Archives for the month of: October, 2013


Vascular Dementia– slow, frustrating, watching capacities diminish but not quite believing what’s happening…  So, my mother-in-law, who was a geriatric social worker, finds herself in the odd position of being in a care home, wishing to take steps a geriatric social worker would take, but being thwarted by Authority (such as it is in a care home) and her own brain fog.

This was an energetic and thoughtful woman, who gave me a tatty copy of a book she’d enjoyed that represents an old and mostly rural way of cooking in Britain: Farmhouse Fare, “Recipes from Country Housewives collected by The Farmers Weekly.”   I often find copies of this book in charity shops, and I always buy it, to give to friends, because it’s such a treasure trove indeed. The edition she gave me is “the first impression of the enlarged (fourth) edition of Farmhouse Fare [and] was published in November 1946.  The second impression appeared in 1947; the third impression in 1950. The fifth revised edition was first published in 1954, reprinted 1956 and 1958,” which dates the copy I have, in beautiful, stained disrepair.  I also have a hardback copy from 1979 with a cheesy photographic cover.  Clearly this is a collection that’s been loved.  If you find this book, make it yours.

Last weekend, kids on holiday from school, we went to see my mother-in-law, and my husband popped by her recently sold house to talk with the new owners.  They weren’t in, but he took some apples lying on the grass underneath the old apple tree that they had –I hate writing this–  chopped down.  Must have been a recent chop, because the apples on the ground were beginning to get red, these cookers (green) that in most summers never ripen.  These were apples my mother-in-law had enjoyed all through her years in that home, making pies and chutneys and baby food for my babies!  Yes of course new people can do what they want with their new property, but I can’t imagine not loving that tree, that fruitful dwarf apple, variety I-don’t-know.  Wish I could ask Grace, but I don’t want to tell her what they’ve done; I think she’d find it very disturbing.

Somehow to deal with my own sense of injustice, I’m going to work through lots of the apple recipes in Farmhouse Fare.  For the Apple Marigold above, I used the last apples we shall ever have from that beloved tree. My husband collected them in a plastic bag from that grass on that stormy October day.



I was interested in this Apple Marigold recipe for different reasons– because I’m “collecting” savoury apple recipes, because I love calendula flowers, because I’m interested in using herbs like thyme with apples (herbs in general with fruits in general), because it’s a chance to feel authentic with my enamelled baking dish, because it’s so simple a recipe but so personal, because it’s interesting to explore what British cooking is, English, Welsh, Scottish– and how within seasonal and economic limits “farm women” put together meals they felt proud of.

This recipe tasted wholesome and simple, basically, apples in an unsweetened custard, and the fruit quite discreet from that custard.  I added a little salt which felt necessary.  Of course could one fancify this, by infusing flavours, maybe even adding some pastry down below or on top of.    I’d wished to be able to cut proper rings– for the visual effect– but that didn’t happen.  To Mrs J Preston of Oxfordshire, thank you: I feel this is your recipe, the “marigold” petals and sage and thyme your original idea.  Through the years, there’s a voice in this Marigold Apple, a small celebration of resourcefulness in the name of a quiet artistry.

Meanwhile: I made this today too, with some applesauce from apples that really needed doing.   It’s in the oven now.  Love the simplicity of three ingredients– and even refrained, against the wisdom of experience, from adding any salt or fat, though glugged in some sourdough starter in lieu of “yeast”.   Not sure I let the dough sit long enough, but the oven is on for another purpose so wanted to get the baking done, in the the name of efficient energy use.

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A film of a performance piece. 1975.

Feels dated but important, and actually presages something part Mary Hartman Mary Hartman part nervous breakdown part humorous part violent part liberatory (once you know you are a slave, however comfortable).

A is for Apron, beginning a journey through the alphabet and lots of kitchen implements general and specific. Love the sounds she makes on the metal bowls.

I learned of this reading the programme for a food film festival in Liverpool in November. The event looks great.

I love the slightly sour tang of creme fraiche, and the best brand to buy around here (with not too many retail choices) is Rachel’s Organic, a local, responsible, family-owned Welsh company in nearby Aberystwth. NOT. As their Facebook public relations person cheerily responds to any who mention the 2010 buyout by Nestle — there are many and you can be one too:

Hi XXXXX, thanks for getting in touch. Rachel’s is owned by Group Lactalis. LNCD is a joint venture between Lactalis and Nestle and here in the UK, Rachel’s is distributed by LNCD. We hope this helps, Best wishes, Rachel’s

If you want to stay on top of why Breastfeeding and Child Health advocates decry Nestle policies, Baby Milk Action has long been a place to to go. Breast Milk is the first best local, organic, easy, perfect, slow, wonderful, delicious, perfect food.

But after watching this video, I dislike Nestle even more, for it’s efforts, backed by all powers conferred by markets, governments and unwitting consumers, to seize and privatise water resources which are so fundamentally collectively owned, and to which, by any progressive vision of a social humanity, people, all people, have a right. It’s hardly complicated. There’s no argument, until people like this man begin to pretend they are disinterested stewards in the public interest. Bullshit.

This time round the Banality of Evil seems to hide its greed under an ideology of public good, and we see clearly the moment we’re in at which the Corporation seeks to justify it’s trumping of the role of State. State– which once could have been imagined in the interests and values and common resources of people (and planet), and now cedes to Humungous, ungovernable Money. And I would never actually call myself anti-capitalist. But I profoundly believe in common resources and genuine democracy.

If you watch Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, a brilliant exploration of authoritarianism and social violence, you will be hard-pressed not to be reminded of this Peter Brabeck clip — so simultaneously extolling and critical of the Nestle project.

Meanwhile, on the home front:


I don’t pretend to myself that the Nestle boycott is supremely effective, and occasionally I still do buy Rachel’s Organic Creme Fraiche, though I seek to do so as seldom as possible. It’s so easy to “culture” your own with other cream you may have. In this case I bought some reduced from the Co-op (love those orange stickers), mixed the two together and thinned a little with some milk. By tomorrow, it will all be creme fraiche, and wonderful with … hmmmm, what shall I make… an easy Apple Crumble!  As long as I can keep it fresh, spoonfuls of the stuff then can duly “culture” the next bit of cream there happens to be.

Not bringing revolution, but a small act of kitchen counter culture.

A Girl Called Jack, A Cabbage Called Kraut

Just in case any of you haven’t read Jack Monroe, she’s a real food hero, mixing her righteous politics with ultra low-budget cooking. She speaks truth to power to hypocritical Tories about their wrong and moralistic assumptions about poverty and the poor in Austerity Britain. She writes tasty, nutritious, immaculately costed-out recipes. She washes the sauce off budget baked beans to get nice haricots. She understands a jar of fish paste as a delicious ingredient. Even as she’s coming into her own as a respected food journalist, and political commentator, she speaks from her experience raising a child with the anxieties of being cold and hungry, and she is amazing. I can’t wait for her book. That’s the link to her blog, above.

She is intelligent, articulate, canny and wise, and I only have one thing to give her: a friendly but strong nudge in the direction of sauerkraut, as in my last piece, or as in a million great methods searchable on the internet. Cabbage is cheap, salt is cheap, sauerkraut is a powerful and delicious and very usable ingredient, raw or cooked. And, for so many people who “can’t afford gluten intolerance,” as a recent parody joked – sorry, can’t recall who said that– dietary probiotics as in fermented foods arehealing and healthful in the face of diets that can be too heavy in wheat, sugar, and other inflammatory foods.  Lots of people are truly suffering from contemporary diets– putting a little kraut in there can only help.

Jack– I wish I could give you some sauerkraut– I know you’d be convinced!  Best wishes to you. Love, A Fan

A Rainbow of Sauerkraut

Two years ago around now I was writing this piece on how to make sauerkraut. I think sometime soon it may be put up on their website, but here it is, transcribed in this blog, for now. I’ve done a little re-editing with the gift of hindsight and experience. I wanted to make sauerkraut seem easy, which it is really. And the idea was, you could really play with cabbage, with colour, with spices and flavours, thus I called it:

How to Make a Rainbow of Sauerkrauts
Permaculture Magazine No 70 Winter 2011

Lacto-fermenting is preserving through an alchemy of salt and vegetables and time – in it’s simplest form, creating a salty brine to encourage beneficial bacteria to protect food from spoilage, transform flavours and augment nutrition and culinary possibility. So much of traditional British preserving requires such intensive boiling and processing that much flavour and goodness is lost. “Pickling” by natural fermentation keeps raw food crunchy and fresh, makes lots of nutrients even more accessible to the human body, and will give you stores of living, enzymatic, “probiotic” food to eat during the dark winter.

This is an ancient technique, low carbon (no heat to cook, no definitive need to refrigerate, though it’s good to thoroughly clean vessels), delicious, a way to get more veg into your diet, and exciting: once you have restored the power of sour to your plate, you will want more and more. I truly can’t eat hummus without sauerkraut anymore, and love pickled veg as a final ingredient in my soups. Salads come alive with the addition of whatever preserves you happen to have on hand. You are gifted with an incredible freedom with what you have available and need to use up. And our modern repertoire includes such a wide range of exciting inspirations, including healing herbs and spices which gain potency in fermented brine.

Take your glut of cabbages. Shred, finely or roughly. Mix with spices. Add ginger, leeks, onions, garlic, chilli, or chopped seaweed, grated beetroot, apple– in whatever combination you like. Toss purple cabbage in with with the white to make it pink. Think about cumin, caraway, fennel, dill seeds. Curry powder perhaps? Follow your fancy. Be creative. Experiment. I’ve been foraging for nettle seeds– they went into a kraut with the hope for a little extra vitality. Or keep it simple. The plainest of sauerkraut, undressed, is wonderful too.

A good general rule of thumb: cultured cabbage requires one tablespoon of unrefined, mineral-rich sea salt for each head of cabbage. Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl, knock with your fist to break down cellular walls, add the salt, and toss. Add a little extra water, if you wish. As time passes the cabbage will release natural juices which become the brine in which your souring cabbage – your sauerkraut – develops. Stuff firmly into a jar or crock, leaving only a little space at the top.

The most important thing is regularly pushing down the vegetables beneath the brine. This is what allows the eponymous lactobacilli to thrive anaerobically– without oxygen. The bacteria that spoil and rot food need air. Sometimes it can feel like a battle in which it’s our job to support the Goodies versus the Baddies.

Keep a room temperature for roughly a week, remembering to keep poking down any errant veg underneath the surface of the brine, or using a weight if necessary. Once the process has begun, refrigeration or chilling in the coolest part of your home is appropriate. Under snow would be ideal! Eat all along the life cycle of your kraut, and experience different tastes as they “mature.”

The hardest part about lacto-fermenting is finding enough large glass jars or ceramic crocks for all you endeavours. I spy the pickled egg jar at the chip shop….


I had loads more elderberries that I’d picked on that abundantly fruiting hedge.

Pontack Sauce, writes Richard Mabey in Food for Free,  is “a relic from those days when every retired miltary gentlman carried his patent sauce as an indispensable part of his luggage. Pontack’s was a famous restaurant … which was no doubt on these gentlemen’s town circuit, and from there this recipe was taken back to the country seats and adjusted to the owners idiosyncrasies.”

I’ve made some, barely adjusting to any of my own likely idiosyncrasies– just followed RM’s instructions below,  using a half bottle of neglected red wine instead of vinegar or claret.

“Pour one pint of boiling vinegar (or claret)  over one pint of elderberries in a stone jar or casserole dish. Cover, and allow to stand overnight in an oven at very low heat. Next day, pour off the liquid put in a saucepan with a teaspoon of salt, a blade of mace, 40 peppercorns, 12 cloves, a finely chopped onion and a little ginger.  Boil for ten minutes then bottle securely with the spices….  The Sauce was reputedly meant to be kept for seven years before use. ”

I love it:  not to be used before, rather than only good until…

Will it last this long with us?  Maybe!  RM writes that it’s delicious with liver, which I can imagine, while everyone else around the web talks about game.  We don’t really eat liver or game so often– sometimes rabbit (cheap and local) or pheasant.  Maybe this Pontack Sauce will occasion an Occasion.

A fingertip dipped in the sauce and licked suggests a hint of bitterness that gives complexity to a British style sauce, which usually are sweet and fruity, sometimes a little sour.   This feels different, so I understand why it might be in the category of the old-style ketchups and sauces like Worcestershire and anchovy-based condiments.  Somewhere I read Pontack Sauce is a wonderful base for gravies.  Seven years from now: my little boy might have a moustache, my daughter, moved away, and at some family meal we’ll all sit together and ponder where we were, seven years ago.  Seven years hence, these are my hugest wishes of today:

There will have been a moratorium on all new fossil fuel development, and any use of fossil energy will be galvanised to a renewable energy future.  Government and civil society will be benevolently oriented to a socially-just adaptation to the challenges a changing climate is wreaking, with rich countries taking responsibility for the damage our technological history has brought the rest of the world.  There’s been an incredible techno-fix that sinks Greenhouse gasses somewhere safe  (I’m allowed to want this– this is MY fantasy!).  We’re all about community and happiness and health, and everyone has enough to eat, and water, and clean air, and all species of bees have recovered in number.  My hollyhocks have spread everywhere around the garden.   I’ve gotten on top of those piles of paper.   All the yoga balancing poses are really easy for me.  The Pontack Sauce is more delicious than today I ever would have imagined.

Elderberry Cordial

There was a year several years ago when I was feeling the fear, maybe a little too intensely :), about bird flu and swine flu and any old terrible bug that could make us all unwell. And especially regarding my son, who can have a dangerous asthma-type reaction when he is struck by infectious respiratory illnesses. Convinced by what I read on how well elderberries stimulate the immune system, I was buying Sambucol (TM),  the elderberry medicine that tastes so good, sweet with glucose– and a little expensive given that elderberries grow so profusely where I live.

A DIY version, if you are able to find an Elder tree in autumn, is cheap and easy– and dried berries, from mail-order if necessary, would not be so expensive either.  Last year, I steeped some dried berries in brandy, and that has become a wonderful night-cap of hot, flu-fighting power. But I wanted something to give my children, a sweet, purple, medicinal spoonful, maybe similar to cordial and Calpol, for which they beg even when perfectly healthy!  (I don’t give them that Calpol unless really serious, just need to say!)

So I found a recipe online, one that was good enough but not perfect. There are actually so very many, and in the Permaculture spirit of “pattern before detail” I will give a kind of summary, and encourage anyone who wants a precise recipe just to do an online search– you’ll certainly find one you like.

–Freshly foraged elderberries, stripped from their stalks as well as possible
–Maybe a few cloves or pinch of clove powder, cinnamon, fresh or dried ginger, some say lemon, I think grated orange peel would be nice — however you wish
–Maybe for every cup of berries, an eighth to a quarter a cup of liquid– I used a light, home-made vinegar and some apple juice, but didn’t need to– could have used water.  You could use very little liquid if you wanted a less fluid, more syrupy texture.
–Maybe for every cup of berries, a half cup of honey or of sugar.

Simmer the berries with the spices, push through a sieve with a wooden spoon and a little elbow grease,  boil your pureed treasure with the sugar or honey, then put in sterilised bottles.   That’s your medicine for the winter, or a cordial, to dilute in any concentration you prefer.

The more sugar, I guess the longer lasting?  I get trapped in puzzling conundrums when I preserve anything but jam or chutney.   I always like to reduce the sugar I use, but it is an effective preserver.   But things taste too sweet to me when I use the prescribed amount.  I am sure many readers find the same– please if you can , comment on how you resolve this in your life.   Some people just preserve berries– very clean, perfect ones– in honey, but others worry about botulism in situations of no oxygen and low acidity (which sugar gives); this is where I get confused and would welcome insight or conversation.   Also, it’s a reason why with vegetables for savoury preserves I most enjoy lacto-fermentation, because the sour means acidity and those baddie spores just don’t thrive.

I have a Danish friend who every year made an elderberry cordial– she freezes hers until use.  (And serves the cordial in hot water, as a kind of rejuvenating fruit tea.)  Freezing is good but it’s a relatively energy intensive solution, and I always prefer to go lower carbon if possible.  (Though maybe boiling the heck out of jars and bottles and berries uses more than just making than using a spot in an already temperature-controlled freezer.)  Other people keep their bottles in the fridge– but we don’t have the fridge space really.  To preserve it to keep outside refrigeration, one needs extra sugar and  extra boiling — thus reducing the vitamin content. Seems like in so many cases there’s no perfect solution.

Writes the ever-wonderful Alys Fowler here :  “The volume of honey must be greater than the volume of liquid if you want the syrup to remain preserved (if you wish to use less, freeze the syrup). The safest bet is to store the syrup in the fridge: it should last the winter” :

I shall sing “A Spoonful of Sugar” to help the medicine go down, and hope to jolly my children through any winter travails…


If you like your fermented greens really intense, here’s GUNDRU

I’ve tried this with nettles and with turnip greens.  An incredible, pungent smell — for the true fermenting aficionado 🙂

Anne Frank wrote about something similar in her diary: “Lunch today is mashed potato and pickled kale. You won’t believe how much kale can stink when it’s a few years old.”  I’ve often wondered how precisely it would have been “pickled” back there, then– in Holland, in the war.

I found with my fermented turnip greens, the smell actually improved with time.  I felt that particular ferment to be overwhelming, and pushed it out of sight to the back of the fridge.  Six months later, it had mellowed.  I wish I could remember what I did with it– maybe masked it somehow in a soup.   May I say: there are many people who LOVE these flavours, and I hope you are one of them.

PS (Well, there’s lots on Gundru / Gundruk on the web for you to explore, but I’m leaving this here to remember to search where the content of this lapsed link has gone… was truly a GREAT site….)

Crabapples: to try one day

I read this years ago, and have often thought about how beautiful and simple this is– just simply time, and water, and crabapples, for beautiful, fermented fruit.  We have a crabapple tree, sitting in a pot, given to us at a Woodland Trust stall at a show.  To be planted soon.


Post script– this link is gone.  Need to find where the article might have been redirected, but no luck so far.  This was an inspiring account of old Native American ways with crabapples, as I remember, put in a straw basket under the running water of a stream for the winter, the apples fermenting into a sour and beautiful preserve.


A few weeks ago September felt like summer still, and I noticed a grape vine growing through our fence from the church’s car park next door. Who planted that? A mystery.

The clusters of grapes were beautiful but sour, and I knew there wouldn’t be enough hot sunshine left to ripen them to purple sweet. First thought of course was verjuice, but my kitchen counter is cluttered with various fruity and sour home concoctions. I remembered making a version of umeboshi with less-ripe plums (something I’ll write about soon) — and of course considered fermenting these unripened grapes in a similar way.


Somehow searching around the internet I lucked upon the blogs of Persepholis, a Persian foods shop in London, and learned about sour grapes as a beloved ingredient in Persian/ Iranian cuisine.

So I salted the fruit, and saved the juice that was excreted, and imagine it as a too-salty version of the salted (to preserve) verjuice that I read about on an Iranian cookery website.  What has resulted, pictured below, feel like salty currants, or raisins, and mostly like capers.  A great reminder that piquancy and sour and salty wake up food as secret flavours around world cuisine.  I’m not sure exactly how I’ll use them– and considered powdering the lot to sprinkle as a spice– but feel too busy.  I’m thinking maybe with fish, if I ever did cook fish, or to enliven something Middle Eastern in feel that just needed a little lift.


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