Posted by: hencorner | June 22, 2015

Talking Tomatoes…

Roasted TomatoesThe taste of any simple tomato-based salad is dependent on the quality of the tomatoes.’*
*Yotam Ottolenghi
So true, Yotam, so true, and as our last post was all about strawberries, this time we’re talking tomatoes!
These small sweet marbles must have been the first fruits that I began to grow ten years ago; I remember plucking them from the vine, squashing them with a basil leaf into a chunk of homemade bread, drizzling it with olive oil and eating it in the sunshine. I felt like Elizabeth David reincarnated, if you don’t know who she is – look her up, slow roasting them with garlic in olive oil, ready to stir through some freshly made pasta – delicious!
imageMy relationship with tomatoes hasn’t always been full of sun kissed promise, sadly, I’ve fallen victim to blight, several years in a row now and have learnt that it’s best to harvest all at the first sight of the brown fungal-like infection creeping up the plant stems. Green Tomato Chutney is a favourite here, so nothing goes to waste. Another lesson that I’ve learnt is to be careful with the watering, apparently, if there is less surface water, as from a watering can, then the roots have to reach down low to a more consistent source of moisture. I’ll never forget the summer holiday that we took, confident that the crops would thrive in the kitchen garden as I had my water sprinkler set to timer, only to return to large swollen split tomatoes that were rotting on the vine. This year, I turn to experts for help.
James Wong & Sara WardLast week, I was pleased to join a lecture at Kew Gardens given by James Wong based on his latest book, Grow for Flavour. I had heard James present Incredible Edibles with his book Homegrown Revolution a few years ago at the Edible Garden Show and was looking forward to his lively engaging talk that would captivate the audience as he dispelled myths and encouraged us to be daring as we grow our own food with flavours that will knock the socks off any supermarket specials. James took us on a journey through our desire for sweetness and sentimentality for heirloom varieties and explained how his top tips for tomatoes could deliver on the promises that we crave. Spritzing young plants with soluble aspirin, slicing their tops off after just one truss of fruit and turning the tap off to farm them dry were just some of James’ suggestions for the biggest, sweetest, fruits from your plot.
I shall read up on and try these techniques over the coming weeks, but back to the book and the pages on Persimmons, the tropical fruit that is hardy enough for our cold British climate, have really caught my eye and I’ve put my name down to buy a tree as soon as they are available in the autumn.
Perfect pastaComing up at the Corner…

It would be a pleasure to welcome you to one of our courses that we have running right throughout the year.

The next few weeks brings Full Day Bee Keeping,  Urban Hens – Keeping Chickens in London and some new courses, Perfect Pasta and Scones and Jam

Alternatively, we would love to plan a private event for you and your friends, or a team meeting for your work colleagues.

Do contact us for more information.

Other News:image

  • At last I managed to spend some time getting to grips with Macarons, OK, so they are not all the same shape and size – but they tasted pretty good!
  • We were very pleased to host the leadership team of national charity, Cinnamon Network, for their strategy day. After their meetings I taught them how to make Cinnamon Swirls and after lunch we tried a spot of bee keeping…
  • St Paul’s School brought their Year 6 students over to study the bees, we do love our work with schools

Jobs for this week:

  • I need to make a cage of some sort to protect our almonds from the squirrels, I haven’t quite worked out the design yet…
  • Plan September’s Urban Food Fortnight with the London Kitchen Project, maybe add in another new Battersea Cooking Class
  • Start sewing some sails to bring a little shade onto our conservatory, it gets pretty hot in there on a sunny day

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

Posted by: hencorner | June 12, 2015

Sweet Summer Strawberries…

Strawberry FieldsSummer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.’*
*Henry James
Like children gazing out of the window into the dark night of Christmas Eve, we wait as patiently as we can for the arrival of summer. Is it here yet? I think so; the sun is shining, the bees are flying, the fruits are swelling on the trees and the strawberries are ready!
It’s my birthday in June and I really think that it is the most wonderful time to celebrate. Usually, a day of sunshine is God’s gift to me and I am thankful for all I have been blessed with. This year is extra special as I’m now focusing full time on Hen Corner and can plan a week of lovely activities, mainly in the sunshine.
Strawberries for jamThis week, my first task for Monday morning was to set off for the local Pick Your Own Farm in preparation for our Scones and Jam course, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! Supermarket strawberries just wouldn’t do for this task; I wanted fresh fruit, picked by hand.
A top tip is not to start picking at the entrance to the field as that is where everyone else has started, scan the rows of plants and assess which areas haven’t been picked yet, this gives you first dibs at the best fruit.
What a delight to personally choose each individual berry knowing that the privilege is saving you money. Picking in the morning means that you haven’t got the hot sun on your back as you bend down to select your prize and then you can get set on jam making in the afternoon.
Fresh strawberries can over ripen within a couple of hours of picking so don’t go for the really red ones and plan to use them as soon as possible.
Strawberry JamI wanted to devise a really simple recipe that I could pass on to course guests, just three ingredients that are each easily found locally. However, I also wanted the recipe to turn out flipping fabulous strawberry jam!
Strawberry, as a fruit has really low pectin levels. Pectin, found in high quantities in apples and lemons, is needed for a good jelly like ‘set’.
My first experiences of jam and jelly making have been using the crushed apples after Cider Sunday or Marmalade with pectin rich citrus fruit, so I’ve never had a low pectin challenge before… To be completely honest, I’d never made strawberry jam before.
I found recipes that specified Jam Sugar, that contains added pectin, but I didn’t want any chemicals in the pan, I also wanted every day ingredients that you may well have at home anyway. So strawberries, sugar and a lemon it is.
The first batch was a soft set, but the second batch has a wonderful wobble – Don’t you think?
 
Our next Scones and Jam course is at The London Kitchen Project, Battersea, on Thursday 25th June
Scones and jamComing up at the Corner…

It would be a pleasure to welcome you to one of our courses that we have running right throughout the year. The next few weeks brings Full Day Bee Keeping,  Urban Hens – Keeping Chickens in London and some new courses, Perfect Pasta and Scones and Jam

Alternatively, we would love to plan a private event for you and your friends, or a team meeting for your work colleagues.

Do contact us for more information.

Other News:

Jobs for this week:

  • At last I’ve set aside time to master Macarons, it’s been on my bucket list for ages, pictures may follow…
  • Write the shopping list for the London Kitchen Project in preparation for our new Battersea Cooking Classes
  • Get ready for the Leadership Team of a National Charity who are coming to Hen Corner for their next ‘away day’

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

Posted by: hencorner | June 1, 2015

Busy as Bees…

Buff Tailed Bumble Nest
A bee is never as busy as it seems; it’s just that it can’t buzz any slower.’*

*Kin Hubbard

I normally do tend to pack a lot into my time, but I think that this last week, being Half Term, really did buzz! We had arranged, during the previous week, to help out a local family who had discovered some bees in their garden shed. Guessing that it was a swarm, and that they may have been there some time, I took expert bee keeper Thomas with me in case they had become well established in their new home and required specialist removal. Of course, ‘You never can tell with bees’, as Winnie the Pooh famously said, and it was only upon opening the shed door that we discovered not a swarm of honey bees, but a nest of buff tailed bumble bees happily inhabiting a bag of hay for the guinea pig. Whilst this is not usually the prize for a bee keeper on a swarm call out, we helped the owners (one of whom is very allergic to bee stings) by removing the nest with a dustpan, Thomas did that bit, and have brought it back to Hen Corner in the hope that the bees will pollinate our tomatoes and strawberries. It’s safely tucked up warm under a big old flowerpot allowing the bees to explore the garden as they please.
Rich's shed swarmWhen you find some bees on your garden shed, who you gonna call?
Our Sunday morning surprise was a text from Andy’s brother, Richard, saying ‘When you’re up, give us a call – we’ve awoke to find bees all over our shed roof and filling the back of the garden’! Andy and I packed up the car/swarmobile with our bee suits, spare hive and other handy bits of equipment and went off to investigate. Our concern this time was that the bees had ventured under the corrugated roof and were nesting in a cavity, naturally, we asked Thomas to help again… Whilst we were watching the bees on the shed roof slowly seek the refuge of a cardboard box, we heard a tree branch spring back into place and were privileged to see another large swarm, that had been clustered in a nearby tree, receive the ‘Go’ order to move en masse to a new home as discovered by their scout bees. It was amazing to watch a cloud of up to 30,000 honey bees flying as one unit focussed on the goal of their new home, they followed the lead of the scout bees and were off, away and out of sight in less than a minute. I hope they found a bait hive, like Thomas’, and not another garden shed…
Duracell 7 buntingHug a Hen Time
Both of these bee adventures fell on the Bank Holiday weekend that we had earmarked for decorating and gardening projects. We’ve been keen to get the kitchen and conservatory, our main training areas, along with the garden in tip top order ready for a good run of courses. With children on holiday, we had planned several sessions for the week and were pleased to welcome seven guests to Family Feathers and Fun! on Tuesday followed by an Urban Hens course on Wednesday. We had the bunting up to give it that holiday feel – it was also a great boundary marker to ensure that our young guests didn’t venture too near to the bee hives…
Hands in doughOn your marks, get set, dough!
Our final course of Half Term was Pizza Together where adults and children alike got their fingers in the flour to learn basic bread making skills before designing our favourite toppings ready to be baked for lunch, with extra portions taken home for supper. Our next Pizza Together courses are in the Summer Holidays on Tuesday 28th July and Thursday 27th August. Budding bakers can practise pastry, bread and cakes in our Baking Together course on Thursday 20th August.
 Bread sweet and savoury
Coming up at the Corner…

We would love to welcome you to one of our courses that we have running right throughout the year. The next few weeks brings Intro to Bee Keeping,  Urban Hens – Keeping Chickens in London and some new courses, Bread: Sweet & Savoury and Scones and Jam

Other News:

  • Sadly one of the chicks has died, but the other 9 are growing fast
  • We foraged for elderflowers and have made loads of cordial and Elderflower Delight (a bit like Turkish Delight)
  • The supers are on the bee hive and the bees are starting to fill them up with honey

Jobs for this week:

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

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