Monday, 31 August 2009

Cider making day - Kentish Scrumpy

How lazy have I been over the last few months. I haven't updated this is ages. There has been loads going on in the garden, but we've been too busy eating to blog. Loads of soups from the garden, and almost every meal has consisted of something from the garden. Its been a great year so far, and we have learnt lots for next year. I shall try to do an update later, but I wont promise anything.

We've also been making loads of country wines. Here in Kent we are incredibly lucky with the hedgerow bounty thats on offer. First we made a cherry plum wine, then blackberry wine, and then damson wine. We also have sloe gin on the go, and lots of it.

Whilst driving about I like to keep an eye on whats growing along the lanes. I watched the cherry plums grow, and then after we had picked bags of them I saw the damsons and sloes come along. At the same time I found that there are loads of wild apple trees growing in the hedgerows. There are also a few pear trees about. I had a good week of browsing google trying to find if there was any easy way of turning this into cider. Phillipa and myself do enjoy drinking the fermented apple juice, and making our own seemed like the best thing in the world. After evenings of watching videos on you tube I decided that making my own cider press was not really that stupid an idea.
I had a load of wood that I could make a frame from in the garden, and i managed to pick up some old beech work surface from a boot fair. I then bought a car jack from ebay, and I just needed a free afternoon to make the frame.

So, anyway the frame was built, and the story continues in pictures from here....

I had lots of trees mapped out all over Swale, and the first step was for us to collect them. This mostly consisted of me scarpering up trees, throwing apples at Phillipa. It was fun, its normally her throwing things at me...!!

Then when we got home, we quartered the apples, removing any bruised area, and any creepy crawlies that had made their home in the apples. This was actually quite frequent to my delight, as Phillipa screamed everytime she found a maggot or earwig. Actually it was not good finding them, but it was funny hearing Phillipa squark with fear everytime she saw one...!

As they were quartered they were put through the shredder on the food processor. We would then wrap 2 loads of apples in net curtain. We found that putting this in a cake tin made a good mold for pressing.

I had bought a cheap roasting tin. Drilling a hole in the side of the tin, and putting a length of piping ensured that the juice extracted could run out where I wanted it.

I then placed a small chopping board on top of the apples, and then the beech board ontop of that. A length of wood and the car jack were then added, and the car jack was pumped up.

After a few pumps the apple juice would start to run out of the pipe, and into the bucket underneath

Out it comes :)

I would tilt the whole contraption forward to make sure that I got all of the juice that had been extracted

It was suprising how much we would get out of the apples. Cooking apples give a much lighter juice than sweet eating apples. We used a mixture of about 45% each of these types of apples, and about 10 % pears. It tasted good as juice, and looks like it will ferment out at about 9% alcohol

This is a pressed apple cake after being pressed. All of this has gone into the compost bin

A few hours later and we had 2 gallons of juice reading for bottling.

I have added one campden tablet to each demijohn. They are currently wrapped in the heat belt. If in a few days they haven't started to ferment I shall add a little yeast.

This should be ready to drink at about Christmas, and seeing that Phillipa and I have set the tradition of drinking cider and eating cheese on Christmas eve this seems like perfect timing. I just now need to work out how to make cheese :)

Saturday, 13 June 2009

As they grow, they start to show

Over the past few weeks I have been on slug and snail duty when it gets dark. I can't believe how many slimey buggers I have disposed of, and that the numbers still stay constant in the garden. I dont seem to be able to make a dent in the population, but it seems that I have in keeping the crops for myself, and not as food for the gastropods.

Our first crop of runner beans and peas provided excellent slug food, and much to our dissappointment they managed to munch their way through the entire crops. I however picked up some nice plants at a local grocers, and these now grow where there was bare ground. The slug hunting has seen the plants survive so far, but we are far from safe. I shall continue with my midnight duty with a kebab stick, and empty plant pot ;)

The broad beans were subject to a totally different pest, and the tips of the plants had become infested with black fly. There were disposed of with a good spray with water mixed with washing up liquid. I have been keeping a fine eye on them, and as soon as they start to reappear they get another blast from the sprayer.
The pods are now beginning to form, and we should be able to start eating them very soon I hope.

The broccoli and sprouts continue to grow. A few of the leaves are getting munched, but so far I haven't been able to spot the culprit. I hunt every night, but no signs of slugs, snails or caterpillars.

The onions are also doing well. We have had about 10 so far produce a small flower, but these we all pulled out of the gound and eaten straight away before any loss occured to the onion itself. Very nice they were too.

Some of the onions are looking quite large now too. I cant wait to string them up

A few weeks ago we potted a load of squash seeds. We bought a pumpkin last year at Halloween to carve, and made soup with the flesh. I also salted and fried the seeds in chilli powder, and they were amazing. A small handfull of seeds were kept to plant, and these have all sprouted. I also did the same with another small squash. We have also sprouted some butternut squash seeds.
During the sprouting process I moved all of the pots about whilst watering, and now dont have a clue what is what, but they are all now in the garden, so this will be an interesting new patch.

The courgettes, scalloppini's and a lone cucumber are all doing well. Well the ones that survived the slug attack are.

We are now getting some courgettes forming. Phillipa wimpered in excitement when I called her down the garden to see this...!! Exciting times.

The tomato plants are doing well. I have cut the bottoms off of lemonade bottles, and stuck the neck into the grow bags. These are filled with water to act as a reservoir, and so far it seems to be working.

And the tomatos are beginning to form. I must admit to getting very excited when I first saw these growing.
And the passion fruit is coming into flower. This bush looks magnificent in full bloom, and then produces really sweet tasty fruit.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Its nearly all growing..!

It's addictive. Planting things that is. I bet that every gardener out there gets the same itch that I do, to constantly check on your seeds to see if they are sprouting, to see if your plants have grown an extra inch or another leaf. To see flowers start to appear and then the fruits and vegetables forming, growing, destined to end up on your dinner plate.

Every day I get home from work and give Phillipa a good kiss and a cuddle, and then off I pop into the garden. I get really excited looking at how the potatoes are growing and checking the broad beans. The few carrots that have remained in the soil are looking better and better each day that goes by. The strawberries have gone wild in their pots. So much so that I think they may be a bit crampt and may well need to be divided out into more pots for next year. They are now showing signs of strawberries forming, so we may well be eating them in a few weeks time. The gooseberry bush is looking magnificent, but it makes me sad to think that we wont get any fruit from it this year, but at the same time makes me excited thinking about the fruits it will bare next summer. I then get to check on my beloved tomato plants and lovingly remove any new growths that are coming out from between the stem on the plant and the leaf joints.

We have also planted some pumpkin, butternut squash and other squash seeds, and only a week later there are signs of growth in the pots. Nothing has quite broken through the surface, but the white stems of an emerging plant are breaking through the compost. Exciting times...!

These evening rounds of the garden aren't always joyous occasions. The runner beans and peas seem to have been attacked by slugs, and whats remaining of the plants aren't looking too good. I shall endeavour to save them, but I think we may have lost this crop.
Two of the broad beans have a black fly problem. We first noticed ants climbing the plants, and then noticed that the tops were covered in black fly. I have done my best to squish off what I can, but have far from removed the problem. I will not use any chemicals in the garden to stop these pests as I want to grow as organic as possible, but have read that you can spray the plants with a mild washing up liquid and water mix which should kill them off.
A few of the onions have also decided that they no longer wanted to be onions, and that they would instead tun into flowers. Huge stems shot up with a flower on the top. This sounds lovely, but the onion puts so much effort into growing its flower, that it takes all of the energy in the bulb to do so, and you are left with an empty squishy bulb. I can't complain though, out of over 100 onions, only 3 so far have gone over to the dark side.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

A garden update

Well the suns been shining, and the garden has sprung into life. And then the wind blew, and one of the fence panels has come down. But thats a different story.

There was a small patch of wild fennel growing in the corner of the garden thats gone wild. Its about 3' tall now, and will be great for adding to any fish we might catch over the summer months. I might try drying some too, and also will be attempting to save the seeds at the end of the summer are they are great sprinkled over salads and in cooking.

The end of the garden has now been tidied up, and covered in plum coloured slate. As well as looking a lot tidier than before, its doubled up as a great place to put the growbags. The end of the garden is prime sun territory, and we are hoping that the slate will deter any slimey slugs and snails from eating our crops

The potatoes are now bushing out nicely, and soon will need earthing up

The broard beans are now beginning to flower. I have bamboo canes in place, but may well web inbetween with string to encourage them to grow.

10 tomato plants have been transfered to grow bags, as have 8 scallopini plants. Phillipa is incredibly protective of these plants that should fruit with small squashes, and I am with the tomatoes. I have plans of soups, sauces and chutneys from the fruit we get.

We also have 6 courgette plants that are doing well, and a few very small tomato plants that need potting on, and will probably again end up in my parents conservatory to give them a good start. Thanks for all you help so far mummy :)

The strawberry plants are getting massive. The first flowers were all pinched off, and we are now waiting patiently for them to fruit. This should hopefully be sometime next month.

The gooseberry plant is also now looking great. Its become really bushey, but will not start to fruit until next summer at the earliest. I also managed to pick up a blackcurrant cane for a pound at the local Wilco's, and thats in a big pot next to the gooseberry bush soaking up the sun.

The garden has come into bloom, and its a pleasure to spend time in. The BBQ has been used, and I cant wait to get it fired up again. We have a great local butchers, and farmers market where I get the most amazing burgers and sausages from.

Lets just hope that the wind dies down, and the sun continues to shine.
Matt & Phillipa

Monday, 11 May 2009

Hythe Fishing

Hythe was the fishing venue of choice Saturday evening. We got the the beach at about 10:40pm and the rods were setup and cast out pretty soon after we got there. The bait we were using consisted of mackerel, squid and sandeels.

Phillipa was first into the fish with a small pouting

And then a few casts later was rewarded with her first ever dogfish :)

I then had a couple of dogfish. The second was the smallest one I have ever seen.

All fish went back to fight another day. Still yet to hit into the bigger fish that we can bring home for dinner.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A garden update

With all this beautiful weather we have been having recently the garden has sprung into life. The veg patch is beginning to get some more colour into it now, with plants developing, and pushing through the ground.
The potatoes are now really beginning to bush up. As the plants get bigger we will be piling the earth up around the growing stems to encorage the potatoes to grow. I also pick off all of the flowers are they appear in an attempt to make the plant put all its efforts into growing the potatoes.
As you can see the onions are now getting quite large. I cant wait to start lifting these and cooking with them.
I picked up some brocolli, sprouts and beetroot at a boot fair last sunday. I got 6 of each plant, and all of them came to just £1. They are looking a little sorry for themselves at the moment, but I hope that they perk up.
And finally the broard beans. These plants are looking really healthy and are really beginning to fill out.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Another Ray

Philly and I went to Leysdown to fish the evening tide last night. It was a pretty quiet night, with only a few other anglers fishing.
Phil was the first to get some action, and this resulted in a small eel, much to her disgust. Luckily it was only liphooked, and a quick shake of the hook and it was off, and I didn't get snotty hands.
Then at 11pm just as we were packing up this beauty came in. Caught on a mackeral strip at about 100yds. Being a female she went back to lay her purses, had it been a male it would have been dinner tonight :)
I didn't have any scales with me, but I would take a guess at her weighing about 9lb

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

A busy week

I had last week off work, with the aim to sort out our utility room, and to have a bloody good go at tidying up the garden.
Well the utility room was stripped out and painted. Then the floor was laid. This consisted of putting down a thin layer of mdf first, and then some industrial lino I had acquired from a local hospital that I work at ;)
We then bought a nice double cupboard unit to go next to the fridge freezer, and I cut a length of work surface to go on top of this. Luckily the other bit left is exactly the right size to go over the washing machine on the other side, but this is yet to be done.
I then installed an outside tap, and had dad around the help shorten a water pipe. I'd happily do that myself now, but many thanks super dad :)

Down the bottom of our garden was a huge pile of old bricks, breeze blocks, stones and broken paving slabs that I had removed from out parts of the garden. There was also the rotting remains of an old washing line pole, and various dead bits of bush that I had cut away a few weeks back. This was all bagged up and taken to the dump.
Its now looking a lot clearer now, and Phillipa and I spent a good few hours pulling up weeds, baby sycamore trees and general garden rubbish ready to put down a cloth sheeting, and then covering this in plum slating. I shall take some pictures later and post them up.

I also picked up a few vegetable plants at the local bootfair for mere pennys, so the vegetable patch now has Beetroot, Brussel sprouts and Broccoli planted.
Oh, and Friday we also tried the nettle beer and it was pretty horrible. Well Phillipa kinda liked it, but she likes to drink hippie teas. We are leaving it another week to see if it matures.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Dandelion & Burdock

Well a few weeks ago we decided to start making our own homebrews. Not just the "Beer in a tin" type of homebrews, but more of your cottage / hedgerow type brewing. Saying that, I've just bought a 40 pint cider kit from Wilko's, but I'm sure that will be another story for another blog.

The Dandelion and Burdock brew was our first brew, and unfortunately started before we started this blog.
Making the brew was a very similar to the nettle beer documented earlier on in the blog, and from bottling should be ready to drink within 7 days.

Saturday night was the 6th day in the bottle, but was also the day of my good friend Patricks Stag do, and seemed an appropriate time to open a bottle. I think I shoved it under the nose of most people at the party, and honestly, most were unimpressed with the beer. I enjoyed it, but I would wouldn't I?

Anyway a few days further on and the taste has greatly improved. Its still quite bitter, and this is probably to do with the Dandelion roots. I think that next time I shall used slightly less dandelion but as a whole its actually a really nice refreshing drink. We are actually drinking it with a small splash of lemonade, and this takes away the slight bitterness of the drink.

We have about 3 pints of it left, and then it should be time to crack open the Nettle beer. Friday will be the 7th day in the bottle, but again I guess that will get better after about the 10th day.

A Busy Week

I've got the week off of work, which is nice. Unfortunatley Phil is still working, but she works from home anyway, so we are still seeing quite a lot of each other.
This week I had planned to sort out some of the much needed work to the house and garden. So far the weather hasn't been too good, but progress is being made.
Our utility area has now been totally stripped down and painted. I shall be laying 3mm MDF boarding on the floor, before fitting a lino type material. I also have a work surface to put up above the washing machine. I hope to also pick up some cheap cupboards, as we dont have that much room in the kitchen.
The garden has had loads cleared out of it, but doesn't actually look that different. I have removed a huge ivy plant that had taken over one part of the garden. This was one hell of a job, but should now be pretty manageable. I would get rid of it, but I think that even David Blaine would have problems.

Phil and myself have also gone fishing twice. Last friday we headed off to Hythe to fish the evening tide. We had a really good evening catching dogfish, pouting and whiting. Nothing was big enough for the pot, but still an enjoyable evening.





I also treated myself to a new rod and reel :) I picked these up yesterday, so today we headed over to Bartons point on the Isle of Sheppey.
It was a pretty quiet day, only catching the smallest plaice that I have ever seen.

Hopefully next time we might catch some dinner

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

About 34 hours on...

Its been about 34 hours since the yeast was added the the nettle brew, and its beginning to honk to high heaven.
Its fermenting nicely, but lets hope it tastes better than its beginning to smell..!
This is what it curerntly looks like.. :)

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Making Nettle Beer

Last week we made Dandelion and Burdock beer, and thats bottled, and maturing for a week before we guzzle it.

These basic brews dont take long to make, most of them from the first processes to drinking take as little as just 10 days.
Well whilst the Dandelion and Burdock was maturing in its bottles I thought it time to start on the next brew. This involved taking Phillipa on an exciting mission into the countryside to find some fresh young nettles. After driving for around 20 minutes we found the perfect spot, and with a gardening glove each and a carier bag we started gethering the nettles.
The best flavour comes from the top bunch of leaves, as these are generally the youngest. You can use the whole plant, but a huge range of insects use the nettle plant, so its best to only take at most the top 4 sets of leaves so that you dont disturb the habitat to much. We mainly picked the top 2 sets, as these we by far the newest, and will hopefully give the best flavour.
We needed 2lb of nettle tops for this brew, and as a rule of thumb, a well stuffed carrier bag weighs in at about a pound. With one filled each, and only a few stings later we tied the bags up and headed home.
For our Nettle beer we needed the following.

2lb Nettles
8 Pints of water
1lb Demerara Sugar
2 Lemons
1oz Cream of Tartar
2 tsp ground ginger
8 pint of water was added to a large cooking vestle, and the nettles added. This was brought to the boil, and the nettles stirred and mashed through out the process to try to extract as much flavour as possible. They were boiled for about 20 minutes.

Here the nettles are cooling down ready to be strained

I mashed the nettles in a collander to get as much juice from them

Whilst the liquid was cooling I weighed out the ingredients. I also grated the zest from the 2 lemons, and then juiced them.

When the liquid was cool enough it was passed through the collandar into another pan to remove any leaves that were still in the mixture.

The liquid was then sieved into a freshly steralised fermentation bucket. You need to be 100% sure that everything is sterile. Any baddies could stop your yeast from fermenting your brew, and you dont want that.

The sugar was added along with the lemon zest and juice

Measure out your ginger, and add 2 tea spoons

Insert silly picture :)

Weigh out and add the Cream of Tartar

Relax for a while with a fine drop of Whiskey

Stir, and stir and stir until all of the sugar has disolved

Meanwhile, the easter bunnys look on, wondering quite what I am up to..!
When the liquid has cooled down you need to add the yeast. I use a strong wine yeast, and 1 heaped teaspoon of this is added per gallon of liquid. I add this to a mug of warm water, and stir it in. This is then added to the fermentation bucket, and a clean tea towel laid over the top.
I wrap a heat belt around the bottom of the bin to keep the liquid at a constant tempreture, and this will be left to ferment for 3 days before it is syphoned off into bottles.

The nettle mulch that was left looks like this, and I ate about 3 mouth fulls of it. It tasted like over boiled spinach. Phillipa declined the offer of some claiming that she had just cleaned her teeth.

The bottling process will be up soon, as hopefully will be a review of the Dandelion and Burdock beer.