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Kitchen Preserves

A lot of people say we have had a lousy summer but for me it hasn’t been so bad. I’m not a one for the hot sun so having a summer without having to try to get to sleep sweating away in bed with pesky mosquitoes buzzing around your head all night, has been lovely. Great Britain is blessed to have such wonderful seasons and being placed where we are facing the Atlantic we have to accept whatever weather comes our way. September is one of my favourite months and it has already lived up to its reputation of providing us with some lovely Indian summer days.

I love the Autumn. I love how September slowly starts to bring in these chilly mornings followed by a glorious warm sunny day to then end as a chilly evening that might need the first fire to be lit. I love the first of the Autumn gales blown in from the Atlantic giving us a timely reminder of what’s to come. I love to see the hedgerows bursting with fruit; blackberries, sloes, haws, rose hips, elderberries, crab apples and rowan. I love to go to farmers markets and greengrocers and see the new Autumn harvests for sale; damsons, plums, greengage, pickling onions, cob nuts, pears and apples. And you really can’t beat walking across a field and stumbling upon some Field Mushrooms or, if you are really lucky, a Puffball or two! Best of all, l love turning my hand to preserving some of these fruits and seeing the jars and bottles in some dark corner of the kitchen lined up, maturing, waiting to be opened on a cold winters day and releasing their summer goodness onto your plate. Right now is as good a time as ever to get out there and start gathering some blackberries and turning them into a few pots of jam and a nice crumble or pie, especially with some nice Bramley apples thrown in.

Some of my preserves and booklets from WW2

In the kitchen its the time to get the preserving pan out again and I have been busy over the past couple of weeks making not only Damson Jam which, by the way, is the best jam l have ever made, but also a few jars of Red Onion Marmalade, Pickled Onions, Sloe Gin, Pickled Pears, Blackberry & Apple Jam and even bottled some Plums. I haven’t tried bottling fruit for years and unfortunately l made the mistake of having the oven too high and literally boiled one of the jars to the point it was bubbling over the brim. Oops…it still formed a vacum when it cooled so should last a little while. I recently bought the River Cottage book on Preserves and can really recommend it.

Of course, back in WW2, preserving foods was not done as a bit of fun but was essential in providing fruit during the long winter months. As well as making jams and chutneys people would have dried, bottled and stored as much as they could. Blackberries were the most common fruit as they will grow anywhere including waste land in inner city areas. In the countryside the pickings were far better as l have already described. The W.I. formed preservation centres in villages up and down the land making tons of preserves for the general public using free fruit that would otherwise have gone to waste. Last weeks episode of Wartime Farm showed how canning was the most popular method of preserving fruit as this needed less sugar than making jam. I really take my hat off to those women of the W.I. who did so much for the war effort and brought comfort to so many.

This wartime leaflet still carries sound advice for anyone today wishing to collect some of this Autumns free harvest. Go on, give it a go. Believe me there is nothing better than going for a walk right now and coming back with a few berries from the hedgerow and turning them into a pot or two of jam.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Cooking, September

 

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Damson Jam….not for the faint hearted

I have just spent the best part of two hours making Damson Jam. I bought the Damsons from a great greengrocers in Bridport the other day as we were passing through.

Bridget’s Greengrocers

I believe its the same one Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall visits on some of his programmes. Anyway, having bought my Damsons, Plums and some lovely Cox’s Apples l decided to make jam out of these lovely deep purple nuggets.

Weighing Damsons

I used 3lb of Damsons, 2 3/4 sugar and 1/4 pint of water.

In a large pan slowly simmer the damsons in the water until the damsons break up and release their stones.Now l am guessing maybe l should have made this jam at the start of the day rather than at the end of a rather hard days work. Standing there and slowly removing the stones was not my best job of the day! Top Tip: It is easier to remove the stones once the sugar has been added as they all rise to the surface, Its still a real fiddly job.

Removing the stones

Bring to the boil until setting point has been reached. To test just spoon a small amount onto a cold saucer and let it cool a little. Push the jam with your finger and if it wrinkles and looks like a skin has formed then it should be set.

Pour into hot jars and seal immediately. I made about 5lb. I hope it sets otherwise it will be lovely with rice pudding. PS The next day proved it had set and tasted fantastic. Well worth the effort!

Did anyone watch Wartime Farm? I thought it had the makings of a great series. The addition of scenes of them sat round a wireless listening to Neville Chamberlain’s speech announcing the outbreak of war and Churchill’s rousing speeches was quite moving. Looking forward to the coming weeks.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2012 in September

 

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Special Delivery!

Well, as promised, the book arrived and on first glance its not going to be a disappointment.

Wartime Farm Book

It is divided into eight chapters coinciding with each episode l presume starting with The Farm at War, Mobilising People, The Home and Garden Front, Wartime Food, Livestock, Home Defences, Make Do and Mend, ….And Carry On.

It is full of rich photographs covering the team as they go about their work along with many wonderful old photographs from that period. The selection of WW2 posters that are included emphasize the feeling that everyone had a role to play if the nation was not to starve. Also included are a small selection of wartime  recipes including this one called Baked Potato Pudding:

Baked Potato Pudding Recipe

Call me old fashioned if you will but raspberry jam, for me, usually goes best between two slices of bread and butter not with mashed potatoes! If anyone out there gives this a try please let me know how you get on with it, or l’ll just have to wait for that episode and see if they tell the truth!

Even the Boiled Onions with White Sauce smacks of yukky school dinners for me so l might have to give that one a miss too. The Gingerbread sounds nice as does the Mock Marmalade using Crab Apples and Carrots instead of Oranges. Mmmmm.

I can’t wait to see the bird-scarer in action. Alex Langlands found an advert in an agricultural magazine from that period and decides to make one from scratch. The results are explosive!

So, don’t forget…BBC2 tomorrow night at 8.00. Hope you are all enjoying this lovely September sunshine. Long may it run.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in September

 

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Wartime Farm BBC TV

I just thought l should remind all you WW2 buffs out there that the makers of Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm are following it up with a new series based during the war years of World War 2, named appropriately as Wartime Farm

Wartime Farm.

I was asked by the publishers this week if l would like to have a review copy. Fantastic, l feel so chuffed! I was explaining to them that l felt l had lost direction with this blog as l didn’t have a veg plot to work with anymore. But, as l have said before, not everyone back in those days had a garden but still wanted to do their bit for the Dig for Victory campaign. I remember my Great Grandmother’s house l lived in as a child for a short while. It was a rambling Victorian mid-terrace with a small courtyard type garden at the back. I used to watch the steam trains go over the bridge at the bottom of the road. I even remember having a bath in a tin bath in front of the fire! The backyard was made to look as best it could with a shed, a small patch of grass and some borders at the side with a mixture of shrubs and roses. I played in those borders for hours and sometimes l still get that smell of the soil that will launch me back to those very early years along with Mrs Pratley’s cats next door! I am sure they had grown some veg back in the war years. Everyone felt they had to contribute in some way to the war effort.

So, back to 2012 and we find ourselves having had an offer accepted on a house close to where l work. Its detached but no real garden only a large courtyard at the back with a graveled area at the front but in a lovely location next to a 12th Century church. We hope to move in by late October. I already have plans for the courtyard and without upsetting my better half will make some nice containers for some veg next year along with some hanging baskets for tomatos etc. My blog will continue along those lines until my name comes up for an allotment in 2075. Ha ha.

So, look out for Wartime Farm next Thursday 6th September on BBC2 at 8.00pm for the next 8 weeks. Can’t wait!.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in September

 

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Small Beginnings

I have decided to add a few bits and pieces to the patio in the shape of containers with herbs and salads. I don’t know about you but l find the small pots of herbs sold in most supermarkets are great value especially if you nurture them on a bit and then plant them up outside.

You have treat them carefully, after all, they have been living a cosy life indoors all their short lives but hopefully they will pick up and continue to produce some lovely herbs over the coming weeks.

I am going to sow some salad crops soon in small boxes, probably the cut-and-come-again varieties.

But what is stopping me from becoming Mr Container Man is the possibility that our landlord might, just might sell us this house! I have no wish to tempt fate but we should know for sure in the coming weeks. It would be too late for me to get on with much in the vegetable garden but l could make great progress in the Autumn preparing the plot ready for next year. I hardly even think too much about it!

Chelsea is with us again but as each one passes l become less and less attracted by the pomp and snobbery attached to the show gardens. It all looks so showroom and a million miles from what the vast majority of us could ever afford even if we wanted such a thing. No, l will be aiming at recreating a 1940′s garden hopefully complete with my own take on an Anderson’s Shelter and with some lawn to keep Mrs Hunt happy, of course! I just have to be patient……….

I

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in May, The garden

 

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Allotment Waiting Lists

How are you all getting on out there with all this rain? Depending on where you live l suppose it makes for some excellent growing conditions. After all, the season started really well and there was no reason not to have the ground prepared for sowing. Or was there?

I have just been to my local Council Offices and registered my interest in renting an allotment. ‘Which one would you like?’ asked the Receptionist. My heart leapt at the thought l was going to be offered one there and then. ‘I don’t mind’ l said ‘Anything you have got. I’m not after a full plot. Just half or even a quarter plot would do’. ‘No’ came the reply ‘Which allotment site are you interested in?’ ‘Oh, er whichever has the shortest waiting list’ l said hopefully. ‘They are all the same. Four years on average. But l will put your name down with them all’. In an act of mental desperation l mentioned my blog that l write and how it is one of the gardening blogs listed with The Guardian on their gardening blog website. But she was having none of it. And l only had 65p in my pocket so l couldn’t even offer a bribe!

And so l am on the waiting list. The four year waiting list! But l have a cunning plan. Me thinks that if l pay a visit to these allotment sites and take a look around at the scruffy ones, then maybe, just maybe they might be happy to go halves with me because it is all too much for them and one of them would be happy to share some of their plot? It’s worth a try. Nothing ventured and all that. I will keep you posted.

One Day!

 This extract l have taken from Mr Middleton’s book ‘Mr Middleton Talks About Gardening’ was actually first published in 1935 so makes no reference to the war ahead.The month is May.

The vegetable marrow bed should be prepared now, and seed may be sown in the south. In the north the end of the month will be soon enough.If you want a few really nice marrows for the show, a good idea is to train them over a sloping framework of some kind. An old gate, sloping from the ground near the plants, to a wall or fence or some other support, four or five feet high, does quite well. Tie the shoots here and there, and then let the young marrows hang under the gate. By this method you get them perfectly straight and evenly marked, and free from slugs or soil blemishes, and they will grow to quite a good size without breaking the stems.

Of course we don’t all happen to have a spare gate, but l’ve no doubt you can fix up a contrivance of some kind which will answer just as well. But whatever you do, especially if you try this on an allotment, let it be something neat and inconspicuous. I should be very sorry to suggest anything which might encourage the use of old bedsteads and other worn out domestic appliances on the allotments. I should like to take this opportunity of appealing to allotment holders generally to be a little more considerate of the public point of view and try to keep the allotments a little tidier than they usually are. I have seen allotment fields recently which, from a distance, look like vast rubbish dumps rather than productive gardens. Surely this is hardly necessary? A little ingenuity and a coat of green paint can often cover up a multitude of eyesores.

Well, Mr Middleton, if l am lucky in my quest, l promise to keep it spick and span and certainly no rusting old bedsteads!

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Allotments, May

 

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Help…l need a veg plot!

Quick update: we have moved again and this time we have a ‘real’ garden. A lovely garden with a shed, mature shrubs and trees which back onto a lovely river. BUT…and there always seems to be a but, this garden is not mine. We are renting and although there is space to have a small plot our landlord does not want me to start digging up his grass for him.

I can’t blame him as we might only be here for 6 months. We would buy this house if he would let us but he has no wish to sell at the moment. So the house hunt continues. It leaves me, however, deprived of a veg plot and at this time of the year my heart is yearning! The waiting list for an allotment is 4 years.

I have been looking at some of your blogs and l am so envious to see your rhubarb, leeks, tomato plants and purple sprouting broccoli etc growing away. My beautiful veg plot is the single biggest thing l miss most about leaving France. Although l must admit to enjoying the extra time off l have from not having to tend to a plot and large garden, on balance l would still like to have a small plot; just enough to grow the basics without it feeling too much of a burden. I have learnt from my mistakes of taking too much on at once.

I have said this in previous posts, but without a real plot to tend l find it difficult to write this particular blog. I could, of course, just write up on Mr Middleton’s experiences in the interim and at least that would keep my blog ‘alive’. It just might satisfy my need to have a plot or it could make the whole situation far worse which is what l am afraid of.

I will give it more thought but what is spurning me on are not just your lovely comments but the huge number of hits l get every day. People are looking in and so l do feel l should not disappoint.I will look through his books again and see what l can come up with!

In the meantime, you lucky lot with budding plots, take it easy and enjoy the fruits and veg of your labours.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in April

 

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