Monday, 19 July 2010


Haven't been down at the allotment recently due to doing too many plays. Just finished one in Portrush. The head gardener and the octogenarian mother both have been and things are coming along nicely! We have had runner beans off it. the head gardener is off to the states on Friday and I will be going out next week and in the meantime have to get my car window fixed. Don't ask. Three hours on Portrush West Strand waiting to be told that Autoglass won't either repair or replace and will charge me a sum of money that would make Bill Gates blush for just coming out and putting a piece of perspex on it. At least Dick Turpin wore a mask. That was why my car was to be found jammed up against the wall of Portrush Town Hall on Saturday night. Otherwise I would have had to play the part from the car and I don't think the audience would have been able to hear me from there! Mind you my car has a very effective anti-theft device - it is covered in dents courtesy mainly of the octogenarian mother's neighbours. Oh well nothing for it but to go to bed now!

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Happy Gardener

Is sitting downstairs studying his new seeds.................... Christmas involved mainly things to do with the allotment including vouchers for garden centres and a well-known shop in Ards that shall remain nameless but is Walkers. Today however we went to a frighteningly expensive garden centre where they had really interesting Italian veg. So will keep you posted. Have to go now to gym and swim - so will see you later and update you on more of the gossip over Christmas!

Friday, 25 December 2009


After our fab meal last night - thanks to the Head Gardener - we all woke up rather late but the Head Gardener had breakfast cooked! HUZZAH!!!!!!!!! Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Eggs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! huzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Following this we opened our presents, of which more later, and then headed down via the octogenarian mother's house, to the Head Gardener's sister's house for Christmas dinner where we had a fab time altogether.

So here is the present count - most of it relates to the allotments!!

From the head gardener - FABBY camera bag! So no more sporting fabby camera (last year's present) round my neck and no more having to leave it dangling from a post while digging or superivising digging.

£75 gift voucher from octogenarian mother for fabby Pheasant Hill shop in comber to buy home-grown organic free range rare breed meat for festive occasions throughout the year - allotment produce to accompany these.

£50 voucher from Head Gardener's sister and brother in law for Walker's Seeds in Newtownards - enough to get all seeds necessary for planting for whole growing season apparently plus fab vegetarian book for cooking the produce!

£40 worth of vouchers from Head Gardener's Other Sister vouchers for Hillmount Nursery Centre. Can you see a trend here?

Cash (undisclosed as classified information) from Head Gardener's Mother.

And a fab meal and whole day generally. Even the drive down there is beautiful on a bright clear winter's day as they live at the bottom of the Ards Peninsula. And have horses! And it's great! And I was left in charge of the sherry! I was told to pour it out so I did without thinking that possibly the number of glasses in front of me (20) was three times more than the total number of adults (or for that matter people) in attendance. Still it added some feeling of style and sophistication that the glass was replaced instead of a top up. Also since I had driven home on the past three occasions I decided that it was time the Head Gardener took his turn even though he is just starting to have the cold/flu thing that I had last week. At the moment he is in bed with nightnurse, so to speak. Hopefully that will sort it out by tomorrow.

Hope you all had a great Christmas!!!!!!!

It was Christmas Eve on the Allotment............

And there we were digging up our root veg. The Head Gardener had offered to cook Christmas Eve dinner for his team! We had not been for a good while so we were both keen to get down and see what was happening!

Quite a lot! Brussel sprouts were doing well but not well enough for tomorrow. Dug up some carrots and some parsnips. Leeks and garlic doing well. Purple sprouting broccoli sprouting. Next it will turn purple. The remaining lettuces have bolted entirely and look like rows of miniature rockets about to launch! quite impressive really. If completely inedible.

Unfortunately I had a camera malfunction in that I forgot to recharge it. So no photos.

I helped in the harvesting by holding the bag.

We had a team christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. We had Gardener's Delight Game Pie with two root mash. It was supposed to be three root mash but the carrots didn't really hold up. You win some, you lose some. Anyway the recipies for each will follow at some point when the Head Gardener wakes up but the one for the mash is roughly:

Boil two equal quantities of root veg - in this case parsnip and potato, and mash.

Afterwards we had Allotment Widow Mince Pie which is not for the faint hearted but well worth it. I am about to steal the recipe shamelessly from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall because that was the one I used. And you can't copywright a recipe. And I don't think he will be losing any sleep over it anyway. Come to think of it, it has no direct connection as such with the allotment except that we had it after the two root mash. But I am not bothered. I am also keen to share with you my recipe for pastry as I experimented with three or four and this is the best one so far. This is shamelessly stolen from Mrs Beeton.

Here's the history - In medieval times mincemeat did contain actual minced meat (as it says on the tin). The meat, however, is "invisible" and only gives more body and subtance to the mincemeat. Everyone who has sampled my wares since I made this has said that they prefer it! So here goes:


500g finely minced beef
250g beef suet
250g currants
250g raisins
500g tart eating apples
200g soft brown sugar
125g ground almonds
100g preserved ginger in syrup finely chopped plus 4 tablespoons syrup from the jar
100g mixed candied peel finely chopped
garted zest and juice of 1 lemon
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1/2 teasp freshly grated nutmeg
2 teasp ground mixed spice
250 ml brandy.

I would recommend drinking the rest of the brandy whilst preparing the mincemeat.


Put everything in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

Put into sterilised sealed jars and keep for up to a month before using. It should be left for at least a week before using to let all the flavours blend. I made mine two years ago and just finished using the final batch last night. I felt it benefitted from this but obviously can't really recommend this!

And now for the pastry!


8 oz plain flour
1 level desertspoonful castor sugar
1/4 teasp baking powder
6 oz soft butter
1 egg yolk

Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a bowl together.
Rub in the butter to make breadcrumb consistency
Add the egg yolk.
If necessary add a little water.
Roll out thinly and use at once.

You can make mince pies to the standard shape or "crescents" using the pastry cutter, placing the mince in the centre and folding over. However my favourite way of doing it is to line an 8 inch pie dish, fill with the mincemeat mixture and do strips of pastry as lattice work across the top. Whichever way you do it, bake at 180% for 15 - 20 minutes until golden.


Wildlife seen - one bird of prey which was neither a buzzard or a peregrine falcon - may have been a kestrel, lots of oyster-catchers freaked by said kestrel, and some other unidentified bird that was sitting in the sheugh (is that how you spell it?) and which I scared out of it.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The end of the year......................................

Well, we have now come to end of our very first growing season! And what a time it has been. I will you can see from the pictures how far we have progresseD! The allotments have been badly affected by recent rain - we have renamed the area round our shed Lake Allotment and the shed looks like our lakeside cabin! I think the brussel sprouts and garlic are still ok! We harvested our lovely pumpkin a couple of weeks ago and made it into pumpkin pie on saturday. This recipe is shamelessly taken from an American cookbook! But it works!

You need American pie pastry although you could use any shortcrust pastry but this is the shortest ever of shortcrust pastry!

American Pie pastry

8 oz 225g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp caster sugar
50z 125 chilled lard or white cooking fat - if veggie just use same quantity of butter
1 oz 25 g butter
approx 4 tbspn very cold water.

1. Sift flour salt and sugar in mixing bowl.

Cut the two fats into small pieces and mix together.

Rub half the fat into the flour very lightly with your hands until it feels like breadcrumbs.

Rub in the remaining fat until the mixture makes lumps about the size of small peas.

Sprinkle with cold water a little at a time and blend it with your fingers until you can make it into a cohesive ball. Be careful not to let it get damp and heavy.

Roll out. If it crumbles this is good! Just flatten it into the pie tin and "patch it together" rather than trying to keep rolling it. It is incredibly short!

Chill until you are ready to use it!

For the filling..................................

Chop your pumpkin into small pieces and just cut off the skin. Steam it until cooked and strain well.

2 eggs.
8 fl oz 225 ml milk
14 oz 400 g pumpkin - cooked or tinned.
5 0z 125 caster sugar or light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbspn melted butter

Whisk eggs.
Combine milk with pumpkin - mash it if possible.
Beat in well with the eggs.
Beat in all the other ingredients.
Bake at 200 C for 45 minutes until a knife blade inserted comes out clean!

So I will now upload a couple of before and after photos of the allotment. To sum up our first year we have had a big adventure! We have dug the beds, weeded, planted and grown courgettes, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, pumpkin, peas, tomatoes, garlic, scallions, marrow, beetroot, italian beans, runner beans, lettuce and sweetcorn. In the summer we hardly had to buy any veg. At christmas we will be eating our own brussel sprouts and we have next year's garlic planted..............And apart from all that the craic was mighty!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Went to the allotment today after having visited Castle Espie to say "hello" to the brent geese and have soup. Marrow is still going for world domination. We harvested some carrots, admired everything else and I supervised the head gardener doing some weeding. Everything seems to be doing well. Our pumkin is also going for world domination.

We already had courgettes from the last time at home which is why this qualifies as an allotment dinner. Also the structural engineering done by the head gardener to make the home-smoked rainbow trout had to be seen to be believed. And we used herbs from our garden for the smoking.

This is what he did.
Got a biscuit tin and drilled two holes in it.
Got old gas camping stove.
Put a layer of sawdust out of the garage into the bottom of the biscuit tin and put some rosemary and bay leaves on top. Dampened the sawdust. The sawdust was also from his making the raised beds for the allotments in the garage. How River Cottage is that?
Then put chicken mesh over the sawdust in the tin.

Make your courgette gratin:


Courgette, finely sliced
oil for frying
cheddar parmesan and breadcrumbs combined

Place Rainbow trout on to the chicken mesh. Light your gas cooker to high heat and leave to smoke. Doesnt take too long.


Heat the oil in a pan.

Add the garlic and cook until soft.

Add the courgette and cook until browned.m

Pack tightly in layers into a loaf tin.

coat with cheese and breadcrumb mixture.

Cook at 180 degrees in the oven for 20- 30 minutes.

While the courgette is cooking, cook your fish in the smoker! It only takes a very short time. You will know it is done when you hear the fat sizzling!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

and another moment

Went today. no photos as battery needs recharged. The marrow is going for world domination. The corn may yet ripen...................we are always hopeful. Harvested a courgette and all our tomatoes. some had ripened some will yet with the help of Mr Banana as the actress said to the bishop.................I went for a short walk along the flood defences and was rewarded with the sight of thousands of brent geese feeding off the eel grass in Strangford. It was a memorable sight.