Sweet potato & pumpkin curry

In the two-and-a-bit months since the baby was born, the allotment has gone from high summer productivity to sodden and vaguely overgrown. The so-called compost bin is overflowing with the debris of the season, sunflower stalks, hop vines and mouldy chard. The veg patches are green with weeds and the fruit bushes are bare saved for the buds of new life, already visible on the branches. I pop down when I can for a spot of tidying – the success of this depends entirely on what mood Harry is in, and how much sleep I’ve had (or not had) the night before.

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Harry is not much help when it comes to allotmenting

I’ve covered both of the main beds with black plastic, partly to keep the weeds down over winter but also because I don’t know how much I’ll get around to cultivating next year. Left uncovered this soil becomes a carpet of weeds in a blink of an eye; this is a case of an hour’s work now saving me serious amounts of graft come spring.

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If left to its own devices, the allotment would be this overgrown all over

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I’ve put black plastic over the beds to keep the weeds down

There’s not much to pick now but the cavolo nero is still going strong, as is the kale and chard. What I do have though is a serious pile of pumpkins; having served their time as Halloween decorations, it’s time to transfer them to the pot.

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Cavolo nero still going strong, as is the kale and chard

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Pumpkins form the basis of this easy curry

This is an easy curry that I have shamelessly pinched from Nigella Lawson, though in truth it’s more the kind of dish I’d expect to find on a yoga retreat than from a ‘sleb chef. It’s vegan (shock!) and cheap (horror!), and more to the point I am able to cook up a massive vat of it in the few minutes that the baby is asleep in the afternoon. If you’re not lucky enough to have a pumpkin pile at home, use butternut squash instead.

Sweet potato and pumpkin curry
Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson. Makes loads, about 8 portions.

1 red onion, cut into chunks
1 red chilli, stalk removed
Thumb of fresh ginger, peeled
3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tsp turmeric
2 heaped tsp whole coriander seeds, bashed in a pestle and mortar (or 1 tsp ground coriander)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 vegetable stock cube (I use low salt)
Sunflower oil
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 x 400g tin tomatoes
1 large sweet potato, trimmed and cut into large chunks
1/2 pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
Juice of 1 lime

First, make the curry paste. In the food processor, whizz together the onion, chilli, ginger, garlic, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon  and stock cube, adding a splash of water to help it combine if needed.

In a large casserole or stock pot, warm the oil over a medium heat and add the curry paste with a pinch of salt. Fry for a few minutes until the oil begins to separate from the paste. Add the solid coconut cream from the top of the tin of coconut milk, fry for a few minutes more, the add the rest of the coconut milk and tomatoes. Swill both tins out with water and add to the pan.

Finally slide in the sweet potato and squash, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook until the veggies are soft – about half an hour. Some of the squash will disintegrate into the curry, which helps it to thicken. Season with more salt and lime juice to taste, then serve with brown rice and a dollop of yoghurt.

October pickings

The proper autumn harvest has begun. I was in Stratford upon Avon last week for work and popped to Charlecote Plants on the way back, which is essentially a wooden shack next to a National Trust property. Don’t be fooled though, for the shack is home to treasure. Charlecote are known for their October display of  squash and visitors are welcomed by mountains of knobbly, gnarly, stripy, weird, wonderful veggies.

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The squash display at Charlecote, Warwickshire

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Custard squash!

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If I’d have known, I’d have flogged my gourds for £6 a basket

Squash aside, the produce here is brilliantly good. I picked up golden beets, local red cabbage, russet spring onions and admired the baskets of princely quince and cobnuts. The carrots, which are the same variety as we “grow”, made me sick with envy.

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Exquisite rainbow carrots at Charlecote…

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…and the less-than-exquisite ones from our allotment

Yesterday marked a momentous day at Veg Patch: the pulling of the first parsnip! What’s more, it actually looked like a parsnip! Nothing can beat that spicy earthy scent of a freshly dug ‘snip, though in truth they need a bit more time in the soil to bulk out.

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First parsnip of the year with all it’s gnarly perfumed glory

The leeks are ready now but they’ve been affected by a rot of some kind, and the outer leaves are beginning to disintegrate. Can leeks be frozen? Something to look up. The onions, meanwhile, have been drying out for the past fortnight, making the most of the unseasonably warm September.

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Onions are drying beautifully

We missed the optimal moment for the hop harvest; they’re no good for beer now. But they are pretty enough so perhaps will have a second life as a decoration somewhere, though preferably not in my kitchen as the papery petals shed everywhere and generally make a right mess.

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Hops: too far gone for beer now, but still pretty enough

The sunflowers are now fading, though the bees are still drinking their fill of nectar.  The prize for October colour goes to the crysanths, now blooming with incredibly long-lived stems. I love the clash of orange, purple and pink: it seems the essence of autumn in a vase.

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Can’t get enough of these fiery shades

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The cosmos is still holding firm

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This beauty has come up out of nowhere

So we have an autumn harvest. No brassicas (yet, but I live in hope), so I’ve taken to stealing cavalo nero from my mother’s veg patch. Blanched then tossed in olive oil and garlic, it lifts a plate of roasted roots to new dimensions. Autumn is definitely here.

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A car boot of booty

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Elegant stems of cavalo nero

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Harvest of season’s change

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Gourds, squash, dahlia, crysanths: autumnal table display

Harvest: Dahlia, cosmos, crysanths, leeks, carrots, parsnip, courgette, chard, spinach, last tomatoes, last chillies

Urban decay

Neither of us had to be anywhere until mid-morning today so I bullied Matt out of bed to do some urgent allotment work: the hopolisk is no more.

The hops should have been harvested about a month ago if we were actually going to use them for beer – apparently there is a perfect time with the active chemicals are at their most potent. Matt was killing himself with work last month so it didn’t happen, and there was no way that I was messing around with a 10ft+ metal pole. But no need to waste them: decorating rooms with hops is a fine country tradition at harvest time and I’m happy to continue that tradition, even if we are in the city.

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End of the hopolisk

Taking down the hopolisk seems to me to be a ritual activity marking the end of the season. I’ve not done any maintenance of the land for about two or three weeks and in that time, autumnal die-back has set in. The earth is sodden and heavy, flower heads rotten from days of rain. But I think there is beauty within the decay.

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Striking autumn colour on the blueberries

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Dahlia heads turned rotten

Everything needs digging up and stripping back, manuring and tidying, ready for the winter sleep. But there is still harvesting to be done and today, it’s the squash. We’ve got 15 of them, gnarled, striped and brilliant. I am like a kid with excitement over these squash.

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Turks turban ready for harvesting

One of the (many) problems with living in a flat is lack of space to deal with the harvest. So the squash got scrubbed in the bath and are now drying on the spare bed alongside those borlotti beans. Meanwhile the hops have gone up, and the kitchen  smells like a brewery. A satisfying few hours work.

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Turks turban scrubbed in the bath

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Hops dried in the kitchen

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Borlotti beans drying on the spare bed

Harvested: Turks turban and last summer squash, hops, last borlotti beans

Humble (pumpkin) pie

I thought that my squash were doing alright. I’ve got ‘summer squash’, which doesn’t actually exist of course, I just have no idea what variety they are. That and the turks turban, which are fattening nicely. My harvested squash pile currently looks like this:

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The onion rack is now a squash-curing rack

But then we visited Charlecote Park at the weekend, the National Trust place near Warwick. And frankly, they’re just showing off with their squash pile. Check this out:

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One serious squash harvest

The gardeners at Charlecote are having huge fun with their squash. There were varieties here I’d never heard of, both old and new, from the UK, Japan, Canada, USA, France… you get it. All of them were exquisitely beautiful, even the ugly ones. That may make no sense, but is perfectly logical to me.

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Gourds – these are inedible, just for show

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I am growing these! Though I’ll probably get about…10.

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Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous

But what to do with all these squash – will they ever sell them all? I doubt it. Not at £5 a pop, which is how much some of the more interesting ones were. No matter. I best get back to looking after those Turks.

A question of squash

My folks came to visit yesterday. At this time of year that means a basket of goodies. I noted that the tomatoes, summer squash, courgette, corn, beans and chilli all hail from South America, looted by the Europeans and brought back to revolutionise our cooking. Centuries of history in one basket.

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Mother’s basket of goodies

The harvest gift is not just a kind gesture of course, it’s a way of off-loading stuff that they aren’t going to eat. But surely this must be the ultimate off-load: monumental crook-neck squash that had self-seeded and grown up the wall, and lost their crook to become almost as tall as me (almost).

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crookneck squash

If I were Indian or Malay or Mexican or some such, I am sure that squash would hold no fear. I am none of these things; a squash can sit unloved for months in my kitchen whilst I wonder what to do with it. Therefore the only thing for it is to get out the permanent marker and make… sea-monsters.

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Sea monsters at home on the veg rack

Endless amusement for months.