Thursday, 31 January 2013

'Penguins share this beach' ~ Yes, they DO!

If the sign says penguins are resident you had better believe it!  They are shy creatures and you may never see them but they are there - the Department of Conservation does not go around embedding these hefty signs for the sake of wishful thinking.


It is a great pity that most dog owners take absolutely no notice of these signs.  A lot of dogs are walked in the area and few of them are on a leash.  One can't call it canine illiteracy because it's not the dogs who are ignoring them. 

Another sign at a nearby beach, this one from The Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust, pleads the same point.  It reads:
Please do NOT approach or touch moulting penguins
Keep control of your dog
Dogs attack penguins and one bite from a dog will kill.  Penguins have no defence so please keep control of your dog.  If you see a penguin keep well away. 
Moulting is normal for penguins any time from February and April.  Moulting birds stay on shore during this time. 
We have lived next to these beaches for a year and a half and yesterday I saw one for the first time, but I had to know that it was there and look very carefully.  Here it is... Can you see it?


Not wishing to disturb it I switched off my camera's flash and kept a discreet distance.  But I too, was being watched:


Safe housekeeping, little penguin! 

You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Colourful capsicums ~ freeze that surplus

Capsicums are also called 'bell peppers'; those I refer to here exclude the spicy 'chili' peppers.   

It's high summer here and capsicums are plentiful and cheap.  We are enjoying eating them more than usual, and I am also looking at putting some aside in the freezer for use during the winter months.   


Capsicums can be frozen whole just as they are, but are easier to handle and take up less space in the freezer if chopped up and stored in convenient sizes and quantities.  Just as I have done with surplus onions these chopped portions will be folded into lunch wrap packets, placed into airtight bags and put into the freezer.

My article about freezing chopped raw onion can be found via the link below:
When you want to cook these frozen vegies there is no need to defrost them, just empty your packet(s) into the waiting hot pan - quick, easy and delicious and you've paid for them already! 

I especially like capsicum cooked up with sautéed mushrooms, which I think brings out the best in both vegetables.  Yellow capsicums are the very best in that combination although the other coloured ones are also tasty.  I have a favourite recipe for mushroom and cheese pie which includes capsicum which I will share sometime soon.  

My other articles about food can be found via the link below:

Friday, 25 January 2013

A cat harness and training can be a big help ~

I have a cat harness for each of my two cats and am very glad of them. I bought them so that I had the means of controlling them in the event of an emergency, and for use when exploring a new area when we move house.  

Although I haven't used them all that much and Louisa has never learnt to walk in one, both cats are familiar with them and Bonnie walks in hers quite contentedly - even though it's more a case of me following her around than of me leading!  Louisa is an energetic cat and tends to run about so getting her to walk in her harness would take more practice than I have yet given her.  

Here is Bonnie modelling her harness: you can see that there are two straps which fasten around the cat: one around the neck and the other around the body just behind the front legs.  These are joined together by another strap that sits between the shoulders:


A harness can be very helpful for carrying a cat as it gives you something to hold onto: yesterday I fetched a cat down from a high place with comparative ease.  He's a cat I know fairly well which helped, but what helped most was having a cat harness to put on him.  I climbed up to where he was and fastened it around him.  Although he had never come in contact with one before he raised no objection and didn't even wriggle.  I had a leash too which I attached - just in case some unexpected contingency arose, but didn't need it.  I looped it over my wrist out of the way. 

With the harness in place I was able to tuck the cat firmly against me, and hook the fingers of my right hand securely through the straps.  I knew I couldn't drop him and he must have felt my confidence because he was completely passive, and I was able to descend a ladder using just one hand.  It was only when I got him back into his own living room that he decided to express his exuberance - before I had time to unfasten his harness.  Leaping beyond the end of the leash he did a couple of athletic cartwheels before rolling over to tackle the leash, all of which was only to be expected, and in a few short moments I had him free, gave his armpits a good rub and he was absolutely fine.

After Bonnie's modelling session this afternoon the two of us walked down the garden together.  She decided to do a spot of 'gardening' on the way.  Now I call that a relaxed cat!


If buying one for your own cat be sure to spend time undoing and doing up the snap fasteners: of the two harnesses I have one has much smaller fasteners than the other, which I find difficult to manage.  Handling them in the absence of a cat is a different and far easier manoeuvre than actually putting them on or taking them off when one is working at a slight angle in amongst the fur of a cat which may be wriggling!  The one with the bigger fasteners is much more satisfactory.  

Then there is the fun of training your cat to wear one: the information I have been given is that short sessions regularly spaced which include and are followed by rewards for your trainee are the way to achieve your goal of a happy cat in harness, but I'm sure that your vet or their practice nurse will be a better source of information than I am! 

A good roof overhead ~ part 1 ~ getting started

Our friends across the road are having their roof replaced.   I enjoy construction so have been taking an interest in this big project.  Our house directly overlooks theirs so we have an excellent view of the proceedings from our balcony!

Yesterday the big day arrived when the roofers screwed the first new tiles into place.  Here they are working out placement:


Getting to that point required a great deal of preparation.  Only the day before John was up on the roof re-checking measurements for the placement of solar panels.  These will be snugly fitted in among the other titles:


The old corrugated iron roof had served its turn well for many years but needed to be completely replaced.  It would be a big job: 


Invisible from below, but clearly seen from above, rust was steadily eating into the corrugated iron: 


Living next to the sea is wonderful in many ways, but salt carried by the sea air rusts most metals relentlessly, so rust-resistant materials are important.


Choosing the new roofing material:
It was a big decision to re-roof in tiles but replacement corrugated iron was not considered due to its short life span in the salt laden sea air.  What had worked reasonably well in the past would be less satisfactory in the future as this roofing material is now manufactured thinner than it used to be. 

In the tile department, ordinary terracotta tiles had to be rejected as these are a great deal heavier than roofing iron and the house was not built to support that weight. 

After a lot of research and careful consideration John chose these ones made of a synthetic resin: 


These fit together neatly as you can see here:


They are screwed into place so are nice and secure as well sturdy - they don't mind being walked on (with care!) and are not slippery.

Traditional terracotta tiles are attached to roofing battens by wires.  In the event of a serious earthquake these attachments can fracture and tiles come loose, as happened to many traditionally tiled houses in the Christchurch earthquakes.  Here is one such casualty:


...So on this point the synthetic resin tiles chosen seem to be a more secure product.

Making new battens:
Once John had decided on tiles many new timber battens were required.  John milled these himself.  They are made from Canadian Oregon, which is very stable and straight-grained.


The patterns in the wood-grain are handsome:


They were milled from big old beams from a building which had been damaged in a fire.  Underneath the charring most of the wood  in the beams was fine. 

The arrival of the tiles was another Big Day.  Here they are in their crates outside the gate, which was as close as the carrier could bring them to where they needed to be stored. 


In order to be moved any further they had to be unpacked.  Here you can see a portion of them lined up next the the battens:


And yet more...


After this delivery there was a wait of several weeks until the roofers and scaffolders were available.  

The roofers hadn't installed this sort of tiles before, and indeed John does not know of anyone else in New Zealand who has used them, so when the roofers first arrived they took their time working out exactly how to go about the job.


John climbed up to join in the discussion.  There he is on the right:


In the image below John is rolling up lengths of butynol, a flashing material.  Flashing takes a number of different forms and is a vital factor in a weather-tight house. 


Once the roofers had worked out how to tackle the tiles the flashing materials were quickly put in place and the tiles went on smoothly row by row.  You can see the black flashing paper sticking out at the sides:


The tiling of first section of the roof was quickly completed and the roofers left the site to the scaffolders.  The scaffolding is a vital component of what turned out to be a lengthy and complex job.  I've written more about this in the following article (see below).


This is what the site looked at at the end of Day One:  


Today the roofers got to work on the right hand side of the top level, while the scaffolders completed the rest of their structure around the house.  It was all go:


And then after knock-off time it was very quiet!  A lot was achieved during the day! 


I have covered the advertising sign on the front of the structure with a maple leaf as I reserve the right to convey this sort of thing according to my own choice.

Further technical information:
The supplier of the tiles is Chinese.  You can find their website here:
The number of slates / tiles required:
Roof area is 176 sq meters
Coverage is 11.1 per square meter
1953 needed assuming solar slates were NOT installed.
2400 plus 48 solar slates were purchased to ensure that there will be plenty to hand for any additional work that might be undertaken in the future.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Mulberry tree a 'Must Have' ~

I first met one of these trees when house-minding recently, at the same place that had the astonishingly laden red currant bush - what bounty!  It was also my first encounter with the fruit itself.  When mulberries are fully ripe they are such a dark red as to be almost black, and are absolutely delicious: when you put it into your mouth you get a burst of the somewhat winy juice which is so distinctive. 

Here is a dish of freshly picked mulberries with some of the raspberries which were growing alongside the tree.  That's my own home made ice cream which they are sitting in, flavoured with the red currant jam I had just made:

Scrumptious mulberries - the dark fruit, with raspberries from the garden and home-made ice cream

Here is the tree, which I was told is relatively young:


This image taken from underneath it shows how laden it was:


And higher up:


My only regret was that my house minding came to an end before the majority of the fruit had ripened - not that I would want the owners to miss out!  The birds loved them too, but there were plenty for all of us. 

I've never seen this fruit in shops and imagine that this could be because properly ripe fruit bursts so easily staining fingers a vivid red.  It also the stains the inside of the birds who eat it, so when planting this excellent tree make sure it is well clear of your clothes line!

Readers may have have seen my earlier recipe for gooseberry shortcake which I wrote about enthusiastically last November.  I've really got the hang of that now, and of course decided that having a go at making a mulberry one was an urgent necessity!  This was great success being received with rapturous enthusiasm by everyone lucky enough to sample it, so here is the recipe as adapted from that earlier one:

MULBERRY SHORTCAKE ~ 
The main part of the cake is a form of short pastry, and is very light and delicious.

Note that the pastry is much more successful if it starts out a little too damp rather than a little too dry.  You can dust additional flour over the pastry as you are working with it to make it just right.

Ingredients:
  • Flour, plain / standard: 225 grams / 8 ounces / 2 cups
  • Butter: 125 grams / 4 ounces
  • Baking powder: 1 teaspoon
  • Egg: 2
  • Sugar: 2 dessert spoons
  • Water: up to a quarter of a cup if needed in pastry
This is the filling:
  • Mulberries, fresh and whole - approximately 250 grams / 8 ounces.
  • Sugar to toss them in - I use nearly half a cup / 125 grams.  You might like to start with a third of a cup.
This is a fruit-to-sugar ratio of about 2 to 1 whereas the ratio I use for preserves is 3 to 1.

Method:
  • In a medium sized bowl combine the mulberries with the sugar
  • Set these aside while you make the pastry, stirring from time to time to coat the mulberries with the sugar.  The sugar may liquify somewhat.
  • Grate the cold butter, put it in a bowl and then put it back in the fridge if the day is warm and it may have softened while being grated.
  • While you have the butter out take a knob of it and grease the pie tin with it. 
  • Set the oven to heat to 200 degrees Celsius
  • Sift flour and baking powder
  • In a separate bowl beat the eggs and add the sugar to them, then continue to beat until they have  thickened and gone creamy.  Keep aside a few tablespoons of it.
  • Combine the chilled butter with the floury mixture.  I use first a knife and fork, then a serated knife.  Pastry dough should be handled as little as possible to prevent it from becoming tough.
  • Add to it the larger amount of the egg and sugar, using firstly a knife or similar and then kneading it very lightly with the fingertips until the pastry adheres to itself and can be rolled out with a rolling pin.  
  • If the dough doesn't seem damp enough add a small amount of cold water.  I may add up to a quarter of a cup if needed.
  • Note that the pastry is much more successful if it starts out a little too damp rather than a little too dry, and you can dust a little additional flour over the pastry as you are working with it to make it just right.
  • Divide the pastry in two halves; if using a tin for baking make one a little larger than the other.
  • Dust with flour the board or bench surface on which you will be rolling it out, keeping perhaps half a cup of flour to one side in a bowl to continue to dust the dough as you roll and turn it so that it doesn't stick to your working surface.
  • Take the larger half of the pastry dough and roll it into a circle large enough to line your tin.  It can be about half an inch thick although I usually make my pastry thinner.
  • Lift it into the baking tin.  You can either make a proper pie case (with sides) or simply cover the base of your tin leaving enough room around the edges so that the top cover can be pressed down into the base
  • Now use the small amount of egg and sugar that you have set aside to brush the inside of the pastry case, including the upper edges where it will meet the pastry used to cover the top.  This will seal in any liquid from the cooking mulberries so that the base doesn't go soggy.
  • Note that milk brushed onto pastry will also assist edges to join which are pressed together. 
  • Spread onto this pastry case the mulberries and sugar that have been standing to one side
  • Lightly roll out the second round and place it over the top
  • Press the edges of the two layers together with your finger tips, trimming any excess which can then be made into decorative shapes for the lid.
  • Place these decorations on the lid after dipping them in milk 
  • Brush the lid with milk to enhance the golden colour it will turn when baked - if you feel like it
  • Slash the pastry lid with a sharp knife so that steam can escape
  • Place into your heated oven and cook for about 30 minutes.  
Ovens vary considerably so your own judgement will be useful in deciding when your shortcake is fully baked.
    When fully cooked the pastry should be golden and the fruit juicy enough to be starting to ooze.  Ovens vary considerably so use your own judgement to decide when your shortcake is fully baked.


    Once baked to your satisfaction remove your shortcake from the oven and let it stand until it has cooled sufficiently to be lightly handled.  Turn it out onto a serving dish, dust with icing sugar, slice into wedges and serve with whipped cream.


    Having tested this shortcake recipe with both gooseberries and mulberries I am now confident that it would work well with other fruit.
    • It does: I've since made it with raw apricots tossed in exactly the same amount of sugar, and it has been scrumptious both times!
    My other articles about food and working in the kitchen, including the recipes for ice cream and gooseberry shortcake and red currant jam and ices, can all be found via the link below:
    Securing my own source of mulberries is now a priority, which means finding and planting a tree as soon as possible!

    Here are links to two article about mulberry trees:
    The Readers Digest article warns against planting these trees in a small garden as they can grow fairly tall, but I see no reason why they couldn't be pruned to maintain a shorter height.  Having said that it would be sensible to check this point with someone who is knowledgeable.  

    Passing Opossums ~ I stop and go back ~

    In New Zealand opossums are generally referred to as possums, although to me this is a fairly recent abbreviation: when I was a girl we called them opossums, and since this is the more inclusive term that is what I use here. 

    According to the New Zealand encyclopaedia, Te Ara, these animals were deliberately introduced to this country from Australia in 1837 to form the basis of a fur industry, but introduction was not successful until 1858. 

    Sad to say they have since become a terrible pest.  The Encyclopaedia goes on to say that the estimated population is now in the region of 66 million.  In their native Australia, where they have predators and harsh conditions to contend with, they are not pests at all;  here, in contrast, they have no natural predators other than ourselves, and a lush leafy landscape with moderate climate has enabled them to breed and thrive relatively unchecked.  The effect on ecosystems here has been dire, especially on native bush and forested areas, but also on native insects and bird life.

    This is not the fault of the opossums: they are simply living out their lives doing what they are designed to do; they are intelligent creatures with the full range of senses as well as emotions; and it is also worth bearing in mind that no other creature on the planet has ever been as destructive as our own species, a point which I am pleased to see recognised in the Te Ara encyclopaedia reference listed at the foot of this article, and yes, let's remind ourselves that it was humans who deliberately brought them here.  So when we are faced with their deaths, either by accident or from hunting and trapping, it's important to be as humane as possible and to show respect for the lives that are lost, for sentience snuffed out.    

    An opossum seen on the road is often a dead opossum - or about to become so: the front ends of cars, and indeed all motor vehicles travelling at any speed, show no mercy. 

    I drive a car myself, and often when I'm out and about I stop to check on people, birds and animals that look as if they may possibly be in need of help.  As a result I have some interesting stories to tell: often they are just fine; sometimes they are not; and from time to time they are very clearly dead, but I stop anyway, as was the case with this opossum this morning.  Why?  Because the way that I look at it there are few behaviours more indicative of human indifference than the driving over of fresh wildlife carcasses. 

    This morning as I drove to town along a country road I noticed this animal lying with the stillness of the dead, and when I came back it still lay there apparently untouched.  I pulled over.  Fortunately I had an old jacket in the car: I put my hands into the sleeves, went over to the little corpse and carefully picked it up.  Its little body had stiffened as it lay, but its eyes were still clear and bright.  I climbed down the nearby bank and laid down in long grass under a shrub.  It could lie there peacefully - better by far than on the unforgiving road and the grinding wheels of passing traffic.

    After I had laid it down I stroked it.  Opossum fur is very soft.  I admired its pretty face and apologised to it for its violent death, and for the stupidity of those who brought its kind to this country in the first place. 

    Being interested in life in all its myriad forms I took some photographs.  It was a beautiful creature.  Opossums are both shy and nocturnal, so one doesn't often have the opportunity to look at them closely.  Seen from a short distance they look rather like cats, but a closer look reveals considerable differences.  You can see some of them in the photograph below, in the paw particularly:


    Look at its interesting back feet.  From reading about them later I gather these are somewhat different from the front ones.  I didn't think to look at the front ones more closely at the time.


    These back feet have an opposing digit, like a thumb, which is without a claw.  These help them to climb in trees.  You can see it in the foot at the left below, although not all that clearly as it is folded over the sole of the foot.  Those long claws, unlike cats claws, are not retractable!


    The underside of an opossum's tail is bare of fur, and curls over at the tip.  Opossums spend a lot of time in trees where this muscular tail provides the animal with stability and additional grip, although it is not strong enough for it to swing by:


    I lifted the tail back to get a better photograph.  That bare strip extends along the length of the tail. 


    Then, having taken my photographs, and blessed the little animal in my own private way, I clambered up the bank, got back in the car and continued on my way home.  

    I felt pensive and a little disoriented.  So I cheered myself up by baking a mulberry shortcake.  I'll share that recipe with you when I've finished writing this one.  

    Another opossum I encountered when out driving, again in a largely rural area, was alive although injured: 
    Driving along minding my own business, I observed what I thought was probably a cat, sitting near the side of the road cleaning itself.  It seemed an odd place for a cat to sit, or indeed for any animal to do such a thing, so close to the traffic.  I slowed down, pulled over, then turned the car around and drove back.  I got out of the car.  Was it a cat?  Or was it an opossum?  I really wasn't sure.  If was a dark charcoal grey all over, almost black, from nose to tail, and not unlike my fluffy little cat, Louisa. 

    When approaching any bird or animal I have found it helpful to do so in a way which reduces the impression of threat: moving slowly, indirectly, and very importantly allowing them to have a good look at me from each side - bearing in mind that for most of them their eyes are positioned more on the sides of their heads than ours; and then I slowly lower myself closer to their level.

    The little animal showed no fear at all, but then it was mostly occupied with attending to its paw, which it licked and licked, although it paused to take me in.  I couldn't see any injury, but it was clearly very painful or the animal would not continue to sit so close to the traffic, or to me either, come to that.  I talked to it quietly.  Very slowly and carefully I gently stroked the back of its neck.  A closer look at its paws helped me clarify that it was indeed an opossum, and the long strip of bare skin along the underneath of its tail which was revealed by its squatting posture made it doubly clear. I had never been so close to an opossum before and was a little shocked at the similarities and differences between them and cats. 

    I wondered what on earth to do.  There was no way I could put it into the car or transport it, and it was unlikely to be welcomed by a vet; I am not a hunter or trapper and so was not willing to enter into anything in that direction...  Looking around me I saw that we were directly in front of a small house and its garden which offered no sanctuary for one such as this, but some few yards distant there was an empty fenced field with a lot of long grass and a few macrocarpa trees.  If I left the opossum by the road it would very likely get hit by another car; and the field was at quite a distance for someone with such a painful foot; and if it got that far it would still have to get through the fence...

    I weighed up the odds involved with carrying it there and lifting it over into the long grass - and possibility of getting clawed and or dropping it.  I decided to do it anyway - very carefully.  I've handled birds and animals quite a bit and hold to Cesar Millan's well-tested belief that when you act calmly and assertively they commonly sense this and relax.  So I picked it up from behind holding it very firmly under its little armpits, and held it well away from me.  After hanging limp for a moment it swung its back legs to find support for itself, but not high enough to scrape my wrists!  I stayed calm and headed briskly to the fence line and carefully lowered it into the long grass, and set it down on its rear.  It gave a brief scream as it attempted to right itself and then resumed licking the sore paw.  I couldn't do anything more for it, so having seen it to relative safety went back to my car and drove on home.  I was glad I had stopped - it was a fellow creature and in pain.

    The next day when I drove down that stretch of road I stopped the car so that I could look over the fence.  There was no sign of it.  Well, at least it hadn't been left to be hit by another car.  I had done what I could - and learnt a lot in the process.  

    I'll share some more of my 'stopping to check' stories another time.  

    Note: I wash my hands carefully after handling animals and birds, especially wild ones.  Opossums can carry tuberculosis. 

    You can read more about opossums via these links:

    Sunday, 13 January 2013

    Red currant riches ~ jam, ices and ice cream treats for long hot summer days

    These jewel-like berries are a fruity delight!  I have the great good fortune to be house-minding a place which has an abundance of berry fruit which I am welcome to harvest as I please.  As well as red currants there are raspberries, gooseberries and mulberries.  Of these the red currant bush was the most bountiful being loaded with its glowing treasure.  

    This bush, like other fruiting bushes of its kind, wisely conceals its bounty, but some clusters are easy to see:


    Observant readers will notice the rose leaves at the right in the image above.  The scatterbrained person who planted this rampant rose immediately next to the currant bush deserves to be taken severely to task.  Needless to say I gave it a judicious pruning before I got very far with my harvesting - but not before my good friend got torn by unexpected thorns!  So not only were the currants wonderfully concealed but also the rose thorns! 

    Lifting back the branches of the currant bush one by one revealed masses of fruit!

    Picking and handling currants requires careful, patient work due to the placement of the fruit much of which is in the interior of the bushes, and the brittleness of the branches which break fairly easily.  

    I picked and picked, carefully working my way around the bush and was rewarded for my perseverance with a harvest of several kilos!


    While I was working away I found myself thinking that it was rather like brushing out the tangled curly hair of a small child: I needed to be firm but careful, and this is how I like to handle all growing things - with a sensitive touch which shows appreciation as well as care and skill.  This way of handling things has becomes a habit and transfers to other things as well: it expresses that I value and respect what I come in contact with - especially living things, but also objects.

    Red currant jam: fruit, sugar and water ratios:
    Not having tried to make red currant jam before I was keen to have a go, and after due consideration decided that the ratio of fruit to sugar and water that I use most often would do for a trial run: six parts of fruit to five parts of sugar, and half a cup of water per kilo of fruit, which is just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. 

    It worked perfectly: the jam set easily and tastes absolutely delicious! 

    My other articles which give full details about how to make and bottle jam can be found on this page:

    Jam or jelly?
    A question I've been asked numbers of times was if I had made jelly.  I don't know why people go to the extra bother of making jelly with this delightful fruit: the only preparation required is to remove it from its stalks, which is as pleasant an occupation as any I can think of; it takes a while but gives one time to take in the beauty of the fruit and its special fragrance.  Some people put the fruit in the freezer to make this part of the job quicker and easier, but I like to handle the ripe fruit just as it comes - and to carefully lift out the little spiders and other creatures that have come along with the fruit and restore them to the garden.  


    Currants do have tiny pips in them, but so do raspberries, and I never heard of anyone making raspberry jelly.  So unless one has the challenge of touchy digestion or a dental plate, this fruit 'jammed' is as good as any you'll ever taste and no trouble at all to make.  And I found that the jam turned out to be fairly translucent without being strained through a cloth bag.

    Red currant ice: a special treat for long hot summer days!
    I have the most palate-tingling recipe for a simple frozen dessert made of gooseberries which I call 'Gooseberry-licious', and decided to try out a red currant version.  I made a gooseberry one at the same time so that I could compare the two - and found that the currant one was even more popular.  They both taste like a sorbet.  The only difference between the two is that I add fresh mint leaves to the gooseberries when stewing them. 

    The method is simplicity itself: 
    • Weigh your fruit and write down the amount!  I stared with 400 grams.
    • Calculate what a third of that is, which will be the amount of sugar required.  One third of 400 grams is 133 grams.
    • Stew red currants (or gooseberries) with enough water to cover the bottom of the pot.
    • When cooked, by which time they will have become largely liquid, add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved.
    • Strain through a sieve and allow to cool. 
    • When cool place into a shallow-ish container and put it into the freezer. 
    • When frozen, spoon it out and eat it! 

    Red currant or gooseberry fool:
    If you like cream with your berry fruit you can use the exact same preparation to make these treats but chill it before adding whipped cream.  Simply fold whipped cream through it and place the mixture back in the fridge to chill further.  I urge caution regarding the amount of cream used as it can easily overwhelm the delicate flavours it should be enhancing, therefore, add the cream to the fruit rather than the other way around!  

    Actually I prefer a different version of this, which is to serve the chilled fruit syrup in little crystal glasses with the whipped cream on top.  It looks classy, and one can enjoy the creaminess of the cream alongside the distinctive tang of the fruit from underneath it.  Served for afternoon tea alongside a nice fruit cake or loaf and you will find this a memorable combination. Here is my easy fruit loaf recipe:
    Red currant ice cream:
    Yes, I made ice cream too!  There again it is simplicity itself!  An extra large bottle of cream bought on special before Christmas was in danger of going to waste, so this was an excellent use for it.  From 2 cups of cream I made more than a litre of delectable ice cream.  You can find my recipe here:
    To include the fruit I simply folded in two to three heaped tablespoons of jam to the finished mixture.  Fruit has to be added in syrup or jam form as fresh fruit simply freezes into icy chunks which are not what you want!  The mixture is created by beating, and as I like to maintain some of the fruitiness folding it into the fully prepared mixture is the best time to add it. 

    When I made the red currant version described here I didn't change the usual ingredients at all.  Another time I would put in less sugar as the jam is already sweetened.  The recipe says to put half the sugar in with the whites which are beaten stiff and then glossy with the addition of sugar, and the other half goes in with the raw egg yolks, which is the half in which I would greatly reduce the sugar content. 

    All this talk about ice cream prompted me to go out into the garden, pick a little of the remaining berry fruit: mulberries and raspberries, and clean out the nearly empty ice cream container:


    It was as good as I expected it to be!  

    The garden here is small, but packed with good things, especially berry fruit bushes - oh joy!  You don't need much room to grow these - just make sure that you decide beforehand - realistically, that is - how much room they will need and how large you want them to grow - and prune them accordingly.  And for goodness sake, do keep your rose bushes at a safe distance! 

    More of my articles about jam and preserves as well as other food articles can be found listed together via the link below: