Archive for Cafe Chatter

Passing Through

August, the Centre sleepy in the heat. Most classes are sharing the school holidays, and there is a feeling at times of the boarding school child, left in school because their parents live aboard.  Every so often there is a burst of activity as a local group meet in the Teme rooms, or a Speed Awareness course fills the car park with disgruntled participants.

In the café we are experiencing the summer holidays in all their multi-faceted glory. The customers come from a much wider base, as we cater for people who are visiting Shropshire, some staying over in the centre, but many just passing by and wanting a stop that isn’t cooperate.

We are a favourite stopping place for cyclists, as the café building is set back from the road and affords safe harbour for their bikes. As far removed from the bikes we rode as the Wright Brothers from modern jets. I am in awe at the distances they travel, yes, we have had Land’s End to John o Groats riders, but most are cycling 50/60 miles, which information is causally given as drinks are served, water bottles filled, tired limbs rested. I follow the routes (that I know) as they leave, wondering if they get a better sense of the landscape, they travel through than those that go by car. Or if their whole effort and concentration is taken up by staying safely on the machine they’re crouched over.

At the other end of the scale we host Conferences, the last being The Mary Webb Society which I loved being a great fan of her work. In fact we named our company Golden Arrow in homage to her work and inspiration. They filled the centre with a bright burst of book talk and chatter, music and poetry.

We also have just hosted a local Wedding, which took over the centre with music and laughter, good food and dancing for most of one day. How wonderful to be a small part in such an important day for a local couple.

There are Meditation Groups, a clutch of elderly gentlemen who meet once a week for drinks and cake and chat, families in for an ice-cream, local workers, an occasional coach driver seeking peace and calm before the next leg of his journey.

And then there are the regular customers, some of whom have become friends, who drop in to eat and tell us their summer holiday tales, the state of their gardens, the weather, how the town is filling up/ empty (Burwarton Show).

Some bright spark tried to depress us by saying “Oh Shrewsbury Flower Show. That means the nights will be drawing in!” Little did they know that they were talking to Frost Worshippers. Autumn will bring in a whole crop of new and returning customers to enjoy.

“If you come my way”

I always consider March to be a particularly Welsh month, and not just because the 1st of the month is St David’s day. The daffodils are coming into flower, bowed by the wind but still subtle enough to bounce back and smile at us.

Rugby’s six nations champions are battling is out, with the Red Dragon of the Welsh rampant and breathing fire.

Leeks, another Welsh symbol are in season along with shallots and spring onions which all come from the same vegetable family. The edible part of the leek is it’s bundle of leaf sheaths, which we sometimes wrongly call the stem. As well as being versatile and tasty, it contains calcium, iron and other vitamins and minerals. The daffodil is known in Wales as “Peter’s Leek” and is worn on St David’s day, a custom that goes way back to at least Saxon times.
It was said that a Welsh King ordered his soldiers to wear them in their helmets so that they could be identified in an ancient battle that took place in a leek field. Or maybe it was beacuse St David was alleged to have eaten only leeks when fasting.
The Welsh Guards still use a leek as the cap badge of their regiment.

Leeks have a mild onion taste but a smoother texture. The whole of the leaf sheath is edible, though most people discard the tougher outer leaf and the dark green tops. If washed however these make a good addition to stocks and can be tied in a bundle with herbs to make a bouquet garni.

Leeks can be eaten raw in salads, having a mild flavour and a slightly squeaky bite, but they are commonly eaten as part of soups and stews. The welsh soup, Cawl cenin, is celebrated in the poem “If You Come My Way” by Lynette Roberts, who lived in a small village in Wales.

“I will offer you a choice bowl of cawl
Served with a “lover’s” spoon and a chopped spray
Of leeks or savori fach, not used now,”

I like a leek sauce on top of a cooked sausage base, a cheap, easy supper and delicious cold too. Makes a great picnic item. Pop along to your local market or green grocers and pick up some pearly white and soft green leeks.


Dumplings

This is the season when a hearty bowl of stew is one of the most welcome of meals, and there is nothing I enjoy more as an accompaniment than a dumpling. Not that I have always been able to cook them, my first attempts being like bullets and one one memorable occasion, so large that they supped up all the liquid in the casserole!

Dumplings originate from China. 1800 years ago in the Han Dynasty, a man named Zhang Zhongjian noticed that all the people in his village were suffering most dreadfully from frostbite, especially around their poor ears. He solved he problem by cooking up mutton, chilli and healing herbs wrapping them in scraps of dough, folding the dumplings to look like ears. He boiled them and handed them out to the villagers, who thought they tasted wonderful.

History does not record wither they cured the frostbite. The experience of eating food such as this, is enhanced for me by knowing that our ancestors enjoyed them too.

The dough of a dumpling can be made from a variety of starch sources, based on bread, flour or potatoes. This is then wrapped around a filling which can be one of meat, fish, cheese or vegetables. There are also sweet dumplings, filled with fruit or sweets.

They can be cooked using different methods such as baking, boiling in stock, simmering or steaming. It is easy to see why dumplings are so popular, they are relatively cheap and (allegedly) easy to make. The traditional British dumpling which some of us remember so fondly from childhood onward, is made by combining twice the weight of self-raising flour to suet, bound by cold water to form a dough seasoned with salt and pepper and if the fancy takes you herbs.

My family hale from Norfolk where the dumpling is made in a slightly different manner. The Norfolk Dumpling, (the food not one of the inhabitants!) is not made with fat but with a raising agent and flour. In the Cotswolds they add breadcrumbs and cheese, sometimes rolling them in breadcrumbs too. Then, oh sinful loveliness, they fry them all golden and crispy.

A vegetarian version of the suet dumpling just uses a vegetable suet rather than the meat based product, and you wouldn’t taste the difference. We use this in our sweet mincemeat so that vegetarians can enjoy it too. In Scotland, dumplings sweetened with fruit and spices are boiled tied inside a cloth in water and are called a “clootie dumplings” after the cloth.

Dumplings in fact, have taken over the world, being made and eaten from the Asian continent to the Americas. A truly international dish.



Break-fast

We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It was certainly dinned into me as a child. Remember, “Go to work on an egg.” Those lucky Ready Brek children with their glowing auras of warmth and smugness?

But that wasn’t always the case. The word comes from the phrase, to “break your fast.” A religious term, denoting the end of night and the beginning of a new day. But up until the 17th century, it was considered an uncouth and unnecessary meal. Only peasants and manual workers needed to eat before lunch. It was thought of as indulging in the sin of gluttony, and people, men especially, were frowned upon for taking it.

It was also a very different meal from today. In antiquity it consisted of flat breads and a sort of porridge.  In the middle ages, copious amounts of beer or wine were helped down with a piece of bread and cheese. No meat was consumed, not until the late 15th century anyway.

The Edwardians gave us the traditional English breakfast, that “golden age” as we view it, when the upper classes had the leisure to indulge in their country life style. They believed that they were continuing the Anglo-Saxon custom of hospitality in offering breakfast. I don’t quite understand this, although the Anglo-Saxons did bake bread, and keep chickens for their eggs and pigs for their meat. So maybe they did eat bacon and eggs for breakfast.

Today the term has taken on a whole new meaning “Break really fast!” Snatching a piece of toast out of the toaster, making a smoothie, or filling a bowl with cereal while downing a cup of tea/coffee. Only on our days off do we still make time for breakfast. Then, we pour ourselves a juice, cook bacon, sausage and egg, maybe accompanied by mushrooms, tomatoes, (insert extras of choice!) butter the toast and spoon on the marmalade. It is still in our family a favourite way to start a day at home.

At Pea Green we do a wide assortment of breakfast foods, from porridge and pancakes to an “any time” complete with local bacon and “thick Ludlow” sausage. Sample our hospitality, pop in and get a great start to your day.

 

 

The Nut Brown Maid of Autumn

Walking up the hill one morning last week, the mist wreathing St Lawrence’s tower, the only sound the creak of a bird flying over the street, one could be forgiven for thinking Ludlow was either sinking into or emerging from an enchanted sleep.

Days later and we are experiencing the longest period of wind and rain we have had for months.  All is battered and buffeted. The Teme is up and roaring, bringing small trees, large branches to clutter the weir. The ducks and salmon are ecstatic. Not so sure about the walkers and their canine companions.

The chestnut by Pea Green gate has been moaning and wringing its hands, sending volleys of nuts to smash their spiny cases all over the car park, exposing their glossy treasure. There is no other word for a pristine chestnut, they glow, jewel like. I love the smooth feel of them too. I wonder how many children over the years have collected them? Apparently the game of “conkers” only became popular with the young (of all ages) in the late 19th century. Not so strange when you realise that they were planted first on private estates and in the gardens of the well to do. Due to their gregarious nature, they eventually escaped to be enjoyed and used by everyone.

During the second world war they were harvested for a starch the nuts produced which was used for something unpleasant I’m sure. Unlike the sweet chestnut, whose creamy flesh is a winter bonus, they are inedible for humans. But it doesn’t stop the fascination of collecting, either for the noble game, to make doll’s house chairs, or as a arthritis remedy, people just can’t resist them.

In the kitchen we use the other native stalwart, Hazel. That beautiful coppice we now drive by without a second glance, that bouquet of stems rising from it’s bole, making a swaying shade in summer, is now harvested. We make a hazel nut sauce for our vegetable pancake, one of our most popular vegetarian dishes.

Sliced blanched almonds are scattered on top of our honey cakes, a satisfying crunch to the sweetness. and walnuts add texture and taste to our apple and walnut cake. Before we know it the sweet chestnut will centre stage as accompaniment to brussel sprouts, in stuffing and just thrown on an open fire and roasted.

The Nut Brown Maid of autumn is stepping out with all of her bounty and colour. Take time to enjoy the homely delights of this most intimate season. I know that I will finding a good thick book, my favourite jumper, and enjoying the taste of the nuts and fruits on offer.

Enjoy our honey cake with a cappuccino or a cup of earl grey and a slice of lemon. Take one home for tea.

Make Room for the Mushrooms

They are everywhere, legion. Erupting from the dark, invading plant pots, colonising any damp filled nook or cranny.
Every meadow has its crop. Shaded lawns collect them.

Mushrooms are extraordinary, not strictly a vegetable, fruit or herb. So why this particular 1980’s advert about them should be such an ear worm for me, I confess, I don’t know. It could just as easily have been Shirley Conran’s “Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom.” At least that’s culinary. Her book of household tips and how to over come the daily chore of catering for the family, was published when women were beginning to carve out careers for themselves. Now of cause there has been a revival on the domestic front, with programmes like “The Great British Bake Off” making us revaluate the task of cooking, a skill we can all at some level achieve and be proud of.

I digress. As I said, mushrooms are exceptional.  They inhabit that unique category called the fifth flavour, umami, being neither sweet or sour, salty or bitter. Their taste is rich, earthy, almost meaty and rounds out the other flavours in a dish. Mushrooms are easy to cook with, generally only requiring a few minutes to cook, although as a casserole ingredient they stand up to a long cooking time without falling apart.

Mushrooms are used in medicine offering health benefits to those who suffer from arthritis, inflammation or minor heart problems. There are literally thousands of different fungi and they have a myriad uses other than being consumed by us. Many are of cause poisonous so if you fancy foraging, please take an expert with you.

 

The most common in cooking are the white button mushrooms which are available all the year round. They are still the favourite extra on a breakfast, quartered and sautéed, we add a little fresh lemon juice to the mix.

They make a great soup and are wonderful as a stroganoff. They are added to our chicken casserole and we use them  in our vegetable risotto and omelettes. On a cold autumn morning what could be nicer than a bacon and mushroom sandwich?

 

 

 

In Praise of Autumn

Summer is beginning to drip away. The chestnut is turning russet and yellow, while the split silk of its conker cases are being squashed by cars parking underneath. Along Friars walk, in the stone wall and railings that mark out Stephens Close, small pale pink and white cyclamen have flowered. The blackberries have unfortunately been cut back, but the hips on all the roses are ripe and swing like pendent earrings in the slightest breeze.

In the kitchen the steady drip through the jelly bag announces damsons deep crimson juice is ready to be bottled. It goes  really well with our apple crumble, as well as an ingredient in sauces and stews.

We were fortunate to be given a small crop of local pears, grown in a high walled garden. Ludlow is replete which such spaces. The tall Georgian houses each hiding a walled back garden. How romantic. One of my favourite books is Hodgson-Burnet’s “The Secret Garden”. First read as a dreamy child, it is still taken down and read from time to time.

We lightly poached these pears in a red wine syrup and serve them with chocolate ice-cream. Local pears with a local ice-cream, what a great combination. Autumn is full of good combinations; from  apple and blackberry to venison and cranberry. It will soon be time to think about mixing mincemeat, that evocative seasonal blend of fruit, nuts, and a tipple or two of alcohol.

Autumn is coming in all the colours of a good fire in the grate. A good book by the fireside, a poached pear, chocolate, lovely!

 

 

Seeding Summer

Walking up Friars Walk these mornings I am struck by how quiet it is. The children are not at school, so no weaving between push chairs and scooters, no excited greetings as friends meet at the gate.

Children no longer play in the streets as we did. They have organised activities, dance lessons, swimming, school holiday clubs. All perfectly wonderful, but not like the summer days we spent making” camp”, riding our bikes around, exploring. Whole days were spent going to the swimming pool, which was next door to the park, which was next door to the library. I loved a day spent this way. It didn’t matter if one went on ones own, you were bound to meet someone during the course of the day. 

The grass is seeding, arching sprays over the deceptive blackberries. Deceptive because although black and ripe looking, they taste sharp, tart on the tongue. We used to play a game with the grass seeds, stripping the stem with the thumb and fore finger, making a bouquet of heads. We presented them to a friend saying, “Bunch of flowers?” and then scattering them all over them with “April showers!” as the seed caught in their hair and clothes. Ah, innocent times.

I watched a glass blower making “seeds” in glass baubles for a chandelier to hang in the renovated “Willow Tea rooms in Glasgow. These imperfections, made prisms to catch and glance from the balls, enhancing the effect, magical. We use seeds in cooking, and not just the colloquial British “pip” as in apples and blackberries, but seeds such as cardamom in pilaf rice, pumpkin in muesli, mustard seeds in stroganoff, vanilla in custard. White pepper, a must for béchamel or any white sauce is made from ripe pepper seeds.

Seeds are everywhere, taking root for a new season.  

 

What to Eat in the Heat

It’s beginning to sound like one of those duty postcards we send home from our holiday destination, when really all we want to be doing is be out enjoying ourselves; “weather fine and hot, wish you were here.”  Mild sniggers indulged in by customers who haven’t booked a summer break abroad! (what a waste of money!)

Standing under the chestnut tree Saturday afternoon, the grass had been mown and left in stripes to dry up on Gallows bank and a tree creeper with his cream speckled waistcoat hung upside down in the branches above me.

What we are going to have for supper is a question that seems to take up more of my time than I’d like it to. As with most working people, the thought of getting home and preparing a meal is sometimes a chore rather than a pleasure. When we have time, preparing a menu, buying the food and its preparation are life affirming tasks that engage all our senses. But some nights as the light lingers above the roofs, I for one want something quick and nutritious.

Supper Solutions provides a number of options from our heat and eat range. You could have world famous spicy meatballs in our own made tomato sauce over pasta with a fresh green salad, or tomato and aubergine with rice or garlic bread. How about one of our casseroles with new potatoes, or a salad of leaves, lemon and salmon? You could always find out what our specials are this week by giving us a ring. Order before 5 o’clock and we deliver free in the SY8 code up till 7’clock.
When its as hot as this, who wants to spend more time in the kitchen than you have too? Sit in the cool of the evening and enjoy one of our delicious dishes instead.

 

 

Fruits of the Earth

I recently found out that there are fifty thousand edible plant species on earth, and we manage to consume just a hundred of them. Yes that’s right, just a 100 varieties out of all the cornucopia this world provides. In the late seventies, I along with a million other people bought a book called “Food for Free” written by Richard Mabey, a slim paperback which I read more for the pleasure and information it provided, than because I wanted to go foraging.

Like all of us I have picked blackberries in autumn, ate hazelnuts, and young shoots of hawthorn, (bread & cheese). I’ve picked mushrooms, and prickly sloes for gin. My mother as a young girl was sent out to harvest the hedges for rosehips during the second world war, as they were a good,”free” source of vitamin c.

But there are so many wild plants we not longer value, from the humble dandelion, best gathered fresh in spring, a great leaf for salads, young tips of nettle, a good substitute for spinach, to green sea weed which is becoming quite trendy dried as a condiment. We have become disconnected from the countryside, viewing it as a vast play ground interspersed with industrial sized farming units, which provide us with the “correct” food to eat.

Now I realize that there are plants out there that are poisonous, or just taste plain strange to our modern palette. But with a good reference book, or in the company of an experienced forager, the walk you take for pleasure could also give you ingredients for a meal.

 There are so many recipes for “wild food” out there, from Elderflower fritters, to a four herbs vinegar,

(Cut basil, borage, mint and chives just before plant flowers. Bruise the leaves and pack them into a glass jar. Heat white vinegar and pour over the leaves. Cover and infuse for fourteen days shaking occasionally. Strain and store in glass bottles with screw top lids.)

that whole books are devoted to recipes, drinks and tonics made from natural products. If you have a favourite wild food recipe, we would love to hear about it. Why not drop us a line?

Pea Green has been celebrating summer with something slightly different, a wonderful fresh tabbouleh medley, made from puy lentils, sweet baby orange tomatoes, lemon, mint and spring onions. Served with our Asian Slaw and new potatoes, an exotic mix which is going down really well.

Take the few short steps across the car park. escape the glare and come into the cool, shaded Pea Green café for a taste of summer.