Thursday 28 December 2017

Twiggy earth

earth and sticks Dec 17 (1)

The ground has been frozen today, putting a halt to a job that has been outstanding for some time. During the months when the trees are in leaf, we feed branches to the goats. People also bring us their hedge clippings. By the autumn, the twigs have built up on the ground and have got mixed up with mud and manure. The ground level has been raised by about 10cm and this is making it difficult to open the gate! So, a few days ago, I started to dig out the offending twigs and muck. It is a slow job and the resulting barrow loads of to waste need to be disposed of in a useful way.

On the far side of the Whinnies Garden our new apiary is sited and the ground level there has already been raised after piles of sticks and soil were added. It is the ideal site for the twiggy waste so I am gradually moving it there. 10 barrow loads have so far been transferred but because of the freezing weather, finishing the job will have to wait. I reckon there are about 20 barrow loads another to go.

earth and sticks Dec 17 (2)

Pregnant Pinkie?

Pinkie the goat Dec 17

I think Pinkie is pregnant. She is looking a bit pear shaped. She may not be as advanced as Georgina and Spot but hopefully, possibly in about 3 months, she will be having babies. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday 27 December 2017

The history of the Yule log

I filmed this video on Christmas eve, wearing both my historian's, and my self-sufficiency, hats. Living self-sufficiently has given me a better understanding on social history. Why people did things hundreds of years ago which now seem odd seem quite sensible to me now that I have experience of food growing, keeping the house warm by collecting our own fuel and cooking using only local ingredients.

In this living history video I explain the Viking origins of the Yule log. My thanks to my goats who also had cameo roles.

Monday 25 December 2017

Roast wild goose

wild goose and pigeon meat stuffing Dec 17 (2)

This was our Christmas dinner - roast wild goose with pigeon meat stuffing. When we last had a wild goose, we discovered it had very little fat on it, unlike the domesticated varieties. This time we added goose fat though we had to buy this rather than produce it ourselves (we need grazing land to keep geese so until we can crack that problem, we won't be keeping any.)

The final result was superb.

wild goose and pigeon meat stuffing Dec 17 (3)

wild goose and pigeon meat stuffing Dec 17 (4)

Pigeon meat stuffing

pigeon meat stuffing Dec 17

I came up with the idea of making pigeon meat into stuffing as a way of making a modest inroad into the glut we have in the freezer. This is my recipe:

  • 8 pigeon breasts, minced
  • equal volume of breadcrumbs
  • one onion chopped
  • fresh thyme and sage to taste
  • one small jar of hedgerow jelly
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • a sprinkling of cooking oil
Mix together and then shape into small balls or stuff into a bird for roasting.

Sunday 24 December 2017

Yule log

Yule log Dec 17 (1)

Today we made our own Yule log. This is the first time we have ever made one and we have the added bonus of being able to burn it on our own wood-fired stove. In old Viking tradition it was decorated with greenery - ivy and holly. The ashes will be scattered on the allotment where we grow our fruit and veg. The Festival of Yule, based around the the winter solstice, is meant to bring us prosperity and good health in the year ahead. We could do with it!

Yule log Dec 17 (2)

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Vegetable and bean broth

vegetable and bean broth Dec 17

We had a good crop of broad beans this year so we used some to make vegetable and bean broth recently. It also gave us an opportunity to use up some of our potatoes - we have 4 sacks of them in our garage. We ended up making a large pan of broth and ended up having it for dinner three days in a row.

Blackcurrant vodka

blackcurrant vodka Dec 17

Another forgotten kilner jar of fruit liqueur was discovered in our garage recently. So I have been enjoying the occasional glass of blackcurrant vodka drunk responsibly at the weekend. Very pleasant and nicely matured - it was made in 2014.

Monday 18 December 2017

Potato and onion soup

potato and onion soup Dec 17

This was a hot meal in a hurry: potato and onion soup. The potatoes used were small red-skinned Albert Bartlet roosters. The larger ones are good for baking so we will be keeping them for that. Alas, we bought the stock cubes that were used so we weren't being entirely self-sufficient.

Cold snap

goats in snow Dec 17 (3)

I appreciate that I have many followers in places far colder than my home area of the North East of England, especially in Canada and the USA. The cold snap we are experiencing here is, for us, something that we haven't had in the late autumn and the winter for some years. Somehow our winters have been getting warmer. Our climate has been more like a long autumn. Until now. We have woken up to frost an ice every morning for the week. We've even had a bit of snow. This may seem positively tropical to my friends in Canada but for us, we feel the conditions are rather arctic! Nevertheless, our slight sprinkling of snow did not stop the goats from stealing the chicken food!

goats in snow Dec 17 (2)

snow Dec 17

chickens in snow Dec 17

Sunday 17 December 2017

Lighting the fire

firewood and kindling

On Monday last week we brought back to our house our first wheelbarrow of firewood and kindling. Our stove was at last ready to use. Time to light our first fire. It has been pouring out lots of free, sustainable heat ever since. The central heating has barely been used. Our use of gas has dropped significantly! That makes me very happy!

wood fired stove Dec 17 3

Friday 8 December 2017

Quail egg and mackerel salad

quail egg and mackeral salad Dec 17

We still have lots of quail eggs to use up. I used 48 to make a salad yesterday along with some of our pink fur apple potatoes. We then cheated by using bought smoked mackerel. A good combination.

Lamb chops

lamb chops Dec 17

Another minor inroad was made into our meat mountain recently. Lamb chops grilled. Very pleasant!

Plum Vodka

plum vodka Dec 17

We were sorting though our garage recently and found various jars of fruit liqueur made in 2014 which were subsequently forgotten. Not now! This (now vintage) glass (see above photo) is plum vodka. After three years it still tastes good!

Busy bees

beehives Dec 17 2

Last week we had warm, dry weather. As a result, our bees were out in force. There isn't a great deal of foraging for them at the moment though the ivy is flowering. It probably means the bees are burning more calories than they are collecting in nectar. It's all change today. We are suffering from a cold spell. The ground is frozen and there is not a bee in sight.

beehives Dec 17 1

Game season underway

ducks Dec 17

The season for game shooting is clearly well underway. We know that because we found these two ducks left for us hanging on our allotment gate. They will be plucked and gutted shortly and will go into the freezer for the time being.

Emmanuel College Fair

Emmanuel College Fair Dec 17

On Saturday we did our last market of the year at Emmanuel College, a couple of kilometres down the road from where we will. It was relatively quiet this time but we picked up a few useful contacts. We have, however, 10 jars of unsold lemon curd which has a short shelf life. We will be looking for homes for them.

Wood-fired stove

wood fired stove Dec 17

Hooray, it's in. Our new wood-fired stove was finally installed this morning. It will pump out enough heat to keep most of the house warm so we won't need to use the gas-fired central heating very much. The fuel comes from the branches left over from feeding the goats. They eat the leaves, twigs and bark. We have been building up a stock of fuel for three years so we have a good supply.

I'm really looking forward to lighting our first fire. That will be in a couple of days once the plaster has dried out.

Thursday 30 November 2017

Out with the old

old fire Nov 17

We have a simple rule in our house - we get the maximum we can from the equipment we have. Just because something is old doesn't mean it should be thrown out. We keep it going until it has broken down and is beyond repair. We have slightly relaxed that rule today. Our back boiler, gas fire and immersion heater must be nearly 40 years old. The fire and boiler have been repeatedly condemned by gas fitters on the grounds they don't conform to modern standards (though they still work). But, we have accumulated a huge amount of firewood - branches left over after the goats have eaten the leaves and twigs. I think 40 years means there has been a good use of the heating system so it is being taken out today.

A new combi boiler will be installed. Alas, that does mean we are not self-sufficient in fuel for heating. We did look at having a heating and hot water system entirely wood fuelled but we would have the problem in the summer of an over heated house. The combi boiler will in effect be a back up to the wood fired stove which will go into our front room (it will be installed next week). It will heat the entire house and the radiators will only need to be on for short periods.

old boiler Nov 17

The problem today is that this is the coldest day of the year and we are without heat!


frozen Nov 17 2

We are having our coldest day of the year today. The water butts were frozen this morning. The ground was frozen. We were frozen! The ducks however seemed to be happy.

poultry on frozen ground Nov 17

Mini jam sale

Whickham market Nov 17

There was a mini Christmas market at the switching on of the Christmas lights in Whickham on Tuesday so we had a stall selling our jams. Lemon curd turned out to be quite popular.

Pigeon and pheasant casserole

pigeon and pheasant casserole Nov 17

We made a small dent in the stockpile of pigeon breasts. We made some into a casserole, along with some pheasant meat. We got three rather enjoyable meals from this.

Not a disaster but....

strawberry ice cream Nov 17

Another attempt has been made to use up the older contents of the freezers. In doing so we found some strawberry ice cream made in 2015. We decided to use it up. Alas, it wasn't the best of ice creams. It was far too watery. If memory serves me correctly, we made it from our goats milk at a time when it had very little cream in it.

It didn't go to waste. We ate it anyway.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Moving the chicks

fruit cage repaired Nov 17 (1)

The hen that hatched 3 eggs in September and then raised them along with another 5 chicks hatched in the incubator has been a great success. However she and her brood had become too big for the quail house. I took the decision to move them to the fruit cage which needed considerable repairs. These were carried out on Sunday morning and we also moved in a small henhouse though bits of it dropped off while we relocated it, resulting in a repair job. Once completed, we moved in the hen and chicks. They are all doing well and are enjoying the extra space.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Privet eating goats

goats eating privet Nov 17

There is a privet hedge in the car park of the Whinnies allotment and out of the goodness of my heart (and the chance of a free meal for the goats) I started cutting back the hedge. The goats love it.

Meatballs again

meat balls Nov 17

We found another bag of pork burgers we made about 3 years ago in the freezer. They were remade into meatballs. Very pleasant in a tomato sauce.

Fry up!

fry up Nov 17

An occasional treat - you can't beat a fry up. Leftover mashed potato, an egg and some onions, all fried.

Friday 17 November 2017

Interesting bottles from Il Gusto

Star fish bottle Nov 17

I was sent this rather interesting glass bottle filled with amaretto by Il Gusto who have a couple of pop up shops in the Metrocentre in Gateshead and Eldon Square in Newcastle. I'm on the hunt for interesting shaped bottles for my fruit liqueurs, syrups and vinegars so this star is going to be useful. However, if you would like to pop in to the pop up shops, buy yourself various liqueurs in glass bottles shaped into stilettos, stars and gingerbread men and when you've drunk the contents, pass on the empty bottles to me! I often find people have left empty jam jars and bottles for me on my doorstep. This will give a new twist to my recycling and reusing activities!

You can if you wish take the bottle back to Il Gusto and pay to have it refilled. As I've been banging on for years about the need to avoid single use packaging, this fits the bill.

Making sauerkraut

making saurkraut Oct 17 (1)

We have used some of this huge cabbage to make sauerkraut. This is the first time we have made it and it is currently fermenting in a couple of kilner jars. We will let you know how it turns out.

making saurkraut Oct 17 (2)

saurkraut Nov 17

Elderberry wine

elderberry wine brewing Nov 17

We tried to make some elderberry jelly recently but it refused to set. Instead of trying to pump more pectin in, we decided to use it to make elderberry wine instead. It's brewing quite nicely in a demijon at the moment.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

First frosts

frost Nov 17 (2)

We have had our first frosts of the autumn. The roof of the main henhouse was frosted over recently and on one day, all the water bowls were frozen. Today has been the reverse. It's been so warm this morning that the bees were out in force.

Lamb toad-in-the-hole

lamb toad in the hole Nov 17

The leftovers from the lamb joint we had recently was put to good use. We made it into toad-in-the-hole. The vegetables with it were runner beans in a tomato sauce.

Eating Ivy

goats eating ivy Nov 17 1

We are into the time of year when greenery for the goats is in short supply. However, they do like ivy and there is a reasonable amount of it around. So we have started to feed them a barrow load a day, along with apples, carrots and hay. They seem to be quite happy with this menu.

goats eating ivy Nov 17 3

Ivy Nov 17 1

The chicks are growing

chicks Nov 17 2

The 8 chicks being raised by a mother hen in the quail house are all growing well. They are over 2 months old now and their adult plumage is developing well. We will keep them in the quail house for a couple of months yet and then release them into the flock.

Pregnant goats

pregnant goat Nov 17 2

After a false start in September it now looks like both Spot and Georgina are pregnant. Assuming I'm right, and I haven't repeated the same mistake in September when I thought they were both pregnant when they weren't, I reckon they are about 3 months in and therefore babies should be due in the early new year.

pregnant goat Nov 17 1