vintage plates & decorating with blackberries

I’ve recently contributed a guest post to Juniper & Rose, Vanessa Campbell’s lovely blog. Vanessa runs cookery courses on cooking and eating delicious, sustainable and ethical food and her blog includes gorgeous images that encapsulate beautifully many simple pleasures from flowers picked straight from the garden to freshly made crusty bread in a French bakery.

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French sourdough breadDavid Austin Roses jug

My blog post was about the simple pleasures of vintage and I mention my stacks of old tea plates, bought at a local barn sale. Last night my mismatched but pretty plates got lots of use. I’d baked some cupcakes for the school Macmillan coffee morning and had some six year olds to help me decorate them. Choosing from the piles of pretty plates took the girls quite some time. As did choosing between calendula, violets, raspberries and lavender for decorating. I seem unable to go for a walk or pop out in the garden at the moment without returning with blackberries, so I had to sneak a few on top.



Of course it didn’t take long for the girls to sneak in a few other items.


It made me smile to see my 6 year old helpers initially place petals really carefully around the cakes, then decide that minimalism wasn’t for them.


As usual I’d started off with good intentions of keeping these sweet treats relatively healthy and natural and my plans had gone slightly awry.

The icing was made from cream cheese, lemon juice and icing sugar as I used here. In an effort to avoid colourings full of additives I tried adding a few drops of my elderberry cordial to some of it. It gave us a pleasing shade of pink that the girls were happy with. Then I let myself be persuaded that sweets were needed. My usual dodgy balance!

We obviously had to sample a few and I had to admit though that the maltesers did add something.

Although I often add grated courgette or other squash to these sort of little cakes – I hesitate to call them cupcakes again as I’m never going to be the sort of person who rustles up Magnolia Bakery style cakes with perfect swirls of pretty buttercream – these were straightforward sponge rustled up quickly when I didn’t have too much time. While I still have Autumn fruiting raspberries to pick I do fancy trying this lovely Ren Behan recipe for raspberry and basil cupcakes though. If I do will definitely try to keep the smarties away!






walking onion potato cakes

With their crispy golden outsides and tasty use of simple ingredients, potato cakes are, in my view, warming yet frugal comfort food for our increasingly Autumn evenings. Well, most things including potatoes, onions and cheese have to be pretty good comfort food, surely.


These potato cakes are also particularly appealling to me as they make good use of ingredients I was guiltily reminded of while attempting to tidy and clear our garden at the weekend. Well, ‘tidy’ may be a tad optimistic, but I did make an effort to pull up lots of the Purple Orache that had long since seen better days and also remove some of its partner in crime when it comes to rampaging around the garden: the ubiquitous Calendula. While yanking up some of the gone to seed rampagers, I discovered a few neglected plants that were glad of the extra space. Including a pretty pink Achillea and some sunny yellow Rudbeckia that are robust but vying for room in which to flourish.


The walking onions are very good at fending for themselves, you can see one happily getting on with planting itself here.


I think the walking onions will spread more happily now that they’re not ambushed quite as much by wild rocket and calendula though and as I’m very grateful for their presence throughout much of the year (and pick them greedily), it seems only fair to allow them a little space.


Any regular readers may know I harp on about walking onions quite a lot. They’re one of those hardy perennial vegetables that is so handy to have in the garden though; pretty useful in the kitchen too. Most parts of this no-nonsense plant is edible – you can eat the green shoots as you would spring onions and also enjoy the little onions that form at the top (where most alliums would form flowers) as you would shallots. Leave a few though and eventually the weights of these onions will topple the onion over. Conveniently it replants itself again and again – literally walking around the garden.

Walking onions are also referred to as tree onions and are heirlooms, apparently dating back at least to the 1850s. There are some other great walking onion facts, including advice on growing them in this article by Mark Diacono.

Back to my potato cakes, though. I’ve cut down the foliage from our remaining potatoes but still have lots that I must get round to digging and using, while my parsley hedge is still thriving. This is a great recipe for both.



Possibly a more English (similar to the Northumbrian Pan haggerty) potato cake than the Ottolenghi inspired latkes I also love making, you can add bacon (I’ve added our air-dried ham too) or slow-cooked onions for added richness too, If you don’t have walking onions, slow-cooked regular onions or a handful of chives would be great.

Walking Onion Potato Cakes

Serves 4

700g potatoes, peeled

A handful of walking onions, chopped

A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

150g cheddar cheese, grated

Olive oil & a knob of butter

Preheat the oven to 180C (if you’re not using the oven for anything else, you can always cook these for longer in a pan on the hob though).

Put the peeled potatoes into a pan of lightly salted water and bring to the boil, then cook for 8 minutes or so – they should still be firm and a little undercooked. Drain and grate coarsely into a bowl when cool enough to handle.

Add the walking onions, parsley and cheese to the grated potato and season with salt and pepper. Form into flat little cakes, and heat the butter and a little olive oil in a frying pan that will also go in the oven. Brown the cakes gently until a pale golden colour on both sides, then transfer to the oven for about 10 minutes, until crisp on the outside and cooked in the oven. I love these with a poached egg, but this time we enjoyed them with a root veg salad (lots of kohl rabi, beetroot and carrots from the garden chopped into matchsticks and mixed with parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt & pepper).


 As walking onions are used as herbs as well as a vegetable and this uses generous amounts of parsley, would love to include my walking onion potato cakes in Karen from Lavender and Lovage’s September Cooking with Herbs challenge.


If anyone grows walking onions, or is planning to, I also love using them in garden fattoush, wild garlic egg-fried rice, wild greens pie and even in vietnamese pork stock. Thinking about the different seasons I cooked these dishes in reminds me once again just how useful and versatile those roving alliums are throughout the year!

greengage oatie slices


I’ve been cooking variations of these oatie slices for years, mainly with plums or apples in the middle. The recipe is scribbled in a kitchen notebook and there are plenty of food smudges on it, a sign that this is a much-cooked favourite.

It’s very quick and easy: perfect for a chilly, rainy day when the warmth of the kitchen is appealling but you don’t want to labour over anything too taxing. And the oats, fruit and spelt flour manage to convince me that this is a comforting snack verging on the virtuously healthy. I turn a blind eye to the butter.

Despite the plum trees surprising me with a bountiful hidden harvest, the greengage tree is bare of fruit this year. But popping into the farmshop on the way back from school, I couldn’t resist buying some. I also picked up some great advice from the very knowledgeable lady grower about my new asparagus bed and admired her flowers. Very enjoyable shopping!


Greengages are only around for a few weeks and I love their golden-green juicy sweetness, so it seemed a good idea to buy plenty. Enough for us all to scoff fresh, and a few spare for a little Autumnal baking.


My oatie slices are almost a squidgier, fruitier version of flapjacks. I’ve been enjoying experimenting with the spelt flour from Gilchesters Organics and the organic wholemeal flour from Otterton Mill (reminds me of a lovely Devon holiday) so I used 1/2 of each in these but you can use any type of plain flour.


Greengage Oatie Slices

450g greengages (plums or apple and cinnamon work well in this too)

150g oats

275g plain wholemeal flour

225g unsalted butter

pinch of salt

110g light brown soft sugar

Heat oven 200C. Mix flour and oats with pinch of salt in a bowl. Melt butter and sugar over a low heat then mix with the flour/oats to make a sort of dough. Stone and slice greengages.

Press half of the dough into a rectangular baking tin and then scatter the greengages on top of it.


Top with the remaining oat/flour mixture and bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes until nicely golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before marking into 15 squares, then leave to cool completely in the tin.


Ruby decided these were a great after-school snack. I recommend enjoying one with a coffee and they’re also great eaten while still warm as a pudding with vanilla ice cream or Greek yoghurt.


Would love to include this in the Four Seasons Food “Sliding into Autumn” jointly hosted by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Eat Your Veg.


As it’s a very easy traybake teatime treat, would be great to be included in Karen from Lavender and Lovage’s September Teatime Treats challenge too (Flapjacks, Oats and Traybakes) which is co-hosted by Kate at What Kate Baked.


And lastly, would like to join in the One ingredient challenge hosted by Nazima at Franglais kitchen and Laura of How to Cook Good food

Plums-one ingredient challenge


black lamb curry and cotswolds indian feasting

I ate the most delicious black lamb curry this week. You know the sort of dish that makes you lie in bed dreaming about it a few days later. Or is that just me?

Indunil Sanchi, chef of The Noel Arms in Chipping Campden, my favourite local place for a curry, explained to me that he adds 100g of black pepper to 1kg of lamb. The lamb is local, delicious and cooked slowly for hours, which tenderises it beautifully but also does something magical with all that pepper. When Indunil, who has been awarded Pub Curry chef of the year for the last 3 years, once told a judge how much pepper he was adding to this dish, the judge thought he’d made a mistake with quantities. Then he tasted it. And obviously enjoyed it as much as I did; it was the winning dish.


Apparently in Sri Lanka, where Indunil originates, black curry is normally made with vegetables and this is something I’d love to try with my garden gluts. But having settled in the Cotswolds with his family 9 years ago, Indy seems to have really enjoyed experimenting with local ingredients in curries from Burma, Indonesia, Jamaica, Thailand and different regions of India as well as Sri Lanka.

I think this is one of the reasons I’m such a fan of the monthly Thursday night curry nights at the Noel Arms – it’s great value for such interesting, unusual curries, they’re all properly cooked from scratch and come with wonderful home-made chutney and breads, yet they use great local ingredients too.

Fantastic then that curry is going to play such a tasty part in the Cotswold food festival, Bite 2014. Indunil is teaming up with Ivor Peters, self-styled Urban Rajah and pop-up restaurateur, whose Curry Memoirs I reviewed here. Ivor’s Waste Not Want Not Mixed Sabzi is now one of my favourite dishes to use home-grown veggies in and his book is a great read too. It’ll transport you to colourful Indian streets where chefs with manicured silver moustaches conjure up earthy meals with notes of musk and bursts of fresh chilli and ginger. You’ll be ransacking your cupboards for spices after reading it.


The Urban Rajah has some great ideas for Afternoon tea by way of Pakistan here and I fancy making his Rajah fried chicken with masala popcorn to scoff with a Friday night film one weekend. A master of wordsmithery and a self-confessed dandy, Ivor should be a perfect entertaining partner for Indunil on their Great Indian Food Feast.

A gastronomic adventure, the Great Indian Food Feast celebrates Britain’s love for curry but the food will be far removed from the dumbed down versions of imaginatively spiced dishes that so many of us have eaten from takeaways and jars. Dishes will be introduced from various corners of the Indian subcontinent, from family recipes featured in the Urban Rajah’s Curry Memoirs and from Indunil’s vast recipe collection.




I can’t wait to try streetfood dishes and hard to find gourmet recipes from across India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s regions and am hoping that not only will each dish “transport its diners to an evocative moment shaped over decades and scented by the streets, beaches and countryside of this sprawling diaspora” but there may be a few tips on how to cook them too.
While sharing curries with me in The Noel Arms, Indy promised that the Great Indian Food Feast evenings will definitely be interactive and there’ll be opportunities to be hands-on with food preparation, including desserts. And the Urban Rajah will whisk diners through a collection of personal stories, a short history of Indian food, spice pairing and little known quirky facts and curry miscellany.
Vegetable Pakoras
I’m looking forward to the Chipping Campden Great Indian Food Feast in December, but there will be others around the UK (see here). A percentage of each evening’s funds will be donated to IID supporting education and healthcare projects for children and helping families living in India’s slums and International Justice Mission helping to liberate those trapped in the human trafficking chain.
Ivor and Indy will also be bringing pop-up Indian street food to Chipping Campden as part of the mini-Bite food festivals in October and December; brilliant to think that us spice-hungry Cotswoldians will have some lip tingling, vibrant feasting to look forward to in the winter months!
And if we’re bored of stews and roast root veg by February, the main Bite Food festival (which Indy and Ivor will take part in) will include a mushroom foray at Batsford, artisan Cotswold beer safari ending up at the fab Ebrington Arms, cookery school events at Daylesford, a Sophie Grigson masterclass and a peruvian pop-up restaurant at Bledington. I’m hungry just thinking of it all!
(pics in this post are by Ivor Peters aka Urban Rajah).


september in my kitchen

in my kitchen this month…..



……….there are lots of tomatoes. And bowls of snozzcumbers.

The tastiest, sweetest tomatoes are from my friend Chava’s greenhouse – she very kindly let me plant a few cucumbers and tomato plants in the corner and the harvest is so much better than that from the plants outside my kitchen door. It’s making me keener than ever to look out for an old greenhouse this winter.

The cucumbers were a variety meant to be picked as gherkin type pickling cucumbers. Ooops. While we blinked this happened. They’ve turned out to be a lot tastier than the BFG’s infamous snack though – chopped in salads as well as pickled. I’m pickling a jar of smaller ones today but have also sliced some of the snozzcumber sized ones and pickled them American bread and butter pickle style. I followed a recipe in Diana Henry’s lovely Salt Sugar Smoke and added lots of dill flowers, wanting to make use of herb flowers more after reading Sarah’s inspiring Garden deli post about fennel flowers.

In my kitchen…..




…….there’s lots of bunting, balloons and birthday cake. I can’t believe that Ruby’s six. And I can’t believe quite how rubbish I am at icing a child’s birthday cake.

Requests for fairy castles (made with a 4 year old who insisted she wanted to make it with me) and sheep made from marshmallows seem a doddle now compared to this years cake. I can manage/even enjoy plastering ice cream cones and dodgy pudding bowl cakes with buttercream and scattering far too many sweets over. In fact the year my daughter wanted to make the fairy castle with me was perfect – I had such a brilliant excuse for those tottering towers and generally wonky construction.

But this year Ruby had a much simpler request. She’d seen friends’ cakes with perfectly smooth icing and she didn’t want anything more complicated than a wonderfully gaudy flower candle that she’d spotted with wedding cake style icing. I was very happy with the gaudy candle but perfect icing doesn’t come naturally to me.

It made me realise that I’m a very rustic sort of cook. I’ll happily bake banana bread or chocolate brownies any day but when it comes to pristine decoration I’m no Mary Berry. So despite being told how easy it can be, the day before her birthday and party I got in all sorts of trouble with fondant icing. Trying to keep it in one piece when I rolled it out vexed me most. Ever more icing sugar was added to stop it sticking to the worktop and when the cake was covered, the icing sugar gave it a distinctly dusty appearance rather than the smooth perfection I was after. Copious decorations and bright ribbons around the side seemed to cover up all manner of imperfections though and I was so pleased when Ruby loved it. Phew!


In my kitchen……


…….. is a lovely print edition of The Foodie Bugle, just the thing to relax with after all that wrestling with icing. Beautifully produced by Silvana de Soissons, it has some lovely articles, interesting to read as well as gorgeous to look at. I’ve already loved reading about foraging for seaweed and winkles by Jill Turton, who also writes about Food and Travel in Yorkshire here and couldn’t resist a peep into Anna Del Conte’s kitchen in Dorset, where she makes a rice timballo for Silvana.

I have a piece in there about Once upon a Tree and the Three Counties Cider Shop too. It’s reminding me of all those delicious cider and perries in the area surrounding Ledbury and also of apples, pears and more Autumnal cooking.

We may have been picnicking in the playground after school last week, but this week the kitchen’s warmth seems much more appealling. Baking, roasting and pickling suddenly seem like the right things to be doing. And I’m making lots of warming curries from random assortments of vegetables gathered from the garden like these:


On a walk across the fields yesterday, I couldn’t resist bringing home some juicy blackberries, green walnuts and a few heads of elderberries.


The blackberries were scoffed, I have a plan to make a River Cafe green walnut pasta sauce that involves lots of parmesan and parsley and I’ve made some elderberry cordial from a Trine Hahnemann recipe. I’m hoping it’ll be good over ice-cream as well as mixed with sparkling water or Cava for a very pretty Autumnal drink.  The elderberries I picked turned out to make a pathetically small amount of cordial, especially considering the plans I have for it! But as my first attempt turned out to be a little less runny than planned it may be a good thing; this can be used on ice-cream and I’ll make more in bulk, boiling for less time for a more liquid result.


If the rain continues to batter against the kitchen window, I may end up with some comfort baking later too; I’m very tempted to turn these apples from Granny’s garden into an open crusted pie. A very rustic sort of pie, the perfect sort of cooking to reassure me after that fondant icing!

Once again would love to link this in with Celia’s In My Kitchen, where bloggers from around the world link into Fig Jam and Lime Cordial to share a little of their kitchen.

verbena, damsons & sweet peas – a joules review

When we spent evenings on the beach toasting marshmallows this summer, it was our Joules fleeces that kept Ruby and me warm. And I’m very partial to their welly socks. Whilst coveting their summer dress designs. But apart from being a Joules fan already, I’ve enjoyed reviewing this lovely Navy Ditsy dress for a bit of a girly reason. It reminds me of our garden this summer.

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The colours ours are the deeper hues of late summer/Autumn, with all those warm pinks of the sweet peas and knautia mixing with the magenta, rich purples and damsons of September.


Okay, maybe I’m getting carried away seeing a Farrow & Ball paint chart in my garden and wardrobe, but it does give me that feeling. And when I look closer, those small sprigs of flowers look very much like some of the old-fashioned native flowers that were around earlier in the year, the ones with gently pretty rather than showy blooms that I’m as addicted to as the bees and hoverflies.


But before I get too romantically carried away waxing lyrical about flowers, I have to point out that this tunic is very comfy too. Both stretchy and forgiving it’s very easy to wear. So easy that when it arrived, I immediately tried it on and carried on with what I was doing, taking my mug of tea into the garden.

Picking a few beans (I came across some lovely yellow french beans that I’d forgotten about amongst the jumble of flowers and veggies, which was a bonus!) and sweet peas while talking to my photographer friend Chava, who took these pics.

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I have a feeling this dress will be worn a lot this Autumn, pulled on over leggings or jeans. Would like to say this will be completed stylishly by ankle boots, but have a suspicion it’ll often be wellies. As I’m often guilty of putting on a favourite item of clothing, then remembering the compost heap needs a visit, will have to discriminate a little with this lovely tunic dress though. Picking sweet peas and a little harvesting is fine, but will draw the line at clearing a veg bed or spreading mulch! And definitely resist fitting secateurs into those roomy pockets, although Ruby will no doubt persuade me they’re perfect for treasures.

Thanks lots to Joules for my Navy Ditsy dress. It’s a well-worn favourite already.