Thursday 10 November 2022

Little Asby Common - Part 2 - insects, birds and frogs

 In Part 1 of this blog series I looked at some of the plant life on Little Asby Common, Cumbria which we saw when we were staying in the village. 

In this blog I share some of the wildlife we saw up there. Like many uplands in the UK, you can hear curlew with their bubbling call, though we were too late in the season to see some of the other waders that nest in the area and too early for the influx of ducks and geese from Iceland and Greenland that pass through the region on migration. 

Quite some distance from other flowers I found this Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans) with what I believe to be a Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) but I am not 100% sure of the identification! 

It does show how wide ranging bees are in search of food and it certainly found the thistle to its liking, as I was watching it for several minutes. 

This is a Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis), a common bird both in the lowlands and uplands. They are usually quite skittish around humans but this one was perched for a little while on a wall near Sunbiggin Tarn while we watched.

While we were at Sunbiggin Tarn we had to be very careful walking around as there were quite a few tiny frogs making their way towards the lake through the undergrowth!

I only had moments to get a blurry
photo of what I think is a Common Darter dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum) enjoying the sunshine on a rock on the hillside above the tarn. I wasn't expecting a dragonfly out in the middle of the moorland but looking at the British Dragonfly Society sightings map, some have been seen here before. 

And of course, although they aren't wild, meet one of the sheep living on the moor, in conversation!

Little Asby Common - sheep wrecked?? Part 1

Whilst on holiday in the tiny village of Little Asby, near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, we were able to take several walks up onto Little Asby Common which is a limestone pavement moorland and common land. This extends over towards Sunbiggin Tarn, which is a small lake a few miles away, of which more later. There is a lot of archaeology up there, going back thousands of years and beyond Sunbiggin Tarn there is a stone circle at Gamelands near Orton.

But having been gifted books on lichens, mosses and ferns for my birthday, and with an increasing interest in wildflowers, I wanted to see what species there were on a moorland habitat some deride as sheep-wrecked. 

This is an Autumn Hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis), looks a bit like a dandelion. Common in rocky places and is perennial. 
This is a Harebell or Scottish Bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia) more common in the north of England into Scotland than further south. Very delicate flowers, of which there were quite a few on the moor. 

Dreaming about harebells is said to symbolise true love! 

This is a Maidenhair Spleenwort, (Asplenium trichomanes) bit of a mouthful to say but I wouldn't try eating it!

This is a fern that grow out of rocky crevices and is easily recognisable by the shape of the leaves. 

This is Tormenil, a kind of Cinquefoil (Potentilla erecta) found on acid grassland and moorland. 

Many of the flowers I found whilst on the moorland were quite small and delicate but obviously able to survive the presence of sheep on the fell. In fact, the grazing of animals is a integral part of the survival of smaller wildflowers as well managed grazing stops these being outcompeted by larger species as Plantlife explain in this article

In the next blog, more wildflowers and some of the creatures I saw during my time on the common. 

Sunday 6 November 2022

Autumn in the Allotment

Gosh, it has been a while since I have posted on the blog! Have been pretty active on Twitter and been spending a lot of time sorting through photographs taken whilst on holiday in Cumbria, near Kirkby Stephen, of which more another time. 

I also have been doing some website and social media volunteering for , a non-profit foundation helping indigenous people in northern Brazil restore and protect rainforest. 

We've also made several bags up of mini sweetcorn, the variety is called Minipop and it does seem to do very well in our allotment. We start them off in sterilised compost in toilet roll tubes and then plant it in a block as it is wind pollinated. 

One thing that did benefit from the absurdly high temperatures this summer was the grape vine. Although the grapes aren't massive, it is outdoors, the quantity was significantly higher than usual and there's a huge bag in the freezer waiting for me to have chance to start off some wine. 

This Autumn we have had a lot of apples and pears, and I mean.... a lot! We have three minarette apple trees, a Gala, a Chiver's Delight and a Falstaff. There's also two minarette pear trees, a Conference and a Comice, the latter of which does ripen very quickly in storage and so I have had to preserve a lot of them in sugar solution, great in porridge!

We've had some lovely Cosmos in the allotment, and indeed sunflowers, nasturtiums and marigolds. We also leave some weeds to grow into flowers, mainly to see what they are, but also as you never know what wildlife will turn up on them and indeed depend on them for nectar etc. 

Earlier in the year, whilst it was so dry, we were really worried about the size of the potatoes. However, the dry and hot weather have meant no blight this year so we have been able to leave the potatoes in the ground for much longer which has meant they are now a decent size. They make great chips though some of them do fragment easily when boiled. The nasturtiums are taking over where the potatoes were!

Sunday 24 April 2022

Cassoulet - ish

I enjoy cooking but have, I suppose like many people, a fairly limited selection of dishes that I can actually cook! I find recipes in books and online often way too complicated for me, not that I can't understand them given time but that I just want to get on with throwing things into a pan, wok or dish, frying or bubbling or oven-cooking it up. 

However, having gone round my usual list of Sunday dinner options, which doesn't just include the traditional English Sunday roast, I decided that I would actually try something new this week. 

My eldest mentioned recently that cassoulet, which is basically like a French bean casserole with meat, is something that she bought in tins when working in France but never really tried cooking it herself. Now, I am sure that my version of it would seriously annoy any respectable French cook but I decided to give it a go. 

Hence, "Cassoulet-ish" is the title for this blog!

So, one of the things that we grow a lot of in the allotment are borlotti beans for drying.

These are just some of them, it took a long time to pod all of them and when drying in the pods, they took up over four fruit boxes like you get at the greengrocers. 

We have also still been eating our carrots planted last year in tyre stacks, though they are getting down to the last few small ones now. 

But, even though we are at the very last of the crops planted the previous season, we do have asparagus!

These have popped up literally in the past couple of days and there's more just under the surface wich will do for tea this coming Tuesday evening. 

So, my version of cassoulet, which will serve 9 portions, involved the following:

Dried Borlotti beans - soaked overnight in cold water (really important), change of water, then boiled with some dried red kidney beans (again soaked overnight) for 45 mins or so. To be honest we just pour dried beans in the pan until it looks like we have enough but I would suggest that a medium mug full of dried beans per 3 or so people is about right.

Carrots - approximately 4 large ones, though half of the selection of carrots I put in were from the allotment and in various small sizes and strange shapes! Diced

Swede - two slices, diced

Beetroot - half of one, though one could use a whole one quite easily, diced. 

Mushrooms - about 500g (just over 1lb), chopped

1 red bell pepper, sliced and diced

6 lengths of asparagus from our allotment

Rosemary and other mixed dried, chopped herbs to taste. (the rosemary being a gift from another allotment holder!)

Olive or vegetable oil to brown the meat in

Half a lb (about 225g) of back bacon, trimmed of fat, diced. Bought from our local butchers, supplied by a farm 3 miles away

1 dozen medium sausages, sliced into half inch (1.25cm) slices, again from same butchers and farm. I chose some pork with sage flavouring but any decent butchers' sausage which isn't too plain or too spicy would be fine. 

Once the beans were done, I drained them and then popped them to one side on a plate while I browned the sausage and bacon in the same pan (to save washing up!) and added some stock (ideally one would use a pork or bacon stock cube but I had to substitute a beef one), enough to cover all the ingredients once the vegetables and beans are added in. I always find it worth giving any meat a good brown over before moving onto the next stage. 

I bubbled the meat and stock for a couple of minutes, giving it a good stir, then I added all the vegetables and beans, which luckily just fitted in the pan! And added the chopped up herbs. 

I then bubbled this for about 30 minutes with the occasional stir. I then added the asparagus and boiled for another 10-15 minutes. I did read somewhere that one should always cook asparagus vertically so that the tips are steamed, not boiled. Hence the mixture looks like some kind of weird bean birthday cake with candles!

Alongside this, I popped some part-baked baguettes into the oven on 200C (392F) for 10 minutes bought from the local supermarket (there isn't a bakery that is open on a Sunday where I live and to be honest I am not sure the one we do have during the week does baguettes to buy on their own anyway)

So, here we have the finished serving of something that may or may not be Cassoulet but certainly was very tasty!

Sunday 13 February 2022

More local dinner!

It has been some time since I blogged although I have been active on Twitter on many topics (@cashandcarrots). One of these is local food. I live in an area with many local livestock farmers and the beef, pork and lamb in my local butchers is raised on a farm three miles away. The chicken is from a couple of farms, around thirty miles away in different directions, and more on one of these later. We cycle to one of three smallholdings in nearby villages for eggs, two of these have the chickens in a small field right next to the road so you can literally see where your food comes from! Our milk is delivered from TD Goodall's dairy about ten miles away as the crow flies, with the yoghurts and cottage cheese (and butter if we need it) that come in the same delivery originally from Longley Farm near Huddersfield, a company that I have supported for over thirty years now. 

Our local butchers shop is often trying out new products and this weekend I noticed that they had got in some free range chickens via a merchant called Soanes Poultry. These were, looking at the colour of the skin, obviously corn fed and the farmer is not far from Doncaster Airport. These were on a trial price so they will be a little bit more expensive in the future but it is worth paying a bit more for free range if they are available. 

I don't know whether they have bred for ease of carving (or dismantling as I think of it!) but when cooked it was just dropping off the bones and very straightforward to portion up!

It was very tasty, some say that one can detect a difference between corn fed and other types of feeding but maybe I cooked it too long! But a very nice roast all the same and doubly satisfying knowing that it had been outdoors and free range.

The last of the home grown potatoes from last season went into the dish for roast potatoes. Sacks of potatoes, grown up on the Yorkshire Wolds, are available from our local butchers too. If we had needed any at the time of a recent trip to Harrogate there are a couple of farms on the way there that also do them. 

The carrots came from the allotment, grown in our tyre stacks and with the mild winter we have had, these are still growing well. I always have a slice or two raw before they get cooked, they are very sweet and tasty. 

I am not sure how many parsnips are still left under the ground in that section of the allotment but the middles are starting to go slightly woody now. Still plenty of usable parsnip on one this size though!

I have saved a big one in the ground to go to seed for next year though, we nearly always save seed from them. 

The parsnip was sliced up and deep fried into chips, this only takes a few minutes in a pre-heated chip pan, though of course with such cooking it is imperative that care is taken and the fat does not get too hot before cooking and it is not left alone at all. 

The swede and the turnip were from Peckfield Farm Shop and The Greengrocer in Garforth respectively, although am not sure where in the UK they were grown. Though by using local shops one is putting money into the local community and indeed through the food chain direct to farmers without involving the big supermarkets. 

So, a thoroughly tasty Sunday lunch supporting local producers and retailers!