Step Up Into The Greenhouse

 photo DSC00144_e_zpsonrwp5ef.jpgPhotos were taken on 23rd June, but the post is scheduled. This, hopefully, clears up time-paradoxes.

The garden is going wild brother!  No? This isn’t my style? Oh. The garden is flourishing, a fecund productive paradise and in the midst of it all is dear Jack, honest Jack, Jack of many jobs. I’m reaping a few harvests dear reader, a few losses too, but let’s talk of the joys, of strawberries wrested from the grasp of slugs, I know they don’t have hands from which to wrest! Give it a rest. Like I say, I have rescued my berries thanks to sprays, to pellets and quick oats. As to which worked…well, I have no idea. I have my castile soap and have made my spray to tackle the insects. I boiled a bulb of garlic in water ad let it stew until cold. I topped with filtered water to a litre and added one tablespoon of the soap and half of olive oil. A quick shake and there we are, my organic spray to prevent these little blighters becoming a blight on my garden. I’m testing it in the front garden to see how it fares then I’ll use it on the strawberries.

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No Matter how tidy you are, plants have a mind of their own.

 photo DSC00151_e_zpsllqzodf6.jpgI like this set up. Better than all around staging. Though I will change my mind frequently.

 photo DSC00148_e_zps1o83jvus.jpgNot bad for a slug-eaten mess only a few months ago.

Hmmm? Oh, the title. You should know my eight foot tall, at least, greenhouse needs a nimble step to gain ingress. I imagine lots of people would faceplant in an effort to explore, but fear not. Jack be nimble and all that.  I have more basil to harvest and turn into pesto. I did notice that the basil left near the tomato plants became wilted. I found that when placed near chill plants last year it did great. I’ve moved it and I’ll see what happens. It also turns out that the Thai and cinnamon are one and the same, I’ll have to buy by the Latin name in future if I want true cinnamon basil. Still, pesto is pesto, regardless of what basil I use.

 photo DSC00150_e_zpsyvcqm9on.jpgA little chilli flower has bloomed.

 photo DSC00154_e_zpsqdiuqefd.jpgI think it’s a flower starting.

 photo DSC00155_e_zpsosuwgyn1.jpgA Gardener’s Delight.

 photo DSC00149_e_zpsjd9chp2i.jpgA pair of Roma. Edit: Dummy I am I missed the back two until now!

I have a few tomatoes coming in as you can see. I hope with better sized pots, more feed and frequent watering that I’l see a successful harvest this year. I have the space finally, I hope I’ve used it well. I’m really curious what the big chillies will be like, they, and the small ones, are saved seeds and I have no idea what variety the big ones are, they’re really large like a small banana. They don’t seem to need any support at all. I think next year I’ll build the tomato cage in advance as once it hits its stride you can’t keep it tied up and tidy. You can’t stop a plant from growing in it’s own way, I just let them go, taking suckers, dead heading and fiddling as little as possible.

 photo DSC00156_e_zpsgujzpaqm.jpgThe basil is going strong.

 photo DSC00158_e_zpstgbtugyn.jpgMy blackberry.

 photo DSC00159_e_zpszqsuv9if.jpgWild blackberry. Also mine.

I will have to make a few hard decisions at the end of the year. There are unproductive berry plants that need to go. The rest need to be re-potted and given more room to root. I’m saving runners as I go, not too any, just enough for me and a few others. I’d like to keep a balance between fruit and new plants. Never go into something like this trying for perfection, dear reader, you’ll never get there and you’ll miss out on so many wonderful accomplishments. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to check on my cement. Yes, Jack is adding a new trade to his repertoire: Cement Slinger! See you later.

Smooth Jams and Produce’s Purpose

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Geranium, squash adjacent.

We’re going on a meandering maunder, a purposeless pontification, I am Jack of all the words. You are Reader the Dearest. Today we talk of food, grub, victuals, provisions, of the thing we all need. Why? Because I said so. I’m just in the mood to type, maybe I’ll even say something worthwhile, but I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one, dear reader.

 photo DSC00134_e_zpsmuxowwjw.jpgFiltered. photo DSC00135_e_zpsxbx2fxzz.jpgAu Natural.

I have a request, I want your opinion. I’m not really experienced enough, never will be either, with photographing food. I take photos of food, but I never touch them up or fiddle with settings. I took two photos of my dinner today, the top was taken with a food filter. You can see it makes it slightly brighter, more colourful, not very different. What I want to know is if you’d prefer to see the photos run through a filter like this, no exaggeration, just a little more colourful or if you’d rather see them as they are in real life. I can’t decide myself and since it’ll affect my readers I thought I’d leave it to you to decide. Leave your thoughts in the comments below and thanks.

 photo DSC00138_e_zpswkmwsloe.jpgThe saved pansy seeds finally blooming. photo DSC00136_e_zpsad1n5vgh.jpgI think these are the new seeds. Hard to tell really.

One of the things I’ve struggled with is using everything I’ve grown, often I ended up giving away fresh produce because I didn’t want to use it. This year I grew what I wanted and what I’d be willing to try out. There are so many ways to use fresh ingredients, there’s no trick to using them, just a lot of research and ignoring the methods that don’t suit you, no matter how popular or idealistically framed. I think the key to eating so well is that I started with an ingredient and tried everything I could, no matter how absurd, how strange or how obscure. It’s easy to feel a little foolish when you’re the only one eating food prepared a certain way. Like with my nut butter amaranth, though with that you’ll have to kill me to stop me eating amaranth like that, it’s delicious. I think you have to find the best way to use the ingredients for you. Fads come and fads go, but if you can stick to eating good food, in the least processed way possible, then it’s worth any effort on your part. Maybe it sounds silly, but it can extremely stressful being the only one to eat this way.

 photo DSC00120_e_zpsbvpumd5o.jpgBeef vacuum sealed with fresh herbs, tossed in a rice cooker, filled with water, with a slow cook setting.

 photo DSC00133_e_zps6vsjvjmv.jpgA batch of Buckwheat Fruit Puree Scones.

I was reading a post today from a Coeliac charity that are working to bring in gluten free staples to shops, you know what those are. I’m not getting into the problems, nutritional and otherwise, with some gluten free products, but it always hits me how alone I am in the diet I follow. It’s a pain at times, but it really has shown me just how much ac be done with food. Not in the clickbaity way either, like hiding vegetables in cheese and more cheese with a side of cheese. There are so many options open to us, but perhaps you’re like I was. I grew up with staples that weren’t always healthy, they were decent home coked meals for the most part, crap for the other, but the shocking thing is how hard it is to break away from that comfort zone. It’s part of the struggle I had with weight and the successful weight loss. here’s nothing so disheartening than being asked, over and over, what that is, why are you eating that, etc. Being told they’d never eat that as if their way is the only right way. I’m happy to say I never fell into the extreme camps either, the ones who stick to one food and declare it’s magically curative properties. I just appreciate food for what it is. I keep it varied. I try anything, and I mean anything, I ate a nasturtium off the plant, it’s disgusting by he way, just because it was okay to eat. I think a lot of people have issues with foo that they’re unwilling to see. Maybe I’m wrong, but offer anyone a yellow strawberry and more often then not they’ll ask if It’s edible. Me? I’m eating halved strawberries, fresh from the plant, the other maggot ridden half is in the neighbour’s garden. He won’t notice.

 photo DSC00139_e_zpses6ym3g4.jpgDon’t talk about maggots? Welcome to organic gardening!

 photo DSC00137_e_zps8ngacpca.jpgJust wait until I get my castile soap.

I’m preparing for my surgery again, slower his time as I have more than a week. We keep getting free duck eggs so I’m using them in baking. I’m told they’re great for baking, they’re really thick. I’ll make up breads and nearer the time, all going well, I’ll organise it into bags. I’ll also put what I learned from eating the cold dinners into practice. I just want it over and done with, dear reader. The hardest part is that no one really understands how hard it is to live with all this skin, they talk about clothes, while I’m just thinking of the relief from discomfort, from pain, from so much. Getting a bit too serious here. Quickly! Slip on a banana peel! Waka waka!

 photo DSC00130_e_zpsog83qckr.jpgThese taste terrible and are really invasive.

 photo DSC00127_e_zpsoddle0p0.jpgI love playing with my camera.

I like setting myself a challenge with new ingredients. I buy them on impulse and I refuse to waste them. I bought kangaroo meat, which can be absurdly tough. I tossed it in the rice cooker like the beef, with some fresh rosemary and it was decent. I wouldn’t do it again, but it was fun to try at least. Whenever I see a new fresh ingredient in the shops I’ll grab it and then figure out what it is. I’m almost certain this is why I’m contemplating growing my own pumpkins next year. It is a shame that there’s so much I can’t eat. I was looking at mint jelly, but a lot of the recipes have vinegar, which I can’t tolerate, but I was poking through my Uncle’s old Jam and Preserve book, it’s about twenty five years old. In it there’s a herb jelly recipe based on apple jelly. You can just add the herbs at the end for some of them, so I might try a batch of sage and maybe cinnamon basil. Just going to make small portions, but it sounds like fun.

 photo DSC00129_e_zpsr7ywxgne.jpgI bet you thought I was joking about the pointlessness. Hah!

 photo DSC00125_e_zpsjwj4w6eu.jpgThe moved roses are starting to get some fresh growth.

 photo DSC00123_e_zpsxyhp8ttu.jpgNot bad for a root section.

I’ having a lot of luck with the greenhouse plants this year. The basil isn’t struggling like other years and I have tomatoes starting. Even the large chillies are starting to flower. The bell peppers have come on a lot, even after the slug damage, they’re about a foot tall, maybe a foot and a half. I know the right sized pots, added compost and fertiliser are playing a huge part, but I also believe that it’s the heat being more even and batter contained that’s helping too. I’m curious to see what the chillies will be like as they’re saved seeds. Both the small and large are. The small chillies took an age to start last year, maybe they’ll grow faster with the heat in the greenhouse. Everything moves forward, dear reader, I just have to give them all the care I can in the here and now. Okay, that’s enough from yours truly, see you later.

Raspberry Jelly

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There’s no waste as the pulp went into the compost

I’m still learning how to properly make Jam, dear reader, but I think at this stage I’m willing to share a recipe with you and I feel confident that you’ll have success with it. I used this wonderful recipe as a guide and also the back of the Jam Sugar. Now, my version isn’t vegan, but I’m making the Jam that my Uncle used to make and I want to learn it the same way. There are many ways of making Jams, I can’t cover them all and I’m just learning myself, so I hope you’ll bear with me. I was lucky enough to be gifted some red and yellow raspberries, also some tayberries, which I planted some of in the hopes (Albeit slim) they’ll sprout, and thought some jelly was in order. I don’t like seeds as they just jam (Heh) into every single part of my teeth so I went for a jelly, which is confusing as jelly here is the gelatin set foodstuff, and very hard to find in stores. Which is another reason I’m making jelly, I like making foods you can’t buy or buy easily. Jam isn’t complicated, there’s a balance in the recipes, like all candy or sweets, sugar is a fickle ingredient, but if you take your time and practice you should be fine. I’m using the jam sugar here because it’s nearly a guaranteed set. In future I’ll be trying different set jams, apple is the forerunner, blackberries when they come into season.

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That’s actually a candy thermometer , but the batteries are dead and I’m no good at using it.

There are a lot of steps and the final one is what I’d like to talk about. The sterilising method is up to you. I’m using my uncle’s method and I’ve found it useful, but you need to look at the methods available and decide for yourself and your storage timetable. Be safe. I’m using fresh raspberries, with a few frozen, but I don’t see why all frozen wouldn’t work just as well. I’m currently battling slugs in my strawberries, spittle-bugs too, more on that when I mix up my organic insect spray, so I will be working with mostly frozen fruit in future. The strawberries are so tender, there’s no trace of bitterness whatsoever. I’ll beat the bugs and hopefully make them into something special. The goal of yellow jam is still ongoing to.

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The jam was jammy.

There are a few ways to test for setting. I like this one the frozen plate is fine by me. So, how did it taste? Did it set? Was it rock hard or jiggly like jelly? Did you even doubt ever wondrous Jack? I did, but apparently it turned out perfect. Thick and smooth. Really, really sweet, but that way you just need to use a little. You could use this jelly as a filling in baking to impart a lovely raspberry flavour, perhaps in a bakewell, eh? I’m currently looking at herbs in apple jelly, for savoury and sweet uses, but that’l be a later post. Involving methylated spirits. No, not in the jelly! It’s a way to test for the pectin in jellies, also a way to make pectin stock. See, your forever friend Jack isn’t as green as he is cabbage looking. I’ll see you again later, dear reader.

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I wasn’t sure what the wax lids did. They slightly meld with the jam and keep air from spoiling it. You don’t need them, but it never hurts.


500g Raspberries
450g Jam Sugar
2 Tbsp Butter


1. Wash and prepare fruit. Place a small plate in the Freezer.

2. Add Fruit and Sugar to a large bottomed pot, filling no more than 1/3 full, and mash using a potato masher.

3. Cook uncovered on a low heat, do not let simmer, until Sugar has dissolved. Run spoon down the bottom of the pot to see if any Sugar crystals remain.

4. Place a metal sieve over a glass bowl and pour the mixture into the sieve, scrapping the pan as needed. Return the juice to the pot and return the pot to the heat.

5. Place the sieve over the pot and press the pulp through the sieve using a metal spoon until all possible pulp has passed through. Stir the mixture using a silicone or wooden spoon.

6. Add Butter to pot and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 4 minutes, stirring as needed, then remove from heat and remove the plate from the freezer. Drop a little of the Jam onto the plate and if it firms up and is tacky to the touch then the Jam is ready. If not boil again for another minute and retest until Jam consistency is right.

7. Wet Clean Jars and heat in the microwave for one to two minutes until dry. While they sterilise soak the lids in boiling water for a minute or two. Pour the warm Jam into the prepared Jars while they’re hot and over with a wax lid then screw on lids and let rest at room temperature overnight.

8. Store in a cool dark place and refrigerate once opened.

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Two are gifts. I’m saving the small almond and cashew butter jars so I can foist jam on people if it’s terrible.

Playing With Pictures

A bonus post today, dear reader, I’ve finally bought a new camera. A bridge camera, to be used exclusively on bridges. No? Okay, I’m know, it’s what I’ve been looking for for a while. I was having such trouble taking a photo that wasn’t blurry that I thought it was time to take the plunge. Now, I will say that I’m not taking this beyond snapping a few photos here and here, I’m no photographer and have no aspirations to be any better than being able to take a decent photo. It’s a Sony DSCH300, so far it’s pretty great, but it eats batteries. It’s just what I needed so I’m happy. Now, I’m going to pester you with photos, I’ve been like a huge child, running around with my camera and snapping everything in sight. I did often wonder how people took photos that didn’t look awful, I guess get a better camera was the answer. I’m not going to be using filters, I’m not experienced enough to use them to highlight what is there and any auto-filter might present a skewed view of the end result of a recipe.

I have been having trouble with the site in Firefox, I’ve switched to Chrome so hopefully that’ll sort out some of the issues. If anything is off that might be why. Now, let’s see what we can see.

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What I’ve Learned in Three Years Growing Basil: A Rough Guide

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Absolutely nothing. I’m joking, but the temptation to just post that remains. Seriously though, I think there are a few pointers that I can share to growing many successful harvests of basil. These are just anecdotal tips from your forever friend Jack, nothing more than the summation of my experiences. The reason why every guide here is rough is because I’m constantly learning and the me sharing my experiences in the here and now will be a very different person in the future. There does have to come a point where I’ve learned as much as I can, but you can never be sure. So whether you’re new to basil an old hand or just vaguely interested in these little herb, here are a few tips, in the now ubiquitous list format, for getting a large, healthy and delicious harvest. I’ll even point out a few tips for pesto, I’m still new-ish to pesto, but now I’ll only make it using he freshest herbs, my own in other words. I never ate it before I couldn’t eat any commerical pesto so take my tips as you will.

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Basil Tips:

Not too Tall.

You’ll enjoy watching you basil get bigger and bigger, but one of the problems is that when it grows very tall is that it can get weak stemmed, if you’re not cutting it and letting it bush out the basil can end up wobbly. The other issue is that when it reaches it’s maximum height it will start to flower and as pretty as they are you don’t want them spoiling the taste of your basil. Either pinch them off or just cut below them. What you want is a basil that isn’t too tall, has no flowers and has leaves from everywhere on the stem.

Light prune, heavy prune.

Now this does assume you have basil ready, whether you buy it as a seed, like Jack, or you buy it from the shops and propagate it via cuttings, like last year’s Jack. The best way I’ve found is alternating between light harvests, small amounts taken with careful hand, and heavy harvests, large amounts taken with rough cuts. The idea is that you do need to keep basil pruned, removing the light, small leaves when healthy is great as you can use them, rather than letting them wilt, this will let the plant feed itself and grow. For heavy the best time is when there’s too much top growth, way too many leaves, you can just cut it down a few inches, at the growth node of course, and the plant should have sufficient leaves to grow again. The best way to determine the stage is by how many leaves are on a stem. If they’re mostly empty then you don’t want to take too much. All crowded and hen it’s time to take a heavy hand. Basil is tough, but smart pruning means you get more out of each plant.

Feed when scraggly.

Like you and me, dear reader, plants need to feed to grow. The thing about herbs is that they release their flavoursome oils when they struggle, the less for it to draw upon the better tasting it is. So naturally feeding isn’t advised, but you should do it. Huh? Bear with me. You want the basil to be at it’s peak when harvesting, just wet enough to be healthy, the smell will spread throughout any room,  it’ll taste best then. After a few harvests you’ll want to add a little plant feed, this will help the plant grow again and stay strong. The only issue is that the taste will be almost non-existent while the nutrients are in the soil so don’t over-feed it or use slow-release pellets. A little liquid feed is all you need.

Consistently Warm.

Now this pertains to Ireland wacky weather. I had basil last year in a plastic greenhouse that was just ready for harvest so I let it until the next day, the next day’s weather was a cold snap and the basil wilted and died. Now that I have a well insulated greenhouse that holds heat better, and keeps out some of the cold, there’s a world of difference in my basil. You might be best to keep your basil indoors if you don’t have a greenhouse. It’s very disheartening to see basil just die suddenly. I did find the Thai a tougher basil, but that may have been a fluke.

Pesto Tips

Not too smooth.

I use to blend my pesto to a smooth consistency and I feel that that’s a disservice to the basil. I find that a rough blend, where the nuts are just broken up and there are few shreds of leaf left gives  much better texture and even improves the taste. You’re not disguising stems or hiding poor quality leaves, this is your harvest and you should use it the best way possible. I don’t recommend using the stems, they’re okay when very young, but become rubbery in time and eventually woody when the weather changes to cooler temperatures.

Not too much oil.

This is more of a preference, but if you are freezing, and topping with oil naturally, then I find making a thick paste, topping it before freezing leads to a pesto that clings perfectly an doesn’t end up with pasta that’s floating in oil. I love oil and rich pasta dishes, but I think the freshness is where pesto shines, overwhelming the basil is a mistake I’m glad to say I no longer make.

Mixing and Match.

I’ve mentioned that I grow a few varieties of basil, the sweet is the most versatile, but the others offer a unique taste in dishes. The issue I find is that some overwhelm while others fail to stand out enough on their own. I’ve found that mixing the Thai (They call it cinnamon on the packet, but it’s Thai) with the dark opal gives the Thai’s aniseed a slight undercurrent of something sweeter, the lighter flavour of the dark opal is still present, more so thanks to the contrast in flavours. It’s also helpful if you just don’t have enough basil to make pesto, a little Thai with sweet is really fun and different ratios make really different pesto.

The Little Rose That Actually Couldn’t

 photo WP_20170616_001_e_zpswhx3rdg6.jpgThese come in yellow? I mean, these come in yellow.

 photo WP_20170617_005_e_zpslr12dzgb.jpgI’d love a giant ranunculus.

Imagine how empty the site would be without garden posts, dear reader, imagine how empty your lives would be without me! No, come back, I’m kidding. I’ve been forewarned about an incoming heat wave and have fore-watered the plants. I’ll be out daily, dilly-dallying and carting watering-cans to and fro. The plants will be well hydrated, whereas I will be a dried-out husk. The midday sun is a killer. I do have a story to share today. Let’s be a little whimsical and post it as a carefree, childish tale entitled:

 photo WP_20170617_010_e_zpsjgoiukf3.jpgWaltztime necro-rose, the shocking truth revealed.

 photo WP_20170617_011_e_zpsnbjcswcg.jpgHmmm? Oh, that’s tabloid style. Okay: The Little Rose and the Big Mistake.

Once there was a garden, within the garden was a bucket, a very special bucket as this bucket had no bottom, within the bucket was a rose, a sickly rose that couldn’t seem to bloom although all the others around it had already started. A kindly gardener took pity on the rose and replanted it in a special place. Eventually he forgot it, but one day he noticed that a rose had begin to grow in the very spot he buried the little rose. But it was dead, he exclaimed, surely it was a miracle. The little rose had come back to life. But as this is reality it turns out it hadn’t. Life is cruel, children. The end.

Wait! Hold it! Now your pal Jack is no liar, there was indeed a rose there, but not the dead one, it was a large branch of an old rose that started to root, after a quick prune it’s been replanted and will hopefully flourish in its new pot. So, it may not be a dead rose reborn, but it’s still pretty cool that it managed to start.

 photo WP_20170617_001_e_zpsxueurw9y.jpgI’m dubbing this the wrinkly rose.

 photo WP_20170617_007_e_zpsrklka3mb.jpgI jammed a load of plants into a pot and they do better than the carefully care for ones.

 photo WP_20170617_008_e_zpstp8lo0ar.jpgThe first strawberry starting to ripen.

There’s always work to be done in the garden. Careful care at every stage is paying dividends though. I’ve been dead heading and the difference is shocking, I even have a second flowering of my anemone. The roses look much better with frequent dead heading. I’m also tossing the over-ripe yellow strawberries into a pot, smushing really, as they’ll only propagate by seed. I could divide the crown, but I’d like a few that I could share with select others, I’m generous, but not stupid. I’d like to think I have enough flowers, but more just keep popping up. I bought some very cheap bedding plants to fill planters given to me by a neighbour. Salvia Merleau Blue and Coreopsis Illico. Yeah, means nothing to me either, they’re blue, yellow and perennial. There’s a front garden competition I’ve entered, no hope of wining, too many much larger, professionally maintained gardens out there, but why not enter it? If I could enter the back it’d be interesting. That’s all from me,  dear reader, there’s a lot happening in the garden and it’s fun sharing it with others. I hope to make jam or jelly son, I’ll post it when I do. If it succeeds that is. Until later.

 photo WP_20170617_003_e_zpsmrk8jts4.jpgMy special St. Brigid Anemone look the same as these, they cost more. More fool me.

 photo WP_20170617_004_e_zpsy0s1iqap.jpgThe side one hasn’t bloomed yet. I haven’t much red, but I’d rather it were blue. I can dream, right?

 photo WP_20170617_012_e_zps3ww5rrxg.jpgThis rose was all camped up, it might be a rambling rose. It can ramble over the fence.

Sorghum Flour Crumble

 photo WP_20170615_027_e_zpsfwbkheqe.jpgAll my crumbles look the same and come in the same dish.

I’ll be honest with you, dear reader, I can’t even remember which crumble recipe is the original any more. They’re all pretty much the same, the only change is the flour and that works because of the ground almonds. It’s a pretty nice crumble, can’t grumble. I usually make crumble to either use up flour that leftover or to use fruit that’s been in the freezer for too long. I realise I’m not selling you on this, but if you want crumble, here it is, if not, meh. I’m making room in my freezer for my imagined bountiful harvest of fruit. The raspberry harvest is picking up and the yellow strawberries are dong decently. I’ll probably make a few jellies rather than jams, though I do want a yellow strawberry jam for novelty, because the raspberries are really seedy and they get stuck in my teeth. Besides, I can buy jam easily, but jelly is apparently too exotic. Worry not about waste, the compost will be enriched by the seedy pulp. I may also go harvesting wild blackberries. I’ll start saving small jars now and hopefully have enough. Well, that’s it for me, just a quick recipe. See you later.


100g Berries, or Other Fruit, of Choice
35g Sugar
35g Ground Almonds
35g Sorghum Flour
35g Butter, Cold and Chopped


1. Pre-heat oven to 180c (Fan).

2. Place the Berries in an oven proof dish. Set aside.

3. In a bowl mix together the Ground Almonds, Sorghum Flour, Butter and Sugar. Work together with fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs,

4. Sprinkle Crumb Mixture over the Berries and cook for 15-20 minutes until the top is golden brown.