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.


Digging in the hope of victory!

This year has been a bit of a challenge for us, aside from current circumstances, as we were flooded in February and have had to move, temporarily into a new property. It’s very lovely with a large lawn but nowhere to grow vegetables….however, as luck would have it (although not considered so at the time) our brand new oak kitchen floor was languishing under a foot of flood water and had to be pulled up. So, we have created a little container garden, with (hopefully) enough veg to keep us going throughout the summer.

We have planted, and successfully germinated:

Green Beans (French and Runner)

Beetroot

Radish

Tomatoes

Peppers

Cucumbers

Chilies

Herbs

and we are waiting for the first signs of

Carrots

Potatoes

Leeks

Onions

It’s very easy to grow a few veg, and extremely satisfying, there’s something so exciting about that first meal entirely grown at home. Vegetables have so many options; you can freeze them, preserve them, dry them…there are infinite salads to be created and recipes to devise, and it really does encourage children to eat more veg. Even the fussiest eater can usually be tempted by a homegrown carrot stick.

My grandmother, who is now 109 and lives with us, always grew her own tomatoes and strawberries. In her younger years she grew a lot more, and my husband’s father took to gardening as a young teenager, to such an extent that he was soon supplying the local pubs with vegetables. I would love a walled garden, full of herbs, packed with veg, netted patches of soft fruit and esplanade orchard fruits…one day, I promise myself. In the meantime we have to be clever and use what’s to hand. I’ll keep you posted as the season moves on and, hopefully there’ll be lots of delicious produce and recipes to share.


Seasonal Rhubarb, Mandarin and Saffron Cake

A delicious and gluten-free treat, perfect for afternoon tea or buried in fresh custard after a hearty Sunday lunch, my rhubarb upside-down cake is enhanced with pomegranate and rosewater, saffron and sweet mandarins.

Recipe: serves 8

Cake

3 medium eggs

165g butter

165g light brown sugar

1 bunch of rhubarb, leaves removed

180g self raising flour (I used Dove’s Farm gluten free)

1tsp baking powder

1 generous tbls Hortus Pomegranate and Rose Gin Liqueur (or one of your favourites)

For the compote

20ml rosewater

25g caster sugar

2 mandarin oranges peeled and diced

Good Pinch of saffron

1 tbls Hortus Pomegranate and Rose Gin Liqueur (or your favourite gin liqueur)

Method

Cut the rhubarb into 5cm pieces and place in a shallow, wide saucepan with the rosewater, caster sugar, mandarins and saffron. Just cover, with water and slowly bring to the boil then simmer until the rhubarb is just tender.

Remove the rhubarb and place it in the bottom of a greased, loose bottomed cake tin measuring 20cm across x 8cm deep

Boil the mandarins in the remained liquid until it has reduced to a sticky syrup, of a honey like consistency. Cool, then blend into a smooth compote. Add the liqueur and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 165 degrees c (fan)

Beat the sugar with the butter. Once thoroughly creamed, add the eggs, one at a time to prevent the mixture splitting.

Add the flour and baking powder (sifted) then, finally, gently stir in the Liqueur.

Pour the mixture over the rhubarb and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a skewer, pressed into the cake, comes out clean

Cool the cake slightly and turn out onto a plate – I often line the cake tin with a greaseproof liner as this really helps when it comes to the turning out, although you may need a knife to help a little.

Whilst the cake is still warm, pour the compote over. It should be of a jam-like consistency, and will sit nicely on top of the rhubarb

Serve with créme fraîche and a really good dusting of caster sugar.

Tip: if you prefer very sweet rhubarb, add more sugar to the syrup – I prefer a more tart flavour which foils the cakes sweetness nicely.


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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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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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.


The Abergavenny Food Festival Part 2: The Producers #AFF2017

 

 

PrintAs I mentioned in my earlier post, the stars of Abergavenny Food Festival are without doubt the producers. Whether nestling between the little booths or creating fine displays in the prestigious Market Hall,  the producers have an infallible passion for food and drink which is infectious and wonderful. Most are happy to chat and I unreservedly apologise, to those who are behind me in queues, for holding them up. I am a questioner; I want to know about the product, the sourcing, origin and inspiration. I’ve been privy to some wonderful tales from lost family recipe books, to accidental discoveries, to lifelong ambition; as well as meeting those farmers whose forebears have farmed for generations through difficult times; inherently believing in their crop or herd – families for whom the ‘organic’ and ‘buy local’ campaigns are finally paying off.

 

 

IMG_7331I love that there is always something new to be learnt. Food is an ever evolving subject and the little  things gleaned at such festivals can often form the basis for longer articles, recipes or books. I do feel a little guilty though, because were I to buy from every stall I taste (and enjoy) I would be empty of pocket and overly full of larder; however that is not to say that I can’t take my new found knowledge and share the products at a later date and so many companies offer internet shops or mail order these days. I always rather fantasised about those great hampers ordered from Fortnum and Mason and arriving in the Highlands, at grand houses, after spending the night as freight on those wonderful steam trains – I suppose I seek nostalgia – and having seen the creative thought which goes into much of the artisanal packaging these days I feel a return to these glory days are on the horizon, and it warms my heart!

I also get great pleasure from passing a stall with a hand-drawn ‘Sold Out, see you next year’ sign; whilst it is obviously a great accolade for the producer (who are no doubt cursing themselves for not having made enough, even though many were working on very little sleep and far too much coffee in the weeks leading up to the festival) it also demonstrates a belief in future success.

The diverse and  rich varieties of food and drink related produce to be found at festivals are a testament to the British public’s return to real, local and artisanal foods, whether it be sauces, whose recipes come from as far away as Borneo wth Sorai; delicately flavoured gin with autumnal botanicals from Sibling Distillery or a jar of Forage Fine Foods herb rub bursting with the smells and tastes of a summer meadow, there is a story and a demand – rubbed into a leg of Welsh lamb and then slowly roasted, the herb rub is absolutely exquisite.

As I wander through the markets the smells which waft about are all too tempting; from the jars of Joe and Seph’s Willy Wonkaesque popcorn, to the elegant displays of cakes, pasties, real breads and finely sliced charcuterie. The cheese market is difficult to pass through without adding at least another four cheeses to my already overladen refrigerator. This years haul, (chick in tow, who is possibly even more of a cheese lover than me) added mature yet smooth unpasteurised cheddar from Batch Farm; IMG_7492award winning firm Somerset goat’s cheese, creamy and surprisingly mild, and charmingly named ‘Rachel’ from White Lake Cheese ; the Bath Soft Cheese Company’s Wyfe of Bath, an organic Gouda inspired cheese (although there was much debate over whether to also buy their rather marvellous Bath Blue); and  finally a donation to Macmillan (sponsors M & S’ chosen charity) secured us two packets of classic soft and milky Abergavenny goat’s cheese, a fitting final choice given the location. Soft goat’s cheese is something I always have in the refrigerator, it’s my go-to topping for oatcakes, toasted sourdough or even to add  a surprising savoury lift to cheese cake.

The street food stalls at Abergavenny do encourage gluttony, however when you’re presented with everything from Taiwanese Bao Buns to the South West’s (and that’s Bristol not the U S of A, whatever image the logo may inspire) now legendary The Pickled Brisket and their outstanding salt-beef stuffed brioche rolls; chocolate dipped authentic Churros or The Guardian’s 2017 number one choice for Pizza, our own Cardiff based  The Dusty Knuckle Pizza Company.  There was hog roast, Aberaeron honey ice-cream, Legges of Bromyard’s traditional British pies, Welsh venison and even Ghanaian street food – you could have easily taken all your main meals for a fortnight and still not covered everything. Abergavenny Food Festival champions all good food, yes a lot of it is classically British, but also a lot of it stems from other cultures; many of these chefs and producers, although British born and bred, have carried with them a great passion for their ancestral cuisine and it’s rather lucky for us, that they have. DSCN0635

I could quite easily write a whole book about just one year’s festival in Abergavenny, there is so much to see and do and taste; but alas, I am forced to be content with rifling through my collection of cards, leaflets and recipes until I can match taste to name and put in my online orders. I have also been know to drive Mr D rather mad on weekend breaks when I’ve insisted on searching the lanes of some rural county (inevitably without a sat-nav signal) for a farm shop selling something of which I only half remember the name, but found absolutely delicious at Abergavenny.

Of course, I obviously am looking forward to next year’s 20th anniversary celebration but may well have to consider some sort of abstemious routine in the early days of September!

Whilst I attended the Abergavenny Food Festival as a guest, all opinions are my own as are the images.

 

 


The Abergavenny Food Festival 2017 starts with a baaaaa….ng!

 

Last night I was delighted to attend The Abergavenny Food Festival Community Feast in the old Market Hall and I have to say, I was extremely impressed. This year’s decorations were bird themed and the air was seemingly filled with owls, chickens and chicks; the vegetable bunting was genius. IMG_7260

The Community Feast is the festival’s way of saying ‘thank-you’ for all the hard work put in behind the scenes by the community to make the festival what it is. It certainly was a ‘feast’ judging by the sheer quantity of food…..

The hall certainly looked fitting for a great harvest feast and the food, in association with Abergavenny’s own Angel Bakery was delicious. We were served organic pasture-fed Black Welsh Lamb roasted with herbs and garlic, huge platters of salad, colourful basil infused Panzanella, golden-roasted whole potatoes with rosemary, sauces and gremolata and generous slices of The Angel Bakery’s fabulous sourdough to mop up the juices;

All the cutlery, plates and serving dishes were biodegradable,  adding to Abergavenny’s eco-credentials and the atmosphere was rather akin to the great village feasts in France that I enjoy every summer; it was buzzy yet intimate and I met some very interesting people.

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Pudding was an equally spectacular effort; cloud-like, Summer Fruit  Pavlovas arrived at each table and were set upon with relish. The evening’s entertainment was provided by Welsh folk band Allan Yn Y Fan and the feast was opened (after a speech from festival CEO, Aine Morris)  with two Georgian feasting songs performed by a local choir. There was also a rather interesting short talk from the ‘Abergavenny Just Food’ group who’s current manifesto focuses upon Food Justice and campaigning for a fair, affordable and sustainable food system for Wales.

The evening finished with a traditional Twmpath dance and I think we all went home extremely full and rather merry (although that was also thanks to the rather moorish red wine which, though extremely light, was deceptively strong!)

Although I attended as a guest of the festival all views and options are my own.

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My Organic 60/40 #feedyourhappy

Yesterday saw the launch of The Organic Trade Board’s #feedyourhappycampaign. This EU backed initiative aims to encourage people to ‘go organic’, even if it’s only a little bit!

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I have been a strong supporter of organic produce for many years and try, cost permitting, to use organic produce as much as possible. I think there are certain foods which should always be organic; without compromise Organic milk is always in my fridge, and the majority of my fruit and vegetables are also organic. Most recently I have been researching organic meat and have discovered several local suppliers (more on them soon) whose meat is not organic but very high welfare and pasture fed. This is a really good compromise as organic meat can take a rather hefty chunk out of the weekly budget; and also, with any farm seeking organic certification, the goalposts are set extremely high before the certificate is awarded, so there is a transition period.

So, can we eat entirely organic?

I’m sure there are those out there who can, but it isn’t terribly easy. Generally, it’s probably easier to eat organic in cities, where there are lots of organic restaurants, cafes, and market-fresh produce available on a daily basis. You do have to (forgive the pun) dig rather deeper in the countryside. Then of course there is the issue of origin. I can walk into Waitrose and fill my basket to the brim with organic produce yet how much of it British? As someone passionate about our native produce I have to ask myself – do I go for the bag of local apples which are not certified organic but which I know to have been grown without pesticides, or the certified organic New Zealand grown apples flown thousands of miles and probably chilled near to death? British always wins.fullsizeoutput_18e

The solution is to stand up for British organic farmers; supporting this campaign is showing the farming community that we want organic and we want British and there is a market out there to justify the initial outlay. We want improved health, better tasting products and more easily accessible products.

I think that a 60/40 rule should generally apply (occasionally stretching to 80/20). Even I am guilty of the ‘Mum, can we go to McDonald’s?’ moments; and no one (generally) is perfect. I do try and ensure that under my roof food is nutritious, not packed with poisonous pesticides and generally locally sourced (although I admit to trying Gousto over the really busy summer,  as who can resist their opening offers?). But now that school has started and life isn’t quite as busy it’s time to sift through my recipe book collection and plan some fabulous, and obviously, budget conscious meals.

Here are my tips for cutting down the costs whilst enjoying organic:IMG_2231

1: Buy mince; it’s so versatile and organic mince is so much cheaper that the larger cuts, steaks or fillets. For everything from homemade Burgers to Shepherd’s Pie, soups and stews, mince is an essential – so load that freezer! It can also be bulked out with organic lentils (which are also quite reasonable) to make Chilli or Bolognese.

2: Buy a whole chicken; it’ll do Sunday Lunch, Monday supper and soup for at least two days lunches. Bone broth is totally delicious and amazingly good for you so make sure not to waste a drop – and also using the whole bird takes away any ‘expense’ guilt

3: Buy offal – again really nutritious. Chicken livers can be whipped into a light and delicious parfait; lambs liver served with bacon, mash and onion gravy is a forgotten delight. Organic Pig’s liver makes excellent terrine, even better served with a side of windfall apple and cider chutney. liverandbacon

4: Buy seasonally; go with the sturdy brassicas in winter and the radishes and tomatoes in summer – eating with the seasons is a sure way to reduce costs; and who wants to eat strawberries in the middle of December anyway?

5: Finally, try and buy in bulk; flour, oats, rice and pasta are all more affordable when bought in larger quantities; I buy 20kg sacks of organic, stoneground flour directly from the mills via amazon, or from Sharpham Park shop and it’s always far better value for money.

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