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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Whisky and Orange Marmalade

I am sure this really ought to be orange and whisky marmalade but it sounded so much more exciting this way round! We have had a slight dilemma recently as my late stepfather was too gentle and polite to tell us that he had virtually stopped drinking whisky and so, every time he was given yet another bottle by the children or grandchildren, he would hide it away in a cupboard! So we recently discovered eight bottles of Johnny Walker in the cupboard in their bedroom!

Now Richard is manfully trying to help and not waste it (yeah, right,Richard!) but as we are both trying to diet and improve our health, it will be a very long time before we wade through that many bottles. So I started looking around for recipes that would incorporate the whisky without being foolish with it. I found this one on the BBC Good Food site so a big ‘thank you’ to them! This marmalade is delicious and, of course, you could use different alcohol – Cointreau sounds good. I also wondered about swapping the fruit and perhaps trying Satsumas?

Ingredients
This makes about 10 one pound jars so you could halve the amounts

  • 1.3kg Seville oranges
  • 2 lemons, juice only
  • 2 ¼ kg granulated or preserving sugar
  • 450g dark muscovado sugar
  • 150ml whisky

Method
1. Place the whole oranges and lemon juice in a large preserving pan and cover with 2 litres (4 pints) water. If this is not enough to cover the fruit, put it in a smaller pan. If necessary, weight the oranges with a heat-proof plate to keep them under the water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer very gently for about 2 hours, or until the peel can be pierced easily with a fork.

2. Warm half of the white and dark sugar in a very low oven. Pour off the cooking water from the oranges into a jug and tip the oranges into a bowl. Return the cooking liquid to the pan. Leave the oranges to cool until they are easy to handle, then cut them in half. Scoop out all the pips and pith and add these to reserved orange liquid in the pan. Bring to the boil for 6 minutes then strain this liquid through a sieve into a bowl, pressing the pulp through with a wooden spoon; the result is high in pectin, which helps to ensure the marmalade has a good set.

3. Pour half this liquid into a preserving pan. Cut the peel into chunky shreds, using a sharp knife. Add half the peel to the liquid in the preserving pan with the warm white and dark muscovado sugars. Stir over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and bubble rapidly for 15-25 minutes until setting point is reached. Stir in half the whisky.

4. Take the pan off the heat and skim any scum from the surface. (To dissolve any excess scum, drop a small knob of butter on the surface, and gently stir.) Leave the marmalade to stand in the pan for 20 minutes to cool a little and to allow the peel to settle, then pot in sterilised jars, seal and label. Repeat for the remaining batch.

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Vegetable garden update!

Top to bottom: New little seedlings, fabulous kale, reliable rosemary and beautiful bay!I was so inspired by the few veggies we grew last year that I decided we would expand production a little this season. We have invested in some plastic cloches – not the fabulous glass Victorian bells I would have liked, but hey this veg growing lark has to have a budget! About a week ago we planted out the little raised beds under the cloches and as you can just see from the photo – baby plants are just appearing. So far we have radishes (a real favourite of mine), rocket, assorted salad leaves and exotic salad leaves.

We are bravely attempting to dig a large potato and carrot bed further down the garden as again these are veggies we eat often. Regarding less popular greens in this household(!) the kale I have just picked looks amazing in this photo doesn’t it? Well I thoroughly enjoyed it – lightly steamed and very yummy. Richard however ate it dutifully and tried to smile when I said let’s plant that again this year … I think we might skip that one! I failed somewhat with the cauliflowers and sprouting broccoli too so will probably skip brassicas altogether for now.

The other things I like growing in abundance are herbs. Hurray for all year round rosemary (due for a haircut to be used with Easter Sunday’s lamb) and my lovely little bay trees. The strange black wires you can see within the bay foliage are because I have solar powered twinkling lights wound through all the bay trees on the patio and very pretty they look too. My mint is sprouting nicely, as is the thyme and I noticed this morning my alpine strawberries (Grace’s favourite in the garden) are looking very happy too.

As you can see from my little one metre square raised beds on the patio… you don’t need tons of space to grow at least something. My next project is to sort out some really nice tomatoes… watch this space!

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The Mystery of Mrs Beeton…

I was having a sort through my many (far too many!) cookery books last weekend and I came across a copy of ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ first published back in1861. The name Mrs Beeton is still widely known and referred to over 150 years later. The book is still in print today.

But what do most people know about Mrs Beeton? Until I read a recent biography of her by Kathryn Hughes, I’d imagined Mrs Beeton was an elderly Victorian lady who recorded recipes and household tips gleaned through decades of running a thoroughly organised family home. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Born Isabella Mayson, she was an English journalist and editor who married Samuel Beeton, an ambitious publisher and magazine editor. In 1857, less than a year after their wedding, Isabella began writing for one of her husband’s publications, ‘The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’. She translated French fiction and wrote the cookery column, though all the recipes were actually plagiarised from other works or sent in by the magazine’s readers!

In 1859, the Beetons launched a series of monthly supplements to ‘The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine’. These 24 instalments were published in one volume as ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management’ in October 1861. It sold 60,000 copies in the first year alone and was one of the major publishing events of the nineteenth century. Of the 1112 pages, over 900 contained recipes. The remainder provided advice on fashion, childcare, animal husbandry, poisons, the management of servants, science, religion, first aid and the importance in the use of local and seasonal produce.

Isabella was working on an abridged version of her book, which was to be titled ‘The Dictionary of Every-Day Cookery’, when she died of puerperal fever in February 1865 at the age of just 28. As well as producing an incredible amount of published works, in her tragically short life, she gave birth to four children, two of whom died in infancy, and had several miscarriages.

Her name is firmly linked with knowledge and authority on Victorian cooking and home management, and the Oxford English Dictionary states that by 1891 the term ‘Mrs Beeton’ had become a generic name for a domestic authority. She is also considered a strong influence in the shaping of a middle-class identity of the Victorian era. What an amazing legacy for a woman who died so young.

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