Monday, 28 February 2011

Wild Green Pesto

The ancient woodland to the South of Ragman’s Lane Farm, sloping down to the River Wye is a haven – gnarling trees, a floor of Beech leaves, Hart’s Tongue Ferns, Dog’s Mercury, Lords and Ladies, and a variety of Mosses, a stone pathway the route of the old tram, meandering, the promise of Bluebells, and suddenly, in the last week, the Ramsons… in abundance the leaves piercing out of the ground to colour the floor a vibrant pale green.

Tonight a dusk forage – the last few days we have been feasting on Pestos of young Nettle tops and today we decided to add the Wild Garlic to the concoction.

 Cari blending...
(this can be done by hand, and has a lovely texture but for large numbers it is easier in a blender)

Nettle and Wild Garlic Pesto
Blend a bowlful of Nettles with the same of Ransoms (Wild Garlic) in Olive Oil and add Seasalt and toasted Sunflower Seeds (whole) for a Wild Green Vegan Pesto to serve on Pasta, bake into Breads, shake into Vinaigrette, spread on Toast… even eat by the spoonful!
 Store pesto covered well in oil in an airtight jar, stores for at least six months.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Slow Food, Slow Yoga

Macalla EcoFarm on Clare Island is holding a weekend course (March 17th -20th) in Vegetarian Cooking and Yoga - sumptuous combination... and I'll likely be there cooking etc.   Christophe is a sublime foody - as his French origins surely denote...and a deep and compelling Yoga Teacher.  My time spent at Macalla is indeed the source and inspiration of many of these recipes on my blog.  The Farm and Retreat Centre has piles of organic gardens, polytunnels and a rare snatch of ancient woodland.  The Yoga Room stares East over Clew Bay, a misty mysterious bay of 365 islets to the sacred mountain Croagh Patrick,  where the sun rises.  Sourdough Bread baking, Ghee making, the art of Herbs and Spices, forage and good stoic veggy banqueting...not to mention the reviving seawaters of the icy cove!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Sloe Gin

The gardener for whom the Blackthorn is not a suckering, venomous plant to be spurned at all costs, has a little secret: the fruit of the thorny plant – the Sloe.  And beyond jellies and jams, the most likely reason he hails this suckering plant’s arrival with joy is that he has a certain penchant for a nip of Sloe Gin.  In these grey days, a timely interval – The Bottling of the Sloe Gin. 
4 pt Gin
2lb 10 oz Sloes
10 oz Sugar

Prick sloes all over with pin or similar to encourage exchange of juices.
Layer in demijohn with rest of ingredients.
After three months strain through muslin and bottle.
Age for as long as possible in bottles to soften off that raw edge
(The method of freezing instead of pricking – a favoured time saver – does seem to produce  a slight jelly-like bloom in the gin.)
Pick Sloes, a bulging black fruit much like a small damson, in early October or after first frost, you’ll find them  growing on the hardy, thorny, dark-wooded Blackthorn, but mind yourself – a scratch from a thorn quickly turns septic.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

For the essence of Summer

...on a gloomy day:
a scavenged salad and a glass of lovely Norfolk Cordial's Red Gooseberry and Elderflower Cordial - true Norfolkian nectar!

Friday, 18 February 2011

A Scavenged Salad

Longing for something raw, bitter and green, I went up to the garden to see what could be scavenged from the murky depths of an endless winter… Oh joy!  Despite appearances, the garden is home to a wealth of green fodder.

From the cultivated garden:
A lone Celeriac only half grown and still sat in the ground ;  Salsify ; Sprouts gone over like baby cabbages ; a few tiny leaves of overwintered Cavolo nero (kale) and Rainbow Chard ; Red Celery ; the odd just surviving Lettuce leaf.

From the rough:
Nettles galore ; Dandelion leaves ; Goosegrass ; Plantain leaves.

From the Store:
Allen’s Everlasting Apple ; Lacto-fermented Beans ; Endive forced in buckets ; Walnuts ; Garlic.

From the herb beds:
The first Chives ; Young heads of Marjoram ; Fennel Shoots.

For the raw GreenVinaigrette I blended up the Nettles, Goosegrass and Plantain with a slosh of Apple Juice, Cider Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Olive, Rapeseed and Walnut Oils, French Sel de Guérande (salt) and Black pepper, and added finely chopped Chives and Garlic.

I then chopped up the rest of the Leaves, Stalks and Roots, topped with LF Beans and Endive, anda tonne of Mrajoram and doused in vinaigrette for a lovely spring-scavenged raw vegan green salad!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Winter Roots, Spring Shoots in Permaculture Magazine

I have an article containing quite a bundle of Seasonal recipes, from the cultivated root (Oca, Salsify, Jerusalem Artichokes) to the foraged green (Nettles, Sea Beet, Dandelion, Sorrel) in this quarter’s Permaculture Magazine.  I won’t yet divulge the secrets, but you can get hold of a copy here – this issue also contains lots of  inspired writing on growing Fruits in Hedgerows, Figs, even Hopps, and why not adopt a local Apple Tree...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

An Omelette, An Aside and An Ortolan Bunting.

An Omelette:
This week the chickens in Kabul are laying so vigorously that a communal omelette has taken the place of the fought-over-fried-egg.   This one contains an Afghan version of Feta cheese.  But do note first the dreamy nectar-yellow of the yolks, the chickens fed on kitchen scraps alone…

An Aside:
As an aside, I am reminded of the extraordinary tale by Edgar Allen Poe, The Duc de L’Omelette.  Poor Duke Omelette dies of shock when his precious Ortolan Bunting arrives on the platter not prepared as it should be.

So that the same does not occur for you, I thought it only best to elaborate on the preparation of the Ortolan Bunting – an apparent delicacy once-upon-a-time in France.

An Ortolan Bunting:
The Ortolan Bunting, Emberiza Hortulana, is fattened to four times its own size, then drowned in burning Armagnac for eight minutes.  To eat the tiny bird, one covers one’s head with a linen shroud, to keep in the aroma and to hide the appalling act from God.  The head dangling from between the lips, one gorges on the whole bird, lungs, heart and bones.

Fortunately in this case the Duke beats the Devil at cards, and is given another chance...

Monday, 14 February 2011


  The aforementioned "at-long-last-laying hens"  in a snowy Kabul garden...

...the three black ones are named after warlords who continue to have a large stake in the current government - Sayyaf, Marshal Fahim and Dostum. The white one, which is bullied by the others and doesnt produce eggs, is called Bashardost, after the most outspoken MP who frequently rails against corruption and warlordism to much ridicule from others.

Notes on the omelette to follow...

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Fermentation Fervour

A message from Fermenter extraordinaire, and author of Wild Fermentation, Sandor Katz : 

I’ve been in semi-seclusion trying to get my new book written.  It’s another book on fermentation, more in-depth, more ferments, more variations (many contributed by readers of Wild Fermentation and people who have written to me), more exploration of underlying processes, and more troubleshooting.  The new book is coming along, but slowly.  I’m currently projecting completing the manuscript by September, I’ve been doing lots of experiments.  Lately I’ve been malting Barley, making Sake, Hammanatto, and one of my new favourites, Smreka, a tonic beverage from Bosnia.

Smreka could not be simpler to make:  Place about 2 cups (1/2 litre) of Juniper berries in a gallon (4 litre) jug, and fill it with water.  No sugar or anything else required.  Ferment for about a month, stirring or shaking and releasing pressure periodically.  Truly delicious. 

Thanks to Luke Regalbuto and Maggie Levinger of Wild West Ferments for sharing that one with me, and thanks to all of you who shared feedback, ideas and recipes for the book.  I’ll keep you posted.

To stay focussed on the book project, I do not have much teaching scheduled this coming season.  But I do have some, most near home in Tennesse.  Please help spread the word.  After my book is finished I expect to resume periodic travels spreading Fermentation Fervour, but I am not prepared to make more commitments until then.  However, if you are teaching fermentation classes, or know someone who is, please send me the details and I will gladly post them on my website.   There is such a tremendous hunger for this information that the fermentation revival needs more teachers.  Workshops can be very simple.  Consider spreading your Fermentation Fervour wherever you live.

To find out more about Fermentation, see previous posts on my blog under the label "Fermentation", or visit Sandor's website...

Friday, 4 February 2011

A Good Stock

Mrs Beeton writes a recipe for Pocket-Soup.  An elaborate recipe, bringing one step-by-step through a lengthy process in which an animal carcass is slowly transformed into a dehydrated stock cube – an art indeed.

While the sight of a pot of Bisto, a stock cube and even an artisanal organic bouillon horrifies me, I will uphold the merits of a good stock.  Primarily, a Stock is an excellent example of the beneficial use of waste products, it’s a sort of alternative to the compost… and it doesn’t have to contain meat, one of the best summer stocks is the simple combination of Pea-Pods and Onion Skins.  

My Uncle has sent through pics of his post-Christmas Goose Stock.  The Recipe is as follows: add one Onion in its skin + 2 large Carrots + 2 Celery Sticks to 1 Goose Carcass, cover with water and simmer for +/- 8 hours, adding water when needed to cover carcass. 
Made by covering the ingredients in water, bringing to the boil and then allowing to simmer very slowly, preferable overnight, it is then strained, and the liquid kept.  The liquid can be used in soups or stews, where it adds a depth of flavour and structure to a dish, as a consommĂ© on its own or as a simple addition to rice.

The joy of a stock is that you can use anything you can find, and each is a unique creation.  An excuse to let your creative juices run, Carrot tops, Bay leaves, Garlic Skins, Giblets and Lemon Rind are just some of the ingredients I like to stuff into the stock pot.  It is not quite alchemy, but certainly has something of the potion about it.  I never add salt to a stock but alter the salt levels when actually using the stock to cook with.  It can be used immediately (if it contains a lot of fat cool first and skim off with a metal spoon) or frozen and saved for another occasion.

p.s. More Stock Recipes avidly awaited!  Send to


Thursday, 3 February 2011


An art indeed in the post-modern, post-global, peak oil, food-insecure… era is the storing of foodstuffs in order to be able to provide in times of scarcity. Jo Newton of Irish Seed Savers teaching on Patrick Whitefield’s excellent Sustainable Land Use Course looked yesterday at the myriad methods of doing this, an enabling and empowering step towards self-sufficiency.   I offer a list here, and hope to cover most of the means of food storage in this blog over the seasons.

 In the GROUND
Recent harsh winters are making it harder to store in the ground, but many roots, such as Oca, Swede, Jerusalem Artichokes, Salsify and Parsnips will happily sit snug in the ground over winter – the only difficulty is in digging them.
Both are traditional methods of food storage.  A SILO is a hole in the ground, aerated with straw, leaves and branches into which the roots are placed and then covered in earth.  While more suited to wet climates, a CLAMP is a pile of veg on the ground, similarly mixed with a material – nettle straw a traditional one for keeping off vermin, around which a trench is dug, the earth is used to cover the pile.  The terms are continue to be used in modern industrial agriculture, but the meanings are somewhat altered.
Otherwise, buckets or boxes in which particularly carrots, beetroots and celeriac are layered and covered with sand, peat, leaf mould, straw or sawdust, a slightly moist mulch to keep the veggies fresh, at a constant 4C or thereabouts to prevent roots shooting or freezing. 
  Apples and pears can be stored on palettes with air circling between them.  They keep better than roots due to their high level of acidity.
  Pumpkins and Squashes keep very well, and in warmer temperatures (up to 10C) provided they have been ripened off and their shells are hard.  Ripen off by leaving in direct sunlight, or using a cloche if necessary.
 Don’t keep anything showing signs of mould or rot as this will spread fast. 
Windowsills, Dashboards and Airing Cupboards can be used for drying pulses, fruits, tomatoes…  hang your apple rings in the kitchen window.  Herbs are best dried away from direct sunlight in order to preserve their volatile oils.  In the case of wetter fruits and veggies a solar-dehydrator might be in order…
Used for meats and fishes and often involving salt these are pre-freezer methods of storing… Gravadlax is one of my favourite and all-too-easy to do at home.  Recipe to be posted, one day.
While Pasteurisation (see previous blog) happens at 72C for 20 minutes, Sterilisation happens over a longer period of time at 100C.
While freezing is an exceptional means of conserving fresh vegetables without them losing any nutrients it demands much gas and electricity… commodities not to be reckoned on.
A no-energy means of preserving, a skill lost and returning to Europe with a new-found sense, see my many previous blogs on the subject.
A myriad ideas and recipes to follow over the coming year.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Pasteurisation... Wintry Apple Compote

As ‘tis the season of eating all those vittles so lovingly preserved in the height of the harvest season, I thought I’d write a note on Pasteurisation.

Pasteurisation is a means of preserving fruits and veggies in jars.   It slows microbial growth and is particularly useful in storing products of high acidity such as tomatoes and fruits, the results keep for up to a year.  The process simply involves heating the jar containing the product to 72C, keeping it at that temperature for twenty minutes, and then rapidly cooling it. 

Wintry Apple Compote

Chop up a variety of apples, particularly those that don’t keep well, are better cooked than eaten or have a particular flavour.  I like using nutty Egremont Russets and Bramley for the sharpness, this also gives a really nice mix of textures.

Cook gently in a pan, with a little water to prevent burning.  Stir and add grated Root Ginger and a Spice Bag containing Cloves, Mace, Cinnamon sticks and a touch of Star Anise.  If cooked quickly the apples will break down, if simmered very slowly they will retain some of their shape.

Taste for sweetness and add a raw Sugar or Syrup to taste.  Heat, stirring.

Remove Spice Bag and pot in Kilner or Jam Jars rinsed with boiling water to sterilise.

Place the jars in a Water Bath to their necks, bring the water up to 72C and retain at this heat for twenty minutes.  Remove jars and allow to cool rapidly.  The compote will keep like this for up to a year.

Much like Apple Compote, Tomato Pasatas, Ratatouilles, Summer Soups and Stews, Curries and Gruels can be stored like this.  Keep them in a cool, dark place and enjoy when the garden is bare.