Wednesday 16 December 2009

Fruit leathers

This is probably the most obscure thing I have ever made in the kitchen - fruit leathers. However, they are remarkably easy to make and taste delicious. They have the added bonus of containing no sugar. We don't have beens (yet) to make our own honey but when we do, I have another use for it.

fruit leather nov 09 no 2

In basic terms, you will need apples, soft fruit or berries and honey. The photos in this post were taken in late November when I made fruit leathers with hawberries, just about the last wild fruit I could find growing near out village. In the late summer I also made leathers with blackberries.

The quantities I used in November were:

1 kg apples (wild eating apples)
700g hawberries
250g honey

Chop the apples and add to the jam pan. No need to core or peel. Remove as many stalks as possible from the hawberries and add to the jam pan. So dryish berries like haws, add a couple of glasses of water. You are unlikely to need to add water if you are using soft fruit like blackberries as they contain plenty of moisture.

Heat the pan and leave to simmer until the fruit is a soft pulp. Press it through a sieve and then add the honey to the puree.

Then put some baking parchment on a couple of baking trays and spread the puree thinly over the paper. Put the trays into the oven at a very low temperature, 60C, and bake for about 10 - 12 hours (yes, that long!)

fruit leather nov 09 no 3

When they are done, you should be able to peel the leathers from the paper. They have the texture of leather and are translucent.

They can be stored by being rolled up in the baking parchment and stored in a cupboard or box. You can cut puts off of cut them into shape and hang them from the Xmas tree before eating them.

I don't have any of my own but I can imagine kids loving these. Parents concerned about cramming too much sugar into their children can hand these out guilt free!

fruit leather nov 09 no 5

All the fun of the fair

We had a table at a fair run by the Lib Dems in Whickham last week. The best seller was the hot marrow chutney which I had made the day before. That sold out (we had more at home and I regret not bringing more). Surprisingly, we also sold the three bottles of hawberry ketchup. Anyway, that's me below with some of our goodies for sale!

Whickham Fayre Dec 09 no 4

Monday 14 December 2009


One of our most successful crops this year was garlic. It was also the first time we grew it. We planted in November last year a winter variety, and a spring variety early this year. In my absences over the past few weeks, David has planted another crop of winter garlic.

We have, admittedly, not been 100% successful with growing garlic. I planted some of the winter variety in pots on the wall in our garden in London. Though they grew, the bulbs they produced were tiny. I suspect the soil quality was poor. I therefore never bothered to harvest them and my plan was to pit all the contents of the pots onto the compost heap. I am now having second thoughts. I spotted this morning that all the garlic was growing. I'll leave them to continue growing but will add some compost to the pots.
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Been away

Sorry for the absence of posts recently. I have been away to Morocco for a couple of weeks in November and been to London twice since I got back. (I am there now.) I've also had some technology problems (one wrecked video camera and one wrecked external hard drive!) Fortunately the damaged equipment has been replaced with super dooper new stuff so videos will be appearing shortly in HD widescreen. However, please be patient! I need time to edit various cookery videos but coming up soon will be one on making fruit leathers, another on chutneys and a third on bottling fruit. These are all filmed. Not yet filmed is one on pickling red cabbage.

Having just set up a small business to do photography and make videos, I hope to get on with more of my self-sufficiency work shortly.

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Friday 27 November 2009

Leek and nasturtium soup

I have only recently got back from a trip to Morocco (watch out for some "self-sufficient" Moroccan style cookery ideas coming up!) and paid a visit to the allotment. I found that the leaks are coming on well but much to my astonishment, the nasturtiums are still growing. I decided it was time to use more nasturtium leaves. So last night, we had leak and nasturtium soup. Here's my recipe:

Pan of homemade vegetable stock
3 leaks
handfull of nasturtium leaves
3 small onions
a teaspoon full of 45 spice (one I brought back from Morocco)
teaspoon of salt

Chop the leaves and vegetables and add to the stock. Add in the spice and sald and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 25 min.

Very easy.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Marrow chutney

marrows Nov 09

The supply of marrows from the allotment seems to have been unending. We discovered another giant marrow over the weekend. So after some research we have decided that the best way to use up what’s left of them is to make marrow chutney. And the advantage is that it helps us to us the vast sackloads of apples we picked wild in August.

However, when we had a stall at a local fayre in the summer, many people asked us if we had hot and spicey chutneys. As we didn’t have anything like that, now is the time to fill that gap in our chutney armoury.

So here is our chutney recipe:

1.2kg apples, peeled and cored
1.2kg marrow peeled
800g onions
Teaspoon mixed spice
Teaspoon cinnamon powder
Tablespoon crushed black peppercorns
800ml white wine vinegar
800g sugar

marrow chutney Nov 09 no 1

Chop the apples and marrow and onions. Add all the contents to the jam pan. At this point, if you want it hot, add in chopped dried chillies.

Bring to boil and leave to simmer for about 2 hours, until most of the liquid has gone. Then add to hot, sterilised jars.

marrow chutney Nov 09 no 2

This chutney can be kept for up to a year.

marrow chutney Nov 09 no 3

Sunday 15 November 2009

Our only pumpkin

pumpkin Nov 09

We will have to look again at how we grow pumpkins. We had one (see picture above) and it was not anything spectacular. A second one did grow but it was on the restaurant menu for the slugs. It is possible that we planted them too late.
We put the pumpkin we did get into a chutney with marrow. The recipe will be posted shortly.

Friday 13 November 2009

Careful how you store sweet chestnuts

sweet chestnuts Oct 09

See the photo above – some of the sweet chestnuts I picked wild in September. They had been stored in a plastic box. Not such a grand idea. See the mould growing on them. Fortunately we discovered it in time. All saved but it could have been a disaster, especially as the sweet chestnuts are a key ingredient of the main course of our self-sufficient Xmas dinner I am planning.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Nut loaf

nut loaf Oct 09

I experimented recently with making a nut loaf. The aim is to create the centre of the main course of our self-sufficient Xmas dinner. As many of the ingredients as possible are to be picked wild or grown on the allotment as possible. Anyway, here is the recipe I came up with:

20 large sweet chestnuts
100g shelled hazel nuts
2 eggs
2 onions
One small stale loaf of brown bread
150g mushrooms
Teaspoon of 5 spice
Ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
450g kidney beans (in the final version for Xmas I will be using broad beans from the allotment)

Start by boiling the chestnuts for about 5 minutes. Then peel and chop them.
Chop the onions, hazel nuts and mushrooms and mash the beans.

Turn the loaf into breadcrumbs.

Add all the ingredients together and mix. The eggs and oil will help to bind it all together. Put the mixture into a baking tin and put in a preheated over at 200C for half an hour.

It can be eaten hot or cold.


sweetcorn Oct 09

Our crop of sweetcorn was a moderate success. It was the first time we had grown it and it occupied a corner on bed 4, one of the new beds we had opened this year. One important learning point however: don’t leave them too long on the allotment. Two of the best made fantastic feasts for the local mice.

At the moment the sweetcorn are in the freezer though we each had one for dinner the other night. Very nice!

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Apple and cinnamon jelly

apple cinnamon jelly Oct 09

We are still using up our vast supply of apples picked in the summer. We have bottled a large quantity and that left us with a pile of cores and peel. Instead of wasting it, I made it into a seasonal spiced jelly. This is what I did:

Add the cores and peel to a jam pan and entirely cover with water.

Bring to boil and simmer for a 2 hours.

Strain overnight and then measure the liquid.

Add the liquid to the jam pan and add in cinnamon powder, or cinnamon sticks. The amount is up to you but I put in a good dose.

Bring to boil and then add in the sugar - 1KG for every litre of liquid.

Keep simmering until the setting point is reached. Remove any cinnamon sticks and add the liquid to hot sterilised jars.

So, a useful way to use up a waste product. You can feed the boiled pulp to livestock or put into the compost bin.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

An autumn task

This job we failed to do last year and as yet we haven't done it this year. It is however worth getting on to your to-do list. Autumn brings a vast supply of leaves which make nutritious leaf mould (nutritious that is if you are a plant!)

Rake up the leaves in the autumn and put them in plastic sacks. If you want to be super-environmentally conscious, use the sacks that constantly get posted through your door by charities collecting clothes. Black bin liner bags are just as good (if not better as they don't let in the light so easily). Tie the filled sack closed and stack them up. Leave them where there are out of sight - they need to stand for a year. It will take that time for the leaves to rot down to a first class compost and soil conditioner.

Fill plenty of sacks as this stuff condenses right down. Aim for enough to avoid having to waste money on bags of compost. Mind you, try not to spread the finished product all over your large allotment beds. Use manure on them instead. The leaf mould I will be making shortly will be for use in bags and pots.

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Tuesday 27 October 2009

Apple jelly

Waste not, want not is probably the most important saying anyone seeking to be self-sufficient should live by. Indeed, given the appalling amount of food waste in the western world generally, it should be something by which we should all be living. Anyway, the reason I mention it is that there are often foods that can be produced not just from leftovers, but from the waste from cooking that is not always regarded as edible.

Yesterday I ended up with a large quantity of cores and peel created from bottling apples. There are various options for using up this waste. If you have lifestock, it is a great feed. Alas, I have no livestock (yet). Instead, I put it all into a pan and boiled it then strained it overnight. The resulting liquid can then be made into a jelly, a job I shall carry out later today. I am actually going to make a spiced jelly for Christmas.

Photos and opinion on how it all went will be posted up within the next 24 hours.

Incredible shrinking apples

I have a bit of a race against time to get that huge quantity of apples picked wild in August into some kind of preserved state. The best ones have been stored in boxes packed with shredded paper. The rest will be dried, made into pickle, used for jellies or bottled. Today I did the bottling.

This is not the first time I have bottled fruit. A few weeks ago I bottled the plums from the allotment and more recently I bottled pears I picked on a derelict orchard near Sunniside. Last year I bottled apples (in jam jars!) So, I expected today to be straightforward. In a sense it was. What I didn't expect was the extent to which the apple shrank. I think I may have stewed them a bit too long.

Tomorrow I will do some more but cook them for less time.

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Sunday 25 October 2009

Pick the sweetcorn now!

We had some sweetcorn growing in the allotment and we did pick a couple of cobs over a week ago to try them out. Very nice indeed! Alas, when I visited the allotment this afternoon, I spotted that the mice had had a very tasty meal of 2 of them. Two naked cobs sat on the stalks. I picked them all there and then. Don't leave them so long that you end up giving a free feast to the local wildlife!

Sunday 18 October 2009

Bean slicer

I've had a number of people post me messages about the bean slicer I used in the video on how to preserve runner beans.

It's from Lakeland Plastics. Here's the link the the product:

Generally I find it a useful product, the two drawbacks are that it does not often remain fixed to a work surface and its base stops you from putting a collecting tray or plate conveniently below the blades. You can get an idea from the photo below of David chopping beans.

Runner beans summer 09 no 2

Nevertheless, I would recommend it, especially if you grow lots of runner beans. It does make the job of dealing with large quantities much easier. It's currently selling at £19.77.

And to illustrate the point.....


Runner beans summer 09 no 1


Runner beans summer 09 no 5

And just because I feel very proud of my runner bean crop this year!:

Runner beans summer 09 no 3

And don't forget our video on how to preserve runner beans:

Friday 16 October 2009


We grew some sweetcorn this year, another first for us. We started it off in the greenhouse (how did we survive without it!?) and planted it out on bed 4, next to the fruit cage. I have just got back from the allotment with two freshly picked sweetcorns. We'll have them for dinner tonight. I'll keep you posted on whether or not they were a success.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Hawberry ketchup

My confession is that before the weekend, I had never made hawberry ketchup. That gap in my culinary experience has now been filled. On Saturday I had a bottle of hawberry ketchup and made another 4 yesterday (Saturday was also the rehearsal for the video - see below).

Hawthorn is one of our most common hedgerow trees. In the spring it is covered in white flowers. In the autumn it sags under the eight of bunches of small, bright red berries which are great for making jellies and, in this instance, ketchup. Hawberry ketchup has a fruity but sweet and sour taste to it. It's great to eat and easy to make. The abundance of the berries makes it a good one to try for the occasional food forager.

hawberry ketchup Oct 09 no 1

What to do:

Rinse 500g of berries and put into the pan with 300 ml of white wine vinegar and 300ml of water.

Bring to the boil then simmer until all the berries have broken up and pulped. This takes at least half an hour.

Use a potato masher to break up the pulp ever more then press it through a sieve. Throw the stalks, skin and pips into the compost bin and then return the puree to the (now cleaned) pan.

Reheat the pan and stir in about 160-180g of sugar. Add about a half to whole teaspoon of salt and then ground black pepper to taste. At this stage if you want to, add in some spices. I added a splash of cayenne pepper.

Bring back to boil and simmer for around 5 minutes, then add to sterilised bottles.

This stuff can keep for about a year but once opened, it's best to keep in the fridge. All the books etc I have read say it is good with cold meats. I used mine as a dip for cheese which was pleasant.

hawberry ketchup Oct 09 no 2

Note the rather pleasant colour to it. Anyway, here's the video we filmed on how to make hawberry ketchup:

The recipe we used is based on the one in the River Cottage Handbook No. 2 on Preserves by Pam Corbin with an introduction by Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall (who else!?)

Salting runner beans

We have had a very good crop of runner beans this year. Some have been frozen but in an attempt to revive dying skills, we have preserved some by salting them.

Runner beans sept 09 no 1

Yes, I know, salt is the must-avoid ingredient nowadays. The reality is, it is a must-avoid if you are eating a diet mainly of processed foods stuffed full of sugar, fats and, of course, salt. Yes, it is right to avoid eating too much. However, if your diet is based on healthy, home grown foods, salt is much less of an issue.

And once salted beans have been prepared for cooking, most of the salt is lost anyway.

To prepare beans for salting, chop them after rinsing them. In a jar place a layer of salt. On top of it add a layer of chopped beans, then another layer of salt and so on til the jar is full. Close the lid.

You will rapidly see the salt turn to brine as it draws out the moisture from the beans. Store the beans in a cool dry cupboard, wrapped in brown paper to keep off any light, which can cause the beans to discolour.

Runner beans sept 09 no 2

To use the beans, rinse them and steep them in warm water for about 45 minutes. Then cook.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Red cabbage

We have had a really good crop of red cabbages and my only fear is that I am leaving them in the gorund too long - the slugs and snails probably think their Xmas dinner has arrived early! So I am about to embark on some freezing and pickling of red cabbages. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, at the end of September, with bed one cleared of the broad beans and bed 5 of the potatoes, we planted out winter cabbages. We grew them from seeds in the greenhouse and have a surplus of plants which are going to Dad's allotment up the road in Marley Hill village.

We are expecting arrival of our winter garlic as well soon. Given the fantastic crop we have had from the bulbs we planted last year, this is definitely a crop we are wanting to repeat.

Thoughts turning to Xmas dinner

Bah humbug etc! Nevertheless, it is October and in terms of food planning, I have to start thinking of Xmas dinner. As we do not yet have any livestock, and since I want this meal to be as self-sufficient as possible, it is going to have to be a vegetarian affair. I am about to experiment with nut and bean loaves using the hazel and sweet chestnuts picked recently and the broad beans from the allotment. If these work, there will undoubtedly be a video produced on how to make a self-sufficient Xmas dinner!

Wednesday 7 October 2009

How to preserve runner beans

Unlike last year, our runner bean crop this year has been a great success. In this video I explain how to preserve them in two different ways, by freezing and by salting.

Saturday 3 October 2009

Hazel nuts

For anyone aiming to become self-sufficient, hazel is a staple food. Hazel is widespread in the UK and the nuts contain very high levels of protein as well as important oils, carbohydrates and vitamins. Protein however is the really important part. We have no livestock (we are planning to get chickens and may consider other animals as well but space is too limited for anything large) and therefore much more of our diet is vegetarian than it was before we started on the road to self-sufficiency. So hazel nuts are vital. And they are also free! Why spend a fortune buying them from the supermarket when you can pick them for nothing in local woodland?

This week I have picked about 4-5kg. They are stored in a hessian sack in the garage. Watch out for my recipes and videos on how to use them.

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Thursday 1 October 2009

How to pickle nasturtium seeds

Nasturtium seeds when pickled make a great ingredient for use in soups and sauces. Raw or pickled they are great in salads. This is how we pickle them.

The whole plant can be used. It has an enjoyable peppery taste.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

How to make tomato ketchup

This is a spin off from building the greenhouse - we had a bumper crop of tomatoes. We used the surplus to make tomato ketchup. This video shows how we made it.

Saturday 26 September 2009

Picking sweet chestnuts

I headed into the wilds of Crystal Palace Park, near my house in London yesterday, and filled a shopping bag with sweet chestnuts, all still in their casings. I thought it useful to get them now, to beat the squirrels to them. Strong gardening gloves are needed to pick them.

This morning we removed them from their casings. Again, the gloves were needed. My hands now ache. It was not an easy job but at least we have a few kg of sweet chestnuts for use over the winter.
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Friday 18 September 2009

Sweet chestnuts

Outside Crystal Palace station, near our house in London, are some sweet chestnut trees. In past years I have always intended getting round to picking the chestnuts but never managed to find the time. Having given up my job, it is now easier to fit in these tasks. Under one of the trees today the ground was covered with the spikey shells in which the chestnuts grow. I turned up with a hessian bag and a pair of gardening gloves but found that what was inside them was little more than a tough skin and no flesh. This was rather disappointing until I noticed that the other trees were not carpeting the ground with chestnuts. They were still growing though I recovered a handful.

It will be another week at least before the other trees are ready for picking. I will be back for them! We need sweet chestnuts for winter cooking and to turn into flour. I'll blog on doing this at a later date.
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Jam today

That sloe jam I mentioned a couple of weeks ago - the one that didn't set: remember it? I made it at our house in London and there I left it to go home to Sunniside. I am back in London again and what do I find? The jam has set! It only took a couple of weeks! Baffling but at least I don't need to redo it.
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Monday 14 September 2009

Beans, plums and apples - preserving for another day

It's funny to think that our runner beans were a failure last year. Now we are facing the problem of how to preserve such a large crop. The freezer is full so we are turning to a more traditional way of keeping them - salting them. We have three vary large jars full of beans, a carrier bag full of beans waiting to be preserved and still the bean plants on the allotment continue to produce for us.

The plum tree we planted last year also had a big crop, despite its small size. A carrier bag full of fruit was brought back to the house. I've just bottled 2 jar fulls of whole plums. The rest that were a bit past it were cut open to remove the stone and boiled in the left over sugar syrup. They too are now in 2 jars.

And finally, I am still sorting the apples picked 2 weeks ago. The better quality, larger eating apples are being put into boxes, packed with shreded paper. The rest will be used in jams, pies etc though some will be preserved in syrup.

All of this will of course be covered in various videos that are currently in production.

Friday 11 September 2009

How to make blackberry jelly and fruit cheese

Bramble or blackberry jelly was one of the first jam type products I learnt to make, years ago as a kid. Dad taught me. At the age of 79 he still goes out to pick blackberries and crab apples to make jelly (in this recipe we used eating apples). The video also shows how to make blackberry fruit cheese from the left over pulp.

Blackberry and Apple Jam

A couple of weeks ago we picked a large quantity of wild eating apples. We brought home 4 hessian sacks and 2 large carrier bags full of apples. The bashed and bumped ones, and those that had been partially subject to a meal by a passing bug, along with those too small to be treated as eating apples, are ideal for using in cooking and have been put to one side. Some of them I used this evening to make 15 jars of blackberry and apple jam. Here's what I did:

You need:
2kg blackberries
1 kg apples
about 1 litre water
3 kg sugar
juice of 3 large lemons

Peel and core the apples. Put the peel and cores into a pan and add the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about half an hour.

Into the jam pan put the blackberries. Chop the apples reasonably finely and add them as well, along with the lemon juice.

Strain the boiled skins and cores and add the liquid to the jam pan (I do this to ensure I extract the maximum pectin from the apples - there's more in the skin).

Boil the mixture and simmer away until it has pulped down. Any lumps of apple left should be very soft and soaked through with blackberry juice. When the pulp is in this condition add the sugar and bring back to the boil. Make sure you stir constantly.

Check that the setting point has been reached then add to warmed jars.

This jam is a early great autumn flavour. It's a good way of using up all those free blackberries growing in the hedgerows and surplus apples that won't keep. I've also used this recipe in the past in the days when we bought most of our food from the supermarkets. I remember one year having a pile of apples that didn't get eaten and were in serious danger of ending up in the compost bin. I used them for jam making. It had a lovely tangy flavour to it.

If you want to sharpen the taste add more lemon. And if you have a huge glut of apples, increase the proportion of apples and blackberries to 50:50.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

How to make sloe gin

Another video, this time on how we make sloe gin. The sloes were picked in Cambridgeshire when we visited relatives at the end of August rather than near Sunniside. As we are further north, the hedgerow fruit ripens later up here.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

How to make rhubarb and ginger jam

The allotment recently produced a good crop of rhubarb so we made a batch of rhubarb and ginger jam. Here's the video!

Monday 31 August 2009

Apples, blackberries and sloes

As a result of our visit to Cambridgeshire, we have a stock of 4 sacks of apples plus a further two carrier bags full; a bucket of blackberries and about a kilo of sloes. Lots of jam and gin making coming up this week.

I've also been down to the allotment tonight for the first time in a week. We have a large supply of runner beans to pick, more tomatoes to gather in and, I am delighted to say, we have our first pumpkins growing. And finally, our Victoria plums are ripening. I picked a couple to try them out.
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Saturday 29 August 2009

Picking apples

I am in Cambridgeshire this weekend, doing the annual trip to David's mother's. This is a rural area and has many country lanes with hedgerows. As we drove to the house in Bottisham, I felt like we were driving up the aisles of a free supermarket: lots of bushes and trees sagging under the weight of fresh fruit all waiting to be picked. And just as we drove into the village, there were the apple trees which I picked last year.

It took me only 45 minutes to fill 4 carrier bags with apples. We brought down hessian bags to transport them back to Gateshead. Two have been filled. Hopefully this will be sufficient to keep us going to the end of the year at least. We will have to sort out storage of those we will eat raw. Others will be turned into jams and jelly, go into pies, dried etc.
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When things go wrong - sloe and crab apple jam

Quite what went wrong with this one, I don't know. I made sloe and crab apple jam on Thursday and woke up on Friday to find none of it had set.

The recipe I used was as follows:
2kg sloes
1.5kg crab apples
3.5kg sugar
1 litre water
2 lemons

Sloes and chopped crab apples went into the jam pan along with the juice of the lemons. I then chopped the peel and added that. The water was added and heat applied.

This was brought to the boil and simmered until everything was a soft pulp. This was then sieved - a pressed the pulp through the sieve to get the maximum out of it.

The resulting liquid was then measured. We had 3.5 litres. That meant 3.5kg sugar which was added to the liquid once it had reach boiling point back in the jam pan.

I then boiled it to setting point which seemed to be reached. I tested in the normal way - on a saucer. It developed a skin. It was then put into jars (and it rapidly formed a skin in them.)

So I was surprised that all 18 jars still contain liquid a day later. I am going to experiment with a small number of jars to see what will get it to set. I am also wondering if I simply added too much water. Crab apples can be very dry and absorb water. Perhaps I over compensated for that.

All is not lost. If I can't get it to set, it will make a lovely sauce for puddings. Or I could use it as a basis for a fruits of the hedgerow jam.

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How to make blackberry vodka

My original plan yesterday was to make blackberry whisky. I picked the blackberries on Thursday in Crystal Palace Park and was ready to repeat the recipe I used last year. Alas, though trips to a number of supermarkets in the area were made, we could find now cheap, own label whisky (the last thing to do is use an expensive brand!) Then in Sainsburys, I spotted their cheap, own label vodka. Now's the time to expand my range of fruit vodkas, I thought to myself. So here goes, my recipe for blackberry vodka:

1 litre supermarket own label vodka
600g freshly picked blackberries
300g sugar

Add the blackberries and sugar to a kilner or other storage jar. Pour in the vodka and close the jar.

Give the jar a good shake to make sure the contents are thoroughly stirred up. Repeat this every day for a month. It takes a few days for the sugar to fully dissolve.

Then shake it up once a month for the following two months.

After a month of daily shaking and the further two months of one off shakes, strain and bottle. It should be ready for drinking immediately.

After the first shake, the liquid goes a lovely dark purple colour. I am expecting the colour to get stronger during the next three months.

I was asked recently if fruit liquers should be drunk neat. The answer is yes, don't spoil them by adding anything else.

Finally, as with all recipes for fruit vodka, gin, whisky et al, use the pickled fruit that is strained off at the end of the process. Something like raspberries and blackberries can be used as a topping to ice cream. Sloes are a bit of a problem because of their stones. I am working up some ideas on how to use sloes pickled in gin so I'll try them out later this year and post up the recipes (assuming they work of course!)
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Tuesday 25 August 2009

How to make plum and nectarine jam

This is a great recipe for using up surplus and windfall plums. Plum on its own in jam is great but I had a handful of nectarines going spare so I included them in this jam. This is what I used:

500g plums
500g nectarines
3 lemons
1kg sugar

Note that the weight given above is after the stones have been removed.

Chop the plums and nectarines once the stones have been removed and add them to the jam pan. Add the juice of the lemons to the pan as well, apply heat and bring to the boil.

Leave to simmer until the fruit is very soft. I found the nectarines kept their body whilst the plums turned into a pulp - so make sure the nectaries are well chopped before cooking.

Once the fruit is soft enough, add the sugar, stir constantly and bring back to the boil. Check for the setting point in the usual way - seeing if a skin forms on a sample of jam. Once it has, put into warmed jars.

We made 4 jars from the quantity above.

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How to make sloe gin

After the disaster of the sloe crop last year, this year I am pleased to say there is an abundance of sloes - or at least there is in Crystal Palace Park, near our London home. So I was out this morning picking sloes. And I've just finished setting up the sloe gin.

This is what I used:

650g sloes
325g granulated sugar
1.4litre cheap, supermarket own brand of gin

The boring bit comes first. Get a sowing needle and prick each sloe about 5 times. This allows the juices to percolate into the gin.

Then add the pricked sloes to a kilner jar, add the sugar and then pour in the gin. Some people add almonds at this point for extra taste. I haven't bothered this time but may do so on the next batch.

Give the contents a good stir before closing the jar. For the next month, give the jar a good shake each day. For the following 2 months give it an occasional shake. After three months strain and bottle the sloe gin - it's useful therefore to hold on to the bottles the original gin came in.

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Wednesday 19 August 2009

How to pickle beetroot and store garlic

We have now harvested the beetroot and garlic we had on the allotment. This video shows how we have preserved it.

Friday 14 August 2009

allotment update no 6 first summer crops

This is the latest update video from the allotment: we have been harvesting baby leeks, garlic, marrows, peas and beetroot.

How to grow potatoes in bags

We tried an experiment this year of growing potatoes in bags. It was a success. 6 bags were planted out on the allotment and we have now harvested over 15kg of potatoes. These bags are ideal for patios, balconies, back yards and rooftops. No garden needed.

Thursday 13 August 2009


I thought the season for wild raspberries was ending a couple of weeks ago. However, we picked a half bucket full last night whilst out for a walk and I am back at the same location now and have another half bucketful. Jam making this afternoon I think.

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Sunday 9 August 2009

Too late for the cherries

Last year we get a great crop of wild cherries. I say "wild" - perhaps semi- domesticated would be a better description. The trees were planted by the Council - for the spring blossom, not the fruit. I picked them in central Gateshead at a place called Clasper Village, on the banks of the Tyne. I am here now to do the same. Alas, my bucket is going back empty. There are no cherries left.

I guess the wood pigeons and blackbirds got most of them but perhaps someone else beat me to them as well.

The lesson is, don't leave it too late to pick the fruit.
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Wednesday 29 July 2009

Slow go on sloes

I am down at my house in London for a couple of days. One thing I spotted when I first started the commute between Tyneside and London was how much earlier crops mature and fruit ripens in the south. So when I was wallking around Crystal Palace pary yesterday I checked out a set of sloes and found the fruit was turning ripening well. Up home they are all still hard green berries. I went back this morning hoping to pick some for gin and jam making. Alas. My calculations were wrong. They won't be ready for a couple of weeks. I will do something with them when I am next down in late August.

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Tuesday 28 July 2009

Some recent crops

Marrows and cucumbers. And aren't they big ones! The shape of the cucumber is the sort of thing that would have ensured an appearance on "That's Life" back in the 1980s. We have a bit of a glut of cucumbers in the sense that the greenhouse is producing them faster than we can consume them. As a result we have been giving them away and making them into a chutney or pickle. More about that on another day. The marrow was meant to be a courgette growing on bed 2. However, half the bed has been taken over by rasturtiums and the courgettes are a bit smothered by them though they are continuing to grow. The result was we didn't spot this one til it had got to marrow size. It was rather pleasant as a meal stuffed and roasted.

Anyone for pea? The pea crop is doing well so we are gradually licking them. David has the first batch ready for freezing. we have also kept the pea pods. They will help to make veg stock. Simple put them in a bag in the freezer and add to them til there is sufficient to use.

A healthy glut of beetroot. We have so far picked 5kg. We have pickled some and made some into relish.
Runner beans on bed 2. Note the abundance of nasturtiums. Note also how the left wigwam is doing so much better than the other two. The beans we planted on the first one can from Michael, David's uncle. The other two came from seed catalogues. Do it yourself is doing better!

I really enjoyed the strawberries. Yummie, yummie, yummie!

Sunday 26 July 2009

Dealing with all that beetroot

If there is one thing we are learning quickly it is how to deal with sudden gluts of food. With harvests starting to come in, we have a glut of gluts. We are currently dealing with a beetroot glut. 5kg have been picked from the allotment and more is on its way.

David did a search for recipes and found one from the BBC for beetroot and orange relish.

The recipe came via the BBC website from the Burrastow House Hotel.
450g/1lb fresh beetroot
450g/1lb onions chopped
2 oranges - grated rind and juice
1 tsp salt
6 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
350g/3/4lb sugar
570ml/1 pint pickling vinegar
1. To cook the beetroot, put into a large pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender. Drain, peel and roughly chop into small pieces.
2. Put all the ingredients into a large pan and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer until a good consistency is reached. Test for seasoning. Pour into sterilised jars.

Meanwhile, I had a go at pickling beetroot. I can across the following in an old cookery book at home.

Pickled beetroot recipe

1kg beetroot
2 medium size onions
900ml spiced vinegar

Boil the beetroot til it is soft and whilst it is still hot peel it (the skin, as I discovered, comes away very easily).

Chop the onions and slice the beetroot thinly.

In a pickling jar add the beetroot and onion in layers.

Heat the vinegar to boiling point then pour into the pickling jar, making sure all the beetroot is covered. Then seat the jar.

Pickled beetroot can be eaten after 3 or 4 weeks.

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Planning ahead for winter

Space is already being created on the allotment by the harvesting of crops. We are not letting it lie fallow for too long. The garlic has now come out of bed 2 leaving us with a 4 metre long strip to fill.

Planting for winter and spring crops is therefore underway. This is important as we need to secure our food supply during the colder months.

Last month I planted a row of swede seeds. Today, David has been planting carrots (for harvesting in mid to late autumn) and cabbages (for spring cropping).

Well rotted manure went onto where the garlic had been on bed 2 andthis was used for planting cabbage. The carrots and some more cabbage went onto the final, unused part of bed 4 which had been well manured in January. That means at long last the whole of bed 4 is now in use. Seeing as bringing bed 4 into use was one of our targets for the year, that makes me rather happy.

Meanwhile, I checked out some local wild cherry trees but the fruit is not yet ready. I'll give it a week longer.

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Allotment update no 5 - the greenhouse

This is the latest update video from the allotment featuring our new greenhouse!

Thursday 23 July 2009

Garlic galore!

We harvested our garlic over the weekend. An excellent crop. 56 bulbs were picked. In the second photo above you can see the larger bulbs on the left. This was the winter variety. It was planted in November last year and was just about the only thing we had growing over the winter. The smaller, spring planted variety is on the right. Both were cropped together.
We now have to learn how to plat them together.

Raspberry jam

More raspberry picking today. I found an excellent patch of wild raspberries whilst walking down the other side of the field next to Sunniside where I was picking yesterday. I am going back tomorrow but I picked half a bucketful of raspberries, roughly I think it was over 3kg.

We have used 900g to make another batch of raspberry gin (we don't drink it all ourselves, some of it will be for Xmas presents). The rest will be used tomorrow for more jam making, to add to the 14 jars I made on Monday (see photo above).

To make raspberry jam, here's the recipe:

1kg of raspberries

1kg sugar

2 medium sized lemons

Add the raspberries to the jam pan.

Squeeze the lemons and add the juice to the jam pan.

Heat the pan, stirring regularly. The aim is to break the fruit down to a sloppy wet pulp (see photo).

Keep sufficient heat under the pan to keep it boiling and stir in the sugar. Stir regularly to avoid the mix catching on.

When the jam has reached the setting point add to warmed jars.

If you like it that bit sharper, add in more lemon juice and include the lemon zest.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Gooseberry and elderflower jam recipe

I didn't get round to posting this up in June when I made it but it is a great jam so I thought I'd share it anyway. Gooseberry and elderflower is a traditional jam that never appears in the supermarket so people are not used to it. Once they try it however, they love it. Again, it's another good one for the self-sufficent household selling any surplus and is very easy to make, especially if you have gooseberry bushes in full swing of production.
This is what you need:
for every kg of gooseberries, you need one kg of sugar, one lemon, 200 ml of water and one handful of freshly picked elderflower, stripped from the stalks.
This is what you have to do:
Grate the zest of the lemons and squeeze them. You don't need the peel so freeze it and use it in marmalade making at a later date.
To the jam pan add the gooseberries, lemon zest and juice and elderflower. Pour in the water. You may need to add a small amount of aditional water if the gooseberries are dry, or less if they are very ripe and juicy.
Heat the pan and boil it until the gooseberries have disintegrated.
Keep the heat under the pan and add the sugar, stirring regularly and bring it back to the boil. Check for the setting point and once it has been reached, add the jam to warmed jars.
It's got quite a tangy taste. I particularly like a large amount of elderflower in my jam but individual tastes will vary.

Raspberries in the rain

I picked 3kg of raspberries on Sunday on the derelict allotment next to ours (the allotment is rented by a friend of ours and we will be helping her restore it soon). The fruit I picked made 14 jars of raspberry jam.

One thing I have spotted with jam is that people like to stick with the traditional types. I've market tested various somewhat revolutionary new types with friends but they always come back to the old favourites such as raspberry. So if you are trying to be self-sufficient but want to sell any surplus produce, when it comes to jams, stick with the traditional stuff. That's not to say don't try something new but don't expect it to sell well.

Raspberry gin recipe

I went out this afternoon to pick wild raspberries but after an hour, the heavens opened and I got soaked. I got about 1kg. They have been used to make raspberry gin. It takes about three months to make it but it is well worth the wait. This is what you need:

900g raspberries

200g white sugar

140cl cheap gin (ie 2 bottles)

2 vanilla pods

Large kilner jar

Put the sugar, vanilla and raspberries into the kilner jar and pour in the gin. Leave to stand for 3 months then strain and bottle the gin. Whilst it is in the kilner jar, you do not need to mix it or shake it. Just let all the flavour infuse.

Keep the gin-pickled raspberries as a topping for desserts.

This is my favourite fruit licquer but there are others we have tried in the past and will be making through the summer. More about them later.

Photo: the kilner jar containing raspberries and gin, set up on Tuesday 21st July.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Giving up my job for the Good Life in Sunniside

Readers of this blog may well be aware that I live in both Sunniside in Gateshead and London. I regard Sunniside as my home. I needed to be in London for my job. I was the intelligence analyst for the Liberal Democrats which meant I had to be in party HQ and Parliament most weeks. Hence the journeys to London.

My unit has been reorganised and as a result my job has been scrapped and replaced by two others. I was offered redundancy or interview for the new jobs. Initially I aimed to go for the interview but it was against a background of having a great many things I wanted to do in my own time which have been shelved over the past decade as I travelled between Gateshead and London. One of the big things that was shelved was the ambition of becoming self-sufficient.

So after much thought and deliberation, oiled by a significant redundancy cheque, I decided to give up the job and the London role, and head back to Sunniside for the Good Life, running the allotment and becoming self-sufficient.

So here I am, back in Gateshead running the allotment. There's no turning back now!
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Wednesday 15 July 2009


We are walking through Lotties Wood at the moment, next to our village of Sunniside. Apart from the exercise, the purpose is to look at what wild foods are growing. Last year. The hazel crop was terrible. Hazel nuts are an important food for those aiming to be self-sufficient. They are important sources of oil and especially protein.

I am pleased to say that this year's crop looks set to be a bumper one!
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Thursday 9 July 2009

Back from holiday

We have been away on hoilday for the past 3 weeks and so I have just come down to the allotment for the first time in nearly a month. We had feared that the heatwave would incinerate everything in sight! Fortunately, the opposite appears to have happened. I am amazed at how well everything is doing, though I can thank our friend Glenys, Dad and my brother Andrew who popped in to water the greenhouse. I have now picked our first cucumber and it's a big one!

As well as the crops doing well, so have the weeds. I suspect I will be doing a lot of weeding over the next few days.

Anyway, fuller updates will be posted up over the next few days.
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Friday 19 June 2009

Definitely a good strawberry crop

The strawberries are ripening as well. Looks like a good crop is on the way.

Growing in the greenhouse

The greenhouse was definitely a wise investment. Everything is growing well (except my acorns but more about them on another day). Plenty of seedlings have been grown and planted out but remaining in the greenhouse are the following:

And plenty other plants.

How to make elderflower champagne

I filmed this last weekend - our elderflower champagne making session. We now have 45 bottles brewing.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Making elderflower champagne

I have blogged before about how to make elderflower champagne so I won't repeat myself ( Over the weekend I made another 23 bottles (about 16 litres) and a further similar quantity should be bottled up tonight by David.

Elderflower in the North East is much later than in London. I found it hard over the weekend to find enough elderflower in blossom in Gateshead. Down in London, where I am at the moment, the elderflower is no more or less gone.

Wild duck and roasted fennel

When we took over the allotment 2 years ago, one of the first things we grew was fennel. Nothing reaally came of it and the bed itself was later used as the location for a temporary manure heap. This may or may not have had any effect - but we found the fennel growing through the manure. So we let it continue growing through the manure was removed. We now have a rather attractive crop of fennel and we picked the first one on Sunday.
This was roasted to have with one of the wild ducks that have been sitting in the freezer since the autumn. The herbs it was cooked with were all home grown. So this was a mainly foraged wild or home grown meal. The trick now is to have the whole meal produced from our own sources.
Always remember to keep the carcass of poultry for stock. If you don't use the carcass straightaway, put it in the freezer until you can use it.
And another tip, we put the fennel leaves into a bag in the freezer along with carrot tops, potato feelings etc. We'll just continue adding to the bag til it is full and then boil it all to make vegetable stock. Then it goes into the compost bin!

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Rhubarb and ginger jam

Rhubarb and ginger jam is always a favourite and easy to make. We made 10 jars on Sunday, having picked all the remaining rhubarb (other than new shoots) on the allotment.

The following makes 10 jars:
1.5kg rhubarb, chopped
400g peeled fresh ginger roots, grated
1.5kg sugar
juice and zest of 6 lemons
400 ml water
Put all the contents other than the sugar into a jam pan. Apply heat. Stir regularly and allow the contents to become a pulp. This takes about an hour. Keep simmering and add the sugar. Stir regularly and boil it til setting point is reach. Then add to clean, warmed jars.

Bed 4 update

Bed 4 is now in use, or at least partly so. One of our main plans for this year was to bring this bed into use and in January I covered about half of it with a 30cm layer of manure. My thinking was that this would smother the weeds and grass there and kill them off. This has largely been successful. The drawback is that we didn't have enough to cover the whole of the bed. Nevertheless, we have started digging in the manure and two crops have been planted - sweet corn and celeriac, both grown from seeds in the greenhouse. The rest of the bed will be used for autumn and winter crops.

The photo above was taken in May when we first started digging over the bed. The bit behind David is the section where we did not put any manure, hence all the weeds. You can just see next to the wheelbarrow part of the area that was smothered in manure.

Potato bags updated

The potato bags we set up a couple of months ago are working well. The photo above was taken towards the end of May when David was finally filling up the bags. The potato plants have put on a burst since then. Funny to think that last year our potatoes were a complete failure. Having planted them on what is now part of bed 2, some must have survived as we now appear to have potatoes growing there.

Don't throw away your thinnings!

The beetroot seeds I plants a couple of months ago are doing well so recently I thinned out the seedings. Don't throw away the seedlings that have been gently extracted from teh ground! The leaves are great in salads (I have seen Sainsburys include them in their bags of overprices salad leaves.)

We boiled the roots though what we hoped to gain from doing this is not clear! I had in mind something that could be used as part of a meal. That wasn't so successful.

Likewise, the parsnips also needed thinning. We used the whole of the thinnings to make a parsnip and potato soup. Moderately successful but nothing to shout about.

Friday 29 May 2009

A good strawberry crop

I am going to stick my neck out a bit and predict we are heading for a good strawberry crop. We transferred all the strawberries into the fruit cage in the late winter and they are doing very well.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Beech nuts

On Sunday we walked over to Sunniside Park in search of beech trees. I am after an autumn supply of beech nuts. These can be used for roasting, in cooking or pressed for oil. We found some mature trees that look like they will carpet the ground in the autumn. This is only the start of the search however. We need a very large supply for teh quantity we need for our autumn plans. We'll be checking out woodland in the Derwent Valley soon as well.