Saturday, 31 May 2008

Yoghurt making

Along with many people at the moment I am looking for ways minimise the effect of rising food prices on the household budget. We already grow some of our vegetables and fruit, keep the chickens for eggs, bake bread and eat more vegetarian meals than meat meals but still the food bills are rising. My latest project is making yoghurt.

I have made yoghurt before, putting a bowl of milk/yoghurt mixture wrapped in towels in the airing cupboard and have to say that the results were very variable. I decided to try again after reading this post about making yoghurt in a Thermos flask.

I've been doing this for a few weeks now and the yoghurt is great. I was also pleased to find a new use for the oldest kitchen utensil I own, this wonderful old Thermos flask.

My mother gave me this flask a few years ago, I always remember it being at home when I was small and I think it was passed to us from one of my grandmothers. I have no idea how old it is but would guess at over 60 years. The stopper is cork (no plastic used in flasks back then) and I cover it in foil so I can wipe it clean. It maintains the heat really well, far better than my modern flask.

Basic yoghurt making instructions,

  • I basically follow the instructions from the link above. The first step is to heat the milk to destroy the bacteria present in the milk. This step is important if using fresh milk and particularly so if like me you try to save money by using milk that is reduced in price at the end of its shelf life. (I have made yoghurt from longlife UHT milk and then this step can be left out as the milk will not contain any bacteria - just heat up to the temperature needed to add the yoghurt starter.)

  • The milk is then left to cool, I don't use a thermometer but test it by touch, if I can keep my finger in it for a few seconds but it is almost uncomfortably hot seems to indicate the right temperature!

  • I then mix in some commercial yoghurt. I usually use about a third of a small pot of Yeo Valley natural yoghurt - about 50 ml to a litre of milk. Make sure that the yogurt used is live yogurt.

  • The milk mixture is then poured into the flask which I have first scalded with boiling water and then left for around six hours.

  • We like thick yoghurt, so the next step is to strain it. I use a clean ironed tea towel (which would be virtually sterile) in a colander. It is worth watching this stage quite closely or it can over drain and become very thick, I find thirty minutes is about right.

  • We mostly eat our yoghurt with fruit and so at this stage I transfer it to a pot (bit messy this stage) and add honey to taste. After mixing in the honey, the yoghurt is ready to go in the fridge to cool.
A perfect combination, thick Greek style yoghurt with honey and rhubarb from the allotment.

A litre of milk makes just under half a litre of thick yoghurt. The savings are not high if full price milk is used but it is slightly cheaper, the real savings only come if I can find a bargain at the supermarket but it tastes brilliant so its worth making anyway.

I have also made soft cheese by accident when I forgot I had left some yoghurt draining. After a couple of hours it was very thick so I mixed some chopped chives and black pepper into it and it tasted fine. I will do that again and experiment with adding different ingredients.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Wild Orchids

The orchids in this picture are Green-winged orchids. These are still considered common in the southern half of the UK and in Europe but I've never seen one until today. Their numbers are in decline as their favoured habitat is described as agriculturally unimproved grassland and over the last few decades much of this habitat has been lost through ploughing and reseeding or through fertiliser use.

I knew that they grew in a small nature reserve near to home but had never visited at the right time of year. Today the rest of the family were all busy so I escaped on my own for a couple of hours to see if I could locate them. My book of local walks described thousands of orchids which was a bit optimistic, there were probably about 200, but it was still worth searching them out.

The flowers were very beautiful in a range of purples from very pale to quite dark. Apparently there are occasionally white ones but I didn't see any of those.
There was nobody else visiting this afternoon so I spent a very quiet peaceful time photographing the orchids. On returning home, I read a bit more about the nature reserve and learnt that it is the home to some unusually dark coloured adders, I'm glad I didn't come across them while I was there.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


Yesterday I harvested the last leeks of the season. As I was digging them, I realised that at any time of the year I have leeks at some stage of growth on my allotment.

As I come to the end of this seasons crop I already have little seedlings growing.

These will be transplanted in a few weeks once each leek is about the thickness of a pencil.

Although I have harvested all the leeks that I am going to eat, I have of course left some to flower so that I can collect the seeds for future years.

There are flower buds already forming on these.

After flowering the seed heads develop. The next photo was taken in September.

I pick the seed heads in the autumn and keep them in a cool dry place until I shake out the seeds to plant in early spring.

So the life history of the leeks I ate yesterday,

  • Summer 2006 - a leek left to flower and go to seed

  • Autumn 2006 - seed head picked and stored over the winter

  • Spring 2007 - seeds sowed in seed bed

  • Summer 2007 - leek seedlings transplanted to growing position

  • Autumn 2007 - Spring 2008 - leeks harvested.

Not exactly fast food!

In a fast changing world, there are aspects of our lives that would be unrecognisable and probably incomprehensible to our grandparents and great-grandparents, yet I know that both my grandfathers and their fathers, grew vegetables and saved seed from year to year in the same way that I do now.

Its nice to feel the connection to the past as I tend my little plot, looking after the soil and the plants and growing food for my family in the same way as generations of people before me.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

A woodland walk

I think this is one of the best times of the year to walk through woodland. There is so much fresh new growth on the trees and on the woodland floor. We walked through these local woods just after a rain storm and it seemed that we could almost feel everything growing. In the photo above the woodland floor is covered with bilberry bushes, I made a mental note to return in the summer when the berries are ripe.

The woods were filled with birdsong and we heard a cuckoo calling. This year I have heard the cuckoo more often than usual. I know the numbers have declined in recent summers but I don't know if they are recovering or whether its just that we are lucky to have a few birds nearby.

Back home in our smallish garden all this new growth has to be contained so today I tackled some pruning. A pile of leaves and twigs proved to be the perfect playground for the chickens.

Scratching about in the twigs must have been quite exhausting for one chicken who decided it was all too much and just settled down in the middle of the pile for a little snooze!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A day in my life

This is my second month taking part in Jenny's "a day in my life" project.

Wednesday 14th May.

Today has been a very "bitty" sort of day. I have done lots of little things but not very much of anything.

I must be very tired at the moment because I slept right through the alarm this morning and didn't wake until my husband brought me a cup of tea at ten to seven. It was nice having the extra sleep but somehow I've spent the day trying to catch up. Luckily the packed lunches were already made, only two today as my younger son is on study leave and Wednesday is a day at home for me.

After waking the boys, eating breakfast and starting the bread I went to water the allotment.

Its been dry for a while here and I have been watering every day but rain is forcast so I'm hoping we will get some. Not much to harvest today, just some salad leaves for lunch.

I drove home and turned straight round and drove my eldest son to school. He has just eight days left so that will be a journey I won't be making for much longer.

Back home and just time to start dinner, chicken in the slow cooker, before going to my weekly yoga class. I push blocks, belt, blanket and a water cup in a bag, balance my mat on the top and them stagger the half mile to the village hall. Yoga stuff is so bulky to carry but its such a short distance it doesn't seem worth taking the car.

After the class, feeling suitably stretched and relaxed I walk home and start rushing around again. My bread rolls are on the counter ready to go in the oven but with the hot weather they have risen and sunk back, I bake them anyway and we will have very flat rolls for a couple of days. In the winter while I was at my class they rose perfectly but now the temperatures are higher I shall have to rethink my schedule.

Yesterday I bought some rhubarb that had been reduced in price and I decided to bottle it. There was enough to fill two small Kilner Jars.

While it was heating I had lunch of warm bread rolls, cheese and salad with my younger son. I think he is finding it quiet at home revising and is missing the day to day company of his school friends.

I spent the afternoon doing housework, ironing, watering the pots of potatoes and tomatoes in the garden, giving the chickens their afternoon corn and collecting my eldest son from school.

These are the potatoes I planted at the end of February. They have put on a lot of top growth - I hope there are a lot of potatoes being formed as well.

Dinner was easy tonight. The chicken had been quietly cooking all day so all I had to do was the veg and potatoes. I baked potatoes to make it really easy and made some shortbread at the same time so that the oven would be full. I need lots of snacks and treats for my revising teenagers.

I like this method of cooking chicken, both because it is so easy and because the meat is always so tender. We ate about half of the meat so there is plenty for another day and this evening I boiled the bones to make stock. I usually use the stock in soups but now its a bit warm for soups I will probably use it in a rissotto.

After the dinner washing up was finished I phoned my parents and then it was back into the kitchen to make packed lunches, three this time because I'm at work tomorrow.

Physics coursework had priority computer use this evening so it getting late now as I type this.

Good night.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Noticing the details

At my yoga class last week, we were talking about being in the present. So much of the time we are caught up in thinking about what has happened in the past or worrying about what might take place in the future.

One way to remain in the present is to pay attention to our surroundings, to look closely and notice all the details, the sights, sounds and scents that we all too often take for granted.

This last weekend, while out for a walk, I tried to pay attention to the world around me rather than being wrapped up in my own thoughts. As always, this was much easier said than done, but I found taking photographs was a good way to focus my mind on what my yoga teacher would call " the here and now".

A few photographs of the details - flowers as usual, I've always loved wild flowers.

Finally after all the little details, the bigger picture, a slightly hazy view from the top of the hill.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Allotment, good and not so good

There are lots of good things happening at the allotment at the moment.

Lots of parsnip seedlings have germinated this year after my unsuccessful attempts last year.

Lettuce seedlings are pushing their way up through my very stony soil.

The broad beans are covered in flower.

The redcurrants are already forming.

Then, there are the not so good things such as my broken compost bin.

Netting that has been pulled off the plants it was protecting and dumped in a corner.

This frame which supported the netting over peas has been snapped into pieces. Judging by the footprints it must have been broken by someone jumping on top of it.

Yes, our allotments have suffered at the hands of vandals again. I got off quite lightly really because I had very little for them to destroy. Every row of bean sticks on the field was pulled down and even thick stakes supporting raspberry canes were pulled over.
Whatever goes through the minds of the people who decide to purposely damage something that others have spent time and effort on?
I know in the scheme of things a few vandals damaging allotments is not the end of the world and most of us have already repaired the damage but what a pointless waste of time, for everybody concerned.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Spring Bank Holiday

There seem to be a lot of holidays at this time of year especially so this year with Easter being separated from the school holidays. The May bank holiday has always been one of my favourites, right at the beginning of summer, with lengthening evenings and the promise of warm sunny days to come.

We have had days of very heavy rain and the ground is waterlogged and muddy but the forecast for the holiday weekend is good and we should at last have some summer weather. Yesterday evening the clouds cleared away and a short evening walk seemed like a good way to start the weekend.

The oak trees looked particularly golden in the evening sun.

This one was covered in catkins.

The bluebell wood was damp and dim in the fading daylight but it looked and smelt just wonderful.

The scent of flowers often seems to be more pronounced in the evening and yesterday the air in the wood was very still.

We came out of the wood just in time to watch the sunset.

Have a good weekend.