Sunday 31 July 2011

How to make blackcurrant vodka

We have had a good blackcurrant crop this year. Most of it went into jam but I did commit to making blackcurrant vodka. Here's the video.

The recipe I use is:

300g sugar
150g blackcurrants
70cl cheap, supermarket own brand vodka

Add the fruit and sugar to a storage jar and pour in the vodka. Close the jar and give it a shake.

Shake the jar once a day until the sugar is dissolved. That can take up to two weeks.

After three months (and occasional shakes) strain the liquid and put into bottles.

Two weeks on a wartime diet

When I set out to be self-sufficient, I quickly realised that important lessons could be learnt from the diet the British experienced during the Second World War. Food was not wasted, people ate healthily, and they ate what they needed. I am keen to apply those lessons to the modern world. As an historian, to understand a period best, I need to do more than just read the sources. I need to live it. So, we are going to do two weeks on a wartime diet, starting tomorrow.

We will have the rations available to people in 1942. Not all food was rationed so we will have modest but realistic supplies of non-rationed foods. Furthermore, people were strongly encouraged and helped to grow food on allotments and in gardens and we will be using some of our own produce. Nevertheless, we are aiming to make this as realistic as possible.

So tomorrow, we will be having bread for breakfast and a potato salad for lunch. For dinner we will be having Lord Woolton pie. More about these in later entries. The wartime Government's food policy aimed to switch people away from white bread, red meat, fats and sugar and on to wholemeal bread, potatoes and fresh vegetables. Hence the reason for the potato salad for lunch. In addition, the Government encouraged people to eat salads during the summer as they were more healthy, used up locally produced food and reduced energy needed to cook meals.

Anyway, I will be doing regular posts on how we get on with this historic diet.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Hive equipment

David with super and frames Jul 11

I am away from home for a few days but David is holding fort back home. He has just sent me a message to tell me more equipment for the bees has arrived. This is a good excuse to post this picture taken on Saturday of David building supers and frames.

I walked past the hives this morning and they looked very busy. Most of the bees seem to be heading to the local woodland. It has a meadow next to it which is full of flowers at the moment. Lots of foraging for bees.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Picking wild raspberries

We headed off to the local meadow and woodland this evening. Wild raspberries are ready for picking. Within an hour we picked a bucketful. They are destined for use in jam and gin but I want to have a go at making raspberry vinegar. And as I still have loads on the allotment to pick, I'm looking out for a raspberry chutney recipe to try out as well.

Gooseberries galore

gooseberry June 11

We have gooseberries galore at the moment. So far we have had a large number of crumbles:

gooseberry crumbles Jul 11

I've also made some gooseberry vodka though I have friends asking me to make some for them, so more will have to be made (it's a hard job but someone has to do it!)

I've also made gooseberry and elderflower jam and summer fruit jam. But what am I going to do with this lot, and what's fruit still to be picked?

gooseberries Jul 11

Well, I'm in search of a good gooseberry chutney recipe. So if you have one, feel free to email it to me at

Monday 11 July 2011

Checking the bees

A friend of ours, John, who has kept bees for over 40 years, visited us on Saturday to help us check out our hives. His verdict is that they are all good, strong colonies. We may be pushing it to get a crop of honey this year but he did advise us to put a super on one of the two colonies we got on Sunday last week (the 3rd one we got on Wednesday already has a super on it). David had spent Saturday morning putting supers and frames together so fortuntely we were able to add the super straight away. The first serious honey crop will come next year. I'm really looking forward to getting that in.

Friday 8 July 2011

How to make redcurrant jelly

I picked the redcurrants on Dad's allotment this morning and made redcurrant jelly this evening. Watch out for the video on this. It will be a few days yet before it's edited but I filmed the making of the jelly and as part of the forthcoming Self-Sufficient in Suburbia early summer edition.

redcurrant jelly Jul 11 1

To make the jelly, put the fruit in the jam pan and add some water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour.

Strain the pulp and measure the liquid before putting into into the jam pan again. Apply heat and when it boils, add in 1kg of sugar for each litre of liquid. Reheat to boiling point and test for the setting point. The add to hot, sterilised jars.

redcurrant jelly Jul 11 2

Blackcurrant jam

blackcurrants June 11 1

We have a fantastic crop of blackcurrants. We have picked all the ones growing on Dad's allotment but are yet to touch the ones in the fruitcage on our allotment. So far we have made blackcurrant jam and blackcurrant vodka.

blackcurrant jelly July 11 1

blackcurrant jelly July 11 2

To make blackcurrant jelly, put in a jam pan with a bit of water and boil. Keep simmering until the fruit has fully pulped. Then add sugar - the same weight as of fruit. Bring back to the boil and keep boiling until the setting point is reached (put a spoonful on a plate, allow to cool and if it forms a skin, it is at setting point).

Add to hot, sterilised jars. In this batch we made 18 jars.

More bees

hives Jul 11 2

These are the two hives we got on Sunday and below is the one we got on Wednesday.

hives Jul 11 3

The one we got on Wednesday needs a proper stand which we have on order. We had planned to open the hives over the last couple of days with a friend who is a beekeeper but the weather has been too wet and cold. Tomorrow afternoon is now pencilled in for the next attempt.

There is a possibility we could get some honey this year from the hive we picked up on Wednesday. It came with a super, the box added to the top of the hive from which the queen is excluded. Only the workers can get into it so this is where the honey is stored by the bees. One of the reasons we are keen to check the other hives is to see if they are ready yet to have supers added. Hopefully we will find out tomorrow.

Monday 4 July 2011

The bees have arrived

Beehives Jul 11

We went to Northumberland this evening to pick up two hives of bees. It was quite an interesting experience driving back with 50,000 bees on our back seat. We took the bees straight to the allotment. David built a stand for the hives a few weeks ago and all we had to do was wait for Robert, our supplier, to get us the two hives we had on order. He phoned last week so we headed over tonight to his apiary near Hexham.

This is not the best photo in the world but I felt the urge to take it anyway. I didn't have my cameras on me at the time so I took this photo on my Blackberry. The sun had already gone down.

This is really exciting and I'm looking forward to watching the colonies grow and start to produce us honey.