Friday, 18 November 2011

Funghi fears and fun

A terrific and terrifying article by Nicholas ('The Horse Whisperer') Evans in last Saturday's Guardian, in which he outlines the circumstances in which he and three other adults had their kidneys irreparably damaged. By irreparably, I do mean 'without hope of recovery'. In fact they would be dead if not for prompt action, and five hours a day each of dialysis. He has now accepted a kidney from his daughter, so that he (and she) each have a single working kidney. The other three people wait in hope of a transplant, and are only kept alive by long daily sessions on the dialysis machines.
There has been a certain amount of comment on this article on various science-based blogs I follow, because Evans has been in receipt of an awful lot of loony advice about giving up the medicines and the treatment and using crystals (or whatever) to 'regrow' his kidneys. Rightly should such advice be scorned and ridiculed (basic biology - livers can regrow, up to a point. Kidneys don't, possibly why two kidneys is a better evolutionary deal than just one).
But my focus here is the foraging aspect. Evans and the others ate the wrong wild mushrooms, the kind that make you feel incredibly ill but not until enough hours have passed that irreparable damage has been done already.

One paragraph really struck me:

 "The cause was much more complex than has been talked about. I did pick [the mushrooms], but it was really two people, each thinking the other one knew what he or she was doing."

So, if I read him aright, it seems that the people involved took each other's expertise for granted, perhaps both thinking 'well, not sure, but X obviously knows what they are...'

I thought of it even more this week when a friend, a long time forager, gave us some lovely funghi that he had just picked.

I've always been a bit shy about picking funghi, for the very good (it seems to me) reason that the excuse 'well, it looks a bit like...' doesn't sound so convincing when your stomach is being pumped out. I'm doing my best to learn, but have three or four times this year collected mushrooms, brought them home, and then chucked them out because I really wasn't sure enough about what I was looking at.

So, rather than accept Francis' word for it, I made spore prints, consulted several books (especially those with several photos of each species) and cross referenced.

And last night we had a delicious chanterelle omelette. Chanterelles are fairly easy - the smell particularly is distinctive, strong and pleasantly fruity.

This evening I'm going to stew some field blewitts - also distinctive, though I was not familiar with them before. I was helped in this by the delicate violet of the stalks and the scrolled and curled edges - also because one of my field guides has about 7 photos of them in different angles, which was a great help.

I'm planning to cook them slowly with leeks, bacon and beans. I'm cautiously optimistic I'll still be here next week.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


It's been an excellent autumn for nuts around our way.

First off, a row of rather neglected-looking Turkish hazelnut trees. Someone must have planted them along the road (they are handsome trees, not very tall) and then forgotten all about them. In September the path was already ankle deep in the complex-looking carapaces the nuts form in.

English hazelnuts and Kentish cobs develop in pairs, held within a kind of green frill of sepal, which always reminds me of the prim paper frills proper hostesses used to put on the end of roast legs of lamb back in the day, or at least so the photos in my Mum's 1950s cookery book suggest. Turkish hazelnuts, instead, grow inside mad explosions of green tentacles the size of a fist, somewhere between a sea urchin and a conker. I suspect them of being based on Fibonacci series, like so much complexity in nature.

Anyway, instead of pairs of largish nuts, each fist of carapace contains about a dozen small but delicious nuts. You have to prize apart the carapaces, which start off green and sticky with sap but gradually dry and brown. I swept up kilos of the stuff and took them home to rip apart at my leisure, the carapaces making excellent firelighters for the woodburner. I couldn't quite believe that passers-by were leaving kilos of protein to lie about the streets.

There was, however, a problem. Our nutcracker is one of those hinged contraptions, and the nuts were too small to crack even in the smallest setting. What we need is one of those ring crackers, where there's a screw which tightens on the shell. Could we find one? No we could not. Everywhere it was the same 'we don't stock nutcrackers until the run-up to Christmas.' This from shops which already had mince pies on display (best before 24th October). Gosh, I hate shops! In the end B took some outside and bashed them with a hammer... delicious! They'll keep in the shell for a long time, so I may add some recipes later on.

Then it was beech mast. You need to be quick - if they sit on the wet ground too long they discolour and start to sprout. The best place would be beech trees which have a pavement under them, but not a pavement that is much frequented, otherwise they get crushed. I found just such a place and filled my pockets, as well as a little trek along a couple of hedgerows. They are smallish, triangular nuts, glossy brown (exactly the colour of dried beech leaves) and a little fiddly - you need to split the thin shell off to clean the golden-brown kernel, but they are delicious. Much tastier than pine nuts, IMO, and no more fiddly.

Beech pesto:

fresh basil leaves
beech mast
oil (a dab - the oiliness of the mast varies)

Crush the garlic, nuts and basil leaves with a pestle, or whizz in a food grinder. Add enough oil to cover.  If you make more than you need it will keep in the fridge in a jar under oil.

This is superb with arborio rice.

And then there are sweet chestnuts - some as big as conkers. Of which, more later...

Monday, 15 August 2011

Updates, and courgettes and marrows for times of glut

I've been rather quiet lately, mainly due to work - actually having a job this summer is a bit of a shock, though I'm very glad to have it. Plus various other things - I might actually have got a book accepted for publication, for instance...

Plus I haven't been entirely happy with some of the brews I've made lately: I had a batch go off, which has never happened to me before. I think I know what the problem was - a bit of the mash did not get properly strained out, and so went off and contaminated the demijohn. It's called 'putrefaction' and justly is it so named.

On the bright side, there's a batch of redcurrant rose perking away. It was excellent last year, so I hope I've got it right this year. Last week we picked the first blackberries and elderberries - I was thinking of doing a combined wine, but I've now got enough in the freezer to do one of each - the first of many. Elderberry is one of the best wines I've made, so I hope to do a lot of it. Blackberry has not been so good - rather watery and thin - but last year I used a new recipe with added red grape juice, so the next batch may have a bit more body (I won't know for another year, as the 2010 lot is still in storage: supposed to be a year in bulk and another in the bottle). We shall see.

Found lots of damsons yesterday, not quite ready though, so damson wine next? It's not on our usual routes - in fact, I don't associate damsons with Norfolk at all - so it would mean a special foray... but it it a very fine wine if you get it right. Hmmm.

In the meantime, let me sing the praises of the wonderful Norwich Farm Share. What it is, is a group of people who stumped up a deposit to rent some acres in Postwick, and a standing order of a few quid a week. This pays for an organic grower to... er ... grow stuff organically. The stuff then comes to a distribution point, and everyone gets a share. It's wonderful, and not just because the distribution point is practically in the next street to ours... very handy.

The veg is delicious, fresh, local, varied, and grown by people we are getting to know and like. (I was eating some farmshare carrots the other day and it made me wonder just what is done to ordinary carrots that prevents them tasting like carrots? I can't imagine.) Next weekend there is a communal weed-in which is fun (we haven't been able to visit so far... looking forward to it and also the chance to scope out some potential forage around the site, maybe for spring...)

Anyway, there are gluts. Currently there are loads of courgettes (fabulously delicious... I like them a la greca - sliced thinly lengthways and grilled with a little olive oil and crushed or sliced garlic, with a dab of lemon juice before serving). But I mean LOADS of courgettes. Some of them becoming marrows as we speak.

So... courgette or marrow wine, for dealing with gluts... 


2.5 k ripe courgettes or marrows

2 large unwaxed lemons

1 juicy orange

200g sultanas or raisins (golden sultanas give a good colour)

1 mug of strong black leaf tea

Piece of ginger root about 3 cms long

1 kg of sugar (in two servings of 500 grams each)

4 litres water

1 campden tablet

2 teaspoons pectolase

1 teaspoon Yeast Nutrient

Sauternes or general purpose wine yeast

If using courgettes:

Rinse the courgettes and top and tail them. If any courgettes are borderline turning into marrows, split them down the middle and scrape out the seeds – these become bitter if cut or broken and can spoil the taste of the wine.

Grate the courgettes, skin, vestigal seeds and all.

If using marrow:

Wipe the marrows, split them, remove and discard seeds. Chop the marrow into small pieces.

Some recipes recommend freezing the pulp for 24 hours at this point to help extract juice and flavour.

Sprinkle the veg pulp with 500 grams of the sugar and the pectolase. Leave for 24 hours.
Peel the ginger root, chop and crush into pieces, add to the pulp.

Rinse and chop the sultanas and add.

Scrub the lemons and orange. Peel them finely, avoiding the white pith. Chop the peel and add.

Boil the water and pour over the mash. Stir in the yeast nutrient and black tea.

Squeeze the orange and lemons, discarding the pips, and add to the mix.

When the mix cools to blood temperature, stir in the yeast.

Cover and leave to ferment for five days. Stir twice daily, making sure the veg pulp is submerged.

Strain through a fine sieve or a clean muslin cloth. Squeeze the pulp to get as much liquid out as possible. (The squeezed pulp can then go to your chickens or pigs if you have any. If not, fold it into your compost with some brown material such as twigs, leaves, torn-up paper, etc).

Put a couple of mugfuls of the juice into a saucepan and warm over a low heat, taking care not to let it boil. Stir in the remaining 500 grams of sugar until it dissolves. Then return it to the main bulk of the liquid.

Decant into a sterilised demijohn.

Top up to the neck with cool boiled water, fit an airlock and leave to ferment out.

When fermentation has stopped, rack into a clean demijohn, add 1 crushed campden tablet, top up with cool boiled water if necessary, bung tight and store for 6 months.

Rack again. If the wine is still hazy at this stage, you can fine it using fresh milk (most finings are not vegetarian).

To fine:

Rack into a clean clear glass demijohn and add two tablespoonfuls of fresh milk. Bung tight and roll or rock the demijohn to swish the milk all around it. Leave in a cool place for two weeks. The wine should be brighter and a white must will have formed at the bottom. Rack the wine again to remove this, topping up with water.

Bottle and store for 6 months before drinking.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A-popping and a-perking

There are 4 gallons of wine currently popping and perking away in my kitchen, a result of some mass foraging, and an executive decision to make more of those wines we've enjoyed most. So, two gallons of gorse wine, and two of dandelion, all a-fermenting away like crazy.
(The expression 'barmy', now an antiquated term for stone bonker, comes I think from the word 'barm', ie, yeast. A barmy person has a brain that is fermenting and bubbling with crazy gases, just as my wine is doing).
Now if I had a greenhouse, I'd move the demijohns into that greenhouse right now, because what comes out of those bubbling airlocks is very largely carbon dioxide. Which is a... well, it's a greenhouse gas, I suppose, and overall then a bad thing.
In small quantities, however, and in the right place, f'rinstance in a greenhouse full of plants, where soil fertility, temperature and water supply are all properly calculated for good growth, it makes the plants come on like gangbusters faster.
I don't have a greenhouse, alas, but I do have a large kitchen windowsill, with plants on it, and have recently doubled the area by persuading my Beloved to install a plank shelf across the middle, also with plants on it. So the plants are getting the benefit of the bubbles.
Last time I made gorse wine it was very pretty to look at - bright lemon curd yellow - but a bit disappointing in taste and body. A little bit sour and thin, we thought. I made it with the flowers and just a couple of lemons, which I think did not give enough oomph. This time round I added 300 grams of chopped sultanas, juice and peel of 1 orange and 2 lemons to two litres of flowers, to every gallon of water and kilo of sugar, or thereabouts, plus a mug of strong black tea for the tannin. So it might turn out with a bit more body and smoothness, I hope. We shall see... in about 8 months time.
The dandelion wine, however, has always been exemplary. I make it with dried fruit (either unsulphurated apricots, or chopped raisins) and the result is like a fino sherry. Yum yum. I do hope this batch - 2 gallons made with apricots and some of the sugar muscovado, will be as good.
I should here plug the wonderful Roy's of Wroxham, who now sell plastic reusable demijohns for a mere £1.75 each. A snip, though the "groms" which hold the airlocks in the tops are sold seperately and will set you back another 49p apiece.
So... now those wines are transferred into the demijohns, my fermentation crocks are empty. What is next? I made bramble tip a few years ago and it was good, and kept well too (we finished the last of the 2007 batch just now). Only I can't quite remember the exact recipe - it had no fruit added, and muscovado sugar, that I do recall. Hmm.
I've never made nettle wine, or lime blossom wine, or may blossom wine, so I might try those next. Lots of nettles still around my way, and the may blossom is just coming out. Lime blossom I will look for later on. Just a gallon of each, I think...

Monday, 11 April 2011

Spring Leaves 4; Garlic Mustard Pesto

'I never knew how much there is to see
Until I started looking
I never knew how good my tastes could be
Until I started cooking...'

Foraging for one thing leads to another: once you start looking there's no telling what you might find. A few sunny days have brought everything on like gangbusters.

First I went foraging for gorse flowers to make wine. It's fermenting on the must at the moment, and there is plenty more if I decide to make another batch. At the same time (spiny things tending to congregate together) I got some nice new nettles for risotto. And while looking for the nettles I found some fennel plants, lots of dandelions (that's my next wine batch), the heavenly-scented balsam poplar (which I don't know what to do with, apart from dry for pot pourri: any ideas?), what I'm pretty sure is horseradish (best in October), a spot likely to produce St George's Mushrooms  (so named because they come in on 23rd April, St George's Day) fairly soon, and lots of Garlic Mustard. Phew.

Garlic Mustard looks a bit like nettle, and likes similar places to grow in, but the leaves are heart-shaped and deckle-edged, smooth rather than hairy, non-stinging, and aranged in regular quarters off the straight upright stems, which end in tiny white flowers on top. As the name suggests it is neither a garlic nor a mustard, but a member of the splendid family of the cabbage - the lower leaves taste somewhat cabbagy, in fact, although mainly they taste of... well... of garlic and mustard. They don't smell much, unlike say Ransoms or Wild Garlic, which you can find with your eyes closed: the scent and taste are released when the leaves are bitten, or crushed.

Hmm... crushed...

'Pesto' takes its name from the verb 'pestare' - to pound or strike (also, idomatically to fuck). Pesto sauce is 'that which is pounded' - in the Genovese version, it is pinenuts, garlic, basil and oil which get pounded: a good protein-rich dish.

Well, I didn't have any pinenuts in the cupboard, but I did have some walnuts, and, as it happened, some walnut oil (which is fabulous on toast, btw).

I took 2 handfuls of garlic mustard leaves (removed from the plants without breaking the stalk: it will put out more so I can come again), washed them, made them into a wad and cut them up with kitchen scissors.

I put them into a steep-sided dish with a handful of walnuts and a pinch of sea salt. Then I set about them with the handle of a wooden rolling pin (I don't have a pestle and mortar at the moment), crushing the leaves and the nuts and mixing it all well in.

Add a slug of walnut oil, black pepper and a little ground nutmeg to taste.

Garlic mustard walnut pesto! (I must try it with pine nuts sometime).

I left it overnight in the fridge for it to infuse further before using. If you want it to keep longer, spoon it into a pot and then put a thin layer of oil on top: this seals it. Keep in the fridge.

You know, of course, the trick with pesto? Which is to cook your pasta in fast-boiling salted water, from which, just before the pasta is ready to drain, you ladle a spoonful of the water into the pesto sauce, stir, and then add the drained pasta. But you knew that already.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Spring Leaves 3 Nettle Risotto - Vegan recipe

 For those who don't eat animal products, a creamy effect can be got by cooking a potato with the rice. This is not unusual in the south of Italy, where rich grazing is harder to come by. Sprinkle with poppy seeds or with toasted sunflower seeds for an extra tang and a protein boost.


  • 2 litres of young, fresh nettles
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of cooking oil
  • 1 litre good vegetable stock (I usually add a teaspoon of marmite to my stock)
  • 1 glass white wine or fino sherry. Bramble or a rich dandelion wine is good for this  
  • 300 g short-grain rice. Arborio is best for this.
  • I small potato, peeled and cut into pieces
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Fresh chives or parsley, chopped
  • Poppy seeds, or toasted sunflower seeds
Fill the sink or a washing bowl with cold water. Wearing rubber gloves, submerge the nettles. Wash thoroughly, changing the water once or twice.
Strip the leaves from the stalks. Discard stalks.
Shake excess water from leaves, place in a pan with a pinch of salt, and cook briskly until leaves are soft and quantity has reduced.
Drain liquid from nettles into the vegetable stock.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the chopped onion. Soften over low heat until translucent.
Press the last drops of liquid out of the nettles into the stock.
Peel the potato, cut it into quarters, and add to the vegetable stock.
Transfer the stock to a saucepan and simmer.
Chop the drained nettles, add them to the onion, and cook for one minute on a low heat, stirring constantly.
Add the rice to the onion and nettle. Cook on a low heat until the edges of the rice grains begin to turn pearly.
Stir in the wine.
Using a ladle or slotted spoon, transfer the pieces of potato from the stock pan to the rice.
Ladle enough liquid from the stock pan onto the rice and potato to just cover it. Stir gently. As the rice absorbs the stock, keep adding a ladleful at a time. You need to stir the rice and potato pieces enough to prevent sticking, but not so much you break them.
When all the liquid has been absorbed the rice will be plump and fluffy and the potato pieces cooked. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with black pepper, the chopped green herbs, and the poppy or sunflower seeds.
Traditionally, a risotto ‘rests’ for a minute after this before it is served.
Serves 4.

Spring Leaves 2 Nettles (Vegetarian recipe)

Round my way the nettles are springing up, about 4-5 inches long and as green as a very green thing - which is what they are... Time for some cautious foraging with gardening gloves, long sleeves, and scissors.
Snip off the top half of the young nettles (or about one third, later on in the year) leaving the lower stem and leaves. Plastic carrier bags are OK to carry them in, providing they are not left sitting in them too long. Calculate quantities as if the leaves were liquid.

Nettle Risotto is a dish from the Abruzzo, the mountainous spine of Italy, a region of poor soil, harsh winters and an inventive local cuisine. To me it has the pure taste of spring: green herbs and a little fresh cream from the first milking to make it really luxurious. It’s vegetarian.

  • 2 litres of young, fresh nettles
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 30 g butter
  • 1 litre good vegetable stock
  • 1 glass white wine or fino sherry. Bramble or a rich dandelion wine is good for this.  
  • 300 g short-grain rice. Arborio is best
  • 3 tbsp cream
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Fresh chives or parsley, chopped
  • 40 g grated parmesan cheese
Fill the sink or a washing bowl with cold water. Wearing rubber gloves, submerge the nettles. Wash thoroughly, changing the water once or twice.
Strip the leaves from the stalks. Discard stalks.
Shake excess water from leaves, place in a pan with a pinch of salt, and cook briskly until leaves are soft and quantity has reduced.
Drain liquid from nettles into the vegetable stock.
Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the chopped onion. Soften over low heat until translucent.
Press the last drops of liquid out of the nettles into the stock. Transfer the stock to a saucepan and simmer.
Chop the drained nettles, add them to the onion, and cook for one minute on a low heat, stirring constantly.
Add the rice to the onion and nettle. Cook on a low heat until the edges of the rice grains begin to turn pearly.
Stir in the wine.
Ladle enough liquid from the stock pan onto the rice to just cover it. Stir gently. As the rice absorbs the stock, keep adding a ladleful at a time. You need to stir the rice enough to prevent sticking, but not so much you break the rice grains.
When all the liquid has been absorbed the rice will be plump and fluffy. Remove from heat. Stir in the cream. Sprinkle with black pepper, the chopped green herbs, and the parmesan.
Traditionally, a risotto ‘rests’ for a minute after this before it is served.
Serves 4.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Spring leaves part 1

Well, all of a sudden it's spring - trees in full blossom, and all the new green leaves popping up all of a sudden.

The blossom came more or less over night - we had a really sunny day last week, and the branches went from little knobbly lumps of bud to full-blown flowers from one day to the next.

With luck we won't get another frost, which should mean a good autumn for fruit forage. 2010 was excellent, due to a cold winter before the sap rose and no frost later to kill the buds. This winter had plenty of cold, which fruit trees like, so fingers crossed for a good vintage 2011. In the mean time, pick leaves.

Dandelions are one of the best forage plants: there's no shortage of them. Indeed, gardeners often go to great lengths to get rid of them: futile lengths, as the plants have amazing powers of regeneration, even from the tiniest fragments of root. But why bother? Every bit of the dandelion  (except the stalk, which is full of bitter latex) is good to eat or brew.

Here's a recipe to do right now. I wrote a meat-eating version for my Wild Brews column in Smallholder magazine, but not sure if it's going in or not (if it doesn't, I'll post it here sometime).

This is a no-animal-produce version, suitable for all.

Dandelion Salad (serves 2-4)
    • Two full handfuls of young dandelion leaves
    • Two handfuls of sunflower seeds 
    • Half a cucumber
    • Lemon juice 
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lay the sunflower seeds of a sheet of foil or baking paper and place under a hot grill, shaking from time to time so the seeds are evenly toasted
Wash dandelion leaves thoroughly in cold water. Drain the leaves, spin dry in a salad spinner, or wrap in a clean dry tea cloth and shake dry, or pat dry.
Wash and chop the cucumber.
Roughly chop the dandelion leaves.
Mix the leaves, cucumber and toasted seeds and toss together with lemon juice. Season with salt and black pepper.

This makes a good starter or side-salad for Risotto alle Ortiche, which uses another good foraging stalwart: nettles. Recipes coming up soon. Enjoy your forage. :)

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Signs of Spring

Crocuses, lots of snowdrops still (saw the first on January 2nd and they are still going) and daffs not open yet, little knobs of blossom budding along the blackthorn twigs and just about to break.... but the real sign of spring is that my kitchen is now warm enough for breadmaking to happen quickly and enjoyably. I made a batch last week and it rose so quickly I could feel it under my fingers. Whereas the last few batches I've baked had to be planned over two days to allow the dough to rise overnight - and even then, one lot was a bit flat and heavy. This batch is fine - granary loaves, poppy-seed rolls, rye bread and some apricot buns.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Risotto with Nettles by Anna Del Conte

This is a terrific book - a memoir with recipes - which I noticed at my local library (and here's a cheer for local libraries - defend them against the cuts!) the day after I had written my Wild Brews column for Smallholder's April edition.

The thing is, my column was mainly about nettles, including a recipe for Risotto Alle Ortiche - Nettle risotto. That's why her title kind of hit me in the eye as I came up the stairs to the upper library and saw her book displayed.

My recipe version is a little different from hers though, mainly in the addition of a glass of wine to the rice at the translucent stage, and being slightly less buttery. I learnt mine in the Abruzzo, whereas hers comes from further north, in Piedmonte: that may account for it as pasturage is poorer further south.

Foraging in the fields, and foraging in libraries, bookshops and on my own over-crowded shelves are not disimilar activities.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


Not foraged, unless you live (as I once did) within reach of orange and lemon trees. [When I first arrived in Naples I was amazed by orange and lemon trees on balconies high above the narrow stony streets - they looked unreal to me, unnaturally bright like Christmas decorations, especially as they fruit in winter].

This is a slow recipe: I did it over two days.

I used less sugar than most recipes call for, partly because the Beloved is diabetic, and partly because I find a lot of marmalades just too sweet to bear. To aid setting I've replaced some of the sugar called for with apple pectin and with apple flesh.

You need:

a very large saucepan - enamelled or stainless steel
a sharp knife
a sieve (preferably metal, as it may get hot)
a juicer
a large square of muslin
a measuring jug
wooden spoons
a saucer
6 clean jars with lids
a ladle

12 seville oranges
2 lemons
1 cooking apple
350 g cane sugar
250 g dark demarara sugar
125 ml Apple Pectin (I used Certo - there are other makes)
1 campden tablet

Scrub the oranges and lemons.
Peel finely, avoiding the pith. Chop the peel - I like it fairly chunky - and put into the saucepan.
Line the sieve with the muslin and put it over the measuring jug.
Cut the oranges and lemons in half, and squeeze them into the jug. The muslin will catch any bits of pith and the pips.
Scrape the flesh out of the squeezed halves, making sure you pick out the pips, and put them into the saucepan with the peel. Put the discarded pithy halves into the muslin.
Measure the juice and make up the quantity to 4 litres. Put into the saucepan.
Tie the corners of the muslin together firmly to hold the pith and pips. Put into the saucepan.
Bring the liquid to the boil, and simmer until the liquid is reduced to about two-thirds and the peel is soft and translucent. This took me about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

I then left it over night, with the bag in it... not really planned (just it was late and I was tired), but it seems to have done it no harm.

In the meantime, clean your marmalade jars in hot water. I added a campden tablet, which is used for sterilising wine-making equipment, but hot water and washing up liquid works ok. Rinse thoroughly. Air dry rather than wiping - I put them under the unlighted grill, as it gets warm while I'm boiling the mix on top of the cooker.


Put the saucer in the fridge (or in the freezer if you're in a hurry)
Lift out the muslin bag and rest it to cool in the sieve over the saucepan.
When the bag has cooled, squeeze and press and bash as much jelly-like essence and gooey juice as you possibly can out of it into the saucepan. I used the wooden spoon for this, and also a marmalade jar (pressing the bottom of it onto the bag) and finally pressed it between two bowls, and at last in my fists.

Peel and core the apple. Chop the flesh into small pieces, removing pips and core-y bits.
Add the apple flesh to the saucepan.
Now return the saucepan to the heat and stir in the sugars and the apple pectin. Bring to a fast boil. If the surface gets frothy, scoop the froth off with a spoon.

When the marmalade begins to bubble gloopily, test it ever 5 or 10 minutes to see whether it is ready. You do this by dropping a little bit onto the cold saucer.

If the marmalade's ready, it will become firm as it cools and, when you touch it, wrinkly. If it is overdone, it will crystalise - that's a sign of far too much sugar. If it's not ready yet, it will remain runny. 

When done, ladle into the clean warm jars and leave to cool. Carefully - few things are as hot as hot marmalade. Seal and label the jars.

The demarara sugar gives this a nice, dark rich taste and you should be able to taste the orange and the lemon peel.

The whole house smells like the bells of St Clements.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Out and About

A longish walk yesterday around Oxnead to see the snowdrops, Brampton, over the water meadows by Buxton and along the railway path to Coltishall. Unusually I carried no forage bag (I should do always, if only to pick up litter) but I did as always have my eyes peeled. Too early just yet for bramble tips or new nettles, but they are on their way. (We are currently drinking 4 year old bramble wine, and very fine it is too: I plan to make lots this spring).
Plenty of birdlife about. Egyptian geese on the water meadows. Many robins calling, and along the railway path there were bluetits on every third or fourth tree. Coming along we saw a smallish brown raptor drop out of a tree on our left and disappear into the hedge on the right, after which we heard a loud cuck cuck cuck of a bird complaining and saw the raptor fly into a copse in the field, quickly followed by the sight of a lot of small birds flying out of the copse as fast as they could in all directions. Looking it up on the RSPB website it seems to be either a female sparrowhawk (they are brown, but have a barred tail which I didn't spot), maybe a merlin... I wish birds had labels, or pulled little banners behind them announcing their names. The birds think it is spring, and the snowdrops do as well.
Making marmalade.