Harvest exhaustion

Up to our ears in it all.   The honey is progressing through the conditioning into jars and we have even experimented with putting some into bag-in-boxes.   Should be good for ensuring the honey is stored in the dark and easier for me to dispense into recipe mixes using the tap.

But now we are getting overwhelmed with windfalls.   Luckily, another beekeeper produced five large punnets of blackberries so now there are bottles of our own bramble juice (just the apple and berries steamed to release their juices) that should keep for at least a year.   It will be delicious hot with a spoonful of honey and a pinch of cinnamon in the winter months.   And there’s another huge bucket of grapes: more delicious juice.

Alongside, I’ve started Christmas preparations: raisins, currant and sultanas for cakes, puddings and seasonal mincemeat all weighed out and steeping in brandy.

It sounds very domestic and the major challenge is where to store all the preserved produce when there’s lots more to come.   We are starting to view each cupboard longingly and wonder where we can relocate the existing contents.   But it is so satisfying to make the very best of what has been carefully nurtured and grown.

Did you know?   According to the Daily Telegraph, if a domestic TV Licence is in the name of a blind person, they are entitled to it at half price.

Something much simpler, easy and needs no attention: courtesy of Heston, this is my standard roast chicken recipe.   It just needs short preparation and time to cook.

 

1 litre warm water.

60g salt.

1 fresh chicken, any trussing removed.

1 lemon, juice and zest.

freshly chopped herbs of your choice.

1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (optional).

salt and pepper.

55g butter.

a large glass of white wine.

 

Dissolve the salt in the warm water and allow to cool.

Place the chicken in the water, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Mix the lemon juice and zest, herbs, garlic (if using), seasoning and butter to make a paste.

Drain the chicken and push the paste between the skin and breast meat.

Push the left-over lemon halves and any spare herbs into the chicken cavity.

Place the chicken in a roasting pan, season and add the wine.

Cook in a preheated oven at 95C, Gas Slow or a quarter for 180-210 minutes or until the thickest part of the thigh has reached 70C.

Remove from the oven and cover with foil and a kitchen towel to keep warm and rest for an hour (while you roast potatoes).

Return to the oven at the highest temperature possible for 5-10 minutes to brown the skin.

Serve and enjoy – wonderfully moist, excellent cold and always a winner.

 

 

 

August windfalls

Local fellow beekeeper, Peter, turned up with a bucket of his grapes.   Each one had been individually hand-picked and, although some were instantly consumed, the rest wasn’t going to last long.   They went into the Scandinavian steamer which is, bottom to top: hot water tank to produce the steam; juice reservoir with natty tube for decanting into bottles; large container for raw fruit; lid.   The steam comes up through the middle, heats the fruit cells until they burst whereupon the juice drips down into the reservoir where it is heated by the water.   The result: virtually pasteurised fruit juice that will last a year.

His bucket made 15 bottles of precious homemade grape juice and then we topped up the fruit with windfall apples.   It’s steaming away to make apple and grape juice for homemade granola, and we can hardly keep up with the apples dropping from the trees!

The blustery winds and sharp showers brought down even more apples from the exceedingly venerable fruit trees.   They are probably at least 130 years old and a good mix of eating and cooking varieties.   This very moist apple cake is ideal for using any of the windfalls.

 

340g self-raising flour.

1 rounded teaspoon baking powder.

1 teaspoon salt.

340g soft brown sugar.

170g butter, cubed.

100g dates, chopped.

30g walnuts, shelled and chopped.

650g prepared mixed apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped.

4 eggs, beaten.

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste.

 

Spray a silicon ring mould with oil and dust with flour.

Rub the butter into the dry ingredients.

Add the dates, walnut pieces and chopped apples and mix so that the apple is well covered with flour.

Beat the vanilla with the eggs and gradually stir into the mix.

Stir thoroughly then place in cake mould.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 165C, Gas 3 for 90 -120 minutes, covering with a double layer of foil with a steam hole after 60 minutes.

Allow to cool before turning out.

 

I like my cakes to reach an internal temperature of at least 95C.   The quantity of cold, wet apple means that this cake takes a longer time than expected to bake.

Mixing by hand is a good way to feel how well everything is combined before placing handfuls in the mould.   Messy but I’m easy to clean afterwards.

A ring mould allows the heat to reach the middle of the cake but you could halve the ingredients and cook in a loaf tin lined with parchment paper.

My next experiment is to replace the sugar with honey – not sure what proportions will work.

 

 

Filled with despair

Stand by for a toot!

I’ve been working in the disability field with Government Departments, businesses and employers, charities and more for over 20 years but feel an utter failure as the battle for fairness seems harder than ever.

A bit of history: more than quarter of a century ago in 1995, there was the Disability Discrimination Act that placed legal duties on all sorts of bodies to make reasonable adjustments.   In 2010, the Equality Act was more specific about requiring all those public, private and voluntary sector organisations to make information available in alternative, accessible formats.   But we are still banging our heads against this brick wall and the most awful ignorance and prejudice.

This is the sort of stuff I face in just one week:

* One new disability charity wanted a quote for their leaflet.   Not only did they want to define me by my disability rather than my professional activities, they had the temerity to re-write the quote into the most ghastly mediocre and mundane words alongside factual errors.   I stepped back from it all.

* Another charity was trying to set up on-line links between visually impaired people.   It all fell apart as their hierarchy had decreed use of a notoriously inaccessible on-line conferencing system.   Pity their procurement team were so completely ignorant of the law, their beneficiaries, their needs and accessible technology.   One wonders how they manage to operate at all.

* I was asked to take part in some research into disability and employment, but the consent form wasn’t accessible.   It is (nearly) laughable to ask blind people to tick or initial boxes.   Even if I could, how would I know which side of the paper to scan and send back to them?   My solution was to write a statement confirming I’d read everything, gave my consent and an electronic signature.   But not good enough for their ethics committee.   Their solution: they’d send a hard copy.   Did they think I’d miraculously recover my sight?   When ethics are so blinkered about reality, I wonder whether they have any credibility at all?

* An environmental charity was seeking membership and donations.   I would have been interested had they been able to provide information in some accessible way – a simple Word document attached to an e-mail (how quick, simple and cheap is that?).   But all too difficult.   Yet they claim to have an “equality and diversity specialist”.   Pitiful.

* I wanted to get more involved in the sous-chef’s beekeeping but, once again, the national association doesn’t provide information in a format I can read.   Their response: they are “actively” pursuing a solution – it has already taken them 11 years not to succeed so I’m not holding my breath.

Most of this is probably less important and little skin off my nose but restricts how I can take part in the life that others enjoy.

But it becomes more crucial elsewhere.   Take health for an example.   Years ago, the (then) Chief Medical Officer reported that blind people have more health problems than others.   One reason is not difficult to find: the NHS is still appalling at making adjustments for people who can’t see.   Telling our GPs about our needs doesn’t make any difference.   Imagine the fun and games of opening a package with all sorts of paraphernalia.   Eventually, I discover it is a bowel cancer test kit.   I leave it to your imagination as to how blind people can manage to use it, complete any paperwork and return it.

In the midst of this pandemic, resorting to on-line “E-consult” seems to be the only way to get some health care.   How do we do that when we can’t see the screen?

Making information and communications available to everyone isn’t just about equality and fairness, it becomes a matter of life and death.

If you are involved in sending out information: a simple Word attachment without fancy layouts, logos etc is quick and easy – or just paste it into an e-mail.   Done and dusted: legal and fair.

Cath from Blind Veterans contributed the ginger cake featured on the latest on-line live baking session https://youtu.be/myfVZVzVflU

.   We were all rather concerned that the mix was too wet, cooking in the microwave was too risky and that it just wasn’t done.   But her 9-minute cake turned out beautifully.   The trick is to have faith in the timing and accept that it will continue to cook while resting.

It is not a cake that is going to last as it gets somewhat dry after a couple of days.   I treated mine more like a pudding: cooked in a silicone ring mould which left the perfect opening for accompanying pear slices gently cooked with crystallised ginger plus the reduced poaching liquid.

145g milk.

115g butter.

85g syrup and treacle (about 2 tablespoons of each).

85g brown sugar.

115g self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda.

1 teaspoon mixed spice.

2 level tablespoons ground ginger.

Pinch of salt.

2 eggs, beaten.

 

Gently heat the milk, butter, syrup, treacle and sugar until warm and the sugar has dissolved either in a pan or the microwave.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl (I used a hand whisk).

Add the heated ingredients and mix in.

Add the eggs and mix well.

Pour into a microwave-proof ring container that has been lightly buttered and floured.

Cook on High Power for 9 minutes.

The cake should feel barely done: soft and spongy but will get firmer as it rests and cools before turning out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool as a …….

Fascinating lecture this week in the cool of the Great Barn located in the Titchfield valley conservation area which is not a mile away.   This is the third most important medieval barn in the country and was built with timbers cut in 1409 – they’ve dated the trees.   The subtlety of the construction was the selection of the right trees with the perfect curvature at their base.   Once cut, the trimmed trees were turned upside down and their curves formed the basis of the roof.   Completed in about 1411, the barn was one of four victualling stations for the English troops massed between Portsmouth and Southampton before their passage to France and the Battle of Agincourt.

The Barn stands a few hundred yards away from the site of the lost Titchfield Abbey and the remnants of Place House.   Parts of the barn were built with the bricks and stones recovered from those buildings as they fell into disrepair.

There was regular royal traffic through the area over centuries.   In those days, Titchfield was an important port, and both the Abbey and Place House were suitably posh overnight stays for the odd king or so before embarking.   We still have the tiny stone Anjou Bridge across the River Meon just a few hundred yards away commemorating the arrival of Margaret of Anjou on her way to her royal wedding.   The fleur de lis of Anjou regularly features locally.

Place House was owned by the Earl of Southampton who was a supporter and patron of Shakespeare.   There’s growing evidence accepted by many academics that Shakespeare spent time at the House, probably taught at the Grammar School that still stands close by and may have had a particular relationship with the Earl.   If accurate, there’s more than a chance that Shakespeare also spent time in the Great Barn where Christmas pageants, playlets and festivities were held.   You never know: perhaps the Bard and I both touched the same ancient timberwork.

The Portsmouth Football Club bought the site plus much of the land in the conservation area with the wildly unrealistic plan of terracing the ancient landscape into training pitches.   I remember being canvassed by the then-owners for support of their venture.   Not surprisingly, their ambitions failed, and the land was re-sold when the Club’s finances nose-dived.   The purchasers subsequently sold the Great Barn and its site to the Titchfield Festival Theatre which now regularly presents Shakespearean and other plays in the medieval setting.   The structure of the Barn remains a visible reminder with the modern theatrical set-up carefully constructed to avoid damaging or interfering with the historic structure.

The Titchfield emblem has been created to capture the tales of the area: from the fleur de lis to the nibbed spear representing the great playwright.

Meanwhile, the sous chef has been cutting back the lush vegetation in his vegetable pots and discovered a large languishing cucumber: still in good health but a little too soft for salad.   The answer was a quick and simple cool summer soup thickened with some left-over potato.   A delicious supper.

 

3-4 spring onions, trimmed but green leaves retained, roughly chopped.

1 tablespoon oil.

1 cucumber trimmed and roughly chopped.

500ml water.

Half a stockpot/cube.

Tablespoon fennel and tarragon leaves.

Salt and pepper.

1 medium potato peeled and cooked.

2 heaped teaspoons thick cream.

 

Sauté the onion in the oil for a few minutes before adding the cucumber.

Cook for about 5 minutes before adding all the other ingredients except the cream and potato.

Bring slowly to a simmer and remove from the heat.

Allow to cool for a few minutes before placing the mix in a blender with the cream and potato.

Blitz until smooth and then chill for at least an hour in the blender jug.

When ready to serve, adjust the seasoning and blitz again.

Summer perfection: a good read and ice-cream

Crime fiction, thrillers and spy stories have tended to feature in my book reviews for RNIB.   Not the most literary or spiritually uplifting but great for relaxing in the sun (when it shows its face again).

My latest selection goes live on RNIB Connect radio from 1300 on Friday 9 July – just click  https://audioboom.com/posts/7898711-alex-michaelides-kate-london-penny-melville-brown

I’ve also been telling the international audience of the British Forces Broadcasting Service https://fb.watch/v/9uSZ3flrF/

about next Monday’s 1030 (London time) live on-line bake-in: the 9-minute microwave ginger cake.

https://www.facebook.com/events/806006046955175

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/baking-session-for-visually-impaired-people-ginger-cake-tickets-160566860803

This honey and ginger ice-cream is the perfect accompaniment for both the good book and the cake.   It grew from a Heston Blumenthal recipe: substituting honey for sugar to give more flavour and slightly changing the consistency.   Ideal for those who can’t eat eggs and very easy.   Keeping the pieces of ginger as a topping avoids overwhelming the subtle honey flavour.

My venerable and elderly ice-cream maker has an integral refrigeration unit.  But you could part-freeze the mix for an hour or so before whisking the semi-frozen mix to break up the ice crystals and returning to the freezer.

 

840g double or whipping cream.

360g whole milk.

200g honey (we use our own).

35g semi-skimmed milk powder.

3 teaspoons vanilla paste.

Pinch of salt.

2 handfuls crystallised ginger, chopped.

 

Simply place all the ingredients except the ginger in a pan and gently heat until all is dissolved and mixed.   Briefly bring to boiling point.

Chill for at least two hours (or overnight).

Churn and top with the chopped ginger before serving or placing in the freezer.

How’s that for simple?

 

Double Trouble

Who would have thought a simple birthday/anniversary cake could cause such problems?

The raisins, currants and sultanas had been soaking in brandy for a month: plump and boozy.   All the other ingredients were neatly pre-weighed ready for the mixer.   The recipe was just a quarter of my basic Christmas version https://youtu.be/Y81yGF72dUQ but, like the Easter variation https://pennysddblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2283&action=edit I replaced sugar with our own honey.

Eggs were added to fluffy butter and honey; flour folded in with citrus zest and juice; cherries, apricots, dried apple and nuts were embalmed in the spicey mix.   All spooned into the cake mould; into a low oven and timer set.   Smugly triumphant as it had taken only 30 minutes.

Horror on realising that the jar of carefully pre-soaked fruit had been forgotten: cake out of the oven and the late additions gently folded in.   Thank heavens for a silicone cake mould that didn’t need lining.

Time to start planning the finishing touches: a week of daily injections with the reserved fruity brandy before marzipan and icing.   But did I have enough icing sugar in the cupboard?   Out came the container and, with a sickening crash, it hit the floor.

You can hardly imagine the spreading power of icing sugar when dropped from a height.   And it has special staying sticking power.   Three washes of the floor by indomitable co-cook, Karen, and we were still finding traces days later.   There’s that special gentle sucking kiss of shoes on a tantalisingly tacky surface.

Hence, this week, a simpler supper dish as prepared by the sous-chef: a Tian Provençal which is ideal when we have gluts of summer vegetables:

1 large aubergine, sliced in half lengthwise.

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced.

Olive oil.

salt and pepper.

1 or 2 courgettes.

4 or 5 tomatoes.

tablespoon thyme leaves.

tablespoon rosemary leaves, finely chopped.

Stud the aubergine halves with the garlic slices, douse with about a tablespoon of olive oil and season generously before wrapping in cooking foil.

Bake the aubergine package in the oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the courgettes and onions.

When cool enough to handle, scoop the softened flesh of the aubergine into the base of an ovenproof dish.

Fill the dish with upright alternating rows of tomato and courgette, sprinkling herbs and seasoning between each row.

Drizzle another tablespoon or so of olive oil over the rows and bake in the oven at 180C, Gas 4 for about 45 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

 

This dish has many variations according to what you have available.   For example, thinly sliced peppers could be included and other herbs added.   We made a simple topping of toasted walnut pieces to add crunch (toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds would have been as good).

 

 

Summer starter.

With the better weather and less Covid restrictions, we can all do a bit more entertaining: the joy of seeing friends and family, sharing a meal together and catching up on months of news.

I was eating with friends a week ago: sitting on their terrace, overlooking the boats skimming along the Solent with a hazy Isle of Wight in the background.  It was so much better than those rather disjointed on-line conversations: topping up the tan, chatting over a glass or two, succulent steaks of swordfish and, for dessert, the new season’s rhubarb.

My offering was a chicken liver parfait starter with home-made bread and chutney (well, in reality, the sous-chef had done all the work and I’d done all the directing):

half an onion, diced.

small knob of butter.

splash of brandy and/or port.

500g chicken livers, drained.

250g butter, melted.

salt and pepper.

a little more melted butter to top the parfait.

 

Sauté the onion in the knob of butter until softened.

Add the port and/brandy and cook until nearly all the liquid has evaporated.

Add the chicken livers and cook over a medium to high heat for five minutes.  The outsides should have become brown while there is still some pink in the centres.

Season and place in a food processor with the melted butter.  Whizz until smooth.

Pour into serving dishes and top each with a little more melted butter to keep out the air.

Chill for several hours or overnight.

(He put the mix into a tall asparagus pan (doesn’t everyone have one?) and whizzed with the wand-blender to make 8 portions – not too big as it is so rich!)

 

 

 

Exclusive: World Baking Day live online bake-in for blind people

 

17 May at 1030 (London time).

Free cook-along as we celebrate World Baking Day on 17 May.

We will be making the simplest and most forgiving hot water pastry and producing wonderful melt-in-the mouth pork pies.

Virtually no skill or experience required but you will need:

100ml water.

90g lard.

200g plain flour.

50g strong white bread flour.

Flat teaspoon ground mace (optional).

Flat teaspoon salt.

50g butter.

Filling:

About 300g sausage meat.

Ground black pepper.

Fresh thyme leaves.

1 lemon, zest only.

A metal or silicon bun tin or individual foil cases with 1-inch sides, a plate, a bowl, saucepan, wooden spoon.  Oven set to 200C, Gas 6.

(some people are going to use Trex, or all butter rather than the lard and pre-cooked vegetables can be used in place of the sausage meat)

Thanks to Open Sight from Hampshire UK, you can avoid on-line “trolls” by signing up through this link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/x/exclusive-baking-session-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-blind-people-tickets-151057187113

 

See you on the day.