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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 14 2017 11:00AM

The Feast of St. Valentine on 14th February commemorates the beatification of Valentine, a priest imprisoned and executed by the Romans for preaching Christianity.

It was only in the Middle Ages that Valentine's Day started to become associated with romantic love, particularly thanks to the writing of Geoffrey Chaucer, and by the 18th Century it had become the festival that we recognise today with sweethearts exchanging cards, presents and flowers.

Despite the over-commercialisation that it has undoubtedly been subjected to, most of us still look forward to receiving a card or two and to the opportunity to cook a meal for our loved ones. But it’s possible that the day has its roots in something much older and more lascivious.

The pre-Roman festival of Lupercalia was celebrated between 13th and 15th February. Lupercalia celebrated Lupa, the wolf who had suckled Romulus and Remus (the twin founders of Rome), and Lupercus, the Roman god of shepherds. The party would kick off with a sacrifice of goats and dogs. As part of the festivities, the animals' skins were cut into thongs and used to whip girls and young women to ensure their fertility. So, hardly the mushy, romantic stuff of today.

Whether or not Lupercalia is, in fact, the mother of the modern day Valentine’s Day is hotly debated by academics. But they do share some similar themes and it is not hard to see how feasts and festivals falling around the same date might have become intertwined.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Feb 3 2017 09:00AM

A quick glance at our seasonality charts reveals that, whilst there are plenty of options for fish and meat on the menu in February, healthy green vegetables are rather thin on the ground.

This month, roots such as carrots, parsnips and swede are all still fairly plentiful but the cold weather means above-ground, leafy produce is hard to come by.

Thankfully a thin, purple superhero comes to our rescue this month. He's become so popular in recent years that he goes simply by an acronym - PSB. The Vegetable Formerly Known As Purple Sprouting Broccoli arrives just in time to sustain us through to spring.

Every part of this slender, leafy plant is edible so don't be put off if your PSB looks a bit stalky compared to "proper" broccoli. The first crops usually arrive in late January or February and the season will come to an end around May.

Good PSB is a real treat but it's easy to be put off by poor quality produce - woody stems and wilting, flavourless leaves are, unfortunately, all too easy to find. Choose yours carefully; it should look fresh and healthy. If the florets are yellowing or look dry then it's not fresh enough. The stems should snap cleanly in the same way as asparagus. Cooking is straightforward and much the same as for the normal broccoli.

Rather than be tempted by "early season" (almost certainly imported) asparagus in February, why not try a few stems of the freshest PSB with hollandaise sauce as an accompaniment? It'll add a perfect touch of seasonal glamour and goodness to your late-winter dinner table.

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, Feb 4 2015 09:00AM

As we've already said, February is a pretty ugly month - wet, dark and cold - so it makes sense that we should be writing about ugly vegetables. Before you switch off, we're not going to bang on about Jamie Oliver's latest crusade (although, since we've mentioned it, seasonal foodies have been behind the idea of "wonky veg" for aeons now. Asda, Jamie - welcome to the party.)

If you feel sorry for those comedy suggestive carrots and gnarled potatoes that look a bit like Wayne Rooney (or is that all potatoes?) spare a thought for one vegetable that's always the last to be asked to the dance - celeriac.

Bang in season this month (when, let's face it, not that much else is), this is an oft-maligned veg. But it's hard to come up with any good reason other than its looks. To be fair, as Ali G might say, it is well ugly. Even once spruced up for the supermarket shelf it's a knobbly, lumpy brute of a veg, looking look like that muddy, deflated football you see in the park (usually in the dribbling jaws of a Staffordshire bull terrier.) They grow well in our climate and are widely available for much of the year, yet the majority of shoppers still find it hard to see past their outward appearance.

It wasn't always this way. Celeriac (or celery root as it is known in some parts) has a noble past. It apparently gets a mention in Homer's Odyssey (although if we're 100% honest we haven’t actually trawled the original Greek text). It featured on some ancient Greek coins and, alongside 'real' celery (they are related), it was used as a medicine. It took a couple more centuries for people to realise its culinary worth. Unlike parsnips (which are still mainly used as cattle fodder on the continent) our French cousins have long recognised celeriac's value. It's hugely popular avec les Blues and we're missing out - it's one of the tastiest things you'll find this side of Easter.

It has a depth of nutty, sweet flavour and none of the watery, bitter quality that you get with the green stalky stuff. You'll need to start by peeling it and rinsing off any remaining soil. Store it in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice to stop it turning grey. Then all you have to do is decide how to cook it.

It really is spectacularly versatile and lends itself to mashing (go half and half with a fluffy potato), being smothered in cheese (check out the gratin recipe below), eaten raw (the classic remoulade) or turned into a soup. You just can't go wrong. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall even claims it can be made into an ice-cream. We've yet to try that (and not quite sure why you would in the deep mid-winter) but good to know it's an option.

In case you don't believe us, here's our four favourite recipes, each serving it up in a different way.

Nigel Slater’s Celeriac Remoulade

Celeriac Potato and Rosemary Gratin

Creamy Celeriac Mash

Celeriac Soup

Whatever you do this month, don't ignore this ugly duckling. Beauty is definitely in the pie of the beholder. Ah yes, and here's a pie recipe...

Sophie Dahl’s Fish Pie with Celeriac

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