OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Flintham Show

Well, after days of baking and making salt dough shapes the show finally arrived, as did busloads of kids.

Apart from salt dough and bread tasting we had the bread story,  corn dollies (with paper straws), the bread shed, adverts for our two new educational units (Festive wreaths and the Great War), the famous Ecocentre bread-plaiting roadshow (modesty prevents me telling you which charismatic,  bearded fat man runs that) and Julia’s two pig sculptures made from straw bales..

Of course, with all the good stuff, we also had a helping of adversity. One of the wheatsheaves, having dried badly, developed cracks before falling apart, and Julia’s pigs suffered from an outbreak of vandalism. They were popular all day, but for some reason we kept having to retrieve the snouts and ears from various souvenir-hunting children.

In a short break I managed to knock up a small wheatsheaf loaf to check how practical it was as a group exercise. It seems OK in terms of scale and time, though I couldn’t get anyone to give it a try on the day. That’s one for next week. Note the decorative charring to the smaller loaf – a feature of all our bread on the day.

Fortunately the day, which started cold and drizzly, was dry and sunny by the  time the gates opened and all the hard work of the show committee paid off. The photos don’t do it justice, but it’s hard to fit it in with the other activities. By the end of the day all I wanted to do was sit down – one bread roll a child for 80 children is works out at about 12 sessions and 6 kilos of dough, all mixed by hand.

The results of the Bread Test were:

  1. Home baked white
  2. TESCO cheap white sliced
  3. Home baked brown and shop bought seeded brown  (a tie)

We’ve run this session a number of times and it’s always the same – a narrow win for home made white over Chorleywood white sliced with brown, seeded and sourdough lower down. So I won, but it’s depressing.

Free Range Goats

The Goat Escape (again)

First things first – we arrived today with a list of things to do, and the first thing we saw was a massed escape of goats. They had clearly been peckish, and if there’s one thing a goat likes it’s some nice twigs. Things weren’t helped when a flat battery allowed them to climb over the so-called electric fence.

They have much more character than sheep. It’s just a shame that they express this character in making such determined bids for freedom.

It was a busy day yesterday – another 100 salt dough shapes ready for Flintham Show, an improved Wheatsheaf loaf, and an element of panic as we realise there is not enough time. That, of course, is not unusual: there never is enough time.

As you can see, the poppies are coming along nicely, though they do take a lot more salt dough. For one thing, they are bigger than many of the shapes we use, and for another, they need to be thicker to pick up the detail.

The thickness isn’t a problem when you are making biscuits, but when you have to glue them to a stalk it can be tricky, as experience shows they can overbalance or pull themselves of the stalks. I’ve invested in better glue this time!

We had a look in the mobile bread oven and found it was full of cobwebs and a small barbecue.  Yes, it was a surprise to me too.

One thing we haven’t done is test the oven or dry any wood. That’s because the farmer doesn’t believe in planning and hates using wood to check things are working. Farmers hate spending money, even if, as in this case, it does grow on trees.

When it all goes wrong tomorrow it will be my fault.

Do you know how many colloquial expressions there are for “goes wrong” in the English language? More to the point, do you know how many of them are suitable for use in polite conversation?

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cobwebs and raindrops

First, yes, I know the water droplets come from fog, but I’ve substituted accuracy for sound in the title. I would say euphony, but I’m trying to avoid coming across like Stephen Fry.

Today, after a misty journey, the verges of the lane were lined with moisture enhanced cobwebs. When I see these it always takes me back to 1964 when I used to go to a village school in Lincolnshire where nature study was a regular feature. That’s where I first remember seeing moisture droplets on cobwebs. It was a magical experience then, and, fifty two years later, it still is.

That’s enough reminiscing – here are the photos from the garden.

It’s not the easiest subject – autofocus and a simple camera can produce some random results. At times like this I long for slightly more control over focus and depth of field.

 

I’m now off to make salt dough. It’s a varied life!

Small Tortoiseshells on red buddleia

Cheese scones and butterflies

I won’t deny it, when I look at the title I can’t help thinking that butterflies in  a light tempura batter would make an interesting dish. It would also be likely to result in an outcry, and possibly a prosecution. All in all, I think I will give it a miss. They probably don’t taste that good anyway. I remember Number Two son describing chilli-coated scorpions (he doesn’t mess about when it comes to street food) when he came back from China – no meat, no taste – just chilli and crunch. I suspect butterflies, in the absence of a chitin shell to crunch, will just taste of batter. Here is some research on the edibility of butterflies.

We have had a lot of small tortoiseshells in the last few weeks – up to eighteen on the red buddleia, which seems to be the new bush of choice. Despite dead-heading the blue one is fading. That’s good to see after not seeing one small tortoiseshell for months in the middle of summer.

As I dried a cloth out on the decking a Speckled Wood dropped by for a drink. I had no camera, of course.

I ended the week with a splurge of 200 salt dough shapes – all farm animals for Flintham Show next week, but lost a considerable amount of time when the Farmer’s Sister turned up to set up the cafe.  Not sure why feeding people bacon cobs takes precedence over educating the nation (though colouring salt dough shapes isn’t going to develop many Nobel Laureates, I confess) but that’s how it is. She won, the nation lost. Blood, they say, is thicker than water, and if this happens again we may get a chance to test that observation.

We also carried on with the cheese scone experiment, and finally seem to have nailed the flavouring in the Stilton and date variety, which is good news as there is a limit to the number of scones you can test. In my case it’s a higher limit than you may think, but there’s still a limit.

On Pies and Prejudice (also known as “the other blog” I’m already running into a problem with pie reviews – I just don’t want to eat another pie. Or Scotch Egg. It isn’t a problem at the moment because I have a couple of reviews already written, but in a week or two I’d better have recovered my appetite or I’m going to start wishing I had used another title.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wheatsheaf loaves

We make these every year for harvest. You can’t eat them but they look decorative and they are always in demand for harvest festivals. Fortunately, when they are dried out they last a long time so you can use the same one for several different events.

Traditionally loaves were baked for Lammas on 1st August, when the first wheat is harvested, but modern farming techniques and a change in the calendar mean that we no longer harvest on 1st August. The Lammas loaves were just plain loaves, as far as we can tell, but over the years this wheatsheaf loaf design has become established as a Harvest Festival standard.

This one took just under two hours from start to finish (apart from the five hours drying in the oven) but I sure it can be done quicker if you concentrate.

First make your dough.

This is from the Doves Farm website, though there are plenty of other versions.

Ingredients

500g strong white bread flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

1tsp quick acting yeast

300ml water (which is also 300g, just to make it easier)

1 egg (to glaze)

Method
1) Mix together flour, salt yeast and sugar in a bowl
2) Add most of the water water and mix into rough dough
3) Knead on work surface until smooth
I’ll take over again now, as I don’t need a recipe to do the next bit.
First, divide the dough into three parts.
Stretch one part out on a baking tray and then trim to a mushroom shape. Keep the offcuts.
These recipes nearly always seem to be formulated to make a loaf the size of a baking tray. This one only just gives you enough dough, as I will mention later. As you can see from the photo I stretched the dough too thin and needed to patch it. I think this was partly because the quantities are marginal for this size of project and partly because I used a mix of leftover flour, including some whole wheat, and the dough wasn’t as soft as it could have been. (That’s bakerspeak for “I didn’t knead it enough”).
Roll out approximately 30 stalks and lay them on the base. I covered mine in 28 then added another layer on most of the top (and a third layer in the middle) to give a 3D effect. I’m not sure if it is necessary, and with this recipe I might do fewer stalks next time to ensure I have enough dough.
Next start making sausage shapes. The recipe says to cut the dough ball into 3 and make 20 shapes from each of the thirds. I did it by eye and reckon I did about 80. Another recipe I read says to use 100. Make sure you lay the outer ring to protrude past the base and give a more natural effect.
Don’t snip the ears to make the grain detail yet. If you do you will lay a lot of it flat when you glaze.
Using the offcuts, make a mouse and something to bind the sheaf. I normally use a plait.
Glaze, using the egg, but be careful not to let it pool in the lower parts of the design as it looks unsightly. Also, try to avoid overflowing onto the tray as it will make it tricky to get the loaf off the tray.
Cut the ears in the mouse and the detail into the ears of wheat at this point (put the eyes in the mouse using the scissor points).
Bake for 25 minutes at 200°C/Fan180°C/400°F/Gas 6 for 25 minutes
Dry by baking for a further 5 hours at about 100 degrees.
Once cool, it can be varnished, though I’ve never actually done it myself.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Care Farm Experience

 

It’s been a lazy day today. I’ve tried to be enthusiastic but I didn’t get back from Leeds until 1am this morning and when I tried to go to sleep all I could see was motorway traffic on the back of my eyelids. It was around 3am before I got to sleep, then I woke up at 5…

It wasn’t the best of starts.

At least I know I have done my duty as a father (the one that involves passing cash across and acting as a taxi driver, rather than the bit where you impart moral education and the Laws of Rugby).To make things worse I didn’t write a list of jobs to do, which always leads to wasted time.

It was a strange day for butterflies. We had the usual suspects (whites and small tortoiseshells) but managed a Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Comma. We haven’t seen a Comma or Red Admiral for months.

Julia has been industrious, trying out crafts for Flintham Ploughing Match. She has decided, after a somewhat fraught session, that straw weaving won’t make the cut – it just takes too much time and concentration. We will just take some corn dollies and information sheets.

We have had to revert to using paper art straws because modern wheat straw just isn’t long enough. In 1815 the Brigade of Guards concealed themselves in a field of wheat before leaping out to rout the advancing French. If they’d tried that in 2015 it would not have been so much of a surprise.

 

I’ve finished the McDonald’s Breakfast post on Pies and Prejudice, got the recipes together for the scone post I’m planning and sorted the cutters ready for making the saltdough poppies (part of the Big Autumn Project).

Finally we had home made blackberry jam and, after washing the outside of the jars (which seemed to have got very sticky in the filling process), divided last week’s jam between the group. It was a microwavable recipe – very quick and easy. It produces a slightly soft jam that tastes very fruity.

We spread it on some crackers left over from butter making. Everyone seemed to like it, including a few late summer wasps that were cruising around up to no good.

Currently we are waiting for the taxi. It’s twenty five minutes late already and we’ve been told it will be at least another 20 minutes. The original car, it seems, has broken down and they have been having trouble with the phones, because they always lose reception out here (though strangely enough, I don’t.)

They have several breakdowns every year and never seem to have phones that work.

I detect a slightly unlikely excuse.

I also detect the sort of service you get when the council puts a service out to the lowest bidder.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bug boxes in bottles

As song lyrics go, you can see why Rodgers and Hammerstein stuck with ‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens’.  However, if you are looking for a project to help wildlife in the garden bug boxed in bottles is probably a better way to go.

Cardboard, straw, dried grass, old garden canes, plant stems and paper drinking straws from the craft cupboard all came in useful for stuffing the bottles, which are simply pop bottles with the bottoms cut off. If you leave the top on that’s OK; if you don’t, then the bugs have a back door or a drain.

We sourced some of our bits by breaking up the bug hotel in the allotment (it’s due for a re-build) so these even came provided with sitting tenants, with spiders, centipedes, wood lice, miscellaneous skittery things and a snail all putting in an appearance.

We were building them with a pack of Rainbows who are using as part of a badge qualification. Some of them were pleased at the prospect of ready-made tenants, others were not quite so keen.

If they lodge them in sheds and hedges for the winter we should be able to make a contribution to nature, even if it’s a small one.

They are out running round in the rain at the moment. You have to admire the fortitude of the a leaders…