It has been one of those years where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, hence lack of attention to the blog. Unfortunately the ups and downs hadn’t quite smoothed out when the kitchen called. Autumn’s mellow fruitfulness had led to an abundance that needed dealing with no matter what else was happening. Choose the country life and you will find yourself up to your elbows in bottles, jars, tubs, pickling spices and alcohol if you want the fruits of your labours to last longer than a few days.

So, the apples were picked and prepared – a whole day spent peeling, cutting, cutting and freezing. Oh yes, that was after we’d had to buy a new freezer after the old one expired! More apples were cooked with cinnamon for a jelly, that was after the usual weekend making cider. Then there were the berries; some frozen, some made into jellies and jams, some put into alcohol. And the hedgerow pickings; sloes for gin and vodka, blackberries for vodka and a blackberry cassis, cob nuts for Christmas, chestnuts for roasting and cooking, the list goes on. Whatever couldn’t be pickled, jellied or steeped in alcohol was put into the new freezer for later use.

Yes, it is extremely satisfying to have so much home produce to eat more or less all year round, and it is nice to be able to give it away as gifts, but no one can say it isn’t a frantic time to make sure it is all saved before it starts to deteriorate. Nor is it necessarily cheap. Not when you have to take the cost of a new freezer into account!


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This morning my daughter hurried to the bathroom just as I was getting ready to take a shower. “There’s a police car in the drive!” she exclaimed all of a panic. Mmm, Ok, I thought, maybe he’s had to move off our lane (single track, no parking spaces etc etc) nothing to worry about. Then daughter, peeking out of the window hissed, “He’s at the door.” I muttered an expletive as I went to the upstairs window, towel covering my modesty, then called down that I’d only be a few minutes. I dragged on some clothes and rushed downstairs.

There stood a policeman who seemed to be too young to be allowed out of the house on his own (maybe more of a reflection of my age than his), and following my apologies he asked if I was Victoria. “Er, no,” I said. His face fell and I felt sorry to disappoint him even though I don’t know a Victoria. By now I had an inkling of what had happened, so I asked him who or what he was looking for. Sure enough, he said our address, but I knew something that he didn’t. There are two of us.

Let me explain. In rural areas such as ours we often share a road name and house numbers with properties that can be up to a few miles away. The Powers That Be, in their wisdom, only differentiate between these properties with the post code which, naturally, is only of use to the post office and some particularly clever Sat-Navs. All others (police, delivery companies, tradesmen, friends etc) can only rely on guesswork and good luck.

In our case we share a road name and house number with a property 2 miles away in the local small town, which causes no end of confusion. There are minor differences to the address – we try to add identifiers – but it doesn’t always work. Even the post office, with their sophisticated post code system, often deliver mail to the wrong address, particularly if we get a new postman. If we know someone is coming we give them directions, or suggest that they phone when they are close and we talk them in. Most frequently parcels and people end up at our ‘alternative’ address but on a few occasions the roles are reversed. Like this morning.

So it was with the nice young (very young) policeman this morning, I explained where he needed to go, gave him precise directions and sent him away happy and better informed (to an address that is actually only a few hundred yards from his police station!) but it did leave me wondering. What would happen if I phoned for the police in a dire emergency? And how long would I have to wait for them to find us? Actually, it is probably better that I don’t think about that!

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I know all about horrendous traffic jams; after all, I used to live in a city and have to commute from suburbia to the city centre for work every day. Queues, tailbacks, accidents  and traffic jams were expected and endured. Here in the sticks we are blissfully free of the high volume of vehicles that cause such problems on a daily basis, but we don’t actually need a lot of traffic to cause a road block here.

A while ago I set off from home to drive the relatively short distance to our local town to collect my mother, a journey of around 10 minutes along our narrow, winding but little used lane. As I arrived at the top of our track leading onto the lane I saw a car go past in my direction. No problem there. I pulled out and followed. What I hadn’t seen was that a little way ahead of them was a horsebox.

About half a mile along I noticed that the car in front had stopped and was inexpertly reversing around a bend. In front of them the horsebox had come to a halt. They had met a large articulated lorry on its way to a local farm coming from the opposite direction. This was on the worst possible stretch of road, and it was stalemate. With nowhere to turn around and no passing places large enough for even a small lorry to squeeze into, someone needed to reverse, and it had to be the horsebox.

I waited a few minutes to see what would happen – held by curiosity rather than any expection for a speedy resolution. Sure enough the horsebox edged slowly backwards wavering and veering alarmingly. The car in front of me reversed untidily into a narrow driveway but left the front end sticking out, effectively blocking the road completely. And I wished I had my camera with me!

In the end I did the only sensible thing. I reversed a few hundred yards up the hill (you learn to reverse competently when you live somewhere like this) into the nearest farmyard, turned around and went the other way, grateful that there is an alternative route. My 10 minute journey took over 40 minutes in the end but I probably did quite well. I have no idea how long the other vehicles were stuck there, some considerable time I would imagine. And no, my mother wasn’t pleased that I was late!





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I am having a lot of sleepless nights lately, nothing too unusual in that, but one of the things I notice in the wee small hours is the noise. Not that it is particularly noisy, quite the opposite in fact. We have none of the city sounds of constant traffic, people walking or talking on the streets, the buzz of many lives lived close together. But the supreme quietness of the countryside and lack of background hum magnifies every small sound that is made, and some sounds can be quiet eerie.

Recently the owls have started hooting again. Personally I love to hear the owls at night, we are lucky in that we have an abundance of Little Owls, quite a few Tawny Owls and even some elusive Barn Owls in the area, and every time I hear one nearby I am tempted to try to spot them. (We often manage sightings in daylight, especially of the younger owls.) But for some people the hooting of this nocturnal bird is ghostly and scary – too many horror films, I guess.

Yet owls are easily distinguishable. Other noises are less obvious. Cows can make an awful racket, especially when they have been separated from their calves, and the sound distorts over long distances into something alien. Cats fighting, hedgehogs snuffling, horses snorting and the unearthly screaming bark of foxes are all fairly common but not always immediately obvious. And then there are the sounds I can never quite manage to work out, that’s when I pull the duvet over my head and try counting sheep.



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Living out in ‘the sticks’ makes us more prone to power cuts than built-up urban or suburban areas. It may be due to an over-reliance on overhead power lines for the supply in rural areas, but we also experience fluctuating power too with lights dimming at regular intervals and if there is a major, large-area power rural properties are always the last to be reconnected.

I was reminded of our vulnerability a couple of weeks ago when I was in the middle of making a batch of jam. You see, I cook on an electric cooker (no room for an Aga and no mains gas) and just as the jam (plum with cinnamon and mulled wine – if you are interested!) was starting to bubble all the power went. Bit of a dilemma. Do I wait and see if it comes back on? Do I phone the power company to report a fault? Or do I drag out the small camping stove and gas bottle that we keep for emergencies?

In the end none of the above were necessary. The power came back on in about three quarters of an hour and I was able to carry on with the jam making. (It turned out very well.) But once the jam was bottled and cooling I did a quick stock check in preparation for the winter: candles, matches, torch, gas for the camping stove. We’ll have a few power cuts throughout the winter, most will be short-lived, but we have had long periods without electricity in the past and it pays to be ready for the next time.

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The crops are in and already the farmers are cultivating the soil for the next sowing. A lot of the farmers, especially the ‘big’ guys who are solely arable farmers, rely on chemical fertilizers. But for those who farm on a smaller scale, or who keep stock as well, the ancient tried and tested method of muck-spreading prevails.


I will say, straight away, that I agreed wholeheartedly with this form of ‘recycling’ – there has been more than a few barrowloads of manure dug into my own garden and I much prefer the organic approach. The only downside is that, on a large scale, the smell can be quite overpowering. If it rains the muck is washed into the ground pretty quickly and the smell disappears equally fast, but if the weather is fine and the breeze is blowing it can be less than enchanting. And, of course, before it is spread on the fields there is usually quite a substantial muck heap slowly rotting down.

At the moment one of our local farmers is muck spreading, his tractor humming up and down the distant fields with the machine on the back slinging ‘you know what’ far and wide. For the last couple of days the smell has been pervasive and clinging, but now it is raining so we know the aroma won’t last long. At least we aren’t living next door – Chanel No 5 it certainly is not!


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DSCF1600It is the end of summer, time for the farmers to harvest their crops. Around us it is mainly wheat this year, although the ‘local’ farmer tends to rotate with barley and oil-seed rape, both of which come in earlier. Of course, throughout the year the crop has been dusted and sprayed to within an inch of its life, with the last spraying only a few days before harvest.

The first we know of the pending harvest is a rumbling in the distant fields (the fields next to us are usually the last to be done as they are relatively inaccessible) and looking out of an upstairs window we can see the steady march of the combine harvesters followed by the tractors with their laden trailers.

We know that we have a couple of days before the combines arrive here even though they do work extremely quickly.


Once they do arrive, though, it is a case of batten down the hatches! We close every window, make sure there is no washing out and hope that we don’t have high winds. Why? Well, not only are the huge trundling machines quite scary as they rumble past the house, but the amount of dust created by them is vast, and it gets everywhere.  And yes, this is a picture of a combine working next to our house! You can see why harvest time isn’t exactly our favourite time!


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For anyone interested in Husband’s recipe for home-made cider, here it is.  Nothing fancy needed, and it makes a strong drink.

Ingredients:    apples (naturally), sugar (quantity depends on your taste preferences but you need between 1 – 1.5lb sugar to every gallon of juice), brewing yeast (1 teaspoon per gallon of juice).

Equipment:     fermentation jars/barrels, bung & air lock, something to pulp the apples (yes, we use a garden shredder – it works really well), something to squeeze out the juice (we have a fruit press, but you can use your imagination and ingenuity), sundry other jugs/containers/household equipment for collecting the pulp/juice etc and measuring.

First, sterilize all your equipment. You can buy special sterilizing stuff from home brewing stores but we use the liquid for sterilizing babies bottles – you can get it from any supermarket.

Collect your apples and give them a quick wash in water. You can use windfalls and those that are less than perfect, but none that are going rotten or have been attacked by wasps.

Pulp your apples. DSCF1488This is where our old garden shredder comes in very useful, but we are pulping a large quantity of apples. For small amounts you may get away with some household equipment, or even slow but steady chopping and slicing with a knife. Don’t try to miss this stage out, it really does make a huge difference to the quantity and quality of cider produced. By the way, watch out for the wasps, they love the pulp!


Squeeze out the juice. Our fruit press has taken out the hard work involved and does produce a good quantity of apple juice with minimal effort. The juice is collected into jugs then poured into a barrel. This is where teamwork is involved: daughter collects and washes apples, I pulp them, husband puts them through the press and into the barrel.

Measure the juice. Put the juice into your fermentation container making sure you leave enough room to add the sugar. We don’t add any water although we know that many recipes do. With water added we have found that the taste and quality of the finished cider are seriously diminished.

Add sugar and yeast. 1lb of sugar to each gallon of juice will make quite a dry cider, 1.5lb makes a sweeter cider, but it isn’t an exact science. A lot depends on the apples, their ripeness and sweetness, your personal preferences and probably a deal of luck too. Then add the yeast, 1 teaspoon per gallon. It often helps to give it a stir around as the sugar can clump in the bottom of the container. Then put on the bung and airlock.

Wait. Ideally fermentation will start fairly quickly (the bubbles pop in the airlock) but a lot depends on weather conditions. This year it was fairly cool, and as the cider is made/stored in the barn (which doesn’t warm up much) fermentation was reluctant. So husband put the barrel into the greenhouse to give it a boost. Yes, it worked – rather too well. He discovered that there is a fine line between vigorous fermentation and explosions. The offending bomb – sorry, I mean barrel – was returned to the barn where it is now bubbling away happily.


Filter and bottle. Once fermentation has stopped (the bubbling has ceased) it is time to filter your cider and bottle it. Husband is sadly a little vague on how long it takes for fermentation to end, but it is weeks rather than months, and it seems not many weeks either. Anyway, once your bubbles have stopped, filter the cider into bottles (or into another container before pouring it into bottles). Husband filters through folded muslin which seems to do the job more than adequately. He usually does it just the once, but has done it twice on occasions. However, you can filter as much as you want to, hopefully getting a clearer/finer cider every time (though we have no proof of this, impatience being the key word here).

Drink and enjoy. Now you can sit back and enjoy the liquid fruits of your labours. The cider we produce is more of a scrumpy cider than the clear, fizzy stuff you buy in pubs and shops, but it is a potent and flavoursome brew.

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One of the great benefits of rural living is growing your own fruit and veg. One of the great drawbacks is knowing what to do with it all once you’ve grown it. I mean, there is only so much you can do with a cucumber! And industrial sized freezers do take up a lot of space.

We have a few apple trees in our garden, all but one inherited from the previous owners, and the one pictured above is a prolific cropper year in and year out. But the apples are an early variety and don’t store well so, unless we eat pounds of apples each day – probably physically possible but medically unwise – we had to find something else to do with this abundance. My husband’s answer: cider.

He’s been making his own cider for a few years now with increasing success, so at the weekend it was all hands on deck to start this year’s process.


First we gather the apples (which means getting daughter up the tree, she’s the only one tall enough and agile enough). We quickly filled three of these green trugs, and still have more to go.

Then the apples are quickly washed before being pulped. We have our own (not patented!) method of pulping our apples. We use the garden shredder! It is simple, but effective, and husband assures me that it is the pulping that makes all the difference to the outcome. More juice is extracted and the finished product is vastly superior (and he should know, he has tried various techniques over the years).

DSCF1490Once the apples are pulped they are put into our small fruit press – an anniversary present to husband four years ago – and the juice is squeezed out. Until he had the fruit press he made a Heath Robinson contraption to squeeze the apples; it was effective but slow and tedious and although it didn’t produce as much juice as the press it does go to show that you don’t necessarily need to have all the right equipment when you start out.

Once you start squeezing then is it merely a case of keeping going until you have enough juice to fill a container of your choice, be it a gallon demi-john or a larger barrel. So far this year we have made seven gallons and have plenty of apples to make the same again. Once you know how much juice you have you then add your sugar and yeast and leave it to ferment. Then, when fermentation has stopped the cider can be filtered into bottles and enjoyed!










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We’ve just come back from holiday (hence lack of posts, sorry) and, as usual, we have taken our break in another rural area albeit one more popular but less populous than where we live. We love the area, as do many other visitors, and we do have a dream that maybe one day we’ll be able to live there, although that will have to be when we no longer have to work for a living – and who knows when that will be!

One of the biggest issues for the local population has to be lack of suitable work for themselves and their families. No wonder rural poverty is on the increase. Other than the large tourist trade (which certainly seems to have been adversely affected by the economic downturn) which is a large employer during the peak season, there is work in agriculture and forestry but not enough to sustain year-round employment for everyone. There are minimal opportunities for anyone wanting more than seasonal employment making it necessary for people to move away for work. Due to the topography the infrastructure is poor meaning that travelling any distance is difficult, and with poor communications (ie negligible mobile phone coverage and slow internet speeds) working from home isn’t necessarily an option.

So, moving to the country (at least, to some parts of rural England) is really only an option for those who are fortunate enough to secure one of the rare jobs in the area, or if you are able to leave the rat race behind. For us, in our rural retreat, we are close enough to a decent road network to enable Husband to travel, so for now at least, we’ll be staying where we are.

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