The perfect pink of nettle cordial

So about 2 weeks ago I put on my thick gloves and lifted my basket and went nettle picking. My recipe was for 1 litre of nettle cordial but being a cautious soul I halved the quantities just in case I didn’t like it. Out I went to gather the required 100g of nettle tops. I knew it would be a lot more than you would expect ( just like spinach) but my first ‘weigh in’ was a measly 75g so back out I went.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I washed and dried the nettles, placed them in a bowl and added the solution of water, citric acid and sugar  – it’s quite an unusual smell! After a week it was time to filter and sample the result.

The perfect pink liquid was delicious diluted with sparkling water – a definite success!

I had a bit of fun a few days later when I put the members of a local gardening club to the test  – not one person guessed what it was. Many thought it was gooseberry.

I am so pleased with the result that it will be gloves on for a mass harvest. I plan to make a couple of litres and freeze it in containers  so we can enjoy nettle cordial throughout the summer.


I researched a number of websites for recipes and you can see the recipe for my version of nettle cordial  here or check out the sites below – there are loads more!

skyeforestgarden.com
eatweeds.co.uk

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The Horseradish says spring is on its way

It’s been a while since I’ve written I guess I can blame putting all my energies into More than Willow but that is another story and a happy one too.

We have been waiting for spring to appear and it seems to have been just around the corner for ages. All of a sudden the bees, the call of the chiffchaff and fresh green shoots are all evidence that winter is almost over.

But despite eagerly yearning for spring and watching for signs once again I have almost been caught sleeping.  The horseradish which should have been dug up and processed months ago was harvested just before the first leaves  appeared and the horseradish butter is safely in the freezer. The last of the parsnips have been harvested too so last night’s parsnip mash with horesradish butter was a winter treat – to celebrate spring?

The very last stands of willow were cut last week and though there was no sign of leaf on them stools that had been cut in January have teeny tiny shoots appearing – isn’t nature wonderful?

So skipping with spring in my step I am off outside to enjoy the sunshine and with stout gloves on  gather nettles to make nettle cordial – a first for me and one that I will report on when complete.

Clarity of light and the beauty of winter colours

I am not sure whether the light this year has really been any different to previous years or whether I have just been more aware of it but one thing is for sure is that today was stunning.  The day started with a crisp clear sunrise with the sheep in the back field standing Christmas card like to welcome the new day.

As the sun rose in the sky became a wonderful clear blue a perfect backdrop for winter trees and the recent frost shave heightened and deepened the colour of so many trees and shrubs.  The frost gives seed heads from summer flowers a magical outline and spiders’ webs glisten in the early morning light.

I spent the morning cutting willow of many colours. My labours were interrupted frequently as I was distracted by the sheer beauty of the day and of nature.  The delicate spindle berries with their orange seed cased in a delicate pink fruit which looks like it should be in an exotic garden rather than a Shropshire hedgerow.  The long tailed tits with their pink tinged feathers flitting and twittering in the dark willow – their delicate colours complementing the emerging pussy willows.  Flocks of Redwing passed to and fro stopping to feast in the ancient field hedges with their fine array of different fruits and seeds – spindle, rosehip, haw, alder buckthorn and sloe.

Rose hips and willow in the winter sunshine  20161201_132259

 

 

 

 

 

As I reluctantly decided to head homeward y three swans flew over – the bright sunlight behind them meant that I couldn’t tell whether they were Whooper or Bewick but I like to think they were Whooper.

How lucky I a20161201_175102m to have spent a morning enjoying  the beauty of nature and to spend the afternoon working with the freshly cut willow.

 

It’s been a funny old year

Maybe it shows my age but when I reflect on the growing seasons this year I feel like  Arkwright from Open All Hours as he closes up the shop for the night with ‘It’s been a funny old day Granville…

I think it has been a funny old year this year with seasons merging into each other which has prolonged the growing period for many fruit and vegetables – it’s great that there is  in the middle of October there is still a lots to chose from.  Tonight we had a marrow stuffed with a savoury lentil sauce made with freshly picked tomatoes, green pepper and aubergine topped off with cheese – pretty tasty!
20161019_red-blackberries
This afternoon when I was out gathering autumn berries and leaves I was surprised to see shiny red unripe blackberries rather than wizened and mouldy over ripe blackberries that you would expect at this time of year. And yet when I was checking the sloes (thinking it’s almost time to make sloe gin) I was amazed to find that the laden bushes of last week are almost stripped bare of fruit.

So what else makes me think it’s been a funny old year in the garden?  Well we have been cropping climbing beans from the polytunnel since May and there are still a few stragglers left but on the other hand the runner beans just didn’t grow until the end of August so we have been eating young and tender runners as an autumn vegetable. Sadly that means there won’t be any getting to the seed stage before frost appear so no home grown dried beans to add to chillies this winter.

basket-of-veg

Courgettes have been virtually nonexistent both in and out doors and yet the cucumbers have been like triffids they have just kept on growing p and are still growing. I have developed a taste for cucumber water and along with my new found delight in making flavoured gins I can thoroughly recommend cucumber gin – just pop about 4 slices into a tot of gin and leave for about 5 minutes before adding the tonic.

So a funny old year – but maybe every year is a funny year so that  gardeners have something to talk about!

 

Lovely lemon verbena

I have growing lemon verbena for years, have read numerous recipes but never quite got round to using it until by chance I came across Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for Verbena Lemonade made with crushed leaves of lemon verbena infused in hot water with a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I gave it a go and it has quickly become a favourite – really quick and easy to make and delicious to drink.  Once made it can be stored in the fridge for about a week or you could freeze it to bring a taste of summer to mid winter.

To drink squeeze lemon or lime juice and add to lemon verbena infusion – I find 2 lemons or limes add the right level of zing for a litre. Not being contented with drinking it  I have also used it to make lovely light summery jellies  served with a skim of pouring cream on the top, a few berries on the side and some shortbread. If you are feeling really organised adding  lemon or lime zest to the shortbread complements the jellies.

And the final use of this easy to make drink is to add a dash of gin for a summer evening tipple or for a sparkling version  pour a little lemon verbena infusion (without the lemon or lime juice) into a glass and top up with prosecco – enjoy!

 

 

Crystalised Thoughts

Well it’s exactly one year and two weeks since my last blog and, even though I haven’t been sharing it, there has been a lot of freeranging thinking going on in that time.  The exciting thing is that the thinking has at long last morphed into action and it feels good!

I’ve made some life changes – jumping from the security of a well paid and demanding job to a very part time job on an exciting project linking young people and the environment AND taking the first steps to start my own small business.

It’s early days with lots of planning, market research and making contacts so there is not much to share apart from my deep sense of satisfaction and the joy of taking the first steps towards a new future and way of life.

Key to this change is stepping up the food growing and self sufficiency and so the greenhouse and polytunnel are full to bursting with plants – it has not been an easy growing season with a dirth of runner beans balanced with lots of climbing  french beans and the anticipation of sweet corn – the first for many years!

sweet corn 2

How many beans make five?

We’ve had some rain and it’s a beautiful evening so I have been outside planting out leeks, kale and sprouts in whatever gaps I can find in the vegetable garden.  On my way back to the house I checked out the polytunnel – tomatoes are doing well , the cucumber glut is progressing with alarming speed and the climbing french beans just needed to be picked.

As I was picking the beans my thoughts turned to Jerry, a dear friend who sadly is no longer with us. He used to amuse the boys when they were little with the question  – ‘how many beans make five?’
The answer which must be said at high speed is
‘two beans, a bean, a bean and a half and half a bean’
after years of repeating it I can say it quickly, without hesitation and without even thinking. How I wish I had asked Jerry the origin of the saying.

So as the french and runner beans in the vegetable garden struggle to get established due to wind, cold weather especially at nights and anything else you can think of to blame-  I am delighted with the results in the tunnel.  I had never tried growing broad beans and climbing french beans in the polytunnel before so I gave it a whirl this year.  We have been eating broad beans for about 6 weeks now and have moved seamlessly from the tunnel to the outdoor crop.  But even better the climbing beans are prolific and tonight’s harvest went straight into the freezer.

As a result of the early bean crop I have been experimenting with some new recipes.  All year I have been enjoying following the months in  Hugh Fearnley-Whiitingstall’s book The River Cottage Year and one of July’s recipes is french beans with tapenade and chicken.  I liked the basic idea of the recipe but not too sure about anchovies and thought what about using a mixture of fresh summer vegetables – french and broad beans and tiny baby courgettes. The experiment worked and served with freshly dug potatoes it is a really tasty meal.

See – summer vegetables with tapenade and chicken recipe

And if anyone knows the answer to the origin of ‘how many beans make five?’ do let me know!

The positive side of a challenge

Last weekend we headed south to act as  support team for eldest son who was taking part in Race to the Stones (http://www.racetothestones.com) a 100km journey along the ancient Ridgeway Path from just north of High Wycombe to Avebury Stone Circle.

Preparation for the event began in January and there was a bit of blow about four weeks ago when an injury meant no more running. But he rose to the challenge and decided that despite shin splints he still had to take part even if it meant walking rather than running.

It’s a part of the country I don’t know very well. It was really enjoyable discovering the area with its rolling views and learning a bit about its ancient history even if there was a bit of pressure navigating along busy roads and tiny lanes to get to the next crossing point ready to cheer and encourage participants including son number one.

As we clapped and cheered as people passed by it was an uplifting experience to see how a bit of human encouragement can ease the weary step and bring a cheery smile to what a minute or two before had been drooping shoulders and an air of despondency. We saw the warm side of human nature with one being giving another support, encouragement and help – whether fellow participants or spectators.

I have consciously avoided using the word competitor as there seemed to be so much cooperation and the only competitiveness was personal. It was the individual’s sheer will power and drive to push themselves to finish not to ‘beat’ another participant.

But what made the event even more special was the area that it passed through – a path walked by generations of people absolutely steeped in history and mysticism. Hill forts, castle mounds and amazing places like the white horse at Uffington and the stone circle at Avebury are found along the route.

We arrived at Avebury just as the sun was setting over the dry golden landscape and there was an area of peace and tranquillity around the stones. The race finish was just up the road where we watched glowing head torches bob down the hill to the finish line as all around people clapped, cheered and welcomed home those who had followed in ancient footsteps to complete the route.

At the finishing point there were scenes of jubilation, relief and pain but the overriding feeling was the sense of pride that a challenge had been met and a journey completed no matter how blistered the feet  or how sore the legs.

Our forebears worked together to create the amazing landmarks, like the stone circles, which have survived and on Saturday the spirit of cooperation continued with all involved whether watching, taking part or organising the event. If only that spirit of cooperation and human warmth and support could be evident in all walks of life and in all parts of the world.

Yoga by the gooseberry bush

It’s  uncanny that it’s exactly a year and two days since I picked last year’s crop of gooseberries.( In search of Elderflowers.) The glorious sunshine that we had over the weekend has fully ripened the fruit on the first bush.  So tonight was the night to venture into the fruit cage, armed with a trug, wondering what this year’s crop would weigh in at.

My helpful husband pruned the bushes last autumn and the grass is a bit wet after heavy rainfall so I had to bend to pick the fruit and not cheat by kneeling.  After a few minutes I wished I hadn’t eaten before setting forth on my gathering.  Then I suddenly thought of yoga and the squat position malasana or garland pose that we had been practising in last week’s class.  Problem solved  – not quite the perfect yogi’s version as my feet were hip width apart and my hands were busy picking rather than in the prayer position.  But what had seemed like a back breakin, dinner squashing job  turned into a relaxing deep breathing moment of calming yoga and with the added bonus of a full trug of gooseberries.

It is quite a relief that the first bush has only yielded a mere 8lb of gooseberries compared with last yeaGooseberries 2015r’s 11lb but what is even better is that there are none of last year’s gooseberries lurking in the freezer.  So tonight as I sit topping and tailing them, sadly not outside on a glorious sunny evening like last year but inside with a fleece on ,  I will think about what to make.  First off will be my  favourite  gooseberry fool but I wonder what different recipes can I find to try this year?

And of course due to repairs to the fruit cage it is unlikely that the second bush will suffer from the squirrel attack of last year so there will be pounds more of fruit to pick and another yoga moment.

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Swallows, strawberries and summer

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Is there such a thing a as strawberry joy?  Well if there is we are experiencing it this year.  After years of disappointment due to wildlife attacks despite trying all sorts of cunning ways of beating them- nets, cages, hanging planters …

This year we are enjoying a bumper crop and have a clear conscience as we have not harmed a single mouse, bird, snail, slug or squirrel.  The solution is growing the plants in large pots, filled with beech leaf mould, and placing them high on  old trestle tables in the polytunnel.

20150606_122907Basket of strawberriesWe have enjoyed and shared the strawberries and following this year’s success plans are afoot to increase the number of pots and to try and have a big enough crop to make jam next year.

And our second moment of pride is that the swallows have checked out the new open sided barn and have built a nest – the first we have ever had.  So let’s hope next year we will have a gulp of swallows as well as a glut of strawberries.