a beefy italian

 

romano's tomatoes

 

When I walk my little dog every morning, there is a lovely old italian chap who brings his working pointer in for a bit of excercise and we almost always walk together and chat.

here's hoping

 

He is charming and always makes me laugh. He shoots, has a garden, an allotment and cooks all the time.  He is in fact a retired chef.  We always have long chats about food and what we were doing at the weekend and he has lead an incredibly interesting life.

Last year he gave me the most enormous italian beef tomato to dry for seeds to plant this year.  It was an italian beef variety that came from his home in italy where his mama still lives.

sliced beef tomatoes

I wasn’t very hopeful after drying them as they looked a but mouldy but I thought I’d chance it.  I planted them in old baked bean tins a few weeks ago and they are starting to sprout.  I am hopeful that they will look as lovely as these photos when they grown on.

 

sprouting tomato seedlings

I have labelled them Romano’s Tomatoes and I like to think of them as being a hansome juicy italian variety just like him!

jamming lessons

 

 

jars of jam

 

I needed to empty my freezer of some of the spare fruit stashed in there.  This stash takes the form of brambles (blackberries), elderberries, damsons and plums so I decided to make more jam to add to my burgeoning supplies.

jam on toast

My stash is becoming hugely diverse in flavours be it jams or chutneys and comes in such mixes as melon and orange, marrow and ginger, plain old plum, damson, bramble and apple, apple and lavender jelly, beetroot chutney or apple and plum chutney but I am always on the scrounge for new ingredients that I can put in my maslin pan and I am always looking out for new recipes to pique a bit of pallet interest.

I love the concept of one pot cooking, be it casseroles, rissotttos, soups or anything else that effectively involves chucking (in an orderly and timely fashion of course) all your ingredients into a big cauldron (ah, there is something in that) so jam making is right up my street.

marrow and ginger jam

I only really started making Jams last year but since I am never more delighted than when receiving a culinary treat, it inspires me to make similar and I just love the personal touch a foody gift has especially when you present it to a generous host (along with the requisite gallons and gallons of wine!).

I read somewhere recently that the only thank you a guest should arrive with is an edible or quaffable one!!  I couldn’t agree more.

bramble and elderberry jam

Anyway today it was to be bramble and elderberry jam, damson jam and damson and plum jam.

 

The bramble and elderberry was a treat and tastes divine, not to mention the amazing colour.

Some of the damsons had been stoned in the vein hope that I might make a pudding (not something I do with any kind of regularity, I’m afraid, and probably to the disappointment of most people who sit around our table to be fed!).

 

sweet plums

 

I did learn a jamming lesson today though and that is:- the pectin from plum stones is invaluable and removing the stones before cooking makes the setting process a lot harder, especially if you are like me and prefer to use natural sources of pectin to adding it from a packet.

 

making cider

washed apples

The glut of apples and fruit from the secret orchard has made us explore what opportunities there are for ‘making’ stuff.

One of my friends suggested cider as there are more apples than anything else.

apple pulp

I did a bit of research and took various pieces of advice but effectively, there are certain essential bits of kit that you need and can’t really start without.

The basic requirements are apples (obviously), storage jars, a pulper, a press and cider yeast.

So off I went surfing the internet for some of this kit that would enable me to get started.

Pulping apples is quite hard it would seem as they are reluctant to release their precious juices.  So instead of trying to do this by hand I opted to buy a ‘pulpmaster’ which chops the apples up in a bucket and done with the aid of a drill. I bought a hydrometer which is essential but I don’t really understand what it does yet. I got some valves that allow the fizzy pressure to release whilst the cider is fermenting.  I bought yeast to help it ferment long with steriliser and cleaning brushes to clean my bottles and finally, the all important book on how to use all this equipment!

A bit more research revealed that it would be possible to make a fruit press at home and I was hopeful that we would do that one weekend when we got some spare time.

We picked the apples and stored them for a 2 week rest that allows the sugar to develop and in turn helps with the alcohol levels and the flavour.  Taking a steady approach we thought that 2 sacks of apples would be a good start and not too daunting a task.

JC did manage to convince me that I would be waiting a very long time if I was hoping for a made a fruit press at home and that I couldn’t really progress with my fledgling attempts to make cider if I didn’t actually invest in a press.

I did a bit more internet surfing but it was one of those things that I wanted to see so when JC came across a stainless steel fruit press in a shop in Louth, JC marched me off to the till and he carried it off to the car for me.  It is a thing of great beauty but I now have to make a total of £200 worth of cider to break even!!!  That is a lot of cider and not quite in line with my ‘food for free’ philosophy.

the first juice from the secret orchard apples

Not to be daunted by the overspend, JC & I had a go this weekend and, like anything you want to get from nature yourself, it requires a lot of effort.  We spent about 3 hours chopping, pulping, pressing and bottling.

It is quite exciting, though, when you see the first of the juice flowing from the press spout into a demijohn.

cloudy extracted juice

The juice is cloudy and not at all what we expected but we have done as instructed and set up the bottled juice with a cotton wool bung to be left for a few days and we have added the yeast.

There is evidence that it is changing already; It is clearing slightly and there is a muddy sediment on the bottom of the bottle and a distinct froth on the top.  This is all to be expected it would seem.

a gallon demijohn of apple juice

We only have a single gallon of juice from our efforts yesterday but we hope it is the first of many!

The pulp left over from the our juicing has gone to feed our neighbours chickens and I think we are up on that exchange since we got 6 lovely tasty eggs in return.  Perhaps it won’t take us as long as we thought to break even on our overspend…………………………….

the secret orchard

damsons

We went back to the secret orchard at the weekend to collect more fruit for jamming and cooking.  We are on holiday for two weeks and are staying here to relax.   A bit of fruit picking and preserving is a great way to start.

Having enjoyed it’s fruits a few weeks ago, we were surprised to find so much still not past it’s best.

bramley apples

The apples are still difficult to get at as the trees are very high but the victoria plums are now so heavy on the branches that they have bowed to a pickable level; how accomodating.  There are no mirabelle plums left but there are still the common pink plums in abundance.  They are so sweet and definitely the best for eating.

sweet plums

It is incredibly overgrown making most of it impossible to get to and there are some evil brambles lurking where you least expect to find them.  We have offered to manage it for the farm in the hopes that we will get firewood from it and fruit for all of us to enjoy. So much of it is going to waste at the moment.  Even the birds can’t keep up with it.

victoria plums

We have suggested it be fenced off and a couple of pigs let lose in there to grub out the choking undergrowth and clear the ground of the fallen fruit.  Livestock is too much to worry about for a farm busy with thousands of acres of arable crops and we aren’t around often enough to take on the job but if we were, we’d be straight out there finding ourselves a couple of lincolnshire curly coated pigs.

eating apples

It’s a smashing little spot and although most of it remains inaccessible to us at the moment (where the pears and eating apples are!!), it will be a great project to clear it and help get it back to it’s near original condition.

an enormous mushroom

Even the furry one loved it finding lots of interesting smells and places to dig. His favourite was disappearing into the undergrowth to discover things that we couldn’t get to and that have probably only been visited by the local wildlife in a very, very long time.

our harvest

Until we get down to the clearing and managing of it properly, we can continue to enjoy the fruits we can reach.  Some of them have been cooked up now and I will tell about that later.

a secret orchard

cooking apples

The farm has an orchard tucked away alongside one of their crop fields which we didn’t know about last year. It has only just come to our attention through a conversation last weekend.

It is off the road and can’t be seen so it gets a little abuse by the occasional local who knows about it. The farm can’t keep an eye on it as it is a bit out of the way to be watched really but there is a lot of fruit.  I’m sure there is enough to go around.

apples and plums

It was planted a long time ago and was harvested every year and the produce was boxed up and sent off for sale. There is an old orchard ladder in the dike as you approach the edge of the orchard which would have been used by whoever was working to harvest.  The ladder is only really used by the farmer’s wife and a couple of the farm hands who have been shown it and can help themselves.  Now it is used by us!!

preparing

It is such a privilege to have access to this free food and I can tell you, it is pretty tasty.  We spent a few hours on Sunday afternoon picking (and sampling of course!) the apples (cookers), brambles, plums (the sweetest tasting ever), victoria plums (not ready yet), a type of tiny yellow plum (which I now know is a mirabelle plum), damsons (not ready yet) and pears (also not ready yet).

we are going back the next weekend we are there to check out the other plums, pears and damsons and perhaps pick some more apples but in the meantime, we got plums, brambles and apples to get started on.

ingredients

At the moment my confidence with jam making and chutneys isn’t very high and I certainly haven’t enough courage to tackle bottling or other rather complicated sounding processes so I am going to stick at the simple jam making processes and hopefully get more adept at it.

I was very happy with the outcome of my marrow and ginger jam so I thought I would have a go at bramble and apple, plum and then lavender flower jelly with the apples.

bramble and apple jam in the pot

Country living’s September issue was my weekend reading and could not have been better suited to our foraging. It has these very recipes in it along with a recipe for lavendar jelly, sloe jam, and also pear with peach jam.

The Bramble & Apple Jam recipe is as follows:

Brambles / Blackberries (whatever weight you have managed to forage) washed, de-stalked and checked for bugs.

Brambly Cooking Apples / Crab Apples (1/3 of the weight of brambles you collected). peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks

Sugar (equivalent in weight to brambles)

1/4 pint of water

juice of 2 lemons

cook all brambles with half of the lemon juice until softened.

cook apples in remaining lemon juice until soft.

put apples and brambles together in maslinpan with water and sugar.

heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring regularly.

bring to boil rapidly for about 20 mins or until setting point is reached.

skim off scum.

pop into warm sterilized jars.

label when cold.

bramble and apple jam

The Plum Jam recipe is as follows:

Plums (whatever weight you have managed to forage) washed, de-stalked and stones removed. keep the stones and pop into muslin bag.

Sugar (equivalent in weight to brambles)

1/4 pint of water

juice of 2 lemons. keep the lemon skins and pips and pop into the muslin bag with the plum stones.

cook all the plums and the lemon juice until softened. put the muslin bag od stones and lemons into pan half way through cooking and leave until ready to boil.

add water and sugar.

heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring regularly. remove muslin bag and discard.

bring to boil rapidly for about 20 mins or until setting point is reached.

skim off scum.

pop into warm sterilized jars.

label when cold.

plum jam

I ran out of time for anything else and have a load of cooking apples left along with some lavender flowers from the garden so I am going to do that lavender jelly jam next.

flowery meadows

There seem to be a lot of flowers appearing just now and it is 2 weeks since we saw the farm so the change is marked and very, very pretty.

I used to know all the names of everything that has a flower and certainly had more confidence in picking what could be eaten than I do now.

Even so, it is lovely to see the hay meadows and pond surrounds filled with daisies and poppies and grasses and harebells and so many other pretty floral things.

The oil seed has finished flowering but the linseed is casting a gorgeous bright blue caste over some of the fields, there are flag irises at the pond and grasses on the bank.

The summer is all about the vegetation, be it the salad variety, harvestable vegetation or the hedge rows. It seems that the winter is all about the wildlife (easier to see!!), but we may not be seeing the deer that we have become accustomed to but we have seen some of their very fresh deer slots around the pond after the rain has made mud; even though a sighting of them they elude us when the wheat and barley are so high.

It is nice to know that quietly they are still, so things don’t change that much even though they seem to and they are still around. I keep threatening to camp over night with night vision to see the badgers, foxes and deer, we’ll see if I get my way…..

I have missed the hawthorn blossom by about a week so my blossom brandy will have to wait until perhaps next year but I satisfied myself with a lovely round of toasted freshly baked bread spread with ‘hedgerow jelly‘ and a cuppa tea.  JC opted for the first batch from Barry’s Bees Lincolnshire Honey and was as happy as I.

The honey is luscious and all of our friends seem happy to receive a jar but Barry tended his bees into making that whereas tinyinc’s hedgerow jelly was made by me!! It is a lovely flavour of haw berries, crab apple and damsons picked by me, cooked by me, sieved by me and jarred by me. I haven’t given much away.  It was hard work to make compared to just jam but it is very much worth it.

The colour alone made yesterday’s breakfast a bit special!

#4 produce in abundance

black courgette

The vegetables seem to be doing well in the garden helped enormously by the recent combination of sunshine and rain.

rocket and mixed salad leag

We are eating baby leaf salads on a daily basis now and have just planted our second batch to see us through a few more weeks when the earlier stuff runs out.

strawberries

The strawberries are flowering and showing the first signs of fruit hidden in there so we will have to net those soon to protect from the birds.

cucumber, courgette and garlic

The black courgettes that I planted in loo roll cardboards have been planted into the ground along with the cucumbers that I seeded in an egg box and they seem to be doing fine.

carrots

We have carrots, herbs, pak choi and brocolli sprouting too and it all looks so tasty. Even the tomatoes have recovered now that they are in bigger pots and are outside.  I can hardly wait.

tomatoes

The most frustrating wait is for the rhubarb and asparagus!  Although they both seems to have taken very well they shouldn’t be harvested in their first year so we must wait for next year. The wait gives the root system a chance to strengthen and allows then to establish themselves.

This time next year Rodney…..

tinyinc’s sloe gin

2 month old sloe gin

Since our first batch of sloe gin in november, we harvested a few more baskets of sloes and took Mr Naylor’s advice and added a vanilla pod to an odd new bottle.

We check on them and shake them regularly.  The most noticable change since we started is the colour and it is quite beautiful.

the consistency is becoming more gloopy even though it is quite evident in some of the jars that a lot of the sugar is yet to dissolve.

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#3 even more free food

crab apples, haws & elderberries

crab apples, haws & elderberries

My polite gift of Damson jam has gained me access to the various other untapped seasonal fruit resources on the farm.  Today, I have gained a basket full of crab apples. Some of the apples will go into the freezer to be added to my recent stash of Brambles so that I can make my favourite fruit pudding; Bramble and Apple Crumble. I will set aside what I need for an apple and elderberry crumble (to be made as pudding for the farmer who is coming to dinner while the farmer’s wife is surfing in Cornwall!). The damson and Elderberry Pie will have to wait for another day (freezer permitting).

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#1 food For free

IMG_9885I’ve always liked the idea of food for free or making the most of the seasonal resources around us.  I don’t think I’ve missed many years when it comes to making the most of the brambles along our local (city) railway walk or around the hedgerows of the countryside.

The day before yesterday, though, I got permission from the farm to harvest the wild Damsons and Elderberries that grow among the trees of their spinney.

IMG_9882

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