Archives for the month of: October, 2013

The National Trust is rerunning its Great British Walk event this year, take a look at the website for a guided and or downloadable walk near you, there are thousands of acres of fantastic landscapes out there waiting to be explored. Locally we are doing a guided walk from Black Down to Woolbeding, giving you the opportunity to soak in views like this.

Temple view 1

The walk passes over the top of the highest point in the South Downs National Park, with views (if its clear!) as far as the sea. It passes through and gives us an opportunity to look out over some of the most densely wooded countryside anywhere in England, right at the time when the leaves are changing colour on the trees.

It is on friday 1st November from 10am-4pm meeting at Tennysons Lane Car Park on Black Down near Haslemere. A minibus will give transport back to the start, if you want to come along please book by ringing 01730 816638 or emailing woolbedingcountryside@nationaltrust.org.uk

Temple view 2

I will be leading the walk, along with Fiona from Woolbeding, its one of my favourite walks around here, so I am really looking forward to it. The views are incredible, and it passes through some really interesting historical and natural landscapes, a proper autumnal treat.

Out there in the woods the colours on the trees are looking fantastic, especially if you are really lucky and manage to catch a ray of sunshine reflecting off them. Lots of trees seem to be having a very strong mast year, meaning they are producing lots of seed. Its their way of providing a strong chance of a healthy next generation of trees. Every few years when the weather conditions are favourable they fruit like crazy. Heres hoping enough viable seed escapes the predations of the deer and gives us some strong healthy saplings.

The oaks in particular are producing masses of acorns. As I write this I can hear them dropping out of the trees and bouncing off the roof of my land rover. They give a really textural feel to the paths in the woods at the moment, making a particularly satisfying soft crunching noise as you walk over them. Sadly I don’t know of a decent culinary use for acorns, but I certainly do for sweet chestnuts, some of which are also particularly prolific this year.

Chestnuts

If they are coppiced they dont usually fruit that heavily, but some of the maiden trees produce a really healthy crop of nuts. This bowlfull took only a minute or two to collect, I had to stop for them, they were the best ones I have seen for years, fat and swollen and tasty looking, and now sat by the side of the fire waiting to be roasted at Christmas time.

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I like to try and make what I eat and drink when I can. I think knowing where something has come from and how it was made is really important. At this time of year that means lots of harvesting, both in the garden and in the woods, fields and hedgerows. Sometimes in the autumn it can get to a point when you are just fed up of bottling, freezing and picking and long for the seson of planting and growing again… However hard you try there are always a few harvests you miss out on, whether its the weather or just too busy a life. Missing a glut of wild or garden goodies can sometimes pass me by, or sometimes make me sad. But there is one hedgerow harvest in particular that I just couldn’t stand to miss out on. Its Sloe Gin time (at least in my book it is Phil… I know you like to wait for the first frost!). The sloes are looking fantastic in the hedgerows round here in the moment. Everyone has their favourite haunt, but in reality in a good year like this one you shouldn’t have too far to explore to find a Blackthorn laden with fruit.

The best thing about sloe picking is that the top spots for them are the kind of hedgerows that are usually packed with all sorts of other intersting wildlife… try looking of the map for footpaths through and around some fields near you, they wont be too far away. Just be careful while you are picking, the thorns can be a bit nasty.

sloes in the hedge

A few people lately have been asking me for my recipe again, I know I have posted it before, but, for those that were asking, here it is again.

sloe gin making

Get yourself a bottle of gin (or vodka if you prefer, as I do). Don’t buy the really cheap stuff, you will only regret it later. Empty the contents into a jug.

FIll the bottle up to between a quarter or a third with sugar, then fill up to just over half way with sloes. The picture below will give you an idea of what I mean.

sloe gin recipe

Then fill the bottle up with Gin (or vodka!).

Now comes the key bit. Time. Put it aside until at least christmas before opening. Or if you can bear to wait (or better still make two bottles) keep for at least a year before opening.

Some people like to prick the sloes, I never bother though, many like to shake the bottle at set intervals to encourage the sugar to dissolve, this can help, but I never worry about it too much, the key ingredient is time and patience, and maybe a bottle made the year before to make the wait easier.

Drink by the fireside on cold winter nights contemplating the coming of spring.

Happy Foraging.

 

 

Marley Cattle promo reduced file size

It has been a busy time lately for the Black Down herd of conservation grazing cattle. They have been moving around our sites completing our programme of summer grazing and will soon be heading out onto their winter quarters. Four of our girls have returned from the bull, fingers crossed for a full set of beefy buns in ovens. Also two of our steers have reached the age where they go for beef.

We run a breeding herd, heifers (young females) are kept for breeding so that we can build up numbers and select for good characteristics. Steers (the castrated males) are kept for 3 years and then go for beef. We sell the beef in a local box scheme, the profits of which help support the running of the property and the herd, as well as giving people a taste of some of the finest tasting, highest welfare, most sustainably produced beef you could ever wish to put on your plate.

Someone from the Black Down team visits every one of our cattle every single day of the year. Come rain, hail, snow or (occasionally) sunshine we look after them from birth till death. The work they do for us is absolutely vital for our management and stewardship of the countryside in our care. Without them the habitats and landscapes we look after around Haslemere would be very much the poorer, for both wildlife and people. Needless to say it is difficult not to get enotionally involved. Especially on the day you take an animal you have known well to the abbatoir. Yesterday was such a day, and I don’t mind saying it wasn’t easy.

Today is a new day though. I couldn’t be more proud of the animals we raise here, and know that they live just about the most contented and rich life it is possible for a cow to have. This is reflected in the beef we produce and sell.

So, on a stricly first come first served basis (limited supply available) we are currently offering for sale 5kg boxes of mixed cuts of our rare breed Belted Galloway beef which will have been traditionally butchered and hung. The boxes cost £50 and will be available for collection from Swan Barn Farm on 6th November between 4 and 7pm. We have a list of customers in the office, to get on the list you need to ring 01428 652359 and speak directly to one of the team. I have to warn you though, supermarket beef will never be good enough again.

 

Thank you so much to everyone who came along on Saturday and made our Community Apple Pressing Day such a success.

apples on community day

We reckon around 300 or so people made their way down Collards Lane to the Farm, many bearing trugs, buckets, bags and other containers of apples, goodness knows how many apples we processed in the end, but we were flat out all day long.

Everyone got stuck in and saw the process through from beginning to end, fist chopping the apples.

apple day 2013

Then scratting (the scratter processes them into mush by squeezing them between toothed rollers).

scratter

Before they were stacked in “cheeses” in the press. The screw of the press was then wound down to force the juice out through the cloth’s and seperate it from the left over pulp or “pommace”.

Press

It was great fun, it is always fantastic to see so many people getting involved and having fun using our traditional machinery. It really makes the orchard come alive. Our press has been making apple juice in this corner of the country for well over a hundred years and it is still going strong. That first taste of fresh apple juice each year makes all the work tending and planting the trees worthwhile. If you still have apples on your tree and want to get involved our machinery and some of the Black Down team will be at the Lodsworth Community Pressing Day this Saturday, so there is still time!

Many, many gallons of apple juice were taken away from Swan Barn Farm last weekend. It tasted absolutely fantastic on the day, and keeps well for a few days in the fridge. Any longer than that and it needs to be frozen, but in the freezer we find it lasts till at least Christmas really well.

We also gave out cider making instructions to lots of people on the day, I have had quite a few people asking questions about this since then. So, for them, here is my duffers guide to cider making.

apple juice

I tend to use a bought yeast, and add it to the juice in a demijohn as soon as possible. The airlock and bung then goes on and over the next few days the yeast starts to act on the natural sugars, releasing bubbles of CO2 and converting the sugar to alchohol. The plastic demijons with cork bungs are often not completely air tight and so the bubbler airlocks dont always work as well as in glass ones, but it will all still work, don’t worry! Look closely and you will see little bubbles rising through the cider showing you all is well.

After a couple of weeks (although the timing is very temperature dependant) the fermentation will start to slow, at this point you rack off, which just means seperating the cider from the settled out mass that will have appeared at the bottom. I use a syphon tube, but you can pour it gently into another container if you don’t have one. Then wash out the demijohn, getting rid of the sediment before pouring the cider back in. I usually top up with a bit of water back to the same level. If you want you can add a desert spoon of white sugar to kick off a secondary fermentation (beware though, this will add strength as well!). Either way it will continue to ferment away, more slowly this time. Over the next few weeks the cider will clear as the last of the sediment settles out and the fermentation slows and eventually almost entirely ceases.

When it has finished fermenting, has cleared and it is no longer producing carbon dioxide it is ready to bottle. Old beer or lemonade bottles are perfect as they can take pressure. Add sugar at a rate of 1/2 a teaspoon per pint for a lightly sparkling (hopefully a little bit classy) cider. You can probably have it ready to drink by christmas, but it will be even better if left in the bottles until the spring.

It isn’t a conplicated process, if you are careful and use clean containers you should be able to make something pretty nice. I suppose the point partly is to preserve all that fantastic fresh produce and keep it long term. But for me what it is really all about is looking after our orchard, and giving it a long term future, through the mechanism of getting people to appreciate it. When you sit down with a glass of chilled, clear, lightly sparkling cider on a warm spring day and think of the bees back out pollinating the orchard blossom it makes it tastes pretty sweet.

Swan Barn Orchard

 

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