Good news first! The Swallows have at last, after much umming and ahhing, started to renovate. They’ve been back for just over a month and every morning they have sat and glared at me through the window but have done nothing about their nest. I was beginning to worry that, because it hadn’t been totally destroyed, they might not fix it up. I asked one of the conservation boffs that I met on the Fort Nottingham walk whether I should perhaps knock the remains of the nest down so that they could start building from scratch. He advised me to leave it for another couple of weeks and fortunately I took his advice.
So what’s growing in the allotment at this time of year? I’ve got lots of seedlings coming up (beans, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, squash) but I haven’t started harvesting much yet. In terms of quantity the asparagus was rather disappointing, but in terms of flavour it was outstanding. With hindsight, I think that they could’ve done with more watering, as we haven’t really had much in the way of spring rain yet. And the broad beans have done well after surviving being squashed by the hail guard, which collapsed under the weight of the snow in July.
My few remaining established carciofi plants have started producing artichokes (I have recently planted more seedlings but we won’t have a crop from them this year). In 2006, Essa and I, on the advice of her father (who is a retired farmer), decided to farm artichokes. Peter very generously loaned us the money to get our farming venture off the ground. We fixed the ancient tractor belonging to Essa’s dad and got the fields ploughed and ready for our crop. A nurseryman in Howick ordered our seed from the States and he propagated two thousand artichoke seedlings for us, which we then planted, weeded and nurtured. Our first harvest was fantastic. Peter bought me a little Postman Pat van (a Peugot Partner actually, which I love) and I used to drive up to the farm from Durban once a week to collect crates of artichokes which I then delivered to Uncle Louis at the Everfresh Depot on the Bluff the next day. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole artichoke experience and even became quite an expert on preparing and cooking the bloody things. My Italian classmates nicknamed me Caterina Carciofi and I really thought that this was going to be my future.
However the next year, my new life as an artichoke entrepreneur came to an abrupt end. Our farm worker, under Essa’s dad’s supervision, neglected the fields which became over-run with weeds, and then invaded by gerbils, which ate all the baby seedlings. And that was the end of that! Of course, whatever we had made had been put straight back into the farm and I never thought to deduct any of my expenses. And unfortunately for Peter he never did get his loan back, so financially we did not fare too well out of the exercise. But I did learn a lot from that experience, mainly that there are no shortcuts when it comes to farming and also how to make the most simple and delicious artichoke dip:
HOT ARTICHOKE DIP
2 cans artichoke hearts (fresh are nicer but it’s a lot of work for little return)
1 cup mayonnaise (must be Woolworths Tangy Mayonnaise, if you can get it)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Coarsely chop the artichoke hearts and mix together with the mayonnaise and cheese. Spoon into a shallow, oven-proof dish, sprinkle some extra Parmesan on top and bake in 180 degree oven until bubbly.
Now that I’ve shared that with you, maybe someone can help me with my strawberry surplus. I’m not too au fait with jam-making so if anyone has a simple, tried and tested recipe for preserving strawberries I would be most grateful. I picked these on Sunday and already there’s another batch waiting to be picked.