Category Archives: preserving

Spicing it up with Steenbergs at Conwy Feast

Conwy Feast is my most favourite food festival. Official.

I admit I am somewhat biased. Conwy Feast has a lot going for it. It’s set in the most stunning surroundings, within the walls of Conwy Castle and overlooking the Conwy Estuary, and is right on my doorstep. This of course makes it even more personal because a lot of my friends attend, as do many of my regular supper club / food suppliers. I can’t move but end up in conversation and I love that!

What makes it even better is the superb variety of local music, performance and  entertainment from folk to reggae, latin, capoeira and giant bubbles (yes, lots of friends again…Bandabacana and Tacsi were my two must-see bands this weekend) to enthrall between the tasting and drinking and then just as it starts to get dark and you think it’snearly all over comes the grand finale; Blinc digital arts festival which uses buildings and spaces around the old town as a massive art installation.

Conwy Feast is the second largest food festival in Wales (the biggest in North Wales) and attracts the likes of Bryn Williams of Odettes, Hywel Jones of Lucknam Park and this year Laura Coxeter, vegan and raw food chef from Coxeters Fayre, who cooked along with several well-known local chefs; Jimmy Williams, Elwen Roberts, Angela Dwyer & Ian Watson…plus Gareth Jones, Great British Menu finalist and me!

With this year’s focus on seasonal foods, vegan cookery and local produce I suggested a preserving master class. I’ve run a few designed for beginners and the more advanced, but I wanted to make this one a bit different. For this demo I introduced a variety of more unusual spices kindly provided by the wonderful Steenbergs, UK specialists in organic and fair trade products. I love them and they certainly know their stuff not skimping on quality or beautiful packaging!

I used chilli flakes, mace, star anise, ginger, pink pepper corns and yellow mustard seeds to enhance the flavour of my tomato chillijam and pumpkin marmalade  and a sneaky vanilla pod (plus apple pectin) to pep-up my sugar-free strawberry jam.

I wasn’t sure if the latter was brave or foolhardy as I’d never gone completely sugar-free before, but I thought it was a good opportunity to test it out to see if it would work. In front of a live audience!!

Helped by Stephen, one of the very capable kitchen team from Llandrillo College, compered by Rhun ap Iorwerth BBC journalist, broadcaster and presenter and with my own personal photographer in tow (Kate W photography), I was so busy coordinating chopping, talking to Rhun and stirring three bubbling jam pots simultaneously that I was barely aware of how quickly my demo zoomed by. Before I knew it I had three set jam’s and tasters had been served out to the audience. The pumpkin marmalade was a big hit, the strawberry set even without sugar (proving you can, even if it is a little tart…I’m sure I saw Rhun wince as he tasted it). My one cock-up… testament to my total concentration on stirring and talking… one keen-eyed audience member said to me at the end,

“did you put the cider vinegar in the tomato jam?” to which I turned pale as I realised I hadn’t. Oh well, I’m only human and there was an awful lot to concentrate on. Everyone seemed to like it even without the cider vinegar, although in contrast to the strawberry this one was a bit sweet!!

 

At the end of the demo I promised the recipes, so here they are

Sugar-free strawberry jam:

1 kilo fresh ripe strawberries (mine were frozen ones from Hootons homegrown)

1 vanilla pod split in half

juice of one lemon

half a jar of Ciro apple pectin (available from any large supermarket)

Put all the ingredients into a large pan. Warm gently over a medium heat until it begins to bubble, then turn up the heat so it bubbles a little more fiercely. Stir occasionally until it begins to thicken. Don’t let it stick on the bottom. Test for a set by dropping a teaspoonful on a cold saucer. If it sticks and doesn’t run off it it’s set enough to jar.

** This jam is more volatile than one containing sugar so should be stored in the fridge. It’s more like a compote than a jam really, so you can eat it with toast or stirred into yogurt. If you find it a little too tart and you want to sweeten it with something, perhaps add a dessertspoonful of Agave nectar as I did when I made it again at home. It cuts through the sharpness just enough and has a lower GI than refined sugar making it a better alternative for those avoiding it.

Tomato chilli jam:

1 kilo ripe tomatoes (I used a selection of Moelyci heritage tomatoes)

a small chunk of fresh ginger (finely grated)

3 cloves garlic finely minced

1 fresh chilli minced or a couple of pinches of dried chilli flakes

1 blade of mace

1 star anise

half a teaspoon of crushed coriander seeds

500g granulated sugar

200ml cider vinegar

Warm the tomatoes, ginger, chillies, garlic and spices in a wide preserving pan with the sugar and vinegar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer over a medium heat so it bubbles quite briskly, stirring regularly, for about 20 minutes or until the jam has thickened. Pour into sterilised jars and store.

All photographs copyright Kate W photography. Kate is a London based freelance photographer and is available for commissions. Her photographs have been published in The Stage and The Voice magazines.

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Preserving workshops, Morrison’s magazine, BBC Radio ‘Wales on the Menu’ and a simple plea

So, another busy week ends and I have lots more exciting things to report, plus a heartfelt plea to my readers.

But lets start on a high note! Last week, as some people have mentioned to me already, there was a little piece in Morrison’s supermarket in-store magazine about supper clubs. Moel Faban was one of four mentioned and asked to contribute to the article. I’m not a big fan of supermarkets as most will know and tend to only use them for basics, so it’s slightly strange being written about by one, but also nice at the same time. It’s only a small mention mind (and they spelt Faban wrong), but its nice to have some recognition for starting the trend in Wales 🙂

On that note, it will be our third birthday this coming October. How time flies!! Keep an eye out for dates as we might have to have a special celebration!

The other thing that happened last week was that BBC Radio Wales’s Wales on the Menu programme contacted me. In it Simon Wright challenges home cooks to get their speciality dish on the menu of a top restaurant.  I like this programme myself, so when they asked me to pass the word out to my followers, or anyone that might be keen to take part in the new series I was happy to oblige. Lets see a few more North Walean cooks getting themselves on the map!

If you want more information about taking part, or know anyone that might be up for a challenge, you can email them at walesonthemenu@presentable.co.uk 

I finished the week catering for a big birthday bash on Saturday, followed by a day of preserving workshops on Sunday. Organised  by Moelyci Environmental Centre and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, they were a way of welcoming Autumn and celebrating the harvest.

Workshop photos taken with my camera by Emily @Moelyci: picture 1 showing a less than glamorous me (oh how I wish I was a little photgenic) with the morning group; then measuring out the fruit, Moelyci strawberries frozen during the summer months and then defrosted for jam making; and finally everyone in action!

When I say harvest it is with a little sadness that our British one is rather depleted this year. It is noticeably thin on the ground with the apple yield down (my tree only grew two very small apples), hardly any black currants in comparison to last year and most soft fruit faring badly in the face of a deluge of rain with little sun to even things out. Earlier in the year my Mum complained about the ruined Kentish cherry crop. Usually her little tree is positively bowed under the weight of fruit. This year they failed to grow…and when they did get going they failed to ripen. I missed out totally and have had little to turn into jam. The only thing I have plenty of is gooseberries which I picked and froze before I went away for the summer. They will soon be turned to jam and made into other lovely desserts.

On the day of the festival the heavens opened again and drowned us all day. Thankfully my two preserving groups (eight in the morning and eight in the afternoon) and I remained dry in our little catering marquee, warmed by three gas stoves and cheered by a heavenly aroma of fruit and spices which greeted the senses of anyone entering. We didn’t care about the rain.

When asked to run the workshops I doubted my own abilities. I thought that seasoned preservers would know more than me and put me to shame, but I surprised myself with the amount of jamming knowledge i have stuffed away inside my head. I not only passed on basic tips but encouraged experimentation and bravery. Each little group chose different spices and seasonings for their chutney; a little indian pickle spice here, some chilli flakes there, a bit of star anise and mustard seeds a plenty. In our jam session we tried different quantities of sugar (to see if it affected the set) and ways to tone down the sweetness of strawberry jam. Most of all we had fun. Which is what cooking is all about after all!

Moelyci is a regular host for such events but sadly it is, like many small organisations in the UK, being threatened by the recession. In recent months it has lost income streams that make proactive fundraising approaches necessary to make sure it survives.

Moelyci was once an industrious Welsh upland sheep farm owned by Penrhyn Estates. In 2003 the last tenant moved out no longer able to make a living from the farm. The farm was at risk of being sold and developed into a holiday home complex which would have destroyed the natural landscape (250 of its 340 acres now have SSSI and SAC European status). Instead the community got together, raised the income and a mortgage and saved the site for the local community. These days Moelyci has received critical acclaim for its conservation management, its social enterprise principles, educational opportunities, preservation of the areas natural heritage, market garden and abundant fruit fields. It’s been visited and filmed by Iolo Williams for S4C, BBC Countryfile and is a small hub of cultural opportunity. Everyone involved with Moelyci (not just myself) would like to see this grow and expand.

Sadly critical acclaim doesn’t pay the mortgage (which is a large one), or staff to run the place and take these plans forward. The centre is run by a small paid workforce, plus a dedicated band of volunteers who help with its upkeep and development. An elected group of volunteer ‘directors’ (of which I am one) help make and drive plans forward. Readers will know that I get a lot of produce from the market garden there and have been a visitor to the place long before I became a director. I have a vested interest of course, as do the employees who are keen to continue working there, but this is a valuable natural resource for the whole community too. Better this than a holiday home complex?

So why am I writing about this? Well this is the heartfelt plea I mentioned earlier. Anyone can become a member of Moelyci Environmental Centre. It has Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) status and it’s  co-operatively owned by its members. Like the Centre for Alternative Technology you can ‘buy’ non-profit making ‘shares’ which brings you membership. You will receive regular information, discounts on courses and the opportunity to rent an allotment on the site. If you don’t wish to do this you can make a one off donation, or just come along and buy produce from the market garden (they run a small veg box scheme) or bring along your green garden waste for composting. Moelyci is also an open access site so you are welcome to go for a walk across the hills and in the woods that surround the farm. All of this support will help make sure that Moelyci Farm, the land and the Mountain survives and develops for the benefit of the community, the environment and the future generations that will learn about its heritage. For more information email office@moelyci.org or phone 01248 602793 or simply pop in and visit this historic farm.

Thanks all xx

Image courtesy of Steve Jones @ Ultra(lazy)runner blog

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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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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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Slow roast shoulder of Moelyci pork with apple and sloe gin jelly

Earlier this year visitors to Moelyci environmental centre were surprised to stumble across six very large, happy pink pigs, brought in to turn over the land as a precursor to planting. They were a popular addition and Aidan loved them. He braved the electric fence (very low voltage worried parent readers) to climb in and make friends with them and in one delightfully malicious moment named one of them Roisin (after his beloved sister!!)

Roisin the pig

We paid those pigs a few visits over the summer so imagine our dismay when one very wet and windy day, while showing my Peckham dwelling cousin and his family the joys of mountain life we found the pigs were gone!

“oh no, they must have escaped” Aidan said…but us adults all caught each others eyes and inside we all knew the truth.

So did Aidan after we paid a visit to Moelyci at the end of the summer, for there in the freezer we found those happy pigs packaged and ready for buying.

I think its important for kids to know where their food comes from. Despite spending many years as  vegetarian I am I suppose, quite unsentimental these days. If we are going to eat meat then having some awareness of where that meat is produced, reared and slaughtered helps us make informed decisions about what we eat and where we buy it.

I watched Country file the other night and discovered that Britain imports 60% of the pork we eat. British pig farmers are apparently losing around £7 per carcass due to rising feed costs and the lack of appreciation in pork prices making it hard for them to continue producing, although pork remains the most popular meat globally taking up 42% of the market. Some of this is down to a continued lack of confidence in British pork following two foot and mouth bouts and an export ban, but also because European production methods are not so stringent. Intensive pig farming and lack of welfare guidelines in Europe mean that costs are kept low; they can cram more pigs into a smaller space, cut the energy they expend by not letting them run around and therefore feed them less.

In 2013 things will change as new regulations come into effect bringing European production into line with us, so levelling the playing field. But in the meantime we in Britain can be discerning consumers. If we buy locally, or at least British, not only will it help our struggling pork farmers, but at least we know our meat has come from happy, well cared for animals, not ones forced into pens with little room to move and no chance for exercise!

Our pork shoulder was totally delicious. It was quite fatty which made great crackling, which I simply rubbed with plenty of sea salt and some crushed and ground spices.

As we sat down to eat we wondered whether it was Roisin we were having for dinner….the real Roisin (an on-off vegetarian) looked less than pleased and Aidan said “that’s sad”, before tucking into a plateful. I’m now looking forward to receiving my half a pig for Christmas.

Slow roast pork:

I used two cloves of garlic, some pink and black peppercorns, coriander seeds and fennel seeds which I ground to a paste/powder in a pestle and mortar. I then rubbed it over the fat pushing it into the slits. Preheat the oven to gas mark 8 / 230 degree C. Place the pork on the top shelf uncovered. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes until you can see the skin starting to puff up a bit and harden into crackling then turn the oven down to gas mark 3/170 degree C for about 3 and a half hours. If the crackling gets too dark or begins to burn cover with a piece of foil and wrap loosely.

Move the pork to a serving dish to rest and cover with foil. Pour off all but a tablespoon of the fat from the tray then put it on the hob to make the gravy. Add vegetable stock to the meat juices and bubble away until you get a nice dark gravy. Strain and serve with the meat and crackling.

I served mine with some potato and swede colcannon, roasted parsnips and hone-made made apple jelly. The perfect Sunday dinner.

Apple and sloe gin jelly:

2 kilo of cooking apples (I used mostly windfalls which are fine for this)

1 pint of water

rind and juice of a small lemon

454 grams sugar to each 500ml (1 pint) juice

Cut and trim the apples removing any bad bits (you need to do this as adding them will cut the shelf life of your jelly) and put in a large preserving pan. You don’t need to peel and core them. Add the water and the grated lemon zest (make sure not to add the pith as this could make the jelly bitter).

Simmer until the apple is soft and mushy. Line a large sieve or colander with muslin or a jelly bag and put to stand over a clean bucket or pan. Fill with the apple pulp and allow to drip into the container. I often fold over the muslin and put a plate on top with weights just to help the process.

The following day, remove the plate and weights and with a pestle, end of a rolling-pin or your hand, give the muslin a good squeeze to get as much juice out as possible. Some say don’t do this as it makes the jelly cloudy but to be honest I don’t mind cloudy jelly and I would rather squeeze out as much flavour as possible. Measure the juice into a jug and pour into a large pan adding the proper amount of sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for five minutes before testing for a set. If it needs longer continue to boil until it wrinkles when you put a teaspoon full on a cold saucer.

Once you have reached the setting point switch off the heat and leave to cool for about five or ten minutes. Add a good glug of slow gin (or two) and transfer to warm sterilised jars. It should keep in a cool dark place for several months and store in the fridge once open.

 

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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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Filed under British food, Foraging for fruit, home cooking, local produce, preserving, Uncategorized

North Wales Daily Post food hero nomination and Welsh blogging awards

I was very excited to find myself nominated as a Local Food Hero in the North Wales Daily post on Tuesday.

It was a lovely piece that made me feel rather proud to have started my little supper club. I still love doing it as much as when I started, which unbelievably will be two years in October. We’ve come a long way since our first dinner. I’ve learnt many things; tried many new recipes, making up many of my own along the way as part of the journey and I’ve met some wonderful people from across Wales and further afield (Belgium springs to mind!) who I would never have met had it not been for these dinners in my living room.

There have been lots of nice articles about us in the press and of course the infamous Britain’s Best Dish appearance, which came about by an ITV researcher reading my blog.

Of course that’s not all, so many other things have sprung out of the experiment: I now sell my own jams and chutney (that have always been so popular at supper club) at the Ogwen local produce market and run a monthly pop-up brunch there, I have an increasing number of requests for private dinners and have bookings to cook for two weddings!

What next you ask? Well on the third of August I’m off to Crickhowell for ten days to cook for a very hungry Green Man festival crew, followed by another 5 day stint after the festival. More on this to follow. This will take me to the end of August when I will take my well-earned holiday!!

In the meantime, for those of you that enjoy reading my blog, have read my reviews or used my recipes, it would be fantastic if you could drop a line to the Welsh blog awards suggesting little old me!

Thanks everyone…keep reading and enjoying my foodie ideas and supper club dinners

Denise x

 

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Sunshine in a jar (jammin part II)

sunshine in a jar

Yep, more jammin…we really have been busy all week! This time a zingy alternative to the usual lemon curd…lemon and lime curd.

If there’s anything that will make you think of warm summer sun its lemon curd. Its origins in Britain can be traced back to the 19th century, which may well be when citrus fruits started to make a regular appearance in this country. Certainly lemon meringue pie was on the menu by then and Mrs Beeton, who is usually a good benchmark, uses what looks very much like lemon curd in her lemon cheesecake recipe.

Of course it’s not surprising that us brits took to making lemon curd. If there’s one thing we do well it’s preserving and we seem to love jamming, chutneying, bottling and curing anything we can get our hands on. In the winter it is a great way to get a vitamin C hit, when there is little else fresh about.

I’ve made lots of lemon curd and sometimes just plain lime curd, but I really like the lemon and lime mixture, it has enough acidity to make the tongue tingle, but with a little tropical kick. I also experimented with St. Clements curd (orange and lemon) but one taster described it as

“a compromise”

for those that can’t take the real thing. I thought about this and I’m inclined to agree, the pleasure of lemon curd is the sweet and sharp combination; with orange it’s all sweet without the kick.

Lemon and lime curd:

Juice of 4 unwaxed organic lemons  and 4 limes(plus the finely grated rind of 4)

8 eggs

450g sugar

200g unsalted organic Welsh butter, cut into pieces

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large heatproof bowl. Add lemon and lime juice and rind and continue to whisk until combined. Add butter. Put the bowl over a bowl of gently simmering water and heat stirring every now and again until the curd thickens. It can take up to half an hour so don’t try to rush it. Pour curd into hot sterilised jars. Lemon curd should keep for a good couple of months if stored in the fridge, but to be honest ours usually disappears within the first 2 weeks!

 

 

 

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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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Filed under baking, British food, Foraging for fruit, home cooking, preserving, Uncategorized