july in my kitchen & making dukkah

In my kitchen this July……


  …….I’ve been making lots of elderflower cordial. There have been several  batches (I put a few in the fridge then freeze the rest in plastic bottles so I have a year round supply. Lurking in the corner looking like one of Ruby’s dubious potions, I stir it when I remember then decant through muslin. So refreshing on these summery days diluted with fizzy water or in ice lollies. Lovely too in gin & tonic. And the borage is flowering at last for pretty ice cubes. The recipe I use for elderflower cordial  is here.


In my kitchen this month I’ve been slow-cooking lamb. Marinated in lots of garlic, rosemary and olive oil then cooked for hours in a really low oven. Perfect to put in the oven with hardly any preparation time, leave to cook while I picked Ruby up from school and spent a sunny hour or two at the playground. We returned, dug a few new potatoes from the garden, picked some greens and mint and had a really easy, totally delicious dinner. Savoured all the more as it was a gift from our farming neighbour who said it was a thank you for favours. All we remember doing is making some pigeon scarers out of sticks and old cds for his field of Swedes growing next door to us – and this was an evening’s entertainment for Ruby. So we were totally grateful for lovely generosity and several tasty dinners.

The lamb flaked off the bone tenderly and the leftovers were great the next day with the flatbread I made here (it freezes well), houmous, tsatsiki and salad. The salad was a sort of fattoush, with lots of parsley, mint and radish from the garden added to tomatoes (not home-grown yet) toasted flat bread and lots of lemon juice.


It seems just right for the prolonged sunshine we’re very much enjoying at the moment and I enjoyed a similar salad with my friend Chava, who took the lovely pictures in this post. We had it with flat bread and dukkah, which was very tasty with lots of fresh mint.


I base my Dukkah on the ever-inspiring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s version in River Cottage Everyday. This time I used almonds instead of Hugh’s hazelnuts (I bet English cobnuts would be great in this later in the year though) and golden linseeds for the seeds (my own laziness urging me to use what I had in the cupboard rather than going shopping). Of Egyptian origin this blend of coarsely ground seeds and nuts, fragrant with mint, is also lovely on fish, with halloumi or just with olive oil and flatbread as a snack.



A handful of nuts of your choice

½ tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

2 tablespoons seeds such as seame, linseed, even sunflower.

½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes

½ teaspoon sea salt

A handful of mint leaves, shredded

Toast the nuts dry in a frying pan (Hugh toasts them in the oven, which you can also try) until they are slightly coloured. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds until they just begin to release their appetising aroma. Bash them with a pestle and mortar until broken up coarsely.


Toast the seeds until golden too. Add the nuts, seeds, chilli and salt to the spice mix and bash until the nuts are broken up into small pieces. Stir in the mint and prepare to dip.


This can be kept for a few weeks in an airtight container, although I then add mint to half of it and use this portion first then add mint to the rest fresh when I’m about to use. It makes a nice gift, in fact I’ve made it with Ruby before for family Christmas presents as she’s quite partial to a bit of pestle and mortar activity.

In my kitchen I’ve also been enjoying having the glass doors open most of the time – how lovely to have the sunshine streaming in (Is this really an English summer?!!), and to savour a little breeze. And try not to notice the large patch of weeds that I STILL need to get round to clearing. I let them get too established while I enjoyed the prettiness of the pretty buttercups. Until I get round to finishing this pesky job, I try to keep my gaze firmly fixed on the lush flowers and veggies.

In my kitchen there are still daily bowls of strawberries and regular colanders of gooseberries.



In my kitchen there’s lots of podding activity. Ruby’s purple podded peas and tender little broad beans.  As my daughter hasn’t been keen on peas lately it’s great seeing her enjoying the sweetness of freshly picked home-grown ones. Of course the pretty flowers and beautiful purple pods help.


While I lazily pod broad beans for risotto, I think that this has to be one of my favourite months for food from the garden. Topping and tailing and podding are such relaxing things to do in the kitchen too – allowing my mind to drift into daydreams of my favourite broad bean pasta with lots of parsley and garlic….

I’d like to include this in Celia’s lovely Fig Jam and Lime Cordial In My Kitchen gathering for July.



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!


calendula, chorizo, tea on the beach and plans for 2013

Inspired by Flora’s Posts and MyCustardPie, I decided to look back over the last year. Looking at Joy Larkcom’s The Organic Salad Garden, I couldn’t resist making a few plans for 2013 too.


It’s lovely on a grey day when the ground is too muddy to tackle, to look back at the pictures of summer abundance in the garden. Images of gigantic lovage, rampaging calendula (thank goodness you can eat the petals in salads and decorate cakes with them), and other flowers, salad, herbs and veggies growing in crazy chaos make me feel better about the neglected tomatoes and pathetic potato harvest.



I blame Dorset for the neglected tomatoes. We went on holiday just when they needed me. And had a great time, cooking tea on the beach, using our home-made smoker to hot-smoke delicious mackerel, loving the playground entirely made from rope at West Bay. The brunch at the wonderful Hive Beach Cafe and baked goodies from Town Mill Bakery in Lyme Regis were fab too.

Dorset holidayDorset holidayDorset holidayDorset holiday

The Three Little Pigs were great fun to have in the garden, did a brilliant job of clearing a thistle-strewn area. They were well-fed, grew slowly in plenty of space and well looked after. And now they’re feeding us very well. Once the temperature dropped, I loved making salami and chorizo and the air dried ham is still slowly drying (I hope! Better wait until I unwrap it before I start planning how to use my ‘proscuito’) while our sausages and bacon are proving to be the new jam when it comes to thanking friends for favours.

Happy as Pigs 3Happy as Pigs 4


I’ve loved seeing Ruby become more interested in cooking. Even if she is messier than her Mum (quite some feat), who often needs a spot of dusk gardening or a squirt of magic spray to recover afterwards. Decorating with violets, making wild garlic pesto, and gathering elderflowers then making them into elderflower cordial with her has all been great fun.

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As usual there’s been plenty of preserving in the kitchen too, with more exotic bottled and jarred goodies inspired by Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke.


It all makes me very excited about attempting the following during 2013:

planting more fruit trees soon, while they’re still dormant. apples, pears, damson and greengage are planned and I’d like a morello cherry growing in the shady spot behind Guy’s workshop. Mark Diacono’s great book a taste of the unexpected, which inspires you to think again about the edible delights it’s possible to grow in a British garden has got me enthusiastic about a mulberry tree too.

camping – just the fairweather sort for me. As soon as we have sunny weather in the Spring and Summer I’d like to have a few weekends where we head off to the sort of basic but beautiful campsites where you can have campfires, paddle and cook sausages outdoors for breakfast. Ruby has her sleeping bag ready. Having read Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming, I particularly fancy a campsite near Ross on Wye that allows campfires, is by a great paddling river. There happens to be a good pub very handy too. And there’s the place by the River Windrush in Oxfordshire where you can catch crayfish and swim below a ruined abbey. Will report on these during the year hopefully…

very inspired by Joy Larkcom (I had her The Organic Salad Garden book for Christmas) to be more creative about my planting. I love her defence of planting vegetables in the front garden:

“…what was more beautiful than the “‘Purple Giant” mustard, feathery fennel, deeply curled red “Lollo” lettuce or the glossy, serrated leaves of mizuna greens? What could be more productive and vibrant-looking than a small patch of pak choi, dill or golden purslane? Vegetable plots, I was convinced, can feed the soul as well as the body.”

I’m already a fan of red orache for its striking looks in the garden – it adds height and structure to planting as well as supplying salad leaves – but I like the idea of the purple-hued giant spinach ‘Magentaspreen’ reaching theatrical heights for a salad crop too. And leaving a few clumps of chicory to run to seed in their second season, seeing them grow over 6ft high with flushes of sky-blue (edible) flowers sounds great too. Different coloured beetroot, more types of hardy Chinese mustards, more edible flowers and stepover apples are on my wish-list.

taking Ruby to the Natural History Museum would be great fun – for all of us, I think.

re-visiting the Leyn peninsular in Wales would be great. Friends very generously let us use their beach chalet (very basic but in a quite remote, absolutely stunning spot) last year. Steps lead down to a wonderful horse-shoe bay, rock-pools entice Ruby (and me!), the bay is famous for its crab and nearby ‘Whistling Sands’ beach has brilliant caves and yet more rock-pools.

I do fancy keeping bees, chickens and am very tempted to have a few lambs.

cook more Scandinavian recipes and lots from ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. using plenty of home-grown and Cotswold ingredients of course!

but most importantly, I also really want to try not to fit too much in. I know I’m often guilty of trying to add a few too many things to my to-do lists. Always a tad optimistic about how much time I have, I always think I have time to cram in more than is realistic (realistic if I’m not going to have a totally chaotic home anyway). And I do think it’s important that we all have time to sit, relax and not do very much at all – it’s just sometimes tricky to fit in isn’t it? This is my 2013 way of making myself do this:


Will let you know how it goes.