Archive | July, 2013

Blackcurrant Cordial.

30 Jul

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With all those delicious vitamin C and antioxidant filled Blackcurrants almost all harvested and frozen it’s time to think what to do with them. I will as usual make lots of Blackcurrant Jam. This sells well at local shops and markets. I also want to make a Blackcurrant Chutney this year. Anyone out there ever made a chutney from Blackcurrants? Do you have a good recipe to share?

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Blackcurrant cordial is another definite to make. It’s a great way to get your Vitamin c throughout the Winter. It makes a lovely hot drink too, just add hot water to your cordial and a little honey if desired.   So without further ado here is the recipe:

Blackcurrant Cordial

500g blackcurrants

275g sugar

250ml water

half a teaspoon of citric acid

In a heavy based saucepan simmer everything together for 5 minutes. Using a potato masher, break up the fruit to release all the juice. Add the citric acid and simmer for another 2 minutes. Strain through a double layer of muslin, Pour into sterilised bottles while still hot.

If you would like to fortify your cordial with brandy just let the cordial cool and add brandy before bottling.

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Water, water everywhere…for now.

26 Jul

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After a great stretch of good weather Ireland is back to it’s more usual Summer weather.  Rain showers interspersed with sunny periods. Life is back to normal…gardens are watered from the sky and all is fresh and green again. It did amuse me that after 15 days without rain a drought was declared. In a country with such high rainfall I find that odd. How come we have such low reserves of water?

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I lived the first 10 years of my life living in a house that didn’t have piped water. We had a pump in the yard which supplied all our water. Beautiful clear spring water came from the pump after a few up and downs of the handle. As children it was our job to bring water into the house in buckets.  Most of our neighbours at that time would have been the same so we saw nothing wrong with it. It did however give me a deep appreciation of water. It is something I do not waste. It is a treasure without which life on this planet could not continue.

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Listening to the radio a few days ago Duncan Stewart…eco archicect, environmentalist and broadcaster…presented a few interesting statistics about water:

Ireland imports 4.5 billion cubic metres of bottled water every year. In a land of rivers and springs I find that very strange. Think of all the plastic bottles required. Of course plastic comes from oil so that’s a huge contribution to oil consumption.

70% of Irish food is imported. This has huge implications for water consumption as a lot of food is produced in water stressed regions of the world such as the Middle East and North Africa. Israeli food crops are often produced on settled territories  using water which  rightly belongs to Palestine. An ethical dilemma we must all judge with our buying choices.

A power shower uses 150 litres of water in 5 minutes. No comparison was given with an ordinary shower but I assume the difference would be substantial.

40% of our piped water is lost through leaks in the system. Surely it would make sense to rectify that before looking to other solutions?

There was a lot more in the discussion but those were the main ones that struck me.

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Something which has struck me recently is how the rain in Ireland has changed. From mostly soft light showers it has changed to heavy, monsoon like downpours. Climate change has given us even more rain! For me the irony is what happens to this large amount of water? Of course a certain amount falls on land and bodies of water but rain that falls on buildings is usually directed into the sewerage systems. What a waste! All that lovely water from the sky is immediately contaminated in the sewers. Surely it would make sense to collect this water for use in the public supply systems?

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Two nights ago in Dublin there was torrential rain. Houses and businesses were flooded because the sewer couldn’t cope with the extra water. At present there is a plan to build a huge water reservoir in the Midlands to supply our capital city with water.  There’s also been murmurings about bringing water from the Shannon. Meanwhile untold amounts of water are flowing into the sewers. Surely it would be more cost effective to divert this water into reservoirs or other storage systems.?

We are lucky enough to have our own well supplying the house here in Lurgan. However we also collect water from the roof in a series of barrels at every corner of the house. This water is used to water the garden and polytunnel. Washing up is only done once a day. Dishes are piled neatly and all washed up in one go in the evening.  I hate to see people washing a cup under a running tap. Wasteful!

In the middle of all this water dilemna we have our government debating whether they will allow hydraulic fracking to proceed in Ireland. A process that uses millions of litres of water for every frack.  Not to mention what to do with all the resulting polluted water. Crazy!!

Water is a finite resource…all the water that will ever be is already on the planet.

“I believe water will be the defining crisis of our century, the main vehicle through which climate change will be felt…from droughts, storms, and floods to degrading water quality. We’ll see major conflicts over water; water refugees. We inhabit a water planet, and unless we protect, manage, and restore that resource, the future will be a very different place from the one we imagine today.”

Alexandra Cousteau

“Water is the driving force in nature.” Leonardo da Vinci.

“We never know the worth of water till the well runs dry.” Thomas Fuller.

From Herb Day to Inisfree.

23 Jul

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Sunday saw us off on one of our fairly regular days out. First stop was at The Herbalist’s Apothecary open day. The weather was lovely…a bit cooler than recently which was a relief. The herbalist is Steffan who lives and works in this beautiful cottage which is just outside the village of Dromahair in the county of Sligo.  There were lots of herbal mixes, creams and herbal plants on sale.  There was also lovely vegetarian food provided for all who attended. How generous is that!!

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The cottage itself is beautiful…gorgeous gothic style windows. Photo is a bit dark but it gives the idea.

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An eclectic mix of objects give the cottage a lovely feel. Even the windowsills outside are adorned with flowers and lovely little fairy statues.

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I love the half door too.

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Late afternoon we headed off for picnic and poetry by the Lake Isle of Inisfree…

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where cream tea was the order of the day.

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We had a couple of doggie friends too…little Charlie and the lovely lurcher Osh who has the most gorgeous gentle eyes. They quickly became friends and paddled about at the edge of the lake. 029

It is just so beautiful, calm and relaxing there. We were all very reluctant to leave. It was almost 8 o clock as we made our way back across the fields to our cars.

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On the way home we spotted this cottage…well you couldn’t really miss it. Certainly not a shy retiring person who dwells here I would think.

I will leave you with the words of WB Yeats .

Lake Isle of Innisfree.

I will arise and go now, and go to Inisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made,

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

And live alone there in the bee loud glade.

 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings.

There midnight all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day.

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,

I hear it in the heart’s deep core.

Blackcurrant season is here.

21 Jul

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As the good weather continues the Blackcurrants are ready for picking. Usually I would cut off the branches and then pick the fruit from them en masse. This year however despite all the sunshine the fruit is ripening in stages. I suspect this is something to do with the garden being shaded for part of the day by the many trees. It makes the job a bit easier anyway as all the fruit doesn’t have to be harvested together.

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The tree shade made it easier to pick in the scorching temperatures we’ve had all week. I moved as the sun moved…always seeking the shade. Thankfully rain is forecast for the week ahead. The garden needs it as the ground is already cracking.

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These Blackcurrants need a good prune as I suspect they hadn’t been pruned for about 2 years. Lots of them planted here by the previous owners. My neighbour tells me the were all grown from cuttings taken from her garden. No clue as to the varieties but who cares so long as they produce a crop.

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I find harvesting a relaxing pastime. What could be nicer…sitting in the shade picking your Vitamin C supply for the Winter ahead. Actually Blackcurrants are just as much a superfood as the much lauded Blueberry. They are full of antioxidants and are good for problems with joint inflammation, eyestrain and urinary tract infections.

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As always Lettie is nearby when I’m in the garden. She too was seeking shade but not quite getting it right. Freddie doesn’t seem to like the Sun…he retreats to his bed when it’s very hot.

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All the Blackcurrants are frozen…one kilo in each bag. This is enough to make 7 or 8 12oz pots of jam or 3 bottles of cordial. Time for all that when the harvesting is done. I sell my jams and chutneys to a few local shops and also at occasional markets I attend. I am sharing with you my recipe or Blackcurrant Jam. It uses less water than usual…just a pint…but this helps to give a stronger flavour jam that sets easily.

Blackcurrant Jam.

2lbs 4ozs Blackcurrants

1 pint water

3lbs 6ozs sugar

Place the Blackcurrants and water together in a large thick bottomed pan. Bring to the boil, reduce to simmer and cook until the fruit is softened. The contents of the pan should be reduced by half . Add the sugar. Stir well whilst bringing all to a full rolling boil. Boil hard until a set is obtained. Pot and seal whilst still hot.

Happy jamming.

Bridget

Velux windows and garden flowers.

17 Jul

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From the outside the house looks the same but changes have been happening inside. New windows on the north side let in lots more light, toilet is moved, bathroom is sorted. However the biggest and most noticeable change for us has been the addition of 2 Velux windows above the kitchen.

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Inside the difference is dramatic…two windows…one to the south…one to the north flood the former dark kitchen with light. Previously a light would always be on here but no more. Such a pleasure to be in this room now. Good light is so important for one’s health and wellbeing in my view.

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We searched high and low but failed to find a nice wide non plastic lampshade for here. One website had one for a couple of hundred pounds which was a non starter. Visiting our previous neighbours I asked them where they got their shade. Turns out they had a spare one exactly the same lying in the shed. It does have a chip in the enamel but that just adds to the rustic country feel. There is a hook to raise and lower the light.

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All this made me curious about Velux windows…who invented them etc. Well I’ve done the research and they were invented by a Danish man called Villum Kaun Rasmussen. He was a civil engineer from Denmark. KR’s (as he was known) vision was “to develop a roof window which in every respect was just as good as the best vertical window.”  He set up his company in 1941 and in 1942 developed the first Velux window.

I wonder what makes Danish people so good at design?

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In the garden everything is doing well. Blackcurrants are just ripe and flowers are loving the hot weather. This Galega (Goat’s Rue) looks cool in the heat. The early days of this week have been cooler…around 20 celsius…however the temperatures are set to rise again towards the weekend. According to the New Zealand weather forecaster Ireland is not to get rain again until September 11th. Already the ground is starting to crack…if it lasts until September our green will be turned to brown.

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Evening primrose has also started flowering. Will save seeds of this as it’s larger than the one I had in my old garden.

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Shasta Daisy is in a large pot outside the conservatory. I brought this one from Arigna but there’s lots of it in the garden here too. I really like it as the flowers last a long time and fit in with any planting scheme.

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Rosebay Willowherb  has also just come into bloom. Regarded as a weed by many I love it…I will of course remove it when it finishes flowering as I don’t want it to take over…it is a rapid spreader. The leaves do have some herbal use…a decoction or infusion is used to treat headache and migrane. Apparently it is much used in Russia as a tea. It is very high in Vitamin C. The thing I don’t like about it is those fluffy seeds that come after the flowers but it will be gone before those get a chance to make their appearance.

A quote for Sunday.

14 Jul

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“If you really think the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.”

Dr. Guy McPherson.

Flowers and sunshine in an Irish cottage garden.

8 Jul

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It’s hot in Ireland today. The heatwave is here. Hottest place in the country today is Listowel, Co. Kerry…29 degrees celsius. Too hot for us fair skinned Irish. I love to see the Sun and feel it’s heat but that just stops me in my tracks. I’ve been hoeing in the yard today…it’s a great time for that as the weeds just burn up in the sun. A few minutes hoeing and a few minutes in the shade…that’s me today.

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The garden is looking good right now. So many Bees and other insects about. They especially like this tall Valerian. There’s a loud hum everytime I pass here as they complain about being disturbed from their ecstasy.

It’s a plant I  like too…I love it’s height and the fact that you can see through it to the rest of the garden. I think Verbena bonariensis would look nice amongst the Valerian here…a nice contrasting colour and similar habit.  What do you think?

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A plant which was here in the garden is this Cephalaria gigantea. I wasn’t familiar with it before now but I do like it.

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It’s almost 6ft tall with creamy yellow Scabious like flowers. Apparently it grows easily from seed. I shall certainly save some and grow some more of this lovely.

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Lady’s Mantle…Alchemilla mollis is at it’s peak right now. It contrasts lovely with this pink perennial Geranium at the base of the Apple tree….but then it would be hard to find something that didn’t look good alongside the wonderful zingy green flowers of Lady’s Mantle. I know some people dislike it but for me it’s a star in any border.

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Another pretty one growing in the Orchard area. I don’t know it’s name…anyone out there know? Someone said to me recently to pull it out as it spreads like mad. I hadn’t the heart to pull it…if it spreads so be it.

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The first Dahlia flowered today. The dark foliage sets off the orange flower brilliantly. I keep all the Dahlias in pots as I find they die over the Winter otherwise. The pots are useful to use as fillers where any gaps occur.

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Hypericum has just started to bloom under the Alder tree. It seems to like the semi-shade here.

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I planted this Primula vialii here a few weeks ago not knowing that the little leaves growing beside it would turn out to be a lovely little native Orchid. Nature does it best…what a good pairing they make.

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Another recent purchase was this Primula florindae “Kellour hybrid”…I do love the taller growing Primulas. This one is scented and smells just like cinnamon.

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A few flowers in the polytunnel too. These are Purple Teepee beans…

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and this Bush Tomato is showing the promise of fruits to come.

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In a corner of the polytunnel this Thunbergia is flashing it’s eye catching blooms. Commonly known as Black Eyed Susan it needs a sheltered sunny spot. It can grow up to 10ft tall and flowers from July right up to October.

So there you have it…flowers and sunshine in an Irish cottage garden.

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