Treading the Primrose Path of Dalliance

The Captain and I have been boating very slowly along the Llangollen Canal taking in the Montgomery Canal en route.  I like the Montgomery Canal.  It’s very picture skew.  The Captain made the 18 year old and I go on a walk.  I am still officially convalescing which is a tediously slow business but I am vastly improved.  However, the Captain is keen to get me back to fully functional.  So he decided a short walk was in order.  “Don’t worry,” quoth he, “tis but a gentle stroll!”

About four hours and nearly ten miles later we staggered from the end of the abandoned canal section we had been walking with the promise of a pub lunch dangled in front of us the only the thing keeping us upright.  On reaching the pub we discovered it was closed.  This was bad.  But it did not detract from the delightful scenery we had walked through.  There were swathes of primroses, carpets of celandine and more than a smattering of dandelions.  All was yellow with the promise of green.

Earlier in the week I had adapted a cake recipe to take advantage of the copious quantities of primroses we were encountering.  They are such a pretty flower and so synonymous of Spring, but did you know they were edible?  They taste slightly of honey but should only be picked where they are plentiful and even then care should be taken to ensure plenty are left behind.  I had made some primrose syrup by following the recipe for Wild Flower Syrup after a weekend in Norfolk.  I crystallised some fresh ones by painting egg white onto individual flowers with a child’s paint brush and then dusting them with caster sugar.  Apparently they will keep like this for up to 8 weeks but mine only lasted 2 days.  Though that might be because we ate them!

The cake was delicious and very pretty.  It is an infitely adaptable recipe.  I have made it with wild flower syrup, elderflower cordial and I have plans for another using violets 🙂

Primrose Crunch Cake

175g softened butter

175g caster sugar

3 eggs

140g self raising flour

85g ground almonds

1/2 tsp baking powder

100ml milk

Handful of fresh primrose petals

For the Primrose Drizzle:

4 tbsp Primrose Syrup

4 tbsp granulated sugar

Crystalised primroses to decorate

Heat the oven to 160c/gas 3.  Grease & line a 2lb loaf tin.  Beat the butter and sugar till light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, flour, almonds, baking powder and milk until smooth.  Fold in primrose petals.  Pour into tin and bake for 45-50 mins until golden, risen and a skewer comes out cleanly when poked into the centre.  As soon as out of oven, poke skewer all over pricking holes into the cake.  Mix together the syrup and sugar and pour over cake, allowing it to soak in.  Leave to cool in tin.  Once completely cool, lift out carefully, decorate with crystalised flowers and slice to serve.


Easter Tidings & Business Update

I know I’m late.  But I have not had the internet connections that would have allowed more timely greetings.  The Llangollen and Montgomery Canals have been utterly delightful but lacking in this regard.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Remote can be good.

This trip has marked the first time we have been out on Wand’ring Bark since my decision to officially go into the preserve making business.  In the run up to going away, I have been awash with legislation, registration and administration.  And I’m not entirely sure I’m sorted yet.  Actually, let me correct that.  I am entirely sure that I am NOT sorted yet!  You would not believe the complexity involved in selling a jar of jam.  However, all this red tape is designed to protect us and I really do not want to poison anyone so it’s all fine.  No really it is.  As well as tedious stuff, there has also been lot’s of exciting things – coming up with a name, ordering jars, planning a website, discussing logo design, booking fairs etc.

However, it really has been delightful to get away and get on with the actual making.  After all, that is kind of what I really want to do.  It’s been delightful to see the hedgerows waking up after winter and finally being able to dust off my maslin pan to make the most of their harvest.  Within days I had used up all the jars I brought with me so bought a dozen more.  These too are now full so I am hanging up my kit until we’re home when I have some boozy sloes that will need taking care of.  My boat cupboard is now full of Primrose Preserve, Dandelion Jelly, Primrose & Dandelion Jelly, Spiced Wild Garlic & Carrot Chutney and Wild Garlic & Apple Jelly.

At least I now have some products to sell!  Hopefully, my website will be live soon and details of how to buy will be available there.  Exciting times 🙂

Cider Revisited

Rember the homemade cider press?  It’s turned out to be a triumph!  They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating in which case the proof of the cider must be in the drinking and oh my this is definitely very drinkable.  And must be a very high percentage proof.  Either that or someone has moved all the letters around on this keyboard …

The Captain and I are away with the 18 year old  on a two week jaunt heading to Llangollen.  We’re currently moored on the Shroppie somewhere between Audlem and Nantwich.  We’ve had a fantastic day of sunshine and piercingly blue skies with chill winds – quite perfect for foraging dandelions and primroses.  I have several jellies on the go, some of which are a tad experimental so I have no idea how they’ll turn out.  I shall let you know.  I am hoping they’ll form part of the product line for my new business.  Wild Side will up and running very soon and I’ll have a link to the new website as soon as it’s live.

But for now, I think I may have to give up.  It’s really way too challenging trying to negotiate this newly arranged keyboard.  But the cider is amazing!  Will definitely be doing that again.


Rose Water & Drying Petals

Japanese roses (rosa rugosa) that grow in such abundance in our English hedgerows are actually an invader and not native to our shores.  They are also very hardy, look beautiful with their big brash blooms, have the most enormous hips from as early as July and smell divine with their in-yer-face scent.  So I have little compunction in making as much use of them as I can whenever they are about.

They are not about now, however.  Yesterday’s post stirred my memories of summers past and a question on Facebook prompted me to post a recipe for Rose Water.  It really could not be simpler:

Rose Water

A jam jar – size dependent on the amount of rose water you wish to make

Japanese rose petals

Pick over your petals to ensure no insects present but do not wash them as this will disturb their scent.  Pack into the jam jar.  Fill jar with freshly boiled water and leave for 24 hours.  Next day, strain through scalded muslin and bottle.  Done. Use in all manner of recipes including Rose Tiffin.

How easy is that?  I am not sure how long it keeps for.  I have had some in my fridge since August and it is still fine.

Drying petals is equally easy.  Simply spread them out over a rack or mesh (I use either my baking cooling racks or my laundry drying thingy – a Lakeland special I have never used for its proper purpose!).  Leave somewhere dark, dry and preferably warm for as long as it takes for the petals to dry out thoroughly, approximately one week.  Store in an air tight jar out of direct sunlight and use as required.

Of King Lear, Floozy Vocab and Christmas Hampers

I have been tardy of late in my food writing.  Something for which I received a mild reprimand on Facebook.  The trouble is that I am a little preoccupied with a looming deadline for the completion of the taught part of my MA.  I just have the small matter of handing in a three thousand word paper comparing two films ofKing Lear which can be summed up as ‘redemptive versus existentialist’ but I really should at least try to find the other two thousand nine hundred and ninety-seven words.  I am sure they are lurking somewhere, though it is entirely possible that they have donned their scarlet lippy and red stilettos and gone tripping off for a night on the town.  Once they return, hung over and dishevelled, I will attempt to marshal them into some sort of coherent order and get on with the more serious business of playing with my maslin pan which has been sore neglected of late.  I dusted it off last week to make some granola in, but it was less than impressed.

Once my essay is handed in, I will have much to tell you of my trip to Spain and then before we know it the boating season will be upon us and there will be foraging and boating opportunities aplenty.  Hurrah!

For now, I will tell you of my Christmas hampers.  When I was looking for inspiration, I found a dearth of ideas around.  I suspect it is because, like me, when making up the hampers, the very people you are assembling them for may stumble upon your blog and therefore it is not politic to publish abroad the detail of their present before they have received it.  This Christmas I did three main hampers using lovely wicker baskets with hinged lids fastened with leather straps that I had found in one of my favourite charity shops.

I always line my hampers with tissue paper and package with straw, whether they be smart wicker baskets like this one, or old cardboard boxes that I have re-papered.  I try to colour match the tissue paper to the material tops I cover my jars with.  The photo above has gold and white with gold stars tissue papers but the photo does not show these well.  I wish I had kept a list of the contents but I am not that organised.  I do know that there were a selection of jams, jellies and chutneys; four or five bottles of assorted hedgerow tipples; crab apple cheese; sauces such as Blackberry Ketchup and Sage, Apple & Vintage Cider Sauce; Sugars such as Vanilla, Lavender or Cinnamon; Herb Rub presented in a Salt Grinder; flavoured salts; Cakes such as Hedgerow Christmas Cake, Rose Petal Tiffin and Quince Crumble Cake; Pistachio & Cranberry Cookies; Chocolate Gin Damsons and finally a couple of bottles of the Captain’s homebrew.  I make ample use of ribbons and for a non-foodie filler added a tea towel and coaster chosen with the recipients in mind.

For the hedgerow tipples, I mostly used recycled bottles but I did find some lovely bottles on Stratford Market.  They were stackable and three fitted very neatly into the corner of the hampers.

Unfortunately the corks were not altogether leak proof so there was some spillage but thankfully not much.  Scouring charity shops is a great way to pick up some interesting jars and bottles.  I have found some lovely ones over the past year.

As a final flourish I made gift tags, picking the most relevant images I could find and making them as festive as possible.  I rather suspect I had far more pleasure making them than those receiving them did but who cares!  I do know that the Captain is still using his as a book mark but then he has to face me every day 🙂

Other hampers I put together included Butterbeer Kits for both adults and children; Bloody Mary Kits; Christmas Muffin Kits and Breakfast Kits.  Details to follow.

I shall leave you with the recipe for Rose Petal Tiffin which was a forager’s delight.  I used Japanese rose petals that I had dried earlier in the year and rose water that I had made from the same roses.  So satisfying to be still using a taste of summer deep into winter.

Rose Petal Tiffin with Pistachio Nuts and Figs

200ml double cream

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp rose water

350g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

handful of dried rose petals

250g unsalted, shelled pistachio nuts

7 dried figs, chopped

Line a lightly oiled 16cm square tin with cling film.  In a pan warm the cream with the sugar and rose water, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  When completely melted stir in the cream until fully incorporated.  Fold in the remaining ingredients.  Press into tin, smooth over the top and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.  Lift slab from tin, turn onto chopping board and peel away the cling film.  Cut into bite sized pieces, approximately 20.

Using up Boozy Fruit from Hedgerow Liquor

I have spent much of the Summer and Autumn setting copious quantities of fruit to stew in vast amounts of various alcohols.  I have made Wild Cherry Ratafia, Haw Brandy and Raspberrycello.  Damson Gin, Sloe Vodka and Blackberry Whisky.  Not to mention the Raspberry & Apple Gin, Creme de Mure, Elderberry Liquor, Currant Shrub, Beech Leaf Noyau and the inevitable Sloe Gin among many others.  Indeed, I may I have made mention of my alcofrolicking before.

Inevitably all this alcohol means the fruit is well preserved when the time comes to drain it off (arguably it has imparted all its flavour and is fit only for the bin.  I am not sure about composting things once sugar or alcohol has been involved but no doubt any gardeners among you could tell me?).  However, somehow this does not seem right.  Carl Legge suggests a wonderful trilogy of recipes for sloes which uses the same batch each time so clearly sloes, at least, still have plenty to offer.  I currently have a batch of Sloe and Rosehip wine and Vodka on the go following Carl’s advice and am looking forward to the final part of the trilogy when I get to make the jam.  So far it’s all, er, hopeful?  The wine looks pretty:

but I’m not so sure about the vodka or its potential for jam:

but I shall persevere.

Covering damsons or sloes in melted chocolate (with some citrus zest and christmas spices for variety) is another lovely way to use boozy fruits up.  The hit of whatever alcohol has been used for soaking makes these a very special after dinner treat.

Today, though, I decided to experiment with my tried and tested Christmas cake recipe.  On Friday, I had bottled a batch of Plum Brandy and a some Plum Rum, and what with plums featuring quite strongly in Christmas cooking folklore, I decided these fruits would make a welcome addition to the cake mix.  I simply stoned and weighed the plums, then substituted them for a mix of the other dried fruits.  As these plums had all come from our summer boating trips, I decided to add to the foraged nature of cake by using my chestnut flour in place of the ground almonds.  The result is a light coloured, densely fruity cake that I will feed with Plum Brandy between now and Christmas.  Having made some little ones for hampers, the Captain and I sampled one and I have to say it tastes delicious!

Hedgerow Christmas Cake

2kg Dried Fruit + boozy fruit, chopped & stoned – I used: 500g brandy & rum plums; 400g currants; 400g sultanas; 300g raisins; 225g glacé cherries; 175g mixed peel.

100g Chestnut Flour (use ground almonds instead as alternative)

grated zest of 2 lemons

grated zest of 1 orange

400g softened butter

400g dark soft brown sugar

6 eggs

4 1/2 tbsp plum brandy (or other hedgerow brandy/rum to match boozy fruit)

2 tbsp black treacle

100g self-raising flour

375g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 1/4 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Grease and double line a 9 inch deep square cake tin.  Pre-heat oven to 150c/Gas 2.  Combine fruit in mixing bowl and stir in chestnut flour with citrus zest.  In another mixing bowl cream together the butter, sugar and treacle with an electric hand whisk until light and fluffy.  Sift the flours and spices together in a third bowl.  Beat the eggs into the creamed mixture following each addition with two tablespoons of spiced flour.  Mix in the plum brandy and then fold in the remaining flour.  Add the fruit mixture and stir to combine.  Spoon into the prepared tin, spreading out evenly.  Cut out double thickness strips of brown paper to surround the outside of the tin and tie in place with string to prevent the outside edge of the cake becoming too hard during baking.  Place just the below the centre of the oven and bake for approximately 5 hours until a skewer, inserted into the centre, comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in tin for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Keep wrapped in lining paper then further wrap in foil and store in an air tight tin for up to two months.  Each week, peel back the layers and feed with a couple of tablespoons of plum brandy (or your chosen hedgerow brandy/rum) drizzled over the surface).

Quince and Apple Crumble Cake

I have already written about my plethora of quince.  Before this year, to my shame, I had never cooked with them.  The flowering variety are a very unprepossessing fruit and do not look like they promise much.  However, I have been delighted with everything that I have made which left me with a dilemma.  What to do with my remaining fruit?  They have been sitting on my kitchen table for a week now perfuming the air with their fragrance, but the time had come to use them.  I thought about mixing them with apples for a compote as I am partial to fruit and yogurt at breakfast time.  But my freezer is stuffed to the gills.  I toyed with ideas of conjuring more alcoholic mixes with vodka or gin but could not quite persuade myself.  I was sorely tempted my recipe for Quinceade but in the end decided to go with a variation on my friend Joy’s recipe for Crumble Cake.

Ready for the oven

I combined the quinces with cooking apples and the resulting tart but tasty topping was perfectly offset by the icing sugar dusting.

I made one large 9″ round, which I rather foolishly was hoping would last over the weekend, and four mini loaf tin sized cakes that I intend to squirrel away in the freezer for Christmas hampers in due course.

It works well as a cake and is delicious as a pudding, either hot from the oven or cold, with cream or without.  One I will be adding to the To Be Done Again list.

Quince and Apple Crumble Cake

For the crumble topping:

  • 80g butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 50g sugar

For the fruit

  • 400g quince, peeled, cored and diced
  • 400g cooking apples, peeled cored, and diced
  • 2 tbsps sugar

For the base

  • 100g butter
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g caster sugar
  • pinch of salt

Ensure all ingredients at room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 190c/Gas 5.  Grease and line a 9″ spring form tin or 4 mini loaf tins.  First prepare the topping.  Rub the butter into the flour and then stir in the sugar.  Set aside in a bowl until needed.  Next prepare the base.  Using an electric mixer, combine all base ingredients and mix for 2 mins until light and fluffy.  Finally prepare fruit and toss with sugar.  Spread base over bottom of tin/s.  Then add fruit, then sprinkle over topping.  Place in centre of oven and bake for about 1 hour (45 mins approx for mini tins @ 170c) until cooked through.  Cool completely in tin.

Beef in Homebrew with Horseradish and Chestnut Dumplings

Today my Chestnut flour finally got its first outing.

It is very precious so I wanted to use it for something special.  While furtling about in my freezer yesterday I found some organic stewing steak I had forgotten about and decided this would be the perfect partner for my flour.  Using John Wright’s recipe as a base, I tweaked and adapted the stew to suit my ingredients while remaining faithful to the dumplings.

It was incredibly satisfying to use so many of our own produce.  The carrots could not have been fresher as I pulled them up only minutes before using them.  The onions were also grown by the Captain as were the herbs and horseradish root.  Digging up the latter proved to be every bit as tricky as all my foraging books promised and preparing it was a nightmare.  Next time I think I shall dig out a pair of discarded swimming goggles from the long gone days of children’s swimming lessons.  Whether this will help remains to be seen but for those of you who have not had the unique pleasure that is grating fresh horseradish root, all I can say is, think of chopping the worst onions in the world and then multiply by one hundred.

Obviously, the beer I used was the Captain’s homebrew.  I suppose any old beer would do, but it will not be the same.  Clearly 🙂

Anyway.  Whether I am just biased after concocting such a home produced meal complete with foraged ingredients, but I have to say that the results were rather splendid.

Beef in Homebrew with Horseradish and Chestnut Dumplings

Serves 4 with dumplings and enough stew for freezing

25g butter

250g onions, chopped

275g streaky bacon, chopped

1250g stewing steak, cubed

25g plain flour

25g chestnut flour

1litre homebrew bitter

2 tbsp tomato purée

4 bay leaves

several sprigs of fresh thyme

1 heaped tbsp cornflour

For the dumplings:

  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 25g chestnut flour
  • pinch of baking powder
  • 50g freshly grated horseradish
  • 50g shredded suet
  • about 75ml water
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a large/deep frying pan and cook the onions with the bacon, until the onions are soft and the bacon beginning to brown.  Transfer to slow cooker using a slotted spoon.  Brown the beef in batches and transfer to plate.  Return to pan and sprinkle with flours stirring well to mix and thicken the juices.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Pour homebrew into pan, gradually, stirring well to mix in all the sediment.  Add tomato purée, herbs and salt and pepper.  Bring to boil stirring in cornflour mixed with a little water then pour over meat in slow cooker.  Leave for several hours to cook until tender.

One and half hours before serving make the dumplings.  Mix all the ingredients except the water in a bowl.  Gradually add the water, kneading lightly into a soft dough.  Shape into small balls of about 3cms in diameter.  Remove the lid of the slow cooker and sit the balls on top of the stew.  Replace the lid and leave.  Serve when dumplings cooked.


Two weeks ago one of my friends came round with a large bag of flowering quince.  It’s the sort of shrub that likes to hang out in car parks or landscaped public spaces.  It also does quite well in suburban gardens around here.  We have a small bush in ours.  We did have a bigger bush in the front garden but the Captain killed it.

I thought long and hard about how to use this bagful.  For about five whole minutes.  And then made some jam.  It’s very nice jam, not too sweet.  I like it a lot and I am not a lover of jam.  The irony of my current obsession is not lost on me.  I also started some quince brandy which I have high hopes for.  This left me with just enough to experiment with.  Alys Fowler’s book, The Thrifty Forager, makes mention of quince lemonade so I thought I would try to concoct that.  The results are so delicious that I post them with delight and heartily commend them to you.  Quite possibly the best thing about the recipe is that you need to start by freezing the quince meaning that long hot summer days, which are currently something of a distant memory, can be spent sipping this dreaming of the time when the quince will be fruiting again.

My only problem now, is what to do with the bag load of quince my Mother has just delivered to me.  Shall I freeze the lot in anticipation of those hazy summer days sipping quinceade, or make some quince and apple compote?  Perhaps a compromise is called for and a little of each made.


300g frozen quince, defrosted

2 1/2 litres water

200g sugar

Halve and de-seed the quince.  Liquidise with a little of the water, slowing adding the rest until the whole lot is incorporated.  Sieve into another container, pressing the sieve with the back of a spoon.  Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.  Use a hand-held blender to give a final whizz and achieve the frothy head.  Serve.

Chickweed Pakoras

Inspired by my afternoon’s foraging with Edible Eastside at the weekend, I strolled around the garden yesterday with a new eye.  Actually, a properly new eye would really be quite nice.  Mine is decidedly wonky.  My newly opened eyes were scouring the garden for edible weeds, the likes of which Pam pointed out.  I am sure there were loads.  But I could not find them.  I was about to give up when I spied the most enormous crop of chickweed.  Can you call chickweed a crop?  I think most gardeners call it a nuisance.  The Captain uses far less savoury words for it.  But my heart soared at its lush verdant presence 🙂  We had found some nice samples along the towpath on Saturday but this was soft and green and bushy and bursting with health making the towpath version look positively paltry in comparison.

I have been wanting to make John Wright’s Chickweed Pakoras, from his Hedgerow River Cottage Handbook, ever since I first bought the book back in the spring but have not managed to get my act together to do so.  Yesterday was the perfect opportunity.  My youngest turned eighteen on Sunday.  He received a DIY Curry Kit as a gift and was planning to treat the Captain and I to Chicken Timitar Masala so my find could not have happened at a better time.

Living in a large multicultural city made getting hold of gram flour a simple matter of visiting my local supermarket.  Asian stores will stock it if it is not that simple for you.  50g a chickweed is approximately a couple of handfuls.

This was such a simple recipe to follow and the results were good too.  The only thing I will do differently next time is to add less salt.  But it is one I will definitely be repeating.

Chickweed Pakoras

Makes 8

100g flour

1tbsp medium curry powder

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

About 120ml water

50g Chickweed, washed, dried and roughly chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

Vegetable oil for shallow-frying

Mix the flour, curry powder, baking powder and salt together in a bowl, then slowly stir in enough water to form a paste the consistency of mustard. Mix in the Chickweed, onion and garlic, stirring until they are well coated in the pasted.

Heat a thin layer of oil in a heavy based frying pan. When hot, spoon in heaped desssertspoonfuls of the pakora mix to form little cakes, spacing them well apart. Cover with a lid and cook over a medium heat for about 5 mins until crisp and golden brown on one side. Turn the cakes over to brown the other side. Drain on kitchen paper and serve at once.