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Everything in the Garden is…

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We thought we would give you a little garden update in this post, so to do that I have typed up some notes from a recent garden diary entry. The diary entries can tend to be rather erratic but we are trying to be more consistent this year. It is useful to have some jottings on what worked and what did not; what we did when; and what varieties/brands of seeds we have planted. Well, that’s the theory anyway. I have to confess that this weekend I have discovered that what I thought were California poppies turn out to be Welsh poppies so I have changed that in my notes. (It is thanks to Fionnuala Fallon in the Irish Times Saturday magazine for the information!).

Bleeding Heart and Primulas

Cheerful Spring Colours

I have included here a couple of pictures that I took this spring, which I am hoping to print off and add to the diary. I keep leaving pages free for pictures, seed packets and magazine snippets but I never manage to stick them in. This creates a permanent To Be Stuck Pile (TBS Pile) which bears an amazing resemblance to the pile of recipes waiting to be put into my recipe folder. And to the pile of books waiting to be read…

Here is the garden diary entry for June 12th noting what our green fingers got up to recently:

This evening we put out the sweet William plants in between the hollyhocks and the chives/gladioli. I think we will have to divide the hollyhocks next year if possible; if so it would be a good idea to reposition them further to the back of the border.

Three courgette seedlings are coming up nicely and the parsley is settling down. On Monday, we fetched our dwarf raspberry cane from Mr Middleton’s garden shop. This of course required yet another trip to Homebase to buy a suitable pot. Actually the one we bought was on the large side at 21l, but probably better to be too large than too small. We also bought a pot for the Rowan tree – not sure if now is the best time to re-pot it as it is just setting fruit.

Verity also bought paint for her pallet project (in match pots) – watch this space! One lonely iris adorns the bulb/wildflower patch – goodness knows where all the rest of them went. However, we do have four honeybells (I think) and many Welsh poppies out (yellow and orange).

Pansies

These are still going strong!

Also on Monday, we went elderflower foraging along the Dodder. We amassed about forty heads of varying sizes. All now stored away in the freezer in two plastic tubs. It’s amazing how useful Google can be – what did we ever do before it answered our every question? [I had been searching to see whether it was possible to freeze elderflowers] Well, I suppose we would have consulted a gardening books/wild flower book or an expert relative or friend. Sometimes I wish granddad were still around to talk gardens.

Need to put some work into pulling the bulb patch back into shape. We have both had a go at it recently but it needs another push. Some things wildly over growing others (such as the camomile being overwhelmed) and the weeds need attention. Strawberry plants have self-seeded there which is nice.

There’s where the entry finishes and I have to admit that the next entry wasn’t written until the 26th so we are not being quite as dedicated as I would like. Still, I suppose the main thing is to be keeping up with the gardening. It’s easier to catch up with a few notes than it is to catch up on the weeds!

More on the garden anon…meanwhile, do tell us how your garden grows!

Rowan jelly from foraged berries

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Yet again, you find us in fruit preserving mode, this time with rowan berries, the proceeds of some of Verity’s foraging activities. We do have a rowan tree at home but as it is still too young to produce many berries, we’ve been looking out for a suitable tree from which to forage. The reason for our interest in rowan berries is that we have been reading up on some of the more unusual preserves that can be made and we were keen to try the recipe for rowan jelly. The colour in the picture accompanying the recipe looked so beautiful that we really had to try it. And anyway, the idea of eating rowan berries was intriguing. A real step into the culinary past of using what was around you as food.Rowan trees

In the end, we scaled down the quantities in Thane Prince’s recipe book (check out some of recipes on the BBC Food site) as the weight of berries after washing and discarding the duds was just under 500g. This meant that we were only making about a quarter of the amount of jelly that the author did, but it was enough to get us started on something new. The jelly also contains cooking apples, which provides the bulk, but as in the previous carrot and cardamom recipe, it also ensures a good set, as apples are rich in pectin.

One minor digression: on the subject of suitable jars to use for preserves. We try to keep a stash of various sized jars in the kitchen cupboard, salvaging jars from anything from coffee to mayonnaise (and even jam!) Recently our cupboard has become full of small yoghurt jars. Both of us are yoghurt fiends so it doesn’t take much encouragement to buy, eat and thus acquire more jars. The appeal of these jars is not for their practicality as they don’t contain much, but what they are brilliant for is making jars of preserves into handy gifts. The shape of the Dunnes jars works particularly well, though I could wish that the labels were easier to soak and remove.

rowans and apples

In the pan…

The recipe in our book (I haven’t researched any others yet) is quite straightforward to follow. Apart from the water, there are only three ingredients. The main thing you have to remember in jelly making is that you will need a muslin cloth or a jelly bag to strain the fruit pulp before adding the sugar. We have a cloth, though after often struggling to get it suspended over a bowl, I feel the time has come to splash out on a decent jelly bag with a frame to make the task easier. Here I also need to confess to a dreadful sin against jelly making: I have squeezed the bag containing the pulp on more than one occasion. Recipes always tell you not to as you risk making the jelly cloudy. The problem I have is that I tend to look at the fruit pulp and think what a waste it is not to squeeze a little more juice.Rowan Jelly

Therefore, in making our rowan jelly, I did squeeze the bag but in fact, I can’t say I noticed much difference in the end product. It might have been slightly less clear than it should be, but it still looked glowing with colour. I found I needed to skim the surface of the jelly after adding the sugar, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. Rowan jelly is supposed to be versatile enough to use as a preserve on toast and to accompany roast lamb or venison. Thane Prince recommends it with toasted goat’s cheese and I think that maybe it would work well with camembert or brie too. After taste testing the fruits of our labours (pun intended), we were very pleased with the results. The fruit jelly has a lovely tang, a welcome change from the sweetness of some jams. I don’t want to start sounding like a wine expert detecting all sorts of notes, but I think the rowan has a sort of spicy tang that counteracts the overall sweetness of the jam. In other words, and to put it simply, it was very yummy on our morning toast!

Do let us know about any unusual jams that you’ve tried to make. Any new ideas are more than welcome…

Picture credits: the rowan tree was taken from: http://www.treecouncil.ie/index.html and Verity took our kitchen pictures.

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