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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Even more jam again

I've been working my way through the fruit that I collected last weekend.  So I made sloe and apple jam.  I sieved the sloes to take the stones out and then I sieved the apples too so it has the consistency of a spread.  I bought a mouli mill a couple of years ago (from Amazon using e-vouchers that I earned doing surveys) and it really takes the effort out of sieving things like this.  There were a handful of blackberries that went into this jam and the seeds went through the holes in the mill so it is not quite seedless but I love the flavour.

And I've boiled up hedgerow jelly tonight made from the rest of the fruit from that country lane.  I thought the jelly was going to be this year's failure because I boiled it for 55 minutes before it showed signs of setting and I thought the flavour would be spoilt.  The last spooonful went into a little bowl and we can try that tomorrow.  I'm too tired tonight so I'll wait to pronounce judgement.

Last summer I didn't get my hands on any fruit so no jam whatsoever was made - just some marmalade to add to Christmas presents.  I kept all my jars, though, and have added to my collection through the year.  It is just as well, since I've made so much this year.

I'd like to make some apple chutney with some of the windfalls I was given and then I am all jammed/pickled out.  I think most people will be getting a hamper for Christmas this year : )


Friday, September 27, 2013

Present Time

Right now I have recovered a bit of equilibrium.  I was rather (understatement!) down in the dumps when I wrote my last post.

But I've been the happy recipient of TWO presents this week, both from my offspring.  I was just going out the front door on my way to work on Wednesday when my son pulled up in his car, gave me a big bag of baby plum tomatoes from the market in town and then rushed off as he was running late on his way to work.  He'd had to go to a meeting in town the day before and it had finished just in time for him to rush to the market to see if there were any clearing-up time bargains.  My baby plum tomatoes weighed in excess of 3lbs and cost him just £1.  He knows that I love them so he brought his mum a present.

And yesterday, when I got in from work, there was a carrier bag in the hall, left by Mr Nobody. There are only three people, other than us, with a key to our house so the kind person can be found and thanked after a few phone calls.  The bag contained three loaves of my favourite wholemeal bread with yellow stickers on. We get three loaves of bread but it only cost Mr Nobody 4p per loaf.
3 loaves x 4p cost per loaf = 12p expenditure.
I could not believe the price.  4p reduced down from 90p!!!

One of the things that gladdened my heart was the fact that I know that the giver(s) of these presents knew that I would be pleased not only by the gift itself but by the frugality of them. Sometimes you don't have to spent a lot of money to give a gift worth giving.

Maybe my kids were learning at the same time as they moaned about my pennypinching when they were teenagers : )


Monday, September 23, 2013

: (

We went to view yet another house at the weekend.  But it wasn't right. Again. I can't tell you how many houses we've been to see over the last five or six years. If I had a tenner for every one, the financial situation would be less tight! Also, if you worked out how much we had spent on petrol or diesel going to see them, that would be a scary sum.

 We originally made the decision to move to mid Wales but then we started acquiring grandchildren who live less than a couple of miles away.  This means that we see them regularly which we enjoy very much.  I love watching them grow and change and develop new skills. If we moved to mid Wales then we would only see them maybe two or three times a year.  And I would really miss our church. So last year we made the decision to stay vaguely in this area.  The problem is that a house with any sort of land or even a very large garden is silly money around here.  Any house that we can afford will have something dire wrong with it or else the location will be problematic - like the one this weekend.

So I'm getting despondent.  I've worked my socks off building up a deposit and we are on the brink of giving up and remaining smallholderwannabes for ever. We have the allotment and I have my chickens but I would love a field to call my own. And neighbours that don't watch every move we make.

The upside to this weekend is that the lane the house was in had blackberries, elderberries, sloes and crab apples.  And I had some carrier bags in the car.  So I am busy making preserves again.  I have some stewed elderberries dripping through my jelly bag and will make them into elderberry syrup this evening. There were some hawthorn berries, rowan berries and rose hips too, so with a handful each of blackberries and elderberries and some of the crab apples, there will be some hedgerow jelly soon. It is a few years since I got enough fruit from a hedge to do a real hedgerow jelly without cheating. I've been reading that taking a couple of teaspoons of elderberry syrup is really good at the onset of a cold and kicks the immune system into action.  Worth a go!  And it is really nice as a drink made up with sparkling water too.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Even more jam

I didn't get my beans prepared on Saturday.  Instead I made even more jam. On Friday morning, my husband had picked all the little damson like plums from our little tree and some were already starting to go mouldy by Saturday morning so I thought I had better do something with them quickly before I lost them.  There were not as many plums as I had hoped as we had a bit of a storm when the tree was in flower. We didn't get a single plum last year, due to the weather so this small crop is a big improvement on last year : )

Damson jam is my absolute favourite so I made some of that but I also made some damson and orange which is new to me but having sampled some, it may well get added to my list of regulars.  It is also a really beautiful colour.  I wish I had the means to show you the colour but my old phone still keeps going so there is no need to replace it.  Maybe when I do eventually bite the bullet and get a new one, I shall be able to add photos.  I do like looking at other people's photos.

My husband had to go to an examiners' meeting at Cambridge on Friday afternoon/Saturday.  I hate it when he is away overnight and he has several of these meetings with either one overnight stay or, worse still, TWO nights away, coming up this term.  When he got to his hotel in the evening, he found that he had been chosen as "Guest of the Day".  So he was upgraded to an "executive" class room and had a complimentary bottle of wine and two bottles of water in his room as well as a sachet of hot chocolate (which he brought home for me) with the usual tea and coffee things.  He had a free movie that he could watch (usually £7.50) so he was really chuffed as the choice included one that he'd been wanting to see.  He was also given a free packed lunch on Saturday morning but his lunch was already being provided, so he brought this packed lunch home and we ate it for tea on Sunday as it was of generous proportions. And when he got home late on Saturday evening, he was entitled to an evening meal on expenses so we went to the Chinese takeaway run by our friends and had a wonderful meal.  The expenses allowed would only buy one dinner for one person but with a takeaway, I get a treat too.  Doesn't make up for him being away overnight, though!

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Disappearing Days

Hurray - I can post again.  I don't understand why Blogger would not let me post this week.  I was able to type in a title but not anything else.  Ah well, these things are sent to try us, as they say.

I'm not sure where time is going.  It seems to be speeding up somehow.  We've already done two weeks back at school and it is an effort to remember the summer holiday. It feels like some days have just disappeared.

I've made a little more jam this week.  Just 5 small pots of blackberry and raspberry as my husband had picked me a punnet of raspberries from the allotment and they needed to be used up quickly.  He'd also brought me a punnet of blackberries so I made some jam.  I should have stretched it out with a little bit of apple but I was too tired and just wanted to save the fruit before it went off and preparing apple made it seem like too much of a big job.  At least with the berries, all I had to do was pick them over - no peeling. and they cook and set really quickly.

I have a little pile of beans to prepare for the freezer today.  We have one wigwam each of French beans (purple ones - really pretty) and runner beans in the garden and despite on onset of autumn, they are going into major production mode.  I'm not very keen on the beans as a veg once they've been frozon but they are just fine in something like a pasta dish or rice'n'things.

I had a little windfall at work this week as there were two trays of sandwiches going begging.  I was a bit iffy about eating some of them as thay had been sat out of the chiller for several hours and I just don't fancy tuna that has been left out.  However, there were cheese ones which won't hurt.  So we had cheesy bread and butter pudding with home grown veg for dinner and I'll be having toasted cheese sandwiches for my lunch today.  That means a few more of my pennies not spent and two trays of sandwiches saved from the bin where they were headed if I'd not come along : )

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Who pinched my summer holiday?

I'm sure I'm only halfway through my holiday but the calendar says that it is the 1st of September today so that means I am back at work tomorrow : (

I love my job but actually I have a whole host of things that I still want to do before I am back at school. And I've run out of time. Again.  During the year, I look forward to this big long holiday in the summer (5 1/2 weeks this year).  I think about all the things I can do and about taking my time in doing them instead of rushing about trying forever to beat the clock.  Time takes on that childhood quality of seeming to last forever when I am thinking forward to that big, long holiday.  And then I get to the holiday and pfft, it is gone before I've hardly had time to realise that it has arrived.

So what have I achieved in 5 1/2 weeks? Well, there is that nice long list of jams and pickles.  And I've made 3 more:
  • raspberry plus jam (ie I didn't have enough raspberries so I added a little bit of rhubarb and a handful of blackberries. The predominant flavour is raspberry which is my husband's favourite.)
  • lavender and lemon chutney (haven't made this before but I like the sound of it)
  • last of the summer jam.  Jam, not wine...  This is made from a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a small handful of the other - blackberries, sloes, wild damsons (sieved to get the stones out), crab apples, quinces and a small number of windfall apples just to make sure that it set.  It did set well, and it has the most wonderful flavour which can never be repeated because I'll never have just that mix of fruit again.
And the little purple damsony type plums on our little tree are not ripe yet so there will be more.  After not getting my hands on any fruit to make jams or chutneys last year, this year is definitely one of bounty - and of lots of hampers of goodies being given at Christmas.

We did get away too.  Going away is always a problem as somebody has to feed the animals and let the hens out in the morning and shut them up at night because we get a large number of foxes through the garden.  However, my daughter and her family were going to stay at the farm where we often go in February half term.  Since we had never been in the summer, she suggested that we go down for a night and we would all just squash in somehow.  The journey is about 70 miles door to door so it is possible to go down early morning and come back after tea the next night and have two days out but only one night away.  Easy to get somebody to look after the animals for just one night and one morning?  NO!  My eldest daughter was away on holiday and so was my son and we were going to visit my other daughter so none of them could help.  The only person left was my friend down the road but she was going away the day we were coming back.  She could only help if she got a lift from somebody to get her to meet her coach for 6.30 am.  The only person we could find to do that was away on holiday and came back the night before... So my friend saw to the animals on the evening and got up really early to see to them the next morning and get back to her house in time for the other friend to pick them up to get them to the coach for 6.30am.  How convoluted is that! 

My granddaughter was helping with the animals at the farm and as there were no guests booked for the following week, the farmer offered to let my daughter and family stay another week if they covered the basic costs.  My granddaughter was thrilled (mega-understatement!!!) but my daughter had things booked and could not stay all week so we were called into service to granddaughter-sit for 3 nights which was not exactly a hardship : )  My granddaughter is a useful person and was actually of some help around the farm.  How many teenagers do you know who would voluntarily get up at 5am to help with feeding and mucking out? We did not see much of her but we had fun and she had fun too. I also brought home from the farm 4 bantam crosses.  My hens are not laying many eggs at all now because they are just too old so I'm hoping that these will help with that problem when they are a bit older.  They are currently 11 weeks old and will probably start laying about 18-20 weeks old.  They are black with that kind of iridescent greeniness that you get on magpies - pretty!

The following week we went to Plymouth to see my husband's family for 4 nights, which was lovely. On two of those nights, there was the firework competition up on the Hoe and that was marvellous.  We really enjoyed that and were delighted that the firm that won was the one we chose too.  We also enjoyed getting up on to the moor and just pottering around.  Considering that we were on the Plymouth side of Dartmoor, I was amazed that we saw so few people on some beautifully sunny days in August. 

This last week we decided that we needed one more trip out, so we went to Ryton Gardens, near Coventry, which is the home of Garden Organic.  We found some quiet little lanes afterwards where we could stop to have a quiet cuppa on the way home.  It was in those lanes that I got my blackberries, sloes, wild damsons and crab apples for the jam I mentioned above.  It was a good day and I shall remember it fondly when we eat some of that jam in the winter.

So those are some of the things that I have done this summer but there are an awful lot of jobs that I haven't done.  My vacuum has packed up and I went to the shop and can't decide what to buy.  Currys had vacuums ranging in price from £30 to £400+  How do you choose?  So I haven't cleaned my house within an inch of its life as I had intended but just done bits with a dustpan and brush to keep it ticking over.  The fridge is on its last legs but we didn't replace that.  We spent money replacing lots of little bits on the car but haven't yet managed to track down the remaining electrical fault on it.  We did however replace the television as it was ancient and the sound had finally packed up. Can you detect my husband's influence here? He could live without the vacuum etc but not without his tv : )  However, he did gird his loins (literally) and has tackled the blockage in the downpipe from the roof guttering.  He has tried before but this time he has succeeded and managed to remove a large amount of foul-smelling gunk.  In heavy rain, the blockage would mean that the water backed up the downpipe and sprayed out of the joint halfway up the wall.  When I say "sprayed" I mean that it came out with incredible force and hit the bay window 18 inches from the joint with such noise that it was impossible to carry on a conversation.  So that section of wall behind the downpipe is now damp and that is where we have bookshelves on the inside...

And as for the ironing pile (mountain), it has only been reduced to a large hill, whereas I had plans for it disappearing altogether.  And there were all the other jobs.  Ah well, there is always manaña ; )

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