Life and Learning on the Allotment

So, I’m still reading ‘The Blank Screen – Blogging’ and trying to discover what my blog ought to be about. Somehow, from reading other blogs, I get the impression your blog ought to be about one main thing: cooking or travelling or writing or whatever. Trouble is, life isn’t one dimensional, so why should a blog be. This is part of the reason I never really wanted to be reporter: I didn’t like the idea of people telling me what I could or couldn’t write. So, for now, at least until I’ve finished reading ‘The Blank Screen’, my blog’s going to be about whatever I want it to be about and this week it’s about what we did on the allotment. So, here goes: (and I know you’re meant to have pictures but guess what: I haven’t got any!) 

On Thursday afternoons when we, as volunteers, help out at the Wildside Activity Centre’s allotment, it’s our custom to lay down our forks and trowels, shed our garden gloves and gather at the bench at the top of the allotment for a cup of tea and a chit-chat. It’s possibly everyone’s favourite part of the afternoon, next to, of course, the goodies that we get to take home at the end of the afternoon.

Now, those chit-chats have become famous for unveiling a wealth of knowledge that is new to some or all present and last Thursday afternoon was no different. Here are some of the insights that our conversation unearthed.

The first one actually started before tea time. One of us passed a big bush on the pathway and wondered aloud what is was. Another volunteer who had gone through the same musings the previous week was able to shed the necessary light. The bush was an Angelica plant and it is used as an important component in flavouring gin. We picked a few of the leaves and crushed them in our hands and it did indeed exude a very pleasant smell. Angelica was also often candied and used as the decoration on top of trifles. For those interested in reading a bit more about this interesting plant, check out the BBC Good Food glossary online:

Since we were discussing alcohol, one of the team who claimed to be a non drinker, confessed that she made banana ice cream and added a half teaspoon of real rum, along with raisins, to get that world famous rum and raisin combination. But the real interest lay around the method of making the banana ice cream. We discovered that it was possible to achieve a true to life ice cream consistency by freezing peeled and thinly sliced overripe bananas and then processing them in a juicer with a blank screen or in a food processor. It was the ideal answer for indulging in a large slab of ice cream, minus the guilt. The banana ice cream could also be jazzed up with several additions such as cacao nibs, raisins and nuts. Other fruit, such as strawberries, could be treated in the same way.

Then, as we actually sat for tea, we spied the equally large Rosemary bush that had been there since last year. It had bravely weathered the winter and now wore a covering of tiny, delicately coloured mauve flowers. Like most of you, we were also already aware of Rosemary’s use as a culinary herb. What we didn’t know, and which our conversation brought out, was that Rosemary was thought to be useful in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimers disease and that there was a time in history when it was in common use in retirement homes for that very reason. Recent research confirms the value of Rosemary in this regard but like many things, it’s one of those somewhat forgotten gems that people have known historically.

And our final gem for the afternoon was an exploration of Poor Man’s Garlic. One of our team members picked a sprig from a shrub that also grew near to where we were sitting. As with the Angelica, we crushed it in our hands and sure enough it gave off a mild garlicky odour. Not as strong as the common garlic bulbs that we all know, we found out that you would have to use quite a bit of the Poorman’s Garlic to achieve the required flavour but it does work and was in common use in the past. It grows wild and goes by other names, including: ‘Jack by the Hedge’, ‘Garlic Mustard’, ‘Poor Man’s Mustard’ and ‘Penny Hedge’. For anyone wanting to read a bit more about it, check out the page on the Wild Food UK website:

And so our tea, our chat, and some time after, our work ended and I, for one, sauntered home in the pleasant afternoon sun pondering the wealth of wild flora that surrounds us that we step past so often, hardly having time to stop and think what great value lies right at our feet.


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