Monday, 29 November 2010

Frosty Day

frozen puddle
across Grove Field

 Here in Essex we escaped the heavy snowfall yesterday and instead we awoke to a beautiful frosted landscape. There was no wind and the sun was out some of the time making it a good day for a quick walk around the fields.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat ...

At Christmas time we sell geese and turkeys produced by Howard Blackwell of Coggeshall. If you are driving near Herons Farm during the autumn slow down to look at the geese as they graze in the paddock by the farm. Yesterday morning Howard was featured on the Farming Today programme on Radio 4, explaining how he rears his geese. If you're interested, listen on the BBC i-player.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Hunt the Christmas Tree

searching for the tree

found it
This morning we've been choosing a Christmas tree with children from a local nursery group. We searched through the trees to find a tree the right size and finally the children found the tree with the Christmas fairy perched in the branches. The tree was measured to make sure it would fit into the nursery, then cut down and carried back to the barn where it was netted up.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Green Tomatoes

 I've pulled out the tomato plants in the greenhouse, hung the peppers from the roof in the hope that they'll ripen and opened the greenhouse door for the chickens. The ground outside is wet at the moment so the hens will go into the greenhouse, eat the last of the squashed tomatoes and scratch in the dry dirt having dust baths and sit around taking the sun like old ladies at the seaside.

The tomatoes have been stripped from the rather withered looking plants and red ones were made into tomato soup, with a few left for sandwiches and if I have the time and inclination I'll make some tomato and onion sauce for the freezer. The green tomatoes have been made into mincemeat, which sounds disgusting but is surprisingly good in mince pies or made into a large tart with a coconut topping.

The recent wind has blown most of the leaves off the trees so everywhere is looking rather bare. There are a few apples still on the trees but I picked up some windfalls and used them with my ever dwindling supply of walnuts to make some walnut & apple bread.

Starting to prepare for Christmas trees

tagging trees for customers
It's only just over a fortnight until we open for Christmas trees, so preparations are in full swing. Orders are coming in from schools and businesses and one or two people needing very large outdoor display trees have come along to the plantation to choose the one they'd like cut down.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Sloe Gin

There's been a bumper crop of sloes in the hedgerows this year and I've watched the sloes ripen in the summer, with their beautiful blue bloom that has gradually turned purple and almost black through the autumn until they're ready to pick. The berries look so attractive it's hard to believe they can be so astringent but a tentative bite through the purple skin to the green flesh below will dry your mouth out.

Culpeper recommended sloes for a sore mouth and to fasten loose teeth, but I think they're best used in a mix of fruits to make hedgerow jelly or best of all, in sloe gin. After several years of experimenting with different amounts of sugar, I've decided the best way to make sloe gin is to nick the skins of the sloes with a sharp knife (or stab with a needle) and put them into a demi-john to the half way mark. Top up with gin (probably about 3 litres) and then split three or four vanilla pods, scrape the seeds into the gin and then throw in the pods. The demi-john is then sealed and left in the kitchen for a week and given a shake every day before putting into a cool, dark cupboard for at least three months, though in reality it's usually left until I start searching for the demi-john to make the next batch. The gin then needs to be strained into bottles and sweetened with a little sugar if it's to be drunk straight away. Sloe gin mellows as it ages, so if I'm storing it for a while, I don't put any sugar it when I first bottle it as what tastes right when I'm bottling can taste distinctly syrupy a year or two later. You can drink the gin three months after it's been made but it's definitely better after a year; we have one bottle left of 2006 vintage that we're drinking at the moment and it is glorious.

Picking Sloes

Did you know that the name Great Slamseys originates from the Old English meaning "enclosure of the sloe (tree) hill"?