Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Planning for Christmas

This is the month where I start planning for Christmas and start getting the pantry, jam store,freezers and bottled produce sorted so as to enable a reasonable choice of things to use come Christmas. I have found that buying a little bit at a time is a much gentler shock to the purse rather than having to buy everything in the month of December.

This year I have done a lot of things, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to, but that's this year next year is going to be different.

There is an old adage "Never put off what you can do today until tomorrow" which speaks for itself. If you have the planning structure sorted, i.e. what you want by way of bottled preserves, jams, pickles, frozen goods,liqueurs,wines etc all you have to do is make them and the sooner you make them the sooner you can forget about them. This strategy works for home made presents as well.

It can make the difference between living to a mediocre standard or living extremely well. Even if you don't have the pennies, and lets face it not many of us do, it doesn't mean we have to go without and a few things here and there will not break the bank. I sometimes think that we have too much choice in the shops. I do like seasonal eating, but I also like to put goodies up for myself and my family for general use and specifically for Christmas and to give as presents to friends.

Living in villages for a large part of my life also meant that when we went shopping to a local town we always stocked up with stuff to last the month and the trip used to be made to count both in terms of food to eat and the cost of the petrol to get there. In my grandparents case they very rarely ever bought vegetables as they had them in the garden.

I also try and take advantage of offers on the market or at the local veg shop and on my rare visits to the supermarket. Look out for offers on fruits such as blueberries they can be frozen and used from the freezer in blueberry muffins. I bought 5 packets the other week they were reduced from £2 a packet to 50pence a packet original cost £10 - I paid £2.50 and there was nothing wrong with them.

If you make a few jars of plum jam or jelly here and there - you just don't have to use the jam on toast, but you can use it to fill a victoria sponge, jam tarts, in the bottom of an apple pie together with fresh apples to give a plum and apple pie. Plum jelly can be used as a stir fry mix as can orange and apple jelly, pineapple jelly the list is endless. You can even bottle your own fruits in syrup and use in sponges and pies or make different flavoured fruit curds which can be used in curd tarts or apple amber or lemon meringue pie. If you make syrups and cordials the syrups can be diluted with chilled water or fizzy water as a drink or trickled all over vanilla ice cream. I love home made raspberry vinegar trickled over a goats cheese and young leaf salad. Pancakes filled with ice cream and then drizzled with syrup. Tinned fruit can even be turned into sorbets, or with the addition of double cream . Say for instance mized fruit salad whizzed up into a tutti fruitti ice cream

How you use things is entirely up to you and if the flavours work for you and the recipe does then that is all that matters. There are traditional ways of using things, but we at the end of the day make our own traditions

Being organised can also help you overcome all sorts of difficulties especially unexpected illness and if you pack the freezer and other foodstores sensibly you can cover all eventualities. Having a well stocked store, of whatever description is key to between existing and living and contrary to popular belief it need not cost the earth.

I also take advantage of natures larder wherever I can - I am hoping to go blackberrying and elderberrying next weekend and I am hoping OH will get me a load of crab apples to boot.

Its at this time of year - the time when we harvest that I wish I had the land to work myself to sustain the family through the year. This is where my family comes from a good honest way of living borne through necessity rather than choice, but which was an excellent platform off which to do all sorts of other things.

I have a basic store of things that I keep in - perhaps I am old fashioned but because of what I keep in there is always a meal to be had of some desciption and that store of things has helped when there are not many pennies about. Really it is about being sensible and learning to use those ingredients we have available to us rather demanding we have this or that which is far too costly.

I also start buying special bits at this time of year as well. I usually hit Julian Graves for all dried produce at this time of year. If I have any dried fruits left over from the last new batch of fruit I don't chuck it or waste it -there are preserve recipes it can be put to and chutneys. From past experience Julian Graves have offers on sweets or other specialist items like specialist coffees or teas, and I take advantage of those too.

Ideally you should make your Christmas cake this month, then keep it wrapped in greaseproof and foil - mine is kept in a tin and then the cake is fed with a couple of teaspoons of brandy or whisky per week until the beginning of December when it is marzipanned and then left to dry for a week and then I make the Royal Icing to decorate the cake with adding a touch of glycerine to the icing.

Another simple thing to make is sultanas or raisins popped into a jar and then covered with spirit in the case of sultanas (I use golden sultanas) Brandy and in the case of Raisins - Rum. Leave to soak and then serve with home made vanilla ice cream as a sauce - very tasty.

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Meet the Moggies

  • Merlin (approx 18 months)
  • Squeak (approx 2 years)
  • Poppy (approx 16 years)
  • Tyson (approx 17 years)
  • Tinky (official name Clover approx 18 years)