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Winter Squash Knife

Yellow Lemon Squash PieCasually chatting to Andy next door about the virtues of Winter Squash, specifically the Tonda Padana we so love here at Merrybower, we happened upon the issue of cutting the tough blighters open – I was yet to find the perfect winter squash knife.

To date I have broken two knives attempting to slice open the green and yellow peril you can see to the left in the background (that’s Suz’s scrummy Lemon Yellow Squash Pie by the way – recipe here). One steel kitchen knife, and another a ceramic knife bought by little sister – gutted! (Me – the squash remained intact).

On hearing the news of the sad demise of two knives, Andy piped up:

“I’ll make you a knife.”

Me: “Eh? A knife for slicing Winter Squash?”

Andy: “Yep. What kind of things does it need to have?”

Me:  “Well – hefty, these things are tough on the outside. But there’s not much give in them, so a narrow blade too.”

Andy: “So a tall blade then? Right-oh.”

Winter Squash KnifeA few weeks later, this beast of a winter squash knife was passed over the garden fence – reclaimed British steel and an oak handle made from a small oak I felled a year ago. What a sight! Well-balanced for someone of my height, a keen edge and perfect grip size – made to measure! All we need now is to grow some Tonda Padana as this year was sparse in the patch due to having no kitchen at the start of the year, and try it out. Can’t wait!

Winter Squash Harvest

2015 Winter SquashWith the first grass frosts expected any day, it seemed judicious to harvest the various winter squash and secrete them away in a dark place to wait the winter out, until we needed them.

Tonda Padana

It hasn’t been a bad harvest – the Tonda Padana, as ever, have done amazingly well – they’re the dark/light green stripey one with the light green stripes being raised quite proud (they’re mostly on the left). These are most definitely our favourite winter squash – we haven’t had a bad year yet, despite having extremes in weather over the years – from dry to wet, warm to cold.

Berrettina Piacentina

The Berrettina Piacentina weren’t quite so good – they’re the dusky green and orange striped at the back on the right. I think we may only have had one of them, and three Tondas – I know there was some argy bargy going on with planting stations when some failed to germinate!

Custard Whites

And then we have the Custard Whites – or UFOs as we like to call them. We still haven’t eaten one yet, but they look so funky I’d be happy to grow them purely for the fact they look like a happy winter squash (big, juicy and healthy!).

Butternut Rugosa

The big disaster was the Butternut Squash – Butternut Rugosa. We had absolutely nothing from them, any that had started to grow simply stopped developing and went moldy on the plant. The only thing I can put it down to was the three weekends we were away – but I’ll have to look into it.

Eierkoeken (Egg Cakes)

One of the recipes Suz brought back from her time in the Netherlands, it’s become a firm favourite here and conjures up memories of autumn days and warm homely cooking! Dutch egg cakes – eat straight from the oven, or serve topped with low-fat creme fraiche and fruit in a bowl.

5 large eggs
1 cup of sugar (or half a cup of fruit sugar)
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 cups of plain flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
You can add cinnamon or mixed spice for a slightly different flavour.

Combine eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl (whisk).
In a different bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt (at this point other flavouring if required).
Pour the ingredients from the 2nd bowl into the first bowl and mix thoroughly. I use a hand-held whisk.
The mixture is quite stiff.
Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Spoon large dollops of the mixtures onto the baking trays – leave space around the dollops as they spread!
Bake in fan oven 160 Celsius for 10 to 15 minutes. This results in a very firm slightly domed ‘eggy’ flavour sponge – best eaten warm!

Second Weekend in the Patch

I swear someone has sped the Earth up – each year passes faster and faster! Last weekend we had our first day in the patch, tidying up odds and sods, ready for the year ahead. It’s always a good feeling, starting over again, with thoughts of how things will be done differently from previous years, or the same if they proved a good idea. The geese were extradited from the hay quarter, to let the grass grow! They seemed happy to be back in the big orchard, their summer home, but their attitudes are definitely taking a turn for the worst, with breeding season upon us. The orchard pruning was also completed, with large cuts covered in Arbrex, smaller cuts left to heal on their own. Mole hills are popping up as they get ready for the new year, and their hill earth we squirrelled away to top up the raised bed, as it’s great stuff! Compost bins were emptied, and seeds bought for the year ahead.

Today, I spent the morning on a late hedge cut, after first checking for any new nests. Suz and Smiler cleared away hedge cuttings from a hedge next door at the farm, which has been laid and looks amazing. Jay took on the mantle of chief seed sower, and popped the following into propagators for indoor germination.

  • Lyon (Prizetaker) leek
  • Monarch celeriac
  • Green Magic F1 hybrid broccoli
  • Golden Acre (Primo III) round summer/autumn cabbage
  • All the Year Round cauliflower
  • January King 3 (savoy) winter cabbage
  • Evesham Special brussels sprout

After a lunch which saw us prise open Smiler’s first ever jar of home-made pickled onions (they were fantastic, he made them from growing to pickling), Suz and Jay took it on themselves to clear some of the rubbish on the lane where we live, Smiler scattered chicken manure fertiliser around the various trees and bushes, whilst I rotovated the onion patch, ready for planting out the sets tomorrow. I also got carried away with de-twitching the couch grass that had worked its way into the onion patch, have I mentioned how much I loathe that stuff? We’ve a plastic field trough set aside for weeds this year, which we’ll fill with water and drop any weeds into. Over the year they’ll rot down into great fertiliser liquid and we don’t waste any of the nutrients tucked away in them.

 

Keeping our chickens happy over winter

With the inclement weather we’ve been having recently in the UK, I had to gen up rather quickly on ways and means to keep our chickens happy and content over winter. Temperatures were dropping overnight to around -10 Celsius, and whilst their body temperatures will keep the small coop warm to a degree (large enough to house 4 birds maximum, with there only being three in there) I felt they needed more help. I empathised for a few brief seconds and came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t like it out there so we had to do something.

First thing was their diet. They have layers pellets every day, ad lib, and fresh water. They also have free range on grass,  so after they’ve eaten tasty green stuff they fill up on the pellets. When it gets cold I also give them grain on an evening before shutting them up in the coop – this gives their crop something to work on over night and helps keep them warm with their own generated heat. In the summer they have this as a treat, about an eggcup-full for each bird, but over the winter I’ve given them ever-so-slightly more as I figured seeing as though their egg production is non-existent, they probably didn’t need as many of the layers pellets as usual and the bodyweight they might  gain from slightly more grain (mixed wheat, maize, etc) would be beneficial over their first winter outside the battery farm – especially seeing as though their feathers weren’t entirely covering them still.

Each day when it was really cold, around 3 Celsius or under, we used some leftover potato peelings, carrot peelings or parsnip peelings, or even a whole potato (their favourite), and made a mash up. To this I also added:

A tablespoon of live yoghurt to help their digestive system

A teaspoon of codliver oil (I started this in the summer to help them utilise their calcium for egg shell production, but with the low sunlight in the winter and they still insist on producing some eggs, I figured I might as well keep giving it them)

A teaspoon of Poultry Spice – a delicious blend of all your chook’s favourite spicy things – a bit like a multi-vit for poultry which helps them to get over the moult.

A dash of apple cider vinegar in their water – probably about a couple of teaspoons in 2 litres. At the same time I usually have a teaspoon myself in a glass of hot water, mixed with a teaspoon of honey. Slurp. The apple cider vinegar will help with worms and also keeps the water algae free, not that that is going to happen if you change it regularly!

So that’s their treat – I serve it slightly warm still, thinking it’s probably a bit like going out in to the cold on a full belly of porridge, except it stinks to high heaven.

As far as the coop is concerned – I read about an ingenious idea of mimicking foliage by dangling several mop heads in the coop so they can snuggle up to them as if they were dangly duvets. They were a bit worried when these alien beings were discovered having taken over their coop, but after a few days they were like teenagers in the mornings – faces buried into the mops to stay warm. Fantastic! We also went on a scrounge for an old-fashioned hot water bottle – the ceramic type so easy to clean – and filled that with boiling water to place in the coop. The design of our coop meant we could place it in the nest box from outside at night, and keep it separate from the main perches by a piece of styrene so the daft birds didn’t snuggle up to too close. If the night was really cold I’d go out again just before midnight to refill it.

Lastly we gave all their combs a good covering of vaseline to prevent frostbite, and made sure their water was always free of ice so they could quench their thirst.

Doing all these thing perked them up no end and I think kept them happier than they would otherwise have been. I still wouldn’t have traded their coop for my own bed though 😉