A Spoonful of Sugar . . .
There is quite an insightful article on Twitter today so I thought it timely to both print it here for you to read, plus my blog on The Sugar Debate from earlier this year. I do feel that it is about time we all woke up to what is going on and totally rejecting the choices offered to us by politicians and the industry 'professionals' - members of the 'sugar' industry are frankly more powerful than any government.
We in the preserving world, still await the decision on the sugar content in jam and I think that if it is adjusted down it is just a smokescreen. It is the sugar in commercial jams you need to look at - and the rest of the processed food world. I believe that artisanal preserving should break away and be accounted for separately.
We may have more food available to us for more hours per day, every day of the week, more cooking programmes, more restaurants but in my opinion we are the most food poor than any other generation in history. We, in this country, at this point in history, know the least about where our food comes from, its nutritional value, its medicinal properties and how to prepare and cook it. We are amazed at the rise in childhood obesity, diabetes, ADHD, poor educational standards. Never has it been more true that We Are What We Eat.
Here's a little comparison for you, in preparation for the Jam Debate, when it reappears
My jam, which has 62% total sugar solids derived from beet sugar and the sugars from the fruit. Typical serving of 2 heaped teaspoons weighing 40g gives total sugar content of 24.8g. The sugar used in artisanal jam is sucrose - see my article below. In commercially made jam either HFCS or sucrose is used but both are routinely labelled as 'sugar'.
I am not singling out this brand for particular attention - the picture is the same across all areas of the food and drink industry, across most major brands - even WeightWatchers. HFCS is also highly addictive and is included in some baby formula milks and children end up addicted from the very start of their lives - any pennies dropping yet?
This is the article on Twitter today entitled How the Sweetener Industry Sugar-Coats Science. (click on this link to read )
There is a lot of information on how much is paid to US Government by interested parties depicted in very helpful graphs. Do take a look and read the article, then read mine below.
Make it your business to be informed
This is the previous article I wrote on sugar - please enlarge to fullscreen and read
Please do your own research. Please read the labels on food or drinks - the only way to be sure of what you are eating is to make it yourself - but a lot of us can't do that anymore, whether through lack of time or lack of skill - or both.
We can't look to government to save us because they are implicated, we have to make these decisions for ourselves.
It's Friday afternoon - and nobody reads blogs of Friday afternoon, right? Far too busy getting ready for the weekend, going on holiday, giving the dog a bath etc etc. So I can happily go ahead and confess My Guilty Secret. I love salad cream. I know we're all supposed to be sophisticated since 1982 and it's mayo or nothing. Truth is, I was brought up on salad cream - nobody had mayonnaise, we didn't even know what that was. It probably had, like so many things, to do with home refrigeration. I am so old I can remember our first refrigerator arriving when I was about 8 years old. So revered was it, the machine almost had an antimacassar (look it up!) draped over it. Fridge or no fridge, we still had salad cream.
I am the lucky owner of a very old pamphlet style collection of sauce recipes and wondrous wonders of wonderment - there is a recipe for Salad Cream. The proper stuff. Looks and smells and even tastes the same as I remember. Not, you note, as it tastes now, because now it will probably have all kinds of ingredients which weren't there was I was a young aficionado of all things salad dressing.
Here's the thing - I have made some.
Now I am going to show you how so you can make some too.
It's pretty simple - weigh out the dry ingredients - 30g plain flour, 30g mustard powder, 25g salt, 70g sugar, and 1 teaspoon ground white pepper. Sieve these into a large bowl and stir to combine.
Break 2 large eggs into a large jug and whisk together. Add 1 litre milk, any kind, and 30ml olive oil. Whisk again to combine then gently pour into the dry ingredients, whisking as you do so to avoid as many lumps as possible. Tip all of this into a large pan and gradually add 500ml distilled or white vinegar, whisking throughout to mix.
Pour around 10cms boiling water into bottom pan Set top pan over to cook sauce
Now, set your pan over another, slightly smaller pan, with around 10cms of boiling water in the bottom. You need to cook the salad cream but not have it on a direct heat source. If you have a double boiler which is made for the job, then use that. The bottom of the top pan should be touching the boiling water in the bottom pan - OK? You need to keep stirring with a whisk and it is going to take about 20 minutes to thicken. You can play Candy Crush on your phone, check your emails, read a book - but don't go off an leave it for any time. It will gradually thicken to the consistence of pouring custard. Take the pan from the heat and take your bottles from the oven.
(I am going to try microwaving the next batch I make - much like how I make lemon curd - I'll report back if it is successful or not.)
Pour into the warm bottles and seal immediately. I even have the iconic bottles to put it in!
The sauce will thicken more as it cools. Mmmmm, salad cream sandwiches - I wonder if they will taste the same as I remember.
This Salad Cream will keep unopened at ambient temperature for 6 months but refrigerate once opened.
Strawberries, Ripe Strawberries!
At last - the strawberries have come in and very lush they look too. I thought it might be helpful to give you a few pointers about making strawberry jam based on my experience.
When I was young - several hundred years ago - there was this tradition of growing strawberries in a field, strangely utilising something called straw. Ahem. With the arrival of the various sporting occasions - Ascot, Wimbledon etc the very best of the first strawberries would be picked and dispatched to delight the great and the good at a premium price. The next pickings would be sent to Covent Garden overnight by rail to be distributed around the country for all to enjoy. The strawberry season was very short - and very special. A lot rode on the success of the crop and much could take place to damage it, not least of which was the weather.
The final picking and clearing of the field ready to be prepared for next year - was for Jam Strawberries. This was all the small, perhaps misshapen, still under ripe also-rans, sold at an attractive price, which made delicious jam. The perfect economical use of the whole harvest gave the maximum return for the grower. The country was dotted with hundreds of small market gardens and farms specialising in this niche crop. It was much the same for rhubarb, but I digress.
Nowadays we have all-year-round, grown in polytunnels, sourced around the world, perfect, large, luscious fruit which are splendid on pavlovas and for the terraces of Wimbledon and beyond, but which do not make great jam. I am not a scientist but I feel a fruit only has a certain amount of flavour in it's genetic make up and if you spread it into a bigger casing there is only so much to go round. Smaller taste better, in my book.We are also encouraged, quite rightly in some cases, to keep everything refrigerated, and serving at such temperatures kills the taste - tomatoes are another case in point.
For many people Strawberry Jam is the epitome of excellence for jam. I have to confess it isn't my favourite - I prefer raspberry and love blackcurrant and also apricot. Anyway, it's not all about me.
Start with good quality, just picked fruit - if possible. A few under ripe will help the set - fruit has the highest pectin levels just before it is ready to be picked. Hull the fruit ( remove the stems and leaves ) and only wash if they are muddy or they may be contaminated in some way ( a polite way of saying dogs might have peed on them ). I don't cut them up because strawberries break down on cooking anyway without assistance. It is nice to have whole fruit in the jam and on your toast. I would only cut them if they were enormous - but then, if they are that big I wouldn't be making jam with them anyway. Put them in a large pan with the lemon juice and put over a low heat to allow the fruit to soften without either breaking it down too much or burning.
When softened remove from the heat and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve as much as possible. Put back over the heat and keep stirring until all of the sugar is absorbed. Now, stop stirring and increase the heat until a rolling boil is achieved.
Check the time and maintain this boil for 4-5 minutes before testing for a set on a cold saucer. Put the saucer in the fridge for about 5 minutes. Stir once or twice during this time to make sure that the jam isn't sticking at all.
While you are waiting for the saucer test to be ready, take the pan from the heat and reduce the sugar foam by stirring the pan vigorously. Take the saucer from the fridge and push the jam from the side. If there is a good 'crinkle' then the jam is ready. If the jam isn't set then return it to the heat and boil for a few extra minutes before testing again. Once a set is obtained set the pan on one side and take your jars from the oven. After about 15 minutes jar up the jam as usual, filling each jar to the top before sealing immediately. Leaving the jam to stand for 15-20 minutes prevents the fruit from rising to the top of the jar.
Strawberry Jam is still the jam of choice for a cream tea, some toast, a sponge cake and much more besides - my advice? Make plenty!
Lemony Lemon Curd
Well, with the weekend coming up fast I had to get on and make a batch of lemon curd for my shop. As I was getting the ingredients ready it occurred to me that you might like to make some too. Its great if you have weekend guests or as a gift if you are the visitor.
With just four ingredients and 5 minutes prep and 5 minutes cooking time there is no reason not to make some just for yourself!
I do get asked what do you eat lemon curd with? I just reply 'a teaspoon'.
You will need a heat proof bowl, a jug, grater and a fork - oh and a couple of clean jars if you want to use them or you could keep it in a bowl - it has a six week shelf life but must be refrigerated at all times.
Please bear in mind that the contents of the bowl in these photographs are for my batch for the shop which is five times the recipe - don't think you haven't got enough!
Start by putting 75g/3oz caster sugar into the bowl. Zest 2 lemons and put into the bowl with the sugar.
Cut up 50g/2oz butter into even sized pieces and add to the bowl.
Cut up the butter into cubes and squeeze the lemons - this is my sooper dooper electric squeezer which is very efficient and saves me a lot of pain in my hands and arms when I have to squeeze a lot of fruit. I thought it was a trivial luxury but now regard it as must-have kit.
Now, pay attention - squeeze the juice from the lemons and put into the jug, crack in 2 whole large eggs and whisk together with the fork. Pass through a strainer onto the mix in the bowl. Don't push through with a spoon or spatula, let the egg drain through naturally and remove what is left in the strainer.
TOP TIP: Wash the sieve upside down under a COLD running tap to remove the strands of egg. If you use hot water or put it into the dishwasher, the egg will cook and you will need to buy a new sieve.
All of the butter cut up in small cubes which enables it to melt more evenly. Straining the egg and lemon juice through a sieve stops the thicker white of the egg going into the mix which would create white strands in the finished curd - don't force through with a spoon
What is left in the sieve - see TOP TIP above. The mix after 1 minute cooking
For the next bit, you can put the bowl over a pan of boiling water and stir for around 20 mins until the curd has thickened. However, this is the only preserve that I cook in the microwave. I put the bowl in for 1 min at around 600-700W setting, then 30 sec blasts with a stir in between each one. You have to be careful not to overheat or you will end up with lemon flavoured scrambled egg. Be patient. Short bursts are best and then the mixture cooks evenly - it will suddenly thicken which is when you stop heating. It should coat the back of whatever you are stirring it with, and as it cools the butter will solidify a bit and it will become thicker, so don't over cook. It should only take about 5 minutes total to cook
The mix is ready when it coats the back of your spoon. Jar while hot, seal immediately, cool and refrigerate
Jar up into warm jars and seal, refrigerate when cool. You could put it into a pretty bowl if you are giving it as a gift - I collect pressed glass sugar bowls from charity shops which I use for this purpose. If you are going as a weekend guest what better present to bring than some freshly made scones and a bowl of lemon curd? ( Do give the advice about refrigeration though.) Once you have eaten this you will never buy it again.
Try sandwiching a summer sponge cake together with lemon curd and/or whipped cream
Making 'Eton Mess' with meringue and banana or chopped peaches
Slightly soften some good quality vanilla ice cream, ripple through some lemon curd and pop back in the freezer to firm up.
It is of course, fantastic on scones, toast, or croissants
A pavlova with summer fruits and whipped cream
There are lots of other fruits to experiment with - lime is fantastic, apple curd, banoffee curd - banana - there are many delicious flavours to try.
When you have found your own favourite leave a comment below so we can all try it.
The lemon curd needs to be refrigerated at all times and will keep for up to six weeks
I have just published this on the Guild website so apologies if you receive both.
Just to let you all know that there is a new Label Designer Pro on lovejars.co.uk. There is a format if you are making for your family and friends, but for those artisans out there the comprehensive designer allows you to create front and back labels in your own style. You can proof what you have done, and once you are happy you can pay for a pdf download which you can keep and use over and over again - until you need to change something and then you buy a new pdf. You can print on your own labels or buy ours, either way, and there is even a handy calculator for the QUID (Quantitative Ingredients Declaration) to ensure everything is correct. You can use this even if you just want to work out the QUID values of any recipe so it will certainly make my life easier. You can mark any ingredient as an allergen and the system will automatically underline it in the ingredients list in accordance with the new regulations coming in. There is an up to date allergens list on the Guild website - it is under News, just scroll down the page.
As this is so new, we are looking for around 10 people who would be willing to try out the systems for free. You will be given the necessary credits to enable you to download the pdfs after they are designed. We will need you to report back - honestly! We have Live Chat on the website so help will be at hand if you get stuck.
Just email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are willing to take part.
Meat, Two Veg - and Jam
I have said a few things about the lovely farm shop, Harker's, that we go to before.
@Bizzy_Fizzy said this morning - after his toast and lemon curd - that we ought to go to Harker's today as we don't have very much meat left. It generally works out that we go around every four weeks but it depends on how many meat dinners we've had. Apologies here if you are vegetarian as this post will have some meat content - we only end up eating meat 2-3 times a week, so shopping every four weeks or so is just right. Harker's is near Nottingham, about 45 minutes from Oakham where we live, so it does have to be a decision to specially go there but it never disappoints.
As I have said before it is a proper Farm Shop. Not a shop on a farm. There are no greetings cards, books, toys, farm related or otherwise, no selection of silk flowers, dried flowers, wicker baskets ( except to put your shopping in ) . . . and no coffee shop with over priced drinks and mass produced cakes masquerading as 'home-made'. Sorry, I slipped into bitterness there for a moment. They do have a coffee machine if you absolutely cannot undertake any activity without a hot drink and they have a delightful farm walk where you can take little ones to see the various animals.
The entrance to the farm with a welcome sign and the entrance to the farm shop
Very generous opening times and help-yourself-to-herbs from the herb garden to go with your casserole
There aren't many signs to Harker's but when you get there it is always busy with good natured customers relieved to be able to buy real food from real experts with no fuss and bother. Even at Christmas when the queue was lengthy, we all chatted whilst waiting, nobody got pushy or annoyed, it was fine. Anyway, I digress. The point is , it is a real farm, run by farmers, all of the meat is either from their own farm or their near neighbours, it is slaughtered locally and then returned to the farm to be butchered.
There are all sorts of cuts of meat you rarely see these days, you can ask for things that maybe isn't on display and they will most likely have it, or prepare it. The butchers there ( and there seem to be about seven or eight) are very kind and don't snigger when I ask for things with their Southern names ( I'm from Hampshire ) and when you have finished your shopping you receive a hand written receipt which has been added up using that mysterious skill - mental arithmetic. It's not even called arithmetic any more but part of the charm of shopping at Harker's is the tradition, the politeness, the desire to serve. Yes, there I've said it. Serve. What is wrong with service? Why is it so frowned upon nowadays? Why do people think that it demeans them to provide a service? Apart from basic politeness, I think it is a demonstration of their skill, their knowledge, and gives job satisfaction which can't be a bad thing.
Seasonal fruit and . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . local cheeses
Eggs from the farm and some of Trev's purchases - asparagus and locally made Raspberry Crumble . . . . . . . and now the meat
Good, clear displays with weights and prices in new and old 'money'
Details of where each type of meat has been reared. They have free range chicken and all kinds of game in season
Now, listen up jam makers - the only thing that they struggle to find locally is artisan jams and preserves. Which is a pity as I am certain you are out there. If you have products that you would like this superb establishment to consider then get in touch with Tracey at the address below who will be delighted to have a chat. I would love to see your products taking their place on the shelves - naturally I wouldn't buy any because that would be silly!
Footnote: We had the treat we always have on 'Harker's Day' - a rib eye steak for dinner and very delicious it was too.
Harker's Farm Shop, Blackberry Farm, Clipston-on-the-Wolds, Nr Keyworth,
Nottinghamshire, NG12 5PB
0115 989 2260
Not a sandwich short of a picnic
Every year we go to a nearby open air theatre who hold a series of plays during the Summer. The performances are mostly Shakespeare but there are sometimes their take on Dad's Army ( brilliant ) The Wind in the Willows ( also brilliant with an actual river going across the stage ) and this year it will be Alice in Wonderland. So this year's programme is As You Like It, which we went to last night, then Alice in July, followed by The Taming of the Shrew in August. All of the performances seem to coincide with someone's birthday, or anniversary - or both - so the picnics often take on a party atmosphere. We are usually lucky with the weather and in ten years of doing this I can only remember twice having to eat our picnic inside.
Everyone busy picnicking in the early evening sunshine whilst members of the cast in their costumes tend the gardens so that we feel part of the play before it starts.
There is a bit of pressure with the picnics though - we usually share out the work and the various elements that need to be prepared but inevitably you sometimes end up with too many chairs but no knives or forks. " I thought you said etc etc" Mostly it doesn't matter though and you can make do.It is also easy to have that extra glass of wine and then spend the first Act fighting to keep your eyes open until coffee and port in the interval gives a well needed boost of energy.
For the first performance of this year, or indeed any year, we are a smaller group so tend to make the picnic more like old fashioned tea, with sandwiches and cake and other delicious bits and pieces. I was in charge of sandwiches this year and made Tomato with Basil & Sea Salt Butter, and Egg & Cress with Orange Spiced Mustard Butter. Both are easy peasey to do but have a lovely piquant flavour to jazz the sandwiches up a bit. Here's how:-
Basil & Sea Salt Butter
Mix 250g softened unsalted butter with 50g finely chopped basil leaves, juice half a lemon, some freshly ground black pepper and a teaspoon fine sea salt. Beat together until well combined and then use to make some delicious tomato sandwiches.
You can try with mint, parsley, or oregano and egg, salmon or cheese sandwiches - or anything you fancy!
For the Orange Spiced Mustard Butter just mix 4-6 tablespoons of Orange Spiced Mustard into 250g unsalted butter until evenly combined. Again, I made egg sandwiches but you could easily use this with cheese or cold meats.
Alice in Wonderland is the next performance in July and I am coordinating the picnic production which will be for around 15 people! Everyone gets an email with what they need to bring whether it is equipment, food, drink or some of all three! We usually have one person in charge of the coffee, with port and chocs as well. If it has been a hot day I will take some Limoncello along as well, nice and cold in the cool box. There are proper tablecloths and napkins but we haven't yet brought the candelabra along - though if it was dark we might! Even if you haven't got a play to go to an evening picnic in the cool of the day is a very civilised way of spending a relaxing time with friends.
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Day 2 in The Big Mustard House
Rosie has accepted the task of completing the mustard started yesterday, then getting out in enough time to pick elderflowers before it rains.
First the Orange Spiced Mustard
Get jars washed, rinsed and into a warm oven to dry and sterilise
These are the other ingredients - turmeric, sea salt, paprika, oranges, allspice, black peppercorns, brown sugar, cinnamon - and vinegar. They are all added to the soaked mustard seeds.
Stir well to combine all of the ingredients
Put about one third of the mix into a goblet processor and process until it is the desired consistency, with some whole mustard grains still visible. Put all batches into one bowl and mix to combine to equalise.
Jar into the warm jars being careful to get rid of any air pockets in the jar - use a wooden skewer or a dinner knife for this. The finished mustard will mature over 4-6 weeks and last for a year unrefrigerated. It is brilliant with steak, duck or game, and good butcher's sausages.
The second mustard is Lemon & Dill which needs some fennel seed ( below left ) and unsurprisingly, dried dill ( below right ) added to the mix made yesterday along with some sea salt, and runny honey.
Process in small batches as for the Orange Spiced mustard above and combine the batches to equalise the texture.
Jar up into the nice warm jars and seal immediately. The mustard is best matured for 2-4 weeks and will keep unrefrigerated for up to a year. Serve with fish dishes or mixed with lemon vinegar and melted butter to make a dressing for hot new potatoes. Yum.
Finally, the Wholegrain Mustard with Beer
organise and prepare your jars by washing, rinsing and putting into a warm oven to dry and sterilise
Process in small batches as described in Orange Spiced mustard above.
Pot up into the warm jars and seal immediately. Mature the mustard for 2-3 weeks and then store for up to a year unrefrigerated.
The finished Wholegrain Mustard with Beer - goes brilliantly with sausages and other meat dishes, as a glaze mixed with marmalade on a gammon joint or just stir it through mashed potatoes to spice them up a bit.
Must Have Mustard!
A bit of a mustardy day today - I have prepped Wholegrain with Beer, Lemon & Dill and Spiced Orange and they will now soak overnight for finishing tomorrow.
I have then made a batch of that amazing Italian preserve Mostarda di Frutta. This fiery delicacy is both surprising and addictive. I didn't think that I was going to like it but it is now a firm favourite. This version has the benefit of being completely un-seasonal - the Italians also make a version with fresh fruit and mustard oil but as I don't have a sun-drenched courtyard with ripening peaches or an apricot tree groaning under the weight of fruit warmed by the sun, I'll stick to this one!
Start by mixing the English mustard powder with cold water in a large bowl or jug
Cover and leave to stand for an hour - in the meantime you can be prepping the fruit by roughly chopping - which doesn't mean you throw it around a bit . . . the pieces need to be left quite big for this preserve.
Put vinegar and sugar into a pan and heat slowly to dissolve the sugar by stirring.
Take off the heat and add the fruit, mustard mixture and salt.
Stir over a medium heat and stir until the mixture has thickened.
Spoon into warm, sterilised jars making sure there are no air pockets. Seal immediately
Ideally leave to mature for 6 weeks before using - bet you can't!
The very splendid Mostarda di Frutta. I thank you