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, Jul 23 2017 08:00AM

As any long-term readers of the blog will know, I've been influenced by River Cottage since the original television series back in 1999 (I was a student at the time and yes, I know that dates me.) You'll also know I strongly believe that, however skilled we think we are in the kitchen, we can always improve our knowledge. So, I was particularly excited recently to receive an invitation from the River Cottage team to attend a wild food cookery course at their Devon HQ - the perfect opportunity to learn some new things and enjoy some good food at the spiritual home of seasonal eating.


After a very pleasant night at the Talbot Arms in Uplyme (which deserves a brief plug, as much for their warm welcome as their enthusiastic replay of the winning Lions tour game) I took the short drive north to Park Farm, a.k.a. River Cottage HQ, on a beautifully bright Sunday morning. Anyone who, like me, dreams of downshifting to the West Country will be in jealous awe of the home that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the team have made for themselves here. With stunning views stretching for miles across the Axe valley, the location alone will have you mentally drafting your resignation letter. The 17th Century farm house is instantly recognisable to fans of the more recent TV series and doubles as the perfect venue for the various cookery and self-sufficiency courses now run under the RC banner.


After a quick coffee and introduction to the course from Connor, our host for the day, it was down to business. We were led through some basic knife skills and, quicker than you can say 'smoking twelve bore', were stood at a trestle table, each clutching a very dead rabbit. So, one obvious point to make is that this is definitely a "wild food" course, not only foraging. If you don't want to get to grips, literally, with dead things of one kind or another, you might want to choose an alternative option from the many on offer (a bread making session was running in the adjacent barn...). But with a commendable lack of squeamishness, everyone in the group set to work skinning and jointing their hapless classroom assistant. At this point, I should confess, I was momentarily distracted by a passing buzzard (no, really) and found myself winning the prize for first knife injury of the day. My trophies were a snazzy blue plaster and a resigned expression from Connor, suggesting he was not expecting me to be the last.


Back to our well-equipped kitchen work stations and, with a bit more chopping, some herbs and accompanying vegetables, the jointed rabbits were ready for braising in what would become genuinely one of the tastiest rabbit dishes I've had in recent years; testament to the transformational qualities of slow cooking. (Check out the receipe below and I really, REALLY recommend you try this one.)


The rabbit dish was going to take up to three hours to cook so there was plenty of time for the next part of the course - a stroll around Park Farm and a foraging lesson. What struck me here was the depth of our tutor's knowledge. I like to think of myself as pretty well versed in the art of finding wild food but Connor was in a different league when it came to spotting and identifying the various edible greens on the farm. Among others, we sampled wild sorrel from the field, dandelions from the hedgerow, goose foot from the vegetable patch and watermint from the stream. A truly fascinating ramble which also took us into the famous polytunnels and outhouses of the farm, being introduced to its other residents. If I'm ever reincarnated as a pig, I want to live at Park Farm and will cheerfully be made into River Cottage chorizo.


On a baking hot day, it was a relief to be back indoors and onto the fish course. Filleting and stuffing a mackerel (with our foraged herbs made in a bespoke salsa verde) made the perfect early lunch and set us up nicely for the afternoon session. Throughout the day Connor was happy to answer all of our questions in good humour, however basic or tricky they might have been. There was too much to report on each dish and activity individually, but the full 'menu' for the day (broadly in order) was:


- Knife skills (cutting and sharpening)

- Braised rabbit (including skinning and jointing)

- Foraging

- Herb stuffed mackerel (filleting and pin-boning)

- Cockles and mussels with chorizo, Sea Purslane and samphire

- Smoked rabbit loin (hot smoking)

- Watermint sorbet (palette cleansing revelation)

- Meadowsweet pannacotta (a real highlight for me and proof that "wild food cookery" can be as simple as finding a stunning new flavour for a traditional dish.)


You certainly won't go hungry on this course. If anything, there is too much food to eat and I certainly regretted starting my morning with a full English. It seemed a shame to leave some of the food uneaten and although bags were readily provided for anyone able to take their excess home, I think the day might benefit from preparing one dish to be taken home, rather than aiming to eat everything there and then. Without doubt though, this is a hands-on, comprehensive and fun course with plenty of opportunity to get involved and no waiting around. RC have obviously thought carefully about the day's content and aimed to pack it with a broad range of skills and dishes. Obviously, the exact content changes throughout the year and I particularly liked how several of the dishes had been adapted to suit ingredients that happened to be to hand on the day. For example, the samphire was a fitting late addition to the cockle dish, simply because it was abundant that week - it's exactly what seasonal cookery should be about.


As with any course, just as important as the content is the attitude and approach of those teaching it. What has always struck me about RC is that it manages to attract staff who, without exception, are universally 'on message' when it comes to the seasonal, ethical focus on our food. I have yet to meet anyone working either at HQ or in any of the Canteens who is not a wholehearted supporter of the cause and an exemplary ambassador for the brand. The same was true on this visit (both to HQ and the Axminster Canteen the night before). This is not just about an efficient training program (though no doubt that exists) but an ethos that clearly permeates everything about the business.


The 'project' has morphed in recent years. This seems to have been a very conscious move away from Hugh (who along with Jamie and Delia, needs only his first name) as a personality. Not only is this a shrewd business move, it's also entirely appropriate if the message is truly about spreading the word as widely as possible rather than celebrity of an individual. Having followed it for some two decades now, I've witnessed River Cottage's various stages of evolution and I'm delighted to say that it continues to thrive as a fantastic example to us all. As a budding food writer, if I can achieve a fraction of what the team have managed at River Cottage, and now Park Farm, I will be a happy man.


If you're tempted to try your own River Cottage cookery course, you can book your own HERE. If you use the discount code WELLSEASONED before 31 December you'll get £50 off any course. Tell them I sent you and that I'm planning to come back very soon. Possibly as a pig.


Coq au cidre (actually Lapin au Cidre)


Traditionally coq au vin is made with a cock bird and red wine, and very fine it is too. This adaptation using rabbit and cider is, I think, every bit its equal. You can cook it in the oven (at 160°C/Gas mark 3) once you’ve added the cider, if that’s more convenient.


Serves 4


Rabbit legs, about 1.6kg, jointed into 8 pieces

50g butter, softened

3–4 tbsp olive oil

150g pancetta or unsmoked streaky bacon, cut into small cubes

10 eschallots or large shallots, peeled

8 garlic cloves, chopped

A good handful of thyme

4 tbsp brandy (ideally apple brandy)

3 bay leaves

700ml dry cider

200g small dark-gilled mushrooms

25g plain flour

A handful of parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Have the rabbit joints ready to cook. Heat half the butter and 3 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and brown the rabbit in batches on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper; don’t crowd the pan. Transfer all the rabbit joints to a flameproof casserole that will accommodate them in a single layer.


Add the pancetta to the frying pan and fry until lightly browned, then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the rabbit. Add a little more oil to the pan if it is dry and cook the shallots gently, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes until soft but not brown. Add the garlic and thyme, cook for 2–3 minutes, then add the brandy.


Tip the contents of the frying pan over the chicken in the casserole and add the bay leaves. Pour in the cider, cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for another 15 minutes. Check that the rabbit is tender and the juices run clear when the thickest part is pierced with a knife. If not, cook for another 10 minutes and check again. Transfer the rabbit, bacon, onions and mushrooms to a warmed serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm.


Bring the cidery liquid to the boil and reduce it by about a third. Meanwhile, mix the flour and remaining softened butter to a paste. Add about half of it, in pieces, to the liquid, whisking all the time. Keep whisking the bubbling liquid to cook the flour and thicken the sauce, adding more of the paste if needed, to thicken it further. Pour the sauce over the rabbit and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.




By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 2 2017 10:00AM

One of the great family days out for any seasonal family should be rockpooling on one of Britain's may rocky beaches.


Rockpools are harsh environments. The creatures that inhabit them need to be able to survive extremes of temperature, moisture and salinity as well as rough seas and constantly crashing waves. Taking a slightly more scientific approach to your rockpooling will open your eyes to these brutal and competitive self-contained worlds.


The equipment you'll need is very similar to pond-dipping (see June) but tide tables and suitable footwear are essential extras.


You will need:


• A net

• A light coloured bucket or tray

• A magnifying glass

• An identification book

• Tide tables (the biggest rockpools with most life in them are revealed at low tide)

• Wellies or water shoes


As with pond dipping, half fill your tray or bucket with water then use your net to explore the pool, especially the weedy edges and gently turn your net out into the tray. You'll be able to pick some shells and slower-moving crabs out by hand. With some creatures, especially hermit crabs, they will retreat into their shells as you approach or touch them so wait for a few minutes and watch them re-emerge.


Look out for:


• Small fish like blennies, goby and pipefish

• Crustacea like shrimp, crabs and lobsters

• Molluscs and other shellfish like mussels, whelks, winkles and limpets

• Seaweeds like kelp, sea lettuce and bladderwrack

• Anemonies, starfish and sea urchins

Carefully return everything to the rockpool when you leave and always be aware of the rising tide. Rocks covered in seaweed or algae can be extremely slippery so tread carefully.

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."

Jacques Cousteau


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jun 9 2017 08:00AM

As the weather and our coastal waters warm up (15 degrees appears to be the trigger point), mackerel will start coming inshore and in June you'll easily be able to catch them with a simple rig. It's a great introduction to sea fishing.


The simplest way to experience mackerel fishing is to book a spot on a fishing trip. You'll find them in most harbour towns these days and you can expect to pay a few pounds per person for a two hour session with all kit and instruction supplied (plus a share of the spoils) which is pretty good value and a great introduction for real beginners. But, assuming you'd rather invest in some kit that you can use at your own pace and whenever you're down at the coast, here's my mega mackerel masterclass to help you catch your own sustainable dinner, direct from the beach.

Basic kit

Don't be tempted to spend hundreds of pounds on tackle online. You can kit yourself out for a mackerel session for well under fifty pounds and the best place to go is your local tackle shop. Not only will you be supporting local businesses, you'll also be getting access to a wealth of free fishing information. Fishing shop owners are a friendly bunch and will be happy to talk as much as you like, especially if they smell a sale. They should know everything about their kit as well as vital local knowledge on the best spots. Tell the shop owner what you're after and hopefully you'll come out with at least the following:

- A rod (suitable for casting),

- A reel (again, suitable for casting rather than boat fishing or fly fishing).

- Main fishing line and a "shock leader" line.

- A selection of mackerel feathers (pre-tied strings of 3 to 6 hooks, with a feather, foil strip or similar sparkly adornment).

- A selection of ledgers (a simple lead weight or "bomb" in a streamlined shape, with a small loop at the top to attach to your line) from 2oz to 4oz.

If you're a complete novice you'll need to know how to set the kit up. Your helpful shop owner should be happy to show you how to do this but make sure you pay attention. You'll need to know a few basic knots as well as how the rod and reel work, so don't be shy to ask and make sure you've committed it all to memory before you part with your hard-earned cash.

When to go

Although mackerel are present in our waters all year round, they usually only come inshore in late spring and will be at their peak in June and July. The first thing to remember is that mackerel are either within casting distance of the shore, in which case you should catch some, or they aren't, in which case you won't, however hard you try. A wise and experienced angler once told me that the best way to fish for mackerel is to wait until you've seen someone else catch some, then get casting - and there's a lot of truth in that. If you can't wait or there's no one else around, you can maximise your chances by fishing at high tide and in the hours either side of sunrise and sunset. Calm, still days are best but as mackerel have no eyelids, they don't like bright sunlight - if it's a very sunny day, they'll be nearer the bottom. Signs you might look for include a thin slick of oil on the surface of the water and seabirds diving into the water (they aren't actually eating the mackerel but the bait fish - usually sand eels - that the mackerel are chasing.) In the height of summer you might even see the sand eels bubbling on the surface of the water, sometimes just yards from the beach. Mackerel have even been known to beach themselves in the hunt for their food.

Where to go

You'll need a beach or pier that gets you easy access to deep water. So, rapidly shelving pebble beaches like Chesil in Dorset, are ideal, or any long pier, such as Brighton. Piers may have rules about when you can fish so it's worth checking in advance. Rocky headlands are also good but they can be very dangerous and you'll need to take extra care on these.

Casting and retrieving

Set up your kit and get casting. Aim to get as much distance as possible. Although the fish can be very close to the shore, the further you cast, the more water you'll cover and the more chance you'll have of catching. But remember that you can vary your depth too - it's no good casting miles and constantly retrieving your feathers though the top 10m of water if the fish are at 20m. So, mix it up a bit. Leave a few seconds before you start your retrieve to allow the weight to sink a bit. If that draws a blank, try again but with a quicker or slower retrieve. You'll see people lots of different techniques - some people just reel straight in, others prefer to twitch the rod or use a series of pulls and reeling in. Give all of these a go and find the one that suits you. Ultimately, they'll all work if the fish are there.

Catching

You'll know when you've caught anything - there will be a sudden increase in resistance and you'll feel the fish fighting at the end of the line. It's an exhilarating feeling if you've never caught one before but, once you've felt that initial tug, it's worth trying not to get too excited. The fish that's there is likely to stay hooked but your other hooks may well be in the middle of a shoal and, if you give it a few more moments, you have a chance of catching a few more. So, wait a few seconds and then reel in. With this method it's not that unusual to score a "full house" with a fish on every one of your hooks. Unhook your catch and give each fish a couple of sharp blows to the head with a "priest" or study stick. It can appear brutal but it's the most humane method and ensures a quick death. Mackerel spoils very quickly so once you've killed it, gut it as soon as you can and then store it in a cool bag or a bucket or water.

Then get that barbeque lit. The fresher the better is definitely the rule for mackerel.

And finally...

If you fish regularly throughout the summer you will have days when you can catch hundreds of mackerel. It's easy to get carried away but try only to catch as many as you're going to eat. Once caught, mackerel can't be released as they have a very sensitive skin membrane which degrades as soon as it's been touched. If handled by human hands, even very gently, mackerel will die within days. They do freeze well but mackerel are always best fresh. So if you don't have a plan for them, best to leave them in the sea and come back another day. Conversely, some days you'll do everything right and just won't be able to catch them. If that's the case, pack up, and get down to the fish and chip shop before you get totally fed up. There are no guarantees with fishing and it's important to know when to cut your losses. Retain some of your enthusiasm for another day and remember that it wouldn't be any fun if you caught something every time, now would it?


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 28 2016 09:14AM

As I strolled past our local cheesemonger over the weekend I was reminded (courtesy of a large sandwich board on the pavement) that, whilst we don't usually consider cheese as seasonal, some of it most definitely is.


Vacherin (meaning literally and simply “cows cheese”) is a creamy, soft and usually unpasteurised cheese made in France and Switzerland. The Jura region in particular is famed for it. Traditionally (though, in fact, not strictly) it is made from 15th August to 15th March in each year and then sold between 10th September and 10th May.


The reason for these specific dates and its distinctly seasonal nature? Well, during the summer months the Vacherin cows (the "cows cheese cows"?) are grazed at high altitude on alpine pastures. It's a unique diet of grass and wild flowers. As the cooler weather arrives. and before the snow threatens, the herds are brought back down to lower ground and fed instead on a hay diet. Historically, this change in diet led to a reduction in milk and producers could no longer make their preferred cheese – comte (a sweet, nutty hard cheese). The comte’s connoisseurs’ loss is the vacherin lovers’ gain and this rich, seasonal cheese was born.


Strict rules and recipe now apply to preserve the cheese’s numerous protected statuses and designations. Including, for example, the fact that the hay on which the cows feed must be made from grass grown on the same farm. You'll find it in good cheese shops (including the Cheeseboard in Greenwich – our local who deserve a plug for prompting this piece) until the spring.


Give it a go on your Christmas cheese board. ‘Tis the season to be cheesy.

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!


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 25 2016 01:48PM

If you're looking for a sustainable, under-rated and seriously tasty fish to try in the summer you won't do any better than mackerel. Why not grab a rod and catch your own?


Mackerel are one of the fishy highlights of our summer, if not the entire year. These outrageously tasty fish are easy to catch and once you know how you'll be desperate for the warm weather to return each year, just so you can get fishing again.


The simplest way to experience mackerel fishing is to book a spot on a fishing trip. You'll find them in most harbour towns these days and you can expect to pay a few pounds per person for a two hour session with all kit and instruction supplied (plus a share of the spoils) which is pretty good value and a great introduction for real beginners. But, assuming you'd rather invest in some kit that you can use at your own pace and whenever you're down at the coast, here's our mega mackerel masterclass to help you catch your own sustainable dinner, direct from the beach.


Basic kit


Don't be tempted to spend hundreds of pounds on tackle online. We reckon you can kit yourself for a mackerel session for under fifty pounds and the best place to go is your local tackle shop. Not only will you be supporting local businesses, you'll also be getting access to a wealth of free fishing information. Fishing shop owners are a friendly bunch and will be happy to talk as much as you like, especially if they smell a sale. They should know everything about their kit as well as vital local knowledge on the best spots. Tell the shop owner what you're after and hopefully you'll come out with at least the following:


- A rod (suitable for casting),

- A reel (again, suitable for casting rather than boat fishing or fly fishing).

- Main fishing line and a "shock leader" line.

- A selection of mackerel feathers (pre-tied strings of 3 to 6 hooks, with a feather, foil strip or similar sparkly adornment).

- A selection of ledgers (a simple lead weight or "bomb" in a streamlined shape, with a small loop at the top to attach to your line) from 2oz to 4oz.


If you're a complete novice you'll need to know how to set the kit up. Your helpful shop owner should be happy to show you how to do this but make sure you pay attention. You'll need to know a few basic knots as well as how the rod and reel work, so don't be shy to ask and make sure you've committed it all to memory before you part with your hard-earned cash.


When to go


Although mackerel are present in our waters all year round, they usually only come inshore in late spring and will be at their peak in high summer. This year, they are a little later than normal arriving but are currently present in large numbers on the south coast.


The first thing to remember is that mackerel are either within casting distance of the shore, in which case you should catch some, or they aren't, in which case you won't, however hard you try. A wise and experienced angler once told us that the best way to fish for mackerel is to wait until you've seen someone else catch some, then get casting and there's a lot of truth in that.


If you can't wait or there's no one else around, you can maximise your chances by fishing at high tide and in the hours either side of sunrise and sunset. Calm, still days are best but as mackerel have no eyelids, they don't like bright sunlight - if it's a very sunny day, they'll be nearer the bottom. Signs you might look for include a thin slick of oil on the surface of the water and seabirds diving into the water (they aren't actually eating the mackerel but the bait fish - usually sand eels - that the mackerel are chasing.) In the height of summer you might even see the sand eels bubbling on the surface of the water, sometimes just yards from the beach. Mackerel have even been known to beach themselves in the hunt for their food.


Where to go


You'll need a beach or pier that gets you easy access to deep water. So, rapidly shelving pebble beaches like Chesil in Dorset, are ideal, or any long pier, such as Brighton. Piers may have rules about when you can fish so it's worth checking in advance. Rocky headlands are also good but they can be very dangerous and you'll need to take extra care on these.


Casting and retrieving


Set up your kit and get casting. Aim to get as much distance as possible. Although the fish can be very close to the shore, the further you cast, the more water you'll cover and the more chance you'll have of catching. But remember that you can vary your depth too - it's no good casting miles and constantly retrieving your feathers though the top 10m of water if the fish are at 20m. So, mix it up a bit. Leave a few seconds before you start your retrieve to allow the weight to sink a bit. If that draws a blank, try again but with a quicker or slower retrieve. You'll see people lots of different techniques - some people just reel straight in, others prefer to twitch the rod or use a series of pulls and reeling in. Give all of these a go and find the one that suits you. Ultimately, they'll all work if the fish are there.


Catching


You'll know when you've caught anything - there will be a sudden increase in resistance and you'll feel the fish fighting at the end of the line. It's an exhilarating feeling if you've never caught one before but, once you've felt that initial tug, it's worth trying not to get too excited. The fish that's there is likely to stay hooked but your other hooks may well be in the middle of a shoal and, if you give it a few more moments, you have a chance of catching a few more. So, wait a few seconds and then reel in. With this method it's not that unusual to score a "full house" with a fish on every one of your hooks. Unhook your catch and give each fish a couple of sharp blows to the head with a "priest" or study stick. It can look brutal but it's the most humane method and ensures a quick death. Mackerel spoils very quickly so once you've killed it, gut it as soon as you can and then store it in a cool bag or a bucket or water.


Then get that barbeque lit. The fresher the better is definitely the rule for mackerel.


And finally...


If you fish regularly throughout the summer you will have days when you can catch hundreds of mackerel. It's easy to get carried away but try only to catch as many as you're going to eat. Once caught, mackerel can't be released as they have a very sensitive skin membrane which degrades as soon as it's been touched. If handled by human hands, even very gently, mackerel will die within days. They do freeze well but mackerel are always best fresh. So if you don't have a plan for them, best to leave them in the sea and come back another day. Conversely, some days you'll do everything right and just won't be able to catch them. If that's the case, pack up, and get down to the fish and chip shop before you get totally fed up. There are no guarantees with fishing and it's important to know when to cut your losses. Retain some of your enthusiasm for another day and remember that it wouldn't be any fun if you caught something every time, now would it?


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 13 2016 08:57AM

It's that time of year when we start to see huge gluts of fruit and vegetables. Courgettes are always easy to grow and very productive but the warm summer sum with plenty of rain has made this year particularly bountiful. We're always looking for ways to make the most of our crop and this simple recipe makes a great starter or light lunch throughout the summer months.


Cheesy Courgettte Fritters


For about 10 fritters:


3 medium courgettes

150g self raising white flour

2 spring onions, chopped

1 bunch of fresh mint, leaves picked and finely chopped

120g parmesan cheese, grated

1 egg, beaten

1 small pot plain yoghurt

1 lemon, zested and juiced

Oil for frying

A couple of handfuls of salad leaves


Start by grating the courgettes into a large bowl. Give them a very firm squeeze over the sink to remove any excess moisture (you want to get rid of as much as possible to avoid soggy fritters) then return to the bowl. Add in the flour, the chopped spring onion, parmesan cheese, the lemon zest (not the juice) and three quarters of the mint. Mix everything together to a stiff batter. Now heat a tablespoon of oil over a medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Drop in dessert spoonfuls of the batter and fry for two minutes on each side until golden brown. Don't make them too big or they won't cook through. Fry in batches and put to one side on some kitchen paper to blot any excess oil. Meanwhile, prepare a simple mint dip by mixing the rest of the mint with the yoghurt and lemon juice. To serve, place two or three fritters on a bed of salad leaves and drizzle over some of the minty dip.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 4 2016 07:00AM

If you asked anyone to name fruits that encapsulate the British summer it's a racing certainty that strawberries would top the list.


Arriving later then gooseberries, towards the end of the June, these fragrant, juicy red fruits are a true sign that summer has arrived.


The origin of their name isn't clear. It may be from the fact that straw was (and still is) used to keep the berries fresh and free from rot when they are grown outside. But it's also possible that it derives from the word "strewn" because native wild strawberries appear "scattered" on the ground.


If you're very lucky you will find the wild berries growing from mid-June through to the autumn in areas of thin woodland or semi-wild grassland where plenty of light can reach the ground. They are rarely abundant and the berries are small, so you'll need to look very carefully. The wild fruits are more delicate than their cultivated (distant) cousins so handle them with care.


Now for a bit of a rant and a note of warning.


Good strawberries are one of the victims of food globalization. The fact is, you’re unlikely to find a sustainably-grown British strawberry on the shelves before mid-June. Sure, you’ll find “British strawberries” from April onwards, but it’s not possible for those fruits to have been grown anywhere in the UK other than under cover in heated glasshouses.


This is where the seasonal message can get confused – deliberately. The supermarkets want us to think that those British grown "early season" strawberries are the environmentally responsible choice. In fact they're not and, in terms of carbon footprint, studies have shown that you would be better off buying imported Spanish fruits in April rather than British ones. That's why it's so important for the food we buy to be both seasonal and local.


You’ll see this “stretching of the seasons” taking place in supermarkets throughout the year, but especially during the summer months, and it’s cynically designed to take advantage of time-pressured shoppers excited about the forthcoming season. The simplicity of the “seasonal” message and the goodwill of shoppers is being abused. Don't fall for it.


But there's another heinous food crime being committed here - a fraud on our taste buds. The ubiquitous Elsanta strawberry is a supermarket favourite (accounting for nearly 60% of UK sales). But it's podium-topping position isn't because it tastes great. It's simply that it travels well. The fruits can be packaged up quickly and shipped to the UK without fear of bruising, disease or wastage. If you get the chance this summer, try comparing a home-grown variety of strawberry (such as the Sonata or Malwina) from a farmers market with the supermarket favourite. It's not that the Elsanta is completely tasteless but once it has been quickly grown by industrial-scale producers and transported to our shores, the travel-friendly fruit isn't a touch on others.


So, this summer, make sure you enjoy slow-grown, local and sustainably produced strawberries, grown with flavour, not transportability, in mind.


OK, rant over. Let's eat.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jun 30 2016 07:29AM

There's something marvellously English about the tart and tangy gooseberry. They're a little quirky, a bit hairy and, like pasty-fleshed holiday-makers on Clacton beach, they're ready earlier in the summer than any of their soft continental cousins.


Gooseberries have rather fallen out of favour in recent years. But they have been grown in Britain since Elizabethan times and in the 1800s they were all the rage. Stripy green (or white or red) goose-gogs had fan clubs up and down the country, particularly in the north where regular annual fairs were held for competitors to show their prized fruits.


Only two fairs of any size still exist - one at Egton Bridge in Yorkshire (well worth a visit if you're in the area on the first Tuesday in August) and another in Cheshire hosted by the very factually-named Mid-Cheshire Gooseberry Shows Association.)


Usually in season from May until September, gooseberries are one of our earliest summer fruits to hit the shelves and they're ready....NOW.


Not content with being first in line for our shopping basket, they’re also hugely versatile; they lend themselves to a wide range of dishes, both sweet and savoury (including, incidentally, as an accompaniment to that other summer favourite, mackere - mopre on them next month.) Their sharpness cuts perfectly through rich cream and sugar in that ever-so-English pudding, the gooseberry fool.


Gooseberry Fool Recipe on BBC Good Food


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 17 2016 08:00AM

In May, the hedgerows blossom with creamy white and unmistakably fragrant elderflowers. Elderflower cordial is the taste of summer itself and now that the first flowers are out (we spotted the first ones near us this weekend) you have a few short weeks to make your own.


It's important to harvest elderflowers on a dry day. If you collect them wet you'll lose a lot of the pollen which accounts for much of their unique, delicate flavour. It's best to take your heads from a couple of trees if you can (there is usually more than one around) but most fully grown trees can withstand a pretty good cropping if necessary. The citric acid is essential if you want your cordial to last (it will help it keep for months rather than days) but not if you plan to drink it straight away.


Harry McKew was Jon's grandfather and a master maker of cordials, pickles and preserves. We recently came across his original recipe, on a tatty piece of old paper and thought he'd have been pleased to share it with you.


Harry McKew's Traditional Elderflower Cordial recipe

(makes about 1.5 litres of cordial)


25 elderflower heads

4 oranges, sliced

3lbs (1.4kg) caster sugar

2oz (about 50g) citric acid (available from chemists).

3 pints (1.7 litres) water


Cut off any leaves from the elder stalks and inspect each elderflower head for insect passengers. Place the water into a large pan and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Add in all the other ingredients, give it a good stir and leave to stand for 48 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain the liquid though a clean tea towel or muslin then pour into sterilised bottles and seal. To serve, dilute the cordial about 10 to 1 with still or sparkling water. (You can also add it to sparkling wine for a very classy dinner party aperitif).


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