Foraging in the garden

Whilst I’m not well-adapted to very hot weather, I do like this time of year for the opportunities it provides to pick my own food from the garden – fruit herbs and vegetables. I’m very fond of soft fruit, and it has been extremely satisfying in recent weeks to wander outside and pick berries for my breakfast. Eighteen months ago I planted new raspberry canes and this is the first time they have produced any quantity of fruit. This morning, in addition, I was able to harvest blueberries – such a delight. On the berry front, the red currants are also producing like mad and the harvest has begun. In fact, I still have frozen red currants from last year, but I have decided to bottle those and most of this year’s crop, only freezing a small proportion to use in baking. Fortunately the weather has cooled somewhat and so bottling fruit is no longer out of the question.

The other big foraging opportunity at the moment is the courgettes and summer squashes. This year, I planted these in the raised bed that was built at the same time as the limery. In the past six years, we have filled this bed with all manner of material: cardboard, paper, grass clippings, spent compost from pots, soil washed off the field behind the garden, chippings from the willow hedge, a variety of home-made compost, as well as the layer of old teaching notes and handouts that formed the base of it. The curcurbit family love compost to grow in and so this year they are going mad (it took a while with the cold spring). The result is huge abundant leaves. Somewhere under the jungle there are courgettes and squashes to be had (not many yet, but they are growing), but they are difficult to find. I have the distinct feeling that a bit later in the summer I’m going to come across some enormous fruits that I had simply missed under all the foliage, but for now we are just enjoying the hunt.

Three Things Thursday: 13 July 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness.

First, being busy. You may have noticed the absence of posts this past week. It’s because I have been very busy. I’ve had two full days out felting, I’ve had a friend over for a crochet lesson (and cake), I’ve been out for breakfast, I’ve been out for lunch, I’ve even been shopping this week. It’s rare that I spend so much time out of the house, but it’s nice once in a while.


one day I was busy with fleeces


Second, berries. I listed red currants as one of my three things last week. We still have more of those to come, but this morning I had blueberries and raspberries for my breakfast… plus the red gooseberries are ripening up. And not only are they delicious, they are also really good for you.


a berry good morning


Third, baking. The hens are busy laying lots of eggs at this time of year, so it is very much cake season. The current one is a chocolate cake.


chocolate cake


So, those are three things making me smile this week. What is making you happy?


Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Those pesky pesticides

Having written, the other day, about growing your own food to avoid unwanted chemicals, I’ve been doing a little more thinking. A friend asked me whether washing vegetables in dilute vinegar would help reduce pesticide residues more than washing with water alone. My initial thought was that, even if this did work, it would only help with surface residues, not pesticides that the plant had absorbed. I did do a bit of reading around and I didn’t find an answer to the original question but I did come across an interesting piece from Cornell University, entitled Can you wash pesticides off your fruits and vegetables? They note that various heat treatment (e.g. pasteurisation, canning and frying) have been found to reduce pesticides, as have milling, brewing, baking, malting and wine-making, but that drying and dehydrating can increase pesticide levels. Their conclusion:

Washing your produce certainly removes pesticide residue from the outside, but there’s no clear data showing whether it reduces pesticide exposure compared to consuming organic fruits and vegetables.

So, it does seem that the safest option is to grow or buy fruit and vegetables that have not been exposed to pesticides in the first place. At this point, it’s worth noting that some pesticides are acceptable in organic systems, so buying something that is labelled ‘organic’ does not necessarily mean that it is pesticide-free.

With home-grown produce, you need not worry about pesticides if you know you have not applied any. This means that when it comes to preparation, cooking and storage, you can relax and do what you like.

Since my (pretty-much chemical-free) garden is now at the beginning of its most productive period, I’ve already started preserving some of the bounty. I’ve made mint sauce, I’ve frozen some of the raspberries I’ve picked and I have some oregano hanging up to dry in the limery. There’s a small bowl of tomatoes in the fridge ready for conversion into passata, which I freeze if it’s only a small quantity or bottle if I have large amounts.

I love all the potential at this time of year. I know that by the end of summer I will be sick of courgettes, but now as I watch the first fruits swell, I can hardly wait for my first harvest. How about you? Is there something you love to grow and eat?


2017 Courgette #1

Three Things Thursday: 7 July 2016

Joining with Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As “Nerd” 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, soft fruit – possibly my favourite harvest from the garden. Specifically I love raspberries, still warm from the sun. What’s more, the surplus can be frozen and brings a wonderful taste of summer to dark winter days. Right now, though, we are enjoying them with home-made ice cream (using eggs from the garden). I’ve also been picking red currants – ruby gems that add a bit of zing to recipes. I think a cake combining the two is in order.


One day’s haul

Second, Blacker Yarns. Having decided to make a felted version of the bird roost, I went on the wonderful Blacker Yarns’ website and was able to find a suitable British wool in perfect colours almost immediately. Not only that, but it was delivered less than 24 hours later. Hurrah for well constructed web sites and great customer service.


Just the job

Third, swapsies! I’m just in the process of bartering some of my knitting for some lovely yarn. How fabulous is that?

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


Raspberry and Chocolate – that’s all I have to say today.



It’s a funny time of year in the garden… so much potential, so little actual produce. There’s still lots of lettuce and plenty of rhubarb, but otherwise, it’s mainly flowers and developing fruit:

I’m not sure how much longer the lettuce is going to last in this hot, dry weather, so it may not be long before we are just left with rhubarb to eat…


it’s been a good season for rhubarb so far

Still, there’s plenty of it!

A day in the life

Well, obviously you all like photographs: yesterday turned out to be a very busy day here on my blog. While you were all enjoying my post, I was generating even more pictures and having a ‘green’ day. This mainly involved cooking: I made a wonderful cake using Karen’s recipe on Sweet Baby Veg, but whilst she used gooseberries and elderflower cordial, I used raspberries and framboise… because that was what I had in the house. The framboise I have is British not French and I can highly recommend it (details here) – both for making Kir (white wine and fruit mixer) and in this cake.

Plus, I made some of the courgette mountain into soup. This time I chose to make courgette and carrot soup, which speaks for itself – the only other ingredients are onions, water and seasoning.

And, of course, my day wouldn’t be complete without something crafty. Despite the fact that my Masterpiece edging is calling, I have taken some time out to contribute to a yarn storming project (I don’t like the phrase yarn bombing). I was asked if I could make some bunting pennants for this: I managed 10 of them, which are now being blocked so that they actually are triangular. In addition, Kate over at Tall Tales from Chiconia is planning to make some quilts to donate to Australian sevicemen and women. When I was in my teens I started making a quilt, but it has never been finished, so I decided to drag out the blocks I had already pieced and send these to Kate for her to see what she can make of them. They’ll have to travel by sea, which will take a few months, but hopefully they will finally be transformed into something useful rather than sitting in a box in my loft for another thirty plus years. I’m going to send some of the fabric too, as I know that I will never use it myself.

Of course, there were less photogenic activities… cleaning out the laying boxes in the hen house, walking the dogs, cooking dinner (more courgettes!), harvesting… you know the sort of thing. All in all, quite a green day – I hope yours was too!

Daily pinta

Today's pint

Today’s pint

There used to be an advertising slogan in the UK ‘drinka-pinta-milka-day’… being lactose intolerant rather puts the kibosh on this, but currently I am picking  a pint of raspberries every day. It’s turning out to be a very good year for berries, so each day I go out to the garden with a plastic pint jug (that’s a UK pint, so 20 fluid ounces) and fill it with raspberries. Once it’s full, I come back in and don’t pick any more – it’s enough. Every day I have raspberries for breakfast with my homemade yoghurt and homemade granola… what a joy, especially if they are just picked, still sun-warmed from the garden. The remainder are being put into the freezer for a delicious taste of summer in the winter.

Yesterday's courgette harvest

Yesterday’s courgette harvest

And raspberries are not the only abundant thing in the garden… the courgettes (zucchini) are prolific. I picked a kilo and a half yesterday, despite the fact that the day before I had turned a kilo of the things into soup. I probably shouldn’t have planted six plants, but that’s what I’ve got! It’s quite early for a glut, but the weather here in June was so good that the plants have just romped away. Never fear, though, they do not go to waste. Apart from soup and courgettes fried in olive oil with garlic, we will be enjoying courgette moussaka (replace the aubergine with courgette), courgette risotto, roasted vegetable sauce… just not courgette cake – Mr Snail will not eat any sort of cake containing vegetables! What we don’t eat straight away will be turned into either soup or simply roasted in chunks and frozen. I love to have a freezer full of soup for use in the less abundant months – it’s so good to be able to defrost a block for lunch on a chilly day. So much nicer than opening a tin and I know what all the ingredients are.

On the horizon are runner beans, mange tout and shallots. All of these are grown without the aid of chemicals and from traditional seed varieties. I just want to remind you, though, that my vegetable patch consists of an area measuring 4m × 6m, with an additional 2.5m ×1m plus some pots and a 1.9m × 2.2m greenhouse, then I have 3m × 4m for fruit and herbs. So, it is possible to grow a significant amount of your own food in a really small space… you don’t need a farm. And all these crops help me control what I’m eating and cut down on food miles, to say nothing of making me feel a connection between my food and the seasons, the soil and the sunshine.

The price of…

Originally, I intended to write a post today about whether it’s worth growing certain sorts of fruit and vegetables and how you should work it out. I was pondering this as I picked raspberries in the sunshine this morning. To me, raspberries are certainly worth growing – I love them and they take relatively little maintenance. However, because we have grown them for so long, I’m not entirely sure how much they cost to buy in a supermarket. My perception is that they are costly to buy and so I probably wouldn’t eat many of them if I didn’t grow them.

So, on my return from the garden, I decided to find out exactly how much raspberries do cost. I was right – they aren’t cheap ( I guess it’s related to the very careful handling that is required), but what I didn’t realise is that they distort numbers. Did you know this? The mathematics of berries is different to the mathematics we normally use. I am reminded of Douglas Adams’ bistromathics… I think I have discovered berriomathics.

Don’t believe me? Well, take a look at this:

berry prices

The prices of berries

The easiest way to compare prices should be to look at the price per kilo… and that’s what I did to begin with… until I realised that, apart from all but the first one in this screen shot, none of the £/kg values correspond the the item price. For example, the organic raspberries cost £2.50 for 125g. Last time I looked, 125 went into 1000 eight times, so the price per kilo should be 8 × £2.50 = £20. But look at what the figure on the web page is: £16.67! Quite a difference. The next one down is even more wrong: 1000/225 = 4.44, so the price per kilo should be 4.44 × 2 = £8.88, but it’s quoted as £13.34. Similarly, both of the £/kg prices for the blueberries are wrong if we base them on the unit price.

Now, I have a real issue with this sort of error… it is misleading to customers, particularly anyone in a hurry who does not have time to do their own sums, but also  it’s downright careless, displaying complete contempt for numeracy.

Anyway, my conclusion is that the investment in a few raspberry canes six years ago has certainly paid off. Plus, berries are supposed to improve your memory, so they should help me remember how to calculate the best bargains next time I go shopping!

Winter treat

Lots of the blogs that I read seem to have posts containing recipes for Christmas puddings or other dried fruit based desserts, but not here. The Snail of Happiness does not like Christmas pudding, so I’m going to share with you my idea of a lovely winter treat:

White Chocolate and Raspberry Ice Cream!

I can’t eat ‘normal’ ice cream because of my lactose intolerance (and even lactase tablets don’t help with food that is so cold). So, I make my own lactose-free ice cream… in this case by treating the cream and milk with lactase enzyme (available in a bottle) to digest the lactose overnight beforehand. You need:

150ml cream
400ml whole milk
3 egg yolks
100g sugar
150g white chocolate
as many raspberries as you like (easiest if frozen)

  1. Heat the milk and cream in a pan to just below boiling point. Meanwhile combine the egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl.
  2. Pour half the hot milk/cream mixture onto the eggy goo and stir well.
  3. Return the mixture to the pan containing the rest of the milk/cream and heat gently until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow this mixture to boil.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the white chocolate, allowing it to melt completely. Transfer back into the bowl.
  5. Cover the bowl and allow the custard mixture to cool (I add a couple of extra drops of lactase at this stage to deal with any lactose in the chocolate) then refrigerate overnight.
  6. Either put the cold custard in an ice cream maker until a soft frozen stage is reached (20 minutes in my Kenwood Chef attachment) or freeze the custard for several hours, beating it by hand once every hour to stop large ice crystals forming.
  7. When softly frozen, mix in the frozen raspberries and leave, undisturbed, to finish freezing.

In my opinion this is a much better end to a meal than Christmas pudding… plus it uses eggs and raspberries from the garden and makes us dream of summer days!

Lactose-free raspberry and white chocolate ice cream:  a taste of summer

Lactose-free raspberry and white chocolate ice cream: a taste of summer

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