It’s Marmalade Season – the taste tests are on!!

toast

I eagerly await January every year because the Seville Oranges arrive and it’s Marmalade making season. I hunt the aisles at the supermarkets for them with real anticipation, and frequently disappointment, it seems they are only in stock for a week or two.

Over the years I have made many marmalades and there is no doubt that home made is pretty much always superior to shop bought. There are loads of recipes, many different ingredients that all make nice marmalade.

But, after alot of fine tuning, I have settled on a couple of favorites, I have experimented with different sugars, different ways of cooking the skin, slicing the skins after cooking, or before (and during), including seeds and removing them later, removing them up front and different additional ingredients.

Now I am down to two recipes, and I suppose, in retrospect, it isn’t completely unexpected, they are the ones with the fewest ingredients (just 3) and the most ‘technique’.

Obviously, I wanted only natural ingredients, no funny chemicals so the three ingredients are Seville Oranges ( C9H13NO) , Lemon juice ( C6H8O), Sugar  ( C12H22O11 ). I don’t mind telling you the ingredients, but I’m not saying how I make it… I have to have some secrets! Oh, except it took me 7 hours to make this batch!

Anyway, as with all things these days, I want to sell this marmalade in due course and I know from experience, what I like isn’t necessarily what everyone else likes. I need some feedback, from special volunteers willing to expose themselves to danger in the interests of commercial endeavor.

If you’d like to volunteer, let me know and if we can, we’ll get a jar to you. Please just leave comments below. This is a thick shred, but I’ll be doing a batch of thin shred too.

 

2015 roundup.

Adrian here. I’m having a turn writing while I have a day off my day job!

MototrheadSo, Lemmy has died.

I first saw Motorhead in about 1983, it was a school trip. It was an awesome concert, a proper life experience. I firmly believe seeing Ace of Spades played live should have been on everyone’s bucket list, even non Motorhead fans.

I first took Finn to see them when he was 10 (to make up for a Bon Jovi concert I had taken him to that I didn’t think gave him the full concert experience) and this year me and Finn saw Motorhead again at the Eden Project. I said afterwards Lemmy was looking pretty frail and so it is both sad and a kind of relief he has passed. Sad that a legend has passed, a relief because a frail Lemmy is not what you want to see.

Lemmy lived life to the max, defying death since the 1970’s and is a great role model. I don’t mean a role model for for a drink and drugs lifestyle, I mean, if you are going to do something, whatever it is, go for it with 100% commitment and integrity.

2015 on Axe Head Farm has been one of ‘those years’. It’s been like we were being tested, to make sure we were 100% ‘in’ with commitment and integrity. As well as the tests, alot of good things have happened, I’ll list those first, to us it makes tremendous reading and we try to focus on them as much as possible.

trenchWe have had the official OK to stay on site while Di does the engineering and groundworks. While this is not in what you would regard as ‘normal’ living conditions, there are compensations, mostly the constant feeling of ‘I can’t believe it’.

Mains electricity and water is now connected. Phone line and internet is connected. The chicken zone is almost complete! The first polytunnel is largely built, with gratefully recieved help from our friends, and will be completed in spring with sprinkler system and lighting. Our orchard now covers almost 1 sq km and by spring will be larger still with many more apple varieties and other fruit.  Rabbit proofing the area designated for soft fruit and stock fencing the pig zones are scheduled for the new year so that they can start production (with electricity, we can now have freezers, electric fences, etc)

20150813_185149_resizedBut the resolve testing stuff has been ever present. The wind, rains and standing water hardly ever disappeared in 2015 making ground work tough. We haven’t been able to finish the track dug this time last year because it has been full of water for much of the year. The electricity, ordered in February took until mid November to be connected, and when it did, instead of the 50 meters of expensive earth cable we expected to need, a whopping 800 meters was required. The lack of electricity has had knock on effects in every way, but at least now, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched on!

Chicken RunIn addition, Di has been variously injured, mostly her wrist and elbow, but her CRPS has been issuing angry reminders that she is technically disabled and is only pretending to be well. And, she had to have some breast surgery in the summer, which required a recuperation period.

Having said that, Di is also the ‘force of nature’ that moves us forwards. She often ignores the pain she suffers and continues, despite my protestations. The upside of this, is that she has taken on many challenges this year that have been new to her. She has met every challenge and each victory has given her increased confidence in her abilities to meet the challenges ahead.

So, we are looking forward to 2016 with great optimism and confidence. This year we have learnt the hard way that ‘dreams’ are dreams because they are very difficult to achieve. If they were easy, they wouldn’t be dreams. We feel the biggest hurdles are… um, hurdled, although the track record suggests we just don’t know how big next years hurdles are!

Happy New Year everyone.

 

 

 

Beef Stroganoff recipe

Di had a hankering for Beef Stroganoff, this happens often and I usually cheat and use a ready mixed sauce (no cooker = you need every cheat there is!). Anyway, today I had both an oven, and I was going shopping, so when I picked up the ready mix packet, I looked at the ingredients and got the main ones… you know, the ones that didn’t look like they belonged in a chemistry set.

I also googled ‘stroganaoff recipe’ and found almost every recipe was different, so I gave up the idea of following a recipe and just went with my instincts.

Quite by chance, considering the ‘knocked up’ nature of the meal, it was delicious, really delicious, so worth recording here, mainly so I don’t forget.

I didn’t have any beef steak to slice up, so just used beef mince, but sliced beef steak would be better and chicken would be fine too. This sauce is delicious and also very flexible, judging by the google search. So, while I did this, if you don’t have double cream, or red wine vinegar, don’t worry, just go ahead anyway.

I had a 700g packet of beef mince and used the following for the sauce

2 Onions, chopped and about 2 heaped teaspoons of smoked paprika (change this according to your taste) Fry these together in a bit of oil and add:

250g of chestnut mushrooms – I just took off the stalks and cut them into quarters. More mushrooms would be fine. Add them to the frying onions. After a minute or two I added about

5 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. I think this is the maximum you could do, 3 would be ideal. I also squirted in a

Couple of tablespoons of tomato puree.

Then some beef stock… I had none so I used Bisto Onion gravy granules and about 200ml of boiling water. An oxo cube would be fine too.

Then I added the beef and put some rice on to cook.

After the beef was cooked through, and the rice was ready, I turned the heat down and added

4 tablespoons of double cream and a small pot of sour cream. It doesn’t need to be boiled after you add these, in case they separate. Also add a good

Splash of brandy… if you cook on gas you could light this for effect.

I taste tested and for flavour added more paprika and some salt and pepper and a good pinch of parsley.

Sorry, I wish I’d had some photo’s, but really, I was just knocking something up, I didn’t expect it to be as nice as it was.

 

 

 

 

 

Nectarine Salsa recipe (no onions).

The Nectarine Salsa went down well last night, so here’s the recipe I used.

I made far too much, so perhaps halve it… or not, it’ll keep a day or two in the fridge and probably improve… and that makes me think, it’d do no harm to make it in the morning to use in the evening – gets a job out of the busy hour or so before a barbeque begins.

3 Nectarines – chopped small – how small depends on how chunky you like your salsa.

8 tomatoes – scoop out the seeds and juice or the salsa gets too runny.

Chillies – chopped small – number and type to your taste, but I used 2 quite mild ones.

The best part of a bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped quite small.

Fresh Black pepper.

Juice of half a lime.

Tomato Ketchup – a very good squeeze – as much as you think matches your salsa.

There is plenty of room to fancy this up a bit, and using the best ingredients will be rewarding – vine tomatoes, a fancier ketchup, like Reggae Reggae sauce, or a sun dried tomato sauce.

Peaches

Fire-in-a-Barbecue-Grill_New-Year-BBQ__IMG_5383-580x386So, tonight we are having a bar be que, with an old school friend and his family, who live in Carnkie, the next village along – they can see our farm from their house… so presumably, given I am writing a blog and not cooking,  they are waiting to see the smoke from the barby before they set off.

Anyway, Mandy is allergic to onions. This is a new one on me, and I had a hankering for Salsa, so I need a bit of inspiration. I decided to make my normal salsa, but replace the onions with nectarines (Yes yes, I wanted peaches, but there were none in the shop that looked nice). The Nectarines looked like they would be nice and chin dribblingly juicy, and it said, invitingly on the packet ‘ripe and ready to eat’.

They aren’t. They are crispy – and that may make then a really good replacement for the onions, but it’s made me think about food.

downloadPeaches and nectarines – the best go to the canning factories. The next best go to supermarkets on the basis they ripen over the travelling time to be softish at some point after you bought them.

The thing about these fruit in particular, is that sun is needed to turn the starches into sugars and make them sweet and juicy. Once they are picked, they pretty much stop sweetening and become flavourless shadows of what they could have been.

We will grow Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots.  I want to taste them at their best, ripe and juicy and straight from the tree. I read of people who have this experience, and they wax lyrical about the loveliness of the taste. I want it, and I want Di to experience it too. From there, I hope our crops will be sufficient to let Axe Head Farm customers find out what proper peaches, nectarines and apricots taste like.

There are many fruit and vegetables where we have forgotten the true flavours. This is because when supermarkets stock their shelves they have priorities.

The priorities are longevity first – the apple variety, Beauty of Bath ripens in July. It is awesome to eat straight from the tree and not much cop after about 3 weeks. Older folk will fondly remember this variety and many who taste it says it is the best tasting apple ever. Other varieties actually improve over the months after picking and are best 4 – 6 months after they were picked, even longer if they are stored in nitrogen tanks.

Guess which ones are in the shops? It’s not Beauty of Bath.

apples2Some apples grow on the branches of the tree, some grow on the tips. Right now, I can’t remember which, but for one of the types there isn’t a machine to pick them… so they aren’t in the shops.

Flavour isn’t on the agenda – longevity and picking easily, that is all that matters to supermarkets.

That’s OK, that gives small producers, like us at Axe Head Farm a look in. We can grow and sell the fruits and varieties that will blow your socks off for flavour. Beauty of Bath will be available in a few years, as will Orleans Reinette and Duchess’s Delight – all with flavours that may affect your buying behaviour at supermarkets.

Adrian’s Inspiration

I started reading a book again, that I have read before several times and realized this book had influenced my life.  I started wondering about how many books had done that and I have a top 3 significant books. There is a 4th book that could have been included in my Top 3, but then it would have been a Top 4 then and nobody does a Top 4 list.

Here is my Top 3. I’d be interested in knowing books that would make your top 3 – feel free to post a reply.

Pete GossClose to the Wind by Pete Goss

I saw Pete Goss do a speech/presentation at a conference.  Frankly, he wasn’t all that polished in the way most presentational speakers are.  But there was no doubting his integrity, bravery and commitment.  I bought his book.  That Christmas I bought 10 copies and gave them as Christmas presents. Nowhere in life, or education does anyone illustrate motivation and commitment  as well as Pete Goss does in his book. Perhaps Richard Branson’s book, Losing my Virginity comes close, but it doesn’t have the physical element, and there are many books by athletes that come close, but they focus on the the physical commitment. None I have read have the moral dilemma. I believe this one book has made me able to make decisions in a way I was unable to, prior to reading it.

Tree House DiariesTree House Diaries by Nick Weston

So, around the time I was getting divorced, the recession was at its nadir and my business was struggling, and I know, looking back now, I know I was pretty depressed, I read this book.  I read it then because I had genuine fears about becoming homeless and so I had a vested interest. The result though was a reawakening in my interest in nature and ‘outside’ that I had forgotten from my childhood. I was an outdoors child, but had become an indoors adult and that seemed odd. When I considered what I wanted I realized I was working month to month to pay bills and was nowhere on any plan that I actually found fulfilling. This started me out looking to buy woodland. Other books I read, and meeting Di and learning of her ambitions amended that journey to include agricultural land and as it turned out woodland dropped out of the picture (for now!). But this book started me on the path.

TastesTastes of the Unexpected by Mark Diacono

So, as we are mulling over the possibilities of agricultural land I read this book. The original plan was for a self sufficient lifestyle. This was because I had started doing supermarket shopping with an eye on cost, rather than my previous technique that mostly involved bright packaging. I was amazed at the cost of fruit and veg – 50p for an apple, 50p for a tomato. I looked at my retirement and could not see  a sustainable way of living. I figured I needed to go for an off grid self sufficient lifestyle.

Reading Mark Diacono’s book, Tastes of the Unexpected was a game changer for me. It showed me that I didn’t need to grow potatoes and carrots. I could grow other, much more interesting crops and that moved my ambitions for a ‘self sufficient’ lifestyle into ambitions for a (hopefully, as it is very early days) ‘commercially viable’ farming lifestyle. I can make jams, pickles and other nice stuff, but this would give me an edge that I believed in.

Believed in enough to make a commitment and a 100% decision that would have been previously unmakeable. Believed in enough to adopt an outdoors lifestyle. Believed in enough to be sure we can make a success of this farm. Believed in enough to take these risks with my wife, who I have committed to protect from risk.

The 4th book is more technical and legal, so I didn’t include it as it is not an interesting read, unless you are immersed in this world. It gave me knowledge and with knowledge comes power and confidence. It was definitely influential. E-mail me if you are interested.

Awesome news…

Woo hoo – secrecy is over, we’re bouncing with excitement – this is probably the most important day ever!!

Remember about 2 months ago Di casually mentioned on facebook she’d done something really grown up – well after a bit of a setback, and an amazing business presentation by Di to the Planning Officer, the end result is Cornwall Council have confirmed we can build our Barn and 2 Polytunnels.

This feels like the start! There have been other moments that feel like the start…but this was a real hurdle and getting over it really makes the future look bright. It’s all very well thinking you know how the system works, until you have to try it with your dreams at stake! There have been sleepless nights.

Anyway – polytunnels – we visit garden centres and get polytunnel envy. We drive around getting barn envy. Now we can crack on with these things!

Next steps – now we know where the barn and polytunnels will be sited we can order in the utilities. Mains water application was sent off today and we’ve asked Western Power Distribution to come out and quote us for mains electric – just in case it is cheaper than we expect – there is a transformer on a pole two down from the one in our field so it might be OK. Otherwise, Plan A is solar.

Orchard

We’ve got a business plan. It is very ordered and budgetted for as you’d probably expect if you know us both. Definately one step at a time, everything in it’s place and planted so that our crops start cropping at the same time as we have equipment and space to process the results. Nothing shifts off the rigid timeline we have set, not even my tractor, which, if I must be frank, should be next

It doesn’t involve having an Orchard right now. Not least because the mains water isn’t connected.

Anyway, we have an orchard.

Orchard 1b

This week two events happened. One is still secret. the other is that my clutch disintegrated, so I couldn’t go to London as planned, it was sunny weather and we were excited.

Our business plan states we will plant very young trees so which can grow to fruit when we have space and equipment. It’s also way cheaper to buy young trees than 3 or 4 year old trees.

Anyway, we have 3 year old trees.

Officially 5 apple trees makes an orchard, so we’ve definately exceeded that with 12 trees, all on Cornish Rootstock and all Cornwall and Devon varieties and will give us a variety of eating, cooking and cider apples.

I have been reading about raising chickens and also permaculture. So, imagine a giant Venn Diagram. Our Orchard is partly in ‘The Orchard Zone’ and overlaps half the area the chickens will have for their 20m x 25m run. The trees will provide a little shelter from predatory birds which, while they may not take chickens, will scare them and stop them laying.

In the chicken run we have also built a berm (with Finn and Zak’s help) that will give the chooks  shelter from the wind. We are also planting a bamboo grove – chickens are descended from jungle fowl and instinctively they want to forage for insects. The old leaves and sticks that you find at the base of bamboo is great for harbouring the insects they like to feed on. There are a variety of other eqally beneficial plants that will go in the Chicken Zone.

Obviously with no other planting on the business plan, you’d think that was the end of it, right?

Lavender 1g

Well, Lavender doesn’t mind being planted out in the summer…so we have some Lavender plants… 52 of them. These will be good for bees, and the flowers are a crop for people that make lavender bags and other smelly things. We chose a Dwarf Blue which is a cross between Munstead and Hidcote, two of the most fragrant types.

And, for good measure we may have snuck in a dozen blueberry plants…

They weren’t stuff scheduled (mains water…mains water…mustn’t forget the mains water has to be next!!) and we didn’t get the tiny plants, but it feels really great to have made a bit of progress and the view from the farm gate as you drive in is much more rewarding.

It should only be a few days before the sunburn calms down a bit as well!

Rumour has it I may have kept some readers waiting, sorry and all that, but worth waiting for some pictures, I’m sure you’ll agree?

Cheese making – 1st results

Back on the 16th March I made my first cheese…

Since then, I let it dry for a while and then waxed it – so it looked like a baby bel…a 2lb baby bel.

I’ve left it to mature for almost 2 months…but today curiousity got the better of me and I cut the cheese. Di captured the moment on video…and if you are looking at my hand wondering if I have buboes (as in ‘bubonic plague’) let me reassure you, they are just some burns from some carrot soup I made the other day.

We’ve had some cheese on some nice walnut bread and it tastes delicious. The flavour is like a mild cheddar and quite soft and crumbly…more crumbly than lancashire. I think that is because I didn’t let the curd get firm enough when I made it, I’ll be more patient with my next batch.

Soda Bread – a miracle in 4 minutes

DSCF1020I’ve never made soda bread before…can’t even be certain I’ve eaten it before, but saw it being made on TV last night and it looked easy and fairly flexible about ingredients.

Not completely flexible, you understand, there were basics involved – 500g flour, a big teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and a teaspoon of salt.

From there, one of the bakers last night used guinness as his ‘liquid’ and the other used buttermilk.

Now, I had neither, but I did have some creme fraiche in the fridge…which is made of yogurt and butter milk and that seemed pretty close, so I reckoned I’d give it a shot.

At 8.50 I asked Di if she wanted bagels or soda bread for breakfast… on the basis that I wanted to be sat in front of the TV by 9am to watch the Grand Prix. She opted for Soda bread, mainly out of curiosity I think, since there was none in the house and I was just stood there making a cup of coffee and obviously not doing baking.

So, with 10 minutes available, and humming the Benny Hill theme tune I set to work. Di gave me a minute by minute countdown. I put the oven on.

I had a bag of flour – weighed it – 600g. I tipped it into a large bowl from a height (I figured that by doing this I avoided the need to sieve it) and made sure I was a bit more generous with the Bicarb and the salt and I grabbed the Creme Fraiche (1 Minute) – there didn’t seem enough, so I threw some milk in too, I don’t know how much, but I was aiming for a total of about 600ml.  I think next time I will aim for less liquid than flour, it was slightly too sticky.

I mixed the lot, (2 minutes) firstly with a knife and then with one hand until it bound together (3 minutes)…no kneading like normal dough, Soda bread is better if it receives literally the least mixing you can do.

I put it on a baking tray (4 minutes) and popped it in the oven, grabbed my coffee and settled down in front of the TV to watch the parade lap and start of the grand prix.

…45 minutes later this came out of the oven, fantastically rustic looking and soft on the inside…

We ate it with some home made marmalade and home made raspberry jam….delicious…

Pickled Garlic

DSCF1019I’ve have ‘making’ days – said in the same way as someone who does baking.

So, over the weekend I noticed that I could buy 20 garlic bulbs on a string for £2 or buy single bulbs at 30p each. Well, you can pickle garlic so I got the string.

Pickling garlic is easy, just peel the garlic, stick it in a jar with some  bay leaves, fennel seeds and peppercorns and add some boiling vinegar – I used organic cider vinegar for these, but ran out with the last jar, so tried that with red wine vinegar.

From here, I just use the garlic in the place of normal garlic.

Apparently there was a whiff of garlic about the kitchen, but I have a cold and was completely unaware of it!

Pumpkin Carving

This year I didn’t really get into the spirit of Halloween until the last minute. So, we went off to buy some pumpkins.

Now, since Di has lived with me I have slowly become more interested in my artistic side, and so, this year I thought that rather than create a jaggedy face with a carving knife, I’d try something requiring a bit more effort… enjoy!