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!

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!

Garden update…

Just a quick garden update for you…

CIMG0385

We’ve had a steady supply of tomatoes, patty pans and turnips over summer, plus lovely crunchy carrots and potatoes (not pictured). And I picked my first stash of sloes to pop in the freezer. I’m hoping to pick the majority later in autumn, after the frosts, but experience has taught me not to rely on these, no matter how laden the bushes – the birds are far to fond of them!

CIMG0384

This was how my pumpkins were looking earlier this week, before a badger (we think) decided to try to dig between the pallet frame and the fence. The result was a flattened pallet and both pumpkins snapped from the plant. They are now sitting in our conservatory, where I’m hoping they’ll finish ripening. Annoyingly, these were my favourite calendula, and so the ones I was leaving to set seed – now lost under the weight of the crash!

CIMG0382

My butterbush are looking good though!

CIMG0380

As are my sunstripe toms. I did lose one of my gardener’s delight to a bacterial disease this week, but it was positively laden with fruit, so made me 6 jars of mixed tomato chutney. This was a major hit last year, so hopefully will be again…

  CIMG0302 CIMG0300 CIMG0294

Radish, peppers and my hanging basket patty pans – an experiment I’ll definitely repeat for ease of care.

CIMG0314 CIMG0310

And my nasturtiums. These have gone crazy, taking over the garden, despite my regular pulling up of over-enthusiastic plants (which are now doing spectacularly well in the compost bins!). As well as providing us with tasty salad leaves and regular colourful posies and fulfilling their main role as sacrificial plants for the caterpillars (they’re amazing for this – my broccoli have barely been touched, whilst the nasturtium have been infested!), they’ve set the most enormous seeds, and I’ve already collected more than I could possibly need next year! So if anyone fancies a few, do give me a shout… I personally like the African Queen colours, but if pastels are more your colour scheme, please feel free to take some Whirlybird off my hands!

Elsewhere I have collected blackberries and made a winter supply of jam, am in the process of making up elderberry vinegar (I’m told it makes a great substitute for a fruity balsamic) and have collected about two thirds of the elderberries I need to make up a traditional Elder Rob. This is a basic syrup which can be drizzled over ice cream or fruit salad, used to make a hot toddy, or taken by the spoonful, to prevent winter colds. Elderberries are currently the subject of medical research in both Scandinavia and Israel, as they prevent against more strains of the flu virus than Tamiflu – but with none of the harmful side effects! So if you’ve seen trees laden with berries somewhere nearby, it might be worthwhile picking a few and making up a syrup to see the family through winter…

Waste not, want not

CIMG9951

I’m on a bit of a waste-not kick of late. I don’t know whether it’s the lack of money in my bank account (I’ve yet to be paid for a single job I have done since going freelance at the end of March) or the cost of compost for my veggie garden that has done it, but I’m suddenly aware of every single thing we throw away. I’ve started a Bokashi composting system (these guys are good, if you’re interested), so I can finally compost my leftovers, post-stock bones, and the various other food bits that can’t go into the regular compost bin or out to feed the friendly ducks that seem to have adopted us. Everything we throw away is subject to the three Qus before it hits the rubbish bin: can it be re-used? IF NOT, can if be upcycled? IF NOT can it be recycled? I have a sizeable collection of homemade mini-greenhouses for my seedlings next year, all neatly paired up with a plastic meat-tray for the base and a salad/stir-fry tray for the lid. And thanks to pinterest I have a supply of funnels, shovels and storage containers made from empty milk cartons.

CIMG9941

The ducks, sitting on our front door step

This weekend, I bottled up this year’s sloe gin. I was left with a pile of gin-soaked sloes, which I decanted into red wine to make sloe port. Before making the port, though, I removed the stones, to make the third stage of the process, sloe truffles, easier at the other end. I was left with a pile of sloe stones, and no clue what to do with them.

Googling was not helpful. No-one was offering advice regarding how to use sloe stones after the gin-making process – most folk seem to just add them to the compost. But I did read that the stones themselves release a lovely almond flavour, if left to soak long enough. Which went a long way to explaining why my instincts had led me to add almond essence to this year’s sugar syrup prior to sweetening my gin. (I used this recipe this year, rather than my usual all-in recipe, which can produce a sickly sweet gin.) I decided to try something out, just to see what happens: I added the stones to a half-empty bottle of wine vinegar.

Anyone have any suggestions as to what this might produce? I’m hoping for a slightly fruity vinegar that I can use in winter stews. I know I might have to reduce it with some sugar after steeping to achieve this, but that’s fine! I’m going on an elderflower forage as soon as the sun comes out, then when the berries come in, I have plans to make elderberry vinegar. So if this doesn’t work out, I’ll still have plenty of fruity vinegar to be going on with…

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.

Apple mad

We’ve had something of a bumper crop of apples this year, and whilst a lot are wrapped in newspaper and boxed up in one of the outbuildings, and more still are sliced and frozen in one of the outdoor chest freezers up at the hall, I had several pounds that needed using up as soon as possible. Somehow, between working, ebaying, crafting for two forthcoming fairs and looking after twins, I managed to make up four different apple-based preserves over the last week!

CIMG7933

I made up another batch of the cardamom apple jam I made with our last bumper crop – as it proved very popular with various family members. I also tried two different chutney recipes, to see which will turn out tastier. And, I attempted a twist on the ever popular chill jam recipe, replacing the usual kilo of tomatoes with a kilo of grated apples instead. It is slightly spicier than usual, but still good I think… Just might need a spot more sugar and orange juice, and perhaps another 500g of apple next time I try!

* * * * * * * *

We went to a simply wonderful wedding at the weekend (congratulations to the lovely Mikey and his beautiful wife, Jen!) yet somehow failed to find the time to take any outfit shots! So, I’ve stolen a couple from facebook (courtesy of the lovely Erin) to give you an indication of what I wore – it’s really my only dressy dress that fits just now, so no doubt it’ll make another appearance during the party season…

 outfits

girls

With the gorgeous Nat & Laura

It was so great to get together with so many of our university friends once again – I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard or danced so long! We left the boys with Nanny and enjoyed an uninterrupted night of sleep – not to mention a truly indulgent afternoon nap – I swear Dapper came back looking ten years younger! I came back, unfortunately, with a stinking cold, so am dosed up on lemsip this week. The joys of reacquainting oneself with the outside world after months of hibernation – my immune system doesn’t know what’s hit it!

Autumn walks

Today was a beautiful blustery autumn day, so I wrapped the boys up in their polar fleece onesies and took them for a walk. I got these fab fleecy Jojo Maman Bebe all-in-ones secondhand on Ebay and am really happy with them – they’re snug and comfy for the boys, and have plenty of room for them to grow through winter.

20131022_174224

If you’re wondering what’s around Conall’s lips, don’t worry: he’s been chewing his “buggy buddy” board book. He’s not frothing at the mouth! 

It was so nice to be out in the cold autumn wind, with warm faces and rosy cheeks. The trees were laden with apples and pine cones (in fact I collected a few pine cones to make some fairy folk/elves – there’s a lovely how-to in the Prima Christmas Makes magazine!) and the leaves were falling on us with each blustery gust like confetti.

I’m really going to miss our walks when I go back to work next week, so am trying to make the most of these last few days – fingers crossed the weather holds. The cold I can handle, but I’m not such a fan of the rain!