Bryony's Blog

THIS MORNING'S HARVEST (AT 7.00 am...)

(28/08/11)

In one of my pickle recipe books (I think the National Trust) there is a recipe for a spicy hedgerow jelly. In the hedge we have a damson tree and it is laden with fruit. In no time at all I filled a colander and I shall use half to make a damson jelly on its own, the rest I mixed with the following:

Elderberries (rinsed and stripped off the stalks), crab and cooking apples (rinsed and cut roughly into chunks, and blackberries.

Into the large preserving pan they went with enough water to just about cover them but not quite, a crushed stick of cinnamon and a dessertspoon of whole cloves. I shall boil it gently for about 3/4 hr, mashing it every now and again and then strain it through a jelly bag.

I shall then measure the juice and add the same amount of jam sugar (with added pectin. I bet it will be delicious at Christmas time with gammon.

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Damsons in distress

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crabs and cookers

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blackberries

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elderberry jewels

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raspberries to eat later for lunch

UPDATE ON THE HUT...

(27/08/11)

As you may have noticed, the shepherd's hut is very high off the ground. The norm seems to be much lower, on identical front and back wheels. We have two very large and two smaller wheels. I decided to do a bit of Miss Marpling and googled Rustons of Lincoln, who made them. Up came several pictures of old farm equipment such as threshers or engines to make the said threshers work, all with big wheels at the back, smaller ones at the front. It made me think. I believe that our 'shepherd's hut' started life as one of these items of agricultural stuff and then was adapted later to other things. You can tell by looking at the ironwork that the height has been raised: the original engine or whatever would have been fixed between - and not above - the wheels and would have been much narrower than the 6'6" width of the hut which we have subsequently constructed. Once again, recycling at its best!

The Farrow and Ball paint and undercoat have arrived and Mike has been busy painting. The next stage is to fix the windows and doors in place and then attach the tongue and groove wood. The corrugated roofing should be ready for collection some time after the bank holiday, and once that is in place we should get a real feel for the finished product. I can't wait!

KITCHEN UPDATE!

(23/08/11)

ROASTED BLACKBERRY JELLY

Having never heard of this method of roasting fruit for jam before last week when I came across Elizabeth David's oven roasted raspberry jam, lo and behold, in last weekend's Mail colour mag there was a similar recipe but for blackberries. My experiments with other fruit (plums and strawberries, raspberries and strawberries) worked very well, although the plum jam was slightly runny. I did find though, that when I made the raspberry jam the first time having not read ED's recipe properly, I hate to confess but I preferred my version!! I shall probably be shot at dawn for having said this but as you will see from the blackberry recipe, this is exactly what they suggest. As is my wont, I have slightly changed the Mail's recipe.

500g blackberries, washed and drained
500g jam sugar with added pectin

Mix together fruit and sugar in a bowl, pour into an oven dish, and cover with foil. Bake in a preheated oven set at 200c/180c fan/gas mark 6 for forty minutes. Remove from the oven, take off the foil and mash the fruit making sure it is thoroughly mixed with the sugar if it hasn't already dissolved.

Back into the oven for a further ten minutes. Carefully put through a sieve to remove the pips and pour into hot, sterilised jars. Cover tightly and when cool, store in a cool, dark cupboard.

MORE EXPERIMENTS....

When I was sorting out the chickens the other day (the three old, original girls are still on egg strike), I saw that the sloes were fat, black and looking pretty ripe. I know you should let a frost get at them before making sloe gin, but I thought it might not be necessary for a jelly. I picked about a pound and then another pound or so of blackberries, both wild and our cultivated ones, and finally three ripe eating apples from the tree.

Back in the kitchen I rinsed the fruit and put it into a large pan along with the finely chopped apples and about 1/4-1/2 pint of water. I brought it gently to the boil and then let it simmer until I could mash the apples into a pulp this took a little time as, unlike cookers, they are very firm. Once passed through the jelly bag I had about 400ml of juice which I made into jelly with jam sugar. I thought it might not set, but after 24 hours it did and it was fantastic!

Mike the gardener went fishing at the weekend and came to us this morning with a huge box of fresh mackerel he had caught a mile and a half off the Brighton coast. He had already gutted them and cut off the heads, and then showed me how to fillet them. It took no time at all and as there were still the back bones I used scissors to cut off the fish into strips it's goujons for lunch, then!

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TODAY'S SOUP

(23/08/11)

1-1 1/2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock
1 fat lettuce, washed thoroughly and torn into shreds
2 leeks, washed and sliced finely
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped finely
1 baking potato, peeled and chopped finely
knob of butter
1 fat clove of garlic
salt and pepper

Sweat all the vegetables in a pan with the butter for about five minutes, stirring every few moments to prevent burning.

Add the stock, stir and bring to the boil. Cover the pan (making sure it doesn't bubble over), and simmer for about 15 minutes or until you can squash the potato. Mash slightly, leaving lots of bits, taste for seasoning before serving.

RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD...

(23/08/11)

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YET MORE RAIN...

(23/08/11)

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THERE'S NO STOPPING MIKE!

(20/08/11)

As you can see, the progress on the hut is going in leaps and bounds. Mike and I went to buy timber, undercoat & primer, paint, nails etc. yesterday and look what he has achieved today! I decided that I did want an old window at the towing end above the day bed and went back to the reclamation yard where I found a perfect one: small, perfectly formed with lead panes and a little bit of coloured glass to filter the light. We decided to move the other window towards the far corner, rather than position it in the centre of the wall and it looks much more pleasing. I clambered up the ladder to stand 'inside' the hut and couldn't believe how high off the ground it is! The view across the fields is going to be spectacular. My only fear is that, with my increasing years and the amount of steps I will have to climb I may have to organise a stair lift!

These photographs were taken today - it's all about the detail. What a fantastic team Mike and Neil are!

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I'M ONLY HUMAN AFTER ALL...

(15/08/11)

A brief paragraph in a Sunday supplement this weekend restored my faith in human nature and myself: Monty Don, that gardening God, actually has feet of clay. He confessed that he had not looked after his greenhouse tomatoes as he did oughta and they have succombed to a fungal infection. You have no idea how that comforted and reassured me! I am writing this because I mucked up one of the simplest, easiest recipes in the world: Elizbeth David's Oven Roasted Raspberry Jam (more of which later).

I failed on three points: firstly, I didn't read the recipe properly, the result of which I put the sugar and fruit into the same dish as against in separate tins. Secondly, I allowed it to boil in the oven. Thirdly, said oven was too hot. Having said that, somehow I managed to pull it together and as ED says in her book, SUMMER COOKING, it is the most delicious jam in the world. Here is her recipe as she wanted it to be cooked:

Weigh your fruit and place on a metal dish. Weigh the same amount of sugar and spread out on a second dish. Put both in a moderately hot oven for about 20-30 minutes until very hot, but not boiling.

Tip both fruit and sugar into a bowl and mash and mix thoroughly before pouring into hot, sterilised jars. Place a wax disc on top of the jam and seal.

I promise you that this works: as soon as the jam is cool it sets beautifully and has the most intense flavour of fruit you will ever experience. ED says it should keep for a year - if you can resist eating it, that is!

In spite of my errors, I decided to develop her recipe and made a mixture of raspberry and strawberries, then plums and strawberries. The former was as effective as the original raspberry recipe and although the plum/strawberry mix was slightly runny, it still had a wonderful flavour.

I might just have to sell my jam preserving pan on eBay!

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES!

(13/08/11)

Mike and Neil have been working on the shepherd's hut like little Trojans. As you can see from the photos, what a difference a day makes. Yesterday the cart was in pieces, today they are actually laying the tongue and groove flooring! Mike picked up the timbers to build the upper part this morning and no doubt by tomorrow evening some of it will be in place ready to accommodate the doors. We have yet to purchase the extra (small) windows and order the corrugated roof, but this will be done first thing on Monday.

I went into the village and called into a new antique shop started by three friends. It was all I could do to stop myself from buying stuff which would furnish the finished hut...a pleasure to come!

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A KILLER ON THE PLOT

(13/08/11)

As I was about to put some stuff in the recycling bin a scuffling under the trees caught my attention: a sparrowhawk had killed a young pigeon and was staring at me. He didn't seem at all frightened and I ran in to grab my camera. When I returned he was still there and I clicked and clicked as I walked carefully towards him , ending up taking this picture from less than four feet away - no need for my new telefoto lens. He is still there twenty minutes later, busy eating the dead bird.

Apparently, if you have regular visits from sparrowhawks it means that the environment is particularly clean - although you run the risk of losing some of the birds in your garden.

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WE ARE A GRANDMOTHER!

(12/08/11)

Well, all must be well in the land of chickens as I have just collected our first pullet's egg - no larger than a ping pong ball and nut brown, it must be the little grey maran who laid it. Wonders will never cease as when I had a peek in the temporary hutch (in case the newcomers were reluctant to use the existing coop)constructed from an old kitchen cabinet, I found four perfectly formed white eggs - must be Haynsie's, the Light Sussex/AKA Bouncer/Thug of the pack. Up until now she has been a lazy layer, producing odd, torpedo shaped eggs only when she felt inclined, but they are definitely hers. Things are beginning to look very promising. Maybe we shall have enough for an omelette over the weekend. Bon appetit!

STILL NO 'FOWL' PLAY...

(11/08/11)

So far, so good regarding the entente cordiale of the chickens. They seem to be getting along extremely well. Somehow the three old birds escaped yesterday and I found them, happy as Larry, pootling and rootling in the long grass near the bees. Could I get them back? Not on your nelly, they were having too much fun, but it did give the newbies some peace and quiet. Still no eggs however...

I have been busy on the jam front, partly because the blackberries are ripening at the rate of knots. Friends come to pick bucket loads but still they appear as if going out of fashion. In order to make the most of them I have been cooking them enough so that the juices run before passing through a jelly bag. When cool, I measure the quantity and add it to weighed raspberries or strawberries. Blackberries have quite a good pectin content which helps set fruit like strawberries which have less. They also give the jam a wonderful, deep, garnet colour. And it tastes pretty good, too!

I feel the urge to make some plum and apple chutney today.

CHICKENS

(09/08/11)

For the last two days I have mixed the new girls with the elder ladies and so far, so good. They tend to keep themselves apart from each other, albeit in the same part of the run but I haven't witnessed any nasty spats. The adjustment has been really quick and the real acid test will be when they all start laying again - we haven't had any eggs now for over a week from any of the girls.


The grapes have ripened nicely and I bottled the peaches so that we can enjoy them when the frosts come. What a dreadful thought...

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Mike has been working furiously on the shepherd's hut and today my brother Neil has joined him, so that he can do any necessary iron work.


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This is the wonderful carving and shaping of the oak Mike has just completed.

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Having had a massive quote from a supplier to provide doors and windows we went to the reclamation yard nearby. We found the following which, once trimmed and painted white, will look magnificent and for less than a tenth of the price of custom made ones! Just the sort of recyling I like!

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This year, because of not being in the peak of health, I cut down considerably on flowers in pots and as you can see the geraniums have proved the best low maintenance plants - they hardly need watering (once a week at most) and a little bit of tidying here and there to removed yellow leaves and spent flowers.

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Recently I posted a picture of the salad leaves grown in modules. This shows how well they have done. Enough for lunch today!

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POST IT NOTE.....

(04/08/11)

This is ground breaking news and the result of months of research: lose weight and you stop snoring. You read it here first!

ANOTHER EASY WAY WITH TURKEY ESCALOPES

(04/08/11)

This is so easy it isn't true and completely different. This is for two people.

1 smallish red, sweet Ramiro red pepper (or half a large one) - the long, thin ones - cut in half, de-seeded and sliced finely
1 banana shallot or two ordinary shallots, peeled and sliced finely
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and crushed or chopped
a large half of a small tub of creme fraiche (I use half fat)
1 glass of white wine
packet of organic turkey escalopes
sweet, smoked paprika - a good shake! (maybe a teaspoonful)
salt and pepper

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan and tip in the pepper and shallot(s). Stir and cook for two or three minutes before adding the garlic. Stir, and add the escalopes. Cook for two minutes and add the wine. Stir, then turn the escalopes and cook a further two minutes before adding the cream and paprika. Stir and allow to simmer for another minute or so - you don't want to overcook the turkey, merely heat the cream, season with salt and ground pepper, and blend it with the shallots and pepper.

Serve immediately with anything you like: rice, pasta, couscous etc. and something green - freshly picked runner beans are lovely.

Ref. the COURGETTE PATTIES

(03/08/11)

Had an idea re the courgette patties/fritters. I am going to try mixing the grated courgette either with some crushed (tinned) kidney beans or ditto chick peas adding perhaps a pinch of spice in the form of ground cumin, turmeric and coriander. Of course, fresh chopped coriander would be lovely instead of dried or ground. This will add protein to the patties and would be more nourishing, particularly for a vegetarian.

LADIES WHO MUNCH

(03/08/11)

I spent a wonderful, giggly Monday with five old friends from school - I dread to calculate the combined ages but from the topics of conversation (I won't go there...) to the constant bursts of laughter, we were back to being 16 again. It was absolute bliss and miraculously totally alcohol free - we were all driving. We sat in the shade in a lovely garden and never stopped talking except to eat. Julia did us proud - an all in one chicken bake: pieces of breast on the bone roasted with butternut squash, red onions, olive oil etc. and cloves of garlic with their shirts on so that we could squeeze out the cooked goo to get the full flavour.

Pudding was another wonder and so simple: Sliced fresh mango topped with lightly whipped Greek yoghurt mixed with a little cream and dusted with dark brown muscovado sugar. Pure ambrosia. I did it yesterday for our lunch but with adjustments as I have recently dropped my guard and put on a couple of pounds.

MY GUILT FREE MANGO PUD

1 ripe mango will feed three people. Peel, slice off the flesh and put into a pretty glass bowl.

Whip up some 0% fat Greek yoghurt (about 3 dollops/heaped tablespoons) with almost the same amount of low fat creme fraiche. Spoon on top of the fruit. I didn't have any dark muscovado sugar, only light - it was fine but the dark gives greater depth of flavour.

Cover with cling film and keep cool - the sugar will dissolve.

You could do this with almost any fruit: peaches, cooked plums, nectarines, etc. and if put into small ramekins and covered with a larger amount of sugar, once popped under a hot grill for a WATCHED minute or two, you will get a kind of creme brulee.

GRAPE PUD

This is similar to the above but naughtier - you can use the creme fraiche/yoghurt mix or do it the proper way!

Halve and de-pip a bunch of sweet, green grapes. Whip some cream until soft peaks form - a bit firmer than hair mousse. Pour this over the grapes and dust liberally with demerara sugar. Cover with cling film and keep in the fridge for a few hours. It's another wonderful, light summer pudding.

MA'S OLD FASHIONED EGG AND HAM PIE

(03/08/11)

Last night I cooked a small piece of smoked gammon which we ate with freshly dug new potatoes, courgettes, runner and French beans. Today I am using some of the ham in an open tart. Ma used to make this for our picnic lunch when we had the annual Foundation Day at school. It was easy to devour either on a rug or in Dad's Ford Zephyr estate if it was (and invariably it did) raining.

It brings back so many memories...

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You will need:

A metal based flan/quiche ring
Either make some short crust pastry or buy it - roll it out thinly and line the flan ring. Prick the bottom and leave in the fridge for half an hour. I didn't have any plain white flour and used some spelt flour. It was nuttier a la Cranks restaurant in Carnaby Street, and probably healthier, but my brother said he would have preferred the lighter, more weight piling on type! Each to his own!

Next, chop enough ham the equivalent of about four tablespoons - quantities don't really matter - and scatter over the pastry base.

Slice thinly two medium-sized tomatoes and lay them over the ham.

Chop either a handful of chives or several spring onions and add to the dish.

Next, make little spaces around and in the middle of the mixture and break a whole egg into each 'nest'.

Mix about a cup of cream with a little milk and pour over everything.

Season well with salt and pepper and bake in a moderately hot oven until the top is golden and the pastry thoroughly cooked. I hate having to bother with baking it blind beforehand and by rolling it thinly enough it should cook through.

You don't need to, but I did add a good grating of gruyere cheese and a sprinkle of freshly chopped, flat leafed parsley for good measure.

Eat cold with salady things - preferably behind a wind break on a beach, wrapped in thick pullovers. A hot Thermos of milky tea completes the picture.

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Older brother Paul, Dad, younger brother Neil and Ma on the beach at Southwold taken by me in the mists of time...