Sourdough Breadmaking Part 1 – The Starter

There are many good reasons to bake your own bread, if not only for the wonderful aroma that fills your kitchen when you do! I am also finding more and more that wheat based bread is very hard to digest and sits heavily on my stomach causing uncomfortable bloating, so I have decided to have a good at baking some of my own sourdough bread. In my next series of blog posts I will share with you how I get on at each stage, starting with Part 1 – The Starter.

Sourdough bread is made with wild yeast, or a starter and this is where the process begins. Before you do anything you need to get this going as it will take about a week to become active enough to bake with. After it is ready you will need to keep feeding and looking after it, almost like a pet (I will name mine Charlie!). The process sounds long winded but it is worth it, even just for the satisfaction that you have taken one more step towards your self sufficiency goals – one being never having to buy bread from the supermarket again!

How to make a sourdough starter

  1. Find a large earthenware or plastic container with a lid, large enough to allow for frothing and building up the volume of your starter.
  2. Mix equal parts of flour (wholemeal, rye or spelt) with water to make a paste/thick batter (see Fig 1). Whisk well to help incorporate lots of air and leave in the container for 24 hours.
  3. After this time the yeast spores in the air should have reacted with your starter and it will begin to ferment – you will see bubbles on the surface (see Fig 2). This could happen sooner or later depending on the flour used, how well you whisked it etc.
  4. When the bubbles appear you will need to give you starter it’s first feeding. This is done by whisking in another 150 g of flour and 250 ml warm water.
  5. After another 24 hours your starter will start to smell more ‘yeasty’, this is good! It will need another feed, this time by emptying half of the starter into a plastic bag and discarding. Then whisking in another 150 g of flour and 250 ml cold water this time.
  6. Continue in this way for about a week, emptying half every 24 hours and replacing and then your starter should be ready to bake with!

In part 2, I will detail the next steps required to make sourdough bread – the sponge.

Sourdough Starter first stage

Fig 1 - Sourdough Starter first stage

Sourdough starter fermenting

Fig 2 - Sourdough starter fermenting

Another Kitchen Garden Year at Herne Cottage

Hello one and all, I am back again to report on what’s been happening at Herne Cottage so far this year!

We started on the veg garden later than usual due to work and other commitments, beginning with a tidy of old pots and pruning in the patio area, as well as some vigorous de-weeding! We brought in a few tomato and cucumber plug plants to get us started and these were potted up along with some pretty spring bulbs and aromatic herbs. This gave us back our lovely relaxing patio area that is just perfect for unwinding in with a glasss of wine after a hard day’s gardening, and of course eating al fresco when the weather is good! We then got on with catch up sowings of lettuce, spinach, chard and peas a few weeks ago, which have started to push through in their seed trays this weekend.

There was a frost this week however, that caught us out after a good run of sunny spells, so the tomato plants have perished as they were left outside and we need to sow some more after all! With the longer days and warmer weather on the horizon, we should have some new plug plants in no time..

The next job to do this weekend was to clear the raised beds, again of old plants from last autumn as well as the weeds, and dig in some rich organic matter.

This helps prepare and improve the soil ready for planting out seedlings. We added in some chicken manure pellets, as well as our own compost, freshly sieved from the bottom of the bins. This is a very satisfying task knowing you are putting something useful back into the earth from your own kitchen waste recycling and helping the next years crop of veg grow beautifully! Home made compost is also great for seed sowing as has just the right consistency needed for the seedlings to push their roots through into.

The first seedlings to then go directly into the ground were radish and lollo rosso lettuce in one bed, with beetroot and marigold flowers in another. I am hoping these pairings will look decorative next to each other when they are in full growth, making the kitchen garden look ornamental as well as functional. In the greenhouse were sown our replacement tomatoes, french beans, courgette and curly kale. This year we have also sown runner bean seedlings saved from last years pods, so that will be interesting to see how well they come up as well. This is a great way to save money instead of buying new seeds every year. If you can let some of your crop go to seed for this purpose it again is a recycling process of the whole garden, putting back into the earth some of what you take out.

The redcurrant, blackcurrant, raspberries, blackberries and gooseberry plants have all now been pruned in our fruit garden, and the base of the plants de-weeded with a sprinkling potash feed to get them off to a good start. The gooseberries already have flowers on as well as the sloes so here’s hoping for another bumper fruit harvest this year. The neighbouring damson trees from the railway embankment are also nearly in full blossom (and very pretty) so we should have another crop of wild fruits ready to make into delicious damson gin again ready for Christmas!

Lastly in the fruit garden, our rhubarb donation from mother in law last year has several healthy looking stems, so will have to find a delicious recipe to use that in over the next few weeks for when it is ready to harvest. I am hoping it is around the same time as the gooseberries as that will be a tasty (sharp tasting) pairing!

A final look back at the garden to the newly tidied raised beds and that’s our job done for this weekend. Now all we have to do is wait for the seedlings to push through, then the next round of kitchen garden tasks will need to be done, including thinning, potting on, and weeding…. but that’s for another post :)

Bye for now and happy gardening!

Spinach seedlings

Spinach seedlings

Clearing the raised beds of weeds

Clearing the raised beds of weeds

Sieving home made compost

Sieving home made compost

Home made compost

Home made compost

Saving runner bean seeds

Saving runner bean seeds

Damson blossom

Damson blossom

Tidied raised beds ready for another year of vegetable growing

Tidied raised beds ready for another year of vegetable growing

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup

Here is my recipe for lovely Pumpkin Soup. Perfect for Samhain/Halloween celebrations and the spices liven it up a bit to make it extra warming in front of a fire. If you have a few pumpkins from your vegetable patch, why not make a few batches and freeze to enjoy at Christmas too?!

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Serves 4

1 cooking pumpkin (can also use butternut squash)
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli powder or dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 litre of vegetable stock or boullion

Chop the onions and garlic and sauté them in a large saucepan until beginning to turn clear. In the meantime peel and chop the pumpkin into 2 cm pieces. Add to the pan with the spices, mix with the onion and garlic flavours and soften for about 3-4 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.

Allow to cool, then blend until smooth. Pour into bowls, serving with crispy bacon or toasted pumpkin seeds, and swirled in cream.

Yummy!

Samhain

Samhain Celebrations

Samhain Celebrations

We’re Pagans at heart here at Herne Cottage and love to live as nature intended, enjoying the seasonal gifts they bring and aligning ourselves to the natural energy of the Wheel of The Year.

Our favourite celebration is Samhain (pronounced sowen) where we think about what must end, so that life can go on – just as in our garden where old plants make way for new ones next Spring.It is a time of letting go, and also a time to honor and remember our ancestors, both of our family and of the Earth. We remember we belong to them and it is they who gave us life. Death is part of nature’s cycle and we honor this, it must happen before we can return. We also celebrate new life at this time. In nature trees are willing to let go by dropping their leaves for new ones to form, and plants drop their seeds so they can go on long after they have returned to Earth.

So Samhain is a seasonal celebration of endings for new beginnings. We celebrate by lighting fires, burning incense and cooking a feast. Today we are enjoying spicy pumpkin soup, to warm and soothe as the days get shorter and the weather turns colder.

Blessed Be :)

Green Tomato Chutney

Did you have to get your tomatoes in this year before the frosts hit? Some were still green? Well here is an idea of what to make them into, delicious spicy Green Tomato Chutney. This is the first year we’ve made this at Herne Cottage and should be just perfect in time for Christmas!

Recipe adapted from ‘The WI Book of Jams and Other Preserves’

Green Tomato Chutney

Makes about 3 kg (7 lb)

2kg (4lb) green tomatoes
500g (1 lb) apples
250g (8 oz) raisins
625g (1 1/4 lb) shallots
15g (1/2 oz) root ginger
8 green chillies
2 tsp salt
500g (1 lb) brown sugar
600 ml (1 pint) malt vinegar

Chop the tomatoes, peel and chop the apples and shallots and put into a large preserving pan. Chop or bruise the ginger and put in a muslin bag with the chillies (whole). Add all of the rest of the ingredients to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Then simmer for about 3-4 hours until desired consistency is reached (about the same as a curry or stew). Remove the muslin bag and pour into warmed, sterilised jars. Cover and label.

Green Tomato Chutney

Green Tomatoes in Pan ready for Chutney!

October – Final Harvest

October was the month for the final harvest for us at Herne Cottage. The last veggies left in our beds were tomatoes, beetroot, runner beans and chard. We’re hoping the Kale will keep going throughout winter – one year it even survived through snow! Just perfect for adding to winter broths with chestnuts and leftover Christmas ham. We decided to get all the tomatoes in before the frosts, which meant that some were still green. No problem however as they made a perfect Green Tomato Chutney!

So all that’s left to do is a final tidy of spent plants for winter, then planning next years garden when the new seed catalogues fall on our mat just after Christmas!

Final Harvest - Beetroot and Tomatoes

Final Harvest - Beetroot and Tomatoes

July in the Kitchen Garden

July was the month that the main harvest started and we’ve enjoyed plenty of peas, French green beans, courgettes, chard and lettuce to keep our kitchen larder stocked! The second early potatoes were also ready towards the end of the month and we’ve been enjoying those especially with seasonal fish suppers. The veg beds need constant weeding and tidying this time of year also to allow the veg to have the best conditions to come through, along with lots of watering and feeding to allow their fruits to swell! We’ve also been pinching out out tomato plants to allow them to concentrate on swelling their fruit and feeding regularly also. Towards the end of the month/early August the first kale and runner beans were ready to pick.

The fruit garden has been abundant this year for us, helped by the combination of some warm sunny days to help ripen the fruit, but also rainy days to help swell it and make nice and juicy! We were still picking strawberries well into the month, along with blackcurrants, blueberries and raspberries. The blackberries are also early to ripen this year and we have picked a good 500g already! Now the only decision left is what to make with them?!

Here are some pictures of our harvest:

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Strawberry & Gooseberry Jam

Here is a recipe for a lovely seasonal recipe of Strawberry & Gooseberry Jam. Perfect for using up a glut of home grown fruit, or from your local PYO farm (we are very lucky to have Grove Farm near us in Ivinghoe), or even from the supermarket. It doesn’t matter where you get the ingredients from really, as long as they are seasonal and fresh. The addition of gooseberries to this jam make for a slightly less sweet flavour and help the set as they have more pectin in them than strawberries alone. I have used and adapted an old WI recipe, and you can too depending on what you have available. Just remember equal amounts of sugar to fruit. Have fun!

Strawberry & Gooseberry Jam

Makes about 2.5 kg (5 lb)

750 g (1.5 lb) gooseberries
150 ml (1/4  pint water)
750 g (1.5 lb) strawberries (hulled)
1.5 kg (3 lb) sugar

Place the gooseberries and hulled strawberries in a perserving pan with water and cook gently until the fruit is soft and mushy. Remove from the heat.

Add the sugar and stir well until all dissolved (if not all dissolved the jam will crystalise in the jar later). Return to the heat, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 15 mins until setting point is reached*. Pour into warmed, sterilised jam jars, cover and label.

*To test for setting point I use the saucer method – just put some saucers into the fridge when you start cooking the jam, then when ready to test take the jam off the heat and spoon a teaspoon of jam onto the cold saucer. Put it back in the fridge for 60 seconds, take out and if the jam wrinkles when pushed with your finger, the setting point has been reached.

Strawberries and Gooseberries in the Preserving Pan

Strawberries and Gooseberries in the Preserving Pan

Strawberries and Gooseberries softening in the preserving pan

The fruit softening in the pan

Putting the strawberry and gooseberry jam into warmed jars

Putting the jam into warmed jars

The finished article - Yummy!

The finished article - Yummy!

June in the Kitchen Garden

Wow – what a lot of rain we’ve had this month. Still, it has been very good for our kitchen garden and encouraged it to grow rapidly (as well as the weeds – lots of frantic clearing needed yesterday!). It’s our first real month of proper harvesting and we’ve enjoyed lettuce, peas, mangetout and plently of strawberries so far. We also harvested the last of the Cavolo Nero (black kale) before the cabbage white butterflies have a chance to lay their eggs! The last of our self raised seedlings went in the ground and bigger pots (wherever there was room basically!), so we now have our runner beans, french beans courgettes and tomatoes well into full growth – along with everything else! The potatoes, beetroot, spinach and chard are growing well – and our artichokes are MASSIVE!! Shame you only get one per plant, but we have to say, they do look spectactular!! Will have to search italian recipe books for how to use these.

So how have we used all this harvest? Well, the lettuce speaks for itself and we’ve been enjoying lovely salad for lunches and dinners for most of the month. The Cavolo Nero went into a mushroom and cheese omelette, and we’ve been adding the few peas (if and when they make it to the kitchen!), to risottos, summer stews etc. Strawberries have been the best so far, and as well as having bowls of them with luscious double cream for dessert, Rachel has made the main harvest into jam today (see strawberry and gooseberry jam recipe here). They are still cropping too so we’re expecting more yet. Oh and we’ve had our first few raspberries and the redcurrants are ripening nicely too!

Our wild food foraging this month has been centered around the abundant crop of elderflowers there seem to have been this year. They are definitely the taste of summer as far as we are concerned, so we’ve made them into some Elderflower Cordial. This will give us a refreshing drink ingredient, or lovely syrup for those strawberries and some ice cream!

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading – do share your kitchen garden stories too and we’ll see you next month :)

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

First Raspberry!

First Raspberry!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Purple French Beans in Containers

Purple French Beans in Containers

First full punnet of strawberries

First full punnet of strawberries

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

We’re Back!!

Hello again everyone!

Ok so no new posts for a while, for various reasons but mainly due to a lifestyle change and review since last Autumn. We’ve done a lot of planning and replanning along with some soul searching over the last year or so, reviewing our progress and re-evaluating as we go, to enable our self sufficiency dream to fit in with a lifestyle that we were comfortable with, but didn’t restrict us having a ‘normal’ life as well !!

Our vegetable garden continued to grow well for the rest of 2010, giving us a bumper harvest throughout the summer and autumn months. We also continued with the Jam and Chutney sales up until Christmas, mainly selling from Tring Farmers Market and sending off jars to friends and family. We got the chickens in towards the end of last summer and enjoyed lovely fresh eggs from them for a few months, along with some great company from truly unique characters! However towards the Autumn it became apparant for various reasons that we wouldn’t be able to fulfill the complete self sufficiency dream as had hoped, so decided to downsize our plans.

We decided to finish up with the jam and chutney sales at Christmas, and after a few problems with the chickens (and discovering not having enough time to able to care for them as much as we would have liked), we found a new adopted caring home for them also. The winter months were spent resting and reviewing, and we finally decided to still keep on a few aspects of our self sufficiency life this year. This is mainly concentrating on our vegetable and fruit growing, with just producing enough for ourselves that time would allow and still making jam, chutneyand other delicious recipes with our harvests, with the occasional craft project too!

At the time of writing, the garden this year is doing well and we have been harvesting lovely ripe strawberries for the last few weeks. It looks like some peas are ready too! We’ve also got spinach, french beans, runner beans, artichokes, courgettes and tomatoes growing too :)

The subject of this blog will therefore change to a more general ‘Country Living Lifestyle’. Having previously both been Townies, we are still thoroughly enjoying our new life in the country, along with the new experiences and challenges it brings. We would love to continue sharing them with you too :)

Have you got any exepriences you would like to share about living in the country? We would love to hear them and look forward to talking with you soon!