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A selection of  what I have bottled over the last 10 days.  When I get stressed I like to be doing something, and recently that has translated to preserving.  From left:  Quinces, mixed peaches, “blackboy” peaches, “golden queen” peaches, gherkin pickles, tomato chutney, homemade tomato pasta sauce, and bottled pears.

It has been a quite while since I have been able to post a blog.  Writers block, combined with the general rush and exhausting frenzy of being a Mum with three kids and a part time job, has really affected my writing output.  Since my last post I (like the rest of New Zealand and the world) find myself facing a new and surreal situation.  Here in NZ we are locked down in our homes, united in our isolation as we face the new reality of Covid-19.  This is an unprecedented situation that none of us have faced before.  It is frightening and unknown.  We are unable to leave our homes except for supplies and medical needs, and the world has shrunk to the size of our houses and backyards.  Schools are closed, normal life has ground to a complete halt.  Each day I read the news with increasing apprehension and yet it is hard to look away. I keep reading with disbelief.   We are staying home to save lives, by staying home we all become heroes.  Faced with no libraries, no playgrounds, no socialising, and no cafes, what are we all going to do?

So far our time here has been spent chopping wood, and preparing our winter vegetable garden.  We are well into autumn in NZ, but we still have warm days so things should be able to get a good start before the weather turns properly miserable.

I thought I would share a few ideas to help you find some activities to keep busy and potentially stretch out your supplies.  Particularly regarding making what you have go further.   To that end I am re-sharing my bread and stretched butter ideas from previous blogs.  Simple but effective, I hope you find them as useful as we do.  I am also sharing some ideas for preserving what you might have in your garden or might be able to obtain from a neighbour.

Bottle your own fruit: 

Many people have fruit trees in their gardens (sometimes they are completely forgotten), and many of them will still be covered in fruit.  Our peach tree has just yielded its last fruit and our pear is covered in fruit that is yet to fully ripen.  Usually during the week you (like me) might find yourself too busy to do anything other than gather a few things for the fruit bowl.  But now…. facing four weeks at home, perhaps there is a fruit tree laden with fruit that might otherwise go to waste.  Suddenly there are a lot of people are thinking more about self sufficiency.  One way to be more self sufficient is to bottle and preserve your own fruit.  Or you might find you have a last crop of tomatoes, why not try making chutney or relish?  It is super easy and it looks great, and the chances are you can do it all at home without leaving the house. There are lots of recipes online to give you ideas.    Have a go see what you can make, bake and preserve using what you have.  Perhaps one of your neighbours might have a fruit tree and would be happy to pick a bag for you and leave it at your letterbox.  Sort through your recycling to find your old jam jars and pasta sauce jars if you don’t have preserving jars.

To bottle fruit you need:  jars with “popping” lids that seal (or screwbands and new seals if you have them), fruit, sugar, and water.

I use the basic method for hot pack bottling from the Edmonds Cookery Book.   The Edmonds Cookbook has the proportions of sugar to water for different fruits, and all the tips and tricks you need.   It sounds complicated to a lot of people, but it is really not so hard once you know what you are doing.   If you are uncertain try finding recipes or watching some video’s online.

Freeze what you can’t use now:

Another idea is to freeze any garden produce so you can retain the last of the gardens summer bounty to use later.  Beans and celery freeze well, so do diced carrots.  Even tomatoes can be frozen to cook with later (though not to eat in salads as freezing makes them mushy).  Beans, celery, and rhubarb should be blanched before freezing.  I do that by chopping  them and dropping them into a pot of fast boiling water for one minute before draining and plunging them into cold water.  Chop up pumpkin into 2cm chunks and freeze for later use in soups or for roasting.  If you have blackberries, raspberries or strawberries, you can freeze those to use throughout the year in baking, smoothies, desserts or to make into jam on cold rainy days.

Make your own tomato pasta sauce:

To make your own tomato pasta sauce you will need – tomatoes, onion, basil (dried or fresh), oil, garlic, black pepper, salt, and some jars with lids that seal.

This homemade pasta sauce is simple and easy to make and it tastes absolutely wonderful.  If you have jars and tomatoes you have pretty much everything you need.  Other veges can be added or omitted depending on what you have to hand.  I got my initial recipe from a book called Coromandel flavour – a year of cooking at the bach.  I have found this recipe to be so flexible and easy to adapt that I can add all kinds of things.

You will need: Roughly 1kg of tomatoes (preferably not cherry tomatoes, you really want something a bit bigger if you can get your hands on them).  A couple of tablespoons of oil (olive oil if you have it).   A good sized clove of garlic.  One medium onion.  About 10-12 fresh basil leaves if you have them, otherwise a teaspoon or two of dried basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Simply cut your tomatoes in half and remove the core at the stalk end.  In a large pot or frying pan heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (or cooking oil if you don’t have olive oil).  If you have onion and/or garlic chop and add it, if not never mind because when you come to open the jar you can always add the onion when you are preparing the actual meal instead of when you are bottling the pasta sauce.  When the onion is translucent, add the tomatoes and half the basil (roughly chopped or dried depending on what you have) to the pot/pan.  Cook uncovered on a low heat, stirring regularly to prevent sticking.  The tomatoes will give out their juices and the skins can be picked out as they roll up and separate from the flesh as they cook. The skins are pretty easy to spot because they are a darker red.  When the sauce has reduced to a thick jam-like consistency add in the last of the basil, and either serve with pasta or bottle the sauce to use at a later date.  I sometimes add chopped capsicum and celery to my sauce to add variety and use up other things in the garden or fridge.  If you don’t have jars with lids, your could freeze it in suitable quantities in plastic containers to be thawed at at later date.

Make your own bread:

Facing 4 weeks in lockdown there is no better time to try your hand at making your own bread.  I shared my bread recipe in a blog post a while back.  Nothing is more wholesome than the smell of fresh hot bread and your family will demolish it before you can blink.  It is truly filling and well worth the effort.  If you have yeast then have a go and you won’t look back.  I know that not everyone has yeast at the moment since people have cleared it from the supermarket shelves during lockdown panic buying, but never fear, there are other ways to make bread.

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Homemade soda bread, so called because it uses baking soda instead of yeast.  I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe to make this loaf.   Spread with “stretched” butter, it tasted amazing.

He is a link to Jamie Oliver and his little boy Buddy making soda bread during the lockdown in the UK.  Soda  bread uses baking soda instead of yeast.  I tried it with the very last of our wholemeal flour and it worked beautifully.  I did a google search and turned up a recipe for soda bread using only white flour, so don’t worry if you haven’t got wholemeal flour.  Get the kids to help kneading and measuring.

Stretched butter: 

Butter is something we are struggling a bit to get hold of during lockdown.  In our family butter is something we go through incredibly fast, so now that it is harder to get, I have begun “stretching” my butter again.  This way we can extend the time between trips to restock.   The way we do this is to “stretch the butter” using an old WW2 rationing trick that I wrote about in an earlier blog. This brilliant trick means you can make your butter last twice as long, and it is soft and spreadable.  All you need is butter, oil, and water.  What could be better?  Follow the link to my earlier post with the recipe and instructions.

If you are homeschooling your kids during lockdown, getting them involved with measuring ingredients is one way to cover off maths work.  Measurement is measurement after all, and it is a lot easier to do maths if you can eat it, than with a pen and paper when there are lots of things to distract you (like the lego box).  Following recipes help kids with reading and sequencing as well as measurement.  Learning in the kitchen is very popular with my kids.

Being alone with my own thoughts doesn’t scare me at all…. in fact, as a mother, I treasure the moments when I get to spend even a few minutes just thinking without interruptions (not that I don’t love the interrupters with all my being).  Never-the-less as I have absorbed the new locked-down world I find myself in, I have found a little ray of hope shining though.  This is what humanity can do.  We can actually unite.  We can all band together to do the same thing at the same time.  Perhaps there is hope for a global response to the climate and environmental emergency’s that are engulfing our planet.

We have to survive the pandemic first, but this is a demonstration of the best that humanity can offer.  Our ability to love and care for someone or something other than ourselves.

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