Frontier Style Cherry Skillet Pie

It’s #NationalCherryDay so here’s my recipe for a very simple cherry skillet tart or pie.

Combining cinnamon with the flour gives a delicious crust which, when filled with the kirsch flavoured cherries, is really quite moreish. This pie is very juicy, almost self saucing, and the crisp outer crust can be ripped off and dunked into the cherry juices.

This recipe originated in the frontier days, when families travelled across America by wagon train, with very few personal possessions- perhaps only a griddle, a skillet and a cauldron which formed their kitchen, so, the frugality of the recipe is rather fitting. They would have cooked using communal ovens, Dutch ovens and most often over a wood fire.

Many Welsh mining families emigrated to the ‘wild west’ in the later 19th century – some of my ancestors included – so this is a little homage to them.

Ingredients

100g cold unsalted butter, grated

250g plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon

2 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar

2 eggs

Water to mix

Pinch of salt

250g stoned fresh cherries

1 tbsp kirsch

4 heaped tbls golden caster sugar

Method

Rub the flour into the butter until you have fine breadcrumbs

Stir in the cinnamon and sugar

Add a beaten egg and bring the pastry together, if it’s too dry add a little water or milk, if it’s too wet add a little more flour

Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees c

Roll out the pastry roughly and use it to line a greased skillet or tin. Make sure that the pastry goes over the edge a little as this will form your crust

Add the cherries, then sprinkle over 3 tbls of sugar and the kirsch

Fold the edges up and over to form a rustic pie crust, then glaze with beaten egg,

Sprinkle the crust with the remaining sugar and a dusting of cinnamon

Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden and the cherries bubbling

Serve warm with ice-cream, cream or custard – or all three!


The Pheasant Philosophises in Gascony: Market Musings

PoudenasAlmost twenty-five years ago, my parents bought a large, honey coloured stone village house on the borders of three French departments; the Lot-et-Garonne, The Gers and The Landes. Three departments with extremely different culinary influences yet all exceptional in their own way.My first ever piece of food writing was for my GCSE English coursework portfolio. I wrote about French Markets, they enthralled me with their colours, smells, tastes and vibrancy. I had always enjoyed writing but when I wrote about food and drink it was like coming home. Every holiday I made it my business to learn everything I could about the local French food – I tried it all and discovered so much.

So, twenty-years later, what’s changed in rural France? 

The village hasn’t, the markets haven’t – although there has been a wonderful resurgence in artisanal beer which has proved very popular with my other half. The pace of life is still the same…a few more shops open on Monday than used to, and one or two of the supermarkets are opening on Sunday mornings. There have been small injections of more contemporary culture – only this morning I spotted a designer coffee stall offering lattes and syrup-garnished cappuccinos; but in general, my little part of South-West France has remained the same and that is quite wonderful. 

I think the British could learn a lot from the French attitude towards food – they are proud of their regional dishes, simple as some are, and in Britain we too have a great deal to celebrate, culinarily. Whilst France is synonymous with fine dining, rural France indulges differently – not in the most elegant and visually perfect – but in the freshest and most nutritious, children are fed well from an early age, their palates are educated, they’ll often choose salad and fruit over some fake sugary concoction. Unlike the UK, France is not at the height of an obesity crisis, although twenty years ago it was rare to see any obesity in the county, today it is about – something which has fallen in line with the expansion of ready meals and highly processed products arriving in the great, overly lit hypermarkets which are sadly now ever present. 

Inherently though, there is a good nutritional underpinning and food is celebrated. Families gather together to share a meal, the summer evenings offer nocturnal markets showcasing the very best the region has to offer, there are feasts dedicated to individual dishes – the Gascon Garbure for example – which is a wonderful hotchpotch of meats boiled with vegetables and sometimes white beans, then served with great reverence – I suppose it’s a little like our Welsh Cawl, that ever boiling stock pot which had been part of Welsh culture for centuries. 

This morning I visited one of my favourite local markets, about 30 minutes drive away. The town of Eauze, in the Gers, is famed for its Roman remains and the market which snakes through the streets on a Thursday morning is one of those places that tourists hope to happen to happen upon to tell friends about at home. Divided into two halves, one for clothing, household goods, gifts, jewellery and the like and the other – my favourite – is in the lower square under the shadow of the trees and is, of course, the food market.

Packed into a relatively small space are dozens of traders – some selling a few vegetables or eggs from their gardens, some on a much grander scale. It’s like Pandora’s box, around each corner is something delicious waiting to be discovered. 

Today, it being mid June, I picked up some delicious local strawberries, absolutely on the point of perfection (so perfect in fact that they had to be eaten rather quickly after lunch), deep, green courgettes with their smooth, tactile skin, and deep, vibrant red cherries from the Gers. There were the first of the season’s melons – still an expensive treat until July when they fill the markets in abundance with that sweet smell which begs you to buy them. There were haricots blancs, haricot vert – the vendor snapping the fine beans to display their crisp freshness. A little further on were organic cheeses; goats, cows and sheep, wrapped in waxed paper and proudly displaying their ‘Bio’ credentials. Another stall was packed with glistening barrels of olives, all varieties and flavours – beside which were drums of preserved fruit from the sweet local prunes of Agen to the candid pineapples of the exotic West Indies, and littles packets of spices from across the globe. 

What is wonderful about France, is the opportunity to regularly buy exactly the amount you need. Markets are held daily somewhere in the area, most towns are no more than a 30 minute drive apart and there is no shame in buying three tomatoes, 100g of olives or a handful of cherries. There is certainly less waste, which, in this age of over excess and a throwaway economy, is surely welcome. 

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Bangers and Bonfires #UKsausageweek

Bonfire Night; the air is filled with woodsmoke, a hint of sulphur remains from the sausagesrecently released fireworks. The sparklers have sparkled and now, hunger strikes. What better warming winter dish to turn to than the humble British banger? A childhood favourite, steaming from the barbecue and tucked into a pappy white roll, maybe a few sweet and sticky onions and, of course,  an obscene amount of tomato ketchup, the Hot Dog, ‘English style’ is most synonymous with this time of year. In celebration of this humble foodstuff #nationalsausageweek has been held annually showcasing the best and most inventive sausages around, this year, however it’s #UKsausageweek

There has always been regional variation in sausages, spice blends and the addition of various herbs have been part of sausage culture for centuries however in the past couple of decades flavours have become far more interesting, varying from the sublime to the ridiculous. Personally, I don’t think you can beat a good old breakfast sausage however it depends on exactly what one is serving it with.

For the traditional mash and onion gravy combo I like a flavoursome banger; pork and leek or pork and apple. We are extremely lucky in my region as we have some really excellent butchers, farm-shops and small-holders selling directly to the public. In a previous post I expressed my enthusiasm for the wonderful pork from Monmouthshire’s Decent Company, but within ten miles of my house I can find everything from Gloucester Old Spot and Cider, to Lamb Merguez Style, Wild Boar and I’ve even seen Squirrel. There are those flavoured with chilli, truffle and cheese; one extremely delicious flavour is Black Pudding and Gloucester Old Spot.

There is nothing more depressing than staying in a B and B, or Hotel and being served a fine textured, slurry-esque breakfast sausage with your bacon. I want a decent banger and a good sausage often makes or breaks a weekend break! The supermarkets are coming closer to the mark, and British outdoor bred pork does have a higher welfare standard than the factory farms found in many parts of Europe. We do, of course, have such shameful secrets here, so I try to seek out butchers who provide free-range pork which is local and, in many cases, rare breed or heritage.

These I will pull into the sausage category even thought some are technically a ‘Pudding’ – all certainly deserve a mention. In Northern Ireland, Hugh Maguire’s fabulous Smoked Black Pudding was awarded supreme champion in the much coveted national Great Taste Awards 2017. In Cornwall and the South West Hog’s Pudding is a delicious and now rather rare treat – do seek it out if you’re in the area. Scotland’s famous Lorne Sausage is made with beef, the dense, seasoned,  meaty squares playing a leading role in the Scot’s Cooked Breakfast.

England is extremely famous for the ‘Cumberland sausage‘, coiled and highly flavoured, and often served with the redcurrant and orange based Cumberland Sauce. Each county has its own variety. Amongst others, there are Suffolk Sausages, Wiltshire Sausages and Glamorgan Sausages (a poor man’s recipe of the 19th century where Caerphilly cheese, leeks and breadcrumbs made a tasty, and a now fashionably vegetarian supper dish). One local charcuterie make a wonderfully decadent German-style wild boar black pudding sausage from the wild boar found in the Forest of Dean.

Of course, traditional British cookery and sausages often go hand-in-hand. We have Toad-in-the-Hole,  Bangers and Mash, Sausage Casserole – to name a few. These are real comfort foods and form the basic recipes for many winter suppers.

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Last week I used some fabulous spiced lamb sausages to make a pseudo-tagine with chick peas, preserved lemons and some sweet potatoes to bulk it out a little. The sausages were dense and meaty, no fillers or msg needed.

So, in celebration of #UKsausageweek , here is a little run down of my top five traditional sausage recipe ideas, tweaked for variety;

1) Wrap the sausages in streaky bacon and fry to colour, before adding a Yorkshire pudding batter into which a little sage has been infused.

2) How about trying a chilli flavoured sausage set into a batter of cornmeal and eggs; a Tex Mex twist on Toad-in-the-Hole which works really well with a good dollop of Salsa and Guacamole on the side.

3) Make a creamy root vegetable mash with seasonal parsnips and serve with a fruity banger, Pork and Pear, or Pork and Apple; or a plain well-seasoned sausage and a little apple puree beaten into the mash

4) Skin the sausages and make into tiny meatballs, adding a little crushed fennel seed, bake or fry and add to a traditional Italian tomato sauce. Serve with spaghetti for meatballs sausage style.

5) Skin four different complimentary flavours of sausage, layer into a terrine mould and bake until brown and sizzling for an easy meatloaf. This is also delicious served cold with salads and a good puddle of strong English mustard.

There is no doubt that sausages are a constant crowd pleaser, they weren’t rationed in the war (although were difficult to get hold of), and every country in Europe has their own variation; so this week why not expand your sausage horizon and think out of the box – the British Banger is here for the duration!


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.


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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Into the woods…..The Forest Showcase Food Festival 2017

IMG_7740As a great supporter of local food festivals, I am always delighted to share my enthusiasm with anyone who cares to listen. It now being ‘food festival season’, I am spoilt for choice. Last weekend I attended a small but perfectly formed festival in The Royal Forest of Dean, about twenty minutes drive from my home.

The Forest of Dean is one of the oldest English forests still in existence and has seen Kings, Princes and Lords ride in the chase under it’s great sprawling oaks. At the heart of the forest is The Speech House, the old Verderers court (click here for the history bit) and last weekend the grounds of this impressive, Carolingian building were packed with producers, musicians, visitors, artists and, of course, food and drink.

 

The Forest Showcase has been fortunate to enjoy splendid autumn sunshine over the past five years, however this year it just wasn’t meant to be.  Despite the rain, and the organisers took extra measures to ensure everyone stayed as dry and mud free as possible, it was a very pleasant way to spend an autumnal Sunday morning. IMG_7745All my good intentions of not going over the top went by the wayside as I was presented with an Aladdin’s cave – in the form of the producers tent.

The marquee was packed, and the atmosphere was convivial.

IMG_7701French-style bread and patisserie sat beside honey producers, cheese makers, purveyors of delicious locally made jams and chutneys, artisan gin, cider and marshmallows, and some rather fabulous pies and pasties from Cinderhill Farm near St Briavels.  There was ice-cream from Forest and Wye, cheese form one of the few PDO Gloucestershire cheese makers, Smart’s   and the eponymous Madgett’s Farm with their excellent free-range chicken, duck and local game. I also discovered a new, extremely local country wine maker and sampled a wonderfully decadent Rose petal wine, the taste of which brought back memories of early summer. I indulged in Fuffle, is a fudge or is it a truffle? Whichever is the true answer, it was delicious. I was offered roasted hemp seeds which were surprisingly moreish, the most exquisite fruit cordials (which would have worked wonderfully in a gin cocktail), cheeses flavoured with honey and fig and cakes in all shapes and flavours.

 

Away from the marquees, there were cider makers, caterers, a craft market, art exhibitions and stalls from various local charities including The Dean Forest Beekeepers, IMG_7700Apple pressing demonstrations were popular and I happened upon a rather good fruit and veg stall where I stocked up on locally grown carrots and broccoli.

Throughout the day a variety of musicians entertained the crowds.

In the demonstration tent, visitors were wowed by cookery demonstrations by, among others, Yvette Farrell who runs the Forest of Dean’s premier cookery school, award winning Hart’s Barn Cookery School.

Very much a family festival, the parent and child cookery classes were filled all day, with healthy eating advisor & cookery teacher Glyn Owen at the helm producing delicious Mezze.

But, if you did miss this year’s event, do not despair….the organisers have a Christmas treat in store!

“We are very much looking forward to our new Xmas event which is at Beechenhurst Lodge on Sunday 28th November…..so those that didn’t make this one because of the weather have another chance to sample and buy the best produce from The Forest of Dean and see some amazing Christmas cookery demonstrations….”

It’s already in my diary, I just hope there’s mulled wine on offer!

 

 

Although I attended as a guest of the festival, all views are my own