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, 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.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 13 2017 11:00AM

Our rivers and streams are full of different species of fish, large and small. But perhaps the best known and certainly one of the easiest to catch, is the minnow. These small olive-brown fish can be found in most small streams and rivers, usually close to the river bank.


An afternoon on the riverbank catching minnows is a childhood memory that every seasonal family should share. The traditional jam jar and a piece of string will make a rudimentary trap but can break leaving shattered glass in the river. With a little work you can make a more sophisticated and safer version.


You will need:


• Two large (2 litre) clear plastic bottles of the same size and shape.

• About 2 metres of nylon string

• A pair of scissors

• Twist ties (the sort that you seal freezer bags with)

• A few pieces of stale bread or plain crackers for bait

• A bucket


First cut the neck off one of the bottles. Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut right around the bottle, at the bottom of the neck (where the bottle reaches its maximum width). Then, cut all the way round the middle of the other bottle. Discard the base of both bottles and one of the screw caps, into your recycling bin. Now, turn the smaller neck around and insert it into the base of the other neck. (The idea is to make an opening which is easy for the minnows to enter but harder for them to get out.) Firmly hold the two pieces together whilst you very carefully pierce six holes around the sides of the bottles, about 1cm below the cut edges. Firmly secure the two pieces together using the twist ties in five of the holes. Thread the string through the remaining hole and tie it securely (this knot needs to be strong as the trap will be heavy when you retrieve it.)


To use your trap, drop a few pieces of bait into the opening. Throw the trap into the water, (keeping hold of the string!) and allow it to sink. Leave for a few minutes (use this time to add some water into your bucket). You should see the fish shoaling around the bottle trap and, once there are some inside, you will see the bait moving as they take little bites. Smoothly pull the string to retrieve the trap from the water and you should have some minnows. Unscrew the cap (which is now at the base of the trap) and pour your catch into the bucket.


Minnows aren’t for eating so make sure you release them gently back into the river before you leave.


Did you know…? The word "goujon" is commonly used to refer to a thick finger of meat or fish (usually breaded and deep fried). It comes from the French name for another common freshwater fish, the gudgeon.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 6 2017 11:00AM

Our harbours, piers and quaysides are teeming with crabs making the most of the calm waters and plentiful food. What trip to the coast would be complete without a crabbing competition?


Although there are 65 different species of crab found in British waters, the significant majority of the ones you'll catch when crabbing will be the Common Shore Crab. These efficient scavengers thrive on all kinds of waste but particularly enjoy discarded catch from fishing vessels, one of the reasons they love our harbours so much.


You will need


• A crab line or length of nylon string – at least 5 metres long.

• A washing tablet string bag or the feet of some old tights (not essential but makes refreshing your bait much easier)

• A small lead weight

• A bucket


Lower your baited and weighted line into the water, leave it to sink and wait a while. When you think you might have a crab, gently life your bait and carefully bring your catch to the surface.


Top tips for successful crabbing:


• Don’t put too many crabs in one bucket. Empty it when you have 10 or so.

• Keep your bucket out of direct sunlight and add some seaweed or rocks to give your crabs some shelter

• Use a smelly bait that the crabs can find. Both bacon and mackerel give off a small oily scent trail that the crabs can easily follow.

• Leave your bait still long enough to ensure the crabs can find it.

• A smooth retrieve is essential. Crabs will usually continue to grip the bait as long as it isn't jerked too suddenly.

• Be careful! Even small crabs can deliver a nasty nip. If you need to handle a crab, grip it gently but firmly from behind on either side of its shell.

• Remember to return your catch safely to the water before you leave.


If you want to tell the difference between male and female crabs, turn them over and look for the "abdominal flap" on their underside. The male flap is thin and pointed while the female's is wider and more rounded (it is used to carry eggs in the mating season).


Did you know…? The name for a group of crabs is a "cast"


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 23 2017 08:00AM

As any long-term readers of the blog will know, I've been influenced by River Cottage since the original television series back in 1999 (I was a student at the time and yes, I know that dates me.) You'll also know I strongly believe that, however skilled we think we are in the kitchen, we can always improve our knowledge. So, I was particularly excited recently to receive an invitation from the River Cottage team to attend a wild food cookery course at their Devon HQ - the perfect opportunity to learn some new things and enjoy some good food at the spiritual home of seasonal eating.


After a very pleasant night at the Talbot Arms in Uplyme (which deserves a brief plug, as much for their warm welcome as their enthusiastic replay of the winning Lions tour game) I took the short drive north to Park Farm, a.k.a. River Cottage HQ, on a beautifully bright Sunday morning. Anyone who, like me, dreams of downshifting to the West Country will be in jealous awe of the home that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the team have made for themselves here. With stunning views stretching for miles across the Axe valley, the location alone will have you mentally drafting your resignation letter. The 17th Century farm house is instantly recognisable to fans of the more recent TV series and doubles as the perfect venue for the various cookery and self-sufficiency courses now run under the RC banner.


After a quick coffee and introduction to the course from Connor, our host for the day, it was down to business. We were led through some basic knife skills and, quicker than you can say 'smoking twelve bore', were stood at a trestle table, each clutching a very dead rabbit. So, one obvious point to make is that this is definitely a "wild food" course, not only foraging. If you don't want to get to grips, literally, with dead things of one kind or another, you might want to choose an alternative option from the many on offer (a bread making session was running in the adjacent barn...). But with a commendable lack of squeamishness, everyone in the group set to work skinning and jointing their hapless classroom assistant. At this point, I should confess, I was momentarily distracted by a passing buzzard (no, really) and found myself winning the prize for first knife injury of the day. My trophies were a snazzy blue plaster and a resigned expression from Connor, suggesting he was not expecting me to be the last.


Back to our well-equipped kitchen work stations and, with a bit more chopping, some herbs and accompanying vegetables, the jointed rabbits were ready for braising in what would become genuinely one of the tastiest rabbit dishes I've had in recent years; testament to the transformational qualities of slow cooking. (Check out the receipe below and I really, REALLY recommend you try this one.)


The rabbit dish was going to take up to three hours to cook so there was plenty of time for the next part of the course - a stroll around Park Farm and a foraging lesson. What struck me here was the depth of our tutor's knowledge. I like to think of myself as pretty well versed in the art of finding wild food but Connor was in a different league when it came to spotting and identifying the various edible greens on the farm. Among others, we sampled wild sorrel from the field, dandelions from the hedgerow, goose foot from the vegetable patch and watermint from the stream. A truly fascinating ramble which also took us into the famous polytunnels and outhouses of the farm, being introduced to its other residents. If I'm ever reincarnated as a pig, I want to live at Park Farm and will cheerfully be made into River Cottage chorizo.


On a baking hot day, it was a relief to be back indoors and onto the fish course. Filleting and stuffing a mackerel (with our foraged herbs made in a bespoke salsa verde) made the perfect early lunch and set us up nicely for the afternoon session. Throughout the day Connor was happy to answer all of our questions in good humour, however basic or tricky they might have been. There was too much to report on each dish and activity individually, but the full 'menu' for the day (broadly in order) was:


- Knife skills (cutting and sharpening)

- Braised rabbit (including skinning and jointing)

- Foraging

- Herb stuffed mackerel (filleting and pin-boning)

- Cockles and mussels with chorizo, Sea Purslane and samphire

- Smoked rabbit loin (hot smoking)

- Watermint sorbet (palette cleansing revelation)

- Meadowsweet pannacotta (a real highlight for me and proof that "wild food cookery" can be as simple as finding a stunning new flavour for a traditional dish.)


You certainly won't go hungry on this course. If anything, there is too much food to eat and I certainly regretted starting my morning with a full English. It seemed a shame to leave some of the food uneaten and although bags were readily provided for anyone able to take their excess home, I think the day might benefit from preparing one dish to be taken home, rather than aiming to eat everything there and then. Without doubt though, this is a hands-on, comprehensive and fun course with plenty of opportunity to get involved and no waiting around. RC have obviously thought carefully about the day's content and aimed to pack it with a broad range of skills and dishes. Obviously, the exact content changes throughout the year and I particularly liked how several of the dishes had been adapted to suit ingredients that happened to be to hand on the day. For example, the samphire was a fitting late addition to the cockle dish, simply because it was abundant that week - it's exactly what seasonal cookery should be about.


As with any course, just as important as the content is the attitude and approach of those teaching it. What has always struck me about RC is that it manages to attract staff who, without exception, are universally 'on message' when it comes to the seasonal, ethical focus on our food. I have yet to meet anyone working either at HQ or in any of the Canteens who is not a wholehearted supporter of the cause and an exemplary ambassador for the brand. The same was true on this visit (both to HQ and the Axminster Canteen the night before). This is not just about an efficient training program (though no doubt that exists) but an ethos that clearly permeates everything about the business.


The 'project' has morphed in recent years. This seems to have been a very conscious move away from Hugh (who along with Jamie and Delia, needs only his first name) as a personality. Not only is this a shrewd business move, it's also entirely appropriate if the message is truly about spreading the word as widely as possible rather than celebrity of an individual. Having followed it for some two decades now, I've witnessed River Cottage's various stages of evolution and I'm delighted to say that it continues to thrive as a fantastic example to us all. As a budding food writer, if I can achieve a fraction of what the team have managed at River Cottage, and now Park Farm, I will be a happy man.


If you're tempted to try your own River Cottage cookery course, you can book your own HERE. If you use the discount code WELLSEASONED before 31 December you'll get £50 off any course. Tell them I sent you and that I'm planning to come back very soon. Possibly as a pig.


Coq au cidre (actually Lapin au Cidre)


Traditionally coq au vin is made with a cock bird and red wine, and very fine it is too. This adaptation using rabbit and cider is, I think, every bit its equal. You can cook it in the oven (at 160°C/Gas mark 3) once you’ve added the cider, if that’s more convenient.


Serves 4


Rabbit legs, about 1.6kg, jointed into 8 pieces

50g butter, softened

3–4 tbsp olive oil

150g pancetta or unsmoked streaky bacon, cut into small cubes

10 eschallots or large shallots, peeled

8 garlic cloves, chopped

A good handful of thyme

4 tbsp brandy (ideally apple brandy)

3 bay leaves

700ml dry cider

200g small dark-gilled mushrooms

25g plain flour

A handful of parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Have the rabbit joints ready to cook. Heat half the butter and 3 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and brown the rabbit in batches on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper; don’t crowd the pan. Transfer all the rabbit joints to a flameproof casserole that will accommodate them in a single layer.


Add the pancetta to the frying pan and fry until lightly browned, then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the rabbit. Add a little more oil to the pan if it is dry and cook the shallots gently, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes until soft but not brown. Add the garlic and thyme, cook for 2–3 minutes, then add the brandy.


Tip the contents of the frying pan over the chicken in the casserole and add the bay leaves. Pour in the cider, cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for another 15 minutes. Check that the rabbit is tender and the juices run clear when the thickest part is pierced with a knife. If not, cook for another 10 minutes and check again. Transfer the rabbit, bacon, onions and mushrooms to a warmed serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm.


Bring the cidery liquid to the boil and reduce it by about a third. Meanwhile, mix the flour and remaining softened butter to a paste. Add about half of it, in pieces, to the liquid, whisking all the time. Keep whisking the bubbling liquid to cook the flour and thicken the sauce, adding more of the paste if needed, to thicken it further. Pour the sauce over the rabbit and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.




By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 18 2017 09:09AM

With a mixture of excitement and nervousness, we submitted the first half of the book to the publishers last week. Eek! If you've ever handed in a thesis or large piece of coursework you'll know the feeling. Pen down, job done. Oh wait, let me just change that bit... etc. But definitely a really exciting time for us and it's made the book feel very "real".


In related news, we're really pleased that the publishers have confirmed Matt Inwood as the designer of Well Seasoned. In fact, coincidentally, Russ has known Matt for a number of years and had already shared his vision for the book so we're really confident that Matt is going to do a fantastic job. With books for Tom Kerridge, Jason Atherton and Atul Kochhar already in his portfolio we couldn't be in better company.


Finally, HERE's a link to the first of our teaser videos for the book. We're hoping to do a few of these as we reach various milestones in the publication timeline...and as our presentation skills improve!




By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 11 2017 02:04PM

Last weekend, in glorious sunshine, Russ did a demo at the Dorset Seafood Festival. Centred around Weymouth harbour, the festival is a celebration of all things fishy and although squid was on the menu for the demo, we took the opportunity to hand out our very first piece of official marketing material for the Well Seasoned book.


This recipe for razor clams features in the book's February chapter but you might still be able to find some clams on your fishmonger's slab, so we thought we'd share it with you.


Enjoy (and keep an eye on the blog for more sneaky previews as we approach March 2018)!


-----


RAZOR CLAMS WITH HERB CRUMB, LEMON AND PARSLEY BUTTER


These are a little fiddly to prepare but for this particular recipe all the prep can be done in advance so it will take the pressure off! Once the clams are steamed open, the meat will pull easily from the shell and the inedible parts can be cut away. Lay the clam flat on the board with the rounder end to the left, cut this off close to the dark sac. Lift the frilly wing up and slice off the cylindrical piece of meat with the pointed end. Now trim the wing away from the dark sac. Scrape off any odd bits of sand as you go. Now the meat can be sliced into half centimetre pieces ready to use. If you're unsure at any point, the internet has plenty of useful videos on fish and shellfish preparation.


Serves 4 as a starter


For the clams

1kg live razor clams, thoroughly washed

75ml white wine


For the butter

50g unsalted butter

½ lemon, grated zest only

1 dsp lemon juice

freshly ground black pepper

reduced clam cooking liquid

1 dsp chopped flat leaf parsley


For the crumb

1 tbs olive oil

1 clove of garlic, smashed

40g day old bread, preferably a rustic loaf, torn into pieces.

1 tbs chopped flat leaf parsley


Method

Before you start cooking the clams, have a roasting tin of ice ready to chill them as soon as they are cooked.


To cook the clams, heat a large casserole or sauté pan that has a tight fitting lid. When really hot, drop in the clams and pour in the wine. Put the lid on immediately and steam over a high heat for 1 minute until the clams are open. Use tongs to drop the clams onto the ice. Pass the cooking liquid through a fine sieve into a small clean pan and reduce until syrupy. Allow to cool. Prepare the clams as described above and then chill the sliced meat for a few minutes.


Beat the butter together with the lemon zest, juice and a few grinds of pepper. Gradually beat in the clam cooking liquid, checking for seasoning as you go. The liquid will be salty so stop when the butter is well seasoned. Add the parsley and mix in the clam flesh.


Select eight of the largest and best looking shells, give them a scrub and then place in a pan of water and bring to the boil to sterilise. Drain and dry off. Allow to cool.


For the crumb, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan and add the garlic. Cook, turning frequently, to make a garlicky oil. Don't let the garlic go beyond golden or it will start to take on some bitter notes. Blitz the bread with the parsley, garlic and oil to make coarse breadcrumbs.


To serve

Fill the clam shells with the buttery clam meat and top with the breadcrumbs, grill under a hot grill for 2 minutes until bubbling and golden. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and bread for mopping up the juices.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 2 2017 11:00AM

There are 18 species of bats in the UK (making up a quarter of all our mammal species) and summer is the best time to spot them.


Our bat populations are declining due to a loss of suitable habits and over use of pesticides but you still have a good chance of spotting them in most parts of the country. They live both in the countryside and towns and are most active during the warmer months after they emerge from hibernation. Any area with a combination of old buildings, dead trees and water is likely to be home to a population of bats.


Bats are nocturnal so the best time to see them is either at sunset or sunrise. On a warm, dry day when there are plenty of insects in the air, find a patch of bright sky surrounded by trees or buildings and you'll see the bats flittering around, silhouetted against the sky at dusk and dawn. Different bats have different feeding patterns so look for them up in the air, skimming the top of hedgerows and over flat areas like fields and lakes.

The four species that you're most likely to see are:


• Pipistrelles (common and soprano) - the most common bats. Small and fast, you'll spot them flittering across the sky at sunset.

• Noctules - these bats usually fly in straight lines, high in the air.

• Brown long-eared bat - emerge later at night and are harder to spot because they stay very close to the trees where they feed. If you're really lucky you'll spot one hovering up in the branches.

• Daubenton's bat - also known as the water bat, most often seen skimming over rivers and ponds.


If you do manage to spot bats you can help conserve them by taking part in a Bat Conservation Trust survey. Available online, these simple recordings of sightings and numbers help the trust compile valuable conservation information. You should never disturb or interfere with roosting bats; they are protected by law and it is illegal to handle one without a licence. But you can (and should) encourage them into your garden by building a bug house (see February).


Did you know…? Bats can eat 3000 insects a night. That's up to a third of their own body weight.


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