Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sufficient for the day ...

Pomona's cottage is a hive of industry at the moment: as I recorded a couple of days ago, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is definitely upon us, but for my part I don't think that Autumn would have had time to sit careless on the granary floor, or slumber amongst the half-reaped furrows.

We have been overtaken with piles of produce, quite ready to rot if we don't take it in hand with all speed: produce to pick, and to process, and think of ways of storing.

And this is the nub of self-sufficiency - so often nowadays we play at it, congratulating ourselves hugely at the sight of half a dozen jars of jam, patting ourselves on the back for a batch of plum chutney ... all in the sure and certain knowledge that when it runs out, we can trip down to Tesco and buy some more.

This was a luxury our ancestors did not have: if they did not store enough food, or sow enough at the right time to get through the winter, then they would go hungry.

This was happening not so long ago - you only have to read Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie books to see that even in the late nineteenth century the hard work of summer and autumn would mark the difference between plenty and want for the next six months of the year.

For us in our little cottage, the situation is more complicated: yes, we do have a supermarket only a couple of miles away, but not only have we committed ourselves to living a more sustainable life, which involves producing as much of our own food as possible, but also (and this focuses the mind somewhat) the Head Chef will no longer be in paid work quite shortly and I, for the first time in my life, will be the family breadwinner, having only been the sidekick before. So every little thing we can stash away will save us money in the long run.

Although at the moment the thrifty aspect does sometimes seem questionable. All that food to be stored needs to go somewhere: we have been lucky enough to be given a no longer wanted, but working, freezer, which makes two and a half freezers. But they are already full - and we have nothing like enough fruit, or even vegetables to last until next summer. And we will need space to store the Christmas pork. Vegetarians look away now (and I am a vegetarian, too, so I will say no more).

I have been to buy some preserving jars, so that we can start bottling apples, pears and blackberries - but actually when I look at the price, I do think that I could have bought a lot of fruit for that money!

 But fruit is definitely worth preserving in our climate - or there will be nothing in the way of fresh fruit until early summer.

 For vegetables, I think the real answer is to manage the growing so that we can harvest vegetables all the year round. There are carrots, parsnips, leeks and cabbage already in the ground, and today the Ploughboy has sown some more greens.

 We are hoping to use the polytunnel to help maintain a year-round supply of green vegetables, and the greenhouse for salads, and will be replanting these as the tomatoes come to an end. This year we have sown everything in modules, which has made a huge difference: the germination rates have been more or less 100%, the seeds don't get taken by mice, and the seedlings that are planted out are stronger and better able to survive.

It all requires a lot of thinking ahead and planning, which we have never got quite right before now - partly because it did not seem such a necessity. But we have not had to buy vegetables or fruit since the spring, which means that it has been our best year ever, but selling meaningful amounts of produce is another question.

In the past smallholders could sell their surplus more easily, I think. We live on a very quiet lane, so farm gate sales are never going to amount to much, but to take a stall in a market would entail a cost which we would probably not recoup, because of the small quantities we deal with. And once you go to market, the level of regulation makes it very difficult for the smallholder: for example, the cost of super-accurate scales, having to buy new boxes for eggs and registering with the relevant authorities.

 Farmer's wives used to put up a sign by the wayside offering teas to passing cyclists and walkers, or selling cakes - I'd love to do this, but again, the cost and feasibility of implementing the regulations really puts it out of the question. And yet it tends to be the industrially-produced food which is harmful to the health - often in a long-term manner.

But I am being far too negative: and because presents make the world go round, I have a present for you of the recipe for hedgerow jam. You don't need to live in the country to make this - brambles and elderberries can be found in towns if you look around (try neglected gardens, wasteland, the wilder bits of parks), and by the side of all sorts of roads. But perhaps don't pick them by a very busy road, and rinse them off if they look dusty. And if you can go the other, non-road side of the hedge they will be cleaner.

 Although I have given the quantities in pounds, remember that these are proportions only, so you can use whatever you want for a base unit. In terms of fruit, I use brambles, elderberries and Bramley apples because they are easily available - I use bush plums for jelly only, because I can't be bothered to stone such small plums.

 You could strain this and make hedgerow jelly if you have plums, but jam is quicker and simpler, and the berries and small pieces of apple give a wonderful texture. These fruits are also high in vitamin C, so this jam must be very health-giving, I am sure.

I make 6lbs at a time - this is about right for a standard 9 litre preserving pan, but there is nothing to stop you halving or doubling the quantities as you wish.

 Strig the elderberries and pick over the blackberries - you need a total of 4lbs of these fruits combined, but the proportions are not crucial. I usually end up with more brambles than elders. Simmer the elder and blackberries together with about quarter of a pint of water until softened (about 15 mins).

Take 2lbs of Bramley apples, peel, core and chop small - simmer with around a quarter pint of water for about 10 mins, until softened but not too pulpy. Mix the fruit together and stir in 6lbs of sugar (jam or granulated) - it will dissolve quicker if you have warmed it first. Bring to a rolling boil and test for a set by putting a teaspoon of jam onto a cold saucer. If it develops a wrinkled skin as it cools then it has reached setting point, and you can pot into sterilized jars. Keeps for a couple of years at least if you use screw top lids.

And after that slightly Eeyorish post, I remember that this year has been full of positives, and I have so many blessings to count instead of dwelling on the potential difficulties of the self-sufficient life. We have grown more food than we have ever done before, we have made jars and jars of jam and chutney, the freezers are full, we have more food on the way, and we are lucky enough to live in a most beautiful place. Take therefore no thought for the morrow!


nickynackynoo said...

I so admire your push for self-sufficiency. We are no where near there despite the huge effort my husband puts in pretty much year round. We started keeping pigs a year ago, and love it and have managed a sort of barter with a friend who produces beef and lamb so we're almost there in meat terms.

Chrissie said...

You're such a good example with your efforts and I love your Marmande(?) toms!

Chrissie said...

What a great effort you have made towards your aim,I really admire you! And I love the look of the Marmande (?) tomatoes!

pigeon pease said...

What a lovely post, last week collected brambles and sloes, sloes are now in the freezer awaiting Gin....brambles, well a very tiny amount of those in a crumble, and I must try that Jam recipe.

lynn x

Michela said...

What a great harvest!
Hope you're having a lovely weekend!

Marigold Jam said...

Oh how I wish IU lived nearer to you and could buy some of your produce. I think you are on the right track and I do hope you will be able to make a go of self-sufficiency. It is harder to do if those around you are not marching to the same drum as if your neighbours were also into SS you could swap and share and get by that way which would have happened in the past.

I have a recipe for elderberry syrup I can let you have if you wish - it makes a lovely deep red syrup full of Vit C and very good for colds in the winter - tastes like a less sweet version of Ribena.

Bon courage as they say in France!


Lola Nova said...

There used to be, in my childhood, so many wobbly tables leaning on the roadside. Tables with fresh produce, jams, baked goods; often these tables were unattended, just an old coffee can for your dollars and change. All on the honor system. Even old jam jars filled with wildflowers were to be had.
Now, here I am wandering memory lane after reading your post.

I am inspired by your industry and I know that though we make a real effort, we are far from self-sufficiency. Our tomatoes failed miserably this year, so none were put by. Still, we did run out of room to store what we have put up, and the hens should start laying in a couple of weeks. Every year we learn more.

Thank you for sharing, I really enjoyed this post. Beautiful pictures too!

whoatemycrayons said...

Amazing harvest (and piggies). Makes me wish we had a bigger garden so that I could have a proper veggie/fruit garden.

JuliaB said...

hehe.. your jam jar collection looks just like mine!! I am potting, pickling and packing today too. its helping me to process summer.. now i feel more ready for autumn. That must have been the problem! x

Insomniac Mummy said...

Wow! All that food you have harvested looks really great.

We started to try and grow a few bits this year just to see how we got on. Not much success so far but we'll keep trying!

Keep at it! You are doing a grand job.


meplusmolly said...

I think your efforts are to be applauded and v LOUDLY! too. I would definitely like to more self sufficient, but alas it's going to have to wait for a while.
Do you sell your produce anywhere locally?
Just wondered too if you've spoken to or contacted Helen - of Simply H blog? perhaps you could sell some of your lovely handmade work and your food produce - christmas boxes of goodies??etc at her craft fair in Whitstable in Dec? ;0 x

Indigo Blue said...

I have been doing some pickling. A friend of mine had too many red cabbages, so they were pickled. i have also pickled some onions. I have also made some jam and seeing there is only 3 of us the jars that I make will last for a year. i also have gooseberries and plums in the freezer. This year we have been successful with salad items but next year we are going to convert part of the garden and see what we can grow there. I was given some fruit trees for last Christmas and there are a few apples on them but next year will be the test. It is fun and my in-laws have an allotment and Sophie is learning a lot. That you for the recipe I am always interested in new jam ideas.

menopausalmusing said...

What a lovely post. When I was a child and used to visit my grandmother in Scotland, she was very self sufficient: chickens, bees, logs cut for winter (no electricity), no running water, and also she had her own share of peat on a moor. She had what was referred to as "the peat shed" in which were also buried carrots and potatoes.... they kept beautifully. x

Beck said...

What a fascinating post. It sounds like you do an amazing job in your garden and I enjoyed reading about your thoughts re sustainability, then & now. I hope to get our vegie garden up and running soon although I do have lettuce & rubarb in already. Thanks too for the jam recipe and lovely, lovely photo's xo

Sophie - Chez Sophie said...

You look like you have a wonderful harvest of goodies to keep you going. I love the sound of your Jam and am definatly going to give it a go, I have been hedge row picking and have a little stash in the freezer. Plum chutney sounds fabby too.
Luv Sophie xxx

Anonymous said...

Just found your lovely blog and am enjoying the tomato in Northern Wisconsin we have had our first frosts (in August no less) and my tomato plants are encased in plastic trying to create a warmer environment for them. Don't know if we will harvest any this year or not. The cooler than normal summer has given us huge amounts of peas, lettuce and carrots though so there is always that balance. Have a good week.

heidi said...

my,you have been busy & what green fingers you have!! it must be very rewarding when you look at all your lovely produce.
hugs heidi. x

Shsjndkdns said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading that post, and as a city girl love your photos and also your mentality. I would so love to be able to grow my own and be self sufficient (one day..) thankyou for sharing the recipe too. X Gem

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a lot of produce you have1 Im really looking forward to going out and gathering blackberries and elderberries for wine and jam. xxx

...Nina Nixon... said...

Such a beautiful post and very thought provoking.

I think your've done a wonderful job with all that produce and then turning it into something to store as that is time consuming in itself.

Have a lovely day,

Nina x

ps. I am just starting to catch up on all my messages and posts! Nxx

Crafty Green Poet said...

You do sound to be having a very productive year! We walked along an old railway line recently, the edges were full of people picking brambles. Brambles by the side of the path should also only be picked if they are growing higher than dog height.....

jennyflowerblue said...

Would love to buy or swap the occasional box of produce from you! Next time you have a glut of something let me know. I saw Kilner type jars in Dunelm mill today, not sure how dear they were?

Unknown said...

I admire you greatly, and you sound like you are doing really well at it too. Its not easy, but it is a great way to try to live your life. We eat as much organic as we can, dring organic milk, and we have been growing our own too. Also I have been trying to avoid supermarkets and do the shopping at local shops, as much as poss! Much nicer way to shop I think. Regulations. Pah! The powers that be are regulation crazy these days. Thanks for a great post! Suzie. xxx :)

Rebecca @ Belle Blog said...

I just found your blog and I really like it. Thanks!!
♥ Rebecca

Barbara said...

You certainly have got some great produce there. The Blueberries look delicious and healthy. We did not do well growing Blueberries. The apples are beauties.

We used to grow lots of stuff on an allottment but eventually gave it up as the picking and processing etc. was taking up too much time.

Just been reading through lots of your posts. A friend visited Whitstable for the day Saturday.

alice c said...

I have a blog-friend who is almost self sufficient and she dries a lot of fruit and vegetables for the winter using a dehydrator. It might be a good way of storing excess apples for that delicious apple pie.

Simply H said...

Hello, very nice to discover you! Thanks for popping by my blog via Kirsty from meplusmolly!
It is lovely to meet another local!
Your B&B looks gorgeous! x

Anonymous said...

You have done an amazing job. The planning, dedication and hardwork you must have put in is amazing. You should be very proud.

Anonymous said...

You have done an amazing job. The planning, dedication and hardwork you must have put in is amazing. You should be very proud.

janie said...

You are simply amazing! I can't wait until the day when I can stop by and say hello and see what you are up to!

Susan McShannon-Monteith said...

Though the fruits of your labour will not be tested till the cold winds of November roll in... each and every jar you can, bag you freeze, bacon you cure, will be a blessing to you and Mother Nature.
Like our ancestors before us putting up for oneself is one of life's purest pleasures.
I have maple, plum conserve on my menu today.

karen said...

I just happened upon your blog whilst bloghopping and I must say I found it rather delightful to read. I do so admire your self-sufficient lifestyle and hope that one day my family and I could do the same.

I plan on coming back to visit you on a regular basis if that's ok

Diane said...

What a really interesting post. I hope everything works out for you. You have been so industrius with your jamming and preserving and freezing. I think having to be frugal brings out the creativity in a person (well it does in me anyway). Looking forward to your future posts. xxx

sarah-jane down the lane said...

Not eyeorish at all, just straightforward and pragmatic, I like that. We also have a windfall fridge freezer which we have re-homed and is chock full of random freezings, which will get used up by hook or by crook!
I am sure you will find a way to make everything come good, in fact I know you will :)
(shoe-lace voting is really hotting up over at my place!)
Love Sarah x
PS love those Patty Pans!

sarah-jane down the lane said...

Not eyeorish at all, just straightforward and pragmatic, I like that. We also have a windfall fridge freezer which we have re-homed and is chock full of random freezings, which will get used up by hook or by crook!
I am sure you will find a way to make everything come good, in fact I know you will :)
(shoe-lace voting is really hotting up over at my place!)
Love Sarah x
PS love those Patty Pans!

periwinkle said...

If I were closer I would have snapped some produce right off you --
lisa x

Renaissance Grace said...

I'm in total awe of your determination,I think you'll save the planet single handedly!

andamento said...

"congratulating ourselves hugely at the sight of half a dozen jars of jam" - I made 4 1/2 jars and was extremely pleased with myself!

I expect you're very busy at the moment, where do you find the time to write so thoughtfully too?

Heart in the country said...

How I agree with everything you've said! I too am guilty of 'playing' at being self sufficient, but with the luxury of a supermarket to fall back on only 6 miles away I can't quite get fully focussed. I also stuggle with getting my planting right, the last two summers my veg patch has looked for like a swamp, so I waited thing year and the ground was rock hard.
NEver mind, I'll keep trying.

Thanks for another great post.


Amy Friend said...

I think it is great that you are doing this! It is sort of a dream of mind to grow most of our own food, etc. Do you have a lot of land? I am guilty of only growing my own herbs and using most of my space for perennial...and joining the CSA! But we would like to eventually drop the CSA and grow our own fruits and veggies. It seems so daunting though and you are right, the supplies for canning and storing are so costly. I suppose it is all the initial investment though and you should be able to use those containers for a long time. I would love to learn more about what you have done. Best wishes!


Related Posts with Thumbnails