Easter on the Allotment

forced rhubarb shoots

Forced rhubarb shoots – out from under wraps

At this time of year, growing your own can seem all hard work (digging, weeding and sowing) with very little to show for it. So I was gleeful to have spent Easter with an abundance of tasty produce to use while cooking for family and friends.

The forced rhubarb is so sweet and tender it needs little accompaniment, but with a basket of unforced Timperly Early to use as well, I decided on a spring version of classic Eton Mess for a good friday lunch with friends; and to my mind the sharpness of poached rhubarb is the perfect foil for light sticky meringue and whipped cream.

basket of timperly early

Timperly Early – perfect for rhubarb mess

For the first year ever, we have been harvesting purple sprouting broccoli and other brassicas – previously the plants were left shredded by pigeons and rabbits well before christmas. This year – Fort Knox! As a result we have been feasting on cavolo nero, green cauliflower and scorzerona since November. The sprouting broccoli was a later developer – so late, I nearly pulled it up to make way for a sowing of spring peas. But it’s been a real winner. The more you pick, the more it grows and delicious lightly steamed in salads, in stir frys or made into a tart with hot smoked salmon from the Cley smokehouse.

pigeons keep out!

Another great discovery this year has been that vegetables can be eaten in so many forms. Take radishes. We grew these in the summer and they went to seed before we had the chance to pick them. Within weeks they had grown into tall delicate plants bearing bucket loads of succulent spicy pods – a cross between radishes and sugar snap peas.

And so this winter, as we let some of the cavolo nero and cauliflowers go to seed (after all there is a limit to how many cauliflowers you can eat in the two week period when they are all ready to pick), we found ourselves trying the sprouted heads – delicious!

Added to this we have had armfuls of salad in the form of fennel, sorrel,parsley, lambs lettuce and land cress – all mainly self seeded so very little effort involved.

Finally – the last of the winter squashes. We tend to grow mostly Crown Prince. They look and taste fantastic, fruit prolifically and can be stored for around 6 months. As a result I am a sucker for new recipes. So on Easter Sunday a spicy pumpkin cake for desert – moist, creamy…and with a handful of black pepper thrown in, quite a kick too…

Spiced Pumpkin Cake

pumpkin cake with pepppercorns

50 g raisins soaked in 100ml of licor (I used rum, but galiano or cointreu would do as well)
450-600g pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed and stewed in 150 g butter (or mix of butter and olive oil) til soft. The greater the proportion of pumpkin, the more cheesecake like in consistency the end result will be. I like to use lots!
Pinch salt,
150 g sugar,
50g almonds chopped,
grated zest of lemon,
1 tbsp coursely ground black pepper.
50 g plain flour – or ground almonds/polenta if you want wheat free.
1 heaped tsp baking powder
2 eggs
icing sugar
8 inch tin, 180 degrees

Beat softened pumpkin ’til smooth and add all dry ingredients including raisins in licor.

Then add egg yolks, followed by whipped whites which should be folded in.

Bake for 1-1.5 hours. It is ready when scewer comes out clean.

When cool, dust with icing sugar.