Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Sloe recipes ...

So the sloe picking season has started early this year; longer for the sloes to mature if it's for Christmas presents! I thought I'd share the recipes that I have found and use. Sloe Gin couldn't be simpler - all you need are sloes, gin and sugar plus almond essence if you like using it as I do, it adds a nice mellow taste to it I think. We don't get sloes until a lot later into the Winter season so can't wait until the frosts to pick them, we therefore freeze them to replicate that and this has the added advantage that most of the skins split, thus avoiding the need to prick every single fruit. Anyway, here's what I will be using this year ...

Sloe Gin Recipe:


  • 1lb/454gm of washed sloes
  • 4 ozs/112gm of white granulated sugar
  • 75cl bottle of medium quality gin
  • Sterilised 1 litre (at least) Le Parfait jar or wide necked bottle
  • 2-3 drops of almond essence


  • Wash sloes well and discard any bruised or rotten fruit. Prick fruit several times with a fork and place sloes in either a large Kilner/Le Parfait jar or a wide necked 1 litre bottle. Put several sloes in my palm to prick them rather than picking them up one by one. (I freeze them as we don't get frosts early enough, and this usually splits them too so avoids the time spent pricking them).
  • Using a funnel, add the sugar and top up with gin to the rim.
  • Add the almond essence.
  • Shake every day until the sugar is dissolved and then store in a cool, dark place until you can resist it no longer (leave for at least three months, can be left for up to a year).
  • Some people strain the grog (through muslin/jelly bag) after 3 months and bottle it, leaving it mature for six months. We strain and bottle after a year. Don’t leave the straining process any longer than a year; leaving the fruit in too long can spoil the liqueur.
Recipe from here.

Sloe Gin truffles recipe from here.
This recipe makes around 40 truffles

25g/1oz unsalted butter
75ml/3fl oz/5tbsp double cream
225g/8oz good quality Belgian chocolate
75g stoned sloes, broken up and softened with a pestle and mortar (already quite broken up from being in the sloe gin)
2 tbsp sloe gin

To Finish:
100g Very good quality chocolate (I use Green & Blacks 72% cocoa cooks chocolate, this really does make a superior truffle. Its high cocoa content gives you the 'hit' of chocolate without the sharpness of a plain chocolate)
Chopped roasted hazelnuts (optional)

  • Line a Swiss roll tin with baking parchment
  • Place butter and cream in a small saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute then remove from the heat.
  • Break the Belgian chocolate into pieces and add to the cream. Stir until melted, then mix in the sloes and sloe gin.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared swiss roll tin and chill in the fridge for about 2 hours until firm.
  • Break off pieces of the mixture and roll into balls. Chill for a further 30 minutes before finishing the truffles.
  • To finish melt the Green and Blacks chocolate. Dip the balls into the chocolate on a fork allowing the excess to drip back into the bowl. Carefully cover the truffle with the hazelnuts by putting it into a small dish or saucer of the nuts and covering it with the hazelnuts by hand.
  • Place the truffles in paper cases (if using) and refrigerate to set.
  • If it's for a gift, find a nice box or something creative to store them in and decorate lovingly! Oh, and make more for yourself too!

Sloe Gin Chocolates

Couldn't be simpler - just put the stoned berries in ice cube trays or on a shallow-sided tray, pour over melted chocolate of your choice and leave to cool and harden. If using the tray you then cut them into the size you want - this is easier to do when the chocolate hasn't quite set - score the shapes with a knife.
You could also add some chopped nuts or other fruits for variety.

Last year I also used some sloes in a cordial here. This can be varied with whatever fruits you have or can forage from the hedgerows.

Enjoy, if you have a go at making any of these, or if you are already a maker of such lovely gifts.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Making Elderberry syrup

bottled elderberry syrup

Ok, so this is made, bottled and ready to use. This is how I have made the syrup.

Simmering berries
  • Collect and de-stalk the elderberries.
  • Give them a good wash - pick out any green or unripe ones (the unripe ones will float in a bowl of water).
  • Add to a saucepan and cover with water (just cover by a couple of cm) and slowly bring to the boil, then simmer for 30-45 minutes and press the fruit to get all the juice out.
  • Strain through a fine gauze or muslin (it will heavily stain), then return to the pan. I used honey (extra bonus of it's heath giving qualities) or you could use sugar.
  • I didn't weigh the liquid or the honey - just added honey until it tasted good (elderberry juice is quite bitter). The honey dissolves quite quickly. If you use sugar, the balance to liquid for syrups/cordials is usually something like 1lb sugar (450g) to a pint of liquid. Heat until completely dissolved.
Straining the juices out
(look at that colour - hmmm, will use some for dyeing some wool I think too)

Allow to cool and bottle into sterilised jars or bottles and store in the fridge or somewhere cool - will keep for about 3 months, maybe more, although it will be used up before then!

Great for boosting immunity, warding off or treating colds, it's brilliant at reducing inflammation to the sinuses (speaking as a long-time sinus sufferer). Simple and natural - elderberries, water and honey, that's all.

Take a spoonful a day in the lead up to the cold season, and take more if you have a cold already. It can also be used as a sauce over puddings or ice-cream, or diluted in cold or hot water for a delicious drink.


Abundant elderberries

Monday, 23 August 2010

Today, I am mostly using foraged fruits ...

Foraged goodness

... to create some lovely syrups, and medicines for the Winter months.

We picked some lovely ripe Sloes. Yes, I know it's only August but they were ripe and if left would be no good to anyone, so we have popped them in the freezer. We can't wait for the first frosts around here as we often don't get any until very late (some years we rarely get them) so that would mean no sloes. These are destined for Sloe gin making soon and then the fruit is going to be re-used to make sloe gin chocolate truffles.

Blackthorn plant for the Sloes

Ripe sloes ready to use

We picked loads (and I mean loads) of ripe wild cherries that are just absolutely delicious. Many to be frozen for another day, some to be preserved in alcohol - just need to think about what we want to do with them. Te abundant tree they were picked from is heaving with fruit, so I think we shall return to pick some more soon.

Wild cherry harvest

Finally, we also picked loads (yes, that word again) of ripe elderberries. Early again, I hear you say, well yes and too good an opportunity to miss. Many of the Elder plants have them still to turn black and ripe so again we'll be back for more another time. But these were more than ready.

Preparing the elder berries

So, todays task is to make some elderberry syrup - perfect for keeping colds at bay, and some will be turned into an elixir (again, great medicine for colds). Some, or maybe the next foraged pickings, will go into a hedgerow cordial - I made one last year with sloes, blackberries, rosehips and it was the most delicious cordial - so more of that will be made this year with the addition of the elderberries. I'm thinking of then making other things with the elderberries (but not today, that's for the next foraging visit I think). I'm not a jam maker, so these are a better option for us. I love to make jam, but we just don't really use it much - I don't know why and maybe that will change one day, but they just don't get used very often in our house.

It was a little wet at times picking these, but hey you can't miss these opportunities can you? Where was Imogen when all the fun was happening? Well she helped us pick the sloes on Saturday, but Sundays foraging adventure (when it was rainy) - she spent the time here ...

... fast asleep and cosy

So, busy times with all the foraged goodness. Not too much effort to pick, free, and with a few simple store cupboard ingredients I will have some lovely things to consume in the Autumn and Winter months ahead. I will add the recipes I use soon too.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Come see our exhibition in Winchester - Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing ...

Last Tuesday was the opening of the Hampshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers 60th anniversary exhibition called "Jubilations" being held at the Great Hall in Winchester. The exhibition was opened by Kaffe Fassett (knitters out there will know the name).

Opening ceremony with Kaffe Fassett

The Great Hall is a wonderful place and a perfect backdrop to all the wonderful work of the Guild, old and new. It is a 13th century hall part of the old Winchester Castle and houses the "greatest symbol of medieval mythology, King Arthur's Round Table". A magnificent building and well worth a visit if in the area.

One of our longstanding members of the Guild, and a master at weaving, she also still teaches at over 80 years of age. This large floor loom was dismantled and rebuilt in the Hall, she brought the warp already threaded - there were some nervous moments carrying that in the day before.

display of spinning wheels

The exhibition has been 3 years in the planning and those involved in the design of the exhibition have done a fantastic job. There has been so much work by many members of the Guild with works to exhibit, but also in how it was all exhibited. A few members met last week with rolls of calico and sewing machines to make table cloths and display board covers for all the exhibits to have the same backdrop and it was really effective.

Many, many members worked until 9.30pm on Monday setting it all out to the well conceived plan. One of our members was demonstrating natural dyeing in the garden (not allowed inside in case the steam sets of the fire alarm/sprinklers) - a very experienced dyer who keeps her own Shetland sheep and has one of the best books on dyeing I've ever read (bit of a plug there for her, but it is a great book and she really knows her dyeing). There is a fantastic display inside of the colours achievable using natural dyes too. (note to self: got to find time for more of this, and start growing some plants for dyeing)

Natural Dyeing demonstration outside

Plants for dyeing display

The indoor dyeing display
I'll let some of the pictures of the work speak for themselves. There are some very highly talented people in our Guild, many of them either have or still do teach and they are brilliant at sharing their skills and knowledge with people - relatively new members like myself and members of the public visiting events like this one.

Weaving displays (great backdrop of the Hall)

Small needle felted bird and eggs and dog below (see the scale with Imogen in the picture)

Display of fibres - different sheep breeds,
other animals, plants and man-made

Another favourite display of mine which they have at other events is something that was created by an old Guild member (as in she left the area a long time ago). It's a display of lots of different fibres - natural and man-made, all handspun, with sample of the raw material, a small skein and a knitted swatch of the spun yarn. Many different breeds of sheeps wool which really shows off the variety of colours naturally available; alpaca, llama, yak and even musk ox (so soft!); silk, mohair, angorra; plant fibres - jute, flax (linen), cotton, sisal and man-made fibres including recycled plastic bottles, nylon, and polyester.

Our Youth Guild display - felted sea scene

Hampshire Guild is very proud of it's success with the Youth Guild, the girls have so much fun and their work is very good.

Mallory exhibition

There is also a display which is on loan to the Guild at the moment from the Mountain Heritage Trust, of replica clothing that George Mallory would have worn when climbing Mount Everest. Much of this was created by a Guild member who is a historic hand-knitting expert. This was all tested a few years ago to disprove the myth that these 1920's mountaineers were "ill-equipped" for climbing, the replicas were a resounding success.

... and yes, it's our favourite Yurt again, Imogen went in and out of this several times. One time she popped out saying "I'm in here" just as one of our members was showing the Yurt to Kaffe Fassett!

If you're in or around Winchester between now and 30th August 2010, please do drop in and take a look, it's free, we are all very friendly and will happily demonstrate skills or maybe let you have a go at some things (under supervision of course), and there are some fantastic examples of the Guild members work on display.

A balmy afternoon in the New Forest

Afternoon in the New Forest

Unexpectedly, especially after a rain shower overnight and early morning, last Monday afternoon turned out to be very hot and sunny as we spent the afternoon meeting up with old friends in the New Forest. They were on holiday, touring around in a caravan visiting friends and family en route.

Watching the Deer

It was lovely to catch up especially for Alex who they knew well (I only ever met them once a long time ago and can't really remember). We met up at the Deer Sanctuary at Bolderwood where they have a fantastic viewing platform set up by a feeding area and they regularly feed the deer throughout the Summer.

You get to be so close to the Deer

We got to see lots of Deer, and then took a relaxing walk around some of the forest before retreating to the picnic area for a New Forest Ice Cream - Imogens favourite! (as she regularly points out to everyone!).

Imogen discovering a Badger skull

Family photo by the fallen tree root

forest wandering

and time for a little tree climbing

We then travelled the short distance to their campsite for coffee and a slice of fruit pie I had made on Sunday to take for them with the fruit we entered into the allotment show. Lots of chatting about life, talking gardening, permaculture, transition towns, etc, etc whilst Imogen played with their 3 (older) girls. They were all a bit shy and quiet but Imogen got them playing chase and hide & seek, and even had their Dad playing swingball with her. She didn't want to leave when it was time to go home for tea, and yawned all the way home, singing in the car.

Perfect end to another lovely day.

1st trip to the cinema ... and in 3D too

We've never taken Imogen to the cinema before, but with Toy Story 3 out this Summer we thought it would be a great opportunity. Imogen loves Toy Story 1 & 2, and has been talking about the 3td one being at the cinema.

I wasn't sure about taking her for a while - kept changing my mind, I wasn't sure if it would just be too loud (she's sometimes sensitive to a lot of noise). We decided to definitely do it, and with Alex still on holiday from work for a few days we went on Monday. Of course if you're going to see it, you've gotta go 3D!

It's been years since we've been to the cinema (at least 5) so this was a real treat (and I can't believe how expensive it is too!), Alex and I were really impressed with the 3D side of it and finally that Sony 3D tv advert seen plenty during the World Cup made more sense and really made 3D tv look cool! I love the piece of music it's set to too, La Fille mal Gardee, Clog Dance ... by Ferdinand Hérold in case you're interested.

Anyway I digress, the film did not disappoint. We all thought it was fantastic. Imogen thought it was a bit loud to start with but soon got used to it as I said to her she would. She sat, rarely moved, 3D glasses on enjoying the film, laughing, a little cry towards the end (nothing much though) and only talked to us a little throughout which we thought she may do a lot. We saw an advert for another film we may go back later in the year to see - Despicable Me - lots of laughs, and Alex and I are planning to go and see the re-showing of Avatar in 3D later this month.

We had the place almost to ourselves - just one other child and their mom, mind you it was the 9am showing! We went so early hoping to avoid crowds and because we had plans to meet up with some old friends in the New Forest later that day.

I always used to enjoy the short films they often show before the main picture at the cinema and the one we saw Monday was really good. It was Day and Night and was really good - the Wikipedia entry describes it really well, a short clip can be seen here.

Great film, great company, can't wait for it to be out on DVD ... although not in 3D. Recommended viewing, and the short film too!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Allotment and Garden show ... the results are in ...

Last Saturday was our local allotment and garden show. Alex was a steward at the event so was there in the morning setting up the exhibits, and going around the room with the judges. He took our entries with him in the morning too. Our entries this year were not as many as we had hoped - late crops, crop failures (or just not up to showing!) and time just meant we didn't get around to entering many categories, but there is always next year.

So Imogen's entries and results were as follows:
Seed Tray Garden - 2nd place

Imogen's seed tray garden
Lots of moss, a pond with a chestnut shell boat with bay leaf sail, a tree with colourful wool blossoms, etc

Planted Footwear - 1st place (photo taken at home before show - didn't take one at the show for some reason).

Daddy's old shoe planted with flowers

Animal made from fruit and/or veg - 1st place

Simba from the Lion King ("as an adult, because the carrots are his mane") - all Imogens idea, but Mommy helped with the cocktail sticks after one stabbed her hand.

Artwork, theme Flowers - 3rd place

Picture - theme - flowers

Lots of success again this year meant that she also won the trophy for the Best children's exhibit. Retained her title from last year!

Receiving her trophy

Alex entered the Fruit display and came 2nd, same as last year. He also entered the novice growers category for beetroot and came 1st! He says that he won't let it take the shine of winning that his was the only entry in this category. They are lovely beetroot. He also entered the photography competition based on local wildlife with a picture of a snail but didn't win any rosettes here.
Fruit selection - 2nd prize
Beetroot - 1st place

I entered the photography competition with a picture of a butterfly and came 2nd. My other entry was the hand knitting category in which I had knitted an allotment/garden - something I have been working on for a while on and off. Remember this post? That last photo? Well, here is is all knitted and sewn together.

I came 1st in this category and received so many comments about the piece, people were amazed by it and loved it. I should add that I was the only entry this year in the knitting, although the consensus was that I probably would have won it anyway with my garden. And the garden now? Well as Imogen has been watching me create this, she longed to have a garden for her dolls house ... so that's where it is now, being played with and loved.

I have to say I had so much fun knitting this. It includes a shed, a lean-to greenhouse, a coldframe, cloches, a water butt, a large potted sunflower, apple tree, bean wigwam, rhubarb, cauliflowers, carrots, cabbages, seedlings, paths and grass edging. I also won a cup for the most points in the arts, crafts and photography section.

Next year with better planning and more time, we really hope to enter far more, especially the vegetables. We thought about entering the cherry tomatoes but weren't sure we'd have enough of the same variety, same size ripe enough at the time as we hadn't been to the allotment for a while. We were very wrong - there were tonnes to choose from, but never mind. As gardeners say, there is always next year.

Buckingham Palace and Parliament Square ... end of a lovely day

Align CentreA poignant sign at the Parliament Square protests

The final leg of our big day out in London took us on a tube from Kensington to Green Park, a walk through the park spotting and naming trees, walnuts, chestnuts, squirrels and excited chatter as we approached Buckingham Palace. Alex was just explaining that if the flag is flying, then the Queen is in residence ... and as we arrived we saw the flag was indeed flying. Imogen spotted a room with a light on and declared that the Queen must be in that room as the light was on, she was probably reading a book!

on the Tube
at the Palace

watching the guards

A little more rain but nothing to stop the enjoyment of walking around, or even running around the Victoria Memorial opposite. Imogen watched the Guards with great interest, especially the marching and wanted to see them up close to see their "grumpy" faces (as we'd explained they don't smile or move much as they concentrate hard). Pictures taken, we decided to walk through St James Park to Westminster and onto Parliament Square. Imogen decided she was going to be one of the guards and started her own style of marching, maybe a little more like Monty Python than the palace guards though - see below ...
... it made us all smile and laugh.

We saw what remained of the Parliament Square protestors, mostly signs about Iraq, Afghanistan and was and troops in general. There was also this sign which gives food for thought.

Parliament Square

Big Ben in the glorious light of the sunset

We arrived at Westminster around 7.30pm and the light was just wonderful as it reflected off Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament. Imogen was excited to be at Big Ben for the chimes at 8pm (usually one little girls bedtime but still a few hours travel from home). Lots of photographs taken - Big Ben looking glorious in the glowing sunset, and photos of the parliament square protesters.

Look, it's my bedtime
... and I'm wide awake and a long way from my bed!

Over the bridge, back to the train station

A walk across Westminster Bridge, past the London Eye, and onto Waterloo for a much needed coffee before catching the train home again.

at the coffee shop