Saturday 7 September 2013

Show Time!

The Allotment "Annual Show" is drawing near and even though I have grown nothing even half good enough to enter, I already feel a vague sense of panic. If I had know the format of "show enteries" I may have applied some purpose to my haphazard and ramshackle, random planting. For example the "Melville Cup" - Best Collection of Vegetables which requires three items from the following list
  • THREE carrots with 75mm (3in) top foliage
  • SIX French Beans with stalks attached
  • THREE onions
  • SIX peas with stalks attached
  • THREE runner Beans with stalks attached
  • SIX tomatoes with stalks attached, any variety
The only item I could get even close to is the tomatoes, although mine are still totally green and unlikely to ripen in time for next weekend.  My French beans are unpredictable, my peas are all finished and I am assuming that the emphasis on "stalks attached" is to prevent you from supplementing the odd category with a little produce from the local supermarket.

My chances with the next Class - "the collection of THREE distinct salad vegetables in groups of three" is no better. From the list
  • Beetroot, cabbage, celeriac, celery, chicory, cucumber, endive, Florence fennel, kohl rabi, lettuce, onions, spring onion, potatoes, radishes, sweet peppers, tomatoes and turnips 

I have only managed to grow five of the named salad vegetables and the stress of worrying whether any of them, let alone three of them, may be in "show condition" on the day is really too much - I mean THREE cucumbers or THREE Florence fennel - which must be "even-sized, unblemished and undamaged" is just not going to happen - well, not this year anyway.

Even in the photography competition I fear I do not really have one photo which recapitulates "Life on the Plot" in its entirety.

Next I contemplated the "John Grey Cup for Home Produce" and my options from the list

Unless stated use your own recipe
ONE jar of marmalade, made in the past 12 months
ONE jar of chutney, made in the last 12 months
ONE jar of soft fruit jam, made in the last 12 monts
SIX pieces of shortbread
SIX rock cakes
Victoria sponge - using the following recipe and an 18cm (7inch) cake tin:
110g (4oz) butter or margarine
110g (4oz) caster sugar
110g (4oz) self-raising flour
2 eggs
3-4 drops vanilla essence
Jam for the filling

Although I do have a selection of home made jams, marmalades and chutneys on my shelves, I have failed to label any of them and have no idea which of them were made in the last 12 months. Shocked by my failure in this basic house keeping practice, I feel almost compelled to make amends by baking a perfect Victoria Sponge but I have no 7inch cake tin and besides, it is not exactley the most inspiring recipe. Surely no one has used margarine in a cake since the end of rationing after the Second World War!

So finally, the only option left to me is the Best Trug Display until I notice that not only is my trug the wrong size BUT the display must include vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers and since I don't have any fruit (since rhubarb is classified as a vegetable) or flowers, I do not qualify! Never mind. Next year!

In the meantime I am proud to say that I have managed to grow something apart from courgettes. This is my Borlotti Bean harvest and I think there is actually enough for one small meal! These beans are delicious with so many things but especially fish (Red Mullet, Scallops or Sea Bass), Meat (Roast Lamb or Bacon) or with braised bitter green vegetables like Cicoria or dark leafy greens such as Cavalo Nero. (I am very proud to say that I grew the Cavalo Nero as well.) Here is one of my favorite recipes from The River Cafe.

Pan-fried Scallops, Borlotti Beans, Braised Cavalo Nero and Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce
Fresh beans will take about 45 minutes to cook, but you're more likely to get dried beans, they are cheap and very reliable to cook. However, they will need soaking for at least 12 hours.

For the beans:
300g dried Borlotti or cannellini beans, soaked in cold water for at least 12 hours
3 cloves garlic, peeled
A few sprigs fresh thyme
A sprig fresh rosemary
3 bay leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil

For the Scallops:

12 scallops

For the Cavalo Nero:
1 head Cavalo Nero
Couple of good glugs of Extra Virgin Olive oil
3 cloves of garlic 

If using dried beans then drain the soaked beans, then give them a good wash. Place them in a deep pot and cover them with cold water. Throw in the garlic, herb sprigs and bay leaves. Place the beans on the heat and slowly bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and simmer very gently for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on whether you're using fresh or dried, until soft and cooked nicely. Skim if necessary, topping up with boiling water from the kettle if you need to.

When the beans are cooked, drain them in a colander, reserving enough of the cooking water to cover them halfway up when put back in the pot. Remove the herbs from the beans. Mush up the garlic cloves and stir back into the beans. Season well with salt and pepper, and pour in 3 generous glugs of extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and reduce until slightly creamy and delicious.

Strip the Cavalo from its stems.  Blanch in a large pan of boiling salted water for about 3 minutes.  Remove and leave to cool preferably on a dry tea towel, spread out flat.  When cool, squeeze out the excess water with the tea towel.  Roughly chop.  Very thinly slice a few cloves of garlic and fry in a large frying pan with some good olive oil until light brown.  Add the Cavalo, stir well and cook for a further minute or two. Season with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Season the Scallops with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Fry them in a hot frying pan with a little sunflower oil.  Cook them on one side for a few minutes until toasted, golden brown and fry then turn them over, leave for a minute and turn off the frying-pan. Pile a little Cavalo Nero onto your plate, scatter with the warm home-cooked beans and a little of the juices and finally top with the scallops. Drizzle with Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce.

Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce

2 tbsp. fresh young rosemary leaves, very finely chopped
12 anchovy fillets
Juice of 1 lemon
150mls very good extra-virgin olive oil

Place rosemary leaves in a mortar and grind as finely as possible. Add anchovy fillets and grind to a paste. Add lemon juice, mix well, and then, stirring constantly, add oil, a few drops at a time. Transfer sauce to a small bowl.


  1. Allotment shows sound a bit anxiety-inducing! Your scallops look wonderful though!

  2. Love scallops, love anchovies, love rosemary - this looks altogether delicious.

  3. This really is so simple and so good. Works really well with lamb as well.


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