The Bee Whisperer

Fact or fallacy: do bees respond to the human voice?  I’m not sure if it is the words that are spoken or the breath that speaks to them.  but there’s no doubt that our two bee colonies are calm, relaxed and reciprocating with their bounty.

We’ve managed to harvest our first honey: over 10lbs (5kg for the modern).  It was an intensely focussed activity that started the night before.  A special board that excludes bees from part of the hive is installed so that the frames of comb and honey can be removed next day without having to brush away straggling bees and risk harming them.

There’s a special tool for removing the wax caps at each end of the honeycomb cells before the frames go into the extractor.  Think of something like a handraulic spin-dryer: the frames are suspended in a cage that is whirled around to enable centrifugal force to spin the honey out.  A golden sticky mass oozed from the extractor and through two filters before resting overnight in the settling tank for the air bubbles to surface.  The filled jars are a glorious celebration of the bees and their hard work over the summer.

My great friend and frequent cooking companion, Karen, had brought five egg yolks leftover from a birthday party Pavlova.    The obvious use was lemon curd with honey rather than sugar.  Honey can be up to 21% water (23% for heather honey) and ours was 17% on the refractometer.  Just using yolks rather than the whole eggs should counterbalance the extra water.  Here’s the experimental recipe I made this morning:

zest of 3 and a half medium lemons, juice of 2 and a half.

5 egg yolks.

6 oz honey.

4 ounces butter, cubed small.

Mix the lemon juice, zest and egg yolks together in a heatproof bowl.

Add the honey, stirring again, and then the butter.

Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, taking care that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Stir the mix from time to time while it heats to just over 70C.

Allow to cool a little before pouring into sterilised jars.

Keep in the fridge and eat soon.

(I’ve just checked and it is setting perfectly).

 

 

Waste not, want not.

 

The apple trees in the garden here are at least 130 years old – the house was built in about 1890 on part of an orchard.  There’s a Worcester Pearmain, Cox’s Pippin, Bramley, another cooking apple and an intriguing Golden Delicious that produces fruit with one or more “seams” – ridges from top to bottom.

Every year I’m overwhelmed with windfalls so have a nifty piece of kit to transform them into Juice.  It’s a Scandinavian aluminium pot comprising (bottom-to-top): a water tank, a juice reservoir with a funnel through the middle for the steam to pass plus spout for the rubber hose and clip, a basket for the apple pieces and lid.  It is supremely simple to use just chop up the apples, extracting the worse bruises and any wildlife.  Toss the apple into the basket, switch on the hob and let the water boil to steam them.  The juice drips down into the reservoir where it, in turn, is heated by the water – nearly pasteurised, ready for drawing off through the rubber pipe, controlled by the clip.

Reusing plastic water bottles is the ideal storage.  Not only are they saved from landfill but the hot apple juice makes them collapse a little, just about vacuum packing the juice.  This is where I need a hand: managing wilting bottles of very hot liquid isn’t safe when you can’t see what’s going on!  The bottled juice needs to be kept out of the light and I tend to store it in the fridge.

My goal is to use the juice within a year but I have had some several years old and it was still delicious.  It is an excellent thirst-quencher when diluted with fizzy water (keep the bottle for next year) or we use it in the homemade granola.

I try to use every apple: dried in the dehydrator for the granola or cakes; frozen as puree; in crumbles, pies and puddings; the Cox’s sautéed in a little butter and sugar until caramelised are the base for many a Tarte Tatin.  And I haven’t even started on all the chutneys and other preserves …I’ve even used an apple press and made my own cider.

 

 

 

 

Super scones.

Last weekend I was cooking for a special tea party: just a few friends carefully spaced out in the garden to keep everyone safe.

The damson chutney I wrote about a few weeks ago was perfect with sausage rolls hot from the oven and blinis topped with simple smoked salmon mousse had different texture, taste and temperature.  But the tea-time stars were the scones – only my second attempt in decades.  I’d been pondering about the logic of soda bread that uses a rather acid liquid to activate the bicarbonate of soda.  Self-raising flour already has the same raising agent and makes a very respectable soda bread with just the liquid added.  Why shouldn’t the same principles work with scones?

I use the liquid collected after straining the home-made yoghurt but buttermilk, plain yoghurt or milk with a little vinegar and lemon juice should do just as well.  I added some extra baking powder just to make sure.

500g self-raising flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

Half teaspoon salt

80g caster sugar

80g butter

2 eggs

Up to 250g yoghurt strainings.

5 handfuls sultanas

Zest of one orange

 

Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and rub in the butter.

Crack in the eggs and add half the liquid.

Add the sultanas and orange zest.

Mix the dough with your hands, adding more of the liquid to create a soft dough that is not wet and sticky.

Place the dough on a floured surface and gently press out to the thickness of two fingers.

Cut out scones using a well-floured cutter, reshaping the scraps to cut again.

Place the scones on an oven tray lined with baking parchment and give them 5 minutes or so for the baking powder to start working.

Cook for 15 minutes at Gas 7.

 

These were split in half and served with last year’s strawberry and Cointreau or cherry jams, topped with clotted cream (Cornish style).  And then a super fruit cake that had been injected with lashings of brandy.  Yum.

 

Scones the Devon way (left) and Cornish way (right)

 

 

 

Ginger biscuits go global.

Well, not quite, but I couldn’t resist the alliteration!  In fact, I’ve been doing live on-line bake-ins for blind students in both Hertfordshire and San Francisco this week.

The Brits wanted some tips about baking so I explained my only two items of “blind” equipment: talking scales and thermometer.  For any of these talking items, I strongly recommend auditioning them before buying because some of the voices are distinctly slurred, rather transatlantic and somewhat abrupt.  My oldest scales are my favourite: he says “Hello” when turned on and “Goodbye” when his button’s pressed.

The san Francisco group liked the recipe too but I had to explain our golden syrup – it is not so easily available over there and our British self-raising flour becomes their all-purpose version with some baking soda.  They wanted to know more about my time in the Navy and why I joined.  And they seemed to like the tales of derring-do from the global cooking tour too.  It was another chance to promote all my hundreds of Baking Blind videos https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWTJYx7jGA3xaR4830wJSRg?view_as=subscriber

In turn, they gave me a sense of what life is like in California in the midst of the Covid pandemic.  It sounds very similar to here: lots of confusing messages from governments, lives limited by lockdowns and the particular problems of blind people who might often rely on someone else to guide them.  It is impossible to maintain social distancing when you need to hold someone’s arm or can’t see the one-way signs or floor markings when out either.

These Covid challenges were also part of the discussion during an interview  I did with RNIB Connect radio (broadcast on 8 July at 1100 – but there’s catch-up too: http://www.rnibconnectradio.org.uk/> Twitter @RNIB Radio).  The pandemic is creating some extra challenges for disabled people as we try to navigate our way through Government guidelines  so please give us a bit of leeway.

Here’s the ginger biscuit recipe in case you missed it last time:

50g butter.

50g sugar (white, golden or brown).

50g golden syrup or honey.

100g self-raising flour (or 100g all-purpose flour plus half a teaspoon baking soda).

1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger (about 5g).

Heat the oven to Gas 4, 350F, 175C

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan, stirring to check the sugar has dissolved.  Allow to cool.

Put the flour and ginger in a bowl and pour in the butter and sugar mix, scraping the pan clean and using the scraper to start mixing the dough.

Finish the dough with your hands,  forming  it into 10 small balls, rolling them between your palms.

Line a baking tin with baking parchment and place the balls on it about 2 inches apart, gently pressing down each ball a little.

Cook for 12-15 minutes.  The biscuits should feel firm to touch and will crisp further as they cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot hot-water pastry

You probably know this pastry from pork pies or those gala pies  with an egg in the middle: served cold straight from the fridge or lukewarm in a picnic.  Can I strongly commend this pastry when it is still fresh and succulent from the oven?

Straightforward to make and like Play Dough to handle, you can use nearly any ovenproof container to  give your pie individuality and style.  Mine uses one of those unbelievably expensive classic pointed oval  tins – only thanks to a joint Christmas present from lavishly generous friends.

First, place 185g lard in 200g water in a pan and heat just enough to dissolve the fat.

While it cools, mix 100g strong bread flour with 400g plain flour plus a flat teaspoonful each of salt and ground mace.  Rub in 100g butter.

Pour in the lard and water and mix with your hands.  It takes about a minute or so.  Now you have an oozing, warm concentration of calories ready to be moulded into your tin, silicone or other vessel of choice.  Put aside a handful for the lid and take another and press on to the base, making  it as thin as possible, adding more to press up the sides – it joins and welds together with no problem.  It will become firmer as it cools which is helpful if the sides tend to sag a bit.

Now you are ready for the filling of your choice: slices of ham, turkey, chicken, pheasant, partridge, venison or whatever takes your fancy.  Some minced pork or sausage-meat is worth including as the fat keeps your other fillings moist – and some boiled eggs too if you like.  Quantities are difficult to give as it depends on the size of your container – but left-overs of both pastry and filling can make extra mini pies.

I used turkey moistened with lemon juice, pork mince with lots of ground pepper and thyme plus Spanish dried ham – all in the classic layers.  The pastry reserved for the lid can simply be patted out to shape and the right thickness on your hand or rolled out if you want the extra washing up.  Pop it on top of the pie and make good joins all around the edge before making at least one hole to let out steam.

Bake on an oven tray for 30 minutes at Gas 6, then one hour at Gas 2  and a further 30 minutes covered with foil at Gas 2.

If you want to eat cold, you might add some jellified stock: soak 2 leaves of gelatine in cold water before squeezing out the liquid.  Add a  stock cube or similar to half a pint of hot water and dissolve; add the gelatine and stir until dissolved, heating on medium heat in the microwave if needed.  Use a funnel to pour into the steam hole in the pastry lid – it may take several hours to add a little and have it absorbed before adding some more.

Mini individual pies only need about 10 minutes at Gas 6  before the slower cooking at Gas 2  – and are difficult to resist: hot out of the oven!

 

Cherry ripe

 

Actually, they weren’t until spread out in the sun for a day.  These aren’t any old cherries but the sour Morello variety from the historic Porter’s Lodge garden www.portersgarden.org  in Portsmouth Naval Base.

My great friend, Joan, is a volunteer gardener in this special garden where much of the planting is authentic to its origins in 1754.  None of those modern upstart hybrids permitted.  Each year the volunteers pick these wonderful cherries and I’m often lucky enough to be spared some for jam.  This year I’m trying different ways of preserving them: bottled; dried in the dehydrator for use in cakes and homemade granola.  If I get more, perhaps homemade glace cherries might be possible

I have a very nifty German-made cherry stoner: the fruit gently rolls from the hopper on to a small piece of rubber.  Pushing down the plunger presses out the stone, through the hole in the rubber and into the collecting box.  Meanwhile, the rubber has sprung back and ejected the cherry – very simple and effective if you have a large amount of fruit to handle.  But still worth checking for any missed stones – no-one wants to lose a tooth.

Once stoned, the cherries are washed in very hot/boiling water and then packed in Kilner-style jars (with a rubber seal and metal clip).  I add a dash of kirsch to each jar and then top up with a sugar syrup.  I made the syrup by adding enough water to the juice I’d saved to make 360g and then added 120g of white sugar.  The syrup is heated in a pan until the sugar dissolves and poured into the jars to cover the fruit.  With the seals in place (best done before filling the jars) and lids securely clipped closed, the jars are placed in pans and covered with hot water.  Once the water is boiling in the pans, reduce to a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes.  Air trapped in the bottles will expand and be forced out past the rubber seals.  Allow the jars to cool and then test for a safe seal: undo the clip and try to lift off thelid. If it stays put, they are safe to store – if not, eat them soon.

The Porter’s Garden in the Naval Base is a special location for me: I walked past it every day when I was working in the Old Naval Academy and had to travel by train as  my sight had got too poor for driving.  Little did I know that, over 20 years later, I’d be cooking the produce from that garden.  I have many happy memories of that Naval Base – visitors see it as a historic site; for me, it was my familiar workplace that felt like home.

 

 

 

One orange:two recipes

You probably won’t want to serve both at the same meal, especially as the strawberries need some time to macerate, but a little morning prep gives you the basis for lunch and supper.

2 carrots, peeled and grated

1 orange, grated zest of half

1 handful sultanas

1 handful of nuts or seeds

1-2 tablespoons of vinaigrette dressing.

I have a handy grater that attaches to its own bowl so that I can grate the carrots and orange straight into it.

My current favourite version uses pumpkin seeds heated in a dry frying pan until they are popping but walnut pieces work well too.

Add the sultanas, vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

Keep in the fridge for an hour or so while the sultanas plump up a little with the juice from the carrots.

With the rest of the orange:

1 orange, grated zest of half and the juice

1 punnet strawberries, hulled and quartered

A splash of an orange liqueur

1 teaspoon sugar.

 

Simply mix everything and keep in the fridge for an hour or more until serving.

Delicious dishes that let simple ingredients shine through.

 


.Perfect with Tempura King Prawns and home-grown tomatoes!

Too tempting to make many!

 

I’ve been looking for something very simple, quick and easy to make to serve with desserts: to add texture, crunch and spice.

These ginger biscuits fit the bill and a tray of 12 is more than enough sugary temptation to have around:

70g butter

70g caster sugar

70g golden syrup

4g ground ginger

140g self-raising flour

6 pieces crystallised ginger, chopped or sliced.

 

Put the oven on to Gas 4.

Just melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan and leave to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Use a 12-hole silicone muffin tray on top of a metal baking tray and place some of the crystallised ginger in each hole.

Pour the butter mix into a bowl containing the flour and ginger.

Mix thoroughly (I used my hands) and check the flavour depending on the strength of your ground ginger adding more if necessary.

Portion out a small ball into each hole and lightly press down.

Cook for 18 minutes.

Cool in the silicone pan for about 30 minutes and then turn out on to parchment paper to fully cool.

 

The biscuits have crunchy edges and chewy centres – very more-ish.

They will be good with a hot fruit salad, a rhubarb and ginger crumble or just a cup of coffee.

Hardly any washing-up to do and the silicon mould makes biscuits possible for any blind person to handle.