This blog is mainly a rambling kind of diary of the transition from smallholderwannabe to smallholder.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

thrifty thursday

See Angela's blog Tracing Rainbows for the other Thrifty Thursday posts:

This is the last Thrifty Thursday post and I thought I had better witter on about something other than apples, much as I think they are treasure.  If we ever manage to get that smallholding of our dreams, you can be sure that I'll be planting an apple tree or maybe two.

Angela has posted today about a few of the thrifty things she has been doing this month.  I'm not sure how much of a list I could make as my head is full of cotton wool this morning.  Too much time spent on cars and I'm paying for it now.

So what have I done this month?

  • Persuaded my husband to take me into a large Asda that we were passing on our way back from looking at a car in another area of the city that we never normally visit.  Our local Asda is tiddly and carries very few offers or Smart Price items.  I'd been to visit the coupon section of just in case I happened on a large supermarket on our travels. I always carry any coupons around in a plastic wallet in my bag so that they are to hand if needed.  I won't buy anything with a coupon unless it is cheaper than the own brand equivalent and I only print out ones that I think will be useful to save the ink/paper.  This time I won.  I had a tub of Philadelphia at £1.44 with a £1 coupon = 44p, a tub of chilled soup on half price offer at £1 with a 50p coupon = 50p, a tub of Vitalite marg on offer at £1 with a 30p coupon (I like Vitalite but normally buy something cheaper) = 70p, a box of cereal on halfprice offer at £1 with a 30p coupon = 70p.  I also got a couple of packs of basic pasta at 18p which our local Asda does not stock.  And a couple of yellow stickered items so I went home happier as it was yet another wasted carhunting trip.  Go to the moneysavingexpert site and type supermarket coupons into the search box.  It is worth checking regularly in case you happen on something useful.  Have a look on sharonmanc's blog post for Wed 28 September 2011  as there is a link to a coupon for 30p off cheese at Tesco.  The link prints THREE coupons and this cheese is on offer at Tesco on buy one get two free.  One coupon per purchase and the offer is for three blocks so we can use all three coupons.  I bet the shelf will be empty when I get there because it will be the end of the day.  Still, I'm going to try because Tesco sent me a £2 off a £20 spend voucher too : )  Things like this really stretch the budget as cheese keeps for ages in the fridge and is great in the freezer if it is grated.
  • Grow your own.  I've written about this before.  Everybody has room for a tub of something on their kitchen window sill at least.  We have had baby salad leaves for well over three months now from 2 x 29p packets of seeds from Lidl.  They are coming to an end now but we have had freshpicked leaves either in a sandwich or as a salad virtually every day for 3 months for 58p and a pot full of compost.  If the plant starts bolting, then the rabbits and hens love it. nothing is wasted.  I've also grown peashoots from a pack of supermarket dried peas.  I had a reduced pot of parsley from the supermarket which I repotted into something much bigger and I've had fresh parsley all summer and will have some chopped and frozen in icecube trays in the freezer for the winter.  I was given a root of mint which was potted up and is really growing well.  I keep chives too and they will last for two years before needing to be replaced.  The flowers from chives are really pretty and can be added to salads as well.
  • Try me free.  There are always a few of these around.  Again I keep an eye on the relevant thread on the moneysavingexpert forum for these.  I'm a bit choosy about these as I can't justify lying about them just to get the product free (or for the cost of a stamp).  I really like the ones where you can write a for or against opinion and get to try the product.  This month I tried Onken yoghurt which was far too sweet for me and Smooth and Soft shampoo which left me far from smooth and soft.  However, it will benefit somebody in the family.  Currently there is a TMF on Heinz mayonnaise but I haven't tried that one yet.  Every little helps : )
  • I've made jam and chutney and marmalade.  I've made enough to keep us in jams etc for the year plus lots to give as presents.   I find that a jar of jam goes down very well as a thank you present when somebody goes out of their way to be helpful to me such as giving me a lift to work when my husband has a meeting elsewhere and can't take me.  There are lots of occasions of this nature and a jar of homemade jam costs very little but sugar and time (and gas) but is worth far more than the cost involved.  I now have several people who would be very disappointed if they did not receive a homemade goody box at Christmas.  My kids love having a jar of something a bit different in their Christmas stockings.  They might be all grown up but they love getting their stockings although now it is one per family rather than one each. I still have mint jelly to make if I can get some time off from carhunting.  I still have a bag of windfalls to sort and my mint is flourishing. 
  • Birthdays and Christmas:  I buy things for people when I see something suitable in order to lessen the cost.  There is never anything at a reasonable price just coming up to Christmas that would be appropriate for that particular person.  Of course that means that I have to remember in which safe place I stored it : )    I also make lots of presents too.  I enjoy that so it is not a chore to be thrifty in that way.
  • Stretch meals as far as possible.  There are many posts along the lines of rubber chicken. I find my chicken is usually more "elastic" than a lot of those from such articles but then I don't like a huge portion of meat.  I'm also a dab hand at soup made from any leftovers in the fridge.  We never finish a pan or something up purely for the convenience of having an empty pan when the last small portion of the contents can go towards a soup or a sauce over pasta.  Some of our nicest everyday style meals have been made from an assortment of leftovers that just went together well - and are unrepeatable too. Serendipity.
I'm sure there is more that I could write but I can't think of any more now.  If something occurs to me that I think really ought to join the list, I can always edit later.

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    We've been looking at cars and then looking at more cars and then looking at even more cars.  We've spent hours looking at possibilities on the internet and then gone and clocked up lots of miles actually viewing quite a few of them.   Cars that seem quite reasonable in pictures on the screen turn out to have lots of bumps and scratches or other things wrong with them.  Bit like viewing houses really, and comparing the house particulars with the reality.

    Our time with the courtesy car is coming to an end and we have narrowed our choice down to two cars. I don't like the rush with which we have to spend all this money.  I want to take my time and be sure that I'm getting the best value we can but life doesn't always allow us to do what we want.  Actually I want my nice, friendly, ancient Audi back but I can't have it.  And the more cars we view, the more I want my Audi back.  I guess that I'm panicking at spending so much money if I'm being honest.

    I'm MUCH better at being frugal than I am at spending my hard-earned savings.

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    It has been a funny old week.

    On Sunday, we were turning off a main road into a minor road when a teenage boy sprinted out of a shop and straight across the road in front of us. We only just managed to stop. Had we been driving at any more than “turning” speed we would have hit him. Took me ages to stop shaking.

    Then on Monday we left the car parked at the side of the road and somebody coming the other way in a Mercedes lost control, hit the car in front of ours (Volvo), which sent that car into our Audi. Our poor car was bounced right across the road and into a tree. All three cars are write-offs. Amazingly the driver got out unhurt. It was so fortunate that nobody was in the two parked cars. So we now have no car. Ours was a 15 year old Audi which was reliable and did everything we asked of it. It was still a comfortable ride which is important.  They will give us peanuts for it because it was so old and it will cost £thousands to get a new(er) one. They say that it would cost over £4,000 to repair ours so it is an "uneconomic repair".  Even with the front and side all stove in, the guy who came to collect it started the engine (started first time as always) and drove it up on to the transporter.  Grrrr.

    My husband is away with work for a couple of days so we can't go car hunting with the courtesy car until he comes back.  I hope they let us keep it for a few days yet or we'll have problems getting to look at cars.  We are undecided whether to get another estate or go for something smaller.  A smaller car would not necessarily be more ecomonical to run as most of our journeys are under 3 miles although the tax would be cheaper.  An estate carries all the camping gear, vast piles of sacks of hen and rabbit food, stuff to and from the allotment etc.  My husband wants another estate and I am the one muttering about "small and economical" "easier to park" and such like.

    Still feeling grumpy.

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    thrifty thursday

    See Angela's blog Tracing Rainbows for the other Thrifty Thursday posts:

    This is harvest season when we gather in the remains of everything we worked hard to grow over the summer.  It is also a busy season storing as much as we can for the winter.  Freezers help but cost lots to run.  I like to save the freezer space for things that I can't preserve in other ways, such as meat and veg rather than fruit.

    Apples and tomatoes can both be bottled without the use of expensive Kilner jars and those replacement rubber rings or metal lids.  Jam jars with good lids will work just fine. 


    There is a lovely post on bottling tomato sauce (in jam jars) at Our new Life in the country blog.  It is the post for 5 September 2011 and is entitled Preserving the Gluts.  When I get my hands on enough tomatoes, you know what I'll be doing with them : )

    Apples (again!):

    There are several posts that I have read with interest over the last few years.  It was a reference in a post by Frugal Queen that started me off and I find that lots of people bottle apple for the winter in jam jars.  With the addition of sugar and lemon juice, apples keep well when preserved by this method.  Other fruits need the more expensive route of proper Kilner jars etc.

    Rhonda Jean:

    Cottage Smallholder:

    A really good reference guide can be found on the website:

    I used this site as a guide for the times for the water bath to process the jars of apple.  This year I would like to try using the pressure cooker as a way of cutting down on my use of gas.

    This is my fourth post on using apples.  Anybody would think that we liked apples in this house : )

    Edit: the font sizes seem to be jumping around a bit today.  What is published looks different every time and is different to how it looks on the draft version which I typed up.  Sorry!

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Saving time and money in September

    See Angela's blog Tracing Rainbows for the other Thrifty Thursday posts:

    This is another post on Friday rather than Thursday.  I started this post yesterday and then couldn't find my sheet of paper with the apple cake recipe.  By the time I discovered where I had put it, I was too tired to type it up.  At least I'll have a copy on the computer now.  This cake uses a few almonds and they really add something but you could leave them out and add a little bit of cinnamon and I'm sure this would be still be really tasty.  This recipe was given to me by a friend years and years ago and has stood the test of time.
    Now, continuing the theme of apples.....

    Apple Cake

    8 oz SR flour
    8 oz caster sugar (I use granulated)
    5 oz melted marg (microwave)
    2 large eggs, beaten
    1 teasp almond essence
    1 teasp baking powder

    Round 9" x 2" cake tin, base lined and greased (I'm a big fan of loaf tins rather than round because they cook quicker and I can get two in the oven at the same time)

    Put all the ingreds in a large bowl and mix well until smooth.
    Spread half the mixture over the base of the tin.
    Peel, core and thinly slice 12 oz apples (pref Bramley) over the mixture. 
    Put rough spoonfuls of the remaining mixture on top. 
    Sprinkle with some demerara sugar and flaked almonds.
    Bake at 325'F/160'C/gas 3/fan oven 150'C for 45-50 mins until pale golden and shrinking from the sides of the tin.
    Cool slightly before removing cake from tin.
    Serve warm with ice cream or cream or Greek yoghurt (my favourite, yum!) or just eat a slice cold.
    If there is any left, I'm told that it is probably best to store it in the fridge.  I don't know how well it freezes because I've never had enough left to try : ) as I usually make it when we have family or friends round.

    Still on the subject of cake, this is a recipe that I got from years ago and is now a standard in this house.  It is very quick and easy to make and is economical on the gas since you get two cakes and if the oven is already on for something else, that is even better.  My cooker is over 30 years old and if you fill the oven too full then the heat distribution is very uneven and some things don't cook properly.  So I have one thing prepared to pop in the oven as soon as the last thing is out.  This cake freezes well and we tend to freeze one and a half of them, cut in slices and two slices in a bag (600 bags for £1 from the £ shop) so that there is not too much tempting cake around to say "Eat me" when we have a cuppa.  This cake has been made with grated apple (and a bit of cinnamon or apple pie spice) instead of bananas and with chopped plums too.  It is great if you add a spoonful of coconut or sunflower seeds to the banana.  I've even added cranberries to the banana and given it as a Christmas present.  You could drizzle some melted chocolate on top if it is a cake for a special occasion.  I think that I'm saying that this cake is versatile : )

    Banana Cake

    Makes two loaves...

    6oz soft butter or margarine

    9oz caster sugar

    3 eggs

    4 mashed bananas (the riper the better)

    12oz sr flour

    1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

    3 tablespoons of milk

    Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line tins with greaseproof paper.

    Cream the margarine and sugar together, then add the eggs and mashed bananas.

    Next add the flour, baking powder and milk and fold into the creamed mix.

    Pour the mixture into the lined tins and bake in the centre of the oven for about 45 minutes or until they are a light brown colour.

    Turn them out onto a baking rack, remove the greaseproof paper and leave to cool.

    Thursday, September 08, 2011

    thrifty thursday

    See Angela's blog Tracing Rainbows for the other Thrifty Thursday posts:

    Another post about apples.

    My husband is very fond of cider so if we have been given more apples than I want for jams and pickles and stewed apple for the freezer or bottling, then he gets to make some Cottage Cider.  I have to admit that some years it is brilliant and some years it is not quite as good but we've never had a year when it was undrinkable - and it is sooo easy.

    Cottage Cider

    Ingredients & Method to make one gallon of cider:

    Chop up about 8 - 10 lbs of apples - any will do, and it's a good way of using up windfalls.

    Discard any really bad bits, but a few brown soft bits don't hurt the finished product.

    Put in the peel and cores as well. Chop into a large fermenting bin or similar.

    Pour over 1 gallon slightly warm water, and add 2 large handfuls of sultanas, raisins, or other dried fruit. (this is not essential, but helps to give a bit of "body" to it; works equally well with or without the dried fruit).

    Set one tablespoon dried yeast (I use ordinary bread yeast) with one tablespoon sugar and warm water in a jug, and leave to froth.

    Meanwhile add 1 1/2 - 2lbs sugar to the bucket of apples and water; stir to dissolve.

    When the yeast is working, add to the bucket, stir well, cover with tablecloth or large towel and leave for about 10 days or so.

    Press down the fruit and stir well every day.

    When ready, remove apple and fruit, strain the liquid and put into demi-johns; ferment out like wine, then bottle or barrel.

    Ready to drink in about 4 - 6 weeks

    I originally got this recipe from the ACL forum:


    Friday, September 02, 2011

    I have news!  One of my new hens has just laid its first egg.  I can't tell you how thrilled I feel when I have new little hens and find the very first egg -  small but perfectly formed.  I rushed back in shouting to my husband that "They've laid an egg, they've laid an egg!".  The neighbours, unaware of the new garden inhabitants, must have thought that finally, I had lost the remains of the plot.  After all, what else do I expect hens to do?

    This has come at a good time because the other main group of my laying hens has come over all autumnal and the number of eggs has dropped a lot this week.  Two weeks ago they were laying 5 or 6 a day and this week it is down to 2 or 3 - from 6 hens.  I shall have to go round apologising to all my customers next week as they will be on rations again until the new hens really start laying.  I'm glad that I am not dependent on the egg money for income!  The money earned from the eggs laid by the younger hens subsidises keeping the older hens as just pets.

    The school chicks have grown lots.  They are 9 weeks old today.  The two bigger ones have gone from 50 - 60g at hatching to 1075g (I think this one is female) and 1190g (I think this one is a male and may well have a nasty fate in store...).  The little bantam has gone from 35g to 595g (jury is still out on male/female).  That is a lot of growing in just 9 weeks!  And an incredible amount of food eaten too.  They have got through 11Kg of chick crumbs and a third of a 20Kg sack of growers pellets.  Now that they are bigger, I've started giving them just a bare teaspoonful of mixed corn when I give it to the others and they really love it and get really excited when they see me coming with that tub.  Being young still, I don't like to give them too much in case their digestive systems aren't quite up to it yet but it keeps them occupied for ages checking over their run in case they missed a bit somewhere.  And keeps me amused just watching them.
    thrifty thursday

    It is Friday today but I'm pretending that it is Thursday so that I can join in with Thrifty Thursday and Tracing Rainbows and all the others.  There is already a huge amount of talent signed up for this but I thought that I must be able to find something to add.  So I am.

    I have managed to add the logo above so I am feeling pleased with myself.  I have no idea how to add it to my sidebar but at least I have included it in the text.  This is a Big Step Forward for me : )

    My mind has been on apples a lot this week so I thought I would say how I squeeze the most out of the apples that come my way.  It is apple season and I really quite envy those fortunate beings who have apple trees and particularly those whose trees produce keepers.

    I have managed to acquire a large carrier bag full of windfalls this week and have been steadily processing them.  I emptied the bag (gently!) into a cardboard lettuce tray so that I could see what I had and starting processing with the most bashed apples first.

    I tend to sit down to do this and preferably with a good tv programme/dvd (borrowed not bought) on so that all this becomes less of a chore.  I surround myself with several bowls and tubs, one each for :
    • nice apple pieces - stewed for either bottling or freezing for the winter although occasionally some bits get sidelined into an apple cake
    • nice pieces of peel and cores - these are put in a saucepan and just about covered with water, cooked and drained through a jelly bag to provide apple juice for making eg blackberry and apple jelly or sloe and apple jelly or jelly made with apple and a handful each of elderberries, sloes and blackberries which is just wonderful for its flavour.  The apple pulp remaining after straining through the jelly bag can be put back in a pan with half the amount of water for the second boiling and then strained again to squeeze out a bit more juice.  The juice from this second boiling and straining is weaker so I always add it to the first straining. Then the pulp is sieved and added to the stewed apple above.  Anything left from that sieving is given to the hens who think it is a treat, bless them.  Last year I made marmalade from a tin of Mamade and added in a pint of this apple juice and an extra pound of sugar.  By doing this, I got an extra 2 x 12oz pots of marmalade just for the cost of the sugar really - very useful as presents.  And best of all, my husband really liked the resulting marmalade and asked if I could do that again. 
    • slightly substandard pieces of apple/peel/cores which I don't deem good enough for human consumption are eaten by the rabbits and if there is enough the hens get some too
    • and lastly the biggest tub is for the grotty, wormy, bashed up, bruised or worse bits which get put into my wormery.
    Not a lot is wasted!  Apples are treasure as every bit can be used - even the really grotty bits feed the worms in my wormery who turn them into high grade compost which helps to grow the other veg : )
    I have to admit that I wondered if I would be quite so thrifty if I was the proud owner of a prolific apple tree but then I realised that the animals would just get a bigger share and that other treeless people would be able to receive bags of apples from me.  I might even get to be like the folk with too many courgettes who drop the bag on somebody's doorstep, ring the doorbell and sprint round the corner as quickly as possible.  I'd like the chance to find out!