Enough botany for now, then – it’s back to ‘real’ life, sweating it out at 30C on the allotment and then bizarrely cooking supper in the oven, raising the temperature in the kitchen to about 40C, ‘nothing’ for my two chef sons, I can hear them saying, but plenty hot enough for me. We went up at 8.30am in the hope that we could get things done in the cool part of the day, but 2 hours later we were still at it when Madame got the vapours and went on strike under the umbrella. It’s great having the umbrella on the allotment but despite its size it seems only to provide shade for one. I think I’m going to invent a pivotable sail to attach to the shed so we can move it around with the sun.
This year we’ve followed the advice of James Wong in his book about growing for flavour. He says that chillies get hotter if they’re subjected to stress, and so it seems mollycoddling them with with auto watering last year may have prevented them from reaching their full potential. This year they’ve been watered only when almost dried out and they’ve loved it. Last year’s F1 Apache chillies were so mild I could pick them off the plant and eat them. I did the same thing today and they almost blew my head off – I was left scampering around the allotment looking for something cold to drink. So I’ve managed to grow successfully all five varieties including the Scotch Bonnet type which around the top of the Scoville scale, but I shan’t be randomly picking them!
Last Friday’s rain was a decent soaking and when I dug the shallots today the earth was quite moist. A couple of haulm’s worth of Arran Pilot potatoes were looking good and plump.
Back home with a trug full of fresh veg I cooked an old favourite dish – Carbonnade Nîmoise a very simple French dish which would have been cooked in a cooling bread oven back in the day, and makes a very small amount of lamb go a long way. Garlic, carrots potatoes and fresh herbs all dug and picked this morning and baked in the oven with some olive oil, a couple of slices of bacon, a glass of wine and a dollop of reduced stock from the fridge. It’s impossible to overcook it, sealed in an extra foil cover under the lid. The star of the show is usually the potatoes which seem to soak up all the flavours, and if it’s cooked right it’s so tender you could eat it with a spoon.
More good new too on the allotment. I was starting to clear the 50 square metres of loaned land, on which we grew potatoes this year, and our neighbour said he was happy to continue the loan for another season, so we decided on the spot that we would overwinter our broad beans there this autumn. To be honest we grew far too many spuds this year but we pay our neighbour in kind for the loan and he takes a share of the produce from his piece of land – it works very well.
And although the field botany phase has ended, there’s still all the typing up to do. I usually make a sortable list in Word so I can eliminate any duplicates and do a final check on any doubtfuls. Luckily I have a contact in the Bath Nats who is willing to cast an eye over any dubious identifications and we’ll be seeing him on Thursday anyway because he’s running a workshop on identifying Rumex spp – yes I’m a complete propeller head!
On another tack, if you’ve been following for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been sharpening my skills in identifying plants with medicinal uses. That’s raised some very interesting ethical issues, for instance I found dozens of Betony plants on the clifftop at St Davids, but nothing would induce me to pick them because there just aren’t enough, and there are many medicinal plants that are in danger of being foraged into extinction, sometimes for money. I mentioned in a previous posting how I watched in horror when, on a fungus foray, I saw a young woman (known to me) pick every single Ragged Parasol fungus in a stand of a couple of dozen – far more than any family could reasonably eat. In fact foraging is becoming something of a menace in places. I know there are many medicinal herbs we can grow on the allotment and some – couch root, dandelions and nettles, for instance, are so prolific that it’s perfectly OK to take a regular cut. I’m trying to make a list of sustainably available plants in our immediate area and, trust me, I shan’t be publishing their whereabouts. However the vast quantities of these plants that are being processed and added to everything from cough mixture to cosmetics makes you wonder how sustainable or ethical the supply line is. There’s no real compulsion to monitor it – for instance I was greatly shocked to read on the Plantlife website that even the supply of licorice is under threat. We know it can be (or was) at least grown in Pontefract and presumably could be grown again – a nice little niche income for a farm with the right soil conditions.
This has been a bit of a mixed bag of a posting but, in my defence, I haven’t mentioned sourdough, mainly because we bake less in the summer. While we were away Madame was reading about farm life on Ramsey Island and in those days (the 1940’s) ‘mother’ would bake 30 loaves a week in a paraffin fuelled oven. The same book had many photos of the family, and it was clear that the grandson of the family is still farming in the area – in fact he was the one with the brilliant sheepdogs – and the image of his grandfather. A photo of the flock of sheep is at the top of the post.
If you’re interested in following up on the sustainability of medicinal plants I found this paper – but be warned, it’s mind bogglingly thorough!