Windfall Scarf workshop with India Flint

I’ve just spent a lovely weekend rummaging around in hedges, picking up plants and leaves, but not for my usual food foraging, but for plant dyeing. ¬†The weekend course was run at my usual textile haunt up in Newburgh. Alison did her wonderful lunches catering to a variety of dietary needs, including a locally made gluten free bread, which is actually proper bread, and tasty! I really should take a picture of the lunches sometime, a wonderful buffet banquet ūüôā India provides a mix of words, teaching and practical work. We start by centering ourselves and making mixed poems with words and sentences we’ve all shared as a group.

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We made a Tsunobukuro ¬†bag out of silk to hold our finished scarf in. The circles stitched on it are a mix of merino and silk knit and were cut out of the wool/silk knit tube that we were given. The bag is roughly translated as ‘horned bag’ because of the ‘ears’ or ‘horns’ that form the handles. There’s some lovely antique ones here .

IMG_5923 The lovely kit we were given; loose weave silk (which made the bag), silk and merino blend knit tube and a mix of different threads, little silk squares (to sew onto our bag) and silk threads, to embroider lines, words, or whatever came to us from our walks.

IMG_5936 India leading her ducklings to the park on a foraging mission. IMG_5938 Our embroidered silks decorating the local park

Once we’d collected some leaves we went down to the river where we daubed and decorated the would- be bags with oozing, thick, silky river mud. It took me some time to realise why all the bags smelt of brine – duh! that would be the estuarine river mud…

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when we came back we folded the silk in half lengthwise and then folding from the middle outwards, we folded into either squares or triangles. Plant material was sandwiched between the folds and the top and bottom ‘clamped’ with aluminium squares and wrapped up in string or twine. India was great and gave us each a pair of the metal square to take away with us. The bundles were put in a a dye bath with windfall leaves, tea bags, onion skins and a mix of whatever we hadn’t used up.

IMG_5955Bundle ready to go in to dye bath

IMG_5957 just put in

The bundles were left to boil for 20 mins and then simmered gently before being turned off. It’s important not to lift the lid and let the steam out as it’s doing the work.

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The bundles were left to drain and cool before being tentatively opened. It’s like unwrapping a present, never sure what will work. In general the rose family gave good prints – Rose, Raspberry leaves, Bramble leaves, Rowan, Meadowsweet, Whitebeam, though I didn’t have too much luck with my Potentilla. The dark headed grass, and Buddleia gave very good results – not ones I had chosen, that’s what’s great about sharing experiences in a class or group, I get to learn from all the others too.

IMG_5973 IMG_5974 Rowan leaving an imprint

IMG_6013 Yellow from Buddleia

IMG_5926   IMG_6005  Nice colour from the reeds.

IMG_6012     Holey scarves hanging out to dry

I made the holes that we cut in the actual tube scarf too large and plan to sew most of them up again but I can see that it gives a good effect. They can also be used as armholes to create vests/ tank tops! No pics of those as mine looked very strange – I’ll see how it looks after some more stitching before I post a picture of it ūüėČ

We also experimented dyeing threads and using water from different sources, in different pots and vats (one aluminium, the other a nice wee ‘jeely pan’, brass jelly pan for those not familiar with the term ‘jeely pan’.) This was very useful for me as I’ve got several different pans to cook up my dye baths in, but I’d forgotten how crucial the water component can be. Rain water, stream, or loch ¬†water is good – try not to use tap water, the water there had a surprisingly ¬†high pH (10!) and smelt chloriney. This will definitely affect the colours coming through as we want it to be fairly acidic for the animal fibres to open up their scales and take up the dye.

IMG_5959 Berberis berries (black ones) in brass jelly pan, threads wrapped round paper and left to steep.

IMG_5980 Threads drying, blue from Berberis in aluminium pan and different water. IMG_5988 Paper from threads, unwrapped and drying. Stronger colour was thought to be from higher Kaolin content in that paper.

Miscellaneous other pictures below – took about 100 in just 2 days! You’ll be relieved to hear this is just a sample of them ūüôā IMG_5975¬†unmade bags drying

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IMG_6007St John’s Wort leaving small red dots, almost like stitches, the cluster of red is where the flower head was

IMG_6020 Maiden hair(?) Fern Рyou could even see where the spores were! IMG_6023IMG_5953IMG_5949IMG_5935 IMG_5963 IMG_5970

Plum and Cherry relish

I’m a huge fan of plums and have been gathering plum recipes for a bit, especially as the Plum fairs in Newburgh are in full swing.¬†http://www.newburghorchards.org.uk/

A client brought a bag of plums around the other day and I had foolishly neglected them, so I used what I could and looked around my many plum recipes for one that would suit ripe plums. I found Plum and Cherry relish in one of my favourite books. It was a book that I found in Bargain books many years ago , but the writing is clear and concise, the pictures are great and it gives a wide variety of preserving recipes and offers variations on a theme.

IMG_4360 ISBN 1-84477-016-8

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What more could you want? Other than the ingredients they ask for…. bodge meister comes to the fore again.

I scaled up the recipes a bit – it does work for small batches great, as I had more plums than they suggested.

So 580 gm of plums, halved, stoned and roughly chopped

and an equal amount of cherries (first bodge – no fresh cherries so I used dried sour cherries that I use with the chocolates ) and as they were dried I used a bit less¬†= 500gm. ¬†I didn’t chop the cherries as I wanted them whole and the relish to end up chunky (which it did), but if you like a smoother relish, then chop them up if you’re using the dried fruit .Set aside the fruit.

IMG_4356 they are indeed tart, and they are apparently Montmorency cherries

3 shallots are meant to be used but I didn’t have them either – so used I red onion and 1 small white onion, chopped and fried until lightly softened. ( 5mins or so)

I didn’t use the olive oil suggested for cooking, that would be normal! Instead I used 1 tbs solid coconut oil, which comes over slightly in the finished relish. I couldn’t help think of bakewell tarts – as you do when making a pickle- and thought that coconut and cherry would go well together.

The recipe called for 3 tbs of sherry – which of course, I didn’t have – so I bodged with 3¬†tbs of elderberry gin that I had left over from last years foraging and making things – complete with boozy elderberries still sitting in the gin! Too good a bodge to resist. Add the Elderberry gin ( and some boozy elderberries) in to the softened onions, along with 6 tbs of red wine vinegar.

The recipe also wanted balsamic vinegar – which, surprise, surprise, I didn’t have, so I used one that I’d bought – a Raspberry, mint and chilli vinegar – 1 1/2 tbs of that added in.

Add the fruit to the onion and vinegar mix. ¬†Add the sugar – I used raw demerara sugar 120gm.¬†Add a bay leaf in too, though that’s optional, and as I was going for a sweeter relish I missed it out.

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Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved. Then keep the heat on strong and keep boiling until the amount of liquid has reduced and the relish is quite thick – the book says 15 mins but I found it took nearly 25, and that’s with the dried cherries that will be soaking up the liquids and thickening up things quicker. It may take you longer again if you’re going with fresh fruit.

If you added a bay leaf, don’t forget to remove it – without burning yourself!

Spoon the thick hot (be careful, it may not be jam but still has a high sugar content so it will be very hot if spilled on yourself) relish into appropriate sterilised jars.

I made 5 good sized jars from this and it tastes so scrummy I’ve found myself almost using it like a jam. It starts out with cheese on oatcakes then ends up on the oatcake on its own!

The jars I used are Ikea’s spice jars, 4 in a pack, which may give you an idea re size.

Enjoy plum season and any recipes you think I’d like, feel free to share ūüėČ

Large Garden of Horrors!

Instead of Little Shop of Horrors with one large ‘weed’, I have a large garden of horrors filled with just about every pernicious weed native to this country. I know, I checked, and ‘pernicious’ was a quote from one of many RHS books!

In my infinite wisdom( like I don’t have enough to do!), I’ve decided to get the garden into some sort of order….this is a pretty big ask and task, in fact it’s a rest of my life project, never mind a 5 year plan.

My best fantasy is turn the garden into working space, in that I want it to have plants that I can use in the edibles and chocolates. I also want it to be medicinal where possible so that there are added benefits to the edibles. I want dye plants and plants that are good for insects, as I’d love to keep bees at some point.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA¬†These 2 pics are of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) growing wild in garden. I want to keep this or grow it elsewhere as it’s a goodie.

The problem lies in that I have no time…which actually means that I’ve started this process before, cleared, fertilised, then not looked at it for ages, which means that I’ve given the best growth condition possible for , duh, duh, DUH….THE WEEDS. My weeds are architectural specimens, seriously, they’re taller than me by a long way!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA¬†Fancy Brambles and Berries spreading out and taking over. Honestly, it’s like the briar wall out of Sleeping Beauty, or for those less ancient, Maleficent, the new updated slant on the old Sleeping Beauty,I liked it for the record.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo put things in perspective, the bit of wall with the ‘hat’ on is my almost 6 ft gatepost, weeds, though raised a bit are waving up at the 8-10 ft level! Mainly Rosebay Willow herb, nettles, with generous smatterings of Ground Elder, unwanted young Sycamore and Willow!

An ecologist client saw the garden the other day with- in the Star Trek Next Gen words- “His eyes wide open”. His suggestion was agent orange, and bulldozers.

The problem is I feel it’s a challenge, the gauntlet has been thrown, it’s it – the garden, or me, mano a mano, planto a femano, as it were. But I don’t like to make things easy, I don’t want pesticides and weedkillers so it’s going to be a long hard slog of mulching and cutting back, so don’t expect pretty pictures for a long while! Just sayin’.

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I also want to use what I cut back. I want to weave the willow and young saplings into wee hurdles and path edges. I want to try dyeing with the plant material and using as much of it as I can, if not going straight to mulch or compost.

I believe that ¬†committing to writing it down here will make me commit to the process. I’ll keep you posted – how about Weedin’ Wednesdays!? (She says posting on a Thursday..)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmoss and mini gardens in the mono block

The plan is to work on one small space and project at a time. Wish me luck, I have the mission impossible theme music running through me head at this very moment. ¬†I wish I could say I’m goin’ in now… but that would be a lie, I’ve got the birds to do before another dog walk, before doing ¬†several clients in Edinburgh today….then I might be goin’ in..

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Blackthorn Flower Syrup

We had a good weather day a couple of days ago and I thought “Spring is here!”¬†I love to see the Blossom out, I feel winter has finally been banished. So with Spring on my mind and a spring in my step (sorry, couldn’t resist it) I ventured forth.

I’ve seen lots of blossom on the trees and normally one of the first blossom we see is from the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). This year with winter being so mild everything seems to be running ahead of nature’s schedule, because of this I was worried that I’d missed the Blackthorn. When I got out to one of my favourite patches of it I discovered that it was one of the few blossoms NOT out! Now I’m wondering why; does Blackthorn go on daylight hours rather that temperature? Do the others (Wild and Bird Cherries) go on temperature? Answers welcome…

Blackthorn001        Blackthorn flowers

One of the many reasons I feel attracted to the Blackthorn is the smell of the flowers…it subtle, like the delicate flowers themselves. It is light, sweet, with hints of almonds.

I managed to collect about 3 cups worth of Blackthorn flowers. They are quite different from the Bird Cherry blossom that was next to them. The Cherry blossom is almost twice the size and white with a very pale pink hint, while the blackthorn flowers are half the size, and more of a cream colour. The Cherry flowers dangle from stalks like the fruit will later in the year, while the Blackthorn flowers are densely clustered and close to the twigs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABird Cherry on the left, blackthorn’s smaller flowers on the right.

Picking blossom is a time consuming affair. I’m looking for blossom that has plenty of pollen, and not been either wind blasted or all the goodness taken by early insects. I also try to leave blossom for the bees, as they’re hungry this time of year, and I don’t want to take too much from one plant as that will mean that I may get a shortage of Sloes later in the year.

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Once I got home I made a slow warm infusion with the blossom. I put the flowers in a pan of water. I should have measured it but working backwards it was probably about 750ml. I brought it up in temperature but didn’t let it reach a simmer. I feel that too harsh a heat brings out too much bitterness in the plant material. I wanted to keep the flavour as light and fresh as possible. I kept the flowers heating in the water for at least 15 mins, probably a bit longer.

The flowers were strained out, the fluid measured – now about 500ml. The general rule of thumb is equal amounts of sugar to liquid, so I added 500g of white granulated sugar to the infusion. I chose plain sugar as I wanted the colour to be as light as possible and the flavour to be as close to the smell of the flowers as possible.

The hard thing for me in syrup making is not to stir! I’m a natural stirrer ( remembering many family arguments, my mother would surely agree!). The danger with stirring is that grains of sugar migrate up the sides of the pot, so that when pouring out your finished syrup, you run the risk of adding the sugar crystals into your new syrup in the container, thus giving the perfect conditions for growing large crystals. This is apparently frowned upon, personally, I think it looks cool.

To prevent any sugar crystals being deposited on the sides of the pot I put the sugar in via a funnel so it ¬†just sat¬†there on the bottom of the pan perfectly behaved. I said ‘pot’ then ‘pan’, is there a difference?

I heated up the liquid till the sugar dissolved then brought the infusion to a boil, reduced to a simmer and kept it at that for about 15 mins, or until it thickens up. I’m sure thermometers are meant to come into it but I’ve never really bothered.

The still hot syrup (so be careful) is then poured via a funnel into a sterilised bottle or flask. You can boil the container for about 15 mins as I did, or put it into the oven at around 120 C for 10-12 mins. Just make sure that your cap or top won’t melt in the oven, they are often best boiled separately. Another word of warning, make sure you let your ¬†sterilised¬†container cool a bit before trying to handle it or pour into it! No burning of hands or melting of plastic funnels, please!

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You should end up with a lovely golden and pleasantly almondy smelling and tasting syrup. This can used as a cordial, used over ice cream or pancakes, or added to sorbets, cakes, or hopefully, made into a filling for a spring chocolate! I have plans to make a Blackthorn flower cold infused cream, to make into the ganache and use the syrup as part of the sugar component for a filling for choccies, nom nom nom.

Happy foraging and creating.

Floral waters by distillation

I generously was given a small copper still by HH for Christmas.

I only got around to using it recently when a couple of friends prompted me to use it. We meet up monthly to experiment on all things herbal. With our recent trials under my belt I thought I would see how elderflower works.

In general ¬†flowers and petals don’t work too well; the steam being too harsh and causing the petals to go all soggy and impact into the perforated container so that the steam doesn’t penetrate well, or falls back into the bottom section of the still. However I’d heard good things about elderflower water so thought I’d give it a try.

I collected an entire bag of elderflower blossoms.

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Treating the process as I would anything herbal with the plant I stripped the flowers from the stalks – an extremely laborious process.

It seemed to take forever to work my way through the bag, while the amount in the holding vessel never seemed to increase ūüė¶

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Eventually finishing the separating of the petals, boiling water was put in the base unit, the flowers above that and the swan neck on top. I made a paste/ putty out of flour and water to seal the joins.

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A hose was connected to the cold tap to provide running water in a condenser unit.  I started to smell the most amazing aroma as low as 50 C. Fresh, light, potent and floral.

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I do wonder if the water I managed to get has any redeeming features as it came off at 100 C, hopefully not destroying fragile components. Reassuringly the water I got at the higher temperature still has a pleasant smell and taste.

There was a fine layer on top that may well be an oil from the resin off of the pollen. The water had a subtle but nice smell, always a bit green; is this from the flowers themselves or from the tiny stalks that still worked their way into the the mix?

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i bottled up 3 small , clip lid syrup bottles and 2 wee 20 ml jam pots. I’ll use the bottled floral water (stored in fridge) in face creams but use the jam jars as a toner on its own to see how it feels and behaves.

I’ll keep you posted on how it performs and how long it keeps.

Overall a worthwhile experiment, if only for that amazing initial smell; it lifted the whole room and my spirits with it! Now if I could only capture that smell (disturbing images from the film Perfume running through my head now , though that probably says more about me than the scent!).

Honeysuckle and Strawberry Ice Cream

I had one of the older godchildren over to stay for 5 days recently. I mistakenly thought that as was involved with the Scouts and seems to like Bushcrafty things that he would be into foraging. No such luck – though it might have been because it was with me… he definitely preferred HH’s ‘man crafts’ this time round. They made small aluminium stoves out of drinks cans, hobo stoves from cutlery drainers, and spent quite some time tweaking them – many thanks HH ūüôā

However the one plant related thing that seemed to go down well was, you guessed it, ice cream. nom nom nom lol.

First get reluctant teenager to pick lots of Honeysuckle blossoms. Then go and get lots more yourself as 5 flowers does not an ice cream make.

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I went for quite a large bowl full to get as much pollen and nectar into the cream as possible.

Try to make sure no wee beaties are present. Pick on a dry day and early on so that all the oils haven’t evaporated off in any midday sun – this has actually become an issue for us in bonny Scotland recently as we’re in the presence of a decent summer! It’s not something I normally have to worry about ūüėČ

Cover the blossoms with cream, either double or single. Both have a good fat and water content. Leave to steep, covered, overnight in the fridge. The water soluble components will dissolve in the water phase of the cream while the fat soluble compounds will be absorbed into the fat in the cream. This way we get as many constituents out of the honeysuckle as we can.

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Don’t forget to put your ice cream tub or container into the freezer to solidify and chill down properly. I used a small, home ice cream maker; the kind with a bowl you put in the freezer, add the contents, and its churned up in the bowl with a paddle. Takes about 15-30 mins from adding your cream mix to the bowl and switching on.

Next day strain out the cream from the blossoms

Ingredients

2 egg yolks ( so avoid this recipe if you’re pregnant)

70g icing sugar

200 ml milk (again you can infuse blossoms in the milk – I didn’t as we were running out of fridge space)

200ml of the infused cream

300g of fresh strawberries. I used mainly normal ones via the market but I also used some of the little wild strawberries that are trying to take over my monoblock and front garden.

1. beat the egg yolks and icing sugar until light and creamy.

2.Add the milk and stir in.

3, In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it is stiff.

4. Add the cream to the egg mixture and combine thoroughly.

5. Puree the strawberries and add to the mixture. It’s your choice whether you want a smooth puree or leave it chunkier with bigger bits in. With a fussy eater of a teenager our version had to be smooth, and triple checked for no ‘bits’ in. He was unhappy with the seeds, but even he conceeded that it wasn’t really an issue.

6. Chill in fridge for 4 hours or put mixture in freezer for 30 mins or so to chill down.

7. Set up ice cream maker, ignoring helpful teenage interventions, and add mixture. let paddle do its work, et voila! Delicious ice cream, well technically a parfait I believe, as it’s basically a custard. Even a teenager has given it a seal of approval, what more could I say! lol. The honeysuckle, although a mild, subtle flavour, lingers after the fresh hit of the strawberry and so makes it appearance at the end of the mouthful. It softens the strawberry and makes it a bit more elegant.

Other options for this might be to use coconut cream and milk if you are dairy intolerant, although i would be tempted to also substitute the flowers then, and use Gorse flowers instead. Try other variations and see what works for you. My next version is going to be with sweet cicely or lemon balm, tho’ the lemon balm might be nicer as a sorbet…. so many things to try now, might need to let that waistband out (again! ) oops.

Not many photos for this, sorry, but it all chuntered along so quickly that by the time I had thought of them it was all over with – and eaten!

Birch tree tapping

I tapped a couple of Birch trees last year around the same time as now and got about 8 litres of sap in around 3 days. I tried a few days ago with a couple of friends. I ( and helpful husband) demo’d how we did it. There are lots of different techniques out there, have a look and see if those suit you better, and please, let me know how you get on. Always remember to check if it’s okay to tap the trees from the landowner.Image

Helpful husband earning muchos brownie points.

Anyway, I’ve been up checking to see how the collecting bottles are doing, but so far the most productive tree has yielded a 1/6th to 1/5th of a bottle and the rest just a dribble. Is it too early as the weather is¬†reminiscent¬†of the tundra here at present, or is it more prosaic and the sap is freezing in our irrigation taps?

I plan to keep trying over a period of time as I would like to try a different method of concentrating the sap this year. Last year I boiled (and boiled and boiled) til it was reduced to a 1/10th of its original amount. It gave a wonderfully mapley syrup but it was a lot of time and gas used. This time I’d like to try freezing the sap; the syrup or sugary water stays liquid while the water freezes. I believe this is repeated a few times to drive off the water so concentrating the sugars to get an unheated syrup. The syrup will be lacking in flavour and still need heating to change the colour and taste but it would be interesting to taste and use the raw syrup, or use it as a base for other syrups.

For those that are interested here is how we do it:

We (the royal ‘we’ here, for ‘we’, probably should read HH, the helpful husband) use 8mm irrigation taps and connectors and plastic tubing. We get ours from B & Q hardware stores, but you can probably find it elsewhere.Image

Most of the methods I read up on use open topped containers for the sap to run into, but using the sap for syrups for confections, syrups or chocolates, I wanted as little contamination in the liquid as possible; no beasties, leaves or lichen, or bird crap for that matter wanted, thank you. So we use empty water bottles. The same diameter hole is put in the cap to put the tubing into. An extra hole is drilled into the cap to prevent air pressure building up in the bottle. We found that this happened last year in the sun (no chance of that so far this year!). A word to the wise Рdo this before going out and so wasting time with gloves off in Arctic worthy blasts of wind.Image

The irrigation connector fitted at the top and the¬†unit¬†put into the drilled whole in the bark of the tree – about 2-3 feet up the tree works well. The whole only needs to be in a little – we’ve found even a centimetre or 2 is sufficient – drill slowly until you see the sap coming out. Fit the connector tightly into the hole to prevent sap loss for both you and the tree.

It’s really important to¬†remember¬†that the sap only keeps for a maximum of 3-4 days in the fridge. And not to damage the trees; choose trees about 9″ -1 foot in diameter and close the whole up when you’ve finished. We use dowels of a slightly larger diameter so they can be shaped to fit. Cut the dowel or stick, some people favour using a bit of birch stick if it’s nearby, make sure it is flush with the tree bark and rub a bit of wax on the end to stop the sap coming out of the fresh wood. Job done, now you only have to find a use for it…