A New Growing Season

March 13th, 2011

Winter Aconite - Eranthis Hyemalis

In the hedgerows catkins hang from the hazel, the first bright green buds adorn the hanging boughs of the willow and on the woodland floor, winter aconites begin to fade  as clusters of snowdrops grab the limelight before the canopy closes in.

Spring has arrived and nature starts a new growing cycle as Man starts his – planting for a new season and stripping hedgerows -indescrimantly removing the flowering and fruiting shoots that would have formed a vital food source for our indiginous invertabrates, small mammals and birds.

The world is a year older, but we are none the wiser?

Striped hedgrow

Snowdrop - Galanthus Nivalis

Figs glorious figs

September 10th, 2010

Brown Turkey Figs

Not the dried leathery things that you find yourself peeling out of  packets at Christmas but freshly picked ripe Brown Turkey figs, one of the juiciest, sweetest most fragrant fruits you’ll ever taste. Brown Turkey a large dark skinned variety with deep red inner flesh is probably the most common of the two types that are successfully grown here in the UK, the other being White Marseilles a pale green skinned variety with pale cream flesh. The recent mix of heavy showers and patches of brilliant sunshine has ripened a bumper crop of fruit.

There is one of each variety in the garden, the White Marseilles a cutting, of a cutting, of a cutting of a tree I was given 30 years ago, both are covered with ripening fruits, but for me the Brown Turkey has the edge on flavour and sweetness. They say the early bird catches the worm, but in this case – its the fig, watch out because black birds love them along with just about every other kind of flying insect in the garden, they will all do their best to beat you to this delicate sweet bonanza.

Eat them just as they are, fresh from the tree, their great served with cheese or cold meat, especially lamb, but for me, best of all, is to poach them in red wine and sugar.

You’ll need a large skillet with a lid, trim the stalks off, stand them up and pack them in neatly, pour in a mixture of red wine and water about 3 to 1, sprinkle in about 150g of caster or preserving sugar, I like to add a couple of table spoons of brown sugar to deepen the flavour. The fluid should be about a third of the way up the figs, bring to the boil then place the lid on and simmer for about 20 mins.

Taste, depending on your level of sweet tooth, add more sugar if required, simmer for a few more minutes until sugar has dissolved, allow to cool and serve with double cream or a good quality vanilla ice cream. Use white or Rose wine with White Marseilles – a glorious seasonal treat to look forward to every year.

White Marseilles Figs

Asparagus

May 28th, 2010

The Asparagus season has arrived, our home grown season which is far too short, is already in full swing, so you need to get a move on, look out for signs on the road, farmers markets and farm shops all will have good supplies of locally grown asparagus.

By comparison imported asparagus available through out the year from supermarkets just doesn’t compare for flavour to the delicious experience of purchasing freshly cut asparagus directly from a local grower and simply steaming it until tender and serving with hot melted butter.

Asparagus is one of the most nutritious vegetable you can eat. Packed with a whole cocktail of nutrients and vitamins including large amounts of folic acid which is especially good for pregnant women as it protects against spina bifida in developing babies. Folic acid has to be taken daily as it can’t be stored in the body, Asparagus is also a good diuretic and does a great job of cleansing your liver.

Remember, for the best flavour, cook it as quickly as possible, as the sugars in asparagus turn to starch if its left hanging around in the fridge.

I get mine from Goddard’s Asparagus, a small producer just outside the village of Redrave, on Fen Street, on the edge of the Lopham and Redgrave Fen on the Norfolk Suffolk border.

Henry

Spelt Bread. A great introduction to home baked bread.

February 23rd, 2010

Bread is one of the oldest baked foods. It is genuinely good for you, being rich in vitamins (particularly the B group), calcium, iron and trace elements, it is also a useful source of protein. Spelt, originally introduced into Britain by the Romans, has a higher fibre content and less gluten than ordinary wheat, making it a very healthy option. Growing in popularity you can now find Spelt flour in most farm and organic shops. This is a simple recipe and a great introduction to delicious home baked bread. You could also use wholewheat or rye flour instead of spelt flour.

15g Yeast
550g Spelt Flour
200g Plain white flour
1tbsp Sea Salt
1 beaten Free Range egg
500ml lukewarm water

Method:
In a large bowl, mix 15g of yeast with 4tbsp of lukewarm water, add 2tbsp of plain flour and stir to a smooth paste. Leave to rest under a tea towel for about 20 minutes at room temperature.

Slowly stir in the rest of the water and add both flours and the tablespoon of sea salt. Work into dough adding more flour if necessary and knead on a well floured surface for about 10 to 15 minutes. Place the dough in the large bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about an hour.

Knead the dough lightly to take some of the air out, form into a rounded shape and place firmly, to flatten the base, onto a greased baking tray, cover and leave to rise again for about 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 220c/425f/Gas mark 7, cut a cross into the top of the dough and brush with the beaten egg. Place in oven and bake, with a small bowl of water which will help a crunchy crust to form, for 15 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 200c/400f/Gas mark 6 and bake for a further 10 minutes, remove and allow to cool on wire rack.

Eat and enjoy, you’ll never buy processed bread from a supermarket again.

Over a barrel – Guardian Article

November 25th, 2009

The article on cost of house wine and who gets what, brought to mind a recent visit to southern Italy.

With my wife and a couple who are old travelling companions we were exploring the architectural and gastronomic delights of the south.

We had arrived in Lecce, in the late afternoon, having driven down from Matera where we had been staying in the Sassi. Refreshed and casually attired for dinner, we left the hotel to explore the city and find a suitable restaurant, when luckily we ran into the young lady who had checked us in, we asked her for a recommendation and she directed us to a small restaurant, that was conveniently, no more than 150 metres from the entrance to the hotel.

The restaurant specialised in authentic Salentine gastronomy, the food was delicious, the wine, they only served house wine, white or red was served by the glass,¼/½ or, litre carafe, there were four of us so we had a litre carafe of local white, it was excellent, so we indulged in another half a litre, but at this point you’re wondering how does this relate to the Guardian Article, well the wine, probably drawn from a demijohn or a barrel cost just 3.5 Euros, now that’s value, in fact I don’t think we spent more than 6 to 7 Euros for any of the local or house wines we drank during the whole  of our trip.

So when it comes to the cost of house wine in the UK and who gets what, whether its the price of wine, food, petrol,cars or bank loans, to say we are “over a barrel” is a bit of an understatement, more like poured into, corked up and rolled over would be a more apt description of the price we pay for most essentials in “rip or Britain”, compared to the rest of Europe.

Should you be in Lecce, looking for a ristorante tipico that serves a reasonably priced house wine, the Alle due Corti in the Corte dei Giugni is well worth a visit. www.alleduecorti.com The hotel, Suite 68, in the heart of Lecce’s historical district on the Via Leonardo Prato was a most enjoyable experience. www.charmingpulia.com

The Sassi, part of Matera is stunning a very spiritual place and should be in every body’s book of places to go and see before you die.

The Guradian article can be read here http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2008/jun/07/consumeraffairs

Eating Local Seasonal Food – benefits the environment and our local communities.

November 16th, 2009

Buying locally produced food and drink can help support the local economy, reduce the number of food miles and reduce the amount of waste packaging that comes with most food purchased from supermarkets. The food is fresher and its nice to know how and where the food is produced and most cases you’ll be talking to the person who produced it.

Here’s some simple steps you can use to help in breaking the habit of shopping at the large multiples and start supporting local and artisan producers and eat  healthier and tastier more seasonal food.

  • Step 1: Be aware of the seasons and rhythms of nature from spring, summer, autumn and winter.
  • Step 2: Buy your food from small local outlets – farmers markets, local shops, farm shops, roadside stalls and trusted web sites.
  • Step 3: Try the different and often tastier varieties of fruit, vegetables and food produced by local and artisan producers.
  • Step 4: Buy from a local greengrocer and butcher  – or get an organic vegetables and fruit box delivered to your door, search online for a local or specific supplier.
  • Step 5: Grow some of your food yourself – in your back garden, an allotment or in pots and window boxes.

To find local food producers go to www.ibuyrealfood.com and for more information on allotments visit the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Limited website www.nsalg.org.uk

“ A thriving household depends on the use of seasonal produce and the application of common sense”

(Olivier de Serres 1539-1619)

Pumpkin Pie

November 10th, 2009

When the Pilgrim Fathers, who mostly came from East Anglia, crossed the Atlantic to the new world, they took with them an old Norfolk recipe – Million Pie – that became the Pumpkin Pie that was served at the Thanksgiving dinner for their first harvest in the New World.

With so many Pumpkins now readily available thanks to the Halloween culture that’s has become fashionable over the last few years now is as good a time as ever to try this delicious old world Norfolk recipe come new world festive dish.

Ingredients:
11/2lb/750g pumpkin purée
1lb/500g shortcrust pastry
1/2pint/300g double cream
3 large free range eggs
11/2tbs grated lemon peel
1/2tsp salt
8oz/230g caster sugar
11/2tsp grated ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground cloves
1/2tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2tbs semolina (optional)

Method: Make the purée by cutting the pumpkin into 1inch slices, removing the outer skin, seed and pith. Cut the slices of pumpkin into 1inch squares, place in a large baking tray, cover with foil and bake in the oven at 180C/350F gas mark4 for about 40 minutes until tender. Drain then place in large mixing bowl and mash or blend until smooth, set aside to cool.

Roll out pastry and line buttered 10inc/26cm fluted or plain china flan dish, place in fridge to cool.

Beat the eggs, add cream, lemon peel and sugar, beat until smooth, stir this mixture into the pumpkin purée, add the salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, combine thoroughly. Remove flan dish from fridge, lightly cover pastry base with dusting of semolina (optional, stops purée soaking into pastry before its cooked). Pour in the pumpkin mixture until it fills pastry case and then lightly sprinkle a dusting of cinnamon and a little freshly ground nutmeg on the top.

Bake in a preheated oven 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 for approx 45 minutes until mixture is firm and light brown, reduce heat if it browns too quickly.

Serve with fresh double cream.

Seasonal Seville orange marmalade recipe a particular English passion, old-fashioned but still delicious.

October 22nd, 2009

Marmalade is, as we know, an acquired taste, and although not invented in this country, is a particularly English passion. Originally is was made by the Portuguese in the 13th century, from quinces and eaten as an aid to digestion; the name comes from the Portuguese word for quince ‘marmelo’. In the 16th century, with the arrival of sugar in England, citrus fruit began to be used, especially Seville oranges and it is these seasonal oranges from Spain which remain the favourite ingredient to this day.

One of the joys of making marmalade is the preparation; the careful washing and cutting of the peel rather than simply tipping fruit into a pan and the process appeals to men as well as women. Perhaps one of the most famous marmalade eaters is Paddington Bear, whose author, Michael Bond is the patron of the Worlds Original Marmalade Festival which takes place annually in the village of Dacre in the Lake District.

Ingredients
1.4kg/3lb Seville oranges
Juice of 2 Lemons
3.4ltr/6 pints water
2.7kg/6lb sugar

Makes 12-14 jars

Method
Wash and then half the oranges and squeeze out the juice. Collect the pulp, pips from the oranges and lemons in a piece of muslin and tie into a  bag.

Orange Marmalade-1010605

Slice the peel thinly, put the peel, fruit juices and water in a preserving pan and tie the muslin bag to the handle. Allow to stand for 24hours.

Gently boil the the mix until peel is soft and the liquid has reduced by half. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze to extract all remaining juice (improves pectin content).

Add warmed sugar approx 1lb to each pint of pulp and stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 15 mins or until the marmalade sets.

Allow to stand for about 15 mins then stir and pot into clean warm jars.
Sunday morning breakfast, papers, a pot of fresh coffee, thick slices of hot buttered toast and home-made Seville orange marmalade heaven!

Method can be used with any combination of citrus fruit’s.

Hedgerow Harvest Sloe Gin – a real winter warmer

October 2nd, 2009

Now is the time to harvest the wild sloes that this year are in abundance in the hedgerows . Sloes (Prunis Spinosa) are the fruit of the Blackthorn whose pure white flowers herald the coming of spring The bitter blue black fruits with a blush of peacock blue make one of the most delicious traditional winter drinks.

You’ll need about a 1lb (500g), don’t strip the bush seek out a number of sources   making sure you leave some for the indigenous wild life, and remember to sow a few back into the hedges on the way home for future generations.

P1010146Hopefully you live in an area where the local farming community has not yet savagely cut back the hedges to the bare bones, removing all the winter foliage and berries. Inflicted annually, its a major contributor to the drastic decline of small mammals, wild birds, invertebrates and wild bee populations.

Remove the storks leaves and gently wash and dry the sloes, prick the sloes with a fork or for a quick method, get one of those pet grooming brushes, the one that looks like a porcupine, lots of fine wire spines, place the sloes on a tray and give them a gentle bashing. Place in large kilner jar or similar, add equal weight of sugar and about 75cl to a litre of gin. Seal and agitate daily until all the sugar has dissolved then leave it in a dark cupboard for 3 to 6 months, the longer its left the deeper the colour and flavours of almond, cherry brandy and blackcurrants.

Strain the contents through muslin and decant into bottles, at this point you can add more gin depending on what depth of flavour and colour you prefer.

Leave to settle for a couple of weeks, serve with tonic of straight over ice also great as a topping for vanilla ice cream.

Food Pesticide Data

September 21st, 2009

The latest results on pesticide issues have revealed that Spanish spinach sold by supermarket chain Asda exceeded the safety levels for young children and adults.    The data also showed that although spinach purchased at Safeway and Waitrose stores met with the laid down safety limits, the legal limits were not adhered to.

The PRC (Pesticide Residue Committee) concluded that “safety margins would be significantly eroded” as a result of the level of methomyl, the pesticide found in the spinach sold in Asda. At 150% of the safety level for adults and a staggering 240% of the safety level for toddlers the PRC said that “symptoms such as increased salivation, an upset stomach or a mild headache could occur, but these effects would be expected to be short-lived (lasting not longer than 6 hours)”.

Methomyl, a carbamate pesticide which affects the body’s nervous system is thought to interfere with the hormone system too and Friends of the Earth have put out a warning that a substance carrying such high health risks should be eliminated from our food.

Although the results were favourable as far as milk and blackcurrant juice being completely free of residues are concerned and that UK carrots have now cleared up the past problem of organophosphate residues, Friends of the Earth is still putting out warnings that the cocktail of pesticides in our diet is continuing to place a significant risk on our health and wellbeing.  An example of this is Iprodione.  It is suspected that this chemical found in fruit and vegetables such as melon, dried fruits, carrots, cucumber along with some herbs can be the cause of hormonal disruption.  Nonetheless, the Government continues to look at safety levels by way of individual pesticides in individual produce.

Friends of the Earth is campaigning for retailers to commit to doing away with the sale of food containing such risky pesticides produced in the UK and abroad in the hope of creating a residue free diet for all concerned.   The organisation has asked the Government to apply the same standards of safety to fresh food as processed baby food and to play a more active part in helping the farmers find an alternative to pesticide use.  It has been suggested that money is spent on research and an advisory service set up to help the land workers reduce the current dependence on chemicals.

Sandra Bell, from Friends of the Earth said:

“Although there is some good news in the latest pesticide results, we must remain very concerned that supposedly-healthy food contains pesticides which exceed the safety levels for toddlers. Asda should wake up to the fact that consumers care about safety as well as price and make sure the food they sell is safe for toddlers. Strict new laws for processed infant food should ensure that in future these are clear of residues. But parents should also be able to trust fresh food, especially as fresh fruit and vegetables are so important for a healthy diet”

The Main Findings of the Data

Spinach

A sample of the spinach sold in Asda surpassed the official safety limit of contained residues.

Baby Food

Six samples of Heinz and Boots baby food was found to contain pesticide residues.

Dried Fruit

Almost 75% of dried fruit samples, the majority of which were sultanas contained pesticide residues.

Apples

Thirty nine percent of apples produced in the UK and other countries contained residues.

Carrots

The residue result as far as carrots are concerned has improved over recent years and now only 13% contain residues.  Samples of carrots from the Netherlands on sale in Morrisons contained organophosphates whereas UK carrots were found to be organophosphate free but did contain iprodione, the hormone disrupting chemical.

Imported Cheese

A Canadian cheese available from the shelves of Safeway contained lindane, a pesticide linked to breast cancer and banned within the EU.

Melon

Twenty-six percent of melon samples contained residues.

Celery

Thirty three percent of celery samples contained residues.

Bread

Over 50% of bread samples contained residues of pesticides with sixteen of the samples showing multiple residue results.

Chips

Around 25% of chips contained pesticide residues. Chips bought from two fish and chip shops one in Carlisle, Cumbria and another in Telford, Shropshire were found to contain aldicarb, a kind of carbamate which is hopefully soon to be withdrawn from UK use.