Discovering Lime Leaves and Sweet Thai Chilli Paste

Last week I had yet another hospital appointment for yet another CT Scan. As the hospital I attend is on the opposite side of the city from where I live, I decided to take the opportunity to explore a new foraging area. I had picked up a tip from Twitter courtesy of @loafonline and @abundancebrum that the place to go was an area of sports ground that edged onto the North Stratford Canal. A twofer: canals and foraging, hurrah!

I set off clutching my basket, not really expecting to find much as most of what had been mentioned was not likely to be in season. However, I feel that carrying my basket sort of gives me permission to walk about on my own. A bit like owning a dog. People look at you oddly if you walk around entirely without obvious purpose. But with a basket, I suddenly appear to look like I know what I am doing. Either that, or they think I am certifiable and are too terrified to meet my gaze in case I remove the kitchen scissors from the aforementioned basket and plunge them into their necks in a psychotic frenzy.  One can never tell.

Anyway. My tip turned out to be an excellent one and I shall definitely return in a few weeks. I spotted apples, damsons, blackberries, hazelnuts, elder and bird cherries all unripe. However, I did not leave empty-handed. Much to my delight, I found lime trees:

I had been flipping through Ghillie James’ Jams, Jellies & Relishes only the previous evening and spotted a relish I fancied making but it contained lime leaves. I do not know of any lime trees locally so finding them really was a joy. The recipe also contained lots of chillies so I could make good use of my chilli plant. In fact, I had to send out for reinforcements. The end results did not look particularly pleasant but pretty jars and packaging help a lot:

I first made use of it as a glaze for chicken drumsticks – extremely yummy!  And given both the number of chillies and amount of garlic, not overly spicy at all.  With some salad, rice and tomatoes it made the perfect Sunday tea.

Sweet Thai Chilli Paste

2 garlic bulbs, separated into bulbs and peeled

12 long red chillies, halved and de-seeded

3 x 8cm pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 large bunch of fresh coriander, stalks and leaves

4 lemongrass stems, trimmed and finely chopped

9 fresh lime leaves

400g Demerara sugar

6 tbsp rice wine vinegar

4 tbsp soy sauce

4 tbsp fish sauce

juice of 2 limes

Put garlic, chillies, ginger, coriander, lemongrass and lime leaves into a food processor and whizz until you have a fine paste.

Put the sugar and 250ml water into a large, deep frying pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Raise heat and boil for about 5 mins, or until the syrup has the consistency of clear honey (this took 10-15mins for me). Carefully add the paste to the pan and stir-fry for a further 5-7mins, or until the liquid has evaporated. Add the remaining ingredients plus 500mls of water and boil, stirring, for approximately 15-20mins, or until you have a thick but pourable paste. Spoon into warm sterilised jars and seal.

Use as a marinade, a curry base, a dipping sauce, a glaze or a stir-fry paste. To add extra oomph, leave in half the chilli seeds.


Playing with Cherry Plums

Today the Captain and I are skipping off to celebrate our wedding anniversary by attempting to find our thrill on Bilberry Hill. You know you have been married for twenty-three years when that quite genuinely means finding vast quantities of bilberries. Or even just a few … *sigh*

While we skip forth, I am going to leave you with this very belated post. Belated as I have a horrible feeling that the cherry plums will be past their best by now. Those I found were at the peak of ripeness at the beginning of the month and I suspect their season is short. However, perhaps you will be lucky and find a retarded tree. If not there is always next year. Or simply substitute ordinary wild plums.

I have adapted this recipe from one I found on The Cottage Smallholder’s fabulous blog. Having picked the seven kilos while narrowboating to Droitwich, on top of the previous 5 kilos I picked two days before, I was desperate for suitable recipes.

Fiona’s recipe looked wonderful but, being boat bound, I inevitably did not have all the ingredients. Consequently I had to do a bit of experimenting. Seeing as I was at it, I decided to play around and make a spicy version too as I have a friend, for whom I am doing a birthday hamper, who is a chilli nut. First tastings were definitely favourable and I am very much looking forward to tasting proper, once the period of maturation is over.

The two recipes follow:

Wild Yellow Cherry Plum Chutney

1.5kg wild yellow cherry plums

500g cooking apples, cored

500g onions, chopped finely

300g dried apricots, chopped into small pieces

200g raisins

225g soft brown sugar

2 large cloves of garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp salt

1 tsp allspice powder

2 inch piece of root ginger, grated

500ml white wine vinegar

250mls cider vinegar

1 small hot chilli, finely chopped

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

10 black peppercorns

Place cherry plums in a pan and simmer for 20mins in 75mls of the vinegar then leave overnight to cool. The following morning, remove the stones by squeezing them a handful at a time. Next, chop the apples into small pieces and add with all the other ingredients into a large preserving pan and bring slowly to the boil. *Reduce heat and simmer gently for as long as possible – 5 hours if you can – stirring occasionally. My cooker burns too hot to allow me to simmer for this long and the mixture was thickened and ready in about 3 hours. You can tell it is ready when you can draw a wooden spoon across the base of the pan and the chutney stays apart for a few seconds. Pour into sterilised jars and seal. Leave for four weeks before using.

Wild Yellow Cherry Plum & Chilli Chutney

Using the above recipe, take off 4 generous ladles-ful of chutney mixture at the asterisk *, just after all the ingredients have begun to boil. To this add the following:

3 green chillies, finely chopped, with seeds

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 inch piece of root ginger, grated

Bring back to the boil, then simmer very slowly for as long as possible as above. This version will be ready much sooner as the quantity is far less, but it should still be possible to simmer it for about 2 hours. Once thickened, pour into sterilised jars and seal. Leave for four weeks before using.

Gathering from the garden

For me, as a totally incompetent gardener, foraging starts the minute I step outside of my door.  That may lead me onto a canal towpath.  Not straight away.  I do not live on a canal.  Alas.  Unless we are aboard Wand’ring Bark and then I do not always have to even disembark as I outlined before when describing my Standing on the Roof of your Narrowboat method.  This, it has to be said, is my preferred option for wild food gathering.  But that is because I am inherently lazy.  However, this post is not about towpath foraging.  It is about back garden foraging.

I will grant you that foraging in the back garden does not have the thrill of discovery that foraging in the wild provides.  The buzz of surprise is not there as generally I know what to expect from my garden.  However, there is shock that it has grown.  This is bad of me because as I said before, I am not a gardener.  It is the Captain who gardens in our household.  So it should not surprise me when things grow, because he is quite good at it.

This year he is having tremendous success with cauliflowers, courgettes, carrots and red cabbage while I hesitantly bought a chilli plant and placed it on my window sill.  There it looked peeky and sad until the Captain whisked it off to the greenhouse and did some jiggery pokery to it.  It is now thriving and happy in its new home.  All this bounty has led to me being a little swamped and consequently, I have been doing ‘things’ with the assorted produce.

I am not a piccalilli fan, but after twenty-three years of marriage (it is our anniversary tomorrow.  What can I say?  I was a child bride … 😉 ) I have just discovered that the Captain is.  In order to use the various garden offerings I have adapted and in part re-written the recipe available in Pam Corbin’s Preserves to create something that I think is a bit new and a bit different.

I am not entirely sure if it has worked as it needs to mature for a few weeks before tasting.  But I am hopeful.  I would be very interested in your thoughts if you try it.  And so, without further ado, may I present:


A version of traditional Piccalilli with a little more va va vhoom!

1kg thoroughly washed vegetables made up from: cauliflower, courgettes, green tomatoes and carrot thinnings

1 hot chilli, de-seeded and chopped finely

50g fine salt

30g cornflour

10g ground turmeric

10g English mustard powder

15g yellow mustard seeds

1 tsp crushed cumin seeds

1 tsp crushed coriander seeds

1 tsp crushed dried chilli flakes

600ml cider vinegar

150g granulated sugar

50g honey

Cut the vegetables into small even bite-sized pieces.  Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt.  Mix well, cover with at tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours, then rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly.

Blend the cornflour, turmeric, mustard powder, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander and chilli flakes to a smooth paste with a little of the vinegar.  Put the rest in a pan with sugar and honey.  Bring to the boil.  Pour a little of the hot vinegar over the blended spice mix, stir well, then return to the pan.  Bring gently to the boil, and simmer for 3-4 minutes to allow the spices to release their flavours into the thickening sauce.

Remove pan from the heat and carefully fold in the well-drained vegetables into the hot, spicy sauce.  Pack the pickle into warm, sterilised jars and seal.  Leave to mature for 4-6 weeks before opening.  Use within 1 year.

More birthdays

Today is the eighteenth birthday of the daughter of one of my favourite families. She was a tiny scrap when I first held her, barely three weeks old. Even then she had the most beautiful eyes. And I knew I loved her. I thought about posting embarrassing baby photos, and I have plenty, but I have resisted. It was hard. But I have decided to save them. A better occasion may come along. Or there may be a time when a little blackmail could be in order!

On Saturday, I spent the day with her mother. This gave me the opportunity to put together a little extra something to go with her birthday present. A bloody mary kit.

But not just any bloody mary kit. Oh no. This is The Best Bloody Mary Kit In The World. So I hope you are all sitting up and taking note. You will never taste a finer version, I promise you that. She had better appreciate it. But then again, she is eighteen. She will just knock it back *sigh*.

First of all you have to make your flavoured vodkas. This cannot be rushed. So plan ahead.

Chilli Vodka

500ml Vodka, 2 green chillies (skins pricked): Put chillies into vodka, leave for 3-4 days, siphon off into clean sterilised bottles and seal. Will keep for up to a year.

Basil Vodka

As above only with 8 basil leaves.

Garlic Vodka

As above only peel and halve 2 large garlic cloves.

I did not use 500ml of vodka. I scaled it down and made 3 lots of 100ml. I also left all the ‘bits’ in as I know it will be consumed pretty soon and they do look pretty. Now for the recipe proper. Are you ready?

The Best Bloody Mary In The World

Serves 6

50ml each Garlic, Basil, Chilli Vodka

50ml each Whisky, Sherry, Ginger Wine

good dash of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

few drops of Tabasco sauce

tomato juice to top up

1-2 lemons sliced

black pepper

Put all the ingredients except the tomato juice, lemon slices and black pepper into a large jug and stir well. top up with tomato juice and add black pepper to taste.

Run a lemon slice around the rims of 6 glasses and pour in the Bloody Mary mixture. Garnish each glass with a fresh slice of lemon and serve.

Happy Birthday, gorgeous girl!