granola, figs and quince – mellow september fruitfulness

At the beginning of September I’m always reluctant to let go of those last days of Summer. This year I was glad that a christening on the Lyn peninsula gave us the excuse to wave jump in a surprisingly warm Welsh sea before hunkering down to Autumn cosiness. By the end of September I’m full of enthusiasm for lighting the wood-burner on chilly evenings and baking granola to go with the last of the figs from the garden. There are apples and pears to pick, Autumn fruiting raspberries to enjoy with thick yogurt, and cobnuts to scatter on blackberry cakes.

I’m relishing those misty, mellow mornings with their gentle golden light. Today morning when I went out to feed the chickens, two surreal muted rainbows linked the hills. Romantically, I thought how beautiful it was and optimistically looked forward to running back over the hill from school. Less romantically it was chucking it down when I puffed and panted in my attempt to make it home. At least it hopefully burnt off some of the September comfort food I’m scoffing and I felt properly alive after too many workdays inside on a screen.

September just has so many delicious offerings tempting me. We had copious bowls full of plums this year, the last went into a jar of Russian Plum liqueur that I made from a recipe in Diana Henry’s salt sugar smoke. Pears are being roasted, apples are going into butterscotch pudding and, more healthily, the rainbow chard is as handy in the kitchen as it’s stunning in the garden.

I love September, it’s a time of plenty but with an air of sweet decay. On the road leading to Ruby’s school, abundant apples are crushed along the road – reminding me of cider every time I go on the school run! I have plans to make raw cider vinegar with apple peel and cores (for the chickens as much as us) but that’s another story…

In the garden there’s a chaotic mixture of vibrant flowers (pink Cosmos, yellow Rudbeckia, Sunflowers grown by Ruby from her own saved seed) and fading blooms.

 

 

So many things that I haven’t cleared including seed-heads that are providing treats for birds, butternut squash in danger of being covered by rampant nasturtium and plenty of runner beans for the kitchen. Only a few quince this year so no quince brandy or quince membrillo I fear, the few precious quince are probably destined for lamb tajines. The damsons are fast falling and heading for more sweet decay but still have hopes of making Liz Knight’s delicious sounding Damson Chocolate cake. Definitely a month to relish.

hygge & wood-burner cooking

Last time I wrote here it was about Midsummer madness, now my feet are cosy in sheepskin slippers and I’m warming myself next to the wood-burner. This morning it was -2 degrees first thing, beautifully frosty outside but the garden is looking sadly bereft of vegetation. There are still lots of seed-heads and much as I like to think my tardiness when it comes to Autumn clearing is good for wildlife (I hate bare earth with all those nutrients being lost) it does now look decidedly scruffy.

Time to prepare the ground for some new planting I think. First though, there’s the lovely winter pleasure of planning it all, dreaming of red speckled borlotti climbing up teepees and of rainbow chard edging beds – while I sip tea by the wood-burner.

Having written recently about Hygge for Smallholder magazine I’m trying not to do that post-Christmas dreaming of Caribbean beaches and embrace the wood-burner cosiness of these chilly months. Maybe bake some salty, rosemary-scattered focaccia to eat with good coffee on a weekend morning.

Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is of course a Danish term used to describe cosiness, comfort and generally taking pleasure in the good things in life. The sort of feeling you get when snuggling up on a sheepskin, warmed by an open fire, maybe a mulled cider to hand and some home-reared pork effortlessly slow-cooking in the oven.

Candles would of course be lit and there would be friends and family around to share all this laid-back pleasure with.

Along with Scandi-chic, hygge is currently everywhere, in fact it’s being used a lot by stylish and far too tempting home-wares stores to sell everything from Icelandic jumpers to expensive candles. With the bank balance reduced significantly by the festive period, I’m doing my best to resist. Trying to remember that hygge isn’t all about lovely knitware; the point is surely that we should remember to celebrate the simple moments in our day whether it’s noticing the first shoots of spring buds appearing or enjoying a mug of tea with a friend.

Danish winters are long and dark and perhaps call for a lot of nourishing of the soul! Hygge is a way of not just dealing with those winters but relishing them, an attitude that is just as relevant to our British way of life, when winter always seems just a month or two too long.

A lovely place for inspiration is Trine Hahnemann’s ‘Scandinavian Comfort Food. Embracing the Art of Hygge.’ Many of Trine’s recipes are so enticing for this time of year (meatballs with celeriac and apples or duck legs with potatoes, apples and brown cabbage) plus there are numerous healthily delicious recipes for home-grown vegetables. It’s the spirit in which they’re cooked, shared and enjoyed that seems to be vital though, along with the relaxed setting.

from Trine Hahnemann’s ‘Scandinavian Comfort Food’

The more I explore hygge (including reading this lovely piece by Mrs Thomasina Tittlemouse) the more I’m reminded that my wood-burner cosiness is all the more enjoyable after being outdoors. Whether it’s a run across the fields on a bright but chilly morning, half an hour stacking the logs in the wood-store or venturing out for a walk up the hill.

All that bracing fresh air cries out for some easy, imprecise, slow-cooking on the wood-burner to return to, maybe a tasty stew or roast vegetables using the last of my colourful stripy beetroot:

Roasted Vegetables with Winter Herbs – Recipe

Substitute herbs or veggies (celeriac or swede is also good here) according to personal favourites/gluts in the garden – most winter root vegetables go well with the robust flavours of woody perennial herbs.

Ingredients

Several sprigs of rosemary, thyme, sage and a couple of bay leaves (or substitute myrtle)

½ Squash such as butternut (about 250g) cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) wedges, no need to peel the skin off.

2 medium potatoes, cut into wedges

1 medium beetroot, scrubbed and cut into wedges

2 carrots

2 parsnips

2 medium onions, peeled and cut into wedges

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled but bashed with the blunt end of a knife

3 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Scrub your vegetables well/peel if needed then dry on kitchen roll and place in a bowl with the garlic cloves, and herbs – all except the beetroot, which needs to be added at the last minute otherwise you’ll stain all the veggies a vibrant pink. Season with salt and pepper and mix well so that everything is well coated with oil. You can cover the vegetable mixture with clingfilm and leave for a few hours before cooking if preparing ahead.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to its highest temperature, or ensure the fire in your wood-burning stove is roaring. Lay the vegetables on a baking tray, then add the beetroot chunks, tossing carefully to coat in oil and herbs. Now roast in the hot oven for 35 minutes or so until tender.

Serve as a side dish with meat or fish or scatter with chunks of feta cheese and rocket to enjoy with crusty bread as a warm winter salad.

Hopefully I’ll be able to resist rushing out to buy hand-knitted socks and forget those thoughts around lottery wins and a month or so spent in the Caribbean. Remembering there’s something about returning home at dusk after a winter walk, the smell of wood-fire in the air. I’ll keep my fantasies to planting/harvesting dreams of purple beans snaking up canes and squash running amok. Making sure in the meantime that I have a pile of blankets to hand, a few candles and a good book.

 

 

goose eggs & greens, rhubarb & custard

Goose eggs-rhubarb (640x425)Even on rainy days, May surely has to be the loveliest month – after a downpour, the fresh, lush growth is even lovelier. The Sweet Cicely in my poor, weed-strewn herb border is covered in frothy creamy umbels, competing with the cow parsley in the field next door. Jewel-like drops of water glisten from the Lady’s Mantle  and there’s blossom everywhere – spilling from the wild cherry tree from which our hammock hangs, and promising good things from the apple, pear, plum and quince trees.

Despite all the lush green growth, we’re still in the hungry gap of course. There’s so much hope of good harvests from the tiny borlotti beans pushing out of the damp earth towards my teepee (if they can race the self-sown nasturtium seedlings that are springing up everywhere) to the new potato plants that are loving the current mix of sun and rain.

But hope and promise is about all there is just yet when it comes to eating my garden.Apart from the greens that is.

Hens eggs-Kale (425x640)

There are plenty of chives and numerous herbs to be sprinkled on my lunchtime omelettes and sandwiches. Last year’s chard is utterly flourishing and crying out to be made use of before it runs to seed. Nettles a plenty of course. And there’s lots of wild garlic to be gathered from the woods – we’ve found a great new spot that’s a handy bike ride away for my daughter, while I turn puce running behind her.  Mixes of greens seem perfect for May – for mixing with soft cheese and filling pasta parcels, pies and definitely adding to concoctions such as frittata with the goose eggs that happily coincide.

Goose Eggs AW

Pie 4 (640x425)

As perfectly May as rhubarb and custard, the still slender pink rhubarb making a perfect tart partner to rich ice creams and custard (goose eggs are perfect here again).  Lots of other rhubarb recipes I’d like to try too, maybe combining Liz Knight’s rose dukkah. And if the slugs and snails get in the way of my May optimism, there’s always rhubarb cake to cheer me up. Made with this easy Diana Henry recipe at the weekend, it’s moist and yummy, a bit too tempting with my morning coffee while working.

Foraged Fritatta

The seedlings on my windowsill may be dawdling but the nettles are sprinting. Weeds are rampaging everywhere in the garden and there doesn’t seem enough time to tackle half of them. Eating the pesky things seems the best option. Along with last year’s chard (valiantly braving the elements while newer sowings take their time) and some wild garlic from the woods, one of my favourite ways of eating those nettle tops is in a fritatta.Frittata 3 AW (1)

 

I’m full of enthusiasm for similar mixes of greens at the moment, mainly ‘foraged’ from the garden. I glance out of the window and the garden still seems to offer meagre pickings. Yet there’s always a handful of greens to add to a quick lunchtime omelette or to wilt and mix with ricotta and parmesan for filling pasta shells. I might add some of last year’s Italian greens that are hanging on in there in the asparagus bed and a few dandelion leaves. Then there’s the tops of the Brussels flowers I grew last year, the plants are pretty much over and look very scruffy but I’m reluctant to pull them out while they’re adding to my colander of tasty, nutritious (and free!) greens.

Foraged Frittata

6 eggs (I often include goose eggs as they’re around at the moment and add a richness, their large yolks making the frittata SO yellow)

A colander of chard, nettle tops, wild garlic, whatever edible cultivated and wild green take your fancy.

I onion, chopped

A small bowl of grated parmesan.

Salt & pepper.

Olive oil.

Add a glug of olive oil to a frying pan and add the onion with a pinch of salt, then cook on a low heat slowly until it’s softened and deliciously sweet. Meanwhile wash the greens thoroughly in a colander then wilt in a pan. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze the excess water from the greens then chop – I find this easy with scissors. Beat the eggs in a bowl, add the greens, parmesan, cooked onions and season.

Add another glug of olive oil to a frying pan, turn the heat to medium/high and add the egg mixture, Turn the heat down to low immediately and cook slowly for 10 to 15 minutes until the frittata is almost set then place under a pre-heated grill until the top is set. Great eaten straight away but leftovers are lovely cold too.

Makes me relish the hungry gap!

leftovers and preserving – my January kitchen

I know preserving doesn’t seem the most likely kitchen activity for the middle of winter but even while I’m making leftover meals (I still have turkey stock for risottos, turkey in the freezer, slow-cooked red cabbage and a lot of Christmas cake) I’m dreaming about Spring/Summer meals. Thanks to the ham and chorizo that’s air-drying next to our wood-store.

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In December I bought a pig from a friend who has a small farm, partly so that we could make good use of the cage Guy made (when we had 3 Berkshire pigs to clear the garden) for protecting ham while it hangs outside. We hang it from rafters at the back of our house, under a covered area where the ham can still benefit from wind but stay protected from rain – or snow if we have any. I salt a leg of ham for a couple of weeks first, then wipe it and wrap for hanging as here.

We also made sausages, a plain English style sausage and fresh chorizo. I’d bought hog casings for sausage and salami previously from Weschenfelder and borrowed a friend’s sausage-making equipment. This time I was very excited when Weschenfelder offered to let me try out their sausage-making machine – it meant I could have several sessions of making sausage and chorizo. Ruby was also very keen to get involved so we had a couple of sausage-making fests after school. Thankfully the machine is really easy to assemble and use, perfect for a clumsy Mum and an 8 year old!

Along with the leftover meat going into noodle dishes and Indonesian influenced Nasi Goreng type dinners, the odd toad in the hole or sausage and mash is going to make an appearance amongst the copious January frugal/healthy lentil and egg based dishes.

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In my kitchen at the moment there’s also:

-Experimentation for Cowboy style campfire dinners for the Giffords Circus competitionfor this year’s tour of the Cotswolds (a must on my list of things to do for 2016). We’re thinking home-made baked beans (that pig may come in handy here too), cornbread, puds with maple syrup?

– Some lovely Farmers hand-cream that I have to hand. I love the fact that it’s made by the sea in North Wales (already planning a holiday to this wonderful coast for this Summer) and uses lavender grown on a hill farm in mid Wales.

FARMERS-hand-cream

– Lots of enamel ware, including a great little saucepan that I had for Christmas. Earmarked for camping trips this year (I really want to try the Elderflower Orchard at Thistledown Farm this year), in the meantime it’s made warming my milk for morning coffee very pleasurable and has been used for an extra batch of cranberry sauce.

Festive

-Plenty of slow cooking on the wood-burning stove. It’s been used to make the red cabbage and cranberry sauce and seems perfect for slowly simmering stews and casseroles from Gennaro Contaldo’s ‘Slow Cook Italian’ one of my current favourite cookery books that I’m enjoying cooking my way through. Pheasant Ragu tonight.

Bubbling away

Not too many New Year resolutions for me but plenty of things I’m full of enthusiasm for cooking and eating this year and so many places I can’t wait to explore.

Would love to link this post in with In My Kitchen, previously hosted by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and now by Maureen of Orgasmic Chef. I love the glimpses of other people’s kitchens around the world offered by IMK, and look forward to more beautiful, inspirational and inspiring posts from Celia, Sally of My Custard Pie and many others.

 

 

 

home-grown cocktails

cocktails 3

Tis still the season to be merry – and to celebrate the fruits of your labour in style. If you have a few home-made jellies and cordials stashed away to add to the mix, New Year cocktails can be satisfyingly personal too.

cocktails - using home-made jellies

If you’ve planned ahead and squirelled away blackberry whisky, sloe gin, cider, pear vodka or quince ratafia you can get really creative. But if not, many regular preserves or berried treasure stashed in the freezer can help you celebrate a productive year in the garden in style. I always find frozen fruit languishing in the depths of the freezer just when I’m about to pick the next year’s crop – far better then to relish it with something sparkling!

cocktail 2

I’d like to describe gleaning cocktail recipes/ideas from vintage books or stylish bars but have to admit that my own experimentation has mainly been a result of desperation: trying to concoct something on a Friday night when I have gin ready to pour and realised we haven’t got any tonic!

Growing herbs such as lemon verbena and lemon balm does make me eager to try them in syrups though and I can’t resist picking a few rose-hips for similar purposes. Or using a sprig of rosemary as a stirrer in a Whiskey Sour.

This is my favourite, very simple home-grown cocktail:

Cotswold Kir Recipe

I got the idea for this on a holiday to Brittany. Kir is obviously a classic French cocktail made with Crème de Cassis topped up with white wine but we enjoyed a Breton version made with local sparkling cider at a great little B & B. It felt perfect drunk in a rural part of Brittany surrounded by apple orchards; once home we decided a Cotswold Kir suited our own surroundings up a Cotswold hill. Especially as I’d made home-made Cassis with a blackcurrant glut and had some nicely matured home-made sparkling cider ready for quaffing.

Ingredients

Cassis (Very easy to make if you have plenty of home-grown blackcurrants).

Sparkling Cider

Simply add 1 part Cassis to a glass then top up with 9 parts Sparkling Cider for a cocktail as delicious as it’s beautiful.

My friend Chava took the pics here for an article I was writing on home-grown cocktails for Smallholder magazine. It was a month before Christmas, we were both busy but had the wood-burner lit and it seemed a waste not to stop and drink the cocktails we’d made for the photos. We could’ve quite happily settled by the wood- burner for the rest of the day.

cocktail 1

A belated Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

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