Not really been “feeling the burn” this January but instead I’ve been baking bread and knitting, and flirting something terribly with the neighbour’s cat…..

karise-shawl-2

And all of a sudden it’s nearly the end of January, I’ve barely touched “things to do” lists and while I don’t really do New Year Resolutions , even good intentions to feel the burn with Jane Fonda or Mister Motivator have been a bit neglected (maybe I need to knit up some stripey legwarmers so I cna at least dress the part)….. however, I’ve had some good tidy ups of cupboards where fed up with wips go to die, or are shoved at the back of or ferreted away until I feel inspired with them again….

One such wip, though this wasn’t tucked away in a cupboard but was at the bottom of a knitting basket, has been this Karise shawl by Karie Westermann…this will no doubt look a bit like Deja Vu as not only have I knit this shawl before (this is now the fourth time I’ve knit this pattern) but I’ve also knit it in this very same yarn (but that one was a gift for my sister Rachie and this one is for me)………now I want to make this very clear, I love love love this pattern, it’s incredibly easy to follow and because it was the first lace knitting I ever did, the pattern will always own a huge chunk of my heart….however I fell so out of love with the yarn that it just put me off finishing it (I love the colour but the yarn is an alpaca/silk blend which now feels a bit on the scratchy and dry side)….perhaps I should have bought some bamboo needles as I was using metal ones and the yarn was just very slippy on my metal tips…..I don’t know why I thought one pair of needles would work for all the yarns, coming from a sewing background I have umpteen assorted needlecases each with different needle types in them and I suppose the variations in knitting needles works much the same way……

Anyway, other newer projects took over, and for the most part these were all using woolly and sheepy scented yarns, those are by far the yarns I love to touch and hold and to knit with….but I really wanted to start the New Year with clean knitting needles, no new cast on’s until the knitty wips were finished…..I haven’t got a finished picture to share yet, but the shawl is all blocked and I know come Summer when I want to sit outside right early in the morning or on the back door step in the evening, then this will feel lovely, but at the same time I know it’s not a yarn I’d make a special effort to purchase again….if you are at all interested then more notes are just here on my Ravelry project page.

 

ready-to-eat

Other things I’ve been doing have included baking bread again….for the past year our main oven has been playing up, the temperature has been rather erratic and fingers would be kept crossed while bread and cakes were baking….but finally we had to stop using it, we can still use the top stove or rings and we have a very small oven to use while we save up for a  new, sadly bread was one of the things that had to stop being made as I found the little back up oven a bit complicated and I was worried I’d break it….but then in October my boyfriend became rather poorly and where as normally I’d call him down to turn it all on for me, I really had to get to grips with it myself….and after a couple of months of getting a bit more used to it and a bit more confident I wasn’t going to burn the house down, I decided over the holidays to wake up the natural starter in the fridge and see how a loaf of bread would bake in it…

Well actually I was quite pleasantly surprised…I’ll be the first to say they aren’t quite as good as when they were baking in the gas oven, but the boyfriend is giving them thumbs up and that is what counts…..I’ve had to tinker a bit with cooking times, and to make the dough a little drier than normal….the sponge seems to like being left over night, and then the dough has some hours to gently prove in the morning before I need to bake it….but the loaf I baked early this week came out so well I was actually tempted to have a small taste myself….(I ended up with terrible stabby pains and felt like the wolf in Red Riding Hood with rocks sewn up in his tummy) but it was nice and crumby, with a gentle mellow flavour of sesame seeds and honey……

winter-blossom

I’ve not really been out over the marshes for the long walks I’ve been sharing over the past few years, it’s felt bitter cold and has been a bit wet…a local farmer grazes his cows on the comman land and marshes and I think they were on there a bit later than normal as the ground is all hoofed up, and huge areas are a right old mud bath…..when it’s like this it’s not very tempting to bundle up and head out like when it’s nice and sunny…..but the signs of Spring are coming up all around us….just down the road there are trees in blossom, I think some of these are winter flowering cherries but already I’m seeing sharp green shoots poking up out of the ground and most walks down to the shop involve stopping to notice what’s growing and coming up in all my neighbour’s gardens….

And it’s not just things growing…..one of our neighbours (not a next door one but a chap I say hello to because he has a lovely Newfoundland dog that is very friendly…a couple of months ago she ran off with my basket and we had to chase her…it was a bit like a Benny Hill sketch as we chased her around the green…..she’s completley gorgeous and I happily give her cuddles even though she’s a bit slobbery), anyway he mentioned he had a Maine Coon cat and ever since I’ve been keeping a look out for it…..well guess who I’ve now met…..oohh he’s so beautiful, and so so big, almost twice the size of our Bernard….I’m none too sure how Bernard would feel if we took on another cat…hmmm….yeah, maybe I do,  he’d be right pouty and those whiskers would go all forward and he’d put his parts on and play up so perhaps it’s best we’re a one cat family…..

lunar-tides

Another wip I’ve finally manged to finish were these socks…the pattern is called Lunar Tides and it’s by Louise Tilbrook…what I thought was so clever about them is that the pattern can be followed either top/cuff down…or toe up…..I’ll be writing more about these socks in the next day or so, but they really were a great knit…there were times I found them rather difficult, however once I got going and understood what I had to do aroud the heel I was fine….this was a great introduction to knitting cables and I would certainly look at not just knitting these again but also at knitting more of her patterns as a lot of them use softly flowing cables….

The yarn used is by John Arbon which I bought last Spring from Meadowyarn (they are an on-line shop but are actually based about a mile or two from where I grew up and are in the next village along to where my mum and one of my sisters still live), it’s a lovely and sticky woolly yarn  (which is handy if you manage to catch a needle on your fingerless mitts when you’re knitting on the bus and suddenly there’s no needle holding the stitches together……) and has a soft haze over the stitches….

And I think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m now on Instagram…I’m still at the oooh this is very exciting stage and tend to post 2 or 3 times a day on there with a fair bit of waffle but you know me….mostly it’s a little bit of everything, sort of like how I write my blog I suppose , though I know for some people my blog has been a bit too yarny, a bit too woolly this past year……I’m sorry those people feel that way, I’m certainly not sorry for writing about the incredible enjoyment I’ve got this past year from playing with pointy sticks….I love story, knowing about something’s history or background, whether it’s is bit of old cloth belonging to your great aunty Frieda, uncle George’s gardening tools etc…and I’m having a lot of fun finding out about different sheep breeds, and local to me yarns….I love all the different stories behind the yarns and  I’m enjouing discovering similarities between knitting and embroidery and patchwork…more of which I’ll write about soon..

a-lichen-miten

We did mange to get out of the house a couple of times over the Winter holidays on one of those glorious sunshiney but still bitterly cold days…..while we were down near the river this lichen caught my eye, I thought the colour was particularly splendid but also was fascinated by how it looked like a mass of tiny mustardy blossoms….I shared it on Instagram and had lots of people say how much they thought it looked like a woolly mitten….I’d totally not seen that but now…I just can’t not see it…so some little thumbnaily scribbles are being made as I’d like to knit a little pair of something woolly which reflects those colours…

bernard-shawl-testing

And it wouldn’t be a proper catch up if I didn’t share a Bernard up-date…he’s all fine, as I said back in September, the vet is very pleased with how he’s doing, and there seems to be no sign of the cancer returning …so hoorah….being told that was such a weight off our shoulders, we don’t have any children so all that love gets spent on our furry and rather windy bottomed boy…. he’s still pretty mischievious and is firmly of the belief that anything knitted is for him…he’s definitely king of the shawl thieves, and while there are a couple that are kept well out of his way, I don’t mind too much if he likes to nap on this one……

You may remember this was the first real bit of knitting I did,  I was waking up super early to work on it, and while the rest of the house was sleeping and it was all dark outside, Bernard would keep me company on the sofa while I purled or knitted…and more often than not, un-knitted to correct a mistake…so I very much feel it’s both our shawls, and a few bits of grey fluff aren’t the end of  the world by anymeans……

That mostly brings me up to date, and more posts are already being written, lots of things and ideas to share but I’ll save those now for another day…and in the meantime, hope you have a great weekend.

 

A year of cats and knitting, frosty walks and Summer strolls,homebaked bread and foraged fruits…..part one…..

bernard-shawl-testing

Sometimes when I take stock of a year I find it too easy to remember the bad stuff, the sad times…horrifying world wide events can all too easily make us forget those little moments of smiles, and happiness and everyday pleasures, a spiral of despair and feeling hopeless can take hold in the blink of the eye and all those good things, however small and unimportant to others just seem gone……

One of the many things I’ve enjoyed so much about writing my blog and sharing pictures along the way is there’s a record, something tangible I can touch and look at and think “yes, that happened and it was a good thing” or “mmmm that tasted delicious”…remember how it felt to sit on the back door step with the sun on my toes or heading out for a walk when it was all frosty out and my nose turned numb before I’d even turned onto the lane…

I know it’s really not the same but all these tiny moments and occasions remind me of the bit in the sixth Harry Potter film, where everyone stands in the Hogwart’s courtyard with their wands out, shooting up wisps of light, sending out memories of love for Dumbledore and the dark mark of skull and snake in the sky slowly breaks up and fades under all that love…..as I say, I know it’s not the same but sometimes it’s necessary to remember the good bits and focus on that, to gather a bit of strength to be able to deal with everything else……

And so that’s what I’m trying to do today…..so go put the kettle on, make a hot drink, and get a plate of biscuits and sit down somewhere comfy as there’ll be waffling and rabbiting as I look back over my year……

Guess who has pinched my shawl

I’m starting with these pictures of Bernard cuddling in a shawl as they sum up my year better than anything else……after being told last Christmas Eve that the lump we’d had removed from Bernard’s paw was cancer we spent the first weeks of the year on tenter hooks….every morning his paws were checked for anything suspicious and days were spent with him curled up along side while I slowly re-knitted my shawl and fell very in love with the scent of sheepy yarn and the gentle click of my needles……. this is pretty much how the whole year has been but it wasn’t really until September that we got the thumbs up all clear from the vet regarding his health…it goes without saying that everyday this year has been so blessed, regardless of windy bottoms and swipey paws….

 

Most of Janurary was pretty much devoted to sock knitting (I’d been warned it’s somewhat addictive…..) my dear friend Anne gifted me not only another pair of hand knitted socks but also a ball of yarn, a set of needles and the lessons in which I learnt to knit a pair of socks for myself……yes there were grumbles when it went a bit wrong, but even better was the feeling of wriggling toes in socks I’d knitted myself…..

Most mornings started off cold, a bit damp and dreary outside, but we were treated to a spectacular frost near the end of the month, all silver and twinkles, glittering cobwebs and frozen marsh ponds…..I bundled up warm  in my first ever shawl and headed out over the pastures, it’s so cold my cheeks ached and felt incredibly rosy and pink….along the back of the golf course there’ss a small copse and it’s shaded, protected from the frost…the sun shines through the trees and the dry bracken just glows golden in the morning light…so beautiful and felt glad I’d got up and out to see it.

February was a bit of a frosty old month, we had one really foggy and frosty morning where the walk over the marshes was proper eerie, all mysterious shapes looming up out of the mist….fog totally transformed the meadows there and while normally I’m a bit loathe to step out where I can’t see more than a couple of feet in front of me, when the ground is so frozen underfoot I felt a lot safer.

I made some more sourdoughs, each one seemed to come out a bit different but I found I really prefer the smell of just a sesame loaf to those made with other seed mixes….the beloved says he doesn’t have a preference so I ended up baking to suit my nose rather than his tummy.

I finished my first ever pair of socks and was proud as punch to wear them out and about, (going so far as to wear them with red heels and leggings so they wouldn’t be covered up with boots) and hot on the “heels” of those were the ones I’d began knitting using some Shetland Spindrift I’d found lurking in my stash…so warm and the most gorgeous tweedy colour….all plummy and fruit crumbly.

On particular days it feels like Spring had very much sprung, the hedgerow that lines the lane behind where we live is bursting into bloom right now, wafts of heady blossom scent the air and it makes me just feel so happy.

And it’s not just nice scents that the air is filled with, there’s also that underarm farty sound which small boys like to make….it’s what I think Long Tailed tits sound like, we’ve got a least one little colony living near by and the garden is regualrly filled with them, they swoop around the the garden and are as impressive as anything by the Red Arrows…..I love their dainty colouring, all soft dove grey, milk white and rosy tinges on their fronts with a charcoal tail.

High point of the month was popping into my local library and finding the floor space there given over to the local guilds of Dyers,Spinners and Weavers…I had a go on a drop spindle and spun a wee skein of wool, so exciting, and I even had a go on a spinning wheel….so relaxing and I just loved it.  I went back the following week and bought some amazing handspun dk yarn, one skein of Castlemilk Moorit and one of Shetland….absolutely increbible to touch and the smell….sheepy heaven.

March was a really sad month for me, my oldest and dearest friend passed away….I was lucky enough to have known Joyce since I was about 11 or so, originally she was the mum of my oldest sister’s boyfriend, and soon she become such a warm and freindly addition to our circle of family friends….she’d always appear on her bike with a beaming smile and a jolly wave, bicycle basket laden with a harvest from her garden, a bunch of something bright and cheery for my mum……we really looked on her as a surrogate grandma, we certainly loved her as such. The past couple of years she’d been lost in a hazy confusion of dementia so in a way I’d already said goodbye to the lady I loved, she was one of the nicest people I think I’ve ever had the good fortune to know.  She’s left a real ache in my heart.

The rest of the month was rather knitty based  (as I said at the start this was my year of knitting)… I joined up for a new kal (more of an unkal) over at the Caithness Craft Collective, and nominated a couple of unfinished woolly bits for that, firstly the grannies paperweight crochet blanket with it’s never-ending amount of tails to sew in, and a forgotten about tea cosy that I super-sized knitted by mistake…I began a “unicorn” in soft blue alpaca and silk….and this gave me the kick up the bum to start (and finish) my Nature’s Shades kal, a beautiful Moonraker shawl in soft and sulky greys, with accents of coffee bean and golden cream pips.  I also finished a pair of socks I’d began knitting for the beloved’s birthday, watching him put them on and wriggle round his feet as he admired them….well my heart near burst.  Even now a year later, I still can’t believe I’m knitting socks…thank you awesome Anne for the lessons…

Other highlights included making possibly the best hot-cross buns ever, making a real nose runningly spicy thai style soup (it was nice, just a bit hot), doing a Spring Fair over in Holt organised by my friend Ruth and bird-watching in the garden with Bernard on days when it was all sunshine and birdsong.

After what seemed like a long, damp and dreary start to the year, we started to see signs of life in the garden in early April…a little smudge of blue forget-me-not blossoms by the side of one of our raised beds and spotted lady birds scurrying about as we began a bit of weeding and tidying out of doors.

I finished my Nature’s Shades shawl for the Knit British/Brit Yarn kal on Ravelry…I was so pleased with how the shawl turned out…it’s very drapey and light, and much warmer than I thought it was going to be….the weather held up well and treated us to a couple of really smashing Spring sunshine days so we headed out with the shawl to take pictures and then walked round to Keswick Mill and saw fish for the first time in one of the streams (which we found very exciting) …  I also took some pictures of the beautiful dappled marking on the Keswick Mill brige, soft speckles of pink lichen amongst the grey stone work, walking home we saw an incredible puffy fungi on one of the posts near the golf course, soft rhthymic scallops in gentle shades.. ..everything you need for a shawl design is there in that fungi…colour, and shape…

Pudding of the month has been Creme Brulee/Trinity cream……so easy to make, and so easy to eat. I didn’t bake as much bread as usual as our oven is starting to play up, but each time I open the oven door it’s such a surprise to see what the loaf will look like, no two have ever looked quite the same, subtle changes in colour and shape…but all smelling so good.

I had such a thrill this month, I won a skein of the beautiful and lustrous Tamar…the colourway was Tiddy Brook and it’s a real powdery pollen yellow green…the colour changes in the sunlight, the twists in the yarn capture and hold light and shadow like you wouldn’t believe….the competion was held by lovely Isla at Brityarn. I really was over the moon when I realized I’d won this yarn, along with a gorgeous Ethel the sheep bag which I soon filled with all my Natural un-dyed British yarn….little did I know this would be the start of my Karise shawl addiction and love for Blacker Yarns….

I bought a couple of old books from charity shops, my favourite being this knitting book from the seventies, all the pieces in the book are knitted by children. I couldn’t resist the cover with that dear little knitted horse.

 

The weather was really splendid for most of the month, the air just seemed filled with sweetness and floral scents each time we stepped out the door…just up the road form us is a big patch of grass where all the dog walkers meet up and if I time my trips just right I get to have doggy cuddles with some of my four legged friends….at one side of the green there is a clump of Stag Horn Sumac growing and at this time of year those first leafy fronds look all the world like phoenix feathers or dragons feet…fancible imaginings but I think you can see where I’m coming from..I can’t walk past these without stroking them, it’s always the simplest pleasures make me happy…..

I also finished my second Moonraker shawl, this was using an alpaca/silk blend with the woolly pips of colour knitted with vintage tapestry wool…at first I was quite pleased with it but after wearing it a few times the different weight of the yarn I used didn’t really feel right…..definitely a case of (k)notting rather than knitting…. oh well, not the end of the world but I did feel a bit disappointed.

I also wrote a rather lengthy piece on what I like to use for my quilting….it really gets my goat that a lot of people seem to think you need to spend lots of money to be able to make a quilt…yes you will need to spend a few pounds but if you spend it in the right places and not on a lot of what I find un-necessary or not needed straight away equiptment then a quilt needed cost an arm and a leg to make….

As the weather is nice lemon possets become a favourite pudding to finish off a meal, and I baked some Moomin Mama buns….

June was rather damp….barely a day seemed to go by without it raining, though the garden seemed to thrive on all the water and almost overnight our raised beds were full of wild flower blossoms and smudges of forget me nots and dandelions lined the steps and path to the compost bin…..

Back in May I started knitting my first ever cardigan and in June I was able to cast it off the needles…. the pattern is Ramona and I love that the techinques for making increases in the Open Sky Shawl are now used to make increases in this…..the yarn is some I’d bought years ago from a charity shop, it’s all wool but reminded me of the pebbly beache sof the Suffolk coastline where I grew up…(however looking down at it now while I typ I’m all too aware of how it’s bobled and pilled so not great yarn but it is nice and cosy to wear….)

I also knit my first ever pair of toe up socks…the pattern is by Rachel Atkinson and was a gift from my friend Julia in Scotland…it’s all nubbled in texture…I used a now discontinued homemade strawberry ice-cream pink from Blacker Yarns and can’t not think of holidays in Italy where gelatto is served in glass dishes……

I also made some elderflower cordial, not so much as last year as it was too wet, but once again I had a little furry asisstant to help me check for insects in the blossoms..and I also made a fruity semi-freddo….

After listening to podcasts by both Caithness Louise and Shiny Bees Jo I ripped out the alpaca/silk shawl…..no tears, no sighs of bother….this is one of the joys of coming to knitting from a background in sewing…the ease with which a yarn can be re-used…..so with the help of an upturned chair, a sink of warm water and a rolled up card tube from the kitchen roll to use as a make shift nostepinne the yarn is re-balled and looks good as new…..

 

Part two tomorrow……

 

A barley sugar tasting, wild fruit syrup

haws-september-2016

I love foraging for wild fruit, getting to make jams and jellies, fruit crumbles and pies…however last year the blackberries around here were rather scarce and so were the mirabelle plums…. with the help of a couple of excellent wild food books (Richard Mabey’s Food for Free is excellent) I decided to become a bit more adventurous in what I looked at for picking……the hedgerows around where I live are so full of the most beautiful scarlet and vermillion berries with crab apples and wildlings growing nearby that just a slow hour’s amble just up the road and round the way, stopping and picking a few here, a few there, soon produces a colourful basket right full of a wild fruit harvest……   (I’m now on the lookout for a yarn this same heart racing vermilliony red…any suggestions would be much appreciated)

When I’m channelling my inner Catweasel and clambering through the hedges or half up trees I’m often stopped and asked what I’m picking, and what am I going to do etc … the fruit I’m asked about more than any other are haws…… the colour of them can vary slightly, sometimes they are a dark wine red, other times they’re very orange red, but the easiest way to tell what they are is that the leaves are all the same shape, they almost look like tiny oak leaves.. the flesh inside is a bit like an avocado’s, sort of waxy/buttery….and like rose hips they’re super rich in vitamin C so they’re an ideal fruit to use to make a winter syrup……or a surprisingly fruity tasting breakfast preserve.

rowan-berries

Along with the haws I’d ideally throw in a couple of handfuls or so of rowan berries, we have a few trees around here although my favourite tree was picked clean by the birds over the course of a weekend (which will teach me to pick some a bit earlier next year)….they’re such a fantastic and bright colour, a gorgeous vintage lipstick red … I understand there’s a lot of rowan berries up in Scotland this year, so you could easily just use rowan and apple for the syrup if you don’t live near any hawthorns.

The village where I live is actually a suburb on the edge of Norwich (though I think everyone who lives here will say it’s a village) which was originally farmland and orchards, I suppose that’s why we have so many established hedgerows and lots of fruit trees, every so often I notice a new apple tree or a damson, but generally we’ve got crab apples and wildlings(apple trees), cherrys,pears,mirabelle plums and then sloes, rose-hips, haw and rowans, dotted around all over……

apples-and-rosehips

The Winter syrup is really easy to make…..all the fruit will need a wash and clean, I trim the bottom off the haws and if the flesh inside looks at all brown then I just throwto that one in the compost bin, only use the fruit that is a lovely creamy yellow inside.

Ingredients

500 -750 g of red wild fruit (haws, rowan berries, rosehips….a selection is good but 1 or 2 is fine….use less haws to rowan and rosehps just because they’re fiddlier to pick and are a bit pfaffy to prepare)

2 – 2.5  kilo of wild apples (they tend to be a bit “oooh” sharp and tart when you bite into them.

granulated sugar

large jam pan

glass bottles for preserving

Preparing the fruit

Wash all the fruit, cut the bottom off the haws to check the flesh inside, put into the pan and for every  100g of red fruit you want to use 75 ml of cold water…..  bring to a boil, turn down the heat and gently simmer for about half an hour/ fourty five minutes or so until the fruit becomes very soft.

I tend to prep and cook the haws first as they are rather fiddly, let them start cooking first then the rose hips if I’m using them, and finally the rowan berries….rose hips are topped and tailed then popped into the jam pan, rowans are given a rinse, remove the stalk then into the pan…..

Once the red fruit has all cooked, turn off the heat, and allow to cool before straining through a jam bag (I use an old cotton pillow case that is kept just for this purpose) and collect the juice…..

While the juice is straining chop up the apples, you won’t want the stalk or very bottom of the apple in the pan, but you can put in the cores as long as they look okay, chop up  into quarters (conker size) and for every 100g of apples you want 65 ml of water…..  you can also pop in a couple of star anise “stars” and a couple of cloves…. bring to the boil and then simmer for about half an hour – 45 mins.

Unless you have room for two drip drip drip jelly bags, then you’ll need to empty the pulp from the bag (save it into a big bowl, don’t put it in the compost just yet), rinse out the bag and then put the cooked apple into it……

Strain the apples and collect the juice.

Now using both lots of left over fruit pulp, weigh the combined pulp and to each 100 g of pulp use 100 ml of water…. simmer for about 15 minutes and then strain and allow to drip… depending on pets you can let this drip over night.  (you can also squeeze the bag if you want, the syrup won’t be quite so clear but it’ll still taste as nice and you’ll just be able to make more)

Making the Syrup

Measure out the juice, for every 500 ml of juice you’ll need 250 g of granulated sugar.

Bring the juice to a gentle boil, sort of when it just starts to burp and hiccup….then carefully add the sugar, stir well and bring up to a rolling boil…. you want the syrup to be at a good rolling boil for about 7 or so minutes…. very carefully pour into sterilised preserving bottles… (a ladle or measuring jug and a metal bottle funnel are really useful at this stage)

I find the syrup keeps best in a cool place pretty much for all the Winter, once the bottle is opened you’ll want to use it up within about 10 days…it’s nice taken like a throat syrup off a spoon but if you pour it into a cup and add hot water then it’s a nice soothing and fruity tea which if you have a cold is very welcome.

Tips

While this is perfectly possible to make by yourself, prepping the fruit is faster and less tiresome if you’re chatting with some company…. when you empty the cooked fruit into a jelly bag (or pillow-case) soak and squeeze out the jelly bag, the juice won’t drip properly if the bag is dry…also empty the cooked fruit into the bag with the jelly bag in another large bowl or second jam pan…..(if not it’ll go all over the floor or work surface)… depending on how much pulp you’re straining, it’s often easier for one person to hold the bag in place just above the pan to collect the juice, while someone else strings it up.

If you’re using an old cotton pillowcase, use it inside out and chop off the bit htat tucks in on itself…that way the pulp won’t stick all around the seams.

 

A hedgerow harvest roundup of recipes………

an afternoons foraging

As I mentioned yesterday, the hedgerows are turning and the wild fruit is ripening…that means it’s time to make jellies and jams, syrups to sooth sore Wintery throats…even a crumble if the Winter gets colder (though it’s been a bit muggy and close for a crumble so far and the berries are a little too seedy and sharp to eat as they are, perhaps another couple of weeks though….)

For years I was all about the jam, much prefering those to jellies which I’ve always found to be a bit lacking in richness of taste, however, after the accidental blackberry treacle mishap a few years ago, I’ve since happily tinkered in the kitchen and am now firmly a jelly lover…in part also because I can’t really eat bread anymore and whereas jam and yoghurt looks a bit odd,  jelly and yoghurt seems somewhat more acceptable (it’s a bit like those Muller fruit corners.)

blackberry and licorice treacle

My favourite jam in the whole world used to be blackberry ….however my head has been turned by making bramble jellies with a few apples thrown in to the simmering pot….straining the mush to create a deep purple and glistening juice …… I love eating this with yoghurt both for breakfast and as pudding.

a hedgerow harvest

Adding some elderberries helps add a deeper fruitier note to the jelly (just a couple of handfuls is enough) and this tastes so good that I tend to hoard it all for myself…I do like those dark rich fruit flavours.

coral coloured crab apple jelly

I could wax lyrical about crab apple jelly all day, the jelly is easy to make and it can be made both sweet or sharp….the sharp is probably better added into casseroles or soups, or slowly stirred in to sauteing onions or pan juices to make a bright and glistening gravy.

The sweet jelly is ideal for breakfast preserves and in one of my Tamsin Day Lewis books she says it was her father’s favourite.

Cooking down the apples helps to make a good base for other hedgrow fruits, the jelly doesn’t taste like cooked apple in the slightest and only rounds out and adds body to the other wild fruits.

hips from an apple rose

For a lighter jelly that’s amber and flame coloured, I use the red and vermillion hedgerow berries…rowan and rosehip and hawthorn haws….. I’m amazed by the different tastes and colours of the haw berries…..I read that they can have the texture of an avocado, and while it took a few tastes to see that, particular berries, when large and ripe do have that butter soft feel….. you can also use hips from apple roses…… our lovely council has planted lots of these around here, and this time of year the hips are huge and are the most beautiful bright orangey red, similar to a vintage hued lipstick I used to wear.

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

I made two different tasting syrups last year, one was light and while nice swallowed off a spoon, it really came into it’s own stirred into a cup of boiled water and sipped like a fruit tea…..it was just the ticket when I had yet another cold or sore throat.  Over the past few years I’ve become very susceptible to laryngitis, and generally suffer with it a few times a year, however where normally it would make me feel very miserable, knowing there’s a bottle or two of this on hand has helped cheer my spirits a lot……

The other syrup was a lovey deep and dark purple, really glistening like the blackberries and elder berries that went in to make it….it tasted a bit like Ribenna when I tried it with hot water, but just a little on a spoon and swallowed like an elixir was very soothing on a sore and raspy throat.

apples and quinces

A very pleasant surprise was the quince jelly I made, well I call it quince but actually I used fruit from a little japonica shrub that’s just round the corner and up the way…..this was such a delicate and light citrusy taste, I can completely understand why this was a standard breakfast preserve for warm rolls until marmalade started to become fashionable.  The jelly is so bright, really golden and even on a dull and Autumn morning seeing a little jar of this on the table is bound to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

foraged apples

As I’ve said before, I know I’m really lucky to live here, while not being slap bang in the middle of nowhere, I’m in fact on the outskirts of Norwich, but to the back of us it’s all fields and river land, marshes and meadows……mostly it’s a case of looking around me, seeing what’s growing…..I know I’ve made a couple of dog walkers jump when I’ve emerged a bit tangled from a hedgerow or squeezed myself out through a gap in a fence…… what’s lovely is the amount of people who will stop, ask what I’m picking and what I’m going to make…it’s been a great way to meet people where I live, and then when I see them again there are hello’s, how do’s….and much fussing is made of their dogs. Hopefully if the weather stays dry I’ll be foraging this weekend with my friend Debbie, and while clambering through hedgerows by myself is fine, it’s always much more fun to be with a friend (and if Beks is reading, we also intend to hit the park and have a go on the swings…..)

Below is a bit of a rundown of some of my favourite wild jams,jellies and syrups and links back to where I’ve wrote out the recipes……..hope this wets your appetite and encourages you to  head on out and see what the hedgerows near you have in store……

Crab apple/wildling jelly

Rosehip and Haw hedgerow jelly

Blackberry jam

Blackberry treacle

Blackberry and Wildling jelly

Quince and Wildling jelly

Hedgerow Winter syrup

 

 

Hedgerow jewels and a wild pantry……

apple-tree

Even though it’s still warm and a bit muggy during the day (and even the last couple of nights the covers have been kicked off), the mornings are dark and we’re starting to notice a distinct chill in the air…..however this isn’t a post that’s all doom and gloom…..I love Autumn, it’s probably my favourite time of year, the hedgerows are turning the most incredible colours, scarlets and vermillions, flame reds and crimsons as haws and hips and rowan berries ripen.  Even the apples look particularly rosy and bright this year.  A walk down to the shops on even the most overcast and dreary mornings is soon brightened when I spot dew heavy berries, glistening and looking good enough to eat (which they are).

walking-home

I’m incredibly fortunate to live where there are still lots of hedgerows where it’s okay to forage and gather, behind the houses there are numerous walkways where cars can’t fit, just a few hundred metres up from our house there is a mass of hawthorns and wild roses….there is also a lane with an abundance of elderberries and sloes……and this doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of blackberries that grows over out on the marshes and surrounding meadow land.  Wildlings and roses arc overhead and are there to see if you only look upwards.

rowan-berries-sept-2016

For the next month or so, walks and gentle afternoon ambles to stretch and unwind will see me heading out, basket in hand to gather what I like to think of as my wild pantry…..the basket is great, I can fill it with freezer bags of soft fruit like blackberries and elderberries and they don’t squish like they’d do in a tote.  Another essential is a walking stick, good for moving nettles out of the way or for helping reach those higher brambles which always seem laden with the biggest berries.  A little pair of garden pruners lays in the bottom of the basket and these help trim back those eye high nettles or any trailing brambles.  I’m probably never the most smartest dressed person but these Autumn walks see me channel my inner Catweazel….wearing a pair of the oldest jeans which are plucked and snagged and a breton style tee that’s a bit holey and stained from last year’s encounters with some ferocious brambles, when it gets chillier I’ve got a tatty old jacket which is more holes than cloth and a pair of wrist warmers that I bought some years ago now, they’re locally spun and hand knit but sadly no longer have the details of the lady who knitted them.

vermillion-coloured-rose-hips

A few years ago I started keeping a little notebook for my walks, just scribbling and noting down what I noticed growing where, whenever I spotted a lone damson in a hedge, or a japonica growing quite randomly (with some apples thrown in this makes a lovely substitute for marmalade…and if you sit the fruit in a bowl and leave them for a week or so to fully ripen they’ll fill your house with the most beautiful of scents) but somehow this got mislaid, I suspect it got lost or left behind when I was clambering about through a hedgerow last year but for the most part I can close my eyes and tell you exactly where the good things are growing……(rather annoyingly the fence in the above photo has recently been repaired, there were gaps and holes in it which I could squeeze through to gather apples that would have been slightly out of arms reach…….but at least I can still pick the rosehips)

blackberry harvest

One of the nicest jams I made was quite by accident and I ended up calling it a blackberry treacle (I forgot to add the extra water and made a sticky tar like spread…..it was the taste of Autumn, and was delicous spread over toasted cinnamon bread )….the following year I made another batch and added some liquorice (the sort you use for cooking and which you can break down into small glossy shards) for a deeper flavour…the results were amazing and then last year I made a jelly using crab apples, blackberries and a few shards of said liquorice… as dark and wild as any heady embrace with Heathcliffe ….when I used my last jar I really did feel very sad and sulked for days.

apples-and-rosehips

Because last year didn’t seem to be such a good year for the blackberries around here I experimented and tinkered with other hedgerow fruits… haws, rowan berries, rosehips and elder berries are all edible…… and I made possibly my finest batches of jellies of all time.  I also made some fruit syrups and they got me (and my boyfriends dad) through a year of colds and snuffles and sore throats.  It’s amazing how many wild apple trees we have growing here and they all make a good base for jelly and syrup making, adding a note of flavour but also helping them set)…they’re sometimes a bit hard to see at first, but once you start noticing them it seems like there are apples everywhere…..

haws-september-2016

I was a bit worried what this Autumn would bring as the forging over the Summer was a bit quiet, the rubbishy weather meant the plums and cherries didn’t fare too well at all however what I’m seeing as I step out the door really does make my heart happy….a wealth of haws in particular which makes for a very fruity preserve.

It’s best to check in with your local council regarding foraging restrictions in your area, a lot of new rules and regulations seem to have crept in and where you might be able to pick in one place, you might get told off if you pick elsewhere. (I think Bristol bought in some changes the other year and I’ve been told other councils are getting stricter too….in part I think this is because foraging over the last some years has become more popular and that means bushes/shrubs/trees are getting over picked or plants near by are getting stood on and damaged.)

Tomorrow I’ll share some of my favourite recipes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fluffy plumes, other people’s cats and a fat velvety spider……

next doors cat

Don’t trust that cute little face….. as I mentioned the other day we’ve been getting a new little visitor in the garden of late…..this is Ivy and she lives next door.  She’s about 9 months or so I think and is one mischievious little minx.  We occasionally see her brother Neil but I don’t think him and Bernard get on so well however this young madam seems to becoming Bernards new partner in crime*.

Most mornings when I get breakfast things ready and pop toast under the grill I hear a high pitched mew and when I open the back door this is what I see sitting on the back door step….it’s like she’s asking “is Bernard coming out to play” …. inevitably he’ll appear, slowly stroll out into the garden and then there’ll be nose and face rubs, a bit of bottom sniffing and from time to time Bernard will give her a quick wash, the way she wriggles makes me think she feels it’s a bit like a mum licking a hanky and wiping it over a child’s face.  And then when Bernard is happy and thinks she’s all spick and span, they go running up the path together and then out into the playground that’s the other side of the fence (there’s actually a little hole in it which Bernard treats as his own personal door….)

not our cat but it's in our garden

Whereas Bob used to follow Bernard right through the house as they’d come bolting in from the garden, often all the way up the stairs and then back down again, Ivy tends to just come up to the kitchen door if she sees us about……however, if she thinks we’re not around it’s quite another matter and then she seems more than happy to come in and have a good explore and has made me jump as she suddenly appears from behind a chair or the side of the sofa…..when it’s been hot and we’ve had the door open she’s snuck in and pulled about in my work room (reels of sewing thread seems to delight every cat I’ve ever met) and I’m trying to forget what she did to my knitting…..

I quite like sitting out in the garden on the door step with a cup of tea or with my breakfast, enjoying the peace and tranquility while the day starts to wake or just to have a few minutes breather while waiting for the kettle to boil….however I’ve found that leaving things mid eat on the back step to answer the front door is fatal….I’ve come back to find her face in my yoghurt and have even caught her wolfing down carrot soup…..

And she’s so quite quiet…Bernard wears a collar which has a bell and a name tag and a magnet for the cat flap…he gets grumpy about a lot of things but is as good as gold with having the collar on and it doesn’t seem to bother him….we get lot of birds in the garden and I feel that a bell gives them at least a few seconds warning if he’s lurking around in the undergrowth…but Ivy doesn’t so will silently creep up and spring out, often grabbing poor old Bernard’s tail in the process.

in the nanny chair

I’m particularly fond of Bernard’s tail, it’s fat and fluffy and when he saunters off with it held up high it looks all the world like a peacock plume on a fancy hat and incredily stately and grand….(when I commissioned a picture by my friend Beth, she drew Bernard using it to do the housework with…) and it would appear to be an object of fascination with other cats….Bob and Izzy and the rest of the kittens who lived next door last year were all “worm tails” as are Ivy and Neil.  Bob used to spend ages staring at Bernard’s tail and feathery ruff, gently reaching out to pat them and gazing up with envy…Ivy is a bit more grabby grabby and a couple of times has almost fell off the potting table as she stretches out her paws to take a swipe at that enticing tail.

a monster amongst the raspberries

Otherwise in the garden it’s all been a bit quiet although the raspberries seem to now be coming into their stride….a handful of canes has slowly spread across the garden and we’ve now got quite a decent sized patch.  The variety we like is called Autumn Bliss and we’re often still picking them late October early November…in fact one year I was picking them after a snowfall.

They get really high and some of them out there are easily 7ft.  They first start to fruit around mid-Summer but this first crop is never much to write home about, a few scrabby berries to scatter on breakfast yoghurt or pop on top of an Eaton mess, however the second harvest begins around now and is worth the wait…fat, velvety, rich tasting and full of flavour, the berries also swell up and can become the size of small plums in the blink of an eye…..we generally get a good few kilos of fruit and have enough to make and put down several batches of a French style jam for the pantry and Christmas gifts, as well as stuffing ourselves silly on raspberries and cream for pudding.  Last year we made a raspberry liquor which was very nice and also a cognac jam inspired by Anna Karenina and Kitty’s jam.

If you’re a long time reader then you know there is one creature that can make me shoot across a room and up on to the sofa pretty damn quickly…spiders…. lifting up these berries to find this fat monster did give me a bit of a start, however maybe knitting with natural shades of yarn has rubbed off a bit as I found myself gazing at those soft nut browns and the patterns on it’s body and actually rather appreciating the beauty of this hairy beast.

* I used to think of Bernard and Bob as kitty versions of  Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid…..

Gentle strolls and posies of water mint…..

edge of the meadow

The cooler, slightly darker mornings are making me all too aware that Summer is slowly coming to an end…the days are still warm and a bit muggy but the evenings are gradually drawing on in and I often now find I’m needing to put the light on in the kitchen when I’m cooking….but while the weather is so glorious we went out for a couple of walks as we had a long weekend, sometimes it’s nice just to amble, not to have to be at a place by a certain time, just enjoying being out of doors and going where our feet just take us…..

Each Summer cows from a nearby farm are put out on to the meadows and marshes, they keep the grass down and make the pastures easier to walk around, you just have to mind where you step though as cleaning cow poop off shoes isn’t the most fragrant way to end a walk when you get home.

At the moment there are some very pretty young cows on here, some are a soft russetty orange and others are white…both colours have the pinkest noses, like wild rose petals. For the most part they’re a bit shy and if we get too close tend to slowly move out of our way, though the odd one stands still and is quite content for a nose rub and face stroke while we whisper sweet nothings and tell them how handsome they are.  I’d hoped to take pictures but they were a bit skittish and camera shy, but take it from me, they really were very handsome young fellows.

purple loosestrife

And along with meadows full of cows there’s an absolute abundance of Purple Loosestrife across here, huge swathes line both sides of the mown pathways and the colour is incredibly intense….. the flowers must be very pollen rich as the air around them is filled with the sound of gentle buzzing….

busy as a bee

Each spear head of flower seems host to at least one bee and there must have been 4 or 5 different bee varieties on this one plant…..there’s also butterlies flittering about and dragon flies and damsel flies…the air is far from still in sound and movement…..there’s always conservation work going on here so these are regulalry cut back and never allowed to overwhelm the other meadow plant life.

rosebay willow herb

Further along are patches of Rosebay Willowherb ….the colour is amazing, intense pinky mauve and velvety soft petals that reach up higher and higher as Summer comes to an end, some of the plants along here are well over 5ft …..come Autumn the seed heads turn and become all wispy, and will puff away like thistle down……manys the time I’ve seen small tits, finches and chaffs that Winter here, balance on the plants and gather up beakfuls of silvery seed fluff to line their nests….during the winter this plant is barely recognizable and gives itself over to beautiful Art Nouveau swirls and curls especially when there’s been a frost or snow fall.

water mint

I rarely walk over the marshes without rubbing  a few water mint leaves between my fingers, we often pick a couple of stems and use the mint in cocktails and Summer drinks, the taste is lovely and clean….there’s lots of mint and wild flowers on all the pastures this year so even though they disappear quickly when the cows are grazing it soon grows back up again…..I put some stems of mint in a jam jar of water on the kitchen window sill and lots of tiny roots have begun to grow so I plan to put them in a pot and let them grow out in the garden or on the patio…..there’s always butterflies, bees and other tiny hovering insects flying around the mint so I think it will be good to have the mint in the garden as another plant and source of pollen for the bees and butterflies that visit us.

 

Nettle tingling fingers and blackberry junkets….

It’s been really hot and sticky feeling here the last few days, a bit too hot for me really and I’ve not wanted to do much of anything….however as I’d started noticing some fat and shiny blackberries about when I’d headed down to the shops we decided it was time to start gathering something to put down for the pantry.  The wild mirabelle plums which I’ve picked every year since I moved here didn’t even come to fruit this year and the wild cherries were a rather poor show, I managed to pick a small handful to eat on the way home but there wasn’t enough to cook with.  I’ve been a bit worried about the blackberries as they seem to have been a bit slow making an appearance but this last week or so I’ve been seeing the odd glimpse of shiny jet black berries when I’ve walked down to the shops.

the sock thief

We’ve not actually been home all that long as we had to stay in this morning looking after a fledgling wood pigeon our neighbour’s cat had knocked out of our tree…Bernard’s a bit old and creaky to be springing up trees however little miss from next door isn’t very old and she’s also pretty fearless…..adult wood pigeons are beautiful if a bit…hmph’ty…they always remind me of Georgian politicians or fat old country squires with the gout.  We get a few come visit in the garden and thy make me laugh how they strut about. Their colouring though is so pretty but the fledgling …well it was definitely a face only a mother was going to love…sadly the poor little creature died and I’m afraid to say kitty got short shift from me when she poked her head around the door to ask if Bernard was coming out to play….she’s already in my bad books as she  sneaked in and played with/ pulled out a sock out that I was knitting…she’s also eaten soup I was planning to eat myself and she also has a taste for lemon yoghurt…do not let that cute face mislead…this is one bad cat.

black berries in dappled sunshine

But as it was sunny and nice we decided we’d still go out as planned but just set a very gentle and slow pace as we ambled over the marshes ….there’s one spot in particular where we think the blackberries are best but it’s got so overgrown and tangled that it was really hard to just get on in there and pick.  We’d taken small secateurs as we knew it was going to be a bit of a jungle but didn’t realize just how overgrown and wild it had become…. my poor fingers are so sore and tingling from the nettle stings and brambles.  It feels like there’s more than a couple of tiny bramble splinters too but at least I didn’t stand in any fox poo today or get covered in cobwebs which I’m quite apt to do so am looking at the silver lining….generally when I’m foraging by myself I end up half in the hedgerow and when I clamber out look more than a little like Catweazle but when I’m with my sweetie he seems to make sure I don’t bring home half the hedge with me.  A couple of years ago I bought a walking stick from a charity shop and it’s brilliant to take with me to gently pull down any laden stems that seem a bit far out of reach, and I also take an old pair of garden clippers that were a car booty 50 p purchase to lop down any nettles that tend to spring up right in my face, however, I completely forgot to take the walking stick and missed it pretty much as soon as I got there.

river side

However we still picked just over a couple of pounds before deciding it was just too scorchy and wouldn’t it be nice to get home for a cold drink so we packed up and walked back home a slightly different way…normally it’s too boggy and wet underfoot to walk across this piece of the meadows but today it was just perfect.  Up to quite recently they’ve had cows grazing on here so all the meadow grass and wild flowers have been nibbled down, but I could see lots of vetch shoots appearing however I’m not sure if they’ll have time to blososm before the Autumn weather creeps in.

As the weather is due to be hot and sticky  tomorrow as well I’ve decided to make some little blackberry junkets…they need to be kept in the fridge once they’re set as they don’t have any preservatives in them but they’re so delicious that to be honest I generally can eat them til they come out of my ears.  Like possets they’re a wonderfully old fashioned recipe and are ridiculously easy to make.  This is the best weather to make them but really we should have gone out this morning to pick the berries so they had time to set while the sun was at it’s strongest, but I’ll pop them in the fridge overnight and then sit them out for a few hours in the sunshine tomorrow (and if all else fails I’ll add a little sugar, bring to the boil and get a set that way)…..when the early blackberries are picked they’re really super full of pectin and set naturally in sunshine, because they don’t contain any preservatives they do need to be eaten up quite quickly.  They are so eye closingly good on a just out of the oven scone with a smear of clotted cream on top but I think they’re also nice with yoghut or creme fraiche.

Sunday strolls and dappled shade lanes…..

meadow july 2016

Yesterday mornning while it was all sunshine and warm, we went out for a slow Sunday stroll across the meadows and marshes just down the lane behind our house….it was one of those perfect not too hot, not too bright Summer Sundays, ideal for lazy walking and meandering along, not being in a rush, just walking at a leisurely pace and enjoying being out of doors……

grassy and green

As we cross the main meadow there’s an almost constant chiruping and trilling of crickets and grasshoppers in the grass, and mixed in with the bird calls, it’s like nature’s very own orchestra playing…..at one point though I was pretty sure I heard a snake so decided to keep to the more well worn path rather than veer off to the sides to inspect how the blackberries were doing….the meadows are still incredibly lush, with swaithes of shoulder high meadowsweet and tufted vetch growing in huge patches…..water mint and apple mint grow in abundance and I like to pick  little sprigs to rub between my fingers for wafts of refreshing minty scent, then saving the rest for when we get home where I crush it with strawberries and pomona and have with lemonade in the Sumerriest of cocktails……..

tufted vetch and meadowsweet july 2016

As we walk along by the riverside or marshy pools we’re forever turning our heads, looking up and over as we try to follow the flittering, ever changing flights of damsel-flies and dragon-flies, jewel like, irresdescent colours flicker and dart around us……some are the most intense shade of peacock tail feather blue, others are green and then there are ones that are almost conker brown.

on way to mill

As well as ambling around over the marshes we also walked up to Keswick Mill and peered over the smaller humpbacked bridge just before the weir to see the fishies in the water, we didn’t see such impressively sized monsters as earlier in the year, but instead we watched several dozen smaller fish of assorted sizes swimming about, almost dancing , seeming to enjoy the sunlight on the water before they’d move back to the shaded sides amongst the river reeds…..the water is really shallow here and to be honest is much more of a gentle flowing stream than the deeper, wilder weir just up the way, the water is incredibly clear and on a hot and bothersome day, watching the fishies and the dappled shadows over the water always cool me down.

Looking up into trees and searching the verges and hedgerows has made me think this Autumn may be a quieter year for foraging…certainly the wild mirabelle plums that I’ve gathered for the past 5 or 6 years will be missing from my wild pantry…the blossoms didn’t really come to much which is hardly surprising as the weather was so bad, so no plum crumbles or jams, no plums in brandy to keep Winter chills at bay…and along with the poor show of plums the wild cherries don’t seem to have fared much better…there’s been the occasional nibble when I’ve passed by underneath, but not enough to turn anything into something good to put down for the colder months, or simmer and spoon over ice-cream.

honey bees and bramble blossom

However the apples seem to have done better, I’ve been seeing a lot more trees laden with fruit , even more so than last year, and fingers crossed it will be a good year too for the blackberries, we’ve eaten a couple of fat early berries which have been really juicy, though very tart.  I’m hoping to be able to make a couple of junkets as that is one of my favourite blackberry recipes and which can be eaten with just out of the oven scones under heaped teaspoonfuls of clotted cream or stirred through yoghurt.

bracken

And I’ve noticed the hawthorns, rowan and rose all seem to be coming along nicely as well so I’m planning to make more hedgerow syrups as I honestly don’t know how I’d have got by this year without them…..while not having quite such painful laryngitis as in recent years, this year I’ve still been prone to numerous coughs and colds and sore throat, and a spoonful of amber coloured syrup in a cup of hot water has been really soothing to sip at……the syrup is also nice over yoghurt and ice-cream but my favourite way to have it has been to make it into a tea.

I loved this dappled spot alongside the train track where the sunbeams came streamng down and made all the bracken and mare’s tail gleam all golden light, earlier in the year I walked here when there’d been a frost so the bracken looked quite different then.

And while we just walk slowly, taking our time to smell things, stand and listen to birds overhead, I’m always quite happy to return home, key out to open the door and the kettle goes on to make tea before almost anything else.