Fruit growing · Raised beds · Recipes · Vegetable growing

Preserving our produce

So I’ve previously mentioned that for some of our homegrown fruit and vegetables we have had a bit of a glut. Whilst we love all of our homegrown produce I can’t really stomach eating strawberries every meal or everyday for a week. There are some products that can be stored for prolonged periods of time in the right conditions but others need to be preserved in some other way. The main ways in which I preserve produce are either by freezing or by making jams and chutneys. I know that in the USA in particular caning is also a popular method but I don’t yet have the proper equipment for that. Today I thought I would go through a couple of the different ways I’ve preserved our produce this year. All the ingredients that were homegrown I’ve put in bold.


Our tomatoes haven’t quite finished yet for the year so there will no doubt be more preserving to be done but so far this is what I’ve done.

  • Roasted vegetable pasta sauce; roast tomatoes, courgettes, onions and peppers in olive oil, then blend about half so the sauce still have some substance and season well. Then freeze as required.
  • Roasted tomato pesto: roast tomatoes in olive oil then add to basil, pine nuts, a couple of gloves of garlic, Parmesan and black pepper and blend in a food processor until fine. Add more olive oil until you achieve the desired consistency. Quantity-wise I tend to go for the same basil, pine nuts and Parmesan when I’m doing pesto with tomatoes, if not including tomatoes I’d have double the amount of basil to the other ingredients. Pesto is all about personal taste so just keep testing to find what you like best. You can also toast the pine nuts to emphasise the nutty flavour. Or change them up for a different type of nuts. Or switch the basil for spinach, or rocket leaves. Then portion up and freeze (it will store in the fridge for up to two weeks just make sure it’s covered with a film of oil to keep it fresh).
  • Freeze cherry tomatoes whole to defrost and cook fresh at a later date.
  • Strawberries
    • Strawberry jam: strawberry jam is notoriously hard to achieve a good set due to the low pectin level in strawberries. In order to achieve a good set you need to either mix it with another high pectin fruit or add pectin to it. I’ve gone with adding pectin as I wanted to keep the lovey freshness of the fruit. I’ve made a couple of different batches now using two different recipes, one of which was much more complicated and I couldn’t really see or taste much between them.
      Strawberry and yogurt lollies. A nice simple recipe, blend strawberries and Greek yogurt add to ice lolly mould and freeze. You can add a bit of honey if you want but I found our strawberries were sweet enough.
      Freeze whole: remove the stalks and wash then open freeze before bagging once frozen (this will prevent them from sticking together). I prefer to weigh before freezing and label the bag so I know how much to defrost.
      I also plan to use them in smoothies from frozen and make strawberry ice cream in the future too.
  • Potatoes
    • Potatoes store well in the ground but all gardeners have the dilemma of deciding when to pull them to avoid pest damage or damp ground. Once harvested brush off any loose soil and ideally leave the skins to dry for a few days. Then store in hessian sacks in a cool dry place. Check them periodically for damage and remove any damaged potatoes straight away.
      Potatoes cannot be frozen without being cooked first or their consistency changes too much. My favourite thing to do is to freeze potatoes as roasties. Par boil and then roast for about 20-30 minutes. Then cool and open freeze before bagging. They can then be taken out as required and put straight in the oven and will just need 20-30 minutes roasting. It certainly reduces some of the stress of a roast dinner.

    We still have lots to harvest and I’ve only looked at three different products here so I’ll do another post (or two) soon about some different ways to preserve homegrown produce.

    Parenting · Recipes

    Baking with a toddler – chocolate chip cupcakes

    As you make have gathered from my some of my previous posts I love all types of cooking but especially baking. I have fond memories of baking with my mum when I was younger and this is something I’ve been keen to share with C. In fact when she was only a few weeks old C had her first taste of baking when she helped to stir the Christmas pudding mix on stir up Sunday. I would share the photo but it shows me living on about an hours sleep and is not a pretty sight! Anyway, since she has been able to I’ve really tried to get C involved in cooking at home and she is particularly fond of baking. So today as it was a slightly grey day where the weather really couldn’t decide what to do, we decided to do some baking. Now I know some people can get a bit nervous about the idea of baking with a toddler (C will be three in October) but it is such a lovely learning and bonding experience and has tasty results. In fact cooking in general with a child is teaching them a vital life skill and it’s something I’m really passionate about especially having seen teenagers leaving school without any basic skills in the kitchen at all which is frightening. So today C and I baked cupcakes, we probably bake once every three weeks or so but we do other cooking a lot more frequently. In fact C can probably recite a basic cake recipe (although she doesn’t know numbers big enough for the quantities yet). So today I thought I would not only share our recipe, but also some tips and hints to help encourage the nervous amongst you to try baking with your little one. I’ve put the simple, de-toddlerfied version first before my step by step guide with toddler tips included.

    The basic recipe (18-20 cupcakes depending on tray size):


    • 175g butter/margarine
    • 175g caster sugar
    • 175g self raising flour
    • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
    • 3 large eggs
    • 100g chocolate chips


    • Turn the oven on to 180 degrees Celsius and put cupcake cases in your tray ready.
    • Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl except the chocolate chips and mix (I use an electric hand mixer but a spoon would suffice but I can just never get as much air in the mixture then) until pale. 
    • Then add the chocolate chips and stir in with a spoon. 
    • Spoon mixture into cases and bake for 12-15 minutes until the top bounces back immediately when pressed and they are light golden in colour (my oven takes exactly 13 minutes for these but it can vary depending on your oven. 
    • Allow to cool on a wire rack and enjoy.

    The toddler version

    First step is to make sure that all hands are clean and I always have out all my equipment and ingredients ready. For a toddler baking version I have two bowls, one small to measure in and one large to mix in. 

    Now the first job your toddler can help with is to put the cupcake cases in the tin. This is a great fine motor activity as it can actually be quite hard to separate out the individual cases. When I first started doing caking with C she would use an entire 50 pack of cases to fill one 12 hole tray but now she manages to separate them all out individually.

    Next up we start the mixing process. I measure the ingredients out (as C gets older she can help more with this) and C empties them into the mixing bowl. 

    She has a spoon to mix the ingredients whilst I measure the next ones (and wipe any spillages up).

    Cracking eggs is a great skills to learn. As we have chickens we tend to get a fair bit of practice with eggs and C can crack an egg and almost open and empty it completely by herself. My suggestion is to let your toddler have a go and just prepare yourself for the mess (I’ve had a teatowel under the bowl before to catch spillages and always have cleaning equipment nearby for an immediate clear up). I get C to crack the eggs into our measuring bowl and then transfer them into the mixing bowl. It’s also useful to have a bowl to put the empty shells in nearby. You’ll notice C steadies the bowl herself when cracking the eggs now which is another useful tip.


    Then the toddler can do some more mixing with the spoon whilst you put away the ingredients and make sure the hand mixer is plugged in and ready. As we have a rather small kitchen (an understatement really) with limited plug points we have to move to another part of the kitchen to be next to power. Now C has had it explained to her very clearly that when we use the mixer she has to have one hand on the handle (which she must share with me) and one on the outside of the bowl. Now be really really firm about this as it is such a safety hazard if they mess about. Use whatever warning system you need to make this clear to them (I even early in our baking career together when C kept trying to put her hand in the bowl despite clear warnings cut our baking short which resulted in lots of crying but she has behaved immaculately ever since and it’s better to have a battle and a cry now than a trip to A and E later). 

    Then once fully mixed I normally allow C to lick the beaters whilst I get everything ready to fill the cases and put away the mixer. Then the “cleaned” beaters go straight in the dishwasher and we add the chocolate chips and stir in.

    Now comes the fun part trying to fill the cases without getting mixture everywhere. I use a two spoon method myself but C tends to just use one spoon and shake the mixture off. She only tends to fill a couple before deciding the spoon has to go in her mouth instead so I tend to end up filling most of them myself, and hers tend to need topping up a bit too. 

    Then whilst they’re in the oven C can lick the spoons and I can put the bowl in the dishwasher and tidy away and wipe down anything else that needs doing. Then once the well licked spoons are in the dishwasher it’s just a waiting game. Now I’ve gone for two different strategies before depending on what kind of mood C is in. Either we move to another room and start a different activity and I discretely slip back into the kitchen when the timer is up to take the cakes out of the oven and put them on the cooling rack and then take her back into the kitchen when they are cooled so we can try one. I employed this a lot when she was younger as she struggled to stay far enough away from the oven and couldn’t quite get (or didn’t want to) that the cakes were too hot to eat immediately and that she couldn’t help me put them onto the rack. Or I involve her in the whole process (which I am increasingly doing now) and we do a final count down from 10 seconds on the timer (see how I even managed to link a bit of numeracy in there) and then she watches as I open the oven and unload the tray and we set another timer for when they’ll be cool. 

    Now I like this recipe because it is simple and relatively quick and hassle free even with a toddler sous chef, it doesn’t require any icing or anything doing to it after baking they can be enjoyed as is. You can even substitute the chocolate chips for raisins or other dried fruit if you want to be a bit healthier but I personally don’t think the odd couple of chocolate chips now and then are too bad for you. 

    Oh and for reference, a toddler sized portion is one cupcake and an adult sized portion is definitely at least two. Does anyone else cook much with their little ones? What are your favourite recipes? Any other hints and tips for fellow parents?

    Dog · Fruit growing · Life in the Countryside · Recipes

    House sitting for the Cottage Garden Trio

    So this week we have been away on holiday in Ruda (watch out for a future post about my week and recommendations for things to do in North Devon) with some of our extended family and whilst we were away my mum had kindly volunteered to stay at ours and keep an eye on things. I asked her for a midweek update that I could share about what’s been going on at the cottage so far and what she’s found the biggest challenges and successes which I’ve included below. It sounds like she’s been having a good time (I hope) and she’s used to having a dog and doing bits of preserving so she’s well placed to keep an eye on things. 

    Ok………so here I am, left in charge of chickens and a ten week old puppy. The chickens are a doddle and have reliably given me six eggs a day. The puppy, lively at times but manageable and great fun (her rash has cleared up nicely but I’m still finishing her course of antibiotics). The problems are actually with the inanimate objects around here…..namely fruit and veg! Apples and plums just keep needing to be harvested and used as I hate waste, but before I did anything major with them ( apart from eat them or give bags of them to J’s Dad ) I thought that I would do an easy job with with some beetroot that Laura harvested before she abandoned me……sorry, went on holiday.

    There are many different options out there when it comes to pickling beetroot but sometimes the simplest can be the best. I’ve used some Kilner jars which were pre-washed and sterilised. Simply cook the washed beetroot in salted water for about forty minutes until they are soft when pierced with a knife. Then drain and leave them until they are cool enough to handle. Try and find some plastic gloves so that you can peel them without your hands looking like you have just committed murder (disposable gloves like the kind that dentists and doctors are ideal), then slice them, pack them into warm sterilised jars and cover with pickling or white wine vinegar and seal (a clear coloured vinegar is best to allow the colour of the beetroot to shine through). It needs to mature for about a  month……can’t wait! Next job plum and apple chutney.


    Beetroot and chocolate cake

    So with our abundant crop of beetroot I’ve been reading about different ways to use beetroot. And as fate would have it when I went to a cafe recently there was a lovely looking beetroot and chocolate cake. Now it seems to be very on trend to include vegetables in your cakes. Carrot cake has obviously been popular for a number of years but I’ve also seen lots of recipes recently for courgette cake, parsnip cake, sweet potato cake and even spinach cake. Why is this so popular? Is it that because people see vegetables in cakes they feel less guilty about eating them? Are they (or do they seem) healthier? Is everyone suffering from a glut of homegrown veggies that they need to use up? Or are desperate parents trying to find novel ways to help their toddlers get their five a day (or is it supposed to be seven a day now, I lose track). Whatever everyone else’s reason, I’m trying beetroot cake as I’ve got lots of beetroot. Now I’ve never been a fan of carrot cake (and have never tried any other vegetable cake) as the idea of vegetables in cakes really puts me off. But I’ve been assured that you can’t really taste the beetroot in a beetroot and chocolate cake so I’m going to test it out when I have friends come round this week. 

    There are loads of recipes out there for chocolate and beetroot cake so I’ve gone with one which has been recommended by a Facebook gardening group. It also has the beetroot raw and grated which appealed to me more than including it cooked. I have to say I was slightly (very) nervous about how it was going to turn out whilst mixing as it looked pretty disgusting. 

    However, when it came out it looked like, well, a normal chocolate cake.

    I was very worried about the taste still and wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to let my friends try it without sampling it first, as I pride myself on my ability to produce an alright tasting sponge. So J and I cut ourselves a piece each and quickly covered it in chocolate spread (I’ll do a proper icing for the rest tomorrow but will have to wait for it to be stone cold first). 

    And the verdict? Totally amazing. Really moist. I coudn’t taste the beetroot, although J said that he could. It was light (surprising when it was cooking for nearly an hour) and had a lovely rich chocolate taste without being too sickly. It’s definitely one to try again and has helped, a bit, to use up some of our beetroot. 


    Beetroot chutney recipe

    So whilst I enjoy beetroot, I wouldn’t exactly descibe myself as a beetroot lover. We had planted two rows of beetroot (boltardy variety) using seed tape and I was initially very critical of it. The theory behind the seed tape is that you don’t need to thin, the beetroot is perfectly spaced and the tape should ensure that every seed sprouts. This has not proven to be the case for us as we’ve had a good portion where no seeds have sprouted and they seem to have come up very unevenly. Not what I was hoping for. That said now they’ve had time to really grow they do seem to have flourished. When harvesting beetroot it is a good idea to try to pick out alternate roots to give the remaining ones time and room to grow. Our first harvest J’s dad took and cooked in the pressure cooker for us. Our second harvest I roasted in olive oil with just some salt and pepper. This weekend I took out our third harvest to make chutney. As I was making chutney I actually weighed the beetroot, a whopping 2.8kg! And we still have plenty more to pick. I tend to play about a lot with my chutney recipes and I thought I would include my version of beetroot chutney below. The recipe could be easily scaled up or down depending on your quantity of beetroot. I got about 6 and a half jars from this, jars all about 454g size, ish. 

    Beetroot Chutney recipe


    • 2.8kg raw beetroot (if directly from the garden then cut the stalks off close to the base, rinse off any soil and cut the long winding root close back to the main bulb)
    • 2 pints vinegar (approximately one pint per 1.5kg). I used cider vinegar but white wine vinegar would also be good, avoid anything with too much colour.
    • 2 tablespoons caster sugar (for cooking the beetroot, exclude if you like quite a tart chutney)
    • 4 large onions, peeled and diced. 
    • 900g granulated sugar (again you can adapt to preferences and use soft brown if you like a more caramelised taste)
    • Spices: I prefer not to just use a traditional pickling spice muslin bag and instead add spices to leave in. I used 4 bay leaves (which I removed when putting into jars), a teaspoon of mustard seeds, a teaspoon of nigella seeds, a teaspoon of coriander seeds and a good grind or two of black pepper.  These can be ground if preferred or just kept whole. 


    1. Put the beetroot whole into a large saucepan or preserving pan and cover with boiling water. Bring back up to the boil and simmer until the beetroot is cooked through (this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of your beetroot, check it with a knife the same way as you would check potatoes).
    2. Whilst this is cooking then prepare your jars, I just put mine into the dishwasher to sterilise, but you can also use the oven.
    3. Drain and leave until cool enough to handle (cold water can speed up this step). 
    4. Peel the beetroot (washing up gloves can prevent any colour run) and dice. 
    5. In your washed out preserving pan add the onions and vinegar and soften on a low heat for about 10 minutes.
    6. Add the beetroot, sugar and spices and stir well. 
    7. Keep the mixture on a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved then bring it up to the boil.
    8. The chutney then needs to stay at a rolling boil for the liquid to reduce and the chutney to thicken (this took about and hour and a half for me as I turned the temperature down a couple of times to pop out to the garden and do chores and I didn’t want it to burn).
    9. Once it has reached the desired consistency then fill and seal your jars (remember to put hot chutney into hot jars to avoid a disaster and aim to push it down with a spoon to avoid as many air bubbles as possible). You should hear the lids pop down as it cools and seals. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves as you find them now, if used.
    10. It will taste best if left for at least one month before using and once opened should be stored in the fridge. Unopened it should be good for a couple of years or longer.