Autumn Recipes: A Roast Golden Beetroot Mezze, with Honey and Pomegranate #nationalhoneyweek

Roast Golden Beetroot Mezze with Honey and Pomegranate IMG_0586

We are now firmly in Autumn’s grip and what’s left of the leaves are falling fast. One of the most vibrant and plentiful winter vegetables in the Beet, be it the rich red of the classic Beetroot or their bright, vibrant orange and yellow cousins, far less familiar but equally as delicious. Roasted, cooled and marinated in a honey (well it is National Honey Week) and pomegranate dressing, this is delicious mixed with couscous and a sprinkling of Ras al Hanout for an autumnal, Moroccan inspired side to grilled meat or fish, or simply as a Mezze with some olives, hummus and flatbreads for a light lunch or supper. For a greater kick, I add a little Harissa paste to the olive oil before drizzling over the raw beets.

This  keep well in the fridge for up to a week and, besides the beetroot, all the ingredients are store cupboard friendly.

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Ingredients

Serves 4 – 6

3 medium Golden Beetroot

1 tablespoon of good Olive Oil

1 tsp Harissa (optional)

A good pinch of sea salt

Black Pepper

For the dressing

4 tablespoons of good olive oil

1.5 tablespoons of tarragon or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon of runny honey

4 teaspoons of  Pomegranate Molasses (try here)

salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of Ras-al-Hanout spice blend (to taste)

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees c (or 160 degrees c fan)

Cut the Beets in half and place, face up on a non-stick baking sheet

Mix the Harissa (if using) with the Olive Oil and drizzle over the beets. Season generously.

Roast the Beets until golden brown and tender when pressed with a skewer, mine took about an hour but anything between 45 minutes and 2 hours is quite normal – dependant on size – but do make sure you check every twenty minutes to or so to turn and prevent burning

When they are cooked, cool and once just warm, peel off the outer skin

Cut into slices about 4mm thick

To make the dressing whisk all the ingredients together until you have a salad dressing style emulsion

Pour over the warm Beets

Refrigerate for at least three hours to allow the Beets to soak up the marinade

Serve with a a scattering of fresh parsley and a drizzle of Pomegranate Molasses

The Pheasant Philosophises: Part 4: Queen Victoria’s Pineapple

In a society of sexual equality, I often think to the past and wonder what stories lie fullsizeoutput_173ebehind others. In childhood, I was always regaled with tales of my Great Great Great Grandfather, an interesting character who had, apparently, owned an Italian Fruit Warehouse in Bath during the 1840s and 50s. As a man he intrigued me, there were tales of Plantations in the West Indies, of his being butler to Lord Aberdare; there were rumours of Covent Garden premises and a pineapple presented to Queen Victoria on the occasion of the Prince of Wales’ first birthday. He always struck me as being interesting, with an obvious passion for food and I wondered whether I inherited my love of food from him. A few years ago, after I had my son, I fell into one of those “I need to discover my true heritage” moments and 6 years later I now have a story quite different to the one offered to me as a child.

Lewis Evans called himself ‘A Gentleman’ when he was married, in Bath in 1837. His address was Milsom Street, now the extremely busy high street. He lived with his cousin and her husband, another Gentleman, in this fashionably city. He had no profession. I cannot even conclusively find evidence of his father or mother (in fact his father was listed as a shoemaker, an odd profession for the parent of a Gentleman). So he was a bit of an enigma. I delved into the census records and found him, four years later, no longer a gentleman but a Fruiterer. How did this come about? Well, are you sitting comfortably? I’ll begin.

In the 1830’s two sisters from Cheltenham went into business. Their mother had been a Fruiterer and their father an Innkeeper. The sisters were called Louisa and Eliza Clayton-Bourne and as partners they opened a delicatessen on the Promenade, in the centre of town. Nether being much over 20, these two woman worked hard for their living and it proved successful. So successful, in fact that by 1836 the younger sister, Eliza aged about 18, left her sister to set up a second ‘branch’ of the business in Bath, Somerset. The address was also prestigious. It was located in the York Buildings, a few steps from Milsom Street. This shop stocked all manner of wonderfully exotic foods, supplying the gentry and aristocracy of the City with out-of-season fruits from hot-houses in the country; Italian oils, cheeses, Westphalian Hams, and many of the other unusual and fashionable foods which graced the tables of Britain’s elite in a time of foodie enlightenment.  So, Victoria is about to ascend to the throne and we have two, very young and successful business women. What happens next?IMG_7841

The arrows of love strike. As a young woman in fashionable Bath surrounded with frock-coated, stove-pipe hatted gentleman, Eliza Clayton-Bourne meets and  marries Lewis Evans; a few days before which, she breaks partnership with her sister. The sisters have not fallen out, Eliza’s business has simply ‘gone’ to her husband. She is now his possession, as is her business. Now, whether or not he had an active role in the day-to-day running of the business is uncertain. I have invoices which he has signed, his name appears in the newspapers of the day advertising the wonderful array of produce in store. In 1842 he is thanked for the gift of a pineapple to the royal household but Eliza just disappears into thin air. By the early 1850s, and several children later, the business at York Buildings is sold and the newspaper which advertises the new proprietor unwittingly gives us a wonderful clue to the true nature of the business. The first is a letter from Mrs Lewis Evans, thanking her customers for their business over the previous years and inviting them to continue to purchase from the shop which is quite safe in the hands of the new owner – a man. Just below this letter is another letter from the new proprietor. He kindly thanks the previous owner whom he names as Mr Lewis Evans, and respectably invites previous customers to continue their accounts. Not once does it even mention Eliza, not even a Mr and Mrs Evans.

This makes me wonder how many businesses  run by women in the Victorian era and beforehand, have lost these crucial details under the name of their husband. Louisa, the elder sister, did not marry until well into her 30s, by which time she had sold her Cheltenham business and moved to Bath where she owned and ran a boarding house for those taking the waters. An independent woman for as long as she could be, Louisa eventually ran a successful restaurant in Cardiff with her new husband.

In one final interesting note; I have seen the marriage certificate of Lewis Evans and in the space below his trade and next to the name of his wife somebody has started to write something, only a few dots of ink, but I do wonder whether she was overruled in her insistency to put her own trade down, she was of course literate and her handwriting was far better than her husband’s.

Oh, how I wish I could have been a fly on their wall. My gut feeling is that Eliza was the driving force behind the business throughout it’s existence; something she fitted around having five or six children. Yes, they lived comfortably…until something happened, something I’ve yet to find out, and the family scattered throughout the country.

Perhaps she did ultimately resolve to hand the business to her husband and maybe he just wasn’t as good at it as she was.

The Monmouthshire Food Festival – Fit for a King (or the son of one anyway!)

Last weekend, Thomas of Woodstock’s once splendid castle at Caldicot played host, for the second time this year, to The Monmouthshire Food Festival. In general the weather held and there were some moments of dazzling sunshine, as visitors were treated to two splendid days of food, drink, demonstrations and workshops.

Although not the biggest in the area, there is a quaintness to The Monmouthshire Food Festival. It’s cosily snuggles into the courtyard of Caldicot Castle, and has ample stalls to while away several hours. On offer was everything from Squirrel meat to artisanal soda, passing through cheeses, sauces, jams and all manner of alcoholic and non-alcholic drinks.

In the demonstration tent visitors were treated to a broad range of wonderfully seasonal  recipes from passionate local chefs including BBC Masterchef: The Professionals semi-finalist and former sous-chef to, amongst others, Marcus Wareing,  Liam Whittle; who IMG_0405produced an outstanding Duck dish with flavoursome Quinoa and Salmon in Asian Style Broth – needless to say, both were delicious.

There were also guided tastings; I enjoyed a beer and food pairing workshop with Brecon Brewing’s Buster Grant and Gloucestershire based Hillside Brewery’s Paul Williamson; and found myself tasting a variety of foods from The Blaenavon Cheddar Cheese Company’s Oak Smoked Cheddar through to the rather excellent chocolate of Black Mountain Gold, by way of a deliciously chewy Lavabread Salami from Cwm Farm. All the beers were good, some pipped others to the post, but generally the extremely knowledgeable brewers had it all spot on.

The street food was excellent; prize-winning Welsh street-food  purveyors, The Original Goodfilla’s Company were offering their trademark calzone style Pizza, and I was delighted to discover Hereford based The Grub Shed with their obscenely decadent Brisket Fries, and, a bottle of Somerset Elderflower Lemonade from Somerset based Hullabaloo’s was just the ticket to wash it down.

It’s always wonderful to find new local producers to add to my every-increasing dossier and this time was no exception. I tasted cured Mutton by Gwella, a Welsh delicacy which was extremely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and which I had even contemplated trying to produce at home due to the lack of commercial availability; amazing freezer friendly curry sauces from Rayeesa’s Indian Kitchen, artisanal botanical syrups from Tast Natur (some of which took you straight back to a summer meadow), the extremely potent Eccentric Gin whose Limbeck New Western Style Gin was one of the most innovative I’ve tasted yet, and I was introduced to Lurvill’s Delight (more on that soon).

I also managed to acquire a bucket of traditionally Welsh-style loose tea from Morgan’s Brew Tea Company and a yummy Nutella Swirl from Baked on Green Street.

I really enjoyed my day at The Monmouthshire Food Festival and could easily have loaded my larder fit to burst with the sheer array of produce on offer. However, I had to draw the line somewhere,else we would have struggled back to the car!

There are plans for four Monmouthshire Food Festivals next year, including two in Monmouth’s Shire Hall (almost on my doorstep).

I think they’ll be very well received, because our county’s commitment to buying local and artisanal produce is ever-growing and we have so much to be proud of.

Answering a few of my own questions about Clotted Cream….

What do Tolkien’s Hobbits, the Cornish Giant Blundabore, and Edmund Spenser have in common?

The answer; Clotted Cream.

Clotted cream is at the heart of every quintessentially British Cream Tea. Slavered onto scones, melting unctuously beside a warm sticky toffee pudding or just in a bowl IMG_0994alongside a pile of freshly picked, fragrant, seasonal berries. Clotted Cream is one of those delights which spring into your mind as you reach the end of the M5, putting off thoughts, for a while at least, of the long, winding A39 stretching out before you.

Cornish Clotted Cream officially received its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) stamp in 1998 and today, Rodda’s near Redruth is Britain’s largest producer, although many smaller artisanal dairies produce this, most revered of creams, throughout the West Country.  It is also known as Devonshire Cream or Clouted Cream, the clouts or clots rising to the top during its manufacturing process giving that crunchy, yet yielding crust to every pot.

Although its origins are a little unclear, The Oxford Companion to Food , which is an absolute joy to read, suggests that it may have been introduced to Cornwall by Phoenician traders in search of tin, although there is a considerable amount of folklore attached to this theory. I believe that the reason for its original creation is most likely related to the preservation, before refrigeration, of dairy products. Simply put, the higher the fat content the better a product keeps, take butter for example. Recent studies have suggested that the, once mysterious, manmade underground caves,  or ‘Fogous’, Carneunywhich are often found in Atlantic coastal areas are actually underground storage areas for keeping produce fresh, dairy included, and we know that in the 14th century Monks were producing Clotted Cream in Devon monasteries.

Traditionally made in shallow bowls in farmhouse kitchens the fresh milk is left to stand until the cream rises to the top and then heated very slowly until the clots formed. These were then skimmed off. Interestingly enough, with a minimum 55% fat content, Clotted Cream would actually be considered butter in America.

Popular in the 17th and 18th Centuries, it was often flavoured with rose water and served alongside the ever popular Junkets and is greatly favoured by the legendary Sir Kenelm Digby  whose posthumously-written eponymous, cookery book,  ‘The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened’, is a wonderful guide to food and drink in Carolingian and Restoration Britain.

So, to the great debate; do you eat your cream tea Cornish style (jam first) or Devon style (cream first)? Both have their merits, but I suppose for me, it depends on the jam’s consistency.

And the little question at the beginning? Well, Hobbits, of course, consider Clotted Cream a staple food (who wouldn’t); Blunderbore, the giant of ‘Jack the Giant Hunter’ fame was fed clotted cream by Jenny who was to become his fourth wife, (so it obviously has aphrodisiacal qualities as well!) And finally, a few words on the subject from Edmund Spenser;

‘Ne would she scorn the simple shepherd swain,
For she would call him often heam,
And give him curds and clouted cream’

 

This post is not sponsored by Rodda’s, but was written on my own volition after receiving some of their lovely products and deciding to find out exactly what Clotted Cream was all about!

An ancient dish which has moved with the times – #worldporridgeday

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Oats have been cultivated since at least 2000 bce, they are sturdy crops, keep well, are filling, full of minerals and have saved many a country from starving to death in harder times. They have been used in soups, stews, breads, oatcakes, gruel and most famously in Porridge.

Following on from my previous article about my family’s porridge cooking tradition, I thought it would be rather interesting to explore Porridge a little more thoroughly and today’s #worldporridgeday offers just that opportunity.

There is no doubt that porridge is ‘cool’, on trend, fashionable. There is not a breakfast menu in Britain without some homage to the porridge. From the organic, whole oat, slow cooked variety served with jugs of cream and a ‘choice of toppings’ to the chia seed filled, coconut oil infused, almond milk, vegan porridges of the ‘healthy-eating’ establishments. Yes, it’s versatile, and it is surprisingly good at accepting change. I am a porridge traditionalist, I make mine with water, oats and pinch of salt. I usually douse it in thick cream and maybe a spoon or two of honey or maple syrup. I have experimented with the more extreme versions (some without oats in at all) but I am most content with the original approach, although my Scottish ancestors are probably looking down at me and cursing my sweetening their national dish!

Last week, a Swedish woman, Ellinor Persson, took the title in the 24th Annual Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship. The competition guide lines are very strict and the base ingredients remain the same – oatmeal, salt and water. Always a favourite in Nordic countries, Porridge has recently been highlighted as part the world’s healthiest breakfast alongside rye bread, the Icelandic dairy product Skyr, meats and cheeses. Every country has their own traditional additions, in Scandanavia Cloudberry Jam, apples and cinnamon are very popular. Porridge was the perfect food to counteract the effects of the  harsh, freezing northern winters.

Porridge was such an important part of Scottish culture that ‘porridge pots’ were often bequeathed in wills, one such will recording that ‘my second best porridge pot shall go to my youngest daughter’. The word ‘porridge’ most likely evolved sometime in the 16th century from the word ‘pottage’ which was a thick oat-thickened soup found in every kitchen up and down the country. Although oatmeal is used traditionally most of us now favour rolled oats which cook more quickly and have a more creamy texture. The sheer variety of porridge in supermarkets is a testimony to its current popularity, from instant ‘add hot water’ pots to fruited, spelt, apple and spice…..in fact locating the plain oats takes a bit of doing, and I’ve even found Oatmeal displayed within the baking section, far removed from its cereal chums! There are the pseudo-porridges like Ready Brek, loved by kids, but, although fortified with vitamins and minerals, it is actually a pale imitation of the real stuff. There are ready weighed, microwavable sachets which I have used in the past for pure convenience and this week I’ve seen a ‘porridge bar’ launched, apparently containing the same amount of oats as a bowl of porridge (although in my day that was called a Flapjack).

So, what is the future of porridge, and how much more can one dish be messed about with? There are some truly extreme versions out there, Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Snail Porridge’ being no exception. The one thing that remains constant (inflation aside) is its cost and place in society. It is a pan-class dish, one which has graced the tables of kings, lords, farmers, miners, factory workers, even those in the workhouse; and it is a cheap dish to make at home, even organic oats are not overly expensive, although when breakfasting out, I have seen some eye-watering prices attached to a bowl of this, most stalwart of cereals.

Some of  my personal favourites are  Rude Health’s Organic Scottish Oatmeal or Mornflake Organic Oats  , however, my grandmother always used Scott’s with that dashing kilted, wholesome (obviously porridge eating) Scotsman on the front! I will certainly be continuing my porridge ritual and maybe, just maybe, a recipe will surface which will encourage me to stray out of my Porridge safety zone for good!

The Pheasant Philosophises: Part 3 Sunday Morning Musings: Seasonality

fullsizeoutput_1600So, this week saw the end of National Cake Week, the beginning of National Seafood Week and tomorrow we look forward to the start of British Egg Week. Whilst I enjoy these specialised food and drink weeks it does make me wonder how on earth the British food industry survived for all those years without national annual promotion. Whilst these ‘weeks’ generally fall into place at the peak or opening of the season, some items are in season continually (and in the case of Cake week, it was initially established to share and enjoy a cake together), I look back and try to understand where the British food industry went wrong with seasonality. One hundred years ago, you knew that if it was December there were no strawberries and if it was August, Mussels were generally off the menu.

The only area within which we can categorically state that there is definite seasonality in the UK is through the various Game seasons.

IMG_7075The nostalgia and traditions which surround Game have managed to survive, unchallenged into the twenty first century, and so, today, many people still ‘look forward’ to the first Pheasant, Partridge or Grouse (the glorious 12th a testimony to this). Another example is the relatively new (1951), seasonal arrival of  Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday in November, but the general non-foodie populous are not privy to such seasonal excitements.

Perhaps this is where National Food Weeks come in? When my Grandmother was born in 1911 and yes, she’s still with us today, the seasons were heralded by the changing foods available in markets and shops. People waited almost a whole year for the first Scottish Raspberries or English grown lettuces, hot houses did exist but mostly for the rich. There has been a distinct reversal in the ensuing years. Those with money can seek out the very best of seasonal produce whilst those on budgets can buy ‘year round’ mediocre quality items from the local supermarket.

As a budget conscious nation, we have been told to buy seasonally to save money, even I have advocated this, however on closer inspection perhaps my encouragement is mis-worded. What I should say is, “when buying at specialist food shops, farm shops, farmers markets or similar try to buy seasonally because it proves far better value and generally you reduce your purchases’ food miles”.  This is where the quality issue comes in. In my earlier piece about Organic food  #feedyourhappy I recommended seasonal buying and I do stick by this. IMG_0044

I do, however, think it’s sad that we’ve lost the excitement of seasonality, those of us who produce our own foods know all too well the “No….I can’t manage another strawberry” and the  “We’ll just make jam, now” scenarios after a glut of fruit. We have eaten our fill are are quite happy to wait, in the most, another year for more fresh, sweet, glistening berries. That’s why opening a jar of summer Strawberry Jam in the middle of Winter is so evocative. It is the very fact that it is the preservation of summer which makes it ‘special’ – but that aside, it is not fresh produce like the little trays of overpriced out of season strawberries we see on our supermarket shelves at Christmas. Jam is a shadow of the memory of Summer, preserving gluts of fruit has been a ritual in world kitchens for thousands of years, whether it be drying, potting, jam-making or, more recently freezing (although again, I’m not so keen as you end with a pale example of what first went in). You cannot compare a decent jam to a bowl fresh fruit and it would be wrong to do so.

Therefore, perhaps the Britain’s Food Weeks have a place, not so much in promoting awareness and purchase of produce, but in highlighting what shouldn’t be around….it is all extremely confusing…but Happy National Seafood Week anyway!!!

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This little piggy went to market….then into the freezer…..and it was yum!

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This weekend I’ve gone a little bit pork mad. On Friday I took delivery of 1/2 a free-range, rare breed pig from Martha Roberts’ The Decent Company. I was very impressed by the obvious bond she has with her pigs and (so far) I am certainly not disappointed in the quality of the meat.  Rare Breed Pork is quite a bit darker than your usual ‘supermarket’ pork, the fat is creamy and generous and the skin crackles beautifully, the flavour is richer and more old fashioned from when meat tasted like meat.

Martha’s Monmouthshire based smallholding is enchantingly described on her lovely postcards as being high in the hills, and the pictures of her happy sounder (love that word) of swine are a testament to their very ‘decent’ upbringing. I chose 1/2 a pig which is a little over 20 kgs in weight, and costs £160, which when you consider the variety of cuts, is very reasonable. The Pork arrived packed in neat, insulated boxes with lovely little branded cards stashed neatly in a zip lock bag. Within minutes my son had set upon one of the ten packets of sausages and within twenty minutes were sampling some of the nicest sausages I’ve tasted in a long while. They were perfectly seasoned and my 106 year old grandmother, who is staying with us for the week, declared them to, “taste like sausages used to”, which is quite an accolade.

There was an excellent variety of joints, ribs, belly (more on that later), a lovely hock from which I am going to make a pressed parsley terrine, chops not much smaller than my son’s head….the list goes on. We stashed most of it in the freezer, admittedly it does take up most of the freezer….and it’s very likely that within a few weeks we’ll all have grown a curly tail!  Pork is such a versatile meat and you could easily cook a different dish every day for a month and still have dozens of options.

I  have always been a great supporter of the Welsh pig industry. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a day at Humble by Nature in Monmouthshire, in conjunction with Porc Wales and I learned a great deal about a meat which was very much used in Welsh kitchens. To read more about my experience, click here.

So, this morning, after panicking that I had no bread in the house I knocked up a quick Soda Hedgehog Bread and oven-roasted a few sausages. IMG_0131Served with Tracklement’s Sweet Mustard Ketchup and Proper Tomato Ketchup they went down a treat for Saturday Brunch.

My husband has also decided that now is the time to begin his foray into bacon making and having worked his way through the curing sections of my extensive cookery book library he finally decided to ‘wing it’ a little. The result, which is curing in the refrigerator, is a cider and honey cure with sea salt.

We elected not to use nitrates so we will probably slice and freeze the bacon soon after curing. It is a great ambition of mine to have a proper inglenook fire so that I can hang bacon and hams inside and let the sweet woodsmoke flavour the meat. One day…I keep telling myself. We also made a great slab of crackling with the discarded rind,  which I’ll probably serve alongside bowls of homemade brandied apple sauce with drinks before dinner.

Tomorrow we have guests for Sunday Lunch so I very much looking to sharing this lovely leg joint with them, with all the trimmings of course, and I’m quite sure they’ll all enjoy it as much as I will!

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