The beauty of chopsticks

Monday was a very busy day in the kitchen, using the damsons I got at the weekend to make jam, chutney and cordial. The apple and damson jam worked fine. The marrow and damson chutney worked fine. But the damson cordial turned into sauce.

I realised something was up as I poured the cordial into bottles. It was gloopy rather than runny. Mm. I think this is because damsons are high in pectin, so the cordial had set.

Taking recipes, which may not have tried and tested, off the Internet can obviously be a bit of a risk. The one for cordial clearly needed far more water than suggested, so out all the gloop came. Or rather, in order to get it out of the bottles, I used a chopstick to loosen the mixture, after first heating the bottles to melt it as much as I could.

Now, it’s all been pasteurised, so hopefully it will pour out of the bottles easily when I come to drink it. At least it tastes good! 

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It was a great team effort at Old Sleningford today. Loads of new people came along to the volunteer workday and there were loads of regulars as well.

This month we were picking damsons (a type of plum) from a very large tree and my daughter had the pleasure of climbing up it – so glad that she gets the opportunity to do such things in an age of ultra-safety. And we got to take home a very large bag of the fruit, so now I’m in the process of making various foodstuffs out of them.

We also got another large courgette (otherwise known as a marrow but this stays firm when cooked) and French beans. I’d never eaten these before and was surprised when my daughter ate them raw. Seeing others at the farm do the same no doubt encouraged her.

I can’t say the raw taste does it for me. On the other hand, we don’t want for these either, so I’ll see what I make of them steamed. And in the meantime, I’ll keep blanching my own runner beans for later in the year.

All in all, a fitting third anniversary of volunteering at Old Sleningford Farm. I’m so glad I found this LAND site. I’ve learned so much and met so many lovely people.

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At last: butternut squash!

After a successful trip into town and a siesta, I felt the impetus to get my new secateurs out and prune the tomato plants some more. Had I not done so, I would eventually have found a fruit on the butternut vine but it certainly wouldn’t have been this afternoon.

I don’t know as yet if it has been fertilised – the flower looks like it has already bloomed – but at least I know there is now a chance I will have some butternut soup from my own garden.

From past experience of growing squash/pumpkins, it would seem the plants need to get to a large size before the female flowers start to appear. I’m not surprised by this, as it must take a lot of energy to grow a fruit. And it’s not the first time that fruit have appeared so late in the season. Still, there approximately two months left for it to grow, which means I could be in for an even bigger pleasure.

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Growing without me

Last night was, I hope, the last of the late nighters in the office. For two days in a row, we’ve been getting back well after dark so I live in hope that when I go into the garden in a while I will be delighted.

This year, I’ve grown less on windowsills but one little plant has been getting bigger recently. Only one of the seeds germinated but maybe this will eventually be a big plant.

I’d never heard of soapwort until I read The Moneyless Manifesto by Mark Boyle, which I found quite thought-provoking. I doubt human nature would allow a full gift-economy to flourish anymore than a moneyed one does but I do get a kick out of reducing the role money plays in my own life.

Thus, soapwort. As the name suggests, it can apparently be used as a substitute for soap, although I will have to report back once the plant has grown sufficiently and I’ve had chance to try it out.

Of course, if it keeps growing as slowly as at present, it might do for a single wash, so I can’t imagine it’s going to be a massive money-saver. But being the experimenter I am, it’s worth a try.

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Trusses submerged 

Today, we managed two walled gardens: a second look in at the one in Helmsley, followed by one at Beningbrough on the way home. At both I sighed to see ginormous squash. Still, it gave me hope that I would see progress back home.

Beningbrough squash

In the event, I wouldn’t say there was nothing – the courgettes look like they might actually produce something that could feed us – but the only way in which the butternut squash have spurted is to make their way into the tomato plants and out the other end.

‘Growing out of chaos’ tomato

I remind myself that if all else fails there will be plenty of biomass – and as long as blight doesn’t strike, there will be a fair number of tomatoes. Perhaps they will have a hard time ripening under all that foliage but I am keen to make green tomato marmelade again, so all will not be lost!

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Round things

We first visited Helmsley Walled Garden last autumn and in spite of the best intentions hadn’t actually been back again before today. However, as we were on foot (in other words, not having to worry about bicycles as we had a couple of weeks ago at Clumber Park walled garden), I was able to enjoy looking around at a reasonably leisurely pace.

My daughter is getting less patient with gardens, although there were some things she personally wanted to look at and at least there were comments forthcoming about others. For example, what do you make of this ball?

My own main observation was how close the smaller apple trees were (or rather, weren’t) from each other. This gives me confidence that I could have at least two more after the one I plant this autumn. I also like the idea of espaliers for a fence, but I’m not sure my neighbour would be so keen.

Anyway, it would seem that purple tomatoes are not so scary as they once were, so they could perhaps be on our home menu next year…

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Over the moors and back again

I’ve just finished reading an article in which George Monbiot is interviewed about his view of the moors as managed at the moment.

Unfortunately, the moors are not that easy to photograph, so here is a verbal description: there are miles and miles of heather and sheep, with miles and miles of grass and sheep on the lower slopes. They do look spectacular, even if they are devoid of their natural vegetation, which would once have been trees.

Now, I would be more than happy to see the moors rewilded but whether the landowners would agree to this or not is a moot point. With or without the EU. So, we appreciated them for what they currently are and at least we’re thankful that they had more to offer than the Britain in Bloom display below!

After this sight, I was more than a little depressed. The Britain in Bloom competition may encourage as much controversial behaviour as Monbiot or the EU or anyone else who has anything to say about landscapes and agriculture, but a weed infested flower display didn’t need to grace the seafront of my hometown.

Fortunately, as can only happen when you move away from a place, the Zetland lifeboat museum was actually open. This is the longest serving lifeboat – decommissioned in about 1880 – and was worth the diversion on the hunt for open public conveniences, which we also eventually found.

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