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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, 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, Aug 31 2016 10:00AM

During the summer months, spider crabs congregate in huge clusters off our coastline, reaching a peak in August. No one is totally sure what they are up to but it's likely to be something to do with mating and moulting. Importantly, however, they make for excellent eating and this is the time to catch them.

Even in these more enlightened foodie times, you'll find it can be difficult to get hold of a spider crab from fishmongers. As a country we catch about 10% of Europe’s spider crab haul but hardly eat any of it, which is pretty inexplicable given that we scoff a huge number of brown crabs. Unfortunately for us, the vast majority (more than 90%) of our spider crab catch gets exported to France. In the last few years, some of the more canny British fishmongers have caught on to the small but growing market here, so if you look hard enough you should be able to find some near you.

You can catch your own spider crab fairly easily and without a pot. At low tide, snorkelling off any sand or shingle beach will often be fruitful. You'll find them loitering around patches of rocks and seaweed but they're also out in the open more (and therefore easier to catch) than their brown cousins. Alternatively, if you don't fancy getting wet, any angler will tell you that spider crabs will latch on to most baits left on the sea bed for long enough. Casting any smelly bait, like mackerel, a few metres off the beach and leaving it for 15 minutes or so will often result in a crab holding on when you reel in (it feels like an enormous dead weight so many people assume they've caught a lump of seaweed. As long as there's still bait on the hook, the crab will usually hang on while you retrieve with a slow, steady pull).

There are two types of spider crab you should avoid eating - any who have recently moulted and females carrying eggs. Both are easy to spot - you'll see the eggs on the underside of egg-carrying or "berried" females and recently-moulted specimens will have pristine shells. Look for older specimens covered in barnacles and seaweed (which they apply as a camouflage). It's generally better to eat the males because they have bigger claws with more meat.

Once you've caught your crab, preferably kill it in the recommended humane manner which involves piercing it twice – once between the eyes and once in the centre of the underside, at the tip of the abdominal flap – to kill both its nerve centres. Alternatively, if you're a bit squeamish, many people simply freeze the crab for a couple of hours to put it into a coma before plunging into a large pot of boiling water which still ensures a very quick death. In most areas the minimum landing size for a spider crab is 13cm. Frankly, your catch should be much larger if you want any kind of meal from it.

Cooking spider crabs is easy too - simply boil for 20 minutes per kilo. Most good sized crabs will be around the 1kg mark. Let it cool completely then get to work. It's worth the effort required to pick all of the leg and body sections because spider crab meat is very, very tasty. It's sweeter than the brown crab and you can substitute it in any recipe.

Have a go at these fantastic recipes:

Spider Crab Linguine (the Guardian) (pictured)

Baked Spider Crab (BBC Good Food)

BBQ Spider Crab (Food Mag)

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 22 2016 10:55AM

The mysterious elder tree must be one of the most recognisable and historically-important trees of the British countryside.

Back in May we made cordial with the elder's flowers. Having left plenty on the tree and after waiting for a couple of months, the summer sunshine has transformed them into an abundance of little purple berries.

The elder has for centuries been the subject of stories and folklore, connected with fairies and magic (it's no coincidence that JK Rowling chose an elder wand to feature in Harry Potter's wizarding adventures). The trees are said to be inhabited by a witch-like spirit known as the Elder Mother. Her potent powers, it is said, mean that elders are never struck by lightning. There's possibly some semi-scientific truth behind the myth because elders tend to live on the edge of woodlands, close to taller trees that are more likely to be struck.

Here's a modern day legend for you to try - Pontac (or Pontack) Sauce:

Pontac sauce is not meant to be a thick ketchup but something more akin to Worcestershire sauce. It has a fruity, peppery taste and goes particularly well with game, especially venison and liver. A few dashes will spice up any gravy or casserole. It famously mellows with age and is reputed to be at its best after seven years. In fact, it will be pretty respectable after 6 months so if you get some bottled-up now, keep it in a dark cupboard and you will just be able to get it out for the end of the game season.

Our recipe is a slight variation on the one contained in the well-known foragers bible, Food For Free by Richard Mabey but this vinegary, rich sauce has been enjoyed in one form or another for centuries.

Pontac Sauce

500g elderberries

500ml boiling cider vinegar or claret

1 onion or 200g of shallots, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

8 whole cloves

4 allspice berries

1 blade of mace

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 tbsp peppercorns

15g grated root ginger, bruised

Strip the berries off the stalks and place in an ovenproof dish with the vinegar (or claret). Cover, and place in a very low oven (120C) for 4-6 hours or overnight. Remove from the oven and put the berries in a saucepan with the salt, mace, peppercorns, allspice, cloves, onion and ginger, crushing the berries with a spoon or potato masher to release all the juice. Boil for 10-20 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve. Discard what is in the sieve and return the liquid to the pan. Boil for another 5 minutes then bottle securely and store in a dark cupboard for up to 7 years!

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