Monday, 27 August 2012

Herman The German -Basic Recipe Revisited

Spooning on the Marmalade...
It is possible to subdue your Herman. On the sheet of instructions which accompanies the initial gift of batter you are told not to keep the culture in the fridge, but this is rubbish. Naturally if it is left in the fridge without ever feeding, it will turn into a black mess, but by feeding and stirring it on a weekly basis, the maintenance of it can be reduced.

The basic recipe gives a solid, chewy and tasty foundation upon which to build and the usual addition of fruit lightens the bite and compliments the yeasty undercurrent very well. However, I wanted to try something a little different for a Sunday afternoon treat with some friends and family. So I took the basic recipe and just added a half a jar of homemade marmalade, some orange zest and some orange juice. This is the basic recipe:

The measurements are given in cups - a volume measurement - rather than by weight. If the resultant mix is not viscous enough - too stodgy - then add a drop more batter, milk or fruit juice to water it down a little:

  • 2 Cups Herman Batter
  • 2 Cups Plain Flour
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 2/3 cup melted butter or light oil (about 150 mls)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 heaped tsp baking powder

That's the basic recipe to which MUST be added the additional flavours to make a fruit cake, lemon drizzle or even carrot cakes, as examples. 

I stirred stirred into my basic recipe a half a jar of home-made Seville Orange Marmalade together with the juice and zest of an orange. I baked mine at 150 for an hour and 15 minutes or so, or until cooked in the middle.

The resultant cake was still heavy, but also tangy and chewy and would have been excellent with warm custard. It disappeared quickly enough without it though, so it was a success.

I shall try a few more recipes but I also want to find a way to make the cake lighter without removing the yeasty flavour and the wonderful texture of this style of loaf cake.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Very often, squirrels will have pinched any hazel nuts you may have been hoping to find, but with a protracted walk through the woods, you can probably gather enough to do something with - and there are lots of options. If squirrels have been there before you, then look at the branch tips, the thin ends of the tree where even a squirrel is too heavy to reach, there you may find some unforaged nuts.

As for the recipes, well, where to begin....?

One friend of ours loves them green on toast with salt on top! A very definite marmite moment! However, you may choose from a number of dishes and uses including making your own peanut butter, using them as a topping for many dishes including fish, a topping or addition for many desserts, an inclusion in home-made bread and a crunchy topping with cinnamon on rice pudding ( a particular favourite). But there are so many more and a short trawl through the internet will bring you thousands of choices in less than a second!

The nuts pictured above are much larger than normal - we found them while out on a walk locally - but we believe them to be a cultivated variety planted by the local Highways Agency to provide roadside cover - the squirrels have not yet found them!

If you can't be bothered to forage for your own Hazel Nuts, they can sometimes be bought as Kent Cobnuts. These are a cultivated species that have been hybridised with the more productive Mediterranean varieties over the years to produce larger nuts in greater numbers but still on Eastern English soil with British Sunshine....give them a try.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Chickens - The Serial

Scraping around in the courtyard
Well, I have to say they are fun! They're not much work, we're getting two eggs a day from our two new point-of-lay hens and they're all getting on swimmingly. Or is that ducks....?

There's something very homely and comforting about the gentle noises these birds make as they scrape around their run. It's very much a sound redolent of comfortable living, lazy days and cups of tea in a sunlit garden. Perhaps a cuckoo calls in the background as the postman waves cheerily as he passes your gate - no bills today thank you!

As I write this I'm sitting in my back yard with the hens scraping around my feet. The traffic on the A21 is slow as hoards of families head towards Hastings and the beaches, the sun is blazing down, the breeze is lazily susserating through the beech trees and I have fresh bread in the kitchen and a coffee in my hand. The Olympics are drawing to a close and Great Britain have done more than enough to still the voices of the curmudgeons like myself who initially showed concern about the cost of the games and a lack of interest in the results. The sound of screeching U turns is very loud around here! Even my son Ben, an avid tweeter of all things that feel foul, has been to the Olympic Park and enjoyed his day.

The hens love the back yard; compared to their run which is now devoid of life and where a snail can be spotted by a beady eye from 50 yards, it's a veritable jungle and I had an odd flashback to fishing as I watched them rooting around. I used to love seeing reeds flicker as the sub-surface activity of fish caused their trembling movement and in the back yard, it's the swaying of raspberry canes, rosemary bushes and sage plants. Occasionally a head pops up or a long neck is stretched to reach a ripe raspberry, but the result is the same.

So the two new girls, Peggoty and Polly, had a few problems being accepted by Molly and Hilda initially, so for one day I kept the two new girls in the inner coop cage. Then I thought "Hang on, why am I punishing the victims?" so I put Hilda and Molly in the cage instead and that did the trick, in less than 24 hours, the twins had taught the youngsters to go to bed at night and were snuggling up together in the hemp bedding. Result, and peace in the hen house.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Wild Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana)

Love it or loathe it, horseradish is a great plant to find for two reasons; it's easy to transplant and grow yourself and it's very useful in all sorts of chutney making and cooking. Look for the tall, donkey ear leaves along roadsides and on broken ground - it's the roots we want, the leaves are bitter. Remember you need the landowner's permission to dig it up if you want to stay legal...It can be mistaken for dock, but the Horseradish leaf is shiny and much bigger.

Naturally, it is the ubiquitous Horseradish sauce that is usually made with the grated root of the plant and the recipe is simplicity itself, though it only keeps for a day or so.

Add 100g of grated Horseradish to 2 tsp white wine or cider vinegar, 1 tsp of wholegrain mustard, 125 mils or so of double cream and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Mix together well, cover and store in the fridge.

Personally, I would grate the Horseradish outside - if you think that some onions are bad for the eyes - Horseradish is like teargas!

As I said earlier, I use it mainly in Chutneys; Beetroot and Horseradish being my favourite, but I tend to chop the beetroot very finely (3 or 4 mil dices) as I don't like lumpy beetroot.  

750g (1lb 10oz) raw beetroot, trimmed, peeled and finely diced

1 onion, finely chopped
1 bramley apple, cored and finely chopped
2 tablespoons (about 100g) freshly grated horseradish
200g (7oz) golden caster sugar
300ml (½ pint) white wine or cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt.

Add all the ingredients into a large pan and cook until a spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a gap behind it and the pour into sterilised jars. There are plenty of books and internet sites entirely devoted to this wonderful subject if you're really interested in making your own preserves and chutneys and I'm sure I'll be putting more recipes on here in the future as I'm often asked to...

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Wild Strawberry

The wild strawberry is a plant which many people know about but few bother with. To my mind that view encapsulates the entire ethos of foraging in two short words - why bother? The rewards are limited, sometimes downright difficult to collect,  fiddly to prepare, often lack any nutritional value (mushrooms for example) and occasionally, seemingly impossible to find (alas, I have yet to stumble upon a morel!)

Yet I often become over excited, agitated even, when I discover some relatively unknown food item in the undergrowth, grassy bank or tree. Perhaps that makes me sad, old or easily pleased - I don't know- what I do know is that I am not alone. 

Many of us enjoy finding food items in the wild, shooting and preparing our own game, and making Jellies, jams, chutneys and alcoholic beverages for our own consumption or to give to friends and family. It can be awfully fiddly and time consuming, yet somehow it's worth it, particularly when spooning a good dollop of greengage jelly onto breakfast toast, heaping a year old chutney onto a ripe cheese or sampling a nip of bramble vodka from the hip flask on a cold December morning. 

The humble wild strawberry is one such foraging item that takes a long time to gather in sufficient quantities to achieve any lasting preserve, but add afew to your breakfast cereal or  to your raspberries and ice cream and those few moments of  activity become very worthwhile.