Thursday, June 22, 2006

First clabber your bonny…

It’s so easy to get sidetracked. I wanted to write about a Somerset cream tea, which would be a homemade scone, with homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream, and a cup of tea. The strawberries are in spate, a big basket was picked a few days ago and the cupboard is now full of twinkling jars of ruby jam. Let’s make some scones.

I noticed that several recipes for scones suggest you use buttermilk. I’ve never done that, but it makes a lot of sense as the acid will encourage the raising agent to work better. We no longer use much buttermilk in this country, although we used to. I know about it mainly from soda bread, and in parts of the country it is easy to get, in other parts of the country impossible. I did find some locally, but just as I was about to start in on the scones I found a site that told me how to make my own buttermilk. The process is known as ‘clabbering’ as what you are aiming to make is ‘clabbered’ milk. Any method called clabbering just begs to be tried. The word ‘clabber’ comes from the Irish word for thickened or the Scots word for mud, whichever you like, and the Irish word for milk is banne (see the invaluable MacBain’s Dictionary). Together they make up the word ‘bonnyclabber’, which is what we know as buttermilk.

You can make buttermilk from scratch with milk that has soured all by itself. If you ever have milk in the fridge that has gone off, with no trace of mould, you can use that, but I didn’t want to hang around that long. In which case you take 6-8 ozs of cultured buttermilk, put it in a scrupulously clean jar and fill up with whole milk. I expect you can do this with skimmed milk too, but I used whole milk.

Leave in a warm place(around 69ºF is best) for 24 hours, by which time the milk should have soured and thickened, or clabbered. Ben Jonson mentions ‘bonnyclapper’ as a drink with beer and buttermilk, but I‘m not sure I like the sound of that – and anyway I don’t know what kind of beer Ben was drinking in the 17th century (but it would be interesting to find out…) Buttermilk keeps for weeks at a time in the fridge.

So, with thoroughly clabbered milk we can get back to the scones.

Buttermilk scones

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas 6.
225g plain flour
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
45g unsalted butter
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
About 185 ml buttermilk

Sift flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into bowl. Rub in the butter but don’t overwork the mixture, it releases the gluten in the flour which will give a rubbery consistency. Make a well in the centre and add the sugar and enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Roll out on a floured surface (gently) to a thickness of 1.5cm and use a 5cm cutter to stamp out rounds. Lay on a floured baking sheet and brush tops with milk. Bake for 10 mins until risen and browned.

Eat warm and fresh, with strawberry jam and clotted cream, for a real taste of the West of England in summer.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The B word

Susan in Italy was asking how long you can keep preserved lemons once you open the jar. This set me thinking. I remembered reading somewhere about toxins and the word ‘botulism’ was mentioned. BOTULISM? Something about home bottling and canning. I opened the fridge door with my heart beating the soundtrack from Jaws and peered in. There was the jar of home roasted pimentos I had stored in olive oil; there was the jar of olives I made up the other day, with garlic and herbs and olive oil. Hmmm. Out went the pimentos and I am keeping a close eye on the olives.

A little research reveals some reassurance. Although botulism is a very very nasty toxin that attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis it is also extremely rare. Food is contaminated before preservation, and the bacteria germinate and reproduce in anaerobic conditions, producing toxin, which is then ingested. Foil-wrapped baked potatoes, sautéed onions and fermented fish are culprits, plus, let’s be careful here, garlic in oil. I have occasionally seen that garlic in oil ferments, but I didn’t know about the botulism bit.

Food with a high acidity is generally safe because the bacteria cannot live in an environment with a pH lower than 4.6 – lemons, pears and pickles generally have a pH of 2-4 (pears eh?). So we are fairly safe with the lemons it would seem, plus all that salt.

They (preserved lemons) do throw off a sort of sediment, and the lemon pulp particulates in the lemon juice also sink to the bottom of the jar, leaving clear lemon juice and a sort of lemon mud around the base. It does no harm. You can add more lemons and salt, and you need to top up the jar with lemon juice, but otherwise, if you keep the jar in cool, or chilled conditions, there should be no need to worry. As far as I can see they keep for at least six months or for up to a year, depending on who you trust.

It’s the garlic in the olives that worries me, but I think if I add some vinegar that should change the pH… Ah ha! I know! I will add some chopped preserved lemons to the olives - what a very good idea!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives

Back in February I made up a jar of preserved lemons. The recipe couldn’t be easier – or look more beautiful when complete.

6 whole unwaxed lemons (about 1 1/2 lbs)
2 1/2 cups lemon juice
6 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 quart jar

Do try to get unwaxed lemons because it can be very difficult to remove the wax otherwise. Cut the lemons lengthwise into six sections, keeping them attached at the stem, so that the lemon will hold together. Pack 1 tablespoon of salt inside of each lemon. Place lemons and black peppercorns into a sterilized jar and completely fill with lemon juice. Seal the jar and leave to mature for 4 weeks in refrigerator. Rinse lemons before using.

(What I didn’t realise was how much lemon juice you need – half way through I had to dash off for more lemons to make juice to fill the jar!)

The jar has been sitting in the dark of a cool cupboard for a number of weeks now and trying to attract my attention. Eventually it succeeded.

Tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives

This recipe is from Claudia Roden’s book Arabesque and is also available on BBC Food. I have always treasured her cookery books and my copy of A Book of Middle Eastern Food is completely dog eared and stained. This was the book from which I learned to make couscous, pitta bread, hummus and baklava, and heard about rosewater and Imam Bayildi for the first time. She included poetry and wisdom from the East and wrote with an exotic passion that struck my youthful heart and made my mouth water.

The original recipe for this tagine includes artichokes and I would think that would be terrific, if I had any artichokes!


3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 2 onions, finely chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

½ tsp crushed saffron threads or saffron powder

¼-½ tsp ground ginger

1 chicken, jointed

salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ lemon, juice only

2 tbsp chopped coriander

2 tbsp chopped parsley

2 small preserved lemons, peel only

12-16 green or violet olives, either stoned or left whole


1. In a wide casserole or heavy-bottomed pan that will fit the chicken pieces in one layer, heat the oil and add the onions. Sauté, stirring over a low heat, until softened, then stir in the garlic, saffron and ginger.

2. Add the chicken pieces, season with freshly ground black pepper, and pour in about 300ml/10fl oz of water. Simmer, covered, turning the pieces over a few times and adding a little more water if it becomes too dry.

3. Lift out the breasts after 20 minutes and set aside. Continue to cook the remaining pieces for another 25 minutes, then return the breasts to the pan.

4. Stir in the lemon juice, coriander, parsley, preserved lemon peel and olives. Cook slowly until the sauce reduces a little. Check for seasoning – the preserved lemons may have given all the saltiness required. Serve with the olives and lemon peel on top of the meat.

This is a wonderful dish, fragrant and pungent at the same time, and incredibly easy to make. I served it with plain rice but I considered couscous with apricots. On reflection it really doesn’t need any other distractions; the lemon and coriander and parsley and garlic do a dervish dance in your mouth that is quite delirious enough.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Yippee! This is the day I’ve been waiting for for weeks, this is the day the PYO opens.

The best thing would be an allotment, but my parish council doesn’t have any allotments, so the next best thing is the Pick Your Own fruit and vegetable farm. Due to our crazy weather it has opened a little late this season, and today was my first day there.

Tom Phippen’s farm, at Chew Magna, is run by Tom (son of the original Tom), and his wife Jean. High above Chew Lake, it has one of the best views in the county and an atmosphere of complete peace and tranquillity. The season starts with strawberries – grown at table top height for ease of picking – and gooseberries, and continues through raspberries, tayberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, broad beans, peas etc etc. It is the next best thing to growing them yourself – actually in many ways it is much better than growing them yourself because someone else has done all the hard work!

Gooseberries are suddenly terribly fashionable and according to Jean the crop will be completely picked in ten days. It used to be that you couldn’t give gooseberries away, but now the goosegog has become hip, the cool green berries rarely seen in supermarkets and having a short season. They are easy to pick, although the bushes are thorny, and, unlike the other summer fruits, not as tempting to gorge yourself on whilst picking.

Top and tail them, and then put to stew gently with a little water and quite a lot of sugar. Sometimes I add elderflower cordial for an extra kick. This will be my breakfast for the next few days, with some greek yoghurt.

They make the best fool in the world, swirled with custard, or, even more decadently, whipped cream. Or try as a sauce for mackerel, the fish slashed and grilled over the barbeque.

Tom Phippen’s farm, Chew Magna 01275 332397 – phone for directions (Tom and Jean, see left)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Thanks to the Sisterhood of the Stove

A big thank you to everyone who sympathised and offered advice about the no image problem. Blogger is still behaving in a very white and shaky manner and the doctors are muttering at the end of the bed, but I loaded up Firefox and the little sneaky creature found a way through for my pictures. Below is the post I started to try and send over a week ago.

It was quite strange to be blogless for these few days. Like a missing limb.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Slow Food, Sauncy Chops

The Slow Food movement was born in Italy in 1986, as a response to fast food and ‘fast life’. It now involves over 80,000 people in 104 countries around the world. It celebrates differences in flavours, artisanal food production and sustainable approaches to fishing and farming.

Once a month there is a Slow Food market in Bristol, the first of its kind in the UK. As the sun eventually came out at the start of June it shone down on a vibrant bunch of stallholders and producers. Fresh garlic and tomatoes from the Isle of Wight, artisan bread, great cider and apple juice, herbs, honey and organic meat.

I was delighted to meet Andrew Moore from Th
e Thoroughly Wild Meat Co, Bratton House, Bratton Seymour, Wincanton BA9 8DA (01963 824788). He grazes his lambs on the Somerset salt marshes, one of only a handful of farmers who raise their meat this way. The sheep feed on wild grasses and the natural antibacterial qualities of the salt water dramatically reduce the need to douse the sheep with chemicals. Lambs grazed in the Normandy salt marshes command premium prices, but in England we are only just beginning to catch on. The Welsh too produce salt marsh lamb, some of which made its way to the final of BBC TV’s Great British Menu series.

Andrew is passionate and enthusiastic, and patient with enquiries. He waxed lyrical about his salt marsh mutton chops, so lyrical that I had to try them. They were at least two and a half
inches thick and, having been hung for at least seven days, a mature dark red. As they sat bathing in a little olive oil and strewn with rosemary,
waiting while I put the barbeque together ("this will only take a minute...")
and then for it to come up to temperature, my mother said “What sauncy looking chops!” I think this means attractive, good looking, but I can’t find it in any dictionary, so I guess it’s a Northern
Ireland expression. But fitting I think. Sauncy chops.

And if sauncy can also mean absolutely unforgettably delicious then they are definitely sauncy. If I could eat chops like this every day I would, and as this is probably exactly what the Victorians, and Dr Johnson and co were eating, this is probably why the mutton chop was as popular then as it was. As a rule I’m not crazy about lamb – often it is rather pallid and nasty, but this is like Beethoven after a jingle – a real flavour, with depth and richness, and the robust texture of an animal that has not been intensively reared. Andrew was talking to me about the soil qualities on his land, and I think I will have to visit and investigate a bit further. Mmmmm, and he also farms roe deer for venison…
You can order from him at

Sunday, June 04, 2006

My beautiful loaf!

I started a sourdough leaven a few weeks ago and it has been bubbling along in the kitchen ever since. I kept it in the fridge for a few days and then decided it was better out on the worktop. Most days it gets a spoonful or two of flour, after which it froths up the jar and then subsides, having had its lunch. On bread making days I take out what I need, empty the remainder into a jug, and top up with water. The jar gets rinsed out carefully and the leaven goes back into the clean jar, with the addition of enough flour to make a thick paste.

I’m learning how to use the leaven; it sits there, bubbling away until it is needed, and it is available at a moment’s notice. Whether it is bread , or focaccia, or even pancakes, it is on hand.

I still hold my breath as the dough flips on to the bakestone – it seems to me to be so soft, almost flowing in its consistency, I can scarcely believe it will hold together. I am experimenting with adding more flour, but I’m so delighted with the bread that I’m reluctant to mess it up! The structure is just right, with a barely detectable sourness and wonderful keeping qualities.

This is the most recent loaf, made with organic flour from Stoates at Cann Mills, Dorset – thank you Michael! It makes bread with a rich creamy crumb; the crust was thin and crisp and the taste was full and rounded.

I think this will be the last of the sourdough posts for a while – until I experiment with something new.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Borrowed caponata

When I wrote in a recent post about a wonderful plate of antipasto that I ate at Carluccio's in London I had a note from Susan in Italy to tell me that the 'aubergine chutney thing' I enjoyed so much was probably caponata. In the end I don't think it was, because it didn't have tomato in it, but I have been introduced to caponata and now I think I could live on it. So a huge thank you to Susan, and here is how to make this fantastic sweet and sour Sicilian dish:

I have adapted this recipe, which comes from Kake's (Vegan) Cookery Site, and Kake adapted it from a recipe by Sheldon ( found at Epicurious, and Sheldon found it in the July 1991 issue of Gourmet Magazine, which goes to show that if you are going to borrow recipes make sure you borrow from the very best! It also features in Elizabeth David's Italian Food in which she describes it as 'An interesting dish. Try it in half quantities.' Her recipe (keeping up the borrowing tradition) comes from Edmond Richardin's L'Art du Bien Manger and he claims that it came from the chef of the German Ambassador in Rome.

I have omitted anchovies (Richardin) and green olives (Sheldon) because I didn't happen to have any, and used sherry vinegar because I did happen to have some of that and I didn't have any red wine vinegar. The basic ingredients remain the same.

Olive oil
1 aubergine diced, salted and left to drain for half an hour, then rinsed and patted dry.
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 stick celery, chopped
2 tbsp capers, drained
4 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp demerara sugar
2 tbsp sultanas/golden raisins
2 tbsp pine nuts
1 can chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Cook the aubergine in oil until soft, but still retaining a little firmness. Transfer to a bowl.
Clean pan if necessary. Add more oil to pan and cook onion and celery until onion is soft but celery retains a little bite.
Add capers, vinegar, sugar, raisins, pine nuts and tomatoes and cook through. Let the liquid from the tomatoes evaporate off.
Add aubergines and parsley and stir through. Transfer to a bowl to cool, overnight if possible. Check for seasoning and serve.

Actually I couldn't wait for it to cool overnight. I ate it warm. I ate it for lunch the next day. I would have eaten it for breakfast if I had remembered.

This is a dish that you make according to your taste, and whatever you happen to have available. Next time I will try it with anchovies, and perhaps some black olives, although the recipe says green. I think it looks beautiful.
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