Thursday, 29 September 2011

Sloe Jelly

I don't think I've ever seen so many sloes around. The gin is maturing nicely at the back of the cupboard and I've still succombed to the temptation of picking them.

I once made a sloe cobbler by accident, well when they are frozen they look very much like large blackcurrants! That is not a mistake I will make again - now I label bags of fruit  but my guests were very nice about it!

So no more cobblers. I cams across a recipe for sloe jelly the other day so I thought I'd give it a go. I've never done this before so it is a bit of an experiment.

My jelly bag will take up to 4lbs of fruit and coincidently that is about the weight of the sloes I have!


  • 4lbs of sloes
  • 1pt of water

First pick over the sloes removing any withered ones and any stalks and leaves. Place is a large pan  ( I used my preserving pan with a pint of water and cook gently for 30-40 minutes until the fruit is soft and the juice flowing.

Place the pulp in a jelly bag and leave to drain through- I left it overnight. Although it is very tempting to hurry things up by pushing it through with a spoon this will give a cloudy jelly. You need patience for a nice clear sparkly one.

It does look a bit Heath Robinson - they've changed the style of the stand and the new bags don't fit! The juice was worryingly cloudy even without squeezing but I decided to carry on.

 Once the juice has been collected, add 4lbs of sugar and boil until setting point is reached. Pour into warmed sterilised jars and cover and seal. This was where I started to worry about my recipe. I had just over 1pt of juice and 4lb of sugar seemed far too much.

I decided to revert to the more usual 1pt of juice to 1lb of sugar and I'm very glad I did! No idea what was going through the head of the original recipe writer unless they had jam using the whole fruit in mind? Well whatever. 

The  revision worked brilliantly and I now have two jars of  delicious sparkling dark red jelly. I was expecting the astringency of the sloes to come through but it really doesn't ( I sampled a bit when testing for the set!).

I will definitely be doing this again!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ents and Circles on a blustery day

Wet and windy in not so sunny Bristol but the forecast for mid Wales actually doesn't look too bad. Wales it is then and in particular the Pen y Beacon ( Blaen Digedi) circle which is just south of Hay on Wye. This is actually a 2 hour drive for us so we were taking a bit of a risk especially as we wanted to climb the Hay Bluff escarpment and on to Lord Hereford's Knob.

The circle is easy to find. Right by the car park in fact. There isn't however a lot of it left and it was only relatively recently classified as a circle. For many years it was considered a burial site.

 Only one stone now stands proud, the others are  much smaller and well hidden in the  ground. 

 The main stone has been carved by the Ordinance Survey ( why???) but just below the trig mark is what are believed to be cup marks which are very rare in this area.

Yes the car park is that close!

As you can see the sun is out but the wind was biting and by the time we'd reached the top of the Bluff, I'd had enough. Lord Hereford's Knob could wait for another day. Instead we headed down into the wooded valley. Although the paths were marked on the map, this proved to be somewhat challenging with missing sign posts and stiles festooned with barbed wire ( nice!) Still we persevered and were rewarded by some magnificent scenery, soaring red kites, bubbling brooks, some spectacular fungus growths and of course.....

.....the Ent. Isn't he magnificent?

ps - If anyone is up the Hay Bluff and finds a small black pearl earring - it's mine!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Autumn Leaves

Feeling inspired by the change of season so motivated to make something "pretty". I came across some pictures made by melting wax crayons which gave me a germ of an idea.

  • A piece of blue mountboard ( about A4 size)
  • Some cheap wax crayons
  • Some brown paper
  • Distressing ink
  • Paper leaves
  • conkers ( horse chestnut seeds)

Also need glue gun and a hairdryer.

First cut a tree shape from the brown paper. This is actually textured but you can't see that very well. Stick firmly to the mountboard and trim off the excess at the bottom if necessary.

Next I selected all the greens, browns and yellows from my packet of wax crayons and after removing the paper sleeves hot glued them to the bottom of the paper.

The next stage which I forgot to photograph ( it was a bit stressful!) was to turn the paper upside down so that the wax crayons were hanging down. Using the hairdryer  I melted the wax so it all ran together and down the paper. The crayons melted very suddenly and became much more funny than I expected so the effect was not what I had pictured in my mind but no matter.

The leaves are die cut form brown paper by a kind friend who has one of those clever machines. If you don't have paper leaves there is no reason why you couldn't use real ones.

I sponged then first with diluted distressing ink ( strong black coffee would also work fine) and then marked in the veins with undiluted in. The wetness of the ink causes them to curl up a bit which gave a very pleasing effect.

Finally I stuck on the leaves and the conkers  randomly with more hot glue and left to dry.

As a first attempt I am quite pleased with it - it wasn't what I was setting out to do, mainly because the wax melted much faster than I'd anticipated and was blown about by the hairdryer.

Next time I'd use a lower heat setting and make sure the blower was set to a minimum as the liquid wax was blown sideways rather than just running straight as I'd expected.

So Summer is over...

...and Autumn begins.  Although I'm not sure we have actually had a summer this year at least in the UK.

However be that as it may,  Happy Equinox to all those who celebrate it. I'm working on an expermental  seasonal craft project and will post some pictures if it turns out OK!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Chedworth Roman Villa

Just down the road from last week is Chedworth Roman villa, one of the largest Roman villas in Britain.


This one is in the care of the National Trust who have applied their usual heavy hand to it and as a consequence it has lost a lot of its ambience. Still it is neatly kept with concrete paths and trimmed grass and some nicely dumbed down signs....

Much of the site is currently closed for "redevelopment" and "improvement", these pictures are from a previous trip last year. According to their website they do seem to have now added a "Roman Retail Experience" whatever that means - I guess a shop selling souvenirs!

There are still some interesting areas - such as this domestic water shrine fed by a spring that never dries up. A small altar once stood at the far end and offerings to the guardians of the spring were made ( and still are judging by the number of coins in the pool)

Another interesting feature are the original Roman latrines. The NT couldn't resist adding a large coloured sign to interpret what they might have looked at in use. I've spared you that!

Leaving the rather sterile exterior, there is an on site museum which is much more interesting. Here are the statues and plaques of the household and other deities. Some are clearly carved and can be identified.  Others are fainter and have yet to be attributed. Some may be local God/esses whose names have been lost.

These alone make the trip worthwhile along with the reconstructive models showing the lay out of the villa and what it may have looked like.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Scenic Cotswolds

Dodging the forecast hurricane we made an early start whilst the sun still shone and headed to the pretty village of Withington in the Cotswolds. Unfortunately it appears that the world and his wife was out today and driving very slowly indeed so it was almost lunchtime when we got there.

 It seemed sensible to have lunch first under the circumstances and the village pub, The Mill Inn duly obliged. They also kindly let us leave the car in their car park when we went for the walk afterwards.

This is such a pretty village!

Lunch over we headed into the woods with the hope of seeing the Cross Dyke and the site of a medieval village. There is also a Roman villa there but it is buried peacefully under a field full of sheep and power lines so nothing to see, at least not from the ground.

The woods were magnificent. It is a good year for berries and the hedgerows were covered with hawthorn berries, sloes, blackberries, elderberries, rosehips, bryony  and crab apples. The hazels and oaks had started dropping their seeds and the ground was crunchy with beechmast. Truly a fruitful time of year.

I'm not sure if this is the Cross Dyke or not - it SHOULD be but I'm not 100% convinced. We were reasonably lost at this point as the paths are not well marked and some turned out to be deer tracks after a while. Map and compass and ideally a GPS are very useful at times!

As well as berries it is shaping up as a good year for fungi as well. We came across these 2 which I have yet to identify - any ideas anyone?

 This one too. It is in a bit of a state but it shows the creamy gills and the purple stem very well.  I'll add the names if anyone does manage to identify them for me.

Finally a nice view from the ridge. Not a walk then that was successful in terms of finding any archaeology but a nice day out none the less.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Apple and Blackberry Jam

Following on nicely from last week's blackberry blogging - here is what happened to the blackberries!

Plenty left  so what better way to pass a wet Saturday afternoon than to make jam out of them?

My recipe is very simple:

  • 1lb ( 500g) of chopped  peeled and cored apples
  • 1lb (500g) of washed blackberries 
  • 2lb ( Ikg) of sugar
  • 1 small lemon
  • 3floz ( 100ml) of water

Place all ingredients except the sugar into a large pan ( must be large, it will boil up a lot) and cook gently for 10-15 minutes or until the apple is soft. I tend to like chunky jam so I don't chop too finely so this stage can take a bit longer.

Whilst the fruit is cooking, prepare and sterilise the jars ( wash in hot soapy water, rinse well and place in oven heated to around 250f or 120 C until dry). Keep them warm until you need them.

Once the fruit has softened, add sugar, stir until dissolved and then boil rapidly until set point reached.*  Start testing after about 10 minutes. This jam cooks quickly.

Once set point is  reached remove from heat, stir and pour into the waiting jars. Seal immediately with a wax disk and tightly cover with a lid. Allow to cool and label ( I tend to skip that bit and can never remember what type of jam it is!)

 * to check for set point, stir jam and place a little on a cold plate. Once it has cooled prod  it gently  with your finger. If it is "done" the surface will wrinkle as you push. If it is still too runny continue to boil for another few minutes and try again.

Now that accounts for another lb of apples - just half a ton to go now!

Friday, 9 September 2011

More on the Four Thieves

Time to bottle the vinegar - well it should have been done a couple of weeks ago really but that's life.

It didn't look very appealing at all, The liquid has gone cloudy ( from the garlic) and is a deeply unattractive colour. The smell has mellowed somewhat but the waft of garlic is unmistakeable.

Once strained I put it back in its original bottle - the volume of vinegar has decreased quite noticeably.

No  I haven't tasted it yet! I'm looking for a volunteer......

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Blackberries and Mud - Worlebury Hillfort

Didn't want to venture far today after all the travels lately and after seeing some nice sea pictures on a blog I follow we decided to head to the nearest sea.

Well if you call Weston Super Mare coastal! This is the view over the Estuary - Some nice views of the Welsh coast too.

The tide was in so the bay was looking pretty picturesque  with the mud flats of the Severn Estuary hidden under the water.

 The walk took us over the headland at Woodspring Bay  and down on to Sand Bay. I enjoyed the first part of the walk but I'm afraid Sand Bay is not my kind of place. A long concrete promenade with lines of  retirement bungalows behind.  If I ever mention retiring somewhere like that then please shoot me first. It also brought home just how vulnerable this area of coast is to rising sea levels. If it wasn't protected by a long artificial earth mound then it would take only a small rise to flood acres of land.  To add insult to injury the promised pub was no longer there so that lunch was delayed.

Eventually we "escaped" the interminable prom and up into Weston Woods having spotted somewhere for lunch! The New Castle gave us some excellent cider and pannini which refuelled us. Taking stock we decided to abandon the planned route and  instead head up  into Weston Woods in search of the iron age hillfort. It is a long pull up but beautiful woodland, especially at this time of year with all the berries. A couple of pounds of blackberries just might have found their way into the backpacks ( I always carry foraging bags - just in case!).

At the tip of the headland we found Worlebury hillfort - allegedly one of the most notable ones in Somerset. The hillfort is iron age, on the site of earlier bronze age remains. Stone was extensively used for the fortifications and great heaps remain.


An interesting feature are the deep pits ( now partially covered with  blackberry plants) which are believed to have been used for food storage and later on as burial sites.

Having reached the end of the headland there was no option but to retrace our steps. Going back the views were very different. The tide had revealed the infamous mud flats and the sun had vanished behind forbidding grey clouds promising rain which duly arrived with a blustery wind signalling a rapid retreat to the car!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Slow Cooker Chutney

I've been making chutney in the slow cooker ( crock pot) for years. Much much easier than the conventional method as you just throw everything in and forget about it for the day. No standing for ages stirring a large pan of boiling vinegar with streaming eyes and the smell filling the house.

Almost any recipe can be adapted - the secret is to reduce the amount of vinegar to just a 1/2 pint as it doesn't have to evaporate off.

So for my apple chutney you need the following:

  • 3 lb cooking apples prepared weight
  • 1 lb onions prepared weight
  • 1 ½ lb brown sugar ( I use a dark one for the flavour and colour)
  • ½ pint malt vinegar
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper or fresh/dried chillies
  • 1 tsp cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 4 tsp sea salt

The recipe couldn't be easier.
Preheat the slow cooker for 20 minutes. I usually add the vinegar and sugar at this stage to let them warm through and melt the brown sugar as mine is usually rock hard!

Whilst the slow cooker is heating peel and chop the onions and apples. I use a food processor for the chopping bit.

Place all the ingredients in the slow cooker, stir well and cook on high for 10 hours or so or even overnight.

You may find that there is still a little too much liquid especially if the apples were juicy. Just boil off any excess for a few miutes in the conventional way.Put into warm jars whilst still warm and cover and seal. It is ready to use after a couple of months.

The slow cooker method allows the flavours to mingle during cooking for far longer than the conventional way and makes a delicious full flavoured chutney.

Other than the apples, onions, vinegar and sugar, all the other ingredients are optional and you can add, increase or leave out altogether depending on your own taste. I usually add more chilli  as we like it spicier.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Nuisance Neighbours are not a modern thing....

Still in South Wales, this was the intended subject  until the barrow and cave intruded so an extra one this week.

Near Cowbridge is the old Elizabethan manor house rather confusingly known as  Old Beaupre Castle. The house was originally built around 1300CE and extended  before final completion in the late 16C.

The Bassets who lived there were apparently on very bad terms with most of the neighbours and built a large sturdy gatehouse to protect themselves.

This is very imposing building indeed, even if the current inhabitants are the local sheep.

 Eventually and I guess much to the relief of the neighbours, the Bassets over extended themselves financially and were ruined.

Just down the road is what remains of St Quentin's Castle. Just a gate house really left and some traces of a wall or two. This date from mid 14CE and was possibly not even ever fully completed.

Not a lot left now but still a lovely setting and very sheltered from the usual howling gales.
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