Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Last of the Apples

Hello Friends!

Just the other day, I mentioned to someone how more like Winter our weather is right now. Much of the rest of the country is experiencing the hottest September on record, with a high of just over 34 degrees Centigrade {that's about 100 degrees F} recorded this very afternoon in Kent, while here in the west the winds are 40 mph and it rains buckets full. As the weatherman said at midday 'The South of England roasts and, typically, the west is cold and wet' which just about sums it up.  I'm glad he said 'typically' ~~~

As I type, there is a lamb casserole in the Crock Pot. Many of you know I am vegetarian, and this is for my Mum. I admit, it isn't complicated and that is just as well because I can't taste it to check for seasoning so I really have to wing it when I cook Mum's ready meals for the freezer.  I am such a chicken {not a pun} and buy trimmed and diced meat from the supermarket so that I don't have to handle it. I just open the box and put it in, along with stock and vegetables. It has been so long since I ate, or cooked, meat that I can't remember much about it now. This week, after it's quarterly defrosting and clearing out, the freezer is being well restocked with hearty, warming and nutritious casseroles {both meat and vegetarian}, as well as lots of Apple Sauce, fresh picked wild blackberries, and more. I love this time of year, preparing comfort food and puddings for the Winter freezer more than any other.

I was speaking to my neighbour over our shared fence this afternoon and she confirmed my suspicions that the blackberry pick just isn't as good as usual this year.  Summer was simply too cold and dry, and this is probably to blame. I'm still picking what I can daily and freezing them and will decide what to make once the season is over. However, if you have plenty and would like to get a really delicious recipe for a scrumptious Blackberry Roll then pop over to the blog of my good friend Martha Ellen's The Joy of Home with Martha Ellen where you will find the recipe ~~~

I have put off decorating, but as September is now midway through and the Autumn Equinox is in a few days, I think it is time to bring out the boxes of Autumn decorations.  I am honouring the imminent arrival of Autumn by making a recipe from my Susan Branch "Autumn" book called Cranberry Apple Crisp.  I am not sure if I can, due to copyright reasons, share the recipe, suffice to say {for my British readers} it is very similar to a Fruit Crumble, but if you own a copy of "Autumn From the Heart of the Home" by Susan Branch, you can find the recipe on page 95.

Here it is ~~~

Getting the ingredients together with my green glazed Mason Cash bowl 
I used frozen cranberries, thawed, and a few blackberries that were to hand ~~~

Ready to work in the butter with my pastry blender before finishing by hand ~~~

Ready to bake on a tray in case it leaks! I used wholewheat flour so it looks quite brown before baking

The finished dish 
Nicely layered with plenty of topping and fruits

This will be pudding tonight served with a warm custard sauce ~~~ delicious!

Not much is happening in the garden, but I'm hoping the blackberries will continue to produce some good fruits for the next few weeks ~~~ there are plenty of buds and blooms  ~~~

but already the leaves are starting to turn colour ~~~

Until next time

Friday, 2 September 2016

Have You Noticed?

Hello Friends ~~~

Have you noticed that Autumn, the most blissful season of all, is here?

Quietly she came, and began whispering in my ear some weeks ago; the quality of light is softening daily as the sun drops closer to the horizon; the days are noticeably shorter; nights are drawing in; curtains are closed earlier now; the heating is needed to take the chill off the early morning and late evening air; the hedgerows and trees are offering up their ripening fruits; the world that dwells far above the Equator prepares to slow down and rest.

Although the air feels Autumnal, and the light is Autumnal, the trees and fruits seem still a little way behind, but here are some photos of what is happening in and around and near my cottage ~~~

Rosa Rugosa grown into rich ruby red hips

Japanese Wind Anemones fill my borders

Won't you join me on a gentle stroll around the valley this pleasantly warm and sunny Autumn afternoon?  Let us take a peek and see what is happening as we traipse along the high~hedge boundered byways of the Shire ~~~

A trout lies well camouflaged on the muddy river bottom

Leaves still wear the green of Summer and show no sign of turning yet

Conkers ripening high up on the Horse Chestnut Tree

View from Pen Lan looking up the river valley to the village

I think he might be stuck! He certainly chewed up the surface of the lane!

Looking down the river valley all is lush and verdant green and out of site the ocean lies

The winding shady lane that leads back to the village and a blue sunny sky

The stream is low in water and is nothing more than a trickle

Crab Apples ripening for jam and jelly making

My favourite Autumn fruit ~ Blackberries ~ deep juicy jewels ~ gems of goodness
A net of spiderweb covered in dewy crystal droplets of early morning rain

Each day now I am picking a small bowl of wild blackberries from the vines about my cottage and soon I will decide what to make with them as they assemble in the freezer ~~~ the more you pick, the more you get, and with heavy rains coming in tomorrow I hope the following days of sun will give a bumper crop to pick ~~~

Until next time

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Apple Sauce and Wasps

Hello Friends!

Oh, dear, there has been a mishap!  I'm not really sure what happened, but I managed to delete all my photos of the process before I uploaded them ~ sighs ~ so, my friends, only one photo of the ingredients and process today ~ sorry ~ but these things do happen ~~~ as I don't know what happened, I can't say 'lesson learned' can I?

As an aside, do you think we are more protective and precious about storing, and the possible loss, of our photographic memories since the advent of digital images and The Cloud? I make back ups of my back ups, but in the heady, good old days of real film all we had was our set of prints and our negatives and if something happened, well, it happened and they were gone. Today, if I lose a photo I wail and mourn it for days on end ~ we are a peculiar lot, we humans!

I digress.  In the garden there is an apple tree. I do not know the name of the apple, or the number of the dwarf stock upon which it is grafted, but I do know that it produces some of the most delicious rosy red apples worthy of The Wicked Queen's basket in Snow White {which just so happens is my favourite fairy tale}

During Springtime, the tree is a bridal bouquet of purest white blossoms with a delicate tinge of pink, then as the blossoms fall and fade, tiny hard green marbles appear, and slowly, over the Summer months they swell and grow, gradually changing colour as they aspire to the warm and rich candy apple red of the mature fruit.

For those of you who have not read it, I wrote a Haiku {actually, my first and only Haiku to date} about the apple blossom.  Here it is, superimposed on a photograph of the tree ~~~

and here are some images of the tree, the earlier blossoms, and the harvest of the fruits ~~~

Now, I have competition in the garden for my apples, the birds love them, and also the horrible wasps that nest in a neighbour's bird box, and which home in on the fragrant scent and nibble away at the tops, hidden from view, so that very often I pick an otherwise perfect looking apple only to find it is spoiled.  Wearing long sleeves and gloves is a must when picking these apples, as is exercising great caution and care not to be stung by the competition ~~~

Half eaten by the birds, the wasps come in to finish the job

Help yourself, please, do!

This year, however, the apples ripened a lot earlier and I got to them sooner so the damage is minimal compared to other years. Sadly, probably due to the unseasonably cold Spring and Summer, the fruits are not as big as they normally are, nor are they as many.  I am grateful for what I have harvested and now the time for putting the fruits up into storage is here!

Here is this year's harvest ~~~ about 20lbs or so ~~~

I love Apple Sauce, I use it a lot in yogurt or cream; poured over ice cream; on my porridge or muesli; or stirred into red cabbage; stirred in a warm mixed fruit compote for breakfast.  It's a quick and easy way of getting an extra portion of fruit, especially if you lower the sugar, as I do.

With a lot of apples to process each year, about twenty years ago I invested in a gizmo that peels, cores, and slices my apples at the turn of a handle. It has more than paid for itself as the wastage is minimal and it speeds up the process a lot.  Apple Master Peeler available at Lakeland Ltd.

And, yes, I buy my cinnamon in big bags! I really do use a lot of cinnamon in my cooking and baking, and buy it in bulk from Steenbergs.

So, I am making up lots of delicious Apple Sauce for the freezer as there are a lot of slightly under ripe and damaged apples that won't keep and are unfit for eating raw, but with the damage cut away they will be just fine made into delicious apple sauce. Here's what I do ~~~

3 1/2 to 4 lbs of apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 cup of brown sugar {you can use white if you prefer}
300 mls of good quality cloudy apple juice, such as Copella
1 tablespoon {or to taste} cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon {or to taste} ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon {or to taste} freshly ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Put all ingredients into a Crock Pot and cook on low for 6 hours, or until your preferred consistency is reached. I like mine chunky, so keep an eye on it after about 4 1/2 hours.  Cool and spoon into freezer containers.

Of course, you can always make it more quickly in a large saucepan, but I find I like it better from the Crock Pot ~ I don't know if it is the stoneware pot or the slow cooking process, but the flavour is deeper and more apple~y.


One thing I love about working in the garden is the company of the extra little helpers, and here is one of my regulars who always pops up for a beak full of juicy bugs and worms ~~~

Until next time ~~~

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Just a Trifle ~~~

Hello Friends!

Isn't it glorious at this time of year? The morning air has that certain feel that I just cannot put into words, but my heart knows what it is ~~~ it is Autumn, arriving in all her glory as the year shouts a last Hurrah before Winter comes upon us again ~~~

The Earth breathes gently as she winds down, the air is cooler, the sun slips slowly lower in the sky with each new early morning sunrise, the daylight softens, all is mellow, and the ripening fruits of the hedgerows beg to be picked and stored for the lean days ahead. Blackberries ripen on brambles, shiny, glossy jewels of deliciousness, and the apples are ready for picking; this very week I plan to make Crock Pot Apple Butter. This soul~soothing activity will happen here in the cottage in the next few days, photos and words will follow ~~~

There was company at the cottage this lunchtime, and I made my favourite Mary Berry's Three Fish Pie which I served with simple Braised Red Cabbage and Petit Pois.  Of course, I have already started playing with, and tweaking, Mary's recipe ~ when don't I play with my food?  A small handful of prawns and a tablespoon of grainy mustard into the sauce gives extra flavour and bite.  I also use a mature Cheddar instead of the Gruyere suggested by Mary Berry.

I also made individual trifles in jam jars ~~~ this way, I was able to give a couple to my guests to take  home with them for a treat to eat tomorrow ~~~ very useful if you don't like plastic and the lid keeps everything in place ~~~

My Nigella hardly returned this year at all, normally they are very freely self seeding, but were strangely absent this Summer. However, a few put in an appearance and they were the most delightful pale purple colour I've not seen in the garden before ~~~ seed harvesting will be on the agenda very soon!

Earlier in the year, I found the most unusual poppy in an abandoned corner, it has all the attributes of a Field Poppy in respect of leaves and size, but is much paler in colour than the usual deep red, but more unusually is a double, like a poppy tutu dancing in the breeze ~~~

If this comes true from seed then I shall be very happy indeed!

Lastly, today, I'll show you a lovely envelope that arrived in my post the other day from my favourite book store Much Ado Books.  I bought a new treat to play with in the lengthening evenings, a book on making art from maps which arrived with a small packet of old and vintage maps with which to get started, and some other lovely things to make the package special ~~~ including a tea bag for a hot drink to sip while reading ~~~ I love a parcel thoughtfully put together, don't you?

Until next time ~~~

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Tiny Spider and Egg Sack

Hello Friends ~~~

~~~ you have had the warning in the title of this short post. It contains images of a tiny spider. Read on, and peek, at your peril ~~~

I will take a moment to clarify, for those of you who don't know, I am arachnophobic, so I do go to great extremes of bravery to capture pictures of spiders, and sometimes the barrier of a lens between me and the creature helps immensely!

For some of us, Summer simply never made the grade ~ we had a total of possibly five days where we broke the 70 degree mark and even hit 80 degrees, but for the most Summer stayed in a comfortable low 60's, or an uncomfortably chilly mid 50's ~~~ nothing we can do, what we get is what we have to put up with ~~~ still ~~~

The next few days are going to be unseasonably stormy with forecast winds of in excess of fifty miles an hour, with some very heavy rain, and generally miserable days for the poor holiday makers who have come here for our beautiful sandy beaches and stunning coastal walks.   It is not often I have to apply Winter Storage Mode to the garden in August, but this morning I had to scurry around putting under cover anything that could blow over, or away, in the coming days ~~~Sighs~~~

While I was emptying a bin of garden waste that had been set to one side to dry, I saw two tiny blue balls, with a soft, fuzzy, felt~like texture, suspended between the drying brambles. What were they?  They were very tiny, only about 4mm in diameter, and quite a bright, almost duck egg blue, so they stood out against the drying foliage. Upon closer investigation, I found the tiniest of spiders clinging on to one and straight away I realised these tiny blue spheres are egg sacks. I have never seen the like before.  The spider itself is also rather "cute" in the loosest sense of the word, as it is bright green with some orange markings ~~~

So, if you've read this far, you are probably going to look, so here they are ~~~

I hope you braved the tiny spider and are as fascinated as I am!

Until next time ~~~