Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie

Step 1 – Making the pumpkin puree
I usually make this pie on Hallowe'en using the scooped-out centre of the pumpkin I carve for the children, or you could buy a pumpkin for the purpose (or a couple of butternut squashes), in which case you'll have to peel it (the skin is quite thin), cut it in half and discard the seeds and the stringy material around them, then cut the flesh into chunks. Either way, boil what you've got with just a little water until the flesh is soft. Line a colander with a clean tea towel and let the cooked flesh stand until all the excess water is drained off. Then puree the pumpkin, either by rubbing through a sieve, with a food processor or hand blender, a ricer, or with a potato masher. I find that one Hallowe'en pumpkin usually yields about 2lbs of puree, so you could make two pies, or freeze some to make another pie later in the year. 2 butternut squashes makes 1lb of puree, just enough for a pie.

Step 2 – Making the pastry case
You can use your own shortcrust pastry recipe, or ready-made pastry or a ready-made pie shell. But this is my favourite shortcrust pastry recipe for when I'm really pushing the boat out. It makes the best ever mince pies, for example. Sift 7oz plain flour into a bowl with ½ teaspoon of salt. Make a well in the centre. Add 4oz diced softened (really soft) unsalted butter, 2oz caster sugar, 4 egg yolks and ½ teaspoon vanilla essence into the well and then rub in. In fact I usually heave it all into my food processor with a dough hook attachment and let it run until it looks like pastry. Bring it together into a ball and knead it lightly, then wrap it in clingfilm and chill it for at least half an hour before using.
Roll it out, but it's a b****r to handle, so if it falls apart when you try to line your 9-10” pie tin with it, don't panic. Just smoosh it back together with your knuckles, and feel free to cover any holes with leftover bits of pastry and work them in until you can't hardly see the join no more. Stab the bottom with a fork a few times, put a sheet of tin foil inside and fill with blind baking beans, dried chickpeas, or whatever you can find to weigh it down evenly. Then bake at 200°C, 400°F, gas 6 until golden brown and set aside to cool.

Step 3 – Making the filling
Turn down the oven to something lower, because the pastry is now cooked, and all you want to do is gently set the pie filling. Beat 1/2 a pint of cream lightly with 3 eggs, the grated peel of a lemon, and 5oz caster sugar. Stir this mixture into the pumpkin puree and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and 1/2 a teaspoon of ground cloves. Combine thoroughly, then spoon the filling into the pie shell and bake until set and brown.

Serve the pie cold with something creamy. It looks nice with whipped cream piped on top, but it tastes even nicer with a generous dollop of extra thick double cream on the side. Or I like it with something a little bit tart, like crème fraiche or Greek yogurt. Enjoy.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Chicken Run

I cleaned out the henhouse and the run at the weekend. It's a dirty job certainly, but it is very satisfying. I also cleaned out my 6-year-old daughter's bedroom at the weekend and believe it or not shoveling shit was more enjoyable than sorting out bits of pink plastic junk.

My husband Ed and my sister Steph fixed the drainage problem in the chicken run by building a small retaining wall to stop the mud washing onto the paving. They also laid crazy paving slabs on top of existing paving to keep the chickens' feet out of the water. We'll have to wait for the next rainstorm to see if it really works. I don't think we'll be waiting long.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mushroom Identification

There are a lot of varieties of mushrooms in our local area at the minute, but I know nothing about identifying them and to be honest I'm a little scared of accidentally poisoning my family. So I've taken photographs and I'm going to try to find out what they are.

Some of them closely resembled the "brown field mushrooms" you can buy in the supermarket. They were growing in the boggy part of a grassy field, as were some that I'm pretty sure are shaggy ink caps, which are edible.

Some of them I think are the fairy ring type. There were loads of them but they're very small. Some were growing in the grass and others in wood chips under the swings in the park.

The most interesting ones were growing in a very shady part of my garden under a evergreen tree. I'm looking forward to adding them to the "Now Picking" section of my sidebar.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Experimental Baking

My sister Steph is visiting, and we had an experimental baking day. The cherry oatmeal ginger cookies were good, as were the baked custards, but the best result was finding that butternut squash makes delicious pumpkin pie. Squash are also cheaper than pumpkins and available all year round (you can pretty much only find pumpkins at Hallowe'en in the UK).

Friday, October 27, 2006

Amber Mist by the Snowdonia Cheese Company

Steph's here again and we're enjoying a mid-morning snack of cheese and crackers.

The cheese is called "Amber Mist" from the Snowdonia Cheese Company. It's mature Welsh cheddar with whisky, and it's delicious. I don't normally go for flavoured cheese with funny stuff in. I think usually you just pay extra for basically inferior cheese with flavourings. But this is an exception. The cheese is very mature and fully flavoured. The whisky flavour tastes like whisky, not like "whisky flavour".

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Recycled Tyre Products

So it turns out that keeping your car tyres pressurised may not save fuel, despite the claims that it does. But it's still worth doing because it is safer and it extends the life of the tyre. Britain discards around 38 million tyres per year, and it's got to be a good thing to try to keep that figure as low as possible.

There are some great products available made from recycled tyres. Some of my favourites are these mousemats, coasters and pencil cases from Remarkable.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sorting Out Mum's Stuff

I've been helping my dad sort out all the belongings in his house in Liverpool, so he can put it on the market. Since my mum died in June 2005 he has been living for longer and longer periods in their holiday home in Ireland. He has everything he needs there, so he only has to find a few things of sentimental value to keep and the rest of the contents of the Liverpool 6-bedroom house (2 reception rooms, huge cellar and attic - I'm not trying to sell you the house, just describe how big it is) need to be taken to charity shops, the Salvation army, or just dumped in a skip.

But it's not a job you can do with a JCB. Dad and I are going through everything item by item. In the back of a kitchen cupboard we found a tiny box containing mum's engagement ring. She took it off when chemotherapy made her hands swell up. Now I'm wearing it. We also found a huge bottle of the only cleaner dad likes to clean his glasses with. His tiny spray bottle had lasted five years but is nearly empty, and Google has not heard of the company that makes it. He's over the moon to now have a lifetime's supply of the stuff. There are treasures like this all over. After three days we have nearly finished one room.

It's a painful business, throwing out things that my mum chose and used and loved. It's also painful to get rid of a lot of stuff that still has life in it. If I had a huge barn I would have kept, for example, broken wooden furniture for firewood, enough crockery to last a lifetime if you don't care about it matching, bathtowels and clothes that can be used until they're rags, then used for patchwork or rag rugs or dusters etc. But I just don't have space to store it all.

Dad is keeping some stuff, and I am keeping some things too. Things I can use immediately. Things that are sentimentally significant, like mum's ring. Things that mum made. She was crafty, like me. I'll photograph some and post them soon.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Petrol Saving Research

I finally found some research-based evidence about the impact of tyre pressure on fuel consumption, and I was surprised by the results. According to Edmunds.com (who manage CNN.com's automotive websites) tyre pressure has only a modest impact on fuel consumption.
...we saw a modest difference in two of the cars. It might have been more dramatic with different tires on different cars. Experts swear by it; we couldn't really document it. And we wound up wondering if tire technology, like the design in other areas of the car, had improved.

(from edmunds.com)

However they did find that large savings could be made by driving less aggresively, driving slower and turning the engine off if stationary for over a minute. And some good news, they found that using A/C or driving with windows open had no effect on fuel consumption. Hurray! I can use my car A/C with a clear conscience!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Unusually Mild Weather

It's unusually mild for this time of year. Yesterday I noticed a field of rapeseed in full flower, and a peacock butterfly in my dad's back garden. On the allotment my runner beans are still going strong. It's good for us to get this extension to the growing season, since we only had a late start. But it could also be an alarming sign. According to David Parker of the Met Office,

It is one thing to get a month with very high temperatures, but to get a record-breaking, five-month unbroken stretch over the entire period, that is a dramatic confirmation that we are now experiencing significant levels of global warming.

(via BBC news)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I Won 1st Prize

...in the downsizer.net virtual show. I entered in the "Best Homegrown Dinner" category, and beat off an entry from River Cottage. I got a real certificate and everything.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Walking Cliche

In case you were wondering, I do realise what a walking cliche I am: an eco-hippy in tie-dyed trousers and rainbow sweater, part-time Open University psychology lecturer and guitar teacher. I can't help it. I didn't plan it that way. And yes, I am for real.

(I'm not sure about this guy though. It's a blog by a sixteen-year-old A'level student. He writes about his studies, the friends he roleplays with and the girl he fancies, in between daydreaming about Buffy from the TV show. I'm pretty sure it's a spoof. I hope it's a spoof because if it's not I'll feel very guilty about laughing at it so much.)

Anyway we were talking about me. I'm a complex three-dimensional person. Honest. There are other sides to me apart from the sterotypical earth mother. I'm a practicing Catholic. Does that help? Maybe not. I have an inner geek - I like gadgets and science fiction and comics (not stupid ones like Spongebob Squarepants but good ones by people like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman). How about that? I sing in the best choir in the North of England, St George's Singers, and we're performing Durufle's Requiem next weekend.

I don't actually think I'm helping my image here. I'm a bog-standard middle-class church-going social scientist eco-worrier. I'll bet you can guess what newspaper I read.

Students In Prison

This year I have been tutoring two students in prison. I am a part-time university lecturer, but until this year I hadn't tutored prisoners.

I love working with mature students. I know how much dedication it takes to be successful as a mature student, I know how much hard work, how many sacrifices. It is a privilege and a responsibility to help them achieve something which means so much to them. With prisoners this feeling is magnified tenfold. If they have got nearly as much out of the last year as I have, they are guaranteed success in their exam tomorrow.

All my students are in my thoughts around exam time, but these two men are especially so.

(Obviously I can't add photos which relate directly to this post, so today's picture is once again a treat for my dad, it's one of his grandchildren being a bubble fairy)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I Feel Like Quiche Tonight

Tonight's dinner, vegetable quiche. Photo by Eleanor Rimmer.

What, you want a recipe for vegetable quiche?

Oh, go on, then.

Vegetable Quiche

Sift 6oz wholemeal flour (chuck in the bits that won't go through the sieve) with a pinch of ground sea salt and rub in 3oz butter until it goes like breadcrumbs, add iced water and mix until it turns into a soft dough, roll out and use to line a quiche tin. Chill the pastry whilst you make the filling. Get a selection of vegetables (I used half a cauliflower, a couple of carrots and a leek), cut them quite small and boil for five minutes. Strain and put them in the quiche case. Beat 3 egg yolks with 4floz double cream and 4floz of full cream milk, season with ground sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and plenty of freshly grated nutmeg and pour over the vegetables. Top with a handful of grated cheddar cheese and bake in a moderate oven until set (perhaps 20-25 minutes).

Make a couple whilst you're at it. They freeze well, and anyway, it's Ed's favourite.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Coffee Wine

Sixteen-year-old home-made coffee wine, the last bottle. Clear as a bell, colour of straw. Tastes like a fine dry sherry. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 16, 2006

Frugal Naming Labels

There's a fine line between living ecologically, being frugal, and just being a downright tightwad. I think I may have crossed it when ordering naming labels for the kids' school clothes.

Rather than order three sets, one for each child, I ordered only one set with "THOMAS RIMMER ELEANOR" embroidered on them. Cut one way, they say "THOMAS RIMMER", cut another way
they say "RIMMER ELEANOR" and (this is the bit I'm really proud of) cut a third way they say "S RIMMER".

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sam's Party

I haven't posted for the last few days as I've been busy with Sam's birthday arrangements. It's a complicated business, turning five. Yesterday was his "party". We haven't done traditional parties for a few years now, since we hit on a new way of celebrating. The birthday boy (or girl) chooses two friends to join the family on a day out. Usually the day out involves some combination of Wacky Warehouse (a large soft play arena with slides and ballpools where they can run around screaming for an hour), Laserquest (basically the same as the Wacky Warehouse but with laserguns and dimmer lighting), cinema and pizza restaurant.

It costs about the same as hiring a hall and laying on entertainment and food for thirty children, but it's more fun (for the adults as well as the children) and less trouble. And to be honest another big attraction for me is that I don't have to find houseroom for thirty pieces of plastic tat. I'm not being snotty about the quality of birthday gifts - I've give plastic tat, too, when my kids get invited to birthday parties. It's cheap and it's what the kids like. But in a week's time the toys are all useless because they're either broken already or the components have all got separated, and I lose patience and throw them in the bin when the kids aren't looking.

Anyway yesterday we went to see the movie Hoodwinked (the kids liked it, I didn't), the Wacky Warehouse and Pizza Hut. Sam invited his longstanding best friend, Grace, and her best friend, Caithlin. And he got a drawing set and a set of dominoes which is great.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I was telling you about the sunflowers Ed grew from saved seeds. They must have been F1 hybrids because they grew very tall stalks with very small flowerheads. Here they are. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lehman's, the Amish Online Store

There has been a lot in the news about the Amish recently. Like most people, I don't know very much about them, but I understand they choose to lead a simple life, eschewing modern technolgy. I can find some parallels there with my own goals. So it's not surprising that one of my favourite websites is Lehman's, the Amish online store.

No kidding.

I like it for things like kilner jars, jelly strainers, things that I use. But it's also fascinating to browse the site and see gas refrigerators and ranges, non-electric washers and dryers, and farming equipment like milking stools and sheep shears. I also love looking at the medicines, toiletries, clothes and toys.

I have to confess, I've never bought anything there because the postage to the UK is prohibitive. But I can spend hours browsing and imagining the life in which these are just normal everyday items.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sam's Birthday

Sam, my youngest, turned 5 today. I'd like to tell you how delighted he was with the warm scarf I knit him, the home-made sweets he got from his aunt and the second-hand books from his granddad. But I'd be fibbing. Everything he got is made of plastic and requires batteries. And he loves it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Winter Egg Production

Chickens are supposed to lay less in the winter. Apparently it's triggered by the shortening days, so we've been planning to install a low-watt lightbulb in the henhouse. We haven't done it yet because they're still producing an egg a day each.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Terminator Technology

I've kept seeds from some of my crops to grow next year. I have plenty of packets of seeds, but I thought it would be fun to save a few as well. Ed saved some sunflower seeds last year but they must have been F1 hybrids because when they grew they had tiny little flower heads on top of very tall stalks, unlike the parent plants which had tall stalks and large heads.

That was pretty funny, but it wouldn't be so funny if you were a small farmer. Agriculture has always been based on selecting, saving, sharing and replanting seeds. Genetic modification is a threat to that, especially terminator technology which is the modification of plants to produce sterile seeds. You can see why the biotechnology industry likes this idea - it forces the farmers to keep buying seeds every year. But it undermines sustainable farming.
Don't panic - the technology doesn't even exist yet. But the agribuisiness industry is developing it, and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has placed a moratorium on field-testing until it can be proved that the technology is no risk to people or the environment.
I mention it because it is an issue I was only vaguely aware of before. But now that I am involved in growing some of my own food, and saving my own seeds, I can understand much better what a threat this is.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Can You Really Save Fuel by Inflating Tyres?

Whilst researching this month's challenge to save fuel by keeping your car tyre's pressurised, I found wildly varying estimates of just how much fuel can be saved. Some sources say 1%, others say 10%, most give no figure at all and none give their sources. I started wondering if you can really save fuel this way at all (perhaps I'm jaded because last month's challenge to turn devices off rather than leaving them on standby ended so ambivalently).

Then I came across a quote from The Independent's Motoring Section:

Anybody who has cycled on under-inflated tyres will appreciate how much extra effort is involved.

I still haven't seen any hard data but at least that makes sense.

(My dad has been complaining that my photos are boring so just for him there's a picture of one of his grandchildren today. I'll go back to photos of runner beans tomorrow)

Ethics of Foraging

There has been a fascinating thread on the rivercottage.net forums about the ethics of foraging. It opened my eyes to a number of issues I hadn't really thought about before:

  • Don't trespass whilst foraging
  • Ask permission if you wish to forage on private land, including farmland
  • Make sure you know what you are picking
  • Don't pick anything rare or endangered
  • Do bear in mind the other other plants and wildlife in the area - don't go treading on an orchid in your haste to pick those sloes

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Chutney Tasting

The two batches of chutney I made earlier (one by myself and one with Steph) have had long enough to mature, so I cracked them open for a taste today. They're good. Not too vinegary or too sweet, nice thick texture and a complex flavour. Surprisingly they both taste pretty much the same, which is odd because they have totally different ingredients. I guess chutney just tastes like chutney, whatever you make it from.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Home-Made Soap

I love making home-made soap out of fat and lye. It's not actually a very good money saver, as soap is very cheap to buy but soap-making ingredients can get pricey. They don't have to be pricey, but when you get really tempted by the nicest-sounding essential oils and speciality fats and waxes like me it's hard to hold back.

Still, I find it endlessly satisfying to make things myself. Just knowing how to make things, rather than depending on buying everything at the shops, is pleasing. Maybe I'm weird but I just don't find instant gratification all that gratifying.

So I make my own soap in batches and use it or give it away or barter it. At the moment we're using an unscented hemp-oil soap, and a few weeks ago I swapped a bar for lots of packets of veg seeds.

I wrote an article about soap-making, and the nice people at selfsufficientish.com published it here. It's got a recipe, detailed instructions, and several very fetching photos of me.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


It's that time of year again when all British mothers of sons (and some mothers of daughters) have pockets full of conkers. The fruit of the horse chestnut tree, conkers are inedible hard nuts a couple of inches in diameter. British boys love to thread them onto strings and take turns to smash an opponents conker with their own. They keep count of the battles their conker has won, and high-tally conkers can exchange hands in the playground for lavish amounts of sweets or trading cards.

Serious devotees know that a conker which has been stored for a year will be much harder than a new season's conker, but few are patient enough to wait. So they resort to artificial aging techniques, such as soaking in vinegar or baking in the oven. British mothers know this well. Painting your conker with matt varnish, or worse, drilling it out and filling it with epoxy resin is considered cheating, and therefore you're better off asking your dad for help with these.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Standby Challenge Poll Results

The results of the September challenge poll were:

4 people (30.77%) I've gone green! I will switch off appliances instead of leaving them on standby
  • 9 people (69.23%) I was already green! I always switch off appliances and never leave them on standby
But more importantly I've learned that the issue is a lot more complex than it first appears. If I come across any other information on this subject I'll mention it here.

I've added a new challenge poll for October. This month I'll be trying to save fuel (and keep my family safer) by keeping my car tyres correctly pressurised. According to Haynes, keeping tyres correctly pressurised can save up to 8% on fuel costs, and also extend the life of the tyre.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Wedding Photos

Yesterday my baby sister, Lindsey, married one of my best friends, Andrew. It was a wonderful wedding and we all had a super time. There is a flickr page here where people will be sharing their photos of the day over the next few days. If you know Lindsey and Andrew why don't you go and have a look, and perhaps leave them a message on the discussion page?

Today the celebratory mood continued at church with the Harvest Festival. Eleanor played a hungry sugar farmer in a little pageant about fair trade, and all the parishoners donated food to be given to The Wellspring, a local centre for the homeless and disadvantaged. I've been to dozens of harvest celebrations, but this year it means more to me. I'm thankful for the harvest we have brought in this year. "We plough the fields and scatter...". We certainly did.