Category: Allotment

Writing and photos from the Witch’s allotment

H IS FOR HANDSOME

H is for Handsome

A lily beetle looking very handsome
A Lily Beetle looking very handsome

The Lily Beetle, aka Lilioceris Lillii.

I noticed them in spring, just a mating pair, and in a moment of weakness, I was overcome with admiration for their shiny scarlet carapace and natty black antennae.  Besides, it was spring.  Let them have their fun, I thought.  Needless to say, I have regretted that moment, as over the following months, they and their loathsome offspring  have decimated my lilies. (See R is for Revolting)

From then on, it has been war: I use my hose, set on a gentle spray, to wash off the grubs from the underside of the leaves. The thin threads of orange eggs I scrape off, although they are not easy to spot.  As for the adult beetles, and here I’m being completely honest, I crush  between my nails.  OK, OK, I know it’s gross, and I do have a twinge of regret.  However, I love my lilies more, so I harden my heart against the scarlet blighters.

The RHS are currently tracking Lilioceris Lillii, as it scoffs its way through the lilies and fritilleries of the UK, concerned that their numbers are on the rise. If you grow lilies, you may like like to take part in their survey: it only takes 2 minutes.  https://www.rhs.org.uk/lilybeetleonlinesurveys

A is for Abundance

A is for ABUNDANCE

I am sat in the sun, on an allotment brick, next to my strawberries.  They dangle over the edge of the bed, all glistening and scarlet in the sun, or lurk under the leaves, both provocative AND available.  These are the fat fruit of summer, all luscious, warm and sweet. And I have hundreds of them! I love all this wanton abundance.

Strawberries
Strawberries

So once we have all eaten our fill, what to do with them all?

Well, I have made the best strawberry conserve ever, see recipe below.

STRAWBERRY CONSERVE

Ingredients:

  • Sugar 450g
  • Strawberries, small to medium size 450g
  • Lemon juice 2TB
  • About 4 jam jars with lids, plus waxed discs, selophane tops & rubber bands to seal

To make:

  1. Prepare your jam jars by washing them in hot soapy water, then standing them on a small baking tray in a very low oven. I put an old tea towel under them so they don’t jostle or crack.
  2. Remember to put a small plate into the fridge for when you are ready to check for setting point.
  3. Wash and hull the strawbs.
  4. Put the sugar and lemon juice into the pan, on very low heat, and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved, and you have a syrup. Remove from the heat.
  5. Add the strawberries and stir gently until they are all covered in the syrup. Let them soak in the syrup for 20 – 30 minutes.
  6. Return the pan to the heat and cook steadily for 5 – 7 minutes, until setting point is reached. (Put a dab of jam on the chilled plate, and push the surface gently with your finger. If it wrinkles, then setting point has been reached.)
  7. Allow to cool a bit, stir to distribute the fruit, then spoon into the hot jars and seal down.

Intriguing variation: Marguerite Patten (‘Jams, Preserves, And Chutneys’, from The Basic Basics series) suggests using 4TB of redcurrant juice instead of the lemon.  Press the redcurrants through a nylon sieve, then strain, to get clear juice.

Notes:

  • Makes 750g of conserve.
  • The conserve is rather loose and full of fruit: perfect for scones & cream, filling Victoria Sandwiches, etc.
  • Strawberries have no natural pectin, which is why you add the lemon juice.
  • The method works well for all berries, as it prevents the fruit breaking up.