Thanks to Putin, we have something to put in.

As I brought the seedlings inside from a day out in the sunshine, to tuck them up as the nights are still cold, it struck me that I have President Putin to thank for the handy crates that are the new vogue around the villages of Poland. Continue reading “Thanks to Putin, we have something to put in.”

Early start, late finish.

It has been a funny start to the season, late March, early April showed so much promise with temperatures reaching the mid twenties (77f). The noise of traction could be heard all around as farmers rushed to get seed in the ground. We were no exception and with a new array of tractor tools fashioned from old horse drawn equipment I set too and managed to prepare the ground for a dusting of oats by the 5th of April. A good early start to the years crops.

Continue reading “Early start, late finish.”

I need a bigger hat!

Egg production is on the up, yesterday was our first 10 egg day!

We have had 12 before now but that included Lillie’s secret stash of 4 in the goats hay rack. Lillie is the Lilliput hen than Kazek gave us a month or so ago.

Mays total was 181 and believe it or not we consumed them all along with an extra 20 that the mother-in-law shipped in with two brother in-laws who visited for a week to help out with work on the upstairs.

Despite the loss of one of the older hens the first batch of pullets are coming into lay and I expect that we will top 300 eggs this month.

And to make sure we have a steady supply through the winter we purchased 10 more pullets, about 10 weeks old, which should start laying in September and brings our flock up to a total of 30. ‘Enough’ I say as Gosia sets about making yet another cake! Although I do like cake.

With young pullets only costing a couple of quid each it’s a no brainer, 20 eggs each and they pay for themselves, based on the cost of inferior the low cost supermarket eggs. Our running tally of 360 eggs so far covers the cost of the first 18 that we purchased back in March. It will be interesting to see how quickly they pay for all the other sundry equipment that goes into their care.

Omelette anyone?

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How do you fit eighteen into a double bed?

Of course I could go with the original title ‘chicken week’ but then it’s more than two weeks since we got our first batch of chickens and it may be another week before I publish this post and as it stands you may still be intrigued as to why I chose the title I did, despite the clue.

As our belt tightening increases as the excess fat we had falls away on showers, tiles, flooring, stairs and other such fancy things, we decided it was time to commit some time to generating some more of our own food. And with our appetite for eggs outstripping the mother in-laws supply, chickens seemed like the obvious choice. Low cost and low maintenance, once the setup is done, perfect if I am to finish the upstairs in the house this year!

We did experience some really good weather in the middle of March and this spurred me on to fencing an area off for the flock, eager to keep the cost down I used some of the willow I had recently felled for the posts. I’m secretly hoping that they may take root and not rot, fingers crossed of that one. All in all, using the barn as one of the enclosing walls, I managed to create an area of about 200 square meters for them to free range in. I may extend this in future but it seemed like a good area to start with and it used up a 50m roll of wire fence that we picked up cheep!

The old stable, our home for three summers, was the obvious choice for chicken house as we know that it is rat proof, fairly well insulated and provides plenty of space.

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A quick read through a couple of books, plus a scan on the interweb and I concocted a plan for the perch and nesting area. The perch is made up using the willow that seems to be strewn across the land at the moment and is attached to the wall with a handy hinge so that it can be lifted and secured when I do the muck out. Thank you http://www.raising-chickens.org the idea.

As for the nesting boxes, well that’s when the old head and foot board came into play and our double bed was cut up to create eight nesting boxes. By rights you need one box for every four chickens so that’s accommodation for thirty two sorted out, but as the title suggests we ended up with eighteen chucks.

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It could well have turned out differently as we met the man with the chicken van outside the local church to make our purchase, astute as he was, spotting my English accent, he began to pass startled chickens out of his aromatic van counting out the ten layers (ex battery hybrids) and five 3 month old pullets (mixed breed) that we requested. He then added four more layers and five more pullets, mumbling something that Gosia understood to be ‘these ones are on the house’ alas when it came to paying he expected payment for all! Imagine his surprise when Gosia announced that we didn’t have the money for the extras, and so he proceeded to taka back the extras that we couldn’t afford declaring that he didn’t believe that an Englishman didn’t have any money! Still we ended up with three extra at a reduced price and we are now the happy feeders and collectors of ten layers and eight pullets.

By sheer coincidence, as the deal was going down, a police car pulled up and parked within 20 meters of this shady avian exchange and as we set off back on the road we were hailed and waved to a stop. Perhaps there is a law against the trading of chickens within sight of a church? We had seen some curtains twitching when we first arrived and news travels faster the village than by satellite.

As it happens there was a wide load coming through the village (a temporary shop by all accounts) and the police were directing traffic to take an alternate route, so our slate remains clean in the eyes of the law and God, I think!

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Dorrota and Steve, our friends from across the valley,  have built up quite a flock themselves over the last year or two were kind enough to donate a cock and lots of out of date bread to supplement our chickens diet. The bread needs to be dried first and then soaked as required before adding to the grain mix that we have a plentiful supply of. Having under floor heating helps with the drying process!

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So as March ended we reached a twelve day tally of thirty-nine eggs, just about enough to keep me eating the diet I have become accustomed to, although in April we had to ask Gosias mum for an egg injection to get us over the Easter period and the additional salads and cakes that are an expected part of the celebrations in Poland. Still we are averaging about four eggs a day, not bad considering the cold and snowy weather we are having at the moment, roll on this week as the temperatures are supposed to rise. The outside jobs are mounting up and we need more eggs to keep me going 🙂

Potatoes and eggs

It’s clearly blood from a fresh kill in the picture, which has nothing to do with this post, but a picture of Malina is bound to get more readers than a picture of a spud or an egg for that matter 🙂

When I first worked in Jersey, as an excavator of tubers of the royal kind, I was often billeted in humble accommodation, not that this bothered me as I was young and spent most of my time working or down the pub!

One particular farm that I worked on belonged to the Priaulx family and I worked alongside two sons who kept up a relentless pace which they had no doubt inherited from their father. Both of them strong and wily, they would toss around the potato sacks like stuffed toys, which was fine unless you were the person who had to catch the 50lb sacks!

One evening the lads came to visit our barn, the two newly arrived young lady potato pickers from Wales may have something to do with it, and we proceeded to chat about this that and the other, helped along by several cans of Mary Ann Special. Oddly the lads declined any alcohol, but not that strange that we worried about it too much.

The conversation came round to food, probably as we had something cooking and it was time to eat and as polite hosts we asked if the brothers would like to join us. It was probably a curry, spag bol, chilli or some other two ring special if I had anything to do with it!

Both declined explaining that they had already eaten, ‘what did you have?’ was the obvious question, to which came the reply ‘potatoes and eggs’

For whatever reason we must have pursued this further, looking for the the secret diet that had produced such fine specimens of men, only to be told that they only ever had potatoes and eggs! ‘Nothing else?’ ‘Yes, bread and jelly for lunch’.

Now the reason I’m mentioning this is not to ridicule the Priaulx boys, on the contrary, I’m writing this as a sign of solidarity, as my diet, for breakfast at least, is more often than not potatoes and eggs, and for lunch,egg and chips or maybe tortilla!

After a successful harvest of Raleighs finest discovery we were left with more than a tonne to fill the pivnica (root cellar) and given the supply of eggs from friends and family, it would be a shame not to take advantage of this bounty.

In fact the pivnica is serving us well, with sacks of onions, carrots, celeriac, parsnips and swede, not to mention the garlic, leeks, cabbage, sauerkraut, and mass of pumpkins. Every morning, as I take the dogs for a walk, I ask Gosia if she needs anything for the day and I invariably come back with my pockets full.

I always send Jackie first just in case we have any unwanted guests, but to be honest they would be long gone by the time I open the second door. Still Jackie enjoys the task of checking.

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Waiting for the second door to be opened.
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Checking for unwanted guests

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We do go through the easily accessible veg in store at least once a week and recently had to remove about a dozen pumpkins with the rot setting in to take out the seeds for drying. This is the point when I wished we had our pigs already as the pulp would have been great fodder for them. Still we had soup and recently discovered pumpkin fritters on the menu for a few days, not to mention over a kilo of dried seeds to snack on and add to various recipes. Extremely good for you by all accounts and with over thirty still left in storage it will be while before we run out.

Now all I have to do is come up with a breakfast menu which includes them 🙂

And for the vampire lovers out there:

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Its chilli time

As I briefly alluded to in my last post I have started the propagation of this years chilli plants. In the past I have relied pretty much on my own seed from the previous years harvest and have always had reasonably good results; other than the frost disaster of a few years ago as I pushed the boundaries of local gardening knowledge and planted out before the second week in May.

We have two main types growing, a cayenne and one of the many bush varieties, both of which produce a reasonably hot chilli that find their way into many of the dishes we cook and a couple of warming condiments for the larder. But remembering a post I read last year at food and forage Hebrides I decided it was time to expand upon the varieties we grow to extend the range of heat and flavour available to us as we spice up our diet. The climate in Poland also seems to favour the chilli as the hot summers help to ripen the fruit in extra quick time, although you have to get a good head start at the beginning of the season.

If you have ever looked for chilli seeds online then you will soon discover that the catalogue is vast and the choice seemingly endless, so to save time and prevent headaches I went back to a seed provider that I have used in the past sowseeds.co.uk Not only do they have about sixty chilli varieties on their virtual shelves, but they also have a diverse mix of other seeds, and to top it all they ship to Poland; although I have to admit that I had my final order shipped to Jersey and then sent onto Poland to save a few quid.

So with sixty to choose from I narrowed it down to eight.

Poblano (ancho): I just had to have the key ingredient for ‘Mole Sauce’ even if I didn’t know what it was until now!

Jalapeno: I have grown them in the past and look forward to pickling them in the future, a must have jar on the shelf and topper for a fiery Pizza.

Hungarian hot wax: As requested by Gosia as their large size makes them ideal for stuffing.

Tabasco: We don’t want to have to buy it, so why not make it; how hard can it be?

Prairie fire: One for the windowsill to keep us warm in the autumn.

Lemon drop: I liked the sound of these and I’m interested to see how the citrus flavour comes through and the colour looks amazing.

Padron: Having consumed an unfathomable quantity of these little beauties in the guise on Pimientos de Padron (lightly fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt) in the tiendas of Galicia, north west Spain, I just have to try and rekindle the memory.

Scotch bonnet: I had to have at least one hot one on the list and the scotch bonnet is a familiar contender, so on the list it is. Although further reading only ranks it four out of five on the heat scale, that’s more than enough for me.

Propagation is relatively straight forward in a seed tray with a light (5mm) covering, although the trick is to keep the temperature above 22 centigrade otherwise germination can be a bit erratic. If you have a heat mat or heated propagator then you’re in luck, we just stick them on the windowsill which has a radiator below and just hope that Gosias dad keeps the boiler stoked:)

I used to cover my seed trays with black polythene to help keep in more heat as light isn’t required for germination, but this year I have gone for a clear plastic cover because that’s what we had available. Mist lightly with a spray and wait; they should say hello within the next two to three weeks. I’ll update you once we have the first signs of life.

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Crop report

Unlike our friends over at City and the Mountains I haven’t taken the time nor had the patience to weigh the produce we have collected from our kitchen garden; maybe in the future I’ll try to keep better records as it’s interesting to see exactly what comes of all the hard work.

On the other hand we do have a fairly accurate record of the yields from our top field, probably because we only planted two crops!

As I detailed in one of my earlier posts we planted 150Kg of potato seed over a 900 M² area back in late April, the land wasn’t considered to be good for spuds, or anything for that matter, but I wanted potatoes and so I got potatoes! So when we finally picked them in early September, with the help of friends, family and neighbours, I was disappointed to find that we only harvested around 700Kg (maybe a bit more as we dug quite a lot by hand for the wedding). A combination of poor soil, a very dry summer and no doubt a little lost foliage eaten by our friends from Colorado all conspired against a good crop. Looking at the price of potatoes, twice that of last year, it would seem that everyone was blighted by the same problems. Gosias aunty lost all of their potatoes as a result of flooding in June, their lowland location meant that the tubers were trapped under water for many weeks, so the family is thankful that we at least had something to show for our efforts.

Putting this all into context we have to look at the cost to produce these potatoes and dividing the fuel cost between rye and potatoes, adding a bit more for the harvest, I’d say we have spent about 300 Pln (£60). That works out at roughly 50gr (10p) per Kg. Considering that you can buy them in the shops for about 1Pln (20p) per Kg it might seem like a lot of hard work, but then they are ours and they are free from fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides; which adds more than monetary value in my book.

The oats on the other hand cropped well, when we harvested in early August, with the help of the neighbours Massey Ferguson 307, we managed to reap about 1500Kg; a good fodder crop for when we eventually get some livestock on the go. Lets just hope the rats and mice don’t help themselves to too much over the winter!

Once again putting a cost on this is essential to determining the viability of future crops, so adding the fuel, seed and harvesting costs together we reach the sum of around 650 Pln (£130). In actual fact the farmer harvested the oats free of charge as part of our wedding present, but I have added the cost as if he had charged.  So that comes in at about 22 Pln  (£4.40) per 50Kg sack of oats; the going rate at the moment is about 25 pln (£5) per sack! A waste of time? I think knowing that the crop is ours and free of any additives does make a big difference; if we intend to feed it to our pigs, sheep, goats etc. in the future then at least we know what we are feeding them. Ideally we would like to stay away from commercial feeds altogether, even if it means that livestock takes a little longer to mature, knowing what fattened them up would sit well with me and hopefully add a premium to their value should we ever sell outside of our community.

I’ll make a quick note about the other ‘vegetable crops’ that I mentioned in my original post, if only to reiterate how poor the land is as a growing medium. Our cabbages are little more than cricket ball sized and the pumpkins just about reached the softball court. Mind you we have still had quite a few coleslaws from the cabbage and the pumpkin seeds are drying on top of the cooking range; an extremely healthy snack and very versatile cooking ingredient.

So what plans for the top field next year? Well we have already planted rye where the oats where (the 24th September), and we plan to plant clover and beans in the area that we had the spuds, cabbage and pumpkins; hopefully adding some much needed nitrogen to patch for the future. The very top of the top field that we left in oats as a green manure will be the potato patch for next year, but we hope to ship in some manure in the spring to help them along and increase the yield.

I was going to post a little about the kitchen garden but I can see that you have most likely lost interest if you got this far; I know I have, so beware I’ll leave it for an other post. Until then and hopefully with an update on the house in between, I’ll leave you read something more interesting 🙂

Beetle mania and mud flinging ticks the box

Yes I’m still here, although if you had asked me the same question this time last week I may have provided a different answer. Yet again I fell into the bimber trap (Polish moonshine) at yet another neighbours barbeque; we are still the novelty guests in the village and after turning down an invite a few weeks ago we could not say no a second time. As you may have gathered saying no isn’t that easy for me and the resulting grill left me in no fit state to type, drive, walk or talk that much on Sunday; my usual catch up day. A family member’s names day on Sunday afternoon sealed my fate, as I was plied with more vodka and bimber, in the end I was having trouble catching up with myself never mind the blog!

But at last, Sunday has come round again and after an early start to the day (6am) we have managed to walk the dogs, pick a bucket full of cherries for Gosias family, driven out to Rzeszow to exchange some faulty door handles that we purchased last week and made it back to Rzemien for Sunday lunch. On the way here we noticed that a number of people at the side of the forest road selling bilberries, so I can feel a trip is on the cards later in the day; although I’m hoping I can get out of that one as the mosquitoes are thick in the woods. Bilberries taste so much better when picked by someone else J

There you go, rambling on, I better try and catch up, although I’ll try and make it brief, like my notes 🙂

Monday 3rd June: My first tick! Now you may find this is odd but it is a big moment for me as I thought that Polish ticks didn’t like Yorkshire blood, as I have until now, never had a tick. Ticks in Poland can be dangerous and if one latches on it is possible to contract Tick-borne Encephalitis . Gosia soon removed it from my neck with a pinch of the tweezers!

An article I did find that may be of interest regarding ticks and preventing them, although I haven’t tried this yet, its worth a read. https://organicdailypost.com/7-ways-make-yard-hostile-ticks/

I started my first batch of Elderflower beer; recipe to follow.

Tuesday 4th June: The rain keeps coming down and the trenches that I pumped dry of water yesterday are full again; a little disheartening. The weather is so odd at the moment, 23°C and sunny then thunder storms with hail; hail so big that roof tiles are reported as smashed and a friend’s car is dented; mind you it was a Fiat 🙂

Still plenty of work going on in the house, forming the windows and stuffing the gaps and quite a bit of mud flinging; or clay slip to be more accurate.

Wednesday 5th June: My daily mushroom hunt whilst walking the dogs in the morning is paying off, most days I come back with one or two; today I found the Daddy and we had a splendid breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms.

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Enough for breakfast for two, with 6 eggs 🙂
Chopped and ready to fry
Chopped and ready to fry

Thursday 6th June: Rain, sun, sun, rain; working between the house and outside on the veg when we get a dry spell; we are now checking for potato beetles every other day. Initially we must have picked a good couple of hundred, but the numbers seem to be reducing, no sign of lave yet which is promising.

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Not much screaming in the crowds, just the snap crackle and pop of drowning beetles (once I added water!)

Friday 7th June: All downstairs windows are now complete, all formed and covered in a thick layer of clay slip; this should provide a good strong base for the next coat once it has dried.

Saturday 8th June: One final push to finish weeding the potatoes, we are joined by Kazek, Kasha and Pawel from next door as they tackled there own patch of spuds; so banter and a few beers fly between the fields. Word must have got out in the village that we were working in adjacent fields as Gosia received a call from another neighbour on Pawels phone; the fated invite to the BBQ. Spuds cleared of weeds by 7pm, tin bathed and out for 8.30pm, home way past midnight.

Monday 10th June: Allowed to drive again! The weather seems to be improving so I pumped out the trenches again and got cracking with the waste pipe out of the house. As we are only getting rid of grey water, sink, bath, shower, washing machine etc. then all the pipe is 50mm, this saves quite a bit of money and it fits together nice and easy. Pipes in, trenches filled, job done.

We noticed that the straw and clay above the windows is sagging a little under the weight of the wet clay so we added a few props to take the pressure off; I reckon on another week at least before they have set.

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Window support
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At least a week to set and then we will see if this worked.

Tuesday 11th June: The old cherry tree is at last giving up it’s fruit, the event is normally marked by the arrival of the ever squawking jays as they top feed off the tree, but as yet I haven’t heard them.  My new dog walking route is set to go pat the tree so I can grab a feed every morning 🙂

As ever though there has to be a balance to this new bounty and this is marked with the arrival of the horse flies, or bonk as they are called in Poland. We are fortunate that we only occasionally get mosquitos around the land, but the horse flies certainly make up for is during the day and they often draw blood if your not quick enough with your slapping hand.

News comes through that a friend of ours, who has always said he would help with the building of the terrace, will be here later in the week. Suddenly kicked into gear with the news I start to dig the post foundations.

Wednesday 12th June: The weather has at last returned to its normal self and our mood is improving; just as well as the post foundations are over a meter deep through hard clay and my enthusiasm is tested; luckily there are only ten to dig!

Took some time to sort out the wood for the terrace, we have borrowed a plainer thicknesser to plain the wood for the construction; so trying to get things in some kind of order.

Thursday 13th June: More of the same with some weeding thrown in for good measure. Life is good and we are starting to reap the rewards for all our work in the garden. Not a day goes by without the consumption of one of our crops; strawberries have been a daily desert for almost two weeks now and every meal is served with a salad of spring onions, lettuce, radish and any number of fresh herbs.

Friday 14th June: On with the terrace, or at least marking out and marking up; we are planning to rest the upright posts on pins set in concrete from the ground, a little more elegant than the metal shoes that you often see. One friend has welded some rebar to 12 mm threaded bar to provide a more solid fix in the concrete and Gosias uncle is cutting some steel plate for the bottom of the posts; I have to admire the way that the problems are solved in Poland, the land of invention 🙂

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All pins in a row

Saturday 15th June: One cement, two sand, three gravel; or should I say half a bag of cement, four shovels of sand and six shovels of gravel per load. Roughly two and a half loads per hole and we had the job done by lunch time, a job well done; I even managed to get some foundations down for the second composting toilet I’m building. And whilst all this was going on Gosia was busy getting to grips with the plainer and the smoothed wood was piling up. I’m looking forward to Monday and the start of the framing.

Did the earth move for you?

Monday 20th May: Another slow start to the week for us as we had more paper work to complete for the EU amongst other things and we didn’t reach the ranch till gone 4pm; still the weather was good so we set about the garden weeding, planting, inspecting and detecting. I spotted quite a few ants on the broad beans, a sure sign that the black fly are about, so I gave them a good sprinkle with by nettle brew diluted 5-1; it worked last year so fingers crossed.

For the record the nettle brew first started life as nettle beer, I collected almost a kilo of nettle tips with the intention of adding yeast and sugar to complete the brewing process, but time went by and the nettles had decided they wanted to be plant food by the time I got my act together. So I added water to the bucket to cover the nettles, weighed down by a plate and stone, then let the mixture infuse for a good week or so. The resulting liquid, which by the way smalls quite a bit, can then be used as a plant food mixed at 10-1 or an insecticide against aphids mixed at 5-1. For a few more ideas on what to do with your nettles try  The Foragers Year, Food and Forage Hebrides or Under the Linden Tree. My beer recipe will have to wait for now.

Tuesday 21st May: At long last I started to put the electric fence up, some how we just don’t seem to have the motivation for the house and besides other jobs need doing, so I opted for the fence! We had the call in the afternoon that the digger is turning up in the morning so I cracked open a fresh bag of lime to mark out where we want him to dig; the French drain around the house, the trench for the water pipe from the borehole, the grey water waste drain and quite a bit of landscaping; he’s going to be busy! I managed to finish the fence 🙂

I also managed to empty the toilet, just in case you were thinking that we had two buckets! How we managed to go so long between disposal is anyone’s guess, maybe we are eating less or just using more of the food we eat? Looking back we have spent a few extra mornings in Rzemien, so this probably explains things 🙂

Wednesday 22nd May: After explaining what we wanted to achieve we were told that there was a couple of days work, considering you pay by the hour this wasn’t the best news we had heard in a while, but then a JCB is a lot quicker than me with a shovel, especially when the French drain had to go in almost 2 meters deep, so we asked him to crack on.

I can only describe the next ten hours as ballet with heavy machinery, each swing of the arm was matched with the tip of the bucket ready for the next gouge in the earth or sweep of debris; this man could dig! In the ten hours that he was there he only stopped to wait for me to empty the bucket of gravel as I shovelled it out and into the trench for the drain; his lunch was eaten on the move and he refused the offer of coffee, tea and beer on several occasions, I’m sure he was using his feet to make those hydraulics frolic the way that they did. Just shy of 100 metres of trench dug at varying depths, backfilled and a whole area landscaped in 10 Hours, we can’t praise this guy enough; a fantastic job done and in half the time expected. The earth certainly moved for us!

Thursday 23rd May: At last the weather has broken, it had threatened most of the day yesterday, but the rain held off until now and today we are dealing with a fifteen degree temperature drop, a persistent drizzle and the threat of thunder in the distance. Tough and delicate negations had to be made first thing in the morning to determine who was going to get out of a nice warm bed to put the kettle on and get the milk from the fridge in the barn next door; at least I had brought in the water from the well the night before; valuable ammunition to bring to the table!

As the day brightened up as we experimented with chicken wire, chainsaws and hedge trimmers in the house, then we decide that as we now had a fence up we should get the remaining plants out in the top field. That kept us going for the afternoon and the house was left to wait another day.

Tomato tyres
Each home to a tomato plant each; with different ‘soil’

Friday 24th May:  Even the best negotiators know that it’s all about give and take and whilst I took the tea yesterday I was happy to give it back as coffee today 🙂 The rain really is here now and the house has us back within it’s heart and the task of stuffing gaps in the straw, making noggins for the floor and sills for the windows have taken priority. The occasional sunny spell sees us out in the garden and at long last I have planted two tomato plants for the humanure experiment. Two tyres, two plants and two mixes of compost, one shop bought the other home made; planted with an equal mix of mole hill soil to bulk things out and set up close to the stable and close together so that they get the same treatment; we will see how it develops.

Saturday 25th May: More of the same and my first window sill is complete, the template for the next four windows of the same size. Having an early finish today as we have to pick up the plainer thicknesses that we are borrowing from a friend, I say early, it’s close to 5pm before we leave.

Birch Bolete
Soon to be a sauce.

But how could I forget, Gosia found our first mushrooms of the year, a bit eaten but non the less very edible and free of worms; I haven’t checked to be certain but they look very much like Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum); the combination of rain and a full moon played their part no doubt. The dogs will be happy as their walks will go further afield now as I try and hunt down more of our favourite free foraged food.

All in all a good week, a bit thin on the ground with the photos but my hands have remained dirty for the duration and I’m cautious about going out in the rain with the camera; I have to make it last, however I did managed to get a few shots of the first signs of fruit on the trees and the now glorious Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)  in bloom around our out door dining room.

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A good year for walnuts?
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If the apples fail at least we will have pears; I’ll have a Babycham!
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No cut flowers on our table 🙂
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A purple garlic flower trying to get in on the action.

How does you garden grow

No silver bells or cockle shells in ours, but then my names not Mary!

On the contrary, in addition to the potatoes and oats in the top field we have developed a few patches of ground around the stable, the kitchen garden, and so far we have planted over four hundred onion sets, several rows of beetroot, radish, lettuce, onion seed (a first for me), endive, broad beans, garlic and sun flowers; a welcome distraction from the ‘House work’. Indoors, in pots back at Gosia parents, we have tomatoes, chilli’s, courgette, cabbage, sweet corn and peppers all waiting until after the May 15th (the last frost date in Poland) to be planted out, along with a wide variety of beans; French, Runner, Kidney, Borlotti, Butter and Chinese. Then of course there are the peas, bok choy, fennel and a whole host of flowers that Gosia has taken an interest in this year, not to mention the herbs; the chives, sage, thyme and tarragon all made it through the winter and will hopefully be joined by parsley, wild garlic, basil, oregano, coriander, dill, caraway, lovage, camomile and no doubt others I have forgotten. In fact so much is going on I quickly knocked up another raised bed to accommodate our enthusiasm.

Raised bed
Raised bed waiting for soil and plants!
Kitchen Garden
Kitchen Garden

We also have many permanent fixtures, including a dozen or so black current bushes, half a dozen red current, three gooseberry, too many raspberries to count, two blue honeysuckle, rhubarb and a couple of goji berries plants; one planted last summer, which is just starting to bud after a harsh prune, and a newly acquired specimen from last week, which I’d guess is about three years old; at 15 Zloty (£3) I couldn’t resist 🙂 And I almost forgot, the twenty or so strawberry plants which we gave a new home to last year, not to mention the prolific growth of wild strawberries around the edge of the woods; I think I’ll have cover the orchard in another post!

So how is your garden coming on?

Greenhouse
Greenhouse
Gooseberry
Gooseberry

Papo Secos

Or Portuguese rolls as I have known them as for the last 25 years.

I know you may have been expecting a post about the snow covered hills, the inaccessible road to our land, the drink fuelled reunion with our neighbours or yet another meal that couldn’t be beat; well sorry, five minutes after writing my last post the snow started!

Admittedly it only lasted for a few hours, but that was enough for us to change our plans and hole up in Rzemien for another day.

Gosia has plenty to do and has nipped off down to Meilec for a few vitals and no doubt an extended inspection of the second hand clothing stores; it’s 1Zlt day today (20p) and you can never have enough jumpers, work trousers, hats, coats, skirts and shirts; can you? I have to admit I look forward to seeing what she has bought as I know that I will be treated  to some item of clothing that caught her eye; not just any old thing, oh no, Gosia has a trained eye and years of knowledge that identifies only the finest and most sought after brands, discarded by the affluent West and I’m sure that the value of my next jumper will be hundred times more than the 1 Zlt paid. I am, as I type this, wearing a Fat Face  lambs wool jumper and Gosia left the building sporting a cracking pair Diesel jeans; all courtesy of the second hand cloths markets that flourish in Poland.

On this occasion I know that she is looking for items than she can cut into material triangles as she is making fifty plus meters on bunting for an up and coming event, she has sewn over a hundred triangles so far but I’m sure chatter of the sewing machine will be heard again tonight.

BuntingWorking into the night

Anyhow, I digress; I started off with the intention of popping another recipe in the blog as I have taken to trying to make a batch of bread rolls most days since I got back to Poland. Having our own milled flour means that I can knock out 8 rolls for little over 10p a batch (ok maybe 20p if you included the electricity)

One of my favourite rolls to eat is a Portuguese roll or Papo Secos; no doubt because they are sold fresh in practically every corner shop in Jersey (Channel Islands). Because of the high number of migrant workers that originate from Portugal or Madera they have become one of the Islands culinary staples and if you ever buy a bacon roll you will always be offered Portuguese as one of the options.

I have now made them about half a dozen times and think I’m just about starting to get them right, so if you’re ready I will begin:

Papo Secos

  • About 400g of flour (or my usual third of a bag, if I had flour in a bag)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 15-20g of fresh yeast or one packet of fast acting.
  • About 300ml of lukewarm water

Sift the flour into a bowl with the salt, cream the yeast with the water (yeast in, a bit of water to mix the lumps out, then add the rest of the water; put to one side for a bout 10 minutes in a warmish spot until it starts to bubble.

Add the water\yeast mix gradually to the flour until you can bring in all together, then turn out onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes. Once you have a smooth and elastic consistency pop it in an lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel, find it a nice cosy spot and let it rise for an hour or so.

Once risen remove from the bowl and knock back the mixture and roll out into a large sausage shape; this helps you to now divide into eight or nine equal parts which you then roll into balls. Now cover these again with your damp tea towel and let them rise for 15 minutes.

Now the final part and at this point I’d put your oven on about 220c and more importantly place an oven proof dish with a couple of inches of boiling water in the bottom of your oven.

Slightly flatten the balls of dough and create a groove down the middle of each flattened disk, using the karate chop part of your hand! Don’t worry the pictures will help with this description.

Then fold the little disks of joy into a set of kissing lips, flip then upside down and place on your oiled baking tray, cover with your tea towel once again and let them rise for a further 30 minutes.

Ok I lied that wasn’t the final thing, but all you have to do now, after this final 30 minutes of waiting, is to spin them round, lips up, brush on some milk and slam them in the oven for about 10-12 minutes.

I have to say I think I could have done better with this batch, the cold air got in somewhere along the line and I didn’t quite get the rise I was hoping for; they should have a little more bulk. Non the less they were all eaten within 2 hours of completion 🙂

 

By the way I got two teas shirts!

Planes, trains, automobiles, bikes and a bus

A lift from Hawes to Skipton, a bus from Skipton to Crosshills, a lift from Crosshills to Cowling, a lift from Cowling to Manchester, a plane from Manchester to Amsterdam, a train to Beverwijk, a bike ride to Heemskerk, a bike ride back along with a train or two to Amsterdam, back on a plane to Kracow, a train to Debica and finally a lift back to Rzemien.

Thankfully all this traveling was broken up into bite size pieces, I say bite sized as food seemed to punctuate the gaps in my journey 🙂

My first treat was in Skipton and a Stanforths pork pie warm from the oven; memories of stopping for a two pie and a pint of milk breakfast on the way to work  came back to me with the taste of the molten gelatine. Eating a warm pork pie is an art in itself, especially if you don’t want to end up with greasy fingers and evidence of this guilty pleasure displayed down the front of your chest; the secret is to bite off a bit of the top crust creating an exit route for the juices to be drunk from, only once the liquid is cleared can you get down to the serious business of devouring the pies contents,  but I was taught this lesson well as Stanfords was the first pit stop of the day on our way to site with my mentors as I trained as an electrician at the tender age of sixteen.  It’s a career that didn’t last, as the government sponsored Youth Training Scheme stopped funding after twelve months, and I guess I failed to impress my employers enough for them to start paying me a wage; however I have some great memories of that time, not just  how to eat pork pies 🙂 (job number one for thoses counting)

On to Cowling and my second sisters house, busy as ever with her dogs and her boarding kennel business, I was lucky enough to be treated to a Chinese take away; probably the first I’ve had in more than two years, possibly even longer, and I have to admit that it tasted good; too good if I’m honest! Although only a brief visit I enjoyed my time in Cowling; I had made the journey over a few times in the last couple of months but the distance between my siblings made it hard work to spread myself about. We did manage to fit in one evening when we were all together, the first time for a long time, and I hope I have convinced them to come down in the summer months to see a bit of Poland.

Arriving in Amsterdam, I was quick to buy my train ticket and jump on; research on the internet armed me with enough information to make it look like I knew what I was doing; except for when I had to ask where track number 7 was, of course I was standing next to the sign with a big 7 and an arrow pointing down as I asked the question! This journey left me in Beverwijk and I was met with the lovely smiling face of Gosia; the timing could not have been better as she had just finished work as I arrived and we chatted, giggled and acted like teenagers as we took the short walk to her flat. I say her flat, in fact it is shared with nine other Polish women who were all eager to meet me, I think I was quite a novelty; not only was I male I was also English! The meet and greet soon turned into an open invitation for food and as it was Easter the girls had come together as a group and prepared a true feast of Polish delights. In fact the variety of dishes became our food for the next three days as we where successively invited back for the remaining meals of my short stay.

The hotel I had booked in Heemskerk was about a fifteen minute cycle, just as well as it helped to burn off some of the excess, and we headed off there in the evenings to indulge ourselves in the luxury of the full length bath, large double bed and thermostatically controlled heating!

After cycling back for breakfast the next morning we took a short walk to the covered Turkish market; on entering you are immediately hit by the eastern music competing for business along with the stall holders, and you could easily be swept away into a dream that you had just entered a market in Turkey. You could literally buy anything, from toothpaste to a tagine, record players to rugs, but for me the most impressive vendors where those selling spices. Piled high with low prices, full of colour, scent and all fronted by enthusiastic stall holders inviting you to buy from them in several languages until they spotted some recognition in your face and honed in for the sell.

As we were in the Amsterdam area we had arranged to pop in and see some friends who live there; a Polish- English couple but the other way around; i.e. he is Polish and she is English. They have lived in Amsterdam for over fifteen years and they are also renovating a house in Poland, about half an hours drive from where we are building our house; we were introduced last year and we have become good friends. A brunch of pancakes with various toppings set us up for a walk through the park and onto the city centre, after a quick tour of the studio they run and some of the community projects they are involved in. We are looking forward to seeing them again in May when they will be back in Poland.

The trip back to Poland was almost scuppered as the plane was delayed by two hours, then four and finally six hours! Thankfully someone in the accounts office must have done the sums on how much compensation they were going to have to pay out and a standby plane was wheeled out of the hanger and they delay was reduced back to two hours; just long enough for me to spend the free lunch voucher that was dished out for the inconvenience.

My train journey from Krakow to Debica was not without event, but I think I’ll pop that in my next post; an open letter to the Minister for Tourism in Poland 🙂

And finally, before this post gets far too long; Gosia jumped on a coach about six hours after I left and arrived back home the next day, her career in dissecting orchids was cut short due to a misunderstanding with the management! Hooray 🙂

 

Fractional baking for men: Pita Bread and Flapjacks

As I have mentioned in a few previous posts I have taken on the role of chief cook and bottle washer for my sister in the Yorkshire Dales. My tasks are varied and something I’m doing on quite a regular basis is baking; I know this might not be considered the task of your everyday Yorkshire man, but it’s something I have always liked doing and I have managed to add a few more recipes to my repertoire.

In my quest to become as proficient as possible I have found myself doing away with the scales and judging the quantities of ingredients I use in an attempt to make appear that I know what I’m doing. So the following recipes and methods are recounted from memory, only using the scales once, just to see how accurate I actually am. By the way don’t be put off by the title, the intention is not to eat them together, but if you happen to do so then I would be interested to hear your comments 🙂

Ok, here goes, hold on tight and don’t be scared: By the way I added a few links on kneading bread and knocking back, but don’t worry if your dough doesn’t look like the video, neither did mine!

Pita Bread (makes anything from 10 to 12)

  • A third of a bag of bread flour; about 500g (I used 250g white and 250g wholemeal)
  • A packet of  fast acting yeast
  • A splash of olive oil
  • A good pinch of salt
  • A pinch of sugar
  • About a half of pint (250-300ml) of warm water

The most difficult thing about the recipe is judging the quantity of flour, but by using the power of fractions, safe in the knowledge that you know how much flour is in the bag you stared off with, it’s quite easy to work out.

A full bag of flour in my case was 1.5 Kg so a quick calculation means that I need a third of a bag; or a sixth of a bag of white and a sixth of a bag of wholemeal (easy?) I have to admit that I checked to see how well I had gauged it and I came out with 547g; a variation that is easily dealt with by adding a tad more water.

Take a bowl, sieve in the flour (I forgot to) add the packet yeast, the salt, the sugar and slug of oil, mix it up, add your water and mix again. It’s better to add too little than too much and I turn my mixture out on to the board with quite a bit of dry mixture still remaining.

Start to knead the bread and if you don’t manage to pick up all the dry mix in the process then add a splash or two of water until all the mix is incorporated. Kneading is a process of folding the dough mixture to trap air and stretching it to create the gluten (I think that’s what Gosia told me when I received my first baking lesson)

Knead for about 10 – 15 minutes; until the mixture takes on a kind of smooth silky pliable texture, if your not sure then just judge it by time, you cant go far wrong.

Lightly oil the bowl you used for mixing in the first place and place in your dough ball, cover with a damp tea towel and put somewhere warm for about 90 minutes (or until it doubles in size)

Meanwhile, you can start on the Flapjacks and you will need:

  • 180g of butter (about 3/4 of a standard block)
  • 180g of brown sugar (about a 1/5 of a 1Kg bag)
  • 2 good dollops of syrup
  • 360g of porridge oats (just over a 1/3 of a 1Kg box or bag)
  • 3 handfuls of cornflakes
  • 3 handfuls of seeds (I have used 2 of sunflower and 1 of pumpkin; use whatever you have, even dried fruits, or don’t add any at all; its not essential)

Pre heat your oven to 180°C (350F or Gas mark 4).

Put your butter in a pan over a very low heat and as it begins to melt add your brown sugar and syrup, let this mixture melt slowly and stir on a regular basis; meanwhile add your oats to a bowl along with your seeds and mix in the molten mix once it has melted together. Stir in to coat the ingredients and then add the cornflakes. You can add the cornflakes earlier but adding them last stops them breaking up too much.

Once mixed together you can use one of the ingredients I haven’t mentioned yet; a baking tray! I’ve used one about 30cm by 15cm by 4cm deep and lined it with grease proof paper with a little butter smeared over it to stop the mix sticking. Spoon in your mix and level it off, packing down as required, until you have a reasonably flat surface bang it in your preheated oven for about 15 minutes, maybe 20; keep an eye on it and when it starts to brown at the edges then its just about time to take it out and leave on the side to cool. When cool trun out and cut it up into equal parts.

Just in time, as the edges start to brown its time to take it out.
Just in time, as the edges start to brown its time to take it out.

Ok, how are you doing? As this is a mans guide then please grab yourself a bottle of beer, you have done really well and you deserve it, but only one for now as things are going to get intense now as we move back to our Pita Bread mix, which should be rising nicely by now and should be ready to go once you finish your beer.

Turn out your dough onto a wholemeal flour dusted board and knock back the mixture; this basically means taking the air out of it to get in back to close its original size, I do this by kneading again for a minute or two. Then roll out into a cylinder shape and divide the mixture in half, put one half back in your bowl and start on your remaining half, rolling out again and then dividing into 5 or 6 equal parts and roll each of these into balls; don’t worry if they are different sizes, it adds to the authenticity 🙂

Roll out the individual balls to make a rough oval shape about an 1/8 of an inch thick (3-4mm), place of a baking tray and put the damp tea towel over the top to let them rise for about another 30 minutes.

Crank up your oven to maximum whilst they are rising, then place the tray with your rolled pita breads on the middle shelf; they take about 5 minutes to bake and they should rise to create the pocket in this time, browning lightly on the top side; its all about judgement at this stage so take a quick look at 5 minutes and maybe give them a minute or two more if they haven’t puffed up.

Repeat the process with the remaining mix and you should end up with more than 10 pita breads; I ended up with 11, you may get 12 or more!

I also got 8 good sized flapjacks out of the recipe so we all have an energy boost available whilst walling for the next few days:)

Don’t worry, normal service will resume soon; I’m starting to gear up for Poland and I can’t wait to make these for Gosia and family as she doesn’t believe I have made them 🙂

Do you want owt fromt’ shops

The village of Hawes nestles in the valley below us, about a mile and half away across fields on a flagstone path (a trod) that was put down a couple of hundred years ago or more; maybe even dating back to medieval times. The Pennine way meanders through the area and I have walked many of the fells on previous visits and in my childhood, the moor above the house has an ancient Roman road which is testament to their engineering skills as it survives over two thousand years after its construction so it’s a popular area for walkers, hikers and farmers and you are as likely to meet someone on the way as you are to pass a car if you take the easy way and drive to shops for provisions.

With my general lack of exertion other than that in the kitchen, with a spot of gardening on the side when the sun manages to break through, I prefer to take the route of my forefathers and head out; wrapped up warm in my North Face and topped off with my hand crocheted hat (thanks Gosia 🙂 ) with my rucksack strapped to my back. ‘Owt fromt’ shops’ is my usual cry before I set off and I keep my fingers crossed that the list doesn’t include too many heavy liquids; beer is fine, but milk!

I was treated to snow this morning, but the wind has died down so it was a very pleasant walk and for once I remembered to put the camera in my pocket, so I’m subjecting you to yet another gallery.

I didn’t take any photos of Hawes as it’s well documented on the web already, with professional photographs and meaningful descriptions, but if you ever venture there on your travels then try the butchers homemade Wensleydale sausages and for a wider range of provisions then ask someone where The Good Life is as they stock the best variety of fruit and veg, free range eggs, along with the more unusual items from black cardamoms to egg tagliatelle.

Weighed down with supplies the walk back up to the village of Burtersett is harder work, but it gets the heart pumping and the lungs working and when you know that there is a warm fire and a cup of tea at the end of your journey the time passes by in a flash, especially with the magnificent views all around.

Luckily my work in the garden and the recent snow allowed me to take this last photo without causing too much embarrassment to my sister, I’m just hoping that the bulbs that I planted come through and add bit of colour before I leave.

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But now I must crack on, unfortunately for me my home made pita breads are liked by all and I have to get another batch on the go for tonight’s feast  🙂

Bhutta aur aloo ki mazedar tarkari

Or should I say Sweet corn and potatoes with mustard seeds and mint; A real winner and vegetarian to boot, definitely one to remember, unfortunately the Shahi korma (Royal beef in a creamy almond sauce) didn’t really come up to scratch; maybe a little mild when served with the afore mentioned aloo. Just as well I also made a spiced lamb biryani to make sure we all had plenty to eat.

Four hours in the kitchen, four hours! And I loved every minute of it 🙂 Although it did cross my mind that my sisters faith in me was misplaced along with her ability to portion size! But as she decided to empty the freezer she also let loose her imagination on what to do with the various bags of meat that came from the frost bitten depths.

Madhur Jaffrey is responsible for the first two dishes and the good old BBC provided me with the step by step for the biryani and whilst I had a few hectic moments, especially near the end, I managed to produce enough food to feed the village. Or alternatively two nephews, my sister and I for two days; including breakfast!

I won’t give you a run down of the recipes as I’m sure you will find them from the references above, just take my word for it, that the Bhutta and Biryani were well worth the effort.

The next day I was pointed in the direction of the World Encyclopaedia of Bread, or should I say my sister presented me with the book and several bookmarks; and Rye bread and a Polish Poopy Seed Roll were demanded as things that would make her feel better:) Of course I obliged and another marathon slog in the kitchen, with time to run to the shops and do the recycling filling in the gaps between the rising of the dough!

Both turned out ok, although I did fall foul of an over enthusiastic fan oven; with both specimens surrounded by a convincing crust, but you live and learn and the following days pita bread turned out just fine. A bad workman always blames his tools, I’m just getting used to the tools I’m working with.

All this activity it’s no wonder why I haven’t blogged a lot recently:)

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Missing, Missing post, (Too chilly for chilli?) Found it :)

Even if you have heard it all before 🙂

It’s all very hectic here in Yorkshire; don’t be fooled into thinking that I’m having an easy time of it up here; with a demanding sister and two nephews I’ve turned into chief cook and bottle washer. Add to that, shopper, wood chopper and fire maker, baker, pastry chef, mechanic, plumber and all round handyman.

Eager to post something I came across a draft that I started back in Poland, which stayed there as I was hoping to add some descriptive photos to make things a little clearer; but it never happened as the temptation of a cheap flight drew into my new life servitude! I guess I’ll find out if she reads my blog now 🙂 If I never post again then please alert the police and ask them to search for a shallow grave somewhere in the Dales!

But onto my post, the missing post, the one that nearly got away.

It is that time of the year, it seems, that everybody who grows their own has started to go through the seed catalogues, looking for the old favourites or something new or unusual, maybe even looking for something that is resistant to a disease that afflicted the previous year’s crop. Part of this process is planning when to germinate the seeds and creating planting guides in your calendar to ensure that your future food will be ready to plant out around the time of the last frost, which can save you lots of time and most likely money.

Sadly I lack this type of organisation, I just dig out the seeds that I collected from the previous years crop and try and remember what needs to be planted when. I do of course pop down the local garden centre (our good friend Halina works there) and pick up any seeds that we are short of and as long as I remember to only grow what we actually like to eat we don’t have to spend too much.

So today, as I was reading a great new (to me) blog that I discovered yesterday: Shape of Things to Come, I started to think about chillies; no real connection to the blog, just a bit of a random thought. Then I remembered about an old plastic plant pot, that I found in the summer, with a label on it declaring that it once contained chillies that I had germinated in February 2008. Of course not having any organised records indicating if this was a successful planting or not, I may be going out on a limb, but I’m willing to take the chance and will be searching for my chilli seeds soon.

I would tell you that I have already planted them, but without Gosia to remind me where the seeds are my first job is to construct the question in Polish so that I can enlist the help of Gosias mum to help me find them 🙂 I will report back as soon as they are in the ground, or should I say pots.

But if you have the urge and a few spare chilli seeds then why not plant some now? There are a number of ways to germinate the seeds, in a tray similar to tomatoes or, as I prefer, in pots; three seeds to a 10cm pot. This allows me to grow them on longer before they need individually transplanting into bigger pots and I can easily monitor any seeds that don’t germinate; reseeding as required.

Once covered with a light potting compost, moistened with a water sprayer, I cover them with black plastic and secure this with a rubber band. This keeps the moisture and warmth in and the dark environment encourages germination. You should see some seed movement after about 14 days then you can then replace the black plastic with clear plastic to create a mini poli chilli pot (any ideas on what else to call it?) and grow them on until they hit the plastic. Once you have freed them of their artificial roof, grow them on until you think they warrant a separate pot; or if later in the year harden them off before planting them out. As long as the last of the frost has passed they will be happy outside.

(Insert photos here)

Now back to outside, once you have hardened your little plants off; this is done by putting them outside on good days and bringing them back in at night over the period of four or five days, you should be ready to plant them out.

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And if you happen to have any old plastic water bottles knocking around now’s the time to put them to good use. Cut round the base, a couple of inches from the bottom and you will be left with a handy tray for growing more seeds, a container for nails and screws or even a paint pot (suggestions on an postcard please)

This then leaves the top of the bottle to cover the delicate new plants creating a mini greenhouse to help things along whilst the weather warms up. Forgive the photos above, it’s the only ones I could find; from my allotment in 2007. The first one also shows my bean tepee, but more about that when I start planting out later this year.

Chillies will also grow well inside and I encourage everyone to grow at least one plant; you never know when a recipe will demand a few of the firey little capsicums and you will save yourself the trip to the shops as well as a good few quid. On top of that you can also dry any chillies you gather throughout the season, crushed up they become chilli flakes and if you have the patience the seeds can be ground down to make cayenne pepper; three things you will never have to buy again. Bush varieties work especially well inside and they are prolific croppers, I’m not too good and remembering name of varieties, but just ask at your favourite garden centre, or buy online.

Now you may be thinking that it is far too early and too chilly to start on my chillies, which of course it might be, time will tell. But having witnessed Gloria, my bougainvillea, burst into life after I gave her a trim about a month ago, I’m certain the window sill will be an ideal spot to get some early crops going; I have nothing to lose as the seeds are all home grown and I will only be using about thirty in this experiment, leaving me many hundreds more to try with if things go wrong. So I better start learning my Polish and find the seeds 🙂

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A kind of heaven

You know (a term that I’ve picked up already in my short time back home) that you can’t beat a proper English Sunday roast dinner. Roast sirloin of beef, Yorkshire puds (I made ‘em), new spuds, carrots, cabbage and peas; accompanied by home made horse radish sauce and a gravy  blended from the meat juices, onions, garlic, carrots, celery and a drop of red wine; and on top of all that, in the company of my family; I am in a kind of heaven.

In fact I’ve enjoyed it so much I’m going for a nap, but I had to write this down first 🙂