WELL SEASONED

The Blog

Welcome to our award winning blog

 

Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 13 2017 11:33AM

The partridge season started back in September and the pheasants joined them on 1 October. Both seasons run throughout winter to the end of January.


Last week I was in Salisbury talking to a gamekeeper of one of the small local shoots. I asked him whether things had improved for game suppliers in recent years given the increased interest in cooking and eating game. Surely with the likes of Tom Kerridge, Hugh F-W and Tom Kitchin all doing sterling work to promote game, the shoots would now be getting a decent price for the birds they produce? His answer shocked me. I was used to hearing that shoots were paid 50p to £1 for good quality birds “in the feather”. That number has apparently reduced to just 25p and, in some cases, the game dealers will do nothing more than take the birds away for free. In percentage terms, it’s a massive cut in price and, at worst, suggests there simply isn’t any market for the birds.


Less than 25p for a free-range, tasty bird that makes the perfect meal for one when a free range chicken in my local butchers is being sold for £15. What on earth is going on?


I’m afraid to say the problem seems to be one of over-supply. There are simply too many birds being produced meaning that, whatever the increased enthusiasm for game meat, there’s too much to go around. The temptation from some quarters will be, I’m sure, to blame “greedy toffs” (the Daily Mail’s go-to description for anyone who owns land) selling too much shooting to too many fat cats (ditto for anyone who pays to shoot) but I am sure the issue is more nuanced than that.


For many small farmers, shooting provides vital income which, as they are squeezed to provide ever-cheaper food and milk, is essential to ensure they stay in business. To me, the key problem is that the main income from shooting comes from those who pay to shoot, rather than to eat, the birds. A team of Guns could pay up to £750 pounds each for a day’s shooting where maybe 250 birds will be shot. But having paid all of that money, they will probably only take home a pair (brace) each for dinner. The rest will go to the game dealers, essentially as a by-product. So, in the hope of propping up a failing business, where farms are already forced to sell meat and milk at a loss to the supermarkets, millions of birds are being produced where the primary market is to shoot them rather than eat them. What an absurd state of affairs.


In my view, the solution is for shoots to (voluntarily) limit the number of birds they shoot in a day and focus instead on providing hospitality and a great day out in the countryside that people are prepared to pay for, regardless of the number of birds in the bag at the end of the day. Put it another way, if they keep producing more and more birds to the point that there is no market and the meat simply goes to waste rather than entering our food chain, the days for game shooting in this country will be numbered. Even as a fan of game and shooting, I’d find it impossible to justify, nor would I want to.


Economists would, I’m sure, be able to propose a win-win solution where people pay a bit more to shoot fewer birds which are then sold for a little more. But that analysis is best left to someone else with better qualifications than my B in GCSE maths. For the time being, however, the upshot is that there are loads and loads of really good quality gamebirds out there RIGHT NOW and we should all be eating them.


In his latest piece for Just About Dorset, Russell has produced a mouth-watering game dish that will be a hit with everyone, but I’d especially recommended it to anyone looking for an easy introduction to the tasty, exciting and undeniably good value world of game. I can’t reveal what the recipe is just yet, but keep an eye on the blog and get ready to be hungry...


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 8 2017 11:00AM

Conkers are the seeds of the horse chestnut tree. The trees, which can reach 35m tall, produce beautiful white candle shaped flowers in May followed by their famous spiky seed cases (each with two conkers inside) which fall in September and October.


Horse chestnuts aren't native to Britain but were imported from the Balkans in the sixteenth century and widely planted in parks and public spaces during Victorian times.


The game


The game of conkers has been played in Britain since the 1800s. The following rules have developed over the centuries and are fairly universally accepted. First, a grown-up needs to prepare each conker by drilling a hole through the centre. Now thread the conker onto a string or shoe lace and tie a big knot to stop it sliding off. Your string should be more than 30cm long so that, when you have wrapped it round your hand, there is at least 20cm between your knuckles and the dangling conker. Next, prepare for battle!


1. Toss a coin to decide who strikes first.

2. Each player must have a minimum length of 20cm of string between his string hand and the conker.

3. The striker draws back his conker in his other hand and then swings it down onto the receiving player's conker.

3. The striker has three goes to hit the receiver's conker.

4. The receiver must hold his or her conker still.

5. Once the striker has hit the receiver's conker (or if he misses three times) play passes and the receiver becomes the striker.

6. If any player drops his conker, his opponent is entitled to shout "stamps!" and stamp on it, unless the other player shouts "no stamps!" first.

7. Absolutely no deliberate hitting of the other player's knuckles!

8. If your conker comes off its string but is not smashed then you are allowed to re-string it and play continues.

9. The game ends when one player's conker is smashed from its string (having a small bit of shell left doesn't count).

10. If both conkers smash at the same time, the match is a tie.


Scoring


Every fresh conker starts as a "one-er". A conquering conker assumes the score of its victim. So, if your one-er beats another one-er then it becomes a "two-er". But if your one-er beats a two-er, it becomes a "three-er", and so on.


How to cheat


Although banned in most official competitions, the following methods can all be used to toughen up your prized conker:


- Store it in a dry place for a year.*

- Bake it in the oven.

- Soak it in vinegar.

- Paint it with clear nail varnish.


The best (legitimate) way to ensure a strong conker is to make sure the hole you drill is neat and doesn't split the shell. The hole should be no wider than you need for your chosen string. Also, before you drill the hole, check that your conker sinks in a glass of water. If it is damaged or rotten on the inside it will float.


*Roald Dahl recommends this method in his diary, My Year.


According to custom, when you find your first conker of the season you should say "Oddly, oddly onker, my first conker" for good luck during the season.


Did you know...? The origins of the word 'conker' aren't completely clear. Some say it derives from the word "conch", a type of shell that was originally used to play the game but others believe it is a shortened version of "conqueror".


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 8 2017 11:00AM

Britain's arboretums (technically it's arboreta) are some of the finest and best managed tree collections in the world and October is a great month to visit one. You'll be treated to a dramatic display of colour as autumn really takes hold.


Here's our top 10 arboretums to visit but there are plenty more out there and there’s bound to be one near you.

The National Arboretum, Westonbirt – the country’s best known collection and simply stunning throughout the autumn.


Bodenham Arboretum, Worcestershire – more than 150 acres in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey – a National Trust property, deliberately planted to produce a dramatic autumn display.


Harcourt Arboretum, Oxfordshire – a historic collection, now part of Oxford University.


Kilmun Arboretum, Argyll and Bute –part of the Argyll forest and recently named as the best arboretum for autumnal photography.


Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden, Yorkshire – not strictly an arboretum but a stunning garden and medieval deer park that form part of a World Heritage landscape.


Derby Arboretum, Derby - the first publicly owned urban, recreational park in England and now Grade II listed by English Heritage.


RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey – the Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden in glorious Surrey countryside.


Cardinham Wood, Cornwall – a Forestry Commission property criss-crossed with walking and cycling trails, perfect for enjoying the Cornish scenery.


Rowallane Garden, Northern Ireland – one of the most beautiful gardens in Northern Ireland.

Why do leaves change colour in autumn?


During the summer trees produce two chemicals that they need for photosynthesis (the process by which they “breath”, converting water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen). The first chemical, chlorophyll, is green and the second, carotene, is yellow. To produce chlorophyll, trees need both warmth and light so when the cooler days and longer nights of autumn come, chlorophyll production stops. As the green chlorophyll fades away, the carotene remains - this is the yellow that you see. Anthocyanin, a third chemical, is produced when sugars in the leaf become concentrated and trapped in the leaves as the tree prepares for winter. This is the red colour that you see - it’s the same chemical that makes some apples and grapes red.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 4 2017 08:00AM

From October through to December the rosehip is a common sight in our British gardens, hedgerows and along footpaths.


As their name suggests, rosehips are the bud of the wild rose and they are jam-packed full of vitamin C (some estimates say up to 20 times as much as oranges). They can't be eaten raw but they can be processed fairly simply into a fragrant syrup. During WWII the general public were encouraged to pick rosehips and make the syrup for children who would otherwise have lacked vitamin C (because boats with cargos of citrus from the tropics couldn't reach the UK). Rosehips are difficult to cultivate commercially and so, even today, producers rely on wild crops.


For a sweet wintery treat, collect some rosehips from your local hedgerow and make your own


Here's the original, official Ministry of Food's wartime recipe:


• 2lbs (900g) rosehips

• 560g caster sugar

• You'll also need a jelly bag or muslin cloth and screw top jars or bottles.


Boil 2 litres of water in a large pan. Mince the hips coarsely in a food processor and spoon into the pan. Bring the water back to the boil then turn off the heat and put to one side for 15 minutes. Pour the mixture through your jelly bag or a jam funnel lined with muslin, into a bowl. Allow to drip until all of the liquid has drained through. Discard the hips. Return the pink juice to the (rinsed) saucepan, add 900ml of boiling water, stir and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Pour the liquid through the jelly bag or muslin again (you want to be sure that all of the irritating little hairs are removed). Thoroughly clean your pan, pour in the juice and boil down until you have about 1 litre left. Add the sugar, stir until dissolved then boil for 5 minutes. Pour into hot sterile bottles and seal. Store your syrup in a dark cupboard.


The syrup won't keep for more than a week once opened so best to use small bottles. It's delicious on porridge and rice pudding or added to hot water to create a sweet, fruity infusion.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 29 2017 11:00AM

29th September is also known as Michaelmas Day or the Feast of St. Michael, and marks the start of the new agricultural year.


The end of the main harvest season was historically marked with a final party before labourers returned to work. At the Michaelmas feast a "stubble goose", fattened on the stubble of the wheat fields, was usually the star of the show, so the day also became known as Goose Day.


Legend has it that it was Michaelmas Day when Queen Elizabeth heard that Francis Drake had defeated the Spanish Armada. She was supposedly tucking into a goose when the messenger arrived and so she vowed to eat it every Michaelmas from then on.


According to folklore, Michaelmas is also the last day that blackberries should be picked. It's said that, because St. Michael kicked Lucifer out of heaven, the devil spits (or worse) on the fruits and they will soon be spoiled or even poisonous. Of course, there's no real truth in that but in the old calendar Michaelmas Day fell on 10th October and they do tend to be past their best by mid-autumn. Because of this, it's also traditional to end a Michaelmas feast with a pie made with the last blackberries of the season.




By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 24 2017 08:00AM

As we edge further into the autumn season we really start to focus on preserving some of the gluts to last us over the less fruitful months.


Apples, pears, nuts, marrows, pumpkins, squashes and a host of other great fruit and veg arrive in huge quantities this month and we need to start thinking about how we're going to deal with them. Chutneys are one of the best ways of preserving the bounties of autumn and with that in mind, here are our top tips for making good ones.


Golden Rules for Champion Chutney:


1. Give yourself plenty of time. One thing you can't do is rush a good chutney. Allow at least a couple of hours to prepare and cook a batch.


2. Cut your vegetables and fruits to roughly the same size. It will allow the ingredients to cook at the same rate and make the end result better to eat.


3. Don't burn it! Cooking chutney is a long and laborious process but the worst thing you can do it take your eye off the pan for too long. Keep stirring the mixture, especially as you get towards the end. Burning it will not only make it taste terrible, it will leave a layer of black sugar welded to the base of your pan.


4. The simple test for when your chutney is ready is what we call 'the parting of the Red Sea'. Draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of your pan. The chutney should be thick enough that you see the bottom of the pan for a second or two before receding to fill the channel. When you get to this point, your chutney is ready for jarring.


5. Use jars with screw top, plastic coated lids. The vinegar will corrode uncoated metal lids.


6. Make sure you sterilise your jars. If you don't, bacteria in them may ruin the chutney and the whole point is that they should last through the winter. Give the jars a good wash in hot, soapy water and then place upside down in an oven at low heat until dry. Alternatively, put them in a dishwasher on its hottest cycle and use them as soon as it finishes.


7. Always allow your chutney time to mellow. That means at least two months in a dark, cool cupboard. Eat it too soon and it will taste harsh and vinegary. And don't worry about it going off - the high vinegar and sugar content means it should keep for at least a year (provided you sterilised the jars properly).


8. The final and most important rule is that, when it comes to ingredients...there are no rules. Pretty much anything goes and one of the best things about autumn is being able to experiment with an almost limitless number of flavour combinations. We've had some of our finest results (and admittedly some of our worst) simply throwing whatever we had at the time into a pan and seeing how it turned out.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 1 2017 11:00AM

September often starts with a few weeks of sunshine and warmth but as we head towards October, we'll definitely be seeing wetter and cooler weather.


The slightly soggier conditions in early autumn mean softer ground and the opportunity to collect casts of animal prints - a great way to spend the last few weeks of the school holidays.


Animal Track Casts


You will need:


• A 1kg tub of plaster of Paris (try any art supplies shop)

• A 1 litre bottle of tap water

• An old medium-sized mixing bowl or plastic container, ideally with a spout

• A wooden spoon

• An old 2 litre plastic bottle, cut into sections about two inches thick

• Some old newspaper

• Plastic bags (for the messy bowl and spoon)

• Vaseline (or other petroleum jelly).


First, find your tracks. Look on soft ground near to shelter or food and water sources – under trees or near streams in woodland or field edges. See our guide [on the next page] if you need help identifying them.

Once you find a good print, clear away any loose twigs and stones so the print is as clear as possible.


Smear a thin layer of the petroleum jelly around one of the plastic rings (this will make it easier to remove later), then press into the ground around the print, making sure the print is centred. Press the ring a couple of centimetres into the ground so that when you pour the plaster in it won't leak out.


Now mix your plaster in the bowl. Follow the directions on the packet to get the right plaster to water ratio (usually about 1.5 to 1). The mixture will get hot as you mix it. You should have a glossy liquid, similar in texture to double cream or pancake batter. Once mixed, leave for a minute or two and gently tap the mixing bowl to ensure any air bubbles float to the top (trapped air bubbles will weaken your cast). Now pour the plaster into the plastic circle, filling to just below the rim. Try not to pour the plaster directly onto the print but off to the side, letting it run into the impression.


You now need to leave the cast to set for at least half an hour. Mark your spot with a tall stick (so you can find it again) and hunt for more prints or go for a circular walk.


When you are ready to remove the cast, very carefully lift it (including the plastic collar) and wrap it in the newspaper. Don't worry at this stage about cleaning any mud off - it is still very fragile. Leave to dry for another full day at home. The cast will then be properly set and you can cut off the collar and rinse off any mud.

You can paint the cast to highlight the footprint if you want to, or varnish it to give it extra strength. Be sure to label it with the species you have identified and the location you found it. As you add to your collection you will learn more about the animals and their behaviour. What sort of woodland do deer like to live in? What do wild boar like to eat? It's a fascinating way to learn more about the animals that live in our countryside. Incidentally, if you're lucky enough to find larger animal casts, such as a badger's, you can also use long strips of card, secured with paper clips to surround the print, instead of the plastic rings.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 25 2017 08:29AM

Earlier this week we submitted the second half of our text for the book to the publishers. Exciting stuff and at the same time we received the first half back from the proof-readers. It felt a bit like getting your home work marked - I'm not sure if i've been given a B or a C . (In fact, I'm not sure those even exist under the new system.)


As we get closer to launch and availability of pre-orders for Well Seasoned, we've been re-designing the website and have taken the decision to re-launch with one that is entirely designed around the book. When we launch, you'll see lots of changes and a fresh, clean design with lots of new material. Rest assured, our seasonality charts will still be there along with all of the blog from 2017 onwards. The older blog material will be archived and parked elsewhere (so the search engines can still find it) with a link to the new site.


What do you need to do? Absolutely nothing except sit back and enjoy the ride with us. We'll let you know before the new site launches and a simple refresh of your browser is all you might need once it's gone live.


It's been a really busy few weeks for us with writing, recipe testing and photography as well as working with the publishers on things like the proof reading, design and layout. As I write this, Russ is slaving over a hot grouse in the kitchen and Matt Inwood, our designer, is trying his best to interpret our wooly and incomplete thoughts into a stunning cover.


More to come very soon.


PS. The damsons have arrived a few weeks early (we'd normally expect them mid-September). If you want to make a batch of damson gin or jam, it's time to get picking!

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 24 2017 11:00AM

Saint Bartholomew is the patron saint of tanners and his feast day in the height of summer was cause for celebration.


St. Bartholomew's patronage is somewhat ironic given the nature of his death which, suffice to say, was gruesome and involved knives (you can look it up if you're the bloodthirsty type) His death was commemorated on 23rd and 24th August and, given the reliable weather and proximity to the harvest, was a particularly popular date for fairs across the country.


London's Bartholomew Fair was one of the largest in Britain, attracting many thousands, and was popular for hundreds of years from its instigation by Royal Charter in 1133.


At its peak, the fair lasted for two weeks, starting on St. Bartholomew's Day when it was opened by the Lord Mayor, and attracted every manner of artist, trader and entertainer you can imagine. Singers, dancers, jugglers, and circuses all came to town, as well as many of the less desirable elements of society.


The fair's reputation as a hub of disorder, drunken revelry, thievery and immorality grew steadily until local political opposition from the guilds and City authorities led to its abandonment in the 1850s.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 14 2017 09:06AM

As I find myself saying every year, August is the month when we first have to start thinking seriously about bottling some of the summer's bounty for the colder months ahead. Many of my recent weekends have been spent making chutneys and jams with surplus from the vegetable patch and orchard, but this last Sunday, with the hedgerows brimming with blackberries my thoughts turned to booze.


My favourite hedgerow tipple is undoubtedly damson gin. No doubt that's in part, due to my childhood memories of picking damsons on the family farm. We had twenty or so wild trees and the annual harvest was something of a tradition. (Looking back now I see I was shamelessly conned into it by my parents who didn't actually let me taste any of the end product until I was well into my teens. How innocent I was.)


But there are still a couple of weeks to go until this year's damson harvest and finding a half bottle of whisky at the back of the spirits cabinet led me to this recipe.


Much like sloe and damson gin, blackberry whisky is a long term investment. Although technically drinkable by Christmas, it will definitely still be pretty punchy, with harsh, peaty notes of the whisky. Leave it for a year and it will mellow to a smooth, port-like drink that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Even if you don't like whisky, there's a fighting chance you'll love this.


I was quite happy with half a bottle but if you have the volume of fruit, then just double up the recipe for a bigger batch.


Blackberry Whisky Recipe


400ml whisky (the cheap stuff be fine. In fact, it's a great way to transform it into something drinkable.)

300g blackberries (picked on the day)

200g caster sugar


Simply place the blackberries in a half litre jar or the empty whisky bottle if it was a 750ml one. Pour over the sugar and add the spirit. gently turn to start the sugar dissolving then turn again every couple of days until entirely dissolved. After three or four months strain the fruit out through a fine muslin (they can develop a woody flavor if left too long). Pass the spirit through the muslin for a second time, to ensure it is crystal clear. Then leave to mellow for at least a year, ideally two. Enjoy neat or with chilled apple juice for a glassful of early autumn.


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