Sunday, 28 February 2010

My Pear Cake

I'm blogging this recipe do I don't forget about it! I'm making a concerted effort to use up my bottled fruit at the moment but we're getting a bit fed up of quince and cider poached pear crumble so I've moved onto sponge cakes. This is basically a classic 3 egg sponge mix featuring the ever versatile Aspall's Cyder Jelly as a simple sticky glaze.

Pear Cake.
3 eggs (preferably laid by taciturn hens sheltering from the drizzle under a patio table)
6oz butter
6oz brown sugar
6 oz Self Raising wholemeal flour
Tsp vanilla extract
Bottled or poached pears to taste
1/4 jar Cyder Jelly.

Pre-heat the oven to gm 3. Cream butter and sugar together, add the vanilla, beaten eggs and 3 pinches of flour and mix together. Lastly, add the flour and combine. I used about 4 of my pears bottled in red wine but they are quite small. If you don't have bottled pears you could use ordinary poached pears. Chop them into bite sized pieces and stir into the cake mix. Bake for about 40-50 minutes. Heat the Cyder Jelly in a pan so it melts. When the cake comes out of the oven make holes in it with a skewer then pour the warm jelly over the top. Leave it to cool in the tin.

V yummy served warm with clotted cream or vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Got Dirt Under my Fingernails Again.

First sign of spring? Dragging the nail brush out from the farthest flung corner of the bathroom cabinet. Today I dug up the last of the Jerusalem Artichokes and dug over the artichoke bed with some bokashi compost then I transferred the somewhat overshadowed clump of chives from the back to the front garden.

Also, I have something rather foolish to confess. After drawing up my carefully thought out list of what to grow this year, I noticed that Lidl had fruit trees on special offer - two year old trees at £5 each - so what do I do? Buy a plum and a pear tree. Do I have space to grow them? Clearly I do not. It's the Butternut Squash all over again.

To compound the error further I forgot to look up which varieties would be best suited to my garden so I just grabbed the ones with the nicest pictures (blush) when I was in store. Back home I check out my haul. I've got an Opal Plum which has a superior, gage like, flavour, easy to manage but the buds are attractive to birds. OK, sounds reasonable, I can manage birds til the blossom comes out. And I have a Doyenne Du Comice, texture and taste outstanding (hoorah) but a poor choice if you want a reliable crop. And it needs a pollination partner. Oh. Bugger. So that means I need to house a third tree? And even then it's likely it won't fruit very well? *Scream!*

My plan was always to plant the trees temporarily in pots in the garden for maybe a season or so until I get this theoretical allotment and then I'd transfer them permanently over there. The problem is my small, high fenced garden is rather shady so not well suited to fruit trees, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't get any fruit while they're here. Plus there really is no room for a third tree.

I'm wondering if the solution could be to find someone, maybe via Landshare or Freecycle, who would be willing to let my potted trees sit in a sunny spot in their garden in return for a share of the crop/some wild fruit/my rather lovely jam, depending on how well the tetchy Comice crops. Or there's guerrilla gardening, I could sneak out under the cover of darkness and surreptitiously add my trees to the row of recently planted council trees just down the road. No-one would notice - would they???

Friday, 26 February 2010

My first jam making demo.

Ugh. Feeling decidedly under the weather today and very cotton wool-headed so fingers crossed this post actually makes sense.

Last night I did my first jam making demo for Rachel, purveyor of very fine toddler groups and long time friend of this blog. 'Jam making demo' sounds quite straight forward but in a couple of hours in mid-winter it's something of a challenge. There isn't any wild fruit available and, to be honest, jam making isn't that thrilling to watch. There are no visual pyrotechnics, merely a lady stirring a big pot for hours on end. Pickles are even more scintillating, there isn't even a lady to watch, just a pot of veg soaking in brine.

I overcame the fruit problem by making my famous (in this house) Aspall's Cyder Jelly. Being a certo based jam it's very quick to make so fitted into the time slot easily, though maybe a bit too quick as we finished earlier than I though. A moment of drama came when the Baby Belling I was cooking on stubbornly refused to get hot enough to boil the jelly and I had to relocate to the kitchen, thus removing the 'lady stirring a big pot' element (sigh).

Nonetheless we all had a nice evening with good company and liberal quantities of wine, bread, cheese, pickled fruit and Lavender Jelly. I took along a couple of books I've made up from this blog (via which went down well. A learning point for me was the amount of interest in using fruit preserves in cooking, eg meat glazes, chutney tagines etc so, if called upon to do this kind of thing again, I'd concentrate on that a bit more.

So thank you ladies of Mummy Imps, you were all very kind to me and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! (How about a foraging walk in the summer?!)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

So I dug the Bokashi compost in!

Following some very useful advice yesterday from Al and Karen I decided to go ahead and dig in the Bokashi compost. I'm reasonably confident it was fermenting as it had an almost alcoholic/bready smell to it plus some of the bits of fruit etc had begun to take on a brownish colour. Digging it into my narrow border was somewhat fiddly due to the confined space and the pesky bamboo runners sneaking in from next door under the fence, it's like trying to cut through thick, nylon rope laced through the soil. Still, chopping the blighters off and digging them up may help retard their progress.

Next problem is the roving mob of neighbourhood cats who gleefully embrace my freshly dug borders as a deluxe latrine. I've gathered up every bucket/garden chair/toy lawnmower/football I could lay my hands on and piled them over the soil to try and put the cats off.

As I was finishing up, a large crow perched on a neighbour's ariel, cast a weather eye over my efforts and, just as a dark cloud blotted out the sun and a cold wind gusted around my ears, he bellowed a grating caw. That's not a portent is it? Not by anyone's definition. No I thought not. Couldn't be. No. (shiver)

Monday, 22 February 2010

Bokashi problems

I'm really hoping to hear from someone with experience of using the Bokashi composting system. I set up my tub in the playhouse in the garden (no room in the kitchen and garage too far away), it was filled by mid December. My plan was to leave it for 6 weeks to ferment followed by 6 weeks to rot down in the soil ....

...... However

Had a peek in there and the kitchen scraps look no different to when they went in, plus I haven't had much liquid coming off it. I'm wondering if the freezing weather we've been having could have delayed the fermentation process and if so, will the material in the tub be suitable to dig into the soil?

If it's going to work I really need to dig it in now so it has enough time to rot down before I start planting in March, so what do I do? Should I go ahead and dig it in and hope for the best? Or will there be dire consequences?

Any advice greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Excuse me but I appear to be living in the 1950s.

How the flapdoodle did that happen? I can just about recall the days when I had a career and court shoes but today I seem to be wearing a pinny and a smudge of flour on my cheek while chasing a chicken around the garden. Not that I'm complaining. It's a glorious spring afternoon, my daughters and I are eating luscious home made scones complete with home made jam (we needed an egg for the scones you see) which is infinitely preferable to ploughing my way through sickness stats in a grey office block.

After my previous post on my allotment related woes a couple of friends advised me to press our local Parish Clerk a little more firmly for some answers. I spent yesterday reading through the online minutes from the council meetings which tell me that the reason the allotments have been delayed is due to a rare plant being found on site. Doesn't make the delay any less frustrating but at least I now know there's a good reason for it though I'm really not sure why I couldn't just be told what had happened. I've started some correspondence with my local Parish Clerk (not the Neighbouring Parish Clerk) hopefully I'll be better informed and may even nudge progress along a little.

Here are the girls making the afore mentioned scones, snapped in a rare moment of peace in between squabbles about big sister's rolling pin monopoly. At least sickness stats don't cause hearing loss with their ear splitting screeching .....

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cyder glazed pork Shoulder

Just a very brief post to record the pork recipe I made last night as, even I say so myself, it was delicious! The Pork was from Waveney Farm who I visited on my Road Trip and the cyder jelly I made myself.

Cyder Glazed Pork Shoulder

Boned and rolled pork shoulder approx 1.5kg.
2tbsp cyder jelly
1tbsp cyder vinegar
generous splosh of soy sauce.

Pre heat the oven to GM 8, put the pork in for 30 mins, then turn down to heat to GM3. Mix together the other ingredients. After an hour, take the meat out and pour a few spoonfuls of the cyder mixture over the meat. Put the meat back in the oven for another half hour, then repeat so the total cooking time at GM3 is 2hrs.


A Self Indulgent Rant about Allotments

I'm assuming we all know about allotment shortages, more people growing our own veggies, yada, yada so I won't go over old ground (ho ho) in that respect, this is merely a personal howl of frustration to the winds.

It's now been almost a year since I first approached our parish council about their new allotment allocation. They'd acquired some land and were setting up new allotments which would be ready to release to residents 'in about 8 weeks' - let's just say that has turned out to be optimistic. 11 months down the line I'm still waiting. So far as I can tell the land has been cleared of weeds and the council have been waiting for it to be ploughed since about September last year. I have no idea what has caused the delay as the parish clerk seems to have given up communicating with me, my last e-mail garnered a curt, 2 word response. (I've e-mailed about every 2 months to ask how progress has been going so I don't think I've been mithering excessively) So I'm feeling rather hopeless and resigning myself to giving up on the allotment idea.

I've been looking at alternatives in my desperation, namely the Landshare website. In my area all the land offered seems to be a 'garden share' type of arrangement which, I have to admit, I'm wary of. Maybe I'm overly pessimistic but I can see many potential pitfalls. Who decides what is grown? What if a crop your host is particularly looking forward to fails? One ad I saw specified "All we ask is that you keep the veg plot tidy", I fear that is quite a big ask in the middle of summer when the veggies are romping away. Another ad asked for help with maintaining the rest of the garden, I wonder whether that translates as 'unpaid gardener wanted'. Or am I being uncharitable?

Anyhoo, I'd much rather be independent, Queen of my own destiny as it were. If anyone has come up with a solution to growing veggies outside of the standard allotment system, or has made a landshare arrangement work well, I'd love to see your comments!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Maximum Yield and a Teeny, Tiny Garden.

It finally feels like spring is rolling around again with our first step towards this year's veg crop. I've decided to grow summer salad potatoes in bags just underneath my radish skyscraper where we grew leaf salad last year. Willow and I kicked things off by putting out seed potatoes in old plastic trays and leaving them to chit (ie sprout) on the playroom windowsill.

I've been giving some thought to this season's crops. I've decided my twin aims for the garden this year are 1) maximise yield in the space available. This year we had a few crops which only gave us one meal's worth of produce which is rather disappointing given the effort we put in. and 2) I want it to be a nice place to BBQ/drink wine on summer evenings. In the past couple of seasons getting to grips with the veggie thing has been my priority, this year I'd like to tip the balance towards leisure a little more. The biggest spanners in the works are the chickens, who not only poo everywhere but will happily chomp down the veggies meaning our garden is full of barricades to make sure the twain shall never meet, effective, but not pretty.

So, my veggie list for 2010 is as follows:

Front Garden.
Rainbow chard in half barrels as per usual.
Runner beans on the bean frame (replacing last year's Borlotti beans)
Large pot of chives

Back Garden.
Tumbling toms in all 5 hanging baskets. Last year 3 were planted with strawberries but we only had a snacking supply. I may have to move one of the baskets to the front to get a bit more sun.
Jerusalem artichokes unchanged.
Summer salad potatoes as discussed.
Radishes in the skyscraper
Courgettes in large blue pots x 2 plus one grow bag on the soil due to last year's mosaic virus incident
Runner beans
Herbs and lollo rosso dotted about in pots
Probably tomatoes in the mini greenhouse again but I may change my mind.


Dwarf peas on the playroom window sill, another tiny crop but the girls enjoyed them last year so we'll do them again as a 'fun' crop.

I've found all the above to be tried and tested glut producers even in our tiny garden. To my mind, there's not much point going to all the effort of nurturing these plants if you're not rewarded with an overwhelming mountain of veg. I've abandoned strawberries, peas, borlotti beans and broad beans. All were lovely but we just don't have enough space to plant the quantities needed for a decent yield. The salad potatoes are new this year (maincrop spuds not worth planting in my humble opinion, seeing as I can get 25kg for £3.99 at Stuston Farm Shop) so it'll be interesting to see how well they do.

As for the 'pretty' aspect, that's more of a challenge! I'm going to start with basic tidying, painting the house, finally getting around to properly replacing the seating which got broken last year and maybe indulging in some statuary that the chickens can't eat - hopefully.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Unveiled at Last: Crispy the Chicken

Here she is at last, the latest addition to our postage stamp sized nod towards self sufficiency: Crispy Chicken. After school on Thursday the children and I went over to the Hen House people to choose ourselves a suitable companion for Feathers.

It wasn't quite the idyllic childhood moment I had in mind - but they never are. In the car on the way over Willow decided she wanted a white chicken and sold the idea to Xanthe who embraced it enthusiastically. By the time we got over to the coop of point of lay hens, Willow changed her mind and wanted a little brown hen. Xanthe stubbornly stuck to the white hen idea and tears ensued. I decided to go with brown as I thought a white hen would look grubby quite quickly so Xanthe was allowed to choose the name as recompense - hence 'Crispy'. (don't ask, I've no idea where she got it from)

Back home Crispy was pitched into the coop once Feathers had gone to bed. The theory being that the established hen gets to sleep in her usual roosting position and the new hen has to fit around her. The theory was overturned somewhat when Feathers woke up in a grump and came out to berate the new comer (I think I even saw curlers and a rolling pin if I'm honest) I was quite proud of the terribly British and frostily polite way they settled their roosting differences, every now and then I peered out into the pitch black and listened to silence punctuated by the occasional muffled thump and a testily clucked chicken equivalent of "Excuse me, I think you'll find I was here first! Harumph"

Crispy has been confined to barracks for a couple of days while she adjusts to her new home. She obviously approves of her new surroundings as she starting laying immediately. Today she was allowed out to stretch her legs for the first time. The new coop mates seem to be getting along fine, they're following each other around the garden like, well, umm, birds of a feather I guess.