Meet Liisa

We are currently in the throes of apple processing season. My usual approach is to stew all my apples and then bottle them hot before heating them in a water bath to ensure that they keep for a good long time. I used to freeze them, but we just ended up with a freezer full of apples with no room for anything else! Now, once they are processed, no additional energy is required for their storage. This year I’ve also bottled blackberries with some of the apples for a bit of variety. I love being able to preserve food like this, especially apples since we get so many given to us for nothing.

For a few years, though, we have been discussing the possibility of making a scratter and press so that we could produce apple juice. Somehow we never got round to it. And then a couple of weeks ago I was introduced to a gadget that I simply couldn’t resist – a steam juicer. This amazing gadget produces hot juice that can be bottled directly for storage. It’s really just a big steamer with a reservoir to collect the juice, which has a pipe to drain hot juice directly into bottles. All that the user needs to do is wash and then chop up the apples (in fact it works with all sorts of fruit and vegetables), place them in the steamer basket with some sugar if the juice is for keeping, fill the bottom pan with water, turn the heat on and let them get on with it. After about a pint of juice has been released, you collect this in a jug and pour it back over the fruit, but after that there’s very little to do. You obviously need to be around to keep an eye on things to make sure the bottom pan doesn’t boil dry and to drain juice into (pre-heated) bottles, but it’s a remarkably easy way to produce juice.

And the name of this glorious gadget? It’s a Mehu Liisa. And I feel I must thank Rachel (@CambridgeGoats) for introducing me to this wonderful thing. Now, where can I get some more apples…?

November shoots

Some time back I wrote a post entitled Is it worth growing potatoes? My resounding conclusion was ‘yes’. Even though they are relatively cheap to buy, I like the fact that I know they will all get eaten, that it cuts down on our food miles and that that I can grow them chemical-free (check out my original post to get an idea of the pesticides that go into the spuds you are likely to get from the supermarket).


Tiny potato shoots – I hope they survive

Anyway… this year, construction of the limery meant that I was short of growing space and so not all of the potato tubers that I had available were eventually planted. Over the summer, the remainder sat in egg boxes on my windowsill and grew a few leaves, before starting to shrivel. Even so, they tenaciously held on and I couldn’t bear to throw them away. Finally, though, even I had to admit that I needed to do something with them. So, on Saturday when I removed the no-longer-productive courgette plants from their large pots in the limery, I decided that the remaining compost may just be able to have a second life as a medium for growing potatoes. And so, I rearranged the compost and popped the somewhat shrivelled tubers in. The pots remain in the limery and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that these sad little remnants of this year’s planting will spring to life and provide us with a small crop sometime in the new year. Who knows? I could just have put the used compost and tubers into the compost bin, but I have nothing to lose in this experiment. I will be certainly be gloating if I can eat fresh Welsh new potatoes in February.

I’m also pleased to report that the limery is still proving its worth (all these pictures were taken today):

It may be the depths of autumn, but we have green shoots and reminders of summer.

Hot, hot, hot

Well, as the song says “the weather outside is frightful” (rain and wind) but indoors we are revelling in a warm fuzzy feeling brought on by produce from the limery and the generosity of friends.

Part of the chilli harvest

Part of the chilli harvest

Despite the relatively late completion of the limery in the summer, it has still provided us with an abundance of food, not to mention being a lovely place to sit and a great place to be messy with water! We’ve had a decent number of tomatoes, plenty of sweet peppers and some courgettes (still producing slowly), but the biggest success has been the chillies. Admittedly this is because I went mad and sowed far too many seeds, but even so, it bodes well for production next year. The heat in the chillies is variable – currently the Bartlett’s bonnets are the mildest, which has come as rather a surprise – and so making curry or our our much-loved red-hot cauliflower has been a bit hit-and-miss. With this in mind I decided to have a bash at making chilli sauce to use as a condiment with a guaranteed level of heat. I trawled the internet for inspiration, found a recipe I liked the sound of and proceeded to modify it beyond recognition! This is what I ended up with:

Sweet apple chilli sauce

100g chillies, chopped (I used 5 lemon drop, 2 Barlett’s bonnet and 18 pyramid)
200g caster sugar
200g Demerara sugar
3 cloves garlic chopped
15g fresh ginger chopped
200g roast tomato passata
400g stewed apple (unsweetened)
160ml cider vinegar
1tsp salt

Put all the ingredients in a pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool and then liquidise.

All in one pot

All in one pot

With my chillies, this produced about 1 litre of very hot , very sweet sauce. It provided a great accompaniment to smoked mackerel fishcakes last night and I think it could easily be used as an ingredient in a curry… you wouldn’t need much!

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

Normal service will now resume…

Hello world!

A few of my current apple collection

Part of my current apple collection

I know that you haven’t heard from me for a while, but there was a trip away, a whole heap of orders to make, piles and piles of apples to process and a novel to edit. In fact there are still piles and piles of apples and a final read-through of the novel, but progress has been made. In addition, Mr Snail was ill for a week and so I had to do all my own washing up… good grief!

The first time we went to Norway, Mr Snail got the idea for a novel involving the snow hotel and kicksleds. Finally, over the summer, he finished writing it and it was ready for editing. One of the things that I hate about many self-published books is the poor English – confusing ‘too’, ‘to’ and ‘two’; grocers’ apostrophes; poor spelling – and, perhaps worse, plot inconsistencies and factual errors (bluebells flowering in July, for shame). So, although editing factual work rather than fiction is my profession, I have switched hats and am now in the throes of my final read-through of Kirkenes Blue. While I do this, Mr Snail has been working on the cover…

Draft cover

I have already suggested a slight edit to the text!

All being well, Kirkenes Blue will be available in both paper and electronic format towards the end of the month and I’ll have preserved enough apples to provide me with a year’s worth of breakfasts.

The first of many

I make it a policy not to turn down offers of fresh produce. Far too much food is wasted in this country and I’m always sorry to see apples, plums and pears falling from trees and rotting. In our garden we have one tiny, fairly recently planted eating apple tree – currently growing exactly four apples. If we had more space we could have a bigger cooking apple tree, but there seems little point because we always get given apples.

Just a few to ease me in

Just a few to ease me in

And so, when I got home yesterday after a trip out, I was unsurprised to find a carrier bag of apples on the kitchen counter. These had been given to Mr Snail by our lovely next-door-neighbours, who had been given them by a friend. I know that we’ll have pounds and pounds of apples coming our way next week, but this small bag was still welcome. I considered whether to wait until I had more to add them to, but decided this morning to make a gentle start to this year’s bottling extravaganza.

So I peeled and cored, stewed, bottled and then sterilized in a hot water bath. The result… three jars for the store cupboard and some left over stewed apple for breakfast this week. They are not as exotic as peaches, nectarines or mangoes, but they do form a staple for me throughout the year and, once bottled, require no extra energy for storage (unlike freezing). Plus, I know exactly what the ingredients are (apples and a tiny bit of sugar in the syrup that I top the jars up with)… now, that’s my sort of processed food!

No doubt in two week’s time I’ll be sick of the sight of apples and bottling equipment, but for now I’m just loving all the abundance and generosity.

Apple time

How can they escape your notice when they are so big?

How can they escape your notice when they are so big (1.3kg)?

It’s good to make plans, but in life sometimes you just have to respond to the situation. This seems to have been particularly so this year in the garden – our warm winter followed by an early spring and hot July seem to have combined and delivered us to a premature autumn. Currently there are blackberries to pick and apples to harvest. Normally I would not expect to have to deal with bags of cooking apples until September, but mum gave me the first bag from her tree on 10 August and so the great apple processing event is underway, whilst still having to deal with mounds of courgettes/zucchini (I found the one pictured snaking its way under its parent plant out of sight, attaining a weight of more than 1.3kg/2.8lbs before I spotted it). I’m waiting for a sunny day to do some more courgette dehydration.

The first bag of many, I'm sure!

The first bag of many, I’m sure!

Although I know I can do dried apple rings, I love bottled apples and so most of the harvest is likely to be preserved this way… I have loads of Kilner jars, so am able to store litres of the stuff. Over the weekend I made two big pots of courgette and carrot soup, some of which we ate, but most of which went in the freezer for delicious lunches on cold winter days. So preservation is proceeding apace even if it does seem to be happening somewhat earlier than usual. Now I’m expecting a message from Perkin to tell me to come and collect apples from their fantastic tree too. I do love this time of literal fruitfulness!

However, life does throw all sorts of things in our paths and so, whilst I am busying myself with gardening, preserving and cooking, Mr Snail of Happiness is preparing to go and work away from home for at least the next six months. A phone call 10 days ago offered him a big contract with a company he has worked for before that was too good to turn down. As a result, in the past week, we have bought a second car and done a lot of on-line property hunting. We collect the new car tomorrow (a tiny one with very low carbon emissions and fuel consumption and no car tax) and he’s off to view a couple of flats on Thursday. Thus, this winter I will be ‘home alone’ during the week… which may result in much more blogging and crafting. In the mean time, bear with me because we have a lot of packing to do and finding all those things that we stored  after his last contract away from home, more than four years ago.

A breakfast fit for… well, me

Almost every morning for breakfast I have a bowl of something oaty: porridge or muesli or granola. In the case of the latter two, I have it with stewed apple (yes, I’m still eating bottled apples) and homemade yoghurt. My favourite sorts of muesli are the ones where the grains are toasted, but no matter what brand or variety I buy, there is always at least one ingredient that I’m not keen on… very hard dried apricot in one (I’d like it if it was soft) and an excess of fat raisins in another. Granola is better as there are types that only contain seeds or nuts and seeds, but they tend to be very expensive. So, the other day I decided that I should find some recipes for granola and make my own, after all it’s only broken-up crunchy flapjack.

Halfway through cooking - personalised granola

Halfway through cooking – personalised granola

Granola is not something we make much in the UK, so almost all the recipes I could find were American, but this is fine because I have a set of volumetric cup measures. I trawled through recipes, rejecting them for exactly the same reasons that I reject ready-made breakfast cereals – ingredients that I don’t much like – before I realised that it didn’t matter. All I needed, in fact, was a recipe that gave me an idea of the relative proportions of dry ingredients (oats, seeds, nuts, sugar etc) to wet ones (oil and syrup). The one I settled on had approximately 3 cups oats, 3 cups seeds/nuts, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup syrup and 1/4 cup oil plus 1 cup dried fruit added at the end. Basically, you mix everything up together (except the fruit) and bake it in a cool oven for an hour and fifteen minutes, stirring it four or five times during the cooking. I warmed the syrup before mixing to make it more runny and easier to handle (I used golden syrup).

Because I wanted only to use ingredients that I like, I just took them out of the store cupboard. So, in addition to the oats, my granola contains cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds (which I grew myself) and Shipton Mill five  seed mix (malted wheat flakes, barley flakes, sunflower seeds, millet and oats). I completely forgot, but I also have homegrown poppy seeds that I could have added… I’ll use some of those next time. After cooking I added chopped dates. Now I have a breakfast cereal completely tailored to me.

It’s just cooling as I write, but already I can tell you it tastes delicious. In the future I will aim to increase the proportion of homegrown ingredients, but I’m already quite pleased with my first attempt.


And a little addition following some discussion on Facebook… as well as adapting the dry ingredients to your taste, there’s no reason to stick with golden syrup (I used it because I had some in the store cupboard). You could try honey, maple syrup, yacon syrup (you can grow yacon in the UK so you could make your own) or whatever you fancy. And you can change the quantities. All you need to do is coat the dry ingredients, so warming the syrup to make it thinner means you can use less, or you can water it down if you want something less sweet. I should note that I used a dark raw sugar in mine, which is less sweet than granulated sugar and adds a different flavour. Oh, and I guess you could use molasses if you fancy instead of syrup. Really, the point is that this is not so much a recipe as a pointer towards experimentation.

Call me Eve

As I mentioned on Sunday, I had an unexpectedly free weekend because a course that I was supposed to be teaching was cancelled. I  filled my Sunday with a fabulous felting course, but I dedicated much of Saturday, in contrast, to the kitchen – baking a couple of cakes (one to take on the course) and making dog biscuits as well as processing apples.

An abundance of apples

An abundance of apples

Some unexpected visitors arrived as I was up to my elbows in apple peelings. Mr Snail-of-happiness made them coffee and entertained them whilst I continued with the apples, and gave them lemon drizzle cake still warm from the oven. They did spend a little time with me in the kitchen, and seemed intrigued by my mountains of apples. ‘Do you really need all those apples?’ one of them asked. A question that rather took me aback because it wasn’t something I had really thought about. I answered ‘Well, they didn’t cost me anything and when I have them I eat them every day for breakfast’.

IMGP1596On reflection, however, this seems like a rather lame answer. It is true that I find it hard to turn down free, healthy, fresh food and that I like cooked apples, but this only brushes the surface. I could have talked about all the food miles we would save by making use of this sort of resource; about these apples not having been exposed to pesticides; about the joy of sharing an abundance; about the value of home-produced food; about the way it is possible to preserve a harvest without industrial processing and the use of artificial additives; about the satisfaction of opening the dresser to see rows and rows of bottles and jars packed with delicious food; of the exchange of plants and seeds and crops that these apples are linked to… I could go on. But, perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t inflict this sort of evangelism on a friend – I think it might have been off-putting… and we all know the trouble that an enthusiasm for apples can cause! Perhaps simply saying that I’m saving money by using free food is all most people want to know! And perhaps that’s one of the answers that would encourage others to enjoy this sort of abundance.

Apple anticipation

This week I’ve got quite a bit of driving do, which will give me plenty time for planning and plotting. I have lots of projects in mind for the autumn and winter. However, the big source of anticipation today is the prospect of apples arriving from Perkin at High Bank.

Some of last year's harvest - raw and processed

This was the scene two years ago… with a guest appearance by a Boston Squash.

Mr Snail-of-happiness is, as I write, picking apples over in Herefordshire and will be bringing some back later on today. After last year’s relatively poor harvest, I’m quite excited about having a good crop this year to make use of. I will certainly be stewing some and freezing them in blocks just the right size for a pie or crumble, but unsweetened so that they can be used as an ingredient later. In addition, I will be bottling some in the form of apple puree ; this has to be sweetened otherwise it doesn’t store well. I eat it with homemade yogurt and muesli almost every day for my breakfast when I have it. I am hoping for ripe chillies soon, so that I can make apple-chilli jelly and apple and chilli jam. In addition, we will be enjoying apple cake, Eve’s pudding, pork with apple and many more dishes made with fresh apples.

I love cookery books, so I should have lots of inspiration for using this abundance. Browsing the internet for recipes is just not the same as settling down with a mug of tea and a pile of cookery books old and new. Perhaps my favourite when it comes to apples is A Harvest of Apples by Ruth Ward. This book not only has recipes, but history and folklore too, so it makes for a great read. Like many of my preferred cookery books it is not full of glossy pictures,  which I know will show end-products that I can never achieve because I don’t have a food stylist on hand to tart up my cooking, but instead has well-written recipes that actually work. Whilst we are on the subject of cookery books, I love those of Jane Grigson too – her Vegetables book is a brilliant read and there is not a food photograph in sight!

So, whilst I am at home this week, I think that my focus is going to be on apples… it may turn out to be quite a sticky week!

Oranges really aren’t the only fruit

Raspberry flowers... fingers crossed these turn into fruit

Raspberry flowers… fingers crossed these turn into fruit

Some years ago I realised that the digestive problems I had been suffering from were the result of lactose intolerance. I was devastated because I had, until then, always started the day with a bowl of milk and cereal along with a cup of tea with milk. So, I had to do some research and completely alter my morning eating habits. I was delighted to discover that I could eat live yoghurt because the Lactobacillus that turns milk into yoghurt actually breaks down lactose (which is a disaccharide) … so these wonderful little micro-organisms can do the digesting for me!

Looking forward to our first red currants this year

Looking forward to our first red currants this year

Eventually I settled on (home made) yoghurt, fruit and either oatcakes or muesli to begin my day. In addition I completely gave up milk in tea and coffee. For quite a while my  fruit of choice was banana, preferably accompanied by raspberries (I LOVE raspberries). After a while I came to realise how expensive this was, especially since, at the time, I had to buy any raspberries I ate and even frozen ones were not cheap. And then along came the apple mountain of 2011. My friend Perkin over at High Bank gave me car loads of apples, which I stewed and bottled or froze or juiced or made into jelly. My freezer was stuffed with blocks of frozen apple; my dresser was stuffed with jars of apple puree. In addition, 2011 was the first year that my raspberries fruited in abundance, so all through the summer I had been eating fresh raspberries and I had more of those in the freezer.

Blueberry flowering well in 2013

Blueberry flowering well in 2013

The idea of buying fruit was absurd – we had more fruit than I knew what to do with at that time and so I gave up the bananas and transferred my allegiance to apples: very few food miles and no added chemicals. As we planted more things in our fruit cage, I realised that we might be able to be avoid having to buy any fruit… as long as Perkin’s apple tree continues to thrive. The fruit cage now contains red currants, blueberries, choke berries (new this year) and pink dessert gooseberries as well as raspberries and rhubarb, so we’re not putting all our fruit in one basket, so to speak.

Sadly 2012 was not a good year for apples and I ran out in March, but this coincided with the start of the rhubarb season, plus I still had some blackberries (picked from the wild last autumn) in the freezer and these have supplied my breakfasts until now. So, apart from lemons and a punnet of strawberries to celebrate the new season last week, we have not bought any fruit in 2013. And I have high hopes for the two potted citrus plants – one lime and one lemon – that I have sitting out in the sunshine at the moment.

It turns out that discovering I was lactose intolerant made me think about my diet in a whole different way and has encouraged me to grow much more of my own produce… every cloud has a silver lining!

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