24 February 2009

Depth of winter

The days are getting longer but it's still really cold (-10°C right now). The wind has been particularly nasty on occasion. This photo is an attempt to capture the thickness of the layers of snow and ice that have built up next to the stream. Precious few signs of spring out there.

Inside I have got some signs of new life with the lettuce mix I sowed in January. They've been growing away well on the living room window sill. I've been putting them out on the veranda on the few days where the temperature has been above freezing. I thought I'd killed them the other day as they had become rather wilted by the afternoon, but was relieved to see this morning that they've bounced back to health again. Some of these will be big enough to eat, soon.

15 February 2009

Seville oranges and cedar planks

After making marmalade for the first time last year, I was looking forward to doing so again. I keep seeing other bloggers mention theirs and have been looking out for Seville oranges every time I go shopping. Until this weekend: nothing. I was beginning to get twitchy and irritable about the lack of marmalade-fodder. We shopped at the A&P in Belleville yesterday and they had about 12 very sad Seville oranges. I asked if they had any more and was informed that "That's all we've got and there won't be any more". I finished my shop (a very minimal one because by now I was feeling super-grumpy) and we trekked down to the Dewe's store and, joy of joys, they had a large display of lovely-looking Seville oranges. I bought a couple of kilos and left, very happy.

Last year I used a Delia Smith recipe, which made great marmalade but which took a looooong time. I liked the method, which involved pre-cooking the fruit, so looked around for another similar recipe. I found one which had been put online by chef Anna Colquoun. I hadn't heard of her before, but love this quotation from an interview with her on the eat the right stuff blog (which doesn't seem to like CAPITAL LETTERS much):
americans eat one meal out of five in a car. the western industrialised food system is fast ruining our planet, our social and economic relations, our bodies, our understanding and appreciation of these things, and ultimately our happiness. there are plenty of things wrong with the world, and cooking lovely food isn’t going to lead to world peace, but life for many could be a bit better if more people cared where their food came from and how it was made, had some basic cooking skills so they needn’t rely on processed food, and took time to eat together. plus, cooking is a creative outlet and a hopefully healthy addiction. food can be so delicious and also so bad. it’s more fun to eat the delicious stuff.
This is someone I feel I can trust! The marmalade recipe is the one her mother uses, based on one by Katie Stewart in The Times Cookery Book. Phew, that feels like a long and convoluted provenance (here's the recipe: it's a PDF file).

I had about 4½ pounds of fruit, so had to multiply everything in the recipe by 1½. The simmering-the-fruit phase takes an hour, then the oranges are cut open and the pulp and pips put into one bowl and the peel into another. Here is my first attempt at a video cookery demo (so be gentle in your criticisms please - I know it isn't very enthralling - and I think I sound horribly like Delia Smith!). This is to demonstrate step three in the recipe above - the way that the oranges look after they've been simmered for an hour.

While it's boiling the marmalade fills the house with a wonderful syrupy citrus smell.

The final boiling phase took about an hour, but might have been quicker if I'd let the marmalade boil faster (I'm a bit timid about leaving pans of boiling syrup unattended). The next video clip shows how it looks at the end of the boiling phase (and how to see whether it's reached setting point):

If you've ever wondered what the recipe books mean by the marmalade wrinkling on a saucer, here's a demonstration:

The finished product looks fine - just as dark and chunky as last year's, but with a shorter cooking time, which is what I wanted. It made eight one-pound jars, which is about four fewer than the recipe suggests I should have got.

I have since been wondering whether it is all worth it, given the food miles involved in shipping the oranges from Spain to Canada (and being aware that several jars will be travelling back to England with my mother-in-law after her next visit!). But I love making (and eating) marmalade so much that I would be sorry not to, even if it is a thoroughly environmentally-unsound rigmarole. [POSTSCRIPT: It turns out that our Seville oranges are actually from the USA, so I'm less worried about this now.]

My other Valentine's Day present was a fine trailer-load of cedar planks and posts, which were destined to become the raised beds in the greenhouse. We had thought we'd be able to use pressure-treated timber, but I remembered some question about arsenic being used in that process (rendering it not safe for use around food crops) and Mike looked it up to check. Well, the good news was that arsenic hasn't been used in the pressure-treating process since 2003, but the bad news was that if you want to grow food that will be certified organic, it might not be acceptable. Using cedar planks was the other option. The wood should last for 20 years - but was twice the cost of the pressure-treated alternative. So I really do need to sell some of the food we'll be growing in these beds in order to justify the expenditure. Which means jumping through the organically-certified hoops at some point. Oh joy.

Building them was fun though. It was still below freezing outside, but in the greenhouse it was pleasantly warm. We constructed three beds in a couple of hours and they look fantastic. Now we've just got to work out how to fill them with a suitably organic growing medium. I had been thinking of getting some spent mushroom compost from the local mushroom farm, but a bit of reading around the topic suggests that it will be full of chemicals, so not a good plan. Looks like we'll be digging soil from other parts of the farm and combining it with home-made compost to start with. But 270 cubic feet of material is quite a lot to find...

13 February 2009

I'm really, really not sure about this...

It's a bit slick up by the barn, where all that water froze overnight. The dog was not impressed.

12 February 2009


A few days of above-zero temperatures and over an inch of rain have left us swamped with far too much water. Yesterday began rather attractively with layers of mist forming above the snow. I stopped on my way to work in Deseronto to take this picture of the Bay of Quinte from Georges Road. The mist was forming above the ice on the bay as the snow began to melt.

Last night was just plain foggy. We drove back from a meal in Picton through some of the thickest fog I've ever seen. Where there were road markings, it wasn't too bad because you could line up with the white and yellow lines, but on the minor roads it was scary because the edges weren't so obvious. It was particularly frightening coming along Lakeside Drive, as we were all too aware of the proximity of the lake in question!

Today the fog had gone, but water continues to gush down the slope on which our property sits. The 'path' to the barn has been transformed into a fast-flowing stream with treacherous icy sections which is almost impossible to walk along:

The worst part is that the weather is due to turn cold again for the next week, which will turn all of this water into ice and make it even more difficult to walk!

Enough grumbling. Here's a pretty sunset from the other night to change the subject.

07 February 2009

Cold out there - but warm and cosy inside

It's finally started to warm up a bit. The weather station reports that for January we had:

Mean high: -4.7°C/23.5°F (norm -2°C/28°)

Mean low: -14.3°C/6.3°F (norm -14°C/6.8°F)

Average temperature: -9°C/15.8°F (norm -7°C/19.4°F)

Days with temperatures below -18°C/0°F: 12

Days with temperatures above 0°C/32°F: 5

Highest temperature: 3.3°C/38°F

Lowest temperature: -24.4°C/-12°F

So it has been a couple of degrees colder overall than the long-term average for this area. There certainly wasn't a noticeable thaw this January.

With precious little happening on the gardening front (and beginning to get tired of looking at snow and icicles), I've been interested to follow a gardening meme started by VP on her Veg Plotting blog. VP is asking fellow gardening bloggers to select 3-5 dinner party guests for this evening who have an interest in gardening or nature. There have been some excellent entries (see VP's own selection and the links from that post for other people's).

I've been having some thought about this and am finding it very difficult, but here are my choices of people I'd like to see around the table at my imaginary dinner party tonight.

Firstly (since an interest in nature as well as gardening is allowed) I think I'd like Sir David Attenborough to come along. I bet he is just full of brilliant stories about plants, animals and people. I so enjoyed her book The Naming of Names, that I'd love to have Anna Pavord as guest number two. I'm sure lots of other British gardeners will choose my third guest, Geoff Hamilton. My parents always watched Gardeners' World on a Friday evening and Geoff presented the show for 17 years until his untimely death in 1996. I wasn't really into gardening in those days, but even I found the parts of the show with Geoff in them interesting and accessible. As an early advocate of organic methods, he had a big impact on UK gardeners.

I would be interested to see how Geoff got on with my fourth guest, Michael Pollan, the hugely influential US writer on food and agriculture. My final guest would be Kate Gardner, resident of Bozeman, Montana, and author of the Manic Gardener blog, which is stuffed full of interesting research on organic gardening and the environment, but which also makes me chuckle on a regular basis. If I had a bigger table there are a number of other bloggers that I'd squeeze in around the corners, too, but VP has limited our guests to just five, so maybe another time...

01 February 2009

Having a (snow) ball

We've had so much snow over the past week. The kids are thoroughly enjoying it: making forts, snow-people and burrows and getting completely caked in it. The demand for hot chocolate is high.

After this family snow battle on Friday, child #2 declared it to have been the best fun he'd ever had (except for our trip to the water park in Montreal last year). That made me smile - you can spend a fortune on electronic gadgets of various kinds, but in a child's mind, it's the time you spend doing fun things together as a family that are the best.