Thursday, 26 June 2008

Wakes Cakes

Following my visit to Bakewell in Derbyshire, I decided to put a recipe to test from my Favourite Peak District Recipes book. I chose Wakes Cakes, as they sounded intriguing with their combination of ingredients. They happened to turn out very well – nice and crisp with chewy currants and interesting little flavour hits from the caraway seeds.

This traditional recipe may originate from the time of the English cotton mill industry during the 18th and 19th centuries. During the industrial revolution, many cotton mills were built in the midlands and the north, using the rivers to turn the great water wheels, which in turn powered the machinery to weave the cloth. This part of England was chosen, as it’s known for it’s damp and rainy weather, which are perfect conditions to produce high quality textiles. A dry atmosphere made the thread prone to breakage.

The life of a mill worker was not an easy one, very long hours for low pay and poor conditions and precious little time allowed to take holidays.
Wakes were originally religious festivals that commemorated church dedications, a time when people normally would want to take time off work and be with their families. Mill owners, not being overly generous with rights for their employees, found that their workers would often be absent at this time, so eventually seeing sense, they agreed that all the mills should close for a week anyway to allow for this.
Eventually, the wakes were adapted into a regular summer break when the week would be the focus for fairs where these cakes were sold and eagerly eaten.

12 oz flour
8 oz butter
6 oz white sugar
1 egg, beaten
3 oz currants
½ oz caraway seeds
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Sugar to sprinkle

Set the oven to 375F or Mark 5.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl, add the beaten egg and mix in all the other ingredients to make a firm dough.
Roll out thinly on a floured surface, cut into rounds with a 2½ inch cutter, sprinkle with sugar and place on a greased baking tray.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browed.
They should be crisp and sweet like biscuits.

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Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Salad Days

I wouldn’t normally rave on about a pile of salad leaves, but these ones are special.
From tiny seeds some amazing leaves have sprouted in a variety of colours, shapes and flavours – and what’s more I have grown them myself. That’s what makes them special.

I don’t have to go to the shops to find them, queue to pay for them and when I get home I don’t have to rip open a plastic bag. I just walk through the kitchen, open the back door and wander out into the garden armed with a pair of scissors and bowl. A few snips here and there and I can select just the right amount I need, leaving the rest to carry on growing and remaining fresh in the outdoors.

Things always taste better that way.

Grow Your Own

Friday, 20 June 2008

Better Bread

I’m not convinced that my bread machine makes a very good job of making a decent loaf. I agree that by automating the process it might make the job a little bit easier. All you have to do is fill the machine with ingredients, close the lid, press a button and “bleep, bleep” it’s finished in an hour or so. The only problem is that you end up with small square loaves with a hole in the bottom left buy the mixing paddle. I also find that the texture is not as open as I’d like it to be. The mixing paddles are by no means equipped to really pull and stretch the dough enough to allow decent size air pockets. The result can often be quite spongy for white bread and too dense for brown.

It is possible to just use the machine for the kneading process and then remove the dough to be shaped by hand for more rustic style loaves, but there’s still that problem with the texture.

The machine is largely redundant now, as I’ve rediscovered the joys of making bread completely by hand. Don’t ever look at it as a chore as the whole process is very therapeutic and doesn’t take up all of your time. For the most part, the dough happily sits unattended, for long periods while it is rising, leaving you to other things.

Make kneading the dough a pleasure, all that pummelling can certainly help you take out any frustrations and gives your arms a good work out, plus it’s also good fun getting messy and covered in flour!

I made a nice big batch of dough using a combination of wholesome spelt and brown flours, mixed together with some white for lightness. My loaves weren’t strictly traditional or rustic as I used fast acting dried yeast rather than fresh, but the end result certainly looked and tasted the part.

I’ll try to work out the recipe properly at a later date, as I had to improvise from one I found that used fresh yeast. Also, as I used a mixture of different flours, that affected the quantity of liquid that I needed.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

From Foraging to Fritters

I knew there was a good reason to let part of the front garden to be given over to nature.
We haven't intentionally neglected to maintain its upkeep, but there never seems to be enough time to tackle the enormous task of clearing the undergrowth and clipping the hedges, As a result a rather large elder bush has grown up through the hornbeam hedge

It is now in full flower, and not wanting to miss the opportunity to eat some it's blossom, I battled my way past the prickly brambles to pick its headily scented blooms.
They are best gathered in the morning after some sun has shone on them - this is when the flowers pack out the most scent and flavour.

Avoid washing the blooms as this will just make them soggy and lose their gorgeous Muscat flavour. It's best to simply shake them to dislodge any creepy-crawlies, unless of course you fancy some added protein!

I make a light tempura style batter, dipping in the elderflower heads and deep fry for a couple of minutes until they are golden and crispy. A sprinkling of caster sugar to finish and then eat.
I have decided to leave the elder bush to go on to produce berries later in the year, these being very useful for jams and jellies.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Solving a Radish Problem

I’m not very pleased. It may have been my fault and maybe I should have thinned them out, but my radishes are not making radishes.

They’re all leaves, very lush and juicy, but there’s no round, bright pinkish-red root at the bottom. There should be by now. The seed packet says you can harvest them in 4-6 weeks from the time of sowing!
It’s a little upsetting as I was looking forward to some crunchy, hot, little scarlet orbs in my salad – but that is not to be.

Sorry radishes for cramping your style and confining you all too close together, but you haven’t won, because I can still eat you!

Yes, the leaves are quite edible and you treat them just like spinach – they’re a bit on the hairy side to be enjoyed raw, so it’s best to cook them.

Mine made their way into a simple pasta sauce. I heated a little olive oil in a pan and add two grated cloves of garlic. Then dried porcini mushrooms which I had first soaked in warm water and then drained, followed by two heaped tablespoons of Philadelphia Light cream cheese. If it seems too thick, just add some milk. Then I added some chopped fresh oregano (from the garden) and shredded radish leaves
I stirred them altogether seasoned with salt and pepper and a good grating of nutmeg. To finish I mixed in some fresh grated parmesan cheese. Yum.
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