Results for category "Lynch Mill"

Fresh Bread and Farewell

Our final day WWOOFing at Lynch Mill has arrived and we are saddened to be leaving this place full of lessons and lovely walks.  In the morning after our regular chicken duty, we needed to put the beds to sleep that had been laid with manure in days past.  This entailed cutting out sheets of black plastic tarpaulin to be laid over the top of them and placing bricks along the edges to avoid any slippage.  Once this task was completed on the four beds of various sizes from previous days, we moved back into the kitchen for a lesson in bread making!

First Mo outlined the basic needs for bread: yeast, flour, a bit of oil and sugar for the yeast to eat – today, honey.  She also explained why we were using strong flour, or bread flour, instead of “regular” all-purpose flour.  When kneaded, strong flour creates gluten strands to enable leavening of the bread, whereas standard flour doesn’t react in the same way.  Here are the steps we went through:

1. Place 500 grams of flour, measured out to exact weight, in a mixing bowl.

2. Place one big tablespoon of honey, or 2 normal sized ones, into a small glass.  Add hot water to halfway full and melt honey until completely dissolved.

3. Next, add 2 1/2 teaspoons of quick yeast and stir.  Foam indicates the yeast has been activated.

4. Now, make a well in center of the flour and add a pinch of salt and about 2 Tablespoons of oil.

5. Begin mixing starting from the inside of the well and working your way outwards, adding a little flour at a time and also adding warm water, as needed, to mix in all of the flour.  The dough should be only slightly sticky and the flour all well incorporated.

6. When ready, turn out the dough onto a floured board.  We moved to using wheat flour here.  Wheat flour is from a much tougher grain, which means it takes more work to form the dough and longer to knead the dough to form the gluten strands.

7. Knead the dough by pushing outwards with your palm and then folding the dough back onto itself, turning the dough a quarter turn and repeating.  Regularly flour the board, as needed.  Continue until the dough stops sticking to the board and your hands.  It should be a bit glossy and recover itself when poked or pulled, rather than breaking or separating.

8. Place dough back into the bowl and coat with a little oil.  Cover and leave to rise for about an hour or until doubled in size.

9. Turn dough out onto a floured board and punch out the excess air.  Here, our host made her dough into a loaf of bread to eat with lunch – yum!  We moved on to create apple cinnamon pinwheel rolls with it.  So, we sprinkled flour onto the top, as well, and then rolled flat.

10. We then each spread 3 jars of the apple cinnamon jam made in the post Making Jam While the Sun Shines over the surface of the dough, leaving an edge free of jam to seal the bread to itself, and rolled it up so that the jam swirled inside.

11. Finally, we cut the roll into pieces about an 1 1/2 or 2 inches wide and laid flat into a baking tray.  Once they rose again to almost double their size, they went into the oven to cook.  When golden brown and only very slightly cooled, they went right into our mouths for a taste test.  Jam approved!  Bread approved!  Apple cinnamon jam pinwheels, fantastic!

After our lunch of garden soup, fresh hot bread and more apple cinnamon jam pinwheels, we headed back to the polytunnel.  We spread manure and laid black plastic tarpaulin with brick placeholders onto the two side beds that were now empty of plants and weeds.

At the close of our final day at Lynch Mill, we went for the evening walk that we’ve become accustomed to over the last couple of weeks. As we headed along the cliff tops overlooking the small village of Porlock, we appreciated for one last time the rugged beauty of the English Coastline and reminisced about our experiences learning from Mo and Guy, our kind hosts. We returned to a dinner of vegetable lasange that Mo had cooked especially for our final evening’s meal and after enjoying a delicious third helping, trundled upstairs to begin preparing for the next stage of our adventure.

Tomato Haven

The day began in marked contrast to the previous day’s bright sunshine. Horizontal rain and strong winds greeted us as we made our way to the chicken pen finding our feathered friends huddled beneath the handily placed solar panels. After unblocking the chicken feeder, which had become a little damp, it was time to make our way to the polytunnel to complete the work removing this year’s tomato plants.

Mo grows three types of tomato and after much experience is particularly adept at creating the right conditions for her plants to flourish, having very successful crops for the last few years now. Tomatoes in general are quite hardy plants, but to get the best results there are a few things to keep in mind. To illustrate these things, Mo provided some background on the plant’s anatomy and tips and tricks she had learned in her years. For starters, she said that being overly careful with the seeding isn’t really necessary with tomatoes, because of their hardiness and because they will root from any place their stem touches the ground, which means that you can remove a side shoot and plant it easily. So, she said for seeding, just put a layer of compost in a tray followed by a thin layer of soil and finally the seeds themselves, and some of the seeds will definitely grow into plant stems and break through the soil. In theory, you could have only one plant and then replant it’s side shoots; these would be planted as new plant stems to take root.

Once the plant starts to grow and the side shoots start to flower, they will either drop, or fruit. If they fruit, she removes the side shoots up to that shoot, allowing the plant to focus on the fruit and not on greenery. This is a specific tip she gathered from a local who grew tomatoes in large volume in the 1960s quite successfully. Although it doesn’t seem to be current practice, she said she gets 8 times the amount of fruit this way, as compared to conventional methods she had previously used.

Tomatoes are nitrogen hungry, so she feeds them with a seaweed-based fertilizer twice a week. They like to have water, but not be overly watered, a bit finicky here. So, with the watering system in use in the polytunnel, outlined in the post Day One at Lynch Mill, they water about twice per week, as well (although not on the same days as each other!). Mo shared that they have not had any problems with blight affecting the crop since they stopped growing potatoes and that the conditions inside the polytunnel nurture the tomato plants in order to produce the best possible yield of tomatoes each year.

We removed the last of the tomato plants running along both sides of the middle bed and weeded the bed around the sweet potato plants. The sweet potatoes won’t be ready to harvest for a couple more weeks, so we needed to be careful not to disturb the plants while we removed as much of the chickweed, thistle and other weeds that had found their way into the bed as we could.

By the afternoon, although still cool, the sun was now shining brightly as we made our way to the Water Wheel garden to finish some autumn tidying. The afternoon passed quickly as we pulled and trimmed at plants and soon it was time to finish for the day. After another beautiful evening walk in the surrounding hillside it was time to settle down for the night, resting and looking forward to our final day at Lynch Mill when Mo will be showing us how to bake our own bread.

Making Jam While the Sun Shines

Bright sunshine greeted us as we headed out to collect the eggs. Today was going to be a day for us to show what we learned on Friday, as we were to make our own jam today. However, there would be an experiment for the apples that had yielded very little juice in Friday’s attempt. Mo referenced marrow jam, which uses a process of macerating the marrow with sugar, to pull out the juice, which she thought might also work for our apples.

So, after returning with five fine eggs, we set to work by peeling and coring approx 3kg of apples (to make 2kg of processed apples) and then adding to 2kg of sugar (remember the 1:1 ratio!). We kept the cores and peels, as these would be used later as a pectin source, needed to set the jam. Once done peeling and chopping, we left the mixture for a few hours to macerate and headed outside to work on tidying around the greenhouse and in the Water Wheel garden.

Under Mo’s supervision we pulled out the angelica along the side of the greenhouse, spreading the seeds around before discarding the plants to the burn pile, as they self-fertilize and will grow new plants in the spring. We also trimmed the cardoon and lovage plants that grow alongside the greenhouse. Lovage can actually substitute for celery, as it’s quite similar in taste. We then moved over to the Water Wheel garden where we trimmed the evening primrose and spread the seeds, trimmed down the rose bush, day lilies and bergamot and weeded for all the usual suspects: grass, thistles, nettles, dandelion and chickweed.

With the sun’s rays shining bright, the opportunity to do a load of washing came to us, as most of the smallholding’s energy comes from their many solar panels.  There are a couple in front of the Water Wheel garden and many more in the back field behind the chicken pen.  In addition to the solar energy produced, the smallholding also has the opportunity for hydroelectricity from the water mill.  However, it takes a large excess of water from rainfall to produce enough water to really get the wheel going enough to register on the energy meter.  The house can monitor the energy levels using a meter they have in the kitchen.  It shows the amount of energy being produced by the water wheel and the solar panels, as well as, the energy the house is currently using.  This allows the family to adjust, as needed, to avoid kicking over to use Mains electricity, such as, waiting to run the dishwasher, or the laundry, as we experienced today.  These energy sources and their diligence in monitoring and adjusting allowed for an energy bill last year of only 55 pounds – for the entire year!  In addition, they have been acknowledged as a “Super Home” for having established a carbon savings level of 95%!

After a late lunch we resumed our jam making starting by putting the mixture, now quite juicy, into a pot. We also prepared a pip bag with about a third of the cores and peels from the apples of the morning along with about 4 Tablespoons of cinnamon, tying tightly, as it will be boiled along with the apple mixture. Next steps follow what we observed on Friday: make sure all the sugar dissolves, on medium heat and then increase the heat and bring to a rolling boil until the plate test proves it will set. This took quite a bit longer than Friday, since we were pulling pectin from the pip bag. After almost an hour of boiling and, of course, ensuring our lids were boiled in hot water and jars heated in an oven at 150 degrees Celsius, we were finally ready to jar them. Mo left for basketball practice and left us to it. This was a little trickier than Friday because we weren’t just dealing with pure liquid jelly this time, but a chunky jam. Yet, the handy funnel still worked very well and in the end we had 11 lovely jars of apple cinnamon jam. A successful experiment, for sure!

The sun of the day left us with warmth for a lovely evening walk down to the sea cliffs. We enjoyed a simple pasta dinner, but were rewarded with an extra yummy blackberry and apple crumble for afters, which Mo had made earlier and left for us. After our picturesque walk and a delicious dinner, we settled in for some down time.

Tunnels and Funnels

After a restful weekend of reading and film viewing  inspired by the bug we were suffering from, it was time to get back to work. Our considerate host, taking pity on our illness, planned a morning of light outside work followed by an afternoon concluding our Friday jelly making activities. So after cleaning  the chicken house, and admiring the chicken “palace”, which Guy has made significant progress in building over the last few days, it was time to head to the polytunnel.

Polytunnels are used in some similar ways to greenhouses and can significantly extend the growing season. They keep things cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, as well as protecting from strong winds and heavy rain etc. Far more factors are able to be influenced using a polytunnel and as Mo will testify to, they can greatly increase your yield. At Lynch Mill, peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes are grown under their protection with the tomato crop being particularly impressive this year.

Today, we set to work clearing the tomato beds along each side of the polytunnel with weeds and tomato plants being pulled out without discrimination. The seeds we saved on Friday will be used to replant the beds in the spring , until then they will be allowed to recuperate over the winter, ready for next years crop.

After a lovely lunch of vegetable and bean soup, containing all homegrown ingredients, it was time to resume our jelly making activities.  Using the juice we stored on Friday, as referenced in the post It Was ALMOST Jelly…, we set about finishing the task.  The jelly is made using a 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar, both being placed into a pot (keeping in mind that the pot should have more than ample room remaining as the bubbling mixture will double, or even triple, in volume) on medium heat to first melt the sugar.  If the heat is too high here, it could burn the sugar.

After checking the spoon for sugar granules left undissolved to ensure they have all melted into the juice, the heat can be increased to produce a rolling boil.  This boil will activate the pectin and produce a set.  If there is enough pectin, a set should be possible after 10-15 minutes of the rolling boil.  If not, additional pectin can be added by introducing a “pip bag”, a cloth bag hung inside the boiling mixture with cut up apples inside that include the peels and the seeds, which hold the most pectin.  In order to confirm that the mixture is able to set, a plate test can be used.  Drop a little of the liquid onto a plate and allow to cool slightly; using your finger, you can test to see if a film is forming on the surface, producing wrinkles in response to the motion of your finger through it.  This test might need to be performed a few times before a set is confirmed and then the mixture can be removed from the heat and is ready for jars.

When you reach the rolling boil stage, the lids should be set to a boil in water and the oven with jars inside turned on to 150 degrees Celsius, both needing at least 10 minutes to sterilize.  Using a funnel and being careful not to touch any of the inside, or lip of the jars or inside of the lid and cancel out the sterilization process just performed, the jelly can be spooned into each jar, filled to within 3mm of the very top.  The funnel we used here is actually cut  from the top of a water bottle so it  includes a useful handle and is much cheaper than a “proper” funnel that is expensive and can end up sized wrong for various tasks.  Chutney requires a larger hole because of the chunks, where conventional jelly funnels have a much smaller end.

Lids can then be placed onto the top and sealed tight – again, don’t touch!  You can use a magnet or fork to pull the lids from the water and drop onto the top before using a toweled or gloved hand to tighten them up.  And once it finishes setting with its cool down, it’s jelly!  Tomorrow we will try again with some apples, as we didn’t get very much juice at all from out attempt on Friday.

After our evening walk, we settled inside for a little more restorative rest, hoping 100% comes back to us shortly.

It Was ALMOST Jelly…

The chill seems to be settling in now, or at least there is a succession of chilly days. Body warmers on, we headed to the big polytunnel this morning to pick tomatoes and start off weed clearing there. When the time for morning tea break arrived, we found Mo in the kitchen, ready to start off with jelly making – up on the agenda from yesterday’s harvesting, a blackberry and apple jelly.

Mo had the blackberries simmering on low heat in a large pot with just a little water to start them off. After about an hour of simmering, they were very juicy and a potato masher was introduced to break up the rest of the bits. Once thoroughly mashed (mostly by Isambard, or Izzy for short, our hosts’ three-year-old son and little bit of mashing by each of us, as well) an unbleached cotton pillowcase was rolled onto the top of another large pot and the blackberries poured there to strain the juice from the pulp of the berries. This needs to rest for straining for several hours, overnight even better. Mo’s special note here was that you could use muslin, but it’s expensive – Ikea has very cheap unbleached cotton pillowcases by comparison; a couple of years ago, they were only 38 pence per case!

Once we reached this step, we started in on the apples, having cut them into what would most easily be referred to as bite-sized pieces, they went into a pot of their own. After about an hour and a half of stirring, they were broken down well enough for the masher, as well. However, they looked very much like applesauce at this point. Yet, we set them up to strain in a pillowcase-covered pot of their own and hoped for some juice. It seems that previously, Mo has cooked the apples and blackberries together and then strained, which worked out fine. But, on this occasion, we ended up with very little apple juice as a result of all those apples and cooking time. So, the blackberry and apple juice we did end up with went into the fridge for another go next week at making a more successful batch.

Before we had abandoned our jelly making of the day, we had also pulled a box of jars for potting our jelly. It’s important to note a few things about potting preserved goodies. Firstly, jars can be sterilized and re-sterilized for many uses, but with lids there is more difficulty reaching optimum sterilization after their first use. This can become a problem and even produce an inedible jar of what could have been yumminess, so it’s best to always start out with new lids so that failure here is avoided. Secondly, to sterilize the jars, they sit in a warm oven for 15 minutes, just like we did when preparing chutney in the post Chutneyfication, but also important to note is that cold jars should go into a cold oven – glass can react quite violently to extreme temperature changes (i.e. cold jars into hot oven), so best to follow the temperature matching rule here, too.

Another task occurring during our stirring time was K’s preparations of tomato seeds for next year’s planting. From our morning’s collection of tomatoes from the big polytunnel, he took several of each of the three varieties grown: Money Maker, Yellow Cherry, and Gardener’s Delight and cut them open to remove the seeds. First, he marked a paper towel with the name of the tomato seeds he would be placing there and then went about pulling out seeds and placing them onto the paper towel. Two plates of each of the three kinds of tomatoes were prepared and placed in the window sill for drying before they will be able to be stored for the winter. A couple of days of drying time in the window is likely sufficient, but Mo said she leaves them to dry for an entire week just to be certain they are completely dry and there will be no risk in storage for the winter months. They should be stored in a cool, dry place and will be ready for planting after the cold of winter has passed and their beds are ready for their arrival.

After an evening walk, we settled in for a quiet evening, both feeling quite tired, seeming to have caught a bit of a cold that our hosts and Izzy have been dealing with the last few days.

Loving Simplicity