It’s been a while since I did a round-up of Chocolate Treats. I’ve had a few sent to me over the last several months and now feels like a good time to let you know about them all.
Food of the Gods
Cornwall is starting to produce some fabulous and innovative chocolate. I’ve already highlighted some of our chocolate producers, but Food of the Gods has only recently come to my attention. Based down at the other end of Cornwall to me, in St Just, this is an exciting new enterprise. Owner and chocolate maker Dal Hall loves his chocolate, but didn’t like eating all the associated sugar and additives that comes with most mass produced bars. Initially running a few raw chocolate workshops for people with mental health problems and seeing the joy it brought them, he decided to start making his own raw chocolate whilst carrying on the day job. Ethics are important and Dal’s chocolate is made using organic and fairly traded ingredients. There are only three things in the base chocolate, cocoa solids, cocoa butter and unusually, date syrup. I was particularly interested in this latter ingredient as it appeals far more to me than agave syrup or Sweet Freedom – the only two sweeteners I’ve so far been aware of. Date syrup is a more natural ingredient, being less highly processed and containing fibre, potassium and antioxidants.
The chocolate is 96% cocoa, leaving only 4% to be sweetened by the date syrup. This makes it the healthiest raw chocolate I know as well as the darkest. I was sent three bars to try: one with cocoa nibs, one with mixed nuts and one with rose petals, goji berries and something chocolatey. The something chocolatey is a bit of a mystery as none of the bars had labels on them. However it tasted very nice. In fact both CT and I enjoyed this chocolate very much. Although it’s barely sweet and very rich and dark, it’s surprisingly easy to eat. It’s not at all bitter and you can really taste the chocolate. The texture is also much better than the raw chocolate I’ve made myself; it’s less soft and almost has a bit of a snap to it. It is, however, quite chewy, so better munched than left to gradually melt in the mouth. The nut bar was probably my favourite, even though I was quite taken by the rose which had a subtle flavour with burst of fruitiness from the berries.
This Food of the Gods is by far and away the most exciting raw chocolate I’ve yet come across and I wish Dal every success with his venture.
The chocolate is available online and at selected outlets in Cornwall, one of which is happily Trevallicks, the farm shop in my home village. Online it costs £2.75 for a 60g bar including P&P.
Italian food has to be one of the best in the world, it’s certainly one of my favourites. Finding authentic high quality Italian ingredients isn’t always easy. Vorrei are a new online Italian food shop selling products ethically sourced from small scale Italian suppliers and farms. I noticed many of their products are organic too – bene. I was glad to see they have a particularly pleasing chocolate selection.
Giuliette (Colavolpe) – dried oven-baked figs, walnuts, sugar, cocoa butter, Bronte pistachios, powdered milk, lactose and milk proteins, flavouring, soy lecithin, colouring E131.
The Colavolpe family have been making figgy confections now for three generations. Based in Calabria, one of their signature ingredients is the dottato fig, a small but tasty variety that grows particularly well in that region.
I adore figs and pistachios both, so these little parcels of sumptuousness all wrapped up in white chocolate are just the sort of thing likely to appeal to me. The dried figs are stuffed with a mixture of walnuts, pistachios and white chocolate, then enrobed in more white chocolate. Despite the minimal amount of pistachio in the filling, (only 5%), the flavour was still detectable. I would prefer a higher percentage of pistachio myself and for the food colouring to be omitted. That aside, I enjoyed these so much I really didn’t want to share; poor CT didn’t get much of a look in. The outer chocolate is a good foil for the richer chewy fig within. I found the packaging almost as appealing. Wrapped individually in pistachio coloured foil lined paper, the figs nestled in a similarly coloured box.
A box of 12, weighing 250g costs £10.50.
Betty and Walter
Inspired by the names of Betty and Walter bags and accessories, Creighton’s Chocolaterie have created a limited range of chocolate bars to complement them. I was sent one of their bars to try. When the box arrived I didn’t know which of the four flavours I was going to get. All of them sounded interesting, especially the fig and pink pepper dark chocolate. But secretly my heart yearned for rose. I’ve had an affinity with rose ever since I was a nipper and was dressed up as the Fry’s Turkish Delight girl for our village carnival one year. And as I’ve said before, this queen of flowers reminds me of my grandad who was passionate about his roses and won awards for them every year.
Beautifully packaged, the chocolate came with a personalised label which immediately endeared Betty and Walter to me and made me smile.
Almond and Rose Milk Chocolate – (33.6%) sugar, cocoa butter, while milk powder, cocoa mass, soya lecithin, vanilla, almonds, rose oil.
I was so enamoured by the anticipation of not knowing what I was going to get and later by the look, sound and scent of this bar, that I took it in stages. I made the whole seductive process of looking, smelling, touching and finally tasting, last as long as I could. In a nutshell: day one, I received it; day two I unwrapped the outer packaging ; day 3, I unwrapped the inner packaging and tasted the chocolate.
Wrapped in greaseproof paper emblazoned with Creighton’s chocolaterie interspersed with yum, I found this to be a classy way of wrapping the chocolate. As soon as the outer layer of plastic was taken off, the evocative scent of rose assailed my nostrils. But what of the chocolate? Thankfully, it tasted delightfully of rose too. The bar was sweet, but whilst I’m not generally a fan of very sweet chocolate, it somehow works with rose. The crunchy pieces of almond gave added texture and interest. Once started, CT got in on the act and the bar didn’t last very long at all.
At £3.50 for a 100g bar, this is well worth the money,for the pure anticipatory joy, if nothing else.
Seed and Bean
Seed and Bean is a company I approve of. I’ve reviewed some of their 85g chocolate bars before and here too; the chocolate is both tasty and of good quality. They also come in a range of interesting flavours. But more than that, they are organically certified by the Soil Association and the only UK chocolate company to receive 100% ethical accreditation from The Ethical Company Organisation. This means, in their own words “we give a really fair deal to cocoa farmers, whilst fully respecting the rural environment, both in the UK and overseas”.
Cornish Sea Salt – (70% dark chocolate) – cocoa mass, raw cane sugar, cocoa butter, smoked sea salt, soya lecithin, vanilla extract.
With my patriotic Cornish hat on, I was very pleased to see that Seed and Bean were using Cornish sea salt in another of their bars. The chocolate is smooth and melts sumptuously in the mouth. It’s not in the least bit bitter, which is generally a sign of good quality dark chocolate. I’m unable to eat more than a square of some sea salted bars I’ve tried as they are just too salty, but here the salt takes a supporting role. There is a subtle note of smokiness that enriches the experience. This is a bar to savour and delight in.
Lavender – (72% dark chocolate) – cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla extract, lavender oil soya lecithin, .
Lavender is one of those flavours that you either like or dislike. Liking most things herbal, I’m rather partial to it as long as it’s not too overpowering. This one is quite strong, the scent emanates from the bar as soon as it is opened and you can certainly taste the lavender. Both CT and I felt it was a bit too much and thus better suited to baking into a chocolate lavender cake than savouring on its own. Lavender, I’ve found works very nicely in this form as demonstrated by this chocolate lavender cake.
Prices for these 85g bars are around £2.30.
Scotland’s first chilli farm has a name that immediately appeals to me. It’s no secret, I am a chilli head; next to our garlic, chillies are the most important crop we grow. Chillilicious not only has the distinction of being the most northerly chilli farm in Europe, but it is run by a team of women. Mother and daughter, Patricia and Stacey Galfskiy grow chillies in an environmentally sustainable way and make a variety of products from them. One such is a chocolate bar using the infamous naga – the world’s hottest chilli.
Heaven & Hell – (dark chocolate, 53.8% cocoa) cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin, natural vanilla. (white chocolate, 28%) sugar, cocoa butter , whole milll powder, soya lecithin, natural vanilla. Naga chilli.
A mix of dark and white chocolate, this bar is topped by dried naga chilli and swirled artfully together, it looks very attractive. The dark chocolate contains the chilli as well as being topped by it. The idea is that the white chocolate soothes the mouth after eating the fiery dark part. Chilli fiend that I am, I was slightly concerned about trying this bar – I had heard stories. Well, it didn’t quite blow my head of, but it nearly did. My throat caught fire almost immediatly after the chocolate hit my mouth. But the sensation of hot chilli together with both dark and sweet white chocolate is quite exciting. Not something I’d want every day, but as an occasional wake up, it’s an experience worth having.
Available from the Chillilicious online shop at £4 for a 100g bar.
Street food in the UK, I’m very glad to say, is on the up and up. Hot dogs and burgers made with cheap and often unhealthy ingredients are making way for fresher and more vibrant fare. With this in mind Cauldron Foods are challenging bloggers to create a street food recipe using one of their vegetarian products. Cauldron Cumberland sausages have long been a favourite of mine, but I am less familiar with their tofu. Sausages, I thought would be too easy, so I opted for the tofu.
When Mõvenpick asked their fifteen favourite bloggers (of which I’m one!) to create a sundae using their ice-cream, perhaps unsurprisingly my thoughts jumped to chocolate. I was planning on an All Chocolate Sundae project using dark and white chocolate ice-cream, chocolate brownies and chocolate sauce. However, the plan was hijacked by these blackcurrants. Adding cassis to champagne makes for a Kir Royale, so I reasoned that adding blackcurrants to my chocolate sundae would not only enhance it, but make it fit for a monarch – a Chocolate Sundae Royale, no less.
Mõvenpick ice cream takes me straight back to Switzerland where I was a teenage au pair. Country bumpkin that I was, I found the ice-cream parlour serving Mõvenpick sundaes to be amazingly glamourous. My introduction consisted of a magnificent affair with 15 balls of differently flavoured ice-cream – I remember it well. So when I was sent two tubs of their ice-cream, two sundae glasses and matching spoons, I was all set to relive my dissolute youth. I chose Swiss Chocolate which not only tasted of rich dark chocolate but also contained generous amounts of Swiss chocolate shavings; I paired it with a contrasting creamy White Chocolate containing chunks of white chocolate. Both were way too tasty and the leftovers didn’t hang around in our freezer for very long. These two, along with eight other flavours, can be purchased in 900g tubs from Ocado.
The ever-inspiring Elizabeth is hosting We Should Cocoa this month over at Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary. She has chosen chocolate ice cream and toppings recipes – you can do either or both. Ice-cream in July is becoming a bit of a tradition. Do have a look at the July 2013 We Should Cocoa ice-cream round up. Well I knew I was going to be getting some chocolate ice-cream, so I needed to come up with something particularly good for a topping.
CT gave me a most wonderful book for my birthday, Mast Brothers Chocolate: a family cookbook by Rick & Michael Mast. The book is full of dark and luscious recipes along with stories of their bean to bar chocolate making adventures. A recipe for hot caramel fudge sauce caught my eye and I knew that was the one I wanted to use for my sundae and my entry to We Should Cocoa.
Chocolate Caramel Sauce
- Melted ¼ a cup of golden caster sugar in a pan over medium heat, then allowed to simmer for a couple of minutes until it turned a bronzy colour. Removed from the heat.
- Meanwhile heated ½ cup of double cream in a separate pan with ½ tsp of vanilla extract until hot.
- Poured the cream into the caramel and stirred hard until all was smooth.
- Added 100g chopped 70% dark chocolate and stirred until melted.
- At this point my caramel ganache separated out, so I heated a ¼ cup of cream and poured this in, stirring carefully. Thankfully this worked and I had a thick but beautifully smooth and shiny warm chocolate caramel sauce.
- Simmered 150g blackcurrants with 75 ml water for about ten minutes to soften the fruit.
- Pressed the mixture through a sieve, extracting as much juice as possible. Threw the remaining pulp in the compost.
- Stirred in 1 tbsp of icing sugar.
Pride comes before a fall, but I think this might be one of the best sundaes I’ve ever eaten – maybe because I had it for breakfast! Not normally one for sweet foods in the morning, I reckon this was my most decadent breakfast ever. My excuse was simple: I had to make it early in the morning whilst the light was best for photographic purposes and before the house heated up too much. Different layers, textures, tastes and temperatures made a sundae surprise to keep us guessing – we were never quite sure what was coming in the next mouthful. Blackcurrant was an inspired addition; it had a punchy piquancy and the tart fruit cut through the richness of the chocolate and cream. A slug of cassis could easily be added to the blackcurrant sauce to make this even more decadent than it already is.
This Chocolate Sundae Royale is my entry to the Mõvenpick Ice Cream Blogger Competition. The creator of the favoured recipe wins a two-hour masterclass with the Langham’s head pastry chef, Cherish Finden, followed by afternoon tea for two at the Palm Court. Fingers crossed.
You can see some of the other entries here:
- Coffee Walnut Banana Ice-cream Sundae
- Cashew and Pineapple Sundae
- Lemon and Blackcurrant Sundae
- White Chocolate Ice Cream Sundae with Summer Berries and Fudge Sauce
- White Chocolate and Berry Sundae
Appropriately enough given the hot weather, this month’s Family Foodies event is Chill Out, Baby, making my sundae eminently suitable (although it might be best to omit the optional cassis). It is hosted this time by Vanesther of Bangers & Mash and is hosted alternately with Lou of Eat Your Veg.
This month’s Blogger Scream for Ice Cream over at Kavey Eats is all about holidays. Well, the Swiss sundaes that inspired this were not exactly holiday related – I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard as I did when I was an au pair. My entry is, however, travel related, so I hope it counts.
- 2 blackcurrant brownies – quartered
- 6 small scoops white chocolate ice-cream
- 4 small scoops Swiss chocolate ice-cream
- ½ cup hot caramel fudge sauce (see above)
- ¼ cup blackcurrant sauce (with an optional slug of added cassis for extra decadence)
Dom’s been drinking too many cocktails recently and in his own words has become obsessed. And now he’s trying to lead us all astray by getting us to make cocktails for Random Recipes this month. Shame on you Dom 😉 Actually, it’s good to have an excuse to make a cocktail, they are rather lush.
Surprisingly, I don’t seem to have many cocktail recipes, so instead of choosing a book randomly, I entered cocktails into Eat Your Books and came up with a chocolate bramble cocktail from Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A Young. I know Dom tells us not to tinker with the recipe, but he should know by now that I’m incapable of following this instruction. In any case, I didn’t have any blackberries or Crème de Mûres, but I did have some pomegranate juice, or juice drink to be more precise. I didn’t even follow Paul’s exact recipe for the chocolate liquor part as it seemed rather sweet and the pomegranate drink was quite sweet enough. However, I did follow his method – more or less.
The cocktails went down a treat – dark and velvety, very adult and not too sweet. If you prefer your drinks sweeter, just add a little more sugar to the chocolate liquor or use a less dark chocolate. CT was rather disappointed I’d only made enough for one each. The chocolate and red pomegranate didn’t quite layer in the way I’d hoped, but I liked the way they swirled together as they slowly mixed; I was reminded of a lava flow.
So it’s cocktails for Random Recipes over at Belleau Kitchen. Dom has upped the anti this month by offering a bottle of vodka as a prize for the best entry.
- 25g golden caster sugar
- 40g 80% dark chocolate + a couple of squares to serve
- 50 ml Plymouth gin
- 200 ml pomegranate juice drink
- 10 ml lemon juice
- 4 ice cubes
Prep time: Total time: Yield: 2 glasses
So enamoured was I with the chocolate, lemon curd and strawberry combination after I made these chocolate waffles, that I knew immediately that was what I would use for my birthday cake last week. What I didn’t then know was that I would add pomegranate to the mix.
When I was sent some pomegranate juice drink from The Simply Great Drinks Co, I thought it would make a fabulous addition to my cake. And so it proved to be. Neither CT nor I are particularly keen on sweet drinks and this did taste very sweet. However, we found that a dilution of one third juice to two thirds water suited us very well; it tasted good and was particularly refreshing during hot days. It made for a rather tasty cocktail too – recipe to follow. In fact I only just managed to nab some for my cake before it ran out. The pomegranate flavour was to the fore and the colour was deep and jewel-like. With pomegranates trending as the latest superfood, consuming some has to be a good thing. However, it must be said that PomeGreat, as this drink is called, contains only 30% pomegranate juice. The rest is made up of water and other fruit juices from conentrate.
As some of you may remember, I carried out a cocoa powder tasting trial some time ago. It was Food Thoughts organic and fair-trade cocoa that came out best. Food Thoughts is available in Sainsbury’s, but is not stocked by the Co-op or anywhere else in Liskeard, so I don’t get to use it very often. Luckily, Food Thoughts kindly sent me a couple of pots recently, so it was this cocoa I used in my birthday cake.
On the day, friends hosted an afternoon tea party for me that ended up lasting long into the evening. It was a jolly affair and it even stopped raining long enough to have a walk around their beautiful garden and to spend half an hour sitting out on their newly created terrace. I did much of the baking for the occasion including the gooseberry mini cakes that have already featured. Surprisingly, the most popular bake of the day turned out to be some little muffins made from the gleanings of a weeding session down at the plot. They were modelled on this recipe for carrot and beetroot muffins, only I used tender leafy greens instead of the carrots and beetroot and omitted the cocoa powder. Greens, walnuts and goat’s cheese is a winning combination I found. I also made brownies, peanut butter cookies and madeleines. My friend made sandwiches, quiches and scones, so we had a veritable feast.
The cake went down a storm. No surprise, with its tangy fruity creamy combination it encapsulated summer. The chocolate cake itself was succulent with a light but substantial sponge that was infused with a hint of pomegranate.
A couple of days after my birthday when this cake had long since disappeared, my mother turned up with another birthday cake. Lucky me. I don’t get cakes made for me very often, so I was quite delighted. It was a well textured light fruit cake with a layer of marzipan beneath the icing and although very different, it was equally delicious.
I am sending this off to Emily over at A Mummy Too for her Recipe of the Week.
It also goes to Cook Blog Share with Lucy over at SuperGolden Bakes.
Tasty Tuesdays gets a look in too with Vicki at Honest Mum.
This also goes off to Jenny over at Mummy Bakes Cakes for July’s Celebration Cakes and Bakes.
- 225g unsalted butter
- 225g dark brown sugar
- 1 heaped tbsp golden syrup
- 4 large eggs (I used duck eggs)
- 225g flour (half wholemeal, half white)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 50g cocoa powder (I used Food Thoughts)
- 60g ground almonds
- 150ml pomegranate juice
- 200ml double cream
- 4 heaped tbsp lemon curd
- 300g strawberries – hulled and quartered
- 20g dark chocolate – shaved
Yield: 12 servings
When I say Yo! Sushi, who thinks about chocolate? No-one. Fair enough. If chocolate is what you’re after, for once you’ve come to the wrong place. I really meant to take some chocolate along with me for some fusion food chocolate sushi, but rather stupidly I forgot. I can’t say as I was disappointed or that it was missed; I had a fabulous time and ate far more sushi than was good for me.
A bunch of South West bloggers (glam fashion bloggers as well as the foodie crowd) met up early one evening last month at Yo! Sushi in Plymouth. Situated at the main entrance to Drake’s Circus, it’s hard to miss, but I’d never stopped there before. Our mission was to learn how to make sushi – obviously. We had our very own Sushi Master to guide us, the most marvellous Mazz. Our session was jam packed with plenty to eat along the way. We got to take a tray of sushi home with us too, along with the recipes, a bamboo rolling mat, a certificate and a few other bits and pieces. It’s a great activity to do with a bunch of friends, but it’s fine to go alone too. At £30 a person or £50 for two, I thought this was good value for money.
Sushi has a rather special place in my life. It was the first meal CT ever made me and I was mighty impressed, both with the sushi that I’d never eaten before and with CT’s skill in preparing it. Like the rest of the British nation, I took to it with enthusiasm. I even had a go at making it myself once, but was singularly inept. So I was really looking forward to learning a few tips and tricks.
The staff were particularly friendly and helpful and we were offered a drink as soon as we arrived. I opted for a mug of Japanese Green Tea that was no sooner finished before another one turned up in its place. It was quite delicious and just what was needed to keep us hydrated with all the hard work – oh wait a minute, did I say work? I meant fun.
Mazz made it all look astonishingly easy, but he was a great teacher and had plenty of the looked for tips and tricks to pass on. He started off with preparing a massive salmon thus proving he was a Master knife wielder as well as sushi maker. I tuned out at this point, but he went into a lot of detail and the others all seemed to get a lot out of it. Being a vegetarian was not a problem at all however; I was well catered for. Some of the sushi we were making was vegetarian anyway and when there was fish to be eaten, Mazz made me my own super delicious vegetarian versions with egg, avocado, tofu or all three. After an initial demo, we all had a go at making maki, which has a filling of cucumber and sesame seeds. We’d been taught well and all managed to produce some reasonably good looking sushi.
Watching Mazz make mini ISO, or inside out sushi as it’s known, was quite something and the results were spectacular I thought. I’d not come across this technique before, but the rice is on the outside and the nori (seaweed) on the inside. With a filling of tofu, omelette and cucumber and a dusting of Japanese chilli powder on the outside, these were absolutely scrumptious.
Hand rolls, ISOs, Gunkan and Nigiri all flew from Mazz’s hand and were subsequently demolished by us. My favourite was Futomaki which was a standard sushi roll with a filling of avocado, cucumber, omelette, radish pickle, carrots and mayonnaise. In truth, everything I tasted was delicious and it all looked stylish, neat and attractive, the way so many Japanese creations do. I took some of the fishy ones home in my bento box for CT who was very glad that I did.
The most useful tips I took away with me were:
- Cover the rolling mat with cling film to prevent sticking.
- Coat hands in a little oil to prevent sticking.
- Roll the sushi very tightly, so everything holds together.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the sushi and be firm when doing so.
Many thanks to Jane of The Hedge Combers for organising the event, to Yo! Sushi for making it happen and to Mazz for his showmanship and good nature.
Do check out the other write-ups over at:
If I need to make brownies in a hurry, my go to recipe these days is for chocolate fudge brownies from Charlotte Pike’s wonderful book Easy Baking in The Hungry Student series. I first made these for an event last summer where they proved to be extremely popular. Then, last week, I made some for my birthday party. This week, I’ve omitted the coffee, used some different sugars and added blackcurrants. I also always use wholemeal flour or wholemeal spelt which I feel gives me a few brownie points (haha). The method I use is my favourite one pot wonder.
Raw chocolate is where it’s at. The interest in raw foods generally is growing and it’s no revelation now that chocolate can be good for you. It has a number of virtues including vitamins, minerals, omega 3 and 6. fatty acids, flavanoids and theobromine. So far, so good. However, this is mitigated against by the processing and additives such as sugar that go into “normal” chocolate. The darker the chocolate the better it will be for you. Raw chocolate does not go through the same heat processing and thus retains more of its beneficial effects. The jury is still out as to whether agave syrup is better or worse for us than sugar. It has a low glycaemic index but is high in fructose.
Year three and our gooseberries finally decided to crop. They were by no means laden, but I was happy to get a few this year – 200g to be precise! I’m hoping this is the start of an increasing yield year on year and in 2015 we will get considerably more. Scared about the birds taking my precious crop (they nicked all of our redcurrants and strawberries), I picked them before they were fully ripe. Left a little longer, they would have been a bit sweeter and have gone a deeper red. I was taking no risks, however.
One sunny morning last month I set off on a little adventure. As regular readers will know, prizing me out of my home county and over the border is no mean achievement (Plymouth doesn’t count). River Cottage made me an offer I couldn’t refuse however. I got an invite to attend a Preserves course at River Cottage HQ on the Devon / Dorset border with none other than Pam the Jam. I was not going to let that opportunity pass me by. I have been a fan of Pam Corbin ever since I acquired her books Cakes and Preserves, numbers 8 and 2 respectively in the River Cottage handbook series. Her recipe for apple lemon curd was a revelation and one that nicely uses up some of the windfalls I get each year from my mother’s trees.
|Pam the Jam & Liz the Pickle|
The course was actually being led by Pam Corbin together with Liz Neville, otherwise known as Liz the Pickle. This dynamic duo have been running courses together for many years and are both old hands when it comes to preserving. For some reason, this was the first Preserves course they had run at River Cottage for a couple of years. The kitchen facilities were brand spanking new as was the equipment. A massive glass window took up the whole of the back of the kitchen and looked out over the fields and up to the hills and woods. This created a very pleasant working environment.
|Massive window running along the back of the kitchen|
Due to a holdup on the A30, I missed the introductory talk with Pam, Liz and the other attendees, which was a bit of a shame. I just managed to grab a glass of elderflower pressé and an egg and asparagus bruschetta before we were all called to gather round and watch, listen and learn.
|Sweet & herb jellies in the making|
|Pam & Liz getting stuck into bread & butter pickles|
The course was a well-balanced mixture of watching demonstrations and hands on do-it-yourself. The demonstrations were interactive and we were all encouraged to ask questions, peer into pots and have a stir. This was where I picked up a number of useful tips. I am no stranger to preserving, but I have never been taught by an expert – let alone two at the same time. Granulated sugar is the one of choice for jam making as the crystals of caster sugar are very fine and thus more likely to burn. I was already aware that to be legally called jam, the sugar content should be 60%, but I didn’t know that for keeping quality the sugar level should be at least 63%. I’d never heard of a refractometer, but we all had a go at using one to measure the sugar content. Weighing down the contents of a jelly bag with a heavy object, such as a jar filled with water and placed on a saucer, was such a simple idea, but not one I’d ever thought of. I’d also not considered making my own pectin before – simply simmer apples, strain and then freeze in small batches. Another of the many tips we were given was to macerate strawberries in sugar overnight before turning them into jam. I was reminded that when making jam, it’s best to poach skinned fruit such as plums, gooseberries and blackcurrants before adding the sugar to prevent tough skins. This was something I’d once known but had been filtered out of my brain in the mists of time.
|Steam contraption for extracting fruit juice|
The day was a long one, starting at 10:00 and finishing at 17:00, but the time flew by. In addition to the preserves we made ourselves, we watched Pam and Liz make mint jelly (with gooseberries), lavender jelly (with apples) and elderflower cordial. Pam also had a rather interesting steam juice extractor that she demonstrated. The course information stated that fruit leathers would be included. I was looking forward to learning about this as it’s something I’ve never done. I was somewhat disappointed that this wasn’t in fact covered, but the day was so “jam” packed, I can’t see how it could have been squeezed in.
|Busy making lemon curd|
|Strawberries and gooseberries awaiting our attention|
|My bread & butter pickles|
There were twelve of us on the course, which with twelve workstations was the perfect number; we could have one each, work at our own pace and not get in each other’s way. In between the demonstrations, we made strawberry & gooseberry jam, lemon curd and bread & butter pickles. All three were new to me. I have made any number of fruit curds and been pleased with all of them, but for some reason I’ve never made the classic lemon curd. When I got home, I topped these chocolate waffles with the curd and combined with strawberries, it made for a heavenly repast. Strawberry jam is a tricky one to make as it has very little pectin content and although I helped my mother make it as a teenager, I’ve never tried going it alone. Gooseberries on the other hand are high in pectin. They both fruit at the same time of year, so combining the two is a fabulous idea; the jam sets easily, but has the colour and taste of strawberries. Bread and butter pickles is an American sweet cucumber and onion pickle which was traditionally served with bread and butter. I have subsequently found that it’s addictive and I’ve been using it in my sandwiches, to accompany salads and with new potatoes. We got to take home everything we made, plus one of the jars of jelly that Liz had made. It was a tough choice, but in the end I went for the mint and gooseberry.
|Chef enthusing about our upcoming meal|
|Strawberry, gooseberry & elderflower crumble|
We were well looked after throughout the day. All of the weighing of ingredients and washing up was done for us. We made things dirty and they kept coming back clean. What a wonder that was. It was very hot, but the jugs of cool drinks were continuously topped up to help keep us refreshed and hydrated. Lunch was an experience in itself. As the day was so glorious, we ate outside. We were greeted with more jugs of cool elderflower and the Chef, who informed us with great gusto of the delights awaiting our table. The main dish was homegrown River Cottage lamb, but thankfully the vegetarians (and there were two of us) were very well catered for. I had a mushroom ragout, roasted asparagus and barley risotto topped off with a poached duck egg. To follow we had a strawberry, gooseberry and elderflower crumble which was just delicious. Sadly, not a single bit of chocolate passed my lips the entire day!
|Part of the Kitchen Garden|
|Oxford Sandy & Black Pig|
CT decided to accompany me as he was interested in looking around the horticultural part of the farm. Not only did I welcome his company on the rather long drive to and from River Cottage, but as the evening was a fine one, we explored the nearby nature reserve and had a good walk around. Both of us were a little surprised at the scale of the horticultural operation – it was much smaller than we had expected. When I asked if all of the produce we were using was grown on site, I was told they only grew enough here to supply the kitchen. I had naively assumed that all of the produce used for cooking schools and in the various outlets were home grown. However, the walled kitchen garden was lovely – an edible landscape laid out in a most attractive manner. I couldn’t help but be envious of the abundant strawberries. Pigs sheep and cattle roamed the surrounding pasture land adding to the bucolic charm. On arrival, my breath was quite taken away, the view from the car park at the top of the hill is outstanding. It is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty after all. Looking out over the valley and onto the adjoining hills , a pastural scene of beauty and tranquility met our eyes: a landscape of hills, trees and green fields interspersed with rough grazing. As I was late, I missed the tractor ride down to HQ but one of the River Cottage team was waiting to greet us and walk us down the hill. The walk was just what we needed after the long hot drive and it meant we got to see more of the lovely scenery.
|One of the many lovely views|
Everyone on the course seemed to get a lot out of it and I had a fantastic, if full on, day. Pam and Liz were on hand to help us and answer any questions throughout the day. It’s always fun cooking with others and being able to talk enthusiastically about one of my favourite subjects – food! Going home loaded with delicious preserves was a bonus. There are two more preserving courses with Pam & Liz scheduled for this year at River Cottage HQ both costing £185.