Archive for the ‘Make your own’ Category

How to pickle onions

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Homemade pickled onions

I like pickled onions even less then plums. But, after pickling our own a couple of weeks ago in time for Christmas, even I could be tempted to try a few. It was something that Nik wanted to have a go at, and as we’d harvested the onions from the garden a few days earlier, a vinegar bath was seemingly almost inevitable for the crop we’d dug up.

Pickling is no ordinary bath, though – it takes two days to prepare, but it is an easy process to get going.

On day one, peel the onions and chop off the tops and tails, so you’re left with a flat-edged vegetable with lots of green-white flesh. Be careful when you’re chopping the roots off that you don’t cut too much into the body of the onion itself, as it’s the base that holds it together.

Cover your freshly-skinned onions with a salt and water mix in a large pan.  In another pan, fully dissolve 250g of salt into two litres of water to make a brine, and pour this over the onions, too. If this doesn’t cover them, then make up some more in the same proportions. When the vegetables are totally covered with the brine mixture, cover them with plates to keep them under the water and leave them for 24 hours to dry out a little.

On day two, remove the onions from the brine and rinse them well and dry thoroughly, in readiness for storing in jars. The glass containers must be sterilised first, so either run them through a hot dishwasher or a 100 degrees Celsius oven. Leave them to cool naturally.

When both the jars and the onions are dry, place the onions into the jars (we used large Kilner-style containers), and cover with malt vinegar. The liquid must come right up to the top of the vegetables and cover them, in order to seal them. It’s recommended that they should be left for a few weeks before eating, so the festive period should be perfect timing. Lovely?

Making plum wine

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Plum wine

As family and friends will tell you, I’m not that keen on plums, but, as the hedgerows and trees around the house have a more than plentiful supply, we thought we’d have a go at making plum wine. Different to the wine we’ve made in kits, we’re hoping this will be a little fruitier, with maybe even more of a kick than than the self-distilling products.

Picking 5.5kg (12lbs) of fruit, we placed the foraged plums in the fermenter and covered with two gallons of hot water to split the skins and let the pulp inside seep out and turn the liquid into a thick mush. We left it in this state for two weeks. The sight of mould peppering the top of the now thick syrup-like liquid, signalled that the first stage of natural fermentation was complete. Onto stage two.

First, the whole lot was syphoned off into a second fermenter, when 4kg of a boiling water and sugar mixture and some brewers’ yeast was added. The sugar syrup has to be added slowly, though, until the plum juice is clear. The yeast has to be measured, too; one teaspoon for every gallon of brew meant that we needed three teaspoons. Accompanied by another good stir, we capped the mixture with an air lock to release any further fermenting pressure and left it for another fortnight, quietly bubbling away.

Before bottling, the brew has to have stopped fermenting, to stop the stuff exploding. Campden tablets usually do the trick; they both kill off any remaining bacteria and stop the wine picking up contamination when it comes to syphoning into bottles. And although they’re explosive in concentrated form, too, diluting them negates this. Adding one tablet for every gallon of wine saw us add two and a half tablets, balancing our 10 litres of brew.

We syphoned the wine off into bottles last week, and just had enough to fill 12 bottles. A very pretty blush-pink liquid, they look perfect for the summer. Which is just as well – before we can drink them, we have to leave them in the outhouse for six to nine months to clear. It’s going to be a boozy 2010; the cider will ready then, too…

No news is good news

Friday, September 11th, 2009

A month. It’s the longest I’ve not blogged since I started this site in January 2007. But don’t think I’ve been doing nothing. Life has gotten very busy the last four weeks, and I’ll admit, it’s been hard to log on and update happenings, as life has been, well, happening.

Since the middle of August, I’ve been busier than ever working, and trying to get a new online project off the ground. That’s taken more time than I’d envisaged, but thankfully, while it will be an ongoing project, the first stage is almost complete.

Nik has been just as busy, tidying up the garden and emptying the vegetable plot. He’s been harvesting sunflowers, making crab apple jelly, taking out the onions, making fig jam, planting cauliflowers and cabbage, and trimming the tomatoes, to try and spook them into actually ripening.

We’ve both been picking apples for our first foray into cider-making, taking plums off the trees near the nature reserve to make plum wine and collecting both blackberries and sloes, the latter to make this year’s stash of sloe gin or vodka.

Fun has been on the agenda, too, though. We’ve been watching the contenders sing their hearts out in the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest, catching up with ‘Allo ‘Allo, Fawlty TowersHoward’s Way and Stephen Fry in America, visiting family and friends, and enjoying the odd meal in the garden, although I suspect that’s soon to stop.

So, busy, busy, busy. It’s better than bored, bored, bored, and I’ve certainly not been doing nothing. Hopefully the merry-go-round to Busyville should start to slow a little now, which is good. If it doesn’t, there’ll be no time to get off…

Recipe: roast squash and sweet potato soup

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008


We’ve had another very enjoyable Christmas, with a mixture of entertaining, and being entertained. After spending time with Nik’s family in Galleywood on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we hosted mum, Bart, and Geoff at the house, which meant planning a menu and cooking the dishes on it.

A soup was of course always going to make the menu final cut, and after the two dishes we’ve recently made, we needed a new variety to try. So, inspiration struck us while watching Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen, and we found the recipe for her roast squash and sweet potato soup.

Squash is such an autumnal/winter vegetable, and it looks tasty even when it hasn’t been cooked, the bright orange colour contrasting with whatever you choose to mix it with. Nigella couples her soup with a blue cheese and buttermilk sauce, but we chose to leave this out, as it’s not to everyone’s taste.

In Nigella’s recipe, the squash is roasted and blended with sweet potato

While the vegetables have to be roasted and then blended (amazingly with all the skins on), the recipe is simplicity itself, and makes a thick, hearty, and warming soup, full of spicy richness. If you’d like to make Nigella’s roast squash and sweet potato soup, you can find the recipe here.

An eggstra-special Christmas

Monday, December 29th, 2008

We’d guessed that Gerry had been a bit of a late starter, but we had previously thought that all of our three laying ladies were producing eggs, even though the tally didn’t quite add up. But, it seems that we were proved wrong, as we’ve recently had our first proper three egg day.

Three hens-a-laying (left to right): Margot, Gerry, and Barbara’s eggs

With impeccable timing, it was at the start of last week, just in time for Christmas. It was a good job, too, as we needed some more of the chickens’ eggs for the neighbours’ Christmas hampers, which we put on their doorsteps on Christmas morning. Our friends in the road were very pleased; the eggs rubbed shoulders with jars of home made apple chutney, apple jelly, green tomato chutney, and bottles of home brewed beer wine.

Our home made 2008 Christmas hampers, full of self sufficient goodies

But, now that Gerry has matured (she now has yellow feet and an ever-growing comb) and started to lay properly, she’s getting a boisterous streak. It may be that with her new found skill, she’s also got new found confidence to quite literally bite the hands that feed her and her feathery chums.

Just last night when Nik went out to collect the eggs that had been laid later in the day, she nipped his hand through the egg collecting hatch of the Omlet Cube. And, on Christmas Eve she carried out a blocking tactic, standing in the doorway of the chicken house so that we couldn’t close the door and make sure that all three hens were safe for the night.

She’s certainly not living up to her hen-pecked Good Life TV character namesake, more the ginger-haired mischievous one formerly from the Spice Girls. And, rather fittingly, her personality seems to be getting spicier by the day…

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