Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Saturday Afternoon Tea (or What's That Smell?)


So it's afternoon tea time, and what could be better than cupcakes topped with the chocolate eggs the girls made? With sprinkles? I was whizzing about in the garden this morning, weeding, and tossing about bales of pea straw mulch, and up to my elbows in sheep poop, and Rosy wanders out in her pyjamas, asking, asking  mind you, whether she could make cupcakes.. well, what kind of  question is that? Of course you can make cupcakes. Always.

Today I have been continuing the task of putting the garden to bed for the winter. We do have reasonably mild winters here, frost, yes, but not too bad because we are in a built up suburb, lots of buildings and roads for heat to radiate from. So we can grow hardy veg through the winter - kale, broccoli, chard, lettuce, garlic, broad beans. You do have to plant most of these early though, and I ..... haven't. I'll plant them now anyway, cross my fingers and hope. Easter, season of hope, right? Or misplaced optimism, in this case.

I have fed and mulched everything in the back yard, and am eyeing off the children's (now unused) sandpit, with a view to turning that space into raised garden beds. I suggested this hesitantly to Posy, thinking there would be a giant tantrum, but she immediately ran off to make a garden plan. Her garden plan, of course, so there may be negotiations in the future, but I have the official go-ahead. Such excitement!

But now I am working on the front yard. I quite like my spring garden..



..it has pretty blossoms and neat rounded mounds of lavender, and happy roses, but in summer it all falls apart, and turns into a giant scary jungle. I put in quite narrow paths when I converted it from lawn, and in summer you can't walk on them because they are covered in plants, like so..


Somewhere under that swathe of vivid green is a brick path. So I am being ruthless and ripping everything out, including some quite nice shrubs and plants that I am quite attached to. It's sort of like decluttering the garden. But it is very good, because I will be experimenting with planting more food in the front yard, and still have it look pretty. Well, I should say, much prettier than it does right now.

As I rip out I am feeding and throwing lots of good organic stuff on the garden beds, and mulching away, so that next spring I can start with a clean slate. Hopefully the fruit trees will be happier without huge numbers of plants growing under and around them as well. It is rather smelly though, with all the chook poo pellets, the sheep poo etc.

What you can't tell from the serene photo of our afternoon tea is that the smell of chook poo wafting in through the open windows is battling with the smell of enamel paint wafting out of the open windows. The lovely, lovely Man is painting our stairs today, and they look just divine.

It all adds a certain piquancy to the cupcakes, though.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Crafty Eggs and Cakey Bunnies


My dears, have you noticed, it's nearly Easter? A quarter of a way through the year, a season of renewal, a season, in the southern hemisphere, of looking back on a full harvest, and being thankful that we have chopped up nearly the last of the tomatoes, a season of drawing in and slowing down. A season of chocolate and eggs...

Lucky I have very enthusiastic children, who live to do craft, because frankly, Easter week for me is a procession of bottling tomatoes and stewing apples. The girls have been busy like little bees. Posy almost gave herself apoplexy blowing out a round dozen eggs. They dyed some with food colouring, then painted some with water colour paints, and dripped bits of melted crayons over the top for a jolly Eastery effect. The egg on the left is from Oxfam. For a few years I bought one each year for Easter, but now of course, I have enough stuff, even from Oxfam, so we just enjoy the ones we already have.


The Girl, who is a very kind big sister, helped Posy make an Easter basket, from almost the last of the coloured cardboard that we laid in for craft emergencies while we were homeschooling.


We have a stack of chocolate moulds from? who knows where, so chocolate bilbies have been ever so busy laying chocolate eggs.

And Rosy and Posy wanted to buy Easter eggs for their friends and teachers, but in the spirit of making and doing, not buying and mindlessly consuming, they baked these adorable bunny cupcakes instead..


Ironically, we found the idea in the Woolworths catalogue last week...

What Easter crafts are up and doing at your house?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Not Craft



I have been reading Jen's Make Do and Mend Year which is a fun and crazy project to not buy anything new for a whole year. As you can imagine it is an idea after my own heart.

A couple of days ago she featured this nifty little craft project - a mobile mending kit with its own pincushion. What a fab plan, I thought to myself. All those buttons and tiny tears that need just a couple of stitches. Maybe a tiny mending kit would encourage me to actually mend. Right away that is, instead of throwing items into the meding basket to die.

Jen assures us that this is a super quick project that only requires a glue gun, to glue the pincushion onto the jam jar lid. I chose a jar, but the glue gun is out in the shed. Yes, that shed ten steps from the back door. The scrap fabric and stuffing is in the other shed. That one right at the end of the garden. And it is raining. Now you may think that I lack perseverance and a commitment to the spirit of crafting, and you would be dead right, but I decided there must be an easier way. And there was.

On the kitchen bench was a small tin I had disinterred from the shed a few weeks ago. I had emptied it of all those treasures I had been carefully hoarding for years (old magnets, pen lids, bread tags), washed it out, and it was sitting there performing no function except as a conversation starter ('What are Puff Cracknels exactly?' Anybody?)

And then I had my revelation. It was destined to be the No Craft Mobile Mending Kit Container. I raided the sewing box, and found a mini needle kit that belonged to my Grandma Hazel, a pair of embroidery scissors that were Grandma Muriel's (my grannies had the best names), and a pincushion that was lovingly made for me by.... ahem ....one of my very dear girls (yes, I am a bad mother).

It has now gone to live on the bookcase, right in front of the Jane Austen collection, which I feel is appropriate. I am sure she was very good at mending.



Now, if only someone would have a button emergency, I could come to the rescue, immediately...


Monday, March 18, 2013

Not by the Book


Gardening books will tell you all sorts of things, that actually, you can ignore, or work around with a bit of cunning. For a start, they will tell you not to plant under trees. Well, that makes sense because the tree roots will rob plants of moisture and nutrients. I plant out in pots under the trees so that no precious garden bed space is wasted. Yesterday I topped up these pots with new compost and yummy plant food (that is my positive spin for the children, so that when they smell the unmistakable aroma of chicken poop and blood and bone in the garden, they won't complain, they will say, 'Mmm, plant food...' That is my plan, anyway), and soon I will plant them out with spinach and garlic and lettuce.

However, if you look closely, you will see that there are still plants growing under the apricot tree - parsley, which admittedly isn't thriving as much as other parsley in the garden, but is still growing, and still useful, and wild rocket and calendula, which are so tough they will grow up between paving stones, so shouldn't find competition with a tree root very hard going. Bear in mind though, that this tree is growing in what is essentially a garden bed, which I cover with compost and manure and pea straw every year, and water regularly. I wouldn't rush out and plant under a fifty year old pine tree in the backyard. That really would be pushing gardening boundaries. I also wouldn't plant under a citrus tree, because they have really shallow roots that don't like to be disturbed. There should be nothing growing under a citrus tree, not even grass, and it should be mulched and fed well, because it is needy. If you want lemons you must treat the tree like a botanical princess..

Just up from the pots under the apricot tree is another gardening no-no. Tomatoes growing in near full shade.

 
 
Again, the books will tell you that you need six to eight hours of full sun to grow vegetables. Well, commercial growers do, because they need maximum yields from their crops. But if you are a backyard gardener you will inevitably be struggling with the space factor, and sometimes the only space available is in the shade. These tomatoes get two hours' sun at the most per day. They aren't the biggest or most prolific tomato plants I have ever grown, but they have been steadily producing tomatoes since early February (I took this photo after I'd picked the day's tomatoes, of course!). And I have a lot more tomatoes than if I had not planted them at all, due to not having perfect conditions for them.
 

Here are some more vegies growing in the shade. I call this The Mini-Farm. Five pots outside the shed. Last winter they grew red chard, lettuce and snowpeas. This summer, beans on (wonky) bamboo tripods, and tomatoes.

 
 
These guys only get afternoon sun, maybe three or four hours. The tomatoes have ripened much later than the ones in the front yard in full sun, but again, staggered harvests are quite useful for the home gardener. The beans have been bearing prolifically for two months now. This one on the end is trying to move in with the neighbours.
 
 


Plants in pots are so wonderfully generous. Give them a square foot of soil, and some water, and a little sunshine, and they will just keep on giving until their roots have taken up every inch of pot, then they'll give some more.

Mind you, I try to be very kind to them. I have found that a mixture of potting mix, compost, some water retentive product like coir, dynamic lifter (chicken poop), blood and bone, and dolomite lime is a good growing medium. I also add at least ten percent garden soil to the mix, because it just feels right to be adding whatever it is from the soil that makes it alive and kicking, and so full of microbes and other good things. I water every day, and try to remember to water with a seaweed solution and fish emulsion every fortnight.

So even if you can't provide any space other than in the shade, under a tree, you can still grow vegetables, and here is a marvellous thing, if you garden in pots in the courtyard on the paving, you can do the gardening in your slippers.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Easy Peasy Tomato Passata, From Tomatoes You May Have Lying Around at Home


Upon rereading the last post, it occurs to me that from the dreadful whining, anyone would suppose I run a small farm, and am dragging in bushel baskets of produce every day. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is that I have a small suburban garden, and that the tomatoes above are three days' accumulation from seven tomato plants, yes seven. Hardly an agribusiness quite yet. The apples and pears I am using up are only the windfalls I collect from the ground every morning, about ten each per day. So don't feel tooo sorry for me. And I did plant all this of my own free will.. and I love it, and am very grateful for food from my very own yard.

Another thing I am very grateful for today - rain. Wonderful, glorious, steady gentle rain. Hours of it. The garden is so happy. And it is perfect weather for making the world's easiest tomato passata thingy. Frances mentioned in the comments that she freezes her tomatoes whole, and makes tomato sauce through the winter. That is an absolutely marvellous idea, but I don't have enough freezer space, so I make this sauce instead, which reduces it in size considerably, then freeze it.

First, I chop up all those impatient tomatoes.

 
 
And stew them, mashing them periodically with the potato masher. Don't add any liquid, they'll provide plenty of their own.
 


When they look like this, I keep them gently bubbling for another half hour or so, until the liquid is reduced a bit, and the skins translucent. Then I get to work with the stick blender until the skins are completely liquidized.

 
 
Now I bag the sauce up in 400g (18oz) lots so I can substitute it for tins of diced tomato in recipes.
 
 
 
 
Then freeze the bags flat on a baking tray so they stack well in the freezer.
 
 
 
 
The final product, all ready to be turned into bolognese sauce..
 
 
 
Future dinners in the freezer are so satisfying.
 
No tomato was wasted in the creation of this blog post.





Thursday, March 14, 2013

Heated Harvest

I was going to have a photo of the apple trees here, but it is dark now, so here is part of the front garden in spring when it was behaving nicely...

So I posted here last year about my shame and angst at the waste that happens in our garden when there is a glut of fruit or vegetables, when everything ripens at once. Harvest, and using the harvest is one of the hardest things about gardening. I read that in one Jackie French's gardening books once when I was a new gardener, and didn't believe a word of it. And really, when you plant a seed, or a tiny apple tree, it is very difficult to imagine the massive amount of food that will one day be dropping all over your garden every day, filling all the kitchen benches, and threatening to go off before your very eyes if you don't cook it or eat it TODAY.

As a hobby, food gardening is demanding. Unlike, say, knitting, that you can put in a cupboard when you want to do something else, gardening is needy. The apples will ripen and drop from the tree, the pots will need watering, winter vegetables will need sowing, the pears and the tomatoes will be piled up in the kitchen giving you the LOOK every time you walk past them.  And it will be hot, and there will be bales of pea straw ready to mulch the beds, but they need to be weeded and fed first..


Tomatoes, giving me the LOOK

You might get the idea that I don't like gardening, but I love it, I really do. Just like I love being a Mum, but there are days... you know?

Anyway, this week when it has been so hot, I have been determined not to waste any of those ripening apples and pears, but unwilling to cook anything, so I have been filling up the dryer on a continual basis, with tray after tray of fruit.

I bought the dehydrator second hand a few years ago, and have been making it work very hard ever since. I mostly put it out in The Man's shed, so its humming and heat don't drive us insane in the house, and whatever stage the drying process is at, I turn it off at night or when I go out, which doesn't seem to harm the fruit at all. Most books (including the instruction manual) will tell you to dip the fruit in a syrup or lemon juice before you dry, advice that I completely ignore. I just chop around all the nasty codling moth holes in the fruit, slice, skin and all, and pop straight into the dryer tray.



I dry them until they are quite crunchy, and able to be snapped. That way I don't have to worry about them going mouldy in the jar. There is a gap in the ring of apples on the left where The Vulture Child snitched a piece while I was turning around to get the camera. By the time I had put the camera away, she had eaten the entire inner ring.



Here is the final product, in the ubiquitous coffee jars. It is super yummy, clearly, and only part of the harvest makes it into a jar at all. The pears are sweet and chewy, the apples are so perfumed it is like eating essence of apple. It is the only fruit (bar pineapple chunks! and our home made fruit leathers) that Posy will take to school.




The other day I saw this exact same product being sold at our local wholefood store for $36 kg. Ours cost about 70c for electricity per batch. So I'll be making more, and maybe hiding it so there will be some left for winter..

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Pause, and A List..

My computer is still sad and broken. The Boy has his new one now, and used up nearly all our month's worth of internet downloading vital doohickeys onto it. I will have his old one all to myself, just as soon as I work out how to use it, and the internet magically renews itself..

Meanwhile, what I have for you is a list of family rules from a mother of four, foster mother to many, writer, gardener, farmer, and determined saver-of-the-planet.

Warning: This list made me laugh immoderately while drinking a cup of tea, which hasn't improved the state of my laptop keyboard at all..





Friday, March 8, 2013

Secret Weapon in the Vegetable Wars

 
 
Do your children joyfully eat up all their vegies and love to fill their lunchboxes with healthy slices of fruit? No, mine either. Posy, in particular thinks fruit in lunchboxes is nasty. Even though I put a frozen ice block in her insulated lunchbox, apparently it is warm by lunchtime, so it comes home again. Even frozen blueberries are nasty, so I hear, when they defrost.
 
I also want to make sure that fruit and veg from the garden gets used up, not composted or wasted, and sometimes there is fruit and veg in the fridge that needs eating today, and won't be nice tomorrow. My weapon in this war is a small, green ceramic bowl. I remember when I bought it, years ago, The Man raised an eyebrow at me, which meant, 'Another ceramic bowl? Really?', but little did he know what an important role it would play in our children's nutrition.
 
So, every day when the children come home from school, the green bowl is filled with something from the fridge or garden - grapes that need eating up, a handful of cherry tomatoes and beans that are perfectly ripe. Sometimes the bowl is accompanied by a plate of carrot and celery sticks with peanut butter or dip. Sometimes there is watermelon, or slices of a perfect peach that only had a teeny tiny bug inside it, so needed cutting up. Children tend to take a dim view of fruit with bugs, but what they don't know won't hurt them... there is very little food produced in a home garden that would pass the 'perfect produce' supermarket test, or fussy child test, but chopped up, nobody can tell the difference.
 
Now, if I asked the children if they would like fruit or veg for afternoon tea, they would mostly say 'no'. So the secret part of this weapon is silence. Silence is golden. I have never actually commented on the bowl of fruit on the kitchen bench. I have never suggested that they eat it. I don't know if they maybe think the fruit fairy leaves it.. but I do know this. The bowl is nearly almost always empty by bedtime.
 
Today I have filled the bowl with cherry plums that hang over our back fence from the neighbours' yard. Yum. You know, I probably wouldn't eat so much fruit without the magic green bowl either..
 


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Now it is Autumn, Summer Has Finally Arrived



It is rather late and I am waiting for a bunch of pears and sugar and vinegar and various other ingredients to magically turn into chutney. The reason I am doing this at ten o'clock at night is because it is hot, hot, hot, and only now is it cool enough to justify hot pans of boiling liquid in the kitchen. Luckily, whoever built our house, either by accident or design, created a wonderful cross draught when the front and back doors are both open that draws cool air through the entire house. Of course, for three quarters of the year that leaves me yelling, 'Shut the door!' every five minutes, but in the summer it is marvellous.

One of my (self-imposed) jobs as Electricity Saver in Chief (in training), and House Custodian, is regulating the temperature of the house. On winter mornings I wait until the sun hits the front windows to open our double blinds and heat up the living area. In the afternoon I can open the front door for a couple of hours on a sunny day and wring a little more heat out of the atmosphere, until the evening draws in and I scurry around to make sure everything is closed up again against the cold.

Now, although it is officially autumn, we are in our warmest month here in Tasmania. The weather has finally warmed up and is the main topic of local conversation.We are always rather surprised that we can actually be TOO hot. Imagine that. Lucky we don't live anywhere North of here. Imagine being hot like this ALL summer. We don't know how they all stand it up there on the mainland..

I have to be up before seven to reverse the winter routine. Front window blinds firmly shut against the sun. Front and back doors open to catch the morning breeze before it gets hot. Bedroom windows open to air out the rooms, then shut again all day to create dark caves of coolth for after school skulking. Water all the vegetable pots. Back to mist the sprouting seeds during the day.

There is an uncomfortable hour around 4pm when it is too hot outside to let any air in, but getting stuffy inside, then, bliss, that moment when you open a window and the breeze has begun, and you throw open every window and door, except those two bedroom windows where the sun is still blazing, you know the ones...

So far, we have managed this summer with hardly any fan use, maybe only a couple of blazing afternoons for a couple of hours. One thing we have done right in our long renovation, is to add enormous amounts of insulation everywhere, and in a lot of places build new walls inside the old ones, thus keeping the insulating value of the old lathe and horsehair plaster walls as well. Downstairs, the front of the house is built against the slope of the hill, which keeps it at a fairly constant comfortable temperature year round.

It is very satisfying to be able to partly heat our house with the sun, and cool it with cross-currents of air and the bulk of the earth, some insulation, and me doing theatrical tricks with curtains...



Monday, March 4, 2013

Shopping the Shed


So remember when I was cleaning out our disgraceful shed, and I had visions of everything stacked neatly on wooden shelves. Well, like most of my life's projects, I'm nearly there on this one. The Boy did, indeed, put the shelves together, and everything came out of the shed, I decided whether I could live without it, and lots of it went back in again.

BUT, even though the shed is still relatively full, there is order, not chaos... and, if you look carefully, there is actually a pedestrian walkway around that carefully stacked island of boxes.

 


And there are plans afoot to make that Manhattan of misguided storage actually go away. All the boxes and crates at the back of that pile are books and games that will go downstairs when we have built some storage for them. Actually, I have bought a lovely games cupboard, but we have a Japanese exchange student coming to stay next week, and I thought I would give her some cupboard space. So at the end of next week, some of those boxes will have gone. And the boxes and baskets at the front of the pile are our enormous collection of ex-homeschooling resources. I am going to have a book sale and give away evening with them for my local homeschool group.. sometime. I have been saying this for about two years now, but at last everything is together in one place, so it is all the more likely to happen.
 
One of my great difficulties in decluttering is moving things to their next destination. I can let things go quite easily, but then I feel like a have to find a significant home for them. It is very hard to just drop them off at the charity shop. I need someone to appreciate them. You know how some people need everything they buy to have a significant story? Well, I need that closure for everything I give away.. it's ridiculous, but there you are.
 
So far, I have sent a carton of books with a friend to Nepal, where it will wend the last few hours of its journey up a mountain track on someone's back until it reaches a tiny primary school to be the nucleus of its new English library. True story, and an immensely satisfying next home for lots of gorgeous books.
 
I have sent two booster seats, a pusher, sheets, towels and bags of clothes to a Refugee Welcome Group at the Catholic Church where one of my friends volunteers.
 
I will be taking a bunch of defunct electrical items to the recycling centre at the dump.
 
I discovered that Posy's class is running the Lucky Jar stall at the school fair, and their request for jars had me joyfully filling up a carton with all the Moccona coffee jars that have been skulking behind the shed door.
 
And then I hardened up and took the rest to the City Mission Shop, because seriously, I need to get over this pretentious foolishness.
 
Meanwhile, I discovered the most exciting things while hunting through all our old stuff, and have been decorating the house with bits and pieces I had completely forgotten we owned.
 
 
 
I was thinking I would have to go out and buy cushions for the new sofabed downstairs, but found these in the shed. I last used them when various of the children were toddlers, and they were quite grubby, but I thought I would wash them before I sent them to the charity shop, but they washed up beautifully, are several shades lighter now, so decided to keep them instead. They lend a nice nana touch to a very bland couch.
 
 
 

This old flour barrel I bought from a secondhand shop when The Girl was a baby. We lived near a row of gorgeous old shops in Port Adelaide, and The Boy and I would go for walks with The Girl in the big old English pram, and one day I found this and had to put it in the pram and carry The Girl. The Man made the nice lid with the rope handle, and for years it has been sitting in the shed, full of cushions. It is now downstairs next to the new games cupboard. I may fill it with a stack of jigsaw puzzles.
 
 
 
This is The Girl's new light fitting. The Man and I bought two of these from a market several years ago for the children's rooms. They came in a kit form, just a whole heap of identical plastic pieces that you fit together. Of course, we lost the instructions, The Boy tried to make his but got really mad and threw it away in a temper. Then I got really mad because he threw it out... anyway, The Man finally worked it out a couple of weeks ago with Rosy's 'help', and now at last we have one up..
 
 
 
 
Then of course Posy wanted a nice light fitting too, because actually, they have all just had bare bulbs since their rooms were finished. Like prison. All I could find was one of those plain Chinese paper shades. It was very old and nasty and fly-spotted, so I hung it up over newspaper and set Posy up with her watercolour paints, and she made a gorgeous rainbow masterpiece, which rather surprised us all really. Here it is in the day time..
 
 



It is so much more lovely than anything I could have bought.
 
And last of all, that birthday present for my brother I mentioned in the original post - I can show you now, since I eventually did manage to get it to him, only several weeks after his birthday..
 
 
 
My brother spends a lot of time doing up classic motorbikes in his shed (because his isn't full of random junk), and I found this photo of our great grandfather (on the right) on his new Harley Davidson, circa 1915, looking ever so fetching in his riding gear, like Toad of Toad Hall (poop, poop!).
 
So, treasures from that shed, basement, attic. Don't overlook what you already have. What have you found in yours?


Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Dark Side of Strawberries



Every year I garden I learn something new, and this year's lesson was that strawberry plants are actually triffids. Two years ago I picked out the edge of my blueberry bed in a single row of tiny, innocent looking little strawberry plants. By the end of year one they had taken over the entire bed with their wicked runners, and by this year, the blueberry plants had disappeared.

 
 
 
Can you see the blueberry plant? No, me neither. It's under there somewhere, the poor wee thing. Now, I like strawberries as much as the next person, but it was a matter of strawberries next year, or blueberries for the next twenty years? I chose the blueberries.
 
 
 
 
The tallest, thinnest man I have ever seen delivered me some bales of pea straw from his farm, and I hardened my heart and ripped out all those strawberries (I swear I heard them screaming), and replaced them with lots of lovely dynamic lifter and blood and bone, and delicious pea straw.  The poor little struggling blueberry plants emerged from the strawberry jungle, pale and haggard, like explorers lost in the wilderness. The photo above is taken from the exact same angle as the first one with the strawberries. See, it was under there all the time, quietly expiring. When I pulled all the strawberries out, the soil was bone dry, despite the fact that I have been watering every day. Those strawberries took all the moisture and the blueberries couldn't compete. And if there is one thing blueberries need, it's lots of water.
 
 
 
So what have I learned from this episode? That I must contain my desire to plant every inch of my small suburban garden, permaculture principles notwithstanding. But see that lovely expanse of green lawn. It is calling me, it is saying, 'Make me into a giant strawberry patch...' Can you hear its siren song? Of course you can. Now to persuade the other members of the family, the ones that inexplicably prefer lawn to food...



Friday, March 1, 2013

Home Made Fruit Leather


Absolutely the most difficult part of sending the children to school for me has been... school lunches. Packing those lunchboxes is fraught with pitfalls, not the least being What Other Children Eat. If you believed my girls, every other child in primary school has a lunchbox filled with chips and lollies, or if not that, at least every other item comes in a darling little plastic packet. Which may or may not be true.

Our biggest arguments are over muesli bars  (I sometimes give in on that one) and those horrible fake-flavoured 'fruit' rollups, which come rolled up in a sheet of plastic, in individual plastic packets, and also taste like plastic, and have no recognizable ingredients in them. So I flatly refuse to buy them, because, as we all know, I am a mean mummy. I do try, however, to make acceptable, non-plastic-encased substitutes. So far I have failed miserably on the muesli bar front, so when I decided to give fruit roll ups a go, it wasn't with any great sense of optimism.

The other reason I wanted to try fruit leather was our prolific cherry plum tree. There is only so much jam you can make, of plums you can force on friends, and Waste Not is this year's motto, so I went to work.

 

 

There are much worse things one could be doing on a summer's morning than picking plums. There were mini parrots squabbling in the branches, causing the plums to practically rain into the pan.
 
 
 
 
Due to the plums being quite small and almost all stone, I boiled them up stones and all, no water, just mashing the plums up a bit with the potato masher. According to information from the aptly named Sally Wise on local radio recently, you musn't add sugar to fruit leathers as it makes them go all brittle and cracked. But two teaspoons honey are apparently OK, so I added that. I simmered it for half an hour or so till the liquid reduced quite a bit, and the skins were completely translucent.
 
 



Then I drained the mixture through a colander into a clean pan until only the pulpy mixture was left.
 
 
 
That I spread out on my largest baking tray to pick out the stones with a pait of tongs. It was very tedious, and I was thinking how nice it would be to make this with fruit with no pips.
 
 
 
Then tipped the pulpy mixture into the drained liquid and blended it up with the stick blender. At this point it looked just like pumpkin soup, and tasted very yummy. It would have made perfect baby food.
 
 

 
 
This was the point I was a bit dubious about. I lined the old Sunbeam dehydrator with baking paper and was hoping not to overheat the motor and blow it up. The Man, who knows everything about everything electrical said he thought it would be fine, so I ploughed on, cutting dinky circles out of baking paper..
 
 



 

 
..and spreading out the puree. It was the texture of thick pumpkin soup, so stayed nicely where I put it.
 
 
 
After about five hours the first layer was done. It peeled easily off the paper when it was 'cooked' all over. The layers that weren't quite done had patches that stuck to the paper. I find that these dehydrators dry a bit unevenly, so you either have to swap the trays around frequently, or take the food out one tray at a time, which is what I do. Apparently you can dry fruit in the oven as well, on the lowest setting, overnight, but I haven't tried it. Has anyone else had a go at that? I took the last tray out of the dryer ten hours or so after I started (I just left it off overnight as I didn't want them to dry to a crisp, and started again in the morning). The Man worked out that I had used about 70c worth of electricity, which was the cost of the whole project. Well, that and some baking paper..
 
 
 
And here is the end product, ready rolled for the lunch boxes. And the miracle is - the children like them! They take them to school. Their friends like them, so they take extra. The Man eats them when I'm not looking. They are divinely delicious, and a tiny bit sour, like the plums. Unfortunately, they are so fab, that a week later, there aren't any left. Still, now I've begun I can forsee a year of fruit leathers, to go with the year of jam. Apples and pears are next, and they don't have stones.
 
 
 Edited to add: I forgot to mention - spray the baking paper with cooking spray, so the leather peels off nicely. This was also a suggestion from Sally Wise, local preserving queen. I might try one without the spray next time to see what happens, but I uncharacteristically followed advice this time, and it certainly worked!


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