Dry your eyes!

OnionChoppedI use onions in cooking most of the time. However, it can be a very tearful experience, as I am sure you all know! I find red onions seem to catch me out more than most and I can be found sobbing over a Bolognese sauce if I get a really strong one.

So why do onions make us cry? I decided to look into it, after a recent tearful stir fry experience, and discovered something I hadn’t known before – much of it is linked to the sharpness of our knives!

Apparently, chopping onions with a blunt knife makes tears much more likely. When you chop onions with a blunt knife, the blade bruises the surface of the onion rather than slicing straight through. This means enzymes are released that can irritate your eyes. Using a very sharp knife when cutting onions can reduce that as it’ll slice right through, rather than crush the skin.

But what is it in onions that causes our eyes to water? It all starts underground as onions absorb sulphur from the earth. This creates a class of volatile organic molecules and when you push a knife through an onion it crushes the cells and releases amino acid sulfoxides to form sulfenic acids.

OnionsThese then react with the air to create a volatile sulphur compound that, when it comes into contact with our eyes, creates a burning and stinging feeling. The tears are our eyes trying to wash the acids away. Most of the acidity is concentrated in the onion’s root.

But dry your eyes and try some of these helpful tips the next time you’re making Bolognese or any other onion-based delight.

  1. Use a sharp knife
    As identified above, make sure you use a sharp knife – this will cut through the onion more smoothly and cause less crushing which will release less acid.
  1. Put it in the fridge/freezer
    Try putting the onion in the fridge 30 minutes before chopping it or in the freezer for 10 -15 minutes – the cold will inhibit the release of the gases. But don’t keep them in the fridge all the time as this will soften them and make them go off quicker.
  1. OnionGogglesOpen a window
    Chop your onions near an open window so the breeze can waft away the acidic fumes – or even a fan or vent if you have one.
  1. Leave the root
    Chop the onion while leaving the root on so as not to release fumes from the most concentrated area.
  1. Soak it in water
    Chop the end off the onion and then put it straight into a bowl of water to soak. The water will draw out the acid making you tear up less when you chop it. However, this could make your onion taste slightly weaker.

And if none of those work… why not treat yourself to some very fetching ‘onion goggles’ now widely available on line!

 

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Giving it some welly!

When you live in the real countryside, ’sensible’ outdoor footwear is something of a necessity. True Devonians will always smile and say you can ‘spot the incomer’ a mile off by their inappropriate choices of heels, open toed or pale coloured shoes. You can buy all sorts of fancy boots but, at the end of the day, the wellington boot is the countryman’s footwear of choice!
WellyDrain

I shared this fun photo (right) on Facebook this week as it made me smile and think that Albert, the lead male in our Swaddlecombe Mysteries, would find this a good use of a leaking welly. In contrast, Victoria, our leading lady, would probably use a pair of old wellies as planters for some organic herbs…

So what’s the history of the wellington boot? How did this rubberised footwear come into being? The wellington boot is associated with Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). The Iron Duke, as he was known, instructed his shoemaker, George Hoby to modify his hessian 18th-century boot and make it out of calfskin leather.

WellyMontageWellingtons first appeared in 1817 and proved popular with the troops because they were hard wearing for battle, yet comfortable for evening wear. The boot leather was treated with wax to make them softer and more waterproof. The new boots became a very popular fashion accessory for gentlemen. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles, they remained the main fashion for men throughout the 1840s.

American, Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), who invented a vulcanisation process for rubber, began making rubber boots. Hiram Hutchinson saw the potential for agricultural workers in France and bought the patent from Goodyear in 1852. The new waterproof boots were quick to become established and sold well within the large rural population. Amazingly, by 1857 the company were hand–making 14,000 pairs of boots per day!

Fellow American, Henry Lee Norris, moved to Edinburgh and started producing rubber wellington boots in 1856. Norris believed Scotland was a good place to manufacture wellingtons because of the country’s high rainfall – good decision! He founded the British Rubber Company and four former boot–makers from New York trained the Scottish workforce The company went into production first making rubber shoes and boots and then quickly expanding to produce an extensive range of rubber products, included tyres, golf balls and hot water bottles.

Come the outbreak of the First World War (1914- 1918) the trench war ensured high production of rubber boots and again, in the Second World War, the armed forces used vast quantities of rubber wellington boots.

And so to today, when the Wellington boot has gone full circle and become highly fashionable again. When I was a child, wearing wellies was deemed very boring. They were always plain black and not very comfy and you would go out of your way to avoid wearing them. Now, when we are so sophisticated with technology coming out of our ears, I find it amusing that something as simple as old-fashioned as a boot made out of rubber is so much in demand. You can have them in various designs and in any colour and, if you choose green ones, you can even spend a fortune on them!

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A whole new meaning to a ‘kitchen garden’!

I am really getting into growing our own veg this summer – gold star to Joanna for ticking box on ‘must do’ list! As you may have realised, I am not one for wasting things. Well, OK, so I am a typical crafter and I hoard things… but I also like to recycle and make use of ‘waste’ products in the garden too. We all go on about ‘being green’ and reducing our carbon footprint, but really, this is all common sense stuff that previous generations did as a matter of course!

Slug off!
If you want to give your garden slugs a hard time and, like me don’t like using slug pellets, save your coffee grounds! Empty the bits left in your cafetière or machine on to the soil around your plants. They not only keep the pests at bay they will enrich the soil too.

Now this idea is a little contentious… but you could try submerging some plastic cups into your veg beds around your plants and fill them with beer. Yes, beer. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and drop into the cups. Richard is not entirely happy about this…

Egg shells are also a pet hate of slugs and snails as they don’t like to crawl over them. I put my empty egg shells into a plastic container, wait until I have quite a few and then take great delight in smashing them into small pieces with a spoon! You can then sprinkle them on the ground around your salads and the critters ought to keep away.

Eggcellent compost
Egg shells can also be added to your compost with other compostable waste. Around a third of an average household bin can be composted including fruit and vegetable peelings, but don’t put whole old potatoes in, as these will grow into plants and create more spuds. You can also use teabags and even shredded cardboard and newspaper along with your general clippings and cuttings but be sure you don’t put in any weed seed heads or those with roots that can regenerate.

Rice water is nice water
When you cook rice keep the water rather than pouring it down the sink. There are several plant friendly minerals that are ideal for giving your plants a nutritional boost.

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Never mind Eastenders, this is Dartmoor Soap!

I enjoy watching Countryfile on BBC One, it is always full of interesting stories and last week’s was no exception. One item focussed on South Devon where we are based and I was particularly taken with the lady making her own soap – the main ingredients of which were beeswax, goat’s milk and vegetable oil! What started as a cottage industry has suddenly take off in a big way and, since being featured on Countryfile, I think they have been somewhat swamped…

The Dartmoor Soap Company operates out of the tiny and picturesque village of Belstone, high up on Dartmoor. When Sophie Goodwin-Hughes’ son was born four years ago, he suffered from eczema, so she decided to create a completely pure bar of soap from the most natural oils. The results were almost immediate and within days his eczema had disappeared.

Sophie says: “This discovery got us thinking about our own skins and how they were affected by the products we use on them. We researched the debate surrounding the use of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) in skin products, familiarised ourselves with the role of parabens and became obsessed with reading labels, much to the annoyance of many a shop-owner!”

She embarked on a mission to put her soap-making skills to the test and created a range of beautifully scented, yet 100% natural soaps and The Dartmoor Soap Company was born.

The soap is handmade using natural ingredients which, wherever possible, are sustainably sourced and harvested on Dartmoor. The soaps are free from chemical irritants such as Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, parabens, petrolatum and artificial colours and made without the dreaded palm oil.

In a mission to support and raise awareness about Dartmoor’s natural environment, 5p from each bar sold is donated to Butterfly Conservation, a registered UK charity that is working to protect butterflies, moths and the environment. Among other projects nationwide, the charity is working hard to combat declining numbers of the Fritillary butterfly on the moors.

The range of soaps Sophie makes is wonderful and I have to say, my absolute favourite is her Dartmoor Gardener’s Soap – a hard-working soap with olive oil and pumice. It is great at removing dirt and leaves your skin beautifully soft. An absolute winner! There are lots of other products to choose from and they would make gorgeous gifts

Goodness knows how she finds the time, but Sophie also runs soap-making courses… I think I might just have to take a drive across the moor to Belstone before too long!

PS. You can follow them on Facebook too.

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Vampires and wild garlic…!

Today we have a lovely guest blog from my foraging writer friend from Pembrokeshire, Julia Horton-Powdrill. I know I have written about wild garlic before, but its arrival every spring is always so wonderful that I don’t think there’s any harm revisiting it…

“I know everyone is probably already fed up with wild garlic otherwise known as ramsons (allium ursinum), but it is one of the most available and exciting ingredients around at the moment in Pembrokeshire – and Devon! To preserve wild garlic put 500g clean dry wild garlic leaves in a food processor with 500ml olive oil and blitz. Store in lidded jars in your fridge where it will last for ages (I have some from last year which I am still using). Every time I take some out I top up the jar with a little more olive oil. This garlic flavoured oil is useful on its own to drizzle a little emerald colour onto salads, soups, etc.

Remember that you can eat the whole plant, the bulbs, flowers, seeds and stem as well as the leaves and if any of you are suffering from vampire problems, wild garlic will keep them away! Of course if you eat lots of it there is the distinct possibility that it will keep everyone else away too….

Wild Garlic has been used to treat asthma and other respiratory disorders and during the Middle Ages the herb was instrumental in treating cholera and in preventing the plague. Fresh juice from the small bulbs was also an important wound dressing and they were chewed to aid breathing and to treat digestion and intestinal gas.

This altogether stinky plant has regained popularity and it is always wonderful to see the bright green leaves coming through to herald the onset of spring. As the season wears on these plants, which favour damp and woody areas, produce beautiful white star-like flowers and can often carpet a woodland floor along with the bluebell. Together they make a wonderful sight although the smell of garlic overpowers everything else!”

Here’s a lovely veggie recipe for you to try – a delicious aubergine dip. Happy foraging!

Julia

BABA GHANOUSH WITH WILD GARLIC

Ingredients

  • 1 aubergine
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons wild garlic preserved in olive oil

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC/Gas mark 6. Lightly grease a baking tray.
  2. Cut aubergine in half and place cut-side down on oiled baking sheet. Roast it for approximately 30 minutes or until soft.
  3. Cool slightly then scoop out flesh into food processor along with other ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Chill in fridge before serving.
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