Sunday, 10 December 2017

What’s your plan b?

On Friday we were due a delivery of oil which would see us through the worst of the winter. I received a text and an email to say there was to be a delay in getting it. Now that was very unusual.  Typically I’d let the oil go lower than we normally would, so we were desperate for it come Friday. That was a mistake which I won’t repeat! 

I rang up BoilerJuice which is where we place our orders through and they informed me there’s no oil for delivery in the north east of England at the moment. Not just where I am, but the north and north east! Apparently there’s a problem with the ships docking due to bad weather conditions. Now I don’t know where they dock, but we’ve not had any conditions that we haven’t seen before. The lady on the phone told me it was unprecedented. It all sounds a bit off to me, but it didn’t change the fact that we had no oil.

I went out and switched the main supply from the tank off and then the AGA. Boy that’s sad to do. Luckily I had a day off work on Friday so I set about getting the wood burner going ready for the kids coming in and checked the electric oven was working (we never use it except at Christmas!). It was. However I have never used the emersion heater for the water (normally ran off oil) so I had to guess as to how to switch it on. Not hard, you press the button, but when you don’t know if it’s the right button, it’s a bit tense! These are all costs I wouldn’t normally endure and I do think overall will be more expensive that the oil would cost me to provide the same service. 

Anyway, we have log upon logs so I know we could stay warm, but the coal was low. This wasn’t like me, I am normally super organised and typically this series of events was going from bad to worse! Ste managed to source some coal on Saturday fairly quickly.

So we still have no oil, but are stocked up on coal. We’ve dug out the oil filled radiators and put them on in the kids bedrooms as the house is truly bitter, we’re at -5 here tonight. I kids you not that I am sleeping in a hat my nana knit me! The next problem is, the electricity is going off for 6 hours this week, it’s making me wonder what we’d do next if the cooker and emersion were to be out of action for a while. Would you be prepared for the worst? I know I didn’t feel it, but I’m going to make sure we’re ready for the next time.



We actually don’t have snow here today, I think we’re the only place in the country! These are a couple of days old now. The landscape is changing so much as we move deeper into winter.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Monday Night Preserves - Christmas Mincemeat

I make no apology that Christmas preserving is going to be top of the list for the next few posts.  It's so exciting and with it only being our second Christmas here, we're still developing new ways and traditions.

Yesterday was Stir Up Sunday and we made our Christmas Pudding which I posted about but I also made the sweet mincemeat, again something that I haven't made before.  It smelt amazing!  I can't believe how easy it was to make.  Thank you to Lou for spurring me on to do it, just by being her.

Last year I treat myself to Mary B's Christmas recipe book, worth every penny I have to say and this is the recipe I followed. 

I used dark rum as I had it in the pantry and wouldn't use it for anything else, so in it went.


I used fresh cranberries opposed to dry as stated in the recipe, which after a couple of frantic messages with Lou, I decided to follow the recipe regardless and just leave it in the simmering oven for a bit longer, to cook them through. 

I'm very pleased with the outcome, 4 good sized jars.  We'll be making mince pies with this soon, so I hope it tastes nice.

Christmas is coming and I intend to enjoy every minute! 


Sunday, 26 November 2017

A weekend in pictures 











We have had the best weekend. We're starting with the Christmas decorations which we love! This is our 2nd Christmas on the smallholding and we're making more of our own decorations as well as the ones we already have. The kids have been busy stuffing orange slices with cloves and helping me with the Christmas pudding on Stir up Sunday, which many people already do each year, and I hope is going to be a tradition for us too.

Stir up Sunday is an old tradition which I think is lovely. It's the last Sunday before Advent Sunday apparently. We're not overly religious but I do like this. We all took a turn at stirring the mixture of which we had a good giggle to when I insisted we took photos for the blog.


Tomorrow I'm going to share the mincemeat recipe with you as part of Monday night preserves. I still owe a recipe for stock powder but that can follow at any point. I hope you've all had a fabulous weekend.



Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The fox has been

The days are drawing in and the smallholding is going into its winter routine. Sadly we had a visit from the fox at dawn a day or 2 ago. It took one of my geese. A fully grown big bird. I've heard that foxes take geese but part of me never believed it. I was devastated. This goose would have been for the table yes, but we are ALL about a good life and a quick and humane end. This end was not nice and I felt so sorry for it.

RIP goose.


Also, we're missing 3 ducks. However they are missing without a trace. We found the remains of the goose, so although in my heart I know it was the fox, I'm hoping that the ducks have found an appealing part of the river and have gone on an adventure.

This means we're locking up as soon as it gets dark which is ridiculously early through winter. The geese are squatting in the sheep pen which is in the barn with the horses. We'll figure out a permanent home for them before the sheep are to be housed. The geese do make me laugh, they are forever chatting to themselves. Also they randomly stretch their wings making every other goose duck down until the stretching session is over.


At the weekend, we visited my Uncles new place that he's bought with his lovely wife. It's on the way to Whitby and is beautiful, such a lot of potential. The kids had a blast helping out. I look forward to seeing what they grow there both edible and livestock wise. They aren't sure yet as plan to travel too, so I'll watch this space.


The kids had fun and so did Ste as he got to knock things down! 

Also I'm pleased to say my bunyards exhibition have germinated!! They are in the unheated greenhouse where they will stay until they are big enough to plant out.

I've got some sweet peas in now too, to see if they get a good start on next year. I'll do more beans and peas in the spring too.


Finally I wanted to share with you how my Christmas present is coming on! Ste is making me a potting shed and I am ecstatic about it. How many 30 something yr old women would say that?


Also, we're expecting another addition to the smallholding late December. More to follow ❤️

Monday, 13 November 2017

Monday night preserves - souper mix

This is a preserve that I've wanted to do for ages but haven't pulled my finger out and planned it well enough.

Souper mix is the second attempt I am having at using home made stock. This recipe, along with my pork stock, will keep us in flavoursome food for a good while I hope. There's another one I'll try soon too, so between the 3 recipes we shouldn't need to buy stock cubes again.

Now according to Pam Corbin, the queen of preserving, you would use the following ingredients for this recipe:

250g leeks

200g fennel

200g carrots

250g celeriac

50g sun dried tomatoes

2-3 garlic cloves

100g parsley

100g coriander

250g salt

Part of the reason I haven't made this yet is I've never had those ingredients to hand together. Instead of another week passing where I don't make this, I've decided to use the following, as Pam advocates changing to what you have in stock. I'm all for that, adapt and move on.

The ingredients I used are leeks, carrots, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, red and green pepper and swede. I used the same amount of salt as it's the preserving ingredient. 

Roughly chppping the ingredients up I blitzed them all in the food processor.


I used mixed herbs and added it all in. The end result was fairly wet and I'm pleased with it.


As I use stock pretty much daily, I didn't put this into sterilised containers as it'll be gone quickly. If I wanted to keep it I would and then it'd be ok for 6 months according to Pam.

The benefit of this is it takes up a lot let space than the freezer stock from bones. Next week I have another version to try and then from the 3 options I will choose the best and use that version next year.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

November update plus over wintering seeds and planning for 2018 sowing

Now Autumn is half way through, it’s got me thinking more and more about seasonal sowing and growing.  As well as preparing the ground for the next season (bean trenches and manuring) I’m also thinking about what I can over-winter, that will give me extra early harvests next year. 

This year (2017) my broad bean harvest was abysmal.  I don’t know what got to them, but it just did not work for me.  variety that can be planted in the Autumn here in the UK is Bunyard's exhibition.  I've purchased some from Victoriana Nurseries and have been sowing them.  As I live in the North East, to grow these over winter, I feel these plants would need some protection to get through so once they start to show, I cover them with a small cloche tunnel of some description. 

Broad beans are part of the legume family and as I follow a 4 year crop rotation, they are to be planted where the onion and root family were the previous year.  The broad beans I have sown directly are 2cm deep in double rows.  The double row is (about) 23cm apart and the space between each double row is 60cm to allow me to get in and harvest the beans.  A double row of these Autumn planted beans will be followed by double row in February, March then April. That should see us through.  Depending on how prolific they are, these plants will hopefully be cropping well into July and August and therefore once the seeds are sown, that bed will be unusable for anything else until the plants are spent.
Other legumes that I have decided on for 2018 growing is a climbing pea called Victorian Colossal.  I’m really excited to grow this variety based on research I’ve done.  According to Victoriana Nurseries, this pea also does well when grown on a trench, so I’ve dug a trench where the peas will grow next year too.  This variety doesn’t seem to be an over-winter one so in the meantime, I looked into what variety would be good to try and over-winter.  Douce Provence comes up regularly and I grew this in my first year here which was a good crop. 
If you recall, I ordered my Autumn planting garlic, onions and shallots in mid-September which I’ve now received and are mostly planted out.  A few garlic are left to do.  These all come under the 'onion and root' part of crop rotation (along with leeks) and need to be planted where the potatoes were.  Next year, the legumes will follow on from the onions and roots meaning I might be able to get a late summer crop but I’m getting ahead of myself now.  They are coming through spectacularly, especially the shallots.

We've also got a visitor for a couple of months.  The guy over the river, who helped us with taking the pigs to slaughter, offered us a tup for a couple of months to hopefully cover the girls, giving us April lambs.  He seems nice enough so far, though sometimes they can get aggressive when they are with their girls.  The kids have been told not to go near him just in case.




 Steven and I had a child free morning today, something we never have, so we headed down to the area where the pigs had been, to see how many weeds have come through.  Not too many to be fair.  No more should grow now as the day time temperatures are consistently below 6C I would say.  We've some exciting things planned for this area next year.



I've also given the greenhouse a further tidy, binning another few plants that were done for.  Sadly, the courgette plant which serviced us so well has gone to compost heaven.  It was a golden zucchini variety - a freeby from the GYO magazine and I will definitely be growing them again next year.



Things are slowly returning back to normal here after our busy times.  I'm looking forward to a normal week at work, Monday night preserves tomorrow and bring you updates on the meat birds which are growing at a steady rate.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Monday night preserves - stock from bones 

When our pigs went in August, we processed as much as possible at the time. We kept some bones back and I threw them in the deep freeze as I didn't have time to process them all at the same time. I now need the freezer space! So although this isn't a true seasonal preserve, it is to me.

I got the bones out on the way to work and left them to defrost (do bones defrost?) in the sink until I got home. There's still some bits of meat on the bones which is perfect for making your own stock. I roasted them for 45 minutes on the floor of the roasting oven whilst I set about with some other tasks. It is supposed to improve the flavour.


They came out with a good colour on them.


I moved them to the huge stock pot which I picked up in Aldi a couple of years ago and then deglazed the roasting tin.


This was all added to the stock pot along with a few chopped carrots, 3 onions, celery, garlic bulb halved horizontally, a sprinkle of fennel seeds, a few peppercorns and some bay leaves. 


That's to simmer for 5 hours or so. I'll leave it overnight and then it can cool tomorrow when I'm at work.

When cool I'll strain it through a muslin and freeze in portions (that will take up less space than the bones!). It will be used in any recipe that calls for chicken stock. With Christmas round the corner, that will be plenty!!