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Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 29 2017 11:00AM

29th September is also known as Michaelmas Day or the Feast of St. Michael, and marks the start of the new agricultural year.

The end of the main harvest season was historically marked with a final party before labourers returned to work. At the Michaelmas feast a "stubble goose", fattened on the stubble of the wheat fields, was usually the star of the show, so the day also became known as Goose Day.

Legend has it that it was Michaelmas Day when Queen Elizabeth heard that Francis Drake had defeated the Spanish Armada. She was supposedly tucking into a goose when the messenger arrived and so she vowed to eat it every Michaelmas from then on.

According to folklore, Michaelmas is also the last day that blackberries should be picked. It's said that, because St. Michael kicked Lucifer out of heaven, the devil spits (or worse) on the fruits and they will soon be spoiled or even poisonous. Of course, there's no real truth in that but in the old calendar Michaelmas Day fell on 10th October and they do tend to be past their best by mid-autumn. Because of this, it's also traditional to end a Michaelmas feast with a pie made with the last blackberries of the season.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 24 2017 08:00AM

As we edge further into the autumn season we really start to focus on preserving some of the gluts to last us over the less fruitful months.

Apples, pears, nuts, marrows, pumpkins, squashes and a host of other great fruit and veg arrive in huge quantities this month and we need to start thinking about how we're going to deal with them. Chutneys are one of the best ways of preserving the bounties of autumn and with that in mind, here are our top tips for making good ones.

Golden Rules for Champion Chutney:

1. Give yourself plenty of time. One thing you can't do is rush a good chutney. Allow at least a couple of hours to prepare and cook a batch.

2. Cut your vegetables and fruits to roughly the same size. It will allow the ingredients to cook at the same rate and make the end result better to eat.

3. Don't burn it! Cooking chutney is a long and laborious process but the worst thing you can do it take your eye off the pan for too long. Keep stirring the mixture, especially as you get towards the end. Burning it will not only make it taste terrible, it will leave a layer of black sugar welded to the base of your pan.

4. The simple test for when your chutney is ready is what we call 'the parting of the Red Sea'. Draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of your pan. The chutney should be thick enough that you see the bottom of the pan for a second or two before receding to fill the channel. When you get to this point, your chutney is ready for jarring.

5. Use jars with screw top, plastic coated lids. The vinegar will corrode uncoated metal lids.

6. Make sure you sterilise your jars. If you don't, bacteria in them may ruin the chutney and the whole point is that they should last through the winter. Give the jars a good wash in hot, soapy water and then place upside down in an oven at low heat until dry. Alternatively, put them in a dishwasher on its hottest cycle and use them as soon as it finishes.

7. Always allow your chutney time to mellow. That means at least two months in a dark, cool cupboard. Eat it too soon and it will taste harsh and vinegary. And don't worry about it going off - the high vinegar and sugar content means it should keep for at least a year (provided you sterilised the jars properly).

8. The final and most important rule is that, when it comes to ingredients...there are no rules. Pretty much anything goes and one of the best things about autumn is being able to experiment with an almost limitless number of flavour combinations. We've had some of our finest results (and admittedly some of our worst) simply throwing whatever we had at the time into a pan and seeing how it turned out.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 1 2017 11:00AM

September often starts with a few weeks of sunshine and warmth but as we head towards October, we'll definitely be seeing wetter and cooler weather.

The slightly soggier conditions in early autumn mean softer ground and the opportunity to collect casts of animal prints - a great way to spend the last few weeks of the school holidays.

Animal Track Casts

You will need:

• A 1kg tub of plaster of Paris (try any art supplies shop)

• A 1 litre bottle of tap water

• An old medium-sized mixing bowl or plastic container, ideally with a spout

• A wooden spoon

• An old 2 litre plastic bottle, cut into sections about two inches thick

• Some old newspaper

• Plastic bags (for the messy bowl and spoon)

• Vaseline (or other petroleum jelly).

First, find your tracks. Look on soft ground near to shelter or food and water sources – under trees or near streams in woodland or field edges. See our guide [on the next page] if you need help identifying them.

Once you find a good print, clear away any loose twigs and stones so the print is as clear as possible.

Smear a thin layer of the petroleum jelly around one of the plastic rings (this will make it easier to remove later), then press into the ground around the print, making sure the print is centred. Press the ring a couple of centimetres into the ground so that when you pour the plaster in it won't leak out.

Now mix your plaster in the bowl. Follow the directions on the packet to get the right plaster to water ratio (usually about 1.5 to 1). The mixture will get hot as you mix it. You should have a glossy liquid, similar in texture to double cream or pancake batter. Once mixed, leave for a minute or two and gently tap the mixing bowl to ensure any air bubbles float to the top (trapped air bubbles will weaken your cast). Now pour the plaster into the plastic circle, filling to just below the rim. Try not to pour the plaster directly onto the print but off to the side, letting it run into the impression.

You now need to leave the cast to set for at least half an hour. Mark your spot with a tall stick (so you can find it again) and hunt for more prints or go for a circular walk.

When you are ready to remove the cast, very carefully lift it (including the plastic collar) and wrap it in the newspaper. Don't worry at this stage about cleaning any mud off - it is still very fragile. Leave to dry for another full day at home. The cast will then be properly set and you can cut off the collar and rinse off any mud.

You can paint the cast to highlight the footprint if you want to, or varnish it to give it extra strength. Be sure to label it with the species you have identified and the location you found it. As you add to your collection you will learn more about the animals and their behaviour. What sort of woodland do deer like to live in? What do wild boar like to eat? It's a fascinating way to learn more about the animals that live in our countryside. Incidentally, if you're lucky enough to find larger animal casts, such as a badger's, you can also use long strips of card, secured with paper clips to surround the print, instead of the plastic rings.

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