Bluebelle's demise does however move forward our timescale for having some other girls to provide eggs. I was very keen to have hens that lay blue or olive coloured eggs, because I thought that they tasted nicer, but I have learnt that the taste of the eggs is also determined by the hens diet. Our girls had the treat of some sweetcorn one afternoon and the next day the yolks were the deepest yellow I've ever seen and they were very rich and creamy. I'm not sure what impact their diet of layers pellets (their go-to if it's raining very hard), worms, grubs, beetles and the occasional scampering thing has, but their eggs have been delicious for the last month or so since they arrived here.
I rarely plan too far ahead for our meals and we often eat 'what have we got' food. Mr J and I like these unplanned meals as it means we can have what we fancy at the time. I stand in front of the fridge and pantry and have a look at what's inside, grab a few ingredients and take it from there.
Later in the year, when the kitchen garden has been created and fruit, vegetables and herbs are growing I will spend less time looking in the fridge and more time wandering around beds selecting what is ready to harvest. Until then I have to make do with imagining that a wander around the local food shop is the equivalent, although I am already gathering herbs from the potted plants that we brought with us when we moved.
We still have so much to do to get the garden ready for the spring planting frenzy, but like everyone else we have been hampered by the rainy weather. We've been fortunate in comparison to so many who have been flooded, their livestock lost and land ruined. Our garden is sodden, the soil is saturated and struggles to drain with each new rain shower but it does drain and once we have built raised beds and set out the pathways properly, the soil should be just fine for growing a lot of our own food.
The chickens have been providing us with huge fresh eggs most days and we are looking forward to selecting more egg-providing girls to join us on our smallholding and we have been discussing whether to get some table birds too. I'm quite keen to look at having a couple of piglets, they could live with us for the summer and autumn and then fill our freezer in the winter, but that idea may have to wait until the kitchen garden is sorted out and some serious fencing is installed.
One of my favourite dishes is a one-pot soup with chunky vegetables in a rich liquid. Every time I make this it is different because I use the 'what have we got' method of cooking, but almost without fail I use some homemade chicken stock to provide the base liquid and rich flavour.
I make some stock from the carcass of any roast chicken that we have, I've almost stopped buying chicken portions as a whole chicken provides us with several meals and stock, so works out to be much better value. For the stock I chop a few onions, carrots and herbs and put them into a large pot with the roast chicken carcass and cover with boiling water. I boil it for about 20 minutes then turn down the heat and simmer for about another 45 minutes. Then I strain it through a colander, keeping the liquid (recycling the bones and vegetables into the local council recycle bag) and once cooled a bit I pour it into used butter or yoghurt containers. When completely cool I label it (including the date that it was cooked and frozen) and freeze for use in soups, stews and gravies.
Selection of root vegetables (and green leafy vegetables if available)
Onions or Shallots
1 stick Celery
Fresh Herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage
Sea Salt and Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
Put frozen or fresh stock into a large saucepan and put on high heat.
Chop onions or shallots, add to pan.
Cube hard root vegetables into small cubes and add to pan.
Add one or two cloves of crushed garlic and a pinch of finely grated fresh ginger (not too much or the soup will become fiery!)
For softer vegetables like squashes and pumpkins, chop into larger chunks (but still small enough to be bite-size) and add to pan.
Add any combination of vegetables that you have to hand. I prefer not to have too much of any one vegetable so allow the flavour of each to shine.
Add a spring of rosemary, thyme, sage or any other fresh herb that you fancy.
Add enough boiling water to almost cover the vegetables and bring to the boil.
Boil hard for about 10 minutes, check taste and add salt and pepper to taste and then add any chopped leafy green vegetables.
Turn the heat to medium low and simmer with the lid on for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Turn off heat and leave to stand for 5 to 10 minutes to allow all the flavours to mature.
Serve with chunks of bread and butter or a piece of strong Cheddar cheese.
When I make this soup, all the vegetable peelings then get chopped up as finely as I have the energy for and added to the kitchen compost bag ready to go out to the compost heap. I aim to waste as little as possible.