Big Allotment Challenge, Episode 4

Return to the plot

Episode four of the Big Allotment Challenge saw the remaining contestants testing their skills by growing aubergines, showing sunflowers and making pickles.

The aubergine challenge was first up. Most teams decided to grow grafted plants but Rupert and Dimi and Jo and Avril opted to grow their aubergines from seed.

Although it’s entirely possible to grow aubergines outdoors the teams were required to grow their’s in the greenhouse where the hot and humid conditions added an extra element to the task.

The hottest summer for 30 years caused greenhouse temperatures to soar to around 35 degrees prompting Gary and Pete to install a solar powered fan to provide some relief to their plants.

With four weeks to go until judging day the teams were carefully checking their plants. Kate and Eleanor showed off the ‘world’s most obscene aubergine’ while Gary and Pete’s aubergines were getting over ripe and falling from their plants.

On judging day contestants carefully dusted and polished their aubergines in preparation for the final assessment by Jim Buttress.

He concluded that Gary and Pete’s didn’t have enough sheen but was a lot better than their carrots last week.

Jo and Avril’s aubergine had a rather large blemish on its base and despite growing it from seed they were not given extra marks.

Rupert and Dimi also grew their plant from seed choosing the Ivory variety and produced a good result. You can see why aubergines are sometimes called ‘egg plants’ when you see this particular type.

Alex and Ed tried to hide the large mark on the base of their aubergine by standing it up but this was quickly spotted by Jim. Nice try lads.

It was Kate and Eleanor with their large, uniform aubergine that won this challenge.

Sunflower beauty contest

The next challenge was to grow and show three identical sunflowers and to make a floral topiary tree.

The sunflowers were to have long, straight stems, good colour and no blemishes.

Contestants planted their seeds 13 weeks before show day and eight weeks later they were planting out their sunflowers on the plot.

Most teams seemed to be having a good deal of success at this stage.

Gary and Pete had chosen the Teddy Bear variety which only grow up to 40cms high whereas Alex and Ed opted for the Russian Giant variety.

At one point Alex was finding it hard to reach the heads of the flowers and wondered whether they were of a record breaking height. Ed quickly googled it and found that they were in fact 17ft short of the world record!

On show day the teams selected three matching flowers for judging and then started the job of making a topiary tree featuring sunflowers and other blooms from their plots.

There was some good variety in this challenge and on the whole Jonathan judged that everyone had improved their skills.

He was particularly impressed with Gary and Pete’s effort commending their ‘clever workmanship’.

He liked Shirley and Victoria’s attempt but expressed a desire to want to prune it back a bit and went on to question the stability of Kate and Eleanor’s tree.

It was Alex and Ed’s topiary tree that most impressed him however with its balance of workmanship and creativity and he duly chose them as winners of this task.

To add to Alex and Ed’s obvious excitement Jim had also just selected them as winners of the sunflower challenge.

Piccalilli and pickles challenge

The final challenges of this week’s episode were to produce a jar of piccalilli and a jar of pickles.

Piccalilli is cauliflower and other cooked vegetables in a mustard and turmeric based sauce. Pickles are simply preserved vegetables covered in spiced vinegar.

Contestants were required to prepare their vegetables the night before the task to give them time to remove the excess moisture from them.

Vegetables with a lower water content were to be soaked in salt water while vegetables with a higher water content were to be dry-salted.

When the teams arrived the next morning their vegetables had been drying for around 12 hours.

Although pickles usually need to mature for around three months before eating, Thane had to taste them immediately after they’d been cooked.

Rupert and Dimi’s piccalilli was described as ‘enticing’ with a ‘nice crunch, very good balance of salt and sweet’. Their courgette pickles were attractively rolled up in the jar and were crisp.

Thane wasn’t particularly impressed with Jo and Avril’s piccalilli which she thought lacked enough sauce and the spices felt a bit raw. However she did think that their beetroot and orange pickle would mature well.

Gary and Pete cooked a ‘quickalilli’ which Thane considered ‘very nice, good sweet sour balance, sauce stays on the veg’. She also liked the crunch of their ploughmans’ pickle and said it showed that they both have real skills.

Unfortunately for Kate and Eleanor their ‘patch piccalilli’ was described by Thane as ‘really quite horrid’! They quickly redeemed themselves with their pickled gherkins and runner beans which Thane said she’d happily have a jar of in her pantry.

Shirley and Victoria’s piccalilli sauce was very watery due to them not removing enough excess water during the salting process and perhaps overcooking their vegetables. However, their kimchi was described as having a ‘sensational aroma, fresh and delicious’ with the right balance of sour and hot.

Alex and Ed’s piccalilli had a good bright colour but far too much sauce and the flour used for thickening it hadn’t been cooked out. Although their pickled beetroot was judged to have an interesting balance of flavours it was too soft.

Thane’s chosen winners of this task were Gary and Pete.

The end

When the judges sat down to discuss which team should be next to leave the show Jim suggested that he hadn’t seen any improvement in Gary and Pete’s growing skills while Thane was disappointed with Jo and Avril.

Jim agreed saying that they were ‘middle of the road’, along with Shirley and Victoria.

The eventual losers were Shirley and Victoria.

A new beginning

Next week we’ll be treated to the contestants growing onions, showing chrysanthemums, and making fruit preserves.

With only five couples left in the show the competition for a place in the final is hotting up. Be sure to tune in next week to see how your favourite team performs.

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