Home Made, Home Grown, Home Crafted

Shine On Harvest Moon

August 22, 2016
You’ll easily recognise the farmers amongst us.  

At this time of the year, they’ll be the ones with furrowed brows and fingernails gnawed to the bone.

It’s a fraught time for them. Since early July they’ll have been watching the weather like hawks and checking their crops to decide when to start the annual harvest. 

But in a few weeks, all the crops will be safely gathered in. On the Sunday of the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox, Harvest Festival will be held across the country, as it has been since pagan times.  

This time of celebration involves whole communities decorating churches with baskets of fruit and produce to give thanks for the food that will sustain them over the winter.

Many of the fruits on offer will be apples and pears. 

What can be done with such a glut once you’ve sated your appetite for pies, crumbles and purees?
For certain our ancestors would not have thrown anything away.
Long before deep freezers, they found ways of preserving the foods harvested in times of plenty to last through the winter months.  

Jam making and pickling skills passed down the generations mean that today we can enjoy the true alchemy that transforms fruit and vegetables into a whole new tasting experience.
It wasn’t until the 19th century, when sugar from the West Indies became readily affordable, that jam making flourished in this country.  

Recipes look easy but it takes hard won experience to get jam to set to the perfect consistency and texture. And if your fruit are left floundering on the surface, you won’t win competitions!
For those who prefer savoury over sweet, chutneys, pickles and relishes are the easier choice.

Originally from India, chutney has been a favourite with the British since the colonial days.

Apples, Pears and other fruits simmered with raisins, vinegar, brown sugar and spices give chutney its unique sharp, sweet and spicy flavour. It takes time for the flavours to build and so any made now must be left to mature before they can be sold. When ready, they’re the perfect condiment to liven up cold meats and hard cheeses.  

Pickles can be clear to preserve vegetables such as gherkins or beetroot in their raw state either whole or sliced in vinegar and salt.  

They can also be sweet as in lightly cooked vegetable chunks mixed with vinegar and spices. Piccalilli is the all time classic, thickened with cornflour and turmeric to give it its characteristic golden colour.

In relishes the ingredients are finely chopped and, with hot chili added, should be approached with caution.

There’s a lot to be said for preserving food for future use.  Following old traditions reconnects us with the natural world and the rhythm and flow of the seasons. Knowing that come the Spring the cycle of growth and harvest will begin anew, inspires us to keep going and make the most of what we have.

One Vegetable Can a Summer Make

July 26, 2016

It’s mid-summer already. 

And, apart from a sharp blast of inferno like heat, the weather so far has fallen well short of expectations.

Post BREXIT referendum exchange rates make it more expensive to go abroad. Many of us then will have chosen to stay firmly put in the UK this year.

There’s nothing at all wrong with staycations. But there’s no need to feel deprived of sunshine. It can be brought to us on a plate using readily available ingredients.

Take aubergines. And let’s refer to the...

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Let's Go Pick Strawberries

June 25, 2016

At this time of year, thoughts turn naturally to strawberries.

For starters, we’ve just had the “strawberry” moon. This quaint name for June’s full moon was coined by the Algonquin tribe of North America and signaled the start of strawberry picking. They gave every full moon of the year a different name to help keep track of the seasons and would have found the last one we had on 20th June particularly auspicious because it coincided with the summer solstice. That’s rare and won’t ...

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When Life Gives You Lemons

May 27, 2016

We all tend to take lemons for granted nowadays. They’re cheap, in plentiful supply and available throughout the year.

It wasn’t always like that though.

Lemon trees are native to India and were first discovered in the Deccan Plateau in Central India centuries ago. Traders helped get them through Persia to Iraq and Egypt and we probably have the Crusaders to thank for bringing them back to Europe from their campaigns in the Holy Land. Serious cultivation in Europe only started in the 15th c...

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The Humble Scone

April 20, 2016
Scones are amazing!

So simple to make and so versatile.  

To a basic dough mixture, prepared in minutes, you can add raisins or currants to make them sweet. You can add ingredients like cheese to make them savoury.  

Light in texture, you can also eat them plain.  Who hasn’t drooled over a cream tea in Devon where they come slathered with clotted cream and strawberry jam?  That’s nothing less than food for the gods.

The list of variations is endless, as a glance through any good cookbook will...

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The Victoria Sponge Cake

March 29, 2016
Named after Queen Victoria, who apparently had a very sweet tooth, what do the words “Victoria Sponge Cake” conjure up for you?  

Fond memories perhaps of teatime at home with Mum or Granny, the warm smell of fresh baking still in the air? They probably all had their own version of this simple two layered cake filled with jam and cream, topped with a dusting of caster sugar. But what a special treat it was, and still is.

Teatime itself has its roots in Victorian times when it was usual to e...

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The Easter Simnel Cake

February 25, 2016
There’s more to Easter than Easter Eggs! And Hot Cross Buns too for that matter.
Among the many delights we indulge ourselves with over the Easter holidays there’s another not so well known one that’s making a come back and that is the simnel cake.

A bit like a Christmas cake only lighter, simnel cakes are packed with dried fruit and are beautifully decorated with a topping of golden marzipan rather than icing. There’s another layer in the middle and then, around the top, eleven marzip...

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From Soil to Table: November

November 18, 2015
November brings us the interminable rains accompanied by mild weather.  

Nasturtiums and late roses still give colour to the garden.  Now is the time to protect your dahlias for next year.  You can leave the dahlias in the ground, but I would not take that risk.  I lift the tubers out and place them in an old compost bag and store them somewhere frost free.

As winter approaches, one does not have to live with bare stems and dark days.  There are lots of bright and beautiful plants that love the...

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From Soil to Table: October

October 19, 2015
October descends on us with that autumnal air. Hues of burnt oranges and reds litter the landscape from the trees to the fallen leaves. Dahlias and nasturtiums heighten these colours and make this month a delightful one to be in the garden. Even the pyracantha shrubs show off their orange and red berries.

Summer gave us a glut of courgettes.  This month brings an abundance of squashes and pumpkins.   They all belong to the same family called cucurbitaceae.  These vegetables encapsulate autumn ...

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From Soil to Table: September

September 17, 2015
September had a brief dalliance with the hot weather then the rains came.  

This is a good month to forage and collect all those blackberries and sloes which can be left in gin or vodka to produce the most beautiful liqueur for Christmas.  One should not overlook the herbs such as meadowsweet, comfrey and nettle.  They provide a source of refreshing tea or in the case of comfrey a treatment for pulled muscles.  Foraging reminds one of the healing effects of nature.  

I have chosen the bulbs tha...

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