Peppers in Pots

Aubergines and sweet peppers can be grown outdoors in a sunny, sheltered site – choose a south-facing position and put out when all danger of frost is past – you should have the makings of a ratatouille on your own doorstep!

Buy container-grown young plants in May or June for cropping in August and September. Potting up the small plants will take an hour or so.

Peppers in PotsPlants required
One each of the following: aubergine ‘Short Tom’; hot pepper ‘Hungarian Wax’; sweet pepper ‘Earliest Sweet Red’. If you can’t find these varieties, look for others labelled as suitable for growing outdoors in containers.

Equipment required
Three terracotta pots (use plastic or ceramic if you prefer).Soil-based potting compost.Broken crocks for drainage.Trowel.Bamboo canes for support if needed.Potassium-rich liquid fertiliser.

1 Line each of the three pots with broken crocks for drainage. Half-fill with compost, then check the level of the rootball in each pot by sitting the small plants, still in their original containers, into the pots. The rootball should sit about 4cm (1½in) below the rim of the pot. Adjust the level of the compost accordingly.

2 Plant the aubergine and peppers, one to a pot, firm in well, then top up with compost. Water thoroughly.

3 Place the plants in a warm, sunny, sheltered spot, away from strong winds and draughts. Water regularly, but don’t allow the compost to become sodden. Support with bamboo canes and soft string if the stems start to bend over.

4 When the fruits start to appear, water every week with a liquid potassium-rich fertiliser (such as that recommended for tomatoes).

5 Don’t allow the plants to produce too many fruits – they won’t develop to a good size. For plants grown in pots of the size shown here, four or five is the maximum. Once the plant has this number developing, pinch out any further flowers – this will encourage the remaining fruits to grow larger.

Tip Red peppers are not a separate variety – they are green peppers allowed to remain on the stem until they ripen to a deep red colour. For use in the kitchen, pick them green – the weather in the UK may not be warm enough for outdoor peppers to ripen to red.

Note Check the plant labels carefully when buying young aubergine and pepper plants – new varieties are always coming on the market, many of them bred especially for outdoor and container growing. Your rate of success will be much higher if you choose the right variety in the first place.

Aftercare No particular aftercare is required. You will need to buy new young plants every year.

Project taken from Seasonal Garden Ideas. Now available at

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Dairy Book of Home Cookery

Over the years we have had so many requests for the original cookbook, the Dairy Book of Home Cookery, I am amazed.

Its popularity is unwavering and its fans passionate.

One of our consumers said:

‘A treasure. A friend of mine’s mum had an old version of this book when I was at school (a long time ago). When my husband and I moved into our first flat, there were two cookery books on my kitchen shelf. Delia’s original “Complete Cookery Course” and the Dairy Book of Home Cookery.’

The recipes are clear and simple – and unlike many cookery books these days, all the basics are there, pancakes, white sauce, the stuff your mum used to make. The information sections are also first class. My husband (a chef) takes my copy into work to show his trainees where all the cuts of meat come from, as the illustrations in this book are far superior to most industrial tomes. My daughter is only 12. But when she leaves home, she’s taking a copy of this with her – but not mine!’

I’ve even heard of someone buying her ex-husband a copy when they divorced!

This ‘cookery treasure’ is now an astonishing £2.99 (plus P&P) on the website. Snap it up while stocks last, and look out for the brand new fully updated version next year.

Try this Shepherd’s Pie, just one of the treasured recipes in the  Dairy Book of Home Cookery.

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Shepherd’s Pie

A treasured recipe from the Dairy Book of Home Cookery. Wonderful comfort food.

Shepherd's PieServes 4
Preparation 15 mins
Cooking 1¾ hrs
Suitable for freezing

450g (1lb) minced lamb
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp plain flour
300ml (½ pint) lamb
1 tbsp tomato purée
½ tsp dried mixed herbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
680g (1½lb) potatoes, peeled and chopped
25g (1oz) butter
3 tbsp milk

1 Dry fry lamb in a non-stick pan until browned. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2 Add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Gradually blend in stock, tomato purée, herbs and season to taste.

3 Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and boils. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

4 Turn mince into a 1.1 litre (2 pint) ovenproof dish.

5 Meanwhile, cook potatoes in boiling water for 20 minutes until tender.

6 Drain well, mash with butter and milk.

7 Cover mince mixture with potato. Bake at 190°C (375°F) Mark 5 for 1¼ hrs.

Recipe taken from the Dairy Book of Home Cookery.

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Inspired by the new gardening book, we managed to dodge the rain and get out in the garden this weekend.

Planting seedsIsaac had lots of fun planting seeds – free from – which we hope will grow into splendid salad leaves, carrots, courgettes, beans and sunflowers. Hmmm, as complete novices, we will see!

Besides the vegetables I want to try and attract more wildlife to the garden. My parents are lucky enough to enjoy the spectacle of two visiting badgers almost every night; it would be wonderful if we could encourage mammals to our garden too. The Wildlife Trust has a teamed up with the RHS to produce a lovely website with lots of handy tips

Our first project will be this fantastic Hedgehog Hideaway from Seasonal Garden Ideas. Despite its simplicity, this is definitely one for my other half or I might end of with one or two fewer limbs!

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Hedgehog Hideaway

Hedgehogs spend the winter months hibernating, curled up asleep in an out-of-the-way corner. They do good work in the garden by eliminating slugs and snails – so repay the debt by providing them with a safe, purpose-built home.

Hedgehog HideawayThis can be made at any time of year, but needs to be ready in early autumn for the hedgehogs to find before they settle for their winter sleep.

Allow a couple of hours, depending on your woodworking skills.

Equipment required

  • For the box: Six pieces of 1cm (½in) thick untreated plywood – two 30cm x 31cm (12in x 12½in) side pieces; three 53cm x 30cm (21in x 12in) pieces for the bottom, back and front and one 56cm x 30cm (22in x 12in) piece for a fixed roof or one 58cm x 33cm (23in x 13in) for a hinged roof.
  • For the tunnel: two 15cm x 30cm (6in x 12in)pieces of untreated plywood for the sides; two 18cm x 30cm (7in x 12in) pieces for the top and bottom.
  • Panel pins, 20cm (8in) length of 2.5cm (1in) diameter right-angled (‘elbow’) plastic piping, wood glue (non-toxic), saw, hammer.
  • Two or three brass hinges and screws (if using).
  • Shredded paper and/or straw to line the box.

1 Make the box first. Cut six pieces of plywood to the dimensions given on page 144. In the back piece cut a central 2.5cm (1in) diameter ventilation hole about three-quarters of the way up from the bottom – this will eventually take the piece of plastic piping.

2 Cut a central hole measuring 18cm (7in)wide by 15cm (6in) high in the bottom of the front piece.

3 Attach the sides to the bottom piece of plywood using glue and panel pins. Next attach the back piece in the same way. Hammer in the panel pins as straight as you can for stability. Attach the front piece in the same way.

4 For the roof you have a choice. If you want to look inside the box from time to time, then attach it to the back piece using two or three brass hinges. If not, then glue and pin the roof to the box sides, back and front.

5 Now make the tunnel. Glue and pin the two sides (the pieces measuring 15cm x 30cm/6in x 12in) to the bottom piece. Then glue and pin the top on.

6 Insert the piece of piping in the ventilation hole, with the outside open end facing down so it doesn’t get filled with leaves and debris or let water in.

7 Put some shredded paper and/or straw into the box so it is warm and snug for the hedgehog, then position it in a sheltered, secluded part of the garden – but not facing north or north-east. If possible, set it against a fence or wall. Insert the tunnel into the entrance hole – and await the arrival of your winter lodger.

Cover the box with leaves, twigs and branches to give it a more natural look and to help it blend into its surroundings, but take care not to obstruct the entrance or the ventilation hole and pipe.

Don’t use treated plywood – the stain used may be toxic or harmful to the hedgehogs. Try not to look into the box frequently to see if there is someone inside – a hibernating hedgehog should not be disturbed once it is asleep. Also, the less time you spend near the box, the more likely it is that a hedgehog will feel confident enough to take up residence.

The ventilation hole and pipe enable the hedgehog to breathe while it is in the box, and also help to avoid condensation. If you have used hinges for the top of the box, then place a brick on top to keep it firmly closed. Clean out the box once a year in late summer – after the breeding season is over and before hibernation is due to begin. Put some more clean, fresh paper or straw inside.

Project taken from Seasonal Garden Ideas available now from the Dairy Diary online store.

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Spring Bank Holidays

I’ve been caught by surprise by this bank holiday – and what a nice surprise! It has come round so quickly after the Easter long weekend.

A couple of weeks’ ago I had a phone call from one of our consumers asking for us to “give the late May bank holiday its proper name – Whitsun.” As we chatted it made me realise how little many of us (including me) know about the origins of our bank holidays. And so for some research….

The name ‘bank holiday’, quite simply comes from the time when the banks were closed and so no trading could take place. Back in the early 19th century, The Bank of England would observe 33 saints’ days and religious dates as holidays. These were drastically reduced with the official introduction of  the bank holiday in 1871.There were four holidays for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and five for Scotland. Whitsun commemorated one of the three baptismal seasons – baptism candidates would wear ‘white’ on a ‘Sunday’ and would be celebrated the day after Pentecost. Though Whitsun was included in the original bank holiday dates it was later replaced by the spring holiday on the last Monday in May. Further bank holidays were added during the 1970s, with a total of seven for Scotland, eight for England and Wales and ten for Northern Ireland. Let’s hope the 2010s sees the introduction of some more!

It’s asparagus season!
Year Round Dairy CookbookThe season English asparaus is short, so make the most of it and treat your family to this gorgeous seasonal recipe, Asparagus with Poached Eggs from Year Round Dairy Cookbook. And don’t forget the book is on special offer – last chance – at only £2.99. Bargain!

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