Freeee foooood!

Pumpkin, green pepper & spring onion soup

Once again it’s that time of year, when people leave perfectly good food lying around on their doorsteps for days, until it goes mouldy, then throw it away. We are a very strange race…

So here’s a link to a rather nice local story. It just so happens that Venus is a friend of mine, and we have been lucky enough to be given a portion of one of the heroic pumpkins in question. There’s a lot of good eating in a decent pumpkin & they’re “a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Pantothenic Acid, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Iron and Manganese.” (Quoting from Most people I know have at least one good pumpkin recipe, usually Pumpkin Pie or soup, but there are plenty of others out there. Here’s one of my favourites, which makes 3 delicious loaves; one to eat, one to freeze, and one to share.

Spicy Pumpkin Bread:

Dry Ingredients:

4 cups of grain flour – I used 2 of spelt flour, 1 of fine oatmeal and 1 of cornmeal
2 cups sugar – my original recipe, an amalgam of 3 old ones, called for 3, but 2 works just as well if you ramp up the spice a little
1 tsp salt. Yes, it does make a difference.
2 tsps bicarb of soda
1 tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice & ginger – you can play around with these quantities.
1 cup dried fruit – raisins, sultanas, cranberries, currants, cake fruits – whatever you’ve got.
1 cup nuts & seeds – pumpkin & sunflower seeds, flaked almonds, walnuts, pecans – any or all!
A sprinkle of demerara sugar.

Wet Ingredients:

2 cups cooked pumpkin – pressure-cooked or roasted, scraped clear of skin
1 cup oil
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla


Set your oven to heat up to Medium/Gas Mark 4/160℃. Combine & mix the dry ingredients until lumps & clumps have gone. Mix the wet ingredients; a hand-whisk is fine. Combine wet & dry ingredients & stir well, then pour into 3 x 2lb loaf tins. Sprinkle with demerara sugar & cook for an hour, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Freezes very well, makes a good on-the-hoof breakfast, and makes a great pudding served with cream or custard, as well as being very satisfying just served warm with a cup of tea.


And here’s a very off-the-cuff idea; when you’ve just nipped up to the shops for a tub of bicarb, and the heavens suddenly turn black & disgorge the opening volley of our annual monsoon, and you’ve left your hat on the kitchen table & your brolly in the umbrella stand, what do you do? You take the standard supermarket carrier bag you’d stuffed into your pocket, rip it open down one side, tie the two bottom corners together, pop it over your head with the knot at the top, and tie it by the handles at the back. Voilà! A have-a-go rainproof turban!

Luckily none of the Offspring caught sight of me…

Best of British…?

As those of you who know me personally know, whilst DS3 is studying in Chile, I am making use of the space he isn’t using to try to earn the money to go out to visit him. To that end I’ve spent the last few weeks emptying his room of all the shop & other debris that had come to rest there & redecorating it. As the lovely old sash window in there doesn’t “fit” properly any more following a doomed attempt at revamping it, I also made up a roman blind from two inexpensive remnants of rather-exclusive furnishing fabric, an old slatted blind & some leftover calico. Although I didn’t get the slats quite straight, I’m really quite pleased with the result (for £11.50) & hope it will make the room far more pleasant in winter as it’s 3 layers thick & fits the window recess very snugly.

So now we have a young German student staying for 2 weeks in there. He’s a lovely studious lad who DS3 would have got on with very well. This is the first time we have played “host family” as we’ve never had any spare rooms until now, and I’ve been perplexed by some of the instructions I’ve been given; to start with, the organiser told me, “Don’t go to any great trouble with food; they don’t like British food anyway, so just get in some extra pizzas – you know, the sort of thing teenage boys like.”

Hmm – here we are, in the middle of some of the UK’s finest farming country, with easy & relatively cheap access to some of the best fresh food that Britain has to offer. Surely we can do better than additive-laden supermarket pizzas? And these kids come from rural Germany’s agricultural heartland; I was saddened to find that his parents had sent him with a suitcase full of vitamins & fibre supplements. They had evidently been forewarned that British food was awful… it seems it’s a self-perpetuating situation! They don’t like British food, so only offer them the very worst of it because they’re not going to eat it anyway. Bless the boy, he’s tucked happily into pasta, rice, potatoes, pancakes, chicken, eggs & vegetables, which is the sort of thing he likes best & we eat all the time, and hasn’t cost us a penny in extra pizza rations!

I’ve had many friends who have tried doing this in the past, and I’m well aware that we have been very lucky in “our” undemanding student, but one constant complaint has been that they’ve cost more to feed than you’re paid to have them. This is definitely not going to be the case with ours! I’m also aware that I’m very lucky to be in a position to make huge economies of scale when it comes to catering; I can scoop up a big bag of parsnips, say, for £1 towards the end of Sunday’s market, and know that I will have no trouble at all using them up before they become inedible. Though if there were only one or two of us, I’d still buy them, and preserve the ones I couldn’t use straight away.

And the preserving season is going into full swing now; hardly a day goes by when I’m not out foraging for more wild food, making jam, jellies, butters or curds, loading my dehydrator or trying to hollow out more space in the freezer. It’s an awful year for apples & figs down here, but the cherry plums are so laden that we’re in danger of losing more branches, the quinces have done OK, the Japanese Wineberries have exceeded all expectations, the raspberries seem to have got a second wind, and if the weather stays reasonable for a couple more weeks, it promises to be a bumper blackberry crop. So I shan’t repine for my missing Blenheim Oranges, but will make the most of what I’ve got, and be utterly thankful for the freedom to get on with it this year!

A good haul today…

I just nipped into the Tip in passing today, to see whether they by any chance had any last-minute Japonica quinces; I think I’ve denuded the entire neighbourhood of them now. No quinces, but there were a fair few other bargains to be had:- 

  • a wicker basket for my stall. Stuff looks far better, and is easier to transport & display, in  containers, and wicker looks the part nicely on top of my rescued red velvet ex-curtains.
  • a bag full of splendid pelargoniums to brighten my conservatory windowsills over the winter & give plenty of cuttings for next summer’s windowboxes.
  • another armful of tins; I do have enough now, but a friend is collecting up good quality kitchware to do a market stall of her own. These are very attractive, worthy of display in their own right.
  • a sturdy solid wood chopping board.
  • two intact “Bodum” cafetieres, small & mid-sized.
  • some good-quality utensils for my friend’s stall – an easy-clean garlic press, a sturdy stainless steel corkscrew, and a tin-opener that’s so good I may not hand it over! And some smooth, sturdy old wooden spoons, and a couple of rather nice pastry tins.
  • more jamjars. I know there are more quinces out there somewhere

The reason I’ve been hogging all the quinces & jamjars is that Transition Town Wimborne are doing a stall at the Charities Fair at the Allendale Centre this Saturday. My contribution will be a “preserves” tombola & taste-testing – hopefully that’ll be an eye-catcher, raise us some funds and raise people’s awareness of just how much free food is going to waste in the hedgerows & gardens all around us… as well as lightening the load on our garage shelves!

Quince marmelade…

…why didn’t anyone tell me….? *** Wow…! ***

My 2 young Cydonia quince trees are giving a bigger crop each year, and I was given 2lb of Japonica (Chaenomeles) quinces too. I kind of knew that the original marmelade was made with quinces, so I consulted some of my venerable rescued recipe books, had a go, and now I’m wondering why on Earth I spend so much on Seville oranges every year! I mixed recipes a bit, but have ended up with something I want to repeat, which is just as well, because I knocked on a neighbour’s door this afternoon & came away with another 4lb of Japonicas…

Basically I cut the 2lb of Japonicas in half & stewed them gently in 3 pints of water until they were very soft, then mashed them a bit. I poured the resulting brew into a muslin cloth over a sieve on a saucepan and waited until the dripping had subsided. As I wasn’t going for a clear jelly, I also gave it a gentle squeeze.  Then I added a shake of cinnamon, the juice & zest of 2 lemons and 3 lbs of sugar, heated gently & stirred occasionally whilst the sugar dissolved. In the meantime I grated 1lb of the Cydonia quinces, co-incidentally using up all the slightly-damaged ones that wouldn’t keep. (If you’re after jelly, or just don’t have any tree quinces, you can skip this step and just use the same weight of sugar that you have of quinces.) I added the gratings to the syrup and let it simmer gently until the grated quinces became translucent. Then up went the heat until it reached a rolling boil, into the oven went the clean wet recycled  jars & lids to scald, and about 20 minutes later it reached setting point. I waited a bit until it had started to congeal, then stirred well to redistribute the quince shreds, then into the hot jars it went.

When I poured it into the jars I couldn’t believe what a beautiful red-gold colour it had gone; both kinds of quince have yellow skin, with flesh best described as dark cream. There was only a tiny shake of cinnamon, and I used plain ordinary cheap white sugar; where did that glorious colour come from? It’s clear  like marmelade, and tastes even better; tangy, clear, sharp & sweet at the same time, a real wake-me-up taste. Can’t wait for breakfast time tomorrow!

I’m shattered…

… and I’ve got a horrible cold. But I’ll live, I expect. In the last few days I’ve made two gallons of homegrown plum wine & poured it off its pulp and into demijohns, which are actually rocking, so wildly enthusiastic is the fermentation. I’ve made crab apple jelly with apples from the riverbank, and turned the fruit pulp from both projects into a spicy chutney. I’ve finished two shawls, sent another load of sewing machines off, and had a massive chuckout.

We did a car boot sale at the weekend, and did rather well; I donated the leftovers to another ‘booter through Freecycle as we have quite enough stuff cluttering up our lives, but it was too good to ditch. But one of the other emails I received touched my heart, so I sorted out some more halfway decent stuff to give to him too. Then, because I was going down with this cold and therefore stuck at home, I started to sort the porch out so that I can store my e-shop stuff out there. This produced another load of halfway decent stuff as well as a car load of absolute rubbish, so the second ‘booter came back for another helping. Today I got stuck into the airing cupboard, which is a) very small and b) located in the smallest bedroom, which means that whichever of the offspring is in there also has to have everyone else traipsing in & out for sheets, pillowcases etc. So I invested in a massive linen press from IKEA , having waited several years for something suitable to turn up secondhand. Nothing else was big enough, in the end, so I capitulated and bought new. I’ve transferred all the day-to-day bedlinen into that, which is out on the landing, and put the longterm bedding – mattress protectors, spare pillows, spare duvets & guest bedding – into the airing cupboard instead. Most of that had just been cluttering up our bedroom previously.

The back of the airing cupboard produced another carload of stuff that was quite simply well past it. A few items worth Freecycling, but most just ragging, to be honest, so that’s gone off now too. And when I did the crab apple jelly, I realised that I had way too many Kilner jars too. So I Freecycled a dozen; again, I had hordes of emails. The first came from someone I know, so I said they could have them. But then came a reply from a friend, too… I thought I still had more than enough, so I said she could have some too, but when I counted them, that would have left me with just two. However, when I took some of the rubbish produced from my clear-out down to the Tip, sitting there on top of an old filing cabinet was another box of Kilner jars… so there are enough for all of us after all. But not for everyone that asked – which just goes to show that one person’s landfill is another person’s treasure.

Now I just need to keep up the momentum. Perhaps I should be ill more often!

When life starts blowing raspberries at you…

…get out your preserving pan!

A couple of the stalls at our local market are happy to give their “unfit for human consumption” greens away to local pet owners, and I’m a regular beneficiary of this bounty; my chickens eat “freegan” greens for 5 days out of 7, most weeks, and roadside dandelions or allotment weeds for the rest of the time. And once in a while, a little work with a sharp eye and a knife leaves something I’m happy to feed to my kids too; we had a very good stir-fry last weekend that only cost about £3 to feed seven people, thanks to a sack of sweetheart cabbages that weren’t nearly as grotty inside as their outer leaves suggested.

Anyway, today I was given a sack with a load of broccoli on top, some of it clearly still very palateable. I duly thanked them and started home, but something was drippping from the bottom of the sack – red juice. Beetroot, I thought. But when I got home & opened it up, there were hordes of cartons of squished raspberries; there were a few little flecks of mould and quite a few flecks of wandering broccoli, but when I’d sorted through I was left with 1.8Kg of squashy but useable raspberries. Jam time! Luckily I had plenty of sugar in. So out came my carefully-saved jamjars, and my big saucepan, and we now have 6½ jars of delicious homemade raspberry jam! Off now to make the scones, using kefir made with Freecycled grains and stainless steel scone cutters gleaned a couple of years ago from the tip. Time to start saving jars again, and it won’t matter quite so much that most of our homegrown raspberries never make it as far as the kitchen door…

Nearly-freegan Jam!
Nearly-freegan Jam!