Monday, 31 May 2010

The Best Chocolate Fudge Sauce In The World, Ever

The somewhat convoluted explanation for having this recipe just now, is that I've got rather too many eggs at the moment, and I thought ice cream would be a good way to use them up, especially as double cream was on offer at Tescos at £1 for half a litre, instead of £1.70, so I bought several. There are  no eggs in the  sauce, but you can't have Chocolate Ice Cream Fudge Sundae without Chocolate Fudge Sauce, so here it is.

I take no credit/blame for this sauce, it's entirely Ben and Jerry's fault. I have Ben and Jerry's ice cream recipe book from a few years ago,and this is the chocolate fudge sauce they recommend for ice cream sundaes. And they should know. I'm not sure why you have to cook it so long and slow, I did mess about with it and tried to speed things up a bit, because I'm impatient, but I found that it just crystallised and spoilt, so now I've learned my lesson and stick more or less to the letter of the recipe, and it never fails. And although it takes a while, you don't have to stand over it all the time, so you can have it on the hob while you're doing something else and just give it a stir from time to time.

It makes quite a large amount, but it keeps in the fridge for a few weeks in a jar, but then it never has the chance in my fridge...

4oz/100g 70% dark chocolate
4oz/125gr butter
3oz/75g cocoa powder
8oz/450gr caster sugar
1/4pint/125ml milk

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water.  Stir in the cocoa and the sugar (The mixture should be the consistency of wet sand) Stir over hot water for about 20 minutes.
Gradually stir in the cream and milk. Keep cooking over the hot water, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. It's ready when completely smooth and all the sugar is dissolved.

I'll leave you to think up your own additions like vanilla ice cream, chopped nuts, whipped cream, grated chocolate, marshmallows, etc etc, you get the idea.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The Whirring Blades

Isn't it amazing how, as you get older, everyday events bring to mind all kinds of memories of times past. I already mentioned my trial of the Buzz Off bird scarer product,

 and it does seem to be having some effect, since I still have some cherries on the tree.  So far so good. 

The downside, if there is one, is the sound of whirring that surrounds me as I go about my daily weeding, watering, planting and so on.  When my children were small they often  played an inexplicable (to me) game of The Whirring Blades, which as far as I was ever able to see, entailed a great deal of hurtling round the house at breakneck speed, accompanied by shrieking at high volume, "it's the whirring blades, coming to get you!" And so, although the whirring in the garden might have been a bit of an annoying  downside, in fact it just makes me smile every time I hear it and I'm transported back to those days all those years ago, when my children, who are now having children of their own, were just kids creating havoc and  having  fun.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Clematis Montana Rubens

I thought I would post a picture of the Clematis Montana rubens we have growing by the front gate. Not because it's special or unusual, in fact you see them everywhere at this time of the year, growing up fences gates, telegraph poles, almost anything. But it is quite big. Over the last several years I've climbed up this wall  at regular intervals to encourage the plant to grow up and along the wall as it now does, rather than behind the wall as it used to do.  This is the view from behind the wall, where my greenhouse is

I've given up climbing up now, as we seem to have the wall pretty well covered.

Also bear in mind that it's extremely easy to propagate this clematis. Internodal cuttings inserted around the edge of a 5" pot in sandy compost will usually root if you take them in June. I also find that layers root naturally on their own from branches which trail down and lie on  the ground. So if you live in your house long enough you could probably disappear completely in a veritable forest of pink without very much effort at all.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Winter Aconites In May?

Way back in March when the Winter Aconites were in full flower I mentioned that if you wait until the seed pods form, you can harvest the seed and spread it around on any spare bit of ground to increase your stock. Well this is what the ripe seed pods look like. I collected quite a large handful of seed today, and  was tempted to sow it in a seed tray, thinking it would be a useful way of increasing the stock of plants, but when I  looked it up, I found that it will take a year to germinate, another year before it's ready to transplant, and probably two further years before it flowers! No wonder it's taken a few years before I've noticed any increase in the number of flowers. I think I'll just sprinkle it around and cover with a bit of compost, and hope for the best.

I will however dig up a few of the plants before they die down completely, and split them up as with snowdrops, this will increase my stock and will be a bit quicker!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Ashes To Ashes

The Pampas Grass was looking a bit tatty so David set it on fire.

He does this every year around this time and this is what it looked like after the inferno
  I have to say, I would be less than heartbroken if that was the end of it, but amazingly it rises phoenix like from the ashes within weeks to grow and flower again. It's not my favourite plant, by any means, but it's impossible to dig out, and since it isn't apparently going to take the hint and just fade away, this is as good a  way as any of getting rid of the old tatty foliage.If foliage is the right word for the razor sharp blades it produces. You can't help admiring a plant that comes back from this though can you?

Speaking of Ashes To Ashes, did you see the last episode on Friday? Don't you just love the Gene Genie?

Home Made Ice Cream

I've been clearing the freezer of any remnants of last year's soft fruit crop, ready for this year's surplus (she said hopefully), and I've also had rather too many eggs. Since my depleted poultry numbers post fox, I've not been selling eggs at the gate, but I still have a generous supply for the house and friends, but just lately a rather too "excellent sufficiency"! And since there's only so many omelettes a person can eat, I thought a good way of using up both surpluses would be ice cream.

Let me say straight away that I think an ice cream maker is not a luxury but a necessity here. You can do it without, but it's a real faff, and ice cream makers are not all that expensive. I have a Magimix le Glacier, which lives in the freezer so that it's always ready for use, I think it cost me about £20 a few years ago. You can get expensive electric ones that have their own freezing capability, but they're for real ice cream fanatics and cost loads.  But is is nice to be able to enjoy something so luxurious, and yet knowing that it's full of good stuff, because you made it yourself.

Most ice cream recipes are based on a cooked egg custard, which is fine, but I have discovered that you can make it much quicker without making the custard first. This is based on a Ben and Jerry's recipe (and they should know) from a little book of  their recipes I've had for some years and which uses uncooked eggs. (Throw up hands in horror) So obviously only use it where you know your eggs are good and fresh, such as from your own birds, for example. Although I must say, you'd have to cook a dodgy egg a lot more than making custard with it to make it safe to eat, so use good fresh free range eggs and make your own ice cream, mayonnaise and so on, with an unfurrowed brow.

3 large eggs (I use duck eggs, because I have a lot of them)
6 oz/150gr caster sugar
3/4 pint/450ml double cream
1/4 pint/150ml full fat milk

Your chosen flavouring, I made
1.Vanilla using seeds from 1 vanilla pod plus 1 teasp vanilla essence
 2.Strawberry by using up some strawberry puree in the freezer ( never throw away strawbs that have gone a bit mushy, whizz them in the blender with caster sugar and lemon juice and freeze)

Beat the eggs and sugar with a mixer, until light and fluffy. Gradually pour in the cream still beating and finally the milk. Add your chosen flavouring to taste, bearing in mind that ice cream needs to be more strongly flavoured and sweeter than you would normally do to allow for the freezing effect.
Transfer to your ice cream maker and churn following the maker's instructions.

Et Voila.

Ben and Jerry's little book also has a very good Hot Chocolate Fudge Sauce recipe, which I will share with you another day (if you're very, very good)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Just Before That Cold Beer

Just a quick reminder to all you rhubarb growers out there, if you have any of these

which are flowering stems, then, pretty as they are, you need to snap them off as soon as you notice them and put them on the compost heap, so that the plant can concentrate all its energies on making more rhubarb leaves,and not seed.
And also, in this hot spell we're having just now, if you're finding it too hot to do any proper gardening, then just do the watering. If you do nothing else, water any plants that you've put in recently. It's all too easy to water them in when you plant, you think you've got them off to a good start and they can fend for themselves, but new plants have small root systems, and need watering during dry spells, indeed shrubs and trees need help for the whole of the first season. So do the watering and then find a shady spot, for a well deserved cold beer. You've earned it.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Wisteria Time

May is wisteria time in the Cotswolds.

The lovely lavender of the flowers goes brilliantly with the mellow cotswold stone of many of the houses. I bought this plant as a present for David when we first moved in here some ten years ago, and it's now a good mature  plant. I know that some people have a problem getting them to start flowering, and I think they respond best to fairly hard pruning. Set out the basic framework of branches, and prune all other side shoots to a couple of buds to encourage formation of flower buds. We prune it fairly hard after flowering, to keep it under control, and tie in any new growth, but that's about all.If you leave them they just grow like the Day of the Triffids, ours regularly comes in the bedroom window by midsummer.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

No Wonder The Neighbours Think I'm Bonkers

Can you  spot anything odd at the end of my veg garden?
It may just look like a load of bin liners tied to a cherry tree, but, in fact, it's a load of bin liners tied to a cherry tree for bird protection purposes
Once again, it's  time for this year's instalment of Will Kathy Get Any Cherries Or Not. Last year it was definitely Birds one Kathy nil. At the moment the fruits are no more than hard green marbles, but already they are being stripped from the trees. It does seem early even for the birds, and I am suspicious of squirrel activity. I have been experimenting with live catch squirrel traps, so far without success, but my brother in Wales has had great success with his , so I'm going to persevere, and will let you know how I get on.

But to deter the birds I am using the plastic bag technique as in previous years but I will be keeping a careful watch on them too. I have tied bin liners on the branches with the heaviest crop - I have to admit they do look a bit odd, to say the least, but I am determined to get at least some cherries this year.  

I am also trialling a new product (at least it's new to me) made by Agralan products, who are a local company based near here in Ashton Keynes. They sell quite a few green gardening products, so I was quite keen to give them a try. The product is, Buzz Off  and the idea is to stretch a thin plastic line tautly between two points and when the wind catches it, it makes a noise that birds can't stand, and they fly away, hopefully cherry-less. At first I couldn't get it to make any noise at all, but I soon realised you have to have quite long lengths, around 5 yards/metres for it to work, and eventually I was able to detect a kind of whirring noise a bit like distant helicopters. Presumably birds don't like helicopters.

So having set up the lines last night I went out to check the situation this morning, expecting to feel like an extra on the set of Mash (helicopter background, do keep up...) but surprise surprise, there was no wind, not a breath. Boiling hot day, no wind. The plastic bags seem to be ok so far, and when the wind did eventually blow a bit, the lines did work too. In fact it takes very little breeze to set them going. It would be great if this simple measure really made a measurable difference. I wonder if it would work on the strawberry patch?

 I will report back on how effective these measures are. I really would like to get a few cherries this year...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Outdoor Salad At Last

I picked my first outdoor grown salad yesterday. We've had some leaves from the greenhouse, and they were ok, but I always find them a bit flabby and insipid compared with the outdoor grown ones. And winter salad, always a hit and miss project for me, was totally non existent in this year's extreme winter.  So it tasted all the better for being a novelty, but that should, if I'm properly organised, be the end of packets of supermarket  leaves for this year.

This is picked from a row of loose leaf mixed lettuce, raised in modules in the greenhouse, and planted out a few weeks ago. I didn't protect it from the late frosts, and luckily it seemed not be have been affected in the way that my early French Beans were. There's loads of mixtures to choose from I recommend the Italian seed companies partly because they are so generous with the seed, Franchi, or Seeds of Italy, but I've tried lots and they're all good. I always like some red coloured lettuce mixed in with the green, partly for the taste but also I just like the look of the dark red and purple leaves in the salad bowl. a row of Lollo Rosso lasts most of the summer and looks decorative edging a raised bed of another crop.

I picked a handful of pea shoots as well to go in my salad, it's a good idea to pinch out the tops of pea plants when they're a few inches tall, it makes them produce side shoots, so you get more peas per plant, and at this early season you get a taste of fresh pea in your salad, that's if there are any left in your basket by the time you get back to the kitchen of course. This helps keep me going until there are real peas to be stolen later in the year, can't wait.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Bee Inspector Cometh..

I had a visit from the County Bee Inspector yesterday. (For anyone from overseas, we have a system in the UK of Bee Inspectors funded by the government, whose job it is to help and advise beekeepers, monitor disease, and so on.) It sounds a great system, but Bee Inspectors are pretty thin on the ground, I think we have half a dozen or so to cover four counties in this area, and this was the first time I've had a visit in the five years I've been beekeeping.

So I was very pleased to meet Robert, who examined my bees and took some samples to take away for lab testing, and was a fount of information and practical advice. He was completely non- judgemental of my somewhat ancient and rather tatty equipment, which was a relief, as I thought he might tell me to replace it all.  Beekeeping can be quite an expensive pastime, one of the reasons I am keen to move to top bar hives, and pursue more natural beekeeping methods.

I was so busy with Robert that I forgot to take any photos, so here's a rather boring photo of one of my hives.

Anyway for the time being the results for my hives were that one has a bad case of varroa which Robert has suggested I treat by doing a "shook swarm", which will effectively give the bees new varroa free frames to live in. I don't have enough spare frames to do this so I've sent off for some new ones and will perform the shook swarm as soon as they arrive. My other hive seems to have a virgin queen who isn't laying any eggs, and the solution for this was to transfer a frame of brood from the other hive so that the bees can raise a new queen from this if the current one doesn't get on with it in the next day or two.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Coldest May Night For Fifteen Years

We've just had the coldest May night for fifteen years, according to the Met Office, but hopefully we should be moving into a warmer spell soon, even if it means some rain. Personally I blame Daniel Corbett, he never forecasts normal weather. I put some dwarf French Beans out last week and they don't look too happy,

 so I'm going to quickly sow a few replacements in modules in case they don't pick up.

I'm also going to put my runner and climbing french beans out tomorrow, I've been taking them in and out of the greenhouse for the last week or more, trying to harden them off a bit, and at the same time avoid the freezing temperatures we've been having at night. I don't mind the odd late frost, I can work round that but the bean modules have been in and out like pints of beer this last week, and I've had enough of it. The evening gavotte in and out of the greenhouse door with armfuls of pots is a pain. So they're going out tomorrow and hope for the best. And the first squashes and courgettes will be following soon after. So I hope you've got that Daniel, no more frost please!!
Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Latton Weather Station

Just a quick mention for Latton Weather Station. We are a tiny village here in North Wiltshire, nothing much happens, no pub, no shop,  one very ancient church and a disused victorian school that serves as a village hall. And that's about it. But we do have as much weather as everyone else, and not only that, we have our own weather station!

How cool is that! Eat your heart out Michael Fish.

I Have A Cunning Plan..

I'm fed up with tomato blight, It's been a real problem in the last few years and I've formulated a cunning plan to try to keep it at bay this year. It's a miserable disease, once you have it, it's almost impossible to do anything but pull the plants up and take what crop there is. If  you leave it, it will all rot.

Since I know the spores of blight are in the ground, and are splashed up on to the leaves by watering, or by rain, I decided that I would make a raised bed for my outdoor tomatoes this year. I have a long high stone wall at the back of the veg plot, and it always irks me that I can't grow anything against this, the warmest most sheltered spot, because some bright spark, years before we came here, thought it was a good place to put a concrete path. So I have cut up a few old pallets, and used them to make a raised bed, filled with my Warrior Compost, which should be clean to start with.

I'll be running a leaky hose along the top, and covering that with a sheet of black weed suppressing fabric, which I'll make slits in to plant through, so there'll be no soil splashing up on to the plants, and the watering should be even and regular.  I suppose it's the same sort of principle as a grow bag, but on a much bigger scale.  I'll let you know how I get on.

Orange Tip Butterfly

I was out in the garden, about to follow my own advice by removing spent flowers from my little patch of Dog's Tooth Violets, when I spotted this little lady, and I nipped in to get my camera and amazingly she was still there when I got back, so I was able to get a few pictures. I would normally recognize an Orange Tip Butterfly, as they are pretty much what they sound like, little white butterfly with orange tipped wings. I've noticed quite a few of them around the lanes this year, but apparently, as I found when I looked it up, the females don't have the orange wing tips. This wonderful pattern is on the underside of the wings.
Orange Tips feed on dandelions and bramble flowers, and lays eggs on garlic mustard, of which there is an abundance everywhere at the moment. Needless to say I never did get round to dead heading the Dog's Tooth Violets.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

How Many Barrowloads in Four Tons?

In case you've ever wondered, and I'm sure you have, what four tons(or is that tonnes) of compost looks like...

well it's quite a lot as you can see. You may recall I recently had a dumpy bag, equivalent to half a ton of Warrior Compost delivered by my local recycling centre, and since I got through it in no time, I thought I would take advantage of their discounted price for bulk delivery.  It came on the back of a sizeable tipper truck, and bless the driver, he did relatively little damage to the garden in tipping this lot into the designated spot. So now all I have to do is barrow it all over the garden.

I've already made up my outdoor tomato beds using this compost, which I hope to finish later today, so I will show you tomorrow. I am trying a new scheme to combat the dreaded blight, which has been so much of a problem for me and many others with outdoor tomatoes in recent years.

More later, I have some barrowing to do...

Friday, 7 May 2010

Fruit Tree Blossom

Just had to take this photo of my Bramley apple tree in full flower. I love fruit tree blossom, it would be worth having for the blossom alone, but when you consider you get buckets of fruit in the autumn as well, it makes me wonder why on earth anyone grows the Japanese flowering cherries you see on every street corner. They are lovely in their way of course, but I don't think they're half as pretty as the fruiting varieties, and the scent on this Bramley today was quite delicious. I have to walk past it to get to the greenhouse, and it's a joy.

I have an image in my head now, of everyone in London clogging up the streets in September with wheelbarrows to collect all the free fruit and nuts growing along the roads.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The South East facing wall of our house is the "blue" wall, in early summer and this is the first of the blue plants it houses to come into flower. It's clematis alpina Francis Rivis - I'll show you the others in a week or two when they come out. If I say so myself it's quite an effective display.
This is the view from my kitchen window.
You can see the blue flowers of the clematis on the right hand side growing up the wall outside the kitchen window and as I only get round to pruning it when I can't see out of the window any more, it's consequently a mass of twigs underneath the new growth, which makes it an irrisistible nesting area for birds in the spring. Usually it's wrens, this year I think there's a robin in there and possibly a blackbird. It's a lovely view while I'm doing the washing up - the nodding blue flowers, and the hard working birds nipping in and out to the nest.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Never Give Up

This is Salvia Elegans,or Pineapple Sage. Or as I like to think of it, The Probably Dead Plant. Being borderline hardy, it dies down to below ground level each winter, and (I hope) shoots again from the roots in spring. However, it's always very late indeed to wake up, and every year in April  I poke about in the dry twigs and think it's probably dead, and then in May I'm certain it's a gonner, and then at the beginning of June, just as I'm about to dig it up, it suddenly springs to life. At the risk of sounding like Rabbi Lionel Blue on Thought For The Day, I can't help thinking  it's a metaphor for  perseverance and never giving up, (well at least not until the end of June anyway).

Of course if I had taken a cutting or two, (cuttings strike very easily ) and overwintered them in the greenhouse, I could have avoided all this. If only..

Salvia Elegans, or Pineapple Sage has the lovely grey green leaves of all salvias, and this one bears a brilliant if small scarlet tubular flower in late summer and autumn. In a good summer it can grow three feet tall,  providing plenty of material for cuttings!!

Anyway there's no sign of life yet, and after the winter we've had this year, I do really think it could definitely be a late Salvia, a stiff,  gone to meet its maker. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-salvia.


Monday, 3 May 2010

Cupcakes, Fairy Cakes, or Buns?

I've recently bought one of these

the stand that is, not the cakes, - these were made by Claire for little Brown's 2nd birthday last weekend. And very delicious they were, obviously I had to try a couple in the interests of research....

 In fact, I've bought three of them, one each for my daughter and step-daughter, and one for me. We all like cooking, and I think they're quite a nice way of showing your little cakes off to advantage. There's a bit of a trend for having individual cupcakes instead of one large cake as a celebration cake at weddings and birthdays, and this would be ideal for such an occasion. They come in various sizes, this one is a 23er, but you can leave off the lower tier if you want to.

One of the first things I learned to cook as a young girl were Butterfly Cakes, little fairy cakes topped with butter cream and with the halved lids perched on top at a jaunty wing-like angle. I say fairy cakes, but I notice a current trend to refer to these little cakes as Cupcakes, I'm thinking that must be the American equivalent, and I also notice that they're tending to be a lot bigger than the ones I made as a child, another not altogether unwelcome trend if you're a fan of cake. And who isn't.  I can't help thinking though that some of the "cupcakes" I've seen illustrated would have served as dessert for a family of four in the old days. Just goes to show that not everything gets worse.

If you look on Amazon you will find literally dozens of books of recipes for cupcakes, which is quite amazing really, since, give or take a few additions, the basic idea is sponge cake baked in individual cases and decorated however you like. So call them Cupcakes if you're modern, or Fairy Cakes if you're posh, or, if you're from Yorkshire, more prosaically Buns, it all comes down to a fairly basic recipe and the rest is up to your imagination and patience. I fall back on my usual all in one sponge cake recipe, which I rehearse below -

All in one Sponge

4 eggs
1 pack 8oz/250g of butter at room temperature
8 ounces/250g of self raising flour
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon of cornflour
8 ounces/250g of caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
about 2 tablespoons milk

Put everything in food processor and switch on till blended. That's it. You might want to mix it without the milk first and then add as much milk as you think you need to get a soft, smooth, but not too runny mixture. Depends on the size of your eggs really.

Spoon into little cake cases or larger muffin cases or mini muffin cases, about 2/3rds full, and bake until golden.And when cold decorate with fondant, butter icing, glace icing, or whatever you like.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Leopard's Bane Starts Off The Herbaceous Season

I always like to see the bright jolly flowers of  Doronicum, or Leopard's Bane, in late Spring - it's the first of the herbaceous perennials to flower. I'm surprised that it's not more popular, as it does flower quite a bit before even the early subjects in the border. One of the problems is that it's about the same colour and size as the dreaded dandelion, which is in flower at the same time, but it's really well worth having, bridging the gap, as it does, between the spring bulbs and summer perennials.  It  grows pretty well anywhere, mine is under trees, in light shade. It makes a large clump in just a few years, and can be divided after flowering. I think mine's the ordinary sort, but several named varietes are available.


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