Saturday, 27 November 2010

Disappearing species?


Wow, look at this amazing rarity

yes, I hear you say, it's a greengrocer's shop. Whoopee do.  So what? Well, this is Bramley's - it's the only greengrocer's shop in Cirencester and it's new. The last small greengrocer closed some years ago, leaving the almost the entire fruit and veg market to the supermarkets. There is a farmers market of course, for local seasonal produce but that's not there every day, and fine as it is, it's some way from any parking area, so people tend not to buy large amounts of heavy stuff, like potatoes and oranges.

It may seem amazing to people like my daughter say, who, living in London is surrounded by fine shops selling all kinds of British. European and Asian greengrocery, but in many English towns small shops have, one by one, fallen victim to the overwhelming buying power of supermarkets and closed down. They tend, by the way,  to reopen as coffee shops, I had a quick count up and there are at least eleven cafes and coffee shops in Cirencester at the moment. At least most of them are independents though, and some of them are really good, but I can't help wondering how much coffee people can drink?

Anyway it does seem like perhaps the tide is turning, we now have a fishmonger in the town, and I also noticed a new butcher's shop has opened too, maybe people are at last getting tired of one stop shopping, and some variety will be returning to our town centres at last. And one of the best things about this shop is that it's in the middle of the Brewery car park, so you can buy your potatoes, oranges, swedes and other heavy items and put them straight in the car, without giving yourself a hernia. So hopefully people will use it. I was in a hurry when I snapped this pic on my phone, so didn't have time to go in, but it all looked good and I will certainly be giving it a try very soon.

I'm sorry if this seems unneccesary jubilation over a simple greengrocer's shop, especially coming from someone who bangs on about home grown fruit and veg, but I can't grow lemons say, and the salad's a bit thin on the ground in November, so it's great for those things, but most of all it's a resurrection of some kind of choice and variety in the high street that I'm so pleased to see. Well done Bramleys and good luck!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Robin's Bounty


Robin sent me these knobbly chaps recently

The true quince, Cydonia oblonga, (as opposed to Chaenomeles japonica the ornamental or japanese quince) is something of a rarity in English gardens, so can usually only be obtained if you have, or know someone who has, a quince tree. Ornamental quinces are often seen in gardens and indeed do produce a quince like fruit in the autumn, but in my experience this is nothing like the fruit of the proper quince. They look a bit similar, in that they are both hard and completely inedible raw, but the true quince, when cooked has the ability to be transformed  into a fragrant amber puree, quite unlike anything else. Incidentally it's said that the "apple" of the Garden of Eden was in fact a quince, though it speaks volumes for Eve's powers of temptation that she could lure anyone with such a sour knobbly thing as a raw quince! Maybe it wasn't really the fruit he was after....

Anyway, Robin was kind enough to send me quite a lot of quinces, so I've been playing about with various recipes and ideas for using them. They are famously partnered with apples, and bring a special fragrance to a traditional apple pie which lifts it quite out of the ordinary. But it has to be said that the flavour is fairly intense, and even if you like it, as I do, it can get a bit overpowering after several days of experimental simmering and stirring. So I intend to set aside my creations for a day or two and then come back and see what works best. So far I've made Quince and Apple Jelly, Quince and Cranberry Preserve, Quince Cheese, or Membrillo, and Quince Mincemeat.

Quinces are hard and curiously downy, so first of all you need to wash off the downy covering, then chop them roughly and either boil them until soft and strain through a jelly bag, or steam them in your Mehu Maija hot juice extractor machine if you have one. 
 You will end up with a quantity of clear juice for making jelly, which should be sparkling clear

and quite a lot of pulp that can be seived and boiled with sugar to make quince cheese, which the Spanish dry and eat with cheese, apparently. I've never tried it so I will see how it turns out.

I found I had rather a lot of quince cheese, so I tried mixing it with some of my home made mincemeat, and it's quite delicious. It adds a rich flavour and moistness to the mincemeat which I really like. And finally from an idea I saw on Marisa's blog I cooked up some of it with cranberries to make a Cranberry and Quince preserve. I quite enjoy a dollop of Cranberry sauce with a cold turkey sandwich, but the addition of the quince lifts it out of the everyday and into the seasonal luxury, and even though it's a lot of trouble to go to, as they say on the adverts,
You're Worth It



Sunday, 21 November 2010

Frosty Mornings

Mo and I were setting off for the morning walk, when I found myself sidetracked into looking at the effects of the overnight frosts. She is used to delays, it happens a lot, for one reason or another, and here she is standing pointedly by the gate, waiting patiently.

 Often it's feeding the chickens, or breaking the ice on the pond, or some little job that presents itself on the way from the back door to the gate.

This frost edged rose looked so pretty


and this verbena bonariensis 



Of course, what I really should be doing (apart from walking the dog) is setting out my winter bedding plants in the pots by the back door.
I should have had this job finished by now, but I find it hard to make time for garden duties at this time of the year, apart from the approach of Christmas, it's pretty damp and chilly all the time, and although I know I will really appreciate a few pots of colourful violas during the winter, I find it a real effort to go out and do it.  But I'm pleased to say James and I made a start yesterday and I intend to finish off later on today. So well done me.

Just a couple more Jack Frost pictures, and then I really will walk the dog. 





Monday, 15 November 2010

The Scotch Egg Society

Every Friday morning, the Ancient Order of Scotch Eggers meets at a secret venue near Bristol,  to celebrate the ancient and apparently secret art of the Scotch Egg. It must be secret because it's almost impossible to buy an edible version of this lovely old fashioned food item, under normal circumstances. Dry, mass produced, and all but inedible to anyone but a starving trucker, the Scotch Egg lines up in the petrol station chill shelf alongside the Cornish Pasty in the roll call of Abused Foods of Britain.  If Scotch Eggs could use a phone they'd be ringing a helpline. But  more cheeringly, the home made Scotch Egg can be a truly delicious and portable delight, and like many other simple foods it's down to the quality and freshness of the ingredients. So once again you have to either do it yourself or know where to go. And if you're a member of the Ancient Order you'll know that the bakers in Westbury-on-Trym who make their own Scotch Eggs will be just putting them out on the counter fresh from the pan at precisely o nine hundred hours and Our Man in Westbury will be dispatched to obtain this week's Friday morning supplies.
 
Scotch Eggs
If you don't live in Westbury-on-Trym you may have to make your own. I know you're thinking, boiled eggs, breadcrumbs, deep frying, takes too long, too much faff for me. But I urge you to have a go. The ones I made took no more than half an hour start to finish. And if you followed my advice last week about  not chucking out your stale crusts of bread, and blitzing them in the processor, you will have a jar of dried crumbs ready to hand anyway.

Fresh medium size free range eggs
2- 3 best quality sausages for each egg
1 egg beaten
Dried breadcrumbs
First put your eggs on to boil, and while they are boiling take your sausages, slit the skins with a sharp knife and remove them.
Press them into a rough ball and flatten out onto a floured surface.
Don't boil the eggs to death, a good five minutes or so should do it, then run them under the cold tap and remove the shells.
Place egg onto sausagemeat and mould around to encase the egg to make a cricket ball sized sphere.
Now dip the ball into beaten egg and coat in breadcrumbs, and deep fry for about five minutes.

And now I suspect you're thinking "but Kathy, I don't have a deep fat fryer, I'm far too health conscious " well neither do I - I just use a small sturdy saucepan with about an inch of oil in the bottom. This means I have to go to the trouble of turning the Scotch Eggs over when one side is done, but I calculate the calories expended in this effort completely offset those incurred by the deep fat frying, so problem solved.

This simple recipe makes an excellent family supper served with salad, leftovers ideal packed lunch. If you want to gild the lily you can use dinky little quail's eggs to make cocktail sized scotch eggs for a party.
Of course, Our Man is also an active member of the British Pickle and  Chutney Appreciation Society, an important sub section of the Ancient Order, who always maintain a selection of appropriate pickle type accompaniments, provided, it's rumoured, by the  chairman's mother. If he should read this he might want to advertise the name of the baker's shop, which eludes me.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Poppy Day

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, or Poppy Day, when red poppies are worn in commemmoration of Armistice Day when peace was declared at the end the First World War, the war to end all wars. I found this touching footage of the Battle of The Somme.





I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me. I thank God for this ten weeks' quiet. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.
Last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, shot before a firing squad,  October 1915


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Doing Something Useful

I've noticed that I have a tendency to write about useful things you can do with this, that or the other. But sometimes you just don't feel like doing anything very much, so here's a post about not doing anything much. When we went to Surry last week, and collected the acorns I told you about, we also collected these


lovely sweet chestnuts. My husband hails from Surrey and has fond memories of collecting chestnuts as a child. I was quite amazed at how prolific they were - I don't know about other areas of the country, certainly a sweet chestnut in this part of Wiltshire is uncommon, but Surrey is heavily wooded and seems to support the growth of this lovely tree and its equally lovely fruit.  Naturally the nuts you pick in the wild are not so big as the ones in the shops, most of which are imported, in fact I think they are all imported. If you want English ones you have to go and get them. French chestnuts are delicious though. I'm starting to see that the further south you go the better the chestnuts seem to get. Anyway, don't despise the humble english offering, it's fresh, wild and free.

We collected quite a lot in the space of half an hour, and I had intended to do something useful and clever with them. But on Saturday night, it was cold, we lit a fire, David roasted the chestnuts, and we just ate them, What could be nicer than a roaring fire, the Guardian supplement, a glass of something, and a plate of roasted chestnuts.

PS Should you wish to do something more imaginative with chestnuts I can highly recommend Hugh Slightly- Annoying's chocolate chestnut truffle cake recipe

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Fashion Extra

An item by Rachel Johnson in Saturday's Guardian about the  latest fashion for city types to dress in "country clothes" made me smile - "It's only the City types who dress up like the royal family at an Edwardian era shooting party" she says.

And my recent encounter with a country estate agent confirms that this is not only a city trait, as I watched him bounce around a nice old Cotswold house in his Barbour and Hunters pointing out the dual aspect fenestration.

Proper country types, says Johnson wear "Dunlop boots lined with acrylic fluff, ancient fleeces, and their grandfather's tweed trousers with a huge rip in the crotch".

So good to know that I'm still the height of sartorial elegance.

Friday, 5 November 2010

How To Never Throw Bread Away (Hardly)

A good housewife/person will never throw away bread, it's just not done. There's so much you can do with stale bread. The Italians make a lovely salad with it, but you need a decent sour dough type of bread for that. Here in England we tend to make breadcrumbs out of our stale bread and use it for either savoury stuffings, or best of all Treacle Tart. Of course, sometimes the bread gets away. You open the bread bin and there's a big green hairy monster trying to get out. There's nothing to do with mouldy bread but compost.

But most times, you don't have to be Superwife to notice that although  the bread's too stale to make a sandwich  you can still whizz it up into crumbs and store in the freezer in plastic bags ready for use. And with Christmas only seven weeks away, you'll be needing plenty for all that lovely stuffing you'll be making for the turkey.

My freezer tends to be full of plastic bags containing all manner of odd looking things. I don't have many bought items in there, so it looks to the innocent browser like a large collection of Bits in Bags.  Which is what it is.
This is not because I am Superwife, it's because I think my food is better than Tesco's (not saying much) and I find that having a supply of basics in the freezer makes it much easier to produce good things than if you have to start from absolute scratch, making breadcrumbs, and then making the pastry, you tend not to bother, whereas if you already have the pastry case in the freezer and a bag of breadcrumbs, the Treacle Tart, for example very nearly makes itself. So I never throw away pastry either, but use what's left from what I'm making to line a tart tin and stash in the freezer for another day.


Treacle Tart adapted from Rosemary Moon's recipe
1 8 inch/20cm flan tin lined with shortcrust  pastry
3 oz/75gr white breadcrumbs, fresh or frozen. You need reasonably soft breadcrumbs for this, save the dry ones for stuffings
12oz/350gr golden syrup
2oz/50gr ground almonds
grated zest and juice of half a lemon
quarter pint/150ml double cream
1 egg beaten

If you use a solid metal flan tin you don't need to pre bake. But you can if you prefer. Mix the filling ingredients together and pour into the case. Bake in a medium oven for about 30 minutes, covering with foil if it starts to get too brown.
Serve just warm, with clotted cream.

I always used to make treacle tart with just golden syrup, breadcrumbs, and lemon in the traditional way until I discovered Rosemary Moon's more exuberant version, since when I, and my bathroom scales, have never looked back...

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

From Tiny Acorns..

We were walking in leafy Surrey last week and found ourselves ankle deep in acorns, so, having read recently on Kate's blog that acorns make good chicken feed, I thought I would gather some and bring them home. It seemed a shame to leave them all to the squirrels. So I taking the plastic bag from my pocket, - being a responsible dog owner I find all my coat pockets are stuffed with plastic bags these days, -we gathered quite a few handfuls, including leaves and other detritus, tied up the bag and brought them home. As we also gathered some chestnuts, food for people took precedence over food for chickens when we got back and the acorns languished in their plastic bag on the countertop for several days. When I opened the bag this morning, I was amazed to see this

virtually all of the acorns had germinated, some with shoots three or four inches long.Now it comes as no surprise to me that, as all small children know, from tiny acorns, great oaks will grow, but I didn't realize that they would do so quite this readily. So I took them out to the greenhouse and put them in a tray of compost, and will wait to see if they grow into little seedling oak trees next year, I could have my own forest  Obviously this rate of germination can't happen with all the acorns that fall from the tree, since if this were the case oak trees would be crowding out stockbrokers and bankers in Surrey. And what a shame that would be. 

I started to wonder if there's some way that they"know" when they're in a new environment, and can germinate away happily, so I looked it up, and rather more prosaically,  apparently they tend to dry out when they just fall to the ground, and only germinate when a squirrel carries them off somewhere and buries them in damp ground, or when he ties them up in a plastic bag and leaves them on his countertop for a few days.I prefer to think they just know..

Monday, 1 November 2010

Chateau Rita

My past efforts at producing a drinkable alcoholic beverage have not been amongst the greatest of my acheivements. I've many a time produced an excellent and eco friendly drain cleaner, and very occasionally something that you could put into a casserole if you were really pushed, so it was with some trepidation that I promised my friend Rita that I would call round to pick up the two carrier bag fulls of red grapes she had picked from her garden and kept for me, and that I would try to make them into something drinkable. Rita said that she had categorically no other possible use for them, so it was either me or the compost heap, and that being the case, I thought I might as well give it a go. Again.
They have produced almost a gallon of juice, rather sharp and acid, and so I topped it up with some of my pressed apple juice, which is quite sweet. It's certainly fermenting away like the clappers, so let's hope that the end product is something drinkable. I've already got the cleanest drains in the area.

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