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A novice's guide to producing his own food


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Making a meal of it

It seems that the hard work at the allotment is finally over. It’s now becoming apparent that the busy period is April, May, June when the beds are turned over, seedlings planted, and the weeds brought under control. 

Cone July and August, and suddenly you find yourself with fewer “must do” jobs. But, better still, you reap what you sow.  Our last few visits to the allotment have been spend primarily harvesting. Some crops (such as peas) seem to ripen all at once, then die out a week or so. Others (such as strawberries and courgettes) produce  a few fruit or veg every week over a spell of months. 

But either way, you’ll suddenly find yourself with quite a lot of produce. What do you do with it all? Well, to be honest, we haven’t grown so much that we’ve had to give it away, but we have put together a few cracking meals. 

My favourite was when the peas were finally harvested. It was a Sunday morning, and Janek and I had brought home a basket full of strawberries, peas, potatoes, courgettes and the last of the onions. We had expected a good crop  so I told Sue the day before I would like a meal which as much of the veg as possible. 

Apart from the beef and the Yorkshire pudding, the rest was from the allotment

Apart from the beef and the Yorkshire pudding, the rest was from the allotment

 

We decided on a roast beef, mashed potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, peas and courgettes in tomato sauce. I say “courgettes in tomato sauce” rather than “ratatouille” because we didn’t have any aubergines, but otherwise the recipe is the same – onions, courgettes, tinned tomatoes, seasoning – and cook for 10 minutes. My mother used to make ratatouille, but like every one of that era she cooked it to buggery, so it was just a mush. It’s much better to keep it brief, and that way the texture is firmer, and the veg tastes fresher. 

We’d picked what we thought was a mountain of peas, but it was just a about enough to feed the six of us. As for the spuds, they were very floury, so we decided to mash then. 

Sue had cooked the beef perfectly, and the whole meal was sublime. It’s difficult to put your finger of why it was so good. Was it simply because I knew I was eating what I had grown? Or did the veg taste genuinely better? I can’t say for sure, and perhaps it doesn’t really matter, but it was meal every member of the family enjoyed tremendously (including by those who couldn’t give a damn about the allotment), so it was a great success. 

On at least one level, I think all the kids did appreciate that this was a special occasion. Halfway through the meal, I looked up and saw five other faces tucking into food Janek and I had grown, and I felt proud. I felt like the man of the house in a way I’d never felt before. Stupid, isn’t it?


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Taa-raa!

Potatoes, lettuce, onions and even a couple of courgettes. Our first "seroius" harvest.

Potatoes, lettuce, onions, peas and even a couple of courgettes. Our first substantial harvest.

 

It seems I’m passing one landmark after another just now. The latest being my first full harvest. 

Until now  crops were either sparse, or (like the lettuces, onions and radishes) they came to fruition in isolation. On my last visit, however, they were several different veg to harvest. Along with the usual lettuces and onions, Janek and I also decided to dig up some spuds, and were delighted to see a couple of courgettes and some peas. We managed to get together a proper basket-full of  home-grown goodies that should make a small dent on the supermarket shop. Another plus! 

Janek and I had trotted down to the allotment to banish the blues from a disastrous family outing to the Big Tent festival in Falkland, and (as always) the first thing we did is check to see how everything had come on. (There are always two moments of high excitement on a trip to the allotment. The first is getting there and seeing how things have changed, and the second is leaving, happy with the goals you’ve achieved while looking forward to eating the produce.) 

We were thrilled to see a couple of courgettes had suddenly appeared. This was veg which I had grown from seed, starting its life in my shed, and seemed to grow furiously in a few weeks (they love the rain). They were small, but I’d just learned that this is ideal. They must be picked when they’re young and about the size of a finger for a couple of reasons — it encourages further growth, and they taste better.  I’d also learned (courtesy of the Gardener’s World Magazine) that the flowers can be eaten. I was keen to try this, but mine looked like they were way past their best. 

There were also peas which looked ready to pick. The pods had appeared a week ago, but were flat. Now they had filled out, and tasted beautifully sweet. 

Potato plants starting to turn yellow

Potato plants starting to turn yellow

 

We hadn’t intended to harvest the potatoes because some had yet to spring out of the ground. However, that said, the oldest plants were already starting to turn yellow (see right). This was not what we expected. 

The other allotments  had dozens of plants growing at an equal rate. What were we doing wrong? It’s something I’ll have to look into for next year. 

Janek and I decided the yellow plants had to come out of the ground, so we set about them with a fork. Once more we were in for a pleasant surprise. Each plant had a round half a dozen spuds. 

A few days earlier, Sue had bought me a vegetable basket – one of those flat wicker jobbies that you’d imagine Miss Marple using. To be honest, I’d fancied one for a while. My beautiful veg needed transporting back to the house in style and with dignity, not stuffed into a Tesco bag. So, before leaving the allotment I arranged the onions, peas, lettuces, potatoes and courgettes  as nicely as I could, and got Janek to pose with it, while I snapped the above piccy. 

A miserable day at Big Tent had been forgotten (almost).