Milking it…

Lovely local milk in glass bottles in the village shop!

Sometimes, you just have to give a wry smile and resist saying anything… this was my reaction when I overheard some earnest 20-somethings discussing the environmental benefits of buying milk in a glass bottle from our local shop and what a brilliant development this was. It IS an excellent development and the aim of reducing plastic use is long overdue… but it’s hardly new!

As a child, I used to listen out for the hum of the milk float – a battery-driven vehicle (gosh, how very ‘green’!) and the clink of our pints of milk being delivered to the porch. There was always the rush to get to the bottles before the blue tits had pecked through the lids and got at the cream on the top! Amazingly… we even used to recycle back in the dark ages of the 1950s too! Every housewife would wash out her ‘empties’ and put them back on the step for them to be replaced with new bottles of fresh milk the next day.

We collected the silver foil caps and recycled them (care of Blue Peter appeals) and the trusty milkman provided an excellent neighbourhood watch facility, spotting when anything was amiss if a householder didn’t take in their milk. He also sold eggs, bread and tinned goods, amongst other things, and must have been an absolute lifeline for elderly customers. Fancy that – home grocery deliveries! Now, where have I seen that recently?

It is lovely to see milk in bottles back in my local shop although the realisation that the bottles were one litre rather than one pint took me a moment – I couldn’t understand why they seemed so large! The milk is from a local dairy so there’s no problem with ‘food miles’ and the cows that produced the milk would have been grazing in fields quite nearby. Who knows where the milk in our supermarkets comes from? And it seems sometimes we can’t even believe the cheery information on the label as some supermarket ‘farms’ are completely fictitious.

It sometimes seems to me that we rush headlong into new ideas and don’t think about the possible side effects, as with the dominance of the supermarkets and the loss of milk rounds and many of our high street shops. But most developments are, of course, huge improvements and we must be open to change. However, I for one will be very pleased if the milkman and his humming milk float make a return to our streets, perhaps other much-missed aspects of earlier decades will come back too…

 

 

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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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Here’s to a blooming good summer of flowers!

I’m sitting here writing this blog with glorious sunshine streaming through my workroom window – at last, Spring really does seem to have arrived! I strolled around the garden earlier and picked all the daffodils with broken stems, something I often do as the lovely blooms will only spoil if left flopped on the grass and, as they have already fallen it makes me feel less guilty for picking them! I always think a bunch of daffs is like a little ray of sunshine brought indoors, they cheer up my desk and their subtle fragrance is lovely.

I was thinking about cut flowers when scrolling through Sarah Raven’s glorious website during a quiet moment over Easter. Like so many gardening websites, they make life easy for us by grouping plants by colour, or growing conditions, ideal aspect and so on. Sarah seems to be particularly good on flowers for cutting and she does the loveliest selection of seeds for cut flowers. The current fashion for much more relaxed and wildlife inspired arrangements – bringing the outdoors indoors, so to speak – is just gorgeous and these seed collections are ideal for producing this look.

I also came across a company called ‘Meadow in my Garden’ who have lovely meadow seed mixes that will produce flowers all summer long. Growing from seed is the cheapest way to grow your flowers and will give you a wide choice of blooms – and also a clear conscience, as you won’t be contributing to air or road miles by buying your flowers from a shop.

You don’t need a great deal of space to grow flowers for cutting, as little as a metre square will do, although a bit more would be good. Find somewhere sunny, part of a neglected flowerbed or perhaps a tatty area of lawn that you’d love to see the back of. If you have raised beds, you don’t only have to grow veg in them – try flowers as well! When you sow seeds, there are two choices – neat rows or patches. Rows will give you better quality flowers on longer stems, whereas a patch looks less regimented and you don’t get obvious gaps when you cut your blooms.

For most of these seed mixes, you scatter them in a prepared bed and cover with a little more spoil, water… and wait! Provided your seeds aren’t old or out of date, you really can’t go wrong. One of my most favourite cutting flowers, sweet peas, can be sown direct, but I find I get the best results if I sow them in pots and then plant out. This year’s batch is already shooting and I’m getting excited just thinking about their heavenly scent!

 

 

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This year’s food fashion…

OK, I confess I am no great fashionista, but when it comes to having ‘fashionable’ colours for our food, I do start to wonder if we haven’t all gone a little too far… The colour for 2018 is, apparently purple (there’s even a precise Pantone colour specified). This has also transferred to our food, and purple veg is all the rage. Hmmm.

Waitrose’s head of fresh produce is quoted as saying: “Social media has changed our relationship with food – we’re sharing pictures of our dishes more than ever before and as a result, our shoppers are looking to add vibrancy to their plate. Purple food does just that.”

Well, I suppose it makes a fun news story, but I’d prefer to look at the nutritional benefits of purple veg rather than how it looks in a tweet! In fact, there is more to purple than the vibrant colour and purple foods are said to be full of natural health benefits with densely packed nutrients and antioxidants. The benefits of antioxidants have long been discussed and are known to fight disease, help keep you looking younger, reduce inflammation and are generally good for you.

Essentially, the darker the colour of a food, the higher the content of antioxidants and nutrients will be. Then, all we have to do is convince our brains that this is the case! I recently bought some purple potatoes (they were on special offer!) and they really were a deep purple colour. While I ate them, my brain kept saying ‘this doesn’t taste right’ because I was somehow expecting the distinct taste of beetroot! As potatoes go, they were fine, but I won’t be rushing back for more.

So if we want to try purple veg, what is there to try? Aubergines and purple sprouting broccoli are ones we are probably all familiar with, but what else?

Purple Sweet Potatoes
While the standard sweet potato is packed with health benefits of its own, the purple sweet potato is even better for us. Also known as Okinawan potatoes, these brightly coloured spuds taste just like their orange cousins but are also filled with anthocyanins, which aid digestion and have anti-inflammatory properties.

Acai Berries
Acai Berries have become all the rage in recent years, and now they look set to get even bigger. It is claimed that they are good for heart health and provide cardio-protective benefits to our cells, and lower the cholesterol levels in the blood stream.

Purple Asparagus
Originally from Albenga, Italy, the purple asparagus is rich in vitamin B, which improves, skin, hair and nails. It’s also meant to be good for the immune system, as it’s rich in vitamins A, C and K.

Black Rice
Once described as the ‘forbidden rice’ due to the fact it was produced on a much smaller scale than brown or white grains, black rice has a whole host of health benefits. It’s high in iron and vitamin E, which has been known to fight ageing and combat heart issues, and it has a mild, nutty flavour.

And there you have it. Sadly, none of these options is cheap, so I may well let fashion pass me by (again!) and stick to my greens. In my eyes, green is good.

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Burns’ Night cometh… the mystery of the haggis!

While wandering down an aisle in the supermarket last week, my mind on other things, I came to a sudden halt and I found myself staring at some alien looking things in the meat department. After the initial shock, I realised I had come across a pile of haggis, all ready for Burns’ Night on 25th January.

In my younger days, the prospect of a Burns’ Night Supper was quite fun as it usually involved plenty of energetic Scottish dancing and a jolly evening perfect for livening up a cold and grey January. But haggis? It has never been high on my list of likes. Oh, be honest Joanna, it’s high on your list of dislikes! But the whole Burns’ Night Supper always sounds so wonderfully wild and Scottish that it appeals to the romantic in me. Served alongside the haggis you have the marvellously named ‘rumblethumps’ (potato, cabbage and onion) or ‘neeps and tatties’ (swede and potatoes), followed by the magical sounding ‘Clootie dumpling’ (a suet and fruit pudding). If all that wasn’t enough to fill you up and keep you warm through a freezing Scottish night, you can always add a few drams of whisky!

As decreed in Burns’ great poem, the haggis is slit with a dagger!

So what is haggis? It is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach although nowadays, an artificial casing is often used. A cheap dish designed to waste nothing and use up scraps and offal; it isn’t something many people would choose today as they try to eat less meat. But if you want to enjoy the whole Burns’ Night atmosphere there are lots of vegetarian haggis (haggi?) on sale and plenty of recipes online if you want to make your own.

Haggis is Scotland’s national dish, thanks to Scots poet Robert Burns’ poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ of 1787, a Scottish dish through and through, you would think. But wait! The name ‘hagws’ or ‘hagese’ was first recorded in England in 1430! And it gets worse…

There’s evidence to suggest that the ancient Romans were the first known to have made products of the haggis type. Even earlier, a kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer’s Odyssey. The well-known chef, the late Clarissa Dickson Wright, said that haggis “came to Scotland in a longship” (from Scandinavia) even before Scotland was a single nation. So that’s another ‘tradition’ shattered!

We looked for the reclusive wild haggis but couldn’t find any photos, so here’s a gorgeous Highland cow instead!

Even though there may be evidence that the Scots didn’t invent haggis after all… they have come up with an alternative history that I think sounds perfectly reasonable. The wild haggis is a small Scottish animal, a smaller hairier version of a sheep. According to some sources, the wild haggis’s left and right legs are of different lengths, allowing it to run quickly around the steep mountains and hillsides that make up its natural habitat but only in one direction. It is further claimed that there are two varieties of haggis, one with longer left legs and the other with longer right legs. The former variety can run clockwise around a mountain (as seen from above) while the latter can run anticlockwise. The two varieties live happily alongside each other but are unable to interbreed in the wild because, in order for the male of one variety to mate with a female of the other, he must turn to face in the same direction as his intended mate, causing him to lose his balance and fall over!

PS. According to one poll, 33% of American visitors to Scotland believed haggis to be an animal

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