Search Results for: jam

How To Make Strawberry Jam & Jam Making Tips

This week I was astonished to find see that strawberries are £2.00 for a 400 gram  punnet (or £2.50 for a 300 gram punnet of organic strawberries).  It’s a long time since I have bought strawberries and I didn’t realise they are so expensive and I would like to bet they don’t taste half as nice as homegrown ones, as shop bought strawberries are usually grown for their ‘long shelf life’ rather than taste.

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If you read my post on Friday, you will know that I am having a bumper crop of strawberries this year.

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We have been eating them on their own, or with yoghurt, or with a sprinkling of sugar and my youngest daughter has even been dipping them into melted chocolate.  They are delicious.

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I have also frozen lots of them, by laying the washed and hulled strawberries on a tray and then freezing them.  When they are frozen I put the strawberries into bags.  This way, they don’t all stick together and it is easy to just pick a few out of the bag when I need them.

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I use the frozen strawberries to make cordials, pies etc and my daughters like them in fruit salads (though they do go a bit mushy when they are defrosted).

I also use them to make jams for the christmas hampers that I give away to my family:

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Over the weekend I made another batch of strawberry jam for my daughter, as it’s her favourite.

Strawberries are quite low in pectin and pectin helps the jam to set.  I normally remedy this by just adding a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to my jam, as this is high in pectin and helps it to set.  However, I thought I would try an experiment this time, to find out if  ‘Jam Sugar’ with the pectin already added, would make a better jam, as lots of recipes recommend you to use this:

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So this is how I made the jam with the jam sugar:

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Strawberry Jam Using Jam Sugar:

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2 kg Strawberries

2 kg Jam Sugar

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Before I started, I put some side plates into the freezer for a few hours.  I used these later to test for the ‘setting point’

I washed and hulled the strawberries

I put the strawberries and jam sugar into a large pan (the contents rise as it boils)

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I put the pan onto a low heat and stirred comtinuously with a wooden spoon.

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I continued stirring until the sugar melted and I couldn’t see any sugar crystals on the back of my spoon

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At this point I turned the heat right up and boiling hard.  I always find that 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.

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After approximately 5 minutes of boiling I tested for the ‘setting point’.  To do this, I put a small drop of jam on one of the side plates from the freezer.  After a few moments, I push the jam with my finger and if it wrinkles it’s ready.  If it doesn’t wrinkle, I continue to boil the jam.

I usually keep checking the jam every five minutes until the setting point is reached.

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When the setting point was reached I took the pan off the heat and stirred in a knob of butter to reduce the skum off the top of the jam.  I then left it for fifteen minutes, which helps to stop the strawberries from dropping to the bottom of the jars.

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While I was waiting I sterilised eight jam jars by placing them in my oven, gas mark 4 for 5 minutes.

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

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I managed to make eight jars out of the ingredients and the jam sugar was £1.99 per kg.  This worked out at just under 50p per jar, which is still cheaper than shop bought jam, however if I had used ordinary granualted sugar and lemon juice, the jars would have worked out at 25p per jar.

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My Review Of Jam Sugar

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So did the jam set better?….

When I was making the jam, it reached setting point far quicker than my method of using granulated sugar and lemon juice.

When I used the jam, was it any better?

Unfortunately the answer is “No”, it was the same as my jam.

Would I buy and use Jam Sugar again?

No, I don’t think it is worth the money.  Please let me know your thoughts on this.

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My Tips For Jam Making:

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Just to let you know, 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.

Jam making is easy once you have got the hang of it.  If you haven’t made jam before, I have written some tips below to help you:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time of 4pm.  Have a good week.

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Dairy & Egg Free Jam Tarts and Leaf Mould

Today I collected the leaves from around my fruit trees and spread them over my new woodland area.

After this, I moved a whole pile of leaves from a house next to my allotment site, as the lady wanted to get rid of them and kindly offered them to me.  I also scattered these in my woodland area.

My new woodland area

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Later, I emptied two of my black dalek bins, that I keep my leaf mould in.  I find it rots down quicker in these types of bins rather than storing the leaves in a chicken wire cage and it keeps the leaves moist.

I mix my leaves three or four times during the year to help them to rot down.

Over the last year I have tried something new.  I read that if you mix your grass cuttings into the leaves, then they rot down quicker.  Below is the leaf mould I didn’t add grass cutting to:

And the next photograph is the leaf mould I did add grass cuttings to:

You can clearly see that it has sped things up, so I will do this again next year.

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I spent time spreading the leaf mould over two of the beds where my onions and roots will be planted in the spring.  I won’t fork it in for a few weeks though, as I noticed there are a lot of tiny grass seeds that have blown over to my plot and have germinated.  The leaf mould will kill these.

Leaf mould won’t add any nutrients to your soil, but it is a brilliant soil conditioner.  I can certainly tell where the leaf mould has been added a few months later.

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I found another shark fin melon today, that I had somehow managed to miss when I picked the others.  I must work out what I want to do with them.

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I had another look at the patch where I sowed grass seed just over three weeks ago.

Before I sowed the grass seed

I am so pleased as this is how it looks now:

How it looks today

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I also noticed my nasturtiums are still flowering lovely too.  These particular ones were self-seeded.

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This is the last day I’ll be writing about dairy and egg free treats, for the moment.

Today I decided to make Jam Tarts.

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Just as a reminder, I thought I’d show you again, the dairy and egg free jam tart that I bought from Tesco’s ‘Free from’ range:

We did feel they were a bit ‘stingy’ with the jam.

Below is a jam tart I made using the easy recipe below.  I know which one my daughter would choose out of the two:

My homemade dairy and egg free jam tart.

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Dairy Free Jam Tarts

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225 grams plain flour

100 grams of dairy free margarine

A little cold water to mix (approx. 2 tablespoons)

25 grams of caster sugar

An assortment of your favourite jams

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Preheat your oven Gas Mark 6 / 200 C / 400 F

Put the flour and sugar into a bowl and rub into the margarine, until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Add the cold water, a little bit at a time, mixing with a round bladed knife until it begins to come together.  Use your fingers to bring all the mix together and knead lightly.

At this stage it is best to put your pastry in a small plastic bag and leave in the fridge for an hour, as pastry rolls out better when it’s cold.

Roll the pastry out onto a floured board.

Use a cutter to cut out ‘rounds’ and put them in cake cases.

Put a teaspoon of your favourite jam in each case

 (Do not over fill with jam, If you like lots of jam, add it when they have finished cooking).

Bake for 15 minutes.

Leave to cool for a while before taking them out of the tin.

Homemade dairy and egg free jam tarts

Please let me know if you have enjoyed my egg free / dairy free ‘goodies’ week, by leaving a comment.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

Beautiful Blackberries and Seedless Blackberry Jam

The Blackberries this year are big and juicy and there are loads of them.  I have been picking as many as I can to use.

One thing I do use them for is making jam.

I don’t like the seeds in blackberry jam, (perhaps I’m just getting old, as it never used to bother me), so I made my jam ‘seedless’ this year.

I have worked out, that because I picked my own blackberries, each jar of homemade seedless blackberry jam, cost me just 45 pence per jar (454 gram jar) to make. The cheapest jar of blackberry jam I have managed to find is, ‘Hartley Best Blackberry Jam’ (not seedless), which is £1.49 per 340g jar.

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

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I use a ‘maslin’ pan to make my jam.

Mine was second hand, which I purchased for just £10 from ebay and it was worth every penny.

If you haven’t got a maslin pan, you can use any large pan.  Just remember the jam boils up high.

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Blackberry jam

Blackberries

Granulated sugar

Lemon juice

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

Wash the blackberries

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

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

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

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

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.

When the blackberries are soft, I sieve them into another bowl to remove the seeds, pressing lightly down on the fruit with the back of your spoon. 

Then I return the juice to the pan and continue to boil hard.

After 10-15 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.

When 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 also reduces the scum.

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’ down 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 refrigerated.

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If it’s your first time making jam, there are some jam making tips here (approx half way down the page) to help you.

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Interesting Blackberry Facts:

  • Blackberries are sometimes referred to as “Brambles” and “black caps”.
  • The Latin name for blackberries is ‘Rubus fructicosus’.
  • Wild Blackberries are commonly seen in British hedgerows, woodlands and waste ground.
  • Blackberries are traditionally used in crumbles, pies, jams and jellies, vinegars and wines.

  • Strong ale was brewed from blackberries in the 18th and 19th century.
  • They are a good food source for thrushes, blackbirds and other animals.
  • Blackberries are full of anthocyanin’s (anthocyanin is generally known as a cancer-fighting antioxidant).
  • One cup of Blackberries (approx… 140grams) is about 140 calories.

  • Unripe blackberries won’t ripen once they are picked.
  • Blackberry tea was once used to cure dysentery.
  • Ancient Greeks believed they cured mouth and throat diseases and were used as a preventative against many ailments including gout.
  • The blackberry leaf was once used as a hair dye.
  • Blackberries go mouldy very quickly and will only store for a couple of days in a fridge, but they freeze really well.
  • Blackberries are known to have health benefits for women due to their high levels of phytoestrogens.  These act like the hormone estrogen which is a hormone necessary for childbearing and is involved with bone and heart health in women.

  • There are around 400 micro-species of wild blackberry growing in the UK.
  • Brambles were used like barbed wire by the ancient Britons.
  • John Gerard was an English herbalist, famous for his herbal garden in the 16th century.  He gave a remedy ‘’for fastening the teeth back in’ using blackberry leaves.
  • The fruit of the bramble is not a true berry, as botanically it is termed an aggregate fruit.

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Blackberries in my freezer

I hope you enjoyed 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 .

Four Years Old This Week!

Four years ago this week I wrote my first blog post.  I wasn’t really sure if anyone would want to read it, but amazingly people did and now I average approx. 2500 views per week (which isn’t massive figures compared to some of the ‘big’ bloggers out there-but I still find it incredible).

From the beginning I wanted my blog to be a mixture of simple living, vegetable growing, money saving and old fashioned cleaning with a modern day twist.  But overall I wanted  the blog to be helpful and easy to understand, as I had to learn the hard way from endless book reading and lots of ‘trial and error’…. I wanted people to be able to learn these skills easily.  I hope I have acheived this.

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When I started blogging my daughters were 12 and 14 years old and now they are young adults at 16 and 18 years old.  I am so glad I wrote about our birthdays, christmases and special events, as I now have reminders of these wonderful celebrations on my blog (and smaller details in life are so easily forgotten if they aren’t written down).

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Many people over the four years have commented on my blog and the comments are the one thing that spurs me on to carry on writing….it is so lovely to hear from you each week.  In fact I was only planning to write for one year in the beginning and because of your wonderful comments it spurred me on to continue writing.

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There have also been some sad times and low periods over the last four years that I never expected to write about when I first started my blog in 2012….

…….One of my oldest friends passed away three years ago after a long battle with cancer and my father in law passed away after a long illness two years ago…..your comments were beautiful on both occaisions and I will never forget the kind words you all left for me and my family.

There was also a low period when my dad gave up ‘his patch’ at my allotment as it was getting too much for him……

 April 2012

And the awful time I had to make the aganising decision to give up my lovely four allotments…….

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And not to forget Judy our highly ‘reactive’ rescue dog (the main reason for giving my allotments up).  I didn’t know how much she would change our life as she was so scared of everything (incl. dogs) when she came to us in October 2014.  Unfortunately it all came out as barking and lunging and I had many people shout at me while I was walking with her…..but it wasn’t her fault, she just needed time and love….and lots of training……and thanks to Havers Dog Behaviour Judy is so much better than she was and you can see in her ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs below that she looks a lot less timid and scared and whole lot more healthy and confident.

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Each week during these low moments, your kind words kept me going….thank you!

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However, there has also been many, many happy things I have written about too, such as family events….

Halloween parties……

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Fund raising for charities…..

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And being one of the runners up in the ‘Grow it’ magazine allotment competition….

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And featuring in the Kitchen Garden magazine….

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As you know I love to bake using my allotment / kitchen produce and I hope you enjoyed reading my recipes, such as my lavender cakes, courgette tray bake, beetroot cake and also my cheesy courgette scones …..

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….we have enjoyed eating them!  Together with all the jams and pickles I have made over the years:

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One enormous change to our life was when we knocked the wall between our kitchen and back room down, to make our kitchen diner…..it has made such a difference to our house and it is a room where we all spend many hours together.  Though I am still amazed we managed to live without a kitchen for six weeks and ate meals using our microwave, slow cooker and a ‘one pan’ camping stove…it definately took some organising, but it was worth it.

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Finally, my biggest passion in life is growing vegetables in an organic garden with LOTS of flowers to attract beneficial insects.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading about the many ‘highs’ (and ‘lows’) that I have experienced in my allotment and my new kitchen garden…..

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….And the produce that I have managed to harvest over the years…..

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I feel truely blessed to have enjoyed many moments that I have written about over the last four years and I am so glad that people seem to enjoy sharing these moments with me.

Thank you for your continued support!

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 I will be back next week as usual.

Have a great week!

XXX

Living Simply (Again) In The Modern Day

We have had a lot of illness in the ‘Thrift’ family over the last few years, which unfortunately (together with my reactive rescue dog) forced me into giving my four allotments up in January 2015.

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In the beginning I almost felt claustrophobic when I was in my house and I just hated being indoors…in fact there were times when I would sit outside in my back garden even though it was icy cold, as I needed to feel the fresh air on my face….being outside made me feel alive and being indoors made me feel trapped.

To make matters worse I also had to force myself to take Judy (our rescue dog) out for a walk each day and I would hate it, as she would react so badly to other dogs and traffic, etc. by barking and lunging….I lost count of the amount of people that shouted at me on the park when their dogs approached Judy, as she went mad at them!

However sixteen months later things are now calming down at home and I am starting to enjoy my new way of life and Judy is nothing like the dog she was, thanks to our trainer…. our walks are even pleasant most of the time now.

March 2016

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So it’s time now to get back to ‘Living Simply In The Modern Day’. So I have spent sometime this week deciding what is working fine and what I need to change.  I have written my thoughts below:

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Meal Planning and Cooking From Scratch – No changes needed:

Meal planning saves time and money as nothing gets wasted and I can cook ahead, by making double portions and freezing them ready for next time.  Shopping is always easier with a list to stick to and I can check out prices on-line before I go.

Cooking from scratch where ever possible provides healthy meals for my family, that reduces preservatives, e-numbers and hidden sugars etc. and I think the meals taste better too.

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Baking and Preserving – A new routine is needed:

Over the last year or so I have noticed that I haven’t been baking as much or making as many jams and pickles that I used to and I have only been doing the bare minimum.  However, as things are calming down now I would like to begin a new routine of bread making and perserving….after all, I used to do this at the same time as running my four allotments in the past…..’Homemade’ tastes so much better than shop brought.

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Cleaning using old fashioned cleaners – No changes are needed:

I love my homemade laundry liquid as coventional powders upset my excema.  I find it doesn’t take long to make and is extremely cheap.  I also love the antibacterial vinegar spray and the polish I make and bi-carb is as good as any shop brought cleaner for my bath and bathroom sink.  So I am happy with my old fashioned cleaners.

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Growing vegetables in my back garden – On-going changes required:

It is early days for my organic kitchen garden and I am making changes as I go along.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and I know it will be a few years until I get the garden as I want it.  The ultimate aim is to make the area as productive as I possibly can, but this will take time as the fruit bushes and trees are still very young.

I have ideas to make the garden better, but time and money hold me back, so for now I will do what I can, when I can and enjoy the produce I harvest.

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Low cost living – On-going monitoring required:

This is something that is on-going.  I no longer crave the material things that others have (this stopped a long time ago) but we do have to watch our money as we still have a large morgage and only one wage coming into the family.  Our shopping bill has also risen since I gave my four allotments up, together with every other bill that increases each year……this really is another reason for us to go back to basics and grow as much as possible and make my bread, jams and pickles etc.

We also have two teenagers who get carried along with their friends and ‘Need’  money for this and that.  A few years ago we started to give them their own allowance each month to buy whatever they want and this still works well, as they have learnt that they need to budget for the month.

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Environmentally friendly living – On-going changes needed:

There are lots of things that we could do better here, below are just a few.

* Keep recycling, but better still don’t buy so many things with packaging that needs recycling in the first place.

* Use the car as little as possible by planning trips out so we can combine journeys to save miles – this will also save us money.

* I could borrow my daughters bike for small journeys….I used to ride a lot a few years ago.

* As I said previously I could make as many things as possible e.g. jams, pickles, bread, wine etc. and grow as much as possible to avoid packaging and avoid the miles that the food travels to the shops.

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Continue to learn new skills and develop old skills- On-going:

I want to continue to learn the piano as I love music, but I would also like to play my violin which is something I don’t do very often these days.

I would like to start to knit again.  This is something I used to do a lot before my daughters were born and somehow forgot about it until I knitted dishclothes a few years ago for my hampers.

I want to make soap – something I have been meaning to do for a long time now and just haven’t got round to it.  Again this will save us money in the long run.

I would love chickens and bees but it isn’t practical in our garden with Judy, our dog….However this doesn’t stop me reading and learning about it, as I never know what will happen in the future?

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Peace And Quiet

One thing I have noticed over the last year, I find that I do now crave peace and quiet….maybe this is me getting older or just a reaction to the rotten few years our family has had…whatever it is, I know that living simply in our home will rectify this.

 But overall things are calming down at home for me and I now enjoy being in the house much more than before.  This will enable me to get back to basics once again and enjoy an even more simpler life than before, with the help of my new, muchcalmer companion – Judy.

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

Have a good week.

XXX

Homemade Christmas Gifts…

This week I have been busy again.  I started the week by making another batch of laundry liquid.  It still amazes me how much I save by making my own liquid and it only takes about fifteen minutes to make approximately three months worth (and I wash a full load every day).

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I also made some more dishwasher liquid too, using soap nuts:

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And I topped up my homemade multipurpose kitchen spray too, using white vinegar and a few drops of teatree oil.  The vinegar cuts easily through grease and dirt and the teatree oil turns it into an antibacterial spray.

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All of the above things help me to save money around the home and I don’t use any nasty chemicals either.

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In the garden:

I also managed to buy another bag of woodchip to complete my the paths in the new area in my kitchen garden:

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I then brought a couple of bags of soil conditioner to spread over two of my beds (I will buy some for the other beds another day):

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I have left the soil conditioner on the top of the soil so the worms can do the hard work for me over winter.  I have also covered the two beds with weed suppressant to prevent weeds from growing and to also prevent the winter rain from leaching the nutrients out of the soil:

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I am already looking forward to growing crops in this area next Spring.

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Preparations For Christmas:

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Well Christmas is nearly here and this week I have been turning my attention to Christmas presents.

On Saturday I talked to BBC Radio Leicester about Christmas presents on a budget:

You can listen to the interview here if anyone is interested.  The interview starts 11 mins into the show.

I love chatting to Radio Leicester and they always make me feel very welcome.  I hope this comes across in the interview.

One of the things I talked about was homemade presents.  I love homemade presents as I always say they are “from the heart and not just the bank account”.  I took in three homemade presents to show (and taste) and explained that they are far cheaper to make than buy and by making them yourself you can have far nicer presents for far less money:

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The present on the right looks like a Christmas pudding and my daughter made these for all her friends and teachers last year and kindly made this one for me to take to the radio show.  It is a chocolate orange with maltesers stuck on with melted chocolate and she melted white chocolate over the top (to look like cream) and she put a little bit of plastic holly on the top.  She wrapped it in cellophane and it looked fantastic.

The box in the middle had homemade truffles in.  I love homemade truffles as they are so easy to make and look and taste really good:

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I also took in a present of which contained cubes of chocolate with cranberries and sultana’s and this is how I made it:

First I melted a bar of my favourite chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water stirring all the time…

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When the chocolate had melted I added some cranberries and sultana’s and mixed them until they were fully coated in the chocolate (you can use anything you enjoy e.g. smarties, maltesers etc)…

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I then poured the mixture into a tin / container that was lined with clingfilm (you can use silicone bakeware too if you have it)….

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I then left the chocolate mixture to set (don’t put it in the fridge).

When it was set I took it out of the mould and removed the clingfilm….

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I drizzle some melted white chocolate over the top and again left it to set…

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When it was set I chopped the chocolate into cubes and wrapped it in cellophane….

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Top chefs will tell you that the chocolate should be ‘tempered’ to keep the shine on the chocolate, but if you slowly melt the chocolate and keep it away from the fridge whilst setting, I don’t think you need to for this.

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This week, as Christmas is near I turned my attention to my Christmas hampers.  I started by covering my homemade jars of jams and chutneys with a pretty pieces of tissue paper, tied with a bow:

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And then I wrapped a few surprises (including my homemade wine) to also go into my hampers too and then I started to put them altogether:

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I am very pleased with the result, though I do still have two hampers to do.

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I also made three mini Christmas cakes this week and a full sized cake too.  The Christmas cake recipe I use is very easy and can be eaten straight away, without having to continually ‘top it up’ with brandy.  The recipe is here.

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I like to give the mini Christamas cakes to our parents, as they are just the right size for them to enjoy.

I decorated the mini cakes and wrapped them in cellophane and I think they look great and I would be very pleased to receive one….so lets hope they like them:

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Just incase you are wondering, I brought my roll of cellophane approximately three years ago on-line and I still have loads left.

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  I checked this week and you can buy a 100 meter roll of clear cellophane for about £12 (incl. delivery).

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Before I finish today I wanted to show you a lovely couple of chocolate logs that my daughter made last week for her friends at school…..apparently they all enjoyed it.   The recipe is here.

Each chocolate log costs approximately £1.50 to make and tastes delicious……to buy a supermarket ‘finest’ chocolate log it costs £3 and I bet it wouldn’t be as nice!

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I also want to show you some wonderful cakes that one of my daughters friends made to take into school too this week:

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I think the cakes look wonderful and it just shows what you can do with a little bit of imagination!

“Homemade really is from the heart and not just the bank account”

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

Have a great week!

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!

Farm Visits & Growing Herbs

Before I start today I wanted to remind anyone that is interested, that my usual monthly blog post of

‘What To Do In The Kitchen Garden In June’ can be found here.

There is loads of information in this post e.g. weather conditions expected, what to sow / plant / harvest in June, jobs to do and pests / diseases that you may encounter this month.

I hope it helps someone out there.

My 'free' azalea that I have grown from a tiny little plant

My ‘free’ azalea that I have grown from a tiny little plant

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I have loads to talk about this week, but firstly I want to say an enormous “thank you” to all the people that commented on my blog last week after my ‘blog wobble’.  I was absolutely overwhelmed by the lovely things you all said and it really has spurred me on to keep blogging.

All I can say is I am very lucky to have your continued support…thank you for this.

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Out and about during the week:

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Last weekend I visited two working organic farms with my friends from the ‘Western Park Organic Gardening Forum’.

Firstly we went to Oakley Grange which is a 660 acre farm, just outside Hathern in Leicestershire and a gentleman called Richard gave us a guided tour and it was most interesting to hear about his farm.

We had a lovely lunch too in his cafe.

You can read about the farm here.

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We also visited Manor Organic Farm in Long Whatton, Leicestershire:

“We have been farming organically since 1989 and believe that organic farming is a positive philosophy, and is more than just avoiding the use of artificial chemicals and fertilisers. It is a sustainable approach to farming which views the farm as a whole system in harmony with the natural surroundings and nature itself as well as the local community”.

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The farmer (Graeme) again showed us around the farm and told us all about his animals and the meat they sell.  One of the things he said really stuck in my mind……he said when he goes out for a meal he will only eat vegetarian meals as he doesn’t know how the animals have been treated by other people.  He said he only eats the meat that he has produced, so he knows that the animals have been treated well.

The butcher in their shop was also very knowledgable about the meat they sell and spent time showing me what I could buy and how much it would cost me.  Organic meat is a lot more expensive to buy, but I can now see the benefits of buying it……the hard bit will be convincing my family, so I need to think about this.

This farm also had a cafe and we all had a lovely drink and cake to finish the day off.

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I enjoyed both farm visits immensly and it was great getting so close to the animals.

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In my Kitchen Garden:

As it’s June I have been planting some of my more tender plants outside…..I started with my two butternut squash plants.

Our family love butternut squashes and I had the luxury at the allotment of growing lots of these as I had plenty of space:

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However, it would be impossible to grow this amount in my new kitchen garden, but I wanted to try and grow at least a couple of plants.  I decided to have a go at growing them up the post that holds my washing line.  So a few a weeks ago I tied some chicken wire around the post and dug some organic manure into the soil.  This week I planted two plants at the base of the post and as it was still quite cool at the beginning of the week, I placed a bottle over the plants to act as a mini cloche to help them establish:

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As the plants grow I will tie them to the support…..I will keep you informed on how they are doing.

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I have also planted out the tagetes that I grew from seed, along the edges of my paths.  I think they look good when they are in flower and their smell helps to confuse pests, which help to protect my vegetables.

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I had a few outdoor tomato plants left, so I decided to put these in pots as I couldn’t bare to throw them away.  I didn’t really want too many pots around my garden as it means daily watering, but I do love tomatoes so I decided to keep them:

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This week I planted some more spring onions that I grew from seed.  Again I sowed a few seeds together in modules and didn’t bother to thin them out, as they ‘push’ apart as they grow:

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The first spring onions are not yet ready to eat, but we have started to eat the onion sets that I planted closely together in March.  I don’t know if you remember but I  planted 66 onions very close together in the hope that I could harvest them over a longer period, by picking some when they reached ‘spring onion’ size and leaving the remaining onions to grow to a good size:

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Well I’m pleased to say my plan worked and I have been picking some lovely onions to put in our salads:

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Herbs:

This week I also planted the parsley that I grew from seed.  I love parsley as it’s easy to grow and I like to freeze it to use for the garlic bread I make in the winter months.

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The apple mint that I also brought home from my allotment has finally began to put on some growth.  I will leave it in its pot so the roots are contained and don’t become invasive.

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My daughter likes to put mint in her drinks to make them refreshing and I must say it’s nice now for her as she can just nip outside to pick a few leaves instead of having to remind me constantly to bring some home from the allotment:

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I wanted to include lots of herbs in my new kitchen garden but I didn’t want to use the small amount of ground that I have to grow them – so I have been wondering what to do with them for a while and then I found these pots in Poundstetcher a couple of weeks ago:

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As you can see the pots only cost me 74p, but when I got them home I found that they did look really cheap and nasty when I put them up.  So after a bit of thought I got some old white, outdoor paint from my shed and sponged it on lightly to make the pots look a bit older….and I think it worked and they now look a lot better:

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I then bought some herbs from my local garden centre and planted them in my new pots.

So I now have oregano golden french, marjoram gold, oregano country cream, thyme compact, sage and dill in the pots – though I do know that some of them will need to be moved when they grow larger in a year or two.

I also have lavender and rosemary in bigger pots in between my fruit trees:

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And I have chives growing along my path, which are looking beautiful at the moment as they are in flower and the bees love them…..and the flowers are adding a lovely colour to my salads:

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This week in my kitchen garden I also planted out the calendula that had self seeded in the compost that I brought back from my old allotment.

Calendula looks beautiful when they are flower and the bees love them and you can also eat the flower petals too.  They look great in salads or sprinkled on pasta.

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And finally in my kitchen garden this week I removed the top couple of inches of growth on my broad bean plants.  I do this when the first tiny beans are visable on the plants.

Blackfly absolutely love the top, soft growth on broad bean plants and this stops them:

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In My Home:

This week I decided to do a job that I have been putting off for some time….I have been cleaning the top of my kitchen cupboards for the first time since they were installed 18 months ago….so they were very dirty!

I used white vinegar and a scubber to clean them and they cleaned up well:

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I really don’t want to put this amount of effort into cleaning my cabinets like this again, so I have lined the tops with a sheet of newspaper.  When the paper is dusty and dirty I will remove it and replace it quickly with another one, without having to do any hard work:

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Since we have had the new kitchen I have thought the area above my cupboards looks quite bare, so this week I put some old baskets on the top of the cabinets and I have used some cheap wooden hearts to decorate them….and it now looks much more homely (and I have somewhere to store my jars for jam making too):

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

Have a good weekend!

Greenhouse Shading And Banana Recipes

There has been some really miserable weather this week and it’s been hard to get into the garden to do any work.

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However, in between the showers I did manage to plant my mange tout, in front of my strawberries.  I am trying very hard to use every bit of space I have to grow vegetables.

This really is a trial year for my kitchen garden and I’m not sure yet if things will grow well or not.  I was hoping that I will have picked the strawberries before the peas grow taller and take away some of the sunlight….however due to the miserable, cool weather we have been having this may not work, as there are no sign of flowers on my strawberries yet.

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You can see in the second photo, I have put wire over the peas to stop the birds from eating them and my dog from destroying them (as she still goes mad when my neighbours dog is out).

I grew the monge tout in small lengths of guttering, which I ‘slide out’ into prepared soil when they have germinated.  I find this gives me a better germination rate.

You can read exactly how I grow peas in guttering here.

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I also planted out a few of my outdoor tomatoes that I sowed on the 5th April.  You can see in the photo above that I am leaving some glass over them because the temperature outside is still quite cool for this time of year.

The tomatoes are a variety called ‘Outdoor Girl’ and I have grown them now for many years outside.  One seed company describes them as follows:

“Tomato Outdoor Girl is a really tough outdoor tomato, very easy to grow and tolerant to low temperatures. Early to fruit producing medium sized fruits of good flavour and colour

I think they are spot on with this description, as they really do give a good supply of tomatoes early on, so I get a good harvest before blight hits.

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In between my tomatoes I have planted some Tegetes as they look lovely when they are in flower and they also confuse the white fly with their smell, so this will stop them from attacking my plants.

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In my greenhouse this week I took the bubble wrap down that provided a layer in insulation over winter, (before it actually fell down on its own).  I have left it in place over the last few years and it was now brittle and tore very easily.

I replaced it with shading netting that will help my plants on hot sunny days.  I bought my shade netting from Wilkinsons as I found it cheapest from there:

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Last week I planted my basil in bags in my greenhouse and this week I sowed a catch crop of radish in between them and amazingly the radish germinated in just five days.  I also sowed a row of radish outside on the same day and they are nowhere to be seen yet.

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This week I harvested my first radish from the garden.  These were sowed on the 10th April:

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 I also picked a few of my everlasting onions:

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And I had my third cut of mixed salad leaves that I sowed in a pot in March:

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(Next year I am hoping to be havesting more things at this time of year, now my kitchen garden is up and running).

The aim of my kitchen garden is to harvest as much as possible from a small space.

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At home this week:

I made a big batch of tomato and basil soup from tomatoes I grew at my allotment last year and froze (I just chop the fresh tomatoes in half and place in a freezer bag and then into the freezer).

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When the soup was ready I then froze it in portions, so I can defrost a bowl full for lunch when I want to:

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Top Tip:

This week my daughter brought some plastic cups from the ‘pound shop’ and she couldn’t get the sticky labels off:

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So I put a drop of olive oil on the sticky labels and then I used a scrubber to easily remove the sticky label and residue remaining:

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This also works for removing the sticky residue on jam jars when most of the label has been removed.

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And finally I made some banana lollies and some super quick and easy ‘breadmaker’ banana bread from the ‘whoopsied’ bananas that I bought at the end of last week and I have written bothe of these recipies below for anyone that is intersted:

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Super Quick And Easy Banana Bread In A Breadmaker:

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3 over ripe bananas mashed

200 grams granulated sugar

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

2 eggs

270g self raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

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Put all the above ingredients into your breadmaker pan and put it on a ‘pizza dough’ setting for 5 minutes.

Stop the breadmaker half way through and scrape down the sides of your pan with a spatula to ensure all the flour is mixed in well,

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When there is no trace of flour left, set your breadmaker on a ‘bake’ setting for 55 minutes:

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The result is lovely banana bread

(which incidentally can be sliced and frozen for another time):

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Banana Ice Lollies:

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2 Ripe banana’s

3 tablespoons natural yoghurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

60 grams chocolate

2 tablepoons of milk

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Use a hand blender to combine the banana, yoghurt and vanilla until they are smooth:

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Pour the resulting mixture into four lolly moulds, leaving a slight gap at the top for the chocolate:

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Put the chocolate and milk in a microwaveable jug and microwave on full power until the chocolate has melted (this only takes a couple of minutes so keep checking it).

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Let the chocolate mix cool down for a few minutes and then pour it over the banana mixture:

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Put the lollies in the freezer overnight:

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And then enjoy:

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Thank you for reading my blog today, I will be back next Friday at my usual time.

Have a good weekend!