An oca a day keeps the doctor away – or something like that

Last year I tried growing oca on the allotment without much success. This year they are a real triumph and I am trying all sorts of recipes with them. It seems I dug them up too early last year and the tubers were only small. This year I have been more patient and it has paid off.

The oca plant produces tubers in a similar manner to potatoes, a bit similar in shape to Pink Fir Apple, albiet somewhat smaller. Being of a completely different family to potato it remains unaffected by blight and other associated pest and disease problems and are really pretty plants. 

Oca or Oxalis tuberosa is a marvellous root vegetable that overwinters as underground stem tubers, it was brought into cultivation in the central and southern Andes for its tubers. Oca was introduced to Europe in 1830 as a competitor to the potato, and to New Zealand, where it is commonly grown, as early as 1860.

At the moment there are no proper named varieties although there are several distinct types, each lovingly named according to its skin colour which can be yellow, pick or cream-white. 

They are delicious and so useful. So far I have roasted them, eaten them raw grated into salads, steamed them and eaten them with butter or creme fresh and the latest recipe is to use them in a vegetable pie.

So using the potato pastry from my previous blog (perhaps I’ll try making the pastry with oca next) I lightly sauted together in a frying pan with a little oil the following:

1 red pepper, 150 g sliced mushrooms, 150 g oca, part steamed and cubed, 1 leek, 1 teaspoon mixed chopped fresh thyme, rosemary and sage and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, salt and pepper. You could add dried herbs, I used the fresh as they were in the garden.When they are cooked but still have a little bite to them put them in a pie dish with 4 whole hard boiled eggs (or leave these out if you want a vegan dish). Cover with the pastry crust, brush with egg and cook for around 35 mins or until golden at 190oc/375of/gas5

Potato recipes from the war years

Potatoes, we love them, they are a basic of our western diet. That most favourite of our carbohydrates eaten as lovely buttery new potatoes, mash, chips, baked potatoes they underpin our diet almost every day.

We always grow a few potatoes on the allotment and this year we have a bumper crop of both early and first early potatoes. So I am taking the opportunity to practice some old recipes, one from the First World War and one from World War Two. 

During both wars, those at home were encouraged to grow more vegetables, people were encouraged to eat alternatives to wheat flour and potatoes were popular as they were a good source of carbohydrates and easy to grow.  Potatoes were used to bulk out so many recipes – from bread through to pastry, and they even found their way into puddings and cakes. 

From the First world War comes a recipe for potato pastry from The Daily Mail Cookery Book by Mrs C. S. Peel (1918)

Ingredients 

225g cold mashed potatoes

110g plain flour (you could use wholemeal flour to be truly authentic)

45g dripping or margarine (if using the former make sure it is at room temperature)

1 tsp baking powder

Method

Following Mrs Peel’s method to make the pastry, mix the flour, salt and baking powder; rub in the dripping. Add the potatoes and mix well and lightly. Make a stiff paste with cold water.

Flour a board and roll out to ¼ inch thick. She doesn’t instruct the cook to leave the pastry to rest but you could make it in advance and leave it in the fridge until it is required.

It has a different consistency to regular short crust and has a naturally sweet flavour to it. It is also more fragile than ordinary pastry but can be patched much more easily.

 

 

This a actually a really good pastry and today I used it to make a vegetable pie and the scraps to make some cheesy sticks. Try it I think you will be surprised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the Second world War bringing women into the workplace meant they had less time to cook and less choice of ingredients and rationing during the Second World War meant that cooks had to become more canny and inventive with what they had. Fuel was also rationed

The second recipe is from this time. As potatoes weren’t on ration until later in the war they were used to eke out other recipes in this case bread. This particular recipe was a hand written recipe found in a lovely notebook which, although not dated, luckily had a few newspaper cuttings (strangely nearly all for marrow and ginger jam), which on the reverse have articles which date from 1942 – 1948

 

 

 

 

 

 

Potato Bread

Ingredients

500g strong bread flour

250g potatoes 1 x sachet dried yeast 100ml water (you may need more, up to

150ml, depending on the type of potato used)

1 ½ teaspoons salt 

Method

The potatoes should be boiled and then passed through a sieve or mashed very well. While still hot, the potatoes should be mixed with the flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and bring together into a dough.

Kneed the dough, for around 10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Put in a bowl, cover and allow to rise for around an hour or until doubled in size.

Knock out the air, cut in half and kneed each for a few more minutes and form into two loaves. Put on a floured baking sheet and leave to rise for another hour or until again doubled in size.

Score the top with a sharp knife and the loaves are ready for the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes at 220oc/425of/gas7.

The bread is ready when browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. This produces a delicious, light crispy loaf that is worth making anyway. Crispy and tasty.

 

The bread recipe can be found in Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen

Kitchen Ranging – Food of the World

One of my all time favourites. Kitchen Ranging by Pearl Adams, who was actually Helen Pearl Adams) born in 1882 and died 1957. Published in 1928 from research of food from around the world. Sadly it includes such dishes as larks and ‘spitted small birds’

 But there are some interesting ones such as A Fricassey made for an Instalment Dinner at Windsor and Dumpokht A Dish mentioned in the Arabian Nights.
One of my favourite recipes is for Ginger Apples which I have cooked often. 1 1/2 oz whole ginger covered with whisky and left in a small dish for 3 days. Cut 3lbs apples in thin slices with 2lb sugar! (I used 4oz) and the juice of 2 lemons. Simmer gently until apples are transparent but not broken and serve.
But best of all is the intro to chapter one The Animal Who Cooks. – Man is the greatest animal of all, the animal who cooks. He is also, it is thought, the only animal who has weighed the stars, invented handwriting or discovered dressmaking.

Post Halloween Pumpkin Feasts

However you spent halloween, at a fancy dress party, shepherding little ghosts and ghouls round on the trick or treat circuit or staying up to scare yourself to death on fright films, now that it is over let’s get down to the serious stuff – cooking with pumpkins.

I did a quick run through the books on my shelves and pumpkin recipes on line and came to the conclusion that there is no excuse for not using the flesh from the pumpkins used to decorate the porch for the ghostly evening. I try not to get on my high horse in these blogs but the waste of food in the form of pumpkins really upsets me.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the U.S. in 2014 were only used for lanterns before being trashed and in the UK we are no better. The UK buys over one million pumpkins during October – around 90% of annual pumpkin sales. Once carved, the majority are thrown away with around 18,000 tonnes ending up in landfill according to the North London Waste Authority (NLWA).

Don’t give me the stories about nobody in the house liking pumpkin – would they be able to identify it in a lovely vegetable stew? or not knowing what to do? – I found 20 pages of recipes from all over the world in my Ecosia search. Let’s aim to reduce the figure of pumpkin waste by next halloween.

So how about it?  Send me your favourite pumpkin recipes. The three best will win a copy of Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen and I’ll publish them in future blogs.

For more information on what you can do with scooped out pumpkins this Halloween, a selection of handy recipes can be found on the Love Food Hate Waste website 

One of my favourites is Pumpkin Bread from Flavoured Breads by Linda Collister

Ingredients

700g pumpkin or winter squash, 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil, 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (don’t be tempted to reduce this), 2 teaspoons of golden caster sugar, 15g fresh yeast*, 350g strong white bread flour, extra flour for dusting, 1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt to glaze.

* or use 7g sachet of dried yeast, mix with the flour before adding the pumpkin puree.

Method

Peel, remove seeds and dice the pumpkin into 1cm cubes, you need 400g. Cook this without water, either roast or steam. Put in a processor with the oil and puree until smooth. Then allow to cool until just luke warm add the salt and sugar.

If you are using freash yeast mix in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of warm water. Mix the paste into the puree.

Measure the flour into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Spoon in the puree then mix in the flour to make a soft dough. Turn our onto a floured work surface and knead thoroughly for 5 – 10 mins (or 5mins in a mixer on a dough hook.

Shape into a round loaf and put on a baking sheet covered to rise until doubled – about 1 1/2 hours.

Press your thumb into the middle to make small hollow and brush with the egg glaze. Score into segments with a sharp knife then bake in a preheated oven at 200c, 400F or gas 6 for 30 mins, until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack if you can without eating it before it cools (very difficult). It makes a lovely bright orange loaf that looks and taste great.

The Comfort that is a Bowl of Soup

There really is nothing like a bowl of soup to make you feel human again after a hard day, to warm you coming in from the cold, to comfort you when you are tired or down, to make a great satisfying lunch in the middle of a busy day.

And what could be simpler? Of course my all time favourite is What’s Left in the Vegetable Basket Soup. So although, to my mind, a good vegetable soup has to have a basis of onions, carrots and celery, the variations on this mean that no two soups are alike. Some have the hit of the last wrinkled chilli  and quite often something from the store of vegetables frozen from the glut in the summer but then there are the odd ingredients like the the last few tomatoes and half of a left-over courgette. Sometimes made chunky and sometimes whizzed to a creamy liquid. Every one a winner!

The spring soup I always look forward to is Asparagus and Sorrel Soup

Asparagus and Sorrel Soup

This recipe comes from Eat Your Greens by Sophie Grigson, published in 1993. While the asparagus and the sorrel are still in season, this is a delight.  You can use asparagus trimmings for this recipe. This lovely light fresh soup and can be served hot or cold.

Ingredients Serves 2 – 3

175 g (6oz) chopped asparagus or asparagus trimmings, 40g (1 1/2oz) butter, 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped clove of garlic, 1 large handful of shredded sorrel, 1 tablespoon plain flour, 600ml (1 pint) water from cooking the asparagus or stock, salt and pepper, 50ml (2 fl oz) double cream, 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chervil or chives.

Method

Melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the onions and garlic without browning. Add the sorrel and stir until it collapses to a mush. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a few seconds then a little ata time add the asparagus water or stock. Add the asparagus and season. Simmer for 20 mins.

Process or puree until smooth and if you want, sieve to remove any stringy fibres. Just before serving stir in the cream and chervil or chives.

And a brilliant and tasty soup for the summer – or anytime!

Soup au Pistou

Pistou, the Provençal cousin of pesto, is stirred into this summer vegetable soup just before serving. Pistou, made from cloves of garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil. The basics are the potato, courgettes and beans but this is one of those soups that can vary as much as you like in terms of the vegetables used. Broken spaghetti, rice or bread is sometimes added as well. Try it out and then make it your own.

This version was from an anonymous hand-written recipe and translated in Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen

Soup

1.5 litre water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 150g potatoes, 150g onions, 150g courgettes, 150g aubergines, 200g white haricot beans (a tin would be fine), 100g green beans, Salt & pepper

Pistou

4 crushed cloves garlic, 4 cups packed basil, 1 cup grated parmesan, ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 plum tomato, cored

Method

Make the pistou: Process basil, parmesan, olive oil, salt, garlic, and tomato in a food processor until finely ground or in a pestle if you are feeling energetic. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables – chop the potatoes, courgettes, aubergine into cubes, roughly chop the onions and chop the green beans into 1 cm pieces. Fry the onions in the oil then add the rest of the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes. Add the water, all the fresh vegetables then season well. Cook for around 15 – 20 minutes. Add the white haricot beans and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add the pistou sauce and stir gently then taste and season again.

Guess what I’ve got for lunch?

Afternoon Tea Week

Let’s celebrate afternoon tea week, who can resist those little finger sandwiches, scones and fancy cakes, it’s like reliving a dolls tea party. That quintessential British meal that sadly is disappearing from our daily lives. With the advent of full time work for women the ritual that is afternoon tea became lost, hardly surprising, who of us has time to work and cook for a tea break?

As lifestyles and hours of working changed over time so have mealtimes , following working patterns and changes in social status.  The following is from “A Short History of [British] Mealtimes”

1780
Breakfast 10AM; Dinner 3-5PM, Tea 7PM, Supper 10-11PM
1815
Breakfast 10AM (leisurely), 9AM (less leisurely), 8AM (working people); Luncheon Midday; Dinner 3-5PM; Supper 10-11PM
1835
Breakfast, before 9AM; Luncheon (ladies only) Midday; Dinner 6-8PM; Supper depending upon the timing and substantiality of dinner
1860s/Middle Class
Breakfast 8AM (town), 9-10AM (country); Lunchoen 1-2PM; Dinner 6-8PM (depending upon formality and place)
1900
Early morning 8AM (tea, bread and butter); Breakfast 8-8:30AM; Luncheon Midday; Afternoon tea 5PM, Dinner 7:30-8PM
1930s
Breakfast 8AM; Lunch/upper classes or Dinner/rest Midday-1PM; Afternoon tea 4PM; High tea 5-6PM; Dinner 7-8PM; Supper 9-10PM.

1990s
“Mealtimes…These vary somewhat depending on the region of the country you are visiting, but in general breakfast is served between 7:30 and 9, and lunch between 12 and 2. Tea–an essential and respected part of British tradition, and often a meal in itself–is generally served between 4:30 and 5:30. Dinner or supper is served between 7:30 and 9:30, sometimes earlier.”—Fodor’s Great Britain [1992] (p. 34)

As you can see, tea the kind of fancy-schmancy affair emerged as a social event sometime around the 1830s or 1840s, Bruce Richardson writes in A Social History of Tea. And Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, led the pack. When there is nothing else to do but enjoy a little ‘something’ with friends, why not?

Nowadays we only celebrate high tea on high days and holidays usually eaten out rather than at home despite the popularity of TV programmes such as The Great British Bake Off which celebrate baking in all its forms.

But it is a lovely way to indulge yourself, so this week find somewhere locally that does provide ‘high tea’ and give yourself a treat. Or make something you usually don’t make time for – a few scones or how about a little Victoria sponge? or at least a biscuit and a cup of tea.

These great biscuits are easy to make and are just right for children to decorate.

Tunbridge Water Cakes (William Sayer)*

I have seen references to these biscuits called Tunbridge Wafers or Romary biscuits after the baker Alfred Romary who had a bakery in Tunbridge, opened in 1862. Romary later received Royal warrants for his wafers. Recipes seem to vary of course, some of them more savoury, and this writer has added orange flower water.

Ingredients

250g butter

250g icing sugar

500g flour

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon orange flower water

Method

Preheat the oven to 180oc/350of/gas 4

Rub the butter in with the flour; add the sugar and make the whole into a paste. Don’t work too much as this will make the biscuits hard. Roll it out very thin on a floured table and cut it out with a plain round or scalloped cutter about 3in across. Place them on a greased baking tray and bake them to a pale delicate colour.

They take about 15 – 20 minutes depending on your oven.

These make lovely biscuits for children to decorate and makes about 50 biscuits.

* From Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen click here

 

Why I never get any work done!

A recent buy at a book auction was box of two VERY tatty cookery books, a few reasonable cookery books and, of course my favourite, three handwritten cookery books. I pored over these great books, written between 1920 and 1962 including the war years and found some new recipes. I’ll be adding a few to these blog pages over the next month or so as I work through them.

However the real gem were wads of recipes cut out of newspapers of the time, stuffed in the pages, again running from the 1920s through to the 1960s. Sadly it wasn’t always easy to find the dates as the cuttings themselves didn’t include the dateline, but  there was a whole new world on the rear of some of them either with the date or pointing to it. Following both the important and frivolous background to the food.

These news items were in themselves worth the money I spent. Included here were royal weddings, a call up advertisement for the war, political and social articles, births, deaths and marriages, military appointments, divorce proceedings, new plays on in London, commentary on the war and fashion tips.

A bit of a tease were those articles that were only partially there as the recipes was cut out including a tantalising snippet from a court hearing where ‘the women in the court broke down crying’…

One sad article from The Observer Review November 1962 was Titled ‘Tragic Lag on Powered Limbs’ and rated against the sad failure of the Ministry of Health to provide limbs quickly enough for those children who were victims of thalidomide. A very sad period in our history.

A Food Facts section of the Radio Time from 1948 (I couldn’t find the actual date) called for empty jams jars to be sent to jam manufacturers for the new seasons jam.

 

A complaint on the letters page (I think of The Times 1950s) that sponsored advertisement were creeping into exam papers made me smile …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and best of all this little snippet, a small note about a reward from the railway company.

No wonder I never get anything done!

Learning Italian in the Kitchen

Ciao amici miei!

I have recently started learning Italian. It’s a beautiful language and I am really enjoying it. Sadly as I get older my memory gets worse so it is hard work. I am trying all sorts of ways to get it into my head for more than a few hours (or minutes in some cases). I am learning on line both the grammar and vocabulary, I am taking conversation classes, I am writing my shopping list and a daily diary in Italian and reading Italian children’s books.

But being a bit of a food obsessive and as you know an enthusiastic amateur cook I decided that using an Italian language cookbook might be the way to go.

It’s great, I am working my way through La Cucina di Toscana and about to start on Un Settimane di Cucina Italia. 

The first dish was Acquacotta, which literally means Cooked Water – who knew? This tasty dish of onions, yellow peppers celery and tomatoes was easy peasy and I ‘ve learnt LOTS of new words. Marvellous! or meraviglioso! as we say in Italian – see it’s working already.

A Refreshing Drink for a Hot Day

Elderberry shrub / ketchup an odd recipe which can be made as a savoury vinegar ‘ketchup’ or a sweet ‘shrub’ cordial.

Elderberry Ketchup (or Shrub) (G. Watson)

Although this is called ketchup it is not like the sauce we know and love but a spicy vinegar. Remove the shallots and it is a lovely drink called shrub.  Vinegar as a drink? Try it, it is really refreshing, the vinegar mellows with the sugar and sparkling water.

500ml elderberries

500ml cider vinegar

25g shallots (finely chopped or minced)

A blade of mace

A 1cm cube ginger

1 teaspoonful cloves

1 teaspoonful black peppercorns

Sugar – see method for quantities

Method

Strip the berries from the stalks and rinse in water. Put them in a large jar with the vinegar and leave for 24 hours. Strain off the liquid without crushing the berries.

For shrub - Transfer the elderberry vinegar liquid to a pan DO NOT ADD SHALLOT . Add the spices and boil gently for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, for each 500ml of liquid use 500g sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then pour through a sieve to remove the whole spices. When cold bottle and label.

For the ketchup - Transfer the elderberry vinegar liquid to a pan and add the shallots and spices and boil gently for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, for each 500ml of liquid use 200g sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then pour through a sieve to remove the whole spices. When cold bottle and label.

To serve, mix with sparking water. Start with 1 part shrub to 6 parts sparkling water and adjust to taste. The syrup may also be mixed with still water or used in cocktails.

Try it – you will be pleasantly surprised

The Tyrany of Geometry

I was amused yesterday when I read India Knight’s article in the Sunday Times about the British and gardening. I do like her articles but this one particularly struck a chord and when India remarked ‘ I’m keener on higgledy-piggledy hollyhocks and courgette flowers than on perfect geometry, I laughed out loud.

I love gardening, my garden isn’t perfect and often stretches the balance between random and completely disorganised. But I love it I don’t want Little Miss Neat or Mr Tidy out there with me. I love the fact that the flowers bulge out of every corner in a riot of clashing colours and the raspberries are taking over the salad bed. What appear to be weeds are actually deliberate – sweet cicely, Jack-in-the-hedge and dandelions are all great in salads, although my neighbour thinks that is just an excuse.

However things are different on the allotment. Why? I don’t know but when growing veg on a larger scale I can’t seem to stop myself growing things in rows. The carrots, radishes and other roots are perfect in their lines and the sweetcorn marches in a set square. The runner beans supports are a marvel of symmetry.  A recent newcomer to the allotment plot remarked ‘gosh how organised you are, I wish I was like that’ – well I don’t. I don’t want to be a control freak.

That is until we have filled the gaps and still have plants to put in when my true untidy nature comes out and why I laughed at India’s comment, because one of the’allotment sayings’ that Terry and I have is ‘ we must rid ourselves of the tyrany of geometry’ as we stuff spare plants in any old corner. 

and I feel much better for it.