Friday, 31 May 2013

Easy and Delicious Home-Made Butter - in photos

Next time you see a large pot of double cream going cheap, make sure you snap it up. For in just a few minutes you can have your own, deliciously creamy, home-made butter. Plus a little buttermilk, ideal for making soda bread or muffins.

So here's what to do.

Buy the cream. It doesn't matter if its on its sell-by date. In fact it's better.

Pour into a food mixer. We use a plastic blade, or you can use a balloon whisk.

 Until it looks like this...
 Whizz more...until it looks like this...
 Whizz more...until it looks like scrambled egg sitting in a pool of liquid.
This is your butter and buttermilk, separated.

Now drain through a muslin - you could just use a sieve.

 Squeeze as much liquid out of the butter as possible
From now on, keep the butter as cold as you can.

We got our lovely neighbour to make us some special butter paddles, which were soaked in iced water beforehand. You could just use cold hands!

Wash the butter several times in cold water. You are trying to get every last drop of buttermilk out, otherwise your butter will quickly go rancid. Don't worry though, it doesn't take very long and after a few washes the water stays clear.
Here's what you should now have.
You're almost there.
Add salt if desired. Dairy salt is recommended (whatever that is). But you can just use normal salt.
Half a teaspoon per 4oz of butter  (Half a pint of double cream makes about 8oz of butter)
 Work the salt through the butter
 Shape the butter
And there you have it.
You can cut it into blocks to freeze, but you'll probably just want to spread it on some lovely fresh bread and eat it straight away.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Battling with weeds

Today a battle which I thought I was going to have to fight never happened and a weight was lifted from my mind.
Yesterday was about another battle. I lost an hour of my life, for I had my annual visit to hospital, my reminder that Mr C always lurks in the background.

They generally poke, prod and peer, so the more sedative they pump into me the better! And yesterday they gave me plenty. So much, in fact, that I don't remember a jot between 6 and 7 o'clock.

Still groggy this morning, and not really allowed to drive or use any machinery, I decided to have a day of gentle pottering in the polytunnel. Outside it was dreary and none too warm.
But my plan didn't last long, as I passed the newly emerging line of beetroots and decided to just pull a few weeds. Well, the ground was so soft that they virtually jumped out of the ground themselves.

A line of Beetroot Cylindra, looking very healthy.
As usual, one thing led to another and before I knew it I had spent a couple of hours weeding. It was good to really see which crops had germinated well and which were a little more patchy. For some crops there is still just time to fill the gaps, either by sowing new seed or, in the worst cases, with young plants which I will raise in the polytunnel for protection in their early lives.

Only one or two gaps in the parsnip rows.
I came back into the house once to document Sue making butter (next post) and once to check on the plumber's progress. For today he finally finished his last job after what has been quite an epic saga.

My only other rest was to admire Gerry's surgical dissection of a rabbit he had caught.
It's a bit gory again, but here's what he left, neatly arranged.

Stomach, intestines, one paw and a tail!
Gerry retired upstairs for several hours to digest, while I returned to my weeding - the broad bean bed, the asparagus peas, the carrots and the brassica beds.
I am now lying on the sofa with a severe twinge in by back. Give me some sedative!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Beans, beans, beans.

Against all tradition, the bank holiday weekend we've just had gave us some most glorious weather.
So it was time for a drastic haircut.

a haircut for the orchard grass

a haircut for the hay meadow
(thanks Don)

and my twice yearly haircut.
I paid for it with burnt ears, a rather raw neck and sore temples. For, as I took advantage of the sunshine and put in a very long weekend outside, areas of skin long-covered by my rather wild hair were exposed to ultraviolet rays for the first time in a long while.

In the veg patch, this weekend was all about the beans. They have been growing happily in the protective environment of the polytunnel but, now that all danger of frost has passed (I sincerely hope), they will grow into stronger plants in the soil outside.

During last week the Runner Beans went in. I have changed varieties this year. As with all my beans, I have prioritised stringlessness. Much as I like to grow heritage varieties, I find a stringy bean somewhat akin to a fish full of bones. So, for the runners, I have plumped for two varieties. Armstrong, a red flowered cultivar, and White Lady, surprisingly a white-flowered type, but more significantly white beans for drying.

I ran out of time to dig trenches for the beans, which should be
filled with compost, newspaper and all manner of rotting
So instead, I transplanted each young plant onto a bed
of comfrey leaves, which should provide plenty
of goodness as they rot down.

Some French Beans have gone into the ground in the polytunnel too.
Yardlong (though the beans are best harvested before they reach this length), Cobra, Pea Beans (again for dried beans) and climbing Borlottis.

The spares have gone outside to brave the British weather. But my main French bean variety outside is Blue Lake, with its small, white haricot beans. I grew a few two years ago and the beans were beautifully crisp with not a hint of string.

We also planted some purple climbing beans, Blauhilde. These have gone in as seeds, rather than plants raised in the polytunnel.
Likewise, three types of dwarf beans: Canada Wonder, which can be stringy but should yield a good harvest of kidney beans for drying; Tendergreen; and Helda, which I snapped up ridiculously cheap at the end of last year.

All my beans will grow accompanied by climbing nasturtiums and sweet peas, to make them more attractive both to the human eye and to pollinating insects.

There's also an experiment going on with more exotic beans, nabbed from the kitchen store cupboard. More on this later.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

A Muntjac Deer and Three Pairs of Wellies

This morning I strolled out early and the action started straight away. A Shelduck flew away calling. The way it flew suggested I had just flushed it off our land. As it flapped its way across the wheat field, I saw what must be the largest rabbit I've ever seen bobbing up and down, disappearing into the fast-growing cereal crop and then springing into the air again.

As it got closer, I realised my mistake, for this was no rabbit. It was a muntjac deer. Another new mammal for the farm, though not a particularly welcome one if sightings become too frequent. I don't think Gerry could quite deal with this threat either. Muntjacs are an introduced species which has thrived in this country. They are the size of a medium dog, with strange little fang-like tusks.
It headed towards the dyke and I never saw it again.

Job for the day was to tart the place up a bit. Though the scaffold is still up and piles of rubble still lie on the ground, we have been gradually getting back to normal. So it was somewhat of a luxury and a turning point to be able today to turn our attentiions to getting some hanging baskets up.
I had grown several trays of lobelias, petunias, nasturtiums and  black-eyed Susan. A visit to a local factory outlet garden centre, on our way back from droppiong my car off for a service, yielded more plants.

It was a good day for this job as drizzle and occasional heavier showers made the polytunnel a perfect place to be planting up hanging baskets.
Anyway, here's a couple of them. They should really start to bulk up over the next few weeks.

I used the chance to refresh a pot of growing herbs
with a lemon balm plant to release its scent as people pass
by and some garlic chives to ward off nasty bugs.

Then our creativity really got going, as I remembered a plan I had to use some old wellies which had failed hopelessly in their primary function in the garden. I just filled them with compost, pierced a few drainage holes and cut out some extra holes to insert plants.

For a while I've been trying to think how I can have small patches of herbs dotted around the veg garden. I wanted some near the veg beds and some at the entrances. But in the ground they would soon be swamped by grasses and weeds, or otherwise I would have yet more areas to keep weed-free.

You've guessed it. Wellies! I now have a welly at each of the gates into the veg patch, each planted up with  mint, chives, lemon balm and nasturtiums.

There's even a welly hanging in the polytunnel filled with salad crops.

Next job is to plant up the old bathroom suite. Toilet, cistern, sink and shower cubicle!

Animal Helpers

One of my favourite childrens books is Farmer Duck, in which a very lazy farmer lays in bed all day scoffing chocolate while his animals do all the farm work. Every now and again he bellows "How goes the work?" I won't tell you how the story ends.

Life is busy for all of us on the farm at the moment. I dig, sow, make things, fix things, weed, mow and look after the animals. Sue juggles her work with looking after the house, helping me, making wines and preserves, and baking cakes to use up the excess eggs. Our roles aren't fixed, or stereotypical, but we both get on with what we do best. In fact, there's so much going on that I find it difficult to decide what to write about. Sometimes the more mundane jobs, but essential ones, get left out.

So I thought I'd do a little catch up blog to show how the animals have been helping out lately. For everything on the farm has to earn its keep.

The chickens have been turning the compost.

The guineafowl have been picking off all the creepy crawlies.

The ducks have been hoovering up the slugs in the veg patch

The geese have been cutting the grass

and the pigs were let loose in the spare veg patch

where they dug up all the old potatoes and snouted up the earth
ready for cultivation

 Last, but not least, these four arrived to help out with the grass.

As I wrote about a couple of days ago, Gerry has been keeping the rabbit population in check too. And then there's about twenty thousand bees who have hopefully been busy pollinating the fruit trees, though they seem to prefer the nearby rape fields.

Hopefully all my animals won't rebel, kick me off the farm and chase me in to the sunset.

Oops! I gave away the ending.

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