Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The cat got my tongue

In the pig's head we boiled up for pork stock recently we found the tongue still in it. After taking the head out of the pan, we removed the tongue and left it on a plate. The plan was to slice it up. Alas, our cat launched a well co-ordinated raid on the kitchen and stole the tongue. She ate well! She gave us a good licking. It speaks volumes......I think that's enough puns for tonight!

Pork stock

We bought another Tamworth pig last week which went straight to slaughter. This one was turned mainly into sausages and bacon but I asked for the bones as well. They arrived in a large bag and we put the bones immediately into our biggest pan to boil up for stock.

It was only after the pan had been boiled for a couple of hours and we took out the bones that we realised the head had gone into the pan as well! The stock is now frozen but will be used shortly.

On the bones was a reasonable amount of meat that could be picked off. We added it to some leftover vegetable soup which did us for a day's main meal.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Rhubarb crumble

Our glut of rhubarb from a recent trade with a local allotment society has been made into jam and chutney. However, we also decided to have a rhubarb crumble. We still have a portion left to eat. We're having it for pudding tonight.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Collecting Pinkie - the video

A bit of video catch up for you. We filmed this video last month when we went to collect our first milking goat, Pinkie, and brought her back to the allotment.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Blog vote

My Self-Sufficient in Suburbia blog has been nominated for the Notcutts Loves Blogger awards in the self-sufficiency category. Notcutts is a gardening website. I need you to vote for me! Follow this link and get voting! 

Pickles and cheese

This was my lunch yesterday - pickles quail eggs, pickled onions, tomatoes and ricotta cheese. All produced from our own local sources. It wasn't the most spectacular of lunches but it was good enough.

Creating a new goat paddock

Our new goat, Pinkie, was bullied by our two other goats when we put her into the goat paddock when she arrived at the end of last month. This is quite normal and after a while, they would be expected to calm down. The problem however was that our two existing goats have horns, giving them an advantage in any scuffles. Pinkie, without horns, is also more vulnerable to being head butted simply because of the size of her udders. A cut on the milk sack last week, almost certainly from a horned head butt, pushed us to take the decision to separate her from the other two.

As a temporary measure, we have put her into a corner next to the goat paddock and quail house. We let her out to wander around when we are on the allotment and when she needs to be milked. We need, however, to build her a separate paddock and have chosen the area where most of the henhouses are sited. The henhouses will remain in place but the sage and soft fruit we have grown on that part of the allotment need to be moved. That's David in the photo above digging up our sage to move it to our herb garden.

Still to move are the gooseberry plants which will go to the derelict allotment we have taken on but not yet started using. Pinkie's paddock does not need a high fence. A metre high will do but we will need to put gaps in sufficient for the hens to get through. The fence is needed only along one side of the new paddock. The fence of the existing paddock forms one side of the new paddock and the remaining two sides are hedges. Pinkie will love the hedges - she adores hawberry in particular and we have lots of that. Work on creating the new paddock is on going.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Wingrove swap event

I attended another surplus produce swap event on Sunday, this time in Wingrove in Newcastle. I took a stack of eggs, a large box of courgettes and marrows (which came from the swap I did with the New Sands Allotments last week) and jars of jam. All the duck and hen eggs were swapped quickly. I shifted about boxes of quail eggs, 4 marrows and about half the jam. In return, I got lots of apples (we are always short of apples), plants, mushrooms, lettuce, tomatoes, empty egg boxes and jam jars (of which we have a dire shortage at the moment due to the preserves making season being in full force.)

The event came with live music. The musician was paid in produce. I gave him a marrow!

Our first attempt at cheese-making

As we are now awash with goats milk we made a serious attempt to drain some of our milk lake by making cheese on Sunday. We used 3.8 litres to make some ricotta cheese. The milk had to be heated to 90C and held at that temperature for about 25 minutes. 50ml of apple cider vinegar was added to cause the curds and whey. A slotted spoon was used to remove the curds to a colander lined with cheese cloth. It was strained for about an hour and then melted butter and a bit of salt was mixed in.

We are left with quite a bit of whey which we will add, for the time being, to our hens' mash to increase their calcium. We are however looking for recipes to use whey. Suggestions are welcome.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Bottling rhubarb

We've been bottling rhubarb recently (and still have lots more to do). Start by chopping the rhubarb into 4cm long pieces and put them in a bowl. Make a syrup by bringing to the boil 500g of sugar in one litre of water. Leave to boil for about two minutes then pour hot over the rhubarb. Leave to stand overnight.

Strain off the syrup and put it into the preserving pan. Whilst waiting for the syrup to boil, pack the rhubarb into storage jars. Pour the boiling syrup over the rhubarb in the jars. Bring the level of the liquid to just short of the top of the jar. Close the lid. Put a tea towel in the bottom of a pan and put the jars on the towel (this theoretically stops the jars from shattering on the bot pan bottom - but see below). Fill the pan with water so that the jars are covered. Make sure the jars are not touching each other. Gradually heat the pan to 90C and keep it at that temperature for about 3 minutes. Then remove from heat.

This is an alternative to freezing and comes with a useful by-product: the syrup can later be used in desserts etc.

My bottling experience was not without its incidents. Despite having a tea towel in the bottom of the pan, one of my jars broke. It was a clean break around the base of the jar and I suspect it was a weakness with the jar rather than an error in how we used the equipment. Nevertheless, when I picked the jar up, it deposited its contents in the pan!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Tomato, courgette and bacon soup

We had a batch of tomatoes that were past their best. To put them to good use, I used them to make soup. Also going into it was a large courgette from the very large pile of large courgettes. There will come a point soon when we are sick of courgettes but we are not quite there yet. Other ingredients includes some beans, bacon bits and an onion. The stock was made recently from broad bean pods. After the contents were simmered, I added some of our goats milk.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Bottling fruit liqueurs

This is a job that should have been done months ago - bottling our fruit liqueurs from last year. I haven't finished the job yet. Plenty more still to do but I needed the storage jars in which the fruit has been pickling for new liqueurs (I started off an new raspberry gin tonight). I also need 2 bottles for a friend who is getting married tomorrow. They will be our self-sufficiency wedding present.

Salting runner beans

We are not freezing our runner beans this year. Instead we are salting them. This ensures we have sufficient space in the freezers for other produce. The jars in the photo above were filled on Wednesday evening. By Thursday morning, the beans had shrunk and there was a good quantity of brine in the jars. I topped up the jars again but still had plenty of beans left over which went into three other jars.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Rhubarb and ginger jam

We have received as part of various swap deals a large amount of rhubarb. We have made some of it into rhubarb and ginger jam. I used apples to set it. We were fearing a few weeks ago that there would be a poor supply of apples. Most of the local trees I use have turned out to be poor this year, though one at Marley Hill is still producing in abundance. Anyway, the lifesaver came along last week. We got 6kg of apples from a local resident who was happy to exchange for a bottle of fruit liqueur.

We have plenty more rhubarb to use up so tonight I am bottling some of it and will also make rhubarb vodka.

A lazy day for the goats

When I saw my goats Georgina and Geraldine comfortably settled in the goat paddock with the chicks wandering around, I couldn't resist taking this photo. A lazy day for our bovines!

Another stash of eggs

Yet again, another recent fall in chicken egg production left me wondering if the hens were laying at a new secret location on the allotment. I stumbled on it by accident a couple of days ago. 21 eggs behind our pile of bamboo, expertly hidden and only discovered when I was on the other side of the fence looking for eggs there. I spotted them through the undergrowth and the fence. I reckon about 5 or 6 birds had laid them over a period of about 5 - 6 days. Alas, having discovered it, the hens immediately stopped using it. There has been an increase in eggs laid in the henhouses but I reckon they have already found a new location and are using it.

Don't waste your bean pods

As part of the big swap we did on Sunday, we got quite a stack of broad beans. When shelled, most people throw out the empty pods. Don't waste them! We boil ours up to make stock for soup making. We added in the trimmings from some runner beans as well. Waste nothing!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Fruit puree

I've made some bramble jelly recently, plus a lesser quantity of plum jelly (using the last of the 14kg of plums for which we traded chutneys recently). Making jellies leaves us with a pulp which I am loath to waste. I therefore pressed it through a sieve to get a puree which will go into the sweet mince we will make shortly. In the meantime, I've frozen the puree. It won't stay in the freezer for long. We have a pig arriving next week and will need the space.

Only 2 ducklings

From the batch of 17 duck eggs we put in the incubator last month, only 2 hatched over the weekend. Tonight we cleaned out the incubator and I broke open some of the unhatched eggs. Half had ducklings in them. Sadly, I suspect the power failure we had on Friday, the day before they were due to hatch, killed them. We are considering whether or not to put some more eggs into the incubator. We need more laying birds but time is running out to hatch eggs and have birds mature enough to be raised outdoors on the allotment during the winter. However, if we get the timing right, we could have new birds that start laying in the early spring.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Hay bag

We bought a couple of hay net bags recently and tried one out today. Instead of hay however we filled it with grass from the back garden. The goats seemed to be interested for a while but then gave up. I think they were unimpressed by the grass. I'll change it for hay in the morning.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Plum, blackberry and apple jam

This is a jam I invented on Friday: plum, blackberry and apple. I had a glut of plums that desperately needed to be used up and a small amount of blackberries to which I added a few more I found growing in the hedge beside the path leading to the allotment. The apples were added to provide pectin.

My recipe was 1.6kg plums, 1.4kg blackberries, 1kg apple. Peel, core and chop the apples. Stone and chop the plums. Ass all the fruit to the preserving pan with a small amount of water to stop it catching on. Bring to the boil and then simmer until all the fruit has pulped. Then add 4kg sugar (same weight as fruit), bring back to the boil and keep on a rolling boil until setting point is reached. Then add to hot, sterilised jars.

Another big swap

The New Sands Allotment Society in Swalwell (about 4km down the round from us) agreed to do a big food swap with us today. I headed down to the site at midday with a large box of jams and some duck eggs. These were used to buy a load of surplus vegetables (especially marrows and courgettes!) which filled our car. The exchange helps to secure our veg supply for the winter and give us lots of ingredients for our monthly community cafe at Marley Hill Community Centre (the next is on Sunday 28th September). We now have a race against time to get everything stored and preserved.

Roast veg and toad in the hole

Dinner tonight - we had toad in the hole again to use up some of the vast milk supply from Pinkie our goat. With it we had roast carrots, onions and beetroot and some sliced, fried courgettes. Very nice. We are too full to have pudding - we have some of the blackberry pie we put into the Bowes Show yesterday to use up. It will last until tomorrow.

Two firsts and a second

We did quite well at the Bowes Agricultural Show yesterday. We got first prize for lemon curd, first for bramble jelly and 2nd for orange and lemon marmalade. The lemon curd was the toughest competition as there were lots and lots of entries. That was the sweetest taste of success.

Last year we did not do so well in the Bowes Show. No first or second prizes. So yesterday was a good reversal of our misfortune. Alas, our bread, pies and scones won no prizes.

You can see my other photos of the Bowes Show on this link.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Near disaster in the oven

I started preparing for tomorrow's Bowes Show late this morning when I made the dough for the bread. I used milk from our goat rather than water. There was enough dough to make 4 loaves. They had been in the oven for 10 minutes when the power failed. This was not a case of our being cut off because of not paying the bill! No, this was a case of the whole area going through a 6 hour power outage. Two blackberry and apple pies were waiting to go into the oven as well.

The power company suggested the electricity would be back on in two hours. Having waited nearly 5 hours for the supply to resume, I took the loaves and pies down to Dad's bungalow. His area was not suffering from the power failure. The loaves went into his oven though I slightly miscalculated the timing and a couple of them got slightly burnt at one end. The other two were okay. One of them will go into the bread baking competition, one went into Dad's pantry, one will be sliced for tomorrow's picnic and the final one will come back home tomorrow. One of the pies will go into the pie baking competition, the other will form part of the picnic.

The pastry for the pies was made using our goats milk rather than water.

The incubator has its final batch of eggs in it at the moment. 17 duck eggs are due to hatch this weekend. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the power failure will not result in any losses but the power company could not have turned off the electricity at a worse time.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Getting ready for the Bowes Agricultural Show

Tomorrow is the Bowes Show in southern County Durham. We first went to the show in 2012 and beginners luck helped us to win a couple of first prizes in the jam and eggs competition sections. Sadly, last year we did not do so well. No first prizes despite increasing the number of entries. I have scaled back the number we are entering this time but today we need to prepare them. So today we will bake bread, fruit and cheese scones, make a blackberry and apple pie, decide which eggs to take and sort the preserves that are going.

Wish us luck!

Cucumber and courgette relish

Another of the preserves I made yesterday was cucumber and courgette relish. This is a sweet preserve and one of my favourites. Remove the seeds and chop. Add some chopped onions (about one third the weight of the cucumber and courgettes).

The vinegar needs to be made as follows: 600ml white wine vinegar, 200g sugar, 40g mustard seeds, 1 tsp celery seeds, 1 tsp turmeric, half tsp ground mace, 1 tsp ground cloves. Bring the vinegar to the boil and leave on the boil for 2 minutes. Then add the cucumber etc and bring it back to the boil. Leave on a boil for only about 2 minutes then add to hot, sterilised jars.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Plum Chutney

The 14 kg of plums we got in a food swap last week are being put to good use. Yesterday I made plum chutney. One of the jars has gone to the couple who provided the plums as part payment.

This is the recipe:
3kg plums
2kg apples
1 kg onions
large ginger root grated
6 cloves of garlic
2 tbs mustard powder
2 tps salt
1 tsp powdered cloves
1 tsp cinnamon powder
900g sugar
1 tsp black peppercorns (ground)
600ml white wine vinegar

Chop the fruit and onions. Add all ingredients to the preserving pan. Bring to boil. Simmer for 2 hours. Put into hot, sterilised jars.

As simple as that!

Duck eggs up, hen eggs down, milk up

As we hurtle towards autumn, productivity of our livestock is moving in different directions. Hen egg numbers have gone down but duck egg numbers are up. We had a similar experience last year. The hens' laying activity declined through the summer. The ducks kept their numbers up until about November when they gave up completely until March.

Milk on the other hand is embarrassingly abundant. Tonight, Pinkie produced 3 litres. The fridge is now full of milk. We have taken to storing it temporarily in wine bottles. Fortunately the cheese making equipment arrived today. Alas, it came without the thermometer we need. Cheese making will therefore have to stay on hold for another day or so. Quite where we will put tomorrow's milk is still to be worked out.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Plum crumble and goat cream

We now have an awful lot of goats milk in the fridge. We had yet another record quantity tonight - 2.6 litres. We have found a good layer of cream on the top of the milk so I have spooned some of it off and put it on to some plum crumble (we have loads of plums at the moment).

Before we got our goat Pinkie we were doubtful that we would get much cream from her milk. Now that we are getting some, we are planning to make our own butter. And that will eliminate one of the few food items we still need to buy from the supermarket.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Burning issues

We have been in danger recently of disappearing under a mass of sticks and branches, all with their leaves carefully removed and eaten by the goats. Having removed nearly all of them from the goat paddock to avoid Pinkie's udders being scratched, I was faced with the task of disposing of them. The larger ones have been chopped up for future use as logs for fuel (we haven't yet made the move from gas and electric heating to the wood fired boiler I want but I foresee it happening at some point soon.) The smaller ones went on to a bonfire. I had tried to use our incinerator but after the 6th attempt to get it to light, I built the fire instead. All the branches had now gone. New supplies of hedge cuttings for our goats are expected tomorrow, and for the days and weeks ahead, as the other allotment holders trim the large hedges around the site. I anticipate having another bonfire later in the year as a result.

Bramble jelly

The blackberries are very ripe now. I've been out today to pick a bucketful to make my 2nd batch of bramble jelly. The first batch was made last week - 6 jars in total. Today's batch is bigger. It is currently being strained. I'll make it into jelly tomorrow. The pulp will then be pressed through a sieve and the resulting fruit puree will be added to our sweet mince which I shall be making shortly. The hens will get what is left of the pulp that won't go through the sieve.

Drying nettles for goat fodder

Our goat Pinkie's former owner visited us on Saturday. She said that Pinkie likes dried nettles and thistles. She picks them out of the hay. We have often fed the goats fresh thistles we dig up on the allotment but hadn't thought of drying them or nettles for fodder. We have already pulled up lots of nettles in recent weeks and put them on the compost heap. As of Saturday, a new approach was adopted. All nettles are now being dried. The goats don't eat fresh nettles but we can continue to feed them fresh thistles. If we discover a large supply of them, we'll start drying them as well. We'll feed them to the goats over the winter.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The onions are pickled

I'm pleased to say that our onions have now been pickled! I made a sweet vinegar for them (1 litre of white wine vinegar, 300g sugar, tbs of peppercorns, sprinking of ground mace, tsp of powdered cloves). They should be ready to use in about a month.

Plum, apple and marrow jam

Plum, apple and marrow sounds a bit odd as a combination. However, there was method to my madness in putting them together as a jam on Friday. Plums provide the flavour, apples the pectin to set the jam and marrow bulks out the jam. Marrow absorbs the flavour of what it is cooked with.

This is my recipe:

  • 2kg stoned plums
  • 1kg apple (peeled and cored)
  • 1kg marrow (peeled and seeds removed).
  • 4 kg sugar
Chop all the fruit. Put the marrow in the jam pan and cover with water. Simmer the marrow for 10-20 minutes, then add the apple and plum. Bring back to the boil then simmer until all the fruit has pulped. Add the sugar, bring back to the boil and keep on a rolling boil until the setting point is reach (put a dollop on a plate and leave for a couple of minutes - if it forms a skin, it has reached setting point). Put the jam into hot, sterilised jar.

If you have a large number of plum stones, use them to make plum vodka. Put all the stones in a storage jar, enough to half fill it, along with any bashed and bruised plums, add 200g of sugar and then 70cl of cheap, supermarket own brand vodka. Give the jar a good shake every day for 2 weeks, then every week for a couple of weeks, then leave to stand for a few months. Strain and bottle. 

I haven't yet put enough plum stones into the jar to make this a worthwhile exercise. However, I did get 14kg of plums on Wednesday (it cost 2 jars of honey and 4 jars of chutney) so I am not going to have a problem getting enough stones.

Meatball toad in the hole

In an attempt to use up yet more milk from Pinkie our goat, we had toad in the hole yesterday. The sausage meat came from our Tamworth pig, the egg from one of our hens and the flour from the supermarket (the only ingredient that was not self-sufficient.)

And for vegetables we had marrow cooked in tomato sauce and green beans (which came as part of a swap with local allotment holders). A veritable feast!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

New Sands Allotment Show

I was judge today at the New Sands Allotments Annual Show. New Sands is in Swalwell, just a few km from where I live. The show was held at the Sun pub. In the past I have swapped produce with some of the allotment holders and sold some of them ducks.

There were no individual competitions for different vegetables. Instead, each allotment holder entered a tray of produce and the judging was on all of the contents as a whole.

So congratulations to the winners and commiseration to those who did not come first, second or third. The contents of the boxes were sold after the show to raise funds for flower beds and planting in Swalwell.

Pickling my onions

I love onions pickled in a sweet vinegar. A couple of weeks ago I picked our onion crop and all the small ones are to be pickled. The process started yesterday when I peeled them, put them in a bowl and salted them. Tomorrow they will be rinsed, packed into jars and vinegar, sugar and spices added.

Hawthorn bundles

I posted earlier this week about the need to avoid putting hawthorn branches on the ground of the goat paddock to avoid the udders of Pinkie, our new milking goat, being scratched. The plan was to tie the hawthorn hedge trimmings given to us most days by neighbouring allotment holders into bundles and hang them from the fence for the goats to browse. I tried this out yesterday and it worked. 5 bundles were hung up, one of them in the photo above. An hour or so later it was stripped bare of leaves:

The goats continue to be fed branches from the many ash trees around the site. This seems to be a favourite with them. Last night Pinkie's milk yield went up again, this time to 2.15 litres. I wonder if the large quantity of fresh tree leaves in her diet is boosting her production.

Scrambled eggs

Lunch yesterday! Scrambled eggs made from a couple of our duck eggs and as much goats milk as I could get away with adding to the mix. Rather nice. In a further attempt to use up milk to avoid creating out own milk lake, we made two more large rice puddings yesterday. It's not very self-sufficient. After all, we don't have our own paddy field producing us a rice supply, but it gave us the chance to use another two litres of milk from our goat.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Plums galore

The plum crop on our tree on our main allotment is an improvement on what we got last year, and indeed the year before. I picked a bucketful this morning and my plan was to make plum, apple and marrow jam. Sadly, when I went to pick apples from the tree on the land we started renting last year, I found only enough to fill a quarter of the bucket. A miserable crop like this leaves us with a problem. We need apples to make chutneys, sweet mince and to set jams and jellies. We need them by the sackful. We were able to get a few extra from one of the neighbouring allotment holders but we are now actively seeking new sources of apples in the area. We will explore some old orchards near out village and put out an appeal to gardeners to swap their apples for our preserves.

The abundance of plums however is greater than we planned. Tonight I got a message from a local resident offering 14kg of plums for honey and chutneys. We have checked recipe books and have found a number of recipes that will help us to use up the plum glut. I'll be posting here about them as and when we try them out.

Dinner tonight

The original plan for dinner tonight was to make vegetable soup but to add some of the goat milk to it after blending it. The plan did not quite materialise. Instead, it became a bacon and vegetable soup with no added milk. I found some panchetta in the fridge that had gone past its use by date (okay, the confession is that it came from a supermarket, not from one of our Tamworth pigs but we have not yet tried to smoke any of our bacon). Rather than waste the bacon, I added it to the soup (after checking it was still okay to eat). We opted not to add milk as the soup was clearly going to last for more than one day and the milk could go off. We may add some tomorrow or Thursday if we still have some left by then.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Scratched udders

We had 2 litres of milk from Pinkie tonight. She was however not happy about having her udders touched. She kicked out a few times. I think the problem is that her udders have a number of scratched on them. My conclusion is that they were caused by the pile of hawthorn branches we fed to them. The goats love to browse the leaves and leave behind skeleton branches. Tonight, at 10pm after attending a meeting of our local history society, with torch in hand I removed the branches from the goat paddock. We have a good supply of hawthorn from the other allotment holders who are gradually trimming their hedges. From tomorrow, I will tie any hawthorn into bundles and hang them from the fence so the goats can browse on them without having them on the ground. Other branches, such as the ash in the photo above, can still go into the goat paddock. They don't have thorns capable of shredding udders. Meanwhile, the aforementioned ash branches were stripped bare. The goats are eating much more greenery, and much less of the bought food at the moment. That of course makes me very happy! And it cuts down on food miles and carbon footprints.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Pinkie update

Pinkie yesterday spent most of her time in one corner of the allotment (where there was a large amount of food - hedge trimmings provided by the other allotment holders) but I was concerned that she was a bit too nervous to stray from there. I had visions of her being out in the rain during the night so I checked on her at midnight and found she was in one of the goat houses. This morning there was a bit of bullying from Geraldine, the older of the two nannies we got last year. She got chased a couple of times around the paddock. We expected this sort of behaviour. Indeed, there was less bullying than I expected and Georgina, the other nanny (and daughter of Geraldine) has shown no interest at all in helping her mother bully the new arrival.

I made sure today that there were plenty of branches on which they can browse. As with Geraldine and Georgina, Pinkie rather likes ash, brambles, hawthorn and elder. The three were happy to eat together when there was plenty of food on the go. Branches were stripped bare in little time.

Tonight's milking session passed without any spillages. We ended up with 1.8 litres. And my milking technique is getting a bit faster.

Whickham Flower Show

When I am not wearing my self-sufficiency hat, I am wearing my local councillor hat. I am the councillor for Sunniside, the village where I live, and the southern part of Whickham, the town down the road from Sunniside, on Gateshead Council. Alas, that restricts me (morally) when it comes to entering our local flower show. One of the sponsors of the Whickham Flower Show is Gateshead Council and were I to enter the competitions and win, it would look decidedly dodgy that the local councillor has won competitions put on by Gateshead Council. Nevertheless, I did visit the show on Saturday and took a stack of photos and video. The video is not yet edited but here are some of my photos. You can see more on this link.