Friday, 30 July 2010

Away from Home

It's amazing what you find on other peoples computers.....watch out Mum and Dad there's a Hacker about!! Look at the size of Betty on this photo and as for Maud and Martha, the Middle Whites.....awww, weren't they little cuties!! As for the dark-haired version of me....no comment! We're off to the Thame Agricultural Show tomorrow, if you're in the Oxford area it's well worth a visit, we're taking the new big pick-up, so who knows what we will come home with!! Whatever you're doing, have a lovely weekend. Sue xx

Thursday, 29 July 2010

It's HUGE!!

Our new farm vehicle, delivered yesterday is sat outside the window watching me. It's HUGE, next to my little Corsa it's GINORMOUS!!
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We've got this to replace both the Landrover and the van. One vehicle to do the jobs of two, much more cost effective and simpler as is our new ethos. It will be a workhorse of the best kind, so I just had to post a photo while it's all clean and shiny, because with our farm track that won't last long!
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I'm off to Manchester in my little car in half an hour, for a lovely couple of days with my Mum and Dad, my boot is loaded up with cabbages and eggs and there's just me to get ready now. The monster will be here with Lovely Hubby as he drives to the butchers to pick up Betty. She will be in large polysterene boxes, neatly packaged and labelled.....not the Betty I knew!!
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Back on Monday. Have a lovely weekend.
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Sue xx

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Nellie and Nora...or the Tale of a Lonely Chicken

My beautiful Nellie, a New Hampshire Red

Sorry for the delay in posting this week, but yesterday whizzed by in a flash of outdoor jobs and this morning, just as I sat down to write this our new pick-up truck was delivered by a lone guy, so I had to nip him to the services so he can hitchhike to his next vehicle pick up (what a life eh....hitching up and down motorways to deliver vehicles all over the country).

~ Still I'm here now and I can finally tell you the tale of the Lonely Chicken. She's in the picture at the top of the post in her usual place just outside the Bantams enclosure, where she sits for most of the day.

Nora and Nellie
We got Nellie and Nora, the New Hampshire Reds, from the farm dispersal sale we went to at the start of summer, as young 15 weeks old birds. They were tiny compared to the other breeds we bought and got mercilessly picked on during their first night in the henhouse. So we put them in with the Lavender Pekin Bantams who were roughly the same age although smaller.
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Caldwell and Nora
This worked fine and the five Bantams and two New Hampshire Reds got on like a house on fire. Nellie worried me from the start, she walks like a wobbly drunk, on legs that don't seem attached to her body properly. She was never in any pain so I left her to grow and made sure she always got her share of the food. Nora looked after her sister and they stayed together at all times. Nora walking slowly so Nellie could catch up, and stopping frequently so Nellie could sit down for a rest. They are huge birds and extremely heavy compared to all the others, they are designed to be meat birds as well as layers, and even the Welsummers who are large birds seem so light when compared to the New Hampshires.
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Caldwell, the Lavender cockerel considered them to be his two large, ugly wives and rounded them up with his other ladies, as is his habit, from time to time. After a while though as they all grew (and in the case of New Hampshires, grew and grew and grew) space got tight in the Eglu and it was doing Nellie and her wonky hips no favours squeezing in and out of the door and being sat on at night, so we made the decision that they would have to learn to get on with the other 'big' birds.

The move to the henhouse went fine, with them soon learning the routines of feeding times and bedtimes, and claiming their places on the roosting bars. They kept themselves to themselves and caused no fuss so they were quickly absorbed into the flock.

And then tragedy!
We were sat in the house one Saturday morning enjoying a late breakfast after all chores had been done, when Caldwell started causing a commotion, we ignored him at first as he is prone to hissy fits when his ladies won't do as he demands. But after five minutes his call changed and it was obvious he wanted something so we dropped what we were doing (chomping on scrambled eggs) and went over to see what was going on.
There on the ground directly outside the Bantam run was a New Hampshire Red......simply dead. No obvious causes, she had just keeled over and died. Caldwell was on his side of the wire looking sad and sounding cross, as if to say "see I told you there was something wrong". He could see we were suitably sorry, so he left matters to us to sort out. Of course we both assumed it was Nellie, her of the wonky legs and ambling gait, but then she appeared from round the corner and we realise it was Nora, the 'healthy' one.
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So Nellie is now on her own.

It's lonely being a wonky chicken when the others see you as a half of pair that lived parallel lives. She has laid claim to one of the nesting boxes to sleep in because now she is fully grown she is heavy on her wonky hips and prefers to sit whenever possible. She is always the first in at night to make sure she gets it, and the last out in the morning so no one pushes her down the ramp. She stands to one side as the mad scramble to the morning food goes on, and takes a leisurely drink while waiting for a clear route to her favourite place by the wire, so she can see her ex-husband and his wives get on with their lives without her.
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We make sure she has plenty of food by dropping little piles of Layers Pellets near her when the others aren't watching, and on a hot day we take her an extra dish of water so she doesn't have far to wander to get a drink. She seems a forlorn bird in many ways but she has her routines and while she is in no pain I will let her live her lonely life, who knows one day we may get a bird who will get to know her and share her life the way her sister Nora did.
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Until then she is Nellie - Our Lonely Chicken.
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Sue xx

Monday, 26 July 2010

Eggs Galore

At the moment we have eggs galore.
Yesterday at the Car Boot sale we managed to sell nineteen dozen. Quite a feat for my laying girls....thank you very much ladies! At last they are paying for themselves handsomely, they will soon have their mortgage paid off at this rate!
Two lovely houses......mortgaged to the hilt!!
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On a completely different note I have been offered the chance to review some products for a company called CSN, they do a brilliant range of home goods, with everything from ceiling lights, to cookware, which for obvious reasons is my favourite section. Lots of lovely well known names including some of my very favourite things (Jamie Oliver cookware, Le Creuset etc etc...). Visit the CSN website using either of the links.
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I already know the products I would like to review, they are vital for all of us self sufficient brigade. Making sure that the goodness we are harvesting now gets stored correctly for those lean, dark days of winter. I am determined this year to save enough of my own produce to make visits to the supermarket a rarer and less expensive occasion. So this chance to review is something I am really looking forward to. Watch this space for details of how I get on.
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Archie next to the Kale bed this morning.

Now, it's back to the harvesting......more Kale...it's a good job we like it. I also have 11 pumpkins romping away in the pumpkin bed, well actually they have commandeered the walkways as well!!

My path is vanishing........

Back tomorrow with the tale of Nellie and Nora.

Sue xx

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Thank you

Just that - thank you, for all your lovely comments and emails of support and to our friends Alec and Margaret, who invited us for supper and gave the day a wonderful end after a very sad beginning. I have to get used to this, but I will never like it and it means a lot to have understanding folk out there. Thank You. Sue xx

Friday, 23 July 2010

There are no words to write......

My Beautiful Betty
There are no words to write that would express how I'm feeling right now.
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We gave her a good life she had grass to dig up, mud to wallow in, trees to lie under, freedom, warmth, food, treats (possibly far too many bananas and avocados) and lots of care when she was poorly. She gave us trust, understanding of a wonderful breed of pig and helped us on our way, on our great big learning curve.
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Thank you Betty.
Betty Berkshire (Hewellgrange Stonebow 338)
9th November 2008 - 23rd July 2010.
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There will be lots of tasty pork and sausages coming from the butchers next week, I'm glad I don't eat meat!!
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My only consolation is that she had such a good life with two owners who loved her and treated her with respect, and her life although short by many standards, was a year longer than most meat pigs get.
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Sue xx

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Argghh....Cabbages.......

You have to be nice to anything SO lovely.......don't you?
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I spent most of yesterday afternoon blanching cabbages. Who would have thought when I read my book and it said 'blanch for 1-2 minutes, plunge into icy water, dry and then freeze'. That it would take SO long!!
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Having no blanching basket didn't help, picking it out of the pan of boiling water with my draining spoon added time, as did the replenishing of 'icy' water on a hot day. The brainwave of using the salad spinner would have been good if the said spinner didn't go and break under the weight of the first batch. So batches had to be smaller and the spinner used with the greatest of caution so that it would not die a complete death before my four huge cabbages had been dealt with.
So that's four big bags of shredded cabbage safely tucked up in the freezer and only another 24 cabbages to do..........!
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First thing this morning while it was nice and cool I decided to plant the last of the 'Sweet Dumpling' squashes from the polytunnel into their final bed. This bed is where the white onions used to live and it has been dug over, manure added and dug in, rested for 2 weeks and now it needs to be back in action.
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So for once I am giving something a little bit more room to grow, I have planted seven squash plants (one is out of shot and a bit bigger than the others), with plenty of room between them. I have carefully labelled them, 'Keep Away from this plant label Rosy 'would perhaps be a better label!
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Watered them well and temporarily covered them, so they don't get a shock after being evicted from the polytunnel. It's gone a bit cooler here today.
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Of course while I was doing all this I had a bit of an audience!
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Today it's more Spinach harvesting and freezing.......Popeye would be proud!!
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Sue xx

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Ooops...you're a Pumpkin!

7.30 am this morning, first harvest of the day
Every day now things need to be harvested, I literally cannot keep up with veggies screaming "pick me, pick me" as I walk past (at least in my mind, they don't talk....yet!).
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I thought I had picked two squashes this morning, turns out after looking at the Kitchen Garden plan in the diary, (a certain little doggie has taken great delight in removing all my plant labels from the veggie beds, mentioning no names....ROSY!!) and it turns out they are in fact pumpkins, so they could possibly have been left to get even bigger. I am not going in the polytunnel I know there are some HUGE courgettes waiting for me!
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So now I'm on the lookout for a young pumpkin recipe to use for tea, any ideas?
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Sue xx

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Busy Bees.......

We're busy the bees and me.

While they were busy buzzing about the lavender as I harvested it early this morning I got to thinking that it's a busy time of year for those of us laying down supplies for Winter. The bees are gathering in their foodstuff just as we growers are gathering in ours.

12 jars of Courgette and Tomato Sauce, some smooth and some chunky.
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Preserving the bounty of Summer for the dark days of the cold season ahead. I don't want to stop eating lovely fresh, home produced foods just because the it's stopped growing in the garden. So as well as harvesting and eating I am making every effort to preserve things as they reach their peak. I just wish they wouldn't all peak at the same time, (Mr Courgette and family, are you listening?)
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On Sunday morning I pulled five large courgettes from three of the plants and then spent most of yesterday chopping and bottling only to find on my return to the polytunnel for watering last night, seven more of equal size that had grown while my back was turned.
A new recipe is called for today I think, or maybe the pigs will get a treat while I move on to the Spinach......
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I left lots of the lavender for the bees to continue having their gathering session, but filled three more vases for drying in the house.
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Lovely, lovely lavender, every year I get more hooked on the beauty and the scent. ~
Off to get the Spinach.
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Sue xx

Monday, 19 July 2010

Knowing your onions..........

Now if I had three like the centre one I'm sure I could win a prize at the Village Show!
I had two lovely readers of this Blog email me privately for veggie and lavender advice over the weekend (if you're reading this I hoped I helped). Now I am always more than willing to pass on my limited knowledge. I love what I do and I hope that shows in the pictures I take and the stories I tell, but I have to say I'm no expert.
I've no wish to be an expert really I just love having a go at new and challenging things. If you tell me something can't be done, I'm the first to see if I can do it!! So if anyone wants to ask my humble opinion on things please go for it, I'll do my best to help. I only know what I have picked up over my long and at times challenging life, but I am more than willing to share any knowledge that is lurking in the dark and deep recesses of my mind.
One thing I have got right this year is onions. The best of them all is the tyre onions. I only planted a couple of leftover onion sets in each tyre and they have grown SO much bigger than the ones in the onion beds. Both the white and the red. Proof indeed that you don't need lots of space to grow your own vegetables.
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Cosily tucked up in their tyres...
I'm not exactly sure why this is the case. Maybe it's the compost rather than soil, or the extra warmth and draught-proofing that the tyres offer newly planted things or just that one watering can full of water is a good measure for each stack of tyres. Or maybe it's all three, but whatever the reason, tyres are easy to get hold of, easy to stack and fill, can be painted if you want them to look posher or even screened with a bit of willow hurdle if you want to be very posh. One thing I know for certain, no matter how much land I have, or how little, I'll always make room for a few stacks of tyres.
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...then strung up by their necks.
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And one last bonus it's a fantastic way of recycling something that would otherwise go to landfill. If you need to get hold of some, ask at your local garage or tyre-fitters. They have to pay to get rid of them, so will usually be happy for you to take some away.
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Sue xx

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Carrots

All the polytunnel carrots are now safely harvested in and tucked up in the freezer, some sliced and some left whole.
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A trayful of sliced carrots ready to be open frozen.
All were blanched briefly, and then cooled rapidly before open freezing. I find this the best way as then the frozen veggies are free flowing, you just have to remember to give them a shake after about an hour or they will weld themselves to your tray, plastic trays are better really as they have a bit of flexibility.
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The only carrots left on the farm now are the three lots in the tyres outside the back door. These are a lot smaller than the polytunnel ones were, so will probably be harvested next month.
I'm going to have a go at planting some more to see if I can get a late crop in.
Sue xx

Friday, 16 July 2010

Change of Plans.....

Today we were supposed to be taking Betty the Berkshire pig to the abbatoir........Betty had other ideas and refused to be loaded into the trailer. Now she is booked in for next Friday. A one week reprieve for a stubborn pig.
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The photo at the head of this post is of the poster that was plastered all over the surrounding towns, on pub, shop, post office, church and village notice boards advertising our Farmers Market last week. Guess who the star of the show was, sat tucking into his bacon butty?
A perfect picture Lovely Hubby enjoying his breakfast after doing an early morning poo run (manure pick up....Charlotte!!) at the last Market in June.
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I'm off to make alternative plans for the morning, Betty is asleep in her ark with a huge grin on her face. Pigs......huh!! ~
Sue xx

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Hawk Eyes

I'm watching you bad birdies.....stop stealing the 'girls' food!
This is one of our latest purchases and an invaluable one at that,. Mr Hawk Eyes spins in the slightest breeze and has big beady eyes and sparkly panels to startle birds. Magpies and Rooks were taking the easy food option and helping themselves to the hens food. No bad thing a bit of feeding the wildlife, but when you have chickens the easiest way for them to pick up illness and disease is from the dropping of other wild birds. So no more, they can go and raid the farmers barn for their breakfast and leave my girls in peace.
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It's working a treat by the way. The odd Magpie that braves Mr Hawk Eyes gets chased away by one of the girls, they are SO much braver when they are in the majority!!
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Today I'm having a day off from 'farming' and going to the supermarket to buy only those things that we can't grow ourselves or buy from Farmers Markets. I will hold tightly to my purse strings, focus on the aisles that I need to dwell in and laugh at the rows of uniform courgettes and tomatoes, lying in their polystyrene trays, knowing full well in my heart that at home lie the weird and wonderful shapes and tastes of our homegrown food.
When I return home I will be 'crafting' away in my little room in readiness for Saturdays Farmers Market and the sales I anticipate...haha!
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Sue xx

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Onions and Bread

Yesterday was a real onions and bread day.
Firstly I looked up on Google how to string onions, and then had a go. After a couple of minutes of figuring it out something clicked and it started to work and I managed to get all the largest of the white onions strung together and looking reasonably neat.
So then I just went for it, using a double length of string tied to the banisters I got all the onions that had been drying in the kitchen strung and ready for storing.
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The onions that didn't have long stems I used in the casserole for tea, and the tiniest ones I covered in salt and left overnight ready to make some pickled onions this morning.
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While the onions were being strung I had the bread rising in its bowl and as that went into the oven I started thinking about making bread. Family and friends have bread-making machines and are having various degrees of success with them, and I have been toying with buying one myself to help speed things up a bit. The I suddenly realised I had never even tried making bread with my Kenwood mixer. It has a large bowl and a dough hook, so I gave it ago. Out came the flour and yeast again and another mix was placed in the mixer, it felt slightly weird to just watch as my dough was kneaded by a machine, but the finished result was amazing. After a little bit of hand shaping it rose magnificently, and baked to perfection after only 20 minutes. In the picture at the top of the post, the machine made one is on the left and the handmade one on the right, the little bun is the sole survivor of six, the others went down VERY well with tea last night!
The taste is divine, slightly lighter than my hand made bread and very uniform, so no, I am not going to buy a bread-making machine, I am going to use what I already have on a regular basis.
Pickles labelled, and ready to go and lie down in a dark room, I think I would need to after being covered in salt all night and then doused in vinegar and spices! I'll let you know if this simple pickling method works in a couple of weeks when we will be able to eat them. And now I'm off to blanch my carrots and transplant my Aubergines. Sue xxx

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A Change of Post... or the Many uses of an Aga...

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Today I was going to post about mornings here on the farm. Giving you the rundown of a typical morning, and I got sidetracked by the Aga.
So the above is not a pretty posed picture, but a true representation of a slice of a working farm kitchen. No pretty CK teatowels hanging on the rail (although I do have them), no pretty jug of flowers set out beside the Aga, that you just know would wilt in minutes if you left them there longer than it took to take a photo, just the general day to day usage of a good farm beast!
Photographing the flour warming for my bread making later this morning I suddenly realised just how many things this hulking great mass of cast iron was doing for me, without me even thinking about it.
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Hanging above it is the latest batch of lavender picked fresh yesterday, on the front are my combat trousers, drying after picking up way too much moisture from the grass this morning on my chicken/piggy feeding rounds. On the top are my socks similarly drying out, and my gardening gloves soaked by an errant hosepipe as I filled the pigs water trough.
The flour is warming, and looks prettily posed but that's just how I do it every time I make bread, if you warm all your bits and pieces it just turns out better and is easier to work. So the mixing bowl is always tipped of its bunches of bananas that usually live in it (for us and the pigs) and washed and left to warm up on top, and the flour is weighed and left to warm at the side, the yeast isn't usually there, but I must have had it in my hand when inspiration struck!
In the kettle the water is kept warm ready for the next reviving cup of coffee, some say you shouldn't keep the water warm this way as it makes your kettle fur up inside, but in this hard water area we fur up anyway, so the kettle is descaled regularly and this isn't really a problem,. I would rather have a quicker cup of coffee.
Aggy the Aga.......a two oven model.
Tucked away in the depths of the bottom oven (the cooler one) I have some chicken bones simmering away to make a stock to add to the casserole I am planning for tea. This I must remember, Agas don't release any cooking smells so things can get forgotten VERY easily. The number of meringues I have lost because they've been left cooking away for 2 days or more I am embarrassed to relate, (luckily the house could never catch fire with food burning as things are sealed in the ovens).
The top oven is empty at the moment and awaiting the bread later, this is the hottest part of the Aga and again it's imperative to remember what you've put in there, I try to remember to use a timer when I'm cooking things that take a while. Next to the Aga is the tray of onions I am drying out ready to string, they sit in the sunshine during the day and on the worktop over night. I shall have to be brave and have a go at the stringing together today, I may show you the results or I may just hang it away from laughing eyes if it all goes embarrassingly wrong. Either way we'll have homegrown onions to eat for the next couple of months.

See......I told you I had some CK.....haha! A photo from last year when we had just tiled the kitchen. Slightly more posed, I had more time then, now you just get slices of life as it happens!

I'm not an Aga expert, just an Aga convert. It was something I dreaded having to use before we moved in, but it all came so naturally. It is a good simple way of cooking your food, it brings out the more spontaneous cook in me and I love it. Something she ticks away doing all the time as well as all the above jobs is to warm our water. We have two huge water tanks full of piping hot water ready to use at all times. Agas don't always do this but ours has been adapted.

The only down side...the heat she throws off all the time.....in Winter so welcome, in Summer....phew!! (We can't turn her off she is oil fueled and to turn her off means a complete service everytime).

I hope you enjoyed your tour around my Aga, now I'm off to start the bread, (and put my trousers on). Have a lovely day.

Sue xx

Monday, 12 July 2010

Kale

Today I am mainly harvesting - Kale.
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Although the picture shows Toby sat up asleep in the sun, guarding the Spinach bed!
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To freeze these type of leafy vegetables for use at a later date simply remove the tough stalks, tear the leaves into manageable sized pieces and lightly steam for just a couple of minutes. Then press into a suitable sized moulds for your future usage and then open freeze. As soon as they are frozen tip into poly bags or boxes and label and keep in the freezer.
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By putting into quite small moulds, (mine are cake moulds) you can remove as little or as much as you need. For example I would take out just one block to add to a quiche, or three or four to use as a main accompaniment for a meal.
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A lovely little recipe for using Kale (our favourite at the moment).
Put a good handful of Kale leaves (remove tough stalks), to steam over a pan of cooking pasta. While this is happening chop some garlic and add it, and a sprinkle of chilli flakes to a pan with some good olive oil, when the Kale is cooked after about 5-6 mins, chop quite finely and add to the pan with garlic. Throw in a handful of grated parmesan cheese and about a cupful of cream. Drain your pasta and add to your Kale mixture. After a good stir together serve in warm dishes with an extra sprinkle of parmesan.
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The aroma in the kitchen and the taste is simply gorgeous........ you can just tell it's full of goodness.
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Sue xx

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Harvesting and Freezing

Today I am mainly harvesting - Spinach!!
I have pulled up all the Spinach from the polytunnel, it needs too much water to be kept in there any longer, but it has been the loveliest crop. Once I had steamed and frozen that, I started on the outdoor raised bed. This is Perpetual Spinach so just the outer leaves can be plucked from the plant and the rest left to grow.
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We now have lots of little 'tablets' of spinach tucked away in the depths of the new big freezer. Once the 'tablets' are frozen I just tip them into icecream tubs and label them. The beauty of freezing any wettish crop this way is that you can just get out the amount you need for any specific occasion. Wetter crops cannot be open frozen the way you can peas or carrots for example. This should keep us going through the winter, in the meantime we will continue picking fresh from the plants as and when we need it. And another freezing session can be arranged if it goes rampant again!
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Oh well......back to the harvesting.......!
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Sue xx

Friday, 9 July 2010

Piggy in the Sun

Maud enjoying the sunshine.
Final chance if you would like to buy her, and sister Martha. Both registered one year old gilts. Going to meat in two weeks if no good breeding home found.

Sue xx