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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.

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Preserving And Storing Crops – Part One

Today and on Friday, I thought I would talk about how I preserve and store my crops.

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We all plant our seeds and nurture our plants, until they grow big enough to start producing a wonderful harvest and this year really has been a wonderful harvest.

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After we have picked and eaten as much as we possibly can, what do we do with the rest so it doesn’t go to waste and end up in the compost bin?

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Preserving And Storing Crops.

Years ago, if you didn’t preserve your crops then you would possibly starve.  Today it isn’t so life threatening to do this, as we have supermarkets to fill our food gaps.  However, the food has usually flown thousands of miles to get to us and doesn’t really taste as nice, as it has been bred for its long shelf life rather than its taste.

I love growing vegetables for my family and I know it’s far cheaper to grow my own fruit and vegetables rather than buy them from the supermarket.  I also know that the produce that I harvest are grown organically without the use of pesticides, so it makes sense to preserve and store my produce, ready for use over the winter.

I do buy the odd vegetable in the winter, but mostly I use produce that I have stored, preserved, or I dig up the winter vegetables at my allotment.

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During July, August and September I spend most of my days picking, digging up, preserving and storing my crops.  It gives me a huge sense of satisfaction to be as self-reliant as possible and I feel such a pleasure when my family are eating the food I have grown.

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So How Do I Store And Preserve The Crops I grow?

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Nature:

Firstly, the most natural way to store my vegetables is to leave them to nature.  Crops that are frost hardy such as leeks, parsnips, cabbages, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, celery and spinach will sit happily in the soil over winter until I need them.

  I understand that carrots, beetroot and swedes can also be left in the ground over winter if you mulch them with straw, but when I tried this they suffered a lot of slug damage, so I don’t store them like this anymore.

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Storing:

Some crops are better lifted and stored.  A good example of this is potatoes as the longer you leave them in the ground, the more slug holes you seem to have in them.  Years ago, root crops would have been stored in a ‘clamp’ in the garden, which is an inexpensive way of insulating the crop.  You can still use this method if you want to.  You can read about ‘clamps’ here.

I prefer to store some of my vegetables in a dark, dry, frost free place.

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Garden ‘Cushion Boxes’

 After I have dug up my potatoes I leave them out to dry for a few hours on the soil, turning them once.  I then put them into sacks to store them.  I keep them in boxes (which are actually cushion boxes from B&Q) and even though the temperature has been below freezing for quite a length of time in the last few winters, my produce has been fine.  However, I do live in a town and I’m not sure if these boxes would remain frost free in a rural area.

My potatoes drying in the sun

My potatoes drying in the sun

Early potatoes don’t store as long as main crop potatoes, so we use them first.  Also any that have slug holes or blemishes are eaten first too, as these just don’t store well either.

TIP:  Don’t store potatoes in plastic bags as the humidity will rot them and do check the potatoes for any signs of rotting every so often, as one rotten potato will rot the a whole sack if you don’t notice it.

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I also store carrots, beetroot and swedes in my ‘cushion’ boxes.  It is easy to store them and very convenient to pop outside to get something to prepare for dinner.  I lift the vegetables and twist off the tops and then put them into a wooden box on top of a layer of compost (you can use sand for this too).  I make sure the vegetables aren’t touching and then I cover them with compost.  This way they store beautifully over the winter.

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When my onions and shallots are ready, I lift them and dry them on racks under cover for two or three weeks.  Books tend to tell you to lift them and leave them on the ground for two weeks in full sun…but when do we ever have two weeks of full sun in the UK?  After two or three weeks I put the onions in nets and again I put them in my ‘cushion boxes’.

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I also store my apples over winter. Early varieties of apple don’t store very well, so I store the apples from my later variety of apple trees.  All I do is wrap each apple up individually in newspaper and stack them in a box.  Again I check them every so often as one bad apple can destroy the whole box.

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Finally, winter squashes can be stored for approximately six months in a well ventilated place.  The RHS recommend that winter squashes are kept between 10C and 15C.  I keep mine in our bedroom on top of our chest of draws on a tray, which I know is not the most romantic thing to do, but the squashes last for ages as it’s the coolest room in our house.

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Before storing winter squashes it is important to ‘cure’ your squash.  All this means, is to leave them outside in the sunlight after you have cut them from the plant, for a week to ten days (more if possible).  Ensure you cover them or take them indoors if a frost threatens.  I cure mine in my greenhouse, which gives them some protection.

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I think I’ve written enough for today, so on Friday I’ll continue to write about freezing and preserving our produce.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post.

Completing Planting And A Bumper Harvest

I have so much to write about today, as I have been working so hard at my allotment this week.  I wanted to finish planting all my crops before the long school holidays begin, in exactly one weeks time.  The schools here in Leicestershire break up earlier than the rest of the country.

I started by planted some more perpetual spinach:

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….And some more spring onions.  I sow my spring onions in modules as I always had a very bad germination rate when I sowed them straight into the ground (though I don’t know why as they are supposed to be an easy plant to grow).  By sowing a few seeds in each module, I find it almost guarantees a high germination rate.  I don’t thin the spring onions either, I just plant them as they are when they are ready:

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In the right hand photograph above, you can just see the newly planted spring onions and you can see the ones I planted out three or four weeks ago growing nicely behind.

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I also planted out my spring broccoli, curly kale and some more khol rabi.  All of the brassicas were planted in firm soil which I had dug and manured last autumn.  I also walked over the area before planting.

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As the ground was dry when I planted the brassicas out, I dug a hole for each plant and filled it with water.  When the water had drained away, I then planted them.  This allows the water to go deep into the ground to encourage the roots to also grow deep to find the water.  It also helps to stop the water from evaporating quickly after planting.

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I also planted some quick growing turnips too, but you may have to enlarge the photograph below to see them:

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All my brassicas have nets over, to stop the dreaded pigeons eating them.

While I was working in my brassica patch, I removed any yellowing leaves from my remaining spring cabbages. This will help to stop the build up of any pests or diseases lurking in them.  These cabbages were planted a month after my first spring cabbages and they are now starting to heart up nicely, so I will start to use these now.

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I have now officially ran out of room in my brassica beds and so I can finally say I have finished my summer brassica planting:

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This week I cut my comfrey down.  I prefer to cut my comfrey down before it flowers, but I just wasn’t quick enough this month.  If you have been reading regularly, you will know that I have already made comfrey tea this year (which incidentally is a wonderful high potash fertiliser used for all fruit and flowers e.g. it is a great tomato feed).  You can read how to make comfrey tea here.

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I have also added a vast amount of comfrey to my compost bins already this year.  So when I cut it down at this time of the year, I lay it down between my main crop potatoes instead.  This acts as a mulch to help to stop water evapourating from the ground and also helps to stop annual weeds from germinating.  When the comfrey breaks down, I just dig it into the ground to add nutrients to the soil.

I think comfrey is a wonderful plant!

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This week  I also cleared my old perpetual spinach that had ran to seed and planted my french beans in it’s place:

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I cleared my broad beans in my polytunnel that had finished producing beans:

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And I cleared my poached egg plants that had finally finished flowering either side of my path.  I transplanted some self seeded calendula plants in it’s place, though it looks quite bare at the moment it will soon grow and look pretty and be a bonus for the bees:

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Another thing I have started to do is to ‘nip’ the tops of my runnerbeans off as they reach the top of their supports.  This helps the plants to ‘bush out’ further down and produce more beans:

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This week’s harvest:

Plants have been growing slowly due to the cold spring we have had.  However, the plants are finally now producing and I seem to be having a bumper harvest.

I’ve started to pick my outdoor broadbeans this week and I have needed to pick them every other day:

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I have found my peas are just great, even though they a month behind.  My back has ached just picking them:

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So too is the mangetout (even though some are a little larger than I would have liked, as I didn’t notice they were ready):

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My potatoes taste delicious (especially with a knob of butter) and we are eating lots of lettuces, watercress and spring onions….I love summer so much.

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And my strawberries…well what can I say other than it really is a bumper crop and I’m picking carrier bags full every two days:

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Of course the down side is that I had to defrost my freezer ready for all the fruit and vegetables that I have been bringing home….

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.,….but it will be worth it when we are still tasting ‘summer’ in the long cold winter months.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday with some Jam making tips.

Hope you have a good weekend.

Crab Apple Ice-cream Sauce and Fruit Tree Grease

I have been working really hard the last few days at the allotment.

Firstly I cleared an area at the back of my fourth plot, which I had started to clear last year.  It was becoming overgrown again so I cut the brambles and overgrown trees back, so I could use this area again for my fruit and vegetable cages over the winter.

After I cleared it and put new weed suppressant down, I re-sorted the cages in order of size, and put them back neatly:

I also picked the last of my Patty pans, French beans and courgettes and pulled the plants up as they had finished producing.

I then dug manure into these beds as next year I will be growing my brassica’s here.  This will give time for the soil to settle ready for planting in spring, as brassica’s like firm soil.

I made chutney with the patty pans.  You can find the recipe here.

I picked all my apples from my trees today.

I wrap them individually in newspaper and I store them in my outside storage boxes, where the frost and mice cannot get to them over the winter.

Today I also painted ‘Fruit Tree Grease’ on all my fruit trees.  This will help to stop the winter moth from climbing up the trees.  The winter moth larvae feed on the fruit and leaves of trees and then in June they drop to the ground and bury themselves in the soil.  Between November and March, the Adults emerge and mate and then the female climbs up the tree to lay her eggs.  The grease should help to stop her.

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Today, I also managed to buy some reduced Primroses for £1.00 for six plants.  I planted them around the outside of my new woodland area.  I thought they may ‘cheer’ the allotment up over the winter months.

I thought I’d show you my watercress that we are still eating.  It has really done fantastic this year.  Eric (the previous plot holder) told me it grows brilliantly in the big black pot and he was right.

We are having it in a salad again tonight.

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Last week I was given a very large amount of Crab Apples.

I made Crab Apple Jelly which tastes really nice.  I also made Crab Apple Ice cream Sauce that tastes even nicer (though I do say so myself).  It is a homemade version of the sauce that the Ice cream men put on your ‘Mr Whippy’ Ice cream, though I’d like to bet it has more fruit and vitamins in it.

I did use a jam thermometer to make the sauce, though I’m sure you don’t really need to.  As long as you heat the sauce but don’t let it boil, I’m sure it would be fine.

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Crab Apple Ice cream Sauce

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2 Cups of Crab Apple Juice (follow the instructions to get the juice here)

4 Cups  of Granulated sugar

 

Put the apples and sugar in a saucepan and heat slowly to dissolve the sugar.

Continue heating until it reaches 160F / 71C – Do not boil (I used a jam thermometer for this).

Pour into sterilised jars. 

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

The sauce will keep in a fridge for up to six months, but it can be frozen successfully too.

The sauce can also be used to drizzle over waffles, pancakes, hot biscuits and any other dessert you fancy.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

How We Store Our Veg, Preserves, Bargains, etc In Our Little House

Today I thought I’d let you into my home and see where I prepare all our meals and make the jams and pickles etc. and how I store my produce ready for the winter.

Our Little kitchen:

This is my kitchen.  You can’t swing a cat in it.  In fact, if me and my husband are both in it at the same time, we bump into each other.

I don’t have a massive area to work in and the cooker is old, but it works and I’m happy with it.

Every item in the kitchen has to work to keep it’s space.  This means I can’t buy items that I won’t use regularly.

You can see from the picture above that every space has something in it.  In the plastic containers on top of the cupboards I have pasta, bread flour, plain flour, self raising flour etc.  The things I use regularly and buy once a month on my ‘payday’ shopping trip.  You can also see my trusty breadmaker, which really earns it’s keep!

You can see in the picture above that I also keep old glass jars on top of the cupboard and right at the end, near to the window, is my lovely maslin pan, which I use regularly to make jam.

In the photo above, you can see my recipe folder and books.  There are only a few books on my shelf, as I find too many books only actually have one or two recipes in that I use and these books just do not warrant the space they take up in my tiny kitchen.

 This is my pantry.  When I first moved into our house, I thought that it was extremely oldfashioned to have a pantry.  I love my pantry now.

As our kitchen is so small, we actually have our fridge in the pantry!

I store all of my tins, herbs and condiments in here.  It is always full.

My Dining Room:

This is one of my three freezers, that incidentally all sit in our ‘dinning room’.  I know it’s a strange place to have freezers, but we have no where else for them to go, but it doesn’t bother us.

The freezer above is a chest freezer that stores all my allotment goodies.  I know exactly what I have in there, as I have a list where I cross things off as I use them or add things to the list.

The other two have meat, fish and homemade meals in them e.g. spag bog’s, pasta sauces, chilli’s etc.  I also have cakes, scones and biscuits ready for packed lunches and I always make a weeks worth of bread at the weekend and freeze it.

I always leave space in my freezer for any reduced items that I come across too.

Our Bedroom:

Butternut squash sits in my bedroom

We have a very romantic bedroom!

I store my winter squashes in my bedroom as it’s the coolest room in the house.

I even use our bedroom to chit my potatoes at the beginning of the year…I told you it was romantic!

Below is the cupboard where I keep all my homemade preserves

I also have boxes tucked away, that have different things in, that I buy when they are reduced

The only rule I have, is I can only buy things that we do actually use regularly.

“It’s only a bargain if you would use it anyway”

My drinks cabinet – (the bottom of our wardrobe)

Outside in our garden:

In the next photo below, you can see the storage boxes in our garden.  They are ventilated and keep the frost off the produce I store in them.

I keep my potatoes, onions, garlic and shallots in these boxes and also my apples.  If it is frosty, I dig up my swedes and put them in a box of slightly damp compost so I can use them when I want.

This is the greenhouse that I raise all my seeds in.  I really love my greenhouse.

  This picture was taken last year after it had just been given a good clean .

This is where I dry my onions and garlic before I put them in onion bags, to store in one of my three storage boxes in the garden.

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So that is how we store things in our house.

There are still some vegetables in the ground at the allotment over the winter to use as well, so we hopefully will be able to last the long winter.

Thank you for reading my blog today.