Jam, Jelly & Rellish by Ghillie James

This book was a real find in a well-known remainder bookshop.  It is still available on Amazon but I urge you to check out The Works first as it is there at a much reduced price.

Not only is it full of fabulous recipes but it is beautifully presented and would make a truly wonderful gift to any foodie.  It is a cloth-bound hardback with exquisite photos and a ribbon bookmark.  Set out in seasons, Ghillie presents a recipe for a preserve and then suggests at least one way to use it with another recipe following.  This is such sensible advice and so helpful as frequently I have found myself enthusiastically making a batch of something obscure and then wondering what on earth I am going to do with it.

It was from this book that I got the idea for making the Bloody Mary Kit for my friend’s daughter.  Then there was Raspberrycello, from our own raspberries, and most recently there has been Sweet Thai Chilli Paste which made a tasty coating for some chicken.  I have also made Ghillie’s Strawberry and Rose Petal Syrup and testify to its deliciousness.  The recipe suggestion following this is Billowy Meringues with Rippled Strawberry and Rose Filling but so far I have just used it on humble vanilla ice cream.  As a taster, I’ll leave you with the syrup recipe:

Strawberry and Rose Petal Syrup

Makes 1 litre

Keeps for up to a year

900g strawberries

juice of 2 lemons

1 tbsp rose water

450g jam sugar per 600ml juice

handful of rose petals

Put the strawberries into a pan with 350ml water and the lemon juice and simmer over a medium heat until the strawberries have collapsed and softened.  Mash using a potato masher, then transfer to a jelly bag and strain.

Measure the liquid and pour into a large pan.  Add the rose-water and 450g sugar for every 600ml of liquid and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved.

The next stage is a tricky one to give exact timings for as it depends entirely on the strawberries you are using and how ripe they are.  I have found, after various testings, that the easiest method is to bring the liquid to a rolling boil, then continue to boil for a further 5 mins.  Remove from the heat and pour a little of the syrup onto a cold saucer.  After 30 seconds in the fridge, it should feel thicker and look like a syrup, but should not wrinkle when you run your finger through it.  If it is still too watery, heat it up again and boil for a few more minutes and then retest in the same way.  It’s best to be cautious: you want the end result to be a thickened but pourable syrup, so it must not reach setting point.  Once the syrup has reached the right consistency, remove the pan from the heat and cool for 10 mins.

Put 4-5 rose petals in the bottom of each of your warm, but not boiling hot, sterilised jars bottles and pour in the warm syrup.  Seal and cool completely.

Hedgerow by John Wright

It is difficult to know what to write about this book.  Quite simply, I love it.  Love it love it LOVE IT!

But that is not enough.  How to convey that to you?  It is the book that got me seriously into foraging as a way of life.  I was led here by Pam Corbin’s Preserves – which, incidentally, is still the best book I have read on how to make jams and all things related.  Pam’s recipe for Beech Leaf Noyau, which I have shared here before, made me realise that there was more to the English countryside than just Horse Chestnut trees with candle stick blossom.  More importantly, she made me wonder if there was more to the tow paths than I had at first thoughts.  John’s book seemed a good way to find out.

Set out in The River Cottage Handbook format, it is a delight to both read and use.  It is small and compact enough to take out as a field guide with close up colour photos of the plants in question.  Far from a comprehensive or encyclopedic list, this book covers the ‘seventy or so … best wild food plants that the British Isles have to offer.’  Their inclusion is determined by those most likely to be found and most likely to be enjoyed.  Fungi and Seaside plant are covered by his other books on those subjects.  John’s writing style is entertaining and at times laugh out loud funny.  My copy is stained from the drink I splurted over the page where he writes of the dangers of eating poisonous species:

‘Remember, accidentally killing yourself by eating a poisonous plant for your tea may be a painful tragedy for you and your nearest, but, worse still, it is so embarrassing.’

I think my favourite quote comes from the page discussing wild roses.  Having seriously written of the Dog Rose and Field Rose, he goes exhort his reader to ‘look out for the Japanese Rose.  The plant is an enthusiastic immigrant, common in gardens, but also in hedgerows, roadsides and on sand dunes … The flowers are a deep pink, of medium size and intensely perfumed.  In addition it has, like my Auntie Hilda from Lowestoft, enormous hips.’

Another stained page.  I must remember not to drink and read at the same time.

As well as descriptions of edible plants, poisonous plants, a Forager’s calendar, a section on conservation and the law, John also includes several recipes.  I have made many of these and am looking forward to trying out  many more.  His Dandelion Marmalade is a particular favourite.

It is with great pleasure that I am going to be able to meet the man himself as he is leading the Mushroom course I will be doing this Autumn.  Very excited about it I am too.

Recipes from an Old Farmhouse by Alison Uttley

At last, time for a book review.  After a preamble.

I love books.  I have always loved books. Right from the time when I was still small enough to crawl onto my mother’s knee and curl up there listening while she read.  Frequently, those stories would be the tales of Sam Pig by Alison Uttley.  There lots of them but I particularly remember this one:

We had this edition and my Mum read it with such joy.  The stories were ones she had enjoyed as a child and her delight was evident.  We also had the full range of Little Grey Rabbit stories.  Remember her?

When my Mum went back to work, she recorded herself reading these stories on a tape recorder for my little sister to listen to.  I don’t remember when it was she was not meant to be with us as her first job was in the school my sister attended, but it was very forward thinking of her.  The first audio books combined with a strategy to ease maternal separation anxiety – quite brilliant!

One of the strange things that has happened since my accident, is that I seem to have lost patience with fiction.  I am not sure if it is my eyesight or the bang on my head that is causing the problem.  Either way, my usual consumption of novels is way down.  What it has been replaced with is a voracious appetite for flitting through non-fiction texts, reading snippets and moving on.  Foraging and recipe books are featuring VERY large in this which brings me to my first book review.  At last.

It was important to mention my love for Sam Pit and Little Grey Rabbit because their author, Alison Uttley, also wrote Recipes from an Old Farmhouse.  I was browsing my second favourite second-hand bookshop with my Mum recently and we both squealed with delight when we saw it sitting on the shelf.

It really is a delightful read.  It is as much a memoir of a childhood at the turn of the twentieth century as it is a recipe book.  Containing unashamedly local fayre (such as Thor Cake) and customs (like Wakes Week), Mrs Uttley describes how she grew up experiencing ‘cooking as a time of happiness’ and that her mother ‘cooked without a cookery book’ on an enormous scale.  Living in a remote part of Derbyshire, the farm had to be as self-sufficient as possible so recipes using hedgerow ingredients are used.  The account of making Cowslip Wine is so evocative and quite delightful.  The penultimate chapter is a section on homemade medicines as the ‘doctor lived miles away and as there was no telephone it meant a drive to fetch him when he would probably be a dozen miles away in the hills.’  Even when he did attend he would not always make up the long track to the farm but instead ‘a bottle of medicine was left at one of the stone gateposts, on the wooded hillside, and there I ran to find the white parcel sealed with scarlet wax, neat and beautiful.’  So different from the NHS of today!  Perhaps it is little wonder that homemade remedies were relied upon.

Unlike my latest practice of skipping about several books, I read this, cover to cover, in one sitting.  For anyone interested in the countryside, in food, in an earlier way of life, or in just good writing in general, I thoroughly recommend it.