The fruits of our labours

I started writing this post in July of last year but then life (and death) happened and it never got finished. Sitting today looking out at our garden springing (literally) into life after the winter, I thought now would be a good time to recap what came out of it last year.

The harvest wasn’t all that we might have hoped for. Insects got to a fair number of our plums and because we were away from home for much of July and August, our local birdlife got to enjoy much more fruit than they would usually have. I’m still particularly bitter (pun intended) about the gooseberries. It wasn’t all bad news though.

We did discover that home-made fruit schnapps diluted with soda water makes for lovely, refreshing drinks for summer evenings. Pictured are apple and elderberry; we also had rose hip which was surprisingly reminiscent of Pimms.

Fruity drinks

Also, even though there was a lot of insect-damaged fruit, we did still get what, by any reasonable definition, would be considered a lot of plums. Last year’s lists of recipes came in handy and we even managed to find some new ways to use plums, including a nice brown sauce recipe from the Ham, pickles & jam recipe book from Thane Prince. The usual batches of jams and chutneys were made and we also bottled and froze some which we’ve been enjoying in crumbles throughout the year.

The big new thing last year though was turning this:

Basket of apples

into this:

Home-made cider

The first picture is of a laundry basket containing 25kg of apples (all from our garden) that became several litres of home-made cider. It turns out that making apple juice is hard work but turning that apple juice into cider is pretty easy. Due to a poor juicing technique when I started, we didn’t get as much cider from the apples as we probably should have* but, now that we have the right equipment and a better idea of what we’re doing, I’m looking forward to a much bigger batch later this year. Watch this space!

* We did get more than the single bottle pictured—this was just all that was left by the time I thought to take a picture.

Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness – part II

In spite of the time and effort involved (and the number of jars and bottles that I’ve ended up buying!) it seems I may have gotten a little carried away with the idea of harvesting and using produce from our garden, since I found myself last weekend picking rosehips and elderberries as well. These are probably of most interest to me because, despite being aware that you could harvest and use them, I’ve never done it before nor did I have any idea what the end result would be like.


The rosehips have been made into rosehip syrup which it appears to be obligatory to mention was highly praised by the Ministry of Food during WWII as a great source of vitamin C. I think that they might have been less keen on my plan to pour it over ice cream or pancakes or use it in cocktails.

Rosehip syrup

Similarly, elderberries are also supposed to be full of vitamin C but I have a feeling that some of the health benefits may be lost by steeping them in vodka for months to create elderberry schnapps, which is exactly what is going to happen to this batch.


When searching for ways to use elderberries, I came across and fell down a rabbit-hole. I had no idea it was possible to make schnapps from so many different things. Since I only have so many jars I’m avoiding the temptation to make them all but I do now have batches of elderberry, apple and rosehip underway.

I think this is probably the last of the harvesting for this season, other than the few remaining apples still to be picked. Now we get to enjoy the fruits of our labours!


Rosehip syrup
Elderberry schnapps
Apple schnapps
Rosehip schnapps

Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness – part I

We moved into a new house at the beginning of August and, as we move further into Autumn, have been gradually learning that the fruitfulness around here is anything but mellow. The house has a wonderful, big garden and we knew before we moved in that there were a number of fruit trees and bushes but we’ve been a little overwhelmed by just how good this year’s harvest is. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks researching ways to make the most of the bounty so if you’re interested in particular recipes, jump to the bottom of the post where I’ve included a list with links to online versions where available.

Back garden

This post mainly features apple pictures but it was the plums that were the real stars. Despite giving away, literally, kilos of them, we still had enough to make two different types of jam (and several batches of each of these), two kinds of chutney, plum sauce, plum cake, plum crumble and a plum shrub similar to the strawberry shrub in my last post.

Apple tree branch

The apple harvest has been slightly more restrained so we only made one type each of jam and chutney, some apple sauce, apple crumble and an apple pie. (I’m ignoring the large quantities of apples that are sitting in the kitchen that still haven’t been used up yet and the fact that there are two more trees with later ripening varieties that we’ve barely started harvesting yet.)

Apple tree branch

As well as the plums and apples, we’ve also been picking pears, blackberries, and gooseberries. We only got a handful of gooseberries so they got cooked down in some cider as a sauce for pork chops. Similarly, there were only about a dozen pears so those have just been eaten as they ripened. The ½ kilo of blackberries went into a batch of apple and blackberry jam although I’ve since found a recipe for blackberry schnapps that makes me wish I hadn’t used them already.

Bowl of apples

As if the list below wasn’t enough (and we really have made everything on the list below over the past month or so), I’ve also been picking our rosehips and elderberries but more on that in part II!



Plum, cinnamon and orange jam – my recipe is similar to this one but without the cloves and only using the same weight of preserving sugar as you have fruit
Plum jam – a simpler, sweeter jam than the one above
Plum chutney – still mellowing in the cupboard so haven’t had a chance to try this one yet
Indian-style plum chutney – brilliantly tangy and great with poppadums
Plum sauce – I didn’t like the results of the recipe I used so I won’t link to it but let me know if you have a good one
Plum pudding cake – almost gingerbread-like, but with plums
Plum crumble – I used the filling from this recipe but with the topping of the apple crumble recipe below
Plum shrub – the shrub is currently mellowing so I don’t know how this tastes yet but I’m looking forward to trying out their cocktail recipe for it


Spicy apple and tomato chutneywe made this to give to people at Christmas a couple of years ago and wished we’d kept more of it
Apple and blackberry jam – not the exact recipe I used but very similar.
Apple sauce – really easy to make
Apple crumble – a definite favourite around here
Apple pie – again, not the exact recipe but similar.


Pork chops with gooseberries and cider – pretty much made up on the spot: Brown two large pork chops in a pan and then add ½l of dry cider and several handfuls of gooseberries. Cook until chops are cooked through and gooseberries are softened. Mash gooseberries into pan juices to create sauce.

Blooper reel

The way my photography for my designs usually works is that I’ll finish the pattern sample, snap a few rough shots that show the details to go to the editor and then, while the pattern is being edited, I’ll arrange a proper shoot and take the actual pictures that will end up in the pattern. The rough shoot gives me ideas for which shots I’ll need and how hard they’re going to be to get.

Sometimes the rough shoot goes well and sometimes…

Photoshoot out-take

Photoshoot out-take

Photoshoot out-take

Photoshoot out-take

And my personal favourite…

Photoshoot out-take

The pattern is with the editor now so should be ready to be published early next week, assuming I can manage to take some better pictures!

Vintage sewing machine adventures: part 4 — putting the machine away

Someone asked for details of whether or not my vintage Singer machine folds into itself so I thought I’d take some quick photos to show how it works.

The “extra” bit of wood in the picture below usually attaches to the left-hand side of the table when not in use. Otherwise the picture shows the machine set up for use.

Vintage Singer sewing machine

The machine tips back slightly so that the piece of table-top in front can be lifted.

Vintage Singer sewing machine

With that out of the way that machine swings right down into the body of the table.

Vintage Singer sewing machine

With the machine inside, the first piece of the top can be replaced.

Vintage Singer sewing machine

Then the “extra” bit fits into the remaining space to complete the table-top.

Vintage Singer sewing machine

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that this is how the machine currently spends most of its time. I did get a quick lesson in how to use the treadle last time my mum visited so I just need to find the time to practise.

Christmas knitting and other crafting

Today I finished my Christmas knitting (and, yes, that’s for presents for Christmas 2011, not Christmas 2012).

I am a fairly disorganised person (my family would say “very disorganised”) and towards the end of last year, for various reasons, life just got completely away from me. So much so that I didn’t even start thinking about Christmas till about the middle of December and, as mentioned above, have just finished knitting all the presents that I decided to make. Fortunately, my family is used to this state of affairs and appreciate handmade gifts whenever they get them!

Amazingly, I did get my Christmas cards out on time:

Christmas card with mini stocking

They used my mini Christmas stocking pattern, hung on some embroidery thread using a mini clothes peg with ink-stamped text.

Next up on my Christmas crafting was my cake. (Ignore the cutting board, please, my disorganisation stretched to forgetting to buy an actual cake board.) I use Nigella Lawson’s recipe from “How to be a domestic goddess” and this year went for a simple white-on-white theme with edible ball bearings.


Starting on the presents, Steven and I used our new chutney-making skills and this recipe to make some home-made chutney. We kept a couple of jars for ourselves and I can highly recommend the recipe!

Spiced apple and tomato chutney

We also made a couple of jars of mulling syrup (which we failed to take pictures of) from this recipe. We didn’t keep any of this but it did look really pretty in the bottles and made a really nice gift with some wine or cider and a couple of attractive glasses.

Finally, the knitted presents.

First up, a replacement Henry scarf for my Dad. I had sworn never to knit another one of these. I love the finished scarf but the slip stitch pattern takes forever and for some reason I make more mistakes when knitting it than in anything else I’ve ever knitted. However, Dad loved the first one so much that when I found out he’d left it on a train, I knew I’d have to knit a replacement eventually. This is absolutely definitely the last one ever though!

Henry scarf.

My Mum also got a scarf (or will when I get around to posting these) but this one was a bit of a cheat since she’s getting the sample of my Hill House Scarf.

Last but not least were some fingerless mitts for my Gran.

"M is for" mitts

"M is for" mitts

I was looking a quick, simple, elegant knit to keep her warm since she’s always cold and the “M is for …” mitts from the Fall 2011 KnitCircus were just perfect. Yarn details and other project notes for these and the Henry scarf will go up on my Ravelry projects page soon.

So, now that 2011 is dealt with, bring on 2012 (or at least the 11 remaining months of it)!

Pattern: mini toe-up Christmas stocking

As promised, here is the pattern for the mini stockings. They are worked from the toe up with a short-row heel. Some experience with short rows and toe-up cast-ons would be useful but I’ve included links to good tutorials on both if you need some extra help.

This pattern hasn’t been edited or tested by anyone but me yet so let me know if you have any problems.

Mini Christmas stocking


  • 2.75mm needles
  • small amounts of 4 ply yarn in two colours
  • stitch marker to mark beginning of round (optional)
  • tapestry needle (for weaving in ends)

Toe and foot:

Using main colour, cast on 6 stitches using figure of 8 cast-on and knit 1 round. (See this article in Knitty for details of the figure of 8 cast-on.)

Round 2: * K1, m1, k2. Repeat from *. (8 stitches)

Round 3: Knit all.

Round 4: * K1, m1, k2, m1, k1. Repeat from *. (12 stitches).

Rounds 5-10: Knit all.


Row 11: Knit 11 stitches. Wrap last stitch and turn work. (See this Purl Bee tutorial on short rows for details of how to wrap stitches.)

Row 12: Purl 4 stitches. Wrap next stitch and turn.

Row 13: Knit 3 stitches. Wrap next stitch and turn.

Row 14: Purl 2 stitches. Wrap next stitch and turn.

Row 15: Knit 2 stitches. Pick up wrap and knit next stitch. Wrap next stitch and turn.

Row 16: Purl 3. Pick up wraps and knit next stitch.

Row 17: Knit 4. Pick up wrap and knit next stitch. Wrap next stitch (leg stitch).

Row 18: Purl 5. Pick up wrap and knit next stitch. Wrap next stitch (leg stitch).

Row 19: Knit 6 stitches (back to end of row).

Round 20: Knit all stitches, picking up wraps on 1st and 6th stitches.


Rounds 21-30: Knit all stitches.


Change to contrasting colour and turn work so that you are knitting in the opposite direction.

Rows 31-35: Knit all stitches.

Cast off: Knit 2 stitches, place two new stitches back onto left-hand needle and knit these two together. * Knit one stitch, place two new stitches back onto left-hand needle and knit these two stitches together. Repeat from *.

Weave in any ends.


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

… which is somewhat unfortunate since I would swear November was only moments ago! A combination of illness, craziness at work and just no energy whatsoever (see points 1 and 2) has meant that I’ve done very little except work, eat and sleep for the past month.

I do have quite a lot of knitting to show you though, starting with my current addiction: mini toe-up seamless Christmas stockings.

Mini Christmas stocking

It’s hard to tell from the picture but the stockings are about 1.5″ tall with a foot length of about 1″. They’re adorable on the tree and look just as good on a handmade Christmas card:

Christmas card with mini stocking

They’re my own design and, if my brain cooperates, I’ll put the pattern up sometime tomorrow.

A bit of a jam *

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Make Lounge and the latest workshop that I attended was no disappointment. Steven and I spent Sunday afternoon at their Jam and chutney making class, thanks to a birthday present of vouchers from Steven’s mum.

The class covered the whole process of making jams and chutneys, and included lots of hints and tips on ingredients and equipment to use. We got to try our hands at making four different jams and chutneys: blackberry & apple jam, plum & orange jam, red onion chutney and a sweet chilli jam.

Jams and chutneys

They all taste absolutely delicious and, since both Steven and I both went, we have plenty of each for future consumption as well as the recipes so that we can make more when we finally run out. I’m almost disappointed that we have so much since it means there isn’t much point in us making any more any time soon. Although, I can think of a few people who might appreciate home-made chutney for Christmas!

* I tried really hard to resist a pun in the post title, honest, but there are just so many jam-related puns that it was impossible not to use one.


I’ve nearly always loved buttons.* My button collection lives in two little jars.


(If you’re in the UK and interested in obtaining similar jars, these previously contained “Very lazy garlic” and “Very lazy ginger” from the English Provender Co. and have been extremely well cleaned to try and remove the smell of vinegar!)

I feel like I’m carrying on a tradition here (with the buttons, not trying to remove the smell of vinegar). My mum has a button collection, both my grandmothers had button collections, at least one of my great-grandmothers had a button collection and I’m sure the others did too. In my family, we tend to the practical side of button collecting and harvest buttons from old clothes or collect the spare buttons from new clothing. The majority of the buttons in my collection are shirt buttons harvested from Steven’s old shirts.


I spent some time recently hunting down all the unattached buttons I could find in the house to put them into the jars. The idea was that when I needed buttons in future they would be easy to find. Things frequently don’t work out the way I think they will so imagine my surprise when I needed buttons for my Lesia Loop and there were six matching buttons of just the right size and colour sitting in my jar. I love it when a plan comes together!

Buttons for Lesia Loop shawl

* There was a short period where I couldn’t stand the sight of them due to being forced to spend hours at a Brownie meeting randomly sewing them on to scrap fabric as practice.