WELL SEASONED

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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, Oct 31 2017 12:44PM

Earlier in the month, I hinted at a fantactic recipe Russ has been working on for the game season. This month's edition of Just About Dorset has just been published so we can reveal the recipe - a truly mouthwatering Buttermilk Partridge Burger.


Check out pages 24 to 25 of this month's Just About Dorset.


With feathered game prices at an all time low, it's definitely time to get stuck in. Enjoy!

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 31 2017 12:44PM

Earlier in the month, I hinted at a fantactic recipe Russ has been working on for the game season. This month's edition of Just About Dorset has just been published so we can reveal the recipe - a truly mouthwatering Buttermilk Partridge Burger.


Check out pages 24 to 25 of this month's Just About Dorset.


With feathered game prices at an all time low, it's definitely time to get stuck in. Enjoy!

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 30 2017 05:29PM

The annual pumpkin harvest must be one of the most logistically impressive and wasteful of our entire farming year. For one night only, the bulbous orange squash becomes the country’s favourite vegetable.


Granted, these days Halloween seems to stretching over the course of several days, to cover the weekends either side but it’s still one of the biggest boom and busts we witness on a vast and annual basis. In order to cram the shops full at exactly the right time – too soon or too late means disaster – pumpkin farming is a masterclass in both scientific endeavour and military organisation.


This year, as with every other, some 20,000 tonnes of pumpkin flesh will be scraped into bins before the nation gorges on mini Mars bars and Haribo. It’s a criminal waste particularly since pumpkins are so versatile and easy to cook with.


So, before you bin the seeds or the flesh from your spectacularly spooky creation, why not resolve to have a go at one (or both) of these. If nothing else, the dentist will thank you for it:


Roasted Pumpkin Seeds


This one is so simple, it doesn’t’ really count as a recipe.


Clean any stringy flesh from your pumpkin seeds and pat dry.

Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking tray.

Pour over a good glug of vegetable oil, sprinkle with some coarse grain salt and a couple of teaspoons of smoked paprika.

Roast for 15 minutes at 180C until the seeds are golden brown and crisp.


A horribly handy Hallowe'en party nibble.


Spiced Pumpkin Cake


This one does count as a recipe but someone else’s. It’s delicious. My one added recommendation is to squeeze some of the moisture from your pumpkin if you have a particularly wet one. If you don’t the middle will take much longer to cook, leaving the edges too dry.




By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 13 2017 11:33AM

The partridge season started back in September and the pheasants joined them on 1 October. Both seasons run throughout winter to the end of January.


Last week I was in Salisbury talking to a gamekeeper of one of the small local shoots. I asked him whether things had improved for game suppliers in recent years given the increased interest in cooking and eating game. Surely with the likes of Tom Kerridge, Hugh F-W and Tom Kitchin all doing sterling work to promote game, the shoots would now be getting a decent price for the birds they produce? His answer shocked me. I was used to hearing that shoots were paid 50p to £1 for good quality birds “in the feather”. That number has apparently reduced to just 25p and, in some cases, the game dealers will do nothing more than take the birds away for free. In percentage terms, it’s a massive cut in price and, at worst, suggests there simply isn’t any market for the birds.


Less than 25p for a free-range, tasty bird that makes the perfect meal for one when a free range chicken in my local butchers is being sold for £15. What on earth is going on?


I’m afraid to say the problem seems to be one of over-supply. There are simply too many birds being produced meaning that, whatever the increased enthusiasm for game meat, there’s too much to go around. The temptation from some quarters will be, I’m sure, to blame “greedy toffs” (the Daily Mail’s go-to description for anyone who owns land) selling too much shooting to too many fat cats (ditto for anyone who pays to shoot) but I am sure the issue is more nuanced than that.


For many small farmers, shooting provides vital income which, as they are squeezed to provide ever-cheaper food and milk, is essential to ensure they stay in business. To me, the key problem is that the main income from shooting comes from those who pay to shoot, rather than to eat, the birds. A team of Guns could pay up to £750 pounds each for a day’s shooting where maybe 250 birds will be shot. But having paid all of that money, they will probably only take home a pair (brace) each for dinner. The rest will go to the game dealers, essentially as a by-product. So, in the hope of propping up a failing business, where farms are already forced to sell meat and milk at a loss to the supermarkets, millions of birds are being produced where the primary market is to shoot them rather than eat them. What an absurd state of affairs.


In my view, the solution is for shoots to (voluntarily) limit the number of birds they shoot in a day and focus instead on providing hospitality and a great day out in the countryside that people are prepared to pay for, regardless of the number of birds in the bag at the end of the day. Put it another way, if they keep producing more and more birds to the point that there is no market and the meat simply goes to waste rather than entering our food chain, the days for game shooting in this country will be numbered. Even as a fan of game and shooting, I’d find it impossible to justify, nor would I want to.


Economists would, I’m sure, be able to propose a win-win solution where people pay a bit more to shoot fewer birds which are then sold for a little more. But that analysis is best left to someone else with better qualifications than my B in GCSE maths. For the time being, however, the upshot is that there are loads and loads of really good quality gamebirds out there RIGHT NOW and we should all be eating them.


In his latest piece for Just About Dorset, Russell has produced a mouth-watering game dish that will be a hit with everyone, but I’d especially recommended it to anyone looking for an easy introduction to the tasty, exciting and undeniably good value world of game. I can’t reveal what the recipe is just yet, but keep an eye on the blog and get ready to be hungry...


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 8 2017 11:00AM

Conkers are the seeds of the horse chestnut tree. The trees, which can reach 35m tall, produce beautiful white candle shaped flowers in May followed by their famous spiky seed cases (each with two conkers inside) which fall in September and October.


Horse chestnuts aren't native to Britain but were imported from the Balkans in the sixteenth century and widely planted in parks and public spaces during Victorian times.


The game


The game of conkers has been played in Britain since the 1800s. The following rules have developed over the centuries and are fairly universally accepted. First, a grown-up needs to prepare each conker by drilling a hole through the centre. Now thread the conker onto a string or shoe lace and tie a big knot to stop it sliding off. Your string should be more than 30cm long so that, when you have wrapped it round your hand, there is at least 20cm between your knuckles and the dangling conker. Next, prepare for battle!


1. Toss a coin to decide who strikes first.

2. Each player must have a minimum length of 20cm of string between his string hand and the conker.

3. The striker draws back his conker in his other hand and then swings it down onto the receiving player's conker.

3. The striker has three goes to hit the receiver's conker.

4. The receiver must hold his or her conker still.

5. Once the striker has hit the receiver's conker (or if he misses three times) play passes and the receiver becomes the striker.

6. If any player drops his conker, his opponent is entitled to shout "stamps!" and stamp on it, unless the other player shouts "no stamps!" first.

7. Absolutely no deliberate hitting of the other player's knuckles!

8. If your conker comes off its string but is not smashed then you are allowed to re-string it and play continues.

9. The game ends when one player's conker is smashed from its string (having a small bit of shell left doesn't count).

10. If both conkers smash at the same time, the match is a tie.


Scoring


Every fresh conker starts as a "one-er". A conquering conker assumes the score of its victim. So, if your one-er beats another one-er then it becomes a "two-er". But if your one-er beats a two-er, it becomes a "three-er", and so on.


How to cheat


Although banned in most official competitions, the following methods can all be used to toughen up your prized conker:


- Store it in a dry place for a year.*

- Bake it in the oven.

- Soak it in vinegar.

- Paint it with clear nail varnish.


The best (legitimate) way to ensure a strong conker is to make sure the hole you drill is neat and doesn't split the shell. The hole should be no wider than you need for your chosen string. Also, before you drill the hole, check that your conker sinks in a glass of water. If it is damaged or rotten on the inside it will float.


*Roald Dahl recommends this method in his diary, My Year.


According to custom, when you find your first conker of the season you should say "Oddly, oddly onker, my first conker" for good luck during the season.


Did you know...? The origins of the word 'conker' aren't completely clear. Some say it derives from the word "conch", a type of shell that was originally used to play the game but others believe it is a shortened version of "conqueror".


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 8 2017 11:00AM

Britain's arboretums (technically it's arboreta) are some of the finest and best managed tree collections in the world and October is a great month to visit one. You'll be treated to a dramatic display of colour as autumn really takes hold.


Here's our top 10 arboretums to visit but there are plenty more out there and there’s bound to be one near you.

The National Arboretum, Westonbirt – the country’s best known collection and simply stunning throughout the autumn.


Bodenham Arboretum, Worcestershire – more than 150 acres in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey – a National Trust property, deliberately planted to produce a dramatic autumn display.


Harcourt Arboretum, Oxfordshire – a historic collection, now part of Oxford University.


Kilmun Arboretum, Argyll and Bute –part of the Argyll forest and recently named as the best arboretum for autumnal photography.


Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden, Yorkshire – not strictly an arboretum but a stunning garden and medieval deer park that form part of a World Heritage landscape.


Derby Arboretum, Derby - the first publicly owned urban, recreational park in England and now Grade II listed by English Heritage.


RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey – the Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden in glorious Surrey countryside.


Cardinham Wood, Cornwall – a Forestry Commission property criss-crossed with walking and cycling trails, perfect for enjoying the Cornish scenery.


Rowallane Garden, Northern Ireland – one of the most beautiful gardens in Northern Ireland.

Why do leaves change colour in autumn?


During the summer trees produce two chemicals that they need for photosynthesis (the process by which they “breath”, converting water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen). The first chemical, chlorophyll, is green and the second, carotene, is yellow. To produce chlorophyll, trees need both warmth and light so when the cooler days and longer nights of autumn come, chlorophyll production stops. As the green chlorophyll fades away, the carotene remains - this is the yellow that you see. Anthocyanin, a third chemical, is produced when sugars in the leaf become concentrated and trapped in the leaves as the tree prepares for winter. This is the red colour that you see - it’s the same chemical that makes some apples and grapes red.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 24 2017 08:00AM

As we edge further into the autumn season we really start to focus on preserving some of the gluts to last us over the less fruitful months.


Apples, pears, nuts, marrows, pumpkins, squashes and a host of other great fruit and veg arrive in huge quantities this month and we need to start thinking about how we're going to deal with them. Chutneys are one of the best ways of preserving the bounties of autumn and with that in mind, here are our top tips for making good ones.


Golden Rules for Champion Chutney:


1. Give yourself plenty of time. One thing you can't do is rush a good chutney. Allow at least a couple of hours to prepare and cook a batch.


2. Cut your vegetables and fruits to roughly the same size. It will allow the ingredients to cook at the same rate and make the end result better to eat.


3. Don't burn it! Cooking chutney is a long and laborious process but the worst thing you can do it take your eye off the pan for too long. Keep stirring the mixture, especially as you get towards the end. Burning it will not only make it taste terrible, it will leave a layer of black sugar welded to the base of your pan.


4. The simple test for when your chutney is ready is what we call 'the parting of the Red Sea'. Draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of your pan. The chutney should be thick enough that you see the bottom of the pan for a second or two before receding to fill the channel. When you get to this point, your chutney is ready for jarring.


5. Use jars with screw top, plastic coated lids. The vinegar will corrode uncoated metal lids.


6. Make sure you sterilise your jars. If you don't, bacteria in them may ruin the chutney and the whole point is that they should last through the winter. Give the jars a good wash in hot, soapy water and then place upside down in an oven at low heat until dry. Alternatively, put them in a dishwasher on its hottest cycle and use them as soon as it finishes.


7. Always allow your chutney time to mellow. That means at least two months in a dark, cool cupboard. Eat it too soon and it will taste harsh and vinegary. And don't worry about it going off - the high vinegar and sugar content means it should keep for at least a year (provided you sterilised the jars properly).


8. The final and most important rule is that, when it comes to ingredients...there are no rules. Pretty much anything goes and one of the best things about autumn is being able to experiment with an almost limitless number of flavour combinations. We've had some of our finest results (and admittedly some of our worst) simply throwing whatever we had at the time into a pan and seeing how it turned out.


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.


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