Kittens, cavalo nero, the calmness of bread making and needing something “purely medicinal” at 10.30 in the morning…..

planting winter greens

Is it wrong to confess to wanting something of a “purely medicinal” nature at 10.30 on a Sunday morning….Pretty Izzy from next door had kittens in the Summer and they’ve just discovered (while watching their Uncle Bob) how to climb up over our fence and creep into our garden.

What’s black, cute and has twelve legs?

The three extremely adorably fluffy kittens I found playing in my kitchen on Wednesday morning.

Up until then they’d just been eyeing the fence but hadn’t worked out how to get over it…ohh, but once they had learnt……

The carefully planted beds of kale and cavalo nero must smell intoxicating, like catnip or something as they won’t leave the beds alone…even putting in lots of pea sticks to stop them from digging hasn’t really deterred them…so next stage is fleece or netting.

I’d like to take credit for the neat planting but it’s all my boyfriends work, including placing pieces of card around each plant to help keep down the slug damage and also it offers a little protection with the digging by kittens.

protecting winter greens from the cats next door

We’ve got a bit of a tangley garden, a little overgrown in parts which the kittens are finding to be the greatest lark to play in…yesterday I spent most of the morning chasing them round pots (which got overturned), retrieving them from my blueberry bushes (which they were trying to nibble) and down from from the big tree in the corner…at one point my boyfriend had to climb up it to rescue a mewling kitty (which 5 minutes later climbed back up and then showed us it didn’t need any help thank you as it jumped on a neighbour’s fence and daintily walked across it.

The high jinks this morning started quite early, this involved getting into what I call our “poly-tunnel” while another jumped on top and was causing the roof to sink down….the best fun ever if you’re a cute, big eyed kitten….and a bit annoying if you’ve spent the previous afternoon planting and building it.

One even half wiggled into the big Mister McGregor watering can, his little bottom peeking out.  Nothing is safe…even the raspberry plants are getting a chew (here they take after their Uncle Bob as he liked to do that do when he he first discovered our garden in the Spring).

And if you’re wondering about Bernard, why isn’t he out there keeping an eye on things, well he’s all fluff and whiskers, a big girl’s blouse and he quickly runs indoors when all 4 kittens are in full force.  (the kittens were a bit hissy when they encountered him, but a clout round their from their mom and Uncle Bob has stopped that…afterwards both mom and Bob nose kissed noses and sniffed bottoms with Bernard, and purred to high heaven as they rubbed themselves around him….poor old boy, I think he seemed rather bewildered by the kitten invasion)

last of the red tomatoes

Luckily the tomatoes seem to have survived the kitten capers….the lovely sunshiny weather of the last week has seen lots of what I thought were destined for chutney, green tomatoes, instead ripen up and were eaten yesterday in a big salad (they were nice and sharp, intensely tomatoey and very good with a little goat’s cheese)…..there’s still quite a lot of tomatoes so any that don’t redden in the last of the Autumn sunshine will no doubt be thrown into a pot of slowly cooking chutney in a couple of weeks time.

autumn bliss raspberries

We’re still picking the Autumn Bliss raspberries (a fruit that more than lives up to it’s name)….I just made a couple of batches of raspberry  jam this year including this lovely recipe… I tinkered a little with the recipe and think if you’re going to make it then you’re better off using raspberries that have only just turned red…the heat breaks them down so quickly that unless they’re still quite firm they won’t stay whole…..a nice jam to make if you grow your own…and obviously perfect for eating while reading Russian novels.

You could of course just add a splash of cognac to this recipe as it’s very similar.

Along with the jam we’ve also made this raspberry liqueur but substituted Marsala for the red wine…the recipe says that afterwards the raspberries can be used for something else, however we found really all you’re left with is a pink seedy pulp so added it to some cream and sugar which I’d bought to a boil (for 3 minutes) and then left it to infuse…strained and poured into little ramekins and made fruity possets. I think lemon and orange ones are the best but these were still nice to have with fresh berries on top.


This pot of nasturtiums has been wonderful to look at, especially in the mornings before the day has brightened itself up.  The flowers are nearly always full of bees and I have to tap them gently before picking them for salads (I love the velvety feel of the petal combined with that peppery taste).

Thankfully the pot has survived the kittens running around (though there’s been a couple of close wobbles as they clamber up it only to jump down on top of one another) and earlier this morning I saw a little black face peeping out from all the greenery before darting off to join it’s brothers in adventures and mischief.

After what feels like the umpteenth kitten removal (they’ve been all over the garage roof which is on a slope so they climb up and peek over the top), shooing them out of the kitchen (my fault for having the door open but it’s so warm today it’s nice to let in the fresh air and sunshine while the weather is good) and “hey you-ing” as they run out of the house with one of Bernard’s pompom toys in their mouths, I’m starting to eye the bottle of Pomona and I’m wondering if just a small glass, for “purely medicinal reasons of course”, might be just what I need to stop feeling quite so frazzled.

still warm from the oven and smelling nutty and sweet

And in the midst of the chaos that only comes from four little kittens causing havoc and mayhem, there’s the quiet and calm that is bread……allowing the sponge to slowly bubble away, the slightly sharp scent of the natural leaven mixed in with a grated apple and a dollop of honey, a handful of oats and bread flour.

I though to make a loaf this week with cobnuts and apple (they work so well in a crumble how could they not work in a bread loaf) however I’ve now missed the fresh cob season…one of the lovely guys (always smiling whatever the weather, even when they have chilblains and wind chapped fingers) on Mike’s vegetable stall on Norwich Market (stalls 46 and 47, they’re right on the front) said the cobs they’d been offered now were all brown rather than green and you’d be better off buying hazelnuts so it’s a recipe I’ll put to one side for next year.  But if you’re lucky enough to have green cobs where you live then I’d thought to make a paste like this walnut one (though with cobnuts) and adding that to my regular sourdough recipe with apples.

This one is a simple apple and oat loaf but I’m thinking to make a hazelnut bread with brandy soaked raisins…a bit like cinnamon rolls, not so sweet and a little more robust and rural, for next weeks breakfast.  The cinnamon rolls always keep well and I think will raise a smile when one is found wrapped up in a lunch tin as the something sweet for elevenses.

Hedgerow syrups for sore winter throats…..

crab apples and haws

Most of the jellies I’ve made this year have been combinations of crab apples, haws and rosehips.  All of these grow in the hedgerows that dot and line the village I live in (it’s about a forty minute walk to the city so not far from excellent coffee and a brilliant local bookshop)…certainly within a couple of hundred metres from my front door I have the ingredients to make a beautiful fruity tasting breakfast preserve (it’s really quite orangey tasting and being full of rosehips I’ve convinced myself it’s a health food…bursting full of vitamin C)

wild rose hips

This year seems to be a bumper harvest year for the wild rosehips and although I saw them in flower I’m amazed at how many there are.

I’m very lucky because these all grow along the side of grass paths, and children’s play-areas, there are no cars nor are there fields being sprayed with goodness knows what so I feel very safe foraging here.  I try not to take too much from any one spot, even though I don’t see anyone else ever picking (I think I’m known as the girl with a basket* by some of my elderly neighbours) but there’s a lot of wildlife here, no end of squirrels, various little mice, birds and foxes, and where I have the ability to pop down the shops when I’m hungry the hedgerows really are their pantry, their life source over the cold months (especially now most winters aren’t properly cold enough for small animals to hibernate properly) so they really need those berries.

hips from an apple rose

Along with using wild rosehips I’ve also used apple rosehips, these are from some beautiful turkish delight scented roses that grow behind our house near a play- ground (there are so many little parks and places for small children to play it’s brilliant, though I always feel sorry for older children as there is nowhere really for them to hang out).  In the Summer months the rose bushes are a mass of wide open bright pink flowers, they really capture the sun and smell amazing.

Once Autumn starts creeping up, the petals have fallen and the hips have swollen and become round and fat, about  the size of cherry tomatoes.  I try to just pick the firm ones though a few softer ones seem to end up in the bowl as well as the odd ladybug.

an afternoons foraging

There were still loads of elderberries about when I picked these (from the same trees where I picked the flowers for cordial back at the end of the spring) walking stick (a bargain from the charity shop and I rarely go foraging without it) comes in very handy, helping me to pull down the higher branches which are covered with heavy heads of black elderberries.

Elderberries are anti-viral and are high in vitamin C so are a really good addition to any winter syrup recipes.

a hedgerow harvest

Along with the elderberries there are also a couple of nicely placed rowan trees nearby so a few bunches of orangey coloured berries were also picked to add a little more flavour and depth to the syrup.

Like the rosehips and elderberries, rowan berries are high in Vitamin C and are very good for the immune system.

a very wee fellow

It’s not only the odd ladybug that travels home with me when I’ve been foraging, when I was picking over the elderberries I found this wee fellow.

the smallest snail I've ever seen

Now I know he’s going to grow up all big and fat and eat my nice winter greens but he was the tiniest little snail I think I’ve ever seen and I just didn’t have the heart to squash him (or fling him over the fence) instead he was carefully placed near the compost bin where there is plenty of greenery (but not our Kale or sprouting broccoli)

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

Making the syrup took a couple of days (I spent nearly a day preparing all the fruit, topping and tailing the rosehips, pinching out the scubby ends of the haws, carefully removing the elderberries (which I found easier not using a fork…) this point having the radio on was a big help as it is a bit of a thankless task and seems to take ages.

I half followed a rosehip syrup recipe but used a little less water as I was using apples and elderberries and they have a lot of their own juice.  The fruit simmered until everything was soft, then it’s strained twice before it’s bought to a boil with sugar.

Winter Syrup

Hedgerow fruit (rosehips, haws, rowan, elderberries and crab apples/wildings)

Granulated sugar


Wash and dry your fruit.  Top and tail the rose hips.  Remove the scrubby bottoms of any haws.  Quarter any crab apples (chop smaller any large ones), remove all the stalks from the elderberries.

Weigh your fruit.

I prefer to use mostly rosehips, then haws, rowan berries, elderberries and crab apples in no particular order, just as they are picked.

Weigh the rosehips, haws and rowan berries.  These want to make up the main bulk of the fruit.

For every 100g  of these you want to add a 100ml of water.

With the apples and elderberries, for every 100g of those then add 65ml of water.

Simmer the red fruits first for about half an hour so that they soften before adding the apples and elderberries and their required water.

Simmer for a further half an hour until everything is soft and mushy.

Empty the fruit pulp into a jelly bag (or old pillowcase) and allow the juice to drip for an hour or so. (I’m a bag squeezer, whether you squeeze is up to you)

Empty the pulp and weigh it, for every kilo of mixed fruit pulp you want to use about a litre of water.  Put the pulp and water into a clean pan and bring to a simmer, let it cook gently for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and empty into a jelly bag. Allow the juice to strain through for an hour or so. (again it’s up to you whether you squeeze the bag when it’s stopped dripping.)

Combine the two liquids and measure.

For every litre of liquid you want 750g of white granulated sugar.

In a clean pan add the sugar and pour over the liquid.

Gently heat so the sugar completely dissolves before turning up the heat and bringing to a rolling boil.

Turn off, remove any scum that appears and pour into sterilized preserving bottles.

If you run out of preserving bottles then bring the syrup back to a rolling boil and cook until it thickens up as it will then become a jelly and pour into sterilized jam jars.

Store in a dark cupboard away from the light.  The syrup will keep for some months but once opened keep in the fridge and use within 10 days.

I love the colour of the syrups, even if I didn’t know they were full of goodness and Vitamin C, I think just looking at those amber, jewel like oranges and that rich dark claret coloured syrup would do me the wole world of good if I was feeling peaky or under the weather.

The syrup can be taken to relieve sore wintry cough throats (a few neat spoonfuls throughout the day), but also as a cordial with water, as a hot drink with warm water, it can be stirred into yoghurt for breakfast or whisked into cream and made into wintry fruit fools.  It’s also nice poured over apples before they’re covered with a crumble topping and baked in an oven.

The best places I found for preserving bottles were my local ironmongers (the cheapest shop for Kilner products) and also my local Lakeland Plastics where the sloe gin bottles were only £4 and they hold 500ml.

Once the bottles had cooled I stuck on lables as I know I’ll never remember which syrups were which otherwise.

My grannies paperweight crochet scarf……

tapestry wool grannies paperweight scarf

After what seems like an extraordinary amount of time, my grannies paperweight crochet scarf is now all fit for modelling in the Autumn sunshine….

A few years ago I fell in love with the Grannies Paperweight crochet pattern (otherwise known as the African Flower pattern) after seeing a beautiful blanket on Flickr by Andamento, and after I tried it out using acryllic yarn (and not particularly caring for the results), I then thought it would be the perfect project to make using tapestry wool as that seems to come in a million and one different colours, certainly a wider range than most wool companies produce.

crocheted hexagons for the grannies paperweight blanket

I was very happy with the results, wonderful combinations of colours that took me by surprise blended together perfectly, and making hexagons that varied often only a little in rich and gentle hues and tones of one colour made the crochet pulsate and look like a jewel box when it was being spread out on the carpet while it slowly grew bigger.

While I was still making the blanket I began to think of other ways I could use this pattern and because as soon as the joined hexagons became large enough, I was finding myself wrapping them around my shoulders,  a shawl seemed the perfect candidate.  However, as cosy as that is, I love being able to fling something around myself in a more dramatic and affected way (think Miss Piggy having a full blown diva moment) and so I began work on a scarf.

a vintage palette

While I’ve been crocheting the tapestry wool I’m aware that the wool varies in thickness somewhat from brand to brand, and that I use particular brands differently..

Certain vintage brands like Penelope or Beehive are slightly fuzzy and I think these work best either for round three or for joining the hexagons together. Vintage anchor wool from old needlepoint kits is also very good for joining the hexagons together.

More modern Anchor, DMC and Rowan wools are plumper and seem to work better for the other rounds.

If you live in America then you should be able to source “Elsa Williams” needlepoint yarn (I was lucky to buy some a few years ago via Ebay)…this is a really nice wool, perfect to use for all the rounds.
Jamieson's wool pile

Although you don’t have to use tapestry wool (indeed, if I had the budget I’d use wool from  Jamieson’s of Shetland or Jamieson and Smith as both their colour ranges are really rather breath-taking) it was a lot more affordable than you’d think.  Most of the wool I’ve used has been sourced from Antique shops/flea markets/ jumble sales/ charity shops/car boots….very little has been purchased new (although I’m a sucker for DMC shade number 7120 and I never find that second hand…it’s a lovely soft barely there pink, the colour of faded rose petals)

crochet colourwork 002

Generally before I start anything I like to have a little play around with colour,  I always up-end a big bag of tapestry wool and have a good old mess about with the different wools, comparing colours and different tones together.

And I’ll often paint out combinations of particular colours I have a fancy to before crocheting….sometimes the colours work, sometimes they don’t but I never see this time spent as wasted.

how to granny paperweight in stages 003

To make a scarf you’ll need to start off by making 4 rounds of a grannies paperweight hexagon.

I found it a bit easier to make a dozen or so little circles for the centre of the hexagon at a time, before making them bigger and working on the other rounds..

a basket of woolly centres

(these are a whole load of little half hexagons that I got a tad carried away with making…..)

When I was first trying to learn how to make a grannies paperweight hexagon, the very best tutorial I found for making them  was on lovely  Heidi Bear’s blog, and her tutorial on making them is exceptional, however she makes her hexagons larger than mine,  I prefer to make them smaller as I think it makes the colour more intense.  She also suggests using a 5mm hook but I find a smaller hook size suits me better.

how to granny paperweight in stages 010

I found I got a nicer result when I used two different hook sizes.  (the smaller hook pokes through those top stitches of round 3 a treat and then helps form a nice dense band of colour when you join the hexagons together.

For the first 3 rounds I use a 4 mm hook and then change to a 3.25mm hook for rounds 4 and 5.

As well as changing hook size I also changed the type of hook…I prefer to use a Clover Soft Touch for the 4mm hook and then I switch to a Brittany wooden hook for the 3.25. (The Brittany hook has a lovely pokey tip and I found it was smoother than the Clover one)

playing with crochet hexagons

After you’ve made a dozen or so hexagons (only up to round 4),  you can begin to lay them out, have a play with which hexagons look best together. This bit is so much fun, it’s  rather like a jigsaw puzzle where, although all the pieces are the same shape, positioning a piece in a particular place either works (making all it’s neighbours sing) or looks a bit pants.

joining together corochet hexagons

Once you’re happy with your arrangement, you can begin to join them together,

Heidi has a lovely easy to follow tutorial on how to join the hexagons just here.

The hexagons are placed together a bit like bricks on top of one another, 1, then 2, then 1 then 2 and so on until the scarf is at the length you require.  Both ends of the scarf will be finished with a single hexagon.

crocheted half hexagons fill in the side gaps

The sides will each have a row of half hexagon gaps along them, these will then be filled with half hexagons.

starting fourth colour

I found it easier to make the half hexagons once the whole ones had been made and joined together as they are crocheted back and forth rather than in a round and it gave me a headache trying to switch back and forth.

I was also able to spread the scarf out and make a note of any particular colours I felt were lacking or that I thought would fit in nicely.

joining in

Joining in the half hexagons is a bit more fiddlesome than joining together the whole ones.  At this point I often stop and make a pot of tea.

grannies paperweight crochet scarf, tails and all

Once all the hexagons have been joined together then it’s time to sew in all those troublesome woolly tails.
While I appreciate that there is a way where you can work your woolly tails in while you crochet (and save yourself the what seems like an endless amount of time sewing in umpteen ends) whenever I try to do it that way my crochet looks all lumpy and mis-shapen….so I’m a woolly tail sewer, but if you can do it the other way, then go ahead as it will save you a fair amount of time.
grannies paperweight scarf
Once all the tails are sewn in then the scarf is almost ready.  (if you want you can wear it like this but I find the half hexagons are often a bit lumpy so crocheting all the way around the scarf makes it look a lot neater.

work along the second edge

I used Jamieson’s of Shetland wool (double knit weight) as it was perfect to use for the edging as it was almost the same weight as the tapestry wool.

I used a Brittany 3.25 hook to crochet the edging.

I use slightly less stitches when I crochet across the edge of the half hexagon as it flattens off any “fat tummies” that may be bulging out from the sides of the scarf. (it’s like “magic tummy knickers” for your crochet.)

Once the edging has been crocheted then I’d really recommend gently washing your scarf in a special wool conditioner (tapestry wool isn’t the softest in the world) and then blocking it out and allowing it to dry thoroughly.

grannies paperweigh scarf

The scarf has two “pointy” ends which I think would look fantastic finished with super fat pom poms (however my boyfriend has very somber tastes and I think pom poms on this scarf would be the very end of enough for him.)

Using a little bit of what seems to be about every colour there is going means this will look just  perfect worn with anything, there’s nothing it won’t look spectacular with.

paperweight flowers and a peek of braids

My hexagons are made up of 5 rounds, each round has 2 ends or tails so 10 per hexagon (even the halfsies which doesn’t really seem fair) so that’s 690 woolly tails to sew in when you’re all finished crocheting.

Regarding how much yarn is used…these are approximate measurements as it varies a little on which brand of wool you’re using (as they differ in thickness)

Whole hexagons

round one…..60 inches

round two…98 inches

round three…155 inches

round four…91 inches

round five  (where you join into two sides*)…169 inches

Half hexagons

round one…43 inches

round two…55 inches

round three….87 inches

round four………53 inches

round five  (joining the half hexagon to three sides)…127 inches

Tapestry wool skeins vary from 9 yards up to 15 yards.  There are 36 inches in a yard.

For my scarf I made 43 whole hexagons and 26 half hexagons using roughly about 948 yards of wool for all the hexagons.  I forgot to measure the wool for the edging but it doesn’t use all that much.  (a ball of dk wool will be plenty)

grannies paperweight scarf using tapestry wool

This has really been Inspired  by memories of buying a little paper bag full of fair rock from the shop down the road when I was small (sadly an old time sweetie that doesn’t seem to have been resurrected), mixed in with those beautiful millefleur paperweights that you often find in antique centres and sumptously embroidered velvet collars on evening coats designed by Paul Poiret, I’ve made this scarf so you can wrap yourself all up in every colour under the sun and then some.

Please understand, this isn’t a weekend make, it’s going to take a while (I started mine in the Spring of 2013 or thereabouts and though I wasn’t working on it all the time it won’t be fastest scarf you ever crochet) but I think it’s worth it.

I’d also like to thank Heidi Bears so much for her tutorials which made sense of how to make this hexagon.

Delightful debbie and some dottie angel frocks………….

orange floral dottie angel frock with a blue cardigan

A couple of months ago in the Summer I bought the dottie angel frock pattern and spent the next few weeks sewing up a fancy new frock for every day of the week…..I’m in the middle of re-drafting some more changes to the pattern as I’ve got fabric waiting to be cut for 3 or 4 more frocks, and there’s some beautiful fabric in two local department stores which seems to whisper “buy me buy me” every-time I walk pass them.

I’ve mentioned before I’m not one for having her photo taken, I’m not sure what’s worse, seeing a spider scuttle and scurry across the carpet or having someone say “smile” as they whip out a camera or phone, both bring on palpitations….anyway, I’m lucky enough to have a very kind friend called Debbie who is a similar size to me (well I’m all pancake boobs and wobbly bottom while she’s all lean and toned from cycling and running (…the other year she cycled from Edinburgh to Norwich just for the pleasure really of being out on her bike)….but we’re about the same height and these dresses seem to cross over a couple of sizes.  I was able to persuade her into doing a little frock modeling for me behind our house, not sure what our neighbours thought if they were looking out of their windows as I had her whipping frocks off by the hedgerow though she had a vest and leggings on underneath so the goings on weren’t too improper.

orange floral dottie angl frock with an orange cardigan

I really like this orange fabric (John Lewis in the sale)…the pretty floral print means I can pick up colours to combine and offset against the orange (see the blue cardigan in the top picture) or go for the full “you’ve been tangoed” effect with the orange cardi.

I made a couple of alterations to the original pattern as I found the neckline wasn’t sitting quite right on me so I raised the shoulder line nearest the neck, this pulled the dress up a little, and also raised up the neckline itself in the centre.

I didn’t find the tucks to be so flattering for my shape (pancake boobs) and found sewing ties at the front with a fabric strip on top of them seemed more pleasing.  I also narrowed the skirt of the frock as well as I found this made it hang down a bit nicer (I’m all bottom and the extra fabric wasn’t doing ones posterior any favours.)

Normally I’d have given these a little press with a hot iron before wearing them but I was all slumicky this morning and just bundled them up in a basket before heading out with my camera.)

blue rowan fabric dottie angel dress

I’ve made all the dresses the same, doing away with the little tucks and having the ties right in the centre instead (the ties pull and gather through the fabric band and then knot and tie together at the back)

As well omitting the tucks I also did away with the pockets as I preferred the dress with out however I saw this lovely one with pockets and binding in the same fabric and now think maybe pockets may appear on a couple of these.

I originally bought this Rowan fabric to back a piece of patchwork into a quilt, however even after washing it couple of times, it felt a bit heavy for hand quilting so saved it up for this pattern especially.  I usually wear it with a light  green cardigan though I’m thinking the orange one wouldn’t go amiss either.

vintage gold dottie angel dress

On “Tah Dah-ing” my boyfriend wearing this, he turned round and asked “is that a pair of curtains?”….wasn’t the response I was after however I think he has a point.  Of the seven frocks I’ve made this one is the only one I’m not so fussed with, which is annoying as that fabric was a right pain to sew being all slippy and wanting to slide onto the floor the whole while I was sewing it.

It’s some of the vintage stash lovely Sylvia gave me and is proper dress fabric (not curtain fabric thank you) and I’m wishing now I’d saved it for a more fifties style frock, one with a fitted bodice and almost dirndl style skirt (love those dirndl skirts,) and then used a nice mustard cotton lining from Merchant and Mills…..oh well.  It’s not all bad, I can re-use the fabric as the lining for Christmas Stockings but all the bindings sewn on the hems will just be chopped up for cushion stuffing…unpicking those will be too much even for me.

blue charity shop fabric dottie angel frock

This was the first dress I made, even after making 3 toilles it still came out a bit roomy (room for two helpings of pudding at the front….I ended up bringing in the pattern along the central line nearly an inch, and the same decrease along the back line.  The other dresses are a better fit but this is still nice and comfy (in the Summer when we handful of scorchers then it was lovely and floaty.)

It’s also a bit harder to combine with that many colours, I’m not normally one for dark blue but this looks better when I’m wearing it with a variety of green cardigans and I have a sparkly yellow one I think will brighten it up (though that is a bit scratchy on bare arms so thermals will be needed underneath)

The fabric was a proper charity shop treasure, about 3 meters of fabric for £1.  I originally bought this fabric  years ago and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been tempted to put it out and charity shop it myself.

It’s making me laugh looking at these pictures and if Bek is reading this then I know she’ll be smiling too as Debbie isn’t really a dress wearing lady so I do appreciate her letting me dress her up today in these frocks.

front view of the green floral dottie angle dress

I bought this fabric as soon as Tif told me her dress was going to be a pattern.  In between buying the fabric and having the pattern I had a a couple of hospital visits and one of them involved wearing a little gown that was almost identical to this print…so now when I wear it I worry people will think I’ve wandered out from the local hospital.

It’s quite a light green fabric and looks best worn with a green cardigan (I love green cardigans and if my knitting ever improves enough it will be the first garment with sleeves I create on my needles) as any other colour seems to overwhelm it rather.  However it looks particularly fine worn with my Kenny Everett leopard print leggings (each time I wear them I can’t resist doing the little dance)

There’s not enough fabric left for another dress but there’s enough to turn up in my patchwork so there’ll be a few blocks for “dear ethel” made using this print.

back view of the green floral dottie angel dress

As well as raising the neckline of the dress at the front, I also raised it up a tad at the back.

I like a nice big bow so made the ties a little longer than the pattern required.

Normally “Lydia the tattooed lady” here keeps her ink well under wraps so it’s quite a treat for me to see her colourful tattoos.

vintage green fabric dottie angel dress

This is possibly my second favourite dress, the fabric was from Jenny’s Haberdashery stall in the St Gregory’s Antique centre on Pottergate in Norwich (I rarely go into the city without popping in and coming away with a reel of thread or a bag of tapestry wool)

The fabric was rather slippy to sew and I ended up hand sewing the hem, turning it over with the point of my needle so it rolled over nicely.  All the bindings and even the thread were of an equal age (if not older) to the fabric so the colours matched very well.

In the picture the front band looks like I’ve sewn it on drunk, it’s just how we’ve tied the dress, in “real life” it’s not squiffy at all.  I wore this the other day with a gold cardigan and it looked great.  I like dark green and along with the orange shoes really covet a nice dark green pair.

grannies paperweight scarf using tapestry wool

And this time it’s finally me, wearing my number one favourite dress.  The fabric was in the John Lewis sale and I made the dress for about £6.00.  At the time I was sewing it my Bernina sewing machine was playing me up and I had to sew this on a hand turning machine.  I mentioned using vintage bindings on the dark green dress, but when I stop and think about it, all the frocks have been sewn with bindings and seam coverings from antique and junk shops, most are 1960’s and older.

I love this print because I can mix lots of different colours with it, orange, yellow, grey and chestnut.  It’s also the dress I’ve been stopped the most about and asked where I’d bought it.  There is something very lovely about being able to say “oh, I made it myself”

I’ve combined it with the grannies paperweight scarf I finished off a couple a weeks ago….it’s a riot of colour and I think will go with just about anything. It’s made from mostly vintage tapestry wool sourced form antique shops/junk shops/jumbles/car boots and charity shops.

It’s been blocked and hand washed in fabric conditioner so is nice and soft, though it was a tad warm to wear today as it’s very warm being all wool.

I don’t do Instagram but if you do then pop over to #dottieangelfrock…as there are loads of amazing dresses that other people have made using this pattern.

And thank you Tif for drafting up a lovely pattern, one that’s pretty simple to make and seems to flatter a multitude of body shapes.

Orange you glad to see me*

crab apples

While the hedgerows are bursting full of fruit (and lovely vitamin C) I’m trying to harvest what I can into jellies and syrups.

In a way I’m almost pleased the blackberries didn’t seem to do so well this year because if not I think I’d have over looked the rosy jeweled bounty that’s even closer to home.  Long hedges of hawthorn all intermingled with wild rose bushes, then small wildings appearing from all the prickles, branches full of apples in what seem to be 101 different varieties.  Although there are a few “true” crab or scrub apple trees near by (Malus pumila …very mean and grouchy looking little apples) I prefer to use these glorious almost oval shaped ones in the picture, all rosy and coral coloured though I’m not sure their full genus.

I’m very lucky in that when I’m foraging I’m completely away from any traffic, it’s all pedestrian areas so when I’m clambering around through a hedge looking somewhat like Catweazle, I often get stopped by dog walkers and people with children asking me what I’m picking, what I’m going to make.  I never mind telling anyone who asks and will happily offer plums and cherries to taste and advise good places to go.  I really love it when children look interested as I have lovely memories of going blackberry picking with my sisters and feel sad if children miss out on that.

Anyway, I seemed to spend most of yesterday chopping and prepping and cooking apples, rosehips (including hips from lovely fat and round apple roses), rowan berries and haws to make the most fantastic and bright amber coloured jellies and syrups, and while I was chopping and listening to the radio I began thinking just how much I like the colour orange.

tree in our neighbours garden

Last years Autumn leaf change was spectaular, persimmon and flame, marigold and tangerine, pumpkin patch orange and deep amber…..each morning’s walk either down to the post box, popping into the shops or just stretching my legs for half an hour or so over the marshes was a real treat….on a morning filled with sunshine, Autumn leaves come ablaze and those lovely bright orangey colours seem to be everywhere you look.

At the time it inspired me somewhat with my wardrobe and made me covet a pair of orange shoes after spotting a pair in a local shop.

orange floral print dress

And while I haven’t bought a pair of orange shoes quite yet (thought I still want a pair to wear with the brightest blue tights so I think it’s only a matter of time) over the past year or so there’s been some orangey additions in my wardrobe, the latest being a “dottie angel” style dress I made in the Summer with fabric from John Lewis (it was in the sale and with the alterations I made to the pattern I only needed a metre and a half so felt very happy).

I like wearing it with either an orange cardigan or a pale blue one as orange and blue has become one of my favourite colour combinations.

more nine square patches

Generally when I’m crocheting it’s never long before little bursts of orange begin to creep in amongst the other colours, though I’m quite fussy about the particular orange I like….the orange in the picture above was on a cone in a charity shop and was about a pound if that, I have to double up the yarn when I use it as it’s a bit skinny, but I don’t like the other acryllic oranges that I’ve seen and find this is bright without making my eyes hurt.

orange tapestry wool

But mostly when I’m crocheting I now prefer to use tapestry wool, although I really only tend to buy it second hand ( a bag here, a bag there from junk shops and charity shops, jumbles and car boots, I’m often spoilt for choice when I tumble all the wool out together on the table…) the wool makes those tangerine and marigold tones somewhat softer, warmer, colours that seem at first a bit on the bright side, blend quite happily.

oh Bernard what big paws you have

Probably the best example of colours working together, blending in and not taking over is my Grannie’s Paerweight blanket (and yes I’m still sewing in the woolly tails on the tail…) bright golds and salmon tones, pumpkins and carrot oranges are all there but seem to mingle in quite nicely amongst warmer browns and fawns.  Along with the orange and browns I’ve also used orange and blue together, and orange and grey, using a few different shades of both to add plenty of depth and interest.There’s even a few fiery orange and vermillion and scarlet hexagons.

I’m not sure if Bernard is a fan of orange himself but once it starts getting chilly, he’s never far away from the blanket.


I bought this wool last year, in part to make a scarf inspired by Autumn leaves, but must confess it was the colour more than anythng else that made the wool choice although the wool is so soft and is one of those ones where it is very hard not to just stand in the shop and keep squidging or rubbbing it against your face….I’m still working out the best pattern for it and although I’ve got 3 skeins am thinking perhaps I will need to buy more.  I like a nice big scarf, one that can be flung around my shoulders so I’m all bundled up nicely (and will happily sit like this on the sofa and not turn the heating on)…but I love this particular colour so much that I feel it’s almost going to be the colour itself I’m all bundled and wrapped in.

new album

Although I haven’t worked very much on the patchwork for my “dear ethel” quilt this year, it’s never very far from my thoughts, odd patches are pinned up on a board above my work table (in part because the little blocks make me smile, and also if they were tucked away until the quilt gets completed I’d be going a long old while without seeing them…and also having them there makes me think I need to crack on and get more sewn )….

When I look back at them I see certain colour combinations turning up again and again, although each block is different and each combination of print is different, certain colours  just make me happy so much more than others and although I think pink and yellow is possibly the most used combination, there are also a lot of pairings with orange.

swamp angel

I know that some of my print and colour choices aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and if it was an all over quilt then I’d be right there with you, but in a six inch block I think you can get away with what looks like picking things from “the dressing up box”.

I don’t know why but I’m always drawn to orange prints in my local quilt shop or if I’m looking on-line…when I was chosing fabrics for the quilts for Peggy and Pearl in the Spring I really had to rein my love of orange in, knowing that it’s not for eveyone.

selection of mini blocks 005

I love the opportunities for mixing colour in patchwork…small and tiny flecks of colour in one print (the little orange flowers on the floral print) can be picked out and used on a larger scale. This is also how I get dressed in the morning, picking out a colour from a dress print no matter how small to then wear as the accompanying cardigan.

mrs bryan and others 025

The same colour combination of orange and blue but in different fabrics.  I find the use of orange stops some patches looking a bit cold and pale.

hexagons and ethel 002

Orange and brown just makes me think of my tummy…chocolate and orange cake, toffee apples, orange creams, Jaffa Cakes and Terry’s chocolate oranges (which I only seem to see in the shops at Christmas for which my waistline should be thankful)…..

piecing a dresden plate 032

Even when I was making my dresden plate patchwork I couldn’t help myself and there’s barely a “plate” sewn together that didn’t have at least one orange section.  Whenever I up-turn and empty out a scrap box there’s always pieces of orange fabric that seem to be at the front of the queue waiting to be used in whatever patchwork I’m sewing.

beth 003

A few years ago my friend Beth (who is the most incredible artist and who I’ve mentioned before on my blog) made this little doll of me, she sits on one of our bookselves.  At the time Beth made it she said she knew I didn’t have an orange scarf but that was the colour wool she just had to hand….and now I’m thinking…it’s just the same orange as the wool I’m waiting to knit up into a scarf.   There have been days when I’ve left the house and my makeup has looked just like this (my excuse is that I was in a rush).

Now I’m back to the kitchen to bubble up and boil amber coloured juices with sugar for syrups (we’re both a bit sniffly so hope it’s not the start of a cold)…downstairs smells lovely, soft fruity aromas from apples and roses with the faintest spicey hint of star anise and clove.

*possibly the best Knock knock joke becaue it’s so rubbish.

A vintage style patchwork knitting bag…….

a vintage style knitting bag

At the start of the Summer I had a brief and rather passionate fling with hexagon paper piecing, sewing them seemed to fill every moment and I became somewhat obsessed and after umpteen cushions had been sewn then thought to make myself a big, fling it across my shoulders tote bag, sadly what in my head looked amazing, in reality was rather pants, so after some colourful language I unpicked the pieces and thought about using the patchwork for a granny style knitting bag (I’ve already got 3 but I really like this type of bag and the ones I have are all full with different works in progress that will one day maybe get finished……)

I wanted to make a nice big bag that along with whatever I was knitting, would also accommodate a book, and a few sewing/knitting supplies.

lay the pattern on your patchwork

After drafting up what I felt was a decent size bag I then set about making sure the hexagon patchwork  I’d already pieced would be big enough, and then sewed together hexagons for a back to match.

I had some striped fabric that was possibly mattress ticking (no doubt car boot treasure which I’d been saving to one side), which I thought would be nice and sturdy for lining, and which would give a bit of weight to the bag.

To stop my paper pattern from flying about I use large washers that I bought from my local ironmongers, they’re about 20 pence each and are surprisingly heavy, they’re about 2 inches square so aren’t huge but do the job (and super cheap to boot).

hand pieced patchwork for a knitting bag

You’ll need to cut two pieces for the outside of the bag and then two pieces the same size for the lining.  I included a half inch seam allowance in my pattern.

pin the pocket section to the lining

Because I’m always losing stitch markers and those rubbery things you stick on the top of knitting needles to stop them poking you in the eye or whatever, I thought I’d include some pockets in my bag…..this is pretty much what I do when I make a tote/market bag else I’m constantly having to delve down in the bottom of my bag and feel rather like James Herriot.

My pockets are about 8 inches deep, along the top of each I’ve hand sewn some grey binding so it looks a bit neater than just turning the seam over. (though I could have done that and then sewn binding along the back)

One of the pockets I’ve divided into 3 and the other by 2, just pin equal distances along from the edges and sew up  from the bottom to where the binding is sewn.  I followed the lines on the fabric but if you use a non striped fabric then maybe you’ll want to pencil in a sewing line. (I also just pinned the fabric around the outside to stop it wiggling about too much while I was sewing.)

pin the lining sections together

Lay the 2 lining section together with the pocket sides facing each other, pin them together, and measure up about 12 inches.  This is how far up you’ll want to pin your sides. (if you click the picture to make it bigger, you’ll see that there is a pin placed horizontally along the side where your sewing will need to start and end.)

measure up about 12 inches from the bottom

Now do exactly the same for the main fabric of your bag, right sides together and pin around the outside edge.

cut out notches from around the edges

Once both pieces have been sewn you’ll need to cut little notches around the sewn edge, this gives the edge a smoother and neater look when you turn the bag inside out.

It’s not really necessary to do this for the lining although I found because my lining fabric was quite heavy it needed it but if you’re using a light weight fabric then I don’t think you’d need to do it.)

Whenever I’m cutting notches I use a pair of button hole scissors from Merchant and Mills…these are totally brilliant scissors which have a fat and stubby blade so you can’t get carried away and cut out huge pieces from your work.  Honestly, as far as I’m concerned these scissors are worth their weight in gold, I use mine all the time.

pin around the edges

Turn the main fabric “bag” inside out and pin the edges out around where you’ve sewn, some of the patchwork may be a bit on the stiff side so you’ll need to shove your hand in and nudge out the edge with your fingers.

For the top where you haven’t sewn, fold over about half an inch and pin the edges over.

tack around the edges of the bag

After the edges have been pinned you’ll want to tack or baste the sides and edges.  I prefer to use one colour for the edge where I’ve sewn and then a different colour for the top edges.  (if you click on the image you’ll see I’ve used pink for the main body and then blue thread for the tops…this just makes it easier when I un-pick the stitches.)

Cover the patchwork with a cloth and give it a press.  (my fabric was a proper jumble, wool, cotton, silk, synthetic, covering it with a cloth just protected the fabric and also my iron.)

One the bag is pressed, un-pick the tacking from the main body (the pink thread.) but leave the thread in place that is keeping the top sides in position.


You also need to pin and stitch the top sections of the lining but don’t turn it inside out.  Make sure you pin and tack the sides so the raw edge is sewn against the back.  The pockets will be facing forwards.

If you squish the lining bag out a bit you’ll see how the pockets form.

pin the lining in place

Place the lining in to the main fabric bag, line up the edges and where they meet pin into place (I’ve used a pin horizontally in the picture)….. then pin the top sides together, working upwards from the horizontal pin.

If the sides don’t quite match and the two top edges of the bag don’t lay flat together you may need to un-pick the turned sides of the lining and just adjust them so that the top section lays flat.

pin some binding over the patchwork edge

Along the edge of the patchwork I like to just sew a piece of binding to protect the edge.  In part it’s because the patchwork is hand sewn and where it’s cut to form the shape of the bag it’s easy for the stitching to come un-done, it also gives a bit more security to this part of the bag (it’s where it goes through the slit in the handle).

hand sew the binding over the patchwork edge

And then just sew the binding in place.  You don’t need to sew in a big piece, maybe 4 inches at most.

I’ve not used it on the lining fabric as that is proper sturdy being a type of mattress ticking.

feed the fabric through the handle

Slide the top of the outer fabric through the slit in the bag handle.

I find it easier at this point to lay the washers or weights on top of the handle to keep the fabric in place.

You can also see where the binding is supporting the edge of the patchwork.

pin the lining into position

Fold over the lining and pin it in place along where the main fabric is folded.

If it’s a bit wiggly it doesn’t matter at this stage, you can adjust it so it looks neater once both sides are pinned.

pin around the lining inside the bag

Pin the pieces all together and check that everything is laying straight and that the bag is hanging right before you begin sewing.

I find it’s easiest to un-pin the two sides of the back (or front) before sewing the handle section, that way my hand can slide in and I can check I’m not sewing through too many layers of fabric.  I use a small whip stitch like when I’m hand piecing over papers.

check it sits neatly before sewing

Once both handles are sewn and I’ve checked that the bag is hanging nicely, I then whip stitch the sides together, sewing up from the centre where I placed the horizontal pin up to about an inch from the wooden handle (this allows the handle a little room and the bag will swing nicely when filled with wool.)

ready to fill with wool and needles

Once the sides are sewn together you’re all ready to fill your bag with wool and needles (and a packet of Werther’s Originals will fit nicely into one of those pockets).

These are a few of my car boot needles, lovely wooden needles that make a calming and resonant clickety clack when I’m knitting with them.

The wool is from my lovely local knitting shop and is a wonderfully soft blend of alpaca and Peruvian highland wool, which I’m planing to knit up in to a nice big scarf as soon as I can make my mind up on a suitable pattern (I’ve got three skeins in an aran weight  and am thinking I may be needing more as I prefer a scarf that really can be wrapped round that one extra time.)

Rosehip and haw jelly, a forgotten sourdough starter and a very nice vegetarian gravy…..

rose hips topped and tailed

While the wet weather has pretty much done for the blackberries around here this year, some of the other hedgerow fruits seem to be going from strength to strength, there’s still rose coloured crab apples on the trees, and the rosehips and haws (the red berries on the hawthorn bushes) are having a very good year, the hedgerows are fair heaving with them.

We’ve got dog roses and apple roses growing within a few hundred metres from home, and what’s nice is that no cars can drive along where they are growing so it’s safe to forage.  While I think everyone knows what a dog rose or wild rose hip looks like, the apple rose are those sort planted by councils that smell amazing in the Summer, like Turkish Delight. The hips they form are round and about an inch wide.

While I plan to make some rosehip syrup I thought I’d make up another batch of crab apple jelly, but a sweet version this time so I picked some rosehips and haws to make a fruit jelly packed  full of vitamin C.

I gave the rosehips a good rinse in cold water and then dried them off before topping and tailing them, discarding the tops and tails for the compost and saving the rest. (If you have sensitive skin you may want to wear a pair of CSI style gloves as the yellow hairs around the hip’s seeds are an irritant and can be used to make a type of itching powder).


The haws were also rinsed off and patted dry on some kitchen roll before I carefully picked off their tiny stalks. If the other end is particularly “scrubby” then you can cut this off or pinch it out with your nails.  You shouuldn’t eat the seed inside the haw but the flesh of the berry is edible, it has the texture somewhat of a ripe avocado but not I think the taste.

Both the rosehips and haws need longer cooking time than the crab apples so to begin with I cooked those first with some water, allowing the fruit to simmer for about half an hour so they’d become somewhat softer before tumbling in the prepared crab apples.  If I’d had any rose geraniums then I’d have popped in a couple of leaves from those for a more rose flavoured jelly.  In all the fruits had about an hour cooking time while they gently simmered.

Rather than use a jelly bag on a stand (all the ones I’ve seen look remarkably wobbly) I prefer to strain the fruity pulp through an old pillow case (though you could easily make one from a double layer of cheesecloth) and hang the pillowcase up from a step ladder so the juice can drip into a bowl set underneath.  If I was patient then I’d leave it to drip overnight………I’m not and gave it about 7 or 8 hours before I ended up squeezing the bag.

rosehip and haw jelly

On squeezing the jelly bag

If you leave the jelly bag (or pillowcase) alone you’ll get a clearer juice that will make for a stunningly clear fruit jelly, the sort that wins big rosettes at village fetes…however if like me you aren’t so fussed and are more concerned with making a couple of extra jars of jelly then go ahead and squeeze that bag by all means.

In all I used just under 200 g of haws, 500 g of rosehips and then about 2300 g of crab apples.  For every 100 g of fruit I used 65 ml of water.  This was the ratio of fruit to water I used for the crab apple jelly I made last week and so I used that here.

Once the juice is all strained (or squeezed) it’s time to add the sugar.  Sugar to juice is 3:4 so if you use 300 g of sugar you want 400 ml of juice.

Gently heat the sugar and juice together until the sugar is all dissolved and then turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil before checking for a set.

I don’t use preserving sugar , I find the jelly sets perfectly with granulated sugar (it’s also a lot cheaper).

Because the wild fruits tend to have a bit more pectin they always seem to produce a lot of white foamy scum, scrape this off before bottling up your jelly.

This is a really lovely tasting jelly, it’s very fruity and because it’s made using hedgerow fruits the flavour  is hard to place, I think it’s sort of orangey and can only imagine how nice this would be on doorstep sized  slices of white bread and butter, or used to fill breakfast croissants.  I like making bread and butter pudding in the winter (always good for using up odd pieces of bread) and tend to spread a little marmalade on the bread and butter slices along with a sprinkle of vanilla sugar, next time I make it I’m thinking to try out this jelly rather than marmalade.  And the colour is wonderful, it’s a deep amber and even though is rather “cloudy” it’s no less beautiful.

What’s so nice about this preserve is that it isn’t one you’re very  likely to find on any shop shelf, and it’s made using wild fruit that’s all come from a few hundred metres of my home.

Tuesday's sourdough with a forgotten starter

At the start of the week I made a sponge for bread with some sourdough starter  but then various other things took over and I realized the bread wasn’t going to get made after all.  The sponge was placed in a cool room and just left alone until the next day before I added any of the other ingredients.  I was a bit apprehensive but the dough felt lovely to kneed, the sponge had a stronger smell and was stickier to begin with.  The dough proved and rose fine though we thought the bread was paler in colour when it came out of the oven.  My boyfriend assures me it tastes lovely, a little more robust perhaps than the usual bread.  I’ve forgotten “sponges” before made with dried yeast or fresh yeast in little cubes and have walked in on overflowing bowls or yeast sitting there looking very sad and miserable, the ability of the natural starter to cope with last minute crop ups or even the scattiest of minds makes me love using it even more.

And finally, the vegetarian gravy. At least once a week we have roast vegetables and I tend to roast the onions and mushrooms in a separate pan from anything else.  When I was cleaning one of the pans  a while back I thought how rich and nice smelling the vegetable juices were, and with a little extra something added, would I was sure, make a very rich  gravy….. Possibly the thing I miss most being a vegetarian is nice gravy, I’ve tried numerous recipes and have bought umpteen different pre-prepared ones or ones in little card boxes that you just add water to…all fail to please.  So this week I roasted a couple of onions in a large pan (they really need a large pan to make a nice sticky area), with just a glug of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then when they’d gently browned, I added a couple of spoons of the herby crab apple jelly and some water from a hot kettle and stirred, then left it in the bottom of the oven over night.  Next day I had a little taste (so good) then liquidized the onions and the gravy so it became a thick sauce before adding a bit more water and bringing up to the heat.  Along with some vegetarian sausages and a big serving of hot vegetables it was a more than perfect supper on a very cold and wet evening.

Next time I’m going to try it using onions and mushrooms together to get an even more deeper flavour.  I didn’t need to add cornflour or anything to thicken it, and even the boy had a second helping.

A coral and salmon coloured crab apple jelly…..

foraged apples

As I mentioned yesterday we’re lucky enough to live in a spot that is surrounded by hedgerows which are fair teeming with fruity edibles, and although the blackberries don’t seem to have done so well this year as last, the apple harvest is spectacular.

Just up the road from us is a little square of grass which is home to 3 crab apple trees, all of the variety with those red and rosy blooms, as ruddy coloured as a Thomas Hardy farmer’s complexion.  Two big baskets have been picked for jellies and then just round the back from our house are scattered some wildlings, apple trees that have just set in and grown where an apple core has been thrown.  One tree is a fine eater but I find that the others are best added to the crab apples for jelly or sliced and added to regular baking apples in pies and crumbles.

So when the weather is nice I’ll nip out for an hour or so with my old shopping basket and have a look round what I’ve come to think of as a wild pantry, at this time of year it’s very rare for me to come home without something or other that can be cooked or baked or drowned in alcohol.

crab apples and rosemary from the garden

In the past I’ve made sweet crab apple jellies flavoured with leaves from rose geraniums, soft and jewel like on bread and butter or breakfast toast but this year I thought to make a more savoury version that I can stir into Winter gravies, casseroles, and soups.

Crab Apple Jelly for gravies and casseroles

washed and dried crab apples (with some wildings too if you have them)

granulated sugar

freshly picked herbs

white wine vinegar

Making the juice

Wash your crab apples, I tend to tumble mine in the sink, give them a gentle wash in cold water and dry them with a tea towel, and check them over at the same time for grub or wasp holes and discard those to the compost. Cut the crab apples in half and then pop them into a big heavy bottomed pan (the one you usually use for jam).  I remove the stalks but leave the rest of the apple.

When you cut them in half sometimes you’ll find unpleasantness going on through the middle of the apple, compost these rather than use them in your jelly.

For every kilo of apples I then add about 650 ml of water. As this is a savoury jelly I’ve also added a couple of sprigs of rosemary and a couple of bay leaves from our garden, but if you’d rather a sweet jelly then leave those out (geranium leaves if being used instead should be added now).

gently simmer the chopped fruit

Gently simmer the fruit, it helps to watch over it and stir regularly so it doesn’t catch.  After a while the fruit begins to soften and you can press them against the side of the pan with the spoon so they break down even more.

simmer until the fruit becomes all pulpy

After a good half hour the apples will have broken down and become all mushy.  The end result doesn’t look too appealing although the smell is rather nice.

You now need to add some white wine or cider vinegar (but only if you’re making a savoury version…if you want a sweet jelly leave this out) For every kilo of apples used you’ll need to add 100 ml of vinegar.  Allow to cook a little more and keep stirring so the fruit doesn’t catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.

Straining the juice

Once the cooked fruit has cooled a little you’ll need to strain off the juice.  You can buy jelly strainers but I find the best way is to strain the fruit through an old but clean pillowcase. (But you could easily make a double lined bag from cheesecloth or muslin)

Wash the pillowcase in cold water so that the fabric is wet and wring it out well.  Open it up and place in a large bowl and then fill with the cooked fruit.  Using some strong kitchen string (I use mine double thickness) wrap round the top of the pillowcase and tie it tight,  The jelly bag (or pillowcase) needs to be suspended so the juice will drip through, if you have a kitchen stool that you can turn over then use that, however I used a step ladder…it all looked a bit Heath Robinson but worked a treat with the juice gently dripping down in to a big bowl under the supported pillowcase.  Leave over night and resist squeezing the bag to encourage the juice to drip more as this makes for a cloudy jelly.

the strained juice is a gorgeous pink

This was some of the collected juice….the juice was at this stage beautifully clear but I then proceeded to squeeze the bag to high heaven as I wasn’t fussy about the jelly being cloudy. (I’m not planning to enter any village fetes or such like, and cloudy jelly is no less delicious)

I forgot to measure the juice from the un-squeezed bag, but once squeezed I had 2400 ml of fragrant and coral coloured juice.

skim the white foam from the surface of the jelly

Making the jelly

For every 600 ml of juice you need to use 450 g of granulated sugar.  Gently heat the juice and sugar together until the sugar has all dissolved and then turn up the heat so that the jelly has a good rolling boil and then test for a set.

Crab apples have a lot of pectin and while this makes for a good setting jam or jelly, it does seem to produce a lot of white foamy scum, however I leave mine until the set has been reached, then carefully skim it all off while the jelly cools slightly before I bottle the jelly up in to sterilised jam jar.

coral coloured crab apple jelly

And this is some of the finished product, it’s a glorious coral salmon pinky colour, a tad cloudy but still jewel bright.I know it wouldn’t win me a first prize rosette on appearance (ahh but if they were only to taste it they may think quite different).

Come cold Autumn evenings when it’s all wild winds and rain battering against the windows, I’ll be more than a little happy to have this bounty in the pantry, ready to stir into roast onions so they make a gravy all shiny and sticky and full of flavour or adding a couple of heaped spoonfuls into a sausage casserole or vegetable soup.

Foraging while a sourdough starter bubbles and dreaming of the Prince of Wales jumper…..

apple, seed and honey loaf

The last few days I seem to have spent either all my time in the middle of a hedge getting stung to high heaven by the most pernicious nettles or in the kitten baking bread and making jellies.  While the weather is fine I’m getting out before the fruit spoils and generally as long as I’ve gotten up early I can prepare the starter for bread so I can juggle baking and foraging quite happily.

This is the latest bread, I’m finding scoring the dough with a star helps it to rise more evenly (it also has the bonus of looking pretty).

sourdough starter bubbling

I keep my starter in the bottom of the fridge, and tend to take it out a couple of hours before I use it so it has a chance to come up to room temperature.

My recipe for bread has become much less strict since using the natural starter though I measure out the ingredients at the start it’s all pretty flexible…

125 – 150 g of bread flour (I always use flour from Shipton Mill)

100 – 125 g of oats (rolled or a mix of rolled and giant)

a dollop of honey straight form the jar

200 g of natural starter

just under 400 ml of warm water

a grated apple (a medium baking apple is good but I’ve used granny smith sized apples from the garden too)

then I add a small teaspoon of dry yeast as I find this makes for a better crumb and although I know this means I’m not making a proper sourdough, I don’t think the bread police are going to come round and take the bread away…my boyfriend likes it this way and as far as I’m concerned that’s what counts.

After those ingredients have been mixed, I’ll cover the bowl with a cloth and just leave it to bubble away and do it’s thing.  Over time I’ve experimented a bit and have found it likes being left alone…this is when I can go out with my basket and forage.

grinding sesame seeds

Once the starter has bubbled up nicely and has become a sponge  (I’ll have left it between 2 and 3 hours so can get on with other things) I add other ingredients to make the bread dough.  I used to just throw in a handful of seeds but I’ve since read that it’s better if you grind them, you can absorb more from the seeds if they are broken down.  I bought a sesame seed grinder some years ago from a local health food store and it doesn’t take long for the seeds to break down against the ridges on the inside of the bowl, and become like a thick flour.  Sesame and sunflower are the seeds I tend to add the most.

Then I just add a handful of flour, a good pinch of sea salt, and a glug of oil, and just begin working the sponge into a dough, adding more flour while it’s so sticky, first off with a spatula and then once the dough comes together then it’s turned out on a work surface where I’ll knead it til it feels ready.

I find it likes another 2 to 3 hours for rising, sometimes a bit more if it’s overcast then once it’s doubled in size, I gently knock it back and wrap it in a floured muslin cloth and place it in a proving basket on top of the oven for 40 minutes before turning the oven on and letting that hat up before turning out the bread on a baking tray, scoring the top and baking it for however long it needs between 50 – 55 minutes)…

It all sounds like a palaver as I can start the sponge around 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning and not take the finished loaf out the oven til sometime 8.30 in the evening but it’s actually very easy and relaxing to make, and I quite like planning out my time on a bread day.


All around the village where we live are hedgerows which are scattered with crab apples and wildlings, this tree is just near the local school and with the assistance of an old crocked walking stick I bought the other year from a charity shop,  I was able to reach the higher branches where the bigger sized apples were to be found.  They’re a bit tart for eating as is,  but I’m thinking to slice one with a bramley for a crumble for his pudding tomorrow (the weather is meant to be rotten so I’m thinking a hot pudding will be appreciated.)  The tree was surrounded by fierce little nettles and my ankles are still all tingley some days later.

haws and sloes

And just under the wildling is everything else you need for a hedgerow jam, fat purple sloes and red haws.  The haws tend to be more suitable for a savory jelly, or fruit cheese to have alongside cheese or cold cuts , however as they’re full of pectin, a couple of handfuls thrown in amongst other berries will help a jam to set.

I read a brilliant piece by Alys Fowler a while back about using them in a ketchup and I’m quite tempted as the hedgerows around here are just full of bright red haws.

We also have a fair few guelder rose trees out on the marshes but I know well enough to leave those alone.  When we were out the other weekend picking blackberries we saw a squirrel guarding his guelder rose tree, he really chittered down at us while he held the biggest cluster of berries between his little hands.

knitting up a dish cloth

In between bread doughs rising and apple jellies setting I’ve been knitting up a dish cloth for one of my sisters….it’s a pattern that I wrote a couple of years ago and is so easy that even I can knit it (though I have to write out which row I’m on or I confuse myself and need to use a handful of stitch markers or I’d be purling when I’m meant to be knitting and vice versa…)

It’s a combination of garter stitch and stockingette stitch with a little heart motif in the centre made with moss stitch.

Normally I just use a ball of craft cotton from Christine’s knitting stall on Norwich Market (stalls  130/131/144/145) or one of those reels of kitchen string from a local ironmongers, but a while back I found this giant size ball of string in a charity shop for pence so thought I’d give it a home as it’s perfect for dish cloths. (I’ve already made one from it and think I’ll get another three from it.)

I know it seems daft to knit dish cloths but I’m not a very confident knitter so knitting these helps me practice my stitches even though I know I am very very slow and I dread to think how long it would take me to knit up anything more substantial.  I’d knitted just up to the motif then had forgotten about it but while writing out the answers and questions for the Liebster award nomination (thank you again Zeens and Roger) I remembered it and thought how that jumper will only ever remain a dream unless if I practice more.