The Jam

I declare it Jam New Year.

I’ve just made the first jam of the year and done a bit of an audit of what we’ve got left over from last year.  Turns out preserve-wise we probably got it about right. Jamwise, at the start of May we have 2 jars of darkening lemony marrow cream, 1 jar of still delicious looking strawberry and one jar of increasingly crunchy marrow and ginger.  That’s not to say that we’ve munched our way into a sugar high – we did give away a fair bit. But bottom line, we’re starting to get a bit short on jam.

Hurrah for this scrummy BBC recipe for Rhubarb and Vanilla jam.  The vanilla really mellows out the tartness of the rhubarb and I reckon is worth the relative expense of a couple of vanilla pods – as a treat – when tasty stuff is in short supply. Anyway,  it still works out cheaper than equally  good shop-bought jam. We’re back in business with about a kilo and a half of the stuff.

As far as the other preserves go we still have about 4 jars of last year’s seville marmalade which is looking really good and a lot of glutney which is looking rubbish, its really drying out  and shrinking.  I’m not sure how this can be when I thought it was in a sealed jar.. but there you go.  The salted beans have kept very well but oh my, they’re salty!  We’re only very slowly  making our way through the pickles (apart from the beetroot, that’s all eaten).

The veg supplies are also in very sparse supply now. There’s spinach, sorrell and a couple of sad chard plants that made it through the winter.  The last 3 marrows finally rotted a few weeks back leaving us only with a few bits of the last of the sprouts and kale we could find space in the tiddly freezer for.

Ah well… this would be the lean period then.  Thank goodness for jam.

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Atilla the Tiller

You know you REALLY like a power tool when you need to give it a name.  We REALLY like Atilla the Mantis, so called because well its a tiller, see? tiller ’tilla… ah well.


Atilla taking His Nibs for a walk

Thanks to Atilla the plot has gone from looking like a candidate for a warning note to looking like we’re trying and sort of succeeding, tilling a plot takes about a tenth of the time that digging does and we’ve managed to plant up about half of the plot and weed nearly all of the bits except the fiddly peripheries and paths.

It wasn’t a cheap buy – about £400, that’s the cost of about 5 months of veggies if we were buying instead of growing (we eat a lot of veggies) – so it wipes out the financial advantage of having a plot this year, but it does mean we can keep the plot going when otherwise other commitments might have made it too difficult.  Lovely Atilla.

I don’t think we’d have gone for it if it weren’t for the number of other people down the allotments who have a tiller, and the Mantis in particular.  People who have one seem to have better quality soil in general, even with digging twice and hacking away with a hoe and rake we couldn’t get as fine a tilth as they seemed to.  So we went for it, Mantis’s national office turned out to be just down the road so we phoned their their tiny show room and picked it up.

Running the thing is a bit like mowing backwards, you keep dragging it slowly backwards otherwise with dry hard lumpy ground it’s apt to dance around abit.  With the tines curling one way you turn over and break up soil, facing the other way you cut just under the surface which is good for bulk weeding.

Anyway better go, I may not be blogging as much during this week or so as I’m currently posting elsewhere too while I’m doing my week long sponsored silence.  Sponsor me?

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Bettys Tea Room

bettysSpecial treat time to celebrate 4 years of His Nibs and I finding each other. We were heading to Harrogate to the theatre (don’t ask what or I will feel the need to explain in great length, why we were going to see a famous prog caped keyboardist when we’re not really into prog) so took the opportunity to book afternoon tea at Bettys.

It is possible to book afternoon tea on Saturdays, as it is to book events, but generally one has to queue, and there was a queue this Saturday. There’s a couple of options for afternoon tea which you take upstairs in a room with a pianist playing gentle easy listening. We were lucky to get a window table for two on a sunny afternoon, so had plenty to watch as we took our time over one each of their traditional and special afternoon teas.

tea!The traditional comes with two small (2″ x 2″) crustless sandwiches in each of two fillings. The special has a range of small open sandwiches. Each comes with a pot of tea (the latter came with a choice of speciality teas, so we opted for the chinese rose petal tea which was light and floral and quite delicious without milk or lemon), scone with clotted cream and jam, a financier, small raspberry and confectioners custard tart and a chocolate macaroon.

Everything was sparkling clean and served by waitresses in broidery anglaise blouses fastened at the neck with a Bettys enamel pin. The environment was clean and tasteful with some old world touches, the bathrooms were fab. Everything was done to a very high standard with excellent patisserie and service.

The shop had a lovely range of loose teas and coffees with some real confectionary treats like beautiful chocolate rabbits and wonderful chocolate badgers!

Our only real niggle were the sandwiches, which were small and the taste of which was somewhat overwhelmed by the sugar fest which was the rest of the tea. At about £20 a head, its not a day to day indulgence, but if we were in the area again…

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Growing our own – mid April

Last year we were as overly eager as any first timers could be and much of our March efforts went to waste because we started off so many plants in tiny little home made pots which dried out and died as soon as we took them to the greenhouse.  So we’re heartened that although little has been done, we’re not actually behind on most things as long as we plant later rather than sooner and go straight into the ground rather than starting off under glass. 

For some veg, a direct approach just makes more sense.  We put in peas today, straight into a trench, seeded thickly.  I reckon that will be more effective than growing individual plants in toilet rolls – you need a lot of pea plants for a decent harvest. On top of that, we’ve planted garlic and broad beans direct, spuds (without careful chitting) and onions (which with the help of Ma Clay Earth we strarted off in the green house a few weeks back). 

There are some exceptions; the greenhouse fruits in particular.  We’ve only just planted our tomato seeds – and there’s no alternative for those.  We’re a month behind, period.  Down at the site, our tardiness really is becoming apparent as greenhouses fill with seedlings raised at home. Fingers crossed that one of this years new purchases will help us to catch up a bit; we’ve bought a heated propogator for the window sill.  There are around 6 types of tomatoes, 2 types of aubergine and some chillis in there right now which after only 3days are starting to spring up in a more than satisfying manner.

You’ve got to love propagation – you stick some unpromising tiny hard lifeless specks into some soggy dirt and life flows.  Blimmin brilliant.  Just as well we enjoy it really seeing as the seed packet heap is over a foot high!

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So many things to do with parsnips

Admittedly (as I’ve already hinted) we’ve not finished the marrows – but we now have another race to get through a glut before things get blue and furry; parsnips

We’re nearing the end now, but things have been getting creative. Not that we’re complaining, parsnips are sweet, versatile and comforting.  So much so its no wonder they were the starchy staples of many before the potato took off.

Some top dishes we’ve had since we had our major parsnip harvest have been:

  • Leek, parsnip, potato and cheese pie.  (precook the root veg, chop up cheese, add dried herbs and pepper, stick a crust over the top and cook til done) – tasty dish based on a recipe on the BBC site, but with added parboiled parsnip, less pastry and a wider variety of cheese!
  • Leek, parsnip, marrow and prawn curry (cook up some leeks as if they were onions add frozen king prawns, chopped parsnip, a decent blob of curry powder of some sort, leek in the green, chopped marrow and a tin of tomato, cover and cook til everything is done – takes about 20 mins). The parsnip is sweet, the leeks are leafy and oniony, the marrow is moist and provides structure and a break from the other flavours and the prawns are the gold in the spicy treasure hunt.  The mixture’s a good ‘un.

next time we used jam or mascarpone without the syrup, this filling was nice even though it made a run for it

  • Parsnip and maple syrup cake:We modified another BBC recipe for this one.  We opted to use a deeper single spring release pan and to cook for longer at a lower heat and then to leave in the oven colling slowly instead of making 2 shallower cakes.  After it had cooled we cut it in half and filled it, although as the pic shows – the filling wasn’t as thick as it should have been.  Second time round we filled the cake with marrow and ginger jam and added a blob of marscapone contrast.
  • Spicy parsnip soup.  Dead easy.  Cook parsnip, spices, onions and stock.  Cover and cook til soft.  Blend.  Easy as!

We’ve already shared our ‘use thinly sliced parsnip slices like lasagne sheets’ tip and they make good crisps too.

A similar post on leeks is undoubtedly to follow – as we’re at the tail end of those too and are being consumed at a rate that makes our parsnip ingest seem half-arsed.

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My dears, I’ve been neglecting you again.  Not through choice you understand and not because there’s nothing going on, but simply cos there’s too darned much going on. Again.

home made butter

Home made: bread, butter and marmalade! We were very pleased with ourselves

Rightio.  Today I’m mainly thinking about dairy as that’s the form that my (oh I don’t have time to go down to the allotment and dig) procrastination has been taking in the main since we visited the Edible Food Show.

After the demo on how easy it was to make cream cheese I was bit by the bug and had been obsessing.  So I made butter.  Mainly because I had no rennet and I really really wanted to do some dairy!  There’s no craft in making it the way I did, but we had a backlog of cream (we get a small carton each week from the milkman) and we were out of butter, so I shoved the cream in the food processor with a plastic blade and turned it on.  It did nothing, thickened to a point of near solidity, became more liquid again and then suddenly started to separate.  The sound changed, it suddenly sounded like I was whisking up a tennis ball.  Then we used the buttermilk on cereal  squeezed a bit more liquid out of the butter and added a little salt.  It was jolly good. 

It doesn’t take me much to get smug and slapdash.  I was sufficiently convinced that I’d hear the transformation that I wandered off and left the food processor running too long when I tried it a second time when I wanted some buttermilk.  The result was butter blended with buttermilk that wasn’t for separating a second time.  We used it as butter – but it tasted more like cream and was inclined to get hard in the fridge (it would have been unthinkable of course, to just chuck it!).

I had wanted the buttermilk to make cream cheese as His Nibs had managed to obtain some Vegeren veggie rennet from 8th Day.  Having failed to produce any buttermilk of my own, I ended up buying some cultured buttermilk from a Supermarket – although this has a very different texture and taste.  Buttermilk is liquid and tastes a little like tangy creamy milk.  Cultured buttermilk looks and feels and (to a large extent) like natural yoghurt. 

home made cream cheese

home made cream cheese

I’m not sure we got the mix quite right, a pint of cream, a pint of whole milk a couple of tablespoons of cultured buttemilk and a 20 drops of vegetable rennet.  We warmed the milk and cream to just above body temperature, added the rennet left covered overnight and then strained the resulting mix all day in a muslin cloth.  Really the curds should have been very distinct, but in reality the curds were formed at the top and the rest was more like a thin yoghurt mix – so we strained the whole lot.  Nevertheless the result is cream cheese alright!  It’s been good on bagels and with finely chopped smoked salmon in a baked potato.

I think we’re still some way off creating Stockport County Blue yet though!  Not sure where all this DIY stuff ends either.  I’m reminded of a comment on a recipe for yoghurt cheese by straining yoghurt I saw a few weeks back, ‘you don’t make your own yoghurt?’ asks a commenter ‘do you make your own cow?’ replies another.

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Give me some money and I’ll shut up

This post is nothing to do with food.  I apologise.  I just wanted to make an announcement. 

I can be quite loud, in fact I’m apt to go on bit – lets face it I can yabber for England.  So I’m not fond of hours of silence, it would be really difficult for me to keep quiet for a day – and shutting up for a week would be pretty much unthinkable.  But that’s what I’m going to do – for money!

I promise that if folk give me dosh I will shut up for an entire week.  I’ll be zipping it at 8pm May day and will keep quiet until 8pm on the 8th.

To encourage this I suggest you might consider pootling over to – to offer financial incentive.  Funds raised go towards my local branch of Samaritans that have to raise a thousand pounds a month just to keep things ticking over.  See

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Edible Garden Show

Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to the Edible Garden Show.  OK, so it was well within our comfort zone to spend a day hearing introductory talks on bee keeping, sausage making, cheese making and veg growing – but we learned some bits and bobs and had a good time with fellow enthusiasts. 

pauline pears

pauline pears tells us about a bug

The show was a new one and considerably smaller than the overblown likes of the RSS garden shows, but very much directed at a growing audience.  As a new show it was perhaps unsuprising that it wasn’t always clear who was in the audience.  A particularly pleasing moment was when Pauline Pears of Garden Organic asked who grew veg (all hands went up) and who grew organically (all but one hand went up).  I suspected that audience were more savvy than had been expected in other slots too.  Pauline’s talk, incidentally was both His Nibs’ and my favourite of the day with slides of scary looking, yet beneficial insects, that you shouldn’t squish and tips on understanding the relationships between plant families to better meet their needs.

kune kune sow

Aparently these make good pets - I'm not sure the cat would agree

Inspiration came in the form of demonstrations on how to make cream cheese and sausage making (although I did resist the temptation to get some skins) and Brian the beekeeper from the British Bee Keeping Association’s enthusiasm was particularly infectious at the end of a long day.  Pig and goat patting was available as was chicken holding.

The only gripe if I were to have one is that they missed an opportunity to do a bit of market research to inform future events – for example, making a distinction between super introductory and more advanced talks might have helped. 

Fingers crossed they re-run it next year.

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A couple of things I didn’t know about yoghurt

greek yoghurt

home made greek yoghurt with honey and pistachios

We’re now making our own yoghurt.  After a fairly pathetic failed attempt to make some without bespoke equipment (as suggested by the sometimes over-optimistic River Cottage Family Cookbook) we bought a cheap yoghurt maker from Lakeland.  The process is super simple so it is, you put in a couple of teaspoons of live yoghurt add 900ml of milk and leave to keep warm all night.

The things I’ve found out are;

  1. the yoghurt dalekPretty much all natural yoghurt in the UK is live.  Having googled like crazy to find out why my first batch of yoghurt failed (and assuming that it was down to us using the wrong yoghurt starter) I discovered that if you bung natural yoghurt in, its almost guaranteed to be OK.  The reason my yoghurt had failed was simply because I’d not left it quite long enough.
  2. The best milk to use is UHT, this was a surprise as I imagined that rawer milk would be better – but bottom line you want yoghurt bugs, not random nasties. You can use other milk, but you’ll need to scald it and let it cool first.
  3. Greek yoghurt is simply strained yoghurt, line a seive with muslin and let the watery part drain off.
frozen yoghurt

One that went wrong; until we blended it with bananas and prunes, froze it, and served it with meringue and cream. Then it didn't seem quite so bad!

We’re still finding the results variable; so far we’ve tried cows and goats milk, with and without added dried milk, some strained some not.  By and large it can be a wee bit runnier than the shop-bought stuff, but cheaper and generally milder and creamier.  Its a thumbs up!

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Purple sproutaggedon

disastrous purple sprouting

it all went pete tong

Purple sprouting. Yum.  It’s one of those veggies that you don’t really appreciate as a kid but which grows on you.  Not literally you understand – I may get dirt behind the fingernails, but I do shower.  

Its a lot softer in texture than other overwintering brassicas and has something of the earthiness of sprouts about it, while being more rounded and smooth somehow; flavoursome to quote cottage smallholder.

It was something that I was looking forward to this spring, and it should be in season right now, but the winter intervened.

I present to you evidence of the devastation that was our purple sprouting this year.  


the entire harvest!

We finally shifted the last of the rotten stems the weekend before last (I must have been busy if I’m only telling you about this now – maybe it took a week to get over the smell).  We got a few leaves, which admittedly were a lot tastier than the kale we ate it with, but no flowers.  I guess we just try again next year.  In the meantime we’ll bear in mind that we’re not alone.  Far from it, in fact, there’s been some press coverage about the failure of the purple sprouting crop this year.  About half of the crop is believed to have perished in Lincolnshire because of the frozen temperatures according to The Telegraph.

Oh well, we still have marrows!

(Yeah, still…)

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