Monday, 27 August 2007

Late Summer Bank Holiday

This Bank Holiday we have had perfect summer weather, beautiful warm sunny days. I always feel this weekend is the end of summer so in some ways it seems a bit sad. We have just one more week of school holidays left and then it will be back into the term-time routine of early mornings, packed lunches, PE kits etc. The holidays as always have passed far too quickly.

We have spent the weekend pottering around the house doing odd jobs and tidying up the garden. We ate all our meals outside in the garden making the most of the weather.

I have been cutting back some of the shrubs and perennials, today I gave the privet hedge its last trim for this year, but as most plants are starting to die back, the autumn ones are just starting to flower. I like both the white and pink cyclamen, very delicate and fragile looking with the flowers first and then the leaves later.

In complete contrast to the small, pale cyclamen, I took these photographs of some heather and gorse last week.

The countryside puts on a very colourful end of season display.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Jam making and preserving

I've been busy this week making jam. I've had to stop now as I've run out of jam jars!
As I have such a glut of crab apples most of my jellies have been based on them.

I make all fruit jellies the same way. I simmer the fruit with water until it is soft and then let it drip through a jelly bag for several hours. The amount of water needed varies with the fruit, for the crab apples I almost cover the fruit with water but for fruits like redcurrants or blackberries I would use less.

The crab apples give a really nice coloured juice.

I add sugar to the juice in the ratio of 1 lb sugar to each pint of juice. My grandmother and therefore my mother always used this formula - I have not calculated what the metric equivalent would be, but it would not be as simple, or as easy to remember as 1lb to 1 pint.

The sugar is added to the juice and then the mixture is heated gently at first until all the sugar has dissolved. The heat is then increased until a "rolling boil" is reached. I find that this jam sets after about 15 minutes boiling but it will depend on the amount of water used to extract the juice in the first place. I don't use a thermometer, I just test for set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a chilled plate and leaving it for about a minute. If when you gently push the mixture with your finger the surface wrinkles then it is ready if it is still runny continue boiling and test again after five minutes.
I sterilise my jars by putting them in the oven at about 120 C and the lids by putting them in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them. With jam containing fruit pieces it is a good idea to let the jam stand for a while and let the fruit disperse evenly but with jellies I put the hot jam into the hot jars and immediately put the lid on. If the lids have "pulled a vacuum" once the jam is cold then the seal is fine. I had a couple that didn't seal this time and I will use these first, alternatively these could be stored in the freezer.

I have made crab apple and crab apple with blackberry ( 1 part blackberry juice: 2 parts crab apple)

and redcurrant and crab apple (equal volumes or each juice)

I also preserved some fruits without mixing them with crab apple!

I bottled some Victoria plums

and made some elderberry syrup/cordial.

Elderberries have anti-viral properties so hopefully this will help ward off colds and flu in the winter.

The jars are now all packed away in the cool darkness of the garage and will be brought out in the coming months when we want a little taste of summer.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Fruit from the garden

Our house, which is sixteen years old, is part of a group of houses built on the land of an old house with a big garden. The houses were built quite close together and so we have quite a small garden which is often in shadow from the adjacent homes and also from some large oak trees which border the footpath at the bottom of the garden.

When we first moved in I tried to grow some vegetables but soon found that the conditions were not ideal so I rent an allotment for vegetable growing. Our garden at home is mainly lawn with some flower borders but over the years I have gradually added some fruit. Although it will only ever produce small quantities I am really pleased this year with my little harvest from the garden.

As well as my Crab Apple tree I have two more apple trees.

This is a Bramley. I planted this tree four years ago. For the first two years I had absolutely nothing, last year I had just three apples and now this year it has done really well. A few apples fell of in the bad weather about a week ago and although they are not completely ripe yet, they cooked up very well.

This apple is from my dwarf apple tree. The tree is about eight years old and is around 4 feet tall. It usually has around 20 - 25 apples. I think the variety was Discovery, its an early apple and they are ready now, very crisp eaten straight from the tree.

I have a patch of autumn raspberries all of which come from one plant that I bought from a fruit farm when the children were small. I think it cost me £1 so I've had my money back many times over. Autumn raspberries are very easy to look after as they fruit on the current seasons growth. I cut the canes down to almost ground level in February and then do nothing else but wait. A tip I read a few years ago was that if some of the canes are not cut back completely, but just have their height reduced by half, then they will fruit earlier in the year. I usually do this leaving about a quarter of the canes longer and so extending the season although I only have the one variety.

I have a grape vine growing up the back (west facing) wall of the house. It did very well last year but this year although I had loads of flower, it has only a few bunches of small grapes.

I have lots of these wild or alpine strawberries. I'm not sure where these came from but they have spread throughout the garden and are a nice snack when I'm gardening.

Also growing in the garden is a blueberry bush which I planted in the spring and having almost run out of room in the back garden, last autumn I planted a plum tree in the front but no plums this year.

My allotment hasn't done so well this season with the slugs taking more than their fair share of some of my vegetables but I am really pleased with the fruit harvest.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Nice Matters Award

I noticed these roses this morning when I went into the garden to hang out some washing. They are not mine, they are in my neighbours garden but look lovely peeping over the fence.

The pink colour matches the Nice Matters Award that I was given by Lisa at Altered Cutlery. Thank you Lisa.

The award was started by Bella-Enchanted

"This award will be awarded to those that are just nice people, good blog friends and those that inspire good feelings and inspiration! Those that care about others that are there to lend support or those that are just a positive influence in our blogging world!"

I now have to nominate some nice people for the award. I have chosen

Jenny at Little Jenny Wren

Rhonda at Down to Earth

although I am sure that all the blogs I read are written by nice people!

A mixed sort of day

It was a bit of a mixed day yesterday. Firstly the weather was very mixed. I took this photo first thing in the morning, its not very clear but it was an almost perfect spider's web really shining in the early morning sunshine. The day looked fine and bright so I did three loads of washing. Goodness, did it rain. We had several short spells of really heavy rain (raining stair rods as my mother would say). In between it was bright sunshine and I must have taken the washing in and out about four times during the day, although in the end I won and got it all dry. A day of very mixed weather.

My husband was working from home yesterday. He needed the computer and the phone, he needed to go out so wanted lunch at a different time to us, we had to stay out of the room so he could concentrate on an important conference call and so the routine of our day seemed all mixed up.
Yesterday was also the day of my sons AS level results and the best description of them would be mixed! We now need to discuss what he will to do next, though that can wait a day or two to give us all time to think.
Yes, it was a very mixed sort of day. Today we are back to normal which is much better.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Crab Apples

Our house was new when we moved into it 16 years ago. The back garden was completely barren and looked like a building site which I suppose it was. One of the first things to be planted was a crab apple (Malus "John Downie").

This is a perfect tree for a small garden. It is decorative as well as useful. This is how it looked in April this year.

Every spring it is covered in masses of white blossom and now it is laden with beautifully coloured crab apples.

I will be picking these in a day or two, if it stops raining, and making crab apple jelly.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

A short holiday

We have just returned from a two day holiday. We went here.... Bruges.

Over the last few years our holidays have been UK based so this was a bit of a treat. It was a spur of the moment decision and we went by train.

We booked our tickets and a hotel for one night just a couple of days before we went. We left home just after 5:30 am on Thursday and walked through our village to the station. It was a beautiful morning, with the sun just rising and not surprisingly at that time virtually no-one about. The journey went smoothly and we arrived in Bruges around lunch-time. Unfortunately we left the good weather behind, it poured with rain all day in Belgium last Thursday and was dull and cloudy on Friday (yes, I do know that there was unbroken sun here on both days!).

We had not been to Bruges before and it was a great place for a short visit as it is small enough to walk round easily. It is a very pretty place even in the rain and we enjoyed exploring all the cobbled streets before disappearing into a teashop to dry off and sample some of the famous handmade chocolates.

On Friday morning we had a quick walk round Bruges and then caught the train back to Brussels.

We must have walked for miles and it was quite a relief to settle down on Eurostar late Friday afternoon and rest. We chose to visit somewhere we could reach by train instead of flying because it is a "greener" way of travelling but I actually prefer it for travelling a short distance. I particularly enjoyed the hour long journey between Brussels and Bruges, you get a good impression of the countryside from a train. My main impressions from this train trip, houses and gardens are very neat and tidy in Belgium and at the moment there are fields and fields of sweetcorn!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Fruit picking and an unfortunate frog.

Yesterday I paid another visit to the fruit farm. When we arrived there were disinfectant-soaked sacks to drive over and then we had to dip our shoes (just up to the soles) in a bowl of disinfectant before as we walked in. The foot and mouth outbreak has affected many people and events in the countryside already, I just hope that this time that it is contained effectively.

I picked two large punnets of redcurrants to add to the ones I grow on my allotment. In total they made about two pints of juice. I have frozen this while I wait for my crab apples to ripen. I always make my redcurrant jelly with 50:50 redcurrant juice and crab apple juice. It makes a jelly that sets really easily due to the pectin in the apples and it also makes the redcurrants go further while still giving a good redcurrant flavour.

I also picked some strawberries and some autumn raspberries to eat for tea. My son decided we should use the strawberries to make Eton Mess which was delicious if somewhat high in fat and sugar.

Later in the evening we noticed that one of our chickens was running round the garden with a frog. When we went out to have a look, she was pecking away enthusiastically. Then suddenly as I was trying to take a photo she picked up the frog and swallowed it whole. I didn't realise that chickens ate frogs or that they could swallow something so big in one go. I hope she doesn't make a habit of it because we quite like having frogs in the garden.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

On holiday at home

This year, for the first time we have not booked a holiday away. We realised that as the boys grow up they want to spend more time on their own, going for cycle rides or just lying around reading. So after trying for some time to decide where best to rent a cottage that would suit everybody we decided to stay put and holiday from home. My husband has some time off work and we have a few trips planned, with time in between for relaxing at home and some decorating as well.

We have done a couple of walks nearby, on the North Hampshire Downs -"Watership Down" country. Although its only a few miles away from home because the soil is so chalky there is a completely different range of wild flowers.


Tufted Vetch



Today we are enjoying time at home and planning a couple of slightly more adventurous trips for next week.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Summer Food

Lots of local goodness from our nearest pick your own fruit farm. I made strawberry jam last month so just picked a few strawberries for puddings. I really wanted to stock up on raspberries for the freezer but I timed it completely wrong, the main crop raspberries have finished and the autumn raspberries won't be ready for a week or two. I did rummage around and picked one punnet.

I also bought some of their vegetables. I don't usually buy courgettes but I have to admit complete defeat this season, my allotment seems to have been invaded by very hungry slugs. As well as my courgette plants they have also munched through my butternut squash plants which is very annoying as I usually have enough squash to make lots of soup in the first part of winter.

Still, we should be getting warmer and drier weather for a bit now. Apparently the jet stream which has been responsible for this prolonged wet and cool spell has now moved northwards to its more usual position for this time of year and we should now get our normal summer weather.

Thank you to Ginny at The Flour Loft for a Blogger Reflection Award. Ginny writes about her family and her textile business she runs with her friend Alice. I enjoy visiting for her pictures of her garden and all the things she and Alice make - lots of "crafty inspiration". I've decided not pass the award on, not because I can't think of six blogs that inspire me but because it would be difficult to choose. I have added a few more blogs to my list of favourite reads, all of which often make me think and reflect, usually about simple living or knitting/sewing or both.