Eat / Gift / Grow / nature

Allotment Love

It only took me one visit to fall in love with the Transition Loughborough community allotment. I’d been excited enough to discover it existed. Finding out that it was on a beautiful site, complete with its own stream and a lot of plots – including a spare one that I have my eye on – was the cherry on top.

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I wasn’t free to go on Wednesday this week (when the community meets) so took a trip to the allotment on Tuesday instead. Weeding and watering don’t stand on ceremony, and I figured I could be as much use to the land on a Tuesday as a Wednesday.

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My partner drove us there (which does give me eco-guilt but my body won’t allow me to both walk to the allotment and have any energy left for gardening. I’m dependent on getting a lift for now, although I do harbour dreams of having a tricycle so I can gently make my way there along the canal: I’m unable to ride a bike which is apparently pretty common with people who have EDS, as it affects proprioception).

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My partner and I couldn’t help noticing the blackberries as we walked to the plot. The canal bank is full of them too: it’s safe to say it looks like a bumper year for blackberry crumble, fruit leather and gin (among other things).

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Blackberry season always sneaks up on me and feels like it’s too early (blackberries are so autumn-evocative to me that it feels as if they should fruit in late September – but they can actually appear as early as June).

I find foraging has fine-tuned my internal clock, and increased my awareness of the passage of time: wild garlic and fresh spring nettles moves to elderflower, blackberries, elderberries, hips and haws, apples, nuts and mushrooms.

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I’ve yet to have the confidence and knowledge to safely pick mushrooms alone, though I did spend a lovely afternoon with someone who knew their mushrooms a few years back, and have a keen eye for fungi. I’m also entranced by the myriad varieties available, and honing my mycological prowess is definitely on my ‘things to do’ list.

However, the allotment had lots more to offer that I could identify. Having discovered that home made redcurrant and blackcurrant cordial are cheaper, lower in sugar and tastier than store-bought alternatives, I wanted to top up my supplies (I’ll be taking some with me to the allotment next time I can make it on the day they meet).

I also wanted to add to my ‘Fairy Fizz’ collection. Ever since studying yeast as part of 30 Days Wild, and experimenting with elderflower and rose petal champagne, I’ve developed a newfound love of floral and fruity wine making. I’m not a big drinker but Cava and Prosecco have long been my preferred choice (along with good quality spirits, particularly single malt whisky).

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Discovering that I can turn fruit into fizz was a bit of a ‘Rumplestiltskin‘ moment: rather than spinning straw into gold, I am turning fruit or flowers, sugar, lemon juice and yeast into ‘Fairy Fizz’ (I came up with the generic name as listing all the flavours is getting a little long-winded now, with everything from redcurrant to gooseberry, lemon balm to elderflower and clover.)

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I’m still finishing off making them but between 30 Days Wild and my newfound allotment love, I’m up to around 30 bottles of Fairy fizz and floral liqueurs – for a total cost of well under £50, most of which went on the base spirits.

I’ve always loved cooking, and playing with recipes. I also love science. Making my own drinks satisfies both these passions – and saves money too. Last year, I had to buy drinks for my crew at Latitude Festival. This year, we have a lot more to drink – and some healthy cordials to keep us refreshed – for a fraction of the price.

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To ‘pay’ for our provisions, my partner watered the allotment while I weeded the beds, which are at the ‘need daily weeding’ stage.

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The convolvulus (aka bindweed) is ambitious. I have made it a mental mission to try to rid the allotment of it. I fear it may be a Sisyphean task (if a tad less painful).

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2017-07-04 22.27.29.jpgI also stripped off any diseased looking leaves I could find, and checked nothing was too overcrowded.

The coriander has started to go to seed. However, I’ve discovered that a bunch of coriander flowers is a lovely way to scent a room. They don’t last long, but they fill the air with freshness while they do.

I had deliberately saved plastic packaging I had to bring with me.

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This meant that I could save hours stripping berries – and covering the kitchen floor with leaves – at home, and pick the fruit and veg directly into containers that I could store in the fridge. It also saved me time separating out fruit, which was something that took too long for my liking after the last time I went to the allotment.

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If you have an allotment, save any packaging with a lid, as it can make collecting and storing allotment food so much easier. Of course, it’s even better if you don’t use any plastic packaging at all. If this is the case, cardboard boxes can work just as well – or use a tiffin tin to easily collect and store different finds.

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The gooseberries were starting to come into season – reminding me of their thorniness with a couple of prickles. There are two types (I think – they may be the same gooseberry at different ages).

One was still bright green, so I picked some to create a gooseberry cordial for my mum, who loves sour gooseberries. The other was pale pink – and perfect to add to gin as it looks pretty as well as adding a complementary flavour.

I also wanted to make some gooseberry ‘fairy fizz’ (given that I even have coffee fizz on the go at the moment, there is a risk that everything I encounter may be turned into fizz soon…)

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I also topped up on blackberries, redcurrants and borage flowers, and admired the plots.

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There is a lot of borage at the allotment, and I like using edible flowers in food and drink.

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Once I was home, after enjoying a nasturtium, courgette flower, coriander, spinach and lettuce salad – so tasty it barely needed dressing – I added the blackcurrants to my borage gin. I’d been disappointed to discover that borage doesn’t hold its glorious colour in spirits, instead going a grubby brown.

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However, blackcurrants are vibrant enough to mask all manner of unappetising colours – as are redcurrants – so I decided to use them to make the drink look as good as it tastes.

I also added more borage flowers, as I think it’s a great flavour, and wanted it to come through without the blackcurrants drowning it out. I found out on Folklore Thursday that borage drinks were used to give a man the courage to propose. I’ve warned my partner not to drink it inadvertently as I’d hate such a decision to be based on booze.

As ever, my time at the allotment was both relaxing and money-saving. If you’re short on money (or just like the idea of communal gardening), investigate whether there’s a community allotment near you.

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*As with any cut flowers I have, once the coriander flowers wilt, I press them, so that their beauty isn’t wasted. For speed, I have a blank A4 notebook underneath a pile of heavy books, so I can simply open the book, put the flowers between two pages of the book that don’t already have flowers in them, and return the heavy books on top to press them. It doesn’t have the same finesse as using an actual flower press, as the tighter you press, the flatter the flower will be. However, for bulk-pressing background greenery,  and flowers you’ve dead-headed that are past their best, it’s great – and I like a little more three-dimensionality in my art on occasion.

 

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