Monday, 25 May 2020

RECIPES - Baking bread in a cast iron pot (Dutch Oven) 2. 50/50 White/Brown

Baking bread in a cast iron pot - 

a 50/50 White and Wholemeal Loaf 

I made this loaf using the cast-iron pot method as shown in my earlier post for a basic white loaf

I used a bread machine to make the basic dough, but you can use any recipe up to an including the first rise.  As I didn't have a recipe for a 50/50 loaf, I made my own by combining and adapting two recipes designed for my machine, one for a Basic White Loaf and the other for a Wholemeal loaf.


¾ cup water
1 ¾  tbsp skimmed milk powder
1 ¾ tbsp butter
¾  tbsp granulated sugar
1 ¼ tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup Strong white bread flour
1 cup Strong Wholemeal flour
1 tsp dry yeast

Adding a vitamin C tablet (crushed and added before the flour) is often recommended when using wholemeal flour, to aid the rise.  I didn't on this occasion as I didn't have one and as it was 50% strong white flour felt it wouldn't need it anyway. 

I followed the machine instructions and added the ingredients, in the above order, to the pan and set the machine to the dough setting which is 6 minutes mixing, 34 minutes kneading and 1 hour rising at 32C.

(if you don't have a bread machine, follow any recipe either for making by hand or food mixer with a dough hook then leave to rise until doubled in size then follow the rest of this method).

I then removed the dough from the machine.....

end of the first rise
.... kneaded gently for a few minutes on a floured board and then shaped into a ball

dough shaped in a ball, ready for baking
... then made one deep slash across the top with a sharp knife

the uncooked loaf

....placed the shaped dough in my cast iron casserole pot, which I had lined with baking paper

the pot
....placed the lid on top and put the dish in a cold conventional oven.  I set the oven to 240C and switched on.  After 30 minutes I took a peek to see how it was doing 

loaf after 30 minutes baking in oven with lid on
I put it back in the oven for a further 5 minutes with the lid on, then removed the lid and cooked for a further 10 minutes - total cooking time 45 minutes (35 minutes lid on, final 10 minutes lid removed).

This was the final result

loaf removed from oven
I left the loaf for 5 minutes in the pot, then removed and placed on a rack

the final result
Whilst it was still warm, but cool enough to handle, I could not resist trying a slice

the proof of the pudding is in the eating
I am pleased to say it was a successful result.  Now I have done a basic white loaf and a 50/50, it's time to try this method with a 100% wholemeal !

John Austin

Hove 25 May 2020

Sunday, 24 May 2020

RECIPES - Baking bread in a cast iron pot (Dutch Oven) 1. Basic White

Baking bread in a cast iron casserole dish - a basic White loaf

My first loaf using this method

This unusual method of baking bread was given to me by my nephew, Lyndon, who works in the catering, restaurant and hospitality industry in France.  He sent me a photo of a loaf he had made in his Staub cast-iron stew pot and some basic instructions regarding the method.

Lyndon's loaf
Lyndon advised that this method works well as it keeps the moisture inside as the bread is cooked with the lid on (except for the final 10 minutes).

Another advantage of this method is that it doesn't require a second raise.  Lyndon suggested an initial kneading of 20 minutes, then leaving the dough to rise, "knocking back" - a brief 5 minute kneading - shaping into a ball then placing in the pot which had been lined with non-stick baking paper, putting on the lid, placing in a cold oven, turning the oven to 240C, cooking for 35 minutes, then removing the lid and continuing to cook for a further 10 minutes.  All that is then needed is to remove from the oven and place the loaf on a rack to cool.

For my first venture I decided to make a basic white loaf using my bread machine recipe.  In the past, I have tried using the bread machine for the whole process but have never found the results satisfactory (and you get a strange shaped loaf!).  But where the bread machine really comes into its own is using the dough setting which takes away all the hard work up to and including the first rise and then you continue as for a normal loaf and bake in the oven.

On the dough setting, my bread machine mixes the ingredients for 6 minutes then kneads for 34 minutes and then leaves the dough to rise at 32C for an hour.

For my basic white bread the ingredients for a 1lb loaf are:


¾ cup water
2 tbsp skimmed milk powder
2 tbsp butter
1¼ tbsp
1 tsp salt
2 cups Strong white bread flour
1 tsp dry yeast

I followed the instructions that came with the bread machine, using the measure provided, and this basically means putting all the ingredients in the baking pan in the order listed above.

If you are using a bread machine, follow the manufacturer's instructions and use the "dough" setting.  Alternatively, find a recipe for a traditional white loaf and follow to the end of the first rise.

Lyndon has a Staub cast-iron pot, I used my Chasseur cast-iron casserole dish. Basically the pot serves as a Dutch Oven.

My cooking pot

When the raise cycle had finished, I took the dough from the machine, knocked back the dough for a couple of minutes, but did not really knead it, shaped it into a ball and placed inside the casserole dish which I had lined with baking paper.

I have a fan oven and a smaller conventional oven and decided to use the latter.  I thought the temperature in the fan oven might rise too quickly and interfere with the rising of the dough whereas the conventional oven would heat up more slowly enabling the dough to rise.  I placed the dish in the oven with the lid on as instructed, set the temperature to 240C, set my alarm for half an hour, poured myself a glass of wine and relaxed.

After 30 minutes I took a sneaky peek to check that all was well - and as it looked OK,  replaced the lid and let it cook a further 5 minutes (ie completing the full 35 minutes advised by Lyndon) and then removed the lid leaving it to cook for a further 10 minutes.  I then took the dish from the oven, tapped the loaf to see if it sounded hollow - which it did - and left it to cool slightly for a further 5 minutes.

My loaf straight from the oven
After 5 minutes, I lifted the loaf from the dish and placed on a rack to cool.

My first attempt
It was a great success. My wife, Sylvi and her son, Luke, have both seen recipes using this cooking method but which follow a recipe needing no kneading at all.  We will give that a try soon.

In the meantime Luke has followed Lyndon's method and baked a loaf using two thirds white flour and one third light rye flour.  I fear this may have precipitated a loaf war on twitter!

Luke's loaf as seen on Twitter @Luke1972

Tonight I will have a go making a 50/50 loaf using strong white bread flour and strong wholemeal.  Watch this space.

John Austin

Hove, 23 May 2020

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Life on the Weald - April 2020

Life on the Weald (Month 2 in isolation) April 2020

A view across The Weald from our plot - April 2020
Generally it was feeling more like Spring during April.

The garden at home provided a colourful start to the month.

Anemones, front garden 1 April 2020

Tulips, front garden 1 April 2020

Tulips, back garden 2 April 2020

Tulips, back garden 2 April 2020

The garden is more important than ever to us as we begin our second month in isolation due to the Covid19 epidemic and frighteningly, as the death toll in UK rises, we head towards possibly the worst outcome of any European nation.  Fortunately, during the period of isolation, visits to the allotment are permitted (or even encouraged), provided social distancing is maintained, as they provide both exercise and food and are positively beneficial for our mental health.

There has been a great community response at The Weald with plot holders donating surplus produce, supplemented by gifts of groceries which have then been distributed by volunteers to vulnerable people in the community who are unable to leave their homes during the Covid-19 crisis.

With garden centres closed, a number of gardeners have found themselves without seeds and other necessary supplies but, thanks to the internet and the site's website and Facebook page, there has been a great co-operative community spirit with plot holders swapping and donating seeds and plants. I've managed to swap chillies, English mace and celery seedlings for a yellow courgette, Crown Prince squash and some tomato plants.

Apart from lockdown we have had the weather to contend with which has been varied. February was the wettest on record followed by very changeable weather in March with some sunny spells and a high of 14C but interspersed with cold days almost down to freezing at night ( -2C in the countryside) and periods of chilly winds.  April by contrast has been the sunniest since 1929 with a top temperature locally around 22C but the intermittent cool winds have continued and the end of the month has seen top temperatures falling to 11-13C and heavy rain.

In the garden at home the beautiful showing of tulips which had begun to flower in March continued throughout the whole of April.

Tulips in flower throughout April

Not quite as colourful as the tulips but the rainbow chard, "bright lights" has certainly brightened up the allotment.

Rainbow Chard (Bright Lights) 3 April
And the grape vine is coming into leaf........

Grape vine - 5 April

........and the plum tree beginning to blossom

Plum blossom - 5 April

Early April and the broad beans sown in November have set and those sown in January are beginning to flower.

Broad beans in flower - 7 April
At home the chilli peppers sown in pots in February/March are coming on, some slower than others, but the Purple cayenne and Trinidad Scorpion are looking good.  The purple cayenne are said to be hot at 50,000 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units) but the Trinidad Scorpion is among the hottest in the world at 1,500,000 SHUs so care has to be taken in handling as it can cause skin irritation - you certainly don't want to rub your eyes if you have been touching it!

Purple Cayenne - 10 April

Trinidad Scorpion - 10 April
Back on the allotment we are still harvesting purple sprouting broccoli but the kalettes are coming to an end. We have had masses of chard and rhubarb and will be picking this for some time to come.
Purple sprouting broccoli picked 11 April
The camellias have brought additional colour to our front garden - they don't like our soil - but when we panted them we dug large holes and filled them with Ericaceous compost and we mulch the plants each year with more as well as giving them an occasional feed with a liquid plant food for azaleas and rhododendrons and other lime-hating, acid-loving plants - it's what we use to feed the blueberries on the allotment.  Sadly, after an initial burst of flowers, the edges turn brown.  A friend tells me its a common fungus that affects camellias and cannot be treated - she advises to pull off the dying flowers and not let them fall to the ground as the fungus can last up to 5 years in the soil - so looking forward to 2025!

Camellias - 14 April

Back at The Weald, the first early Duke of York potatoes were growing well and it was time to earth them up a little.  This helps more tubers to develop and maintain moisture. Hoeing between the rows will also keep the weeds at bay.  It is worth doing this weekly as weeds can soon take hold and engulf the potatoes. 

Duke of York, First Early potatoes 15 April

The broad beans sown in November were filling out nicely, so I thought it was time to finish off the remaining ones in the freezer from last year.

The last of the 2019 broad beans, straight from the freezer
broad beans 20 April 2020
broad beans 20 April 2020

The 2020 crop of Aquadulce Broad Beans, sown in November 2019 are almost ready to harvest

Peas that I had sown in the open ground in March were beginning to show and so too were 4 of the 6 asparagus plants.

Lincoln Peas, 20 April
Asparagus, 20 April 2020

Asparagus 20 April 2020
We had planted 6 asparagus crowns, 2 each of Gijnlim, Connover's Colossal and Pacific Purple. Sadly there was no sign at all of the two purple ones and the other four which did show were very thin and spindly, nothing colossal about any of them.  You should not cut the spears in the first season (not that there was much worth picking) but hopefully they will establish themselves for cropping in 2021.

Our two vines - growing in containers - were also beginning to flower and the tubs needed weeding and top dressing with some new compost. This is how they looked on St George's Day

Grape vine 23 April
Grape vine 23 April

The arrival of the warm weather had encouraged me to remove the covers from seedlings  growing in the garden which included celery, cavolo nero and kalettes and and indoor grown squashes and some of the chillies which I had put outside to harden off - something I would later regret as several suffered a setback from windburn.

Home grown seedlings 27 April
 At home, where the small lawn had once been, the second early Nicola potatoes were just beginning to show.  I had also planted a few in a growing sack and also a few Charlotte that were left over from the ones planted at The Weald.

Nicola 2nd early potatoes
Charlotte 2nd early potatoes

Nicola 2nd early potatoes 26 April in the garden at home
And on the allotment there were still jobs to be done.  The "A" frame which supports the runner beans was in need of repair but we have managed to clear an area and get it erected.  We also dug a trench about 25-30 cms deep, where the beans will be planted, which I lined with shredded cardboard and vegetable matter and then filled in - this will add nutrient to the soil as it breaks down but will aid water retention.

The bean frame under construction 27 April
The broad beans planted in January and early February are now in full flower and looking healthy with no sign (yet) of blackfly.

January sown broad beans - 27 April

January sown broad beans, in flower  - 27 April
Back at home, the Nicola potatoes had come on a long way since earlier in the month and had put on quite a bit of growth in the last week.

Nicola potatoes in the garden at home - 30 April
As I said at the beginning of this month's blog, April has been one of the sunniest on record with hours of sunshine 60% above average and temperatures also above average for this time of the year and it has been very dry so a lot of watering has been necessary.  The last few days of April, however, have seen a change. Tuesday 28 April was cloudy and wet across most of England, although dry and sunny in the north, and the last two days saw temperatures falling to average as low pressure moved across bringing unsettled weather.
With the cooler weather, I brought some of the plants, which I had put outside to harden off, back indoors as they were suffering from the wind and lower temperatures.  We are hoping for a return to warmer weather in May.

John Austin

Hove, April 2020

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Life on The Weald - March 2020

Life on the Weald (and other places) - March 2020 

It's now official; February was the wettest month since records began and at the beginning of March the soil was still waterlogged and heavy. The last day of February continued with very heavy rain, with Storm Jorge arriving on 27 Feb, so Sunday morning, 1st March, was a complete surprise with clear blue skies and sunshine.  Unfortunately we weren't at home, so another possible day on the allotment was missed!  But it was very good news for the Big Half, the half marathon being held in Greenwich.  It was cold but dry and we had a great viewing spot on board the Cutty Sark overlooking the finish line.

1 March - Selfie on board Cutty Sark in front of Royal Naval College and Maritime Museum
It was great to see the World 5,000 km and 10,000 km champion, Bekele, break the course record and come home in just over 1 hour.

Bekele wins the Big Half (half marathon)
A slightly slower finisher was former World Heavyweight boxing champion, Frank Bruno, now 58!  We had met over thirty years ago at the London Marathon when I was Mayor of Greenwich.  Frank was the official starter for the London Marathon Elite Race in 1989 and I had been the starter for the public mass start (after starting the race, I stripped off and ran the 26 miles!).

With Frank Bruno outside Greenwich Park before the 1989 London Marathon

I missed seeing Frank's finish but caught up with him after the race - interesting to see if we had changed at all in over 31 years!

With Frank Bruno under the Cutty Sark after the 2020 Big Half
I was also pleased to meet up with the Leader of Greenwich Council, Danny Thorpe, after he had completed the run.  It seems I have established a tradition of Greenwich Council Leaders and Mayors running marathons.

With Cllr Danny Thorpe (and medal) after the Big Half 2020
With such a change of weather, I was hopeful for a good week on the allotment but was soon brought back to reality arriving back in Brighton to pouring rain and cold winds!

Monday morning, however, 2nd March was another pleasant surprise, cold but with clear skies and little wind so I ventured to the Weald.

At The Weald, Monday 2 March
Despite the pleasant weather, some of the tracks and footpaths were still full of deep puddles and the ground underfoot was soggy.  I attempted to do some digging but it was an uphill task.  I managed to turn over a couple of rows where the brassicas will go and remove some of the weeds and this will help the ground dry out a bit.  If we do have a frost that will be a bonus I (although it might not be such good news for the autumn sown broad beans which are beginning to flower!) 

Extending the cabbage patch - 2 March

I inspected the broad beans.  The autumn sown Aquadulce were in flower and although the later planted out beans were battered, they had survived Storms Ciara and Dennis.

Bunyard's Exhibition broad beans, planted out in February

Aquadulce broad beans planted out in February
Although the pigeons had pecked at the broccoli leaves, the florets seemed intact. Last month I had picked the growing heads and was pleased to see that the side shoots were now looking good and I was able to pick a reasonable crop.

Purple sprouting broccoli - 2 March

Purple sprouting broccoli - 2 March
I also picked some rather good looking rhubarb which I had put a bucket over last month to slightly force, but it didn't need it.

First picking of rhubarb 2020
On 6th March I dug two narrow trenches on the area where last year's brassicas had grown
trench for potatoes
I partially filled the trenches with well rotted compost (some from the wormery mixed with a commercial brand) so that the trench was 6 inches deep.

trench partially filled with compost
I planted my chitted 1st early potatoes (Duke of York, red) firming them into the compost with the sprouting shoots upwards. 

1st earlies planted
I then covered the potatoes, filling the trench with the soil that had been removed and gently raked over.

two rows of first early potatoes - 6 March
We have enough potatoes for a third row but this will require clearing a bit more of the old brassica bed and I decided that was a task for another day!  Time for a sit down and admire my work.

Time for a rest and admire my handiwork
I had also been persuaded by Sylvi to plant some asparagus and we had bought 6 crowns.
We decided to use two of the raised beds where shallots had been grown last year.  Unfortunately the beds had been invaded by raspberries which have a habit of sending out runners, spreading across the plot and are quite deep rooted.  Together, on 9 March we made a determined effort - it was quite hard work as the raspberries were quite deep rooted. I am sure there are still some runners lurking deep so we will have to keep an eye out and remove any shoots in their infancy.

the beginning of the asparagus bed
Having dug a trench about 8-10 inches deep we created a mound at the bottom of the trench on which we placed the asparagus crown, draping the roots over the sides

asparagus crown planted with roots draped over mound

All that was now needed was to cover the crowns by returning the soil to fill the trench.

On 28 February there had been a report of the first Coronavirus, Covid19 infection in UK but contacts had been tracked and the number of incidents in early March were low in the UK but there was a large outbreak in Italy. We had planned to go to Spain on 12 March and checked the Foreign Office travel advice.  They did not advise against travel but suggested avoiding Madrid and an area in the north.  As the government advice was that it was OK to travel we would not have been able to get a refund if we changed or cancelled our flights and, as there had been no identified cases in the south and south east of Spain, where we were planning to go, we decided to proceed with the trip.

On arrival we decided to stock up for the week but found that, due to panic buying, some of the supermarket shelves were empty.

Supermarket Santa Pola 14 March
Fortunately we were able to get basic necessities - and of course being a fishing port there was no shortage of fish and I always have a supply of preserved lemons

preparing fish for supper

Although there were still no reported cases where we were, the number of cases of Covid19 in other parts of Spain had risen dramatically and the Spanish government had declared a state of emergency and gone into lockdown with people advised to stay indoors.  We thought of changing our flight and returning home early but Easyjet (with whom we were booked) could offer nothing and the following day they informed us that they were cancelling our return flight, scheduled for Saturday 21st and were not able to indicate when we might be able to get a "rescue" flight.  After many hours on the internet we did manage to book a flight with BA and came home on Thursday 19th only to find that the UK was experiencing a similar hike in cases to that in Spain and Italy.

Surprisingly there were no health checks and no advice or information on our arrival at Gatwick Airport and although travellers from Spain had been in lockdown for several days, some in areas where there were many confirmed cases, they were free to get on to public transport and travel anywhere in the UK.  It was only when we arrived home that we heard on the news that returnees from Spain were advised to go into self isolation (i.e. stay at home) for 14 days.  A few days later the same advice was given to the whole UK population other than essential workers. The government said that one trip a day to go shopping for food and essentials or for exercise was OK so long as a 2 metre distance was kept from other people.  It was a great relief when, on the following day, the government said going to the allotment was OK so long as social distancing was observed. So, on 23 March I made a brief visit to the plot.

I managed to find a few remaining baby leeks.  The main crop had all been lifted but there were a few which had remained in the original seed bed that had not been planted out and there was plenty of chard and rhubarb to be harvested.  

last of the baby leeks

I was happy to spend some of my self isolation using the chard and leeks to make Spanokopita and the rhubarb to make a rhubarb and yoghourt cake with a recipe given to me by Selina, a nearby plot holder.


Rhubarb and yoghourt cake 

At home the garden was beginning to look spring-like and the mulberry bush was breaking into leaf

Charlotte Russe Mulberry bush
At present during the Covid virus epidemic, government advice about staying at home allows one visit per day to the shops for food and one excursion for exercise and the government clarified that visits to the allotment were permitted for both collection of food and exercise.  Whilst I have taken advantage of this I am conscious there are fears that the advice may change and the lockdown become more severe, so I took the precautionary decision to convert part of the garden at home to vegetable growing.

In addition to the main lawn, we have a small secondary lawn which was in poor condition and in need of relaying, so I decided to dig this up and grow some potatoes.  This part of the lawn was very patchy and past attempts to reseed it had failed.
the rather patchy lawn

When I removed the top layer, the answer was clear.  The whole area was choked with roots from next door's large cherry tree, conifer and bay tree.

roots under surface of the lawn

It was a hard task digging out the roots as the soil was very compacted and in places just hard clay.   I have dug in some compost from the wormeries and hope that there will be sufficient nutrients for the potatoes to flourish and hopefully help to break up the soil.  I also dug in the fresh mowings from the main lawn.

the former lawn in transition

the former lawn almost ready for planting

Back on the allotment, there was the same problem in some areas of compacted soil..A couple of weeks earlier the clay soil was so waterlogged and heavy it was almost impossible to dig, now it had set like concrete

27 March - compacted clay
On a brighter note, the onions and garlic planted towards the end of last year appeared to be thriving and would soon need hand weeding and possibly feeding.

27 March - garlic

27 March - Electra onions

The plot was beginning to look a little tidier, with some spinach and plenty of chard which had overwintered and the broad beans for this year seemed to be doing well

27 March
There was still some work to be done on the new potato patch to get it ready for planting a third row of first early Duke of York potatoes.
extending the potato patch 27 March

21 days after planting the first two rows of first earlies
we were ready to plant a third row

I didn't have quite enough seed potatoes for a full row, so I have kept the remaining space for planting some 2nd earlies next month.

Time to relax at home and enjoy some of the home-grown broccoli with some locally caught fish from our fishmonger by Hove Lagoon who, during lockdown, are delivering to our door.
dinner with home grown broccoli
Looking forward to some better weather in April and to getting new crops planted.

John Austin

Hove, March 2020