Saturday 30 November 2013

Discovering Dartmoor

So, how do you get a group of volunteers with no form of transport from Cerenety into the rugged wilderness of Dartmoor? Well actually it isn't that difficult. After a little planning and preparation we simply hopped on the X9 bus towards Exeter with the aim to disembark at Crockernwell.

It was to be a 20 minute walk from Crockernwell to the start of our Dartmoor ramble. Once on the bus however, we made friends with the jolly driver who offered to stop the bus that little bit earlier on the A30 so we could simply meander down some country lanes for 10 minutes and arrive at Drewsteignton, where our walk was to begin.

To pass the time along the lanes we invented a competition. To win, each must find something along the roadside of note, and the winner would be decided at the end of our adventure. Ben found a flower... this was later to be discarded due to his ambitions for a higher prize.

Next, James caught sight of a cave in a neighbouring field. We climbed over the fence, battled through some brambles and entered the cave.... Later we discovered that this was an area with many old lime quarries so we deduced that this cave was possibly utilized in the process. Not being a materialistic group, we allowed James to contribute the memory of this find as his entrance into the competition.

After a while we came to Drewsteignton where we met up with Jess and Jakob who had driven by camper van. This was an exciting reunion as they had been away for over 24 hours... 

Now that the group was all back together, we started our journey by walking to the famous Castle Drogo. The walk there was quite pleasant, however it is not, in fact, a castle. It is a large house built in the 20th Century, for which the national trust would like to charge everyone £8.50 for entrance. Needless to say we did not think that this was a good use of our money, despite the fact that the helpful lady informed us that the current scaffolding was the largest in Europe. Instead, we headed down the delivery entrance and saw it for free. We still felt that this was too expensive, however the scaffolding was impressive.... for scaffolding.

Next we ventured down the side of Fingle gorge, through oak woodland and along leaf strewn paths. The colours of the forest in Autumn were spectacular and the view, with your back to the castle, stupendous.

We passed Piddledown Common, went through hunters path and towards Fingle Bridge. We walked along the stream and when we came to the picturesque Fingle Bridge, we stopped on one of sandy beaches on the bank of the river to have a picnic. Whilst we sat in a circle, devouring our sandwiches and fruit, feeling like something out of an Enid Blyton book, a robin kept us company. It was so perfect, some might finding it a little nauseating!


In need of tea, we entered the Fingle Inn and were very excited by the cosy wood burner and sofas in the corner. After teas, coffees and a peruse of the 'Shooting and Conservation' magazine, we continued with our walk. Over the bridge we found lush meadows, mossy boulders framing a flowing river, gnarled trees to climb and an undulating path which lead us to a small suspension bridge. I found a magician's staff which I presented to James as a souvenir and we played a jolly game of 'poo sticks' over the river. It's a stunning area which I would recommend to anyone to explore.

Finally back in the tiny village of Drewsteignston, we settled down in the Drewe Arms, where the food was delicious and the locals played the fiddle and mandolin to accompany our meal. We read about Aunt Mable, the longest serving bar lady in the whole of the UK, she retired at the age of 99 in 1994. The pub still held the atmosphere which Aunt Mable worked so hard to create.

On the walk back to the bus stop, Ben found a pair of fur lined gloves in the hedge, which he decided to enter into our competition. When we arrived home he gave them to Jess and the look of happiness on her face at the thought of warm hands whilst cycling to work, was a competition winner.

The moral of this story is that it is possible and rewarding to visit Dartmoor from Cerenety and definitely worth the trip, whatever the time of year.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Sometimes you really can have too much of a GOOD thing!

Not known as the most tasty of garden treats, the Jerusalem artichoke does, however grow prolifically.

From only plants, we produced over 20 kilos of artichokes. Needless to say, this was a little shocking... especially for those designated to eat them.

So... the first thing you should know about Jerusalem artichokes is that they're knobbly. They are supposed to be knobbly... Do not be scared by their appearance.

So here are a few more fun facts about Jerusalem artichokes and their benefits...

1) They are exceptionally easy to grow (this is excellent for novice vegetable growers such as us)
2) They are low in calories (i found this online but I am assuming they are fairly high in carbohydrates)
3) They can be eaten raw or cooked (We recommend cooked, but if you are going to eat them raw then we recommend a healthy covering of creamy dip)
4) If eaten in very large quantities you can feel a little sick
5) Putting a little effort in, Jerusalem artichokes can be very tasty and a great addition to a variety of meals... plus they look really really cool and it sounds very fancy when you say your are serving Jerusalem artichokes as a side dish!


1)You can pretty much plant them anywhere... which means you can put them somewhere in the garden where nothing else grows.
2)This is another big benefit... they grow quickly and very tall with sturdy stems which act as a fantastic windbreak or screen.
3)One tuba can produce 20 so you don't need to plant too many otherwise they will take over...

Caring for them

All the literature that i have read (2 websites) says that they should be watered regularly and the earth should be piled up the stalks as they grow. However we pretty much planted our artichokes and then left them with no attention and they grew like bamboo (which by the way grows quickly (depending on the variety))


Our very favourite Jeruselum artichoke tit bit, is that you should only harvest after the first frost. Jessica Montgomery found this out, early in the season and by late autumn everybody knew this fact. We did, however, completely ignore it. We got slightly impatient and dug them all up in early November. However the season has been a little late this year so we came out of it on top and with a lot of artichokes.


So... at this point we have an abundance of artichokes and not one person who knew anything about them. Jess had had them once before but she didn't really know how to cook them, except she knew you could roast them. Our genius idea was to have a experimental cook-off... Every volunteer had to make one dish with Jerusalem artichokes in an evening and we would all try each other's for dinner. This is not to be recommended. In future, maybe limit your artichoke dishes to one per day. However we did come up with some great recipes and very tasty dishes.

Firstly Jess made what was going to frittata but ended up tortilla. This as with onion, garlic, eggs and of course artichokes. She sliced the artichokes thinly in rounds. This was very delicious and best eaten hot.

Next I made artichoke dip. I roasted the artichokes (i knew that i could do this with the previous information from Jess). Then i fried some onions and garlic, put everything in a bowl with come cream cheese and whizzed it up. I think there may have been some more ingredients but I’m not sure what they were. I then put it in a dish, grated some trusty cheddar and put it in the oven. This was pretty good too.

Norm made what he called 'Artichoke caviar'... I'm not sure why he called it this but again it was very tasty. He put this paste on toasted square which he presented as an hors d’oeuvre.

James made curried artichoke wedges. I believe coated the artichokes in a flower, garlic and curry mix and then fried them. This is an ideal snack... perhaps perfect for while playing poker.

Coral set out to make rosemary and artichoke crisps. We had spied some rosemary growing down the lane in a neighbour's front yard, so we sent Coral off, in the dark to forage for herbs. She came back with lavender. This produced some very fragrant smelling, salty snacks. The crisps were definitely a hit.

Jakob created a type of artichoke fritter, which he then spread with either banana, jam or cheese. We all differed in our opinions of which was best, but it was lovely to have a sweet alternative. It would have been more lovely if Jakob had not eaten most of them himself.

Finally Paul made coleslaw without any artichokes. This was also good.

The moral of this story is that you can definitely make some very tasty dishes from Jerusalem artichokes, plus you can add them to stew or soups as a great alternative to potatoes. We think that this is an under rated vegetable. It's easy to grow, it's prolific, it requires very little care and can feed a lot of people. Our only top tip is to spread out your artichoke consumption so that you don't need a 2 week break from them after one artichoke saturated evening!

Saturday 9 November 2013

'Tis the Season to be Jammy

It's the end of the summer, so we have a lot of left over produce in the garden that needs to be preserved for the coming months.

We had a great year for figs, apples and tomatoes and also had a lot of excess radishes, zucchinis and cucumbers that needed to be used up. 

Our first day of preserving went a lot better than expected, with a batch of zucchini chutney and "fancy fig fumble" whipped up in a day.

First of all, we needed to collect our produce, and my favourite thing to collect was figs, being only the second time I had ever seen ripe figs on the tree, I was very excited. The first time we went out, we collected two baskets overflowing with them. We decided fig jam would be a great way to use them all up before they went off. In our first batch, we peeled and quartered the figs, and added a few cooking apples for some natural pectin, as well as some jam sugar, and simmered them for an hour or so, until the consistency was jam like and put into sterilised jars. 

Having never jarred anything, we sought advice from our fellow volunteers and found a good method in washing the jars in hot water, microwaving the jars for 30 seconds, placing the jam inside and turning them upside down and tapping the bottom, as Max had seen his grandfather do, of them seemed to be a good method, and all of our jars sealed very well. 

We didn't really get to see if it was sterilised enough to last over a period of time, as the jam was so popular, we are currently consuming the last jar. The same day, we started on chutney, made from tomatoes and zucchini from the garden, with a few apples again for the pectin. Also quite a success. We followed much the same process as for the jam, but added some vinegar, salt pepper and herbs. 

A few days later, we found a neglected patch of vegetables, that consisted mainly of red radishes, that were quite overgrown and definitely in need of being picked. As radishes are not really any of our favourite snack, I decided to experiment with radish relish. For that I cleaned and diced the radishes, added some onion and garlic and apple, again for the pectin, and vinegar, salt and sugar. Cooked it all up for about 40 minutes and jarred it. This one has not proved to be the favourite of the group, but still quite delicious, and it is a nice colour, so that's a good point... 

We found we had too many apples to be used up entirely by being put into chutney and jam, so also made some apple sauce. For that, I simply peeled, cored and diced the apples, added some sugar, quite a bit in this case as the apples are quite tart, and some cinnamon. I cooked it all up, until is was mushy and delicious and jarred it, making sure not to forget the tapping of the bottom of the jars, which by now had become quite a ritual of the group with everyone getting involved. We also made some apple juice from them, we simply juiced the apples, heated the juice up to 80 degrees and put into sterilised bottles.

With the cucumbers, we found they were a bit too sour to eat in salads and the like, and we had far to many to use them all for this anyway, so we decided to make some pickles. To pickle them, all I did, was sterilize the jars, sliced the cucumbers, some in rounds, some in sticks, placed into the jars and covered with various pickling spices, mixing them up for each jar. I tried some with cardamom pods and star anise, as we had quite a few of these in the cupboard, and they worked quite well. After that, I just topped the jars with vinegar and put them in the fridge. Some I diluted the vinegar for, but this was more because of a lack of vinegar at hand, and some I left straight, and all jars were delicious and quite a hit. We even made cheeseburgers one day with our own pickles, which was quite exciting.

As our poly tunnel is basically full of tomatoes, we realised we needed to get on with more relishes, and made a really good one from just tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs from the garden, vinegar and salt and pepper. We basically just cooked it for a couple of hours until it was thick and the colour was darker. It took a bit longer than we had hoped, but the end result was so good it was worth it. We also made some pasta sauce style tomatoes by simply cutting them all up, adding onion and garlic and cooking. Once cooked we just put them in freezer bags and froze, ready for an easy addition to meals. Quite a useful addition around here as there are always a lot of mouths to feed and frankly, there are only so many things you can eat relish and chutney on.

After a few weeks of preserving fun, our fig tree was full of ripe figs again, so out we went to collect some more, with the intention of making more fig jam, as the first batch went down so well. We spent the morning picking and slicing the figs, deciding to experiment with leaving the skin on this time and cooked them up, much in the same fashion as the last time, once it was almost complete, we went to add some cinnamon to the jam to make it delicious, and after putting a couple of large spoonfuls in, realised the smell was a bit off... we checked the jar and it was definitely cinnamon, but after closer inspection, realised someone had topped up the cinnamon jar with curry powder! Thinking quickly, we decided to add some vinegar, salt and pepper and tried to make it into some chutney. It was quite a disappointing end to a whole day of hard work in the anticipation of jam, but the chutney is still nothing to be sneezed at. 

After almost a month of collecting, preserving, and of course consuming, the garden is becoming barren and we are preparing to turn it all over ready for some winter crops. It has been a fun and very educational experience and we now have some delicious produce to keep us going a little while at least. Now to plan the garden ready for preserving for next year...

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Loo With A View

With the development of a new kitchen and shower area in the yard, we are in need of a toilet too. I put a few ideas together, mostly a mix between an outside toilet I used while helpxing in Asturias, and the existing toilets used by the campers here and came up with the Cerenety volunteer 'Loo with a view'.

 As with all of our projects, we firstly had to see what materials were to hand that we could use. In this case it was a few solid pallets and some roofing wood, which was all in good enough order to build with and already a nice size when pieced together to make a toilet cubicle. With the sterling help of Dazzer, a pallet floor was set out on paving slabs to keep it off the ground and the structure was built up; a pallet wide on all sides and two pallets high. We left the top half of the front wall open to create the view  through the trees in front and out over the fields. 

We decided to have just two posts in the structure to preserve our timber supply and because in the sheltered place that it sits it does not need to be all that well anchored to the ground. These posts sit on the side of the building and form the door frame. The pallets were all fixed to each other and to the posts with screws, coming together nicely, and certainly seemed strong enough for their intended purpose. 

The door was reclaimed from an old shed, we used hinges that were taken off the old cattle trailer back in the spring and the roofing material was a couple of offcuts from another roofing project. Once we fixed all of these in place it was time to consider the toilet itself. For this I employed the help of Jess, another volunteer here well known for her upholstering skills. I painted up an old steel chair frame and fixed on a toilet seat, the back of the chair was upholstered by Jess in a rather majestic yellow and black striped material. This frame would house the composting container in much the same way as the ones used up in the camping field. It turned out to be a comfortable sit.

The finishing touches were a lick of paint to make the whole thing last that bit longer and a toilet roll holder. We also installed a shelf, which amongst other things will hold a pair of binoculars so the user can really make the most of their time answering the call of nature by looking out over the fields to see what wildlife is in the area. 


All in all the project took twelve hours to complete - obviously this included a fair few tea breaks. It is always satisfying to start and finish a project in one day, and it could not have been done without the help and advice of Dazzer (master pallet craftsman), Jess (accomplished upholsterer) and Celli (champion roofer).

Thursday 12 September 2013

Cerenety Stoup

Well, it's been a rather hectic year and that is the reason for the lack of blog posts. But... from now on I have come up with the genius idea of having volunteers do a weekly blog themselves about what is going on at Cerenety. That way, not only can I be lazy and disorganised but we get to see things from the views of different cultures, nationalities, ages and ideas. So here's the first one from our very own Australian James McDonald.

For last night’s dinner Ben, one of the other volunteers here at Cerenity, and I decided to create a soup completely out of fruits, vegetables and other edible organic matter growing onsite. With a great deal of enthusiasm we collected as much of a variety of ingredients as possible hoping that our one-pot wonder would provide a tasty treat for the other volunteers. And, as it turned out, it was amazing!
Our soup contained;
  • Potatoes from the vegetable patch,
  • Tomatoes from the polytunnel,
  • Some cooking apples,
  • Garlic from the vegetable patch,
  • Blackberries from the hedges,
  • Mushrooms found in the field,
  • Courgettes from the vegetable patch,
  • Carrots from the vegetable patch,
  • Chives from the herb garden,
  • Coriander from the herb garden,
  • Nettle Leaves growing around the vegetable patch,
  • and some kale.
So ALL of the ingredients come from the ground of the camp site grounds. All together and chopped up it looked like this…
Once it was all chopped up and chucked in the Dutch Oven we filled it with water to cover and left it to cook for an hour over a fire using a fire tripod.

We then sat there in the rain around the fire watching our meal cook. It was a massive success, everyone enjoyed it and we decided to call it ‘Cerenity Stoup’ because we don’t quite know if it is a soup or a stew. It was immensely satisfying knowing that our ‘stoup’ was completely derived from the land so it is needless to say that we will try to do more of these meals in the future.