Thank you Doug Richards – site manager at Watermans and chef with a hat of many colours – for feeding us so well at the Allotment Association Christmas dinner. Thank you social committee for encouraging a record number of plot holders to join in the fun. What a change to be speaking to each other without daubs of mud on our faces or twigs in our hair!
‘December is a month for housekeeping’ says an allotment guidebook. ‘If the weather is cold clean your tools and tidy the shed’. The cleaning and clearing will have to wait. The weeds are still growing. How many of us are wondering whether to wake the lawnmower from its winter hibernation? Every gardener I meet has a story about the unusual flowering patterns this mild winter. I’m amazed to see the scarlet buds of a half hardy Pineapple sage (S. rutilans) opening in my garden.
Visitors to the allotments will notice that some of us cover our plots with weed suppressing matting for the winter while others prefer to let the frost get to the soil. I’ve been talking to a young couple who do a bit of both. In winter they cover any empty soil. In early spring they remove the covers for long enough to allow weed seeds to germinate and then they put them back on. By the time they’re ready to sow or plant out, any annual weeds have been killed but their goodness has been retained by the soil. It’s worth a try.
There’s no doubt that growing food is good for all of us – even if we’re restricted to a few pots outside the back door – but I sometimes feel that Nature goes into overdrive to help people who are struggling with life. I’m lucky to spend much of my time visiting uplifting gardening projects where I see the difference that planting seeds and caring for plants makes in people’s lives. Last week was no exception. The wonderful Lady Ryder Memorial Garden near Frieth is just on our doorstep. This tranquil walled garden gives young people who face enormous challenges in their lives the opportunity to work towards a City and Guilds Diploma in Horticulture. The project relies on the efforts of volunteers and of the young people themselves. Between them they have a good stock of recipes that, if we’re lucky, they’ll share with us now and again. Here, and perfect for jaded post-Christmas appetites, is their Cauliflower cheese souffle:
Recipes from The Lady Ryder Memorial Garden Volunteers
CAULIFLOWER CHEESE SOUFFLE
5oz Grated Strong Cheddar Cheese
2oz Grated Gruyere Cheese
2 ½ oz Butter
1 ½ oz Plain Flour
½ Pint Full Cream Milk (warmed)
1 Level teaspoon of Powdered Mustard
1 Tablespoon Sunflower Oil
2 Teaspoons Hazelnut Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon of finely Grated Parmesan Cheese (optional)
Take the florettes off the stalk of the cauliflower, slice them thinly. Plunge the florettes into a bowl of boiling water (taken off the heat) for three minutes, drain and dry. Put the sunflower oil and hazelnut oil into a frying pan and heat. Add the cauliflower and fry until brown. Take off heat and place cauliflower into the bottom of a greased 3pint souffle dish.
Separate the eggs.
Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan, whisk in the flour mixed with the powdered mustard (I use a balloon whisk as it helps eliminate the lumps) and let it cook for a few minutes. Gradually add the milk whisking all the time, start adding the grated cheese and when finished carry on whisking until the surface of the sauce looks as though it is going to break into a boil. At this stage you should have a thick cheese sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool.
Add the egg yolks into the cheese mixture one at a time and whisk until smooth and the yolks well blended.
In a bowl whisk (with an electric mixer) the egg whites until they produce stiff peaks. Using a metal spoon fold the whisked whites into the cheese mixture.
Spoon the mixture over the Cauliflower in the souffle dish and cook in an oven pre heated to 200C or 400F or Gas mark 6. Cook for 25-30 minutes. The souffle should be risen and golden on the top. Dust with Parmesan Cheese and serve immediately.
Tips from the Allotment
If the soil isn’t frozen or waterlogged:
- Plant garlic
- Plant rhubarb
- Plant bare-root (not grown in a pot) fruit trees and bushes
- Do the winter digging (if the soil sticks to your boots it’s too wet – work from planks to avoid compacting the soil)