Hi, my name's Catie and I'd like to tell you about my favourite fruit.  I am a lover of greengages.

They are a group of cultivars of the common European plum. The first true greengage came from a green-fruited wild plum that are apparently originally found in Persia. However they are a generally seen as a traditional fruit of the British summertime.

Whoever came over from Persia and planted them in my garden is a hero in my eyes, as I love them.

My buddies like them too.  The flesh is sweet yet the skin slightly sharp, delicious.  Their sharp green colour is sometimes tinted by a slight chalky bloom on their skin.

Unfortunately our human servant, does tend to round as many as she can up and disappear with them into the kitchen.  Apparently they are good in jam, gin, chutney, and are great for desserts.  They retain their vivid green colour in cooking, and anything you can do with a plum you can do with a greengage.  Personally I like them best straight from the tree.

We will no doubt have to have words with her about sharing!



hadham cherries little hadham stores

I have a cherry tree in my garden.  It looks lovely in the spring covered in blossom, but we never get a single cherry from it as they are all eaten by the birds long before they turn red.  A few years ago, opposite my friend Charlie’s house in Much Hadham, somebody started planting cherry trees and I must say from my personal experience I was sceptical.

But the week before last, through one of the farms I am working with on Little Hadham Stores, I met that someone and he had cherries galore.  Christopher and his brother have grown gorgeous, juicy, sweet cherries that beg to be eaten by the kilo.  They have leased the 13 acres that they've planted with 7000 young cherry trees, that have just started to come into fruit now, and they also grow apricots and brew beer.  Good guys to know.

cherry orchard

They use sustainable farming methods as much as possible, mulching instead of using herbicides, organic fertilisers, and sourcing organic based pesticides.  They keep bees on the farm to help with pollination.  Judging from the growth of fruiting buds in the orchard at the back end of last season and all of this season they have high hopes for the coming two years of production, which should make up for this year.

With a young orchard and short season, they’re not producing the quantities needed to fulfil the supermarket minimum orders.  Which has been a wonderful bounty for us locals.  I’ve been selling Hadham Cherries through Little Hadham Stores, and the Farmers’ Market and they are delicious.

Most of them simply get washed and eaten fresh, but I managed to save a few that were given to me as they were a little over ripe and I have made one of our absolute favourite desserts; Cherry Clafoutis.  Now I am no great baker, but this is a pretty fool proof and absolutely delicious dessert.  The most fiddly bit is getting the stones out of the fresh cherries.

For this I used a paperclip having googled it, and after a couple to tries I really did find it as simple as it seems in the video.

I originally found the recipe in Raymond Blanc's, Foolproof French Cookery.  I tend to play pretty fast a loose with precise amounts, as long as the flour to egg to milk/cream ratio is about right.  Also, I don't like kirsch, so I use Cassis or Black Raspberry Chambord instead.

So, here's the recipe:

500g fresh cherries
2 tbl-spoons of golden caster sugar.
1 tbl-spoon Kirsch/Chambord/ Cassis

10g unsalted butter
3 tbl-spoons golden caster sugar

100g plain flour
pinch of salt
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
6 tbl-spoons golden caster sugar
vanilla extract
grated rind of a lemon
melted un salted butter
150 ml (1/4 pt) milk
150ml (1/4 pt) whipping cream
75g unsalted butter
grated dark chocolate optional

Oven should be set to about 180ºC/ 350ºF

1.  Stone the cherries and sprinkle sugar, Chambord and leave to stand.

2.  Take a ceramic or cast iron dish and coat the inside in the 10g of butter then sprinkle the 3 tbl-spoons of sugar over it so that it sticks to the butter

3.  To make the custard: pour the flour and salt into a large bowl, make a well and add the eggs and egg yolk.  Add the vanilla essence and lemon rind and combine.  Melt the butter and add to the mixture.  Then add the milk and whipped cream and whip together until you have a smooth batter.  Finally add the cherries and pour into the prepared dish.

As I’ve an Aga I cook mine in the baking oven on the bottom shelf with the cold shelf over the dish for about 35mins.  If by then it is beginning to brown but not set in the centre I move it to the bottom oven to finish.

Take the clafoutis out and serve warm with chocolate grated on top.  It is still lovely cold a day or two later.  Now, at this point a better blogger than I would have a wonderful picture of a completed clafoutis for you to wow over.  But, I had to get Louis to his music lesson and left it for Una to take out of the oven.  Which she forgot to do, distracted by her phone!  So it is a little browner than it should be, however, it still tasted great and as you can see we didn't have any problem eating it.


Little Hadham Stores

Last week I went on a course organised locally by WENTA to help people planning on starting their own businesses.  It was useful, I came away with pages of notes and then found myself needing to just sit quietly yesterday and process.  Because I think this means I am really doing it.  I am opening Little Hadham Stores.  Our old butchers shop is going to become a shop again.

One of the things we were asked to do was focus on the end goal and write what we wanted to achieve, our vision of our business.  I wrote:
A beautiful little shop where people come to pick up their fresh, local, sustainable food and stop to chat and share.

We were also asked to write our mission statement, why we want to start our business.  Now there is a lot to be said here about wanting to be at home and be with my children, as well as wanting to do something worthwhile within my community.  I wrote:
I believe we need to change our relationship with food.  And to that end I want to support local producers that share my vision.

How do I think people need to change their relationship with food and why?  I want to think about that a bit more before I write.  As I want to reveal an authentic voice to these thoughts, not just regurgitate ethical marketing speak.  All in all the course has set me to thinking.

I need to succinctly and accurately describe my store concept.  It started as a spin off from the Farmers' Market.  Little Hadham Farmers' Market is only once a month.  Little Hadham Stores was to be a way to give us all access to the wonderful producers at the market during the weeks in between.  Since then I have thought more about which producers I want to support and why.

As many others have I'm sure, I have also been thinking about the need to reduce consumption, stop filling landfills and our oceans with single use plastic and just generally living with our surroundings and treading lightly on this beautiful planet of ours.

sourdough rye beeswax wraps

So Little Hadham Stores is indeed to be beautiful.  I hate those health food shops that look like medicine cabinets.  And the idea that seasonal natural food that is free from gluten, sugar, preservatives, dairy, e-numbers... (whatever) will not taste, look, smell as good as, nay better, than over produced, cheap, supermarket junk. Ok so price is something that I probably can't compete on.  But everything else Stores will do better than the best supermarket chain.

Little Hadham Stores will let people order from our list of wonderful local producers and then pick up their order all packed and ready to go from our shop.  We have seasonal organic veg boxes, bread and pastries, organic Irish soda bread, hummus, seasonal wild garlic pesto, vegan biscuits and macaroons.  I hope to add coffee, Italian food and dried goods next.

I want my shop to be a place to share good food, and ideas that will help to find more producers and better ways to shop, store and cook our food.  I've already invested in Beeswax Wraps to replace cling film and been in touch with kilner to see if I can stock their jars.

So, as I said I need to get more succinct in my description.  And today my first veggie boxes arrived only 3, but a start.

sourdough rye beeswax wraps


Earth Day 2018

So, today is Earth Day 2018 and what better way to CELEBRATE than with the wonderful Jane Goodall.  

I also want to list My Own 5 Point Plan that I can commit to help in reducing my footprint on this beautiful blue plant.  

1.  Shop at my local Farmers' Market, buy locally seasonally sourced foods.  As I run the market I can improve the accessibility of my local community to the market's produce with a mid-month re-ordering service. 

2. Reduce plastic use, this one kind of informs the rest of this list.  At the market I have already banned plastic bags and I hope to extend this to all single use plastic and non-biodegradable packaging by the end of the year.

3.  Buy a coffee "to-go" cup and use it when I buy coffee, better get a few I reckon!  I've already switched the kid's water bottles to stainless steel, but while on holiday in the US this Easter I saw these great Contigo bottles that seemed pretty well spill proof.  They are also 100% BPA free. They were sold in the US in Costco, but try this link to find them in the UK.

4.  Make beeswax wraps to cover food and so reduce plastics at home.  I have the bees, so I have the wax...

5. Make my own natural cleaning products and buy those that I can't in bulk to save on packaging and choose earth friendly products.  I've been meaning to do this for so long and really need to get on with it. 

Tea and Willow

Victorian teapot

I am a terrible junk shop explorer.  I simply cannot pass a second hand/ vintage/ charity shop without looking in. So much so I am thinking of opening my own shop with at least a smidgen of vintage paraphernalia.  As a paean to this much enjoyed activity I thought I would start blogging some of my favourite finds. 

Above is my proper old Victorian teapot.  I love the hand painted flowers, the simple swirls that make the leaves and stem. She's a grand old lady.  Although she has quite a lot of crazing, a spiders-web of hairline cracks and that little knob on her lid has obviously been stuck back on at some point in her past, she is still quite capable of brewing a fine cup of tea. 

Royal Doulton Pollards Willow

I bought the Royal Doulton Pollards Willow pattern tea cups, saucers and cake plate at the same time as the teapot.  The pattern is unusual, showing the traditional method of growing pollarded willow for basketry.
pollarded willow

I have a bit of a fascination with willow.  I love how they look when grown like this; the knotty trunks contrast with the soft catkins, the straight, spiky, architectural stems that come off the gnarled main trunk can exist in a wide variety of colours; deep red through orange and yellow, to greens and browns that go back to deep red shades all over again.  Below is an image from a fashion magazine (Harpers Bazaar I think) I came across it in a dentists waiting room years ago, loved it so much I took a picture of it.

I attended a talk on basket weaving at one of our gardening club meetings a couple of years ago.  A local basket weaver, Leah, came along to show us the beautiful baskets that she made.  Another thing to go on my ever growing "To Do" list.  

Her talk made me notice on one of my dog walks, that there was obviously another basket weaver living in the village as there were beautifully vivid pollarded willows along the side of a cottage in the fields at the back of us.  It turns out they belonged to Olivia Elton Barratt,the first female Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers.  Olivia was instrumental in recreating the 16th Century, 14ft high guardians of the City of London, Gog and Magog, in willow for the Lord Mayor's Show in 2007.

gog magog lord mayors show 2007

As it turns out I did my bee keeping course with her daughter and so was able to ask to take cuttings of her willow this spring to use in my own garden.  Look at the gorgeous colours:

I intend to create a fence of pollarded willow to protect the flower garden and veg patch that I am moving to the back of house from the chickens.  I'd also like to grow some along the banks of the Ash along our boundary line.  Yet more to add to the "TO Do" list.


Snowdrops and Snow Drops


The snowdrops have been out for several weeks now.   I thought that they were heralding the beginnings of spring but now that the snow is falling I'm not so sure.

Our duck eggs hatched four weeks ago now.  Only one tho.  Having done a bit of reading I'm now pretty sure we should have helped the other 2 eggs that looked to be viable, but I applied chicken knowledge to ducks and we didn't.  So our single duckling has become something of a house pet:

duckling in apron

S/he liked to sit in my pocket while I worked, follows the children around the house and generally enjoys the run of the house.  Not so fortunate are her cousins the garden hens.  They have been living outside in a slowly thickening mud slick of a chicken run.

chicken run

I've been feeling sorry for the hens and getting fed up with slip sliding through the mud to feed them.  So, I contacted our regular tree surgeons for some wood chip which Beau has been enjoying digging through:

Several back breaking hours later I have a chicken run that looks like new:

Even in the snow (which is now a lot deeper) they are looking much happier.  Although they still prefer to be out and about in the garden:

Damson the hen




I loved how the fireplace looked this Christmas, so I left it throughout January more or less as it was.  I've decided I need to re-arrange the mantlepiece this week, time to move on into 2018.  

While I don't do New Years Resolutions I have made a list of projects I want to complete this year, it goes something like this:

Finish the house re-vamp outside and in,
move the veggie patch to the back of the house,
reduce plastic use at home - can I go plastic free?
Develop the Little Hadham Farmers' Market, increase numbers, quality and reduce plastic use there too,
look again at my craft kits, dolls and felt more,
blog more,
be a better bee keeper,
raise more chickens from my flock and introduce ducks.

Our three boys; Donny Darko, Desmond and Digby

I had a 95% male hatching rate last year, not what I wanted.  We'll be having some late winter chicken soup.  Fortunately for these guys we have also sold a couple of cockerels.  Desmond has been re-named Sam and is now head of his own little flock.  Digby is going to one of my farmers' market stall-holders, Claudia of Bury Green Poultry and will also get girls of his own.  We're keeping Donny Darko and their dad, Bernie.

Hatched on Saturday, this is Jemmima/Sonny
Now that we are back in the house I've the urge to nest, so the project list continues:

Renovate shop - a new business opportunity there,
redecorate front rooms, hall, landing and stairs,
make curtains,
new desk for Una,
decorate downstairs loo and utility room,
including making a peg-board for storage of cleaning equipment.  

pinboard storage

I found some lengths of this old peg board in the static caravan that we got rid of last year during the build, I'm going to mount it and paint it to go in the utility room.

Una got a sewing machine for Christmas and so I'd like to help her make a quilt and do one for myself too.  I fancy going for some really vivid jewel colours, none of those vintage flowers for me thanks. 

quilt fabrics

Una has hockey (and Louis rugby) on a Sunday morning, so it' becoming a lovely Sunday afternoon activity for the two of us.  Una is doing a fab job, now that she knows what's she's doing she is steaming ahead.  I need to do a bit of cutting and tacking today to catch up.

And finally on my list:

Take the kids to Disneyland before they're too cynical to care.  And I mean Disneyland, in California, so I can catch up with friends, and meet their children.  To me that is Disneyland.


Little Hadham Farmers Market

Little Hadham Farmers' Market
There has been a farmers market in Little Hadham since 2002, founded, organised and run by the local couple, Brian & Brenda Kain.  It was the first farmers market in East Hertfordshire.  The Market takes place once a month at Little Hadham Village Hall, usually on the last Saturday of the month, from 8.30AM until 11.30AM.   

Little Hadham Farmers’ Market promotes the best of local produce, and has a strong ethos of offering only items grown, bred, prepared or made by the stall holders as much as practically possible.  Stalls include; meat, vegetables, fruit, bread, cakes and pastries, coffee, honey, jam, cheese, chutney and artisan crafts.  There is also a cafe that prepares fresh, home cooked breakfasts from the stall holder’s produce.  

A friendly market, there is a wonderful loyal clientele who come every month to shop, meet and eat.  There is free parking and the village playground and field on site make it especially welcoming to young families.

Little Hadham Farmers' Market

As a regular market goer (it was one of the reasons we looked at the village when buying our house) when I heard that the Kains were looking to retire, and we might loose the market altogether, I decided to step in and take over.  I have been running the market since September and with the new year I plan to start to implement some changes.

Little Hadham Farmers' Market business cards

I plan to keep to the Kain’s core ethos, but I’d like to attract some more stalls, maybe food demonstrations and monthly guest stalls too.  I would love for more people to find us, as the market is such a little gem. 

Little Hadham Farmers' Market


New Year, New Eggs

duck eggs

I'm not sure quite how, but the little foxes managed to convince me to raise ducks this year.  A friend in the village gave us six duck eggs and we put them in the incubator on Christmas day.  They are due to hatch in 5 more days.

After a few months of not laying, illness and disruption in my little flock the hens have started to lay again too.  

hen eggs

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