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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Making Marmalade

There are a lots of blog posts around at the moment on the subject of marmalade.  I've only once made marmalade from scratch with Seville oranges when a Spanish girl (from Seville itself) stayed with us and brought me some as a present.  She told me that the orange trees grow along the roadside and people can pick them if they want to, much as we do with blackberries.

Seville oranges are in the shops around now but they are pretty pricey so I thought I would post about how my friend makes marmalade. She uses a recipe that was in an ancient copy of one of Marguerite Patten's books.  She always uses this recipe and because it gives a fairly soft set, she adds half a tin of Mamade with the appropriate extra sugar and water. This guarantees a reasonable set.  You need to stir the Mamade before taking out half.  The other half will freeze if you don't need it straightaway.  Add the Mamade, extra sugar and water at the point where you add the sugar to your cooked oranges so you have it all together ready to bring to the boil towards a setting point.  This is another way of stretching the pennies because sometimes you can pick up a reduced price net of sweet oranges in the supermarket.  The combination of the flavour of the sweet oranges and the Seville oranges in the Mamade is really lovely. You do need a big jam pan or huge saucepan to accommodate everything, though.

To stretch the pennies even further, I have often added a half pint of apple pectin stock to the above mix along with an extra 8 ozs of sugar.  The result is a slightly more jelly-like texture but the flavour is still very good.  This produces an extra pot of marmalade really for the cost of the sugar because the apples were free windfalls.

One last point - I have tried this using a pressure cooker to reduce the cooking time and therefore the amount of gas used.  Shirley Goode said in one of her books that the anount of liquid should be halved by the end of the cooking time.  So I tried cooking the oranges in the pressure cooker with just one pint of water and it worked really well.  I ended up with the quantity of marmalade that I was expecting and the orange peel was cut up in a fraction of the time using scissors. Result!

Sweet Orange Marmalade

1 lb sweet oranges
2 pints water
2 lbs sugar
juice of 2 lemons

1   Cut or mince oranges finely, removing the pips
2   Soak peel and pulp overnight in the water, together with the pips tied up in a piece of muslin
3   After soaking, put fruit, water and pips into a covered pan
4   Simmer slowly until peel is quite soft
5   Take out bag of pips
6   Stir in warmed sugar and lemon juice (Add the Mamade, extra sugar and water at this point)
7   Bring marmalade to the boil
8   Boil rapidly in an uncovered pan until setting point is reached. This will take about 20 mins but start   testing after 10 mins.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

More trouble...

They say that troubles never come singly and in this case, they (whoever "they" are) are right.

Firstly, my beautiful little rabbit died at the beginning of the month.  He was a little rabbit that I rescued.  He had not been well looked after in his first home and he never quite got over that.  He was a chestnutty colour with apricot eyeliner and was extremely handsome. He had become pretty deaf and almost blind of late but could still show a great deal of pleasure when given a dandelion leaf or a piece of apple : )

Then some horrible thing killed my four new little bantam crosses last Wednesday just when they were at the point of starting to lay - see 2 posts back.  And the same day my favourite old hen died of old age.

My husband has been at home recently recovering from a very nasty chest infection that has upset his asthma dreadfully. Last Friday afternoon, he got a phone call from our vet asking about our cat.  She had been home the usual length of time, asleep in front of our new woodburner which she absolutely loves. Then she popped out into the garden and decided to go for a walk. The vet said that a local lady had picked up our cat (she is chipped) and taken her to the vet saying that she had found a stray!  So my husband had to get to the vet and bring home our cat. The vet told her that this cat lived locally, had an owner and that she had no right to do anything with my cat and that she must not feed her.

Can you believe it?  Well, it gets better!

The cat spent most of Saturday curled up on top of or beside me, purring away contentedly.  Then, when it was getting near teatime, she popped out into the garden again - and I haven't seen her since.  I lost count of the number of times that I was out calling for her.  This morning my husband went back to the vet and asked if they would contact the lady again to see if she had my cat.  Well she had - and said that my cat was ill, that we were not taking care of it because it was round at her house asking for fresh chicken again.  Since we were not taking proper care of this ill cat, she was going to take it to the PDSA!!!  We reckon that the vet must have put this lady straight on a few things because my husband was allowed to go and collect her at lunchtime.

My cat is 15, has always been slimline and has a permanent tummy condition which the vet is aware of and she needs suitable food little and often to prevent nasty smelly happenings from both ends.  She just needs careful looking after to keep her as healthy as is possible for as long as possible.  I probably mentioned in my blog last summer about spending over £500 on this cat at this vet's surgery...

I can't tell you how annoyed I am with this lady.  How dare she interfere with my cat.  At least I know now why my cat's tummy problem has flared up again this week!

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Friday, January 17, 2014


Well, I'm back but with what a bang.  I'm still really upset about the things from the last post.

I've been missing in action over Christmas mainly because what with Christmas and church activities and friends and family, there was not much time left for blogging. And by New Year, both my husband and I had gone down with colds that developed into chest infections so there was no inclination for blogging. My husband is still real poorly because his asthma was badly affected.

The dream of moving to a smallholding not far from where we are now is getting a bit frayed round the edges.  Just can't get enough money together for this area.  We could move to our original dream destination of mid Wales but then we would rarely see the grandchildren.  So it seems to be coming down to a choice between family and dream.

We really need to sort out the heating in this house. So, just before Christmas, we spent Serious Money - and got one of these:
This is not an actual picture of ours but it is identical to this.

The cut off date for us to be able to get a mortgage was really last summer. Wherever we went, we wanted a multi-fuel stove, so for the last year, every time I saw a bit of wood, I picked it up and brought it home.  I've brought pallets home from work too.  So we have quite a store of wood now and we can burn the wood that we collected earliest because it has dried.  We will have plenty for this winter and due to school wanting a fallen tree removed (we volunteered and school were happy because it costs them nothing for us to take it away) we will have plenty for next winter and probably into the winter after - by which time I shall have picked up plenty more.

So we had collected the wood which we thought we would be taking with us to a smallholding to start us off. Instead, we are burning it here.  It is soooo nice to be able to sit in a warm room : )  It is not a cheap option to put one of these in but it should make heating the house easier as we get older.  When we get too old to go chopping wood, we'll just have to buy in small logs but by then the price of gas or electricity will be astronomical and the logs will still hopefully be cheaper.

We are not the first in our road to go down this route.  I know of at least 5 other woodburners here.  We'll all be competing for the twigs off the trees in our road for kindling : )

So far we haven't cooked a meal on it but on three occasions we have reheated soup and I have made soda farls.  We also have a kettle on it and a couple of large flasks which we fill when the kettle starts to sing.  If we want tea, for which it is better to have boiling water, then we put a couple of cups of water from the flasks into the electric kettle and it takes seconds to boil again.  There is always enough water left in the flasks at the end of the day to fill the hot water bottles. My friend down the road prepares soup or a casserole and brings it to boiling point on the gas cooker and then leaves it to cook on her woodburner.  I'll have to give this a go.

And best of all, the heat filters up through the house and everywhere feels warmer.  The washing dries within a couple of days and I have "finished off" just one load in the tumble drier since the middle of November.  I know that I won't recoup the cost of the woodburner and the fitting but I can see that the gas and electricity bills will go down (at least in terms of units used) and that is a very good thing.  But it is the warmth that I am enjoying most : )


Thursday, January 16, 2014


Yesterday my favourite hen died - of old age and decrepitude.  She wasn't ill, just old.  She had a difficult life and overcame a lot of hen style obstacles, had lots of character and was a good and reliable layer for several years. She was nearly gone yesterday morning so my husband went out yesterday afternoon to move her body from the henhouse before the others went in and disturbed her.

Passing by the run with my new little bantams in it, he spotted that something had got in and killed them.  I'm so upset.  It wasn't a fox because there was no fox size hole and the wire sides and floor and roof were undisturbed. There was a little hole under the wire flooring beside the house so it must have been a big rat. I don't know that a rat would have killed all four of them, though, but I don't know what else it could have been. The worst thing was that I went out with my husband to pick up the bodies when I got home from work and one of them moved her leg - she wasn't quite dead but had been lying there all afternoon.  We had to help her go but the thought of her lying in pain all afternoon beside the bodies of her sisters was really upsetting.

We will be acquiring some rat traps asap!