Friday, 28 August 2015

lately on the lottie

There's great excitement chez fenland lottie for we have our first apple harvest.
The little Rosette apple tree, a gift from my sister and brother in law, was planted on our allotment just over a year ago and this year we have about 15 beautiful little apples. They are similar in appearance to a Discovery apple and have the same sweet/sharp flavour.


Just right for chomping on and a sign, along with the autumn fruiting raspberries that are ripening on the plot, that summer is retreating and autumn is stepping into her shoes.

It's also that time of year when the courgettes are coming thick and fast and trying to keep up with them is nigh on impossible.
By necessity, they begin to appear at every meal and in every guise and I was reminded of a particular week, many years ago, when I was at school and having school dinners.
I didn't normally partake of school dinners, preferring my Mum's homemade sandwiches, which were always made with wholemeal bread - something almost unheard of back in the sixties.
Nowadays, I admire my Mum's forward looking philosophy on food which at the time was very avant garde, but back then how I longed for sandwiches made with white bread and I still remember the thrill, when 
one day, having stayed overnight at a friend's house, I left for school with ham sandwiches made with white sliced Mother's Pride!

But, this particular week, for a reason long forgotten, I was having school dinners. 
Like my courgette glut, the school cooks must have had an over abundance of rhubarb and said fruit had made an appearance in one form or another every day that week until it got to Friday.

Back then, we were seated at tables of 6 for school lunches, with an older child, seated at the head of the table, given the responsibility of serving the food to the others.
We all breathed a sigh of relief to see that the pudding was trifle. 
No rhubarb in sight! 
Until, the older pupil, digging to the bottom of the deep bowl, through the layers of thick, yellow custard and wobbly jelly found a thick, gloopy, pink layer of rhubarb!
I can sympathise with those school cooks and their surplus of rhubarb.
I feel the same about the courgettes.
So this is my latest version of a courgette supper - lightly grilled atop a mound of couscous spiked with harissa paste and lots of herbs.

Happy weekend x

Friday, 21 August 2015

a garden, a memorial and a rural museum

Mr digandweed's father was a very enthusiastic gardener. He loved growing flowers. He loved growing vegetables.
For several years before his very sad and sudden death just before Christmas last year, he was one of a group of volunteers helping to restore a Victorian walled garden in the small town where he lived.

A couple of months ago we were contacted by the trustees of the garden, as they wished to put up a plaque in memory of Lloyd.

When first 'discovered' the garden had fallen into decay and was so overgrown that it was almost impossible to open the large wooden gates.
The transformation of the garden is remarkable and at this time of year it is a riot of colour and bursting with a harvest of vegetables and fruit.

True to the original design, a long archway has been re-instated the length of the garden with many varieties of apple trained on it.

And it is an apple tree that has been selected to mark the position of the simple memorial.
At a small gathering last week, mr digandweed had the honour of putting the plaque in place.

A very fitting reminder of a much missed dad and grandad who loved gardening.

Adjacent to the garden, is a small rural museum and tea room.
We had time to enjoy a cup of tea and cake and a look around the museum which provides an interesting insight into life in The Fens from a bygone age.

With the Great Fen project getting underway just a few miles up the road, it became apparent that a disused cottage, which now lay on land acquired by the project, was in danger of being flooded and so it was carefully dismantled and moved to the site of the museum.

It is now possible to look around the house, which is furnished as it would have been in the 1940s.
At that time, the house had no running water, electricity or main drainage. Water, for use in the house, was collected in 2 water butts and the toilet was at the end of the garden.

I always find it fascinating to consider the minutiae of domestic life that our parents/grandparents were accustomed to.

On the same site, there are also reconstructions of various shops of the time, including a chemist and cobblers. The latter being an essential, at a time when a pair of shoes had to last many years.

Despite the sadness, it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Happy weekend x

Friday, 14 August 2015

more baking

One of the first things you realise when you begin making sourdough bread is that you soon end up with a lot of leftover starter. About once a week, the starter needs to be refreshed, but only a few tablespoons of the current starter are needed for this.These few tablespoons, mixed with fresh water and flour, now become your new starter. Left to bubble away, it is soon ready to be used for a new loaf. The remainder of the old starter is now redundant.

You could of course throw the old  starter away. It is after all just flour and water. Yet somehow it is much more than that. The wild yeasts have turned a thick, bland paste into something alive and almost magical. It has the sweet /sour smell of a milky baby. It bubbles and froths with latent energy. It seems a crime to throw it away.
I toy with the idea of leaving pots of it on neighbours' doorsteps; a note attached 'please look after me'.

But fortunately there is no need for such drastic action. 
Vanessa from has useful recipes for using leftover starter on the members' area of her website.
These scones, enriched with redundant starter, were some of the lightest and most flavourful I have made.

And looking for a way to use our plum harvest ( the plums shown below are the sum total of the yield this year) I adapted another of Vanessa's recipes to make a delicious plum sponge.

Both recipes were delicious and a good way to use up the lovely,creamy gloopy starter.

With talk of plums and with blackberries beginning to ripen on the hedgerows, it seems like autumn is not far away.

And this morning we awoke to thick clouds and mist after the overnight rain.

Autumn is at the door, but not I hope before we have enjoyed some more summer sun.

Happy weekend x 

Saturday, 8 August 2015

carrots .... or a tale of perseverance

Although we have had our allotment for several years now, I have never, until this year, managed to grow any carrots.
For the first 2 or 3 years I tried, but the tiny little seeds never seemed to germinate or if they did, the fragile seedlings seemed to disappear overnight, spirited away by some malevolent carrot fairy.
Though in truth, it was probably more to do with erratic watering on my part than the work of any mischievous imp; too little water so that the seeds were parched or too much so that they were washed away.
But this year, I was determined to try again. I prepared the ground carefully and sowed two rows of seeds.
This time, I watered regularly and carefully .... and was rewarded with our first ever home-grown carrots!

Never mind that this part of the fens is famous for carrot growing and the fields are awash with them, my home-grown carrots, despite the odd hole or two, are like gold!

Feeling that they were far too precious to be added to a soup or their identity lost in a vegetable stew, I decided to give them a starring role and braised them on their own with a little stock and butter.
Disaster nearly struck, when I almost boiled them dry whilst putting the washing away, but then I decided that a little brown 'caramelisation' only added to the flavour and appearance!

With some cooked pearled spelt, finished with olive oil, lemon juice, lots of herbs and some crumbled feta cheese, they were a feast to savour!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

sourdough school

A few weeks ago, I spent a wonderful day at Vanessa Kimbell's Sourdough School held in her beautiful house in a Northamptonshire village.
A group of us spent the day sitting around Vanessa's kitchen table learning the intricacies of sourdough baking.

There were lots of tips and hints and background theory as well as plenty of hands-on practical sessions.
One of the main points I learned was the difference between a starter and a levain; previously an area of confusion for me.
The starter or 'mother' is usually kept in the fridge, needs to be refreshed from time to time and is used to make the levain. To make a levain, a couple of tablespoons of the starter is mixed with flour and water and left to ferment. The levain is then mixed with more flour, water and salt and used to make the loaf. The remaining starter can be kept in the fridge for another time.

Other points of interest were the 'no knead' method Vanessa showed us which simply involves resting and gently folding the dough whilst it proves and the invaluable hands- on tips for shaping the dough into a 'boule'.

Back home, I have been practising and am pleased with the results.
 Vanessa doesn't leave you 'high and dry' after the course either as she has an area of her website dedicated to students of her courses (we were given a password) full of detailed notes and advice - invaluable when back in your own kitchen.

The loaves I have made have a delicious rounded flavour and leftover bread makes the best toast!

And today I had some for my lunch with hummous  and salad.

All in all, Vanessa's course was a great day, which I would certainly recommend to anyone interested in sourdough baking.
Oh, and did I mention the delicious home-made lunch served to us round a huge table in Vanessa's beautiful garden and the very useful 'goody' bag given to us as we left, including a banneton, a jar of sourdough starter and a lame for slashing the dough.