As National Allotment Week gets underway, Celia Brooks, vegetarian cook and seasoned allotmenteer, offers tips on making the most of a bountiful harvest
We have been a nation of allotment holders since the 18th century, but the First World War and the ensuing food shortages led to the creation of the local authority allotments many of us work today. One hundred years on and the movement is still going strong.
My boyfriend and I have an allotment in Tottenham, and it keeps us extremely busy at this time of year. On top of our normal workload, we spend every possible evening and weekend watering, weeding and harvesting, and we never seem to catch up. It’s such a blessing, but I have to admit, it’s the time of year when I start to feel a little overwhelmed with vegetables.
We’ve invested months of nurturing and now it’s reap, reap, reap the rewards. We return from the plot each evening laden with bags of broad beans, courgettes, spring onions, cucumbers, salad leaves, herbs, and potatoes. By the time everything is sorted, scrubbed, debugged and de-slugged, chopped, cooked and seasoned or freezer-ready, I’ve practically lost the will to eat.
It’s all very well growing your own and eating it, but what rarely gets a mention is the toil of preparing it all for the pan or the plate. I live to cook and eat and I’m the captain of the ship in the kitchen, so although my boyfriend is a great help, it sometimes feels like I’m on a one-woman sailboat with a weighty vegetal cargo lost at sea.
The key to making the most of such an embarrassment of riches is to have a few simple ingredients in the kitchen that will capitalise on the flavour of homegrown edibles without masking it, and all done in a flash.
Naturally, Borough Market is the one-stop shopping destination for some of the best of these magic vegetable enhancers (as well as the fresh seasonal vegetables themselves, if you are not growing your own). Here are just a few of my favourites:
Raw butter from Hook & Son
We do give away some of our glut to friends and neighbours on the plot. One crop, however, we hoard selfishly, and that’s sweetcorn. Each plant only produces one or two ears, and as they become ready, it’s a greedy sweetcorn-munching lovefest back at home. The first two ripe ears came off the plants this week and within minutes we were devouring the sugary pearls slathered in this delicious butter. Four months of nurturing; 60 seconds of crisp, juicy, buttery bliss.
Danilo Manco’s Vellutato white balsamic vinegar from The Olive Oil Co
Don’t think of this as vinegar. It’s a sweet condiment with a good acidic balance and light golden colour. Fry, griddle or roast courgette slices and drizzle this over them while still hot. Cool, then scatter chopped mint over them—one of the best treatments of courgettes I know of. This vinegar is also wonderful sprinkled over hot crushed potatoes. Add a generous glug of their Sinfonia olive oil too.
Pomegranate molasses from Arabica
This dark, concentrated pomegranate syrup looks a little like a balsamic glaze and can be used as such, but in my opinion it is the absolute best salad dressing, which lets all the subtle flavours of your seasonal salad leaves sparkle through. Just toss your leaves with a fairly judicious amount of the molasses and sea salt, then drizzle with oil and eat right away. It’s also perfect for a salad of French or runner beans, feta cheese, mint and dill.
Linseed oil from Flax Farm
My new favourite oil for drizzling over all my allotment produce.