Archive | August 2012

Drying Onions and Blackberry & Apple Flapjacks

Yesterday morning I dug up my onions.  They are not as big as normal and they are approximately a month behind, which I can only think it’s due to the weather this year.

Providing I dry them properly, they should store for quite a few months.

I am drying them in my little plastic greenhouse in my back garden, which I leave open, unless rain is forecast.  I will leave them there until they have dried, which can take 6 to 8 weeks.

Afterwards I will put them in an onion bag (not plastic) and leave in a cool dark place until I use them.

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Onion Trivia:

According to an old English Rhyme, the thickness of an onion skin can help predict what?

The severity of the winter. Thin skins mean a mild winter is coming while thick skins indicate a rough winter ahead.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, how much did the largest onion ever grown weigh?

10 pounds 14 ounces. It was grown by V. Throup of Silsden, England.

Who worshipped the onion?

The ancient Egyptians worshipped the onion, believing that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternity.

What should you eat to get rid of onion breath?

Parsley.

A single serving of onion contains how many calories?

45 calories.

What are the three colors of onions sold in most grocery stores?

Yellow, red, and white.

What Beatles song has “onion” in the title?

Glass Onion. (The White Album)

What family does the onion belong to?

The onion is a member of the Lily family.  The common onion is known as Allium Cepa; in Latin Allium means garlic and cepa means onion – the edible bulb of a plant belonging to the botanical genus Alliaceae (or onion family). 

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On Sunday, I made lots of cakes for ‘Afternoon Tea’.  I will be writing the recipes on my blog, over the next few days.

I decided to start today with ‘Blackberry and Apple Flapjacks’, as the blackberries and early season apples are ready for picking now.

I freeze blackberries after I’ve picked them, so I can make these flapjacks all the way through the year.

All I do is wash them and then freeze them on a tray and then put them in a bag when they are frozen.  This way they don’t stick together and you can just take the amount out that you need and defrost them ready for use.

I find this recipe takes ages to cook, so I put foil over it half way through the cooking process, so it doesn’t burn.  If you use a larger tin so the mixture isn’t so deep, you can reduce the time it takes in the oven.

Blackberries at my Allotment

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‘Blackberry and Apple Flapjacks’

250g margarine

3 tablespoons of golden syrup

85g sugar

340g porridge oats

100g blackberries

1 apple grated

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Preheat your oven Gas 4 / 350F /180C

Grease an 8 inch round, loose bottom cake tin

Melt the butter, syrup and sugar over a low heat

Remove from the heat and add the oats

Add the apple and stir.

Add the blackberries and gently fold them in

Pour the mixture in the tin and flatten gently

Cook for 30 minutes then put foil over the top and cook for another 30 minutes

Cut into slices and leave in the tin until cold

Blackberry Flapjacks

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

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What a ‘Whopper’ and Juicing Apples

Today I wanted a swede for tea.

My swedes had been sitting quite happily underneath my environmesh for some time.  I didn’t realise quite how happy they actually were, until I found this one today:

My rather ‘large’ swede, weighing nearly 10 lbs, sitting next to a normal sized apple.

Perhaps I should have entered it into a competition, but I didn’t, I just chopped it up for dinner tonight.

I was very proud of my swede until I found that the worlds largest swede weighed 85 lbs.  It makes mine seem rather small in comparison now.

You can see it here.

Yellowgages

I also picked some yellowgages, which are rather dissapointing this year, as there are so few of them due to the cold weather when the trees were in blossom.

My first two buckets of apples, for juicing

My apple trees are a bit dissapointing as well this year, due to the weather, however, there was enough for juicing.

This is how I squeeze the apple juice:

First I wash the apples

Then I chop off any bruised bits or grub holes.

I chop the apples into quarters and then put them into my food processor and chop into large pieces, (you don’t need to over chop).  You can buy an attachment to ‘pulp’ the fruit, but I haven’t got one.

I then put the pulp into my apple press and squeeze the apple juice out.

I sieve my apple juice and then I put it into plastic bottles and freeze the juice.  I find it easier this way, as I don’t have the expense of buying the glass bottles or bringing the bottles up to the right temperature.  Each bottle contains just enough for my daughters to have at lunch.  I take the bottle out of the freezer in the morning and pop it into their lunch boxes.  It then defrosts by lunch time and while it’s still frozen it helps to keep the lunch box cool too.

I managed to squeeze 29 small bottles and 1 large bottle out of the two buckets of apples.  I will pick some more apples and juice them in a couple of days.

The apple juice is cloudy, but you can pour the juice through some muslin, to make a less cloudy juice.  However, I’ve read by leaving it in, then you are retaining the goodness.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

Afternoon Tea and a Trip to the Sea

On Sunday I invited my family round for ‘Afternoon Tea’.

‘Afternoon Tea’

‘Afternoon Tea’ was originally intended for just the ‘ladies’ of the family.  However, all the men folk wanted to come too, so it became a whole family occasion.

This has now become a regular thing over the last few years, as everyone seems to enjoy it.  This time there were 18 people including my 1 year old great nephew, so I was grateful that the weather stayed fine, so we could all sit and eat outside.

My China Tea Set

I took out my best ‘china’ tea set for the occasion (which I bought second hand from ebay).

This time I decided to have an ‘allotment’ theme.

I started by serving Patty Pan Soup and homemade bread.

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My wonderful sister made sandwiches for everyone this year to help me, so we served these next.

Afterwards I served the cakes.

To keep with my allotment theme, I served the following:

Chocolate Beetroot Cake, with chocolate butter icing and a chocolate topping:

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Pumpkin and Orange Cake

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Rhubarb and Ginger Cake

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Blackberry Flapjacks

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Apple & Yellow Plum Muffins

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Chocolate Courgette Cakes

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This was all served with lots of Tea and Coffee and homemade Raspberry Cordial.

It did take quite a while to bake all the cakes, but everyone seemed to have a lovely time.

 The recipes for the Patty Pan Soup, Chocolate Beetroot Cake and the Chocolate Courgette cakes, are already in the ‘recipe section’ at the top of the page.

I will be writing the other cake recipes for you to enjoy, on my blog in the next few days.

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Yesterday, the four of us went for a lovely family day out to Skegness in Lincolnshire.

Skegness is a well known place for a day trip when you live in Leicester, as we do.  It’s one of the nearest beaches to us.

It took two hours to drive there.

Skegness has a reputation of being a bit ‘tacky’ with the amusements and ‘cheap’ shops, but for a day on the beach you can’t beat it.

We took a big picnic, chairs, buckets and spades, etc. and had a wonderful cheap day, making sandcastles, playing cricket, collecting shells, etc and chatting about life.

The weather was good and the sea was calm and I had fun with my husband and daughters.  What more could anyone want in life?

Thank you for reading my blog today.

Strawberry Jam & Jam Making Tips

Over the weekend I made some strawberry jam, with the strawberries that I have in the freezer.

I was very scared of making jam the first time I attempted it and I’ve got to say my jam was awful and rock hard!

Since then, I’m pleased to say, I have got the hang of it and I now find it very easy.

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Strawberry jam

Strawberries

Granulated sugar

Lemon juice

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Before you start, put some side plates in the freezer for a few hours.  These will be used to test the ‘setting point’

Wash and hull the strawberries

Weigh the strawberries and put into a large pan (the contents will rise as it boils)

Put the same weight of sugar in the pan with the strawberries

Put the pan on a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has melted and the sugar crystals can not be seen on the back of your spoon

As strawberries have a very low pectin level, add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice per 1lb of strawberries.

At this point turn the heat right up and bring to a boil and continue boiling hard.  I find the jam burns at the bottom of my pan if I just leave it to boil,  so I stir the jam continuously, though other recipes don’t tell you to do this.

After 10 minutes test for the ‘setting point’.  To do this, put a small drop of jam on one of the side plates from the freezer.  After a few moments, push the jam with your finger and if it wrinkles it’s ready.  If it doesn’t wrinkle, continue boiling hard.

Keep checking the jam every five minutes until the setting point is reached.

Take the pan off the heat and leave it for fifteen minutes.  If there is scum on your jam, you can skim it off, but I just stir in a small knob of butter which does the same job.

Sterilise some jam jars (gas mark 4 for 5 minutes)

Pour the jam into the jars and seal with lids.  I use the jars that have a sealable lid (i.e. the jars that jam is sold in, at the supermarket).  This way you don’t need to worry about wax discs to create a seal.  As the jam cools, the lids ‘pop’ and make you jump.

The jam stores for ages and ages in a cool, dark place, however, once you have opened a jar, keep it refridgerated.

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The pan I use to make jam is a ‘maslin’ pan which is deep enough for jam making.  Mine was second hand, which I purchased for £10 from ebay and it was worth every penny.

I have worked out, that because I grew my own strawberries, each jar of homemade jam costs just 22 pence per jar to make.  The cheapest strawberry jam I have managed to find, is Tesco’s value jam which is 35 pence per jar and has only 35% of fruit in it too.

 Though I do say so myself, I’m sure mine tastes an awful lot nicer.

Homemade Strawberry Jam on homemade bread…bliss!

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I commented recently that I had to learn things by reading lots of different books and websites.  It would have been much easier for me to have the information all together in one place.

So, i’ve written some jam making tips below, to help you if you are making jam for the first time:

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Clean equipment – Always use equipment that is scupulously clean and jars that have been sterilised.

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Fruit – Always use undamaged fruit. Fruit with too much damage will spoil the result and the jam is likely to deteriorate quickly.

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Pectin – Jams, jellies and marmalade set because of pectin. Pectin occurs naturally in fruit and when cooked with sugar the naturally occurring acid in the fruit, thickens and sets the preserve. Citrus fruit, blackberries, apples and redcurrants have high pectin levels. Soft fruits such as strawberries have a lower pectin level. If fruits are low in pectin then you can add fruits with a higher level of pectin to it or just add a few squeezes of lemon juice which will help them to set. When possible use slightly under ripe fruit when pectin levels will be at the highest.

Sugar – I use granulated but you can use preserving sugar, but it is more expensive. Preserving sugar will help set low-pectin fruits, but I just add lemon juice to granulated sugar, which does the same job.

I buy big bags of sugar as it’s cheaper per kg

Quantity – Don’t make too large a quantity at one time. Large volumes of fruit and sugar will take a long time to reach setting point, causing the fruit to break up and eventually dissolve in the jam.

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To test for the setting point – Place a few small plates or saucers in to your freezer for a while before you start to make jam, so they are really cold.  Pour a small drop of the hot jam on to the plate and wait a few moments. Push the edges of the jam with your index finger and if the jam wrinkles then the setting point has been reached.  If it’s not set, continue to boil it and check again in 5 minutes. Don’t overcook. It is tempting to keep cooking to achieve a firmer set. A slightly looser jam is preferable to one that tastes burnt or where the fruit has dissolved.  Don’t worry if you didn’t judge your jam setting point correctly and it’s runny, just call it a ‘preserve’ instead.

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Scum – There is always a little bit of scum on the jam after the setting point has been reached.  Skim it off with a ladle or add a tiny knob of butter and stir. This will dissolve the scum almost instantly.

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Leave the jam to settle – Always leave the jam for 15 mins away from the heat, once the setting point has been reached.  This will prevent the fruit from rising to the surface of the jar when you pour it in.

I really hope that todays post will help someone to make lovely jam.

Thanks for readingit .

Saturday is Bump the Blog Day

Today is ‘Bump the Blog’ day.

I pick a different blog each week, that I particularly enjoy reading.  I will then post a link for you to check it out, to see if it interests you too.

There are so many wonderful blogs out there, talking about subjects of all kinds.  Each person spends time and energy updating their blogs and it is lovely getting views and comments in return.

Todays blog  is called ‘shirls gardenwatch’.

The information on the blog says:

A GARDENWATCH WARNING

Visitors beware… this blog contains way too much chat, photos and video on garden plants, birds and wildlife. It also goes wandering on visits to gardens and nature reserves!
There are cameras and links everywhere… are you brave enough to browse? I hope so.
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The link to the blog is here:
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I spent ages looking at the photo’s and videos on this blog.  I will certainly be following it from now on.
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Thank you for reading my blog this week.
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I will be back again on Monday, hope to see you then.

Wonderful Beetroot and Allotment Wildlife.

For the last year or so, I have been trying really hard to encourage wildlife into my allotment.  I have two small ponds and I was hoping it would encourage frogs to eat the slugs and snails.

Today I have proof that it is working:

A frog eyeing up it’s breakfast

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At the allotment today, I concentrated on cutting back my summer raspberries.  I removed the old fruiting stems and tied in the new stems

I also cut back my blackberries as they had grown so quickly and I was finding it hard to reach the fruit on them.

The raspberries and blackberries look a lot neater now.

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I pickled some of the beetroot that I picked yesterday.  It’s really easy to pickle beetroot and it tastes delicious:

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First twist the leaf stalks off the beetroot, leaving approximately one inch of the stalks.  By twisting it rather than cutting it, the beetroot will bleed less.

Wash the beetroot under a cold tap.

Put the beetroot in a large pan of boiling water, ensuring it is covered in water.  Top up the water if necessary during the cooking process.

The beetroot will take some time to cook.  Check if it’s cooked by inserting a knife into it.

When it is cooked, put on a pair of washing up gloves and take out a beetroot with a fork and then rub it with your gloves under a cold tap and as if by magic, all the skin will rub off easily.

Slice and put into sterilised jars

(To sterilise put jars in an oven, gas mark 4 for 5 minutes)

Top with cold ready spiced vinegar.

Put the tops on the jars and label.

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Interesting information about beetroot:

Beetroot, botanically known as Beta vulgaris, evolved from wild seabeet, which is a native of coastlines from India to Britain and is the ancestor of all cultivated forms of beet.

The medicinal properties of the root were more important in early times than just eating it.  It was used to treat a range of ailments including fevers, constipation, wounds and various skin problems.

The early roots were long and thin like a carrot.  The shape of root we are familiar with today was not developed until the sixteenth century and didn’t become widely popular in Central and Eastern Europe until 200 years later. Many classic beetroot dishes originated in this region including the famous beetroot soup, known as borscht.

In victorian times the its dramatic colour was used to brightened up salads and soups. It was also used as a sweet ingredient in cakes and puddings. The victorians even used the plants  as decorative bedding, because of their attractive green leaves. At this time, beetroot was still mainly grown as a winter root vegetable.

After World War II, pickled beetroot in jars was the most widely available form of the vegetable however, the vinegars were strong and harsh and put many people off it.

Nowadays, there are three main types of beetroot, Globe, Long–rooted (can be upto a foot long) and intermediate, sometimes called “tankard” because of the shape.

The variety I have grown is called ‘Boltardy’ which is good for  early sowing, due to its resistance to bolting .This is a tried and tested variety, with an excellent sweet flavour, smooth skin and deep red tender flesh.

As well as pickling beetroot, I use the young leaves of beetroots in salads as they add colour and I use cooked beetroot in cakes.

Here’s the link to the Chocolate beetroot cake I make:

  https://notjustgreenfingers.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/chocolate-beetroot-cake-and-more-of-the-old-fashioned-way/

I hope you have enjoyed reading my post today.

Pickled Onions and a Family ‘Thyme’ Capsule

We love pickled onions in our house, which is why I dedicate four beds purely for shallots each year.  Below is a picture of my shallots drying at home.  There are rather too many in my mini-greenhouse, but I put them there as rain was forecast.

My shallots drying

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First peel the shallots and chop the ends off. 

Wash them under the tap and then pour salt all over them.  Make sure the salt covers all the onions.

Put a plate on the top and leave overnight.  This draws the water out.

The next day, wash the salt off then put the onions in sterilised jars

(to sterilise the jars,  put them in the oven gas mark 4 for 5 minutes)

Cover the onions with ready spiced pickling vinegar (or make your own spiced vinegar)

Make sure there are no air bubbles.

Leave for two weeks before eating (if you can possibly wait this long)

Note:  Most pickled onion recipes soak your onions overnight in a salt water brine, but I find the onions go a bit soft this way.  My dad taught me to leave the onions overnight in just salt, as it makes a more crunchy pickled onion.

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I had a good harvest from my allotment today:

I cooked the beetroot and made a chocolate courgette traybake with two of the courgettes and froze the runnerbeans.  I will be freezing some of the blackberries, if there are any left after my daughters have finished eating them and i’m yet to decide what to do with the patty pans.

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Our ‘Thyme’ Capsule:

Digging the hole

In June this year, we made a family time capsule and I thought it would be good to share this with you.

We purchased an airtight & watertight plastic box and filled it with all sorts of things to show how we live.

My daughters wrote about their favourite things e.g. their friends, favourite pop groups and all about their school.  They put pictures of their mobile phones, our television and some of their games.  They put pictures of their bedrooms and toys and wrote about their hobbies.

My husband and I wrote about our lives and the allotment.  We put pictures of our allotment neighbours and wrote about how we love it there.  We also wrote all about the food that we harvest and eat from our allotment.

We all took it in turns to dig a very deep hole at the back of our plot, in a grassed area under our apple tree.

My daughter dropped the box in the hole and we covered it up again.

We wondered how we would remember exactly where it is and came up with the idea of putting a plant over it.  After a few milli-seconds of thinking, it was decided that the only plant that could possibly be planted there, would be ‘Thyme’.

So here it is, waiting to be discovered in years to come, when we are long forgotten.

I wonder what will be in this spot in another hundred years time?

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.