from vodka to seaweed

I’m not the world’s greatest vodka fan.  I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Grey Goose and Aldi.  On the other hand it is a wonderful preservative for things like chillis (which are dripping off the plants in my greenhouse) and even I quite like a vodka and tonic when the vodka has had a little help.

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From left to right, lavender vodka, raspberry brandy (the interloper) and raspberry vodka.  It is harvest time and if I don’t get down to making cordials, jellies and infusing spirits soon there will be little left.  There are plenty of recipes for fruit spirits I don’t follow any of them.  I take the flower or fruit and add them to the spirit.  My personal choices are brandy and vodka although when the brambles come out later in the year I will make bramble whisky, the strong flavour of the brambles complements the whisky, it goes well with brandy as well but is pointless to waste vodka on them.  Vodka is best for the subtler flavours such as flowers and raspberries.  I don’t add any sugar.  If you want to make a liqueur then I prefer to add sugar syrup to taste once the infusion is complete.  Personally I prefer to leave it as pure spirit, if somebody wants a liqueur I can always add the sugar syrup later.

The rosehips need to mature a little more before they are ready but the meadowsweet

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is everywhere and I want to get plenty of syrup made before it fades.

There is so much in the garden, and not just that which I planted which needs to be harvested.  Today I will collect and dry comfrey and lavender.   Comfrey is no longer considered safe to eat due to its high levels of alkaloids   but it is a great healer.  You can use the leaves direct on a wound during the summer months and I shall make a salve for the winter.  It also makes a terrific fertiliser.

I like to have a good store of culinary quality lavender and what better way than to grow your own?  It’s great in baking, and its soothing properties makes it good in salves as well.

Finally I must dry out the seaweed we collected at the weekend.  The lavender smells better but needs must!

frozen

It is hot today, well certainly for the north of England.  Currently 25 degrees (about 73 for those working in farenheit)  and stuffy.  I can’t believe I used to live in the tropics, I must have been made of much sterner stuff when I was younger.  However, it did mean that today was the perfect day to sort the freezer…..

This is one of our most shameful areas.  I have tried all sorts of strategies to keep on top of it but none of them have lasted much longer than a month or two.  We have three freezers. A small freezer below our fridge in our kitchen; a chest freezer and a small freezer in the outbuildings.

The fridge in the kitchen is the main daily use freezer.  The one I use first when  working out what we are going to eat the following week; the one the ice cream lives in; the ice box and any herbs I have frozen for over the winter.

The chest freezer is meant to be for fish (my husband is a trout and salmon fisherman) and whole or half animals bought direct from the farmer; freeze ahead meals (especially over the Christmas holidays); leftovers sufficient for another meal for at least 2 people; bones and meat for the dogs; odd stuff my husband buys when he is let loose in the farmers’ market on his own.  Though as I bought an alpaca steak last time I went to the Hexham market I can’t really complain about the Desperate Dan Pie he bought.

Finally there is the small freezer used for fruit.  We have a lot of fruit bushes and trees gooseberries, redcurrents, blackcurrents, apples, damsons, plums and quinces. We also have raspberries, strawberries, cherries and blueberries, but they never last long enough to make it to the freezer!  Everything comes to harvest at once and I can’t can and jelly it all in one go so it goes straight into the freezer along with any foraged fruit (sloes, rosehips, elderberries) and I do bulk sessions at my leisure.

In theory it should work well.  In practice it is chaos, not even of the organised kind.  So out it all came. There was a shocking amount that fell into the unidentifiable category and combined with the dog meat and bones which had got wedged under a whole side of smoked salmon the dogs will be well fed this week.  Then there were the soups.  Now I like soup as much as the next man.  My husband should have married the Soup Dragon.  He makes soup by the gallon, thick broths and lentil soups made using a ham bone from a mutated pig the size of a shire horse and so thick they could be served by the slice.  The one kind of soup I can’t stand.  The problem is he makes it,  bags it up and then forgets about it and makes some more.  Henceforth he is banned from even mentioning the word “stock” until he has eaten at least 2/3 of the soup lake in our freezer.

The most interesting bits were the unused cuts from the whole lamb we get each spring.  I am the only person who likes heart so I usually have that braised on a cold night whilst everyone else wrinkles their noses at me and snaffles some kind of dubious takeaway.  I have plenty of recipes for skirt and breast and all those other cheap cuts that nobody else wants but even I was baffled by these.

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I have added them to the dog pile.

Finally the leftovers. ” Bolognese sauce for 5″ is brilliant; “lamb hot pot for 2” could do my husband and I for lunch; unidentifiable meat dish dated October 2010 I thought could probably go.

So now I have this

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All sorted neatly into bags

this

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Meat drawer

and this.

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Fruit waiting to be jellied

But more importantly what I have learned and what will I do differently?

  • Bags – sorting stuff in the big freezer by bag avoids loosing dog food under the salmon.  I have a raw meat and fish bag, a cooked meals, soup and stock bag and a breakfast bag (bacon, black pudding, white pudding, fruit pudding and kippers).
  • All menu planning to use existing stocks in the kitchen freezer before going to the outside freezer and finally the farmers’ market.
  • Nobody is allowed to put anything in the freezer except me (because I am the only person who labels anything!)
  • Cut down on game purchases.  Only my husband and I really like game, I can sneak it in to casseroles for the girls but they have been suspicious ever since they discovered “dark beef” was venison and “dark chicken” was pheasant!  We do get given game by friends who shoot and my husband has brought the odd animal home himself but they tend to get eaten immediately.  It’s the partridge picked up at the farmers’ market that just never gets eaten.  The venison liver, which to be fair looks delicious but again as only my husband and I eat liver and game it’s not going to see the light of day on a regular weekday evening.
  • Leftovers.  Is the reason there is so much left over because I efficiently cooked twice the amount, because unexpectedly half the family were out for supper or because it wasn’t a great recipe?  In the latter case there is no point putting it in the freezer because nobody is going to eat it.  A rather odd chicken and chickpea curry fell into that category.
  • Never put milk in the freezer.  Nobody ever remembers it is there.
  • If I’ve not turned it into jelly or canned it by December I’m never going to do it.

PS loved the fact that WordPress spell check doesn’t recognise kipper or chickpea – foodie philistine!