veg on the cusp and trout with elderflowers

I popped into the garden after a downpour to see if the slugs had left me any strawberries. Despite a few nibbles there was still a nice bowl for us, large and juicy too after all the rain.


As usual I got distracted. By the water droplets clinging to the purple orache, which was so vibrant against the lovely crimson flowered broad beans.




Then I spotted the first yellow flower on a courgette plant and several tiny courgettes growing.


As usual my garden and kitchen thoughts are completely intertwined and I started dreaming of courgette fritters and pasta with feta, courgettes and lemon.

While the last little purple sprouting broccoli florets (I know everything is crazily late up our hill, and they’ve gone to seed really, but have still been tasty in stir fries while the bees are loving the little yellow flowers) had me planning egg-fried rice with extra veggies. Beyond the last PSB plant, more broad beans (Sutton dwarf, white flowers this time) are also attracting the bees and have lots of promising little pods. In a week or so I won’t be to resist picking them as their tender, thumb nail sized beans are so delicious raw with olive oil, shavings of parmesan and basil.

I’m loving the plentiful supply of strawberries, gooseberries and salad from the garden at the moment, everything has grown and plumped up so much after a few days rain. Otherwise so much of it is about that lovely anticipation of Summer bounty at the moment.

Purple pods on the peas are just starting to fill, runner beans are snaking uo my very rustic wigwams, blackcurrants are starting to colour and raspberries forming. So much promise of good things to come. If I forget the slugs that are targetting my cavolo nero and generally feasting like Kings at our expense.

I know that part of the attraction of gardening is that continual feeling of anticipation, but June going into July feels incredibly like this. There’s been so much busy planting out and sowing this month, now it’s more about waiting for harvest. I’ll put to the back of my mind the lush weeds for a minute and think about the lovely nepeta by our gate that’s pleasing the bees, cats and me too. And let the lavender flowers distract me from the squitch grass sneaking in between the plants.



Still want to sow a few more purple haze carrots and turnips, but otherwise I feel, perhaps a tad too optimistically, that it’s not just my veggies that are on the cusp. Could my evenings in the garden be about to move from frantic planting to a bit of pottering followed by hammock lazing? There won’t be any need for slug hunts as July evenings will obviously be dry and sunny.

While I wait for all the veggies to be ready, the hedgerows are once again providing a great taste of summer. Trout with elderflowers is a great idea from Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods that I can definitely recommend. Simply stuff a trout with elderflowers (sparingly) before baking in foil.


Very summery with new potatoes and salad.

Would like to link this post with Lizzie Moult’s   lovely Garden Share Collective, where gardeners from around the world compare veggie patches.



victoria sandwich with rhubarb and rose jam, mascarpone and lemon balm

June seems a month that’s so suited to nostalgic English pleasure somehow. Gooseberries and strawberries ready for picking, asparagus still to be scoffed, elderflower cordial to be made and lots of village fetes and bunting beckoning. So when I offered my Mum and Dad sandwiches, strawberries and cake last Sunday afternoon, it had to be a Victoria sandwich.


Sort of a classic but with a filling of my rhubarb and rose jam and sweetened mascarpone.


With so many lush herbs I couldn’t resist experimenting with some lemon balm too, so I lined the cake tin with lemon balm before pouring in the cake mixture. I wanted a subtle flavour, but maybe could’ve added a few more leaves. Would love to experiment with angelica and sweet cicely too, especially with a gooseberry or rhubarb filling.

The rose petals scattered on the cake were inspired by the jam, but I have to admit they were also an attempt to ingratiate myself with my daughter. Ruby had been to stay with Grandma and Grandad for the Saturday night and we’d had a very decadent, selfish time of freestyle gardening, treehouse building (more on that in a later post) and a lovely evening walk across the fields into Chipping Campden for Hook Norton and curry at the Noel arms.

I had that feeling of being very relaxed after just pleasing myself for a day and a night, mixed with really missing my daughter and feeling that the house was so quiet without her. Knowing that although I was going to be so pleased to see Ruby, she’d have been so nicely spoilt by Grandma and Grandad, I decided I’d lure her back with cake. My daughter is quite addicted to flowers at the moment:

DSC05124 DSC05129

So rose petals and violets scattered on top seemed a good idea.

The cake was a standard Victoria Sandwich:

175g self-raising flour

175g butter, softened

175g caster sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

The oven was pre-heated to 180C. The two 20cm sandwiches tins were greased & lined before being scattered with lemon balm leaves.


I beat the butter and sugar (well the KitchenAid did!) then added the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of flour, then the vanilla extract. I sifted the rest of the flour in then folded it in. Divide the mixture equally between the prepared cake tins then bake for about 25 minutes until the cakes are lightly golden and spring back into shape when gently pressed with a finger. Leave to cool a little before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

I then mixed a tub of mascarpone with a spoon of vanilla sugar (taste to see if sweet enough) and spread 3/4 of it over one of the cakes. The remaining sweetened mascarpone went in the fridge to be enjoyed with the now plentiful strawberries from the garden over the next few days.

A few tablespoons of rhubarb and rose jam were then spread over the cake, the top was sandwiched on top and I siifted a little icing sugar over before scattering a few petals.

DSC05148               DSC05152

Ruby made lots of “mmm” noises as she scoffed cake, it seemed to be enjoyed by everyone. But she still asked if she could have “just one more night” at Grandma and Grandad’s!

This is very simple to make and uses rhubarb and lemon balm, two very seasonal ingredients, so I’m entering my cake in Ren Behan’s lovely Simple and in Season.


As we’re coming into village fete season, surely the good old Victoria Sandwich cake is seasonal too!

gooseberry and elderflower custards and a bonus ice-cream

Our gooseberry bushes are so heavy with fruit this year that, although they’re still small, I couldn’t resist picking a bowl.


Sunshine has ripened our first strawberries of the year, savoured by Ruby with breakfast, and it’s also coaxing the elders into flowering.


You can tell it’s been warmer lately as the old station clock in our kitchen is getting slow; heat seems to affect the pendulum! I know how it feels, my evening gardening recently has been more pottering than enthusiastic digging. Lazy gardening in fact. And on the sunnier days my cooking follows a similar pattern.

Picking a few gooseberries and elderflower heads in the hazy sunshine is lovely and even I can manage a little slow stirring of custard. The other bonus of this pudding is that if you like, you can make several treat puds from one little bit of effort.

I cooked some gooseberries with elderflowers, made custard and served 1/3 of it in little bowls after dinner that evening.


Another 1/3 of the custard was kept in the fridge and the following day we had a spoon of greek yoghurt, a spoon of cold custard and a spoon of rhubarb and rose jampote (the ‘jampote’ is a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall inspired jam-like compote) using a batch of my jam here with less sugar and reduced cooking. Cooked like this, the jam needs storing in the fridge, doesn’t keep as long but is soon scoffed anyway. And the remaining cooked gooseberries were mashed roughly with a fork and mixed with the leftover custard, then frozen for gooseberry and elderflower ice-cream.


 For the gooseberries and elderflower:

600g gooseberries, topped and tailed

100g caster sugar

A few elderflower heads

Put the gooseberries in a saucepan with a tablespoon of water and the sugar. Tie the elderflowers in a piece of muslin and add to the pan. If they’re not flowering by you yet, you can add a dash of elderflower cordial instead. Simmer for 5-10 mins, trying not to overcook as they’re lovely if you preserve their shape. Remove the elderflowers and chill the gooseberries.

For the custard:

350 ml double cream

350 ml whole milk

1 vanilla pod, split open lengthways ( a jar of vanilla sugar is handy to have in the kitchen for when you don’t happen to have vanilla pods)

6 large egg yolks (the egg whites are handy frozen for meringues another time)

140g caster sugar

1 heaped teaspoon cornflour

Put the cream, milk and vanilla pod in a saucepan and heat gently, then set aside to infuse. Beat together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a bowl. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and pour the hot creamy milk onto the egg mixture, whisking as you pour. Pour into a clean pan and heat gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens. Don’t overcook or let it boil, it’s creamy custard you’re after not scrambled egg. I’ve learnt from disappointing experience that this is a task not suited to multi-tasking, and now try my best to have music playing and just enjoy the relaxed stirring.

When thickened, leave the custard to cool and keep in the fridge. Or if the temperature of our very English summer drops, it’s lovely warm with the gooseberries. Otherwise, a little chilled bowl of gooseberries and elderflower with custard is a great pud for a summer evening that can be prepared beforehand. It seems a good way of persuading 5 year olds that gooseberries are something yummy and summery rather than green and ghastly too:


If you mix some of the custard and gooseberries and freeze for ice-cream, either add to an ice-cream maker before putting in the freezer or stir when you remember as it freezes to prevent crystals forming. Gooseberry and elderflower ice-cream is great with the Little Leon biscuits I made here too.

And those creamy umbels of elderflowers are also reminding me that I must remember to buy citric acid before the local chemist runs out, ready for replenishing the elderflower cordial supplies. I’m on my last bottle from last year (I freeze lots in plastic bottles so it lasts longer) and so pleased. It’s the first year I’ve made enough to last until the hedgerows are frothy with cordial potential once more!


ginger pig & beetroot tops with anchovies – a book review

It seems ironic that one of the first things I cooked from this very meat biased cookbook was beetroot tops with anchovies. And perhaps odd that someone who was a non-meat eater for 30 years is reviewing The Ginger Pig Farmhouse Cookbook, which has some excellent recipes for home-made cooking chorizo, pancetta and making your own pastrami.

Ginger Pig Book

Yet if you read this lovely book, which is packed full of gutsy, full-flavoured dishes from the farmhouse kitchen table (making use of meat from well-reared, naturally fed animals) and realise that I was a fish-eating sort of vegetarian who reared pigs last year, it starts to make sense. Well, in my mind anyway!

Tim Wilson, owner of The Ginger Pig chain of butchers (“There is no great secret to what we do: we simply raise the best animals in the happiest of circumstances, on the finest stretch of the Yorkshire Moors we could find.”) co-wrote this book with Fran Warde, cook and best-selling food writer. Fran states:

“As a food writer it is my passion to search out provenance ingredients. When it comes to meat this means it must have been looked after well, naturally fed, considerately slaughtered, dry aged and purchased from a reputable butcher in order for me to truly enjoy my work in the kitchen.”

There are some interesting recipes for cured meats, preserves, pies, pates and terrines, casseroles and stews, and a great personal story behind The Ginger Pig too. As an antique-dealing property renovator in the 1990s, Tim Wilson bought an eighteenth century farmhouse, with a view to doing it up and selling on as an idyllic country home. But he soon found the pond without ducks splashing about, the pigless sties and the empty fields a bit lifeless.

To cheer himself up he installed a few pigs; before he knew it Tim was breeding Tamworths and experimenting with curing and charcuterie. The son of an antiques dealer (but grandson of a butcher and a grocer) took on a monthly stall at Borough market and found that his tasty pork products from pigs that had led a happy life sold out. He ended up buying a bigger farm in Yorkshire with grazing rights across beautiful moorland, farming rare-breed cattle, sheep and pigs and becoming a popular part of the London food scene. There are currently five Ginger Pig shops. Chutneys, pickles and preserves are still made for them using fruits and vegetables from the farmhouse garden and from locally sourced produce.

As someone who has been converted to eating meat by having pigs to clear the back garden, I’m enthusiastic about the many Ginger Pig recipes that make the most of the animals who have added life and vibrancy to the farm – whether that’s from making Risotto Milanese from home-made chicken stock, Spent hen or yard cockerel casserole or Lardo from pork back fat.

Some of my friends think it’s bizarre that keeping pigs led me to eating meat again. Yet I’d put the effort into feeding them organically, filling up their water when they turned it over and generally getting stuck in mud while looking after them. Later I prepared meat for the freezer, made chorizo, liver pate and air-dried ham, salted some pork for 5 days for ‘pancetta’ and even changed my mind about the health benefits of home-produced lard while rendering fat on the wood-burner.

Not only did I want to sample the results of my work, I knew that these pigs had lived a good life – they had plenty of space, grew slowly over a long period of time, had trees to rub against and natural food. If I was going to eat any meat, this was the sort I felt comfortable with. And as my 5 year old daughter says, “They’re tasty pigs!”

I still feel that I haven’t quite perfected home-brined and cooked ham though and there are some interesting recipes to try here.

Roast Glazed Ham

The slow-cooked Chinese spiced belly of pork and pulled spicy pork look fabulous too.

Now I enjoy the sort of balance of meat, fish and vegetarian meals that Trine Hahnemann recommends in her Nordic diet and that I feel is good both for my family and our environment. Roasting a traditional breed of chicken that has been reared slowly can seem expensive but provide so many tasty meals if supplemented with lots of home-grown/local veg. And rearing pigs shocked me initially in how much it cost (the price of feed has risen so much) but then there is so much flavour from slivers of the air-dried ham or cubes of pancetta from our Berkshire pigs that it goes a long way in so many meals. We wouldn’t waste a morsel of it, which is surely as it should be.

If you are planning on buying or rearing the best meat (often welfare for the animals happily goes hand in hand with flavour) you can afford but want to be frugal in not wasting any food, the Ginger Pig cookbook is good for inspiration. There are recipes for making stock from bones and classic British recipes for broths and pies that our grandmothers would be proud of.

Steak and Kidney Pie

There are also some great recipes for pates, terrines, dry curing and preserves such as mustard fruits that French, Italian and Spanish grandmothers would be proud of. While the recipes for bread salad, preserves, making use of fruit from the garden in old-fashioned puds and the ‘beetroot tops with anchovies’ make sure that nothing is wasted. Whether it’s leftover bread, fruit gluts or even parts of vegetables that often go straight or morsels of meat from a roast. There’s an interesting small chapter on ‘Food from the Wild’ too.

I have to admit that ‘A week in the farm kitchen’ describes a week of eating that is far too full of meat, butter and animal fat for my liking with roast beef, roast chicken and a meaty casserole all included in the menu. But then as an ex-vegetarian, eating a few pulse/veggie based meals a week comes easily to me. And I’m not labouring on a working farm all week.

My only other reservation would be that although this book gives great detailed instructions for curing hams and making confits, some of the recipes I’ve tried take for granted that the reader is aware of certain techniques. The walnut and salted caramel tart, for example, is delicious but does seem to assume that you know how to caramelize sugar. It doesn’t give precise instructions for the inexperienced caramelizer. This could just be my excuse as my first attempt ending up a tad on the crunchy side (it was a lovely ice-cream topping though!)

If you’re inexperienced in talking to a butcher however about different cuts of meat, the section on meat cuts at the end is excellent. Many of the cuts mentioned won’t be seen neatly packaged in the supermarket, but are a great, affordable way of eating good meat that has been reared well.

Which brings me to my beetroot tops with anchovies – at last!  The beets that have been providing me with salad leaves while this year’s salad crops grow, are finally ready to pull up. The last leaves went into this dish, along with leftover bread made into crumbs, anchovies and chilli.

Beet Leaves DSC05057-800px

It’s equally tasty with seared tuna (line caught, sliced into thick chunks) and seared skirt steak. The ‘British beef cuts’ section informs that skirt is also known as ‘thin flank’ or ‘Bavette’ and “either needs long, slow cooking or marinating and flash cooking and slicing into thin, tasty ribbons with a good texture.” Our skirt steak came from a local smallholder who I know well; they’re not soil association registered but feed their livestock organically and rear them on organic principles. Marinated in olive oil having been bashed to tenderness with a rolling pin, the steak offers great taste and is very affordable for well-reared meat. Great served on the spicy, wilted beet leaves.

I felt that this meal fitted in with Tim Wilson’s principles:

“Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than rearing the best animals on one of the finest stretches of North Yorkshire, and using each and every ingredient to its full potential. I hope this book will help you to buy wisely, learn some new skills and produce fantastic dishes to add to your repertoire.”

Having tried the ‘Excellent roast chicken’ with plenty of garlic and white wine adding flavour to this succulent chicken (it’s partly cooked in a foil tent) it will definitely be added to my repertoire.  I’m looking forward to trying out more of the recipes from this book, including the gooseberry meringue pie, glazed ham and Wensleydale and onion tart.

wensleydale and onion tart

Will report more over the next few months on my trials – and errors!

With many thanks to Octopus Publishing Group for my review copy of The Ginger Pig Farmhouse Cookbook by Tim Wilson & Fran Warde.

The lovely photos of the steak and kidney pie, glazed ham and wensleydale tart are from the book, photography by Kristin Perers.

torta verde with jack by the hedge

I’ve been taking a tip from resourceful Italians again, adding foraged greens to the first meagre pickings from the garden and adding them to ricotta and parmesan for a tasty pie.


I have to admit that I didn’t actually venture far from the garden in ‘foraging’ for this pie though. While gardening I keep noticing Jack-by-the-hedge springing out everywhere. It obviously says a lot about my shoddy weeding that it’s more a case of Jack-by-the-compost heap, Jack-by-the-ox-eye-daisies and, more annoyingly, Jack-by-the-raspberries.


With so many ‘weeds’ about, I’ve decided the best approach is to eat them. No point fretting about all those pesky weeds, best to just bake a pie with them. So I set to enthusiastically picking the top leaves of some of the Jack-by-the-hedge, adding them to the ever-trusty chard, cavolo nero, leaves of the perpetual spinach that is fast going to seed, rocket, a few tender nettles (they’re mainly too big now though) and some of the beet tops that soon need pulling up. Soon I had quite a pile of healthy greens in the kitchen.


Jack-by-the-hedge is also known as poor man’s mustard, hedge garlic and wild mustard and has a high Vitamin A & C content. The leaves, white flowers and seed pods are all edible but I use mainly the upper leaves. They have a bitter taste, but like kale, nettles and rocket are great with parmesan and ricotta in pasta sauces, pesto and pie fillings.


I made a jar of pesto, mainly with the Jack-by-the-hedge and the rocket, with pumpkin seeds, olive oil and parmesan, using the same sort of quantities as in wild garlic pesto or the kale pesto I made here.

I love this sort of green mixture in a wild greens filo pastry pie too, but maybe a week including children’s parties and a fair bit of indulgent eating had me craving the healthy option of a Torta Verde, where the dough/pastry base is made from olive oil and flour. I wrote about Torta Verde here for Smallholder magazine, when describing how we can learn a lot from Ligurians in foraging our way out of the hungry gap. This version was crammed full of greens, yet as usual when ricotta and parmesan are involved, scoffed happily by my 5 year old. Despite still viewing greens with suspicion in lots of dishes, Ruby loves pesto too, hence my passion for making it with whatever greens are seasonal.

Leftovers are proving very handy for lunches, slices transport easily and so are great for picnics. So I’d like to enter it in the lovely seasonal Four Seasons Food Challenge hosted by Anneli of Delicieux and Louisa of Chez Foti.


And as this makes use of very seasonal weeds, would love to enter it for Ren Behan’s June Simple and in Season.



Recipe for Torta Verde

Pastry/dough base:

200g strong white bread flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch salt

80 ml warm water

For the filling::

400g of greens (any mixture of jack-by-the-hedge, nettles, chard, cavolo nero, spinach can be used)

100g ricotta cheese

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

8 tablespoons grated parmesan (or

similar hard English cheese)

To make pastry, sift flour into large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the oil and salt and mix well, adding warm water a little at a time to form a soft, not sticky dough. Wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge while you make the filling.

Wash the greens well and barely cook in the water left clinging to them until they wilt. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop finely (I find this easy to do with scissors) then add to ricotta, mix with egg and nutmeg. Mix in half of the parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste.


Roll the pastry out to fill a well-greased deep cake tin or pie dish, fill the middle with green/ricotta filling and crimp around the edges – I do this very clumsily, but then this is a very rustic pie. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 40 mins in an oven preheated to 180 C.


This was scoffed happily by all of us. Even if Guy now eyes me suspiciously when he sees me with a bucket of weeds on an evening. Not realising I’m heading for the compost heap, he wonders if I’m harvesting dinner.

Obviously, if you’re using wild greens for this pie, make sure you have a good book for identification or are with an experienced forager. You can of course fill Torta Verde with completely home-grown cultivated greens too.

june in my kitchen

in my kitchen this June…

DSC04973 DSC04949DSC04923

…there are lots of flowers. Chocolate mousse decorated with violets, flowers from my lovely Mum brightening up the kitchen and jam jars filled with random selections.  ‘Flower competitions’ which seem to be based on who can cram the most flowers into an old jar, appear to be competing with perfume making for pole position in my daughter’s world. And yes, these do include Jack-by-the-hedge and yellow flowers from the purple sprouting broccoli that is sadly finally going to seed. I’m very relaxed about this sort of flower picking but I have been trying to persuade Ruby and friends to keep her scissors away from my purple sensation alliums.


in my kitchen…


….the view is slowly changing. From one side the field of cow parsley is still frothy, the gooseberries are growing fast and the lovage is becoming gigantic behind the purple alliums. To the back, it looks as if a group of inept campers have attempted to set up a very rustic tepee site. This is actually due to my attempts to make stick wigwams for my beans and sweet peas to climb up. The new beds are made and planted and I’m hoping runner beans will make a sort of tunnel for children to run through. I’ve realised already though, that putting bean teepees in the middle of what still looks like bare earth (it is sown with seeds, honestly) is an invitation to toddlers to set up camp amongst my purple beans and emerging calendula. Oh well…

in my kitchen….



….I’m still cooking the last of May’s gluts – rhubarb, chard and asparagus are featuring lots – while willing the broad beans and gooseberries to hurry up. Even the last spindly bits of PSB are still tasty, enjoyed in frittatas with lots of parmesan, with pasta, in frittatas and in thai style noodles with venison. I still can’t believe my luck that the air-dried ham actually worked and it’s proving very tasty shaved onto asparagus risotto, in salads and adding flavour to frittatas.

in my kitchen….


….I’m preparing for very simple outdoor food with a glorious sunny weekend ahead (fingers crossed!). I made these very healthy biscuits to sandwich ice-cream between from the Little Leons Brownies, Bars & Muffins book and think they should provide a perfect easy desert after a BBQ.  They’re made with almonds, hemp seeds, dates, vanilla seeds and a pinch of sea salt, all pulverised in a food processor. I found them tricky to handle when rolling out and cutting, crumbly after baking but absolutely delicious – obviously I had to test one!

Having read Mad Dog’s post about tapas, I can’t get salted caramel choc-ices out of my head. To satisfy my craving for that sweet, salty, crunchy taste and texture with ice-cream I’m going to make my very easy Toffee Sauce:

180g dark brown sugar

120g butter

120ml double cream

Simply heat in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves then pour warm over fruit and ice-cream for an easy treat pud. The quantities of butter, sugar and cream sound very unhealthy I know, but this sauce goes a long way – either to feed a lot of people or leftovers keep well in the fridge.

This weekend I’m forgetting the fruit and planning to sandwich together vanilla ice-cream between the very virtuous Little Leon biscuits. These healthy biscuits will, in my mind, balance out the decadence of pouring over the ice-cream some of this toffee sauce and adding chopped salted roast almonds.

In the Little Leon book, after the recipe for an ice-cream sandwich, we’re instructed to “Hand to small child. Be prepared to load washing machine.” I would like to add that this is a pudding best eaten outside. But I’m feeling greedy just thinking about that salty, sweet, creamy combination; how much is handed over to the small children is debatable.

I’d like to join other bloggers from around the world in adding this to Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’s monthly In My Kitchen gathering.