Monday, 10 October 2011

End of season tomato chutney

I mentioned earlier how I had made Nigel Slater's mixed tomato chutney, a combination of green and red tomatoes.  This weekend I cleared the last of the tomato plants from my own garden and the tyre garden I helped create at our local community centre.  With the recent sunny weather, a few of the most recalcitrant tomatoes managed to ripen nicely.  The community garden tomatoes had self-seeded from interesting varieties, which included some black tomatoes.  This all made for an interesting mix of colours and sweet and sour flavours.  On the down side, the ripe tomatoes rather had a tendency to burst, which meant it was impossible to scald them to remove the skins.  Never mind, this is a rustic chutney.

900g tomatoes, green and red
350g onions
90g raisins
250g light muscovado sugar
300ml white wine vinegar
1 medium sized, hot red chilli
1tsp of sald
2tsp of yellow mustard seeds (for my recipe I used brown)

Yield: I made twice the amount above and made just over 12 x 8oz jars of chutney. 

Cut up the tomatoes without peeling. 

Put the green fruit together with the peeled and roughly chopped onions, into a large stainless steel or enamelled pan, with the raisins, sugar, chilli, salt, mustard seeds and vinegar.

Bring to boil, turn down the heat, and leave to simmer for an one hour, giving an occasional stir to reduce the risk of the chutney sticking.

Note after about 25 minutes, add the ripe tomatoes and continue to simmer. until thick and golden brown.  Remove the bag of chillies.

Spoon into sterilised jars, and seal.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Everywoman's Autumn Chutney

This is the next in a series of recipes that I have used to capitalise on the abundance that is so much part of autumn.  The downside of abundance of course, is waste and it hurts me to see apples lying unused, even crab apples from urban trees. And  I refuse to ditch our copious crop of green tomatoes, just because they won't ripen. When the blight comes, I act fast.

So these recipes capture the joy of celebrating harvest, and at the same time combat waste.  The apples, a key ingredient, have come from different sources, but none of them, a shop or even (as if!) a supermarket.  They have been apples not good enough to sell in the Church Farm veg and fruit box.  They have been scrumped from ancient trees by River Stour in Dorset, (actually just by an arboretum), or  a hedgerow in the National Trust property, Dyrham Hall.  Or they have been come from gardens: a colleague's at work and my brother's in Wales.  You can see this splendid specimen below.

Because it just uses fruit and omits onions, this particular chutney is deliciously sweet and sticky.  And it is another instance of using up food waste, in this case three veg and fruit boxes which were not picked up by members of the Church Farm scheme.  The pears were at the hard and crunchy stage which made them ideal, while the tomatoes were at their ripest; the apples were cookers from a colleague's garden. 

The recipe below comes from 'The Preserving Book' mentioned before but I would also like to quote what Katie Stewart in her introduction. She recommends making 'the standard recipe exactly if it is a first time brew of chutney but after a little experience, vary the fruit and vegetables used or change the quantity or mixture of spices'.  So, rather than going out to buy the correct sugar and spices, I actually resorted to using up store cupboard inredients.  This means my version will not be the same as hers and if you try the recipe, your chutney won't be the same either.  On the other hand, you now have permission to tweak. 

Go on, try it out and come up with your own Autumn chutney!

1kg (2lbs) cooking apples
500g (1lb) pears
750g (1.5lb) red tomatoes
125g (4oz) seedless raisins
125g (4oz) sultanas
1kg (2lb)soft brown sugar
625 (1pint) vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon salt
1tablespoon salt
15g (1/2oz) salt
12 red chillies

Yield: about 2.5kg (5lbs)

Peel the apples and pears, core and cut into small pieces. Skin the tomatoes and chop them.

Put the apples, pears, tomatoes and all the remaining ingredients into a preserving pan.  Stir well and simmer for 2 hours until tender, golden brown and thick.  Stir occasionally to prevent  sticking.

Put into hot jars, cover and seal.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Green tomatoes are hot!

My husband knows about gardening and he says growing tomatoes outside in this country is hard, even in 'Mediterranean' London..  If you have a greenhouse, they ripen beautifully but maybe there just isn't enough sun to turn those tiny green nodules into little red bombs that explode in your mouth. I plan to follow a friend's advice and pack them in a drawer with a red tomato or a banana, to see if they turn....

But in the meantime, I love making green tomato chutney.  Last year I tried Niger Slater's recipe with red and green tomatoes but in the end I preferred this one, which commits to using only the green, but adds apples. This last ingredient seems essential to create the desired gloopiness of a perfect chutney.

The recipe comes from  'The Preserving Book' published by Pan, which I found in a charity shop in Bath and which I imagine is now out of print.   It was written in the seventies, when people were able to get  home brew sets from Boots and 'The Good Life' was on the TV.  The writers are farmer's wives and stalwarts in the WI; the only male contributor (naturally) is responsible for the chapter on wine making and beer-making.

The addition of the ginger and chillies makes the taste of this chutney initially warm and then quite fiery, but complements the green tomatoes, which can be bitter.  I have to say I used birds eye chillies and had cold feet about keeping the bag in the mix for all of the cooking. Taste the chutney as it simmers and make your own decision.  The recipe says, simmer for one hour but mine took longer.  As in all chutney recipes, it is better to overcook than undercook.

2kg (4lbs) green tomatoes
500g (1lb) cooking apples
750g (1.5lb) onions, chopped
250g (8oz) seedless raisins
500g (1lb) soft brown sugar
625 (1pint) vinegar
15g (1/2oz) ginger
15g (1/2oz) salt
12 red chillies

Yield: about 3.5kg (7lbs)

Cut up the tomatoes without peeling.  Peel and core the apples and chop them.

Put all the tomatoes, apples and raisins into the preserving pan.  Add the sugar, vinegar and salt. Tie the chillies in piece of muslin and suspend in the pan.  Bring to boil, stir well and simmer for one hour, until thick and golden brown.  Remove the bag of chillies.

Put into hot jars, cover and seal.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A great apple chutney recipe

This recipe comes from 'Easy Jam, Chutneys and Preserves' by Val and John Harrison.  John has excellent 'waste lady' credentials, having also written, 'Low-Cost Living' and 'The Essential Allotment Guide'. 

They claim that you can say that this is a secret family recipe and certainly the feedback I got was very positive.  I did however make a couple of tweaks. I prefer to use cider vinegar rather than malt; Waitrose Essentials range offer a reasonably priced version, just under a pound.  I also used Church Farm apples, which were a mix of cookers and eaters, with some cidery ones.. Would the recipe work so well with windfalls from the apple trees in my local park?  It's worth trying.

The most expensive ingredient was the two packets of Schwartz pickling spice and I intend to research recipes for this and consider buying in bulk.  More details to follow.

Chutneys are best eaten after two months when the flavour will have improved.  They will keep for up to a year, but only if the jars have been sterilized.  The easiest and simplest way to do this is to place the jars upright on a baking sheet with the lids beside them in a low oven for about ten minutes or so.

One final piece of advice. I originally intended making this recipe after a convivial night out with friends, full of confidence and joie de vivre.  Don't.  When I did embark on the recipe the next day, it took three hours to make the chutney.  It takes all that time to absorb every drop of water and the chutney is all the better for it.  You can see how the chutney reduces and changes colour in the pictures below.

Apple Chutney


900g (2lb) cooking apples
225g (8oz) onions
225g (8oz) sultanas or raisins
1 teaspoon salt
855ml (1.5 pints) distilled malt (white) vinegar
56g (2oz) mixed pickling spice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
450g (1lb) soft brown sugar


Peel, core and slice the apples.  Peel and chop the onions.

Put the apples, onions, raisins or sultanas and salt into a pan with vinegar.  Tie the pickling spice in the muslin bag and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat and simmer until tender.  Remove the spice and add the ginger.

Add the sugar, stir until it has dissolved, and continue to simmer until chutney is thick, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Pot into hot, clean, sterilized jars immediately and seal.
Label with contents once fully cooled.

Monday, 21 March 2011

A cake made with beetroot?

My challenge to use up every single item of the Church Farm Fruit and Veg Box continues.  I'm not alone (surely) in rooting round the box for some onions, only to find a couple of wizened bits of veg, caked in mud and not very appetising.  I confess they often end up in the compost...

Well, that's not going to happen to the lovely beetroot in my box (two weeks ago). And what better reward for such careful use of resources (a quality I now want to name 'parsnipmony') than a tea-time treat.
So you've heard of carrot cake, but a cake made with beetroot?  All credit to West Midlands National Trust.  They have been using archive material to develop traditional menus, which are historically linked to the property, but which 'still appeal to the modern palate'.  Their cake recipes make use of the winter sweetness of parsnip, pumpkin and beetroot, as well as more obvious harvest fruit, such as pears, and apples.

Part of their period charm is the imperial measurements, which I have supplemented with metric equivalents.  Since this is an amateur cooking blog, I proudly include a photo of the cake, with a slightly 'carmelised' top: it does make a nice crust to bite into. The beetroot gives a lovely, rosy tinge to the cake and contributes to its moistness, while at the same time, making the fudginess of the chocolate not too cloying.

One more semantic tip.  You can call this a cake and cover it with a icing, made of equal parts butter and chocolate. You can call it a loaf (my preferred version) and if it gets a little dry after two days, smear it with some butter. Or you can use 5 separated eggs, serve it with creme fraiche and call it a pudding, which is Nigel Slater's version - see the link below if you want to try it! (The National Trust recipe doesn't pre-cook the beetroot, and is easier!)

Beetroot Chocolate Loaf

TIP: The addition of raw grated beetroot gives this cake a lovely moist texture as well as a fresher flavour than cooked beetroot. Use a really good dark chocolate with a cocoa fat % of 70%.

8oz (230g)SR flour
1oz (30g) cocoa powder,
1 tsp baking powder
4oz (115g)caster sugar,
Pinch of salt
3oz (85g) dark chocolate melted,
3oz (85g) butter melted
4oz (115g) raw grated beetroot peeled weight
2 eggs beaten


  1. Heat the oven to GM4/180’C/350’F. Grease and line a 2lb-loaf tin.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder.
  3. Stir in the sugar, beetroot, melted chocolate and butter and the eggs.
  4. Turn into the tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until firm on top and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

You can find more National Trust 'rooty cake recipes' here.

You can find the Nigel Slater's version

Monday, 28 February 2011

A Good Egg Recipe

Thank you Church Farm, Ardeley (see the 'More than a Box' Scheme blog) for the free box of eggs given out this week.  Our neighbour loved the freebie but that still leaves us with twelve eggs to consume!

So here's a simple recipe I recommend to transform eggs into a delicious, fruity curd, courtesy Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the Guardian.  The one below uses seasonal Seville oranges but these could easily be substituted by an equivalent amount of lemon juice, from say, four large lemons. 

The big problem with curd is... the curdling of the eggs (the clue is in the name).  I followed instructions and whisked the curd mixture in a pot of simmering water with no mishaps.  But you are allowed to cheat by adding two teaspoons of corn flour to the butter and sugar mixture, before you whisk in the eggs. 

Although the sugar thermometer was useful, I found noting the viscosity of the curd was just as good a guide; as ever the coating of the wooden spoon never seems to happen for me.  And finally, some recipes sieve the whole mixture into the jars but I go along with Hugh's reciple and rather like retaining the little bits of zest.  (You can probably spot them in the photo below.)

As the recipe says, the curd will keep in the fridge for three to four weeks, although I have read elsewhere, you can extend that to six weeks. That's still quite a lot to eat! I found the recipe made enough for two large (454g) jars, but you could easily make one large and two small to give away to your friendly neighbours.

Seville orange curd

An easy, tangy curd that's as delicious spread on toast as it is spread thickly in the middle of a Victoria sandwich. Makes about three 240ml jars.
200ml Seville orange juice (ie from about 3 oranges), strained
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed navel orange
125g unsalted butter
400g granulated sugar
2 whole eggs plus 2 yolks, well beaten
Put the juice, zest, butter and sugar in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl over a pan of just-simmering water. As soon as the butter has melted, and the mixture is hot and glossy, pour in the beaten eggs through a sieve and whisk with a balloon whisk. Stir the mixture over a gentle heat until it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 12-15 minutes – a sugar thermometer should read 82-84C . Pour immediately into warm, sterilised jars and seal. Use within three or four weeks, and keep in the fridge once opened..

Church Farm, Ardeley's 'More than a Box' Scheme

This blog first appeared in November 2010 when planning permission for the first megadairy in the UK had been granted. After rigorous and tireless campaigning by Compassion in World Farming and @notinmycuppa the development was postponed in January, an excellent result. 
The blog also gives some background to the Church Farm, Ardeley's 'More than a Box Scheme', which has been running since last July.
There’s a farm called Misery, but of that we’ll have none
Because we know of one
That’s always lots of fun (Ha ha!)
And this one’s name is Jollity; believe me, folks, it’s great
For everything sings out to us as we go through the gate

All the little pigs, they grunt and howl etc, etc


Yes indeed, Church Farm is a jolly farm.  If you visit, you will meet the farm you once knew from childhood stories and games.  Animals graze on fields planted with a well tried mix of grasses and flowers, creating a rich mosaic of colour and textures.  Glancing through a hedge to the field next door, the contrast is striking: all there is to see is the uniform expanse of an industrial monoculture.

The farm covers 175 acres which includes 30 acres of woods, 10 acres of orchard, and 2 acres of nesting grounds.  There are around 150 sheep, cows and pigs, and the farm, which is also a family business, prides itself on its long tradition of rearing rare breeds.  The number of poulty is in the thousands, but here again the hens and turkeys are allowed to range freely in designated places including the newly planted orchard. One of the delights of the farm is the piglets, who can be seen playing and scrapping with each other in the feeding area. As the visitors leave, the hope is that they will have been reminded of the very real connection between land and food.

Click on this to see some piglets disporting themselves.

In the meantime, there is a farm called Misery.  It hasn't been built yet but the planning permission for Nocton 'Mega Dairy' in Lincolnshire was passed yesterday, with the concession that they will have 3,770 cows instead of the 8,100 of the original proposal. These cows will rarely see a blade of grass. The intensive system leaves them open to many health problems, including lameness, mastitis and bacterial infections.They will be expected to produce 10,000 or more litres of milk each per year.  In energy terms, that is the same as a human being running a half marathon every day for ten months of the year.

Compassion in World Farming are running a campaign to raise awareness of this first attempt at industrial farming and you can contact them on the address below.  But you can also choose to source your food from a place whose aim is to 'treat the land, wildlife and animals, as they should be treated, and grow great food'. 

You can find out more about the Church Farm and Crouch End box scheme by popping into the Haberdashery, Middle Lane on Thursday between 5.30 and 7pm.

For more information on the Church Farm Box Scheme:

For more information on the Nocton Dairies:
The lyrics are from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.

Friday, 25 February 2011

What is Waste?

This blog first appeared on the Transition Crouch End Blogspot in November 2010 before a Skills Share event at Tottenham Chances, London
Waste - the New Weed

We're going to be knitting plastic bags on Sunday!

Some frightening facts about Plastic
  • Worldwide, plastic bag consumption = 1 million bags per minute
  • Approximately 7 billion pounds of plastic trash floats about 500 nautical miles of the Californian coast, creating its own little island of filth.
  • An estimated 12 million barrels of oil are required to feed America's hundred-billion- plastic-bags-a-year fix.
  • Plastic bags are not biodegradable.  It takes a thousand years for one plastic bag to break down.
  • Every year, hundreds of thousands of sea animals die from ingesting plastic bags mistaken for food.
Source: AwareKnits (Howel and Armstrong, 2009)

So plastic bags are bad. 

But work done by the NGO Kare4Kenya in Kawangware, one of the many slum areas of Nairobi, tells a different story. The aim was to clean up the area and use the plastic bags to make beach bags, thus creating part-time work for mothers, who were normally unemployed.

A YouTube video shows the women scouring heaps of rubbish for plastic bags to empty, sort and clean, not an easy task as you can see from the pictures. (Due to the lack of communal toilets, many of these bags are likely to have contained human waste.) Yet at the end these nasty, manky pieces are transformed into stunning crocheted hats and bags.

When the women go to the rubbish dump, are they scavenging or foraging?  Is their life so despicable, this unseemly, dirty activity is their only way of living?  Or it might just be that they actively value what is so easily discarded; it is a free resource which actually earns them money.

Perhaps it is the placing of the plastic that is the problem.  In organic gardening, a weed is just 'a plant in the wrong place.'  The same can be said of waste.  No one would want to rifle a rubbish tip.  Yet plastic bags and bottles carefully stashed for creative ventures are a different matter. 

And with diminishing oil resources, plastic may well become a precious commodity.  So as in the recent Transition Crouch End blogspot about chutney, it all comes down to a question of value.  To return to the women of Africa, that value can be monetary. In our society, knitting plastic gives people a chance to acquire new skills, using material that is essentially expendable.  Mistakes don't count and the experience is invaluable.

We may revile a global inequality that means people have to resort to rubbish for a living: while we play with plastic, they work.  Nevertheless their ingenuity and resourcefulness reminds us that 'waste' is a value-laden term.  It is a label that can be easily soaked off.