Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

raspberries, shawl 001

Last year was our first summer here and I was astonished at the sudden appearance of wild raspberry canes, popping out from brown, dead, snow-crushed nowhere in springtime. We watched as they flowered briefly and then started noticing the red berries as we drove past, resolving to return on foot with a basket or two. I made many sojourns out with Otis on my back and Sol on his balance bike, freezing the handful here and there that we picked. I made jelly with the resulting kilo and a bit, which converted into three precious jars. Last week, my visiting mum and I went out and in one session, picked the same weight as I managed for the whole of last year!

raspberries, shawl 004

I boiled up the berries immediately this time, strained them overnight in a muslin bag (‘like a bloodied pendulum,’ according to my mother)  and made the jelly the next morning. I used jam sugar, but not the one with added pectin, as that resulted in a very firm set previously. I haven’t cracked open a jar, but my mum took one back to my grandmother to enjoy on some of her scones, and am reliably informed of a good set and tasty jelly!

The thing about seasons, and seasonal living, is that you quickly become a creature of habit. Winter brings soups, gathering in logs as quickly as possible for the fire, and the smell of an unhappy clutch as I struggle to emerge from a snowy parking spot; then comes the time for a handful of wild garlic in an omelette; daffodils pop up; the trees start their soft, pure green growth that makes them look fresh and new; elders start blooming and I resolve to make elderflower champagne (scared of the explosions, next year, I promise); and the raspberries, in the same wind and snow-ravaged spot, grow completely unaided by human hand. As Sol and I picked by the roadside, a woman in her seventies pulled up her car and told us of how she had picked these same raspberry bushes with her children. It was a lovely moment: cyclical, seasonal, round and round.


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This was the subject of one of my very first posts two years ago! And that time has rolled round again, when the countryside comes to life with berries, mushrooms and all manner of wild goodies. As we’ve moved away from all those unwanted apple trees at Home Farm, and been so negligent on the veg patch this year -indeed it hasn’t been a good growing year- I’m turning to the hedgerow for my preserving fix. This jaunt, by the way, took place last week, before the crazy wind and rain set in!

Raspberry jelly shelved and my eye on the ripening brambles, I drive past two wild roses every day which have dozens of bright little red hips on them, flashing me like stop lights. I was again reminded the other night by an episode of Wartime Farm (This is an excellent BBC programme in which a historian and two archaeologists live and work in a time period. Part history lesson, part adventure, their enthusiasm is infectious and their knowledge impressive. Plus, I like the clothes. Especially Ruth’s shoes which I have deduced are  these ones.)

So the boys and I ambled down (it’s almost always down when you live atop a hill, and ambling back up is often the tough bit), basket in hand, and I picked as many rosehips as a grumbling Otis would allow.

He really only likes the sling if he’s kept moving. If he’s stationary he wants to get out and shuffle about the roadside. Which is not great: the ditches are like blooming ice crevasses. But we picked 500g of teeny wee fruits and a bit of magimix chopping, boiling, straining and syrup-ing later, I have three and a half bottles, plus two from an earlier harvest. The second lot is much darker, I think due to the riper hips and a stick of cinnamon. Yum. Plus it has required no digging, manuring, weeding, guilty negligence or faffing around. Nature did it all!

I love it on porridge, and Sol used to, but now declares it “too strong, mummy.” (More for mummy then.)

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Wild raspberries

Ah, the short, but oh-so-sweet season of wild raspberries. Our road is an absolute jungle of them, but they are fiddly little buggers to pick, nestled as they like to be amid nettles and atop huge ditches. And what effort for such teeny berries: sometimes no more than one or two blobs (I’m sure there is a more technical name for raspberry blobs. Any farmer readers able to assist?) of jewel red. Yum. We managed to pick a kilo- I kept meaning to go out and pick more but never quite managed.

I froze them as I went along until there were enough to turn into jelly, as they are really very seedy for jam. I got three very precious jars to savour when the wind is howling and the snow is piling up, to spread on hot toast and think of the summer to come.

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Well I cracked open a jar of the potentially ill-fated rhubarb jam today. Pam ‘The Jam’ Corbin, whose recipe this is, describes it as a soft, dropping jam ideal for spooning into yoghurt. Well you could lay bricks with mine, I reckon; the pectin has taken its job very seriously indeed. It is also definitely too dark, from the slight caramelising (burning by another name) of the mixture at the very end. A bit chutney-esque. Having said all of that, it is still rather yummy, on toast, and squodged (not, sadly, spoooned) into some plain yoghurt. So, on balance, I think, a success. I would give a jar away (with mumbled provisos and apologies, naturally)- but I would not enter it into the local country show. I have made notes for next time…

This is meant to be, if not a purely craft blog, one with strong craft leanings, more specifically quilt leanings. And after some delays, I FINALLY went to start the sycamore tree quilt. And then realised I hadn’t pre-washed the fabrics. So dull, but also so important. I promise a quilty post or two soon, because this weekend I will be heading south to the Loch Lomond Quilt Show, where Rowan’s swallow quilt has been entered into one of the competitions. The words small, fish, big and pond are going round my head, but it’ll be a treat to see lots of lovely quilts all in one place and to meet other quilty folk!

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Bizarrely, Trinidad is one of the most Christmassy places I’ve ever been to. Christmas songs start on the radio months and months before the big event, malls and shops go crazy on decorations (think car park support pillars wrapped like presents), and people start cooking. Trinis like their food, and quite rightly. Influenced as it is by old European, African, Chinese, South American and East Indian heritage, this scrummy mix really comes into its own at Christmas. In particular, I love black cake. It’s like a really thick, dark fruit cake, and family recipes are closely guarded secrets. In lieu of the real thing, I thought I’d give Nigella Lawson’s version a go. It calls for the chopped, dried fruits to be marinated in madeira and rum (naturally) up to 6 months before the cake is made. I started steeping mine 3 months before I wanted to make it. Um, 15 months ago. I didn’t make it last year. So my fruits are… strong.

Undeterred, I ploughed on. You get enough fruit for two cakes, so I divided it up and went about lining the tin with two lots of greaseproof paper. Lacking brown paper for the outside of the tin, a quick google seemed to suggest foil would be a fine substitute. These fruit cakes need to cook for an eternity, so you don’t want the outside to scorch while the inside cooks.

Well, scorch it did. And crack on top, suggestive of a too-hot oven. I have consulted a number of fruit cake makers, and Black Cake Take 2 will have the following revisions: use brown paper, as well as two discs of greaseproof paper on top of the cake from the start, with holes in them the size of a 50p piece; set the oven temperature at 140 degrees C, not 180 as Nigella suggests; and buy an(other) over thermometer. In fits of well-meant cleanliness, Oli has so far succeeded in washing and breaking two oven thermometers.

I will report back. Cake 1 will be trimmed of its slightly burnished exterior and eaten with tea by Oli and I, in the name of research and product development. Such hardship!

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Oh yes, the River Cottage bug has bitten. So delighted was I with Bread and Cakes (the books, not merely the subjects) I have splashed out on Preserves as well. Just in the nick of time for all of the autumn fruits -well, just about. Lots of planning for next year! We are already well stocked up on rosehip syrup to put on our porridge and I am currently trying my hand at brandy spiced bottled plums, after a kind friend left some plums on our doorstep yesterday.

Thus far it has been a lesson in reading not only the recipe, but also the section at the start of the chapter, before you start. Pam The Jam, as the author is known, is very breezy about preserving: no idea why people are so afraid of it, get stuck in, etc. She doesn’t really trill; she has a quite firm tone about her. I fear I may have caused her some disappointment with the plums, as I handled them roughly, left in bubbles, and am currently finding the procedure of heating the filled jars, in water, to 88 degrees C over 25 minutes, then keeping them at 88 degrees C for 20 minutes a bit dicey on my second-hand electric hob. Think I’ve used the wrong sort of jar as well.

Don’t think we’ll give any of these away…

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I freely admit to loving cake. Not many people dislike cake and really those that do… bit odd. Or more probably just lying. As mentioned previously, I enjoy baking, and have done since I was little and allowed to lick the spoon. But really, as fun and satisfying  the baking bit is, it is secondary to the scoffing. Nothing like a cup of tea and a fresh scone. My grandmother’s scones are rectangular, quite small affairs. You need more than one: no bad thing. So when a Tesco voucher dropped onto the doormat and a friend recommended The River Cottage Cake handbook, by Pam Corbin, I needed no further incentive.

One in their series of handbooks, starting with Mushrooms, incorporating such delights as Hedgerows and the excellent Bread, it is small, of lovely print quality and, quite enticingly, pink. So far I’ve tried savoury muffins, a coconut and chocolate (Bounty!) cake, and gingerbread men. Well, penguins and teddies actually. All of the recipes worked well and there are loads more to try; I considered the challenge of a cake a day but have regrettably decided against it for fear of breaking the bathroom scales.

Also in the kitchen at the moment is ongoing rosehip syrup making. The dog rose fruits are all ripening at different times, so I seem to be picking, mulching and boiling up constantly! It’s so nice on porridge though and it’d be great to have enough jars for the winter, it’s meant to be really high in vitamin C. And, er, sugar. Yumm.


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