Archive for the ‘Preserving’ Category

Full of (very tough) beans!

October 7, 2017

So, it turns out that if you wander off on holiday for the best part of 3 weeks in September, your runner beans get very, very stringy & tough. The plants are still flowering, and the bees are still dancing round them, so I’m not ripping them up just yet, but I think they were basically under the impression that they’d done their job – loads of rock-hard stringy pods full to bursting of plump pink beans!

I had a “Bag For Life” full of them. I asked one or two experienced gardeners what I could do with them, but they shrugged; once you’ve saved your seed for next year (if you want to bother) all you can do is chuck them on the compost heap, apparently. But I was convinced there must be something I could do… so I brought them home and Googled like mad.

A couple of chutney recipes came up. I’m not a huge fan of chutney, but the household does contain one, so I made a big batch. Which used up nearly a quarter of the bag, and a whole evening; those pods really were very tough and razor sharp.

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Three-quarters of a bag of stringy beans!

This morning I woke up with a little revelation running through my mind; the pods might be beyond all sensible use, but the beans themselves might not be… So I spent a merry hour this morning shelling the beans, which was not as hard as I’d expected. If you pull the “strings” off, you’ll see that one of the resulting grooves in the side of the pod is deeper than the other. Sometimes you can split it open just with your fingernails; if not, run a sharp knife down that side & you can pull the pod open and remove the beans. No worse than shelling peas, or broad beans.

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I ended up with 2 pints of beans:

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I popped these into the slow cooker, along with 4 cloves of garlic, chopped up with two medium onions, half a large sweet potato, a quince, about a quarter of a very large courgette/zucchini, and a pint of vegetable stock. Two teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout, one of salt, a sprinkle of freshly-ground black pepper and a heaped spoonful of coriander leaf/cilantro seemed about right for seasoning.

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After two hours on “High” I turned it down to “Low” for the rest of the day. On tasting it, I added some tomato passata, a dash of Worcester Sauce and some more salt; just before serving a sprinkled a little more veggie stock on it, too, as there still seemed to be a little something missing.

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I also mashed it a little, which seemed to absorb some of the stock, but left many of the beans intact. I have to report that it went down very well, with at least one “customer” coming back for seconds. I’m hoping there’ll be enough left to freeze some.

The pods have indeed gone into the compost heap, but not all of the beans made it into the casserole. Although I already have some seed saved for next year, and have bought (on offer!) another pack of the same seeds I used this year, it seemed unfair not to save a few more, after all the plants’ hard work!

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So hopefully we’ll be off to a flying start next year, and I’m not worried about producing too many now I know there’s something different I can do with them.

And for my next trick: finding something tasty to do with several giant, and I do mean giant, chemical-free pumpkins…

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Do the maths!

October 4, 2017

I was at the market in our County Town this morning when I saw a small crowd of people round a fruit & veg stall. They were inspecting a little tower of boxes dubiously. I sidled over, and saw a notice: whole box of strawberries – £2!

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A slightly-depleted box of strawberries!

Well, irresistible! I checked with the stallholder; it really did mean a whole box, 20 good-sized punnets, for £2. “They’re going over,” he said. “You’ll need to pick your way through.” But the crowd were shaking their heads and wandering off. “Half of ’em are mouldy!” one woman huffed indignantly. Another lady & I looked at each other and laughed; the woman evidently hadn’t worked out that if half of them were no good – and it certainly wasn’t anywhere near half – you would still be getting 10 punnets for £2. Which is quite a bargain!

So I somehow managed to carry the box, mostly balanced on my head, back to my van, whilst dragging my shopping trolley behind me. My mother & I polished off most of one punnet for lunch, and I gave two more to one of my brothers, who happened to appear at an opportune moment. So 17 punnets came home with me.

What to do with 17 punnets of strawberries? I rounded up every jar I could find a lid for and made a massive pan of jam; 11 jars, 4 of them 2lb-ers. I didn’t have any preserving sugar, and strawberries are low in pectin, but I did have these:

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Apples & quinces…

…which are full of the stuff. So I boiled up a pan of apples & quinces until really soft, then strained them through a muslin, then chopped the strawberries into the resulting juice and added an equal weight of sugar. Discarding the bad ones as I went, 9 punnets-worth half-filled the pan (it’s a BIG pan) which is enough as I didn’t want it to boil over.

6 punnets-worth have been sliced into my dehydrator; dried strawberries are good in muesli, or yogurt. There’s one punnet of decent berries left in the fridge, and one punnet made its way to a friend.

Altogether, from the 17 punnets I brought home, there were 2½ punnets of debris to throw out – mostly into the chicken run, as they love strawberry tops. So the best part of 14½ punnets, plus the 3 that went elsewhere, were good to use; way more then half! 11 pots of jam for £2, a bit of sugar and some energy… still seems like a good deal to me!

 

A little sad, a little happy…

June 2, 2017

Well. Been busy again… a few weeks back, we had some frantic emails round the Committee of our local Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers, of which I am a member. Some looms and spinning wheels from an old weaving workshop, including a very-historic original Huguenot silk loom, had been stored in a thatched rural loft, which had fallen in. If we couldn’t do something to rescue them fast, they would have to go into a skip…

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So off a couple of us trotted, into the wilds of beautiful rural Dorset, where we found a muddle of loom parts in the loft, wherever the thatchers had stacked them, and some spinning wheels, in varying condition, stashed away in a tent on the lawn. Most of these things were hardwood, 30 or more years old, but in fair-to-middling condition, all apart from one wheel, made of softwood & ply, which had been rather well-nibbled. My colleague teaches spinning, with as many pupils as she can handle, most without wheels of their own yet, so she took the wheels. And the owner’s family & I arranged for the truly massive & very historic silk loom to go to the Huguenot Museum in Rochester.

Which left the rest… There were 4 complete looms; a big Harris upright rug/tapestry loom, which I got very excited about, as I’ve always wanted to weave Scandinavian-style rag rugs, an 8-shaft 3′ Harris table loom (and a stand & treadles which it will fit on, although not original) a 4-shaft 2’6″ Dryad floor loom and a curious little 8-shaft beastie with a very innovative system of pulley-operated shafts & upright split-metal heddles.

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The rug loom came home with me, and the other three, and some oddments, went to a Guild friend’s barn. With the help of some of my fellow Ravellers, we’ve now identified the little sample loom as a Pioneer, from the NorthWest Loom Company . I got in touch with them; they reckon it’s about 50-60 years old, one of their originals, and should clean up nicely! So the Guild will be renovating that one & keeping it for shows and demonstrations. The other two are awaiting new homes…

Sad to relate, the upright Harris rug loom is just plain too massive for the only space in this house I could possibly keep it… as soon as we got it into place, I realised that it just wouldn’t be fair to my family to hang onto it; they’d be forever clonking heads on the bits that stick out, and our 24’ conservatory just seemed to have vanished! But it’s found a new & enthusiastic home already, I’m happy to report, with someone who is just back from studying tapestry weaving in Peru. So I shall be saving up like mad for one with a smaller footprint and a “lighter” presence.

And that’s what I’ve been up to, quite apart from the hurly-burly of everyday family life and running a micro-business, and that’s why I’ve been a little bit quiet for a while. Trying to house the loom forced me to clear a lot of the mess and excess stock lurking around in the conservatory, so there have been benefits in this little escapade for all the family. And now I can see my way clear for where to put the next one…

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!

April daze…

April 26, 2015

If there’s one thing I wouldn’t have expected to spend a significant proportion of today doing, it’s preserving. It’s April; this is supposed to be the Hungry Gap… But what else you do, when a greengrocer hands you a bag of FREE strawberries?!

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Still-warm spelt scones, on-its-sell-by cream & freshly-made strawberry jam…

£10 filled my shopping trolley to the brim at lunchtime today, as the market traders prepared to pack down until next Friday; all the stuff that’s not going to last is sold off for 50p, and some of it just gets given away. I’d already bought some strawberries, which are ridiculously cheap at the moment, and various other bargains, and as I packed them into the top of the trolley he just handed me a bag of slightly-battered strawberries with a cheery, “‘Ere, luv, you can ‘ave these too! Use ’em up.”

I didn’t have any pectin, and strawberries aren’t very high in it, so strawberry jam can be a bit of a bu&&er to set. But what I did have was a big bag of apples that I’d picked up cheap two weeks before that I hadn’t got round to doing anything sensible with. So I chopped them roughly, leaving the skin, cores & pips still in, boiled them up & simmered them for half an hour, with the bottom of the pan covered with water & the lid tight on. Then I strained the resulting juice off & crossed my fingers that enough pectin would have migrated into the water to give the strawberries a boost; I actually only used half of it, because that looked like enough. So I chopped the strawberries, removing any rough bits – there was actually very little waste, they were’t very far gone – weighed out the same amount of sugar, poured both into the warm hopefully-pectin-solution along with the juice of a lemon and stirred until the sugar had dissolved.  Then whacked the temperature up & boiled until a few drops on a cold plate formed wrinkles when pushed. It DID happen, and it didn’t take too long – success!

It just so happened that instead of my usual scrabble for jam-jars in June, I picked up a big box of 57 pristine, probably brand new, 1lb jars complete with lids at the Tip a couple of weeks ago for £2. I’m assuming that one of the Country Market ladies has sadly given up or passed away, but I’m very happy to be able to use what she’s no further use for. So my usual mad dash around the garage shelves, hunting for enough random-sized jars & matching lids that haven’t gone rusty, wasn’t necessary; I just washed some from the box, rinsed them & popped them into a hot oven to sterilise.

Two and a half jars of strawberry jam made. But what to do with the rest of the pectin-water and the apple pulp? A quick check of the spice cupboard, and I knew I had enough to make some Apple Butter; three and a half jars of it, in fact!

So that’s got the 2015 store cupboard off to a flying start, quite a lot earlier in the year than I can ever remember making jam before. Not that it’ll have to be stored for long; we’re already into the first full jar, having polished off the half-jar! All sorts of things seem to have got off to a flying start this year, with the lovely warm weather we’ve been having. Mid-week I had cause to drive through the middle of our county on the country roads, which I had just about to myself. It was simply stunning; the trees were a symphony of blossom, from clouds of blackthorn through blushing apples to rosy-red hawthorn and cherry-blossom. And underneath the trees, there are still acres of primroses, but also bluebells, not quite in full bloom yet but near enough. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much blossom at one time; it’s a fantastic show. The sea was aquamarine & sparkling; if I’d had a camera with me, I’d never have got to my destination!

Looks like I’m going to need a few good quince recipes, too…

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Quinces blooming away in the front garden.

 

 

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.

More treasure – with an interesting twist.

June 15, 2014
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Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book

The autoharp wasn’t the only treasure to come my way yesterday. This elderly cookery book, from 1895, also found its way into my bag. I rather like old cookery books, as much for the social history aspects as for the actual recipes: “The footman is required to make himself generally useful, though, of course, the number of men kept will diminish or increase his work…” I was surprised to find that it, too, is probably worth much more than I paid for it, but I’m not going to part with it until I’ve “mined” it for useful recipes, if ever! There are sections on preserving, pickling, cheesemaking and winemaking as well as everyday cookery, and although I will happily use modern aids and methods, old-fashioned methods have their place in my armoury too. Especially when the modern ones don’t actually work.

Whilst the pages are mostly in good condition and the cover is pretty clean & bright for its age, apart from a few fingermarks, the spine is very worn and only attached by a sliver at the back. And I was intrigued and entertained to find proof that our ancestors didn’t waste anything much:

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Recycling 1895-style!

The adverts are as much fun as the recipes:

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Fancy cooking on one of those?

But some of them would cause hilarity rather than improving sales, in this day & age…

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I hope Her (previous) Majesty enjoyed…

Off now to find out what some of the more arcane ingredients are in modern parlance, always supposing they are available – or indeed legal – today! Saleratus, anyone? Lambstones? Puff paste…?

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…