Allotment blog: A fruitful summer

27 Jul 2013 @ 9.19 am
| Food & drink
Dreamy summer days at the York allotment. Plus a bit of hard work…
Dreamy summer days at the York allotment. Plus a bit of hard work…

Summertime – and the living is tasty on the York allotment, as Sue Jewitt and Vicky Swift start enjoying the fruits of their labours

July! Ah, there have been weeks this month that make us think those childhood memories of endless summer might not have been patched together by our imaginations from a day here and a day there into an endless dreamy stretch of sunshine.

Maybe the Seventies really were as glorious as we remembered? Perhaps a British summer really can occasionally be, well, summery?

At the allotment we are now harvesting happily. The potatoes are perfect – we can personally vouch for Vivaldi’s – so deliciously creamy they taste as though they’ve come out of the ground pre-buttered.

The charlottes are as reliably tasty as ever, and as yet we’ve decided to let the pink fir apples and anya remain in the ground for a little longer.

Remember the salsify? As “easy to grow as dandelions”? Well it’s looking good, above ground at least – as with all root crops the proof is in the pulling, which won’t be for another couple of months yet.

The broad beans are almost there, the chard is lemony and prolific enough to brazen out the slugs, strawberries have been generously cropping and the gooseberries – the gooseberries!

Salsify with Swiss chard bright lights behind
Salsify with Swiss chard bright lights behind
Gooseberries ripening in the sunshine
Gooseberries ripening in the sunshine

We have between us a motley collection of gooseberry bushes – on one plot inherited from the previous plot holder, and on the other, three from Aldi, bought for a couple of quid as a bundle of unpromising bare-rooted twigs four years ago, and two gifted from a friend who wanted more space in her garden. Last year in the endless heavy rain they managed to crop well – this year they are incredible.

A truly British crop, the gooseberry is an indigenous plant that has been cultivated here for many centuries. No wonder our little bushes can cope beautifully with both the floods of 2012 and the (dare I say it?) heat of 2013 – like us, they’re used to it.

In the late 19th century, gooseberry growing shows and competitions sprung up across the north of England with growers breeding plants designed to produce berries the size of hen’s eggs, and winning prizes for the heaviest berries.

Some of these competitions still exist today – the Egton Bridge Gooseberry Show eight miles from Whitby is the oldest in the country dating back to 1800! The 2013 show will be taking place on the August 6.

So, with our rather more quail’s egg than hen’s egg sized gooseberry bounty we’re on the hunt for some good recipes, and as is often the case, return to a favourite…

Nigel Slater’s Gooseberry Crumble Cake

Serves 8

butter, softened 180g
golden caster sugar 90g
light muscovado sugar 90g
eggs 2
ground almonds 80g
self-raising flour 150g
vanilla extract 2–3 drops
gooseberries 350g

For the crumble
plain flour 110g
butter 80g
caster sugar 2 tbsp

Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 3. Line the base of a 20cm round tin with baking parchment.

To make the crumble topping, blitz the flour and the butter to crumbs in a food processor. Add the caster sugar and mix lightly. Remove the mixer bowl from the stand and add a few drops of water. Shake the bowl a little so that some of the crumbs stick together like small pebbles.

To make the cake, beat the butter and sugars in a food mixer for 8-10 minutes until pale and fluffy. Beat the eggs gently then gradually introduce them to the mixture with the beater on slow.

Fold in the ground almonds and flour then add the drops of vanilla extract. Transfer the mixture to the tin and smooth it flat. Scatter the gooseberries on top, pressing them down a little.

Scatter the crumble mixture loosely over the gooseberries. Bake for 60-75 minutes, checking for doneness with a skewer. The skewer should come out damp from the gooseberries but without any raw cake mixture attached. Leave to cool in the tin, then carefully remove.

We like to serve ours with a dollop of natural yoghurt or crème fraiche.

Original recipe can be found here.


Saturday, July 27, 10.15am-12pm Butterfly And Summer Nature Walk, York Environment Centre, St Nicholas Field.

Sunday, August 11, 10.30am Introduction to Wild Food Walk, £4. To book a place go to

Saturday, September 21, 5.30pm-9.30pm Apples for Eggs autumn food swap. To book a free place go to