Tuesday 27 August 2013

Trading food

We have had a really good trading period over the past week. Our jam had been swapped for bags of potatoes, garlic, courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes, a basil plant and a marrow. People arrived at our Allotment Cafe on Sunday ready to do business. I also swapped my own runner beans (of which we have an embarrassingly large surplus we are still using from previous years) for onions at Dad's allotment. So the currency is not always the jam jar. Sometimes produce is directly exchanged.

The goats are on their way

We had to take the plunge at some point and arrange to buy a goat, or rather 2 (an nanny and her nanny kid) after advice from a friend who had previously kept them. We found the goat after a long and thorough search of the internet. It will mean a trip to the Scottish Borders in early September. My Land Rover is going in for a repair over the next few days so hopefully it will be back on the road ready to go to Scotland. We are, of course, furiously working to get the preparations for their arrival carried out. There's lots to do and our timing is not the best as we are heavily into the jam making season.

The self-sufficient challenge days 22-26: slumming it!

pork burger Aug 13

I have to confess we have been slumming it recently. We haven't been making full blown evening meals. We have been too busy. This always happens around the time we run our monthly Allotment Cafe. We end up eating what has been prepared for the menu or what has been leftover. Days 22-26 have therefore seen us eating our homemade burgers or indulging in bacon butties. It is of course all produced by our self-sufficiency system. Last night however we had vegetable soup, made from allotment grown ingredients all of which came from a trade we did a few weeks ago with an allotment site in Gateshead. The soup was made for the cafe so yesterday's meal (and today's lunch) is an attempt to use it up. I'm not complaining however. It's excellent soup!

vegetable soup Aug 13

Thursday 22 August 2013

Sunday trading

We will be holding another craft market and allotment cafe at Marley Hill Community Centre on Sunday, 25th August. Our jams, honey, eggs and Tamworth pork and bacon will be on sale. However, we are also encouraging people to bring their surplus produce to swap with us. The aim is to help create self-sufficient communities of people. Some people will specialise in producing particular produce and the surplus they don't need themselves can be traded. No money changes hands, just produce. It will be interesting to see whether anyone turns up with something to swap.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

The Self-Sufficient Challenge day 21: potato and bacon salad

double yoker Aug 13

Potato and bacon salad is a firm favourite of mine and very easy to make. Some cold boiled potatoes with a sprinking of chives from the herb garden, a couple of hard boiled eggs chopped up, some fried bacon and ground pepper.

The double yoker was used in this meal. It was laid a few days ago and was a significant size. The hen must have felt it when she popped it out! Talking of eggs, we were up to 12 today, for the first time in two months. We had thought the recent drop in egg productivity was down to a mite infestation in the henhouses which we have since eradicated. It turned out not to be the cause. Instead, it seems to be a summer moult that had caused some of them to have a break from laying.

The Self-Sufficient Challenge Day 20: bacon and onion flan

egg bacon and onion flan Aug 13

This was my lunch but became my evening meal as well after I ran out of time to make the beetroot soup I planned. It will do us for lunch tomorrow as well. It contains 2 rashers of our Tamworth bacon, 2 onions and 6 eggs. It had half an our in the oven at 180C and was then left in the switched-off oven to finish cooking and cool down.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Self-Sufficiency Challenge days 17 - 19: potato and lovage soup

potato and lovage soup Aug 13

A pile of potaotes to use up, lots of lovage growing in the herb garden and a large venison bone to make into stock. The ideal conditions to make potato and lovage soup. We stretched it out to do three main meals for both of us and lunches for me (David had sandwiches instead). The soup is now finished.

The cherry pie I made last week left us with a lingering need to have something sweet. The blackberries are now ripening in the hedgerows so I picked some yesterday afternoon and made them into a pie. A spoonful of our honey was added to slightly sweeten it. blackberry pie Aug 13

Blowing a raspberry at the bill

Whilst working to become self-sufficient I have discovered that trading with other local food growers is an important activity. There will always be something they produce that I haven't grown, and vice versa. Our eggs, jam and honey often get exchanged for vegetables or fruit. It seems however that our trading system has extended beyond the sphere of food. My Land Rover needed a minor repair recently. It cost me 3 jars of raspberry jam. It would have been interesting buying the Land Rover with jam and honey though to do so, I would have needed considerably more hives that the 10 I have at the moment!

Sunday 18 August 2013

Self-Sufficient Challenge days 13 to 16: roast venison

The venison we roasted earlier this week was used for our main meals on Tuesday through to Thursday and also did for sandwich fillings for lunches on Wednesday through to Friday. Yesterday we used the bones to make stock for soup. In this video we show you how to marinate and then roast the leg of venison.

Friday 16 August 2013

How to extract honey from honeycomb

This is me in action with my honey press.

How to make cherry pie

I have mentioned previously that I made cherry pie using some late growing cherries I picked last week. It's a simple recipe - pitted cherries with a coating of flour and some of our honey (you can use sugar instead). The flour helps to thicken the filling. Put shortcrust pastry into a pie dish, put in the filling, cover with a pastry lid (glaze if you want to with an egg) and then bake in the oven at 200C for half an hour.

Thursday 15 August 2013

The Self-Sufficient Challenge Days 13 - 14: venison

venison marinated Aug 13

Earlier this year we swapped some of our Tamworth pork for some wild venison with a friend who goes shooting. On Saturday it was time to get a leg of venison out of the freezer and on Sunday I started marinating it in red wine and spices. On Tuesday it came out of the marinade and I coated it in a paste of honey, spices and mustard. After that it went into the oven and a couple of hours later I was sitting down to a fantastic roast venison dinner. The joint was large so we had it cold in sandwiches for lunch and cold with new potatoes and freshly picked runner beans for dinner on day 14 of the Self-Sufficient challenge. The redcurrant jelly I made recently was a great addition to the menu.

venison dinner Aug 13

We have now used up what was left of our cereals so leftover boiled new potatoes, fried with an egg, made a superb breakfast on Day 14.

fried potatoes and egg Aug 13

cherry pie Aug 13

We did not consume many sweets, chocolates, cakes, biscuits and so on before the Challenge but that does not mean to say we never ever touched them. So 14 days into the Challenge and we were starting to feel the need at least for a sweet pudding. I found some cherries growing recently (2 months late this year) so I picked some of them and made them into a cherry pie. We can't use cream on the pie as we don't have the goats yet so I sprinkled freshly picked blackberries I found growing in a hedge on the allotment over the pie. An excellent combination. Since we are no longer buying fruit, and we have eaten all the fruit we had previously bought, we have found that blackberries (and cherries) are filling the gap.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Stripped bare by bees

bees Aug 13

We harvested another two supers of honey last week and once we had cut the comb from the frames, we returned them to the supers and then took them to the allotment and left them outdoors. The reason for this was to let the bees clean up the equipment. There was also honey spilt onto the floor of our kitchen. Obviously we couldn't use this for anything but it seemed such a waste to mop it up. Surely there was something for which it could be used. Well, only one idea came to mind - feed it back to the bees. They will thoroughly process, clean and store it. So I scraped up as much honey from the floor I could find, put it in a bowl and left it near the hives. Within minutes it was heaving with bees. Within half an hour, the bees had gone, as had every drop of honey.

Monday 12 August 2013

The Self-Sufficient Challenge Days 9-12: omelettes

omelette Aug 13

As we have 30 hens and ducks, eggs are an important part of our diet. So, for days 9 to 11 of the self-sufficient challenge, our main meals have been omelettes. It is surprising how varied they can be. That comes down to what vegetables are added. In addition, yesterday we roasted potatoes and beetroot to go with the omelette. I think I slightly overdosed on the beetroot with the result my wee has been a bit pink today!

Tonight's dinner was very simple: bacon butties. We have a good supply of bacon in the freezer so it was time it was put to good use. Tomorrow we have a bit of a treat. You will have to wait to find out what it is.

Cherry picking

cherries Aug 13

Normally, cherry crops are gone before the end of June but this year, fruit growing is behind schedule because of the late start to the spring. Never before have I found cherries still available to pick in August but this month, that is exactly what is available. Admittedly, it is only one tree and it is north facing, but it is a good quantity and there are still cherries left to be picked. I will return to get them once they are ripened. Cherry pie is now on the menu.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Using the honey press

honey press Aug 13 1

I took 2 supers full of honey from our Sunniside apiary yesterday and today I put one of them through the honey press we bought earlier this year. That counted as a first for me as we had not previously used the press. The whole exercise turned outt o be more straightforward than I expected, though it was as sticky as I expected.

beehive supers Aug 13

The honeycomb was wrapped in muslin before being placed in the press. Then the pressure was gradually built up by screwing down the lid until the vast majority of the honey had been squeezed out. What was left behind was the flattened wax of the honeycomb. This will be processed at a later date.

honey press Aug 13 3

honey press Aug 13 4

honey press Aug 13 5

We now have a bucket of honey ready to go into jars. There's more honey still to be harvested from our Whickham apiary so there will be plenty more work for the honey press. The wax extractor will also be put into use soon. I'll have a go at making beeswax candles. I already have the candle moulds and the wicks.

Gilsland Show

On Sunday we went to the Gilsland Show. For us it was a bit out of the way and involved a 90 mile round trip. We found out about it late in the day so were too late to take part in any of the competitions. There's always next year. The show is much more sheep than anything else. We don't keep ourselves though we have an offer to join a flock so it was useful to watch the sheep competitions for ideas.

The Self-Sufficiency Challenge Days 7 - 8: lovage and tomato soup

lovage and tomato soup Aug 13

The soup theme continues. We had some of the lamb and onion soup left so we used it as a stock to make lovage and tomato soup. Soup making is so simple and straightforward - simply make it up as you go along, using whatever ingredients are available. Lunch has been an old favourite of mine - potato salad, including chopped fried bacon, chives and chopped boiled eggs. The water used to boil the potatoes went into the lovage and tomato soup - nothing goes to waste.

Redcurrant jelly and summer fruit jam

When making redcurrant jelly you will find you have pulp left over after straining it. After making the redcurrant jelly, use the pulp to add to other fruit to make jam (I call it summer fruit jam) On this occasion I added it to blackcurrants, rhubarb, raspberries and cranberries. The redcurrant pulp and the blackcurrants provided the pectin.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Food hygiene course

Today has been something of a back-to-school experience. I went on a food hygiene course, complete with exam at the end of it. Thankfully I passed and I will soon get a certificate which I will hang on the wall of the kitchen at Marley Hill Community Centre where I run the monthly Allotment Cafe. It was an interesting day and the first exam I have sat since I was at university 25 years ago. My hope is that the Allotment Cafe will be held on a more regular basis, hence the need to formalise the process by going on a food hygiene course.

The Self-Sufficiency Challenge Days 5-6: lamb and onion soup

lamb and onion soup Aug 13

We are approaching the end of our scotch eggs so tomorrow I will need to create something new for lunch. Dinner yesterday and today however has been lamb and onion soup. The lamb was leftover from the joint we had on Sunday.

Meanwhile I can report that the fridge is gradually being cleared of the perishable foods previously bought in supermarkets. The last yoghurts went tonight.

Sunday 4 August 2013

The self-sufficiency challenge - day 4

Roast lamb Aug 13

As I made 6 scotch eggs last week, we are still eating them for lunch. However, we finished the meatball casserole last night so tonight, dinner was roast lamb. We got the lamb as a trade in January for some of our Tamworth pork. With it we had roast vegetables. My confession is that some of the vegetables were from the supermarket but had been in the fridge for a couple of weeks. As we believe food waste is a definite NO, any perishables need to be used up. Some of the vegetables - such as the beetroot - however were grown on local allotments. Again, we traded honey for them.

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia: June and July

This is the programme that covers June and July on the allotment and in the kitchen (with a trip to the Smallholder Show thrown in for good measure). There's lots about the ducklings and chicks. Jam making has started and the elderflower champagne is made.

Cutting up the honeycomb

I recently harvested honey from one of our hives. The comb has now been cut into 225g pieces. The video shows how we dealt with it.

Saturday 3 August 2013

How to make mint jelly

We have an abundance of mint on Dad's allotment and we had some very small windfall apples I found under a wild apple tree. Mint jelly inevitably followed.

Deep clean

Our henhouses are suffering from a mite problem. We think this may have contributed to the recent fall in egg productivity. I have ordered some Poultry Shield (used for killing off mite infestations) and was hoping it would arrive today. When I got back from the market selling out honey and jam, I found the it had not yet been delivered. So, this evening, I took a barrel of warm water, a scrubbing brush and washing up liquid to the allotment and gave the first of the henhouses a thorough deep clean. No surface went untouched. All crevices were thoroughly cleaned as well.

It was interesting to note that many of the hens of their own accord moved into the new (and mite free) duckling house to roost through the night recently. The henhouse I cleaned tonight normally houses 8 but recently the number has dropped to 4, though I have moved hens back into it. It was interesting to note that in its super clean state tonight, 6 hens chose to roost in it. And hopefully the other two will move back into it shortly. Hens, after all, aren't daft.

The self-sufficiency challenge - days one to three

meat balls Aug 13

The challenge to spend at least a month on food we have produced ourselves or traded with other local food growers has got off to a reasonable start. So far we have not had to resort to going to shops for food. Our diet has, admittedly, been a bit repetitive over the past three days but there is nothing new in that. We tend to make enough in one go to last a few meals. On Thursday, for our main evening meal, I made a meatball casserole. The meatballs were made from sausagemeat from our Tamworth and the vegetables in the casserole were traded with other allotment holders (for jam). To it I added some leftover vegetable soup (again, all made from locally produced food). We finished the casserole tonight.

meat ball caserole Aug 13

Lunches have been satisfying but simple. David has been having pork sandwiches, from a Tamworth leg joint roasted earlier this week.I've been having scotch eggs I made using some of our duck eggs and sausagemeat from the Tamworth. For a bit of variety today, I had a green leaf salad with my scotch egg for lunch, picked fresh from the allotment. Leaves included mustard, radish, nasturtium and lovage.

scotch eggs Aug 13

Tomorrow we switch to roast lamb for dinner. We traded some of our pork for a friend's lamb earlier this year so it's time it was used up.

Thursday 1 August 2013

No more shop bought food - self-sufficiency begins today

If we are to be self-sufficient, at some point we have to reach a point at which we take the decision to stop buying food from shops. Well, the day has arrived. We set 1st August as the date and food purchases from shops have now ended. Okay, we will have some very minor exceptions for things we cannot produce ourselves, such as tea and coffee, flour and, in the absence of the goats, milk. We will however strictly limit our consumption of these products, using alternatives wherever possible. And we have lined up a friendly shopkeeper who is prepared to trade for some of our honey, jam and eggs.

For a month I will be keeping a diary on this blog of the food we consume. We do have a modest transition period as there are some perishable foods we bought that still need to be used. There will also be a short gap in August as I may be away for a few days.

The main rules we are following are: we eat the food we produce ourselves, forage for or trade for with other local food producers. Where this is not possible, and alternatives do not exist, we will aim to trade for the products we need. In the absence of that, we will have to buy in the shops. Our aim is to avoid that. Read on to see how we get on.

How to make elderflower champagne

Making elderflower champagne is normally a task for June but this year, due to the late start to spring, everything is a month late. July saw 24 bottles of champagne produced. The video shows how I make it.