Monday, January 23, 2012



A word we use when we are too polite to say "freezing the bollocks off". Actually it wasn't really that cold down the lottie yesterday, and I worked like a navvy so I was actually a bit clammy by the time I had finished. I got stuck into the raspberries, chopped the whole lot down, removed a few rogue suckers and some old wood. They look much tidier now and I even had a little hack at the gooseberries, so they grow outwards more (easier to pick!).
I then had a big of a dig in the soon-to-be onion bed, pulled out the old nasturtium vines and chucked them in the compost, threw a layer of sand over my top path which tends to get grassy in spring, though that might calm it down a bit. I pulled out a couple of dead brussel sprout plants and generally had a wee tidy up and a prune. I also did something a bit sneaky which may or may not work. My neighbour has 3 lovely grapevines. I noticed that she had pruned them and the vine cuttings were lying in a big pile by the path. I nicked about 6 or 7 of them.... Even though they were not just cut, I read that any trimmed wood will retake if put in the soil, so I stuck them into a pot with some sandy compost. I wouldn't take any living plants or crops, but as the dead wood was just lying there - I figured a few sticks missing won't be noticed. Except later I might have to explain how I got a grapevine :-S That is, if they even take, it's a bit of a long shot. But as the vine had been trimmed, I couldn't ask her to cut even more off, and I only see her once in a blue moon. if they take I will admit to my bit of thievery. So that was my confession for this week.
And after my criminal activity, I packed up and went home with 4 leeks, a bag of sprouts and some green kale. Yum yum.

In the house, the onion seedlings are doing well! I am chuffed as I have never grown onion from seed before. I even sowed another two pots, to see how they get on. I did half and half of Bedfordshire Champion and Ailsa Craig.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012


Friendship cakes

I recently have been experimenting with a friendship cake mixture (sometimes called a Herman Cake by our American friends). This is basically a yeasty sponge starter that you can use for baking. As it reproduces itself, you can make it ad infinitum and pass it on to friends (hence the name). The usual thing to do is 1 cup to 2 friends, keep a cup for a new batch and make a cake with the rest.
I have a confession to make - we are not big cake eaters. So the idea of making cakes every week with the mixture was in fact an oversight on my part. But I have found another use. It makes fantastic sweet bread doughs, for brioches and fruit breads, of which we eat quite a lot.
So how do you do it?
The starter is this:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 teas baker's yeast

Mix that in a small bowl, cover loosely with a tea towel or plate and stir daily with a wooden spoon. About every 5 days, feed it with some more of the same mixture (Usually once you feed it twice, you can start giving it away) and occasionally make something with it! At the moment I am feeding it about twice a week with 2 spoonfuls of flour+sugar+milk and it is going great guns.

For great wholegrain raisin bread, this is what I did:
In the bread machine, on dough cycle, I put:
250ml water - 400g mix of strong flour and multi-grain flour - 1 teas salt - 2 teas sugar - 1 dessertspoon powedered milk - 1 teas mixed spices (cinnamon, nutmeg) - 1 teas active yeast - 2 heaped tablespoons of the friendship cake starter.
Once the dough was well under way in went 1/2 cup of sultanas.
Now I don't like the bread cooked in the machine, I prefer just making dough with it. You can leave it on bread cycle if you prefer.
So afetr the dough was risen once, I removed it, folded it over a couple of times and put it in a long loaf tin, and left it to rise again for about 1 hour. It rises wonderfully with the starter mix. I baked it for 25-30 mins at about 180-200deg C.
It made a tender, beautifully risen loaf with just the right amount of sugar and it has kept for 3 or 4 days in a plastic bag.
happy baking!

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Monday, January 09, 2012


Back again for 2012

Yes I have neglected the blog in December, as the garden has been, mostly.

But the days will start getting longer and time waits for no gardener. SO this weekend, I rebuilt a composter - my heavy wooden one was destroyed by a big storm we had a couple of weeks ago and I am thinking it is time to move on. So I was given a new one, a big plastic Dalek, by our allotment site and I put it up. It was hell. Took me 40 minutes, sweating and grunting, but I finally managed to get it set up. Now to fill it!
The old site is blessed with a big heap of ready compost! I will mix some of it with some sand to get some potting compost for the first sowings. It was funny, as soon as I moved everything off, the birds, sparrows and robins, came over and were soon rooting around in it, looking for insects no doubt as it is alive with them, worms but also different types of borers, spiders, snail, slugs, a veritable feast no doubt, not to mention the edibles still rottng down.

Sowing has started, I did two small trays of Bedfordshire champion and Alisa Craig onions, first time I have tried seriously to do onions from seed. Not quite sure how it works, better scout around for more info. But they are happily sitting on the kitchen windowsill for now.
The year has begun! woo hoo!

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