Wednesday, 28 March 2012


In case you've been wondering where I've been recently, here's a clue!

Yes, we have chickens! A week ago we collected 3 ex-commercial laying hens from the lovely people of British Hen Welfare Trust, a UK charity dedicated to rehoming battery & caged chickens.
They rescue thousands of chickens each year that are destined for the slaughterhouse, usually less than a year old, because they are no longer commercially viable for egg laying.
I firmly believe that a chicken has the right to scratch at the soil, peck at insects and feel the sun on her back. I also believe in taking responsibility for the food I eat (so I doubt I'll ever have my own cows, so I'll make do with milk & butter from local organically reared dairy cows).
This isn't a lecture, we all need to decide where our own personal line in the sand is when it comes to our impact on the environment.

But eggs aren't the only reason to keep chickens. They add life to the garden, poop to the compost heap (and so much of it!) and soft burbling chatter while you're sowing seeds, pulling weeds or otherwise bimbling about in the garden. They'll also take care of those troublesome slugs you've collected up from the vegetable beds (so you don't have to do anything unpleasant with salt or scissors) and weeds too. Due to some crackerarsed government thinking, you can't feed kitchen scraps to chickens if you're planning on selling your eggs. Our scraps get chopped up before being chucked out for their delectation, or cooked & mashed into their morning feed.

Being ex-battery hens, our girls are quite raggedy-looking, and still learning how to act like chickens (it has been a delight to watch their first attempts at scratching, dust bathing and having a good old stretch & run around in the mornings). But feathers will regrow, and I hope we'll be able to enjoy their company for many years, and give them a life worth living.

The brown envelopes offer is still open, so please do get in touch if you're interested. To all you lovely folks who have already been in touch, there are envelopes on their way to you, and good luck with this years growing!

Okay, I'm off to sow some potatoes (I say sow potatoes, but I'll probably just end up watching chickens sunbathing!)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Cut The Mustard

Mustard is one of those essential components in cooking. even if you're not really into the pungent flavour and violent assault on the sinuses a smear of the yellow stuff brings its an essential addition to cheese sauces, pickles and salad dressings. There is a range of fancy mustards out there, but the prices are almost as eye-watering as the mustard itself! But mustard is really cheap and easy to make at home, all you need is a blender or food processor.

Like the aqueduct, roads, irrigation & sanitation, the Romans were responsible for giving us a paste of unfermented grape must & mustard seeds called mustum ardens - mustard. Dijon in France became the center of mustard making in the 13th century, and is still the mustard capital of the world.
Mustard has been around in the UK for hundreds of years, and was mentioned in Shakespeare's Henry IV part 2 (The Revenge).

The main ingredient of mustard is mustard seeds, of which there are three varieties; Sinapis hirta, which produces yellow mustard seeds (the powdered stuff in the Colmans tins & basis of American hot dog mustard), Brassica juncea, which gives us brown or Indian mustard & Brassica nigra, which produces black mustard. From these three, you can create a baffling range of condiments. You can buy bags of mustard seeds from Asian or international grocers, which are much cheaper than those tiny little jars at the supermarket. You can also buy mustard seeds bulk online.

At its simplest, mustard is a paste of ground mustard seeds, water & salt. The vivid yellow English mustard is usually made this way, maybe with a dash of lemon juice too. With a hot, wasabi-like kick to it, it's an acquired taste. Fresh mustard is very pungent, but mellows with storage. If you like the sensation of having liquid nitrogen blasted up your nose, store it in the fridge, where the cold will slow down the mellowing process. Mustard can be stored indefinitely, so when Cthulhu & his Excessively Tentacled Kin finally get their arses into gear there'll be something to help the human brains go down easier.

But we're doing something a bit more special here. You could use water to make mustard, but wheres the fun in that? Mustard is traditionally made with vinegar (which gives a milder mustard) or unfermented grape juice (used in making Dijon mustard), but you can use anything. There are old recipes that use beef broth, though I prefer beer or cider.
So here is a quick & simple recipe for cider & honey mustard that will fill 5 or 6 small jars.

Cider & Honey Mustard

175g (1 cup) yellow mustard seeds
175g (1 cup) black mustard seeds
500ml cider
150ml cider vinegar
6tbs honey
1 tbs salt

Tip the mustard seeds in a large bowl & pour over the cider. Cover & leave overnight.
Next day, add the remaining ingredients & pour into a blender or food processor. Blend to whatever consistency you like. If you want a coarse wholegrain mustard, just give it a few pulses. If you want something a bit smoother, blend for longer. It's not an exact science, just blitz until you like the look of it. If you want a smoother mustard, blend it thoroughly and push through a sieve. But that is a bit of a faff, really.
The mustard will look a little bit runny at first, but after 10 minutes, some SCIENCE will occur and it will thicken up (though probably not as thick as commercially made mustard, it'll still be good for spreading & smearing). Pour or spoon into sterilised jars & seal.
The hardest part is waiting, as the mustard needs a couple of weeks storage for the flavours to mellow and mature. Once opened, store in the fridge.

So now you have the basics, you can start to experiment! Here are a few ideas...

Fresh herbs: a tbs or two of finely chopped parsley, tarragon, chives or mint stirred in at the end. Finely chopped garlic or shallots work well too.

Spices: 2 or 3 tbs of sweet, hot or smoked paprika. Yum!

Vinegars: this recipe uses cider vinegar, but you can use white wine, red wine, fruit or even balsamic vinegars instead.

Sweeteners: mustard needs a touch of sweetness. Demerara, maple syrup, muscovado, apple concentrate, date syrup & agave nectar are some of the other things you can use instead of honey.

Until next time!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Brown Envelopes

Hello folks (if there's anyone out there still reading *waves*)
I'm back, after a long absence. Hopefully I'll be back into blogging more regularly now (and working through the pile of photos and recipes for posting that have built up).

It's been a difficult couple of months. Some days I'm on top of the tiger, some days the tiger is on top of me (well, most mornings there's a cat with delusions of grandeur bouncing on my bladder and demanding to be fed, but that doesn't count). MikeyFox & I were both made redundant in February, so have been making the most of our time doing DIY, redecorating & repairs around the house & garden, including planting trees, creating a herb garden & building a house & fenced off run for the chickens we'll be getting this weekend.

So to celebrate my return to blogging, it's a brown envelope giveaway!
Brown envelopes usually contain bad news or bills, but not mine. Mine contain seeds, and maybe even tea, stickers or chocolates!

So if you'd like a brown envelope, get in touch. My email address is
If there's anything you can't grow, or if you don't have much space, let me know (so I don't send you a Jurassic kale or monsterous South American vegetable). If you want something in particular (hardy tomato, weird pumpkin, giant South American vegetable...) let me know, I have all sorts. If you just fancy a surprise, that's great too.
I don't expect anything in return, nor will I pass on your details to anyone and this offer will not bite you in the arse.
You can send me something back if you like, but you don't have to :)

Anyway, enough about me. How have you been?