Monday, 24 May 2010

So two weeks ago I was shivering in the wind and rain whilst potting on strawberry plants and this weekend I was roasting in a May heatwave - no wonder us Brits are always talking about the weather! Now I'm suffering from Gardener's Sunburn. This is along similar lines to the Builder's Bum, except it is sunburn along that line of skin that becomes exposed between top of trousers and bottom of t-shirt when bent over.

I started my weekend with a hunt for the sunblock, shorts, hats and sunglasses for the girls. Somehow summer had snuck up on me and left me completely unprepared. Suitably attired and protected from the sun we went out to the allotment before it got too hot. First I helped my eldest plant a couple of rows of Mini Pop sweetcorn at the edge of her plot. It has been about 5 years since I last tried growing these as my attempts in the past have failed to produce the desired crop. It is all too easy to wait too long before picking by which time they have turned from mini corn into a not particularly great variety of corn on the cob. Still, I have decided to try them again and work a bit harder to pick them small. Maybe having impatient young children nagging to harvest them will help. We'll see.
At the other end of the plot we planted 12 conventional corn on the cob sweetcorn plants. I've been struggling with low germination rates on the sweetcorn this year so after planting the ones that had germinated I investigated the others to see if they had in fact germinated but were yet to emerge. This was the case for 2 apparently empty ones but in two more I found tiny maggots in the sweetcorn seed. Not sure what they were but it certainly explained the problem.

After that the girls each sowed 12 beans. My youngest went first, sowing a yellow climbing French bean to fit in with her all yellow vegetable plot this year. My eldest is trying bollotti beans, mainly because they are speckled red when mature and that fits nicely into her red and purple colour scheme. By the time we had done that it was nearly midday so I picked 5 more rhubarb stems and a big bunch of mint from our little pond before heading home again.

Whilst mad dogs and Englishmen had there turn in the garden, I retreated inside and made mint choc chip ice-cream from the bundle of fresh mint. If you're a fan of the bright green stuff that tastes like toothpaste then you'd probably not like my version. It is still surprisingly green but the taste is of fresh mint, not mint essence. I think it's yummy... my youngest thinks it takes like leaves! Oh well, more for me.
Mint Choc Chip Ice-cream
A big bundle of fresh mint leaves
10 ml milk
3 oz icing sugar
284ml double cream
2-3 oz dark chocolate chips
Strip the mint leaves from the stems and coarsly chop. Put the milk and the leaves in a pan and heat gently, without boiling, for about 5 minutes. Pour the leaves and milk into a blender and blend until smooth. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the cream and stir. Pour into a suitable container then add the chocolate chips. Freeze for about 3 hours then remove from the freezer and whip up to break any ice crystals and to distribute the chocolate chips. Return to the freezer but repeat this after another hour.

Having chopped up the rhubarb, ready to make a second batch of rhubarb and ginger jam we went out to B&Q to replenish our supplies of potting compost and to buy some new canes. That morning whilst erectly a wigwam for the bollotti beans I had almost impaled myself boob first on a garden cane as it snapped under my pressure. They really do get quite brittle and dangerous after a few years and it was definitely time for some new ones. On our way home we popped into Dobbies and bought a few vegetable plants too. I know it's not best value for money but it is handy to have this facility when germination rates are poor or slugs have nibbled your seedlings. We bought carrot and beetroot seedlings (having failed to get any seeds to germinate so far this year), swede and red cabbage (having had snails eat all my seedlings), and sweetcorn (to make up for the poor germination rates).

That afternoon my girls went off to a party and Steve and I went back to the allotment. Steve cleared the last two beds whilst I planted my new carrot and beetroot seedlings and picked the asparagus. By then it was time to pick the girls up again before making tea.

On Sunday morning I made the rhubarb and ginger jam and in the afternoon we slapped on more sunblock and went back to the allotment. I started by erecting the new canes to support the French beans that Steve had sown the weekend before, whilst Steve rotovated the two beds he had cleared the day before. I soon filled these new beds with our freshly bought sweetcorn and brassicas. In the meantime, Steve sorted out the old strawberry bed ready to home our 48 new strawberry plants. By the end of Sunday things were really starting to look good - just the remaining brassicas, tomatoes and cucurbits to plant out now.

Back home, after a refreshing shower I decided to extend the feeling of a hot, sunny day by digging 8 oz of blackcurrants out of the freezer and making a blackcurrant trifle for pudding. The question is, will the trifle last longer than the heatwave?
Blackcurrant Trifle
Plain sponge or maderia cake
Apple juice or Creme de Cassis
1 sachet gelatine
3 tablespoons water
8 oz blackcurrants
5 oz granulated sugar
Whipped cream
Place the spong cake in the bottom of the trifle dish and soak with apple juice or creme de cassis. Place the gelatine in a small pan and sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water over it and leave to one side to swell. Place the blackcurrants, sugar and water in a pan and bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes until soft. Drain through a sieve, pressing the berries to extract the remaining juice. Gently heat the gelatine until melted then pour into the blackcurrant mix. Leave to cool then pour the blackcurrant liquid over the sponge and refrigerate for a few hours to set. Next, pour the custard over the jelly and return to the fridge. Add the cream before serving.
15 fl oz water

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