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.