What I did on my holidays…


Some of you may have noticed (well I hope you did) that there hasn’t been a peep out of me for a while. Well the truth is I have been the victim of a strange hallucinatory effect called summer in England.

A summer like the one we have had this year comes along, oh about every 30 years, so I couldn’t resist the call of the great outdoors.

My favourite poem by Richard Le Gallienne goes as follows:

I meant to do my work today—
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
So what could I do but laugh and go?

So there you have it. Mind you I have got a lot done in the garden and on the allotment so I can say that it was time well spent. But is that a measurement of a good summer? and why do I feel the need to justify myself for not ‘working’ even though I love my books and bookshop?

Anyway along with enjoying the garden I have picked up some great books and some tasty recipes so I am back in the world of Refried Books. I hope you’ll come and visit me.

Here are a few of the photos I have taken of my holidays.

In a Salad State of Mind

It is spring here in England and my body is telling me I need fresh raw food after the long winter of comfort food. I can’t get enough of it.

Luckily I have a garden where I have encouraged those first leafy plants to provide the greens I need (my neighbour thought I was just cultivating weeds) and they are all starting to come through now – rocket, sweet cicely, garlic mustard, dandelions, lemon balm, parsley, chard, spinach, early sprouting broccoli, sorrel and mint. I like to wander round the garden putting a bit of this and a bit of that in a bowl then with a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper just down the whole dish. 

So with salads to the fore I have been reading through some great books with historic salads in mind.

An early recipe for salads ‘A Grande Salade for Spring’ comes from the Receipt Book of John Nott, Cook to the Duke of Bolton, 1723 and shows how spring herbs and greens were used for feasts not for your everyday lunch.

Take cowslip buds, violet-flowers and leaves; young lettuce, spinach, Alexander Buds, Strawberry leaves, water cresses, each apart by themselves and then take also Capers, Olives, Samphire, Cucumbers, Broombuds, Raisins and Currans parboiled, Almonds blanched, Barberries and other pickles, then lay a Turnip or some other hard thing for a Standard in the middle of the Sallad, let it be formed like a Castle made of Paste washed over with the Yolks of Eggs and within it a Tree made in like manner and coloured with green Herbs and stuck with flowers; you must also have annexed to it twelve supporters round it, sloping to it, and fastened to the Castle.

Another early salad recipe is for Salamongundy and comes from The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse published in 1765, one of the absolute classics of English recipe books. Designed to form the centrepiece for a supper table, decorated and formally presented, the original recipe (or receipt) uses 2 cooked chickens, so I have given amounts per portion and you can increase as you need.

Ingredients

110 g (4oz) cooked chicken, a handful of lettuce or other green leaves, 2 chopped  anchovies, a hard-boiled egg, ¼ lemon (peel and chop the flesh), parsley, 6 small silver skinned onions, 2 tablespoons vinaigrette dressing,30 g/1 oz white grapes, 55g/2 oz cooked French beans.

Method

Cut or pull chicken into bite size pieces. Combine the egg yolks, anchovies, lemon and half the vinaigrette. Shred the lettuce or leaves and place on plate. Chop egg whites. Add all the ingredients to the plate either in a decorative order or mix together. I prefer it mixed. Before serving add the last of vinaigrette.  Or as Mrs Glasse says ‘You may always make Salamongundy of such things as you have, according to your fancy.’

On a more mundane level Pearl Adam in Kitchen Ranging – A Book of International Cookery published in 1928, includes that salad horror English Summer Salad. ‘

The ‘green salad’ is in England usually diversified by sliced tomato, beetroot and hard-boiled egs; spring onions are arranged all around the bowl, with two inches of their stems facing upwards. These give the necessary flavour to the salad, while allowing onion lovers to add as much to their salad as they wish.

 

The great thing about salads is that there is something for everyone and any time of the year. Whatever your favourite salad recipe, and there are hundreds of variations for all your favourite foods, enjoy it now whether it is spring, summer, autumn or winter where you are.

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

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?

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.

British Pie Week Day 2 – Festive Jalousie

A great all-rounder, this pie comes from Vegetarian Cooking & Vegetable Classics by Roz Denny and Christine Ingram. I love it and it comes with it’s own inbuilt creamy sauce.

Festive Jalousie

Ingredients

450g/ puff pastry, 450g Brussel sprouts, 16 whole chestnuts, 1 large red pepper, 1 large onion, 45ml sunflower oi,l 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon of water,

For the sauce

40g plain flour, 40g butter, 300ml milk, 30ml dry sherry, 75g cheddar cheese, good pinch of dried sage, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

Roll out the pastry to make 2 large rectangles (1 slightly larger than the other) roughly the size of your dish and about 6mm thick.

Blanch the brussels sprouts in 300ml of boiling water for 4 mins then drain, retaining the water and refresh them under cold running water.

Cut each chestnut in half. Lightly fry the red pepper and onion in the sunflower oil until transparent for about 5 mins. Set aside until later.

Make up the sauce by beating the flour, butter and milk together. Beat the sauce continuously and bring to the boil until it is thickened and smooth.  Then add the reserved sprout water cheese, sherry, sage and season to taste. Simmer for around 3 mins then add the parsley.

Fit the larger piece of pastry into your pie dish and layer the sprouts, chestnuts, peppers and onions on top. Pour over the sauce making sure it seeps through the vegetables. Brush the pastry edges with the egg mix and fit the second sheet of pastry on the top sealing the edges well. Crimp the edges. Glaze well with the egg mix.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees f/200 degrees C/ Gas mark 6. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

Vegetarian Cooking and Vegetable Classics

Packets of magic – never underestimate the power of seeds

Remember the story of Jack and the beanstalk where Jack foolishly sold his cow for 5 magic beans? He wasn’t undersold, his beans were the passage to a store of treasure in the sky. And it’s true – seeds are natures treasures.

I have just received a parcel of seeds for this season and I can’t tell you how excited I was when the postman dropped them off. Along with the store of seeds saved from last year this promises to be my food for the coming year, the provide the colour and scent of my garden, the taste of fresh sprouting seeds in my salads and a year’s fun sowing planting and harvesting. Who needs a gym when you have access to a garden or allotment a few packets of seeds and a few tools.

Seeds may be tiny, but they’re packed with nutrients like protein, fibre, iron, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. A seed is life. It is a living food. Seeds also provide most cooking oils, many beverages and spices and some important food additives. In fact food from seeds, beans, nuts and grains (all seeds) forms the majority of human calories.

To get the most out of them remember the golden rule – raw food provides the highest sources of vitamins and cooked food helps the body extract the highest amounts of minerals so vary the way you eat them. Salads, raw seed and nut dips for vitamins and added to bread, biscuits or toasted for minerals.

Eating sprouted seeds adds another dimension of flavour and texture as well either raw in salads or cooked in stir fries.

Zero waste for a 100 years

As I rambled about in my last blog, I have been working on a project about food and food availability locally during WW1. As part of the research we looked through lots of cookery books and magazines of the time, just the job for me I loved it.

At the outset of the war the main issue was reducing waste and being frugal. Although they never expected the war to last for over four years they did expect a tight winter. Books, government posters and magazines promoted the reduction of waste and came up with some canny ideas. As the war continued these recipes became part of everyday life.

Once again Sam Bilton who runs the Repast Supper Club came to our rescue and translated some of these old recipes in a cooking demonstration. Here is one which will stand up to the needs of  Zero Waste Week. I make this all the time now.

Stock Made from Vegetable Trimmings

Mrs C. S. Peel The Daily Mail Cookery Book (1918)

Ingredients: The well washed peelings of potatoes, carrots, turnips; the green tops and outside leaves of celery, cauliflowers, cabbage, lettuces (if not decayed), apple or pear peelings and cores; parsley stalks.

Method: Add water, or the water in which macaroni, rice, haricots, potatoes etc have been boiled. Bring all to the boil then simmer for 30-40 mins. Strain and use as a base for thick soups, sauces etc.

Cooks Comments: This is a very economical way to make what is actually a tasty stock. I kept a largish bowl in the fridge in which I put various vegetable peelings and onion skins as described above over a few days until I had accumulated around 500g or so of trimmings (although an exact weight is not really an issue). When I was ready to make the stock I also saved the water I had used to cook some potatoes and topped it up to around 2.5 litres. If you decide to include onion skins they will give the stock a brown hue, which is something to consider if you are planning to use the stock in a white sauce or summery soup 

When the garden sends you broad beans…

Well the allotment is starting to take off on the picking front with broad beans, courgettes and runner beans and as usual I can’t keep up, so the broad beans are getting a bit big and I like them small and sweet.

The following recipe is not just something to do with an overload of broad beans, it is a reason for growing them! Thick, garlicky (is that a real word?) and herby.

Broad Bean Dip from The Taste of Health by edited by Jenny Rogers

This recipe calls for dried beans but I used fresh of course.

 

 

 

Ingredients

250g broad beans (removed from their jackets and peeled)

1 small onion

6 garlic cloves

A bunch of fresh thyme and a sprig of sage

2 bay leaves

110ml olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon or 1 lime

Salt & pepper

Method

If using dried beans soak them for a few hours or overnight otherwise just carry on with the recipe.

Put beans into a saucepan and cover with water.  Tie the 3 garlic cloves, the onion and the herbs loosely in a muslin bag and add to the pan. Simmer until the beans are tender then discard the muslin bag and water.

Put the beans into a processor with the olive oil, lemon/lime juice, salt & pepper and the the three remaining garlic cloves and process until they are a smooth paste.

yum yum

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