A socially distanced photograph.

I hadn’t seen Son no.2 since the day before my Mum died three months ago. He’d had to leave as he was moving to a new job and we both felt the wrench knowing as we did how close it was to Mum’s time. He was truly supportive using What’s App even though he too was knackered. A truly sad time for both of us.

My son works in the hospitality sector and we all know that this is a high risk occupation, so with hubby’s and dad’s health, he has kept away. So with the news that the second wave was well and truly on its way we decided to go and see him to deliver a few items that we had for him, knowing that we don’t know when the next time may be.

But there were conditions. There was to be no hugging. No son to hug for me. Masked up, outside and for a short time only. We adhered to all of these and then I had a moment of inspiration and asked for them to stand in a staggered formation and to take their masks off for a moment and smile. This pic makes me more happy than you might ever imagine.

‘My men, three generations’.

Harvesting continues.

Do you remember the fierce storms we had a couple of weeks ago, which included high winds, thunder and lightening. The next morning after a particularly stormy night hubby wandered up to the plot, fearful that the greenhouse would no longer be standing, it was, but he found the pear tree had shed what appeared to be most of its fruit. He came back with a carrier bag full of skinny pears, fortunately I know that pears don’t ripen until they are picked so I kept them in a big bowl on a sunny table and sure enough they gradually ripened and we have been using them to eat or in pies or crumbles. Funnily enough, I noticed at the greengrocers a few days later a huge amount of these very same skinny pears at a ridiculously cheap price, I pointed them out to my Dad and said, ‘those are windfalls’ to which he agreed.

Slowly the apple tree

and pear tree

have been filling out. And low and behold these are the best pears we have ever grown.

I picked them all yesterday, gave half a dozen pears and four apples to my Dad who had enjoyed some of the wind fallers previously and had proclaimed them very juicy, so he was very happy to receive these fully grown versions.

and kept the rest for us, some to eat now, the rest in my fridge to eek out to my Dad and ourselves during the next few weeks, having no freezer space at the moment it’s the best I can do. We plan to make smoothies with some of the tiniest apples and I still have apple cider vinegar left over from last year so that is not such a priority this year.

End of September.

Harvesting steps up a notch at the end of September. This is the crucial time of year when the point of cutting the the crop from its life source can make or break a farmer. Obviously I don’t judge myself as a farmer, but my Uncle was and as ever I watched his movements with eagle eyes whenever we were at his farm. His was a mixed farm consisting of arable, cattle and sheep so it was a wonderful place to be as there was always something to amuse a small or bored adolescent child, I never grew tired of visiting, and in summer and autumn we took to visiting nearly every other weekend. With picnics in the summer and walks in the autumn picking blackberries, shooting pigeons and rabbits for the men. Winter it was too remote and the roads were not gritted and I suspect he was very busy in the spring. I remember him walking the fields checking the wheat every few yards, every day, sometimes twice a day in late summer, he did tell me what he was looking for, something to do with the centre of the kernel going from green to a certain colour and texture and within that he was keeping a careful eye on the weather. You really don’t want a freak thunderstorm, just as the wheat is standing tall, so much taller than todays versions, ready for harvest. Tractors are enormous compared to the ones my Uncle was using some 50 years ago, they would now do the job in a very short time, but this was then and freaky weather would adversely affect the housewives purse.

So within this I try to make sure I harvest at the right time, it is such a crucial part of the concept, but of course we grow so many varieties of fruits and vegetables and to be absolutely honest we are a master of non. Mostly it is gut instinct, my instinct is often much better than hubby’s, and with todays world we can always use google, but that really only takes you so far – sometimes you tube is better. And of course we are still weather juggling, which then throws the harvesting at the right time concept for a loop.

And we haven’t even talked about theft on allotments. Theft is a thing, a real thing, ignoring the breaking in of sheds to steal rotovators etc, theft of your cultivated for a whole season fruits and vegetables by what we assume are fellow allotmenteers happens, more often than you might imagine. Apple or pear trees can be cleared, one fellow I know had his whole strawberry crop cleared the night before he was going to pick them, a patch of pumpkins will mysteriously disappear, and even onions, probably the cheapest of all veg, will go wandering off into the night.

So, rightly so I get a little nervous just before harvest. And to say I have been a little nervous about bringing these babies home would be an understatement.

Our years work of Crown Prince, a culinary pumpkin that is absolutely delicious and have very good keeping qualities, such that they should last well into February if kept in a cool room.

The weather was turning to heavy rain for several days so we decided to crop them. I think they were cropped just at their moment of perfection, however, if it was going to stay dry, I would have given them another week. But then, we mustn’t forget the allotment thieves…

Little and large, we planted a couple of plants into raised beds, (left by the previous occupier) and if this doesn’t prove to anybody that will listen as to why I think raised beds are a bad idea, then this should should illustrate it very clearly. Pumpkin on the left, planted into soil, watered sporadically when at its hottest, the odd bit of compost was spread out so it may have got lucky, but it wasn’t watered very often by man, only by nature. Pumpkin on the right, in the raised bed. Compost was topped up this year, it was watered nearly every day that it didn’t rain. In my opinion raised beds dry out almost immediately, especially at their corners, they really are a waste of time compared to working the soil, winter digging, the addition of good well rotted manure and compost. All of the pumpkins grown in the raised beds were very small. However, thinking about it, the raised beds did do a good job of germinating the peas and growing them for a fast late summer crop, so if one carefully chose the right vegetables and puts the time into watering daily it seems it does have its place in the allotment – which is why I haven’t got rid of mine as I am still experimenting.

These have now been moved into a cool room. They need to mature for at least two weeks before eating to allow the sugars to develop in them. I’m looking forward to more than just roast pumpkin this winter. It should be an interesting culinary pumpkin winter.

At the start of September.

Apologies for my lack of words. Grief does funny things to oneself and for me it appears that I just don’t want to speak in an amusing or semi articulate way. I feel that I am just starting to turn the corner, so I’m giving myself permission to start to enjoy life again. So in the essence of that, lets have a chat about the plot.

Firstly I am very grateful for hubby who has kept up with the watering all summer, without him we wouldn’t have anywhere near the amount of crops, fortunately it has been a wetter summer than last year so his workload was lessened a little because of that.

The pumpkins Crown Prince look like they are going to do well for us. I never manage to grow the enormous pumpkins that I see at farm shops and the like, they probably give their pumpkins more muck/manure and water than I give mine, but they suit us well with the size that I do manage to take to the kitchen.

Leeks are doing well, I’m still using some in the freezer so I don’t mind that I’m not using these yet. They will stand well until March or longer depending on how cold the spring is. By that time I will have room in the freezer again which I will then pop the last of this crop into.

The brussels are doing well, no buttons as yet, but the brussel tops look very healthy and tasty.

The savoy cabbage are heartening up. We ate a drum head cabbage the other day, i’m still trying to find the label in the cabbage patch and it was delicious, so I do hope I find it.

Kale is doing well, it always does well. As you know this post is late and we are actually at the end of September, I’ve just been picking the apples and this year we have many small ones. I’ve decided to use them up as a green smoothie with some kale and whatever else I can find with a teaspoon of seed powder which is full of essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals to give us a mid morning boost.

We picked a cabbage for Sunday lunch. A fine looking beast. It was very tasty but I think will be even better after a frost.

The tomatoes are doing well, but we are just catching the odd signs of blight, so it looks like it is going to be a race against time this year. Such are the problems of a damp end of summer start of autumn.

Remember the peas I put in as a late summer crop, well that was worth the gamble as they have ripened in good time and were a lovely addition to the menu at this time of year.

The corn is doing well. It was delicious, we have picked it all now and sliced off the kernels and it is happily sitting in the freezer ready for stews and soups during the winter.

Apple and blackberries, I made these into an allotment crumble, a mix of apples, windfall pears from the fierce storm we had which were then taken home and ripened and the last of the blackberries for my Dad for Sunday lunch, he took the leftovers home with him and enjoyed it very much. (he also took sliced beef for sandwiches and another complete Sunday lunch!)

And more cucumbers, we can’t eat these quick enough and give them away to whoever is passing. I’ve warned hubby on pain of death not to buy three plants again. They are nice, but I think I am cucumbered out!

Aviditas Tomatoes

We love growing Aviditas tomatoes which are a cherry plum, we choose grafted plants as they give us such a large crop. They are equally good cooked or raw, are simplicity itself to freeze, just pop them whole into freezer bags and taste absolutely delicious, I think they are even nicer than a piccolo.

This time of year makes my heart sing with happiness as I squirrel away many pounds of tomatoes ready for hearty stews, ragus and soups with which to chase the winter blues away. You can’t beat home grown toms nestled in your freezer come January.

Cucumber Kimchi

Having tried Kimchi in various restaurants over the last few years and always enjoying it, I thought I might start to make my own – and then a glut of cucumbers appeared, so I ordered some Korean chilli powder and dried fish paste and googled recipes.

This didn’t take long at all to make, and it made a lovely addition to our lunchtime Buddha bowls, that we always really enjoy. I might try the Chinese cabbage versions next.

Chutney and piccalilli.

At the moment I feel like I want to potter in the kitchen in the evening. I feel like it may be connected to the grief. I don’t want to sit and knit or sew, too much time to wander off daydreaming to find myself upset again, reading books can trigger memories as well, and I just can’t take it at the moment. But cooking immerses me completely. But there is only so much cooking you can do, Dad is getting well fed at the moment with roast dinners and cakes whipped up quickly in the Kenwood at nearly midnight. So my attention has turned to creating preserves out of all of our lovely veg from the plot.

I picked some courgettes the other day and remembered this lovely recipe I created many a long year ago. https://blossomandsunshine.com/2008/08/09/spicy-courgette-chutney/

It has good balance so I used it as a template to make another large batch of chutney.

Vegetables were duly chopped and simmered to within an inch of their lives.

I think we were about four and a half hours in at this stage.

And eventually with careful stirring we had these.

At the same time I used up some peaches that I had in the fridge and some lovely chillis to make this tasty jam/chutney and this time I used my own home made cider vinegar. This tastes so good already, I can’t wait to try it with a tangy cheese.

And then that evening, because I am just a little bit crazy at the moment.

I decided to make a batch of sweet Piccalilli – and I know it is going to be so good. Actually a piccalilli is reasonably quick to make, just a bit messy and you do need some good sized pans and colanders.

I do feel happier to have some home made preserves filling my cupboards again. I can see many more preserving adventures in the dead of night in my near future. Rest assured I am quite happy pottering about in my kitchen at the witching hour, I find it very restful, its so quiet and I really love that at the moment.

The plot, July 2020

I hope you enjoy my little video of our allotment.

I did find a cucumber, it was staring me in the face when I went back into the greenhouse, which I picked along with a few tomatoes and that lovely little cauliflower for our Sunday lunch.

I’ve had to cut some of the brokali before it goes over, so I will be able to use that later in the week. Cutting the plant encourages it to send out new spurs, at the moment the plants are proving very vigorous, so it will be interesting to discover how productive they remain and if we can keep them going right into the winter.

I do prefer the yellow courgettes, they are so much easier to spot and one has less chance of peering under their huge leaves only to discover a huge marrow shaped courgette. As always the courgette glut is upon us, but I adore them gently fried in butter with garlic, black pepper and then a few tomatoes, piled high on sour dough toast with either a scrapping of a good cheese or a poached egg on top, it makes a marvellous lunch.

I had hoped to be able to pick the broad beans as we go along, but the black fly have put paid to any smaller pods ripening and these would have only been a few pods at most. A few black fly seem a small price to pay for home grown organic veg. I’ve only recently found a love of broad beans, one of the few vegetables that I disliked as a child, unless they were the first pickings, when they were tiny tender beans. I just remember the chewy strong flavour of beans that were probably just past their best. From the couple that I nibbled on raw at the plot, these should be a delight and I’m looking forward to cooking them gently and serving them simply to enjoy their true essence. Also I have a few beans left and I may well just push a few into the ground to see if we can get a late autumn crop, nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.

Mandy’s plot, July 2020.

Mum

29-05-37 to 27-06-2020

It is the saddest of truths that we all hope to outlive our parents and that to do so is so very painful. Mum died at home surrounded by family in my arms. It is the most painful experience I have ever endured, and still remains very raw. But I am glad that I gave her what she wanted and I was able to fulfil my promise of looking after her at home. In these dark days of Covid, to be lost and confused on a hospital ward as she was some three weeks earlier, with only telephone contact is not what we would have wanted for her and nor did she. I can’t praise the NHS highly enough, they really came through with such a comprehensive care package that we never felt anxious and were able to look after her needs emotionally whilst a fantastic team did all the heavy work.

Dad of course is completely lost, having been married for 64 years there is a rather large Mum shaped hole. But he is doing well, he’s mastered the washing machine, is starting to integrate back into society as safely as he can and has found the ready meal aisle in Waitrose, its early days but the first shoots of growth look promising. And the beauty of having a large family is that we all rally around and one of us is either seeing him or is in contact with him morning, noon, afternoon and evening.

We had a lovely service for Mum, with just my brothers, sister and our children, which started off with a last trip up the town for Mum to see who was out and about, she would have loved that, her favourite thing was to just ‘nip up the town’. How lucky to live in a place nearly all your life that you can do that. The humanist was perfect and outlined Mum’s very eclectic past wonderfully and we had a very small, but perfectly formed wake, with us all making sandwiches together and drinking tea and gin, doing all the good stuff that families do best. It was perfect, with its mismatched china, begged and borrowed crockery and cutlery and two big cakes to sustain us when we started to fade. Mum would have been proud.

I’m still deep in grief, but this weekend I am aiming to get back up to my allotment, to wrestle with weeds, pick some runner and broad beans and try to come to terms with all that has been. There is an awful lot I don’t understand and an awful lot of why’s, but in my heart I know it was her time and there was nothing more any of us could have done.

Rest in peace Mum, God Bless. x