British seasonal resources

When I did my G20 menu post (where I looked at whether Saint Jamie had delivered or not menu wise at the G20 dinner) I promised that I would put some resources up for you so here is a selection of recommendations:

For checking out what’s in season/cooking the seasons try the following:


Eat the Seasons
BBC What’s in Season
River Cottage Seasonality Table
Waitrose British Seasons

Books that are organised by season:

Hugh F-W: The River Cottage Year (great stuff and quirky as ever – love this book)
River Café Cookbook Green (based more on Italian seasons so just shift by roughly 6-8 weeks in most cases)
Gary Rhodes: The Complete Cookery Year (can be a bit complex but Gary knows his stuff)
Margaret Costa: Four Season’s Cookery Book (its been around a long time but there’s some great ideas in this)
Jeremy Round: The Independent Cook (buying tips, recipes – useful reference, tho if you get the Pan paperback I think the index has gone wrong!)
Jamie O: Jamie at Home (recipes and growing tips, usual OTT enthusiasm from Jamie – love him or hate him)
Nigel Slater: The Kitchen Diaries (what Nigel ate almost day by day for 1 year, good on leftovers)
Matthew Fort: Rhubarb and Black Pudding (some of the recipes here are quite complex as it’s about Paul Heathcote’s restaurant but they are good for inspiration)
Sally Clarke’s Book (again a restaurant related book but inspiring none the less)

If you’ve spied a particular ingredient that’s in season and fancy looking at a few inspiring recipes for it try these books:

Sybil Kapoor: Simply British (some lovely quirky recipes in here)
Nigel Slater: Real Good Food (Nigel comes up trumps again)
Simon Hopkinson: Roast chicken and other stories, Roast chicken and other stories (second helpings), Gammon and Spinach (these are all great, good recipes, delightful commentary)
Rose Prince: The New English Table (wonderful approach to sustainable, ethical, frugal food)

and if you are after a bit of background history to dip in and out of then take a look at (there are other great books out there that are a ‘proper read’ but these are really good for snippets – some have recipes some don’t):

Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book (a classic must have book, bit out of date in some of the comments/recipes but well worth it for the background info)
Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book (as for the vegetable book a must have)
Jane Grigson: English Food (some great background info)
The Oxford Companion to Food (essential for any real foodie)
Jane Grigson: The Observer Guide to British Cookery (whirlwind tour round Britain with recipes)
Dorothy Hartley: Food in England (quirky, slightly mad book but very interesting)
Mason/Brown: Traditional Foods of Britain (useful and fascinating catalogue of foods that are produced in Britain rather than ingredients)

and in looking for these I found Marguerite Patten’s Century of British Cooking which is a great canter through some of the things we’ve eaten as a nation decade by decade – might need to cook my way through it as a project!

I’m going to be adding these to the sidebar in due course so they are always to hand for you.

And I’d really love to hear what books and resources you rate for all that British and seasonal when it comes to food so please add your comments.

A simple lunch

I’ve been blogging now for a couple of months and I’ve been looking at some of the other food blogs out there to see what goes on in the food blogging community. I noticed that some bloggers run ‘events’ as part of what they do and I thought it might be fun to join in now that I’m starting to get used to (or possibly obsessed by) the whole blogging thing.

Early on I’d seen the ‘In the bag’ monthly event that is run jointly by Julia at ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ and Scott at ‘Real Epicurean’ and was disappointed to have missed out on the January deadline; then I got so absorbed in playing with my blog, adding (and subtracting) widgets, reading Blogging for Dummies, checking out other blogs – you all know how it is I guess you’ve been there too – that I didn’t spot February’s ‘bag’ until it was so close to the deadline I knew I wouldn’t have time to think something up.

So as not to miss out again I watched closely for March’s bag to be announced and then got to thinking about what I could do with these three ingredients (leeks, cheese and eggs) which feature frequently in my cooking but, I immediately realised, rarely in one dish.

So off I went to do some researching in my various cookbooks.

As leeks seemed to be the key ingredient I started by looking for different ways with them that also used both eggs and cheese (for this first attempt I didn’t want to drop one of the ingredients even though you are allowed to, that seemed way too easy). There were plenty of choices with leeks and cheese and a few with leeks and eggs but little that combined all three beyond the inevitable leek and cheese flan/tart/quiche – delicious but very obvious – I was hoping for something a little different and also a dish that could perhaps become a new favourite in my cooking.

I did spot a leeky Welsh rarebit recipe in Hugh F-W’s River Cottage Year that looked rather tasty but decided it felt a little too much like a hearty winter dish and I wanted something that would work well as a fresh and light spring dish. I was also reminded how versatile leeks are, its so easy to fall to just steaming them and serving as a side dish when with a little imagination they could shine in their own right.

Some of the ideas that I toyed with along the way but discarded were (some of my general sources of inspiration are shown in brackets for those who want to pursue any of these):

  • Chargrilled leeks with shavings of a hard sheep’s cheese, or with a mayonnaise or hollandaise (Sybil Kapoor, Simply British)
  • Lightly steamed, dressed with a vinaigrette and finely chopped hard boiled egg (Hugh F-W, The River Cottage Year and Simon Hopkinson, Roast chicken and other stories)
  • A la grecque (Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book and Margaret Costa, Four Seasons Cookery Book) – fundamental flaw with this one was that it didn’t use the eggs or the cheese – oops! But it is delicious.
  • With pasta in a kind of vegetarian carbonara style or with homemade pasta (using the eggs) and a leeky cheesy sauce (any Italian cookbook will help).
  • As a kind of French onion style soup with a nice melted cheese crouton (I think this was from a Jamie Oliver book where he does a three types of onion soup – I think its Jamie at Home but can’t seem to locate it right now – sorry).
  • In a risotto (any Italian cookbook).
  • As a gratin….

And so it went on – lots of fun delving in recipe books, finding great ideas, discounting them because they either didn’t use all three ingredients or they didn’t seem to fit with the fact the weather was getting wonderfully spring like. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t be submitting again this time…….

Then sitting flicking through River Café Cookbook Green, I noticed what seemed like

frittata after
frittata after

in the chapters devoted to March and April (with wild salad leaves, with sorrel, with spinach and prosciutto). Something started to stir – I really like frittata and other similar styles of omelette and I often cook one with a delicious fresh cheese called Buxlow Wonmil that I get when I’m in Suffolk.

There wasn’t going to be chance to get any of that particular cheese for this dish but I did want the refreshing tang that it has, so goats cheese seemed a possibility and thinking back to the leeky cheesy rarebit that I’d liked the sound of I remembered that Waitrose stock a Welsh goats cheese (Pant ys Gawn) that would fit the bill. I was beginning to feel like I might be in business. A spring frittata made with good British ingredients to be served, hopefully, with a side salad of early spring salad leaves (I was really hoping for some sorrel as I’d spied some in the herb section at Waitrose recently)

So off to the supermarket this morning to get the ingredients (sadly there isn’t a farmers market near where I live other than going into London to Borough market, which I love but rarely have time for, hence a huge reliance on the local Waitrose.). There was no sorrel left but I did find some English watercress and had to settle for some French lambs lettuce as none of the leaves seemed to be English just yet. So here’s the recipe.

For 2 as a light lunch you need:

4 medium eggs (organic for preference)
½ – 1 Pant Ys Gawn goat’s cheese (I used a whole cheese but see later) – or other fresh tangy soft cheese
1 slim leek
Maldon salt
freshly ground black pepper
Salad leaves of your choice

Make sure the grill is on and warm before you start

The Leek: Top and tail the leek and cut into chunks about 1 inch in length then slice these into quarters, rinse the leek thoroughly to remove any grit and drain or spin in a salad spinner. Heat a little butter in an omelette or other shallow pan (of about 6-7” in diameter). Add the leeks and allow them to soften for a maximum of 5 minutes, you are aiming for them to retain some of their crunch.

The eggs: break the eggs into a bowl; add a splash of milk and some salt and pepper. As soon as the leeks have softened a little pour the eggs into the pan and allow to cook slightly. Draw in parts of the sides a few times to create a little fluffiness in the texture. Once you think you have a good base but the eggs are still runny for most of the depth then…..

Add the cheese, which you have crumbled or cut into small chunks. Cook for a little longer and then pop the pan under the grill (be careful with the handle if its not heat proof) to cook the frittata from the top. This will take about 3-4 minutes if the grill is hot.

Remove from the grill and allow to cool slightly, slice and serve with your chosen salad leaves.

I was pretty pleased with the result, the leek flavours showed through well and they were soft enough but still with some bite, the cheese contrasted with them nicely and had a good tang and the salad leaves (dressed with just a little extra virgin rapeseed oil) made for a nice soft balance. I think probably the whole goats cheese was a little too much as the egg flavour was a bit lost so when I make this again I’d probably scale back to ½ of the cheese. 

I really enjoyed the whole ‘In the bag’ challenge; it made me think about some ingredients differently, gave me chance to read lots of recipe books and generated lots of ideas for ways to have leeks that I’d either forgotten or not thought of before.

So I’ll be looking forward to whatever is ‘In the bag’ in April.

G20 antics

Police and protesters; they’re ranged up against each other outside the Bank of England spoiling for a fight about something, anything, important or otherwise.

Meanwhile over at ‘Word of Mouth’ (The Guardian’s food blog) the real action is already underway with journalists praising Jamie O’s menu for tonight’s exclusive dinner at No.10 and the posting populace getting very het-up about seasonality, authenticity, diversity and why oh why its Saint Jamie in the limelight again. 

So lets just try to take a balanced look at things (because I’m sure Gordon and Barack will be aiming for balance today and tomorrow, if not dietary then economically at least).  

The brief: 

Mr Oliver has apparently been given a brief to create a menu that showcases the best of seasonal British food and cooking including finding things to represent each of the parts of the United Kingdom. Now some of you may think that ‘best’ ‘British’ and ‘food/cooking’ in the same sentence is something of an oxymoron and that St Jamie is a fool to have accepted the gig. But as we know from past form there is nothing like a challenge to get Jamie’s enthusiasm racing away with him and him saying ‘YES’ before anyone has any chance of stopping him. Even the imminent arrival of his third child is not enough to stop Jamie pouncing on this chance.

Remember it’s a BIG BIG GIG. 

So as we proceed through this analysis of the menu lets remember the brief is ‘BEST SEASONAL BRITISH’ cooked for people from 20 different nations with all the restrictions that entails. Because if you were on The Apprentice doing this and you junked the brief straight off Mr Sugar would be firing you right back to where you came from in no time.

The menu:

You’ve probably seen it already but lets see if and how it sticks to the brief:


Baked Scottish Salmon with Seashore Vegetables, Broad Beans, Herb Garden Salad, Mayonnaise and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda bread
Vegetarian option is Childwickbury Goat’s Cheese with Roast Shallots, Seashore Vegetables, Herb Green Salad and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda Bread (no mayo)


Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Welsh Lamb, very first of the season Jersey Royals, first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms. Mint Sauce and Gravy
Vegetarian option is Lovage & Potato Dumplings with first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms


Hot Bakewell Tart with Home-made Custard

A quick look in any seasonal cooking book or any of the various online seasonality resources will show you that Jamie is potentially quite restricted in some areas e.g. fruit = pretty much nothing, meat = wild pigeon!. And once he has to factor in a whole range of dietary requirements the options get cut further. So lets just be clear here: the guy has to create something uniquely (and identifiably) British and WOW that fits with a plethora of dietary restrictions and a rather thin set of seasonal choices.

So his only option is to get top notch ingredients and try to make them sing.


Salmon: in season, very recognisably British, represents Scotland (still part of the UK last time I looked despite the best efforts of may a Scotsman and woman). Obvious choice but shellfish is probably a no no and many might squeal at eel.

Seashore Veg: identified on most sites as sea kale and samphire. Well he’s on the mark with sea kale but I’m a bit doubtful about the possibility of samphire – it’s a shade early for that really but he can hardly have had it grown in a poly tunnel so he must know a secret source. I have seen it growing on the mud flats of Maldon fairly early in previous years so its not impossible. And its very British.

Broad beans: pretty British, very early so these have got to come from under glass, possibly from somewhere like the Isle of Wight or Channel Islands. And before we all go off on one about producing things early under glass lets just remember that they’ve been doing it since way back in the 1500’s – what do you think they used Chelsea for before they built posh houses and football clubs on it!

Herb garden salad: definitely seasonal, not especially British but that will depend on the actual herbs selected and what’s available. Hopefully he’ll have some sorrel or watercress or early spinach in there.

Mayonnaise: not reknowned for being particularly British but it is tasty and we could make a slightly weak argument about it allegedly being brought back from Mahon in Minorca after Richelieu defeated the British there in 1756 (bit tenuous though). I think he should have plumped for a dressing made with rapeseed oil and a herb or fruit vinegar.

Wild garlic soda bread: wild garlic is definitely in season and grows across much of the UK; and soda bread is found both North and South of the border in Ireland so it fits (regardless of your politics on the UK/Irish matter).

Vegetarians: sadly its goats cheese again for them it seems (a stock answer to ‘oh dear how do I cope with the veggie people’) but since good goats cheese is so lovely and a staple of the British food scene these days I’d be happy to opt for this and they get to have the same supporting vegetables.

Main: This is a tough one to call. The options are limited and some of the things on the menu are VERY early in the season. I imagine there’s been a lots of frantic sourcing going on to get some of this stuff but the choices are all well known British options and show the range of possibilities from across the UK

Lamb: of course it is now April! Its a bit early in the season but not impossible to get lamb that’s mature enough – I suspect since its being slow roasted it’ll be close to 1 year old rather than new season. Pretty tough call to find another option when pork and beef are probably both of the menu due to dietary restrictions and everyone would simply roll their eyes if its was chicken being served up.

Jersey Royals: if they are ready I say bring them on, fantastic.

Asparagus: after the cool winter I’m doubtful this is really in season yet but he must have managed to get its somewhere – I love asparagus so I’m quite jealous.

Vegetarians: good to see that the supporting notes are the same as for the meat option, veggies are so often just palmed off with a totally different mushed up irrelevant dish whereas this references back and adds lovage which will be in season.

Dessert: oh dear this is where the controversy really warms up. For a start most people say the real thing is Bakewell Pudding and it’s pretty easy to search out bucket loads of supporting evidence for that assertion. But many of the same sources also suggestion that Bakewell Tart is not such the chav newcomer most of us would have and recipes can be traced back at least to the mid 1800s for dishes that are more tart like less pudding and indeed tarts akin to Bakewell have a heritage going back further across most of the UK. So, as long as St J isn’t just opening a pack of Mr Kipling’s then I’m sure things will be okay. Pudding, dessert, whatever you want to call it there must have been lots of options to consider. I think he’s slightly lost the seasonal plot though here as he could have done something interesting with new seasons rhubarb (like the a wonderful dish I tasted at Northcote Manor in Lancashire earlier this year of Rhubarb Carpaccio, Custard Crumble Parfait, Rhubarb Granita which was real wow), even a simple fruit fool would have done the trick I think (and stopped the arguing about tarts and puddings).

So overall has he met the brief?

Well I’d say he’s well over 90% of the way there with this menu, plus its relatively simple and accessible and crucially for him straightforward to prepare. It’s a meant to be a working dinner not an off the scale gastronomic experience. I can quite imagine that St Jamie will pull it off again and by tomorrow when those who tasted comment we’ll be hearing about how great it was. And if not, well then I’ll eat my words or at the very least some seasonal British food.

Think you can do better? Look out for tomorrow’s post to join in the debate and have the chance to create your own G20 menu moment and also find out some useful resources on British food.


First rhubarb harvest

Today we harvested our first stalks of rhubarb this season. Coming in at six stalks it made a nice compact handful. We’ve got 3 rhubarb crowns and one seems to be slightly ahead of the others so all the stalks came off the one plant. 

Over the last few seasons we’ve had mixed cropping results – in the first few years after they were properly established we got a pretty good crop and then a couple of years ago they started to bolt very early in the season. We would get curious but quite attractive flowering rhubarb stems but very little worth harvesting and the flower stems are hollow so no good for the pot. It seems that letting them flower or bolt reduces the crop. This year we could see the same thing was going to happen again so after some searching in gardening books (most of which simply didn’t even seem to recognise the problem) we found some advice in a wonderful old book (The New Illustrated Gardening Encyclopaedia by Richard Suddell, from the 1940’s I believe, its full of lovely pen and ink illustrations) which said the flower buds should be removed as soon as they appear at ground level. So we’ve done that and it seems to have worked so far; I’m hoping for a better crop this year.

I really love rhubarb, its such a wonderful part of the British seasonal kitchen, it can be refreshing and light or warming with a tang depending on how its prepared. For this first batch I decided simple was best and just cooked the cut up stems briefly in a small amount of water with a little sugar added until they became soft but still held some shape. So now there is enough lightly cooked rhubarb to last me this week, for adding to breakfast muesli or making a quick desert with Greek yoghurt. I’m looking forward to its refreshing tang and starting to think of some different recipes to try when the next batch comes through. I might even decide to force one crown next winter to extend the season and make me feel revitalised by the onset of spring a little sooner.

Tasting oil

I’d been curious for a little while about one of the products I’d spotted in the farm shop I like to use when I visit Suffolk and then a couple of weeks back two things conspired to make me get on with trying it out.

First I was reading Hugh F-W’s weekly slot in The Guardian (‘Trickle treat’ on 7 March) and then I went out for dinner at ‘The Lighthouse’ in Aldeburgh and when they brought the bread with oil and balsamic they explained that the oil was a local product made from rapeseed (in fact just theone I’d been eyeing up).


Now I know most of us probably think the following about rapeseed:


  1. Oh that terrible stuff that blights the English countryside in May covering all the fields in a yellow haze of flowers.
  2. Grrrr that’s the stuff that gives me major hayfever as soon as I step anywhere outside of a town centre and nearer to the countryside.
  3. Isn’t that grown for them to feed to cattle or something like that?
  4. Isn’t that just horrible industrial extracted oil used in ready meals and other stuff that’s bad for us?
  5. Don’t they use that in bio-diesel?

But maybe we haven’t got all this quite right.

Firstly not all rapeseed flowers are yellow – you sometimes see purple ones, but they are mainly yellow and they are a bit of a blot on the landscape when in flower. We should however remember that the English landscape (as any other) is a changing thing, after all it used to be mostly woodland before it was rolling hills with wheat waving in the gentle breeze. But we are also right to there be concerned that a crop takes over an area and we get a monoculture.

I’m not a doctor so the link to hayfever and asthma is not my specialist subject. A quick search via Google (see for example Wikipedia and also The Independent as examples) however suggests that the link is not definitive, as rapeseed does not have wind born pollen. I imagine there’s plenty out there would testify that it triggers some kind of reaction for them.

Yes they do use it in cattle feed, yes some of it is extracted using industrial means but some is now produced like virgin pressings of olive oil; and yes they do use it in biodiesel.

But does that matter and does it taste any good?  

I decided to do a comparative tasting of three 


oils: olive, rapeseed and hemp, all cold pressings. The tasting was not conducted blind. The actual oils I used were (all available in my local Waitrose store and all a similar price):

Hemp: Good Oil Original cold pressed
Olive: Waitrose Organic 100% Italian extra virgin
Rapeseed: Hill Farm cold pressed extra virgin  



Colour wise the differences were pretty marked; the hemp was a dark green and slightly cloudy, the rapeseed a soft yellow and the olive a mid green. The viscosity seemed pretty much the same when I looked at how they coated the back of a spoon. Smelling them started to hint at the taste differences to come and this was confirmed by tasting directly from a teaspoon and with bread (Village Bakery Organic Campagne – a sourdough loaf).

So to the tasting results:  

Hemp: this is very unusual and a bit of an acquired taste – this actual tasting is the third time I’ve tried it since buying the bottle and it is growing on me slowly but I’m not quite convinced just yet. It has a strong flavour, which comes across as earthy and almost woody. The finish is quite long. It was better on the bread that it was ‘pure’ and contrasted the sourdough quite well. It makes a good change from olive but I doubt some people will ever be convinced that it’s a good substitute.

Olive: this was fairly fruity with a slight tang and peppery endnote. Its not a very strong oil but its nicely mild with the classic Italian notes. It was good with and without the bread but lets remember that this is the oil I have been using for a couple of years now as my basic olive oil so I’m used to its flavours.

Rapeseed: this has a mild and mellow taste. There’s a slightly nutty fruity seeds flavour that I couldn’t quite identify (I’m not sure its grassy like HFW says but then I was tasting a different brand). It was good on its own, but stood up to the bread test less well. The loaf though has a very distinctive sourdough flavour so this oil might work better with a milder flavoured loaf – it was certainly good when we had it at ‘The Lighthouse’ with balsamic. It’s also a good cooking oil – less distinctive than olive oil so better in some dishes and also with a nice high flame point making it better for sautéing.

Overall? I’ll stick with olive for a lot of things but the rapeseed is a definite permanent addition to the kitchen and I’ll keep trying the hemp but I’m not sure I’m ever going to be a big convert. Hugh FW suggests it more sophisticated than the rapeseed but actually I just think it’s stronger and more unusual but unusual does not always tally with sophistication and in this case I’d say it’s quite hard to get to know and love.



Lovely lavender biscuits

Reading several other blogs recently (particularly ‘Domestic Goddess in Training’ talking about Bara Brith) made me think it was about time I did a little bit of baking. And visitors scheduled for later this week clinched the deal. What better to offer with tea or coffee than homemade biscuits or perhaps a fruitcake?

First up the biscuits – I fancied cooking something that would have a hint of summer to come and so I hit on one of my favourite tried and tested recipes (and, I know, well liked by these particular guests). The recipe is from Sybil Kapoor’s Simply British – a lovely book of unusual recipes using classic British ingredients.

You will need:

4oz/115g softened butter (I prefer to use unsalted though it doesn’t specify that in the recipe)
2oz/55g caster sugar
zest 1 unwaxed lemon
3 teaspoons of lavender flowers stripped off the stem (hopefully ones from your own lavender bushes that you have dried and saved or I’ve found them online at Phytobotanica)

6oz/170g plain flour
caster sugar for dusting 

Heat the oven to Gas 2/150C/300F and have 2 greased baking sheets ready – you’ll get about 16 biscuits.

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest until it’s pale and light in texture. Then mix in the lavender flowers followed by the flour – use your hands as this will keep the butter warm and help incorporate the flour. You are aiming for a stiff but not too crumbly ball of dough – it will take a while to get to this stage (5 minutes or more). 

Then roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper until it’s only a few millimetres thick. Cut out the biscuits in whatever shape pleases you (yesterday I had to use an unturned wine glass because I couldn’t find the cookie cutters – it still worked). Place the biscuits on the trays using a palette knife – they are quite fragile so take care. Obviously use up all the scraps of dough, which will mean a few odd shapes for the cook to try later. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes until lightly brown – I usually start checking after 20 minutes to see how things are going. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately and dust with caster sugar. 

They are wonderfully crumbly, melting in the mouth, the lavender flavour is quite rich and the lemon zest helps balance this nicely. Eat with abandon – though I defy you to manage more than 3 in a sitting.

Now lets just hope I haven’t eaten them all before my guests arrive……..