Thursday, 8 February 2018

Big Garden Birdwatch

Since we've sited a bird feeding station outside the kitchen window, washing the dishes has become much more enjoyable. We have a peanut feeder and a seed feeder, which are visited by plenty of birds. Last week was the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the RSPB. The idea is that you watch birds (and other wildlife) for one hour, and count what you see.

In our hour, we saw chaffinch

blue tits

great tits

The birds which we see currently, but were absent through our hour were, long tailed tits, up to 12 at a time. My personal favourite. 

Gold finch

Green finch

woodpecker, both male and female





Anyone else take part? What do you have in your garden?

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Bake of the Month - Christmas Cake

We have tried several festive recipes over the years. This year, I used Delia's for cake; Nigel's for pudding (not online, but it includes glace cherries and preserved ginger); and Nigella's for mince pies. The decorations are courtesy of the Gentleman Farmer and MasterW - understated minimalist for 2017.

Thank you to all of you who've asked after my health. I'm currently having injections every 3 weeks, which will finish in the spring. These are making me tired, but apart from that I'm feeling very well.

All of us at The Ladybird Farm would like to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and peaceful 2018.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Bake of the /month - Auntie Cath's Ginger Cake

I love ginger. Love Yorkshire. But I don't care for parkin. I much prefer ginger cake, and save the oats for flapjack. This recipe is a favourite in our house, given to me by my sister. I've taken the liberty of adding some crystallised ginger which gives a nice pop of warmth.

50g golden syrup
150g black treacle
100g Demerara sugar
75g butter
2 eggs
200g plain flour
2Tbsp ground ginger
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g chopped crystallised ginger

1. Mix the syrup, treacle, sugar and butter over a very low heat, until just melted.

2. Cool slightly and add the remaining ingredients, and mix well.

3. Pour into a lined tin, and bake at gas 4 for 25 minutes until a knife comes out clean.

A great teatime treat, or serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Glut in the Garden - Aga Dried Tomatoes

We love the sun dried tomatoes that you can buy, jarred in oil. We are still harvesting tomatoes, so I thought I'd have a go at drying some in the Aga. I used this method.

I picked rip, but still firm tomatoes, with no blemishes.

I halved them and placed cut-side up on a baking sheet (lined with Magic Liner), and sprinkled lightly with salt. 

I then put this tray into the simmering oven (or the lowest oven setting) for about 10 hours, until the tomatoes were dry, but before they were completely leathery. 

The tomato flavour really intensified. we ate several of these fresh from the oven, and the rest livened up a batch of passata. Next time, I'll try packing some into oil, and see how well they keep. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Bake of the Month - Chocolate Cranberry Brownie

I remember fondly my Friday afternoon tea and cake with friends. We'd take it in turns to host, or sometimes visit Kitchen, for a special occasion. Now that the Gentleman Farmer is around during the day, I'm making cakes for him. I thought I'd share some of our favourite recipes.

Chocolate Cranberry Brownie

This is based on a recipe by Phil Vickery, which I found many years ago online. I'm so glad I printed it out, as its nowhere to be seen now.

170g sugar of your choice - I used demerara
160g dark chocolate
40g golden syrup
110g butter
4 eggs
40g plain flour
50g dried cranberries (or dried sour cherries)
Grated zest of an orange
50ml brandy (optional)

Line a 20cm by 15cm tin with Magic Liner

Carefully melt the sugar, chocolate, syrup and butter over a very low heat. Cool slightly, and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add the flour, cranberries, orange zest and brandy (if using) and mix well.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake at 180C or gas 4 for 25-30 mins until a knife into the centre comes out clean.

Delicious served warm as a pudding with thick cream, or with a cup of tea.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Preparing Fleece For Spinning

For many years before we moved here, a farmer kept sheep in the field. It made sense to us for that arrangement to continue - the sheep would keep the grass short, and we would learn sheep-rearing skills from the farmer. Along the way, we've become friends with him and his family. We got talking about clipping (the local term for shearing) and I mentioned that I'd knitted jumpers from Swaledale wool in the past, and that I was interested in preparing a fleece from scratch. So last month, he brought me four fleece. I spent a happy afternoon experimenting with washing some of the fleece.

This fleece is from a North Country mule: a cross between a Swaledale yow (local term for ewe) and Blue Faced Leicester tup (local term for ram). This cross produces healthy, vigorous breeding ewes which will then be crossed with a terminal sire - the Texel in these parts. The offspring have the size and shape demanded by supermarkets for commercial lamb.

The fleece itself is of little value to the farmer; many say that it costs more to shear than they realise as income. Most of the fleece is sold to the British Wool Marketing Board. The grade the wool that they collect and then sell it on. They also promote British wool; do take a look at their stand if you're at a show.

This is the fleece as I took it from the bag. Beautiful and soft, with plenty of lanolin. This is what helps the sheep to shed water and keep warm, but as a spinner, I want to remove this as it will clog up my wheel. 

I cut off and discarded the "daggy" wool. 

I then made up a box of very hot water and plenty of liquid detergent. I put the fleece in and carefully washed it. 

I then rinsed several times, again in hot water. The heat helps to soften and remove the lanolin. 

I then left the fleece to drain as well as possible and then dried in the sunshine. I've now started carding this, in preparation for spinning. . 

Next project - a Blue Faced Leicester fleece. This sheep gives highly-prized lustre wool.