Saturday, 26 September 2009

Crab Apples

Every year where I can I try and get hold of a store of crab apples to make crab apple jelly which is wonderful with a joint of roast pork or cold in pork sandwiches. Somehow or other it always manages to lift this lovely meat and turn it into something special, especially as Pork can on occasion be an extremely dry meat.

Crab apples come in different hues and colours some are really red and make a lovely purpley pink jelly others are yellowy green but whatever their colour you can process them into something delicious. If there is one preserve you should make this is it - you can use it with a hot meal like roast pork, or with sausages, or in sandwiches or as a spread on toast - on crumpets, these are just a few ideas there are lots more. A dollop can also be added to gravy to give it a background flavour.

Crab apples can be used as a base for herb jellies or combined with other fruits. they can also be spiced whole, and can be used in a hedgerow jelly mixed in with other hedgerow fruits such as damsons, elderberries, sloes hips and haws.

Since I started this post my OH has brought me the first batch of crab apples this year as per photo above They are ruby red, so this should make a nice pinky coloured jelly. I am hoping he will be able to get me some golden yellowy ones as well which should make a yellowy green preserve.

You can use crab apples as you would ordinary apples just add a little more sugar to counteract their sharpness.

As an aside to this, this afternoon I have been playing with my Tefal Jam machine. It has a steam juice extraction programme on it which I have not used before, so I decided to play and have done a first batch in preparation for making crab apple Jelly -recipe to follow separately. I am used to straining through a jelly bag overnight on a stand, but you don't have to do that with this programme. So I am going to see whether it has any effect on the clarity and clearness of the end product, as if it does I will be going back to the traditional method on this. So we will have to see what transpires. Will report back later.

Update: It is brilliant

The recipe for the Crab Apple Jelly for the Machine is:

1 kg crab apples
1 litre of water

Put through steam processing programme

Measure juice obtained once programme finished this takes about 55 minutes.

To each pint of juice add one pound of sugar

Use traditional programe on machine to process for jelly adding he sugar to the juice.

Cook until setting point about 25 to 30 minutes

Bottle in hot sterile jars. Label and store.

This produced one and a quarter jars to 1 pint of juice
Don't have one of these machines yet.

Put a kg of chopped crab apples into a preserving pan and bring to boil until apples go soft. Take off heat and pour into jelly bag on stand leave to drip overnight. Don't squeeze as you will end up with a cloudy jelly. Measure juice and for each pint of juice add 1lb sugar process as for jam.

Peach and Ginger Chutney

I managed to snap a bargain with some peaches from the market on Friday - I was in two minds as to whether to bring them home or not as I have the terrors over peeling peaches as it always tends to go wrong for me. But this time I seem to have had a minor success apart from one which was a tad difficult.

The recipe states:

1.5kg(3lb 3oz ) peaches
2 large onions
6 garlic cloves
3 small dried red chillies
5 cm (2 inch) piece fresh root ginger
500g (1lb 20z) mixed dried fruit
1 litre (1 3/4 pints) cider vinegar
675g (1 1/2 lb) light muscovado sugar

Well I pattypanned it - as didn't have some of the ingredients to hand so I have improvised

I used 4 garlic cloves
1 long red chilli (I don't like things too hot)
Instead of Mixed fruit I used golden sultanas
Had no cider vinegar so I used white wine vinegar
And I used white sugar

So far at the end of cooking it tastes promising and I don't normally say that aboutchutneys but give it a month or so. Surprisingly it has gone very dark.

Recipe comes from Thane Princes Jams and Chutneys ISBN No 978-1-4053-2954-5.

Makes about 2 to 2.5 kg - 4 1/2 to 5 1/2lb

1. Cut a small cross in the base of each peach and then plunge them individually into a pot of boiling water. Hold for about 30 seconds and then plunge straight into cold water. Do each peach like this and if the skin still sticks re-try until it releases, putting into cold water straight after. Peel off the skin. Chop into small segments discarding the peach stone. Chop the onions, crush the garlic, chop the chillies finely and grate the ginger.

2. Put peach flesh, onions, garlic and dried fruit into preserving pan, stir in the ginger, chilli and vinegar then stir in the sugar amalgamating well and so that the sugar becomes liquid.

3. Bring slowly to he boil over a low heat, stir everyso often as you don't want it sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the sugar has dissolved increase the hear and allow the chuntey to bubble for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the chutney goes really thick and stirring more often so the chutney does not catch and burn.

4.Once there are no vinegar puddles on the top of the chutney take off heat and decant into vinegar proof bottles/jars, seal and label. I usually leave at least a month to mature before opening.

Now is the time to get the chutney made so that it is ready for Christmas and any potential vistors.

In this house I cook everything in preparation for Christmas, then I cook Christmas Dinner - then that's it for a few days - everybody helps themselves, with cold cuts, pickled onions and chutneys. I also give a few jars of preserves away as pressies.

Greengage Jam

I acquired a bargain by chance last week with 7lb of Greengage plums and I have gone on to process and have 10 jars of Greengage Jam for my effots.

Start off with 1 kg/2 1/4lb greengages. cutting them into quarters and removing and discarding all of the stones.

Put the fruit and 200ml/7 fl ozs water in the preserving pan. Place the pan over a low heat and gently cook until the plums are soft and pulpy - recipe says 10 minutes, in reality it often takes longer than this. Stir from time to time until the greengages start to deliver up some of their juices ( as this stops the mixture from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan).

Only add the sugar when the plums are pulpy enough for your liking, as putting in the sugar too soon can make the plums go hard. You will need 750g/1 lb 10 oz of sugar. Continue simmering and stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat bringing the mixture to a full rolling boil and cook rapidly for about 5 minutes skimming off any scum that rises to the top (I put a nob of butter in each pan of jam as it helps stop the scum forming. Start to test for a set by putting a spot of jam on a cold chilled plate and then putting into fridge, for a minute or too then bringing out and pushing with your finger gently if the mixture "wrinkles"when you do this it is ready to pot. Once setting point is achieved pot into hot sterilised jars, seal and label.


This is one of those pickles that I have never really warmed to - I grew up with my grandmother making this - and I still have images of a yellow yucky pasty thing with green bits in it (memory from my childhood). It was the green bits that were the yuck factor then - but tastes change as you get older.

I have a batch of this on the go at the moment - photos to follow when I have time to down load them as things are a tad hectic here at the moment.

That is until last year when I received the "Preserves" River Cottage Handbook No 2 ISBN978-0-7475-9532-8, By Pam Corbin with foreword by Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall. If you haven't got this one - then you really should its a wonderful little book and the recipe for Picalilli is wonderful. Its the best recipe I have come across yet. Most probably due to the fact that it is dry brined, which helps the vegetables stay nice and crisp.

Makes 3 x 340g jars
1kg mixed washed, peeled vegetabls choose at least 5 or 6 from the following list:-
Cauliflower; or Romanesco
Cauliflower; or green beans
cucumbers;courgettes green or
yellow tomatoes;tomatillos
carrots; small silver skinned onions
or shallots; peppers;
Nasturtium seed pods

50g fine salt
30g cornflour
10g ground turmeric
10g English Mustard powder
15g yellow mustard seed
1 tsp crushed cumin seeds
600ml cider vinegar
150g granulated sugar
50g honey

Cut your choice of vegetables into small even bite sized pieces. Place in a large bowl/bucket and sprinkle with salt. Mix well combining the salt into all the vegetable pieces then cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours then rinse the veg with ice cold water and drain thoroughly.[ I have found from experience that it needs a good few washes to get rid of any excess salt].

Blend the cornflour, turmeric, mustard powder, mustard seeds, cumin and coriander to a smooth paste with a little of the vinegar.

Put the rest of the vinegar into a saucepan with the sugar and the honey and bring to the boil. Pour a little of the hot vinegar over the blended spice paste, stir well and return to the pan. Bring gently to the boil, boil for 3.4 minutes to allow the spices to release their flavours into the thickening sauce.

Remove the pan from the heat and carefully fold the well drained vegetables into the thick spicy mustard sauce. Pack into warm sterilised jars and seal immediately with vinegar proof lids. Leave if you can for at least 4 to 6 weeks to mature before opening.

This is one preserve I have to keep out of other half's mitts as he'd eat the lot. I only made one batch last year but this year am doubling up as everyone who has tried this one loves it. He takes a pot of it with him on his fishing trips and his fishing friends very occasionally get to taste it. Needless to say it has been a big hit with them. One of his mates reckoned he had not had proper picalilli like this since his mum was alive. Lets say its converted me but only to this recipe.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Leek Relish/Confit

When I buy fresh leeks I tend to make a batch of this very tasty relish, which is short term fridge preserve rather than a long keeping pantry one. The recipe was originally taken from the Glass Pantry by Georgeanne Brennan.

The original recipe states

4lbs leeks
Butter for greasing pan
1/2 cup of olive oil
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of sugar

The method is very similar as well, although 2 teaspoons of sugar are used in this version.

This is my version


1kg of fresh leeks
Olive Oil
Sea salt

Finely chop leeks into rings. Pop into a roasting tin/tins and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt (I don't use much salt in cooking as OH has high blood pressure). Make sure that the leeks are mixed into the olive oil well. Add a nob of butter and pop into oven gas mark 3 or 4 and cook until golden brown every so often turning the leeks over so they all get done evenly.

The original recipe uses sugar - this helps the leeks caramelise, but I think that there is really no need for this as the leeks are naturally sweet enough. They very rarely get in the fridge here as they are so tasty.

If using cold: Let them cool and then decant into a glass storage jar and put in the fridge. Serve as a relish in sandwiches - it peps them up and makes the ordinary much more flavoursome. They should keep in the fridge for approximately 2 weeks.

If using warm: I serve them warm with a Sunday roast lunch, they can be added to soups, pizzas, stir fries

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Plum Jam

Some more jars squirrelled away for the autumn store


1.5kg of plums (Victoria, Greengage etc)
1.25 kg of sugar
400ml of water

Chop and halve the plums removing the stones. If you wish you can crack open some of the stones to obtain the kernels, dipping them in hot water to remove the reddish brown skin leaving you with a little white nut. These can be added to the jam if so wished - adding them will give an almond flavour to the jam.

Put the plums and 400 ml of water into a maslin pan (jam pan) and cook the fruit until soft and pulpy and the skins soft. This is important as adding sugar to the mixture where the skins are tough will only make them harder. This should take about 25 to 30 minutes.

Add the sugar and stir until it is all dissolved, then bring to the boil boiling rapidly until setting point is reached (i.e when you put a spot of jam onto a saucer that has been put in the fridge and it wrinkles when you push it with your finger if it is runny you haven't achieved setting point. Once setting point is reached take pan off heat. I use a heatproof jug and a ladle for getting out of the pan and decanting into hot sterilised jars. Seal with lids wipe down any spills with a damp cloth and leave to cool. Label and store

The recipe states it will make approximately 7 jars of jam- I got 6 and a half jars from this quantity. And it is yummy.

Charity Shop finds

On Saturday morning a few weeks ago the first day off in the week for ages and the day was all mine so I went for a wander round the corner to our local charity shop and picked up some goodies for next to nothing.

I have been looking longingly for the past two weeks at these pedestal candle holders. I thought that they would be way beyond my budget, and to be honest they are not exactly how I want them at the moment, but they have potential. To my surprise and delight the price of the two pedestal candle stands was 97 pence each - they are destined for a make over - I want them to sport a gold colour which will look lovely on the Christmas table. I wasn't sure whether they were plaster or wood, but it turns out they are wood, so I am going to strip them, rub them down and then re-paint them.

I also want to do some dried flower ring arrangements for the top and put a large pillar candle in the middle of each. I thought I would use dried flowers for a removable changeable display to take into account the Christmas season, then I intend to use whatever greenery is available and do a garland swag between the two pedestal candle holders much like the Victorians used to do. I also have a wrought iron light fitting above the table - 5 branch candlebra style, which can also have ivy woven round it. I love all the preparation and attention to detail involved in this sort of planning.

Christmas for me is a different kettle of fish. Its the one part of the year I go overboard with, not too commercially as I buy what I can afford and make the rest. You can still have a very comfortable Christmas with next to nothing. Its about making the best of what comes your way and more than a modicum of planning and plotting. I also think making things comes from the heart, and it is giving a part of yourself to the receiver; it is also a way of keeping you occupied and not bored, and enables people to acquire things that perhaps they otherwise would not have. I think celebrating Christmas this way is much more satisfying and charming, and you can involve the whole family in it.

Anyway still with the Christmas theme in mind I have also picked up a cut glass cheese dome/cake dome. I tend to buy these even if there plate is missing as they don't necessarily just need to be used with cheese. I thought that this one was very pretty and it should be lovely when I have cleaned up with an old toothbrush. If I place it near candles at Christmas it should reflect the light. All for the princeley sum of 50 pence.

Then I found this little flower head vase in the shape of an 0 which should look lovely on the table with said flower heads in as a centre piece for the table - bargain at 50 pence.

And then this big blue stone vase for 60 pence. Will look nice in either with fresh or dried flowers in the dining room.


So I don't think I have done too badly all for about £4.00. These are what I call bargains. They are not everyone's cup of tea but very practical, especially if you realise the future potential with each new piece you see.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


Whether it is the turn in the wheel the change in the seasons I have felt very emotional today, and very tired. As though it is the end of another phase in my life and the beginning of another. However it has not been an unhappy day, but happy memories have come flooding up to the surface, tinged with sadness because some loved ones are no longer with us. But the memories they were special to me, even though some of the events were unremarkable. They are part of what I am, what I represent and what I stand for.

When I was 11 years old Sue our golden labrador came into our lives as a cheeky bouncy young pup. We used to walk her every evening along the riverbank come rain or shine but for the first six months or so she only had one boss; we weren't allowed to tell her what to do or anything. Dad believed that it got too confusing with many people telling them what to do, and it proved right. We had a lot of fun with her and she lived until she was 191/2 years of age which is old in dog years.

My brother and I used to walk everywhere with our Dad, who taught us so much about the countryside on our walks, we were taught from an early age to recognise the good berries from the bad, and also an interminable amount about nature and its habitat and how to recognise different animal tracks etc. We used to go newting, and tiddling and used to have a lot of fun; armed with our jam jars and butterfly nets we were invincible. The catch was always put back before we left for home. But sadly these activities are no longer politically correct as times and perceptions have changed.

We also used to go on family foraging trips for blackberries, and nettles in the spring for making nettle wine. A picnic would be packed and an event would be made out of what we were doing. Cheap and cheerful but it was a win win situation. Loads of blackberries for jam and jelly and nettles for the wine; there were other things as well. And we children used to get exercised without realising it, and it was a signature theme of the passing seasons. Its something I have carried on in later life, and indeed used to do when the step children were at home. A family that plays together stays together.

When walking with Dad, and the dog, come this time of year there was a field that had the cattle in and we would invariably find large patches of field mushrooms which we used to gather and bring home for tea, they were lovely cooked in butter, with thin chipolata sausages, tinned tomatoes and a fried egg and a big wedge of home made bread. I can taste that meal now. We were so fortunate and pleasure can be measured in simplicity.

Its been many years since I have been on a mushroom hunt - I was taught the difference, some of which knowledge because of lack of use has been forgotten, and sadly my father is no longer here to help. I would really love to be able to go on foraging session but don't know of anywhere locally that does this. It would be good to learn from someone who knows the difference between those which are edible and which are good to eat and those which should be left. Does anyone know of anywhere within the Peterborough area that runs such walks or events.

I am a bit of a foodie! Its never far from my mind and I do try and make the best of what comes my way, I am always looking, plotting and planning and I try and remember where I see bushes of this or that and mark the spot in my memory to go back to when the fruit or whatever is in season. I think it is a throw back to when times were hard and the family worked together to survive the winter months with a well stocked larder; and used to collect tinder for lighting the fire in the form of twigs and dried grasses. Times are hard again, what with the credit crunch, and people are going back to basics and looking for ways to live more cost effectively but get the maximum amount of return.We have had times of plenty too much choice, its time to get back to basics and tighten the belts a little and to re-learn in some instances forgotten skills. But what an opportunity to grow and to learn is there for the taking if you are "hungry enough".

This time of year was also apple picking time. We used to descend on my grandparents for the weekend to pick the apples, to store them, to make produce with them. We would be up the trees, picking the apples, working methodically from tree to tree. In younger years the geese had to be locked up otherwise they would end up chasing and herding us round the garden. It defined the season, going to Nan's to harvest and pick the apples.

When Nan passed so did a way of life as the cottage was sold and the person who bought it chopped most of the trees down, demolished the copper beech hedge and the espalier pears and chopped the hawthorn hedges that were the boundary hedges down. Their only thought has to be to make money out of the land, not for what it stood for. But they cannot kill my memories that are held within my mind and heart - they are still there.

There are a couple of magazines which I quite like to have each month. The first is the Country kitchen. I have been particularly fascinated with the articles by Fergus Drennan on the foraging theme and unusual ideas of how to use the wild larder. The second is the Home Farmer Magazine, lots of practical information for having a go at doing things yourself and also lots of good practical recipes and inspiration.

Its good to make use of the wild larder too - although you have to do is invest a little time and effort in the collecting of the produce and then processing it afterwards. I learnt from being taught good basic cooking skills at school and at home, although I wasn't taught everything. Those areas where I was lacking in I have read up on then had a go. Yes there have been mistakes, but that is how you learn, and next time you do something you remember where it went wrong, so the next attempt is better and so on. Its good to play.

And welcome to Autumn and a change in the seasons.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Home Made Pasta Sauce for the freezer

I am very lucky where I live as I have a grocers shop who sells off very cheaply produce that isn't quite A1 condition but still good to cook. Quite frequently Tomatoes and peppers get put into two crates and the items are sold off for 50 pence a bag. If I time it right I can get a lot to make this sauce for very little expenditure. My Nan used to reckon that this type of produce used to make the tastiest of dishes and I am inclined to agree with her.


Tomatoes don't have to be just one type they can be a mixture.
bay leaves
sprinkle of sugar
Olive oil
fresh thyme but you can use dried


Chop the ingredients the tomatoes into wedges and the leeks and onion into fine rings put four or five cloves of garlic in skinned. Put into the roasting pan sprinkle with olive oil and mix well so all the tomatoes are covered with oil. Sprinkle white pepper and salt add sugar and then bury two bay leaves in the mixture. Add fresh thyme crumbled of stalks and then a few sprigs of whole stalk.

Put in oven and "roast" until golden brown then allow to cool. Once cool put in food processer and whizz it all up. Pack into cartons with lids and then put in freezer when filling allow about an inch from top for expansion purposes. When required drag out from the freezer and use in lasagne, as a basis for soup, or a sauce. You can always pep this up with chillies and more onions as well as basil. You could use basil in this recipe as well if you wished.

Enjoy - you at least know what has gone into this

Home Made Limoncello


8 Unwaxed lemons
1 litre vodka
250g/9oz white sugar


Begin by carefully taking the peel off the lemons very thinly do not use any of the white pith as ths is bitter and ruins the flavour.Alternatively use a grater to take off the lemon skin.

Combine with the vodka in a kilner type jar with a lid and leave to stand and infuse for about a month the posh name is to macerate.

Once the flavour has imparted into the vodka add the sugar, stirring or shaking daily until it has completely dissolved.

Strain I use coffee paper filters to take away any sediment, and or peel if in strips, decant into screw top bottles and store in the freezer. Always serve this well chilled.

My weekend and Shopping practices.

Well its been a busy one mostly to do with housework but today I got to play a little bit.

Since OH not been working my shopping strategies have changed somewhat - I go into supermarkets but not for a big shop like I used to; I tend to shop around quite a bit as a result.I make a list of the items I would like and suss out the prices of things in the process for a later shop. If you have a list its much more disciplined because the rule is, that you buy nothing that is not on the list. Easier said than done. As a child my mum used to send us shopping with the list, so that she did not have to spend anymore than she really needed to. I also try to use local shops and a good butcher.

I also use the cheaper shops like Aldi and Lidl (they are very good on tinned goods) as well. I also use the pound shops and Wilkinsons. Freezer shops like Farm Fresh which is excellent and Iceland also play their part and for a family on a budget they are very economical. Its not just the frozen stuff they are keen on prices with they also have loads of other items. So I sort of cherry pick quite a lot from the different shops.

I have also found Asian supermarkets to be very good as well - my local one is very good for herbs spices oils and very large Naan breads 3 fo £1.29 which are twice the size of the supermarket ones and a lot nicer. They quite frequently have sugar on offer too or at least my local one does.

I ended up managing to get lots of bargains yesterday for turning into preserves of one description or another all for under £30.and that will more than likely last for a good two weeks and that which doesn't get used gets frozen. I was given some plums and pears by some of the girls I work with, so we have struck a bargain. With the plums have made 6 jars of Victoria Plum jam. The pears are going to be pickled, made into chutneys and bottled in syrup as well as mincemeat and I thought I might also have a go at a pear jam.

The pennies are a tad tight at the moment, but that is no reason to starve, you can live very well as long as you make informed choices about what you actually buy and I love cooking anyway so it is never a chore for me. Using up leftovers needn't be hard repetitive or boring. Left over mashed potato after sunday lunch - don't throw it turn it with the aid of a tin of salmon into tasty salmon fish cakes or alternatively if you have some vegetables left over make bubble and squeak. Not ready to use yet - freeze it and bring it out for a rainy day.

I have put a ban on anything that is bought pre-made, mostly on costs grounds, but also because my doctors have told me in respect of pre-existing medical conditions to eat very little processed food; and to buy and prepare from fresh wherever possible. Apparently its much better for my system to process.It is not only freshness of product but quantity as well - if I was to serve up the portions they serve in shops OH would think he was on starvation rations and go looking for seconds elsewhere.

I make my own jams they are used in pies and tarts, and also as a filling in a victoria sponge with some butter cream, on toast with ground rice or rice pudding you have to have the inaugural blob of jam. I also bottle lots of stuff its so nice bringing something down off the pantry shelf and using it. Bottled plums can be used in a pie or crumble also served with ice cream. There are various ways of using different things its just a matter of finding a recipe or recipes that suit your palate and you like.

If I buy biscuits they are always plain because they can be used as a cheesecake base, or with a chunk of cheese as a cracker; Most of what I buy has to be useable in different ways and earn its place on the pantry shelf - sometimes we just need to be introduced to those ways. I buy ingredients and then make something from them, using what I have to hand. Often its just the inspiration.

For instance earlier in the week I was peckish so went into the kitchen and threw together a scotch pancake mix, cooked them and then had with some butter and strawbery jam. All I used was some flour, an egg and some milk and I got more than you would get in a pack from the shop. Yes they were not symmetrical a little odd in shape but more than perfectly edible.

Well I acquired:

7lbs greengage plums
1/2 kg red chillies for drying (secret weapon in my pickled onions) £2.50
1 stone of pickling onions, £4.00
1 large net ordinary onions, £3.00
2 kg mandarin oranges for mandarin curd; £2.00
peaches for pickling, jam and chutney £1 for 5
lemons for more curd 3 for 50pence
2 large marrows 50 pence each (stuffed marrow is very tasty) but I also use this in picalilli,chutneys there is a recipe for Marrow rum I want to have a go at
french beans for the freezer 50 pence a pack
Celery 60pence each
5 bags tomatoes at 50 pence a bag £2.50 in the reduced pile

Then there was the veg for the week carrots, cabbage flowering broccoli, spinach for home made pasta, kale, squash. So some nice potential meals here together what I have lurking in the freezers.

I sort of have a strategy when buying stuff; I sort it into seasonality and delicacy. Things like plums and soft fruits need dealing with straight away but apples and pears can wait a little longer. Also if I go to the market or to my local veg shop I tend to buy the rarer items as they come into season first and then go back to those items that tend to be there most the time. That way on we get a lot of variety and practicality with the types of food am able to store. I store so much in the freezers first and then go to the botling,jamming, wine making route. I also store items in their most basic form that way I have a choice of how I am able to use the item i.e. blueberries for blueberry muffins roast tomato, leek,onion and garlic pasta sauce can be used as a base for a soup a sauce in its own right with Lasagne, meatballs. It can also be added to in terms of flavour. I have seven large tubs of this ready for the freezer and some for tomorrow nights tea with some pasta. We have a scratch night a couple of times per week on evenings when we have got other things to do and often have meals like poached egg on toast, egg and bacon, beans on toast egg and chips I make my own chips - I never buy them it takes up precious freezer space and besides home made chips are fab. Cheap but very filling.

I am also baking a lot more - that means using the oven, so when I cook I make sure that the oven is full and making the most of the energy being used. The gas is more expensive than electric and the house being rented only has a gas oven it doesn't have an electric point. Don't have anything to put in with the toad in the hole - make a batch of quick scones - then you will have something in the tins if family members get peckish or make a Victoria sandwich or whatever takes your fancy but somthing with similar temperatures. I have found that in Asda they do a very large 1kg tub of stork margarine for £1.24 that means lots of cakes.

I always keep a sack of potatoes in, net of onions,cheese milk, butter, rice, pasta, eggs, bacon flour and bread flour, yeast, sugar, tea, yogurt make my own and bread You can make a lot from these basic items that is good nourishing and will fill you up. If you can get hold of a bacon hock that will provide meat sandwiches for pack ups for family members during the week. Don't chuck the bone, boil it up to make more stock and use the cooking liquid for stock as well) home made soup is not only delicious but very filling. Grow your own mustard and cress and salad leaves. You can live well if you think about how you are going to use your ingredients in the first place.

Oh and OH came home with a load of crab apples and eating apples to process; crab apple jelly is a particular favourite especially with roast pork, used in gravies, used on toast with cheese but you can also make pectin stock from them to add to fruits low in pectin a home made version of certo. Its really about taking advantage of what comes your way and knowing what to do with it, but the only way you learn with cooking is to practice practice practice.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Orange Wine


Thinly pared zest of 2 large oranges
250g granulated or caster sugar
1 litre/4 1/3 cups dry white wine
115ml/ 1/2 cup Brandy or Armagnac

I use a large kilner jar for macerating alcohol liqueurs as they the jar can be cleaned easily, and has a lid which stops any nasties getting in and is easily shakeable for combining.(to be extra sure you can always cover with clingfilm as well) Leave for about three weeks at which time strain off the peel and any sediment and decant into sterilised bottles. Put up to store. Bring out to celebrate the run up to Christmas - say the week before get the CD's on, a glass or two or your favourite home made liqueur as you are decorating your tree or doing some last minute baking of pressies for close friends and family

Makes about 1.1 litres/5 cups

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

My Evening

Well its been a busy old day, and today have been to see my mum - we have tea together fish n chips or chicken and chips and have a good natter. There is a practical reason for me going as well to do any jobs she cannot manage, but also to help her shower and make sure she is comfortable. She has been given a swivel chair to help her and wall bars for support, but she feels far more confident when there is someone else around to help her. I have also been through the house and cleaned and tidied for her, doing those things she cannot manage herself. All sorted am now home and am shattered. Its been a long day and I have not been so easy moving around today with the arthritis playing up. Oh well we have good days and bad days.

It is so cold here tonight - its on days like this that I am deeply envious of anyone who has a fire; to warm me and the cockles of my soul. oh to have a log fire in this house and to sit before the roaring flames and dream and go to that other place. I do so miss this comforting warming feature of our more traditional homes. The wind has a nasty north wind edge to it. Such a shock when the weather has been so mild it looks as though will be wearing jumpers tomorrow. I intend to make some fat balls at the weekend to put out for the wild birds that congregate in the gardens to the back of the house where I live. Anything to make their search for food easier - sadly there are not as many as there used to be.

I think a mug of hot cocoa made with milk and me getting nestled in my jym jams and thick warm dressing gown is in order. Serious hibernating and snuggle time.

Oh well tomorrow is another day.

Take care wherever you are



Monday, 14 September 2009

Ever been frustrated

For the past month I have got very little done in the house because of being backwards and forwards to the hospital and then backwards and forwards to mum at home. This weekend was the first weekend home and I got a little done, and I am getting frustrated at not being able to get everything achieved I want to; other things kept rearing their heads and had to be dealt with. To add to that everything I am looking for I cannot find it all seems to have grewy legs and walked - including my camera. I am sure it is somewhere safe - its just the locating of the same - its needed for a couple of posts that I have prepped - without the photos it will be me babbling on like the proverbial brook again.

Well autumn seems to be really with us already and its getting colder. I am starting to gravitate to a cardigan or jumper here and there as I do feel the change in temperature. I think it is going to be a long winter this year - everything seems that much earlier and there are lots of berries about. Hopefully this Sunday coming I will get a chance to go blackberrying. I am very restless and unsettled as well - I can feel the turn of the wheel the change in the seasons, it is very subtle but it is there and I don't seem to be able to concentrate - I seem to be elsewhere well in spirit if not body- I have so much creativity wanting to escape and yet I am tied by invisible strands on a path that I am meant to tread even if it is not of my choosing. I am tired, a little jaded and looking for inspiration - it will come it always does. Positivity creates its own energy where negativity in all its forms only drains it. I am a great believer in fate, serendipity and being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes things don't happen for a reason but that is usually because there is a better opportunity waiting in the wings for you. Its just a question of faith, patience by the bucketful and waiting until the time is right.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

More Charity Shop finds

I am in the throes of cleaning in the Dining Room - a good bottom out and I have found these goodies in the drawer, which were not new to me which I found in the Charity shops locally.

First of all there is a tatted large mat with two small mats, in coffee - there is an awful lot of work gone on to produce this. Tatting is one of those crafts that I have never quite got my head around - but not for the want of trying. But I think that it looks really elegant.

Then there is the hand embroidered Christmas cloth, beautifully embroidered on linen. Yet again someone has spent hours and hours on this particular piece. It should look lovely on the table come Christmas.

Then there is a set of two white cotton cross stitch embroidered dresser runners, with two tray cloth mats two round mats and two smaller mats - I think I have the tablecloth to match upstairs - bought separately but yet again what a lot of lovely work has gone into this. I have also found my crotchet jug and bowl covers with beads which by chance go extremely well with this set - the beads round the edging match the cross stitch motif colours.

I love things that are beautifully made and individual.

Last but not least a Victorian Tea Pot Stand

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Saying for the Day


Monday, 7 September 2009

Welcome bounty

Well it looks as though I am going to be doing a lot of preserving in the next few days or so. Some of the girls I work with have given me loads of conference pears and victoria plums to play with. So it looks as though plum jelly, plum jam,bottled plums, plum sauce, plum leather, plumbeena, plum chutney are on the cards over the next few working days. It looks as though I am going to be busy. I also intend to go blackberrying and do a bramble and pear bottled pie filling,bottled blackberries, pickled blackberries,blackberry and apple leather, bramble whisky, bramble chutney, pear and ginger jam, pickled pears, pear chutney, and pears in syrup, apple pear and ginger mincemeat, mulled pears,

I didn't get elderberries last year so am determined to get some this year - that goes for sloes too.
I am also keeping my eyes peeled for any fruits that have been reduced in price, predominantly srawberries and raspberries and thought I might try some bottled strawberries/raspberries in syrup and also a mixed fruit jam which will be nice as a gateau/cake filling with some fresh cream or buttercream.

I nipped into Waitrose today and found blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries, greengages so I may go back towards the end of the week armed with the shopping trolley to stock up a little more and also possibly nip to the market to see what they have.

Waitrose also had Green Hazlenuts/Filbert nuts in - first time I have seen them for a long time, so if you are lucky enough to have a source of these I am deeply envious.

It looks as though I am going to be a tad busy!

To do in September 1

Make your Christmas cake - this will allow you to feed the cake and for it to mature properly. I keep mine in an old sweet tin wrapped in greaseproof and foil, and feed it every week until the cake is moist but not over spirited.

Make Sultanas in Brandy or Raisins in Rum for drizzling over ice cream

Make a decision as to whether you are buying Christmas Cards or making them.

Once decided if making source your craft materials once this is done start making your cards and gift tags - the sooner these are made the sooner you can start writing out your cards rather than leaving it until the last moment.

Make some extra jars of preserves to give as "pressies" to friends and relatives.

Start buying stamps, buying a few at a time is less stress on the purse. Or if like us you have extended family we have present and card drops with a particular relative who distributes the cards to us.

If buying cards start locating those cards you wish to send, buy and put them up until you have your full choice available. Then do the cards to get them out of the way.

N.B. In January each year I source Christmas cards and put them up for use later in the year I buy them at greatly reduced prices.

Make Christmas present tags.

Make litle gift boxes to put small pressies in or sweeties in. They can be covered in pretty paper or fabric.

Save cereal packaging as it is useful as a base for making your own card boxes or for patchwork inserts.

Make Redcurrant Jelly

Make Rowanberry jelly

Make Damson Cheese (if you can locate damsons)

Make Damson and Orange jam (this is extremely yummy)

Make Damson Vodka or Gin

Try and get hold of Quince to make Quince preserves such as Quince Jelly and Quince cheese

Make compotes for freezing or bottling

Make Apricot and Apple Chutney

If you have access to Hazlenuts, preserve them in salt or in honey.

Blackberries for lots of different preserves.

Crab apples


There is so much to do and so little time to do it.

Start crafting small Christmas presents

Pot Brown Shrimps and Prawns and store in the freezer

Don't forget if you have produce given to you and you don't have time at that precise moment in time to do anything with it prepare it for the freezer and put it in there until you can have a play day.

Remember you create your own traditions and own customs and if you want to eat home made mint jelly with pork sausages - then that's absolutely up to you.

Start sorting out those recipes you intend to have a go at come Christmas time and put them into an A4 folder in a plastic sleeve - you will then have all your recipes in one central place and it will make it easier to plan your shopping list as you will be able to scoot through the ingredients list a lot quicker than dragging stacks of books out. Because it is stored in a plastic sleeve it means you will be able to use it from the folder and it will keep the recipe sheet clean.

Enjoy the time you get to play

Start collating items to dry for making home made garlands, such as lemon and orange rings, slices of pomegranate, dry bay leaves and other assorted leaves. Once all the items are collated start to collate your garland/decorations.

Have a go at making salt dough decorations/table decorations and then painting them.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

My Weekend

Thursday night I went to see my mum - who had good news. She was being released from hospital on the proviso that she wasn't going to an empty house so I have been babysitting mum this weekend; getting her settled back in and looking after her. She has started to improve no end in the couple of days she has been home, and I have been getting the house under control for her. The occupational therapist is coming to see her tomorrow to see if they can help with various bits and bobs. Fortunately my sister in law has a day off and is going to be with her which I am very grateful for and to let the therapist know mum's vulnerabilities I am also going to pop in at least once a week from work have a meal with her and do any jobs she wants doing. Mum has always been fantastic in her care of both my brother, myself and our extended families. Unfortunately this latest period of illness seems to have knocked the stuffing out of her so she needs a lot of care and attention; one good thing out of this is that my brother and I are communicating and talking through what we think is best for her. One of my concerns is that after caring for everyone for so long then losing Dad last year very suddenly; after cooking for two and now just having to cook for herself that mum is getting to the point where she is not bothering. I have therefore suggested to my brother today that we meet up once a month for a family meal; we thought it might give mum something to look forward to and we could be "a family" - after all a family that plays together stays together and its something that we used to do quite regularly with my Dad's parents when we were younger. Mum is not aware of this yet, but my brother seemed to like the idea and I don't mind cooking at all for everyone. I have two fantastic nephews who I don't get to see half as often as I like so it would be an ideal time to get to know them better, they are both growing so fast.

Have sorted out all the washing and got it dried,and cleaned the house through (after 10 days away it needed sorting) so it is spotless for mum's visitors tomorrow.

Tonight is Mum's first night on her own so I hope she is careful and gets cosy. I have spoken to her on the phone and she seemed content and happy enough. I must admit though I did not like leaving her but I have my own house to see to as well. So hopefully if all goes to plan we will see her mid-week. Because mum hasn't been well she hasn't been able to pay her weekly visit to the cemetary to put fresh flowers on my father's grave,so we did this on our way home and sorted it out and made it tidy.

I did have a good time with mum though - in one of our chats I asked her to show me how to make the fire-lighters - she showed me how to make them as a child and I used to help make these for laying the fire place in readiness for lighting. We used to make a scuttle full of them at a time. I will show how under a separate post.

Its getting very back endish - autumn is starting to bite. The evenings are getting dark early and there is that nip in the air - soon will be jumper weather full time.

Whilst I have been away OH has managed to flood the kitchen out - guess whose got to sort it out. Men!

Catch you all soon


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.

Gooseberry Vodka

I have been playing again over the weekend. The gooseberries literally fell out of the freezer saying use me use me - and being as I couldn't quite get them in again I succumbed and emptied them into a preserving jar with about an ounce of sugar and topped up with a litre bottle of Voddie. Naughty me!

The intention is once the fruit and voddie have macerated together that I will strain off and then add a little elderflower syrup so in effect will have a Gooseberry and Elderflower tipple. Well thats the plan anyway. Will let you know how it goes. I may do half and half i.e. half the liquid just goosebery and the balance gooseberry and elderflower. Something else for the booze cabinet for Chrimbo. Ooh that word again.

Orange and Clove Pomanders

I have a batch of small clementines of which I am going to make some curd with some but a few I thought I would prepare now and get one more job off the Christmas to do List.

The project is from a book by Stephanie Donaldson called "Aromatic Gifts" ISBN No 1 85368 600 X.

I thought I would give the instructions now and it will give some of you a chance to collect your ingredients together in order to have a go. The pomanders are cured in a spice mixture which are very fragrant and ideal for the festive season. Don't throw the pomander away once the scent has gone simply pop them in some warm water very briefly and then dip them in the remains of the spice mixture turning them regularly. The spice mix although it sounds a lot can be used for several batches of these pomanders and also for re-curing ones that had previously been made.

You will need the following ingredients and items:

100g/4 oz powdered cinnamon
50g/2oz powdered cloves
15g/ 1/2 oz powdered allspice
15g/ 1/2 oz powdered nutmeg
25g/1 oz orris root powder

A thick darning needle or a thin knitting needle
6 unblemished thin-skinned oranges
100g/4oz best quality whole cloves
Cling film
Gift packaging (if you want to give as a gift)

Mix all the spices and the orris root together in a bowl. Pierce a line of holes round half an orange and stud with cloves making sure that you keep them fairly close together, but allowing enough room for shrinkage. Repeat this process until the whole of the orange is covered.

Place the orange in the bowl of mixed spices tossing the oranges gently so that the whole surface comes into contact with the cure. Repeat this process with each orange you do. Pop the oranges into the spice mix once covered and put cling film over the top of the bowl. Leave for about a month, making sure that you turn the oranges daily for one month. They will then be ready to remove from the spices and use.

Wrap the finished pomander in muslin and then two or three layers of gold and silver net tie with gold ribbon and bells and hang them on your tree to scent the room or to give as a gift to friends.

I intend to have a go at these this weekend and will post photo's then.

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)