Remember those seedlings that I planted out last Saturday? Every last one of them has been nobbled by the slug. Every. Last. One. The ones under gauze are clinging on for survival but the lettuces are decimated. We’ve never had slug issues before; I take it as a personal affront.

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Every single last seedling GONE.

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The kale has been nibbled too

So I need to rethink the brassica protection, which is dull and irritating.  Meanwhile the sunflowers are still going strong, shouty and bright and attention seeking.

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Sunflowers still going strong

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We’re cutting a couple of bunches a week

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The autumn raspberries are now bearing fruit, a punnet or so a week. Their taste is different to the summer ones, more mellow, less acidic.

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Autumn raspberries now fruiting

I didn’t blog a single recipe for the whole of august; bowls of lettuce and courgette pasta are perhaps not the most interesting things in the world. But now the weather’s changed, the autumnal produce is coming in, and back to the kitchen I go.

The tomatoes are finally ripening and so the annual passata-making begins. I’ve made three litres this week, all destined for the freezer. It’s so simple: half the tomatoes, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and bake in a low oven for 45 minutes or so, then rub through a sieve. The fiorento tomatoes from my greenhouse make the best passata, they’re the ridged ones you can see in the picture.

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Passata making has begun. Greenhouse tomatoes ready for baking.

There’s plums too. It’s not chilly enough yet for full-on winter food, so I lightened this plummy crumble up with a few nectarines and blackberries and lots of lemon zest. Sweetened with brown sugar and topped with cinnamon oat crumble, this is possibly the best autumn pud ever, highly recommended.

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Plum, nectarine and blackberry crumble flavoured with lots of lemon zest and brown sugar

The peppers and chillies are kings of the autumn greenhouse. This lot are from my Mum in Worcestershire, as long as a hand (well, my little girl paw anyway) and gloriously scented. Peppers in the shops don’t have a smell, but a proper fresh pepper is so fragrant that you just HAVE to cook with it.

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Mother’s peppers

The South Americans have a dish called succotash, which is based on the principle that things that grow together should be cooked together. There, beans are grown up sweetcorn, the length of the cane providing support for the bean vine. It’s all very clever.

Succotash is a mixture of sweetcorn and beans, usually flavoured with chillies and peppers. Sometimes it’s got potatoes in it too, or a bit of pumpkin or squash. Well, I didn’t have any beans, but I did have my own corn and chilli, and Mother’s peppers. Plus my courgettes and Dad’s potatoes, both of which originally hail from South America. I also had some bacon grease leftover from breakfast, which is the pinnacle fat for a hash.

So here is succot-hash, a Thursday-night Birmingham-allotment take on a Mexican classic. Who doesn’t love a hash? You simply fry up spuds, corns, peppers, chilli and courgette in a hot frying pan so they all take on a bit of colour, then season with basil and lime. Easy, seasonal, inexpensive and tasty.

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For two

Four potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into large chunks, no need to peel

1 green pepper, sliced

1 ear of corn, kernels removed with a sharp knife

Two baby courgettes, thinly diced

1 red chilli, or to taste, thinly sliced

bacon grease, for frying (or olive oil or butter)

Salt and pepper

Basil, to finish

Lime juice, to finish

Boil up the potatoes until cooked, drain, then leave to steam and cool. In a heavy-based pan, warm the bacon grease, butter or oil until sizzling, then tip in the potatoes. Fry for five minutes or so until starting to brown. Add the peppers and corns, fry for another five minutes over a mid- to-high heat. You want little caramelised bits on the corn, so don’t be scared to use a bit of heat. Add the chilli and finally add the courgettes. Cook until the courgettes are softened, tossing the pan several times to get an even colour. Season. Finish with torn basil for fragrance and colour and a squeeze of lime, if liked.

I served this with Mexican-style chicken, green salad leaves and a dollop of sour cream.

Into the greenhouse

Anyone who saw Gardener’s World last week would have heard Monty Don lamenting his tomatoes. (It made a change from talk of the box blight, from which he is still reeling 18 months after it reared his head). Monty’s tomatoes have been struggling: they are splitting, failing to ripen and, worse of all, not tasting as good as they should.

Well Monty, I hear you. Apparently we can blame the massive temperate fluctuations of August for the splitting, and generally it’s been cool which affects the fruit’s ability to ripen. Oh to be a farmer in Amalfi, who never have such issues.

Monty’s advice was to defoliate the tomatoes completely, which makes it sound like they need horticultural Immac. He has a point, however, so I’ve removed most of the leaves from mine and re-jigged the greenhouse to allow a bit of air movement.

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The over-full greenhouse

I tried some new tomato varieties this year, all from Seeds of Italy: I figure that the Italians know a few things about tomatoes. The real reason I grow tomatoes is to make vats of passata, perfect for bolognese and stews throughout the winter.

The cherry plums are massively prolific, perhaps too much so: as you can see, there’s still alot of green that needs to turn to red.

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Cherry plums: highly productive but the taste is so-so

This year I re-planted marmande, a good all-rounder, and tried golden boy, which as its name suggest, ripens to a golden yellow. The best for passata though is the gnarled ugly-looking fiorenta, which you can see poking up at the bottom of this picture. Its water content is low, so the tomato flavour when baked becomes wonderfully intense.

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Marmande (left) and golden boy (right): fewer fruits, good taste, but I wonder if they’ll all make it to ripeness. Spot the ridged fiorentina at the bottom.

The chillies have been ignored all summer but have done well for it. The three plants are groaning with fruit, all of it still green, and doubtless super super hot.

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Cayenne peppers, still skinny: literally, in that they’re all skin and no flesh. Suspect they will be SUPER HOT too. There’s a red fiorentina tomato in the background, the best for passata.

The peppers too have done OK for being ignored, although I think we’ll have to content ourselves with green rather than red. I might fry them until soft then serve them up with corn, chilli and a dollop of sour cream for a Mexican-themed supper.

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Green peppers, knobbly but pretty

Success now depends on some heat. After August’s rains, let’s hope for an Indian Summer come September. Because if not, God help us, I’ll be forced to make green tomato chutney.

Indian summer

After the dismal August, the weather has got all perky. As I write I’m considering putting my shades on just to see the laptop as sunlight streams in onto the kitchen table. Gertie kitten is sprawled out in front of me, between chest and keyboard, absorbing the rays. I love an Indian summer, it suits the English psyche. You get sunshine and a bit of warmth, but not too much, not enough to prevent the baking of bread or the eating of gravy.

The cold August / hot September is having repercussions though. Some of the tomatoes are rotting on the vine, I think killed off by the late summer chills. And news from the Shire tells me that the sloes are already going over – these that traditionally aren’t even picked until after the first frost! A Christmas of purple gin drinking is threatened.

I think the Shire is about a month ahead of Birmingham. I still have ripening borlotti beans and corns whilst my Mother’s been picking hers for about a month. Their spring started earlier of course, and most of the harvest is going over now. But not all.

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Mother’s epic peppers


Remember those sea-monster/crook neck squash we were offered the other week? Well, I took a look at the vine. This is a 12 foot wall. That is one epic plant.

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Squash plant / jungle monster

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Crook neck squash

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These are kinda fun

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The Viburnem in full glory


As ever, I’m sent home with a car full of food. Their tomatoes have already been roasted and sieved into passata, and the chillies will become sweet chilli sauce. But you know, the weekend’s picking from our allotment is pretty outstanding too. The raspberries just keep on coming. We’ve had the last of the beans now but the tomatoes are fat, soft and fragrant. Season’s pickings.

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Mother’s September harvest

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My September basket