Bryony's Blog

I THINK I'M GOING TO HAVE TO OPEN A JAM FACTORY...

(31/07/11)

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I am sure that the fantastic abundance of fruit is thanks to the bees - we have never before had branches breaking from sheer weight. Got any jam jars anyone, please???

PAULINE AND HILARY

(31/07/11)

Yesterday I was taken by a dear friend to choose two feathered people to join our little flock of three girls. I had already named Pauline and Hilary and as you can see, they are extremely beautiful, particularly in the sunshine. I was warned that it is very difficult to introduce fresh birds into an existing group but I have achieved this successfully three times in the past. The secret is to keep the new girls separate from the old ones, but where they can be watched. Bedtime was more than problematic but having kept Sandra, Ann and Haynsie in their outer run I managed to coax Pauline and Hilary into the coop. Actually, I had to grab them and shove them inside and shut the door before they could escape. Since the other three stubbornly insist on sleeping on the roof, I knew there would be no night time pillow fights. This morning I encouraged the matriarchs into their run, shut the door, and let out the pullets. They seemed none the worse for wear and wandered into their own bit of run. Yesterday, naturally, they were reluctant to leave the shady area except to nibble a bit of grass and drink, but today they were full of beans and started to inspect their run. It was noticeably immediately that Pauline (the maran hybrid) has taken the upper hand and is much more the dominant girl. It will be interesting to see how they eventually sort themselves out when I introduce them all together.

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UPDATE ON THE VEGETABLE PATCH...

For the first time I was economical when it came to planting our runner beans. In the past I have hated throwing any perfectly good seedlings away and have crammed them into the rows, the upshot being that the canes are congested with masses of leaves and stalks and it makes picking difficult. This year I spaced them PROPERLY at least 9" apart and it has definitely paid dividends.

The courgette and marrow patch is at last picking up having suffered horribly at the beginning. Unfortunately I planted them the day the weather changed from sunny to freezing (almost), wet and windy and they remained tiny for weeks, turning yellow with cold. I thought they had developed an incurable disease called cucumber mosaic virus when the only remedy is to chuck them onto the bonfire but I held my ground, prayed and as you can see, they are now flourishing. As the plants spread it is impossible to remember where the base is in order to water them properly and not simply wet the ground. To help, when I plant them out I put a tall cane next to the stem - this means I can aim my hose right to the roots.

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The gladioli I planted two years ago have come up again and I have been picking them for the house. The borage, a magnificent self-sower, ring fences the patch attracting bees which pollinate the plants meaning LOTS AND LOTS of courgettes! I'm making fritters to day for lunch with a mix of yellow and green courgettes and feta cheese - the recipe appeared in yesterday's gardening supplement of the Telegraph. Yum!

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Because of health problems this spring (knee replacement, flu, etc.) I have cut corners and found that by gently teasing apart the young seedlings of cut-and-come-again salad leaves bought in small trays at the supermarket, within a few weeks you have brilliant plants with no hassle.

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These are the mature plants protected from the rabbits with a wired cage.

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I did plant a spicy mix of salad leaves in large modules which had contained the French marigolds I planted in front of the tomatoes in the greenhouse. They are wonderful at halting the advance of white flies - the bane of greenhouse gardeners - as they (the white flies, not the gardeners!) hate the smell. So far it has worked a treat.

When the little blocks of seedlings were large enough to cope with being in the big, bad world I put them side by side in one of the raised beds. As you can see, they are nearly ready for picking.

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A prizewinner, surely!!

FLOWERS FOR THE PICKING OF>>>

(31/07/11)

Every year I cannot resist buying dahlia tubers. I plant them individually in flower pots in the greenhouse and when the frosts are over, try to find a suitable space in the borders. Then I forget them and they never forgive me. This year I made room in the raised beds in the veg plot the reason being that they would be looked after, watered and if they were good, fed. This picture says it all.

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They are tied loosely to canes keeping the plants upright, the stems nice and straight and I should be able to gather bunches daily until the first frosts. Rather than lift and store them, I shall leave them where they are, along with the canes, so that I know not to dig there.

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This is a picture of the long border taken today. Not exactly in what one would call showroom standard, but it looks pretty and is a haven for wildlife. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

COURGETTE FRITTERS or PATTIES AS I PREFER TO CALL THEM

(31/07/11)

I am going to give you the recipe of MY courgette fritters/patties because they are different from the Telegraph recipe I mentioned...Here goes:

3 decent sized courgettes - sort of Cumberland sausage size rather than chipolata
tablespoon chopped flat leafed parsley
tablespoon chopped fresh mint
teaspoon of hot paprika
1 tablespoons of flour
good pinch of salt and pepper
2-3 spring onions, finely sliced
1/3 to 1/2 packet of feta cheese, roughly crumbled
1 egg
Extra flour for coating
Small amount of vegetable oil for frying

Begin by washing and coarsely grating the courgettes. Put it into a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Put into a bowl and add all the other ingredients up to and including the egg. Mix thoroughly.

Take a heaped tablespoon of courgette mix and shape roughly into a ball, passing it from palm to palm. The mixture will be quite soft and sloppy but don't worry - because of this it's easier to pick up the flour from the dish and dust the patty in your hand, turning it and adding more flour so that it's well coated.

Put to one side on a dish and continue making the patties until you have finished using the mixture. This amount should make six and either feed three people or two hungry ones.

Heat a shallow non-stick frying pan with a splash of oil and carefully lower the patties, flattening them with your spatula or slice until they are a good half inch thick. Fry for at least five minutes - you want the courgettes to be thoroughly cooked - turn and cook a further 3-5 minutes.

Serve hot with a green salad.

We ate ours with still warm beetroot, sliced and splashed with a little cider vinegar, a mixed lettuce salad with some crunchy, cooked French beans and a slice or two of freshly baked whole meal bread I had made in my wonderful Artisan Kitchen Aid I gave myself for Christmas. The salad, spring onions, beetroot, French beans, egg, mint, parsley and courgettes had all been picked from the garden minutes before being cooked. How good can that be???

Now all we need is a pig, a cow and a goat...

OH BOY!

(31/07/11)

I thought this self sufficiency lark was about as good as it gets today, what with the courgette patties, salad etc. and then followed by an overflowing colander of blackberries instantly made into jelly but when Mike the Gardener turned up as I was preparing a basin of runner beans it went into overdrive. He was holding a magnificent 3-4lb bass which he had caught off the coast of Brighton on his boat. It was a present for us and was in the sea less than an hour before, and rather than leave me to deal with the beast he selected a not-too sharp knife from the jar by the Aga and proceeded to fillet it with total expertise. I was happy to remove the scales (with a brilliant piece of equipment I had bought last year from the Hurstpierpoint cook shop) and once he had gulped down a cup of tea, he left.

I cooked runner beans and a courgette, freshly dug potatoes steamed on a bed of mint, and this fantastically fresh piece of fish. Everything had either been on the plant, in the ground or in the sea for less than an hour. Unbelievable.

I heated a little oil in a frying pan and put the fillets face down, leaving them to seal and cook for about six minutes. When I turned them over, I added a good knob of butter, the juice of a lemon and some salt and pepper, with which I basted the fish. The fillets were thick and as we don't like eating them anything less that cooked through, I let them simmer gently for five more minutes before adding a large dollop of half fat creme fraiche. Another couple of minutes of bubbling, a sprinkling of chopped parsley and we were ready to eat. The flavour was amazing!

What a day!

What a week!

(30/07/11)

On Thursday, six days after Jimmy's 83rd birthday, we were driven to Coventry to see the unveiling of his statue outside the Richoh Arena. Measuring a total of 12ft in height, it was truly a memorable day!

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Jimmy was an absolute star and whipped the huge crowd into a frenzy, singing the Sky Blue Song, the words of which he wrote when Manager of the club. Doves were released, the cover came off and there he was, cast in bronze to last for eternity. Cleverly, a seat had been fitted around the base of the plinth creating a special meeting/waiting place, protected by his outstretched arms.

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We were all in tears, me in particular I am ashamed to say. I had to do a piece into camera for BBC Midlands and cried from beginning to end but with excellent editing I hope I didn't look too much of a ninny!

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Work on the shepherd's hut is going in leaps and bounds and Mike started painting the wheels half an hour ago. He has ordered doors and windows and then measurements will be taken for the flooring and outer timbers. I am not going to install a wood burning stove (too expensive) but instead will use the gorgeous paraffin heater my father had in his billet during the war. He was at Sword for the D-Day landings and in a letter home to his recently widowed father he said that life in his tent had vastly improved since the arrival of a pretty French girl called Beatrice.

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She was slim with elegant ankles and tiny feet and kept him warm at night. Not only that, but she didn't speak much. Beatrice was the name he gave the heater and she is still called that to this day! After the war he brought her home to the house in which I was born and she continued to do a very efficient job of heating Dad's workshop. Now she is going to be tidied up and put back to work in the hut.

MISTY MORNING

(25/07/11)

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This is the view from the shepherd's hut once it has been built. I might even learn to meditate...

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BIRD LIFE

(23/07/11)

There are so many baby birds in the garden that all we can hear (now that the dawn chorus is silent) is the sound of constant cheaping, each type of bird making a different noise. From outside my bedroom window this morning came a chirrup I didn't recognise - it was from a baby wren.

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The new bird feeder is a constant hive of activity and yesterday I watched a family of recently fledged goldfinches badger their parents to be fed.

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I narrowly missed capturing a greater spotted woodpecker and offspring on the lawn but managed to get up very close to the parent.

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There are several blue tit and great tit families which congregate regularly on the feeding station - yet to be photographed! I couldn't have a better and more entertaining view from the kitchen window. Who needs television??

IT'S ARRIVED!

(23/07/11)

On Thursday afternoon Charlie started barking furiously. It was the low loader arriving with the chassis of the shepherd's hut!

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The boys managed to lift if off and deposited it in the drive ready to drag down to the bottom yard near the barn. Work is about to start on my dream hut - when it is completed it will be a wonderful bolt hole, a sanctuary, a place to sit and think in peace and quiet. My older brother Paul meditates every day and asked me which way I am going to have it pointing. I said it would be due east overlooking the water meadow. "Perfect," he said, "that couldn't be better. Just make sure you line it up to the magnetic east..." Er, didn't know there was more than one sort, but this can be checked as and when.

I can't wait to get started!

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FISH DISH

(16/07/11)

I swear by M&S frozen haddock fillets – they are delicious, quick and easy to use. A perfect store cupboard ingredient which can be cooked from frozen at any moment. This is such an easy recipe and for people like me who are watching their weight, a bonus beyond belief. This is a recipe for two people but is easy to double up for more mouths.

2 frozen haddock fillets (or cod if you prefer)
zest of half a lemon
cupful of fresh brown breadcrumbs (1 good slice whizzed in your blender)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
half a small tub of light Philadelphia cheese with chives

Mix the lemon zest, breadcrumbs and salt and pepper in a bowl. Spread the top of the still frozen fish fillets liberally with the cream cheese and place in a dish. Sprinkle with the breadcrumb mix. Drizzle with olive oil and bake in a moderately hot oven until the topping is crispy and the fish cooked through – approximately 20-25 minutes.

Serve with plain boiled potatoes and something green.

BOXING UP THE BEES

(13/07/11)

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Continuing the story of the swarm, after about two hours the bees gathered into a neat, heart-shaped cluster. When the bee keepers came they put a special box on the roof and literally swept the insects inside using hand brushes. Once the queen was safe, the others followed and within a short time they reckoned about 95% were inside. They left the box there over night for any remaining bees to return to their temporary home and collected the full box in the morning.

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The next big project I am about to embark upon fulfills a long held dream: that of restoring a shepherd's hut. Through a friend I have been able to buy the cast iron metal chassis and wheels and he and my brother Neil are going to construct the upper part. It will be as close to the original hut as possible and once up and running will be towed to the field and positioned on the higher ground by the wild flower meadow, overlooking the water meadow beyond the hedge. It will be a wonderful bolt hole next summer...

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The view from the hut

BIRDS, BEES AND BUSY!

(11/07/11)

For the last couple of years we have had a host of blackbirds, robins and tits coming to the kitchen window to feast on the endless supply of sultanas I keep on leaving on the sill. They don't mind me clattering at the sink and have very little apparent fear as they know I am only there to supply them with a running buffet.

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There is one little chap, however, who has become more tame than the others. He is a young male and obviously (by dint of his almost featherless, white head) a doting, exhausted father. He recognises me in the garden and when I am out with Charlie in the lane and whistles to me in a high pitched squeak, which I try to reciprocate. He tilts his head, looks me in the eye and seems to communicate with me.

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He will take a prolonged bath in one of the stone baths situated on the terrace, only a meter away from me, watching me intently as he douses himself in water as if to say, 'hey, where's my towel!' One morning he arrived with his beak chocker full of worms and caterpillars and yet he was still able to cram in three fat, juicy sultanas before flying off to feed the brood.

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I hope when his family have fledged and left the nest that his feathers will grow back!

This afternoon a swarm of bees began to gather outside the cottage and we rang the Paynes brothers (whose hives we have in our field). They should arrive some time soon to gather up the swarm and find them a home - maybe in our field. More honey on its way!

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HAPPY DAY!

(09/07/11)

When I woke to the dawn chorus this morning I groaned when I saw yet more rain had fallen during the night. But now the sun is shining giving the promise of a dry, warmer and less windy day. Joy of joys! I came across this photo of Charlie as a puppy and thought it might cheer you up, particularly if the weather turns wintery again...

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CHERRY PLUM HARVEST

(07/07/11)

In one corner of the garden we have an increasingly rare fruit tree: a cherry plum or mirabelle tree. With delicate white blossom in the spring it never grows too large and at this time of the year it is covered in small, golden yellow plums the size of a gooseberry. They can be stewed or made into jam, but the stones are difficult to extract when raw and are a pain to remove when cooked. Therefore I make them into a clear, sparkling jelly to serve either with lamb, chicken and cold meat or on hot buttered toast or scones. I have already explained the simple way to make jellies and jams in previous blogs, so if you are unsure refer to this time last year for instructions.

We are nearing the end of the tayberry harvest and I still have hundreds of goosberries to pick (I keep on putting it off because of the sharp thorny branches) and have mixed the two together to make several pounds of jelly. It is a rich, deep, ruby red and although a little less firm than redcurrant jelly, it is lovely with lamb and chicken.

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A colander full of cherry plums

PASTA SALAD WITH PRAWNS

(05/07/11)

Last night we had pasta (shells) and, as usual, I cooked too much. Rather than give it to the chickens or Charlie (our little labrador) I made a pasta salad which we had for lunch today.

For four you need:

About a measuring jug to two of (cold) cooked pasta shapes
1 bag of frozen prawns, thawed, rinsed and drained
2 cups of baby broad beans or petits pois – frozen are fine – cooked for three minutes in boiling salted water. Cool quickly and then remove the outer skins of the beans
1 small bunch of spring onions, topped and tailed and sliced finely
Fresh herbs: chives, parsley – plus garlic if you like
Zest and juice of half a lemon
2-3 tablespoons of mayonnaise (I use Hellmann's light)
2-3 tablespoons of crème fraiche (again, I use half fat)- or yoghurt
Salt and pepper
Dash or two or three of Tabasco sauce for a bit of oomph
Paprika
Tub of cress

You can always add a stick of celery finely sliced/chopped and/or some finely chopped cucumber – up to you.

Mix the crème fraiche or yoghurt with the mayo and then stir in all the other ingredients. Sprinkle the top with some paprika and the cress to make it pretty. Serve chilled.