Friday, 13 June 2008

Picture News Catch Up

Just for a change (please note sarcasm here) it has started to rain but as there is no accompanying thunder I’m going to take the opportunity to catch up on a couple of the photographs I’ve taken. A word of warning, the final one is a bit gruesome so scroll down with care. Oh and I've just noticed that this is post 150, my how posts fly when you're enjoying them.

First up though are some new arrivals to the farm.

I eventually let mum sit on 6 eggs because both she and I were first-timers; in the end she has 3 chicks. One egg exploded about 2 weeks into the incubation. I tried candling them but they all looked the same to me. Of the remaining 5, two hatched over last Saturday night and one the following day. Another chick died before it finished getting out of the egg and the final egg exploded when I threw it onto the bonfire site after mum had abandoned it for 2 days.

Now it remains to be seen how many of the chicks are female and how many male. While I would like more layers, chicken for the pot is good too. Here’s one protective mum.

The weather while still wet is warming up and the cats are loosing their winter coats. This is no problem with the short haired cats, Cid and Patches, but it means fur balls for the long-haired cats, Snowy and Hazel.

Snowy adores being groomed with the flea comb as it removes all the dust and unwanted fur and you only have to show her the comb for her to leap onto your lap to be groomed. A bonus for me is that as she is totally white, if there are any unwanted livestock on her they are easy to spot against her white fur.

Hazel on the other hand detests being combed. She has far more under fur that mattes into great big lumps that eventually needs cutting off, another thing that she hates. I finally managed to collar her the other day and subjected her to a comb through; this is the result of a couple of minutes combing.

The pile was about half the size of her and when I returned from getting the camera I at first thought it was her on the seat. I’ve now got all but one lump of matted fur off her and am working away at it. Trying to cut fur on a wriggling cat is rather nerve-racking so I have to wait until she is in one of her sleepy moods and then cut a bit and then tease a bit out with my fingers. She’s a bit happier with me combing the rest of her coat now so I’m hoping that I can keep on top of it and stop any more mattes from forming.

Gruesome picture alert.

I went out into the garden the other morning and spotted this offering on the lawn.

I don’t know if it is a stoat or a weasel as the tip of it’s tail had been eaten. I always remember being told that a Stoat has a tip to its tail. This only works with the Least Weasel, which is the usual one in the UK.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Sour Cherry Recipes

I was going to leave this post until I had the final picture but I think that the cherries will be over by then and the post wouldn’t be of use until next year so here goes:

Glace Cherries

This recipe is taken from one of my favourite cookbooks, ‘The Complete Book of Preserving’, Marye Cameron-Smith; it’s old, battered and falling to bits but the recipes are good.

It says choose fresh firm fruit so I guess slightly under-ripe sour cherries would be good. I use ripe ones but they do produce a lot of juice, which doesn’t help the candying process.

Rinse and dry cherries and then stone. I started off last year with one of the hand-held stoners and very quickly decided it was worth investing in the model shown in the photograph. This is a very messy business, lots of cherry juice everywhere and don’t be fooled by it’s clear or slightly pink colour, cherry juice stains dark brown. I’d been using a towel to dry my hands and later wondered why it was stained all over, then it finally dawned when there were the same stains on the cream covered throws I use on the settee – I’d sat there to stone some when watching the news.

So in the picture below are the essentials, a mass of freshly picked cherries, on the floor a bucket for any waste, on the table a heatproof bowl for the stoned cherries and a nifty cherry stoner. The cherries are loaded into the hopper and they fall (eventually) into a depression below the plunger. Depressing the plunger stamps the cherry stone out through the cherry and then the cherry is lifted slightly and falls onto the discharge chute where you have to catch it. On the table too is the essential cloth to mop up all the cherry juice and to dry my hands on.

Weigh cherries and place in a pan. Cover with hot water and bring to the boil, simmer until the fruit is just soft.

Drain the fruit into a heatproof bowl and reserve the cooking liquid.

To make the syrup, for every 450 grams of fruit make a syrup using 175g sugar and 300 ml of the cooking liquid. If you run out of cooking liquid, use water. Dissolve the sugar in the liquid over a gentle heat, then bring to the boil and boil until you have a thin syrup. I have no idea what they really mean here so I boiled it for about 5 mins.

Candying Process – the book notes at this time that this is a long process.

  1. Pour the hot syrup over the fruit ensuring that the fruit is covered. If there isn’t enough syrup, make up another batch until the fruit is covered. This hasn’t been a problem as the cherries produced a lot of juice.
  2. The next day, drain the syrup into a pan and add 50g of sugar, bring to the boil and pour back over the cherries.
  3. Repeat for two more days remembering to add 50g of sugar each day
  4. On the 5th day, drain the syrup and add 75g of sugar, then add the fruit and boil for 3 minutes. Return the fruit and syrup to the heatproof bowl and leave for 48 hours
  5. Repeat step 4 but this time let the fruit soak for 4 days. At the end of the 4 days the syrup should have the consistency of honey (my guess is that they mean runny honey not the set variety). If it isn’t very thick, then repeat step 4.

After that it needs to be dried, so remove from syrup with slotted spoon and dry somewhere no higher than 50°C. It is ready when it is no longer sticky although I left my last lot of cherries a bit sticky.

I’ll try and remember to update this as I go along with this year’s batches.

Edit. Last year as I said the syrup didn't get very thick at all and thinking about it this year I only added 50 g sugar where stated even though I'd made up more than one batch of syrup so this year I'm adding the said amounts of sugar per lot of 450 g fruit I used e.g. Where I had 3 x 450 g fruit I'm adding 3 x 50 g sugar for the first 3 days, adding 3 x 75 g sugar on day 5 etc.

Other recipes I’m going to try this year.

One of the blogs I drop in on is David Lebovitz and by chance one of his latest blogs was on sour cherries. I’m not keen on the idea of pickling them but here’s the link to his version of candied cherries which is much simpler but I’m not sure if they are really glacéd – I’m going to try a batch though – and a recipe for cherry jam which again looks nice and simple and is one that is for any amount of cherries.

Also from that entry is a link to another blog, Chez LouLou, where there are a few more recipes and I’m looking to do the Sour Cherry Liqueur, the recipe for which is given in the comments.

And the nice things about the blogs is that I’ve learnt that the sour cherries are called griottes.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Cherry Picking Chain Saw Style

I may not have been blogging for the last few days but 'stuff' has been happening and I'll do my best to play catch up over the next few days. Like many of the people round here I lost most of my fruit in the frosts at the beginning of April. I have 2 plums and I think it's 3 reine claudes and that's about it with the tree fruit. The sweet cherries have a little fruit on them but it has already split but a couple of the sour/wild cherry trees were spared so some of the time before today's thunder storms was assigned to picking them.

The trees have not been pruned and have just been left to grow resulting in the lower branches having very little fruit while way up above the reach of my ladder there is lots of ripe fruit. So cherry picking was combined with a little mega pruning.

I managed to pick about 10 pounds of cherries before the heavens opened. They are too sour to eat as is but I experimented last year with making glacé cherries and a good proportion of this year's harvest is designated for candying - a further post on this is to follow in a week or so when process is complete.

I will have far more cherries than I can use as glacé cherries so if anyone has any good recipes for wild/sour cherries I'll be really grateful.

I could bottle them but I have yet to eat last year's batch. I've preserved some in alcohol which I will taste when my children are over and I made some cherry jam last year. I still have a few jars of jam left mainly because it set solid in the jar and is impossible to spread on bread or toast. With so little other fruit to look forward to I'm loathed to waste these cherries so I'm off to check my many cookery and self sufficiency books for ideas.
Debs at The Lehners in France has kindly sent me an award - thank you so much Debs, it means a lot.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

The Post I Feared

This morning the vet has telephoned to say that Mr Tibbs died in the night.

He was only my cat for a very short time but in that time he made a big impression. He had obviously been a loved cat at one time , he adored being stroked and having a fuss made of him. He was also one of the gentlest cats I have ever come across; even the first time I got hold of him to capture him and get him castrated, he fought by wriggling like mad until he could get away but kept his claws sheathed and didn't bite.

I'm going to collect his body a bit later and bury him where he can always overlook the view he liked to look out across.