Busy bees

Spending so much time with flowers over the years, I’m a great respecter of bees. When you’re in your garden, it’s rare not to hear their gentle drone. I would never keep bees and respect them though I do… no way could I have ‘pet’ bees!

The big, slow moving bumble bee doesn’t produce much honey but it is an important pollinator. The smaller honey bee not only pollinates but also toils away to produce honey from the pollen it collects.

I knew bees were vital, but I was surprised when I read that one in three mouthfuls of the food we eat is dependent on pollination – so worrying when we are told that honeybee numbers have fallen by up to 30% in recent years

Honey, and the bees that create it, are both pretty amazing! Honeybees are the only insects to produce food for humans and honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water.

And wow, do ‘worker’ honey bees deserve their name! The average worker bee produces about one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. She visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip… and as you will have gathered it is the female of the species that does all the work!

Larger than the worker bees, the male honey bees (also called drones), have no stinger and do no work at all. All they do is mate. Now there’s a surprise!! (Sorry all you guys that read the blog……..)

 

 

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Harvesting your herbs…

After all the rain we’ve had, my herbs have grown absolutely HUGE and could do with cutting back. Last week I received an email asking me how best to dry lavender… and I thought – aha, time for a blog on drying herbs!

Cutting back overgrown herbs, leaves you with masses of fragrant and tasty cuttings that are far too good to be thrown away. Drying them is a brilliant way to add flavour to your cooking outside the herb growing season and save money.

Drying herbs

Living plants contain large amounts of water – as much as seven eighths of their weight in many cases – and his has to be removed before they can be stored.

Tie bunches of leaves and flowers loosely together in bundles and hang in a clean, airy, place out of direct sun until brittle enough to break easily between your fingers. A good tip is to hold a bunch together with an elastic band rather than string, then it shrinks as the stalks dry out and stops them dropping on the floor. They usually take about a week to dry if the weather is warm enough.

However… given the summer we are ‘enjoying’ in the UK this year, you may need to use an airing cupboard, shaded greenhouse, warm attic or dry ventilated shed.

Herbs can also be dried in a domestic oven or dehydrator, but you need to keep the temperature at no more than 32ºC/90ºF for the first day or two, after which reduce to 25ºC/75ºF until the process is complete – between three and five days. Turn the material occasionally and complete one batch at a time – don’t be tempted to add fresh material as this will reduce the temperature and raise humidity. I personally prefer the hanging in bunches method AND it looks lovely in the house!

Bunching several herbs together for bouquet garnis is easier before drying then after.

Handy tip: Culinary herbs cut up small and packed in measured amounts with water in ice-cube trays lose little of their flavour when frozen and are ready for almost immediate use!

 

 

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Elderflower Delight

Goodness me – have we got a delicious treat for you this week! Writing pal and foraging guru Julia Horton-Powdrill has come up with this absolutely gorgeous reciped for ElderFlower Delight. What a lovely change from the usual Turkish variety and another great use for wonderful edlerflower. Thank you Julia!

Elderflower Delight

You will need: 

  • 25g leaf gelatine
  • 25 heads of elderflowers
  • 700g granulated sugar
  • 400ml water
  • 130g cornflour
  • 30g icing sugar
  • Juice of two lemons 

Soak the gelatine in a shallow dish of cold water to soften. Strip the blossom from the stems and tie loosely in a piece of muslin leaving one piece of string long.

Put granulated sugar, lemon juice and 300ml water in a heavy-based saucepan, heat gently until sugar is dissolved, then leave to cool.

Mix 100g of the cornflour with the remaining 100ml water until smooth, then stir into lemon/sugar syrup. Return the saucepan to a low heat. Squeeze gelatine to remove excess water, then add to mixture. Whisk until dissolved.

Bring mixture very slowly to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring almost continuously to prevent the mixture sticking. Suspend the muslin bag in the mixture and simmer, still stirring, for a further 15 minutes. Give muslin bag an occasional squeeze with back of spoon to release Elderflower fragrance. The mixture will gradually clarify and become extremely gloopy. When ready, leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Mix remaining 30g cornflour with icing sugar. Line a shallow baking tin, about 20cm square, with baking parchment and dust with a heaped tablespoonful of the icing sugar and cornflour mixture. Remove the muslin bag from the gloopy mixture, then pour it into baking tin and place in a cool place (not the fridge) to set.

Refrigerate for a few hours until it becomes rubbery. Cut the Elderflower Delight into cubes with a knife or scissors and dust with the remaining icing sugar and cornflour. Enjoy!

To see more of Julia’s wonderful recipes and foraging tips, go to: www.facebook.com/WildAboutPembrokeshire

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A wonderful walk right on my doorstep!

Morwenstow on the north coast.I know I do tend to go on about how lovely Devon is… but it just is! This week, I thought I’d ramble (excuse the pun!) on about the South West Coast Path.

Not only is Devon blessed with lovely rolling countryside and dramatic moorland, it also has two stunning coastlines to the north and south. The north is rugged and exposed, while the south is softer with more sheltered bays. Devon is the chunky ‘thigh’ of the south west ‘leg’ of England that delicately dips its toe out to the far south west and the Atlantic ocean.

The South West Coast Path National Trail goes right round this leg taking in Devon and Cornwall and more – starting in the north, at Minehead in Somerset and going on for 630 miles – to Poole in Dorset in the south

It is regarded as one of the top walks to be found anywhere in the world. The heritage, wildlife, geology and scenery along the way are stunning and every day spent walking it brings new experiences.

The lovely harbour town of Dartmouth in south Devon.You don’t have to be super fit, and you obviously don’t have to do all of it! Some areas, especially in Cornwall, are very steep and challenging (and very beautiful) but lots of other sections are gentle and make lovely seaside strolls.

Some people spend years walking small sections of it, ticking off the miles until they’ve done the whole thing. Others – heaven help them – tackle the whole thing in a couple of months, often for charity.

There’s a rather nifty scheme that lets you stay in B&Bs, while some obliging people will drive your bags on ahead of you so that, when you arrived footsore after a coastal canter, your bubble bath and slippers are ready and waiting for you.

There’s a very good website: www.southwestcoastpath.com which shows you everything you need from amazing photos that will inspire you, to walks that are interesting for children, or include pubs on the route (count me in!).

The coastal path in south Cornwall.

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Herby beautiful

With all the herbs growing like mad, I thought it was time we had another herby pampering session!

Rosemary Hair Tonic

Rosemary is an excellent substitute for mildly medicated shampoos, and this tonic also helps control greasy hair and enhances the shine and natural colour.

You will need: 

  • 250ml/8fl oz fresh rosemary tips
  • 1.2 litres/2 pints bottled water.
  1. Put the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, then allow to cool in the pan.
  2. Strain the mixture and store it in a clean bottle. Use after shampooing your hair. 

Feverfew Complexion Milk

Feverfew grown prolifically in the garden, self-seeding all over the herb beds, and this is a welcome use for some of this over-enthusiastic plant. The milk will moisturise dry skin, help to fade blemishes and discourage blackheads.

You will need:

  • One large handful feverfew leaves
  • 300ml/½ pint milk
  1. Put the leaves and milk in a small saucepan and simmers for 20 minutes.
  2. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan then strain into a bottle.

PS. Feverfew flowers

If you haven’t got feverfew sprouting everywhere like I have… it can be cultivated easily; it is especially pretty grown in tubs and pots in the greenhouse or conservatory.

Hang bunches of flowers upside sown and leave to air dry; use as a decorative addition to flower arrangements.

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