In the last year, particularly since my article on Carfree living in Dublin was published in The Irish Times, people have been asking me if I write a blog. Up until now, I haven’t (have you seen the amount of stuff I try to do in a day?!) I am going to attempt one for the future.

September is a busy time in the Hooke household. It’s now that the produce of our allotments starts piling up, waiting to be eaten or processed for storing. Last Sunday, Shaun and I harvested masses of fruit and veg – potatoes, red and white cabbages, broccoli, courgettes, lettuce, onions, scallions, carrots, beetroot, apples, raspberries, plums and damsons. I’ve probably left something out.

I’ve had a list as long as my arm of things to be done with all of this veg. First up was to try damson jam – I’ve never had any before and was dying to find out what it was like, having read plenty about how lovely it was. I followed a recipe I found online:

1kg damsons

350mls water

1.3 kgs sugar

Cook the damsons and water until reduced by half, fishing out the stones as they surface.

Add the water, bring to the boil and boil about 10 minutes until setting point is reached.

Unfortunately, I took my eye off the jam and I think I overcooked it. I’m so disappointed, as it’s so jammed into the jars it’s going to be very hard to get it out, let alone spread it on a piece of toast! It also doesn’t taste as interestingly different as I thought it would, neither sweet nor bitter. On the plus side it is a beautiful colour, and ads a jewel-like sparkle to my storage shelf!

Second job was to make courgette and chickpea curry for bottling. This veg-based curry has been a staple favourite in the Hooke household for as many years as we’ve been over-estimating the number of courgette plants we need. It uses up a huge number of courgettes, or a number of huge courgettes, whichever. Shaun’s the curry recipe expert, so I’ll post the ingredients later. The bottling process is relatively easy, with the right equipment, about 1 hour at pressure. We didn’t cook the curry fully initially in order to avoid both courgettes and chickpeas turning to mush in the pressure canner.

Thirdly, I made some pickled beetroot,  very simple way to store beetroot that everyone in our house loves. We tend to grow a lot of beetroot – it’s a particular favourite of Bobby’s. But they’re all ready to use at about the same time, so we need ways of storing them. In the past, we’ve par-boiled and frozen chopped beetroot, but we’re trying to avoid freezing as a method of preservation now. We will attempt to can beetroot for roasting, but this week I wanted to pickle as I already had some of the vinegar I prepared last year.

To pickle beetroot, clean beetroot, but leave root and about an inch of stalk on.

Wrap whole beetroot in tinfoil and roast in oven for about 2 hours at 180C.

Meanwhile, heat up malt or red wine vinegar along with whole cloves, coriander seed and black pepper and a bay leaf and boil for one minute.

When beetroot is done, peel and chop into slices. Pack into sterilised jars, pour over boiling vinegar (drained of spices). Close lid and store.

This year we had a lot of white beetroot, grown for a change. It’s interesting to note that if a dish of them is put in the middle of a table to be shared during dinner, most people avoid the white pieces, favouring instead the beautiful deep purple version of the root, despite the fact that they taste no different. Just shows, the power of the eye over what we find appetising!

The next couple of days I’ll be busy with birthday parties – may have to make a chocolate beetroot cake so if I do I will post the recipe (I think it’s Rivier Cottage) and a photo.


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