Friday, 23 April 2010

A bizarre crime

I went away on holiday last week and had a lovely time with the family on the south coast and Isle of Wight. We got back from holiday on Monday evening, feeling tired and hungry but pleased we weren't stuck in a foreign airport stranded by Icelandic volcanic dust!

I was pleased to see that my 5 tiny tomato seedlings had grown during the week and had survived a week without watering. The peanut seedlings had done well too and my hanging basket had burst into full glory of pink primulas - what a cheery site.

However, beyond the hanging basket I spotted my daughter's bike lying on the lawn instead of in the shed. Steve and I rushed outside and quickly discovered that the gate we had left bolted no longer was. We checked out the bike and could see nothing wrong with it and we looked around to see if anything else had been taken. All 3 of the other bikes were still in place, as were the abundant toys such as roller skates and scooters. Even the tools Steve had been using to make raised beds on the allotment were still there even though they were conveniently stashed in a highly portable bucket. We concluded it must have been children who had broken in, ridden the bike around and then left, and we considered ourselves fortunate.

I busied myself in the garden for a few minutes, watering the hanging basket and other container plants which were suffering after a week without rain. The leek seedlings in the cold frame were dry but still standing upright. Then it was time to make tea. Having been away for a week tea was to come from the freezer, only when I opened the chest freezer I discovered it was completely empty - not even a crumb left! Someone had stolen the entire contents of our freezer!

I stood there baffled for a few moments, racking my brain to think whether there might have been some kind of mistake, whether a friend or relative might have moved the stuff for some reason... all sorts of silly thoughts because the reality was just as weird. Now we realised that they had moved our daughter's bike out of the way just to steal the food. But why? Nobody these days is that desperate for food.

Our first thought was what we were going to have for dinner since our dinner had now been stolen so Steve, reluctantly after driving back from Southampton, drove round to the supermarket to get some things. As the minutes passed I remembered more and more of the stuff that had been in the freezer. Bags of chicken nuggets and frozen chips are really neither here nor there as they can be replaced but the homegrown and the home made food cannot and that is what was mostly in the freezer. Homemade ice-cream, pumpkin pancakes, leek & bacon quiche, stuffing balls, frozen soft fruit, a plum upsidedown cake... and on and on. When I told my daughter that her batch of mini pizzas she had spent 2 hours making had gone too she burst into tears!

I don't know what the thieves would have done with the food. I imagine that anything not in a branded packet and without cooking instructions would have been thrown away and yet these are the things that were so valuable to us. I went to bed that night feeling sad.

The next day I still felt bad about it and I stood at my kitchen window staring at the shed with a gutted feeling in my stomach. It was a beautiful sunny day and I shouldn't be feeling down so I went for a walk around the allotments to cheer myself up. Things here had grown too in the week we were away and stems of asparagus were poking out of the ground ready for picking. The purple broccoli was abundant too. It was nice to see things ready to harvest but I also enjoyed the signs of new growth - the teeny tiny apricots forming, the new stems of rhubarb, the first pea tips poking out of the soil. Later that afternoon when the girls got home from school were went around to the allotment and I watered the seedlings and harvested the broccoli whilst my eldest cut the asparagus and my youngest made a dandelion chain.

Over the next couple of days I remembered more and more of the contents of my freezer. By Wednesday I was ready to go shopping again to replace the easy stuff. It was weird having to do a weekly shop and buy something for every day of the week, knowing there wasn't just something in the freezer for tea on some days. I had to buy new storage boxes too as I had lost quite a few in the robbery.

I'm fortunate enough to be a positive person and I do tend to "make the best" in every situation and soon I was recovering and even seeing some positives. It was handy that they had stolen 4 tubs of "freezer coleslaw" that really hadn't worked out that well, and the homemade Cornish pasties that was missing a pinch or two of salt. And I had made rather more cubes of pectin than I had needed from last year's apple peelings so I didn't have to worry now about throwing those away. I am also pleased that I still have quite a lot of frozen fruit in Sue's freezer. Another plus is that right now I have plenty of freezer space. I had planned in January to have my freezer empty by June, I had just never imagined it would happen like this!

I started to replace the homemade food on Wednesday and I did a bit more yesterday and I was beginning to feel a bit better. Then at dinner time I got cross again whilst making crab cakes for tea because the recipe called for breadcrumbs and my handy bag of frozen crumbs had been stolen with everything else! I made fresh crumbs instead so wasn't defeated but it makes me cross that someone would steal something as "valueless" as a bag of frozen breadcrumbs. What annoys me more is that what was stolen won't have been appreciated for what it was - you cannot put a price on the time, energy and effort that goes into growing and making your own food and even when you try to steal it you fail to gain it's true worth.

Crab and Leek Cakes

Makes 5 (enough for 1 person)

1 small tin of crab meat in brine, drained
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 small leek, very finely cropped
2 sprigs of lemon thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg
2-3 slices of wholemeal bread made into crumbs
Oil for frying

Place the drained crab in a bowl and add the mayonnaise, leek, thyme and black pepper and mix well. Take handfuls of the mixture then dip it into the egg before coating it in breadcrumbs. Repeat until all the mixture is used and you have 5 crab cakes. Place on a plate and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Heat some oil in a frying pan then fry the cakes for 5-7 minutes, turning occasionally. Serve hot with chips and some sweet chilli dipping sauce. Not suitable for freezing.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Coming to terms with a summer without plums

Spring has arrived in glorious style - bright sunshine and a breath of warm air. The washing is back out in the garden, fighting for space with the nesting birds and the spring flowers. But it is on the allotment that things are really getting going. You can't step away for a moment without missing a growing opportunity but step away we did nonetheless. The traditional weekend for planting potatoes is the Easter weekend but instead we went for a long weekend to the mother-in-law's house! Well, what can you do when duty calls? Still, the main reason this weekend is traditional for planting potatoes is because it was one of the few occasions that people historically were given a day off from work. Fortunately, working practises are a little more relaxed these days and if, like us, you missed the Easter weekend, there are still 3 more in April to use instead.

As it happens, Steve took Tuesday off work too and it was a beautiful day. I decided to postpone the weekly shop for a day and we went out as a family to catch up with the gardening. It did mean having to eat cheese and crackers for lunch (no bread) and fish and chips from the freezer for tea!

It is a funny thing really, you spend all winter chomping at the bit, anxious to get things growing again and then suddenly before you know it you are behind schedule with the sowing of seeds. Steve worked hard all day with the intention of getting the rest of the first early potatoes planted but he didn't quite manage it. Instead he built a couple of more raised beds ready for the potatoes so hopefully this coming weekend he'll get them in.

In the meantime I found space for the last few onion sets then sowed some carrots and parsnips in between in the hope that it will confuse the carrot root fly... or at least the dozy slugs. Following that I filled half a bed with broad bean seeds.

By this time the girls had had a good run around and play and were keen to sow a few seeds on their little plots. First I used a staple gun, string and a tape measure to divide their long raised bed into five 1 metre square beds. The first of these will be their shared sweetcorn bed, the second will be my youngest potato beds, the third is her main vegetable bed, followed by my eldest's veg bed then her potato bed. The last 30cm that otherwise doesn't fit in the plan we will use this year to give mini sweetcorn another go.

You may remember that my youngest wanted to grow all yellow vegetables and my eldest wanted to grow red and purple vegetables. We got this underway by planting 6 Yukon Gold seed potatoes and 6 Roosters. Next my youngest sowed her yellow mangetout, golden beetroot, and radish seeds. In the meantime my eldest sowed purple podded peas, red beetroot, red lettuce and radish seeds. There was then a short pause from sowing whilst we mixed together a bag of multi purpose compost with half a bag of sharp sand. This we shovelled into a couple of square wooden planters. Into this mix we sowed their carrot seeds. This mixture seems to help the carrot seeds germinate as well as giving them an easy job pushing their way into the soil before making it easy to harvest.

I was pleased with the enthusiastic way in which they got on with sowing the seeds and was also pleased that they could get on and do it completely on their own, with me sat back providing descriptions and instructions. They are 5 and 7 years old now and have a promising range of gardening skills. They were happy with their work but pleased when it was done and they could return to their game. My youngest rushed off to see how many dandelions she could pick from the allotment site and none of the other plot holders there that afternoon complained about that! My eldest decided to see if she could dig her way to Australia! Well, we all have to try that at some point don't we?!

I finished off with the gentle task of tying the new tayberry stems to their archway support. I'm pleased to say that my two rhubarb crowns from Thompson and Morgan are now above the surface and unfurling leaves. The one from Wilkinson's is looking less promising. I am also very pleased to see blossom on my apricot tree. I planted that 2 years ago and this is the first year it has flowered. It would be brilliant to get some apricots off it! I also think the pear, planted the same year, could also be about to burst into blossom. On a less positive note, my plum tree shows no signs whatsoever of giving any blossom this year. It often has a bumper year followed by a lean year whilst it recovers but this year there seems to be nothing at all. Suddenly, the remaining frozen plums in Sue's freezer have gone from being something of a nuisance to a valuable commodity. A summer without plums... I've not had one of those for 12 years... how will I cope?