Monday, 30 September 2013

Photo Scavenger Hunt: September

Another month, another entry in the photo challenge organised by Greenthumb at Made with Love. I really enjoyed this month's categories though I did have to dip into my archives for one of them.

White: Detail of the quilt 'Boutis-ful flowers' by Janet Stevens at the Harrogate quilt show.

One: A bit difficult to see because of the reflection on the glass but this is the number 1 bus to Haxby and Wigginton, near York.

Graffiti: On a wall in Preston.

Ears: Ears of wheat carved in stone on the front of St Wilfrid's Catholic Church, York, representing the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13: 24-43).

Repetition: Traditional telephone boxes 2 x 2 x 2...

Disney: Cross stitch kits at the Harrogate quilt show.

Lace: Mantelpiece cover in the Victorian parlour at the Weaver's Triangle visitor centre, Burnley

New: Autumn fashions at Marks and Spencer.

Door handle: A pair of door handles in the Royal York Hotel, York. I don't usually use a flash but it was very dark in the corridor.

Beach life: I don't live near the sea and didn't have time to visit a beach this month so I struggled with this category and had to dig into my archives. The jelly fish was photographed on Crosby beach last year when Chickpea and I went to see the Another Place exhibition of Antony Gormley statues. You can read all about our visit here.

Tree: Avenham Park, Preston.

Tattoo: As soon as I saw this newspaper clipping I knew I had to use it for Tattoo. It's from an article on the weirdest world records which also included 'fastest dog on a tightrope' and 'longest distance travelled by a goat on a skateboard'!

This is such a fun challenge - the hardest part is memorising the categories at the beginning of the month! If you want to find out what's in store for October, why not pop over and start collecting your photos now?


Did you enjoy Yarndale, those of you who were lucky enough to make it there? I had a great time and will be back with my own take on it next time. x

Friday, 27 September 2013

Fruits of the forage

Well it's been a week since my last post and time seems to be racing by so so quickly. I still have tales from my August holidays to tell you about and everything we've been up to during September. I'll get around to it all eventually but, for today, I just wanted to take you back to last weekend.

I mentioned last time that I was going foraging and that's just what we did. Chickpea and I gathered our carrier bags and plastic containers and headed off down the fields to see what we could find. Our target was blackberries and elderberries and we found both in abundance. Funnily enough I was watching BBC Breakfast one morning this week and there was a report about what a fantastic berry harvest there's been this year. We picked about 3lbs of blackberries and could have brought home a lot more if we'd taken a larger container.

Elderberries were also plentiful.

We managed 2 carrier bags full and Chickpea spent most of the afternoon sat in the garden stripping the berries. I've already cooked these down and strained the juice and this weekend I'll be transforming it into cordial.

Before we leave the fields though I wanted to show you something else...

A horse in the next field was so curious to see what we were doing that he came over and stood watching us for ages. Such a beauty.

We were also lucky enough to spot this Common Darter and even luckier that it landed long enough for me to whip out the camera.

Back home, some of the blackberries are being turned into liqueur. It's such a simple recipe: part fill a jar/container with berries and then pour over enough vodka (or gin) to cover and a few tablespoons of sugar. Put the lid on and leave for a couple of months. Give it a shake occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.

I've frozen the rest of the berries until later because I simply ran out of time after washing and de-bugging them. The rest of my afternoon was devoted to...

...plum chutney. Well, spiced plum chutney to be exact. 

Plums, apples, dried figs, dried cranberries, ginger and cinnamon. So fruity and colourful, I could have just eaten it at this stage. I'm sure the chutney will be just as good though.

As well as harvesting wild produce, I've also been harvesting from the garden. We've already eaten quite a few of our carrots and they've all been a good size.

More surprisingly, I harvested potatoes. The surprise is that I didn't actually plant any potatoes. I had a large pot in the garden into which I'd dumped a pile of old compost meaning to dispose of it. However, during the summer I noticed shoots starting to appear. A few pieces of potato from last year's harvest must have been lurking in the old compost and germinated. Not a bad harvest for no planning or effort whatsoever!

The potatoes weren't the only vegetable lurking in the old compost though. Some of it was spread over the flower beds and, again, I noticed plants growing. At first I thought they were weeds but, as I pulled one out, the leaves smelled suspiciously like tomato. I left the seedlings in and look what appeared! I'm really hoping the lovely weather we've had this week will encourage them to ripen but I think they might have appeared just a little too late in the season.

Last but definitely not least, it wasn't just gardening which occupied me last weekend. I've also made a start on the latest challenge from my quilt group and I'm loving it! Not particularly the challenge but just doing some quilting again. This is only a miniature but I've already cut out all the pieces for a full size quilt too - I'm so excited!

No prizes for guessing what I'll be doing this weekend then. I'm also planning to go to Yarndale on Sunday and hoping not to spend too much - is that even possible? Maybe I'll see some of you there? Have a good weekend whatever you do. x

Friday, 20 September 2013

Crab apples

The first week of my August leave was spent at home. We knew we were going to stay with friends the second week so, apart from the day trip to Morecambe, my plans were to do lots of homely things like gardening, quilting and baking. What I really wanted to do though was to go foraging for food to make jams and preserves.

Every day on my way to work, I pass by a crab apple tree on a patch of spare land. And for the past few years, I've waited until the first apples start to fall on the ground as a sign that it's time to go picking. Now was the time.

In the past I've used the crab apples to make jam, jelly (clear jam) and liqueur. This time, I wanted to mostly make jam so the first step was to extract the juice. I chop the apples in half to make sure they're not carrying any passengers (!) and put them in a large pan with some water. For 3.5 lbs of apples I added 1.5 pints of water and cooked them until they were mushy. The mixture was then strained through a muslin cloth. I don't have one of those fancy straining contraptions so, as you can see, I line a steamer with the muslin and put it over a jug or bowl before adding the apple mush.

Once the liquid has been extracted, I do an extra filtering stage through a coffee filter paper to remove the sediment which always seems to get through the cloth. I've found that this helps stop scum forming during the jam-making process.

One of the best things I ever did was buy a jam thermometer. Before that I used the crinkle test where you put a drop of the hot jam on a cold plate and see if it crinkles when you push it with your fingernail. It worked but it's so much easier watching a thermometer and I've had almost perfect results every time.

Crab apple juice is really good for combining with other fruits. Originally I planned to make blackberry jam but we didn't have any luck with our first blackberry picking expedition. However, some rummaging in the freezer uncovered plums, so plum jam it was. From 1lb plums and 1/2 pint crab apple juice, I got 5 small jars. I prefer the smaller jars as they keep better if you don't use a lot (which we don't) and there are more to give away or exchange.

Also in the freezer were a few bags of rhubarb and they were transformed into rhubarb, crab apple and ginger jam. It was the first time I've made rhubarb jam and the flavour's good but I think I'd add a bit more ginger next time.

Finally, another first. I learned everything I know about jam making and preserves from Marguerite Patten's book The basic basics jams, preserves and chutneys handbook. As I was browsing through looking for ideas, I came across a recipe for spiced crab apples and had to give it a go.

You heat up some white wine vinegar with the spices and simmer for a few minutes before adding the crab apples. Cook the apples until just tender and spoon into a jar. Add some sugar to the vinegar and spice mix and cook until it goes syrupy. Pour over the apples and seal the jar.

I'm going to save these until the autumn or winter months - maybe even Christmas. Can't wait to try them though! What do you think I should serve them with?

After all of this, I still had 1/2 pint of juice so I've frozen it for later. I've a feeling it might get added to some more plums: I arrived at work earlier this week to find a bag containing 4kg of plums on my desk! A colleague has a tree which is groaning under the weight of fruit - I think she said she'd had at least 8 carrier bags full! I've given some to Mum and have been looking through my cookery books for recipes - chutney is appealing to me at the moment. I also want to make some elderberry cordial so we're going foraging again on Sunday. Wish me luck!

Saturday, 14 September 2013


During the first week of my leave at the end of August, Chickpea and I had a day out in Morecambe. It's been a long time since I last visited: in fact, I think I was still primary school age so that's more than 30 years ago. My family holidayed almost every year in nearby Blackpool with its tower, piers and bright lights. My Dad's sister and her family, however, preferred Morecambe so, one summer, we joined them. We stayed in a caravan near the railway line and the highlight of the holiday (and the only thing I clearly remember) was planting an apple pip under the trees at the back of the caravan and wondering if it would grow. My only other memory is that everything shut at 5pm and there was absolutely nothing to do. So, Morecambe, are you going to redeem yourself?

Morecambe is, unsurprisingly, situated on Morecambe Bay and lies a few miles south of Arnside which I wrote about back in April. The Bay has the largest expanse of mudflats in the UK and is notorious for its quicksands and fast tides. When we arrived the tide was just starting to go out though I think this pebbly beach is uncovered even at high tide.

The first thing we noticed were all the bird sculptures which are part of the Tern Project of artwork all along the promenade. These cormorants are part of 'Rock Islands'.

More cormorants stand on the railings along the stone jetty. This one looks out north across the Bay with the towns and hills of Cumbria curving all along the horizon.

This 'funny' joke was part of the Tongue Twisters section.

'Mythical Bird'.

At the end of the jetty is a small disused lighthouse which dates from 1855 and a building which is now a cafe.

Back along the prom, we came across a flock of unidentified birds all of which had shiny heads: it was impossible to resist stroking them, they were so tactile.

Nearby, lapwings were flying over the play area.

However, the sculpture we'd really come all this way to see is this one of Eric Morecambe. When I was younger the Morecambe and Wise show was one of my family's favourite programmes. Who can forget the famous breakfast sketch? And how many of you did the skippy thing that the lovely Eric is doing here to 'Bring me sunshine' during the end credits? I couldn't find a decent video of them performing that song so here's one of them singing Positive Thinking instead. Lovely, lovely memories, and my Dad still wiggles his glasses up and down and puts them on skew-whiff like Eric did.

And did we take photos of each other doing the pose? Of course we did :)

The other thing we came to see was the Art Deco Midland Hotel which reopened in 2008 after being fully restored.

There's a history of the hotel and pictures of it in its heyday on the Friends site.

We should have taken longer to have a proper nosy around but were so hungry we just headed straight to the Rotunda Bar for tea and sandwiches. We did get to admire the architecture of the room and the view of the sea while we ate though.

After lunch we headed back out for a walk. At the north end of the promenade, the pebbly beach gives way to golden sand. You'd have expected this beach to have been a lot busier given it was the middle of the school holidays and a lovely sunny day, but everywhere was very quiet.

We came across quite a few boats which had seen better days. Not much use for sailing but great for photos.

Luckily some were in better condition, though this boat wasn't going anywhere as the tide had gone out by this point, leaving it stranded on the mud flats. As the water recedes, you can see why people might be tempted to walk across the sands to the far shore.

However, beware, there are all kinds of danger, some hidden and some very obvious. There is an official Queen's Guide to the Sands, Cedric Robinson, who has been leading groups of people across the sands for 50 years. He uses 'brobs' or laurel branches to mark out the route. You can read a recent newspaper article about him here.

Back at our starting point on the pebble beach, I had a last look around to see what I could uncover and to choose a few treasures to bring home. At the start of the day I'd said to Chickpea that my aim was to find one of those elusive heart-shaped stones.

Well, it was clearly my lucky day as I uncovered this little pink heart along with some sea glass and a few shells.

So, did Morecambe redeem itself? I so want to say yes but, in truth, although efforts are being made to revive the town, it has a long way to go. It's such a shame really as this part of the coast is truly stunning with those wide open views. Having said that, we did enjoy our day and could have spent more time investigating the Tern Project sculptures, walking along the coast or simply sitting on the beach and taking in the views. Maybe Morecambe has something after all.