Archives for the month of: January, 2014


In the world of enthusiastic fermenters, there are lots of people whose children are gung-ho eaters of various healthy ferments– carrots with dill, sauerkraut, water kefir beverages, beetroot kvass, etc. Mine have never been these kind of children. One child panics — not kidding — if he thinks he’s going to have to smell sauerkraut; the other just looks in disgust at the Ruby-Kraut on her daddy’s plate.

But today, without their knowing, but not seeking to deceive them through any ruse, I had a breakthrough.

Lazy and busy, I decided to serve corn tortillas with melted cheese, and made a salsa.  Not my finest hour as a Mother/ Cook, but I am trying to be easy on myself and was terribly hurried.

The incredibly easy salsa was, whizzed up:
One tin of tomatoes
One onion
a large handful of fresh spinach
maybe two tablespoons of fermented green chillis of can’t-remember variety

I LOVE that my kids are beginning to revel in spicy foods, I love that they no longer reject things with leafy green bits, but mostly I’m happy that i managed to get them to enjoy food with that wonderful sour back-taste that I find so satisfying and know to be so health-giving.

And, it was the best Mexican style salsa I’ve ever made.  Recently I made something similar with the cascabellas but this was better– the spicy heat was really radiant and smooth and the sour, really compelling.

The green chilis I’d fermented— something someone brought home.  With a few cloves of garlic, I put them in salt water under the surface of which I kept it all for a few months, forgetting its existence, until yesterday I saw the jar and thought to use the slightly odd looking contents therein.

How salty a salt brine?  I like to use this guideline: somewhere between tears of joy and sea-water.   Taste first– you can add but can’t remove…

I increasingly enjoy using vegetables I’ve fermented as an ingredient– in sauces, dressings, spreads, dips and soups.  On their own, these chilis were nothing special– as part of something else, they came alive.

Wow! What a fabulous spokesperson for small-scale growing as sustainable, important, and ready to feed the world!  And standing up to lies!

The protest was on behalf of the Land Workers’ Alliance.  If you follow that link and go to “Campaigns” you get some ideas of the ways that Big Ag dominates the legal and regulatory scene to the detriment of small players.

I want one or two! And I want EVERYONE to have one or two.  Cuter than any hay box, better insulated than any tea cosy.

Not sure I support the Clean Development Mechanism or Carbon Credits though…

Read this to learn why I’m skeptical. 

And have a look in the comments as well…  and tell me what YOU think…

…whether a fantastic idea, product and project has allowed itself to contribute to Greenwash and ultimately thus more emissions…

Well , a postscript the following day:  I wrote to Wonderbag and this was their very nice response:

“Thanks so much for the post and we are thrilled that you love Wonderbag! As you are probably aware, the Carbon Markets have collapsed so at this stage we are not selling carbon and the relationship with CDM is stagnant until further developments for the better in terms of global carbon policies. The wonderbags are in no way subsidized by Carbon Funding.”

OK, n ow I’m going to buy some!

I have loved and learned from Paula Wolfert’s writing on North African and Mediterranean foods through the years. Besides this video being a fun portrait of a really charming person, it’s inspiring how Paula loves life and is taking a DIY approach to her own health and staving off cognitive decline with careful attention to diet.  I also love that she’s gone public with this– it’s brave and a gift to all of us as Alzheimer’s is so scarily on the rise.  Her decision to be “out” takes the shame away. I love that lady!

There are various nutritional approaches to mental decline that make sense to me.  A few years ago Oliver Tickell wrote about the role of trans-fats, and this more recently, in modern diets and fought successfully to have hydrogenated fats removed from foods in the UK.  I’ve read recently, and we’ll all be hearing a lot more about the role of carbohydrates and gluten in spiking the sugar load in the brain, which is apparently deleterious.  And when I first saw the video with Paula Wolfert above, it was in the context of what’s basically an advert for a brand of Prebiotics — and as an advert, therefore made me sceptical.

Not that buying prebiotics is a bad thing, but it’s possible to get “prebiotics” nutritionally, though maybe it’s just easier and more predictable in a supplement.  The Wikipedia article (I have to stop quoting like this!) says ” Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth and/or activity of bacteria in the digestive system in ways claimed to be beneficial to health.”  In other words, Prebiotics aid the Probiotics that we know are part of “gut health,” found in fermented foods that on this blog I am so fond of making and promoting.  Probiotics encompass  that thriving world of micro-organisms that need to form our “micro-flora:” humans evolved with them for health and immunity.  They are the positive bacteria that help us digest, to glean nutrition from our food, and keep the intestines — our “second brain” — happy and impermeable.  All this is very much in the nutrition and health news; I am just trying to string together what I can…

Anything with inulin like Jerusalem Artichokes, chicory, also dandelion roots, apparently, is a good Prebiotic, and so are leeks and onions.   My nutritionist friend Annie Green  says ” if someone is prone to bloating or IBS-like symptoms its not always a good idea” — she recommends people checking out “FODMAPS” —  so many things to consider.

I have had terrible stomach pain from overdoing Jerusalem Artichokes (which I love) (and which my friend Vicky mixes with Chard to make a delicious soup called Poor Man’s Watercress Soup, should your body be OK with this food).  Just had to mention that soup– it was so yummy!  Maybe if I’d eaten more totally-probiotic sauerkraut that day, the Prebiotics would have vanquished the ill-effects?  Or maybe I’m someone who would benefit from a Prebiotic supplement?

I’m just musing–  not feeling like I have to be authoritative with knowledge in any way, this sunny morning….

There is so much.  So many people and issues with grains, with depression, with mental “disorders,” (hate using that word), with terrible stomach ailments, migraines, allergies.   So many approaches to dietary health, to heal, to help us get old gracefully.  Taking our health into our own hands, not counting on the efficacy of what pharmaceuticals offer (which isn’t to say totally rejecting them, IMHO)– this is part of DIY culture too.  Paula Wolfert, doing it for Alzheimer’s, is a Food Hero.


Forgive the terrible photo– I won’t get a second chance until next year! But the taste? “Lush. Rich. Gorgeous. Velvety. Chocolatey. Very tasty indeed.”

OK, that’s my husband saying that, but you would say it too!

Over a year ago I began to contemplate making a tart with goose blood for Christmas.  I had read a reference to this as a food traditional to the particular region of what used to be called Montgomeryshire (now Powys) in Wales where I live. But already by that mid-December it was too late, replied our wonderful butcher to my enquiry, because the farm that had reared the geese had already finished the slaughter for Christmas orders and therefore wouldn’t have collected the blood.

(A strong reason, by the way, to support small butcher’s shops– because they are the ones who maintain real relationships with suppliers, where special requests can happen, even if in this case I was too late.  And if you eat meat, it’s so obvious that using as much of an animal as possible is the traditional as well as environmental approach which honours the act of sacrifice the animal unwillingly made.

Watch this wonderful film of a the making of this tart, I would suppose filmed by S Minwel Tibbott as I reckon the scene at the end is the same as that in the still photograph.  I love the way the woman in this clip wraps the Golden Syrup around her wooden spoon.  I love her cooking implements.  I love her apron.  I love the end-result.  How could I not have been on a mission?

I asked around among my friends who grew up in this area, and no one had any recollection of eating this fabled food.  One friend, the very lovely Dawn, daughter of farmers and beloved person in this town, remembered that her “Mum and Dad used to go to a nearby farm to help feather the poultry” and could recall the lady there shrilly shouting to her husband “Catch the goose’s blood , Fred!” in order to make the tarts later.   I wish I had a recording to share here Dawn’s hilarious imitation of that lady, which she enacted in the school yard as we waited for the kids one afternoon–  it’s the kind of sentence we maybe don’t hear much in this day and age.

I have friends Bea, Chris and Kate who are working very hard at a smallholding called Longhill to create a  farming enterprise with chickens, pigs, delicious market-garden vegetables and much more.  Bea mentioned to me that she was planning to raise a few geese and would be happy to support my interest in experimenting with the blood for next year.  And next year came, and Bea remembered her offer, and I found myself with 310ml of blood from 2 geese, which she had collected — “caught” — herself in a gallant and proficient moment of self-sufficiency (read, she’s learned how to do the slaughter herself, and strives to reduce the suffering).

Here is the goose blood as it was left on my doorstep (where it was covered, of course.)


With trepidation, I found the link that had set me on this path a year before.

“In mid-Wales, it was the custom to make goose blood tart when the farmers were killing a large number of geese at Christmastime. Oral evidence testifies that this cake was an essential part of the Christmas fare in the Trefeglwys district and similarly in the districts of Staylittle, Llanbryn Mair and Llangurig in Montgomeryshire. To date, however, there is no evidence to show that it was prepared in any other county in Wales.”

Serendipitously, Longhill is high in the Trefeglwys hills, and was bought from a family with a long history on that site of sheep, cattle, pigs during the war, and of course– geese for Christmas, which apparently many farmers in this area raised.  At the Longhill site, I coincidentally learned, they raised geese to dress and sell in markets in the south of Wales.  I learned from the former owner of that site that this practice stopped when one farmer, his uncle, whose diabetes was effecting his eyesight, blindly trod on a baby goose and killed it; this upset him so much he stopped raising geese at all.

So my Goose Blood Tart was destined to be part of a  renewed lineage of Goose Blood Tarts– I felt sure.

“The blood of about three geese,” read the instructions,  “would be put in a greased basin and boiled in a saucepan half full of water. Then the blood would be allowed to cool and set solid before it was rubbed between the fingers to make fine crumbs. Mixed with currants, flour, suet, salt , spice and golden syrup, it would be baked between two layers of crust on a plate in the oven.”

Here is my version of a “greased basin …in a saucepan half full of water,” an improvised bain-marie.  The blood was strikingly black and was grossing me out a little at this stage.


The blood thickened a little over the soft heat, but never coagulated or crumbled or clotted– Bea had added a little vinegar to preserve the blood until she could get to me, which was the right thing to do,  because blood is meant to go off really quickly, but perhaps it was that small element that changed the chemistry– which was fine in the end.  With no guide to quantities, feeling like a chemist or mad scientist, I added a few (maybe 3) tablespoons  each of flour and Golden Syrup, trepidatiously tasting and stirring, and of butter, as the only substitute for suet I could think of, raisins not currants which I didn’t have, a spoon of cinnamon and a good shake of “Mixed Spice”– and stirred, and watched condense, and slowly felt a surge of confidence that something right was happening.

Regarding having no idea what quantities to use of all the other ingredients besides blood:  In a moment of confusion and mild panic I sought help from an internet forum run by the amazing, generous and very experimental food historian Ken Albala, who guided me to study the Sanguinaccio in Italy, a confection made from pig’s blood in the past and nowadays with a mixture of chocolate. (Thanks everyone in that group for your help and interest!)  This lead me to the amazing blog of Mister Meatball and his Sanguinaccio Dolce, and everything in my mind then clicked into place…

My concoction there on the stove was visually very similar to brownie batter and felt chocolately indeed.


Knowing I wouldn’t be making the tart for several days, I froze it, following Ken’s advice.

Later I looked into Ada Boni’s classic 1950 Talisman Italian Cookbook.  Her Sanguinaccio Neapolitan Style calls for a mere two squares of cooking chocolate– it’s interesting to trace the increasing use of chocolate through time in this dish.

It wasn’t until after New Years, actually, that I was able to arrange a time to invite the good peeps of Longhill to our home to eat the tart, which I tried to make to look as simple as possible.


By the time it was baked, the night had fallen and all the pictures I took with flash were gruesome (see above).  Never mind. We had a really lovely evening with laughter and candlelight, a kind of celebration of planning something for over a year, enjoying its fruition, the family who raised the geese, the woman who caught the blood, and the woman who was curious enough to try a recipe on a museum website.  How would you describe it?  Inside lovely pastry, a custardy, spicy, smoothe and very chocolately confection.  Were there an end to chocolate, it might even serve as a kind of post-apocalyptic substitute– albeit without the bitter, which one doesn’t quite aprreciate always with chocolate– or that opiate, in love feeling.   But they were on to something really good, those upland farm people of yore: their Christmas Goose Blood Tart is truly– and not in any bizarre or challenging way– truly delicious.  We agreed this could become a tradition.

And just to say:  The Wikipedia “Blood as Food” entry is pretty compelling, if I’ve stirred any interest in you.

While I’m thinking about the food ways of Wales, and what changes and what stays the same, I’m reminded of this breathtaking scene in the beautiful film Sleep Furiously, a 2009 meditation and loving witness to rural life.

Mrs S Minwel Tibbott and Making Yeast the Old Welsh Way

I have borrowed this photo of S. Minwel Tibbot from the website of Amgueddfa Cymru / National Museum Wales and hope the attribution suffices. She is an historical figure I very much admire,  and I intend, when I get my head around how, to begin a Wikipedia entry on her, because she deserves one as an important historian of Welsh domestic culture. She began to work for St. Fagans, the fantastic museum of Welsh culture, near Cardiff, in 1969, learning and writing.  At that point it was called the Welsh Folk Museum and was curated by Trefor M. Owen who writes in the introduction to her Welsh Fare: A Selection of Traditional Recipes (1976):

“The main task of the Welsh Folk Museum since it opened in 1948 has been to collect and record, to study and reflect the folk life of Wales in all its various forms.  The advent of the tape recorder made it possible to record the voice of the informants and also facilitated the building of a comprehensive account of the traditional life of our country…. It is the responsibility of the WFM, having collected this oral evidence from the oldest inhabitants with their generous cooperation, not only to preserve this historical information for the benefit of future scholars [Can I count as one of these? 🙂 ] , but to present it…to contemporary readers as part of their inheritance….  This volume was prepared by Mrs. S Minwel Tibbott, an Assistant Keeper [in the Department of Oral Traditions and Dialects]  …”

“She realised very early on that information [on traditional Welsh foods] would not be found in books,” the website linked above tells us. “Travelling the length and breadth of Wales, she interviewed, recorded and filmed the older generation of women, the majority of them in their eighties. Their memories harked back to the end of the nineteenth century.” She worked in a moment of history when so much was changing- the way people lived, the domestic technologies with which they cooked, the availability of old foodstuffs before the prevalence of new supermarketed foodstuffs….. Even looking at the photos in her book you can see this. Times were changing, and Tibbot’s  contribution is critical.

As a culinary anthropologist / historian, her books are compelling and wonderful. Welsh Fare is my favourite of all the old-timey collections of Welsh recipes. (First Catch a Peacock, by Bobby Freeman in 1980, is also great and one of the best.) I am in the middle of an experiment with a traditional Christmas tart, which I’ll soon be blogging, and this is why she’s come up for me now.

But I remembered reading Welsh Fare a few years ago, in the height of my sourdough bread-making, and being really inspired to recognise alternatives to store-bought yeast as well as the method I’d developed from reading the book Wild Fermentation. The sourdough culture/ starter I’ve had now for five years was formed by simply mixing small amounts of flour and water and a few raisins, and waiting, and then adding more flour, a little bit a day, until a living starter, a collection of wild and sundry yeasts, was formed, a “culture” that could be fed and nurtured and used as leavening in breads and doughs.

It’s such an easy method that it’s startling to read what Tibbott documents in Welsh Fare, but in the interest of Yeast and Bread Studies, and considering the book is out-of-print, I share it here.  If you’ve ever started a sourdough culture, you can understand how easy it would be to play with and vary the ingredients– you could certainly experiment with excluding the wheat flour in order to be gluten-free:

Burum Cartref–Home Made Yeast

four ounces hops
six potatoes (unpeeled)
one and a half gallons water
one cupful sugar
one cupful flour
quarter pint yeast reserved from previous lot

Boil the potatioes and hops in the water until the potatoes have disintegrated.Strain the infusion into an earthenware bowl and allow it to cool in blood heat. Mix the sugar and flour with a small quantity of this liquid, pour it back on to the remaineder in the bowl and then add the old yeast. Cover the bol and allow to stand in a warm place for two days. Now strain the liquid yeast into bottles or earthward jars, cork tightly and store in a cool place.
Pennant, Montgomeryshire

Liquid Yeast prepared a home in this way was known as burum total or burum direst (temperance yeast) in Cardiganshire. Its strength was not equal to that of the dried yeast and this accounted for the custom of preparing the dough in the eve night s and leaving it to rise in a warm place overnight.
Rhydlewis, Cardiganshire

Home made liquid yeast was prepared in large quantities to augment the family income. Known as berman direst or berman total, it was sold to the neighbours for approximately a penny per pint. It was also possible to buy liquid yeast (berman tafarn) from the local inn; this brewers’ test proved to be stronger than the home made variety. –Pen-prysg, Glamorgan


I look forward to making this someday– perhaps not in the huge quantity, though one could also experiment with thickening then dehydrating the liquid to attempt a dried yeast.  Whenever I buy ready-to-use yeast in a shop, in a can or a packet, I’m reminded that it’s a kind of industrial-laboratory product, something so different from the force-of-nature that wild yeast cultures feel like.  Store-bought yeast of course performs predictably in modern recipes.  But as always, it’s fun, informative, and maybe important to understand how to get ever closer to the basics of our food.

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