Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Quince jelly - mmmmm

Earlier this week, I visited my lovely friends Louise and Andy who have recently left London to start a new life in the country. They've set themselves up in an idyllic canal side cottage and have embraced a world of bucolic bliss without a backward glance. One of their neighbours had given them some quinces and Louise was presenting an image of a 1950s domestic goddess by knocking up a batch of Quince Jelly in between putting the bairn to bed and cooking the evening supper. Oh how things have changed from those hedonistic University days

If you manage to get hold off some quinces then Quince Jelly is one of the simplest preserves to make as the high pectin levels of the fruit means that it sets very easily. To give this a go, you'll need to get your hands on a jelly bag or muslin cloth to strain the juices, along with some jars to store your preserve in.

4kg quinces
1kg sugar
Juice of one lemon

To get started, pick through your quinces and remove any leaves or ones that look past their best. Give them a good wash and then pop them all in a large pan and cover with water. Slowly bring this to the boil and then turn down to simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until the fruit has gone pulpy and soft.

Next, spoon the mixture into a jelly bag or a colander lined with a muslin cloth and suspend over a pan (Louise hung her's from the tap - clever), and leave it to strain. Don't try to force the liquid through as this will make it cloudy.

When it's finally drained (I usually leave it overnight), add the sugar and lemon juice and slowly bring to the boil whilst stirring occasionally. Once the sugar is dissolved, leave it at a rolling boil for anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes testing it every five minutes to see if the setting point is reached. You do this by chilling some saucers and then dropping a small amount of the liquid onto the cool saucer and leaving it for 60 seconds. If the mixture wrinkles when gently pushed then you're ready to go. As the mixture is boiling you will need to regularly skim the scum off the top to make sure you have a clear jelly.

Once setting point is reached, pour into sterilised jars (you can sterilise in the dishwasher or by boiling the jars in a pan for a good five minutes), seal and label up. Unopened your jelly should keep for at least a year as long as you have done your sterilising thoroughly. Make sure you don't throw away your pulp as this can be used to make quince paste. If you don't have time to do it straight away, then the pulp can be stored in your fridge for up to a week.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Build yourself a bivouac

Building a bivouac is one of those wholesome Boy Scout activities that I have high hopes of our kids embracing. Given that they're both under two and based on the evidence from yesterday's attempt, I think we need to wait a little while. They did however find it very amusing to pull down the one their father had a go at putting together.

If you've got slightly older kids, then this is a lovely way to get them playing outdoors for the day. They'll need a hand but once the basic structure is there, you can leave them to put the finishing touches to their den. Here's how to build one:
  • Choose a flat piece of ground and start off by collecting as many long fallen branches as you can. Get the kids to break off the smaller twigs as you go
  • Choose three of your longest and sturdiest branches and jam them into the ground as much as you can, and arrange them in teepee like shape with the tops leaning against each other. This takes a bit of fiddling around until you've found the best angle to lean them at
  • Once these are in place get the kids to lean the smaller branches against them, to start creating a more solid structure
  • Finally, cover your den with bracken, leaves and other foliage to give it an authentic woodland hide finish. Bingo.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Tales from my childhood

To support the publication of my latest book 'The book of summer' I wrote a piece on my childhood for the new literature magazine 'We love this book.' Click here to read all about it

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Make your own outdoor twister game

This is a great way to put on an impromptu game of Twister and ideal summer garden entertainment for the kids. All you need to do is get your hands on four cans of different coloured spraypaint and mark out your Twister game board on your front lawn (4 columns of different colours with 6 circles in each). Don't worry about ruining your lawn as it grows out in a couple of weeks. Remind everyone of the basic rules (featured here), and relive those 80's childhood parties.

Thanks to Sassy Style Blogspot for this one.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Beach activity no. 5: Go mackerel fishing

Mackerel are a fantastic beginner's fish as their ubiquitous presence in our summer seas means that if you get the time of day and year right, and have a little local knowledge, you will rarely return empty handed (I hope that's not an over-promise). We headed off for an early evening fishing trip a few weeks ago and came home with a bucket load for that evening's dinner.

The best time to catch mackerel is when the sun is heading over the yard arm on a clear sunny day. They arrive on our shores with their sparkly silver bellies and irredescent blue and grey stripes in June and stay to enjoy our non-balmy waters right through to the end of the summer. If you fancy giving fishing a go, then this is a great place to start. Head to the nearest fishing shop to tackle up and seek some advice on the best local spots.

The beauty of mackerel fishing is that the tackle is lightweight and cheap. We've always had the most success with feathers and when the fish are feeding well a dropped line with six hooks can bring up as many glistening, writhing fish. The best place to catch them is in steady or fast-flowing water, so the drop at the end of the pier is ideal. Look out for a gathering of gulls whose diving swoops often raise the flag to the arrival of a decent-sized shoal. Drop your line in and see what you can pull up. It really is as simple as that.

Stuck for somewhere to stay this summer?

If you're heading off to a festival or event this summer but can't find anywhere to stay, then why not give this nifty little alternative a go. Some smart people have set up a website called which brings together bed-less event goers, with people who are willing to turn their back garden into a campsite. The site cleverly lists all the upcoming major events and then details back garden camping options that are close by. Surely it's got to be more fun than staying in some faceless over priced miniscule hotel room.