Dec 30 2011

Fillet of Pork with Sausage Meat and Prunes

Friends for supper last week so I thought I would do something with the pork fillet but it looked a little small for four of us. Trawling idly through my mass of cookery books, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall’s Meat Book came up trumps again, but, of course I didn’t have exactly the ingredients he suggested. So, instead of the mincemeat and dried chestnuts that he suggests, I used my own  prunes; last summer’s Dit’sum plums dried slowly overnight in the bottom oven of the Everhot then stored in an air tight jar.

I split my little fillet nearly in half and filled the cavity with our sausage meat, salt, fresh ground black pepper and the pitted prunes. I tied the whole with string to make a big oblong, then wrapped it loosely in tin foil leaving the top exposed, poured lemon juice over it and  chilled it in the fridge while I went into the garden to dig the very last Pink Fir Apple potatoes and pick winter spinach.

The pork went into a hot oven, 200c, for an hour until well done and golden. As the potatoes cooked I took the meat out of the oven, covered it and let it rest in a warm place on top of the cooker. I made a sauce with chicken stock, a table spoon of redcurrant jelly, and a pinch of cinnamon. I slaked a desert spoon of cornflour into a little extra stock, stirred that into the sauce and brought it just to the boil, stirring all the time until it thickened. Finally I stirred in a couple of tablespoons of cream, tasted the sauce and added seasoning.

The washed and destalked spinach wilted quickly in its own water. The secret with spinach is no extra water  and the quickest possible cooking. I still needed to drain it thoroughly and press it down in the colander to really get it dry. A quick stir over the heat with a knob of butter and it was ready too.

As I sliced the pork and served my friends it suddenly occurred to me that I had produced everything on the plate ! Not pudding though; I found Nigel Slater’s wonderful quick lemon curd ice cream recipe in his lovely book, Kitchen Diaries. Speedy to make, it is sharp and delicious after the rich unctuous pork.

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Dec 08 2011


December 2011

As I write, sitting warm and snug by the fire in the study, a tremendous gale is lashing South Devon. When the dogs and I set off for the farmyard in drizzle and semi-darkness this morning, the sky was slate grey and the air damp and misty. It never really got light all day. Now as evening falls, a huge storm rages on the hills above; the wind is so strong dogs and I could barely struggle against it as we climbed the vertiginous slopes of Steep Field into the wind swept top fields to check the flock. Rain swept sideways in a great curtain across the hills driven by the south westerly gale. Dartmoor was swallowed in cloud and the river below me barely visible.  Old ewes, driven by the ancient instinct of their moorland forbears, sheltered in the hedge safe from the onslaught. Down the hill to the farmyard again the wind threatened to make our descent air born. Dogs raced ahead, the wind in their tales. We fed donkeys and pigs, collected eggs and shut  chickens up for the night. Soggily we squelched home through the driving rain as the light faded. What a contrast to this time last year when all was still, silent, white and frozen.

Autumn glowed gentle and golden right into November this year. Sunny days outnumbered rainy one. Roses flowered into December and the nights were frost free until last week. I threw myself into the garden joyfully replanning and replanting for next summer.

But my main job for the last three months has been Number One Farmer! I have made the transition from Farmer’s Wife and Farming Assistant to being The One, not, of course, the boss, you understand, but the One Who Does The farming! Paul, at last, has had the long awaited complete knee replacement. He went into hospital in October shortly after our Japan Adventure. It all went wonderfully well but as he makes a steady excellent recovery animals must be cared for and farming jobs done so I must step “into the breach/up to the plate” etc.

It has been such a wonderful autumn for everything including apples and yet, with so much extra to do, cider and apple juice was simply beyond me. What else to do with all these lovely apples, I pondered as I walked up to the yard every morning? Piggies, of course!

In all the eighteen years of Mondays that Stephen has been working with us,  we’ve said to each other year after year, one of these days we‘ll get some pigs. Then suddenly this autumn we made a plan. Paul, with time on his hands, studied the Internet, made phone calls, found weaners and did research. Stephen and I drove across the county to fetch the little chaps,  three Berkshires and three Middle Whites.

We bought them from Ian Todd; a champion breeder near Honiton who not only sold them to us but also gave us a thorough piggy tutorial. I can speak pretty fluent “sheep”, in fact we’ve just won second prize for our Whiteface Dartmoor breeding ewes at the Flock Competition this autumn against the really professional “big boys” on the Moor; no mean feat! But my pig knowledge is on a steep learning curve. Thankfully Stephen has a little more experience.

Last week I visited champion pig breeder, Sue Fildes, on her farm near here. She also shows winners and bought her first Berkshires form Ian Todd too. Little did he know all those years ago that she would be bitten by the piggy bug and become his competitor at Shows! Her pigs, like his, are superb, living out on the hill in a piggy paradise.

Sue’s Showgirl

It was so good to talk to her and she, like him, was so generous with her huge knowledge and expertise. I came away feeling that we were definitely on  the right track with our boys.

Our Boys

I have been amused at the reaction of friends and neighbours at my new venture. I can hear them thinking “at your age” although too polite to say. And then the question “And what will you do with them?” inevitably follows that first unspoken thought!

“Well, eat them of course” I reply. A horrified “Eat them!” follows if they are not of the farming or foodie fraternity or, worse still and a real faux pas on my part, vegetarians!  “My, they’ll taste good!” say the others

I smile to myself and think of Fergus Henderson’s wonderful book “ Nose to Tail Eating” (Bloomsbury 1999) I was even lucky enough to meet him briefly when he was in the Cookery Theatre where I was helping  at the Dartmouth Food Festival in October this year.

James Brown,  Gina Carter and Pig Breeder Lesley Goodman with Fergus Henderson at Dartmouth Food festival 2011

I’m dreaming of curing and salting , of hams and  brawn, terrines and big roasts. How heartless am I, I hear you ask. But no. I have a much more serious ulterior motive. Yes I do want to cook and eat good quality pork and yes, I am fed up with the nasty stuff imported into this country masquerading as the real thing. Here we have  legislation  for the humane treatment of pigs. In Britain it is illegal to use sow stalls, sometimes known as gestation crates which prevent the pregnant sow from any movement. The majority of sows live outside in this country and have access to straw bedding and freedom of movement.  It is also illegal to castrate young males, a practice widely used abroad without aesthetic.

These are but two examples of better animal husbandry in the UK which, in turn, inevitably makes our pork more expensive.  So many supermarkets are importing vast quantities of cheap pork raised in countries without humane animal welfare legislation where pigs are bred and raised in appalling conditions . This has of course led to a reduction in UK pig farming.

If you want to learn more go to or and if that’s not enough to convince you to buy British pork then look up, if you can bear it, pig welfare on . And if British pork is more expensive, why not eat less meat and eat better. Support British farmers and  high animal welfare standards.

So my first weaners will have a short but happy life. They will be well cared for and well fed. Stephen and I enjoy them hugely and with the help of other pig farmers, our excellent local abattoir and butcher we, and our friends, will enjoy some really good old fashioned pork in the New Year.

In the meantime I am still reading up on all that curing and salting, sausages, hams! Watch this space…..

Slow Roast Pork

Ideally, if you have time, stuff a boned shoulder of pork with apples and celery, onion and breadcrumbs, sage and lemon, all bound together with soft butter and a beaten egg; salt and pepper of course.

But if you’re in a hurry, on the way to work or taking the children to school, leave out the stuffing or cook it later separately. Score the pork skin with a sharp knife and  rub in plenty of oil and salt. You can do this the evening  before and leave it in the fridge overnight. In the morning shove it into a hot oven as you grab a coffee, read e mails and make the pack lunches. But do remember to turn the oven down after 30 minutes to a low temperature ; 140 C/ Gas mark 1. Pour over a glass of cider and a little water and leave it alone for  4 or 5 hours. The bottom oven of a range is ideal here.

About an hour before supper turn up the oven to crisp the crackling on the pork. Cook the apple and celery stuffing  separately in a dish beside the pork. Keep an eye on the meat while you peel, cook and  mash potatoes. Sauté cabbage, carrots or leeks to go with the meat. Take the pork out of the oven and allow to rest. This is essential to allow the juices to soak back into the meat. Meanwhile finish the vegetables and make gravy in the roasting dish deglazing the residue with the vegetable water or a little stock, if you have it,  and thickening with a little slaked corn flour. Taste it and add salt and pepper too.

To serve cut the crackling from the meat and break into crisp pieces. Tear the meat into shreds and serve with stuffing , gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetables. Ideal comforting food for a cold December evening with good friends.


And finally a wonderful quote, so close to my heart,  from Fergus Henderson’s superb “ Nose to Tail Eating”

“Do not be afraid of cooking, as your ingredients will know, and misbehave. Enjoy your cooking and the food will behave: moreover it will pass your pleasure on to those who eat it”

Happy Christmas!

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Oct 13 2011


Or perhaps, more importantly, sono hashi ni tuitara, wattatte shimae……or “ cross that bridge when you get to it………………”
September went out on a high; a heat wave to remember, temperatures soaring into the eighties. People flocked to park and beach grasping the last vestige of summer as rumour spread of a freezing winter to come. And just as suddenly it’s all over, autumn has arrived. Blustery winds tug leaves from the trees. The sun, so low now, casts golden light through autumn colours. Icy showers prove prophecies right.

Japan and Korea seem a long way away, memories already in danger of becoming blurred. I’m so pleased I kept my little scribbled diary to help me hold the detail. We arrived in Tokyo at the end of August. A wall of sweltering heat hit us as we got off the plane; 34 degrees and 85% humidity, so very different to our damp Devon valley!
After two days relaxing with our family, nursing jet lag, walking in the park, listening to the cacophony of cicadas and cawing black crows, watching turtles playing in the pond, we were back on a plane heading for Korea. I’m not sure what I expected but Seoul was a surprise; a huge, noisy city dominated by skyscrapers reaching to heaven, roaring traffic, bustle, colour, strange smells of food and drains!

We walked through a maze of crowded narrow streets hung with huge banners, filled with street traders selling everything we could imagine and much we could not; strange street food, cheap shoes, stockings, trousers, shirts, vast quantities of peach coloured underwear, suitcases, electrical goods and much, much, more all piled high on huggermugger stalls. Suddenly the market ended and huge designer stores rose up before us; all the familiar Haute Couture of Paris, London, Milan, New York. Contrast everywhere and so much noisier than Tokyo, more colourful too.
We ate in a “barbeque” restaurant, the meat cooked on a fire at our table, a strange python-like extractor taking away the smoke and fumes. With it came a green vegetable a bit like spinach, bean sprouts, mushrooms, pancakes and, of course kimchi.

This was our first encounter with the famous staple of Korea; cabbage stuffed with dried shrimps, mustard greens, onion, radish and, most important of all, red hot chilli powder. The cabbage parcels are pickled in salt to remove the water before being stored in huge earthenware pots some three feet tall. Every region, indeed family have their own special method. It is rumoured that Korean kitchens have created more than a hundred different kimchi recipes. November is the Kimchi making season. It takes place between Ipong, the first day of winter and Sosol, the day of the first snowfall. Markets are taken over by a frenzy of “kimjang ch’ol”, people greet each other with “ are you ready for kimjang” so vital a winter staple is it. Survival depended on this humble dish for hundreds of years. Time was when it made up a half the daily diet. Unfortunately for me at least, it turned out to be something I could happily live without which, were I Korean, would amount to no less than heresy!! The Koreans love their Kimchi so much, even now few can imagine a kimchi-free day! I can.

We visited the restored Royal Gyeongbokgung Palace silhouetted against the mountain range which harbour’s the border between North and South Korea, a very chilling and poignant reminder of what lies beyond; a sight which helped me put the frenzied consumerism of Seoul into perspective.
We watched the changing of the guard inside the palace grounds. Men in vibrantly coloured robes and fantastic black hats marched two and fro waving bright flags, playing exotic musical instruments and banging enormous drums. We went to the Folk museum and learnt about hat making, basket weaving, more of kimchi, furniture, pottery, lacquer work. The latter took me back to childhood and my Edwardian grandmother’s drawing room. How she loved what she thought of as “Chinoiserie”, how she would have loved this museum, loved Korea.
Senses reeling after three hectic days, we found ourselves on the plane heading back to Tokyo. Meguro-Ku seemed so peaceful after the hubbub of Seoul! Then just as we began to relax we were on the move again just two days later; this time south to the island of Shikoku and the Inland Sea. We took the Shinkansen to Okayama then caught the local train across the bridge to Takamatsu. Here we hired a car and drove into the mountains to the tiny town of Kamiyama where a very interesting project is taking shape. In the last few years young people have flocked to the cities from small towns, villages and rural areas all across Japan leaving behind a dwindling, ageing population. Shops close, houses fall empty and communities fail.

Kamiyama is trying to address the problem by developing ways to encourage young talent to return. Old houses are rented back from families’ who no longer use them. The buildings are restored and refurbished in traditional style then rented on to those returning to work in the town.

The results are astonishing; there are artists in residence, filmmakers, a noodles shop, holiday complex, a flourishing rice crop, a school and a large grant to restore the theatre Above all there is a new energy.
For more information about the wonderful Kamiyama go to scroll down and click on “Green Valley”
We left lovely Kamiyama and headed back to Takamatsu, onto the ferry and over to the tiny island of Shodoshima.

We stayed in a little traditional hotel Moriguchiya overlooking the water. We ate the best sashimi I have ever tasted; fish must have landed straight into Mrs Moriguchi’s kitchen!

She had never had Gaijin guests before and her anxiety to look after us properly was really touching. And, oh my, did she succeed! We felt like Royalty!

We visited the Soy Sauce maker,

a magnificent olive grove twinned with Greece, herb gardens, a Kabuki rehearsal, rice fields recently visited by the Emperor; we spoke to wild monkeys by the roadside, drove through the mountains, ate huge bowls of noodles.

And then the rain started.Relieved at first by the falling temperature we set off to the ferry leaving plenty of time to negotiate our tickets in our limited Japanese. How strange we thought that the ferry terminal doors are all taped up and piled high with sandbags.
Our tickets secured, we drove aboard, settled ourselves down below with a fine view of the Inland Sea ahead. How strange, we thought, to see so very many ships anchored in the bay and fishing boats too, firmly tied up alongside the harbour walls.

The ferry trundled across the flat water. Slower and slower it went, until we hardly made headway, wind on the bow holding us back. We crawled into Takamatsu and drove off the boat with some relief. Car safely returned to hire company, we walked to the railway station to await our little train across the water back to Okayama. As we waited we laughed as we watched umbrellas turning inside out.
Once on the train we congratulated ourselves for finding the right seats in the right carriage of the right train; no mean feat in Japan. The train left on time as all Japanese trains do and we reminded each other we had just twelve minutes to find and board the Shinkansen in Okayama. We sat back.
First station and the train stopped. We waited, nothing. We looked at our watches, we’d missed our connection. Announcements were made. We didn’t understand. Then a man beside me explained in English we could go no further. The train could not cross the bridge.
I went to the front to the driver’s cabin to see if I could glean anymore information when a little voice behind me spoke in English. I spun round to see a young woman clutching a suitcase and smiling. “I’ll find out what’s happening” she said “stay near me” We will, I thought and we did.
The train returned to Takamatsu, off we all got and Winnie led us to the ticket office where, to our amazement we were all given all our money back; quite simple, no train, no journey, so refund.
The typhoon was at its height by now; wind and rain lashing the pavements, trees bending double in the middle of the street. “We need a hotel” said Winnie ushering us into a taxi. The airport was shut, bridges closed; there was no way off Shikoku. We simply had to wait.
Next morning at breakfast Winnie had a plan. It was Saturday. She had to be back at work in Seoul on Monday and we too were due to fly out of Japan then too. So she hailed another taxi and asked the driver if there was a bridge open anywhere. He thought the bridge to Hiroshima right down south might be open, maybe.
In driving rain and howling wind we crawled through suburb after suburb, all expressways closed. For three and a half hours we drove round the edge of the storm praying all the time that the southernmost hashi would indeed be open.
“Look for trucks” said the taxi driver “if they’re coming towards us the bridge is open”
Suddenly there it was. “Hashi, hashi” we all shouted. We crossed not one but four bridges from island to island until at last we were on Honshu.

At the railway station, our Guardian Angel, Winnie, left us to go south to catch her plane. We boarded the Shinkansen going north for the four hour trek back to Tokyo, through the typhoon once more. Just after Okayama the great train suddenly slowed. We held our breath as slowly, slowly we crawled past swollen rivers, flooded fields, wind lashed towns and villages. We drew into Kobe then onwards to Osaka. Gradually we picked up speed around Kyoto and sped with relief through Nagoya to Yokohama finally stopping in Shinagawa. Our son met us trying to hide any anxiety. “Glad to see you” he said “just heard on my car radio on the way here, 20,000 people have just been evacuated from Okayama”. A very strange forty fifth wedding anniversary indeed!
And I just can’t stop wondering if Winnie is, in fact, an angel.

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Sep 08 2011

Slow roast pork

Ideally, if you have time, stuff a boned shoulder of pork with apples and celery, onion and breadcrumbs, sage and lemon, all bound together with soft butter and a beaten egg; salt and pepper of course.

But if you’re in a hurry, on the way to work or taking the children to school, leave out the stuffing or cook it later separately. Score the pork skin with a sharp knife and  rub in plenty of oil and salt. You can do this the evening  before and leave it in the fridge overnight. In the morning shove it into a hot oven as you grab a coffee, read e mails and make the pack lunches. But do remember to turn the oven down after 30 minutes to a low temperature ; 140 C/ Gas mark 1. Pour over a glass of cider and a little water and leave it alone for  4 or 5 hours. The bottom oven of a range is ideal here.

About an hour before supper turn up the oven to crisp the crackling on the pork. Cook the apple and celery stuffing  separately in a dish beside the pork. Keep an eye on the meat while you peel, cook and  mash potatoes. Sauté cabbage, carrots or leeks to go with the meat. Take the pork out of the oven and allow to rest. This is essential to allow the juices to soak back into the meat. Meanwhile finish the vegetables and make gravy in the roasting dish deglazing the residue with the vegetable water or a little stock, if you have it,  and thickening with a little slaked corn flour. Taste it and add salt and pepper too.

To serve cut the crackling from the meat and break into crisp pieces. Tear the meat into shreds and serve with stuffing , gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetables. Ideal comforting food for a cold December evening with good friends.

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Aug 15 2011

Vegetable Soup

But first I need a warming Vegetable Soup for a quick lunch. There’s nothing as comforting as a big bowl of homemade soup when dogs and I have been blown home from the farmyard by a sharp south easterly.

I choose the ingredients for soup according to the sort of stock I have in the freezer.(see Making Stock below) This time it’s ham. Onions or shallots are a must and peas go so well with ham but the other ingredients just happen to be in the fridge; the last piece of a large pumpkin, a potato, a couple of large shallots, two big garlic cloves, some parsley stalks, a little salt (ham stock can be salty) and pepper.

The principle is the same for most soup; sweat the chopped shallots or onions, garlic too if you like. Add a peeled diced potato; this will act as the thickening agent. Add diced pumpkin, carrot or other root vegetable but keep the balance of flavour in mind. Remember for example that parsnips, though delicious, are much more dominating than a carrot, pumpkin is mild but will enhance texture and so on. Once your chosen veg are sweated, i.e. softened in their own steam and a little oil in a pan with a heavy lid, you can stir in the stock; simmer gently for about twenty minutes, taste and season. To liquidise or not to liquidise is a matter of taste. Do you like your soup smooth or with bits!

Serve with hot crusty bread and good slightly salted butter.

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Aug 03 2011

Summer Again

“Our little village among the trees, by the river”
As Devon fills up once more with holiday makers we somehow remain untouched in our silent valley, the world passing us by. A few more cars hoot on the bend by the gate, voices and laughter occasionally waft across the hillside but mostly our silence is punctuated by the call of the buzzards overhead, a baaing sheep on the top of the hill, the donkeys in the distance reminding me it’s tea time and, just sometimes on a very still day, the whistle of the steam train away down river in Kingswear.

It’s been a dry hot spring followed by a still and humid summer with just enough rain to give us grazing. That is except for June 12th, the second of our NGS (National Garden Scheme) open days. Saturday was warm and sunny and we had an excellent turnout and sold over a hundred cream teas, courtesy of the Anchorestone Café who once again donated their huge delicious scones. The garden seemed to glow under scrutiny as smiling visitors flocked through. Wild spikes of foxgloves jostled for a place amongst rosa mundi and rosa rugosa, astrantia and huge white daisies dominated the sunken boarder. Seagull, recovered from last year’s disastrous storm damage, hung on the pergola by the pond like a great snow storm. Even the embothrium clung on to its scarletness for just a few more days, fiery against the blue sky.
Then Sunday dawned and the world changed. Trees bent double in the gale, rain lashing through the valley. Just twelve stalwart people passed through the dancing entrance marquee, sheltering inside to bravely eat a scone and drink a warming cup of tea. We were not alone; some 300 National Garden Scheme openings were rained off nationally that day. A day which will go down in NGS history!

Now that slightly tired August look is descending on the valley. Trees seem to be preparing early for autumn, lack of water taking its toll. The stream is down to a trickle and I’m fighting blanket weed in the pond. But despite the lack of rain the harvest is beginning. Broad beans were wonderful, peas are prolific, runners look promising. Turnips picked small are delicious quickly cooked in butter, beetroots are swelling and this year’s small round courgettes are really delicious. Spinach and chard are nearly ready and I have fingers crossed for blight free potatoes and tomatoes in a week or so. Sweet corn love this weather but I do wonder if I’ll enjoy them before the badgers this time round.
The lambs, big and fat now, will be shorn next Monday, having been separated from their mothers. The ewes graze quietly on their own at last, their job done for this year. The last of the hoggs have gone to the butcher and Chris and Cliff will go to pastures new. A new ram will soon be joining the flock ready for the cycle to start all over again in the autumn.



“…and choosing!”
So for now we enjoy gentle sunny summer days Crab Day in Dartmouth, feasts of our own rare cooked lamb, garden vegetables, salads full of herbs and flowers, flans of local seafood with ginger and lemon, delicious cakes made from Herman, the German Friendship cake passed as a sourdough from friend to friend!
And soon it will be time to fly away to new exciting food, Tokyo, Shikoku, the Inland Sea, Korea, Seoul; watch this space!

A fish shop in Hakkaido

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May 08 2011


Lambs and ewes bask in the sunshine on top of the hill sheltered from the strong south westerly, a wind so strong this Sunday morning that it pushes me back as, scrambling up to the top of steep field, I stumble through the gate following the distressed cry of a lamb and the frantic baaing of a ewe. As I run, its cries move away from me. Eventually I track it down in the next field occupied by my neighbours visiting alpacas.

As I struggle to undo the gate before they spot the tiny chap, the ewe races towards me ignoring all dogs; a quick shoo from me and a loud call from her and the lamb dashes safely back through the gate. Chaos is averted.

Panting I turn back and walk slowly down to the house. Across the valley Richard is ploughing a chocolate furrow against the backdrop of Dartmoor. The sky is white with seagulls following his tractor. The river Dart below us both sings azure blue in the sun.

Lambing was a strange business this year, dragging on for weeks. The Whiteface breeders on the Moor put it down to the wet cold autumn and the heavy snow of early winter which seemed to upset the natural rhythm of tupping and gestation. We have several barren ewes too which is a first. Larry, the only orphan lamb, has gone to live with our friend Alison and her pigmy goats so he’s in clover. She’s taken two older ewes too so now she’s a sheep farmer, I tell her!
Late spring is bursting prematurely into summer. A gaggle of sweltering Bank Holidays encompassing Easter and the Royal Wedding together with a severe draught has plunged the garden into confusion; everything is at least two weeks early and now with gentle rain and this warm wind, everything is racing ahead of itself. In classic gardener’s anxiety I’m wondering what will be at its peak when we open the garden for the National Garden Scheme in mid-June. I feel the old “If only you could have seen it last week “cliché coming on!

..the scarlet Embothrium…
It’s not yet mid-May and the embothrium is already scarlet against a blue sky while bluebells still carpet the banks. Peonies are breaking open from fat buds, roses even creep furtively into flower, euphorbia fires up the border as iris spike blue with gentle mecanopsis and yet we are still not safely into frost free territory. Pelargoniums clutter the green house and I dare not let the great avocado into the garden yet. He towers over me magnificently inside the back door, some ten feet tall now, far too big for the little glass house.

The polytunnel is gone, bought by an enthusiastic new couple in the village. I feel wonderfully liberated! Beans and peas will grow on its site until autumn when the small glass greenhouse will take its place once the tomatoes have cropped, provided of course, that we are blight free at last. I have lost tomatoes despite my best efforts for the last two years.
The old chicken houses having been carefully moved, mended and painted green, now stand in the orchard behind a smart new post and rail fence; chickens, liberated at last from their winter quarters in the farmyard, scratch and squabble happily in the long grass, I await a visit by fox or badger.

the bread oven in the garden
Last week brought a huge treat. My dear friend Felicity invited me to bake bread in her wonderful bread oven. Having cooked for years enthusiastically both professionally and for friends and family, my knowledge of bread making would fit tidily on the back of a large postage stamp. The reasons are twofold, or maybe three; first, I was given a bread machine years ago, second, we have a fantastic French Patisserie in our local town, as good as any you will find anywhere in France and lastly I’ve just been too idle to try! Just one day, and all is changed. My fresh yeast is already sitting in the fridge and a new enthusiasm has been ignited.

Felicity’s oven is a very large affair standing in a corner of her beautiful garden in mid Devon. It was built by her son, Fred, a couple of years ago. Fred has been the driving force behind Slow Food Devon for a number of years now and his enthusiasm and knowledge of bread making has culminated into this wonderful project.

..foccacia in the oven…
The day before my visit I dive into Tom Jaine’s “Making Bread at Home” and David Jones’ excellent bread making notes which I gleaned from a wonderful day’s cookery at Manna From Devon.
A Biga, that’s what I must make. I mix 8 grams of fresh yeast with 150 mil of warm water and 150 grams strong bread flour and I leave it overnight.
Next morning I use Tom Jaine’s Italian Country Bread recipe of 200gms of my Biga, 300ml tepid water, 15grm fresh yeast, 2 tsp. salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 250 grams each of white and wholemeal flour. I mix the dough, knead it for ten minutes and let it prove covered in a bowl in the car as I drive across Devon.
When I arrive Felicity is surrounded by huge quantities of proven dough in her glorious kitchen. My little bowl looks somewhat inadequate but I’m on a steep learning curve today so watch and listen. Together we knock down, shape and set bread to prove a second time in cotton lined baskets. Fred and Felicity’s husband, Simon lit the oven early in the morning so the temperature is already rising promisingly. Fred bakes Focaccia.
We have lunch in the garden. Tomato soup; “last year’s tomatoes and the contents of the bread bin” Felicity says. Eaten with the warm rosemary tinged focaccia, delicious I say.
Fred checks the oven; our dough is risen and ready. Fred rakes out the ashes, in go the loaves. The “door” is sealed. We sit around the oven in the sun listening to the sheep over the hedge and wait as the air is filled with the sweet smell of baking bread.

….the finished loaves…
Out they come one at a time on the great metal peel. We stand around congratulating each other and admiring the day’s work. I leave with my loaf and Felicity fills the still hot oven with a great dish of beans and deliciousness for their supper. I’ve had a wonderful day.

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Mar 23 2011

Spring Lambs

Untitled from Paul Vincent on Vimeo.

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Feb 01 2011

Marmalade and Oranges

December snow and ice have given way to frost followed by rain and our all too familiar Devon mud. An east wind cuts through the valley as we wait for lambing to begin. Stout ewes come into the yard for tea every evening now, supplementing sparse grass with malt shreds, oats and sweet smelling hayledge.

The garden is just beginning to stir; snowdrops, so late this year, are lifting their heads above dead leaves and winter debris. Tiny spikes of daffodil leaves remind me that this cold will pass. Sweet pea seeds are germinating and there’s the smallest sign of life in the broad bean trays snug under plastic and glass in the polytunnel.

And January means shops full of Seville oranges; time to make marmalade. This year the media has been full of it. Apparently sales of marmalade have fallen away dramatically as the nation’s breakfast diet changes or vanishes completely. But I love the winter comfort of both making marmalade and eating it! I love the warm, sweet spicy orangey smell that fills the kitchen as it boils to setting point and the satisfaction of a row of glistening jars; the promise of a slice of toast, a croissant and a cup of coffee.

All this media attention set me thinking and then, of course, searching for the origins of this unusually British conserve. Where else in the world can you buy a jar of citrus fruit boiled up in sugar? The first marmalades or marmelado were thick pastes or fruit cheeses made from the Portuguese marmelo, a kind of Quince. Gervais Markham, in his 1615 book “The English Housewife” instructs us to “boyl it till stiff enough to mould, and when it is cold, then role it: print it” which sounds more like membrilo, that Spanish sweetmeat so delicious eaten with cheese, than our present day marmalade.
In her delightful transcription of the seventeenth century manuscript of recipes, a “Booke of Cookery being in the keeping of Martha Washington from 1749….”, Karen Hess quotes this quince marmalade of 1608 “To make a marmalet that was presented to Ye Queene for a New Year gift: Take a pond & halfe of sugar, boyle it with a pinte of water till it comes to manus Christi. Then take 3 or 4 quinces; A good orring pill preserved and finely beaten; 3 ounces almonds blanch’d & finely beaten by themselves; *oringo roots preserved, 2 ounces & a half. Stir these with ye sugar in a basin over a chafing dish of coles till it will come from the sides of ye bason, & thene put in a little musk and *ambergreece dissolved in rosewater, of each 4 greyns; of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and mace, of each 3 drams:& put in 2 drops of oyle of cinnamon. This being done, box it up & present it to whom you please”
These pastes and fruit leathers valued for soothing the stomach after a large meal, still sound appetizing to me though I would omit the ambergrise in modern deference to the sperm whale. The oringo roots or candied sea holly roots (erygium maritimum) are not essential either though highly praised by Gerard for their efficacious properties. The therapeutic and medicinal qualities of these preserves were highly prized by the Tudors and Stuarts.

Richard Surfleet’s 1666 translation of “ A Countrey Farme” tells us that “some make a confection of Quinces, called Marmalade, which is verie soveraigne against flux of the bellie” It was apparently also often prescribed for various “diseases of the head” including headaches, madness, epilepsies, and something somewhat alarmingly described as “fits of the mother”.
By the end of the 15th Century and beginning of the 16th, citrus fruit was moving west, quietly usurping the now very English quince.

Although oranges had been known in China since around 2000 BC their progress to Europe was slow. The Romans are believed to have enjoyed oranges at their banquets. The fruit was imported from the Palestinians who constructed an irrigation system of earthenware pipes, still working today, to water their citrus trees.
And there is of course the Malaysian legend of oranges and the elephant in the days before the empire of Srivijaya, when animals could speak.

The greedy elephant, finding a tree laden with fruit, ate all the oranges and burst. Many years later when mankind had been invented, a traveller came to the place of the unfortunate animals’ demise and found on the spot an orange tree laden with 1000 golden fruit. This is why the words “naga ranga” mean both “orange” and “fatal indigestion for elephants” in Sanskrit. So says Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat in her wonderfully entertaining “History of Food”.
Columbus planted the first oranges in Haiti on his voyage of 1493. The fruit trees spread through the islands eventually reaching mainland America where the first orange plantation began to flourish in Florida in 1579. Meanwhile our own Gervais Markham was extoling the virtues of a “cutting paste of oranges” in 1615 and Martha Washington was turning her attention to “preserue orringes and leamons”
Gradually the delights of citrus fruit took hold and the medicinal advantages became apparent. During the Gold Rush oranges were taken with difficulty by wagon from Florida to California were it was noticed that they had an extraordinarily efficacious effect on the badly nourished early settlers and gold prospectors, preventing scurvy. Sometime earlier in 1747 a ship’s doctor, one Dr Lend, experimented with his sickly crew by feeding half with the juice of two oranges a day and the rest none. He noted that those drinking orange juice recovered from the scurvy whilst the others perished.

From the 18th Century more and more varieties of oranges were being developed across the warm regions of the world; marmalade recipes became prolific. Eliza Acton gives a recipe in her classic “Modern Cookery” of 1845 for Genuine Scottish Marmalade: oranges, 3lbs; water, 3 quarts; sugar, 6lb.
Mrs Beeton follows suite with a plethora of examples. In my own old broken 1880 edition there are no less than five orange marmalade recipes. Mary A. Everard is very concise in her little book of 1888 “The Handy Dictionary of Cookery”. Simply cut up twelve Seville oranges into strips; put them in six quarts of water and allow them to stand for twenty-four hours. Boil till reduced by half; then add eight pounds of sugar. Boil one and a half hours till set.
And if you Google orange marmalade now you will be in front of your computer for far longer than it takes to make a few pounds of the stuff!
Even today we eat oranges to top up our vitamin c intake, drink orange juice as part of our government recommended “five a day”. But I rest my case for oranges in every form, be they fresh or as marmalade, by quoting once more Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat: “To eat an orange is to travel in imagination to countries where the climate is heavenly, the sun kind, water abundant and pure, the breeze caressing, the soil light, the nights cool, and man skilful, patient, careful and well organised.”

Seville Orange Marmalade
My favourite marmalade recipe, the one I use year after year comes from Jane Grigson’s beautiful “Fruit Book” first published by Michael Joseph in 1982: the simplest, easiest and best-flavoured marmalade, she says, I agree.
Scrub 1 ½ kilos of Seville oranges and put them in a pan with 3 ½ litres of water. Simmer until skin is tender, about 1 ½ hours. Take oranges out of the water, cool, halve and remove the pips. Put the pips in a piece of muslin. Cut up the orange flesh or pulse in a liquidiser being careful not to reduce it to a mush. Return shredded fruit to water. Add 3 kg of preserving sugar and hang the little bag of pips over the side of the pan on a piece of string so they bubble along with the fruit and release their pectin. Stir gently over heat till sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and boil vigorously till setting point is reached. Test for setting by placing a tiny spoonful of syrup on a cold saucer and putting it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. If setting point is reached a wrinkled skin will form.
Leave the marmalade to stand for 15 minutes to allow peel to settle, remove the bag of pips and discard, then pot the warm marmalade into warm sterilised jars and cover: so nice!

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