An allotment with lots of seasonal vegetables can really inspire you

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Monday, August 14, sees the start of National Allotment Week. People in Britain have been growing vegetables and fruits in outdoor allocated spaces since Anglo Saxon times. The system used today has its roots in the nineteenth century when land was given over to the labouring poor for the provision of food.

When I ran a restaurant in Manchester in the early nineties a local taxi driver used to have an allotment and he’d drop off masses of different produce at a very good price - gold dust when you’re running a food business.

Spring would herald the arrival of greens, scallions, early tomatoes culminating in a burst of beans, corn, chilli, courgettes , rhubarb, raspberries and potatoes in mid summer.

The winter months brought root vegetables, pumpkins, horseradish, dark leafy greens. When you’ve access to all this seasonal produce it inspires you as a cook.

In the here and now I know my failings as a gardener - my grandmother had and mother has terrific green fingers but that gene stopped dead with me! I prefer to either barter or accept the gifts of friends who have real horticultural talent.

My friend Jilly Dougan put a post on twitter saying that she was cutting back her lovage and I seem to remember hearing my granny say that lovage is a greedy herb that will take over your garden. Not one to miss an opportunity I stepped in to help with the excess crop.

Her garden is a joy to spend time in - raised beds full of hardy herbs, sweet corn, roots, greens and polytunnels with tomatoes, salad greens and unusual delicate herbs like Thai coriander and chervil. My car became a mobile greengrocer’s shop and I left with enough produce to see the Ingalls family in “Little House on the Prairie” through a harsh Kansas winter.

Good greengrocer shops are full of reasonably priced local produce at the moment to supplement those of us that aren’t blessed with skill in the gardening department. This is the time of year to focus on preserving the harvest for the winter months. My recipes this week are centred around different methods of capturing the goodness to enjoy later.

I splashed out on a dehydrator last year and it’s rarely off. Root vegetables are sliced thinly, dried in this clever machine, then made into powders, herbs are combined with salt and tomatoes and chillis are packed into oil.

The possibilities are endless. You don’t need to buy the kit, just lower your oven, line baking trays with parchment paper and wait for a few hours.

I’ve also included recipes to use up excess chillis, tomatoes, cucumber, courgettes and beetroot. Fire up your imagination, go to Ikea for jars and admire your delightfully coloured, delicious display.

Ards Allotments are having an open day on August 19 from 10am to 4pm. This event is weather dependent so contact them at info@ardsallotments.com for updates.