Investing in the future

Today I planted the first seeds of the year.

  • Two types of chillies: Pyramid and Romanian Yellow
  • Two types of sweet pepper: Corno di Torro Rosso and Sprinter
  • Two types of tomato: San Marzano and Veepro Paste

They are in the propagator and I have my fingers crossed for fabulous harvests in the limery again this year.

The labels are made from old milk cartons and are in their second or third year of use; the modules and pots I’ve owned for years; and the compost is made in England from wool and bracken.

When the rest of the world gets me down, sowing seeds always brings a smile to my face.

Three Things Thursday: 15 September 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, baking cake. Today it’s a lime drizzle cake. A joy to make and to eat… do call in for a slice if you are passing later, but don’t leave it too long!

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Ready, set, bake…

Second, chillies. This morning Mr Snail picked another 17 chillies from our two lemon drop plants… they are so beautiful and very tasty (if you like that sort of thing).

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Lovely lemon drop

Third, mint. I love our apple mint both for its culinary uses and for the abundance of bees, butterflies and hoverflies that visit the flowers.

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

 

And sow it begins…

Saturday 9 January was officially the first growing day of the year for me. I absolutely love growing from seed, so it is always a joy to put the first seeds of the year into compost and imagine what they will turn in to.

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My late dad’s propagator

It’s too early to plant most things, but January is definitely the time to start off peppers and chillies chez snail. So, Mr Snail retrieved the propagator from the loft. It was my dad’s and I’m sure that had he still been with us he would have appreciated the fact that it is still in use. I dug out the ethically -produced coir pots that I sourced last year plus a few small plastic pots and sorted through my seed collection. Then I made some new plant labels by cutting up some old plastic milk bottles that I have been saving for just this job.

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A lot of frozen chillies

The fantastic conditions in the limery meant that the 2015 chilli crop was HUGE. We have pots and pots of hot sweet chilli sauce and in the freezer I have a 2 litre tub completely full of whole chillies. So, in 2016, I plan only to grow one variety – my favourite – Lemon Drop. Of course some of the plants from last year may survive the winter (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t) and so we may have more than this, but frankly, we won’t need them.

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Seeds sown

I have focused instead this year on sweet peppers. I had some seeds left over from last year for two varieties: Kaibi and Nova. The former did well in 2015, but we got very poor germination from the latter. Anyway, I have planted all the left-over seeds and we shall see. In addition I have one variety – Sheepsnose – from Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library, and I have decided to try out two new varieties from Tamar Organics: Yolo’s Wonder and Corno di Torro Rosso. I’m hoping to identify varieties that like the conditions we can provide so that I know what to focus on in future years.

Few other crops benefit from being planted this early in the year, but I did sow a few lettuce seeds to grow indoors… the last of our 2015 lettuce was consumed by slugs in early December. Now I await germination… I can hardly wait to see those green shoots.

Longer days

So, here we are on the other side of the solstice and looking forward to the days lengthening…

Chez Snail we don’t ‘do’ Christmas, but we do celebrate the solstice – the turning of the year and the promise of more light. We know that there’s a long way to go before the spring arrives, but we love the fact that the longest night is behinds us.

We were hoping to enjoy a solstice walk with the dogs, but the dreadful weather transpired against us, so I spent the afternoon in the limery having a good clean up, harvesting the rest of the chillies and getting it ready for the first sowing of seeds in the new year. Once it was all clean and tidy we were able to enjoy the promise of summer in there in the form of a glass or two of Kir made with Herefordshire framboise (raspberries truly are the taste of summer) along with fairy-lights and candles.

Today, a very slightly longer day than yesterday, we awoke to the promise of sunshine.

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The promise of a dry day

And, indeed, the clouds cleared and we were able to take the dogs for a walk on the beach. I know we haven’t seen the end of the rain, but at least we will be planting seeds in a couple of weeks…

Bakes in the rain

No one leaves a cake out in the rain in this house… they are far too much in demand. However, yet more rain this weekend kept us indoors (mostly). Much of my time has been spent in the kitchen, where it’s warm and the smell of cooking is comforting.

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Bubbling away

As the chilli harvest just goes on and on, with more ripening up every day, I decided to make another batch of hot, sweet chilli sauce. I made double quantities this time,  so that used up about another 50 chillies and even so we have loads left. I did see reference on the internet this week to the health-giving properties of capsaicin (the source of ‘heat’ in chillies), so it’s not just yummy (if you like that sort of thing) but good for you too.

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Lots of pots!

My cooking produced some things that I make regularly: granola (although with dried cranberries this time… never let it be said that I can’t be festive when I want to) and dog biscuits. Making the latter has been much simplified and the cost reduced by finding a source of medicinal charcoal powder, rather than having to crush up charcoal tablets.

Then I tried a new recipe – apple brownies – which did not really work as brownies, being rather too soggy, but did taste delicious warm with cream as a pudding.

We had comfort food on Saturday evening: baked gammon with bubble and squeak and cauliflower. This was served. of course, with hot sweet chilli sauce! In fact, I had ulterior motives for cooking the gammon: I wanted to have a go at making Shropshire Fidget Pie. which I did on Sunday.

My interest in this particular pie was piqued when we saw them for sale in The Ludlow Food Centre… mainly because of their amusing name. But then I found a recipe whilst browsing my cookery books for interesting things to do with apples. And finally, a pie-related discussion with Helen over at the Beastie Blog (a couple of the Beasties are pie-makers) finally roused me to having a go myself. It appears that there are many versions of Shropshire Fidget Pies: completely enclosed pies, pies with a pastry base and topped with mashed potato, pot pies, pies containing various condiments, pies with a creamy sauce, pie with added cheese… In the end I decided to make a relatively simple pot pie type (i.e. with just a pastry top). It consisted of layers of sliced potato, onion, apple and baked gammon, with cider added to provide some liquid. I topped this with shortcrust pastry and glazed it with beaten egg.  Of the filling ingredients, only the ham is pre-cooked, so it has to be baked for quite a long time (1 hour and 20 minutes). We ate ours with the remains of the bubble and squeak… and very good it was.

In future I would be tempted to pre-cook the filling and create more of a sauce to make it moister, and so that the pastry is in the oven for less time. Apart from these minor tweaks I think I shall be adding this to my repertoire… especially since we can get such amazing, local, ethically produced ham and gammon from Sarah Rose and her company From the HedgeRose.

So, those were my recent culinary adventures… have you had any?

Auguste and the apples

Chilli goodies

Chilli goodies

Mr Snail went away last weekend to visit Sister of Snail, to help her de-clad a shed and start to turn the remaining frame into a fruit cage*. They made good progress, which he’s sure to blog about once he’s finished this NaNoWriMo business (he’s got less than 7,000 words to go now). It was a sociable event by all accounts (I had to stay home and tend to dogs and chickens) involving family and friends. I dispatched Mr Snail with some chilli goodies for my nephew, a pair of socks for my mum and some netting for the top of the fruit cage and he returned with some old pillow cases for Hannah (Spinning a Yarn) and… drum roll, please… some more apples!

Apples being stored in the limery (Mr Snail returned with a couple more boxes yesterday)

Old apples on the left, new apples on the right

Since I have filled all the half-litre preserving bottles that I own with passata, nectarines, mangoes and apples, this new delivery will have to be stored in a different way. In fact, simply keeping an eye on the apples in boxes and removing any that seem to be going bad is currently working well and means that I will have fresh apples to use well into December. This is aided by keeping them in open boxes in the limery, where there are no mice (unlike the shed) and the temperature is cool but fairly stable. Storing apples this way is lovely because it means that you can use them in any recipe… the bottled ones tend not to be any good for cakes, for example, because they are too mushy.

Even so, I think that I will freeze some of the latest crop. Fortunately, Mr Snail has loaned me his sous-chef, Auguste to help out. When living with Mr Snail in Reading, Auguste specialised in savoury dishes – being particularly good at pizza – but since his return home earlier this year, he has been turning his paw to sweet treats and now has experience of cake and waffles. I’m hoping that he gets good at peeling apples, but I’m looking at those paws with some doubt…

-oOo-

*Us Snails are very creative when it comes to (re)using resources!

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).

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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.

An apple a day…

…does not, in fact, keep the doctor away. I’m still here despite the raw apple population Chez Snail expanding. I have managed to keep accumulation of cooking apples under control, but I did arrive home at the weekend with rather a lot of eaters:

An abundance of eating apples

An abundance of eating apples

Fortunately, these will benefit from sitting in the fruit bowl awhile, so we are not having to consume nothing but apples at the moment. The ones pictured came from my dear friends Janta and Merav, who live in their forest garden in Shropshire. Janta grafts fruit trees, so the diversity that they have is amazing and it was a delight to see their trees (which I completely failed to photograph) absolutely dripping with apples.

Bottling has rather ground to a halt, although it’s due to resume today, but I did make cakes the other day: apple cider cake (which we are enjoying at the moment) and wheat-free apple ginger upside down cake (which was made for an event that was cancelled at the last minute, so is now in the freezer):

Two different sorts of apple cake

Two different sorts of apple cake

I think that we’ll have apple crumble over the weekend and I’m planning to make some sweet chilli sauce containing apples and home-grown tomatoes and chillies (picture below), but I’m on the look out for other good apple recipes… any ideas?

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Three different sorts of chillies currently ripening in the limery: lemon drop (foreground), pyramid (middle) and Bartlett’s bonnet (back)

There will be no green tomato chutney

The basic message over the years has been: It doesn’t matter how many of you tell me it’s lovely – I simply do not like green tomato chutney! Honestly, it’s a waste of time and ingredients me making it when I know it will only go to waste. It’s better for the chickens to have any unripe tomatoes than for me to make them into chutney.

And this year? There will be no green tomato chutney; not only because I don’t like it, but because there will be no green tomatoes! The limery is still providing a productive growing space – chillies  are going red or yellow, according to variety, courgettes are blooming and producing fruit, peppers, although growing slowly, are still being productive, the red banana passion fruit vine is reaching for the skies and the tomatoes are ripening.

It astonishes me that, despite the delay in starting growing in the limery (it wasn’t completed until July), we have harvested so much and will continue to do so into November. I can’t wait to see what’s possible next year with a full growing season!

In the green

I know that you are probably sick of seeing pictures of the limery, but it was so long coming, that I still can’t quite believe it’s complete and that the plants in there are growing so well. There are now tomatoes, peppers and chillies fruiting (although all green) and the passionflower has put on about 20 cm in height since it arrived.

I promise to stop obsessing about it eventually, but it is making me SO happy right now!

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