Monday 31 July 2017


homemade bitter July 17

In January we experimented with making bitter from a commercial homebrew kit. We thought it had not fermented but later realised that leaving the barrel in the garage meant it was simply too cold for the yeast to get to work. As the weather warmed up, the bitter began to brew. We've been sampling it recently.

This kit was just an experiment. We now have plans for making beer from local wild ingredients that have been forgotten about as suitable for brewing. So watch this space as we turn our hand to making beers from nettles and rowan berries.

Redcurrant, gooseberry and apple jam

redcurrant, gooseberry and apple jam July 17 1

We are still trying to reduce the stocks of food in our freezers and a search through of one of them last week produced a bag each of last year's gooseberries and redcurrants. I also had some apples that needed using up so I combined all three to make eleven jars of jam. It's got quite a tang to it!

redcurrant, gooseberry and apple jam July 17 2

Jam sale

Whinnies jam stall July 17

We had a successful day at the Whinnies Community Garden on Saturday when we were selling our preserves and eggs. We were cleared out of hen eggs but didn't quite manage to sell our remaining lemon curd. Alas, we will have to eat it ourselves!

firewood July 17

During the quieter times I was able to chop some of the logs in the ever increasing stockpile of branches left over from feeding them to the goats. There are still lots more to do.

Chicks in the fruit cage

hen and chicks July 17 1

We now have 3 hens in the fruit cage (we call it the maternity ward) with a total of 11 chicks. There were supposed to be 4 hens but one died. Her 4 chicks simply adopted one of the other hens as a new mother. We will soon move out the hens and chicks into the allotment proper. As of tonight, however, another hen has gone broody. If she continues, we will get her a batch of eggs to sit on.

Thursday 27 July 2017

Jam and egg sale/swap this Saturday

lemon curd July 17

We will have a stall selling our preserves and eggs at the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside on Saturday 29th July, 12pm – 3pm. If you have any surplus produce, fish or game, feel free to pop in a do some bartering. If you have nothing to swap, but want to buy lemon curd, jams, jellies, chutneys and hen and quail eggs, we are always happy to exchange them for cash!

We keep our goats at the Whinnies so feel free to visit Pinkie, Georgina and Spot and our goat kids Snow, Coal and Sunny.

Raspberry jam

raspberry jam July 17

Most of the wild raspberries I picked recently went into making this jam. I have some left over. They will be used to make raspberry, rhubarb and apple jam. Watch this space.

How to make cherry and gooseberry jam

cherry and gooseberry jam July 17 (1)

Cherries and gooseberries are a good combination for jam making. Gooseberries provide the pectin and a tartness that balances the sweet juice of the cherries. Start by boiling up the cherries. Then press the pulp through a sieve to make a puree. This avoids having to stone each cherry individually (life is just too short for that!)

cherry and gooseberry jam July 17 (2)

Measure the puree (it's more like a liquid at this stage). Weigh and add the gooseberries to the preserving pan and add the puree. Bring to the boil and keep simmering until the gooseberries have broken down. Add sugar. You will need one kg for each litre of puree and each kg of gooseberries. Bring back to the boil and keep on a rolling boil until the setting point is reached.

cherry and gooseberry jam July 17 (3)

cherry and gooseberry jam July 17 (4)

cherry and gooseberry jam July 17 (6)

Using up the redcurrant pulp

redcurrant and rhubarb jam July 17 (2)

The pulp left over from making redcurrant jelly needed to be put to good use. Time to make redcurrant and rhubarb jam. Despite straining off the liquid, there was still plenty of pectin in the pulp. The rhubarb helped bulk up the jam. A small amount of water was added to stop rhubarb and redcurrants catching on the bottom of the preserving pan.

redcurrant and rhubarb jam July 17 (3)

redcurrant and rhubarb jam July 17 (5)

redcurrant and rhubarb jam July 17 (6)

How to make rhubarb and gooseberry jam

rhubarb and gooseberry jam July 17 1

We have a large amount of rhubarb at the moment so it is making an appearance in various jams we are producing. One of them was rhubarb and gooseberry. Approximately equal quantities of gooseberries and chopped rhubarb were used. The gooseberries provide the pectin, making sure the jam sets.

Put both into the preserving pan with a small amount of water (enough to cover the bottom of the pan). Bring to the boil and simmer until all the gooseberries and rhubarb have turned to pulp. Add sugar (same weight as total of gooseberries and rhubarb), bring back to the boil and keep on a rolling boil until the setting point is reached.

rhubarb and gooseberry jam July 17 (2)

Redcurrant jelly

redcurrant jelly July 17 2

The redcurrants we picked last week were made into 7 jars of jelly. The berries are packed full of pectin so getting the jelly to set was not a difficult job. This preserve is best used with meat (hot or cold) or with smoked cheese.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

A good hazel crop

hazel July 17

While I was picking raspberries yesterday, I was able to have a quick look at the wild hazel crop. It is looking very good! We should have nuts in abundance in the late summer and autumn.

Mincing my pigeon breasts

pigeon breast mince July 17

We have had yet more pigeons given to us. Instead of freezing the breasts whole, we have been putting them through the mincer as a first step towards making pigeon sausagemeat. The minced breasts are frozen in 500g bags. In the near future I will be making them into burgers and sausages.

Picking wild raspberries and cherries

raspberries July 17 (2)

I spent the morning picking wild raspberries. There was not much left of our raspberry canes on our main allotment after the goats managed to get to them so the wild crop is filling the gap. This afternoon, I also picked a bucket of cherries from trees planted at a local woodland decades ago by Gateshead Council. It is very late for cherries which are normally ripened in June and eaten by wood pigeons. This year the cherries are late. And there are still plenty more to pick.

cherries in bucket July 17

It took less than an hour to pick this lot.

Monday 24 July 2017


gooseberries July 17

When I was at the Blaydon Burn Food Festival, I swapped two jars of jam for a stack of gooseberries. This was a very useful trade as our gooseberry bushes were badly damaged by the goats over the winter. We have moved them out of the allotment where we keep the animals and transplanted them on our Farside plot but there was no fruit on them this year.

Jam-making in which gooseberries were a key ingredient has been underway. Reports to follow shortly.

Friday 21 July 2017

The Mayor meets Pinkie

Pinkie meets the Mayor of Gateshead July 17 1

The Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Pauline Dillon, officially opened the Whinnies Community Garden summer fair on Sunday. Two of our allotments are on the site and we help look after the garden. As our goats live there, they too were starring guests at the fair. Pinkie got to meet Cllr Dillon. I'm pleased to report that the two got on well!

Whinnies summer fair July 17

We also had a table selling preserves. Yet again, there was a run on lemon curd. It was also an opportunity to show off 5 chicks that had hatched in the incubator a couple of days before.

Blaydon Burn Food Fest

Transition Town West Gateshead food fest July 17 (7)

On Saturday I was at the food festival run by Transition Towns West Gateshead at Blaydon Burn Farm where I had a table selling my preserves and eggs (see photo above). It was a successful day. I was cleared out of eggs, lemon curd, chutney and various jams. It meant I have been occupied this week making more preserves!

Picking redcurrants

redcurrants July 17 2

We have a fruitcage on our livestock allotment and in it we have a large number of redcurrant shrubs. Alas, the goats broke into it earlier this week. We caught them in time so there wasn't too much damage. We did, however, pick all the redcurrants, even though they were not all ripe. It was a good move. A day later, the goats broke in again and stripped bare the shrubs in the fruitcage. The shrubs will be dug up and transplanted to our Farside allotment where we already have a large number of soft fruit shrubs.

The redcurrants were spread on trays at home and left on window sills to ripen before being used to make jelly and jam.

redcurrants July 17 1

Monday 17 July 2017

My kitchen last week

orange marmalade Jul 17 (1)

Last week we had three days of preserves making. We had two fairs over the weekend to supply and another one this coming Saturday.

Above: orange marmalade waiting to reach setting point.

orange marmalade Jul 17 (3)

Orange marmalade after reaching the setting point.

rhubarb Jul 17 (2)

Rhubarb used to make orange and rhubarb jam.

Making lemon marmalade and blackcurrant jam.

blackcurrant jam July 17 (1)

Testing blackcurrant jam for the setting point.

lemon curd July 17

Lemon curd

preserves Jul 17

The full results of the hard work.

Thursday 13 July 2017

Pigeon casserole

pigeon casserole Jul 17

We had pigeon casserole for dinner recently. The pigeon breasts were cooked in our own homemade beer. The courgettes were homegrown as well.

Ash branches

ash branches July 17 (1)

A large branch had fallen from an ash tree overhanging a local road. Someone had dragged the branch onto the grass verge which is where I spotted it. It filled the land rover and was a good feed for the goats.

goats eating ash July 17 2

goats eating ash July 17 4

More pigeon breasts

pigeon breasts Jul 17

We took delivery of another sack of pigeons over the weekend. The feathers have now been plucked and the breast meat has gone into the freezer. We are still planning to turn some into sausages and burgers.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

goose egg scrambled

goose egg scrambled Jul 17 2

A few weeks ago, we swapped a dozen quail eggs for one laid by a goose. I got round to using it today. It was rather nice scrambled for breakfast.

goose egg scrambled Jul 17 1


bee swarm July 17

On Thursday morning we took delivery of our new bees. To my amazement, when I returned in the afternoon, I found a swarm on the hedge.

swarm box July 17

I was able to capture the swarm in a swarm box and then rehouse it in a spare hive.

bee hives Jul 17 2

When we first agreed to buy the bees, one hive and one nuc were on offer. Ian and Sue, from whom we were buying the bees, decided to split the hive as it was rather large. The expectation therefore was that we were getting three colonies for the price of two. We have ended up with four instead. Not bad!


On Sunday I visited the Woodfest at Chopwell Woods, hosted by the Land of Oak and Iron, to get some ideas for woodland products and to consider gaining new skills.

Friday 7 July 2017

Rhubarb ready for picking

rhubarb July 17

We have a good rhubarb crop on our Farside allotment, ready for picking. Much of it will be made into rhubarb chutney but soft fruits are beginning to ripen and it looks like there will be lots of redcurrants so watch out for rhubarb and redcurrant jam. We've got 3 fairs in the next 10 days so there will be lots of preserve making in the coming week.

New bee colonies

bee hives July 17

After the embarrassing loss of our bees over winter, yesterday we took delivery of our new colonies: one nuc and two smaller colonies made by splitting a hive that have queen cells (one colony therefore had an existing queen and one had queen cells). The hives were installed in the morning on the bee stand next to the greenhouse.

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Three billies

billy kids July 17

Whinnie, the little billy goat we have been raising by hand, seems to be integrating well with the other goats in our little herd. I found him snugged up this evening with the two other billy kids in one of the sheds. We currently lock him into a shed on his own through the night to protect him from foxes and from the initial bullying he got from Pinkie (who now seems much less concerned about him). We will shortly let him wander free on the allotment with the other goats, now that he is able to fend for himself and has befriended the others.

Silver birch

silver birch for goat feed July 17 (1)

When I arrived at the Whinnies this morning, tree surgeons were cutting down a silver birch in a local garden. They were happy for me to take away the branches. I now have enough food for the goats for the next three days!

silver birch for goat feed July 17 (3)

silver birch for goat feed July 17 (4)