Thursday, 28 September 2017

Homegrown Catnip

Every spring I plant a few catnip seeds so that this little chap can have a fresh supply of his favourite treat.  When autumn comes around, I harvest the seed and lots of tender leaves to dry for his winter stash of catnip. 

I've tried cutting long stems of catnip and hanging them up to dry but honestly, it just doesn't work for me.  I find the best way to prepare the leaves for storage is to pick them on a warm sunny day and zap them in the microwave until the leaves are dry and crunchy.

Place dry, freshly picked catnip leaves between two pieces of paper towel, making sure the leaves are in a single layer. They will not dehydrate properly if you have them in a deep mound.  Set the microwave to HIGH and zap them for 30 to 40 seconds.  The catnip leaves will come out dry and slightly crisp.  Let them cool properly and store in an airtight container.  There is no better treat for a little cat on a cold winter's day than a few crisp catnip leaves.  

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Watercolours by Rachel

Almost every day a local Devon artist call Rachel Toll posts a watercolour painting on Twitter.  This was today's painting.  I think the wild flowers are exquisite and I wanted to share it with you.  

Click HERE if you would like to see more of Rachel's wonderful paintings.  

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Plum Jam Recipe

If you have a garden you know that everything seems to be ready to harvest at one time.  I have apples and plums all over the place, which is good and bad at the same time.  It seems like I zoom from one thing to the next trying to prepare and preserve as much as I can.  A friend of mine suggested I make plum jam using this simple but OH SO GOOD recipe from Waitrose. 

Please excuse my messy cut and paste method but I really need to get back to the jam pot boiling away on the stove.  Enjoy! 

How to Make Plum Jam


  • 2kg English plums, washed, halved and stoned
  • 600ml cold water
  • 2 x 1kg bags Tate & Lyle Jam Sugar


  1. Put the plums and water in the pan. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally with the wooden spoon for 45 minutes or until the plums are soft and pulpy and the liquid is reduced by about half.
  2. Add the sugar, stirring until it has completely dissolved. When the sugar has dissolved, the base of the pan will no longer feel gritty when stirred with the wooden spoon. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 4-5 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and test for the setting point by spooning a little jam onto one of the chilled saucers. Cool for a few seconds, then push the jam with your finger. If it wrinkles on the surface, it has reached setting point and is ready to put into the jars. If not, boil a further 2 minutes, then test again.
  4. Skim off the scum from the surface using a slotted spoon. Leave to stand for 15 minutes, then stir thoroughly. Set the prepared jars on a wooden board, fill the jug with jam and pour into warm jars right to the top. Cover the jam with a waxed disc and a jam pot cover. Secure with an elastic band and label or mark on the jar with a waterproof pen.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Homegrown Haricots and Borlotti Beans

The plants in the allotment are obviously slowing down and going to seed.  So is the gardener.  Autumn is rapidly approaching and I can't wait.  Fall is my favourite season with its generous harvest of fruits and vegetables and bright, beautiful foliage. 

We had more fresh beans than we could eat.  Some we enjoyed fresh from the plot, some were frozen, and some were shared with friends.  Still the bean plants are producing .... not as exuberantly as in high summer but there are still pods hanging on the vines.

I've decided to leave the French beans to dry on the vine.  Once the pods go brown and the seeds rattle inside, the beans are ready to pick and shell.  We called them Navy Beans when I was growing up in Missouri.  Here in Britain they are known as Haricots. No matter what you call them, they make a great addition to the pantry and take hardly any effort to prepare.

Just make sure the beans are completely dry, place them in a plastic bag and pop them into the freezer for a few days. This will kill off any creepy crawlies. Then store them in airtight containers in your pantry.  I love to put them in glass jars so I can see the colourful beans. 

These beautiful spotted beans are Borlotti beans.  They also dry beautifully and can be used in stews and soups just like the Navy beans.  So, if you have some beans hanging on the vine, you might like to try drying some too.  

Friday, 25 August 2017

Victoria Plum Bake Recipe

When we got the allotment it came with a tiny orchard of apple, pear, and plum trees.  It appears the Victoria plums are the first to ripen so when I noticed some had dropped off the tree, I figured out it might be time to harvest them.  

It's not a huge crop.  There are not enough for jam making but too many to eat out of hand so I decided to use them for baking.  Here is a quick and easy dessert just right for those small batches of plums. 

Victoria Plum Bake

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  Butter a baking dish and set aside while you make the sponge mixture.

3 oz (75 grams) butter- room temperature
3 oz (75 grams) caster sugar
4 oz (100 grams) self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the ingredients until they make a sooth batter.  Spread the batter evenly into the buttered baking dish. 

Top the batter with plums sliced in half and stones removed.  I also removed the outer skin but you don't have to.  

Mix together 2 Tablespoons of caster sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Sprinkle this over the top of the plums.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until the sponge is golden and springs back when you touch it.

Serve slightly warm with cream, custard, or vanilla ice cream.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Freezing Green Beans

Chances are if you've planted beans in your garden, or know someone who has, you will have more French beans than you can eat or give away.  I can see the neighbours hiding behind their curtains when they see me coming towards their front doors with another basket filled with beans, hoping I can force them to take them off my hands.  At first they are delighted, then polite, then they just try to avoid me.

So, in the hope of preserving friendships and neighbourly relationships, I have decided to freeze some of the many Blue Lake beans harvested from my allotment. 

Freezing fresh produce is SO easy and you will enjoy a little taste of summer once the winter sets in.  All you need are some little freezer bags, a marker pen and these simple instructions: 

1.  Pick and wash your green beans.  Sort them roughly by size, little skinny ones in one pile, medium sized beans in another, and big beans in a third pile.

2.  Top and tail the beans and cut them into bite size pieces.

3.  Fill a large sauce pan with water and bring it to a rolling boil.  Add the first pile of beans and parboil them for the following times:
      BIG BEANS - boil for 4 minutes
      MEDIUM BEANS - boil for 3 minutes
      SKINNY BEANS - boil for 2 minutes

4.  Drain the beans and plunge them into VERY COLD water to cool them down. Drain the beans well.  

5.  Pack the cooled beans into freezer bags, press out as much air as possible and seal.   I like to use a marker pen to label and date the beans.  

6.  Place the bagged beans into the freezer and enjoy within one year.  

Monday, 10 July 2017

Allotment Learning

It's almost the middle of July.  I figure this is the height of the growing season in the allotment. As you know, this is my first year of actually growing vegetables and it has been a real learning experience.  I've made all the expected novice mistakes; bought too many different seeds, put plants in the wrong locations, over planted some things, and planted too few of other vegetables.  Perhaps the most annoying thing I've done is not giving myself enough room between rows to harvest the vegetables comfortably.  It's like a game of Twister when harvesting flowers from the cutting patch - right foot between the cosmos, left foot by the cornflowers. 

It's been lots of work but I have loved every minute.  Things don't seem as frantic now that most of the planting and planning is done.  I've had time to stop and enjoy the garden and evaluate what lessons have been learned in such a short time.  Here's a list, in no particular order, that might be useful if you are a beginner 'plotter' like me:

1.  Sow seeds indoors and plant young seedlings into modules.  Transplant them into the garden once you think they are big enough to stand up to the slugs. 

2.  Use heavy cardboard, landscape fabric, or old carpet to cover any garden beds not in use. This will smother out any weeds and saves you digging it over more than once.  

3.  You can never have TOO much twine... 

4.  You can never have too many bamboo canes, pea sticks, or plant supports. Practically everything taller than ankle height needs staking in our coastal winds.  This is also why you can never have too much twine. 

5.  Grow beans and peas that climb up.  Bush beans are lovely but they are harder to pick and growing vertically gives you more room to plant different things. 

5.  Pick beans, beets, and turnips when they are young and tender.  Most veg is best picked on the small side. Nothing is worse than wooden turnips or stringy string beans.  

6.  Grow some 'No-Fail' plants to encourage you to be brave.  If you don't have room to start plants from seeds you can purchase lots of different veg from garden centers in modules or bare root ready to plant in your garden.

7.  Grow some scary plants, the kind that may or may not make it.  I've got watermelons in the polytunnel.  If I get one melon I'll be happy.  

8.  Always add flowers, the bees will love you and it makes the garden look beautiful.  

9.  Water! Weed! Feed! Then weed again. 

10. The 'Golden Gardening Hours' are VERY early in the morning and that hour between sunset and dusk.  You can catch the slugs and snails unawares and watering is most effective when the sun isn't beating down on the garden. 

11.  Make friends with your allotment neighbours but don't live in their pockets. Do a good deed for them now and then and they will return the favour.  

12.  Dress appropriately; hat, sunglasses, long sleeves, and SUNSCREEN. And don't forget to wear the right shoes/wellies/work boots. 

13.  This may be the most important point, research: READ, READ, and READ some more.  The more you learn before you plant the more success you will enjoy. 


Listen to advice but don't necessarily take it, especially from ME!  

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Beans and Flowers for Cutting

Today is the 4th of July - not that it means anything special here in Devon. When I was a kid it was a big deal, Independence Day, one of the few times when my parents would host what we would consider to be a party. They would fire up the Bar-B-Q, make homemade ice cream, slice a big watermelon, and invite the neighbours over to our BIG back garden to watch the fireworks.  As a child, this was almost as good as Christmas... almost.  

I often feel a little nostalgic on the 4th.  It was always a big 'family day' for us. The plants in the allotment also are reminding me of days gone by and family members who are no longer with us. The vegetables remind me of my great-aunt and great-uncle who kept the most immaculate gardens and grew Sugar Baby watermelons just for me!

I planted zinnias in memory of my grandmother Lessie.  She always grew her vegetables in great beds bordered by colourful zinnias.  Most of my family 'gardened' and each plant and flower fuel a memory.  I think it is true of most people's gardens.  So I'll cut sweet peas, collect some beans, and remember all those who shared those special Independence Days with me.  Of course, there won't be any fireworks tonight... not in DEVON!  

Friday, 16 June 2017

Strawberry Pie

Oh boy, do we have a bumper crop of strawberries!  I am not complaining, honestly.   We have had lots to share with the neighbours, enough to make jam, and plenty to eat with cream or yogurt.  Now it's time to get a bit more adventurous with the berries.  Andy suggested strawberry pie.... 

What a good idea!  Why didn't I think of that?  So, I did some research (that means Googling) and found several recipes for strawberry pie.  I had all ingredients I needed to make this one ... and very good it is, too. 

Here's the recipe as written:

9 inch pie shell - baked and cooled to room temperature*
1 1/2 pounds fresh strawberries - approximately 
1 cup white sugar (caster sugar)
3 Tablespoons cornstarch (corn flour)
3/4 water
1/2 cup heavy cream for whipping

Arrange half of the berries in the pie shell and set aside while you make the filling.

Remove the stems and slice the remaining strawberries into a saucepan.  Add the sugar and bring to a rolling boil.  

Combine the water and cornstarch.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and gradually add the water-cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly. 

Lower the heat and cook over a low flame, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is VERY thick.  

Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract... this is my addition to the recipe.  I like the taste of vanilla and strawberries.

Spoon the filling over the berries in the pie crust.  Try to cover each berry with the glaze.  Let the pie cool to room temperature then refrigerate until the pie is 'set'.

The recipe says to serve the pie with the cream whipped.  We just poured it over and tucked in.  I bet a scoop of vanilla ice cream would be great, too. 

* One other thing... I used a sweet pastry crust for the base but a regular short crust will do.  If you don't 'DO' pastry you can still 'DO' this pie. Simply purchase some lovely packaged pastry at the supermarket.  This easy pie really is the taste of an English summer.  Enjoy! 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Plum Patch

I am not a 'purple' person.  My taste in flowers runs more towards the pale pinks, blush, and peachy tones mixed with a bit of blue and white. Somehow I seem to have a rather large patch of plum flowers in the garden right now. 

I don't remember intentionally planting this group of flowers in such a coordinated way.  I tend to purchase plants first and figure out where to put them later.

This may have been a fortunate accident... or ... perhaps I did it intuitively.  

Either way, I am enjoying the change.  

Monday, 5 June 2017

A Strawberry's Story

When you are brought up by a family of gardeners and farmers, every plant in your garden will evoke a childhood memory.  Working on our allotment plot gives me time to think of all those who shared their gardens, flowers, and produce with me when I was a child.  Now that strawberry time is here I am reminded of the story my Dad told me about when he was a kid growing up in Tennessee. 

My grandpa was a cotton and strawberry farmer.  My Dad, being the youngest and still at home, and like most farm kids, always helped with the harvest.  He told me how they would pick the berries and put them through a grid to 'size' them.  The best and biggest berries would stay on top of the grid and be sent to market. Times would be good! Well, as good as they could be on a Tennessee farm in the years between the Great Depression and World War II.

The bad times came when all the strawberries were too small to 'size'.  When all the berries slipped through the grid there was no crop to sell.... no money... no prospects until the next summer. These must have been very lean years.  Not much was ever said about those hard times.  I can't image how my grandparents must have felt.  They never complained about anything. They were stoic and kind, really 'good people'.  

You would think that being problematic, my family would have had their fill of strawberries but I still remember the big cut-glass bowls filled with prepared berries on my grandma's sideboard, covered by a pristine white cloth, waiting to be eaten with a slice of homemade cake after lunch. Always the optimist, my Dad would finish the story by saying, 'I didn't mind when we had to eat all those little, rejected berries.  Everyone knows the little ones are the sweetest'.  

Here's to all those sweet little berries, enjoy! 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Plot - May 13, 2017

I haven't abandoned the blog, well, not completely.   Our  allotment plot has been taking A LOT of my time.  I've spent hours sowing seeds, preparing the soil, and planting up.  Finally, things are starting to grow!

As you can see, ours is the plot directly behind our garden fence.  Nice location don't you think?  It wasn't always like this.... 

This is how it all began last year around the fifth of July when we took over the plot.  They say you have to be an optimist to be a gardener but really, this bordered on lunacy! 

Today with the roses covered in little buds and the strawberry beds full of flowers, it all seems worth it.  There is lots more growing to do... watch this space!  

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Pasta Spoon Revelation

Every once in a while you get a 'light bulb' moment.  You know, when you hear or read something that makes you go... 'Of course! Why didn't I see that?'

Now you probably already knew this, but that hole in your pasta spoon is there for a reason.  It measures out one perfect adult portion of pasta.  Of course it does! 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Bean Sticks

The seed peas in the polytunnel have grown into proper little plants complete with tendrils.  It won't be long until they are ready to go out into the garden but before I plant them I need to make some supports for those tiny tendrils to twine around. 

I will probably make traditional bamboo tee pees for the runner beans and climbing peas. 

I like the look of these cane fences for the bush peas and beans.  

I've been doing some 'research' on plant supports and found lots of lovely ideas, for example, this rustic string bean trellis. 

Imagine the scent of sweet peas when you walk under this simple archway made of tied twigs.

I was really impressed with this Gothic arch made from green sticks, not that I have any use it, but it is beautiful.  Do you have a clever way to support your climbing plants?  

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Watermelon Story or Sugar Babies

When I started to sow seeds for Sugar Baby watermelons my thoughts immediately turned to my late Uncle Shanny.  He was a brilliant gardener who grew these delicious little melons just for me.  So when I saw the seeds were available in our allotment seed catalogue I knew I had to try to grow some.

Now that the seedlings are up I am reminded of my little brother.  When he was just a tot, we were eating slices of watermelon in our back garden.  He took great delight in spitting the seeds as far as he could, usually to detriment of his little sneakers.  His aim or range wasn't good, anyway.... 

He asked our Dad, 'will these really make watermelons?' Daddy answered in the affirmative but said they must be planted first.  Little brother picked out a sticky seed from his slice of melon and with a podgy, little finger shoved it into the ground.  To make sure he'd properly planted it, he stomped the seed further into the soil with his foot.  'There', he said, 'that will grow'.  Dad and I exchanged knowing looks.  This little seed didn't have a chance.  How wrong you can be! It did grow and produced a proper melon.  I can only hope I am half as lucky with these little seedlings, my first ever crop of Sugar Babies.  

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Old Aunties' Snow Cake

When I was a little girl, my mom would make snow ice cream for us.  She would take a BIG mixing bowl and collect freshly fallen snow.  Then she would mix sugar, milk, and vanilla and pour it over the snow.  The result was a delicious slush which had to be eaten at top speed before the snow melted away.  The result was always a fierce case of brain freeze but it was worth it! 

This charming painting by Inge Nook transported me back to those days of snow ice cream and the excitement of heavy snowfall.  I still love when it snows which just goes to show you never out grow snow ice cream, or in the Auties' case, snow cake. 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Growing Old Disgracefully

I don't know where I first saw Inge Look's art work but I have fallen in love with her 'Aunties' paintings.  

These two old girls prove that it is more fun to grow old disgracefully than to preserve one's dignity.  They never fail to make me smile.  It is so cold this morning that I thought this picture would make the perfect post.  I plan to follow the Aunties' lead and stay close to the fire and the teapot today. However, I don't think I'll be wearing the tea cosy as a hat!