Caught by the River

Allotment Watch: September

Nina Walsh | 28th September 2011

by Nina Walsh

I visited the plot today for the first time in two weeks. Oh dear. It’s incredible how two weeks of neglect can wreak such havoc. Without constant spraying of colloidal silver and pruning of the tomato plants to keep the air circulating, my tomatoes are well and truly blighted. The bean poles, so heavy with beans, have collapsed under the sheer weight and the bolted lettuce now resemble small trees!

Perhaps I am not alone with this steady decline of enthusiasm as the summer draws to an end which is why Mother Nature provides so beautifully amongst her hedgerows? With a bounty of perfectly ripened apples, elderberries, blackberries and rose hips, essential ingredients to see us through the winter ahead, my disappointment was soon quelled and car boot filled after foraging around the local park to console myself. It amazes me that so many people regularly walk past these free offerings without even a slight urge to hunt and gather (almost as much as it amazes them to see me at the top of a tree with a basket and a big grin probably!). Climbing trees is fun and what better excuse do you need to climb a tree eh?

Where I live used to be a huge orchard once upon a time and thankfully most of the local side streets are still blessed with a variety of fruit trees. Pavements are literally swamped with cherries, mirabelle plums and crab apples at this time of year, yet people look disdainfully at anyone who dares to fill a basket full. Worse still are the local councillors who decide that it is better to chop them down so as not to inconveniently stain the pavement, as with the two mature mulberry trees that once guarded the entrance to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in south London.I just don’t get it when all of this lovely fruit can be so easily jammed or, even better, bottled in alcohol ready for Christmas.

Squirrel Stew made it back onto the menu of this years annual Allotment Bring a Dish Feast! Such a success was last years squirrel and pheasant road kill stew, a choice of Squirrel Bourguignon and Squirrel Rogan Josh were presented at this years buffet table. Apparently fed on the chefs own plums (no wonder he shot them!), the squirrel meat was tender and fruity. I was tempted to give it a try but managed to fill myself up on the wonderful selection of vegetable dishes that were on offer instead. Probably wise, being the vegetarian that I am! Particularly memorable were Nelly’s sweetcorn and chard fritters and Armorel’s spinach & ricotta filo pie. My contribution, a tray of wheat free beetroot brownies.

Unfortunately, as the skies opened up not long after the food had been demolished and raffle called, it meant that the usual sing-a-long around the camp fire didn’t happen this year, which was a shame. Last year we had a trombone, two guitars and percussion to accompany us in the shameless destruction of classics courtesy of Rod Stewart, Desmond Dekker and Bob Dylan. Sung by a merry band of slightly squiffy vegetable growers, it was a beautiful thing!

We did, however, have a fantastic couple of hours of sunshine and some truly delicious, ethically shot and locally grown delights, for which I am grateful.

I have some serious catering shenanigans to deal with in October so will not have much time to either spend up at the plot or write about not being at the plot. What I have decided to do is hand the Allotment Watch duty over to my plot neighbours, The Children, for the month. Expect some captivating verses from John’s gorgeous self published book, The Gun Site. A poetic journey through the seasonal changes up at the allotment. Armorel, as well as being an exquisite songstress, is also an amazing cook and gardener and was a big inspiration for me when planning and planting my plot so I am confident that you will be in good hands.

Flu Busting Tonic

The common elder (Sambucus nigra) is the matron of all trees. Refreshing & hydrating you in the summer with it’s delicately tasting flowers and protecting you through the cold winters with an abundance of immune boosting berries (although poisonous when eaten raw!). Rich in antioxidants, elderberries have the most wonderful anti-viral properties and have been used as a herbal remedy against colds and flu’s for nearly 3,000 years. In folklore, the elder was long regarded as sacred and believed to ward off evil spirits, protected by the elder-mother who lived in its trunk. Rose hips are one of the richest plant sources of vitamin C and I have combined them with elderberries and a kick of chilli to make this powerful, warming winter tonic.


Rose hips
Fresh lime sliced
Whole dried chilli peppers
Filtered water
Raw cane sugar
Brandy (or 1 tsp of citric acid per 500 ml of tonic for alcohol free)


Wash the fruit. Remove the elderberries from their stalks with the prongs of a fork. Slice the rose hips in half and remove the seeds and fibres. If you have a set of measuring spoons, the 8th of a teaspoon is just about the right size scoop for this job.

Put the elderberries, rose hips and sliced fresh lime in a pan with just enough filtered water to cover them.
Add a stick of cinnamon and a sprinkling of cloves.
Bring to the boil then gently simmer for 15 minutes.

With a potato smasher, mash the fruit to a pulp and strain into a clean measuring jug through a jelly bag, squeezing to extract the maximum juice. For every 100ml of juice add 100g of sugar, 1 small chilli pepper and about 6 eucalyptus leaves.

Return the potion to the pan and simmer for a further 10 minutes until thickened.

Allow to cool then strain through a jelly bag once again. For every 100ml of syrup add 15ml of brandy to act as a preservative and bottle up.

Take one teaspoon three times a day at the first sniff of a cold or dilute with boiled water for a soothing hot toddy.

Keep refrigerated once opened.

Mrs Bun xx

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