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, Feb 1 2017 11:00AM

By making sure your garden is home to plenty of insects you'll also get plenty of visiting birds and larger animals who feed on them.


February a good time of year to make a bug house; although many insects aren't active over the winter, making and installing a house for them now means they will quickly colonise it in when they emerge during the spring and summer. The key to a good bug house is plenty of nooks and crannies for insects to lay their eggs in and to hibernate. Different species have different preferences, so providing a range of habitats will ensure you get a variety of lodgers. If you have space, placing more than one bug house in your garden at varying levels and on different surfaces will also help attract a diverse selection of creepy crawlies.


You will need:


• A section of clay pipe about 6 inches in diameter (available from most garden centres). Clay pipes are particularly attractive but if you can't get hold of one you could also use:


- a section of plastic drain pipe

- a plastic bottle with one end cut off

- a tall flower pot

- a large instant coffee tin


• A bundle of bamboo canes

• A selection of long twigs


Cut the canes and twigs so they are slightly shorter than the pipe. Place as many of them as you can lengthways into the pipe to ensure a snug fit. Place your house on its side in a dry spot in the garden before the spring so that hibernating insects will find it when they emerge. Be patient - it will take insects a little time to find and colonise your bug house, but the longer you leave it, the more will make it home.


Top tips for the best bugs:


• Block off one end of your house by placing it against a fence or other surface to stop the wind blowing through. You could also mould some flattened modelling clay to seal the end.


• Make sure water can't collect in your bug house. Raising the back end by placing it on a stone or twig so that it slopes slightly downwards will help.


• Leave any natural vegetation (twigs, fallen leaves etc.) that falls on or around your bug house.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 16 2017 11:00AM

Wassailing is an ancient custom that takes place in the country's apple orchards every January and it's surprisingly common in the cider-producing counties, even today.


The wassail is often celebrated on Twelfth Night but some maintain it is most properly observed on "Old Twelfth (or Twelvey) Night" being 17th January (which would have been the right date before the modern Gregorian calendar was adopted). The word itself is a toast derived from the Middle English greeting "waes hael" meaning "may you be healthy."


The form of the ceremony differs greatly from county to county but all involve singing, dancing and drinking (lots of drinking) to the health of the apple trees in the hope of a good harvest next year.


The largest or oldest tree in the orchard is selected and the cider is liberally sprinkled at its base. Then crowds then usually sing, shout and bang pots and pans to ward off evil spirits and awaken the trees as they come towards the end of winter.


Old apple tree we wassail thee;

And hoping thou will bear;

For the Lord doth know where we shall be;

'Til apples come another year.


For to bear well and to bloom well;

And so merry let us be;

Let every man take off his hat;

And shout to the old apple tree.


Old apple tree we wassail thee;

And hoping thou will bear;

Hat fulls, cap fulls,

Three bushel bag fulls;

And a little heap under the stair.


- Wassailing Carol, Somerset.


Did you know…? Mulled cider (see December) or ale is known, in some parts of the country, as Wassail because of its connections with the wassailing ceremonies.


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

St Hilary's feast day on 13th January is traditionally regarded as being the coldest day of the year.


Many historic cold events have started on or spanned St. Hilary's Day. In 1086, a great frost was recorded as spreading all over the country. In 1205 the Thames froze over and people ice skated through central London. In the 16th and 17th centuries a series of cold winters saw the Thames freezing regularly and Frost Fairs were set up in the centre of the city with amusements including skating and ice bowling.


Although it is usually pretty chilly, meteorological records show that St. Hilary's Day has only occasionally been the coldest day of the year. On average, January and February are equally cold and records of the actual coldest day show it is fairly evenly spread between December and February.


The coldest day ever recorded in the UK was 10th January 1982 when in Braemar, Scotland a temperature of -27.2C was reached. That record was equalled on 30th December 1995 at Altnaharra, Scotland which is officially the UK's coldest village.


"Lay long, being a bitter cold frosty day, the ice being now grown old and the Thames covered with ice." – Samuel Pepys, January 1667


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 9 2017 08:40PM

As we've just started the new year it feels appropriate to talk about new things and we also owe you an explanation for why things have been a bit quiet on the blog recently.


So, here's the BIG news.... We're absolutely delighted to report that the Well Seasoned blog is going to become the Well Seasoned book! We met with the publishers today so the wheels are already in motion and we'll be beavering away on it for the foreseeable future.


We can't give you all the details just yet but, as you'd expect, it's going to be an awesome food-filled read, packed full of seasonal information and recipe ideas.


We can tell you a few other things. First, we'll be working with chef Russell Brown. Russell's been a friend of ours for a while now. He was previously the owner of Sienna, Dorset's only Michelin starred restaurant, and you won't find anyone who knows more about seasonality and seasonal food than him. His recipes and photography will have you eating pages out of the book so we're really, really pleased to have him on board.


We can also tell you that we're hoping the book will be published in March 2018. That sounds a long way away but we've got recipes to write and test, chapters to be researched and written, design, editing and printing to get done, all of which takes a looooong time to get right. But we're confident that it'll be well worth waiting for.


We'd LOVE to hear from you with any ideas for the book - have you got a favourite seasonal ingredient that simply MUST feature? Is there a seasonal event that takes place near you that everyone should know about? What about that hedgerow fruit that you'd love to know more about? You can use the Contact Us page to drop us a line with your thoughts.


That's about it for now. We hope you're as excited as we are about the project and we'll let you know more as soon as we can.


WS

x

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 6 2017 10:07PM

If your Christmas and New Year have gone anything like ours you will currently have i) a batch of fantastic new marmalade made from the season's first Seville oranges (in season until early February) and ii) a slightly stale, half-eaten panettone leftover from Christmas. If that's the case you'll definitely be needing this recipe, a New Year twist on that favourite classic, the bread and butter pudding.


Marmalade and Panattone Pudding


Ingredients


1 jar of orange marmalade

350g panettone, sliced and cut into rough triangles

Butter to grease the dish

1 tbsp brown cane or caster sugar

4 free range eggs

500ml full fat milk

4 drops vanilla extract

Cream or vanilla ice cream to serve.


Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease a deep, 25cm ovenproof dish. Spread a layer of marmalade over each slice of panattone. Layer the panattone triangles in the ovenproof dish. Beat the eggs and milk together and add the vanilla. Pour the mixture over the panettone, ensuring each slice gets a soaking. Sprinkle over the brown sugar. Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown. The pudding should wobble very slightly when you take it out of the oven. Serve still warm with cream or a generous helping of ice cream. Relax and and enjoy in the knowledge that Auntie Doris won't come visiting or another 364 days.

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

January is, of course, time to make New Year resolutions. It's worth taking time to consider how we might do things differently this year. For the seasonal family a few small changes can mean we live a more interesting, healthy and ethical life. Why not write yours down and stick them to the fridge to remind and inspire you throughout the year?


Here's a few suggestions:


- Make the change to free range. If you haven't already, resolve to eat only free range or higher welfare farmed meat and eggs.


- Support your local independent shops. Most of us visit the supermarket from time to time but small artisan retailers with real passion for their products need our support if they are to survive. The same goes for farmers' markets.


- Remember to take your reusable bags to the shops. The plastic bag tax has already led to a dramatic reduction in plastic bag use. It's good news but we can always do more.


- Take an extra piece of litter home from the beach. The UK has some of the most beautiful coastline in the world, but there isn't a single stretch of it that isn't blighted by man-made litter. If we all take home more than we come with, we can make a difference.


- Plan at least one outdoor adventure a week (whatever the weather!) Only by being out and about in the Great British outdoors (town or country) will we appreciate everything it has to offer.


- Don't eat the same fish twice in a row. This simple measure eases pressure on endangered fish stocks and makes your dinner plate more interesting.


- Eat more game. Whether it's venison, wild boar or pigeon, most wild meat is low in fat and high in iron. It ticks lots of boxes from an ethical perspective too.


- Try a new food every month. By broadening our horizons our seasonal menu just gets longer and more exciting.


- Have a meat free day every week. A veg-focussed day is good for you and less demand for meat reduces pressure on the planet's resources.


- Become an educated consumer. By learning more about the food we eat and where it comes from, we can make positive choices.


Perhaps above all, we should all resolve simply to eat as much seasonal, local produce as possible over the coming year. If we can stick to that, we'll be doing ourselves and the planet a world of good.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Dec 6 2016 10:45AM

'Tis the season... to feel guilty about how much work you've actually done. Social media gives a voice to the smug Christmaseers of the nation who started preparing back in August and they have a habit of letting us know.


Didn't make your own mince pies? Fail. Didn't spend an entire day hand-crafting Christmas tree decorations with your children? Fail. Didn't rear your organic turkey from a chick and lovingly feed it on organic maize grown in your pesticide-free garden? Definite fail. What have you been DOING with your life?


Just in case you get to Christmas eve and haven't even managed to hand tie a dozen Christmas crackers (honestly) here's your banker. THE simplest cranberry sauce recipe that can be made the night (or even several days) before, in just a few minutes. Whack it down on the table and silence the critics, even if everything else - including the now-half-finished bottle of brandy - come from Iceland.


Simple Cranberry Sauce Recipe


250g fresh cranberries

100g light brown sugar

100ml orange juice (from a carton is fine – they’ll never know)

3 tbsp port (optional)


Pour the juice, port (if using) and sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer then tip in the cranberries. Stir for about 6 minutes, until the berries just start to break down. Take it off the heat while they still have some form. Put to one side (or keep in the fridge) and serve at room temperature.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 28 2016 09:14AM

As I strolled past our local cheesemonger over the weekend I was reminded (courtesy of a large sandwich board on the pavement) that, whilst we don't usually consider cheese as seasonal, some of it most definitely is.


Vacherin (meaning literally and simply “cows cheese”) is a creamy, soft and usually unpasteurised cheese made in France and Switzerland. The Jura region in particular is famed for it. Traditionally (though, in fact, not strictly) it is made from 15th August to 15th March in each year and then sold between 10th September and 10th May.


The reason for these specific dates and its distinctly seasonal nature? Well, during the summer months the Vacherin cows (the "cows cheese cows"?) are grazed at high altitude on alpine pastures. It's a unique diet of grass and wild flowers. As the cooler weather arrives. and before the snow threatens, the herds are brought back down to lower ground and fed instead on a hay diet. Historically, this change in diet led to a reduction in milk and producers could no longer make their preferred cheese – comte (a sweet, nutty hard cheese). The comte’s connoisseurs’ loss is the vacherin lovers’ gain and this rich, seasonal cheese was born.


Strict rules and recipe now apply to preserve the cheese’s numerous protected statuses and designations. Including, for example, the fact that the hay on which the cows feed must be made from grass grown on the same farm. You'll find it in good cheese shops (including the Cheeseboard in Greenwich – our local who deserve a plug for prompting this piece) until the spring.


Give it a go on your Christmas cheese board. ‘Tis the season to be cheesy.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 15 2016 01:00AM

Another wildlife-friendly post from us this week:


Feeding garden birds during the colder weather provides valuable supplemental food for many and for some it is critical to their survival. Making food available all year round give them a better chance of remembering your garden when food is scarce but you should reduce the amount on offer during the warmer months when natural food is easier to find. Perhaps most importantly, once you start feeding birds, don't stop (certainly not in the cold months) as they will learn to rely on the food source and may make a long, exhausting flight to your garden in the expectation of a good meal.


Make a winter bird feeder


You will need:


• 250g block of lard or suet, cut into cubes and left to soften at room temperature for an hour.

• 100g seed mix (any combination of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, bird peanuts or other bird feed mix – see below)

• 25g raisins or other dried fruit.

• A handful of grated hard cheese or oatmeal.

• Pinecones

• String


If any of your pinecones are tightly closed then store them in a warm place overnight to encourage them to open up.


Then start by making a basic bird cake mix. Place all of the food ingredients in a large bowl and mix together well with your hands.


Tie a length of string securely around each pinecone (making sure you have plenty left to secure the other end to a tree or fence post). Squash the cake mix into all of the small spaces in the cone and then mould the mixture all around it to form a ball. Place in the fridge to cool and harden slightly for an hour. Then tie your feeders onto a branch or post in your garden where you can watch the visiting birds. Remember to keep an eye on the feeders and replenish them with new ones when they are nearly empty.


If you don't have any pinecones, you can use an old (clean) yoghurt pot. Just make a small hole in the base of the pot, thread the string though and secure with a large knot. Then pack the seed mix into the pot, cool in the fridge and hang as above.


What to feed birds


However you plan to feed your garden birds, it's important to give them a healthy, balanced diet. Most garden centres sell bird seed that provides a good mixture of proteins and fats that birds need. Natural foods including mealworms and other dried insects have become popular in recent years and are very popular.


Just as important are a few things not to feed to birds:


Although peanuts have lots of good fats and nutrition for small birds, they can contain high levels of a natural toxin called aflatoxin. Buy peanuts from garden centres and pet dealers which are specifically sold as bird food and which will have suitably low toxin levels. Birds cannot process high levels of salt so salted and flavoured peanuts are also off the avian menu.


Leftover cooking fat is bad for birds because, together with meat juices, it can stick to feathers and promote bacterial growth. Pure lard (as we use in our bird feeder) is suitable because bacteria do not breed so easily on it.


Although fresh coconut in a half shell is a welcome treat, dried (desiccated) coconut shouldn't be used as it will swells up in their stomachs.


Mouldy bread is another bird table favourite but some moulds can be toxic so fresh food is definitely preferable. In any event, bread provides much less nutrition than seeds and nuts so is best avoided.

Remember always to give your birds access to water too.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 10 2016 12:56PM

It's that time of year again. The hedgehogs need your help and there's only a few few weeks to give it to them.


The diminutive hedgehog is one of the nation's favourite garden visitors but their numbers are in serious decline. The UK's population has fallen by nearly a third in the last decade and there are thought to be fewer than a million left in the UK.


Hedgehogs hibernate during the winter and so start looking for nesting places from late October onwards. They will gather straw, bracken and leaves to make a warm nest or "hibernacula" in hedgerows, piles of fallen logs or under man-made objects like garden sheds to see out the cold winter months.

Providing materials and a convenient nesting place for hedgehogs helps them conserve energy and will encourage them to take up residence in your garden as well as staying away from bonfires. In return for a safe place to hibernate, a hedgehog in residence will keep slugs away from your vegetable patch during the summer.


Although you can buy deluxe, ready-made ones from garden centres, you can make a simple but waterproof and warm hedgehog house from an old plastic storage box buried under a mound of soil.


You will need:


• A large plastic box (at least 40 cm x 30 cm)

• Two old bricks or heavy stones

• A hacksaw or strong scissors

• A spade (and some soil)

• A few handfuls of straw and/or dry leaves


Cut a 13cm x 13 cm entrance, starting at the top edge of one end of the box. (Try to make the cut as smooth as possible to avoid the hedgehog having to squeeze past any jagged edges). Place the crate upside down in a quiet corner of your garden with the entrance hole facing away from northerly winter winds. Place the bricks or stones on top and cover the box with soil (it should be solid enough to stop a hungry fox digging up your hedgehog for food!) Ensure the covered box is well hidden with leaves and sticks. Place the straw and dry leaves nearby but not inside - hedgehogs prefer to do their own interior design.


Give the hedgehogs plenty of time to find the box (there is a good chance they won't find it in the first year) and don’t be tempted to peek inside too often – it needs to be a safe and secure place for them. If you are really lucky a female hedgehog who finds it in the autumn may use the nest again in the spring to give birth to her young.


If you don’t have space for a nesting box, you can still help the hedgehogs. Another problem they face is garden fences which prevent them travelling around the neighbourhood. A 13cm x 13cm hole in (or under) a fence is all they need to run between our gardens so they can freely travel in search for food, shelter and a mate. So, get the hacksaw out and create a hedgehog highway in your garden.


Incidentally, hedgehogs are strictly nocturnal creatures so if you spot one during the day it is almost certainly sick or injured and in need of urgent help; call your local wildlife rescue centre for advice as soon as possible.


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