The Simple Things: Chicken-keeping, Fruit-picking and Home-made Preserves, Oh My!

fruit picking

 

fruit picking

 

The one thing that we’re really looking forward to doing when we move is growing and rearing our own food. We’re looking forward to knowing where it has come from, what it contains and how it has reached our table.

We have owned chickens for eight years now and I can safely say that eggs from your own hens are far better than anything you could ever buy. If you haven’t had the pleasure of collecting a fresh, warm egg from the box and cooking it up within minutes, you haven’t lived. Okay, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration but let me tell you that shop bought eggs don’t even come close.

With having various hens coming in and out over the years we were in the position where we needed to restock our chickens from scratch. We decided to leave it until after we returned from Italy. Our reluctance to return to shop bought eggs meant that egg-based meals and cakes were extremely minimal.

Just over a month ago we finally replenished our stock with eight new hens; two Heritage Skylines, two Fenning Blacks and four Mendlesham Blues. The Fenning Blacks are just so beautiful, with their silky-looking feathers changing colour as the light hits them. We chose the Heritage Skylines as they lay blue, khaki or white eggs so thought that would be a colourful addition to the egg basket, and the Mendleshams, well, they just look pretty!

 

We expanded our family with eight new hens
We expanded our family with eight new hens

 

New hens, called pullets, are bought at point of lay. This means that they are approximately 16 -18 weeks old and have yet to begin laying, which begins at around 20 weeks.

Last week saw the celebrations begin when we got our very first egg. The first eggs are normally tiny little things, more quail-sized eggs  than the usual chicken-sized ones that we’re used to. It doesn’t take long for them to get used to laying and for the eggs to get bigger.

 

The first egg (left) was teeny tiny. A week later, they were getting much bigger (right).
The first egg (left) was teeny tiny. A week later, they were getting much bigger (right).

 

If you’ve never considered buying chickens then do think  about it. They don’t need much space, need minimal fuss and care, take up little time, don’t cost much and also make great pets for kids. Plus they lay eggs. Or you could eat them. All in all, they’re a good choice if you’re on a budget, want a pet that pretty much cares for itself and is also productive.

Everyone is our family loves their food and fruit and veg are no exception. Our month in Italy, surrounded by a private garden filled with trees of juicy, ripe fruit, left us feeling like we were in heaven. The children ate as much fruit as they wanted to their heart’s delight.

Back home, things are very different. Fruit is eaten astonishingly quickly in this house, and it isn’t always convenient (or fitting to the budget), to replenish the fruit bowls every other day as they need to be. I am not kidding, we spend an absolute fortune on fruit!

We dream of having fruit trees of our own that we can harvest our own mouthwatering fruit from as much as we want, as often as we need, and preserving our own food to enjoy throughout the year.

We decided to make the most of the last of the fruit picking season and so we headed off to a fruit picking farm on Sunday hoping to gather punnet after punnet of fresh, juicy strawberries.

Unfortunately, we were too late. The strawberries had finished, despite the website saying they were available until the end of the month. It seems other people love strawberries as much as we do.

Still, undeterred we opted to stock up on apples and plums. We headed for the apples first and got a little carried away.

 

Simple pleasures made for a good, productive morning
Simple pleasures made for a good, productive morning

 

It’s a good job we didn’t have to pay for all the fruit the children ate while picking…

 

Fresh fruit straight from the tree proved to be too irresistible for Anna
Fresh fruit straight from the tree proved to be too irresistible for Anna

 

It turned out that we gathered two crates of apples. Don’t let the photo below deceive you – that’s only what was left by this morning! The crates were filled to the brim by the time we had finished!

 

Our bounty of apples didn't last long. This is the last of them.
Our bounty of apples didn’t last long. This is the last of them.

 

Not wanting the apples to go off, and knowing that the three little girls have a habit of taking a bite from each then replacing it in the fruit bowl, we knew we had to get to work… and fast. Once the children were in bed it was time to roll up our sleeves and get going.

We separated a good portion of the apples for the fruit bowls, then set to work on preserving the rest. We didn’t gather many plums so for now our preserving was limited to the apples.

Chopping and peeling began…

 

Peeling and chopping and peeling and chopping and peeling and... you get the idea
Peeling and chopping and peeling and chopping and peeling and… you get the idea

 

…and Mike and I continued working late into the night. Two pans of jam were bubbling on the hob, a slow cooker was packed with apples, preparing to turn them into delicious Apple Butter overnight, the oven was drying apple rings and syrup was readied to preserve quartered apples for later use.

 

Halving and weighing and halving and weighing and halving... you get the idea
Halving and weighing and halving and weighing and halving… you get the idea

 

It was a very long night. Mike finally went to bed at midnight and I followed an hour later at 1 am.

One batch of dehydrated, dried apple rings were complete but most were eaten the following day. Another attempt to make them didn’t go so well after Caitlin someone unwittingly turned the oven up. I’m now considering investing in a dehydrator.

 

Dehydrated apple rings straight from the oven didn't last long
Dehydrated apple rings straight from the oven didn’t last long

 

The shelves are starting to fill up with various preserves. Next week we hope to go foraging for berries to add some colour and variety alongside the apple-filled jars.

 

After a 1am finish, the shelves were finally starting to fill up.
After a 1am finish, the shelves were finally starting to fill up.

 

If they last until then, that is!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Simple Things: Chicken-keeping, Fruit-picking and Home-made Preserves, Oh My!

  1. My mum has chickens, too and I agree: the eggs are nothing like shop bought ones. Those apple rings look great. How long do you keep them in the oven for? What temperature?

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