Preserving the sunshine

It’s funny how quickly your view about the weather can change. Last year I would have said that anything below zero Celsius was too cold for me to venture out for long and a good reason to jump into the car for the school run (ok, I pretty much drove all of the time, no matter what the temperature was). This year, having survived temperatures of -20, ice on the inside of the windows and about 2 feet of snow for well over a month, I’m saying things like ‘It’s really warmed up’ when its anything near 0!

The warmer weather has already got me thinking ahead to Spring and Summer and making sure that we make the most of the sunshine and all that it brings. I’m looking at planting a lot more this year. Vegetables, fruit and flowers and I’m planning to do a whole lot of preserving.

When we lived in England, I made a lot of hedgerow jams, windfall chutneys and jellies out of whatever I could get my hands on. I’ve always enjoyed preserving and was sad to leave all of my preserving books behind, not to mention my jam pans. I knew though that my preserving journey would continue in Canada. I looked forward to canning, pickling, drying and last Summer didn’t disappoint.

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When I posted this picture a few weeks ago on Instagram of some fruit leather I had made, Lynda (sultanabun) and Christine (Winwickmum) was asked if I would write up the recipe, which I’m more than happy to now, although it’s not really a recipe at all.

I’ve made fruit leather before and always used the same principles for pretty much any fruit. The fruit leather above is plum but I have made apple and blackberry before too.

To start, I chop up the fruit, remove any cores or stones and put it in a big pan with minimal water. Really juicy fruit doesn’t need any water at all.

 Heat it up and when it’s just softened, so not for long at all,  remove it from the heat and puree the mix with a handblender. At this point the mixture can be sieved to remove little seeds or any skins but I didn’t sieve this plum mixture. At this point I taste for sweetness and add sugar to taste along with a squeeze of lemon. Return to the heat for about 5mins. (I have read that you should use honey and not sugar as the sugar can cause the fruit leather to be brittle but I’ve not found that to be a problem).

The mixture is then poured into shallow trays lined with cling film (microwave safe) or silicone sheets. You don’t want to make it too deep otherwise it takes ages to dry out. If you have an oven that has a light you can leave the trays in the oven with the light on. If not, on its lowest setting with the door slightly open. Or you can dry the fruit leather in the sun (if you are lucky to have some). I left mine in the oven on 110F (43C). You do not want to cook the leather so I check mine regularly and rotate the trays if I see one side is drying faster than the other. Basically the leather is ready when you can touch it and it is no longer sticky, about 8 hours later.

Once its cooled completely, peel off the cling film and cut the leather into strips and lay on parchment paper and roll. I made a lot of fruit leather last summer so I froze whole sheets rolled up and this seems to have worked fine.

There are lots of recipes online for fruit leather. Some use spices or honey or both, try whatever you fancy. I’d love to hear what you make if you have a go.

I didn’t just make fruit leather last year. There was also this

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and this

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and pickled walnuts, cherry rum and a lot of dried fruit (grapes, cherries, plums).

This year we will definitely be making a lot more pickles and juices as well as more of the above. Roll on Summer!

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My Victoria Shawl .. of sorts

What with all the sock knitting I have been doing, I must say I have missed crocheting. So when I saw that Sandra Paul aka CherryHeart had released a new shawl pattern, I could not resist.

Here is my version of her Victoria shawl.

CherryHeart Victoria shawl crochet DK

The pattern can be found on her site or Ravelry and is designed using 200g 4ply sock wool. Although I have a lot of sock yarn stashed away (an embarrassing amount, actually), I don’t have two skeins of the same colourway, so I used DK instead. This meant I had to use a 5mm hook in order to get a decent drape.

The green is James C Brett pure merino and I used nearly 200g for 7 repeats of the main pattern. The blue is an unknown yarn that I bought in a charity shop. Let this be a lesson to me. I thought it was just the same wool as the green but in  fact it was much thinner so I had to drop down to a 4mm hook on the border. I had to stop short of the complete pattern on the border as I was running out of blue and the other ball I had that I thought was the same was in fact a completely different.

CherryHeart Victoria shawl crochet DK

The pattern itself was so easy to follow and had clear written instructions and charts. It has links to tutorials too, which beginners would find useful. My shawl took about 3 evenings to make.  I think that the design would make a beautiful blanket too.

CherryHeart Victoria shawl crochet DK

Wishing you all a very Happy Easter.

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My socks have pairs… finally!

I am feeling an incredible sense of relief. Not because I have packed up our house, have all our affairs in order and we’re ready to go to Canada a month early, no. I am relieved because I have finally finished three pairs of socks. This may go some way to explaining why we are no way near ready to move yet.

I shall start with my favourite socks.

Valentinesox knitted DK colourwork fairisle

These are definitely happy socks. Firstly, they are red. Secondly, they are my first stranded knitting ever. I am just a little bit proud of these socks.

I have been having an hour long knitting lesson each week with Jen, from my LYS (The Wool Stop) and before each lesson, I decide on what I would like to learn. Usually this is based on a rather ambitious pattern I have saved on Ravelry, as was the case here. Jen is the best type of teacher, patient and thorough. After an hour with her I really do have the confidence to go (rush) home and have a go (do nothing else all day but knit).

The pattern is called Valentinesox (a free pattern on Ravelry) and it has a stranded colourwork cuff (which should have a crochet edging but I haven’t done that bit) and heel. The rib on the cuff is a twisted rib, which I really like the look of and is so easy to do (just *knit 1 through the back loop, purl 1*. The pattern is an easy to follow chart followed by some interesting detailing where the cuff turns over. The colourwork on the heel flap isn’t in the round but it seems to have worked, I tried to make sure no gaps formed by twisting the yarns (a lot!). The rest of the sock is straightforward with a ribbing and stocking stitch. The toe was shaped using the same method as Christine at Winwick Mum uses in her basic sock pattern and is finished off with Kitchener stitch.

I made these on a 3mm x 25cm circular (KnitPro Symfonie) as the pattern suggested. For my chunky feet I probably could have done with another 4 stitches in the round after the cuff, if truth be told. The yarn is James C Brett (now Jenny Watson) pure merino DK  that I already had. As they are 100% wool these will be house socks (without the added nylon that sock wool has, they will be less durable).

The next pair of socks I completed were for my husband, following Christine’s pattern for boot socks. I found a useful chart from Regia which advised casting on 52 stitches.

Boot socks 6ply

My husband was very specific about them not matching! That meant I had to count rows rather than go by the stripes. It was amazing how quickly these socks worked up compared to 4ply ones, even though they were size 9. He says they are very warm!

The yarn is Rellana Fancy Sock 6ply Stripy (7046) bought from myfabrics.co.uk (based in Germany). Again I used  a 3mm x 25cm circular (KnitPro Symfonie).

Finally I completed another pair of socks for myself.

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This pattern is A Nice Ribbed sock and the yarn is Mondial Ciao (241), knitted on a 2.5mm short circular.

These were actually made two at a time but on separate needles and I am so glad as I did tire of the rib after a while (maybe because my Valentinesox had a rib too). I thought it would look neater too , which it doesn’t, even after blocking. I matched these socks up but the heels weren’t the same, strange. Edit: Looking at the heel flap more closely, I think they are slightly different lengths which would explain the difference.

I am now learning how to knit two at a time, toe up socks. I don’t mind knitting socks separately but I was suffering a bit from second sock syndrome with these pairs. When I met Christine last November, I bought a copy of her sock book and she signed it saying ‘May all your socks have pairs’. At the time I was on sock 1 of my first pair. I now understand what she meant!

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