Historic Bites: Butterly Delicious

“With enough butter, anything is good.” Julia Child

For decades, butter has been demonised, labelled an artery-clogger contributing to high cholesterol and obesity, and replaced with low fat spreads and margarines.

An ingredient at the very heart of western cuisine for centuries, butter is one of the purest fats available, tastes ambrosial and now, rather wonderfully, is making a rather a grand comeback.

My Grandmother is 109 years old and has lived on a diet primarily composed of meat, butter, a little bread and potatoes all her life. She is fit as a fiddle, her blood pressure’s that of an 18 year old and her outlook extremely youthful. She starts every day with one slice of toast spread, very thickly, with butter. In Norwegian there is a lovely word ‘Tandsmør’ meaning ‘Tooth Butter’ – it is the amount, when spread on bread which leaves a toothmarks.

Etymologically, the word butter comes from the Greek βούτυρον (bouturon) meaning ‘cow or ox cheese’ and during the Middle Ages butter was burned in lamps, just like oil. Butter was a very important commodity and, throughout the UK, you’ll find ‘butter markets’ a legacy from a time when cheese and butter production was essential to the economy. In Rouen, in the north of France, the cathedral’s Butter Tower was built in the 16th century as a tribute to the bishop who authorised the use of butter in lamps during lent when oil was scare.

There are several types of butter; sweet cream butter (pasteurised), salted butter, raw cream butter (unpasteurised), whey butter and cultured butter, all being made across Europe and North America, and of course, Ghee (which is a clarified butter) is used in Indian and eastern cooking, the removal of the milk solids, giving it the ability to keep in hot climates, and it’s more stable at higher cooking temperatures. Classic unsalted butter, or ‘sweet cream butter’, which was first made on a large scale, in the 19th century once pasteurisation allowed for extended longevity before fermentation, but there are some wonderful artisan producers making cultured and whey butters in this country, some of whom I’ll list below.

French butter is regarded as some of the world’s best, but it was also France which first gave us margarine, after a competition was launched by Napoleon III calling for somebody to invent a replacement for butter to feed the army and the poorer population . Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès created a product, in 1869, which he called Oleomargarine, made from beef tallow, salt, sodium sulphate and a small amount of cream, amongst others things – these were actually rather nutritious in their various parts…and from this monstrosity (vis the USA who had discovered that they could replace beef tallow with hydrogenated vegetable oil) eventually came the plasticised monstrosity we know today as margarine.

So, historically, the majority of butter would have been ‘cultured’ which is fermented to some degree and gives a delicious, individual flavour. This also allowed cream from several days’ milking to be used at once, by which time earlier milk would have fermented slightly. Also, butter would have been heavily salted to help preserve it in the days before refrigeration. Butter would also be regularly ‘washed’ and re-salted to keep it fresh. The British were well known in the medieval period for their love of butter on vegetables, something which I’m rather keen on today, or vegetables with their butter as is more often the case at my table.

Sourcing British Butter

Fenn Farm Dairy: Bungay Raw Cultured Butter from Suffolk. A real treat, certainly one to savour. Simply spread on fresh sourdough and enjoy.

Netherend Farm: Organic and Non-Organic butter, from Gloucestershire. As seen on many a celebrity table, made in the Severn Vale, salted and unsalted – the perfect cook’s butter.

Quicke’s : Whey Butter – a delicious and rare heritage recipe recognised by the Slow Food movement as one of the UK’s ‘Forgotten Foods’. Made in Devon. Melt over seasonal asparagus.

Hook and Son: Raw butter from East Sussex. Excellent all purpose butter, use to fry mushrooms with fresh parsley and black pepper for a classic English breakfast.

Cotswold Butter: Made in Worcestershire, a classic salted English butter with sea salt. Perfect for those toasted crumpets.


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!


Daylesford Harvest Festival – Organic in bundles!

I have always been intrigued by the Daylesford brand and have intended on paying them a visit for quite some time. Last weekend, I found the perfect excuse as they were holding their annual Harvest Festival. It was a lovely day out and although the day began a little gloomy, the sun shone on Daylesford.

Without doubt, Daylesford is marketed towards a certain type of person; its shops and ethos have been criticised for being elitist but I found it quite lovely. It is like entering a magical world where nothing is wrong, almost like Marie-Antoinette’s Petit Trianon with its pre-wiped hen’s eggs for collection and its beribboned lambs. Daylesford is geared towards those to aspire to the country life. Everything is exceptional quality and the prices reflect this, however they also reflect the ‘behind the scenes’ effort which goes into the food, products and service offered by Daylesford.

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Owned by Lady Bamford of JCB fame, and located on the Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire border between Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh , in the heart of the Cotswolds,  it is one of the most sustainable working farms in the country. Fully organic, Daylesford comprises the working farm, holiday cottages, cookery school, original farm shop, restaurant, cafe, lifestyle shops, spa and nursery. The Daylesford branding is everywhere, which is strangely comforting and provides effortless continuity. Granted, some of the prices (especially in the clothing department) were eye-watering for mere mortals but the food hall was an absolute delight. I was extremely impressed by the chilled cheese room which offers dozens of cheeses including their own Single Gloucester, Double Gloucester, Blue and a Camembert-style cheese, all of which were excellent. The butchery and fish counters were impeccably presented and offered a rich variety of produce, predominantly from the farm (although of course not the fish!)

It being an open day, we enjoyed visiting the animals and learning about the different rare and historic breeds which make up the Daylesford livestock. There were sheepdog trials, cray-fish catching, donkey patting….everything shouted ‘true country living’ (although quite a number of their clientele had driven up from Town and were a little under equipped for the muddy fields!).

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I have to say, Daylesford is ‘well done’, its sister shops in London are stocked with the same superior quality ingredients as the Farm Shop and everything feels fresh and good for you (even the cakes). I didn’t dine in the restaurant as it was extremely full (although I full intend to return soon) but took the opportunity to indulge in a ‘smart’ takeaway – their wood-fired oven was offering glistening mozzarella and salami covered organic pizzas which looked delicious, however we chose the slow-cooked pulled beef with ‘slaw in an organic roll. Eaten in the sunshine with a cold bottle of their own cider it was idyllic, although extremely busy. The day finished with the purchase of a few delicious pastries, made in the on-site bakery; and a bag full of sumptuous cheeses, organic milk and a rather super organic mint jelly.

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Daylesford should be billed as an experience; I’d recommend a weekend away in one of their beautiful holiday cottages (which form the bulk of the original farmhouse) – you’re but a few steps away from a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner – indulge in a treatment in the spa, sip a coffee on the Cotswold stone terrace or sign up to a masterclass or day course at the cookery school. There is a lot to do but do go with very full pockets, you may need to book up almost a year in advance due to the popularity of the holiday accommodation. All in all, it’s a place to forget about the world, forget about the credit card bill and just indulge.


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