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.

Sloe jelly – the rich colour of winter

Geranium,nicotiania, marigolds and nasturtiums are still flowering even though we are in mid November but today was one of those days where it never got light and eventually the rain set in.  To cheer myself up I thought it was time to make sloe jelly – one of the richest coloured preserves around.

Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn a common part of traditional hedgerow.  The berries are a deep dark shiny purple and cluster round the sharp thorns.  Birds love them but don’t be fooled to try to eat them from the bush as they have a dry sharp flesh which makes your tongue shrivel.  But use them to make sloe gin to sip at Christmas or sloe jelly for use in winter stews or to accompany game they are delicious

I had picked about 1lb of sloes last weekend and earlier in. the week I had cooked them with cooking apples and strained the pulp overnight but as I hadn’t enough time I froze the strained liquid until today.  Gently heating the liquid with sugar and stirring until it came to the boil and enjoying the lovely smell and colour brightened up a wet afternoon.

Testing for 'set' before potting up sloe jelly

Testing for ‘set’ before potting up sloe jelly

Now as I write I can smell sausages, chunks of potatoes and red onions gently cooking  and once the onions have caramelised I will add the sloe jelly that didn’t fit in the jar and a slug of red wine – should be good!

 

 

1 Cucumber, 2 Raspberries and 6 Tomatoes

My first leisurely start to the day for a while so I was enjoying a relaxed breakfast and checking my stocks of dried fruit as it almost time to start the preparations for Christmas – sweet mincemeat and plum pudding are on the list to be made this weekend. The Christmas cake is a mid December job as this household prefers a light glacé fruit cake rather than the traditional rich fruit cake.

As the morning progressed and the sun fought its way through the rain and grey skies I was lured away from the much needed domestic chores to take the dog for a walk. What a beautiful mild sunny day. The grey sky gone just clear blue and many trees still holding their leaves in a multitude of autumnal shades – a good to be alive day!

I haven’t been home much in the daylight recently so hadn’t really had a good look in the polytunnel or veg garden probably for 2 weeks. I expected mildewy tomato and cucumber plants and was amazed to find they are still looking relatively healthy and the tomatoes are still ripening. I picked 6 tomatoes and a cucumber which will add a bit more variety to the cheese on toast I was planning for lunch (food shopping is the final chore for today!). I checked in on the hens who are enjoying a temporary stay in the soft fruit area and there above their heads, and out of reach, were two ripe raspberries which were delicious.

So a morning that started off with wintery, grey and full of Christmas planning has developed into an autumnal day and I’m off to eat my cheese on toast topped with tomato and cucumber in the sunshine in the greenhouse!

Picking pears by torchlight

It’s been a long and sunny autumn with an abundance of fruit and vegetable.  Tomatoes still ripening on the tumbling toms outside, runner beans and cucumbers growing, autumn raspberries and still the occasional blackberry (despite the old wives tale of the devil entering them after the autumn equinox).

Life has been fairly full picking, pickling, freezing and storing but what a shock when the weather turned cool this week.  Last night I was eating my evening meal listening to the wind battering the kitchen window when I realised that my beautiful conference pears were at risk.  When the last mouthful hand been swallowed off I went with basket and torch to pick the remaining crop and to search the ground for any windfalls.

Apples places in single layers ready for eating!

Apples placed in single layers ready for eating or sharing…

Picking this final crop spurred me on to deal with the previously picked apple crop – mainly egremont russet eaters. I’ve sorted out the best and wrapped them individually in newspaper and placed them carefully in cardboard boxes in a cool store.  The rest I have placed in single layers to be eaten or given away as soon as possible – apples keep so much better if they do not touch each other.

Tomorrow I will lead the apple scrumping party in the field near work ready to  start using windfalls to make apple jelly and apple and almond cake and anything else appley and delicious.

 

In Search of Elderflowers

Setting off in shorts and flip-flops to pick elderflowers seemed like a good idea until I realised that  the recent hot weather had taken its toll on the elderflowers and the few remaining flowers were in the shadiest, nettliest places so it was with stung legs that I returned home with the requisite number of flower heads.

No not elderflower cordial or champagne ( I knew I was too late to make either of these) but elderflower and gooseberry jam. The main task of the day was to pick this year’s gooseberries, but I knew in my heart of hearts that there was a big bag of last year’s crop lurking in the freezer which just hadn’t made the preserving pan.

So I set to and weighed the frozen gooseberries (just over 3lb) popped them in the preserving pan with just enough water to cover them and put the elderflowers in a jelly bag (much simpler than cutting squares of muslin and the jelly bag can be washed and reused over and over again). I suspended the jelly bag from the handle of preserving pan so that the flowers were in the water and set the pan over a gentle heat on the stove.  My wonderful Mary Ford Jams, Chutneys and Pickles book gives a detailed description involving pieces of wood and hacksaws to mark the starting level of your jam and therefore work out what level the contents should be when it is reduced by a third.  Always looking Wooden spoon measurefor an easy solution my top tip is to take a wooden spoon and put it handle first into the preserving pan, note the level of the contents and mark with a pencil – you can then use a ruler and pencil to mark it into thirds  and you have an instant measure which can be washed off when finished ready for another day!

So with the gooseberries, elderflower and water very gently simmering out I went into the beautiful sunshine to pick the crop from one of our two gooseberry bushes.  The poor wee bush its branches were touching the ground with the weight of the fruit so when I had finished it looked quite happy and upright again. But what a crop…IMG_8415

I sat in the sun ‘topping and tailing’ as last year’s fruit cooked. When it had reduced by a third I added the sugar (just over 3lb) and stirred until the sugar had dissolved and Left it to boil. I returned to my topping and tailing!  After a lot more topping and tailing I thought it was time to look for recipes that did not involved topping and tailing and was pleased to find a recipe for gooseberry sauce which sounds rather tasty so 2lb of the smaller untopped and tailed gooseberries were washed, bagged and popped in the freezer ready for making into sauce some time in the future.

By this stage the jam had reached setting point and was ready for potting up. Seven jars  are standing proudly on the kitchen bench. The scrapings from the preserving pan were served on a scone for our afternoon tea and the verdict was ‘very good’!  It has the lovely tang of gooseberries with just a hint of the heady flavour of the elderflower.

And this year’s crop?  The final weigh in from the first gooseberry bush is 11lb! Next job is to make a gooseberry cake to take round to a friend’s house this evening and to stew some ready for a gooseberry fool tomorrow. The rest have gone into the freezer BUT will be used before July net year.

 

 

 

Strawberries at last!

How many gardeners spend their time waging war on ‘pests’ ?- slugs, snails, birds, mice, squirrels, grazing children…

We have tried growing strawberries with little success for a number of years no matter what we do someone gets to the strawberries just as they ripen, We’ve tried nets  to protect the fruit from birds and squirrels only to feed our numerous shrew and mouse population.  We’ve tied them up to make it harder for the mice to climb up for a feast. Last year I tried hanging strawberry bags and got the watering wrong – failure.

This spring all the strawberry plants which had overwintered in a corner of the vegetable garden were dug up.  about half were put in large black plastic pots in a lovely rich leaf mould compost.  The other half were planted in the a new bed in the ‘big polytunnel’. Needless to say there is a bit of a his and hers competition in the strawberry department.  His were looking very healthy in the polytunnel obviously growing in a large bed.  but I persevered watering, feeding and generally loving ‘my’ strawberries in the glorious greenhouse.

Almost too good to eat!

Almost too good to eat!

 

So imagine my delight to be able to serve up ‘my’ mouse free ripe strawberries as part of his special birthday pudding this week.  His strawberries are ripening and feeding the lovely little shrew that seems to have set up residence in the tunnel!

And the verdict  – sweet, juicy and just delicious!