Saturday, 6 June 2009

Freezing potatoes

Last year I experimented freezing potatoes and I've been meaning to post the results. I tried two different systems and both have worked well:

1) Mash potato: I cooked and mashed as normal and then bagged cold mash potatoe, about 500gms per bag. To reheat I thaw and then heat the mash gently in a saucepan allowing the water to evaporate. If it then gets too dry I add either water or milk (I know, a bit silly allowing it to evaporate first but that seems to be the only way). The important thing is to mix it really well.

2) Roasting potatoes: Couldn't be easier. Peel the potatoes and parboil them. Then put them into bags and freeze. Roast them from frozen. The only thing you have to deal with is the fact that in the freezer they will stick together and so you have to separate them as soon as possible once they've started cooking. Also remember that the water on the outside of the frozen potatoes will make the hot (really hot) fat spit more so be careful.

I will be repeating this again this year - honestly, you can't tell the mash potato has been frozen and the roast potatoes are crunchier.

More Pigs

Last year we kept pigs for the first time. It was a great success and hugely enjoyable. Whilst dispatching them bought a lump to our throats we had always treated them as a practical exercise - we looked after and fed them and in due course they would return the favour.

The meat is excellent. I now know that I had forgotten what flavour in meat was. When we were getting low on sausages (they went quickly!) I bought some from the supermarket and mixed them in with our own without telling anyone. Ralph guessed with the first mouthful what I had done and I was duly reprimanded; but the fact remains, there is no comparison.

We still have plenty of pork in the freezer but it is going down fast. As we don't go away in the summer it works best for us to collect the young piglets in the spring and raise them through the summer. They are then slaughtered in the autumn which is also better as it is cooler by then. So at the end of last year I contacted a breeder and ordered two more piglets - this time they are Gloucester Old Spot/British Lop and again they are lovely.

They are very different in character to the Berkshires - less gentle and more demanding when they see us in the veggie plot which is just next to their field, especially if we are picking strawberries which they love. They dig much more too - we couldn't believe that in just two weeks they had turned most of the field. Every few weeks we extend their pen so that they have a new patch of grass and they love it. They run up and down the grass, they roll in it and occasionally they stop to eat it. The next day it will look as though someone's been over it with a lawn mower. By day four it's a muddy patch with perhaps just a thistle showing.

Our friends no longer look astonished and tell us we are mad when they see the pigs for the first time. They are too busy enjoying the rewards.

The new veggie plot

The new vegetable plot is now as stuffed full of promising things as is possible in a first year. There are plenty of weeds too but we left reasonably wide strips between the veg beds so on really calm days we can put round up over the worst of these. The strawberries, tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers are growing through plastic sheeting which will obviously help with the weeds and the potatoes have such a wonderful amount of leaf that the weeds are more or less in the dark. The raspberries for some reason seem to be weed free for the moment. The peas on the other hand, well, let's just say it's hard to tell where the weeds finish and the peas begin!

I didn't realise until we started work on this new piece of land just how well cultivated the first plot is. For a start the soil just looks better in the old plot. It seems to be much more crumbly and easier to dig. It's also much easier to put tomatoe spirals into as I discovered this morning when I tried to put three more into the new plot. They went down about 8 inches after a lot of prodding around and putting my full weight on the spiral. I then did the same in the old plot and nearly buried the entire spiral as it just went in so easily!

Of course the old plot has had masses and masses of farmyard manure worked into it over the past ten years. I do wonder if that means that the new plot won't give such a good yield of veg and fruit but so far we've had a fabulous crop of early strawberries and there are already small fruits on the tomatoes. And the spuds will be ready soon - I had a poke around this morning and there are plenty of little ones just under the soil.

It's a lot of work starting a new vegetable plot from scratch and I know that I took a lot of shortcuts so I will suffer more weeds than I should but on the whole I think I am well pleased. Previously this piece of land had been a pasture for sheep and cattle; I suppose now it's the same, but for us.