bread and jam for Ruby

Bread and Jam are on my mind at the moment. Strawberry and gooseberry gluts have me reaching for the preserving pan, while Ruby has been reading Bread and Jam for Frances, a lovely children’s book about a faddish eater.

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Frances loves bread and jam. She likes it so much that she eats it for breakfast, lunch and supper too. And she’s quite happy with her unbalanced diet until she starts to notice the variety in her friend’s lunchbox, the poached eggs on the breakfast table and the spaghetti and meatballs her family are enjoying. Frances begins to wonder what she’s missing.

I was introduced to ‘Bread and Jam for Frances’ by Sofia Dyson, whose Bread and Jam business makes gorgeous little girls dresses. The name Bread and Jam seems such a perfect match for the retro style dresses which are so comfy, perfect for little girls who like to climb trees and find treasures to stash in the generous pockets. Sofia and her university friend, Lisa Swerling came up with the name partly because of this book and also because they remembered bread and jam luring them away from lectures as students; they would scoff while discussing lovely fabrics.

You can see the dresses here and brightening up my washing line here:

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Ruby is loving the book as much as the dress. including the song:

“Jam on biscuits, jam on toast,

Jam is the thing that I like most.

Jam is sticky, jam is sweet,

Jam is tasty, jam’s a treat-

Raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry,

I’m very

FOND……OF…..JAM!

And when she recently had a week or so of really struggling to get to sleep at night, I decided it was worth trying a new routine. After her bedtime story, Ruby could try reading in bed herself for the first time. I hoped this would make her sleepy, but of course she was so excited by the idea that sleep was the last thing on her mind!

She chose ‘Bread and Jam For Frances’ and at least it made bed feel like a nice place to be again. The rapid progress in learning to read that children make in reception class at school still seems so exciting to me. As I love snuggling under the duvet with a good book myself, it seemed so lovely that my daughter was enjoying this treat.

What wasn’t quite as lovely was how I ended up running up and down the stairs like a yo-yo on the first night of reading in bed! Every time Ruby came to a word that she didn’t know, she’d call me up. When this got to the stage where I was barely downstairs before being called up again, I came up with a brainwave. Post-its!

As Ruby had just acquired some post-its in a lurid shade that were particularly pleasing to her, I suggested the following night that each time she came to a word she was stuck on, she could add a post-it and then we’d have a look at all the words in the morning. It worked a treat. She happily snuggled into bed with her book and post-its, I got on with the “boring jobs” I’d told her I had to do downstairs.

But later, when I had a peek in at my sleeping daughter, I had a curious look inside ‘Bread and Jam  for Frances’. After a couple of pages I saw this:

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Then, a page later, a few more post-its:

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But the next page looked like this:

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 I ‘m not sure if tiredness made the words tricky or if it was just the sheer pleasure of using the post-its but whatever the reason, it gave me a good giggle.

I suspect that the moral of this book about not being a fussy eater may be lost on my daughter. But it has got ME thinking. About healthy jam as well as nutitional variety.

While it’s gong to be a long time until we’re bored of strawberries on muesli, strawberries with cream, strawberries with greek yoghurt, strawberries and ice-cream, there are lots more strawberries than we can eat at the moment, even with visitors.

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The least perfect ones are being frozen for future smoothies, but it’s definitely time for some jammin’ too. Preferably on a rainy evening (I can’t resist spending these gorgeous warm ones outside), with Bob Marley playing.

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I’ve been browsing Diana Henry’s wonderful ‘salt sugar smoke’ and have definitely decided to make her gooseberry and elderflower jam. Probably some Sarah Raven inspired gooseberry and thyme jelly too. But it’s the strawberry jam that gives me a dilemma. While I love a fresh-tasting, soft-set jam and the healthy very low sugar nature of Diana Henry’s ‘nearly strawberry jam’ totally appeals (75g sugar to 350g strawberries) I know that in the depths of winter it will be quite comforting to have a long-lasting traditional strawberry jam (1kg strawberries to 1kg sugar and juice of 2 lemons) in the store cupboard. I normally make lots of ‘fridge jam’ too, where I just simmer half the weight of sugar to fruit for 5 minutes – healthier, nicely soft-set but doesn’t have the lasting qualities of traditional jam.

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If given a taste test, I’m sure Ruby would opt for the sweetest jam of course. But I would like to feel that home-made jam can preserve some of the goodness of a summer glut without being as packed full of sugar as a commercial variety. So that the sweet treats I feed my family and friends at least verge on the healthy side.

Yet I’ve already been asked by my daughter if we can buy, “some of that lovely, really red jam with no bits in” that she’s tasted in jam sandwiches at a school picnic. So the jammin dilemma seems to sum up the feelings I often have when cooking for my daughter; trying to feed her wholesome, home-produced food without her feeling she’s being denied. The last thing I want to do is pack her full of sugar or junk food, but I don’t want her to grow up craving treats that seem more exciting than they actually taste because she doesn’t get them at home.

My answer of course to the jam dilemma perhaps says a lot about my enthusiastic (or just plain greedy?!) attitude to food. I’m going to make it all.

Not all at once of course. I don’t want to miss out on any of the spells of good weather that can be relished outside. I’ll just freeze gluts and, when there’s  a rainy evening and I have time, I’ll make a little jam. Mainly the lower sugar varieties but I’ll make a few jars of the traditional variety too, and we can enjoy them as a sweet treat after or during a good walk. Or on hot buttered toast on a chilly winter’s day.

In the meantime, the bread and jam this week is flat-bread and rhubarb and rose jam. Hopefully a bit of variety in the spirit of ‘Bread and Jam for Frances’ although the dukkah with mint and fattoush salad I also made to go with the flat-bread would perhaps seem a little more adventurous. More on those another time though.

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The rhubarb and rose jam is the one here. In the summer when the woodburner isn’t tempting me to make my stove-top flatbread, this is the bread I make regularly. It’s very easy, puffs up and can be split into a pocket like pitta to be stuffed with salads, mint, houmous, anything you fancy. It’s also good with curries or chilli. I sometimes make it with all white bread flour if we’re craving lighter bread but spelt flour or wholemeal flour adds a lovely flavour as well as feeling healthy. So, very similarly to my jam-making, I tend to vary the proportions of white/spelt flour depending on mood.

 

Recipe for Oven Flat-breads:

Makes 4 large pitta type breads (a little large and puffier than pitta)

300g unbleached strong white bread flour, preferably organic

150g spelt flour (Gilchesters is good)

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon dried yeast

350/400ml warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the water and pour into the flour along with the olive oil. Knead for about 5 minutes on a floured surface until the dough is soft, elastic and smooth. Depending on the amount of spelt flour you use, you may need to  add more water early in the kneading if the dough feels too dry/firm.

Set aside, covered by a cloth for an hour (this can be nicely imprecise depending when you’re ready to eat) then heat oven to 230C, divide the dough into 4 and roll out on a floured surface to ovals about 3 mm thick.

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Transfer to 2 lightly floured baking sheets and bake for 5-10 minutes until the bread is golden and cooked, puffing up slightly without being crisp.

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Warm out of the oven, it’s lovely with rhubarb and rose jam and a coffee or a mint tea. It feels a bit like an Arabian nights type of breakfast or a Berber snack to be served up in the Atlas mountains with the mint tea poured from a silver teapot.

While I’m in fantasy land, ‘Bread and Jam for Frances’ may inspire my daughter to eat enthusiastically, without any encouragement, all of the concoctions that I place in front of her. More likely, we’ll both end up agreeing with Frances:

“Jam in the morning, jam at noon,

Bread and jam

By the light of the moon.

Jam….is….very….nice.”

 

If anyone has noticed that the photos are dramatically better than my normal shoddy efforts, all of the pics in this post are taken by my lovely photographer friend, Chava Eichner who I enjoyed scoffing bread and jam with.

homemade flatbread and a happy new year

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As usual the start of a new year has me thinking about food. What I’m going to grow this year (how exciting is it that no sooner is Christmas over than we can start looking forward to longer days, planting seeds, Spring) but also what I’m going to cook. And it might not be too long until the first Spring lambs are born in the barns near us or the first bulbs peep through but there’s still time for winter comfort cooking.

After all that rich festive food and all that festive spending, something simple is in order. Bread fits the bill perfectly for me. A bit of simple pottering with store cupboard basics leads to homely aromas in the kitchen and freshly baked focaccia or flatbread adds interest to the last of the leftovers.

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Focaccia is great for any little helpers too – I find Ruby’s fingers and thumbs the perfect tools for those lovely indents where the olive oil and herbs gather. She loves sprinkling over rosemary, maldon sea-salt and drizzling the olive oil. And I agree with The Garden Deli about the attractions of rosemary at this time of year – and woody herbs generally. Who needs basil in January when thyme, sage and rosemary stand up to the heat of roasting, suiting wintry dishes so well. Sage and thyme work well on focaccia too and I’m planning to use them in bread with some of the leftover goats cheese.

But quick flatbread cooked on top of my Esse woodburner is my favourite bread of the moment. So quick and easy to rustle up – it can be made last-minute with no thought given to kneading or proving. Yet it makes such a lovely comforting yet frugal treat to mop up the turkey curry, pork chilli (we still have lots in the freezer!) beetroot or houmous dips or dhal. This is my favourite flatbread recipe, originally from  Moro the second cookbook and although I cook it directly on the hoplates of the woodburner, it can be cooked in a frying pan (make sure it’s a pan suited to dry coCasaoking – I know from experience, having wrecked one frying pan pre-woodburner!) on any conventional cooker. I like the Moro line that: “…it is easier to make flatbread for two people than go to the local shop and buy some pitta bread.”

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Quick Flatbread

Makes 4 thin breads, enough for 2 people

100ml warm water

1/4 teaspoon dried yeast

130g unbleached strong white bread flour (I experiment with wholemeal or part wholemeal/part white flour too – I find that wholemeal results in good flavour but less puffiness)

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon olive oil or rapeseed oil

Stir the yeast into the water and put the flour into a medium bowl with the salt. Begin to add the yeast and water to the flour. Start at the side of the bowl, pouring in a little water, incorporating some flour, and so on, all the time working out the lumps with your fingertips. When all the flour and water have been incorporated, beat in the olive oil with your fingertips. Ideally let the dough sit for 20 minutes, give it a quick mix to make more elastic. Then flour your hands and the dough, divide into 4 and roll out each one to a thin circle. Heat a large frying pan over a medium to high heat if you don’t have a woodburner with hotplates, then cook each bread one at a time. Place directly on woodburner hotplate or frying pan, when it starts to bubble, turn it over with a spatula. Cook until underside has brown spots. The bread should be cooked but still pliable. Keep warm, covered with a tea-towel, while you cook the rest.

Happy New Year baking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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