Marmalade time!

January means Seville Oranges which, of course, means Marmalade! Make sure you have a good sharp knife to cope with with the lengthy job of shredding the orange peel which is at the heart of a good marmalade. The job is always fiddly and best done with company, so Libby and I set to work. After much chopping and peeling and chatting all the peel, juice, pith and pips were simmering away into a suitable softness. If you’re after a recipe to try, give ours a go!

Seville Orange Marmalade

What you need

1kg Seville oranges

Juice from 2 lemons

4 pints water

2Kg sugar

What you do

Preparing the oranges
Cut the oranges in half and squeeze the juice into a large pan through a sieve to catch all the pips.
Using a spoon, scrape the pith and flesh from the orange peel and put to one side.
Carefully cut the peel into thin strips. The peel swells a bit, so remember to make them a little thinner, but it’s up to you how fine you like your marmalade peel.
Place the peel in the pan with the fruit juices and water. Tie the reserved pith, flesh and pips in a large piece of muslin to make a bag, and put this in the water too. This will provide the pectin for your marmalade to set with.
Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour or two, until the peel has softened, and the liquid reduced by about a half.
Remove from the heat and squeeze the liquid from the muslin bag into the pan. You can get rid of the pips and stuff now, you should have enough pectin in your mix.

Jam Pan

Add the sugar to the pan and stir to dissolve.
When the sugar has dissolved, return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil.
Boil rapidly until the setting point is reached, then remove from the heat, skim any scum from the surface and leave for 15 minutes before putting in warm sterilised jars. Seal the jars and leave to cool completely

Once the marmalade is boiling rapidly, it looks quite frothy and exciting. The only thing to consider is the elusive “setting point”. This is normally reached once enough water has evaporated to allow the marmalade to reach 105degC so the pectin is activated and will make the jam set. I have gone for accuracy in the form of a Digital Candy Thermometer, with a handy pan clip and an alarm as the desired temperature is reached. You can also test the marmalade for setting by putting a little of it on a cold plate and seeing if it wrinkles when you push a finger through it. In fact it is always best to try this even if you think the temperature is there, as sometimes you need to get the jam or marmalade just a bit hotter, so I put a plate in the freezer to cool too.

This combination has worked well for us, and we now have a years supply of yummy marmalade cooling on the counter.
marmalade making

Making marmalade in the fiveotherwise kitchen

Baking Bread

Fresh Baked Bread

Bread and Jam ready on the table

Making our own bread has become the standard over the last few years, once you get into homemade bread the alternatives always seem a bit lacking, but in a family of our size this is quite demanding, with whole 2lb loaves disappearing in a single lunch! So we have been looking out for a larger loaf tin for a while, and were pleased to find a nice long bread pan! (you can find it in our CookShop) As it is twice as long as a standard loaf tin we did a double loaf batch, as detailed in the recipe below. I wish I could share the smell of bread cooking with you, it is the most fabulous scent to fill your house with!

We have found the loaf to be a much better size for our family, and have even gone for double batches, making three loaves at once, which is as much dough as anyone can knead at a time!
One of the best bits of making bread at home is just how much you can get the kids involved. Jonathan has become quite adept at weighing out the ingredients and mixing it together in the bowl ready to be pulled together and kneaded. Kneading a whole loaf does take quite a lot of effort and may be beyond a small child, but bread rolls are perfect and can be shaped into interesting shapes.

What you need

  1. 1kg bread flour of your choice
  2. 2tspn salt
  3. 2tspn easy blend dried yeast
  4. 2tablespoons olive oil
  5. 600ml hand hot water

What you do

  1. Place the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir together.
  2. Make a well in the centre and pour in the oil and water, then stir in the flour with a broad knife, to make a dough.
  3. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Different flours can vary in absorbency, so you may need to add more flour as you knead.
  4. Oil the bowl and put the dough back into it, covering it with a cloth and leaving it in a warm place to rise. Again the rising will depend upon your choice of flour, with whole meal flour needing a bit longer than white.
  5. Once the dough has doubled in size, tip it back out of the bowl and knead it gently to even it out, then shape it to fit your pan. This recipe fills the kaiser 32cm pan, but could be cut in half to make two 2lb standard loaves.
  6. Oil and flour your bread pans. Roll your shaped dough in flour to coat it and put it in the pan.
  7. Cover and leave it to rise again until it has started to dome out of the loaf pan. Make a couple of shallow cuts diagonally across the top of the loaf before placing in a preheated oven at 200degC for 35mins, or until well risen and golden. Test if it is done by tipping it out of the pan and tapping the bottom. When ready, bread sounds quite hollow, and it is best to cook a little longer than to end up stodgy in the middle.
  8. Leave the bread to cool before slicing.

Make it your own

I like to use a mix of flours, with malted or seeded flours for extra flavour and white to give it a bit of lift. It is fun to experiment. Or you could divide a half recipe into 12 and kneed them into individual rolls and then shape them into something more interesting. Add some poppy seeds or sunflower seeds for added interest.

Bread Knots, Rolls and Hedgehogs

Bread Knots, Rolls and Hedgehogs

Mincemeat Streusel

Inspired by the Great British Bake Off Christmas Special, I had a go at Mary Berry’s mincemeat streusel as a tray bake using a Gobel Tarte Maison, which has a fancy edge and a loose bottom to help get the bake out! I personally have no idea how Mary got hers out of the tin, and she wasn’t giving away any secrets.
I didn’t follow the recipe from the website perfectly, as I had plenty of homemade mincemeat already. I was also lacking in semolina for the streusel topping, so I substituted ground almonds to try and give a coarse texture and a flavour that is quite complementary to mincemeat.
The pastry was super thin, the topping grated well and cooked to a crunchy golden. Once cooled in the tin, the loose bottom allowed the streusel to slide out beautifully, keeping the fluted edge wonderfully crisp. The result was a delightful improvement on traditional mince pies, which we shall be definitely repeating for Christmas.


Results Day -round one!

So it is a HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to Cassie after her exam results came through yesterday.

A* in Maths, A* in Biology and A in Chemistry!!!

Well done! We know you deserved it because we know how much work you did to become comfortable enough with the subjects to be confident at answering those exam questions.
It is also, of course, really nice to see that working otherwise than in school can give you just as good results as the more usual school route. Basically our Home Education is working!!!

I also want to say that the school we are doing the exams through has been great, with the exams officer emailing Cassie’s results to us at 7:10 am, so we had no long wait to build up nervousness! I have already thanked her, and we shall be contacting them in September to arrange round two.

That is another point, of course. This is just round one for Cassie, and the first round for all of us as a family. Cassie has already started her English Language and English Literature courses, this time a correspondence course with Catherine Mooney, and is beginning to study physics. I think her achievements so far stand her in good stead, she knows what it takes to get what she wants. Libby is now looking at how much of her maths book is left to finish before she can sit the exams too. So, onwards and upwards for us all!!!

After the rain…

The rain has thoroughly soaked the garden and totally filled both of our water butts, so no worries anymore about draughts! Now we just have to get out there and get tidying up the plants, harvesting fruit and maybe sowing a bit for whatever is next.
At the moment there is a constant flow of courgettes, potatoes whenever we need them and raspberries, red currants and gooseberries in need of picking. The peas, lettuce and carrots are still coming, although we are passed the best. I should be sowing more lettuces, but there is always something else happening, so they will have to wait!
It is fun having potatoes in the garden, although they only supply us for a few weeks of the year. I think it is one of those important lessons for the kids on where food comes from, and there is always excitement to see how many, and how big, the potatoes are lurking under the plants. For the past few years we have taken part in the Potato Council scheme for schools and home educators of primary age kids. Once you register, they will send you grow packs of two types of potato to try, with full instructions. All you need is a bit of space, sun and some compost.

Whose kitchen is it anyway?

Because I have injured my knee, Neale has taken over the kitchen this week, with a little help from Libby. I think he has enjoyed it, especially making food for baby Sam, which is surprisingly satisfying. He has coached Libby through making a lamb curry and spaghetti bolognese, and tried an old recipe for Sam of a Moroccan style lamb, which has apricots and spices in it, and which went down a storm. They are managing very well. Neale is a good cook, when I let him have a go, but I am looking forward to being back in charge!

Home Education when ill!

What a week! Last weekend I injured my knee, and although at first I muddled through I ended up having to rest it pretty constantly. This is the sort of thing that really effects home education. Being ill in a normal job just means that you stay at home, but when you are supposed to be guiding and organising kids work there is a certain feeling that when you stop, they stop! I tell myself that we will catch up with things, and that learning is not a rigidly linear event, but I usually do badly at convincing myself. All in all, I always feel guilty when I get ill.
Luckily we have Neale at home at the moment, so he was able to do a lot of the stuff. Plus it is “not school holidays” so our work schedule is cut down. And the girls are working much more at their own rate, with only a few pointed questions getting them involved in their courses. I am still desperate to get back to it, I am missing the cooking and garden too.

School Holidays Approach

I’ll mention the holidays a few times I am sure, but let me start out by saying that generally we do not take school holidays from our HE. Partly this is because we always holiday during term-time when it is quieter and cheaper, and easier for Neale to book time off work. I also feel that we do not study intensely enough to require a huge break, more that study is gentle and continuous discovery and practice.
In spite of this we are affected by the holidays because all of a sudden the neighbourhood is full of playing kids, calling at all hours, and a lot of our usual activities are on hold. So a happy medium has to be reached, which usually means I get work sessions out of the kids in the morning, but little else! This year I am hoping Cassie at least will work through the holidays as she has quite a lot to do in the next year, and with the art awards to finish by the end of August, Libby will have a goal to hit too.
So, whilst we have not been throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into study we have been ticking over nicely, in spite of heat. Cassie has got stuck into her English language course from Catherine Mooney and is almost done with her art award work. She did a Manga Art workshop for the other kids at our regular monthly HE get together on Friday, which went down very well and now has to be documented as the ” passing on a skill” section of the award.
Libby has been sticking to her effort to spend an hour a day on physics, as well as her maths sessions, and I have managed to keep the boys attention most mornings too! So, all in all, the best you can hope for with the heat and the impending school holiday looming.
Childhood does have to be enjoyed though, and weather like this is rare enough to need special recognition, so we all snuck off to Bolton Abbey on Thursday afternoon for a couple of hours playing in the river Wharfe, while its hot and quiet!

July Heatwave

courgete_flowerThe garden is going a bit potty in the current heatwave, and I am having to water all the pots daily to stop them wilting. This means our two water butts are starting to run low. I am being quite careful watering so as to waste as little as possible, aiming under leaves of plants and concentrating on the plants fruiting now, like the courgettes and strawberries. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I hope we get a bit of rain in the next week or we’ll be using the kids bathwater. Maybe we’ll have a good, solid, butt-filling thunderstorm with all this close, humid weather?
We have been happily munching on the odd strawberry when in the garden for a while now, but I think tomorrow we should be able to pick enough to have for pudding, if we can resist them on the way in to the kitchen! We are also in the midst of our cut and come lettuce harvest, with mixed leaf salads at every meal. Which reminds me, I should give some thought to sowing some more, if I can find a space.
The courgettes appear poised to explode into a glut, so I am scurrying through recipe books for courgette inspiration. I shall let you know what is a hit (or a miss)! The plants are great, with fabulous leaves and the most amazing huge yellow flowers. If you have never tried them then give one a go next year. I grow mine from seed, they usually all germinate, and then pot them on into big pots, 40cm diameter or so. Last year the slugs got most of my seedlings, but this year I have five plants, I had to plant two in one pot, but they are doing fine.
We are all watching the peas and the raspberries as the next things to be ready. The peas have done well, with lots of flowers and the first pods filling out nicely. Keeping the kids off the peas is the hardest thing as they are eager to try them “just to see if they’re ready”!  The raspberries are probably a longer wait, but the canes are covered in fruit, so we should be able to gorge ourselves without restraint when the time comes.


Art awards and heatwave


We have been working with a home education group in a local gallery to enter for the Bronze Art Award, which requires entrants to visit exhibitions, take part in art workshops, discover and describe an art hero and pass on art skills. All elements need documenting, and then putting together in a portfolio. Friday was an art workshop combining a couple of “passing on art skills” sessions with a check through portfolios to make sure everyone was nearly finished. Both girls are entering for the award so this meant a hasty run round collating pages and deciding on a book format for the finished product. Cassie had most to do, as she put off starting until after her recent exams were finished.

We also wanted to get it all done by Thursday lunch time so as to join another home ed family by the river Wharfe, for an afternoon of swimming in the heat! I had to sit on the bank with baby Sam, whilst Neale took the kids into the river, but we did get to splash our feet to cool down. Everyone had wetsuits, which allowed them to mess about in the water for longer, and it only took a little while in the sun before folk were hot enough for another dip in the cool river. Being able to take advantage of the quiet midweeks is a huge bonus of home education. We get quite used to visiting empty parks, museums and galleries, so that busy weekends and school holidays, when you have to queue for things, can be a bit disappointing.

The workshop also went well. It was hotter on Friday, but we were in the nice air-conditioned gallery then, and had the memory of the lush, sunny riverside to bolster us against the day in the city. Now the girls have a few weeks to finish their portfolios before our next session, and the hot weather goes on.

Tuesday night is pizza night

pizza_nightTuesday night is pizza night in our house, so at some point after lunch I persuade Jonathan to go start some white bread dough for the pizza bases. Sometimes I end up having to mix it myself, and Jonners usually needs help to get the dough really well kneaded.
We use about 1.2kg of strong white bread flour, 2tspn quick bread yeast, and 2tspn salt.  Make a well in the flour and add a good few tablespoons of olive oil to get into the Mediterranean feel , and a generous 600ml or so of hot water. Both boys like doing the start off stir in  with a knife, but as it gets mixed and heavier they call for me to finish it up and knead it. I like using oil in bread because it saves doing the rubbing in of butter or margarine, which I dislike.
This amount of bread will do three big pizzas plus a loaf, which can cook either before or after the pizzas whilst the oven is hot. I also like sneaking a sweet potato (or a normal one) into the hot oven to bake with the bread and pizza. Then I can use the potato mashed up with a little full fat milk for Sam’s baby food for a couple of meals. Sam does like pizza, he has thin slices cut from a plain cheese one, but he can’t eat enough yet to fill his tummy, so a  couple of tablespoons of mashed sweet potato is very useful.

Our Educational philosophy and daily routine

There are different styles of home education, some folk adhere to strict timetables, with a wide range of subjects, others adopt educational styles available in more exclusive private schools like Steiner or Montessori, whilst a large portion of the home ed community dabble in autonomous learning, that is, a totally child led approach. The key thing home elders can usually agree on is that the educational style has to fit with the child and family involved. For some parents autonomous learning is too much of a leap of faith that nothing will get missed, whilst for a child removed from school due to unhappy circumstances the strict “school at home” could leave them no better off than they were. It is important for parents who have made the decision to home educate to consider their child carefully to see what will work best. And it must be remembered that the style can change! Autonomous primary school learning can give way to strict courses leading to qualifications quite naturally when a child is ready.
For us, as for many, a hybrid approach has worked well. Our days start with a quite formal session doing Maths or English from workbooks and textbooks. I have to be fully available for this ready to assist as required. There is no fixed time for this session, although I try to keep it under an hour to minimise fidgeting, as people finish exercises at different rates. After a break the work steps down a gear, the younger two may work on the computer, or do some games or activity with me whilst the older two tackle something from a correspondence course, or towards a project. Then we all gather for lunch.
After lunch is cleared up, and some steam has been let off, or we have gone for a walk or something, the afternoon tends to be time to get creative. We do art or play games, cook or they may monopolise me or their dad into some experiments. Cassie, and increasingly Libby, may also get encouraged into doing an hour or so of her studies, and I try to be available, if needed, for feedback or understanding. Often the boys will disappear for chunks of the afternoon to embark on epic adventures with various toys, sometimes Libby joins them.
Everything comes to a halt around 4pm because of minecraft! This is the time their friends are also available to play, so it allows a little social contact too. I can then sort out tea without too much distraction.
As you can see our day becomes less and less structured, and there is lots of room for changes depending upon current activities. We have found this balance works well for those days we do not have other activities outside the house. When we are going out, we can usually fit the formal session in first, especially the girls, but it can be difficult to get stuck into anything after being out and about. This is probably because I am more of a morning worker, and I am sure it would be different for other families.
A final comment must be included before you all get a rosy picture of idilic organisation… very few days follow my plan exactly! Home education requires a lot of give and take, especially with more than one child, but having a guideline keeps you sane, and gives you something to fall back on when things get too chaotic

Elderflowers Mean Summer

elderflower_cordialWith the cold spring weather some things have been very late getting going, and it has seemed a long wait for the elder to flower around here, but this weekend there were finally enough creamy heads around that when the sun came out for a bit we skipped off down the lane to pick a load to make elderflower cordial. This is something I always try to do as it is such an easy cordial and yet it really tastes good. Everyone seems to have a different recipe for this. My recipe comes from a BBC book called “Fruity Passions” which went with a series in the eighties, mostly about wine making! (We have tried quite a few of the wine recipes too over the years) As with most things I do, the original recipe has been modified to fit what I’ve got in. Basically you steep about 25 flower heads in 1.5litres of cold water, 250ml orange juice, a couple of lemons thinly and 1.5kg of white sugar. I also add about 15g of tartaric acid if I’ve got it, this year the tartaric acid was not enough so I added a bit of citric acid too. You can get acids from health food shops or wine making suppliers.elderflower_on_bush_large The whole mix just sits on the counter for a day, filling the kitchen with wafts of perfume that sum up summer for me. After 24hours you strain the liquid through muslin, or a fine sieve and bottle. I usually freeze a few pots for when I need a lift later in the year. Sometimes it can be a little sweet, but if you pop a few slices of lemon and some ice in a jug, add cordial and fizzy water to taste, it is a drink we can all enjoy. Summer is here.

The garden after our holiday

vege_patch_largeWe came home from our main family holiday tired but ready for new challenges and were met by the inevitable flourishing of the garden into a lush green jungle! Don’t get me wrong, the good plants had done well too, but the weeds seem to erupt from nowhere into foot high beasts. I couldn’t manage to leave them alone for two weeks, who knows what would have happened? Luckily it was not too long before I got the chance to cut down the long grass round the edges of the beds, in which I am sure the slugs lurk during the heat of the day, and clear out all the weeds.
I also cleared out some of the things which had got out of hand. The vegetable patches look very professional now, I am quite proud of it.
The spinach was billed as being slow to bolt but as a mere week without being attended had led them to show signs of flower stalks, I took out the lot and froze the leaves. Spinach had been sown to go between parsnips and beetroot, both of which are now up and growing nicely, so they need the room anyway. The radishes I sowed between rows had also done well, but luckily we got to them before they got woody, although they were nice and peppery.
I have enjoyed the baby spinach and radishes though, so maybe we shall sow some more where the beans failed. That is what I like about gardening, the plans shift with successes and weather so there is always something to consider, and every year is different.
Currently we are enjoying lots of cut and come again salads, the first few strawberries, and we are eyeing up the pea pods and vast array of summer raspberries only a week or so from being ready!

Time lapse frog spawn

One other idea that we tried out a while ago involved frog spawn. The kids had done the usual trip to their grandma’s pond and collected some frogspawn. The idea being you watch it hatch out and then release it back to the pond it came from. We thought it would be an interesting idea to set up a camera and take a timelapse of the process. It’s not hard. A home computer,a webcam and some inexpensive or free software usually is enough. We set this up in the kitchen with a fluorescent light and left it for about a week, taking one photo every 30 minutes. The result is quite stunning.

We uploaded it to youtube and you can see it here.

Halfway through her exams

Halfway through her exams and I am pleased with the way Cassie is dealing with exams. We are doing past papers nearly every day, marking and reviewing them together to see how she is performing in the time and what she needs to look again at. Right now I am concerned that her maths has got a bit rusty whilst she concentrated on biology and chemistry, but we have time to polish things, so we’re still feeling pleased. Cassie actually left her first exam ( chemistry) a little early, because she felt she had finished!
We are, of course, looking forward to finishing and being able to do something else. I want to tackle some of my projects left on hold (sewing mainly), and Cassie says she wants to do some art and writing for her art award. She also wants to start English, so she can be more creative than she has been!


Exam time approaches

At present we are approaching the first of these qualification hurdles, with Cassie due to sit IGCSEs in Chemistry and Biology, and GCSE in Maths this summer. She is doing really well, but having no experience of exams makes it a bit daunting -for me if not for her. It is also hard not to see these exams as a test of HE in general. If she were in school I think she would be top stream, expected to achieve high marks. But without the whole exam culture of schools will she be able to match their performances? Have we let her down by choosing this lifestyle? I do know that she is a very different person to the general institutional teenager, and I am very proud of her efforts as she grasps the exam challenge. She is genuinely interested in her subjects, especially biology, not just practised in answering exam question. If she is not happy with her results we can always resit, and the second time round will be enlightened by having done it once.

Approaching Exams

Hello. As the stay at home parent, I have always had the main responsibility for organising our home education, as much as that is ever possible! We are now approaching the first real test of our choices to home educate, the qualifications. As we are quite traditional parents this does lead us to GCSEs. Although there are a range of equivalent possibilities, GCSEs are widely recognised and understood outside academia.

So what is fiveotherwise about?

Well, we are a bigger than average family, with five children aged 8months to 15 years, and a stay at home mum. We also home educate, which means we’ve got the children at home all the time and are responsible for their education directly instead of by sending them to school. So we are quite a busy and noisy household.

This is our blog site where we hope you’ll fine something of interest whether it’s home education, kitchen, cooking, gardening or seeing what we get up to. The postings to the site are below. Take a look around and click the face book like buttons to let us know we’re on the right track and interesting.