First Cider!

Cider No.1 Front ShotIt’s here! Our first cider was finally ready for bottling – all 7 bottles! Considering the amount of time it took to make, it’s probably the most expensive cider in the world 🙂 On the plus side, it tastes like cider! A dry, light bittersweet taste, very refreshing when chilled. I am amazingly chuffed it went so well, and it’s a thumbs-up to the wild yeast method of brewing – let’s hope the next batch is as good, if not better!

Chopped Beetroot with Honey-Dijon Vinaigrette

It’s beetroot season again and, if like us, you have a mountain of scrumptious beetroot to find uses for, here’s one amazing one that will keep covered in the fridge for several days, and tastes better the longer you leave it, within reason!

Boil the beetroot in a large pan until cooked.


  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped red onion, or shallots
  • sprinkle of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 6 tablespoons of vegetable oil

Put all ingredients for vinaigrette into a bowl except for the oil. Slowly add the oil to the ingredients whilst whisking. Pour onto the cooked/cooled beetroot.

Cider Making

Finally we have enough apples to have a bash at cider making! A friend up the lane was selling his cider making kit, and it was perfect stuff to get going with – scratter attachment for a drill (Pulpmaster), small 5 litre spindle press, fermentation barrels, and umpteen bits and bobs that I’m sure are useful!

Cider Making 2Whilst I’d hoped to have enough of one or two varieties to go for a more calculated approach, the reality was the number of apples on none trees dictated which were used! A course Suz sent me on earlier in the year gave some great notes, and from those I read that one of their mixes for a cider was roughly two thirds Bramley (cooker) and one third Worcester Pearmain (eater). Well – we have neither in abundance, bCider Making 1ut I managed to scrat together the following:

3.2kg Newton Wonder (cooker)
6.5kg Lord Derby (cooker)
2.3kg Ribston Pippin (eater)
1.2kg Dabinett (cider)
1.0kg Medaille d’Or (cider)

Heaven knows what’ll happen! Eventually I hope to have a cider based on the local Newton Wonder, mixed with an eater I’ve yet to decide on, but needs must, so we have the above concoction. Tasting some of the pressed juice, it was fresh and quite tart. To give you an idea of the sizes of the apples – the Lord Derby apple (the green stonker) weighed in at around 280g, but was quite a light apple in terms of density. The Newton Wonder, top-right, weighed in at around 320g! Three to a kilo! A very dense fruit, the tree was quite prolific, and they were gorgeous apples 🙂

The actual method was very simple – I Cider Making 3washed everything down thoroughly, and sterilised the various plastic bins, demijohns and air locks. I washed the press down with water (it was quite clean to look at), but didn’t want to scrub it as I read that good yeasts can live in the wood. Then I placed a bunch of apples in a big plastic bin filled with water, and one by one pulled them out, checked Cider Making 5them over, rubbed them clean with my hands, removed any obvious insects and bad apple. Then I quartered them, dropped them into the scratter bucket. A few turns of the scratter, attached to the drill, and the pulp was ready. The pulp was bagged into nylon mesh socks, laid in the press, two at a time, then pressed.

From all those apples, I ended up with just over one demijohn of juice. The demijohn was filled to within 1″ (2.5cm) of theCider Making 4 bung line (the lowest point the bung will reach when then demijohn is sealed), then the bung and airlock attached (not forgetting to fill the airlock with water!). It’s worth noting that you can expect an apple to juice conversion rate of around 25-33%, so from 10kg of apples you could expect around 2.5 to 3 litres of apple juice. As I managed to fill an 8 pint (4.5 litre) demijohn, and I started out with around 14.2kg of apples, that gave me a 32% conversion rate, which I’m chuffed about!

That’s pretty much it so far – it’s in a room that will hover between 10 and 20 degrees celsius, but I may move it to the garage where the temperature is more consistent, albeit at the lower end of that range. Fingers crossed!

The Best Tomatoes

2014 TomatoesThis year I think we’ve cracked the tomato business. We’ve tried Marmande before, a beef tomato, and liked them. They can be exceptionally ugly, amd grow to various sizes, despite being a beef variety we have small to huge on our plants. But despite their inconsistencies, this year we grew eight plants-worth, because at the end of the day, they are delicious. They are so juicy, their flesh is firm enough to hold their shape, yet melts in the mouth, and their skins are just tight enough to prevent their innards popping out, but give when you bite into them, with none of the toughness other varieties have. Personally for me, this is a perfect tomato.

Then we have the other new variety this year – a plum tomato by the name of Roma VF. Absolutely dry as anything when eaten raw, but cook with it and you discover an intense tomato flavour, perfect for sauces and drying. In fact, this year we filled an oven with these, cut in half, and dried them over 16 hours on a low heat. Dropped into jars of olive oil, mixed with fresh or dried herbs and chopped garlic, they keep for around two weeks. Be careful to completely cover with oil – else the bits poking out will go nouldy (we learned the hard way and lost a couple of jars – disaster!)

I need to add – this photograph has not been doctored in any way – they are the actual colours!

Roma VF Tomatoes

We’ve tried a few varieties of tomatoes here at Merrybower, but never a cooking tomato. This year we’ve planted eight Roma VF plum tomatoes in a greenhouse, just to see what would happen. Well, it’s been the perfect year for tomato growing! The heat has meant longer days of warmth, although water was soaked up so quickly that some days they needed watering three times!

They are pretty disgusting raw – dry, fleshy, no juice and tough skins. However, halved and cooked on a low (100C) heat for 16 or so hours and they make perfect oven-dried tomatoes. Mixed with olive oil, garlic slices and mixed herbs in a jar and they are delicious!

Dandelion Coffee

Dandelion Root Coffee

Right – over the last few years I’ve made it my passion to remove any dandelion I see in the patch. I’ve seen a field not too far from us, heaving with them, and I know how much of a pain it is to get rid of them. Therefore, every spring will see me armed with fork and barrow, marching through the patch, pulling dandelion after dandelion – it’s war on a grand scale, and the enemy is relentless.

I daren’t compost them, so I probably bin at least four barrow loads of them every spring, then another barrow load come mid summer when they have their second burst. But it seemed such a waste. I dislike moving stuff from our land, as I know things like weeds tend to carry an awful lot of goodness, wrapped up in their spikes and stings and wafty leaves. So to search out a use for our dandelions. Earlier this year we tried the young leaves – a bit bitter for my taste, though I’ve heard cooking them down rids them of that. We’ve yet to try the young buds lightly fried in butter, but I also read that you can use the roots to make dandelion root coffee!

Today was that day. I’d just pruned another two plum trees, gradually working my way through the orchard work. I’d noticed the dandelions popping up after a rest of a month or so, and decided this was the moment to have a bash at home-made low-caffeine coffee.

dandelion_coffee_1Firstly I picked around 20 of the choicest roots. None of these dandelions were huge, so all the roots were between 8mm and 3mm in width. Then a darned good scrubbing with the potato brush, to get rid of the soil, and a top and tail.

dandelion_coffee_2Another rinse in cold water, and then finely chopped, to help them dry out quicker in the oven.

On to a metal dish and placed in the oven at 200C for around 30 minutes, and the smell was lovely! Suz said it smelled like a coffee shop – I’ll take that as a positive 🙂 However, opening the oven door let a bit of smoke into the room, so I turned the heat down to 100C for another 30 minutes or so. In reality, this was an awful waste of electric for such a small amount, but it was an experiment.

dandelion_coffee_3Once the small pieces were brittle under a spoon, I removed them from the oven and ground them in a bowl, using the back of a spoon. Again, on a larger scale you could use a decent sized pestle and mortar, or a blender. The resulting pieces, I assume, would be fine to store for future use. dandelion_coffee_4Having no idea how much I needed to use for a cup of coffee, I poured the entire bowl of grinds into a single cup cafetiere, covered with boiling water, and left for a couple of minutes. Then it was a quick plunge and pour, and sniff. It smelled a bit like coffee, a bit like chicory coffee, and a bit odd, which I assume might be the dandelion bit. Adding milk, to about a 50% mix (yes, it seems the amount of root I had could have provided for two cups rather than the one I made), and a couple of sweeteners, made a drink I was more than happy to take away with me!

dandelion_coffee_6So here I am, typing this up, having just downed my first cup of home-made dandelion root coffee!

A lot of hassle, as are most things made and not pre-bought, but on a grander scale could well be worth the effort. Dandelion coffee cake? Hmmm…

Say Hello to Mr Carrot

Oh no! I hear you cry…

But oh yes – it’s that time of year when the rude veg stomp onto the stage and demand our attention. Suz plonked this in front of me and declared “We can tell it’s a he can’t we?”

You know – like Baldrick – amusing vegetables will never, ever, get dull to me 🙂


2014 Mr Carrot

Beetroot & Chocolate Cake

I just have to go on record to day Boltardy beetroot are amazing. Here we are in April, and they are still happy in the ground from last year. Of course, we pickle them regularly, but it’s become a standing joke where recipes are concerned, as we’re adding them to almost every meal. “Just needs a  bit more beetroot” is starting to wear a bit thin. As a suprise, Suz found this recipe on BBC’s Goodfood website, and I’m unashamedly adding it here as it’s a great recipe, the cake was fantastic!

Blitz-and-Bake Chocolate Cake


  • 1 large cooked beetroot, abnout 175g in weight, roughly chopped
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200ml sunflower oil
  • 100g dark chocolate (not too bitter) chopped into pieces
  • crème fraîche or clotted cream, to serve


  1. Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Tip the beetroot into a food processor and blitz until chopped. Add a pinch of salt and the rest of the ingredients, except the oil and chocolate. When completely mixed (you may need to scrape the sides down once or twice), add the oil in a steady stream, as if you were making mayonnaise.
  2. When all the oil has been added, stir in the chocolate, then tip the mix into a lined 900g loaf tin. Cook for 1hr until an inserted skewer comes out practically clean. Leave the loaf to cool on a  rack. Serve in slices with the crème fraîche or clotted cream.

Sunflower Seed

2014 Sunflower SeedThe result of drying out around 20 Sunflower heads – a decent bag of seed to replant or just feed to the birds. Easiest thing to do, but not sure how you’d clean them decently for human consumption.

Sponge Cake with Lemon Zest and Raspberries

Yet another cakey delight from the kitchen, with a low-sugar option in the ingredients 🙂

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar (or half a cup of e.g. Splenda)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups individually quick-frozen raspberries (6 ounces)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 10-inch round cake tin or loaf tin.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a bowl, mix the olive oil with the milk and lemon juice.
  3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, blend the sugar with the lemon zest. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and beat at medium speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Beat in the dry ingredients, alternating with the olive oil mixture until the batter is smooth.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the raspberries on top. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up and let cool completely. Cut the cake into wedges and serve.