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A Fox In The Garden And Planting Cabbages

I have been concentrating on my kitchen garden this week, especially as we have had some nice weather. However I did notice that we have also had a couple of frosts this week, which shows that it really is too early to be planting out anything that isn’t frost hardy.

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Last week I noticed a deep hole had been dug in one of my beds and this week it happened again:

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We have lots of squirrels in our garden, but the hole just seemed too deep to have been dug by a squirrel.  I also noticed that my bird bath kept being knocked to the ground as well.

I thought at first it could possibly be a cat causing the damage so I put a few pieces of welded wire over the bed that was being dug:

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But the next day I found some muddy paw marks on my weed suppressant which looked very much like a fox.  I also noticed the string I had put around my broad beans had been cut, which definately confirmed to me that it was a fox, as this used to happen regularly at my allotment.  I have also been using blood, fish and bone recently in my garden which always used to attract foxes at my allotment too:

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My bird bath is in the corner of my garden and I suspected the fox was entering my garden by jumping on my neighbours compost bin (directly the other side of the fence) and then using my bird bath to vacate the garden, knocking it over in the process.

To stop this from happening I have attached a thick piece of welded wire over this piece of the fence, so I will just have to wait and see if it works and actually stops the fox from coming into the garden:

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This week I gave my lawn it’s first cut.  I don’t know if you remember but I lifted slabs in this area in September last year, prepared the soil and then laid a new lawn here.  The grass looked marvelous after it was laid.

Unfortunatey over the winter our fence blew down and the grass was trampled on when it was very wet while the fence was being repaired and also Judy (our dog) used to run around madly, reacting to the dog next door when it cames out…..so our grass has gone from a lovely thick lawn to a lawn with bald patches:

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I am not mowing it too closely in the hope that the grass will start to thicken up a little bit now, though some places may be past that stage.  One thing I am pleased with is there are no yellow patches from my dogs urine….we have made sure that everytime Judy goes toilet we sprinkle water from a watering can over the area that she has wet and it seems to be working.

I have also neatened the area around my bay tree and transplanted three or four plants that were growing in the wrong places in my garden:

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This week I planted some aubrietia plants that I grew from seed last year and overwintered in my cold greenhouse.  I thought they would look nice flowering over the rocks along the middle of my garden in years to come when they get a bit bigger:

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This week I also planted some sweetpea plants to grow up my new trellis, in the hope they look pretty and attract beneficial insects to my vegetable garden:

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I noticed the fruit bushes that I planted along my fence are beginning to grow.  I always feel a sense of relief  when new bushes start to grow as I then know that I haven’t wasted my money on them:

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A couple of weeks ago I saw a strange growth between two of my fruit bushes and I hadn’t got a clue what it was.  I looked at our old garden photos to find out what was growing in this place before and it was an area underneath our old holly tree that was covered in ‘Vinca’ (periwinkle)….so I was completely puzzled.  The growth looked a bit like a ‘bleeding heart’ (dicentra), so I decided that I would dig it up and put it in a pot just in case.

The plant has grown a bit now and it definately is a ‘bleeding heart’……I haven’t a clue how it got there, but I will definately keep it:

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This week I finally finished planting my onions.  I started growing the sets at the beginning of March in my cold greenhouse, so they were all growing well and the roots were beginning to grow through the newspaper pots.

I planted my onions very closely as I will harvest some of them as spring onions, leaving the others to grow bigger in order to get a double crop out of this area.  This worked well last year.

My onions have all been covered in environmesh to stop the allium leaf miner:

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I also planted the white cabbages that I sowed on the 25th February.  Brassicas like firm soil so I firmed round each plant with my boot.  I also placed a cabbage collar around each plant to stop the cabbage root fly laying its eggs at the base of each plant….the larvea then eat the roots and kill the plants.

I don’t buy cabbage collars as they are easy to make using cardboard cut into squares with a cross cut in the middle:

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I also covered the cabbages with netting to stop cabbage white butterflies from laying eggs on the leaves….it’s the resulting caterpillars that quite quickly strip all the leaves off the plants.

The net I used is very tall beacuse I will be planting my curly kale here when we have eaten all the spring cabbages:

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Another job I did was to mulch around my fruit trees using homemade compost from last year.  This compost was made using plants and grass that I dug up at the beginning of last year when I was creating my kitchen garden, mixed in with a few kitchen peelings etc.  It made a wonderful mulch:

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I also brought two new wall planters for the new herbs I brought last week.  Last year I placed my herbs at the bottom of my garden, but unfortunately our local squirrels decided to keep digging the plants up to bury their nuts in the pots and eventually the herbs all died as the roots kept drying out.  So this year I decided to keep my herbs next to our house, which will also be much more convenient for us to use.

I am quite pleased with how they look and I have moved my mint and rosemary underneath them too:

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I am still deadheading my daffodils in the garden and as they finish flowering I give them a feed of blood, fish and bone.

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But as the daffodils are finishing flowering, elsewhere in the garden there are other flowers for the bees to enjoy:

  I noticed the plum tree that I have in a pot has begun to flower:

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And the wallflowers I grew from seed last year are about to flower any day now:

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And my pot of bulbs that has had daffodils flowering for weeks, now has with grape hyacinth (muscari) flowering beautifully and any day now the Tulips will also burst into flower.

Spalding bulbs sent me these bulbs free in Autumn 2012 and since I planted them I can honestly say I have done absolutely nothing to them except move the pot out the way after it has finished flowering….maybe this year I should make an effort to feed them!

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In my greenhouse that is now heated to keep the temperature above 10C, things are doing well.  My different seedlings are growing strongly and this week my climbing peas which I planted two weeks ago have germinated well.  I saved these seeds in 2012 from plants I was growing at my allotment, so I was praying they would still germinate:

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My cut and come again salads are also growing well and next week I will be taking my first cut.  The radish are also nearly ready that I have been growing around the edge of the salads:

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I also saw a tiny little shoot coming from one of the dahlias that I grew from seed last year.  I kept the pots in our cold brick outhouse overwinter as a trial to see if they would survive and it appears they have.  I brought them out a couple of weeks ago and placed them in my greehouse, giving them a good watering first:

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In my kitchen I have a few seeds that needed a higher heat to germinate than my heated greenhouse can offer.  I sowed these seeds two weeks ago and nearly all of them need pricking out now…this will keep me busy over the next few days!

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I must say I am now looking forward to clearing my kitchen of seeds so we can get back to normal:

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Anyway, that’s enough for this week.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

I hope you have a lovely weekend!

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!

Decorating Again & Judys Birthday

Yesterday it was Judy’s 5th birthday and we bought her a few little presents.  She gets very excited when I give her a present to unwrap and her little tail wags like crazy whilst she is trying desparately to tear the paper off with her paws:

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She seemed very pleased with the ball my daughters gave her.  You fill the ball with dry feed or treats and she pushes the ball around to make them fall out:

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And she also liked the ‘doggie treats’ and tennis balls that we gave to her:

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I also bought a ‘doggie cake’ from the pet store which she absolutely loved (unfortunately I didn’t get round to make a dog cake myself):

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Today it is a year since we brought Judy home from The RSPCA.  It really has been a rollercoaster ride, but I have learnt so much after all the training.  She has turned into a lovely dog and companion for me and I am so glad I persevered with her, rather than give up like her previous three owners did.

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This week in the home:

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This week I have finally got around to decorating my youngest daughters bedroom.

After clearing everything from her room I started off by removing the very old shelves that really needed to be replaced and filled all the holes around the room with some filler.  When it was dry I sanded the filler down until it was all smooth:

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I then sanded down all the woodwork in the room ready to begin.

I started by painting the ceiling and woodwork and then I pasted thick lining paper (1400 grade) on the walls to help to hide all the lumps and bumps.  We did consider plastering this room but it would have been too expensive for us and the lining paper was a cheaper option.

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When it was dry I painted the walls the colour my daughter had chosen….a ‘soft grey’ and I think she chose well (though I did have my reservations when she first told me she wanted this colour).

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I decided to paint her wooden curtain pole white, to match the room (it was previously a ‘wood’ colour).  It took three coats of paint and I couldn’t face painting all the curtains rings so I brought new ones, but they didn’t cost too much and it was still far cheaper than buying a new pole:

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I still need to put the curtain pole back up and I also need to put together the bedroom furniture that we are hoping to have delivered next week (an ‘early’ birthday and Christmas present for my daughter).

And finally I need to make a pair of curtains for the room….we looked in every shop I could think of for a ready made pair of curtains, but my daughter didn’t like any.  In desparation I took her to a material shop and she found some material that she loved, so I now have another job for next week:

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I love decorating, especially when I am pleased with the results.  I’ll show you a photo of the completed room next week.

Judy keeping me company while I decorated the room

Judy keeping me company while I decorated the room

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A few other things before I finish for this week:

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This week I made some butterfly cakes to show off the new cake stand my daughters bought me for my birthday last week……I really love this present!

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I also made some more dishwasher liquid out of soapnuts:

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While I was out and about this week I noticed that the seeds at Wilkinsons had been reduced to 20p so I stocked up with the ones I know I will definately use:

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In the garden this week I found that unfortunately the broccolli ’60 day raab’ that I sowed in the middle of August is flowering…..so it does grow quickly (as the name suggests), but it has gone to seed before it’s possible to get even a tiny crop, so I won’t be growing this again.  I made sure it was fed at the beginning and it was well watered when the weather was dry, so I can only think the ground wasn’t firm enough for it (brassiccas like the ground to be firm).  It was a free packet of seed so I haven’t lost anything but time:

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Also in the garden the leaves are falling from my neighbours trees and I will need to collect them up next week.  Previously I had grass in this area and I would just run over the leaves with the lawn mower to quickly remove them, however this isn’t possible in my vegetable garden so I will need to get down on my hands and knees:

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My Cosmos is still flowering well:

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And the tomatoes that I picked two weeks ago when they were nearly all green, are ripening well in my greenhouse…..(I am very pleased as I really don’t like green tomato chutney):

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

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

Brandied Peaches & A Plum Cake Recipe

I wanted to start today by saying a big thank you to all the lovely people that leave comments on my blog.  Your comments have given me the confidence to continue writing my blog after I gave my four allotments up…..I was absolutely convinced at the beginning of the year that no one would want to read my blog when I started to just grow vegetables in my garden.

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I have always been conscious that my blog doesn’t really fit in with other catergories of blogs, for example it’s not just a vegetable gardening blog, or just a cooking blog, etc. as I cover lots of things that I do in my normal day to day life.

We live in a three bedroom semi-detached house, in a town near a main road…..I would love a small holding in the country, but in reality this will never happen.  So my blog is about making the best of what we have and through your comments I have realised that there are few blogs that do this and I am so glad you can relate to this.

Thank you for your continued support.

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This week in my garden I have been picking lots of tomatoes from my outdoor plants and I have got to say that my harvest is so much better on these plants than from the plants in my greenhouse:

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However, I have found a problem with one of my plants that I have in a pot.  Unfortunately I have found a couple of tomatoes that have ‘blossom end rot’:

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‘Blossom end rot’ is caused by a calcium deficiency and it usually seen when plants are grown in pots and growbags.  There is usually enough calcium in the soil, but unfortunately if there isn’t a good flow of water to the plant then it is unable to access it, also if fertilisers are added to dry soil then this can also restrict the uptake of calcium by the plant.

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My watering system that I use most days (on a timer attached to my hose on our water tap), hasn’t really been working very well this year.  I have found that some plants are getting too much water and some are not getting enough, so I need to be more careful about this.

I can’t save the tomatoes that are already suffering from blossom end rot, but I can pay more attention to my watering so I can correct the problem.

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My cherry tomatoes have now started producing tomatoes too and I am picking a few each day.  They are lovely and sweet and usually get eaten by my daughters in seconds….but that is fine by me:

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This week I have managed to make some passatta with the spare tomatoes and I have frozen this to use another time.  I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to grow enough vegetables in my small garden to be to have some left over for freezing…..I have been pleasantly surprised.

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I am harvesting a lot of perpetual spinach from my garden now too (which Mr Thrift absolutely loves) and this week I made one of his favourite meals with it…..Spinach and Poached Egg Florentine:

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I was also given some more produce this week…..some apples from my husband’s aunt and some courgettes, beetroot, and plums from my eldest sister.  I am very grateful for these, so if you are reading this…thank you so much!

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I made some courgette chutney with the courgettes my sister gave me:

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And I made two ‘plum cakes’ with some of the plums (one to eat and one to freeze):

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A Plum Cake Recipe:

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150g caster sugar

115g margarine or butter

140g self raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 eggs

Approx. 10 plums, pitted and halved

Icing sugar for sprinkling on the top

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Preheat your oven to 180C/ gas 4 / 350F and grease and line a cake tin:

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Beat the caster sugar and margaine until fluffy:

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Sieve the flour and baking powder into the butter / caster sugar and mix until combined:

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Add the eggs and mix:

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Pour the mixture into your cake tin and then top with the plums.

Put the cake in the oven for 35-40 minutes:

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Check your cake is cooked by inserting a skewer and if it comes out clean it is cooked.

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When it is cool, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with ice cream, custard, cream or some nice homemade natural yoghurt as I do:

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Enjoy!!!

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This week I started to think about Christmas and decided to make some brandied peaches for one of my Christmas hampers.  They take three months to mature, so it’s a good thing to do now whilst peaches are fairly cheap.  I found peeling them a bit fiddly, but I think they are worth it:

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Brandied Peaches:

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6 normal sized peaches

100 grams of caster sugar

Enough brandy to cover the peaches (approx. 600 ml)

1 litre sealable jar

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Start by slicing a small cross in the bottom of each peach and placing them in a bowl of boiling hot water for approx. 3 to 4 minutes:

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Take the peaches out of the water and place them immeadiately in a bowl of ice cold water for a couple of minutes and then start to peel the skin back.  I found it difficult to remove the skin on some of the peaches so I used a peeler on the more difficult ones:

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Cut the peaches in quarters and then slice each quarter in half again.  I discarded the stones and cut off any hard bits on the peach slices where the stones had been attached:

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I sterilised my jar (gas 4 / 180C / 350F for five minutes) and when it had cooled down I arranged the peach slices in the jar in layers, alternating with layers of caster sugar:

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I then poured the brandy into the jar making sure the peaches were covered.  I sealed the jar and gave it a gentle shake:

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I placed the jar in a cool, dark place and from now on I will shake it gently every week until it is ready in three months time.

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I think that is enough for this week, so thank you for reading my blog today.

  I will be back as usual next Friday.

Have a lovely week!

A Week Of Organising…..

This week has been a busy week in the ‘Thrift’ household for me.  It has been a week of catching up with some of the jobs that I just haven’t had time to do over the last few months.

The first Snowdrop at my allotment

The first Snowdrop at my allotment

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As I said previously, the last few months have been quite stressful for myself and Mr Thrift and unfortunately my usual routines have gone out of the window and leading up to Christmas, I felt exhausted.  This has certainly had a knock-on effect, as I have noticed we have spent more and more money at the supermarket on products that I would usually make myself.

I bought washing powder for the first time in ages (and my goodness isn’t it expensive) and more dishwasher tablets than I would usually buy.   I have also been buying vegetables that I would normally just go and dig up from my allotment over winter (cabbages, carrots, leeks, kale, brussells etc) and I have been buying bread and pizza’s to save time…..but this has all had an effect on the bank account and I’ve got to say we also started to get out of the routine of sitting down as a family for our meals.

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“So onwards and upwards”…. it’s time for a change!

So I decided it was time for me to establish a new routine (as best I can at the moment) and start to go back to basics again.

I started this week by making my own laundry liquid.  It took just 15 – 20 minutes to make and it will last me approximately 70 washes and last time I worked it out, it cost me just £1.75 to make (far cheaper than buying it).  The recipe is here if you are interested in how I make it.

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I then set about making some dishwasher liquid using the soap nuts I have in my cupboard.  Again it is cheap and quick to make and it washes well.  However, I do use a supermarket dishwasher tablet every third wash as I find this stops the grease from building up inside my dishwasher.

Again the recipe is here if you are interested in making it.

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I then gave my food cupboards and pantry a really good clean and tidy and discovered that I have more things in them than I remembered:

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I even found some Christmas cake that needs eating up , that I had completely forgotten about:

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I also took stock of what I have left in my freezers too (this took quite some time as I have three large freezers).  I found I still have a lot of fruit and vegetables still to be used up, which is good news.

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One of my three freezers

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I then looked at my stored crops and I found I still have a big pumpkin and lots of butternut squashes to use.  As it’s January and they have been stored a while, I will need to think about using them up soon:

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Outside in my vegetable storage boxes I also still have potatoes waiting to be used and a few apples are left too:

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So I have discovered that we still have lots left to eat in my cupboards and storage.

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I then decided it was time to keep organised and on top of things:

Firstly at the end of last week I started to hang my washing out in the morning on a regular basis again.  It seldom completely dries outside in winter (unless it is windy), but it does partly dry which means I can usually just air it inside to finish it off.  This saves money as I don’t need to use the tumble dryer so much.

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An Organised Shopping List:

A long time ago I typed up a big list of products I regularly brought from the supermarket, so I could compare prices (this was before Mysupermarket.co.uk existed, which now does the hard work for you).  I decided to update this list and print out a few copies to hang on my pantry door.  This way I can quickly mark down which products I need to buy when I next go to the shops.

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Batch Baking:

I then set about batch baking some chocolate brownies ready to freeze for my daughters lunchbox (it’s easy to just pop a frozen brownie in her lunchbox each morning and it will be defrosted by lunchtime):

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 I also made some rolls for the first time in ages and they tasted so delicious, they were eaten up really quickly.

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Meals From Scratch:

This week I have finally started to cook my meals from scratch again.  We have also started to have some nice puddings too (even though they were very quick to make, especially the microwave chocolate sponge) :

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So all in all it has been a good, positive week for me at home.

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Other bits and pieces:

After my blog post last week (Problems With Our Rescue Dog Judy), I had some lovely comments – thank you all for your kind words and encouragement.

Mrs Yub said something that stuck in my head:

“Your wee doggie has a different look in her eyes in the last picture from what she had in her first! I can see the difference. It’s a calmer, more confident look”

So I dug out a photograph which I took of Judy when she first arrived home with us in October from the RSPCA and compared it with a photograph I took this week.  I can really see how much she has changed and how she looks so much better now, so thank you for pointing this out to me as I just hadn’t noticed this.

  In the first photo she looks very thin……

Her first week with us in October

Her first week with us in October

….but I am glad to say that Mrs Yub you are right…I think she does look a lot happier and healthier in the photograph that I took this week:

This week

This week

Her training is still going well and I am starting to have some nice, longer walks with her now she isn’t reacting quite so badly at other dogs.  However, the walk to and from the park is still hard with her as she is still so scared of the buses, motorbikes and lorries on the main road outside the park……but we are working on this slowly with lots of treats.

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Finally I want to show you something my daughter made.  It was her friend’s birthday and she wanted to give her something special, so she made her some cup cakes and iced them beautifully.  She didn’t have a box to put them in so she used wrapping paper to decorate an empty sweet tub too:

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I think it looked great and I would love to receive this birthday present.  I was very proud of her!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday at my usual time.

A Cucamelon Review & Winter Salads

The mornings have been quite chilly this week, feeling very much like autumn is here.

On Wednesday we had some well needed rain overnight and when the sun came out in the early morning it was a beautiful sight, with rains drops glistening around the allotment.

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This week I have been concentrating on my polytunnel, getting it ready for winter.

The crops in my polytunnel had just about finished, except for a few tomatoes (which I will ripen at home) and some peppers and melons that were ready for picking:

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….and I mustn’t forget  the thousand ‘cucamelons’ dangling at me, ready to pick.

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A Quick Cucamelon Review:

Every year I like to grow something different and this year I chose ‘cucamelons’ .  I had read different reports about them and came to the conclusion that they are a bit like ‘marmite’, you either love them or hate them….so I decided to grow them for myself.

  The fruits are grape sized and they are supposed to taste of cucumber with a hint of lime, but I am yet to taste one that actually had the hint of lime in it.  The cucamelon can be eaten whole or chopped up in salads.  The skin has the texture of a sweet pepper, so it has a bite to it….inside it is like a mini cucumber.

They were easy to grow in my polytunnel and after a slow start they started to take over, smothering my tomato plants that grew next to them, but I’ve got to say there were millions of fruits that just kept coming and coming and coming!

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Unfortunately my family didn’t like them and after forcing them at anyone that came into our house, I found that not many other people liked them either.   I didn’t think they were too bad, until I ate quite a few for tea one day and ended up with bad indigestion all night!

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Needless to say, I won’t be growing these again….but we live and learn.

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Winter Salads:

Last month I sowed some winter salads ready for my polytunnel and they have grown quite well and were ready for planting.   However first I needed to clear the crops that were left in my polytunnel:

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One surprise I did find in my polytunnel when I was clearing it, was some carrots that I had completely forgotten about…and they had grown really well.  Carrots can be stored in compost at home until they are needed, but I know these carrots won’t last long in our house as everyone loves them.

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After I had cleared the crops, I forked the soil over and gave the soil a covering of homemade compost.  I also raked in some blood, fish and bone where I would be planting my salads:

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The winter salads that I chose to grow were mizuna, winter lettuce, corn salad, rocket and perpetual spinach.  I also grew some beetroot as a trial, to see if I could use the small leaves over winter in salads (though I’m not expecting to grow a decent sized root).

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After planting the above crops I gave them a good watering and I must say the polytunnel did look different….another reminder that autumn is here:

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One of the things I have learnt from bitter experience, whether you grow plants in a cloche, a greenhouse or a polytunnel, you need to provide ventilation during the autumn or winter months.  If you don’t then the humid conditions will be a breeding ground for grey mould, which will smother and kill your plants.  So on fine days I open the doors on my polytunnel throughout the winter months.

“Grey mould is caused by a fungus called ‘Botrytis cinerea’ which can infect plants at any time of the year.  It can enter a plant through a wound or infect a weak  plant under stress.  It will also infect healthy plants in humid conditions”.

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At home this week I have continued to use up my ripening tomatoes to make soup and passata…

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 …and I only have a few left to use now, which again shows me that Autumn is here and the wonderful harvest of summer is nearly behind us.

Now it’s the time that the Autumn harvest of pumpkins, butternut squashes, apples etc. begins.  The nights start to draw in and the leaves on the trees begin to fall.

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This is my favourite time of year when I start to reflect on my gardening year and work out what crops have been a success and which haven’t.  It’s the time of the year when things start to slow down slightly at the allotment, giving me time to breathe and admier the late summer flowers on my plot.

When I work my plot on a crisp Autumn morning it makes me feel glad to be alive.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday at my usual time. 

 

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.