We were still mid move when I first drafted this post but as I publish we’ve been ‘here’ 6 weeks. Actually since we officially moved, and by that I mean sold out house and had to vacate it earlier than planned, I’ve actually been back in the UK finishing up some fieldwork, come back to our first visitors and since they left, finished one of the 3 work projects I still have outstanding. But anyway, I thought I should pop in here and finish this up and get it published as I have so much to share, I want to get the ball rolling again.
When our move was unexpectedly brought forward a year, one of the things we needed to do was give up our allotment. I struggled with this. We’ve had various allotment plots for about 20 years now and one of the things that an allotment (or sizeable garden if you’re lucky enough to have one) brings into you life, is a certain rhythm. A seasonality of jobs to be done, seeds to be planted, crops to be harvested and preserved and a period of anticipation if you run short of something before the next year’s harvest come in.
You also get to share your space with different creatures who make your plot their home. From the frogs that spawn in the pond you built for them, to the dragonflies that put in a rare but priceless appearance, to the bees that appreciate the plants you chose for them and the robins that get very friendly when you do that last bit of autumn weeding which brings the worms to the surface; they all add a special quality to the time you spend on the plot.
Any Northern European gardener will wonder about my omission of the slugs and snails who take sharing the bounty of your allotment or garden a little too far- well yes we had plenty of those too!
Having an allotment also has other cycles. One year the peas will do great, another year not so great. Some years you will have a courgette mountain, others you’ll be stretching them out through the season if you’re lucky. Sometimes it’s because life gets in the way and you’re late sowing, others there’s a late frost and the plants you grew didn’t like it and you start again but you’re too late and aways playing catch up. Every so often you will get rain at just the wrong time and the slugs will take over or vegetables and fruit will rot or mildew on the plant, or alternatively an unexpected heatwave can catch the plants out and they bolt and go to seed. The variables are so numerous you just have to roll with it and over time you build in little strategies that you hope will see you over the vagaries of a UK summer.
Whatever losses there are however, there’s usually a glut or peak when you suddenly have loads of something that you just have to do something with, be that freezing or preserving. Over the years I’ve built up quite repertoire of recipes for jams, jellies and chutneys that are based around our usual planting plans. Below is a sample of some of my favourite tried and tested recipes and sources:
One of the attractions of the move was that for the first time we’d have a garden big enough to be able to grow vegetables, fruit and herbs on our doorstep rather than having a plot on an allotment site. So it stands to reason that some of the first things we’ve done is re-worked the existing vegetable pot that my father-in-law established as a kitchen garden.
We’ve also started a new larger plot in other part of the garden further from the house. Whilst I helped fence in this area to protect it from boar which sometimes get into the garden, the cultivation was undertaken by my partner while I was back in the UK working – this was the picture he sent when it was done:
So we’re starting to crop again. The first of the peas made it into this vegetable pie for Easter Sunday and we’re eating our own lettuce; from modest beginnings…
It will be a while before we have enough of anything to start preserving proper, but I was itching to get started. Our kitchen has been transformed from this at the turn of the year:
To this as of the last couple of weeks:
We now have a fully functional kitchen – so much so it’s beginning to beginning to look truly ‘functional’ and we’ve cooked for 8 and 9 people on several occasions in the last couple of weeks for visiting family and friends.
So anyway, I decided that with just a couple of jars of plum jam remaining from last years batch made with plums given to me by an ex-allotment neighbour, that perhaps I should try my hand at marmalade. I’ve always focused on preserving our own produce and that didn’t include oranges. I love marmalade and luckily my Mum has always made it so we’ve always traded marmalade at this time of year for strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant or plum jam later in the year. However, as Sicilian blood orange season is coming to a close I decided to move quickly and try marmalade for the first time.
I started with the a recipe from ‘The Modern Preserver” from which a number of the preserves above come. This involved preparing the flesh and separating it from the membranes and pith, chopping up some of the peel, boiling it up and adding it later.
Due to family commitments the preparation was done over 2 days and the marmalade produced is a pretty thick bitter very peely marmalade which is perfect for me. If you err towards shredless or very mild jelly based marmalades this might not be for you, but I don’t.
I have since made a second batch of marmalade. I tried a method that was less time consuming than the recipe above and one that used less jam sugar. I was hoping to not to have to use jam sugar at all because I’m not sure I can get it here, although I can get pectin in sachets. The aim was to use what pectin there is the oranges to help set the marmalade and that largely worked. This is less fleshy although very peely, the peel is suspended in a clearer jelly base than the first batch. I’ll work on my recipe and method that came from reading my 3 much used preserving sources, The Modern Preserver, The Good Housingkeeping Complete Book of Preserving and Mrs Arthur Webb’s Preserving and then winging it. I’d like to say that years of preserving means that I can make informed decisions about how to approach it, but that probably only holds true if you really can compare oranges with just about any other fruit, and I’m not so sure.
My recipe and approach needs a little more testing before I’d be confident to share it and that may be next year now, but I’m so pleased to be preserving in the new kitchen and cooking with home grown produce again.
Hopefully catch up soon,
Left: Marmalade 1, Right: Marmalade 2