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.

Easy like Sunday morning

I enjoyed a thoroughly domestic Sunday morning this morning. Not pictured: my cup of coffee and a plate of crusty bread spread with home-made elderberry jam.

Sunday morning

Today is my last day of a week’s holiday before going back to work tomorrow and I’m squeezing in as much relaxation as is possible. My day-job got particularly stressful round about last July and has pretty much remained that way ever since. This week has been my first proper break of any length since then and it’s turned out to be just what I needed to start feeling more like me again.

In fact, I’ve been feeling so little like me that the pair of socks I cast on for the Indie Design Gift-a-long only got finished on Friday since the cable pattern has just been too complicated for my tired brain to knit. (Which is more a reflection of how tired my brain has been since the pattern isn’t really complicated so much as hard to memorise which means lots of checking of charts.)

The socks are Kilworth by that bald guy knits.

Kilworth socks

I made a few minor mods to the pattern (noted on my Ravelry project page), mostly to do with the direction of the cable crossings, but otherwise these are pretty much knitted exactly as written. I did re-chart the pattern since I didn’t really like the way the pattern was laid out in the PDF. I hate having to flick backwards and forwards between several charts and the written instructions on a single round (particularly in electronic patterns) so I created new charts that included both my mods and all the cable charts in a single place.

Kilworth socks

I love the finished socks though which is just as well because Friday was the day that a series of British Gas repairmen proceeded to make our central heating problems worse rather than better so the socks are getting a lot of wear already.

Finishing them has also inspired me to start the other project pictured in the first photograph. These are Mirri mitts by ambah. I bought the Mirri collection during the Indie Design gift-a-long as well but, due to the aforementioned lack of knitting over this winter, totally failed to cast on during the gift-a-long never mind finish them.

Mirri mitt in progress

These are proving to be a fun, quick knit. The yarn is Bonny from The Yarn Yard in Stoplight and is such a cheerful colour that it’s making me smile even as the rain lashes against the windows of my currently unheated house on this rainy February morning. I might even manage to get them finished today so that they can cheer me up on my commute to and from the dreaded first day back at work tomorrow!

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.

I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing

Early autumn was glorious here in London and, one weekend, Steven and I took advantage with a walk in Greenwich Park. As we walked we collected chestnuts and acorns and leaves.

Chestnuts and acorns Chestnuts and acorn

From left to right: horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, acorn.

Autumn leaves

The chestnuts and acorns just because they were there and the leaves to try making this autumn leaf bouquet.

I wasn’t really sure what to do with all the chestnuts so I stuck them in a vase for the time being.

Autumn vase

Then the leaves dried out before we got around to the bouquet but we decided that they looked pretty just as they had dried.

Autumn leaves

For want of anything better to do with them, I stuck both the vase and the leaves on top of the shoe cabinet in our hall, which seemed appropriate since we already had a dish with a couple of pine cones in it sitting there.


Suddenly, it struck me: I had accidentally succumbed to seasonal decorating! I’m not really a seasonal decor person (other than at Christmas). I barely manage to arrange and display the various ornaments, prints, pictures, etc. that I have without trying to rotate through seasonally appropriate ones and yet, somehow, I’ve ended up with seasonally appropriate decor. I’m sure I don’t need to worry though, I’m pretty sure they will be sitting there long after autumn has passed!

Lessons I’ve learned from watching property development TV programmes

  1. It will cost more than you think.
  2. It will cost more than you have.
  3. Presenters of property programmes will usually know more about property and building than the people appearing on the show.
  4. People appearing on the show will usually ignore any and all advice given by the presenter (or their builder … or their architect).
  5. It will take longer than you think. (This is especially true if your plan is dependent on good weather … in the UK … in November.)
  6. Doing things yourself may save money but will rarely save time.
  7. Living on-site is always a Bad Idea.
  8. Not visiting the site regularly to manage contractors is a Bad Idea.
  9. There will always be a problem with the structure of the building that cannot be seen until work starts. (If it’s a period property or listed building, this will immediately double your costs and amount of time required … at least.)
  10. I will ignore any and all of the above lessons when it comes to working on my own home.

Stranger in a strange land

I may be exaggerating. Being a Scot in London should not count as a stranger in a strange land but a couple of questions from colleagues of mine have started me wondering this week.

“Did you get haggis for school dinners?” was the first. It at least came from an Australian colleague during a conversation about bizarre things that the British eat at school dinners. (For those of you wondering, my answer was No. I did however eat, and enjoy, rice pudding and semolina but not tapioca.)

“Do you like cold weather?” was today’s offering. Followed up with “because other_Scottish_person_in_dept. really loves it.” Which of course means that all Scottish people must love cold weather. (For the record, I do but only as long as I can stay inside and enjoy it from there.)

We’re really not all that different, honest! Just think before you ask the question: “In similar circumstances, would I ask an English person this?” If the answer’s no, then don’t ask me either.

Raindrops keep falling on my head

Or rather, they don’t, which is the problem. In Iain Banks’ book, The Crow Road, he describes it as raining “… with that remorseless West Coast rain, where it’s been raining for several days and will probably go on for several more”. That description really struck a chord with me and helped explain why I mind rain so much more when it rains in London than when it rained back in Scotland. Back in Glasgow, rain was just an accepted fact. It rained so often that you didn’t really bother about it, you just got on with it. Down here, it rains so infrequently (comparatively) that it’s a major imposition when it does. How dare it rain on me. Doesn’t it know that I don’t have shoes that I can wear to work that don’t let water in and that I have no idea where my brolly is. Hmph.