pancake day

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For the perfect pancake:  4oz SR flour;  pinch of salt; pint of milk; 1 egg.  Beat together and stand at least half an hour before using.

Ellen’s unsurpassed filling:  homegrown cooking apples sliced and fried in butter and muscovado; place on pancake then pour on Grand Marnier and light; ladle in some cream whipped up with brandy and sail away on the best pudding you can imagine.

Posted in domestic miscellany, recipes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fungus Among Us… In the Wild Larder

“The world is apprehensive about food shortages and yet our countryside is full of untapped treasures.”

Ok, so, it’s really very much not mushroom foraging season…. but, no harm in getting in training early.  I found this wondrous book, published in the 1950s to build on some wartime rationing pamphlets, ‘Britain’s Wild Larder: Fungus by Claire Loewenfeld,’ and bought it for a lovely someone dedicated to mushrooming… but in the event it never left my custody.  So, I have read it cover to cover to much amusement and interest and here are the highlights as sifted by me…

“Somehow [our dietary habits] still seem more reminiscent of the Victorian age than do our houses or clothes, and in strange contrast to present-day nutritional findings.  We still aim at a protein intake – not always inside our economic possibilities – which is based on protein requirement figures worked out around 1900.”

Ms Loewenfeld’s sentiments fast become apparent; she turns out to be a very progressive thinker on food who wouldn’t seem out of place writing in the last couple of decades, expounding as she does on the virtues of salad and muesli and increased energy.  She laments our “…more sedentary life in which not only is most of our work carried out sitting or standing in front of some mechanical contraption (*I shall herein refer to my computer thus), but also our travelling is done in an armchair.”  Seems like this particular lament has been in circulation longer than our RSI and obesity blighted masses would imagine.  She also focuses in on the current trend for self sufficient, seasonal and foraged foods saying that “Dire need and newly acquired nutritional knowledge of the essential vitamins and minerals brought everywhere a new impulse to revive old traditions and additional zest for new combinations.”  Written in reference to the needs of WWII, it seems we have a short memory as we go through yet another revival!

Promising that mushrooms, nuts and other wild gathered vegetarian foodstuffs will “cease to be the ‘meats of the poor man’ and instead become the ‘meats of the wise man'” she amusingly brushes off the pulses saying they “have dietetic disadvantages and therefore should be taken in moderation.”  Being of German extraction, the author frequently refers to the European traditions in regard to Fungi… apparently the Germans favour the woodland dwelling mushroom and are suspicious of the field mushroom, in contrast to the traditions of the UK.  She states that fungi knowledge and identfication is learned from childhood and “It seems psychologically quite natural that people who have many woods and feel at home in them should have no anxieties about their products – berries as well as fungi.  At an early age children hear of all the legends and fairy tales in which other children, errant knights, princesses with bad stepmothers or wandering craftsmen were lost in the woods and lived on the wild foods found in them, until they were rescued.  All this has nothing to do with reality.”  Possibly one of my favourite qualificatory comments I’ve come across.

“If the light of reason is allowed to shine into the darkness of irrational fears, it should be possible to recognise them as what they are.”

Brilliant, I love that this profundity is employed simply in the quest to demystify the mushroom.  Ms Loewenfeld then embarks on a wondrous bit of bet-hedging:  “There is no ‘black magic’ about fungi, nor are there any ‘hard and fast rules on which to rely.  There is also no dark abyss of millions of poisonous toadstools into which, when selecting the few edible ones, it is easy to fall.  Neither are there any magic rules by which the poisonous ones can be detected or the poison rendered harmless.”  Her ‘at your peril’ attitude and blase vagueness hardly inspire the would-be hunter gatherer to strike forth in confidence and embark on mushrooms for tea, but she does later recommend first familiarising with the true enemies before getting out on the chase.

There is some debate as to nomenclature and, in the end, as a result of the culturally perceived mushroom/toadstool dichotomy she decides to call them ‘edibe fungi’ leading later on to some pricelessly unattractive sounding recipes for things such as ‘Fungus Souffle.’  “It seems desirable that the scheme followed by Dr Ramsbottom in his small Penguin books on edible and poisonous fungi, giving popular English names to most fungi, should be continued.”  She then translates the German common names as “‘Tubelings’ (boleti), ‘Knightlings’ (blewits), ‘Pepperlings’ (chanterelles), ‘Inklings’, ‘Dustlings’ and ‘Powderlings'” – all of which sound terribly endearing!  A fresher approach to naming, Ms Loewenfeld asserts would “help make fungi as popular here as they are throughout Europe…In all these countries the fungus trade is officially recognised and the authorities help to avoid risks by appointing fungus-inspectors.”  I cannot relinquish the amusement of the word ‘fungus’ personally.  Although I have felt the benefit of a ‘fungus-inspector’ in a rural French pharmacy green-lighting some foraged delights for dinner, it’s true.

To be continued…

Posted in domestic miscellany, recipes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Domestic Objects I

This gallery contains 10 photos.

things.  and stuff.  it always needs to be well chosen.  and appreciated. ‘Let nothing be in your home which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’  (William Morris).  or words to that effect at any … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The satisfaction of drying things

I’ve always loved drying things.  For some reason it seems even more old fashioned than all the other preservation methods.  Also, I have such magical memories of my favourite children’s picture book, Jill Barklem’s The Secret Staircase in which the mice of Brambley Hedge seem to have strings of everything from herbs to crabapples etc hanging threaded in front of roaring fires or suspended for contingency in the rafters… note the lofty field mushrooms below.  ( I suppose this book has a lot to answer for in terms of style references in my life…)

In my quest for self sufficiency in home medication (which I have sadly long since dropped – amazing what you have time for when at university supposedly writing essays) I used to diligently pick and string delicately with needle and thread heads of pollen-heavy elderflower, bunches of lavendar, yarrow stalks etc.  I was pretty nifty on the herbal concoctions – in fact my patent hangover mix was a frequent reviver for many a disadvantaged anti-allopathic hippy (One teaspoon each of dried elderflower and peppermint; half a teaspoon each of dried rosemary and lavendar – brewed 10 mins and imbibed, guaranteed to stimulate the senses).

Currently I am a little more focused on the culinary and have been putting by a load of bay leaves, rosemary and rose petals. We have the most enormous bay tree/hedge/Green Knowe-esque behemoth at the bottom of the garden which is a fantastic resource.  The rosemary is a twisting craggy beast that I have only just discovered at the end of the terrace, after years of wishing we had some in the garden… How short-sighted.  Anyway, I capitalised on it and got a good tinfull onto the shelf.

And I can’t resist rose petals.  I like to think I will make tea with them and I suppose I do occasionally, with honey.  But really I am saving them to use as confetti at friends’ weddings.  I haven’t yet actually remembered that I am in possession of this resource in conjunction with preparing to go to a wedding though so I am yet to experience the secret satisfaction of throwing my own home-cured rose petals at anyone.  One day I will get it together…

Who can resist the act of creating the confetti in the first place though? they look so delightful.

Posted in domestic miscellany | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Garden Squash Lasagne

1st catch your squash. track it, size it up, hack it down, bring it in with pride and triumph….

1 med or half a really large squash of your favourite variety – I am fondest of the grey ghost one myself

1 med beetroot

2 carrots

2 onions

4-5 cloves garlic

2 tins tomatoes

Pack of organic lasagne sheets, green or plain depending on preference

salt pepper, a pinch white sugar, a teaspoon muscovado sugar, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, basil, mixed herbs

For the bechamel: 1 oz butter, 2 tblsp plain flour, water, milk, 3 tblsp double cream*, salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg.  (* the bechamel works just as well with a tblsp olive oil, soya milk and no cream to make the recipe vegan – if you want to thicken the sauce further, just shake up a teaspoon of cornflour in a little soya milk and stir in while simmering.)

**          *****       **

Cut the squash into good sized eating chunks and place in a roasting dish with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary.  Bake for about 20 mins very hot (200-210C).

Wash up a beetroot and a couple of carrots, cut to the kind of bite size you’d want in a forkful of lasagne, taking into account shrinkage in the oven and add to the roasting tin. Toss about a bit in the hot oil and return all to oven for another 20-30 mins (at about 180-200C).

Meanwhile, slice up a couple of good sized onions, a fair whack of garlic and fry gently with salt, pepper, a little sprinkle of white sugar.  When these are nicely softened, add 2 tins of tomatoes and simmer away with a little extra liquid for a good 20 mins or so – add basil, a teaspoon of muscovado, a dash of balsamic and more herbs, either basil or mixed.

When the veg is roasted to a point where it’s soft and a little brown and caramelised on the edges fold gently into the tomato sauce and set aside.  Make a bechamel using about an ounce of butter and 2 tablespoons plain flour, stir until bubbling well and loosen with a few dribbles of water. Gradually add milk until you have a good thick sauce.  Flavour with salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir in about 3 tablespoons of double cream.  Assemble the lasagne with a layer of veg sauce followed by pasta followed by veg sauce followed by pasta and finally the bechamel. Bake until bubbling merrily at the edges.

Posted in recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

cooking for the yogis: curry and cake

Well,  I said I’d put all the recipes up and these are the last two – neither soups nor salads!

Would-be Thai Curry

I love Thai green curry – it’s irresistible.  Sadly I am not often in the vicinity of a shop selling galangal and I never remember to buy lemongrass.   So, this is my made-up approximation of a thai curry.  It perhaps doesn’t exactly tick that box but its pretty nice anyhow!

1 leek

1 ear fresh sweetcorn (only if its in season, not really necessary)

1 green pepper

1 head broccoli

curly kale/cavalo nero – about 6-8 good sized leaves

Optional additions: some diced aubergine, some courgette, some

1 inch fresh root ginger

juice of 1/2 lime plus squeeze lemon (add more if necessary)

3 cloves garlic

large handful of roughly chopped coriander leaves

1 tin coconut milk plus about a tablespoon of solid coconut cream

1 hot green chilli

light soy sauce – shoyu is good

block of smoked tofu


First things first, dice up the tofu and place between 2 clean tea towels or some kitchen roll if you must (horrid stuff, such a waste of trees).  Leave to drain while preparing the rest.

For the curry, chop everything up first as this recipe cooks pretty fast.  Sometimes its important to chop things in a different shape – for me, this recipe needs to have leeks chopped into thin oblongs about 2 or 3 inches long.  A quick way of doing this is to slide a sharp knife into the leek near the root end and cut towards the leaves – do this repeatedly until you have something that looks like a cheerleader might wield and then rinse out any grit from between the leaves.  Lay flat, bunched back into a leek shape, and you can simply cut across at intervals to make a sort of julienne effect. Cunning.  So, I chop the pepper into thin strips too.  Cut down the sides of the sweetcorn to get the kernels off and put aside. Chop the garlic, ginger and chilli finely. Also cut the greens into thin ribbons and dice aubergine and cut thin oblongs of courgette if you want to include these.

Heat sunflower oil in a large frying pan or preferably a wok.  Add the leeks.  A few seconds later add the ginger, garlic, chilli mix and the green pepper. (Add the aubergine and courgette in a few seconds if using). Keep stirring.  Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper. Add the broccoli after a couple of minutes and then the greens.  After another couple of mins, pour in the coconut milk and crumble in the solid coconut cream.  Stir in well. When all the veg are just cooked enough to eat, stir in the lime and lemon juice a good slug of soy, and the fresh sweetcorn.  Taste and adjust if necessary.  Take off the heat.

Meanwhile you should be heating up another frying pan or skillet very hot with a little sunflower oil and some salt and pepper.  Place the tofu in here and turn over when golden on underside – keep turning until most sides are crisp and golden – only takes a few minutes.  When done the tofu’s done, stir the fresh coriander into the curry and serve on rice or noodles with the tofu scattered on top.


Damson and Apple Upside-down Cake

(although below is pictured an orange, raspberry and ginger version!)

I love this recipe – its my stock in trade looks great, tastes great, can be made any season with any fruit and the most basic of cupboard staples… Perfectly quick and stress free.

You will need a shallow pyrex or similar oven dish for this…

Fruit – probably about 1 apple and 8-12 plums depending on size (don’t use the trad tiny damsons for this, more the table variety, or sub with a different larger plum such as victoria if you can;t find any of these… or, indeed, any other fruit you fancy quite frankly – pineapple is a classic, nectarine is delicious, fig an exotic option, orange works surprisingly well and is one of my favourites…)

4 oz plus 1 extra oz butter (or soya margarine)

Couple tablespoons light brown soft or muscovado sugar

4 oz light brown soft or caster sugar

2 eggs

6 oz self raising flour

Couple dessert spoons of stem ginger in syrup, chopped small

ground cinnamon

a little milk


Butter the dish well – with at least an ounce of butter, concentrating on the base – and sprinkle with light brown or muscovado sugar.  Halve and core the apple, and  cut into slices.  Halve and pit the plums. Arrange the fruit prettily on the base of the dish – fan the apple slices in a wheel perhaps and place the plums skin side down.  Sprinkle on some cinnamon and bits of chopped stem ginger.  Mix up the sponge by creaming the butter and light brown or caster sugar, beating in the eggs and gradually sifting and folding in the flour.  At this point, add about a 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and a dessert spoon full of chopped stem ginger.

The resulting mixture wants to be at ‘dropping consistency.’  I was very thoroughly taught what this was from the age of about 3 while making Christmas cake annually with my granny who was in her nineties and about as short as me.  We used to have the cake mix bowl balanced on the folded down grill door of the cooker and she would hold up the wooden spoon and make me watch to see how the mixture would drop off the spoon – ie if it doesn’t then its not right!  So, to ensure your mixture is right, add a little milk (plain or soya) until the mix will slowly fall from your spoon when held over the mixing bowl – viscous but not actually liquid.  Pour/spread this over the fruit and bake in the oven until golden and a skewer comes out clean (approx 180 C for 20 minutes).

When cooled a very little, turn the dish over onto a serving platter and give it a good smack – I enjoy that bit – and lift it off as if peering into pandora’s box – if lucky a golden light will come beaming out from under the dish as the majesty of your cake is revealed. With any luck you should have an artful and tasty cake which is just as good cold with a cup of tea or hot with your choice of those evils such as custard, cream, greek yoghurt…. etc


Posted in recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

preserving for britain

Well, this last few weeks I have been churning out the bottles and jars like I was about to overwinter in a snowbound hovel in the arctic, or at least, possibly a little over over enthusiastically for a soul who eats jam but once a week.  A serious exponential consumption curve a one-woman WI stall or a jam-themed Christmas are the only possible routes I fear.  Anyway, its been fun, there’s nothing like stirring a boiling cauldron of jam and running back and forth to test dribbles of it on semi-freddo saucers to feel like there is at least a vestige of domestic knowledge surviving from the ancestors, near and far.  Above is a documentary of the Plum and Lemon jam that my friend Holly and I made with bundles and bundles of plums picked from her allotment (3kgs victoria type plums; 2.5 kgs sugar; juice of 1.5 lemons; pips suspended in a muslin bag – its a really nice tart conserve with caramelised plum skins, mmm).

I also had the extreme joy of picking greengages from Holly’s allotment which I made into the perennial winner Greengage, Orange and Walnut jam, I am actually eating this one more than once a week so it must be good…(1.3kg greengages; 1kg sugar; zest of 2 oranges; juice of 1 orange; good squeeze of lemon – I left the zest, sugar and gages to macerate in a bowl overnight before making, perhaps this had a good effect).

The stab in the dark rogue experiment this year was a Bramble, Plum and Redcurrant jelly – experiment being the operative word as I always feel a thrill of apothecary-like pseudo-scientific wizardry when constructing precarious contraptions with mop handles and ladder-back chairs to hang my ancient jute jelly bag from, and watching the viscous juice drip slowly through… It was remarkably good this jelly – the mixture kept the bramble flavour from getting in the least cloying and the colour is positively velvet jewel like. (No need to weigh the fruit as that all comes with matching your sugar quantity to the amount of juice you produce – I had roughly 2 parts blackberries to 1 part redcurrant and 1 part plum, or perhaps slightly less redcurrants.  I used about a cup of apple juice to loosen the fruit while bringing to the boil and then matched 1lb sugar to each pint of liquid that magically made its way through the jellybag overnight).

I even managed to foray into the world of chutney this year, although it’s definitely not so fun to make as it impregnates one with a horrible boiled vinegar aura.  Not a wondrous asset, domestic or otherwise.  Anyway, I made my favourite Runner Bean chutney – eminently more satisfying than the beans themselves – using the old chestnut, Delia Smith’s, classic recipe.

And then I moved onto fruity gin liquers this weeknd: Damson, and Strawberry & Raspberry…..

Posted in recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment