Tuesday, 22 September 2009

And the winner is...WTA!

Great excitement last week as WTA picked up three first prizes in three classes and a third at the local village show. The hearing scientist also got in on the act successfully showing some runner beans from the kitchen garden.
This vegetable show virgin got so excited that he ended up actually arriving at the village hall sans produce and cake a day before the event and had to return home and keep his veg as pristine and fresh as possible until the next day. I had to admit I was totally sucked in by the whole event, running around WTA at 7am in the morning looking for the best examples of courgettes, carrots, salsify, broccoli that I could find. Pre-show preparation involved carefully washing and drying my entries, deciding how `i would display them and then of course making my 'Favourite Cake' entry - which took two attempts!
The irony of the whole affair wasn't lost on me as I made my show perapratiions while 'listening' on an episode of The Archers on BBC radio 4 in which the characters where doing the same thing? me thinks ' old foggeydom' could be closer that I think!
In the end WTA took out the following categories:
  • Box of seasonal vegetables - 6 varieties. (Pic above)

  • Onions (Button's Show Stoppers)

  • Courgettes (Soliel)
WTA was also might happy to fight off some stiff country baking competition and pick up a third place for it courgette and pecan loaf in the 'favourite cake' class (see previous post to get WTA's the prize-winning recipe)

The hearing scientist's runner beans (White ladies) (pic above) from the kitchen garden impressed the judges and also picked up first prize in their class - something we know Norm the Vet and Captain Ken would have been proud of! Many thanks must go to the hearing scientist for properly making the onions suitable for show by tying raffia around their stalks and then using some dynamic arranging skills to organise the box of veg.

WTA's success even tore Johnny Bridgmeister away from writing now his highly influential Bizarre World of Bridge blog and had him phoning for updates for on how WTA had fared at the hands of the judges. In the end however It was great and a privilege to just be a part of what I reckon is an vital and important part of English country cultural life. The word's of Rudyard Kipling's famous poem 'If' :
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same...

were also enough to help me take a valuable check on the old ego. In the end it's about getting the hands in the earth and staying grounded! Talking of which, my over wintering onion sets and garlic (purple wight) arrived last week and I've arrived home today to find two small boxes of live 'spring greens' seedlings (Mr Fothergills) I ordered a little while back. Author Jan and Mart the chief of staff are also scheduled for a visit soon so I'm keen to have the 'autumn plot' well and truelly in and starting to grow before their arrival.
Show and grow well!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Dinning at St Nigel of Slater's table and "Getting back" to Apple

It's been mainly weeding and caterpillar control on WTA this week. There's this plenty of produce to be had but it's clear some the massive bounty of seasonal summer crops is starting to slow.
Two apple trees that have somehow found their way over the years into a hedge bordering WTA have produced a small but well formed crop of large cooking apples. The appearance of the apples and the start of the blackberry season prompted me to get stuck in and make a blackberry and apple crumble. Getting the blackberries meant a bit of off-allotment foraging in some nearby farm hedgerows which have bountiful blackberry brambles producing some of the best free soft fruit you'll ever taste. The thing I love about making a crumble the WTA way is that it can be used for a great dessert but also a great breakfast with its rolled oats-based topping!
So here it is...

WTA's Blackberry and Apple Crumble
Approx 1 kg of apples

500-600gm of Blackberries

For the crumble topping

1 cup olive oil

3 cups whole grain rolled oats

1 cup plain flour

1 cup of pine nuts or chopped walnuts or almonds

Peel and core the apples. Cut the apples into 'bite-size pieces and place on a microwave-proof dish. Microwave on high for about 5 minutes until apples soften. Wash blackberries, drain and then mix with apples. Sprinkle lovely mixture with about 3 table spoons of demerara sugar.

To make the crumble topping, combine flower, oats and nuts. Add the olive oil and stir until the mixture begins to form into thick clusters. Spread evenly, on top of apple and blackberry mixture. Bake in an 180C oven for 45 minutes or until topping is lightly brown. Serve hot or allow to cool overnight for a fabulous rustic breakfast.

Digging in the Dirt
Harvesting the last crop of onions for the year has left some space on the upper bed. After digging over the bed I sowed 120 over wintering broad beans (The Sutton) and then sowed another 40 in an adjacent bed which has been left fallow over summer. The Sutton is a shorter variety and supposedly less susceptible to being blown over by winds.

With next year's onion crop in mind , I'm experimenting with growing some of my crop from seed instead of just using sets and have sown about 120 Senshyu Semi-Glob Yellow Onions (Suttons Seeds) in cellular seed trays. The success of the cauliflower crops has also prompted me to sow about 50 'Snowball' cauli's (Suttons Seeds) in individual seed cells. The latest dry spell has left my beans needed some additional watering.

'St Nigel'

Great to see Nigel Slater championing vegetables and sharing more of his great cooking via television this week. Nigel and Jamie Oliver are two of WTA's patron saints of cooking vegetables, and are often called on via their respective publications for advice and prophetic guidance. 'St Nigel's intervention was sort again this week after I picked my first pumpkin - a smallish but beautiful 'Orbit' variety. I didn't want to go down the usual soup or baked pumpkin route so after devling back into some of St Nigel's ancient epistles that are have appeared in the Observer (UK) newspaper's brilliant magazine, I stumbled across one of Britain's national cooking treasure's superb pronouncements:

Chickpeas with Pumpkin, Lemon Grass and Coriander

200g chickpeas ( I used a can)
2 medium sized onions
2 tbsp ground nut oil (I used virgin olive oil)
4 garlic cloves,peled and thinly sliced
a thumb-sized piece of ginger
3 large stalks of lemon grass (I used 3 tbs of lemon grass past from a jar)
2 tsp ground coriander
2tsp ground tumeric
ground seeds of six cardamom pods
2 hot, red chillies
500g peeled and seeded pumpkin
250ml vegetable stocks
400ml coconut milk
1tbsp of yellow mustard seed
a large handful of coriander leaves
Drain the canned chickpeas. Peel and finely chop onions. Pour oil into a deep casserole and add the onions. Cook the onions on a low heat until they are translucent. Meanwhile, peel the garlic and ginger and cut relatively finely and mix. Add three to four tablespoons of grass paste. and then make all three into a rough paste in a food processor. Stir into softened onion and continue to cook. Add ground coriander and turmeric. Peel and lightly crush cardamom seed pods. Add them, together with the fresh chillies, seeded and finely chopped. Keep the heat fairly low and don't let the ingredients brown.
Chop the pumpkin into large mouth-sized chunks. and ad to the pan with the chickpeas and stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and continue to cook at a gentle bubble till the pumpkin is tender. Stop as soon as the flesh can yield to the point of a knife..
Stir in the coconut milk and continue to simmer. Put a little oil in a non-stick pan and ad the yellow mustard seeds.. When they start to pop add them to the pumpkin, together with the coriander leaves. Serve with rice and limes, halved ready to squeeze over at the last Minute. Give thanks to St Nigel and eat!

Well done the Rossdorf crew!
A big congratulations to one of WTA's favourite blogs. the Rossdorf Allotment on their recent show wins. Rossdorf's success has motivated me to enter some of WTA's produce in a nearby village show scheduled for next weekend. The experience of actually putting vege into a show and helping bolster a great rural tradition of exhibiting produce should be a hoot. Entries close this Friday and I plan to enter some onions, courgettes, french and runner beans and possibly some calabrese that's look set to harvest. I'm not sure if WTA's produce will measure up to the exacting standards of the horticultural judges - my beans need a little straightening and I'm not sure if my onions (Bunton show stoppers) have perfectly matching circumferences. Still, the entry form goes in tomorrow and the produce fronts the judges on Saturday morning. Exhibit and grow well!