Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Take your family out for a mini adventure this Autumn

We are Team Blighty that is Handmade in Blighty and Blighty Bushcraft.  Both of which aim to provide high quality products and services to our customers.  You can see our website for more information.  This blog is about sharing our ideas, hints and tips so you can, hopefully learn from and take on board some of our suggestions.

We would love for you and your family to spend more time outdoors, get away from the smartphone and the Xbox, Facebook and the like.  We know it sounds tough to those who are indoor types but trust us when we say there is nothing better than getting that fresh air outside (ideally in a woodland setting but anywhere will be great).

First things first, let's not get hung up by the weather.  There's no such thing as poor weather but just poor clothing for the weather conditions.  If you're new to this drop us an email and we can recommend suitable outdoor clothing/footwear.

Refreshments for your adventure are a must, especially if you have littlies in tow as any stretch of the legs (especially if they're not used to it) might require a little incentive or two along the way.  We pack fruit and the odd sweet treat in our rucksack.  The essential refreshment is of course water.  Bring this pure, as mother nature intended so you can use it if a first aid situation arises.  Hopefully not though so you can also bring some squash or the like if required. 

Next thing to think about is where you may want to go on your adventure.  Best advice is include your little gang in the planning.   Perhaps start small with a local walk where you don't need to drive anywhere or do a bit of research and find out nice local spots that aren't too far away.  If you involve your children from the start then they (should) be excited and feel part of the adventure and won't feel like they are being dragged along the walk.

The first mini adventure we would urge you to try is 'blackberrying'.  This age old pastime has started to dwindle yet it's a great way for family and friends to get together and gather delicious local ingredients.  Look for bushes that have not been sprayed or are too close to the road.  Only pick blackberries that are at least 1 metre from the ground.  Remember to bring some bags or a basket for collecting your bounty.

In our experience this gathering around bramble bushes demands that you slow down as any quick moves may lead to squashed fruit, scratched arms or stung fingers.  Nettles and brambles enjoy each others company so they're normally partnered up.  Please be mindful with your picking so you don't take more than you need.

Whilst you are forgetting about the day job, not looking at your smartphone and letting daily stresses go away, take a moment to listen to your surroundings, the bird song, the nattering of your family.  It's an easy first mini adventure.  When you get home you can make a British favourite pudding of apple and blackberry crumble or you can save your berries for a tipple such as blackberry whiskey or vodka.  The berries can be frozen straight away and will keep well in the freezer until you're ready to create. 

Happy picking.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Spoon carving the Blighty way

We've teamed up with the fabulous Kimbers' Farm Shop, between Wincanton and Bruton, in Somerset to hold the first of many spoon carving workshops.  Greg ran the workshop in the peaceful Dutch barn, where you get a stunning view across towards PenSelwood and King Settle Hill.  You can also see the National Trust’s Alfred’s Tower from the Farm.

Our budding spoon carvers arrived at 10am and soon settled in to the Blighty classroom.  After an initial health and safety brief Greg showed them a display of different spoons that he had carved over many years, explaining the uses they had had.  The last thing he showed them was a butter spreader made from hazel that was still ‘in the round’.  This means it hadn’t been split or altered in any way. 
Our spoon carvers sat down with a piece of hazel in their hand and Greg discussed the properties of this native hardwood.  He then invited them to pick up their saws, again after discussing the various safety features and different styles of cutting techniques with this tool the Blighty students sawed their first piece of green wood ready to make in to their own style of spreader.

At Handmade in Blighty we fully understand that adults learn by doing and there’s no better way to introduce the different types of cutting techniques than by creating a simple kitchen utensil.  This project is quick but gives each student a huge amount of confidence to tackle their spoon later in the day.  Greg demonstrated the different types of cuts.  Before we knew it lunch time was upon us, hands and forearms were aching but there were five finished spreaders in the hands of the delighted students. 
At this point, whilst the beautiful stew that Kimbers Farm Shop had made was cooking over the fire, Greg took the students out on a short foraging walk around the Farm’s hedgerows.  After lunch, Greg demonstrated how to saw and split an ash billet.  From this point on the students were able to put their new skill set in to practice with hints and tips all the way from Greg.  At times the students had one to one tuition so that everyone kept on track to finish their spoon.
During the last half an hour Greg discussed sharpening techniques and the legalities of carrying knives in the UK with the group.  This concluded a very relaxing but productive and informative day.  As you can see from the photographs the students enjoyed the day and each created a wonderfully unique spreader and spoon to take home with them, to dry slowly ready to sand and oil at their leisure.  One of our budding carvers said  "I have just spent a fantastic day with Handmade in Blighty at Kimbers' Farm Shop, making a wooden spoon and a spreading knife.  Thanks to Greg and team, I learnt about the English hedgerows and our beautiful Somerset countryside.  I would thoroughly recommend this course to anyone.  I can't wait to use my new kitchen tools" Karen from KRysalis PA, Lifestyle and Business Administration Services.
We have more courses running throughout the year, please see our website for more details or contact us for information.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Making a winter tipple or two..

The months of waiting are now over.  After spying the blossom bursting along our local hedgerows way back in the Spring the blackthorn, prunus spinosa, is now giving up her fruits.  This plum in miniature is positively bursting with boozy promise.  You can use it in other applications such as jam and the like but for me the quintessential winter tipple begins here in the Autumn.  Let me introduce you to my Sloe Gin.

There are many different recipies for sloe gin and I am sure that they are all of them delicious.  However, I have been using this recipe, the 3x3x3x3 formula for well over a decade and I it has never let me down.  De La Soul advised us way back in the ‘80s that three was “The Magic Number.”  They were spot on.  

So, let's make some gin.

What do I need?

  • Enough fruit for your needs
  • Enough sugar to match the fruit
  • Enough own brand gin to complete the perfect boozy trinity
  • Sweet woodruff or almond essence - Optional
  • 2 litre squash bottles
  • Wine makers fine mesh bag
  • Funnel
  • Attractive bottles for the final stage
  • Three months

Tradition says you should wait for the first frost to pick the sloe but I cheat.  I wait for the hazy blush to appear, pick and then pop the fruit in the freezer.  This uber bletting method has served me well. I use 2 litre squash bottles to create the gin.  I fill it one third with granulated sugar. I then fill it one third with the de-stalked  sloe.  The reason for fruit on sugar is if it was the other way around the sugar would go through the gaps and your liquor would be far too sweet. Trust me. I know. It was tooth decayingly foul. It is at this stage I add an optional extra.

In the spring I pick sweet woodruff and dry it out.  I pop a couple of these sprigs in to the bottle.  During the process this  innocuous looking piece of woodland flora infuses a delicate almond taste.  If you don't trust your foraging skills you can use almond extract which can be bought in the cake making aisle of any supermarket. As I said, however, this is an option rather than a must.

Next, pour your own brand gin in to your squash bottle and fill it so there is enough room for its contents to be agitated.  Only use cheap gin.  This allows for the flavour of your sloes to get absorbed into the liquid. Tap the bottle to let the air pockets escape and replace them with more gin. 

Once you are sure about expelling all that unwanted air, pop the lid on and tighten it well. Give the bottle a really good shake and leave it somewhere warm.  Shake every day until the sugar has dissolved and then leave it for 3 months.  This the final 3 of the 3x3x3x3 formula and is another reason for picking the sloes early. I like to have my gin ready for the Christmas festivities so start my process off around 23rd of September. 

Bottling your Gin

When your three months are up get an empty squash bottle and place the funnel in the top. Put the mesh bag over the funnel and slowly pour the precious liquid from the first bottle.  Let gravity do its thing. This is the beauty of the mesh bag over coffee filters. The mesh copes very well but the filters tend to clog and it gets very frustrating.

The left over fruit can be used in other boozy projects such as chocolate covered sloes for a sweet dessert, but I'll leave that to you as too sweet for me.

Your hard work deserves a proper finish.  It feels better to pour your drink from a quality bottle rather than a tatty plastic job.

We use flip top bottles that are clear.  This allows the stunning colour to be seen.  You can buy the flip top bottles from any good brewing shop.

Bottoms Up

I drink my gin over lots of ice and a good splash of sparkling spring water. It's refreshing and tones down that sweet hit.  I know others like theirs neat with ice.  Either way drink your sloe gin sensibly as to guzzle it would not be respecting the effort you and the blackthorn have put in to creating a most British of tipples. 

If you are feeling adventurous you can follow the above advice but substitute the alcohol for vodka, brandy or whiskey. The same rule applies; use own brand labels to allow the fruit to grow into the liquor.

Speaking of substitution you can also use other soft fruits rather than sloes.  I make a hedgerow medley that has wild strawberries and blackberries going hand in hand with the sloes.  Now that is a tipple to savour.

I look forward to hearing about your recipes for liquors at this most abundant time of year. You can find me on Twitter @woodenbowlmaker  We're also on Facebook or email us
Enjoy your tipple

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Adventurer, Discoverer or Tracker?

We've been helping the National Trust at Stourhead in Wiltshire with their programme of Forest Fridays to encourage children to get back to nature with their 50 things to do before you're 11 and 3/4 challenge.  

The feedback has been really positive and we've been told the event has brought back many wonderful childhood memories for parents and grandparents alike.

We have helped to build dens, make mud pies, hunt for bugs, create wild art and explore inside a tree from the 50 things list.  All activities have been great fun.  It is amazing to see what the littlies can make with a little guidance and a lot of mess!
Hunting for bugs

Creating Wild Art

Fantastic den in the making

Making Mud Pies

Being outdoors is great fun and let's hope we can continue to encourage our children to climb trees, get mucky and respect the environment so this can continue for many future generations to come.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Our Stourhead Story

Back in 2012, we had a visit from a friend who spotted our handmade pot stands.  "These are lovely!" came her response, followed by, "My friend, who works at the National Trust has got to see these!"

Well, to cut a long story short, samples of our coasters, pot stands and wooden bowls went to a buyers meeting at the National Trust, where it was decided that our lovely wares would go on sale at Stourhead, in Wiltshire.

On the morning of our first meeting at Stourhead, a flash of inspiration about a new design overwhelmed me.  I quickly sketched out an Oak Tree design in the four seasons and took this to the Head Buyer at Stourhead.  To my delight, she loved the design and placed an order there and then.

Since then, we have supplied the National Trust with coasters, pot stands and beautiful wooden bowls.  We love being creative and seeing our Handmade in Blighty range in the shop at Stourhead gives us an amazing sense of achievement.  We are very proud of every product that we make and so pleased to be sharing them with like-minded people who can appreciate them too.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Any excuse to get in the woods

We have been making homemade wine and liquors for our own consumption for several years.  It is such a pleasurable pastime foraging through our hedgerows for ingredients.

So far we have made several varieties of wine over the years, one of the best was elderberry, however the dandelion wine was an experiment that didn't go quite so well... it had a strange industrial cleaner smell so ended up quite literally down the drain.

One of our favourite excuses to get in the woods is to go out and collect birch sap for a fine home wine.  When the sap is running then Spring is nearly here (which is always a good feeling).  We make a small hole in the southern side of the tree.  We then insert the tube and ensure the container is ready to take the sap from the tree.  We use cotton wool in the top of the container to stop any wine flies getting in.  We only ever take the smallest amount of sap so that the tree is never harmed.  It also means we can return to the same tree in a few years time for more of the same.

This picture shows the process along with some unexpected ice.

We leave the tube in the tree for two days before removing it.  Then we ensure we plug the hole in the tree (using a stripped hazel stick) so that there is no damage to the tree. 

When the fermentation process has completed, our wine will be bottled and ready to drink at the end of the summer.  Cheers!

Monday, March 4, 2013

From Blighty to beyond

Well, here we are, Handmade in Blighty.  An idea that has grown from a kernel to a reality in a short space of time. 

We are a husband and wife team who both love creating lovely things from natural objects most of which are sourced in our beautiful county of  Somerset, England.

We have been making crafts and wooden items as a hobby for a few years now.  Lots of lovely gifts for our friends weddings, christenings, birthdays, retirement and so on until December 2012, when Gregster said "In 2013 we get a website".

Six tiny words with a potentially life changing impact.

We shall see...