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, Feb 8 2017 11:09AM

In my recent post I introduced Russell Brown, hugely talented chef and co-author of the Well Seasoned Book.


Russ has his own website for his consultancy business Creative About Cuisine and, in his February newslettter you'll find his thoughts on the book together with a fantastic seasonal recipe to try - Caremelised Onion Cheesecake. I highly recommend you check it out.




By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 16 2017 11:00AM

Wassailing is an ancient custom that takes place in the country's apple orchards every January and it's surprisingly common in the cider-producing counties, even today.


The wassail is often celebrated on Twelfth Night but some maintain it is most properly observed on "Old Twelfth (or Twelvey) Night" being 17th January (which would have been the right date before the modern Gregorian calendar was adopted). The word itself is a toast derived from the Middle English greeting "waes hael" meaning "may you be healthy."


The form of the ceremony differs greatly from county to county but all involve singing, dancing and drinking (lots of drinking) to the health of the apple trees in the hope of a good harvest next year.


The largest or oldest tree in the orchard is selected and the cider is liberally sprinkled at its base. Then crowds then usually sing, shout and bang pots and pans to ward off evil spirits and awaken the trees as they come towards the end of winter.


Old apple tree we wassail thee;

And hoping thou will bear;

For the Lord doth know where we shall be;

'Til apples come another year.


For to bear well and to bloom well;

And so merry let us be;

Let every man take off his hat;

And shout to the old apple tree.


Old apple tree we wassail thee;

And hoping thou will bear;

Hat fulls, cap fulls,

Three bushel bag fulls;

And a little heap under the stair.


- Wassailing Carol, Somerset.


Did you know…? Mulled cider (see December) or ale is known, in some parts of the country, as Wassail because of its connections with the wassailing ceremonies.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 13 2017 11:00AM

St Hilary's feast day on 13th January is traditionally regarded as being the coldest day of the year.


Many historic cold events have started on or spanned St. Hilary's Day. In 1086, a great frost was recorded as spreading all over the country. In 1205 the Thames froze over and people ice skated through central London. In the 16th and 17th centuries a series of cold winters saw the Thames freezing regularly and Frost Fairs were set up in the centre of the city with amusements including skating and ice bowling.


Although it is usually pretty chilly, meteorological records show that St. Hilary's Day has only occasionally been the coldest day of the year. On average, January and February are equally cold and records of the actual coldest day show it is fairly evenly spread between December and February.


The coldest day ever recorded in the UK was 10th January 1982 when in Braemar, Scotland a temperature of -27.2C was reached. That record was equalled on 30th December 1995 at Altnaharra, Scotland which is officially the UK's coldest village.


"Lay long, being a bitter cold frosty day, the ice being now grown old and the Thames covered with ice." – Samuel Pepys, January 1667


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Dec 6 2016 10:45AM

'Tis the season... to feel guilty about how much work you've actually done. Social media gives a voice to the smug Christmaseers of the nation who started preparing back in August and they have a habit of letting us know.


Didn't make your own mince pies? Fail. Didn't spend an entire day hand-crafting Christmas tree decorations with your children? Fail. Didn't rear your organic turkey from a chick and lovingly feed it on organic maize grown in your pesticide-free garden? Definite fail. What have you been DOING with your life?


Just in case you get to Christmas eve and haven't even managed to hand tie a dozen Christmas crackers (honestly) here's your banker. THE simplest cranberry sauce recipe that can be made the night (or even several days) before, in just a few minutes. Whack it down on the table and silence the critics, even if everything else - including the now-half-finished bottle of brandy - come from Iceland.


Simple Cranberry Sauce Recipe


250g fresh cranberries

100g light brown sugar

100ml orange juice (from a carton is fine – they’ll never know)

3 tbsp port (optional)


Pour the juice, port (if using) and sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer then tip in the cranberries. Stir for about 6 minutes, until the berries just start to break down. Take it off the heat while they still have some form. Put to one side (or keep in the fridge) and serve at room temperature.


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, Nov 15 2016 01:00AM

Another wildlife-friendly post from us this week:


Feeding garden birds during the colder weather provides valuable supplemental food for many and for some it is critical to their survival. Making food available all year round give them a better chance of remembering your garden when food is scarce but you should reduce the amount on offer during the warmer months when natural food is easier to find. Perhaps most importantly, once you start feeding birds, don't stop (certainly not in the cold months) as they will learn to rely on the food source and may make a long, exhausting flight to your garden in the expectation of a good meal.


Make a winter bird feeder


You will need:


• 250g block of lard or suet, cut into cubes and left to soften at room temperature for an hour.

• 100g seed mix (any combination of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, bird peanuts or other bird feed mix – see below)

• 25g raisins or other dried fruit.

• A handful of grated hard cheese or oatmeal.

• Pinecones

• String


If any of your pinecones are tightly closed then store them in a warm place overnight to encourage them to open up.


Then start by making a basic bird cake mix. Place all of the food ingredients in a large bowl and mix together well with your hands.


Tie a length of string securely around each pinecone (making sure you have plenty left to secure the other end to a tree or fence post). Squash the cake mix into all of the small spaces in the cone and then mould the mixture all around it to form a ball. Place in the fridge to cool and harden slightly for an hour. Then tie your feeders onto a branch or post in your garden where you can watch the visiting birds. Remember to keep an eye on the feeders and replenish them with new ones when they are nearly empty.


If you don't have any pinecones, you can use an old (clean) yoghurt pot. Just make a small hole in the base of the pot, thread the string though and secure with a large knot. Then pack the seed mix into the pot, cool in the fridge and hang as above.


What to feed birds


However you plan to feed your garden birds, it's important to give them a healthy, balanced diet. Most garden centres sell bird seed that provides a good mixture of proteins and fats that birds need. Natural foods including mealworms and other dried insects have become popular in recent years and are very popular.


Just as important are a few things not to feed to birds:


Although peanuts have lots of good fats and nutrition for small birds, they can contain high levels of a natural toxin called aflatoxin. Buy peanuts from garden centres and pet dealers which are specifically sold as bird food and which will have suitably low toxin levels. Birds cannot process high levels of salt so salted and flavoured peanuts are also off the avian menu.


Leftover cooking fat is bad for birds because, together with meat juices, it can stick to feathers and promote bacterial growth. Pure lard (as we use in our bird feeder) is suitable because bacteria do not breed so easily on it.


Although fresh coconut in a half shell is a welcome treat, dried (desiccated) coconut shouldn't be used as it will swells up in their stomachs.


Mouldy bread is another bird table favourite but some moulds can be toxic so fresh food is definitely preferable. In any event, bread provides much less nutrition than seeds and nuts so is best avoided.

Remember always to give your birds access to water too.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 10 2016 12:56PM

It's that time of year again. The hedgehogs need your help and there's only a few few weeks to give it to them.


The diminutive hedgehog is one of the nation's favourite garden visitors but their numbers are in serious decline. The UK's population has fallen by nearly a third in the last decade and there are thought to be fewer than a million left in the UK.


Hedgehogs hibernate during the winter and so start looking for nesting places from late October onwards. They will gather straw, bracken and leaves to make a warm nest or "hibernacula" in hedgerows, piles of fallen logs or under man-made objects like garden sheds to see out the cold winter months.

Providing materials and a convenient nesting place for hedgehogs helps them conserve energy and will encourage them to take up residence in your garden as well as staying away from bonfires. In return for a safe place to hibernate, a hedgehog in residence will keep slugs away from your vegetable patch during the summer.


Although you can buy deluxe, ready-made ones from garden centres, you can make a simple but waterproof and warm hedgehog house from an old plastic storage box buried under a mound of soil.


You will need:


• A large plastic box (at least 40 cm x 30 cm)

• Two old bricks or heavy stones

• A hacksaw or strong scissors

• A spade (and some soil)

• A few handfuls of straw and/or dry leaves


Cut a 13cm x 13 cm entrance, starting at the top edge of one end of the box. (Try to make the cut as smooth as possible to avoid the hedgehog having to squeeze past any jagged edges). Place the crate upside down in a quiet corner of your garden with the entrance hole facing away from northerly winter winds. Place the bricks or stones on top and cover the box with soil (it should be solid enough to stop a hungry fox digging up your hedgehog for food!) Ensure the covered box is well hidden with leaves and sticks. Place the straw and dry leaves nearby but not inside - hedgehogs prefer to do their own interior design.


Give the hedgehogs plenty of time to find the box (there is a good chance they won't find it in the first year) and don’t be tempted to peek inside too often – it needs to be a safe and secure place for them. If you are really lucky a female hedgehog who finds it in the autumn may use the nest again in the spring to give birth to her young.


If you don’t have space for a nesting box, you can still help the hedgehogs. Another problem they face is garden fences which prevent them travelling around the neighbourhood. A 13cm x 13cm hole in (or under) a fence is all they need to run between our gardens so they can freely travel in search for food, shelter and a mate. So, get the hacksaw out and create a hedgehog highway in your garden.


Incidentally, hedgehogs are strictly nocturnal creatures so if you spot one during the day it is almost certainly sick or injured and in need of urgent help; call your local wildlife rescue centre for advice as soon as possible.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Dec 17 2015 09:46AM

First, an apology that it's been so long since our last post. This time, however, it's really not our fault! As you may have read, our website provider has been subjected to a sustained cyber attack meaning all of its websites were shut down for several days. So, we're sorry if you haven't managed to get access to the Well Seasoned site recently. We're assured that the security issues have now been fixed.


It's hard to believe that there is just one week to go before Christmas. We're having the warmest December for more than 100 years and whilst the mild weather isn't exactly unpleasant from a global perspective, it's worrying that we have yet to see any snow or widespread frost. Surely not a good sign for the planet as a whole and we're seeing signs of confused animals and plants all around. Let's hope some colder weather arrives soon and put everything back in the right place.


With just 4 days to go until the winter solstice, it is the beginning of the season of Yule. This is the pagan celebration of midwinter, the death of the old sun and birth of the new one. Unsurprisingly at the darkest time of year, fire and light play a part and traditionally, the new light was represented by a Yule log. A large log was brought into the house (usually the youngest member of the household) on the darkest day of the year and burnt throughout the twelve day season of Yule (later adopted as the twelve days of Christmas).




The exact ritual surrounding the Yule log varies from county to county (and indeed country to country throughout Europe) but certain themes are consistent. It was thought to be unlucky to let the fire go out and the very end of the log was usually kept to kindle next year's fire, representing the continuing cycle of the seasons.


Given the need to burn for many days, an entire tree would often have been burned in large houses. These days, most houses don't even have an open fire, let alone one big enough to burn entire tree and so for most families the "Yule log" has become a chocolate cake representing the old tradition.


This might be our last post before Christmas. If so, have a really cool Yule and enjoy the festivities!

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Dec 3 2015 05:00AM

It's December and despite the mildest November on record, we have to concede it's winter. You'll note the change to a wintery blue on the website and that persistent, annoying drone in your ear is the country collectively counting down to Christmas. It's only going to get louder for the next 21 days I'm afraid. (Don't worry, after the 25th, you'll have at least a couple of months before it starts again!)


The Sunday roast is, of course, integral to the British way of life and although we tend to eat fewer of them during the warmer months, the arrival of winter and a game season in full swing put it firmly back on the menu. Delicious as they are though, it's not the roasts themselves that this blog piece is about; we're again talking about what you should do with your leftovers. So today we're taking (and talking) stock.


Most people don't bother making their own stock these days and prefer instead to rely on shop-bought cubes. But, as with so many things, if you rely on the processed version, you're missing out on some truly superior flavours. Only with a fresh, homemade stock will you experience the meaty intensity of the real thing. And don't tell anyone, but it's also incredibly simple.


This recipe assumes you've just roasted and eaten a couple of plump mid-season pheasants but you can use any chicken or game bird provided you enjoyed the flavour of the meat.


To make 1 litre of homemade stock:


2 pheasant carcasses (or one large chicken)

1 onion, unpeeled and quartered

2 large carrots, 1/2 parsnip, 1/2 large leek all washed, unpeeled and roughly cut into large chunks*

4 sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns

1.5 litres of water


(*it's perfectly acceptable to mix and match a bit with the vegetables here. Use whatever you have got in the store cupboard and don't worry too much about the proportions. Don't bother peeling anything, as long as it's clean; there's bags of flavour in those thick skins.)


Take your carcasses (including any wing or leg bones), strip all the meat off (which should be reserved for pie or a coronation partridge/chicken/pheasant) and then break each carcass into two of three pieces. Place in a medium sized stock pot. Add all of the vegetables and herbs then top up with water until the ingredients are all just covered. You may not need all of the water. (By the way, don't worry about any salt. Decide how much you need when you come to cook with the stock rather than adding it now.) Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat so you have a vigorous simmer. Simmer uncovered for at least three hours (four if you have time), topping up occasionally with more water. In the last 30 minutes or so let the stock boil down to about a litre (two thirds of the original volume) to intensify the flavours. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and leave your liquid to cool. A layer of fat will separate out - skim and discard this. You should be left with a rich, clear stock which is the perfect base for a game soup or any recipe which calls for stock. It will keep for 3 days in the fridge and 3 months in the freezer.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Dec 2 2015 09:11AM

One of my absolute favourite vegetables at this time of year is the parsnip. Its sweet, nutty flavour is, superior to pretty much anything else you'll find on the table alongside the Sunday roast during late autumn and throughout winter.


And yet, on the continent parsnips are essentially relegated to animal fodder. I've a huge amount of respect for the culinary histories of France and Italy but those two great food nations virtually ignore the parsnip, possibly allowing it a small cameo in a peasant stew but rarely permitting it to partner a roast or any other fine dining.


Historically, it would seem that the potato is to blame for the parsnip's European demise. The discovery of this bulbous competitor ensured the parsnip was destined to be a become a bit player in continental cuisine. Still, the Brits, always ones to cheer the plucky underdog, stuck with it and were way too canny to let it all go to the cows.


Parsnips will grow most of the year round but are traditionally at their best just after the first frost which will intensify their sweetness. A good parsnip will be packed full of flavour and can be accompanied by some pretty punchy spices, particularly cumin and similarly robust asian/indian flavours.


As colder weather looks set to sweep across the country this weekend, we'll probably see our first widespread frosts so get your woollies on and get stuck into some sturdy British parsnips.


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