For Sale – The Good Life

Strawberry Fields – Smallholding For Sale

When we first found our dream home, the sun was shining on golden chains of laburnum and frothy pink cherry blossom.  The wooden farm gate was open and as we walked down the drive wild birds fluttered away – and – I remember quite clearly – a jay flew across into the field – the first jay I had ever seen.

The house was totally empty – not even a light bulb was left – but it still felt warm and welcoming and we fell in love with it.  The garden was neglected – no flowers – but the grass had been cut and there were lots of trees.  The traditional Rowan tree by the back door to ward off evil – and a beautiful spruce tree – which we later found out is a Brewer’s Spruce.

We moved in on 3rd August, 1992 with two-year old Dane and Kirt on the way (born the following January), one border collie, two cats and 3 ducks – and lots of ideas for homesteading.

One of the first things I did was visit the local library to borrow books on sheep, pigs and donkeys (google wasn’t around then).  After talking to local farmers, I soon realised that it is much easier to have someone else’s livestock in your fields – all the pleasure of sheep bleating in the morning without the problems of dipping, shearing and all the form filling – so that’s what we did.

But we bought some hens and geese to keep our ducks company – and later on I started breeding New Zealand White rabbits again.

With 4 acres, the possibilities were endless.

There was a massive shed for the poultry – which they all shared quite happily.

The conservatory on the side of the house was perfect for growing seedlings – I started out with growing flowers – and had soon filled the patio with tubs and hanging baskets – and some vegetables – potatoes and broad beans – and runner beans.  Initially I dug a small vegetable patch which has gradually been extended year after year until it’s now big enough to grow everything – courgettes, pumpkins, onions, strawberries, purple sprouting – all sorts of vegetables – and a rhubarb bed.

I also grew my own herbs from seed.  I had brought spearmint and applemint with me – cuttings originally from my aunt – whose green fingers I inherited.  When Kirt started home-schooling one of the first things we did was to make a proper herb garden – we marked out squares with bricks and gradually filled them – then extended them.  The herb garden now contains Rosemary, Bay, Sage, Thyme, Hyssop, Fennel, Lovage, Parsley, Feverfew, Lemon Mint, Oregano, Marjoram, Tarragon – and the latest addition – Angelica – which is a magnificent plant.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-the-herb-garden/

I used to dry herbs and hang them up in the conservatory – and freeze some (like mint) in ice cube trays.  Now I dry some herbs in the warming oven, chop them in the blender and store in jars – but I also freeze some in small plastic bags which are perfect for soups and mint sauce – and retain the flavour better.

Mint and horseradish have their own separate spaces as they do tend to be rather rampant.  And basil and coriander were grown in the conservatory as they like to be a bit warmer – and also the slugs love them!  They were later relocated in the polytunnel.

I also found that dried herbs make wonderful firelighters – when cutting them down in the Autumn, tie them into bundles and hang up to dry.  They are much better than – and greener – than traditional firelighters – ad because of the oils they contain – they work exceedingly well.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/october-in-barbaras-back-yard/

Dad bought us some apple trees and a greengage and we bought some blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and a loganberry.  A friend gave us a cutting of a thornless blackberry – and some raspberry plants.  Loganberries, blackberries and raspberries all need lots of space – and need cutting back vigorously every year.

Fruits are wonderful for homesteading – when you have made enough jams you can use the rest for making country wines.  Home-made jams taste divine.  Wines are a bit more hit and miss – but they are always good for cooking – and elderberry wine makes excellent mulled wine mixed with sugar and spices.

When I lived in Birmingham, I used to breed New Zealand White rabbits – and I had brought all the equipment with me – so we found some breeding stock and started again.  Baby rabbits are born blind, deaf and without any fur – but, by the time they are 3 weeks old, they are little white furry balls hopping around and they are absolutely gorgeous.  Rabbit manure is excellent for the garden so makes a wonderful addition to my natural recycling programme.  Rabbits like lots of wild plants like comfrey, clover and wild garlic – as well as dandelion leaves – and carrot leaves are their absolute favourite.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/new-zealand-white-rabbits/

So we don’t have a green bin to put out for the refuse collectors.  We have a compost bin, the rabbits eat a lot of the weeds, the hens eat scraps from the kitchen (their favourite is bacon rinds but you are not really supposed to give them meat!), the dog has meat scraps and the cats demolish most of the chicken bones.  And the ducks eat the slugs and snails.  I have also seen the hens eat mice and frogs on occasions.

When digging over the vegetable garden in winter, pause for thought and watch the hens scratching about for worms – stop for a cup of tea and return to find the robin sitting on the spade handle waiting for titbits.

The trees are amazing, here is the beech tree through the seasons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a beautiful silver birch and a really old willow tree – which the boys loved to climb when they were little.

This is the oak tree in the field – with broom growing beneath it.

Some of the hedges are ancient hedgerows with blackthorn, hawthorn, ash, alder, beech, hazel and oak, interwoven with brambles and honeysuckle.

We kept part of the field as a wildflower meadow with ox-eye daisies, bird’s foot trefoil, knapweed, restharrow, pink campion and lots of different grasses.  The butterflies love it and I have spent wonderful sunny summer afternoons counting holly blues, commas and painted ladies – and peacocks, red admirals and small tortoiseshells on the buddleia – and joining in the Big Butterfly Count.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-butterflies/

We also took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch.

THE SMALLHOLDING YEAR

JANUARY is the time when all the garden catalogues arrive and you can spend hours deciding what you would like to plant – the only problem with having enough room to grow everything is restricting yourself to what you can physically manage.

I soon learned what grew well on our sandy soil – and what our family would eat – which were not always the same things!  Peas are definitely better from Bird’s Eye.  By the time you have grown them from seed, planted them, protected them from pigeons, fed them, picked them and podded them – it’s blindingly obvious that frozen peas are a much more sensible alternative.

The first winter I was absolutely delighted to discover at least 3 different varieties of snowdrops growing in the garden, closely followed by celandines and coltsfoot.

 

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-snowdrops-tiny-pearls-of-springtime/

Coltsfoot flowers appear before the leaves, little stars sparkling in the sunshine. Catkins and pussy willows decorate the hedgerows, sheltering snowdrops and celandines nestling amongst the roots.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/march-in-barbaras-back-yard-spring-is-just-around-the-corner/

FEBRUARY

There’s an Enid Blyton story about Candlemas Day – when Brock the Badger pokes his nose out to sniff the air – if it’s fine, he goes back to sleep for a bit:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,

Winter will have another flight;

If Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,

Winter has gone and will not come again.

 

https://barbararainford.co.uk/2nd-february-candlemas-day/

There’s a badger sett in the big field – our neighbour says it’s been there as long as he can remember.  Badgers make scuffs in the ground looking for worms and truffles so you can see when they have reappeared from hibernation.  There’s also rabbits and moles – so our field is a sort of combination of Wind in the Willows, Watership Down and Duncton Wood.  There’s an ancient beech tree – Queen Fagus – and an oak tree – King Quercus – and on our morning walks we often hug a tree – we can only just reach around the beech tree – finger-tips touching!

Winter is the best time to watch the bird table.

 

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-the-bird-table-in-winter/

The variety of birds is simply amazing – the first time the Great-Spotted Woodpecker graced us with his presence I was simply dumbfounded.  He is so beautiful – he loves peanuts but also sunflower seeds.

I have also seen a kestrel perched on the fence – and a sparrowhawk on the table outside the kitchen window.  Buzzards are often seen being chased by crows – and the finches and tits love the pine trees.

We’ve put bird boxes up and the great tits and blue tits use them – but the blackbirds, robins and wrens prefer to make their own nests in various places in the barn – especially in the holly wreaths that I hang up ready for renewing the following Christmas.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/new-year-in-barbaras-back-yard/

Early February you can sow broad beans in pots ready to plant out as soon as the weather allows.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/broad-beans-tips-for-growing/

The frogs return to the pond and you can hear them burbling late into the evening, then frogspawn appears and gradually morphs into tadpoles.

Best of all, the birds start singing in the mornings and we open the bedroom window to listen to the liquid notes of the blackbird floating in on the breeze.

MARCH

The daffodils are out – at one time there must have been a hedge in the big field but all that remains now are three clumps of daffodils.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd – a host of golden daffodils” – which I believe was written about Stourhead – but daffodils always remind me of this poem.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/daffodils/

Seed sowing starts in earnest.  My Dad bought me a small propagator which is marvellous for starting off difficult things that like the warmth – courgettes, tomatoes and pumpkins – and sweet peas – I used to have real trouble getting sweet peas to germinate until last year I bought some Eckford Sweet peas – an old fashioned variety – which grew really well

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-the-eckford-sweet-pea-festival-wem/

Time also to plant early potatoes – and the first rhubarb appears – lovely and sweet and tender at this time of year – perfect for rhubarb crumble.

APRIL – the swallows return, swirling and swooping over the fields.

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there …
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now …
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—

The apple blossom appears – the crab apple tree first almost luminescent in the twilight of lengthening evenings.  The blue tits and great tits are busily feeding chicks, popping in and out of nest boxes.

The yellow flag irises are out in the wild pond

 

MAY

Beltane 1st May – the first day of summer in the ancient Celtic calendar – and the Druid celebration of fertility when the Lady of the Land takes the hand of the Horned God.  We celebrate with lots of flowers in the house, music – and lighting candles.

Time to plant runner beans and French beans in pots – ready for planting out once the last frosts have gone.  Dig a bean trench and fill it with compost from the compost bin – and put the bean sticks up.  Plenty of hazel trees in the field hedgerows to cut bean sticks from.

Clear out pots and hanging baskets ready for geraniums, lobelia, impatiens and petunias – lots of colour for the summer patio.

The elderflowers are in full bloom – ready to make elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/elderflower-champagne/

JUNE

The cushions are put out on the chairs around the patio table ready for breakfasts in the early morning sunshine – and summer barbecues.  We always celebrate Midsummer Eve – like the Moomin family – it’s a special day – with music and dancing outside under the stars.  In the past we had to rig up a speaker with wires connected to a stereo – now we just have a Bluetooth speaker and a mobile phone!

New potatoes, broad beans and strawberries are all ready to pick.  There’s nothing like broad beans fresh from the garden – and I love podding them – sitting on the bench in the sunshine.  Small sweet broad beans only take 5 minutes to cook.  New potatoes, freshly dug, cooked with mint and melting with butter are divine!

JULY
Hot summer days, the patio is a riot of colour.  The great tits are busy feeding their brood on the bird table.  Last year Daisy, our Dorking hen, hatched 4 chicks and Jemima, one of the Indian Runner ducks hatched 4 ducklings.  Amazing to watch the chicks crowding around mum, as she pecks corn into tiny pieces for them to eat.  When the ducklings are a few days old we give them a bigger bowl of shallow water so they can have their first swim – they get so excited and whiz around the bowl quacking ecstatically.

The raspberries are ripe – and the ducklings love them.  Raspberry jam – and jelly – and raspberry wine.  Blackcurrants also make delicious jam and wine – and redcurrants for redcurrant jelly to eat with chicken – and turkey at Christmas.

The poppies are out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUGUST – shooting stars – lying on the trampoline on quilts and blankets looking at the stars – and spotting wishing stars – and planes and satellites – and watching the bats across the darkening sky.

 

The sunflowers are out

The butterflies are at their best and I can spend ages watching them on the buddleia – and on the ragwort with the bees and the stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare …”

https://barbararainford.co.uk/barbaras-back-yard-bees-butterflies-and-the-cinnabar-moth/

1st August is Lughnasadh or Lammas and marks the first day of harvest – when corn dollies were made from the first straw and bread from the first wheat.

Time to lift onions and set them out to dry before tying into ropes.

Courgettes tend to be rather prolific at this time of year and I’ve been quite inventive in using them up before they turn into marrows.  Curries, soups, salads, all benefit from the addition of grated courgettes.  They are of course best fried in a little butter!

https://barbararainford.co.uk/courgettes-recipe-ideas-to-make-the-best-use-of-courgettes/

The greengages are ripe – I found the best time to pick them is when it’s raining – as there aren’t many wasps about.  They are the sweetest plums and best eaten fresh – although they are also good bottled for winter use.

SEPTEMBER – the harvest – I am usually picking runner beans and freezing them – and picking tomatoes – and skinning them, chopping them and freezing them in tubs to use in Bolognese, curries and soups.

Blackberries are ripe for blackberry jam and blackberry wine – along with loganberries and elderberries.  One year I made a ‘many berry wine’ from a mixture of fruits left in the freezer – and elderberries.

OCTOBER

Rose hips are ripe – they contain lots of vitamin C (twenty times more than oranges) – ideal for keeping winter coughs and colds away.  During the war – when there were no oranges – children were given rose hip syrup from the Ministry of Health.  Rose hip syrup is quite easy to make – it makes a lovely summer drink with ice cubes – and a warming winter toddy diluted with hot water.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/rose-hip-syrup/

Time to pick apples and store them for winter use – the rabbits love them and so do geese.  One of the pleasures of keeping livestock is enjoying watching them eat titbits – during the summer the rabbits have lots of plants from the garden – in winter it’s mainly apples and carrot tops.

 

Make Wittenham Cider ready for Hallowe’en

https://barbararainford.co.uk/wittenham-cider/

Hallowe’en is always special – The Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter and we have a sort of combined Guy Fawkes and Hallowee’en around the weekend of 31st October – with a bonfire and sparklers – and ‘Jack’o’Lanterns.  There’s a lovely story about ‘Stingy Jack’ and how is destined to roam the earth with his Jack’O’Lantern. https://barbararainford.co.uk/halloween-in-barbaras-back-yard/

 

NOVEMBER

The last few years we have had an Indian Summer and the days have been really sunny although the nights are drawing in.  Runner beans have carried on cropping into November – when the first frosts finally finish them off – and the nasturtiums are ‘gone willy-nilly, umbrella and all’.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/the-nasturtium-fairy/

For the last few years I have made an autumn wreath with berries and crab apples and hung it on the bird table, the birds don’t seem to be very interested, but it looks very pretty.

 

Time to clear the garden, remove the rest of the weeds, take down the bean sticks and tidy up the herb garden.  Cutting down or pruning the herbs I found a really good use for the cuttings – I dry them on top of one of the wire hen pens and then tie them into bundles, hang them up to dry in the barn, and they make really good firelighters – and much better than those smelly paraffin alternatives!

Time also to pick holly – before the birds pinch all the berries – and store ready to make holly wreaths.

DECEMBER

1st December is Yule – make a Yule Log with holly and pine cones and candles for the table – and holly wreaths with moss and holly and ivy, laurel and spruce and hang them on the old front door – and the barn door.  I always think about all the other people in times gone by who have hung a holly wreath on the very same doors hundreds of years ago.  Although the house has five bedrooms it has been extended at least 3 times and must have been originally a traditional cottage with two rooms downstairs, 2 bedrooms and a thatched roof.  The study still has the original oak beams and thick sandstone walls – and a fireplace which must once have been an old range.

There must be lots of secrets that have never been uncovered – there’s a wall safe that’s never been opened; when we extended to connect the studio to the main house, the roof beams were exposed and you could see the remains of the burnt timbers where we assume the thatch caught fire.  There are still some old wide floorboards on the landing.

We’ve installed a wood burner and it’s wonderful to curl up in front of a real fire on a Sunday afternoon with a good book – sometimes watching snowflakes swirl outside or with a glass of mulled wine on a winter evening.

December we usually visit Croft Ambrey to see the mistletoe on the hawthorn trees – and bring a small piece home.  There’s nowhere to hang it because the ceilings are so low so it hangs over the Yule log on the dresser.

Our Christmas tree always comes from Holly Farm Nursery just up the road – all their trees are grown locally at Fauls Christmas Tree Farm so are very carbon friendly.

Maynards Farm, two doors down, provide local geese, turkeys and hams for Christmas dinner and we save the last of the parsnips, potatoes and carrots to go with them. We have home-made apple sauce and redcurrant jelly. One year I even managed to grow some sprouts and cauliflower that survived the pigeons and slugs – which were delicious!

And so to New Year and the circle of life begins again.

 

 

 

 

New Year in Barbara’s Back Yard

New Year in Barbara’s Back Yard

Last October, I made a wreath for Hallowe’en with crab apples and hawthorn berries and autumn leaves. When I replaced it with a Yule wreath at the beginning of December, I hung my Hallowe’en wreath near the bird table. I have just refreshed it, replacing the leaves with ivy and adding some of the holly from the Yule wreaths.

I hang the Yule wreaths up in the barn – keeping them to use next year.

Last year when I came to make new wreaths – when I took them down – I found two of them had nests in them.

If you haven’t done it already – it’s time to clear out nestboxes ready for Spring.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/nestboxes/nestboxes-for-small-birds/cleaning-nestboxes

January is a good time to take hardwood cuttings from roses and shrubs:  Cut a piece of twig from the previous year’s growth – as thick as a pencil and about six inches long. You need a straight cut at the bottom just below a node and the top should have a diagonal cut just above a node.  Place each cutting in the centre of a homemade newspaper pot containing a heavily-gritted soil mix. You can cram several individual wrapped cuttings into one plant pot. By late spring unroll to see if root hairs have developed – if not leave them a while longer.  Once roots have grown you can plant them out. (courtesy of Country Wisdom & Folklore diary)

It was believed to be beneficial to propogate cuttings at the time of the waning moon, as the earth is said to inhale – and the sap is encouraged to travel towards the roots.  Could this be something to do with the pull/push of the moon on the earth – the same force that causes the tides…?

Sage, honey and lemon tea is good for coughs and colds.  Dissolve 1 tblsp honey in half a pint of boiling water with the juice of 1 lemon. Add 2 tblsp of fresh sage – or one of dried – leave to infuse for minutes, strain and reheat.

Squirrels can be a real nuisance – I don’t mind them eating some of the bird food – but they seem to have to wreck all the feeders in the process.  I have started putting some nuts out on the ground for the squirrels and so far this seems to be working.  There were some sweet chestnuts left over from Bonfire Night and I’ve put those out for them.  It’s quite fun watching them – they pick up a nut and eat it, then they run off with the next nut and bury it, then eat a nut, then bury a nut.

So next time we go to Grinshill, we’ll collect some more chestnuts for them.

Late November in Barbara’s Back Yard

Late November in Barbara’s Back Yard

This year I made a Samhain Wreath for Hallowe’en – there were so many scarlet berries and amber leaves – and rosy crab apples that I wanted to make something with them

So this is the wreath I made – it’s faded a bit now but it’s almost time to make a new one for Yule – 1st December.

The beech tree has lost all its leaves – it never ceases to amaze me how much the landscape changes with the seasons.

November in Barbara’s Back Yard

November in Barbara’s Back Yard

 

We have a sort of combination of Samhain, Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes with a bonfire and Jack’O’Lanterns – pumpkin soup, hot dogs and flapjacks.

Timothy the Scarecrow, who has now completed his task keeping the pigeons away from the peas, becomes Guy Fawkes and we make a mask for his face.  Logan was particularly creative (and scary!) this year with his handprint skull.

Just have two pumpkins left to carve for our bonfire night – the rest have been made into pumplin soup or given away to good causes.  The biggest pumpkin this year went to a children’s nursery – wish I had a video of the excitement in the children’s faces when they saw how big it was!  One year there was a really massive pumpkin and it went to a local garden nursery to promote their pumpkin picking patch – they did a ‘guess the weight of the pumpkin’ competition.

When all the fun of Hallowe’en is over, it’s time to put grease bands on the fruit trees – especially the greengage – if you don’t then the plums all get grubs in them, they rot on the branches and the wasps love them which makes picking them quite precarious!

It’s also a good idea to pick holly whilst there are still lots of berries – before the birds pinch them all.  I was horrified one year to go out to collect holly to make wreaths to find that the beautifully adorned holly trees were practically bare of berries.  Need to store them where the birds can’t get to them as well – as last year I put them in the open barn – only to find that many of the berries had disappeared!

Hallowe’en in Barbara’s Back Yard

Hallowe’en in Barbara’s Back Yard

Hallowe’en – the night when the divide between the worlds of the living and the dead is especially thin – my Grandmother used to have a teapot stand that said:  “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night, may the good Lord deliver us.”  I’ve no idea why it was on a teapot stand but I always think of it at Hallowe’en.  (Looking it up I find out that it’s a Scottish prayer.)

Time to pick pumpkins and carve Jack O’lanterns (tip – use an ice cream scoop to scrape out the seeds).  Reserve the flesh for pumpkin soup.

The idea of a hollowed-out vegetable with a candle in the middle originated with the Celts – but they didn’t have pumpkins (they came later – from America).  They used beets, and turnips, and carved grotesque faces on them – and put them outside their doors to ward off evil spirits.

According to Irish folklore, Jack O’lantern comes from the story of Stingy Jack who tried to outsmart the Devil: Jack invites the Devil for a drink and convinces him to transform into a coin to pay with – as soon as the coin appeared, Jack changed his mind and kept the coin in his pocket with a silver cross – so preventing it turning back into the Devil.  Eventually Jack freed the devil, on condition that he would leave Jack alone for a year – and – that he wouldn’t claim Jack’s soul when he died.  At the end of the year Jack tricked the devil again by persuading him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit.  Whilst the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the tree trunk so the Devil couldn’t get down.  The Devil had to swear that he would leave Jack alone for another ten years before he was allowed to come down.

Then Jack died – but he had led such a sinful life that God wouldn’t let him into Heaven and, because of his bargain with the Devil, he couldn’t get into hell either, so Jack was sent instead into the eternal night. Jack complained about how dark it was, wandering around earth with no place to go, so someone tossed him a hot coal, which he placed in a hollowed-out turnip – and he has been roaming the earth ever since – with his turnip-lantern to guide him.

The Irish began to refer to this spooky figure as “Jack of the Lantern”, which has since become Jack O’Lantern – and some folks say that Jack comes out on Hallowe’en night looking for someone to take his place… so watch out, if you see him wandering your way!

The Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year.  Time to pick and store the apples for winter puddings – and to add to soups (Squash Apple and Sage Soup) – and to feed to the rabbits and hens when winter sets in.  Time to make Wittenham Cider with the windfalls.  The recipe says to leave it for a week after its bottled – but it’s usually quite fizzy – and very drinkable – the day after it’s bottled!

At Christmas, we always have a real Christmas tree – and we save it to help get the bonfire going at Samhain.   I’m not too keen on fireworks – but we do love sparklers – and no-one is ever too old to draw sparkling shapes in the air on Bonfire night.

We have spicy pumpkin soup, hot dogs – and Wittenham Cider (which is much better before it becomes alcoholic as its much sweeter).  And we combine Guy Fawkes with All Hallows Eve and have our own Samhain on the nearest weekend – I always light candles on 31st October – and tealights in our Jack O’Lanterns to keep away Stingy Jack!

Happy, smiley, pumpkin Jack’o’Lantern

Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary

Country widsom and folklore diary

country diary 001

From the Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary www.talkingtreesbooks.co.uk

I found inspiration for this website from a diary I was given at a social enterprise networking meeting held in Atcham village hall.  When visiting Avebury earlier this year, I was delighted to find a 2017 version in the Avebury village shop and was very pleased to be able to buy it – and give something back – for the motivation to start my own website – and for help with ideas for the content.

I have always been interested in our Pagan beginnings, ancient traditions and folklore,  the Druids, ancient stone circles and ley lines connecting earth energies.  In these times of fast paced living and the stresses and strains of modern day life, these diaries are full of calming ideas connecting us back to nature, recognising the beauty of trees and plants and the rituals our ancestors shared celebrating country traditions and the phases of the sun and moon.

There are some wonderful illustrations in the diaries – like the one above.

If you would like your own Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary visit www.talkingtreesbooks.co.uk

Pumpkin Pie?

Pumpkin Pie?

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I didn’t intend to grow enormous pumpkins because they are totally unmanageable – I just wanted some large enough to make Jack’o’Lanterns for Halowe’en and some to store for the winter to make spicy pumpkin soup (see recipes) to warm us up on Bonfire Night and to cheer us up for December lunchtimes.

Pumpkins must love rabbit manure because this is the result!  I do admit that I did dig quite a bit of manure into the pumpkin patch.  Fortunately, not all of the pumpkins are this big but it’s going to take all the boys to lift this, a saw to cut it in two – and probably all day hollowing it out, taking out the seeds and cutting the flesh into manageable chunks for soup!

Last year I dried pumpkin seeds on baking paper in a slow oven and they were really tasty – they made a great substitute for peanuts and I served them in bowls with olives.

 

Squash, Apple and Sage Soup

Squash, Apple and Sage Soup

sDSC_0158

Ingredients:
50 g (2 oz) butter
1 kg (2 lb) squash (or pumpkin) peeled and diced
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes, skinned* and chopped
2 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 level teaspoons of sage (fresh sage** is best)
1 level teaspoon of thyme
2 pints stock (vegetable or beef – stock cubes are fine)
Black pepper

*to skin tomatoes easily simply put in a bowl, pour over boiling water, leave to stand for about a minute and the skin just rubs off.

**Sage is a perennial so it grows all year but is better picked during the summer. For ease of use I pick lots in the summer and freeze in small quanities in plastic bags, or chop it and freeze in ice cube trays. Then it’s all ready to use for sage and onion stuffing in the middle of winter.

Method:
Fry the onion in the butter gently until soft,
Add the pumpkin and stir for a few minutes,
Add the apples,
Add the tomatoes
Add the stock
Stir in the sage and thyme
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the pumpkin is tender.
Cool slightly, puree in a liquidiser or food processor.
Add a sprinkling of black pepper and serve.

Pumpkin Soup for Bonfire Night

Pumpkin Soup for Bonfire Night

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Snap up the pumpkins left over from Halloween and make some spicy soup for bonfire night.  There’s nothing quite like sipping hot spicy pumpkin soup gathered around the bonfire and watching the flames and sparks drift into the night sky.

Pumpkin freezes quite well so when you’ve scraped out all the pumpkin flesh to make Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns, cut it into cubes and put into a polythene bag.  It will store in the fridge for up to 3 days or will freeze for over a month.

The seeds can be dried to use in bread and muesli – or to feed to the birds during the cold winter months.

Visit the recipe page for a not too spicy pumpkin soup recipe.

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Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Happy, smiley, pumpkin Jack'o'Lantern

Ingredients:
50 g (2 oz) butter
1 kg (2 lb) pumpkin peeled and diced
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes, skinned* and chopped
2 pints stock (vegetable or beef – stock cubes are fine)
Seasoning:
½ tsp chilli pepper
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp allspice
1 level tsp cumin
1 level tsp cloves
1 level tsp thyme
If you like a spicy soup you can add more chilli, cayenne and allspice but I find this is tasty but mild enough so even little children enjoy it.

*to skin tomatoes easily simply put in a bowl, pour over boiling water, leave to stand for about a minute and the skin just rubs off.

Method:
Fry the onion in the butter gently until soft,
Add the pumpkin and stir for a few minutes,
Add the tomatoes
Add the stock
Stir in the seasoning
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the pumpkin is tender.
Cool slightly, puree in a liquidiser or food processor.

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