Dec 21 2007

Turkey Time Again

Get Iuye and hull, woman deck vp thyne house
And take this same brawne, for to seeth and to souse.
Prouide as good chere , for thou knowst the old guise:
Olde customes, that good be, let no man despise.
At Christmas be mery, and thanke god of all:
and feast thy pore neighbours, the great and the small.
yea all the year long ,haue an eie to the poore:
and god shall sende luck, to kepe open thy doore.

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Oct 25 2007

Difficult Times


Standing on the top of the hill, I watch my neighbour turn fields of stubble into rich, rolling acres of dark chocolate once more. Gulls mob his tractor in a huge white cloud taking advantage of an easy meal. As I walk on with the dogs to check the sheep a lazy wind blows across the fields. Too lazy to make it’s way around, it goes straight through me with an icy lick. In the past few weeks we’ve had some golden, glowing, autumn days but now the sky has turned slate grey. The valley seems suddenly to be hunkering down and preparing for the swift decent into winter.

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Sep 18 2007

Fig Conserve with Lemon and Walnuts

Fig Conserve with Lemon and Walnuts.
Take about sixteen figs or 1 kilo, 2 lemons, 750 grams sugar and 125 grams shelled walnuts, fresh if possible.
Take the zest from the lemons either with a lemon zester or potato peeler. If you use the latter slice the peel into tiny julienne strips. Remove and discard the lemon pith and cut the flesh into slices retaining all the juice. Save pips and put into a little piece of muslin.
Halve the figs removing the tough stem tip.
Make a syrup with the sugar and 300ml water. When the sugar has dissolved add figs, lemon rind and slices and muslin bag of pips (this aids setting)
Cook gently till setting point is reached. Test for this by putting a teaspoonful of liquid on a saucer; put the saucer in the freezer or fridge till cool. If it wrinkles as you touch it the jam is ready. Add the walnuts and stir in thoroughly.
Pot the conserve into small sterilised jars while still hot. Cover and seal. I prefer to use small kilner jars for this recipe. Store the jam in the fridge after opening.

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Sep 16 2007

Sunshine and Sashimi


The relentless summer rain has given way to golden autumn sunshine. A chocolate box blue sky is decorated with perfect puffy flat bottomed little clouds gliding majestically across the valley. Sloes, fat and shiny fill the hedgerows with plump black wild plums and glistening blackberries. Orchards are heavy with fruit. Golden stubble fields striped green are evidence of a meagre harvest gathered at last after the  summer floods that devastated livestock and crops alike. Feed and hay prices are rising, vegetables will be in short supply this winter.  Even my own little harvest is the worst I’ve ever had. Potato blight destroyed my vegetable garden this year, caused, I suppose by wet, water logged soil. It swept through potatoes, beans, tomatoes. And then the badgers had a midnight feast, disco in fact, in my little patch of sweet corn. They trashed the plants and munched on every cob leaving their debris for me to clear up. Maddening as it is I rather wish I’d seen them having such fun!

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Sep 10 2007

Galantine of Chicken

Large free range fresh chicken

Sharp filleting knife

2 large shallot or I onion

500gms minced pork

6/8 juniper berries

2 large cloves of garlic

1 generous tablespoon mixed fresh herbs

Zest and juice of a lemon

A glass of red wine

200grams (approx) chicken livers

2 handfuls blanched spinach leaves

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Chop the onion or shallots, crush the juniper berries in a pestle and mortar and crush the garlic to a paste with a little salt. Strip the zest from the lemon with a lemon zester or a potato peeler and squeeze the juice. Stir all together into the minced pork with the mixed herbs, a good slurp of red wine, salt and pepper.

Turn the chicken upside down i.e. breast bone underneath and m, making a long cut through the skin, carefully bone the chicken with a very sharp knife. I prefer a filleting knife with a flexible blade that i can slide against the bones. I leave the wing bones in to give a little structure. Be very careful not to puncture the skin.

When the carcass and the thigh bones are removed open the meat out flat and season well. Press half the pork mixture into the chicken followed by half the blanched spinach. Arrange the chicken livers on the spinach then complete with remaining spinach and pork.

Carefully close the chicken and sew up using fine string and a larding needle. Press the chicken roughly back into a chicken shape. Wrap in tin foil and place in a close fitting dish. Stand the dish in a Bain Marie and cook at 180c for one and a half hours.

Test with a skewer; if the juices run clear it is cooked through. If the juices are pink continue cooking for a further few minutes and test again.

Take the chicken out of the oven and carefully remove from the Bain Marie. Tip out the water and return to the pan. Press a heavy weight on top of the chicken. When it is quite cold put in the refrigerater.

Serve sliced on a large plate decorated with fresh sliced lemons and salad leaves.

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Jul 13 2007

Old Traditions, New Skills


I wake abruptly at three o’clock to the sound of more rain beating on the window panes; more rain and still more rain. Will it never stop?  Nervously I look out of the window into the first shards of dawn light and watch a veil of water drifting sideways past the window. The wind howls, I watch the trees bending their knees in the half light. It’s July. Floods are swamping Britain. The biggest rescue operation since the Second World War, shouts the radio. Television pictures show towns and cities under water, houses destroyed, people staring uncomprehending at the wreckage of their homes, crops submerged, fields turned to lakes, herons fishing amongst the corn. Pea crops rot before harvester’s eyes as they wait for the deluge to ease. In the South West gentle rivers on the Moor are transformed into raging brown rapids. Sheep shorn for summer sun shudder coldly in the relentless tropical down pour. I climb anxiously back to bed and await morning.

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Jun 02 2007

The Valley in June


As we march into June the valley puts on its thick summer coat. The skeleton shapes of winter, clothed, oh, so gingerly in spring, are suddenly engulfed in furry foliage. Shapes merge and disappear; hillsides take on different contours, swathed in green lushness. Strong winds blow huge cumulous across the transparent sky. Giant shadows come and go playing tricks with the light. Sparse pastures are replaced by shimmering grass and the hedgerows are littered with wild flowers.

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Jun 01 2007

Sal’s Salsa!

Take two red peppers, ten tomatillos, ten plumb tomatoes, three large cloves Elephant garlic, sprinkle them with olive oil and put them on a roasting tray in a very hot oven. Keep a check on them and remove each as they become soft. The peppers will take longest, up to 20/25 mins. Skin the tomatoes and garlic and place in food processor. Don’t blitz yet! Add the softened tomatillos and the peeled peppers. Take the peel off a lemon with a potato peeler, leaving behind the pith. Add this and the juice of the lemon to the ingredients in the processor. Add a good handful of roughly chopped parsley and chervil and two hot chillies. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper. Now blitz it all very quickly for just a few seconds. Add 3 oz olive oil. Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary. Add a dash of hot chilli sauce if the chillies are not particularly hot. Stand for an hour before using..
Harvest Time

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Jun 01 2007

Tomatoes in spiced vinegar


I have never preserved cherry tomatoes in spiced vinegar before so this year is a bit of an experiment. I filled sterilised kilner jars with tiny, freshly picked tomatoes which I pricked with a wooden cocktail stick. I added basil leaves, lemon zest and black peppercorns. Then I covered them with hot spiced vinegar. I push the tomatoes down with the handle of a wooden spoon to get rid of air pockets and made sure the top ones were well covered with vinegar. Then I covered them with a wax disc and sealed the jars at once. I used new seals on the kilner jars. .

To spice the vinegar I brought distilled, clear white vinegar and a little clear apple juice to the boil, took it off the heat and infused it with a bag of mixed spice; cloves, black pepper corns, dried chilli, coriander seed, allspice berries; you can make your own mix. But one thing I have discovered is if you boil the vinegar with the spices it will go cloudy and spoil the tomatoes. So I let it cool, take out the spice bag, reheat and pour over the tomatoes.

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Jun 01 2007

Tomatillo, Tomato and Apple Chutney

Of course as summer fades into Autumn I have masses of Tomatillos left and the weather is too cold for salsa now so Chutney seems the best answer.

I chop up apples and onions. Halve the large tomatoes and tomatillos, leave the little ones whole. I use all the tomatoes left in the greenhouse, red and green. After chopping and weighing everything, it all goes into a big preserving pan, with about 250 grams of sugar to 3 kilos of fruit , a tablespoon of salt and some spices. I use cloves, fresh ginger, allspice, mustard seed and chilli, and this time I even added a piece of star anise. I give the pot a good stir then add 1pint of white wine vinegar. I let it all simmer gently, stirring occasionally till the liquid is reduced and it has become a thick, rich golden mass. I let it cool a little, then pot into clean warm jars, cover with wax circles and jam covers and put away for the winter months ahead.

Off course you can leave out the tomatillos!


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