Nature’s Serving Suggestions

Food & Cooking, Poetry

As a young child, I was sometimes woken up when it was barely light, to go off with my mother mushrooming on the decommissioned RAF airfield near our house. Blackberrying was for late summer, always, and rosehips for autumn, when the entire village school would spend afternoons gathering rosehips for Delrosa to turn into rosehip syrup (‘Whaddya mean, slave labour? The best pickers got a tin badge to keep!’). Later, in France, we added wild asparagus, wild cherries, mushrooms, walnuts, chestnuts and sloes to our Free Food bonanza. It’s made me a seasonal eater. I love it when the seasons announce that we have a different food to add to our diet, for a few weeks only. Fresh peas straight from the pod! The newest and smallest potatoes! Discovery apples in August! And in winter, these same foods, bottled and preserved give us a different pleasure – a memory of summer, but presented in a comforting, warming way: plum jam to spread on toast after a brisk winter walk; walnuts stirred into the soon-to-be steamed Christmas pudding; a nip of sloe gin on the coldest of days.

Nature’s had a habit of giving us the right foods for the right season. It’s a modern idea to expect strawberries in November. asparagus in September. All that anticipation, all that enjoyment of a food made special, distinctive by its very limited season has gone. If we listen, we can hear Nature telling us to get back in touch with the way things always used to be. Then we can get rid of all those unnecessary Air Miles too.

This week’s Tanka Tuesday asks us to write on the theme of Lessons from Nature. I’ve chosen the Shadorma form to illustrate what I’ve just been talking about. Mirabelles by the way are rarely seen in the shops. They’re small plums, yellow or rosy pink.

So …





And Nature said …

A Flashback to the Orange Man

Ariège, Food & Cooking, Spain

Here’s a blast from the past: from November 2012 in fact, when we were hunkering down for winter in France. It was round about now that The Orange Man arrived …

THE ORANGE MAN

Winter has arrived.  How do I know?  Although the nights are cold, the afternoons are still for going walking or tidying up the garden wearing a tee-shirt, beneath a duck-egg blue sky. So until the other day, I thought we were clinging on to autumn.

But on Thursday, the Orange Man arrived.  This is exciting enough news for it to be worth phoning a friend.  Every year, once winter kicks in and the orange harvest is well under way in southern Spain, a huge container lorry arrives in Lavelanet. It parks up at a disused petrol station on the main road into town and becomes an impromptu shop.

The man with the lorry, the Orange Man,  speaks only Spanish, and sells only oranges.  Not singly or by the half-dozen, but in large 10 kilo boxes.  10 kilos, 10 euros.  What a bargain.  These oranges, though sometimes a little knobbly and in irregular sizes, are the juiciest and tastiest you’ll ever eat, and it’s no wonder that whenever you pass, you’ll see someone pulling up their car and opening the boot for a case or two.  Our Spanish friend won’t have to stay long.  In a few days the entire container-load will be sold, he’ll return to Spain …. only to return when he’s loaded up again.

When he departs for the last time at the end of the season, we’ll know for sure that spring has arrived.

For Fandango’s Flashback Friday: a chance to go down Memory Lane and give an older post an airing.

Tomorrow’s Stir Up Sunday. Get cooking

Food & Cooking

I blame the Church of England. Tomorrow is Stir Up Sunday, the day when all right-thinking people in Britain will dig out their dried fruits and candied peels, their sticky, treacly dark sugars, eggs, butter, spices, zesty lemons, brandy, weigh them out and mix them all together. They’ll bring the family into the kitchen, get everyone to stir the mixture, making a wish as they do so.

And why? Because as they kneel at their devotions in church at Morning Service, those Good Ladies of the Parish will hear the priest intone the Collect for the Sunday Next Before Advent ….

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people….

‘Stir up? Stir up? I haven’t made the pudding yet! Best go home and make the Christmas pudding’

You might not be a Good Lady of the Parish. You might not even be a Good Lady. But you’d better get on with making that pudding tomorrow. I’m telling you today so you can nip out and buy anything you might not have to hand. Go to. Stir Up Sunday is the day. Your Christmas depends on it.

For Debbie at Travel with Intent’s Six Word Saturday

An inveterate food forager

Ariège, Food & Cooking, North Yorkshire

I was brought up foraging. At four years old, I’d get up with my mother at half past five in the morning and go scouting for mushrooms on the now-deserted wartime air-strips near our house. At five years old, I went as part of the autumn school day to gather rosehips for Delrosa. Expert pickers got a tin badge. Smaller fry like me got nothing. Blackberrying of course we took for granted.

Later, much later, Malcolm and I moved to France. There, foraging is a way of life. Nobody leaves the house without their ‘Au cas où’ bag – ‘just in case‘ they find something for the cooking pot. It might be wild asparagus, wild garlic or Alpine strawberries in spring, cherries later, then blackberries of course. Autumn was bonanza time. This was the time to stagger home with sacks full of walnuts, of chestnuts, of sloes, of mushrooms of every kind. Autumn hikes were constantly interrupted by the need to squat down and fill a bag with yet more free food. You can read all about it here, for Fandango’s Flashback Friday, when I described how ‘all is safely gathered in’.

Sweet chestnuts

Now we’re back in England, the custom continues. I’ve discovered that locally, we’re regarded with good-humoured curiosity because of our inability to pass free food by without snaffling it. It starts with wild garlic, sometimes dandelion and nettle leaves in spring. During the last month we’ve picked several kilos of bullaces (wild plums) from Nosterfield; ditto blackberries from wherever there have been good supplies; windfall apples and crab apples from beneath village trees; a magnificent puffball weighing in at more than a kilo, which – thickly sliced and dredged first in beaten egg, then breadcrumbs and grated parmesan and fried in butter – made splendidly tasty steaks. Finally, this weekend, I glanced upwards on a familiar woodland path, and spotted golden mirabelles winking down at me. I summoned reinforcements (Malcolm, with bags, boxes and a useful stick) and now there are jars of tart but tasty mirabelle jam to see us through the winter, as well as plenty more waiting to be made into tarts and puddings.

Simple, but very real pleasures to add interest to our daily walks.

A Virtual Tea Party, anybody?

Blogging challenges, Food & Cooking

Oh … er … I’m quite out of the habit. Nobody’s been round for tea of coffee for a year now. Haven’t you heard that there’s a pandemic on? Still, a Virtual Gathering, to which all of my blogging pals are cordially invited: could I manage that? Let’s see. An old favourite might be best for a cake. Lemon drizzle maybe. It’s one of those cakes we all seem to have a recipe for if we bake at all. These days I use about half the recommended amount of sugar both in the cake itself, and in the lemon drizzle topping. Nobody seems to notice. I also usually bake with wholemeal spelt flour rather than with common-or-garden plain white. So you could even pretend this cake is the healthy option. I’ll pop it on a plate in a minute. Or maybe you’d like a cashew-nut butter cookie? Would you prefer tea or coffee? I warn you now, everyone says my tea’s dreadful. Since I rarely drink the stuff, I can’t tell the difference between gnat’s pee and Builder’s Brew.

Um. Where could I sit you all? Luckily it’s a nice day, so let’s go into the garden, where we can do Social Distancing. Could you carry a tray out for me please?

Virtual Afternoon Tea: March 2021

Zest up your day with toast and marmalade!

Blogging challenges, Food & Cooking, Spain

It’s that time of year when the house is permeated by the bitter, bright, clean and honeysweet smell of marmalade-in-the-making, as a pan of carefully cut up peels, juice and sugar bubble away enticingly in the kitchen to make this year’s supply of Seville Orange Marmalade. Is anything more guaranteed to wake you up and start your day with a zing than a couple of slices of toast and home-made marmalade?

I first wrote about it here, on this day in 2011. I wrote about it often. But our most memorable marmalade year was two years ago, when I wrote about it again, on almost this day.

Up above your head, in many a Spanish street, are oranges, glowing orbs of colour that brighten the cityscape. And two years ago we were in Valencia, home of the orange. Finding windfalls abandoned in the Turia Gardens, we gathered them and brought them home. What could be better than marmalade made, by you, from oranges you’ve harvested yourselves?

Oranges growing in Valencia

Flashback Friday

Square Up

It turns out that my first marmalade post was written on 21st January. Today is the 22nd. I hope this isn’t a hanging offence, in the world of Flashback Friday.

‘Let them eat cake’ revisited

Food & Cooking, France

It’s almost the end of the month and I haven’t yet revisited a post from our years in France. Becky introduced her readers to Flashback Friday. That’ll do me. Especially in the week of the Great British Bake-off final.

‘LET THEM EAT CAKE’ 27th November 2012

Back in the UK, I hear everyone’s gone baking mad, that the entire nation was glued to its screens to watch the final of  ‘The Great British Bake-off’.  Here in France, it’s the one branch of cookery in which the average French person will allow the average Brit some supremacy.

The French are rightly proud of their high-end patisserie, the delectable tarts and gâteaux which traditionally come to the table at the end of a family celebration or Sunday lunch: from the baker’s naturally, no shame in that.

More day-to-day baking is a different matter, however.  Plainish cakes, loaf-shaped and known in France as ‘cake’, are a big disappointment, especially if they’re from the supermarket.  I find them over-dry, over-sugared, too strongly flavoured with something, such as vanilla, that should be a subtle undertone.  I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but even cakes available in any old British supermarket can be quite a treat in comparison.

McVitie’s Jamaican ginger cake, for example, dark and sticky, is just the thing with a hot cuppa after a brisk country walk in winter: it even has its own website.  And while I’m not sure that Mr. Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes, they’re – well – not too bad.

No wonder then, that when we run our cookery workshops at Découvertes Terres Lointaines, and announce that we’ll be turning our hands to British tea-time treats, the group is immediately oversubscribed .  Scones, coffee and walnut cake and a nice of cup of tea anyone?

Supermarket scene in France

All kinds of pumpkin

Ariège, Festivals, Food & Cooking, France

It’s Hallowe’en today. Time to carve those pumpkins into frightening faces, and then tomorrow … throw them away. What a pity. Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes, they’re good to eat, and it’s a shame you rarely see anything but the good old bog-standard Jack o’ Lantern here. They can be large, small, yellow, red, orange, green, even bluish or black, and on mainland Europe they’re much more appreciated.

Enjoy the pumpkins on display, many of them from Le Jardin Extraordinaire in Lieurac , near where we lived in France. And then have a go at the comforting recipe I offer here because you don’t really want to scare the neighbours with an evil orange face peering out of your front window do you?

#Kinda Square. Today is the final square in Becky’s month long squares project. Thank you Becky, and thank you fellow squarers. It’s been fun. I’ve met kindness, had my interest kindled and met – virtually of course – many bloggers-of-a-kind.