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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Gorgeous granola!

This week, I’ve got a guest blog from Sharon Davies who runs a super business making THE most delicious granola up on Dartmoor, a neighbour of my Hen Pal! 

“My Granola business sort of grew by accident really. I was a trained florist and had my own flower shop for years. Eventually I decided to have a change and ran a B&B business in my home. While I was doing this, I started making my own granola from an American recipe that I’d been given… and my guests raved about it! They wanted to take it home with them so I started making batches and selling it – and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I adore living in the country and have horses, chickens and three Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs and somehow still find time to run the business with my husband Brian.

“I’m a keen forager and fruit and veg grower and am always experimenting with recipes and ideas for new products. We sell a range of granolas and our customers (a very loyal bunch!) often email me with recipe ideas, or product suggestions.

“I’ve recently produced a couple of recipe cards for different ways to use granola and I often go to country shows and farm shops giving demonstrations and the recipes are very popular – it’s great fun and I love meeting people who enjoy my products.

“Granola is very versatile ­– mix it with freshly picked berries, or sprinkle it on porridge in the winter or ice cream in the summer. It makes a fantastic crumble topping or, as here, a great filling in an easy and delicious dessert. Enjoy!

Midfields Granola Strudel

Ingredients

Serves 3-4

  • 1packet filo pastry (you will need 4 sheets to make one strudel)
  • 1 large cooking apple or 2 eating apples
  • Approx 30g granola
  • 30g brown sugar
  • 30g butter for brushing pastry
  • Icing sugar for dusting
  • Baking tray

Method:

Preheat oven to 200ºc (180ºc if fan assisted), Gas mark 6

Take filo pastry out of fridge 20 mins before using, keep covered with damp tea towel to it drying out.

Peel and slice apple thinly, place in bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice to stop apple browning.

Melt butter gently in saucepan. Take one layer of filo pastry and place on baking tray, brush with melted butter using a pastry brush. Take the next sheet, place on top of the first, and repeat the process until you have used 4 sheets of filo pastry.

Place sliced apples in centre of buttered sheets, followed by sugar and Granola. Keep mixture about 2 inches from edge. Fold the sheets of filo over the top of the filling, firming gently with you fingers. Use one or two more sheets of filo crumpled on top of strudel and brush with melted butter.

Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 mins. When cool dust with icing sugar

Serve warm or cold with custard, cream or yoghurt – delicious!

You can find out all about Sharon’s business, Midfields Granola, on her website: www.midfieldsgranola.co.uk

You’ll find a link there to her Facebook page too.

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Hedgerow rummaging again!

Spring is wonderful and, as I’ve said before, my favourite time of year! All the obvious things like baby birds, lambs and flowers bursting into life are lovely… but one of the most gorgeous things to me is the emergence of beech leaves. I know, a bit weird, but there we are!

One day, the hedge seems dull and uninteresting, speckled with narrow brown pointed buds – the next, it is smothered in delicate lime green tissue paper fluttering in the breeze. Beech leaves are so delicate and so fine and tissue-thin when they emerge, they are just breathtaking.

Goodness knows what my neighbours think as the arrival of beech leaves is yet another reason for me to be spotted rummaging around in the hedgerow, but rummage I must!

Fresh from the tree, beech leaves are a fine salad vegetable, as sweet as a mild cabbage, though much softer in texture.

My friend, Julia Horton-Powdrill – she of the food foraging in Pembrokeshire, uses beech leaves to make a potent liqueur called Beech Leaf Noyau.

Julia says: “Pack a glass jar about nine tenths full of the very young, delicate, clean leaves. Pour gin into the jar, pressing the leaves down all the time, until they are just covered. Leave it to steep for about two weeks.

Strain off the gin which should now be green in colour (although mine is quite often more brown!). To every 500ml of gin add 300g sugar dissolved in 250ml of boiling water. You can add an optional splash of brandy if you fancy it! Mix the warm syrup with the gin and bottle when cold.”

Sounds great to me – cheers!

Joanna

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