Saturday, 4 July 2009

Summer herbs

July is a good month for picking fresh herbs - plenty of sun to bup the volatile oil content, resulting in the most flavour. Pick on a dry day round about noon for best results, but any time is good for herbs really if you're like me and don;t get aroudn to it then. I find I usually have to do things when I think about them or I forget!
Most herbs are best used fresh, and very few dry satisfactorily in my view; the only ones I'm happy with are oregano, marjoram and bay. I picked a big bunch of oregano on Wednesday, and it's almost finished drying now - on a paper-lined rack over the stove. It will get roughly crumbled into an airtight jar and stored in the dark larder for winter use. I freeze basil, as it is totally dismal once dried.
Another one I processed this week was calendula, and made some oil - looks like sunshine in a bottle to me!

That'll be sued for making soap and salves when it's ready in a few eeks time. Very easy to amke - pack a jar with fresh calendula petals (orange parts only) and pour over some good quality oil - I used sunflower oil for this. Use a knife to make sure there are no air pockets, and top up with oil so all the petals are fully covered. Put the cover on and leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 - 3 weeks, then strain and label. Make sure thee jar is very dry, and the petals, as water will cause them to mould.
The basil is doing very well, but I freeze that in ice cube trays ( did a post on this last year, I think) for winter pizzas etc. I'll be sowing some more soon, though, so I can have fresh in the kitchen all through the autumn.
The lemon herbs are good now - balm, verbena. Lemon balm makes an excellent wine, and a good fresh tea, calming and upliftin (as is the wine LOL). Tarragon I use for tarragon vinegar.
To make herb vinegars or oils, just put your chosen herb into a clean, dry jar, top up with oil or vinegar and leave to infuse for a couple of weeks. Remove the herb, or leave for a stronger flavour as it develops.
Herb teas are good to make, and go a long way in the old self-reliance stakes - just a big cup of hot water (nice to boil it outside on a real fire or kelly kettle for full effect!) and a good sprig of chosen herb. Summer in a cup.:)

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Easy berry jam

Thought I'd share this quick and easy one with you. Often there aren't enough berries all ripe at once enough to make a full batch of jam. I collected enough over three days to make two full jars and about 1/5th of a jar - 1 1/4lbs of mixed berries. I had golden raspberries, red ones, tayberries and a few strawberries.
They were kept int eh fridge and added to over the three days. I wanted to capture the ripeness and fresh zingy taste, rather than freezing them for later, which does soft fruit no favours, really, so jam it was.

Place fruit in pan with an equal amount of white suagr (ie 1lb berries to 1lb sugar) and a good squirt of lemon juice. Leave over a lowish heat until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved, then turn up the heat and boil rapidly to a set, decant into prepared hot jars, leave to get cold, then cover and label.

Stash one away to keep for the depths of winter if you can.

Restore the Earth - make a positive handprint

A "Positive Handprint" defined:
An action which improves and restores the Earth; enhancing its capacity to adapt for change and provide for the needs of future generations. Its not just about reducing your negative carbon footprint; its about what you can do for the earth with your hands.

It's so nice to see a *POSITIVE* campaign - something telling us what to do ourselves to improve things, rather than being told what we shouldn't be doing.Here's a link:

I've signed up :)

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

They're in there somewhere, I know they are.........

The veg beds that is! Here's a few shots of the vegetable patch. Most of the flowers are self-seeded, although I did plant the sunflowers and the clarkia and sweet peas. The patch is being very productive this year, and I'm pleased with the way it's going; I'm picking stuff from there every day just now, very satisfying.


July is now what our old poets loved to call "sweet summer-time, when the leaves are green and long", for in such brief word-painting did they picture this pleasant season of the year; and, during this hot month, we sigh while perusing the ancient ballad-lore, and wish we could recall the past, were it only to enjoy a week with Robin Hood and his merry men in the free old forests..... We feel the harness chafe in which we have hitherto so willingly worked, amid the "fever and the fret" of the busy city, and pine to get away to some place where we can hear the murmur of the sea, or what is nearest the sound - the rustle of summer leaves."

Chambers Book of Days

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Sing a song of sixpence................

Remember the silver sixpence? On this day in 1980, it ceased to be legal tender. There are lots of interesting stories associated with this iconic little coin, including brides slipping one into their shoe on their wedding day to ensure wealth in their married life.
As a small child, growing up in Scotland, we had our "Saturday sixpence" - sometimes saved, but more often than not, spent in the village shop or post office, usually on sweeties.
I have a rather nice George V1 sixpence which is always put in our Christmas pudding, to bring luck and wealth to the finder.

Monday, 29 June 2009

What I did at the weekend

Saturday was Guild day, where we had a talk by a lovely lady on Bulgarian rugs and kelims. I was particulalry interested in this, as the slides showed domestic rugs, the ones actually woven and used by peasants in their homes - not some big posh arty ones to hang onw alls, or not to be walked on - they were lovely, and she had a few items to look at too, which we could handle. One of them was a goat hair rug - these were woven, then placed in a stream for several days where a wheel with an arrangement of mallets punded them to felt them - hardwearing and durable, soft rugs were the result of this. Another one that fascianted me was a lovely black and white check woven apron. Imagine talking the time (perhaps borne of necessity) to weave an apron - looked as if it would last for many, many years, unlike the thin cotton ones we have these days. I bought some nice Black Welsh Mountain wool from the sales table,r eady carded, and spent Sunday afternoon spinning it up, and ened up with two nice hanks of that - might be destined for a hat. I finished a pair of socks owed for a barter ( a nice skillet for using on the fire pit), and had a go with a vintage origianl Spirograph I found at the tip on Friday - remember that one? The weather has been very hot, so spinning and eating has mostly been done outside. I let the Rayburn out to give it a good clean (jam dribbles LOL), and will re-light it this morning as I have a pile of baking to do. The washing machine is officially dead, so I have ordered a new one, managing to find an ethically acceptable company and a machine with AAA ratings, £50 off and free delivery. I am happy to continue hand washing (although I admit the sheets are difficult), but I had to stave off a teenage revolt, so new machine it is.
No problem getting any of it dry at the moment though!
I've been picking the first of the soft fruits after the gooseberries too - tayberries, raspberries and strawberries. A true taste of summer. :)

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Grandmother's Household Hints

This is the title of a wonderful American book by Helen Lyon Adamson from 1963. It's a wonderful book, full of very useful knowledge, wrought from experience, on all aspects of domestic life. REading ti goes to who just hwo hard a lot of women have had things over the years, and makes me look like a bit of a slacker..........
This is one of my favourite passages:

"Among the extracurricular activities our grandmothers of that era could be expected to do were such oddly assorted subjects as sudden emergencies due to accidents; the making of wine; oreparing diets of invalids; knowing how to concoct medicines for many minor and some major ills; wage war agains rodents, insects and other vermin; bake bread twice a week; turn out the Monday wash, the Tuesday folding, and the Wednesday ironing; prepare and serve three meals a day; keep the well pure, make its water soft and run a vegetable patch; keep the house sparkling clean, paint a bedrolom, whitewasht he kitchen and extinguish chimney fires; make her own soap, mix her own paint, compound her own cosmetics; grow her own medicinal and kitchen herbs or collect them int he woods or fields; bottle a barrel of cider, put up preserves and bring up a family; care for a milch cow, make butter and cheese; dye wool and cotton, mix furniture,shoe, floor and razor-strop polish - also to find time to rest and recharge her rundown batteries lest she be called upon to deal with someone's attack of delirium tremens"

HHmm. I'm off for a cup of coffee and a sit down before I make a start !

I'll post some more bits and pieces as it's a fascinating insight into domestic life mostly now gone.