tomato jungle

tomato jungle

I always start the tomato year with the best of intentions, dutifully pinching out side shoots and tying in the  plants.  Always, they get away from me – I get distracted and before I know it.. the side shoots have side shoots…. and by this end of the year, the greenhouses are jungle-like, and picking tomatoes involves threading an arm in to reach the ones at the back, through the mass of greenery.

cherry tomatoesI felt a bit guilty of it.. bad gardener! …But then again.. I am picking about 8 lbs of tomatoes a time – it has been a bumper crop – and I realised that if I had done the ‘right thing’ and stopped the plants at the top, instead of just tying them in along the wires…then letting them dangle down, then roping them back in along with all the sides shoots as best as possible.. well the crop would be a lot smaller.

You can get away with it with cherry tomatoes – the plants tend to be lighter, and the fruit doesn’t take so long to ripen – with bigger fruiting varieties, I think a bit of discipline is required, so the plants can concentrate on getting their few larger fruit to maturity. Cherry tomatoes can survive the jungle style method… just as well!

I’ve roasted many pounds of tomatoes for roast tomato passata, I’ve made soups and cassoulets, ketchup and three batches of tomato chutney.

Eventually either blight or the cold will do for my tomato plants – but with the early good practices, the bases of the plants are clear an have air around them and I leave the doors and windows open day and night and will push out this crop as long as possible. Then when the plants drop… all I have to worry about is processing the green tomatoes!

two tunnels greenway

two tunnels greenway 1
Today we left our son in the care of his grandmother and headed to Bath to cycle the Two Tunnels Greenway circuit.
two tunnels greenway 2
We started in central Bath and took the cycle route, which was quite pleasant in itself going along back streets and over Pulteney bridge, before dropping down to the towpath of the Kennet and Avon Canal. It was beautiful and so quiet, only the sounds of our tires.
two tunnels greenway 3
Including the Dundas aquaduct. After admiring the aquaduct and the traffic on it for a while, we continued on the cycle path away from the canal, onto some minor roads and into Monkton Combe for a pub lunch.
two tunnels greenway 4
After that we joined the disused railway line that goes past Midford castle,
and then upto the entrance to the Combe Down tunnel, which is the longest traffic free cycle-walking tunnel in Europe at an impressive 1672 metres – just over a mile. As we approached the unassuming entrance, a blast of cold air hit us from the tunnel
two tunnels greenway 6
Inside the tunnel is amazing – just the shear size of it. The picture doesn’t do it justice – about in the middle all you can see are the lights going off to the vanishing point, and it is cold – a blessing for us on a really hot day in September.
Eventually there was a light at the end of the tunnel, we cycled out into the heat, and then back into the next tunnel – another long one, though not as long as the Combe Down.
Woodland gave way to parkland gave way to town, with a high over road bridges, before we came back into town along the river and back to our starting point.
A really lovely couple of hours cycling, the 12.8 miles taking in many changes of scenery. Definitely one to do again.

Exeter quay
A winning combination, no? We headed for Exeter quay and the lovely flat cycle path.

 trike and bike

This time a family outing, with our son trying his new trike, alongside the river and canal.
Double Locks

pub lunch in beautiful setting
cycling family
more cycling
bikes trike and cake
An advantage of having a adult sized trike in the party, is you don’t need a bike rack, if, hypothetically speaking, we were to stop and have cake..

Bertha produce
They say when God gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Personally, I would opt for limoncello, but we live in a cool climate, and don’t have a lemon tree… but when what was left of hurricane Bertha swept through last month, she gave us windfall apples, lots of them.  We picked plums early to take the weight off the branches, and that was highly successful, the pale plums finished ripening indoors, albeit all at once, but the apples were not ready and had to take their chances, and many were blown down and bruised before their time.

I hate waste, but we don’t have pigs at the moment, and the chickens will only eat so many… I made apple jelly, blackberry and apple jelly, apple cheese and started a batch of apple and blackberry gin.

Jelly making is an ideal way to use windfall apples as you can use the bruised fruit, and it is an easier than peeling hard unripe apples.

apple jelly

1.8 Kg/4 lbs apples – no need to peel or core, bruises are fine, but cut off any bad bits and wildlife

1.7L/ 3 pints water


Chop up the apples and place in the pan with the water, cook gently until the apples are mushy. Strain overnight using a jelly bag (no squeezing!).

Next day, measure the liquid and add the same volume of sugar.  Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then boil and bring to setting point 104 C on my thermometer – but you can also judge by watching how the mixture drops from the spoon. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

I use this apple jelly in cooking mostly – although it is nice as a jam, but works well in a steamed sponge pudding, or as a glaze on tarts and everywhere that calls for apricot jam under icing etc.  It can be stirred into casseroles and sauces.

Blackberry and apple jelly is the same recipe, substituting half the apples for blackberries.

Now the apples are ripe and we have picked the remainders – juicing the sweeter ones, and the bramleys are in the cool of the shed waiting to be cooked and eaten.


apple pressing

apple crushing
This time of year is all about preserving the harvest, and some of that is the making of chutneys and pickles.  I have stocked up on supplies of malt vinegar, something that the village shops run out of quickly at this time of year as others are  doing the same, but this made me consider making our own vinegar, and I have been tuning into various mutterings over vinegar making on the net – in particular Andrea at Casalinho wrote a very interesting post on making vinegar from fruit scraps.

However, we have plenty of apples – not so many as in other years, but plenty, and more than we have freezer space, so the obvious thing to do is make our own cider vinegar…and for that we need cider, and before that we need apple juice.
apple pressing
We freeze and thaw the apples before pressing them (yes I know I said we had no freezer space – this space is already prebooked, we just borrowed it for a couple of days) as it makes crushing and pressing them so much easier. Then the crushed apples are pressed.
apple juice
Interestingly the first juice is white and cloudy – it goes orange as it oxidises, but as the pressing continues you get clearer juice. It’s all delicious.

 cider start

It’ been a while since we pressed our own apples, and today we have been kicking ourselves as the juice was so lovely.  How much makes it as far as vinegar remains to be be seen – we have already drunk a lot just as juice, and saved more back for that… then I might just drink the cider. Hopefully we will get as far as making our own cider vinegar too.

raspberry flapjacks

This year’s raspberry harvest was plentiful, and we have a bit of a frozen raspberry mountain going on.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but new ways to eat raspberries  are being sought, and this one has proved popular with my family.  I tried a few different versions, all based on my standard recipe, as they are a bit on the soft side – due to the raspberry juice, but my attempts to make them firmer weren’t as good, so I’ve decided to accept them as they are, with their softer texture.

 Excellent cycling fuel, by the way.

raspberry flapjacks

100g/ 4oz demerara sugar

100g/ 4oz butter

100g/ 4oz golden syrup

250g/ 10oz oats

85g/ 3oz raspberries, frozen

1 lined 22cm/9″ square tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan.

Put the sugar butter and syrup in a saucepan and heat gently until all the sugar has dissolved.  When it is ready, pour onto the oats and mix thoroughly. Stir in the raspberries and quickly pile the mixture into the tin and press down. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown on the top.  

Allow to cool before removing from the tin and cutting into squares.

Today we cycled the Plym Valley trail – now part of the larger Drake’s trail. It’s been some years since we did this, now wondering why it took us so long to go back. Such a lovely cycle, along the disused railway line. We started on Dartmoor,
Joined the cycle route, which took us through Shaugh Tunnel
shaugh tunnel

shaugh tunnel light

under several bridges, and through impressive cuttings
cutting and bridge

past abandoned platforms
and ruined cottages (nice place for a picnic lunch)
quarryman's cottages
and, best of all, over four viaducts….viaduct
… complete with amazing views
river view from the viaduct

We cycled under the dual carriageway and alongside the river on the Saltram Estate, and into Plymouth, a fairly gentle 8.75 miles, and it was lovely, and we are looking forward to doing it all over again.


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