and purple sprouting broccoli were all looking good (but rather a lot of whitefly) and we have had several good pickings from the purple kale and cavolo nero.

Leeks 19 October
Purple kale 19 October
Kale, leeks and Purple sprouting broccoli 19 October
Cavolo nero 19 October

Broccoli 19 October
And we also have some Brussels sprouts which hopefully will have matured for Christmas but they look a bit far behind at the moment.  Next month I must get some fleece or netting to protect the broccoli from the marauding pigeons!

At last Halloween has arrived but my pumpkin is too good to waste so I have used only half for a face and scooped off as much flesh as possible, saving the seeds for roasting and the flesh for soups, curries, roasting, and freezing for later use.

My pumpkin

See you next month!

John Austin

Hove, October 2018

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on the Weald September 2018

Our allotment - Life on the Weald September 2018 

As expected, I did encounter a delay at security at Gatwick airport in August as I had packed one of my oversize courgettes to take to Spain.   Sure enough it caused some queries on the x-ray screening and I had to open my case.  "Oh is that your prize one?" asked the security officer. "No," I said, "the prize one wouldn't fit in the suitcase".  I presume that once we have Brexited; it won't be permissible to take an oversize courgette into Spain and I won't be able to bring more than 2kg of lemons back!

On my first September visit to the allotment on 5th, one of the first things that I noticed was the pumpkin which had more than doubled in size since mid August.

5 September - pumpkin 
It was a plant that I had bought at the allotment holders' sale in Portslade and I'm not sure what variety it is.

I also noticed the plums which looked good, but unfortunately most were diseased and grainy inside.

5 September Plums
The rest of the plot looked fine.  There were several courgettes of reasonable size...

7 September courgettes

...and a plentiful supply of runner beans, French beans and cucumbers.
7 September beans and cucumber
The purple kale was coming along nicely......

7 September kale
...and the leeks looked healthy but in desperate need of hand-weeding!

7 September leeks 
The late peas were also looking very healthy and will possibly be ready for picking at the end of the month or early October.

7 September peas
We avoided growing tomatoes on the allotment in view of past year failures and instead grew several varieties in pots in the garden at home.  It was a very good decision and we have had a very successful crop.

7 September tomatoes

The leeks and the kale certainly looked a lot better after a spot of hand weeding.  It's hard on the knees but hopefully with a bit of hoeing we can keep the annual weeds at bay although we will face the constant battle with couch grass, bindweed and brambles.

9 September kale

9 September, hand weeded leeks 

Spinach and chard are naturals on our patch and love to self seed all over the place. Once they have taken hold I'm reluctant to pull them up so we have a surfeit.  We eat it regularly, we feed family and friends - and we have a freezer full!

10 September Chard

It's almost possible to actually see the pumpkin growing and I hope it doesn't suddenly explode!

10 September
We are still harvesting courgettes and carrots and there are still a couple of cucumbers.

13 September
Always thinking of new things to do with courgettes, I found a recipe for a courgette puree made principally from the skin....
14 September
...which I served with some pan fried fillets of John Dory

14 September
We had a reasonable crop of chilli peppers this year, grown in pots in the garden at home and in the conservatory.
16 September
This is my second crop of chillies and these will go the same way as previous ones - straight into the freezer so they can be used as and when needed (I still have some frozen habaneros from last year which I rarely use as they are too hot for most people).

My son, Damien, seems to have had a better crop than me this year, grown in a pot in his garden in SE London.

Damien's chillies growing in a pot in SE London

Damien's chillies harvested
Not the freezer for Damien.  He's a bit of a purist and has threaded his to hang them up to dry as they do in Spain, southern Europe and South America 

Damien's chillies threaded for drying
A few last minute rushed jobs as we will miss the last weekend of September as we'll be at the Serpentine open water swimming to cheer on Sylvi's nephew, Matt, and then we are off to the States and Canada for three weeks and won't be back until mid-October!

We have tided up the area near the shed where the wormeries are kept and cut back the brambles and it is looking much neater.

We have also emptied the bottom trays of the wormeries into the raised beds where the onions and garlic will go later this year.

contents of the wormery
There were certainly plenty of worms!

I have covered the compost from the wormeries with a layer of grass clippings from the lawn at home and covered that with some riddled soil rescued from the couch grass dug up last month.  I will dig all this in when we get back next month.

I lifted the last  remaining row of the Nicola potatoes and planted a new double row of leeks where they had been.....

Newly planted leeks - 19 September

...tidied up around the pond and then took a last fond look at my pumpkin which I hope will still be there in October! 

Pumpkin 19 September
And headed off to San Francisco.

John Austin

Hove, September 2018