Something is troubling me, for about a week or two, that set me on this path and I wanted to share it with you. My friend asked me what’s your favourite meal your mum cooked for you, that special dish if you could have it now what would it be?
An innocent question that stopped me in my tracks. My mind wonders and I am cross I can’t think.
I reconnect with the question for over two weeks, I can’t think, I wonder through the memories of dinner parties, the chocolate eclairs at the winter wonderland party I ate so many I was sick. The apple pies with cinnamon pasty and slices of quince.
I am going mad, I could cry as I don’t have a favourite, I see my friend’s smug face as she declares it’s my mums roast dinner, another announces it’s her mum’s pie and mash. But I have failed I can’t think of a single dish. I conclude that as her cooking was so legendary it must be that, that’s stopping me choose.
But no there must be that one? like to love of your life! when they enter the room you just know. But I don’t, and I feel I have failed my mum, by not having a favourite. I’ve become obsessed with it, I wake up and wonder what it would be if I could sit down now and eat it. I almost settle with the battered oysters, then the nettle soup, I finally finish on the treacle pudding, but NO there’s more!
Its only when I reach the quince tart that I stop dead in my tracks I travel through time and I’m in the kitchen, my mums smile fills the room my dad’s cheeky funny self is entertaining her, she slightly flushed from the warmth of the aga, and the air is filled with the smell of roasted pheasant, I can almost taste the potatoes as their slightly earthy aroma steams from the pan as they cook. A large green cabbage is on the side waiting to be chopped and added to the pan. The plates are added to the bottom oven and I catch the smell of a quince tart as the door closes.
The kitchen is starting to fill up with pans some on the heat some push aside I beg for nutmeg butter, to go with my cabbage and watch as she turns the squash in the roasting tray, as they jostle for space with the carrots. I feel the warmth of the room as it fills my soul with such joy. YES I’ve remembered it’s! My Favourite dish, I want to go home, right now, I want to go to Barland Cottage and lay the table, put out the serving dishes, stoke the fire and sit expecting while my mum brings the table to life. My dad makes a joke, and my mum’s laughter fills the air we giggle, after all, he’s funny. I can safely say I’ve remembered the dish its Roast Pheasant that’s my all-time favourite and something I’ve not been able to cook since my mum died. I miss my mums cooking, I miss roast pheasant.
The spring and summer cause great issues for foragers in the fact what do we pick first? There is so much ready all at once that it drives me mad, I work on average this time of year 18 hours, plus a day, the phone rings off the hook with many friends, family, and customers with news of a find, a new secret place to forage or they do indeed a glut of fruit that needs picking and of course (anyone who cooks will tell you this ) they all demand, new and interesting for recipes along with special tips and new ideas! I do my best and there’s the garden to tend too. Would I change it? No! Do I love it yes.
However this year I am picking Rowan berries before elderberries that is a first for me. Elderberries need cooking before you eat them they can make you ill if uncooked.
The Leaves and stems mustn’t be used and these too can make you quite ill. So cook them first. So yes you can make an amazing syrup, jam and jelly but here I like to tell you about a soup.
To get to the soup we first have to travel back in time to Barland Estate in Powys Wales and into Garden Cottage. In the garden the plums are ready to pick, loganberries are ripping fast each day against the walled garden space dripping with flavour, the apples are promising a bumper crop and I am still picking raspberries, strawberries and of course, the currant cage is not giving in just yet. Our freezers are full and the larder is filling up. It’s early August and the kitchen hot from the Rayburn. A constant smell of cooking fruit fills our house.
A large bowl of water with a small hint of wine, is on the heat, the air is filled with warm smells, first the fresh fruity aroma, then a whisper of cinnamon with undertones of honey fill the air in between and remind me that the summer not going to last forever, my choice of school has been my undoing. I will at the end of this month get back on the bus and although my days will be busy, I not be with my mum & dad, my little brother and of the mad dog “hop along Cassidy” and I will miss them all so much along with the garden full of fruit and flowers, dinner will become just food. I indeed missed them more than I ever told them. (Turn back the clock).
My mum’s storytelling was always fascinating and all the time she was passing on everything she learnt, she had a thirst for knowledge, and her desire to pass on everything she knows was so important. She was like a missionary spreading and sharing the word! Especially when she was in the kitchen, so as she cooked she told stories, and apart from cooking lessons we had, history lessons, art lessons and life lessons! Why, and how certain dishes came about why we forage and the importance of not forgetting what we once knew.
My mum was and is still my hero, she could cook anything and did indeed cook everything, and could make a meal from nothing. Her heart still beats in mine and although I miss her every single day I know she is with me every second. She made me who I am today, she taught me the love of life, passion and of course cooking. She was outstanding at everything especially making soups, from all most anything from the garden. Even the hardened meat eater couldn’t resist her delicious green and bean soup. So as the seasons changed and slowly moved on so did the recipes and the soup. I not sure I could even to this day give you my favourite choice if I was to choose? Then I would choose them all a small tiny cup of each starting with the pea, then cold fennel, but always finishing with the Elderberry soup.
Elderberry Soup recipe
1.5 litres of water
500g of Elderberries
2 tablespoons of Lemon Juice (one large lemon)
100ml of white wine
1 stick of cinnamon
A little arrowroot to thicken or you can have this without if you would like a thin soup.
Place on the heat water, wine, lemon juice and spice.
Pick the elderberries off the stalks, discarding any leaves and stalks.
Add carefully to the warm water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently for 10-15 mins
The fruit will so mushy, Add a teaspoon of honey at this point.
Strain the fruit and press out the juice. Then return the soup to the pan. (Discard the pulp)
If you would like a thicker soup, mix the arrow route with a drop of cold water and the rest of the lemon juice and pour into the soup and now season to your taste.
Return to a soft heat and slowly bring to a light boil to cook the arrowroot and thicken the soup.
Serve with roasted ground cobnuts and sourdough bread croutons drizzled with honey.
Possible side effects (Autoimmune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Elderberry might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using elderberry.)
5 years ago I entered the World Marmalade Awards and won a bronze for my Seville with Cacao it was an epic day it lead me to decided that this is what really makes my world go around. So I thank Dalemain House for giving me the confidence that started me on this epic journey, this road has consisted of late nights and even hospital visits as I have fallen out of a trees. So thank you. (I am giving the world marmalade awards a rest, no other reason than I didn’t post it on time yet again!)
So now I make jam and the very fact you all wanted to buy eat and enjoy it well is nothing more than fabulous. Time has flown by and I moved out of my home kitchen, to one I built, started to keep bees, planted more fruit and vegetables, teamed up with the Chewton Glen to forage sustainably. So far so good.
I’ve lived and loved every minute, every disaster, every high, every low, they have all been fantastic. Although I feel that I may have lost the plot from time to time! But you, my friends, my children and my family have been there always encouraging me, every step of the way believing in me. Which means so much to me it hard to put into words.
So thank you all for supporting me in every way be it small large for helping me forage be it picking crab apples Carol,(Daisy cake company)or for growing them Darren Venables, to believing in my wacky ideas Martyn Nail, Luke Mathews, Leckford Farm, and of course the many bar tenders who have invited me in to help develop products cocktails and use jam in ways that made toast curl !
If I was to say I love what I do, it would underestimate the passion I have and my urgent need to cook everyday. I am always up early and chomping at the bit to get into the kitchen. So as I stop and reflect on the past five years, I shall share with you a few moments below.
Antonio Carluccio at Leckford Farm shop opening
Waitrose Charimans Award 2013
BBC Children in Need Carfest
Lunch Break with the Fabulous Baker Boys
Food & Drinks Award Hampshire
Foraging with nothing but the Bear essentials
Cooking at the Hotel & Catering Show
Cooking with Luke Mathews (my hero)
Talking Foraging with Estate Manger Darren Venables
As you know I am a fan of this particular farm in Spain their love and passion for growing organic oranges spreads across from Spain to our shores and into our kitchens like rays of the sun. You can buy these beauties from River Ford Organics, or Waitrose and a few independent retailers. This week on BBC radio Solent I talk about the farm marmalade making and here is the recipe the wonderful farmers send with their beautiful orange:
Ingredients: 1 kilo of Ava Marie Seville Oranges.
2.5 kilos of sugar.
Weight the empty pan and note it down (for stage 12)
Wash the oranges and lemon dry.
cut out the pips, saving them in a cup.
Cut the peel of the oranges and lemon into shreds.
Place the fruit into a stainless steel container.
Weight it and or every half of kilo of fruit add 1.5 litres of water.
From this measured water,take out a drop to cover the pips in the cup. If the measured water reaches 3 litres, remove 1/4 of litre.
Leave to soak over night.
The Following morning place the pips and the gelatine in a muslin sack and tie it to the handle of the pot, where you are going to cook the marmalade.
Squeeze the bag thoroughly and make sure it stays in the water with the peels.
Boil everything for approximately one hour until the peels are soft. ( make sure its a soft boil and cover with a lid or make a foil lid so that the liquid does not evaporate too much.)
Remove from the heat and weight the pan. Take away the weight of the pan and for each kilo of fruit add 1 kilo of sugar.
Slowly sir in the sugar until it has dissolved. Once it has dissolved slowly bring it to a rolling boil (stir continuously)
Cook for about half an hour to a maximum of 45 minutes.
take the pan off the heat when you are checking for setting point. To check for setting point you will need to remove a small amount from the pan and place on drop onto your plate that in the fridge. once it has cooled on the plate you can do the wrinkle check, pushing the marmalade with your finger and it will wrinkle.
Once you are satisfied with the set, pour into clean sterilised jars, lid and leave to cool.
Useful information and tips:
To sterilise jars wash and place in an oven for 10 mins. leave in the oven until required.
When cooking marmalade, you will feel it thicken when you stir the marmalade with your wooden spoon, the more you cook marmalade the earlier it will be to recognise the texture change whilst cooking. Just before she sets it starts to shimmer and glow turning silky.
Its that time of year and the sky turning orange as well as my kitchen.
Winter is finally arriving (hopefully !) and I’ve fallen in love with him all over again yes he is round, dimpled skinned, and bitter, the Seville orange or as its is in Spain the naranjas. This beautiful word I believe originates from the Sanskrit language meaning fragrant. If you can visit Spain in the spring, then you must each street is filled with the aroma or azahar, it is intoxicating and you will fall in love with a flower. So if you get chance go and visit such cities as Serville, Cordba and Malaga and experience the magic.
But now I’m in not so sunny England, I am dreaming of oranges and my mind can only think of marmalade making, and as most marmalade makers will tell you its about the process and rituals that make their version the best ever and so they are, each and every jar. Their hand me down recipes, generations old recipes, even new modern recipes, on line recipes and cut of of a magazine recipes, all make their marmalade special and I’m no different my ritual beings on page 50 of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen diaries II, its almost like a poem to me, I’ve read it so often. He is our nation treasure he tells a story that bring the recipes to life that you just have to cook them right there and then.
So I turn to read page 50 and his words fill my head and even without an orange I feel the zest in the air , I see the rose garden of my family home and my mum and while I smile at his misfortune at as the zest hits his rose pruned thumbs, it reminds me it’s time to prune the roses! Then my childhood memories leap onto the page with taste of marmalade right out of the pan, I see my mum in her rose garden. Its all perfect and I am so thankful to page 50, and so it becomes the best page ever written.
I’m a happy cook, contented in my kitchen, feeding the jars to be enjoyed with toast, in cakes in cocktails or even straight out the jar! Thanks to my mum. So be inspired get out to your local Waitrose and buy the best Huerta Ava María Seville oranges (the only supermarket to stock the organic oranges) and cook marmalade, take the time, and let the sunshine in.
A few facts about oranges!
Now where was I? Oranges! did you know that Spain exported around 150 million tonnes of oranges each year! That incredible and out of that an amazing 15,000 tonnes of Seville produced are exported to the United Kingdom for marmalade. No wonder Paddington left Peru to find his new home in London he must have heard about the fruit markets. (source http://www.fao.org/)
“The fruit is a type of berry and sweet oranges belong to the species Citrus sinensis (the bitter Seville oranges are C. aurantium).”
“Oranges are thought to have their origin in a sour fruit growing wild in the region of South West China and North East India as early as 2,500 BC. For thousands of years these bitter oranges were used mainly for their scent, rather than their eating qualities”.
First introduced into Spain more than a thousand years ago by the Moors, No puedo agradecerles lo suficiente!
naranjas sanguinas is the name for blood orange and a firm favourite of mine. Great in cocktails.
Check out my recipe page for recipes and ideas all about oranges this month.