Peas, please!

Peas – those round, sweet, green things – even people who don’t much like veggies seem to approve of peas. It’s the perfect instant veg, to be whipped out of the freezer and cooked at a moment’s notice, but let me assure you they are even better when picked and eaten fresh.

Lots of people think growing peas is a bit of a waste of time and space… but they have probably never picked them and eaten them straight from the pod. They are so sweet and so delicious! I pick a few at a time, as they mature on the plant, and steam them for a couple of minutes, then run them under cold water and add to my salad alongside my home-grown leaves and broad beans creating a garden salad ­– delicious.

Peas are one of those things that we think of as essentially ‘British’. Fish, chips and mushy peas, pie and peas, pea soup… but as is so often the case when you look into it, they are a relatively recent arrival on our shores and originate from north-west Asia!

But our climate suits them perfectly and they thrive here. As a nation we certainly love them – we eat far more than any other country in Europe, chomping around 9,000 each per year. That’s a lot of peas! Fortunately, they are good for us combining fibre and protein with vitamins and minerals and must be the most popular of the ‘5-a-day’… or is it ‘10-a-day’ now? I can’t keep up!

They are relatively easy to grow either from seed, or you can buy them as small plants. The only real problem is with pigeons… they love them! Having lost an entire crop in one day a few years ago, I now cover them with netting. Even then, they still get a bit nibbled. But to me, the sweetness, the vivid colour and that pleasing ‘pop’ of the pod makes them all worthwhile

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Elderflower and strawberry jam

Making your own preserves is a very satisfying thing to do. Those pretty rows of little jars full of homemade goodness make me feel very pleased with myself! It’s always good to try and ring the changes and, although strawberry jam is a huge family favourite, I thought the addition of elderflower sounded fun.

Ingredients:

  • 2kg (4lbs) strawberries
  • 2kg (4lbs) preserving sugar
  • Juice from three lemons
  • 8 large elderflower heads

Method:

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

To intensify the strawberry flavour, prepare the berries and put them in your preserving pan (or large saucepan) add the sugar and lemon juice and leave (covered) overnight.

Now start to heat them slowly and add the elderflowers. This should be done by first shaking the flowers (adding creepy crawlies to jam really isn’t a good thing) and then picking off the flowers and add to the strawberry mix.

Stir well and bring to the boil for about 5 minutes. Skim off the scum that may form on the surface.

If you have a sugar thermometer then boil until it reaches 105ºC and then test a small spoonful on the cold saucer. Place the test spoonful and saucer in the fridge and within 5 minutes it should have formed a skin that wrinkles when you push it. If this doesn’t happen then boil again for another couple of minutes and try again.

Once you are happy that it has reaching the setting point, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes and fill the sterilised jars.

This is particularly nice with scones and Devon clotted cream – me biased, not a chance!

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James Wong – what a great writer!

James Wong – what a great writer! Just occasionally I come across a writer or a new book that really grabs me and this was the case with James.

The first book I bought was ‘How to Eat Better’ which I saw mentioned in Good Food magazine. It’s really fascinating and has masses of facts that made me exclaim out loud as I read through… possibly a little annoying for Richard! Did you know smaller (and therefore cheaper) blueberries are better for you than the big ones – green asparagus is much better for you than white? Lazy people rejoice as apparently the vac packed and cooked beetroot has as many good things going for it than boiling and peeling your own… and so the list went on.

I felt sorry for Richard listening to my reading out paragraphs aloud and so bought him (and his brother) a copy of James Wong’s ‘Grow for Flavour’ which has so many tips and tricks that help in the garden. For example – watering tomatoes with seawater gives them a much better taste – giving hard to germinate seeds like parsley a quick dose of soluble aspirin helps them along – and yes you guessed, Richard is now reading out bits to me from his book!

Finally, having been so interested in his other books I treated both myself and my sister (I love giving books) to ‘Grow your own Drugs‘ – Kate was a little worried as it had to get through the mail and therefore the Jersey Customs department but, so far it all seems to have gone swimmingly! As I have a summer cold at the moment I was very taken with the recipe intended to help colds and flu – Echinacea Ice Lollies. This contains 80ml of vodka and that alone has to cheer things up! But there are plenty of other ingredients that should ease the throat. Disappointingly, the vodka is to soak the Echinacea root and doesn’t actually make an appearance in the finished lolly – hmm, sad.

Just thought I would share these titles with you – I love books with useful hints and tips and James is certainly an author I will look out for him in future programmes – he has shared a TV series with another person I admire – Dr Michael Moseley and has covered the Chelsea Flower show with the BBC team … I will be keeping an eye out!

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Maple and pecan loaf

So many of you popped into my blog to read about the bread machine that I thought you might be interested in a follow-up story about a maple and pecan loaf… It now seems that both Richard and little Grace are fascinated by the machine and we are making bread multiple times a week. While the house is full of wonderful fresh bread smells, it is tough on me as I don’t really allow myself a lot of bread on my diet!

The latest recipe that has had huge acclaim throughout the family is Richard’s maple and pecan bread… it’s just wonderful, cuts beautifully and lasts several days. We progress from newly made and served fresh, to several days old and toasted. It’s delicious whichever way you try it.

These are the ingredients but I think it may need tweaking to suit your particular bread machine if you have one – if not I recommend trying a handmade loaf – it’s just yummy!

Ingrdients

  • ¾ teaspoon dried yeast
  • 200g (7oz) strong wholemeal
  • 200g (7oz) strong white bread flour
  • ½ oz or 15g cubed butter
  • 1 teaspoon of table salt
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 oz chopped pecan nuts – I am sure could use others
  • 280ml of water

As you can see, it turns out beautifully!

 

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It’s British Sandwich Week – The British sarnie rules supreme

From the top: The man who invented the sandwich, the Lord himself. ‘The Sammies’ the sandwich industry’s annual awards. Copyright: The British Sandwich & Food to Go Association. A crab sandwich by a real fire – perfect!

Did you know that this is British Sandwich Week? No, neither did I, but then it’s hard to keep up to date with all these ‘national’ weeks and days… but this one struck me as worthy of a blog.

The modern sandwich is named after Lord John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. A dedicated gambler, his Lordship did not like to take time out from the card table to have a meal. He would, therefore, ask a passing servant to bring him slices of meat between two slices of bread… and thus, the sandwich was born!

I was surprised (although nothing should really surprise me these days) to read that that the British sandwich industry even has its own annual awards ceremony… called ‘The Sammies’. Honest!

Given this household’s newfound passion for homemade bread (see my post about the new bread maker!), the sandwich is pretty high on the list of tasty snacks! I did a quick poll of family members to find out their favourite fillings:

Richard – ham and cheese on homemade white bread, with butter!

Emily – anything exotic you have never heard of, possibly with Acai berries and chia seed, or perhaps a weird Brazilian delicacy (she has just returned from a work secondment in Brazil)

Pippa – has to be Nutella. That’s it really… or, if very hard pressed, peanut butter

And me? I’d choose smoked salmon and avocado on rye bread or pumpernickel.

Thinking about this blog has made me smile as I recalled my parents’ choices. My father used to like peanut butter and marmite or marmalade as, when he was growing up in the Far East, they sometimes didn’t have any dairy products. My Mum, bless her, liked lots of things in sandwiches, but they always tasted nicer if they were cut in triangles and served on a plate with a lacy doily. Quite right!

So what’s your favourite filling? I’d love to hear your thoughts, do share…

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