Dolce Far Niente

demijohnAre you making your own Cider? Have you joined the discussion about the right type of yeast yet, whether to wash, to dance around it during a full moon or sing to it naked?

We hadn’t. Our Cider-making experiment failed thanks to our blissful ignorance. We hadn’t even thought of an airlock, I admit in shame. Ah, expert advisers told us dismissively, you’ll get nothing but vinegar!

And vinegar we got. Beautiful, aromatic, golden, delicious home-made cider vinegar. We are now making our own cider vinegar in the third year, and a few litres see us through the entire year. That wouldn’t happen if it was delicious cider, would it?

Here’s how:

Don’t wash or peel the apples to include the natural yeast which sits on the skin, just mechanically remove dirt, blemishes and anything which moves or wiggles. Press juice into a large pot. Leave standing open for a few hours to attract more natural yeasts, then put the lid on loosely, keep it at low room temperature away from direct sunlight, and do nothing.

White spots appear on the surface after a few days. Do nothing.

The surface develops a skin with more white spots, and eventually bubbles begin to form. Do nothing. Do nothing until the process is finished. After 7 to 10 days the bubbles stop. The yeast turned the sugars into alcohol, which oxidised into acid: the vinegar emerges!

Filter it through a muslin into a large bottle, canister or demijohn. Be careful not to close it tightly because the fermentation may not have completely finished after all. We put it on the shelf for a couple of weeks, then filter it through a coffee paper filter into pasteurised bottles and use it through the year.

It couldn’t be easier to make and fills me with pride and joy every day when I use our own vinegar.

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Ontario Bridge

DSCN3613Did you know that the bridge often called the Trumpers Way Bridge really is Ontario Bridge, although officially known as Grand Union Canal bridge 205a?

We knew about Ontario Bridge for a while but keep forgetting, so here it is once and for all. Repeat after me: Ontario Bridge. Ontario. Ontario.

We can’t work out why or when this bridge has been given this name, and with so few references, we aren’t entirely sure if this name is official in any way.

Please come forward if you can contribute to this discussion.

 

Train In The Distance

steam-locoWho doesn’t like the sound of a train in the distance?

You will all have seen or heard the freight train travelling alongside the Hanwell Meadows, and many will have used the railway crossing behind lock 97 at the bottom end of Green Lane.

The railway and history buffs from disused-stations.org.uk put together a lovely article about the now disused Trumpers Crossing Halt, exactly where the foot crossing is located now. How exciting it must have been to walk down Green Lane, cross the canal and the meadow, then wait for the GWR service to Brentford Dock!

The line is used for a freight train service today, connecting a station in Brentford with the main line in Southall with an on-demand schedule within permitted time slots, a slow but sometimes rather impressively long train. Most carriages are said to carry crushed concrete for re-use in road and building works, but other recycled material and some landfill is also said to travel along that line.

Every now and then the discussion flares up whether the line could or should be reopened for public passenger use, for example linking Brentford to the Southall Crossrail halt. I doubt even the most enthusiastic proposals include the resurrection of the Trumpers Crossing Halt, however.

Blackberry Season

blackberry-jam-and-ginYou will have noticed what an excellent Blackberry year we have, with an abundance of lush, soft, sweet and surprisingly large fruit. Many of us have been busy making jam, juice and flavoured gin over the past weeks.

Here are some Blackberry Muffins, the perfect way to start a Sunday. This takes 10 minutes to prepare and 15 to bake, so it is easy to make in time for breakfast:

100 g white wheat flour, 80 g soft butter, 75 g sugar, 80 ml whole milk at room temperature. One free range egg yolk, seeds from half a vanilla pod or half a teaspoon of vanilla essence, and one generous teaspoon of baking powder.

Put butter and sugar into a bowl, using the hand mixer on low gear to mix thoroughly. Add egg, vanilla, milk and baking soda, then gradually add the flour into the mix. Mix until smooth. You’ll find the mix will be fairly runny, maybe like a thick yogurt. Perfect!

Gently fold in one or two handful of Blackberries or Raspberries. Fill muffin cups to approximately two thirds. We prefer non-sticking silicone or paper cups, but you can of course get the old muffin tray out for the occasion.

Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 10..15 minutes. Use a wooden stick or visual judgement to determine when they are ready.

You’ll find that the Blackberries are very easy pickings along the canal towpath or in the Hanwell Meadows. The plants do a good job at defending themselves and growing back, but please be mindful and avoid damage to plants and surroundings when foraging.

Splish Splosh

Barley StrawWe are fascinated by the ups and downs of the Piggeries pond. In the beginning, we had much too much water, as reported with the Piggeries Report. Water leaks in the adjacent streets were fixed, reducing the water feed into the pond significantly. The remaining feed was still stronger than anticipated given what little rain we had. Surface water drainage in the local area is subject to ongoing investigation, but in a recent and rather unexpected development, the water flow into the pond stopped all together. Now we didn’t have enough water!

Rainfall earlier this week raised the groundwater levels and water levels in the pond again, quicker than we expected.

We remain fascinated, puzzled and intrigued by the ups and downs of The Piggeries pond. Investigation of various aspects of local surface water drainage continues. However, we are most fascinated and most grateful to see just how many people stop by, inquire or simply enjoy the views of the pond and its tadpoles. Most tadpoles have been rescued and were re-housed locally during the recent water shortage.

We meant to create a natural habitat with seasonally changing water levels. In addition, we seem to have created a focal point for visitors of all ages, two and four-legged ones.

Why not stop by the Piggeries Orchard during one of your canalside walks, and watch nature do its thing in the middle of the metropolis?

 

Dormant Season?

img_20170114_113252854_hdrThey call this the dormant season in reference to stagnant plant growth. Of course this does not apply to you, my dear hobby gardeners and fellow orchardists!

Now is the time for winter pruning. Winter pruning is complete in the Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail for this year, but some of you might have some work left to do around the house, garden or allotment?

Apples, pears, quinces, medlar, figs and mulberry all benefit from winter pruning to improve health, growth and yield, and so do many soft fruit such as autumn-fruiting raspberries, blueberries or currants, and vine. Other shrubs such as fuchsia are also immensely grateful for a haircut this time of the year.

Note, however, that stone fruit such as cherry, plums, apricots and peaches want pruning after bloom, not in winter. Rhododendron and azaleas set next years buds in late summer and are best pruned in early summer, too, right after bloom.

Fine-tuned and optimised pruning is both a science and an art, and we don’t claim to be experts. However, common sense and a sharp pair of secateurs gets you a long way, so why not go ahead? Remove dead wood. Remove broken or infected branches. Remove those rubbing each other, loosen up areas of dense growth by taking our every second or third branch. Remove unruly ones growing out of the trunk too low, especially all those emerging below the grafting joint. Remove vertical water shoots and try to provide air, light, and a sense of shape and order to fruit trees.

Prolific growers such as autumn-fruiting raspberries or vine benefit from a hard cut-back, leaving only a pair of eyes above ground (raspberries) or off the leader (vine).

 

Something Fishy

dsc_1753Apple season is still going strong! Even though our very own Hanwell & Norwood Green Orchard Trail apple has been taken weeks ago, the local gardens and markets are still full of the good stuff.

In culinary terms, most people will think of apply jelly, juice, compote, pie, cake and crumble. Oh yes, and cider.

Allow me to to point out that apples make the perfect partner with oily fish.

A salad of pickled herring with red onions, fennel, dill, apple and soured cream is a delight. Kippers (Smoked herring) or smoked mackerel go well with apples, pink grapefruit, fennel, soft-boiled quail eggs and a spoon of mayonnaise or salad cream. A poached mackerel combines well with a sharp grated apple and a little soured cream.

Coming to think of it, I think the humble apple is one of the most versatile home-grown cooking ingredients we have available, probably ranking second right after the egg.

Finger Lickin’ Picnicin’ Time

DSC_0581You are most graciously invited to join our

Autumn Orchard Picnic

right in the heart of the Hanwell Meadows on

Saturday October 22nd, from 13:00,

by the sheep in Jubilee Meadow! [click for map]

Everyone is looking forward to see you again, or to get to know you and meet you for the first time. What better way to meet and greet? No hard labour involved!

All current and future members are most welcome to join us. It is the perfect opportunity to meet the orchard and orchard folk, introduce yourself, make new friends and cast off your fear of fruit trees.

Bring something to eat or drink to the sharing table if you like, but please bring no more than your party would consume. We want to avoid wasting surplus food, so please be prepared to take leftovers back home.

Bring a blanket, a friendly dog, a bunch of children, a neighbour and a friend. Bring a kite or a game, bring a smile, bring your spouse! Maybe even an umbrella!

We are of course particularly interested in all things Orchard. What did you make this year, which recipe do you have to share? Tell the tale of your finest apple pie, share the magic of your family’s secret sloe gin, boast about the silky smoothness of your rosehip jam! Did you make cider, or vinegar, or juice or cordial from apples, Elder, Blackberries or plums? Did you turn old apple trees into wooden plates, create chainsaw carving sculptures, or are you expert at fruit tree care with spare time at your hands? This is the time to bring, show and tell.

Visitors with limited mobility are advised to contact us beforehand. The meadows are a natural environment and can be difficult for wheelchair users, but it has been done before!

Elderberry Two-in-One

elderberry-double-trickSome of you were inspired to make Elderflower Cordial back in June, but I reckon you’ve left some flowers behind, didn’t you?

Why leave the fruit to the pigeons now?

Here’s the perfect double-trick for foraging enthusiasts: Elderberry Jelly and Elderberry Gin!

It’s a two-in-one trick. First, pick Elderberries off the tree, then wash, removes anything which moves and remove the stalks. Then pulp them in a juicer or blitz and separate juice from husks with an overnight muslin job.

Make Elderberry Jelly from the juice with Jam Sugar, following standard jam making practise (or following instructions on the Jam Sugar pack). Note it is normal that Elderberry Jelly will not set stiff, it will stay at the consistency of thick honey.

Then take the husks, add a large tablespoon of sugar or two. Put into a large jar, remove the air with Gin, seal, put in the back off the shelf and forget until around Christmas (then filter through a muslin and enjoy responsibly).

Always when foraging please forage considerably with consideration for your own health, the environment and private ownership. Only take what you are certain is yours to take and good for human consumption, leave it unless 100% certain.

Ouch Ouch Ouch

DSC_0221Thigh prickin’ finger lickin’ Blackberry pickin’ time is here!

And there’s more to come given the good weather being forecast for the coming week, with access newly cleared in some locations.

Blackberry Jam, Blackberry Cordial and Blackberry Gin. Blackberry Wine, and Blackberry Custard Cake. Blackberry ‘n’ Yogurt, Hot Blackberry with Vanilla Ice Cream. Blackberry Sorbet, Blackberry Ice Cream. Blackberry with Duck Breast, with Salat, with Goats Cheese, or on a Blackberry Crepe.

What are you making?

(As always, please forage with care and consideration for your own health, the environment, and private land. Forage considerably, but with consideration!)