Lately …

blackthorn blossom behind oilseed rape

 

Lately, we’ve been out in the fields. I walk the dog, admiring the wildflowers that splash the verges of the fields with colour and the brilliant yellow of the oilseed rape flowers against the white of the blackthorn blossom in the hedgerows, while

 

tractor and sprayer

 

Bill rushes around on the tractor. There’s spraying to do, fertiliser to spread (the big bags by the barn contain fertiliser), rabbit fencing to put up …

 

taxidermy

 

Recently, we’ve found a different use for rabbits. We have a problem with rabbits on the farm, especially on the corner of the field next to the Country Park where they breed like … rabbits. Normally we give away or eat most of the trapped rabbits, but last weekend they were used for a taxidermy course in The Barley Barn. Unfortunately, I was delegated to kitchen duties but I managed to sneak in to see what was happening. The rabbits were carefully skinned (there was some complicated manoeuvring with the paws that I missed because I was taking the huffers out of the oven) and after a wash and blow dry (there may have been more to it than that, but you can guess where I was) the rabbits were rebuilt and sewn up. I considered serving rabbit for lunch, but one of the course participants was a vegetarian and I wasn’t sure how hygienic some of the dissecting might be, so I gave it a miss.

 

green leaves from the garden

 

As the days lengthen and warm, hearty soups and rib sticking puddings aren’t quite as appealing as they were on dark, cold winter days. After months of peeling and chopping root vegetables, it’s good to grab the scissors and wander out to the garden and hedgerows to cut fresh green leaves for salads.

 

elderflower gin and tonic jellies

 

Lately, there has been jelly to eat. Slamseys Elderflower Gin & Tonic Jelly to be precise. If you’re interested, you can find the recipe here.

 

elderflower gin and tonic jelly

 

If you wanted a non-alcoholic version, you could replace the Elderflower Gin with elderflower cordial and reduce the amount of sugar, but quite honestly, where’s the fun in that?

Blackthorn - sloes destined for Slamseys Sloe Gin

Five for Friday – the spring edition

Five photos from the farm this week.

Around the fields, the first froth of white blossom is filling the hedges. In the garden the cherry plum tree just beats the blackthorn, but on the farm the blackthorn bushes are always the first to flower followed by the hawthorn.

blackthorn hedge

Blackthorn blossom forming

We have lots of sloe bearing blackthorn bushes growing in the hedges around the farm, which isn’t surprising as we live on Blackley Lane and the name of our farm is thought to derive from the Old English for “enclosure of the sloe (tree) hill”. We plant new hedges most years somewhere on the farm and always include plenty of blackthorn, especially as Beth needs a ready supply of sloes to make her Slamseys Sloe Gin. The photo in the header is the hedge that was planted three years ago to form the boundary for part of the Slamseys Drinks fruit field. Follow this link to see what it looked like three years ago.

blackthorn flowers

Blackthorn Flowers

Through the winter, the blackthorn bushes cut a dark silhouette with their tough, black branches tipped with long sharp thorns and then in spring, before the leaves appear, tiny white buds form that burst into blossom.

Once the blackthorn flowers have been pollinated by insects, they’ll develop into tiny round green fruits known as sloes. Through summer the sloes grow bigger, gradually turning purple, then develop a blue bloom and finally as the cold winter sets in, they turn a glossy black colour and are ready for picking. These sloes are incredibly astringent, but make a fine liqueur when steeped in gin.

According to Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, “a handful of the flowers infused, is an easy purge; and, if taken in wine and water, is excellent to dispel windy colic.” I’ve read that you can make an almond flavoured syrup by immersing enormous amounts of flowers into a sugar and water solution but I shall give this a miss because (a) I don’t need an almond flavoured syrup (b) it will take forever to pick the flowers and (c) I don’t need purging (easy or otherwise).

crystallised violets, polyanthus and blackthorn flowers

Crystallised Flowers from the fields and garden

I also read that the flowers can be crystallised but I found them too fragile. Can you see the stalk with one petal and some stamens? (It’s halfway down on the right).  That’s all that’s left of the blackthorn flower. The book suggested that the crystallised blackthorn flowers could be used to decorate a cake for a spring wedding. Quite frankly, it would be madness to consider that plan for longer than a second.

my favourite duck

My favourite duck off on an adventure.

Known as The Brown Duck because I’m not very good at naming things. Following a request for some ducklings, on Sunday I handed over a dozen duck eggs to hatch in an incubator as none of my ducks or hens were broody. Typically, by Wedneday morning one of my ducks had decided to sit on a nest of eggs. However, the eggs in the incubator stand more chance of hatching as this duck sits every year with varying degrees of success. Sometimes I think she just does it to keep away from the drakes for a month and I can’t say I blame her.

newly planted Christmas trees at Slamseys Farm

Row upon row of newly planted Christmas trees.

These Nordman Fir trees are only about 30 centimetres tall so they have a fair bit of growing to do before they’re cut down to sell as Christmas trees, probably in 2022, if they aren’t eaten by rabbits or muntjac deer, die from disease or grow a funny shape.

I do love this time of year. So much promise of things to come.

violets

In My Kitchen – April

In my kitchen this month are violets.

Because I love picking flowers from the fields and garden to bring back to the kitchen. Because I adore violets. Because violet cream chocolates, bunches of fresh violet flowers in tiny jugs and violet scented perfume all make me happy.

In my kitchen …

 

violet sugar

… is a jar of sweet scented Violet Sugar to dip into for icing or sprinkle over a tin of freshly baked shortbread. Ideal for making violet jellies. Violet Sugar is easy to make as you just whiz together a cup of violet flowers with two cups of sugar in the food processor and tip into a jar. Over time the sugar loses its colour, but still tastes of violets.

In my kitchen …

violet liqueur recipe

… is a small bottle of Violet Liqueur maturing on the shelf.  I just make enough to drink in the spring time, though I confess that we often come across the half drunk bottle later in the year and finish it off in the heat of summer. My favourite way to drink this is with a good squeeze of lime juice and a splash of tonic water, over ice.

In my kitchen …

 

crystallised violets and polyanthus using the gum arabic method
… are crystallised violets (and polyanthus and primroses) to scatter over a cake for Easter.

You can buy tiny jars of crystallised violets, but it’s easy to make your own. Lots of instructions use egg white but I’ve found gum Arabic produces a better result. Mix a teaspoon of gum Arabic powder with two teaspoons of water in a small bowl. Holding the flower by the stem, dip the petals into the solution using a small brush to make sure the flower is thoroughly coated, give it a shake to remove any excess and then use a teaspoon to sprinkle over caster sugar to completely cover the flower.  Lay the flowers on a piece of bake-o-glide, carefully cut off the stems and put the flowers somewhere warm (like the airing cupboard or above an aga) for 24 hours until they’re be crisp and dry.

Store them in an airtight jar and they’ll last until next year.

In my kitchen …

 

violet jelly

… are violet flowers suspended in Violet Jellies spooned from tiny glasses. It may look like methylated spirits, but it tastes delicious. A perfect spring pudding. For the recipe click here.

It feels a bit of a violet-fest here in my kitchen at the moment, but the season is only fleeting and if I don’t make the most of it, they’ll all be gone. As ever, it’s all or nothing here.

Once again, I’m joining in with Celia’s In My Kitchen series at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial as we tour the world to see what everyone has in their kitchen this month. If you have the time, check out some of the different blogs that are listed on Celia’s page.

 

You may also like to try:

Violet Syrup recipe

Violet Jam recipe

 

jelly print of walk

something to hold

Do you worry that everything is digital nowadays and wonder if future generations will have something to hold in their hands that we touched? Everything seems to be on-screen now. Handwritten letters are rare, postcards almost non-existent and official documents are filed online.

When Bill went travelling he diligently wrote a letter to his parents once a month or thereabouts, all of which his mother kept to hand back to him when he arrived home and occasionally he flicks through them and revives a distant memory. Now, our children update us from far flung places by Facebook, which is instant but fleeting and will doubtless float off in the ether, lost to us all. Photos are stored on computers that crash or on free cloud storage with no guarantee of permanency and I have a pile of cine film, VHS tapes, cassette tapes and floppy disks loaded with memories but now unreadable.

I was pondering all this as I replaced some of the way mark discs (for the public footpaths and bridleways) around the farm that have faded or mysteriously disappeared.  I went past the flowering violets, primroses and cowslips and lichen on bare branches along a track that has been walked for hundreds of years and wondered how many people had walked along and noticed the same things, watched the seasons roll past and trees grow from tiny acorns to spreading oak trees. Almost imperceptible daily changes that we take for granted and yet add up to massive change over the years. So, of course we don’t mark or record it and the memory of how it used to be disappears.

making jelly prints

On the way I stuffed a few bits and pieces in my pockets – leaves, feathers and flowers (though I ate the violets) and used them to make jelly prints that I folded into little books as a permanent memory.

 

One of them is a snake book, which unfolds rather like a walk and the other has pockets in which to tuck collected things or perhaps photographs (if I get them printed) and an unfolding narrative of the walk in the back.

An evening spent in frivolous creativeness. Because sometimes it’s good to have something to hold. A reminder of how it is today, because it’s bound to change in the future. Though obviously only for me because my children will almost certainly throw them out, which I completely understand (I would do the same).

How do you store your experiences and memories for future generations? Does it really matter?