Final fans

I know I have been going on about fans for a couple of blogs now, but it’s really difficult when you are surrounded by dozens and dozens of mind-blowingly gorgeous samples not to be super enthusiastic!

So here’s one last peek at some of the projects in the new Joanna Sheen boxed set which will feature on my Create and Craft shows on Thursday 17thand Friday 18th May – and obviously on our website here while stocks last.

What do you think of that cute little cake box? I don’t have any weddings in the family for a while but I thought Grace might enjoy cooking a cake with Granny and then taking a piece home in a specially made Grace themed box. I have backing papers with alphabets on and we can mix learning letters and spelling her name using die-cuts, with cooking and eating cake – sounds fun to me!

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“Rhubarb rhubarb!”

I do enjoy Gardener’s World – an hour of delightful diversion, relaxing and thoroughly good for you. Whenever Monty Don so much as mentions a plant that I have in my garden I instantly feel as if this makes me a Proper Gardener. So, imagine my excitement last Friday when he was talking about picking your first rhubarb of the year and went on to say how a breakfast of stewed rhubarb and yoghurt was one of the most delicious breakfasts you could eat… that was just what I had tucked into myself earlier in the day! The combination is so yummy (a top culinary term!) the creamy yoghurt and tart rhubarb – and what’s more, it makes you feel virtuous as a healthy breakfast choice.

I think rhubarb is a bit like beetroot or avocado, a very distinct taste and you either love it or hate it. I love it, and it is so easy to grow! Our rhubarb is only about three years old (you shouldn’t harvest from it in the first year), but it is huge! Wrestling the stalks off the plant can be quite hard work (you have to carefully pull and not cut) and the enormous leaves need to be cut off and put straight in the compost bin, as they are poisonous. Unfortunately, people have been poisoned after eating the leaves. This was a particular problem during the First World War when the leaves were mistakenly recommended as a food source!

Rhubarb is such an easy thing to grow and you get so much back from it and I, for one, like its rather exuberant appearance. Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable but it is treated as a fruit, despite its tart flavour, you really can’t eat it raw and must add sugar. It goes well with ginger and strawberries… as well as custard and cream! And let’s be honest – is there anything more wonderful than a rhubarb crumble? Do you like rhubarb? If so, what do you make with it? Do share!

Rhubarb grows in two crops, the first arrives early in the year and is ‘forced’, or grown under pots, or those lovely tall terracotta forcers made especially for the job. The ‘rhubarb triangle’ around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford is renowned for its production of delicate forced rhubarb, grown by candlelight inside sheds… I saw a TV programme on it once – fascinating!  You can read more about it here.

Forced rhubarb is a lovely pale pink, with lime green leaves, and it is the more tender and delicately flavoured of the two crops. The second, called main crop rhubarb, arrives in the spring and is grown outdoors and is what most of us have sprouting in our gardens. Its stalks are a deeper red, tinged with green, and its leaves a brighter green. It has a more intense flavour and a more robust texture than the forced crop.

Rhubarb is a fruit (or vegetable!) that has many health claims attributed to it. As ever, I think we have to take some of these with a pinch of salt – or spoonful of sugar in this case! Rhubarb is packed with minerals, vitamins, organic compounds, and other nutrients that make it a good healthy option. Some of these components include dietary fibre, protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, B complex vitamins, calcium, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Every serving of rhubarb provides 45% of the daily value in vitamin K, which supports healthy bone growth and can limit neuronal damage in the brain.

And if you’ve ever wondered why we use the term ‘Rhubarb rhubarb’… it goes back to 1852, when the theatre company of English actor Charles at the Princess’s Theatre, London would say the word rhubarb repetitively to mimic the sound of indistinct conversation in any crowd scenes, the word having been chosen because it does not have harsh-sounding consonants or clear vowels. So there you have it!

 

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Egged on!

Whenever I am thinking about writing a blog, certain topics leap into my mind because they interest me (new craft ideas, gardens, cakes etc.) while others occur just because I’ve written about them before and found them so interesting I have to revisit them! Tea is one such topic, as are chickens and eggs.

Whenever I write about chickens or eggs, the blogs are always popular. Sadly, since she moved house, my partner in crime writing Julia no longer keeps hens, but I do love eggs and manage to buy lovely free range eggs locally. We eat more than 12 billion eggs a year in this country (amazing!), but when you look at how versatile eggs are, I suppose it’s not that surprising.

An egg is just such a wonderful thing – nature at her most clever it seems to me. The design of an egg is so perfect – their asymmetric tapered oval shape means that if you nudge them, they’ll come back to you. They’ll sweep out in a circle around the pointed end, and come to a stop with the pointed end facing uphill – pretty essential if you nest on a cliff edge! In fact, the eggs of birds that have their nests in precarious places are more oval than the eggs of birds that nest on the ground.

Another reason for eggs to be egg-shaped is that they fit together snugly in the nest, with only small air spaces between them so they help keep each other warm. And let’s not forget another reason that eggs are tapered – so that they can get pushed out of the hen more easily – ouch!

An egg contains every vitamin, except C, as well as calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium, plus lots of other micronutrients. As you may know, all of the fat is in the yolk, but so is most of the goodness. Some terribly serious diet gurus want us to feast(!) on whipped egg white omelettes and, while I’m sure that’s terribly healthy… it’s also rather dull to my mind.

Eggs are so versatile, just think of all the things you can make with them… cakes (now why did that come into my mind first?!), omelettes, meringues and mayonnaise. They can be boiled and used in sandwiches, on picnics and for soldiers at breakfast. Great for glazing baked items and for thickening and lovely when scrambled and served with smoked salmon as a treat! And then, of course, the shells themselves – lovely to decorate, perfect for growing seedlings in and the best packaging ever for a ‘ready meal’!

However, the poor old egg has been through some crises in this country. There was the big salmonella scare in the late 1980s when everyone seemed terrified of eating them. Then we were told their cholesterol content is bad for your heart – it’s not. The egg is also often stated as a cause of constipation but that again, isn’t true, it’s just that they have absolutely no dietary fibre, so you shouldn’t fill up on eggs instead of high-fibre foods. How different from my childhood when I can remember those funny TV adverts with comedians Tony Hancock and Patricia Hayes telling us to ‘Go to work on an egg’ as they were supposed to be so good for you!

 

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Cookery for the ‘Middle Classes’!

Sorting my book collection is rather like painting the Forth Road Bridge – it’s a task that never ends! OK, so it’s rather more interesting than the paint job and sometimes, as happened last week, I come across a gem of a cookery book I didn’t even know I had!

I can only guess that this ancient coverless book was one of my Mother’s. It has the wonderful title of: ‘Miss Tuxford’s Cookery for the Middle Classes’. Can you imagine how a title like that would go down in 2018?!

Miss Hester Tuxford M.C.A first published this book in 1925 and several updated editions followed. In the edition I have (dated 1933, I think) she tells us proudly in the preface that the book has so far sold upwards of 200,000 copies – which is a very impressive figure indeed! I haven’t been able to find out any more about Hester Tuxford online, which is a shame, as I rather like the sound of her. She lived in ‘Westwood’, Tattershall in Lincolnshire, but that’s as much as I know.

Offal: Awful!

The book itself is fascinating as a piece of social history. Compare this to a contemporary cookery book and it is hard to believe that only about 90 years have passed since Miss Tuxford was writing her recipes. It seems much longer…

Back then, meat was a staple of all meals – and almost every part of the animal was consumed – from offal, to head to feet! The number of recipes featuring tripe is quite terrifying, including options to stew it, fry it, put it in a pie or make a tripe ragout. Equally, the range of meat eaten would make most of us excuse ourselves from the dining table pretty rapidly – including rabbit, pigeon and rook. Rook pie, anyone?

Miss Tuxford manages only a small section on vegetables and, from the outset, she makes it clear that they need to be treated with caution. She writes:

‘RULES FOR COOKING GREEN VEGETABLES
Green vegetables should always be cooked with the lid off the pan to allow all poisonous gases to escape that are generated whilst cooking. A little salt and a small piece of soda should be added to the boiling water before placing in the green vegetables. All vegetables should be well soaked in salt water for an hour before cooking.’

The section on puddings and sweets is extensive and includes such gems as Puzzle Pudding, Honeymoon Cheesecakes and Canary Pudding. Fortunately, the latter refers to a yellow lemon sauce rather than poor little baked birds as in the Rook Pie! There are no less than five roly-poly recipes and many more substantial puddings, most of which involve a large amount of lard and margarine.

It’s all very well for us to marvel at this stodgy fare but between the wars, life was pretty spartan. Central heating was a luxury and domestic appliances were not that commonplace, nor was car ownership, so calorie-rich meals were essential for warmth and physical energy. Most vegetables were what you managed to grow yourself and many would have been root vegetables. None of the exotic fruits and vegetables that we enjoy today were around, such as avocados, butternut squash and blueberries. Britain was a much greyer place.

Reading Miss Tuxford’s book certainly made me reflect on how fortunate we are today with the food and comfort that most of us enjoy. If you come across a copy of this book, or any others from that era, it really is absolutely fascinating reading…

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Don’t go Christmas crackers!!

It is so easy to go overboard at Christmas (I have been guilty of it myself many times) and buy far too much food and even excess presents – just in case a surprise guest turns up! I do try and rein myself in these days and especially so at the moment when the world seems so horribly divided between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. In the event that you do find you’ve overdone it, why not have some recycling ideas ready to hand to make good use of excess and ensure nothing goes to waste… and no, I don’t just mean making a turkey curry!!

Leftover veg – Bubble & squeak

Any uneaten veg can, of course, be turned into the fabulous bubble and squeak that we all know and love. It is traditionally leftover mashed potato and sprouts squashed together and fried in a pan, but you can of course add other veg as well. To ring the changes, why not make individual patties and add some additional flavours – make some spicy ones with a dash of curry power, or chilli?

Oven-roasting your bubble and squeak uses less oil and also means you don’t have to stand over a hot pan flipping individual patties. Add any leftover roasted squash or beetroot too for some extra sweetness and serve with a fried or poached egg on top.

Left over chocolate, sweets & fruit

Yes, OK, I know this is unlikely – BUT… let’s just imagine we have behaved and not hoovered up every sweetie in the house. This tiffin recipe is great for using up any leftovers from Christmas such as plain chocolates, Christmas tree chocolates, biscuits such as biscotti, amaretti, or lebkuchen. It is a really easy recipe (perhaps one to try with children or grandchildren?) it’s quick and easy and no cooking!

Ingredients

  • 100g butter
  • 25g soft brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp cocoa
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 225g digestive biscuits, amaretti, biscotti or whatever you have, crushed
  • 150g raisins or add in chopped dried fruits such as apricots, glacé cherries, cranberries, coconut, nut etc. Experiment!
  • 225g milk chocolate – left over tree chocolates etc.

Method

  1. Add the butter, sugar, cocoa and golden syrup to a bowl and either microwave or heat on hot for a couple of minutes until melted
  2. Add the crushed biscuits, raisins and any other dried fruit and mix well (crunch some of your biscuits finely and leave some in bigger chunks, this gives a really good texture)
  3. Next press into a 20cm square greased tin
  4. Melt 225g milk/plain chocolate, pour on top and smooth over the mixture
  5. Mark into squares and chill in fridge for an hour or so before cutting

Used wrapping paper & tissue paper

I am sure all you avid crafters are already tuned into snaffling any nice wrapping paper that gets cast off and these days, with posh present wrapping, there’s plenty of tissue paper around too.

Here are a few quick suggestions that you, or younger members of the family, might like to have a go at to save all the lovely paper going to waste:

  • Create your own pretty wrapping paper DIY bunting
  • Shred wrapping paper into paper confetti
  • Make pretty drawer liners
  • Wrap your favourite hardback books or diary – again another one youngsters will enjoy
  • Create pretty envelopes
  • Make tissue paper pom-poms – great fun, especially if huge!
  • But if you want to reuse your tissue paper for another gift wrap… give it a gentle iron and it will be as good as new!

However you are spending Christmas day, I wish you all a happy and peaceful time, smiles Joanna.

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