This post is really just for my own records, as a package of 12 bare root shrubs has just arrived from Thompson & Morgan, that I bought for an amazingly cheap price.

Annoyingly, I’ve had to look each shrub up, using its label and in some cases it doesn’t say what colour the shrub is so below I’ve done my best guess, purely so I have a record somewhere of what they all are:


Ribes odoratum

Ribes aureum, Golden Currant, Flowering Currant, Buffalo Currant

Hardy Shrub
  • Fragrant blooms followed by edible berries

Set against a backdrop of glossy green foliage, the pale yellow flowers with a spicy clove-like fragrance are produced in bunches at the tips of arching stems. The early spring flowers of Ribes odoratum are followed by edible black berries that often persist well into late summer. By autumn, the foliage turns to bright shades of red and purple. This fabulous flowering currant provides a long season of interest, and being tough and resilient, it will grow well in most gardens. Height and spread: 2m (6′,6″).


Ramanas Rose (Hedging)

Rosa rugosa

Hardy Shrub

A tough, resilient and reliable rose shrub that will grow and spread readily in almost any situation. Ideal as a security hedge too as the prickles and thorns will deter any would be intruder, the ramanas rose, rosa rugosa is a good performing hedging plant. In spring a profusion of simple pink flowers will cover the hedge, giving of a sweet scent. The flowers will develop into bright red round fruits, or hips, that are not only attractive to wildlife but are also a good source of vitamins A, C and E when used in jellies or Jams. Supplied as 50 – 80cm bareroots (20 – 31″) Height: 150cm (59’). Spread: 150cm (59’). Planting Distance: 60cm (24″)


Weigela florida ‘Polka’ (Large Plant)

Hardy Shrub

This spreading deciduous shrub looks glorious in Summer when its arching branches are filled with soft pink trumpet shaped blooms. The nectar rich flowers of Weigela florida ‘Polka’ are gently scented and attract pollinating insects. The foliage is an unusual dark blue-green colour and forms a dense cloak of leaves that creates an excellent background for summer flowering perennials when grown in mixed borders. Height: 120cm (48″). Spread: 150cm (59″).


Forsythia x intermedia ‘Goldrausch’

Hardy Shrub

Forsythia is that yellow flowering shrub which everyone asks about each spring! The bare stems of this plant are cloaked in bright golden-yellow flowers, when nothing else is in the bloom in the garden!

Forsythia ‘Goldrausch’ is a compact variety, which can be grown in a shrub border, trained as a colourful hedge or grown against a wall. An excellent plant for small gardens. Forsythia plants are an easy to grow shrub, which is easy to prune and will last for many years. Height and Spread: 2.5m (8’).


Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Atropurpurea Nana’

Berberis thunbergii ‘Crimson Pygmy’, Berberis ‘Little Favourite’, Barberry

Hardy Shrub

This dwarf deciduous Barberry makes a colourful addition to rockeries and borders. This RHS AGM variety has red-purple foliage that brings a bright splash of colour in spring before maturing to fiery scarlet in Autumn. The yellow spring flowers are loved by pollinators, and the berries that succeed its blooms will attract plenty of birds. Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Atropurpurea Nana’ is hardy, growing happily in any well drained soil. With its neat, compact habit, it makes a useful low hedge too. Height and spread: 100cm (40″).


Symphoricarpos ‘Albus’


Hardy Shrub

A compact plant which produces a mass of small white flowers in summer which go on to produce white fleshy berries in autumn (harmful if eaten). A non fussy shrub, Symphoricarpos ‘Albus’ will thrive on most soils and although prefers to be in sun, it will tolerate part shade. The deciduous foliage is a yellow tinted green colour, which goes beautifully with its white fruits. Height & Spread: 80cm (32″).


Potentilla fruticosa ‘Mango Tango’

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Hardy Shrub

Cup shaped orange-yellow flowers stand out nicely from the grey-green foliage of this compact Shrubby Cinquefoil. Blooming over a very long period from May to September, Potentilla fruticosa ‘Mango Tango’ provides real value in a sunny border or rockery. This hardy deciduous shrub is adaptable and surprisingly tough, despite the delicate appearance of its fine stems and tiny leaves. Grow it en masse in hot, sunny borders, where it will superb drought tolerance once established. Height and spread: 60cm (24″).


Deutzia setchuenensis var. corymbiflora

Hardy Shrub

Deutzia setchuenensis var. corymbiflora is a particularly attractive deciduous shrub. From early summer the white cupped-shaped blooms are borne in dense clusters against the grey-green foliage. In winter, the upright stems are revealed, with mature plants displaying fabulous pale brown peeling bark. This elegant shrub has been awarded an RHS AGM for its garden performance, and makes a classy addition to woodland areas, mixed borders and cottage gardens. Height: 200cm (78″). Spread: 150cm (59″).


Lilac ‘Katherine Havemeyer’

Syringa vulgaris

Hardy Shrub

Elegant panicles of double lavender-blue flowers are produced against a backdrop of heart-shaped foliage on this beautiful, spreading lilac. Syringa ‘Katherine Havermeyer’ is a quick-growing, trouble-free variety with nectar rich, fragrant flowers that are loved by butterflies. A well loved specimen shrub for cottage garden borders that requires little maintenance. Height and spread: 7m (22′).


Tamarix tetrandra

Four Stamen Tamerisk

Hardy Shrub

As a medium size shrub or small tree, however you see it, Tamarix tetandra is deciduous with feathery foliage consisting of small, needle-like green leaves. Originally discovered in Holland, this plant will withstand UK winters, down to temperatures of around -20C. The RHS have awarded this plant a prestigious Award of Garden Merit for its arching, almost black branches, together with large plumes of light pink flowers in late spring. A worthy winner! Height & Spread: 4m (13′).


Cornus alba ‘Sibirica Variegata’


Hardy Shrub

Beautiful variegated foliage in cream and green cover this vigorous shrub during Spring and Summer, making it an interesting addition to the back of a border or as part of a larger shrub collection. In the Winter, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica Variegata, as with all Dogwoods, really steals the show, with thickets of bright red stems which will liven up the garden when most other plants are dormant. !. Height: 300cm (118″). Spread: 300cm (118″).


Spiraea japonica ‘Green and Gold’

Japanese Spiraea

Hardy Shrub

Japanese Spiraea is a robust deciduous shrub that deserves a place in every garden. Spiraea japonica ‘Green and Gold’ produces a profusion of flowers against a background of the yellow-green foliage from mid to late summer. Adored by butterflies and other pollinators, Spiraea is an excellent choice for a wildlife garden, where its vibrant autumn foliage will add a splash of late season colour. Tough, resilient and easy to grow – a superb low maintenance shrub. Height and spread: 120cm (48″).

That’s if….off to get them planted out 🙂

Squash results 2012…

This post feels like a continuation of the last one, in both colours and theme, we are still very much in Autumn mode around here, despite the recent drop in temperature.

We all walked up to the farmers market today, via the local wood.  I often feel disappointed by woods around here, I have a preference for old woods with mixed trees and in this area of Kent, they are nearly all coppiced.  I felt like this view was very unfair today as we had a lovely walk, my oldest (7) even said, “Mummy, I hadn’t realised how magical the woods look in Autumn”, which nearly blew me away for a boy who is usually more interested in plastic toys than nature.  Obviously, I must be wearing them down 😉

The plus side of our local wood is that it is almost entirely made up of sweet chestnuts, it’s impossible to walk without stepping on them and the boys love packing their pockets full to bring back for our ‘nature’ window ledge – see, I AM wearing them down!

I have put a little time into the garden this week.  I felt there was one last mow to go, but it’s been too wet and is now leaf strewn, so the grass will be left in peace until next Spring.  I have planted all the new bulbs into my small side border and as mentioned on earlier posts, rabbit proofed it.  This involves a pretty unglamorous wire ‘fence’ being held in place with canes, it looks fairy ugly but it’s a small price to pay to stop the rabbits from eating any foliage that comes early next Spring.  Come Winter, they will eat everything in site and once they get going they don’t stop.

Although I’ve pulled up most stray seedlings in the vegetable patch, some get to stay.  I find that the herb Parcel self-seeds into every crack it can find, to a degree that’s really quite annoying, but I also know that its fabulous celery + parsley taste is invaluable for stews and stocks so I just leave it be and cut it back when needed for the pot.

I found time to clear out the greenhouse and bring all the squash indoors, they are now sitting decoratively on our long bay windowsill, looking rather lovely.

Back in April I planted:

  • Dill’s Atlantic Giant
  • Marina di Chioggia
  • Crown Prince
  • Turk’s Turban
  • Queensland Blue
  • Gem/Rolet
  • Hooligan
  • Sweet Dumpling

I completely lost track of what was what so just planted everything out, some were munched early by the huge amount of slugs we had this year, but I did manage to grow:

  • Dill’s Atlantic Giant x 1 – more of a ‘mini’ than giant, sadly
  • Marina di Chioggia x 1 – not nearly as warty looking as I was hoping
  • Crown Prince/Queensland Blue x 3 – and really big ones, total winner here!
  • Turk’s Turban x 4 – again, a really good size and by far my favourite squash
  • Gem/Rolet – None 😦
  • Hooligan x 5 – these are super cute mini stripped squash and will be on next year’s list
  • Sweet Dumpling – None 😦

Not a bad haul really, especially considering how erratic the weather has been this last year.  I am determined to cook some really nice recipes with them, and have been collecting any I find so I’ll let you know how I get along.

Right, whilst I remember, I’m off the empty the boys’ coat pockets of sweet chestnuts 🙂

Wild Flowers…

We’re nearly at the end of the school summer holidays and it feels to have flown by so far.

We were lucky enough to get tickets for the Olympics, and although the event itself was amazing, I was also very keen to get a good look at the wild flower meadows.  I was not disappointed, the flowers were stunning, especially the ‘gold’ beds as shown below.  Crammed full of blooms and very inspiring, especially after the non event of my cutting beds this year, which have failed for the first time ever.  The weather hasn’t helped but the main problem was a rogue rabbit that was trapped in the vegetable garden which relentlessly munched the seedlings until I gave up.  I still have some Cosmos and Zinnias that might flower before the weather turns but it’s getting a bit late in the year now.

Following the Olympics we travelled ‘Up North’ to stay in my beloved Yorkshire Dales.  For those who don’t know, this is where I am from and my family still have a working sheep farm, just inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

One of the things that I am always in awe of, when we visit, are the wild flowers.  The Dales is sheep farming country, the landscape is lush and green and mostly involves fields surrounded by dry stone walls.  The roads are narrow, but quite busy (it’s very much a tourist destination and a cyclist’s haven), all along the sides there are banks of grass peppered with wild flowers.

The range and mass of flowers is due to the lime-rich soils, I had hoped to take lots of photos, but often I only had my phone camera with me and the results aren’t worth posting, these are the best ones I managed to take, sadly.  The geraniums above are my favourite, they appear everywhere, especially along the roads, along with willow herb and wild scabious.

We spent a lot of time in Upper Wharfedale and Littondale, where a lot of farmers take part in a government scheme that involves leaving the meadows much later before cutting, so as to let the wild flowers re-seed.  We were lucky with the weather in that generally all the meadow cutting was late, the earlier rain followed by the small pocket of sunshine meant that even the meadows not covered by the scheme were still in full bloom.

We had lots of days out that involved gardens.  We visited the Forbidden Corner in Leyburn (sorry to those who read both my blogs, as you’re getting this all twice!) which is a folly garden, but still full of lovely flowers, I was happy to find us in Valley Gardens in Harrogate one day (really for the kids to go to the playground), although I couldn’t manage to persuade my lot to actually to go to Harlow Carr…one day it might happen.

We also spent a pleasant day at Harewood House where a wander around the  Himalayan Gardens had me falling in love with this Potentilla, prompting me to order some similar pink plants from Crocus.  I did have a bit of a sulk after finding the walled vegetable gardens were closed for the afternoon for a play to take place in the grounds.  I was rather looking forward to seeing them.Whilst home, I made a visit to Grove Rare Books in Bolton Abbey.  We don’t often get to go as even though we drive past it daily,  it’s difficult to park in the village.

I managed to add to me ever expanding collection of old Observer Books which are a series of pocket guides to pretty much everything, some originally published over 60 years ago.  You can read more about them here, but don’t blame me if you also become addicted.

I should stress now, I’m not a fanatic or anything, you wont find me lurking at the next Observers Book Society meeting (they have meetings – oh yes they do!) each to his own and all that.  But I do have a bit of a ‘thing’ about collecting books from my childhood and ones on nature.  It’s often about the images, which inspire me in my work at The Linen Cat, but some are just great books.

One of those being the ‘Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe’, which is from the 1970’s and not only is it full of fabulous illustrations but it’s also really good for identifying flowers.

This is a book we have at home (ie my Mum’s), one that belonged to my Dad and I’ve been keen to get  a copy for ages, I just keep forgetting.  Now that you can so easily buy old books from Amazon, it’s hard to resist adding to my collection.  My husband loves all my ‘stuff’, really he does 😉

The garden was a mess on our return from holiday.  I think I’ve really dropped the ball this year, especially on the flower side.  I think I am just bored.  It’s time for a change and I feel freshly energised to do that so I’m planning on moving things around this Autumn and getting some new colours into the borders.  It’ll be fun, I’m quite excited….just need to persuade M to allow a water feature next!



Wild Garlic…

We went for a walk around  Groombridge Place, near Tunbridge Wells again at the weekend, in fact we’ve taken seasonal tickets this year as it’s a family favourite.  The main house was used in the Keira Knightly version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as the Bennets’ home, you can’t go into the house, only the formal gardens (which includes a maze the boys love) but the woods are open and have a fantastic series of things to do, such as a 400m long boardwalk among the trees, giant swings that hang off very high branches and a pirate house.

We were lucky to catch the bluebells giving a spectacular show and sitting alongside were masses of wild garlic.

I think wild garlic is very much a hit or miss thing, you either love the smell or loath it; me I love it, it reminds of the woods near our family home, especially when the air is slightly damp, as it is every day right now 😉

I’ve been hoping to make the wild garlic muffins from River Cottage Handbook No 8 – Cakes,  for a while, I only recently bought the book but it’s already a favourite and my Sister had recommended trying out the muffins last year (she has lots of wild garlic growing on her land).  Wild garlic grows all over the place around here, so I braved the nettles in the scrubland near our house and picked a few leaves.

Please excuse the bad photo, I took  this late on Sunday on my iphone as I was trying to tidy away the Sunday lunch, but I can promise you they were delicious and it got me thinking of other things you might make using wild garlic.  I checked out the BBC Food website and there are 193 recipes using wild garlic, I also noticed that River Cottage website have this wild garlic pesto recipe which sounds delicious, especially if it freezes well (as suggested), I also like the idea of scrambled eggs with wild garlic and even wild Welsh rarebit.  The muffins, I should add, give an instant smell of wild garlic woods when you tear them open – delicious!

It’s taken me so long to publish this post (written on Monday) that since then I have managed to source and order some wild garlic plants from Wiggly Wigglers UK.  I’m quite excited, I’ve bought enough to put some plants in tubs as well as direct in the ground under our trees, that way if the tree planted ones don’t survive (I fear it might be too dry for them there) I should have some from the tubs for cooking with next year.  Perfect 🙂


I started this post a while back and managed to forget to actually publish it.  Story of my life at the moment, I’m a bit all over the place, still it gives me a chance to add a photo of my fabulous new purchase ‘Wild Flowers Sarah Raven’ which is exactly as the title suggest a HUGE book about wild flowers.  It’s full of beautiful photos and is separated into simple sections (Wood, Heath etc) and on each page there are 2 flowers with very full descriptions and an image, they are organised alphabetically using their common names.

It really is a massive book and isn’t exactly cheap but I’m in love and I’m sure will spend many happy hours reading it and identifying wild flowers I don’t already know.  Right, back to the original post…

We are back at school after a week long break and what a difference it makes.  As soon as I started the school run I noticed how the trees have all turned colour in the past week, we have mostly been at home over the holidays (both boys had colds) and as we are surrounded in the garden by evergreens I hadn’t realised just how much change there had been in the other trees, and along with the clock change it really is finally feeling like true autumn.

I made a point today of picking the few crabapples and medlars that are on my new trees, they are both only a year old but have produced enough to make some jelly so I couldn’t resist.  I have to leave the medlars in a cool room for a week or two (or three!), until the skin turns blackish purple and the fruit feels soft and smells ‘winey’.  Basically until they start to rott.  This ‘bletting’ allows the fruit to loose it’s acidity and lets it release it’s juice.  I’m not sure how I feel about this, I am a bit funny about food past it’s sell by date (depending on what it is, you should have seen what came out of my herb/spice cupboard the other day!) but we’ll see how it goes.

I have also planted out the final garlic in the form of a couple of the largest cloves I grew last year.  These along with the ‘Albigensian‘ from the last post are all happily in their beds ready to sit out the winter, altogether I’ve planted up 6 large cloves which I think will be enough.

I placed a last minute order for seed potatoes after getting an email from Thompson & Morgan saying they were in the sale.  I decided to buy:

Potato ‘Charlotte’ – Truly sensational flavour whether eaten hot, smothered in butter, or cold in a tasty salad niçoise. Second early.
Potato ‘Swift’ – A particularly early maturing potato, producing excellent yields of round, smooth white-fleshed tubers. First early.
Potato ‘Vivaldi’ – Mouth-watering flavour and creamy texture whether boiled as new potatoes, or baked, mashed and roasted as larger tubers.

(Thompson & Morgans words there not mine)

and some extra ‘Charlottes’ as they are always a winner.  I’ve decided this year to only plant in the small 14 litre exhibitors bags with 1 seed potato per bag as it was such a great way to grown them, I’ve never planted in the beds as we simply don’t have room and I love being able to turn out one bag at a time which is just enough for a single meal, this works well for me.

I also ordered some shallots ‘French Longer’ and onions ‘Electric’ to pop in for over wintering and some general seeds.  I prefer to do my seed shopping over winter when I plan next years garden, otherwise I over buy things that I don’t have room for but I couldn’t resist adding a few to the basket.

I’m looking forward to getting into the garden this weekend and doing a good tidy up.  Most of the leaves have dropped and the cold weather has killed off  all the soft flowers and plants so it’s time to lift the remaining sludge and maybe cover up anything that needs it.

Jams and Jellies…

It’s suddenly started to turn autumnal here (excuse to add a picture of some of my recent sewing! I’m busy, busy, busy over at The Linen Cat), the mornings have gone a bit chilly and if the sun doesn’t come out it feels quite fresh throughout the day.  To coincide I am treating myself to reading the Autumn section of the book ‘The Magic Apple Tree‘ by Susan Hill, oh how I love this book and I have been eeking it out, saving each Season section to read in time with our own progressing year.  It has appeared as a favourite on many bloggers pages and I once read an extract in a magazine and marked if for my own reading list.  It’s a beautiful description of country life in Susan’s village and garden and I think she might be to blame for my recent run on jam and jelly making as it also contains the odd recipe, sadly I believe it’s out of print (why!?), but I managed to get a second hand copy from Amazon.

I decided to have a go at the included recipe for Plum, Orange and Walnut Jam as I do like jam with nuts in and the local shop has loads of British plums on offer at the moment.  I only made a half batch as I will be the only person eating this jam so I want to enjoy it and not feel pressured into making sure it’s all eaten whilst in it’s prime, I’d rather run out wanting more than be finding jars in the back of the cupboard in a few years time looking sad and past it’s best.  I have changed the method a little so suit my needs, such as slicing the zest of the orange instead of the whole peel (it makes it quicker to cook).

Plum, Orange and Walnut Jam

(Put some saucers in the freezer)

1.350 Kg Plums

1.100 Kg Sugar

2 Oranges

225 g Walnuts, chopped.

Stone the plums and put the halves into a large pan, setting the stones aside for later.

Use a peeler to remove the zest of the oranges, slice this as thinly as possible then add to the plums.  Juice the oranges (add this to the pan as well) then cut the remaining orange zest and pips roughly and tie into a muslin along with the reserved plum stones – guess what? – yep, add to the pan.

Finally also add 300 ml of water, then bring to the boil and simmer until the zest is soft (as with marmalade, if you add the sugar too soon it will toughen up the zest making it chewy and too hard), the plums need less cooking time so they will definitely be ready when the zest is, this took me about 30 mins.

Turn down the heat and add the sugar, heat very slowly, stirring occasionally until all the sugar has dissolved and there are no crystals left.

Bring to a rolling boil and boil rapidly for approx 10 mins, adding the nuts just before you remove the pan from the heat.  Test for a set by putting a blob onto one of your frozen saucers, after cooling for a moment it should form a skin that wrinkles when pushed with your finger, this means it’s set, otherwise rapid boil for a few more minutes (4 – ish) them remove from the heat and test for a set again. Repeat until setting point is reached.

Now, once ready I waited about 5 mins in an attempt to try and allow it to cool enough for the nuts to not float to the surface, I failed.  I think next time I’ll treat it the same way I do marmalade and leave it to cool about 15-20 mins, then put it into it’s jam jars (sterilized in a 150 degree oven on a tray with the lids for at least 5 mins) before sealing with wax discs and lids.

Despite the final jam being top heavy with the nuts it tastes great and is one I will make again.

Whilst I was on a roll and had everything out I also made some apple and herb jelly.  I wanted to make a batch that I then split between apple & mint and apple & thyme jelly so I didn’t add the herbs until the last stages (see the notes).

Apple and Herb Jelly

1.5 Kg cooking apples

Granulated sugar

100 ml cider vinegar

I medium bunch of your chosen herbs (sage, rosemary, mint, thyme etc)

Roughly chop the apples, including peel, cores and pips and add to a pan with just enough water to cover (if you are making a single herb jelly you should also add the herbs now).  Bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered for about 1 hour, the fruit needs to be very soft.

Tip the (cooled) contents into a muslin suspended over a bowl for a few hours, ideally overnight and don’t squeeze if you would like your finished jelly to be clear.

Put a couple of saucers into the freezer and have your cleaned jars and lids ready on a baking tray ready to sterilize in the oven.

Measure the strained juice and for every 600 ml, you will need 450g sugar (don’t add it yet!).  

At this stage I split my juice into 2 batches and gently heated each with my chosen herbs, half with mint and the other with thyme, I put the herbs into a large tea strainer so as to keep the jelly clear and them removed it after a few minutes to start the next step of the recipe, which I made in half batches (so 50 ml of vinegar per batch etc).

Return the juice to a clean pan with the vinegar, heat until boiling point and then add the sugar, stir and simmer gently until dissolved.  Once all the sugar crystals are gone, rapid boil the jelly until setting point is reached, which should be about 10-12 mins.  Remove from the heat and remove any scum from the surface with a slotted spoon.

Check for a set by putting a small blob of the jam onto one of the saucers from the freezer, leave it for a few minutes and push with your finger, if a skin has formed that wrinkles then the jam is ready, if not you need to boil for a few more minutes then test again.

At this stage I added some chopped herbs to the mixtures as I think it looks pretty and let it cool slightly so the herbs stage suspended nicely in the jelly once set.

Pour into warm sterilised jars (heated for 15 mins in a medium oven, or used directly from a washing machine cycle and whilst still warm), seal with wax discs and lids.

We tested it at the weekend when I roasted some pork and it tastes delicious, it’s a beautiful golden pink jelly and is somehow very ‘light’ and delicate.  I can understand why people may make  it with chopped rose petals added instead of herbs, I have a slight aversion to rose flavours in food (makes me think of Granny chocolates!) but I imagine it works really well.

I am really looking forward to making crab apple jelly in a while and some medlar jelly from our new tree when the fruit is ready, guess what everyone will be getting for Christmas from us this year 😉

OK so for all those living in the UK, and especially in the South you may realise this post was written a good few weeks ago (sorry, bit behind in finishing it) as we are now in the middle of a late heat wave, what happened to Autumn?  Ah well, I’ll be making the most whilst I can and spending some time tidying up the rather messy garden.

Preserves and Pontack…

I emptied out the preserves cupboard at the end of last week, partly to make sure the old has been rotated to the front, so it get’s used first and to see exactly what is in there.

I did write a list of what turned up but right now, I can’t find it anywhere, doh!  The basics are, there is no more Strawberry Jam; I didn’t make any this year as we always seem to have loads but C has slowed on his jam eating (he favours Marmite and honey these days….not together, obviously!) so I decided to skip it, I should have checked the cupboard first but we do have 4 jars of Strawberry and Rhubarb so all is not lost.  On the ‘overstocked’ side, there are 5 small jars of Redcurrant Jelly from last year, which with this year’s added makes rather a stash, I will be looking for alternative uses to make sure it gets eaten.  There is a small mountain of Marmalade in both Whisky and Jelly forms.  Basically I am the only one who eats it but I do like making it as I love the smell that fills the house and the fact it falls in Winter (if you are using ‘Seville’ oranges) when there is little else to make.  Maybe 27 jars is a bit too much (ha ha) so I need to remember not to make any more this year and it’s time to start cooking Marmalade cake for the boys 😉

There were also reasonable amounts of Pickled Shallots, Gooseberry Jam and Jelly, Cassis and Sloe Gin to name but a few.  I no longer make things that we don’t eat, so there is no Chutney, it’s not that I don’t like it but we rarely eat cold meats or cheese and even if we did I’m the only one who would eat Chutney on the side.  Onion Marmalade is a different story, we eat quite a lot of that, especially with sausages but as I didn’t grow onions this year I wont be making more of that, sadly.

And so, what to add this year.  We have limited space for storing preserves so from my earlier days when I used to make masses,  I’ve learnt to curb my enthusiasm and only make what we will eat plus a bit extra for giving away.  One thing that I did want to try again was Pontack using the elderberries from the garden and some of the lovely shallots we have grown (like the garlic, the shallots have done amazingly well this year, this is only a very small bundle of them, the rest have been tied and hung in the kitchen ready for eating).

There is so much information on-line about Pontack that I wont waffle on too long, simply, it is a spicy elderberry sauce that you can add to stews and gravy and also eat with Game that in theory you should leave for 7 years before eating.  It’s also a very old sauce that is at least 300 years old, apparently.  Most recipes are the same, I use the one by Pam Corbin from my favourite book the River Cottage Handbook No 2, Preserves.

Elderberry Pontack

Makes 1 x 350 ml bottle

500 g elderberries
500 ml cider vinegar
200 g shallots, sliced
6 cloves
4 allspice berries
1 blade of mace
1 tbsp black peppercorns
15 g root ginger bruised

Place the elderberries in an ovenproof dish with the vinegar (cover!!) and put in very low oven for 4-6 hrs or overnight. Remove strain through sieve, crushing the berries to obtain max juice.

Put juice in a pan with sliced shallots, spices and ginger. Bring back to boil and simmer for 20-25 mins until slightly reduced. Remove from heat and strain.

Return the strained juice back to the pan and boil for 5 mins. Pour into warm sterilised bottles and seal. Store in a dark cupboard for as long as you can manage, 7 years is good!

Now I’ll be honest with you, it take quite a bit of effort to make but is also fun and the boys loved the inky blackness of the liquid.  Things I would note; if you spill it on your beige linen skirt it will stain 😉 and I made a double batch of the above, having made it before and knowing there was some work involved, I wanted to get a good 700 ml in return.  I didn’t, in fact I ended up with 300 ml so what went wrong?  The only thing I have noticed having hunted around for various recipes on-line (and there are many, the main variation being to use red wine instead of vinegar) is to cover the berries during that first stage of slow cooking in the oven and in Pam Corbin’s version it doesn’t mention doing that, it also doesn’t say not to so I assume this was my mistake (I left it uncovered).  Annoyingly as I realised this I remembered that last time I made it (a couple of years ago) I came to the same conclusion, I have now pencilled a note in my book so I don’t forget again.

I have more on jams and jellies but I’m going to split it into another post as I think this is the way going forward.  I have a tendency to wait too long between posts and then only say half of what I plan as I run out of steam and time to write it up, so the new me will be attempting to post more often and with a bit less waffle, at least that’s the plan 🙂


August eating and planting…

We recently came back from our holidays in Yorkshire and one of the first things I did was take a quick look at the garden to see what had survived.  This year I planted everything outside, knowing we would be away for a few weeks here and there and then set up a sprinkler (on a small table so it reaches further) that could be put on timer.  It reaches most of the vegetable patch and has generally done it’s job, but some of the plants with lots of foliage have struggled as the water just hasn’t reached the soil, an example being the potatoes which have lost all their leaves now.  I find that as long as I let the soil dry, I can eke out collecting and eating them for a few weeks and they are still fine, I am also amazed how long they survive in the fridge although that does take out some of the pleasure of eating them directly from the garden which the boys enjoy.

We returned to quite a lot of ready salad.  The tomatoes aren’t the best I’ve grown, this is due to slight neglect, lack of feeding and direct watering so is entirely my own fault.  Despite my attempts to kill them, the plants are providing a reasonable crop with the good old Sungold doing the best.  We are also, very late, now turning out lots of cucumbers which C devours at quite a rate.  I only had 3 plants in the end, the rest got nibbled at an early stage but I was only aiming for 4 as we can’t keep up with eating the fruits otherwise.

One thing I was quite excited about on our return was the sweetcorn, which is ready.  Hummmmm, freshly cooked corn boiled briefly and ideally smothered in butter and in my case salt and pepper (the kids just get butter, I sadly have to restrict this bit) makes any growing effort worthwhile.  I gave up a whole raised bed for this crop, with 16 plants this year but it’s worth it.  The cobs aren’t their usual size, again through lack of water I think, but they are still delicious and it’s always a delight to see F tucking in when the mere sight of canned corn sends him into drama overdrive of ‘bring that yellow stuff near me and I’ll die instantly’ proportions.

Plants still going well are courgettes (I’m waiting for the powdery mildew to take over, it’ll happen soon I’m sure), spring onions, carrots, strawberries, lettuce, beetroot and of course herbs.  Generally, the garden isn’t as productive as normal and I think the very dry summer is to blame along with a little laziness on my part.  It’s been hard to keep up with the watering and I’m useless at working in the garden in any heat, I just can’t do it.  On the plus side, the fruit crops, both in the garden and hedgerows have been splendid this year.  We had bumper redcurrants, blackcurrants, pink gooseberries and strawberries plus it looks like the figs, medlars and blackberries (which we have just started picking) are going to be great.  Even the sloes that normally get quite diseased are fantastic this year.

I picked these yesterday, which is a bit late for here in Kent where they ripen very early.  We have a huge bank of sloe bushes near the house, many more than I could actually do anything with, in fact as the kids are still off school and I’m quite busy sewing for the shop, these have been washed, air-dried and popped in the freezer to be dealt with at a later date (probably more sloe gin).  I have also noticed one of the elderberry bushes in the garden has evaded the birds and is heavy with fruit, if the rain (hurrah, rain at last!) stops I may pick some later today.

On a final note, I did plant lots of seeds in late July and early August which I have forgotten to mention.  Some are quite late in and I’m relaying, again, on the mild weather we get here.  So far there are, carrots, sprion onions, kale, chard, turnips, khol rabi and winter salad.  I’ve been a bit haphazard and just thrown them into the beds where the garlic where, if they grow they grow, if not no worries, I wont have a lot of time this Autumn for gardening but I do want to get everything nicely tidied up for the Winter.

Not so slow sloes…

I’ve been braving the nettles that border our land to check frequently on the sloes.  We are lucky to have a bank of bushes all along one side (which we share with our 3 neighbours); in fact we are generally lucky, in that we live surrounded by overgrown abandoned orchard trees that provide large amounts of apples, cherries, crab apples, sloes, elderberries and brambles.

The sloes are still a little hard, but the trees are quite diseased and they always ripen early down here, if you aren’t quick off the mark they are all eaten or shriveled so I decided to just go for it and make the gin.  I use a 2 Litre jar and to that I add:

600g sloes (washed & pricked all over with a cocktail stick)

500g sugar

900ml gin

That’s it.  I leave it on the darker window sill for a few weeks, turn every so often and when I remember drain and sieve into clean bottles, then drink.

Super easy.

Field Mushrooms…

We have just spent a hurried weekend in Yorkshire, visiting family for a wedding and I was attempting to photograph the view from my mother’s garden

(with my iPhone, hence the terrible photo) when I noticed all the little white specs in the front field

I took the boys for a super quick ‘mushrooming’ session before jumping in the car and heading home.  I have been picking field mushrooms since I was a child, I am perfectly aware of exactly what a safe, edible, field mushroom looks like but after doing the Mushroom course at River Cottage (which I highly recommend) some time ago I have become a little paranoid and found myself inspecting each ‘shroom’ before the boys but it into the basket – how daft!

On our return, I turned the hoard into mushroom pasta from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook, I have to admit I wont cook this recipe again with hand-picked field mushrooms as you basically cook them in white wine for 10 mins (along with a softened onion and garlic before adding creme fraiche and parsley, lemon zest and juice) and I am a firm believer that mushrooms are best fried in a hot pan, in small batches (so they don’t steam) with seasoning, parsley and maybe some grated garlic.  Still, I was restricted to the contents of our cupboard and it seemed a good idea at the time.

I am now even more excited about out planned holiday in the Dales, as there will be plenty of mushrooms and general hedgerow edibles to collect, I promise to leave the preserving pan behind though 🙂