Time-saving tools: my “kerchunk”

Sometime in the dark, early days of motherhood, I had a visit from my Mum and her lovely friend, Jane. I asked my Mum whether she had a spare apple corer – it’s the kind of thing I thought she might have two of lying around, and with the hours I was spending prepping fruit and veg for the boys, a time-saver I thought might help out a little. She had sent the spares to the charity shop, but Jane piped up and said she had a spare “kerchunk” I was welcome to, if I’d like?

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I had no clue how useful it would be. Feeding the lads aside, it is a life saver when making apple-based jams and jellies! I picked up another 3 kilos of windfalls yesterday, and spent much of this morning making apple & beetroot relish, chilli apple jelly and crab apple pectin. My time must have been halved, at least, thanks to the “kerchunk”. No fiddly chopping, just a quick peel (for the relish, no need for the jelly/pectin) and KERCHUNK – you’re done!

If you haven’t got one already, keep an eye open at charity shops and car boot sales. Or buy one new – they’ll pay back in time soon enough!

Re-useful #5: pallet project the third

I knew that I needed to build some planters for my saffron crocus corms, and had seen a few different pallet planters on pinterest that had given me a some ideas.The pallets I received were all different sizes and designs, so the first thing I did was to sort them into piles according to their type. This informed my final designs.

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I decided to use the heaviest pallets with curved edges for my planters. They looked like this:

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First thing I did was to cut out the middle section:

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Set that aside for later. Now, use plates to fasten the two end pieces together. I used rectangles on either end, and corners on the middle centre, two each top and bottom:

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Now attach your lining. I tried two different styles here, one hessian sacking, the other landscaping fabric I dug up from my allotment. I prefer the landscaping fabric overall, as the hessian doesn’t seem particularly sturdy.

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You can use whatever you have to hand here – small screws, nails or upholstery tacks, or easiest of all, a staple gun if you have one! I don’t, so used a combination of screws and nails, as came to hand!

Now go back to that middle bit and cut away two of the crossbars. You can measure and cut these to size, or do as I did, attach first and saw to size afterwards for a perfect fit!

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Use long screws to attach these to the top-most ends. These should trap your lining as well as making the whole structure sturdier.

Now, the rest is optional, but I added additional structure into the ends of my last planter:

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I also used a couple of old leather belts to make handles on each end, as these will be easier to move to the front gates once they are in bloom!

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Then I used the stencil font on word to print out the words SAFFRON CROCUS onto plain paper. I attached a couple of strips of wide double-sided tape to the back before using my exacto knife to cut them out:

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 This made it especially easy to spray paint the planters, as the double-sided tape adhered to the wood.

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And there you have it! Oh, and that leftover piece from the middle? Ideal for raising plan pots off the ground to deter slugs and protect a little from ground frosts.

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Glut busting…

It was only this year that I learned that you could eat the carrot greens – there’s a myth I had heard that they are poisonous, but apparently it is just that – a myth.

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I’ve had a lot of produce to eat lately, including these thinnings, so I made a simple chick pea salad, with diced carrots, halved cherry tomatoes, finely chopped carrot greens and a rapeseed oil and lemon juice dressing. The twins and Dapper all wolfed it down – unfortunately before I had a chance to photograph it… so you’ll just have to try it yourself to see the end result!

I also made up a batch of these yellow squash crisps using a glut of patty pans, salt and black pepper, and without parmesan (as I had none in). These were also a massive hit! I recommend the recipe.

Re-useful #4: old banana skins & egg shells

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Of course, you can just add these to the compost too. We eat a LOT of bananas in this house – a LOT – so we have plenty of skins. I put these on a tray in the bottom of the oven, allowing them to air dry until I bake something, then heat dry for the rest. Then I grind them in a coffee grinder, with any (washed, dry) egg shells and last year’s red clover harvest (as it turned out, I didn’t like it as tea!). Store the mixture in an old antibacterial wipes container, sprinkling a good handful in the hole before planting out plants, or mixing through my own compost to boost it. I’ve also occasionally dissolved a spoonful in the watering can to give the plants a kick!

Re-useful #3: pallet project the second

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My second pallet project was another very simple no-brainer. Simply cutting half of the pallet off left me with a much-needed outdoor welly stand. Taking out the second rung from the bottom allowed me to fill the bottom with some chard seedlings I’m hoping will take before winter kicks in. This will look great too come spring, when I replace these with daffs/tulips!

Persevering with preserves

It’s that time of year. The fruits of the year’s labours are filling up the kitchen, the fridge, the freezer and our tummies, and I’m looking towards this year’s Christmas hampers of homemade goodies!

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So far this week, I’ve made elderberry vinegar and Elder Rob, mixed tomato chutney, apple chutney, blackberry jam and marigold jelly. The latter is something of an experiment: I’ve plenty of calendula oil warming through and a full jar of dried petals for future use, so have been looking for edible uses for these gorgeous, vibrant flowers. I found this recipe and, loving floral flavours, thought I’d give it a go. On my walk to the post office on Monday, the boughs overhead were laden with apples, and the pavement with windfalls! I filled two carrier bags with 2.7kg of cookers and 1.8kg of crab apples. The cookers formed the main part of the jelly! The recipe yielded four jars – one has made its way into the kitchen cupboard already!

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And the crab apples? They’re soaking in vodka with sugar and cinnamon sticks for Yuletide liqueur! Roll on winter!

Stength in numbers

I had felt sure that this blog post would be very different. It was to be titled “So long, and thanks for all the fish” a reference to West Coast salmon and Abroath smokies. Perhaps it should still be titled such, referring instead to every red herring, every big fish story and every wet-fish-slap-around-the-face that Westminster has dealt to the rest of the UK over recent years.

I stayed up all night on Thursday, a night fraught with nerves and more than one tearful moment, to watch the results of the referendum come in. I spent Friday in a state of happiness, shared with family and friends, utterly relieved by the outcome.

I tell you this not to gloat or rub in the defeat. I tell you so that you understand how important Scotland is to the United Kingdom. I can’t speak for the rest of the UK, but here in the English Midlands there were Saltires flying all last week. The BBC showed interviews with folk in the street distraught at the thought of a line drawn across the North. The interviews since have demonstrated the importance of the decision, and the referendum, to people across the rest of the UK.

As for the changes promised by Westminster, I cannot but think that they will be forced to follow through by the sheer strength of our numbers. If Scotland had voted for independence, the English, at least, would have felt bitter. The knee-jerk reaction, even amongst Scotland-lovers like myself, was to say “Well, if you think you’re getting the Sterling you can think again!” We would certainly have reacted as we felt – as a jilted nation. The ill-feeling would have bred resentment and hatred where it had not existed. But because of the no vote, we once again feel solidarity. We are all in the same boat – we all hate Westminster, we all want a degree of devolution. Thanks to the Scots we actually have a chance to change the way our country runs.

A Yes voter on one of last week’s Newsnight programmes said that Britain wants to rule, whereas Scotland wants to lead. I think we have always been leaders in Great Britain. Many of the first world’s democracies are based on our model, and here we have a chance to create a brand-spanking new one! Once again we can show the world how a great nation can move forward without the need for division – something which, in light of issues in the Ukraine, in the Middle East, in a divided Syria and in the face of Islamic State, is much needed. We can demonstrate how a civilised country can effect change without inflicting violence on its own people. We can show, once again, that democracy can win – indeed, with an 84% turnout, has already won out amongst the Scottish people.

It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a LOT of work, and it’s going to cause some heartache. There’s no instant fix – to be calling for changes three days later is simply ludicrous! But I hope I am right in my belief that we can move forward together as a great nation once again.

So thank you Scotland. Thank you for staying with us. Thank you for returning our good will. And thank you for giving us all this great opportunity. Let’s make the next great leap forward – together.