Sunday, 30 January 2011

Signs of Spring

Today, at least in this house, was the start of the gardening season.  Tom turned thirteen on Friday and I always try to sow some seeds around his birthday so am writing this post with compost under my nails for the first time this year. On the windowsill upstairs are the Nicotiana Sensation in a tray, some Sweet Peas (parentage unknown, seed gathered from the allotment last year), and in the cold frame are a tray of Leek Musselburgh, soon to be taken over to the greenhouse at Mums for her to keep an eye on.  I also pruned the autumn fruiting raspberries and gave them a bit of a mulch with some leaf mould from a couple of years ago.

It was a very cold (freezing) day but blue skies, and I went down to the allotment to see what was happening down there.  No one around but really nice to be out there.  We have summer raspberries there, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, a big, big strawberry bed,  and we planted four blueberry bushes last autumn  with some ericaceous compost (but will probably have to do battle with the wood pigeons for them come the summer).

Also in is the Purple Sprouting Broccoli, which is looking okay despite the freezing weather (fingers crossed, lost the lot in the bad weather last year), garlic, onion sets planted in the autumn, some artichokes, rhubarb,  and some broad beans under cloches doing nothing at the moment due to the cold.

So it feels good to be starting again.  This is one of the oak trees
that line the path of the allotments.  I would really love to know how old these trees are (about 3 1/2 hugs around if anyone can work it out)....  We have promised ourselves a petrol strimmer this season so we dont spend so much time on maintenance and can spend more time actually growing things, ruminating and generally making it up as we go along.  Welcome to my world.   

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville Orange Marmalade. That's what I made today.   Making marmalade makes jam making look like fast food.  I got all excited and ordered 5kgs of Seville Oranges from Phil at Westbury Veg.  I was a bit disappointed as 5 kg didn't look like a lot of oranges and was even at that stage thinking of ordering some more.  Madness.   Really pleased with it but not for anyone that doesnt have about six hours on their hands..

Anyway, for the record....  Seville Orange Marmalade

1.5 kgs of Seville Oranges, scrubbed

1 lemon, scrubbed

3 kgs granulated sugar

3.75 litres water

Also need:-  large preserving pan, muslin square about 25cm, jam funnel, dozen or so jars (clean and sterlised - more later),   wax discs, endless patience, juicer.

1.  Put muslin over a shallow bowl and cut oranges in half, removing pips into muslin.  Squeeze oranges into perserving pan.  Save all the inner bits of the orange from the juicer and put in the muslin.  Put the orange halves to one side.

2.  Juice lemon into perserving pan. Discard peel, put pips in muslin.

3. Pick all the nice bits of orange peel and slice thinly - added this to perserving pan.  Put any other bits into the muslin.  Tie the muslin and put the juice from bowl into perserving pan. Fish out any stray pips from the perserving pan and put in the muslin. This is about when I had serious misgivings about the whole thing.  Add water to pan.  Tie the muslin tight with kitchen string (or in my case garden twine, but not the green stuff). Put the muslin in the perserving pan and tie to handle.

4. Gently simmer perserving pan with juice and water etc for two hours or until the peel is soft. Fish out the muslin and put in a bowl and leave to cool a bit.

5. Add warmed sugar making sure all the crystals are dissolved.  This is a good time also to put your jars and lids into the oven at about 100c and put some saucers in the freezer for use later.  Squeeze the muslin hard to get all the pectin out and mix into the perserving pan.  Discard the muslin.  Cry a bit.

6. Bring to a rolling boil and test for set after about 15 mins.  To test for set take saucer out of freezer put tsp of marmalade on and put to one side for about 5 mins.  Look for a wrinkle.  If no wrinkle, continue boiling and testing about every five or ten mins. Cry a bit more.

7. When you have set, take the pan off the hob and leave for about 20 mins before putting into clean jars using jam funnel. Make seal with wax disc and screw lids on straight away.  Dry eyes.  Its nearly over.

8. Label and store in cool dark place. Have large drink.  At this point I couldn't quite work out how I was feeling but then realised it was smug.  Not becoming on a lady.

I think I may learn to juggle with the other 3.5 kgs I have in the fridge as I am not sure whether I could do all that again for a while.   I think you can freeze these oranges but I don't have much room. But....  thinking of making some Seville Orange Jelly which would mean I wouldn't have to cut all the peel up... hmmm...

Credit, apart from to me, of course, should go to St. Delia and Thursday's G2 in the Guardian.  The techniques were all Delia's but the quantities were taken from G2.  Delia always makes me cry...

Saturday, 8 January 2011

garlandgirl goes on location.....

all the way to Westbury Park (!), to borrow  Jo's fab fireplace which is just perfect to photograph the Christmas greengarland swag, even in January.  Its a lovely stone Minster fireplace which is well loved and used, in her pretty late Victorian house, in a beautiful light sitting room with a window that gets all the afternoon sun.  We even got some of that sun, which at this time of year is a bonus ...
This is a job that I should have done during the season, but as always, the business  got in the way, and I was too busy with my order book and customers (hurrah!)  to take the time to take proper photos.  I always think that I will find the time to do this sort of thing, but I never do.    So I did today.  It  was good.  This is a plain fresh blue pine swag on a grapevine decorated with ribbons and cones gathered from Stoke Lodge. It really smelled great and looked fantastic.  My demo swag was made in the middle of November and is still going strong on the table outside the kitchen door... That may have something to do with the fabulously cold weather we had in December, and the snow, and the frost, and more snow, and more frost....   
Also have some proto-types of spring candle rings that Jo ordered to replace her Christmas candle rings, but will leave that for a another posting.
Thanks to Jo, Duncan, Hannah, Rory  and Rex for indulging me.     Good tea...