Category Archives: Ethics

Local meat producers and Waterloo Cottage Farm

British Saddleback

Before the Shire Book of the Month, currently Pigs, changes, I want to tell you about a local meat producer called Waterloo Cottage Farm and the important role that small producers have in selling good meat from happy animals.

Meat is expensive and so it should be.  To produce good meat takes time, through slow fattening on the right kind of food, fresh air and exercise for the animals, slaughter in the least stressful way possible followed by a decent period of hanging before it finally arrives in your kitchen.

With this in mind, I visited local producer Waterloo Cottage Farm in Great Oxenden, Northamptonshire and was given a tour of the farm by owner, Kirsty Clarke.  We met in the light, cool shop, where a mouth-watering array of meat and produce was displayed.  After a brief chat about what I wanted to see, I was taken out through the back door to the business end of the enterprise.

Glorious Pig

I was confronted by lots of open pens, with several different types of pigs enjoying the sunshine.  I was wearing a long skirt and strappy sandals, so I tucked my skirt into my knickers and prepared to meet the pigs and what a gorgeous crew they were.  I have a big soft spot for pigs at the best of times, but being able to climb into the pens and actually scratch them and talk to them was a treat indeed.

Happy Pig

Saddleback Piglets

And Kirsty did indeed talk to her pigs and her care and enthusiasm for the creatures came across loud and clear.  The farm has a herd of British Saddlebacks which are allowed to mature fully in the fields and woods which surround Waterloo Farm, as well as Petrans and Ginger Durocs.  I became extremely soppy when she introduced me to the piglets who were running and rolling with their mother in the straw.

The Clarkes also have lamb and hogget, chickens, ducks and geese and they select beef and veal from local farms who also use traditional breeds.  All the animals have something in common.  They are all reared using traditional, sustainable farming methods which work with nature, not against it.  The animals are free to lead full, natural lives on healthy soil and fed on natural, local feed and the pigs are slow grown until they are 9-10 months which is a significantly longer life than an intensively bred animal. The barley comes from the farmer next door and the slaughterhouse is only nine miles away, the animals being accompanied there in a quiet and unstressed way which is better for the animal and better for the resulting meat.

Looking at the meat in the shop is a very different experience to browsing the chiller aisles in the supermarket.  The meat is darker in colour and more wholesome-looking than perhaps we’re used to and the bacon and sausages sit in great piles, pleading with you to take them home.  The bacon and hams are cured on the premises and their master butcher produces fresh piles of traditional and artisan varieties of sausages every day.

I bought some bacon and something I haven’t eaten for over thirty years – veal.  I have deliberately avoided veal because of the unspeakable practice of veal crating, but with the sure knowledge that the animal that provided this had been happy, healthy and natural, I took a chop home and had it for my supper.

My veal in the shop

I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted meat like it; it was tender, sweet and juicy and so flavourful I could have wept.  I also had some of their dry cured bacon for my breakfast the following morning and, apart from the taste, the most obvious difference was visual.  No white scum stickily coating the bottom of your frying pan here, and two rashers and a couple of fried eggs was distinctly more filling that the abominable mid-range stuff you buy at the supermarket.

Local producers do an incredible job of farming.  Not only do they help to preserve the rare breeds but they also help to preserve the very land on which they’re reared because of the sustainable ways in which they farm.  The meat hasn’t travelled huge distances and is therefore beneficial to the environment in a wider sense.  They are also firm protagonists of old skills such as proper butchery and artisan methods of preparation and, because of the renewed interest in this kind of food, many farms  are taking on apprentices.  Waterloo Cottage Farm also runs meat craft courses to encourage you to get the best out of their meat.

We must support these local producers in their endeavours by shopping with them whenever we can.  I have said it before and I will keep saying it until you do as you’re told; eat less, eat better.  Learn how to use to meat to get the best out of it and, I am convinced that properly reared, slow grown meat actually fills you up more so you don’t need as much of it.  Eat less, eat better.  It’s better for all of us.

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Filed under Animals, Ethics, Food, Livestock, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Regional, Slider

Veal

My veal in the shop

Tonight, I had something I haven’t had for over twenty five years.
I had the biggest, meatiest rosè veal chop that was so delicious I nearly wept.

For various reasons, I visited the Waterloo Cottage Farm Shop in Great Oxendon, Leicestershire and, having thoroughly inspected their delightful premises, I caught sight of several cuts of delicious looking meat in the display counter.  ‘What’s that?’ I asked and was told that it was rosè veal.

My veal chop

The reason it has been so long since I ate veal is that I found the practice of crating calves for veal repugnant and never ate it again.  The animals sourced for Waterloo Cottage Farm’s veal live outside with their mothers, eating a natural diet of grass, silage, cereals and roots and live a happy, healthy life until they are taken for slaughter.

My cooked veal chop

I cooked the chop, which was on the bone, in a frying pan with a tiny bit of oil and black pepper on a medium heat and ate it with new potatoes and peas.  The meat was so tender that my knife simply drifted through it and it was sweet and succulent to taste.  I like meat very rare, so it was slightly pink in the middle, which made it even juicier.  It was a heck of a chop and was actually slightly too much for me, but I couldn’t bear to leave a scrap of meat on my plate – perfect size for a chap though.

The downside was the cost; although it was undoubtedly a big chop, it cost £4.00, so would have to be a treat.  But what a treat.

I’ve said this before and I will keep saying it over and over again.  Good food costs money.  Decently reared, properly fed, happy animals produce meat of a quality that has been forgotten.  Good meat costs more but I reckon you don’t need as much to fill you up.

Eat less, eat better.  Learn about meat and how to make the most of it; ask your butcher about different cuts.  Find out who your local producers are and support them.  Use farm shops.  This is how the price of really good meat will come down a bit and you will be stimulating local economies and encouraging the high welfare and sustainable husbandry of old breeds.  As an additional pleasure, many of these small farms encourage their customers to visit the animals which is a crucial part of learning to respect the food on our plates.

Try a bit of rosè veal and give yourself a treat.

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Filed under Environment, Ethics, Food, Slider

The Great British Disgrace

I have just watched a television programme that made me feel genuinely panicky.  I could actually feel my heart racing at certain points when the visual evidence combined with statistics shocked me to the marrow.

This programme was called ‘The Great British Waste Menu’ on BBC1 at 8.30pm.  Four of the country’s top chef’s were challenged to produce a three course meal for 60 people out of unwanted, wasted food from any part of the food chain to highlight the amount of edible produce which is thrown away every day.  If ever there was a programme made for The Wartime Housewife, this was it. 

I’m going to startle you with some statistics.  I must add that none of these figures are researched by me, they are all courtesy of the programme.

  • One fifth of all food in the UK is thrown away
  • 3,500 potatoes are wasted every minute either in raw or cooked form
  • One million cattle are slaughtered in Britain every year and yet huge quantities are thown away or sold for dog meat because people only want the expensive cuts
  • £1.4 billion worth of food is wasted at some point in the supply chain by supermarkets every year
  • According to the charity ‘Fareshare’, four million people go hungry in the UK every day
  • On one farm alone, 30,000 heads of lettuce were ploughed back into the field on ONE DAY because they didn’t meet the supermarket specification

One fifth of all food in the UK is thrown away. How can that fail to sicken any right minded person? The chefs not only visited farms, wholesalers and supermarkets, they also knocked on the doors of homes in South London and asked  if there were any things that people were about to throw out.  Many of the people they asked didn’t even know what was in their fridges and had let stuff go off because they had forgotten it was there, or refused to eat perfectly edible food because it was past its sell-by date.  

Sell-by dates are there for the convenience of the supermarkets, for their stock rotation and their pathological fear of falling foul of the health and safety fascists.  Sell-by dates, like so much recent political legislation, have successfully robbed individuals of their common sense and their ability to make reasonable, instinctive judgements about what they put in their gobs.

I used to work for one of the (more ethical) leading supermarkets and I asked the manager why such huge amounts of food were going into the waste bins every day.  They are past their sell-by dates he told me and not fit for human consumption.  “I’d eat it” I said, hopefully, but it was made very clear that if I so much as glanced sideways at a wholemeal seeded batch I would be sacked on the spot.  I asked why the food could not be given to the homeless shelter.  I was told that would be illegal.  Wasting a skip-load of food every day should be illegal.

We, as consumers, are the biggest problem as far as the supermarkets are concerned.  The public has become obsessed with visual perfection and alleged convenient uniformity at the expense of flavour.  Egg farms throw thousands of eggs away every day because they are too small.  Apparently, the British housewife cannot work out how to use a small egg and panics if confronted with a hefty courgette. 

Millions of vegetables are thrown away for having tiny blemishes on their skins, potatoes wasted because they have sprouted slightly.  Supermarkets demand that courgettes are between 17-21cm long or they will reject them.  They also reject small strawberries (apparently the shoppers don’t want them) and those which cannot be sold at farmers markets are thrown away.

The chefs had an incredible haul of food salvaged for their menu.  One baker was going to throw away a foot long topside of beef, fishermen handed over boxes of young sole, called ‘slip sole’, because British housewives can’t be bothered to cook them,  Ideally, of course, we should be developing more sophisticated methods of fishing so that these young fish wouldn’t be caught in the first place.  But how difficult is it to cook a fish on the bone (more tasty anyway) and eat it?  Markets throw away binfuls of fruit and vegetables because they’ve fallen on the floor, gone a tiny bit soft or they simply can’t be bothered to take it home.

We have let this happen.  We have become so lazy and senseless that we are treating the precious resource of food, that takes so much effort to produce, that nourishes our bodies, and of which there is plenty to go round, like so much garbage. 

A TV programme last year showed a family of five who spent £400 a week on food and threw away a third of it.  Part of this was because they weren’t great cooks and partly it was because they allowed their children to be fussy and dictate what they would or wouldn’t eat.  They were effectively running a canteen and some days cooked four separate dishes at one meal.  Utter, profligate madness.

I produce very little food waste – vegetable peelings, the very odd bit of cold meat that I have completely forgotten to cook in time.  I scrape the mould off cheddar and bread (within reason), and any vegetables that get a little elderly are roasted or turned into soup.  I don’t do massive shops, and I admit to using the supermarket more than I should because of time constraints.  When there was a farm shop up the road, I rarely went to the supermarket except for cleaning stuff and dry goods.  

However there is a farm shop on the other side of Harborough and I am going to go to it.  In fact, time permitting, I am going to start scavenging.  I am a terrific scavenger for everything else, so I’m going to start scavenging for food.  I’ll let the excitement of this programme die down a bit, and then I shall set to.  And I pledge here and now, that every time I successfully scavenge stuff, I will tell you what I’ve cooked with it.  Maybe a new side bar or feature box is called for.  I will consult an expert.

If ‘Great British Waste Menu’ is repeated on iPlayer, please, please watch it and make your families and friends watch it.  And more importantly, look very hard at your fridges and larders and make a firm commitment to wasting less and save yourself some money.  Plan your meals and your shopping, never go out without a list, investigate cheaper cuts of meat and ask your butcher for them.    ‘Waste not, want not’ is as about as good a cliché as you will ever hear.  We are entering a period of much needed austerity.  Be prepared.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Ethics, Food, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

A recipe for Shepherd’s or Cottage Pie

There are few people in the world who don’t like a nice Cottage or Shepherds’ Pie.  Except vegetarians of course, but even they can eat Quorn if they get the urge.  Incidentally, I apologise if this is stating the obvious, but a Shepherds’ Pie is made from minced lamb and Cottage Pie is made from minced beef.

The mantra of the Wartime Housewife is always “Eat less but eat better”.  Cheap mince is a horrid thing – full of gristle and fat with a nasty texture and I will always argue that it is better to eat a small amount of decent meat than to stuff yourself with water injected, intensively reared rubbish. There is also an argument that properly fed, slow produced meat fills you up more anyway, so you need less.

One can make a Cottage Pie go much further by loading it up with vegetables that can blend in quite discreetly, such as tinned chopped tomatoes, peas, carrots, chopped green beans, sweetcorn, chopped peppers, sliced mushrooms or even baked beans if you want a one-pot meal.  There fore, it can be made using storecupboard ingredients.  Hurrah!

ECONOMY COTTAGE PIE – serves 6

Utensils:
1 x large ovenproof and hob-proof dish
1 x medium saucepan
1 x vegetable peeler
1 x potato masher
1 x chopping board and vegetable knife

Ingredients:
1 large onion – chopped
a little oil for frying
1lb / 500g lean minced beef
¼  pint / 300ml good strong beef stock
1 tblspn mixed herbs
1 tspn paprika
1 dash Worcestershire Sauce or 1 tblspn Marmite/Bovril
1  tin chopped tomatoes
1 large carrot – thinly sliced or diced
4oz / 120g frozen peas
For the top
2 ½ lb / 1kg –ish potatoes for mashing – peeled and cut into smallish chunks
A knob of butter
A bit of grated cheese for the top if you fancy it

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 180 / 350 / 4
Heat the oil in the large pan and fry the onion until soft and translucent
Add the mince and fry until browned
Add all the other ingredients (except the potatoes) and cook until the carrots are al dente
Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in the medium saucepan until soft enough to mash
Season to taste, add the butter and mash until soft and lump free
When the meat is cooked, pile the mash onto the top and rough it up with a fork
Sprinkle with the cheese if you wish
Bake in the oven for about half an hour or until the top is browning nicely
Serve with extra vegetables, baked beans or crispy salad

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Filed under Ethics, Food, Recipes, Storecupboard

Foxed by urban attitudes. Don’t feed the foxes.

Along with the rest of the country, I was heartbroken at the plight of the two little girls in East London who were attacked in their cot by a fox.  I sincerely hope that they will recover and that the wonders of modern surgery will be able to minimise the effects of their injuries.  I send my love to the family.

It does, however, bring the problem of foxes, usually considered to be a ‘countryside’ issue into a much broader focus.  I am going to nail my colours to the mast here and now so there is no confusion.  Despite living in a cottage owned by The Fernie Hunt  I am not in favour of fox hunting.  Not because of the elitism of the hunt, or because I have romantic notions about foxes, but because it is a very inefficient way of culling.  In fact, (and don’t tell them this will you) I suspect that the hunt actually strengthens the fox population because the hounds are far more likely to catch the old and the sick ones.  When they do catch one, it’s a horrible business, as horrible as the fate of lambs and poultry that are attacked and killed by foxes.

Foxes have to be controlled around humans and livestock in the same way that other vermin have to be controlled.  They have no natural predators in the UK and just because they’re beautiful, that doesn’t make them any less verminous.  If rats were fluffy with cute little ears, would we hesitate before feeding them poison which kills them over several days with internal bleeding?  If foxes carried rabies, as they do in other countries, would there be as many hunt saboteurs? 

I would suggest that, in the countryside, other than taking all reasonable precautions to protect livestock, the livestock farmers and particularly the gamekeepers, nearly all of whom own guns, should have training as marksmen.  This is a far more humane and efficient method of control.

Regarding the towns and cities, the first thing we should do is to ask ourselves what the foxes are doing there in the first place.  They are unlikely to have come in for the culture, but they are absolutely there for the fine dining.  The increasing amount of waste food lying about in the streets and piled up in bins is the fox equivalent of a safari supper.  I swear I saw one in Leicester wearing chinos and loafers, whilst snuffling daintily at a discarded vindaloo.

Another massive incentive for them is the utter idiots who deliberately leave food out for them.  The Aged Parent’s next door neighbour used to leave chicken carcasses, often with half the meat still attached, out on her lawn “for the lovely little foxes”.  Apart from the wickedness of wasting half a chicken, the local rat population must have thought the God of Takeaways had come to Earth in human form.

Wednesday’s Telegraph reported that a local wildlife expert had suggested that the fox who attacked the baby girls was probably a cub that was attracted by the smell of nappies and that, as soon as it realised that the nappies were attached to a human, it panicked and injured them. 

There is nothing that can be said or done to make this incident less frightening and tragic for the Koupparis family, but let us use this incident as a wake up call.  Foxes belong in the countryside in manageable numbers.  If we treat our urban environment with such contempt by leaving our filth and detritus scattered about the streets, then we are inviting trouble.  Rats are already increasing in frightening numbers, foxes will inevitably become emboldened by their familiarity with the towns. 

This country is in financial meltdown and very soon the new coalition government is going to start making economies and rightly so.  Let’s all start to take some personal responsibility and, at the very least, help to keep our towns and cities clean by disposing of our rubbish responsibly.  Better still, consume less in the first place or we’ll be playing ‘Where’s Wall-e?’ whether we like it or not.

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Filed under Ethics, Food, Politics, Re-use Recycle

Don’t Rook Now: A recipe for Rook Pie (but you can use pigeon)

A couple of days ago I was tossed a gauntlet by the immeasurable Mr Affer.  At the end of a charming article about the delights of Rookeries, he invited me to submit a recipe for cooking the rooks.

Rooks have long been recognised as a free food source, particularly in the West Country and South Wales.  They are quite hard to acquire these days as most people, even in the countryside, are such hypocritical pansies when it comes to food.  Many people are more than happy to munch on a water injected, formerly tormented pig, but will baulk at a bit of low fat game that has had a happy life.  Bah.

The easiest way to get your hands on some young and tender rooks is to seek out a farmer or gamekeeper who is about to cull them and ask them to save you a few.  They will probably despatch them with a shotgun though, which means you have to watch out for lead shot.  A .22 rifle is a better option.  The only bit of a rook worth eating is the breast, so you don’t really want it full of shot.

The other, more dangerous, way is to climb a rookery.  I would not advise doing this yourself unless you are an experienced climber, but if you are, then make sure you take a small bag up with you.  The young rooks can be popped into the bag ready to be bopped swiftly on the head when you get down.

Sadly, this is not the right time of year to go a-rooking, as the young rooks, or ‘branchers’, are not ready until about the second week in May.  In Victorian times it was considered a perfectly suitable activity for young ladies and boys and they would gather on 12th May for a day’s gentle sport.

Therefore, as it is only mid April, I was unable to obtain any rook breasts.  The recipe below calls for half rook, half pigeon but I had to make do with all pigeon. It was so good I could weep.
I served it with parsnip puree and would have chosen to serve peas, but I had run out.

WILD THANG PIE – serves 6

Utensils:
1 x large saucepan
1 x 10” pie dish
1 x rolling pin
1 x pastry brush
1 x small dish for the egg
1 x bowl for the flour
1 x chopping board & sharp knife

Ingredients:
1 packet of shortcrust pastry (or 1lb/500g of your own recipe)
8 wood pigeon breasts (or 4 rook and 4 pigeon) – chopped into biggish chunks
2oz / 60g plain flour
3 tablespoons oil or dripping
1 medium onion – roughly chopped
1lb / 480g wild mushrooms – sliced into chunks
4floz / 125ml dry white wine
½ pint / 300ml good strong stock
1 x bouquet garni
1 egg – beaten

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 190/375/5
Grease and flour the pie dish
Roll out the pastry and line the dish.  Roll out the remains ready for the lid
Put the flour into a bowl, seasoned with salt and pepper and coat the rook and pigeon in it
Heat the oil or dripping in a large sauce pan and briefly sauté the onion
Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute, keeping them moving
Add the meat and flour to the pan, cook briefly until just browning
Add the wine and stir it around quickly
Then gradually add the stock, stirring briskly all the time, until it starts to thicken.
Add the bouquet garni and remove from the heat
Brush the edge of the pastry with the beaten egg
Pour the meat mixture into the dish
Place the remaining pastry on top, crimp the edges to seal and make 3 slits in the lid
Brush the top with egg and place in the oven for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Caw!

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Filed under Community and shopping, Ethics, Food, Hedgerows, Outdoor Activities, Recipes, Regional, Seasonal

A recipe card which uses a packet cake-mix? Shame.

Imposters

As I was coming out of Sainsbury’s on Friday evening, I glanced at the rack of recipe cards by the door.  These cards always make me seethe, particularly the ‘Feed your Family for a Fiver’ ones for two reasons:-
a)  Unless you have a family of ten, there should be no difficulty in producing a main course for £5
b)  It never is only £5, because there are always extra ‘storecupboard’ ingredients which they have failed to cost in

However, today I saw an attractive card showing a picture of cupcakes and, as I was going to put a recipe for cupcakes on the blog sometime soon, I picked it up and brought it home.  Imagine my astonishment when the list of ingredients on the back included One pack of Sainsbury’s Fairy Cake Mix.  A recipe card instructing people to use a packet cake mix. By all means put a serving suggestion on the back of the cake mix box, but don’t pretend it’s a proper recipe.

I am not a food fascist.  I don’t make absolutely everything we eat from scratch because sometimes I’m worn out and short of time and it’s more important to eat on time than to produce a homespun extravaganza.  But a recipe card from a ‘big four’ supermarket that paid a leading celebrity chef a small fortune to promote their brand?  Shame on them.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Ethics, Food

Several good reasons to support Local Businesses

We are extremely fortunate in Market Harborough to have many independent shops that are run by local people.  Clothes, shoes, housewares, cafes, bookshops, chemists, bakers, butchers – you name it.  There are some high street names but there really is the commercial space for them all as long as ‘the big boys’ are kept in check.  Of course, there are some things you can’t get, school uniform for example, but not many.

A Shop 100 years ago. We still have shops today.

One area where I absolutely insist on only using local bods is cafes.  Harborough is awash with places to eat and drink but without question, the best ones are the independents.  The Boys and I felt the need for a warming hot chocolate on Sunday afternoon, but, the Market Café being closed because of the weather (!) the only places open were Costa, Nero and Starbucks.  I occasionally go to Café Nero with friends because they have young children and it is big enough to hide the little ones in a corner and not upset anyone.  Fair enough, but I don’t like the place because a) it’s too noisy and b) you can waste half your allotted time queuing up to get your drink.  The same is true of Costa (albeit quieter) and I wouldn’t darken the door of Starbucks. 

So on Sunday we ended up in Costas.  I had to wait ages to actually get our three drinks and three cakes only to find that not a single spare table had been cleared.  We cleared out own table and the one next to it and settled down to enjoy our snack.  Boy the Elder’s frappe which we thought was a milkshake was an indistinguishable favour and my Victoria Sandwich, which had looked home made on the counter, was full of a synthetic tasting cream which I have not encountered since about 1975.  And it cost £12.  I will not be going back. 

But let me tell you this; when Wartime Housewife Cafes are appearing across the country, you will be served at your table, by smiling, uniformed waiting staff, with home made food, from local suppliers at proper prices.  Just you wait.

Without hesitation I will tell you the places in Harborough that I like – I’m sure there are others just as good, this is only my preference:
 
Aldin’s on the corner of Church Street is a proper old-fashioned tea room.  You are served at the table, the menu is simple and wholesome, the portions generous and the prices very reasonable.  The cakes are all home made and you can get spaghetti hoops on toast.

Joules just off the High Street has a reasonably priced and extensive menu, several different areas in which to eat, including outside in clement weather, you can get a cracking breakfast and they have theme nights and live music in the summer.  There is also a bric-a-brac/reclaim area at the back in which to rummage.

Webb’s Café in Bennett’s Yard is a little gem.  It has contemporary décor and a more adventurous menu including, what I call ‘brown food’.  Healthy stuff with rice and interesting salads as well as lovely cakes and good coffee.

There is also a café behind the Baptist Church which I can’t for the life of me remember the name of.  It is run by the church, is incredibly cheap and you can have a good feed (two courses and a drink) for under a fiver.  It also has the advantage of having a really odd selection of people who go in there. Avoid the coffee though.  And, despite being unexpectedly closed on Sunday, the cafe in the market does a great all day breakfast and good cakes as well, but obviously it’s only open on market days (Tues, Fri, Sat & Sun)

One other local business that I must mention is the wonderful Rural Trading company.  They run a mobile shop which visits loads of local villages on a regular schedule.  They provide fruit & veg, meat, poultry, home made ready meals, dairy, chemist and general groceries and all the fresh food comes from local suppliers.  I realise that this is very local to us, but there must be lots of these ventures all over the country and if there aren’t, there should be.  Maybe there’s an opportunity for you?

Most towns have independent shops and if you want them to stay you have to actually shop there.  It’s no good buying all your meat in Sainsburys and then lamenting the loss of your local butcher.  The same goes for pubs, churches and village halls.  If you want them, you have to support them, you have to go there, shop there, drink there.  Don’t let your town or village become indistinguishable from any other town or village in the country.

* Just in case you’re interested The Shop in the photo belonged to my Great Aunt and her husband and was taken in Flixton, Lancashire in 1910.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Ethics, Food, Product comparisons

A Word to The Elderly

The Wartime Housewife normally spurns The Sell By Date on food and laughs in the face of the Best Before, but today I wish to have a quiet word with The Elderly.

Although it is quite lovely of you all to always have some biscuits or a bit of cake in the house to offer should someone drop by (and I am as fond of a custard cream as the next man), I would suggest that if the packet in question has a sell by date of three or four weeks earlier, please keep them to yourselves.  They will not be Nice.

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Ethics, Family and Friends, Food

A pumpkin is for life not just for Halloween

Pumpkin 30.10.09

Food

I have been really distressed to see signs in most of the supermarkets advertising “Carving Pumpkins for Halloween”.  Apparently, around 90% of the pumpkins sold in the UK never see a knife and fork or a knob of butter.  This profligate waste of food makes me rage, so don’t do it.  Carve grotesque and wonderful pumpkin lanterns by all means, but eat the fruit as well.  What’s more, I can guide you through a three-course pumpkin dinner!  Scoop out all the flesh and chop  roughly for all of these.

May I be permitted to say a few words about Halloween?  This is the old festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-in by the way); the time when the spirit world is closest to the living world, when the nights are dark and we have time to sit and contemplate, to think about our lives.  It is also a time to feast and frolic and have a good ghost story by the fire.  May I recommend that you have a look at the story on Hooting Yard which gives advice on what to do When Ghouls Attack. 

I state now, in a firm steady voice, that I heartily disapprove of Trick or Treating.  Sending children out in the dark knocking on people’s doors and demanding money or food with menaces, or worse, some feeble child standing silently in a rubbish costume with their sticky hand out, is not entertaining and should be discouraged.  It’s not an English tradition, it’s just another example of English children aping the customs of American children without the slightest idea why they’re doing it.   Stay indoors, dress up, play games and tricks together, scare the crap out of them with a good ghost story and share a feast.  And make sure you do it by candlelight.

Pumpkin Soup

Utensils:
1 x large saucepan
1 x stick blender
1 x grater

Ingredients:
2 lb pumpkin.
2 oz of butter
1 medium onion – finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic – finely chopped (to discourage vampyres)
1 pint of chicken stock.
½ tsp turmeric
1 tspn parsley
¼ pint double cream
1 tablespoon of grated cheese.

Method:
Melt the butter in the pan and add the onion and garlic.  Cook until translucent.
Add the pumpkin and garlic and sweat for a couple of minutes
Add the parsley and turmeric and toss around enthusiastically
Add the chicken stock
Cover and simmer for about twenty minutes until the pumpkin is soft
Puree with the blender
Add the cream
Serve sprinkled with grated cheese

Pumpkin Risotto

Do exactly what you did for Italian Risotto (click on this link to previous blog) except use pumpkin instead of chicken.

Norfolk Million Pie

This pie is an old Norfolk recipe which was taken to America by the Pilgrim Fathers.  ‘Million’ is the word for any member of the squash family.

Utensils:
1 x 10″ flan dish
1 x medium saucepan
1 x stick blender
1 x large mixing bowl
1 x rolling pin
1 x jar of baking beans
greaseproof paper

Ingredients:
1 packet of shortcrust pastry
1 lb / 480g pumpkin
6oz  / 180g dark brown sugar
3 eggs – beaten
2oz / 60g raisins
1 good pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons of apricot jam
Plain flour for rolling out

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 200 / 400 / 6
Grease and flour the flan dish, roll out the pastry and line the dish
But out a circle of greaseproof paper to fit the dish and place on top of the pastry
Cover the greaseproof paper with baking beans and bake for about 15 minutes
Remove the beans and greaseproof paper and leave to cool
Turn the oven down to 180 / 350 / 4
Put the pumpkin into the saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water.
Bring to the boil then simmer gently with the lid on until the pumpkin is really soft.
Transfer to a bowl, draining off any excess water and puree with the stick blender
Add the eggs, sugar, raisins and nutmeg and mix together well.  It will be quite runny.
Spread the apricot jam onto the cooked pastry case then pour on the pumpkin mixture.
Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into strips to make a lattice on the top.
Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, it may take longer, but the top should be a rich brown and the pastry golden.
Serve with cream

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are highly nutritious and should not be wasted either.  Wash all the stringy flesh off them and put in a bowl.  Warm a tablespoon of honey in a bowl and swish the seeds round in it.  Lay them out on a baking tray and bake on a low heat 140 / 275 / 1 for about an hour.  They should have browned a little.  Leave them to cool. They make great snacks or can be used  in lots of ways eg bread, meusli or flapjacks.

Halloween Cake 31.10.09

A Halloween Cake I made for a party

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Filed under Children, Ethics, Family and Friends, Food, Indoor Activities, Recipes, Seasonal

Re-use, Re-cycle, Re-fuse to waste

I am absolutely fed up with being told how important it is to recycle.  I groan when I hear about councils threatening to fine people for putting recyclable waste into their normal dustbins.  I mutter to myself about the vicissitudes of waste management from county to county.  I feel genuine pity for the people who live within half a mile of our local rubbish tip, for whom the constant smell must be utterly unbearable.

In Leicestershire we have a green bin for garden and a ‘limited amount’ of cardboard waste, a box for paper including junk mail and another box for glass and tins. We then have a black bin for everything else.  Recycling is collected weekly and the black and green bins are collected bi-weekly.  The refuse collectors have the right to refuse to empty your bins if the lids won’t close.  I have to drive to the nearest recycling centre.  But every county is different accordingly to which refuse company has been awarded the contract and how much the council is willing to spend.   My family in the south have a far greater range of recyclable rubbish collected from their houses than we do in the Midlands. 

I am not an expert environmental scientist and I am not a guru in the field of waste management.  I am simply a Housewife (Wartime variety, naturally)  who doesn’t want to see my country disappear under a mountain of rubbish.  Recycling is all very worthy, but it is not the answer to the massive refuse problem that we,  and the majority of the developed world, is facing.  In times of recession, many waste management companies are not buying this recyclable waste, so what happens to it then?  And let’s not forget the energy involved in producing recycled goods.

If we really want to ‘do our bit’ for the environment, we have to produce less waste in the first place.  We must consume less.  In some aspects of life this is easy; one excellent reason for cooking from scratch is that you don’t have to contend with all that packaging from pre-prepared food.  But I scream with rage when I am told, all too frequently, that it is cheaper to buy a new appliance than it is to repair the old one.  At one time, one assumed that if you bought an expensive brand of kettle, it would last you several times longer than a £4.95 one from Argos, but even that does not appear to be true any more.  Lady Marjorie recently had to throw away a £70 Dualit kettle after only 18 months and was told she had done well to have it last that long.  Apparently, she should have spent another £12 on an extended warranty.

So what can we do?  And how can we do it without completely disrupting our lives?  Here are a few tips (to reduce the tips!) that I follow when I can, with which most of you will already be familiar, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded!:

  • Plan as many meals as you can in advance so that you can get the food you need, thereby potentially reducing waste
  • Cook from scratch to avoid packaging
  • Take tupperware boxes to the meat, fish and deli counters in the supermarket and ask them to put your food in those with the bar code stuck to the lid.  Some will refuse, but most won’t and if they do – make a fuss!  Independent shops are much more amenable to this idea.
  • Always have a couple of cotton shopping bags in your handbag or car
  • If you need to use carrier bags, keep them for use as bin liners
  • Sugar bags and flour bags are ideal for re-use as they are lightly waxed on the outside to keep the original contents dry.  Use them to wrap sandwiches and cake for packed lunches.
  • Keep some of your interesting rubbish for junk modelling as an activity for the children.
  • Keep some jam jars and small bottles with screw lids.  Next year they will be there when you have a go at jam, jellies and syrups!
  • Wash foil and use it again
  • Use the milkman if you can afford to.  If not, plastic milk cartons, cut in half, make very effective cloches for seedlings in your garden. You can adjust air flow through the lid.
  • Mend your  clothes and darn your socks.  I will do an item on darning if this will help! Just because you can buy a new pair of trousers in Primark for £2 doesn’t mean you should.  You can do mending while watching TV or listening to the radio.
  • If clothes are beyond the pale, cut them up for dusters and cleaning cloths.  Old pants make super dusters, shirts are non-linty for shiny surfaces. A man’s shirt will make a practical painting overall for a child.
  • Don’t buy separate cleaning fluids for every different job.  It’s a con.  A decent, all-purpose household cleaner will manage most things as will an own brand bleach and a packet of soda crystals.  Better still, invest in some eco cloths.  My sister bought me some four years ago and they’re still doing the job.
  • Lemon juice in the cleaning water will disinfect work surfaces as well as anything else
  • Essential oil, such as lavender or lemon, on a damp cloth, wiped over your radiators will fragrance your house as well as any air freshener, costs much less and can be tailored to your own taste.  Why does your house smell so bad anyway?
  • If you need odd bits of furniture for general use, see if your local tip has a shop and look there first.  You’ll be amazed at what you can find.
  • Auctions – the ultimate in re-use from expensive antiques to general houseware.  And it’s great fun.
  • Have a go at E-bay – you’d be amazed what people buy and if it doesn’t sell, it’s cost you nothing
  • Use charity shops – again you’ll be amazed and the benefits are two-fold; less waste plus a charity donation

Right, that’s enough to be going on with.  I would love to hear your own  tips for reducing waste or saving energy. 

I am now going to save my own energy by switching off the computer and going to bed.

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Filed under Cleaning, Ethics, Food, Household Hints, Re-use Recycle

The Basic Storecupboard

Storecupboard 17.08.09I have referred in several previous articles to the importance of storecupboard ingredients.  We are fortunate that nowadays we all have a fridge and most of us have a freezer of some description, whereas our parents probably didn’t have either when they were young.  These appliances give us much more scope for planning ahead and for always having something in if we haven’t had time to shop. In an ideal world, we would plan meals days in advance and shop appropriately for the week ahead, but this is not always possible when one is trying to keep track of several people and arrangements seem to change at the drop of a hat.  It is also vitally important not to over shop and end up throwing food away.  Wasting food is wicked, be under no illusion, and it serves only to increase the profits of those who already have too much of the nation’s wealth.  I read in the newspaper recently that the average family throws away nearly £400 worth of food a year.  Four hundred pounds.  That is what I spend on food shopping in ten weeks.  That would pay for the food, clothing, housing and education of a child in a Third World country for over a year.  Don’t waste food.  By the same token, there is no point in leaving 2 teaspoons of gravy in a cup at the back of the fridge unless you have a definite plan for it, as this simply arouses the ridicule and loathing of your peers.

A word about microwaves.  I know that many of you nuke everything that casts a shadow and an equal number believe it to be the Baby Belling of Beelzebub.  The Wartime Housewife uses a microwave for several limited tasks.  Defrosting.  Ovaltine.  Porridge.  Custard. Scrambled egg.  My reason is this: bowls in which the above have been microwaved are far less onorous to clean than a saucepan which will have to be left to soak in the sink for a year and a half and then scrubbed with the domestic equivalent of a sandblaster.  Controversial I know, but I am a modern woman and until I have staff, the microwave stays.

 So what do we need to have in the storecupboard that will reliably prevent you rushing to Macky D’s in an emergency.  Over time I will provide many recipes that rely on storecupboard ingredients, but for the time being just make sure you have these in, adjusting the quantities for the size of your family and always buy the best that you can afford, remembering that best doesn’t always mean the most expensive.  Also, things like herbs gradually accumulate, so don’t feel the need to run to the shops and buy the lot at once.

LARDER 
Tinned chopped tomatoes
Tinned kidney beans
Tinned sweetcorn
Tinned tuna
Tinned mackerel
Baked beans
Custard powder
Cocoa
Raspberry Jam
Worcestershire Sauce
Soy sauce
Porridge oats
Stock cubes – chicken, beef & veg
Tinned whole peaches
Tea and coffee
Red lentils
Green lentils
Rice – easy cook
Tomato puree
Sugar – white and dark brown
Flour – plain white, self raising white, plain wholemeal
Pasta – spaghetti and something else
Cooking oil – pref olive but sunflower is perfectly good
Lemon juice
Honey
Golden Syrup
Raisins
Condensed milk
Mustard powder
Assorted dried herbs esp. parsley, mixed herbs, sage, thyme, oregano, bay leaves  Spices: cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, ginger 
FREEZER  FRIDGE
Whole chicken
Fish fillets – coley or basa are cheap and as tasty as anything else
Fish fingers
Mince
Lamb’s Liver – very cheap, versatile and incredibly tasty
Vegetables – peas, whole green beans, spinach, corn on the cob
Bread (a few slices can be kept in the smallest freezer)
Sausages
Milk
Eggs
Butter
Bread
Onions
Garlic
Carrots
Cheddar – nice strong stuff
Long life double cream (fresh is always better but we’re talking emergency backup here)
Bananas
Apples
Potatoes
Leftover white wine – put it in a jam jar with a screw lid to save space

This may seem like a lot, but I bet if you were to rummage through your cupboards, freezer and fridge right now, you would find a lot more, of a lot less use, and several things that would arouse the ridicule of your peers. From this basic list, you can feed a family for a week, including cake, biscuits and ice cream lollies, perhaps only needing to top up with milk and bread. Remember also that you can buy fresh items such as onions, peppers and leeks when they’re cheap, chop them up and put them in bags in the freezer for use when you haven’t got or can’t get fresh.

Please let me know if there’s anything I’ve forgotten or anything you think is essential to your storecupboard.

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Chickens and How to Use Them – Day 1: roast chicken, stuffing and stock

 
 
Happy Chickens

Happy Chickens

I love chickens.  They are very pleasant creatures, with a friendly calming disposition and can be kept for their utterly delicious eggs even in a relatively small garden.  Also one moderately sized bird (about 4lb / 1.9kg) can make several economical meals if it is used to its full potential.

I based the following on feeding a family of four.

DAY 1:  ROAST CHICKEN

1.     Pre-heat the oven to 200 / 400 / 6

2.     Stuff with Simple Stuffing detailed below

3.     Sprinkle the chicken with mixed herbs and a little paprika.

4.     If you hate cleaning your oven, wrap the chicken in foil and put it in a roasting tin

5.     Place in the oven for 20 minutes

6.     Turn the heat down to about 140 / 275 /1 and cook for about an hour

7a.   If you’re using foil, turn the heat up to 200 / 400 / 6 again and open up the foil on top and put the bird back in to crisp up for 10 minutes.  To test if the chicken is cooked, dig a fork deeply into the bit between the leg and the body.  If the juices run clear then it’s cooked.  If they are pink or have red bits in, give another 15 minutes and then test again.  Presuming the chicken is cooked, go to 7b.

7b.   If you’re not using foil, turn the oven off and leave to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes while you cook the vegetables.

8.     Carve all the meat off the chicken and set aside half of it for the next day.  Keep the bones, you’re going to need them.

9.     Remove all the stuffing and serve on a plate with the carved roast chicken.  Anything that isn’t eaten is gorgeous in a sandwich with jam or redcurrant jelly.  Really.

Serve with boiled or roast potatoes and at least two different kinds of lightly cooked vegetables and use the vegetable water for the gravy. 

If there are any leftover bones and skin add them to the other bones for stock. 

SIMPLE STUFFING  

1 onion – medium, finely chopped

1 good knob of butter

8oz (250g) sausagemeat

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley or ½ tbsp dried parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh sage or ½ tbsp dried sage

Juice of 1 lemon or 2 tbsp bottled lemon juice

Method

1.     Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and soften the onions until translucent.  Take the pan off the heat.

2.     Add all the other ingredients and mix well with your hands, really squishing it all together.

3.     Stuff it inside the cavity of the chicken.

NB:  If you’re feeling saucy, how about adding a small tin of chestnuts, chopped, to the mixture.  A couple of garlic cloves add a bit of zing as well.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how to use the remaining half of the chicken for a tasty peasant style Italian Risotto that is equally nice for vegetarians if you leave out the chicken.

STOCK

1.     Put all the remaining bones and skin into a large pan and cover with water.  Pop in a bay leaf and some 6 peppercorns. 

2.     For a light stock, simmer gently on a low heat for 3-4 hours with a few pieces of    chopped carrot, a bit of celery and a bit of onion.  Strain and use as required..

For a heavier stock follow step one, but keep it simmering for a couple of days, topping up the water, adding any vegetable water you have, and any other bones until the stock is quite dark.  Strain and use as required.

*   *   *

Before I sign off, there must be a Word about Welfare.  I know that it is very tempting to buy two chickens for £5 in the supermarket.  Before you do, have a look at the http://www.chickenout.tv website.  It is  impossible to produce a chicken for £2.50 if it has been cared for properly, with freedom to move, to peck, to roost, socialise and been fed a natural diet.    Chicken doesn’t necessarily have to be completely free range, although obviously that is what we should all be aiming for, but there are plenty of chickens available that have natural light and freedom to roam but which aren’t actually free range.  Yes, they cost more than £2.50 each but a decent chicken will last three meals and I truly believe that with a properly produced bird, who has had time to mature naturally, you don’t actually need to eat as much.  And one more thing.  Before anyone suggests that they can’t afford it, the Wartime Housewife lives on a lower income than most of you can possibly imagine but I would rather go without chicken than eat an animal who has had a miserable life. 

Look out for future blogs on meat buying and cooking with cheaper cuts.

May I extend my grateful thanks to Mr de Worde who kindly sent the photographs of his very beautiful and very happy chickens.
Inquisitive Chicken

Inquisitive Chicken

Three Happy Chickens

Three Happy Chickens

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Filed under Ethics, Food, Livestock, Recipes