The bounty of late Summer can be delightful, but can also create some problems of its own – how do we cope with the gluts? Here are some reflections and top tips from Kate Harrison – seasoned glut chef, Seedy Sunday volunteer and FareShare Sussex advocate.
Plan in advance: learn from experience and plant what makes sense. Hate runner beans? Don’t grow them. Love beetroot? Grow in succession so they don’t all arrive at once. I aim to grow produce which I know I eat lots of (leafy greens) or preserve (fruit), or which I can leave in the ground for a while to pick as I need it (beetroot, leeks, potatoes). As I can only get up to my plot once or twice a week, I’m cautious about produce which has to be picked the moment it’s ready or it spoils or grows too big, such as runner beans and courgettes.
Remember to harvest: sounds funny doesn’t it? We spend two-thirds of the year planning, preparing, planting and nurturing, and then we get so overwhelmed by all the things to do on the plot in the Summer our beans grow long and stringy, courgettes grow huge and watery, and blackberries rot. So now, the first thing I do when I get to my plot is to pick pick pick. I come with enough space in bags and panniers and Tupperware boxes to take the produce away, and allow time in my day to process it when I get home.
Think communally: this has been one of my lessons this year, with my lovely new allotment mate Maggie sharing a common half plot as well as both of us having our own half plot. We grew three sets of runner beans – big mistake! If we had planned it, we could have planted different types of beans and shared – much more fun. Grow unusual varieties and then share around with your neighbours, plant in succession and extend the harvest.
Preservation order: think about what’s easy to preserve, and what you enjoy. Here are some approaches, and what they suit:
- Lacto-fermenting: Have a look at the work of Sandor Katz, the godfather of fermentation and you’ll see you can ferment almost anything. Easy vegetables to start with are cabbage (sauerkraut recipe here), runner beans, cucumber and beetroot.
- Pickling: simple pickles of one vegetable like runner beans or beetroot can be very tasty. Or make more complex chutneys and pickles with onions, courgettes, tomatoes, plums, gooseberries and rhubarb. You’ll never go back to Branston. Try out some of our previously posted recipes: Autumn Chutney, courgette recipes.
- Drying: you can dry herbs and nettles for making tea, make apple rings and dry them in a low oven. Kale crisps are surprisingly easy and delicious; fruit leather is a bit more complex but incredibly tasty and beautiful. Also try out cheat sun dried tomatoes.
- Jam: we associate this more with fruit, but how about maple syrup and butternut squash spread? Or green tomato marmalade? I’ve made both and they’re delicious.
- Freezing: Unless you have a huge freezer, this option needs to be used with caution, or as a short-term measure. I’ll often freeze soft fruit for a month until I have time to make jam. I slice runner beans, blanch for 2 minutes then freeze. This also works with apple chunks. Ideally freeze things on a flat tray then bag them, this makes it easier to get small portions out.
Sharing around: Give to friends, neighbours and office workers. Even better, give your surplus to FareShare Sussex – they do a brilliant job redistributing food waste to over a hundred community organisations in our area. They will happily accept small donations – I gave them a bag of runner beans the other day. In mid-August Alan and fellow BHOGG members collected over 15 boxes of apples from his plot to give to FareShare Sussex – think of all those lovely organic apples spreading far and wide across the county, what a wonderful image.