Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Crab Apple Jelly

Having just swapped a jar of my Crab Apple Jelly for one of Quince and Apple Jelly made by Cooking Neighbour it is time I reported on the making. Husband returned from the allotment with a bagful of windfalls from the hedgerow. Covered these with a pint of water per pound of crab apples, and boiled them up in my jam pan, simmering until they were mushy. Strain this through a jelly bag and then you can cook up the apple again with half the amount of liquid used on the first simmer. Once again this will need straining through your jelly bag. Measure your strained liquid.
For every pint of apple 'juice' you need a pound of sugar. Put them together in your jam pan and heat gently stirring regularly until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture up to a rolling boil and test for set. I find it worth using a jam thermometer to see if it's reached 'setting point' before it's worth testing for a set. You need to put a teaspoon of the mixture onto a cold plate and pop it in the fridge for a few minutes. If the jelly wrinkles when you push a finger across it it is ready, if you just get a wet finger it is not! Jelly usually needs skimming as it gets very frothy. The froth tastes OK but it doesn't look pretty. Pot the jelly in warm sterilised jars before it cools, add a wax circle and a lid. Label when cold (otherwise you'll find the label difficult to remove when you recycle the jars next time around).
You can throw in chopped herbs to make say, mint jelly, but you need a surprising amount to make a real impression, and there wasn't enough mint or sage worth using left in my garden. The advantage of not adding anything is that you can use this jelly as an accompaniment to any roast meat, but it is also delicious on a piece of bread and butter - or on a drop scone was how my granny served it!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Climate Change

According to the blogosphere today is the day to take action and write about climate change. To do this properly you have to sign up with e-mails and passwords and things. Since this space at the bottom of the bottom drawer in the filing cabinet belongs to me I didn’t want to sign, and I couldn’t make them give me a badge. I’m just not techi enough.
Thought I could think about what we do and don’t do all on my lonesome; I can confess without fear of ridicule.
It used to be that only hippies and earth mothers were into growing their own food and making things for themselves. Now the allotments have waiting lists, crafts (particularly knitting) are the thing to be seen to do, and the whole recycling movement is the fashion for all. The march away from free plastic bags has brought a revolution in alternative bags. So, in our bid to be fashionable, and maybe save the planet from climate change while we’re at it, this is what our family is doing:

  • Husband has an allotment and grows more and more of the family’s food. I use his produce for our meals but am also getting better at finding ways to prolong our use of those gluts. Lots of pickle, jelly and jam, but also best ways to freeze things for later.
  • We choose local in goods and services when possible, then Wiltshire, then England and so on.
  • We re-use plastic bags when we get them, and carry a hessian bag in order to turn down the offer of plastic as much as possible.
  • The girls go to and from school on a bus. Our rural idyll means my taxi service for after school clubs is busy most nights, but I try to save other errands to be done on the same outing. Sainsburys deliver my weekly groceries.
  • As they’ve needed replacing we’ve swapped to low energy light bulbs - despite their size and poor ambient light.
  • I’ve made a portion of my own clothes since I was eleven, and I mend too. I keep looking at the Re-Fashion and Make pledge and will investigate again.
  • I line dry in summer and tumble in poor weather. Love the smell of line dried laundry but get complaints from the family about softness. Tumble drying means I don’t need to use fabric softener, and I console myself that I rarely iron anything. Washing is sorted by colour and temperature and only washed when there is a full load.
  • We ought to save more water. There’s only one water butt, and though I save washing-up water, vegetable cleaning water and the condenser tumble dryer water for the garden in dry weather I haven’t yet found a use for grey water otherwise… Most of us bath or shower daily and we have no plans to stop. The water is softened so at least we don’t use much product to get things clean.
  • Wiltshire collects our paper, glass, clothes, shoes and tins. We compost food waste, cardboard and garden waste. We can’t fill our ordinary wheely bin. But we fail to save and recycle plastic. Could do better.
  • We save envelopes, cards, postage stamps, wrapping paper, string and ribbons and anything else we think might prove useful. I haven't yet turned into my grandmother: a clever woman of slender means and thrifty habits it was perfectly normal to receive on your birthday the front half of a used card with her greeting on the back sent in a re-used envelope that the postman must have enjoyed deciphering!

I'm off to see what other people have been writing about in the hope that someone will have succeeded in being funny. It may be important, but the post is dull!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Flower arranging

I was honored to once again be asked to 'do' a church window for the Harvest Festival service this weekend. This is the fifth year running that I've put a flower arrangement in the back window which seems to be my lot. I have ambitions to make it further 'up' the church, where mine makes the first impression when the congregation walk in, rather than being at the back, behind the door, where they may not even notice it on their way out. Mind, this year, because several people were away, I was allowed to do one behind the pillar on the other side...
In my former life, as a 'wife-of' I had a baptism of fire on the flower arranging front. I should tell you that while I love to be given flowers, and have no difficulty popping them in a vase, flower arranging isn't something that I'd particularly thought about beforehand. However, on giving up a perfectly respectable management job in order to follow Husband to Germany on a posting to a regiment, I discovered this was something of a failing on my part. Husband had been landed with the job of Mess Secretary, a role in which the officers take turns, it being their responsibility to organise functions of varying descriptions from lunch parties to full flung balls. Within a few short weeks of our arrival there was to be a parade with a lunch for luminaries from all over Germany, and 'our' regimental mess was to host the function. The Brigadier in charge insisted on a full rehearsal of table laying and menu tastings including table decorations. And you will guess that this is where they rely on those wives!

As the wife of the MC it was apparently my responsibility to purchase and arrange flowers, dragging in other wives to help - in budget of course. I'm reasonably artistic, and I like flowers so it wasn't that I wasn't prepared to have a go, but I can't express just how pressured I felt with this dry demanding Brigadier breathing down my husband's neck! All went well in the end, the Brigadier was satisfied, and my flower arranging is rather better since then. But I've never succeeded in doing the delicate little sprays that we were supposed to do on top of candlesticks, nor yet the genteel triangle of flowers of the traditional arrangement. Even church windows have an etiquette that I have not yet achieved. I expect, if others are away, I may be asked to help again next year.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Busy doing the 'wrong' things

I've been surfing again, and what I've discovered is that there are some seriously sophisticated bloggers out there doing wonderfully professional things with their space. I loved finding that you could search for recipes on a huge range of sites from the professional kitchens of chefs and authors, but actually I liked the ones where a recipe was almost coincidentally shared, rather in the way that you might share with a friend or neighbour what you'd been making, and then offer the method. It's rather the same with the sewing. Great to discover that someone in the blogosphere might have the solution to a sewing dilemma, but more fun to get a view of what they've been making and what it was for.

Part of the fun for me is finding something I didn't know I'd find interresting, or didn't know I had an opinion upon and being set running in an unexpected direction. I think I need a google search tool for 'domestic life' or 'have a cuppa and a chat'. Lovely to find that there's always someone to connect with - even if what you should really be doing is that pile of mending that is in danger of falling over or vacuuming the house - not to mention any of those maintenance jobs that I gather are something I should consider... Does anyone else clean out their kitchen drawers unless they're moving house? Me neither. Along with cleaning the windows I'm afraid this hausfrau is failing in her duties.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Chocolate Chip Shortbread

This is the shortbread dough, rolled out and ready to go. A view of the finished result later in this post, but first, the recipe! Thank-you to the lovely njhausfrau for putting it on her site for us to use, but for other uk types I've moderated for our different measurement system (and yes I know I should be metric, but they're not automatic for me at my age):

8 ounces softened butter
7 fluid ounces caster sugar
20 fluid ounces plain flour
4 ounces chocolate chips

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, beat in the flour and then the chocolate. Then (and here's the clever bit) put into a plastic bag and roll out to about 1/4 an inch thick and then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. When you're ready, heat the oven to 180c and break open the bag. Cut the dough into 1 1/2 inch squares and bake for 15- 20 minutes until pale but not golden. I've made 15 using half the dough and put the rest back in the fridge for another day. Very pleased with the result though I might try adding a little vanilla or even branch out and purchase some espresso powder since that was what was originally called for and I didn't reckon freeze dried granules would do.
Husband has been away for a bonding weekend with his father and brothers, Youngest on a guiding trip. Eldest and I enjoyed the company of Schoolsoulmate and an evening of take away curry and Strictly. A rare treat in that combination!

That Pie

I'm afraid it was not a success! The Quorn and Mushroom Pie looked beautiful, but while Husband and I ate it with the resignation of people who had been brought up to eat whatever was put on our plates 'because children in Africa are starving' the girls pushed it around and barely made an impression. So the one made 'for real' in class yesterday is still sitting on the worktop while I summon the courage to abandon my principles and throw perfectly good food away - except it isn't. I don't know if I can re-freeze Quorn as I would meat now that it's cooked? Then I could serve it up to the next vegetarian who crosses my threshold - do they want to eat it any more than my family? I shan't be giving you the recipe.
Am very hopeful about some shortbread that is waiting to be baked having found a promising recipe at another hausfrau site (see my bloglist). It is all rolled out in its plastic bag chilled and ready for the next step. Have a vision of delighted children arriving home from school to find fresh home baking though I predict that one of them won't like it, and the other will devour the lot! There are a limited number of things I can make that they'll both eat as I've detailed before. Last weekend Youngest made Cornflake Chocolate Crispies and Eldest refused to eat them 'because Youngest made them' - although she didn't call her anything so friendly.
On a different note Husband has gone off to uni today after two days at home. At present the new life remains a rather fun novelty, though I suspect the need to provide lunch may take the shine off the whole thing. Lectures start properly next week so watch this space.