Archive | September 2015

Car Boot Bargains & My Garden This Week

I started my week by taking a quick trip to town.  On the way back I walked through ‘Castle Gardens’ which is literally 2 minutes walk from the city centre.

“The Castle Gardens in Leicester was the original site of Leicester Castle, all that can be seen now is the large mound that it was once situated upon. This 4 acre site has a rock garden, mixed borders and a river boat landing next to the Grand Union Canal”

Castle Gardens is one of those hidden gems of Leicester, that people walk past everyday and never visit……if only they knew what they were missing, as even in the rain it was beautiful and so peaceful.

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I used to bring my daughters here for picnics when they were small, so it has some lovely memories for me too.

I noticed Leicester City Council had once again placed really good information signs around the park too:

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This week in my garden:

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Autumn officially started this week and I have noticed that there is a ‘nip’ in the air in the mornings now and it definately gets darker far earlier in the evenings.

Some of my plants are starting to show that autumn is here too and I will shortly be clearing them away:

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My autumn raspberries are producing berries well, especially considering they were only planted this year:

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I’m still watching my ‘patty pan’ plant with interest wondering if it will beat the first frost and provide me with a small harvest?

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And my sweetcorn still has a clear liquid inside each kernel, so unfortunately it is not ready to pick yet!

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My outdoor tomatoes which are a variety called ‘money maker’ are huge and are finally starting to ripen,  after I removed most of their leaves so the sun could get to them:

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The green manure ‘phacelia’ that I sowed last month is growing well:

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And so too is the grass lawn I laid a couple of weeks ago.  It is lovely and green, but I know this will change to ‘green with yellow patches’ as soon as I let Judy, our dog on it:

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This week I have picked some really nice salads crops to have for tea.  I am still picking radish, chives, spring onions, tomatoes, lettuces, beetroot and kohl rabi too:

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I also scattered our mixed salads with the purple petals from chive flowers and the orange petals from a calendula flowers and they looked so pretty:

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This week in the home:

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This week I cooked my beetroot.  The beetroot was delicious sliced, but one of the beetroots was quite big and tough so after I cooked it my daughter used it in a smoothie and she really enjoyed it:

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This week I made what Mr Thrift calls an ‘English salad’.  It’s what my mother would give to us when I was younger….lots of things on the table to pick what you want.  I also cooked a quiche and made some homemade coleslaw using the cabbage that I dug up last week:

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I thought it would be nice to make a cake and serve it on the table for tea too and my family thought the tea was really nice and made a lovely change:

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My sister also kindly brought some of the plums from the large tree at my old allotment (she took on one of my old plots).  These plums are the size of damsons, but they ripen slightly later and I think they are actually ‘bullaces’.

As they are small, I decided to make a jelly out of them, rather than taking all of the stones out:

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This week I also made some wine.  I have been meaning to have another go at wine making since I made my first batch a couple of years ago from a starter kit.  I still had three cans of juice left that I used and it’s sitting bubbling in my kitchen at this moment:

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Hopefully next year when I know what I am doing, I will have a go at making wine from start to finish with homegrown fruit.

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I must say, it has been lovely serving my homegrown salads and vegetables this year….after I gave up my allotment I thought I would have hardly anything to pick from my garden:

Lasagne served with homegrown potatoes and salad

Lasagne served with homegrown potatoes and salad

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Finally this week I thought I would show you my ‘car boot’ finds.  I managed to find two pictures for the walls in my front room – and they are just the right colours to match our lovely charity shop three piece suite and it finishes our room off lovely (apart from the carpet that we are saving for).

We managed to buy both the pictures for just £1 and they had no marks or scratches on at all :

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I also found a pair of curtains for £3.  I will be taking the lining off them and using the material to cover a pair of old, dirty sunloungers that my dad gave to me.  He was going to throw them away but I think they still have lots of use in them and these curtains will make them look great.  I will show you when I finish covering them.

If it works I will have two lovely sunloungers for just £3 and they will be great next year in the summer:

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Anyway, that’s enough for this week.  Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back again next Friday as usual.  Have a good week!

Flowers from my garden

Flowers from my garden

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A Bargain Cabinet & Another Good Harvest

We have had some miserable, wet and cloudy days this week, but there has also been some beautiful sunny days where I have managed to sit for a while and watch the world go by.  I’ve noticed on these warm days the birds have sung beautifully, as if they are making the most of the final days of summer.

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A couple of time this week in my garden I have spotted a frog.  I don’t know if it is the same frog but it is very welcome in my garden as they love to eat slugs and snails.  I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of it but below is a good photo of a frog I spotted at my allotment, waiting to pounce on a snail:

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This week in my garden I have started to ‘thin out’ the winter salads that I sowed a couple of weeks ago.  I used a pair of scissors again to chop off the seedlings that I didn’t want as this helps to stop any root disturbance on the remaining seedlings:

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Also in my garden I took the tops off my main crop potatoes (as the foliage had died off)…

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….and I then dug some of them up:

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These are a late variety called ‘Desiree’ which I have grown for a number of years.  I have found over the years that these potatoes don’t suffer so much slug damage as other varieties and they have a particularly good drought resistance if we have a dry summer and they always give me a good harvest….so I think they are a good main crop to grow.

‘Desiree’ potatoes are also a good all rounder in the kitchen, as they are great for mashing, roasting, chipping, baking and boiling too.

Unfortunately though I noticed that a few of my potatoes are suffering from ‘Scab’:

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“Scab can be caused by dry conditions when the tubers are forming and it is worse in alkaline soil.  Therefore if you are going to be liming your soil to increase the Ph level to avoid club root, this is best done after you have grown potatoes in rotation with your other crops”.

I do know my soil is very alkaline, so this is probably the reason for the scab on my potatoes, however I will just peel them and they will be fine to eat so I am not worried.

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This week I also cleared away my french beans as they have finished producing:

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I didn’t keep any of the seeds as I wasn’t really impressed with this variety, however I forgot to write down the name of variety.  Next year I will go back to growing a variety called ‘Maxi’ as they produce lovely thin, stringless beans with the advantage that the beans are grown above the foliage so they are easy to pick.

'Maxi' frenchbeans grown at my allotment in the past

‘Maxi’ frenchbeans grown at my allotment in the past

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The weather has certainly been strange this year and plants have been getting confused.  I saw on Gardeners World last week that Monty Don has Foxgloves in flower, which usually flower in Spring.  I have found my Primroses are in flower too….I wonder what will happen to them in Spring?

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This year I have grown two different tomato varieties outside.  ‘Outdoor Girl’ has been producing tomatoes for weeks now, but this has always been an early variety which I grow to produce a good harvest before the dreaded ‘blight’ hits…. this is something I haven’t seen this year thankfully.

I have also grown a variety outdoors this year called ‘Moneymaker’.  They have produced lots of big tomatoes which are yet to ripen….I am keeping my fingers crossed they all do, but I am finally seeing the odd one begin to turn red:

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I must say that over all, my outdoor tomatoes have produced a far bigger harvest than my greenhouse tomatoes, which I think is due to the cold, dull weather we had in April, May, June and July.

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The patty pan plant that surprised me and began growing a month ago from a seed I had given up on, is now growing a couple of patty pans….if it doesn’t turn cold maybe I will have one or two to harvest?

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I am still waiting desparately for my sweetcorn to be ready.  You know it is ready to be picked when the tassells turn brown and a milky liquid comes out of the kernals when you press a nail into one……unfortunately the liquid is still clear in mine So we will have to wait a bit longer yet:

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This week’s harvest:

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I am still astounded with the amount I have grown this year in my small back garden, though I am convinced that I can fine tune this and grow more next year.  One advantage of growing things in every inch of ground is there is certainly less weeding to do, which is a big advantage to me!

This week I thought it may be easier to show photos of what I have harvested:

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So you can see why I am so pleased with my new kitchen garden.

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This week in the home:

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I made passata again using my home grown tomatoes and froze it ready to use in the winter:

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I also froze the parsley, again so I can use it during the winter months for garlic bread and parsley sauce.  I just cut the leaves off, wash them and put them in a freezer bag.  When they are frozen they crumble easily in the bag:

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I made some more of my ‘vinegar spray’ which I use in my kitchen as a multipurpose antibacterial cleaner.  I make it by adding a few drops of Tea Tree essential oil to white distilled vinegar and it is as good as any antibacterial kitchen cleaner that you can buy and it is an awful lot cheaper too:

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Mr Thrift has continued to find some really good ‘whoopsies’ this week and it has meant that I haven’t made any homemade bread.  Some of the bread he has found has been reduced to just 9p……so we couldn’t resist it!

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Finally, since I decorated our front room I have been looking in charity shops for things to make the room more homely.  One thing I have been trying very hard to find is a cupboard to match the darkwood TV cabinet we have….and this week I found one:

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It cost me just £40 and I was really pleased with my find….until I got it home and realised that we have a little gas pipe in the alcove where I wanted it to go, so it didn’t fit.

So I had to saw a bit off the side praying it wouldn’t look too bad.

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In my shed I still had a bit of dark woodstain that I used on my mirror years ago, so I used this to darken the wood that I had cut so it wasn’t so noticable…..and I am really pleased with the result (thank goodness):

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Now I just need to keep looking for a few pictures for the walls and we need to buy a new carpet (when we can afford it).

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Well that’s it for this week.  I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog.

 I will be back next Friday as usual.  Have a good week!

A Hard Week of Laying Turf

Before I start, Debbie asked me something this week but I really don’t know the answer and I wonder if anyone reading this can help?  Her question was:

” You don’t happen to know of any recipes for Hops as my greenhouse/sheds on the allotment are covered in their lovely cascades? ”

Unfortunately this is one thing that I haven’t grown, so if you can help please leave your ideas for her.

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This week in my garden:

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This week I have turned my attention to the part of the garden nearest to our house.  Below on the left, is a photo before I started my kitchen garden last winter and on the right is a photo I took last week:

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Over the summer I removed the bushes along the frence and myself and Mr Thrift removed the very old holly tree (which was an absolute pain dropping it’s leaves everywhere all summer) and we also removed the conifer on the left handside.

Finally I decided it was time to start re-vamping this area.

We have decided to bring forward my vegetable patch in a few weeks time, so that it is level with my greenhouse.  This will give me a lot more space to grow in, but it would obviously reduce the grassed area in my garden.  As we have a dog we decided we still needed an area of grass for her (though I must say she likes to have a walk around sniffing, but only ever runs if she is reacting to our neighbours dog).

As you can see in the photos above, we inherited a slabbed area where we have a table and chairs, but we rarely use these now as we have french doors that lead to another smaller table and chairs.

So after much discussion we decided to lift the slabs and turf this area so our dog still has the same amount of grass as she does now.

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Mr Thrift helped me to move the slabs over the weekend, but we had to do this over two days due to the rain.  So while it rained we covered the soil with some old weed suppressant to stop our dog from running in the mud.

We then moved the edging stones that separated the old lawn from the slabs and used two of them to balance the sides of the new lawn.  The edging stones were cemented down and it took a while to dig them out and I had to ‘chip off’ some of the cement so we could reuse them:

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I then spent the whole week preparing the soil.

I started by removing the part of the grass that I had decided to re-turf and then I started to dig over where the slabs had been……my goodness this was so hard as the soil was heavy, heavy clay.  I think I could have made bricks out of the soil if I had wanted to!

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There was still some sand remaining from when the slabs were laid, so I dug this into the soil to help open up the heavy clay particles.

Also, half way through digging I found an old pole that must have been used to support a rotary washing line years ago, but the amount of cement the previous owner had used was colossal.  The lump of concrete was at least a foot wide and I dug down two feet into the ground and I still couldn’t find the bottom of it:

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After realising there was absolutely no way I could possibly dig this amount of cement out of the ground without a crane, I decided to ‘chip’ away as much cement as I could using a hammer and chisel……it took me a whole afternoon to remove approx. four inches and I also foolishly managed to hit my hand several times with the hammer instead of the chisel!

Hopefully four inches of soil on top of the cement will be enough to stop the grass from drying out too quickly:

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I then bought a metal file and cut off the metal pipe:

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I fetched six very large bags of soil conditioner (£2 per bag) from my local nursery and spent ages spreading it and then digging it into the soil:

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I also incorporated five bags of compost to give the soil a few much needed nutrients as well as improving the soil and I was finally ready to rake over the soil to level the area.

After raking the soil over I then trod over the whole area to give the lawn a flat, firm finish.  I did this several times in different directions, raking after each time.

Eventually the area was ready for the turf and so I gave it a really good soak with my sprinkler:

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Then Mr Thrift fetched the turf for me and I laid it.

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I have sown many grass lawns from seed but I had never laid turf, so after watching Alan Titchmarsh laying turf on ‘you tube’ I decided to give it a go…..and this is the result:

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I gave the lawn a good watering with my sprinkler and over the next few weeks I will be very careful not to let it dry out.

Also, if you look carefully you can see that I have temporarily placed chicken wire around the edge of the new lawn to keep our dog off it while the turf roots into the soil below.

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In a few weeks time I will dig up the remaining ‘old lawn’ ready to extend my kitchen garden, but for now I need to keep it so that our dog has at least a small piece of grass to use.

I am very pleased with my new lawn.

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In the kitchen this week:

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This week my lovely friend from my old allotment site brought me some apples, golden gages and some victoria plums……after my freezer disaster last week these were all very welcome!

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So I set about freezing them all and they will be used over the winter months in pies, cakes and smoothies:

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My own kitchen garden is still producing lettuces, cucumbers, runner beans, parsley, chives, spring onions etc. and lots and lots of lovely tomatoes:

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(The photo’s above are just a small amount of tomatoes that I have picked this week as I forgot to take a photo of the basket full that I also picked).

So as well as eating the tomatoes, I also made some more passatta this week to freeze for the months ahead:

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So at the end of a busy week I am very tired and I’m aching all over.  I also have a bruised hand where I hit it with the hammer and it hurts if I touch it.  However I do feel like I have acheived a lot and I am very happy!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.  I will be back as usual next Friday.

Have a good weekend!

Kitchen Garden Photos & A Christmas Chutney Recipe

I thought I would start my blog post by showing you a wonderful sand sculpture I came across this week outside the ‘Richard III’ visitors centre in Leicester.  Apparently it took a lady called Susanne Ruseler just seven days to create it…..what a talented lady!  I think it is wonderful and I found it purely by accident as I walked past:

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This week in my kitchen garden:

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This week I turned my attention to sowing some winter seeds.

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I sowed mizuna, winter lettuce, winter purslane, winter spring onions and corn salad.  I am a tiny bit late sowing these seeds, but hopefully they will be fine.

At the moment they are in my mini greenhouse, as I am trying desperately to keep the squirrels from them.  The squirrels are becoming a nuisence in my garden at the moment, as they keep digging holes to bury the monkey nuts that one of my neighbours insists on feeding them….it also sends Judy (my rescue dog) into a mad barking session each time they come in the garden, so I really need to think about this problem and come up with a solution.

But for now I have used some chicken wire to try and keep them away from my seeds:

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Also this week I noticed the ’60 day’ raab that I sowed three weeks ago was ready to ‘thin out’.  I used scissors as normal to cut away the seedlings that I didn’t want (this stops any root disturbance for the remaining seedlings).  I will need to thin them again at a later date, but for now I left plenty of them in case the slugs and snails decide to have a feast on some of them:

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I have continued to harvest runner beans, tomatoes, beetroot, salads, spring onions and curly kale this week too:

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….And I noticed that my sweetcorn has really had a growth spurt and will soon be ready too:

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“Sweetcorn is ready to pick when the tassels at the end of the cobs turn brown and when you press your nail into a kernel the liquid comes out is milky”

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The phacelia that a sowed a few weeks ago is growing nicely now.  I won’t thin the seedlings out as it is a green manure that I want to grow thickly to keep the weeds from germinating:

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I will chop down the phacelia before it sets seed and then dig it into the soil to add nutrients ready for next year’s crops.

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The rest of the kitchen garden is doing well too and I thought I would be nice to show you some photos that I took this week:

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This week in the home…

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This week has been a very busy week here in my kitchen:

I started by making some more dishwasher liquid as I had ran out.  I make it using soapnuts and it works really well in our dishwasher and it is really easy to make:

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I also made a big portion of spaghetti bolognaise.  We had some for tea and then I managed to freeze four portions.  I always ‘pad out’ my spaghetti bolognaises with whatever vegetables I have to hand, so this one had carrot, runner beans and curly kale included in it.  I find the portions go further if I mix the spaghetti (or pasta) in with the sauce rather than layering the sauce on top:

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I then had a freezer disaster to sort out:

I don’t know if you remember, but a couple of weeks ago our small chest freezer broke and myself and my daughter had a mamouth cooking session to save the large quantity of vegetables that were in this freezer.

Unfortunately this week I had another ‘freezer disaster’…. the door of one of my other freezers was left open by accident.  Luckily again, there was no meat in this freezer as it was mainly full of allotment fruit, homemade cakes, scones and my bread rolls for the week ahead.

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I had been waiting for a spare few hours to make jams with the fruit that was left in my freezer, ready for my Christmas hampers, however this forced me to make them now instead of later.  So I spent a couple of days cooking yellow plum jam, gooseberry jam, strawberry jam and finally some plum and worcesterberry jelly….

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On the positive side, nothing was wasted again and this has created a lot more room in my second freezer, though I am sad to say I now have no fruit or vegetables left from my old allotments……so I must work out how to grow even more fruit and vegetables in my new kitchen garden next year!

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Beetroot from my new kittchen garden:

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This week I also wanted to use up the beetroot and apples that I was given last week (together with my own beetroot), so I made some beetroot chutney:

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……And I also wanted to use the remaining plums that I was given last week, so I made some ‘Christmas Chutney’ which uses cranberries and plums and a few lovely ‘christmas’ spices.  I have written the recipe below if anyone is interested.

  We will use some of the preserves that I have made, but a lot of them will be given at Christmas in the hampers that I make.

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Christmas Chutney With Cranberries & Plums

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500 grams courgettes chopped

500 grams plums halved with stones removed

400 grams granulated sugar

300 grams dried cranberries

600ml white wine vinegar

2 onions chopped small

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground mixed spice

1 tsp salt

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Add all the ingredients except the sugar to a large pan and bring it to the boil stirring all the time. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

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Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved and then simmer for a couple of hours or so, until the chutney is thick and chutney like.

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Pour the chutney into sterilised jars and store in a cool dark place for a minimum of three months to mature.

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Then enjoy it with cold meats and sandwiches at Christmas!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a good week!