Thursday, 29 August 2013

Juicy bits

Yesterday, we finally got around to picking the pears. Or what pears there were left, anyway.

We've lost loads in the last week or so. Some have ripened overnight on the tree,  many were attacked by wasps and ruined.   I've raked up kilos of damaged pears and composted them. That part of the chickens free range area is full of wasps all day.

Still, we picked lots yesterday, all the ones we could reach with a step ladder. The many that were rotten on the tree were picked and composted, the remainder were put in crates.   There were too many wasps to even think about pressing them last night, so we decided we'd do it this morning before the wasps were around.

Work got in the way, and we didn't start anywhere near early.  

While DH set up the equipment, I sorted the pears and put them in the sinks to wash.  Yet more were discarded, having turned rotten overnight.

The sinks were full long before I had emptied all the crates
I washed the pears, and then put them into large receptacles, making a note of the weight of each batch. In total we had just over 25kg for juicing.

DH then put them through the crusher (we use a Shark Mill). When the crusher bucket was full, the pulp was transferred to the hydro press.  The pears were so ripe that the juices started flowing immediately. 

We realised we could probably get all the pears in one batch if we tried. I put on some food-safe gloves and pressed the pulp down. DH then processed the remaining pears, and we did get it all in.

Later research told us that was probably not the best thing to do - so we'll take a different tack when we come to do the apples.

The hydro press worked really well, and it was even easier than using the screw press.   Mind you, pears are easier to juice than apples, so the real test will come in a month or so.

We ended up with 15 litres of juice, which is about a 60% conversion rate.  We hit 50% with our large screw press last time,  so the extra is good.  I suspect that if we hadn't filled the hydro press so full, we might have achieved a higher conversion rate.

The wasps were a real nuisance.  We've filtered the juice, just in case we had any kamikaze wasps in there.    DH has decanted it into demijohns,  and has started converting it to pear cider.

Can't wait to try it....

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The dangers of dehydration

The dehydrator has been sitting on the worktop, looking at me, for some time now.

I keep meaning to use it, but I decided that setting it running overnight was the best course of action,  and I've ended up being too busy, or too tired, or whatever, every evening so far.

Yesterday I decided to bite the bullet.

I used a food processor to slice a nectarine.  I wasn't paying attention to the food processor blade setting, and I ended up with wafer thin slices.     I shrugged. I didn't have any more nectarines, the dryer was going on whatever, so I put them on the drying tray.  They fell apart as I picked them up, so I ended up putting out one tray full - which with wafer thin slices isn't much - and I ate the rest.

Then I chopped a green chilli. And I tried to use the food processor to cut some celery. That didn't go well, and I distributed the remains all over another tray.

Then a pear - which wasn't too bad as I corrected the slice size.  And another pear which I cut into segments.

And then a banana. I used my latest cutting aid,  a metal butter cutter from the US, which worked well. It was only hindered by the fact that the bananas were waaaaaaaaay past the stage where they are good for drying. The beautifully evenly sliced bananas squished under my fingers as I tried to lay them out.

Finally, I found some tomatoes. Not cherry ones, but  normal ones.  I halved and then quarted them, roughly scraped out the seeds, and put them on a sheet.

And I put it on and left it.

This morning,the chilli slices had dried well. 

I left them in the dehydrator, so they've kind of absorbed moisture from the air now.

I had chewy but rather tasty banana slices (I'm going to put them in lemon juice next time, maybe that will help with the cripsness).  I tried to remove the nectarines, but they shattered. I rescued the pieces and tried them.  The pears were reasonably successful. A bit chewy, but reasonably well flavoured. I don't really like pears,   but they were much more palateable this way.

During the course of the day I managed to eat them everything apart from the chillis and the celery. 

This happened last year when I made apple leather. 

I've decided it's best not to think of the dehydrator as a way of preserving food. 

No. It's better to acknowledge that it is a way of making me heathy(ish) eat-that-day snacks.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Pear shaped

Our pear tree has decided give us a bumper crop this year.  It's been many years since we've had so many pears,  and I'm struggling to cope.

We should have thinned them out. The branches are heavy and low with the weight.  They've been falling off into the Girl's free range area, and the Girls are now sick of the sight of them.  The wasps are having a field day, every day. 

Pears are strange. They are really unripe one day, and then overripe and manky the next day. Sometimes the transition happens in the course of an afternoon.  The advice is to pick them and let them ripen off the tree.    

We had planned to make Pear Cider with the crop this year. They are ready about now for this - and DH is otherwise engaged. The earliest we can do this is the middle of next week.    I know our Pear tree, and I'm not sure it will wait.

I picked a load today, and I'm making pear and lemon marmalade (it's simmering while I type).    I'm going to prep some for the dehydrator tonight.   And I thought I might try Vitamixing some whole pears to see whether it makes an acceptable juice that way (it's easier than pressing, frankly) . If it does, I can do a load of that and then pasteurise it.

Oh well. Onward and onward.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Pillow fights?

That is what the Run looks like.  And the free range area.

A pillow fight with at least two feather pillows, where both pillows burst.

Amongst the black feathers (courtesy of Poppy's recent broodiness and Florence's current broodiness)  which have been floating around the run for some time, there was an enormous pile of copper brown feathers.  

Roobarb is moulting.


On the Allotment today, another pillow fight.   I was met by a balding Norah (or it might have been Batty,  I didn't check the leg ring).   She looks like she's gone punk on the head and bottom.

Spike, the Exchequer Leghorn cockerel, started with the attacks immediately.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to catch him (so I could carry him under my arm for a bit).  I resorted to carrying the watering can as a barrier... and at one point when he still managed to get me (Ow!) I poured its contents over him to get him away from me.

Three of the egg-laying girls are broody: Not Norman and Siouxsie (two of the three Dorking X girlies) and Coffee (our chicken of fate BlackRock hybrid).  I don't recall Coffee beeing broody before.  

In the Breeders,  two Girls are broody.  Some of the six of them are always broody, and it's hard to keep up with who has been broody when.

With the Growers,  they are all looking fantastic.  RedHead, the fast developed cockerel,  now has hs full regalia and looks stunning.  I can't believe he's only 13 weeks old (same as the rest).
Work is progressing on the new coop for the allotment.  I'll post pics when it's done.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Broody Exchange

At last!

It seems as though Poppy has finally stopped being broody, 2 months after starting.

She went broody mid-June, and has stayed glued to the nestbox since then.  She comes out, of her own accord, for the necessaries.  She came out, when forced by me, usually having a quick leg stretch and nibble before dashing back in. 

She's missed the chicks. She nearly missed the death of Milly.  She's been on the periphery of Tilda's attempt at reintroduction.

And this morning, Florence has installed herself in the nestbox as the replacement broody.  I've hoiked her out and put her in the purple Cube Run. She has shelter, food, water, but the pop hole to the purple Cube is closed.

She will stay there until everyone has laid and I can close the orange cube's pop hole.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

14 Nights

Tilda has just spent her 14th night out with The Others.

Apart from a little wobble last Thursday, when she came and sat in the kitchen for a while,  she's been OK.  Mostly.    

To mark this milestone, I folded up the dog crate that had been her pied-a-terre for the last 8 months.  It's still in the kitchen, just folded up and leaning against some kitchen units.   It'll get back to My Shed eventually. Just not yet.

Poppy (1 year old, Australorp x Indian Game) is still broody. She comes off the nest, eats, poos, drinks... but then goes back on.   I've shut everyone out of the coop each afternoon and, as soon as I reopen the door at 7pm, she bolts up the ladder.  I've started to take her out in the morning and shut her in the Purple Cube run (with the pop hole shut). Once the others had laid, I shut the orange pop hole, and released Poppy.   In the meantime she has fresh water,  fresh food, mealworms.  I'm wondering if she's staying broody to avoid confrontations with Tilda?

Florence (3 years old, Australorp) is now trying to go broody.   I caught her eating an egg today.  I think she probably sat on a weak shelled egg and broke it, as her front and tummy were covered in a sticky mess.   Her beak was all yolky,  which might have been from where she was trying to groom herself, but it was more likely from her eating the remains.  I took her in the house and gave her a bath,  and I found that she's losing her breast feathers.  If she goes broody, she's going in the purple cube run straight away.  It seems kinder than putting her in a broody cage.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Back from hols?

Tilda has been out with the Others since Tuesday 30th June.

Things have been mostly okay, although I have seen her sheltering under a bench a fair bit,  and I have caught Custard chasing her.   Custard, trained by the ever-spiteful and no-longer-with-us Milly,  is the same with the two young girls.

On Thursday afternoon, I had a sudden feeling that Tilda might want to come back to the kitchen.

I decided to ignore my feeling.  We've had various grandchildren staying for the last week or so,  and we were expecting another set on Friday morning.   I didn't really want Tilda in the house while they were here, as I wasn't sure how much she would be poo-ing.

On Friday, I felt it again,

This morning, as the grandchildren were getting up,   I let Tilda out of the big run, and she ambled down the garden and into the kitchen. She looked at the (shut) door of her apartment.  She looked round outside, presumably noticing that there were no coop cups hanging up. 

I filled a cup with water and hung it on the outside of her apartment.  She looked at it.  She rejected it.  She didn't stay long.   She stood by the netting near the pampas grass, and so I lifted her over. 

After the grandchildren had gone (flying visit), I saw TIlda was standing by the run doorway, watching me.  I let her out again, and once more she ambled down the path. She sat outside the kitchen door.  I brought out some yoghurt and some water, and set themdown on the patio, away from the kitchen door.  She ate the yoghurt. 

I came inside and sat down, reading my dehydrator book.  There was a minor commotion, and then I found Tilda sitting at my feet.

I'm hoping she's just visiting for the day, rather than angling to move back.  She's survived 11 nights out there, hen pecked the two youngsters so they run away from her.... and it seems a shame for her to throw all that effort away.  (And of course I've got used to not having to clean up after a chicken every day).

As usual, we'll see......

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Feeling fruity

Years ago I bought a pasteuriser from a company in Germany.  Even with shipping, it was significantly cheaper than buying the same model in the UK because there were only a couple of places selling them.  

I couldn't quite stretch to getting the stainless steel version, so I bought the fully automatic enamel version instead.

It's great for non-pressure canning,  it has a timer and a thermostat, and it is fully automatic in that it doesn't start timing until the correct temperature has been reached.

We can also use it for cheesemaking.   

It's still used every year, but less since I bought a pressure canner (from the US, can't seem to buy them here).

When I bought it, I also bought the "juice extractor" part,  which comes in it's own large box. It's sat, unused, not even opened, in the loft since it arrived.

Until yesterday.

We have a good blackcurrant crop this year.  The last few years have seen the blackcurrants turned into Vodka, or cordial.   This year I decided to make blackcurrant jam, as I've now run out.

I picked all the blackcurrants yesterday. It took ages, my back hurt.   

I started to start destalking them, ready to make jam. After about thirty seconds, I looked at the mountain of blackcurrants and decided to do something else.  

I remembered reading about juicing in the pasteuriser, and how you didn't need to de-stalk first.   I could do that, and then make blackcurrant jelly instead of jam.  

Then I thought about how I love getting bits of blackcurrant popping in my jam, and I wavered.

And then I looked at the blackcurrant mountain, and decided that I could manage without the blackcurranty bits.

Now, I do understand that I could easily have done this on the hob, and left the stuff in jelly bags to drip through overnight.    I've done that. 

I had such a lot of blackcurrants that it seemed I might as well try the juicing bit. Or bits as it turned out.  As I said, I'd never opened the box so I didn't know what to expect.  So, I washed the new components and set it up.  When stacked  it was rather tall.  I didn't take a pic so I've had to find a pic online....

The pasteuriser bit, with the water in, is at the bottom; next we have the juice collecting chamber, which has  rubber tube coming out of it so the juice flows out;  next up we have the enormous fruit basket, and then the lid.

And do you know what?  It was bloody amazing.   I wish I'd weighed the blackcurrants, but I didn't.   I have about 3 litres of blackcurrant juice. It smells amazing

If I'd been making cordial, this would have been fantastic, because it would fill the sterilised bottles directly from the contraption, and it wouldn't need further pasteurising.   I really wish I'd tried this years ago!   I'll definitely use this next time I'm making cordials.

Anyway.  I've got the juice sitting in jugs at the moment, and I'm going to start making the jelly in about half an hour.....

Friday, 2 August 2013

Isobel, and Tilda

Nothing obviously amiss with Isobel.  Vet took blood and urine, and we got the results last night. All clear.  So, the good news is that Izzy's fits aren't caused by kidney (or other organ) problems.

She doesn't seem to be fitting often enough to put her on anti convulsants, so we need to monitor her.

We're setting up a camera by the back door which is where she has had the other fits.


Tilda is still on holiday with the Others. 

Yesterday evening she went to bed first, before getting harangued. She then stoof in the doorway and refused entry to Poppy.  Lotti didn't even try.  When the other Big Girls went to bed, Tilda moved her head out of the way and let them in.

She was panting a lot. Stupid chicken clearly hadn't been drinking enough.  I spent half an hour syringing water into her (she wouldn't drink directly from the proffered coop cup).

She's refused to drink from any of the four waterers available to her today.  Eventually I took her round to the nipple drinker, and taught her to use that.

Other than that (rather crucial detail) she looks really well.  Her tail is up, her eyes are bright,  she's sitting near the others rather than hiding all the time.      

Maybe she really is moving out this time.....  if it wasn't for the threat of the caecal poos, I'd be a little sad about it.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Cat Fit

Poor Isobel has been having seizures.

About six months ago, I came downstairs in the morning and found a small pool of cat wee.  I kept vigilant, but it seemed to be a one off.

Some weeks later, there was another one, with a bit of foamy stuff beside it.  I mentioned it to DH, and we speculated that Izzy had perhaps had lost bladder control whilst being cat-sick.

There were a couple more episodes.  About a month ago, after one episode with quite a lot of foam,  it occurred to DH that perhaps Izzy was having a fit.

Last night, Izzy woke us up with some pitiful meowing.  She's done that before (and when we get up to investigate, there's nothing to find) , but this sounded a bit strangled.  DH got up, and found Izzy at the bottom of the stairs,  apparently paralysed.  She'd definitely had a fit - there was a lot of foam and a cat wee,  and she couldn't move.   He ran back upstairs to get his dressing gown, and hurried back downstairs together. 

At this point Isobel was no longer paralysed, but was completely spaced out.  We checked her over, cleaned up,  and then suddenly she was fine and was starving hungry.   She had two half packs of food, and she looked as though nothing had happened.

We got an appointment at the Vet today, and we're just off there now.

Dehydrator hit and myths

My banana chips didn't go crispy. Not even after 30 hours.

My replacement dehydrator book arrived today (the original one got lost in the post).  It mentioned 8 hours for drying banana slices, and mentioned chewy.  Nothing about crispy, snappable, chips.  

I googled why arent my banana chips crispy dehydrator (or something like that) and found pages of people bemoaning their inability to get crispy banana chips.

There is even information from Excalibur saying that it is not possible to get crisp banana chips in a dehydrator.

It appears the chips have to be fried before drying.


I'm going to try frying some courgettes (as I have an abundance of those) and then drying them.

Meanwhile, I've tested the temperature of the dryer using a probe thermometer. Spot on!

And the dehydrator book contains a number of recipes for dehydrator macaroons... very interesting.