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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Jun 01 2007

Pickled Eggs

Living as we do in a place much favoured by holiday makers we often have too many eggs in winterout of the holiday season. Come the tourist season we or rather the hens can’t produce enough. So now is the time for me to put down a supply of pickled eggs for those summer salads and pickled fish dishes.
First I make the spiced vinegar. Two pints or just over a litre will cover about a dozen eggs depending on their size. Simmer white wine vinegar with a piece of crushed root ginger and twenty or so black peppercorns. Allow to cool.
Hard boil the eggs. This is the only time when it is easier to shell the eggs if they are a few days old, so difficult to keep the white in tact when the egg is very fresh. Put the peeled eggs in wide necked jars, Kilner jars are ideal. Push a piece of chilli and a strip of lemon zest taken off the lemon with a potato peeler into each jar. I add a couple of garlic cloves too. Then completely cover the eggs with the vinegar and fill the jars to the neck. Put the tops on the jars and screw shut tightly. The eggs will be ready in four or five weeks and will keep unopened for months. Having a warm kitchen, I am doubly careful and store my jars at the back of the fridge.

Pickled Eggs

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Jun 01 2007

Nettle and Spinach Soup

Take a large bag of young nettles, some spinach leaves and a little sorrel. Remember sorrel has a strong lemon flavour. Chop an onion, a medium potato and a carrot and a crushed clove of garlic and sweat as described above. Add the nettles, spinach and sorrel well washed, wilt in the oil and butter. Now stir in the chicken stock you made from the carcass or that stock cube. Bring to the boil, simmer for 5-8 minutes. Season and puree in the liquidiser or push through a mouli. Return to the pan ,reheat gently and stir in a little cream or crème fraiche. Check the seasoning again and serve sprinkled with chopped herbs.

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Jun 01 2007


Now for some comfort eating while we wait for spring! Old English Boiled Beef and Carrots, Italian Minestrone, Welsh Cawl, Suffolk Stew, and then there’s Garbure. Somehow this last wonderful pot of South West France brings so many regional dishes together. And as an English woman who am I to say how it is cooked! Well bravely, here’s my Anglicised version!

To begin: soak 500gms of dry white beans overnight. Make a good rich stock with a chicken or duck carcass in the usual way ( see making stock). Drain and rinse the soaked beans and bring to the boil in a heavy pan. Boil briskly for ten minutes, rinse and drain again. Blanch a 500gm piece of belly of pork.

Next put the pork belly, a ham hock, an onion stuck with cloves and the blanched beans into the strained stock. Simmer for about an hour. Add a couple of diced potatoes, 2 leeks, a turnip, a few carrots, green or red pepper cut in strips, salt, pepper, crushed garlic, a little paprika and a dessert spoon of dried herbs. Simmer until the vegetables are nearly cooked. Add a shredded white cabbage, 500gms of garlic sausage and most importantly, confit of duck. Opinion varies as to whether or not the duck fat is added too. It’s a matter of taste, a little will enrich the whole, I think. Warm the Garbure through.

Just before serving take the meat from the pot and keep warm. Serve the broth on thick slices of bread as a first course and follow with the meat.

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Jun 01 2007

Apple, Cabbage and Ginger Soup

Fresh, spicy and delicious this is a great way to use up a few windfalls and a bit of cabbage. But, a big but, it’s essential to have some good chicken stock to back up the flavour.

Shred half a large white cabbage and chop three onions and four green apples. Turn them over in melted butter, then put a lid on the pan and sweat for about ten minutes until soft but not, absolutely not, brown. Add a clove of garlic crushed with salt, a small piece of finely chopped fresh ginger and a litre of chicken stock (…made from that carcass you were going to throw away……see making stock ) Simmer a few more minutes until the cabbage is tender. Then blend, reheat, taste, season and serve. Very quick, very nice!

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Jun 01 2007

Family Picnic


River dart Smoked salmon

Avacado Mayonnaise

Home Grown Rare Roast Beef with Horseradish & English Mustard

Jersey Royal potato Salad

Tomato salad with Basil

Green Salad with French Dressing

Brie de Mieux and crisp White Rolls

Strawberries and Clotted Cream


Picnics have been on my mind for some time recently which surprises me because I usually hate them, rather in the same way that I hate barbeques, well, usually anyway. Rain, feel cold, uncomfortable, food full of grit, stodgy burnt sausages, charred raw chicken, beer, bon-amie, please can I go home, oh Sally, so anti-social…..

But it was my father’s ninety eighth birthday recently and we decided to take him a picnic. He was thrilled. Aunty Molly, ninety nine in August; was invited. She and Dad first cousins, friends and playmates since childhood, companions now, both razor sharp despite failing sight and hearing. Dad started planning the menu two weeks before the day; each time I phoned he checked I had it right…. “Scottish smoked salmon, not that Dart stuff” ( sorry Dart salmon fisherman, we have now established some serious mis-information on his part….!), with lemon and black pepper. Avocado (I bought organic, they tend to taste less like soap I think….) with good olive oil. “Not that stuff from Boots, Dad, you put in your ears?” I asked wickedly thinking of my very un-foodie mother. “Don’t you remember, I lived in France, Lyon, 1927…” Ah yes, whoops , sorry.

Main course: Rare Roast Beef, our own Sussex boys raised on the farm, probably be in trouble, it’s not Aberdeen Angus, but I’ll risk it.
“Must have mustard”.
“No,” me “oh, OK. “
“And Potato salad, Jersey Royals of course and a tomato salad, get English tomatoes, more flavour.”
“Yes Dad.”
“And a nice green salad with a really good French Dressing. Can you do that? And, if you can, make a big bottle and leave it with me.”
“Yes, Dad, yes Dad”
“Now, really crispy rolls, never get them here, I’ll probably eat two. Molly likes them, got all her own teeth, you know” … all her own teeth at ninety nine, good heavens.
“And French Brie, must be French” Yes, yes, French brie, Brie de Mieux, ripe and delicious from Simon in Dartmouth.
“I know its wrong, got into terrible trouble from a Frenchman once, but do I like butter and bread with my brie”. “Yes Dad”.

“Oh, and then we’ll have Strawberries, can we have yours?” “Um, no , that blackbird…” “And Devonshire Clotted Cream”. Big hint here, Dad is a Devon boy and Paul a Cornishman; ah, the ongoing cream debate, I’ll leave it there, I think.

The day came, the sun shone, we filed into the dining room. Oh joy, not on the lawn. I served the whole from my old ice box onto a elegantly laid table. They live in a beautiful place. Why is it that older people so often have to put up with dreary, depressing surroundings and yet here at, The Old Vicarage at Otterton, all is uplifting? But that is a whole other story. I digress.

“Delicious” said Dad, tucking in, “I just wish I could see what it is I’m eating though” “Yes” agreed Molly “so annoying not knowing what’s on your fork,” as all before her vanished. “Hm “ said Dad, ever the actor, “ It’s lovely, darling but I’m reminded of Shakespeares’ Seven Ages of Man; sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything.” Later we sat together in the sun and drank coffee and I wondered if I had inherited the Windsborrow gene. Would I be doing the same in nearly forty years time? Best keep breathing, I thought, reaching for my inhaler.

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Jun 01 2007

Quick Fish Pie and Fish Cakes

I find it difficult to imagine anything but a fishy supper after our watery walk by the river Dart. Maybe we’ll have a traditional Fish Pie made with a mixture of wild salmon, white fish, smoked haddock and hard boiled eggs in parsley sauce, topped with creamy mashed potato and grated cheese. The important thing is to buy whatever fish is available on the day and that is dictated by the weather at sea; fresh and local are my rules.
This is my favourite quick pie, a Fish Gratin really, which often gets me by when I’m short of time.
Skin the fish and carefully take out the bones using tweezers if necessary. Put the skin and bones in a small pan with * of milk, a bay leaf, parsley stalks, a slice of onion, salt and pepper and infuse by heating gently. Peel and dice a couple of potatoes and slice half a bulb of fennel. Blanche them quickly till just tender, drain and set aside while you dice the fish. Heat a little butter and oil in a large frying pan or wok and quickly turn the fish around till nearly cooked being careful not to break it up. Pile fish, potato and fennel into a well buttered pie dish. Strain the infused milk and use it to make a creamy béchamel sauce; add cheese if you like. Pour the sauce over the fish and top with a mixture of bread, parsley, garlic, lemon rind and butter blitzed together until a slightly sticky crumb consistency. Bake for ten minutes in a hot oven till the topping is crisp. Serve with a crunchy, well dressed green salad.
Drying fish in Hokkaido, Japan

Next day fishy leftovers can be quickly transformed into delicious Fishcakes. With the addition of mashed potato and a dash of anchovy essence, the mixture can be shaped into cakes, dusted with seasoned flour and fried in a light olive oil.
Dart salmon is a luxury of summer not to be missed and anticipated with pleasure. And line caught sea bass baked with fennel and Pernod is, dare I say it, even better! But that is many months away. As spring creeps nearer now is the time to prepare for the long days and short nights of lambing.

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