April Sampler


Friday, 30 April 2010

April has been a lovely month filled with blossom and green things growing. Here's my April sampler- flowers, cake and crochet, what more could a girl want? Click on my Sampler Page at the top of this blog to see more samplers.

What will May bring I wonder? In the little wood nearby the bluebells are beginning to open. The hawthorn hedges will be mass of creamy flowers soon. I will finish my rainbow blanket and maybe even my blue ripple blanket. I've got a patchwork project bubbling away in my head which I might get round to beginning. There are English strawberries in the shops now and the asparagus season is in full swing. We have a bank holiday this weekend and VE day is next Saturday, a day we never celebrate but maybe this year I'll do something special.

 The Quince Tree has finally managed to open her flowers just in time for May.

Aren't they beautiful?

Farm Shop


Monday, 26 April 2010

I'm a big fan of farm shops. I'm lucky enough to live in an area well supplied with them. All are a drive away though. My nearest one is where I buy huge 20kg sacks of spuds for £4.50. I don't buy them at this time of the year though as the maincrop potatoes will be getting sprouty and soft. We eat less potatoes until the new ones come in. I expect they'll be late this year.

Generally speaking farm shops offer excellent value for money. I can buy 4 pints of unhomogenised milk with the cream on the top from a local dairy farmer for £1.25 a good 30p less than the standard supermarket stuff. They are also nice places to shop, as a regular, I'm always greeted with a cheery 'how are you today?'.

The farm shop I visit most often is a bit further, a ten minute drive. They are fruit growers specialising in apples and pears but also some soft fruit in the summer. Of course the English apples are going the way of the spuds at the moment. Yes, apples store for months but asking them to still be tasty by April is a bit much. I have to buy my children apples or they will be phoning Childline, so I get imported ones at this time of the year. As much as I can I try to buy local first, UK produced second and imported last. This policy landed me with a bit of a dilemma today. At the farm shop now are these.

These beautiful tomatoes are grown by a local grower. Now, to produce tomatoes in England in April an awful lot of heat must have been used. Buying Spanish tomatoes may well have less impact on the environment than buying these hothouse toms from down the road even allowing for the food miles. I don't ever buy imported fresh tomatoes, I always wait for the English ones to appear, but should I buy these unaturally early ones or should I wait until  their proper season ? I'm weak, I bought them. they smell gorgeous. But why does buying one's food have to be fraught with such complicated decisions?

This was an easy decision. The first asparagus. Worcestershire is famous for its asparagus. It's always expensive, it's a luxury vegetable but if you only buy British then I think the expense is justified as the season is so short. I shall be buying two bunches a week until it has all gone.

As I entered the shop a bucket of gaudy parrot tulips caught my eye. I was sorely tempted, but remembered I had a lovely bunch of pale yellow jonquils on my mantelpiece, and at £2.85 a bunch the tulips would have been almost as much as the asparagus. However I spent less than I had anticipated and after I had put my fruit, veg and eggs in the car I returned to the bucket and selected two bunches. The lady in the shop took a look at them and said 'They're a bit droopy,you can have them for £2'. So my wanton extravagance turned out to be a bargain :o)
Aren't they just fab-u-lous? Hooray for farm shops!

To find your nearest farm shop or local producer have a look at this site Big Barn .

Weekend Miscellany


Sunday, 25 April 2010

Bits and bobs today. First, some crochet

I've finally decided what to make out of my Debbie Bliss cotton. A simple stripey blanket using trebles (US double crochet). I can't resist a rainbow. I just hope I've got enough yarn to make a decent sized blanket.

Next, a weekend cake. Chunky fruit cake from The River Cottage Everyday Cookbook. This should be made with wholemeal flour and it is very good with it but I had run out. I'd also run out of light muscovado sugar so used demerara instead. The fruits called for in the recipe are figs, prunes and apricots, but I substituted dates for the apricots. Recipes are guides not straitjackets. It was delicious.

Yesterday was a lovely day, and we decided to light our little barbecue and grill some skewers. My boys made some pork and apricot kebabs which they brushed with honey and mustard. Delicious.

Today is the 25th which means it is time to see how the Quince Tree is progressing. I promised you leaves and blossoms. The leaves have arrived but the blossom has a little way to go yet.

Each of these little pink points will  have become a golden quince by October. Fingers crossed.

And finally some forget-me-nots. They are so pretty close up.

I do hope you are all having a lovely weekend and enjoying the warm spring weather -if you have warm spring weather where you are.

White Petals


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

These pictures were taken on the way to my daughter's school. We are very lucky to live within easy walking distance of school, and also to be able to make most of the journey on footpaths through greenspaces rather than along roads. The housing development we live on was built on farmland and many of the old hedges that bordered the fields have been untouched. Wild fruit trees punctuate the hedges; hard little green apples, damsons and bullaces. There are also elders, hawthorn, blackthorn bushes and blackberries.

The pictures here show blackthorn blossoms. I love blossom that appears before the leaves so that you get a really intense dose of the flowers. In the Autumn there will be sloes where the flowers were. I've never collected sloes to make sloe gin preferring the lazier route of making damson gin with a tray of damsons from the farm shop. One day I'll get round to it.

The pictures below are either a wild apple or a bullace, I'll know for sure in September.

It isn't just beautiful blossoms we see on our school run, we see many different birds too. This morning we saw goldfinches and a blackcap. On other days we have seen long-tailed tits, green woodpeckers, bullfinches, wrens, redwings, a heron and all the usual garden birds. Once we came upon a sparrowhawk on the path enjoying a breakfast sparrow.

The grass that tree stands in will be covered with buttercups and daisies later as long as the council aren't too enthusiastic with their mowing. I wish they'd spend more time picking litter than mowing and cutting back the elders.

Welsh Cakes


Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Anyone who, like me had or has a Welsh granny will be familiar with Welsh cakes. Welsh grannies can turn out dozens of these little beauties in their sleep. Some Welsh grannies refer to Welsh cakes as pice ar y maen but my granny grew up in South Wales where Welsh wasn't widely spoken although she did occasionally manage an 'ach y fi!' when confronted with particularly grubby grandchildren. My mum can also turn out a mean Welsh cake and they were a regular feature of childhood teatimes (along with Scotch pancakes).

Welsh cakes are not baked in the oven but cooked on a griddle on the hob a relic of the days when few houses had ovens. My mum had a griddle (sometimes called a girdle). It was  rectangular, black, cast iron and very heavy. It fitted over two hot-plates on her hob. She passed it on to me but I couldn't get on with it finding my big, heavy frying pan much easier to use.

 Welsh cakes are made of simple, unpretentious ingredients. No chunks of 'best quality chocolate', no dried cranberries, no macadamia nuts, sour cream or muscovado sugar just plain old traditional ingredients.
A word about two of the ingredients. First, lard. Don't be scared of lard. It's a natural ingredient, a very cheap one at that, and unless you are frying everything you eat in it unlikely to do you harm. Remember a Welsh cake is not designed to be a staple part of your diet, in my house they are lunch box and after school fodder for three ravenous active children. Lard also makes the Welsh cakes very 'short' in texture. If you don't trust me on this matter or are veggie then replace the lard with more butter but do not use margarine or I will be very cross (unless you are vegan, then you are allowed).
Next the sultanas. Now my granny always used currants, she used currants in everything bless her. My mum hated them, gritty little devils, so she always used sultanas. That's what I use too because I have inherited the currant hatred but you can use currants or raisins. I think sultanas are called golden raisins in the States ;o)

Welsh Cakes

Makes about 24

Before you start making the dough heat your griddle or heavy frying pan to a medium heat.

Sift 1lb of self-raising flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl.
Rub in (cut in) 4oz lard and 4oz of butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir in 6oz sugar, 6 oz sultanas and about a quarter of a teaspoon of mixed spice* 
Add 2 beaten eggs and mix to form a stiffish dough. You don't want it too sticky add more flour if it is.

Roll out on a floured surface a quarter of an inch thick and cut 3 inch rounds with a biscuit (cookie) cutter.
Turn the heat under the griddle to lowish.
Lightly grease the griddle or pan with a bit of lard or butter and place as many cakes as you can comfortably fit on it. I can get 7 on my large frying pan. let them cook for about 3 mins each side. Take care the heat isn't too high as they burn easily. It may take a couple of tries to get the heat right on your particular pan or griddle so don't give up if your first batch is a little dark. Cool them on a wire rack.

*American readers, I think something like pumpkin pie spice might fit the bill here. Mixed spice is a blend of coriander, cinnamon, cloves, ,nutmeg and ginger. It isn't essential.

They are delicious straight from the pan but nice too once cooled, plain or spread with butter. They don't keep for very long, like a scone they go stale fairly quickly. They are eaten up quickly in my house but they could be frozen or made in half quantities if there are too many for you to eat before they go stale.




Friday, 16 April 2010

Actually this particular bee wasn't being very busy at all. Babbitty Bumble was sunbathing on my lawn whilst I was being busy with my housework. I haven't been to Mrs Tittlemouse's extremes it's true but I have washed and hung out three loads of laundry, made our bed, cleaned the bathroom and downstairs loo and purchased essential weekend supplies (three bottles of wine). I have yet to iron some shirts and do a bit of hoovering, oh and dust the dratted TV stand. My housekeeping busyness seems to be catching. Son number one is turning out his half of the bedroom he shares with his brother and has just come down for another bin bag.

How do these things get airborne?

Babbitty Bumble and Mrs Tittlemouse are, in case you don't know, characters from Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse. Mrs T was an extremely houseproud mouse whose efforts at spring cleaning her little home were thwarted by a rather unpleasant toad called Mr Jackson (if memory serves) and the aforementioned Babbitty Bumble Bee. Tiddly Widdly Mrs Tittlemouse tiddly widdly.

Thank you for your continued comments. Have a lovely weekend.

Spring Colour


Tuesday, 13 April 2010

First some floral colour mostly from my garden.

It looks like there has been a wedding in my front garden. Pink petals everywhere from the cherry tree.

These are my neighbour's pansies.

Not growing but cut, my treat whilst doing the grocery shopping at Waitrose yesterday.

And here is some of the crochet I've been doing with my Debbie Bliss cotton. I'm still not really sure what I'm making. I've made nine big multi-coloured granny squares using 11 of the 15 colours. I left out the orange, red, bright viridian green and the bright blue. I like them but I'm not sure they're right for my sitting room. I think it was a mistake to leave out those four bright colours. They would make a nice cushion cover but we aren't really a cushion household, C in particular finds them irritating.

 I like the little solid squares and I think they will make a successful blanket for the sitting room and will go well with my Rowan granny blanket. I haven't forgotten that I still have my blue ripple blanket to finish. I have a home in mind for that. Maybe a ripple is the way to go with this cotton. Oh decisions, decisions.....



Sunday, 11 April 2010

Good morning, it's a gorgeous spring day today here in my part of England, my cherry tree is snowing petals onto the front lawn. There's a new series of Foyle's War on the telly tonight and my team has been promoted to the Premier League so I'm happy! This time next year they'll be facing relegation again no doubt, but hey let's live for the moment.

Yoghurt making is my topic today. It's one of my fridge staples, cheap, wholesome and easy to digest.

I make a litre of yoghurt every couple of weeks or so. I use a simple electric yoghurt-maker* that keeps the milk at the correct temperature while the starter yoghurt does its magic. Making yoghurt yourself works out considerably cheaper than buying it. Another advantage to making your own is that it comes without those nannying use-by dates. I get to decide when it is no longer fit to eat.

 I eat it with apple, quince or damson purée. I make breakfast smoothies with it adding berries from the freezer. Son number one likes it with honey or lemon curd stirred in. I also use it in curries, with middle eastern style savoury dishes, in salad dressings, marinades and most frequently in baking -pancakes, muffins and cakes.

These are the three ingredients I use. The milk is UHT, you can of course use fresh milk but you need to bring it to boiling point and then let it cool before you can use it. Using UHT makes things slightly easier as it has already been heat treated. The dried milk is optional. I find it makes for a thicker yoghurt, so I add a couple of tablespoons. The starter yoghurt can be any natural, bio yoghurt. I like one made with whole milk. I use half a small pot for one litre of yoghurt.

Update July 2010

I now only use fresh milk rather than UHT. I've found that if I bring to boiling point and then let it cool to room temperature I can make successful thick and creamy yogurt.

The other half I freeze. Yoghurt doesn't defrost well but you can still use it for yoghurt-making. You could also freeze a fresh batch of homemade yoghurt in two tablespoonful amounts for future yoghurt-making. You can of course simply take a couple of spoonfuls out of your fresh batch to make your next batch but after about 5 cycles the yoghurt loses its yogging power and you need to buy or defrost fresh starter.

To make yoghurt you need to have everything very clean before you start. To do this pour a kettle of boiling water over the yoghurt container, the spoon and the whisk that you are going to use. Next put half a little carton (about two tablespoonfuls) of natural yoghurt in the yoghurt maker's container, add a couple of tablespoonfuls of dried milk and whisk till smooth and blended.

Whisk in a litre of milk. I like whole milk but any will do including soya milk.

Place the container in the yoghurt maker and switch on. Leave undisturbed for about 10 hours.

This is what it looks like after about 10 hours. I put it straight in the fridge and leave it until completely chilled.
Yesterday I used some to make a syrup-drenched yoghurt cake which we ate for pudding with cream.


*The model I use is this one.

Recipe for the cake adapted from Diana Henry's Cook Simple.

Make the syrup first by putting in a saucepan
10fl oz water
6 oz caster sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Heat gently stirring to dissolve the sugar, then simmer for 7 mins and leave to cool.

In a large mixing bowl put
7oz self-raising flour
4oz ground almonds
5½ oz caster sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder

Make a well in the centre and add
2 large eggs, beaten
9oz yogurt (Greek or ordinary plain)
5 fl oz sunflower oil
zest of 1 lemon
Mix together and pour into a buttered 8'' (20cm) springform cake tin. Bake at 180°c (160 in a fan oven) for 30-40 mins or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the tin for 10 mins then stab it all over with a skewer and drench it with the syrup while still warm.

I should point out that you don't need a yoghurt maker in order to make you own yoghurt. Simply keeping the warm milk at a constant temperature by wrapping in a blanket or using a thermos will work. This is much more hit and miss though and you will need to have the milk at the correct temperature first.

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