Archive for April, 2009

First chicken bought today…

Unfortunately no, it’s not a real chicken but a stuffed one and not edible at that.  She’s called Omlet and she’s crazy.  A bit like my partner (the crazy bit, my partner isn’t called Omlet)

photo-omlet

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Long weekend away

With my wedding date drawing closer it was time to spend a weekend away with my friends.  We chose Nottingham centerparcs being more central and ‘different’ to where we usually go when we have a weekend.

Centerparcs makes some effort to be green, but it could do a lot more.  But being green was the last thing on my mind during the ‘last few weeks of freedom’ celebration.  Fortunately my motley crew are a sympathetic bunch which meant that there was no enforced drinking, clubbing or similar.  It was quite, quite civilised and everyone agreed that it was one of the best weekends away they’d had – which was an added bonus.

That’s not to say we didn’t drink heavily, spend hours in a probably very eco-unfriendly hot tub (about 19hrs over the weekend) as well as taking full advantage of the sauna and steam room.  The swimming pool was great fun and we made a lot of peoples day as we took over 200 glow sticks with us which we handed out in the swimming pool after I’d made a proper fool of myself.  There were other things that happened over the course of the weekend which I’m not at liberty to divulge, but needless to say it’ll leave a lot of people mentally scared for life.

The weather did hold out until the last day – which rained heavily and has given my allotment the watering it required!

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Shower door cold frame

shower door coldframeMade from scaffolding boards and an old shower door, I present the wonderful, the magnificent shower door cold frame!

I put it on a sheet of weed suppressant membrane I had lying around, coated it with 2″ of gravel to keep out the couch grass and mares tail (fat chance) and filled with potted plants.

So far only one slug has intruded.  There was also a nasty incident with a snail.

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REAL Ginger Beer Plant & Ginger Beer Recipe

Ginger Beer PlantFinally my ginger beer plant arrived today – it should have been here yesterday, shame on you Post Office for your ever slipping standards.

Let me begin by saying, if a recipe for ginger beer asks for brewers yeast it is not ‘traditional’ ‘authentic’ ‘old-style’ or anything else, it is ‘faux-ginger beer’.  To make ‘traditional’ ‘authentic’ ‘old-style’ ginger beer you need a ginger beer plant.

A ginger beer plant does not require yeast.  You cannot start one yourself.  You need a ginger beer plant from someone else.   Just think for a minute, I start my ginger beer ‘plant’ with brewers/bakers yeast, then after my brew I split it in half and give it to my friend.  Why?  Can’t he get the yeast himself and put it in a pot?  It’s just plain silly!  Ginger Beer Plant (GBP) is a very special substance which relies on lots and lots of internal co-operative processes to work! So please, please web authors stop posting your recipes for ‘real’ ginger beer!

[/rant]

Anyway… I’ve popped it straight in the fridge, unfortunately I’m not here this weekend as I’m off on my stag do.  It’s a somewhat more eco friendly stag do than I originally planned – we’re off to centerparcs in Nottingham for the weekend.  Whilst I’m looking forward to it, sadly I’m equally excited about starting my ginger beer.  Unfortunately the two aren’t compatable, so I’ll have to start my experiment the moment I get back.

Meantime here is a REAL recipe for REAL ginger beer:

Ginger beer plant
2 litres of clorine free water (just leave an open topped bottle of tap water in the fridge overnight)
A quarter tsp of cream of tar tar
A quarter tsp of the juice of a lemon to taste
Just a little more sugar than you would like to taste
A good dessertspoon of ginger powder to taste or about two inches of fresh ginger scalded and grated or finely sliced and held together in piece of muslin tied with a rubber band.

Put all the ingredients in together in a fermentation bucket (food grade plastic) and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Leave in the fermentation device for a couple of days.  Then bottle in a 2 liter coke bottle straining through more muslin cloth to remove the ginger plant.   Leave the bottle for a couple of days until when squeezed it feels quite solid.  Put it in the fridge to chill – this will effectively render any remaining yeast asleep.

Be warned – the end product is quite, quite fizzy (apparently more so than champagne).

The amount of GBP (Ginger Beer Plant) ought to have doubled, if not this time it should have done so during your next brew.  Take half and give it to a friend/family/stranger.

GBP can be stored in the fridge once rinsed, drained and covered when not brewing.

Both the original instructions (modified by me) and the plant came from www.gingerbeerplant.net – I won’t be offering any yet until I’ve at least drunk my first batch and I intend to make five gallons…

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Mowing the plot

 

One of the things I really regret when ‘planning’ my plot was not leaving enough room to run a mower down the raised beds or even the space to kneel down.  It was planned though, I left enough room to stand facing them – my feet are size 14s so that’s not a small gap.

The rest of it is lumpy and bumpy.   I did up until recently have a wild patch left to entice different species to it to nest.  This included small lizards (many of those) beetles, bees and frogs.  Unfortunately I generally seemed to only attract couch grass and the occasional lizard.

I’ve moved everything and reduced the size of the nature area.  It’s more central to the plot and the area that was by my shed has been reclaimed to be a sitting and eatin’ area with a perminant bench.

This weekend was quite a good one for the plot.  A new land girl has taken on the task of building a raised bed on the corner of our plot – the ground gets incredibly wet during the winter and dries solid during the summer.  A raised bed and some soil conditioner will make it much easier to work with and give me less to mow.

I spent the day seperating the leeks and the lettuce – even planting some out under cloches.  I need to get some radishes in however because I always want them and they usually only feed the slugs.

radishWhat did suprise me was what someone pointed out on one of the allotment forums I frequent, radish plug plants for £0.99 + 2.54p&p.  That’s 59p a radish, has the world gone mad?  Or don’t they realise a radish plug plant makes, er, one radish?

You can see it for a limited period here: http://tinyurl.com/der7o8 but on the basis that the auction will soon be over, I’ve also screen printed it so you can believe your eyes.

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Ginger Beer Plant (GBP)

I apologise for this somewhat long winded post, but it’s on a subject which I’ve recently become interested in and there seems very little information written about online.  It’s only really come to my attention over the past couple of years due to the increase in the self sufficient and green revolution.  Many celebrities and websites are currently promoting what I call the homemade revival – traditional skills that have fallen into disuse and are only now being revived.  It’s quite a telling sign that progress has killed many of the things thirty or forty years ago we may have taken for granted and people are beginning to harp to simpler times.

When I was very young I can remember my father making ‘normal’ beer in the house.  The process stank something rotten and put me off for a number of years.  Then at school (probably about 12-15) I got a taste for beer and other than pinching my fathers stash, I thought about making my own.  My first attempt was quite frankly awful and it put me off brewing for a number of years.  By the time I got to about 20 I decided to give it a go again, this time I read up on it – I was pretty poor at the time as a student at university and wanted to either make good batches or not make it at all.  My first few batches were a success and I found myself in the unusual position of being an out of hours off license – people would pop by quite late to pick up a few often paying for the whole batch just by getting a few bottles.  This enabled me to buy more.

By chance while working for Norwich county council I came into contact with another brewer who was getting rid of all his gear.  I doubled my brewing equipment and also managed to get about 20 glass carboys which I sold at a boot sale.  I retained a few and used them to brew smaller batches of beer which wouldn’t go off so easily – I could use two or three in a cobbled together bar (which was a half whiskey barrel and hand pump) and people would come round to my outdoors pub which was in our small courtyard between several houses.

When I moved back home I stopped drinking so much and started experimenting with other ingredients.  Nettle beer wasn’t much of a success and whilst plenty of my friends liked the ‘espresso beer’ it wasn’t something I really enjoyed.  Then I stumbled upon ‘Ginger Beer’.

I’ll admit I’m too young to remember ever being able to buy ginger beer in anything other than cans or cheap plastic bottles.  Ginger beer to me was a fairly fiery drink which was prone to a) make me gassy and b) give me indigestion.  I remember reading an article probably on selfsufficientish or somewhere similar and I gave it a go with brewers yeast, ginger powder, lemon, sugar and water.  The results were much nicer and everyone liked it and I believed that I’d made something dead easy, tasty and ‘authentic’.  One of my relatives told me that it was usual process to half the ‘plant’ and pass another to a friend or family member (or bin it).  But it did make me wonder, because in brewing we don’t tend to use yeast after more than a couple of brews for various reasons so I dug a little deeper.  It did seem odd to go to a friend who was interested in home-brewing to give him a sample of which was pretty much a supermarket branded yeast in a jar.  I didn’t do much until one day I read a post on the blog ‘beansprouts’ (which was pretty much the first blog I followed – http://bean-sprouts.blogspot.com/2007/10/ive-got-real-ginger-beer-plant.html) which told me in black and white that brewers yeast wasn’t the traditional ginger beer making material, but rather a heritage yeast passed down in families called a ginger beer plant (GBP)

It turned out that this process of dividing up a ‘plant’ was because it used a different strain of ‘yeast’ because the yeast wasn’t really a yeast at all, but a number of different organisms co-operating which produced real ginger beer.  It wasn’t even really understood until a particular scientist called Harry Marshall Ward took a interest.  He did a lot of interesting work much of which was detailed by new scientist magazine – you can read the article on newscientist.com – http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17523625.800-marriage-of-equals.html

There are a few people whom still provide the proper ginger beer plant.  There is currently one active yahoo group called ‘gingerbeerplantarchive’ (the original group still much detailed by the web is defunct due to a loss of owner and plenty of spam) which puts people into contact with each other and gives people the ability to ask questions on the process and get/swap strains.

Fermented treasures (http://www.fermentedtreasures.com/) in the US sells cultures as does http://www.gingerbeerplant.net/ in the UK.  There is also a company manufacturing ginger beer plants for sale over the counter – the company Selsey Herb & Spice Co. resells to many companies which also have internet stores.

There is what seems a murky history to ginger beer production in the UK.  It seems widely accepted that it is a traditional drink drunk over many centuries and up until its seeming death in the last half century.  I believe this is attributed to the lack of essential ingredients during the war.

I’m confused by the lack of documentation online about the production and sale – I am no newcomer on the net and casual google searches turn up very little about ginger beer other than the mysterious fact that no-one knows the origin of this strange transparent plant and it could be many centuries old.  During the last few hundred years it has been made by families, bottled and given to friends, sold from fountains at the sea side or in chemists by the bottle.

Ebay gives you pages and pages of different stoneware bottles from manufacturers all over the country which were eventually replaced with glass and then sometime later during wonderful government legislation the commercial sale was restricted because of the alcoholic content.  It seems strange that all this history has just disappeared – no pictures of the original fountains, sellers etc.

I’m currently awaiting delivery of a plant to me and it’s my intention to pass it on.  If you want some, ask me and I’ll see what I can do.  Otherwise if you have history/stories/recollections etc about ginger beer let me know, I’d be strangely interested.

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ouch

on the bad side I’ve managed to smack my thumb hard enough to rupture the skin. on the plus side I’ve finished building the cold frame and filled it with gravel. it’s now filled with seed trays and seeds. slug traps have been set, everything has been weeded including the fruit bushes. got to dig three new beds then we’re done!

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Fishy!

Last night I finally got down the allotment and was finally joined by my nearest and dearest.   It’s surprising how much longer the days lasts (yes I know the clocks have gone back) but seeing as during my first proper week down the allotment I was arriving at 5pm and finishing at 6pm when it got too dark, I’m surprised that already the day is lasting half an hour longer as I arrived at 5 and we weren’t packing up until it got particularly cold at 7:30 (and it was still light too!)

I decided that it was time I moved the water butt and discovered what lurked beneath.  Some time ago one of my neighbours gave me a few goldfish to put in the bottom.  I’m sad to say that over the winter I’d paid little attention to them and the water was worse than a bit murky.  However as I got down to the bottom where it was really quite silty, one gold goldfish and three still immature goldfish were lurking (that’s how many were originally in there!)

I was surprised at how much effort was required to move the water butt.  It’s now in a fairly shady location beside the shed rather than 1/3 of the way across the plot.  The main reason for moving it was for the shade for the fish, however the other issue was that I had to run a 16ft bit of drainpipe over the compost heap to get to it.  It did look fantastically madcap, but it was in a particularly silly location and looks much better now and is also ensuring our shed doesn’t blow over.

asparagus

 

 

 

 

 

Talking of which, the next DIY job is to re-roof the shed.  The winds haven’t done it any good at all and the roof felt has started to come off.

The fish have been temporarily relocated into the pond whilst the water butt settles into its new location and the fresh water from the tap looses its chlorine.  The pond is supposed to be for wildlife and I know what happens when you get frogs spawn in a pond with fish.  I’ll have four fat fish and not a lot of spawn.

I’ve also discovered the first asparagus shoot and planted out the earlies.  It’s a bit late, but what the hell eh?

Whilst I was digging away planting out potatoes my better half was weeding the strawberries and swearing each time she pulled up a strawberry plant that had dug itself into our path.

I finished off by back filling the old pond (not the one with the fish in, the one with the horrible stagnant water) and tidying up the compost heap.

gooseberry

 

 

 

 

 

It also looks like my other neighbours have acquired our incinerator (even though they have their own) because it was smoking away, on their plot.  Did have a moment of panic when I noticed it had gone, but I borrow their wheelbarrow enough without asking!

Spring has definitely sprung – not only are the daffs out, but I’ve also seen leaves on most of my fruit bushes and my apple tree!

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