Autumn Treats


We have three apple trees at the Smallest Smallholding – a pretty useless crab apple that only really serves as a good bird feeding spot, a Blenheim Orange that I presume is on some kind of dwarf rootstock, and a Charles Ross.

The two trees that provide edible apples are both relatively slow growing, and let’s just say our yields from both trees are very modest indeed. But right now I’ll take quality over quantity and the Charles Ross has grown some stonkers (as in, good stonkers) this season. I’m guessing the mix of downpours and late summer heatwaves gave us some ideal apple growing conditions. I also knocked off quite a few small fruits off each bough earlier in the season, so the remaining fruits have gleaned all the energy and grown to a good size.

Though the Charles Ross could be classed as a dessert apple, I’m going to use both the tarter Blenheim Orange and Charles Ross as cookers. Simply because baked apples are one of my favourite comfort foods. I’m thinking given I have a baby in my arms for a good proportion of the day, I’m going to keep the baking simple.

Apple tart or apple crumble is the plan… Whether I have the time or inclination to pull off baking a simple apple dish this weekend is another matter altogether đŸ˜‰



I turned 28 and then it was 2011

Happy New Year!

I’m well aware that blog-wise, December was a washout for me. As you may or may not have read in my last blog post, I spent the majority of December either being too stressed or too ill to do anything interesting or Smallest Smallholding-related. It felt as if my laptop had become a permanent fixture, an extension of my eyes, arms and hands… in a way, being horribly ill with ‘flu probably gave me a much-needed prolonged break and saved me from becoming pixelated or something.

I’m *still* not back to full health. I think it’ll take at least another couple of weeks. It really knocked me for six and left me with a lethargic legacy. Friday – New Year’s Eve – was my 28th birthday and I started the day with a bath, followed by a trip to my doctor. I’d been getting waves of nausea, had no appetite, was coughing a LOT and at that time was still prone to flagging after only being up and about for a couple of hours. He assured me I’d had ‘flu, that it could be a couple of days or a couple of weeks before I’d be fighting fit and just said to ride it out, rest up and look after myself. Needless to say, the rest of my birthday was quiet. I went over to see my Mum, Dad was working, sister was ill, my aunt dropped by and I think everyone else was either busy or preoccupied with NYE. Such is life.

I did get some lovely gifts. Hunter wellies, no less. They make me feel VERY posh, and I’m really happy to have wellies that will last me a very very long time. I also have some seeds to sow, a new pair of secateurs, lots of new pairs of gardening gloves, bubble baths, thermal socks, a new bag, earrings, a new hairdryer (my ancient one was sparking and frying my head) and just lots of lovely little bits and pieces that I’d never allow myself the guilty pleasure of buying otherwise.

Rich and I didn’t even realise that new year had arrived. We were curled up on the sofa watching a DVD, and only realised that the clock in our lounge is slow by at least 5 minutes as the fireworks started going off well before what we thought was midnight. I’m not bothered. It’s almost like a sigh of relief when the year is over, especially when we’ve managed to avoid major disasters or tragedies. I think the couple of years leading up to Nannie’s death really scarred me in that way. I hope one day I’ll have that slightly sad feeling that a great year is over, rather than that relieved feeling. Still, I remain hopeful. I like New Year. Although I still harbour that feeling as if I’m bracing myself for impending disasters, it’s not as strong as it used to be, and I do feel that the coming year will be a year of change, and of good things.

I was looking back at last year’s ‘new year’ post. I do like making resolutions because I like to challenge myself to improve, to progress and to achieve. Here’s what I wrote last year, and my succinct assessment of each resolution:

2010 Resolutions – Smallest Smallholding

1. Grow loads more onions. Er. I grew more but didn’t get to eat as many as I wanted thanks to rot. I’ll go with a partial success.

2. Get better at composting, feeding and sustaining my crops this year. I WAS RUBBISH AT THIS. Fail. Try again this year.

3. Plant more sunflowers. Success, although they still bent in the windy weather.

4. Plant a nectar bank. Fail. Definitely want to concentrate on getting this done this year.

5. Add to my woodland gardens. Success. Partially. Could do better, although there were improvements.

6. Use my greenhouse to its full potential. FAIL, FAIL, FAIL. 2011 is the year of my greenhouse. Staging, repairs, cleaning… it’s all going on this spring.

7. Have an outside eating area. FAIL. We did make some inroads with this but nowhere near enough. Another project for the summer. I’m going to be one busy bunny.

8. Dig an asparagus bed. Roaring success. Rich did this. His asparagus are growing wonderfully well, but I do point out to him in slightly envious tones that although he does very well, he only looks after his asparagus. I do everything else with varying degrees of success.

9. Grow veg in hanging baskets. Fail. Again, time/organisation issue.

10. Grow a variety of food that I will actually eat. Partial failure, I’d say. Blackfly, lack of organisation and stupidity didn’t see me make the most of what I had. We’ll try again. I will nail it. Eventually.

2010 Resolutions – Non-Smallest Smallholding

1. Learn to relax. Partial success. Getting there. Learning to deal with life stuff is a long process.

2. Explore Britain. Partial success. Last year I went to Wales twice (Cardiff, and the Llyn Peninsula), Edinburgh (again), Cork in Ireland (non-UK, but still exploration). Would like to explore the western side of the UK more – Welsh borders, south west and maybe south coast.

3. More autonomy. Hell, yes! During 2009 and the beginning of 2010 I was pretty miserable. But I decided to change things, and I think I’m getting the balance right. I still need to work harder, improve my skills and focus more this year. But I think we’re getting there.

4. LOSE WEIGHT. SUCCESS! This summer I really started to get trim. Although, I did start piling it on again in the winter. But this ‘flu saw me lose almost 3/4 stone, and I’m going to be very careful to not put it back on. I don’t need to.

5. More self sufficiency! Hmmm. Fail, sadly. 2011 is going to be expensive all round – rising prices, VAT, etc etc. Self sufficiency is one way to bypass the extra expense in the long run.

6. Write more and Blog more. Ummm. No, fail I think. I have several projects lined up for 2011 though, so I imagine I’ll be scribbling and tip-tapping away this year.

7. Eat more greens. Fail. I need to eat more green stuff.

8. Bake more. Fail. I need to set aside time. I do enjoy it.

9. Walk more. Success! Not only did I walk more, but I ran. Spring/summer was great. I was running 5ks. I was proud of myself. I’m going to do it again, and even better in 2011.

10. Books! Partial success. Recommendations are always welcome.

So there you have it. A mixed bag if ever there was one, but I did make some important changes last year, most notably running, my job and my general attitude.

I don’t think I’ll have so many resolutions this year. For sanity’s sake I’ll try and keep this one a bit shorter:


1. Take up running again and try to enter a charity 5k.

2. Be careful and considerate about what I grow, and try to use everything that I manage to harvest.

3. Get my greenhouse up and running, and use it to its full potential.

4. Plant lots of wildlife-friendly flowers.

5. Don’t stress when it all grows out of control. Do what you can, when you can.

6. Write some more magazine articles. Get them published.

7. Take time out with Rich to visit new places and have new experiences.

8. Get my finances under control. Wipe out as much debt as possible and get out of my overdraft.

9. Get some of the house renovations finished.

10. Spend at least one or two days a week away from the computer – give yourself more time to get those Smallest Smallholding projects finished (e.g. eating area, herb beds, finish fencing, nectar bank).

There you are. Pretty simple. Bring it on 2011. But please – be kind to me!

Nannie and Pappa

Just over two years ago, my Nannie said goodbye to the world we know, and started on her next chapter. It had been a long, hard road that she’d travelled when she got to this point, and for us – and her, I expect – her passing was a mixture of absolute grief and sadness, and relief that she was no longer bound by a failing body that had caused her so much anguish. For the most part, until her final weeks, Nannie was pretty sharp; she had her wit, her opinions, her very big, very characteristic stubborn streak, and a love of afternoon tea that has permeated through the generations.

Tomorrow would have been her 83rd birthday, and we’re having a little tea party down by her summerhouse, as a sort of tipping-of-the-hat to this. It’s just so we can get together as a family – nothing mournful or sad, just enjoying what she enjoyed so much too. We still talk and laugh about Nannie and her ‘Nannie-isms’ all the time, so it feels that she’s still very much “with” us. I don’t think that will ever go away, as both she and Pappa, who passed away in 2002, are so ingrained in the way we are. The grandchildren especially feel that Nannie and Pappa helped shaped us into the people we are today, and mostly in a good way.

I have so many positive childhood memories of my grandparents. Pappa was not a particularly animated man – quite quiet and very set in his ways. On rare occasions, he would, however come to life when he was telling us about his war stories, or something that interested him. Nobody would interrupt, because he could actually be quite engaging, and you know that if he deemed a story worthy of telling, it probably was.

He was a keen bird enthusiast and vegetable gardener, and I grew up playing amongst Nannie and Pappa’s raspberry bushes, apple trees, potato plots and runner bean poles. At the time, I didn’t really appreciate what he was doing, and it wasn’t until a couple of years after he died that I really started growing my own and appreciating the influence that he’d had on me. I didn’t even realise it at the time, but he really did represent something very earthy and sturdy – he was a grafter, a craftsman and just very understated.

Nannie, if anything, was the complete opposite. A former athlete and slightly hammed-up amateur dramatic, she loved attention. And although she liked to think she was quite well-to-do (she would tell people she was from Hampstead, when in fact it was closer to Kilburn), she could laugh raucously until she wept, could do very loud impressions of chickens in public places, in hushed rooms would often state her opinion in a staged whisper so that it was nigh on impossible to ignore, and despite her years, drove like an obnoxious rally driver. Nannie would drive miles (we’re talking from our town in mid Bedfordshire over to the Costwolds) just for a good pot of tea and some cake.

But I have vivid memories of sitting in Nannie’s garden (just a couple of minutes walk from my own), shelling peas whilst she sat browning herself in the sun. ‘Do you know,’ she used to say, ‘that a lot of people used to think I was Native American?’. It’s true. In her younger years, with her jet black hair and an ability to go a deep brown just by looking at the sun, she wasn’t a typical english rose. But the Nannie I knew had silvery hair and a big smile, and on summer days was to be found half asleep in a chair on the patio, and when awoken would proclaim ‘I wasn’t asleep! I was just looking at the back of my eyelids!’.

Nannie was going to teach my cousin and I how to knit properly. I can just about manage knit stitch and perl, but have never really pushed myself beyond making slightly wonky scarves. Nannie was a demon knitter, and in the evenings would sit in front of the television, flashing and brandishing her knitting needles, effortlessly churning out beautifully intricate Arran-knit jumpers. She did start to teach us, but not long after her health really began to decline and sadly we never got to hold our regular ‘Chips and Knits’ nights.

But I tend not to dwell on what could have been, but am thankful for what was. My grandparents are just such a large part of my life that I think about them in some small way every day. I feel sad that they’re no longer here to share my life with me, but in a way I think that in many ways they are here, because they’re part of the reason that I do what I do, and why I am who I am. I have inherited many of Pappa’s wildlife gardening books, his bird books, his snooker cue, but what’s more is that I have his thick (sturdy!) ankles, and when I concentrate, I have his slightly droopy lip. Like Nannie, I am a foodie, and through Nannie and Mum, I’ve inherited a baking gene. I have some of Nannie’s impatience and I think, I actually quite like attention. At school I was tipped to go far in the world of drama or theatre, and for most of my jazz concerts or stage performances, Nannie would be there. Thinking on it, perhaps my theatrical achievements could have come from her. Pappa’s small gestures would mean the world to me – out of the blue, he once bought me a tenor recorder when I was part of the recorder group at school, and a cd of Jazz piano to help me improve my fledgling piano skills. I think it was his way of saying that he appreciated and approved of what I was doing.

I could write for hours on the different ways and means that my grandparents have shaped my life. I only hope that when it’s my turn, I can have the same positive influence and leave behind a glut of happy memories for my grandchildren too.

Happy Birthday, Nannie xx