Thursday, 24 November 2016

November catch-up

Here we are nearly at the end of November and counting the days till Christmas.

It's been a strange month, starting off quite mild and then a few odd mornings of frost and fog and this week torrential downpours. The trees are now bare, except for the magnolia which hangs on to its heavy leaves for another few weeks. Two Saturdays ago we spent all day sweeping up leaves. Paul used the leaf blower which then sucks up and mulches the leaves, Chas got busy with the rake and I just used my hands to sweep up great bunches of leaves into the wheelbarrow. We have two black "Dalek" composters into which we put the leaves to rot down. Next year it will be lovely leaf mould. Some leaves go onto the compost heap, but they do take a long time to break down so just mix a few at a time into the general mix of grass cuttings, plant trimmings and veg stuff from the kitchen. This year there has been an amazing apple harvest and inevitably a lot of fallers, rotten ones and apples eaten by birds, squirrels etc. A lot of those get recycled in the compost too.

Just a few buckets of apples from the amazing apple harvest this year.
The garden looks a bit bedraggled with herbaceous plants in various stages of die-back. Some tall, brown sunflowers and hostas just flopped and soggy. It's not been very inviting weather to go out and tidy up. But I guess it doesn't matter too much. Sometime during the winter we'll tidy away the leaves so that the spring bulbs can come through.

The vegetable harvest is pretty much finished. There are a few Leeks (unfortunately they seem to have got the alllium leaf miner again but just slightly so the leeks are useable) and a bit of Rainbow Chard. Unfortunately the second sowing of chard didn't come up. The main crop we have to look forward to is Brussel Sprouts. After previous years when they have succumbed to caterpillars, pigeons and pheasants we built a cage with fine mesh netting and so far they are doing well. We've had a couple of meals of sprout tops and the little sprouts are growing nicely. Maybe a few will be ready for Sunday.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Marrow and Apple Chutney

This is a lovely chutney, great with cold meat, cheese or ledt-over turkey. My Mum used to make this "old Devonshire" recipe that her Mum taught her. I made a batch in August with our first big marrow and the early windfalls. But I still have a big marrow on the conservatory shelf and loads of apples so I shall make some more. There are several people expecting a jar for Christmas!

Marrow and Apple Chutney


3 lbs marrow (after skinning and taking out the seeds)
1.5 lbs apples (after peeling & coring)
1 lb onions
3/4 lb sugar
3/4 oz turmeric
1.5 tbsp cornflour
1 pt vinegar

I usually use pickling vinegar which has spices like peppercorns already in, but you can use plain vinegar and add your own spices.
Optionally add a couple of chopped chillies.

Chop the peeled & cored marrow into small chunks (1/2 inch cube approx).
Place in a large dish. Sprinkle with salt and leave overnight.
Next day pour away the water that's come out of the marrow.

Put onion, marrow, apple and spices, sugar & all but a small amount of vinegar in a large pan and cook gently until marrow & onion are softish (about 1 hour).
Mix cornflour with remaining vinegar till smooth and then pour into the mix, stirring well to avoid lumps. Continue to simmer for 1/4 hour.

Place in hot sterilised jars and put lids on while hot.


Monday, 17 October 2016


An amazing apple harvest this year. We've been collecting fallers and easy-reachers for several weeks from the cooking apples - Bramley and two others we don't know the variety - and have picked a good crop off the crab apple. Today we went up on the scaffolding platform to pick more (not all!).

Unfortunately the eaters haven't done so well. The Russet which ripens early did fairly well, but the little Red Apple tree had hardly any fruit, the first time this one has had a bad year since we came here 10 years ago. The new trees, Elstar and Braeburn had nothing. We're looking forward to a good crop from the other Red Eater which ripens very late and should be ready in a week or so.

The Crab Apples, as usual, went into crab apple jelly, some plain and some with rosemary or sage in to eat with meat or cheese.

I usually cut up, cook and freeze the cooking apples ready for crumbles, pies and apple sauce during the winter and spring but now have freezers full of apples. Some go into chutneys and we wrap some in newspaper and store in trays in the conservatory. We still had buckets of apples so we decided to try something new - CIDER!

Plastic boxes with apples etc for cider

We don't have a cider press available so we Googled "Making cider without a press" and came up with a suggestion which involves freezing the apples for a few days. This apparently breaks down the structure of the apples in a similar way to crushing them. Well we had a go and put 5 lbs of the frozen apples, 1.5 lbs sugar, 7 oz yeast and  6 pts cold water into each of two plastic boxes with lids. (Buckets with lids are inexplicably much more expensive). Stir every 2 days. After 3 weeks test for sweetness - definitely cidery but we added some sugar because one was pretty "rough". Next stage is to rack off into demi-johns and let brew a bit longer. Let you know how it goes.

I've also made some Apple Cider Vinegar. Put 1.5 lbs cut up apples in a large wide-topped (Kilner) jars, 3 tbsps of Demerara sugar and fill up with water. Cover with kitchen towel and elastic band around - so air can get in but not flies). Leave on cupboard top in kitchem, stir every couple of days. It fizzes a bit and then after a week or so the apples start to sink. After 3 weeks pour off the vinegar. Filter into small bottles. Tastes quite good to me but will try again in a week or two.

I once did this by accident with a batch of crab apple juice I didn't get round to boiling up into jelly. It had nicely fermented and gone over into vinegar all by itself. So I had enough Crab Apple Vinegar to use in salad dressings and beetroot for a couple of years.