Category Archives: Foraging for fruit

Five food themed activities to keep the kids entertained this summer

So here we go, the school holidays are upon us and if you are anything like me (a bit last-minute) then you’ve barely begun to think about what to do with the kids. Its fine if you are lucky enough to have the summer off, but for me it’s such a busy time. With work most weekends its difficult to plan a big holiday, so what I tend to do is save that big holiday for spring or Autumn and just do day trips, activities and maybe the odd weekend away camping. One of the things that takes up a lot of time is the Green Man festival. My work period stretches for a tiring three and half weeks and I’m away the whole time. That makes for a big chunk of the school holidays, but there is still the odd week where there are no exciting plans and we want something interactive to do, or sadly we have to work. So how to keep my boy entertained?

Well he and I checked out a few ideas for things to do in over the summer …when his boring parents are otherwise engaged and there are no friends about to hang out with. Between us we came up with a list of five fun food themed and outdoor activities (he likes food and this IS a food blog after all) ranging from the most expensive to the almost-free. Reviews are by me, with added comments from Aidan age 10 and a half.

1. Young Cooks Holiday Kitchen at The Bodnant Welsh Food Centre  runs courses throughout the summer. Kids get the opportunity to make their own nachos with refried beans, guacamole, salsa from scratch, a five bean chilli to take home and bananas with chocolate chimichanga sauce.

Courses cost £45 which makes them a more expensive option but this includes all the ingredients. They run between 10am and 1pm and take place on the 30th and 31st July and 9th and 29th August. They do get busy so booking is essential.

Call 01492 651100

On the 27th/28th July the centre will also be hosting a children’s fun festival with games and lots of food themed entertainment for all the family.

If you don’t live in Wales check out your nearest cookery schools online or give them a call to see if they have special activites planned for the holidays.

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childrens course with eira 5th April 4

Photos courtesy of Bodnant Welsh Food Centre

2. On a similar theme, but a little cheaper…how about spending the day making your own chocolate lollies? North Wales based chocolatiers Baravelli’s are offering bespoke courses where kids get to create their own delights. Prices are £15 per child for an hour and a half session, with a maximum 6 to a group. Kids must be accompanied by a parent (as this is a hands on exercise it’s just as fun for parents to get involved) and at the end you get to take home the things you’ve made….if they last that long!

They also run 3 hour courses for older teens/adults where you can make your own chocolate truffles or learn cake decorating techniques. These run for 3 hours and cost £40 per person and again, you get to take home all you have made (which is apparently a lot).

To book a course call Mark on 01492 338121

3. For a fuller day of child care how about giving the kids a taste of the great outdoors? The aim of  Wonderwoods is to ‘get kids back outside being kids again’ and what kid can resist a bit of den building, some foraging and the lure of cooking on an open campfire?

Sessions will be running on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the first two weeks of the school holidays starting this Tuesday (23rd July) and then the last two weeks.  Sessions cost £20 a day but they offer a £10 reduction for kids attending all three days (each week). The club runs from 10am until 4pm. For more information call Jon on the number on the poster below.

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My two guest reviewers Aidan (10) and his mate Maisy (11) spent the day and this is what they thought.

“The games at the beginning were a bit babyish for me, but it got better when we made fires and started cooking”. Maisy was the only girl and the oldest in the group. She enjoyed the hands on activities like fire and swing making and cooking pancakes the best but thought that perhaps it would be better to divide the kids in two age groups as she found some of the younger boys a bit annoying.

“I’d never made a swing or a hammock before and that was cool” Aidan was the second oldest, but was less irritated with the younger lads. He’s a laid back fellow generally and enjoyed all of the hands on activites, but agreed the games at the beginning were a little young for him. Nevertheless he want’s to go again so that’s as good a reference as any!

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chopping wood for the fire

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making the fire

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kids just love making fire!…Later they made and cooked pancakes and strawberry jam to go on top!

4. Celebrate fish! On the last weekend of the school holidays (31st August) it’s the inaugural Menai Seafood Festival. Based around the harbour and waterside in Menai Bridge it celebrates all things fishy, highlighting the coast and sea life that surrounds Anglesey and Gwynedd. Dylan’s Restaurant are the driving force behind what should be a busy, action packed, family day out. With rib rides, seashore safari’s with Anglesey sea zoo, educational talks from Bangor University marine biology team, watery themed art workshops, local music and a number of talented local chefs cooking up a  plethora of crustacean and pescatarian dishes to sample there is something for both adults and kids alike. All that and it’s free!

5. Last but certainly not least why not spend an afternoon picking your own fruit? Always fun. It whiles away a couple of hours in the sun (something we have plenty of at the moment), you can eat while you pick and still bring some home for tea. Hunt for your local pick your own farm online or ask at a farm shop, or just take a trip into the countryside surrounding you and see what you find….the two closest to me (one in Tregarth and one on Anglesey) are…

Moelyci Community Farm  is open for picking between 12 until 7pm everyday. They have plenty of strawberries, raspberries, loganberries and huge quantities of currants (red, white and black). Prices are very reasonable and the setting is stunning.

Hooton’s  PYO site is on the A5025 just one mile from Menai Bridge in the direction of Pentraeth – LL59 5RR (Look out for the signs). It’s open between 11am and 5pm during peak season.

Aidan says:”it’s great because it doesn’t cost much, you can eat loads and take stuff home to make all sorts of things like Eton mess” 8/10

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Blackcurrants ripe for picking at Moelyci

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***THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED WITH PICTURES AND COMMENTS AS AIDAN ATTENDS THESE ACTIVITIES. THE SEAFOOD FESTIVAL IS THE EXCEPTION AS IT DOESN’T HAPPEN UNTIL THE LAST WEEKEND OF THE HOLIDAYS

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Love foraging…How about a fungi foray this weekend?

 

fungi found at last years forage

…Well if you do come along to Moelyci’ Environmental Centre’s annual Fungi Foray this Sunday the 14th October.  This year is a special 10th anniversary edition and as its one of the most successful events in their yearly  calendar you’d be a fool to miss it! Its great fun, family friendly and hugely educational!! What John Harold (Moelyci ecologist) and Nigel Brown (of Treborth Botanic Gardens) can’t tell you about fungi really ain’t worth knowing!

The afternoon kicks off at 2pm with a brief introduction to fungi and their importance for the planet, after this eager foragers will be let loose around the farm, hill and woods to search the rich habitats of Moelyci for fungi large or small. The record for this event was set in 2006 when 126 different species of fungi were found in a single afternoon, lets see if we can beat this on Sunday!

Foragers should bring with them a shallow basket or tray to keep your precious finds in perfect condition. Once collecting has finished the resident experts will help foragers identify their finds and learn a little about the different life cycles each specimin represents.

The event is free and runs from 2pm til about 5pm. Knowing our weather it would be wise to bring wellies (an absolute must) and waterproofs, plus a shallow collecting basket or tray. This really is a great family friendly event for all ages but children must be accompanied by a responsible adult.

Directions to Moelyci can be found here

Foragers

Images courtesy of Moelyci Environmental Centre

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I’m back! Plus some new dates

I feel as if I’ve been away forever. After a brief holiday (a lovely family trip around Ireland) I spent one day at home before heading off to Global Feast in London.

I spent the week planning, preparing and cooking at what was a hugely rewarding event. I loved it. Met lots of amazing people including other supper club hosts from around the country and generally enjoyed a bit of city life and the buzz around the Olympics.

After this whirlwind I returned home for two days before disappearing once again, this time to Crickhowell and The Green Man festival. This was the most intensive period of cooking of the summer. Up at six thirty every day and not finishing until nine at night. I, plus one helper, prepared, cooked and served four meals a day to the hungry crew and production team for a grand total of fifteen and a half days. In between I got to enjoy the festival plus a few extra days camping before it began.

Now I’m back! Its taking a while to recover so sadly I am cancelling Saturday’s planned supper club. We will restart a bit later in the month. With hindsight I think I was a little over ambitious believing I would have it in me to plan and shop so soon after my return, but I am looking forward to the Autumn and all the exciting jobs and supper clubs I have coming up. I’m already booked to run a couple of school based mentoring sessions and two private dinners, but there is plenty of room for open events. Planned dates so far are….

Sunday 16th September – Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens: Harvest at Moelyci: Preserving the Harvest

I will be running two sessions (morning and afternoon) on jam and chutney making. This will include my own personal tips on how to get the best from the fruit and vegetables we collect, plus practical sessions where I will teach you how to make two of my best-selling preserves. There will be recipes and sheets for you to take home.

These sessions will be fun and interactive and are free but registration is essential. Please register here

Our first two supper clubs will be on….

Friday 28th September – Supper Club – Open to all

Saturday 29th September – Supper Club – Singles night

Possibly we will stick with the Indian Summer theme….a fusion of spices, dishes, incorporating Indian flavours with a Western twist…but this has yet to be confirmed.

Look forward to seeing you soon xx

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Wild garlic and thyme

Wild garlic,ramsons, Allium Ursinum, bear’s garlic, devil’s garlic, gypsy’s onions and stinking Jenny are all names given to a plant that grows widely in damp woodland around Britain and in Europe. Despite its many pseudonyms I’m sticking to plain old wild garlic because that is what I (and many others in the UK) know it as.

Wild garlic only has a short season. It’s almost a case of blink and you’ll miss it in Wales. It only really starts to show itself at the end of February (depending on how mild the weather is) but now the signs are that the season is coming to an end (you can tell when it begins to flower). I have a huge wild garlic patch in my garden and while its there I like to take full advantage of it.

There are many reasons for eating wild garlic and it has so many reported health properties (good for the heart, the blood, high blood pressure, digestive cleansing among them) although I just think it tastes damn good. But then I am a big fan of garlic, which generally is good for you anyway. The only group who should avoid wild garlic are breastfeeding mothers…but only because it supposedly makes the breast milk taste of garlic! Breastfeeding didn’t stop me eating garlic and now they both love the stuff!!

I use wild garlic in lots of things. I’ve blogged about making wild garlic puree before (it makes the perfect finish to a delicate creamy soup) and I often add a chopped handful to a home-made minestrone. Salads cry out for a few added leaves and of course the flowers are edible too, so they can be used for flavour and prettiness.

This weekend I tried them out in a Spanish tortilla along with some fresh thyme, which is just starting to wake up in the garden too.

Wild garlic and thyme; they make such a perfect combination. Mixed with potatoes, red onions and olive oil they create a dish of perfect simplicity. Add the eggs and bake in the oven and hey presto you have an easy, tasty supper…or in this case a dish that when cut into squares made the perfect addition to our tapas menu at supper club.

For your tortilla which will feed six (very hungry) to eight people you will need:

700g waxy potatoes (such as charlotte, maris peer), peeled, washed and cut into thinnish slices, 1 large red onion finely sliced, 500ml of olive oil, a handful of fresh thyme leaves, a handful of finely chopped wild garlic, 8 large eggs, a couple of good tablespoons full of finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper.

preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 5.

Warm half the olive oil in a large pan. Layer the potatoes and onions, thyme and wild garlic in the pan. Pour over the rest of the olive oil (yes I know it uses a lot but the aim is to poach the potatoes in it. You can save it and use it again afterwards), cover the pan and cook gently for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Beat the eggs, parsley, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Drain the potato and onion mixture saving the olive oil for another day. Add potatoes to the eggs and mix together. Transfer it all to the pan and put in the oven for about 20 minutes or until set and just turning brown on top.

You can serve this hot or cold and it’s best accompanied by a salad dressed with a sharp acidic dressing.

NB: Choose a pan that can be used on the top of the stove and in the oven.

Another NB: Take care when picking wild garlic. If you are not sure what you are looking for ask someone who knows…Wild garlic can easily be mistaken for Lily of the Valley…which is poisonous (although really, if you crush the leaves and they smell like garlic you’ve probably found it correctly).

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Incredible edible hedgerows

All kinds of interesting jars decorate the table on arrival

I have to say I love meeting other foodies…and I especially love meeting foodies who have the same philosophy as me, so when I went to visit Jules Cooper at her 17th century cottage and six and a half-acre small holding last week, I knew I’d discovered a kindred spirit.

Although we’d never met, Jules welcomed me in to her home with open arms. It soon became clear as we chatted over a pot of steaming coffee and home-made chocolate brownies that she is the kind of person who would be happy to welcome anyone and everyone that shares an enthusiasm for nature and food. It’s an opportunity for her to share her ideas and passion and talk about her mission. Yep that’s right, Jules is definitely a woman with a mission…and one that I wholeheartedly support; that is to reconnect people with nature.

There are important reasons why people should reconnect with their surroundings and Jules’s mission is primarily about education (or perhaps re-education). Talking about why it is important to buy local produce is one thing, but encouraging and enthusing people to grow their own, as well as reviving the old skills of preserving and making the most of what nature provides us with, in the form of fruit from our native hedgerows is quite a challenge.

Amazing medlars...a fruit that looks like a cross between an apple and rosehip...but Jules's were huge!!

But it shouldn’t be and these days a return to using native seasonal produce is a band wagon that TV chefs are jumping on left right and centre. For Jules though this love for wild and native foods is not a new thing, in fact its been a big part of  her life since she was a child. I empathise with that and often have conversations with my mum about how granddad picked wild horseradish from across the field and I have plenty of my own memories of blackberrying and apple scrumping.

In today’s unstable economy where the cost of living is rising (almost daily!) and families everywhere are struggling to make ends meet, a return to a more sustainable way of life makes sense. If everyone took this approach then our native British produce and hedgerows would not be dying out. I can hardly believe that 90% of cherries in the shops are imported from overseas. Watery and insipid they are not a patch on the fruit from the Kentish cherry tree that grows in my mum’s garden. While we in Wales may struggle with cherry growing, we certainly have the climate to grow a variety of apples, pears, plums, damsons (to name a few).

As Jules and I took a wander around her land it was easy to imagine her vision; a fully self-sufficient small holding, with vegetables grown to permaculture principles, thousands of mature native fruit trees and shrubs and healthy well-developed hedgerows.  Although she is only 1 year into her 10 year plan things are already taking shape; a multitude of edible and medicinal fruit trees and shrubs have been planted, as has a long willow shelter belt to protect the garden from the wind along with red alder to make sure nutrients are retained in the soil.  The first of her raised beds are in situ and behind all this is what appears to be a very large hole! Eventually, Jules assures me, it will become a natural swimming pool planted with a variety of edible plants.

Grafting pear tree stock onto Hawthorn...they are part of the same family

hens roam free...rare breed silkies amongst them

Indian runner ducks

first of the raised beds

protective willow band behind which is the beginnings of the edible swimming pool and the hill where the forest garden will one day be

There is also a growing interest in her method of preserving fruit in the form of fruit leathers. Fruit leathers are 100% preserved fruit with nothing added. As we passed the  400 year old hedgerows that border her garden, laden with wild plums, sloes, blackberries, hawthorn, wild cherry and gorse (yes you can make things with gorse!!) she told me how the making of fruit leathers is an old skill; more common in hot mediterranean, African, middle eastern countries where the sun does the job naturally. Back here in Wales Jules uses a dehydrater which dries fruit mixtures to produce these flat, highly transportable fruit strips. Imagine the fruit winders you get in the supermarket but with more flavour and no added crap. They are perfect for sticking in a lunch-box, or taking on a walk or hike and universally popular with the kids who seem much braver than adults at trying these things. Jules suggested another good use is to infuse in hot water to make a fruity drink. They also get better the longer they are left as their natural flavours seem to develop and mature.

Jules showing me her fruit leathers...looking beautiful as the sun catches their natural colours

apple fruit leather inset with stars of raspberry I think it was

As we sat around the table we played a game of guessing what each strip was. Some flavours hit me immediately; Bramley apple, pear and cinnamon, while others were extremely subtle like the sloe and apple, which wasn’t ask sharp as I thought it would be. Then there were those fruits with a subtle undertone of ginger, cinnamon or star anise. Not immediately obvious, but just enough to accentuate the fruit flavours.

I left Corn Helyg inspired clutching samples to try at home and very much looking forward to seeing how the venture pans out. Jules has already been approached to give talks and demonstrations plus she will be running stalls at various events promoting her business and handing out tasters of those fabulous fruit leathers. Hopefully she will go from strength to strength, encouraging and inspiring people to start growing again, even if it’s just one or two edible plants in a small pot on a windowsill.

On my return home I tried out my samples on my nine-year old gastro-kid who declared them all delicious, even the unusual sloe and apple, before relaxing with a hot toddy of Bramley apple and cinnamon.

If you are interested in what Jules is doing at Corn Helyg you can drop her a line at jules@cornhelyg-permaculture.co.uk or give her a call on 01407 731 115. I’m sure she would be happy to share her coffee, brownies and ideas with you too.

Denise x

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Apple day

In my view British apples are one of the best things about the Autumn. With their varying hues of red, green, russet and gold and different textures and tastes their diversity is really something special….so special that they have their very own day!  Apple Day is on October 21st and although we didn’t manage to celebrate it, we did get to enjoy our very own apple day the following weekend.

Anyone of a certain age that grew up in Britain will have eaten apples as part of their diet. We had them in our lunch boxes, as an after school snack or in  crumble or pie for dinner. Many of us will no doubt, remember being told by our parents that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. These days it seems their advice was correct! For a start they really do have a lot of purported health benefits  (offering preventive effects against all kinds of conditions from cancer and Alzheimer’s to detoxifying the liver and calming irritable bowl syndrome). They are great for the teeth and if this wasn’t enough they are delicious, amazingly versatile, cheap, plentiful and with so many varieties (according to the British food website in excess of 1200!!) that’s a lot of different apples to choose from.

Once upon a time we all loved our native fruits and appreciated they came in all shapes and sizes, but these days the supermarkets bombard us with shelves full of artificially ripened second-rate imports, all are a uniform size and shape which make todays consumer think that anything not conforming to this notion of  ‘perfection’ is no good. My mother always said waste not want not and when we were growing up we certainly couldn’t afford to waste a thing. We grew our own produce and picked fruit from the hedgerow…and that was on the outskirts of London! We didn’t care about car fumes, we were just excited about finding free food. So what if it grew by the side of the road, we just washed it when we got home. Todays throwaway generation seem to be missing out on those simple pleasures. They have no idea how to live a sustainable way of life, they think its money that grows on tress and food only comes from the supermarket!. Does that make me sound old and grumpy?  Probably. But I do think we should bring back hedgerow picking and scrumping…While I  hope nobody ends up with an ASBO for scrumping, I really think it would do our kids good to learn about and treasure our natural and local resources and how to live a simpler way of life.

You’ve got the idea that I love apples, so I was really excited to be invited to the Dros Y Fenai, slow food group apple day, hosted by Alison and David of Halen Mon salt. The information sent to me said to bring along leftover apples which would be put into the apple press and turned into fresh squeezed apple juice. Great for my apple juice loving kid!

In fact the day was much more than this, it also taught our kids about our native apples, how they differ in flavour  and to love them in all their forms, from the stray windfalls that blow to the ground, to the small unloved and rejected ones and the ones that look decidedly ugly. David and Alison have about 25 plus apple trees on their property and every year they harvest enough fruit to press and sell a couple of hundred bottles of juice. It was lovely being part of the juice making process and the kids got involved without hesitation. They really got stuck in with enthusiasm. First they washed the apples

then fed them into the apple chopper which turned them into a mush ready for the press

feeding apples into the chopper

apple mush in the bucket

the mush was then scooped out into special gauze wrappers. These were piled one on top of the other in the apple press

before being pressed to squeeze out the juice into a massive bucket.

We also got to use the small juicer. Our apple supply was small in comparison to the hundreds stored in Davids barn, so it was much easier for the kids to use a smaller machine to produce their own bottles from their own fruit..

Once squeezed we eagerly tasted our juice. The Bramley produced a much sharper tasting juice that Davids mixture of Peasgood’s nonsuch, Bramley seedling and Adam’s Pearmain which was much sweeter.

The juice had a brownish look to it where it had started to oxidize so David added a teaspoon of vitamin C to restore its greenish colour. He explained that most people “drink with their eyes as well as their mouth”, they like to see apple juice that’s green, but its addition isn’t totally necessary.

The kids then bottled their juice and popped it into the boiler to pasteurize (which meant it would keep for a year….well thats if they didn’t drink it the minute they got home!). To pasteurize the bottles needed to heat in a covered pan to 75 degrees for 20 minutes.

While this was doing and before heading in for lunch we took a walk around the walled garden where most of the trees were. The kids went off to forage for good-looking wind falls. One tree, a Newton Wonder, another fab British cooking variety (only sweeter than a Bramley) had been left unpicked and so they swiftly set to clearing the branches and filling the basket provided (actually we all got involved).

The weather turned drizzly and we all headed into the warmth of the kitchen where Roger (retired chef) had prepared a lovely lunch. Pumpkin soup, bread, cheeses, salads, toffee apples for the kids, tart tatin and of course as much apple juice as we could drink!

Really delicious pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed pesto

The day was fantastic fun and the kids loved making their own juice to take home. They talked about it for several days afterwards and Aidan’s friend returned home full of praise and excitement.

It was equally successful for the adults and I’m sincerely hoping someone gets me a Dros y Fenai family membership for Christmas so we can enjoy many more hands on events for kids and adults.

A days apple pressing followed by lunch cost £5 a head for adults and £3 for children. You can find out more information about Slow food UK here or email alison@halenmon.com

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Recipe: Pumpkin jam (or there’s more to pumpkin than soup and lanterns)

It’s that time of year again when any house with resident kids rush out to buy one of those large orange things, only seen once a year, that overflow from the supermarket shelf for about a week only to disappear again shortly afterwards. Many people have no idea what to do with them (apart from the obvious lantern) and so hundreds end up binned, without so much as trying to put the scooped out innards to good use.

It’s a shame that many people find pumpkin so difficult to deal with. I love pumpkin. I’m so glad they are now in season as they are one of my great Autumn pleasures. While the stereotypical Halloween pumpkin only seems to stick around for a short while (no doubt all stocks are depleted over the Halloween period), there are still a variety of squash’s and gourds that make a more prolonged appearance.  When it comes to eating seasonally Pumpkin is what should be taking pride of place on our table. Not only do they look beautiful, they taste fantastic and because they are really a fruit they are totally versatile. Use them in a creamy comforting soup, roasted with some wintry herbs (like thyme and garlic or rosemary) or add some zingy spices; chilli, lemongrass or ginger gives an exotic edge as does a sprinkle of Zahar or Sumac or add sugar and spice and it turns into the filling for an all American pumpkin pie.

I’ve blogged about my pumpkin soup with chilli and ginger before and true to form I will be making it again this year, but I’m at risk of being predictable so I thought this year I’d also try something different, pumpkin and ginger jam. I know, it sounds weird, a bit like the tomato chilli jam I’ve made recently, but I found a basic recipe in one of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls columns, added a couple of touches of my own and voila! Pumpkin to last through the winter, to serve with Christmas meats or cheese or even on my toast. Now I just need to see if the kids will eat it!

Spiced pumpkin jam:

1kg pumpkin flesh chopped small

an inch of peeled and finely chopped ginger

a good pinch of pink peppercorns

a pinch of chilli flakes

the zest and juice of one orange and one lemon

600g sugar

Mix all the ingredients in a big saucepan and leave over night to macerate. I used 600g of sugar, but the original recipe used 900g so if it seems like it needs more sugar add another 100g. I don’t think the 900g is necessary.

The next day, bring the mixture slowly to the boil stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly for about 20 to 30 minutes or until it has reached a setting point. Test for a set by placing a saucer in the freezer until very cold. Then drop half a teaspoon of the jam on to it and see if a skin forms. If it does your jam is ready. Leave to cool and then pour into sterilised jam jars. The recipe only made four small jars, but the gorgeous jewelled orange colour and sweet but sharp taste reminded me of marmalade….our own British version!

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Old English Fidget pie

So many old traditional British dishes have wonderfully quirky and obscure names and Fidget (Fitchet or Figet) pie is one of them. I’ve seen it called Shropshire Fidget pie, Cambridgeshire or even Huntingdon fidget pie but I believe its origins may date back to Anglo-saxon times. As for the name; it’s been suggested that it was given because of the way the ingredients ‘fidget’ about inside the pie.

Fidget pie is a traditional farmers pie which was most often made for the farms harvest workers. Its main characteristic is the marrying of pork, onion and apple and sometimes potato: Meat, two veg and fruit (dinner and pudding all in one go!). I’ve seen recipes that use minced pork, ham or gammon, but I used my favourite dry cure bacon which gave it a slightly salty, smoky flavour, counteracted beautifully by apples, cider and cream.

I love these simple hearty dishes (see the Orwell inspired essay in wrote back in March) many of which had until recently dropped out of favour. But now, as we return to our traditions and once again embrace the national dishes and that characterise our changing seasons. I reckon its time Fidget pie made a come back!

Another reason for my decision to include it on the menu of last weeks wedding was that I found a fantastic variation in a wonderful recipe book I was given last Christmas. Elizabeth Hodder’s The Book of Old Tarts (yes, ha, ha, a friend with a sense of humour!) has I’m ashamed to say sat disregarded on my book shelf for far too long, not because there is anything wrong with the  recipes, some of them look far too tempting, but primarily because my teen hates ‘Quiche’ and it’s not particularly good for the waistline.

I really love crisp, buttery well made pastry though and pies and Quiche really come into their own when cooking for a big function or large buffet. They are hearty and filling and when there is no skimping on the filling, are absolutely sublime.

The bride wasn’t totally convinced when I ran it by her, but in the end she let me go with it and I don’t think anyone was disappointed and the simple Fidget pie won the day. It brought the most compliments out of the three different Quiche I made with its  unexpected and strangely unusual taste (which sounds strange seeing as it is such an old and simple dish). I have to say though, full credit goes to the fantastic local produce that went into its making…..which included apples straight from my tree!

Fidget pies on the table at the wedding...the unexpected success of the weekend!

Figet Pie:

Pastry:

225g plain organic flour

1 pinch of Halen Mon sea salt

115g Calon Wen unsalted butter

a small amount of cold water.

Filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large red onions

225g smoked, dry cure bacon chopped

450g eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced

1 tablespoon sage and 1 of parsley

2 eggs

150ml double cream

150ml organic Welsh cider (Taffy apple I used)

a grate of nutmeg, salt and pepper

 

Rub butter into flour and salt until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Add water a trickle at a time until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Cut the pastry into two pieces, one larger and one small. Roll out the larger part on a floured board and use to line a 23cm/9inch loose bottom flan tin. Prick the bottom and line with foil or greasproof paper and baking beans. Bake in the oven gas 6/200 degrees C for about 15 minutes then remove the foil/beans and bake for another 5 minutes until set and firm. This prevents your pie developing a soggy bottom.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the finely chopped onion gently until softening. Add bacon and continue to cook for a another couple of minutes stirring occasionally.

Put a layer of apples in the pre-baked case, then top with half the bacon and onion mixture, half the fresh herbs and some salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Add another layer of apple, followed by bacon and seasoning.

Mix the eggs, cream and cider in a bowl season lightly and pour over the top.

Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid. Dampen the edges of the case and pinch the top and bottom together to seal. Make a couple of slits in the top and brush with some extra beaten egg. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180 degree C/gas 4 and cook for a further 35 minutes until golden brown.

You can serve this as a dinner pie with potatoes, vegetables and gravy or cold with coleslaw and chutney as part of a picnic…or buffet.

 

 

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Out with the old and in with the new: a seasonal solstice supper

the end of the night...this time lots of food pics, but no people!!!

Now that midsummer is upon us and half the year is already gone, its time to bid farewell to some of my favourite early produce. Asparagus, which only pays a fleeting visit, sadly finished cropping this week and it seems the strawberries at Moelyci have almost finished too. I’m sure elsewhere they will continue for a while yet but I’m glad I have used and preserved plenty. But before I start to pine for these wonderful summer treasures, it’s a happy hello to all the rest of the joys of June. Redcurrants are plentiful in the fruit fields of Moelyci and in my garden at home; elder flowers are still with us and a new batch of black currants are on their way. I have been out collecting plenty of the elder flowers this week for cordial, champagne and to use in the dessert I made for supper club.

I also paid visits to my three favourite vegetable suppliers: Pippa and John who give me my weekly veg box currently have an abundance of beetroot, tender courgettes, sweet young carrots, new potatoes, lettuce, a variety of chard, basil; Paul at Moelyci who has all that wonderful fruit in the market garden shop as well as lettuces ready for harvesting and lots of fresh parsley (something I don’t have much luck with) and Hootons farm shop, which is where I’ve got my asparagus, and now they also have broad beans too.   All those vegetables have kept me busy chutneying, and I did have a good few jars of spiced courgette and beetroot relish until I sold it all on Sunday, but that’s another story! I also finally got round to bottling all the liqueurs that have lurked in the back of my cupboard since the beginning of March (Creme de Cassis, raspberry vodka, loganberry vodka and sloe gin) as I wanted to crack open the Cassis for supper club.

Supper club was also the perfect opportunity to try out my new toy. Inspired by Dave’s smoking exploits at Derimon I ordered myself a little Cameron’s stove top smoker; they aren’t cheap at £43 a go for a small one, but my goodness it was worth it. It came with two small tubs of smoking chips (Alder and Hickory) and a big bag of oak.

my new smoker

I decided to try salmon as a  first attempt and so following the instructions, and using Alder chips as suggested, I set up the smoker. Twenty five minutes later I gently slid back the lid to reveal a lightly cooked, delicately and perfectly smoked piece of salmon. It was remarkably simple, yet pleasingly effective. Once it had cooled I gently pulled the salmon apart, tossing it with some new potatoes and salad, olive oil and a dollop of horseradish cream. This then formed part of my pick nick to take to the teens sports day on Saturday afternoon so I could test it out on friends . The unanimous verdict was that it was absolutely gorgeous!

doing its thing

perfect hot smoked salmon

There was a full house at supper club this weekend, which saw us celebrating the solstice or midsummer, a birthday dinner, an anniversary, and a welcome visit from two regulars and a new friend. It was moderately boisterous and it was nice to see people relaxed enough to come and chat in the kitchen. The menu for the evening of course celebrated the best of the season

Prosecco with Cassis (does that make it a Kir Royale, or a Prosecco Kir or just plain Kir?) with ricotta, parma ham, basil and balsamic vinegar topped bruschetta

The we said goodbye to the asparagus in style with mini asparagus and parmesan souffle tarts ( a variation on my souffle-gratin recipe) served with beetroot relish and carrots and courgette slaw

tarts ready to bakeplating tarts on the bench in the kitchen

For main it was hot smoked salmon with pan-fried new potatoes, baby broad beans, asparagus and chard and topped with horseradish cream. I collected the salmon bright and early from Mermaid seafood in Llandudno (sadly our only decent fishmongers locally) who stock a fantastic array of local and sustainable fish. The fillets were a really good size, unlike those you might get in the supermarket. I cannot  emphasise how much better it is to buy fish and meat from a specialist: It is fresher, often local and the portions are so much bigger. I don’t think there is much difference in price bu if buying on the high street is more expensive…well you certainly get more for your money!

All I did was season the salmon with salt and pepper and squeeze over some lime juice. For the horseradish cream I used a tub of creme fraiche which I seasoned with salt and pepper and a pinch of cayenne then stirred in enough horseradish to taste, but not so it is overpowering. I used English Provender horseradish which was excellent.

Ideally, if I’d had the finances, I would have bought the large smoker, but i had no idea how accommodating the small one would be. In the end I was only able to fit three salmon fillets in it at a time, so had to cook in four batches, but I gave myself plenty of time and kept the salmon warm in the bottom of the oven. It was a simple dish; but in this case less was definitely more!

The elder flowers heads were wrapped in muslin and chucked in to heat with milk and cream, to impart a delicate flowery taste to another simple, but effective dish; Elderflower pannacotta. The light creaminess complimented the sweet sharpness of a strawberry and red currant coulis and fresh berries. I think I even saw one person rubbing his finger across the plate to get every last flavourful bit of coulis.

As ever we completed the meal with local Welsh cheeses, crackers and coffee. This time we included two hard but mild goats cheeses from Y Cwt Caws, our usual smoked brie from Derimon, a blue Perl Las from Caws Cenarth in Cardigan and we were lucky enough to be asked to sample a new Brie from Rhyd y Delyn, which was delicious although needed to be slightly riper we all thought.

A few lovely comments about the night, the first from Paola (of Dr Zigs Dragon Bubbles…if you ever need seriously GIANT bubbles these are the guys to call!)

“Just had the most awesome scrummy yummy tastiest glorious omgoodnes meal EVER at Moel Faban secret supper club. And met the most wonderful people! And we Bubbled too!! This is one of those things that just must be experienced to be believed – and really should be on everyone’s bucket list”

and from Anouska whose birthday it was…

“I’ve been eating out with Non for the last ten years and she usually complains about something. This is the first time I have ever heard her say that everything was delicious”

Thanks everyone it was a great night xxx

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Were jammin…and I hope you like jammin too!

I couldn’t resist adding the words of the great Bob Marley, since it was this song that kept popping into our heads as we slaved over a hot jam pot!

Life has been something of a trial this week, with various teenage shenanigans keeping us busy, and rather mentally and physically drained. The one ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy week has been the bit of pleasure gained from making and preserving all the lovely fruit we have in the garden and growing near by.  With summer now well and truly in bloom and our native summer fruits growing like mad it was time to take the initiative and make the most of it before the season passes (I can’t believe asparagus is already at an end!!)

And what a great way to lift the spirits!…a sunny days  fruit picking. It’s a great family day out, either relatively cheap, if not free and it doesn’t matter how old you are,  there is great fun to be had. Fruit picking can be anything from foraging for Bilberries on a mountain, stumbling across wild raspberries in the hedgerow or, for those city dwellers, simply taking a trip to a pick-your-own site, where you can greedily cram your baskets with as much fruit as possible (cramming half of it in your mouth along the way) and leaving with sticky red stained fingers and a load of brightly coloured summer treasures! I spend even more time picking now that I am selling produce as well.

At the moment we live on bowl after bowl of fresh strawberries, red currants and black currants, but I always keep in the back of my mind the thought that it will soon be over, so armed with that knowledge I always make sure I pick enough to make a good supply of jam, as well as sticking a few tubs in the freezer to whip out in the winter, when in need of a bit of summer cheer.

Strawberry and red currant jam:

I’ve often made red currant jelly and strawberry jam, but this combines both fruit to produce a slightly less sweet jam. I sold it at the Ogwen Agricultural show at the weekend and everyone that tasted it loved it! I guess it is a winning formula

I used just less sugar than fruit and had no problem reaching a set

1.5k strawberries (washed and hulled)

1.5k redcurrants (washed and stalks removed)

juice of 1 lemon

2.5k sugar

Put all the ingredients into a pan and slowly bring to the boil. Continue boiling fairly vigorously until a set is reached. You can tell if it’s reached a set by putting a teaspoon a saucer that has been placed in the freezer to chill. If the jam wrinkles when you drag a finger through it, it should be done. For ease I have invested in a jam thermometer, they are quite cheap and it should show you when the correct temperature has been reached. Boil at that temperature for about 10 minutes but keep checking for a set.

Once you have a set, pour the jam into clean, sterilised jars and put the lid on straight away. Leave to cool before labelling and storing. Jam should keep for up to a year (if not longer) if stored in a cool, dry, darkish place.

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