Archive for the ‘Foraging’ Category

Why my Mum doesn’t cook…

January 22, 2017

It has always been a puzzle to me, how much my lovely, intelligent, adaptable & creative mother hates cooking… but I’m beginning to understand now. The other day, she casually mentioned that until she married my father, back in the immediate post-war years and aged just 21, she had never cooked or prepared a meal in her life. On the first morning of their married life, she woke up in a blind panic because she had no idea what to do about breakfast – not a clue. She had never even fried an egg.

I was somewhat amazed at this revelation; she grew up in a multi-generational household, as her mother died soon after she was born and her father was away on the North-West frontier most of the time, and re-married before too long. So she was raised mostly by her grandmother, who had grand ambitions for her; her grandfather was Chief Engineer at the local paper mill, and her aunt and uncle both had good clerical jobs, so by the standards of the time, they were solid middle-class citizens. Old photographs show a lovely dimpled child who was clearly everyone’s pet, and she went on to grammar school, where she excelled at music in particular. But sadly she failed the Matriculation, by just one point (in art, of all things) so dreams of university had to be shelved. She spent some time pursuing her musical talents, but by that time she had met my father, curate at a local church, and was sternly told that she could either sing OR marry. Luckily for us, she chose to marry…

But no-one ever taught her how to cook. It may well have been that my great-grandmother was living a little in the past, and thought that cooking should be something that cooks did. It’s certainly true that for most of my mother’s teenage years, rationing made ingredients hard to come by, and even harder to stretch, and as they lived in a town, they didn’t have access to the large & productive rural garden that my other set of grandparents had, or the time to work it; running a paper mill in wartime was a dawn-to-dusk, and sometimes beyond, commitment. My great-grandmother pooled the family’s rations to keep them all fed, but discouraged any “help” that might lead to wastage. Thus she failed to pass on the basic skills that would have kept my mother afloat when she suddenly had to feed two people, and sometimes entertain, too, on strict rations and a pretty low income.

However, she persevered; she tells tales of surreptitiously buying recipe magazines, despite not even knowing what half the ingredients were. And plunging into despair when the recipes started with sentences like, “First bone and roll the joint” or “Rub in the lard” – rub it into what, exactly? Your hands? The chopping board? How do you “bone” a joint? The bone doesn’t just pop out… To someone raised to be a blue-stocking, 1940s cookery books might as well have been written in a foreign language; they assumed a level of basic knowledge that she just didn’t have.

But then, rationing dwindled away; my parents spent some years abroad, and along came the “new” cooks – Elizabeth David, Prue Leith, Josceline Dimbleby and the like, who explained things much more clearly, with pictures, and cookery started to become more than just trying to get the most out of very basic ingredients. But just as everyone else was discovering that food could be fun, and “exotic” ingredients and recipes were becoming easily available, my father died, leaving her with just £11 in the bank, living in “tied” accommodation which she had to vacate very swiftly, and with two young children still at home. She found a job, and kept a roof over our heads, but buying & cooking food were just chores she could have done without at the end of every tiring day…

She has always done her best, in every way, and we are all immensely proud of her and grateful to her. But our childhood wouldn’t have been the same without the cries of, “But it doesn’t look like that in Delia!” or “No-one said you had to turn the oven on!” I’m glad that now she’s 90, she has the option of buying good, nutritious meals ready-made, to just heat up. But I’m also sad for her, that something should be a fundamental and creative skill became such a panic-inducing chore. And I think there’s a lesson to be learned; never assume that your kids just won’t need basic skills. Things like knowing how & what to buy and cook can turn a boring necessity into an interesting challenge; knowing to knit, crochet, sew or do basic maintenance on your car can save you lots of money as well as being very satisfying and even creative, and knowing how to swim, or tie an appropriate knot, or what or what NOT to pick in the wild, can save your life.

Life may not turn out the way you’ve planned in every detail, for you or for your loved ones…

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Wild-gathered comfrey fritters… surprisingly delicious and more-ish!

There are times…

September 29, 2016

…when I have neither the time nor the heart to make much. September’s been a full-on month, with several commitments that I felt I couldn’t try to wriggle out of, whatever else was going on, a couple of vague attempts to make some money towards the festive season, and another heart-lurching health challenge for my elderly mother.

And it’s harvest time; my absolute favourite thing to do, ever, is to go foraging in our hedgerows, with the sun on my back, birdsong in my ears. Yesterday I managed a short run out to the woods, and came back with a basket half-full of little yellow crab-apples, a handful of blackberries (which, sadly, have started to rot on the vines, thanks to the rain & grey skies) sloes & rosehips. There are apples & quinces coming down in the garden, too. Yesterday evening & all day today, I haven’t been outrageously busy, so I’ve managed to carve out the time to chop & boil up the two quinces that had split, the crab apples and the little blackberries. Then to let the mush drip all night, add sugar and boil up until “wrinkly” today. Luckily I had a lot of clean jamjars to scald, too, with new lids.

So now there are 8 jars of lovely deep-pink Quince & Crab-Apple Jelly (recipe here) cooling on my kitchen table, and I feel as though my feet have touched the ground again… but there’s a good chance that I’ll need to make a quilt soon, too, as a house-warming  present! Fingers crossed for them…

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I have no idea why this pic has “tiled” itself… Good job it’s not a face!

A whole New Year!

January 1, 2016

Welcome to 2016! Wishing you all a very happy one…

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There’ll be more making, more baking…

My main resolution for this year is – to write more. A lot more; my life seems to have frayed at the edges or possibly unravelled to the point where I hardly ever get the time, or have the space, to make anything worthwhile any more, but I don’t need a lot of space or time to spin some words together. It doesn’t matter if I’m 26 miles away from my sewing machine or spinning wheel, as I was yesterday; as long as I have a pen & some paper, or better still my iPad, I can write something. Even if it’s something that no-one else will ever read; that almost doesn’t matter. Even if it’s just a few words scribbled on the back of a receipt…

I’d like to try to write something here at least once a week. I’d very much like to get paid for writing again, but I had to let those threads drop a few years back, and am not in a position to commit to imminent deadlines at the moment. And I’m not able to do research or develop any new expertise at anything just now, and real life continues to confound my ability to keep up with the plot, so my long-held ambition to write a novel (oh, and get it published) doesn’t stand much of a chance either.

I’ve managed to keep most of my preserves & ferments going over the last year, mainly by persuading my darling daughters to take up the reins whenever I’ve been snatched away by fate. They are developing their own techniques & preferences now and I’m loving the results; ginger beer, kombucha, kefir and kimchi. But I didn’t get nearly enough foraging in, or a chance to learn more about the unnoticed gifts that we’re surrounded with. I’m still rescuing and refurbishing stuff and making a few bob selling on what we ourselves can’t use, but many more people have leapt onto that bandwagon and it’s getting harder and harder to turn an honest penny. Not to mention that I now have nowhere to store stock, or work on it…

So I’ve given away a lot of excess stock, to something that’s a very good cause; three van-loads so far, and more to follow. I live in hope of finding the conservatory floor again one day, and the shelves in the porch; then I’d be able to store sensible amounts of wood when it’s available for free, as it very often is!

Things need to change! But maybe I can’t impose that change from on top, and it needs to happen from the bottom up, so I will start building the future with words, just a few at a time!

Week 2 – what I did, what I didn’t, and what’s new…

August 24, 2014

Having set myself this little challenge, how did Week 1 go?

Most of it has been used up. The marrow’s still waiting to be curried, but doesn’t appear to be in any hurry. Nor are the shallots, which are scheduled to be used up in tomorrow’s Bank Holiday supper. Two small aubergines from the tray of 6 are still waiting too, but haven’t developed any bad patches so are still good to go.

This week’s haul includes 3 more lots of tomatoes; one of 50p salad toms, for lunches, and two 50p lots of the big vine tomatoes for (yet more) soup. 4 corn-on-the-cob for £1, more celery – can you have too much? Surely not! – for 50p, 5lbs of Jersey Royal potatoes for 50p, 10 lemons & 10 limes for £2, which will make lemon & lime curd, with some home-laid eggs. I also bought a big butternut squash for £1, as last week’s has already been used. I could have bought either of two varieties of cabbage, but didn’t; I still have an uncut one from Friday. There were no carrots or parsnips on offer, but I have enough carrots & one big parsnip should keep us going all week, unless I want to do a rosti, in which case I’ll visit the greengrocers. Two punnets of small strawberries were down to £1 each and will go into jam with the blackberries I’m about to go & gather in before the stormy weather makes them rot in the hedgerows. If no-one’s eaten them already, that is! The 50p peppers will almost certainly be eaten whole & raw, like apples, by our tame vegetarian, and one of the 50p leeks has gone already.

I’ve also made a big jar of kimchi, started off a ginger beer plant, and made 3 bottles of blackberry & apple cordial. Plus I bought two full carrier bags of apples towards the end of the car boot sale on Tuesday, reduced down to 50p each, to make apple butter with this week, as our crop isn’t going to be up to much this year.  And another trader has offered me a sack of windfalls, from her mother’s garden – lovely jubbly! The more the merrier.

The downside? I’m running out of reclaimed jam jars already…

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Week 2’s haul of reduced fruit & veg…

The 50p veg challenge…

August 17, 2014

Lately I’ve taken to popping down to our local market close to closing time on Sunday, the last of the three days it’s open. The two fruit & veg stalls have a habit of offloading anything perishable that hasn’t yet sold for 50p a pot or punnet, or sometimes a mixed bag for £1, or two bowls for £1.50. Since one of The Offspring has become a vegetarian, this has been a bit of a good moneysaver…

I hasten to add that I actually buy everything I can foresee needing for the week at full price & peak freshness on Friday morning, chosen to match whatever fish & meat I’ve found best value for this week & bearing in mind any special events. It’s still a darn sight cheaper than buying it all in the supermarket. What I’ll pick up on Sunday is supplementary to this; sometimes there isn’t very much left, or what’s there isn’t something that any of us will eat, so it would be daft to rely on it. And sometimes it’s a challenge to know how to use up what I’ve found. But also, fun…

This week’s haul includes celery, which is something I use a lot, as a fresh savoury herb in cooking, rather than raw in salads. If I have an absolute glut, I’ll pop some into my dehydrator; it dries quickly & the taste is concentrated. Dried celery is a great standby for soups, as are carrots, which also found their way into my trolley. There’s spring onion, which goes well in stir-fried veg, a tray of aubergines, which a friend gave me an excellent tasty, inexpensive recipe for, and 4 large ripe mangos. They’ll be in my slow-cooker tomorrow turning into chutney, with a couple of large apples from our tree. I picked up two trays of vine-ripened tomatoes, and popped over to the butcher’s stall for some soup bones for £1. That’ll make a lovely middle-Eastern-style soup for our lunches for the week, as the bones are lamb. There was a butternut squash, much loved by our vegetarian, and a marrow; I have plans to try out curried marrow or marrow bhaji…

Not to mention garden produce – the apples are coming down fast now, the quinces are almost ready – and what I can forage from our local hedgerows and even sometimes other people’s gardens. With their permission, of course! Blackberries feature strongly in my plans for the week, mostly fresh or as jam, as does the first “run” of apple butter with windfalls, possibly also using some crab apples from the riverbank; they looked just ripe for picking when I walked my friend’s dogs earlier. The lurcher clearly thought the windfalls were just perfect for eating, too… It’s not going to be a great crop of apples this year, but what’s there has had the grace to ripen up when I actually do have the time to deal with it, for once.

Anyway, the plan is, to record here what I find each week & what I plan to do with it. Then the next week, to report back on whether I did actually stick to my plans, or whether, shame of all shames, we just have some very well-fed chickens… It’s a bit of a challenge to myself, to keep me on track & keep unnecessary expenditure down, but please feel free to join me, in the comments, with suggestions for me, or tell us what you yourself have found or grown, & what you’re going to do with it.

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Home grown Blenheim Oranges.

Just in case you were wondering…

May 11, 2014

…where I’ve got to, I’m still recycling like mad & will be posting here again shortly. But I’m also trying to blog, mostly in pictures, a year in our little urban garden. Find it at A Year of Old-Style Gardening.

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This spring’s blossom on the big old Blenheim Orange apple tree…

Freecycle Chutney…

October 1, 2013

Well, what else can I call it? We’re not short of apples on our own big Blenheim Orange tree this year, although it’s hardly a bumper crop, but I’d gathered a handful of those pretty little red crab apples from the riverbank to make some crab apple jelly with. However there weren’t an awful lot on the tree, and I know other people like to use them too, so I didn’t feel I could be greedy & help myself to too many. There are other trees I know of, but they’re quite a walk off the road and the weather’s pretty soggy just now. And I’d found some other interesting-looking crab apple recipes online; several chutneys, crab apple butter, and slow-roasted crab apples, to name but a few, which looked well worth a try. I also seemed to be rather short of jars; the box I thought was still out in the garage, wasn’t, when I went hunting for it. So I asked on one of our local Freecycle groups, both for crab apples and for jars. And I was lucky enough to get two replies, one from Maggie whose elderly mother loves honey & goes through at least a jar a week, so had a full box of jars saved up, and one from Stan, who said he had not crabs, but apples…

Oh boy, does he have apples! I am now suffering from serious orchard envy. He and his wife moved to their cottage 20 odd years ago, on retirement, and he has been building up his orchard ever since. Sadly he’s struggling to manage his garden now, as his wife is very ill and he’s finding it hard to bend, but the place should be declared a national treasure. There are all the well-known varieties, and some lesser-known trees too, grown from cuttings, interspersed with gooseberries, currant bushes and an enormous row of runner beans. Anyway I helped myself to three huge bags of windfalls, mostly of small yellow apples with little red splashes, which taste a little like Golden Delicious, and he handed me a bag of jars too. I’ve promised him a jar of the results, and some Egremont Russets, too, as his Russet has stopped a-russetting & now bears pretty, delicious red apples that only bear a slight resemblance to an Egremont.

On the way home, I spotted some small red fruits lying on the road into town, and realised there’s a crab apple in a roadside garden there. So I pulled into the nearest car park, plucked up my courage & knocked on the door. The owners professed themselves delighted to let me pick up their windfalls too. So I came home absolutely laden with bounty…

I mixed the little yellow apples & the red crab apples with a couple of damaged quinces from our own garden, which won’t keep until I get round to making the quince marmalade; I’m willing to bet that the crabs & quince will make up for any lack of zing from the yellow ones. The slow-cooker is full to the brim of apples, cranberries, rosemary, onions & garlic turning gently into chutney, and I stuffed both my big preserving pans full to bursting with apples & boiled them up to make lots of pretty pink juice for crab apple jelly. The drippings from 4 muslin bags have now filled the 10-litre pan, and the chickens will dine well on the fruit pulp tomorrow. But I hadn’t thought about sugar… it would take every ounce we currently have, and then some, to turn that lot into jelly. So off to the supermarket I shall hurtle, tomorrow, and trust that they’ll have enough; they don’t always have the big bags.

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We won’t eat all this ourselves. Apart from the jars I’ll return to the donors, I like to make up a basket of home-made things – I hesitate to call them goodies – for various family members at Christmas. Some will get given to produce stalls in support of one organisation or another & some will be inflicted on absent offspring’s flatmates. I will go out & gather more crabs, to try the slow-roast idea, when the weather’s not quite so damp. But I still have rather a lot of apples to process/give away/eat and I haven’t even really started on our own home-grown ones yet!

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Don’t get me wrong; I am actually really grateful for all this & will do my best not to waste any of it. I’m just goggling a bit at the sheer size of the task I have before me! And it triggers some interesting thoughts about life before or without freezers & dehydrators, as the seasons turn. I may have to haul out some demijohns…

Best of British…?

September 5, 2012

As those of you who know me personally know, whilst DS3 is studying in Chile, I am making use of the space he isn’t using to try to earn the money to go out to visit him. To that end I’ve spent the last few weeks emptying his room of all the shop & other debris that had come to rest there & redecorating it. As the lovely old sash window in there doesn’t “fit” properly any more following a doomed attempt at revamping it, I also made up a roman blind from two inexpensive remnants of rather-exclusive furnishing fabric, an old slatted blind & some leftover calico. Although I didn’t get the slats quite straight, I’m really quite pleased with the result (for £11.50) & hope it will make the room far more pleasant in winter as it’s 3 layers thick & fits the window recess very snugly.

So now we have a young German student staying for 2 weeks in there. He’s a lovely studious lad who DS3 would have got on with very well. This is the first time we have played “host family” as we’ve never had any spare rooms until now, and I’ve been perplexed by some of the instructions I’ve been given; to start with, the organiser told me, “Don’t go to any great trouble with food; they don’t like British food anyway, so just get in some extra pizzas – you know, the sort of thing teenage boys like.”

Hmm – here we are, in the middle of some of the UK’s finest farming country, with easy & relatively cheap access to some of the best fresh food that Britain has to offer. Surely we can do better than additive-laden supermarket pizzas? And these kids come from rural Germany’s agricultural heartland; I was saddened to find that his parents had sent him with a suitcase full of vitamins & fibre supplements. They had evidently been forewarned that British food was awful… it seems it’s a self-perpetuating situation! They don’t like British food, so only offer them the very worst of it because they’re not going to eat it anyway. Bless the boy, he’s tucked happily into pasta, rice, potatoes, pancakes, chicken, eggs & vegetables, which is the sort of thing he likes best & we eat all the time, and hasn’t cost us a penny in extra pizza rations!

I’ve had many friends who have tried doing this in the past, and I’m well aware that we have been very lucky in “our” undemanding student, but one constant complaint has been that they’ve cost more to feed than you’re paid to have them. This is definitely not going to be the case with ours! I’m also aware that I’m very lucky to be in a position to make huge economies of scale when it comes to catering; I can scoop up a big bag of parsnips, say, for £1 towards the end of Sunday’s market, and know that I will have no trouble at all using them up before they become inedible. Though if there were only one or two of us, I’d still buy them, and preserve the ones I couldn’t use straight away.

And the preserving season is going into full swing now; hardly a day goes by when I’m not out foraging for more wild food, making jam, jellies, butters or curds, loading my dehydrator or trying to hollow out more space in the freezer. It’s an awful year for apples & figs down here, but the cherry plums are so laden that we’re in danger of losing more branches, the quinces have done OK, the Japanese Wineberries have exceeded all expectations, the raspberries seem to have got a second wind, and if the weather stays reasonable for a couple more weeks, it promises to be a bumper blackberry crop. So I shan’t repine for my missing Blenheim Oranges, but will make the most of what I’ve got, and be utterly thankful for the freedom to get on with it this year!

How to find the happy medium?

July 30, 2012

Having now discovered the joys of decluttering, I have got to the point where once or twice recently I’ve wanted things, only to discover that I’ve given them away… It was bound to happen eventually. The thing is, I really don’t want to backslide either financially (“I’ll just go out & buy another”) or in hoarding terms (“I’ll find somewhere to keep this, it might just come in useful…”) so somehow I have to find a middle way. Easier said than done!

I know that when it comes to my stall, I want to up my game & just have stuff that’s irresistible, on a stall that looks inviting. In some ways, less is more, here; I suspect that some of the things I’ve been puzzling over as to why they haven’t sold, have simply been buried in the melee as people turn my stock over to see what else I’ve got. I need a certain amount of variety so that things don’t get stale & I’m not trotting out the same old, same old every month; it’s good to give things a “rest” from time to time and always have something new. Well, as new as “vintage” can be! But at the same time it’s easy to accrue far too much stuff, some of it not as nice…

I also need to look at the materials I keep for our own craftwork; I have an ideal opportunity for this coming up as I replace some inappropriate storage with something that will fit the space more neatly, blend in with the rest of our furniture nicely and also provide more & better storage. I think it’ll take twice as much stuff as the present “storage solution” but I shall try to make sure it doesn’t have to; I suspect that half of what’s currently buried in the old sideboard will no longer be useful to us and can be given away! And there’ll be more room for dancing too – one of my teens can be entertained indefinitely  & inexpensively with henna, kohl, fabric, chiffon, sequins, bells, Bollywood & Egyptian music and a small audience or a few “pupils” …

I still have two biggish items that haven’t sold on Ebay. One I will hang onto & try other routes for selling; it’s worth what I’m asking for it & I’m not going to part with it for less than I paid for it, just wait until the right buyer comes along, which will happen eventually. I might even take it to Boscombe Vintage Market this weekend.  The other, my much-loved Jones embroidery machine on a Singer treadle – well, I have to admit I didn’t really want to sell it anyway! Once the new storage is installed (starting this afternoon, I hope) it can come back in from the garage and be put straight back into use. There are still other biggish things, that are less useful, that can be sold to make more space, not to mention about 500 excess craft books…

And it would be useful now to make some more money, as well as space. I’ve had a breather after closing down the shop, which was longer than intended thanks to bits of Boscombe Clock Tower falling through the roof of the Royal Parade, forcing the cancellation of last month’s Market. I’ve meant to do a couple of car boot sales, but other things have taken priority; sadly those other things (my father-in-law’s terminal illness in another country, Olympic tickets and 3 birthdays) have cost us quite a lot of money and I need to cut unnecessary spending hard and top the family coffers back up next month. So hold onto your seat belts for a month of making do & mending, foraging, freezer-emptying, inexpensive home-grown fun & generally wringing every ounce of value out of each & every penny!

Ooooh – nice!

April 23, 2012

Bit of luck yesterday – I went down to the Tip with loads of cardboard, polystyrene (aaaargh – horrible stuff!) and wrapping from the utility room revamp. “We’ve got something for you!” Lee greeted me. “Some alpaca, in fact.”
Curious, I trotted over to the covered skip, thinking most likely I’d find a bit of raw fleece from an older animal that someone had meant to use for toy stuffing, perhaps. But no – two big bags of absolutely gorgeous-quality, squishy-soft, white, crimpy, supremely spinnable fluff, labelled “weanling”… the sort of stuff I’d have to hand over at least £30-£40 a bag for, if I were inclined to actually buy any. I love spinning (and wearing) alpaca, but don’t usually feel I can justify spending that much on my hobby – maybe £4 for a little bag once in a while. I spun up a quick sample skein last night and enjoyed it hugely; it almost spins itself. There was also a bag of washed Jacob’s fleece, which I shall give to my neighbour, as I already have 4 bags of it. I have to ask  – who throws these things away? There’s no sign of moths or  mice or anything else that would make me reject it. It may have belonged to someone who isn’t spinning or felting any more, for whatever reason, but how come they couldn’t find anyone to give it to, rather than just dumping it? Not that it matters; luckily the gents were alert & it’s made its way into my stash now. Into the very top, the next-project bit of it, as it happens.

What a lovely find! I’m a very happy bunny. Thanks, gents…

And I’m hardly even going to mention the pheasant – poor little fellow threw himself in front of a car (not ours, I hasten to add) on a country road at the weekend whilst we were helping with the move. We drove one way; the road was clear. We offloaded & drove back again 10 minutes later; there he was, dead as a dodo. He was on a bend & anything much shorter than a human would have been hugely at risk of being squished themselves, trying to drag him away – so who could resist? A large pot of delicious stock & several tasty salads later, I’m very grateful to him…