Recipe: Simple Rhubarb Crumble

To be honest, this is more about being pleased that the fruit and vegetable season is starting as it is a recipe. Rhubarb is the first of the fruits from our garden and (at least we find) comes twice, once in spring and then again in late summer. In neither case do we force the rhubarb so it is (in theory) quite sour. However, a little honey or a teaspoonful of sugar seems to be enough for us.

This is a simple recipe and the crumble is fine for any fruit.

Ingredients
(enough for about 4 helpings)

  • 500g Rhubarb
  • 100g Margarine
  • 200g Self Raising Flour (we use Gluten Free)
  • 60g sugar
  • A few handfuls of porridge oats (we put six)

Method

Peel and chop the rhubarb into pieces about the length of your thumb. Put them into a suitable glass dish, cover and put them into the oven at about 180C.

Put the flour and margarine into a bowl and rub the fat into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs. Then mix in the sugar and oats.

When the rhubarb is about half cooked (i.e. just softening) spoon the crumble mix over the top of the fruit and put it back into the oven, uncovered, for about another 30 minutes until browned and hot through.

There you are a perfect, early season, home produced pudding perfect with cream or custard. You can make it sweeter by adding sugar either to the crumble mix or whilst cooking the rhubabr

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Tomato Sowing – 2021 & Cleaning the Greenhouses

Spring has sprung, the clocks have gone forward and the weather is warming up, my tomatoes have been sown and are beginning to show themselves. As usual, I have sown a mixture of ones I like, ones I haven’t grown before, and some to refresh my seedbank.

Selecting the seeds for this last group is always difficult, why on earth would one grow tomatoes that aren’t particularly nice? Or at least ones that are near the bottom of taste/productivity. And the reason is one wouldn’t. So the seeds gradually get older meaning that they’re less likely to germinate and they’ll fall out of the seedbank and (as is frequently the case) can’t be replaced by UK suppliers (with Brexit, we’ve become more aware of the importance of bio-security and are trying to source seeds only from UK suppliers).

Our “germination place” has also been changed with (I think) reduced success. In previous years we’ve germinated our seeds on top of the gas boiler. An area which seemed to provide the right conditions to get good germination. With the (relatively recent) upgrade to our heating system, the boiler has been moved out into the garage and a more efficient boiler has meant there is less “wasted heat” to generate the right germination temperatures. So a combination of old seeds and less ideal germination conditions has meant that more of our tomatoes have failed to germinate than usual. Of the 30 varieties we’ve tried to grow, five have failed. Anyway, that leaves me with about 25 different varieties to grow this year and a question for next year to try and find a better “germination place”.

Having got them germinated, we’re now in the “in and out” activity of taking the seedlings out to the greenhouse in the morning and bringing them back in the evening to maximise sunlight and minimise cold. Its not too bad at the moment as we’re still at the point where the seedlings are small and in plugs. However, they’ll soon have to upgraded to 7cm pots when the number of pots needing to be carried in and out will increase and the space needed inside will become more of an issue. Ho hum.

We gave the greenhouses a good clean earlier in the week. Last year the tomatoes had something wrong with them which I eventually decided was Bacterial Canker. So we gave the greenhouses a thorough clean, washed out all the pots and will use bought, sterile compost rather than any home composted compost this year. Hopefully the plants will be better this year as a result.

We picked our first rhubarb of the year this week (crumble always tastes better with your own crop) and, finally, we’ve been chasing butterflies around the garden trying (and failing) to get pictures to put here (Peacock, Brimstone and Orange Tip) and we also saw the first Beefly of the year.

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Recipe: Fish Pie (with tomatoes & Vegetables)

A simple to make, tasty fish pie recipe which links to our tomato and vegetable growing theme. As always, our recipes seem to be more Vegetables with … as we add extra vegetables compared to the original source. Adding Creme Fraiche makes the pie moist without spoiling the flavour.

Ingredients (for 2)

500g mashed potatoes
1 carrot
2 celery sticks
1 lemon
150g Salmon
150g Smoked Haddock
75g White Fish
2 tablespoons Creme Fraiche
75g Cheddar Cheese
1 Tomato
Additional veg depending on season (e.g. Cabbage, spinach, Swiss Chard, etc.)

Method

We use potatoes mashed a previous time (including frozen) but you can cook them whilst you’re preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Coarsely grate the carrot, celery, cheese, into a large bowl. Finely chop the additional veg. (or grate if they’re of that type). Cut the fish into bite sized pieces and mix them in. Add the zest and juice of the lemon and the Creme Fraiche.

Mix them all together and put into the cooking dish. Cover with the mashed potatoes and slice the tomato on the top.

Put into the oven at 200C and cook for about an hour until piping hot and the potatoes are crispy and golden.

That’s it. You can serve with other vegetable (peas, sweetcorn, etc.) or you could have added them to the basic fish pie so all you’ve got is a single course with everything in it. Simple

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2021

Like many people in the UK I did the “Big Garden Birdwatch” last weekend watching out for birds in the garden. For whatever reason, this year was a “bad year” with the total list of birds being:

  • Great Tit
  • Woodpigeon
  • Crow

I’m convinced that the birds know that its Garden Birdwatch weekend and hide away because in the days that have followed we’ve seen:

  • Long Tailed Tits;
  • Blue Tits;
  • Coal Tits;
  • Tree Creeper;
  • Dunnock;
  • Robin;
  • Blackbird;
  • Greater Spotted Woodpecker;
  • Green Woodpecker;
  • Magpies;
  • Chaffinch;
  • Wren;
  • Thrush;
  • Buzzrds (Flying over);
  • Sparrowhawk (zipping in and out of the trees)

Maybe the lack of birds is because the feeders are running out of food and we haven’t been and got fresh seeds & suet in an effort to reduce our contact with others.

Previous years lists are here: 2019 and here:2020

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Using the Raspberry Pi for Fantastic Video Communications with Zoom

Moving slightly off-piste this time, not talking about tomatoes or any other garden related things.

Lockdown has meant that we haven’t physically seen our children/grandchildren much this year (in fact hardly at all) so we’ve got used to talking to them via Skype and Zoom. Some games work well (Uno, UnoFlip, Bingo, Go Fish) but it really isn’t the same, particularly as our main computer is up in the office.

So after Christmas, I thought I would investigate how to use the Raspberry Pi as a video conferencing system which would plug into the TV downstairs using HDMI and give us the opportunity to talk in comfort on a large screen. I decided to invest in a Pi400 which means that it comes complete with keyboard, mouse and the necessary cables and power supply all for under £100. An inexpensive webcam (£32) completed the set-up and away we went.
(Note: Before you start, make sure you’re TV has HDMI)

I’ve always been a fan of the Raspberry Pi but this time I think they have excelled themselves. Connect up the various cables, turn on the TV and plug in the power supply and the Raspberry Pi goes through a simple set-up asking all the right things, connecting itself to your WiFi network (once you get the password right) and you’re up and running.

I recommend that you make sure the system is fully up to date as the system ships with whatever version of the software is current at the time of manufacture.
{sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade}

I’d further suggest you check the sound from your TV
{speaker -test -t wav} when you should get a lady saying “left front” repeatedly until you cancel with “Ctrl c”.

It took a while to get the Audio working with the camera but, with a little help from the Pi Forum I got it going. The issue seemed to be that the camera (or at least the audio) doesn’t initialise properly when the Pi boots up so you have to wait a while and then plug the camera in. That way it works fine.

As a final bit of help I would recommend that you install the PulseAudio Graphical User Interface (GUI). (sudo apt install pavicontrol pulseaudio-utils) this gives you a GUI in the “Sound & Video” part of the drop down menu so you can see what’s visible to the system

After all that you’re ready to go. There isn’t a Zoom app for the Raspberry Pi so you have to launch Zoom from the Browser which is fairly straightforward, just open up the Chrome Browser and go to www.join.zoom.us and “JOIN” or “HOST” a meeting, you’ll have to use the web version so when you get the pop-up “Open xdg-open?” click on “Cancel” and scroll down to the “Join from Your Browser” request. First time, you’ll get requests for Zoom to use you microphone and camera so allow those.

That’s it. Perfectly adequate quality video conferencing for less than £150, what more could you ask.

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The best place to get your seeds?

At this time of year, I look through my boxes of seeds wondering whether I stick to the ones I’ve got or whether I should try to buy some new, different ones. My database (well spreadsheet) of tomato seed cultivars is a list of 6,000+ names, most of which its impossible to find a commercial source. Even worse, I think its increasingly common for websites to say “unfortunately we don’t ship outside the country”, so many “obscure” cultivars aren’t available.

When you look at the big suppliers, you find they have a relatively limited selection of cultivars and many are F1 hybrids (which themselves are unknown crosses of other cultivars). Personally, I try not to grow F1 Hybrids for two reasons: they’re expensive; if you like them, they’ll go out of availability because maintaining the cultivar is difficult.

Now I don’t have a problem with them being expensive, creating an F1 is labour intensive and “risky” (I presume that they have to be grown out before you know what you’ve got and they might not be what you expected) but it would be nice if they were available for more than a few years.

Life is getting difficult for the small producers. Increasingly countries (including the UK) require Phytosanitary Certificates before seeds can be imported. Again, I have no problem with this, importing diseases into the UK through infected seeds/plants is not a good idea but the cost of getting a certificate is high and certainly not worthwhile for a few seeds.

Much of my collection has been built up from “seed swaps”. Look around your local gardening clubs and you’ll find like minded people who will happily swap different cultivars with you, promoting a mix of different cultivars which are known to grow in your area.

Alternatively, there are more obscure suppliers in your country who have a wider range of cultivars most of which they have grown themselves. Whatever you do, make sure they are Registered seed suppliers (DEFRA in the UK), otherwise you don’t know where the seeds have come from.

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Tomato Black Mauri (Black Moor)

A black cherry tomato on indeterminate vines.

Description

Another cultivar from the 2019 seed swap that we hope to grow for the first time in 2021.

It sounds similar to brown berry or black cherry (unless the shape is significantly different). We like black cherry tomatoes because we find they are tastier than the classic red cherry tomatoes, usually less acidic. In addition they cook “better” providing sauces that are richer in flavour. So we’ll grow these and another black cherry and see which we prefer.

Quick Facts

  • Fruit Type: Cherry
  • Fruit Shape: Plum
  • Fruit Size: Small (1 inch)
  • Fruit Colour: Black
  • Flesh Colour: Dark
  • Plant Type: Indeterminate
  • Leaf Type: Regular
  • Seed Type: Open Pollinated
  • Ripe Days:
  • Taste:
  • Our Source: 2019 SS
  • Origin: Bakers Creek
  • Alternatives:
  • Fruit per Truss:
  • Truss Spacing:

Buy Your Seeds Here

We haven’t checked for a commercial source for these. If you know of one, let us know.

Updated: 23/01/2021

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Tomato Craigella

A standard Red tomato on Indeteminate vines

Description

Another of the selection from the 2019 seed swap that we didn’t have the space to grow, this heritage cultivar is said to be a selection from Ailsa Craig with very similar properties but without the greenback problems.

If that’s the case then (unfortunately) it goes on to the (increasingly long) list of standard red tomatoes to choose from and will only get grown to maintain the supply of seeds and/or if it proves to be something exceptional.

Hopefully we’ll squeeze it in to 2021 and then decide.

Quick Facts

  • Fruit Type: Standard
  • Fruit Shape: Round
  • Fruit Size: Medium
  • Fruit Colour: Red
  • Flesh Colour: Red
  • Plant Type: Indeterminate
  • Leaf Type: Regular
  • Seed Type: Heritage
  • Ripe Days:
  • Taste:
  • Our Source: 2019 SS
  • Origin: Ailsa Craig
  • Alternatives: Ailsa Craig
  • Fruit per Truss:
  • Truss Spacing:

Buy Your Seeds Here

Prices given are for a packet of seeds (and may be wrong) different suppliers have different numbers of seeds in a packet.

Updated: 23/01/2021

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Tomato Lukullus

A red cherry/grape heritage tomato on indeterminate vines.

Description

Another of the tomatoes from the 2019 seed swap that we didn’t have space to grow in 2020 so the description comes from the web, not our own experience.

Said to be a German commercial variety from the 1900s and a cross between Danish Export and Jewel (neither of which we have any experience of), it is productive with fruits hanging in small clusters. If we have space we’ll find out and compare it to (say) Christmas Grapes.

Quick Facts

  • Fruit Type: Small
  • Fruit Shape: Grape/Round
  • Fruit Size: Small
  • Fruit Colour: Red
  • Flesh Colour: Red
  • Plant Type: Indeterminate
  • Leaf Type: Regular
  • Seed Type: Heritage
  • Ripe Days: Mid
  • Taste:
  • Our Source: 2019 SS
  • Origin: Germany
  • Alternatives:
  • Fruit per Truss:
  • Truss Spacing:

Buy Your Seeds Here

There are a number of places on the web where this seems to be available.

Updated: 23/01/2021

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Tomato Moskovich (Moskvich)

An early red slightly flattened round tomato on Indeterminate vines.

Description

From the 2019 Seed Swap, again this is one of the cultivars we are planning to grow in 2021.

The various sources on the web suggest that it was developed by the Vavilov institute in Moscow in the early 1970s (which if true makes it open pollinated coming on heritage). Supposedly cold tolerant (which is good for us) with tasty fruit suitable for all uses.

We’ll see and update the page as we learn.

Quick Facts

  • Fruit Type: Standard
  • Fruit Shape: Round/Boat Shaped
  • Fruit Size: Medium
  • Fruit Colour: Red
  • Flesh Colour: Red
  • Plant Type: Indeterminate
  • Leaf Type: Regular
  • Seed Type: Heritage
  • Ripe Days: 60-70
  • Taste:
  • Our Source: 2019 SS
  • Origin: Russia
  • Alternatives:
  • Fruit per Truss:
  • Truss Spacing:

Buy Your Seeds Here

Prices given are for a packet of seeds (and may be wrong) different suppliers have different numbers of seeds in a packet.

Updated: 02/02/2021

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