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, Apr 3 2017 10:00AM

If you want to grow your own pumpkin for Halloween then late April is the time to get planting.


You'll need a sunny spot in the garden or on the vegetable patch which is reasonably sheltered from any cold winds. They are quite easy to grow from seeds and although most people only want a large, orange pumpkin, it's worth buying one that is good for eating as well as carving.


Start with a visit to your local garden centre to buy seeds. Although you can sow the seeds straight into the ground we usually like to give ours a head start by sowing them indoors in a seed tray or small pots. (If you're sowing outdoors it's worth waiting until mid-May when any chance of frost has passed. Alternatively, buy plug plants from the garden centre which can usually be planted straight out.)


You should follow the instructions on your seed packet but most will suggest planning to plant out your seedlings in June. Until then you'll need to keep them indoors, warm and well-watered.

A couple of weeks before you plant out, dig a hole for each plant in your chosen spot and fill it with compost or manure. At the same time, leave your seedlings outside, (ideally in a cold frame, but otherwise bringing them in at night) for a fortnight to acclimatise.


Once acclimatised, you can plant the strongest looking seedlings. Make sure you space them far enough apart to allow room to grow (you'll need at least 30cm and up to 1.5m for the biggest pumpkin varieties).

Next to each plant, sink an empty plant pot into the ground. They will need plenty of water when the warm weather arrives so you can use the empty pot to ensure the water gets straight to the plant's roots rather than staying on the surface where it might rot the fruit and leaves.


Your plant should flower in early summer and start to bear fruit the following month. Place a piece of plastic under each pumpkin to prevent it from rotting.


Let the fruit mature on the plant for as long as possible before Halloween but harvest it before the first frost when it might be damaged. (You can store most ripe squashes in a dark, cool place for many months before they spoil.)


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 19 2016 09:42AM

September has long been seen as the end of summer, the beginning of autumn and the start of the harvest season. The most important crops, particularly grains, were (and still are) gathered in September. In fact, the word "harvest" of "haerfest" simply means autumn in Old English.


In pre-Christian times, the autumn equinox on 22nd or 23rd September was celebrated as Mabon. It was the second of three harvest celebrations (the other two being Lammas in August and Samhain in October) and the most important in terms of preparing for the colder months ahead. It was the culmination of a year's hard work and cause for celebration - a good harvest could literally make the difference between life and death over a long winter - and the feast that followed was one of the most significant events of the agricultural year.


Doubtless since the Christian faith became predominant in Britain, prayers of thanksgiving have been offered up during September but the formal Harvest Festival is actually a relatively modern creation. In 1834 Robert Hawker, a Cornish vicar of some repute announced a special service of thanks for the harvest. The idea caught on and was quickly adopted by other churches across the country.


Harvest Festival now takes place on the first Sunday after the Harvest Moon – the full moon closest to the autumn equinox which we saw this last weekend. (We’re quite pleased with the picture we took of it too.)


Connected to the Harvest Festival, many churches and local communities still host Harvest Suppers, also known as Mell Suppers. The Mell (or Neck) was the last patch of wheat in the farmer's fields. The ceremonial "Cutting of the Mell" signified the end of the labours and the beginning of the celebratory feast hosted by the landowner to thank his workers. The removal of this final sheaf also signalled that local people were free to gather any leftover wheat from the fields. The practice, known as "gleaning", was a valuable resource for poorer families at the time.


Did you know…? The full moon after the Harvest Moon is called the Hunters Moon. It was probably given its name because bright moonlight would have been helpful to hunters gathering wild meat ahead of the winter months.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 14 2016 12:00AM

Few hedgerow finds are more exciting or productive than a damson tree in full fruit - and they're in season now.


From September to October damson trees produce clusters of small, dusty violet plums. In a good year, (like this one) you'll be able to gather several kilos of fruit from a single tree in a matter of minutes - more than enough for most recipes. Although usually too tart to eat raw, damsons are packed full of juice and lend themselves to a huge number of culinary uses.


Damson Membrillo Recipe


This recipe is perfect for a glut of damsons, especially if you can’t face picking the stones out of damson jam. We call it a membrillo but, strictly speaking, that requires quince. Whatever you call it, the end products is a block of sliceable, tangy fruit jelly that is the perfect accompaniment to cheese (especially a punchy blue) and biscuits. One extra step (see recipe below) converts your membrillo into a tangy sweet.


To make a 500g block of membrillo you’ll need:


1kg damsons

350g granulated white sugar


Rinse the damsons and add them to a large sauce pan. Add 50ml of water and bring to a simmer over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. The damsons will break down into a deep purple pulp. Once completely soft, pour through a sieve to remove the skins and stones. Give it a good scrape with a wooden spoon to get as much juice as you can. Discard the pulp. You’ll be left with about half a litre of thick, rich puree. Pour the puree back into the (rinsed) pan and add the sugar. Return to the heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and then simmer for about an hour to reduce the puree until it is really thick and glossy. When you can drag a wooden spoon across the base of the pan and glimpse the base for a second or two, it’s ready. Pour into a heatproof plastic container and leave to set. Once completely cooled, remove your block of membrillo from the container, wrap it in cling film and store in the fridge (where it will keep for many months). Serve in slices on your cheeseboard.


Damson Sweets Recipe:


A bit more sugar

Food grade citric acid (available from most supermarket chemists)


To make these scrumptious damsons sweets, simply cut 1cm slices off your block, carefully cut into cubes and dust each cube in caster sugar. If you're a real glutton for punishment, use a half-and-half mixture of sugar and citric acid for a super-sour sensation that will make your eyes water!


Damson Gin Recipe


You can also make damson gin in exactly the same way as sloe gin with a bit less sugar because damsons are naturally sweeter. Because they're in season a month or so before sloes, damson gin should also be ready that bit earlier.


Did you know…? During WWII damsons were used to dye RAF uniforms, giving them their now-familiar light blue colour.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 9 2016 09:08AM

As I write this, the sun is shining and the thermometer is touching 23 degrees. Not your classic autumnal weather I grant you. But look a bit closer and all the signs are there; the first piles of brown leaves were gathered in our local park yesterday and the evenings are noticably shorter, with an unmistakable chill in the air. Perhaps more importantly, our apple trees are groaning under the weight of a fantastic crop of James Grieves, Bramleys and Coxes. It continues to be a brilliantly, er, fruitful year for fruit.


As we completed "Phase One" of our autumn garden clear-up this morning, we felt we'd earned a treat (ignoring for now the fact that Phases 2 to 129 were still to come) and settled down with a slice of Dorset Apple Cake.


This classic and simple cake is a great way to use up some of your apple crop and needs virtually no baking skills. Bookmark this recipe now - you'll be needing it from now until the end of November.


Classic Dorset Apple Cake Recipe:


225g white self-raising flour

300g Bramley or other cooking apple, peeled, cored and diced into 1cm cubes. (2 or 3 apples)

100g plump sultanas

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

120g butter (chilled) plus a small amount for greasing the tin

120g light brown or golden caster sugar

1 free range egg

120ml whole milk

2 tsp demerara sugar (to finish)


Pre-heat your oven to 180C.

Lightly grease a deep 20cm cake tin and line with baking paper.

Sift the flour, cinnamon and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour mix using your fingertips until you have a breadcrumb-like consistency.

Add the brown sugar (not the demerara yet).

Lightly beat the egg in a small jug then add the milk and beat into the mixture.

Add the diced apple and the sultanas and mix well.

Pour the cake mix out into your tin, using a spatula to get it all out and make it level.

Sprinkle over the demerara sugar and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes. The top should be golden brown and lightly cracked.

Test your cake with a metal skewer (poke into the centre and, if the cake is ready, the skewer should come out clean.)

Leave to cool for 30 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack, carefuly remove the baking paper.

Enjoy still warm (with cream, custard or ice cream) or cold the next day.


(Sorry, we ate it too quickly. Picture of the cake will follow, just as soon as we've made another one.)

Edit: Slightly shonky iPhone picture now added!


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 8 2016 03:42PM

Autumn is the season of the squash (especially our favourite the butternut). Which can be a bit of a pain if you have no idea what to do with one.


Don't be afraid. Heavy and rather unweildy at first sight, the humble butternut squash is packed full of sweet, autumnal flavours and it's very easy to prepare.


So, today, a simple post on: How to Cook Butternut Squash.


- Preheat your oven to 180C

- Peel the hard skin from the squash and dice into 3cm cubes

- Toss the cubes in a teaspoon of light olive or rapeseed oil

- Add a teaspoon of dried sage or rosemary and a grinding of sea salt and pepper

- Spread the cubed squash in a single layer on a baking tray

- Roast for 40 minutes until the edges of some of the cubes are just starting to char


That's it! You can enjoy your squash hot as a filling side dish, cold in an autumnal salad or blend it to form the base of a super-seasonal soup. It's magnificently versatile and a true taste of autumn.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 2 2016 11:00AM

We need to face facts - summer is drawing to an end. Yes, there should be plenty more days (and hopefully weeks) of warm weather to come but meteorological autumn starts on 1 September and the autumn equinox (traditionally Harvest Festival) falls on the 22nd . Whichever definition you prefer to use, one season is ending and new one is beginning.


For sun lovers it may be a sad time, but for seasonal foodies it's cause for huge celebration as we enter the most bountiful time of year. There's almost no end to the list of sun-ripened fruit and veg that are ready for picking right now. Softer varieties are giving way to the hardier, thick skinned ones in preparation for the colder weather and this seamless transition will see our larders fit to bursting for weeks to come.


As we tended the WS veg patch over the bank holiday weekend, we taste tested some of our early apple and pear crops. They're not quite ready, but they will be in a week or so, and then we'll have them coming out of our ears through to the end of October.


Gluts are an unavoidable feature of seasonal eating and, of course, essentially a nice problem to have. But you do need to be prepared with those fruit and veg-heavy recipes if you're going to avoid waste. One way to do that is to make sure you're eating fresh seasonal produce at every meal - including the most important one of the day.


This weekend (or as soon as you've picked some perfect pears), try this terrifically tasty Bircher muesli. Originally developed in a Swiss clinic to feed convalescing patients, we've tweaked it and packed a whole load more autumnal flavour in. Quicker than porridge and better for you than muesli (thanks to the fresh fruit), once you've discovered it, there will be no turning back. Prepare it the night before to let those oats soak up the fantastic juices and flavours.


Pear Bircher muesli recipe

(per person):


1 whole pear (or apple)

50g porridge oats

50ml of orange juice

Small pot of plain yoghurt

A handful of nuts (unsalted and lightly crushed)

A handful of raisins

2 or 3 chopped dates or other dried fruit


Start by grating the fruit. Don't worry about pealing or coring it, just remove any woody stalk. Add the fruit and the orange juice to the oats and stir. Now mix all the remaiing ingredients in and leave for at least 30 minutes (or overnight). if you have a particualrly sweet tooth, you can add some honey before serving. Enjoy with the morning papers and a cup of tea.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 21 2015 09:10PM

Some five years ago it was rumoured that a disgruntled KFC employee, faced with redundancy, had revealed the “secret blend” of herbs and spices used by the (in)famous fried chicken joint. A social media frenzy catapulted the recipe round the world faster than you can say “Colonel Saunders” and although the company has never publically confirmed it, the consensus seems to be that it is, at the very least, a good approximation of their recipe.


The ethical problems with eating KFC chicken hardly need to be spelled out on this blog. The problem is, as most of us would have to admit, it tastes pretty darn good. So what to do? Well, thankfully the angry ex-chicken-fryer's revelation has given us the opportunity to put an ethical twist on the oh-so-naughty finger lickin’ dish. Since we’re in the middle of the pheasant season we wanted to see if the recipe translated from KFC to KFP. We’re pleased to say it most definitely does.


Here’s “our” recipe using two pheasants we brought home from a small Dorset shoot last weekend. The original spice mix apparently includes mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) a flavour enhancer which we decided to forgo. We’ve tweaked the list a little more and, since pheasant has a tendency to dry out, marinading in milk gives it the required extra succulence.


Homemade KFC/KFP


Ingredients


1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dried sage

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon mustard powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons salt


4 pheasant breasts, halved (you can also use a jointed whole pheasant or free range chicken)

250g plain white flour

1/2pt whole milk

1 egg


Method


Marinade the pheasant in milk for two hours. When you're ready to cook, heat your oven to 200C. Mix the herbs, spices and flour together in a mixing bowl. Remove the pheasant breasts from the milk and pat dry with kitchen towel. Lightly beat the egg in a second bowl. Now, dip each piece of breast meat first into the egg and then into the spiced flour. (You can work in batches dipping and coating three or four pieces at a time as long as there is space in the flour bowl to move the pieces around and ensure they all get a good coating). Heat 6 tbsp of oil in a frying pan - enough to cover the base. Shallow fry the meat pieces on a high heat for 2 minutes on each side until the coating is golden brown. (Fry in batches if the pan is too crowded). Now transfer the chicken pieces to a baking tray and bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the meat is cooked through. Allow to cool for a minute or two before serving with coleslaw and beans. (Plating up in a big bucket is optional).



By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 9 2015 03:40PM

Things have definitely taken a turn for the colder, wetter and darker this week. Thankfully the grim weather gives us the perfect excuse to rediscover some of those warm, comforting flavours that we’ve missed since last year. Making our first batch of mulled cider is one of those landmark occasions we look forward to; the heady scent of apple, cinnamon and cloves wafting through the Barn kitchen means we're well into autumn and winter is just around the corner.


There are probably as many recipes for mulled cider as there are types of apple in the country (i.e. lots – the national fruit collection at Brogdale reckon they have 2,000 named varieties). Additions we've tried include lemon grass, brandy, mace, vanilla, ginger and even lavender,. But, whilst those experiments are always fun, we generally prefer to keep it simple and traditional.


Here's our recipe for Traditional Mulled Cider

(makes 2 pints - just double up if you have more guests):


2 pints of good quality cider

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tablespoons of runny honey

2 star anise

4 cloves

A good grating of nutmeg

A glug of sloe gin (optional)


Warm the cider gently in a pan with all of the spices, trying not to let it boil. Heat for 30 minutes, pour in the honey (and sloe gin if you're using it) and stir gently to dissolve. Serve in heat-proof glasses.


Incidentally, the word "mulled" is probably an Old English corruption of muddled. (Which is exactly what you'll be if you drink too much of this stuff. Don't buy into the theory that warming the cider boils off the alcohol. Depending, of course, how strong it is to begin with, there will still be enough to have the desired effect!) If you have little ones, substitute the cider for apple juice for an equally warming, less punchy tipple.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 5 2015 09:22AM

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason, why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.


BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY:


REMEMBER, REMEMBER - LOOK FOR HEDGEHOGS IN NOVEMBER,

SMALL MAMMALS ASLEEP IN THE PYRE.

THOUGH THEY MAY BE HID, THE LITTLE HEDGEPIGS

DON'T DESERVE TO PERISH IN FIRE!


Have a good look around your bonfire before lighting it tonight folks.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 26 2015 04:43PM

A quick one from us today because we seem to have lost an hour at some point over the weekend*.


(*Tip: if you want to witness real pain, ask someone with a small child if they enjoyed their Sunday lie-in when the clocks went back. Little people have no respect for GMT.)


October is the time to gather chestnuts. Their prickly little cases are littering the woodland floors across the land and now's the time to be out collecting them, before the squirrels get them all.


It's worth taking a pair of gloves with you when you go chestnut collecting. That way, you can just throw whole cases into a bag and pick the nuts out at your leisure when you get home - it will give you valuable extra foraging time now that the days are shorter.


How to roast chestnuts


For the Well Seasoned team, nothing beats a traditional roast chestnut. Get a crackling fire going and throw a handful of chestnuts into a roasting pan (make sure you cut a small cross in the top of each nut first, to prevent any unwanted explosions and a dash across the living room to stamp out burning embers). After about 10 minutes, depending on the heat of your fire, your nuts should be beautifully roasted and easy to peel. If you haven't got an open fire you can roast in the oven at 200C for about 25 minutes (again, cutting them first). If you've got a large number you can grind the roasted nuts into chestnut flour which makes a delicious (and gluten free) base for pancakes and shortbread.


Check out the BBC website for more completely nuts ideas

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