Food In England by Dorothy Hartley

This is a magnificent book, written in 1953 by someone who learnt her cooking in English country kitchens in the days before widespread electricity and gas. It’s a combination of food history, recipes, general household advice, bits of personal memoir, opinion, and amusing or interesting quotes from old books.

IMG_2787

Apart from the obvious stuff — what sauces to serve with mutton*, regional ways to cook a ham, the difference between Welsh, Scottish and West Riding Oatcakes — there are chapters about beekeeping, brewing, butter churns, as well as the chapters about the history of English food: what they ate at medieval feasts, how they stored food for long sea voyages. It really does conjure up a whole lost world: not just because of the foods which have fallen out of favour, like mutton or parsnip wine, but because the recipes pre-date a whole raft of exotic ingredients like aubergine and yoghurt.

It is endlessly quotable, but here are a few random extracts:

Blending Plants For ‘Tea’

It was during the acute rationing period that all these ‘teas’ were used in England to adulterate the imported teas.

A serviceable English ‘tea’ may be made with blackthorn for bulk, and sage, lemon balm, woodruff (the plant), and black-currant leaves for flavour. Do not omit at least three out of the four flavouring herbs, but let some flavour predominate. Thus, if currant and sage predominate, the tea will somewhat favour Ceylon; if the lemon balm predominates, it will be a more China cup; if the ‘woodruff’, it will have the smoky aroma of Darjeeling.

Eggs And Apple Savoury Or ‘Marigold Eggs’ 

This is Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, and probably very old.

Line a shallow dish with thin short crust, butter the bottom, and cover it with thinly sliced apples, and set it to bake until the apples are just cooked. Make a custard mixture of eggs beaten in milk, season strongly with pepper, salt and thyme, a very little chopped sage, and a lot of marigold petals (the common yellow marigold). Pour this savoury custard over the cooked apples and return it to the oven to bake until set. I was told it was served with roast pork, like Yorkshire pudding is served with roast beef (the sage and apple indicate this), but the marigold is more usually a cheese condiment.

Sheep’s Trotters With Oatmeal

Sheep’s trotters are the ceremonial part of the Bolton Wanderers football team dinners. Only the heavy types of mountain sheep, such as the Pennine Range sheep, can make this dish well. (I don’t think a sparrow could make a meal off a Welsh trotter, but in the larger breeds of sheep, the trotters are almost as meaty as a pig’s).

And I thought this was an appealing juxtaposition of headings:

Recipe Used for Whitewashing the White House at Washington

[…]

Whitewash as Made for an Anglesey Cottage

It’s a genuinely fascinating book both as history and gastronomy.

* Redcurrant jelly for valley breeds; barberry jelly for upland breeds; rowan jelly for Welsh and mountain mutton. ‘With the dull winter mutton of the garden lands, hot onion sauce is very comforting.’ Hot laver sauce (seaweed) and samphire with salt-marsh mutton. ‘Caper sauce is served with any of the sturdier types of garden mutton. In default of the imported caper, pickled nasturtium seeds are very good.’ 

The 9th [nearly] annual Christmas stuffing post

I didn’t do one of these posts last year because my campaign to have something other than turkey for Christmas dinner finally paid off — we had beef. But we’re back to turkey this year; turkey, prunes wrapped in bacon, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and two types of stuffing. Both stuffings, as usual, were made with a base of sausagemeat, bread, onion, and celery; one was chestnut and mushroom (again), and for the other one, I added pecans and dried figs steeped in Marsala. Which was very nice, though I do say so myself.

Followed by (shop-bought) Christmas pudding, which was alright, although personally I’d rather have trifle every year.

Also the Sri Lankan Christmas cake recipe I’ve done for the past two years, and a ham boiled in ginger beer and baked with a brown sugar and mustard glaze.

Garlicky herby creamed aubergine

A way of cooking aubergines I invented — although it’s pretty similar to various middle-eastern dishes that already exist.

This recipe starts by roasting and mashing three large aubergines (eggplants). So if you’ve never done that: basically just chuck the whole aubergines into a hot oven for maybe 45 minutes. They visibly collapse in on themselves. Scoop out the cooked interior and chop it in a colander to drain off some liquid, then mash it up with a fork or something.

That’s the base of the dish.

I fried three cloves of crushed garlic and a finely chopped shallot — you don’t have to cook them too hard, you just don’t want them to be raw — and mixed that in with the aubergine purée, plus a few spoonfuls of yoghurt and a bit of salt. Then heated it through, and stirred in chopped parsley, coriander (cilantro) and chives — perhaps a handful of each. And it was very nice.

My new vegetarian lasagne recipe

I don’t see veggie lasagne on menus as much as I used to — the chefs getting more sophisticated with their vegetarian options, I guess — but it used to be an absolute staple.

I was never very keen on it, though: the most common recipe was made with roasted vegetables, and to my taste it was just too sweet. It didn’t have the rich, savoury, earthy quality of a good meat lasagne. Too much treble, not enough bass. I have the same problem with a lot of meat lasagnes, incidentally: too sweet and tomatoey.

So for ages I’ve had the idea at the back of my head to try and come up with a better recipe for a vegetarian lasagne. The starting point was mushrooms, which are an obvious way of getting that savoury, umami, ‘meaty’ quality. Particularly if you’re generous with the dried porcini.

And the other thing I discovered recently was that spinach works surprisingly well in a tomato sauce or a meat sauce. I’m not keen on cooked spinach on its own, but if you chop it and incorporate it into a tomato sauce or a meat sauce, it really adds something.

So that’s the basic concept: a mushroom, tomato and spinach sauce to replace the meat part of the lasagne; layered with pasta sheets, bechamel and cheese in the normal way. And it was really nice. It had some sweetness, but not too much, and loads of rich savoury flavour.

The specifics were as follows:

Pour boiling water over some dried porcini and leave to soak for an hour (I used maybe 15g of porcini in a cup or two of water), then squeeze them out and save the soaking water.

Fry a couple of finely shopped shallots in a saucepan with chopped fresh thyme and rosemary for a few minutes.

Add chopped fresh mushrooms (I think it was a 300g box?), the chopped porcini, and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, and cook them down a bit.

Add a tin of tomatoes, the porcini soaking water, and half a glass of red wine. Simmer away for maybe 45 minutes to thicken it and give the flavours a chance to meld together.

Cook the spinach (I got a couple of bags of pre-washed supermarket spinach and cooked them in the microwave), drain it, chop it, and mix into the sauce.

And then you’re ready to layer it up with the white sauce and the pasta and stick it in the oven.

The 8th annual Christmas stuffing post (and trifle and cake)

This year: a return to the old standby of chestnut and mushroom for the savoury one, and apricot pineapple and ginger for the fruity one. If you really want to details of the recipe, check back to previous stuffing posts.

IMG_1408

And this year I made a trifle because I’m not a huge fan of Christmas pudding and it seemed like a sufficiently Christmassy alternative. From bottom to top, it’s chocolate sponge, cherries in syrup, grated chocolate, vanilla custard, cherry jam, whipped cream, decorated with glacé cherries, gold balls and iridescent sprinkles. A Black Forest gateau type thing.

To be really picky, it could have have less sponge and/or more liquid to soak it in (I would have added booze but I was serving small children), and more custard. But it was nice anyway.

IMG_1396 2

And I made a christmas cake for the first time this year. It’s a Sri Lankan recipe from Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook, and it’s very much in the mould of a traditional European Christmas cake, but with more spices and a more interesting mix of fruit. I substituted ground almonds for the semolina for gluten-free purposes. It turned out really well, recognisably a Christmas cake but much better than the usual. Note, though, it is seriously rich: one slice is almost too much to eat at a time.

Salty salty goodness

I got a curry delivered tonight, and when I tasted one of the dishes (lamb shatkora, since you ask), I immediately thought ooh, that’s nice, and then a few mouthfuls later I realised that actually, it was badly over-salted.

And that in fact they were the same thing: my brain interpreted salt as ‘tastiness’, even though it was so salty that I threw most of it away.

No wonder the food we eat is unhealthy, when we are so easily fooled by salt and sugar and fat.

…mmmm, salt and sugar and fat.

» The photo of a traditional sea salt plant at on the Canary Islands is © the tαttσσed tentαcle and used under a CC by-nc-sa licence.

Pumpkin and chocolate chip cookies

I roasted some slices of pumpkin (or technically some kind of green pumpkin shaped squash) as a vegetable, and there was some left over. So I invented pumpkin and chocolate chip cookies:

It’s a fairly basic cookie recipe with oats, chopped roasted pumpkin and chopped dark chocolate. They’re not the most amazing thing I’ve ever cooked, but they’re OK. Might have been better with a slightly sweeter chocolate, but I just used what was in the fridge, which was very dark.

The 7th annual Christmas stuffing post

It’s time for the most pointless Christmas tradition of them all! We’re having goose this year instead of turkey, but naturally I’m doing stuffing to go with it.

As usual I’ve made two versions using a base of sausagemeat. Normally they both have sausage, onion, celery, breadcrumbs and egg, but my sister isn’t eating wheat, so this time I skipped the breadcrumbs. Hopefully it won’t adversely affect the texture too much.

I was bored of doing chestnut and mushroom, but my mother insisted that the meal had to include chestnuts somewhere, so one stuffing is apple and chestnut. It has Bramley apple, chestnuts, parsley, thyme, some Calvados and the liver from the goose.

The other one is a repeat from 2007: cherry, apricot, almond and ginger. Dried apricots and sour cherries, some almonds, candied stem ginger, a pinch of mixed spice and some brandy. Oh and the cherries were a bit old so I soaked them in Grand Marnier overnight first.

The cup that cheers but does not inebriate

I can’t tell you how much it cheers me up to know that coffee has never been convincingly linked to any terrible long term health risk. Unlike booze and salt and fat and all the other little indulgences. It’s a shame I don’t seem to be able to drink it after about 3pm if I want to be able to sleep, but you can’t have everything.

And yes, I know, ‘the cup that cheers but does not inebriate’ was originally applied to tea. But despite all my other reflexive Englishnesses, I’ve always been a coffee drinker, really.

C19th email scams & adulterated booze

Some less political stuff from P.T. Barnum’s The Humbugs of the World. This is one of several mail scams:

The six letters all tell the same story. They are each the second letter; the first one having been sent to the same person, and having contained a lottery-ticket, as a gift of love or free charity. This second letter is the one which is expected to “fetch.” It says in substance: “Your ticket has drawn a prize of $200,”—the letters all name the same amount—“but you didn’t pay for it; and therefore are not entitled to it. Now send me $10 and I will cheat the lottery-man by altering the post-mark of your letter so that the money shall seem to have been sent before the lottery was drawn. This forgery will enable me to get the $200, which I will send you.”

And Barnum on booze:

It is a London proverb, that if you want genuine port-wine, you have got to go to Oporto and make your own wine, and then ride on the barrel all the way home. It is perhaps possible to get pure wine in France by buying it at the vineyard; but if any dealer has had it, give up the idea!

As for what is done this side of the water, now for it. I do not rely upon the old work of Mr. “Death-in-the-pot Accum,” printed some thirty years ago, in England. My statements come mostly from a New York book put forth within a few years by a New York man, whose name is now in the Directory, and whose business is said to consist to a great extent in furnishing one kind or another of the queer stuff he talks about, to brewers, or distillers, or wine and brandy merchants.

This gentleman, in a sweet alphabetical miscellany of drugs, herbs, minerals, and groceries commonly used in manufacturing our best Old Bourbon whisky, Swan gin, Madeira wine, pale ale, London brown stout, Heidsieck, Clicquot, Lafitte, and other nice drinks; names the chief of such ingredients as follows:

Aloes, alum, calamus (flag-root) capsicum, cocculus indicus, copperas, coriander-seed, gentian-root, ginger, grains-of-paradise, honey, liquorice, logwood, molasses, onions, opium, orange-peel, quassia, salt, stramonium-seed (deadly nightshade), sugar of lead, sulphite of soda, sulphuric acid, tobacco, turpentine, vitriol, yarrow. I have left strychnine out of the list, as some persons have doubts about this poison ever being used in adulterating liquors. A wholesale liquor-dealer in New York city, however, assures me that more than one-half the so-called whisky is poisoned with it.

Besides these twenty-seven kinds of rum, here come twenty-three more articles, used to put the right color to it when it is made; by making a soup of one or another, and stirring it in at the right time. I alphabet these, too: alkanet-root, annatto, barwood, blackberry, blue-vitriol, brazil-wood, burnt sugar, cochineal, elderberry, garancine (an extract of madder), indigo, Nicaragua-wood, orchil, pokeberry, potash, quercitron, red beet, red cabbage, red carrots, saffron, sanders-wood, turmeric, whortleberry.

In all, in both lists, just fifty. There are more, however. But that’s enough. Now then, my friend, what did you drink this morning? You called it Bourbon, or Cognac, or Old Otard, very likely, but what was it? The “glorious uncertainty” of drinking liquor under these circumstances is enough to make a man’s head swim without his getting drunk at all.

Actually the list is quite interesting, because although some of those are definitely scary things to have in your food, like sulphuric acid, lead, turpentine and tobacco, others are still used as food additives, like annatto, burnt sugar, and cochineal. Although there shouldn’t actually be any need to add extra colour to things like bourbon and stout. And some of the additives are normal ingredients in gin, like orange peel, coriander, liquorice, and grains of paradise.

» The beetle is a caricature of P.T. Barnum.

The 6th annual Christmas stuffing post

The annual Christmas stuffing post may be the most pointless of the arbitrary traditions that have accreted themselves onto this blog, but it doesn’t take long to do, and what better time of year for arbitrary traditions? So here we go:

As usual, two stuffings both made with a base of sausagemeat, breadcrumbs, onion and celery. The more savoury one has returned to the usual chestnut version, after a brief dalliance last year with pistachios. This year the fruity one is pineapple and ginger, using dried pineapple reconstituted in a bit of water and candied stem ginger.

Ham

I cooked a ham. Looks good, innit:

Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to taste as good as it looks, because I trusted the man who sold it to me when he said it didn’t need to be soaked before cooking, and the little bit I trimmed off to taste was VERY SALTY. Which is irritating, because it was quite an expensive chunk of meat. Ho hum.

It probably didn’t help that I steamed it instead of boiling it, but that’s how I cooked last year’s (after soaking it) and it was fine.

I also made an Italian Christmas cake thing called pangiallo, which was mildly stressful because of the not-very informative recipe and turned out to be a pleasant but completely unremarkable fruitcake of the kind I don’t like very much.

Bah humbug.

CHRISTMAS EVE HAM UPDATE:

I cut a few slices, and it’s certainly saltier than I would ideally like, but it’s not unbearably, mouth-shrivellingly salty, which I thought it might be after the little test bit I cut off. So let’s call that a partial win!

Christmas biscuits*

I did some baking yesterday.

There’s nothing especially Christmassy about the recipes themselves — ginger biscuits with candied peel and chocolate chip oat cookies — but I did make them sparkly.

It’s quite hard to photograph the glitter. It’s actually holographic rainbow sparkles, but in photographs it just looks silver.

* Note for Americans: not those kind of biscuits, obvs.

Belated World Cup food blogging: Algeria

I wasn’t going to do World Cup food blogging for the Algeria gam, because I was out that night at a friend’s house, but as it happens I did a somewhat appropriate dish yesterday because I happened to have the right ingredients. It’s lamb meatballs in an aubergine sauce, and it’s based on a couple of dishes from Claudia Roden’s Tamarind and Saffron. I don’t actually know which part of North Africa or the Middle East they were from, but it’s close enough.

I know it looks a bit underwhelming in that snap from my phone, but actually it was nice; the aubergine made a sort of creamy sauce and it was quite a delicate sort of dish.

The meatballs are just lamb mince with egg and a bit of cumin and allspice; the sauce is roasted, mashed aubergine with a bit of yoghurt. And, you know, some of the brown lamby bits deglazed from the pan and some salt and pepper.

World Cup food blogging: USA

Well, that was a bit depressing: not so much because of the result, but the tendency to revert to long balls hoofed up the front, the lack of involvement of England’s wingers, the lack of controlled possession in midfield… all the usual England failings, in fact. Not to mention the further undermining of confidence in England’s goalkeepers. Ho hum.

However, World Cup food blogging must carry on. And so, my USA-themed food: cornbread and creole fried shrimp. The cornbread recipe I used was this one. Partially because it’s a British recipe, so I can weigh my ingredients rather than all that measuring quantities by the cup that American recipes do. And partially because it suggests substituting yoghurt for buttermilk, which is what I was planning to do anyway. I cut down the quantity of chillies slightly and cooked it in a pre-heated cast iron frying pan, though. It turned out rather nice, I must say:

The shrimp was a bit of an improvised recipe; I covered the prawns in a homemade creole-type seasoning mix — chopped thyme, dried oregano, paprika, crushed garlic, a dribble of pepper sauce, black pepper — and left for a couple of hours (the duration of the Nigeria-Argentina game, in fact).

Then I basically did the standard flour-egg-breadcrumb thing except with a mixture of cornmeal and cornstarch instead of breadcrumbs, and deep-fried them. Came out looking quite impressive:

But actually, although it tasted OK, the coating was a bit coarse and not very crispy. I don’t do a lot of deep-frying, so I don’t really know why… oil not hot enough? I think if I tried to do a cornmeal based coating again, I would use a wet batter rather than dry cornmeal coating. You live and learn.

I’d definitely do the cornbread again, though. Yummy.

So, roll on Algeria!

Cooking tips: boil potatoes in cold water

Another thing I wish someone had told me when I first started cooking: you should cook potatoes in cold water. Obviously you do need to apply heat, otherwise you just get wet potatoes. The idea is to put them in a pan of cold water and then bring it up to the boil.

I think I learned this from a TV show where it was simply stated as Truth without explanation, but you can see why it makes sense: you don’t want the outside of the potato to be cooked while the middle is still raw. That’s not a problem with something like green beans, so those can be put straight into a pan of boiling water.

So for example, to make delicious boiled new potatoes: put the potatoes into a pan, add enough cold water to just cover them, and heat it until the water starts to boil. Add some salt, put a lid on the pan, and leave it on a low heat until the potatoes are cooked (test by sticking a knife into them). Drain the water off, chuck a bit of butter and some salt and pepper into the pan. Add some chopped chives or something, if you like. Swirl the potatoes around a bit to coat them with butter, take them off the heat and leave with the lid on for a few minutes so they absorb some of the butter and seasoning.

The potatoes will retain their heat for a surprisingly long time in a covered pan, so I often put the potatoes on the heat even before I’ve decided what else I’m cooking. They’ll still be fine after sitting around for twenty minutes or so.

The other cunning tip about boiling potatoes is: don’t just throw away the water you cooked them in. It serves as a sort of basic stock, just a bit more savoury than plain water. I always use it in the gravy when I’m cooking a roast, for example. I’m not suggesting you keep little tubs of it in the freezer; just don’t tip it straight down the sink, in case it comes in handy.

» New potatoes is © Jack Hynes and used under a CC by-nc-sa licence.

Everything I Know About Cooking, I Learnt From Making Stew (addendum)

Just another thought that occurred to me while I was cooking this the other day:

Food isn’t fashion.

I’m always annoyed by the way they present food products in the style section of the Sunday paper: a stylish-looking package of olive oil/chocolate/wine floating in white space to tempt shoppers as though it was a new pair of shoes or some face cream. Or those terribly precious delicatessens with largely empty shelves which just have a few products artfully arranged as though they were Fabergé eggs rather than, for example, eggs.

It’s not the cost — I’m not averse to spending money on food — it’s the suggestion that good food is just a style issue. Which is kind of ridiculous. For example, Spanish food has been a bit trendy over the past couple of years in London, and so people who care about such things are perhaps more likely to buy Spanish Iberico ham where before they would have bought Italian prosciutto. And why not, it’s a great product. But there’s nothing new about it. It is made in the same way as ham has been made over half of Europe for hundreds of years. It may be new to us, but it is the most traditionally produced product imaginable, the antithesis of fashion.

So what’s the significance of the [delicious if not very photogenic] gloop? Well, it’s a sausage casserole. And sausage casserole is, for me, a dish very much associated with bad student cooking: cheap sausages, too much tinned tomato, big lumps of random vegetables. My sausage casserole was made with Toulouse sausages and chorizo, a mixture of brown lentils and black beans, a jar of Spanish tomato and red pepper sauce, all backed up with lots of onion, celery, garlic, bacon, fresh herbs, and stock made with the carcass of a roast organic chicken and a pig’s trotter for extra oomph. It’s somewhere between a cassoulet and a feijoada. But it is still, really, a sausage casserole. The difference is that I am a better cook than I was back then, using better ingredients and making better use of them.

My personal tiny epiphany about this came when I was looking through an Italian cookbook and found a recipe for polpettone. You take minced beef, mix in some onion, herbs, garlic, chopped salami, milk-soaked breadcrumbs and grated parmesan, press it into a bread tin and cook it in the oven. In other words, it’s meatloaf. But up until that point I had entirely associated meatloaf with blue-collar American cooking of a, umm, not very aspirational kind. In the sitcom Roseanne, she was always cooking meatloaf, and I’m sure I’ve seen it used elsewhere in US popular culture as a signifier of social class. But seeing it in an Italian cookbook with an Italian name made me look at the recipe and think, you know, that actually sounds rather delicious. And it was. My preconceptions about meatloaf were simple snobbery.

Maybe there are some dishes which are genuinely just a bad idea, but which were inexplicably popular at some time or other. But generally, no matter how old-fashioned or déclassé or boring you think a dish is, if you make it carefully and thoughtfully with good ingredients it will be delicious.

[The first two parts of Everything I Know About Cooking, I Learnt From Making Stew are here and here.]

Everything I Know About Cooking, I Learnt From Making Stew (part two)

The first part was very broad-brush stuff: here I get (slightly) more specific.

Learning to cook is a lifelong project.

Learning to cook is a cumulative process. Some bits of it are widely applicable, but there are also many small pieces of specific knowledge. They aren’t generally complicated or difficult, but there are a lot of them, because there are so many different ingredients and cooking techniques. You build up a stock of knowledge as you learn new recipes. You can’t really rush that process, short of going to catering college or working in a restaurant so that you’re cooking all day every day. But learning is part of the fun.

Everything I Know About Cooking, I Learnt From Making Stew*

These are some general thoughts about cooking; things I wish someone had told me when I first started. If you’re wondering about my credentials to be handing out that kind of advice… well, I don’t have any. I’m just a keen home cook. So take it with a pinch of salt.

Cooking is easy.

This is how to make a stew:

Peel, chop and brown some onions. Brown some chunks of meat. Put the onions and meat into a casserole. Put a glug of wine (or water, or whatever seems appropriate)  into the hot pan the meat was fried in and while it boils away a bit, scrape up the sticky brown goodness from the pan; pour that into the casserole as well. And some stock, a few vegetables, some herbs (perhaps a few bay leaves, sprigs of thyme and parsley stalks) and some salt and pepper. Leave it in a low oven or over a low heat for a few hours.

None of that is difficult.

I don’t want to be glib about this; I know that when you first start cooking, even quite simple things like peeling, chopping and browning an onion can be intimidating. Everything is new to you so you’re never quite sure you’re doing anything right; you’re not particularly comfortable handling knives; the onions make you cry†; you’re not quite sure what level of brown you’re aiming for.†

You’re never going to remove that learning curve completely. But we’re talking about a pretty manageable level of difficulty here.

Admittedly, not all dishes are easy; some things are technical, or require very precise timing, or have a chance of going dramatically wrong. But not as many as you might think. It’s entirely possible to avoid all that difficult stuff and still have a whole repertoire of delicious recipes that you can use to impress your friends/colleagues/in-laws/potential bedmates.

Christmas food debrief, bitterns etc

I should note in advance: the bitterns are not part of the food debrief. I daresay they turned up on Henry VIII’s dining table, but not mine.

Food notes: the fruity stuffing was good, the pistachio one mainly tasted of parsley and garlic, which was pleasant enough but not very christmassy. The prunes in bacon were delish, a much better addition than sausages in bacon. Cooking a whole boned ham leads to Too Much Ham. I’m quite glad I did it this once, but I won’t again.

And actually I don’t think I’m going to do turkey next year; even with a (very expensive) free range organic slow-grown turkey, cooked beautifully, though I do say so myself, it’s just a big boring. The stuffing is much better than the actual bird. Maybe I’ll do a big joint of beef instead.

I had a great day birding today: I’d heard via the London Wetland Centre’s Twitter feed (@wwtlondon) that the cold weather had produced an unprecedented influx of bitterns. They aren’t sure whether they’re from elsewhere in the UK or from the continent, but yesterday and today they’ve had 6 or 7 on site. Now bitterns are notoriously skulky and difficult to see, being streaky reed-coloured birds that live in reedbeds — and incidentally, I believe the American Bittern is rather easier to see than the European, for comparison — and last time I went bitterning at Barnes I saw diddly-squat, but I figured I’d never get a better chance.

And sure enough I had six sightings of bittern, each closer and clearer than the one before. The water was mainly frozen over, and they were presumably desperate enough for food that they were stalking along the ice just by the edge of the reeds, with their surprisingly large feet sliding with every step.

I also had great views of water rail, the bird you may remember me mentioning before which has, according to the book, ‘a discontented piglet-like squeal, soon dying away’. I saw four pairs, including telescope views of a pair preening each other about thirty feet away.

And my last special bird of the day was jack snipe, a smaller, less elegant and generally more self-effacing version of the normal snipe, but my second lifer of the day after the bitterns.

So some early contenders for the Bird Of The Year Award 2010. I do btw still intend to do BOTY 2009, but it can wait until my computer has been fixed. Using the iPhone for blogging works better than you might think but it’s no substitute when it comes to long posts with links and pictures.

The 5th annual Christmas stuffing post

As usual, I’ve made a base of sausagemeat, onion, celery and breadcrumbs, and split it into two batches.

To one I added dried apricots and dried barberries which I reconstituted in champagne (but only because there was half a bottle of flat champagne in the kitchen). Then a pinch of mixed spice.

The second stuffing had pistachios, lots of flat-leaved parsley & a bit of thyme, some chopped green olives, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Incidentally, my computer problems are back and so the final entry to my advent calendar will have to wait until when and if I get it running again… hopefully at least before midnight.

Mmmm, cured pork products

This is what I have been doing today (well, that and wrapping presents):

The ham is from Sillfield Farm, but I steamed and glazed it myself. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out, although I know it’s not the most flattering photograph.

Close Menu