Parsnip Curry

One of my fellow allotmenteers was moaning about not knowing what to do with all his parsnips, so I suggested parsnip curry. Apparently he’d never thought of this, but I assured him it’s very tasty. And it is.

This hit and miss recipe serves two hearty eaters or four polite ones:

• Around five large parsnips, peeled and cubed – if they are very woody, remove the hard core by slicing the parsnips in quarters lengthways and cutting diagonally across the right angle to remove the woody bit
• 2 chopped onions
• 1 tablespoon oil
• Garam masala (garam means hot, masala means blend, and garam masala is the standard mix of hot spices used in many Southern Indian curries)
• Chilli flakes or powder (if you like a mild curry, leave them out entirely, but we like the extra kick from some pure chilli flavour)
• Vegetable stock
• Coconut milk or cooking coconut (sold as a brick of coconut solids that you slice in specialist Indian stores)
• Chopped nuts

Choose a big saucepan and fry the onions in the oil until golden, before adding the spices to taste and cooking for one minute. Because parsnips are sweet and coconut milk is mild, you may want more curry flavouring than you would use for an ordinary curry.

Add parsnips, and enough stock to cover them, stir and bring to a boil before lowering the temperature and adding about a cup of coconut milk or an inch of coconut solids and then simmering for 20 to 30 minutes until the parsnips are tender and the sauce has thickened.

We garnish it with toasted cashews and eat it with naan bread, but it’s just as good garnished with thinly sliced pepper and served with plain white rice. If you have leftovers, you can add some extra water and liquidise them to make a tasty spicy parsnip soup!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4 Comments

Chitting Early Potatoes

We’re keeping an eye on our Maris Bard which are chitting nicely – lots of people say you don’t need to chit maincrop potatoes, but if you want the earliest earlies, like MB, chitting is essential as it means the plant starts growth with strong but quite short shoots that then become potato food – leave it too late and they waste time growing the sprouts, and leave them in the dark and/or warmth and the shoots will be long, white and weak and the food value of the tuber will have been dissipated in growing the shoots rather than going into the production of new potatoes.

Of course then there’s the question of when you can get them into the ground – we’re hoping to get ours planted by the second week of March. But then again, we were hoping to get our shallots in the ground in the third week of December and they still aren’t there …

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, January 23, 2010 4 Comments

At last – allotment not under snow!

We managed to get to the plot on Monday and were half-thrilled, half- horrified at what we found,

First, the broad bean seedlings have held up pretty well under the snow and rain – a couple of them are lying down and I don’t know whether that’s the effect of the weather, and they will perk up, or whether it’s the result of depredations by our unwelcome visitors.

Second, those unwelcome visitors – pigeons! To our great chagrin, most of the purple-sprouting broccoli that we planted in the open air has been denuded, not just of florets, but of top leaves. We had anticipated that this might happen, as this was our ‘overflow’ broccoli, and it’s sort of a sacrifice crop, but we didn’t expect to sacrifice all of it! On the other hand, the broccoli in the brassica cage is fine, but seems to be a bit behind its outdoor cousins. I’ve been trying to work it out and the only conclusion I can come to is that because the cage roof was supporting a layer of snow for a week or so, the plants inside it got that much less light than the plants outside, so they’ve developed slower. Can anybody tell me if that sounds even slightly logical?

So we came home with: kilos of parsnip to make delicious parsnip curry as well as spicy soup; heeled in leeks; red Brussels sprouts tops; fresh sage and NO broccoli.

And the soil is too wet to plant shallots so we thought we’d try and get them in at the weekend, although as it’s been pelting down with snow/rain/snow all day today, that too may end up being a forlorn hope.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 6 Comments

Allotment composting

Today we don’t have snow! Instead we have torrential rain and gale force winds … can you hear me sighing in despair?

While all I can do is watch the mini-rivers running down the allotment paths, I’ve been trying to plan ahead and one thing that caught my eye was the QR Compost Making method.

QR stands for Quick Return and apparently it’s been a successful way of speeding up compost production since the 1930s. There’s a whole book dedicated to QR here and I think I’m going to give it a go. The herbs in question are nettle, dandelion, chamomile, yarrow, valerian and oak bark. Honey is also included in the formula because it is a powerful activator apparently – and the claim is that a nutrient rich compost can be produced using normal garden waste in a matter of weeks, without turning (and I do hate turning compost) and without needing to add manure. It also talks about a 'closed loop' system which means that the minimum of materials enter or leave the garden and the lowest possible range of resources (including the muscle work of the allotment holder) are expended. Also there’s a foreword from Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association and a donation will be made to the Soil Association for each copy sold.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, January 16, 2010 8 Comments

And yet more snow covers the allotment …

About two inches of fresh snow fell in the night, so instead of being able to tell you anything about our planting regime, I’ll talk a little about our Wilja potatoes which are sprouting nicely in their brown paper bag – a bit worrying really, as they will have sprouts like triffids by the time we can actually get them in the ground at this rate1

We chose Wilja because it’s a second early with a high yield. It also has a good even shape and after wrestling with Pink Fir Apple last year I really fancy a potato that isn’t quite so knobbly as it was a bit of a pain to dig and clean the Pink Fir to be honest.

Wilja is said to be a good fryer and boiler and also suitable for roasting, and it used to be grown, traditionally, on Romney Marsh which implies it doesn’t mind a bit of standing water and as our second earlies are going into the lowest part of the plot (which is currently under six inches of snow) we might have gambled on exactly the right variety for us this year! It also has good resistance to common scab and drought and is only moderately susceptible to blight. As it’s a second early, we’re happy to try it as the blight generally affects maincrops most.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, January 13, 2010 2 Comments

Still snow – still no work on the plot

We’ve been to the plot to harvest some parsnips from the raised bed which were only a bit frozen in, and to collect some of the leeks that had been heeled into a sheltered corner of the plot in expectation of the rotten weather, but we really hadn’t expected rottenness of this duration! Some of the purple-sprouting broccoli has flowered nicely, but as it’s also frozen solid, we left it in place, hoping to get up as soon as there is a thaw and harvest the lot.

It feels very strange not to be able to do anything vegetable-growing wise – we wandered around and I managed to take a few atmospheric photographs of the sun going down over the snowy site.

I peered at my broad beans which are poking through the snow and seem to be fine, but who knows? Snowdrops have a special enzyme in their cells that allows them to survive minus temperatures without damage, but I’m not sure that broad beans do and I’m bracing myself to discover that when the snow goes, so do the broad beans. It would be a tragedy if they do, but as snow acts as an insulator, removing it at this point would be more likely to damage the seedlings than help them.

The bed in which we should have been planting our shallots is under six inches of snow, as it turns out to be in an area where a drift has built up. The shallots themselves are in a cupboard under the stairs – who knows when they will eventually get into the soil?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, January 11, 2010 4 Comments

Still no allotment work

As you can see, 201 is sitting comfortably under another blanket of snow. So while we can’t be doing much, we’re reflecting on what we will be doing when we get the chance. So, starting in reverse order, and as I’ve mentioned before, we had a terrible maincrop potato failure in 2009, mainly because we hadn’t had time to prepare the soil properly.

This year our maincrops are Cara: a white skinned potato that has pink eyes and a creamy coloured flesh. In texture they are ranked as waxy, which means they stay firm when cooked and keep well. They are good for boiling and very good for baking and are said to be slug resistant. They are a later Maincrop which suggests we’ll be harvesting closer to October than September, and like most later cropping varieties they will tend to be larger and therefore more suitable for baking, than earlier croppers.

We’re hoping, if the weather clears soon, to put plenty of manure and compost in our maincrop planting site, to enrich and break up the soil ready for the potatoes to be planted out, once they’re chitted, around early April.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, January 7, 2010 2 Comments

Allotment bad weather woes

So far it’s either rained torrentially, snowed, or there’s been a heavy frost ever since we picked up our shallots on 14 December. This means that we’ve had no chance to get them into the ground at all, despite having prepared an area of the allotment especially for them, with a nice blend of soil (which tends to clay) and grit.

It’s bitterly frustrating to find ourselves unable to do anything much on the plot. We are harvesting, of course, and today’s haul includes some leeks, a couple of parsnips from the raised bed (once we’d cleared off the remainder of last night’s light snow) two celeriac ditto and a small swede. Then we cut down a couple of Brussels sprouts stems so we could bring them home with the tops intact to cook in a stir fry. And we have had the last of our red Brussels Sprouts – we ate them on Christmas day with roast duck and they were very good: nutty and firm and we had them again last night with celeriac mash and onion gravy and they were equally good – definitely worth growing again next year.

We also had a massive bonfire in the snow, to clear the last of the rubbish, but that’s all we’ve been able to do, so I hope 2010 is going to start with a rapid improvement in the weather for vegetable growers!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, January 2, 2010 2 Comments

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