Advent Calendars

Do you hang up an Advent calendar at the beginning of December? Perhaps you make your own and lovingly fill it with tiny gifts or burn an Advent candle. Maybe you prefer to take part in the #FoodBankAdvent reverse advent calendar.

Advent calendars used to be so simple when they were just a bit of cardboard printed with a snowy scene dotted with tiny doors that were opened every day to reveal a picture. I can still remember the anticipation of opening the door each day and being unable to resist sneaking a peak, ahead of time, at the nativity scene behind the double doors of the twenty fourth. It was easy to open the doors without anyone noticing as we were only allowed to fold, not tear, the doors so that after Christmas the calendar could be put away and brought out the following December. Because that’s what you did in the days before our present throwaway society.

 

These days, Advent calendars seem to be less about marking the days until Christmas and more about conspicuous consumption. Toys, sweets and jewellery fill children’s Advent calendars while some adults need a luxury treat every day of December with Advent calendars containing gin, perfume, make-up and probably anything you can think of. One year, we tried a Drink Advent, the idea being to have a different drink each evening. Not all alcoholic, I hasten to add. It all started so well with hot chocolate, gin cocktails, lemonade and mulled wine. By the tenth, we were flagging and in the middle of December gave the whole thing up. If only I’d had the forethought to plan ahead and written a list.

Reverse Advent Calendar

Reverse Advent Calendar fpr #FoodBankAdvent

Last year, Ruth set up a Foodbank donation point in the Christmas shop and I was intrigued by a little boy and his mother who brought in two bulging carrier bags filled with food. They explained that they’d done a Reverse Advent Calendar, putting something into a bag for the Foodbank for each day.

I’d always been a bit sceptical about the food donations as it seems an inefficient way to collect, with all the running around to donation points and sorting out food, some of which may be inappropriate or unsafe (such as cans of soup that are nearly fifty years old); giving money seemed more useful as it could be used to buy the right things, in bulk. But having spoken to that little boy, I realised how inclusive it is to donate food. He’d helped choose what to donate and had obviously discussed with his mother why they were doing it. Talking with others who came in to donate, we agreed that picking out food (and other basic essentials), particularly when we’re doing our own Christmas food shopping, makes us think about other people’s situations in a way that dropping a few coins into a collection tin could never do.

Our local Foodbank is one of over 400 foodbanks giving emergency food and support to people in crisis across the UK in the network run by The Trussell Trust and we have a donation point in the Christmas Shop. If you want to make a donation to your local foodbank, they probably have a list of things that they need each month and a special Christmas list. The Braintree area Foodbank’s  Christmas list includes tins of meat, Christmas cakes, biscuit selections, tubs of sweets, mince pies and bottles of squash as well as toiletries such as toilet rolls, shampoo, shower gel, wet wipes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, which should be donated by the beginning of December.

How many days until Christmas festive dog

We’ll each add our twenty-four things to the big collection box by the end of this week and then, because we need a little excitement in our lives, we’ll count down to Christmas using this little fellow. And possibly hang up an Advent calendar too.

 

Hip, Hip, Hoorah

Hip, Hip, Hoorah

The rosehips in the hedgerows and garden are ready to pick.

autumn rosehips on Generous Gardener rose

There are deep red round rosehips on the Rosa Rugosa and large round, orange rosehips on The Generous Gardener bush in the garden.

rosehips growing in farm hedgerow

Brightly coloured oval rosehips grow in various hedges around the farm.

It seems a shame not to use them somehow. Here’s a few ideas to use these pretty autumnal fruits.

AUTUMNAL DECORATIONS

string of rosehips hanging from door handle

Thread a needle with cotton and push it through each rosehip. Use a tiny piece of twig at the bottom to stop the hips falling off and use it as a hanging decoration or make a mini garland to string across a small window.

 

AUTUMN WREATH

autumn wreath with rosehips and crab apples

Twist a few branches of willow into a circle and add rosehips, crab apples and acorns to make an autumn wreath. Use a ready made wreath if you don’t have any suitable whippy branches.

AUTUMN PUDDING of ROSEHIP FOOL

If you look up recipes for using rosehips, they mostly instruct you to boil them up and strain them through a jelly bag to extract their juice to make syrups, jellies and soups (being acidic, you can use them instead of tomatoes). Alternatively, you can slit open every rosehip, extract the seeds and hairs and use the flesh for making teas, jams or tarts.

However, the easiest way to use rosehips is to make rosehip puree. Give the freshly picked rosehips a good wash and then simmer them in an equal quantity of water for an hour until they’re soft and squidgy. Allow them to cool a little and then put them through a food mill to puree the flesh and sieve out the seeds in one go. Pushing the puree through a fine sieve afterwards makes sure that all the seeds and hairs are removed. If you don’t have a food mill, just sieve them. You can use the rosehip puree to make soup or use them as you would any other fruit puree. I find that 500g of rosehips simmered with 500g of water gives me about 400g of puree.

The best pairing for the rosehip puree is a little sugar and cream so the ideal simple and delicious thing to make is an autumnal Rosehip Fool. Vary the quantities according to numbers; the recipe below will make six generous helpings.

Rosehip Fool

glasses of rosehip fool surrounded by autumnal acorns and berries

240g rosehip puree (see the method above)
3 tablespoons caster sugar
300ml double cream

Whip the cream until it’s soft and floppy. Add the sugar and puree and briefly whip to ensure it’s evenly incorporated. Spoon into six serving dishes.

You can eat this straight away or leave it to settle for a couple of hours in the fridge.

 

autumn wreath of willow with crab apples and rosehips Autumn dessert Rosehip Fool recipe
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Making the most of blackberries

Making the most of blackberries

At this time of year, there are blackberries to be found all over the place, from the slightly run down corner of the car park in town, in the country park or in the hedgerows around the farm. Food for free. Who can resist?

There’s a certain nostalgia attached to blackberry picking. I always imagine a picture lifted straight from a 1960s Ladybird book with a happy family, wicker basket in hand wandering along a country lane on a sunny autumnal afternoon. Possibly with the prospect of a picnic at the end, complete with red gingham tablecloth and bottles of pop. Continue reading “Making the most of blackberries”

Essex Huffers for Food on the Move

wheat stubble

Harvest started last week. Then it rained and harvest stopped. As usual, it looks as though it will be a stop start affair.

During harvest, food is eaten on the move; throughout the day and into the night, empty cold boxes are dumped on the shelf in the grain store and fresh ones grabbed (though sometimes quite often I get a phone call because the shelf is bare).

Each year I try to find something new to fill the harvest cold boxes and search magazines and the internet for picnic food ideas. Alas, the beautiful looking feather-light sponge cakes and jelly filled glasses set out on checked tablecloths wouldn’t last two minutes being jolted down the fields in a tractor cab.

Food on the move, whether for harvest workers or a day’s walking needs to be robust and filling. Continue reading “Essex Huffers for Food on the Move”

Home Made Tonic Water

Home Made Tonic Water

Gin is the drink of the moment with new distilleries popping up across the country and it was inevitable that a plethora of premium tonic waters would follow. Saccharine laden tonic water, served warm and slightly flat is so last century.

Given the appearance of these new tonic waters, it might therefore seem odd to make your own tonic water. But, like everything you make yourself, you’re in control and you choose what to put in and what to leave out. If commercial tonic water is too sweet for you, then reduce the sweetness; add flavour with spices like cardamom or coriander or use herbs such as rosemary and thyme; if you fancy something citrussy then add plenty of lemon, orange or grapefruit peel. You could mix the spices and flavourings to complement your gin or leave them out altogether to make a plain tonic water that lets the flavour of your gin shine through. Continue reading “Home Made Tonic Water”

Summer Fruit Loaf Cake

Summer Fruit Loaf Cake

Summer has well and truly arrived and it’s good to be out in the sunshine picking fruit in the fruit field at Slamseys. It’s very meditative working your way along a row of raspberries on a sunny day; there may be a little searching under leaves and the odd wasp to avoid but there’s no bending over or Keep on reading