Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Honey Biscuits

There was no way out, I just had to make a batch of Honey biscuits!
It's not Christmas without Honey Biscuits, and because a few people have asked me for my recipe and how to bake them, I thought it easiest to show, rather than just give out a recipe.

 As with most old recipe books, the instructions leave a lot to the imagination, as you can see here. So for the novice Honey Biscuit baker here is the way I've found works best for me.
I always make half a batch. A full batch takes all day, so I'm going to give you the ingredients already cut down to a half batch.


1 tablespoon of butter
500g honey
1 and 1/4 cups of sugar
2 eggs
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of bi-carb soda
1/4 - 1/2  teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 small teaspoon cinnamon
1 small teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
Plain flour - approx 4 - 5 cups


Melt butter, honey and sugar in a saucepan together.
In a large mixing bowl beat together the eggs and all of the spices.
Mix into the egg mixture, 1 cup of flour and beat until well mixed.
Pour in a small amount of the melted honey mixture and mix well, then add more flour, mix well.
(The aim is not to cook the egg by pouring in the hot  honey mixture)
Add the remaining honey melted mixture and mix well.
Keep adding flour and mixing until it becomes impossible to mix any more without breaking your hand or your spoon.
At this point, more flour is still required to achieve the right consistency, but there's a way to do it that is much easier.
Cover and leave for an hour or overnight, before rolling out and cutting into shapes.
Bake in a moderate oven for approx 10 minutes or until slightly colored.

 Alternate adding of the flour, and the melted honey mixture to the eggs and spices.

Keep adding flour until you can't mix it any more without breaking your spoon.

The dough will look like this.

Cover the bowl and leave for a least an hour, or overnight if you want to. 

When you're ready to bake the biscuits, cut a lump off using a knife.

Flour your bench well and knead more flour into the dough until it reaches the correct consistency, which is just past the sticky stage. It should not be sticky.

Form into a flat ball and gradually press it out flat.

Then roll it out with a rolling pin. Be sure to have enough flour under the dough so it doesn't stick to the bench, and move it around a bit to make sure it's not stuck.

This is the thickness I prefer.

Cut into shapes.

Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. (Frugal tip; you can re-use the same piece of paper over and over.)
Bake in a moderate oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
When slightly cooled, lift off the baking tray with a flat knife and cool on cake cooling racks.

Save all the scrappy cut out bits and roll into a new ball.

The scrappy bits will roll out again until all the dough is used up.

This is the thickness of the finished product. Some people make them thicker, but we prefer them this way.
Wait until cool before icing with a thin mix of icing sugar and water. (Food coloring can be added) Mix well, spoon into a zip lock bag with a tiny hole cut into one corner, and squeeze onto each biscuit.
I find it's easiest to place all of the biscuits out on the kitchen table in rows, then it's a quick squirt and swirl over each biscuit.
I'll ice these tomorrow morning. I don't want to look at another honey biscuit until then!! but you can see last year's Iced honey biscuits here.
Honey biscuits are really quite simple to make when you know how and with a few little tricks up your sleeve.
I hope you will give them a go, but stand back, everyone loves them so you might need to hide some for later. Oh, and they keep well too, in an airtight container or glass jars.
I'd love to know how yours turn out when you bake them.
:) X Cheers!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Christmas baking

Here in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, it's German tradition to bake old fashioned Honey Biscuits   to serve to friends or family who might drop in over the Christmas season for a cuppa, or a schlook of wine, as the saying goes from our past.
They are time consuming to make; the entire day that it takes to mix, bake and decorate
 is just not going to happen this year, so I made Bumblebees instead.

Oh my goodness, they are so quick and easy to make, I'm seriously considering making these our new Christmas tradition.

I used some of my dried apricots from last year's harvest to add a bit of colour, and there were some of those green and red pieces in the mixed fruit that I bought from the supermarket.
No, they're not the usual healthy style of biscuits that I usually bake to go with a cuppa, but it's Christmas.
Packed up and ready to add to the little Christmas gift packs that I give to some of my friends and work colleagues.

And a wee taste for afternoon tea. For quality control purposes only.  ;-)

This is a much loved and well used old book from the late 70's when I was a young married mother with a toddler and lived on a property at Keyneton in the Barossa Valley, South Australia.  (Not to be confused with Kyneton Vic.)
There's even a recipe in here with my name at the bottom of it which I will show you one day.
So... a couple of tips for baking Bumblebees.
Don't over cook them, keep an eye on them as they will go from perfect to burnt in seconds. Trust me, I know!
Use wet fingers to squeeze the small spoonfuls together when putting on the baking slide. This stops the mixture from sticking to fingers and helps to stop them from falling apart.

Along with the batch of simple shortbread I made, I think I've got the Christmas baking done and dusted.
From the same book. The names under the recipes bring such lovely memories. This woman, Diana, lived on a beautiful farming property just out of Keyneton. I used to take my toddler daughter over there to visit their pet kangaroo.
A couple of tips for the making of this shortbread...
This recipe makes two free form rectangles on one of my large baking sheets. Saves time, bakes more evenly and cuts nicely into squares. Bring the mixture together, and divide into two balls of the same size. Flatten out to shortbread thickness. It has no rising agent so it doesn't rise.
Score the squares and prick each piece with a fork before baking.
I usually bake it in my wood oven, so at times when the oven is a bit hot, it cooks faster. Don't let it brown, as shortbread should be pale in colour, although it usually browns slightly around the edges.
Immediately upon removing from the oven, sprinkle all over with castor sugar and cut into pieces where you scored them.
I don't think anyone will miss the Honey Biscuits.... will they?

Thanks to all who left kind and caring comments in response to my previous blog. Your words are so much appreciated. I wasn't able to respond to your comments without dissolving into an emotional bundle of useless matter.
Lavender is doing really well with her recovery. We are still not out of the woods and she will never again be quite the same, but every day shows us an improvement worth celebrating.
XX :)

Friday, 16 December 2016

Lavender and Freddie

Lavender is besotted with her baby.

At 11:35pm on 11th of December 2016 this little creature emerged into our world.

There were two nights of very little sleep, and then more tense hours until we got him suckling on his Mum without our assistance. He was willing, but Lavender was so enthralled with his beauty and his presence, she couldn't stop licking him. 
Every time he tried to reach back under her belly towards the udder, she stepped back to lick him some more. The following day we put her halter on, then while one of us held her, the other guided the calf to the udder. After just three of these lessons, they both got the hang of it, and our problems were over.
So we thought...!!
A name was chosen by grand daughter Isla, who thought Freddie would suit. Yes, he's a real Freddie, so Freddie it is.
After two days of suckling Freddie her udder was starting to look very engorged, so while the little guy was sleeping in the grass she walked up quietly to the dairy, with some coaxing, and I took a litre (approx) of colostrom milk to ease her pressure.
She enjoyed the delicious chaff mix, with dolomite, molasses and apple cider vinegar, and some chopped comfrey leaf. After milking there's a rack full of hay for her to munch on at her leisure.
Each evening, she waddles happily up to the dairy, with some coaxing, to get her food treats and to ease the udder pressure.
(She has never gotten over whatever it was that frightened her during her last lactation. No longer does she push at the gate to come into the dairy.  I always have to get behind her and lower my voice to get her to walk into the milking parlour. I thought, and hoped the spell of three months while she was dry, would help make her return to the eager girl that she used to be.)
So each evening for the next five days she was happy to leave her calf in the paddock while I brought her up to the dairy. We were ecstatic to be drinking her milk again too, and the pigs were beginning to appreciate the yoghurt mixed with their food.
On Tuesday evening as I brought her up to the dairy, everything was going smoothly, when suddenly she looked out towards her calf and took a running leap at the fence. Sadly she didn't make it over the cyclone with two wire strands. She damaged one of her teats so badly. It was the most terrible thing that I've ever witnessed in my years of farming and animal care.
We called our vet who's soothing words calmed my shock and disbelief. 
It's still too difficult to talk about, and I think not appropriate to describe in detail, but the long and the short of it is...  She will lose the use of that quarter, and with the help of antibiotics it is highly likely she will recover.
Now we are finding small reasons to be grateful every day, for each small improvement, and the fact that she is still able to feed Freddie. 
I am super relieved every day when I bring her into the dairy to treat what remains of her very painful teat and spray it with an antiseptic antibacterial with a fly repellent to keep the pesky flies away. She lets me put the milking cups on the other three teats!
We are "high five" happy with relief each time we get her in to give her another painful jab of anti-biotics. One would think that, after a couple of jabs while standing in the dairy, she would not want to come in any more.
So at present Lavender is our biggest concern, and the cause of the most joy each day as we reach another recovery milestone. Every waking moment is focused on Lavender.
In hindsight, what could we have done to prevent this kind of accident from happening?
The answer is probably nothing, but in future, if one of our heifers is a jumper, I will not keep her as a future milker. 
Our fences are strong and have two strands of white sight wire.
She was following the same routine that she has done for more than two years. 
She has always been content to leave her calf sleeping while she walked up to the dairy, however, since then I've been trying to round up the calf so he follows her, but that is creating more problems so I've left him behind the last two times.  
Our main concern is to keep her trust in us, especially in me, and to know how hard to push her without upsetting her. Oh my goodness, it's a fine line and I back off just as soon as I feel her tension rise, but she has to know her boundaries as well. A totally spoilt cow, (dog, horse, child) will be of no use to anyone. She still loves me, I know that, and I think she knows that I have her best welfare foremost in my mind. Aren't animals just the most amazing and giving creatures?
Meanwhile, we've placed some temporary higher fencing along the path to the dairy, and will as soon as possible, build post and rail high fences in that area.
Other farm life is going on around us, days are busy and full, but oh, how grateful I am to have our beautiful Lavender.



Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Any Day Now

An update on Lavender's condition. This photo doesn't adequately show just how huge she is, as her due date looms,

 In the paddock this morning, with Gordon in the foreground. Ambrose, the other black steer, is just out of shot.
Her due date is tomorrow, seventh of December, so no prizes for guessing what my next blog post will be.
It will be lovely to have a new calf on the place, and best of all, there will be fresh, raw, organic milk. 
Fingers crossed all goes well, but as usual, there is a sense of apprehension mixed in with the excitement.
Cheers for now!

Monday, 5 December 2016

A Small Bit of Honey

All of our bee hives have been here on our home block for the past month, making good use of the Blue Jane (Salvation Jane, Patterson's Curse) on the neighboring properties.

Yesterday we extracted a small amount of honey, but we discovered that some of the honey that was  in the hives when we checked last week at the workshop, had been eaten by the bees.  This indicates that the Blue Jane flow has finished and they are starting to get hungry.
They were aggressive and didn't want us anywhere near them, protective of what honey they had.

 For the first time ever, I felt the need to wear a smock with face covering while extracting the honey. A lot of bees remained attached to the frames when Brian brought them up to the honey shed, and there were lots of bees flying around inside the shed, which is not a very comfortable feeling.
I still managed to get a sting on a finger though.  I touched a bee that was crawling on the frame as I lifted it to put it into the extractor. Ouch..!!!
Brian laughs at me, he has no idea how painful stings are for me. They don't affect him, just a slight pin prick, and he gets a few stings every time he takes frames out for extracting.
I'm just thankful that I don't suffer  serious effects from the few stings I get. It could be much worse.

 We took what we could, only two frames from each box, leaving them enough food stores just in case there is rain or there is little in the way of flowers in the coming weeks.
Just as well we did, because it's raining today and preventing the bees from foraging.

Rain on a Summer day.

The Salvation Jane flow has finished, so we need to move the bees back to the other stand on the other side of the town.

Last night, just on dark, and when the bees had all gone into their hives for the night, Brian closed up the hive doors and secured, with webbing straps, the hives that sit permanently on the trailers. They are mostly two boxes high (a brood box plus super) and great care is needed when driving them to their new positions.
Each trailer has space for four hives, so we can move them to a new location with ease, without needing to lift them up and down every time. They are really heavy! 

 I had intended to get up early to help him move them this morning, and he had insisted it wasn't necessary, the boxes were all tied on securely so all he had to do was hook each one onto the ute and drive it over to the other side of the town, return to collect the next trailer, and so on.
 I felt him get out of bed, it felt like I'd only just gone to sleep. It seemed so very early, so I rolled over and went back to sleep.

I heard him towing the first trailer load out the gate, and close it behind him, and I did feel a tad guilty, but I rolled over and went back to sleep again. It was still pitch dark!  I intended to get up so I could be out there in time to open the gates for the second trip. There are three trailers with bee boxes, and he didn't get any help from me at all as it turned out.

When he climbed back into bed it was still dark. "What's the time?"
So he'd got up at 3.30am!

 Last week another request came to ask us to remove a wine barrel in which a swarm of bees had made their home.  A reminder to readers to plug up the hole in the wine barrel if you have one as a decorative item around your home. Barrels are the perfect home for bees. 

 Brian brought it home during the week and when the rain cleared today, he cut the barrel in half so the owner can use the two halves as plant pots.

The bees were transferred into a Nuc box, queen included, and it's a nice strong colony.
Our hopes are high for a good flow when the Red Gums start to flower, because like all apiarists here in South Australia, our honey production is well down this year due to the wet and colder weather during these past three months.
So for now our main concern is to keep the bees happy and the colonies healthy and strong.
Our fingers are crossed for a better honey extraction in a few weeks time.

Cheers, and thanks for visiting. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Bee keeping Workshop 27th November

We are really enjoying these workshops and find real pleasure in teaching people about the possibilities of keeping a hive of bees in their yard in the town or on their acreage property. 
At the beginning of the day, as they register and fill in their name tags, chatting nervously among themselves, they are all feeling trepidation about what the day holds for them. Some are excited, some are distinctly nervous, some are ready to let the day flow around them.
Each person is here for a reason, but they are not all here for the same reason. Some folks are facing difficult issues within their lives, some are needing a hobby to take their mind off something else, and some are just curious to learn about bees. Some are taking up this hobby late in life, and some are keen and curious children.

The table set up on the side verandah for morning tea and lunch.

And one of the seating areas for enjoying a leisurely lunch and discussing lots of new bee knowledge between each other. Friendships are made and barriers are broken down.

The morning sessions move along at a fast pace with the theory segment; learning about the parts of the hive, equipment and tools and how to use them, making frames and placing wax foundations in the frames, and learning the skill of extracting honey from the hives, how to store and how to use or market their honey.

After lunch and a stroll around the farm and gardens, the bee suits are donned and it's time to get down to the hands on part of bee handling.
This is the part that causes most excitement as the new experience of bee-ing surrounded by thousands of bees can be daunting at first.

Just the feeling of bee-ing completely hemmed in by the face shield and bee suit causes some to feel slightly apprehensive, but thus far, everyone has accepted the sensation and settled well into the tasks at hand.

The day was a warm 27C degrees. Perfect for lifting lids and checking the state of each hive.
A new queen was introduced into a hive that was found to be without a queen.

She was a surplus queen that we had acquired after uniting two small hives together earlier.  She was first placed into the queen cage with four or five worker bees to care for her. The little cage was then placed into the queenless hive, where they will eat through the candy plug, and by then, are introduced to their new colony.

By the end of the day everyone has enough knowledge and is confident to begin their own apiary. 

Melanie ordered a new brood box and was here to collect it the next day. She will take it home to paint it with three coats of paint before bringing it back to us to fill with a nucleus colony of bees that we will have waiting for her.
The people that we have met, their stories, their personalities....
Many new life long friendships have been made. This is not something I ever imagined we might be doing, but we are so thankful that we are able to share this wonderful art of bee-keeping.

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