Friday, 27 August 2010

Get Out and Forage: An Allotment Story

There are very few things in life that are better than free food and if you know where to look you will find that it’s right on your doorstep! 


I’m lucky enough to have been granted an allotment plot this year, which allows me to grow a lot of produce and expand my gardening horizons, but what makes this acquisition even better is that it’s surrounded by a productive but rather boggy woodland, which has a lot to offer.   I’m planning to take full advantage of this great resource as much as I can and I’m sure the autumn months will allow me to cook up some great treats and several alcoholic delights.  


After feeding the chickens, oh did I forget to mention that I now have three beautiful girls?  They’re yet to be named but I can tell you that I chose a beautiful Cotswold Legbar, which escaped on day one; not to worry she’s back now after spending the night in a tree, a Copper Marans cross (the boss) and a very friendly Speckledy hen.  They are all point of lay (P.O.L) hens and I’m hopeful that they are coming in to their egg-laying phase. I will update on progress and post when the first egg arrives.  They seem to be settling in really well and have brought me that step closer to having my own small holding.  Okay, so I’m a fair distance off but I will get there eventually.  


Anyway, back to the foraging thing.  I fed the chooks and on the way out I collected some wonderful free food.  In the pouring rain and in true allotment style (I’m slowly getting used to that!) I used my ingenuity and recycling skill to conjure up some sort of receptacle.  The result, you may see, is in the image above.  Yes, that’s right it’s a dog poo bag.  I find that they pop up in the strangest places and they have so many uses.  Anyway, I collected what I thought was rather exciting and headed home.  The following dialogue ensued:


Me: I’m back!


(I run upstairs and present the bag)


OH: What is it? (Half asleep)


Me: Guess! (At this point I’m rather excited)


OH: Well don’t open it on the bed.


Me: Okay.  What do you think it is?


OH: A hedgehog?


Me: What?!


Okay, I have no idea what goes on in that head and it didn’t go exactly as I wished; I’m also not entirely sure what it says about me?  But one thing I do know, however, is that we can safely say that guess was wrong.  It wouldn’t have been too far away from the correct guess in my younger years when I would regularly come home with pots of leeches, stray dogs, cans of spiders and pets that horrified my mother, including several snakes, stick insects that later inhabited our airing cupboard and numerous pet frogs.  But no, it was not a hedge pig.  It was in fact a lovely, full bag of glistening plump Blackberries.
A bit of an anticlimax really compared to the anticipated hedgehog but in my experience they don’t really fit well in to a crumble.  


Does anyone have any great Blackberry recipes?  What other fruits and foods do you forage for?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Chamomile Tea: How to make your own

Do you enjoy a nice cup of Chamomile tea of an evening?  Or are you growing this wonderfully scented herb in your garden and don’t really know what to do with it?  Either way, you should consider making your very own Chamomile tea.  It’s easy, it’s free and best of all it's good for you.


This aromatic tea is easily made when you have fresh flowers of German (Matricaria recutita) or Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) to hand but as with everything in horticulture seasonality comes in to effect and it’s not always possible to have a fresh supply of flowers.  By harvesting and drying the fresh flowers you can enjoy this somniferous delight, with its many other health benefits, throughout the darker months when fresh Chamomile flowers aren’t available.  


I always have a steady supply of Chamomile growing in my garden and it has become a plant I wouldn’t go without.  I initially grew Chamomile from seed to make a small lawn but after falling in love with the plant I then went on to make an informal path with stone leading up to the back gate. Now that the path has established itself and has been allowed to run riot (My fault completely) I now have more of a chamomile hedge than a path.  Luckily, I always have a use for Chamomile in the bath as part of a Bath Bouquet and it is excellent for easing aching muscles, soothing cuts, and keeping skin healthy, amongst other things. 


Anyway, back to the making of tea.  The method of oven drying is very simple and by following a few simple steps you are sure to have home grown tea to hand throughout the Winter.

1) Pick your flowers first thing in the morning as early as possible.  Anytime between 6:00am and 12 noon should suffice.  Discard any damaged or diseased material. 


2) Fill a bowl with cool water and add the fresh flowers.  Gently clean the flowers, removing any insects and sieve off any debris that floats to the surface.  Allow flowers to soak for a few minutes after cleaning.  


3) Remove flowers and strain with a colander or salad spinner ensuring that as much moisture as possible is removed.  Paper towels may also be used as long as they do not disintegrate.  
4) Heat an oven to 200 degrees and whilst the oven is warming up place the individual flowers on a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Once the oven heats up fully turn the oven off and place the baking tray on the lowest rack of the oven.  Ensure that the oven door remains slightly open and allow the flowers to dry.  Check for dryness at regular intervals and if flowers are not dry after a few hours you can reheat the oven and begin the process again.


5) Once the Chamomile is dry, place it in an airtight jar and store for up to 4-6 months in a cool dry place.  


6) When you want to make your tea either crush
the dried chamomile or leave it whole and allow a tbsp per cup to steep in a pot of boiling water for around 10-15 minutes.   Strain with a sieve and add honey, a slice of lemon or other lemon herbs as desired, and enjoy!
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