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On the Allotment - caterpillars, potatoes & making chutney!

I have been on caterpillar patrol at my allotments for weeks now and must have cut hundreds in half with my scissors. Gruesome thoughts I know, but last year they reduced my Purple Sprouting Broccoli to lace before the plants had even started growing! The bold black and yellow larvae of the Large White Butterfly are easy to spot, but the green ones, which are the larvae of the Small White Butterflies, are well camouflaged against the leaves!  I try to spray my vegetables as little as possible and physical removal is one of the best ways to deal with these voracious eaters! What with the local pigeons and the few caterpillars that escaped my scissors for a while, some of my sprout plants look a little tattered and one or two of the broccoli as well. But with a good feed of pelleted chicken manure and hoeing to keep the weeds at bay, they are strong enough to stand the winter now.

As well as my brassicas, including some plants of Cavolo nero or black Kale, that the caterpillars were not so keen on, I have two rows of parsnips and lots of leeks. All these vegetables are perfectly hardy and will stay in the ground through the winter so that they can be lifted as we need them. Ideal if we get cut off in our village again by snow!  At least we can always make some soup and homemade bread to warm us up!

Sarpo Mira PotatoesMy potatoes for store have all been lifted now and are in boxes in the garage.  ‘Sarpo Mira’ was my choice of main crop potato. These are a red skinned, blight resistant variety. I cut the top growth off at the end of August to prevent the tubers from getting starchy and lifted them during September on a dry sunny day so as not to take too much earth with them! Blight resistant they may be but the slugs were onto them and a few had been hollowed out to shells. Mrs McGregor spent quite a bit of time sorting through them to use any damaged ones first, only storing the perfect specimens which should last us until after Christmas. By not washing them and storing them in the dark, potatoes will keep well until next spring when they begin to shoot again.

The strong winds that we have had recently have almost finished off the runner beans and they are starting to go stringy. However, there are still enough to make a few jars of spiced runner bean pickle, which was a winner last year. The last of the courgettes are coming in as well but they have been disappointing this year –I don’t really know why. Mrs McGregor loves to make courgette and walnut chutney for Christmas presents but we have only managed two small batches this year.

Now it is a battle with the weather to hoe off the weeds on vacant areas and around the winter crops as well as starting winter digging when time and soil conditions allow.


Beetroot in Jelly

Big bunch of medium sized beetroot

1 Raspberry jelly

1pt vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Gently wash the beetroot and twist off the tops. Boil in water until tender and allow to cool. Slip off the skins and cut the beets into small dice. Melt the jelly in the vinegar over a low heat and add the sugar. Stir until everything has dissolved. Pack the diced beetroot into sterilized jars and pour in enough jelly mixture to cover. Set in fridge. Once set, label and store in a cupboard for use through winter.

This recipe has been passed down from my grandmother.

Courgette and Walnut Chutney

1 ½ lb courgettes, sliced

1 ½ tablespoons salt

8oz ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped

4oz onions, chopped

3oz sultanas

1 tablespoon coarsely grated orange rind (or lemon)

1lb sugar (Demerara is good!)

12 fl oz spiced vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3oz walnuts, chopped

Put the courgettes in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Leave for 2 hours then rinse and dry. Put in a pan with the remaining ingredients except the walnuts and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer until thickened and then stir in the walnuts. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.

Makes about 3lb.

Adapted from the book preserves and pickles by Heather Lambert.

Mr McGregor


Barbecue Recipes

bbq recipesTo help your summer sparkle we have brought together some brilliant BBQ recipes from across the world. Ditch the dull supermarket bought sausages and burgers and instead throw some locally sourced fresh fish, home-grown vegetables and even fruit onto the grill. With these fantastic recipes you can be outside and enjoying the sunshine quicker than you can say ‘barbecue’.

BBQ Fish recipes

Why not find out how flavoursome fish can be when you put it on the barbie with these recipes? They’re simple, but will always make an impact when served onto the table.

Salmon with soy and brown sugar marinade


1 tbsp lemon zest                                     1 tbsp garlic (finely chopped)

Freshly ground black pepper                      5 tbsp soy sauce

4 tbsp dark brown soft sugar                     5 tbsp water

4 tbsp vegetable oil 700g                           Salmon fillets


  1. Mix all of the ingredients listed above (apart from the salmon) together in a bowl until sugar is dissolved.
  2.  Place the fish in a large resealable plastic bag, along with the marinade and seal. Make sure the marinade is covered on both sides of the salmon.
  3.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours until ready to BBQ.

Stuffed Red Snapper


3 tbsp butter                                               5 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs

1 spring onion (chopped)                             1/8 tsp salt

1 stalk celery (diced)                                   1 clove garlic (finely chopped)

110g cooked prawns                                    110g cooked crab meat

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley                        Fillet red snapper

1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper       


  1. When making the stuffing, melt 2 tbsp of butter in a frying pan and then add the breadcrumbs. Sauté and stir the mixture over medium to high heat until the breadcrumbs are browned and put into a mixing bowl.
  2. Melt the rest of the butter in the frying pan and sauté the spring onion, celery and garlic until tender.
  3. Add them to the mixing bowl with the breadcrumbs and add the prawns, crab, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss gently.
  4. On a cutting board lay foil on the surface area and place the fillets of red snapper on top. Mould the stuffing on top of the fillets and curl up the edges of the foil.

Indian spiced sea food (Medium-hot)


Fish of choice (whole)                    1 tbsp red chilli powder

1 tsp garlic paste                           1 tsp ginger paste

1 tsp black pepper powder             1 tsp chaat masala powder

1/2 tsp gram masala powder          1 tbsp white vinegar

1 tbsp soy sauce                            1 tbsp lemon juice

Salt to taste                                   2 tbsp olive oil


  1. Wash the fish and remove the fins, leaving the tail and head intact and score the fish to the bone three times.
  2. Apply the ginger and garlic pastes between the fish cuts and leave to marinate for 10-12 minutes.
  3. Whilst you’re leaving the fish to marinate, mix the rest of the ingredients (apart from the olive oil) together in a mixing bowl.
  4. Now apply the rest of the spices to the cuts you previously made to your fish and leave to marinade, again for another 10-12 minutes.
  5. Before cooking rub olive oil over your fish.

Barbecuing Vegetables and Fruit

When you grill vegetables on a barbecue the flavour intensifies as the moisture evaporates and the sugars become condensed. Vegetables should be grilled on a medium heat until it has grill marks and is tender when pierced with a knife. The amount of time a vegetable takes to cook depends on the size and how it’s been prepared.

When it comes to fruit, you should wait until the coals begin to die out. It’s important to know that soft fruits such as bananas and plums just need to be heated and not cooked and benefit from having their skins still on as this prevents them becoming mushy. With hard fruits a great tip is to brush them with butter to prevent them from sticking to the grill. Again the time it takes to cook them relies heavily on the size and how it’s been prepared.

TOP TIP: Due to many fruits having a high level of water it’s a good idea to let them cool for a while, otherwise the fruit may cause serious burns to the mouth.

Cooking Techniques

When cooking fish people tend to wrap their fish in foil to help capture all the flavours and prevent the fish being burnt. However, there is another way that keeps your fish moist and makes for an interesting barbecue display – this technique is called Plank Cooking.

Plank Cooking

  1. Ensure you have a good set of wood planks (these tend to be cedar or alder) and give them a good wash.
  2. Before you use them lug some olive oil in the hollowed out areas to stop them from cracking and soak them for at least 30 minutes.
  3. When your barbecues reaches roughly 180°C (350°F) place the planks in and leave for 10 minutes so they can warm up.
  4. When your planks are warm remove them using tongs, place your fish and return to the BBQ to cook for roughly 15 minutes, depending on size.



Veg Of The Month

The Veg of the Month this time has to go to the Broccoli. It is the ultimate winter crop and always goes down well at meal times. Well at least in does in the McGregor household. What is even better is the fact that broccoli is go good for you, but keep that quiet the kids don’t know that just yet. Broccoli contains Vitamins C, K and A and generates roughly 10% of your daily protein and calcium.

How to grow Broccoli

1. Plant approximately 65-75cm apart

2. Burying any stretched stems and gently firming the soil around the roots well with your fingers.

3. Water well and continue to maintain watering in dry spells.

4. Stake each plant

5. On exposed sites, broccoli is likely to become top heavy, so stake each plant with a strong cane if necessary and earth up around the base. Remember to firm with the heel to prevent root damage that can be caused by wind rock.

6. Remove weeds as they appear with hand trowel.

7. This prevents weeds competing with the broccoli plants, which can also cause diseases and encourage pests. Pests will become less of a problem once the plant is established in your plot.


Top tips

A must try recipe

If you are a fan of French cuisine, then you will love this Broccoli Quiche. It takes 40 minutes to cook, but is well worth the wait. Serves 6.


1 round unsweetened pie crust                                                  2 cups small broccoli florets

1 onion, peeled and chopped                                                     1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup shredded cheese                                                              4 eggs

11/2 cups crème fraîche                                                             pinch of nutmeg

salt and pepper



1. I have always preferred to cheat when it comes to pastry and crusts. So if you like the pre-made pastry crusts, place in a tart pan and prick the base about 20 times with a fork.  Otherwise make your own pastry using this pastry recipe from Delia.

2. Place the crust in the freezer for about 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C (Gas Mark 6).

3. Remove the crust from the freezer and place in the oven for about 12 minutes. Cool for a further 10 minutes and turn down the oven to 190°C (Gas Mark 5).

4. Steam the broccoli in the microwave (helps lock in the flavour) for about 3 minutes

5. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onions. Cook until soft.

6. Evenly spread the broccoli and onions on the crust and sprinkle the cheese over the top.

7. In a bowl whisk the rest of the ingredients together until blended and pour over the vegetables in the crust.

8. Oven bake for 40 minutes.


Mr McGregor


Mr McGregor: Veg Of The Month!

It has been hard work trying to find my ‘Veg of the Month’, but it has to go to the mighty beetroot. It was great to see my first harvested beet, the deep purple colouring shinning through the soil and the sheer size that could be award winning.

Now is the time to get sowing these bold and striking vegetables and I have found that if you grow them in medium to light soil in sunny spots, they give uncompromising results. I started sowing from March, but you can sow through until July and start harvesting from June to September, depending on the type. Round rooted varieties I have found take about 12 weeks, whereas long-rooted types take 4 weeks longer. 

My favourite when I was growing up was having the beets pickled, but since growing them for a good couple of years now I have found that they are one of the most versatile veg I have ever grown. They are perfect for showing off colour in salads or enjoying the sweetness of them when boiled.

I found this great recipe on the internet and thought this was a brilliant way to cook something special with great British vegetable.  Mrs McGregor went straight into the kitchen with my pride and joy beetroots. She also grabbed some garlic and the dill that we have been growing on the windowsill to use for garnishing.

Beetroot Risotto Recipe – Simple, Stylish and Scrumptious! Serves 4


500g beetroot                        2tbsp Olive oil                       parmesan

Knob of butter                       1 onion                                  700ml vegetable stock

250g risotto rice                    150ml white wine                


1.    Season and toss the beetroot you have grown in 1 tbsp of olive oil and cook until soft.

2.    In a pan pour the remainder of the oil with the butter, onion and garlic until onions soften, then stir   in the rice with the wine and let it boil for around 5 minutes.

3.    Pour the stock into the mix, cover and place in the oven until the rice softens. Puree some of the   beetroot and add to the dish along with the parmesan. Cook for about an hour.

4.    Garnish with some dill, soured cream and a sprinkle of parmesan.


Mr McGregor