Sunday, 21 April 2013

Six of the Best - Schoolboy Errors

This year the growing season has been delayed but already I have a catalogue of schoolboy errors:

1. Forgetting that I had planted jerusalem artechokes in early March I dug several of them up in mid April while preparing the ground for the other roots. I only remembered where I had planted them when I spotted one and thought: "That's a funny stone!"  I should have left clear markers when I planted them.

2.Sowing autumn sowings and then changing the rotational planting scheme - I now have a tent of turnip rooted chervil where I want to grow potatoes.  My expanded soft fruit cage has pushed my rotation further on than I had anticipated. I might just dig them over as despite meeting the requirement to sow the seeds before winter frosts,  they haven't appeared yet and they require netting to keep the root fly off. Sometimes it dawns on me that some crops are not popular on allotments for a reason.

Marooned chervil net
3. Sowing sweetcorn in modules - they need root space. Instead of  a slow delayed germination they took off like rockets in no time.


4.Sowing sweetcorn indoors too early - they need warmth  - and open ground. Maybe it will warm up soon.

5.Digging manure into the planned carrot patch - no excuse, it would fork the roots so I will have to  sow them elsewhere. I did remember mid way through, so will be able to adjust my planting scheme without upsetting the rotation.

6.Expecting the cutworm to leave the broad bean shoots alone - how dumb is that! I guess I will just have to plant three times as many as I need to allow for the decimation. That's unless you know of an approved organic way of eradicating them. Today I have sown direct to plug the gaps.

Spot the broad bean!

As my school reports invariably said: "Could do better"

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Spring Blows In

Any recent reader could be forgiven for thinking I had abandoned the allotment but I can assure you I have not. It's just that everything has been in suspended animation this spring.  Until yesterday when these appeared:

and these:

Blame the weather, and it's bad habit of being non co-operative at weekends. Now the weather seems to have turned... and at a weekend! We've gone from cold to warm, wet and windy.  Last night my sleep was disturbed by the arrival of gusts of wind, each seemingly stronger than the previous. Empty pots rolled around outside the window and half full compost sacks crackled.  Also crackling was the plastic cover on the "growhouse".  Had I anchored down it down well enough???  I am still scarred by the occasion, a few years ago now, when the wind toppled the whole thing over and I lost the lot.

As you will gather I have been sowing things in recent weeks.  The problem has been the available indoor space has been exhausted and this problem escalates when seedlings are potted on. It becomes a question of what is to be risked by moving pots outdoors where the night time temperatures, up until very recently, have been hardly above zero. I haven't lost anything yet, but it's 'early days'.

Tomatoes, Parsley and Basil

Taking stock, I've sown the following at home:

Broad Beans
Onions seed
Onions sets
Leeks X2
Lettuce mixed
Brassicas - a wide variety in a raise bed with fleece
Carrot Early Nante - raised bed and protection.

And at the plot:

Jerusalem Artechoke
Early potatoes
Broad Beans (transplanted from modules)

on top of autumn sowings of Turnip Rooted Chervil, Garlic, Onion sets, Shallots.  I've added to the perenial soft fruit by planting out raspberries and Marshmello strawberries to add to the rhubarb and blueberries.

It's been a long time coming but maybe spring is here!

Growhouse still standing

Rhubarb emerging

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Hooray for Hollywood

I've been waiting for the episode devoted to sourdough before making any comments about Paul Hollywood's Bread TV programme (currently available on iPlayer).

Sourdough a la Hollywood
  Riders first of all - I've been a bread nut for many years and already have bread heroes in Joe Ortiz (The Village Baker) and Floss Dworkin (Bake Your Own Bread - And Feel Healthier) so Hollywood doesn't have to convert me - but I hope he is going to spearhead a new wave of enthusiasm in the UK for home baked bread.
Crumb Shot
Seeing last Monday night's programme for a second time on iPlayer I found the treatment just a little over the top for my taste, but maybe that's what is required to grab the attention of the reticent potential home bread baker.  Pumping music, slow motion kneading, the addition of whole extraneous buffets for me detract from the information value of the programme -  Someone labelled the new glossy bread books "bread porn" -  it seems the idea wasn't wasted on the producers of this programme!    The two handed boule kneading and the manual mixing verged on the obscene. Aside from this subliminal distraction I was a little disappointed that some essential details - like the quantity of water required for the first basic sourdough recipe were missing. In fact you need to adjust this to suit your kitchen but a rough idea of the starting point would help the enthusiastic novice get off the ground.
Risen Dough in Banneton
 The strongest aspects were first of all the sheer enthusiasm, secondly the exploration of the bread repertoire, and thirdly the visits to specialist bakers like the one in Hackney, and the Lithuanian one too. I scan for those tips and shortcuts, and suggestions. Twiddling the bagels to expand them and adding bicarb to the water they are boiled in are both techniques I will experiment with next time I make bagels.
Ready to Bake
I've got most the pieces of apparatus he uses - bannetons, a  lame, baking stone - but the dough docker roller was a novelty - one that has since sold out on Amazon.

Dough turned out
As you can see from the photos, I went back to basics and made a straight white sourdough for the first time in ages. PH does tend to stick to white flour in his recipes - a bit of a shame in my book. Rye and wholemeal flours nearly always feature in my breads.  I used to run a white sourdough starter and a rye one, but ditched the white one.  (One result of this is that my white sourdough was made with a white refreshed rye starter).

But away from any hint of carping PH is best when he visits other traditions. It seems he has spent some time living in Cyprus and the Greek and Turkish influences are fascinating. Now I think about it this might have been in the the Great British Bake Off Masterclass programme, but his Cypriot Easter bread Tsoureki was a revelation. Very similar to Challah he advised that for Cypriot authenticity you need to add some 'mahaleb' and some 'mastic' to the dough. So far I've only found the former, but boy what a fantastic addition it is (its made of ground cherry stones) and a small amount adds a magic quality to bread. The mastic turns out to be the resinous beads that weep from the Schinos tree Pistacia lentiscus  on the Greek island of Chios. Hence the product name 'Tears of Chios'.  Historically the penalty for stealing it was death, so I guess you could call   it an early enforced PDO! It's not cheap but you won't be surprised if I tell you I've ordered some over the net!

Another Middle Eastern treat from an earlier episode is Maneesh. A flatbread covered with Zataar spice/seed mix. Note that, although not mentioned by PH, bitter 'sumac' is an essential element of any Zataar (along with cumin oregano sesame seeds and thyme). My copycat effort turned out really well and was soon demolished.

Maneesh after Hollywood

Getting to the final credits, I laugh when I read  "Original Music by ..."  The tunes are poor derivatives of sixties classics.  Green Onions/ Cherie Babe/ Hold On.  All that's missing is Wild Thing!  The sountrack drives me crazy!

So all in all Hollywood gets 8/10 from me.