Autumn kitchen

I’m always in two minds about this time of year – one the one hand, I hate the days getting shorter and the reduced opportunities for walks with the dogs, but on the other these couple of months are always associated with happy times in the kitchen, as I preserve the harvest (mine and that of others). So, I am choosing to concentrate on the positives and spend time enjoying the abundance.

I went and bought lots of lovely vegetables – many locally produced – on Friday and have spent the past couple of days combining these with some home-grown produce to make passata, delicious soups and a second batch of sweet, hot chilli sauce. This year has been particularly good for chillies in the limery: I grew lemon drop, trifetti, Trinidad perfume, red and purple jalapenos and hot cayenne. In total, I’ve harvested approximately 2kg, but I haven’t kept track exactly, as I often pick a few to use immediately. Anyway, there’s more than 1.6kg in the freezer, we’ve eaten lots and each batch of chilli sauce uses 100g. In addition, there are still some yet to ripen in the limery and also there are the outdoor ones to bring inside.

Since we are close to ScrapHappy day, I do want to point out the use of “scraps” in my soup-making. Whenever we have meat bones, I boil them up to make stock, then freeze this in blocks. I never use a stock cube or stock powder, I just use my frozen stock and add whatever herbs and spices I fancy. On the bottom left above, you can see two blocks of lamb stock added to the chopped and lightly fried vegetables that became leek and potato soup.

And so, my freezer is filling up nicely – soup, chillies and little blocks of passata, as well as stock and roasted peppers from earlier on in the year – all ready to fend off the winter blues.

Going crackers

I’m rather a fan of crackers and cheese and of cheesy crackers on their own, but recently I’ve been unable to find any that didn’t give me pause. First, there were some lovely locally made crackers… they were delicious, but came with a lot of packaging. Then there were some lovely crispy treats that I bought from a farm shop in north Wales when I was on my travels… and discovered had been imported all the way from Australia (WHAT?) plus they had a lot of packaging. Then I found some different local ones, that not only had loads of packaging, but also were made with palm oil (I didn’t even buy these as I noticed before I put them in my shopping basket).

It’s just like the saga of the biscuits… the only solution is to make them myself. A quick internet search and I found a simple basic recipe (flour, salt, oil and water) that could be adapted. I made some with freshly ground black pepper and some with added cheese, and voila… plastic-free, palm oil-free, yummy crackers…

In the limelight

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Excellent books – especially if you don’t want to make huge quantities.

Since Friday I’ve been very busy, on and off, with lime-related activities – zesting, juicing and freezing quite a lot of them. I loved the suggestion (from several of you) about making lime curd, but then dithered over which recipe to use. Finally, I settled on one from Marisa McClellan’s book Food in Jars (which I’m pretty sure was recommended to me by one of you two or three years ago). I chose this recipe because it suggests using a boiling water bath after putting the curd into the jars to extend the life to as long as four months, compared to the usual week or two (not that it’s likely to last four months in this house). Whilst looking for the recipe I browsed through Marisa’s other book Preserving by the Pint and discovered an interesting recipe for something called Caramelized Meyer Lemon Syrup – a sauce that she suggests drizzling over yoghurt or waffles. Basically you caramelize some sugar and then stir in lemon juice and zest – I decided to have a go at a lime version.

So, this morning I set to and zested, juiced, stirred, boiled and bottled and produced two small jars of Caramelized Lime Syrup and two of Zesty Lime Curd:

I was devastated to realize that I’d got slightly too much lime curd for the jars, so I was forced to consume the left-over bit on some toast for my lunch.

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Homemade bread and homemade lime curd, using eggs laid by our own hens.

I still have a dozen limes unprocessed and I think a lime drizzle cake is on the cards for the weekend.

You can’t always get what you want

… or even what you expect.

For several weeks now I have been planning a Friday market trip, with the intention of buying winter vegetables to make some soup for the freezer. Two weeks ago we had torrential rain, so I decided to give it a miss; last week I had so much editing work on tight deadlines that I didn’t have time; but this week the weather was good and there weren’t too many piles of work to get through. So, I set my alarm clock and was leaving the house just after 7:30… before arriving back three minutes later because I’d forgotten to pick up the insulated cup of tea that I’d made to take with me in lieu of breakfast.

When I got down to Newcastle Emlyn, I was a little disappointed to discover no nets of leeks or parsnips. I could have bought a huge sack of swedes, but I really could not think of anything I might want to make with 20 of the things. So, I browsed around and discovered lots of nice veg in smaller quantities (they sell both big boxes and small amounts), so I selected some sweet potatoes and squashes (both always good for soup), some onions, six big fat red peppers and a couple of cauliflowers (Mr Snail loves cauliflowers and I’m rubbish at growing them)… and then my eye was caught by some boxes of tomatoes. Since, in my experience, it’s not possible to have too many jars of passata in the cupboard and it’s nearly six months since I last made any, I though I couldn’t go wrong at £2.50 a box, and bought two. And throughout my visit, I kept being drawn back to the boxes of limes (another thing that Mr Snail loves). What could I possibly do with a box of limes? We don’t like marmalade and even I can only drink so much gin. But I simply couldn’t resist – and for the same price as a box of tomatoes.

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My haul of not exactly winter vegetables

When I got home the tomatoes were quickly sorted (there’s always a few bad ones, which is why they are so cheap), washed, halved and the first batch put in the oven to roast. I made a big pot of soup – spicy squash and sweet potato (eight portions) – and I counted the limes – 59. And then I had to do some paid work.

On Saturday I got the passata mill out and processed all the roasted tomatoes, then bottled them: 11 half-litre jars and five quarter-litre jars. I made a second batch of soup: roasted red pepper, sweet potato and squash, with chilli, ginger and garlic. And I finally decided what to do with four of the limes: a lemon surprise pudding; the surprise is supposed to be the sauce that forms in the bottom, but I provided a second surprise by making it with lime not lemon.

So, today I’m going to zest and juice some of the limes and store the results in the freezer for subsequent cooking. I’m also going to quarter some of them and freeze then for use in g&t and other drinks and for (defrosted) squeezing over Mexican food, plus I’ll keep some in the fridge to use for cooking over the next couple of weeks. None of them will go to waste.

So, my winter veg shopping trip turned into something completely different, plus when my alarm clock went off on Friday morning I woke to a bedroom filled with orange light, and when I looked out I was greeted by the most glorious sunrise:

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good morning sunrise

So, it’s quite true – you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, instead, you get sunshine and limes.

Jammin’

Having bottled fruit until I was sick of the sight of it, I decided to progress on to some different preserves. We don’t eat huge amounts of jam Chez Snail, but I like to have some around to use to fill Victoria sponge cakes, or occasionally on a piece of toast or in a jam roly-poly. So I set to and made two types: peach and apricot, neither of which I have made before. There were also some left-over peaches, so I made a couple of jars of barbeque sauce to use them up.

I’ve followed (sort of) recipes by Marisa McClellan, which seem to include much less sugar (still lots, though) than traditional British jam, but which require hot water bath treatment (as per the picture above). A few years ago, one of you lovely readers (I can’t remember who) recommended these books and I have been really enjoying some of the recipes. ‘Food in Jars’ has some interesting things in it that aren’t preserves in the conventional sense, like granola and beer bread mix, which I plan to explore a bit more. Mr Snail was dubious about the idea of peach barbeque sauce, but I thought we’d give it a go anyway… I will report back.

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really liking these books

So, that’s it for the current round of preserving – there will be more later in the season. I’m hoping for pineapples in the next month or two!

Gotta lotta bottle

It’s that time of year again, when I miss an early morning swim in order to do an early morning shop. Some people rush out for the Boxing Day sales or for Black Friday, but not me. All I’m interested in is fruit season, when I can fill the car with boxes of produce and spend the following few days preserving it for the long winter months.

So, last Friday saw me off to Newcastle Emlyn at 7am to see what was available. It’s always hard knowing what to buy. You can’t plan ahead, because if you do I can guarantee that they won’t have the thing you want, but I was on the lookout for tomatoes, peaches, pineapples and peppers. What I came home with was tomatoes, peaches (two types) and apricots, as well as some potatoes and other vegetables for ‘normal’ cooking. And as a result, my kitchen looked like this on Friday:

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just waiting

So far, I have processed all of the tomatoes into oven-roasted passata (half-litre and quarter-litre jars)

and I’m making good progress with the apricots and peaches, plus we’ve eaten lots of them fresh and I’ve rotated my stock in Tim’s cupboard, so there’s a shelf ready to fill

I won’t share a picture of the slightly frazzled chef!

-oOo-

I love cooking with homemade passata; roasting the tomatoes adds a depth of flavour that you simply don’t get with tinned tomatoes, or even fresh ones. However, I also spend time doing this every year in order to avoid waste. As you can see from the pictures, the tomatoes come in cardboard boxes (which we burn or compost, depending on our current needs) and the jars are reused year after year, with the central disc of the lids being replaced when they stop sealing efficiently (they last several uses, although the manufacturers tell you to use them only once). This means that we minimise packaging and also avoid any potential problems with BPA leaching from the plastic coating inside tin cans (yes, metal cans also contain plastic)*.

Anyway, so far, so successful… I wonder what my next early morning shopping trip will yield.

-oOo-

*If you want to know a bit more about the issues associated with cans contaminating tomatoes, this seems to be a balanced article on the subject.

 

Not hot and not cross

I have been considering sweet dough buns for a while – ever since Christmas when I came across a River Cottage recipe for an enriched dough. I couldn’t make it at the time because it called for six eggs and the hens were on strike. With the longer days, eggs are no longer a problem – all four of our ladies are  laying:

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plenty of eggs (if somewhat muddy)

When I returned to the recipe, however, I felt that it was a bit too rich, so I looked for a different version and found a recipe for sweet dough by Ruby Tandoh (a Great British Bake Off finalist a couple of years ago) that looked ideal, although it only uses two eggs. I like the idea of Hot Cross Buns – soft dough with a sticky top and lovely spices. However, in general I find them rather disappointing and, to be honest, I’m not particularly keen on dried fruit. So, inspired by one of Mr Snail’s favourite flavour combinations, I made chocolate orange buns by adding the zest of two oranges and a heap of dark chocolate chips:

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not a raisin in sight!

But I couldn’t leave it there… I mean I’d only used the zest of the oranges, so I really needed to do something with the juice. The answer was clearly orange icing. So, I present to you, chocolate orange iced buns, the perfect spring (or any other season) bread product:

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not hot, not cross

Delicious with a cup of coffee.

 

 

Privilege

Some months ago, a comment from Jill (Nice Piece of Work) on my post about decluttering got me thinking a great deal about privilege. About the fact that I am only in a position to make choices because of my circumstances… the fact that I am educated, that my parents both had jobs and money, that I live in a democracy, that I am a member of the major ethnic group in my country, that I have a job, that I have home and partner, that I have a supportive family, that my country is stable politically, that I am healthy. So many people have so many immediate things to worry about… where their next meal is coming from, where they will sleep tonight, whether their children are safe, how they will pay for medical treatment…. When I thought about all the problems I could be facing, it seemed somewhat crass to be fretting about clutter.

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This simply isn’t available to everybody

Then last week we were having lunch with Sue (Going Batty in Wales) and discussing her recent experience during the time she had her arm in a cast, having broken her wrist. She mentioned the necessity of using prepared, frozen vegetables when she was unable to chop up her ingredients for cooking, and how disappointing many of them were in terms of both flavour and texture. This sort of inability to do things is the long-term reality for many people and so they, unlike me, are deprived of a full range of choices when it comes to, amongst many things, their food. So, there’s my privilege again.

It’s funny how these sorts of conversations come around several times… the following day I was having a video chat with Kt (Kt Shepherd Permaculture) in Spain and she mentioned the value of ready-meals for people with limited abilities to cook. She pointed out how marvellous they are for those who rely on other people preparing their food: to at least be able to choose a dish that you fancy and heat it up yourself. Ready-made food may not be everyone’s idea of freedom, but for some that is exactly what it represents. And so, again, my level of privilege is reinforced. I can choose what I eat, what I buy, where I buy it from, how I cook it. The fact that many ready meals are, in the words of Joanna Blythman, “food-like substances” rather than real food is unacceptable – we should not condemn those with limited choices only to poor choices.

So where have all these thoughts led me? I don’t think feeling guilty is the answer – that just directs energy to a useless end, but certainly being aware of such privilege is important. This issue certainly relates to the permaculture ethic of ‘fair shares’ but perhaps I haven’t really thought about it in this way before. I feel that I would like to take action, but other than doing the usual things I can to support my friends and local community, I’m not sure how. I’m only just beginning to think this through and deciding on possible actions, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this and what, if anything, you or anyone you know is doing from/about their position of privilege.

 

 

Start with a seed

One of my favourite activities at this time of year is ordering seeds. It is a tangible manifestation of the summer to come, of abundance and the promise of longer days.

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recipes and future ingredients

For my birthday Mr Snail gave me Rick Stein’s new book The Road to Mexico, as I had very much enjoyed the recent television series. I like Mexican food, but I’ve never really cooked it. I settled down with the book the other afternoon to drool over the recipes and read what he has to say about various ingredients. As I read, I realised the potential from growing some of the herbs and spices for myself, and so I did some research and modified my seed ordering accordingly. I spread my orders between companies because no single company had all the seeds I wanted, including the two Mexican herbs Epazote and Hoja Santa. I placed the first order on Wednesday, so I was delighted to receive the seeds this morning. The company in question, South Devon Chilli Farm, sells ingredients as well as seeds, so I gave in to temptation and bought some large dried chillies and some chipotle (dried, smoked) chillies too. Chillies are the first seeds that I plant in the year because they do need a good long time to grow, so I’ll be planting the ones pictured very soon.

The rest of my seed orders mainly stuck to tried and tested things: a good range of peppers, spring onions, courgettes, squashes, parsnips etc. My only other departure was tomatillo seeds – another common ingredient in Mexican recipes and something that I grew successfully many years ago, but wasn’t exactly sure what to do with at the time. I do love the process of growing the things that I want to cook with – it may be taking ‘slow food’ to the extreme, but it is so satisfying.

My next gardening job is to have a good clear-out in the limery and then I’ll be all set for the 2018 growing season. Do you have plans to grow anything new this year?

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pictures and the real thing – hopefully I’ll have home-grown ones later in the year

 

A moveable feast

You know how you have plans, and then something happens…

celebrating the prospect of spring… the specific day probably isn’t important

In general we have a special celebration on the day of the winter solstice. We celebrate the turning of the seasons, the shortest day and the prospect of light and abundance to come. We have a special meal – usually made using local produce. This year I ordered some locally produced, grass-fed beef (quite a rare meat for us to eat) and was supposed to be collecting in on Thursday (the solstice itself) with the aim of cooking some to eat in the evening. However, a message yesterday asked if we could collect it on Friday instead… I hadn’t explained its date-specific use to the producer. So, that aspect of our celebration has been postponed.

In addition, yesterday I suddenly got a pile of requests for editing work – including one piece to be done by Friday. Everyone is so focussed on Christmas, that there is little understanding that some people might take time off work at any other time… especially in the week before 25 December. However, I am pragmatic and work is work, so I didn’t say no. A flurry of editing this morning has allowed me to make good progress and so I think I will be able to find time for solstice-related activities on Thursday, albeit without the beef.

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A past 25 December picnic

So, the new plan is either to go out on Thursday or for me to raid the freezer and rack my brains for some suitably celebratory dish that I can make from what’s in there… possibly plaice or mackerel. Then we’ll have our local beef with Yorkshire puddings on Sunday, and that will leave some lovely roast beef for sandwiches to eat during our traditional (indoor) picnic on 25 December. Life is all about being flexible…

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