primrose, wood-stores & wild cherry buds

“After the sugar snow had gone, spring came. Birds sang in the leafing hazel bushes along the crooked rail fence. The grass grew again and the woods were full of wild flowers. Buttercups and violets, thimble flowers and tiny starry grassflowers were everywhere. As soon as the days were warm, Laura and May begged to be allowed to run barefoot. At first they might only run out around the woodpile and back, in their bare feet. Next day they could run farther, and soon their shoes were oiled and put away and they ran barefoot all day long.”

I’ve been reading ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder with Ruby, loving this simply but beautifully told tale of family life interwoven so closely with the seasons in a log house in Wisconsin. While I relish the descriptions of preserving food, collecting maple sap and dancing to celebrate sugar snow, Ruby loves the exciting stories (there are wolves and bears and huge wild cats in the Big Woods and the family travel by sleigh) that always end cosily.

Now that our own days are suddenly warm, pale yellow primroses have made a pretty appearance next to the slender pink rhubarb in the garden and the kitchen table is full of cheery blooms.

DSC07047DSC07057

DSC07051

The hammock has made its first appearance this year. We may not be exactly barefoot, but abandoning thick socks and boots in favour of easily slipped on crocs and shoes and having the kitchen doors wide open for most of the weekend has given me a similar feeling of freedom. The very welcome sunshine also seems to have urged us into lots of activity. Guy has been chopping a large oak tree that was a casualty of the recent gales. Unfortunate (and we’re keen to plant more trees) but it’s adding considerably to the wood-pile and will keep us very warm next winter. The recent sun means it’s been possible to get the trailer into the water-logged field to bring the wood home ready for splitting and stacking.

DSC07070

A large extension to the very full wood-store is planned too. Funny how just as we’re welcoming Spring we’re thinking of future winters. The Oak tree has also supplied some splendid, rustic chairs for the tree-house, which has been the scene of much al fresco eating over the last week. It also became a washing house yesterday. Ruby turned into Dame Washalot (from Enid Blyton’s ‘Magic Faraway Tree’) once more, and enlisted the help of a friend in her tree-house laundry.

DSC07046

Old rags that we use for cleaning were ‘washed’ in buckets of luke-warm water. Yes, I need to gather them and stick them in the washing machine asap as they MAY not be scrupulously clean, but the girls were happy dangling them over the tree and pegging them out for ages.   Ruby was also busy making a rabbit bike-helmet out of a shell and some old ribbon – well, someone has to be safety conscious as that bunny is partial to speed.

DSC07079

DSC07058

Meanwhile, the Spring sunshine had me enthusiastically tackling the garden, weeding and digging and planting seeds. In between making rhubarb custards to follow slow-cooked pulled pork (one of the last of the joints from our Berkshire pigs, marinated over-night in smoked paprika, garlic, beer, brown sugar) which I could forget about while I gardened. I dug parsnips from the garden to roast, picked purple sprouting and we shared it with friends, washed  down with our own cider, now really quite palatable and with a very pleasing sparkle.

Amidst all our Spring activity, I had a very indulgent start to Sunday morning. Knowing that this is the only morning of the week (now that swimming lessons mean an early start to Saturdays) that there’s any chance of a lie-in I nonetheless woke to chattering birds and a promising sun and was eager to start the day. So was Ruby. While I got tea and milk, she suggested we go outside. We headed out in our PJs through the dewy, still cool garden. I strung up the hammock and we snuggled under a blanket, gazing up at the blue sky. The wild cherry tree that the hammock hangs beneath was full of buds that I hadn’t noticed before. A visiting bee obviously had though, heading purposefully on a foraging trip. The more we looked, the more life we spotted in fact. Then we sipped our tea and milk and savoured the last chapter of ‘Little House in the Big Woods.’

“…Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, ‘This is now.’ ”

It seemed so apt reading this while enjoying the unexpected delight of a cuddle with my daughter and a part of the day outside that we normally miss. Even though I could spy tender little nettles destined either for a Wild Greens Pie or the compost heap, I decided that all the Spring activity and planning for future seasons could wait a little while.

DSC07034

Very grateful to Diana Henry by the way, for leading me to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books through her very well-chosen quotations in the wonderful Roast Figs, Sugar Snow: Food to Warm the Soul.

brussels flowers, dame washalot & bald pipe-cleaners

DSC07021 DSC07029Brussel flowers are nearly at an end and I have Ruby-picked narcissi. Spring has taken my kitchen by surprise and it’s very lovely. I can hear the lambs from the window (which has been flung open for most of the weekend) and I’m totally relishing the sunshine.

Driving over the hill on our way to Ruby’s swimming lesson yesterday, it was one of those mistily beautiful mornings, with the slightly greening countryside looking so atmospheric. Beautiful in a different way to an Autumn or winter misty morning, with the Spring sun bringing such hope for a fabulous weekend as it burst through.

Hopeful though the sunshine was, swimming lessons have changed to a very unkind hour for a Saturday morning, so this was definitely necessary when we got back home:

DSC06998

Gorgeous coffee that is sourced by a couple from Blockley, a village near to us. They source and roast the coffee beans themselves, visiting the producers and so ensuring that their coffee is the best sort of fair-trade. Totally delicious too.

As it has very definitely been a weekend to enjoy being outside, most of the food has been as a result of previous efforts. I’m finally eating a semi-hard cheese that doesn’t have a suspicious sheen, unlike my glittery cheese of a few months ago. It goes well with the quince membrillo style jelly that is proving to store well.

DSC07027 DSC07025

Of course the days may be unexpectedly balmy, but the evenings are still chilly – I’m not unhappy with that, always glad of an excuse for a wood-burner. Last night I cooked a tagine on it with the very tasty hogget chops I mentioned here. Broad beans from the freezer (keen to use them all as I’ve just planted more crimson flowered broad beans for this year) cumin, garlic and preserved lemon went very well with the wonderful meat.

Chilly evenings are a great excuse for creamy rice pudding with the last of the rhubarb and rose petal jam too that you may remember as below.

Bko0GLhxOwfSNIW-kkZq2A06nDDHjNvBnrlpGICKJpg,D86Q81eA3SalQ1REdDDgiDWOCt19UOoqRozkvaC8U0U

Mornings are definitely not too warm for porridge yet either. I experimented with the banana porridge as recommended by Rachel of the fabulous Well Worn Whisk. It went down very well with Dame Washalot, aka Ruby Martha as you can see:

DSC07012

It was World Book Day and she was in need of sustenance for a school day dressed as one of the characters from her current favourite book, The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.

In my March kitchen there are also many bald pipe-cleaners. Ruby has been as keen on making things with pipe cleaners as I have been in curdling milk lately. She’s now taken to de-fluffing them – can’t remember why exactly bald pipe cleaners were needed but they were vital for some sort of making project. Unsurprisingly my hoarder of a daughter couldn’t throw away the by product and one day asked for a bowl of water. She made a potion with the fluff.

DSC06987

I know, yummy.

Meanwhile though, as I simmered the leftover chicken carcass for stock (used in risotto & soup) & wondered what I could use the latest batch of whey (leftover from cheese experimenting) in, I realised that I wasn’t exactly in a position to criticise one thing leading to another in potion making.

One last thing from my March kitchen (joining in Celia of Fig Jam & Lime Cordial’s fab IMK once again) on the subject of Brussels flowers. I’ve been supplementing the home-grown veg with a few extras from our wonderful local veg growers and greengrocers, Drinkwaters. One of their freshly picked veggies that we’ve been loving as a change from our own root veggies and chard are these beautiful, purple-tinged flowers/buds:

DSC07021Now, we grow Brussels Sprouts ourselves and enjoy the sprout tops but these are something different, both in looks and taste. Do any gardeners know, are Brussels flowers a different vegetable altogether or if left long enough, do regular Brussels Sprouts ever flower? Would love to grow them. And if your local veg shop stocks them, would definitely recommend.

 

 

 

slow-cooked hogget

Although we’ve had several glorious days of uplifting Spring sunshine lately and I’ve enjoyed some great gardening time with Ruby, there are still days when only slow-cooked comfort food will do. The hogget from Windrush Farm that I cooked for 6 hours with rosemary, garlic and our home-made cider was definitely food to warm the soul as well as body.

DSC06978

Locally farmed in a traditional way and cooked slowly on our wood-burning stove, the hogget was full of flavour, tender and still succulent due to the liquid.

Windrush Farm isn’t far from home, near Cold Aston in the Cotswolds and some great old breeds of sheep are farmed there – pedigree Windrush Berrichons, Dorsets and Whitefaced Woodlands. All naturally reared on pasture, resulting in great flavour and nutrition.

bassil-and-ronnie-in-WF-paddock-300x223

Even better, they sell hogget and mutton. I’ve been wanting to try mutton for ages – partly because I look at the new lambs at this time of year and like the idea of them living longer. Also I was curious about the difference in flavour from animals that have grown slowly and naturally to those that are barely weaned.

I have to admit that I didn’t know what hogget was until I spoke to Peter from Windrush Farm; it’s in between lamb and mutton, meat from sheep between 12 and 24 months. Very tasty it is too, and so suited to slow cooking.

Living as I do amidst gorgeous honey coloured towns and villages that were mostly built from the wool trade, I was really interested to hear that hogget was common back when there was a market for wool. Now that their fleeces have so little value, it rarely makes economic sense for farmers to keep sheep, other than ewes and rams for breeding, beyond 12 months. Great then to hear of a local farm that’s keeping this tradition going.

dorset-ewe-and-twins-300x225

I cooked a shoulder of hogget very simply – this is hardly a recipe, more about great produce. But this is how I went about slow-roasting this delicious meat:

First strip a couple of sprigs of rosemary of leaves and bash them in a pestle and mortar with 2 cloves garlic, Maldon sea salt and some olive oil. I rubbed this garlicky paste all over the hogget and left it for a few hours. Then I cooked a couple of sliced onions slowly in more olive oil and placed them in a large casserole pot. The hogget was then browned for about 10 minutes in the frying pan I’d cooked the onions. I placed the hogget on the onions, added a couple more whole cloves of garlic and a glass of cider, then cooled covered at 110C for about 6 hours. I removed the hogget and covered it in foil while I added a tin of cannellini beans to the onions and stirred through.

DSC06974

We ate our hogget and beans with lots of purple sprouting and garlicky potatoes. Leftovers went down very well too with flatbread, labneh, houmous and salads.

We still have a few hogget chops that I’m planning to try in a tagine and my thoughts are turning to mutton already. Thanks lots to Windrush Farm for such tasty meat.

 

 

 

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...