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A Lovely Week & A Peanut Butter Biscuit Recipe

I’ve had a lovely week.

It started last Saturday when I woke up early and sat outside watching the sun rise….it was stunning.  In just under an hour it went from darkness to daylight.  This is something I have never watched before….nature is so beautiful:

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On Saturday myself, Mr Thrift and my daughter went on the ‘Bradgate Park’ dog walk again with Judy.  I am still amazed that less than six months again she couldn’t go anywhere near dogs without barking and lunging madly at them and yet now we can walk for a couple of hours with lots of other dogs…….and as you can see in the photograph below, she is chilled out enough to even lie down when we stop.  I am so proud of her:

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Also this week I saw the most amazing rainbow whilst I was walking Judy in our local park.  The colours were really bright and it looked as though both ends of it were in the park…..(so I will keep a look out for a crock of gold over the coming weeks).

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And this week it was my birthday and I had some lovely cards and presents.  My daughter also made me a gorgeous cake.  She spent ages making it into my kitchen garden and even put ‘pretend’ mud on the vegetables…..and it tasted delicious!

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This week in my kitchen garden:

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I picked the rest of my sweetcorn this week as the weather is turning colder and I was very pleased with it.

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I blanched the cobs and froze them so we can enjoy them over the winter:

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I then cut all the sweetcorn down so I can start to prepare this area for next year…

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I also removed the dead leaves from around my curly kale and cabbages as these can harbour pests like slugs and snails etc.  I gave it a good weed and it looks much better now.

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I picked my last white summer cabbage and I left four red cabbages to harvest another time:

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I also picked some more parsley to freeze….

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and some spinach so I could make a spinach and poached egg florentine and it was really nice:

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Unfortunately I also had to cover the overwintering onions and garlic that I planted last week, as the local family of squirrels (that one of my neighbours insists on feeding) keep digging in this area to hide the nuts they has been given:

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And finally I harvested my first few mizuna leaves from the seeds I sowed at the beginning of September.  Hopefully I will have many more leaves to follow over winter:

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This week in my kitchen:

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I’ve been very busy in the kitchen this week.  I started by making the crab apple jelly from the crab apples I was kindly given last week:

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I also decided to make some things in advance for my freezer, to help save time when I prepare meals over the next few weeks.

I made a big portion of spaghetti bolognaise sauce and we had some for tea, but the rest I froze in portions ready for another day:

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I also made a double portion of white sauce to use half in macoroni cheese and I froze the other half after it had cooled completely.  It is really easy to reheat in the microwave and then add cheese for a cheese sauce:

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I made pastry this week for a pie with some leftover chicken and vegetables.  I made a big portion of pastry so I could freeze three portions for a quick pie another time.  It defrosts quickly when I need it.

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I also made another load of passatta out of tomatoes that I picked at the end of last week:

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This week I ran out of cheese, so I bought three big blocks and grated it all in my processor.  I then froze it in bags of 250 grams so it is easy to defrost a pack each time we run out.  I find grated cheese seems to last much longer when I grate it, as it’s so hard to cut thin slices of cheese when it’s left in a block…..and also ready grated cheese costs more money to buy than cheese in blocks:

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And I also made a double load of chocolate ice cream and separated it into individual portions…. again I find it goes further this way.

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All the above things help to save me time or money, which has to be a good thing!

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As you have probably guessed by now, I really don’t like to waste any food in my house and this week I found some peanut butter lurking in the back of my cupboard that really needed to be used up.  So I made some peanut butter biscuits, which really are one of the easiest biscuits to make and they tasted absolutely delicious:

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Peanut Butter Biscuits Recipe:

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150g smooth peanut butter

150g granulated sugar

1 egg

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Preheat your oven Gas 4 / 180C / 350F

Put all the above ingredients into a bowl and mix together:

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Put large heaped teaspoons of mixture onto a baking tray (there is no need to grease the baking tray):

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Bake in your oven for 10-12 minutes until golden:

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Enjoy!

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

Have a good week!

A Good Harvest So Far (Dispite My Strawberries)

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 August’ can be found here.

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

I hope it helps someone out there.

A 'surprise' primrose growing this week in my kitchen garden.....the dull weather has probably been confusing it!

A ‘surprise’ primrose found growing this week in my kitchen garden…..the dull weather has probably been confusing it!

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This week in my kitchen garden:

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This week I took the decision to pull up my strawberry bed.  I transplanted these strawberries from my allotment back in January and they have failed miserably.  I planted them in a raised bed (brought back from my allotment) and filled it with all the compost from my black darlek bins at my allotment before I handed the keys back.

The strawberry plants seemed to be doing well and produced lots of lush green foliage.  I gave them a dose of potash in spring and have been watering them well, but there has been no sign of flowers or strawberries at all (though I did cover them with a net just in case to stop the birds):

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I have two theories as to why they haven’t done very well.  The first is to do with my compost…..if it was especially high in nitrogen then this would produce lush growth rather than fruit, so this may have happened and the second theory is to do with the variety.

At my allotment I had standard starwberries that produced fruit in June and I also had early varieties and a late variety.  The early and late varieties were great for a few extra berries when I wasn’t expecting them, but never produced anything like my standard summer strawberries did….and I think I brought my late variety of strawberries home by mistake (as I was rushing to bring as much home as possible before I needed to hand my keys in).

So I think the fact that my compost was too rich in nitrogen together with the fact they are a late variety, has caused the lack of fruit…….but this won’t do in my small kitchen garden!

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So yesterday I pulled all the strawberry plants up and decided to rethink this area.  I will plant some more strawberries in a different place next year (though I’m not sure where yet).

Amazingly I did actually find three little strawberries which confirmed my theory of the plants being a late variety:

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In the mean time I will be sowing some seeds here next week, so I sprinkled some blood, fish and bone over the area.

I also removed the netting in front of the raised bed which had my mangetout growing up it and I cut back the old mangetout.  I left the roots of the mangetout in the ground, as the root nodules will add nitrogen to the soil ready for my next crop (whatever this will be, as I have to revamp this whole area).  I also found a few mangetout ready to eat, that I missed:

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The strawberry bed and mangetout was at the front of my kitchen garden as this was an extra bit that I decided to use as an after thought.  In the remaining front area I have sweetcorn and tomato plants growing well, but after the harvest is complete, I will be digging this area over and incorporating it into my crop rotation plan….somehow.  At the moment though, the weed suppressant is killing the grass underneath:

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This week in my kitchen garden I finally got around to removing the mini cloches (half pop bottles) that were protecting the lettuces I planted before I went on holiday.  The plants were quite tiny when I first transplanted them into the ground, but I must admit I did leave them in the bottles for too long as I kept forgetting about them….but I’m sure they will be fine.

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I covered them with a net to stop the birds from eating them and I have been on slug watch ever since as there seems to be loads in this garden:

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Another job I did this week was to dig up my onions and garlic.

I planted my onions quite close together to pack in as many as possible….. I knew because of this my onions would be smaller than the onions I used to grow at my allotment where space wasn’t a problem, but I have got to say I have been pleasently surprised at the size of them.  Some are small, but a lot are a decent size:

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I have left them drying in my mini greenhouse:

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Unfortunately my garlic wasn’t as good though as it was very, very small.  I’m sure this is due to me planting them too late as I just wasn’t organised this year.  I have decided to try planting my garlic in pots in my greenhouse this coming autumn, ready for planting out in spring……maybe I will have better success this way.

I have left the garlic to dry in my mini greenhouse too and I will still use it for cooking dispite it’s size.

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“There are no gardening mistakes….just experiments”

Janet Kilburn Phillips

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Another job this week was to tie my outdoor cucumbers up as they are finally growing, after all of the dull weather we have been having.  I was really pleased to see a cucumber growing….if the sun starts to shine maybe I’ll have more:

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I have also continued to tie up my tomatoes as they grow and I am pleased to say my outdoor tomatoes are beginning to turn red…..I am so excited!  These are a variety called ‘Outdoor girl’, which do ripen early……this way I get a good crop before the dreaded ‘tomato blight‘ hits.

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The flowers in my garden are looking nice now and I have been deadheading them as soon as the flowers fade.  The sweetpeas in particular need the seed heads removing every day, so they keep producing new flowers, though I do always seem to miss one or two:

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Though I have no where near as many flowers as I used to have at my allotment, I do have a few to pick and the sweetpeas especially smell beautiful as I walk in and out of my front door:

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I have been harvesting some other vegetables this week too.

I have continued to pick salads, spring onions and curly kale this week, but I have also picked french beans, kohl rabi and my first runner beans.  My beetroot was also ready too, and I am cooking it whilst writing my blog today.  I will then be pickling it as we love to eat it this way:

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I have found that because I have less of everything in my kitchen garden than I did at my allotment, I really appriciate what I do have and look forward to harvesting things far more than before:

My perpetual spinach will soon be ready for a few leaves to be picked and I can’t wait for my cabbages to be ready….and they are not far off:

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The final thing I have picked this week is ‘lavender’.  I have one plant in a pot and it has produced a small bunch for me:

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I am going to use it to make some ‘lavender cakes’ which are just delightful at this time of year (and easy to make).  Below are some lavender cakes I made a couple of years ago.  The recipe is here.

People do tend to turn their noses up when you tell them the cakes have lavender in, but in actual fact their is just a hint of lavender in the taste, which makes them nice (though I don’t eat the lavender on the top that I use as decoration).

I must say, I do miss the lavender I grew at my allotment as it really smelt good at this time of year when I brushed past it and it looked so very beautiful edging my paths.  It was also good at encouraging all those wonderful beneficial insects to my plot…..maybe I could fit more somewhere next year in my garden?

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So over all the kitchen garden is producing well.  I will be making some changes in the autumn when I look back and see what has and hasn’t worked, but for now I am just enjoying what I have.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

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

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A Bedroom Makeover And Taking Stock Ready For Winter

This last week I have spent some time at home, rather than at the allotment due to the rain.  Hopefully the wet weather will make the soil easier to work now, as it has been so dry recently and the soil has been rock hard.

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I have used this time to do one or two overdue jobs at home and one such job was to replace my daughters bed.

For the last few years my daughter has had a high riser bed, with a wardrobe and a desk underneath.  My wonderful, generous friend gave it to us for free and it has been fantastic, but my daughter is now sixteen and wanted a more ‘grown up’ bedroom.

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So I spent a day taking it down and trying to find someone else who would like it, as it was in really good condition.  I knew no one who wanted it, so I rang a few charity shops that take furniture and I was amazed that none of them would take it as it was dismantled (even though I explained it wouldn’t come out of the bedroom if it wasn’t dismantled).

I then decided to put in on Freecycle and it was collected quickly.  This is what their website says:

“The worldwide Freecycle Network is made up of many individual groups across the globe. It’s a grassroots movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns.

Freecycle groups match people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them. Our goal is to keep usable items out of landfills. By using what we already have on this earth, we reduce consumerism, manufacture fewer goods, and lessen the impact on the earth. Another benefit of using Freecycle is that it encourages us to get rid of junk that we no longer need and promote community involvement in the process.

There are now 581 Groups spread across the country, with 3,708,994 members!”

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My daughters bedroom is very small, but cosy.  I bought a cheap bed (which incidentally I had to replace the slats to strengthen it using old slats from another old bed) and a cheap canvas wardrobe.  I didn’t want to decorate at this time so I gave the curtains and nets a good wash and wiped the paintwork down.  I think the bedroom now looks lovely and my daughter is very pleased with it.

I made the quilt and curtains about five years ago and they are slightly faded but I think they still look good.  The bed and wardrobe came to approximately £120, which I don’t think is bad for a bedroom makeover and after a little alteration to the bed, I think it will last for years:

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 As a last ‘touch’ I put up a couple of strings of butterfly fairy lights around the picture rail.  I found the lights in the gardening ‘clearance’ section in Wilkinsons and managed to buy two sets for £5 and the bedroom looks beautiful now in the evening when the lights are twinkling.

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Taking stock ready for winter:

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This week has also given me time to take stock of what crops I have preserved or stored and those I still have growing at my allotment.  I now have an up todate list of what exactly is in my three freezers…

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… and what I have growing ready to use at my allotment and stored crops like potatoes, onions and apples:

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I have also moved my winter squashes into my greenhouse so they can ‘cure’ with a bit of protection from the frost (they will be moved inside my house soon for the winter).

By leaving the squashes in the sun to ‘cure’, the skin will harden and the squashes will store for longer. Move them inside when frosts are due.

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I also know exactly what is still growing at my allotment and will soon be ready to harvest e.g. brussells, leeks, parsnips and winter salads etc.

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And I know which of my last summer crops that need to be eaten up soon:

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I now have a list of exactly what I want to be growing on my allotment next year and I have been saving seed accordingly:

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And I managed to buy lots of seeds in the Wilkinson 75% off sale this week:

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So it has been a week of organising, but it has been nice to be inside while it has been so miserable outside.

Hopefully the weather will be better next week.

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

Have a good week!

Purple Bullace Jelly And Courgette Chutney

This week in my kitchen I have been busy using all the home grown produce that I have picked.  I always have a lovely sense of satisfaction when I use my organic fruit and vegetables, as I  know one hundred percent that no chemicals have been used to grow them and I think this also makes them taste better.

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This week my outdoor tomatoes have started to ripen and I have begun picking them daily.  They are a variety called ‘outdoor girl’ which are usually a little bit earlier than other outdoor varieties, however for some reason they are a little bit later than usual this year.

I am constantly checking for tomato blight as my tomatoes have only escaped once over the years.  You can see photos of tomato blight here, together with lots of information on what to do when you first notice it on your tomatoes, as some of your crop can be saved if you act quickly.

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With my first batch of tomatoes I made a big pot of tomato and basil soup, which we had for lunch with a loaf of warm, crusty homemade bread.  It was far nicer than any soup you can buy in a tin and it only cost me a few pennies to make as nearly all the ingredients were from my allotment.

You can find the recipe here.

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I am also still using all of the courgettes that my plants are producing.  This week I made my favourite courgette chutney….

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Courgette Chutney Recipe:

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2 onions chopped

500g tomatoes chopped

500g courgettes diced

300ml white wine vinegar

2 cooking apples peeled and diced

250g brown sugar

2 teaspoons mixed spice

1 tablespoon of mustard seeds

Thumb sized piece of root ginger grated

4 garlic cloves crushed

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Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil slowly, stirring continuously.

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Simmer for 2 hours uncovered, until it is dark and looks like chutney.

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Pour into hot sterilised jars.

( To sterilise jars, pop them in an oven for five minutes, gas 4 / 180C / 350F )

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Leave for 3 weeks before eating.

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This year at my allotment I had a bumber crop of strawberries.

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At this time of year I usually tidy the plants up a bit…. I remove the straw that I lay around the plants in the spring and put it into my compost heap.  I then cut the strawberries back to approximately 3 inches (8 cms) from the crowns.  It always looks harsh but they grow back really well.

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Cutting the strawberries back in this way helps the plant produce more fruit the following year, as the plant then puts all it’s energy into producing a strong root system.

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This is the second year my plants have fruited so I am not keeping any runners, so I cut them all off.

  If I wanted to increase my stock I would just peg down the runners with a large stone or wire, so that the new plantlets are in contact with the soil.  When they have good roots on them at the beginning of September, I cut each runner from their parent and replant it where I want it to grow.  This way they are settled before the winter and produce fruit the following year.

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Incidentally, I found this little fella under the old straw around my strawberries:

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I have been told he is a ‘death head hawk moth’ caterpillar.  He looks quite evil doesn’t he, but I left him alone as moths are hugely important for the food chain and some of them are great plant pollinators.

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This week I have been picking ‘Cucamelons’.  It’s the first time I have grown them and they seem to have taken ages to become established….and now they are taking over my polytunnel!

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When I was researching the cucamelon, I found some people loved them and some people hated them, so I thought I would try them for myself…..I’ve got to say I am somewhere in between.

I think they taste like a cucumber, but with a crunchy skin.  The plants have certainly given me a good crop, but after we all tried them, we decided we like normal cucumbers better….so this is one I won’t bother growing again (sorry James Wong).

However this year they will go to good use in salads, with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt:

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At this time of year I am thinking about storing my crops ready for the winter.  My potatoes have all been dried and they are now storing in sacks.

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  My french beans are doing well at my allotment this year and I have been busy blanching and freezing them, together with the runnerbeans that I am still picking:

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If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will remember that this time last year I gave the old tree in my woodland area a real good prune as I don’t think it had been pruned for years.  I had been told by a couple of people that I would be better off chopping the tree down as it never has fruit on it….but I decided to give it a chance.

I prunned away approximately a third of all the dead, diseased and crossing branches and I will continue doing this every August until it is back to how it should be.

….And after just one year of pruning it has rewarded me with a bumper crop…..

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The gentleman that rented the plot before me (my dear friend Eric) told me that the tree was not a damson tree, but he didn’t know what it was.  I think the tree is a ‘purple bullace tree’….I may be wrong, but it doesn’t really matter as the fruit makes a great fruit jelly…which I have been making this week, ready for my Christmas hampers:

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A Wild Plum, Damson or Bullace Jelly Recipe:

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First cut your plums in half just to make sure they haven’t been infected by the plum moth (discard any that have).  Don’t bother removing the stones. 

Put the plums into a maslin pan or a large jam making pan.

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Cover the plums half way up with water.

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Slowly bring the plums to the boil and then simmer until they are soft (approx. 15-30 mins).

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Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil and place some muslin or a clean tea towel into it and boil for 3 minutes.  Take it out of the water and wring it out and then leave to cool.

Tip the fruit into the muslin and let it drip overnight or for approximately 8 hours.  I find it easier to put the muslin over a colander that is already over a bowl, as it’s easier to pour the fruit into it.

In the picture below, you can see how I suspend my muslin bag over a bowl.  I have read that an upside down stool can be helpful to do this, but I have never tried it.

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The next day put some side plates or saucers in the freezer to check the setting point of your jelly later on.

Measure the juice.  For every 1 pint of juice, measure 1lb of granulated sugar.   Put the juice and sugar back into a large pan and bring it to the boil slowly, over a low heat, until the sugar has dissolved.

Also, as I don’t use jam sugar I add two tablespoons of lemon juice for every one pint of juice.

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When you can see no sugar crystals on the back of your wooden spoon, turn the heat up and boil hard until the setting point has been reached.  This can take quite some time.

(I always continuously stir my jams and jellies to stop them from burning at the base of the pan, however I have never seen a recipe tell you to do this, so it’s up to you).

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To check the setting point, put a small amount of jelly on a saucer from the freezer and wait for a few moments, push the jelly with your finger and if it wrinkles then the setting point has been reached, if not just continue boiling for a further five minutes and then check again.

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When the setting point has been reached, take the pan off the heat and leave it for fifteen minutes. If there is scum on your jelly, you can skim it off, but I just stir in a small knob of butter which does the same job.

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

Pour the jelly into the jars and seal with lids.

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Enjoy it for months to come!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday at my usual time.

Cucumber Sorbet and Allotment ‘Catch up’

 Thank you for all your kind words last week, after my father-in-law passed away.  It was lovely to know so many people were thinking of us.

We had the funeral on Monday and the church was full, as he was a very well liked and respected man in our community.

We found the day exhausting and we felt very drained at the end of it.

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Unfortunately we were away on holiday in Scarborough when we received the call that he had passed away.  This was devastating for us as we couldn’t be with him during his final hours.

We obviously cut our holiday short and drove home that day, so we could be with my husband’s family.

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We are all missing my father-in-law very much.

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This last two weeks have been very hard on us all and I must say I have really had to push myself to do anything at the allotment…..but nature doesn’t stand still and things need to be picked (though I haven’t been keeping on top of the weeds as I would normally do).

Amazingly the allotment is looking good even though it hasn’t had much attention for three weeks now:

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Things are growing well:

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I also have melons growing in the polytunnel which I really need to support and I have little cucamelons which are about ready to eat:

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Since coming home I have been picking my produce by the basket load and using it up or freezing it, pickling it or preserving it…

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I have dug up my onions and garlic and they are currently drying in my mini greenhouse and I have begun digging up my potatoes, which I dry for a few hours before putting them in sacks to store for the winter:

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The shallots have now all been pickled, together with my gherkins and my pantry is bulging, even though some have already been passed onto family and friends.  However, the first jars to be opened are already half empty as my family love them, so they won’t last long:

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CUCUMBERS GALORE…

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As it has been a very dry summer here, my indoor and outdoor cucumbers have done exceptionally well and I have so many of them.  They will store in a fridge for a few days, but there are only so many cucumbers that you can eat!

I read if you peel them and then puree them, they can be frozen in portions and then added to spag bogs, pasta sauces, etc. so I have given this a try and I’ve found it’s a great way to add a few vitamins without the family knowing:

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Also, I made a very easy Cucumber and Mint Sorbet.  It sounds horrible, but it is quite a surprisingly refreshing taste.  I must admit I couldn’t eat a whole bowl of it, but a scoop served with another pudding, e.g. meringues, is really lovely and it will impress friends at a dinner party.

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Cucumber amd Mint Sorbet:

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800 grams of cucumber that has been peeled and the seeds scooped out

5 – 10 grams mint leaves (I used apple mint from the garden)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

130 grams icing sugar

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Start by putting the cucumber, mint, lemon juice and icing sugar into a food processor:

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Blend until the mixture is runny, but still a bit course (see the photo below):

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Chill for a few hours in the fridge.

Then pour the mix into an ice cream maker and let it do the hard work for you.

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When it is ready, transfer the sorbet to an ice cream tub and pop into your freezer until required.

(If you haven’t got an ice cream maker, just put the blended ingredients into a container and freeze.  Remove from the freezer every 1-2 hours and mash vigourously with a fork to break up the ice crystals).

Decorate the sorbet with some fresh borage flowers from your garden if you have them.

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And Enjoy!

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I just wanted to finish by saying a big ‘thank you’ to those of you that voted for my blog in the ‘easyshed.co.uk’ competition.  I am amazed that I received so many votes and even more amazed to have won – thank you so much.

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I will be back next Friday at my usual time.

Thank you for reading my blog today.