Tuesday June 09th 2009, 9:28 am

Fruits of The Earth - My preserving book

As the preserving season starts to get into gear I am receiving more and more interest for my jam making book, Fruits of The Earth, which is selling very well in the shop. Over the next two weeks there is an abundance of elderflowers to be picked and made into cordial. Local gooseberries are also only a few weeks away from being ready to harvest, so if the elderflowers are still in good enough condition by then they can be combined to make gooseberry and elderflower jam. The same with the strawberries that will be at their best over the next few weeks.

book review waitrose food illustrated
waitrose food illustrated book review for fruits of the earth

I am really pleased that Waitrose Food Illustrated has chosen the book to review and their recommendation is very favourable. Not that there is much time to dwell on these things – there are elderflowers needing to be gathered. If I make enough cordial there will be plenty to put in the freezer, as well as for making summer drinks to consume now, not to mention for use to flavour cakes, icings and ice cream. I will post the recipe next. It always amuses me when the lady in the chemist gives me a grilling about what exactly I need citric acid for. This substance is obviously useful for some underhand illegal activity of which I have no knowledge, making the assistant behind the counter obliged to ask. But it makes me feel like a rebellious middle aged anarchist under interrogation, not generally the image I project. Or do I …..!

Thursday May 28th 2009, 11:26 pm

viburnum opulus at The Laundry

The viburnum opulus I planted in my garden 20 years ago would have been the first thing I planted after moving in. I knew this shrub as guelder rose, and went to a garden centre to order one. A couple of weeks later when I returned to pick it up, I was presented with a gerber rose, a pink rambling country-style rose with a leggy habit! It seemed that fate had meant me to have this rose so I took a philosophical view and planted the rose in the garden instead. So that was the first plant I planted after taking residency. The guelder rose became the second.

viburnum opulus sterile detail

Now, 20 years on, my little shrub has become a massive fully grown tree that straddles the borderline between mine and my neighbours garden and every year, during May, it gives a really spectacular display, covered in pom-pom blossom that is totally lovely. I like it best when the flowers are just beginning to open, when they are a subtle shade of greenish white, and the balls of flowers are still quite small. The whole process begins and ends within the month, ending up with the big blowsy snowballs going over and dropping the individual flowerlets all over the garden in such abundance it looks as if it has snowed. While the flowers are in bloom they look great used like cut flowers in a large container and I have been using them over the last few weeks to decorate the shop. The display has provided a real talking point and customers have come up with several other names for the shrub including snowball bush and Whitsunboss.

viburnum opulus in the hedgrow

This variety of viburnum opulus is the sterile one more likely to have been commercially bred as a decorative garden shrub. The non-sterile version, often found in amongst the hedgerow, has much more modest blossoms but saves its real splendour for the autumn, when it produces bright red translucent berries that look like they are made of glass, very like redcurrants. Sterile flowers around the edges of the flowerheads open up but the smaller fertile inner flowers in the centre, when pollinated, will become the berries later in the year. Here follows a description captured in biological jargon about the blossom, which I think sounds strangely poetic: ‘Inflorescence – Terminal, flat-topped cymes. Compound and resembling umbels, to +13cm broad. Stalks glabrous to very sparsely pubescent.’ Both varieties have beautiful coloured foliage in the autumn.

viburnum opulus in the hedgrow

Sunday May 24th 2009, 11:29 pm

elderflower blossom just starting to come out

Being without a car for a few days this week has meant I’ve been walking to work, and even though it has been mainly tipping it down (with rain) it is such a great way to focus my attention on what’s going on around me. I have to make a real effort to live in the moment when there is always so much needs to be done to develop things for the future. It is very easy to let things and time go by unnoticed.

elderflowers just starting to come into flower.

The elderflowers are just starting to come into blossom. I’m glad I’ve realised this as it gives me a week or two to get prepared. I never make quite enough elderflower cordial, usually only enough to last for a few weeks. I’m hoping to make more than enough this year so I can put plenty in the freezer as well.

elderflowers in close up.


‘Woman Beaten up over Asparagus Prices’
Tuesday May 19th 2009, 7:41 pm

…..not my words, but those of Reuters. Asparagus is obviously a vegetable that generates strong feelings.

asparagus growing

I never buy imported asparagus. For me the whole point is to savour the all too short British season; the 8 weeks that runs from the beginning of May to the end of June, and then it is over for another year. I only really took a shine to this vegetable a couple of years ago. Before that I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I simply hadn’t cooked asparagus in a way that suited me so concluded it wasn’t for me. Now I absolutely adore the stuff and intend to make the most of it.
The key for me is to chargrill it and here’s how to do it. Wash the spears and break off the thick woody bit of stalk at the bottom if there is any (the stalk naturally snaps at this point). Blanch them in boiling water for just 60 seconds then remove to a piece of kitchen paper to dry them. Put a griddle pan to heat up, there is no need to oil the pan. Place the spears on a flat dish, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper then drizzle with virgin olive oil. Turn the spears over with your hands to coat them, then lay them on the hot griddle, hot enough so you hear them sizzle the moment they touch the ridges.
Griddle them for a few minutes (depending on the thickness of the spears) before turning them over and griddling the other sides. You are aiming for some black charred marks where they touch the pan. You can eat them just as they are or pile on top of pasta with pesto and finish off with grated parmesan. I can eat them like this every day (for 8 weeks!). I used to chargrill the spears without blanching them first but now prefer them done this way. It cuts down the grilling time and keeps them plump and succulent.

Bundles of English asparagus May 09

At My Corner Shop
Tuesday May 19th 2009, 5:21 pm

Artisan breads from La Bodega

One of the great advantages of opening my shop, The Laundry at Taurus, is that La Bodega has become my corner shop. La Bodega, the on-site organic delicatessen at Taurus Crafts is in fact the nearest food shop to my home, but now I only have to walk a matter of yards to pick up ingredients each day for lunch or dinner and I get the pick of the fresh produce the moment it arrives, either just harvested from the nearby market garden or delivered from other local suppliers.

Herefordshire asparagus

Friday is the day the fresh bread is delivered from a local artisan bakery. I haven’t made a sourdough loaf in ages as it is now just too easy to grab one from the deli. It is such a delicious sight when the trays, piled high with loaves, arrive and I make sure I’m near the front of the queue.

tomatoes on the vine

As well as the food and comestibles on sale, my neighbour, Jane Hale, sells her ‘country bunches’ there too; fabulous and subtle bouquets of wild and cultivated flowers and foliage. Many of her blooms are grown in her own country-style garden and she mixes in other stems of foliage and wild flowers gathered from the surrounding hedgerow and roadside and she always manages to capture the beauty, colour and fleeting quality of the countryside.

Jane Hale\'s Country Bunches

Jane Hale\'s Country Bunches

Deborah’s Allotment
Tuesday April 28th 2009, 12:42 am

Deborah\'s allotment

Tending an allotment is seriously fashionable these days but setting your heart on obtaining one wont necessarily mean you instantly get what you wish for. It all depends where you live and how many allotments there are in your area. The Forest of Dean, where I am, doesn’t have any council owned plots at all, as they were all dispensed with after the second world war and what allotments now exist come under the jurisdiction of various local parish councils.
My friend Deborah, who lives in London, was on the waiting list for an allotment for 18 years. After coming across the original letter from the council confirming her application she decided to chase things up and eighteen months ago was at last offered a plot on a site that runs along the edge of Hampstead Heath. Deborah isn’t a person satisfied to simply dig over the earth and plant a few seeds. In the short time since taking the allotment on, a rough unkempt plot has been transformed and landscaped with raised beds, paths and arches using reclaimed and recycled materials. Whatever she does is art.

Removing the forcing cover from the rhubarb

In London for a couple of days, I had Sunday morning free to pop down to the allotment to see how things were progressing whilst Deborah gathered homegrown ingredients for lunch. During the previous week, an impressive new cold frame has been built, seeds have been sown and vegetable seedlings started off in pots have been planted out.

Forced rhubarb

Last year Mick, from the plot next door, gave Deborah a rhubarb crown, substantial enough that it is already producing some stems that can be harvested. You should normally allow a few years for newly planted rhubarb to become established before picking. An upturned dustbin placed over part of it to starve the stems of light, revealed an armful of lovely sweet stems, beautifully pink with lime green leaves, when lifted away. Just enough to feed everyone for lunch. That was pudding sorted.

Rhubarb stems

Wednesday December 10th 2008, 5:18 pm

the tenbury wells mistletoe auction december 2008

Each year the Tenbury Wells Mistletoe auction is held over 3 days and I usually manage to remember after the event (regular readers will be familiar with this scenario). This year I put the date in my diary then two days before came down with the lurgey and spent a day in bed trying to recover enough to drive up to Tenbury. I’m so glad I made myself make the 70 mile trip, it would have been so easy not too.
The area where I live, the Forest of Dean, is one of the best places in the country for native British mistletoe, along with Herefordshire and Worcestershire, where a proliferation of orchards gives this parasitic plant plenty of opportunity to flourish. Changes in how orchards are tended may mean that, long term, mistletoe could be in danger, but for now at least, this is a bumper year and the berries are in abundance.

bundles of mistletoe at tenbury wells mistletoe auction 2008

The auction is quite a sight to behold with row upon row of bundled up mistletoe divided by channels of muddy ground for strolling down to peruse the quality of the lots. There is other foliage for sale as well with different varieties of holly covered with red berries and some, simply green and glossy, without berries. The sellers bundle up their wares in different ways, using bits of old plastic feed bags, woven groundsheets and various colours of twine and each bundle is then labelled with the sellers name and a lot number.

lots of mistletoe the tenbury mistletoe auction december 2008

It is a long cold day as the auctioneer and the buyers make their way along the lines and the successful bidders heave their winnings away, filling the backs of trailers, vans and cars for distribution throughout the country. If you buy some mistletoe from a florist over the next few weeks it may have come from this auction.

carrying bundles of holly bought at auction december 2008

Saturday October 18th 2008, 4:30 pm

roadside pumpkins

As ever, in my pursuit of more roadside produce, on this occasion I didn’t have to go very far. My neighbours, whose eggs I buy, were also today selling pumpkins along the wall beside their house.

Roadside pumpkins

The display looked so wonderfully seasonal and you can’t beat an honesty box. I think their dog is more likely to lick you into submission than bite off your leg if you decided to abscond with the goods. Not that round here we do things like that.

Pumpkin guard dog

Thursday October 16th 2008, 1:29 pm

The leaves of the sumac tree in autumn

For most of the year sumac trees are a pain in the garden as they send out runners all over the place that then grow into more trees. When you need to remove them it takes a considerable amount of digging to be sure you are rid of them. They do have a moment of glory though, when the leaves start to turn and you see them in their autumnal colour. That time is right now, so best enjoy them while you can.

The leaves of the sumac tree look amazing in the autumn.

Saturday August 23rd 2008, 5:33 pm

Aylburton Village Horticultural Show 2008

Today the village horticultural show took place. I was up at the crack of dawn doing research online to find out how my preserves needed to be presented for exhibiting, making labels and polishing my jam jars with white spirit. As it turned out the village show is slightly more relaxed than that and there wasn’t really any need for such a precise approach.
It was a good turn out. Runner beans seemed a popular category, a sure sign that they will grow no matter what the climate throws our way.

A magnificent truss of tomatoes

The biggest vegetable categories always hold a certain fascination with huge whopper marrows, a ginormous cabbage and a truss of tomatoes that would hardly fit on the table.

The giant marrow

I entered in three categories. The last one was really an afterthought based on my having noticed last year which categories had few entries, so cutting down the odds, or should I say making winning something of a dead cert. Lo and behold I won a first for my scented leaf geranium which only had one other plant to compete with.

Show shallots

My damson chutney won a second and my crab-apple jelly came third but competition was fierce in the jam and chutney categories.

crab-apple jelly exhibit

I was thrilled to come home with a first, second and third rosette and it is lovely to take part in such a special village event. The lady that won first for her blueberry and vanilla jam said it was only the second time she had taken part and last year she won a first as well. She obviously has the magic touch, sticky fingers you could say, so I have found out where she lives and intend to find out what her secret is. I have exactly a year to work on this!

prize winning tomatoes

More pictures from the show here.