Monday, 29 August 2011

Pigs - Are They Worth It?

Look at this picture and tell me they're not.

Commenting on our recent post, Louisa asked how much food you get from a Pig.

The quick answer is, what you see is what you get. Or, to fall back on an old adage, you can use everything except the squeak.

In our post How to Weigh a Pig we had varying information about the carcass weight of a Pig in relation to it's live weight with the conclusion that a 160lb Porker may yield 107 -115lb Pork.

Last year we had two Gloucestershire Old Spots that were 26 weeks old when they made their final journey and we estimated their weight at that time to be about 175lb each.

These were butchered for us and we collected 4 trays of Pork, including everything from snout to tail, plus the Offal.
Each tray weighed in the region of 75lb.
So, that would be 300lb from 2 pigs weighing 350lb in total, plus whatever the Offal weighed.
Doesn't sound right does it?
I can only assume that the percentage figures quoted do not include the heads?

This year, we have two British Saddlebacks and two Large Blacks and we shall be butchering them ourselves. This will mean that we can weigh all our meat as we go along and, hopefully, give a better indication of what you get from one pig.
Spookily, our Saddlebacks will be making their final journey one year to the day after we first made this journey with our Old Spots.

Louisa also asked about Books and Websites.
The most well-thumbed of our books is Teach Yourself Keeping Pigs by Tony York. We also have A Guide to Traditional Pig Keeping by Carol Harris. As always, it's a good idea to try your Local Library to have a good look at books before you decide whether or not to buy them.
As for websites, there are lots but in our early days we found the most helpful to be The Accidental Smallholder . The forum on this site is an excellent source of information, help and advice.

When we ventured into raising pigs it was because we wanted to for all manner of reasons, the most important being to have meat on our table from animals that we had raised and looked after.
It's a journey that takes you through a wide spectrum of emotions, starting with adoration for those cute little piglets. It can lead to frustration as two pigs insist on trying to force their heads into one bucket. Horror when you see blood streaming from a cut and convince yourself that it must be a major injury and relief when you find only a small nick in their skin. Pain when they tread on your toes - imagine a woman in high heels - pigs carry their weight daintily on the tips of their trotters. But amidst all this there's the laughter, the belly rubbing, and the back scratching and, even though you know why you have them, you bond with them. And so comes a great sadness when it is time for them to go.

We take our Pigs on their final journey safe in the knowledge that we have done our best by them. Each one of them has been an individual and we shall remember them all.

And at the end of the day we have the most beautiful pork, bacon and sausages... and we know exactly where it came from and what went into producing it.

Worth it? You betcha!

(I have not mentioned costings in this post because I want to do a separate article once we have processed this year's pork.)

Friday, 26 August 2011

Time To Plant Hardy Annuals ~ by The Higgledy Garden

The Higgledy Garden is "a boutique flower farm, growing and supplying traditional English cut flowers and edible flowers that are field grown sustainably, to organic standards."

We were delighted when Ben agreed to do a Guest Post for us about which flowers we can sow at this time of year.

Higgledy Garden Cornflowers
There is a fantastic selection of flowers that you can sow now for flowering in early spring.
Hardy annuals can withstand the rigors of all but the hardest winters and have the benefit of flowering well before those flowers sown in Spring.
The plants will be larger and have more blooms, this is because of the big root base that they develop over the winter.
I tend to sow most of my hardy annuals in September when the soil is still warm.. Don’t sow too late (after October) as the plants won’t get big enough to face off the frosts.

Examples of hardy annuals to plant now are…
*Ammi Majus
*Cerinthe Major

Higgledy Garden Ammi Majus

For a more detailed overview of how and what to plant this Autumn visit The Higgledy Garden.
Kind regards

We'd like to thank Ben for taking the time to write a post for us.
It is a timely and helpful topic for us as we usually forget to start our annuals early.

Please do take a peek at his website.

We have been following Higgledy Garden for some time now because, not only is the site a veritable mine of information, it is also a bloomin' good read.

We hope that The Higgledy Garden will feature again as a Guest Blogger in the not too distant future.

Sweet and Savoury Plums

I do love a recipe that yields two products from one set of main ingredients.

I mentioned in our Jammin' post that I wanted to try Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe for what he calls Jampote which also yields a Hot and Sour Sauce.

I'm a little nervous about sharing it with you because the Plum Ketchup Recipe I recommended did not turn out very well for RobD. He felt that the recipe  "_seriously_ underestimated the sugar required".
If anyone else has tried it could you please let us know how yours turned out?
Ours was not sweet, but it was not acidy or sour either, more tangy.

On to HFW's recipe which I found in his book The River Cottage Year. I cannot find the recipe on the web, but it's not Rocket Science. Like so many simple ideas, I am left wondering "Why didn't I think of that before?"
Basically you simmer Plums with sugar and enough water to give you your sauce base then process the Plums on until they become Jam-like.

I used 2lb Plums in enough water to come about halfway up the Plums in the pan then added 1lb Sugar.

I used whole Plums by personal preference. I find it easy to fish out the stones, others may prefer to halve and stone the Plums first.

I brought it up to boil gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar then left it to simmer for 20 mins.

I strained off a pint of the syrup for the sauce.
At this point you really don't need to follow the recipe; you can make the Hot and Sour Sauce to your own personal taste.

I'm a bugger for garlic so I added 2 finely chopped cloves.

We like heat and I don't have any Red Chillies ripe yet so I popped in one finely chopped  Gelbe Kirschen which I know is very hot. You need some heat, but you know your own limits. You could add one or two finely chopped Red Chillies, with or without seeds.
Finally, for the Sour, I used 100ml Cider Vinegar. You could also use Rice Vinegar.
After 5 minutes rapid boiling the sauce is ready to bottle.
Mine has quite a kick and we're looking forward to having it with Pork, amongst other things.

Back to the Plums. Once stoned they are brought back to a rapid boil for about 5 mins until they go 'jammy'.
This is neither Jam nor Compote, hence Hugh's Jampote. As such it does not have the keeping qualities of Jam, although the recipe says it will keep for up to 3 months in the fridge... if it gets chance.
Ours is a bit mushy, but that's because I used 'normal plums'. The smaller cherry plums or Damsons should hold their shape better. Mushy or not, it still tastes delicious.

And there we have it a 'savoury' sauce and a sweet from one lot of Plums.
Now my mind is wandering to consider how I can adapt this for other ingredients... all suggestions are welcome :)

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Bouquet of Wiggly Wigglers

I had a small wicker basket when I was a toddler that I would fill with worms. As the worms wiggled out of the gaps in the basket I would pop them in my mouth. Did I really eat worms as a child? I probably ingested some of it, but I was caught by my Mum and that put an end to that little game.
The collective noun for worms is not Bouquet, they are in fact known as a Clew of Worms... but I have indeed had a Bouquet of Wiggly Wigglers.

Wiggly Wigglers were picked up by our radar several years ago and since then their name has been synonymous with Wormeries. We've never actually had a Wormery but we know that Wiggly Wigglers would be the first place we would look if we decided to get one.

When I was asked if I would like to sample a bouquet of fresh flowers from them, it came as a bit of a shock. With hindsight it really shouldn't have. Wiggly Wigglers have diversified and yet they have managed to stay true to their ethics.

Cut flowers have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. My Mum would say that flowers belong in a garden but her eyes still lit up when presented with a bouquet as she muttered "You shouldn't have". The guilt of this pleasure is tempered when you receive a Bouquet of British Flowers and this is what Wiggly Wigglers offer, so I had no qualms about saying "Yes please" to their offer.

As you would expect, you can personalise a Gift Tag and specify your delivery date. Mine arrived early doors on the day I requested - and by early doors I mean it came before 9am. Delivery is free on weekdays but there is a charge for Saturdays. If you order before 4pm, they can be with you the next day.

As you open the box you find a message telling you that these flowers have been freshly picked and despatched within the same day. The last sentence is a nice touch:
"Once dead, the flowers can be composted in your wormery without poisoning the worms."

The bouquet was well packaged and none of the flowers were damaged although there had been some leakage, as you can see.
I cut the box open down the sides rather than try to lift the bouquet out.

As I opened the box, I inhaled. The scent confirmed that these were fresh flowers and enhanced the sight of the vibrant colours.

The stems were in a small absorbent bag then wrapped in cellophane and craft paper before being hand tied with a generous raffia bow, which I have kept because I intend to recycle and re-use it myself.
Along with the Bouquet comes an information sheet.

I don't think any of our Readers need to be told why we think that Buying British is Good. To us it makes perfect sense, if we need to use a Florist then we try to find one that uses British Flower Growers and is local to the area we are sending the flowers to.

The Sheet also contained advice on how to prolong the freshness of the flowers.
I already knew that adding Lemonade to the flower water would help them stay fresher longer, and I knew that fresh flowers have no time for Diet Lemonade. I also knew an alternative to Lemonade but I baulked at Wiggly Wigglers version of it: 1 Tbsp Sugar, 1 Tbsp Vinegar and 1 Teaspoon Bleach.
Bleach?! Seriously Guys? I know it works but I have long since replaced Bleach with Lemon Juice in my version. I have to say that I ignored their advice and made my own 'preserving mix'.

The flowers have been fine. They have been very thirsty though, more so than my own cut flowers and I'm not entirely sure why, unless there are particular flowers in the bouquet that are heavy drinkers?

I'm very taken with my Bouquet of Wiggly Wigglers  There was a nice mix of flowers in bloom and in bud.

Ordering was simple and I particularly liked the fact that you don't need to sign up or register before placing an order.

Normally I will dissect a bouquet after a day and make it look how I want it to look.
My Nana was the Flower Arranger in my family and I spent many a day with her when she was on Flower Duty at the Church, or being spellbound when she created themed arrangements for the WI.
Some of it may have rubbed off. My Mum said I was the only person she knew who could "artfully plonk flowers in a vase". With hindsight, I'm not sure that she meant it as a compliment.

This one passed muster and has been untouched for a week, over which time the buds have developed beautifully, changing the appearance of the bouquet each day.
Now the sunflowers are looking tired so I plan to dissect and rearrange; the remaining flowers still have plenty of life in them and I expect them to last for quite a while yet.

Just as an example of how seasonal Wiggly Wigglers flowers are, from mid-August and until mid-September 2011 they have Boxes of Sunshine available. I love Sunflowers.

Will I use them? I might. They certainly tick many boxes and if I needed to send flowers in their area I would definitely consider them. But these flowers have still travelled about 170 miles from Hereford to get to me and, to be fair, we have some very good Local Growers here in Yorkshire. If I was sending flowers to someone local I would try to use Yorkshire Growers.
Having said that, it is a good quality product and given that they can despatch so quickly I shall certainly be keeping them in mind for those times when I want to say it urgently with flowers.

I would like to thank Wiggly Wigglers for sending me this beautiful sample bouquet, for lighting up my home, and for letting us know that there is more to Wiggly Wigglers than just Worms.

We were sent this product free of charge but we have received no financial reward for writing this review, it is simply our opinion.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

St. Bartholomew's Day

I am tempted to make Toffee Apples today.
You'll need to go to our Calendar Page to see why.

I've never made Toffee Apples. They remind me of the Fair, but they are not really happy memories because, whilst I loved the Toffee part, the Apples were always a huge let down.

I think I should be able to improve on that with some of our Apples.

If you're in the Yorkshire Dales this weekend, the Burning of Old Bartle takes place in West Witton on Saturday 27th and is followed up with a Fun Day. Again, see our Calendar Page for links.

Happy St. Barts Day to all Tanners, Butchers, Bee-keepers and Honey Makers!

Monday, 22 August 2011

It's Nearly That Time Again...

The hardest part of rearing pigs comes when it is time for their final journey, and that time is fast approaching.

Once again, Jilly is taking great delight in teasing our pigs with her Apple Picking skills.

She really is a Ratbag. She waits until after they have finished their evening meal then trots off to help herself from the nearest Apple Tree. The performance lasts a while; she knows how to play her audience.
First she tosses the apple, then rolls on it before tossing it again. Then comes a loud crunch, but the Apple is not devoured; the pieces are allowed to fall from her mouth and she licks them teasingly.

The pigs go nuts.

On the other hand, our Old Lady Hen wants whatever it is the Pigs have got.
She has the run of the place in the evenings now but spends her time trying to steal from the Pigs. The Pigs can't figure out what she is finding that is so good to eat.
There have been pecked snouts and she has been sneezed on but neither Pigs nor Chicken are deterred.

It will be sad to see the Pigs go and that's how it should be. We shall miss our evenings with the 'whole family'... until next year.

We shall let the Pigs go in pairs and we expect the Saddlebacks to be going first, within the next couple of weeks. The Large Blacks will stay with us a little while longer.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

We're Jammin'

We hope you like jammin' too!

So far we have made Blackberry & Apple, Greengage and Plum Jam.

I have a little tip that works with Greengage, Plum and Damson Jam  which I originally came across in a book I have by Jocasta Innes.

Inside the stones of these fruits you will find the kernels and they taste of bitter almonds. You can add these to your Jam as an extra flavouring, about 2 kernels per pound of fruit should be ample. Some people blanch and chop them, I just bash them and throw them in.

I'm considering some Cucumber Jam, although I have to say that the recipe sounds more like lemony marmalade. I'll see what we have left after making some Cucumber Pickle. Also on my list to make is Rowan Apple Jam.

As we mentioned before, we have lots of Plums. So, in addition to jammin', we have also been 'wining' and 'ketchuping'.
Thanks to Louisa and her Plum Ketchup post we have discovered a delicious recipe (the links are on her Blog).
I used 'normal' Plums and made just a small batch to taste - we like! - and a larger batch is bubbling under.

My jammin' list is growing daily, but I have closed my Plum list for this year.
All that is left to make is some more beautiful Plum Sauce that Steve made last night to go with the Duck we had, and a nifty little recipe from Hugh F-W that yields a Hot and Sour Sauce and Plum Compote.
I will share it when I have tried it.

Are you jammin'? And if you are, what jams are you making this year?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Visit to the Yorkshire Coast

We'd hate you to think we are dull; all work and no play kind of dull, so to prove it we thought we'd share our trip to the Coast yesterday. It's a trip we normally make out of season but the beach we visit is dog friendly all year round, so off we went.


Jilly Chillin'

Beach Baby

Beach Butterfly

Beach Ladybird?!
It's odd. All the people we know go "to the coast" not "to the beach" and we know they mean the Yorkshire Coast.
My mum's side of the family, in Devon and Cornwall, all go "to the beach" - but which beach?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

An Egg Within An Egg

We've had plenty of Double Yolkers from The Warren Girls but this came as a surprise.

Instead of a Yolk inside this Egg we found another Egg.

Inside the Inner Egg was the tiny beginnings of a Yolk.

I Googled, as you do, and had to chuckle as the word "rare" reccured in the vast array of search results that I scrolled through.

We're not much the wiser.

We now know that the technical term for this is Ovum in Ova. The general concensus seems to be that it is most likely to occur if the Hen has had a fright but there is little concluding evidence of how it occurs.
It is a Mystery of Nature.
Our main concern was for the Hen that laid it, but all of them have continued laying and all of them appear to be in good health.

Steve's Mum has heard of it happening but has never see one. Have you ever come across one?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Blackface Baa Lamb

 As a child, my Grandad called me a Blackface Baa Lamb. It stuck for quite a while, mainly because I had an aptitude for getting dirty.
So when the Hairy Bikers visited The Blackface Meat Company back in 2009, I watched with amusement and recalled family outings in the Yorkshire Dales when my Grandad would point out my 'brothers and sisters'.

Imagine our delight when we were asked if we would like to try some Scottish Blackface Mutton  - Yes please!

Given the choice of Diced Mutton or a Whole Rack, we chose the Rack.

Blackface proudly announce their products as "Fresh from the Wilds of Scotland to your Door" but our 'taster' came frozen, along with the advice that after defrosting the meat has a shelf life of 10 days.

Blackface offer a free delivery service to mainland Britain and ours came very well packaged.
However, the contents confused me.The meat was well wrapped in a sealed bag that proudly announced "Yorkshire Game Ltd".
I was perturbed, so off I went to their website to investigate.

Yorkshire Game says quite clearly on its website that The Blackface Meat Company is a sister company. After further enquiry, Blackface explained that their Mutton is slaughtered and hung locally. Some is sent to Yorkshire Game for distribution to Chefs in London. Our taster came from stock frozen and stored by Yorkshire Game.
We were happy with the explanation.  However, sister or no sister, I think it odd to deliver such a prized product without one's own name on it.

The Blackface Meat Company has many accolades. It has awards coming out of it's ears and has some impressive customers. But what impressed us most was this:
Our unique system sees self-sufficient ‘hefted’ – meaning territorial – flocks of sheep roaming the heather hills on our farm in the southern uplands.
That's what we like to hear. In fact, reading more about the Company, it ticks many boxes for us. But words mean little until you taste the product.
As I mentioned, we said we would like to try the Rack.

A Rack consists of the first eight ribs still attached to the Chine, which is the split backbone. It is also known as Best End of Neck.
We were delighted to find that we had been sent a little seen cut that includes the Saddle.

Our photograph doesn't do justice to the colour of this Mutton. It has has fed on heather and wild plants, has drank from fresh water burns, and breathed fresh air. It has been hung for a full two weeks to enhance the flavours. It is a beautiful, deep red with a wonderful marbling of fat.

But what is Mutton?
"Mutton dressed as lamb" - the phrase immediately makes one think that Mutton is from some tired old ewe and that therefore, the meat must be tough.
Indeed, Mutton does come from older Sheep but we need to put 'old' into context.
Mutton generally comes from Sheep that are slaughtered in their third year.
When you consider that most Lamb comes from Sheep that are slaughtered at the 'tender' age of four or five months, then a Sheep slaughtered in its third year may sound 'old'. But once you know that the natural life of a Sheep can extend beyond 10 years, three sounds much younger.
Mutton comes from mature Sheep that, in many ways, are in the prime of their life.

At Blackface they produce two year old and five year old Mutton. The two year old Mutton will have spent two summers on the hill farm; the five year old will have had five summers.

Although we were not told the age of our taster, we were advised to cook it in the same way we would cook Lamb. This would imply that we had a Rack of two year old Mutton, which readily lends itself to being cooked in the same way as Lamb.

The beautiful joint we had been sent was too big for us to sample in one go. We could split the Rack and Saddle into two roasting joints. The Rack could be separated into Chops or Cutlets, or we could trim the meat from the Cutlets into Noisettes.
We decided to cut the Chops from the Rack. We tidied them a little and made Lancashire Hot Pot, using home made Lamb Stock and topped with our own Potatoes. A simple dish but the taste of the Mutton shone through. There was much licking of lips and nibbling of bones, much to the confusion of Jilly who knew that, by rights, those bones were hers. And to be fair, she got them, even if they were a little sparse by the time we had finished with them.
We roasted the Saddle end of the joint. I was tempted to roast it 'as is' but couldn't resist the call of Garlic and Rosemary who were demanding to be included, so I 'poked' some into the joint 'willy-nilly'. These are the technical terms used in my kitchen.
After a 15 minute blast in a very hot oven I poured a glass of white wine over the joint and popped it back into a low to medium oven to let it finish roasting slowly. I don't do roasting times; people like their meat cooked to different degrees, but this type of joint does not take long to cook. When I judged mine to be 'just about done' I poured a wineglass of water into the bottom of the roasting pan and gave it another 5 minutes.

As with all our roasts, there were those delicious 'leftovers'. With a nod of thanks to my Mum, I made Mutton Rissoles. Simple again, but delicious nonetheless. Served with Potato Wedges and a spicy, home made Tomato Salsa, all made from home grown produce.

We would like to thank The Blackface Meat Company for introducing us to their Mutton.
Having seen them on The Hairy Bikers we knew of them but, for some reason, we had not really considered ordering from them.

Raising our own pigs has made us very selective about other meat products we buy. We eat a lot of Pork, as you can imagine, but we do like variety and we are always looking for 'well-raised' meats.

We like Blackface.

We are keen to try some fresh produce from them and, as I mentioned, we are already longing to try the five year old Mutton. But there is much more on offer at their website, all offered fresh according to the seasons. Their website shows what is available in the current week and following weeks. You can also look ahead to the next Season. Next week, for example, runs from Coney Rabbit to Venison. Here there be Haggis too - we told you it was not just for Burns' Night - and, of course, Grouse is there too.
The website also offers  tasty-sounding recipes along with some interesting reading about this Company and the people and animals behind it.

We were sent this product free of charge but we have received no financial reward for writing this review, it is simply our opinion.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Grow Our Own - An Inspiring Blog

Last week, Carrie's Grow Our Own Blog had it's Third Anniversary and Carrie celebrated with a Birthday Party.  With her own, inimitable style, Carrie brought gifts to her party and we are very proud to have received one of her personally designed Inaugural Inspirational Blog Awards.

If any Blog is inspirational, then it is Grow Our Own, and we are not alone in our thinking.
Carrie's Blog has been featured by several renowned sites but most poignantly by Mind and Aware Defeat Depression NI who obviously like her unique "Allotmentherapy".

I have been trying to find out when we started following Grow Our Own but I am unable to pinpoint it. What I do know is that Carrie engaged me from the first post that I read. Out of all the Blogs we follow this is most definitely one of our favourites.

We would like to thank Carrie for bestowing one of her Awards on us but, truthfully, it is Carrie who is inspirational.
She's not just a great writer. When you see the wonderful images on her Blog, it will come as no surprise to learn that Carrie is a photographer and you can find out more about her work at Cherry Blossom Tattoo Photography.

If nothing else, please do try to read her article Allotmentherapy - The Wisdom of Plants

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Glorious Twelfth

Today Grouse, Ptarmigan and the Common Snipe become 'fair game'.
There's a little snippet about this on our Calendar page.

Some people have a problem with Game Shooting and Jilly would agree with them, but for different reasons.

She is a beautiful Black Lab but to say she is 'Gun Shy' would be putting it mildly.
She is also Mobile Phone Shy, Camera Shy, hates the Countdown noise, and Swear Bleeps give her the collywobbles.
But the traits of her breeding still show through and she can deliver a fresh egg from the Hen Coop to the kitchen in her mouth without damaging it.
But I digress.
We have no problem with Game Shooting.

Game Shooting has long been thought of as something for the 'Hooray Henry's' of this world; the mad stampede of the Glorious Twelfth only served to convince 'Joe Public' that these people had more money than sense.
However, Game Shooting plays an important part in the conservation of this 'green and pleasant land', and in particular in the conservation of our Moorlands. It is also a vital part of the Rural Economy.

I found the Code of Good Shooting Practice interesting. (Please note this is a pdf link)
One of the Five Golden Rules is:
"Respect for quarry is paramount. It is fundamental to mark and retrieve all shot birds.
Shot game is food and should be treated as such."

The Code covers not only the shooting but also other, related aspects and it forms a framework for the whole kit and caboodle.

We hear that 2011 is a particularly good year for Grouse. Hopefully, some of it will find it's way to us - Jilly's previous owner is not a bad shot - and now I'm thinking that maybe I should make some Rowan Jelly....

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Growing Melons in a Polytunnel

Having got our Polytunnel in October last year, we wanted to grow something 'exotic' and our choice was Melons. You can of course grow them outdoors or in a Greenhouse but -
(a) we live in Yorkshire and (b) the Greenhouse was too small.
Also, Melons do not like direct sunlight so would need protection in the Greenhouse. With the Polytunnel, the sunlight is diffused.

We had our first, home-grown Melon last night and it was particularly refreshing after our evening meal of Curry.

We chose "Edonis" because the packet said that it is early to ripen and productive, as well as having a fresh, delicate taste.

It was delicious. The scent was amazing and the flesh was firm but also juicy.

With instructions to sow from mid-March to April, I sowed the 4 seeds in individual pots during the 4th week of March. I then came across another piece of advice that informed me that the best time to sow is when the Cherry Blossom is falling. I have no idea when the Cherry Blossom fell this year but I like this kind of advice, it makes me feel more in tune with Nature and so I have noted it for next year.

We had seedlings within a week.
Because I had sown in pots there was no need to 'pot on' and they went straight from pot to Polytunnel bed as soon as they were big enough.
Of the 4 seeds sown, one did not survive and one was very weak. We gave the weak one a chance but it did not come to much.

Almost everything I have read about growing Melons tells me that the very best place for them to grow is a Compost Heap. We have no Compost Heap in our Polytunnel, nor any plans to have one. With the beds full or our 'home grown' compost we thought they should be okay, and they have been. It is interesting to read, however, that some people introduce a bag of compost or even grass cuttings to their Polytunnel in order to provide a good bed for their Melons. Something for us to consider next year.

By mid May they were putting on a spurt, or at least two of them were and it was time for some attention.
The packet advised us to pinch out the growing tip after 4 true leaves had formed. This encourages Laterals to form.
We were to train 4 Laterals to the 6 leaf stage and then pinch out their growing tips. This encourages Sub-laterals to form, and this is where the fruits would form.

The trouble is, when I'm growing something new, I'm torn between doing what I'm told to do and just letting the plant do it's thing. If I let it do it's thing, I will know how it grows naturally and can see where I might need to intervene. Steve, on the other hand, follows instructions to the letter. Odd for a Bloke, but it only applies to plants. The thing is, the more you read, the more different methods you encounter. I pinched out the growing tip of one and tended the laterals; the other I left alone and gave it strings to support its direction of growth. Both grew just fine.

By June they were flowering.
You get male and female flowers on Melons. The male flowers tend to come first, which can be a worry, but female flowers soon follow. The female flowers have a little bump under the flower and they may need a little help with pollinating. It's easily done. Just remove a male flower, strip off the petals and touch the centre of the female flower with it.
As a child I would help my Grandad to pollinate Cucumbers but we used a small painting brush back then.

The plants were flowering like mad and growing a little unruly and, whilst the seed packet told me to remove further flowers once a fruit had set, I was not diligent and lost a couple of fruits. The plants simply could not feed them, but continued to throw flowers. I returned to my books and followed the advice I found there which was to pinch out growing points one leaf beyond each female flower. Then I tied string supports either side of the female flower. It worked. Next came the tricky bit.

Melons like to grow in humid conditions and some people cordon off part of their Polytunnel to achieve this. Conversely, the fruits are prone to fungus and need ventilation.

Whilst our plants were growing we tried to control the humidity a little by keeping the vent on the melon side of the Polytunnel closed for a while. It wasn't a scientific approach, I would just open the vent a little later and not as wide as the other side. Sometimes I forgot. I doubt it made much difference.
However, once the fruits were set I made sure they had adequate ventilation.

The fruits were well formed by the back end of July, and we had some good advice on how to tell when they were ripe for picking from Butterbean.
Basically, he advises to watch the tendrils where the Melon attaches to the vine. Once that shrivels, the fruit is ripe.
We also squeezed ours. Who could resist?
(Please don't make up your own jokes at this point!)
There's also the scent; they smell divine as they start to ripen and it is a pleasure to open the Polytunnel door in the morning.

We have several fruits from two plants and we are happy. We have grown our own Melons.

We shall grow melons again. I am saving seeds from this harvest but I am conscious that there may have been cross pollination with the Cucumbers growing alongside the Melons so we shall also buy a new variety.

I shall ignore the seed packet. I shall let the plants grow, giving them support to go in the direction they choose and pinch out beyond the female flowers. I may even take soft cuttings in the hope of prolonging the harvest.

Once finished, the Melon plants will be added to the Compost Heap. I hear that the leaves are full of Calcium which makes them particularly good for Worm Compost.

Do you grow Melons?
Any advice on varieties to try or any 'top tips' would be most welcome.

Recent Events

We have no wish to add any fuel to the media fire that continues to burn over recent events on the streets of England.
However, whilst these events may be distant from us, they cannot be ignored.

We would like to comment on the heart warming response fuelled by Social Media sites. It was sad that it took the Media so long to catch up with what was emerging on these sites, some sources even misdirecting people, but the response was vast and #riotcleanup was trending on Twitter early Tuesday morning.
I spent more time than I should have, mesmerised by the scrolling Tweets from people eager to help, or lend support by spreading the word.

Our thoughts are with anyone who suffered as a result of these events, and with the members of our Emergency Services who have to face such things.

Monday, 8 August 2011


I was saying back in May that it looked like it would be a good year for Plums and we have lots!

These are on the two trees down in one of the Chicken Runs.

We don't know what variety they are but they are delicious.
We have been plucking the odd one or two for a while now, but our main crop at the moment is from the Victoria Plum Tree behind the house.

Last year we had very few Plums and I was only able to make Spiced Pickled Plums by supplementing our crop with some Cherry Plums that Steve 'liberated'.
This year I shall be able to make Plum Jam by the boatload.

The only tip I have for Plums is that peeling them before eating helps to avoid the undesirable effects of eating too many. Peeling Plums to eat them fresh sounds very decadent to me.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Rowan Year - Rowan Berries

Rowan has not been neglected, I see him everyday, I have just neglected to let you know how he is.

He is resplendent at the moment, wearing his red berry jewels and attracting lots of attention from the birds.
This is good, because it means that his seed will be scattered far and wide.

I mentioned Rowan's mythical roots in my first post about him and the berries are a good representation of his protective powers.

The redness of the berries symbolises protection against enchantment. But these berries also carry the mark of the Pentagram which is a powerful symbol and in days gone by people would wear a necklace of Rowan Berries for protection against evil.

Interestingly, Blackbirds love Rowan Berries, and some people believed that eating Rowan Berries gave the Blackbird the power to connect us with Other Worlds through his song. We see many Blackbirds and Thrushes visiting our Rowan, we also hear them sing, but our feet are firmly in this World.

Rowan Berries are poisonous to humans in their raw state; ingesting  just a few would result in stomach upsets. They contain trace amounts of  Prussic Acid, or Hydrogen Cyanide, which is also found in vehicle exhaust fumes, tobacco smoke and wood smoke. The trace in Rowan Berries is destroyed by cooking them.

In culinary terms, Rowan Berries are most famously used in the UK to make Rowan Jelly as an accompaniment to Game. Their traditional partner for making the Jelly is the Crab Apple but it can be made just as well with ordinary apples. Rowan Berries are tart and I freeze them before using them to sweeten them a little.

I won't be making Rowan Jelly this year. I have made it in the past but we do not use it very much. However, I shall be freezing some as I like to add some to Apple Pies, just for a change. Also, if I decide to make Apple Jam I can add some for a twist. The majority of what I freeze will be to scatter for the wild birds in winter. I do defrost them first.

There are other uses for the berries. They can be used to make wine and are sometimes used to flavour ciders or meads. I did come across one recipe I might like to try this year - Rowan Brandy.
Basically, you pop the Berries into Brandy for 2 weeks then remove the berries and add Sugar Syrup; 1 part syrup to 1 part Brandy.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

St.Oswald, Rushbearing and Gingerbread

On checking our Calendar Page recently I found that Grasmere have moved their Rushbearing Ceremony from the Saturday nearest to August 5th, and have plonked it in the middle of July.
Why? I have no idea. The whole point of their original date was that August 5th is St. Oswald's Day and St. Oswald is the Patron Saint of Grasmere Church.

Fiddlesticks! I do wish people would leave the Calendar and Ancient Traditions alone.
I shall be making Gingerbread for the weekend anyway. I like traditions that have Traditional Fare attached to them (and most of them do) and I'm sticking to the August 5th link to Gingerbread.
I'm leaving it a bit late. Gingerbread is best when it has matured for a while, but I'm not sure we could have resisted if I'd made it earlier and then we would have none for the weekend.

Rushbearing takes place to deliver and spread new hay, straw and rushes on the earthen or stone floors of Churches. This would make the floor softer to kneel on, make the Church slightly warmer for the coming winter, and would make it much sweeter smelling, for a while. Different regions would do it at different dates but the new flooring would be in place before they held their Harvest Festival.

If you ever get the opportunity to attend a Rushbearing Event I can thoroughly recommend it. My experiences are based on the Sowerby Bridge Festival which I have attended a number of times in the past. My recollections include following the Cart and being obliged to partake of (alcoholic) refreshment at each stopping point, but there is much more to it all than that. The Sowerby Bridge site also has some interesting pictures of how the Rushcart is thatched.

Without digging about in old photographs, I have no photo of Rushbearing to share with you, but I can't leave a post bereft of something visual, so here's a little chap who was in the garden yesterday.

He wasn't at all bothered by me, but his mum was. She sat in the Rowan tree telling me to "go away".

I withdrew to the Polytunnel and she ushered him off to the undergrowth.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

I Say! Tomato!

Just over a week ago I was bemoaning the fact that our Tomatoes were taking their time to ripen.
They must have heard me because this is my haul today.

We have grown several varieties but, most specifically, I grew Alicante  because they are heavy croppers and the Super Roma because they are especially good for ketchup, sauces, soup & etc.

Most of our Tomatoes will be processed for storage and I was going to share the recipe for Tamartar Murumba, that I referred to back in October last year.
I was refreshing my Tomato knowledge, thinking I would have to add a reminder that the plant itself is poisonous when I came across some interesting snippets.
Tomatoes were first brought to Europe in the 1500's but were grown as ornamental plants because their odour and bright fruits suggested to our ancestors that they were poisonous. Indeed, the Tomato belongs to the Solanaceae family, a family also referred to as the "Nightshade Plants" and the family members include Potatoes, Capsicum, Aubergine, Tobacco and Belladonna.

Yegods! I could start a health scare! Except that I don't have to; someone has beaten me to it.
Some say that the Nightshade Plants aggravate arthritis and cause food allergies. Conversely, some arthritis sufferers find that these plants alleviate inflammation. It's all very confusing and I'm left with the overriding belief that nothing beats a varied diet, but that's just me.

I love this snippet from the Wikepedia page:
Solanaceae species are often rich in alkaloids whose toxicity to humans and animals ranges from mildly irritating to fatal in small quantities.

It comes as no surprise to me that the Italians were the first Europeans to use Tomatoes as a food - and they've never looked back! But it took the French to decide that it was a fruit of passion; the apple of love, no less!
I'm perfectly happy to accept that Tomatoes are not poisonous but I suspect, as with most things, if you ate only Tomatoes you might well end up feeling poorly.

I have always known that the Tomato plant itself was poisonous, both leaves and stems.
All the books I read confirm this. But Heston Blumenthal apparently thinks otherwise.
I cannot find his exact recipe but I find comments all over the web about how he has used Tomato Vines to create his perfect pizza. I'll confess that I gave up looking after a short while. It seems that he thinks the tomato smell comes from the vine, not the fruit and this is what he is trying to capture by using the vine in his cooking. Good luck to him.
I don't think I shall be adding Tomato Vines to our diet any time soon. They go on the compost heap, well away from the dog, chickens and pigs. Best place for them, in my opinion.
But as always, Blumenthal intrigues us.
Has anyone seen his recipe? Has anyone tried it?

There will be more Tomato posts about what I do with our Tomatoes at a later date.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Yorkshire Day! Minden Day! Lammas Day!

The main purpose of this post is to wish Tykes everywhere a great Yorkshire Day.

You can read more about Yorkshire Day, Lammas and Minden Day on our Calendar Page .
We were very pleased to discover that the Doncaster Museum and Arts Gallery is holding a Minden Day Event on the 2nd and 3rd of August. It sounds like fun for the younger generation.

Even more exciting is the unveiling of an official Yorkshire Sausage in Ilkley today. It will be interesting to hear what it tastes like and maybe one day we shall get to taste it ourselves.

Meanwhile it's a lovely day in our small part of Yorkshire and it is not a day to be sat indoors :)