Archive for the ‘Preserving’ Category

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…

Catching the moment…

February 9, 2014

It’s halfway through Sunday afternoon & I’m about to drift off upstairs to my new “sewing station” & try my hand at free-motion quilting. On one of my trusty old Berninas, rather than on the beautiful new-to-me Pfaff computer-that-sews, because I don’t have a darning/free motion foot for that yet! So far today, my feet haven’t touched the ground, so I’m due some down-time, although Sunday is a day most people associate with rest. But sometimes you have to make the best of what comes your way, and catch the moment… make hay while the sun shines, sort of!

We’re just back from an invigorating walk in the sunshine down at the riverbank. As we turned for home, we could see the storm clouds piling up once again on the western horizon, but we were ready for anything it could throw at us, wearing wellies & waterproofs. First thing I did this morning on seeing the sun was to whack the washing into the machine & set it off; the clean stuff went out on the line before 10am and came back in at 2pm, dry as a bone in the stiff breeze and early Spring sunshine. Not that it’s at all warm down here! But the bulbs are up & the flower buds are forming, my chickens are laying fit to bust, the garden birds are pairing up and pottering off with twigs and straw, and although there’ll undoubtedly be some icy bits to get through yet, as well as yet more rain, it’s increasingly obvious that the year has turned once again. I’ve cooked a big roast dinner, which will reappear under various easy-cook leftover-dish guises throughout the week, and trotted round to the local market to hoover up £4.50-worth of last-minute-bargain fruit & vegetables to make soups & puddings with, or to dehydrate & use at another time if I don’t have an immediate use for them. There was even a bag of 18 limes for £1; I can feel some Lime Curd coming on, which will use up some of the egg glut, and maybe I’ll also chuck a few limes into the marmalade I’ll be making in the next couple of days with my pristine little vintage Spong marmalade cutter (£5 at the car boot yesterday, works beautifully) and the two boxes of on-their-sell-by organic Seville oranges I found at the supermarket for £1 the other day.

There is a point to all this rambling on, and it’s this: I could easily have justified having a bit of a lie-in this morning, and thought, well, I’ll do the washing tomorrow. I could equally well not have bothered with the market; we have enough F&V in to see us through the next few days. We could have stayed indoors in the warm, rather than hare off down a sodden pathway in the stiff cold breeze. BUT then I’d most likely have ended up drying the washing indoors, possibly even with electrical help, so it didn’t end up going smelly. I’d have had to pay full price for top-ups of fruit & veg later in the week, and I’d have felt very guilty on the exercise front, as well as stir-crazy. And I’d have missed a bargain sewing box full of intriguing vintage sewing, knitting & crochet patterns, not to mention the sparkle of the sunshine on the racing water and glimmering through the golden skeleton reeds. And that’s exactly what I would have done, without even thinking about it, just a few years ago; just stayed indoors, in the warm. My family will tell you I’ve always been a world-class procrastinator & day-dreamer. But somehow I seem to be learning, at this late juncture, to get up & get going

I know I’m very lucky to be able to seize the ideal moment to do some things now – like I’m carving out 5 minutes to write this – and believe me, it doesn’t always work out this way. But it certainly does feel good to think you’re on top of at least some of the tasks in your life, possibly even a little ahead of the game! And it frees me up, in my head, to go & do something now that I actually want to do…

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False economies…

October 12, 2013

Sometimes you just have to buy new. About 6 years ago, I was a member of the European Compact, a group that had vowed not to buy anything new for a year, excepting underwear & a few other items. By and large I didn’t find this too difficult, as it’s the way I choose to live anyway, for ethical reasons as well as pure financial common sense, but when my faithful 15 year old Cannon cooker died, I hit the buffers bigtime. It was followed a succession of Freecycled cookers which just didn’t cut the mustard for a big family at all, starting with a big dual-fuel range cooker that was only half working; I knew it had blown an oven element, but what I didn’t know was that it would almost instantly blow the element I bought to replace it, then a second one a week later. So that went, to be followed by a more modern looking, slightly smaller range with one giant oven. This did work but was wildly uneconomical to run, as try as I might I wasn’t organised enough to fill the oven every time I needed it, and I didn’t like the ceramic hob either. So that was Freecycled onwards, to be replaced by a tiny 50cm cooker, which I thought would be cheaper to run. But sadly I couldn’t fit my saucepans on the hob, so had to cook things in succession & heat them up again to serve, thus using more fuel… eventually I cracked, confessed all to my fellow-Compact members & bought a new modern-style range cooker, “A” rated for efficiency, the cheapest I could find. It didn’t have a couple of features I would have liked but I decided I’d be able to cope without them; it was the best available “fit” within the budget I’d set myself.

It was a classic example of a false economy. The dratted thing broke down majorly twice and had to be professionally mended at a cost of £200+ each time, including parts. If we were going out for the day, someone had to stay in all the time to turn it on at the appropriate hour, as it didn’t have an automatic oven. One by one the gas hobs clogged up beyond my ability to clean them out again, and stopped working altogether (I was down to 2 out of 5 by the end) and the pretty shiny black glass doors showed every splash & fingerprint. When this one too started to blow elements on a regular basis, I realised that it had 4 separate problems & the bill for repair this time would more than likely add up to more than I paid for the flimmin’ thing to start with. It did have some very good features, notably the tall slim oven at the side, which heated up very fast & continued to work all the way through, though it had taken me a while to collect up casseroles, tins & dishes that fitted it, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t up to the job of serious cooking for plenty of people.

So this time I splurged every last penny on a Rangemaster, which I’m hoping will last at least as long as our original Cannon. I was sent to a specific shop, Spillers of Chard, 50 miles away by our local electrical suppliers, Holmans, who have always done me proud but couldn’t match the prices that Spillers can get, as they don’t do anything BUT range cookers. You have to wait for them to build your cooker, and then we had a couple of glitches with the installation process that meant it was two months from ordering to my cooker being installed. And here I would like to give a big pat on the back to Spillers, who have gone above & beyond the call of duty & agreed to refund me a charge for an independent gas engineer to eventually connect it. I’d encourage anyone considering buying a range cooker to consider them before the online-only stores that can match their prices, because the after-sales service has been superb; nothing has been too much trouble & they have stayed in touch without being prompted. I’m planning a return visit soon to stock up on bits & bobs like spare oven shelves & baking tins specifically to fit the ovens, as a transport-free friend needs to visit another shop in Chard, and I’d like to thank them in person.

I’m mentioning this because this week we had to make literally VAST quantities of cake, 300+ servings. Sadly it was for a funeral, for a dear friend who died far too young and far too quickly. And the Rangemaster showed its quality by coping with 3 cooks filling both ovens, turn & turn about, temperatures going up & down as needed, over the course of about 18 hours, because I didn’t have any freezer space free to store pre-cooked cakes! At the same time I was also cooking up vast batches of Two-Quince Marmalade and Apple Butter on the hob, using two BIG preserving pans, and sterilising jars & lids in the ovens between batches of cake. Well-impressed here, and just wanting to repeat that sometimes, it pays to spend more and invest in the right tools for the job when you need them; let’s see if I can manage to remember this myself next time I need to replace something vital!

Another vat of apples on my new pride & joy...

Another vat of apples on my new pride & joy…

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…