Monday, 23 July 2007

Fig Chutney

I have been waiting for this moment of the year to arrive. I never really knew what to do with the amount of figs that we get every year, until last year. We went and had dinner at a nearby pub and stumbled across a starter of Mediterranean breads, Olive Oil and homemade fig chutney. This stuff was amazing and very addictive! I got chatting to the landlady (the creator) who swore me to secrecy, but shared her magical recipe with me. I must stick to my word and will not be divulging same I'm afraid.

The figs this year seem to be absolutely enormous, about the size of your average mango, I guess it's to do with all the rain we've had this summer, although I'm still waiting for summer to arrive. The veggie patch has thrived though and you could watch the amount of growing that's going on in the kitchen garden at the moment it's so fast. There are still masses of figs on the tree but there were a good 15-16 that were good to pick. I halved and stewed them forward of making the chutney. I shall have to dig out the jars now which are hiding in the depths of the pantry somewhere. I get very excited when I see the shelves in there filling up with the next year's supplies of Jam's, Chutney's and sauces. It's real way to make all the fruit and veggies last throughout the year.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

First Pickings

This evening saw the first harvest of the vegetable patch. My prize peas were ready for the picking, so armed with a pint of Gin & Tonic, I went about stripping the first batch from the plants. As a first time veggie grower I haven't really got a clue what I'm doing and am learning as I go. I read earlier in the week that you should pick the peas as soon as they're ready to make them flower more thus, producing more peas. Also, they tend not to be as sweet if left on the plant. I think a few had gone this way but they were still bloody yummy!

I had some help in the garden whilst prancing in and out of the pea sticks. The girls and the lovely Basil were enjoying an evening stroll on a bug hunt. They definatley have their own language and communicate to eachother in a series of heated and hasty clucks. If one of them finds a little insect treat they will cluck unstoppably until the others have gathered round to look at the findings. Basil is the best at this, he will let his ladies know that there is a morsel to be had where the ladies usually keep quiet and get it down their necks as quickly as possible without a sound ...I have to say I'm not unlike this when it comes to Ben & Jerry's!

After my rich pickings I sat on the railway sleeper next to our makeshift pond and shelled the peas. The girls showed a lot of interest and Betty kept trying to steal the finished product, very fond of a pea or two! Naughty bad chookie!

The pond is well established now and has 6 fishies in it. Five of the fish were found in an inch of water at the bottom of this trough at the bottom of the fields when the last people renting the land for horses left. I thought I was seeing things at first one day on my stroll around the farm, then another one, oh and another one and two little white ones! I went and got a bucket full of water and rescued the little blighters as they had about a week at best in what water they were in.

A month later we hauled the galvanised steal trough up the fields and put it in place where it now sits. We ended up putting our house fish in there too as he would have some company at least instead of staring at the side of a microwave and a bread bin for the rest of his life! He was immediatley at home when we put him in. It gives you that "I've so done the right thing" feeling! As I'm writing this I can smell the fig chutney cooking away and it's making me really hungry ...give me cheese!!!

Friday, 13 July 2007

The Chickens

There are four chickens altogether, 3 of which are Cochin's and one being a Leghorn. Cochin's are a very fluffy feathery breed with feathers covering their feet, so much so, that when they walk they look like they're on wheels! There are three girls and the lovely Basil who struts around his kingdom like an extravagant hat! He can be quite intimidating sometimes and his feathers get particularly ruffled at egg collecting time when he usually squares up to me with a lot of verbal abuse and pecking of the legs, ankles and feet ...flip flops are never a good option around Basil!

Although I love them all to bits I have to say that Betty (the little black one named after my Granny) is my favourite. She isn't scared or timid of me in the slightest and will help me dig in th
e vegetable patch for worms and yummy things such like. If I find a treat for her she'll come over to me with her tuneful warbling's and take it from my hand with a seemingly thankful set of clucks! The grey one is the lovely Lavender. She and Betty are the best of friends, although at times, have been known to rival each other for Basil's affection's. Then we have the amazing Constance. She is a Leghorn and an amazing little egg producer. She's the most timid of the lot but produces the most exquisite eggs that aren't far off that of a duck's egg. I had no intention of keeping a Leghorn but was recommended one as they don't stay in molt for long in the Winter (the period of time when the chicken stops laying due to the short days, lack of light and lower outside temperature's). Most chickens will molt for around 4-5 months but this little beaut will only stop for around 4-5 weeks and then she's off again popping them out! She'll look after us through the winter. The Cochin's will produce around 120 eggs per annum whereas a leghorn, being a more prolific layer, will give you around 200. If you are thinking of keeping hens then I strongly recommend you go for a Leghorn as they will never let you down on the egg front. I even had two from her in one day her a couple of months back! One of the best things about the chickens you keep and eggs you get is the smug sensation you have as you glide pass the egg aisle in the supermarket!

I got the Chicken's on 10th December 2006 after my brilliant birthday present being a beautiful chicken hutch and pen from Gary, the most wonderful chap in the world. I'd never even held a chicken before let alone housed, fed, watered, de-loused and wormed one! I have taken to it like a chicken to mixed corn and love to sit with them and watch their crazy antics, they really are funny. When I originally ordered the Cochin's I had wanted two Orpington's as well. To me, these are the typical large fluffy clucksome chickens you think of on a farm, really plumptious and clucky! I hadn't realised that they were so sought after and found myself joining the bottom of a very long waiting list to get a couple. Now seven months on and my chicken man in Windsor has recently advised me that he has two put by for me and is waiting to find out what sex they are. They are a little young to tell at the moment.

Funnily enough we went down a similar route when we got the Cochin's. When they were little and we first brought them home to the farm there was one Grey and two black Cochin's. As time went on one of the black Cochin's started to change colour here and there around her neck. Then called 'Babs', she began to grow a little faster than Betty and I really thought I had a prize chicken on my hands. Strolling up to the pen one morning the penny dropped, as well as my jaw, when I was cock-a-doodle-dooed at! Bab's was not Babs, but very much Basil!!! We had a few teething problems at first with a rampant male teenager, but the a routine is now set and everything has fallen into place ...let's see what happens when the other three arrive!