Where growing, making & good living come together

My ten favourite simple living/growing/cooking/making books

Posted by on Tuesday 11 October 2011 in cooking, Featured, growing, making, wild food | 5 comments

(Inspired by book-aholic buying behaviour this month, I’ve decided to have a bit of a book-themed week both here and on my recycling site, Recycle This.)

Despite living on the internet & using it/blogs for most of my day-to-day info, I’ve got quite a few simple living related books and as you might expect, some are better than others. Some were chosen after careful research, others randomly picks from charity shops & the like – but as is often the case, there is little correlation between that and which are the better books!

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites:


  • The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour – this is a great overview book of so many different things. It’s admittedly more aspiration than practical for me at the moment – and because it covers so many different areas, it doesn’t feel like the most practical book anyway (it doesn’t have space to go into detailed how-tos/trouble-shooting on each different topic) but it’s still very useful. If I was fleeing to escape the zombie hordes*, this is probably the non-fiction book I’d grab.



  • The Vegetable & Herb Expert by DG Hessayon – my first veg growing book and the one I keep going back to over & over again. Not hugely detailed on each type & some bizarre comments about only eating chillis if they’re part of “your heritage”, but very clear, with lots of pictures (very useful when troubleshooting pests/diseases) and packed with useful info.
  • Grow Your Own Vegetables by Joy Larkcom – this book is almost the opposite of the Hessayon – lots of detail but not anywhere near as easy to dip into and few illustrations. I like them together but would struggle with the Larkcom on its own.
  • The Edible Container Garden: Fresh Food from Tiny Spaces by Michael Guerra – I was a little disappointed when I got this as it includes a lot of whitespace, big pretty rather than purposeful pictures and a lot of general overview text — but the 30 pages on “what shall I grow?” made the book worth it – very useful reference information about varieties, pot depths etc. I would recommend it to anyone who grows more than just the basic herbs in containers – but try to find a secondhand one so you don’t resent paying for the padding.
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Wild plum/cherry plum ketchup

Posted by on Thursday 11 August 2011 in cooking, preserving, wild food | 2 comments

As I mentioned yesterday when discussing my SUPER AWESOME YUMMY jam (it’s gooooooood), I used the rest of our last plum-type fruit harvest to make some ketchup.

Last year, I made jam and spicy chutney but this year I was inspired by a tweet from Jono from Real Men Sow‘s tweet linking to a cherry plum ketchup recipe a few weeks ago.

Since it was a bit of a test, I quartered the quantities of Norfolk Kitchen’s original recipe (although accidentally only halved the amount of onion) and added about 10ml of Worchestershire Sauce as well the vinegar because I thought it would add some nice undertones. I also added a little water, maybe 100ml in total, while it was simmering as I thought it would be getting a little sticky for ketchup.

My quartered amount – based on 500g of plums – made more than I thought it would – 3 bottles full of sauce (this old Heinz bottle and two Encona ones). I imagine a week or two of “aging” will help the flavours develop but it’s already pretty tasty – fruity but savoury. It’s a lovely colour too – a proper full-bodied deep red – first taste with the eyes and all that ;)

Like Tracey, I’ll probably use it with things I wouldn’t normally Heinz up, like cheese on toast. I’m also interested to know how it will work with the Swillington Farm pork and plum sausages we have in the freezer – double plum action! :)

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This year’s wild plum/cherry plum jam

Posted by on Wednesday 10 August 2011 in cooking, preserving, wild food | 4 comments

I wasn’t planning to make any jam from the mysterious plum-like fruit that grows outside our kitchen window but when John said he wasn’t sure if he could be bothered making wine, I had to do something with our first harvest. And boy, am I glad I did.

It was about 1kg of mysterious plums (pre-stoning), about 300ml of water, about 750g of sugar and 2tsp of vanilla extract/flavouring.

I’m not sure whether it’s the vanilla or the fact that the plums were super mega ripe when I used them but YUM. I think it’s far nicer than last year (although to be fair, it is a while since I ate last year’s jam so I might be misremembering it/confusing it with something else).

I only made about 3lb because I wanted to make some ketchup with the rest of the plums I had to hand (that’s cooking as I type) but it’s so nice that I want to make more straight-away. Thankfully it looks like we’ll get a few more kilos of fruit yet!

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Ramsoms & Ricotta Ravioli Recipe (aka cheesy, spicy wild garlic ravioli)

Posted by on Monday 16 May 2011 in cooking, Featured, recipes, wild food | 4 comments

Usually when I post recipes, they’re either long-time firm favourites or new things that I’ve made a least a few times to try different flavour tweaks. However these suckers took a good while to make and I can’t see myself finding the time to make them again before the wild garlic (Ramsoms) season is well and truly over, so I’m going to publish the recipe now after making them start-to-finish just once. They were yummy as they were :)

There is so much wild garlic in the woods behind our house that it seems rude not to use it as often as possible throughout the spring. We add it raw into salad, have it in mash/potato cakes for a colcannon-ish dish, use it as a pizza topping but mostly, have it on pasta — usually wilted with a little lightly fried chorizo and some olives. Yummo.

It goes so well with pasta, as a tasty spinach substitute, that I wanted to try making pasta with it – and this is the result: wild garlic ravioli. WG loses a lot of its fieriness when you cook it and the flavour here is quite subtle – which is why I served it with a sprinkling wild garlic seed pods too. Plus, they also look ace :)

Ramsoms & Ricotta Ravioli Recipe

(Yes, I like alliteration.)

Makes: 3 decent sized portions if that’s all you’re having; or 4 portions with meat/veg

For the pasta
225g of 00 grade pasta flour
2 large eggs
80-100g of wild garlic
pinch of salt
extra (plain or pasta) flour for dusting

For the filling
225g of ricotta
25g of parmasan
1/4 to 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper
1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp of chilli flakes
Finely chopped basil & oregano leaves (or about 1tsp of dried herbs)

To serve
About 2tsbps of wild garlic seed pods (about half a dozen flower heads)
olive oil
a knob of butter (optional)

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Foraging for wild food: do you forage near roads?

Posted by on Friday 6 May 2011 in wild food | 18 comments

I’ve got a question for anyone who forages/enjoys wild food – do you forage near roads? And if so, how near?

It’s obviously much less of an issue for people foraging in woods or the countryside but it’s an important issue for us urban dwellers as, well, just about everywhere is near a road.

I started thinking about this issue a few weeks ago when the empty bank at the end of our side street was *covered* in sunny yellow dandelions (6ft away from a busy commuter-packed A-road) and the plum-ish tree in the car park of our local supermarket was white with blossom. There are plenty of dandelions around elsewhere, further away from pollution and dog pee, so there really wasn’t a dilemma about those, but the plums, when they come in, are a rarer and more desirable beast. Last year, when John first spotted them, a few people in our lives expressed concern about picking them because of the exposure to exhaust fumes – one person was concerned about the chemical impact on the body, another more bothered about the residue creating a slightly metallic taste in the resulting jam or wine — so John left them be. But on the other hand, I’ve heard other people pick road side fruit and use it without (seemingly) any concern whatsoever.

So if you forage for wild food, what are your rules/guidelines? How close is too close to the road for you? Does it depend on the busy-ness of the road? Or the scarcity of the plant/fruit? Or does it depend on how long the plant/fruit has taken to grow etc? Would love to hear from experts and newbies alike :)

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Our long weekend

Posted by on Tuesday 26 April 2011 in chickens, DIY, growing, wild food, wood stuff | 8 comments

Cor, I feel like I’ve not written here for weeks! Like Christmas, Easter doesn’t mean anything to us here – not even the consumption of chocolate – so we’ve just had four days of doing nothing. Well, not doing nothing…

On Friday, I spent a lot of time reading about Square Foot Gardening. It’s something I’d heard vaguely about before and suspected I’d borrow it’s spacing principles when sowing/planting in my various wooden planters, but Friday was the first time I sat down and read about it. Then fully converted to the idea, I built a 3ftx3ft raised bed from our old bathroom cupboard doors (4ftx4ft is more typical but my doors were 6ft tall so 3ft-square was easier and also tucked away better into a space next to the pond).

I reused the former hinge screws to mark out every foot around the frame, so I could easily divide it into those magic foot square sections with twine. I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll plant in it yet but looking at the planting guidelines, my nine squares could be a rather productive space.

We did have a rather lazy day on Saturday – mostly reading in the sun – but Sunday was productive again: we painted the bathroom. I’m holding off talking about our bathroom renovation until its finished (two long months and counting) but I will say, it’s now rather blue.

It needs some more filling/sanding then a second coat, but it’s feels like it’s finally starting to come together. Hurrah.

Yesterday, we had the bathroom flooring fitted (hence the rush to paint at least one coat on the walls on a sunny Sunday) then went for a dog walk at Shipley Glen. When we came back, I pottered in the garden – chicken chores and potting on (the third batch of tomato plants, the two types of courgette, some lollo roso lettuces). I’ve decided that I’m not allowed to sow any more stuff until I’ve dealt with the stuff currently growing – stuff that needs pricking out or potting on – so I don’t get overwhelmed and leave things in too small pots for too long, as happened at some points last year. I can’t wait until stuff can be planted out in the garden en masse though – the greenhouse is just about full of seedlings and the sun porch is pretty packed too. It would also be useful to be able to start clearing space in the salad troughs/pots – grow faster lettuces, I want to eat you!

On the chicken front, Ginger is still broody – I’m kicking her out of the nest box whenever I go down there to make sure she gets food and water regularly, and I’m getting some harsh bwarking in return. I think I managed to talk Blacks out of following her though – she was acting a little hot & bothered for a couple of days but I cooled her down a bit and she’s back to normal and laying again now.

And while we were down near the chickens yesterday, John spotted what he called “the biggest mushrooms I’ve ever seen in my life” – a slight exaggeration maybe but they are pretty sizeable:

They’re on the tree trunk marking the division between our and our neighbour’s gardens and since we walk past there at least once a day, I’m pretty surprised how they got so big without us noticing. I think they’re Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) – edible but only really when they’re young. These guys are probably past it now but I’ll keep an eye out for future fruiting.

So our four-day-weekend was a decent combination of laziness and productivity, how was yours?

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