Foraged fruits

So it’s been a while! This pesky PhD keeps requiring quite a lot of work, oh and of course I finally got to head off on holiday to Africa and then the States, so I was rather distracted. However this weekend I have some good stuff to blog about after a massive failing of me and my garden tubs to produce anything edible this year (apart from potatoes, which let’s admits it grow anywhere, without really any effort). My other half successfully survived another year and to celebrate this we headed off to visit his parents for the weekend.

They are lucky enough to not only live in a beautiful little village in the countryside but also have a meadow off the back of their garden, excellent for those sorts of fruit and berries which are usually found by foragers. I can’t really call wandering around the ‘in-laws’ property foraging though. We gathered over 2kg of damsons as well as a few elderberries.

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So what’s in store for these ruby goodies? Well I don’t like to only make one thing so there are four recipes from this weekends gathering that I’m experimenting with. The quickest so I can show you all the pictures is a variation on a balsamic vinegar using elderberries. I found this recipe on the good old world wide web but its origins are The Forager Handbook by Miles Irving which I think may have to become a resident in my cookbook collection. It’s beautifully simple as well which definitely appeals to me!

1. Gather elderberries
2. Get the berries away from the stalks (or umbels as I discovered they are called)
3. Wash thoroughly! We bought home 3 spiders, 2 earwigs, 1 woodlouse and numerous miniature creepies
4. Weight the berries before placing into a suitable kilned jar or similar and add 500ml white wine vinegar for every 350g of fruit
5. Leave covered for 3-5 days, stirring occasionally 6. Strain off the liquid (discard the berries) and add 350g of sugar per 260ml of liquid
7. Simmer for 10 minutes then bottle

What you get is a syrupy, delicious balsamic-esque vinegar. We haven’t had a chance to try this yet I’ve just had a sip of it! I can only imagine how much flavour it would add to salads and as mentioned by http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com diluted with a bit of hot water as a warming drink!

Em x

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That’s it! Cheese!

Well I haven’t posted in a looooooong time as life got rather hectic! Things aren’t going particularly well in the garden this year (more updates on that debacle later) so I decided today to have a go at an indoor make. We have had a couple of cheese making kits in the house for a while now but neither of us have plucked up the courage to give it a go…until today :).

The kits are from these guys: http://www.bigcheesemakingkit.com and the ones we have are for making ricotta and mozzarella. I had mozzarella at lunch and it was so light and lovely in a salad I decided to make some more myself (as I greedily ate all of the cheese my other half had bought earlier that day!)

It takes a lot of milk to make cheese.

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I only ended up using half of the milk pictured as it wouldn’t fit in our pan but that will be used for ricotta making soon! I was worried that it would be quite a fuss and labour intensive to make cheese but it was pretty easy to do. You start with a pot of milk to heat up, and mix up separately the rennet and citric acid ready to help split the curds and whey.

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You then leave the milk to its own devices and ta da, it magically splits into curds and whey, but it doesn’t look so yummy at this point.

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Then all it takes is to separate the curds (your cheese) from the whey and make the mozzarella balls. Mine ended up crumblier than I’d really expect mozzarella to be but they taste yummy with a lovely creamy taste and the seal of approval from the other half!

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And the finished products! Not quite looking like shop bought cheese but made with love by my own fair hands :).

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There is a lot of whey left over but the cheese kits give you ideas of how to use it up, not a thing is wasted, I’m sure there will be updates on how the whey gets used up or if it just ends up residing in the bottom of our freezer.

Em x

The sun is shining

Well its been a while, rehearsals and performances have taken over all my time since January and then I had to celebrate getting another year older. However the garden is now back on track especially after the boyfriend and I built this lovely little cold frame to replace my pathetic plastic greenhouse! My plastic one had barely survived a year and was gaffer taped up in a rather amusing fashion however it was a lot easier to assemble than the new wooden one. That might have been my lack of DIY skills or the ‘interesting’ instructions including – get the back and sides, assemble. Not the most helpful, but we triumphed over adversity!

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So today with the sun shining I started to prepare my seeds :). I need an easy to grow mix of veg that suits container gardening. As always potatoes are a good call and this year as I’m a bit late getting started I went for a single mix of main crop seed potatoes – maris pipers. They are a good all rounder and have got time to chit before they need to go in the ground. They are happily residing in an egg box on my windowsill soaking up some sun.

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I’ve also set off some carrots, sweet corn, lettuce, spinach and tomatoes in the new cold frame so I’ll keep you updated on the little seedlings progress.

Em x

Signs of Life

Well they may not look pretty or even grow to be very big but things are still alive and surviving in my little pots outside! I planted, on a whim, some winter garlic and onions (and some tulip bulbs to give me colour when seedlings are in the greenhouse in early spring). Now I wasn’t convinced they were going to survive the cold and miserable winter outside but they are sending up little green shoots of joy.

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I’m still not sure there will be any thing edible under that compost when it comes to pulling them up as my last attempts at growing garlic completely failed ending up with just slightly larger cloves rather than bulbs. I did however get a few onions in my first batch of container planting last summer (by a few I mean 8) which were strung up artistically in our kitchen for a while.

As it’s not very exciting out in my ‘garden’ at the moment its time to start thinking about making other things (that also let me hide inside in this horrible weather). I started off by caving to technology and getting myself a bread machine, I do enjoy making bread by hand but with work getting increasingly busy and the difficulty with making a gluten free loaf time is against me! With my lovely shiny machine I can load it all up and let it go making both normal bread for my boyfriend and then a gluten free loaf for me to provide for lunches during the week!

The first normal white loaf came out lovely, so it was time to play with a gluten free one. It’s not looking promising so far having just pulled it out to cool down! From the flour remains around the outside and the corners it looks as if it didn’t mix properly giving a dry look and feel, the bottom of the loaf looks better than the top which looks decidedly unappetising.

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So how does it taste…well like pretty good gluten free bread! Now I’m used to eating this stuff so I’m prepared for it not to taste like ‘bread’ but this is pretty close!

Yum!

Em x

Happy New Year

Happy New Year All!

Well I hope you all! Had a lovely Christmas time and some wonderful new years celebrations :).

I won’t bore you with all my Christmas presents as they were wonderfully varied from the parents, boyfriend and the in-laws, however one from my parents suits this blog wonderfully, and they didn’t even know about it until Christmas eve which is when we celebrate and open our presents.

My boyfriend and I have made hampers for both sets of parents for the past couple of years as Christmas presents with homegrown and homemade contents where we can, and my mum loves the idea but, in her words, can’t compete with the home grown and homemade hamper, so this year she made me a hamper with a different twist…

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As I’m still new to the whole gardening thing and growing my own, she also added this into the mix!

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So expect a lot more from my little container veg garden this year! I’m looking forward to more making of things too 🙂

Em x

Gifting Time

Well all the preparations and the making of things for 2013 has come  to an end as the hampers are assembled for Christmas gifts for  mine  and my boyfriend’s parents.

The chutneys have been labelled and ‘wrapped’, usually I make my own jar covers from brown paper and use ribbons as a  tie but having been struck down by cold after cold recently I felt like making things a bit easier on myself and bought a pack of Kirstie Allsopp jam covers from Lakeland on my way home today:

http://www.lakeland.co.uk/18051/Kirstie-Allsopp-Jam-Pot-Covers

Although mine don’t quite look like the picture they don’t look too bad for a last minute wrap!

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The liqueurs I have been carefully brewing (read shaking a Kilner jar everyday), are finally ready and were bottled late last night. In addition to the Christmas Pudding Vodka, I also decided to make some Marmalade Gin. The gin is definitely my favourite (I’m sipping some right now…it’s medicinal honestly!)

I spent ages trying to find some plain brown luggage tags today to had round the bottles, but today’s fashion seems to be  the ‘blingier the better,’ even the post office luggage tags were brightly coloured. I  finally found these craft tags from The Card Factory which do the trick and work with the look I like for wrapping presents.

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The gin recipe I used was:

Ingredients

One Bottle of your favorite Gin (1L)
1Lb of marmalade
5oz sugar
5 drops of vanilla essence

Method

1. Place the marmalade into a Kilner jar, pour in one bottle of your favorite Gin.
2. Add the Sugar and Vanilla Essence.
3. Leave in the jar for 3 weeks, taste, add sugar if required. Filter into bottles and enjoy!

I also found this fantastic website earlier which gives some great recipe  ideas for using the marmalade gin, I recommend making a batch and having a nose at this site.

https://summerfruitcup.wordpress.com/tag/marmalade-gin/

Or you could just have either of the delicious liqueurs neat over ice, as they are both YUM :-).

Em x

Christmas Spirit

Now we are well on the way through November it’s seriously time to start thinking about homemade liqueurs!

Last year was the first time I ever attempted to make any liqueurs at home and went for the old favourite (as it’s such a simple recipe) of sloe gin. I  used the following recipe:

Ingredients

450g/1lb sloes
225g/8oz caster sugar
1 litre/1¾ pint gin

Method

1. Put the sloes in the freezer  until frozen, ten let them defrost (this bursts the tough skins of the sloe berries and avoids the need to prick them all individually with a clean needle!). Then put the berries in a large sterilised jar.

2. Pour in the sugar and the gin, seal tightly and shake well.

3. Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Then shake once a week for at least two months.

4.Strain the sloe gin through muslin into a sterilised bottle

This tasted so delicious that I have to admit when we spilt  some when decanting it into small bottles for gifts, we did slurp it all up from the kitchen worktops!

This year I wanted to try something a little different, so went on  the hunt for recipes for homemade liqueurs, and I found one for Christmas pudding vodka! Now I don’t like Christmas pudding as I just don’t like dried fruit, however I do like the tastes and smells of cinnamon,and spice. In liqueurs the fruit is drained away just leaving the lovely taste so it sounds ideal for picky me.

This is the recipe I’m using and I will let you know the verdicts from the taste test when it’s ready!

Ingredients

1 litre of vodka
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
Peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon
25g each of currants, raisons, dried figs (halved if large)

Method

1. Combine all ingredients in a large (at least 1.3L) sterilised bottle or preserving jar.

2. Leave for at least two weeks in a dark place, shaking occasionally to agitate the ingredients (I’ll probably leave it a month).

3. Strain the vodka through muslin into a sterilised bottle, add  a fresh piece of lemon and orange peel and a fresh cinnamon stick if you like.

This is what mine looked like with the dry ingredients (it also smelt delicious!) And then looking much less appetising with the vodka added:

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Em x