Why are people afraid of homemade?

On nibbling from the hedgerow…

‘How do you know it’s an elderberry? What if its poisonous?!’

‘I know its an elderberry the same way you know broccoli is broccoli…’

Image result for ElderberryImage result for ElderberryImage result for Elderberry

 

Yesterday I made beeswax and coconut oil balm and was shocked when a friend of mine turned it down in preference for something he could buy in a shop. Rather than take this personally…it really is rather good…I wondered why he would think that way. Others I have come across are equally perturbed by things I have either made myself and/or foraged.

Why are my friends and family happy to eat home-cooked food but scared of home-cooked health and beauty products? Why will some people happily spend money on blackberries from the supermarket but balk at eating ones foraged from a natural hedgerow?

The balm, for example, is made using a recipe I was taught by an organic soap maker. He uses the very same recipe for the lip and beard balms he makes himself and markets in his online shop and to wholesalers that supply companies such as Neal’s Yard. So its a tried and tested recipe that is sold in shops but because I made it at home in my caravan, suddenly that makes it unappealing. But my homemade bread, baked in the log burner, went down a treat; even if it was slightly burnt with a light coating of ash…

Trug

As for foraged ingredients. I am a chef and enjoy using unusual ingredients in the food I prepare. Like magnolia petals in homemade sushi. The flowers of the magnolia tree are edible, there is a wealth of data online to prove this, and the fact that I’m alive and well certainly proves that at least I find them palatable! They taste faintly of ginger and have a similar texture and juicy crunch to endive, also known as chicory. It is perfect for sushi, in salads or as a scoop-like vehicle for humus, remoulade or any number of delectable dips. But would my friend eat it? No. How do you know its safe? What I’m getting at here is, why are people fine to eat foods packaged in argon gas, wrapped in plastic and covered in chemicals, yet frightened of eating natural, wild, package less flowers. If it were served in a restaurant would you be happy with it? Because I cook there too…Why are people happy to use beard and lip balms that are full of colours, preservatives and stabilizing chemicals but won’t use my two ingredient, organic balm?

I’m not sure of the answer to be honest. But I think a lot of it has to do with how we buy things these days, and how we are educated. People in my Nanny’s generation made their own clothes, made food from scratch and grew vegetables in their gardens. They weren’t afraid of a bit of chicken fluff on an egg, because the egg came out of the chicken’s backside! And they knew that. They weren’t afraid of mud on carrots or potatoes because the mud was a part of their garden. They knew the provenance of that mud in their bones. Now we are told that mud is dirty, that eggs carry disease and that all produce must be peeled – because there are chemicals on the skin if its not been produced organically. And yet, sloe gin, made from wild blackthorn fruit (sloes) is more popular than ever in the supermarkets? Weird.

Image result for sloe ginImage result for sloe ginImage result for sloe gin

But then, it is gin, and who doesn’t like gin?!

 

 

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Spring Greens

Spring is springing vivaciously, verdantly, vividly.

I love Spring, almost as much as I love Autumn; its all about the edges of things for me. The edge of Winter as it graciously gives way to the bounding, lively greenness of Spring. Those crisp mornings where you can smell the life around you shaking off the frost and stretching towards the sun.

As I have rather a lot of time on my hands at the moment I have taken to rambling about the countryside with the dog, searching (as I do any time I go for a wander to be honest) for edible treats along the way. Much of what I’m hoping to find falls into the ‘Spring Greens’ category, things like Wild Garlic, Three-cornered Leeks, Dandelions and new growth Nettles.

Trug Full of Love

Trug Full of Love

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Honey Sloe Down

As some of you may know I am the eldest of five kids, and the youngest three are still young enough that they are on Santa’s high priority stocking list. This calls for mince pies and sloe gin, with a carrot for Rudolf (who we all now know is a GIRL!!!). We have diverted from the norm of whiskey in my father’s household as he is of a mind that after several billion tots of whiskey, Santa is going to be a bit fed up of it would welcome a change.

My father is also one of the lucky few that normally gets a bottle of my Honey Sloe Down gin, before  Christmas. However, seeing as I have been out of the country for the last year it has been awhile since I made any. For those of you lucky enough to be living somewhere that Blackthorn Trees are, its the perfect time to go looking for sloes. I love a days foraging, especially when its a blue sky, freezy sort of day that ends in the pub by a lovely, toasty fire with a pint of ale. I really miss England right now!

Careful, sloe berries!

Careful, sloe berries!

Traditionally, sloes should be picked after the first frosts and fallen as it helps them get all mushy and flavour-some in the gin. I tend to start picking sloes in late October right the way through though and the ones that haven’t seen a frost go in the freezer until I’m ready to use them.

Honey Sloe Down (Sloe Gin)

75cl gin (the best you can afford but one without too many botanicals i.e. Gordons), 4 hand fulls of sloes, 50g light brown sugar, 3 tbsp honey, vanilla pod, 1L kilner jar.

Wash the sloes well and remove any stalks or bruised fruit. Some recipes say to prick the fruit with a needle/fork/skewer but I never have and get great results. Put them in the kilner jar and then pour over gin. Stir in the sugar and honey, add the vanilla pod and then make sure the lid is on tight. Give it a good shake everyday for a few weeks, then leave it for a few months to mature. Some people strain it then bottle it, I tend to pour it into pretty bottles and then add a few of the fruit for presentation. You could make some now and give it as gifts that need to be matured, or you could make it now, mature it yourself and give it as gifts NEXT Christmas (if that isn’t too forward thinking for you…)

Sloe-ly does it

Sloe-ly does it

Don’t discard the berries, there is a killer drink called Slider which you can make with them. Retain them in the kilner jar and top with some flat cider. Leave for a few weeks and enjoy in small quantities. I warn you now, its lethal!!

I like to drink my sloe gin neat from a hip flask or mixed with cloudy apple juice for a long party drink. How do you like yours?

Seasonal Crossfire

September is here. There is a crispness to the morning air that reminds me of going back to school, falling leaves and blackberry picking, even here is Antibes where it gets up to 25 degrees by 10am (all right, I’ll stop rubbing it in…). For any cook this time of year is an exciting time as, weather permitting, there is a wonderful overlap between the lushness of summer and the settling of autumn. This is seasonality from a slightly different angle and for the inventive cook it presents an interesting challenge. Beginnings and endings overlay one another all the time in the garden, but a good September is often especially rich in such tasty coincidences. Of course it is almost completely at the mercy of the weather, however with some careful garden management it is entirely possible to grow raspberries all the way into November. Good husbandry, and the use of a poly-tunnel or green house, can ensure harvests of pea shoots in March, courgettes in early June and salad leaves all through the winter months. Seasonality that is stretched with a little organic coaxing is quite different from air freighting strawberries in December and tomatoes in January.

So its time to have a look at some of the ingredients that may very well get caught up in the seasonal crossfire and end up in a shotgun wedding of culinary heaven.

Nettle and Celeriac Soup

Its not just in the garden that some clever seasonal overlap can be taken advantage of. Nettles are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and make an excellent base for soup that is lifted to a new height by the addition of sweet, nutty celeriac.

Stock: Bones from last nights roast chicken, celeriac peelings, celery, carrot, onion, bay leaf or two, 10 black pepper corns, salt. Cover with water and simmer until reduced by half.

Soup: Celeriac, nettle tops (picked from above waist height and away from main roads), stock, onion, garlic, butter, fennel seeds, salt, pepper, croutons.

Fry the onion and garlic in the butter and add a few fennel seeds, cooking til the onions are soft and sweet and the fennel seeds pop. Chop the celeriac into small cubes and boil in the stock until soft. Add the nettles at the last minute, rinsed and roughly chopped. Nettles are just like spinach in that a whole dustbin full will yield like, a fork-full of cooked results so be generous. Stick the zizzer in the pan and blend or put it in a blender bit by bit until the result it a thick, smooth soup. Thin out with a little more stock if the soup is too thick, or add some cream if you aren’t too concerned about your waistline. Serve with thick crusty bread and croutons (yes you can have both).

Duck with a Summer Berry and Port Sauce

Duck hunting starts inland on the 1st of September in the UK and friends of mine have already been posting pics of unlucky ducks and asking for advice on recipes. Duck and fruit are a common mix and the sweet yet tart raspberry, deeply flavoured black currant and the tender blackberry create a heady, fragrant mix.

Duck breasts (skin on), handfull of raspberries, black currants and blackberries (freshly foraged if you can), port, redcurrant jelly (homemade of course), cornflour.

For the sauce, bring 200ml of port to the boil then simmer until reduced by half. Add a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly and allow to melt into the sauce. Whisk a little knob of butter in and add the cornflour (blended with a little water to make a paste), mixing until light and glossy. Add the berries and cook for another couple minutes so that they soften and the sauce has thickened slightly.

Lightly score the skin of the duck and salt then set aside for half an hour. Coat the duck breasts in oil and place in a large frying pan over a high heat skin-side down. Fry for two minutes, then turn over and fry for a further two minutes. Transfer the duck to a roasting tin and bake for ten minutes, the middle should still be pink. Set aside for a further ten minutes to rest. Serve drizzled in the sauce with potatoes and parsnips roasted in duck fat.

A few other excellent combinations are artichoke hearts and wild autumnal mushrooms, apple and raspberry crumble, late summer plums and goose, courgette and lemon, hazelnuts and raspberries, squash and fennel bulb. Have a play and see what you can come up with.