Wine in the Westcountry…

I am fortunate to live in a county rich in locally grown and produced foods. Devon is unique in England in having a coastline on both its northern and southern edges and it’s an area where farming livestock is still an important part of the economy. We are also blessed with lots of artisan cheese makers, bakers and vintners, our climate being suited to all sorts of exciting foody businesses. Through my blog I’m going to take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our local producers and I hope you will be inspired to try their produce and their recipes!

I introduced you to the rather exotic Devon Chilli Farm a few weeks ago and now, equally surprising, I’m going to talk about Devon vineyards. There are no less than NINE in the county and some of the wines they produce are winning awards worldwide.

Internationally, I think Britain is probably more famous for producing gin and beer than wine but in fact, we have been producing wine since Roman times. Historically though, English wines were seen as a bit of a joke, with people making their own peculiar brews such a potato or parsnip wine (remember Reggie Perrin?) while commercially the quality and consistency was very variable. But, since about 1970 – and particularly at the beginning of the 21st Century – things have improved dramatically.

It seems that Devon, and Cornwall too, enjoys an ideal mix of soil and climate making them suitable areas for growing vines. The latitude and longitude are very similar to the well-known wine growing regions of France so it’s not too hard to see why this area is proving successful.

There’s a vineyard just down the road from our village that produces four types of wine, a white, red, rosé and sparkling. Rather unromantically, these days there are no peasants trampling round in great vats of grapes pressing out the juice with their feet (actually, that always put me off a bit!), today it is all stainless steel tanks and white coats, but the wine they produce is excellent.

The best-known vineyard in this part of the world is Sharpham. They also happen to make excellent cheeses, but that’s another blog altogether! Their Sharpham Sparkling Reserve NV recently won the ‘Best International’ trophy at the World Sparkling Wine Competition, beating French champagnes in the process!

If you are in this neck of the woods, the Sharpham estate is well worth a visit. There’s a lovely café on site for lunch before you walk through the vineyards that go right down to the banks of the river Dart and the wine tastings are inexpensive and very enjoyable!!

For more information, do have a look at the Sharpham wine website at www.sharpham.com

 

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Blackberry vinegar for coughs & colds

This week, it’s a guest blog from my writing pal and foraging guru Julia Horton-Powdrill. Julia’s website is full of useful tips, fascinating facts and lovely dollops of humour as is her Facebook page for her annual Really Wild Food & Countryside Festival.

“This recipe is here to coincide with the blackberry season so that you can stock up on this for the winter. Do use local honey if possible, and cider vinegar rather than any other kind.

You will need:

  • 1 pint of fresh, clean blackberries
  • 1 pint cider vinegar
  • 1lb local honey
  • ½ cup brown sugar

Put blackberries in a jar with the cider vinegar and soak for a week, shaking the jar every so often. Strain through cheesecloth collecting the juice in a pan. Add the honey & sugar and bring to the boil, stirring until dissolved. Allow to cool then bottle and close with a tight cork. Store in a refrigerator or cool place. When a cough, cold or sore throat arises, mix a tablespoon of the mixture with 1 cup of hot water and drink.

PS. This combination of ingredients is so versatile, you needn’t restrict yourself to using it just as a remedy. It makes a lovely warming drink even if you don’t have a cold! You can also use it as a marinade, and if you add olive oil it can be used for a salad dressing!”

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A summer tea party…

It’s so sad that the popularity of afternoon tea has gone down massively over the years. It’s a great way of entertaining people as cakes, pastries and scones can all be made well in advance and are all far less expensive than a dinner party! Here are a couple of ideas for summer tea parties that you might like to try – let’s keep the tradition alive!

Squirrel Cake

This is a recipe of my mother’s and, although there are no nuts in the cake mixture it nevertheless tastes very nutty and delicious! It is also economical to make.

To make a 17.5cm (7in) cake, you will need:

  • 100g (4oz) margarine
  • 100g (4oz) sugar
  • 100g (4oz) self-raising flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 15ml (1 tbsp) cold water
  • 10g (2 tsp) instant coffee granules

For the Squirrel’s Cream:

  • 425ml (3/4 pint) double cream
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) Tia Maria liqueur
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) chopped hazelnuts, plus extra for decoration

Grease and line two 17.5cm (7in) sponge tins. Cream together the margarine and sugar until white and creamy. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time and beat well (no cheating with an electric mixer – the results are much better by hand!). Using a metal spoon, fold in the sifted flour and add the cold water until a soft consistency is reached. At the very last moment fold in instant coffee granules.

Spoon the mixture into the two sandwich tins and spread evenly with a palette knife. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190ºC (375ºF), gas mark 5, for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven when they are cooked and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. When cold, sandwich the two cakes together with the Squirrel’s Cream (see below).

Squirrel’s Cream

Whip the cream and add a little sugar if you wish. Fold in the Tia Maria and the hazelnuts. Use as a filling and decoration on the top of the cake. Sprinkle the top of the cake with extra hazelnuts

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Lemon & Mint Cooler

Old-fashioned lemonade is delicious and much better for you than the commercially available varieties, so do try some.

You will need:

  • 2.5 litres (4 ¼ pints) water
  • Juice of 8 lemons
  • 75g (3oz) castor sugar
  • Large handful of mint leaves
  • Extra mint leaves for garnishing

Chop the mint leaves coarsely and place in a large bowl with the sugar. Pound the two ingredients together well so that the sugar takes up the flavour of the mint leaves. Heat the water to boiling point and pour over the mint and sugar. Add the lemon juice and leave to cool.

When cooled, carefully strain it through a fine sieve and chill in the fridge. Serve in the prettiest glasses you can find, garnish with ice, slivers of lemon and sprigs of mint.

 

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Summer drinks parties…

July is here and let’s hope it finally means the start of summer! Warm summer evenings are perfect for drinks parties when the emphasis is more on conversation than food. Here are two lovely fruity drinks that are bound to get the conversation flowing!

Strawberry Summer Cup

This summer cup is really lovely but, beware when sampling it – I’ve known people to drink very large quantities of this because it is so delicious!

You will need:

  • 300 ml (1/2 pint) Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 300 ml (1/2 pint) Kirsch liqueur
  • 4-5 litres (7-8 pints) medium-dry white wine
  • 2kg (41/2lb) ripe strawberries
  • 6 oranges

Slice the oranges and strawberries, then place in a large bowl and pour over the Grand Marnier and the Kirsch liqueurs. If possible, place in a refrigerator and leave to soak for one hour, but not much longer or the fruit will be past its best. Then pour over the wine and stir the mixture well.

Spiced Fruit Cooler

This recipe is a very good reason for giving alcohol a miss – it’s much nicer than some wines I’ve drunk in the past! It’s also so delicious the poor old car drivers in the party won’t feel they are missing out either.

You will need:

  • 1.8 litres (3 pints) sparkling mineral water
  • 1.8 litres (3 pints) fresh orange juice
  • 900ml (1 1/2 pints) fresh grapefruit juice
  • 900ml (11/2 pints) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 10 cloves
  • 175g (6oz) sugar
  • 450ml (3/4 pint) water
  • 275g (10oz) runny honey
  • 1 orange for decoration
  • 1 lemon for decoration
  • ice cubes for decoration

Thoroughly chill all the fruit juices and the mineral water. Mix the 450ml (3/4 pint) of water, cinnamon sticks, cloves and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. Stir gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add the honey, stirring until it has dissolved. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Once the mixture has cooled, strain it into a large punch bowl (preferably the most attractive one you can find), and add the fresh juices and the sparkling mineral water. Stir gently. Decorate with slices of orange and lemon and ice cubes.

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Elderflower Sparkler

The flavour of elderflower has become popular once again. Historically, the cordial has a strong Victorian heritage, however versions of an elderflower cordial recipe can be traced back as far as Roman times.

Elderflower is just starting to come out now and the flowerheads are best collected fresh and new when the tiny buds have just opened and come to bloom before the fragrance is tainted with bitterness. Make sure you shake the elderflowers to expel any lingering insects before you use them!

This recipe produces one of the most delicious drinks ever concocted. Many people prefer it to French champagne because of its light and refreshing taste. Lovely for a warm summer’s evening…

To make about 5 litres, or 8.5 pints

You will need:

750g/1¾ lb caster sugar

475ml/16fl oz hot water

4 large fresh elderflower heads

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

Juice and pared rind of a lemon

4 litres/7 pints water

1.            Mix the sugar with the hot water. Pour the mixture into a large glass or plastic container. Add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well, cover and leave for about 5 days.

2.            Strain off the liquid into sterilized screw-top bottles (glass or plastic). Leave for a further week or so. Serve very cold with slivers of lemon rind.

 

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