Grandma’s Blackberry Jam Recipe

So I made blackberry jam, and I canned it, which I’ll talk more about at the bottom of this post.

Blackberry jam.
Blackberry jam.

Here’s the recipe I used (it was very simple). This is a standard jam recipe but it’s vegan and gluten free:
1. Go pick some blackberries. I got 300g. Blackberries grow wild on brambles.
2. Weigh them (and wash them thoroughly, throw out any bad ones).
If you didn’t get many (you need at least 200g really – that does an 8oz jar of jam, when you subtract the stuff that will burn to the bottom, but for lots, preferably 500g-900g), freeze them and wait for more to ripen, then pick/wash more.
3. When you’re ready to make jam, weigh all your blackberries together.
4. Measure out the same amount of golden granulated sugar (it’s a 1:1 ratio blackberries to sugar). Maybe other sugar types also work, I used golden granulated.
5. Put the berries in a pan with a big tablespoon of lemon juice (this will help preserve the fruit) and about 1/4 cup of water, and bring to the boil.
6. Simmer straight away for 15 minutes.
7. Add the sugar. It will take a lot of stirring and a lot of waiting to get it all to dissolve.
8. Once it’s dissolved, turn the heat up as high as you can and boil for 10-12 minutes, until the blackberry gloop reaches 105 degrees C (220F) which is the setting point. Don’t stir, but if you smell burning, it’s done.

Blackberry jam.
This is what it looks like when its set after the white froth was scraped off.

9. Take off the heat, skim off any white froth from the top, and let it settle for a few minutes (you can put it straight in jars at this point but I wanted to check it had worked.
10. Put in (sterilized with HOT water) jars, seal them if you want to.

About canning, storage times and such:
I used these quattro stagioni jars in 8.5 ounce size, which I found for a good price on the shelf at Homesense (they’re one of those places that has different stuff each week), I liked them because they’re made to take the high temperature and they’re vacuum sealable for food safety (although one of mine didn’t seal) and they sell replacement lids (70mm or 2 3/4 inch is the size for the 8.5 oz jars, although that is NOT cheap for 2 jar lids, so I hope somewhere starts doing them cheaper). You can use any old jar for jam, but you should use a fresh lid each time because you can’t fully clean the lids, which is why I bought jars to use.
If you want to read about home canning in more depth to ensure you’re doing it safely, this free guide from the USDA is phenomenal (I’d start with this section). I highly recommend it for people thinking of canning (which means putting in jars – that confused me for a while) other garden produce, although I’m still undecided on what to do with my carrots when they’re fully grown.

If you vacuum seal the jar with the blackberry jam in it, and don’t open it again, it’s good for 1 year (the jars I linked to have specific instructions to seal them in hot water, I managed to follow them using a bucket as I didn’t have a big enough pot). If it doesn’t vacuum seal (the popper in the lid still pops up) it’s good for 1 month. When you open it, it’s good for 1 month.

Anyone else done any canning or jam making? Got a different recipe/method? Let me know in the comments!

blackberry jam
Sterilized jars.
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Oops Button: Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare.

This is for the weekly photo challenge: Rare
So I found this actual key on a keyboard from an old computer at the Jim Austin Collection:

oops button real keyboard
Top row, fifth key across, unedited photo.

Let me know if you’ve ever seen this before or worked with a keyboard like this; I’d love to know more about it!!

First harvest of the summer

unripe blackberries
Unripe blackberries… these have got 2 or 3 days to go before they’ll be ripe.
ripe blackberries
Ripe blackberries… totally different to blackcurrants (but everyone thinks they’re the same thing), blackberries grow wild on brambles; I love having them in my garden.

I just had a stressful 4-day visit from the housework police in-laws (mother-in-law’s line of questioning included such gems as “why don’t you knock a wall down between your toilet and your kitchen?” and “why did you do an archaeology degree?” and “can I rip out all the brambles, you don’t want those brambles!” oh, and my favorite, “you might die before [my husband/her son]; I know plenty of people who got cancer and died in their 30s”), despite that, I am feeling like a goddamn domestic goddess…Perhaps a lesser known one, such as the goddess of drinking tea, or the goddess of sitting in the house on sunny days watching re-runs of I Love Lucy instead of hitting my daily word count.

I don’t know, anyway, I went out to collect some of this year’s harvest from all those plants I keep trying to grow, and this was the results:

blackberries
Blackberries, potatoes and baby carrots.

 

As you can see, the blackberry crop is doing extremely well. The carrots are very small because I basically emptied an entire packet of carrot seeds into a container and sprinkled soil over the top. Yesterday I plucked out about 1 in 2 of them and, of the ones I pulled out, I moved most of them to two new containers of soil (the ones the dead peas were in) and the ones that wouldn’t fit anywhere were in this picture, I topped and tailed them, then cooked and ate them. The potatoes were originally Red Roosters and Charlottes, but some of them cross-bred so now I have brown potatoes with red spots. I only lifted as many potatoes as I wanted for one meal, so there’s tons more tatties in the garden.

I’m getting another planter this week in the hope of planting mizuna (leafy greens) this week and I’m considering starting some cabbages or Brussels sprouts maybe for over winter; these are the last two weeks to plant them until next year.

Things which were unsuccessful: Peas – I totally overestimated how much sunshine they needed and they shriveled and died even in the non-stop cloud we’ve had, I didn’t know to water them extra. Coriander (cilantro) – I keep buying packs of cori seeds and they keep turning out to be parsley. Weird. Leafy plants – Any leafy plants (including zucchini/marrows) seem to get ravaged by creepy crawlies, even though I keep doing everything I can about them. The only thing with leaves that survived was 3 of the 4 sunflowers I planted, but it’s not time to pick the seeds yet, so I will show you next month. Sweetcorn didn’t even try to grow, it never even sprouted.  I’m considering cloches for next year’s leafy plants.

Next year, I want a blueberry bush and a cherry tree to move us closer to being self-sufficient, especially since fruit is so expensive.

How to shoot photos indoors

 

“John Loengard, the picture editor at Life, always used to tell me, ”If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it.”
– Joe McNallyThe Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World’s Top Shooters

As part of my ongoing series about photography, I wanted to talk about how to take a picture indoors.

Indoor shooting is relatively simple once you know how, because light levels tend to be more constant than they are outdoors, where clouds can cause serious problems with over or under exposed photos. I also have an article with more general info about setting up a shot.

  1. Lighting lighting lighting:
    Some people claim you can never light too much, but if that lighting is uneven, you will get a better shot by ditching some of the lighting and changing your camera settings to adjust for low light levels – you can do this by slowing down your shutter speed (1/30 will let more light in than 1/300), by increasing your ISO, or by changing your f-stop number to a lower number (1.8 will let in more light than 4.6, but check your lens, some don’t go down very low). If you do have access to bright, even lighting, you want to play around (left, right, and top are usually where you put them) to find the best positioning for your lights. Remember to adjust the white balance on the camera if you’re using artificial lighting or everything has a tendency to come out yellow.
  2. Tidy:
    Tidy the area in and around the shot, because unexpected things will end up in frame if you forget about them and move the camera slightly. I’ll never forget the time I’d done a set of photos for this website, and it was only when I was resizing them that I realized a couple of the pictures had a pair of old socks in the background!!
  3. Eliminate Wobble:
    Put the camera on a stable surface if you can, such as a tripod – this is essential for video. While you don’t need a tripod specifically, any stable surface should be fine, it’s easier to change the height and levelling of the camera with a tripod. For Youtubing, I put my camera on the wooden flat bit at the top of my headboard and I sometimes raise it with paperback books.
  4. Angle it:
    Playing around with angles is one of the fastest ways to improve pictures from sort-of-meh, or flat, to vibrant shots that will jump out at the viewers. Even the most boring of things can look totally different depending how you shoot them. Tilt your camera up or down, increasing or decreasing height of the camera to ensure the subject is still in the viewfinder, to experiment with different angles.
  5. Focus:
    If you’re using manual focus, you need to make sure you’ve adjusted it. With automatic focus, check that the key elements of the shot are actually in focus. I had one bridge camera whose autofocus had a terrible habit of focusing on the least interesting component of any given shot, which drove me to distraction because it didn’t have a manual option – this terrible focal problem was the entire reason I snapped and bought my DSLR.
  6. Snap it:
    Finally, when you’ve got your shot set up, take your picture. I always re-take at least twice to make sure I got everything right.

bunny rabbit eating dandelion cute bunnies cute bunny soft bunny adorable funny

What happens after a publisher accepts your work?

There’s millions, if not zillions, of articles for unpublished writers, but what about for those people publishing their first novel, who don’t know what to expect? There are a lot less people whose work has been accepted by a publisher, so I guess less people can write about that with any degree of authority, not to mention the fact that less people want to know about it. I thought I’d start with talking about what happens after a publisher accepts your work for publication, giving people an insight into the publication process.

If you start by sending in a proposal, they will read over the proposal and they should either accept your proposal or decline it. If they’ve accepted it, they may suggest changes to make it more marketable. Mandatory changes should be made clear. After you have your proposal back, you can get on with writing (unless you’re really naughty like me, and start writing the bits you know will be fine while you’re waiting to hear back from them).

If you didn’t send in a proposal, you’ll either send in a sample first, or just a complete manuscript. If you did send in a proposal, the next thing you send them is the full manuscript. Make sure you’ve done as much editing as you can to the manuscript before you send it to them; I found this very, very difficult with my first book because I had no idea what needed doing to it. After they’ve got everything, it gets sent to a line editor. The line editor’s job is to go through your work and write notes on any improvements you need to make to your work; some improvements are optional, but some are mandatory. If you’re unsure about whether a change is mandatory or not, ask your editor and they will tell you one way or the other.

Once they’ve written those notes, they will send you back the annotated manuscript, or they’ll send you back the notes separately, and your job as the writer is to make the changes and improvements to your work. Some places give you deadlines for this, others don’t mind. After you’ve made your improvements, they will send your work to a copy editor.

The copy editor is the last person from the publishing house who will see your work; they go through it and format it to in-house style guidelines, and they generally use the Merriam Webster dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style as a reference for anything that’s questionable. They will also flag up typos and spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies (one minute she wears a red hat, the next minute she wears a blue bonnet), and factual errors. After they’ve done that, you should get your work back, at which point you either have to make the copy-editor’s changes or you have to have a damn good reason (“I don’t like that change” isn’t one) to reject their changes – the Big Five Publishers, and some of the smaller ones, will usually expect you to give references to support your reasons for not approving every change made by the copy editor, but check this before sending back reams of information, because some places don’t want that (my current publisher doesn’t). When the copy editor gets it wrong, you need to raise that with someone at your publisher (or get your agent to do this, if you have one).

Once you’ve approved or rejected (with references) the copy edits, you send the work back to the publishers and they start work on the cover. After you’ve seen the cover, it’s natural to get very excited about your forthcoming book. If you like the cover, let them know, and they will get the blurb written and the proofs made up, or if they’re an ebook publisher, this is when it will be prepared to be made available online.

At some point before the book is made available online, you should receive a contract (if you haven’t received one, let them know). The contract is the only thing that protects you from getting royally screwed over by your publisher, so read it carefully and get a lawyer (one who has seen other book contracts, not any old lawyer) to read it over if you’re unsure about anything. Sometimes publishers try it on with their contracts but you have to stand your ground, otherwise you’ll regret it when the book’s a bestseller and you’re not making any money. I got taken for a ride by one publisher, a few years ago, who published my unedited work, lied literally every step of the way, and never paid me the advance. Later, when I tried to get that sorted out, I discovered that I would have to go to somewhere on the East Coast of America to take them to arbitration to get my money back, and that I had to do this within a certain time period, which I’d missed, because they’d spent so long delaying in answering and I’d been too patient. If I’d understood this beforehand, I would have acted sooner to get it resolved, but it was my first book and I didn’t know what to expect from the publication process (hence this article).

If you’ve signed the contract AND RECEIVED THE ADVANCE (if you are in the habit of accepting advances – I am not) then you’re good to get excited about the release date. Many contracts have a clause stating the author must do their best to publicize the novel – there are a bunch of ways you can do this and I’ll talk about them in a future article.

Has your experience of the publication process been different? Let me know in the comments!

This is Flystrike in Rabbits (graphic content)

This article is about how one of our rabbits got the worst case of flystrike our vet had ever seen.

Last night, about half an hour after I posted my last article, I got called outside by my husband. One of our rabbits, Sebastian, was lying on his side in his run, his eyes looked sort of dead but he was still breathing/moving. I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with him, I examined him as much as I could, I actually thought he’d broken his spine. There was literally nothing showing on the outside of his body at this point. I don’t have any pictures of how we found him because I wrapped him in a towel, phoned the vet, and, upon realizing we had no car and that no taxi in the universe was going to take a sick rabbit to a vet, I ran the 2 miles to the vet, carrying the bunny in my arms wrapped in the towel, trying my best to hold him gently, with my husband alongside, carrying the rabbit carry case (because the angle the rabbit was found at, he wouldn’t actually go in our extra large carry case which is actually for my Jack Russell terrier, even though Sebastian is a Netherland Dwarf, the smallest pet bunny breed).

When I got to the vet, they were fantastic.  They literally threw out a woman mid-consult so they could take in our rabbit (I apologized profusely to her) and they got him straight to the medical area in the back.

Exhausted from the run, I went to the Spar next to the vet’s to get a coca cola, because I needed some liquid sugary crap in my system. When I got back to the waiting area, they called us straight through.

Sebastian had the worst case of fly strike the vet had ever seen in her decade or more of clinical practice. He had to be put to sleep immediately, and we held him and my husband stroked his nose (I wanted to as well, but he only had a tiny nose and my husband has large hands) while the vet did it there and then.

Fly strike is where a fly lays eggs under the surface of the bunny’s skin and they hatch into maggots that eat the rabbit alive. I don’t know if it’s a particular species of fly that does it, because I’ve always been a little confused on the fact that maggots are only suposed to eat dead flesh, but Sebastian was the first fly strike bunny we’ve had, and I saw the evidence. When the vet opened his back legs, I could see that the flies had eaten half his internal organs.

I had been checking the rabbits about twice a week (as well as obviously going out to spend time with them daily, and so was my husband), but I now know that’s not often enough. It took less than 6 hours for this to happen, for our bunny to go from his usual self to near death.  The vet said it can take under 24 hours from the eggs being laid to the rabbit being eaten alive by maggots. And that’s basically what happened.

The photos that follow show you what fly strike looks like at its worst. They are very graphic. I purposely put the featured image of a less awful picture so I didn’t upset people. I didn’t take many pictures because we needed to bury him quickly, but I wanted to share this so that people know how bad fly strike can get.

This was my pet bunny, and it could be yours:

This is flystrike in adult male rabbit age 11 years.
This is flystrike. Adult male Netherland Dwarf rabbit 11 years 5 months old.

 

Flystrike fly strike in rabbits clinical cases
This was under his fur on the outside, but his thick fur was in the way, so we couldn’t see what had happened. Bottom left was his tail.
Flystrike fly strike in rabbits netherland dwarf adult male 11 year old rabbit
This was the other side, as you can see, there are still lumps under the surface indicating that not all the maggots have hatched/emerged yet.

We showed him briefly to Fifer and Poppy, who were his (non-bonded) friends, but we couldn’t leave him with them because the vet couldn’t get the maggots out, and we had to bury him in the ground as quickly as possible, in the towel we took him to the vets in (because it had to be chucked anyway).

Sebastian lived to be 11 years and 5 months of age.  I always hoped he’d go in his sleep.

Sebastian and Neville rabbits
Goodbye Sebastian (left), you are with Neville (right) again now.

York’s Computer Museum

When people say “best kept secret” they usually mean “tourist hotspot,” but the computer museum (called The Jim Austin Computer Collection, or the Computer Sheds) in Fimber, about 40 minutes out of York, is York’s best kept secret, and it’s anything but busy. In fact, we should keep it between you and I. I would be pretty sad if it suddenly became a major tourist attraction because as it is, it’s pretty much the best collection of artefacts that I’ve ever seen (and all the guys who keep it running were only too happy to talk computers with our group of 5 people who ventured out of York). I’d wanted to see this collection since 2008, when I first heard about it, but this was my first opportunity to do so, and I’m glad I did (and that I went with a bunch of people who knew more stuff about old computers than I do – and I’m pretty enthusiastic about them).

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

One of the best things about this place is that it hasn’t had “museum heritage management” done to it yet; it’s still got that sense of discovery, you’re not just seeing what some overpaid museum education officer wants you to see, you get to see everything. And touch some of it (if you’re careful and sensible). There’s other electronic equipment besides computers – televisions, cameras and radio equipment are also represented in the collection.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
A 1917-1920 wireless (radio) receiver device.

There’s no cafe, there’s no gift shop, no ticket office, and no twee middle aged women reiterating the same 5 facts every 20 minutes to new tour groups; there’s just boatloads of computers, and the people who love them (and they do actually have a boat). It’s fitting, because that’s really how the whole computer movement has progressed. There are so many stories of “Windows started out as two enthusiastic guys in a garage,”  “Apple started out as three enthusiastic guys in a garage,” and so on, that if this place got the proper museum treatment, I’d be sad.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds retro motherboard

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
This unassuming device is what was used to make punch cards (the input in very old computers).
Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds punch tape
And this is some punch tape (which would have been done on a different machine to the one pictured above).

The Jim Austin Computer Collection reminds me of why I fell in love with archaeology – and exactly why I have no intention of working in a museum. This stuff is real, it feels real, it’s being taken care of by people who know about it, and I recognized loads of the stuff that was there. More than that, it felt alive. There’s no arbitrary reductionism going on to cheapen the past to make it more palatable for people with short attention spans. I wish I could say the same for most museums.

But if this place did become a ticketed, gift-shopped museum, I think it’s the one museum I’d actually enjoy working at.

I have more photos, but since the majority of my readers are not computer enthusiasts, I shall save them for another time.

If you are in the area and would like to visit the Jim Austin Computer Collection, further details can be found at their website. Personally I found this to be a great day out, although I wouldn’t recommend it for (chronological) children unless they’re sensible and very well behaved. Entry is free but it would probably be polite to get in touch in advance so someone’s there to open up the place for you.