Sunday, 8 November 2015

Christmas Pudding (Revised Recipe)

I posted my traditional Christmas pud recipe a year or two ago, but I've slightly revised a few of the ingredients. I rather like Nigella's recipe, so I've added some prunes to the mix, so it really can be called a plum pudding, but I can't be paying twenty odd quid for the Pedro Ximenes sherry, so I will stick with my mix of any sweetish sherry that's in the cupboard, and some  dark flavourful beer for the liquid part.

And speaking of beer, I seem to have struck up something of a passing relationship with my local brewery here in Gloucester, called, naturally enough, Gloucester Brewery. They have kindly allowed me to pick up an occasional bag of their spent brewery grains which my cows pigs and chickens absolutely love, and whilst I'm doing that, I get to pop in and have a look around their newly revamped shop on Gloucester Quays. It's in one of the many wonderful old buildings on the quay, and has been done up very sensitively and in keeping with the old vaults. It must have cost quite a bit, and the work has been going on for some time now, but the end result is really good. I generally take them in a few of my free range eggs in return for the spent grains, which I hope they like. So today finding myself in need of the aforementioned dark full flavoured beer, I bought a bottle of this Dockside Dark
with (it says on the label) "coffee chocolate and subtle sweetness". It's just perfect for Christmas pudding, so I might make an extra one for the guys down there as a small thank you. Mind you, I'm not sure how pleased they'll be - although I love it, I know that traditional Christmas pudding isn't everyone's thing. Still it's the thought that counts!

About a pound/450 grams of mixed dried fruit, about half currants and the rest sultanas and finely chopped ready to eat prunes.
Zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1 teaspoon of mixed spice
half a teaspoon of cinnamon and nutmeg
6 ounces/150 grams of dark brown muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon of black treacle
a glug of rum or brandy
4 ounces/100 grams fresh white breadcrumbs
2 ounces/50 gr ground almonds
3 ounces75 gr plain flour
6 ounces/100 gr shredded suet
Around half a pint/250ml of sweetish sherry and dark beer such as Dockside Dark 50:50 mix
3 eggs
1 medium cooking apple such as Bramley, grated, I never bother peeling but you can if you like.

Soak the dried fruits in the sherry and beer mix overnight or longer. Add all the other ingredients and stir well.Everyone in the family should get to have a stir, and make a wish.
 Add your family heirloom charms or coins cleaned with an overnight vinegar soak. Turn into a large pudding basin or two smaller ones.. Cover and steam for at least six hours. Allow to cool and store until Christmas day when you will need to steam again for a couple of hours. Or if you're pushed for hob space on the day just use the microwave to reheat for  a couple of minutes or so when you're ready.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Herdwick Sheep,(or Olympic Hurdlers)

First blog post for ages, yes I know, I get more erratic over time, and in all sorts of ways, but that's another story.

Well anyway, when we first came here to Ashleworth in Gloucestershire, I decided to get a few sheep, so I got a couple of pretty Jacobs, a couple of pedigree Coloured Ryelands
Coloured Ryelands

and a ram, Teddy the Tup,
Teddy the Tup as a lamb
and all was well. They wandered about nibbling grass and generally doing sheepy stuff. So far so good.

Then a friend announced that he had five lovely Herdwick ewes for me, and that's when the trouble started. 

Herdwicks are fell sheep, happiest on the windswept landscape of Cumbria, where they rarely see a human being from one month's end to another, and don't come across many fences or other means of containment. It turns out that when they do come across either of these obstacles their first reaction is running and jumping, usually both. Herdwicks are great at browsing on rough grazing, of which I have quite a bit, but when they'd had their fill they were over the months to be found mostly out on the lane, in the vegetable garden, harrasing the chickens in the chicken run ,stuck in the hedge, in the neighbours field or, worst of all, along the lane and on the neighbour's front lawn. (The neighbours were very understanding, fortunately). I came to the conclusion that Herdwicks are not sheep, they are gazelles with woolly coats on.  So although they produced five lovely lambs

 which are Ryeland/Herdwick crosses and so hopefully less wild, I decided that would have to go.

 Two are in  the freezer, and the other three were sold last week to a lovely man who came to collect them in his van with his little daughter.  It took us all an hour and a half  to catch them and load them onto the vehicle, (in the pouring rain I might add) but the nice man and his little girl seemed pleased with them and eventually drove off over the horizon as I breathed a sigh of relief. No doubt a proper farmer with big fields and proper fences would have no trouble with them, but here at the Cottage Garden Farmette, they were just the right sheep in the wrong place, or possibly the wrong sheep in the wrong place.

And just a quick word about the ones in the freezer. My Proper Farmer friend warned me that mutton can be strong, tough and fatty,so it was with some trepidation that we tried the first chops for dinner the other night. They were delicious. And I'm really looking forward to a slow roasted leg or shoulder some time soon as per this recipe of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. The fuller flavour of  the meat of older sheep which has fallen out of favour in recent decades with consumers  (referred to as hogget if it's just over a year or so old, or mutton if  it's a properly older sheep,) has been championed by a number of high profile individuals, the said Hugh FW, and apparently no less a person than the Prince of Wales goes banging on about hogget and mutton at every opportunity. If it's good enough for His Royal Highness, it's good enough for me. I bet he's got proper fences.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Welcome to Rosie

I've got a cow. A beautiful pedigree Jersey heifer, Dalena Gunner Rosen or Rosie as I call her. She's absolutely lovely, halter trained so easy for me to handle, and with a quiet and docile nature. I've always wanted a cow, and when the opportunity to buy Rosie came up I couldn't resist. I've had her about a week or so now, and it's been a steep learning curve for me, but I've had a lot of help and support from Lena who breeds Jersey cows, and from farming friends and neighbours. The first day I spent trying to work out how to keep the cows feet out of the milk bucket, and the second day, I managed with aching back and arms to get about half a bucket of milk when Rosie decided to change position and in the blink of an eye, over went the bucket. I now know the origin of the saying about not crying over spilt milk!

On about the second or third day, when I was starting to think I'd never be able to manage it, and I don't mind admitting that tears of frustration were not far away, along came Jeremy my farming friend and gave me an on site demo and a few tips. I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. Among Jeremy's suggestions was to get
a calf for Rosie to nurse. It's important that all the available milk is taken from the cow at each milking, or the cow's system takes any left unmilked as a sign to reduce the supply. So  a few days later a lovely little Aberdeen Angus cross calf came along and she takes any milk that I fail to get and will enable me to go over to once a day milking in due course, as she grows and takes a larger supply. Also she's really cute and Rosie loves her. and I don't think it's ever ideal to have one of any animal on its own

Of course it's pretty unusual these days for people to keep a single cow, it's not economic in modern farming terms, but in days gone by many country people kept a house cow, and enjoyed their own dairy produce. I've so far made some delicious butter, some crème fraiche. I've also made some not very successful clotted cream, and some soft cheese that was rubbery enough to stuff a mattress with.  But never mind, there's an endless supply of fresh milk every day at the moment I'll try again, and as I say it's a learning curve. I've learnt so much since I've been here at Chidgley, and fulfilled some long standing ambitions, so I'm grateful for that. Anyone know where I can get one of those old fashioned three leg milking stool with a little handle on the side for any quick position changes that may be needed? -  I'm sitting on an upturned bucket at the moment and the maker's mark is becoming indelibly imprinted on my rear...

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Spot The Goose Egg

 My geese are laying well. I've never had geese eggs before and they are certainly impressive in size, and the taste is just gorgeous. Recipes suggest allowing three chicken eggs for one goose egg, so you'd think they wouldn't be difficult to spot. But the geese seem to like burying the eggs in the straw in their nest, so you have to dig around quite a bit to find them.

I have four geese, or rather three geese and Hissing Sid, the gander. Ganders are known to be a tad on the over protective side during the mating season, which is about now, but although he does hiss a bit at any passing individual, including the dog, who just ignores him, I can't say he's particularly intimidating.

I made a  jam and cream sponge the other day for the holiday cottage visitors with a goose egg, and it seemed to go down well. They weren't on holiday in fact, but were  students who were making a murder mystery/comedy film as a final exam project for a film studies degree, and for some reason decided that we would make a good location for the action. They had part of the field roped off as a "police investigation area" and with policemen and white suited forensic officers wandering about in the field it certainly kept us amused. I'm really looking forward to seeing the finished production.

But back to goose eggs, delicious to use in any recipe but probably best of all soft boiled with a big pile of toast soldiers. Place egg in tap hot water, bring to the boil, boil for about eight minutes.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Ginger and Marmalade Cake

The thing about having a good supply of home made marmalade, or indeed any other preserve, is what to do with it once you've made it. I do give quite a bit of it away, and it's quite handy for guests in our holiday cottage, but that still leaves a good supply to use ourselves. So this is an easy mix cake that keeps moist in the cake tin, and has a good flavour without the need for icings, fillings and all the attendant sugar calories and effort. It's a versatile recipe, you don't have to be too exact with it, and it's useful for using up odds and ends of things in the cupboard, the last of the golden syrup,
 remains of a jar of crystallized honey, and so on. You can use all syrup if you like, and grated citrus makes a good addition if you have the inclination.


Marmalade and Ginger Cake

Stand a saucepan on your digital scales and weigh in
350grams/12 ounces of golden syrup, honey and marmalade in whatever proportions you like
150 grams/6ounces of butter
and warm over gentle heat until just  melted

Put the pan back on the scales and add
9ounces/250grams  of plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
good pinch salt
2 medium eggs
about a quarter pint/150 ml milk

and beat briefly with a hand mixer till smooth. Or a wooden spoon if you are from Yorkshire (ie strong in  th' arm and weak in th' 'ead, Yorkshire born and Yorkshire bred)

Pour into a lined tin, mine was 11" x8"/ 27cm x 20cm

Bake in a moderate oven for about 30 mins till risen and firm.  Try to avoid getting the top too dark.



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