Memories of Mrs Tiggywinkle!

When she created Mrs Tiggywinkle, Beatrix Potter secured a place in our hearts for this funny little prickly creature. For all us children who read about her, the hedgehog will forever be something cute and special.

Just down the road from where I live is a lovely children’s attraction called Prickly Ball Farm – can you guess what that’s all about? Yup, hedgehogs! In fact, they have a hedgehog hospital where you can go and see the fantastic work the staff do to rehabilitate sick and injured hedgehogs to bring them back to health before releasing them back into the wild. They often care for up to 80 of the prickly little beasts at any one time and it takes a lot of time and love to nurse these little creatures.

They are always happy to receive donations of old fleeces, blankets, towels, hot water bottles and food bowls. They also ask for any unwanted newspapers, shredded paper, sawdust or straw to help with the daily clean out of all the hedgehogs. And while you are there, you can learn more about hedgehogs and their habitat from one of their daily hedgehog talks.

Of course, as with all such attractions these days, they have to offer a whole range of interesting things for visitors to see and do and Prickly Ball Farm has grown to become a very popular attraction. They have a wide variety of animals including ferrets, pigs, chickens, ducks, pygmy goats, ponies, donkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs and even foxes! As well as getting to see all the animals, they run activities throughout the day so visitors can get a real ‘hands on’ experience with everything from pony grooming to walking a ferret and feeding the goats.

Spike’s Farm Shop sells everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to home made products from the café, local produce plus a range of prickly gifts and souvenirs. And just as the adults are starting to flag, there’s a very nice café with an excellent range of home made cakes! It’s a sweet day out and just a little bit different. Once my granddaughter Grace is old enough to appreciate it, Granny Joanna will be using her as an excuse to visit!

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There’s no need to gild the lily…

My garden is a constant source of inspiration – whether it’s for colour, scent or form. Just by looking at it out of the kitchen window, nature reminds me that so often, less is more, and it’s best to keep things simple.

I have included edible flowers in various recipes lately and, especially in the height of summer as now when we are all eating lots of salads, a delicate sprinkling of blooms or petals can make an ordinary meal look amazing. I threw this nasturtium and calendula salad together when we were working on a recent photo shoot for the blog and I thought how stunning it looked.

Although I have quite a range of edible flowers in my own garden I recently discovered a local company called ‘Greens of Devon’ who sell boxes of beautiful edible flowers by mail order. They also have a great website that includes a guide to all the edible flowers they sell – and there are a lot – and quite a few that I didn’t know were edible. For example, did you know you could tuck into tulips? That was a new one on me! They also include some very tasty recipes that you could try. Click on each flower in their guide and it tells you what the flower tastes like and suggests how you might use it – really fun!

Their boxed flowers are very much special occasion prices (!) but it is so easy to grow them yourself, cost should not be an issue. All these very common flowers are edible:

Pansy, borage, viola, pea, mallow, primula, dianthus, chive, rose and sunflower. Note that I am talking flowers and petals here and NOT bulbs – that’s a whole different area.

Just as with anything you do design-wise, think about colour and form to get the best effect with edible flowers. For the salad, as I was using big bold nasturtiums, I didn’t want to confuse things with a mix of colours, so used a similar coloured calendula to keep it striking and simple. Other times, when I have sprinkled petals, or tiny flowers like violas, over cakes I might go for a range of colours to give more of a naturally scattered look – but hey – the choice is yours! Experiment! Go mad and chuck a few petals around the kitchen! Richard, poor chap, is used to me doing such things, so never bats an eyelid on his way to make a coffee. Hey ho! 

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Acetate Anniversary Card

It makes such an effective change to use acetate as your card blank instead of the more usual cream or white cardstock etc. Here, the lovely picnic image from the Kevin Walsh pad has been used with one of our Signature dies and the overall look of the card is really unusual.

Ingredients 

Method

  1. Create a 5.5” square folded acetate card. I find it really important to use a scoring board of some kind to make the fold as it’s a touch harder than using standard cardstock.
  2. Mat the main image onto some cream card and stick that onto the top front of the card. Cut a matching size piece of cream to place inside the card to make a nice tidy back view.
  3. Then cut cream card 2.5” high and about 11” long to wrap around the bottom of the card. Match this inside as well to make it look neat.
  4. Mount the border that comes on the sheet onto first some cream and then copper coloured card and place that at the bottom of the card as shown. Finally add the curved piece from the sheet and a couple of diecuts in the same copper card. Lovely!

 

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Elderflower Cordial

One of the (many) joys of living in the countryside is the amount of ‘free food’ we can find in the hedgerows. Obviously one must take care that plants are not destroyed or removed but picking something plentiful, such as elderflower, is fine. I am doubly lucky in that I have elderflowers just inside my gate and although it’s a bit dull most of the year – this time of year it’s a marvel!

There are lots of things you can do with elderflowers, my favourites are elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial. I am also going to try making an elderflower salad dressing this year – but no experimenting done yet! This recipe is from River Cottage who produce some of my favourite cookery books.

This cordial will keep for at least six weeks – we have never managed to keep it any longer as we’re always to keen to sample it and check it’s still fine. This recipe makes about two litres so make sure you have suitable bottles ready, I prefer to make small bottles in order to open just a little at a time to keep it fresher. To sterilise the bottles, I use a hot cycle on the dishwasher – quick and easy.

Ingredients

  • 25 elderflower heads (check carefully for insects)
  • 3 unwaxed lemons
  • 1 unwaxed orange
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (you can get this from chemists or shops that sell wine making equipment) but this is optional
  • You need a jelly bag or a piece of muslin

How to make the cordial

Use a large bowl and put the elderflower heads in there and zest the orange and lemons. Boil 1.5 litres of water and pour over the flowers/citrus mix and leave to infuse overnight.

Strain the liquid through a clean jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, juice from the orange and lemons and citric acid.

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar and then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles and seal them with either swing-top lids, sterilised screw tops or corks.

 

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Eat your greens!

As the sap rises and the garden blooms, hen pal, and partner in writing crime Julia Wherrell, has been pondering her chickens again…

Last year, we had a bit of a disaster. On a very windy May day, the gate to the chickens’ run blew open and they escaped. There was no road kill or fox massacre, they simply strolled into my veg patch and ate every pea, broad bean and lettuce in sight creating their very own version of carnage. I was not impressed, but the hens were chortling merrily and happily stuffed with greenery. My partner felt sage and onion might have been more appropriate, but I restrained him.

A typical bowl of chicken scraps with rotten bits of fruit, wilted rocket and ends of vegetables.Chickens are omnivores so they’ll eat, or at least try, just about anything and spend much of the day scratch the ground looking for insects and worms. Any large insect, like a butterfly, foolish enough to drift through their run will be hotly pursued with all sorts of acrobatics and excitement and generally not come out alive. They love cheese rind, pasta and they have slices of brown bread every day and yes, they are spoilt.

They are also exceedingly fond of their greens. Any scraps we have – the bits you cut off the end of your vegetables, corn on the cob husks, wilted lettuce – they fight over. For entertainment, my farmer friend Greg will eat an apple and then lob the core into the run and watch the ensuing rubgy match as chicken after chicken grabs the core, runs off chattering happily, puts it down to eat it, whereupon it is instantly stolen by another hen and off they go again… A kindly neighbour regularly gives us the discarded outer leaves and stalk of cauliflowers which, to the hens, is about as exciting as receiving a box of chocolates!

Cauliflower leaves – better than a box of chocs!Of course we give them ‘proper’ chicken feed, including corn and things called ‘layers pellets’ but, just as we do, they love a varied diet. But greenery seems to play an important part in making their yolks rich and yellow. As a result, our hens’ egg yolks are a stunning deep rich orange and taste delicious. I rarely eat eggs anywhere but at home as I find their paleness unappetising. Sponges and quiches all look gorgeous as they have a naturally golden hue and they really do taste wonderful.

Now that my veggies are well advanced, the hens will be getting even more treats. Bolted cabbages, rocket and lettuces disappear down their greedy beaks in seconds. They won’t thank you for an onion or a leek though. And this year, my partner has adapted the door to their run so that it swings shut, even in the strongest gale, so I can be sure the greens they get are the ones I decide to give them and not the ones they steal!

 

 

 

 

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