What to do with oka

I realise I mentioned in my last post that I’d been in hospital, and then didn’t update in a long time, which I hope hasn’t caused undue alarm. Fear not, bold centurions, the doctors worked out it was Graves’ disease on Wednesday, and there are far worse things to have. And the reason for my absence has actually been a happy one, because (and there’s no way of saying this without sounded poncy) I’ve been on holiday to Sicily. From an allotmenteering perspective (and many others) this was fascinating. I’m not used to warm climates, really, so it was a novelty to see limes, olives and oranges growing. And then Etna, near where I was staying, has a kind of micro-climate. We passed loads of allotments or gardens on the way up, and I was struck by the thought that I would have no clue about how to make anything grow there if I became a Sicilian Allotmenteer. I’d have to forget everything I’d learned (which isn’t all that much) and start again.
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The land around Etna is really fertile, and you can follow the lines of trees to see where various eruptions took place. Yes, it was a happy little holiday.
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Back to Northumberland then, and I’ve been readjusting to rain, of which there’s been a lot. But all is not lost, because there are still things I can do on the allotment. November is when I can start harvesting the mysterious oka, which is so mysterious I don’t know how to spell it (oka or oca?) or even pronounce it, but friends, I grew it.

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It’s a shame they lose their colour when roasted, because they’re quite pretty. I went for the Strawberry Cream variety from the Real Seeds catalogue. One very positive thing about growing oka was that it takes up SO much space, which in my case, with an allotment the size of Essex, as my grandfather put it, is a bonus.
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I decided to roast mine in a recipe I adapted from this website. Left out the peppers, use oka rather than okra, as they are very different things, and added feta, because that was what was in my fridge (I’m middle class so this is normal). IT WAS DELICIOUS. I even managed to add some greenstuffs from the allotment like nasturtiums and rocket and garlic chives.

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The flavour of oka is hard to describe exactly but it’s got the consistency of a fairly fluffy potato with a slightly lemony taste. I might see what happens if I create some kind of oka mash – I’ll certainly have spare ones, as I planted eight tubers and have only taken up three to date. And it grew really, really well up here in Northumberland, which surprised me. I’m sure it’s been one of the most successful allotment experiments, and yet all my carrots fail (although I know why, it’s because I have totally the wrong kind of soil). Just goes to show you can’t always predict these things.

Apart from that, my white raspberries have been doing quite well this autumn:

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I’m freezing all the ones I collect with a view to making a mixed berry pie at some stage. To be brutally and viciously honest, I don’t like these novelty white berries as much as your standard raspberries. The flavour just isn’t quite as strong, as I see it. But I have normal red spring raspberry canes too, so all is not lost. I think it’s always a fine line to tread between novelty vegetables and being able to grow something actually useful, especially during the first year of allotmenteering. I know I have a tendency to want to try all the weird and wonderful vegetables, but I’m going to try and focus a bit more on standard fruit and veg next year. Well, maybe.

I don’t have a good picture of them, but I’m also getting regular visits from the chickens living in the neighbouring allotment. They’re always there when I open the gate and will guiltily waddle away when I approach, and then return when my back’s turned. My hope is that they’ll eat only the weeds, but I’m not sure if chickens have that level of wisdom to be able to only eat stuff that won’t annoy me.

Soon time to start ordering seeds for next year! How time has flown. I’m looking forward to planting sweet peas!

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