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Spring has Sprung!

At last, the allotments have turned from a water logged mess, to something that I can stand on; in fact, they have gone the other way if everything. Here in the south of England it has been very dry and warm over April, so much so that the soil has actually turned to that compressed hard surface which can crack if not raked and hoed, or turned over.

It has been a pleasure to get into the greenhouse and start sowing the summer vegetables. Such produce as Courgettes, Aubergine, Cucumber and Tomatoes are growing in trays and pots. Also, Brussel Sprouts, Leeks, Sprouting Broccoli, Kale, Cavolo Nero, Cauliflower, Sweet corn, Basil, Thyme and Oregano are all coming through along with Chillies, and sweet Peppers, these are all showing well and it's a measure of how hot it has been in the green house that they have shot up from when they were sown just two weeks ago.

Outside in the allotments, the over wintering onions and Garlic have done well, I planted 80 Garlic and 79 survived the winter, the gap in the Garlic row has now been filled with one of last years cloves that had formed a shoot; it is now growing on well; I love to see Onions and Garlic growing in rows, it is so neat and tidy.

I have now managed to set all of my potatoes, one row of Charlotte and two of Desiree, nothing exciting or different this year I'm afraid, we usually like to grow some of the French Ratte Spuds, but we don't seem to be eating as many potatoes as we used to. When I said to one of the chaps on the allotment that I was about to put my potatoes in, there was a sharp intake of breath, a shake of the head and he said, 'Aprils a bit late for spuds'; I had to point out to him that 'I was not in a race and I work with nature, not a text book'. It amazes me that for all I have been gardening for 50 years, there are chaps on the allotment that have read two books and gardened for two years and they feel able to tell me what to do; still you are never to old to learn (he says with tongue in cheek).

After having a week off work I now have some Broad Beans, carrots, Beetroot Kohl Rabi, and Borlotti bean set too; the fruit cage is doing its thing with loads of blossom on the Currants and Gooseberries, also on the Cherry tree. I have already harvested some Rhubarb, spring onions and all the over wintering vegetables. The Grape vine is budding, I have pruned back the Sage, Rosemary and Lavender, so in general, I am not feeling too bad; I'm pretty sure I will catch up with all of those early birds who are hoping to be the first to dig new potatoes, it truly is not a race.

Whiling away a weekend: (or did I)?

If you enter "Whiling away" into a search engine, it will come up with such definitions as : Verb - To spend time Idly or pleasurably; Spend time or cause time to pass pleasurably; so I suppose I did do just that this weekend.

Last weekend was a cold one, typical of a January/February weekend, I did not want to particularly stir outside, so found myself wondering what to do – I have enough cheeses maturing at present, so needed to come up with something to do indoors that would keep me from just sitting vegetating on the Sofa.

 

At work we had been discussing recipes for Minced Beef and it got me thinking perhaps it was time to do some baking at the weekend, therefore on Saturday I spent half a day making Pies and Pasties. I'm sure you will agree they look good!

  Homemade pies and pasties

 

Also, during the week someone from the USA had tweeted that my website had inspired them to want to make Butter and Cheese, and I had replied saying it was fairly simple to make both. I was surprised to realise that I did not have a method for making Butter on the Website so that was something I needed to rectify at the weekend.

 

I think the butter looks good and I provided some useful advice on alternative uses for the butter; so why do I feel so guilty about "doing nothing"?

  Homemade butter

 

 

Lazy Weekend Artisan

For a while I have been trying to think of a subject for a blog and this weekend decided things for me.

We had a friend over to stay, the weather was not too promising, I therefore decided to have a 'Lazy Weekend' and I even tweeted to say "Allotments or Laze"? The consensus of opinion didn't help, so I decided to take it easy. Because I have such a wonderful wife, being lazy is not a challenge, especially when we have guests; Jan likes to spoil people when they visit.

When it came to writing this little blog, something in the back of my mind was saying "you have written about this before", so I checked and I have, it was posted 10th of February 2014, and was, rather like this blog is going to be saying, that the intention to be lazy was there, but it didn't really happen.

On Saturday, I went over to the shop early and purchased some milk to make cheese. I then went to the allotments to harvest some produce for the weekend (Fig 1). As I was already out, I did the hour-long round trip to pick up our friend who was staying with us; Jan went out to take her mother shopping, so I entertained our friend whilst making some Fontina d'Aosta cheese (Fig 2).

On her return, Jan made some wonderful cream of Mushroom Soup with Porcini and white Paris Mushrooms. We then settled down to sample the recently bottled Cherry Liqueur, Blackberry Vodka and Sloe Gin, along with some very nice Chianti.

We sat around relaxing and then Jan made some Pici with Pesto and fried Green Tomatoes. We had some Cheese and crackers for afters; Jan made a Lemon Mousse for Sunday's dessert, we watched some TV, I put the cheese in its press for overnight pressing and then we all retired to bed.

Sunday was a fine sunny day, but I didn't take much persuasion to not spend it down the allotments. Instead, it was decided as Jan had made such an admirable job of cooking for us all on Saturday, I would prepare the lunch for Sunday.

I rested a ½ Leg of Lamb on a bed of sliced Onion and Garlic in a Tagine with Potatoes, Peppers, Aubergine, Carrots and green tomatoes, added a little stock, some herbs and popped it in the oven at 200°C for a couple of hours (Fig 3). It was delicious especially with the Lemon Mousse to follow.

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3

 

After suitably relaxing for an hour or so Jan took our friend home and whilst she was doing that, I cleared up after dinner.
I then went on to take the Fontina cheese out of the Brine (Fig 4) and set it down to dry; I also cleaned a Stilton cheese I have going at present.

Having done that I then made some soup out of the stock and Lamb bone ready for Dinner on Monday (Fig 5 and 6).

Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6

 

So whilst it was not a busy or demanding weekend, it wasn't a total waste of time – next weekend it's a cheese making course so that will be full on.

Winter Warmers

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere the cold chill of winter is starting to bite, some more than others, however, even for those closer to the equator it is starting to cool and become a little wetter.

With that in mind I thought I might look at adding some recipes to the website which were focused on food and drink to warm us through the winter months, perhaps starting with hearty soups.

I thought I could also draw your attention to the Italian Soups recipes already on the website, and the general Soup section has some good warming recipes. Then there is the Pie section; it is always nice to have a midweek warming meal of pie with roasted and steamed vegetables (or even chips). All of these can be found on the Home Baking section.

In the Curing and Preserving section there are such seasonal delights as Chutneys, Jams and Jellies (soon to have Lemon Curd on there too). Italian Cherry Liqueur is in the vanguard of the warming drinks followed by Walnut Liqueur, Limoncello and Pear Liqueur, soon to have Sloe Gin in there too. There are recipes for home made sausages, which, when wrapped in flaky or puff pastry will make fantastic sausage rolls, or they could be cooked into a Toad in the Hole with onion gravy – LOVELY!! Not forgetting the lovely seasonal Confit de Canard recipe, which is such a fabulous winter dish.

So, having thought about what recipes to put on the website, perhaps I have already made a good start!

As always, I would be grateful for any suggestions you can make, or, if you have any recipes please send them to me for inclusion.

Ongoing support from the course

As part of my cheese making course, I offer support for participants after the event. Here's an example of an email I received:

"As you know I had to abandon my immature cheeses for 4 days whilst I went off to Sweden - they were drying out nicely so I took them off the cheese grid and put them onto the cellophane, but left them unwrapped in their Tupperware with a bit of kitchen roll to absorb extra water.
When I came back they were as the picture below - and I have wrapped up and put in the fridge - the mould is green / blue but clearly we were not trying to make a blue cheese - any advice?!"

Mould!

 

My reply was: "Wow, that's a lot of mould! I would put a teaspoon of salt with a couple of dashes of malt vinegar in a small ramekin, top it up with tepid water and soak the corner of your cheese cloth in it then gently rub it, or use a pastry brush to gently brush the cheese, that should do the trick. It probably means you will need to wait a bit to wrap. Let me know how you get on. It probably is harmless but not attractive."

The reply from the participant was: "The miracle vinegar cure for the mould worked well and we ate it all up this weekend."

Unfortunately, as you can see, by the time I asked for photographic evidence of how the cure had worked – the cheese had all been eaten!
However, because the reply about the "miracle vinegar cure" had been shared with the other course participants, they all wanted to know what it was, I therefore copied everyone into the simple technique which is also mentioned on the website as part of my article on washed rind cheeses and also the New Cheese recipe.

This got me thinking, should I be doing a problems page?

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