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By Well Seasoned, Oct 1 2018 04:20PM

If September was the curtain-raiser to autumn then October is definitely the main feature.


This month, our green and pleasant land puts on a show of brilliant oranges, browns, golds and reds in a visual and epicurean spectacular. The long, hot days of summer are definitely behind us now but they’ve left an embarrassment of edible riches. With winter just beyond the horizon, October is a month when preserving our bounty for the colder months is even more important. Chutneys, jams and pickles are all promoted to the top of our seasonal to-do list. On the vegetable patch, there’s more than enough to keep us busy, too: marrows, pumpkins and squashes all thrive at this time of year; while in the orchard, those delicate soft fruits have all now given way to hardier, but certainly no less delicious, apples and pears.


But perhaps the most exciting thing about October is that Mother Nature invariably flings opens the door of her wild larder and invites us to stuff ourselves silly. It’s one of the best months to be outdoors foraging, with hedgerows fit to burst with ripe berries and nuts, and the mild, damp conditions mean mushrooms abound on forest floors. We can literally take our pick from hundreds of wonderfully named fungi, including puffballs, penny buns and chicken of the woods. Scallops and mussels are plump and plentiful and there is game aplenty as pheasant joins duck, partridge and grouse on the autumnal menu.


October’s weather also helps make it a great month to be outdoors. Hopes of a seriously hot day have all but vanished, but it’s surprisingly common to have a sustained spell of sunshine towards the middle of the month (it’s known as ‘St Luke’s little summer’, named after the saint’s day which falls on the eighteenth). The days are getting noticeably shorter by now, but with all of this food around we can appreciate a little extra time in the kitchen.


So, with respectable weather and no shortage of produce to choose from, we can look forward to filling our boots in October.

By Well Seasoned, Sep 3 2018 12:47PM

I'm rather embarrassed to see how long it's been since the last post. In my defence, we've just had the (joint) hottest summer on record and the whole country has bascially been outdoors for the last couple of months anyway. It's still lovely and sunny outside but the weather is noticably cooler and we're turning our thought s towards autumn.


Last weekend I took myself off to the family farm in Surrey to pick damsons. It's been a great year for the fruits and the handful of trees we have growing wild in the the hedgerows were all bursting with fuit. I've made the usual bottles of damson gin but had plenty left over to try a new recipe. Thankfully our September chapter hads the answer.


The damson, once moderated with heat and sugar, has such an incredible depth of flavour, it certainly makes for something spectacular in the autumn. Cooked into jam, made into pies or crumbles or turned into damson cheese, it will provide rich flavours for both sweet and savoury dishes. A damson sauce for wild duck is excellent and a damson jam tart makes a sweet, sticky teatime treat.


I have gone down the savoury route for this recipe, taking some cues from the old-fashioned fruit cheeses. Quince cheese is perhaps the most common, either in its British guise or the slightly more textured Spanish version, membrillo. A slice with a strong cheddar or crumbly blue is a perfect pairing. The buns are based on a classic choux pastry recipe with the addition of the cheese and some mustard.


They make great pre-dinner party nibbles and the dip has warming, spicy notes that just hint at those colder days to come.


Blue cheese beignets with spiced damson dip


makes approximately 40 buns


For the damson dip


1 cinnamon stick, broken up

10 black peppercorns, crushed

1 bay leaf

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

75ml red wine

200g damsons

50g caster sugar

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the buns


125ml water

125ml milk

100g unsalted butter, cold, diced

2 tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

1 tsp caster sugar

140g plain flour

4 large, free-range eggs, beaten (220g)

1½ tbsp Dijon mustard

100g crumbly blue cheese (Devon Blue, Stilton, Bath Blue or similar), coarsely grated

25g Parmesan, grated

freshly ground black pepper

15g Parmesan, finely grated


1. Preheat oven to 200˚C.


2. Tie all the spices for the dip in a square of muslin. Combine the wine, damsons and sugar in a heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the spice bag and cook on a gentle simmer until the fruit has broken

down and the stones are released.


3. Squeeze all the liquid from the spice bag and then rub the fruit through a coarse sieve. Pick out all the stones and add any pulp back to the liquid. Check the consistency and season with salt and pepper. The dip wants to be like runny jam so it clings to the buns but isn’t too thick. If it is too thin, just return to the heat and simmer a bit more.


4. To make the buns, put the water, milk, butter, salt and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. Boil for 1 minute and then add the flour all in one go. Cook for a further minute, beating the mix hard with a wooden spoon. The mix should become shiny and fairly dry-looking.


5. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a couple of minutes and beat in half the egg. Add the remaining egg gradually until you have a smooth paste. Add the mustard, blue cheese and

the 25g of Parmesan along with a good grind of black pepper. Transfer the mix to a piping bag with a 1cm nozzle.


6. Pipe 2cm balls onto a tray lined with baking parchment or a Silpat mat. Bake for 15–18 minutes until crisp and a deep golden brown. Sprinkle the finely grated Parmesan over the

buns and return to the oven for 2 minutes. This will give a crisp, savoury top to the buns.




By Well Seasoned, May 23 2018 11:53AM

We’ve had some fantastic weather already this year and as I look out the window across a hazy London skyline I can confidently say summer is finally in sight. It’s time for long, cooling drinks, barbecues and lazy days in the garden. These two recipes, from our May and June chapters will help you make the most of the sunshine.


Near us, the elderflowers are just coming into bloom and you’ve probably got two to three weeks to gather your haul. Likewise, the herb garden is at its peak right now, before the scorching hot weather arrives, which will often be too much for delicate basil plants, so it’s time to get picking and make a batch of pesto.


Harry McKew’s elderflower cordial (by Jon)


Harry McKew was my grandfather and a master maker of cordials, jams and pickles. He taught me a great deal of what I know about preserving. While I was researching the book, his original recipe, written on a tatty scrap of paper, fell out of the pages of an old paperback. It’s as if he wanted me to share it with you. 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.


makes approximately 1.5l of cordial

25 elderflower heads

1.7l water

1.5kg sugar

4 oranges and 2 lemons, chopped

50g citric acid (available from chemists)


1. Cut off any leaves and inspect each elderflower head for any insect passengers. Pour the water into a large pan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Add the heads, fruit and citric acid to the pan. Stir well then cover and leave to infuse for 24–48 hours.


2. Strain the liquid though a clean tea towel or muslin, then pour into sterilized bottles and seal.


3. To serve, dilute the cordial about 10:1 with still or sparkling water. (You can also add it to sparkling wine for a classy dinner-party aperitif.)



Basil pesto (by Russ)


As a taste of summer goes, basil has to be high in the charts; an association with Mediterranean holidays, maybe? On a warm summer’s day, is there anything much better than a plate of perfectly ripe tomatoes drenched in good olive oil, strewn with freshly torn basil leaves and finished with crunchy sea salt, perhaps with a chilled glass of good rosé to hand? There are various types of basil used in many different national cuisines but I guess the strongest association is with Italy and genovese pesto. In Dino Joannides’s excellent book on Italian cuisine, Semplice, he talks about the unique terroir where Ligurian basil is grown, the sweetness of its aroma and how the leaves are harvested young before being combined with pine nuts, pecorino cheese and the best sweet olive oil. As with other green sauces such as salsa verde, the actual recipe isn’t vitally important, as everyone has their own preference. The key is the best possible ingredients you can lay your hands on.


I have a love of Spanish Arbequina olive oil, a brand called Mestral, but you will have your own favourite. I like a little lemon juice in my pesto to give some acidity, but using a sharp pecorino cheese will help in this direction. Most recipes evolve over the years; when I was first taught to make pesto it was in large quantities in a food processor and we always toasted the pine nuts, but I have come to prefer using untoasted ones for a sweeter, creamier flavour. Old Winchester cheese is a good alternative to the Parmesan often used in pesto, but feel free to blend and experiment.


Making pesto is a great way of extending the season or using up a glut and isn’t the exclusive domain of basil. I find wild garlic pesto (see recipe on p. 70) keeps well in the fridge for several weeks, but basil pesto has more delicately nuanced flavours and is best served as fresh as possible. Equally important if you are using pesto in a hot dish is to add it at the last minute to preserve the colour and flavour.


serves 4 for a pasta main course


1 clove of garlic

1 tsp Maldon sea salt

30g pine nuts

50g basil leaves, roughly chopped

20g pecorino, coarsely grated

30g Old Winchester, coarsely grated

50–60ml light, fruity olive oil

1–2 tsp lemon juice


1. Using a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic, salt and pine nuts to a paste. Gradually work in the basil leaves, pounding and rotating with the mortar.


2. Once all the basil has been incorporated, mix in the cheese and then the olive oil. Check the seasoning and add a little lemon juice to taste. You can, of course, use a food processor for this – just check that the blades are sharp and use the pulse button.


By Well Seasoned, Apr 30 2018 03:14PM

Rooks were once eaten in large numbers in Britain and especially on Rook Sunday - the Sunday closest to 13 May - when it was common to raid rooks' nests for fledgling birds (also called "squabs" or "branchers"), which start to leave the nest in late spring. The young birds were the main ingredient in rook pie, a celebrated delicacy in parts of the country. The practice has all but died out now although you will very occasionally still find rook for sale in high end butchers and game dealers.


These members of the crow family are very sociable and you'll most often see (and hear) them nesting in their hundreds in tall trees to the side of open farmland. Rooks have thinner beaks and a light, bare face whereas crows have black beaks and faces, but if you have trouble identifying them, remember the country saying that "a crow in a crowd is a rook and a rook on its own is a crow."


Since we're talking about birds we don't usually eat, it's worth a mention of one other this month. In April we saw the start of the season for an ingredient that has one of the shortest periods of availability - asparagus, which is around for just 8 weeks. Well, this month we can go one better.


The season for wild gulls eggs usually kicks off in the last week of April and runs until mid-May – just three weeks - until the birds begin sitting on their nests. A tiny (and shrinking) army of just 25 government-licensed collectors is be permitted to raid the cliffs of our coastline, taking a single egg from each nest of black headed gulls.


Before you scramble out of the front door to get hold of a box of gulls eggs, there are a few reasons why you might not be too concerned about this particular foodie season.


First, despite their beautiful appearance, gulls eggs don't actually taste that different. Whilst aficionados will tell you that they are creamier and gamier that hens eggs, the truth is that unless you have pretty refined taste buds, you won't have an eggy epiphany when you crack open the speckled shell of a gull's egg.


Secondly, from an ethical perspective, some conservationists (including the RSPB) have expressed concerns over the possible impact of the collection on the gull population, which has, in the recent past been in decline. Numbers do now appear to be on the increase again and the RSPB's concerns mainly relate to unauthorised collection by people who cause damage to the nesting sites.


Tim Maddams - the Ethical Foodie blogger for the Ecologist magazine recently told me there is "No shortage of gulls - in fact probably the opposite due to human wastefulness. [It's a] sustainable harvest that helps reduce numbers." However, the species remains on the Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC) Amber list as a species with "unfavourable conservation status", so definitely one to keep an eye on.


Finally, and possibly most importantly, they are wallet-scarringly expensive. A single egg will set you back up to fifteen pounds in London's trendiest food quarters. Now, given the hard work required to collect them, it's not necessarily bad value for money as such, but they are unlikely to be your choice for a quick omelette, especially if you've got guests round. This is perhaps why every year a good proportion of the eggs collected are eaten not at home but in the poshest restaurants and at special Gulls Egg Dinners held in London's swankiest gentlemen's clubs (and why I've chosen a picture of hen's eggs to accompany this piece...)


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