13.08

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And just like that, my favourite time of year has arrived!

Despite the berries seeming to be remaining stubbornly red and inedible for weeks up until just recently, the hedgerows all around the farm have suddenly exploded with ripe fruits. We’d been picking odds and ends whilst out with the dogs, purple-tinged handfuls to nibble on whilst we walked, but decided that a proper blackberrying excursion was in order if we were ever to have enough for making the first batch of jam of the season.

So in between Friday’s frequent bouts of thunder and rain, we donned wellies and raincoats, grabbed a few Tupperware boxes, and headed off towards the fields…

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The hedgerows around where we live are so wonderfully abundant, we were rewarded with a kilo of fresh, delicious berries that took us just half an hour or so to pick!

In fact, we must have gathered way more than a kilo, but the smallest member of our team was determined to eat as many berries as she could whilst we picked! She’s discerning about it too, a pro at spotting ‘big juicy ones’ and letting us know if we’d handed her a berry that was a ‘bit sharp’.

But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised- ‘backbees’ was one of the first words she ever said, and she was picking and eating them before she could even walk!

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My Mum always describes Ottilie as being an urchin, and I totally see her point! <3

I think it’s the mess of curls that never seems to be tamed (despite our daily attempts to brush, clip, and ponytail it…), her chin that forever bears the marks of whatever fruit she last ate (the battle to wipe it is a constant struggle!), and the permanent cheeky twinkle in her eye that does it. She’s just like I was as a child- forever slightly scruffy and at her happiest when outside. It makes me so happy to see.

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And it isn’t just Ottilie who loves blackberries, but Ted too!

He picks them from the brambles himself, disregarding the red ones and beelining for any that are plump, dark, and juicy. Isn’t he smart?

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With our boxes and tubs mounded high with berries and a little girl stained purple from face to fingertips, we headed home to get on with making a big batch of fresh blackberry jam!

Recently one of Jason’s Aunts recommended I track down a copy of one of Margeurite Patten’s preserving recipe books, advice I willingly followed not least because Auntie Sue has reputation for making the most delicious jams and chutneys! It’s the most old school book (with imperial measurements which always, always reminds me of cooking with my Grandma!), and a blackberry jam recipe turned out just perfectly for us. We couldn’t wait and tucked into one of the jars the next morning, spreading it thickly onto toast and pancakes at breakfast time. It’s completely and utterly delicious!

And since I’ve already got half a dozen more recipes bookmarked that I want to try, I think we might need to head back out and get picking again soon…

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Posted in AUTUMN, COUNTRYSIDE LIFE

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07.08

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If there’s any one vegetable you can always count on to be plentiful when growing your own, it’s the courgette. Last year I had three plants growing in the tiny garden of our old house, and such a bountiful supply I promised myself that in 2018 I’d cut back to just two plants.

But in reality? I’ve somehow managed to end up with five, yes, FIVE plants of differing varieties, and we’re picking an average of two courgettes a day. Last weekend we picked NINE. It’s madness, madness I tell you!

So what to do with them all? Well, we’re cramming them into just about every savoury recipe going (from risottos and pastas, to fritters and salads), I’ve made batches of pickles and chutneys, but my current favourite way to use these sweet summer squashes up is to bake them into a loaf cake.

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The cake itself is the simplest thing to knock up (even with the help, or hindrance, of a toddler), and is absolutely delicious too.

It doesn’t taste exactly of courgettes, in the way that carrot cake doesn’t taste exactly of carrots, but it does have a certain undefinably ‘green’ flavour that works so well alongside the freshness of berries or some citrus zest. I’ve been topping it off a simple lemon glaze more often than not, but this time, thanks to a distinct lack of lemons available in the house, I had to get creative with a few of the first blackberries of the season instead.

Simply warmed through, crushed, and then mixed with a small mound of icing sugar, it made the most delicious topping for the cake. And oh so seasonal, too!

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The recipe is one I’ve adapted from BBC Good Food, though minimally it must be said. Mainly through laziness (I didn’t have self raising flour first time I made it and so replaced with plain flour and just doubled up the baking powder), and also I’ve removed the sultanas because does anyone really want sultanas in a sponge cake? I think not.

Makes one loaf cake.

Ingredients:
350g courgettes
250g light brown sugar
125ml sunflower oil
3 large eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
300g plain flour
2tsps baking powder

- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and grease and line a loaf tin with parchment paper.

- Grate the courgettes, then put them all into a tea towel and wring out as much of the moisture as you can.

- Add the courgettes to a large bowl, and add in the sugar, oil, eggs, lemon zest (if using), and vanilla extract. Mix together. Tip in the flour and baking powder, mix thoroughly, and then pour the batter into the lined cake tin.

- Bake for 50minutes-1 hour, and then allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack.

- A simple and delicious glaze can be made by mixing icing sugar into fruit juice (lemon, orange, grapefruit, mashed berries…) until a smooth runny consistency is achieved. Allow the cake to cool completely before icing.

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If you have a go and make it yourself, do tag me in a photo on Instagram! I’d love to know how you get on!

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Posted in CAKE, COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, EATING SEASONALLY, FROM MY HOME TO YOURS, KITCHEN GARDEN, RECIPE, SUMMER

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31.07

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There’s something quite magic about stumbling across something edible, when out in the countryside. I’ve become a bit obsessed with scanning the hedgerows whenever we’re out on walks or driving along the lanes near where we live, watching out for berries or tree fruits or whatever’s in season at the time.

I feel so fortunate every day to live somewhere with such an abundance of wild foods available, and so inspired by our beautiful surroundings to learn more about what edible plants and fruits are growing all around us.

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It all began with wild garlic season back in early spring.

A chance sighting of a sea of glossy green leaves whilst driving along the lane about two minutes from home, a hasty stop, and minutes later Ottilie and I were picking as much as we could cram into a bag I found stashed away in my car.

Some went to making a batch of vividly green pesto that I froze into blocks for use over the months ahead (we’ve only just finished it!), and the rest was wilted down, combined with cooked fresh nettle tops that we picked from the uncultivated area of the veg patch, and used to fill homemade pasties for a delicious, iron-rich dinner.

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Next came the elderflower.

Side plate-sized sprays of delicate off-white blooms that arrived just as Jason’s hay fever did, leaving him so swollen in the face he looked as though he’d spent a weekend having Botox, not doing something as innocent picking flowers and turning them cordial.

Our rookie adventures in cordial making haven’t been as successful as I’d have liked though. We didn’t realise that we needed to add Campden tablets to give it a long shelf life, and so our bottles have all become cloudy and suspicious looking. It seems a waste to throw it down the drain, but I suspect that might be its sorry fate…

But we’ll try our luck with the berries instead when they ripen later this year. I’ve got plans to make elderberry syrup (apparently a potent homeopathic cold and flu remedy), and elderberry vinegar which, by all accounts, is the most divine cooking ingredient imaginable and as good as the finest balsamics!

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Above, sloes ripening on a blackthorn bush, and below the first of the windfall eating apples. We made sloe gin a couple of years ago and it was the most delicious, warming drink the following Christmas! Hoping we’re able to do another batch this year…

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And now, even though we’re only at the beginning of August, the late summer and early autumn wild fruit bounty is looking tantalisingly close to being ready.

The farm track up to our house is lined with both apple and (I think? I hope!) crab apple trees, as well as one tall and statuesque walnut tree. I’ve got grand plans for storing up a freezer full of stewed apples for pies and crumbles, and making as many jars as I can of delicious, cinnamon-flecked apple compote to store through the winter months.

And over from our house, around the stables and up the lane, are more blackberry bushes than we could ever hope to find. I’ve got the fondest memories of going blackberry picking with a little Ottilie on my hip last year, who insisted on a ‘one for me one for the pot’ rule for all the ‘backbees’ we collected together.

This year we’ll be picking blackberries with an Ottilie who can very much help herself, so it’s just as well there’s enough to feed the 5000 all around the farm or else we’d be lucky to get enough for a jar of jam!

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And now that I’ve well and truly caught the foraging bug, I’m so keen to know more about how to eat from the landscape around me!

Do you pick and eat wild foods? Has anyone read any brilliant books about foraging I should know about? And does ANYONE know where a girl can find a damson tree in the Surrey Hills area?!

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Posted in COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, EATING SEASONALLY

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04.01

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We did it, our first proper grown up Christmas where WE were the hosts! I’m still kind of in shock that I’m an actual real life adult with a toddler, but now that I’ve hosted Christmas and cooked lunch for 11? Well that’s it. Feeling pretty swish these days ;)

In all seriousness though, we had the best time having Christmas with our family in our new house. Jason and I worked out that this was the first time in eight (or is it nine? I lose track…) years of being together that we’ve stayed in one place for the whole of Christmas Day, and it was so lovely!

And having Ottie running round was just the best, she was such great entertainment all day as she opened up parcel after parcel of beautiful gifts and said ‘wooowwweeee’ each time. In typical toddler style of course, her favourite thing to play with at the moment, despite our living room now looking like a JoJo Maman store, is the jam funnel that she goes and pinches from the kitchen cupboard every morning after breakfast. She likes to carry it round and shout into it like it’s her own mini megaphone, and it’s hilarious and deafening in equal measure!

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Silk Spotty Blouse (now on sale!)

If you can believe it, this was the one and only photo of Ottilie and I from the whole Christmas! And isn’t it a corker! ;) It was taken right at the end of our meal, when Ottie had just woken from her glorious two and a half hour nap and arrived downstairs just in time to polish off a portion of peanut butter and chocolate pie!

Speaking of food, this was my first vegan Christmas, and honestly I barely noticed a difference! My favourite part of Christmas lunch has always been all the veggies anyway (Brussels sprouts! Braised red cabbage!), and my Mum makes the most delicious veggie stuffing so was in charge of that this year.

The only thing I ‘missed’ was that normally I’d eat myself until I was almost sick on cheese late in the evening, but as I’m not a major fan of most vegan cheeses (though want to make some nut cheeses this year, Tania raves about them!) this year I just had a few crackers and the tasty vegan garlic and herb cream cheese that Sainsbury’s sell, and then went all out on the chocolate instead!

For dessert I made Minimalist Baker’s chocolate and peanut butter pie, and it was amazing! I’d absolutely make it again, though with just a touch more sweetness added to the pie filling as it was ever so slightly too savoury from the peanut butter for my taste.

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Our Boxing Day was quiet and slow to start, with plenty of coffee brewed and rounds of toast made and panettone eaten by my husband who might be panettone’s biggest fan.

My Mum and her partner Rob had stayed the night at ours, and once we all were up, dressed, and ready to go, welly boots and thick coats were donned and we all wandered up the lane to stretch our legs and burn some energy off the dogs who’d been thoroughly treated with leftovers the day before!

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You know what goes great with a Boxing Day walk? A hip flask of two year old homemade sloe gin!

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We stopped for a good twenty minutes to give these darlings some Christmas cuddles, which is basically my favourite part about every dog walk these days! There are a couple of young horses in the field just up the lane from our house and they’re the sweetest, most affectionate little things. I could honestly stay there all day!

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Oh, and last but not least a photo from my birthday! Which is three days before Christmas and so I always forget about it all together in the hustle and bustle of preparing for the festive season, but I actually remembered to take a quick, very awkward outfit photo this year!

I’ve been telling everyone I’m 27 all year, for some reason, which is unfortunate given that I actually only turned 27 two weeks ago. But hey! I’m thinking of it as gaining a year! I spent most of my day working on a really fun last minute project that came in the week before Christmas, and then got spruced up and headed out for a pizza and cocktails with Jason later in the evening. It was perfect.

~ ~ ~

I hope you all had the very best Christmas, and a wonderful start to the New Year too!

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Posted in CHRISTMAS, COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, FAMILY

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