Monday, 30 December 2013

Brockley Market - Lucky Lewisham

Van Dough
 at Brockley Market

For my last blogpost of 2013 it seemed fitting to finish on a market, the lifeblood of London food.  London Farmers' Markets (LFM) now have 20 market sites covering areas from Balham to Wimbledon. LFM's principle of "We grow it. We sell it." is laudable but its rules and regulations can mean some good "local" producers don't quite qualify.  I shop at one or two LFM markets but they don't satisfy all my needs.  Some very good producers and traders who do not fit neatly into LFM's strict criteria find a home for their goods at Brockley Market in SE24.  That's not to say Brockley doesn't have high standards of its own, they're just different and, in fact, some of their stallholders also trade at LFM.

Brockley Market offers a cracking list of traders in a compact area where stalls are ranged around the car park to Lewisham College.  The estimable BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards described Brockley as "a market that serves a community without pretence or artifice, a model to be followed". Brockley Market is doing a great job of finding, hosting and presenting some of the best food and drink producers and suppliers.  Some of what's on offer is very locally produced and some not, but Brockley Market has most of the food bases well covered.  With a central area devoted to seating, it's a family-friendly place to shop and eat.  This adds to the relaxed and welcoming feel of the market.

So who's there?  To mention a few, there are two excellent Organic fruit and veg stalls in the form of Wild Country Organics from Cambridgeshire and Kent-based Perry Court Organics; meats by my three favourites, Jacob's Ladder Farms, representing a small cooperative of Sussex farmers rearing animals on organic and biodynamic principles, The Butchery, the Bermondsey-based whole carcass butchery owned by Nathan and Ruth Mills and poultry from Fosse Meadows Farms in Leicestershire; East Sussex-based Hook & Son for raw milk; Hartland Pies who I know also make the excellent pies sold by The Butchery using The Butchery's meats; Flavours of Spain with a good range of Spanish ingredients; Blackwoods Cheese Company selling a small selection of Neal's Yard cheeses alongside their own Lewisham-made fresh cheeses.  Food vans include Van Dough selling freshly-made pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven mounted in the back of a 1970s Citroen Hy van; Mother Flipper offering burgers; and Good & Proper serving tea with, that irresistible pairing, crumpets.  Coffee is represented by Dark  Fluid.

Blackwoods Cheese Company has quickly become a favourite of mine for their lovely marinated raw cows milk Graceburn.  The fledgling cheese-maker is already getting noticed, being stocked by both Neal's Yard Dairy and the recently-opened shop attached to the Quality Chop House restaurant on Farringdon Road.  Look out for a Blackwoods washed-rind cheese coming soon, I'm expecting it to be pretty special.

You really get a sense of passion from walking around and from looking at the Brockley Market website.  It's a market I want to go to more and if I lived closer I'm sure I'd be shopping there every week.  Luckily, I can shop on Saturdays at some of the same traders in Spa Terminus/Druid Street, Bermondsey.  From talking to those traders, I know that they love trading at such a well-run and well-supported market as Brockley.  I can see how hard the organisers work at getting the best and Lewisham is lucky to have it.

Happy food shopping in 2014.

Brockley Market
Lewisham College Car Park
Lewisham Way
SE4 1UT
Saturdays 10-2pm
The market is a stone's-throw from St John's train station (7 minutes from London Bridge)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Pear vanilla upside-down cake


Pear vanilla upside-down cake

There's something undeniably retro about an 'upside-down cake'.  Say the words and most people will have a memory of a pineapple, maraschino cherry and sponge cake.  Depending on when you were born it's either a classic or a joke.  If Fanny Craddock didn't make a Pineapple upside-down cake she should have done as, for looks alone, it's very Fanny and Johnnie.  Putting the fruit on the bottom of the cake tin means it will hold its shape beautifully.  It's a cake that has had its fortunes revived so many times that there's got to be something in the recipe to account for it.    


Slice of Pear vanilla upside-down cake























There are still devotees of the pineapple version.  It dates from the early 20th century when pineapples began to be available in cans, but 'upside-down cake' may go back rather further than that.  An old copy of Reader's Digest Farmhouse Cookery offers a recipe for Upside-Down Winter Pudding and refers to it as a "Victorian Pudding".  Pears provide the necessary fruit layer.  Golden syrup, black treacle and lard enrich the sponge and the addition of cinnamon and ginger make it positively festive.  I have made it and it's very good, if rather rich, and the Christmassy spicing might be just what you're looking for right now.  The version below is lighter and allows the delicate pear flavour to shine through rather better than the "Victorian" version does.  My spice of choice with pears is vanilla, and Muscovado sugar is highly recommended for a better 'toffee' quality.

Pears don't store as well as apples do.  They rot from the core so there may be no outwardly visible signs of decay.  If you see British pears in January they've probably been kept in cold stores where the oxygen has been removed.  All the more reason to choose pears for an upside-down cake right now.  Pear, caramel and sponge - all the makings of a good pudding.


Another slice of Pear vanilla upside-down cake


























Pear vanilla upside-down cake
(for an 18-20cm round cake tin)

3 pears
2 tbsp mild honey (such as either Orange Blossom or Acacia)
1 de-seeded vanilla pod (save the seeds for the sponge)

50g softened unsalted butter
65g muscovado sugar
1 tbsp mild honey

125g softened unsalted butter
125g raw cane caster sugar
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
2 large eggs, mixed together
125g plain soft flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk

Heat oven to 180oC/160oC fan/Gas 4.
Peel, halve and core the pears, place in a saucepan, pour the honey over them and add the de-seeded vanilla pod.  
Add just enough water to cover the pears and cook at a simmer until just tender.  
Take off the heat and leave in the syrup until needed. 

Cream 50g butter with 65g sugar and 1 tbsp honey until light and fluffy.   
Spread over the base of the cake tin.  
Drain the pears, remove the vanilla pod, and place the pears flat side down in the tin.

Mix 125g of butter with the caster sugar and vanilla beans until soft and fluffy.  
Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little of the flour if the mix starts to curdle.  
Sieve the flour and baking powder together and fold into the mixture.  
Gently mix in the milk.  
Smooth the mixture over the top of the pears.

Bake for about 45 minutes.  Turn out after a further 30 minutes.

Good served just warm or at room temperature - keeps well for a couple of days, though doesn’t look as pretty as on day 1.


This recipe is an adaptation of Nigel Slater’s 'Honey Pear Cake' 
published in The Observer magazine on 6 December 2009

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Christmas Gifts for Food Lovers 2013

Tea towels at Thornback & Peel

As usual, most of my suggestions for Christmas gifts re modestly priced with one exception for anyone wanting to push the boat out. Many can be bought on-line but, living in London myself, I've given information for where you can buy directly in the capital.  I hope you find this list inspirational however much you want to spend:


Cotton Tea Towels from Thornback & Peel.  These 60% linen/40% cotton towels are British designed and made.  These deliciously quirky and humorous designs by Julia Thornback and Della Peel will brighten your day.  £12.00-12.95 each

Preserves from England Preserves.  Selection is highly seasonal and, from their Bermondsey HQ, priced around £4-£4.50 per jar or £10 for 3.  Right now I'd recommend the Swan's Egg Pear & Aniseed Butter.  If you can shop at their Bermondsey base, they also have a lovely Paul Nash design cotton tea towel at £12.00 each.

Nyeri Gichatha-ini Kenyan Coffee Beans from the Gikanda Farmers Society at Monmouth Coffee.  Delicious redcurrant and plum flavours with grapefruit acidity.  Price £3.60 per 100g.

A bottle of Bermondsey London Dry Gin from Jensen Gin (73cl, 43% proof). An original London gin, priced around £25.

Original Beans Chocolate 4-Bar Gift Library.  Filled chocolates have their place but, for me, nothing beats the pure taste of a good bar of chocolate.  Last year I recommended Marou chocolate bars and I'm really pleased to see this Vietnamese chocolate has gained in popularity.  Marou is still on my shopping list, but this year I find myself again returning to Original Beans rare cacaos from sustainable farming.  Price £16.95 (280g) from Natoora

Appleby's Cheshire Cheese.  At Neal's Yard Dairy right now this is tasting so perfect I'm recommending this one cheese rather than a selection this year.  It's an unpasteurised cow's milk cheese with a moist, crumbly texture and a savoury, minerally flavour with a cool lactic tang.   Prices vary depending on weight but less than £30 kg.

Wynad Black Peppercorns.  Prized as the world's best these highly fragrant single estate peppercorns are grown completely free of artificial fertilisers, ripened on the vine and hand-harvested.  You can buy them from my favourite spice merchant Spice Mountain on-line or at Borough Market at £4.50 for 75g.

Tiffin Box from Divertimenti.  A 3-compartment stainless steel tiffin, or dabbas, lunch box set.  Lovely to look at and practical.  Price £18.95.

Ulcigrai Panettone.  The Ulcigrai family panettone from Trieste is still unbeatable for me.  Available at Leila's Shop in Shoreditch and also sold at Monmouth Coffee's Covent Garden and Borough Market shops.  Priced at £17 it is far from the most expensive around but I believe it is the best.

Stemless Riedel varietal wine glasses from John Lewis.  I like these for their practicality on the dinner table.  Price £20-25 depending on size for a box of 2.

A bottle of natural wine from Gergovie Wines.  Take Raef Hodgson's advice but perhaps a sparkler for Christmas morning such as Domaine Les Hautes Terres Josephine, Cremant de Limoux priced around £19.

Duralex Lys Stacking Bowls. These chip resistant tempered glass bowls are attractive and incredibly durable.  Available in 6's at Leila's Shop or individually at Heals in sizes 9cm/14cm/26cm priced at £2/£3/£8.

Jesus Salami from The Ham & Cheese Company on-line or from their maturing rooms in Bermondsey on 14, 21 & 23 December (normally open every Saturday)  Price around  £25.

My luxury suggestion this year is a traditional Japanese Chazutsu Tea Caddy from the Kaikado company of Kyoto, the oldest maker in the world.  In materials of brass, tin or copper, these exquisite containers have been made in Japan by the Yagi family for generations.  Normally made to order, Margaret Howell on Wigmore Street, London W1 have a small number in stock.  Over time the caddies take on beautiful patinas from regular handling.  Priced from £110 up to £235 for a boxwood-handled version.

My final suggestion is to buy and plant a native tree.  Cost negligible, pleasure rating enormous.


HAPPY SHOPPING

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Books for Food Lovers 2013 - My Selection

There are plenty of book recommendations around at this time of year.  Most concentrate on books published over the preceding 11 months.  I don't feel constrained to limit my list in this way.  Two of the books below were published in 2013 and share a certain philosophy of food; one stems from 5 years of conversations about food and hit the bookshelves in 2012; another first appeared in 2009 with my copy being from 2012; there's a paperback first published in 1997 and, sadly, as relevant now as it was 15 years ago; the final book is a 1984 encyclopedia updated in 2004.

This mix of publications over such a long period owes something to my bad habit of letting books pile up to enjoy when I can give them my full attention.  I never seem to learn that the perfect time doesn't come.  I've just discovered the Japanese have a word for this habit:

Tsundoku - buying books and not reading them, letting them pile up.


The Modern Peasant
by Jojo Tulloh
The title 'The Modern Peasant' didn't hook me, it was the subtitle 'Adventures in City Food' that did.  Rooted in this maddening, chaotic, fascinating city of London, it pays to have an adventurous spirit, not least where food is concerned.  It's not the multiplicity of cuisines on offer in this cosmopolitan metropolis that the author, JojoTulloh, finds so enthralling.  It's the new wave of small urban producers that interest her.  Buying food from them, growing some of her own and making simple food from scratch - "rediscovering an earlier tradition of cookery" - has reconnected her to the source of food.  She sees the word "peasant" not as a negative term but as a description of a person producing high quality food.  Whether they are doing so for pleasure, profit or out of necessity - these are her 'Modern Peasants'.  Read more ...

Published 2013
Book courtesy of Chatto & Winds


The Ethicurean Cookbook
The 'Ethicurians' Jack Adair-Bevan, Paûla Zarate, Matthew Pennington and Iain Pennington share a philosophy: "eat local, celebrate native foods, live well." It's a credo that appeals to me, so, my attention was immediately engaged.  This book emerged from the glasshouses and kitchen garden of Barley Wood, a Georgian Estate in the bucolic Mendip Hills of Somerset.  "British seasonality, ethical sourcing of ingredients and attention to the local environment" are the declared foundations of the business which took form in 2010.  The menu changes on a daily basis according to what is available and this book is, not surprisingly, chaptered seasonally.  Recipes and techniques sit alongside vignettes of growers and suppliers, appreciating the seasons and observing local customs and festivals.

Most of the 120 recipes are striking in their simplicity, albeit in some cases calling for unusual ingredients and maybe the aid of a helpful forager - 'pineapple weed' for one.  The writing and the beautiful photographs by Jason Ingram are as seductive as the recipes.  A simple winter dish of Beetroot Carpaccio with Honeyed Walnuts glows on the plate; Ewe's-curd-stuffed Courgette Flowers with Fennel Sherbet make you feel summer can't come quickly enough; and Deepfried Aubergine with Rose Hip Syrup make you wish you'd made time to gather those hips when you had the chance.  Recipes marked by me to try this winter include Sea Robin (Gurnard) with Fennel Butter Sauce and Herbed Pink Firs and Milk Stout and Chocolate Steamed Pudding.

Published 2013
The Random House Group


McGee on Food & Cooking
by Harold McGee
If you have a culinary question, you'll almost certainly find the answer here.  First published in 1984, Harold McGee's fantastically useful encyclopedia was revised in 2004.  Hugely appreciated and valued by chefs, cooks, food writers and the plain curious, once you have this book you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.  Whether you have a question on food storage, the science of water baths, how bees make honey, how to tell whether eggs are fresh or stale, how to temper chocolate or who wrote down the first recipe for ice cream, the answer lies within these pages. Then there's the Chemistry Primer.  Invaluable.

Published 2004
Hodder & Stoughton


The Vegetarian Option
by Simon Hopkinson
It's difficult to think of a British cookery writer I admire more than Simon Hopkinson. With this book he reclaims vegetarian cooking from the bizarre world of fake meat and 'rice & veg' some vegetarians inhabit.  The chapter on 'Vegetables' is broken into Simon Hopkinson's signature style such as 'Asparagus & Artichokes', 'Ginger & Spring Onions' and 'Chillies & Avocados' - before going on to Herb, Pasta, Pulses & Grains, Rice, Eggs, Fruit.  The recipes are beautifully simple throughout, from the thoroughly English spring dish of Warm salad of asparagus and new potatoes to the Paul Bocuse inspired rich autumnal Pumpkin Soup and a Persillade of ceps & potatoes.  A dish of Congee with bok choy, golden fried garlic, green chilli & soy is definitely on my 'to cook' list, along with a Potato pie with Beaufort cheese; Blackcurrant jelly trifleDamson & almond sponge pudding and …..   This one is definitely earning its space on my bookcase.

Published 2012 (original 2009)
Quadrille Publishing Limited


Claudia Roden
The Food of Spain
It took Claudia Roden 5 years to research her most recent book The Food of Spain.  Each visit to Spain unearthed more food memories than she could have hoped for.  Each contact came up with yet another person to meet.  She would talk food favourites, festivals and folk history in kitchens as "people open up in the kitchen, not in the living room".  Most, be they workers or nobility, spoke of peasant cuisine being central to their food memories.


Claudia's thesis is that Spain's history of conquering armies meant a population on the move and tastes were, by necessity, unsophisticated. The aristocrats despised vegetables and ate meats, mostly game, though rabbits were left to the lower orders.  In Bourbon and Habsburg times the Spanish nobility ate French cuisine.  They followed the lead of King Philip V who employed cooks trained in the French court at Versailles.  The current haute cuisine in Spain, she was assured, was a cuisine of "today", though chefs claim to look to the roots of Spanish food for inspiration. 

A quote from the Catalan writer Josep Pia "A country's cuisine is its landscape in a cooking pot" is apt.  The diversity of the landscape of Spain has led to three styles of cooking: the sea; the plain; and, the mountains.  Claudia pointed out that, unlike Italy, dishes are not contained within regional borders.  Read more ...

Published 2012
Penguin Group


Cod
by Mark Kurlansky
I never thought I'd be recommending a book on the subject of Cod as a rollicking good read.  This paperback was given to me a year ago and received with polite thanks.  Finally I picked it up and couldn't put it down.  First published in 1997 it is, sadly, just as relevant today as it was then.  It's a celebration of one of nature's great gifts and what happens when we don't treat it with the respect it deserves.  The book takes you on a fast-paced ride through historical fact, folklore, fighting and fishermen's secrets.  Stuffed with detail and written in a lyrical style, Kurlansky's book is fascinating whether describing the life-cycle of the cod, the social history of a fishing community or offering guidance on 'The correct way to flush a cod' - from Hannah Glasse to W H Auden and Louis MacNeice via Emile Zola.

Published 1999
Vintage Books


Books I would like to read in 2014:

Eat by Nigel Slater
The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters
One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal by David Tanis
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson
How to Boil an Egg by Rose Cararrini
The Honey & Co Cookbook by Itamar Srulovic & Sarit Packer (due to be published Summer 2014)


I hereby resolve not to commit Tsundoku in 2014.



Friday, 29 November 2013

Pumpkin Soup - Bocuse via Hopkinson

Pumpkin Soup

Squash and pumpkins come in all sizes, from 'Baby Bear' and 'Jack be Little', both around 10-18 cm in diameter, to the monstrous 'Atlantic Giant' which has been grown to over 300kg.  They come in all shapes and colours too - the muted flesh coloured butternut; steel blue teardrop-shaped 'Blue Ballet'; dark green 'Table Queen' shaped like an acorn; fiery round 'Rouge vif d-Etampes'; dusky orange-brown 'Moschata Muscade' tasting faintly of nutmeg; the blue-black of the well-named 'Ironbark'; and the  extravagantly top-knotted yellow/green/orange/white 'Turk's Turban'.

Although the French and Americans prize them, until fairly recently in the UK we mostly stuck to growing summer squashes.  The simple reason for this is although pumpkins are easy to grow, a dry, warm period is needed to harden the skins for keeping through winter.  A warm dry autumn here is not something we can take for granted but this year has been exceptional and harvests have been good.

'Uchiki Kuri' Pumpkin Squash

Personally I have no need for enormous pumpkins so I tend to stick to growing 'Butternut' or 'Uchiki Kuri', each of which grows to around half a kilo to a kilo in weight.  The flesh of both is deliciously sweet but the 'Uchiki Kuri' has a lovely chestnut flavour and a vibrant orange colour which just makes you want to tuck in.


Pumpkin soup straight from the oven

This adapted recipe comes from Simon Hopkinson's book The Vegetarian Option.  Based on a classic Paul Bocuse recipe, Simon Hopkinson has paired back the original reducing the dish to its essence of pumpkin, cream and cheese.  My adaptation is slight.  Apart from reducing the quantities to work for a smaller pumpkin, I added some fried sage leaves at the end.  They work but are they necessary?  Frankly, no but if you want an extra something, sage makes a good partner for pumpkin.  Like Hopkinson, I think the word 'soup' doesn't really describe this dish well.  It's more of a creamed pumpkin.  Whatever you want to call it, it is rich and absolutely delicious.

I used an 'Uchiki Kuri' weighing barely 500g here which was enough to serve two people but 'Jack be Little' would be a good choice if you wanted to serve individual ones.  It also has the advantage of a softer, edible, skin.

Pumpkin Soup (Bocuse via Hopkinson)
(Recipe Serves 2 but can be easily scaled up)

1 pumpkin weighting 500g (1lb) or 2 smaller pumpkins
150ml  (¼ pint) double cream
1 small garlic clove, flattened and peeled.
Salt and pepper
50g (2oz) Gruyere or Beaufort cheese, grated
A few sage leaves, fried until crisp (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C (fan 180C)/Gas 6.
Heat the cream with the garlic, salt and pepper until it barely simmers.  Take off the heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes.
Slice off the top of the pumpkin a quarter of the way down to make a lid and keep to one side.
Scoop out the seeds and stringy membrane.
Strain the infused cream into the cavity and discard the garlic.  Add the cheese. Top with the lid.
Bake in a roasting tin in the oven for about 1 hour until the flesh of the pumpkin is tender when pierced with a fork.  The skin should be lightly browned - turn the heat down slightly if it is becoming burnt.  Lift off the lid and add the crisped sage leaves for decoration (if using).

Serve with a crunchy salad.

Friday, 22 November 2013

KäseSwiss - Swiss cheese appreciation

KäseSwiss
Le Sousbois

One of the great joys of living in London is that it is a magnet for the best producers and traders. That's not to say there aren't parts of the country where you can find a great mix of local producers. Because the market in London is vast, producers want to trade here and the competition tends to drive up quality.  When it comes to cheese, this is something I particularly appreciate.  

There are some great cheese shops around the UK now, but in London I can buy the best British and Irish cheeses at Neal's Yard Dairy; try out the new from Kappacasein; choose from the great range of French cheeses at Mons; and the best the Dutch have to offer from Boerenkaas. All of these businesses trade within a couple of hundred metres of each other.  Alongside them is the outstanding Swiss cheese importer KäseSwiss.  Each business sells its cheeses wholesale, some around the world, so you may be buying it in your local specialist cheese shop but being able to buy directly from the maker, importer or maturer every week is a real treat.  And then, of course, there's the 'cheese chat' - but maybe you have to have worked in a cheese shop to enjoy that!

Before I encountered Rachael Sills, the founder of KäseSwiss, my knowledge of Swiss cheese extended little beyond Gruyère and Vacherin Mont d'Or (which is made from pasteurised milk as opposed to the French version which is generally unpasteurised).  Both admirable cheeses but, as I now know, it's a shame to stop there.  Rachael started her career in cheese in 1995 at Neal's Yard Dairy.  A move to Zurich saw her seeking out the best Swiss cheeses and then in 2005 she formed KäseSwiss to bring traditional artisan cheese to the UK.  For the past three years Rachael has judged the World Cheese Awards and this year she formed the British Cheesemongers Guild.  

Appenzeller, L'Etivaz, Emmentaler and Stilsitzer had not previously attracted me.  There being so many fantastic British hard cheeses around they'd have to be really good to impress.  Quality and expert maturing matter hugely, of course, and the ones KäseSwiss source are right up there on both counts.  Apart from these, and the best selection of Gruyères, you may find a deliciously sticky textured Vacherin Fribourgeois or a creamy Tomme Fleurette on the counter.  Right now you can get a punchy little cow's milk Le Sousbois, matured in a pine-bark collar.

KäseSwiss open the shutters on Druid Street, Bermondsey every Saturday 09.00-2pm to sell alongside like-minded businesses.  If you miss that opportunity, you can buy their cheeses from Patricia Michelson's excellent Marylebone branch of La Fromagerie (which also stocks some Neal's Yard Dairy and Mons cheeses).

If you aren't impressed with the Swiss cheeses you're tasting, try KäseSwiss.

KäseSwiss
104 Druid Street
London
SE1 2HQ

Friday, 15 November 2013

Quince & ginger sponge pudding

Quince & ginger sponge pudding

The first time I cut into a quince the unyielding flesh, gritty with stone cells, and its pale, off-white, unappealing colour tending to oxidise made me despair of making anything from it.  It was the flowery aroma with notes of tropical fruit that made me buy it.  There it sat, for at least a week, perfuming my kitchen until I plucked up courage to cook it.

Poached Quince
Most of that distinctive aroma is concentrated in the skin and, like the apples and pears to which it is related, its skin cooks down well.  In Middle-Eastern cooking the quince is usually added, unpeeled, to meat dishes which are then cooked for several hours.  In the West we often remove the skin, seemingly only for aesthetic reasons, just as we regularly peel apples for cooking.  Note to self: think twice before peeling.

Picked when it turns a pale yellow, long, slow cooking with sugar softens the natural astringency of the quince and turns the flesh ruby-red and translucent.  High in pectin, it makes wonderful jam, jelly, syrup and fruit cheese or Membrillo.  It was used by the Portuguese to make the original 'marmalade' (marmelo being Portuguese for quince) before it was usurped by the Seville orange. In 16th century France quince were stored immersed in honey.

The Quince has long been associated with love. Brides scented their breath with a bite of quince.  Poets referred to it in their love poems.  Despite searching long and hard, I can find no better love poem than the one Jane Grigson recommended.

" …When it stood fragrant on the bough and the leaves 
had woven for it a covering of brocade,

I gently put up my hand to pluck it and to set it
like a  censer in the middle of my room. 

It had a cloak of ash-coloured down hovering over
its smooth golden body,

and when it lay naked in my hand, with nothing more than
its daffodil-coloured shift,

it made me think of her I cannot mention, and I feared
the ardour of my breath would shrivel it in my fingers…"

                                                                          Shafer ben Utman al-Mushafi


Quince

From Moorish Andalucia to England.  To mark the change from autumn to winter,  I've married a favourite simple ginger steamed sponge recipe with a vanilla scented poached quince for a very English style steamed pudding.


Quince & ginger sponge
with custard

























Quince & ginger steamed sponge pudding
(Serves 4-6)

About 400g poached quince, including syrup
115g (4oz) softened butter
60g (2oz) soft dark brown sugar
2 medium eggs
115g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1-2 tsp ground ginger
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon milk

Lightly butter a 550ml (1 pint) pudding basin and in the bottom place the poached quince with  the syrup.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together.  In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger and pinch of salt.
Cream the soft butter with the sugar well then gradually add the eggs, beating well - add a tablespoon of flour if the mixture begins to curdle.  
Gently fold in the dry ingredients followed by the milk.
Spoon the mixture on top of the quince.
Cover the basin with a square of buttered greaseproof paper (folded into a pleat) and tie in place.  Top with a pleated square of kitchen foil.
Steam for 1 hour.

Good served with a thin custard or cream.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

England Preserves

Seasonal Specials
at England Preserves

The renewed interest in home preserving is a trend I hope will long continue.  A desire to be more self-sufficient and, hopefully, a little less wasteful has in recent years sent many more of us foraging and gleaning, reaching for the jam pan and bottling our finds.  Eliza Acton, Constance Spry, Jane Grigson and the Women's Institute were where most of us turned for guidance when faced with a hedgerow harvest or a glut on the allotment.  Often, these days, the first port of call is the internet. However, some good preserving books have hit the shelves over the past couple of years.  Diana Henry's Salt Sugar Smoke is one of the best I've found.


Allotment harvest

Having an old tried and tested recipe for strawberry jam is a wonderful thing, but, in the pages of these more recent books lies inspiration for preserving the less obvious pickings.  These recipes are also more likely to retain the flavour of the prime ingredient at the forefront.  This may mean the preserve won't keep so long.  Times change and our tastes change too.  

Bergeron Apricot Jam
from England Preserves
Preserving is not all about jams.  However, as the fruit:sugar ratio of that preserve has excited so much debate recently, I will come off that particularly sticky fence and declare myself in favour of using less sugar.  I'm more interested in tasting the fruit than having jars of sweet unidentifiable spreads lining my larder.  My level of preserving is modest so I'm no expert and I'm always on the look-out to see who's doing it well.  It's a crowded market and I've tried and tested aplenty before settling on a personal favourite.

Sky Cracknell and Kai Knutsen began making jams in their home kitchen in 2001.  Selling initially on Farmers' Markets, their England Preserves are now stocked by an impressive list of food shops, cafes and restaurants.  Fruits are sourced as close to their Bermondsey base as possible.  At this time the focus of their attention is the apple, pear and quince harvest.  They take full advantage of the fantastic crops from Brogdale in Kent.  Fruit butters such as 'Salcott Pippin & Cinnamon' and 'Beurre de Beugny Pear butter with Vanilla' are favourites in our house right now.  We are also just coming to the end of our stock of Bergeron Apricot Jam.  The vibrant colour and stunning apricot taste of this jam convinced me I'd found my favourite preserve-maker.  Jams, fruit-butters and fruit-cheeses (Damson, first this season, and now Quince) are made in small batches, cooking the fruit gently to retain "flavour and colour" and using as little sugar as possible.  It's a sympathetic approach which I can relate to.  When my own fruit harvests are exhausted, England Preserves is my larder.

England Preserves
See website for list of stockists.
Also open Saturdays for direct retail sales from their production unit at:
Arch 4 Spa North
London SE16 4EJ