Category Archives: Margot’s Kitchen

A little slow food love

January over in a flash, February trying to race past the post.  Where HAS the time gone, dear Reader?  Already at half term, at this rate it’ll be Christmas again before I know it.  Busy isn’t even the word.  What with new columns here and there, and work on something a bit bigger too, I think that I’ve spent at least half of the last month and a half mopping floors and spraying them with doggy disinfectant due to Piddling Piglet, also known as spaniel pup Dora.  Perfect in every way except the fact that at 17 weeks old, if it’s cold or rainy outside, Dora will come back in from the garden and decide that the dining room floor is much nicer to widdle on than wet grass.  It is a good job that she is so utterly adorable…..
Dora Paws

Dora hasn’t been the only thing contributing to puddles indoors either.  Thanks to Storm Imogen, the sitting room ceiling decided to spring rather a big leak (again) and we awoke to the sound of steady dripping one morning.  We are lucky that that’s all it was.  The wind in the night was battering the house with such force that we thought the windows would blow in and trees hanging precariously over us would crush the house.  The mini greenhouse took to flying and was last seen going over the garden gate and onto the lane.  Poor old hens thought that Chicken Little’s prophecy was more fact than fiction too.  Still other than the roof and a fair bit of debris in the garden, all was well.

Henny Pen

On the subject of the hens, dear Reader, we have some sad news to share.  We lost our two favourite hens over Christmas.  Not to Mr Fox but to a serious case of gapeworm that came on too suddenly to cope with usual treatment.  Henny Penny and Layla were quarantined in a makeshift chicken hospital (the girls’ wendy house) but despite all our care, both passed away within 24hrs of each other.  It was Henny’s death on Christmas Day that was perhaps the most devastating for all of us, with Poppy weeping buckets.  She really was such a plucky hen – so funny to watch and bags of character.  Silly to be so sad about losing a hen but she really was exceptionally special.  The coop just isn’t the same without her and with only three remaining, it may be time to think about some new girls joining us.

Hens

With snowdrops on the ground and the bluebells beginning to wake from their winter’s nap, it’s time to start thinking about tidying things up a bit.  Well in the garden at least, since the walls are too wet and the brickwork needs to dry out before it can be repaired.  Too depressing to look at the forecast and spy yet more rain on the horizon.  Still new roses need potting up for growing up the house, a lot of demolition work is already complete and plans for the kitchen garden are all sketched out and seeds purchased – the garden is almost unrecognisable.  Thank goodness too as I had the lovely Becs Parker from BBC Radio Solent’s The Good Life here recording a series of three new recipes from Margot’s Kitchen – Slow Food for Gardeners.  Tune in on Sunday 14th Feb from 1pm-2pm – no doubt you’ll hear Monty and Dora giving their woofs of approval in the background.

What better way to feed the soul on Valentine’s Day than with a bit of slow food love, dear Reader.  Call it a big hug and kiss from me to you.  Perfect whether you’re gardening, dragging the small ones and pups on a walk in the countryside (this passes for romance at Margot and Jerry HQ) or sinking into an armchair to while away the day with a good book.

Slow Cooked Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Chipotle Beans

Chipotle beans and spicy beef

Marinade for beef short ribs

beef short ribs or brisket

1 tsp celery salt

1 tsp smoked paprika (hot or sweet depending on how spicy you like it)

1 tsp of mixed peppercorns (grind these in a pestle and mortar)

1 tsp mustard powder

2 tbsp runny honey

1 garlic clove, whole

500ml good quality beef stock

1/2 can of real ale

Add all the ingredients for the marinade and rub onto the short ribs.  Leave to marinade overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.  Overnight is best for maximum flavour.  When you are ready to cook, seal the meat on a high heat until all the surfaces have colour.  Use a large pan with a lid to do this as you will be cooking the beef for hours and hours in its marinade.  Once all the meat is brown on the outside, pour over beef stock and ale, pop on the pan lid and place in a low oven (no more than 120 degrees) for slow cooking.  The ribs will be ready when the meat can be pulled apart with two forks.

Take the ribs out of the pan once cooked and leave to one side to shred the meat from the bones.  Pop the pan on the stove and reduce the liquid that is left by half.  As it reduces, add 1 tbsp of tomato ketchup and a dash of Worcestershire sauce to thicken it.  Pour this over the shredded beef to serve.

Chipotle beans

1 onion

2 tsp chipotle paste

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 can of haricot beans (include all the juice in the can too)

salt and pepper

Cook this at the same time as the beef short ribs as the beans will be really tender if slow cooked and have bags of flavour too.  Fry roughly chopped onion in a pan (needs to have a lid so a casserole dish with lid would work too), adding the chipotle paste and pomegranate molasses. Fry until the onion has softened a little and is coated in the paste and molasses.  Then add the can of beans and mix until combined.  Pop in low oven alongside the beef to cook for at least 3 hours.  The beans should look thick and be squishy to the touch.  Check the beans after an hour or so and see if you need to add a little water if they are looking a little dry rather than unctuous.

To serve the beef and beans, warm a few tortillas in the oven, add some chopped coriander or parsley, a squeeze of lime juice and a good dollop of crème fraiche/soured cream.

Heaven and you won’t be slaving over the stove all day either!  Happy Valentine’s Day, dear Reader.

Monty and Dora

A real roasting

Coffee2

With the days getting shorter and the mornings pitch black, I turn increasingly towards my little morning pick me up, dear  Reader.  A drop of hot, dark happiness to help ease me into the day.  When the school run frazzles me from top to toe, I am dripping wet from my dawn-chorused dog walk and I am buried under a mountain of work, it is my solace.  Coffee.  I can’t live without it.  Perhaps it’s because my dear Mamma hails from Brazil or the fact that I simply can’t function before 10am unless I’ve had my first cup of the dark stuff….whatever the reason, my mornings just wouldn’t be the same without it.

When we first moved from the Big Smoke where coffee houses were ten a penny, it was one of the things that I knew that I would miss the most.  I think that one of Primrose’s first outings was to meet NCT ladies and their babes over a mug of coffee, dear Reader!  Walking down the tow path and along to my favourite café, usually pushing a buggy or trying not to fall over a trike, it was part of my weekend/maternity leave/cheering myself up ritual.    That was until we moved to the wilds of rural Hampshire where the nearest café is a good 20 minutes away in the car.  Worried about my impending caffeine/coffee house withdrawal, Jerry gifted me a now much treasured possession……my little coffee machine.  None of the pod rubbish (sorry sorry sorry I really should apologise for my coffee machine fascism).  A proper grind your own beans, coffee damper, schwaaaaaah sounding number.  It remains the BEST present that Jerry has ever given me for  Christmas and other than the Everhot is the most used gadget in the kitchen.  So when Moonroast Coffee offered me a chance to learn more about what goes into my cup, I jumped straight into the car!  Coffee….on the doorstep….what could be better?!!

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Moonroast Coffee may have humble digs (for now…) but it comes with a seriously impressive list of coffee credentials.  Working in the heart of the Candover valley in Hampshire, Francis and Judy Bradshaw are the 4th generation of the Bradshaw family to be involved in the tea and coffee industry with Francis’ father, Haydon Bradshaw, one of Britain’s top coffee tasters, offering a consultant’s overview of Moonroast’s coffee journey.  Setting up in the back garden, Fran and Judy saw an opportunity to create an artisan roastery making small batch, slow roasted coffee with beans sourced from the best smallholders in the world.

Moonroast8

Juggling day jobs, Fran and Judy began roasting coffee beans at night with a roaster that was brought over neighbouring fields on a loader, installed in their large shed and Moonroast Coffee was born.  Very much a handcrafted business, Fran takes great care to create his own blends as well as crafting single origin coffees with their own roasting and flavour profile for retail as well as wholesale.  Believe me, dear Reader, this is so much more than your average cup of morning coffee!

Moonroast4The process is fascinating.  From green beans, a lighter shade of Puy lentil, to carefully monitored roasting in the roaster, all the way through to a ristretto or flat white!  The smell wafting through the shed was incredible as the beans were cooled to prevent any further roasting.  You could even hear the crackles coming from the roaster as the beans begin to take on their characteristic colour.

Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Sumatran…..I fear that my mornings may well now involve a good deal of indecision.  That and I am destined to become a coffee bore to anyone who will listen.  Fran gave me some fab tips too – always buy beans and grind them yourself.  Coffee beans stay fresher for marginally longer BUT check out the roasting date on the coffee label if there is one.  Coffee starts to lose its aromas and flavours the longer it is open to the elements.  Not a problem in this house as Jerry and I practically inhale the stuff daily.  Try different beans, single origins or blends.  Like vineyards and vines in the case of wine, beans grown on different soils (or as the winos like to say ‘terroir’) have a distinct and different flavour profile.  Blends, well they bring together different flavour characteristics of combined beans to bring together a distinctive taste too.  Citrus notes, floral ones, body, acidity – all these give the cup of coffee you like it’s own ‘je ne sais quoi’.  Diana Henry, award-winning food writer and all round fabulous foodie, explains the whole coffee code of conduct here, far more beautifully than I ever could.

Moonroast1

There’s an art to the perfect cup of coffee that is more than the foamy fern, heart or swan on the top.  Weighing out the right amount of beans, even the amount of pressure applied with the coffee damper is key.  Too compact and the water struggles to pass through the coffee, too loose and too much flavour is washed away.  Extracting the flavours is what the whole process is all about.

Moonroast2With all this in mind, I shall make sure that I take FAR more time over that first cup of coffee. After all, it’s the deliciously aromatic, wonderfully energising rocket fuel that powers my day.  Somehow it makes me much more able to deal with Primrose’s daily requests for a pony at 6am, Poppy covering herself head to toe in mud on her way from front door to car BEFORE drop off at nursery, chasing Monty across the fields yelling “IDIOT” after him and the awful realisation that I shall never manage to look anything but the essence of being dragged through a hedge backwards as I emergency exit the children, ‘drive-by shooting style’ from the moving car and into the arms of their teachers at the school gates.  Coffee.  I dread to think what I would be WITHOUT YOU.

A huge thanks to Fran, Judy and Rachel from Moonroast Coffee for taking pity on me in my hour of caffeine, creating some of the most delicious flat whites I’ve ever tasted and for letting me in on your wonderful roasting secrets.    Anyone who doesn’t try your coffee is seriously missing out.

Autumn’s arrival

Crab applesAutumn makes me unspeakably happy.  Cable knit cardigans, getting the fires going in the house, TIGHTS, boots, capes and ponchos, russet coloured leaves, sinking into an armchair with a good book and large cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, stopping with Primrose and Poppy to pick delicious bounty from the hedgerows, TIGHTS, my brown brogues, windfall apples, scarves, long walks in breezy sunshine where the light filters through the trees in the woodland just so, Jerry in warm woolly jumpers, jams and jellies and did I mention TIGHTS, dear Reader?!  Lovely thick opaque tights.  All those wonderful autumnal things and more, seem to make my heart sing.  Even my hair behaves better in the autumn and suddenly rosy cheeks and constantly messy windswept red hair blend into a landscape tinged with the colours of the liquor in the jam pan, rather than stick out like a sore thumb.

thistles

Autumn is almost the best time in the world to get into seasonal cookery.  Who needs more of an excuse to pop a stew into the bottom of the oven to slow cook or pick blackberries on a long walk?  Comfort food at its best.  With that in mind, I popped off to watch a new friend in action.  Everything about the lovely Cherie Denham from Flavour Passion screams foodie!  The first time I met her she rendered me speechless with scones lighter than air topped with lashings of her Blackberry jelly.  Winning me over with food is always a dead cert. for cementing a friendship.  She’s pretty good ‘craic’, as they say in her Irish homeland, too!

Trained at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, Cherie then became a teacher there, earning yet more culinary stripes with her own catering business and as a home economist consultant for none other than River Cottage’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when River Cottage’s first cookbook hit the scene.  Now running a whole host of seasonal cookery demonstrations from her stunning countryside cottage, Cherie shows her guests how to create an array of dishes from original recipes that can be scaled up or down depending on the occasion and most importantly, shares her culinary hacks.  Easy canapés, crowd pleasing dishes, cosy autumn kitchen suppers, something a little more refined – this is cookery for those with busy lives who need tried and tested recipes that are a bit hit with everyone from the children to Saturday evening dinner party guests.  Jerry was in seventh heaven with the Slow Braised Spicy Chipotle Beef Cherie sent me home with………the whole plateful was snaffled in seconds.

Demonstrations seem to be THE thing when it comes to cooking these days and I can see the appeal.  This is the countryside’s Tupperware party for the 21st century, dear Reader but OH SO MUCH more glamourous and useful!  Rather like your best friend sharing all the secrets you’ve been dying for her to divulge for years.  All cooking abilities are welcome.  In fact, the guest list for Cherie’s demo was rather like a modern who’s who of Cluedo – was it the anaesthetist, the students off to university for their first year, the farmer’s wife, interior designer or godfather’s wife that nicked the last slice of Warm Lemony Treacle Tart….?  I wonder, dear  Reader.  Can’t blame them, it was seriously scrummy and I shall certainly be returning for more culinary inspiration when Cherie demos Christmas in November!

Cherie5

Inspired by my amazing morning and immensely delicious dishes, my kitchen now looks more like a production line than farmhouse haven!  Elderberries, crab apples, quinces, herbs from the garden for drying – we’ve got it all going on in Margot’s Kitchen at the moment, dear Reader! The cottage is groaning under the weight of all the apples that seem to arrive by the carrier bag full and are left on the doorstep by lovely villagers.  With jams and jellies a go go, I’ve taken to trying a few new numbers with the apples too as I can’t bear to see them go to waste.  Crab apple vodka, windfall apple butter, hedgerow compote, fruit leathers for the girls and my favourite so far, apple crisps.  I haven’t even got round to picking the sloes yet but I must, before they are snapped up by the birds.  First frost is just far too long away to leave a batch of sloe gin to chance!

crab apple jam

If like me, your house is turning into an orchard quicker than you can say cider, then this will help turn a few of those appley beauties into something everyone can enjoy.  Here, just for you my dear Reader, is my recipe for Apple Crisps.

apple crisps

Apple Crisps

1 or 2 apples, not cookers

sprinkling of cinnamon

greaseproof paper

Peel and core your apples, cutting out any maggoty bits if like me you’ve used a few windfalls.  Using a mandolin (the culinary version rather than musical), finely slice the apple so that you have rings or half rings depending on how many maggoty bits you’ve had to cut out.   You could do this with a knife but remember it does have to be paper thin slices.

Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and place apple slices on the paper.  You may have to line a couple of baking sheets depending on how many apples you have decided to use.  Sprinkle over the cinnamon.  NO SUGAR NEEDED.

Place in bottom of the Aga (in my case the ever faithful Everhot) or in a very low oven from anywhere from 2 hours or until you have achieved the level of crispness you would like.  Best to do this when you need to do some slow cooking as the oven will need to be on low (no more than 120 degrees Centigrade) for a while.  Keep checking the slices every now and again to make sure they are not burning.  You can choose to leave them until they are really crisp or simple dried out and still a bit chewy.  Lovely as an after school snack, crushed over yoghurt, stirred into vanilla ice cream – the choice is yours!

Happy autumn, dear Reader!  I’m off to buy some more tights……

Smelling of roses

Roses

Hurtling towards the end of term, the girls and I are certainly in need of a rest.  The last few days of endless shouting up the stairs for Poppy and Primrose to get a move on and I’m more than a bit frazzled before the clock has ticked towards 8 o’clock.  That and I’ve been working like a demon, tip tapping away on the keyboard at the kitchen table.  The summer holidays are stretching out before us and we can’t wait a single second longer, dear Reader!  Wonder if I’ll still be saying that in a week’s time when the girls have reduced themselves to dealing with squabbles by bashing each other over the head with Lego knights.  Anyhoo, dear Reader, for now it’s time to switch off from work, read a few books that have been gathering dust on the bookshelf and sip a few long gin and tonics in the sunshine.

In need of a serious caffeine fix to keep the matchsticks propping up the eyelids on the last school run of the year, I stopped for a much needed coffee and a little bit of local therapy of a rosy kind.  Heady scents all around were enough to have me feeling rather more zen and on the way to looking less Russell Brand and more coiffured Margot.  What could have performed that minor miracle I hear you ask, dear Reader?  A gorgeous new range of Rose products from Long Barn  whose lavender (as well as beautiful garden and homewares mecca and café) is already a huge Hampshire hit.  Candles, heavenly body butter, soap and a handbag sized tin of sumptuous lip balm…….thank you Long Barn for such a wonderful treat.  Now please bring out a bath oil too and then I shall spend all my evenings in the bath imagining I am in THAT scene from American Beauty!

Long Barn Rose

Returning home with two bedraggled school girls to our garden which resembles more of  a World War II war scene than rosy cottage garden at the moment, I had to do everything to stop the girls from pinching all my new found Long Barn luxuries.  About the only thing that has survived the landscaping is a gorgeous dog rose which has decided to shower us with blooms –  a true thing of beauty amongst a great deal of untidiness.  Thank goodness as it has been 3 weeks of garden upheaval and we’ve needed something to look at that isn’t brown mud and serious amounts of chalk!

Always one to try something different as you know dear Reader,  I decided to give a new recipe a whirl to celebrate all that is wonderful about the rose.  I’d say that this little number is perfect to savour once blooms have started to wilt ever so slightly on the stem.  From antidepressant, digestive stimulant, cleanser to Margot’s scented saviour, the rose really does have the magical medicinal touch.

Rose Cordial

1 litre scented rose petals, rinsed and dried to remove any unwanted insect life (10-12 large blooms)

1 litre water

juice of 1 ½ lemons

700g caster sugar

Rinse the rose petals, rinse and dry them before measuring them in a measuring jug.  Pop the petals in a pan and add the water.  Bring to a simmer, pressing the petals into the water gently.  Cook for no more than 5-10 minutes before removing from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes or so.  Using a sieve, strain the liquid from the petals.  Make sure you stand the sieve over a bowl to do this as you’ll need to gently press the petals down to strain out any of the remaining liquid.  None of the liquid is wasted here!

Place the liquid into a clean pan and pop on the stove.  Add the juice of a lemon and then all of the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved.  Allow the liquid to come up to the boil and boil for a few minutes before pouring into sterile bottles.  You can sterilise the bottles by washing them thoroughly in hot soapy water and then placing them in a low oven to dry.  Do store the cordial in the fridge once you’ve bottled it.  The more red petals you have in the mixture, the darker the colour of the cordial.

It won’t last long I promise.  It makes a great syrup to drizzle on a fruit salad, add it to ice cream, mix it with fizzy water or use it as a base for a fruit or elderflower punch…….best of all though, pour a thimbleful into a champagne glass and top up with delicious fizz, be it champagne, Prosecco or lovely Hampshire bubbles for a lovely rose flavoured cocktail.  See, dear Reader, I told you it was restorative!

Rose cordial

Food Fest

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What a food fest at Margot and Jerry HQ this week.  From watercress to strawberries, Hampshire fizz to charcuterie and a bit of jam and gin thrown into the mix, I’ve seen it all.  Skipping off to the launch night of the Hampshire Food Festival at none other than one of Hampshire best loved foodie haunts, The Pig Hotel at Brockenhurst (is it me or do I seem to make a habit of finding a pig everywhere I go lately???), I had a wonderful time chatting to lots of wonderful producers.  Hattingley Valley fizz, Upham Brewery beer, Parsonage Farm charcuterie, Devese Farm Animals’ Goat pâté to name but a few as well as a new find for me, the most sumptuous lobster oil from Catch on the Isle of Wight.

We are so lucky in Hampshire to have such a wealth of foodie delights on the doorstep – thanks so much to Hampshire Fare for inviting a very greedy Margot along for the evening!  A considerable pity that I was driving as I would have tucked into the Hattingley fizz and Twisted Nose gin wholeheartedly…….all in the name of research I assure you, dear Reader.  It is a hard job but someone has to do it!  I can’t wait for all the other Hampshire Food Festival events!  As for The Pig Hotel, I shall certainly be convincing Jerry to whisk me away for an evening of gastronomic heaven in its picture perfect grounds.

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My advice, dear Reader – seek out your local farmers’ market wherever you are.  Everything is usually handmade, delicious, something out of the ordinary and best of all, it won’t have travelled too far to get to you!

From The Pig to watercress…..and the lovely people at @Love_Watercress and Pam Lloyd PR who sent me four marvellous bunches of watercress to create some kitchen magic with the vibrant, iron-rich green stuff.  Not wanting to go down the usual watercress salad and soup route, I set about trying something different.

The favourite?  My Watercress and Pea Mayonnaise – very easy, made in seconds and a perfect partner to some prawns and toasted baguette for lunch.

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Watercress and Pea Mayonnaise (makes enough for a small jar – use within a week to ten days)

1 large bunch of watercress

half a mug of peas (fresh or frozen)

4 large tablespoons of homemade mayonnaise (if you are going to use shop bought, then go for a really good quality one that is made with free range eggs and looks a bit more custardy in colour)

a good squeeze of lemon juice

a few strands of lemon zest

salt to taste – no need for black pepper as the watercress is peppery enough

Whizz all the ingredients up in a food processor et voila, your work is done!  Spoon liberally onto the baguette before adding fresh watercress.  Top with grilled prawns and sprinkle a little smoked paprika on top for some smoky spice.  It also goes rather well with smoked salmon, grilled chicken or used to top a piece of seared trout.  Something rather delicious, made with almost hardly effort at all!

Pity I can’t squeeze a little watercress bed into the garden!  Never more have vegetables been on the agenda at Margot and Jerry HQ as our own veg patch is burgeoning under a make-do-and-mend style polytunnel.  Having really got stuck in this year with growing our own, I’m surprised by how a little amount of space can bring forth such a huge amount.  We’ve got enough lettuce to feed the county!  My battle now commences with rabbits, squirrels, slugs, snails and pigeon.  Our very own Mrs MacGgregor next door takes tending her walled kitchen garden very seriously and I have on more than one occasion come home to find errant rabbits and pigeons left on the doorstep, ready for the pot!  They’d better take more care not to be caught next time.  I, on the other hand, am not sure I am ready to take my veg patch watch to Depth Con 4 levels just yet, dear Reader!

One significant problem according to Poppy and Primrose though…..we forgot to plant strawberries.  In fact, other than a thornless blackberry plant, an autumn raspberry cane and some dead on its feet rhubarb, we didn’t manage to get any soft fruits in this year.  However, with an amazing selection at a PYO very near us, we spent a blissful afternoon on Midsummer’s Day picking strawberries and talking jam.  Sometimes appeasing a 6 year old and a 3 year old is relatively easy!  I shall be cooking up a batch of homemade Strawberry and Lavender jam from the Margot’s Kitchen archives too – forgotten how much we all liked it until my little recipe made an appearance in The Telegraph this week.  Good grief – a proud Margot kitchen moment indeed!  Happy Eating, dear Reader!

Bringing home the bacon

Ooh dear Reader, I have been really looking forward to telling you about my latest exploits all week.  As you know, I have had my eye on getting a pig but with no land nearby for sale or to rent, having my own pigs is just not an option at the moment.  A huge blow but not an unexpected one.  Our village is particularly anti-pig and since every field around here is prime grazing for ponies, Jerry and I have been thinking about alternatives to renting a grassy field.  There must be someone nearby who needs a piggy rotivator!

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Determined to learn more about all things porcine, off I popped to discover more about the joys of pigs at Parsonage Farm and join one of John and Sarah Mills’ regular workshops.  John and Sarah Mills are true advocates of field to fork eating and their livestock doesn’t travel much further than to the abattoir and back, before making it to the butcher’s block.  I know I have mentioned it before but their salami and air dried ham and beef is to die for too!  So much so that I have been dying to learn how to make my own salami as well as bacon and sausages since I met them.  So, where better for a beginner like me to start than with one of their Charcuterie workshops, dear Reader?

I confess, dear Reader, that I know very little about butchering any kind of animal.  When our orphan lambs went to slaughter last year, we took the carcasses to a local butcher who did the job for us so going on a butchery and charcuterie workshop was high on the priority list to aid me in my quest to advance my good life skills!

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Taking us through from whole pig to pancetta was the wonderful Marc Frederic (Le Charcutier Anglais as he is known) who, apart from having the best butcher’s chat I’ve heard in a long time, is also a dab hand at all things charcuti (wonder if I could make that one, catch on, dear Reader…?) and his skills are known from here to Thailand.  His selection of butcher’s kit is incredibly impressive too, including a rather large knife rather hilariously named a “chopper” (yes, I did snigger like a school girl, dear Reader).

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Getting down to the nitty gritty, I learn that different pigs are better for different things.  For example, a Tamworth (the meat we are working on) makes a good pig for bacon as it has the ability to achieve the right meat to fat ratio.  So it might be perfect for bacon and sausages but not so good for other types of charcuterie such as salami or air dried hams.  Other slow growing porkers would be a better option if charcuterie was the end goal.  I have to say for me, the Tamworth is my favourite of the pigs on the rare breed list – I have rather a soft spot for their russet hair and they make the cutest piglets you’ve ever seen, dear Reader.  Back to pork…..

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Some serious sawing, filleting skills and knife sharpening lessons later and we begin to see what you might recognise when choosing choice cuts from the butcher’s counter.  There’s also a large tray of meat (and fat) that is reserved for later – offcuts from our butchery.  I think that I learned more about meat in the first few hours of the course than I have in a lifetime of cooking and eating it!  Coppa, lardo, bath chaps, trotters for gelatine……a good butcher knows how to use as much of the animal as is possible.  Real nose to tail eating.  Everything but the squeak but not the pesky sinews, tendons and bits of cartilage which shouldn’t even go into sausages.  Marc’s knife skills (and patience guiding us beginners with the right cuts here and how close to take the blade) are amazing.  It turns out that I have been sharpening my knives at home completely the wrong way for years.

Sausage making was hilarious!  I can’t wait to get my own kit.  Brilliant fun and so easy once you know how.  The best bit with making your own sausages is that once you’ve mastered the basics, you can begin experimenting with flavours and create your own sausage recipes.  Endless hours of fun in my book!

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Marc made it all look so easy.  Getting the hang of the sausage machine certainly had me in fits of giggles but then, dear Reader, I have never been known for my maturity! photo 1Almost impossible not to think of every sausage (and sausage skin) innuendo in the process but in the end, I was quite proud of my handiwork – not too embarrassing for a first try.  Tying them is a real skill I can assure you, dear Reader.  I made sure that I shot a video of Marc’s demonstration because I knew that I would never remember any of it when it came to having a go at home!

Perhaps the most exciting part of the whole day for me was learning how to make bacon – something I could definitely see myself doing at home.  Marc showed us how to prepare the pork for curing and the steps needed to create our very own pancetta.

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A fantastic day, dear Reader – I can highly recommend it and Marc’s insight and teaching alongside his witty repartee made the day full of fun as well as learning.  I loved every minute of the workshop and Sarah and John’s delicious lunch was a triumph and a reminder of all the amazing things that can be done when care and respect is given to bringing food from the field to the table.

I can report that the bacon after its seven days curing was well worth the effort!  Jerry, Poppy and Primrose are already wondering when I shall be making some more.  I’ve even been looking for meat slicers and sausage machines on Ebay!  Now if I could just find somewhere to put these little beauties!  You know me, dear Reader, never take no for answer……so keep this to yourself, but I may already have a plan in mind!  Oink oink!

Sarah's pigs

An Easter delivery

Easter chickWith spring flowers, chicks and eggs both chocolate and hen, Easter is certainly hot on our heels.  A little rabbit even crept onto the table too (thanks to Pol Roger Champagne for inviting me to share a dinner party favourite), leaving Poppy completely appalled that Mummy and Daddy might have kidnapped the Easter bunny and eaten him!

rabbit

However, Easter just wouldn’t be Easter dear Reader, without lambs.  Bouncing little bundles of spring joy.  In fact, Poppy, Primrose and I have been reminiscing about our orphans from last year and wondering about a few more.  Since I don’t have any grazing of my own to speak of, finding willing landowners happy to part with a field for six months is pretty tricky.

Lambing2015-2 So, missing my three bleating little ones, I decided to offer my very inexperienced services to a lovely local (very patient) shepherdess whose flock was about to triple within a matter of weeks.  The maternity wing was already full of triplets when I got there and in the biting wind and driving rain, the shed was by far the best place for lambs, ewes (and Margot) to shelter.  Keen to put me to work, the shepherdess had me learning the ropes in no time – docking tails, castration (cross your legs – it’s all about the rubber bands)….checking feet and monitoring newborns.   Even the polytunnel had been cleared out to be used as a makeshift intensive care unit for difficult births and struggling lambs.  Such a lot to get done before the next birth and all that while you’re on red alert for any ewes who look as though they might be going into labour.  Scanning and dating I learn, is no real guarantee of just when lambs might make an appearance and the shepherdess has her trusty notebook with her at all times, referring to notes on when each ewe is due and how many babies.  Some are first timers, others are old hands at lambing and will be giving birth for the third or fourth time.  First timers are always more of a worry, the shepherdess tells me.

Lambing2015-1Lambing is a curious thing….much like giving birth to human babies.  A lot of waiting around, a bit of action, a lot more waiting around and then everything happening in a matter of ten minutes.  Reading my sheep husbandry handbook was no real preparation for witnessing my first live lamby birth – it was amazing.  Even more wonderful to be there ready to assist when one lamb got a bit stuck in the process and the ewe had to be helped out.  Oooh, dear Reader, this was truly Lambing Live and I was standing by like James Herriot in the middle of a field, with a bucket full of delivery essentials and a shepherdess sporting a long plastic glove.  I think that the shepherdess was rendered quite dumbstruck when I got out my phone and starting taking pictures…..  Oh the shame, dear Reader, I am a complete total farming amateur!  Too good to miss recording it for the children to see later that day though!

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When the second lamb popped out unaided fifteen minutes later, all hands were on deck to get the newborns and ewe into the trailer before the wet lambs became too cold up at the top of the field.  All this care, love and attention for something that will eventually reach the table.  I am in awe of the work all our farmers do and how much effort goes into bringing meat to consumers.

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Keen to get more practice in, I popped over with Poppy and Primrose to see how the rest of the ewes were getting on a day or so later.  Tons more naughty scampering triplets and happy ewes!  Anyone who thinks that sheep don’t have much personality couldn’t be more wrong.  You can see just what kind of mothers they are by watching them for five minutes.  Poppy and Primrose spent an hour running up and down the fields with lambs following and gambolling, their mothers watching on or trotting behind.  Definitely what Easter in the countryside is all about!

Much to the girls’ delight, there was even a spot of newborn cuddles to be had.  One of the shepherdess’ more troublesome ewes had given birth to her triplets just the night before our visit and one of her babies had really really struggled to perk up following the trauma of birth.  Dubbed Minnie, we found her in the kitchen in a cardboard box.  A tiny little thing and destined to be fed by bottle for the moment as she hasn’t had much strength and is considerably smaller than her siblings.  Snuggling up to a newborn lamb has to be the highlight for Poppy and Primrose this Easter – much better than a chocolate egg any day they told Jerry and I afterwards in the car on the way home!

Minnie

Looks like little Minnie may well be needing a foster home too………….the prospect sent me scuttling to the garage to get the huge bottle of Milton and lamby bottles out again.  Despite  Jerry rolling his eyes, there may well be a cardboard box with a lamb in it in the kitchen very soon!  Well how could we resist such a darling little face, dear Reader?!!!  Happy Easter!