The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Down Memory Lane

Growing up in the 1980s there were so many things which ‘made’ Christmas. One of the main questions being, were your family ‘Team Quality Street’ or ‘Team Roses’? My parents were firmly ‘Team Roses’, whilst my paternal Grandmother was ‘Team Quality Street’.Of course, this was in the day when a tin of chocolates was really made of tin and extremely generously filled with all the family favourites – however, the Strawberry creams were always left until well after the new year though, and often consigned to the bin as they were far too sweet.

I always enjoyed visiting my paternal Grandparents in the run up to Christmas; the left hand cupboard in the G-Plan sideboard would be slowly filling up – there would All Gold, Black Magic, Mint Matchmakers, Chocolate Orange, Chocolate Brazil Nuts, After Eights (with their own silver plated ‘trolley’), a tin of Quality Street and some York Fruits, always the gift of choice between my paternal Grandmother (Nan) and maternal Grandfather, who was rather challenged in the tooth department – I don’t think anybody ever actually liked York Fruits – finally there were those little lemon and orange slices, covered in sugar, in a little round box.

My Nan’s Christmas Cake was generously enrobed with almost rock hard ‘snow’ icing, topped with a 1950s plastic Christmas tree, a gold plastic ‘Season’s Greetings’ sign, and a pink crepe paper ruff adorning its middle. There would be a Bird’s Trifle with multi coloured sprinkles and homemade Chocolate Eclairs, the tins for which, I still have in my kitchen cupboard.

My maternal Grandparents, who lived in a tiny Victorian cottage near Newport, then in Gwent, celebrated Christmas in a far more relaxed way. Grandma would make cakes and plenty of mince pies, they would roast a chicken and enjoy the TV – there were no Christmas Trees or decorations save for one or two made at school by myself. Christmas was kept quietly, a few treats would be bought but Grandma was, as is still at 107, very thrifty.

Today, with so much choice all the year round, we have perhaps lost the magic of those days, the annual traditions which signified the opening of the season – although even now I wait in anticipation for the first satsumas to arrive, I still buy the bag of mixed nuts – although the carved wooden bowl which would sit with the nutcracker on the nested G-Plan tables in my Nan’s front room is long gone – I am still partial to a Bendicks or Elizabeth Shaw mint, although my tastes have naturally diversified, and a selection box (always one of my presents from my Gran) still appears in my son’s stocking.

I think, at Christmas, we do try to cling on to nostalgia and tradition a little more, especially as we get older – even though things probably weren’t better in the ‘olden days’, it’s still a comfort, to us, to believe they were!


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Easy Entertaining.

I am extremely proud of my Welsh heritage and although there aren’t many exclusively ‘Welsh’ traditions, we do have some excellent recipes to satisfy the hungriest of guests over the Christmas period.

Feeding a party is quite a challenge, but sometimes, especially in the colder weather it’s nice to offer guests something a little more substantial that the usual mince pie and canapés. In fact, cooking a large pot of something delicious is far easier, creating less stress and allowing more integrated time with your guests.

Entertaining at Christmas shouldn’t be stressful. Make sure you have a really good cheeseboard, lots of decent bread and a generously filled pot of casserole, soup or stew. Obviously, mulled wine is essential, as is mulled cider, but a great casserole filled with slow cooked beef, game or a really good Cawl, the hearty Welsh lamb and barley stew which is served traditionally with Caws (cheese) and Bara (bread), is sure to satisfy the pickiest of guests. The beauty of many of these dishes is the simple fact that they look after themselves, require the cheapest cuts and are full of the most delicious flavours.

Beef Stew with suet dumplings, the Gascon favourite Poule au Pot or even a hearty vegan lentil and brassica stew – these are perfect for the cooler weather – they freeze well and hold well, allowing guests to dip in, at will over the course of the evening.

Entertaining shouldn’t be complicated, the company, candles and generously poured wine is the true focus of the evening. Sometimes the simplest foods prove the best, after all, we are heading for the most indulgent period in the culinary calendar so why not tuck into some family favourites – these comfort foods can be eaten without excuses – the diet doesn’t start until January, remember!


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Stir Up Sunday

Originating in the early 18th century, Stir Up Sunday is the day traditionally designated to undertake the making of the Christmas Pudding.

Always kept on the last Sunday before Advent, it is said that Stir Up Sunday originated from a passage in a sermon in ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ translated from the Roman Catholic ‘Excita Quarsumus’ and read on the last Sunday in November.

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”

However, whilst I consider myself spiritual, but not tied to one particular religion, I see it as a day to have fun with the family, make wishes whilst stirring, and generally set the scene for the beginning of the Christmas festivities. It also allows at least 4 weeks for the Pudding to mature in a dark cupboard before being brought flaming to the table on Christmas Day.

Traditionally made with 13 ingredients to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus, my Christmas Pudding recipe is adapted from the doyenne of English cookery Eliza Acton, whose recipe was first published in the 1840s. Under the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), with Prince Albert’s Germanic influences, Christmas became the spectacle it it today, with so many of our Christmas traditions filtering down from this, most famous of couples.

Although the roots of Christmas Pudding’s are deep set in The Middle Ages – where meat and fruit was combined with spices in many recipes – the sweet, sticky, boozy concoction we know and love today is very much a product of post-reformation Britain.

Packed full of moist vine fruits, suet, mixed peel, spices and, of course, booze – it is synonymous with Christmas Lunch and, love it or hate it, no Christmas meal is complete without it. Traditionally, every member of the household takes a turn to stir the pudding and make a wish. My Great Grandmother would take her industrial sized Christmas Pudding to the local brewery to be steamed in the great vessels used for brewing and my grandmother, who is now almost 108 still enjoys taking a turn stirring the pudding and making her wish.

Historically, a selection of silver tokens are stirred into the mix – most often a sixpence (silver is by nature anti-bacterial so no poisoning worries there, although it does make for somewhat of a choking hazard) and the finder of this would “enjoy wealth and good luck in the year to come”.

Christmas Pudding

Serves 6-8

75g plain flour (or gluten free)

75g breadcrumbs (I like to use wholemeal)

175g suet (beef or vegetable)

175g chopped figs

175g sultanas

50g diced mixed peel

1 large apple, grated

1 large orange, zest grated and juiced

150g dark brown sugar

1.5 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp sea salt

100ml Armagnac (or any spirit you prefer)

3 eggs lightly beaten

Method

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure that every member of the household gets to stir and make their wish!

Pour into a greased pudding bowl – I use a 21 cm Pyrex bowl – cover with a dampened new tea towel or muslin then tie securely with string.

Place on a trivet in a large lidded pan and pour water 3/4 of the way up the side

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 4 hours, topping up the water when necessary

Cool and store in a cool, dark and dry place – I keep my pudding in the bowl, in a large tin – you can ‘feed’ it with spirits but if you are planning on bringing it, flaming, to the table too much additional alcohol can prove dangerous.

On Christmas Day, repeat the steaming procedure for 1 and 1/2 hours then serve with your choice of Brandy Butter, Custard, Cream or Vanilla Sauce – not forgetting the obligatory sprig of decorative Holly!


A Few Foodie Thoughts In The Bleak Midwinter

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After Christmas, the harsh month of January brings about a distinct need for creative culinary construction. It begins with the craving for spring. Soon after the Christmas items disappear, just as the Easter eggs start filling the supermarket shelves my heart yearns for oranges. There’s something wonderful about those Spanish oranges which conjure up the most vibrant sweetness winter has to offer. There is a historical decadence –  I can imagine standing on the dock waiting for the old orange boats to arrive, perfuming the air – and, now I am compelled to share a fetish – a peeled orange sliced into rounds, sprinkled with sugar and served at tea time with white bread and butter. This was my paternal Grandmother’s stalwart, a strange comfort of my childhood.  Of course, oranges mean marmalade and the chore of prepping pound after pound, however, when you open one of those little jars in the warm of a summer’s day,  it’s suddenly worth all the effort.

January, often the darkest and bleakest month – and certainly, the most depressing,  is a time of soup or Cawl as we call it in Wales. Cawl gyda caws – cheese with soup, a surprisingly good combination especially if one pairs a good, hard sheep’s cheese with a lamb stew. In times of revolution the Welsh called for caws gyda bara (cheese with bread); and I am inclined to agree, simple yet always satisfying.  Soup is still ‘home’ – My mother constantly has a pot of lamb Cawl waiting for us to dive into any time we pop around. A hearty, steaming bowl, a thick slice of Alex Gooch (alexgoochbaker.com) sourdough bread smothered in fabulous Netherend Farm Butter made on the other side of the Forest, and, maybe a slice of Smart’s Double Gloucester, a fine example of one of the few great Gloucester cheese-makers remaining.

Weekdays often begin with a Winter breakfast of thick creamy porridge bathed in maple syrup and double cream, the oats first soaked overnight – a perfect start to a days foraging, although not foraging in the conventional sense. A circumference of 15 miles encompasses all manner of fabulous local producers giving a varied choice of specialised products most of which far exceed those found even the better supermarkets. And afterwards? Arriving home to a Winter frost calls for steaming mugs of cocoa, made the old way with thick, creamy, non-homogenised, whole milk (Oh for the days of unpasturised legality!). Whisking the mixture over the stove creates a delightful froth on which to balance the all-important marshmallows, whilst selfishly hiding the usually alcohol-infused nectar. I think a dollop of whipped double cream is essential (providing the cocoa is scalding hot), as is a freshly baked biscuit or bun, something plain to enhance rather than interfere with the robust chocolate flavour.

The Monmouthshire/Gloucestershire culinary traditions are deep-rooted in those whose families arrived here for work, moving from the rural farm professions into a more promising industrial future.  When one says ‘Gloucestershire’ three things spring to mind pork, cheese and cider. Monmouthshire is a more veiled delight, clinging to many Welsh traditional recipes whilst asserting its Anglo allegiance. Monmouth Pudding, probably the most famous Monmouthian dish is rarely seen on a menu yet is one of those fabulously rib-sticking puddings deserving of a place after a robust Sunday roast. Moist layers of jam and crumb-thickened custard give the Monmouth Pudding its distinctive red stripe. Personally I believe it to be named after the famous Monmouth Cap, historically made in the Overmonnow district  – their distinctive shape reminiscent of the pudding bowl. And so we are spoiled for choice every Sunday, will it be a handsome leg of Welsh Lamb, enrobed in its buttery sweet fat studded with rosemary from the gnarly old bush which sits, like a pondering wise woman, in the corner of the courtyard; will it be a plump Madgett’s Farm chicken, encrusted with crunchy sea salt, its sage and onion voluptuousness bursting from its moist depths; or will it be a handsome Gloucester Old Spot shoulder, rolled and stuffed, its crackling crisp with a surprisingly delicate perry gravy at its  side; finally and perhaps the King of the Sunday table, a prime rib of Usk Valley Beef, rare and juicy, with puffed up, courtier like, Yorkshire Puddings sitting alongside this, most decadent of dishes. A stately queue of puddings wait in the shadows for their moment, and arrived flanked by homely jugs of rich yellow custard. This is how a weekend should end; or how the week should begin.

January is also a wonderful month in which to bake. Childhood memories are filled with the smell of sticky buns cooling on the kitchen table; my maternal Grandmother, now almost 107 and still thriving, would stand me on a stool in her tiny cottage kitchen, a tea towel for an apron, and let me pound the rich dough, showing me, with her cool hands the ebb and flow of the master baker. I’d wait beside the oven demanding a bun straight from the tin, but no, they needed glazing. On went the sugar and water, the buns proudly glistening until, juggling the hot bread from hand to hand, I managed to take a bite.

In the adjoining sitting room, the fire would crackle alluringly, the little brass toasting fork waiting to be called into duty, creating piles of slightly charred toast to anoint with rich salted butter. There would be buns to take home in an old Danish cookie tin, perhaps some fairy cakes and best of all some fruit fingers made with pastry leftover from the apple pie. Folded with sugar and dried fruit, and sliced into rectangles, these ensured that nothing went to waste. My maternal Grandfather, a somewhat eccentric artist, would make bread with wholemeal flour and honey, and would stand over the stove, stirring great pans of butterbeans or ‘fruit on the turn’ to make into his legendary ‘Rocket Fuel’ wines. Some memories stay with you for ever.


Delicious, Inspiring and Fun-Filled! Family Fun @ Abergavenny Food Festival 2017

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The countdown has now officially started and in just under two weeks Abergavenny plays hosts to its internationally renowned food festival, and food festivals have come a long way since they comprised a few stalls of locally produced food, a beer tent and several catering vans.

ABERGAVENNY FOOD FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 17/09/2016

 

Now, perhaps you would, initially,  think twice before taking the younger family members for a ‘fun day out’ to a food festival but you’d be very pleasantly surprised. This years festival is absolutely packed with family fun; whole zones geared towards the little ones and a plethora of workshops – and of course child entry (under 16) is free which is always an added bonus! (although you will need to ask for wristbands when buying adult tickets)

I believe that it is so important to introduce children to food in a positive and fun way, new tastes are far more readily accepted in a relaxed environment and we all know that children are far more likely to eat new foods which they have helped to make.

The study of food sources, field to fork style, should be integrated into the national curriculum, the earlier the better. Britain is riding a wave of obesity and education is the only thing that can prevent this – a recent survey showed that a shockingly large percentage of inner-city children didn’t even know that milk comes from cows!

It’s up to us to change this, to teach them the joy in a homegrown, misshapen carrot or a crudely formed loaf of homemade bread. Society has become used to perfection in all foods, from a visual perspective as well as taste; we must reduce waste, embrace the wonky veg and encourage future generations of passionate foodies.
Aine Morris, CEO Abergavenny Food Festival - credit Kirstie Young PhotographyAine Morris, Chief Executive of Abergavenny Food Festival says:

It has been proven time and again that kids who have the opportunity to grow fresh produce are a lot more likely to eat their vegetables! Children are naturally pre disposed to connecting with nature, being outside, and exploring the world through taste – who doesn’t love sticking their hands in the dirt?
“It is essential that we give young people as many opportunities as possible to learn about the natural systems that we are all so dependent on. Otherwise, how can we expect anybody to value our relationship with nature in the future?

 

So what exactly can we do to help encourage a positive, lifetime relationship with food?….Abergavenny Food Festival might just have some of the answers…

 

 

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Blas o Gymru Travelling Kitchen

 

Join the Travelling Kitchen at Abergavenny Castle for a culinary historical journey through Wales. We’ll be cooking some savoury and sweet recipes, showcasing local ingredients and using traditional Welsh recipes, some with a modern twist.
The workshop, on Saturday 16th September at 10am is suitable for 7-12 year olds. At the end of the workshop children will take away a picnic bag of the food they’ve cooked to share with their families and a recipe booklet so they can cook the recipes again at home.
Free Event

Kids and families Farmyard takeover
IMG_3227“We are handing the Farmyard over to the next generation on both Saturday and Sunday morning between 10:00 – 12:00 with a host of fun and interactive experiences aimed to get children, and adults too, excited about food and farming. Learn about the realities of farming and food and get stuck in to some fun hands-on workshops, interactive demonstrations and exciting and inclusive bite size talks, accessible to all.
Activities include wild tea making with foraged foods, felting with wool, animal handling, games, challenges, milling flour and more.
The programme of ‘Back to Basics’ talks for kids and families include exciting and interactive discussions on Stardust in our Soil: where things grow and why and what our soil is really made of; The Magic of Seeds; and How to Keep Pigs Happy. Topics to inspire budding farmers, growers, gardeners, food producers and inquisitive minds of all ages. We want everyone to get involved and to learn something new from the talks and demonstrations on hand, and encourage you to share your own questions and opinions around the topics of food production and farming.”

 

ANIMALS

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Saturday
• Chickens in a bird-handling pen that public can enter (from 10am-noon only)
• 2 x Berkshire pigs
• 2 x Pygmy goats
• 2 x Sheep
• 3 x Goats: Billy, mum and kid (with special goat-milking demo at 12.10pm at the pens)
• There will also be Goats milk soap & wool available to buy from the Hepburn’s goats next to their pen

Sunday
• Chickens in a bird-handling pen that public can enter (from 10am-noon only)
• 2 x Berkshire pigs
• 1 Ram
• 2 x Sheep
• 2 x large Saddleback Pigs

 

FAMILY FARMYARD TAKEOVER DEMO TABLES & KIDS WORKSHOPS (in the speakers tent) – Saturday & Sunday AM from 10am – noon only
 Saturday
Ø  Interactive Blackboard – Nessie Reid will be asking topical questions throughout the Family Takeover slot & encouraging kids to write their ideas & answers on the blackboard
Ø  How to keep happy pigs props, pics & info and a pig meat cuts display board with Martha Roberts, local pig farmer and small-holder (The Decent Company)
Ø  Flour-milling & learning about different grains & their journey from field to bread – Talgarth Mill
Ø  Food & farming related activities (puzzles, games, colouring, challenges) plus kids can have a go at dying eggs & learn about the protective covering on an egg (overalls will be provided) with Greenmeadow Community Farm
Sunday
Ø  Interactive Blackboard – Nessie Reid will be asking topical questions throughout the Family Takeover slot & encouraging kids to write their ideas & answers on the blackboard
Ø  Wild tea making with foraged foods & info on safe, fun foraging for kids – Liz Knight (Fine Forage Foods)
Ø  Felt-making demos & workshop plus a felt & wool display and info on working with wool – Emma Bevan (Ffolky Felts)
Ø  Flour-milling & learning about different grains & their journey from field to bread – Talgarth Mill
Ø  Food & farming related activities (puzzles, games, colouring, challenges) plus kids can have a go at dying eggs & learn about the protective covering on an egg (overalls will be provided) with Greenmeadow Community Farm

 

Kids Cookery Classes

Always a winner in my family!

Saturday 16th September
10:00 – 13:00 For kids, by kids BBQ with Freddy Bird
13:30 – 14:30 Ice cream sundaes with Green & Jenks (personally recommended)
15:00 – 16:00 Spice up your lunchbox with Jethro Carr
Sunday 17th September
12:00 – 13:00 Delicious beans with Jenny Chandler
13:30 – 14:30 Get baking with Bill King
15:00 – 16:00 Spice up your lunchbox with Jethro Carr

There is limited availability, places will be allocated on a first come first serve basis.

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Of finally, of course, there are the wonderful stalls. The producers’ knowledge and enthusiasm is totally infectious and many are quite happy to explain products and processes to children; and offer tastes – my son really enjoyed this aspect last year; he actually returned home clutching a ‘souvenir’ sourdough starter….and he knew the science behind it!

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Additional activity for families:

ABERGAVENNY FOOD FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 17/09/2016

Love Zimbabwe Kids Parade
Saturday 16th September, 1pm – 2.00pm

Pupils from local schools come together to learn and share Fairtrade songs in support of Love Zimbabwe. The march starts at Castle Street Methodist Church at 13:00, before heading to the Angel Hotel and the Lower Brewery Yard stage. At each stopping point songs will be sung and a speaker will say a few words, with the Mayor of Abergavenny closing the parade.
The march aims to raise awareness on sustainable living, global food shortages and the importance of Fairtrade.
Love Zimbabwe is an international charity based in Abergavenny, run by Martha and David Holman. The charity’s mission is to improve quality of life of disadvantaged communities in Zimbabwe through health, education and poverty reduction interventions and fostering sustainable global education in Wales.

Rotary Young Chef of the Year Competition

Saturday 16th September, 9.45am – 10.45am

“We are delighted to be hosting the Abergavenny District Final of Rotary GB & Ireland’s Young Chef of the Year Competition, which will take place in the Market Hall on Saturday morning. The winner of this final will go on to compete against Britain and Ireland’s best young chefs in the National Final in January 2018. Whether you just like to cook or you want a Michelin starred career in the kitchen, Rotary’s Young Chef of the Year Competition is a fantastic springboard to culinary success. Who knows, one day the winner may be headlining the Abergavenny Food Festival themselves!”

This competition is open to all students in full time education between ages 11 and 17. Go to https://www.rotarygbi.org/what-we-do/youth-competitions/ for more information.

Storytelling for Children
Saturday 16th September, 3pm – 4pm

“As part of this year’s Fringe programme, experienced storyteller Alison Newsam who works at schools in the surrounding area will be reading stories at Broadleaf Books in the town. A free event, suitable for aged 5+ with contributions welcome.”

And after all that, I expect the adults will definitely be in need of one of these…..highly recommended, and I have sampled extensively…just to make really sure!

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To try and distill the true essence of Abergavenny Food Festival I asked Chief Executive Aine Morris a few questions:

What makes the Abergavenny Food Festival so successful?
“The festival is all about food with a commitment to showcasing the very best developments in British craft food. Our speakers and supporters love Abergavenny as fundamentally, we are able to deliver a food festival with a community feel to a hugely engaged audience of visitors every year. There’s a special mix of talent, interesting talks, dynamic masterclasses, demos and educational spaces which keep people coming back year after year.”

What are the highlights of this years festival?
“I’m very excited about the return of the Community Feast in the Market Hall. It’s a fantastic way to celebrate the installation of the Market Hall decorations, and say a massive ‘thank you’ to the local town with their own special event.

“The pop-up feast by Edinburgh Food Studio is going to be a real highlight – they are definitely some of the most exciting young chefs in the UK at the moment and I’m looking forward to seeing them showcase their food.

“And for families, The Farmyard will be taken-over by kids each morning of the festival this year. There will be a series of workshops including The Stardust in our Soil and the opportunity to milk goats!”

In three words, how would you describe the Festival?
Delicious, inspiring, fun-filled

So there you have it; what’s not to like? Parking is easy, accessibility is excellent….my main recommendation? Really comfy shoes, because there’s an awful lot of ground to cover!

 

 

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                    For further information: www.abergavennyfoodfestival.com

 


Any other recipebookaphiles?

And so it begins….
  
I create recipes, some days they are harder to compile than others. My main problem is my addiction to random, unwanted cookery books. I cannot pass a secondhand bookshop without undertaking a thorough investigation. 

I can spend hours amongst the well thumbed, kitchen-stained volumes; it is almost a religious experience. My first choice are the ones with notes in the margin, a small neat hand which adds or removes ingredients, suggests accompaniments or rates a recipe out of ten. Sometimes, and it is rare, one discovers a handwritten sheet inserted between the pages, the title led by some long lost relative…Aunt Maisie’s Christmas Pudding, Jean’s Chicken Surprise or Mother’s Sponge. Occasionally a cutting from a yellowed newspaper or magazine falls from the book, marking the page with another culinary delight. For me, this is the gold at the end of the rainbow. The very smell of old books is magical, the rustle and dedications, ‘Christmas ’39’ or ‘For Lousia’s 18th’ or those ‘in’ quips involving newlyweds or students.

All these enhance my recipes and….unfortunately….divert me, and with a computer screen in front of me bearing the words ‘Burn’s Night Recipe’ and a blank space underneath, I am forced to delve into my library only to emerge hours later wondering what I was supposed to be doing. 

My ultimate dream would be to discover an old farmhouse notebook, handwritten in pencil and stained by years of use, full of tips and recipes handed down from generation to generation….but these are things of the past…another beautiful tradition destroyed by progress and technology.