Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Not long til summer...

Although the winter solstice is still almost a week away, you might be interested to know that we've pretty much reached the darkest evening of the year. The sunset times here in Reading are 1555 for tonight, tomorrow and Thursday, and then 1556 on Friday. Hurrah! :)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Sunflower seeds

Probably not for eating... probably for sowing next year. I have plans for a bit of guerilla gardening!

Sad news - the council have chopped down (or perhaps dug up) the cherry plums in Kings Road Garden. They produced such abundant sweet fruit, and were some of the first I found in Reading. Poor little trees :(

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Seasonal cooking :)

Today's harvest consisted mostly of nettles and jerusalem artichokes, so I made nettle and jerusalem artichoke soup. The ingredients were onions + potatoes + artichokes + nettles + seasoning. It was ok - full of healthy goodness but a little bland. My plan for tomorrow is to add more flavour, which I've decided will come from crab apples and perhaps a bit of cinnamon. The resulting concoction will either be a work of genius or a complete disaster! I'll keep you posted...

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Today's photos

Alexanders likes to grow by the sea, and there are lots of new shoots at the moment. I'm still learning about this plant, and now I've found a "patch" I'm watching (and nibbling) with interest...

Tomatoes like to grow pretty much anywhere, I think. I've often seen them poking out through cracks in the pavement, but this is about the biggest feral tomato plantation I've come across. Lots of flowers - shame it's too late in the year for fruit (not that I'd eat any having seen the source of fertiliser!)...

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Chestnut roast recipe

I made a nut roast with (some of) my foraged chestnuts:


a few tiny courgettes (or other veg)
a few shallots (or onions)
150g chopped cashew nuts
150g chopped chestnuts (or chestnut puree, which gives a smoother texture)
1 egg, lightly beaten
100g breadcrumbs
a few drops of soy sauce (or a dash of marmite)
chopped sage (or other herbs)

Fry shallots and courgettes til soft. Remove from heat and stir in other ingredients. Squish mixture into greased loaf tin, and roast in medium oven for, um, 40 mins to 1 hour. Simples!

This recipe is an adaptation of one regularly used by my ex, Paul. He makes his version (very well indeed) with chestnut puree. The ingredients and quantities are very much open to interpretation. I'm thinking of trying one with a bit of parmesan in it :)

Friday, 16 October 2009

Foraging and allotmenteering!

Is it my imagination or are the chestnuts extra tiny this year? I've collected a few handfuls but nothing much to boast about. Shame, I love chestnuts :(
Anyway, I'm going to make a nut roast with these at some point this weekend:

I spent the afternoon (day off - hurrah!) on my allotment. It was lovely and sunny! I haven't had chance to do anything constructive up there for what seems like months, but today I started clearing beds and cutting the grass etc. I came home with a few little courgettes, quite a lot of beetroot and yet more runner beans. I think those three crops have been my biggest successes this season, and my freezer is now full of them. From just one pack of seeds I honestly think I've had about 4 years constant supply of courgettes!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Harvest Festival

Last night a few friends came over* to help me celebrate the harvest! We ate lots of yummy food including quiches, pumpkin pie, homegrown salad, tasty tomatoes, beetroot, roast veg, bread and cakes (inc experimental hedgerow muffins). We drank some very interesting cocktails too such as vodka with elderflower cordial, beech leaf noyau, rosehip syrup (which smells like tomatoes!), and homebrew wine. All in all a lovely evening, and I think it might just have to become an annual event :)

* Please don't be offended if you weren't invited - my tiny studio flat is seriously only just big enough for parties of a maximum 5 people!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Crab Apples

Today I collected crab apples. What shall I do with them?

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Hips 'n' Haws

What a beautiful sunny September day it has been!

This afternoon I decided to go out and collect rosehips. I also found gigantic haws the size of crab apples(!) so I grabbed those too. I'm on the lookout for some savoury recipe ideas - I've never been much of a sweet-tooth, I don't really eat jam, and I have very little space for wine-making. I found a recipe for rosehip soup which looks interesting... any other suggestions?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Very quick update - busy busy busy!

Runner beans, courgettes and cucumbers are really keeping me on my toes; I can't seem to pick, eat, cook or freeze them fast enough!

All the green tomatoes I rescued from blight are actually doing OK! I'm ripening them in batches on my windowsill with the aid of bananas :)

Allotments are hard work (even if I've insisted otherwise during non-summer months)!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Broadening my horizons...

A few weeks ago I visited the RISC roof garden. It's a fascinating place and I can recommend their guided tours if you're in the Reading area (next open 12/13 Sept). From there I bought an intriguing little herb called Stevia. The leaves are extremely (shockingly!) sweet and it can be used in place of sugar - apparently it's much healthier too. However it's controversial (mainly for complicated political reasons) and has historically been banned in many areas...!
Another species they're growing that I'd like to try is Oxalis tuberosa or Oca. It has an edible tuber that won't succumb to the dreaded blight! If the leaves taste like those of its relative Wood Sorrel that's an added bonus :)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Today's harvest

I've been away for a few days and blight has struck! I've rescued my remaining potatoes but I think the tomatoes are doomed :(

Monday, 3 August 2009

Coiled baskets

I made these two little baskets from raffia. I'd seen the technique on Ray Mears' TV programmes and thought it didn't look too difficult. They turned out OK - although it's really tricky to build the edges up at the correct angle (the one on the right was my first attempt and wasn't supposed to be that shape)!

My next plan is to try this with home-made nettle cordage...

I'm such a geek :)

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Trying new things...

Today I tried two new wild food things: Dandelion root and Fat Hen flowers/seeds (I've often eaten the greens from both of these plants).

Dandelion root is something I'd been meaning to taste for ages. It's one of the few wild roots that can easily be acquired by foragers, as people are generally desperate to get rid of them from lawns and so on. Initially I found it quite pleasant, but it had a bitter aftertaste. Overall I was disappointed. I only ate a few, chopped up in a risotto with various other wild and home-grown bits and bobs.

Fat Hen seeds, on the other hand, are yummy! Again, I only tried a few because I was a little nervous (I read something somewhere about saponins, but most sources don't mention any hazards at all). As long as they are safe (!) I think they would be lovely in bread/baking. Fat Hen is from the same family as Quinoa, and apparently both seeds and greens have been eaten by humans (as well as hens) since ancient times. Any advice from the more experienced would be much appreciated...

I was planning to go into more detail about my dinner but I think I need further practice before I share tips. It was the first risotto I've ever made! *hangs head in shame*


Friday, 24 July 2009

Wild food wanderings...

This morning I went for a short bikeride (/walk) out towards Dinton Pastures. I took a notebook and made a list of all the wild (and wild-ish) food plants I noticed along the way. These were all either on jitties between houses in Lower Earley or on footpaths by the River Loddon, and are listed in order of discovery. Of course there must be loads more out there - these are just the ones I recognised as I passed them by (or ate them)...

Cherry plum (yellow, red)
Dog Rose
Nettle (various)
Guelder Rose
Fat Hen / Orache
Shepherd's Purse
Ground Ivy
Ground Elder
Rosebay Willowherb
Angelica (?)
Wild Carrot
Water Mint
Vetch / Wild Pea

Monday, 20 July 2009

Allotment update

I had a good weeding session this morning - something I really should do more often. I brought back a few beetroot, including a random white one:

So far this year I've also harvested potatoes (1st and 2nd earlies), broad beans, french & runner beans (just starting), peas (grubby), courgettes, carrots, onions, garlic, shallots, soft fruit and herbs.

My peas always have grubs in. I think they're pea/bean weevils. I'm going to scrap them and try mange-tout next year (I really don't mind eating grubs as long as I can't see them!).

Cherry Plums

Last week my workmate and I collected *hundreds* of cherry plums. Far more than this tiny lunchbox could hold...

I don't really know what to do with them. I think they're a bit over-ripe for jam making. I've stashed them in the freezer until inspiration hits!

I did bake some tasty plum and apple pies though :)

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Is it that time already?

My plan to include a personal phenological record within the pages of this blog begins: 09/07/09 First ripe blackberry (more than one actually), Reading.
Sadly I couldn't reach them :(

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Beech Leaf Noyau

These were both birthday presents. I have some left for myself as well :)

Monday, 29 June 2009

Feral Raspberries

I picked these from the edges of the allotment site. There are lots more in the nearby woods. I just love the idea of "escaped" plants, as these most probably are...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Summer's here...

I picked my first little courgette today!

Just been watching River Cottage, in which Hugh sliced and fried baby courgettes with a bit of garlic and a lot of mint, and ate them on toast with a yoghurty topping. Must try...

Speaking of mint, I added some of the wild stuff (water mint I think) to some homemade lamb burgers. They were nice... even though they tasted like toothpaste. Next time I will add slightly less! :)

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Lunchtime forage (yesterday)...

Mixed cherries, from hedgerows by the Thames.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Allotment update

Lately I've been harvesting peas, broad beans, potatoes, a few tiny strawberries and the usual leaves and herbs. This evening I would also have dug up my garlic but I accidentally injured myself whilst collecting peas (chopped my finger with scissors!) so I went home early...

I'm getting excited about the fast-approaching runner bean and courgette glut (loads of flowers on both already). My onions, tomatoes and beetroot are all looking promising too. Some would say it's a crime to pickle beetroot but I can't wait (never done it before)!

Unfortunately I seem to be failing with the carrots again, which is a shame because they're one of my favourite vegetables. And no, it's not because I'm trying to grow them in the sky...

Monday, 1 June 2009

Meet Liz...

This is my lizard!

Actually, it's a wild lizard who lives amongst my carrots and beetroot. I think it's a lady because since the picture was taken she's become very pregnant-looking! I had baby lizards on the allotment last year and they were very cute (also fascinating to watch) - I'd love to see some this year too :)

More lizard photos (including some from last year) on my flickr, click the photo for a visit...

Friday, 29 May 2009

Squirrel Pie and other delicacies...

I just stumbled upon this news article. A while ago I saw a TV programme about Paul Parker and he came across as a scary squirrel-nazi (it was genuinely quite disturbing!) but I *am* intrigued by the idea of trapping common wild "pest" animals and eating them for my dinner. This would include rabbits and American crayfish, as well as grey squirrels.

The thing is, I'm not convinced I could actually kill a cute furry animal. I realise, of course, that I do this by proxy every time I buy meat - I'm just not sure I could do it with my bare hands. Perhaps I'll start with a crayfish license and work my way up!

Any advice on such matters, particularly in terms of legalities, would be much appreciated...

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Recycled plastic bags...

This is my very first attempt at crocheting with plastic carrier bags. It doesn't look particularly amazing but I think this little gathering basket will be very practical - it folds up when not in use, and although it's breathable it's also waterproof so it won't get soggy or stained when I fill it with fruit!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Edible Seashore

Above is the title of the latest River Cottage Handbook by John Wright, which I've just aquired and am enjoying reading (it's funny!). I'm not all that confident with seafood as I've relatively little experience of it, but my new year's resolution is to eat Oysters and I'd love to be able to forage for my own dinner on the beach. I'm particularly excited by the idea of catching Razor Clams... but more on that when and if I ever manage it!

Today Matt and I walked along the beach from Worthing to Goring (I think!) in East Sussex. We saw quite a few edibles including Sea Kale, Alexanders, Sea Beet, an ice-cream van and a fantastic little shack selling fresh fish. Although it's a bit late in the season (isn't it?) I took some Alexanders home for tea. I'd never tried it before - in fact I'd never even seen it until a few weeks ago when I visited Whitby. It's nice, but the stems were a little very tough, even after boiling. I'll have to remember where it grows and try to go back in early spring next year. Any cooking tips or other thoughts would be very welcome!

I'm very much enjoying my (now regular) visits to the seaside :)

Sea Kale

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Alcoholic beverages...

Today I started making Beech Leaf Noyau - a kind of fancy liqueur that I'd never heard of until I got into this wild food lark. I collected young Beech leaves from the cemetery at lunchtime (there are some beautiful trees in there), and I've left them to steep in Gin for the next three weeks. Following that the liquid will be strained off and mixed with sugary syrup and a bit of Brandy. I'm really looking forward to tasting the results!

Yesterday I finally got around to starting a red wine kit that I've had at the back of my cupboard for ages. I'm not a very experienced wine maker and I accidentally overfilled the demijohn - bit of a mess this morning! :)

Monday, 6 April 2009

Nettle soup...

I've often used nettles in cookery - they're so common and nutritious - but I'd never made classic nettle soup until this evening.

My recipe was slightly adapted from the one in Roger Phillips' wonderful book "Wild Food" - and consisted of onion, leek, garlic, potatoes, veg stock, black pepper, and of course nettles. It was cheap, quick, easy, really nice to eat, and I'll certainly make it again!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Allotment update:

Today I planted out all my peas, sowed (more) beetroot, potted up my baby tomatoes and moved my alpine strawberry plant. I've got loads of seeds on the go now including carrots, parsnips, french beans, courgettes, burdock, leeks, sunflowers, nasturtiums...

Currently my onions, garlic, peas and broad beans are all doing well. My plum tree is flowering (yay!), my rosemary seems to have a disease (boo!), there's no sign yet of any potatoes (but that's fine), my rhubarb's just about still alive (it's a long story - some other time!), and a pesky slug has eaten all my salad...

This photo of a tomato seedling was taken a couple of years ago... with a proper camera :)

Friday, 27 March 2009

More babies...

Peas and spinach (pictured) and teeny carrots and beetroot! :)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


This evening I harvested my first salad leaves of the year - they were just thinnings really but there were plenty of them and they were yummy :)

And I've got baby broad beans in loo rolls - look!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Walnut failure!

Back in October I collected a basketful of walnuts. According to my research, in order to store them I had to remove all the flesh and then dry the nuts in their shells, after which they would keep for many months...

I've just cracked them open (with a hammer - my nutcracker was not powerful enough) and they're all completely dried out inside, with only the teensiest little nuts that wouldn't even feed a mouse :(

Monday, 23 February 2009

Allotmenteering begins in earnest...

With the milder weather and the lighter mornings/evenings, I've decided it's time to get back to work. I spent the whole weekend* on the plot and got LOTS done!

I harvested my remaining celeriac, most of my jerusalem artichokes and a giant leek. I dug over and weeded a few beds, one of which I planted with garlic (better late than never!). I also extended the fence to stop pesky dogs pooing on my "lawn" (dogs aren't actually allowed on the allotments, but I've had a bit of trouble with them lately). I sowed some broad beans in old loo rolls too...

Most of my plot looks bare, but orderly. Apart from the above I'm currently growing rocket, spinach, oriental salad, onions, shallots, various herbs and various fruit. I'm hoping that this year I might get more than four plums!

There's a bit of wild stuff springing up too - I've gathered a few nettles and noticed some tiny new shoots of ground elder:

The allotments are a lovely place to hang out. This weekend I've enjoyed wildlife-watching - the Red Kites were flying very low, there were some interesting spiders surfing in one of my water butts, and there's a mystery creature (a rat?) living in my compost heap (which is actually quite useful cos he keeps digging out piles of fresh compost for me!).

I can't wait till it gets a bit warmer and I can start the BBQing...

*That may be a slight over-exaggeration!