Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Homegrown tomatoes

Last summer I had a moment of optimism when I thought I could grow my own vegetables. We inherited a garden full of fruit trees and raspberries and blackberries, having watched and tasted friends homegrown produce I decided this was the way forward. Last year I was helped by Riverford Organics and cheated by just planting their seedlings. This year I decided to take it more seriously and have grown lots from seed. My intention was to grow for my Elizabeth David project. I think I can safely say I failed on every count. Two packets of courgette seeds were defeated by slugs, the sorrel and spinach just wouldn't oblige, a mere two miniature but tasty beetroot were consumed this week, the broad beans got rust and the peas were eaten before they made it into the kitchen. There was also the one and only globe artichoke that tasted good cooked in a combination of oil and water with a squeeze of lemon.
Despite these failures I have produced enough greens to not have to buy any for weeks. A few French beans but the runner beans, chard and kale have been prolific. The tomatoes have required a lot of attention but hopefully this Indian summer is looking like we could be heading towards a bumper crop.
My conclusion of this year is that you reap what you sow, I have been unable to put much effort in, I am always too busy cooking but I see that it's a steep learning curve and hope that my fingers with time will turn green.

Horsley produce show

I can now tell you that the prize winning was all with the kids, they did us proud, I let the side down, my baking skills particularly.  My cooking apples did get a noble 2nd.
Horsley church fete
The Horsley church fete is such a momentous annual occasion in our lives that lots of great memories are formed around it.  There is nothing like the first fete in your new village to suss out just where you have moved, walking apprehensively through lines of bargain hunters, past the silver band and under the bunting;  as young newlyweds we quickly realised we had struck the jackpot. With the finest cream teas for miles around and some bric a brac Cath Kidston would break her right arm for, we knew we had landed.  In the years following there is the memory of parading our first newborn in the then obligatory land rover buggy to the coos and woos of the villagers.  Now there is the endless cry for just one more £1 Mummy, for another failed attempt at the tombola.  
As years go by the fete has been tweaked and improved, for us it’s become a lot moreabout the children, but reassuringly the essentials remain the same, the cream tea is still delicious and the strong bent for locally produced food has grown and grown and grown.  The famous and formidable Horsley sausage in a Hobbs House jumbo finger roll will give you a tasty hot dog fill whilst keeping food miles to a minimum.  The Horsley Orchard project sells preserves and work hard pressing apples: you are encouraged to bring along your apples and good wind falls, have a turn in the deck chair slicing and pressing, and for your effort you’ll be rewarded with your own prize bottle of Horsley apple juice to take home. Then there’s the cake stall with an ambitious and enviable selection of great home baking, each plate as diverse as its baker, hinting at Horsley’s breadth of influence and rich diversity (well, for Gloucestershire anyway). If it’s cake you’re after, guess the weight of a fruit cake to win it is a treasured classic, or buy a raffle ticket to be in with a chance of winning a Hobbs House Bakery Matildaesque chocolate cake.  For the first year the mighty and heritage-rich Winstones ice cream will be trundling their van from over the common to scoop their finest frozen fayre for us all.  If you fancy something stronger, in a glass and pint sized, then there’s beer from the award winning Stroud Brewery.
This year is the first year of the Horsley Produce show, with adult categories such as best jam, roses in a vase, best loaf and the longest runner bean.  The children have their own categories including the finest pizza and the biggest sunflower.  Judged by Hobbs House Bakery and a revered local farmer, the competition is sure to be tough.  Watch out though, it will be my victoria sponge and marmalade winning (fighting talk/competitive spirit), but I am not convinced the redcurrant jelly has got the edge.   
What is great about this fete is how it encompasses all of the community, young and old, from the football team to the landowners, all there running there own stalls, from the balloon race to see whose gets the furthest (last year’s winner reached France) to an impromptu ride in a vintage motorbike and sidecar which proved more of a hit around the field than the ponies.  All to the accompaniment of Clog dancers and the Nailsworth Silver Band.  
Of course, this is Horsley, so the Rosettes will be recycled, the compere will be eccentric, sporting a panama, and loud enough to make electronic amplification unnecessary. I am convinced you will feel you have struck gold with a quintessential summer fete. This rural idyll and yesteryear scene, a bonkers  Archers, Hobbit-Shires, and  Enid Blyton hybrid is actually very progressive and contemporary. There is a deep rooted heart for sustainability and community, being lived out in a way that is open, welcoming, hard working and wants to have fun. The program and attractions and passion for all things local gives structure to this much anticipated yearly event, but it’s the people we love and the times we’ll share there. Held on September 17th as the combines stop and the bails are away, it is the perfect celebratory end to a hopefully balmy English Summer.

September supper

I'm not sure I can make it to the end of Elizabeth David.  I got some hare out of the freezer but just couldn't face cooking it.  It was meant to be hare with beetroot, I had even pulled up my only beetroot to use. The puny golf balls of beetroot didn't encourage me to remove the hares membrane and start cooking.  The problem with French Provincial Cooking is whenever I count up the recipes I seem to always only be just over half way through.  Classically I have left the worst and most challenging recipes to last.  My initial plan was to finish as the last quince ripened.  My girls picked the first lot this afternoon, it's not a bountiful year so I will try to make the ED quince recipes this week.
This photo was therefore our dinner a perfect September Supper.  Globe artichoke cooked a la greque a la ED.  The chanterelle mushrooms were cooked to one of her recipes.  Washed well and randomly chopped, fried in butter, seasoned, parsley added then some left over meat juices, amazing on shepherds loaf.  The tomatoes are from Horsley and some of Mary Holbrook's cheese, what more would you want.
Better put the hare in the fridge.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


We were given this wonderful book when we gave our September born daughter the middle name Plum.  This tale tells of a Dad who decides as the plums start to fall to make plum jam.  He makes plum jam until he has filled all the jars, vases and a teapot.  The plum consumption then begins with jam sandwiches, pancakes, roly polies to glue for tiling the bathroom floor, until it's all used up just as the plum tree is full of ripe fruit again.  A beautiful story and one I can relate to.  This year is a good year for plums, we have a reliable small cooking plum tree but also discovered a smaller cherry plum sweet to eat tree.
This year's great plums are apparently not good enough for the supermarkets, who continue to buy from abroad http://www.farming.co.uk/articles/view/4902.  Fools.
Our plums are good enough for us and this is what I have been doing with them.
After much searching I found the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe I remembered,
Plum jampote, with hot and sour dipping sauce by-product. (I love a by-product)
For every kilo of plums you need 500g of sugar, put these in a saucepan and top up to half full with water.  Bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes then pour off and sieve most of the syrup into a new pan.
To this syrup add 2 garlic cloves chopped, 1 hot chilli, 100ml of soy sauce, 100ml of rice or cider vinegar.  Boil this rapidly for 10 minutes then bottle up.
When the other plum mixture is cool enough to handle pick out the stones - I loved the feel of oozing sticky jam in my fingers.  Then boil the mixture occasionally stirring for 5 minutes, pot up for a loose jam and keep in the fridge.
I have also been roasting plums a la Elizabeth David.  Running a knife down their natural line and piling them in a pyramid(?) in an earthenware dish, sprinkling generously with sugar and sticking in a split vanilla pod.  These have been roasted in the oven until tender but still holding their shape.  These are delicious with yoghurt and made a nifty trifle with a dodgy sponge cake the 8 year old had made.
The plum finale is cooking tonight from Elizabeth David, Plums in Brandy or in my case the alternative she recommends, Plums in vodka.  The process is tedious, there had been a lot of boiling and reboiling of the fruit with sugar.  The result is hopefully a boozy plum compote.
All this talk of Plums is making me hungry to go out and buy some other fine English varieties.
To be continued.....

Rockness onions

First day at school

The third child started school this week, she claims she is bored and has already adopted the attitude of her 10 year old brother.
It has taken until my third child for me to realise that I can sew name labels in successfully with a sewing machine and white socks are useless, grey is the new white.