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.)
Blackcurrant Extra Jam a winner , so is the Strawberry. So in 2013 I entered the great taste I won 2 * for my Lemon curd, 1* for my raspberry and in 2016 I entered again with strawberry syrup and yep it is a winner with 2 * so just when I thought I missed the enter deadline. I managed to squeeze in with 2 of my best selling products strawberry Jam and of course Blackcurrant, into 2017 awards. and……..this is what the judges said….
Strawberry jam achieved a star the judges comments on this
“Wonderful fresh summer strawberries on the nose, the set is perfect. The judges really liked the whole strawberries that still had a delightful texture and a lasting, fragrant strawberry flavour. Skillfully made”
and my Blackcurrant extra jam achieving 3 stars. I am feeling very proud of this achievement and I would like to thank you for the support, judges comments.
“Beautiful deep blackcurrant flavours on the nose, a thick set, giving a deep, lasting flavour, not overly sweet, allowing the true fruit flavour to shine through. The judges loved the sheer intensity of fresh blackcurrant flavours, the quality of the fruit and gentle preservation.”
So if you fancy learning my secrets of great jam making come along to my cooking lessons at :
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
The Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa ) is found in many hedgerows and across the countryside but most importantly in the many hedgerows on the Chewton Glen Estate and recently Estate Manger Darren Venables tweeted a wonderful picture capturing the moment of this years flowering. It was beautiful. My mind heart skipped a beat. Its such an exciting time when nature starts to let you in to her little secrets and plans. And so the Blackthorn moments of glory is upon us before even his leaves appear giving this shrub a little glamour in the bare hedgerows. A perfectly formed elegant flower as white and as soft as a cloud on a beautiful blue day.
The flower is so delicate its almost a shame to pick the beauty from the bush. But crystallised they are perfect for cake decorations or simply served in a light salad.
When the leaves arrive they too can used, to be infused for making a tea. However most people tend to pick from this wonderful gift of nature when the year is almost over and the frost have given these particular berries a little coating to ensure they are perfect for your making your gin. Yes its the sloe bush, that many people can and do use in lots of recipes. However most people I know only ever make gin from them. (and why not). Yet they make a wonderful inclusion to a hedgerow jelly and a fantastic addition to an ice cream especially if they have been used to make gin first!
But before all of those recipes try this one. They would look great on a chocolate cake. Simple, perfect elegant.
An easy Recipe for crystallising flowers:
Ingredients Edible Flowers
An egg white that has been stired with a folk but not beaten.
Equipment a model paint brush ( the type yo get with an air-fix model)
If you have picked the flowers yourself be sure to check for little flies bugs etc.
Dip your paint brush n the egg white and carry fully paint the petals.
Dust with the caster sugar and leave to dry on parchment paper for a few hours.