Late September 2012 Isn’t it just wonderful when the only work you have to do with your allotment is to harvest the vegetables then take them home, cook them and eat them. A couple of years ago, as I arrived at the gate of my allotment field in early January, an elderly gentleman, taking a walk along the lane asked me with a tone of some amusement – what work could you possibly do on your allotment at this time of year? - Well ! I replied, harvest vegetables for my dinner, isn’t that the purpose of having an allotment? He smiled and nodded in agreement as he walked on. What to eat from the allotment is always easy and usually into the autumn as well. Having a range of vegetables throughout the winter and into late spring when new crops become available requires a bit more organisation and some luck with the weather – not just throughout the winter but also through the summer when these vegetables are establishing I do seem to have a definite desire to eat green vegetables, especially of the brassica family. It would seem that many people have to be persuaded to eat this vegetable family as being the most important health wise but, for me, I need no such persuasion. I feel quite wretched without them. This year has been good for brassicas though, also for slugs and snails which seem to feel the same about brassicas as I do. Of course, I have lost a few cabbages – the snails and slugs have not been content to nosh on the outer leaves but have burrowed well inside which meant that, even when I trimmed off the outer leaves to remove the damage and the slugs themselves, there was little left. It seemed they preferred some plants to others so, I decided to leave their favourites and eat the rest myself – that left everyone happy ...ish!. I will use slug pellets but, I prefer to use only when really necessary – on seed beds and young plants. I have used slug pellets occasionally through the summer on more mature plants but, only where they have been protected by heavy nets – which should discourage birds from invading the plots. This has not always been successful. I have come to my plot, a few days ago and shocked a female blackbird under my brassica net, with another in my [now open] fruit cage. A young robin has followed me into my brassica ‘cage’ when I was weeding and I had to wait some time before he emerged and flew away so that I could close it up again. I don’t doubt that the blackbird would have escaped from the netting if I hadn’t surprised and panicked her. These birds do seem to find their way in quite easily but, if the netting is too fine they can get their feet caught in the fibres making escape impossible. Although, in the past, I’ve managed to arrive in time to extricate a variety of birds caught in nets[including a large and angry magpie], usually they will die a slow and distressing death. For this reason I have now dumped all of my fine net for something much more chunky and, it has to be said, much more expensive – this has taken me a little time to afford.c I am still enjoying summer planted cabbages which are heartening up – not all together – great. Slugs have gone for one of them majorly and I am able to harvest the rest. Golden Acre Primo which I sowed in mid April then again in May. They have been reliably good this year, and even the slug damage can be trimmed off. I sowed Broccoli Typhoon, a Calabrese variety, like one of those wonderful full green heads you can buy in your local supermarket. Unfortunately, I can eat one of these heads on my own with my dinner so, they don’t last too long. I am still harvesting my courgettes though the production is slowing down to a level I can use easily. Of course, in my poly-tunnel, tomatoes are still producing multiple kilos every week. At least my peppers and chillies are now beginning to ripen usefully and I have been able to make several lots of hot roasted pepper and tomato chutney. Still quite a few to go. I hope it doesn’t get too cold before they all ripen. More chutney and relish making I guess – just as well I have an eager market – my family – for my products. Do try my recipes for using autumn vegetables. Cheesey Baked Chicken with leeks and Courgettes 4 trimmed skinless chicken breasts 4 good sized, trimmed, washed and sliced leeks 4 small to medium courgettes – [I am using Orelia which are drier and denser than zucchini] 250 gm trimmed and wiped mushroom of your choice ½ litre milk [1 pint] Salt and pepper Sauce 100gm – [4oz] butter 100gm – [4oz] plain flour ½ litre – [1 pt] milk + the milk/liquid from the cooked chicken fillets Good bunch chopped parsley Tsp chopped thyme, tsp, chopped oregano Salt and pepper Topping 75gm – [3oz] grated gorgonzola cheese 75gm – [3oz] grated cheddar cheese Method · Prepare the vegetables and arrange over the base of a large, shallow, oven-proof dish. · Place the chicken fillets on top. · Add the seasoning and the milk. Bake in a moderate oven[180°C – 5 gas] for 25 to 30 minutes. · Prepare the sauce – melt the butter then add the flour and cook out [without colour] to ensure the flour is cooked. Gradually add the milk to give a smooth roux then sauce. Add the salt and pepper. · Remove the chicken from the oven and drain off the liquid/milk [liquor] into the sauce mixture. Re-arrange the chicken and vegetables in the oven-proof dish. · Mix this liquor into the sauce and bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Check the seasoning and stir in the chopped herbs. Pour the sauce over the chicken dish, ensuring all of the chicken and vegetables are covered. · Sprinkle on the cheeses [ if you prefer make up the quantity with just cheddar cheese] · Return to the oven and bake in a moderate oven for a further 20 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. · Serve with green vegetables[peas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage] and mashed potatoes [do try mustard mash] Mustard Mash Potatoes 1 kg [2lb] potatoes – floury potatoes are best 3 good sized tsp whole grain mustard Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste 75gm [3oz] grated cheddar cheese 50 gm [2oz] butter 250ml [ ½pt] milk Method · Wash and peel the potatoes and cut into even sized pieces. If you are using floury potatoes, it is best to steam them or they will break apart. Cook until the potatoes are soft all the way through. · Mash or put through a potato ricer. · While still hot, add the cheese and butter and mix in until well melted. · Add the milk, mustard and seasoning and stir in well. Reheat over a low flame to ensure the potato is hot without overcooking the cheese. · Serve with a topping of finely chopped parsley.