peace breaks out, or at least a tolerance or sorts

Finally we have 2 pairs of chickens that are no longer drawing blood!
For about a week now they are putting themselves to bed, as long as we don’t interfere. If we are around they seem to faff about a bit, but obviously I don’t know what happens when we’re not around…
They have even been seen eating from the same sprinkling of bird seed.

old ones tolerating new ones, for a time anyway there was a little jostling over sunflower seeds

Still only one regular egg layer, hoppy, don’t know what has happened to scraggly/the other one/brownie she doesn’t seem to have laid for about 3 months, but that’s another issue. The two newbies seem to have laid an egg each, tiny little ones, each hen lays eggs of a certain shade of brown so although laid on different days I think they are different hens. The picture shows these alongside one hoppy laid a few days ago and a lighter for scale, hoppy’s was 96 g!

what a difference

We’re now just waiting for silver and bronze to chill and not flinch when the old ones look up, I’m sure that will come. One pleasant by-product of the change is that hoppy and scraggly don’t wander off down the drive anymore, they had started to wander quite a distance, silver and bronze haven’t discovered those delights yet and long may that continue. We’re so glad that after almost 5 weeks we can now feel happy about leaving them all out all day.


Friendship cake recipe or what to do with Herman!

Herman friendship cakes have been around for a while (sourdough of course goes on forever, apparently there is a bread maker in London using 170 year old starter), I remember a friend’s Mum making it back in the mid 80s.
One came round our town a few months ago and I took a bit of a friends… There was a recipe with it, and feeding instructions, involving a lot of stirring and counting days. I decided that enough people had it, some I know had had enough, so I thought I’d bake 3/4, and keep 1/4. I followed the recipe scaling it up (it was written for 1/4 – you’re supposed to cook 1/4 and give 2 away to friends) the resulting cake was enormous and quite bland so the next time I decided to change it. I also renamed the starter Dewi, as we are in Wales (Dewi is pronounced, around here, almost like doughy). After a few reasonable attempts I now have 2 good recipes to share, I hope you enjoy the results, we have.
The feeding regime provided on the sheet I got with it was not particularly straightforward, I forgot what day I was on, didn’t stir it for days and got in a muddle – but I didn’t kill it… So now I just feed it every 5th day, I don’t bother stirring in between and I cook it whenever I get round to it, usually after 2 feedings but once after 3 feedings and a couple of days… All have worked fine.


New feeding regime:
one cup = 175 ml = 6 floz
100 g plain flour
140 g sugar
175 ml milk
Add all to Dewi and stir, you don’t have to get all the lumps out.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel (a 2 pint /1 litre bowl is just too small and the tea towel will get a bit of Dewi on it when it bubbles up). Put it in a corner of the kitchen out of the way. DO NOT PUT IN FRIDGE, you’ll kill the yeasts/bacteria.

The reason for feeding it is of course to keep the bugs alive, (if the mixture doesn’t bubble a few hours after you have added the new stuff then it is dead!) There are benefits from eating starches that have been digested by a sourdough culture, it is apparently easier to digest and more nutritious.
So to the important bit…

Recipe 1 Chocolate and pear version:
You should have about 840-880 g of Dewi, save 1/4 of it, 210-220 g.
I use a 2lb loaf tin lined with baking parchment and a 20 by 24 cm silicon baking tray, or 2 2lb loaf tins and a 1 lb loaf tin all lined with baking parchment.
Oven heated to 180 degrees Celsius.

To the rest in a large mixing bowl add:
300 g self raising flour
400 g sugar
130 g sunflower oil
4 medium eggs
90 g sifted cocoa
Mix really well, you could use an electric mixer, but I don’t usually bother as the batter is really thick and elastic so it’s hard to wash the beaters, I just use a silicon spatula.

Then add the final ingredients when your oven is hot and the tins are ready.
I have used some pears that I had jarred a couple of years ago, not very tasty on their own but a nice texture in the cake, or you could use 1 or 2 tins of fruit or dried fruit or nuts, or not bother…
3 teaspoons baking powder.
Mix really well and quickly pour into the tins (the baking powder starts to work as soon as it is wet, so the longer it takes to get in the oven the less the cakes will rise), bake for 45 mins to an hour, until it is firm to the touch and a skewer when poked into the middle comes out clean.

Recipe 2 Banana and dried fruit version:

Method as above

300 g self raising flour
250 g sugar
3 medium eggs
130 g sunflower oil
Mix well.

Then add:
200 g sultanas or other dried fruit
2 large very ripe bananas (or 3 smallish or whatever)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 teaspoons baking powder
Mix well and pour into tins,
sprinkle a little sugar on the top of the batter to make a crunchy crust, and bake as above.

Take out of the tins after a little cooling and store when cool in an airtight tin or wrapped in cling film. They freeze well, and, because of the sourdough will keep for some time. (I have had one that lasted 3 weeks out of the fridge, though it was a bit dry by then!)

Please share any succesful versions you have tried, I’m always up for trying something new.

time… what happens to it?

Time is a strange thing isn’t it…
I have a lot of time at the moment, more than usual, which is great in some ways and challenging in others.
I should explain, since selling our business I have been working as a primary school supply teacher, erratic work, but relatively well paid and something I really enjoy. I am so lucky to have so much time to spend in the garden and I have the lovely long school holidays. That’s why I can spend so much time doing this blog at the moment.
TOWPCOE works fairly long and sometimes random hours, some time off in the day but almost always working on Saturdays and often in the evenings.
Back to time… sometimes it goes so quickly and at other times it seems to drag. Now we’re coming to the end of the summer holidays and I wonder where all the time has gone and when I am going to finish the long list of things to do, some of which didn’t get done last summer holidays…
I have found that if I arrange to do at least one thing for or with someone else it helps to get the day started. I seem to do a lot more if I have a few deadlines to meet. I suppose most of us are like that, it must get ingrained very early on in life.
Yesterday what really got me moving was seeing TOWPCOE’s parents who live nearby, I have been helping them informally with their garden in the last year, but now they need some more regular help so I got stuck in straight away and cut the grass, very wet and slippery. A couple of sheep had got in recently and there were big deep hoof prints in the more soggy areas. While I was there a friend’s children called me to take them swimming, which I had offered to do a couple of weeks ago, so all of sudden I was in a rush and life felt good again!
I stayed with an old friend over the weekend, great to see them and catch up, went to the beach and ‘did’ a day out at an open air museum, all fun. But I had a great time helping them get the garden cleared up for a child’s birthday party, which involved emptying and scrubbing out their (above ground) swimming pool amongst other things. Like I said I really enjoyed it, I think there may be something wrong with me… The Protestant work ethic seems to have got in really deep, must have been my Granny and Scottish Presbyterian Church ’til the age of 7!

yoghurt making

I have been making yoghurt for about 3 months now. I remember my Mum doing in the 70s or early 80s before plain yoghurt was so widely available.

the finished product, in a 1kg tub, (flask and lid ready to be washed)

I was prompted by our local (well 3/4 hour round trip) Sainsburys discontinuing the large pots of plain organic yoghurt. We try to do as much as is reasonable of our shop locally, milk, vegetables, fruit and meat, but had been doing a supermarket shop every 3 weeks or so, with the small tubs not only would the cost go up, but the fridge space occupied would be too much, especially with the vegetable glut season approaching… So I researched it on the net and got to it. Now I’m making yoghurt the supermarket shop has stretched to every 4 weeks or so, result!

You will need
a thermos flask, I have one for food with a plastic lining that I got years ago, you could use a ‘normal’ one but use a soft spatula to get the yoghurt out of the narrow neck.
a thermometer of some kind, a jam/sugar thermometer would be ok, I have an electronic one with a metal probe (also very good for jam and testing when a large piece of meat is cooked)
a saucepan
a whisk
a bowl
milk, I use organic, up to you, it can be skimmed or full fat, that depends on your taste and /or waistline!
some skimmed milk powder, optional, I have tried with and without, see notes later on
a dessertspoonful of live yoghurt (bought – any ‘probiotic’ one will work and once you have got going use some of your last batch).

yoghurt straight out of the flask, left to settle for 5 minutes so you can see the liquid that separates out, (and my 0.85 litre flask)

It takes 1.5-2 hours to do, although you’re not busy all the time don’t start it just before bed!
It’s made in 12-24 hours, 12 hours gives a more mild taste, 24 slightly stronger. I tend to do it in the evening when I am in the kitchen anyway, then it’s ready the next morning (though still warm so not so good to eat straight away) and if I forget it in the morning we usually find it early in the evening when cooking.

Start by measuring enough milk (using the thermos) about 2 cm below the top, pour it into the pan. Add skimmed milk powder I have started to use 35g, the original recipe I read said 45g, if you don’t use any you will get a thinner yoghurt. Gently heat the milk to 85 degrees celsius meanwhile warm the thermos with a bit of boiling water put on the lid. When the milk is 85 degrees, pour out the water and pour in the milk quickly seal and leave for 30 minutes. If you forget it it doesn’t seem to matter. * see below

After 30 minutes pour the milk back into the pan, leave it to cool to 46 degrees, it takes about 25 minutes to cool, meanwhile keep the flask warm with a little boiling water and the lid on.

When the milk has cooled (if it cools too much just warm it very gently again), to 46 degrees add the dessertspoonful of yoghurt and stir or whisk, quickly empty the hot water from the flask and pour in the milk mix. Leave in the sealed flask for at least 12 hours, up to 24 hours.

When you are ready empty the contents into a bowl, whisk until smooth and transfer to a container and chill in the fridge, it doesn’t seem to separate even after a week or so, (it never lasts longer than that here). It is possible to strain the yoghurt at this point to get a thick more greek style yoghurt, I haven’t tried it yet, when I do I’ll add a section about that.

whisked and smooth, yum yum

* It turns out that holding the milk for yogurt at ’about 85°C’ and ’holding it there for about half an hour’ both pasteurises the milk very thoroughly and ’denatures the whey proteins to some extent, unfolding the initially compact molecules into longer structures that increase the viscosity – thicken the texture – of the liquid. And in the case of yogurt, it results in a firmer gel that is less prone to separating into curds and whey.’ (thanks to Paul Marsden online for that brief synopsis of Harold McGee).

Things that can go wrong!
There is too much milk or froth that leaks out of the top of the thermos when you tighten the lid, just wipe off the excess, it might smell a bit of off milk, but shouldn’t get in the yoghurt when you pour it out.
I have forgotten the cooling milk and left it overnight. Warmed again, it seemed fine, though may have picked up some spurious bugs, I have refreshed my culture since by buying a fresh pot of Yeo Valley.
At about the same time the yoghurt went a bit grainy, I thought this may be because I had got a bit sloppy, heating it quickly and letting the milk boil, but it may not have anything to do with overheating… Maybe the extra bugs are what have been making us fart a lot! I thought it was an excess of peas and broad beans!

I hope this is useful, please comment if you have something to add…

Curing the graininess
So after a few more months of yoghurt making I think I have sussed out what was going on to make it grainy.
I have slowed down the heating up to 85 degrees and have made sure it NEVER goes above 85.
I have also found that cooling the milk in a sink of cold water is a great way to speed up the whole process. We have lovely thick and smooth yoghurt again.

gradually getting better…

So after over 2 weeks the TOP DOG (hoppy or hopalong since her bumblefoot last year, another post about chicken surgery at home seems appropriate at some point) seems not to be getting at the new ones, but now ‘the other one’ (she has been called the other one for quite a while, we should rename her really as the two new ones have names!) has started. TOWPCOE thinks it may be that she now has to establish her second rung on the pecking order, lets hope it’s a bit quicker than last time.
After a desperate phone call for some advice from the breeder we let them all out last Tuesday, it was quite tricky getting them all back home, as the new ones were still wary of us, and pretty terrified of the old ones. It has got a bit easier, the second night we had to leave silver in an arc outside til it was dark, another night the old ones got home first so herding the new ones into the run so they were all together was a bit of a hassle, silver was hunched down out in the run after dark, I just picked her up and popped her inside.
One evening the new ones went in the coop early, I shut the door so they were safe and left the run open for the old ones, after we came back from the pub, I had to climb in the run to get them from the far end and pop them into the coop, without kneeling in all the shit, not an easy task.
I love the way they go floppy after dark, however used to being handled they are hens always seem a bit tense but at night there’s no resistance at all.
Once last year the door of the run had been shut to mow the grass so they couldn’t put themselves away when we were out, TOWPCOE found one hunched up in the porch, one under our massive redwood, but the third was nowhere to be found, luckily there was no fox or badger around that night and she turned up in the morning… So as long as the new ones are tempted in first the old ones seem to manage to wait, but we have to get to them just before dark or who knows where they’ll end up roosting.
This afternoon they were all about 5 metres away from each other with no bickering, though I don’t know what happened when I walked away!
I have just put the new ones in to have a good feed before the others go in, as it seems the old ones don’t let them out of the coop and therefore no access to the layer pellets until we let them out in the morning. I gave them some cheap pasta cooked up tonight, something different in a white box as they were getting a bit bored of wild bird seed, and are learning to follow a white box at least within their comfort zone. For the rest of the day they are free ranging and eat all sorts of stuff, (another post about odd things that chickens eat will appear at some time).
The new ones are not venturing far from the run yet. I tried to tempt them a bit further, with bird seed in a white box, to the door of the polytunnel today, where there is a lovely big dry dustbath hole but no luck. They’ve started their own under the currant bushes, but with all this rain there’s not a lot of dust!

Wow what a show!

So it was The Show on Saturday.

For those of you who are unlucky enough not to live in rural parts you may not have experienced an Agricultural and Horticultural Show. I know there are Horticultural shows all over Britain, you hear stories about them, where people compete for the biggest leek or the heaviest pumpkin – encouraging the growing of inedible vegetables has always had me a bit puzzled. But when we first moved here 9 years ago I was impressed by the diversity of stuff at our show. For the first time I realised that there were different types of sheep, excuse my city ignorance, there are some whose heads/faces resemble camels, some calves, some rabbits… There are also goats and poultry on show as well as horses – breeds, shires, mountain ponies and cobs, hunters, carriage driving, jumping, dressage and gymkhana games and a full on dog show. Then there are the horticultural, craft and cookery sections, this is where I get involved in a small way. All the photos are of the inside of the marquee where they are all displayed, next year I’ll take some pictures out and about…

one end of the marquee

and the other end…

For entertainments in the ring – there were stunt bikes this year, (horses last year), a parade of 30 odd vintage tractors and trucks, this year a Donkey Derby for the ‘great and the good’ of the area to risk their necks, terrier racing – where you bring your own dog to chase a ‘hare’ on a string, a small fun fair with rides and games, a children’s area, zorbing and bump balling, bands playing, punch and judy, a cookery theatre, (new this year, I wish I had checked this out but I was a bit distracted!) All of the local businesses have stands from tractors to handmade jewelry, the local charities and of course catering.
Last year I did a lot of watching, the horses and dogs, (friends’ children competing) this year I retired to the beer tent quite early in the afternoon and as a consequence missed much of the provided entertainment. Next year I will make more of an effort, there is just too much to be able to see everything which is I suppose why it is such a good show, something for everyone.

photo section in background, with some carved walking sticks

For the last few years it has also hosted the All Wales Sheep Shearing Finals, and this year was the 100th Sheep Dog Trials. Last year I heard that there had been attendance of 5,000, pretty amazing for the least inhabited area of Wales, and what a day out. TOWPCOE who was working all day so couldn’t go, was sat outside the pub at 6ish and locals who have grown up with the show and maybe haven’t been for a few years were saying what a good one it was this year and how they wish they’d spent more time down there.

I first started entering vegetables into the show quite soon after we had moved here, I have a feeling it is in my blood, (skipping my parents), from my grandparents who were all keen gardeners. Our aim with the garden is to grow all sorts of stuff to eat and encourage as much wildlife as we can. Starting with a polytunnel that was already here, (or we would have never got round to it whilst running the business,) we concentrated on the expensive things like peas,

local section peas, no prizes for me

open section peas, 2nd for me the others were of a more even size

broad beans, cucumbers, salads and of course the mainstays, tomatoes, courgettes and runners. We don’t do potatoes as we don’t have enough soil, (though next year I might do the 3 gallon bucket with 1 potato plant, weighing in the crop on the day of the show).

I have been entering whatever I have been growing each year.

a new category last year I think, better than the 2 lettuce category, which is such a waste as 2 whole lettuce wilt all day in a hot marquee

As the years have gone on and I have been able to spend more time in the garden the number of my entries has gone up. I do not go for specific ‘show’ varieties or do anything special for the vegetables I might enter. No growing carrots in sand in a drainpipe for me, life is too short for that sort of effort. Though I did try to get my runner beans in earlier this year, even with the polytunnel I didn’t have any full grown beans last year, mind you it didn’t work, they were just as short this year!  The hens didn’t do well this year, (1st prize last year for one), only one laying at the moment and no prize for her, but I did get a 3rd for my hot green tomato chutney.

mine are the short ones at the front, no prizes again this year, this seems to be one of the few categories where size really does matter!

Last year I did really well, winning enough prizes (and prizes do mean cash!) to easily cover the cost of entering the categories, the entry fee for the show, my snacks and a beer or two.  This year was even better!
I have been congratulating a certain local lady every year for winning one of the cups and had thought that my chances were very slim until she was no longer entering.

the cup for open sections

However this year I entered enough of the 60 odd categories in the open section to collect enough points to win (jointly) the cup for the most points in the open sections of vegetables and flowers.

prize-winning gladioli, next year I will enter both open and local sections

Not a mean feat considering I didn’t enter any flowers in that section, (I put them in the local section there are only 36 categories in that section). I didn’t think I had a chance in the open section, (more serious growers, including the joint winner who mainly grows dahlias of all sorts and shapes). Had I done for flowers what I do for vegetables – that is paying to enter both sections and put the veg in the section with the least entries, I would have won outright as there were no other gladioli.
Considering it’s been such a poor year for all vegetables around here I was stunned, but a poor year for me means a poor year for everyone I suppose. My seed germination was rubbish this year no tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, peppers at all. My tomatoes are mostly from a lovely lady in Borth who got hers going very early on and gave me 8 plants, they are a lovely variety of plum toms, I had the first few ripe ones yesterday from the polytunnel, and a couple of bought plants.

wow, I couldn’t have competed with that on a single truss

Courgettes are both from bought seedlings but did well in the show, but what did really well this year was the onions, I have never grown them before. I grew some from sets and some from seed which I sowed last summer and planted out this year.

my local section onions, the red ones…

the ‘onion cup’ winning onions, next year maybe that one will be mine!

The ones from seed were very satisfying though the picture didn’t come out (I think i have a dodgy button on the camera as there are quite a few pics missing, or maybe it was the beer!) Another great winner this year were shallots, I tried these last year for the first time and was dead chuffed at the lack of input needed, they were great and I entered them into the ‘group of vegetables’ in both local and open sections.

shallots and more onions, alongside some small broad beans and mangetout, 1st again

Garlic is something we have been self-sufficient in for the last 3 years, our harvest was 130 bulbs this year, all small, we have friends nearby who have grown the most enormous crop, puts ours to shame but it should be enough for us for the year – over 2 bulbs a week. I got prizes with it last year, despite the judge saying I had displayed it wrongly and should tie the tops like the onions. This year where I got 3rd prize,

open section, any veg not otherwise in schedule, I must ask them to add garlic!

the 2nd prize were bigger healthier looking garlic but not tied, not such a fussy judge.

Beetroot have not done that well again, the second year I have grown them, not enough water I reckon, perverse in this weather, the drawback of a polytunnel is the watering. I was told last year that ideally they should be the size of a tennis ball, so didn’t hold out much hope for my baby specimens, the bigger ones went into the local category

mine are the little ones front left

no prizes here but bizarrely in the open section some even smaller got 3rd, we cooked them all up yesterday and they taste sublime, baby beetroot are the way to go.

tiny things, I like the look of the long ones

I thoroughly enjoy myself, setting everything up in the morning, in a rush and late as usual. Seeing what other people have grown, admiring the crafts and cookery, all the effort put in from exhibitors let alone the what the organisers do for us all gives me a real boost.

some of the flower categories

and more…

some floral art

I have been trying to enthuse my friends to enter, it may mean fewer prizes for me, but it’s such a buzz seeing the results of the hard work you put into the garden in a big surge, whereas normally it gradually gets picked and eaten with no great fanfare. Bringing all the veg home, (I did leave the wilted salad leaves!) on foot because of the beer, I realised what a weight of veg was involved.

Maybe next year I’ll manage to get more people to enter. You never know I might win the cup as well, but that isn’t what’s important, (honest). Maybe TOWPCOE wouldn’t agree with me, it was observed  that it’s a while since I’ve been so smiley, it makes up for the grim weather for most of the summer. The celebrations continued for me well into the evening…