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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 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, Apr 5 2016 01:00AM

A few weeks ago we warned that time was running out to plant your chillies. Well, if you want to grow your own pumpkin in time 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, Oct 16 2015 07:56PM

The Tudors knew a thing or two about seasonal feasting. Of course, in the days before air travel and globalisation our ancestors simply had to cook with whatever was around at the time. But they knew how to make the most of it and Tudor feasts remain legendary for their gluttony and excess.

Among some delicious Tudor feast recipes (and some revolting ones) we've been researching lately, we were delighted to discover that butterbeer, that supposed favoured drink of young wizards, is not a creation of JK Rowling but a real drink from the time. We were even more delighted to discover that Heston Blumenthal has done the hard work of unearthing and adapting an original recipe and we couldn't wait to give it a go. This recipe was originally printed in the Guardian.

The ingredients are simple and the method straightforward with the only danger point being adding the eggs – as we found to our cost first time round. The result is surprisingly good. It is very sweet, creamy and malty. You wouldn't want a whole pint of the stuff - it's probably best served in 1/3 pint glasses - but as a warming alternative to mulled wine at a Halloween, we'd heartily recommend it. Although some of the alcohol will burn off it's likely to remain at least the strength of a weak ale so this is probably one to keep for the grown-ups. Magic.

Recipe for butterbeer

Serves 6-10

2 cans Old Speckled Hen (or another British ale)

¾ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cloves

¾ tsp ground nutmeg

120g caster sugar

5 egg yolks

20g unsalted butter

Pour the ale into a saucepan and stir in the ground ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Gently heat this mixture until it is warm (to approximately 52ºC if you have a thermometer). In the meantime, using a hand-held blender, blitz the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until light and creamy. Once the spiced ale is warm, add the egg yolk and sugar mixture and return to the heat, stirring constantly, until the liquid starts to thicken slightly (no hotter than 78ºC). Be careful not to let the saucepan get too hot or the eggs will scramble. Maintain this temperature for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter until it melts. Then froth the mixture with a small cappuccino whisk until it looks like frothy, milky tea. Pour into small glasses, mini tankards or espresso cups and serve immediately.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 5 2014 10:57AM

November 5th is, of course, Guy Fawkes or (for the more politically correct) Bonfire Night. After Christmas and Halloween it’s probably the most widely observed seasonal festival we have in the UK. Everyone likes fireworks, right? (Well, apart from dogs, horses, hedgehogs, the elderly with heart conditions and anyone of a nervous disposition.)

The story of Bonfire Night is well known but it's likely that bonfires and feasting were commonplace around the 5th well before Guy Fawkes and his motley crew tried to literally blow the concept of the Divine Right of Kings sky high. The festivals of Samhain and All Hallows had long been celebrated around this time and would frequently involve fire which was generally understood to ward off evil spirits, death and general nastiness - think of it as the penicillin of yesteryear. Although those festivals have now morphed into Halloween on the 31st October, they were not, until relatively recently, ascribed to a particular day so the whole season of mid-Autumn, when we start looking towards the darker times of Winter, would have been filled with ritual, feasting and fire.

By a happy coincidence (or cynical marketing ploy) British Sausage Week also takes place this week so we'll have something to sizzle on all that fire. Your local butcher has had a marginally better time of it in recent years - the horsemeat scandal and a general recognition that it's a good idea to buy meat from someone who can tell you where it came from, have meant relatively good times for the trade - but it is all relative. There's no let-up in the competition and local shops of all sorts are still going out of business every day under pressure from supermarkets.

So, let’s shop local for tonight - buy some British bangers from your local butcher and celebrate Bonfire night in the warm glow of happiness that you get from supporting small, local retailers (and standing next to a 15 foot bonfire).

Bang on.

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