ricotta cheese 

While it is true that one can extract a bit of ricotta cheese by cooking acidified whey leftover from yogurt or other dairying, I like to produce this simple cheese from a gallon of goat’s milk (from the goats we are tending now! That’s a story for another day.) Quite a lot of cheese is produced using this method, and it is the easiest and the quickest cheese I know. Let me show you how it’s done.

You’ll need a pot that easily holds a gallon of milk,
an acid like lemon, vinegar, or citric acid,
sea salt,
a thermometer,
a whisk,
some cheesecloth or butter muslin,
a colander,
a fine mesh strainer,
a slotted spoon,
and a bit of string just in case.

Make sure all of your tools are very clean. Cheesemaking books say to sterilise them – I use straight vinegar, well rinsed away, after hot, soapy water, and I scald my cheesecloth.

First, acidify the milk with lemon, vinegar, or citric acid – I use 1.5 teaspoons of the latter in our goat’s milk. In cow’s milk, use less.

Add a teaspoon of sea salt. Using a whisk and making up-and-down motions is a good habit to get into when cheesemaking.

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Raise the temperature very slowly, over a good ½ hour, to between 184 – 190F, stirring now and then to prevent burning on the bottom.

When you see the milk separate into curds and whey (chartreuse liquid), you’re done – take off the heat and cover the pot, let it sit for ten minutes.

Scoop out the whey into a clean cloth – I use butter muslin – over a strainer, first using a slotted spoon, and at the end, a fine mesh strainer.

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Gather the corners of the cloth and tie them securely, and then string this up to suspend the ricotta to drain for a quarter of an hour. Sometimes I put two tall milk bottles on either side of the bowl with a long wooden spoon holding the tie. The longer you drain it, the dryer. After that you could put a plate on top, and a weight of some kind over it, and you’d have paneer!

You’ll have a lot of whey left. If I cannot use it up in a couple of days, I freeze it or use it in my fermented chicken feed. However, you can add it to soup, to sourdough starter, in place of water in any baking recipe, in milk shakes. It’s really high protein.

Keep the ricotta in the fridge for up to a week – ours never lasts a day. Glorious in lasagne, desserts, on homemade crackers with some herbs.

rhubarb crown

Rhubarb, like so many things I adore, requires more patience than work. You can plant a rhubarb crown through March – though November or December is best – so we squeaked in a quick bit of transplanting.

rhubarb crown © elisa rathje 2013

My mother’s well-established rhubarb is coming along nicely. Next door to this raised bed, we needed to move some rhubarb to another spot.

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We gently dug it out, just as you would if you were dividing it. I can see what it is called a crown, the roots are majestic.

rhubarb planting

The crown needs to be planted with the growth at or just above the soil level, and some good compost tipped in first will help it get a good start. Here’s where the patience comes in. Aside from watering in well, the rhubarb isn’t harvested in its first year, and only lightly in the second. Yet for a good ten years, the rhubarb should provide nicely, without much attention at all. A bit of fertiliser in midsummer perhaps, and then cutting back the leaves in autumn when they’ve died off. Not much to it.

rhubarb crown © elisa rathje 2013

It seems happy enough, though it might have preferred moving earlier in the year. One day I’ll be settled enough to put in my own rhubarb and look forward to years of pulling rhubarb for kiiseli, rhubarb tarts, rhubarb anything. Perhaps I shall give in to a Victorian impatience and try forcing it with a rhubarb pot! I anticipate it each spring as the first local fruit of the season.

how to cable-knit

Well, I wonder if you’ve ever worn a cabled sweater and marvelled at the twisting pattern, and if you might like to see how they’re made? Or, better yet, you’d like to try it yourself!

This movie is a tutorial for both the Cabled Handwarmers and Cabled Mittens projects. It’s also got a very favourite song in it, which we realised is also in a movie we love, Beginners. Fitting, then, as I adore cable-knitting. Learning how to cable-knit is one of those pleasingly simple techniques, like plaiting hair or weaving homespun yarn, which gives a surprisingly satisfying result that looks more complex than the process truly is. It captures the eye like a good melody captures the ear. I hope you enjoy the little movie. Watch them all in the old schoolhouse (to your left) and mail-order your materials from the shop.

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joining & ribbing

Each of the projects in The Knitting Series are made in-the-round. Any garment you might like to knit that would usually need to be knit flat, then sewn up, leaving a seam, can be knit in a circle on several double-pointed needles. These needles haven’t got an end to keep the stitches on; they can move easily because of this, and they can shift from holding a whole lot of stitches to just a few. It looks quite intimidating to knit on four, five needles at once. I assure you that looks are deceptive; only two needles are stitching as usual and the others hold the work. This is a traditional skill all knitters should acquire. The first step is to join the stitches, having cast them on. (This part is 2.5 minutes and has such a good old melody).

The next step is to start ribbing up the cuff. Ribbing is pretty basic, in this variation, knit, knit, purl. I teach my children to rib little pieces once they can manage plain knitting. If you can comfortably rib, you can do these projects. Joining & ribbing around in circles is only slightly trickier, once you get the hang of it. In fact, I find it easier since I don’t ever reverse (purl, purl, knit). I hope the animations make things very clear for you.

Knitting-in-the-round like this translates to knitting mittens, hats, as you like it. Work along with the other movies in the “Cabled Handwarmers” set, next door at the old schoolhouse (look in the column to your left!). “Cabled Mittens” is out now too, and both projects are in the shop now. If you haven’t already, you might like to watch our first movies on quilting.

writing with handwarmers

short & sweet heather green cabled handwarmers

ceramic candlesticks

Maybe you’ve noticed by now that I become quite beside myself with joy at learning to throw all kinds of things on the pottery wheel. One of my greatest delights last winter was to learn to throw candlesticks.

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At first my attempts were a bit wobbly, then a bit stodgy, but after a few tries I found my rhythm. As you can see, I simply centered a base of clay on the wheel, and pulling it up very narrowly. The trick is to keep a finger tucked in the spinning top of the candlestick, once delicate fingers have formed that shape, to steady it as the undulating forms below it are pinched. Otherwise it tips and collapses. These are stoneware candlesticks, fired hot, with a glaze that I’ve been told looks a bit edible, like a glaze of icing. Combined with the intoxicating scent of my children’s hand-dipped beeswax candles, we should be a bit ravenous for honey and cake all through the autumn. Not a bad state to be in, really. What do you think of them? I’d love to make some more ceramic candlesticks, perhaps in the local studio in the cove that we’ve begun working in, where they fire earthenware. My children still want me to make an old fashioned candleholder with a curved handle to carry around. Perhaps they imagine themselves walking around with an open flame, wearing Dickensian nightshirts?

I hope to finish the bases for the turned wooden candlesticks very soon, I shall show you.

hand-tied bouquet

Would you like to learn to hand-tie a bouquet? I spent a beautiful day studying floristry at the Blooming Green flower farm, and made a little movie for you to see how it’s done. Jen showed us some very simple directions to follow, to stunning effect, using gorgeous flowers and extraordinary greenery, freshly picked on the farm.

You’d like some more detail? Let’s take it slowly:

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After cutting your plants and standing them in a bucket of water for a good soak, begin by conditioning the flowers. Simply strip the lower leaves off the flowers to keep them from decomposing in the water. Wear gloves if you like.

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Lay out your flowers and greens and have a sense of how many you have of each. Odd numbers are often the most pleasing to the eye.

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Begin with a fluffy, well-structured bit of greenery, to support the flowers that will surround it. Fennel is quite wonderful.

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Lay your first blossom at an angle to the green.

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If you have three blossoms to add, turn the bouquet a third, add another at the same angle, turn another third, and add the last blossom. Have a look at the movie to get a sense of how Jen turns the bouquet and adds more flowers.

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Continue to work in this way, choosing greens and flowers and paying attention to multiples, so if you have five lengths of weeping willow, turn the bouquet in fifths, always adding at that same angle to creating a tight, spiralling structure to the stems.

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Now and then turn the bouquet to have a look from the top to see if you’ve got a rounding, arching shape to the bouquet – though if there are longer sprigs that naturally want to spray up and out, Jen likes to let those have their way, too.

The tie Jen uses is quite wonderful. Simply fold a length of twine in half, loop it round your thumb as you hold the stems in place. Wrap the two ends around the stems and back to the loop, and slip them through it. Then you can pull the ends in opposite directions, wrapping as many times as you like around and tying a firm bow when they meet. I’ve forgotten the name of this tie, it’s charming!

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Snip the stems cleanly at the end, leaving enough length to support the flowers.

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A well-made hand-tied bouquet will have enough structure to stand alone! Let me know if you have a go. I’m so pleased to have had a lesson in hand-tying, such a satisfying thing to be able to do yourself. Thanks Jen! If you’re in England and looking for ecologically, locally grown flowers to buy online, or better yet, you’d like to pick your own for an event, visit Blooming Green in Kent. They are such a delight.

If you like studying traditional skills this way, have a look at the old school movies. They come with beautiful patterns, guides and materials, available in the appleturnovershop.