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.

Cooking with rosehips - apple and rosehip pie

Rosehips are an important source of vitamin C but are also very versatile in the kitchen. I have made rosehip tea before (simply boil some whole rosehips in a pan then drain off the liquid and drink it - it tastes a bit like caramel) and for apple and rosehip jelly. This was the first time I have used them in making pies or jam.

So the above picture is the pie I made last week and also pictured is Vicky, one of my colleagues at work, who was one of the food sampling guinea pigs (along with most of the rest of the people on the floor on which I am based).

The pie used up some of the apples I had picked wild a couple of weeks previously. For thise recipe I simply went out into our garden and picked a small bag of rosehips. The slow process was chopping them open and scraping out the seeds.

The pie was made in the usual way but with plenty of fruit. There's nothing more frustrating than buying a commercial apple pie and finding there's hardly any filling. The fruit was about three quarters apple to one quarter rosehips.

Friday 5 September 2008

The food bills come down

I have spent the past five days in London but took with me a bag of produce from the allotment. I am pleased to say that this served me well for all evening meals. The only non-allotment food used was one jar of a curry mix I made a couple of months ago (with vegetables that would otherwise have been thrown into the compost bin), one mug of rice and a lump of cheese.

Yesterday I did buy some more flower and margarine for pastry making but more about that later. The result however was that bills for buying food (excluding lunches) in total came in at less than £5. What I have to crack now is lunches. We go as a group for lunch to one of the Parliamentary dining rooms. However, people are allowed to bring in their own food. So I need to look at more home baking for lunches. Sort that out, and using as many home grown ingredients as we can and we will have made a big step towards self-sufficiency.

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Tuesday 2 September 2008

Credit crunch cooking no. 3: home made curry

About 2 months ago I have some vegetables that were in danger of going off and being put in the compost bin. Not being a person who likes to see food wasted, I decided to turn them into a hot spicey pickle. Then, sitting in the office yesterday, my mind drifted to what to have for dinner. I was in the office in London but had brought down from Gateshead a large bag of produce from the allotment to keep me going in the flat here in London for a few days.

In the past I have bought jars of curry mix from Sainsburys and added them to pans of veg to make vegetable curries. I thought I would try one of the jars of hot pickle to make a veg curry. It worked!

So here's my recipe for using up old vegetables to make a curry mix which can then be added to veg freshly picked from the allotment. It's very simple.

Chop up some old veg such as mushrooms, spring onions, onions, cauliflower etc and put into pan.

Add various hot spices to taste, mustard seeds, dills seeds etc.

Add a fair quantity of raisins and then about 200ml of red wine vinegar.

Heat and bring to boil. Simmer for about three quarters of an hour til most of the liquid has evaporated.

Put into jars. You can start to use them about 2 months later. They can be used as a dip for popadoms or as a curry mix.

For the latter, I chopped some freshly picked potatoes, a cauliflower and boiled them for s couple of minutes to soften them. I then poured of half the liquid and added a chopped courgette and the curry mix and brought to the boil. I left it simmering for a few minute til the potatoes were cooked through.

Then serve with rice (alas, we can't grow our own rice).