a beefy italian

 

romano's tomatoes

 

When I walk my little dog every morning, there is a lovely old italian chap who brings his working pointer in for a bit of excercise and we almost always walk together and chat.

here's hoping

 

He is charming and always makes me laugh. He shoots, has a garden, an allotment and cooks all the time.  He is in fact a retired chef.  We always have long chats about food and what we were doing at the weekend and he has lead an incredibly interesting life.

Last year he gave me the most enormous italian beef tomato to dry for seeds to plant this year.  It was an italian beef variety that came from his home in italy where his mama still lives.

sliced beef tomatoes

I wasn’t very hopeful after drying them as they looked a but mouldy but I thought I’d chance it.  I planted them in old baked bean tins a few weeks ago and they are starting to sprout.  I am hopeful that they will look as lovely as these photos when they grown on.

 

sprouting tomato seedlings

I have labelled them Romano’s Tomatoes and I like to think of them as being a hansome juicy italian variety just like him!

kentish cobnut cake

 

 

kentish cobnuts

 

recently, we were given a small hemp bag that contained about 200g of kentish cobnuts.

They look very like hazelnuts and had I not been informed to the contrary, that is exactly what I would have thought they were.

 

 

shelled kentish cobnuts

 

Although unfamiliar to me, there is an association for these tasty little nuts where you can buy them, learn about them and become a member in support of them.  Who knew?

Surprisingly, the kentish cobnut association is not a source of recipes for the use of them, but a few searches on the internet meant I had some hints for making up my own recipe for using these nuts and managing with the contents residing in my kitchen cupboards.

the recipe I used isn’t a great leap from any other nut cake really, but these tasty nuts are perfect for making into muffins or a teatime sized cake for the family.  I have no doubt the following recipe can be improved upon & I welcome any suggestions in case we are lucky enough to get anymore cobnuts but it provided us with the perfect sweet finish to our lovely sunday afternoon.

kentish cobnut cake

175g self raising flour

1 teaspoon salt

100g of roasted kentish cobnuts (roasting instructions – 100º for 40 minutes or until they are hard and dark brown.  roasting them enhances their flavour)

 

the much darker shrunken roasted cobnuts

 

5 tablespoons of golden syrup

5 tablespoons of water

40g of butter

1 beaten egg

sift the flour and salt into a bowl, stir in the cobnuts.

make a well in the middle of the flour

place the syrup, butter and water into a pan and melt over a gentle heat

pour the mix into the well and beat into flour and nut mix.

add beaten egg and stir in thoroughly.

 

 

lovely sticky cake mix

 

 

 

lovely chinks of chopped roasted cobnuts in the cake mix

 

grease a cake tin or muffin cases and bake on 190ºc for about 20 minutes.

 

 

kentish cobnut cake

 

it is definitely worth the effort of roasting the nuts first to bring out the nutty flavour and the syrup keeps it sweet but moist (I sometimes use yoghurt in cake recipes to add moisture but you need sweetness too).

this is a delicious cake and equally good with cheese as with a cup of tea for a mid morning snack.

jamming lessons

 

 

jars of jam

 

I needed to empty my freezer of some of the spare fruit stashed in there.  This stash takes the form of brambles (blackberries), elderberries, damsons and plums so I decided to make more jam to add to my burgeoning supplies.

jam on toast

My stash is becoming hugely diverse in flavours be it jams or chutneys and comes in such mixes as melon and orange, marrow and ginger, plain old plum, damson, bramble and apple, apple and lavender jelly, beetroot chutney or apple and plum chutney but I am always on the scrounge for new ingredients that I can put in my maslin pan and I am always looking out for new recipes to pique a bit of pallet interest.

I love the concept of one pot cooking, be it casseroles, rissotttos, soups or anything else that effectively involves chucking (in an orderly and timely fashion of course) all your ingredients into a big cauldron (ah, there is something in that) so jam making is right up my street.

marrow and ginger jam

I only really started making Jams last year but since I am never more delighted than when receiving a culinary treat, it inspires me to make similar and I just love the personal touch a foody gift has especially when you present it to a generous host (along with the requisite gallons and gallons of wine!).

I read somewhere recently that the only thank you a guest should arrive with is an edible or quaffable one!!  I couldn’t agree more.

bramble and elderberry jam

Anyway today it was to be bramble and elderberry jam, damson jam and damson and plum jam.

 

The bramble and elderberry was a treat and tastes divine, not to mention the amazing colour.

Some of the damsons had been stoned in the vein hope that I might make a pudding (not something I do with any kind of regularity, I’m afraid, and probably to the disappointment of most people who sit around our table to be fed!).

 

sweet plums

 

I did learn a jamming lesson today though and that is:- the pectin from plum stones is invaluable and removing the stones before cooking makes the setting process a lot harder, especially if you are like me and prefer to use natural sources of pectin to adding it from a packet.

 

Plum and Orange Jam

stoned plums

I already have 3 or so jam types in the cupboard that are made from different plum varieties so I wanted to vary the flavour slightly and having made honeydew melon marmalade that I love, I thought that orange might be an interesting addition.

It’s amazing what you can find when you ask a search engine for a jam recipe using plums and oranges!!!

stoned plums and stones in muslin

This recipe is based on the allotment growing recipes portfolio for plum recipes and is as follws:-

Ingredients

2 orange

2kg of plums (I used victoria plums)

juice of 2 lemons

1kg of jam sugar

One thing that I have learned very quickly from my limited jam making is that I don’t like using the equivalent in sugar to fruit weight.  It makes it too sweet for my tastes so I halve it.

basic ingredients

Method

Peel orange and set peel aside, chop up orange pulp removing pips and any pith that is too much.

Simmer for 10 minutes with peel in with pulp. Set aside.

Cook plums until soft and the lumps have broken down.

Add orange in and sugar.

Bring to the boil and boil hard until setting point is achieved.

Transfer to sterilized jars.  Cool and label.

plum stones in muslin

Also, I seem to recall from somewhere that the stones contain pectin and help with the flavour so I set them aside and put them in muslin to be boiled with the plums.  Removed before fast boil and setting point achieved.

plum and orange jam

It’s quite a tangy flavour and the equal amount of sugar to fruit would suit most people’s pallets but I enjoy the sharpness.

I love the amazing colour that these fruits achieve as they turn into a gloopy liquid.  Beautiful!

sloe gin cider

after sieving

I have finally been allowed to get my hands on SOME (only some) of the sloe gin that we started in October 2009, I have been watching the change in the colour of the gin every week and it is remarkable how a few months had changed it dramatically by the new year.

gin soaked sloes

Now that the sloes have been freed from the gin, the change in them is even more remarkable when you consider their appearance when they were first introduced to the gin.

this year's sloes waiting for the first frost

To get the clearest sloe gin, the small particulate needs to be filtered out and this is made easier if it is allowed to settle to the bottom of the sieved gin.

allow sediment to settle

It is then filtered through muslin or coffee filters into a clean sterilised jar.

filtering into sterilized storage

Not only have I been wanting to try the gin itself (our new favourite drink is shot of sloe gin with a logn measure of bitter lemon with lots of ice!!!) but I have been desperate to try the recipes that I found for using the sloes left from making sloe gin.

Sloe gin cider or slider is one of them.

cider and gin soaked sloes

This has got to be pretty good in making the most of what is available to you and for free.  A second use for a fruit harvested last year.

slider in the making

At the end of this session of soaking (about 2 – 3 months minimum), I am going to use the slider sloes to make a batch of slider chutney.

I also have plans for sloe gin truffles and simple sloe gin chutney (without the double soaking) when some of the rest of the sloe gin is decanted between now and christmas .

I can’t wait for the results of my slider.

plum and apple chutney

roughly chopped plums

Last year was my first and timid venture into the world of jam making. I had been inspired to try it when I discovered a Damson tree on the farm laden with ripened fruit.  My attempts at Damson Jam and then Hedgerow Jelly weren’t a complete disaster so it filled me with enthusiasm and I have since invested in a maslin pan, some other jam making bits of kit and have been saving jam jars like a mad person.

I recently tried marrow and ginger jam and bramble and apple jam, thoroughly enjoying the process.  It appeals to my general approach to cooking which should involve only one pot where ever possible!

I also tried beetroot chutney last year but have not ventured into the world of chutney much since. I can’t think of anything tastier though than a nice pickle with a lump of tasty mature cheese so chutneys and pickles are something I want to perfect.

Last week I made my own version of Plum & Apple Chutney using plums we collected at the weekend and limited myself to the various contents of our cupboards and fridge!!  I had, however, checked out a few recipes and was confident I had the makings of a pretty tasty chutney.

Ingredients

1.4kg apples (I used Bramley)

1.4kg of stoned plums (I used Victoria Plums)

350g of muscavado sugar (I used a mostly brown)

200g of sultanas

75g of peeled and finely chopped root ginger

2 tsp of cider vinegar

2 onions chopped (red is better)

1 tsp of ground black pepper

8 cloves

tsp of nutmeg

some ingredients in maslin pan

Method

Roughly chop fruit (leaving skins on but taking stones out of plums and cores out of apples), finely chop ginger, chop onions.

Put all ingredients into a pan and stir well.

all ingredients mixed in pan ready for cooking

Gently bring ingredients up to boiling, stirring all the time to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Turn down to simmer for about 1.5 hours uncovered and until it starts to thicken.  Stir occassionallly.

Bring to boil again for about 10 minutes or until you can see the bottom of the pan (even for a split second) when you drag the spoon/ladle across the bottom.

If you can find them, remove the cloves.

Transfer to sterilized jars (I sterilize in the oven).

Allow to cool and label.

plum and apple chutney

It is really tasty and I’m incredibly pleased with my seven or so jars of Plum & Apple Chutney.

the secret orchard

damsons

We went back to the secret orchard at the weekend to collect more fruit for jamming and cooking.  We are on holiday for two weeks and are staying here to relax.   A bit of fruit picking and preserving is a great way to start.

Having enjoyed it’s fruits a few weeks ago, we were surprised to find so much still not past it’s best.

bramley apples

The apples are still difficult to get at as the trees are very high but the victoria plums are now so heavy on the branches that they have bowed to a pickable level; how accomodating.  There are no mirabelle plums left but there are still the common pink plums in abundance.  They are so sweet and definitely the best for eating.

sweet plums

It is incredibly overgrown making most of it impossible to get to and there are some evil brambles lurking where you least expect to find them.  We have offered to manage it for the farm in the hopes that we will get firewood from it and fruit for all of us to enjoy. So much of it is going to waste at the moment.  Even the birds can’t keep up with it.

victoria plums

We have suggested it be fenced off and a couple of pigs let lose in there to grub out the choking undergrowth and clear the ground of the fallen fruit.  Livestock is too much to worry about for a farm busy with thousands of acres of arable crops and we aren’t around often enough to take on the job but if we were, we’d be straight out there finding ourselves a couple of lincolnshire curly coated pigs.

eating apples

It’s a smashing little spot and although most of it remains inaccessible to us at the moment (where the pears and eating apples are!!), it will be a great project to clear it and help get it back to it’s near original condition.

an enormous mushroom

Even the furry one loved it finding lots of interesting smells and places to dig. His favourite was disappearing into the undergrowth to discover things that we couldn’t get to and that have probably only been visited by the local wildlife in a very, very long time.

our harvest

Until we get down to the clearing and managing of it properly, we can continue to enjoy the fruits we can reach.  Some of them have been cooked up now and I will tell about that later.

a secret orchard

cooking apples

The farm has an orchard tucked away alongside one of their crop fields which we didn’t know about last year. It has only just come to our attention through a conversation last weekend.

It is off the road and can’t be seen so it gets a little abuse by the occasional local who knows about it. The farm can’t keep an eye on it as it is a bit out of the way to be watched really but there is a lot of fruit.  I’m sure there is enough to go around.

apples and plums

It was planted a long time ago and was harvested every year and the produce was boxed up and sent off for sale. There is an old orchard ladder in the dike as you approach the edge of the orchard which would have been used by whoever was working to harvest.  The ladder is only really used by the farmer’s wife and a couple of the farm hands who have been shown it and can help themselves.  Now it is used by us!!

preparing

It is such a privilege to have access to this free food and I can tell you, it is pretty tasty.  We spent a few hours on Sunday afternoon picking (and sampling of course!) the apples (cookers), brambles, plums (the sweetest tasting ever), victoria plums (not ready yet), a type of tiny yellow plum (which I now know is a mirabelle plum), damsons (not ready yet) and pears (also not ready yet).

we are going back the next weekend we are there to check out the other plums, pears and damsons and perhaps pick some more apples but in the meantime, we got plums, brambles and apples to get started on.

ingredients

At the moment my confidence with jam making and chutneys isn’t very high and I certainly haven’t enough courage to tackle bottling or other rather complicated sounding processes so I am going to stick at the simple jam making processes and hopefully get more adept at it.

I was very happy with the outcome of my marrow and ginger jam so I thought I would have a go at bramble and apple, plum and then lavender flower jelly with the apples.

bramble and apple jam in the pot

Country living’s September issue was my weekend reading and could not have been better suited to our foraging. It has these very recipes in it along with a recipe for lavendar jelly, sloe jam, and also pear with peach jam.

The Bramble & Apple Jam recipe is as follows:

Brambles / Blackberries (whatever weight you have managed to forage) washed, de-stalked and checked for bugs.

Brambly Cooking Apples / Crab Apples (1/3 of the weight of brambles you collected). peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks

Sugar (equivalent in weight to brambles)

1/4 pint of water

juice of 2 lemons

cook all brambles with half of the lemon juice until softened.

cook apples in remaining lemon juice until soft.

put apples and brambles together in maslinpan with water and sugar.

heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring regularly.

bring to boil rapidly for about 20 mins or until setting point is reached.

skim off scum.

pop into warm sterilized jars.

label when cold.

bramble and apple jam

The Plum Jam recipe is as follows:

Plums (whatever weight you have managed to forage) washed, de-stalked and stones removed. keep the stones and pop into muslin bag.

Sugar (equivalent in weight to brambles)

1/4 pint of water

juice of 2 lemons. keep the lemon skins and pips and pop into the muslin bag with the plum stones.

cook all the plums and the lemon juice until softened. put the muslin bag od stones and lemons into pan half way through cooking and leave until ready to boil.

add water and sugar.

heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring regularly. remove muslin bag and discard.

bring to boil rapidly for about 20 mins or until setting point is reached.

skim off scum.

pop into warm sterilized jars.

label when cold.

plum jam

I ran out of time for anything else and have a load of cooking apples left along with some lavender flowers from the garden so I am going to do that lavender jelly jam next.

#6 still growing our own

courgette flowers

As relative novices at this, we seem to have an abundance of certain things such as rocket and nasturtiums and this will happen with the lettuce, carrots, cabbage and corgettes too.  Staggering the planting of your produce every two weeks has been lost in translation somewhere!!

Not to be daunted by too much produce for our consumption rate, some has gone to grace other people’s supper tables other things like the spare rocket has been turned into rocket pesto for later use.

I recently found a recipe and a few suggestions for the use of the green tops of carrots so as we thin them out and eat them as baby carrots (delicious!!), we are also using the leaves in salad.  We haven’t tried wilting them into pasta or scrambled eggs yet but it works just like doing it with spinach. The flavour is quite different to spinach and it is definitely reminiscent of carrots.

huge courgette flowers

The substantial courgette coverage that we have has also offered enormous flower heads which we will be coating in batter and frying (yum yum) along with lots of baby courgettes for salad and pasta.

courgettes and flowers

We have enough Pak Choi to stir fry until christmas, the strawberry plant has taken on trifid like proportions and although it has produced a limited harvest, the strawberries that we have enjoyed have been very sweet and full of flavour; perfect to liven up a breakfast bowl of cereal.

curly red lettuce

The crispy green lettuces seem to have suffered from a bit of unwanted insect attention but are still edible if chopped into a mixed salad. The curly red ones on the other hand are looking amazing and certainly add colour.

crispy red lettuce

I don’t think we have ever eaten so healthily or so cheaply though JC wonders how cheap it is if you take into account the time spent planting, tending, maintaining, picking and preparing.  Regardless of this, our salads and vegetables have never tasted so good and it most definitely makes an enormous difference when it is straight from the ground to your dinner table.

mini tomatoes

We have learned a lot from our short venture into vegetable growing like how important it is to space things properly, how important it is to spread your harvest over as long a part of the season as possible by staging your sewing and then of course there is the things you begin to understand about the general care.  It will all hopefully contribute to making us more successful and more efficient as we progress.

nasturtiums

One thing that has been unexpected and has proved interesting is our compost.

We’ve been making our own compost for quite a while now in a concerted effort to drive down our rubbish production and having sieved it and stored it, we only got around to using it for the first time this year for our veggies.

Everywhere that we used it, almost without exception, there are mini tomato plants popping up which must be germinating from the tomaotoes that have ended up in our composter.

Free tomato plants too!

flowery meadows

There seem to be a lot of flowers appearing just now and it is 2 weeks since we saw the farm so the change is marked and very, very pretty.

I used to know all the names of everything that has a flower and certainly had more confidence in picking what could be eaten than I do now.

Even so, it is lovely to see the hay meadows and pond surrounds filled with daisies and poppies and grasses and harebells and so many other pretty floral things.

The oil seed has finished flowering but the linseed is casting a gorgeous bright blue caste over some of the fields, there are flag irises at the pond and grasses on the bank.

The summer is all about the vegetation, be it the salad variety, harvestable vegetation or the hedge rows. It seems that the winter is all about the wildlife (easier to see!!), but we may not be seeing the deer that we have become accustomed to but we have seen some of their very fresh deer slots around the pond after the rain has made mud; even though a sighting of them they elude us when the wheat and barley are so high.

It is nice to know that quietly they are still, so things don’t change that much even though they seem to and they are still around. I keep threatening to camp over night with night vision to see the badgers, foxes and deer, we’ll see if I get my way…..

I have missed the hawthorn blossom by about a week so my blossom brandy will have to wait until perhaps next year but I satisfied myself with a lovely round of toasted freshly baked bread spread with ‘hedgerow jelly‘ and a cuppa tea.  JC opted for the first batch from Barry’s Bees Lincolnshire Honey and was as happy as I.

The honey is luscious and all of our friends seem happy to receive a jar but Barry tended his bees into making that whereas tinyinc’s hedgerow jelly was made by me!! It is a lovely flavour of haw berries, crab apple and damsons picked by me, cooked by me, sieved by me and jarred by me. I haven’t given much away.  It was hard work to make compared to just jam but it is very much worth it.

The colour alone made yesterday’s breakfast a bit special!