Thursday 29 October 2015


apple tree in London Oct 15

We have a small apple tree in the front garden of our home in London. In a typical year it will produce about 10 large apples. Suddenly this year it is sagging under the weight of hundreds of apples. Admittedly they are small but they are still edible. I will bring them back to Sunniside, bag by bag. There is a limit to what I can carry on the train!

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Hollowed out

turnip hollowed out Oct 15

This is quite something. We gave a whole turnip to the chickens recently and they proceeded to hollow it out. You can see the impressive result above. It reminds me of when I was a kid. It was pre-pumpkin days and so on Halloween we used turnips to make lanterns. It was always a difficult job to hollow them out. I should have had chickens when I was young!

Happy duckling

Duckling Oct 15 (6)

I found the duckling we took to the allotment last night happily paddling about the pond this morning. It appears not to have been bullied by any of the other ducks though it spent the entire day in the duck run. My guess is that tomorrow it will follow the other ducks around the allotment.

Duckling Oct 15 (5)

Duckling Oct 15 (4)

Building a new goathouse

materials for goat house Oct 15

We are going to build a new goathouse for Geraldine and Georgina. Their current shed has been knocked to bits by them but is also too small if we are to breed them. So we've bought some materials to build a much bigger goathouse. It will take a couple of weeks to get it up but the end result will be a great improvement.

Paving the way forward

paving stones Oct 15

I was offered all the paving stones recently by a friend from his garden. I agreed to take them. They will be put to good use on my allotment to create paths. Much better than sending them to landfill. I will pay for them - a few jars of jam will clear the debt!

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Duckling on the move

duckling Oct 15 (2)

The lone duckling that hatched a month ago (above photo taken a couple of days later) has now been moved to the allotment. It is 10 times the size it was when it hatched (see below) and we needed to get it outdoors to get it acclimatized before winter sets in. I took it over this evening and put it in the duck run with the other birds. It settled down immediately in the shelter but I suspect it may take a few days to integrate itself with the group as it has no experience of other ducks or ducklings. I checked on it after a couple of hours. It was quite content. It will be interesting to see how it is in the morning.

Duckling Oct 15 (3)

Crab apples

crab apples Oct 15

I've been picking crab apples recently, from a hedgerow in a field near our village of Sunniside. I've already used some to make bramble jelly. The tart flavour is balanced by the sweetness of the blackberries. The crab apples also supply the pectin to set the jelly.

The leftover pulp was pressed through a sieve and the resulting fruit puree was added tonight to the sweet mincemeat I am currently making. More about that later.

Tomorrow I will also make crab apple jelly. It's about 3 years since I last made it and then most of it went in swaps!

Strawberry plants

strawberry plants Oct 15

As part of a swap recently, I got 30 strawberry plants. And with a bit of cleared land next to the gate to the allotment, we had space to plant them. The problem with strawberries of course is that once planted, you can never get rid of them! It's a problem we are happy to live with.

Ducks reunited

ducks Oct 15 2

One of my friends recently asked me if I had a spare drake for his 4 ducks. As it turned out, we had 4 drakes, one of which we felt was surplus, and 8 ducks. We had planned to slaughter one of the drakes but had left it too long. We then decided he would be a bit too old to eat. So he was given a stay of execution. The problem was he was a bit aggressive. The result was that the other birds with which he was hatched followed him as a separate group of 6. The older group of 6, which included his parent (not that they were aware of that as they were incubator hatched) stayed together as a separate group as well.

What an amazing transformation since removing the aggressive drake two weeks ago. The two groups have united to form one. And they wander around the plot together. It's amazing how the removal of just one bird can completely change the social dynamics of the entire group.

Cheese-making and stuffed marrows

ricotta stuffed marrow Oct 15 (2)

I had another cheese making day yesterday. 2.75kg of hard cheese and about 1kg of ricotta were made. The ricotta does not last long so I used some of it to make a stuffing for a marrow.

ricotta stuffed marrow Oct 15 (1)

ricotta stuffed marrow Oct 15 (3)

The rest of the ricotta will have salt and herbs added but we have so much that some of it will be used for food swaps.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Sausages and roast vegetables

sausages and roast vegetables Oct 15

This was Sunday's dinner - some of our pork sausages with roasted beetroot and potatoes and some leftover ricotta-stuffed marrow.

rhubarb crumble Oct 15

And for dessert we had rhubarb crumble.

Marrows stuffed with ricotta cheese

marrow stuffed with ricotta Oct 15

Another ricotta cheese recipe, and similar to the one with peppers. Indeed, the biggest different was the peppers were replaced by marrows. We did however increase the proportion of breadcrumbs in the stuffing.

Baked in the oven at 180C for about 45 minutes. Very nice!

Monday 19 October 2015

Peppers stuffed with ricotta cheese

peppers stuffed with ricotta Oct 15 (1)

The ricotta cheese we made last week is being used in various recipes (all of which we are making up as we go along!) The first was to make a filling for peppers. Sadly, we had to buy the peppers in a supermarket as we grew none ourselves and knew of no one with any available for a swap.

peppers stuffed with ricotta Oct 15 (2)

The cheese was mixed with breadcrumbs, black pepper and chopped tomatoes, celery and onion.

peppers stuffed with ricotta Oct 15 (3)

The mix was put into the peppers and were baked for about half an hour in the oven at 160C.

peppers stuffed with ricotta Oct 15 (4)

We were very pleased with the end result.

Testing the red wine

red wine homemade Oct 15

Two years ago we made elderberry wine. We decided it was time to try it out. It did not go entirely to plan as it has a slight fizz to it and is a touch sweeter than I'm used to. However, it's not bad. It goes well with our homemade cheese.

Rhubarb crumble

rhubarb crumble Oct 15

Some rhubarb was swapped with us recently so we decided to make a crumble rather than turn it into a preserve. And we made apple crumble as well. Very nice!

Making ricotta cheese

making ricotta cheese Oct 15 (1)

When we make goats cheese, we are left with a large amount of whey which includes fine particles of curds. Most of the whey is fed to the poultry in their mash but we have often felt that we could extract more of the fine curds to make more cheese. And then we found a recipe for making ricotta cheese from whey.

making ricotta cheese Oct 15 (2)

10 litres of whey is heated to 93C  and then 60ml of cider vinegar is added. Over the course of an hour, the curds precipitate out of the whey.

making ricotta cheese Oct 15 (2)

making ricotta cheese Oct 15 (4)

We then strained the contents of the pan through a double thickness cheesecloth and a sieve.

making ricotta cheese Oct 15 (5)

Then prepare to be surprised at how much cheese to produced! It is a soft cheese but be ready to use it up in a week.

More food swaps

Chapel House Food Swap Oct 15 (8)

We had a good food swap day on Saturday. I went tot he New Sands Allotments in Swalwell where jars of jam bought me a bucket of potatoes and an uncomfortably large number of courgettes and marrows. I then went to Chapel House in Newcastle to a swap event. I took along 3 boxes of jam, some quail, duck and hen eggs and some of our cheese (hard and ricotta). The cheese and the eggs proved to be very useful in swaps. We came away with scones, tomatoes, chillies, herbs, seeds, lettuces, potatoes and beetroot.

The next event is in Blaydon on 31st October.

Chapel House Food Swap Oct 15 (2)

Chapel House Food Swap Oct 15 (4)

Chapel House Food Swap Oct 15 (5)

Chapel House Food Swap Oct 15 (1)

Leek Soup

leek soup Oct 15 (1)

The bones from the recently slaughtered cockerel were turned into stock. There was a large bag of chopped onions in one of our freezers. We needed the space so out came the onions which were added to the stock to make soup. Very nice.

leek soup Oct 15 (2)

Chicken casserole

chicken casserole Oct 15

We had to slaughter another cockerel recently, so we decided to make a chicken casserole. Vegetables were from the allotment or were acquired in food swaps.

Thursday 15 October 2015

Branching out

branches Oct 15 2

There has been a big push by some of the allotment holders on our site to get hedges cut before the winter sets in. I have told them that we will take any branches that still have leaves on them. As a result we have had a steady supply of greenery for the goats. Sadly, within a couple of weeks, this food supply will be at an end. The leaves are already dropping. The goats however are enjoying their free food bonanza.

goat eating leaves Oct 15 (4)

goat eating leaves Oct 15 (3)

Moulting hens

moulting hen Oct 15

Quite a few of our hens are moulting at the moment. One in particular has shed a considerable number of feathers and now has a new set growing through. She is called Houdini and is our oldest hen. At 4 and a half years old, she is retired from egg laying but we kept her as she is one of our first hens. You can see in the photo above her new feathers growing through.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Whickham Flower Show

More video catch up - this is the video I filmed at the Whickham in Bloom Summer Flower Show last month. Sadly, I can't enter the competitions myself. Gateshead Council is a sponsor and as a councillor, it would not look good if I won anything!

Glendale Show - video

On the August Bank Holiday we went to the Glendale Show. It was the first time we had been and we were not there to enter jam-making competitions. Instead, we went to see the goat show. We want to get an idea of what is involved as we are thinking about entering next year. I think I'm now hooked. Hopefully next year will see us competing.

The video includes more than just goats. It gives a flavour of the whole show.

How to make goats cheese and vegetable pie

This is the video of the goats cheese and vegetable pie I made last week. I was quite pleased with the results. The only point I would change is that the turnip could have been cut smaller or simmered for a few minutes before being added to the dish.

Wood carving at the Bowes Show

Last month we made our usual annual pilgrimage to the Bowes Agricultural Show in Co Durham. This year's show had a guy who could carve animals in just a few minutes in tree trunks using his chainsaw. So I filmed him carving an owl whilst I waited for the jam judges to finish sampling our preserves.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Crunchy sweet pickle

sweet crunchy pickle Oct 15 1

We had lots of runner beans to use up. Most went into the freezer but we have so many runner beans from past years that last year's crop is still being consumed. So, in an attempt to make something different to use some of them up, I decided to make a sweet pickle. This also allowed me to use up some cucumbers, gherkins and onions. The sweet vinegar contained sugar and a few spices. These were boiled up and then the chopped vegetables were added and simmered for about 5 minutes. Everything then went into hot, sterilised jars.

sweet crunchy pickle Oct 15 2

Vegetable and chicken stock soup

vegetable soup Oct 15

The bones from the 2 cockerels we slaughtered last week were boiled up to make stock. This formed the basis of a soup that used up turnips, potatoes, carrots and onions. Once cooked, I blended it. Very pleasant. Did us for 3 meals.

Plucked and gutted

geese plucked and gutted Oct 15

The two geese we got last week have now been plucked and gutted. We decided to put both in the freezer instead of roasting one this weekend. One of our young cockerels had started crowing a couple of days ago so we slaughtered him last night. We'll be having him for dinner today instead of the goose.

Thursday 8 October 2015

How to make goats cheese - the video

I make cheese every week using milk from our goat Pinkie. In this video, I show you how to do it.

How to make leek and potato soup

We got some leeks and potatoes in a swap. We also made some chicken stock from a couple of cockerels we slaughtered. Put these together and you get leek and potato soup.

Monday 5 October 2015


blackberries Oct 15

I spent a couple of hours on Saturday picking blackberries in the hedgerows around our allotment site. The next job is to pick crab apples. I'll be making bramble jelly shortly.

Goat cheese and vegetable pie

vegetable and goat cheese pie Oct 15 (1)

One of the cheeses I made last week became a bit too crumbly so I have decided to use it up now rather than let it mature over the coming months. I therefore came up with a recipe for a cheese and vegetable pie.

vegetable and goat cheese pie Oct 15 (2)

Into a baking dish I put chopped vegetables - turnip, runner beans, carrots, cauliflower and onions - along with some of the crumbled cheese. Potatoes were boiled in goats whey and then mashed. Some of the cheese was also mixed into the mashed potato.

The goats whey used to boil the potatoes was used to make a white sauce by adding in cornflour. The sauce was then poured over the vegetables and the mashed potato was then added as the topping.

The dish then went into the oven for 45 minutes at 160C and then for a further 15 minutes at 180C to brown off the potatoes.

vegetable and goat cheese pie Oct 15 (3)

This was the end result. It is providing us both with 3 days' main meals.

Sunday 4 October 2015

That's Christmas dinner sorted

geese Oct 15

I did a great swap this morning. We got 2 geese for 2 jars of marmalade, 1 of jam and one of plum chutney and a goat cheese. We will have one this coming week. The other will be frozen for Christmas (assuming there is any room left in any of our freezers).