Thinning out Autumn King carrots

Bunch of carrots
For me, the Autumn King carrot is truly a regal offering from the veg plot. It’s always been a winner; a reliable grower with strong, straight roots with plenty of flavour.

Last night I began thinning my carrots out from a thriving patch of haphazardly sown seed. The carrots are approaching maturity and size ready for harvest – maybe they’ve got another 3-4 weeks to go before they’re really ready –  but even the thinned out baby carrots were a decent size.

And the scent as they were pulled from the earth! There’s nothing quite like it.

Little E loved the cooked carrots with her dinner, eating the whole lot along with some other fresh veggies and mashed potato. That’s always been part of my dream – to provide homegrown, fresh organically grown food for my family.

And if our little venture (see previous blog post) comes into fruition, I might be able to start making a little living off the land too.

Vegan Easter weekend feast

We’ve already been spoiled here in Bedfordshire this April, with bright blue skies and highs of 21C last weekend. And although the tulips and daffodils seemed to be positively basking in the summery haze, this week’s chilly breezes are serving as a stark reminder not to get too ahead of ourselves. It’s still spring; cardigans and tights are still very much required, and with Easter only a few days away, we have the perfect weather for a celebratory warming roast.

Lentil squash vegan pie

Where lamb is the traditional centrepiece in British Easter feasts, my vegan take on an Easter main dish is a hearty squash and lentil pie. I hadn’t tried making this particular pie before, but for my roast I wanted a subtle nod to middle eastern cuisine in honour of the origins of the Easter story (recipe below). Accompanied with the usual roast potatoes, parsnips and veggies, it turned out to be a mini shortcrust-encased triumph.

Lentil butternut squash vegan pie

Thanks to Debenhams and their Home collection, for this Easter roast dinner I had a few new kitchen utensils to play with, including a 20 cm copper base saucepan; something I’ve always coveted due to excellent heat conductivity of the copper. (The saucepan’s handy in-built strainer is also a winner, as now I’m officially a busy mum anything that makes life that little bit easier is so, so welcome). You can also check out the multi-use black Joseph Joseph Cut&Carve chopping board here.

Joseph Joseph cut and carve chopping board

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND LENTIL PIE RECIPE

(serves 4-6)

Ingredients
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cubed
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 medium red onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 tin green lentils
1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
Vegetable stock
Fresh rosemary sprig or dried rosemary to taste
Dried sage to taste
Mixed herbs to taste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Olive oil for cooking

For vegan shortcrust pastry
200g/7oz plain flour
Pinch of salt
50g TREX vegetable fat, cubed
50g dairy free spread, cubed
Cold water

METHOD

Preparing the pastry in advance
1. Sift flour into a bowl, add the salt and rub together the flour and fat to make a breadcrumb consistency.
2. Add a little water at a time (around 1tsp per ounce of flour) gradually to the mixture, making sure the dough does not become too wet. Keep combining the water and fat/flour mix until the breadcrumbs begin to stick together and hold.
3. Knead in the bowl until the dough is smooth and doesn’t crack.
4. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out the pastry. If needed, roll flat onto cling film and refrigerate.

Pie filling
1. Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
2. Boil butternut squash and sweet potatoes in salted water or with veg stock. Meanwhile, dice onions and finely chop garlic.
3. Once the squash and sweet potato has boiled, set aside until the onions and garlic have softened, then combine boiled veg. Add enough water with veg stock powder to keep the ingredients from burning.
4. Drain the tin of green lentils and add to the mixture, as well as a liberal helping of sage and mixed herbs. Then add the dijon mustard, tomato puree and a fresh rosemary sprig (to be removed before decanting into a dish).
5. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes and stir occasionally; the mixture should become thicker. Drain off any liquid if necessary and add tomato puree to help thicken if required.
6. Remove pastry from fridge and roll out. Take a shallow casserole dish or pie dish and pour in pie filling ingredients. Lay pastry over the top, trim the edges and crimp. Prick the pastry in a couple of places, and wash with soya milk or almond milk.
7. Cook in oven for 30-40 mins until pastry goldens.

So there it is – something a little bit different to enjoy this Easter weekend. We’ve got plenty of portions of pie to enjoy, so they’ll be going in the freezer ready for another round of roast potatoes and parsnips, and some tasty homegrown veg!

orange tulips

Some raspberry TLC for nitrogen deficiency

Yellowing leaves on raspberries

Yellowing leaves are a tell-tale sign of a nutrient deficiency

Having looked back at some photos of my Polka raspberries from last year, I think they have been suffering from a nitrogen deficiency. Not surprising, since I barely remembered to water, let alone feed, the raspberry canes all year. The tell-tale yellowing leaves didn’t have much of a trace of brown in them, which would suggest a magnesium deficiency. Rather, the pinkish hue that crept into some of the leaves made me pin the lacklustre foliage and yields on a lack of nitrogen.

Usually, I start the year off by dressing the ground around the shallow raspberry roots with some compost, followed on with fresh grass clippings to release nutrients and retain water. Having failed to do either last year, this year I need a quick fix (poultry poop, free range from friends’ pet-only homes), followed by a liberal mulching of well-rotted garden compost for a slower-release supply of nitrogen.

Raspberry plants

The raspberries looked a little healthier, but still weak, earlier in the season

If there’s a magnesium deficiency there, half a cup of Epsom salts diluted in a watering can should do the trick.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a little bit of TLC and a boost in the right nutrients will be just the fix I’m looking for, especially as my mum is ready and waiting in the wings to collect lots of the fruit for her cake baking this year. That’s more than enough motivation in itself to get the plants back in working order!