Monthly Archives: October 2015

I can’t remember quantities

I made soup for the bread group on Thursday and for Men in Sheds on Friday. Both lunches were very enjoyable for me and people ate all their soup so they probably enjoyed it too. I was just thinking, though, that I don’t actually have a recipe for soup.


Men in Sheds

I have a range of ingredients, and a size of pan, but no measurements or fixed ingredients. Normally it doesn’t matter, but at times like now, when I’d like to write down a recipe, I can’t.

Basically, for Spicy Pumpkin you want some potatoes, garlic and onions lightly fried till soft, then you add some pumpkin you’ve roasted in the oven, half a biggish red chilli and a a chunk of ginger slightly smaller than one of my thumbs. Add ground cumin if you have any (I didn’t so I decided to use nutmeg but I’ve lost the grater so I ended up using thyme). Boil it up with a couple of litres of water and two stock cubes, check the seasoning, blitz it and you’re done.


Spicy Pumpkin

If you think that’s vague you won’t like the Leek and Potato soup, which has fewer ingredients and features a few onions, some potatoes (enough to justify their place as a main ingredient) and some leeks (ditto). Ignore where books say “white parts only” as that is pathetically short on most bought leeks, and the green still tastes good. Stock etc, blitz, done.


Leek and Potato

Not sure what sort of cook this makes me but I do know it makes me a lousy cookery writer.

Today I made soup for the shoot, but that was easy, I just opened cans. They had canned soup (supermarket), bread roll (local baker), sausage roll (local butcher), fruit pie (supermarket) and cream – all for under £1 per person for 28 people. I’m not saying it’s good food, but it isn’t that bad either, and it’s cheap; i couldn’t feed them for that.

The soups I just made run out at around 50p per person when you press the supermarket button on recipe websites.

I’m going to pause now and remind myself why I make home-made soups.

Bread and good company

Where does all the time go?

It only seems like yesterday that I was writing about Saturday’s events on Monday and now it’s Thursday.

That means that not only has the week gone, but it’s left me without much time to finish my week’s work. That seems to be constant at the moment – like elementary subtraction I always seem to be borrowing one. In this case it isn’t from the next column but from the next day.

Monday was a blur, partly caused by a flare-up of arthritis and partly by lack of sleep from the day before. It wasn’t a very productive day either, which always seems to be the way when you have too many jobs to fit the available time. Tuesday, I went to a funeral while Julia hosted a day in the country for 20 kids in foster care (and pinged one on the electric fence to bring her year’s total up to 3). On Wednesday I caught up with Monday jobs, juiced some apples and made soup.

Today I attended the bread group, ate the soup with them (it’s pumpkin soup – hence the jar of seeds in the picture), bottled juice, made more soup and emailed Men in Sheds to remind them about the soup.

I have so many jobs to do, and am getting so few of them done, it seems like my ears are moving further apart to accommodate the stuff crammed in my head. I’m assuming this is untrue, as my glasses still fit, but I’m definitely feeling like I need to find a free day to catch up.

Here are some pictures.


Looks like people were enjoying themselves…


Personally I wouldn’t have done it this way


Or this


Sitting down for soup and companionship – the “com” and “pan”  translate as “With bread”. Seems right to me.


Hand made, artisan, rustic…

A very apple juice sort of day

Hectic again, so this is the Monday morning catch-up post from Saturday.

It was a long day on Saturday. We set up early and pressed the Lord Derby for our single variety juice – twelve hours later we locked the gates and went home. So much for my work/life balance.

Between those two events we managed to eat several cobs containing pig products and pressed a lot of apples for the community, plus a couple of lots of pears.

In contrast to previous Saturdays people arrived with boxes, builder’s bags, assorted carrier bags and even a hand cart. Bearing in mind the educational aspects of the day, I was happy to allow everyone a chance to experience the hands-on aspects of the job, though nobody showed any interest in the cleaning up. I must think up a killer sales pitch for next year – the Full Farm Experience to go with the Full English Breakfast.





Everybody seemed to go away happy, despite the incident with tea urn. That occurred when someone brought some 10 litre bags to fill. In order to get through the pasteurising quicker I was using two tea urns plus the pasteuriser (which is just a big urn). Unfortunately I overlooked the possibility for damage to the bag from the absence of a trivet. Or, to put it another way, I welded a bag to the bottom of the urn.

So, a fused urn, a punctured bag, stickiness, apologies…

You get the picture.

Despite that, a local orchard owner has just (Monday morning) asked if I can pasteurise 150 bottles for him.

Today’s learning: Remember to put a tea towel in the bottom of the urn next time.

Today’s tasting notes: The Lord Derby juice is a lot sweeter than I was expecting from a cooking apple, also a bit thicker, more orange and more prone to producing sediment. I’m hoping it’s going to be popular because we have twenty trees and once they grow they are likely to be heavy croppers.


You can’t see it so much in the photo but the Lord Derby juice is a different colour (see small bottles and large bottles on right of picture

Why doesn’t my spell checker like welly whanging?

Simultaneous with the volunteers yesterday, we had a group of kids for the afternoon. They did a noisy nature walk, had a welly whanging competition, a festival of shouting and made bug hotels. When all that was over, we made butter.

Thirty hyped-up kids, screw-top containers, double cream, shaking…

What, as they say, could possibly go wrong?

Apart from one kid throwing up, one turning green (we blame the jumping up and down technique of shaking for this) and one lid leaking – nothing.

You can’t count the kid that sprayed himself in the eye with the automatic air freshener because that wasn’t caused by butter-making: that was, I confess, caused by me forgetting to screw the air freshener to the wall out of the reach of kids.


Bug Hotels


Butter. I felt the need to explain that because it does look like er…not butter.

We then pass to Men in Sheds. We made more signs and welded up a bracket. We were also commissioned to build an adaptor to fit a square heater to a round tube in the grain dryer. There’s a song about that, isn’t there?

Actually, when I check the lyrics, there’s one line about that – There may be trouble ahead…

The rest of the song, with it’s moonlight and music and love and romance doesn’t really match with my experience of Men in Sheds.

Most memorable moment of the day was the one where the Man welding up the bracket turned and said “I’ve just welded it to the vice!”

It soon came off, with the help of an angle grinder, as we all tried to keep straight faces…


One bracket, welded to vice.


One angle-grinder in action.




Men, manure and middle-age

It is a truth universally acknowledged, as Jane Austen never wrote, that a middle-aged man in possession of a bladder will never need an alarm clock.

And so it happened that although I passed the night with neither clock nor phone to wake me, I woke at 7 am without a problem.

And 5.30 am and 3 am.

I normally set the clock anyway but the battery has gone dead, and my phone was also out of juice, so I relied on nature and it didn’t fail me. It was actually one of the more relaxed nights I have spent recently, as we didn’t need to be at work until around 11.00, allowing us time to get up, shop and have breakfast out (which was an error – the TESCO cafe staff, as usual, lacked energy whilst the cafe itself lacked tea. There were no working hot water machines, and, according to the staff, no kettle. That’s worse than a pub with no beer.).

When we got to work we found that the volunteers from Capital One were hard at work, and had nearly completed the raised bed in the large polytunnel. It brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. It is a beautiful bed made from straw bales and filled with a variety of materials, including a lot of well-rotted pig muck. We’ve been trying to get it done for several years but there’s always been a problem, so it was great to see it completed.

It was a bitter-sweet moment: seeing the beautiful raised bed, yet knowing that the plan for next year is to let the Allotment Club use it. So there I was with my nose pressed up against the polythene like a kid at a sweetshop window. So close, and yet so far!

To be honest, the pleasure of seeing the bed outweighs the sense of loss. I’m already making plans for next year and I far prefer planning to actual gardening.


Men and manure in perfect harmony

Apples and apple matters

We’ve been drying apples ready for the weekend. The intention was to bag them up and sell them but we’ve just hit a snag (apart from the one where we eat loads of them) – they just don’t weigh much!

At the current rate, which includes using the group and the Applemaster, we will have about £6- £8 worth of apple rings by the weekend.

It’s not going to make much of a dent in the funds. On the other hand it will be easier to store than the apple juice, which is beginning to make the shelves bend under the weight of bottles.



I’m still thinking about storage for the next lot – which is going to include 50 small bottles of Lord Derby as single variety.

We have a plan to sell Apple Punch kits at Christmas in an attempt to reduce stocks. We’ve mastered the art of producing apple juice, we just need to sell more than the four to six bottles we get through every Saturday. As they always used to say when I attended sales conferences – Nothing happens until somebody sells something.



Well, it’s done. It was an afternoon tinged with sadness, as there were quite a few memories enshrined in the layers of litter. Nine years accumulating memories…

…or nine years without cleaning the car properly.

It was also rather annoying as I had to spend £25 (non-refundable) on ordering a new log book for the car, an event that became even more annoying when I then found the old log book.

However, think back to the words “non-refundable” I used earlier, a bit of dramatic foreshadowing if ever I saw one.

I can’t say I enjoyed the day – I’d much prefer to be out on the farm – and to have £25 in my pocket – but I did need a new car – and I have learned some valuable lessons about filing, cleaning and resale values.

Making the most of adversity

Another day, another problem…

I know I ought to be talking in terms of challenges, solutions and lemonade at this point, but it’s difficult to see an upside right now.

I’m looking for my car log book. I don’t know about the rest of the world (Americans, for instance, seem to carry them in the car every time I see a traffic policeman ask for one.) In the UK there are two general reactions to being asked for your log book – smugness from the organised people who know where they are and panic from people like me.

I’ve had the car eight years. I can’t always find things after eight minutes. I need it this afternoon when collecting my new car or things become more complicated. First port of call was the filing cabinet where my wife puts things.

Yes – “puts things”. Her filing makes a pack rat look like an obsessive compulsive

An hour later I’m no closer to finding the log book, but I have hit a rich seam of out-dated bank statements so tonight I will be shredding. And so, as this episode closes I can at least say that when you have paper – make compost.

Poetry, pollinators and poultry

The Puzzled Game Birds

They are not those who used to feed us
When we were young–they cannot be –
These shapes that now bereave and bleed us?
They are not those who used to feed us, –
For would they not fair terms concede us?
– If hearts can house such treachery
They are not those who used to feed us
When we were young–they cannot be!

Thomas Hardy

I was going to put this in the last post but I couldn’t remember who wrote it, or enough of the words to search for it. Fortunately, with it being Hardy, I’m able to quote it in full, which is a useful side-effect of having old-fashioned tastes in poetry.

Apart from that minor triumph of memory it’s been a flat sort of day.

We decided to set the bird feeder up now that things are getting more wintry, but found that the central post had filled with water and rotted away half-way up. That was rather vexing. Fortunately we have another bird feeder which we had donated a few months ago so we just need to set that up – a job for Wednesday I think.

The guinea fowl chick has started to put in more of an appearance now, instead of hiding all the time. It’s another of the patchy white type that we managed to breed when we had a a latter-day Dr Moreau looking after the poultry. Admittedly he wasn’t quite as savage as the Doctor, but his breeding did leave us with a lot of unattractive poultry.


Mother and chick

Apart from that, the sun has drawn out a few late butterflies and bees; we’ve planted some new Verbena Bonariensis given to us by a neighbour (they’re always welcome, as they’re a good plant for pollinators); played a ball game with made-up rules and picked beans for seed.

We’ve also used the Applemaster to produce apple rings (which are currently drying in the new dehydrator), so we should have apple rings for tomorrow morning. In theory we’re building up a stock for National Apple Day on Saturday, but so far none of the batches has lasted longer than a day.

Coots, moorhens and the pursuit of knowledge

There were three young pheasants by the side of the lane today as I came to work. If they are still alive their world will have taken on a different complexion today, as today is the opening day for the shoot.

It’s amazing what you can learn, even when making fairly random notes. I just looked up the shooting seasons and found there is a season for coots and moorhens. I can’t imagine why that’s necessary – they aren’t a pest, they aren’t out of control and I can’t imagine they taste particularly good, which just shows how wrong you can be.

There are quite a few coot recipes on the net, this being one site with a couple.There are also moorhen recipes, and some talk of them being a pest.

I never cease to marvel at the information available on the net, if only you can come up with the right question. Up until now I’d only seen moorhens as a pest when they sidled up to me and ate maggots from my bait box.

Today we did breakfast for twenty and lunch for 30, due to the shoot, plus a variety of other people talking of permaculture, pizza and nasturtium leaf soup. Put out a few feelers for Men in Sheds and saw two of the members – one beating for the shoot and another arriving with a selection of booty from the Saturday auction in Newark, including several power tools and a welder. Have a ton bag of apples promised – to be juiced on a 50/50 basis and a group of volunteers who are coming on Thursday to do some heavy garden work.

Strange how talking of pressure yesterday seems to have rekindled my enthusiasm for tomorrow.