August 2009

The future's bright!

Picture the scene: Buckingham Palace around sixty years ago. Early evening, the sun sets over The Mall

HRH Queen Elizabeth: “Oh Philip! Oh Philip! I’m just heading off to bed! And I’m feeling a bit lonely…..”

Prince Philip: “Damn it gel, I’m trying to read this month’s Horse and Hound. Can’t you see I’m busy?”

HRH: “Oh come on Philly willy, you know you want to!”

Prince P: “Really Liz, I’m just not in the mood.”

HRH: (sternly) “Philip, this throne won’t succeed itself you know. If we want an heir then we’re going to have put in the hard work. Now put down that magazine and come upstairs now. I command it.”

Succession plannning, we would all agree, is important. And at Drooling Towers such things are taken just as seriously as in slightly more exalted places.

It’s particularly important this time of year, when the first crops have been pulled up and eaten, there are large empty spaces in the vegetable patch and still plenty of growing months left in the year.

Traditionally yours truly has been a little slapdash when it comes to thinking ahead, and I’ve only started thinking about how to fill the gaps once they have appeared, by which time it’s a little late.

However this year I was a bit more organised, and planted swede, fennel and cavolo nero seeds in trays about a month before the beds became free. This gave me a good headstart and, as you can see from the above, the seedlings were about 6in tall by the time they were transplanted into their new homes. Success!

Don’t, however, worry about old Drooling getting a bit too smug: the seedlings in the pic are the second batch – the first were eaten by slugs in one night flat…

On the ipod while planning for the future: The Housemartins / Me and the farmer. I tell you, if the farmer has this much trouble with slugs he won;t be in business for long.


In a far-flung corner of the galaxy a blackberry-coloured volcano destroys a planet seemingly made of delicious-looking crumble

When I’m not gardening I like to get out my telescope and scan the stars, marvelling at the wonder of the universe we live in.

I was idly passing the time doing just this the other night when – imagine my surprise – I stumbled across a star I hadn’t noticed before, winking at me in a distant corner of the sky!

A twiddle of the relevant dials on the telescope sharpened the focus, and I couldn’t believe my eyes! There, staring at me down the lens, was another planet! And not just any planet, a planet with mountains and hills so beautiful they looked as if they were made of crumbs of sugar, flour and butter!

But it gets even more amazing! The surface of the planet was covered in adorable little green aliens, running around playing games and generally having lots of alien fun. I marvelled at this joyous scene, but as I watched transfixed a terrible thing started to happen.

The crumbly surface started to tremble and shake. Great cracks appeared, as what looked like a volcano erupted plumes of hot lava across the planet’s surface. This lava was like none I had ever seen before – not red, but a dark purple. Blackberry-coloured, if you will.

At this stage I snapped out of my reverie and reached for the camera. Unfortunately for interplanetary relations, the little green aliens had fled for safety, no doubt fearing for their lives, so I didn’t get a picture of them. I did however capture the apocalyptic landscape, the carnage memorialised here for all to see.

On a completely unrelated topic, here is the recipe for the Blackberry and Apply crumble we’ve been eating chez Drooling this week:
Blackberry and Apple Crumble

For the filling:

5 Bramley / cooking apples, cored, peeled and sliced

400g blackberries

pinch of cinnamon

300g sugar

For the crumble topping:

2 parts flour

1 part butter

1 part sugar

Gently fry the apples in a little butter for a few minutes. Add the cinnamon, sugar and blackberries and cook until cooked through. Pour into a ove-proof dish. To make the topping, whizz up the three ingredients together and then spoon over the fruity filling. Cook at about 200c until it looks golden brown on top (about 30 mins).

(For quantities of topping, go with however much you want, depending on whether you want a thick or thin topping. About 200g flour generally works well with this amount of filling)

Footnote: for US readers of the blog, the crumble is the British version of a cobbler. Go on, give it a whirl!

On the ipod while cooking: David Bowie / Space Oddity. Ground Control, you’re not going to believe what I’ve just taken a photo of….


You may remember back in the spring when I bought a bunch of balckberry plants off the internet and stuck them in the ground at the allotment, rhapsodising about the heavy cropping that would ensue in just a few months?

Well, have a look at the photo of my breakfast at the top of this post: salivate as you watch that thick, glossy blackberry jam melt over the piping hot, fresh-baked granary toast! Marvel at how rich nature’s bounty is! Perhaps even feel a little jealous as you sigh “Damn you Drooling, you live a life I can only dream of!”

Next, guess what? There’s absolutely no connection between the two paragraphs above.

Yes, I’m afraid that once again Mother Nature has flipped me the finger. I spent hours comparing tasting notes for a myriad different blackberry varieties before carefully making my choice – two heritage varieties, chosen specifically for their rich flavour and plump berries.

Said bushes were planted and have had hours of attention lavished on them. They look quite happy and have repaid me by producing – oooh – at least 7 or 8 berries so far. And that rich flavour? Best described as “vinegary, with subtle undertones of bleach”.

Not a great triumph. However, just next to the carefully tended blackberry bed is a large, heavily shaded patch of my plot which I have left fallow. I strimmed it back in the spring and then pretty much ignored it, casting a blind eye while head-high brambles shot up.

“Next year’s project”, I thought. And then the brambles all started flowering, and before I knew it I have so far harvested just over 3 kilos of gorgeous-tasting blackberries.

Go figure.

It would be churlish to complain, and I shall try to ignore the lesson screaming to be learnt here: “just ignore everything and you’ll be much better off. ” I’m not sure the rest of the patch would benefit from quite such a shabby approach to vegetable husbandry.

For the time being though, who’s complaining?

Blackberry jam

Equal parts blackberries and jam / preserving sugar

1 lemon

Put the blackberries and the sugar in a saucepan with the juice of the lemon. Bring to a gentle boil. Stir regularly. Not sure if that makes any difference but it is wonderfully soothing to do so.

When the jam has set stick it in jars. To test if it has set, pop a saucer in the fridge. Drip a spoonful of jam onto it and wait a few seconds. Push the jam with your finger and if it’s ready you’ll see some wrinkles on the jam.

Before sticking the jam into the jars I boil them for a few minutes in a big saucepan.

Not sure that’s the most scientific or effective way of making jam, but it tastes delicious and I’m still strong enough to knock out this post after a couple of weeks of eating it…

On the ipod while being a domestic goddess: The Jam / Greatest Hits. You didn’t think I was going to miss that opportunity did you?