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Today I drove the many miles southward to Hanbury Hall - a National Trust property near Droitwich, just south of Birmingham. I went to interview the Head Gardener for the sustainable food bulletin I edit as part of my volunteer role for the National Trust.
Hanbury Hall is possibly one of the prettiest Trust properties I’ve ever visited. The formal gardens are immaculate and full of colour – lots of orange and purple.
The house is very similar to my local Dunham Massey, but a little bit fancier and with more detail.
They have an Orangery and a Mushroom House (where mushrooms were grown for the Vernon family back in the 1860′s), and a large orchard full of ancient apple varieties.
But I was there to see the Walled Vegetable Garden. Down the end of long walkway, surrounded by high Yew hedges (very Alice in Wonderland!) are two old wooden gates set into a high red-bricked wall.
Inside was an idyllic scene of a beautiful working kitchen garden. There were chickens picking happily at the grass, neat row of vegetables – cabbages, Rainbow chard and lettuces to name but a few, bee hives and polytunnels (one bursting with a stunning display of colourful pumpkins and squashes). Sorry – I didn’t take any pictures inside the garden!
Hanbury Hall’s vegetable garden not only supplies the tea rooms with a bounty of fresh produce, eggs and honey throughout the year, but visitors can buy vegetables direct from the garden – simply ask a gardener for a celeriac, and they will go and pull one up for you right before your eyes, or maybe you’re after ruby red forced rhubarb – they can pick that for you while you watch.
How cool is that?!
After having a tour of the kitchen garden and doing my interview, I said goodbye to Neil, the Head Gardener and went for lunch in the tearoom.
In the tearoom you are greeted by a counter full of cakes (like most National Trust tearooms), but here at Hanbury they are quite different – perhaps you are tempted by a slice of their rich and moist Chocolate Beetroot Cake (I certainly was!), or their Parsnip and Caraway Seed Cake, maybe it’s their Honey Cake or my favourite a Victoria Sponge?
What’s special about these cakes is they feature vegetables and ingredients from the Walled Garden – beetroot, parsnip, caraway seeds, honey, eggs, and homemade jam (made with their own fruits, of course). I was also told their made courgette cake and even potato cake! All sweet.
In addition to my slice of Chocolate Beetroot Cake (which I didn’t eat first, I promise!), I had a bowl of vegetable soup with vegetables from the kitchen garden, and an apple and blackcurrant juice from a local producer in Worcestershire. The cake defeated me – I couldn’t manage the last mouthful – shameful, I know!
What a lovely visit and a delicious lunch, and a big thanks to the friendly staff at Hanbury Hall.
If you’d like to visit Hanbury Hall you can find more details here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hanburyhall.
*Photos taken with camera phone – not looking too bad!
I thought it was about time for some wildlife pics after all this talk of food and eating and recipes!
Aren’t they so sweet? I discovered these teeny tiny caterpillars on my nasturtiums this evening – I don’t mind them chomping on the leaves as there are so many and I do so love butterflies in my garden.
I love how they all huddle together…
I especially like this picture, not only because of this rogue caterpillar who was brave enough to leave the huddle and explore the leaf, but also because you can just see three tiny yellow eggs clinging to the underside of the leaf – on the right in the picture.
Yesterday was lovely. It was one of those days when you feel whole, you feel content, you feel that life is good.
Mr Rigg and I spent the afternoon helping out the stall for our local Low Carbon group at the town’s May Queen Festival. We are both involved in the group, me leading on local food. We spoke to lots of people from our community, handed out information and lots of the ‘really local food’ maps I have produced.
Then we headed up to Abbey Leys to get some eggs and bacon (I’m planning on making a Quiche Lorraine this week). The sun was shining, the sky a dazzling blue. The hedgerows are green and alive with twittering birds. The hens and ducks at Abbey Leys were all down by the pond and sheltering in the shade of the trees.
Outside the farm shop was a bucket of locally grown Sweet Williams, a bunch of which now adorns our living room in an earthenware pot salvaged from the carboot. Inside, Mr Rigg filled up two boxes with freshly laid eggs. I found some outdoor reared Gloucester old spot streaky bacon in the chiller.
We also filled up a bag with the first Cheshire new potatoes, still with earth clinging to them. And then I saw them – a tub of locally grown peas. I adore peas. Peas plucked straight from the plant, popped out of their crisp pods and into my mouth. Nothing is perhaps more delicious.
These were the first local peas I have seen, so we got a full bag. By the time we got home I’d eaten about a quarter of the bag already. Needless to say, they didn’t make it past sundown.
From all this delicious local produce and some from our garden we ate a scrumptious, simple dinner – will post this separately. This is how all days should be. Should make you feel.
Wishing everyone a happy start to the Easter weekend! I am about to head off to get some eggs so that I can start baking a beautiful lemon pound cake for my granny’s 80th birthday tomorrow.
It needs to feed 20 family members – wish me luck! If it works out I’ll post the recipe…
What do we cook for dinner when we don’t have much in the cupboards? A frittata.
We always seem to have eggs in our house, and like most people by the end of the week there are always an assortment of leftovers. Making a frittata is our failsafe recipe for cooking a wholesome and quick meal that uses everything up.
Really, this isn’t a recipe, because you can use any ingredients or leftovers that you like. It’s really a short set of instructions on how to make a basic frittata and some pointers on when to add certain ingredients to the pan.
Frying pan: To make a frittata you need a frying pan, one that can be put in the oven is even better, but if not this isn’t the end of the world! I use a medium-sized heavy cast iron frying pan with a metal handle – I have discovered that this is the perfect size for us, it makes just the right amount of frittata for the two of us. If you don’t have an oven-proof frying pan, pop your frittata under the grill rather than in the over to cook it.
Eggs: Next, you need eggs – beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper. For two of us, in my medium-sized frying pan I use about four eggs. You need enough beaten eggs to cover the other ingredients in your pan, so start with a good guess of how many you need – you can always beat up another if you need a bit more.
My key frittata ingredients would be potato, onion and cheese.
Potatoes: We often have a few leftover boiled potatoes, and these are perfect in a frittata. If you don’t have leftover potatoes, just boil up a couple of new potatoes and use those instead. Simply slice the potatoes into thick-ish chunks, and they are ready to be added.
Onions: Onions are a staple in most people’s cupboards, cooked slowly in your frying pan in a little oil and maybe a knob of butter until they are softened they will add a lovely sweetness to your frittata. You can cut them up in anyway you wish – roughly chopped, thinly sliced, diced – just as long as they are cooked until soft you can’t go wrong.
Cheese:Adding cheese just before you bung your frittata into a hot oven gives it that added luxury. Now you can use any kind of cheese you fancy or have available in your fridge – make sure it doesn’t clash with any of your other chosen ingredients. It could be grated, diced, sliced or crumbled. Tasty options include mozzarella, cheddar, feta, goat’s cheese, or gorgonzola.
Other ingredients: You could add – olives…roasted red peppers…shredded spinach…diced ham…artichoke hearts…shreds of cooked chicken…sweet roasted carrots…smoked salmon…broccoli florets…salami…flaked fish…garden herbs…
Key steps for making a frittata:
1. Heat oil and/or butter in a frying pan and add the onion – cook until soft.
2. Add any other ingredients – add those things first that will take longer to cook.
3. Once your ingredients are cooked, add your sliced potatoes.
4. Pour over your beaten egg.
5. Sprinkle over your cheese and bung in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until cooked.
6. Leave to cool a little for about 5 minutes before eating.
As a child courgettes were one of the vegetables I loathed. I remember them cut in thick slices and cooked until slightly soft and mushy. They were gross.
Now I have a much better relationship with courgettes, I have found ways in which to eat and cook them which have made me fall in love with them. Courgettes are starting to ripen and I picked up a couple from Little Heath Farm that had been grown by a local lady with a large garden. There was a perfectly formed round yellow courgette which I couldn’t resist, and chose a couple of green ones as well. With some delicious French chevre cheese in the fridge along with a pack of Parma ham, a simple egg dinner was dreamt up – a frittata (fantastic as a store cupboard meal for those evenings when you can’t think what else to cook) with courgette, goat’s cheese and shreds of salty ham.
I’ve got another lovely courgette dish that I’ll post soon – semi-dried courgette and chilli pasta.
Here’s how to make it…
Soften half an onion in a little butter and oil. Next, grate up your courgettes and pop them into the pan.
There’s quite a bit of water in the courgettes, so let it cook out and then continue to saute the courgette until all the liquid has disappeared – a beautiful smell will start to waft up and fill your nostrils. Then you know it’s ready.
Whisk up a couple of eggs (I used four for two of us) and season well with ground pepper and salt…
Pour the beaten eggs into the pan with the courgette and onion mixture. Crumble over the goat’s cheese…
Finally shred over the Parma ham and bung in the oven for about 15 minutes until cooked.
I find the frittata is best left for 10-15 minutes before eating, more of the flavours come through than when it’s piping hot.
Now here’s the recipe for anyone who fancies making it for themselves.
Courgette, goat’s cheese and Parma ham frittata
Feeds two hungry people
1/2 onion, diced
2 courgettes (1 green, 1 yellow)
1/2 slice of goat’s cheese
a couple of slices of Parma ham, torn into pieces
*Please note, ideally you need a pan with a metal handle that can go into the oven – if you don’t, you will need to pop it under the grill rather than in the oven.
Preheat the oven to about 200°C.
In a pan, heat a little butter and olive oil and saute the chopped onion until soft.
Grate the courgettes and add to the softened onion. Cook the courgettes – water will come out of them, so just keep cooking them gently until it all disappears and it starts to smell nice.
Beat the egg and season well with salt and pepper. Tip the egg into the pan with the courgettes and onion and keep on a medium heat while you crumble over the goat’s cheese and add the torn Parma ham.
Turn off the heat and bung the pan into the oven for about 15 minutes until nicely golden on top and cooked through.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little (about 10-15 minutes). Cut into wedges and serve on its own or with a garden fresh green salad.
Who could image that just two ingredients – egg and butter – could create such a delicious, moreish meal? N was anti-scrambled egg when I first met him. After finally managing to get him to try a mouthful of my scrambled egg, he can now be heard asking for it without any prompting at all!
Scrambled egg on toast, made with love and care, and not cooked to within an inch of its life, should not be dismissed purely as a side to a fried breakfast. Scrambled egg on toast can make a scrumptious and filling meal all by itself – at least in my opinion.
Using high quality eggs is essential for producing the tastiest scrambled egg possible. Organic, free range, rare breed/heritage or woodland eggs are your best bet. Or if you’re lucky enough to have your own chickens, home produced. We used free range organic eggs from Abbey Leys Farm.
Now I never really understood why recipes call for a ‘heavy based’ pan, but for scrambled egg it really makes a difference. If you use one that has a thin base (like my cheapo supermarket milk pan that I still have from university) then the egg at the bottom cooks too quickly and can burn and stick to the pan. A pan with a thicker base will cook the egg slower and more gently.
So, to make my scrambled egg I melt a good sized knob of butter in a heavy based saucepan. When the butter has melted and starts to gently bubble I crack in my eggs. Please note, I do not whisk up my eggs and pour them into the pan. I simply crack the whole eggs directly into the pan.
Now, the important bit – allow the eggs to cook everso slightly. You can burst the yolks if you like, but try and let the white, well turn white – like when you fry and egg. Now, give it a gentle mix (I used a metal spoon). Then let it cook some more. Then another gentle mix.
By adding the eggs whole to the pan, and gently breaking them up as they cook results in a chunky scrambled egg where some bits are white, some bits are golden, and some are milky yellow combination of the two. I think it makes for a much more interesting scrambled egg rather than one uniform taste and texture.
Have the heat on about a medium, but if the egg starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, remove it from the heat briefly and continue mixing. I do this back and forward, on and off the heat until it reaches the texture I like.
I like my scrambled eggs moist but not too runny, and certainly not dried out. The egg should slide off the spoon, not plop off like lumps of jelly. I know everyone has their own preferences, but if you usually cook your scrambled egg a bit longer, just try it more moist, just once. When I first tried cooking scrambled egg like this I couldn’t believe how different it tasted.
Once the egg is cooked, stir in a good grinding of black pepper and salt to taste. As with most food, I tend to be a purist and refuse to add too many embellishments, but yesterday I added some freshly snipped chives from the garden. Chives are an ideal paring for egg and provided an interesting taste addition to our scrambled egg.
Butter some slithers of toast and spoon the scrambled egg over the top.
My perfect scrambled egg
Serves 2 for lunch
A knob of butter
In a heavy based saucepan melt a good sized knob of butter over a medium heat. When it starts to bubble crack the eggs into the pan.
Allow the eggs to cook a little before bursting the yolks and giving them a gentle mix. Leave again to cook a little, and then mix gently. If the egg starts to stick to the bottom, remove from the heat and mix. Keep the egg mixture moving, but do so gently until it reaches a moist sloppy consistency.
Stir in some ground black pepper and salt to taste. If you are using chives, snip into the egg and mix.
Spoon the scrambled egg over a couple of slices of buttered toast.