a busy domestic blog of knitting, sewing and all kinds of needlecrafts, cooking my garden produce and preserving it

Saturday, 17 December 2011


I've just put the last of the quinces in the oven to bake and I'm wishing I'd had more! They weren't home-grown but I was lucky enough to pick some up through Freegle (freecycling) earlier in Autumn. This was my first experience of them but I'd heard people say how wonderful they are.
They're certainly odd to look at - something like a deformed apple - and at first were very hard. I wasn't sure what to do with them - there was a carrier bag full so I wanted to try them in various ways.
Someone pointed me to an article with various quince recipes in the Telegraph and the first thing I tried was Slow roast pork belly - nice but a little strange with unexpected taste combinations.

I then tried an adaptation of an old recipe from Country Living - originally for honeyed quince pandowdy, stewed fruit with a sort of scone/dumpling topping, I altered it to have a low-fat scone type topping. This was certainly a better way to let the unusually exotic taste of the quinces shine out - so we've had this several times! My daughter had complained about the smell from 'that strange fruit', as it sat ripening in a bowl but I thought it was delicious - strangely mango-like rather than the apple/pear taste I'd expected.

I have, of course, made some quince tablet or paste - basically a super-stiff jam set in a small cake tin - to either try with cheese or add to pork dishes long after the fresh quinces have gone.
I'm certainly going to be looking out for more on offer next year, but meanwhile I've sown some pips in the hope of having my very own quince tree.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

So far, so good

My current crochet project is advancing slowly but surely. I thought I had nearly enough of the motifs worked, so I sketched out the shape of the finished waistcoat (left front) and placed them on it - only to discover I had nothing like sufficient pieces! Back to making circles again for now - which is easier than joining up!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Giving Crochet Another Try

I've knitted (almost) all my life and assume I'm quite good at it - certainly I can knit and watch TV, even knit and read a book (providing book stays open at right page) but crochet has always been a bit of a mystery.
Still, a couple of years ago I managed, very slowly, to make my daughter a crocheted top and since then I've made a couple of scarves, so I though I'd at last have a go something larger for myself.

I'm trying to adapt a Rowan design - with long sleeves - and make a waistcoat. Apart from the bit of having to get out the instruction book to remember how to make a double crochet or a treble, things have gone quite well. I need to use the pattern a lot more than with knitting and it's not so easy to watch TV at the same time but I'm getting there.

The pattern consists of lots of medallions - 4 in all - which have gone quite well. I'm now at the stage of fastening them together, which isn't as easy. I have piles of ready made circles, a paper outline and marks of where the joining up chains should go but things get skewed every time I try to join the circles up.
I seem to need an extra pair of hands to hold things still.
Hopefully I'll have a finished garment to post here soon - fingers crossed!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Saving for winter

We seem, rather happily, to be inundated with produce this year, well, some sorts of veg - beetroot, runner beans, apples and tomatoes mainly.

The beetroot and apples are stored where-ever I can find space - in boxes, baskets, bags - whatever I can find. The beans have had to go in the freezer as I can't think of any other way to store them but I'm trying to NOT put all the tomatoes in there. I'm rather paranoid about the possibility of the electricity being cut off due to snow or high wind and everything in the freezer turning to slush.

So, I'm trying out other methods of storing them.
It's a long while since I've had enough tomatoes to make passata making seem worthwhile but I'm on my third batch this year! The first didn't keep well - one jar started to turn mouldy, so the other is being kept in the fridge (not helpful if there's a power cut).
The second batch had olive oil floated over the passata before sealing and re-heating - maybe I shouldn't have re-heated as the oil just mixed in with the tomatoes!

I then decided to 'sun'dry some tomatoes - with the help of the top oven. I sliced them up, placed on baking paper on the grill and placed them in the unlit top oven while the bottom one was in use. I've used this method on apples but I left the tomatoes till they were much drier. The plum tomatoes with thicker sides and less pips seem to have worked better than the juicy steak tomatoes. They're all very leathery now and packed into a jar. They should be covered with oil but for now I'm seeing how well they will keep without it.
Today though, I'm back to making passata. Smaller jars, no oil on top and we'll see how well this batch keeps.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

More weird - and not so weird - preserving.

Our first frost of the year this week so had to clear lots of things at the allotment - too many crystal lemon cucumbers and lots of tiny, tiny green cherry tomatoes - plus we picked up some windfall apples through Freecycle which won't keep for long so really need to be used - so it was time for the jam pan to come out again!

Having had an unexpected success with courgette jam, I thought I'd try the same recipe with cucumber. Basically 2lb peeled, chopped cucumber simmered with 3 lemons and enough water to cover.

When the cucumber's softened, squash with the potato masher. Leave to cool, chop the lemons into thin strips, then measure the pulp. Add 1lb sugar to pint of pulp and either boil to setting point straight away or leave overnight to soak first. The lemon is definitely softer if left overnight.

It looks and tastes like a lemon marmalade - and the first batch was such a success, I'm now onto a second (simmering right now!)

The tomatoes were a different problem - the normal sized ones went into chutney with some of the apples

but any chutney made with the tiny cherry ones would have been full of skins so I decided to try Green Tomato Sauce - a strange thing of my own invention but really a sieved chutney.

It doesn't look very appetising - I used granulated sugar instead of demerara because my sugar stocks were getting low but obviously the reason so many chutney recipes call for demerara sugar is to improve the colour and appearance. It contains a fair amount of chillies and I'm thinking of using it as a last minute addition to curries. It's not been tested yet though.

Last but not least, the most normal thing this week - apple and blackberry jam!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Summer cotton cardigan

Finished at last!
The really tricky - and slow - bit was the crocheted edging. I'm still at the learning stage and have to have a 'How to Crochet' book handy to check on the different stitches which is why it takes such a long time.

Something didn't quite work out properly - the edging should have been more scalloped than this but I couldn't quite understand some of the instructions about putting the hook in several rows below.
Well, at least I finished it!
and I can have another go some time and get a different edging.

My next project looks like being a crocheted waistcoat,
so fingers crossed that that turns out ok!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Green Tomato Cake

Having heard weathermen talking about the possibility of snow next month, I thought I'd start clearing some of the unripe tomatoes - and brought home 11lbs!
I started to use them by making chutney - there's a particular green tomato one that I like to have with cheese in a hot baguette - but wondered if there was any other way to eat them. I put out query on Twitter and a very helpful person sent me 3 suggestions - one of which was green tomato cake.
I'm never one to refuse a culinary challenge so decided to have a go - unfortunately the recipe had too much butter and far too much sugar, so I decided to combine it with Delia's bara brith recipe as follows :

In a bowl beat 1 egg with 4oz sugar, then mix in 8 fluid oz milk. Sieve 10oz SR flour and a teaspoon each of baking powder, ground nutmeg and ground cinnamon, into the mixture and mix well. Finely chop 12oz green tomato and add to mix.
Pour into a greased, lined 2lb loaf tin and bake at Gas No 4 for 50 - 60 mins

Then the important bit - tasting!
Surprisingly nice. It was lovely and moist from the tomatoes and tasted mainly of the spices.
I don't think anyone would identify the mystery ingredient as tomato - apart from one drawback. When cut into slices, you can see green chunks! Not the normal appearance of cake! Maybe we're too set in our ways about how cake should look but if I made up this recipe again, I'd bake it in small muffin or fairy cake cases.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Lemon and Courgette Marmalade

I've had a lot of spare, super-sized courgettes over summer (particularly after a fortnight's absence for holidays) and I'm a firm believer in putting what I have to good use rather than letting it go to waste. Looking through old compilations of recipes and seeing how marrows were used, inspired me to try jams with courgettes. The courgette and pineapple jam was okay but not great, so I decided to adapt one I use for pumpkins -

2lb courgettes - peeled and chopped, I was using very large ones of 3 inches diameter
3 lemons - chopped very finely, I usually cut them into strips and after the first boiling cut really thinly using scissors
1 3/4 pints water

Place these into a preserving pan and boil till the courgettes can be broken down with a potato masher.
Remove from heat.
Add 2lb sugar and leave to stand for 24 hours.

Next day, boil rapidly to setting point.

This makes a wonderful lemony marmalade that for once actually looks like one too.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Autumn makes #1 - New Hat

Don't think I knocked this up after posting about Autumn plans - it's actually a re-make of my daughter's hat. It's no longer her style of thing and the ribbing was cracked, but it seemed such a pity to throw it away.

I didn't have any of the original red wool for the ribbing so it's been re-done in blue - and slightly larger to fit my head!
Seeing it on, daughter actually said "It doesn't look too bad" - high praise!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Autumn plans

We're now more or less settled back into the school term routine and, after a lazy feeling summer, I want to tackle my 'to do' list.

There seems to be an endless round of harvesting and preserving at the moment as each new glut arrives. Courgettes and runner beans have been dealt with now and I'm moving on to green tomatoes - we have LOTS - and then apples. I started to clear out the fruit in the freezer this week and made 8 jars of redcurrant and raspberry jam - there's the potential for a lot more left though.

It's time though to tackle all the jobs and projects that have been neglected -
- to finish the summer weight cotton cardigan while it's still warm enough to wear it
- to rework the edging on an old beret to make it large enough to fit me
- to mend those old jumpers that have holes - and have been waiting since last winter
- to go through my recent knitting books and actually plan to make something
- to stop hoarding scraps of material and start to put them together as patchwork
- to act on all the ideas I had for art or craft projects, inspired by the artists I met on holiday

The guiding principle is to be Stop hoarding and planning and get on with making! We'll see how I get on before Christmas....

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The many uses of courgettes!

We've had an unusual courgette glut this summer - and some have grown too large for the title 'courgette'. Having eaten them in pasta sauces, curries, stir fries, roast with honey or balsamic vinegar, disguised in muffins and cake and frozen lots in the hope that they'll not be too watery and limp, I decided to move on to chutney and marmalade.
Back in July I made some jam with pineapple and a small batch of chutney based on the recipe I use for gooseberries.
I've recently been experimenting with a lemon flavoured courgette marmalade and another batch of chutney slightly different due to a lack of certain ingredients in the cupboard! The marmalade had turned out really well, very lemony and much better than the pineapple variety. Not sure about the chutney as I think I added too much cinnamon and it smells rather like mincemeat!

Saturday, 13 August 2011


My mother's tomato plants are now cropping fast and furiously so she's giving a lot away. Unfortunately, they tend to be watery with very tough skins, so when she suggested I made chutney with them, I thought I wouldn't. Instead they've been boiled up and sieved for passata. A lot of tomatoes didn't appear to fill many bottles when I'd finished but it tastes wonderful - I checked the dribbles - and is one thing that doesn't have to fit in the freezer!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Jam again!

Yes, jam making time again! This time with mainly fruit from the freezer. I happened to go in there looking for something and realised just how much previous years' soft fruit I have hoarded. So, I pulled out a couple of bags of raspberries and some redcurrants, and Hubby suggested I add the blackberries he'd just brought back from the allotment.... and... da dah!..... lovely fruity mess boiling in the pot! It was actually a better colour than this - a deep vibrant plum which I haven't been able to capture on the camera. Still, the jam tastes good which is what counts.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Weird Jam

I'm suffering from a surplus of courgettes at the moment - some have escaped picking and grown too large and marrowlike. I was wondering about making pickle or chutney with them but have quite a lot of chutneys in the store cupboard so wondered whether it was possible to make some sort of jam or marmalade.

Hunting through the recipe books I came across two in Farmhouse Fare, a compilation of recipes sent in to Farmers' Weekly.
The first was marrow, lemon and ginger - the second, marrow and pineapple.
I often make lemon or orange flavoured jams/marmalades with fairly dull bulky veg - pumpkins or rhubarb - so I thought I'd try the pineapple recipe.

The courgette is diced and layered with sugar overnight, then tinned pineapple added and everything boiled up.

It looks more like marmalade but tastes like jam - not very pineappley though!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


The cupboard where I keep jams and chutneys has been beginning to look a little bare
the soft fruit is starting to ripen - sometimes a little too much of it at once.

We have lots of raspberries and redcurrants of our own, which are being picked and frozen to be dealt with later, but my parents asked us to help clear their fruit bushes as well so we came home at weekend with more raspberries AND about 6lbs gooseberries.

Time to get out the jam pan!

A few hours of slaving over a hot stove and I have 2 jars of gooseberry chutney and 4 of gooseberry and lemon marmalade.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A little treat for my knitting

I've been looking for a while for a new, larger bag to keep my 'in progress' knitting in and was delighted to find this - with a print from artist/illustrator Jackie Morris entitled Little Bo-ho Hippy Peep and her Sheep

In the panniers, the Sheep is carrying balls of wool and knitting needles - so just perfect for a new knitting bag.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Elderflower time

flowers, sugar, lemons and water preparing for Elderflower fizz
I can't wait long enough for it to turn alcoholic but drink it as soon as there's any fizz to it.
mainly using old lemonade/coke 2 litre bottles this year instead of having to track down corks for wine bottles.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

another renovation

Yet another of my daughter's jumpers that she no longer likes!
It's not really been worn much and I quite like the big snowflake pattern so decided to make it over rather than send it to the charity shop.

It's a very snug fit but the main problem was its length. There was some left over yarn - a 100g ball of the red and some bits of white - not enough for a plain add on section but I wanted to leave the pocket patterns in instead of having to re-knit most of the front.

I unpicked the pockets and swiss darned the gap, undid the whole ribbed section, picked up there and knitted down to the bottom.
I've left the sleeves alone for now - they're tight and only three quarter length on me but it seems a lot of fuss to change them. As it's knitted in Aran weight pure wool, it's rather warm to wear it now, so I'll see how I feel about the sleeves in Autumn.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Pumpkin Marmalade

I've had a busy couple of days unexpectedly making marmalade. One of our homegrown pumpkins was turning soft, so I decided to use lots, though not all, of it up quickly.

OK, normally marmalade is made with oranges or other citrus fruit but I've made it before with different things such as apple or rhubarb to provide the bulk and some oranges or lemons to give the citrus taste.

So, I took 3lbs pumpkin chunks, rinds and flesh from a couple of squeezed out lemons (saved in the freezer) and 2oz crystallised ginger, and boiled them all in 2 1/2 pints water till the pumpkin was soft enough to mash up. Mashed the pumpkin, chopped up the lemon rind into thin strips. Let them all stand overnight - to soften the peel. In the morning added 3lb sugar and let it stand again till afternoon when I boiled it up to setting point.

It made a lovely lemony, ginger marmalade - which I also tested drizzled over roasting parsnips.

Friday, 21 January 2011

So far, so good

The knitting bit of this project is now finished. I'm intending using some old fake fur coat lining to make a collar for it. To make it trickier, I'd like the collar to be detachable.

So, instead of a plain button band I've made buttonholes the whole way round, up one side, round the neck and down the other, then I'm hoping to have buttons on the collar to attach it when needed.

I just hope I actually finish it. I haven't decided yet how it will fasten at the front but I've been wearing it already tied with a piece of ribbon and moved on to knitting some gloves - and this is how the fancy bits NEVER get done.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

More Preserving

We got rather a bumper haul of apples from our 'pippin' tree this year and not so blemished and grub-infested as normal. They're a strange apple - a rather tart desert apple but not ready to eat till mid-winter so they have to be stored carefully. Meanwhile they're in danger of rotting so I've been experimenting with drying them.

Most recipes suggest slicing in rings, threading them and hanging to dry. The ones I chose to start with were damaged in one way or another so wouldn't make nice rings. Instead I've chopped them into thin wedges, spread them on paper over the grill in the second oven

and left them there while the oven below is being used.
Strangely, they taste sweeter when dried
When they seem dry enough, not crunchy or leathery, I packed them into jars

I haven't managed to work out how long they will keep for though, as they're being eaten too quickly!