Dec 012012
 

Alternative Christmas Trifle Recipe

Where I grew up the Christmas menu was (and probably still is):

  • Prawn Cocktail
  • Turkey and Trimmings
  • Trifle

The trifle was always ‘home made’ from a selection of ingredients including; a tin of peaches, jelly, UHT spray foam, and the obligatory silver balls!  I was never a fan of this trifle but I’m all grown up now and found a version that suits my taste.  Why not try it yourself and see what you think.

*Health warning – you will have to clean out the hen shed to burn up all the calories this contains*

Cranberry and Chocolate Trifle

This is a pleasure to look at as well as eat so make sure you make it in a deep glass bowl, to show of the layers of brown, white and ruby red.

Prepare everything 48 hours in advance to allow the sugary chocolate to become gooey and sticky and begin to soak into the layers of creamy cranberry.

  • 250g grated dark chocolate (55-70% cocoa)
  • 250g fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • 200g unrefined demerara sugar
  • 2tbsp sieved cocoa
  • 1tbsp coffee granules
  • 600ml fresh double cream 
  • 300ml fresh single cream
  • 200ml crème fraiche
  • 250g jar of luxury cranberry sauce
  • a handful of dried cranberries

In a bowl combine 200g of the grated chocolate with the breadcrumbs, sugar, cocoa and coffee.  Stir well.  Whisk together the double and single cream until thick, but not stiff, then fold in the crème fraiche.

In a large glass bowl, place a third of the chocolate breadcrumbs in a level layer.  Top with a third of the cream and smooth it over.  Carefully add half of the jar of cranberry sauce, ensuring it is evenly distributed over the cream.  Continue to layer in the same manner: chocolate breadcrumbs, cream, then cranberry sauce, finishing with a layer of cream.  Cover and put in fridge for 48 hours.

Take out of fridge and sprinkle with silver balls (only kidding) grated chocolate and dried cranberries over the top.  Serve in small portions as this trifle is extremely rich.

 

Enjoy  :0)

 

 

 December 1, 2012  post archive, recipe Tagged with: , , , ,
Oct 312012
 
010adecember2011 034

Blackthorn Sloe Berry 

Last year at Fifesmallholder we harvested our very own sloes for making into that wonderful winter liqueur Sloe Gin.  Many people do not associate sloes with the blackthorn shrub, but this is the name of the seed that it produces.  Like some root vegetables that improve after a frost (makes them sweeter) advice is that you are best to collect sloes after a frost. The skins become soft and bletted (half rotten) and become more permeable.  Sloe Gin made at this time will be ready just in time for Christmas.  

However if you have no blackthorns on your property you are unlikely to find any left by then.  Many people will pick the sloes early winter when they are plump (not wizened) and then put them in the freezer.

What is a sloe?

Also known as blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), the sloe is the ancestor of all our cultivated plums, yet the wild sloe is the tartest, most acid berry you will ever taste.  This deciduous shrub flowers from March to May and bears fruit in September and October.  The flowering of the blackthorn is often accompanied by a cold spell, and this is known as ‘blackthorn winter’.

For all its eye-watering acidity, the sloe is a very useful fruit: it makes a clear jelly, wine, sloe & apple cheese, and sloe gin.

Not sure how to tell the difference between a Hawthorn and a Blackthorn?  

The blackthorn will produce small white flowers before the leaves in March and April.  Hawthorn will produce flowers after leaves.  Hawthorn berries are small and red, blackthorn berries or sloes are bigger and purple/black in colour.

How to make sloe gin

Pick about 500g (1lb) of the berries. Pierce the skin of each berry  with a fort to help the gin and juices to mingle more easily.  Mix the sloes with half their weight of sugar, then half-fill bottles with this mixture.  Pour gin (alternatively brandy or aquavit) in to the bottles until they are nearly full, and seal tightly.  Store for at least 2 months, and shake occasionally to help dissolve and disperse the sugar.  Strain the liquor through fine muslin or filter paper until quite clear. The result is a brilliant, deep pink liqueur, sour-sweet and refreshing.  Bottle, and store for use.

 

 October 31, 2012  garden, post archive, recipe, tree, winter Tagged with: , , ,
Sep 212012
 
green hazel nut

The hazel – a good smallholder tree that also produces the hazelnut

Hazel trees are part of the genus Corylus which includes nearly 20 different specimens, and most types also yield delicious nuts that can be eaten raw or cooked (more of that later).  The tree’s smooth, reddish-brown wood is also prized for its durability and elasticity.

Hazelnut Tree

Hazel is fast growing and easy to shape and therefore has a long history of use in hedging. The leaves stay with the tree much longer than most other trees, sometimes well into December.  The tree/shrub also provides habitat to numerous animals and birds, as well as serving as a source of food for animals, butterflies and insects.

 Why are hazels a good smallholder tree?

It is a good smallholder tree because it offers so many uses, as well as fitting comfortably on a smallholding. Those not familiar with forest gardening or agroforestry might not know that hazels like willows can also be used as animal fodder.
“In pastures, cows nibble on the leaves which increases the butterfat content in the milk. Sheep will readily eat the leaves, and pigs get excited if given hazel branches because they search for the crunchy nuts to eat.”
Growing hazels is also an opportunity to grow and harvest nuts at home without having to plant trees that will grow huge, and take years before they produce. Hazels grow in fertile, well drained soil. Once established, they can produce heavily and consistently.

Things to make with hazel

  • hurdles – read more here on how to make them.
  • bean poles
  • pea sticks
  • hedge stakes
  • walking sticks
  • fishing rods
  • baskets
  • tool handles
  • shepherds’ crooks
  • charcoal

 Growing or propogating hazels

Hazels can be acquired in three ways:

  • You can start new plants from hazel nuts. They tend to take some time to germinate (use a file to rub a small notch through the shell of the nut before planting), and do best when planted in pots. When germinated, let them grow to at least 6 – 12 inches before you transplant them in their final position.
  •  An easier way to propagate is by digging runners from established bushes.  Hazels spread by underground runners that develop roots. These runners can be cut away from the main plant, ( in autumn time after leaves have dropped and and the bushes have gone dormant).
  •  If all else fails there are garden centres or nurseries that sell both native, and hybrid cross hazelnut plants.

Where to plant a hazel tree?

  • Hazels need full sunlight in order to thrive.
  • Hazel trees prefer soil that is slightly acidic.

Hazel pests and diseases

Occasionally, pests, such as leaf hoppers and caterpillars will attack the hazel tree and damage its leaves and twigs.  One other insect that you may not welcome is the Hazelnut Weevil (pictured below) read here for more information.

hazelnut eating insect

Hazel trees are durable and typically don’t fall victim to epidemics.  However, there are a few diseases that the tree is particularly susceptible to, including:

  • Crown Gall – causes the formation of round wart-like galls to form on the tree’s lower branches.
  • Twig Blight – attacks the tree’s twigs; though, if left untreated, the blight will cause damage to the Hazel’s leaves and lead to premature leaf drop.
  • Powdery Mildew – appears as a white coating on the top of the leaves. In severe cases the leaves will turn yellow and drop before autumn.

What is a hazelnut?

Hazelnuts are produced by hazel trees and generally ripen in late August. The shell of a ripened hazelnut is brown, glossy, and roughly ovoid. Once shelled, the hazelnut has a bitter dark brown skin, which should be removed before cooking the nuts. The flesh of hazelnuts is white, and slightly sweet when the bitter skin is not present. The nuts can be used as a topping for soups and salads. Many cooks toast hazelnuts before using them to enhance their mild flavour. They are a good source of Vitamin E and B. Oils from the nuts are extracted and used in a number of beauty products.

How are hazelnuts created?

The catkins actually bloom in the winter, which makes the hazelnut unusual for a fruit tree. The wind carries the pollen to the female red blossoms, and then, it goes dormant until spring, when fertilization actually occurs. Shortly afterward, the nut starts to develop.

Why eat hazelnuts?

Hazelnuts are eaten raw, roasted or ground into flour. They are not only tasty, but they offer many health benefits as well, making them a delicious and nutritious snack.
 
Here are four reasons to increase your intake of these super-healthy nuts.
1. They Contain Good fats – high in omega-9 fatty acids. These healthy oils play an important role in balancing cholesterol in the body, as well as helping to lower blood pressure and offer protection against coronary heart disease and diabetes.
2. They are rich in vitamins and minerals – an excellent source of the antioxidant Vitamin E.  Hazelnuts have the highest concentration of folate among all the tree nuts and also contain calcium, magnesium and potassium.
 3. They are rich in Phytochemicals – including proanthocyanidins, quercetin, and kaempherol.
 4. They are high in protein and fibre – a good alternate protein source for those who don’t eat meat.
 

Nut allergy info

More of the light oils are present when the nuts are green or raw (unroasted) and are much more dangerous for anyone with a nut allergy.

 Hazelnut FAQs

  • Will hazelnuts keep if I pick them when them when they are still green? You can harvest and store green hazel nuts as long as you allow them to dry properly (airing cupboard, window sill etc) and will keep till Christmas. Alternatively roast them, allow to cool and store roasted nuts in zipper bags. Use within a month or freeze them.
  •  Can I forage for hazelnuts in the wild?  Yes fresh green hazelnuts are prolific in most ancient hedgerows, and are ready to eat straight from the tree, (squirrels permitting).  In this green state they are quite different from the hard, brown-shelled, Christmas nut they will eventually become.  Their flesh has the crisp crunch of overgrown peas, and a sweet vegetable taste.  However they are probably smaller than the commercially grown ones.  Most wild hazels are best eaten green as they tend to be on the smaller size, and thus shrink to next to nothing if you let them ripen.
  •  What is a Cobnut?  A cobnut is the most widely cultivated form of  hazelnut (the word filbert is also sometimes used).   Cobnuts were traditionally grown in Kent and can still be found there, as well as in Sussex, Devon and Worcestershire. Grown commercially they are bigger than wild hazels and, provided they are fresh (the leafy frill on the nut casing should not be too brown and dried out), they are very worthwhile. You may be able to buy fresh hazels from the local farm shop or grocer.
  • How do I dry green hazelnuts?  Collect the nuts and keep the good ones (those not damaged or with scabs on) leave them in a dark but ventilated place they will rippen nicely.  Only use larger ones if you are aiming to keep them until Christmas.  Here’s a link to info on how to store the unripe ones which you often have to pick early to beat the squirrels/mice/birds to.
  • Where do dried hazelnuts come from? Despite the fact that hazelnuts are grow in many different regions worldwide, the vast majority of the dried ones sold in this country come from Turkey.
  •  How to remove the skins from hazelnuts? Try roasting them in the oven at 275 degrees for 15 minutes. Then put them in a towel and rub them until the brown skin falls off. Or place the nut on a hard flat surface and place a heavy board on top,  roll the board over them and most of the husks will split. Then pull off the husk where it splits.
  • When will hazels fruit? Hazels will begin to produce nuts three to four after planting, but it may take 2-3 more years before they really take off and produce heavily.  A healthy tree can remain fruitful until well into its fortieth year of life.
  • Do I need a male and female hazel tree? Hazels have both male and female blooms on the same plant which form during the prior year and remain dormant through most of the winter. They bloom very early in the year (spring). Male (pollen producing) blooms are called catkins. Female (fruiting) blooms produce the nuts and are very small and easily overlooked. They look similar to leaf buds on branches, but they are rounder shaped with very small red threads coming out of them.

 Hazelnut recipes

Home-Made Nutella
Roast your hazelnuts.   Using a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until fine and powdery. If your food processor is strong enough, the hazelnuts will eventually turn creamy and smooth. Then add the spread sauce made from 150g Icing sugar & 50g green & blacks cocoa powder. Video link to making nutella. Recipe link for vegans.
Pesto
Whizz up some hazel nuts and garlic in a blender with some olive oil , lightly simmer for a few minutes to take the edge off the nuts and garlic, then take off the heat and add chopped basil and serve on top of pasta.

Pickling 
Select the best hazelnuts, (plump without any sign of shriveling).  If the shells of the hazelnuts are still on, look for smooth, glossy shells with no signs of cracks or holes, and shake them. The nuts should not rattle in the shell, as this indicates that they have lost moisture.  Lay the nuts out on newspaper to dry for a few days before roasting them. Add your pickling ingredients and store in an airtight container.
 
Link to recipes
 

 Hazel Folklore

Celts and Druids believed that hazelnuts were a source of wisdom and the tree itself was sacred.  In Greek mythology hazel branches were woven into headpieces and worn to protect warriors from evil.  Irish folklore states that drinking hazelnut beverages helped develop prophetic powers.
 
In Roman Britain, Hazel trees were once cultivated and became so abundant that Scotland was named Caledonia (a term derived from Cal-Dun, meaning “Hill of Hazel”) after them.
 
The nuts of the Hazel were commonly used to bring luck by stringing them together and hanging them in the house.  Such a string of nuts were often given to a new bridesmaid as a gift to wish her wisdom, wealth and good health.  When eaten the hazelnuts are said to increase fertility, and of old were eaten before divination to increase inspiration.
 
Down through the ages the Hazel has always been considered magical, and was used primarily for its powers of divination.  Hazel divining rods or dowsing rod are used to detect water and mineral veins.  Typically a divining rod has two forks off its main stem shaped like the letter “Y”.  The two forks of the rod are gripped with the fore fingers along the forks, so that the tail end of the rod points down toward the ground to begin searching.  Another method was to peel the bark of the rod and simply lay it on the palm of the hand.

websites used in the making of this article:

Jul 262012
 
cassis

Things to make with seasonal excess produce 

Its summer here on the smallholding, and this is a time of plenty.  Fruit and vegetables are ripening and the chickens are at peak egg laying capacity.  Unfortunately this is when many of our farm gate customers are on holiday and we don’t like to waste anything, so when we have too much we have a range of  things we do to use up the excess or preserve for later.  Here are some of our favourite seasonal recipes:

Egg Mayonnaise

free range egg

Ingredients:

  • 2 free range egg yolks 
  • 1 whole free range egg
  • 2.5ml./half teaspoon of dijon mustard
  • 2.5ml./half teaspoon of salt
  • 1.25ml./quarter teaspoon pepper
  • 300ml./10 fl. oz. light oil (I prefer a vegetable and olive oil blend)
  • 15ml./1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 15ml./1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove crushed

If possible have all the ingredients at room temperature, as eggs taken straight from the fridge tend to curdle.  I use a blender to make my mayo, and start by cracking the whole egg into the blender.  Add the egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper and beat on a low setting until they become creamy in colour.  Gradually beat in half the oil, drop by drop, until the sauce is thick and shiny.  Beat in the lemon juice, then the remaining oil, then the vinegar.  If you want to thin the mayo, add some more lemon juice, a little single cream or 15-30 ml./1-2 tablespoons of hot water.

Thick mayo may be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about two weeks.

Tip: if the mayo does curdle, beat another egg yolk in a clean bowl and beat in the curdled mixture a teaspoon at a time.

Makes about 350 ml./12 fl. oz.

Goes well with some (freshly dug) cold potato salad. 

Here’s a link to a blog about 30 things you can do with egg shells. 

Blackcurrants

fruit jam

You can’t beat Blackcurrant jam on your porridge. Here is a link to a recipe.

A French WWoofer recently made us a Tarte Au Cassis which was delicious.  Here is a link to the recipe.
blackcurrant tart

You also can’t beat blackcurrant vodka for a sore throat.  Click here for a link to an alcoholic recipe, or here for a non alcoholic recipe.

Courgettes

Try this courgette lemon cake recipe.

 

Sloes

What to do with the left over sloes from sloe gin. 

 

Elderberry 

Recipe for cordial syrup.

 

Bramble or Blackberry 

Blackberry

Make bramble or blackberry oxymel to keep colds at bay in the Winter. Put 200g of blackberries in a jar covered with cider vinegar for 10 days.  Shake occasionally. Strain through muslin. Pour into sterilised bottle and store in the fridge. Put 2 tsps into boiling water. Add honey to taste.

Runner Beans

Here’s a link to making chutney with runner beans.

Onions

It’s harvest time – If you’ve got loads of onions, chop them up and freeze them in a container. They last for months.

Beeswax

I like me you were lucky enough to take some honey from your bees before autumn, then you will probably have some beeswax cappings left over from your frame of honey.  This can be used to make a range of things from furniture polish to hand lotion.  Click here for a link on how to make hand lotion, you can get your ingredients here (including wax balls if you are not a beekeeeper) to make the lotion. Put up into suitable containers and store in a fridge. Shelf life is about one month.  Here is another link which claims to last for up to 6 months.

“One benefit of using natural emollients over synthetic chemical emollients is that the industrial processes used to create synthetic emollients often destroy beneficial elements of the base material, and may require the addition of carcinogenic catalysts.”

Quote source

Mar 272012
 
spring yellow flower

Yellow Gorse / Whin – (onn) – Ulex europaeus

Here at fifesmallholder we like to keep our gorse, whereas next door the farmer annually cuts it back or burns it.  He probably does this to control the growth and spread of the gorse because it reduces his grazing and can cause health issues with his sheep (Orf can be caused through the wounds inflicted by eating gorse and other prickly vegetation).

Why do I keep it?  

  • the deer will stamp on it and eat it in the winter (the stamping reduces the threat of the thorns or prickles)
  • it is a safe habitat for some wild animals (e.g. hares or small birds)
  • the bees, insects and pollinators love the pollen in the spring
  • dry gorse is a good fire lighter
  • a gorse branch can be used to fill a hole in the fence or hedge
  • I love the smell of coconut when it is in full bloom and will make gorse wine from the flowers (you can download a recipe here)

What is gorse?

Gorse is a bushy, dense evergreen spiny shrub and will grow up to 2 meters tall. It’s a prickly shrub, which can almost always be found in flower somewhere, all twelve months of the year, and this means it has many positive connotations in folklore. It prefers poor grassland, mainly acid soil,  and drier ground. It can grow in nutritionally poor soil, is drought and salt spray tolerant, preferring a full sun position. In leaf all year and flowering all year, the seeds also ripen all year, however a burst of flowers occur in the UK between February to May.

Gorse is closely related to Broom and both are members of the pea family.  It has green stems and very small leaves and adapts to dry growing conditions, but differs from Broom in its extreme spininess, with the leaves being modified into 1-4 cm long spines. All the species have yellow flowers, some with a very long flowering season.  In hot sunny weather in April and May the seed-cases of gorse burst open with a crackling, popping noise, scattering the small dark and round seed sup to 30 feet in all directions. Reproduction is mainly by seed, with each seed having a hard water resistant coat that prevents immediate germination. Gorse seeds can be dormant in the soil for 40 years and still germinate.  Gorse can live up to 30 years.

Can gorse be used as animal fodder?

Gorse provides excellent food for goats, cattle, horses and sheep (it has half the protein of oats) and it is said increases the milk yield of cattle. It gives peak fodder production from the end of November to the end of February arriving just in time to repla­ce exhausted autum pastures (cut right to the ground but harvested only once every 2 years, only the top of the plant is used for fodder).  However it is not advisable to use without treatment such as being crushed or rolled first. Or dried and hung in the stable/barn to supplement Winter fodder. 

What other uses are there for gorse?

  • It’s bark produces a green dye and flowers a yellow dye.  Add a bucket of urine and wait 3 hours.
  •  its roots for basket weaving
  •  chimney sweeping
  •  green manure – gorse is member of the legume famlily, and so it has nodules in the root system that fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Coppicing the gorse releases some of the nitrogen making it available to other plants near the roots space.
  •  fuel – the very high concentration of oil in it’s branches, makes it easy to ignite, and also burn well, it is reputed to give off almost as much heat as charcoal.  When harvested for fuel gorse is usually cut down to ground level, as a three year rotation.
  • The ashes were used to make lye for cleaning linen (the alkali rich ashes produced from burning gorse have been for soap-making in solution as lye which was mixed with animal fat).
  •  roofing 
  • Gorse seeds have been soaked, then used as flea- repellant
  • Gorse flower buds are reputed to make a fine pickle in vinegar and then used like capers in salads
  • Gorse flowers have been used to add extra flavour and colour to beer, whisky, wine and tea
  • Sprinkling gorse sprigs and holly leaves in a seed row will help deter small creatures such as voles and mice from digging up your seeds
  • Alkali ashes also are very enriching to the soil, so in the past gorse was often burnt down to improve the quality of the land, that also caused new growth which grazing stock could eat. However, burning the oil rich gorse can be a hazard in dry weather
  • walking sticks canbe made from the gnarled branches
  • Gorse is a good windbreak and a gorse bush is the best place to dry washing – it naturally pins it in place.
  • Gorse protects against witches.
  •  Planted for soil stabilisation in sandy areas with maritime exposure, it is fast growing, puts nitrogen back into the soil and provides conditions for woodland trees to become established.

 gorse on the smallholding

links to websites used in the making of this post

 

Feb 262012
 

Sourdough recipe

and starter instructions

What is sourdough?

A true sourdough starter is nothing more than the flour and milk or water which sits at room temperature for several days and catches live yeast bacteria from the air. 
According to Wikipedia;
“sourdough is a dough containing a Lactobacillus culture, usually in symbiotic combination with yeasts. It is one of two principal means of biological leavening in bread baking, along with the use of cultivated forms of yeast”  read more.
Sourdough starter can be stored in the fridge and becomes relatively dormant. Clear, amber colored liquid will accumulate on the surface of the starter. This liquid contains 12% to 14% alcohol. When yeast is in contact with air, it produces carbon dioxide; when it’s not, it produces alcohol. When you blend the alcohol back into the starter, it helps produce the unique flavor you find in good sourdough breads.
For milder flavor, you can pour off some of the alcohol if you wish although this will thicken the starter requiring a bit more liquid to return it to its “pancake batter” consistency. The alcohol itself dissipates during the baking process.

Why bother with sourdough?

Breads made from sourdough have an assertive tang and keep longer than other home baked breads.

Hints and tips for keeping sourdough

  • Working with a sourdough starter can be very time consuming. Especially if you follow instructions that tell you to feed them everyday.   If you don’t use the starter everyday, then store it, covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge until ready to use. When you want to use it,  then remove it from the fridge and let it come to room temperature (e.g. overnight on worktop). Then feed it with 1 cup flour and 1 cup warm water. Let this sit 8 hours or preferably overnight. It is now ready to use in sourdough recipes.
  •  Always use the sourdough when it is “hungry”, having not been fed for 24 hours or so.
  •  Each day it is kept out of the fridge it will need feeding with flour and water (so use some, and feed the remaining portion ready for tomorrow). If you don’t want to use it the next day, feed it and store it in the fridge, where it won’t need feeding. 
  •  Sourdough starters can last for decades, and seem to be resistant to contamination. This may be due to an antibiotic action similar to that of the moulds in cheeses such as Stilton and Roquefort.
  •   Each time you make a loaf, you will have leftover starter. This can be kept in the fridge, feeding it every 4 days to keep it alive, and will improve in flavour. Any starter you do not need or want can be discarded, or given to a friend.  Click here for instructions for a German Sourdough Friendship Cake.
  •  If your starter ever changes colors, to purple, for example, discard and start another one.
  • Stirring the starter invigorates the yeast and expels some of the alcohol.
  • After removing a portion from the starter, the starter must be “fed”. Simply add equal portions of milk or water and flour as was used. For example, if you used 1 cup of starter, replace it with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of bread flour.
  • Always use the same kind of flour. If you used bread flour in your original starter, use bread flour to feed it. Also, alternate between milk and water for each feeding. Since your original liquid ingredient was milk, the first liquid feeding should be with water. If you forget which you used last, that’s okay, but try to alternate at least every other time.
  • You must use a portion of the starter at least once a week. If you choose not to bake sourdough breads that often, then remove a cup of your starter and feed it as though you used some during the week. If this is not done, your starter will turn rancid and have to be replaced. Should you be away on vacation or otherwise not able to tend to the starter, freeze it. Upon your return, thaw it in the refrigerator and then remove a portion and feed it as soon as you are able.
  • If the bread is getting too sour for you, feed with water more often than milk.
  • For tap water, substitute water from cooking potatoes. It contains nutrients which any kind of yeast loves and along with making the yeast happy, it creates great flavor in bread.

How to make sourdough starter from scratch  – the Hugh Fearnly- Whittingstall way.

Hugh’s sourdough loaf recipe  which comes highly recomended.
“In a large bowl, mix the flour for the starter with enough warm water to make a batter roughly the consistency of double cream. Beat it well to incorporate some air, drop in the rhubarb, then cover with a lid or cling film and leave somewhere fairly warm. A warm kitchen is fine, or a coolish airing cupboard. Check it every few hours until you can see that fermentation has begun – signalled by the appearance of bubbles on the surface (it can actually smell quite unpleasant and acrid at this stage but don’t worry, it will mellow as it matures). The time it takes for your starter to begin fermenting can vary hugely – it could be a few hours or a few days. But make your starter with wholegrain flour (which offers more for the yeast to get its teeth into), keep it warm and draught free and you should be rewarded with the first signs of life within 24 hours.
Your starter now needs regular feeding. Begin by whisking in another 100g or so of fresh flour and enough water to retain that thick batter consistency. You can switch to using cool water and to keeping the starter at normal room temperature – though nowhere too cold or draughty. Leave it again, then, 24 hours or so later, scoop out and discard half the starter and stir in another 100g flour and some more water. repeat this discard-and-feed routine every day, maintaining the sloppy consistency and keeping your starter at room temperature, and after 7-10 days you should have something that smells good – sweet, fruity, yeasty, almost boozy – having lost any harsh, acrid edge. But don’t be tempted to bake a loaf until it’s been on the go for at least a week.
If you’re going to bake bread every day or two, maintain your starter in this way, keeping it at room temperature, feeding it daily, and taking some of it out whenever you want to create a sponge.” read more

Links to information used in this article:

 February 26, 2012  post archive, recipe Tagged with: ,
Jan 152012
 
timber damage after storm at fife smallholder

The relationship between Beech, Bats, Woodpeckers, Owls, and Pigs on our smallholding

‘Piglet has his own house, a “very grand house in the middle of a beech tree,” which he gave to Owl when his house was blown down on a very blustery day’ .
Winnie the poo
large beech trees in winter
We have some large Beech sentinels in our wood that are estimated to be 190 years old, and one of them suffered damage in the recent high winds that hit Central Scotland.  The limbs on these trees are very large and although unfortunate it does offer opportunities from the adversity.
fallen tree trunk from beech tree

Firewood

Beech wood is an excellent firewood, easily split and burns for many hours with bright but calm flames.

Woodlander

Beech wood burns well and can be used to smoke herrings and cheese. Chips of beech wood are also used in the brewing and making of some beers. 

Wildlife

Although a fallen limb or tree is good for firewood, it is also a part of the natural process within a wood and many species depend on this happening to maintain the balance and ecosystem that exists within a woodland.  The larger the concentration of old trees in an area and the longer they have been present on site the richer the variety of species you will find among them.
Many species live here all year round. Some are visitors and some live here permanently. Some come for the spring (Great spotted woodpecker), summer (Insects: Hoverflies, Birds: Green woodpecker), autumn (Fungi), and others for the winter months (such as Brambling birds ). Because of the variety of habitats available. A range of birds use the broad leaved woodland, evergreen conifer, open rough grassland and low bog areas.
nest in beech tree

Beech mast and Beech leaves

Beech mast is also a favourite food of many woodland animals such as badgers, deer, mice and squirrels and birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars.

The laughing woodpecker

The Green Woodpecker is the largest of the woodpeckers and has been known to visit our woods and its collection of fallen and rotten timber. It has a heavy-looking body, short tail and a strong, long bill. It is greeny-grey on its upperparts with a bright green rump and red on the top of its head. They have an undulating flight, and will climb up tree trunks and branches and will move around to be on the side away from anyone watching. It has a very distinctive call in that it sounds like it is laughing.
rotten wood and timber

Relationship between bats and woodpeckers

Tree are vitally important for our bats. The majority of British bat species have been recorded roosting in trees and some, such as the Noctule, rely almost exclusively on them. Noctules are often found in Woodpecker holes appearing to prefer them over natural cavities. Some researchers have suggested that Noctules may be dependant on woodpeckers to provide suitable roosting opportunities. Read more about bats.
potential bat roost in old woodpecker hole in tree
The picture shows an old woodpecker hole which could be used by Noctules for roosting. The hole is formed in a soft section of the stem of a tree. The stem has been infected by a decay fungi which has caused the wood to become soft enough to allow the woodpecker to create the hole. This potential roost has been created by a complex ecological relationship between Beech tree (Fagus sylvatica), Tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) and woodpecker, possibly the Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis).  It isn’t just roosting opportunities that make beech trees useful for bats. The trees attract insects and therefore provide valuable foraging habitats.

Bats and Beech

Bats roost in trees, in obvious cavities, cracks and splits, but also in less obvious places such as under ivy and under loose bark.  The damaged parts of a tree are the most likely places to find roosting bats.  Any tree can be used for roosting as long as shelter is provided,  but old oak, beech, ash and Scots pine are most frequently used. Bat roost sites can be at any height, although the upper trunk and branches are favoured. Entrance holes may be narrow slits on the underside of a branch that can be easily overlooked, as well as more obvious old woodpecker holes in the main trunk.

Owls and Beech

One of the best trees to attract owls is the beech tree. That’s not because owls eat the beech mast, or beechnuts, but because the mice eat them. In this way, the carnivorous owls get nice, fat, juicy mice to eat to keep them in the area.
beech nut casings
“As long as owl’s habitat is left alone by man and in such a state as to produce a great number of rodents, there will be no loss of owls in a region. One of the things that those people managing woodlands can do is not to clear out all of the undercover where mice live. Tawny owls will particularly benefit from this practice. Wood left on the ground and a pile left to rot will draw all kinds of insects which also feeds owls.”
decaying wood attracts insects that are predated by owls

Livestock

Pigs and Beech

Livestock were once released into beech woodlands to feast on the beech’s oil-rich bounty. The nuts were also important as a source of food, particularly for pigs. They are energy rich and could be used to fatten pigs up for market. The period when the nuts ripened and fell was perfectly timed to fatten swine for late autumn butchering. A farmer with access to oak or beech mast could thus convert calories present in nuts into calories in pork with little or no additional effort and at no additional cost in fodder. Indeed, by using mast rights a farmer was able to make use of a resource that would otherwise be unharvested or very inefficiently harvested.

Pheasants, Poultry, Turkeys and Beech

Beech mast has also been used to feed pheasants, poultry, and turkeys.  Beech nuts should never be fed to horses.
fifesmallholder beech trees in autumn

Smallholder

It is commonly accepted that the foods used to feed and to finish meat livestock affect the final flavour of the product. Pigs  fed on oak mast, chestnut mast or beech mast has a reputation for producing exceptional finished meat. As a result, with the new interest in artisanal and high quality foods as well as humane stock handling, there is a resurgence of mast-fed pork.
While beechnuts are nutritious for humans, eating too many can cause headaches or giddiness, as vast amounts of potash are contained within the tree.

Beech Tree facts

  • Beech trees are shallow rooted, and mature trees are at risk of being uprooted in high winds.
  • These trees grow slowly, eventually reaching a height of up to 120 feet, with branches spanning 50 feet.
  • The nuts are encased in a spiny bur and are favored by birds and other wildlife. Beech has a full crop of nuts every 5 years but does not really start producing a good crop until it is at least 50 years old.
  • The timber is practically pure white and is used to make furniture and toys.
  • The tree is best known for its many and low branches that create a deep shade.
  • Beech leaves take a long time to decay, so few nutrients are released to nourish ground plants. Consequently, there is little undergrowth in a beech wood, unless trees have been deliberately thinned out (coppiced).

Folklore

names on a tree trunk

Magically, beech is specifically useful for making wishes. To do this write a or scratch your wish on a piece of beech wood then bury it in an appropriate spot.  As your written wish is claimed by the earth so will it begin to manifest in life.  Beech is also popular with lovers, as witnessed by the many hearts arrows and names carved upon the smooth trunks of beech trees.
beech leaves in fifesmallholder wood

Recipe

Beech leaf Noyau

1 bottle vodka
225g (8oz) caster sugar
1 glass of brandy
Collect young, fresh beech leaves and strip them from the twigs.  Half fill an emptly bottle or jar with the leaves  and then pour on the bottle of vodka.  Seal up the container and keep leaves in it for 3 weeks, before straining them off.  Boil the sugar in half pint of water and add this to the vodka with a good sized glass of brandy.  You should end up with 2 almost  full bottles of noyau for the price of one bottle of vodka.

Links

Dec 222011
 

Free Range Scotch Egg Recipe – What to do with stale bread

You can’t beat some free range eggs from Fifesmallholder, even in winter the yolk is still a strong yellow colour.  A reflection of the feed they are fed and  what they eat whilst wandering about our pasture or woodland.  Here is a good recipe for eggs that are not as fresh as they might be (fresh eggs sold direct from a smallholder will not peel as well because they may only be a couple of days old – you need to give them a couple of weeks so that the shell peels away more easily).

* please try to buy locally or support Scottish producers*

makes 4 scotch eggs

Ingredients:

  • 5 free range eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 400g (14oz) free range pork sausages
  • 30g (1& 1/4 oz) flour
  • 4 tbs milk
  • 80g (3oz) fine breadcrumbs from a stale loaf
  • olive oil or sunflower oil for frying

Method:

1. Fill a saucepan with water and place over a medium heat.  When it is simmering steadily, add four eggs.  Cook for 7 minutes then drain and place in a bowl of iced water for 5 minutes.  Cool completely and peel.  Set aside.

2. Open up your sausages to access the sausage meat, discard the skins.  Season the meat well and divide into four. Using wet hands,  flatten each piece, then shape into a cup big enough to hold an egg.  Place an egg into each cup and then pinch the meat around the egg to seal it inside.  Set aside.

3. Line a plate with non-stick baking paper and set aside.

4. Prepare the coating for the eggs by placing the flour on a flat dish then seasoning.  In a wide,  shallow bowl,  beat the remaining egg with the milk.  Spread the breadcrumbs on a plate.

5. Take a meat wrapped egg and roll it in the seasoned flour to coat, shaking off the excess.  Now dip it in the beaten egg mixture, and then roll it in the breadcrumbs.  Set aside on the non-stick baking paper and repeat with the remaining eggs.

6. Pre-heat oil in a deep-frying pan or saucepan (filled one third full with oil) to 160 deg C or 325 deg F and fry two eggs at a time for 6 minutes.  Using tongs, rotate eggs to ensure they brown evenly.  Drain on kitchen paper, and allow to cool before serving or refrigerating.  Once cool, the eggs will last for 2 days in an airtight container.

For more egg information check out my egg page.

 December 22, 2011  post archive, recipe Tagged with: , , , ,
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