Tag Archives: hens

Bee Happy

With whisps of autumn in the air and summer sun now a distant memory (oh the irony when we had a mostly wet August, dear Reader…..), I can’t help but miss the heady scent of our lavender.  After what felt like a lifetime of picking, we still didn’t quite manage to harvest the whole field before the rain set in for the rest of summer.  However, the hard work was worth it and early mornings picking are now a distant memory until the purple spires appear again next year.  I did get the chance to daydream about the field looking like we had stepped into Provence one last time though when the lovely new quarterly journal Creative Countryside asked me to write a little something on lavender and its folklore before I begin to pen all things autumnal.

From the spoils of our harvest, we’ve managed to keep a fair bit in the shed where it’s been left hung out to dry.  Its soothing powers will last a little longer in the form of the homemade lavender wreaths we sold to friends and family as well as lavender bags to hang in our moth-ridden cupboards.  There’s even a batch of my very bath salts to enjoy once hot baths are back on the agenda following the instalment of the new boiler, not forgetting the leftover flowers we’ve reserved for lavender tea.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m already planning a few other little lavender strings to my bow for next year.  Our first harvest from the field also got me thinking about getting started on a long held smallholding ambition of mine too, dear Reader.  Keeping bees.

One of the best things about walking through the field was listening to the hum of the huge numbers of bees that visited our garden daily.  Everything I read of late seems to point towards encouraging more bees into the garden – whether it’s planting bee borders or sowing wild flower meadows, installing nest boxes for solitary species of bees or rescuing thirsty and hungry bees with sugar syrup.  Since bees do so much for us, it only seems fair that we return the favour, dear Reader.  My father was an amateur beekeeper in his youth and Poppy and Primrose love hearing the stories he tells of how he used to take his friend’s bees for a holiday to the heather moorland on the roof rack of his car.  I think they were even stopped by the police, on one occasion, who quickly got back into their Panda when they realised the potentially angry cargo being transported.  Travelling bees aside, his beekeeping tales have always made me wish for my own hive and moving to our own little farmhouse has given us a great opportunity to expand our smallholding repertoire, dear Reader.

Enter Sara Ward from Hen Corner, all round lover of the good life, keeper of bees and hens, vegetable grower and urban farmer.  Sara and I have known each other through the powers of Twitter and Instagram since I began my blog properly in….gulp…2013 and after rather a lot of tweets, advice on hens, growing veg and a good deal of mutual blog post sharing, it has taken us nearly 4 years to meet in person!  So imagine my joy when Sara sent us an invitation to come to one of her Bees for Children courses in the summer.

Sara’s urban smallholding at Hen Corner is a marvel.  With 20 hens, 2 colonies of bees, a plentiful vegetable and fruit garden and micro-bakery producing bread for sale in her local community, Sara and her family make the good life look easy from their Victorian terrace in West London.  You really wouldn’t think sitting in Sara’s back garden that you were in London at all.  It’s a real testament to just how much you can achieve in a small urban outdoor space.

So whether you want to learn the art of wood carving, to make your own preserves, bake bread, keep hens or learn to charm bees, Sara runs a whole host of courses and workshops helping to encourage others to give smallholding life a go regardless of how large or small their plot is.  What I love most about her is her determination and commitment to encouraging the younger generation to think ‘big’ when it comes to urban farming and she spends a lot of her time as a regular feature in local school programmes.

Brilliantly hands-on, Sara’s Bees for Children course aims to get children up, close and personal with nature’s buzzy little friends.  Sara explains how the bees live and work, their importance when it comes to our own food, how honey is made and how to handle bees as well as how to spot the queen.

Fully kitted out in mini beekeeping suits and rubber gloves, Poppy and Primrose were encouraged to hold a frame and check it over with Sara’s help but if you don’t want to get that close, there are plenty of other bee activities to keep your children entertained as well as the all important honey taste testing.  Now who wouldn’t want the chance to scoff a load of award-winning honey, dear Reader?!

We all thoroughly enjoyed it and got to try some of Just Bees’ new deliciously infused spring water drinks too – all made with, yes you guessed it dear Reader, a drop of honey.  If you’re looking for a way to encourage bees in your garden, then the wonderful people at Just Bee Drinks have started a campaign to help save Britain’s bees with a free bee-friendly planting guide for your garden and free bee friendly wild flower seeds to sow – all you have to do is fill in a simple form online and they’ll send you all you need to claim your free seeds.  Quick, easy and so good for all those bees out there – they need more of us to do it, it would seem.  So get buzzy, dear Reader!

With bees on the brain all the way home, we are determined to get some of our own bees next year.  I’ve been looking into local beekeeping courses already so I can learn more of the nitty gritty I’ll need to start out on my own.  Do look Hen Corner up if you are looking for a fun day out with the children, dear Reader.  The girls loved it and I shall definitely be popping back to visit Sara again soon.  Hive fives all round I’d say….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thyme for action

Every since we moved in, Jerry and I have been chomping at the bit to get started in the garden. Unable to really tackle much inside the house by ourselves until the bigger works have been done, the jungle surrounding our flint and brick beauty seemed a good place to start, especially as we were beginning to lose the children amongst the foliage.  The first job – tackling knee high grass.  Typically, as soon as we started using the sit on mower we inherited, it proved to be beyond repair and so with 3.5 acres of grass to mow, it was time to bite a rather expensive bullet.  Jerry fell in love with a green and yellow number in two seconds flat when he heard the word ‘mulch’, having only just finished professing undying love for an old Massey Ferguson which belongs to a neighbour.  Honestly, he’ll be coveting their combine next, dear Reader!

First step, turning the paddocks back into….well….paddocks.  Our lovely farming neighbours helped out with that one since we didn’t have any clue as to how and when to bale.  It was a race against time to get it all topped, dried and then baled before the rains came and we were hugely grateful for all their help.  “Bale in June…silver spoon”.  With a rather long list of repair jobs to be done inside and out, we could do with it raining a bit of silver.  Answers on a postcard as to how long you’re supposed to wait until that happens, dear Reader…..

We bid a sad farewell to the giant 100 year old willow tree that was growing into the water course, burrowing under the house and blocking out all the light.  Never easy to make the decision to fell a beautiful tree but the damage it would continue to do if allowed would mean that our poor little house might not stay upright for very long.

Fret not dear Reader, we will be planting more trees elsewhere to honour its passing and the hundreds of logs we now have as a result will keep us warm and cosy for years to come, once seasoned.  All part of the countryside cycle.

Raspberries were found in the undergrowth and quickly gobbled up by Poppy and Primrose, alongside literally baskets full of gooseberries – traces of a long lost fruit cage.

Squirrels moved in shortly after this discovery and stripped all the apples, plums and one lonely pear from the elderly fruit trees.  I asked neighbours what to do about them, thinking they’d have some ancient country wisdom to impart such as burying hair at the base of each trunk which features in a battered countryside almanac I found in an old bookshop.  The resounding answer to dealing the squirrel issue?  An air rifle.  It seems that that may well be next on the list, dear Reader.

Then there was the small matter of a whole field of lavender just outside the back door.  At first glance, the mounds buried under large patches of grass looked altogether done in.  Cue, Margot’s new toy.  A shiny strimmer.  Well Jerry can’t have all the fun, dear Reader!  Two weeks of daily strimming later and the lavender finally started to look more like a lavender field again. I can’t tell you the joy of seeing it all turn varying hues of purple and blue.  I’d better not mention the fact that not a lot else got done in those two weeks….including all the work I was supposed to be doing.  Let’s not dwell on that too much, dear Reader, or the fact that I very nearly strimmed my legs off at several points as the soporific heady scent in the midday sun reduced me to what I am now calling ‘strimmer’s coma’.  I did however perfect a new summer look…..farmer’s arms.  It’s all about the swings and roundabouts, isn’t it, dear Reader?

So with the lavender now well on its way to becoming a slice of Provence in Hampshire, we’ve taken to picnicking in the rows at tea time.  Heavenly hours spent in the sunshine with bees buzzing and butterflies wafting around us.  I am trying not to think about the harvest, dear Reader.  It would be fair to say that so far lavender bags will be featuring heavily under the Christmas tree this year.

A timely day out from the slog of the garden work at the launch of the Hampshire Food Festival with Hampshire Fare saw Jerry and I green with envy at the marvellous kitchen garden at Chewton Glen.

With a month of events to enjoy, producers and suppliers to go and visit and tours of vineyards, breweries orchards and farms on the menu, make sure if you’re in Hampshire that you get out and about to enjoy our county’s fabulous bounty.  With canapés with Masterchef’s Jane Devonshire and Juanita Hennessey on offer as well as Gin masterclasses at Berry Bros & Rudd or four courses in a Riverside Yurt, there’s something for everyone.  Still to come and top of my list?

Vineyards of Hampshire 5th Annual Wine Festival

Pop up Picture House with Rick Stein

Cherry Orchard Tours and Cherry Market at Blackmoor Estate

‘Sausage and Mash’ at  Parsonage Farm Charcuterie  and  

Hampshire Summer Fizz at Gilbert White

With the last two weeks of the Festival left, get your diary out and book away, dear Reader!

Inspired by Chewton Glen’s marvellous veg patch, I now have even grander plans for our own.  I seem to have spent half my life recently trawling through Pinterest thinking of ways to create a pretty allotment patch for our new smallholding life!  You can imagine Jerry rolling his eyes already, can’t you dear Reader? Grand schemes afoot, the hens are doing a sterling job of preparing the land for us already.   Scratching up moss and laying the foundations of good soil with their manure.  I would like to say that we’ll be digging the soil pretty soon, ready for planting up with some autumn and winter vegetable seedlings but Jerry tells me that this is wishful thinking.  To be honest, getting the earth moving will be a much needed distraction in the next month as the scaffolding goes up and roof repair work begins.  Jerry and I won’t have any hair or nails left at this rate.  The last few days of monsoon weather have had us reaching for the buckets and umbrellas inside again.

To keep up with our five-a-day habit in the meantime, a lovely local supplier Brimfields have been impressing us with stunning veg boxes full to bursting with deliciously fresh fruit and vegetables. Such a plentiful box for £12 had me whooping with delight when Ross from Brimfields delivered it to our front door for the first time – seasonal, fresh, local and the perfect amount for the week without the need to top up as I’ve often found with veg box schemes in the past.  I’m not sure Ross was quite as delighted to encounter a Margot with no makeup and a towel on my head having just stepped out of the shower though!

Brimfields deliver in and around Winchester but if you’re not on their delivery route, then pop down to their Veg Shed in Kings Worthy, at the King Charles pub just off Lovedon Lane, to stock up.

They are open two days a week – Wednesdays from 08:30 until 12:30pm and Fridays from the same times.  There you’ll find fresh local free-range eggs, fresh bread as well as lots of lovely local produce like Hill Farm Apple Juice and The Tomato Company passata, ketchup, chutney, relish and juice, alongside local jam, honey and cakes.  Well worth a visit.

Summer holidays in full swing, I shall have Poppy and Primrose joining the ground force team at HQ – that’s if I can tear them away from their latest den building expedition.  It looks like I shall have to bribe them with a few more of these if I’m ever going to get them to help me pick the lavender, dear Reader.

As for my motivation?  I’m already plotting something altogether more Margot, dear Reader….. Anyone for lavender gin?

A New Chapter

It’s Midsummer’s Eve and instead of saluting the sun’s last hurrah on the longest day, I’ve finally sat down to pen all my news to you at the kitchen table, dear Reader.  Except the kitchen table isn’t where it used to be.  To be honest, the kitchen isn’t the same kitchen I penned the last post from either.  You’ll have to bear with me, dear Reader.  I realise you haven’t heard from me in a little while.  It isn’t that I’ve dropped off the planet or heaven forbid, moved back to the Big Smoke.  No fear of that, I promise.  It’s just that everything on the writing front has had to take a bit of a back seat in the last few months as life required rather more input from me on the organisational front than I’d hoped for.  Let’s just say that there is a very long winded version of the whole saga that has been selling and buying a house but I thought you might enjoy the tale a whole lot more if I opted for a more succinct retelling. After all, it might take me all year to fill you in on the nitty gritty (really it was quite a rollercoaster ride) and I’m sure you’ve got better things to be doing like finding the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset with a large gin and a good book.  Trust me, dear Reader, it’s time to turn the page and begin a new chapter.

So you will have gathered by now that we are no longer living in the cottage.  In fact, we bid farewell to our beloved old timbered friend a couple of weeks ago.  Saying goodbye to the village and house we’d come to love was no easy task especially as Poppy can only remember life in the country – memories of London are few and far between for her even when Primrose and I tell tales of Richmond Park and Monty the pup.  It has seen many firsts for her as well as for us and out of all of us, I feel she is the most at home amongst fields rather than bustling streets.  To be honest, we’ve all changed.  I hardly recognise the Margot that left London four years ago these days.  Country life has been the making of us.

With barely any time to reminisce on memories made in our first foray into country living, the cottage was sold and new owners were chomping at the bit to move in.  Cue the first problem dear Reader…..  Nowhere to move to.   We’d already ruled out a fair few houses and buying was fast looking like it wasn’t going to happen.  “Rent”, all our friends exclaimed.  However, the prospect of trying to find somewhere to rent with the more boisterous half of Noah’s ark (yes, you, spaniels) needing a roof over their heads was enough to send me hiding in the under stairs cupboard with a bottle of gin.  Why was finding somewhere to live proving so difficult you might ask, dear Reader?  You see the problem was that we’d already fallen in love, dear Reader.  Hook, line and sinker.

A little house left for years tucked away down a farm track with 3.5 acres of knee high grass surrounding it.  A house which the girls and I passed every day on our drive to school, wondering who lived there and why no one wanted to buy it.  I can’t lie to you dear Reader.  When we finally decided to go and see it, it was love at first viewing.  The house had Jerry and I giggling like school children – the wood panelling, the leadlight windows, the beech trees, the original Edwardian taps.  I could go on.  It was like that magical moment when you know you just click with someone and you are rendered deaf and blind to the world around you.  In our case, it wasn’t someone, it was something.  The problem or should I say problems…?  We couldn’t afford it and it was a wreck……(and I do really mean that – the house had been shut up for nearly 5 years).  Oh and let’s not forget the final fly in the ointment, the vendor wouldn’t accept our meagre offer.  In the end after so much toing and froing with the agent, there was nothing to do but walk away.  So we did, despite some awful soul searching, gut wrenching conversations at 3am over nearly three months to see if somehow we could make it all work and trying everything in a desperate attempt to appeal to the vendor’s better nature.  I can’t tell you how much I cried.

However it seems that Fate had other plans.  Nearly four months after our final offer had been rejected, just at the point when we’d almost given up hope of finding anywhere to live, the house came back to us.  In fact, the timing could not have been better – that day we’d lost out on sealed bids on another wreck nearby (well you wouldn’t expect Jerry and I to be interested in anything habitable, would you?).  Utterly despondent when the agent rang, it took me a little while to realise she wasn’t joking!  The saying ‘When one door closes, another opens’ couldn’t have been more true for us. In this case, the door that opened was rather a pink one.  The rest, as they say, is history, dear Reader.

So that’s where Jerry, the girls and I find ourselves.  Sometimes you stumble upon mad things in life and sometimes there are the mad things that seem to gravitate towards you screaming “Do it, do it, do it”, dear Reader.  Well that certainly seems to have a habit of happening to Jerry and I…  Selling a perfectly lovely home to buy another isn’t particularly mad in itself, that is unless the house you are buying has no working kitchen, wet walls, leaky roof, dry rot, bathrooms unchanged from the Edwardian era, a condemned boiler, oil tank and gas hob. It’s amazing what you can easily gloss over when you fall in love, isn’t it dear Reader?

Jerry and I knew that the house needed a lot of work but we weren’t expecting a lack of running water for the first few days after we moved in.  I lived in fear of needing the loo!  We’re not even on mains water, dear Reader.  There’s a borehole and the water comes from the nearby farm. To add to the long list of things to fix, said water tested positive for E.Coli so it’s bottled only for the time being.  Never mind the fact that we’ve nothing but a camping stove and a gas barbecue to cook on.  Getting to sleep proved rather challenging on the first night too as visitors with hob nailed boots were jigging in the attic. Squirrels I prayed thought.  Only squirrels.  When the plumber arrived to fix the water tank the next morning, it turned out to be more of the other sort of rodents leaping about up there – you know, the ones with long tails, dear Reader.  Still, it seems that Poppy’s dreams of living in a caravan are coming true finally – it’s just that this caravan is not the shiny VW one she was imagining, it’s a large static one with brick and flint walls.

You’re probably thinking that we are entirely mad and you’d be right but bizarrely none of this seems to bother Jerry and I that much.  We have found home.  The girls are blissfully happy.  I watch them building dens in the new garden, making houses for faerie queens, climbing trees, taking turns in the wheelbarrow chariot and I feel so blessed that we have been able to make this happen for them.  It will take more than a lot of our blood (I’ve already been attacked by brambles just trying to free the windows that were stuck fast), sweat and tears to get the house working again and we’ll have to do much of it ourselves but it is all worth it when I see Poppy and Primrose enjoying their new surroundings.  As for the Monty and Dora, the cats and hens?  Well they have died and gone to heaven.  Not literally of course.  It’s all new to them too.  None of them have ever known such space from just outside the back door.

To be honest, I know it sounds awfully twee but we simply couldn’t be happier, dear Reader.  So you’ll have to forgive me for taking so long to pen this post but I’ve been waylaid by my new surroundings.  Each time we uncover something new from under thick layers of dust, peeling wallpaper or overgrown shrubbery, I feel the same way I felt when I walked into our new hallway for the first time and I just can’t stop pinching myself.  Lucky, just doesn’t even cover it.

So it’s time for a new chapter for Margot and Jerry.  Time to really turn our hands to the good life with all this lovely land we’ve now acquired.  I hope you’ll follow us as we attempt to graduate from haphazard bumpkins to full scale smallholders. Well, that’s the plan, at any rate, dear Reader….  Wish us luck!

Spring has sprung

In the midst of the wet miserable winter with water coming through the ceiling, trampling through the endless muddy quagmire of a garden and carting wood into the house on a daily basis to keep warm, I wasn’t sure that spring would ever come to us.  Yet, here it is and I am so very glad to see it, dear Reader.  Such a tonic for the soul – birds singing, walking about without coats, blossom appearing in the hedgerows and the garden coming back to life.  Not to mention catching a glimpse of one of nature’s truly awesome sights – hares boxing in the field.  The perfect reward for our epic early morning school run.

Hares

Filled with the joys of spring and buoyed by wondrous blue skies and a sunny day in the offing, we packed the car to the rafters and headed for the beach.  I haven’t seen Poppy and Primrose frolic about together so happily or heard them laugh so much in ages.  Bliss.

beach

Dora loved her first trip to the seaside too – splashing about in the sea, digging in the sand and managing to photobomb every photo I tried to take of the girls.

Dorabeach

Lovely to have a day of doing absolutely nothing as things have been rather busy at Margot and Jerry HQ.  From our first Point to Point as a family which saw Poppy completely hooked on the horses (she is currently planning her rise to riding fame when she tackles the Grand National whilst Primrose has developed rather too much of an interest in betting)…..

Point

….to learning the piggy ropes on a pig course for a new smallholding project with lovely friend and fellow Good Lifer, The Townie Farmer and discovering rather too much information about breeding……

I’m still sniggering like a schoolgirl about this little gem, dear Reader.  Definitely not Dior.

Boar

Then of course there was the excitement of Lady Agatha, our Cream Legbar, FINALLY giving us an egg…..

Aggie egg

and the arrival of some wee Easter chicks.  4 little ones, a few days old, which a lovely neighbour in the village has installed in her shed with a heat lamp.  I am not sure who was more thrilled, me or the children.  One of these tiny fluffsters is destined to join our flock after a bit of growing time but for now, the girls and I are enjoying peeping into the box in the shed and giving them a cuddle, whenever we can.

Best of all that spring has brought with it so far though was a little something I’ve been waiting to arrive on the doormat.  The May 2016 issue of Country Living Magazine with my feature on the wonderful charcuterie made at Parsonage Farm by John and Sarah Mills.

I feel honoured to have had my work commissioned by Country Living but to see it through  to the shelves, married up with stunning photos taken by the HUGELY talented Simon Wheeler (his work can be seen in River Cottage books and so much more), has had me bouncing like a bonny spring lamb.  I am so delighted to have been able to tell John and Sarah’s story and share it with readers all over the country.  They are wonderful people, have taught me heaps and changed the way I think about farming forever.  This feature means a great deal to me, not least because I’ve also ticked off No.1 of 3 on a wish list I made when I started writing nearly three years ago, dear Reader, when we moved from town to country.  To be honest, if this wonderful start is a sign of things yet to come, then we’re in for a good one and I, for one, intend to walk with maybe just a little bit more of a spring in my step.  I do hope you’ll join me, dear Reader.

Spring

A little slow food love

January over in a flash, February trying to race past the post.  Where HAS the time gone, dear Reader?  Already at half term, at this rate it’ll be Christmas again before I know it.  Busy isn’t even the word.  What with new columns here and there, and work on something a bit bigger too, I think that I’ve spent at least half of the last month and a half mopping floors and spraying them with doggy disinfectant due to Piddling Piglet, also known as spaniel pup Dora.  Perfect in every way except the fact that at 17 weeks old, if it’s cold or rainy outside, Dora will come back in from the garden and decide that the dining room floor is much nicer to widdle on than wet grass.  It is a good job that she is so utterly adorable…..
Dora Paws

Dora hasn’t been the only thing contributing to puddles indoors either.  Thanks to Storm Imogen, the sitting room ceiling decided to spring rather a big leak (again) and we awoke to the sound of steady dripping one morning.  We are lucky that that’s all it was.  The wind in the night was battering the house with such force that we thought the windows would blow in and trees hanging precariously over us would crush the house.  The mini greenhouse took to flying and was last seen going over the garden gate and onto the lane.  Poor old hens thought that Chicken Little’s prophecy was more fact than fiction too.  Still other than the roof and a fair bit of debris in the garden, all was well.

Henny Pen

On the subject of the hens, dear Reader, we have some sad news to share.  We lost our two favourite hens over Christmas.  Not to Mr Fox but to a serious case of gapeworm that came on too suddenly to cope with usual treatment.  Henny Penny and Layla were quarantined in a makeshift chicken hospital (the girls’ wendy house) but despite all our care, both passed away within 24hrs of each other.  It was Henny’s death on Christmas Day that was perhaps the most devastating for all of us, with Poppy weeping buckets.  She really was such a plucky hen – so funny to watch and bags of character.  Silly to be so sad about losing a hen but she really was exceptionally special.  The coop just isn’t the same without her and with only three remaining, it may be time to think about some new girls joining us.

Hens

With snowdrops on the ground and the bluebells beginning to wake from their winter’s nap, it’s time to start thinking about tidying things up a bit.  Well in the garden at least, since the walls are too wet and the brickwork needs to dry out before it can be repaired.  Too depressing to look at the forecast and spy yet more rain on the horizon.  Still new roses need potting up for growing up the house, a lot of demolition work is already complete and plans for the kitchen garden are all sketched out and seeds purchased – the garden is almost unrecognisable.  Thank goodness too as I had the lovely Becs Parker from BBC Radio Solent’s The Good Life here recording a series of three new recipes from Margot’s Kitchen – Slow Food for Gardeners.  Tune in on Sunday 14th Feb from 1pm-2pm – no doubt you’ll hear Monty and Dora giving their woofs of approval in the background.

What better way to feed the soul on Valentine’s Day than with a bit of slow food love, dear Reader.  Call it a big hug and kiss from me to you.  Perfect whether you’re gardening, dragging the small ones and pups on a walk in the countryside (this passes for romance at Margot and Jerry HQ) or sinking into an armchair to while away the day with a good book.

Slow Cooked Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Chipotle Beans

Chipotle beans and spicy beef

Marinade for beef short ribs

beef short ribs or brisket

1 tsp celery salt

1 tsp smoked paprika (hot or sweet depending on how spicy you like it)

1 tsp of mixed peppercorns (grind these in a pestle and mortar)

1 tsp mustard powder

2 tbsp runny honey

1 garlic clove, whole

500ml good quality beef stock

1/2 can of real ale

Add all the ingredients for the marinade and rub onto the short ribs.  Leave to marinade overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.  Overnight is best for maximum flavour.  When you are ready to cook, seal the meat on a high heat until all the surfaces have colour.  Use a large pan with a lid to do this as you will be cooking the beef for hours and hours in its marinade.  Once all the meat is brown on the outside, pour over beef stock and ale, pop on the pan lid and place in a low oven (no more than 120 degrees) for slow cooking.  The ribs will be ready when the meat can be pulled apart with two forks.

Take the ribs out of the pan once cooked and leave to one side to shred the meat from the bones.  Pop the pan on the stove and reduce the liquid that is left by half.  As it reduces, add 1 tbsp of tomato ketchup and a dash of Worcestershire sauce to thicken it.  Pour this over the shredded beef to serve.

Chipotle beans

1 onion

2 tsp chipotle paste

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 can of haricot beans (include all the juice in the can too)

salt and pepper

Cook this at the same time as the beef short ribs as the beans will be really tender if slow cooked and have bags of flavour too.  Fry roughly chopped onion in a pan (needs to have a lid so a casserole dish with lid would work too), adding the chipotle paste and pomegranate molasses. Fry until the onion has softened a little and is coated in the paste and molasses.  Then add the can of beans and mix until combined.  Pop in low oven alongside the beef to cook for at least 3 hours.  The beans should look thick and be squishy to the touch.  Check the beans after an hour or so and see if you need to add a little water if they are looking a little dry rather than unctuous.

To serve the beef and beans, warm a few tortillas in the oven, add some chopped coriander or parsley, a squeeze of lime juice and a good dollop of crème fraiche/soured cream.

Heaven and you won’t be slaving over the stove all day either!  Happy Valentine’s Day, dear Reader.

Monty and Dora

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

Clucky cluck

Our feathered ladies and their hen chalet!

Our feathered ladies and their hen chalet!

With all the excitement of not having power for three days following the storm, I completely forgot to tell you about the latest additions to Margot’s brood, dear Reader.  Our first foray into feathers…….CHICKENS!!!!

Having bulldozed Jerry into the idea, aided and abetted by Primrose and Poppy, we somehow managed to find four little hens looking for a ‘good life’ too!  So off I popped in the car for the five mile drive to Alison, the ‘chicken lady’, who was a delight to meet and managed to show us all her cockerels and hens, despite suffering from a dreadful harvest injury having fallen from a ladder whilst picking apples.  Only in the countryside dear Reader…!  Primrose was fascinated by all the different sorts of chickens especially the Legbars and their blue eggs but most of all wanted to see Alison’s pony.  With the mention of vintage tractors too, I thought that Primrose might well adopt Alison and give her own mother the heave-ho!  Chickens, ponies, AND vintage tractors…….Primrose was in seventh heaven!  The whole ‘putting the chickens into a box’ malarkey was hilarious and we nearly lost the four of them in the wind when Primrose opened the crate and attempted to pick one up!  Finally in their cardboard box, I had visions of them escaping in the back of the Lanny as we made our way home along the country lanes….thankfully all was well and the Hampshire feathered four clucked away merrily,

SO without further ado dear Reader, I introduce to you our four clucky hybrid girls:

Primrose's plucky Pru

Primrose’s plucky Pru

Prudence (Pru for short) is Primrose’s hen and she is a Magpie.  The biggest hen by far and quite feisty too!  She was the first to lay on their second day with us and has already given us some beautiful double-yolked eggs.  A rather wonderful treat indeed!

Our little brown girl

Our little brown girl

Henny Penny (Poppy’s girl) is a very friendly little Columbian BlackTail and comes from the same breeder who breeds hens for Prince Charles’ Highgrove estate and Waitrose!  She is a poppet and really doesn’t mind the fact that she has to make do with our more rustic setting when all her little brown henny friends have gone to far grander surroundings.

Our green dotted lady

Dotty, my little hen, (a very nervous Cuckoo Speckledy) seems to be the primary escape artist and can often be found sitting on the roof of the hen house.  Dot evades all human touch for now but I am intent on winning her round with mealworms!

Our rock chick!

Our rock chick!

Finally, Layla, Jerry’s chicken (spot the attempt at a comedy name from Jerry) a beautiful looking Light Sussex.  So far she seems very shy and only ventures out when she spies a handful of corn being scattered.  She loves to cosy up in the nesting box.

With the hens settled and exploring their new surroundings, Jerry set about erecting the electric fence.  A much bigger job than Jerry and I expected.  I’m afraid that Jerry spent most of an afternoon in the rain cursing me for persuading him into an adventure with livestock.  To be fair to Jerry, I had tangled most of the netting and he spent an hour getting soaked to keep the hens safe at night from Mr Foxy Loxy.  To add to the drama, Monty got a little too acquainted with the fence at one point and has since given it and the chickens a very wide berth!!!

Look at those beauties!!!

Look at those beauties!!!

Two weeks in and the excitement of peeping into the nest box hasn’t waned.  Each day, Primrose, Poppy and I tiptoe to the coop to see if our feathered friends have left us any eggy offerings.  I have to say that even the hen’sceptic’ Jerry is mildly won over by the abundance of brown eggs!  Two a day so far and some HUGE eggs have appeared considering the hens are only 24 weeks old.  It is miraculous how they manage it!  Happy to report that I am now completely hen obsessed and spend most mornings (at the crack of dawn standing in the chicken run in my pyjamas, coat and wellies) trying to work out who has given us an egg and who is top of the pecking order.  I have also developed a rather serious habit for buying chicken paraphernalia……..well, would you expect anything less, dear Reader?  In fact, I am off to buy an egg run from my favourite haunt, Garden Trading, right this minute to display our ‘egg’cellent haul in the kitchen for all to see.

Our very first boiled eggs from our own hens! Perfect!

Our very first boiled egg from our own hens! Perfect!