Eating sustainably: three new superfoods

Pullet egg
Pullet eggs: tiny but delicious

Am I alone in having good intentions that frequently outshine my actions? Surely not.

Though I’ve thought (and written) much about our intentions to live as sustainably as possible, in real life, time or cost often win out against worthy ideals.

So, yes, I grow a lot of veg and get a weekly organic veg box, but (whispers it) I also do a monthly online Tesco food shop. Even though I hate Tesco and everything they stand for, without a car we can’t do a regular big shop ourselves and Tesco is currently the only supermarket who will cheerfully deliver to us without plastic bags and carry the crates of food all the way through to the kitchen.

But with our country move delayed, and, with it, plans of a more self-sufficient lifestyle also put on hold for a few years, I am determined to try and be more conscious about the food we consume as a family.

So I’ve done a bit of research into the current trends in sustainable eating! (Because, let’s face it, this is an area of ever shifting sands and ever new heroes. Who can forget the Apprentice acai berry show?!)

And, my goodness, what a lot there was to discover…

  1. Teff

I’ve long been a fan of quinoa, so the promise of Teff, a new “supergrain” from Ethiopia creates a strong lure. The gluten-free seeds, used in place of wheat flour, have been growing in popularity in recent years, even leading the grain teff to be placed at 4 to 1 odds as the next big superfood

Though we’re not a gluten free household, I am aware that almost everything the kids like to consume is packed full of the stuff (pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits making up pretty much the entire list of foods that will be allowed past their lips) and I’m always looking for ways to vary this unending wheat onslaught.

Plus, of course, the promise of a large exporting foodstuffs market in Ethiopia, if managed effectively, would be a huge boon to a nation that is currently on the UN’s list of least-developed countries.*

Teff flour is currently available in the UK from Planet Organic and, in smaller more expensive quantities, from Sainsburys. Expect it to start appearing on the shelves of other supermarkets soon…

  1. Pullet eggs

Did you watch the Jamie Oliver expose on pullet eggs last year on Jamie and Jimmy’s Farm Feast? For anyone who missed it, the short story is that huge numbers of small eggs, known as pullet eggs, are discarded because the supermarkets don’t want to buy them. As with so many things (wonky veg and so on) there is no real rationale behind this – a pullet egg, laid by a young chicken who has only just started making eggs, tastes just as good as a normal sized one and, in fact, the yolk-white ratio is higher so it’s arguably even better! (Read more about it on Jamie Oliver’s website here: eggs and animal welfare.)

I’m quite passionate about this subject for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the farm that Jamie visited is owned by the hubby’s relations, who are just as brilliant and fun as they seemed on TV and do an amazing job of running an organic farm and spreading the message about pullet eggs.

Secondly, since owning our own chickens and watching, with astonishment, when they first started laying these adorable little tiny eggs, I can tell: you they taste bloody brilliant! How anyone could discard such an insanely tasty egg simply because it is a bit smaller than usual strikes me as pure insanity.

Anyway, it is now possible to buy pullet eggs, either direct from The Mac’s Farm in Sussex, if you happen to live close by, or via FarmDrop if you’re London based, and nationwide from Abel & Cole (where they’ve called them “petite eggs”).

  1. Baobab

Surely one of the most iconic sights of Africa, the baobab tree casts such a mythical hold that it’s unsurprising its fruit has gripped public attention. And with health benefits that are seemingly un-ending (it contains more vitamin C than an orange, just for a start) baobab powder has been popular in health food stores for some time now.

In past years, though, baobab production has really taken off, with a number of sustainable initiatives starting in a range of African countries. Many of the organisations involved with the trade of baobab to the west are conscious of the need to address issues of monoculture and deforestation that have been rife with popularity of other crops.

I’m yet to test the baobab and, I have to confess, I remain sceptical about endless health claims from any one food, but with a huge range of baobab foods available in the UK now, I’m going to search out some baobab rich snacks and see if it’s something I can incorporate into my diet. Check out Planet Organic’s range for a huge choice!

*There’s a fascinating article in the Guardian all about teff, and the growing conditions in Ethiopia, here: Move over quinoa

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My kids killed my love of cooking

When I was growing up, as one of four children, being fussy wasn’t an option.

I don’t think it ever really occurred to any of us that we might not eat a meal – we were normally too busy fighting over the seconds. Sure, there was certain food I wasn’t as keen on as other things, but that just meant I didn’t ask for a double portion.

Friends of my parents used to comment on just how much we consumed and I think my Mum was driven slightly insane by the huge supermarket shops and endless requests, Oliver style, for “a bit more, please…”

So I always assumed that my own children would repeat this behaviour. In those pre-spawning days when you’re an absolute expert on childcare, I scoffed at the idea of fussy eating children. Clearly, clearly, it was simply the parents’ fault in one way or other. Giving them alternatives to foods, or allowing them not to eat certain things or perhaps, conversely, getting into a fight about eating certain things. In my house, mealtimes were going to run smoothly. I’d cook something. I’d put it in front of the kids. They’d devour it and ask for more.

I also used to find it amusing that though my sisters and I all love cooking – a skill we all picked up in our Uni years and onwards – my Mum never shared that passion. I didn’t really question why someone might not love cooking after, what, a solid 25 years of preparing meals for all or some of her four children, I just thought it was something in the genes. A little quirky oddity, that meant the love of cooking skipped a generation to land – fresh from Masterchef heaven – in our hearts.

In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that, pre-spawning, I actually thought cooking the evening meal for my children would be one of the highlights of my day. You know, I’d be standing, Nigella-esque, at the oven, whipping up some healthy, organic, delicious piece de resistance while the children – well, I don’t even know what I thought the children would be doing while I happily cooked in the kitchen. Cheerfully helping me, without making a mess? Getting on with some brilliant independent play all on their own? Perhaps writing a great novel, or composing an opera, or working on a cure for cancer. Probably something like that.

And, actually, in the first year of the sproglet’s life, all did go according to plan. I was one of those bloody annoying mothers who did the baby led weaning with the organic vegetables from the weekly Abel and Cole box. Snacks were apples or roasted butternut squash chunks or rice cakes. And everything – everything – for that blissful period between six months and a year, was consumed without question by the pliable sprog. He’d got the memo! I was delighted. And, perhaps, even a little smug.

Corridor to the kitchen
As close as I like to get to the kitchen these days

On his first birthday, I cooked the sproglet his first ever cake. Cupcakes. I thought that – since he hadn’t really had any sugar until that point – he might take it or leave it. I was wrong. He hoovered up three cupcakes within a minute. The next day, we had another party to go to. He refused to eat anything but cupcakes.

And, from that point on, it’s been a steady decline.

Nowadays, at mealtimes, the sproglet will eat three things only: pasta, potatoes and “red sauce.” (Do not ever make the mistake of referring to it as “tomato sauce” or it will not be consumed for some weeks…)

On a really good day, a morsel of broccoli might pass by his lips.

But a hearty, lovingly-prepared chicken stew? Home-cooked steak and kidney pie? Even (and I can never quite wrap my head round this one, since it was a favourite from my childhood) bubble and squeak? No, no, no thank you. Not eating that, thanks, Mum, I don’t like it, can I have something else instead?

And the littlest, who used to be a really excellent eater, has taken to copying his big brother, and developed extreme fussiness of his own.

So, after two years of having everything I ever cook pushed around a plate, shunned and, frequently, thrown to the floor, I somehow find that “genetic” love of cooking has vanished into the ether.

Now I’m that Mum who thinks a cheese sandwich and a bag of crisps is a perfectly acceptable lunch, who is delighted when the littlest eats handfuls of baked beans (beans! They’re vegetables you know!) and who grudgingly re-heats the leftovers from lunch and plonks it back down in front of the kids for supper later on…

So, I’m pretty certain that when they hit 20, my boys will suddenly discover a great zest for cooking and look back at their poor old Mum’s sorry efforts in their childhood with wonder and despair. In the finals of Masterchef 2033, they’ll recreate a “memory of childhood” with a pasta and red sauce vapourised air and joke with a white-haired John and heavily-wrinkled Greg that it was the only dish their Mum could ever cook. As they hold the trophy aloft – the first sibling duo to ever win joint first – they’ll smile with pride and say how they learnt everything they ever knew from the internet.

And then they’ll have kids of their own and a tin of baked beans will, once again, seem like a gourmet delight.

The fruit preservation society

Preserves and cordials | Wolves in LondonI’m a chronic over-caterer. I’d far rather have leftovers for weeks than the thought of – good god! the horror! – a guest leaving the house after a meal still feeling a little bit peckish.

This urge to feed someone more food in one day than they could reasonably eat in a week really comes to the fore at Christmas time.

And so it was this year.

Our turkey (bought from William Rose in East Dulwich, incidentally, and absolutely by far the nicest turkey I’ve ever eaten) had half still left by the end of the Christmas lunch. The following week we had turkey curry, turkey risotto and turkey burgers (all completely delicious…)

We ate red cabbage with pomegranates and dill for a fortnight, and there’s another Tupperware dish of it in the freezer.

And there’s still a little corner of the gingerbread house (seen here) waiting to be eaten.

As far as I’m concerned, bountiful leftovers are all part of the fun of Christmas.

But when it came to fruit, I went so overboard that there was no possible way we could eat it all before it went off.

We had oranges, clementines, quinces and apples stacked up in huge piles across the kitchen, and every morning I kept finding at least one mouldy piece of fruit that had to be thrown away.

So, last week, I decided it was time to use them all up in one fell swoop and, with the “assistance” of the sproglet and the littlest, we spent a day of somewhat manic preserving, our clothes reeking of vinegar and melted sugar by the end of it.

Come, take a closer look at the finished delights.

Homemade St Clements cordial | Wolves in London

Using the River Cottage recipe from my well-thumbed Preserves book, I made a batch of St Clements cordial. I chucked in the juice of oranges, lemons and a few stray grapefruit I found hanging out in the fruit bowl. Basically, you juice them all and then boil them up with a vat-full of sugar.

The end result was nice but for someone who never really drinks squashes, I found it exceedingly sweet. Actually, the kids had a glass each and then hared round the house on a crazed sugar high for about an hour afterwards, before collapsing into tears and tantrums. I won’t be giving it to them again.

Still, it looks beautiful in this old lemonade bottle, no?!

Clementines in sugar syrup | Wolves in London

Then a slightly odd enterprise: whole clementines which have essentially been tinned in a sugar syrup (and some kaffir lime leaves) in these jam jars.

I’m not really sure why I made this, since I’m not a fan of tinned fruit and I can’t quite imagine when I will ever be eating these, but if such a day comes to pass, I will let you know…

Homemade apple and sage jelly | Wolves in London

Finally, my favourites: a couple of fruit jellies. I made my trusty apple and sage jelly recipe, which I just adore and always get through incredibly quickly. It’s perfect with sausages if you fancy making up a few jars.

And then, using the same recipe, but without herbs, I made up some quince jelly too. I’ve tried this once before, and my top tip is that the quince pieces you discard in order to keep the flavoured juice are still perfectly usable. Last time round, I made them into a quince tarte tatin, which was delicious.

And so we’re left with enough orange-coloured preserves and cordials to see us through until next year, I suspect. And the fruit preservation society will continue next week as it is, of course, seville orange season which can mean but one thing: a flurry of marmalade making by bloggers up and down the country. I will, indeed, be joining in…

Feasting on sour cherries: morello cherry compote recipe

It was a bumper harvest from our little morello cherry tree this year.

We planted it two years ago, in the front garden, and – until now – it had spectacularly failed to either grow a lot or produce very much fruit.

But, back in Spring, I was excited to see the branches weighted down with blossom and I had a good hope for enough fruit to do more with than my usual annual bottle of cherry vodka.

Cherry blossom
Photo taken from my instagram account, apologies to those who have seen it before…

I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, so low-slung were the branches from the mountains of cherries that I feared they might never regain their normal shape again.

Picking cherries
I couldn’t resist showing you the perfect match between my nails (in an extremely rare manicured moment) and the cherries…
Sproglet and cherries
“Take a photo of my hands and the cherries too please Mummy”

After a good cherry harvest (with excellent help from the littles) we were left with a giant bowl of cherries, ready to cook up and turn into something fabulous.

Morello cherry bowl
Our fruit bowl piled high with the bounty

Morello cherries, despite looking fabulously glossy, red and biteable, are actually quite sour and can’t be eaten without cooking and / or adding a large dollop of sugar.

I ummed and ahhed with the idea of cherry jam or a cherry pie, but in the end settled for a huge batch of compote since it can be added to so many other things.

Morello cherry compote
Such a spectacular coloured compote…

It’s hardly even a recipe, so simple is it to make, but here it is written down for anyone interested.

  1. Wash and halve cherries and remove pips.
  2. For every 300g of cherries, add 50g of sugar
  3. Place cherries and sugar in a pan, with a tablespoon of water for every 300g.
  4. Cook, over a gentle heat, for about 10 minutes, until the fruit is soft but hasn’t lost its shape.

You could eat the compote hot, with something like a chocolate or rice pudding, or let it cool and keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks and turn it into any number of other wonderful things.

I used some of mine to make ice cream, by using our ice cream maker to churn a tub of natural yoghurt, then adding a bit more sugar and a few tablespoons of the cherry compote right at the end.

Most delicious though, was this layered pudding, made with a layer of the compote followed by a layer of crème fraiche and then repeated. I didn’t have ay amaretti biscuits, but some crumbled over the top would have made it even more toothsome.

Cherry compote and creme fraiche
Two minutes to make, but beautiful to look at…

And so, until next year, our morello cherry harvest is eaten up and I just have the odd snifter of cherry vodka to remind me of the tastes of early summer. I needn’t feel too sad though, for the plums and apples are ripening on the tree and I have the promise of an equally delicious plum and apple compote soon enough…

Grow, forage, cook: stickyweed salsa verde

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am just absolutely bloody loving this good weather. Oh, the sun! Oh, the warm temperatures! Oh, the chance to potter around the garden, smelling the fabulous springtime smells of new growth out there!

Actually, though, not a huge amount of pottering has been done in the garden as much of the new growth is in the form of weeds. While I turned my back for a week or so, the weeds took over, until our main flower bed was basically one mass of weeds with the odd desultory flower poking through.

Cleavers weed botanical imageSo, rather than potter, I have been weeding at every spare second I get.

I say this in no way as form of complaint. I rather enjoy weeding. There is something quite pleasing about crouching down in the grass, in front of the flower bed, carefully tracing a weed flower back to its roots and plucking them out of the ground, taking care not to disturb all the bulb foliage alongside.

It’s quite therapeutic, weeding away in 15 minute stints, while the sproglets are sleeping, or happily engaged playing with their water table. (That is, a table filled with water, not the water table below ground. I’m not such a lax parent that I let them dig deep holes and leave them to flounder around in the underground water… Though I have no doubt that is exactly the sort of way they would both deeply enjoy spending a sunny afternoon.)

Of all the weeds in the garden, it’s cleavers, or stickyweed, sticky willy, goosegrass (Latin name: Galium aparine) (botanical illustration above) of which we have by far the most. It spreads and spreads and spreads. In fact, in the time it’s taken me to write this, it’s almost certainly taken over a good square metre of garden.

And while I knew that there were certain weeds you could eat (nettles spring to mind as one of the better known), it never occurred to me in a million years that I could actually put cleavers to use by, shock, consuming them.

But, reading a recent post on the wonderful Seeds and Stitches blog, by  Fore Adventure, I discovered you can do exactly that. I know! I nearly fell off my chair too.

This recipe for salsa verde uses whatever green herbs you can get your hands on. Including nettles and cleavers.

So on Sunday, I decided to do a bit of weeding and make myself my own salsa verde.

Stickyweed salsa verde | Wolves in LondonI adjusted the recipe a bit, to use what I had on hand. My greens of choice were a big old bunch of cleavers, fresh from the flower bed, along with some carrot, beetroot and radish thinnings.

Rather than the cornichons in the recipe, I used some pickled cucamelon that I made last year (never blogged, because I wasn’t really convinced that it was a particularly good way of eating cucamelons once I’d made it). I also omitted the anchovies as the hubby has had a recent fish allergy develop, which means he vomits whenever he eats any. Not the response I want to anything I’ve cooked, really…

salsa verde ingredients | Wolves in LondonAlong with a few capers, as in the original recipe, and some olive oil, I roughly chopped the greens and then just blitzed the whole lot in my hand held blender. In fact, the only thing about the recipe that took any time was washing all the greens in the first place.

I have to say, I was rather sceptical about just how tasty cleavers was going to be to eat. It’s so dratted sticky I could imagine it being rather unpleasant to swallow. But I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover that the salsa verde I made was actually bloody delicious. I’m not sure you really taste much of anything beyond the vinegar and pickled vegetables, but there is a definite spring freshness to it, provided by the cleavers, though I couldn’t give you any specific identifiable flavour they have.

I only made a small jar, in case it hadn’t turned out too nice, but I will definitely be making it again.

I might even experiment with a few other weeds this time. Now, if only bindweed was truly palatable, my garden would be a place of great productivity at all times.

P.S. On finding the rather lovely botanic illustration above on Wikipedia, I then read the article and discovered that it’s not just the leaves that are edible, but that:

“Cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The fruits of cleavers have often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine.”

Astonishing, no! And there was I thinking it was just a pesky weed all this time…

Grow, forage, cook: a Christmas hamper

If there’s a better present in the world than a hamper at Christmas, I’ve yet to come across it.

Oh, wait, I do know of a better one: a homemade hamper, stuffed to bursting with delicious goodies made over the previous 12 months. (Note to readers: please do feel free to read this as a hint, if you’ve been umming and ahhing about what to get me for Christmas, ha ha…)

This year, as you may have seen, I’ve been busy with a new series, Grow, forage, cook, with my lovely friend Laura (of Circle of Pine Trees). We’ve been sharing recipes, ideas and inspiration for homegrown, foraged and seasonal food.

So, for the middle of November, it seemed like a pretty good idea to put together a Christmas hamper using some of our favourite makes.

Homemade Christmas hamper from Wolves in London
The perfect Christmas present? A homemade hamper, stuffed with homegrown goodness…

Come, take a look and see what’s inside…

Well, marmalade is a staple for any hamper, in my opinion. Laura and I, both being bloggers, are naturally Seville Orange marmalade makers (yes, they actually make you sign a contract when you get a blog: you have to promise to make some marmalade and some elderflower cordial before you’re allowed to publish your first post…)

I usually follow a recipe in my ancient Good Housekeeping cookbook. Laura goes by the Riverford recipe to make her equally delicious looking batches.

Homemade jams in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London
I only have small jars of marmalade to give away, because I’ve already scoffed the rest…

But preserving doesn’t stop there in a hamper, for me. Oh no! I think I am possibly a little addicted to making jams and chutneys, so I’ll be putting in a jar of each of the following:

Spicy plum chutney

Apple and sage jelly (this is my favourite, favourite ever preserve…)

Pumpkin chutney

Blackberry and apple jam

Homemade apple and sage jelly in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London
Apple and sage jelly: the king of all preserves.

Then you’ll need something to eat with all those chutneys and jams. A few homemade biscuits is a good start. I’ve included some absolutely amazing ginger biscuits, following Laura’s recipe for ginger snaps.

These were unbelievably tasty, and I had a hard time keeping these six biscuits out of ravening maws for long enough to photograph them…

Homemade ginger biscuits in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London
A little parcel of delicious biccies
Homemade ginger biscuits
A few seconds later, there was just a little pile of crumbs…

If ginger’s not your thing, you could also try the even more festive white chocolate and cranberry cookies.

And then on to the cabbage:

Pickled red cabbage
Cabbage haters, look away now

Now, I know what you’re going to say about my inclusion of pickled cabbage. Cabbage? For a present? For Christmas? My sole rejoinder: if you’re friends with someone who wouldn’t, secretly, love to consume a jar of pickled red cabbage on a winter’s evening, then you should probably stop being friends with them.

I haven’t actually posted a recipe for this on the blog (yet!) but I shall get on the case forthwith. ‘Til then, you can find plenty of different versions with a quick Google.

Homemade cherry vodka in a Christmas hamper
I never get over how much I love the colour of this stuff

Then for the booze. I’ve made some morello cherry vodka, this year, which will certainly be going in, along with some of last year’s blackberry and apple vodka.

Sadly, my haul of damsons from my Dad’s garden was left in the footwell of a hot car, but had they survived I would definitely be adding a bottle of Laura’s amazing damson gin.

Food and drink complete, a few little festive touches to adorn the hamper. I’ve followed Laura’s tutorials for some pinecone firelighters and this lovely orange peel garland to adorn the wicker basket.

Pine cone firelighters in a Christmas hamper
I dried these out in the oven and they smelt amazing…
Homemade orange peel star garland in a Christmas hamper
String this across the lid, or just along the front of the hamper for a suitably festive added extra…

Oh; a word on presentation. It is absolutely key in my opinion when giving homemade presents.

I spent a ridiculously long time once making some chocolate truffles, only to give them away in a Tupperware box. In fact, an old Indian takeaway box at that. I don’t think the recipient can have had any idea that I had lovingly concocted them over the course of a few days.

Homemade looks caring and loving if it’s dressed up prettily. Otherwise, it can just look a bit slapdash and unthinking. (“Oh, shucks, I forgot I was seeing so-and-so today and I haven’t got them a present. Let’s just bung them a jar of this year’s marmalade from the larder, still sticky on the sides and with a scrawl of identification on a peeling old label…”)

The labels I’ve used here are downloaded from the World Label website (free, fillable templates designed by Cathe Holden are available here: Apothecary labels). For the text, I’ve used a free font called Jane Austen. (Available from Da Font here: Jane Austen font.) And I’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy with the way it all looks!

Actually, I should have really covered all those mismatched lids with a nice circle of pretty fabric but, hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing…

So there you have it! A very first Grow, forage, cook Christmas hamper, full of delectable treats (in my humble opinion).

Will you be making any foodie presents this year? Is there anything I’ve missed out that really deserves a place in its wicker belly? Do leave me a comment and let me know: I’m always on the hunt for lovely new recipes and lovely new ideas!

And, finally, don’t forget to keep tagging your makes with #growforagecook on instagram and twitter. This month will be the last round-up we’re sharing until the Spring time, as Grow, forage, cook goes into hibernation for the winter months, so please do share anything before then! We’ve loved the little glimpse we’ve had so far into your winter / Christmas preparations…

Grow, forage, cook: September round-up

Grow, forage, cook September roundup
Grow, forage, cook September round-up. Click on photo to see in greater size, and see below for details of photographers (plus links to some truly delicious-sounding recipes…)

Ah, September, always one of my favourite months of the year.

I say this not just because it is the auspicious month of my birth. (Actually, my birthday was a rather muted affair this year; the sproglet choosing the day to give me two full-on hour-long tantrums and my birthday cake not lovingly made by the hubby, but purchased from the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Not that I’m complaining, as my Mum came up for the day and was the one who bought me the cake, but the hub could do well to take a leaf from Laura’s book, who made this fantastically toothsome looking creation for her husband D’s birthday*: Ginger and pear cake.)

But, birthday ramblings aside, September is usually a month of the most wonderful weather and this year has been no exception. The Autumn light creeps in, the leaves turn, the conkers appear and I thoroughly enjoy sticking on my wellies for a walk to the park.

Of course, this is also the month with the best harvest and I have been so enjoying following our #growforagecook hashtag over on Twitter and Instagram and seeing what everyone has been up to.

My recipe book is heaving with ideas, my “to plant” list for fruit and veg next year is growing daily as I garden vicariously and I am on an ever-more-desperate search for sloes and damsons as I watch others’ gins and jams. (Anyone have any tips for places to search in South East London? Please, please leave a comment below if you know of any good spots…)

Grow, forage, cook: September round-up
See below for photographer’s details

Here is a selection of some of our favourites from this month.

Top selection:

Top row, left to right: Anne Wheaton: The edible hedge in September and @slamseys on instagram; Gemma Garner: making rosehip syrup and @gemmagarner; Amelie and Richard: @amelie_and_richard

Middle row, left to right: Fiona Annal: @fionaannal; Hannah Frances Boulton: @hannahfrancesboulton; For Adventure @foreadventure

Bottom row, left to right: Kat Goldin: @katgoldin; Margot Barbara: @margotbarbara; Growing Spaces: Make your own sloe gin

Bottom selection:

Top row, left to right: Be Nourishd: Sloe gin (I know, two sloe gins, but I just love the stuff, and both of the photos!); Really Pretty Useful: Spiced stone fruit compote and @reallyprettyuseful; Fore Adventure: @foreadventure

Middle row, left to right: Hello Mister Magpie: @hellomistermagpie; Fiona Annal: @fionaannal; Little Green Shed: @littlegreenshed

Bottom row, left to right: Carie May @cariemay; The Linen Cloud: Plum jam and @thelinencloud; Capture by Lucy: @capturebylucy.

All wonderful, aren’t they? And enough to make you reach immediately for the spade, secateurs or mixing bowl!

Thanks so much to everyone for joining in, please do keep on using the #growforagecook hashtag on Twitter or Instagram (and tag either @wolvesinlondon and @circleofpines); or, if you’re not on either of those, do just leave us a comment linking up to posts you’ve published…

And so October approaches, I feel drawn towards winter veg and endless pickling, along with my feet up on the sofa, poring through seed catalogues to plan the veg garden of my dreams for next year… What will you be up to in the coming month?

Grow forage cook: spicy plum chutney

Spicy plum chutney recipe | Wolves in London
Spicy plum chutney: the harbinger of autumn…

There’s been a definite chill in the air this week and I have to keep reminding myself that, yes, it is still officially August and still officially summer. For one more week at least…

I’m sure I can feel the days shortening imperceptibly each evening and my summer duvet is wrapped more tightly around me each night.

I’m trying not to moan because, after all, we did have a glorious July, but there is something a little depressing about an August that already feels as if autumn has hit.

But, on the plus side, the arrival of autumn a little early this year means the early arrival of harvest time, hurrah!

And what a bumper harvest it has been so far.

It seems to have been an especially good year for plums. My fellow Grow Forage Cooker, Laura (of Circle of Pine Trees) shared three glorious looking plum recipes last week from a basket filled to the brim at the local PYO.

This is a selection of seriously delicious looking plum treats: plum clafoutis, plum cake and plum jam. Head over now if you’ve not already seen the delights: a basket of plums.

This week, I’ve got plums in my hands too, hem hem, since our plum tree has had a rather magnificent bounty this year.

Spicy plum chutney recipe | Wolves in London
What a bowl of plums!

So if you, too, have more plums than you know what to do with, here’s another recipe, this one for a spicy plum chutney, that tastes particularly fabulous at Christmas time with cold meats or cheese.

(I know, I know, despite the chilly weather it’s still far too early to think about Christmas, but this chutney is best matured for a few months, so if you make it now you can forget about it all over again until December…)

And if you’re growing, foraging or cooking anything yourself with seasonal ingredients, do please share it with us. Use the hashtag #growforagecook on twitter or instagram and tag either of us (@circleofpines and @wolvesinlondon) or leave us a comment on our blogs to share any photos you’ve taken, recipes you’ve made or blog posts you’ve written.

We’d love to get some inspiration / drool over some delicious photos.

At the end of each month, we’ll share a round up on our blogs of some of our favourites and pin them to our Pinterest board: Grow, forage, cook.

And a huge thank you to everyone who has joined in so far!

And so, on with the plums…

Spicy plum chutney

Spicy plum chutney | Wolves in London
Another, slightly closer up view of the chutney

This makes 5 – 6 jars. You can scale up or down all the ingredients depending on how many plums you have.

Supplies:

  • 1kg of plums
  • 1kg of apples, cored and chopped
  • 400g granulated sugar (I like to use white sugar as the chutney stays a wonderful pink colour, but you can replace with brown if you prefer)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1tbsp chilli flakes (or more or less, as you prefer)
  • fresh ginger, an amount about the size of two thumbs
  • garlic: one bulb, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 350ml of cider vinegar
  • Large heavy bottom saucepan, stockpan or (ideally) jam pan
  • 5-6 jam jars
  • wooden spoon

What to do:

1. First of all, get your jars on to sterilise. You can either put them through a normal wash on the dishwasher, or wash them in soapy water and then put into an oven on a low heat. If you do the latter, put them onto a baking tray and then you can pull the whole thing out at once, rather than handling lots of hot glass jars.

You’re supposed to use new lids every time, or sterilise them in boiling water, but – confession – I just stick the lids through the dishwasher as well…

2. Chop the plums in half, remove the stones and weigh them. Incidentally, this will leave you with genuine brown, wrinkled prune fingers; washing them in a bit of lemon juice helps remove the stains…

Spicy plum chutney recipe | Wolves in London
First, chop your plums…

3. Match the rest of your ingredients to the amount of plums you have, by scaling up or down the ratios. For every kg of plums you want approximately a matching weight in apples, 350ml of vinegar and 400g of sugar. Specific quantities aren’t crucial, so don’t worry too much about matching this exactly. The apples on my trees are only just starting to ripen, so I couldn’t quite match the weight of the plums, but just added what I could… It didn’t matter in the slightest.

4. Core and chop the apples – controversially, I don’t worry about peeling them, since I think the skin softens enough not to be noticeable and I am a rather lazy cook – but if you’d rather peel them, go right ahead.

Spicy plum chutney recipe | Wolves in London
Apples from my trees

5. Stick everything into a big saucepan and bring to the boil.

6. Simmer, stirring every now and again for around 90 minutes, or until the mixture has reduced and become a thick gloopy consistency.

7. Spoon into the jars while still hot and twist the lids onto the top. The lids should depress at the top and you know a seal has been made.

8. Put aside for at least a month if you can, before eating, to let the flavours infuse. This should store well for at least a year…

Delicious with meats or with cheese and biscuits.

Spicy plum chutney recipe | Wolves in London
Plum chutney, cheese and oatcakes. A rather excellent snack, I can attest…

So tell me, what have you been growing / foraging / cooking recently?

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I love me a bit of preserving. Take a look at a few of my other recipes:

Grow, forage, cook

It’s the bucolic dream: cooking with produce fresh from your veg patch, or plucked from the hedgerow with your own fair hands.

A lamb bleats contentedly in the background, the birds cheep overhead, the sun shines down through the trees, the dappled shade ripples over your wheelbarrow and far away up a hill, a shepherdess tends to her flock…

…okay, it’s possible I’m getting just a little carried away, but this new series, Grow, forage, cook, aims to celebrate the very best of at least the first part of that lovely scene: cooking with fresh seasonal produce.

Together with my friend Laura (of the frequently bucolic Circle of Pine Trees) we plan to bring you our favourite recipes, foraging ideas and gardening tips for growing and eating seasonal produce.

I’ll be sharing some of the bits and pieces I’ve learnt (and am still learning) on my horticulture  courses to help grow the finest veg, fruit and herbs in the land. Plus, of course, some recipes that use said incredible produce, most likely booze or chutney related as I have something of an addiction to both. (Note to self: perhaps don’t admit to an “addiction to booze” on the internet…)

Laura, meanwhile, (as well as being the best photographer I’ve ever met in my life) is the world’s finest baker, so expect a range of cakes so delicious-looking you’ll be drooling over your computer keyboard. She is also a mighty fine forager, who can spot a sloe in the hedgerow at a hundred paces, and who loves to use foraged finds in her cooking.

We’ll be taking it in turns to publish a piece once a fortnight, so do check in and find out what we’re up to…

We’d also love you to join in as well. If you’re growing, foraging or cooking with seasonal produce, please do take a photo and tag it with #growforagecook on instagram; or tweet us with the same hashtag, or go the whole hog and join in with your own blog posts!

The story so far:

As we go, I’ll gather together all our articles here, so you can have a really good look through them all if you wish…

On Wolves in London:

A Christmas hamper

Homemade Christmas hamper from Wolves in London
Christmas hamper

If there’s a better present in the world than a hamper at Christmas, I’ve yet to come across it.

Oh, wait, I do know of a better one: a homemade hamper, stuffed to bursting with delicious goodies made over the previous 12 months. (Note to readers: please do feel free to read this as a hint, if you’ve been umming and ahhing about what to get me for Christmas, ha ha…)

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Planning a kitchen garden (part two)

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Kitchen garden

If you’re in the enviable position of having a selection as to where you grow your veg, fruit and herbs, I’m pretty jealous!

In my garden, there is one suitable space only, a bed at the back, on the south side, which used to be full of rhododendrons, but is now empty. My kitchen garden will go there. End of story.

But if you’ve got a choice, either because you’re re-planning your whole garden, or you’ve got a selection of different places you could give over to food, then there are a few things to think about first…

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Planning a kitchen garden

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When I took my first horticulture course last year, one of the modules I was looking forward to the least was called “Growing fruit and veg”…

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m not interested in doing just that. It’s that I was already doing just that. Really, I thought, what more could I need to know?

Of course, the answer turned out to be, a helluva lot…

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September round-up

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I say this not just because it is the auspicious month of my birth. (Actually, my birthday was a rather muted affair this year; the sproglet choosing the day to give me two full-on hour-long tantrums and my birthday cake not lovingly made by the hubby, but purchased from the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Not that I’m complaining, as my Mum came up for the day and was the one who bought me the cake, but the hub could do well to take a leaf from Laura’s book, who made this fantastically toothsome looking creation for her husband D’s birthday: Ginger and pear cake.)

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Saving seeds (and free seed envelope template)

Vintage style seed envelopes: free download | Wolves in London
Saving seeds

Far be it from me to deny the joys of veg gardening (of which there are many, even in years of disappointing harvest) but I have to confess that one of my absolute favourite benefits of growing your own is the chance to get something for nothing.

Yes, it is just quite possible I am a massive skinflint, but it makes me very happy to spend a pound or two on a packet of seeds and then enjoy fresh tomatoes for the entire summer months. And saving and storing some seeds from said tomatoes to grow a full summer’s worth the following year entirely for free is enough to put a beam on your face throughout the whole of a miserable dark winter…

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A disappointing harvest

Homegrown apples | Wolves in London
Apples from my tree: about the only edible thing in my garden right now

As August has bid us farewell and summer has melted into the season of mellow fruitfulness, I’ve started to feel a little bit of a fraud.

It’s been great to see so many of you joining in with our Grow, forage, cook series; Laura posted what we hope will be the first of many round ups of some of your mouth-watering photos and recipes last week: August round up.

I am practically salivating onto my keyboard at the sight of all the wonderful jams, pies, salads and other delights, made from homegrown or foraged foods…

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Spicy plum chutney

Spicy plum chutney recipe | Wolves in London
Spicy plum chutney

There’s been a definite chill in the air this week and I have to keep reminding myself that, yes, it is still officially August and still officially summer. For one more week at least…

I’m sure I can feel the days shortening imperceptibly each evening and my summer duvet is wrapped more tightly around me each night.

I’m trying not to moan because, after all, we did have a glorious July, but there is something a little depressing about an August that already feels as if autumn has hit…

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Morello cherry vodka

Cherry vodka| Wolves in London
Morello cherry vodka

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you might know that the wonderfully talented Laura at Circle of Pine Trees is a good friend of mine.

Laura and I met back in our student days at Bristol Uni, both of us studying English Literature and then taking a masters in poetry (otherwise known as wasting a year in a rather enjoyable but completely pointless pursuit…)

It wasn’t over our mutual love of 20th century poetry though, that we really bonded, but through our mutual love of cooking (and perhaps more specifically a love of cakes, now I think about it…)…

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On Circle of Pine Trees

October round-up

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October roundup

October, for me, is resplendent with hedgerow pickings- hips and sloes, and with the bounty of the fruit trees, apple in particular. Thanks to a generous friend with an apple tree, and a ever-replenishing basket of free windfalls up the road from our house, there have been windfall apples in my kitchen every day this month. Whilst they sometimes get stewed, or added to a crumble, most of them end up in Windfall Apple Cakes, the cake tin being refilled with a fresh one each weekend. I’ve written a little about this cake, and shared the recipe, over at Leonie Wise’s gorgeous site Weekends Collected….

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A foraged feast with Fore/Adventure

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Fore/Adventure feast

Since starting the #growforagecook project with Sabrina, it’s been so exciting to to connect with others who share our enthusiasm for growing, foraging and cooking! Over on Instagram, I got chatting to Rachel, who works by the coast in Dorset for Fore/Adventure. She posts the most fabulous images of foraged goodness. I discovered that Fore/Adventure provide all sorts of adventuring opportunities, from kayaking to coasteering, bushcraft to beach school, all of which look amazing. I was particularly interested, however, to learn more about their thoughts on and experiences of wild food and foraging.

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Pear and ginger cake

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Pear ginger cake

My love’s birthday is in September (in actual fact, he and Sabrina are cosmic twins!). Whilst we are rarely short of cake in our house, this is always his opportunity to choose his favourite. He’s a fan of chocolate cake, but it’s sticky pear and ginger upside-down cake which has made the most appearances on his birthday table over the years. The pears for this year’s incarnation were carefully selected from one of the ‘pick and mix’ fruit stalls at the farmer’s market, at their juicy best…

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Damson gin

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Damson gin

On Saturday, we took a trip to the farmers market in the sweet September sunshine. The stalls were laden down with glorious late summer bounty: crisp local apples, plump purple plums, ears of golden corn and bunches of cosmos and dahlias. I couldn’t resist a paper bag full of homegrown damsons: small and firm with an ebony gloss. I toyed with the idea of jamming them, but I have some already stashed away in my freezer, from my mother-in-law’s tree. This fresh bag called out to the bottle of gin in my cupboard-  time to make a fruit liqueur for sipping when the cold winter evenings make their inevitable appearance….

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August round-up

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August round-up

Late summer is such a wonderful time for growing, foraging and cooking. My kitchen is brimming with fabulous produce and the only limit to my baking, preserving and bottling endeavours is my lack of time! Of all the delights that this season has to offer, it’s blackberries which are my favourites, and there seem to have been a particularly plump and juicy crop of them this year. As a child, we picked blackberries every summer, and now I do the same with my own children, returning from our rambles carrying a groaning basket, with bruise coloured fingers and purple-stained mouths…

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A basket of plums

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Plums

In my last post, I introduced a brand new collaborative blog series: grow, forage cook, which I’m starting with my friend Sabrina.  I’m going to begin my #growforagecook adventures with the large basket of plums which was has been gracing my kitchen table…

At our local PYO farm, there is a row of slightly neglected Victoria plum trees, straggling down the edge of the field between the rhubarb and the strawberries. We picked (and jammed) more than our fair share of strawberries at the start of the summer. Now that late summer is upon us with its warm, languorous abundance, plums are our fruit of choice, and a far cheaper option than the last of the berries…

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Grow forage cook: morello cherry vodka recipe

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you might know that the wonderfully talented Laura at Circle of Pine Trees is a good friend of mine.

Laura and I met back in our student days at Bristol Uni, both of us studying English Literature and then taking a masters in poetry (otherwise known as wasting a year in a rather enjoyable but completely pointless pursuit…)

It wasn’t over our mutual love of 20th century poetry though, that we really bonded, but through our mutual love of cooking (and perhaps more specifically a love of cakes, now I think about it…)

In the years since (oh, one or two I would guess, if you’re asking, definitely not more than a decade, ahem) that love of cooking has developed for both of us into a love of cooking with natural ingredients; often either home grown or foraged.

So we thought it was high time we got together and collaborated to share some recipes, growing tips and foraging ideas with each other – and any of you dear readers who might be interested.

Here then, as a first installment for our new series Grow, Forage, Cook, is my recipe for morello cherry vodka.

Morello cherry vodka recipe | Wolves in LondonWhen I removed the giant cactus from the front garden a few years back, I planted a morello cherry tree in its place.

Morello cherries are wonderful because they’re rather bitter and don’t taste good until you cook them. In itself, not necessarily a plus point, but it means the birds don’t eat them and you can use every single last one on the tree. This year, the first year I got any fruit, it wasn’t a bumper crop. (The tree is still very young. Barely into adolescence in tree years.) But it was perfectly sized for a batch of morello cherry vodka.

Ingredients:

Morello cherry vodka supplies
All the supplies
  • Morello cherries (or you could use normal sweet cherries and reduce the sugar)
  • A bottle of vodka
  • Granulated sugar — enough to fill about a third of the bottle
  • And then you need a bottle with a seal to store it in

What to do:

1. Cut all the cherries in half. I leave the stones in, which gives a slightly almondy flavour to the vodka as well, but you could take the stones out if that doesn’t sound pleasant.

Homemade morello cherry vodka recipe | Wolves in London
Good enough to eat!

2. Fill your storage bottle a third full with sugar (you can simply re-use the original vodka bottle if it has a screw lid. Just drink remove a little bit of of the vodka first) and then push the cherries in on top.

Homemade morello cherry vodka | Wolves in London
Looks delicious already, I know

3. Pour the vodka over the top until you’ve filled the bottle…

Homemade morello cherry vodka | Wolves in London
You can see the colour of the cherries bleeding into the liquid already

…and then seal the lid and give it a really good shake.

4. Store it in a cupboard and give it a good shake every time you notice it for the first month or so. (Or, if you’re more organised than me, do it once a week to schedule.)

5. If you can, leave it for a year, even better leave it for two years to really infuse together. Once you’re ready to drink it, strain the liquid through a sieve to remove the vodka-soaked cherries.

Getting all Blue Peter on you, here is one I prepared earlier. Two years ago, to be precise:

Homemade morello cherry vodka
It genuinely is that amazing pinky red colour…

Isn’t it a phenomenal colour?!

So, five minutes prep and a mere two years in waiting and you’ve got some cherry vodka.

What to do with it then? you might well ask.

Of course, you can just swig it from the bottle (I did this a few times while I was waiting. Checking that the sugar content was right, naturally, not just having a cheeky glug.)

But the classier option is to use it in a cocktail.

It’s really good in a cherry vodka fizz: one measure vodka, the glass topped up with tonic water. (A vodka tonic by any other name…)

Cherry vodka fizz | Wolves in London
Top with mint and some spare cherries for a truly photogenic drink

Or, for a more boozy / celebratory alternative, you could put a measure of the cherry vodka in a champagne glass and top with champagne.

Or, of course, you could just use it in place of normal vodka in about a million other cocktail recipes and make them a wonderful pink colour.

[My husband just looked over my shoulder and commented that if he couldn’t see the actual items, he would never believe that these were real, so bright are the colours. But yes! I trick you not, this really is the vodka I made and the cherries really are that bright red. Here’s a final shot of them, unedited straight from the camera:

Morello cherries
Morello cherries; one of the fakes-looking fruits in the world?

So go forth, all, and plant a morello cherry tree in your garden!]

Let me know if you have a go, I’d love to hear any other wonderful concoctions you make with it!

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