Archive for Food Blog

“Like Me Muvver Used To Make”

Cauliflower Cheese

I was in my local butcher’s ( Walls in High Street)  the other day and was buying some “thick Ludlow sausages” for Sunday breakfast, a real treat. The talk in the shop was all about the up and coming Food Festival which is unbelievably celebrating it’s 25th year. They were discussing the probability of getting a hog roast going opposite the shop, which had been very effective for them in the past. Not only in street sales, but with people then going into the shop to buy their meat. One of the reasons the Festival is so successful is that it show cases the town and it’s wonderful local produce which I can buy any day of the week, but visitors wouldn’t necessarily know about. We are always being asked where we buy our sausages. Let’s hope the visitors do use the shops and not just the castle stalls

Humans have been making sausages for thousands of years, the outcome of efficient butchery. The word itself comes from the Middle English “sausige” which in turn is from the Latin for salt, salsisium. It is obviously a way of preserving the lesser cuts of meat which are ground, blended with “filler” usually bread, and herbs and spices. The Romans are credited with bringing sausages to Britain like so much else they were meant to have introduced and since then various counties have their own way of flavouring them. Lincolnshire uses fresh sage, Cheshire caraway and coriander. Ludlow sausage makers make a variety of different flavourings, from the spicy Red Dragon in honour of the Welsh, to mushrooms and brie. They even produce Gluten free and Slimmer’s World sausages. Though me, I’d rather have a flavoursome sausage or go without. It seems as bizarre as “vegetarian sausages”. Why if you don’t want to eat meat would you want something that looks like meat?

It was in the reign of Charles I that sausages were first made into links. They used to stuff them up chimneys to be mildly cured! They are the ultimate comfort food, a plate of “bangers and mash” with onion gravy and peas. Yum. They got the name “banger” from the second World War because their high water content made them explode in the pan. They were made a sin in the early catholic church because of their association with pagan Roman festivals. So like any prohibition, sausage eating went underground until the ban was lifted. Their combination of hard exterior and soft interior plus the luscious aftertaste make sausages after all as irresistible as any forbidden fruit.

I love Toad in the Hole, that flavoursome combination of Yorkshire Pudding, crisp fried onion and sausages, as do the rest of the family. In the café we serve sausages with cauliflower cheese as a special, and always pride of place on a freshly cooked breakfast, two of our most popular dishes. Try out a “thick Ludlow” sausage by popping into Pea Green.

One of Our Local Breakfast Options
One of Our Breakfast Option

And Little Lambs Eat Ivy

May has burst upon us, blue skies. Swifts screaming over the bridges and by the eaves, bluebells coating the floors of budding up woods. The lambs of a few weeks ago, all gangly wobbly wool, have taken on the statue of stocky young things, daring to play follow the leader away from mum.

The green hills which hold Ludlow cupped in their hands are dotted with the white of sheep. Ludlow was founded on its wool trade. Since Neolithic settlers made their homes in the hills sheep have been farmed here, though the Medieval period was when Ludlow and the surrounding area really made serious money from their fleeces. During the 12th century Ludlow developed as a centre for the wool trade and cloth manufacturing, with mills being built all along the Teme. One landowner in particular, Laurence of Ludlow became fabulously wealthy, enabling him to build Stokesay Castle, and travel all over England, visiting also the Low Countries and a fair at Champagne in north-west France. Another beneficiary was Bishop Robert Mascall, the Carmelite Friar, who became King Henry IV’s confessor and founded the priory and other institutions in the town. The church was enlarged and beautified with wool money, as were many of the fine medieval buildings still prominent in the town.

We tend to no longer eat mutton, though I do remember mutton stew as a school dinner, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

A Shropshire hillside

 Lamb on the other hand, especially local reared, grass fed lamb is still a popular spring and early summer treat. Pricked with garlic, and dusted with salt, pepper and rosemary, lamb steaks are one of our favourites, especially with an onion sauce and young carrots. It is a very versatile meat and can be used in Tagines, curries, hot-pots and casseroles. A great celebration dish is a guard of honour, two racks of cutlets, tied side to side with the bones interlacing. They often have frilled white caps on the ends of the cutlets.

As for the old song, “Mares eat oats, and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy” it turns out to be true!  Apparently, they love it and it is a good tonic for older sheep that are poorly as well. Any good shepherd welcomes it on his grazing land.

The farming of sheep has shaped our uplands for hundreds of years, and the care of flocks and their sale has shaped our town. You could be forgiven for calling lamb, Ludlow on a plate.

“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.



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.  

 

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.

 

Make a Brew

I love a cup of tea, it’s how I start my day and the beverage I chose after our evening meal. We use a good quality tea from the West Country which makes a pleasant tasting cup. But I also enjoy tisanes, a word we borrowed from the French, which applies to any drink made with herbs, flowers and spices, they are refreshing and make a nice change from the caffeine infused drinks.

Some teas can aid the digestion, both mint and chamomile tea are good after a meal. Sage and ginger supress colic. The medicinal qualities of different teas are endless, and many people use them as a gentle remedy, but that’s another blog!

For me, the real pleasure comes in the look, smell and taste of the drink. I used to enjoy blending teas, the aroma of Rosehip, Anise, Raspberry, Nettle and Liquorice with a waft of spices clove and cardamom was one of my favourites. It’s called Herbal Harmony and is a real feel good drink. The colours make it look particularly appealing.

Rose tea helps calm you down. It’s aroma is that of a summer garden, with just a hint of sherbet. You can mix dried rose petals with a black loose leaf tea for “Rose ” tea. You can buy loose wild rosebuds which make a pink beverage and has no caffeine.

Some herbal and fruit tisanes are lovely chilled too. Hibiscus, a tea that is popular in the middle east, has a deep red velvety colour. Over ice with a twist of lemon its a great summer drink. Keep some in the fridge for mixers or straight drinks.

At Pea Green we sell fruit and herbal teas as well as the quality tea from Miles. With the roses scenting the air, and the herbs thriving in the heat, ready to  be picked and used. Enjoy a summer tea with us the next time you’re in.