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, May 5 2017 10:00AM

One food that has virtually disappeared from the British diet in living memory is rook.


Rooks were once eaten in large numbers in Britain and especially on Rook Sunday - the Sunday closest to 13 May - when it was common to raid rooks' nests for fledgling birds (also called "squabs" or "branchers"), which start to leave the nest in late spring. The young birds were the main ingredient in rook pie, a celebrated delicacy in parts of the country. The practice has all but died out now although you will very occasionally still find rook for sale in high end butchers and game dealers.


These members of the crow family are very sociable and you'll most often see (and hear) them nesting in their hundreds in tall trees to the side of open farmland. Rooks have thinner beaks and a light, bare face whereas crows have black beaks and faces, but if you have trouble identifying them, remember the country saying that "a crow in a crowd is a rook and a rook on its own is a crow."


Since we're talking about birds we don't usually eat, it's worth a mention of one other this month. In April we saw the start of the season for an ingredient that has one of the shortest periods of availability - asparagus, which is around for just 8 weeks. Well, this month we can go one better.


The season for wild gulls eggs usually kicks off in the last week of April and runs until mid-May – just three weeks - until the birds begin sitting on their nests. A tiny (and shrinking) army of just 25 government-licensed collectors is be permitted to raid the cliffs of our coastline, taking a single egg from each nest of black headed gulls.


Before you scramble out of the front door to get hold of a box of gulls eggs, there are a few reasons why you might not be too concerned about this particular foodie season.


First, despite their beautiful appearance, gulls eggs don't actually taste that different. Whilst aficionados will tell you that they are creamier and gamier that hens eggs, the truth is that unless you have pretty refined taste buds, you won't have an eggy epiphany when you crack open the speckled shell of a gull's egg.


Secondly, from an ethical perspective, some conservationists (including the RSPB) have expressed concerns over the possible impact of the collection on the gull population, which has, in the recent past been in decline. Numbers do now appear to be on the increase again and the RSPB's concerns mainly relate to unauthorised collection by people who cause damage to the nesting sites.


Tim Maddams - the Ethical Foodie blogger for the Ecologist magazine recently told me there is "No shortage of gulls - in fact probably the opposite due to human wastefulness. [It's a] sustainable harvest that helps reduce numbers." However, the species remains on the Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC) Amber list as a species with "unfavourable conservation status", so definitely one to keep an eye on.


Finally, and possibly most importantly, they are wallet-scarringly expensive. A single egg will set you back up to fifteen pounds in London's trendiest food quarters. Now, given the hard work required to collect them, it's not necessarily bad value for money as such, but they are unlikely to be your choice for a quick omelette, especially if you've got guests round. This is perhaps why every year a good proportion of the eggs collected are eaten not at home but in the poshest restaurants and at special Gulls Egg Dinners held in London's swankiest gentlemen's clubs (and why I've chosen a picture of hen's eggs to accompany this piece...)


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 1 2017 10:00AM

If you're searching for an eccentric British celebration which serves no discernable purpose and whose original roots were lost, long ago, in the mists of time, look no further than the Coopers Hill Cheese Rolling.


This event, which takes place each year on the early May bank holiday, dates back to the 1800s. Essentially it consists of a round of local cheese being rolled down the hill with a large crowd running after it. Whoever holds the cheese when it reaches the bottom of the hill is the winner.


There is little formal organisation or safety around the event and, given the obvious dangers, it has officially been banned for many years now. Since 2009 the Gloucestershire authorities have tried actively to discourage people from attending, though to no avail. (You've got to be proud of living in a country where our idea of civil disobedience is to throw a nine pound round of dairy product down a moderately steep (1 in 3) incline.)


It's true that the event is essentially spontaneous and unmanaged with few formal health and safety measures. Nevertheless some 15,000 people usually attend and it is an entertaining day out whether you are participating or (rather more safely) just spectating.


Given its questionable legal status, we would advise you definitely not to go to Coopers Hill at noon sharp on the early May Bank Holiday Monday and definitely not to find further details on the (unofficial) cheese rolling website. Searching for the hashtag #cheeserolling is right out.


Since we're on the topic (and since this is essentially a blog about food), it would be a shame not to mention the cheese itself. There are two types of Gloucester cheese - Single and the Double (the latter being used in the cheese rolling). Although no one is completely certain about the origin of the "double" part of the name, it's likely to be either because double skimming of the Gloucester cattle’s milk was needed to make this creamier cheese or because cream from the morning milk was originally added to the evening milk (also with added creaminess in mind). It is a hard, orange cheese with a slightly nutty flavour and flaky texture. Single Gloucester used to be made from the partially skimmed milk left over and so was smaller, crumblier and less creamy. It now has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 1 2017 10:00AM

As the weather warms up and dries out it's time to collect bark rubbings.


Bark is the outer protective skin of a tree. It prevents the vulnerable inner tissue from attack by disease, fungi or insects as well as insulating it from the elements. Each species of tree has a unique bark pattern – collecting and cataloguing rubbings of them is a great way to spend the day and to learn more about the species living near you. Although you can do it at any time of year, May is the first reliably dry month of the year and new leaves will be out on most trees by now, making them easier to identify.


You will need:


• A roll of masking tape

• Several sheets of strong white paper

• A pack of wax crayons

• A pen or pencil

• A dry day!


Tape a sheet of paper to the truck of your chosen tree. Peel the paper wrapper from one of your crayons. Rub the long edge of the crayon over the paper until the bark pattern shows. Try to keep all your strokes in the same direction. When you have a clear impression of the bark, carefully peel off the masking tape, remove the paper from the tree and use the pen to record the type and location of your tree.


Did you know…? The horizontal dark "dashes" seen on silver birch trees are called lenticels, and they allow the trunk to breath. When the lenticels become blocked, new bark from beneath grows, causing the older covering to peel off.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 20 2015 08:51AM

It's not just us humans who like to get out and about more in the warmer weather. As our rivers and lakes hot up in May, the Signal Crayfish comes out of hibernation.


Sadly for Britain's aquatic life, it's not good news. Like a marauding gang of uncouth bikers, Signals barge their way along the river bed throwing their crustacean weight around. They compete for food with our native white clawed crayfish and spread a virus which is harmless to the Signals but deadly to its indigenous cousin. Worse still, the Signals have a significant impact on our fish stocks because they feed voraciously on fish eggs.


The brutish Americans were never meant to be invited to our Summer party. They were imported to the UK from the US in the 70′s to be bred in crayfish farms. But many escaped from poorly managed facilities and entered our river systems where they spread like an alien plague. There is now little hope of eradicating the invaders, so the Environment Agency focusses its efforts on containment in the hope that some isolated pockets of water will be protected for the white claws.


However, there's an upside to all this if you're a seasonal foodie. Crayfish also happen to be delicious. Looking and tasting like mini lobsters, you won’t find a tastier meat that’s so easy to catch for free when they are in season (from around May through to October). A sea (perhaps a pond) of red tape awaits you if you want to trap your own legally - because of the need to restrict crayfish movements, you’ll need a licence from the Environment Agency and, to be safe, you’ll also need to read-up on the legislation which covers trapping, transporting and storing them. An afternoon trapping can be seriously good fun and very rewarding for foraging fans, but if you'd prefer to avoid jumping through the various legal hoops, you'll also find them for sale (usually live) in larger farmers markets.


Once you’ve caught or bought your crayfish, they are easy to prepare: the generally accepted humane way to deal with them is to put them in the freezer them for an hour or so before plunging them into a large pan of boiling water. Then bring the pan back to the boil and cook for another five minutes or so. (If your crayfish come from anything but the freshest of water you'll want to purge them in clean water overnight). Once cooked, allow them to cool and then peel just like prawns. Most meat is in the tail but with larger specimens it’s definitely worth cracking open the claws too.


You can substitute crayfish for lobster or prawns in most dishes. We like to keep it simple and put ours into a tasty retro crayfish cocktail:


Crayfish cocktail recipe (serves 4)


Around 20 crayfish

Fresh early Summer salad leaves

2 tablespoons free range egg mayonnaise

1 tablespoon tomato ketchup

1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

A pinch of mustard powder

Squeeze of lemon juice


Prepare the crayfish as above. Combine the mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard powder and cayenne. Pile crayfish onto the salad leaves and cover in the spicy sauce. Serve with squeeze of lemon juice.

(If you're serving this up at a Summer dinner party, make sure you finish your meal with a slice of Walls Viennetta to really ram home that early-80s vibe.)


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Apr 29 2015 09:48PM

In our last-but-one blog post we talked about an ingredient that has one of the shortest availability periods of any food (asparagus, which is around for just 8 weeks). Well, today we can go one better - an ingredient with a season of just 21 days.


The season for wild gulls eggs kicked off this week and will run until mid-May - three weeks - until the birds begin sitting on their nests. A tiny army of just 25 government-licensed collectors will be permitted to raid the cliffs of our coastline, taking a single egg from each nest of black headed gulls.


Before you scramble out of the front door in a mad rush, there are a few reasons why you might not be too concerned if you miss this particular foodie season:


First, despite their beautiful appearance, gulls eggs don't actually taste that different. Whilst aficianodos will tell you that they are creamier and gamier that hens eggs, the truth is that unless you have pretty refined taste buds, you won't have an epiphany when you crack open the speckled shell of a gull's egg. As one retailer said to us this week "They're birds eggs and they taste like birds eggs."


Secondly, from an ethical perspective, despite the fairly responsible approach to the numbers to collected, some conservationists (including the RSPB) have expressed concerns over the possible impact of the collection on the gull population, which has been in decline.


Finally, they are wallet-scarringly expensive. A single egg will set you back around £7.50 (up to a tenner in London's trendiest food quarters). So they are unlikely to be your choice for a quick omelette, especially if you've got guests round. This is perhaps why every year a good proportion of the eggs collected are eaten not at home but in the poshest restaurants and at special Gulls Egg Dinners held in London's swankiest gentlemen's clubs. (It's also why this blog is accompanied by a picture of some very tasty and averagely-priced hens eggs.)


All of that said, living seasonally is about enjoying those moments each year, however short, when we get to cook with ingredients before they disappear again. And as foodies, we'd have to admit there is something special about tasting something that so much work goes into harvesting and that is so fleetingly available. So, if you happen to be thinking of burning some money this week, then you might just save a couple of notes from the fire and have a hearty breakfast first; it's a treat that you won't see in the shops for the other 49 weeks of the year.

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