What shall I do with…? part 1

Tomato overload…

Some of you already know that I live in a little medieval market town, not far from the market itself. For many years, I’ve done the bulk of my food shopping there, which has saved us a fortune & provided us with plentiful good, fresh & seasonal food, with more variety than is available in most supermarkets. In some cases I was handing our money over to my children’s classmates’ parents, thus keeping our own local economy thriving.

Sadly the market has dwindled down to a shadow of its former self, and is due to close shortly, to make way for an exclusive “retirement village” or Granny Ghetto, as some have dubbed it. The fact that many of our own local elderly residents won’t be able to afford the “retirement lifestyle” and won’t be able to get to the relocated market, a mile out of town, evidently hasn’t tugged any heartstrings at planning permission level. So I’ll use these last few weeks of The Market to document some of the amazing bargains I pick up, and how I use them.

Today’s bargain was 18 x 350g punnets of Spanish cherry tomatoes for £3, i.e. 6.3kg, just tipping slightly into over-ripe territory. That’s quite a few… so far I’ve used 6 punnets in a big pot of tomato & coriander soup, along with two of the 8 courgettes picked at the allotment yesterday and one of our home-grown onions that had got a little bruised on harvesting. One more punnet has gone into a chilli this evening, leaving me with 11 to go. I was musing about whether to dehydrate some – still a possibility – but my Other Half’s face lit up at the mention of Tomato & Chilli relish. So that will be tomorrow’s major project, after producing our traditional Sunday roast dinner.

In other news, as son no. 3 always says, I have finally made the new curtains for our kitchen revamp. I’ve only had the fabric, a William Morris misprint, a mere – 3 years? – since we chose it! And there was some left over, enough to do 4 seat-pads for our eclectic mix of vintage kitchen chairs, using some foam that came up on our local Freegle group. Sadly there are actually 8 chairs, so now I have a dilemma – do I buy some more, or let the project rest now I’ve used up what I had, & get on with the rest of the kitchen?

An unusual use of a seat pad…

Putting a resolution into action…

Last night I woke with a start at 2am, as a random thought suddenly clicked into focus. I’d wondered a couple of times lately why the elderly chest freezer in the garage, which I’ve been meaning to defrost for months, had been switched to “super”, so I grumpily kept switching it back to normal. Maybe one of the girls needed to cool something rapidly & forgot about it? Maybe one of the cats trod on the switch?

No. In the dark of the night I realised that it was so iced-up it was running constantly, on “super” because normal just wasn’t maintaining the temperature any longer as warm air leaked in around the iced-up seals. So defrosting it suddenly leapt to the top of my “to-do” list & first thing this morning I was out there, hauling the contents out & stuffing them into a vast assortment of cool-boxes and insulating wraps – mostly old wool blankets. Luckily everything was still absolutely solid.

Then it struck me; oops, I had no idea how long some of the contents had been in there. It was high time for a good sort out… This freezer’s been great at keeping things very, very cold, but it is reaching the end of its expected life & showing the strain somewhat; I should be running the contents down & saving up ready to replace it within the year. So whilst it was defrosting enough to scrape the rest of the built-up ice off gently, I ran down to the market and invested in a notebook.

As stuff went back in, I logged it. I thought I only had a couple of packs of meat or fish in there; actually, there were 20-odd items. There’s cheese and butter. I thought I’d used the last of our home-grown beans up over Christmas, but there were 3 more bags in there. I’d completely forgotten the bags of grated golden courgettes, intended to bulk out soups & stews. There’s enough apple & pumpkin in the bottom to sink a battleship, and several bags of roasted butternut squash chunks. All of it carefully, lovingly & organically grown…

There’s no huge rush to use up the things I know only went in there a month or two ago, especially not as we still have trays of wrapped apples and several large squashes to eat up first. And the meat, not to mention the cheese, will see us through the next couple of months with very little need to visit a supermarket; the idea will be to use something from the freezer every other day at least. If I had a New Year’s resolution at all this year, it was to use up stuff that we already have; admittedly I was thinking of fabric & yarn, but it works across the board really. Here’s my chance!

Some of the other things had definitely been in there for longer than I cared to remember – raspberries, blueberries, & blackberries from 2018 or before, all of them market bargains or foraged from the hedgerows.  So I decided to make “Freezer Jam” with them, rather than let them go to waste.

I weighed the bags of fruit, then an appropriate amount of sugar – a little less than the total weight of the fruit; I don’t like my preserves too sweet – then chopped up the very last of this year’s quinces, hoping they’d provide at least a little pectin to set the jam. I chucked it all into my preserving pan & let it all melt down together. At this point I realised that some of the “blueberries” were in fact sloes, so had to stop & push the whole lot through a colander to remove the stones. But the taste was really gorgeous; deep, dark & tangy, well worth the extra work!

So now we have 5 full-size jars and 2 small ones of “Freezer Jam”. And yes, it seems to be setting just fine. When I made the Medlar jam, I said I hadn’t expected to be making jam in December. Well, I really hadn’t expected to be making it in January too!

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That said, there’s a bag of Seville oranges in the conservatory awaiting my attention…

Enough already!

I’m shattered. We’ve been lucky enough to have had a wonderful apple crop from the two big trees (an elderly Blenheim Orange and a Russet) this autumn; I remember worrying in Spring that it wasn’t getting pollinated, as I couldn’t see any bees on the blossom. However a couple of months later the kiwi fruit plant was humming with pollinators, so loudly that you could hear them from the road, so they are still out there somewhere.

IMG_3767 A huge apple crop is a mixed blessing; they need to be dealt with as soon as they fall, especially if they don’t have a soft landing, as many of ours don’t, and circumstances just didn’t allow that this year. So a young friend’s pigs benefited from quite a few sacks of windfalls.

We’ve filled all our wooden apple trays, and the freezer’s bursting at the seams. Some have been dehydrated, and many turned into chutney or a base for other jams. Those neighbours who didn’t see us coming in time have been issued with carrier bags full. The garden’s littered with windfalls again and I still have a big basket of undamaged hand-picked apples to process. It’s amazing how many interesting apple recipes there are out there to try; Toffee Apple ice-cream is a new favourite! But the best news is that the windfalls have attracted a hedgehog back to our garden, after several years of not seeing any evidence of them.

So the arrival of a large crop of tree-quinces too has not been greeted with unalloyed joy, delightful though they are! We had just started picking them – they’re usually a little later than the apples – when a gale hit last weekend and brought most of them crashing down. They may have been ready, but I wasn’t! Believe me, quinces are much harder than apples to peel & chop, even assisted by a food processor. My hands are aching! But the taste of Quince, Pineapple & Rosemary marmalade makes it all worthwhile… And I’m almost out of re-used jamjars again, despite a kind friend donating 3 large bags full.

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I’ve been up to some interesting projects over the summer and will post more about those shortly. I’ll also do a d-i-y Christmas Cracker tutorial, as promised last year. Now the evenings are dark again, I can mysteriously find time to sit at the computer again, rather than going for lovely long walks at the riverbank!

 

 

Following on…

… from “Another Cautionary Tale” where I acknowledged that many people are – somewhat cautious – about buying second-hand supplies and equipment, I’ve recently had a classic example come exploding into my own life. I was cruising our local charity shops looking for a little black cardi with ¾-length sleeves when I spotted something interesting hiding on a low shelf. An ice-cream maker… one of the very best makes, a Gaggia Gelatiera, not new but obviously not much-used, at about one-tenth of the original cost. PAT-tested, and that shop will refund without a fuss if things don’t work properly.

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Raspberry Sorbet under construction!

On a list of all the kitchen gadgets that are simply not necessary, ice-cream makers must come close to the top. But long ago I blew up my trusty Kenwood Chef, terminally, trying to make ice-cream, because I love good ice-cream, made with fresh ingredients that I can actually spell. We’ve made it a few times by dashing out to the garage, where the big chest freezer lives, and whisking frantically every now & then, but somehow we’d never achieved the smooth creamy deliciousness that I craved. I did consider saving up to buy a machine, but it certainly wasn’t a priority – and oh boy, did we need to prioritise! – and most of them didn’t make nearly enough for a family of seven plus the odd guest. I wanted one which did the whole job, rather than one where you need to freeze the bowl in advance; I knew I’d never be organised enough to put it in in advance, and if I left it in the freezer full-time, it used up space that could have been used to store food…

But now there are only four of us at home full-time. There’s a bit more space available, and I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can frequently get brilliant bargains on fruit, thanks to our local market. So I barely hesitated; at that price, it had to be worth a try…

It’s wonderful. We’ve made loads of ice-cream & sorbet, and are about to start on the frozen yogurt. The web is a fantastic resource; there are loads of recipes out there, but most have to be adjusted to the size of our machine, which can only handle 600ml of contents at a time, though it came with two spare bowls & paddles, so we can always do several batches, one after another. So far we have made Stracciatella, Chocolate, Strawberry, Strawberry & Prosecco, Gin & Tonic, Cherry, Cherry & Mascarpone, Pineapple & Mango Sorbet, Raspberry Sorbet, Blood Orange & Star Anise Sorbet, & Kiwi Sorbet, many of those more than once! Kiwi sorbet is the only one that hasn’t been that popular, and I think I may try a different recipe next time I can get about 20 kiwis for £1.

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A batch of Cherry Ice Cream ready for the freezer…

Last Sunday I was given, for free, a huge bag of very ripe cherries “for your chickens” as my favourite greengrocers were starting to pack their stall down. About a quarter of them were “going over” and did go straight to the chickens (who love them) but the rest were perfectly acceptable provided I could use them up swiftly. Luckily I have an old tool for removing the stones from olives; it also works on cherries. I froze a large tray of them for future reference, gave some away, made another batch of cherry ice cream, and turned the remainder into jam, along with a few strawberries that needed to be used up, the next morning. The ice-cream has been stashed away in the big freezer, and hopefully one winter’s evening it will tickle our tastebuds into believing it’s summer once more. That said, there are lots of autumn/winter ice-cream recipes out there (blackberry & apple, quince & pear, lovely spicy things) and we’re beginning to get confident enough just to try things out for ourselves.

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So there you are; sometimes a secondhand bargain can let you try something out which will turn out to be well worthwhile!

 

This really matters…

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Allotment-grown goodies…

Get Food, Growing, Cooking & Nutrition on the School Curriculum

OK, I’m back! This little petition request (above) popped into my inbox this morning, and really lit a fuse under my still-somewhat-sluggish mind. It’s a subject dear to my heart and woven throughout the fabric of my life; food, and the production thereof, is THE most fundamental factor in our collective health after clean water. Even above sanitation & the miracles of modern medicine; if you are healthy & well-nourished, you stand a far better chance of fighting back effectively should misfortune strike.

But what people seem to lack today is the power to make sane & sensible food choices, because they have no basis to make those choices except advertising from the manufacturers & purveyors of junk foods. Thanks to the steady downgrading & elimination of Home Economics, Domestic Science and the like from our school curriculum (subjects that enabled people to stand on their own two feet at home and often went far beyond that) many people actually seem unaware that they do have choices apart from what’s in front of them on the supermarket shelf, no matter how devoid of actual goodness it may be. Not to mention the fact that they usually have no time to spend pursuing more sensible (and usually more delicious) choices, or actually cooking them, or experimenting to get the best out of them. And many people lack the space & time to grow their own.

How can small local food businesses, selling decent produce, survive in a marketplace dominated by giant supermarket chains unless people know there are other choices available? How can farmers stand up to the ever-growing pressure to reduce costs by cutting corners if we don’t care enough to reward them?

How can children appreciate good food if they’ve never tasted it? We all know the battles we’ve been through to get reluctant children to try something new, something that their friends perhaps don’t eat, but we also know that mostly, with persistence, that battle can eventually be won. I have fond memories of administering a “green box” scheme, where the farmer delivered to & the customers collected from my doorstep; one of my sons, then aged four, would prowl up & down surreptitiously to identify the customers who didn’t like kale, then happily inform them that, actually, he did. Nine times out of ten, thanks to his big blue eyes, we’d end up with extra kale to stir-fry to crispy with garlic & soy sauce. Naughty boy! But he still loves kale now, aged twenty-six and halfway through a PhD…

It doesn’t just come down to money, although time is definitely a big factor. We all know people who eat well & thrive on a tiny budget, and people who have plenty of money but are suffering from all the ills that modern society can inflict on them. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who genuinely do not have enough money or resources to eat well, or at all, much to our collective shame; there are far too many, for far too many different reasons, mostly not self-inflicted. But for the vast majority of people whose weekly trolleys are laden down with junk, it’s lack of awareness that there is another way that’s hammering them, from both the health and budgetary angles. Or lack of confidence to at least try… and that’s what could so easily be addressed at a young age, if the political will to act is there.

To put it in terms that even a politician could understand: people cannot make sensible choices if they are not aware that there are choices…

It’s no good insisting that this education should take place in the home, when many young parents have never learnt themselves to cook or budget. This is not necessarily a new problem; witness my poor mother‘s experience. (Luckily for us, my “aunt” Ethel was a good & dedicated cook…) The lack of importance given to this subject for many years, the downgrading of domestic knowledge and inspiration, the idea that domesticity equals drudgery have all played a part in crippling us. As has the idea that seeking to make the best of the resources available to you is somehow “cheapskating” rather than just plain sensible.

Personally I think the time has come to get angry about this; we are all, or have been, suffering because we don’t know any better, or we’re not confident enough to try – and we could be, so easily…

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Home-grown tomatoes, home-made preserves…