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.  





Monday, 25 September 2017

August 2017 in the Garden

Teesdale in August was cool and changeable. We had several days where we could sit out with our coffee, but no properly hot days. Next year, we're going to remember to put the garden furniture out sooner, to enjoy the good weather as it arrives earlier in the year. 

That said, we have plenty of beautiful plants in their full summer glory. 


Dwarf Astilbe.


An interesting allium. I'm still to find the variety. Anybody know?






Some of many hydrangea in the garden. We've never grown these before, but I'm now obsessed with them. I've picked so many of the blooms for vases, and I've heard that they can be dried. Something to look into.  



Crocosmia "Lucifer". I love this; I'm going to split it and plant some to brighten up the entrance to the property. 



Crab apple - we have two different varieties. Last year we made jelly, and I'm planning to try making cheese (a preserve - a firm jam, delicious on a cheese board).


Agapanthus in a pot.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Glut in the Garden - Courgettes: Uncle Raymond's Marrow Chutney


The Gentleman Farmer's mother's family ran a farm near Saddleworth in the Pennines. Her brothers inherited the farm, which by this time was mainly dairy. Eventually, farming activities ceased and Uncle Raymond took up cooking. in his retirement. This is his recipe for marrow chutney - its reminiscent of piccalilli and is very good with cheese or pork pie. 

900g marrow or courgette, peeled and chopped small

25g salt

225g onions, chopped small

800ml cider vinegar

450g apples, cored and chopped small (I left the skin on)

225g sugar
3 chillis, chopped small

6 peppercorns

Thumb of ginger, grated

1 Tbsp turmeric

1 Tbsp cornflour





Sprinkle salt over chopped marrow and leave for a few hours. Drain, rinse, and strain off the liquid.



Put the chopped marrow in a pan with all the other ingredients, except cornflour. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 mins.



Slake cornflour in a cup with a small amount of vinegar. Add this to the pan, and cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring all the time.



Pot into clean, dry, hot jars.



The chutney will be ready to eat in about 6 weeks.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Polytunnel part 3 - planting

Now that the tunnel is built, on with the fun bit - planting up. No doors on just yet, so we left the polythene as a temporary door





The soil inside the tunnel, having been under grass for many years, was weed free, but compacted and potentially lacking in nutrients. The Gentleman Farmer had rotovated the soil and added copious quantities of well-rotted stable manure - a gift from our lovely neighbours. We had planted seeds indoors in our heated propagator, and then potted on the small plants. once they were big enough, we planted out into the tunnel. 

Here are tomatoes - both bush-grown Roma, and several cordon varieties. There are also two cucumber plants. The first picture is May; the second June. 




Courgette - one yellow and one green plant. 


Mange-tout peas. 


Lots of sweetcorn, and several squash plants. 


We also planted some climbing beans. There are chillies and basil in pots. 

We are well into harvesting produce now - another post to come. 


Monday, 11 September 2017

Bowes Show

The Teesdale Mercury describes Bowes Show as the start of Teesdale's Agricultural show season. The Gentleman Farmer and I joined a friend and went along to the 130th show. The show field is in a beautiful setting, with Bowes Castle as a backdrop


As the weather was looking threatening, we decided to have a look outside first. Bowes attracts many of the local sheep farmers and their sheep. Plenty of Swaledale .......


...... and Herdwick .......



... and German Red Fox - a breed new to us, and to everyone else we spoke to. These are native to Bavaria, and there is, at present, just the one flock in the UK, in Cumbria. The sheep produces a cream wool with red flecks. Sounds interesting; I may see if I can get my hands on some of that. 


We saw tractors......


..... a little grey Ferguson TE20, similar to that driven by The Gentleman Farmers' uncles, on their Pennine Hill farm, up until the early 1980s. 


We saw hay carts. 


The heavens then opened, so we dashed into the marquee for a look at the Horticultural and Industrial Sections. There were huge vegetables ......


.... wonky vegetables ......


...... small arrangements .....


..... and arrangements in unusual containers. 



And favouirtes of Miss A and Master W when they were small - the vegetable monsters .....



...... and miniature gardens.




And back to the Teesdale Mercury - a Swaledale tup won Best in Show.

We had a lovely day. We ate ice cream, saw horses, cattle, dogs and donkeys. We met friends new and old. We have pressing invitations to visit other smallholders, and have been offered sheep. We're already looking forward to next year.