Salt of the earth

There’s been a lot of publicity over the past few years about cutting down salt intake as it is ‘bad for you’, especially with regard to blood pressure… but let’s not get too panicky about it. Salt is actually absolutely vital for our bodies to function.

Salt – whether it’s the stuff they spread on the road in winter, common table salt or an exotic pink one from the Himalayas – has the same chemical composition, an equal amount of sodium and chloride. Salt is essential for life and, as the body can’t produce it itself, we have to add it to our diet in some way. Without it, our bodies become chemically unbalanced, our muscles and nervous system cease to function and eventually we will die.

If you think about it, all our body fluids are salty – blood, sweat, tears and saliva. The general consensus among experts is that a healthy adult should aim towards a daily intake of five or six grams of salt to maintain a good balance. It seems the biggest problem with controlling our salt intake is through eating convenience foods as these often contain astonishing amounts of salt – and that’s in both savoury and sweet dishes! If you prepare most of your meals fresh and from scratch, you can govern how much salt you do, or don’t, add and your intake is probably absolutely fine.

Salt is all around us. Underground and on the earth’s surface in the dried up residues of ancient seas. Some salt has even arrived from outer space in meteors. But our biggest source of salt is in our seas and oceans. With an average of 26 million tonnes per cubic kilometre, seawater offers a seemingly inexhaustible supply that, if extracted, would cover the world’s total land mass to a depth of 35 metres.

Apart from its essential health benefits, salt is also a fantastic flavour enhancer. It is one of the key five tastes that we experience on our tongues, the others being sweet, sour, bitter and umami. It can reduce bitterness and enhance sweetness – salt just makes things taste better!

And what an amazingly useful thing it is too. Think how we use it as a preservative (and have done for thousands of years), it improves texture and colour and is an abrasive too. It’s soothing – we take salt baths and my Mother used to make me gargle with it as a child if I had a sore throat and if you spill any, do remember to chuck a pinch over your left shoulder and it will ward off evil spirits too!

Salty facts:

  • Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt – which is where the word ‘salary’ comes from
  • Every cell in the body contains salt – an adult contains about 250g
  • Salt is used to remove traces of water from aviation fuel after it is purified
  • Salt was used to preserve Egyptian mummies
  • Salt removes red wine stains.
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Putting your garden to bed…

scabious

Scabious, always so vibrant.

Gardening is such a wonderful thing! It’s good for you physically and mentally and you get lovely flowers of fruit and veg as a reward for all your effort. I must say I am really enjoying the new hour-long editions of Gardener’s World. I did wonder if an hour might drag but it is a tranquil, yet inspirational, hour on a Friday evening – just lovely!

It is easy to think that come the Autumn the garden just goes to sleep until Spring but that’s not the case. Your garden needs help ‘putting to bed’ in all sorts of ways. Put in the work now, and it will pay dividends in the Spring.

It’s always good to be thinking about colour in the garden next year, planning ahead and sowing now will save you a lot of money too. Sow hardy annuals, such as cerinthes, scabiosa and cornflowers, for flowers early next summer. You can also plant wallflowers, pansies, forget-me-nots and other gorgeous spring bedding in pots and borders. And, to keep interest in your garden now, how about planting up containers for autumn colour, using cyclamen, heathers, heucheras and other colourful bedding plants?

One of the best ways to save money and feel chuffed by your own efforts is to collect ripe seeds from your favourite flowers and store in labelled envelopes, ready to sow in spring. I can confirm it is a very good feeling to see the seeds start to germinate.

As you know, I have really been getting into growing veg this year and I want to try and keep greens growing in my raised beds so I am going to sow some hardy greens such as kale, lamb’s lettuce and mustard, for delicious winter pickings.

Rather than splashing out on supermarket-grown herbs, why not pot up herbs, such as chives and parsley, and place on a sunny windowsill to use during winter?

If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse you could plant prepared hyacinth bulbs in pots or hyacinth glasses, for fragrant indoor flowers at Christmas – lovely! You could also plant dwarf spring bulbs in pots, including irises, crocuses and scilla, for early flowers. Remember to keep your eye out for pests and diseases in the greenhouse, and tackle any you find immediately.

Finally – garden maintenance! I know it sounds dull, but these routine jobs can really make a difference. If you have a pond, put netting across to stop autumn leaves falling in and rotting. And, finally,­ and this one is very important – clean out water butts and check downpipes in preparation for autumn rains and leaves. There’s nothing worse than looking out at the pouring rain and seeing your gutters overflowing and knowing that someone (ideally Richard!) will have to go outside and clear the blockage!!

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A different twist on a quiche

I know ‘Real men don’t eat quiche’ is a well known saying, but I found several men really enjoyed this quiche over the weekend. Technically, I made it for me as it is Slimming World friendly, but with the addition of some Charlotte potatoes from the garden and a lovely salad – tomatoes, radishes, lettuce also from the garden – everyone seemed to really enjoy it. As autumn draws in, I shall miss the warm weather and the free salads sitting outside just waiting to be picked!

The joy of this recipe is that it is endlessly flexible – have a look in the fridge and see what you have left – onions work well, courgettes, spring onions, bacon, prawns, the list goes on and on!

crustlessquicheCrustless quiche – serves 4-6

  • 150g chopped mushrooms
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2/3 tomatoes
  • 3 thick slices of ham
  • Small tin of sweet corn drained
  • 100 ml milk
  • 3+ tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
  • Chives or parsley and salt/pepper
  1. Stir fry the mushrooms in a non-stick pan – use a tiny amount of oil or butter if you like. The reason for cooking these first is to get rid of the grey liquid that can seep out of mushrooms while they cook – so fry them until they are well cooked and then drain thoroughly.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the chopped ham, mushrooms, corn, seasonings and herbs. Once mixed turn into a fluted flan dish as pictured or a cake tin or skillet or whatever cooking pan you want. Slice the tomatoes fairly thinly and arrange on the top of the quiche in a circle
  3. Now mix the eggs well with the milk and cheese. Pour over the other ingredients.
  4. Put into a medium hot oven about 200°C and cook for 25 minutes.

This can be served hot or cold depending on your preference.

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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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