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?

CIMG0500

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!

Advertisements

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!

CIMG0426

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!

CIMG0466

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

Posts on a theme – more gardening news!

I’m afraid the garden is more or less my life at the moment! Between the boys and the veggies I don’t have a lot of time for much else, and as I have commented to Dapper more than once, the garden is a little like children, in so far as she needs tending if you want her to thrive – even on the days you really don’t feel like it!

CIMG0043

This photo was taken before I lost all three tomtato plants to blight. Gutted, but it happens to the best of us!

In fact, in the week since I took this photo things have gone a little nuts up top. The marrows are now in full bloom and trailing above the pallet frame I put in for them to climb. The bags of potatoes you see to my right in the photo have been harvested and eaten hot with butter (I don’t remember planting reds, but there you go!) The canes to the my left are now half-high with dwarf beans, and behind these, my repurposed gate-framed bed is green with borage and marigold, turnip, beetroot, radish, chicory, lettuce and nasturtiums.

CIMG0076

CIMG0082

The tomato hanging baskets and various patio veg are also doing spectacularly well – we’ve been eating red tumbling toms this week, with various other bush varieties on the vine yet to ripen. The alpine strawbs have been delicious from my hanging basket by the front door, and my first carrots are nearly ready to lift. And of course, we’ve been living on salad radish – and radish tops in salads too.

CIMG0034CIMG0080And I’ve just started preserving the produce. My elderflower gin is frankly delicious (I water mine down with lemon juice, and obviously tonic water) and following Monty’s advice last Friday, I cut back my chives to encourage a second crop, making a delicious chive and walnut pesto as a result!

CIMG0053

My next job is to get the two large beds in and the green manure underway ready for autumn planting for my winter veg plugs. I’ve inherited a pile of fence slats and telegraph poles for this, and have a pile of pallets on the way as well. These, I’m hoping, will provide planters for my saffron crocus, an early birthday gift from Grams, and due to arrive late August!

I’m really very excited about the whole thing – the idea of being so in control of what we’re all eating appeals to my inner control freak in rather marvellous ways!

And now I’m off to read James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution, to see what wonders I can add to my patch next year…

 

 

Oil and jelly

Do you know, it now takes me almost a week to write a single blog post? I started this on Monday, finished it on Tuesday, and it has taken until today to upload, edit and drop in the photos. How did I used to find time to write every single evening? Oh, I remember – it was BT — Before Twins!

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Sunday dawned bright and frosty last weekend, and the winter sunshine drew us out for a pre-lunch ramble. We wrapped the boys up in their snuggly snow suits, hats and mittens, and joined the world and his dog, it seemed, in making the most of the morning.

January is a notoriously poor month for foragers. The shelves of Mother Nature’s metaphorical larder are typically bare – the branches stripped of anything remotely edible by the birds and squirrels over previous months, and the rare splashes of colour usually signifying something deadly lurking in the hedgerows. But, being an addict, I couldn’t help but stuff a couple of freezer bags in my pocket – just in case.

And I’m so pleased I did! The proliferous bushes of sloes still lurking just beyond my reach outside the wee hoose had led me to suspect that our mild winter might have left us some gifts still to claim. And as we walked up the hill towards the canal bridge, I was delighted to spot a small handful of rosehips in the hedge. I took this as an indication, and left Dapper to manoeuvre the pushchair along the lanes whilst I cut our usual route across the fields – fields I have previously seen shine ruby red with hips and haws.

CIMG8586

CIMG8588

The result was just over 1lb1/2 of juicy rosehips – and I left plenty behind for another lucky forager to find. And that marvellous sense of satisfaction all foragers feel when returning home carrying a freebie!

I returned home along our usual cross-field path, much of which had been turned into muddy bog by the recent rainfall. After nearly losing my welly once too often, I pressed a fallen branch into service as a makeshift staff, which made the going a little easier. Halfway across the third field I spotted these little beauties floating in the floods.

CIMG8589

CIMG8592

Windfall apples! And so many of them! I smugly reached into my pocket for the second freezer bag only to find… No bag! It must have fallen out somewhere as I twisted and turned and bent to free my wellies from the mud! No forager can carry on in good conscience having littered the countryside with plastic, so I dutifully turned back and navigated back through the bog in search of my bag.

I found it, back at the road, more-or-less where I had found that first small cluster of hips. The journey back across the fields seemed somewhat shorter the second time around, and as the windfalls were all floating in the admittedly muddy water, they took mere moments to scoop into my bag. In next to no time I was home, with 4lbs of windfall apples in hand!

Those 4lbs of apples and 1lb1/2 of rosehips are now bottled up into 6 jars of apple and rosehip jelly and 500ml of rosehip oil, made in the slow cooker as per MIAMI’s instructions here. I have read that it is particularly good for treating nappy rash, so will be using it in place of lavender and tea tree next time I make up a batch of baby wipe solution. The jelly is delicious with cheese (excellent with brie, it seems) and would be lovely with meats too. It’s quite sweet, but very tasty! Next time I make it I might try adding some sliced chilli or strips of lemon zest to the strained juice, for a bit of added zing!

On a connected note, my big project for 2014 – aside from raising twins – is this:

CIMG8583

CIMG8581

If all goes to plan this will soon become my vegetable patch! I have a compost bin chock full of lovely compost to use, once I’ve managed to clear the plot and set up some raised beds. The gardener is going to help me with that much at least. Wish me luck with the rest!

CIMG8600

Gratuitous baby shot to part on.