Mostly berries, some cherries and currants

At last the English fruit season has arrived. The gooseberries and strawberries are in full flow and the raspberries, cherries and currants (black, red and white) are all just starting to come into their prime. For all these fruits when the season starts and end is inevitably affected by the weather and where you are in the country, some have much longer natural seasons than others and making the best of each while you can is what its all about.

I like them fresh of course, or cooked in compotes, sauces and pies and some preserved to bring a little summer light into the autumn and winter. All these fruits are native to Britain in some form although the varieties we eat now hail from the experiments of plants-men across Europe and America. Cherries were being cultivated in Britain during the middle ages, gooseberries in the 15th century, black (and other) currants and raspberries in the 1600s. It seems that strawberries are very much the latecomers to the party only really becoming widely grown from the 19th century onwards.

I just can’t resist pinching a few cherries from the bowl each time I pass so they never last long enough to be made into anything, perhaps if I had a cherry tree I might manage to save a few for other things. This year I’m going to see if I can find enough (and not eat them all first) to try pickling some as I think they would be wonderful with a cooked ham in the depths of winter. And red, black or white currants are a tasty counterpoint to other fruits especially in summer pudding.

But truth be told its raspberries I love the most.

Fortunately the different varieties mean the season lasts from late June to Autumn. I have a theory that you are either a raspberry or a strawberry person at heart. Given a choice of both most people I know always plump for the same one, few dither, unsure as to which to have this time. Its not quite on the scale of a marmite love-hate thing but its there, strawberries OR raspberries is the way it seems to go. In Simply British Sybil Kapoor suggests raspberries are regarded with deep affection not adulation; I think she might be right.

Me, I’m a raspberry person through and through. The fresh fruit is better, the jam is better, better in tarts, just better. Faced with delicious, plump, wonderfully fragranced version of each raspberries always win and I’m happy to say no to strawberries even if there is no alternative. Their sweetness seems too saccharine, their texture odd; I like the slight tart edge and depth of flavour that even the sweetest raspberry has.

Although I’m not alone in this love of raspberries the majority seem to prefer strawberries seeing them as the perfect example of a British summer. The Johnny come lately to the table seems to have usurped the more historic fruit, with Bunyard musing in The Anatomy of Dessert why raspberries and cream are so much less popular than strawberries and cream. I suspect it’s that tart edge. He suggests a drop of champagne makes the raspberries more delicious. It might also be the connection raspberries have with use in tonics for the stomach and other ailments, but the old vinegar recipes I’ve found sound really refreshing as a drink and no comparison to the raspberry vinegar madness of nouvelle cuisine. And apparently made with malt vinegar it’s used to dress Yorkshire puddings!

Raspberry Vinegar

I love the wording of this early 1920’s recipe from Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll:

“Take 1 lb. raspberries to every pint of best white vinegar. Let it stand for a fortnight in a covered jar in a cool larder. Then strain without pressure, and to every pint put ¾ lb. white sugar. Boil 10 minutes, let cool, and bottle in nice-shaped medium-sized bottles saved perhaps from some present of foreign liqueurs or scent. A teaspoonful stirred into a tumbler of water with a  lump of ice, or introduced to a very cold siphon, will taste like the elixir of life on a hot day, and will be as pretty as it is pleasant.”

In my case I suspect its memory that holds the key to my love of raspberries….a walk, some French cricket then picking raspberries from my grandad’s raspberry patch and having then at tea with thick golden Jersey cream. It sounds all rather grand and Merchant Ivory but it wasn’t, it was suburban Liverpool in the 1980s, you can grow great raspberries plenty of places if you try. I’m sure we only ever had the raspberries with thick cream, simple and delicious, maybe occasionally my grandad made a flan with them, one of those classic sponge flan bases you could buy and probably a teeny bit of jelly to hold the whole thing together, but there was still always served with Jersey cream. It sounds so retro now, raspberry flan, I’m sure its time for a reinvention…..I’m hoping to perfect one for the blog soon but initial trials are hampered by the raspberries constantly going missing….someone here clearly has a deep affection for them!

This blog post was first published in Francoise Murat & Associates July Newsletter.

Prosecco prosecco prosecco

Matching food to wine or wine to food? Well normally I decide what I want to eat and then I think about what wine might go with it. I’m no expert at all, I stick mostly to ‘standard’ rules and also to wines I like. Occasionally I’ll go a bit off-piste, or someone will introduce me to something different, then I’ll revise my rules a bit. But its always the food first and the wine second.

In the last few weeks there’s been chance to turn this on its head. Try the wine and then wonder what to eat with it. Maybe if you have an extensive cellar this is a game you can play regularly….

“Darling I’ve found another bottle of that Puligny-Montrachet 1978 stuff, do you think it would be best with ……”.

These weren’t quite those kind of chances. Instead they were regular priced wines looking for new partners. First there was the Casillero cook off, great fun, great recipes and finding out that a wine I probably wouldn’t have looked at (I often avoid big brand names) was actually eminently drinkable. And now Niamh over at Eat Like a Girl is luring us with the possibility of prizes to try our hands at matching prosecco to food. Specifically Bisol Jeio prosecco and a chance to eat at the chefs table at Trinity.

Prosecco isn’t something I know much about and tempted by the possibility of a free tasting to help inspire food choices I popped over to Niamh’s (almost an institution) stall at Covent Garden on Thursday to see the lie of the land. I had a chat with Niamh about doing the stalls (hard work, great fun) and sipped the prosecco. Pears, peaches, off dry – but what to make to go with it. In my books prosecco, like most sparkling wine, makes a lovely aperitif but its maybe not quite so easy to have with food.

A little bit of googling and reading and a few thought came to mind…..pears…well they go well in salads with blue cheese and often walnuts. Pears and peaches…sometimes served with air-dried hams. A sweetish fruit and salty theme was emerging. I’d also got a hankering for something autumnal, earthy…

On the day I decided to experiment my husband turned out to be having beer in Bath, that’s the town in Avon and glass after glass of hoppy malty brown liquid, rather than any other beer/bath combination that might spring to mind. This meant that I had been abandoned/left to my own devices/was delighting in the perfect moment to do exactly as I wanted* (please delete as applicable). This was fortuitous, mostly he’s not a fan of sparkling wines, of blue cheese, or sweet/tart combinations and that’s right where I was heading.

Off to purloin ingredients from the local, erm, (super)market to combine with some goodies I already had in the fridge. I was aiming for English meets Italian. Italian wine, English inspired dish. This is where I ended up:

Goodshoeday’s autumnal sort of salad (for 2 people as a light meal or starter)


6 small beetroots
½ small squash
2tsp salsa di mostarda (I actually used some of the sweet pickle juices from my pickled cherry plums)
extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil (I like Hill Farm – and no they haven’t sent me any for free)
Blacksticks Blue cheese
Smoked cured ham (I used Richard Woodhall Black Combe Ham)
¼ savoy cabbage

Roast the beets in their skins for 1*1 ½ hours at R6/200C covered in foil. Top and tail, peeland cut into quarters (remember to wear rubber gloves), and keep war

Peel and core the squash and cut into small chunks. Roast in rapeseed oil for 40 minutes at R6/200C.

Shred the cabbage fairly coarsely and steam for 3-4 minutes so it retains some crunch.

Toss the beetroot and squash in the salsa di mostarda and some rapeseed oil.

Arrange 3 slices of ham on each plate with a gap in the centre. Pile the steamed cabbage in the middle then add beetroot and squash, add slivers of cheese and serve.

It was delicious though I have no idea whether it goes with prosecco of any type let alone the Bisol Jeio – the supermarket was clean out of prosecco all the other bloggers must have got their first.

Fresh from the oven: English muffins

This is my first ‘Fresh from the oven’ bread baking challenge. I missed out on the first two because, well because, I was just too slow off the mark signing up. Anyway I’ve joined up now and I’m hoping its going to a be a fun way to do some different breads and also chat with other food bloggers and improve my breadmaking.

As soon as I’d signed up and logged on I took a look at the challenge and thought ‘hmmmm interesting, not tried that before, best do some reading round the matter’. This is a technique I term displacement activity i.e. read up on things rather than getting on with doing them, instead why not mull them over, learn something new, contemplate different angles, ponder, maybe be buy a new and, of course, necessary piece of kit to aid the process.

English muffins
Cooking on the griddle

And then….

I was sitting around on Wednesday thinking:

‘um must be time to do another loaf of bread what shall I try?’, and

‘hmmmm haven’t written a blog post for ages AND haven’t blogged any of my bread exploits’

when suddenly I thought:

‘*******! I’ve got to have posted my Fresh from the oven challenge on Friday and I haven’t even done it yet’.

Big whoops – talk about in a world of my own.

Anyway very fortunately for me, Claire over at Purely Food, who set this months challenge, had picked English muffins and a quick squint at the recipe revealed that it didn’t require any exotic ingredients – in fact I had everything I needed right there in the cupboards. So I was sorted for a day of bread making yesterday. There’s nothing like taking a project to the deadline I always say…..

The recipe Claire had given us was from the River Cottage Handbook (#3 Bread) (see it here) but we are free to use other recipes or adapt as we see fit, all in the spirit of experimentation and sharing tips and techniques. I decided I’d stick pretty much with the recipe but halve the quantities as it said it made 9 muffins and that seemed rather too many for two people one of whom remains to be convinced that muffins are worth the fuss (lets hope these homemade ones are a hit). I also adapted the kneading technique to the one I learned from a 1 day Dan Lepard masterclass I attended back in June.

Here’s my thoughts on the recipe and how things went:

  • halving 325g makes it difficult to weigh out on lovely old-fashioned balance scales – I think I really do need electronic scales
  • I always weigh the water – weird but more accurate; remember from at school 1ml = 1g
  • I should have used 5g of yeast but the sachet was 7g so I put the lot in
  • I used extra virgin rapeseed oil instead of sunflower – because that’s what was to hand
  • the dough wasn’t as sticky as I expected initially so I added another splash more water – kind of undermines my accuracy of weighing the first bit as I don’t know how much a splash is
  • I used the Dan Lepard kneading technique – i.e. several short kneads spaced out
  • it was a warm-ish day so the dough seemed to rise quite fast, it only took about an hour to double in size
  • halving 9 gets 4.5 you can’t make 4.5 muffins I chose to make 4 instead
  • I cooked it on an oiled flat cast iron griddle
  • the muffins came out pretty giant
  • it’s hard to tell how brown or otherwise they should be on the outside as there’s only a picture of one split and toasted – I think mine are probably too brown

All that remains is to test them at breakfast in a bacon and egg McMuffin style. I shall report back.

UPDATE 30/08/2009:

The McMuffin style breakfast worked really well. We toasted the muffins lightly then buttered them, added 2 rashers of bacon (unsmoked), dolloped on some ketchup and topped with a fried egg (easy -overed) then popped the top of the muffin on and munched away. I was so busy eating I forgot to take a picture (ddoh). They tasted really good although we didn’t wrap them in greaseproof as Mathilde had suggested (see her McMuffin brunch post here),Ii might do that for extra fun if I had guests staying.

Overall I’ve been really pleased with the muffins and I’ll do them again, its nice to try something different. The texture came out nice and even and they stayed good for 3 days – don’t know if they would last longer if I’d made the bigger batch. Curiously the semolina flour on the outside makes them taste slightly salty even though they aren’t. They made a tasty change from soft rolls and they were scored 7/10.

The remaining two muffins have also been eaten at breakfast; yesterday with blackberry curd:

english muffins
muffins with blackberry curd

and today with sausages. Look:

english muffins, sausages
muffin with sausage and ketchup

A walk on the wild side

“Here, turn right here, this has got to be it”.


We swerve round the corner and bounce along the driveway. “Nice pond, but where’s the big house?” There’s plenty of rolling parkland and a cluster of outbuildings but no grand house to be seen.

There’s also a tall affable looking chap wearing wellies and a big chunky jumper so we slow up and roll down the window. “Here for the food foraging?” he says, “follow the track round between these buildings and you’ll see a group of parked cars and over to the right people on the lawn, that’s were you need to be.” So we drive on as instructed and sure enough there’s about 15 cars and a bunch of people standing about having coffee. I get out and amble over and my husband drives off to a day of peace and quiet.

At last, I’m at Food Safari’s first foraging event at Henham Park in the depths of rural Suffolk.

I get a coffee and Polly (half of the duo that makes up Food Safari) passes me some still warm flapjack (yum! this is a good way to start) then introduces me to the rest of the group – none of whom I’ve met before but some of whom I’ve been chatting to via twitter (yes that’s you @Farctum and @EssexGourmet). Once everyone is here Tim (the tall affable chap in wellies, he’s the other half of Food Safari) tells us the format of the day. We’re going to be foraging for wild foods here on the estate and then also down by the river Blyth (also on estate land) then we’ll be off to The Anchor at Walberswick for a lunch show-casing some of the wild foods.

Tim hands over to Jacky (aka WildFoodie) who’s our foraging expert today. She explains that we are on private land so sadly we can’t entertain any thoughts of popping back sometime to bag some more goodies; well I guess not unless we can get to be new best friends with Hektor who manages the estate, I imagine he’s probably got enough friends already though. Jacky also explains that the weather in Suffolk has been so dry recently that we probably aren’t going to find enough stuff in really good condition for us to take bagfuls home. We are going to have to be content to watch and learn, that’s the nature of foraging, it’s a real luck of the draw thing. Jacky had a scout about yesterday so she’s got lots of examples to show us and she’s been able to collect enough goodies for our meal later.

Then we move on to our first spot, I’m expecting we’re going to have to walk a good distance across the park perhaps into a wooded area, but no, there’s plenty to see only steps away from where we are. Take a look – what can you see that’s edible?

Hmmm looks like a bunch of weeds in a badly tended garden if you ask me…..but hold one we are going to find at least FOUR, yes that’s four, edible goodies in this patch.

Okay so clearly I’m in nappies on the foraging front compared to the likes of Jacky – I can’t see a thing I’d fancy eating. But with Jacky’s expert guidance we learn about ground ivy, cleavers (aka sticky willy – hmmm), nettles, ground elder, burdock and elderflower – blimey that’s six – and I don’t think Jacky was even trying hard….she tells use how to identify each of them through look, feel and even sound and also which bits to pick and even how to pick (clever scissor movement with your fingers for nettle tops). We taste as we go when things are okay to eat raw. Mostly everything we test has a fresh but quite bitter taste but there are differences between them.

Next its time to move on to the river. But before that a few of us think a comfort stop might be good so Polly takes us over to the stable block, which has been converted into a rather lovely looking B&B, and we get to use the facilities there. I also get a quick lesson in the intricacies and long running feuds of the Rous family and learn that the final version of the big grand house was knocked down (some say a fortuitous fire…) in 1953, so that’s why we couldn’t see it. There are plans afoot for a new house to be built.

Anyway down to the river – I would say bank but here the estuary is really wide and flat so it’s more like a gentle slope. The estuary systems in Suffolk and Norfolk are havens for all sorts of things and in particular marsh samphire

If you look really hard you can see the samphire at the front of this picture

I’ve had this before, bought from local farm shops and I love it. We are a little early in the season but we can see the samphire starting to sprout like some kind of mini primeval forest. We get to test the samphire and its wonderfully juicy with a salty tang –I’m looking forward to it being available in the farm shop soon and hoping we get some at lunch. We also find sea purslane which looks a bit like a succulent version of sage although it tastes nothing like sage. Again it’s juicy and salty.

Sea Purslane

And finally we head off to The Anchor pub at Walberswick with our appetites suitable whetted. But before we get to tuck into lunch we take a quick look at the pub’s allotment where Jacky tells us about poppy leaves (nice and sweet and almost pea like in flavour), hops shoots, dead nettles and chickweed (plus other assorted things you might just throw away but can actually eat!).

At last it really is time for food. We wander over to the beautifully refurbished stable block and are served with glasses of refreshing elderflower scented beer from Lowestoft whilst nibbling on fresh asparagus, tempura hop shoots and absolutely wonderful chickpea and samphire mini pancakes. These are so divine we are nearly knocking each other out of the way to get our hands on them; I’m definitely going to be trying to recreate them at home.



Mark then guides us into the stable block itself where a huge long table awaits us and a further three courses of food with matched beers. Mark is an absolute mine of information about the beers and clearly likes to surprise his guests with things such as a Gueuze he describes as having aromas of sweaty horse saddle and horse piss – great! Hektor and I try to tell him that we are not especially familiar with either of these but to no avail. Food wise every thing was delicious but dishes and flavours that particularly stood out were the chicken of the woods in the risotto, 

The chicken of the woods is the pinky/orange bits

a very meaty mushroom that might make some vegetarians shudder, the semi pickled carrots in the salad, the elderflower panacotta

and finally my favourite local cheese, Buxlow Wonmil. It makes a change to have lovely food paired with beers rather than wines and is something I might try myself. Of the beers I think my favourite was the Frambozen although the Gueuze was much nicer than Mark’s description would lead you to expect; its kind of nicely tangy and refreshing, a bit like liquid sourdough.   

Its time for everyone to head their separate ways, full of new knowledge, exceptional food and plenty of beers. I have a glass of Benedictine for the road (fortunately my husband is collecting me) and we waddle off clutching our information packs, happy foragers that we now are. 

You can find out more about Food Safari’s days out in Suffolk on their website, arrange gift vouchers for loved ones or simply book a treat for yourself. I’m hoping to try another one of their days soon.

To view the menu and other information about The Anchor at Walberswick click here. Go on treat yourself to some great food and beer.



Anyone for English wine?













This week it’s been English Wine Week, as you might imagine an event set up to encourage greater recognition (and consumption) of the wines produced in old Blighty. Its fair to say that even five years ago most people would have choked on their glass of Sauvignon at the prospect of a wide range of drinkable English wines being available, but even though many still might, they should perhaps think again. There are good English wines on offer in most of the major supermarkets and most self respecting farm shops also carry a few. Vineyard gate sales are also up.

Many of the well-known wines come from Kent (e.g. Chapel Down – who do a rather delightful wine called Bacchus that’s a good contender for swapping with Sauvignon) and Sussex where one of HM The Queen favourites fizzes comes from (Nyetimber, they do lovely stuff) but there’s plenty of options from other counties too. With my #livelocal challenge and the delightful sunny weather in mind I decided to sample something from Essex and happened upon a rosé made from Pinot Noir.








Here its is, its from New Hall vineyard, which is out towards the coast from Chelmsford. To pair with it we decided on a classic choice of lamb cutlets (local of course), simply grilling these and serving with new potatoes and wilted mixed greens. The match worked well and the rosé also stood up to being sipped on its own as an aperitif, its nice and fruity but sufficiently dry to be refreshing without too much acidity. It’s a nice mid but bright rosé colour. I thought it was a great all round wine both good on its own and with the lamb, much better than many rosés which can either be too sweet or too acidic. It’s pretty sensibly priced at about £6.00 a bottle (direct from the vineyard) and, I think, would rank well against a slightly pricier rosé.

If the weather holds like this I’d recommend you get your hands on a case, as I will be, to sip throughout the summer, with or without lamb. Go on discover some English wine for a refreshing change ;)

#livelocal: the first four days

Since Wednesday I’ve been trying to live a more local existence on the food front. The challenge I set myself had 4 parts to it and centred on using up things I already had in the store cupboards, buying local produce, thinking about the provenance of what I ate and trying not to nip to the supermarket in the car unnecessarily.

So how have I been getting on?

Well I’ve not even been taking a hard-core approach to this i.e. only eating local produce yet its tougher than I thought. You get set in certain ways and habits food and shopping wise and breaking them takes some effort. I thought I was pretty good in my choices already but I can see that I can be much better. I can also see there are some other issues with only eating local, such as a hugely restricted and potentially dull diet (especially if it was winter) plus how can you unravel the centuries trade around, say, coffee, spices or chocolate (even if you wanted to) without having an enormous impact on global trade and the communities that produce them. The birth of global trade and its imperialistic history may well be something to be apologetic for but equally we can’t just halt it without considering what this would do to those who livelihoods depend on it. We can work for a fairer ways for this trade to operate (and I know many of the initiatives are deemed flawed but they at least acknowledge that things need to change) but I don’t think we can just stop altogether.  

I managed to stick to eating from the store cupboard and not going on a supermarket or food only trip in the car. I didn’t manage to only buy things from the area I had defined, partly because the labelling is not always good (it often just says grown in UK, sometimes it does give the region), partly because I had three business meetings where I had very little control over the food or drink on offer and also because I only managed to find two English wines on sale despite this being English wine week! I also learnt I have enough food in the house to survive a siege…..and that making your own bread is good fun and a lot tastier even when it doesn’t go quite right.

So here are the things I had, I’ve noted new purchases in brackets:

Not at all local (can i ever eat them again!):

Mint and other fruit infusions (need to find a UK grown versions or use fresh from garden when possible), avocado, Serrano ham (have tracked down a few UK air dried hams), cheese – Parmesan, various Norwegian cheese. I had one truly local cheese from Suffolk as well; I can probably switch to almost 100% UK cheese going forward but would only have about 5 choices if I stuck strictly local. Cashews (oh but I love cashews there’d not be many nuts on a UK based diet – cobnuts and walnuts mainly), coffee, chocolate (imagine a future with neither chocolate of coffee……..), white tea, tinned tomatoes, spices, dried pasta (I could make my own as often as possible), chick peas, butter (Danish!), black pepper, sugar. Flatbrod, chorizo (I’ve now found a local supplier hurrah), lamb salami, Spanish wine (Rioja), white wine from Chile, cassis (looking for a UK producer), rice – risotto and basmati

Within my local area definition:

Filtered tap water (mind you I don’t know where it comes from do I?), pork meatballs, rapeseed oil, fresh herbs (from the garden), paneer (yes it was made in Leicestershire) – new purchase. Maldon salt, cider (bought), mushrooms (bought), bacon, sausages (bought), mince beef to make burger (bought – this and sausages from a good farm shop I have found). Mayonnaise and ketchup – both locally produced but might not be completely locally grown. Salad leaves (bought), homemade stock, asparagus.

From the UK but not specifically local or not known if local:

Cauliflower, spinach (bought), baby turnips, tomatoes (local ones not yet available these were IOW), yoghurt, flour and yeast to make bread (I know I can find local alternatives for the flour and will be switching). English wine (from Kent), frozen broad beans, Worcestershire sauce.

Not bad but not an outstanding performance – lets see how things go for the next three days. I’m thinking the bigger challenge will be to keep making the right choices after the seven days are up.


In season: asparagus, part 1

The asparagus season has been going for a week or so now and so far I’ve only had one tasting just over a week ago and none since. It was great but once only is not good enough, there are only 6-8 weeks of the season, I refuse to buy asparagus out of season and I love the stuff so I really need to get focussed – I mean I’d eat it everyday if I could! So today, despite the heavy rain and blustery wind, I decided it had to be asparagus for lunch, preferably with some Jersey Royals alongside. A quick trip to the supermarket was required – now I know I should be buying this stuff at the local farmers shop/market/etc but:

a. there isn’t one near me and
b. its Monday so time is short for food shopping. 

I got what I needed – a good bunch of asparagus (it was from Hampshire – I’m really wondering where the East Anglia asparagus is this year after all its nearer – so much for Waitrose’s local sourcing policy!) and a small bag of Jersey Royals (and what happened to them being sold still in the soil it seemed so much better and they had them like that last year?).

Anyway back home with my haul of goodies I set to work to make a quick lunch. I like my asparagus simply done –I’m not one for turning it into soups it always seems best to me steamed or maybe grilled and then dressed with some oil or butter, or served with simple accompaniments such as poached egg, or a little cheese. Today I opted for steaming it above the potatoes and then serving it on a bed of parma ham, drizzling it with olive oil and sprinkling with a little bit of Sacanova Aged Mahon cheese, the potatoes were alongside with some oil and fresh mint.

Sweet and slightly nutty asparagus, earthy, nutty potatoes, sweet ham and a salty caramel tang from the cheese – perfection.

With only about 45 days left to get my fill how shall I have tomorrow’s asparagus?