Wednesday 31 December 2008

Raspberry canes and smoking

On the last day of 2008 what do we do? Buy 30 raspberry canes to plant in the allotment. We are also planning to buy some blackcurrant bushes. We will have to buy some fruit cages. After all, whilst we want birds to come to the allotment to eat the bugs, we don't want them to eat all our fruit. We do however need a good supply of soft fruit for jam, chutneys, vinegars, spirits and simply to eat.

One of my xmas presents was a small kit for smoking food. This will at least get us starting. We are planning to make a bigger one later this year. Other things we didn't get for xmas but are on our list of must have items are pasta maker, sausage maker and a miller.

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Tuesday 23 December 2008

Roast duck

Having traded a quantity of jam and chutney for 3 wild ducks and 5 pheasants, we have now plucked and gutted all of them. 7 birds are now in the freezer and I am pleased to say that the 8th was roasted and made for an enjoyable meal for the two of us, along with home grown beans, onions and parsnips.

Friday 12 December 2008

Acorn and apple slices

This is the first time I have used the acorn flour I made last month. I decided it was time to give it a go and also use up some more of those apples I picked in August. So, here we go, my own recipe for acorn and apple slices.

You need:
2 mug fulls of acorn flour
2 mug fulls of porridge oates
400g appleas (peeled and cored)
250g unsalted butter
one teaspoon of ground all spice
a third of a nutmeg, grated
4 tablespoons of honey

Add the flour and oates to a bowl. Add in the butter and rub it through your fingers to make a dough.

Chop the apples and add to the dough along with the honey, all spice and nutmeg.

Mix it all up.

Put some greaseproof paper into a baking tray and oil it lightly.

Spread the mixture into the tray and place in a preheated over at 180C for half an hour.

Leave to cool and then cut into slices.

This is, of course, something of an experiment but I was keen to try something with did not contain processed sugar. This recipe seems to have worked. One thing I discovered is that the acorn flour is a bit gritty - in the sense that it has not been completely ground. The simple solution is to mill it for longer next year when we make much bigger quantities.

Monday 1 December 2008


I'm sitting on a train to London and news comes through that we are being given three wild ducks which were shot, I guess, over the weekend. Not sure what we are exchanging for these but I guess it will be some jars of jam or chutney. It does mean a lot of plucking and gutting when I get back home on Thursday, but following my activities over the weekend, I think I am getting the knack.

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Sunday 30 November 2008

Plucking pheasants - easier that I expected!

We traded two jars of jam for two pheasants with a colleague of David who shoots regularly. That's me with them in the above photo.

Plucking and gutting is not something I have done before, so after checking various wild food cookbooks, I had a go.

Here's the result. Not too bad. Both birds have been put in the freezer - I'm in London this coming week so we will enjoy this wild food delight later this month.
Next week, we have been promised a couple of ducks.

Thursday 27 November 2008


News has just arrived. David has traded some jars of jam for a couple of pheasants. So this weekend we will be plucking pheasants! There has to be a first for everything.
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Monday 24 November 2008

Blackberry whisky pie

This is what I used the blackberries for that had been pickling in whisky for the past three months. A blackberry whisky pie - with added apple. The apples were from the wild batch I picked earlier this year.

I have to confess the pie was on the strong side! I took it to work for colleagues to try. It was all gone in 15 minutes. Apparently three spoonfuls put you over the limit!

Sunday 23 November 2008

Digging over

We have done some work to dig over the allotment and get it ready for next year, though there is still plenty to do. We have also set up a new compost bin. The constant weeding throughout the summer ended up with a number of small compost heaps throughout the allotment. So be build a large frame from old logs and consolidated all the small heaps into it. We also added 3 sacks of shredded papers from the house. My shredded bank statements will be rotted down and added to the land. At last I'm getting some value from them!

The above shot is of the most productive part of the allotment so far. We grew the onions, beans and courgettes here. You can also see the chard continuing to grow. David has planted some garlic here.

Above is the bottom end of the allotment. It needs a bit more work doing on it but now has an apple tree and a plum tree. There is a large strawberry patch here. We also grow some herbs on this patch.

This patch was dug over in March but not used. It needs digging over again and the weeds removing. It will then need to be well composted. I want this for growing spuds next year.

The above bed was the scene of our disaster crops. We got come cauliflowers from this area but the potatoe crop was a failure. It has however been composted but I am thinking about putting a pond here to store rain water which will run off the greenhouse when we build it. We will install water butts but the pond can act as additional storage. As it is, the ground here is already wet. I also want the pond to encourage more frogs onto the allotment. We have some already so someone must have a pond in the vacinity where they spawn. The frogs will be good for keeping down the bugs.

Raspberry gin and cherry vodka

I got round this evening to bottling the rapsberry gin and cherry vodka we set away in the summer. I sampled both and was pleased with the results. My favourite was the raspberry gin.

We are leaving the sloe gin for a while longer. It was made from fruit that was picked last year then frozen. The colour doesn't look right. It may be that this one has failed. We shall see.
The fruit will be used for deserts.

Another home grown meal

Shepherds pie, all the contents grown at home except for the mince! That came off a supermarket shelf. But the potatoes, onion and garlic were all grown on either our allotment or Dad's. We had it with broad beans, one of our most successful crops.

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Sunday 16 November 2008

Acorn flour

In our move towards self-sufficiency, finding a substitute for commercially produced flour is important. Since we are unlikely to be able to grow our own wheat, our source of flour has to be both wild and abundant. Years ago I read about using acorns to make flour, so I got out the old wild foods cookbooks and read all about it.

Generally, cookbooks tended to suggest acorn flour was not worth the effort, making acorns edible was just too time and energy consuming. Having now tried out acorns for making flour, I must say I disagree. I ended up using less time and energy than I anticipated. Anyway, the following is what I did. It being autumn, acorns are in abundance (unlike hazel nuts! - see some of my previous posts). They are remarkably easy to gather. There is no climbing up trees or trying to reach out-of-reach branches. The forest floor is where you look for them. And under oak trees, you will find the ground carpetted with acorns. Up here in the North East, the best time to get them is mid October, before the squirrels take the lot and the weather turns them into something unusable. I got a carrier bag full in less than an hour.

Unlike hazel and beech nuts, acorns cannot be eaten raw. They are full of tanin and therefore very bitter. You could try to eat them raw but you would probably feel horrible sick. So you have to go through a process of roasting and soaking the acorns to get rid of the tanin.
Spread the acorns on baking trays and put them in the oven for about 5 hours at the lowest heat. I roasted them at 60C.

Once roasted, they need to be soaked. Since we were still experimenting, we divided our batch into two. The smaller batch was shelled and then steeped in water. Every day for the next 4 days, the water was changed. The aim was to leech out the tanin and yes, it did seem to work. The water turned a pale brown colour. After 4 days I tried one of the acorns and there was no bitter taste. This surprised me as the recipe books talked of having to do this process for two weeks.

The other, larger batch was steeped unshelled and as with the shelled batch, the water was changed every day for four days. Much less tanin seemed to leech out, judging by the colour of the water. We decided after 4 days to try boiling them. We boiled them for about three hours, changing the water twice. As you can see from the photo, the water quickly turns to a dark brown colour, giving it almost the appearance of tea.

After the boiling process, they were shelled. This is the most time consuming part so I sat down with them and watched a 3 hour film (Schindler's List - one of my favourites) whilst ripping the shells from them. (Don't try this at home if you bite your fingernails!) At this point, the acorns look a bit like coffee beans.

The shelled acorns then need to be dried. We did this by putting them in the oven on baking trains at a low heat (60C) for a couple of hours.

Once they had gone through the drying process, they need to be ground. We put ours through the food blender. I guess that if we had left the acorns in the blender for much longer, we would have got a finer flour. What we got wasn't a super fine powdery flour, but it was good enough.
One final point. I notice a bit of condensation in the container so the flour is still not entirely dried out. So storage will have to be in the fridge and it won't last too long so we will need to use it up reasonably quickly.
My thoughts on making acorn flour are that: 1) it is easier than the cookbooks said; 2) the bitter taste is got rid of much more easily than the cookbooks said; 3) next time, I think we should avoid the initial roasting, boil the lot and then follow the drying process from there.
So, all we have to do now is bake with the flour. But that is for another post.


Chard is an easy crop to grow and it produces leaves in abundance. We have grown it on the allotment, planting it as seeds in the spring. It is still growing well and has and abundance of leaves still waiting to be picked. It is similar to spinach but comes in a variety of colours - green, red and some with yellow stems.
For anyone starting out on growing their own food, I recommend chard.
We have been picking the leaves fresh and steaming or boiling them (they're lovely with a bit of melted butter though given my own environmental guidelines, we keep the butter to a minimum). When leaves are picked, new ones grow in their place.
We are experimenting to see how long the chard will continue to grow. We have already had one frost and it is still going strong. We may freeze some of it soon.

Friday 14 November 2008


Roasted parsnips are one of my favourite foods! And we also experimented with growing parsnips on the allotment. A couple of weeks ago we had our first frosts so we have now dug up our crop. We are pleased with what we have though next year I hope to grow a much bigger crop.
I'm in the top picture holding a few of our prized possessions and David is in the second photo extracting the parsnips from the ground.

Blackberry whisky bottled

About three months ago, I used a batch of blackberries to make blackberry whisky. I had two preserving jars and by accident one had about two thirds more blackberries that the other.

Anyway, last night I set about bottling the whisky. I was surprised that there was considerably more liquid than could be contained in the two bottles the original whisky came in (Sainsbury's cheapest brand). I had to use an additional empty rum bottle. The first learning point is that the process seems to extract a large amount of juice from the fruit, far more than I expected.

The whisky itself was a lovely dark red colour, so the colour of the fruit had transferred well. I had a small sample from each preserving jar and really, you have to decide for yourself which was best. The one with less fruit did have a distinctive whisky taste and was my favourite, but both had worked.

So second learning point is to be a bit more balanced with the quantity of fruit added.

The whisky pickled blackberries themselves will be used next week in some home cooking.

Meanwhile, we have raspberry gin, sloe gin and cherry vodka ready to bottle up as well.

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Friday 31 October 2008

Tomato blight and green tomato chutney

We have not yet set up our greenhouse though we have the parts for it. Setting it up is one of the big jobs for this winter. We did however pay the price for not getting round to building the greenhouse. Our tomato crop was hit by blight in September (see above). We grew them on our back patio but as they weren't under glass, they were more susceptible to blight. We managed to rescue some of the crop we has which was picked green other than a few red ones (see below). I therefore had a merry afternoon making green tomato chutney.

It was just a basic chutney I made but this is my recipe:
1 kg green tomatos
400g raisins
2 onions
400g apple (peeled and cored)
600 ml of white wine vinegar
Teaspoon of ground all spice
500g brown sugar
Teaspoon of cinnamon powder
Tablespoon of mustard seeds
Chop the tomatos, apple and onions and add to pan.

Add the raisins, white wine, mustard seeds and spices.

Heat and stir and once its bubbling away, turn down the heat but keep simmering. The apple and tomatos should produce a juice and once you have a damp pulp add the sugar and stir.

Keep the heat under the pan until most of the excess liquid has evaporated and then add to warm jars.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Veggie burgers

The increased supply of home grown onions led me to think of ways of using them up. I came up with the idea of veggie burgers as it also helped me to use up some eggs and a pile of bread crumbs I had. We still buy in eggs and bread at this point in our move to self sufficiency but I am working on acquiring our own sources of both eggs and flour. The surplus bread I had was made into bread crumbs a few weeks ago.

We grow broad beans on the allotment so in theory I could use them to make burgers. However, for this recipe I bought a tin of aduki beans from Sainsburys.

So, the veggie burger recipe:
Tin of aduki beans (you can use just about any type of bean or chick peas)
2 eggs
2 red onions
Bread crumbs
Cooking oil

Mash the beans and add about 2 - 3 heaped tablespoons of bread crumbs.

Chop the onions and add to the mixture.

Beat the eggs and add to the mixture.

Add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil to the mixture.

Mix up the mixture! Shape into burgers. You may find at this point the mix is too damp. If so, add a small amount of flour or bread crumbs.

Fry or grill, and serve with a bit of home made chutney and salad leaves.

Sunday 26 October 2008


This is not a long post, just a photo I took of our first flowers from the allotment, a bunch of chrysanthemums, picked last weekend and supplemented yesterday with another bunch.
Other work on the allotment this weekend included digging over a new patch so extending onto ground we have not yet cultivated. I did a load of chopping back of brambles in the bottom corner of the allotment. I also moved a large pile of hawthorn branches I cut back from the edge a couple of months ago. We have a bonfire coming up.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Apple, pear and ginger chutney

I made this on Saturday night, one of my own recipes. It gave me the chance to use up the rest of the wild pears and apples I picked over the past few weeks:

Recipe - apple, pear and ginger chutney

600g apple (after being peeled and cored)
400g pears (after being peeled and cored)
400g raisins
150g fresh root ginger
450ml white wine vinegar
3 small to medium onions
half teaspoon ground cinnamon
half teaspoon ground allspice
a grating of nutmeg
3 star anice
400g brown sugar
Peel, core and chop the apple and pear, chop the onion, grate the peeled ginger and nutmeg and place all the contents except sugar into the jam pan and heat gently. The aim is to cook the mixture in the vinegar and the juices released by heating the apple and pear.

After about an our of simmering, once there is very little liquid left, stir in the sugar. At this point a thick treacley liquid forms. Heat for a few minutes, stirring regularly, then put into warm jars. I made 5 jars from the quantity of ingredients above.

There is a danger that the ginger can dominate the taste. The quantity above is enough to give a hint of ginger. I don't suppose there is any harm in increasing the quantity if you have a strong liking for ginger.

For this chutney, avoid cooking at too high a temperature of for too long. Otherwise you will lose a great deal of the texture of the apple and pears, though some of the pear texture was already on the soft side I made this chutney as the pears really should have been used a bit sooner after picking them. Nevertheless, I am hoping this is a bit of a crunchy chutney.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Hedgerow jelly

Hedgerows are an excellent source of fruits and berries in the autumn. There are a large number of different shrubs and trees that provide material for making hedgerow jelly. The following is my own recipe I used jelly I last week:

1kg blackberries
500g elderberries
500g rowan berries
500g hawberries
500g rosehips

Your also need apple. I used the skins and cores of apples which were the waste product of other jam and pie making sessions. They were put into a bag and placed in the freezer until needed. I added more to the bag over time as they were produced. It's a useful way to use up a waste product. It is also useful to add some lemon, in the form of lemon skins. Again, as with the apple waste, simply accumulate lemon skins where you have squeezed the lemons for use in other recipes and freeze them as you go along.

So, once you have all your berries, put them into the jam pan with the apple and lemon. Cover with water and heat, bringing to the boil. Keep the whole lot simmering for a couple of hours. Fruits such as haws and rosehips can be quite dry so you may need to add some water whilst it is simmering away. I did a couple of times.

Once it has had a good boil through, strain it through a muslin bag overnight. If you found the pulp was too dry and you didn't get much liquid off it first time, put it back in the pan and reboil with more water, and then restrain. Measure out the liquid after you have finished straining it.

Put the liquid into the jam pan and heat til it boils. Turn down the heat but keep it simmering. Add sugar - one kg per litre of liquid. Keep stirring until the boiling point is reached, then put into warmed jars. The proportion of different fruits and berries can vary. The more soft fruit like blackberries and elderberries used, the less water you need to add at the start. And vica versa.

If you add substantially more rowan, you may need to increase the amount of sugar. Rowan is very bitter and makes a good jelly on its own (it has more pectin than you can shake a stick at.) Other fruits can be used as well. I had planned to put in sloes but the crop was a failure this year.

This jelly is good for spreading on bread and toast.

I did try to press the resulting pulp through a sieve to make a fruit cheese but rapidy gave up. So much of it was pips and stones that I was rapidly onto a time wasting losing battle. So it went into the compost bin instead.

Sunday 12 October 2008

More courgette recipes - courgette chutney

I have mentioned previously that we have had a glut of courgettes on the allotment. David used the following recipe a few weeks ago to use some of the surplus. It comes from Sarah Raven's "Gardner's Cookbook" (published by Bloomsbury). Sarah credits it to the chef Paul Burton.

Courgette chutney recipe:

Pickling spices (coriander seeds, yellow mustard seeds, dried chillies, allspice, ginger, black peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves)
700g courgettes
250g raisins
250g dried apricots
1 small green apple
250g sugar
3/4 tablespoon salt
500ml white wine vinegar

Tie the spices in a muslin bag.

Cut the courgettes into cubes.

In a large preserving pan, combine with all the other ingredients and tie the muslin bag on to the handle so that it dangles into the mixture. Leave it for 24 hours.

Stir over a low heat to dissolve the sugar gently.

Cover and simmer for at least an hour, pressing the bag of spices from time to time, until the pieces of courgette are translucent and the liquid is golden and syrupy.

Pour into warm sterilised jars and cover.

We haven't tried the results yet but it looks good.

A bit of inter-family cashless bartering

Dad called in this afternoon on the way back from his allotment with a surplus of produce for us. A large pile of onions, ordinary and red (he planted 5 times more than we did!), a large bag of potatoes, some leaks, 3 garlic bulbs (we are due to plant out own shortly) and a couple of kg of red currants (which went straight into the freezer as I am rather tight for time at the moment - one reason why I am blogging at 2am!).

In return we gave him 8 jars of jam and chutney and a carrier bag of wild pears and apples.

I did find time this afternoon to break away from earning a living (I was editing one of the publications I look after which is due for publication tomorrow, Sunday 12th October) to walk over to Lotties Wood next to our village of Sunniside. I was there last week picking berries etc for jelly making but discovered a large number of hazel trees. As I reported previously, the hazel crop this year is not great but I was able to add a bit more last week to our supplies. I decided to return this weekend for a last attempt this year to gather hazel nuts. I added about a third of a kilo to our stock. Not a staggering quantity but we at least have sufficient now for Xmas.

I did also found a large number of shrubs covered with small black coloured berries. At first I thought they were very small sloes but I found they contained seeds rather than stones. I brought back a small branch to check out what it was. They weren't bilberries which was my next thought after sloes. I'm still baffled.

News from the allotment - David spent much of today digging over the patches we used this year. We will be adding compost to them soon. We just have to ship over the contents of our two compost bins in our back garden. We are going to need an awful lot as well. Just about anything biodegradable is going into the compost bins. All the documents I shred are heading for the compost bins as well.

Courgettes are still coming thick and fast and we also had a few runner beans from the allotment today as well. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to the allotment myself today. Other than my hazel nut gathering expedition, I've been stuck in front of the pc working today.

Thursday 9 October 2008

Why we need to produce more of our food locally

The Guardian yesterday had an interesting article which people can read here. It is about a report by the international affairs thinktank Chatham House about the future of food supply in the UK. Some of the key points are:

• UK consumers use food at a rate that represents six times more land and sea than is available to them.

• The equivalent of 20 Nile rivers move annually from developing to developed countries, but much of agriculture's use of water is unsustainable.

• Modern food production is energy-intensive and vulnerable to oil and gas price rises.

• Falling yields due to climate change will inflate food prices further.

• The rapid rise in world population will continue to push up demand.

• Emerging economies such as China and India are shifting to more meat and dairy products. This will cause greater pressure on food and feed prices, and exacerbate environmental and health problems.

This adds fuel to my argument that we need to produce more food locally and to do it in a way that is less envrionmentally damaging. And whilst I accept that, as so often happens with think tank reports, the language is "sexed up" to ensure it grabs public attention, the warnings on food supply are there for all to see.

Locally produced food requires less transport and storage. Local production however cannot provide all your food needs unless we are to make significant sacrifices from our diets which most people will not wish to make. We need to be realistic.

We can, however, cut down on some things which are much more damaging to produce. For example, I rarely use milk now. I have cut it out of tea and I am vegetarian through the week. It is interesting to note that as the standard of living in countries with large populations rise (such as China and India) demand for meat has soared. This produces more pressure on land and means some food supplies (basically grain) are diverted into producing high quality, protein (and often fat) rich foods. I understand it takes 10kg of grain to make 1kg of beef. This is hardly a good use of resources.

So getting an allotment and using your garden to grow even a small proportion of our food will made a big impact on the environment and give us a bit of security against international competition for the available food supplies. And it's also fun and healthy!

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Courgette and black peppercorn chutney

David made this one, not me, and he got it from a recipe book by James Martin - "The Collection" published by Michael Beazley.

So here's the recipe for courgette and black peppercorn chutney.


2 lemons

3 medium courgettes (from the allotment of course!)

2 peeled and thinly sliced onions

100ml of dry white wine

24 crushed black peppercorns

2.5cm peeled and finelt chopped fresh ginger root

pinch of salt

Peel the lemons and cut away the pith, then slice and remove pips. Then cut the courgettes in half lengthway and then into 2.5cm pieces.

Pet everything into a pan and cook over a moderate heat for an hour, stirring regularly. The cook book says there should be quite a bit of liquid at the end but once cooled it is a good consistency. Put into jars.

We were a bit surprised by this recipe. Not it is made with wine, not vinegar. we are yet to try it. Once we do, I'll post a blog.

Courgettes by the dozen

Our courgette crop has turned out to be a big success. They are still flowering and producing new ones. Leave them for a few days and go back and find large new courgettes growing. So we have been eating lots of them recently and making various chutneys. I will blog about them shortly I came down to London yesterday for a few days and even brought a bag of courgettes with me. I made them into a soup last night, along with the rather small potatoes I was able to rescue from our otherwise failed potatoe crop. It will last us 3 days.

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Sunday 5 October 2008

Rhubarb, ginger and apple jam

I made rhubarb and ginger jam last year and though it was popular with colleagues at work, it was nevertheless a bit runny. So this time I decided to add some of the apples a picked a few weeks ago to help it set. Here's my recipe:

800 grammes rhubarb
600 grammes apples (after they have been peeled and cored)
2 large ginger roots
1.4kg sugar

Chop the rhubarb and add to jam pan.

Peel and core the apples then chop them and add to jam pan. (Remember to freeze the cores and skins and use them at a later date for making jellies - more about that coming soon.)

Peel the ginger, then grate it and add to pan.

Apply heat and bring to boil.

Keep simmering until the fruit has broken down into a wet pulp. Takes about an hour to get to that stage.

Once it has reached this stage, make sure it is boiling and add in the sugar, stirring constantly.

Keep boiling until the setting point is reached then add to warned jars.

The proporton of fruit and ginger can be varies. Some may argue that I use too much ginger however I found the strong ginger taste went down well with many people. Some however may prefer to put in much less ginger.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Blackberry and pear jam

I made blackberry and pear jam on Saturday. Quite easy to do.
Here's the recipe:
1.5kg blackberries
1.5kg pears (weight after being peeled and cored)
3kg sugar
Add the blackberries to the jam pan. Peel and core the pears then chop them and add to the pan.
Heat up and bring to boil. You are aiming to get the blackberry juice infused through the pear. Takes up to an hour of simmering after having been brought to the boil.
Then add the sugar, stirring constantly. Bring back to boil and keep the heat on til setting point is reached. Then put into warm jars.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Not very nuts about hazel

This is the rather feeble sum total of the hazel nuts I have picked over the past couple of weekends. A very disappointing amount from my foraging. Last year I picked so many I was eating them well into the new year. This year I won't have enough to make it to Christmas.

I simply found that the trees were barely producing a crop. And I wasn't alone. When I was out foraging on Saturday, I found a couple out picking hazel and they told me it was meagre pickings as well.

Not all nut crops have been poor however. Near my house in London is a sweet chestnut tree. Plenty of nuts on it. The only problem is that I have not had a chance to pick any. And so the grey squirrels have been having a feast.

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Credit crunch cooking no. 4 - nettle soup

I made nettle soup last year but I overdid the quantity of nettle (and wild garlic) I added to it. So this time I decided to limit what I put in. Nevertheless, this counts as one of my credit crunch recipes and the contents were made from waste products of from food growing wild. This is also not a vegetarian meal as it contains chicken stock.

So let's start with making chicken stock.

For this you need one chicken carcass. Break it up and put it in a pan. Then search your fridge for all those old vegetables that are well past their best. I used an onion, 2 bunches of spring onions, some sticks of celery and some old carrots. I also put in some fresh rosemary and thyme from the garden.

Add all these to the pan and then cover with water. Boil for about an hour then strain off the liquid which is your stock. You can use this straight away of freeze it.

We also put the carrots, celery and onion used to make the stock into the freezer and later used them as part of a vegetable soup mix (though remember they were cooked initially with chicken).

The nettle soup recipe

Add the stock to a pan. Chop an onion and add this to the stock. Add a few fresh herbs, such as a bit of thyme, to taste. I also added a sprinking of caraway seeds.

Add in a handful of nettle leaves (avoid older, darker green leaves, use the younger ones - and remember to take a pair of gloves with you when you pick them).

Bring to boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Then enjoy.

There we have it, a recipe made from the contents of the fridge which would otherwise have ended up on the compost heap, and from the garden and foraged wild.

Nettles are full of iron. A healthy plant that is too often simply considered as a weed. Time to take a new look at it.

Monday 29 September 2008

Dad to the rescue

Dad has an allotment in Marley Hill, the next village up the road from Sunniside. He has had it for a number of years so it is in good shape, not the scene of dereliction ours was last year when we took it on. As mentioned previously, my potatoe crop was a failure this year. Dad's wasn't. He has a surplus, along with a large surplus of onions and red currants. He phoned yesterday (unfortunately he couldn't get through as a constituent had phoned and blocked the line by not putting her phone down properly) but he did leave a message for us to call back. I did this evening, this time from my office in London (I came down this morning.) So when I am back home this weekend, he will pop over to provide us with spuds, onions (we have our own supply, at least that was one successful crop, but we are rapidly using them up) and a large quantity of red currants. I need recipes for jams, jellies and chutneys.

In return I'll let Dad rummage through our jam stocks and take away what he wants. We have restocked with new jams over the past couple of weeks and I will be blogging about the recipes I used shortly.

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Sunday 28 September 2008

No sloes but lots of pears

Yesterday morning I went down to an old, abandoned orchard near our village of Sunniside which my family has used for decades. There is a number of rather old pear trees and a couple of crab apple trees. In the space of less than an hour I had picked a large carrier bag full of apples, about 5-6kg in weight. There are still plenty left on the trees but they are out of my reach.

In the afternoon, I went out to pick sloes in a hedgerow alongside a field on the edge of Sunniside. Last year I picked bag loads of sloes and ended up freezing them. These were eventually used for making sloe gin. My intention was to use the sloes to make sloe jelly, some more gin and hedgerow jelly. Yet when I got there, there was no fruit in sight. It wasn't that someone had got there before me, it was simply that none of the bushes had produced any fruit at all. I chatted to other people who were out picking blackberries and they said they had experienced the same problem with the sloes growing in Sunniside Park, on the other side of the village. So perhaps the awful weather prevented any fruit growing.

And it is possible that the same problem affected the crab apple trees in the orchard I use. There was no fruit at all and again it was not a case of people having beaten me to them. Other trees I use on the Tanfield Railway footpath also have very little fruit. Thankfully, I have a good supply of wild apples which I am using is cooking and jam and chutney making. Let's hope the crop improves next year.

Digging over the allotment

I have been rather tied up on other things recently so I haven't had much time to write about what we have been up to in foraging or crop growing. However, work has been on going and I have just got back from the allotment having spent a couple of hours digging over the patch were the potatoes had been.

Our potatoe crop was a bit of a failure but we should have done better preparations. The ground needs to be prepared over coming weeks and well manured. We also need to pick a better location for the spuds, one less wet and where the soil is not so heavy. We will use a large plot that was left fallow this year for the next crop. It was rotovated in March and will need digging over again to remove the weeds but we will be adding manure and compost to it.

In the meantime, I had 5 bags of well rotted manure which I put onto the plot I dug over this afternoon. One bit of advice I was happy to follow was to spread the manure on the surface and not dig it in. The worms will draw it down into the soil.

Friday 19 September 2008

A problem with rotting potatoes (and other allotment and foraging stories)

Three days to spend on foraging and working on the allotment. Today I spent digging up the potatoes. We have made a number of mistakes with the planting from which we will have to learn. We had not manured the ground before planting. Given that this was a derelict allotment before last year, then goodness knows when the ground was last manured. We also probably planted a bit too late.

The spuds were never really a success in the patch of the allotment where we planted them. Much of the plot was too wet and the soil too damp and heavy with clay. The wet summer has not helped. The heavy rain earlier this month made it impossible to spend any large amount of time digging up spuds but what we got then was okay, better than we expected but not that good.

I spent over 2 hours today digging up the rest of the patch. It was quite poor and a good number of what I dug up was rotting mush. Some were rescued but on the whole, not a great success.

Our courgettes on the other hand continue to produce more and more, as do the gherkins.

Tonight however I was back onto rosehips. I am planning to make a rosehip chutney. This is a recipe of my own creation and I will post it up after I've made the chutney itself. I picked half a carrier bag full of firm, large rosehips and spend a bit of time tonight chopping them open and scraping out the seeds. I'll do the cooking tomorrow.

Jam making - blackberry and raspberry

I have been away for two weeks so when I got back home yesterday, I found David had made 8 jars of strawberry jam. These are not strawberries we grew ourselves. Instead, he hunts around Stanley market to find bargains on fruit and veg. He often strikes gold. A market stall holder was selling off large quantities of strawberries cheaply. Okay, I know this is not an example of self-sufficiency but it is a good example of avoiding waste!

Strawberry jam

Strawberry jam is easy to make but difficult to get to set. There is very little pectin in strawberries. Don't be surprised if your strawberry jam comes out runny. The following is the recipe David used:

1.5kg strawberries
1.5kg sugar
seeds of one vanilla pod
juice of 3 large lemons
a bottle of pectin

Put the strawberries into the jam pan with the lemon juice. (Don't throw away the lemon skins. Save them up in the freezer. A recipe on how to use them is coming soon.)

Add in the vanilla seeds.

Heat the pan, stirring often to help break up the fruit.

Bring to the boil and keep stirring until the fruit has broken up.

Stir in the sugar and the pectin and gently boil until the setting point is reached. (Remember this may turn out to be a bit of a sloppy, runny jam.)

Add the jam to warmed jars and seal.

Blackberry jam

If you are just starting out on jam making, I recommend oyu try blackberry jam. It is easy to make, the fruit is abundant and it sets easily. I picked the blackberries for this last night, on the Tanfield Railway, next to Sunniside. The following is the recipe I used:

1.5kg blackberries
1.5kg sugar
grated rind and juice of 4 large lemons

Add blackberries and lemon rind and juice to jam pan and heat.

Bring to boil and stir to help the fruit break up.

Once this has happened, keep gently boiling and stir in the sugar.

When the setting point has been reached (and that won't take long) put into warmed jars and seal.

As a result we now have an additional 14 jars of jam for our collection - 8 strawberry and 6 blackberry.

Friday 12 September 2008

Just as we thought we were coming to the end of the planting season

How little we know! In the post this morning arrived some garlic for planting by November.

However, we have dealt with all our peas and broad beans. David, in the picture above decided to shell the last of the beans whilst watching tv. Multi-tasking at its best! The last few peas have been picked (the mice got some of them) but we are still picking courgettes (the mice like to nibble them!)

The courgette crop has been very good and David has used some of the surplus to make a courgette chutney. I'll post up the recipe when he gives it to me. It simmered away whilst I was making the apple and rosehip jam (and it's pictured above after having been steeped in vinegar overnight but not at that point cooked).

We still however need to dig up the potatoes. It's been too wet recently for that and I'm concerned they could start rotting in the ground. I've got some time off at the end of next week so, assuming the rain holds off, I'll be on the allotment with the spade.

Cooking with rosehips - rosehip and apple jam

Life, it is said, is too short to stuff a mushroom. I believe it is too short to core a rosehip! I discovered this on Sunday just gone when I set out to make rosehip and apple jam.

My plan had been to use equal weight of rosehips (with seeds removed) and apples, using some from the batch of apples we picked wild recently. It took me 2 hours to get to half a kilo of rosehips with seeds removed. And during that time I was able to rethink the recipe.

So, here is the recipe I came up with for rosehip and apple jam.

Half kg in weight of large, firm rosehips with seeds removed.
One and a half kg of soft rosehips still with seeds.
One and a half kg of apples cored and skinned.
2 kg of sugar.

Put the soft rosehips in a pan and cover with water. Bring to boil and keep simmering for about half an hour.

Mash the boiled rosehips and continue to simmer for another half hour.

Add the rosehips from which you have just spent ages removing seeds (the firm ones are easier to handle) and the apple to a jam pan. (Don't throw away the apples cores or skins. Put them in a freezer along with other apple waste and citruis fruit skins to make jelly - more on that at a later date).

Strain the boiled rosehips and add the liquid to the jam pan.

Squeeze the rosehip pulp through a sieve and add the paste that comes through to the jam pan.

Heat the apple and rosehips until it boils and beings to pulp down.

Add the sugar.

Bring to the boil to reach and when it has reached its setting point, put into jars. The quantities used made 8 jars.

I have to add this is quite an unusual chunky jam but nevertheless, the hips give it a pleasant taste.