Saturday 15 December 2012

Festive recipes

As the holiday season draws ever closer, I thought I would share some of the simple recipes I use for family get-togethers.  Some are from the Good Housekeeping book of 1976 and some have been gifted to me by friends and family members. None are complicated nor do they involve expensive ingredients.

Smoked mackerel pate
1 tub of cream cheese
3 fillets/1pkt of  smoked mackerel
Lemon juice
Empty the tub of creamed cheese into a mixer and add the skinned and flaked fillets of mackerel. Mix together. Add the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon and mix again. Taste. Add more lemon juice if necessary to give a fresh flavour. Place in a ceramic tub and serve with cruditees, toast or as part of a cold spread. Store in the fridge. The mixture will freeze if you make too much and have to use it another time.

Liver terrine
1lb of pig’s liver
1/4lb fat bacon
4 eggs beaten
1 clove garlic skinned and crushed
1/4pint thick white sauce
Salt and pepper
12 rashers streaky rindless bacon
Mince the liver and fat bacon finely then sieve it to ensure a really smooth result. Mix it with the beaten eggs, crushed garlic, sauce and seasongin to taste. Line a 2pint terrine with bacon rashers (I’ve always used a 1lb loaf tin), fill up with the liver mixture and place in a dish containing enough cold water to come halfway up the sides of the terrine. Bake in the oven at 170degreesC/Mark 3 for two hours. Cover the top of the liver mixture with greaseproof paper or foil. Press evenly and leave for 24 hours in a cold place before serving. Serve cold and sliced with toast and butter and a crisp salad.

Smoked haddock chowder
1 onion, skinned and sliced
2 rashers of bacon, rinded and chopped
Knob of butter
3 potatoes peeled and cubed
1lb smoked haddock, skinned and cubed
15oz can of tomatoes
1pt fish stock
Salt and pepper
1 bayleaf
2 cloves
Chopped parsley to garnish
Lightly fry the onion and bacon in the butter for about 5 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the potatoes and the fish. Sieve the tomatoes with their juice, add them to the fish stock, combine with the fish mixture and add seasoning and flavourings. Cover and simmer for ½ hour, until all the fish is soft but still in shape. Remove the bayleaf and cloves and sprinkle with parsley before serving. Serve with freshly made bread.

Ham and sweetcorn soup
8oz leftover ham
1 large onion peeled and chopped
1 large red pepper, deseeded and chopped
2ozs flour (2or 3 level tblsps)
¾ pt milk
¾ pt stock (can be made from ham bone)
2 tblsps Worcestershire sauce
1lb potatoes peeled and diced
1 large can sweetcorn, drained (11.5oz)
Salt and pepper
Melt butter in a large saucepan, add onion and pepper abd frt gently for 5 minutes until soft. Stir in flour and cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and gradually stir in milk and stock. Return to heat and slowly bring to the boil; stirring. Add remaining ingredients, lower heat, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until potato is cooked. Stir regularly as this soup will catch on the bottom and can burn if left unattended. Season to taste and serve with crusty bread.

Almond Tartelines
1 pkt shortcrust or sweet pastry
4oz butter
4oz castor sugar
2 eggs
4oz ground almonds
1oz  flour
1 tsp Vanilla essence
2oz flaked almonds
Apricot, redcurrant or quince jelly/jam to glaze
Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs gradually, add vanilla essence then stir in the almonds and flour. This is the frangipane mixture. Roll out pastry and cut sufficient rounds to fill around 2 doz. cupcake trays (the same ones you use for mince pies). Place 1 tsp frangipane mixture in each pastry case then sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 12-15 minutes in pre-heated oven at 180degrees C, Gas mark 5. As soon as the tartlets are cooked, remove them from the moulds, brush the tops with hot jam to glaze. For extra decoration, you can sprinkle a thin line of ground almonds around the edges, but I’ve never bothered.

Krakalot (family name for flapjack)
4oz margarine or butter
1 dessertspoon golden syrup
1 tblsp hot water
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Melt all these ingredients together in a pan or microwave, mixing the bicarb with the hot water before adding to the pan.

4oz porridge oats
3 ½ oz sugar
2 ½ oz flour
Mix these dry ingredients together then pour over the melted margarine or butter and mix together. Place in well- greased baking trays and cook in oven at 180degress C, Gas Mark 5 for 15 minutes until brown. When cooked, remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then score. If you leave scoring until fully cool, the flapjack pieces will break up. I usually cook double quantities for a normal amount of flapjack. You can add diced dried apricot, dried fruit and/or grated apple to this recipe. If adding dried fruit remove 2oz sugar from the ingredients and if adding grated apple, allow longer to cook.

I’ve been surprised how many people have enjoyed my hedgerow cordial this year. I served it at the Solihull Healer Christmas party we hosted on Monday and as we were away in Newcastle on Wednesday when Solihull Writer’s Workshop had their Christmas meeting, I had to send bottles along to be served without me. The remaining cordial were returned to me tonight along with the news that I won the short story competition!!! I’ve won the poetry and article writing competition before but never the short story one in all the sixteen years I've been a member, so I was very pleased!

I wish all my readers a happy and peaceful holiday season with lots of good thoughts for the coming year.

Monday 12 November 2012

2012 Herbal Ally Roundup: Rose

Rose has been with me all through the year, from the sun-kissed days of winter to the rain and gales of summer and beyond. She has brought great happiness, not just to me but to everyone who has stooped to smell her perfume or breathed in the scent of her many products before tasting. Everyone she has touched has stopped, smiled and complimented her. She has been a wonderful ally.

I have two major rose varieties in my gardens. The apothecary’s rose, rosa gallica and the David Austin old English rose, WilliamShakespeare. While the former has been used medicinally since the dawn of time, to use the latter is probably a surprise to most rose growers who don’t automatically gather their roses for culinary, cosmetic and medicinal purposes. 

Roses have always been a harvested garden crop. In medieval times, three major roses would have been grown – apothecary’s rose, also known as the Red Rose of Lancaster, the white rose (rosa alba semi-plena -the white rose of York) and the damask rose (rosa damascena).  Their ruling planets were Jupiter (red rose), the moon (white rose) and Venus (damask rose).

Rose petals were used historically to treat diarrhoea, bronchial infections, coughs, colds, chest complaints, nervous tension and lethargy. The distilled water was prescribed for eye inflammations, to refresh the spirits and to strengthen the heart. Rose oil was applied to chapped skins and Gerard said that roses would “staunch bleeding in any part of the body”.

The scent of rose has been used to perfume everywhere from churches (using scented oil in incense burners before the altar) to rooms (in pot pourris) to individual bodies as part of a floral water, a lotion, cream or massage oil. The petals can also be eaten in salads, crystallised or made into syrups, jams, jellies or vinegars. Rose water (a distilled essence of rose) has been used to flavour confectionary (notably Turkish delight), jellies, sauces and both sweet and savoury dishes.

The Catholic rosary was originally named because the beads were made from rose petals. It is a long and somewhat tedious process according to Henriette Kress, who told me that she wouldn’t consider making another set after her original one, unless she really wanted to make one for a friend. Her method can be found here. She recommends taking out your rose beads when you need love, gentleness, courage or some prickliness.

Henriette believes rose petals to be calming and mood-lifting, helping with anger and frustration and giving you courage to defend your opinions and boundaries so that you can like yourself and others more. She recommends rose petals for menstrual irritability either in the form of a tea or a bath. The tea can also be used for menstrual cramps or irregular menses. This comes from rose’s decongestant action in the female reproductive system.  Rose has also been used to treat impotence in men and can ease heart palpitations.

Avicenna was the first person to make rose water in the 10th century. He used rose jelly to cure anyone who spat blood (usually a sign of TB or other serious illnesses).  Anne MacIntyre gives a account of the many different myths about roses in her wonderful book, The Complete Floral Healer. She very kindly stepped in at the last minute to provide a herb walk during my festival in September and had everyone spellbound as she talked about the plants she encountered in the Sanctuary.

My favourite part of her talk was about the rose. I had not heard before that according to Eastern traditions, when a soul knocked at the door of the next world and all material things had to be left behind, only the red rose was allowed to accompany that soul over the threshold because it was considered to be part of the spiritual realms.

Annie fell in love with the scent of the William Shakespeare rose, telling us she often prescribed her patients to smell a rose three times a day to help improve their overall health.  This is such a simple and effective idea I have started using it with other heavily scented plants such as rosemary in an attempt to support others in helping themselves.

Annie also writes about the energetic properties of rose. She says, “The red rose increases confidence in those feeling insecure about their sexuality and who suffer from feelings of shame or timidity about their bodies. It help you to open up to love and bring your desires into action.

“The white rose is quietly inspiring and strengthening, renewing energy and joy in oyur life. The white rosebud can be given to infants and children to help them grow up, keeping a sense of heaven on earth.

“The wild rose is the remedy of independence. It is traditionally said to mean ‘pleasure and pain’ as it brings pleasure to the eyes and heart when found blooming in the wild, but pain from its sharp prickles if you try to pluck it. Wild rose warms the heart and softens the emotions, engendering an easy-going feeling to enhance sensuality.”

I really understand what she means about the wild rose. In my part of the world, this is the dog rose (rosa canina), although I have come across both the briar rose (rosa rubiginosa) and rosa rugosa growing wild in Northumberland; briar rose around a former children’s TB sanatorium near Morpeth and rosa rugosa on the coal-filled cliffs and sand dunes opposite St Mary’s lighthouse, Whitley Bay.

Gathering dog rose petals means time to be by myself, to study how the flower buds open, how the petals fall or are blown away by strong breezes and how the buds grow in clusters of up to eight or more. This is revealed more fully when bright red hips form in autumn, when I found some bushes by Olton canal only producing single berries, whereas those in my Sanctuary and surrounding fields had groups of between four and eight.

Rosehips also reveal the different species of bush. Apothecary’s rosehips are so small as to be almost non-existant, leaving wild rosehips to be the one of choice for collecting, but even those are different shapes and sizes. The largest I have ever found were in the Friary field last winter and I’m looking forward to seeing if they grow to such size again. Cotswold rosehips seem the usual shape and size, but the canalside ones are small and round, leading me to wonder if they were rosehips at all if I hadn’t been sure of their identification through their leaves.

I throw rosehips into most syrups and cordials and quite a few other concoctions because of their high vitamin C content. Looking at some of their other properties – strengthens the lungs in fighting infections, wards against colds and coughs,  helps to fight infection in the digestive tract and helps re-establish normal bacterial population of the intestine when it has been disrupted by antibiotics or faulty diet – they seem the ideal support food or drink for winter.

My daughter has been suffering from recurring infections in her wisdom tooth which the dentist has suggested might come from a lack of fruit and vegetables in her diet, so I gave her one of the rosehip syrups to take home with her and take a spoonful every day.

My stocks of dried rosehips have all been used up so this autumn I have been gathering large basketfuls to replenish my empty larder jars and make some rosehip syrup for the first time. The bags of hips are still drying in my hot cupboard and although the syrup was made, it seemed to produce very little juice from a large number of hips, so I may try again later in the winter when the hips are softer and sweeter.

I have made many potions from rose this year as well as drying several bags of petals despite appalling weather conditions when harvesting. Tinctures, vinegars, tonics, syrups and elixirs have all graced my shelves along with a newcomer - the rose double infused oil.  I was also really pleased to be able to put up another batch of Kiva Rose Hardin’s, “Burns Honey” as my bergomot flowered again this year after restocking the plant last spring.

With the rose oil I made a simple rose cream with rose tincture and beeswax. The inspiration came from Leslie Postin’s blog and she, in turn, used Lucinda Warner’s recipe from her blog. We made it as part of last Saturday’s “Oils and Salves” workshop. I’d never had any success with creams before so I was somewhat anxious about the outcome, especially as I could not obtain either a rose hydrosol or any glycerine and when I went to look for my last piece of cocoa butter in the larder, it hid! 

Simple Rose Cream
8 fl ozs Apothecary’s rose petal double infused oil
1 fl oz Aloe vera gel scraped from the inside of three large leaves
5 fl ozs Apothecary’s rose petal tincture
1oz grated beeswax from the beekeeper who lives in the next road.
We measured out the oil and heated it in the top of a double boiler with the grated beeswax, stirring gently with a wooden spoon until it melted. This liquid was then poured into a large plastic bowl which was suspended inside another bowl of cold water and the oil was again stirred until it was almost cool. I used a stick blender to emulsify the cooling salve as the tincture and aloe vera gel were slowly poured into the mixture. The blending continued until the cream was thoroughly emulsified. It looked pale and fluffy and was very slightly pink in colour.

The scent was very subtle but I was very impressed with the result. If you wanted a stronger smelling cream you could add drops of rose essential oil or a fragrance which pleases you. We put the cream into some recycled jars my sister had gifted me the previous weekend.

What really delighted me was the fact that I had made and grown all the ingredients myself except the beeswax, which I had collected on foot.

The other great success this year has been rose elixir. When my daughter shut her finger in a door earlier this year and called for “Mother’s Emergency Service”, I dosed her with rose elixir while I bandaged her damaged digit. She was soon calm and sufficiently restored to go off to give her piano lesson followed by a shift in the hotel where she then worked.

At the beginning of September I was asked to provide a medicinal herb demonstration in the kitchen garden at Calke Abbey. Many of the volunteers on duty that day came to see me and waxed so poetical about the stress relieving effects of the rose elixir that the organiser came and sat down with me for a good twenty minutes.  She asked if she could take the elixir away with her as it made her feel so much better!

Rose has been a wonderful ally this year. She is a perfect companion teaching me close observation whilst providing a calm and unhurried world in which to inhabit. Although I shall choose another ally in the coming months, I know rose will always be at my side.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Recording your herbal ally

We always think we know what something looks like but it’s not until you actually stop and study something you realise how much you have been missing. If you want to know more about a herb, you need to look at them closely.

What colour are they? What are their first leaf shapes? How many leaves are there? Are they opposite or parallel? Simple? Complex? Does the colour of the stem change over time? Do they have flowers? What colour are they? Are they simple? Complex?  In whorls around the stem or on a stem by themselves? What colour are the bracts? The questions are endless and the more you try to answer them, the better you understand and appreciate the herb.

Of course you can’t just look at a plant, you need to touch, taste, smell and listen to experience both its world and its entirety but you can gain great insight by close observation. (NB: Please don’t touch taste and smell unless you know the plant is non-toxic!)

One way to record a herb is to photograph it during the various stages of its life. This can be done once a month or every time you do something with the plant. Building a photographic collection can act as both a diary and a reminder of what you have done and how you did it. I keep all my photographs in a digital folder depending on subject matter so each one is clearly labelled with the date and clues to what is in the picture and where it was taken.  They provide a useful resource and means of illustration when I’m writing.

The best way to really appreciate a herb is to draw it. It doesn't matter if you've never drawn anything before or were told by your art teacher at school that the brush had more talent on its own than you did. Take a pencil (HB if that's what you have handy, but 2-4H gives a clearer drawing) and look closely at one portion of the plant.

Choose a section of the plant which is really simple like a large stem or a leaf bud or something which calls to you. Put the pencil on your piece of paper and try to reproduce what you see. As you try to match your strokes with the shape of the plant part I bet you will surprise yourself. It doesn't have to be a Rembrandt or a Picasso, just something really simple.

I can't draw for toffee and have no artistic skills, but the simple sketches I've attempted of my herbal ally, rose, this year, please me. They don't have to please anyone else. I've only sketched the same William Shakespeare plant four times this year and I can't get my pencil around the complexity of the flower as well as I would like, but it's a unique record I would not otherwise have.

Each sketch takes me around half an hour sitting on the patio with my small sketchbook on my knee. We’re fortunate in having a specialist art shop next to our local station about a mile away, but most art supplies can be obtained cheaply from remainder shops such as The Works or stationary outlets such as Staples. You don’t actually need anything artistic in the first instance, a pencil, rubber and sheet of plain, unlined paper is all that’s necessary.

Even if you find perspective difficult, it doesn’t matter. The whole experience of transferring what you see in front of you onto a sheet of paper will help you remember exactly what each part of the plant looks like. It means you can identify it elsewhere and notice when things are different or damaged.

I know if I hadn't attempted sketching, I would never have appreciated the amazing reds on the emerging rose leaves which are still present on the leaf bases now or learned the shapes and arrangement of the rose leaves. I didn’t know rose leaves were serrated nor that their usual number was five on one plant and six or seven on another

This new knowledge enabled me to correctly identify a wild rose by the canal when I was foraging last month, something I would not have been sure about twelve months ago.

Taking a chance to develop a new skill is always scary, especially if you have little or no confidence in your own ability but there can be many rewards. Making sketching part of your herbal education can provide many joys if you are wishing to expand your herbal horizons.

Saturday 20 October 2012

2013 Apprenticeships and Workshops

The Springfield Sanctuary Apprenticeship 2013 is now open for enquiries and will close on Wednesday 12 December 2012.

You don't have to be an apprentice to attend any of the monthly workshops or triannual workdays at Springfield Sanctuary. You can get in touch via blog comments or by emailing sarah at headology dot co dot uk.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Autumn Recipes

As days become shorter and rain keeps falling during the night, it seems a good time to review some seasonal recipes. I had to smile last week when chef, Nigel Slater, went to his local green grocer to buy blackberries as part of his “Simple Cookery” series.  I don’t understand people who are fit and healthy buying blackberries from a shop when they are freely available from hedgerows. Even in the largest city, no-one is too far away from a canal or other open space where such fruit should abound.

Over the past month we’ve spent many hours picking blackberries and last weekend even the rosehips were finally ripe. I’ve discovered that blackberries cooked with sugar and cinnamon with a little water make the most wonderful sauce to add to natural yoghurt or eaten with other fruit and covered in cream. I’ve also made a hedgerow jelly using mainly blackberries.

Friary Jelly
Put whatever hedgerow fruits you have gathered and washed  into a large saucepan and just cover with water. (I had picked elderberries, blackberries, apples  and sloes. I chopped the apples into quarters/small chunks leaving the peel and pips.) Add a couple of sticks of cinnamon or cassia bark broken up or 2 tsps powdered cinnamon plus half a grated nutmeg.

Bring the fruit to the boil and simmer for half an hour until everything is very soft. Mash everything with a potato masher, then pour everything into a muslin strainer or jelly bag and leave to strain overnight. If you want a really clear jelly, don’t squeeze the bag but if you’re not bothered about having something cloudy (and because the jelly is going to be purple anyway), then squeeze the last drops of juice out and measure the volume.

Wash the saucepan and return the liquid into the pan. For every pint of liquid add 1lb sugar. Heat the mixture slowly until the sugar dissolves then bring it to a rolling boil for ten minutes or until the jelly has set. (Drop a tablespoon of hot jelly onto a pyrex saucer and put it in the freezer. Take another sample after 5 more minutes. If the first sample has a skin on it when you press the back of your forefinger nail through it, it has set. If it hasn’t, keep repeating every five minutes until it does.)

I had 2pints of liquid and it made 6 1/2lb jars of very tasty jelly.

I’ve also been adding blackberries to elderberry syrup and was interested to learn that one of the US Herb suppliers adds fresh blackberries to their St John’s wort tinctures macerated in grain alcohol and water to improve flavour and increase anti-oxidant levels.

One of my apprentices recently sent me some autumn recipes which I shall be trying out soon. I may use some of the elderberries frozen from last year to make this recipe for Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar from Eat Weeds. If you don’t already know the Eat Weeds website, it has some very interesting recipes including one for hawthorn jelly. I also like the sound of the BoxingDay chutney recipe which is available on Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas site from Chanel 4.

After our busy weekend at the farm, the last four days have been spent processing all the herbs I picked or dug. Solomons Seal Root is macerating in a jar of Overproof Rum (£24 from Tesco’s, ouch!). Dandelion roots are either tincturing or making Jim Macdonald’s bitter with cardamom and orange peel while the remainder dry in the cupboard.  Photos from the weekend can be found on Facebook 

All the aerial plant parts (marshmallow, ashwagandha, white horehound, New England Aster, chamomile and Calendula) are drying, along with some rosehips. The wild bergamot went into a tincture. This morning it was the turn of the ashwagandha roots to be vigorously scrubbed and are now air drying on the patio table in the warm wind and sunshine. The large bag of nettle roots, horseradish and the single Himalayan poke root are still waiting their turn which will probably come tomorrow.

I’ve also discovered another favourite soup recipe I thought I would share – very simple, hearty and frugal. es, it can take 2 days to cook, but it costs very little and tastes wonderful!

Pea and Ham Soup (for vegetarian and vegans, omit the ham)
1 pkt of green or yellow split peas
2 bay leaves
2 onions
2 carrots
2 sticks of celery
(Or 1 carrot, 2 parsnips and half a celeriac root)
4 ozs of chopped ham
Tip the packet of split peas into a large bowl and cover with lots of water.  (I usually fill a mixing bowl to the brim.) Leave to soak overnight. The next day, peel and chop the onions and sauté in a large saucepan (at least 5 pints) until soft. Peel and chop all the vegetables and add to the onions along with the bay leaves and strained split peas. Cover with around 3-4 pints of cold water. Season. Bring to the boil and either simmer for about 1hr until the split peas are soft or pour contents of saucepan into a cookpot and cook on high for one hour or so then on low for several hours until peas are soft. (Don’t remove lid from cookpot/slow cooker during cooking or you will increase the time by an hour or so.) Remove bay leaves. Return soup to the large saucepan and whizz using your favourite utensil until smooth. Add your diced ham and bring back to the boil. Serve with fresh bread. (Feeds 8-10 people).

The original recipe for this soup comes from the Good Housekeeping Cookbook. They use a smoked ham bone to make stock before you add the vegetables, but I haven’t been able to obtain a ham bone yet and if you did this, you couldn’t offer it to any non-carnivores.

Autumn is a busy time, but I’m looking forward to snuggling up with my many potions when winter comes.