Tag Archives: autumn

Preserving Autumn

Autumn is here, dear Reader.  My favourite of all the seasons.  I could wax lyrical about tumbling shades of orange, brown and russet reds, the earthy smell of bonfires, rotund little pumpkins swollen with the last drops of sunshine and the woolly embrace of cardigans and cosy tights.  Somehow I feel so much more at home with autumn.  Perhaps it’s being a redhead and being able to blend in with my surroundings or perhaps it’s simply because autumn gives me an excuse to slow down and appreciate the seasonal changes in the landscape?  Maybe both or neither.  Whatever it is, dear Reader, Keats’ marvellous daydreams of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ resonate with me and cling like little bits of everyday countryside magic.  It’s then that I remember to slow down, take it in and appreciate my lot, a lot more.

Things are beginning to take shape on the house front, although we’ve had our fair share of renovation sagas.  Dramas over the chimney, fireplaces being condemned, dodgy roof tiles, leaky guttering and don’t even get me started on the boiler situation.  Two months after work started, we are still without heating.  Oh and the kitchen isn’t a kitchen anymore either.  Let’s just say it’s rather minimalist, shall we?  Cooking on a camping stove does have some benefits though.  You get to feel like you’re on a camping holiday every day of the week, dear Reader.  Insert the crying emoji here.  Joking aside, it is surprising how much we have managed when it’s been too wet to venture outside to cook on the barbecue.  Those of you who remember the last time I was left with just a camping stove will be pleased to hear that menus have branched out since then.  A little nod of appreciation to the amazing Genevieve Taylor‘s How To Eat Outside: Fabulous Al Fresco Food for BBQs, Bonfires, Camping and More which has been my bible over the last few months.  I am so grateful for her fount of outdoor cookery knowledge.  Who knew you could cook a calzone or make bread on the barbecue?

Still now the house has chimney pots once more after decades without and work starts on the kitchen in a week or two, we are finally moving in the right direction.  The oak floor has been laid in the hallway and the plasterers have skimmed for the next phase.  My very brilliant electrician has had the patience of a saint especially as he isn’t being paid (he’s my Daddy) and I take my hat off to the kitchen cabinet makers who turned up for a last measure up and ended up redesigning the whole kitchen to fit in my new fridge!  I promise I’m not the renovation equivalent of Bridezilla – it’s just that this whole project managing thing is hard work and making decisions on the turn of a sixpence is starting to take its toll.  Each little step forward Jerry and I take, has been about trying to faithfully preserve the past whilst bringing the farmhouse back into the 21st century.  Replumbing, rewiring, rebuilding – there isn’t a ‘re’ we haven’t had to sort out.  So you’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader, if I sound a teensy weensy bit of a nightmare renovator but I simply can’t wait for the woodburners to go in and for the boiler to be fired up for the first time.  The house is in desperate need of drying out and we are definitely in need of something cosy on our little building site, rather than relying on vast quantities of wine and gin to warm us in the evenings when the girls are tucked up in bed with the oil filled radiators on.

With visions of cosiness in mind, I thought it was high time I was rescued from the drudgery of endless tea runs and placating of builders to try out a rather lovely bit of book post which landed on the mat – The Kilner Cookbook.

Kilner has long been synonymous with storing, pickling and preserving seasonal bounty.  Around since 1842, Kilner jars have adorned pantries, larders and kitchen cupboards in almost every household I’ll be bound, dear Reader.  Not just for bottling up pickles, chutneys, preserves and jams, Kilner’s classic clip top pressure sealed jars can be used to cook and store any kind of food or drink.  I’ll bet that you have at least one or two of these glorious jars lurking in your own kitchen, dear Reader.  Such is Kilner’s success.

Marking their 175th anniversary, I found Kilner’s new cookbook to be jam-packed (you’ll excuse the pun I’m sure dear Reader) with recipes to create, make and store so picking out one recipe to share with you was rather a difficult task.  Soups and bircher muesli, cordials and cocktails, layered salads and slaws – honestly, you’d be surprised at how many different ways you can put the humble Kilner to work, dear Reader.  However, misty autumn mornings require sunshine in the kitchen especially if you are cooking on a camping stove and nothing promises that more than a spot of homemade lemon curd.

The recipe in The Kilner Cookbook is simple enough even for the beginner cook and takes next to no time at all.  The only thing you have to watch is the heat under the bowl, otherwise you’ll end up with lemony scrambled egg rather than unctuous lemon curd.  Whisk away and you’ll witness the marvellous alchemy in the bowl as the curd thickens.  Mouthwatering zinginess – perfect for hot buttered toast, scones or crumpets, spooned over Greek yoghurt with hedgerow blackberries before the birds take them all, added to a lemon meringue pie or spread generously in the middle of a Victorian sponge.  The possibilities are endless and it will keep for up to 2 weeks in a Kilner jar in the fridge.

Whilst waiting for the toaster to ping, I set about perusing the book for other gems within its 100 recipes which aim to help us preserve more and reduce food waste.  Imagine my delight when I realised that Kilner have added a spiralizer jar, cocktail shaker, coffee grinder and a butter churner to their vast range too.  175 years on and this Yorkshire born brand with its patented vacuum seal system is still going strong, with plenty more innovative products to boot.  The thought of homemade butter whisked up in a jiffy has already sent me rushing out to add to my Kilner collection.  There’s even a whole host of suggestions for using Kilner jars to make snow globes, lanterns, terrariums and much more on the Kilner website.

With autumn mornings sorted with luscious lemon curd, it was time to turn my attentions to bottling up something for colder, darker evenings.  The garden awash with blackthorn trees doubling over with inky skinned sloes just begging to be picked, I couldn’t resist steeping them for a batch of sloe gin in my new measuring Kilner jar.  Now with some patience, that preserved little tipple will be rather a nice accompaniment reading my book on the sofa by the fire.  That’s once we have a fire, of course.  Well I’ve sorted the gin bit at least, dear Reader….

A big thank you to Ebury Publishing and The Happy Foodie for the lovely book post and Kilner jar.

A taste of autumn

Autumn 2015

The last few weeks have seen me rather busy, dear Reader, with one thing and another.  Flat tyres on a dark, foggy night (HUGE thanks to Megs, owner of gorgeous pub The Woolpack for rescuing damsels in distress), funerals and our usual countryside chaos all rolled into one.  Prudence, our bossy hen departed from the coop and the arrival of two new hens (Cora, a Rhode Rock, and Lady Agatha, a very flighty Cream Legbar) caused quite a stir with the three remaining hens.  I have to say, dear Reader, that hunting for escaped hens in my neighbours’ garden for 2 hours is something I had not expected when we decided to add to our flock.  All seems well now at least and after some considerable wing clipping, Lady Agatha is choosing to stay in the garden rather than masterminding the next breakout.  She had better start laying those green blue eggs soon!

autumn leaves

In all the mayhem, we have found time to kick up the leaves in the last throes of autumn though.  I even caught myself humming The Byrds’ Turn, Turn, Turn strolling along the bridleway with Monty.  Don’t worry, I was drowned out by Monty barking at a partridge, dear Reader.

We finally bid farewell to dear Cumberland, our porker, fostered for us at the marvellous Parsonage Farm and then trotted off to attempt a considerable amount of butchery and sausage making all in one day.  Far from squeamish, Poppy and Primrose really enjoyed making sausages and salami and John and Sarah Mills from Parsonage were on hand to make sure that all was done correctly!  A huge thanks to them!  Only my second attempt at butchery, I think that I did pretty well considering and we had a chest freezer full in no time.  I won’t go into how I ended driving a pig’s head (minus body) around half of Hampshire one Wednesday morning.  I promise it wasn’t anything sinister or some sort of Cameron spin-off gag, dear Reader.  Suffice to say, said pig’s head went to a good home and returned as a natural history specimen which Primrose insisted on taking into school for ‘show and tell’.  You can only imagine her teacher’s joy…….

With the bacon cured on a hook in our boot room/laundry room/general dumping ground and a ham for Boxing Day on the go too, we are well on the way to being prepared for all porky goodness for the ‘C’ word.  Certainly put me in mind of a scene from Badger’s sett in The Wind in the Willows.

bacon

With Christmas on the brain and fizz for the day firmly in my mind, I popped over to see the first pickings of this year’s Harvest for a new English sparkling wine which will soon be gracing our vintners, Raimes English Sparkling.

Graps

Looking for ways to diversify the family farm, Augusta Raimes and her husband Robert, turned over 2 large plots on the farm to the planting of the classic champagne combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier in 2011 and with a course at Plumpton College under her belt, Augusta began her winegrowing journey.  Talking to Augusta, her enthusiasm for winemaking is infectious.  As she turns over the harvested grapes all crated up for the next stage of the process, her excitement is palpable, not only for how much the vines have produced thus far but for how their wine is taking shape under the guidance of Hattingley Valley’s Emma Rice, who is already known for creating Hattingley’s internationally recognised and award-winning wines.

Augusta Raimes

From grape to glass is a fascinating process and at Raimes, it’s a real family affair too with everyone lending a hand to get the harvest in.  As lovers of a good drop, Jerry and I have long dreamed of making our own wine so it was a morning full of inspiration for me!  One day, dear Reader, one day.  In the meantime, I shall be very excited to taste Raimes English Sparkling when the time is nigh – definitely one to watch, dear Reader.  Lovely, local fizz – what could be better?!

Raimes

Never a dull moment here at Margot HQ, last week saw a little stint on the radio too.  Monty was a marvellous addition to the recordings of 4 foodie segments for BBC Radio Solent’s The Good Life when the lovely Becs Parker came to record from the old cottage.  He even managed to sneak the black pudding off the kitchen worktop when I answered the door to the postman.  Ever the model of perfect spaniel behaviour, dear Reader…..  Still Confit duck leg with smoked lentils and balsamic roasted beetroot made it onto Sunday’s programme untouched by hound (you can listen again here).  Tune in for the next 3 Sundays to hear all sorts of treats….and some more of Monty no doubt….from Margot’s Kitchen!  I’ll leave you with a sneaky peak of something to warm the cockles after a windy walk.  Anyone for Venison Pie, dear Reader?

Venison pie2

Autumn’s arrival

Crab applesAutumn makes me unspeakably happy.  Cable knit cardigans, getting the fires going in the house, TIGHTS, boots, capes and ponchos, russet coloured leaves, sinking into an armchair with a good book and large cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, stopping with Primrose and Poppy to pick delicious bounty from the hedgerows, TIGHTS, my brown brogues, windfall apples, scarves, long walks in breezy sunshine where the light filters through the trees in the woodland just so, Jerry in warm woolly jumpers, jams and jellies and did I mention TIGHTS, dear Reader?!  Lovely thick opaque tights.  All those wonderful autumnal things and more, seem to make my heart sing.  Even my hair behaves better in the autumn and suddenly rosy cheeks and constantly messy windswept red hair blend into a landscape tinged with the colours of the liquor in the jam pan, rather than stick out like a sore thumb.

thistles

Autumn is almost the best time in the world to get into seasonal cookery.  Who needs more of an excuse to pop a stew into the bottom of the oven to slow cook or pick blackberries on a long walk?  Comfort food at its best.  With that in mind, I popped off to watch a new friend in action.  Everything about the lovely Cherie Denham from Flavour Passion screams foodie!  The first time I met her she rendered me speechless with scones lighter than air topped with lashings of her Blackberry jelly.  Winning me over with food is always a dead cert. for cementing a friendship.  She’s pretty good ‘craic’, as they say in her Irish homeland, too!

Trained at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, Cherie then became a teacher there, earning yet more culinary stripes with her own catering business and as a home economist consultant for none other than River Cottage’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when River Cottage’s first cookbook hit the scene.  Now running a whole host of seasonal cookery demonstrations from her stunning countryside cottage, Cherie shows her guests how to create an array of dishes from original recipes that can be scaled up or down depending on the occasion and most importantly, shares her culinary hacks.  Easy canapés, crowd pleasing dishes, cosy autumn kitchen suppers, something a little more refined – this is cookery for those with busy lives who need tried and tested recipes that are a bit hit with everyone from the children to Saturday evening dinner party guests.  Jerry was in seventh heaven with the Slow Braised Spicy Chipotle Beef Cherie sent me home with………the whole plateful was snaffled in seconds.

Demonstrations seem to be THE thing when it comes to cooking these days and I can see the appeal.  This is the countryside’s Tupperware party for the 21st century, dear Reader but OH SO MUCH more glamourous and useful!  Rather like your best friend sharing all the secrets you’ve been dying for her to divulge for years.  All cooking abilities are welcome.  In fact, the guest list for Cherie’s demo was rather like a modern who’s who of Cluedo – was it the anaesthetist, the students off to university for their first year, the farmer’s wife, interior designer or godfather’s wife that nicked the last slice of Warm Lemony Treacle Tart….?  I wonder, dear  Reader.  Can’t blame them, it was seriously scrummy and I shall certainly be returning for more culinary inspiration when Cherie demos Christmas in November!

Cherie5

Inspired by my amazing morning and immensely delicious dishes, my kitchen now looks more like a production line than farmhouse haven!  Elderberries, crab apples, quinces, herbs from the garden for drying – we’ve got it all going on in Margot’s Kitchen at the moment, dear Reader! The cottage is groaning under the weight of all the apples that seem to arrive by the carrier bag full and are left on the doorstep by lovely villagers.  With jams and jellies a go go, I’ve taken to trying a few new numbers with the apples too as I can’t bear to see them go to waste.  Crab apple vodka, windfall apple butter, hedgerow compote, fruit leathers for the girls and my favourite so far, apple crisps.  I haven’t even got round to picking the sloes yet but I must, before they are snapped up by the birds.  First frost is just far too long away to leave a batch of sloe gin to chance!

crab apple jam

If like me, your house is turning into an orchard quicker than you can say cider, then this will help turn a few of those appley beauties into something everyone can enjoy.  Here, just for you my dear Reader, is my recipe for Apple Crisps.

apple crisps

Apple Crisps

1 or 2 apples, not cookers

sprinkling of cinnamon

greaseproof paper

Peel and core your apples, cutting out any maggoty bits if like me you’ve used a few windfalls.  Using a mandolin (the culinary version rather than musical), finely slice the apple so that you have rings or half rings depending on how many maggoty bits you’ve had to cut out.   You could do this with a knife but remember it does have to be paper thin slices.

Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and place apple slices on the paper.  You may have to line a couple of baking sheets depending on how many apples you have decided to use.  Sprinkle over the cinnamon.  NO SUGAR NEEDED.

Place in bottom of the Aga (in my case the ever faithful Everhot) or in a very low oven from anywhere from 2 hours or until you have achieved the level of crispness you would like.  Best to do this when you need to do some slow cooking as the oven will need to be on low (no more than 120 degrees Centigrade) for a while.  Keep checking the slices every now and again to make sure they are not burning.  You can choose to leave them until they are really crisp or simple dried out and still a bit chewy.  Lovely as an after school snack, crushed over yoghurt, stirred into vanilla ice cream – the choice is yours!

Happy autumn, dear Reader!  I’m off to buy some more tights……

Pumpkins and bonfires

pumpkins Halloween and fireworks are upon us already – where is this year skipping off to in such a hurry, dear Reader?  We’ve had weeks of watching the village next door preparing for the annual Bonfire and fireworks’ night, wood piling up and strange straw-stuffed people cropping up all over the place.  Primrose and I are always caught unawares by the extremely creepy looking ‘guys’ which pop up round the village this time of year.  One in particular terrified the life out of me in the dark the other night, causing me to slam on the brakes and utter some rather unrepeatable words.  Continue reading

Autumn rolling in

NYC

Never have I felt the juxtaposition of town and country more acutely than a recent weekend dash to New York and back for a dear family member’s wedding.  Saying goodbye to straw bales on the school run and green fields (plus two small girls) to be greeted by cabs honking, neon lights flashing and the whoosh of urban living was a far more epic contrast from our every day life than I could ever have imagined.  Continue reading

Summer of countryside love

MudefordProfuse apologies, my dear Reader, for my epic summer silence.  It seems an age since I was last tip tapping away a little note to you and I can only blame it on lots of work and plenty of lovely things happening at Margot and Jerry HQ, giving me not time at all to resume my position at the writing desk.  With Primrose and Poppy at home creating mayhem for almost 8 WEEKS of summer horror, I mean holiday, I haven’t had a moment to even hear myself think either!

Days have been filled with exploring our patch of Hampshire, trips to secluded sandy spots, sampling a lot of local goodies (wine, beer, gin…..) so when we finally headed off for our staycation and annual trip to Tom and Barbara’s shire farmstead, we couldn’t be too downhearted when it weed it down with rain.  Lots of time at home too – the spare room has had its bedding stripped more times than a boutique B&B of late!  As anyone who knows us well knows, we’re always more than happy to have friends to stay – any excuse for a good gossip over a large glass of something! Continue reading

Autumn drawing nearer

The oilman cometh!

The oilman cometh!

It is completely bizarre that I found myself thinking of autumn last week when we were all basking in glorious late summer sunshine but needs must in these parts and so the oilman was a forward planning necessity!  Having lived with mains sewerage and mains gas for so long, it was rather daunting knowing when to summon the oilman and how low our oil tank could get before steaming hot water would be replaced with a very cold shower!  Apparently, I could have left it a bit longer….  After a demo, it would appear that if in doubt, use a large stick as oil dipstick (same as cars…I know this much) and test how far the oil comes up to on the stick to get a rough estimate as to what is left in the tank.  I can just see myself now as winter draws in and it is pitch black for many more hours in the day, trying not to fall into the compost heap (right next to the oil tank) or get my Brora cardigan covered in oil as I plunge sticks into the tank and no doubt lose them.  Surely that is a Jerry job?!

Tank refuelled, we addressed the next item on the list in preparation for autumn.  4 pairs of shoes and obligatory oversized uniform bought for Primrose as well as hundreds of wretched name tapes sewn in all in the nick of time as Poppy and I packed Primrose off to school for her first day.  Our lovely girl was very brave and simply waved us off from the door, leaving me to run back to the car with Poppy for a little sob.  Needless to say that Primrose had a fabulous day but Poppy, Monty and I were bereft of the usual jokes and japes on our morning walk and Poppy really noticed her sister’s absence.

To try and keep ourselves out of trouble whilst Primrose is out at ‘work’, Poppy and I have taken on a significant number of projects: dejunglifying the garden, clearing a space for chickens (if we can ever persuade Jerry that fresh eggs are seriously worth the effort), trying not to be chastised by the gamekeeper as Monty chases partridge and pheasants all over the place……oh, dear Reader, I could list on and on and on and on.  I think that the villagers have taken US on as a project too and it is lovely getting to know all the fabulous characters in the village.  All quirky and individual and keen to recruit us as part of their particular tribe!  I have considerably more to do in the countryside than I ever had to do in London!  A bizarre turn of events, dear Reader!

Ooh nothing more wonderful than picking your own!

Ooh nothing more wonderful than picking your own!

First on the list, foraging for Jerry’s favourite, BLACKBERRIES!!!  Poppy and I have been gleefully plunging ourselves into hedgerows in order to gather plenty of these sweet ebony jewels for a crumble or some bramble jelly.  Not all of them are ready yet but the excitement of seeing them on our walks still hasn’t waned.  Poppy and I did manage a little haul and miraculously, having snaffled rather a lot of them, we did have enough to make a warming plum and blackberry pudding with a couple of fallen apples thrown in for good measure.  Blissfully autumnal!  My Barbour and wellies have even had their first outing so autumn must be drawing nearer.

Next on the list, the chimney sweep and dear Reader, we do really need him as pigeons have been cooing down the chimney since we arrived.  Imagine our shock when we found this little chap, far from home and without Mr and Mrs Pigeon to care for him.  Monty barked himself hoarse trying to tell us where Master Pigeon had fallen!

Our new addition...temporary accommodation only for this one!

Our new addition…temporary accommodation only for this one!

Primrose christened him Pecky, and was determined to help her new found friend in the form of fledgling wood pigeon on the road to recovery.  She made a little bed for him, feed him wild bird seed and even made him a little water trough.  Welcomed into our laundry room and allowed to roam free, Jerry was VERY quick to say that we would not be adopting any pigeons unless we were prepared to bring this one on for the pot!  Primrose and I thought it best at this point to secure Pecky a speedier convalescence than we had initially planned for him.  Safe in his box and on top of a very high fence post (Mr Foxy, I know your game…), we left him to bed down for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  By dusk, he had fledged and Primrose was terribly disappointed that she was not going to have a pigeon pet.  Thank the Lord too as pigeons are not high on my list of creatures to cuddle up to!!  Don’t tell Primrose but I popped straight to the butchers the next morning after the school run.  All that talk of game had put me in mind of a good recipe…..well, roasted pigeon does go remarkably with blackberry and red wine jus, dear Reader!

Our autumnal bounty!

Autumnal bounty!