Preservations in Pink

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Last Sunday I had a very productive afternoon and these wonderful goodies are the result.

We have… Blackcurrant Cordial, Creme de Cassis, Spiced Plum Butter and Redcurrant Curd.  A sweet, summery collection made from redcurrants and blackberries kept frozen from last year.

If it seems a lot for one afternoon, that’s probably because it was! May has been so busy but finally all the pressure and ‘stuff’ came to an end and I felt very much in need of some making therapy!

I should say that it was all pretty straightforward, but I would also just like to point out that I found time to make a roast lamb dinner too!

So happy to welcome in summer and the months of making, baking and preserving it brings.

Recipes to follow soon for each of the above, plus a long overdue update on my little chicks! Not so little any more…

Mars Bar Rice Crispie Cake

Whenever I announce I’ve been baking, Jon’s face lights up.

“What have you made?” he usually asks hopefully.  When I respond with,

“Healthy Blueberry Muffins” or some other healthy fruit filled equivalent, his face drops.

“Oh.” He will inevitably reply.

“Would you like one?”

“Er nah, you’re alright thanks… maybe later?”  Of course later never happens.

I have realised that Jon-friendly baking requires imagining you are baking for a sugar obsessed child.  And so, this Saturday I thought it was only fair to make something he would like, so I got out the rice crispies, mars bars and chocolate and proceeded to make the following.

Bake-along with my visual recipe below:

 

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Measure out 150g of rice crispies (or supermarket equivalent)

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I used 3 supermarket equivalent funsize mars bars, altogether weighing 80g.

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Roughly break up the bars mars.

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Add 60g of margerine.

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Melt in a glass bowl over a shallow pan of boiling water.

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Mix the melted mixture into the rice crispies…

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…until rice crispies are evenly coated and a little gooey.

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Press the mixture into a springform pan.  (Any tray will do, you can even use cake cases which work well if making with children)

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Melt 200-300g of your chosen chocolate over a pan of shallow boiling water.

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Spread over your crispie cake…

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…and add any decoration you want.  I used sugar strands.

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Stick it in the fridge for about an hour and it should look like this!

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Eat and Enjoy!

 

Original recipe found here:

BBC Good Food

Chicks for Easter: A step-by-step hatch, Part 4 – Hatch Day!

At last! the chicks are hatching as we speak!  I have found it hard to tear myself away from the incubator this weekend.  It’s quite gripping!  Not to mention very entertaining watching them wobble about, trying to find their feet.

Day 21

Two chicks had “pipped” by the time we woke up on Saturday morning.

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“Pipping”

 

They took a while to hatch.  A great big golden leghorn chick was the first out around tea time.

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White Leghorn chick

 

It was followed not long after by a black, pop-eyed Vorwerk chick with who popped out around midnight.

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Vorwerk chick #1

In the meantime two others (both Vorwerks) had pipped…

Day 22

These two Vorwerks made it into the world about 5 and 6am (I estimate!)  so by the morning there were four.  Three other Vorwerks have hatched during the day and I’m currently waiting on three others that have pipped this afternoon/evening.  Our friends and their children have been round today to share in the excitement so it’s been great fun.

One little chick hatched in a bit of a gooey mess.  There was a lot of gunk left in the egg afterwards IMG_3869and I had little panic that it hadn’t absorbed its yolk.  Thankfully it was soon up on its feet and stumbling about like all the others.  There was nothing attached to its vent and as it seemed to be OK generally I felt a bit better.  Having asked about on Backyard Chickens forum, apparently this is normal and nothing to worry about.  Phew!  You can’t tell it from the others now.

 

So 7 have hatched and I expect the three pipped eggs to hatch too.  That’s 10 out of 18, more than the 50% hatch rate expected which is a great start.  I think I’d be a bit disappointed if I don’t get a few more as they’ve done so well this far.  I think this is shaping up to be a great hatch!  I’d just like a few more Leghorns, that poor big yellow one is looking a bit like the ugly duckling by itself!  However, unless it’s my imagination, I have a suspicion that one of the big white eggs has been rocking a bit recently… Fingers crossed!

Tomorrow I’ll quickly popped the chicks that have already hatched into a brooder, a nice warm space where they can dry out (if not already) and have some water.  You are supposed to leave the chicks in the bator at least 24 hours before removing, but whilst the big yellow chick is 24 hours old, some are still quite young so I’ll go the full 48 hours from the first one born.  It takes some self control though as it’s getting crowded and a little messy in there now, I’m not sure I’ll wait until the evening.

Tomorrow, there should be some more chicks to meet and I will hopefully be able to post some better photos, until then… I’m going to get some sleep.

For previous posts:

Part 1

Part2

Part 3

Latest update: Another Vorwerk chick hatched 11.30pm!

Chicks for Easter: A step-by-step hatch, Part 3 – Lockdown!

It’s day 20!

Time for a little update on the incubation situation.

It’s hard to convey the excitement I feel when all I have to show is a load of eggs in an incubator, as before.  However, as of tomorrow it is all about to get much more interesting.

Day 14

I candled the eggs on Saturday, day 14, and all 18 eggs (12 Vorwerks, 6 White leghorns) were developing and looking good.  I discounted the other batch as when I candled again, they were all blanks.  Disappointing but I suppose that’s the risk you take with postal eggs.   So, discounting that batch I have a 100% development rate which is certainly a good start.  I really wouldn’t expect all of them to hatch but I am of course hoping for as many as possible.

Here is a poor photo of a developing egg at day 14

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Compared with a picture of one of the undeveloped eggs the difference is very noticeable

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Day 18

I candled the eggs again on Wednesday.  One looked iffy – a late developer that looked like it might have stopped developing altogether.  I am leaving it in anyway to see what happens.  The rest looked good, and very “full”!  I felt sorry for some of the Vorwerks crammed in their small shells. Hopefully it won’t affect them.  Wouldn’t it be great if the majority hatch?  Fingers crossed…

Days 19-21

Since then we’ve been on ‘lockdown.

I took out the tray so that the eggs are no longer turning.  I put down some rubber mesh for non-slip purposes and some kitchen towel to help with clean up later.  From now on there’s a firm no opening policy in place.  I’ve increased the humidity to around 80% (It should be between 70-90% during the last 3 days)  It’s not easy to keep it that high.  I blocked up the air vent and have partially wrapped a towel around the incubator for added insulation.  It seems to be working anyway, I am now losing humidity at a much slower rate.

So now we’re just waiting for the first cheep…  Last time, it took us by surprise.  We weren’t expecting it and thought we were hearing things to begin with!  Tomorrow is the big day, day 21.  I’m hoping by tomorrow evening I might be able to post the first pictures of the first few, as well as some hatching footage.

For previous posts, click below:

Chicks for Easter: A Step by Step Hatch, Part 1

Chicks for Easter: A Step by Step Hatch, Part 2

 

Homemade Port

Jon is a lucky man.  Tonight when he comes home there will a glass of homemade port waiting for him.  How many wives can say they’ve done that?  Hey?  Hey?  Now, aside from making my husband out to be some seasonally challenged Santa Clause, tonight I did indeed finish off and bottle up my homemade port.  And of course had a little sip along the way.

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It makes for a sort of russian doll of beverages – wine infused with sloes infused with gin, reinforced with brandy.  I feel we’ve done well from our single batch of sloes having made sloe gin and now port with the same lot of berries.  And we’ve made a decent amount of posh bevvy with very little effort.  On tasting, it’s not as sweet as I think of port being, which is no bad thing, and the flavour is very good.

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It does feel slightly out of season for port, however, with Christmas still a good way off, I’m not sure it will ‘keep’ that long.  Well, of course. it will keep, but I suppose what I really mean is whether Jon and I can keep our hands off it for that long!  As the nights get lighter, perhaps it will just have be port and lemonades on the decking.

*Sigh*

Life can be so tough…

Find the recipe on my previous blog post:

Sloe gin finished, now for Port!

Check out the various port cocktails on this website:

Port Cocktails

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Chicks for Easter – A step-by-step hatch: Part 2, Candling

Day 9, Candling time!

I had planned to do this on day 7 but we had a busy weekend.

Candling involves shining light through the egg shell to catch a glimpse of what’s going on inside.  I would have like to take photos but didn’t want to elongate the process but get the eggs back in and warm as soon as I could.  I washed and antibac-ed my hands before touching the eggs then handled them carefully around the centre. We don’t have an egg candler, we just use a high power torch that Jon used for his air rifle.  This is basically what we were looking for:

Unfortunately one batch of eggs, the 6 Vorwerks don’t seem to have taken for some reason.  Only one of them has developed healthily so far.  4 are blanks and one had a blood ring.  Maybe rough handling in the post or something else.  There are a lot of factors that can affect it and we are dealing with nature after all.  It is interesting that these eggs had been washed and sterilised unlike the others, thus potentially vindicating the “DON’T WASH!!!!!!” party. Who knows.

The good news is that almost 100% of the other 18 eggs are developing!  They look like something between picture 4 and 5 above.  I have one questionable White leghorn egg.  It might have quit early, but might just have developed later for some reason.  Either way I am leaving it (and the 4 undeveloped Vorwerks for a few more days) just in case.  Just got to keep an eye out for any starting to go bad.  The egg with the blood ring I have removed.

Anyway, I am really pleased, it’s a really positive start.  With less than 2 weeks to go I have a good feeling and am hoping that, from at least the 18 solid starters I can get perhaps more than the expected 50% hatch rate.

I will be candling again on day 14.  Perhaps we can get a couple of quick shots then.  It’s so cool to see that there really is something “swimming about” in there.

At the moment, it looks a bit like this!

 

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Quite a long way to go yet.  Those veins are really clear though, it looks as though there is a little spider inside.  According to the diagram below, showing days 5, 6, 9, 12, 18, they are at what I would call the “Sid the Sloth” stage.

   See? (I showed Jon, but I don’t think he agrees)

That’s it for now, so until next time… come on little chicks!

For Part 1 , click here – Chicks for Easter – A step-by-step hatch: Part 1

Wee wee wee all the way home… The piggies are here!!!

This won’t be a long blog as I am shattered.  Today we hitched up a trailer to our 4×4 and drove and hour and a half to collect our latest addition to the project…

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18 weaner piglets!

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They are 8 week old Pietrain x Gloucester Old Spots and very, very cute.  That is until you pick them up, and then they pee and poop on you and scream in your ear.  And I mean scream!

When we got them back, we left them in the trailer to settle down a bit and acclimatise.  I sat in there with them for a bit and eventually got them eating bits of apple out of my hand.

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Then we had to carry them all one by one down to their pen.  This turned out to be a reasonably hilarious ordeal where Jon and I and our good friends Mike and Heidi (thank goodness for them!) hoicked 18 lumps of pork, kicking and screaming, down a small slope as quickly as we could, in part to reduce stress for the piggies and to save our aching arms and eardrums.

They are now safe and sound in what I think is a pretty perfect pen.  It wasn’t long before they discovered their feed trough and were happily digging around with their noses and stripping bits of bark from trees.

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George very much liked the pigs.  I think he would prefer to live with them.  I think he believes them to be a strange breed of dog.  He wasn’t the only one either.

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At the moment they have all bedded down together, snuggled up under mounds of hay.  Jon keeps nipping out to “check on them.”

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On a more sombre not, these pigs are unfortunately (for them) for eating.  They will be for sale per half later this year around October time but bookings are being taken now.

I’m not sure how I will feel when that time comes…  I suppose it’s about enjoying it while we can?

Chicks for Easter – A step-by-step hatch: Part 1

What better Easter project can there be than hatching a few chicks?  I have been wanting to do this for ages, and the moment we got permanent electricity I was on it!  This is only our second hatch and I am very much still learning the ropes, but feel free to join the hatching journey over the next 21 days (and beyond!). Comments and advice welcome!

Sourcing the eggs

Using hatching eggs (on this scale at least) is not the most economic way of rearing chickens since an egg costs roughly the same as a day old chick and your chances of successfully hatching every egg you buy is nil.  You also at least have a chance of sexing day old chicks, with a hatching egg it’s a complete mystery.  Last time I got a 50% hatch (with one chick born with problems) which is pretty typical of posted eggs and so far I have only ever bought hatching eggs online and received them through the post.  Still, I do love the hatching process so the jeopardy is worth it, and part of it for me.  The next batch of eggs I will probably collect so I will compare hatching stats then.  I have been pleased on the whole with the condition of the eggs on arrival, they have been packaged well and arrived very quickly so I could set them whilst still fresh.  This time I bought 24 eggs from 3 different sources, thankfully they all arrived on the same day in time for the weekend.  As they will hatch in 21 days time, the hatch day falls conveniently on a Saturday/Sunday.

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Breed

I do love the rarer breeds.  They can be harder to come by (like the New Hampshire Reds we hatched last time) and they often seem to be the most beautiful.  This time I ordered 18 Vorwerk eggs from 2 different sources, they are the smaller creamy ones above.  I also bought 6 White Leghorns for my Dad, the large white eggs, naturally.

Vorwerks

There is something really striking about the gold and black combination of these beautiful birds.  They were originally bread to be hardy birds that incur low food costs for their owners and dual purpose like our New Hampshires – good for laying and tasty for the table!  They will actually be black with yellow heads when they hatch, the reverse of their feather patterns when they mature. Quirky!  I’d really like to breed some of these eventually, part of the reason why I ordered birds from two unrelated sources (although how I will mark and separate these on hatching during “lockdown” I don’t know, perhaps an oversight there…!).

White Leghorns

A simple and traditional breed, entirely white with bright red combs. They are adaptable and are very good layers, producing large white eggs.  Really hoping for majority girlies as they are intended to be layers for Dad.  If I get too many boys I might find myself buying some day olds….  And they really are the cutest!  Your proper typical Easter chick.

Incubating

At first I thought I had made a grave error and bought 24 eggs to fit in a 12 egg bator!  It didn’t help that the manual that came with our incubator is for the 12 egg model.  Panic stations!  Turned out I was just being daft and so, thankfully, it was crisis over. Firstly I sanitized everything I am going to be using over the next few weeks using a purpose made sanitizer.  When the eggs arrived I checked there were no breakages.  Some had some smudges of dirt so I did a bit of research and stumbled into the great debate between “DON’T WAAAAAASH!!!!!!” and “STERILIZE WHATEVER YOU DO!”  As far as I can tell, it basically boils down to the fact that washing disturbs the protective bloom on the outside of the egg, but if you don’t wash you may be incubating bacteria from dirt and poo which can penetrate the egg and cause it to go bad.  So, I weighed it up and decided to go for gently sponging off any obvious dirt marks with paper towel and warm water, making sure my hands were clean first.  Do your own research as I am only experimenting myself.  I left the eggs to settle after their journey, I think I managed about 19 hours or so (rather than the recommended 24 hours) before I got too impatient, and so…

Time for setting!  I allowed the eggs to reach room temperature and set up my incubator.  We have a 24 egg P & I model with auto turning function.  I switched it on to let it reach the right temperature and humidity inside.  Temperature should be 37.5 celsius, and humidity?  Well, there is a lot of debate, but somewhere between 45%-55% is the general consensus.  I think I’m going to try and stick to around 50% for days 1-18.  We are borrowing a friend’s humidity monitor since out incubator doesn’t come with one.

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Here they are, cozily tucked away for the next 21 days.  My 3 year old friend seemed to struggle with the concept of time on this one.  On seeing the eggs in the incubator, he informed me that…

Small boy:    I’m waiting here for the eggs to hatch.

Me:               How long are they going to take to hatch? Do you remember what I said…?

Small boy:    20 minutes?

Me:               21 days.  Is that a long time or a short time do you think?

Small boy:    Short?

Me:               No, it’s quite a long time.

Small boy:   Well I will just wait here until the chicks come out….

And so the conversation continued.  We did a couple of laps before I distracted him with some pictures of chicks on my computer.

So from now on it is a patient waiting game.  I will candle them for signs of life in a week’s time.  I’m going to limit myself to days 7, 14 and 18 for candling so as to disturb the hatch as little as possible.   In the meantime I’ll be doing my homework and keeping everything crossed!

Some great online resources…

If you are hatching chicks of your own or thinking about keeping chickens I highly recommend these sites, if you haven’t come across them already.  I have learned so much form them and have found them really useful for troubleshooting quickly.

The Chicken Chick – This lady knows a lot about chickens, a great site with tons of useful information and great photos.

Back Yard Chickens – This forum has the answers to any chicken related question you could ever wish to know.  A huge online community of chicken owners all contributing their knowledge and experience.

Ghosts of Makings Past #6 – Card & Note Holder

I haven’t written one of these in a while but came across this picture recently of a project that I completed a couple of years ago and nostalgia prompted me to share it.

I do love it, but it’s also nice to see how my skills have improved since then.  Just last night I was catching up with the first episode of the latest series of the Great British Sewing Bee and realising how many new skills I’ve accumulated over the last year.

I’ve just completed my first year of blogging as it happens.  Must write about that and note a few new skills I want to try this year, as well as pushing the boat out a bit and perhaps trying to sell a few things.

I made this card holder using:

  • an artist canvas
  • scrap of material big enough to cover it
  • scraps of material for applique
  • some lace
  • bondaweb
  • embroidery thread
  • mini pegs
  • card
  • sewing machine
  • staple gun

I created a template from card and cut out my bird shapes from my scraps of fabric before backing them with bondaweb.  Then I fixed the background material in place temporarily with strong tape and positioned the birds and lace where I wanted them.  I removed the background material from the canvas, tacked the lace in place and ironed the birds to the backing.  At this point I also embroidered the writing.  Following this I attached the fabric with appliqued birds to the canvas, stretching it tight, folding it neatly behind the canvas and stapling it in place.  I adjusted the lace and then sewed it in place at intervals along each length, leaving plenty of space for card to slot in place. The pegs I made by fixing material to card with bondaweb and cutting it into heart shapes which I attached to the pegs with a glue gun.

 

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Sloe gin finished, now for Port!

I began this project in October with sloes freshly picked during our anniversary weekend away in the Cotswolds, read about it here.  Though easy enough to make, the long wait that follows involves a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.  Will it work?  Did I pick the right recipe?  What if it more resembles a sickly, sticky cough syrup than the fragrant liqueur I was hoping for? After all, there will be no more sloes until next year, and that bottle of gin wasn’t cheap.

After eye-ing up the jars of berries and liquid for two months, watching the contents gradually deepening to a plummy red, it was finally time for bottling.  I saved up a few attractively shaped bottles for the task and sterilized them first.

Sadly, not quite all of the gin would fit in the bottles, (*sigh* whatever should I do?) This of course lead swiftly to an inevitable, but equally important task – tasting. Well, it was after 12 noon (just), so why not?  I filled the bottom of a wine glass…. and then became completely useless for the next half hour or so.  Warning: Do NOT underestimate its potency, regardless of how easily it slips down.

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These pretty labels gave the perfect finishing touch.  Find them here as a free printable by Alexis Snell.  We took a bottle to each of our parents’ homes over Christmas an the little one made a cute gift alongside some smokey cheese, homemade chutney and crackers.

For my original post ‘Sloe gin is a slow process’ and recipe click here.

Next year I am seriously considering picking a whole load and freezing them in batches or just making much greater quantities.  Though I naturally associate sloe gin with being a winter tipple, there is no reason why it should remain so – why not enjoy it all year round?  I would be as happy sipping this outside on a summer evening post barbecue as I would in front of a crackling fire.

But wait!

There’s more…

“More?” you ask.

Yes.  Why not put your left over sloes to good use?  Especially now that they are beautifully infused with gin.  The answer is…make your own port!  Bet you didn’t know you could make that at home.

Homemade Port Recipe

  • 500g sloes
  • 100g sugar
  • 1 750ml bottle of red wine
  • 200ml brandy

Combine sloes, sugar and wine in a large sterilised jar.  Leave for 6-8 weeks, shaking at regular intervals.  Add the brandy to fortify, and mix.  Transfer to sterilised presentation bottles.

Of course this is another waiting game so you will have to wait another 5-7 weeks to find out how that turns out.  If you’re a pinterester like me, (help is out there!) make sure you ‘pin’ this, or save it some other way because you are going to be wanting this when Autumn comes around again.

Have fun!