Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pumpkin and Maple Spread

I'm actually in the middle of cooking this right now so have no idea how it'll turn out. Nevertheless, I thought I'd quickly post the recipe as I figure many people will be hollowing out pumpkins this weekend and timely ideas for using up the scrapings may go down well!

Pumpkin and Maple Spread
1.5kg chopped pumpkin (the shavings made when you scrape out the insides with a spoon are perfect)
600g maple syrup (this is roughly 2 bottles. I got mine cheaply from Aldi)
300g honey (roughly a standard jar)
Cinnamon stick if liked.

Stick everything in a big pan and simmer gently for 90 minutes, skimming any scum. The recipe says it can be left chunky or pureed. I'm planning on pureeing mine when it's cool. I'll then heat up the smooth spread back to boiling point to kill off any bugs and pack into sterilised jars which should keep for 6 months.

Suggested uses include:
Spread on Toast
Drizzled over waffles and cream
Combined with cream and eggs to make a pie filling
Eaten with a spoon when feeling low.

This recipe is from Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton's book 'Preserved'. I've never made it before, but will report back on the success or otherwise in more detail tomorrow when it's done.

*Update* It's a roaring success! Sweet, caramelly, spicy, gorgeous. We had it spooned over quince crumble with vanilla ice cream, I think it's probably best thought of as a dessert topping/syrup type of affair rather than a jam.

This recipe made 3 jars so I'm thinking of using the rest of our stash of somewhat insipid orange pumpkins to make some more.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Big fat Chestnuts

I really should listen to my children a bit more, they are far more vigilant at this foraging lark than we are.

At the park yesterday Adam and I were sitting on a bench enjoying the unseasonal warmth while Willow, Xanthe and their friend frolicked in the distance. Willow periodically mithered us to 'come and look', assuming it was yet another dance show of some description we demurred. However, Willow knows how to get our attention and mentioned the word 'walnut'. Walnuts you say? Now that's different ....

"No, not walnuts, that's not what I mean, the spiky ones, like in the park but edible", "Chestnuts?", "Yes! That's it, chestnuts!"

Last year's chestnut forage was a bit lacklustre. Our usual tree had bizarrely small nuts but I managed to find another with not quite so small nuts so all was not lost but it wasn't bounteous either. However, this year, Willow's new tree was amazing. Adam actually held up one of the chestnuts and scoffed "well, this is clearly a conker, you never get sweet chestnuts this big!" but he was wrong, it was a sweet chestnut. All of them are big, fat, shiny and beautiful. Certainly the biggest chestnuts we've found to date. 15 minutes picking gave us 4lbs of chestnuts.

It's interesting to read last year's blog post. It seems that in 2008 the chestnuts fell in early November. 2009 was a dry Autumn producing under-developed nuts which fell earlier - late September/early October while this year's wet Autumn has produced bigger, later nuts. Adam's hoping to log a couple of decade's worth of chestnut related data so he can produce graphs and suchlike illustrating the correlation between nut size, weather and ripening. Yes, dear reader, I did marry a geek - we all have our cross to bear.

Oh, and we forgot our most basic of nut foraging rules - wear a hat. Adam was narrowly missed by falling spiky chestnut case and I whacked my head on a low hanging branch and have a bleeding scalp to show for my efforts.

So, yeah, wear a hat!

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Norfolk Kitchen Empire Expands.

This time last year I was mainly concerned with how to maximise the vegetable harvest from my tiny back yard while quietly fuming about the lack of progress with the planned new allotment site.

Now I find myself in possession of not one but two allotments.

Yep, you read it right, I've taken on a second plot. Not on our current site at Bressingham but on the Diss allotment site which is just behind my house. It's always been a very popular site with long waiting lists and I had assumed it would take years to get a plot there so, although it's the closest to my house, I'd mentally written it off.

But back at Bressingham, as regular readers will probably know, we've had yet another kerfuffle. After the initial kerfuffle between the allotment holders, a house neighbouring the site has taken against the concept of allotments per se and has commenced a further kerfuffle - this one involving fly tipping, vandalism and raising formal complaints about children on the allotments. To be honest, this, taken with the well established perennial weeds, lack of water supply, muddy driveway which is unusable after rain, the 5 mile round trip every visit and the wonky decision making of the Parish Council has tipped me over the edge.

I called the Diss allotment site and asked to go on their waiting list which turned out to be all of 24hrs in length. Last night I got a call offering us the plot. I expressed surprise at the speed of the offer and was told it's all thanks to Bressingham, apparently we've absorbed the waiting lists from Diss and Roydon so there are vacant plots on those sites for the first time in years.

Today, I went to sign up. Even walking at a 3 year old's pace it only took 4 minutes to get there. Upon arrival, the clouds parted, a shaft of sunlight lit our way and the air was riven with angels singing. The driveway is hardcored, there is mains water on tap, the plot is clear with no weeds, the soil is fine crumbed and not the heavy clay we have at Bressingham. It's like sliding into a warm bath of allotmenteering. Ahhhhh .......

So now the question is, what do we do with Bressingham? We have a contract til March, so don't have to decide just yet but our two options seem to be:

Keep it. Plant it with low maintenance stuff like fruit trees/bushes so we don't have to go very often and keep Diss for the veg which will need lots of watering/care.

Hand it back. But what would we do with our shed, fence and newly planted fruit trees - none of which are allowed at Diss and none of which we have room for at home.

I'm leaning towards the former, but will having 2 plots on different sites be a pain in the rear?

What do you think? I'd love to hear your views.

Monday, 11 October 2010

There's Not Mush Room inside ....

Today, I was soooo tempted to write a whole ranty post about the Parish Council sternly writing to me (as secretary of the Allotment Association) with the rather joyless phrase "the allotments are for the purpose of growing vegetables, they are not playgrounds for children" in response to a complaint from a grumpy nearby householder which was taken at face value and not given even the most cursory of investigations. But as you can see, I decided not to do that.

(Deep breath)

What I decided to do instead was write a post about parasol mushrooms and how astonishing they are.

Adam and I are very much novices on the mushroom gathering front which I guess puts us in the category of Enthusiastic Amateurs Most Likely to Poison Themselves but we're slowly building our repertoire.

Driving past Brewer's Green the other day we spotted mushrooms so huge they were instantly visible from the road so we screeched to a halt and got out of the car to investigate. They were about a foot high and the top was easily the size of a large dinner plate, we took a couple of specimens home to identify but our confidence was dented when a dog walker sprinted over to us as we were leaving and tried to convince us they were poisonous, but despite the ominous portent we pressed on.

Happily, the dog walker was wrong. I've no idea where she got her identification from but we were careful, did a spore print etc and identified them as parasols.

I cooked them simply, fried in olive oil and garlic. The most astonishing thing I thought was how dramatically the mushrooms shrank when cooked. The cap was easily 30 or 40 cm across but by the time the water had been driven off, it was barely enough to feed 2 of us for lunch. Although, saying that, am I the only one to find wild mushrooms incredibly filling?