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Stocking up

January is always the quietest time of the year here at Little Black Hen but it gives us a chance to catch up with ourselves and plan the year ahead. It also means we get to make new stock, plan new flavours and book events for the coming year.

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Planning Your Wedding?

It’s that time of year when romance is in the air and thoughts turn to planning weddings. I’m always happy to meet with you and discuss your special day giving you the opportunity to talk through some cake ideas and try some of my cakes.   

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Veggie ventures

Well this week has been an exciting one as we’ve started a new adventure here at LBH HQ. I’ve always loved gardening but don’t have the space at home to fulfil all my gardeningambitions. We have an average sized house with a smallish garden, and wanting both chickens and vegetables, it soon became apparent that it was an either or situation ……………. the chickens won, putting my veggie growing aspirations on the back burner.

A few months ago a friend suggested that they may know someone who has the garden but not the time to do it justice,and would we be interested in taking on such a project.  My initial thoughts were to grab the opportunity with both hands,then my sensible head kicked in and so we had to give it some serious thought, weighing up all the pros and cons.  We went to see the garden and meet the people concerned and that sealed the deal. What a wonderful place and a lovely family.

From being a little girl I have many happy memories of my dad and granddads pottering in their veggie gardens, and me “helping them” from an early age wielding a spade, fork or just being sent in to pick peas and beans from plants taller than me. I’m hoping that I learned something from them along the way. I guess one thing I picked up was the serenity of the garden and how happy dad was to see, and enjoy eating the fruits of his labour.

Now I hear most of you saying that I must be mad as I’m always busy and wouldn’t have the time for such a huge undertaking ( well a 48ft by 35ft undertaking to be precise) but isn’t there a saying about if you want something doing,ask a busy person? I’ve given it a huge amount of thought and my thinking is that there are days when I just don’t get out of the kitchen and into the fresh air. It’s easy to ignore my garden at home because it’s there, and there are always a million and one other things which need doing first, so the temptation to ignore it can be quite high. My rational for undertaking someone else’s garden is that I wouldn’t want to let them down, and because it’s away from our house I will have to make the effort to get there to see to things.  As I’ve mentioned before I’ve always been quite good at juggling tasks and time, so it’ll just be another project to juggle. It might mean early mornings or late evenings but hopefully we’ll see the products of our labours over the next year.

So this weekend we bit the bullet and made a start on the garden. Bearing in mind that it’s not been used as a veggie garden for a number of years we hired a rotavator and started to clear the plot. We’ve wrestled machines, wielded spades, forks, rakes and secateurs.  We’ve lifted paving stones, cleared paths, found paths, fought brambles to name but a few jobs, but we’ve now mostly cleared the site and so we have a better idea of what we taking on. Rain stopped play today but I can’t believe how much the two of us have managed to achieve over the last two days. Needless to say there are a few aching limbs but happy hearts and a feeling of excitement, as I can only hope that the garden will look like it does in my head come next July. I hope that you’ll join us on our journey and see how we get on. I’m sure there will be ups and downs, but if anyone knows how to get rid of artichokes please let me know as I fear they will be haunting me for the foreseeable future (in more ways than one)

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I love autumn, it’s my favourite time of the year. A time when nature provides an abundance of goodies, all there for the taking if you don’t mind scrambling around in hedges. I took a rare day off last Tuesday and thought I would go for a walk to enjoy some of the spectacular weather we’ve been experiencing, and to get out of the kitchen.  Only I forgot my golden rule of blackberry picking, which is to set a time limit or an alarm or something which will drag me away from the berries. I’m quite a chilled out person most of the time, just taking things in my stride, but there is something about picking berries which brings out some strange OCD in me. I just can’t stop, it’s like a primeval urge to collect as much as possible before the winter comes, so if I don’t set a time limit or an alarm I can lose hours quite easily. Or to use a good Welsh expression, I get one eyed about it, as there’s always one more bush to find or hedge to investigate. But there’s also something special about being out in the countryside alone,with just your thoughts and a chance to be part of what surrounds you, and as a country girl I relish my time outside,time to bond with my inner farmer. For most of the time I was shadowed by a curious robin, a youngster without his full colours yet but he was quite happy watching me, never more than a few feet away.  His company was quite companionable and I felt we had an understanding by the time I’d collected two tupperwares full of blackberries.

I like to let my mind wonder when I’m foraging, and I find myself contemplating what to make with the goodies I’ve picked. Will it be blackberry jam or bramble jelly, apple and blackberry pie, or blackberry and pecan crumble? I oftenimagine different flavour combinations and wonder what it’ll taste like, and after some thought I think this week’s berries will be destined for blackberry vinegar, but maybe with a twist. If you’ve not come across fruit vinegars they are a wonderful addition to your stock cupboard. They are incredibly versatile and can be used in salad dressings or in gravies to give a sweet fruity hit. But more surprisingly they can be used as cordials and when mixed with sparkling water they provide a refreshing and tasty drink, with none of the sickly sweet after taste of shop brought squash drinks. Oh and I’ve saved the best til last. They are amazing added to sparkly wine or champagne giving a fruity note and flavour without the extra alcohol of traditional cassis or raspberry liqueur.  

Back to the blackberries, for the uninitiated there are several rules to blackberry picking.

Firstly don’t pick berries alongside busy roads, not only because you run the risk of being flattened but the berries will be covered in dust and particulate matter thrown out ofexhausts and I for one wouldn’t want to eat those berries.

Secondly, think of the biggest dog you can imagine and only pick berries above that height no-one wants dog pee in their crumble.

Thirdly, if you take odd sized containers out with you always make sure you fill the larger one first as there’s nothing more crushing than going from the giddy heights of filling your first tub than to realise that you’ve another one to do and its bigger than the first one!!

Finally, there’s a reason why the biggest, juiciest andscrummiest berries haven’t been picked and that’s probably because of some unseen obstacle between you and them! Usually a large ditch, which brings me to various blackberry picking injuries have inflicted on myself over the years. Falling into ditches and thorns paling into insignificance after a trip to our nearest A and E having managed to poke a huge stick in my eye, I did tell you I get one eyed about these things but I expect you didn’t think I would take it literally.

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Happy birthday to us!!

Well today is Little Black Hen’s second birthday and my, haven’t the last two years flown by. To use the well-used cliché, it’s been a journey.  I guess I’ve learnt a few things along the way, both about myself and about the business.

I alluded to the fact that I had a proper job once but I think the most rewarding thing about my career change is that I get to see a project though from start to finish, from the initial contact by the customer through to seeing a reaction when the cake is collected.  There are often squeaks of excitement and happy tears from customers emanating from the kitchen. Cake is essentially the centre of a celebration, whether is a birthday, wedding or anniversary I’ve yet to have a cake ordered for anything other than a happy occasion.  As such it’s a job which involves you with people preparing to celebrate or have a party.  It’s great fun getting to know the customers and finding out that they want. Some people have firm ideas and others are happy to leave it to me, but it all makes every day in my job so very different.  I’ve also discovered that sometimes you have to remind people that they can’t keep their cake forever and that they really should cut it, eat it and enjoy it.

When I look back over the last two years I’ve learnt so many new skills and tasks that would have put me in a cold sweat back then are now a lot easier , more familiar and less of a trial. That’s not to say I’ve stopped learning, why only today I was teaching myself a new technique.  There have been stand out cakes which were going to make or break me, but anyone who knows me, knows that I will put everything into it to get it right. There have been cakes which have given me sleepless nights and others which I’ve mentally made and decorated dozens of times in my head, even before I switch the oven on. Who knew there was such a thing as cake stress?

Some skills are transferrable and I’ve brought project and time management skills with me to the business, and there are weeks where these skills are invaluable. I keep telling myself that it’s all in the preparation, but cake juggling is a new skill and one I think I’ve become quite good at over the past few months.  Would it be recognised on a CV I wonder?

I’ve also discovered that I’ve got more patience than I ever would have credited myself with and I can spend many happy hours making sugarcraft flowers for a wedding cake, or making batches of strawberry jam or lemon curd. There are some days where I don’t move from my work station as I am so absorbed in what I’m doing but I can think of worse ways of passing the working day.  Besides I get to listen to the radio all day and it means my pop master scores are a lot better than they were two years ago!!

So what have I learnt over that past two years?  Patience, perseverance and striving towards perfection to name but a few. The first two I’ve got a handle on but I’m still working towards the third.

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At home with the hen

Somebody recently said to me that my life is a little like the“chick lit” books she reads and that got me thinking. Anniversaries are often a time for reflection and on the eve of my little business becoming two, I thought that now would be an appropriate time to reflect and muse on the last two years and to look forward the next part of the adventure.

However there is one thing I should say at the beginning, I write as I speak and so the words you’re reading are as I would say them, so I make no apology for the poor grammar!

I still can’t believe that my little business, yes the one I run from our own home, has made it to it’s second anniversary. I wouldn’t say we’ve set the world on fire but actually that’s ok, more about that later. Continue reading At home with the hen