Elderflower cordial

Well I’m already doing much better at preserving this year than I was last year. A few batches of rhubarb and cinnamon jam and of rhubarb cordial, a batch of lilac cordial (which I’m turning into wine) and I finally bottled my rose petal wine that I think I kicked off in 2018!

This week I’ve switched focus to elderflower. Elder is an amazing tree to get to know for foraging. The flowers are quite distinctive (as is the smell – fragrant but turns a bit cat peey as the blossom ages) and come in nice and early before you have too many things on your plate. The berries will develop if you don’t pick the flower head, and whilst they aren’t one to eat straight off the tree, they make a great wine, jam, gin flavouring or syrup. It’s always best to leave some flowers up top for the birds (saves you reaching) and some down low for you to collect the berries from later in the year.

The three stages of elderflowers. Pre -bloom (middle), full bloom (top), post-bloom (bottom)

In the past we used to make a lot of elderflower wine and even did elderflower champagne for a friend’s wedding and then our own wedding. Sam’s not as keen on the elderflower taste now and we’ve moved away from buying in things to preserve, using what the land gives us instead and we only have 1 good Elder here.

Me with a whole lot of elderflower champagne

So this year I thought I’d try my hand at an elderflower cordial. Things I can actually drink whilst I’m not drinking alcohol, and that I can get the kids involved in are hits at the moment. I’m terrible at following recipes. Give me a protocol in the lab and I’ll follow it to the letter, give me a recipe and my brain gets bored halfway through the ingredients list. So I’m not sure what recipe I followed, when I looked back to see what to do after steeping I can’t find a recipe that matches what I’d done so far. It came out well though so I’ll tell you what I did.

Elderflower cordial

~30 heads of elderflower in good bloom, snipped into smaller ‘heads’
4 lemons – rind and juice
2kg of sugar
1l of water

I snipped the heads of elderflower down to remove most of the stem and placed them in a pot with the rind and juice of the lemons (seeds included as I squeezed them by hand).

Next I boiled up the water and added the sugar. Off the heat I stirred it until the sugar dissolved and left it for 10 mins to cool off a bit.

Pour the syrup over the elderflower and lemon mix. Leave to steep for at least 24 hours. Mine got left for 2 days.

Scoop off the elderflowers and strain the cordial. At this stage I used a fine sieve but I think next time I’d just a straining bag as there were a few black bits that came through that might be off putting to some.

Pour into sterilised bottles and pasteurise. If you aren’t comfortable pasteurising you could heat the cordial and then bottle hot. Allow to cool and store in a cupboard, refrigerate once opened.


Ours came out very strong, you don’t have to add much at all to get a good flavour. We got 3x 750ml bottles, I think I will get some smaller bottles for cordial though as the 750ml ones last a long time. Next up is hopefully rhubarb gin, elderflower vodka and rhubarb and ginger jam.

Dans



Lilac cordial

Creating things from our land is a big part of my smallholding journey. I like trying new crafts or recipes, especially creating something edible from plants that aren’t often used, things like hawberry sauce or rose petal wine. Scrolling through a facebook smallholding group I saw a Swedish recipe for Lilac cordial. I have to admit I didn’t realise lilac was edible.

We have lots of lilac growing at the front of the house and it just so happened that Sam cut some back that had been overhanging the drive a bit too much. We like the motto of ‘waste not want not’ so figured we’d give the recipe a go.

Jam pan full of lilac

It makes a beautiful colour whilst it’s steeping which really makes me want to have a go at dying yarn with it. The recipe is really simple, although I think I’d try to adapt it for the mehu liisa if I try it again. I really do like being able to store things in the cupboard rather than fridge or freezer and with the mehu liisa it comes out hot enough that it’s already pasteurised. As to the actual flavour its a bit too floral for me. I find the same with the rose petal wine we make, which I’m told is a lot like turkish delight, something else I’m not so keen on. The initial flavour is light and refreshing but the floral taste comes in after and puts me off a bit. If you like turkish delight and other floral things you may like it though. At the very least it’s something easy to try, maybe just do a smaller batch.

Lilac cordial

about 30 heads of lilac
1.5 kg of sugar
1.5 litres of water
4 lemons – sliced
50g of citric acid

Bring the water, sugar and citric acid to the boil.
Pour over the flowers and lemons.
Place in the fridge and allow to steep for 3 days.
Strain and bottle.
Can be stored in the fridge for a year.

This batch made 3x 750ml bottles. Let me know if you give it a go.

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up, and if you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device. It’s always nice to know people are out there and reading.


Finnish cake

I realise I’ve posted about this Finnish cake several times but never posted the recipe, my mother-in-law gave it to me, it’s super simple, quick and comes out great every time. She taught it to me with apple but you can add in any fruit you like. I’ve done apple, apple and redcurrant, apple and rhubarb and a plain rhubarb.

185g plain flour
240g sugar
180g sunflower spread
2 small eggs (~80g in shell)
1 tsp baking powder
Fruit of your choice

Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl.
Mix in your egg.
Add the flour and baking powder.
Pour into a greased baking tin.
Scatter fruit on top.
Bake at 180C (160C fan) for 30-45 mins

That’s it, enjoy!

All things rhubarb

It’s that time of year again when the rhubarb goes mad. We’ve only got 2 plants but they produce so much. We’ve done so much with rhubarb today that I thought it worthy of a blog post.
I set the kids on ferrying the rhubarb and then cutting off the ends ready to go into the house. I’m keen on teaching them safe knife skills and very happy that Chi ‘graduated’ to using our ‘sharp’ kitchen knife safely. I did have to stop and Google if you should eat rhubarb raw as Rowan kept trying to eat the ends. (You can, it’s just very sharp).

Sam’s request was Finnish rhubarb soup. The Finnish fruit soups are an odd thing, a bit like a coulis but not as sweet and much more runny. It’s eaten as a dessert, ontop of your cereal or just slurped from a mug. It’s basically fruit, sugar, water and potato (corn) flour and shouldn’t be good but it is. I was able to do a quick batch whilst we ate dinner to give us a dessert. Rhubarb soup is best with a dash of milk or cream to take off the sharpness. Here’s how you make it.

Finnish Fruit Soup

1kg fruit
750g Sugar
1 litre water
4 tbsp potato (corn) flour

Heat the fruit, sugar and water until cooked. Add more sugar to adjust sweetness if needed.
Mix the potato flour with a bit of water in a cup and pour into the soup slowly whilst stirring.
Serve warm, can be stored in the fridge.

Chi’s first request was ‘rhubarb juice’. I had made a squash with it the other year which she loved. I dusted off our Mehu Liisa and got to work. It’s basically a steamer with a special section in the middle to collect the juice. It’s a traditional tool in Finnish kitchens, my mother in law brought one over many years go now that has been woefully underused. I think I am getting the hang of it now though.

Rhubarb Cordial

2kg of chopped rhubarb
1.3kg sugar
water

Pop the fruit and sugar in the top section, fill the bottom section half full with water and heat for 45 mins.
Siphon off the juice and pour it over the fruit/sugar mix. Top up the water in the bottom section. Return to the heat for another 45 minutes.
Siphon off the juice into bottles.


I was quite dubious about the Mehu Liisa at first, if you move it whilst heating it spits at you, I managed to burn the bottom half one time and the siphon gets so hot. This batch went really well though, I used a jam pan to collect the siphoned juice at half time and topped up the water to stop burning. I did have a fair amount of sugar in the middle section at the end so I do need to refine things. I love that the juice will store for over a year without pasturising, it comes out so hot that it is sterile. I only got 3 750ml bottles though, I’d love to be able to get more each batch.

A bit too much sugar left over

 Lastly I made some rhubarb and cinnamon jam. I managed to squeeze it whilst the Mehu Liisa was on it’s first round of heating. It was meant to be a rhubarb and vanilla recipe but I mixed up vanilla and cinnamon. It makes a really nice jam that I found tastes a bit like coca cola if you let it mature. I loved it on my porridge.

Rhubarb and Cinnamon jam

1.3kg rhubarb
1.3kg jam sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 lemon

Combine the rubarb, sugar and cinnamon sticks, gently heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Add lemon juice, raise the heat and bring to the boil.
Stir regularly for about 10 minutes, removing the froth.
Check if it’s reached setting point.
Pour into sterile jars

Made 5 380ml jars

I’m going to look forward to eating this lot.

I had wanted to make some of the Finnish rhubarb cake but I ran out of time today. That plus rhubarb vodka and rhubarb gin makes up all of my rhubarb recipes.

What do you like doing with rhubarb?

2019 – a Difficult year

It’s been quite a while since I posted here. A year in fact, and what a year. When I last posted, Sam was recovering from his broken foot, I was recovering from the pregnancy and the baby had started taking decent naps. I was feeling very hopeful for the new year and came up with a long list of things I’d like to achieve. Ah the joy of January resolutions.

It turned out to be quite a hard year again. We had a few good months but then physical complications of doing too much too quickly post-pregnancy came up. I need to be very careful these days as to how much I do each day or else I’m wiped out for a few days. Paracetamol, the hot tub and my trusty back heatpad have become so valuable to me. On top of that the baby proved the saying that no two are alike. My daughter was happy outside toddling around, she was very trustworthy in regards to eating anything and would listen in regards to things she shouldn’t do. My son’s a bit more of a free spirit, he doesn’t like being in the pushchair outside, but eats everything he touches and doesn’t listen to much. It made doing stuff outside quite a challenge. I tried using a sling or carrier but the lack of core strength just gave me awful pain. He’s getting a lot better now though and seeing him run around in the polytunnel or outside, shovelling soil and investigating (but not eating) plants, makes it all feel worthwhile.

Despite the difficulty I did get the duck patch cleared and set up (although strong winds have since taken the roof off). I love looking at that grassy area with its very young willow trees and remembering what a mess it was a year ago. We had our first lot of ducks and really enjoyed that. Walking them into the house each evening was lovely and they grew so quickly. We got 10 and raised them up, kept them a bit longer than we needed to but they were a good weight and they tasted delicious. We jointed 4 of them for us and kept one whole. The rest we sold to friends and family and got great feedback on them. We’d like to do the same again this year.

We made the decision not to hatch chicks in 2019 as we were struggling a bit and our flock was large enough. I perfected the use of our sin bin and broke broody after broody, but we still had 4 hens appear out of hedgerows with a total of 24 chicks between them! The cockerel chicks have now all gone into the freezer and the hens are set to join the laying flock. In addition to having more chickens than we had planned for we had our first ever encounter with redmite and it was awful. We used DE, smite, redstop and fire to try and get rid of them. I think we managed it, though I saw a couple at the last house clean. This year I think we are sending our two cockerels to the freezer to make sure we don’t get more surprise chicks. I’m a bit sad about Aramis, he is the last of our first animals, but he is 4 years old now and with 30 girls to chase around he is looking quite tired.

We did lamb in 2019 and it didn’t go as smoothly as we’d have liked. All but one ewe needed help, most were just a one leg back situation but our smallest ewe had our largest lamb who was overdue, stained waters and quite stuck. It ended up being a job for lambing ropes and a bit traumatic for her. We managed to get her mothering in the end but she went for meat in December. I couldn’t put her through another lambing and the vet said with her size it may well happen again. We also lost a lamb at birth, she just wouldn’t take a breath no matter what I did. That one was a bit traumatic for me. The vet says there’s not much I could have done differently, maybe pouring cold water over its face but there may have been something wrong with her. Then we lost one who strangled himself in a fence at a few months old. These were our first sheep losses and although people say ‘where there is livestock there will be deadstock’ it was quite hard. We have decided to not lamb this year, we’re a bit overgrazed and looking for more land. 2020 will be a take it easy year.

On the growing front we managed to build 4 of the 5 polytunnel beds and started planting in the outside beds. The weeds ran rampant though and quite a few bits didn’t get harvested. I didn’t make a single jam or chutney, I only brewed 2 batches of wine and we did a batch of apple juice. It was quite disheartening, the intention was there but we just didn’t find the time or ability or energy to do much.

On the upside I did make my first ever soup (butternut squash), I followed it with some lovely broth soups. I also finally braved my Mehu Liisa and made rhubarb cordial which went down really well.

I did however manage to get back to my monthly smallholding crafting meetings this autumn. I may not have made any pegloom rugs but I started needle felting which I really enjoy. I also picked up the knitting needles and crochet hooks, getting a few very old works in progress (WIPs) finished. I’d really like to make a felted sheepskin rug and tan my own sheepskins in 2020. Meeting with some like-minded folks really helped to inspire me to craft some more and it is so good for my soul.

We had a lot of talks in 2019 about selling up, moving to a detached house with a big garden and going on lots of holidays. Smallholding with children, very young children, has been far more challenging for us than we could have imagined. I see lots of families on instagram managing it well but we’ve found it hard. Despite the attractiveness of selling up we do see the joy smallholding brings us, the health benefits and the fact that everything changes each day with the kids (the one constant of children is that nothing is constant!). We’ve decided that we are trying to do too much on our acreage, it’d be great for ducks or geese or chickens on their own. Or pigs, plenty of space for them. The polytunnels are great for growing and you can build on the established fruit trees. The problem is when I really sit down and look at everything about smallholding I find it’s the sheep I love and there just isn’t enough land here for a breeding flock of slow growing sheep (keep until min. 14 months). We’re looking at a larger acreage to better support a similar number of sheep, something that will also justify a bit of machinery as my back and core strength just isn’t what it used to be.

Me and my bestie, Arha

Looking to 2020 we’re not lambing and not having chicks. We’re working on sorting out our grass (quite mossy and overgrazed at the moment), repairing the sheds and polytunnels that have fallen into disrepair, growing veg, raising some ducks and hopefully finally having a holiday or two to ease the stress. I’m hoping to find the time to keep posting here, I do enjoy sharing the ups and downs of smallholding with you all. Hopefully even our struggles will be useful to other people who are smallholding or thinking about it.

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up, and if you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device. It’s always nice to know people are out there and reading.

Aims for 2019

Well 2018 was a poor year for us smallholding wise. My pregnancy and then recovery meant we didn’t do much. Very limited planting, limited harvesting, no lambing, we stopped keeping geese and a lot of maintenance jobs piled up.

I am finally able to get back to work a bit, although it is still limited. I’m itching to get on with jobs though. I thought I’d make a little list here of the things I would like to accomplish this year. It’ll be interesting to look back on at the end of the year.

We ended 2018 by finally moving the shed in the orchard (walking a 6×4 shed was an experience), painting it, getting a (partial) roof on and moving the young flock of chickens in. I’d like to finish the house: get the other side of the roof on, perches and poop trays in and get an automatic pophole and window in. Built in, easy access nest boxes would be great.

D’Artagnen and his 9 ladies seem fairly happy, except for one who insists on breaking out to lay in her old spot. She’s going to be a handful that one.

D’Artagnen and his ladies

Next up is improving our fruit and veg production. We’re halfway there with the polytunnel raised beds and I’d like to get those finished. There’s also the beds outside to raise. The fruit patch is in dire need of weeding, mulching, more bushes planting and a cage over the top.

The polytunnel

The area between the fruit patch and veg patch has been earmarked for ducks and will need fencing, clearing and seeding. The shade polytunnel also needs clearing and seeding for next year’s chicks.

Our future duck patch

I’d also like to get some willow planted around the holding and repair a lot of fence posts that our ram lambs knocked down. And I’d like to sort out the sheds, greenhouses and polytunnels so that we can actually find things, and maybe look into planning to replace our storage polytunnel with a small barn, we really need a better lambing place.

Ok there’s a lot of jobs I’d like to take on. I don’t know that we will manage it all, but we’re gonna give it a go. One of the big things I’d like to challenge myself with is getting out 5 days a week for more than our morning and night let out/feed/lock up runs.

Even being out for an hour with the kids I can still get a lot of work done. It may sound silly for a smallholder to not already be out 5 days a week but it’s something we’ve found really hard this past year. Between coughs, colds, flu, hospital admittance, bad hips, broken bones and wounds we’ve found we can actually go weeks only doing the bare minimum. And once you’ve been in for weeks it can be easy to slip into the habit. It’s not what I imagined when I thought of smallholding with children but we play the cards we’ve been dealt. I’m hoping for a healthier 2019!

We’ve already managed 6 out of the 8 days outside this year (Saturday I had a smallholding wool crafting group meeting and Sunday we had guests), and I’m so happy with the progress we seem to be making chipping away at jobs. The polytunnel is pretty clear and tidy, I’ve two more cockerels in my freezer and started on the duck patch.

Inside I’d love to get more comfortable with baking and finally try a quiche! Also craft a bit more, I’ve finally finished knitting Rowan’s newborn hat (which just about fits), but I’d like to start and finish more projects. Motherhood the first time round took everything, I’m hoping to carve a little more me time this time around.

His first handknit

We’ll see how I get on with it all, I’m really excited to see what 2019 brings. Happy New Year everyone!

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up, and if you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device. It’s always nice to know people are out there and reading.

In the bleak midwinter

Today is the winter solstice, when the sun sets tonight it will start the longest night. I’ve celebrated Yule (the solstice) for about 17 years now but my understanding of it has really changed since becoming a smallholder.

I started on this smallholding journey because I felt called to becoming more in tune with nature, not just growing our own food and raising our own animals but doing it whilst following the seasons and working with nature.

It’s really worked well in that respect. You can ask Sam or I at any time of year what time sunset will be and we can tell you (we still aren’t great at sunrise, my bed calls to me too!). We can look outside and tell you how much light is left in the day. In short, smallholding has made us very aware of the sun.

The shortening days have been hard on us, especially as we were doing the bare minimum during my pregnancy. The jobs have piled up and now, when I’m starting to be physically able again, the days are so short.

Walking back from the sheep this morning I felt quite disheartened. Sam, Chi and Rowan are sick, Rowan with a very high temperature. I’m the healthiest of the lot but I’m still sniffly. The sheep are just finishing off the last bale of hay, I’ve never reversed the trailer and Sam still can’t drive the Honda with his broken foot. We need to move the sheep on but the rams broke a load of fence posts which need replacing. The bigger cockerels need slaughtering so that the smaller ones can grow. The new chicken house needs a roof. That’s just the urgent stuff, there are jobs everywhere I look and things have started getting muddy.

It feels like an awful lot on a day where my scar is hurting and a sick baby means I’ll likely be sat cuddling and worrying if he’s getting better. Our solstice morn had been bleak, I was up for sunrise but the rain made it a bit anticlimactic.

Now, walking back and feeling overwhelmed, I was blinded, the sun had broken through the clouds and was returning. The days will stop getting shorter. It was a bit of a beautiful and hopeful moment. I enjoyed it for a while and then took a picture.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. Our weather patterns are all over the place and winter has been very mild so far. I’m fully expecting things to get worse before they get better, more mud, frozen water buckets, frozen taps and snow, but the sun is returning and every day brings us closer to long warm summer days. I’m going to try and hold onto that between now and Spring.

Solstice blessings to you all, may the sun shine brightly on you and your lands.

Dans

P.S. Sam came up with a hay solution. We can get 6 bales in the back of the Honda so I’ll do that, which should last us until he can drive the Honda again.

Our first homebred hogget

*TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES* There are pictures on this post but unfortunately they aren’t showing up. Please let me know if you can see them, as it’ll help me fix this.

 

Our first homebred lambs were 18 months old in November. Cisco was a really lovely ram in looks and a good temperament so was traded to another smallholder in exchange for Django, our new ram. Cisco has 6 girls of his own and I’m crossing my fingers that we hear of some lovely lambs from him next year.

 

The shearling ewes were put in with Django along with our 3 mature ewes. If everyone lambs then we’ll have a lot of sheep on our 2.5 acres, especially if the shearling ewes have twins. If that happens then I think we’ll be looking at selling some ewes with lambs at foot. We could also sell some stock at weaning. Everyone has been covered by Django at least once so its a wait and see what we get now.

Lots of lovely coloured bums

That left Crichton and Crais. Although Crais had done a lot of growing he was still smaller than Cisco and his horns weren’t quite growing in the right direction. As he was kept intact there was no option of him being a friend for a ram. Crichton was lovely and friendly but that also made him a bit dangerous. He thought he was people but he was also most likely to butt you. He did it a few times to me through the fence if I wasn’t scratching his chin right. Both boys were destined for the freezer.

From left to right, Cisco, Crais and Crichton

The night before they went, after they had been penned up safe, Sam and I had a discussion about meat. We raised these lambs. Crichton was so friendly. Could we eat them? Did we want to eat them?

The answer to the latter for me was yes. I am a meat eater, I don’t see that changing, and with the way my gut is, meat is one of the few things I can eat without trouble. Despite being a meat eater I also care passionately about animals. Some people find that hard to marry but I believe that it’s ok to eat animals if they have had a good life and a good (quick, low stress) death. I’m not completely there yet but I’d like all my meat to come from animals we have raised or have been raised by people we know. As to the former question, I feel that if I can’t eat meat I have raised then I shouldn’t eat it at all. I guess I believe that I should be aware of the animal and the life that was sacrificed.

The hogget from our homebred sheep wouldn’t be our first homebred meat. We have eaten chickens that we have bred. Sam felt that the sheep were closer to us, more relatable and that made it more difficult. We both went to bed with slightly heavy hearts that night.

Ingredients for a homegrown feast

One thing that came out of the conversation was looking at our consumption of meat in general. As a family we eat a lot of meat. We also have a lot of meat on the freezer. We talked it through and realised we were saving our homegrown (and other smallholder grown) meat for ‘special occasions’ and sharing with friends and family. Whilst it’s nice to share, doing this was keeping us away from the aim of only eating meat from known sources. We need to stop ‘saving’ meat in the freezer. We also decided to make an effort to reduce the amount of meat we buy in. I am working on buying only 2 fresh dinner meats a week. Everything else should come from our freezer (or kievs and pizza – our meals for overwhelmed days). Lastly, we decided to reduce down our consumption. See about meals without meat where we can and reducing meat portion sizes where we do eat meat.

A mutton shoulder from last year that we decided to stop ‘saving’

When we got the meat back I have to admit I was nervous. As they were intact rams which were living close to the ewes I was worried about ram taint. I didn’t even advertise the meat for sale in case it was inedible. As soon as I got the meat into the fridge and freezers I cut a bit of us and fried it. I’ve never sniffed meat with such suspicion. Thankfully I needn’t have worried. It was delicious and we tucked into fried chops that night.

Pan fried hogget chops – delicious

Despite not advertising we sold 3 halves by word of mouth. Selling always worries me in case people aren’t happy with what they bought but everyone reported that the meat was the best they’ve had. It’s a wonderful feeling producing good meat.

We got the horns and skins back as well. The skins are salting on the polytunnel and will be sent for tanning in the new year. The horns are outside waiting for nature to work it’s magic and the cores to come out.

One of the skins pre-salting (it was very dark by the time I could work on them)

All in all I’m feeling very positive about the whole thing. Now that Django has covered the ewes the ball is rolling for the whole process to start again.

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up, and if you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device. It’s always nice to know people are out there and reading.

Harvest 2018

You may have noticed that we’ve been rather quiet over the last few months. As my due date got closer I really went into nesting and birth preparation mode. It was quite odd seeing the different fruits come into season and not harvesting them. August should have been filled with harvesting and preserving but instead instead it saw me growing in size, decreasing in mobility, organising and reading. I have to admit to feeling a bit jealous of everyone else’s harvest posts, and even my own from previous years.

We did manage to harvest a little from the land, the beauty of bath apples were first, the wasps got to a fair few but we still got a few bottles of juice from them. We harvested, quartered, froze and then juiced when we had time (and my nephew’s help). It worked well.

Pressing apples after defrosting. You certainly get more juice.

The tomatoes were next, not as good a harvest as last year by far, we lost a lot, especially the cherry tomatoes, but we did get a few jars of passata. I also finally processed the last of last year’s toms so my passata stores are looking healthy again.

We had our first experience of blossom end rot with the toms. This was our first year with raised beds but also our first heat wave year. I am hoping that if we add some more nutrients to the soil and keep steady with our watering next year, then we won’t see it again.

One thing that benefited from the heat wave was our attempt at melons. We got a few good size, really tasty cantaloupe melons. I’m really keen to try these again and see what we get when we put some effort in to them. We got a couple aubergines and sweet peppers too.

One of our tasty melons

We lost a lot of the cooking apples and pears as well. The apples were a smaller harvest anyway as one tree barely fruited but the pear trees were laden. We did manage to have our first attempt at pear juice and have enough harvested Williams pears to do some dried pear.

It was a good year for pears

We always knew this year wouldn’t be great in terms of the smallholding, my body doesn’t do pregnancy well and we ended up with an emergency C-section which put me out of action for far longer than I had hoped. We had a go at planting, harvesting and preserving but kept our expectations low.

On the upside we now have our not so little boy. I have just about recovered from the section enough to get back to work on the smallholding. It’s been a little forced as Sam broke his foot last week. It does feel good to be back to doing lots (when baby allows of course) and I’m feeling very motivated to get this place back on track.

Baby’s first trip to the polytunnel.

Dans

As always likes and comments are much appreciated. We have a new Instagram account for all the day to day posts, we are @six_oaks_smallholding

Adventures with rhubarb

So this year we haven’t been doing as much with growing but there are two very prolific rhubarb bushes just by our bedroom window. I’ve never been very good at using rhubarb. I tried for several years to do rhubarb wine and it has bested me every time. For some reason I always get a smell and taste of old socks from it. One day I will try again and I will master a rhubarb wine. My only other experiment with rhubarb is the Finnish fruit soup which comes out ok but does need cream or milk with it. I planned to change that this year.

I started with the Finnish fruit cake I do but doing first an apple and rhubarb and then a rhubarb on it’s own. They were both lovely but the I really like the solo rhubarb one. Unfortunately I haven’t mastered a gluten free cake yet, the only gluten free flour our Tescos does is Doves farm and it just comes out too thick, even with extra baking powder. I tried the Tesco cake mix but due to not checking the ingredients it just came out as a molten sugar mess, my biggest baking disaster yet, it actually got scraped into the bin. I’ve bought some flour from Morrisons though and I’ll give the Tesco cake mix another try but without adding sugar. Fingers crossed I can make a decent tasting cake that my body approves of. Home made cake with home made custard is just so lovely.

The next step was some jam. I made jam late last year for the first time and really enjoyed it, but for some reason I have had cold feet about doing jam this year. Which is kind of crazy as I am hoping to be making jams and chutneys for sale next year as an added income from our fruit trees. I finally bit the bullet when Chi was settling in for her first long day at a new nursery. She seemed to be settling well but I wanted to be close to the phone and not too tied into a job. The rhubarb was also getting a bit overgrown at this point too. I’m very glad I gave it a go as it really is simple and Chi had us down to our last jar of jam (blackberry), she really does like jam on her toast and porridge. The rhubarb and vanilla worked well but I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as sharp as I was hoping, in fact it was really a bit too sweet. I’ll try again with less sugar and see if I can get one to our taste. That said Chi loved it on her porridge and Sam enjoyed it on his toast.

The recipe was taken from the BBC and is simply equal amounts of sugar and fruit (1kg) with 2 cinnamon sticks stirred until the sugar dissolves, then the juice of 1 lemon added and proceed as you would for any jam. You do have to scrape the scum off the top though, we used a metal spoon for this and once cool Sam gobbled up the scum! Waste not want not here.

Lastly I’ve had my first go at a cordial. I found this a bit daunting too, but that seems to be a trend for me with new skills. It was really simple once I carved out the time for it, another day of Chi at nursery where other commitments meant I couldn’t get stuck into a big job outside. I used  another BBC recipe for this one, using an orange and a lemon as well as rhubarb. I was meant to use ginger too, and even had it in the house, but completely forgot to add it. Maybe for the best as it would be nice for Chi to have this and I’m not sure how the ginger will affect her liking of it.

I have to say that I’m not sure I did it quite right. I did it in the jam pan as that is easy to pour from and I don’t know if the thicker bottom will have affected things. I also think I left it too long. The recipe said ‘until the rhubarb is falling apart’ but I wasn’t sure if that was just some of the rhubarb or all of it so I waited until it was all coming apart. The cordial was very thick. The recipe expected 600ml to be produced but I only got about 250ml until I pressed and squeezed the bag with a metal spoon. I ended up with about 400ml which seems like very little. The rhubarb I used was quite old though, very thick stems, and the weather has been quite dry, so it is possible the fruit itself had less moisture to give. It is lovely and tasty though, maybe a bit more orangey in flavour than I was expecting,. the ginger may balance that out.

I had heard that cordial needs to be stored in the fridge so I called Vigo Presses to see if I can pasteurise it for a longer cupboard storage. We bought our pasteuriser and apple pressing kit from them a couple of years ago and I am still really happy with their customer service. They said I can absolutely pasteurise it but also suggested using a steamer to produce a cordial that will store in the cupboard without pasteurisation.

As I only got 400ml this time I haven’t bothered to pasteurise but we do have a Mehu Liisa in the cupboard that I think I will use to make the next batch of cordial. It came straight from Finland so doesn’t have English instructions but I think I will ask my mother in law or some of our Finnish family for help with it. It looks like it will take a lot longer than just on the hob but it can be left and I like the idea of not having to pasteurise separately. I might also get a better return. I think I’ll do another post about that when I get around to giving it a try.

The only picture I have of the Mehu Liisa in action (blackberries)

Dans

P.S. As always if you like the post, give us a thumbs up, and if you want to be notified of every blog post then subscribe – there’s a button to the left or below if you’re on a mobile device. It’s always nice to know people are out there and reading.

A journey into smallholding