Facing up to one’s limitations

Reading Slummy Single Mummy’s latest blog post: What do you do when you are just not very good at something? started me thinking about what I’m not very good at. Of course, there are lots of things. Usually I will work hard at practicing what I’m not good at, to try to improve, as anybody would, but practicing one particular thing, doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference.

Until little Alfie came into my life, I had forgotten all about it. Now, he loves nothing better than playing ball, though as I have said before, he doesn’t like giving it back to me ! However, when he does give it up, he looks expectantly at me to throw it again for him. This is where the problem arises. Sorry Alfie, I just can’t throw balls. Not into the far distance. Nor in the direction I choose. No wonder I was never in the rounders team at school!

Think I must have weak wrists or something, because the balls go a pathetically short distance, or up on the stable roof, or into the nettles. Not that it has worried me until now. Alfie looks oh, so disappointed that he doesn’t have to go far to retrieve it, or he can’t retrieve in because I have thrown it, strangely he thinks, into the beech hedge!

I’ll just have to accept it. I can’t throw balls. I can’t make stones skim across the top of water either (weak wrists again?), which is something I have always wanted to do! Ho hum.

Will just have to concentrate on the things I can do. Like making chutney, for example. Yes, you’ve guessed, I have made another batch! This time it’s spicey brown tomato chutney and although I say it myself, it’s very yummy. I just can’t let all those tomatoes I’ve grown this summer, go to waste, now can?

Spicey brown tomato chutney

1lb (450 g) chopped red tomatoes
1lb (425g) peeled, cored and chopped cooking apples
1lb (450g) peeled and chopped onions
8 oz (225g) brown sugar
8 oz (225g) chopped cooking dates
1 (560 ml) pint malt vinegar
Grated rind of two oranges
3 crushed garlic cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Easy peasey, chop it all up and mix it up in your pan, following the instructions in my Red tomato chutney post. Makes 4 good-sized jars.

More little gifts for kind people

More little gifts for kind people


It’s all go in the kitchen!

Eager to use up some of my surfeit of tomatoes, I checked my cookery books for another chutney recipe and came up with one I hadn’t made before, but I needed some courgettes. This was my incentive to get out into the garden to check my veg plot.

Not wanting to have to clean out mud from the many grooves on the bottom of my boot, I came up with the idea of putting a shower cap over it. This worked admirably, so I set off down the garden with a spring in my step (tee hee ee). Luckily, I discovered some courgettes hiding under their leaves, so I had all the ingredients needed for this new recipe.

Tomato and courgette chutney
4lbs (1.75 kgs) of ripe, chopped, tomatoes
2 lbs (900g) courgettes, thinly peeled and roughly chopped
1lb (450g) chopped onions
8 oz (225g) no-need-to-soak, dried apricots, chopped
1 tsp (5ml) ground coriander
1 tsp (5ml) ground ginger
1/4 tsp (1.25ml) cayenne pepper
3/4 pt (420ml) vinegar (I used malt vinegar)
12 oz (350g) brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste (you’ll need more than you think)

Follow the instructions for my red tomato recipe which is, basically, chop everything and chuck it all in together, couldn’t be easier!  I found that after it had simmered, covered, for an hour I had to simmer it (uncovered) for a further 45 minutes to reduce the liquid. I couldn’t recommend this recipe more highly, it is scrumptious and it makes lots and lots!

Tomato and courgette chutney

Lots, and lots, that’s 8 and a half jars. As you can see, I’ve already started to gift them to my lovely helpers. In the background is a wonderful card of two frolicking Jack Russells sent to me by Liz. Thanks Liz what a joyous photo. Wish I’d taken it!

I am finding all these home preserves are great ‘thank you’ presents! Marion, my next door neighbour was the first to receive a jar in thanks for taking me to the post office and to my local horsefeed/tack shop yesterday. Was running low on one of Max’s foods (his coarse mix) and food for young Alfie. She does her ‘own mix’ dog food (two types) as well as hacking mix, which Max looks really well on. Both are much cheaper than proprietary brands, which is great for my pensioner’s pocket!

Hope the little fella enjoys his new biscuits more than his current ones. If he doesn’t, then Nicky has given me a great tip that has him wolfing them down, like he used to with the tinned food. I just take a scraping off the top of Minnie’s cat food tin; mix it with some warm water then mix in his biscuits. I don’t know whether it’s the smidgin of cat food, or the warm water, but he wolfs down his biscuits in one go. Marvellous!

I still have lots of green tomatoes, ripening slowly in a plastic bag, together with one ripe one. I have another excellent recipe, this time for green tomatoes, which I’ll use with the green tomatoes that don’t want to turn. More about that later.

Some time ago, before I broke my ankle, I made some blackberry surprise cupcakes to take to a MacMillan coffee morning at Orchard Toys where I used to work. When shopping for ingredients, I took advantage of a ‘buy one, get one free’ offer on butter. So, as I had a spare pat of butter in the fridge, I decided, against my better judgement, to bake a cake.

As it was getting late last night when I got started, I decided that a Victoria sponge would be the quickest. Abandoning my cookery books for once, I did an internet trawl. On reading Mary Berry’s recipe on the BBC website, I just had to go for it.

I can remember cooking a Victoria sandwich in my cookery class at school, 50 years ago. I can remember our domestic science teacher (whose name I can’t remember, but whose face I can see as if it was yesterday) telling us to change from a wooden spoon to a metal one when folding in the flour. Changing over spoons was to remind us that we weren’t beating any longer. We had to gently, very gently, mix in the flour.

What did I like about Mary Berry’s recipe? Well, strangely enough, you just dump all the ingredients in the bowl at the same time, and set to with your electric whisk! No need to gently fold the flour in ! Just whisk away! It was marvellous, so much quicker. Think of all those hours of my life I have lost, hand beating sugar and butter, then slowly adding the eggs, one at a time while continuing to beat. Phew, what a lot of labour!

I was intrigued to know how it would turn out. Needless to say, nom nom, that it’s brilliant. If you can make such a lovely, moist, cake that way, then why did they say, for all those years, that we had to fold in the flour. Wotta lotta tosh!

Mary Berry Victoria sponge

Am really happy that I can now offer my kind visitors coffee or tea and cake. That is if I don’t scoff it all first. No, Alfie you’re not going to get any!

Making chutney on crutches

Sunday, the day started badly. Before I tackled my next challenge, I decided to take my breakfast tea into the sitting room  to catch up with the news on the radio. As I had been doing for the last week, I had made my tea in my lidded, plastic, container. For some reason, I didn’t check thoroughly enough that both lids (pouring hole too) were closed tightly. After a couple of tentative crutch-steps, I felt a hot feeling around my crotch. Yes, you guessed, the container had tipped onto its side and the hot tea was emptying out into my cotton bag!  Eeeek!

I managed to untangle myself from the bag and put it on the counter where it spewed out all the liquid, flooding the work top. I needed to react quickly, but this is really difficult when you’re on crutches!

As you quickly learn, wet tiles can be lethal if you’re on crutches because, despite the rubber stoppers on the bottom of them, they can skid from under you. So I dumped the bag in the washing up bowl, grabbed a tea towel to mop up the work surface and a towel for the floor. Then the bag and towels had to join the other sundries in the washing machine to be washed. Would be lost without my little peg bag, which was invaluable to transport necessities backwards and forwards from kitchen to sitting room and back.

(This morning it came to me, out of the  blue, that if the bag around my neck was hanging at an angle with one bottom corner pointing down to the ground then any container would sit happily in the corner, leaning against the angled side rather than tipping over onto the bottom of the bag if the bag was hung around my neck straight.)

After all of that excitement, I had to get on with the chutney. So, as I didn’t want to perch on one leg while I was chopping tomatoes, apples and onions I transported, chopping board, breadknife and everything except for the onions in a variety of plastic bags to the dining room table. Bit paranoid about carrying my French cook’s knife in my little bag, while on crutches, so chopped up the onions in the kitchen.

Red tomato chutney

2 lbs (900g) red tomatoes, chopped
1 lb (450g) cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 lb  (450g) onions chopped
8 oz  (225g) brown sugar
8 oz (225g) sultanas
1/2 pint (280ml) vinegar
1 tsp (5ml) mustard powder
2 tsps (10ml) ground coriander
1 tsp (5ml) ground ginger
1 red chilli seeded and chopped (or 1 tsp chilli flakes)
Salt and pepper

Mix the tomatoes, apples, sultanas and onions in a large saucepan. Stir in all the remaining ingredients, adding a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Mix all the ingredients in a preserving

Bring slowly to the boil then reduce the heat.

Turn down the heat and cover the pan

Turn down the heat and cover the pan

Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for an hour and a half, or until thickened. Sterilize your jam jars in the oven.

Sterilize your jars in a warm ovenYou will need  a ladle, funnel, waxed discs, cellophane covers, elastic bands and labels.



When you start potting up, it really makes life much easier if you have a jam/chutney funnel, otherwise it can become very messy, which I initially found out to my cost!

A funnel makes filling the jars far less messy


Once potted up, place the coated side of a little disc on the top of the chutney, pushing out any air bubbles to ensure 100% contact with the chutney.

Ensure that the waxed discs have no air bubbles under them

Ensure that the waxed discs have no air bubbles under them

While the chutney is still hot, moisten one side of a cellophane disc and secure it, wet side down, on the top of the jar with an elastic band. The heat rising from the chutney will dry the cellophane and it will tighten across the top of the jar.


Finish off by securing with the jar’s metal lid. The lid helps to stop the chutney drying out, thus extending its shelf life. If you  don’t have a metal lid to fit, cover with a double topping of baking parchment or greaseproof paper. Covered in this way, the chutney top will dry out more quickly than when covered with a metal lid. But I’m talking about after being on the shelf for longer than 6 months. Hopefully your chutney will be eaten up long before that!

Phew, that was quite a challenge, but I felt so much better having done something constructive rather than sitting around all day with my leg up, eating chocolates!

Later on I left the house for the first time for over a week as I was invited over to supper with some friends, who came to pick me up. I had a really lovely evening, great food and great company and even a little tipple!

When dropped off, I hopped over to see Max in his stable for the first time in nine days, with a pocketful of minty goodies. Did he whinny  to welcome me? Softly nicker into my ear? No, he totally ignored me and was more interested in nuzzling my friend’s face! It was quite obvious he was paying me back for not going out to give him his ‘goodnight carrots’ for over a week. What a snub. Little monkey.

Next challenge? Changing the bed!










Goodbye glory hole

When I was decorating the kitchen last year I had fully intended doing the pantry too, but when push came to shove, I didn’t. I’d had such a fight to get the wallpaper off in the kitchen (that I had pasted up 15 years before), I couldn’t face the same again in the pantry. Nor could I face finding homes for all the stuff that was in there.

Back in March I bit the bullet and started stripping wallpaper. Only a tiny space, but a pain to do.

Pantry during decoration

The contiboard shelves had to be 25+ years old and definitely needed to be replaced. Pine I thought, would be fine. I could paint them with some of that Cuprinol wood wash, in an ash colour. That would sort of fit in with the limed oak effect in the kitchen proper.

As I was driving to B & Q one Wednesday evening to take advantage of their 10% discount day for oaps to purchase said wood, I started to think that it would look quite nice if I could resource a double base unit like those in the kitchen. So my trip to Norwich to save 10% on just some sandpaper and varnish was a bit of a waste of time!

I scoured ebay and found similar kitchens, in Manchester, the south west and Essex. Mmm, Essex isn’t far, I thought. But it was a whole kitchen and was sure they wouldn’t want to let me have just one double base unit. Back to the drawing board.  Then I remembered John, the carpenter, who lived in the village. I know he’d made whole kitchens for various other village folk. Perhaps I could get a quote from him to replace the shelves and build a front, to make a cupboard?

To cut a long story short, he came over and said that yes, of course he could do that for me. So we agreed a price. He was to make a cupboard across the alcove, in oak (that he had) with two shelves, and I was to lime wax it.

It took a bit of time to arrive, and when it did it was a piece of furniture ! He had made a proper cupboard with sides, top and shelves. Only thing missing was the back. It looked brilliant and, thankfully, slotted in fine, despite the wonky cottage walls! He also replaced the shelves above the cupboard and along the back pantry wall, and over the fridge.

I spent a happy morning roughing up the grain with wire wool and applying lime wax.  I think it looks great. I wonder what you think?



The Gallery : New

Over five years ago I was given a lovely orchid when I left my job. It flowered for 18 months, then stopped. I had planned to chuck it out, but never got around to it. So glad I didn’t, because at the end of last year it grew a new stem and over Christmas buds formed. This week the first bud opened into a beautiful new flower !1st orchid for 3 years

The joys of jam making and an errant horse

Needing to free up space in my geriatric chest freezer, in order to defrost it, I thought that the time was right to make some bramble jelly.  A one litre sized icecream container and three large yoghurt pots housed 3lbs of blackberries and 1 ½ lbs of blackcurrants. The former picked from the hedgerows around Mr M’s field and the latter my first year’s harvest from my one and only blackcurrant bush in my garden.

Emptying the freezer has been a project of mine for the last 12 months or so. Every time I manage to run down the contents, I see some really good bargains in the supermarket that are going for knockdown prices. Not being one to miss a bargain, they come home with me to be slotted into the freezer space that had been liberated the week before.. and so it goes on.

But I digress.. back to the jam making.

The day dawned bright and cold – freezing in fact. Before I could get cracking on the jelly, I had to feed and muck out Mr M and take him up to his meadow, a short walk up the side of a field at the bottom of  the cottage paddock. As I walked him up there, admiring the first signs of winter on the frozen grass, I realised I hadn’t enough sugar… Blast, this would mean a dash to the supermarket. (I chose the supermarket over the village shop because that morning my electric toothbrush had given up the ghost, so I needed an urgent replacement).

On my return, having spent a small fortune on lots of supermarket bargains, I was eager to ‘get preserving’.  Easier said than done. The freezer lid was stuck fast, totally iced up! Finally after 15 mins chipping away I managed to lift the lid and delve into the icey depths to find the blackberries and blackcurrants.

The recipe calls for:

5lbs (2.15 kgs) of blackberries
1lb of cooking apples (450g) roughly chopped
2 pints of water (1.1lt)
3 lemons

As I intended to include the blackcurrants, which contain much more pectin (the agent that helps the jelly set) than the blackberries, I decided to include just two lemons.  Lemons are a good source of pectin  for such fruits as blackberries and strawberries, that are low in pectin.

Method: Put the fruit, lemon juice and chopped lemon shells into a large saucepan or preserving pan. Pour in the water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for approx  1½ hours, stirring occasionally until all the ingredients are reduced to a pulp. Add a little extra water, if necessary.

Strain overnight through a jelly bag. This used to be the fun bit. Until I bought a proper holder for the bag, I used to lasso the beam over the kitchen sink and hang the bag from that, catching the liquid in a big bowl in the sink beneath. Only problem was, that you couldn’t use the sink until you had taken  down the bag in the morning! Now I have the proper thing, life is much easier!

Strain the cooked fruits overnight.

Just let the pulp in the bag drip into the bowl. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag, as this will make the jelly cloudy.

So, reaching this point I braved the elements to go and bring Mr M back from his field. I don’t know what had got into him, but he was an absolute maniac, with me hanging onto the end of his rope for dear life as he was bucking on the end of it. (Or doing handstands as a friend calls it!)  With much difficulty, and with my heart in my mouth (as I am only 5.3″ and not big and strong, and not in my 20s any longer!) I managed to get him back into my home paddock. As soon as we turned away from the closed gate he leaped forward tugging the rope from my hands. Then followed a 10 minute exhibition of “Look how fast mum I can gallop around this little paddock. Can’t I buck high?!”  I couldn’t watch, convinced that as he motorbiked around the corners, on the soaking ground, he would go down. Luck however, was on his side, and he managed to stay upright. After 10 minutes, or more, he came to a halt, allowed me to pick up his sodden rope, which only minutes earlier had been wrapping itself around his galloping legs, and put him in his stable. Phew, I thought.

For some strange reason I felt shattered when I went to bed, but not before the obligatory teeth clearning! Without thinking, I picked up the old electric toothbrush, turned it on, and… it leaped into life. Oh dear, there really wasn’t any need to go to the supermarket afterall !

Back to the bramble jelly…. Next day, measure the liquid allowing 1lb of sugar for every pint. I had exactly 2 pints of liquid so only needed just under one bag of sugar. (Oh dear, I had enough in the store cupboard, afterall.)

Stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then bring to the boil scooping off any scum that forms on the surface. Boil hard until it reaches setting point (104C to 105.5C). Well that’s all very well, but if you don’t have a jam thermometer how do you know when it reaches setting point? The trick is to put a blob of the liquid on a cold plate and when you pull a clean finger lightly across the top of it you will feel  a skin forming if the liquid has reached setting point. If you are like me, you will usually have a little plate with about 7 or 8 little blobs on before you are happy that it has reached setting point.

I now have a thermometer, which makes life so much easier, though the one I purchased was a little short for the depth of my preserving pan. So much so, that when it was hung on the side of the pan,the tip only was in the liquid, necessitating my holding it in the bubbling jelly which is rather hot on the hands!  Looking at the liquid as it hit the required temperature I noticed that there were trillions of bubbles as it boiled, so this is a good indication of what it looks like when  it is reaching setting point. Knowing this, you’ll probably get away with just a couple of blobs on your plate, not 7 or 8!

About 10 mins before you are ready to pot up the jelly,  put your clean jamjars in a warm oven to sterilize them. Once setting point has been reached turn off the heat and ladle the liquid into the heated jamjars.  Using a jam or chutney funnel will certainly help direct it into the jar, otherwise lots can be lost on the counter top!

Waxed discs are placed firmly on the top of the jelly (waxed side down), then a clear cellophane disc is held with an elastic band over the top of the jar.  Dampen the disc with water before securing (ensuring that this is done will the preserve is still hot).  The heat will dry the cellophane and tighten it across the top of the lid.  Label up, including the date. Cut some material with pinking sheers and secure with another elastic band to make them look a little more special when giving  to friends.

Bramble Jelly November 2012