Here Comes the Autumn

In late Summer and as Autumn comes around the little foxes and I spend a lot of time harvesting from our allotment and foraging in the surrounding countryside.  Growing up in North London my family were always big blackberry pickers.  I remember my mum stopping the car at the side of a busy road and my sisters, brother and I jumping out with our empty ice cream tubs to fill with blackberries.  So, I have continued the trend, but, as our home is close to fields, lakes and woods with lots of available scrumpable foods, we are more prolific.

There is something about the fact that the food is free that gives you a little extra thrill.  The kids enjoy it and can get quite competitive.  I can’t walk past a blackberry bush from about July without assessing it’s bounty.  On an actual picking expedition I just can’t stop.  The little foxes squealing with delight as they find the next gathering of fat juicy berries. I’m as bad as the kids.

I do become a little obsessive, scouting out my sloes and apples for months in advance.  One of the school dads is also a sloe hunter and we exchange intelligence.  However, I am very cagey about my damsons, there are not many of these and they are on the edge of a carpark, so, I am always nervous someone else will get there first. 

This year the allotment has not done as well as usual.  I put it down to strange weather and  the distraction of getting Mrs Fox’s website up and running.  So to satisfy our harvesting urge the kids and I have been scrumping like crazy.

We have blackberries.  We have eaten crumbles for weeks now, but I have also frozen them, some cooked with a little sugar and some nice fat juicy berries uncooked and individually frozen.  We have raspberries and black currents in the garden which I also freeze.  I wash out and keep my plastic take-away cartons all year round and then use these containers to freeze my bounty.  Last year I was still eating blackberry crumble in May.  I also still have blackberry jam from last year, so I am not jamming this year. 

We have apples.  There are numerous apple trees among the hedgerow and trees around the lakes.  We pick the apples; sticks, dog leads, fishing nets have all been used to fell our bounty.  We eat the unbruised ones.  I cook rabbit stew and pork belly on the weekend stewing up the bruised apples to complement them.  Then I core, peel and freeze the rest under lemon water in take-away cartons, so those May blackberry crumbles often include apples.

We have damsons and little yellow plums.  The plums I preserve in sugar water in kilner jars.  I’ve done the same with the damsons but I prefer to pickle them in a sweet spiced sauce, great with meats; game and ham especially.  I also made some damson gin last year and it was fab so I’ll be doing that again.

We have sloes.  These I will be making into sloe gin.  I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, we leave a bottle for a year to mellow, opening the previous years at Christmas.  It has become a bit of a Christmas tradition in our house, the opening of last years sloe gin in front of our fire on Christmas Eve, or at our Christmas Party.  There is also a great cocktail that I make with sloe gin and champagne called a Sloe Motion.  The receipe of which was given to me by an elderly gentleman volunteer at a National Trust property in Hertfordshire!

We have elderberries.  These I make into a sweet desert wine, quite like a port.  I also use them to make pontack sauce.  I can only describe this as a sort of Worcester Sauce substitute, not in taste, but in how you use it.  It makes wonderful meat gravy, particularly for pork, can be added to game, particularly good in venison casserole.  But I have also used it on toasted cheese, in vegetable soups, and with puy lentils.  I got the receipe for Pontack sauce from the River Cottage Handbook No.2.

River Cottage Handbook No.2. - Preserves by Pam Corbin 

The book covers various ways of preserving including; jams, chutneys, oil and vinegar based preserves, bottling fruit, sauces and fruit liqueurs.  It has receipes for many of the things I’ve mentioned, a great section on making jams and lots of things I’ve never heard of.  My copy is pretty battered from use both in the kitchen and on walks.  I love to sit and read through it before a walk and am planning on trying something with haws next as it has a couple of suggestions and I didn't even know they were edable.  The children love foraging and there is something really satisfying about getting home and turning our finds into something tasty too.

DISCLAIMER: Links in this article to Amazon are to our store Mrs Fox's Books and More, where we receive a small commission on any purchase made through our link.  However, we choose the books we add to the store and review and are not influenced by any third party in this choice.

Books We Love - Tremendous Tractors

We love our dog walks, I’ve posted about this before.  We have a regular walk that we do daily and then special walks, usually on the weekend.  Even our daily walk provides us with so much to do, and is never the same.

This time of year along with scrummping for apples, plums, damsons, blackberries, sloes and elderberries (more on that later) there is also the fun of giant hay bales.  The challenge for the little foxes is to try to move one of the bales.  This all brings me to another of our favourite books; 

Tremendous Tractors  by Tony Mitton with illustrations by Ant Parker.  

Tremendous Tractors, children's books

“Later on a baler scoops
the stalks up from the ground
and shapes them into bales
which are bundles, square or round.”

My little boy fox, Louis, loves tractors.  He loves all vehicles really, and I’ve no idea why, he just does, it is not something either my husband or I have encouraged.  But tractors are his favourite.  He waves at every tractor that goes by and is so excited when the farmers wave back.  

This book was actually given to my daughter, Una.  Her friend Finlay was given Tremendous Tractors, and loved it so much that he was then bought the whole set of Tony Mitton’s Amazing Machines books.  So they gave us the duplicate copy.  Una really liked the book but Louis has commandeered Tremendous Tractors as one of his bedtime books.  To the point that we get to hear it so much, his sister and I, that we know much of it off by heart.  

There is no story, this is just a poetic exhortation of the tremendousness of tractors; really it is...  Who would of thought that it was possible to make tractors poetic but Tony Mitton has.  And it’s also really informative.  I didn’t realise quite how useful tractors are or that I could learn so much about them from a children’s book.  But honestly I know what harrows and seed drills and hoppers are and it’s all from Tremendous Tractors.  A great book and you can purchase it from Amazon from here.

Mrs Fox would just like to say that the books listed in this strand Books We Love are all ones that we have owned, and usually purchased ourselves.  Links in this article to Amazon are to our store Mrs Fox's Books and More, where we receive a small commission on any purchase made through our link.  However, we choose the books we add to the store and review and are not influenced by any third party in this choice.


And here is a mini ballerina...

made by one of the little ballerina's from Impress Theatre Arts

Little Ballerinas

Mrs Fox is rather chuffed with her paper ballerina craft kit.  We used to make paper angels for christmas like these.

To make them:
1. You first colour in your ballerina, then cut her out.  
2. We've used string with the ends knotted to create ballet shoes.  The string is stuck onto the back of the ballerina so that the legs dangle.
3. You then cut down the slits, per the diagram below, and slot the wings together.

"Ta Da, make her dance!"

We've made these for the Impress Theatre Art Show, "Get This party Started" at Hertford Theatre.  As Mrs Fox is providing the children with congratulatory gifts of sweeties and a mini make your own paper ballerina I am sitting here on Friday night stuffing sweeties into slightly too small bags and watching the Para Olympics.  With the lovely Mr Fox and my sister helping; thanks Guys xxx.

Little Una fox is dancing in the show.  She is very excited!  We wish her all the best, we know she'll be fantastic!  xxx


Ahoy there!

Cracking fun to work on, this Pirate party!  So much to design and make, loads of new ideas too...
We started work first settling on the colour scheme (not the most difficult task we’ve had) and before I knew it, I was painting red stripes onto a large cut of brown paper which I had previously painted white.  It looked lovely and grainy and so became the overriding theme to gel all the piratey aspects together.  I cut the sheet into triangles for the bunting before painting another A4 size cut of paper to scan in and use it for our PDF invites.  The novelty of drawing, then painting hundreds of stripes soon wore off but I couldn’t stop there and a couple of evenings later, I had completed another very large stripy cut of paper which was to be used as the backdrop in our photobooth.

I do enjoy getting the paintbrushes out so as soon as the stripes had cleared from my eyes, I began painting large clues for the treasure hunt at the end of the party.  The kids would be mostly 4 and under so we devised a simple plan.  Using the letters, P, A, R, T and Y, our clues would be a Parrot, an Anchor, a Rope, some Treasure (under a big cardboard painted palm tree) and a Yo Ho Ho.  The children simply had to look at the printed clues and look about the room to find the actual clues, to which we had stuck little wooden letters for collection.  Once they had done collected all 5, they could claim their prizes – the eagerly anticipated party bags.
The party bags were where we brought in our crafty element and we designed and produced a MYO Piratey Kit; an A4 sheet of paper with beard, moustache and telescope cut outs.  The telescope was ready to go with double sided sticky tape applied and the facial hair cut outs came supplied with elastic pre-cut to size.  
We will make this design available as free download on our website so if you’re looking to pass some time with your littl’un, we have the perfect little crafty activity to spark off a piratey afternoon of play.  With a bit of imagination, a box or an upturned table and sheets can become an ocean going pirate ship – a hidden treat can become treasure to be found using the ‘hot and cold’ game.  Plenty of fun with very little effort.

I had recently discovered a substance called Paverpol and had been desperate to find a use for it so with great pleasure, I spent an evening cutting out felt eye patches and applying Paverpol to the outer side – the inner side was left comfortable, soft and fluffy on the skin and the outer side was hard and shiny.  These eye patches would complete the take home Pirate look and the Paverpol was used again to make some beards and moustaches to be used in the photobooth.  Also in each bag we put a gold foiled chocolate ‘piece of 8’, a chocolate fish, a sugar mouse along with a balloon and a handful of foam stickers (parrots and palm trees, etc). 
We supplied a pass the parcel and a large wooden plank (held up with toilet training steps covered in brown paper!).  Chief Captain Carlyos (mum) made the children walk the plank to get their cake after they had eaten and we made some good old fashioned newspaper pirate hats, complete with skull and crossbones motif and bright yellow feathers.

The last things to go into the party bags were the cupcakes and although I decorated these with black icing and golden pearls, they were made all the more ‘piratey’ using the Meri Meri Pirate toppers cup cake kit.
We hope very much that Captain Miller had a lot of pirate fun on his birthday and look forward to putting it all together for the next little pirate.

Churros y Chocolate

Oh we had fun in Spain.  As we have 2 inset days at the start of this term, I am just going to put off that end of the holiday's gloom a little longer and remember the summer sunshine and good food.

Staying with friend's parents in Mijas we joined them for their Saturday morning treat of coffee and newspapers with churros and chocolate at the Churreria on Avenue del Compas.

Churros are long donuts.  The dough is piped into sticks through a star shaped nozzle, then deep fried.  They can be covered in sugar, or, as in our yummy case, dipped in melted chocolate.  Served warm, they come out onto the table on sharing plates and everyone dives in with glee dunking them into cups of chocolate.  For a few minutes there is contented silence and then giggles as the children paint themselves and each other with chocolate.

I used to like churros for breakfast when I lived in San Francisco, they are available at many Mexican restaurants.  And I have Caribbean friend's from islands with a latin background who eat them too.

I am a bit of a healthy food fanatic at home, but, I also think it's only fair for the little foxes to occasionally get to over indulge in food that might not be considered exactly healthy. I want them to love food, not just see it as a fuel.  And I usually make the exception for chocolate (or cheese)!

The little foxes - no surprise - loved churros y chocolate!

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