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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!

Greenhouse Shading And Banana Recipes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 I also picked a few of my everlasting onions:

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

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

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

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At home this week:

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

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

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Top Tip:

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

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

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

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

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Super Quick And Easy Banana Bread In A Breadmaker:

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3 over ripe bananas mashed

200 grams granulated sugar

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

2 eggs

270g self raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

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

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

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

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The result is lovely banana bread

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

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Banana Ice Lollies:

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2 Ripe banana’s

3 tablespoons natural yoghurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

60 grams chocolate

2 tablepoons of milk

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

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

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

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

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Put the lollies in the freezer overnight:

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And then enjoy:

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

Have a good weekend!

A Bread Roll Recipe And Planting Cordons

For the last few weeks I have been trying to use up all the things that end up getting pushed to the back of my freezer and cupboards.  So this week I decided to do a great big food shop, as my pantry shelves were beginning to look empty.

So armed with a long list of items that I needed, I began shopping.  I don’t just use one shop, but several depending on the offers and cheapest prices for the products that I want.

There are loads of tips to save money on your food shopping here, if anyone is interested.

So my cupboards are full again.

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I then set about batch baking:

I started by making some spaghetti bolognase sauces using a 750 gram pack of minced beef.

I do worry about the amount of fat there is in minced beef, so a tip I was given many moons ago when I attended a Rosemary Conley class, was to put the ‘browned’ mince in a sieve to let the fat drip away and then wipe the pan with a piece of kitchen paper to remove any excess fat in it, before returning the minced beef back into the pan.

In my bolognese I also used onion, garlic and passata (I made the passata in the summer using the tomatoes I grew).  I also padded it out with a carrot, sliced courgettes, curly kale and even broad beans (that I cooked and pureed first before adding to the mix, so my daughters don’t know they are in there).  I added some tomato puree and a couple of beef stock cubes and finally some mixed herbs.

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I managed to get four portions out of the minced beef to freeze.  It makes a really easy meal for another day, as when the sauce is defrosted I just reheat it in the microwave and then add it to pasta…….or sometimes I use it to make a quick lasagne.

A tip I learned in an Italian youth hostel years and years ago, was always make sure that the sauce is added to ALL of the cooked pasta / spaghetti and give it a good mix.  This way the bolognese sauce goes further than when you serve a ‘dollop’ on top of each persons pasta.

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I also made a large pot of chilli with another 750 gram pack of mince beef and again I managed to get four portions out of it, three of which I froze for another day and one we had for tea with jacket potatoes and it was lovely:

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I also decided to make a lemon traybake for the week ahead.  I love traybakes as you get a lot of cake without messing about too much:

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 I will put the recipe on the blog another time for you.

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And finally I made my usual bread rolls.  Regina who regularly leaves lovely comments on my blog, has asked me for the recipe I use to make my bread rolls, so I have written it below.  I don’t use the ‘posh’ brands of yeast or strong white flour, I use the supermarket own brand that is the cheapest at the time I buy it and my rolls always turn out fine.

I use a bread maker to mix my dough (as it gives me more time to do other things), but I have made it using the same recipe without the breadmaker and it turned out well.

My Breadmaker

My Breadmaker

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Bread Rolls Using A Bread Maker:

1 ¼ teaspoons Easy Bake Yeast

550 grams Strong White Flour

2 teaspoons sugar

25 grams margarine (or butter)

½ teaspoon salt (add more if you like it salty)

360 ml water

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I put all the ingredients into my breadmaker in the same order as above and set my breadmaker onto a ‘dough’ setting.  In my breadmaker the dough will be ready in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

(If I am short of time I sometimes put my breadmaker on a ‘pizza’ setting which mixes the dough in 45 minutes, but the rolls do not rise quite so much this way).

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When the dough is ready, take it out of the breadmaker pan and place it on a floured surface and cut into ten equal pieces:

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Make each portion into a ‘roll’ shape.  I use my thumbs to gently ease the edges underneath each portion, turning and repeating until it’s the shape I want.

Put your rolls onto a greased baking sheet in a warm place until they have risen. I cover mine with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for approximately one hour.

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Bake in a preheated oven Gas mark 5 / 190 C / 375F for 16 to 17 minutes and then leave to cool.

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If I am freezing the rolls for packed lunches etc. then I slice the rolls before I freeze them.  This way I don’t have to wait for them to defrost and I can put fillings straight into the frozen rolls and they defrost in sandwich boxes easily by lunchtime.

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My New Kitchen Garden:

This week I was very excited as my new fruit trees arrived.  I ordered three ‘Braeburn’ apple trees grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks (m26) and three ‘Conference’ pear trees grafted onto Quince A rootstocks.  I will be growing the trees as cordons along the fence at the bottom of the garden.

I haven’t got the luxury of space now I have given my allotments up and so by growing my fruit trees as cordons, I can plant the trees a lot closer together and the fruit will be easy to pick.

I have never grown cordons before and so I used a really good RHS guide to order and plant them.  You can find it here.

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The trees were delivered ‘bare rooted’ which just means that they don’t come in a pot and their roots are bare.  At this time of year the trees are dormant, so as long as you don’t allow the roots to dry out, young trees can be dug up and replanted easily.

I unpacked the trees and put them straight into a bucket of water for a couple of hours to ensure the roots were moist:

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I screwed in wire supports along my fence before I planted the trees, as per the RHS guide. I then dug the holes for the trees.

The soil was pretty awful in places, so I added lots of compost and thanked my lucky stars that I brought the rootstocks that I did (Quince A and M26) which should do well in my awful soil.

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Preparing the soil is the same for any type of bare root fruit tree.  I have a guide to planting bare root trees here if anyone is interested.

I planted the trees and gave them support by tying them to a cane, which was already tied to the wire supports.

I then cut back all the side shoots that were no longer than 10cm, to three buds, again as per the RHS guide.

And now I am keeping my fingers crossed that they grow:

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A bit of good news this week is I spotted my rhubarb growing.  These are two bits that I split from the my allotment rhubarb to bring home before I gave my plots up.  I just bunged the two pieces in the soil, without adding any organic matter as time was short, but I can top dress it with compost another time.

The place they are growing gets no sun what so ever in the winter and it is in partial shade in the summer…..so I will have to wait to find out if it crops well in this position.  I won’t be harvesting any this year to allow the roots to establish and next year I will only pick a small amount for the same reason…providing it grows ok in this position.

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Judy – (Our Problem Dog) – A Quick Update:

I know a lot of people reading my blog are interested in our rescue dog called Judy, so I thought I would give you a quick update (you can read about the problems we are having here if you are interested).

We have been giving Judy the tablets the vet prescribed (Selgian) to help with her excessive anxious behaviour for 2 ½ weeks now and I can honestly say there has been no change in her whatsoever.  However, I have read that it takes 4-6 weeks for the tablets to take effect so I will let you know how we get on.

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We have had another session with our behaviourist and she has suggested that we walk her just twice a week for a ten minute walk, as her stress level is so high at the moment – so this is what we are doing.

Last week I had yet another person shout at me over my dogs behaviour (barking and lunging) and that totals eight people since we brought her home in October, so walking her twice a week will give my nerves a break too.

I so wish people would realise that my dog barks and lunges because she is scared and it is the only way she knows how to show this emotion….I am really hoping that one day I will be able to teach her differently, as when she isn’t scared she is an adoreable, loving dog.

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I hope you all have a good weekend and I will be back next Friday as usual.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

A Cheese Spread Recipe, Hedgehogs & Bit Of A Change….

This is a hard post to write as I have decided to have a little bit of a break from my blog until after Christmas.  We have had a lot going on at home and I need to take time out for a few weeks to concentrate on my family, though I won’t go into detail about this.

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However I will still be posting each Friday with a few older posts that I particularly like and most people reading my blog now will not have seen them.  I will also be around to read and answer any comments that you leave on my blog.

So if you have read any of the posts before, I must apologise and ask you to bear with me.

In a few weeks time things in the ‘Thrift’ household will be changing and I will let you know the details in the New Year when they have been finalised.

Thank you for your continued support.

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(The following post was written and posted on the 19th November 2012):

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A Cheese Spread Recipe And A Beneficial Animal In Your Garden

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We all know that it is good to attract beneficial insects and animals to your garden, but we don’t always know why.  So today I thought I’d look at the Hedgehog, as during the summer I placed two Hedgehog boxes onto my plot.

I hope you find this interesting.

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Interesting facts about the Hedgehog:

  • The hedgehog is a well known UK animal which is sadly becoming a scarcer sight.  It is the only British mammal that is covered in spines, as many as 7000.  When it is in danger, it curls up into a ball to give it protection.
  • Hedgehogs are mostly nocturnal and travel long distances in their nightly forages for food.
  • The young are born between May and September, in litters of four or five.
  • They have been known to live for up to 14 years, but most will die after two years.
  • Hedgehogs hibernate between November and early April.  During this time, their body functions slow down, almost to a standstill and their body temperature drops from 35°C to 10°C. This helps them conserve energy.

  • Before hibernation, a hedgehog should weigh at least 0.5kg to survive the winter.
  • They have poor eyesight but have excellent smell and hearing skills. They can also swim and climb very well.
  • Foxes, dogs, badgers, stoats are all threats to the hedgehog.

Why are Hedgehogs good for the Vegetable Garden and how can we attract them?

Hedgehogs are beneficial animals to the vegetable garden because they love eating some of our allotment enemies e.g. caterpillars, beetles, slugs and snails, that destroy our lovely vegetables.

You can encourage hedgehogs into your garden or allotment, by leaving piles of leaves and twigs around for them to nest in, or by making a purpose built shelter like the one I have in the photograph below.

I actually have two of these boxes hidden in two different places at the back of my allotment plots in overgrown areas, in the hope they will attract a hedgehog or two.  However, you can just make a pile of leaves or grass cuttings in a sheltered area of the garden.  Hedgehogs also love unmown lawn edges as they can find insects in the grass to eat.

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Things that can harm Hedgehogs:

  • Slug pellets containing Metaldehyde can be fatal to hedgehogs, so organic slug pellets are a better option.
  • A hedgehog thinks an unlit bonfire is a really good place to hibernate, so please check for them before lighting.
  • Bread and milk will cause the hedgehog to have diarrhea so do not feed it to them.
  • Hedgehogs may nest in long grass, and are sometimes injured by strimmers and lawnmowers, so check long grass before you cut it.
  • Litter is dangerous to hedgehogs. They can become entangled in plastic rings that hold cans together, or become wedged in empty tins. Dispose of litter carefully and squash all your tin cans before recycling them.
  • Despite all these hazards, the biggest threat to hedgehogs is habitat loss. Over the last 30 years, agriculture has favoured large fields and the habitats of the hedgehog, particularly hedges, have been lost. Pesticide usage also puts pressure on hedgehog populations.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading about the Hedgehog today, I will be writing about other beneficial animals and insects soon.

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Another Recipe To Share

This is a recipe I’ve been meaning to post on my blog for a while.  It’s a recipe for Cheese Spread that my husband and daughter really like.

My recipe costs just £1.10 to make and it has none of the dreadful chemicals and preservatives that shop bought cheese spreads have.

You can add garlic and herbs to it if you want, to make it exactly as you like it.

It’s important you have read all the instructions and weighed out all your ingredients, before you make the spread, as each stage must be carried out immeadiately to make sure the recipe works.

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Cheese Spread

100 grams Margarine

2 teaspoons plain flour

1 teaspoon English Mustard

125ml milk

150g grated cheese (use more if required)

1 ½ teaspoons of Cydar vinegar

1 Egg lightly beaten (just enough to combine the white and yolk, don’t over beat) 

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Fill a bowl of water ready to cool your pan and have all your ingredients measured out as you don’t want your mixture to overcook in between each stage.

Melt the margarine over a low heat.

Take off the heat and mix in the flour and mustard.

Add the milk a little bit at a time and heat until the mixture is smooth and starts to bubble.

Lift off the heat and mix in the cheese and vinegar then return to the heat, stirring until the cheese melts.

Take the pan off the heat and quickly mix in the beaten egg.

Put the pan back on the heat, mixing all the time, until it becomes thicker, (this usually only takes 15-20 seconds, don’t heat for longer or the egg will scramble or the fat will separate). 

 Remove the pan from the heat straight away and stand the pan in the bowl of cold water, still mixing, until it cools.

Put the spread into a covered container and keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.

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I’ve found that different cheeses alter the texture and taste of the spread, so experiment to see which you like best.  I use ‘value’  mild white cheddar, as it’s cheapest, but it’s up to you.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

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. 

 

Courgette Sponge Cakes With Mascapone Cheese & Lemon Curd

Just wanted to say a big ‘thank you’ to ‘Argiolus‘ who identified the caterpillar I mentioned on my blog last Friday.  It is in fact an Elephant Hawk Moth and he has kindly given a link to some more interesting information about the moth here.

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I love receiving comments on my blog, so please keep them coming with your views, questions and answers, etc. which are great for everyone who reads them.

Thank you

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At the weekend Rowley fields allotment society in Leicester had an open day, so we went along.  We saw a wonderful plot (or should I say garden), so I took a photo to show you:

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How beautiful it was!

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This week at home I have once again been thinking about storing my crops, by putting my onions away.  They have been drying nicely for the last three or four weeks in one of my mini-greenhouses.

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I put them in a large netted bag in my storage boxes with my potatoes and they will store nicely over winter, provided I check them every so often for any that have begun to rot.

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At my allotment, my cucumelons are taking over my tomato plants and my poor tomatoes are struggling to ripen!…but dispite this, my polytunnel is heaving with produce:

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This week at my allotment I have been pruning my golden gage tree.  I don’t think it has been pruned for a long time and as a result I found there were a lot of dead, diseased and crossing branches to prune away.

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Also, I have been pruning my lavender bushes that looked so beautiful at the beginning of summer and attracted lots of beneficial insects.

When I attended horticultural college I was told that the council parks department use strimmers to prune their Lavender and after planting my hedge a few years ago, I also use a strimmer to prune my lavender and it works a treat.  Provided I make sure that I leave approximately one inch of the current years growth on the plant, then it grows back lovely the next year:

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I have also been picking lots of tomatoes from my allotment.  I am still expecting ‘blight’ as they succumb to it each and every year unfortunately… but as yet they are still blight free for the moment.  You can read about ‘tomato blight here.

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As well as making tomato and basil soup (the recipe is here), I have been making passata.

Passata doesn’t usually have any seeds in it, however I think life is too short to sieve the seeds out of the sauce, so I don’t.

All I do is wash and chop them in half and then cook them in a large pan with a cup of water.  When they are soft I use my stick blender to liquidise them until there are no lumps.

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I then poor 500 grams worth of sauce into bags in plastic pots and when it is cool I freeze the portions.  When it is frozen I remove the bags from the pots and put the nice rectangular shaped sauces in my freezer ready to defrost and use when it is needed.

I use the sauce in recipes like pasta sauce, pizza sauce or spaghetti bolognaise.

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 This week I have once again been busy making jams and chutneys.  I started with a beetroot chutney to use up the last of my beetroot.  My daughter and sister love this chutney, so I make it every year.

The recipe is here.

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I continued to use up the plums I picked by making more plum jelly and I also made plum ice cream sauce.  I made the ice cream sauce in the exact way that I made crab apple ice cream sauce here, but I just substituted the crab apples with the plums.

It is delicious drizzled over ice cream (especially the home made vanilla ice cream here).

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Unfortunately, I then realised I had nearly ran out of jars and I still have loads of fruit in my freezer to make different jams, etc.  I know if you buy new jam jars they can cost quite a bit of money, so I buy the cheapest jars from the supermarket, use the contents and then re-used the jars.

(Incidentally, I don’t buy pickle jars as the smell is hard to remove).

In the past I found ‘value’ marmalade was the cheapest, but this week the cheapest jars I could find contained ‘lemon’curd’ at just 22p per jar.

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I gave the contents of a couple of jars to a friend and I have been madly using the rest of them myself.

I started by making mini lemon meringues:

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My eldest daughter made a lovely victoria sandwich with lemon curd in the middle:

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And finally, we went to a friends house at the weekend and I took some little lemon curd cakes and I even managed to hide a courgette in the mixture too.  They did taste good, even though I do say so myself.

You can find the recipe below:

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Courgette Sponge cakes with Mascapone Cheese and Lemon Curd:

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6 oz of Margarine

6 oz Caster sugar

6 oz Self raising flour

3 Eggs

A few drops of Vanilla Extract

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 medium courgette

½ Jar of lemon curd

250g tub of mascapone cheese

20g icing sugar, plus a small amount for dusting

The juice and zest from one lemon

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Preheat the oven Gas Mark 5 / 375F / 190C

Peel the courgette, top and tail it and then grate it very finely.

Place the courgette in a sieve just to let any excess water drain away while you are making the cake mix.

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Sieve the caster sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl and then add the eggs, margarine and vanilla extract.  Mix until they are combined.

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Add the courgette and mix until combined.

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If the mixture falls off the spoon easily (dropping consistancy), then half fill muffin cases with the mixture.

(If the mix doesn’t fall off the spoon easily then keep adding a tiny bit of water and mix until it does).

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Bake for 20 minutes and then leave to cool.

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Remove the cake from the cake case and slice it in half and put a teaspoon of lemon curd in the middle

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Mix the icing sugar, mascopone cheese and lemon juice together and then spread it or pipe it onto each cake.

Top each cake with a small amount of lemon zest.

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Sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar to finish off the cakes

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 Enjoy!

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time next Friday.

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.