Thursday, 29 August 2013

Bramble Vodka (Blackberry Vodka)

As I mentioned in my previous post and in an item from last year (HERE), Blackberry time is a good time. This year the berries seem much larger, the fruit sweeter and more abundant. Everywhere I look bramble branches are bowed under the weight of fruit, almost like apple boughs in autumn rather than blackberry bushes. So let's make the most of it and use it in pies, jams and Bramble Vodka!

..bowed under the weight of fruit

You will need......


So, that's the easy bit, now comes the really easy bit.....put them all together in a demijohn or large Kilner jar....

Oh alright - you want a bit more instruction otherwise it's too easy to be called a recipe isn't it?

For every bottle of vodka you will need about 100 grams of sugar and about 200 grams of blackberries.

Put it all together in a container as mentioned above and shake the concoction once a day until all the sugar is dissolved.

Leave for a month.

Is it too sweet? Add more vodka
Not sweet enough? Add more sugar

Leave a month.

Adjust as above.

Leave a month.
Adjust taste if necessary - but it shouldn't be by now.

Remove the fruit though a sieve or preferably a muslin cloth - this latter produces an absolutely clear drink if you do it twice over two days...

Drink...or give away if you absolutely must...

Vodka seems to suit the sweet taste of blackberries just as Gin suits the sour taste of sloes.

Try it, but drink's nicely potent.

Christmas is coming.....

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Summer, the First Time

Kite Flying....

It's not often you can look back on a summer and think "well that was a great one", but with the help of my Grandchildren, my wife's wonderful family and the brilliant long summer sunshine, I can this year. We've had barbecues, walks, outdoor charity events, kite flying, long evenings with friends around the chimenea, languid conversations over bottles of wine, birthdays, guitars, Harvey's local Ale, Shakespeare outside Scotney House and much, much more. 

And now, as the summer officially comes to an end, it's time to reap the benefits -  the fruits and the produce of the year's growing season and also to review the photographs and the memories produced by the long evenings and hot days. 

There was a series of articles in the press recently about children and the amount of daily activity they were getting; only about 50% of the children surveyed were active for at least an hour every day. How can this be? It's not that I don't believe the surveys - although these must necessarily be taken with a huge pinch of salt - but that children are inactive; they are always running around - aren't they? Or are our children now spending so much time on their iPads, iPhones, x-boxes and computers that exercise is becoming a thing that only previous generations (previous to technology) took part in?

When I spend time with my Grandchildren, or indeed my friends,  I want to get them outdoors - into the fields, the woods and the parks - I can't wait to show them stuff. Just this month my Sister in Law's children were holding grass snakes, learning the names of trees and getting to grips with making grass scream. My grandson Eli was watching his Dad run round the park with a kite because their was no wind and then he helped me pick a pound or two of blackberries. This is his first "real" summer - Summer The First Time - he's only two, but he loved it. 

Park Pickings...

Let's get the children out, it doesn't matter if it's raining - there are raincoats and wellies - there is so much to do and see, even in the winter evenings when it's dark and dreary it can be fun outside looking at stars and planets, having bonfires and jacket potatoes, campfires and chestnuts. Who doesn't love the sight of toddlers splashing in puddles - what  larks Pip, what larks.   

This time of year though there are fruits to be picked, wild or at your local Pick Your Own. Blackberries, raspberries, apples and plums are all ready to use in jams, pies and puddings - but not to forget the chutneys, alcoholic beverages and pickles that can also be put away for later use.  

Keep reading my blog and I will try to share some of the stuff that I've discovered and made. It's fun, it's active and it's healthy. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Runner Beans

Looking good this summer...

I thought I would continue my occasional commentary on easy vegetables even though the planting season is over as next years plans will soon need to be considered and I can highlight these posts again next Spring for all my wonderful followers....

And runner beans are easy to grow and, although they are wonderful to eat fresh, they can also be easily frozen.

The thing to remember about beans and peas is that they like deep roots - at the expense of foliage for some time - so if planting the seeds in pots to plant out later, use deeper pots than you otherwise might. Sometimes toilet roll holders are used as they are deep and can be torn off the rooted seeds when planting out. Just remember that they will take longer to get their roots established than many other vegetables and you may wonder why they're not growing - they are...underground!

Another tip when erecting your bean poles is to place them in an X shape rather than the traditional A shape or tepee type of arrangement. If you use these later two shapes then the beans will grow and fall into the inside of the trellis in the dark rather than on the outside in the sun.

The final tip is to keep picking the beans, the more you pick, the more you get - the plant will keep producing flowers and therefore beans when you pick the formed beans as soon as you can.

In every allotment, and in many gardens all over the UK in the Summer you will see runner beans climbing all over their supports, their red flowers catching the eye, the  beans dropping like green scimitars and swords beneath the leaves - they are all over the place because they are so easy to grow.

When you have picked them, string them if necessary and then cut them up and blanch them in boiling water for thirty seconds or so before plunging them into ice cold water to instantly stop them cooking. Then dry them thoroughly before freezing - you don't want to add any more water to them - and enjoy your beans all over Autumn and Winter!

Growing your own produce can be easy...

Sunday, 11 August 2013

High Days and Holidays

Kids love the outdoors...

Is there anything better than a good English Summer? When the days are long, the weather is fine and warm and the whole country seems to resonate with music - festivals, local outdoor events and garden music systems; the air is filled with the aroma of barbecued food and the roads are rammed with patient traffic edging towards the coast.

This summer seemed to be quite long, the days have appeared to be endless and the nights warm and short. This is the benefit of bright, sunny skies for weeks on end during the middle of the year, and I hope that we have made the most of it. I certainly have fond memories of this summer and my January 1st holiday in Madeira not only fired me up to make the most of our garden this year - vegetables and flowers, but I have been able to see the benefit. Unlike last year, we have been dry and fine for almost all the summer. The lanes have not been waterlogged for the entire summer, the vegetables have had more than enough sun and the grass has been cut at least every week, often every 5 days. We have been able to walk in the woods at 9 o'clock in the evening and still see all around us and also at 4 in the morning - had we wanted to!

Bumbling bees fumbling in the foxgloves, tractors kicking up the dust in the late summer sun or sunlight sparkling off trout dimpled waters - these are a few of my favourite summer things.

late evening sunshine....

We had a wonderful evening filled with music, food and good company and raised some money for Frankie's niece Anna who needs a new communicator, in the process, that is a memory that will stay with me for a long time; the darkness slowly sneaking under the marquee, candlelight gradually taking over from the late evening daylight as the singer/guitarists stood and kept us entertained with music that seemed so apt for the occasion that it folded over us like a warm, comfortable blanket.

An evening of music, food and good company

The fishing has been affected, naturally, the trout staying deep and, whilst not uncatchable, difficult to locate and tempt to the fly, but longer evenings mean later rises of dry flies and this last minute, late light flurry can be fun and produce one or two welcome fish.

Summer walks were spectacular...

Winter seems far away, but Autumn is just around the corner and I love that Season too and I look forward to all it brings. But I will not wish away this summer, I have spent hours upon hours outdoors and although my garden - reclaimed woodland at best - will never look cultivated, be weed free or win any prizes, I have been very pleased with the outcome of the slow start in a very cold Spring, I have loved every vegetable, every flower and every sunny, blue skied day - long may it last - but I'm not afraid of the year's end, just happy to look forward to a new beginning.... 

Tractors kicking up dust in the late summer sun...

Sunday, 4 August 2013

August Veggie Jobs

August - it's pretty much a time for harvesting and ensuring that your vegetables survive the heatwave, or sudden downpours of rain, sustained attacks from butterflies, rabbits or slugs. 

Seriously though, August is definitely a time for reaping what you have sown - the long, hot days are just made for the salad produce you have laboured over, but there are jobs that can be done to clear the time ahead and to ensure that you get the most from your vegetable are a list of mine...

  • Clear all beds as the plants finish their work, if you don't then any slugs, diseases, blights etc have a free reign within the pile of rotting detritus.
  • Keep picking beans, many plants will keep producing flowers if you do.
  • Feed the tomatoes, chilies, squashes, courgettes, beans salads - well everything really
  • water potted plants EVERY DAY. Even if it rains.
  • Start to think about where you are going to plant Winter Cabbages, Broad Beans, Early Broccoli etc
  • Tidy up around you - it's much easier than in the cold Winter months (I'm particularly bad at this...)
But most of all - enjoy the summer and enjoy your reward....