Sunday, 23 September 2012

Wild food foraging

It's that time of year again when true to myself, I love to take advantage of the wonderful amount of FREE food that is growing within our midst. For many years now in late Summer, early Autumn, I can be found in country lanes rooting around in the bushes collecting wonderful things to eat. There is soooo much out there to be picked and munched if you know what you are looking for. For those who haven't given foraging a go before, my advice is 'start small'. Learn about just three or four things that are growing out there. Learn to identify them and how to use them in a variety of ways. With food prices on the rise, it won't be long before you're hooked!
So here we go, what were we looking for on this occasion? Ooooh well I don't know if I should share.......well OK, but only because I have been out now and gathered!
Well we were looking for hazelnuts, acorns, blackberries, sloes and elderberries.
Hazelnuts (or cobnuts as they are often known) grow on the hazel tree. For many years hazel has been cop iced to make all manner of wonderful things. Nowadays, if you go into old woodland, you can see how the hazel is growing from many points. I often feel as if it's crying out to me 'please cut us, you know you want to weave a fence'.....I would love to of course but time doesn't permit right day!
There were a few odd nuts on the floor and lots of broken shells. Ummmm beaten by the squirrels!

Sloes are few and far between this year. Strong winds back the in Spring saw to that and blew away the blossom from the blackthorn. Sloes are deep purple/black blobs that look quite like blueberries. Don't be so eager to taste as with blueberries though as they are really sour! They are however, exceptionally good for popping into a bottle of gin to make sloe gin. It takes a few months to mature but yum yum, worth the wait. I've picked a good punnet full and popped them in the freezer to soften the skins. Traditionally you would pick after the first frost but as there are so few out there this year, I thought I had better get-in-there before there were non left! Of course I wont drink it all to myself.....oh no, it's lovely to share, (only with very special people of course)!

Blackberries can be found in hedgerows and on country lanes. Best not to pick them from alongside a busy road as you won't be wanting to eat them when they are covered with car fumes! Blackberries rarely make it home in our family, they always tend to be eaten straight from the bush. Watch out for the thorns though!
Incidental, our stick insects eat bramble as their staple diet and really do enjoy it. We do have rather more stick insects then we need. I am happy to give some away should anyone wish to own some.

Next we were on the hunt for elderberries....the elder bush is amazing! The flowers can be made into the most delicious cordial in the Spring or champagne if you prefer. You can also deep fry the flowers and make fritters (although I haven't tried these yet). If you collect the flowers and dry them, they are great infused in hot water to aid relief from winter colds and other respiratory ailments. In Autumn, the elder bush gifts us with bunches of incredible deep red berries (they look black). They can be made into the most amazing syrup, again great for relieving coughs and colds. I'll tell you how to make it later on!

Walking and foraging can provide hours of entertainment. Children love to be out in nature and you'll be amazed at the things you spot along the way and the conversations you'll have, not to mention the adventures. I am so grateful everyday that nature is literally on my doorstep.
Friday's adventure was more of an accident.....we had been circling a field in search of all the pickings that I mentioned, I was casually minding my own business reaching out for some tasty looking blackberries when  Jenny dog had other ideas of adventure. She took off in pursuit of a pheasant  and rather then drop my basket of carefully gather sloes or indeed to let go of the lead for fear of losing the dog in the woods (I've been fool to that game before), I fell straight down onto my knees on the fields edge, right where the large stones lie. Oooh eeee (not exactly what I said at that moment), my my I realise that I no longer bounce and that falling actually hurts now. (Refusing to acknowledge that I am getting older!). Anyway, I lay on the grass like a dying ant with legs in the air for a good ten minutes trying to deal with the pain and I ripped my favourite skinny jeans (:-(((
Foraging has its occupational hazards like everything else!!

Here's the Elderberry Cordial recipe that I promised you:

Pick a good pan full of plump elderberries. Use a fork to remove the berries from the stalks, wash the berries, then place into a pan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 25-30 minutes.
Strain the berries to rid yourself of the stalks and keep the juice (I use a piece of old net curtain for this job, try not to waste any liquid). Add 1lb of sugar, 10 cloves and the juice of a lemon to every pint of liquid that you have, you can also add a chunk of fresh ginger. Boil it again hard for ten minutes and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Allow to cool and then strain once again.
Bottle the liquid in sterilised bottles or jars.

We drink this with hot water in the Winter months and it's delicious! Can also be taken from a spoon neat if you have a cold, cough or sore throat.

That's further stock in the 'Store stump', all ready for the Winter!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Just get on with it......

Life has taken quite a turn for me of recent months being alone with three young children to care for and no 'soul mate' adult to share the workload and bounce ideas off, to talk things through with, or to give a cuddle to. Many things have needed to be done around the house that have been quite out of my comfort zone, they haven't been things I have ever thought of doing before. For example, I've had to clear my home and move to a smaller property which involved sorting through 'tool's' and deciding what I think I might need and what can be sold or given away, I've had to move big items by myself using sack trucks and trailers. Care of the lawn was never one of my jobs until now, then there's the DIY around the house, erecting shelves, painting etc etc. The washing machine broke down recently and refused to pump out water, the cigarette lighter on the car didn't work which meant I couldn't use my in-car charger to charge my phones whilst away and yesterday the bonnet catch on my little car had come off and needed fixing back on. Now in my previous life, I didn't have to deal with any of these things. My soul mate of 19 years did all of these things willingly as part of our unity together. But what happens when one of you is no longer there? In my case I simply don't have the money to be paying people to do these things for me and to rely on others makes you a) feel like a nag because you have to keep asking them to do the job and b) doesn't usually result in the job being done when you need it to be. So what do you do? Well part of me is often tempted to take a self pitying attitude and curl up and cry at the prospect and I have done just that on several occasions, but in all honesty that doesn't get the job done either. So I have taken the positive step to embrace each challenge as it comes my way and to just 'Get on with it myself'. Often this decision is no easy feat and can be quite a physical challenge, but I can tell you that the feeling of worth and achievement that you feel when your task is fulfilled is incredible.
So I do cut the lawn, I have single handedly moved my dishwasher and loaded it onto my trailer, learnt to hitch and tow the trailer (working on reversing it!), learnt to use a drill and to put up shelves, changed a fuse on the car, fixed the washing machine, decorated a room and learnt to chop wood.
Of course I do worry about becoming so ferociously independent that I shall remain single for the rest of my, I think that damsel is still in there when she needs to be!!!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Country Show

The last couple of weeks in the life of us Country folk have revolved around 'village show time'. It's that time of year when the vege growers amongst us harvest our lovingly nurtured veges and put them on show for all to see.
Tim and I started living in the country some twelve or so years ago. Back then we managed to some how blag a little thatched cottage in one of the prettiest villages in Oxfordshire for a measly rent of £100 per month. The cottage was derelict! Yes I know madness I hear you all say, as did our friends back then. It wasn't exactly the Ritz, neither was it the type of pad that most of our friends dreamt of, but to us it was wonderful! In the early days we didn't have a bathroom as such, (well there was a room containing a disconnected shower), but no loo and no hand basin. The kitchen was more of a narrow corridor with only cold running water, no built in modern kitchen, just the sink. But we loved it! We spent about £1000 renovating the place so that we cold live in it (that included buying a wood burning stove), we stripped the wall of old plaster and pulled in a  few ceilings (there were only a few). We made a huge mess really!
It remained primitive to today's standard but the love of the peace and tranquillity were the driving force behind all of this and it was really fine. After all, people many years ago lived perfectly well with very little in the way of 'stuff' and they were perfectly happy.
Anyway, I have digressed.....upon moving to the village we naturally decided to take part in all the events that occurred locally, as most of the villagers also did. One of those events happened to be the village show. Well of course we went along (not really knowing what we were letting ourselves in for), people had actually grown vegetables and taken the time to clean them and display them beautifully for all to see in huge marquees. They also showed their beautiful crafts and home made produce. We took it all in with very open minds until it came to the presentations of the awards. AWARDS??? Yes, they even got awarded money, certificates and cups for their efforts....well you can imagine....two city folk watching people win sums of money for carrots!!!! And how serious these folks were about their efforts too. 'Well' we both said 'If they can do it, so can we....' Oh dear....what were we thinking?
Neither of us had the first idea about anything to do with growing vegetables. Both of our parents had dabbled a little when we were young but nothing to really be proud of. So that next year we set to work and we did grow things. We admired the vege patches of others whenever we were out walking. I do remember being slightly unimpressed by all the straight lines and thought that we would grow ours in zigzags! (Umm silly idea! Hoeing is so much easier when your rows are straight....). No wonder the neighbour kept telling us 'You're learning....'.
We did enter that next year and for many years to follow, in fact this year is the first year that we didn't enter a thing. It's terribly competitive you know. People keep serious watch over their prize crops for weeks before, selecting their pumpkins, ear marking beans, ripening tomatoes ooooh tomatoes!!!!
On the morning of the show you have to arrive early with your produce all carefully tucked  in a safe receptacle (for the women that's a basket with a  handle, the men tend to take their wheelbarrows), you pick up your class cards and take your entry over to the appropriate place in the marquee. Then with great care you carefully position your item or items on the tables with a sneaky look either side at the work of your fellow competitors. Yes, I am sure some swapping or nudging of others items does go on. Then it's off to display the next item. A couple of years ago I was laying out my treasured items, which incidentally one prepares in the days (night in my case) before the show, when a neighbour asked Tim if he could help him bring in his prize pumpkin. The chaps wife offered to mind our children whilst he did so. I continued what I was doing with great care and attention then happened to look across the marquee to see small boy feasting on a tomato that someone had just laid out.....! Arrrrrr agast!!!!! Pants!!!!! I swiftly flew over (quite literally) and looked mortified at the five remaining beauties (the only exhibits on the table). Wondering what on earth to do I noted the entrants number and proceeded to tell the organisers of the terrible thing that had happened (sniggering as I retell this story). They obviously shared my concern and through professional eyes (lips bitten), they told me who had exhibited the precious pearls. It was only the head gardeners wife from the neighbouring village! I took the bull by the horns and walked up to her to explain the situation. 'I am so sorry but my son has just taken one of your tomatoes'  Pause......'Well, I want it back'......'Ummm, you can't, he's eaten it'. Huff, puff, uurrrrr. Well let's just say she won first prize that year for her five lovely tomatoes, the judge commented that 'they were obviously extremely tasty!' Small boy became quite a star that year.
Then there was the year that we displayed four courgettes with flowers on (as it indicated in the brochure), I felt sure that I would win as mine were jolly good examples, but no, someone else won, someone whose courgettes didn't have flowers on at all!
That same year one of our friends entered his longest runner bean (two beans cut in half and joined with tin foil)....oh it all happens!
The seriousness of that particular show was there in her glory but there was some light hearted fun as well. In later years when we moved to another village and took up the same challenge, I entered the 'Flowerless beauty' class. Previously I had entered all manner of displays of lovely green foliage from the hedgerows in the village and our garden. I did the same this particular year only to discover that the new village had specially allotted booths for each exhibit in the class for each individual. Well I was mortified to discover that everyone else had purchased beautiful exotic foliage from florists whilst I (as usual) had opted for hedge pickings....the embarrassment of it all. I checked that no one was looking, dumped my entry and made a swift exit. No prizes there!

This year we decided not to display anything at all, not to help, in fact not to go to the show at all...this year we stepped up a notch and checked out the show in Moreton in the Marsh. This particular show is similar but on a much grander scale. Oh me, oh my, they had the usual veges etc but they also had cows and sheep, chickens and ducks and dancing diggers!!!! Small boy was in his element! The little lady and Miss P watched the whole show too.  Dads and boys alike stood in awe of these giant machines as they drove around the arena to music. I just stood back with Jenny dog and let the show go on, she was more interested in the ice creams from the distracted children!
Jenny dog had her moment of fun too. She rather likes Terrier racing, quite a whizz she is. The little yappy terriers are put in crates six at a time and then the front of the cages/traps are lifted and the eager hounds race across the field in pursuit of (in this case) a mop tied to a loop of cord. Jenny dog got into the final and came third, a yellow rossett!


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Life without school

It's that time of year again when most parents breathe a sigh of relief that they have survived the Summer unscathed by the presence of their children for the duration of the holiday period. I have to say I certainly feel like that! The rush to buy the new school shoes is over as is the sudden panic of 'they've grown over the Summer and their uniform doesn't fit!' However, unlike the majority of parents out there I continue to enjoy the full time company of my children as they don't go to school at a moment of madness (many think) some six or so years ago, I dared to question the system and decided (much to the disapproval of many of my family and friends) to do it myself. I decided back then, when Miss P was only four, that we could cover everything that was covered in school (and more) in just an hour or so a day, and then we could have a huge amount of free time in which to play!

 The little lady and small boy creating a post box. We had to use it all day!

I developed a huge thirst for the subject and did masses of research, I joined a group and 'the rest is history' so they say. Some six years down the line and now three children and we're still doing it! I have to say it's such a relief NOT to have to rush the children up in the morning and scream at them for an hour and a half to get ready, we just potter about and wake when we're ready and oh, dream's like the holidays all year round!
The thing that most people ask about is their friends.....Miss P had thought about going to secondary school as of now and someone commented 'Oh that will be lovely, you'll make some friends at last!' What??? Oh if only they knew. We honestly have soooo many friends and really good friends too (REALLY good friends), I honestly wouldn't have it any other way. My children are always having lunch dates and sleepovers and sleepovers and more sleepovers and more lunch dates, it's really quite unreal. And me too, I have many many lovely lovely mummy and daddy friends. I always dreamt of having a house full of children with noise and chaos. They may not all be my children but I feel I know them all so well they could be.
One thing that is really different about the world of home education is the respect and acceptance we have for one another. We have escaped the competition (psssst, what reading level is......on?). I was as guilty of that as the next person, we can't help it. But it's so lovely to be free from all that.
So what do we do all day? Well sometimes it seems like not much at all, but when you look closely you'll discover that small boy discovered a toad had moved into the garden and has laid eggs (that's life cycles covered with questions and answers rolling and dealt with), Miss P creates a puppet and writes a play for it to star in and the little lady learns how to apply make up (really badly)! All in a days work. They have freedom to create and to research and to learn the things that interest them at the moment their interest is ignited. I do sometimes set lessons too but always with much scope for further investigation by themselves. Workbooks occasionally creep in too (do you know how dull and boring they are?).
 Fishing the canal with fishing line and garden canes. Who needs fancy equipment? We caught fish!

So as I write small boy is in bed no doubt dreaming about his toad or tree climbing session or perhaps the next wild adventure he is going to have, the little lady is complaining about a rash she has developed this afternoon, probably where she has been rambling in her knickers and vest through the undergrowth of the garden and Miss P, well she's probably talking 'sticks' or creating more Stardolls to sell to her willing friends. (The latter two are at a wonderful friends having yet another sleepover). Me? Well I'm on line creating this blog in the hope that one day I'll create some kind of business enterprise. Dreaming again!!!