Summertime

left to right from the top: Chaucer students get stuck into Plot18 during the holidays, apples growing at LEAF, the Bee Project at LEAF, blackberry picking.
left to right from the top:
Chaucer students get stuck into Plot108 during the holidays, apples growing at LEAF, the Bee Project at LEAF, blackberry picking.

“Summertime…” says the George Gershwin song “….and the living is easy.” With the summer we’ve been having there have certainly been some days when just sitting down and enjoying the sun and all that’s alive around you has without doubt been the most sensible thing to do. That said there’s still been plenty of work to do on the various plots and allotments PXI is involved in – Plot107 has produced loads of fruit this year, especially rhubarb and gooseberries despite the fact its all got a bit overgrown in places, and now we’ve teamed up with Chaucer school to work on the neighbouring Plot108 we’re hoping to be even more productive next year as we also hope to use it as a base for some out of school youth work.

As well as the work in Parson Cross Park, we’ve been busy down on Herries Road at LEAF and at Plot64. The new plot is still taking time to get into a productive state again, with loads of weeding and digging out still to be done as well as avoiding disturbing wasps nests! Even so it’s gradually beginning to take shape and hopefully by next season we’ll be looking to plant.

At LEAF we’ve been busy with some enthusiasm from some of our younger volunteers over the summer helping to do much needed work harvesting, weeding and replanting. The bees are also doing really well there and continue to busy themselves with storing up and making honey. We’ve also had time for some social time, last Saturday LEAF threw “open house” and invited people round for tea, using food made from stuff grown on our various allotments – in the end about fifteen people came and made their own pizzas in the pizza oven before sampling a range of pies, cakes and crumbles.

Soon we’ll be looking to the apples and pears and other “hard fruits” and hopefully be working once again alongside Abundance (the Sheffield urban harvesting group http://growsheffield.com/abundance/  ) and starting some more jam and chutney making and cooking sessions at Mount Tabor and at the Cross at Yew Lane. So enjoy the last few weeks of summer, and look forward to the seasons to come.

Harvest time & the story of Stone Soup

A week or so ago we spent the last weekend of the school holidays camping in Northumberland, long into the evening and even under moonlight the combine harvesters were hard at work bringing in the wheat harvest …. clearly the summer is over and we begin to look towards Autumn and the dark nights of winter time. This time of year though we traditionally, and rightly celebrate the harvest, of course with our food coming nowadays from across the globe harvest no longer has the same sense of season to many people that it used to – however, it is still important to remember and celebrate that all our food is grown and harvested somewhere by someone.Ultimately as a person of Christian faith I also thank God for the abundance of what the earth can produce – but also reflect on the unfair ways in we as humans share in that abundance.

The bible tells a story of how Jesus gives a message about abundance and fair distribution with loaves and fishes (Mark 6.30-44) but this week a friend shared another story about sharing the harvest with me, here it is:

“There was once a group of travellers who passed through a city, much like this.

Tired and hungry, they knocked on doors asking for food. Times were hard, and no one had any food to spare. At last, the group settled in a garden in the middle of the city and began to boil water over a fire. They added some herbs to the water and the scent drew people from streets all around.

In front of the gathering crowd, one of the travellers pulled a stone from his coat and placed it carefully in the cauldron.
Well’ he pronounced loudly, ‘I do love stone soup. But stone soup with cabbage…that’s hard to beat.’

Soon a man approached hesitantly, holding a small cabbage he’d retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot.

“Wonderful!!” cried the stranger. “You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of onion as well, and it was fit for a king.”

An onion was promptly found, and soon, carrots, broccoli, peas and cauliflowers came forward from every household to add to the soup.

At last, the cauldron was brimming with food – enough to feed all the people gathered.

And that is the story of stone soup.”

Making the most of it

Beetroots, Onion, Potatoes and Chives fresh from Plot107

With all the produce coming off the plot at the moment I thought it was about time to try and make the most of it – so today I decided to make my first soup from scratch!

Taking four beetroot, I began to peel them after removing the roots and the leaves – do you know, every time I use them it amazes me just how much beetroots stain your hands, by the end of the process both my hands were a bright pink.

Next I peeled one large onion – the onions on the plot seem to have done really well this year, I think all the rain must have really helped them – after cutting them finely I added them into the pot with the beetroots. Next I added the potatoes, no need to peel them a simple wash was plenty sufficient before chopping these in turn and adding to the pan. Once in the pan all the ingredients were lightly fried for a short time just to soften them up before adding the chives and putting them all in the blender with some vegetable stock, after just a couple of minutes of mechanical mashing the resulting soup was ready ….. and very tasty.  All that is needed now is some nice bread to go with it !

All in the pan and softening up

This week we had another meeting of the community allotment group, a bit unusual in that we had it outside as the council key holder never arrived to open up the pavillion. There was a lot of discussion about all the things that people feel the council need to do on the plots at the moment and also about the red tape rulings that seem to stop volunteers from doing some of the work themselves. Still I’m sure we’ll battle on and eventually we’ll get things sorted, key things to be tackled are:

  • Overgrown / unallocated plots
  • Water supply
  • Poly tunnel & container
  • Communal areas

In order to get some of these jobs done there’s going to be a work day on the plots on 29th September – so put the date in your diary, pop along to lend a hand and lets make the most of it!

Greece is the word

With the sunshine and heat, and dare I say it with the Governments message of “austerity” for all but the richest, we could be forgiven recently for thinking we live somewhere like Greece – so it is that I saw this report from BBC News and thought it might be of interest to Plot107 blog readers.

BBC report on allotments in Greece

The story shows how in Greece, ravaged by government cuts, and political crisis, allotments have become an important place not just for family food but for providing support to those greatest in need.Click on the link to see the story in full.  Allotments in Greece Katya Adler reports from Athens.

I’m not wanting to be overly political here, but it ties into my other recent post about “jubilee” and the need for us to become aware more and more about the importance of fairness, social justice and even community owned land, and our ability to grow food on it…. and sadly although the sunshine won’t ever match that of Greece there’s no promise that we won’t find families being in similar need…. after in the last twelve months at least six new Food Banks have been opened by churches in North Sheffield alone to meet the needs  of people and families in crisis. Makes you think – and pray!

Allotment Soup 2011

The new Clay oven at LEAF is used to bake fresh pizzas for Allotment Soup

Today was Allotment Soup day at LEAF community allotments on Herries Road, Fay and Nick were both there to talk to people about PXI-Space to Grow and the Parson Cross Park allotments. As well as different art activities there was lots of food and drink on offer from freshly squeezed apple juice from Abundance – to freshly baked pizzas using the new clay oven belonging to LEAF, and lots and lots of home made cake.

We were also treated to some music from the Karen Community Choir who sang a number of songs for us all. The Karen community come originally from Burma and many of them used to be farmers, and so the celebration of the harvest has a real significance to them. Here’s the words to one of the songs they sang for us:

“While the world looks upon me,

as I struggle along and they say I have nothing –

but they are so wrong.

In my heart I’m rejoicing, how I wish they could see,

Thank you Lord for your blessings on me.

I know I’m not wealthy, and these clothes are not new,

and I don’t have much money but Lord I have you,

and to me that’s all that matters, though the world may not see,

Thank you Lord for your blessings on me.”

Chutney in the Park

A group of us had some fun this morning up at the pavilion making chutney from the Abundance recipe. We made around six jars of Apple Chutney using the apples we harvested a few weeks ago and six jars of Apple & Pear Chutney ….. it has to be said they both tasted lovely. We were all commenting about how much food that grows around us is still left to waste,and the joys (apart from when there are wasps nests) of going out to pick blackberries, bilberries and yes even apples and pears.

In case you want to experiment at home, here’s the recipe.

Abundance Chutney Recipe

This recipe makes about 1.8kg (4lbs) of Apple Chutney, which should fill 6 medium jars.

Ingredients

900g (2lb) local cooking apples (after coring and peeling)

225g (8oz) onions (again after peeling and chopping)

560ml to 840ml (1 pint – 1.5 pints) vinegar (start with a pint, you may need less)

350g (12oz) brown sugar (again, see how sweet the apples are, use less if necessary)

56g (2oz) mixed pickling spice (in a spice bag/tied up tea towel, bashed a bit) OR 1-2 tsp powdered spice (straight into the mixture)

225g (8oz) raisins or sultanas

14g (1/2oz) salt

2 tsp ground ginger

Method

1. Peel and finely chop the onion. Put into a pan with the vinegar (a pint to start with). Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft.

2. Meanwhile, peel, core and finely chop the apples.

3. Add the apples to the onions and vinegar, bring back to the boil, and simmer, mixing well, so that the fruit starts to soften.

4. Add all the other ingredients and the spices. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring frequently to avoid the mixture catching on the bottom of the pan.

5. Keep going until the chutney is thick and brown. Lovely!

6. Pour into hot, clean, sterilised jars immediately, and seal.

7. Label with contents once fully cooled.

Sterilising Jars

To sterilise your jars, wash them in hot, soapy water, rinse with hot water, then dry with a clean tea towel. Place on a baking tray, and put in a low oven (100C/gas mark 1) for 10 minutes. The jars will be hot: be careful, and don’t put them on a cold surface. Alternatively, run the jars through the hot cycle on a dishwasher.

Add the chutney to the jars while they’re still hot. As the chutney cools down, it will contract, pulling down the tamper button in the lids. Et voila. Perfect jars of sustainable chutney, that will only get better with age.

The Harvest Continues …..

Angela working on the harvest

Angela, Fay and I were out harvesting as Abundance (North Sheffield) again today, and picked another four boxes full of lovely apples. We got to try out the new extendable apple picking grabs loaned to us by Diane at LEAF, so a big thanks to her for that …. they worked a treat!

A big thanks also to Linda and her family who kindly offered her trees into this years harvest, its wonderful to see just how many people and groups can benefit from one family sharing the abundance of their own harvest.

Having been safely gathered in the apples are now being stored at PXI offices at Mount Tabor and ready for redistribution in the community. Some will be used by allotmenteers on the 20th September when we get together at the pavilion in Parson Cross Park to have a chutney making session, but there’s loads left still so if anyone wants any or has ideas for where they could be used let me know.

Apples picked and ready to go to Mount Tabor

If you’ve any recipes for using apples creatively other than pies and crumbles (delicious though these are) feel free to add them here as a comment. So far this season we’ve picked around 220llbs of apples and 20llb of pears!