I am a new apiarist (beekeeper) and a rather nervous one at that. Bees sting. I have managed to survive more than half a century without being stung by a bee and my over active imagination has me convinced that when I am stung (it’s an occupational hazard I’m told) I will go straight into anaphylactic shock and die.
Last summer I lured a few friends to lunch with the intention that they spent the afternoon helping me assemble two very beautiful traditional cedar bee hives, known as WBCs (named after its designer William Broughton Carr). These are the classic hives that you see in illustrations and paintings. They are good hives, staying cool in summer and warm in winter, and just ideal for my superior bees. The hive assembly was quite an undertaking but we were led by my ‘Bee man’ in a ‘flat-pack assembly’ team activity. Then came the bees – 10,000 of the noisy little blighters. Bee man handled the whole thing with great calm and confidence, from what I could see. I was half way down the garden dressed up like Michelin man in a specially made outfit with netted hat, two pairs of trousers, leather gloves and boots. Those little critters weren’t sending me to an early grave.
Both I and my bees survived the winter, the bees with a weekly feed of sugar syrup and a little fondant in the spring. The two queen bees were strong and worked hard laying eggs whilst their now 50,000 offspring busied themselves making my lovely honey. May is swarm season which made me extraordinarily anxious (not to mention exhausted, climbing in and out of Michelin man’s outfit and sending my heart a racing). The bees swarmed five times that we know of. Bee man came to the rescue each time and took away my welltempered gentle bees depleting the hives considerably.
We harvested the spring honey in early June and I spent a couple of hours with Bee man spinning the frames in a violent centrifugal machine that we had to hold to the floor, before returning the frames back to the hives. 40 lb of pure, clear light-coloured honey poured out of the tap. It looked and smelt nothing like any honey I have used before. I don’t like honey which is a little ironic, but I had a teaspoon of this golden nectar – it is superb, tastes like a hedgerow and smells, sweet, fruity and perfumed. It resembles nothing like the commercial honey you can buy. It seems my bees had been bringing back pollen from the local rape crops, so my honey went like concrete. This is quite normal I understand. I now need to warm it up very gently and it will return to the clear liquid gold it started as, before jarring up and labelling and running a few jars down to Ludwell Stores. If you are a honey lover, then please try the local spring honey – every jar will taste deliciously different. Let’s hope the summer crop will be even better. Thank you bees, and thank you Bee man.
Donheads Honey and Sea Salt Ice Cream (for cheats)
Approx. £6.50 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
If you're a fan of salted caramel, I'm willing to bet you'll love this one too. It’s not your traditional ice cream with eggs and heat and anxious churning. There are only four ingredients, and no ice-cream maker needed! If you don’t like sea salt in your mix, simply remove it. You could add a tablespoon of whisky, honeycomb, nuts or crystallised fruits etc. Adjust the base recipe as you see fit.
600 ml double cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk (397 gm)
4 tbs (60 ml) local runny honey plus 1 tablespoon for topping and a little more for serving. (According to Bee man, if your honey has crystallised, warm it slowly in the jar to return it to runny, golden nectar)
½ tsp best sea salt you can get (Ludwell Stores sells Fleur de sel amongst others)
To make the ice cream
1. Pour the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer affixed with the whisk attachment. Start out mixing on low speed, then slowly increase speed to high and mix until the cream forms stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to overwhip or you are done for! You can also use a bowl and a hand mixer, just takes a little longer.
2. Using a spatula, gently fold in the sweetened condensed milk, honey, and ½ teaspoon sea salt into the whipped cream (plus any alternative or extra ingredients you might be using).
3. Continue stirring gently until completely combined. Pour into a freezer-safe container with airtight lid. Drizzle the top with 1 tablespoon honey. Seal.
4. Freeze until solid, at least 6 hours.
5. Scoop into cups, bowls, or into cones; drizzle individual servings with a little more honey and a bonus pinch of sea salt if desired. Or serve with sun warmed raspberries and strawberries, or with pancakes, bananas and an extra drizzle of lovely runny honey.
Luxurious creaminess, honey's slightly floral nuances and flecks of briny sea salt elevate this to absolute summer perfection.
A truly, truly scrumptious treat without all the faff.
It has been a few months since I penned an issue of ‘Truly Scrumptious’, having been away on a holiday of a lifetime. Then the last Digest issue coincided with the apple season when, really, the only contributors had to be our friends from Donhead Apple. Thank you to Richard and Karen, and Gavin and Kevin for their great contributions over the summer.
My holiday was truly stupendous (and mostly scrumptious). Fifteen days travelling through Cambodia and Vietnam, where the history, colours, food and countryside is breathtaking. However my heart went out to the people who, despite surviving civil war and armed conflict, were generous, kind and altogether quite remarkable. We saw some spectacular sights, like the 12th century Angkor Wat temple, one of the largest religious monuments ever constructed, and Ta Prohm Temple hidden deep in the jungle with its overgrown roots of enormous trees and vines (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was filmed there). Having watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat our group of 12 was treated to breakfast of phở, (pronounced fur) a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of a clear broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles called bánh phở, fresh lime slices, spring onions, a few herbs or greens, shredded chicken and slivers of red and green chili. We ate at rickety tables with paper cloths, slurping from large bowls, napkins to our chins, absorbed by the environment, smells, and tastes. It was historic and I sought phởout at our various hotel breakfast bars as we travelled, but none was quite as good.
We had a very special meal with one family, deep in the jungle on the Mekong River – a large spiky elephant fish wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over a hot fire and then served with a banana flower salad and jack fruit. We had seen many of these ingredients at the local food markets which my sister and I gravitated to, away from the rest of the group. We saw boxes of squid as long and thick as my arm, sacks of fresh cinnamon, mace, star anise, dried fish of every shape and colour hanging from the rafters. There were live turtles and baby alligators, as well as mutant looking fruits and vegetables. One of the main reasons for this enormous variety lies in the obsession with fresh ingredients for every meal (very little frozen meat or fish there), so the route to the consumer is short and direct – from the garden, farm, the abattoir or the dock. We saw all kinds of produce, livestock, and equipment being transported on mopeds through country roads, villages and big cities to the markets and restaurants. There are over five million of these bikes in Vietnam, often heavily laden with live ducks hanging by their feet, dried noodles reaching 6 feet above and out from the driver, mountains of coconuts, fridges, tyres, ladders – anything including pigs, cats and dogs squashed into cages for the market. Yes, they farm the latter two for the dinner table.
Nonetheless, early into our trip I dined on deep-fried tarantula. Its legs were very greasy and its hairs stuck in your teeth. The highest level of revolt was felt snacking on a fried silk worm. They were sold on the streets in paper bags, by weight, much like we would buy sherbet lemons. Our guide had a ‘quarter’ of such treats. The abdomen of this silkworm burst inside my mouth releasing its sour creamy contents. I spat it out onto the street! Whilst I found it repulsive, the eating of insects is not peculiar to Asia by any means. I read this morning that Britain’s first insect restaurant has opened in South Wales. Grub Kitchen offers bug burgers made from crickets, mealworms, and grasshoppers and served with cheesy locust croquettes. You only need to experience eating these critters the once! Buttlings and Ludwell Stores, please steer clear!
Winter Sunshine Cake (Saffron and Lemon Syrup from Honey & Co. Food from the Middle East)
Approx. £9.50 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
A superb cake or dessert for the dead of winter. The lemon slices glow like winter sunshine, lighting up your day, your palate and your spirits.
270g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
200g ground almonds
2 tbs plain flour
1 lemon, juice and zest
½ tsp baking powder
For the syrup and topping
2 lemons, really thinly sliced
pinch saffron (big pinch)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC / gas mark 5 (AGA roasting oven, rack on the bottom with cooling shelf above)
1. Line and grease a 24 cm diameter cake tin with greaseproof paper.
2. Place the thin lemon slices in a pan of water and bring to the boil. Drain, and repeat. By now all the bitterness should be gone.
3. Drain for a second time and then return to the pan and cover with 400 ml of fresh water. Add the remaining ingredients for the syrup and boil for 8–10 minutes. The peel should be soft and syrup thickened.
4. When cool, layer the lemon slices all over the base and a little way up the sides of your cake tin (you may have lost the bit in the middle of the slices, but that’s fine as the yellow cake mix will fill them in nicely). If you can get some of the saffron fronds to show on the base, this will add to its attractiveness.
5. Cream the butter and sugar together until well combined but not fluffy.
6. Stir in the eggs, ground almonds and turmeric, then fold in the semolina, flour, lemon juice and zest, salt and baking powder.
7. Mix well and pour into the cake tin.
8. Bake in the centre of the oven (other than AGA users) for 20–25 minutes, then turn the cake around to ensure an even bake and bake for a further 10–15 minutes, until golden and firm.
9. Remove from the oven and pour over all the remaining syrup to soak in (use a skewer to make holes over the top of the cake if you wish).
10. Allow to rest for 20 minutes before turning out, turning it on its head so the bottom-side is uppermost.
Serve with crème fraîche or cream.
A truly, truly scrumptious winter treat!
I am writing about lots of hot air this month. That’s different from the hot steam that sometimes comes out of my ears and nose but rather the hot air that fills the wonderful, light-as-a-feather soufflé as it is removed from the oven.
Soufflé is one of those dishes that many people are fearful to prepare, having heard stories of mortifying disasters. This notion of difficulty and disasters is wrong. I, for example find it is much easier to cook a hot soufflé than to poach an egg. Soufflés are really simple to prepare but not a dish that one can make in advance. There may be some preparation you can do to get ahead, but the final baking is last minute, which if you are entertaining, does make it all rather public.
There is confusion as to what is a soufflé and what is a mousse. There is little difference, although generally a mousse is cold – I can’t think of many baked mousse dishes. But not all soufflés are hot. They do use many of the same ingredients, although a cold version may rely on gelatine to set it and may use cream as a main ingredient, whereas a savoury cheese soufflé, for example, would use a roux for the body of the dish into which egg yolks are mixed, followed by the folding of whipped egg whites. Anyway – whether a mousse or a soufflé, they all need lots of light-as-a-feather whipped egg whites to keep them airy. My mother used to make a cold lemon soufflé for special occasions. I remember peeping at them at the back of our tall 1960s’ cream refrigerator. There would be a high collar of paper around the straight-sided soufflé dish, tied with string. It would be served with chopped nuts pressed into the sides and decorated with piped cream and crystallized angelica. It was such a treat. My sister and I would fight over the tangy jelly at the bottom. I realize now, decades later, that the jelly should not have been there, as the mix had clearly not been mixed very well, but our Mother pulled it off as being intentional.
I have adapted a baked soufflé recipe of Delia’s that claims never to collapse or explode. I endorse this claim and whilst they will shrink slightly as they come out of the oven they remain light and soufflé -ike 15 minutes later. The passion fruit curd adds a lovely zing to the dish and rounds the whole thing off into one of my favourite, foolproof pudding recipes to date. Perfect for Sunday Lunch or as an Easter treat, served with pouring cream or vanilla ice cream. aif
Hot Passion Fruit Curd Soufflés (foolproof)
Approx. £4.20 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
60g golden caster sugar
1 lemon – zested and then juiced (you will need 2 tbs juice)
4 tbs Mrs Darlington’s Passion Fruit Curd (orange or lemon curd is also available in Ludwell Stores). Naturally, you could easily make your own!
Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 3 (AGA roasting oven, bottom shelf with cooling shelf above)
1. Prepare four ramekins, approx. 5 cm deep and 7.5 cm in diameter by lightly buttering the sides.
2. Spoon a large dollop of passion fruit curd into the bottom of each ramekin being careful not to dribble it down the sides.
3. Separate the eggs, putting the yolks into a medium-sized bowl and the whites into a spanking-clean larger one.
4. Using an electric hand whisk, whisk the whites to the stiff-peak stage, which will take 4–5 minutes, starting on a slow speed, gradually increasing to medium and then high.
5. Sprinkle 10g (large tablespoon) of caster sugar to the whites and whisk on a high speed for 30 seconds more. Put aside.
6. Next, add the zest and lemon juice and the remaining 50g of sugar to the yolks and mix them together briefly.
7. Take a tablespoon of the whites and fold them into the yolks to loosen the mixture, then fold the rest of the whites in, using a light cutting and folding movement, so as not to lose the precious air.
8. Spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins, piling it high like a pyramid, then run a finger around the inside rim of each one. (This will help the rise).
9. Place the ramekins on a solid baking sheet and place in the oven on the centre shelf (not AGA ovens – see above) for 15–17 minutes or until the tops are golden.
10. Remove from the oven and allow them to settle for 5 minutes and for the curd to cool a little.
11. They will sink slightly – don’t panic, this is normal. Just before serving, place them on a small plate and dust lightly with icing sugar.
12. Serve with pouring cream or vanilla ice-cream.
Simply the ‘zest’
A truly, truly scrumptious and impressive dessert – perfect at Easter time.
At the end of last year I waxed lyrically in Truly Scrumptious about the joy of dehydrated fruits and fruit leathers. I wrote how tempted I was to buy myself a food dehydrator to make the very best of such delicious morsels, and this I did (an impulsive and extravagant buy). The plan was to spend my summer practising and then let you know how it may be done. Well, motivated by a glut of currants, strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries and rhubarb, I have done so. Fruit leathers do not sound attractive, bit like jerky which I wouldn’t touch, but imagine a sheet of jewel coloured fruit, translucent, shiny and made from pureed fruit, thick and smooth, sometimes with the juice of a lemon or lime, usually uncooked and unsweetened (unless with honey) and then spread on to silicone sheets to dry. They should be flexible and strong so you can cut them, roll them or fold them to take to school, or on long journeys or walks. ‘Pam the Jam’ (River Cottages’ jam expert Pam Corbin) suggests snipping off pieces to dissolve gently into fruit salads, or even hang them on the Christmas tree (a bizarre suggestion as surely they would dissolve into a sticky blobby bauble as they rehydrate, I’m not recommending it)!
With self-interest and that of course of those Truly Scrumptious followers, I have tried lots of different mixtures, gooseberry and blackcurrant, strawberry and rhubarb, currant mixes and pure 100% blitzed home-grown raspberries. Some were quite successful, others not so – the raspberry leather was like eating course sandpaper as I didn’t sieve out the pips, but the strawberry with a little rhubarb for sharpness was delicious. My favourite remains the blackcurrant leather. I managed to over-dry one batch and they were rather crispy, shattering all over the worktop and floor – I still find little sticky slivers of it stuck to the kitchen cupboards. I plan this week to make a blackberry and apple leather, following ‘Pam the Jam’s’ recipe where she cooks the apple and uses honey as a sweetener. It looks wonderful in her book Preserves (River Cottage Handbook No. 2 – available at Ludwell Stores); and with blackberries at their best now and apples dripping from the trees, it should be perfect.
My sister (photographer extraordinaire) sent me an artistic photo of one of my leathers, fascinated by its colours and texture. That gave me a fleeting boost, before she tasted one and declared through a screwed up face “it’s rather sour”. Family can be so cruel.
As we go into autumn, I like the thought of inspiring readers to indulge in the autumn apple bounty and make a delicious Apple Frangipane Tart. The tart can be topped with raspberries, pears, apricots, blueberries – anything really – however the second recipe I am giving you this month, goes especially well with apples. Salted Caramel Sauce is wonderful served with almost anything. I gave jars of this wonderful sauce to friends at Christmas last year. They tell me it’s excellent, especially spooned over vanilla ice-cream, pancakes or just on its own by the tablespoon, stolen from the fridge whilst no-one else is around. It could last about a month in the fridge if you don’t tell anyone it’s there.
Anyone who has spent the summer eating fruit leathers and has a superior opinion of their natural diet deserve now to indulge in this sugar-laden tart with accompanying sauce. Now to the sauce, which can be rustled up in a matter of moments, please take care with the sea salt. Start with half a teaspoon and add more to the finished sauce as needed, bearing in mind that the colder this is served, the more the flavours will be muted and therefore need bolstering…. We’ve had a great summer – here’s to a great autumn.
Apple and Frangipane Tart with Salted Caramel Sauce
Approx. £6.50 for the tart and approx. £3.50 for the sauce when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
For the Apple and Frangipane Tart
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
200g soft butter, plus extra for greasing
100g caster sugar, plus 1 tbs
2 large eggs
100g ground almonds
1 tbs finely chopped lemon zest
4 eating apples
1 tbs jam (apricot is best but not essential – could use redcurrant jelly equally well)
For the Salted Caramel Sauce
75g unsalted butter
50g soft light brown sugar
50g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
125 ml double cream
1 tsp sea salt (the very best you can find)
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 (AGA roasting oven, middle shelf with cooling shelf above)
Save yourself time & mess, buy ready-made shortcrust pastry and skip to No. 4
1. For the purists – Sift the flour into a bowl, dicing 100g of butter into it. Add the salt and rub together until it resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Stir in 1–3 tbs cold water until the dough seems to want to cling together.
3. Knead lightly to make a ball, dusting with flour if wet. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
4. Generously butter a 24 cm flan tin with a loose base and dust with flour.
5. Roll out the pastry and line the tin, trimming the edges.
6. Line the case with foil, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 10 minutes.
7. Remove foil and beans and bake again for 5 minutes until golden.
8. Meanwhile, beat 100g butter and 100g sugar together until light and fluffy.
9. Beat in one egg at a time, then fold in the ground almonds and lemon zest, then tip the mix into the cooled pastry case.
10. Halve and peel the apples, carefully cutting out the cores. Placing the flat side down on your board, slice thinly across the width – making a sort of fan.
11. Place the apples artistically in the tart, spreading out the slices slightly and brush over the remaining butter, melted. Don’t worry about this, just get the apples in the mix.
12. Bake for 40–45 minutes until the frangipane is puffy and golden and apples just cooked. On removal from the oven, brush with warm apricot jam. Make the Caramel Sauce
13. Melt butter, sugars and syrup in small heavy-based pan – simmer for 3 minutes swirling occasionally.
14. Add cream and ½ tsp sea salt and swirl again. Stir with wooden spoon and with caution…. taste for saltiness, bearing in mind that salt dissolves the hotter the sauce.
15. Serve (or jar as you would jam in sterilized jars) Spoon over whatever you fancy…..it’s that simple
A truly, truly scrumptious duo of recipes for any occasion, season or private binge!
What is it with the verb ‘to sit’ that confuses our nation of English speakers? Putting aside how some people talk and write in text speak nowadays, the misuse of our common language really gets my blood pressure rising. I give you an example….a recent telephone message from a senior colleague. “Hi Alison, I’m sat with Pam and we were wondering…”. I’m sat? – NO. I’m sitting surely. I am sitting with Pam….
A rather defensive team member from North Wales, who is also afflicted by this unspeakable habit, told me that she believes it is a Welsh or a Northern thing, but it’s not – the colleague who sat with Pam, is from Woking. In the days of Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2 (whoops, just lost four of my five readers) he would make a big deal about conjugation of verbs, specifically ‘to sit’ – he made it into something hugely funny, but it is so prevalent now that it has become an equally huge irritation to me, to the extent that I correct people mid sentence – how rude am I?
Now, this whole subject has come about because, whilst in a hotel restaurant ‘up north’ last week, I was approached by a waiter with my starter (a slab of smooth chicken liver pate, clearly just out of its vacuum pack on a pretentiously slim and very sharp piece of slate, far too small for its load). But I digress – he placed this in front of me and repeated what I had already heard him say in a broad Newcastle accent to my dining neighbours, “Here you go, hope you enjoy…” turned and walked away. Enjoy..? What does he want me to enjoy? The starter, the absent glass of wine or the shower gel in my room? I have no idea. If he was hoping I enjoyed my starter, I have to say I did. I was very hungry after all and his comment helped me decide what to get off my chest in Truly Scrumptious this month.
So to match my sharp temper, sweetened only by love and chocolate, preferably together, I am contributing to this month’s recipe a notoriously sharp fruit, Spring Rhubarb with something to soften and sweeten its acidity, Donhead honey.
I think of rhubarb as British, not least because the best rhubarb comes, indisputably, from Yorkshire (ah, a tenuous link with my visit north) from an area between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford known as the ‘rhubarb triangle’. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall informs me on his (beautifully written) blog that a few years ago, Yorkshire rhubarb was awarded PDO (protected designation of origin) status.
After the two or three years needed for the crowns to develop, they are transferred to pitch black forcing sheds, where the pale pink shoots grow rapidly in their desperate search for light. They are harvested by candlelight. The season lasts until April, and then it is only a short wait for the thicker, greener, outdoor crop. Mine is shooting already under buckets and will be ready by April for sure. This main crop rhubarb will possibly need a sprinkle more sugar than the more delicate, floral early pink crop. A blob of creamy yoghurt and a ribbon of honey are great companions of rhubarb.
So, with charming Geordie waiters aside (and forgiven), I know you will enjoy…
Rhubarb Cake with crème fraîche and Donhead honey
Approx. £2.90 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores
226g self raising flour
a pinch of salt
110g unsalted butter
340g rhubarb – thin stalks preferably (the darker the better)
110g caster sugar
2 large eggs – slightly beaten
1 tbsp demerara sugar
150ml crème fraîche
1 star anise – ground to a fine powder (delicious but optional)
2tsp Donhead honey (optional – but crème fraîche will need sweetening).
Preheat the Oven to 180°C, Gas mark 4, AGA rack on floor of top oven with cooling shelf above
1. Grease, line and then grease again, a 1lb (equivalent) loaf or cake tin
2. Chop the rhubarb into slices, about 10–15 mm wide
3. In a large bowl, add the salt and the flour, then rub the cold butter into the flour in the usual way to resemble fine breadcrumbs
4. Mix in the caster sugar, chopped raw rhubarb, then finally the beaten eggs. Mix well.
5. The mixture will be fairly dry and heavy for a cake mixture but trust me, it’s okay.
6. Put the mixture into the tin, level it out, and then sprinkle the top with the demerara sugar.
7. Bake in the oven for about 45–50 minutes until it looks done (i.e. light brown and cake coloured)
8. To test for ‘doneness’, press the top lightly with your finger and if it springs back, it’s done, or test with a skewer.
9. If the top gets brown before the cake is cooked through, cover the top loosely with foil to stop it from burning
10. Leave the cake in the tin for 15–30 minutes to firm up before turning it out carefully onto a wire cooling rack (it may be a little fragile and wobbly, but that’s okay).
11. Add the honey and crushed star anise (optional) to the crème fraîche and serve with the warm cake as a pudding or cold with a cup of tea!
A truly, truly scrumptious moist and divine cake for this spring
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.