Thursday 31 October 2013

Pumpkin lantern

pumpkin lantern Oct 13

Halloween today and a steady stream of trick or treaters came to our door. We put the pumpkin lantern on our garage roof. It got noticed! Tomorrow I will remove it, break it up and feed it to the hens and goats. Waste nothing!

Pumpkin and apple jam

pumpkin and apple jam Oct 13 1

Making jam was a useful way to use up the mountain of pumpkin flesh and a batch of apples from our garden in London ensured we had a supply of pectin to set it (though the jam emerged as a soft set).

Peel, core and chop the apples and put into a preserving pan with the same weight of chopped pumpkin flesh. Add a bit of water to cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the fruit is soft. Add sugar - the same weight as the total of pumpkin and apple. Bring back to the boil and keep on a rolling boil until the setting point is reached (put a dollop onto a plate, let it cool and check to see if it has set). Then put into hot, sterilized jars.

pumpkin and apple jam Oct 13 2

Don't waste the apple peel and cores - boil them up to make a jelly.

Wednesday 30 October 2013


acorns Oct 13

Acorns - at this time of year there are tonnes of them (excluding last year when the rotten weather ensured there was little of anything). The oak is one of our most well known trees, not just here but throughout Europe and North America. Despite that, the abundant crop of acorns is rarely used as a food source. There was a time, hundreds of years ago, when acorns were fed to pigs to fatten them up in the autumn, though generally, pigs were released into woodland to feed on a variety of nuts, fruit and roots. We don't have any pigs but we have goats so I fed them a handful of acorns this morning. Seconds later they spat them out.

So, having failed to use them as a feed for livestock, my next aim is to use acorns in cooking. There aren't many recipes about but in the past I have had a go at making acorn flour to use in bread baking. I'll give that a go again but I am on the outlook for other acorn recipes. Any suggestions?

Monday 28 October 2013

A return visit from the fox

We lost 2 of our ducks to foxes earlier this year. We therefore decided to hatch some of our duck eggs. The result was 5 ducklings, all of which grew rapidly into adulthood. More recently they started laying. Alas, they had also stopped used the duckhouse at night. No matter what we did, they would not go inside. So we accepted that they would be outdoors through the night, leaving them vulnerable to foxes. What surprised me was that there were no fox incidents for nearly two months. Unfortunately, that ended on Friday morning. Two of the ducks hatched this year were nowhere to be seen. There were no feathers or body parts left behind as evidence of the fox's activities but there can be no other explanation for the ducks' disappearance. So, we are going to hatch more eggs. They go into the incubator tonight.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Pumpkin pies and soup at the Allotment Cafe

pumpkin lantern Oct 13

On Sunday we will be running our monthly Allotment Cafe at Marley Hill Community Centre and with Halloween coming up, pumpkins will be featuring on the menu. We will be serving up pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie as well as our usual Tamworth pork burgers, full cooked breakfast (which includes our Tamworth bacon and our free range eggs) and sandwiches. And today I found a local baker who is bringing along her Halloween cakes, sweets and chocolate apples.

pumpkin soup Oct 13
(Pumpkin soup)

pumpkin pie Oct 13
(pumpkin pie)

The pies and soup above were made from one pumpkin which weighed 22kg. We have used only a small amount of the pumpkin flesh and we still have another three pumpkins of a similar size to use up. I suspect we will be having lots of pumpkin curries, cakes, soups, pies and just about anything else you can think of over the coming weeks and months!

pumpkin Oct 13 3

Friday 25 October 2013

Pickling tomatoes

Lots of tomatoes to preserve. Pickling them in a brine and vinegar solution is one way to ensure they are preserved.

How to make elderberry jelly

Lots of elderberries and another bucket of them picked yesterday. So, making elderberry jelly (using some of our windfal apples as the pectin source) was a logical way to use them up. We will also be making wine and cordial from the berries as well.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Goats at Marley Hill

This was filmed last week when I took our goats up to Marley Hill Community Centre where they could make a start on eating the weeds and grass on the unused land we want to turn into allotments and gardens.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Crystal lemon cucumber

crystal lemon cucumber Oct 13 1

I bought some crystal lemon cucumber plants from the Hurrocks Allotments in Swalwell, Gateshead, earlier this year and grew them in one of my polytunnels. Here are the results. They are like no cucumber I have ever seen before! The taste was no different to other cucmbers though the texture was good and crisp. I'll probably grow more next year.

crystal lemon cucumber Oct 13 2

We picked most of our cucumbers recently so I'll be dusting down the cucumber relish recipes shortly.

Monday 21 October 2013

Goat update

goats at Marley Hill Oct 13 2

We took our goats up to Marley Hill Community Centre, in the next village up the road from us, last Friday. I am a trustee of the building and I have a plan to turn the unused land to the side and rear of the building (of which there is a large amount) into community gardens and allotments. The land has not been used for years and is overgrown. We have many hurdles to jump and hoops to get through before we can properly proceed with the plan but plan or not, the grass and weeds need cutting back and that was a job my goats were very happy to carry out.

goats at Marley Hill Oct 13

Meanwhile, we have given the goats a mineral lick. Hopefully this will stop the goats licking my forehead whenever they get the chance!

goat lick Oct 13

Curried crisps

crisps Oct 13

No need to throw away your potato peelings! We turn ours into crisps. We sprinkle them with curry powder and put them in the oven for about 15 minutes. They need to be eaten quickly once they come out of the oven as they tend to go soggy quickly - as I discovered a couple of years ago on live radio when I was asked to come in to talk about wartime foods (this is a wartime recipe). Discovering live on air that crisps are not very crisp 3 hours after they have been made was an interesting experience! Nevertheless, these are an excellent snack without all the fat that comes with commercially produced crisps.

Fish soup

fish soup Oct 13 1

This soup was the result of another of our clearing out sessions, this time in the freezer. We had some kippers and some white fish that had been frozen some time ago. Time to create badly needed space in the freezer. The other reason for making the soup was to use up the stock I had made from the fish bones, skin and head from the trout we had the other day. There was no room in the freezer for the stock so it had to be used up immediately. It had set well, as you can see from the photo above. The vegetables added were potatoes and leeks.

fish soup Oct 13 2

Vegetable korma

vegetable korma Oct 13

This vegetable korma came about because of a need to use up some fresh vegetables from the allotment and clear out the cupboards at home of the food we got from the supermarkets from the days when we went shopping. The korma sauce came in a jar (which will be reused for our jam making). We will be making more kormas in the future but the plan is not to buy the sauces but make them ourselves.

Friday 18 October 2013

Pickling tomatoes

pickled tomatoes Oct 13

A large number of ripe tomatoes needed to be preserved so I opted for pickling them this evening. The tomatoes were pierced with a skewer so that the pickling solution could penetrate them. They were then packed into pickling jars. The pickling solution was 400 ml water, 400 ml white vinegar, 2 tbs salt, 2 tbs sugar, a few cloves, peppercorns and coriander seeds. They were boiled for about 3 minutes and then poured hot into the jars. We'll use the tomatoes over the winter.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Nasturtium omelette

nasturtium omelette Oct 13

Some feral nasturtiums were growing on the potato bed until Saturday when I stripped them out. Instead of putting them on the compost heap, I took them home to use in cooking. Nasturtium leaves have a peppery taste and are good in salads. However, I discovered that they are great in omelettes. The extra peppery taste goes well with the eggs.

The wine is brewing

wine brewing in demijons Oct 13

The wine we set away recently is now brewing well in demijons. It will be a few weeks yet before we can even consider the next stage in the process. We also found an old can of blackberry juice specifically manufactured for making into wine. It was part of a wine making kit so we have set it away as well. And this afternoon I picked another bucket of elderberries which will be made into wine shortly (after a period spent in the freezer as I am too busy over the next few days to do it straight away).

Tuesday 15 October 2013


This is one of my best examples of trading our surplus honey, eggs and jam for others' allotment surpluses. The pumpkins will be used later this month as we approach Halloween.

How to pickle runner beans

I recently pickled runner beans rather than freeze or salt them. It will be a few weeks yet before we try them. In this video I show you the recipe we use. Since then I have made more pickled runner beans, this time using more sugar and spice in the vinegar and chopping them into 2cm long slices. They went into jars this evening. I'll give them a few weeks as well before trying them.

Monday 14 October 2013

Clearing the polytunnel

hens in polytunnel Oct 13

One of our polytunnels was used this summer entirely for growing tomatoes but recently I picked all the fruit, green or red and stripped out all the plants. There was no likelihood of new fruit growing and the green tomatoes could be ripened in a tray in the greenhouse. The space created will be used for planting autumn and winter crops.

In the photo above, work is just about to start and the hens have been allowed in. Below, the final bundle of tomato plants is removed.

polytunnel Oct 13 2

And finally, the green tomatoes ripening in the greenhouse:

green tomatoes Oct 13

The extended run

ducks Oct 13

I mentioned earlier that we have temporarily put up a bit of fencing on one of the neighbouring allotments to give our hens and ducks extra room. For my neighbour, there is a gain - the land will gradually be cleared of weeds and fertilised. Of our two groups of ducks, it is the younger one that spends more time in the extended run. I even found that one of them had laid an egg there yesterday.

Digging up the spuds

clearing the potato bed Oct 13

We are picking our potatoes late this year, but there again, due to the late end to winter, they were planted late as well. On our main allotment, we planted a large bed with potatoes but to keep the hens off, we covered the bed with hawthorn branches. This worked well but it meant we could not get on to the bed ourselves. The result - lots of weeds! So this weekend, the process of digging up the potatoes started with the removal of the branches and weeding the patch. For the hens and ducks it was as if Christmas had arrived early (I may avoid using that term next year as we are planning to keep turkeys!) There was a feeding frenzy as worms and bugs came to light.

Most of the potatoes are still in the ground. Today has seen the wettest weather for some time so digging will have to take place later this week.

Taking the goats for a walk

Goat Oct 13 3

A couple of times recently we have allowed the goats out of their paddick. On the first occasion we took them for a walk - as far as the next allotment! One end of the allotment is currently unused so the tenant of it has allowed us to fence off part of it for a few weeks. We walked the goats there on tethers recently and allowed them to enjoy eating the weeds.

goat Oct 13 2

Yesterday I tethered the goats to the tree beside the shed on our allotment. They thoroughly enjoyed being able to climb over the fence onto the small strip of wooded embankment that leads down to the neighbouring gardens. The big test comes shortly when we take them to Dad's allotment where we want them to eat the brambles that have taken over one side of the plot.

goat Oct 13 1

Friday 11 October 2013

Tomato soup

tomato soup Oct 13

Our glut of tomatoes needed to be used up so one of the ideas we had was to make tomato soup. We made a large pan of it and we should finish it tonight. We still have lots of tomatoes to use so we are planning to make them into a sauce that can be frozen. We have basil to use up as well so that may find its way into the sauce as well.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

How to make blackberry chutney

blackberry chutney Oct 13 1

With the blackberry crop being so large this year, I had plenty to turn into chutney. And I have to say I was very pleased with the results. Here is my recipe:
  • 1kg blackberries
  • 1kg coarsely chopped apples (cored and peeled
  • 0.5kg chopped onions
  • 0.25kg sugar
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • 1 tsp ground all spice
  • 0.25 litre vinegar (I used our homemade elderflower vinegar)
Put all the ingredients into the preserving pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for a couple of hours - until the consistency is that of a thick sauce.

blackberry chutney Oct 13 2

Fish and chips

trout cooking Oct 13

We had the first of our trout yesterday. And we used our fish kettle for the first time.The fish was cooked in white wine, water, lemon and bay leaves. We had it with baked potato wedges. Very nice though next time we'll probably add more herbs.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Wine making

wine making Oct 13 1

Having gained 20kg of green grapes in a swap, today I stripped them from the stalks, crushed them and put them in a large fermenting bucket. This is our first attempt at wine making for over a decade so it will be interesting to try the results.

I discovered a use for the stalks tonight. The goats rather enjoyed eating them!

A great day for self-sufficiency trading

trout Oct 13

Yesterday was a great day for trading without a single penny having to change hands! My first swap was with a soap maker. She bought some of my honey recently to use in her soap but on Saturday I gave her a kilo of pork fat from our Tamworth pig. I'm looking forward to taking delivery of some of the honey soap.

The second swap was for emough hay to fill my land rover and trailer plus 20kg of grapes we picked from the vine. I had to go to Crook in southern Co Durham for this and I "paid" for it with jam, jelly and lemon curd. The grapes will be made into wine.

My 3rd swap was for four fresh trout, caught on Saturday morning. They cost a bale of hay, some eggs and a few jars of jam. 3 of the fish have gone into the freezer and the fourth will be used for dinner tomorrow.


Pickled runner beans

pickled runner beans Oct 13 1

I've frozen them, salted them, boiled them. Runner beans - we have an abundance of them and the supply keeps on coming. So, a couple of days ago I had a go at pickling them.

Top and tail them and slice off the bottom and top of the pods to get rid of the stringy bits. Then cut them into 10cm lengths and salt them overnight. Then rinse and put into pickling jars. Add a slightly sweetened pickling vinegar - I added ground mace, cloves and peppercorns to mine. Leave to pickle for a couple of weeks before starting to eat them.

For good measure, I used our own elderflower champagne vinegar to make the pickling vinegar.

pickled runner beans Oct 13 2

Thursday 3 October 2013

The final honey crop

This week we got in the final honey crop of the year. We took off two more supers of honey. One has already gone through the honeypress. The other is in it now. It means our kitchen is a bit crowded at the moment and inevitably things get sticky. We have a large bucketful of squeezed honeycomb which I need at some point to put through the wax extractor (I already have a soap maker wanting some of it). Some of the honey will go to the Lanchester Country Market on Saturday where it will be sold for us, though we have to put the Country Market's branding on it. The Country Market is a cooperative which grew out of the Women's Institute. I believe it became a separate organisation about 20 years ago. Membership costs are not onerous - 5p a person. However, they have strict rule on hygiene and I had to send them a copy of my food hygiene certificate before I was allowed to take part.

New Sands Allotment Show

New Sands Allotment Show Sept 13 2

New Sands in Swalwell, Gateshead is one of the allotment sites in our area and last week they held their first ever allotment show. I was invited to call in to the Sun pub in Swalwell where the show was being held. A great group of people and a good turnout for the event.

New Sands Allotment Show Sept 13 3

Local shows are a great way to encourage gardening, get people involved and show off green-fingered achievements. And I am on a mission to promote them and encourage more allotment sites and societies to hold them.

Next year I am planning to hold one in Marley Hill Community Centre in Gateshead where I run the monthly allotment cafe. The loss of the Gateshead Summer Flower Show last year means that there is an opening for a reasonably large event for the Gateshead (and wider) area as a whole. Watch this space.

New Sands Allotment Show Sept 13 1

My thanks to Tony Turner of New Sands Allotment Association for the photos.

Have my duckings started laying

We have 5 ducklings, hatched at the start of June, which now live on our allotment, though they live as a separate group to the adults. Helpfully, the group consists of only one drake but four ducks. From our early experience of keeping ducks last year, we were not expecting them to start laying for another two months. And then, yesterday morning, beside the pond, I found a smallish, beige coloured duck egg. The adult ducks are locked away in their duckhouse during the night but the ducklings wander free around the site. This is their choice, not mine. They abandoned using their own duckhouse nearly a month ago. Since the egg I found was laid through the night, it seems that one of our ducklings has started laying earlier than expected. There was no small duck egg next to the pond this morning and a quick search of the allotment turned up nothing but with a bit of luck, the duckling in question (I really should stop calling them ducklings as they are now fully grown) will continue to lay.