Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Hubbard Table Chickens - Another Reprieve!

Oh dear, Sid called in to inspect the Hubbard table chickens, and has prounounced them still not fat enough!  So I have to keep feeding them as much as possible and he's coming back in another couple of weeks or so. They are certainly getting quite big, but in a rather leggy, rangy way and they need more flesh on them before they will make good roasters. Several of the cockerels are quite big and are trying to crow a bit, they will certainly have to go before too long, as cockerels together can sometimes fight for dominance.

Of course they are eating quite a lot now that they are fairly big, and it's costing extra to keep them.  At this rate they will turn out to be more expensive than the free range chickens that are sold at the farm shop for £15 each! Hopefully it won't turn out to be that bad, but even  if it did, I am looking on this as a learning experience, and you have to expect to pay for knowledge and experience, one way or another!  I've certainly learned a lot. There are a number of things I will do differently next time, that's assuming there will be a next time - if these birds turn out to be stringy and tough it might put me off trying again,  - there's only so much coq au vin and chicken soup a person can stomach,- but I hope they'll be better than that. Fingers crossed.

The last rose of summer

It was just going dark when I took this picture of a single remaining flower of Louise Odier, a lovely old bourbon rose, which flowers properly in midsummer, but I deadheaded it after it finished flowering, and she rewarded me with a few late blooms, and this is the last. There are still flowers on the ground cover roses that I grow under the trees, but I don't really count those, they are roses, but this is proper.

There are still quite a few sunflowers - I always grow Velvet Queen, which is still my favourite, but this one I tried for the first time this year, and it's a lovely dark chocolate colour.  It's called Black Magic, - it's an F1 hybrid though so you can't save the seed for next year.

I've been saving quite a bit of seed lately, it's well worth doing with the price of some flower seeds. Easy things like sunflowers, calendulas, poppies, nigellas, french marigolds, cosmeas, verbena bonariensis, and lots of others - you get so many seeds from just a few plants, you'll have enough to give away as presents to other gardeners. And there's good evidence to show that  when you save your own seed, the process of natural selection encourages the best varieties for your own particular soil and climate to be developed.  Just collect ripe seedheads, and store them in paper envelopes, in a cool dry place. After a few weeks when the drying process is complete, you can remove the seed pods and other chaff, and put the seeds away ready for next year. And a little collection of home saved seeds in decorated packets would be a welcome and meaningful gift for any gardener.( I didn't say anything about Christmas did I?)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Season of Mists

Suddenly it's autumn. Well of course it's not suddenly at all, but there's a day when you notice that it's turned really chilly, leaves are everywhere, and it's all downhill to Christmas. Sorry for mentioning the C word, and I'm the first to be annoyed by pre Christmas marketing and carols in October in Woollies,(not now they've gone bust!), but the fact remains that if you like a home made Christmas like I do, then you do have to start making preparations well in advance. I've already mentioned my intention to spray the seedheads of the Allium Schubertii, (try to keep calm) but the onset of the colder weather and appearance of dried leaves and seeds just make me think of decorations, and presents and cards and all that stuff. It's a nice occupation for autumn evenings, it's dark by 7 pm now, so plenty of time to get down to cutting, sticking, sewing, painting and all that stuff. Anyway more of that later, but for now there's the last of the autumn veg which is still in abundance,even if in my garden it's apparently not that easy to find....
When I got home at the weekend (did I mention I've been to Brazil) I asked my friend and garden/livestock sitter Alison if she had helped herself to any produce as I had instructed, and she told me she hadn't been able to find anything to pick! So just to prove that there actually is something in there amongst the undergrowth, here is what I picked today...(and I do realise that the chrysanthemums aren't edible!)

I think however that it must be more difficult to find stuff in the garden than I realised. I must either do some weeding or put up signposts and provide a guide.

Anyway for a quick autumnal supper, and a good way to use up the available produce try a mixed veg roast to go with a couple of pork chops, or chicken legs, or even just on it's own with some pasta. I'm fond of things you can assemble and then just bung in the oven and leave while you get on with something else  in your busy life, or have a glass of wine and a bath while you wait, as I do.

It's also the kind of thing that's useful if you get a veg box, as you can adapt it to almost any combination of seasonal veg, just make sure you adapt your chopping technique to accomodate different cooking times, so that your carrots for example will be cooked before your courgettes disintegrate.

Roasted Autumn Vegetables with or without Pork Chops

This is what I had on hand...
Half a small Pumpkin, seeded and sliced
1 Courgette, chunkily sliced
1 White turnip, chunked
1 Wierdly shaped Esther Rantzen style carrot
Garlic, about 4 large cloves peeled
1 Small aubergine chunky sliced
1 Onion, chunky sliced
A Selection of tomatoes roughly chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped
Large bunch of parsley, few sprigs of thyme
2  thick pork chops, or 2 chicken legs, or nothing at all if you fancy veggie.
Extra virgin olive oil
Half a teaspoon or so of smoked paprika
Good pinch of ground cumin
salt and pepper

Spread veg and herbs in roasting pan,

and nestle the chops or chicken in amongst, if you're using them. Drizzle with quite a bit of extra virgin olive oil, season generously with salt and black pepper, plus the smoked paprika and ground cumin.
Place in a hot oven for about 45 minutes or so, until the veg are softened and the meat is cooked through. You should have some concentrated  juice in the bottom of the tin, which you can pour over when you plate the dish.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


This is just a quick post, as I've just arrived back from a trip to Brazil, part business, and quite a lot fun. I think you're only allowed to have fun in Brazil, they probably stop you at the airport if you're looking a bit glum. So, much as I'm always banging on about local food, I've just spent the past week burning carbon like it's a new idea. But it's only for a week, and I learned lots, had a great time, and am therefore excusing myself the indulgence of it all.

The purpose of the trip was to see an Exhibition of local Arts and Crafts funded by the Brazilian government for trade purposes, but being me I love to see local food markets and botanical gardens, so we had a number of detours from the official schedule and although we may make some longer term business associations, we also saw lots of local colour, and ate and drank some fantastic stuff. And we certainly met some lovely people -  Marco our interpreter, who couldn't do enough for us, taking us round all the local markets, Edouardo our taxi driver/narrator, who showed us all we wanted to see in Rio and lots that we didn't,(they do football there you know), Roy the owner of a gallery the size of MOMA  from Michigan who talks for America, and made us laugh,  the utterly charming flower children from Colorado, Gunther and BJ who is obsessed with Quinoa, and does 5000 sit-ups a day, and many more.  And not forgetting of course the representative of the Brazilian Inland Revenue who gave a brief talk of not more than, oh three hours or so, on compliance issues in the business taxation and administration departments. Riveting.

 Here's a picture of me with a coconut. I hope you're  jealous.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Rose Hip Syrup

Baby boomers and other old dears may remember some of the earlier offerings of the National Health Service, such as National Orange Juice, National Dried Milk, and Delrosa Rose Hip Syrup. (Actually the last one wasn't on the NHS, but it seemed like it). My mother doled out spoonfuls of it daily, together with cod liver oil and malt extract, and some sinister beige stuff called Scott's Emulsion, but that was only for my brother to build him up because he was skinny. Most of these things were heavily sugared, and we loved them as a sweet treat even though they were supposed to be "medicine".

And although they are mostly now out of fashion, cod liver oil is still an excellent food supplement for most people, and rose hip syrup is said to contain twenty times more vitamin C than oranges as well as vitamins A, B1, 2 and 3, vitamin K, flavonoids, polyphenols, volatile oils and tannins (it says here)

Of course it's a bit more trouble to make than peeling an orange, but it also makes an excellent dessert sauce for pouring on pancakes, or ice cream so you could actually be having that portion of pudding purely for the benefit of your health, which sounds like a  plan to me. The flavour is fruity and sweet (much fruitier than the Delrosa I remember from my childhood) And once again, apart from the cost of a bit of sugar it's yours for the taking, free from your local hedgerow.

In case you have any confusion about what a rose hip is, or perhaps you don't know your hips from your haws, here's a rather blurry picture of some common hedgerow fruit for identification. Left to right, cultivated damsons from my garden, wild damsons, bullaces (wild plums), wild rose hips, and haws or hawthorn berries. I meant to get some sloes as well, for comparison, but I forgot, they would be similar to the wild damson in colour, but a bit smaller, and more oval shape, and a great deal more bitter.

Rose Hip Syrup
This is taken from the recipe issued by the Ministry of Food during the second world war. You will need about 2 lbs of rose hips (I suspect you can probably use hips from garden roses which are often much bigger, but the wartime recipe refers to wild rose hips- make sure that they are unsprayed and not near traffic pollution)

Whizz the hips in a food processor( the wartime recipe said mince, but the processor makes life easier)

 and tip into a pan with 3 pints of boiling water. Bring back to the boil and turn out the heat.

Leave for 15 minutes then strain through a jelly bag or muslin. Return the pulp to the pan, add another pint and a half of water, bring to the boil again and leave another 10 minutes before straining again. Make sure you strain out all the sharp little hairs in the seeds (which apparently make an excellent itching powder for little Beadle tricksters).

Put all your juice into a pan and boil down until you have about a pint and a half, and then add one and a half pounds of sugar. Boil for 5 minutes and then pour into sterilized bottles and cap. Keep in the fridge once opened.

You'll be needing something to pour your lovely syrup over....

American Style Pancakes
Back in the 80s we ran a village pub for a while, and one of the most popular desserts was American Style Pancakes with Maple Syrup, served I'm ashamed to say with great piles of whipped cream from an aerosol can. Well it was the 80s. Anyway the pancakes were and still are delicious and make an excellent vehicle for your stash of Rose Hip Syrup, and that pocketful of blackberries you picked while walking the dog this morning.

You will need

8 ounces plain flour
pinch salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 egg
third of a pint milk

Tip everything into the food processor and blend only enough to make a thick smooth batter.

(You may have noticed from my other recipes that I don't make two steps where one can do. There's no need to make things more complicated than necessary. However, for the equipment-less, measure the dry ingredients into a bowl, make a well in the middle and stir in the liquids).

Grease a frying pan and drop large spoonfuls of the batter on to it. Cook over medium heat until little bubbles form on the surface, and then flip over with a spatula and cook the other side until golden and set. You are aiming for a big fat pancake, which at the same time is light and fluffy, not the anaemic  flabby examples offered in supermarkets. If you feel like it you can stir in a handful or two of any fresh berries, blackberries would be good just now, or serve them fresh with the pancakes after cooking.

Serve your hot pancakes drizzled with  your  lovely Rose Hip Syrup (or honey, or maple syrup) and top with good ice cream or a pile of softly whipped fresh cream, just as you fancy, but definately nothing from an aerosol.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Le Noeud de Viperes

David found a dead grass snake outside in the lane tonight. I wasn't sure what kind of snake it was so I brought the cadaver indoors and having photographed it and checked on the internet I found that the yellow and black collar apparently confirms it's a grass snake. They are the largest British reptile and can be up to five feet long, though this one is only about two feet long. They are not harmful or venomous, and like many other native wild animals are considerably endangered due to habitat loss.

Earlier in the year  I had unexpectedly come upon what seemed like a writhing mass under a pile of leaves and dead weeds in the garden. I was so surprised that I failed to look for proper identification marks and quickly replaced the leaf litter and went off the have a cup of tea to recover. It's not every day you come across a real Noeud de Viperes in the veg plot. It's a shame this young one was run over but  I'm glad they seem to have nested, as they are a threatened species and I'm hoping there will have been others that were more fortunate with the traffic. We certainly always seem to have a plentiful supply of small toads around during the summer, which I suppose make a tasty snack for a grass snake.  I wonder if I should put up a sign "Caution, Snakes Crossing" outside the gate? 


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