Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Hello sheep

Thank you to everyone who commented regarding the mouldy jam on the previous post. I have picked myself up and moved on! That's not why I have been a few days behind with posting, it's because I am in a course at work all week and my days and nignts are interupted because of it. Roll on next week.
Having said that, I have an announcement to make! Say hello to our 3 lambs! We don't have names for them yet though we will be naming them as these girls will hopefully be sticking around to give us babies in 2018. Until then, we'll be trying to give them a happy and healthy life. They're 6 months old and not long since weaned off their mother. They arrived Sunday tea time, just in time for the crazy week to start! So we spent Sunday 5pm to 7 pm sorting fences...or so we thought. Until Steven got home the next day to find the paddock empty and not a lamb in sight. Turns out they thought the farmers plants were more tasty than our field. A manic dash and 3 captured sheep later, Ste was driving home with 3 sheep in rhe car. Yes, the car. So today we we rather pleased to discover the sheep there when we got up and when we came home. A successful day!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Lost most of my jams

I am gutted. I've lost my pantry of jam that I lovingly made through the summer. It's gone mouldy and I'm so gutted. Not the expense but the waste if our own food. Plus the fact we're going to run out over winter when this was what it's all about.

Another weekend is here :)

The damson vodka that I made last weekend is starting to have a decidedly pink undertone to it (pictured pre pinkness!)  The kilner jar seals must need replacing as it leaked when I turned it on its head.  So Steven had the idea of using two together until I can replace them.  The jars are 3 litre jars and when I looked on ebay, they all seem to be up to 2 litre max which is a slightly smaller diameter to the ones I have, according to their measurements.  So that’s raspberry vodka and damson vodka on the go.  I hope they taste nice as I actually don’t like vodka!
For the raspberry vodka, I’ll decant it in December and use the raspberries for ice cream topping for adults at Christmas, or even for the middle of a special cake.  I’m hoping this drink will be like drinking summer in winter and warm us through the cold and dark nights.
This weekend I’ll be picking sloes for sloe gin.  I’ve never make it before, well I’ve never made any of these actually, so it’s all great learning.  I must remember to make a note of the recipe I use though, as if it tastes lovely next year, I’ll struggle to remember which one I made!
Now Autumn is here, we’re also going to be foraging the elderberries in an attempt to make wine and some elderberry winter syrup.  I’ll take photos of each step to share on a post dedicated to that.

Have a lovely weekend all.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Loving September's free food


Isn’t September a bountiful month?  I’d never really given it much thought or appreciated it quite so much until now, living where we do and doing what we love.  We’ve just harvested a basket full of plums, lovely and ripe straight from our own tree.  There’s a tonne more but the wasps were quite vicious, so note to self, put jam pots out next year to capture the little blighters.  We managed to get a good harvest of blackberries after going back to our old hunting ground (the ones round here never came to fruition), a good many windfall apples, though I’m leaving picking the Bramley’s until later in the month, a tub of damsons and some eating apples.  Many of these things we can’t take any credit for, nature did it all itself – as Louise said in her blog, don’t you just love free food?
So there’s going to be River Cottage ‘Glutney’ recipe on the go, plum jelly, Asian plum sauce and of course the traditional crumbles, plum and apple etc.  As we have the new freezer ready to use, it would be criminal not to. 
Does anyone have a plum cordial recipe they swear by?  If you do, please share, thank you in advance.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Happy Autumn

I’ve had to change my morning routine round to suit the change in season.  It’s too dark when I go out at 5:50am to let the poultry out, or even to feed the horses in the field.  So I complete my morning jobs that are to be done in the big barn and then head back in the house for breakfast and to wake the kids.  Before we leave for school and work, we go back out in our muckers and farm coats and feed the horses in the field and let the poultry out then take the dogs up the lane to stretch their legs.  It’s working well though I do notice the later in to the week we get, the harder it is for us all to get up, even though we ensure to go to bed in good time.  Slowly, things come together.  They do fall apart again, when I forget to get the meat out for tea, or haven’t prepared the lunches due to being busy elsewhere and it slipping from my mind, but for the most part it’s going in the right direction.
I spent part of last night on the phone to a friend in need instead of doing what I had intended to do, which was clean out and organise the kitchen cupboards.  So tonight I plan on getting on with that for an hour or so.  The cupboards have turned in to a bit of a dumping ground for any papers and odds and ends that inevitably end up on the kitchen table and need to be put somewhere in a hurry before a meal is served out.  They fill up surprisingly quickly!
Not only that, but a major learning curve of living where we do is flies!  I’ve never seen so many.  They duplicate within the hour, I’m sure!  So ensuring food is cooked and covered or cooked, cooled and put in an air tight container and stored in the fridge or pantry is high up on the list of priorities in the kitchen.  I know this is good practice anyway but it was never an issue previously if I left the cakes or bread on the top to cool without a tea towel or such over them.  I don’t have many more air tight containers or storage boxes so I am going to have a look on Lakeland etc and see what they have on a budget.
I’m excited to report - earlier in the year, I tried one of my first experiments and planted a bag of old potatoes that were too old to eat, directly into one of my muck heaps (without the bag!).  The muck heap was a pain as the previous owner had left all sorts of junk in it that shouldn’t have been in a compost bin.  At the time we didn’t know this until I started putting new manure (from our horses) on top of it.  By then it was too late, I wasn’t digging through it all again so I decided to try the potatoes and if it failed I’d just leave it all to rot.  I’m pleased to say it didn’t fail!  We harvested this little lot which I’m really pleased with, given that I’d prepared for lots of foliage from the manure and no potato production.  We had some of them with a slow cooked pork joint and veg from our veg box delivery and they were delicious.  I’m going to try pumpkins too next year
I also harvested a good amount of potatoes that were put in later than suggested and they turned out ok too.  So we have plenty of these for the next month maybe.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Bringing home the harvests....and a rosette

I am so very proud to say I managed to snag 3rd prize for my pumpkin in the local show at the weekend.  It was a fantastic event and there are some very serious competitors out there.  We entered a jam, chutney, apples and a painting, none of which registered, making my pumpkin rosette even more worth it!  It's now proudly hanging off one of the beams in my kitchen.  The pumpkin is now waiting for October when it will be proudly carved ready for the Halloween party we're putting on for the kids and neighbours.  The other pumpkins are still on the plant in the veg plot.


I've been working away thinking about what I can plant now to harvest before the winter and also on my 2017 veg plot plan.  I have a first draft here though it may well be changed.  The crops are where they are due to what's been planted this year and rotating.  The Plot 1/2/3/4 refer to what can be grown with each other.  I took the info from the gardenfocused website which I'm finding really useful.
This weekend I managed to sow spinach, corn salad, pak choi and my daughter kindly sowed radish.  I'm recording what I'm sowing in my spreadsheet and book and will not what harvest we get etc for using the information next year.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Gifts from lovely people

I have been given some lovely gifts over the last week or so.  My Mam and Dad have been on holiday venturing to the southerly end of the country and stopping at lots of places here and there.  The children received some lovely t-shirts from them and Steven and I got some Red Onion Chutney (yummy and the jar is perfect for using again for a gift) and a bottle of Cornish Cider (again, the bottle will be reused!).  He'll drink the cider in October as we're having a dry September.
Then an unexpected trip to visit our lovely next door neighbour saw us leaving with a bottle of Damson Gin from her last year’s damsons.  Finally another lovely lady at work had too many courgettes and cucumbers so she’s passed them on.  The cucumbers will go straight in our salad and the courgettes will either freeze or be grated into a meal to up the veg content.  The gifts are lovely and we’re super lucky to have family and friends like that.
When she gave me the damson gin, my neighbour said they were going to get the last of the damsons from their tree the other night which prompted me into action and off I went to collect the damsons from our tree.  It was absolutely laden with them.  I am going to follow the recipe in the newspaper that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall used to write for, The Guardian.  He recommends it’s left for 2 years if you have the patience!  However it can be tried from 3 months onwards, so we'll see.
I'll do that this weekend right after taking part in the country show!  We've registered my pumpkin, some cooking apples, jam, chutney and a painting of my daughters.  I can't wait.  The show is tomorrow, Saturday 17th October.  Wish me luck :)  I am ridiculously excited.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

A little chicken and goose update

When Steven called in to the neighbouring farmer to buy some corn he enquired as to when the new additions we’re supposed to be getting from him will be ready to leave and his reply was they should be ready soon.  I think a farmer’s “soon” is as noncommittal as my “maybe” to the kids!  Anyway we should be getting them at some point in September!  We’re really looking forward to it.  It really feels like we’re starting to build up good foundations to really run our home as a smallholding.  I’m a bit conscious that we’re getting them later than I hoped – by that I mean we’re moving into Autumn, darker nights and if things go wrong, less daylight hours to fix it (or find them if they get out ;) ) but we will manage and enjoy it.
3 of my bought in hens have recently started to lay eggs now they’re old enough.  The next lot will start to lay early October, so not too long to wait. The breed of chicken is called Vorwerk and are classed as a rarer breed than most. They are really pretty and the 7 of them have free ranged with Ryan, our house goose, since we have had them. So given that they free range across the whole smallholding, it will be interesting to see where they lay their eggs!  We have 4 hens and 3 cockerels in that group, all of which are getting on fairly well though I suspect at least 1, may 2 cockerels will have to go.  They won’t make good table birds, so they will probably be sold.  They make me laugh every day with their antics.  It’s so lovely to have them wandering around the place doing what they wish.  Of course Mr fox may take advantage of it one day and we’re know there are foxes around as we’ve seen them, I just hope the 8 geese we have is enough to keep him at bay. 
The last lot of this year’s birds were born in July so their point of lay is early December for those which are girls.  Any boys from that group will be leaving us before then, to start the stocking of our 2017 freezer.
Now to the ‘would you believe it’ part.  We were under the impression that geese only lay their eggs in the Spring.  So when one of our females started behaving particularly evilly (is that a word?!) I wasn’t overly impressed with her, until I saw what she was guarding.  An egg!  Well, 2 in fact.  I have taken them off her as I don’t want her sitting on them at the moment as she will need to up her body weight for winter, not lose it.  Also the goslings will have a better chance of survival if they arrive in spring instead.  More eggs! :D

Friday, 9 September 2016

Richard the duck

Richard, our most recently acquired duck, is a mucky little thing. Well big thing. He's actually huge. Since we adopted him he's been kept in the barn in our growers pen with the other chicks that were of a similar age. He's outgrown it now and to be honest, he's getting very smelly. I'm saying that and I have 4 horses in there who don't smell anywhere near as much. So tonight we introduced him to the other ducks and he's spending his first night with them in their coop. I've probably picked the most gloomy, windy and stormy night of late but he's got a roof over his head so should be ok from that aspect and fingers crossed he isn't bullied.
Grace carried him from the barn to the outside area. He cuddled in to her which she loved. The plan for this back area is to clear it out and have a good think about what we can do with it. People say goats live well on rough, nettle land but when I read up about them they seem to be selective eaters and wouldn't take kindly to the nettles area? Either way we are going to extend the duck area to include the orchard so they get to roam around more. Given the damage the geese have done by bullying the ducks in the past, we're separating the back of the barn and the orchard so the geese and ducks shouldn't come into contact with each other. There's quite a bit of work involved so Ste is taking care of that ad and when he can.
Also we have some huge mushrooms growing in the horse muck!! This is pure muck so I am going to see what we can do about growing our own safe mushrooms next year.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Night time visitor

I don’t think I have mentioned yet, but I am having a kind of detox September.  I’m not drinking alcohol, trying to eat cleaner than I normally might, cutting right back on the sugar intake and so on.  My theory that I am working towards is that if it isn’t or can’t be produced by nature, it doesn’t get eaten.  Yes you can pull this thought to bits, saying wine if from grapes etc but I am not going down that route.  As I said to a friend, if it doesn’t feel right, it won’t be. I’m eating salad dressing still and drinking cordial as that helps me get my salad and water intake.  I really do think that eating seasonally and home grown lends itself to this way of thinking anyway and as we cut out more and more shop bought food, it will happen automatically.  I’m just giving myself a bit of a boost.
I am sleeping better already.  I used to lay in bed and read for a hour before I went to sleep, often falling asleep with the book in my hand.  It would be 11pm before I got to sleep which is too late for me during the week.  So now I’m having a warm shower, getting into bed and going to sleep.  I’ve slept great this week apart from last night when the puppies heard something and started barking!
Steven’s doing it too, though with slightly different requirements.  He’s training to build up and I’m hoping to slim down (1 stone 5lb or so would be nice)!
With this in mind I was excited to receive the latest veg box which contained all sorts of healthy goodies.  We had half of the peppers in last night’s tea and the salad was mostly used in today’s lunches for work.  That leaves the spinach, borlotti beans, some onions, broccoli and courgettes for the next few days.  I’ve also been given courgettes so I am going to nip over to a couple of blogs to see how they’ve frozen them as I don’t want to waste them.  Also the borlotti beans look almost dried out, so I’m wondering if I need to soak them.  I’m sure I’ve read that they store very well.
When I locked up last night, I had another friend waiting for me, this time a hedgehog!  Do you remember the toad that jumped out on me before?  Well this little guy scared the life out of me as it was dark and I didn’t expect him to appear in my torchlight.  He was adorable!  I’m so pleased to know we have hedgehogs living with us, they need looking after!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Aga in the summer


We decided to keep the Aga on during the summer despite many of our neighbours or friends switching theirs off.  Our kitchen is a big old farmhouse kitchen that is north facing.  In the winter, it’s just a nice temperature in there despite the Aga kicking out some heat.  In fact the whole house is cold so we tend to congregate solely around the Aga in the colder months. 
I did think it would be too hot in the summer and although it’s been hot, we’ve been able to manage it.  Now why don’t we turn it off?  Well we use it every single day for a multitude of tasks.  Steven’s overalls for work (he’s a butcher) dry on there a couple of nights a week, the kids clothes that inevitably get wet, dry on there before they dash back off outside, our boots dry in front of it (yes, even in the summer), we have toast on it daily, boil the kettle and every main meal of the day is cooked on it plus the dogs love laying in front of it! 
Now if I switched it off, I’d have to find alternate methods to do all of these things, using electricity instead of oil and to be honest, I don’t want to.  Whether we will feel the same next year, our second summer in the house, I don’t know.  It will also depend on how much the price of oil rises too.  Not to say that we have money to burn on oil this year, we don’t.  I just don’t feel as much pressure from it as I would should I be paying double the amount.  It is a part of the family now, I simply love it and I think I would always have one now. 
Ours is 45/50 years old according to the engineer who services it for us.  He installed it in the farmhouse many, many years ago and it was a good age then as he bought it second hand and reconditioned it.  It’s an amazing little thing. 

When we moved here, well just before, my Mam and Dad bought me Mary Berry’s The Complete Aga Cookbook and it’s extremely good.  It's very informative and so many recipes in there that I’m working my way through.  I think I will pick a month and make a dish a day (or so!) from it.  This will help me get through the recipes too as I am terrible for having recipes books and then making 1 or 2 from them and shelving it.  I’ll maybe do that through November, when the clocks have gone back and I have less time outside.
Aga toast - from when we first moved in and ever since!
 
Quite comfortable here
 
Poor Buddy!

 
Yummy food from the Aga

 
He seems to be here a lot!

 
See what I mean?

 
The Aga fixes poorly children

 
and sends you off to sleep if you sit there too long


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Autumn seeds


The elderberries are starting to ripen so it won’t be long before we’re picking those.  I’ll Google some recipes and have them ready and waiting for a Saturday afternoon when they’re perfect to pick.
From my growing veg experience so far, I’m going to plan out next year in my book and try to stick to it religiously so that we have something available every week (day?) that’s seasonal.  Of course most people don’t think of having food growing in the colder months and indeed many people have no inclination to be growing food in the colder months.  They would prefer to be inside in the warmth with the food bought from their local supermarket.  I have nothing against this, but I would love to be able to rely on ourselves to supply our own food.  Therefore I’ve started making a list of all the items we eat weekly, such as salads for packed lunch at work, potatoes in one shape or another, onions are the basis to most meals etc and I’m going to make a note against each one as to how long we can expect to have them for, during the year.  Obviously I am taking tips from fellow bloggers on the preserving, pickling and bottling that you have been doing this year on your blogs, to allow me to extend the season as long as possible next year.  I am doing as much as I can this year, but I am running out of my own veg now. 
If I get organised over the coming months, then it will make next year so much easier having a plan to follow.  Then I can adapt it and make notes as we go.  I’m so excited already!  To start as I mean to go on I have ordered the following from T&M:  perpetual spinach (spinach beet), autumn planting onion sets 75 included (Shakespeare & Electric (Red)), pak choi purple F1 hybrid, Corn salad cavallo, garlic garcua 2 bulbs.  I’ve written the names out for my reference and so I can get the labels pre written.  I also have a £5 off voucher to use by 01st October if anyone can use it, for T&M?  It is PVT79NA2A1J6I3Z. 
The spinach, salad and pak choi will go in the bed where the beans were during the summer.  The garlic and onions are going where the potatoes have all been harvested from.  Once they’re finished with in the late autumn/winter then I will dig over the beds are maybe add rotted manure.  I’m not sure what’s going in this bed next year yet, but I will be sure to that they like rotted manure before sowing as I know carrots for example don’t like manure.  Then again, carrots and I have never really got on!

Monday, 5 September 2016

Nature's morning


Today was the start of a back to school and work, normal week.  Although school started last week, they were only there two days so I don’t think the teachers do too much with them, knowing that the kids are so excited to see each other again. 

So we have our new routine back in place, getting any homework done as soon as we get in whilst I finalise tea.  The kids and I sit together in the kitchen and complete everything that’s needed, pack the backs back up for the next day and then they are free to enjoy themselves, which includes getting some jobs done on the smallholding of course.  This includes collecting the eggs, filling the feeders up or changing the water.  The horses usually need doing although they are living in the field at the moment so apart from ride and keeping the field poo free, there’s not a lot of jobs to do there.

Can you believe we haven’t picked any brambles yet?  Maybe you can if you haven’t had any yourself.  I was so sure the masses of bushed that are around us would be heavy with brambles but their fruit is so small that you don’t get a bramble off it, it’s really not worth the pickings.  I think we may need to venture to our old bramble spot and get a few tubs full for the freezer.

Speaking of which, we’re going to buy a new freezer this week and hopefully get it delivered at the weekend.  Our kitchen freezer simply isn’t big enough for what we are going to need.  Soon enough we should have some whole chickens and a goose ready to be froze too, which definitely won’t fit in the kitchen freezer.  I’d also like to stock up on some milk as we’re very sporadic in how much we use.  I’m looking at getting a tall upright, opposed to a chest freezer as although I like the thought of the chest freezer, I often hear about people scrabbling around in them having to shift everything from the top to get to the thing they need at the bottom etc.

My husband spoke to the farmer we’re getting our new additions from and we’re told they should be with us shortly so fingers crossed I can post about them soon.

We’re due a lovely week of weather here in the North East and although I’m at work, I’m going to get out and make the most of it by finishing off those jobs in the greenhouse and veg plot that we started a few days back.  Then I need to start thinking about moving some of our rotted manure to the beds that will be sitting empty until Spring and covering them over to keep them protected and weed free.  I’ve also started a drawing for what’s going where in the veg plot for 2017 summer harvest, so I’ll take a picture of the drawing and share it with you this week once I have finished it.
Finally, the most important part of this post.  My kids were chatting amongst themselves this morning and Jack made a comment, I didn’t hear it, but Grace’s response was “the morning’s don’t belong to us Jack, they belong to nature” and although she may not have meant it how I ended up thinking of it.  She’s so right, it will carry on without us, we’re just here to enjoy the ride.  So let’s enjoy every minute – I’m so thankful that we’re getting to do what we love.  Happy Monday everyone J

Sunday, 4 September 2016

A little bit of everything.

Isn't it lovely to see the changing seasons?  I love the country I live in.  There is a definite move from one season to another and with it brings new things.  Moving into our smallholding has shown us new seasonal sights, especially harvest.  Every day I look over to the fields around us and see the farmers hard at work, the roads have the tell tale bits of straw which have escaped when being transported, lined up along their sides and every few days we see bales of hay and straw piling up at random points along the horizon. 

For us personally, moving into Autumn is the shift from summer eating to slightly more Autumnal dishes, slowly introducing the slow cooker again, eating basic staples like mashed potatoes with beef gravy (yum) and my mind turns to making things like soup again.  I know you can make soup in the summer but it's not something I enjoy eating during the warmest months and I enjoy the process more in the Autumn and especially the Winter.  One of my favourite soups is anything with sweet potatoes, squashes and pumpkins.  Speaking of which, I've been growing pumpkins this year and one of them is enormous!  It probably won't taste very nice with it being so big, but I have decided to enter it into a local show on 17th September.  It's our first ever show, first ever pumpkin actually, so I though let's go have some fun.

Over the last couple of weeks, I'm thrilled to say my daughter has followed in my footsteps with regards to enjoying cooking and has started making some of our meals.  She's 9 and I am extremely proud of her.  Here she is knocking up some apricot and pumpkin seed flapjacks for our packed lunches.  They were so delicious, I didn't get to take a photo of the end result!
The new company that we're using for the veg box scheme are called Riverford and so far I am really pleased with them.  Their veg is so fresh and tasty and the milk has a good date one it.  Here's the last order that came. 
 But what on earth do I do with tomatillos?!

I bought some granola to get an idea of what to include if I made my own.  It wasn't cheap, £4 for this little tub, so I won't be ordering it frequently, but hopefully I'll like it and make my own as I'm struggling with what healthy breakfasts I can have.
Our girls have been producing eggs left, right and centre.  We've had about 120 eggs spare at any one time so if anyone has any ideas of what to make with eggs apart from frittatas, quiches, cakes, eggs on toast etc then I would appreciate them! Some of the eggs have been huge over the last couple of weeks.  The one of the left is a hen egg next to a duck egg (second from left) and 2 standard hen eggs on the right.
Whilst we were off we took our metal detector into the field as it used to be a medieval settlement so we hoped to find some exciting hints into what happened there in the past.  We were told it was a graveyard but looking at it from an aerial view you can see the outlines where the houses/rooms/foundations were.  On this photo we're in the right hand side.  It's all changed since the photo was taken and the big farm has been split into 3 but we an see our fields on here.  It's really interesting and I think I will see what I can find out about its past.  We managed to dig up 2 horse shoes and some parts of a rusty old gate.
 
In the garden, I've cleared out the veg beds that had finished producing and that don't come back next year.  I noticed we have some raspberries coming from the same canes that produced around 4/5 weeks ago.  Should that be happening and are they summer fruiting or autumn (I realise this is a silly question to some!)?






We really have had a lovely summer holiday, there's nothing as fabulous as family time in a place you love.  I'll wrap up now as I will be wittering on all night otherwise.  Back to normal now :)