My preserving obsession

My preserving/fermenting/sourdough obsession has run riot since lockdown. Which is weird when you think about it… I’ve been on a low carb diet so not eating bread; David is not a great fan of jam, and although he professes to LOVE piccalilli it’s surprising how little he eats. He doesn’t like chutney unless it’s Brinjal.  But still the cupboards are falling off the walls with the weight of filled jars, the people in the village have been stripped of all their jam jars and rewarded with a jar or two, and I’ve bought an old larder fridge off Gumtree for storage and for the four sourdough starter(s).

The sourdough is perfected using the three I was generously given by Jo (carefully wrapped and posted from Exeter), from Marion carefully poured into a bag and vacuum sealed and from Shirl’s in a big jam jar.  Each has its own characteristics and these are influenced also by the 

Bake with Jake 

method, which is amazing, and works; the special instructions from Jo (apparently her starter originated in Ottolenghi’s kitchen) produces a loaf with lots of holes, and the special no-knead instructions from Shirl (which came from The Guardian) that produce a  close texture and with great sour texture. Marion’s is a full blooded sour sourdough if you leave it long enough. Enough!  I have poseted sourdough on here already – go here if you haven’t read it.  By the way I recommend eating any of these with large slabs of Fen Farm slightly fermented butter…. which is another good reason for me to shout to myself don’t touch the bread Dawn!


I’ve featured Brinjal in many guises on this blog so I won’t post again. Suffice it to say I used the last 20 aubergines from our polytunnel (not that I’m boasting) in a great batch of Brinjal last week.  The original recipe is here


Fermented tomatoes

II took this recipe from the up-there-with-Nigella. Olia Hercules.

Take as many  green tomatoes as you like. Make a cross shape in the tops (don’t cut all the way through) then chop lots of parsley, garlic and chilli, mix together and stuff into the cut tomatoes. Place carefully in a tall jar with some slices of onion and garlic. Boil 3 litres of water with 40g sea salt. Add black peppercorns, bay leaf, 4 short celery sticks and 5 cloves of garlic to the jar with the tomatoes. Then add the brine.  As a fan of Russian, Turkish and East European food I have also learned a trick of topping the jar with oak leaves or black currant leaves. The tannin does it’s magic. Put the top on and leave for about a month,  I opened mind last week and tried them.   They are wonderful


Green tomato chutney

Chutnies are always a moveable feast because it really depends on what you have a available.  So.  I had 3kg green tomatoes, 1.5kg onions, 6 medium sized windfall Cox’s Orange Pippin apples, 500g Lexia raisins, garlic chopped (lots in our household) 250g brown sugar (less than a lot of people use, I admit), the last dregs of a bottle of molasses at the back of the cupboard, 3 chopped chillies, 1 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns, 1 tbsp ground cinnamon, 2 tbsp coriander seed. 2litres cider vinegar.

The hardest bit is all the chopping – and the belief and patience involved in letting all this gorgeousness gently simmer away for a good four hours. The operative word is gently. It should all melt into a  thick, dark brown sludge. That description does it a disservice. It is in the long slow cooking that the liquid reduces and the flavour increases. You have all eaten that pale green watery green tomatoe chutney with a few raisins floating in it.  Now you know what not to do!

My gherkins

I planted gherkins in the polytunnel. 6 plants. I planted cucumbers in the greenhouse. 6 plants. Or I thought I did. Must remember to label seedlings! So this year we had a bumper crop of gherkins.  Luckily we love gherkins.

Cyder vinegar (say 2l), light brown sugar (say 250g), chopped fresh dill if you have it, dill seed if you don’t. Bring to the boil and let it cool.  Quarter the gherkins lengthwise. Put into a bowl of salted water for an hour. Pack drained gherkins into jars (top with oak leaves or black current leaves).  Pour in the vinegar.

For all preserves, scald the jars and tops with boiling water, place in a hot oven for 10 minutes or swill them round with some vodka (then drink the vodka!). For all preserves I seal first with cling film then out the lid on tight.


Further thoughts on fermenting

My first attempts at fermenting were variable until I hit on the formula and understood the benefits of very thin slices of whatever you are fermenting.  I chop green cabbage, onion and carrot and garlic and fresh ginger root in the food processor.

Weigh your container first. Pile it into whatever container you are using two thirds full – this one is a modern crockpot. Weigh again. Subtract the weight of the crockpot. Fill with mineral water to cover the vegetables.  Now drain the water from the container and weigh it. Now you have the weight of the veg and the weight of the water. Add these together.  Now multiply that figure by 0.025.  This will give you the absolute weight of salt you need to add to the water.  Dissolve the salt in the water then pour back onto the vegetables. Add special ceramic or glass weights to keep the vegetables under the water – or simply fill a sandwich bag with water and lay it on top, serving the same purpose as the weights.

Leave in a warm room for a couple of days, you will smell it fermenting or if you are using a glass jar you will see the bubbles rising.  The trick now is to wait and get to understand it.  Taste after 4 days and then allow it to continue fermenting till you get the flavour you want. Then decant it into sterilised jars and lids and out in the fridge which will stop the fermentation process.

It WORKS. Every time,!!


The crowds have gone and we are left with leftovers in the veg basket. Most of them are still edible.

Here’s a quick fix before they go too soft and manky round the edges.

With the merest hint of a nod to Olia Hercules……

Veg and salad drawer basket offerings today included

  • spring onions, dry skin and root removed
  • shallots – banana and pickling onion shaped
  • red cabbage, sliced thin
  • radishes cut in half top to bottom
  • courgette cut into chunks
  • garlic cloves for good measure
  • half a jar of medium sized  pickled gherkins
  • Carrot, peeled and chunked
  • crisp apples, cored and quartered

Put all the vegetables in a large bowl and season with sea salt.

In a saucepan bring 750ml organic cider vinegar to the boil. Add a handful of coriander seed, a couple of star anise, black mustard seed and green cardamom seed plus two heaped tablespoons of raw cane sugar. Boil again. Then cool.

Sterilise a 2litre jar with boiling water or blast it in your microwave with a little water in the jar.  Make sure it is scrupulously clean.

Put a couple of fresh bay leaves and a couple of whole dried chillis in the jar.  Pack the veg in nice and tight then pour in the vinegar making sure to cover the veg. Bang the container firmly on the worktop to bring any air bubbles to the surface. Allow to cool and start eating in a couple of weeks, then store in the fridge once opened.


I bought some horseradish root, meaning to make horseradish cream for presents. I failed. I fished it out of the salad drawer today, it was a bit wrinkly.  The last time I made horseradish we had to evacuate the house as the fumes were breath-stopping. This time I was more careful! WARNING! Do not put your face over freshly grated horseradish and then breathe in.

Peel a 15cm length of horseradish root and wipe it clean. Put it in a MicroBullet or food processor to chop it finely. Add a teaspoon of mustard powder, half a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of lemon juice and mix again. Remove contents and place in a bowl (remember to keep your head out of the bowl)  and mix in 200ml thick cream or mayonnaise. Stir to combine.  Place in sterilised jars and seal. Give to friends for leftover beef, or hot mackerel, or tuna sandwiches this week!


New Year Reflections, gremolata and aquafaba!

I was talking with Bruce and Peter this afternoon – something along the lines of  ‘not everything that’s important can be counted, and not everything that is counted, counts’. I think it’s an Einstein quote.

New Year, for me, is always a time for reflection…. what have I done, what will I do this year?  On my list are the following:

– only do work that is of value

– spend more time with people who are kind

– walk daily!

– write more

– try hard to desist from attempting stupid things like standing on cupboards and falling off, being reckless with sharp kitchen knives

– spend more time on the beach

– increase wedding and funeral bookings

I have been thinking about this whilst meditatively (a-la Nigella) making gremolata this afternoon. 

I have also pondered on making small themed books for Will and Anna – family food, family recipes.  For years I have talked about publishing a cook book and it is all there in skeleton form.  But have I left it too late and maybe I should be more picky about where I put my energy? I am undecided. Answers on a postcard please.

Many people have said to me that they see me as someone with loads of energy. And it is true – mostly I have. But sometimes I don’t. Being perceived as someone with boundless energy is great however there are other parts of me to discover! Go on, give it a try! Invite me to do something with you that is something known to you but new to me.

I have a low boredom threshold and it drives my energy bank, of that I am certain. In using energy I create momentum, change, challenge and I like those qualities to be present and tangible in my life.

But in true Erickson terms, the stages of life are evident and although creative, I am also a realist. So I am rethinking that drive, recalibrating it; making it work for me in my mid 60s in ways that will still bring me joy, adventures, new experiences. For the past few years I know I have been drawing on my 40 year old energy bank.

Life remains an adventure. I want to have adventures. Having had a good go at leaving this mortal coil a few years ago, you could say I am living on borrowed time.  I prefer to think of it not as borrowed time but as a gift and the best gift of all.  So sticking around a bit longer, always being up for having fun, always cooking and getting a dozen people around the table will remain key driver for me.  Of that, too, I am certain.

So this weekend has been a time of deep reflection -reading my two new cookbooks – Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy and The Modern Kitchen by Anna Jones – pootlong  about collecting rosemary from various people (for which, thanks to Bruce and Peter, Anna and Karen) and thinking about friends who have struggled this year. You know who you are. You should know that you inspire me.

I have also been doing further experiments with aquafaba and made the best toad in the hole to date.  I said I would update the lovely Rachel and Dean – this is the next instalment and I think I’ve cracked it – use two tablespoons of chick pea water for every egg you would have used.  I used four tbsp chick pea water in lieu of two eggs.  Whisk  till light and fluffy.  Four tablespoons of plain flour with a little salt, whisk into 200ml milk (any kind), fold in the whipped aquafaba.  I used chestnut and tofu sausages (click here).  Cook toads  as normal.

And so, I wish you a peaceful, healthy and happy 2018.  You deserve it! We all deserve it!



#Veganuary Day 11 Fennel pickle

img_3746I am feeling a bit lazy tonight so we are just having a chestnut sausage and casserole with jacket potatoes and Savoy cabbage.

But I wanted to share with you a little gem from another favourite book, this time Cornersmith. Cornersmith Cafe is in a suburb of Sydney and it works partly because it operates a fairly sophisticated barter system.  Local people bring their excess produce in exchange for fresh sourdough or pickles or pies. Wonderful.

So this recipe is lifted straight from Cornersmith and with thanks.  Great book.  Hope I can visit you one day!

Thinky slice two bulbs of Fennel. Mix them with a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of chilli flakes and a teaspoon of Fennel seed. So far so simple. It continues.

Pour 400ml cider vinegar in a saucepan with 100g caster sugar. Bring it to the boil and boil for 2 minutes then take off the heat.  Sterilise 3 standard sized jam jars (I swill it round with vodka) warm the jars slightly then pack with Fennel and pour in the vinegar. Wipe the tops with paper towel, then snap on the lids then release a quarter turn and put in a deep tray or saucepan full of boiling water – the water almost to the lid.  Let the water simmer away for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and tighten the lids.

Cool then store in a dark cupboard. When you open a jar, keep it in the fridge.

This is such a fresh, cool pickle. It is mild and full of flavour. Scrumptious.

All things pear shaped.


Pears, along  with raspberries, are my favourite fruit.  Our pear trees are heavy with fruit this year.

Here are a few of my favourite sweet and savoury pear concoctions.


Mostardo di frutti

Mostardo di frutti is a unctuous sticky preserv of fruit laced with mustard  and is usually served with cold meats in Italy.  It is great during the festive season when there is often a glut of cold meats and the mind goes blank when thinking what to do with them.  I suggest a plate full of cold meats, leftover stuffing, hot roast potatoes and mostardo di fruitti

Peel and chop  fruit such as pears, hard apples, quince. Place in the preserving pan with 500g caster sugar and just enough water to cover. Bring slowly to the boil then turn up the heat and let it bubble vvigorously until the bubbles blob and plop which should be at about 104Cif you use a jam thermometer.  Take off the heat and skim off any white foam.

In a separate pan put 2 tbsp of strong yellow mustard seed and warm them till they begin to pop, then remove and grind them in a pestle and mortar. Then mix with 1 tbsp of strong mustard powder, add the ground mustard to the mustard powder then pour on 250ml white wine and the juice of an orange.  Place pan on a medium heat and bring to the boil then reduce in volume by  one third.  Then pour over the fruit, mix well and place in sterilised jars.  Once cool place in the fridge  and i will keep for a month, or if you put in Kilner  jars or similar,  seal then place jars in a roasting pan of boiling water and  put in the oven at  170C for 30 minutes. Then they will keep for a few weeks.

If you make this you won’t be disappointed.

Pickled pears

This recipe is adapted from one of my favourite books by Darina Allen  Forgotten Skills of Cooking. It is really easy and I recommend it  with game – venison, wild duck or pigeon.

Use any pears you like, but make sure they are not too ripe.  About 2kg will make about 8 large jars.   Peel, core and quarter the pears and add the juice of one lemon. Mix well.  Cook on a low to medium heat until just done but the pears are still firm.  Then peel and slice about 4cm of fresh ginger, and add to 600ml apple cider vinegar, 30ml sherry vinegar, 600g sugar, a stick of cinnamon (dont add powder!), 2 star anis and 4 whole cloves and the peel pared off the lemon you squeezed earlier.Bring this to boil in a separate pan, stirring all the time then add the pears and continue to cook  until completely soft. This could take a further 20 minutes or so depending on the pear.

Sterilise the jars and fill with pears first, while continuing to boil the liquid. Then carefully, and using a funnel, pour the boiling liquid over the pears and make sure they are completely covered.  Seal and leave for at least 3- weeks before eating. If you can hold out that long.

Pear and chestnut jam

10169441_10151766928067395_1874372122_nThis is one of my favourites, too.  Wonderful served with brioche or croissant. Even better spooned over Greek yogurt in my opinion.

Peel and core 1kg pears an 500g sour apples and cut into small pieces then mix with the juice of 2 lemons 240ml water and the seeds from one  vanilla pod.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Then add 750g jam sugar, bring back to the boil slowly, stirring till all the sugar has dissolved. Then turn off the heat and leave overnight.

Meanwhile, empty one 200g vacuum pack of chestnuts into a pan, add juice of one lemon and zest of two lemons. Bring to the boil them simmer for 5 minutes. Leave this to rest overnight too.

In the morning, cut the chestnuts into small pieces in the pan then pour ithe contents of the chestnut pan into the pear pan and cook to the setting point (where the consistency of the liquid becomes viscous and the bubbles pop and bloop)  or use a jam thermometer till the mixture reaches 104C. Pour into sterilised jars.

Smoky apple and pear relish

img_0871What’s the difference between a relish and a chutney anyway?  The short answer is that in general, relishes are cooked for a shorter time than chutneys, are are often vegetable based.  This one, obviously, is not, but it is not as thick as a chutney and retains a lot of what I would call its ‘bright’ flavours.

This recipe is one I adapted last year from Anna Rigg’s Summer berries, Autumn fruits.  A book I really recommend having on your shelf.  As I was researching for this post, piles of books beside me, I became aware of 1) how many books I have in my cookery library and 2) how some are much more well thumbed than others.  Anna Rigg’s is spattered with cooking liquour and some of the pages glued together!

Anyway, back to the relish. Take a couple of large dried smoked chipotle chillies and a dried red pepper.  I used to source these from Brindisa (they do mail order) but I can get them in Tesco now. Soak them in a bowl of hot water while you get the other ingredients ready.  Peel and chop 4 crisp eating apples and 4 hard pears, tip into a preserving pan and add 400ml cider vinegar, 325 light muscovado sugar, 3 large chopped shallots, 2 grated cloves of garlic along with a 4cm piece of root ginger, 1 tsp fellel seed, 1 tsp smoked paprika and a good grind of black pepper. Lastly 1 teaspoon of sea salt.

Drain the chillis and pepper.  Remove the stalks and then finely chop the flesh – seeds an all.  Add to the pan and stir around.  Bring to the boil very slowly then turn down the head to medium and cook for 40-45 minutes stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick and syrupy.  Leave to settle for 5 minutes then pour into hot jars and seal.  It will keep for about 6 months but once opened, eat it up! It won’t be difficult.  Think creamy Lancashire with oatcakes, chunks of gherkin and this relish.

Pear and chocolate pan Charlotte

Ok the preserving bit is over.  Now for some sweet things.  When I was in New York last year I spent a delightful 5 hours – yes, 5 hours – in Kitchen Art and Letters.  It was a bit of a pilgrimage for me, and one now ticked off my bucket list.  If you can imagine a wonderful bookshop one block east of 5th Avenue, way up in the north east corner of Central Park; a small and perfectly formed shop, with armchairs and coffee and tables on which to rest piles of books; and an owner who positively encouraged people to stay and read and browse.  My idea of heaven. Anyway – I was there in heaven but perversely had told myself I would not buy because it would take me into excess baggage. Until the owner cannily reminded me that as a visitor, the prices were minus tax and anyway he could ship them to me for less than the tax anyway.  SOLD!  The New Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne was one of my six purchases.

You will need a Tarte Tartin tin or similar (she uses a skillet – I dont have a skillet).  Place the  tartin tin on a hotplate and add 100g butter on a high heat. As soon as it is melted add 3 tablespoons of muscovado sugar, 1/4 teaspoon each of ground clove and allspice and a little salt; stir to combine.  Then add 5 peeled, cored and chopped firm pears, turn down the heat and cook until the pears are soft and mixture is lightly caramelised. This will take about 10 minutes. Then pour this mixture onto a plate to cool. Clean the pan.

Spread some butter onto 8-10 slices of brioche loaf (or use those long brioche finger rolls you can buy in Lidl). Line the tin with the buttered bread (butter side down) and sprinkle with 75g plain chocolate chopped in small pieces. Top with the pear mixture then the remaining buttered brioche.

Bake at 180C until the bread is golden brown – about 40-50 minutes and cover with foil if it looks like its burning.  Take out of the oven and allow to cool, then dust with icing sugar and serve with cream. Or allow to cool and then double wrap with foil and freeze. You could make two – one for now and one for later!

Spiced ginger and chocolate cake with salted caramel pears

This is another favourite from Anna Rigg.  First make your gingerbread.

Heat 150g butter with 100g golden syrup 75g treacle, 150g soft brown sugar and 150ml stout.  Quite honestly those ingredients are enough to make you stop right there!  Courage! Onward!  Melt in a large-ish pan then add 50g dark chocolate, 2 pieces of chopped stem ginger and half a teasp on bicarbonate of soda.  Mix it all together then let it cool.

Drive 200g plain flour with 1 teap baking powder and 4 teaspoons of ground ginger together with one teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon mixed spice, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper a pinch of chilli powder, a pinch of salt.  Whisk 3 eggs then add to the liquid ingredients then add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, beating well between each addition.  Pour into a lined 14cm square tin and bake for 30 minutes at 170C. Cover with greaseproof paper if it looks a bit too brown.

Now for the easy bit.  Peel and quarter 4 pears and put into a shallow pan with 20g butter and a tablespoon or so of the stem ginger syrup.  Cook them until they are tender and slightly caramelised at the edges.  Then remove the cake from the oven and pour the pears and syrup over the top, returning to the oven for a further 30 minutes.  Check if the inside is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre and it should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for half an hour or so, then transfer to a wire rack till cool.  Now for the sauce. (No, we are not finished yet).

Place 100g caster sugar in a pan and ae 2 tbsp cold water, set over a low heat to dissolve the sugar then increase the heat and cook the syrup until it starts to change colour. Take off the heat and very carefully add the cream, return to a low heat to re-melt any caramel that has hardened then add 2 or 3 tablespoons of bourbon.  Serve the cake with the caramel sauce poured over.

Well beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly if that’s not a winner.  You can easily freeze the cake/pears, defrost and finish off with the sauce.


Garlic chutney

imageGill has a glut of garlic. So have I.  There is no easy answer in terms of preserving garlic. Garlic enhanced chutney is the closest you will get – or a fridge relish can be pungent. Just don’t let it get within breathing distance of cream, yogurt of milk. Lids firmly on chaps!!

Preserving in oil or in vinegar only goes so far, and garlic is so pungent that it’s a shame to lose its potency. But then some things are just meant to be be eaten fresh.  Anyway, here are two recipes, one for an apple and tomato based garlic chutney, and one for a fridge relish.


Two heads of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled. 3 large tomatoes, skinned, and de seeded so you are left with the flesh, 2 chopped green chillis – retain as many seeds as you wish depending on how hot you want it. 1 tablespoon each ground cumin and coriander. Half a teaspoon of turmeric and salt. 1.5 tablespoons soft brown sugar.

Put about 30ml vegetable oil in a skillet, heat to smoking, then add the tomatoes and chopped chillis. Cook for 2 minutes then add the finely chopped or grated garlic, spice powders. Turn down the heat and cook for another 5 minutes. Then taste and add salt and sugar. Stir thoroughly then and cook for a minute more.  Wait five minutes. Taste again to check seasoning.  Spoon into small sterilised jars and put the lids on  store in the fridge only when the jars are at room temperature. This means that no condensation will form on the inside of the jars and thus reduce the likelihood of mould growth.  Eat within two weeks. (The beauty of fridge relish is you can simply store your garlic as normal in a cool dark place to prevent it going green, and then make some more when you are ready.



First, take two or more whole heads of garlic, clean off any dirt and trim back the roots. Slice across the top so you’ve taken the pointy bits off. Rub all over with olive oil then place in a terracotta bowl or on a tray and bake in the oven  (190C) for about 40 minutes. This will depend on the size of your heads of garlic so keep an eye on it. You want the garlic inside to go sticky and gooey.

Our apples
Our apples

Meanwhile, peel core and chop 1k of sharp apples, 3 large onions, finely chopped, and 5 large skinned, de seeded and chopped tomatoes. Put these in a preserving pan with 400ml apple cider vinegar, 400g soft brown sugar and 1 teaspoon each of salt, ground coriander, cumin, paprika and a tablespoon or so of fennel seed depending on how much you like it!  Stir it up, bring slowly to the boil and then let it simmer away.  When your garlic is ready (It should be soft and squishy) and it has cooled down a bit, squeeze from the bottom of each clove and let each roasted sugar laden clove drop into the chutney.   You can see that if you want it really garlicy you simply add more roasted garlic!  Let it simmer away for another hour then check the consistency… The aim is for it to have reduced to a gloopy consistency.  Try not to stir it too vigorously as its good to keep some of the apple in chunks. Otherwise you end up with garlicky applesauce!

Once it is done, pour into sterilised jars then cool and store for a couple of months if you have that much patience!











One of the best things about living out in the sticks is the generosity of gardeners who were over zealous with the planting  (a bit like me at Easter, so carried away by the joy of watching our 5 year old grandson plop the potatoes in the holes, as I had with my grandad on his allotment 55 years ago, that I let him carry on……. hence an over production of potatoes and an under production of green beans due to lack of space). I digress.

Out here, you just drive along the road and you become your very own moving road-hazard due to continually peering into gateways in anticipation of broad beans, peas, courgette, spring onion, raspberries, redcurrants, cauliflower as you drive along.  Down New Road I can always rely on broad beans.  Down Bunwell Street I can always find onions, potatoes and salad.  In my secret place (not telling you where) there are always runner beans. And for me, runner beans make piccalilli. Piccalilli probably originated in India and is a derivation of ‘pickle’.  The picture above shows the prepared vegetables.

The ingredients offered make about eight 370g (Bonne Maman) jars.

Prepare a range of vegetables – here I have used chopped shallot, green beans, chopped peeled runner beans, chopped cauliflower, green tomato, deseeded and chopped cucumber and one sweetcorn.  You can use whatever you like. My preference is weighted toward a greater proportion of beans.  Make sure the pieces are small enough and evenly sized. Put in a big bowl and sprinkle with 50g salt.  I use a stainless steel bowl.  Mix around then put a saucepan lid or plate on top and leave for 24 hours.  Then pour into a colander and rinse with cold water.

Mix 30g cornflour with three teaspoons each of ground turmeric, English mustard powder, black mustard seed, 2tsp cumin seed and a good grind of black pepper.  Mix these carefully to a runny paste with a little cider vinegar.  Pour 600ml cider vinegar into your preserving pan and then add the spice paste and mix together. Add 125g golden caster sugar and 60g agave syrup or honey. Bring all these to the boil and cook for 5 minutes (don’t put your head over the pan and breathe in!!)

Remember there will be no more cooking, because you want the vegetables to remain crisp, so make sure you cook the sauce thoroughly to develop the flavours. Remove from the heat and then add the vegetables to the sauce and stir i until they are well coated.  Generally I don’t add all the vegetables at once – I probably start with two thirds then add a couple more spoons at a time. You are looking for an even distribution of sauce over and around the vegetables and with a bit of runny sauce too.  If there appears to be too much liquid, add more vegetables. The consistency should look a bit like this picture – with sufficient sauce but plenty of vegetables.

Pack into warmed jars (sterilised as before (see Brinjal pickle)), bang once on the work surface to bring any air bubbles to the surface, then cover with a paper cap and a vinegar proof lid.  If you can manage to leave it alone – leave for about 6 weeks for the flavours to develop.


Brinjal chutney just for Gill


Apparently, Gill has a glut of aubergine. What better way to deal with them than to make Brinjal chutney? To be honest I try not to make it. I try very hard. Because whenever it is in the house I have to eat it.  Same with Fig Rolls. But that’s another story. I particularly like it on toast on top of peanut butter.  Or on crispbread and sprinkled with very salty feta. Or a good dollop in a deep, dark beef casserole. And on the the side of a plate of curry of course!

To make six jars (as illustrated – the brinjal chutney is bottom right) take two large aubergine and cut into chunks about 1cm square (but remember the dimension-police are unlikely to come knocking if its bigger or smaller). Do the same with one large courgette.  Throw into a colander and sprinkle over a tablespoon of salt and mix it round – essentially this is to a) draw out some of the water in the vegetables and b) season it.  Personally, I often miss this stage out completely.

In a dry pan, gently toast 3 teaspoons of cumin seed and 3 teaspoons of coriander seed along with 4 teaspoons black mustard seed. When they start popping and change colour, pour onto a plate to let them cool and then grind in a pestle and mortar .  Grate a 3cm long knob of fresh ginger.

Gently fry two large onions in 100ml oil ( I use Yare Valley Rapeseed Oil) in a large pan (preferably a preserving pan – I’m not purist about these things but form generally follows function etc etc) until soft, then grate four cloves of garlic into the onion and stir round for a couple of minutes. Then add two teaspoons of chilli flakes (less if you are wimpish), the grated ginger and the ground spices. Cook for a couple of minutes more then take off the heat.  It is important to cook the spices – the flavour will develop and it means that the spices will be blended into the overall flavour of the dish, instead of making a raw, bold pronouncement of their presence.

Rinse the aubergine and courgette then throw into the pan with the onions etc.  Add 150g  raisins (sometimes instead of raisins I will use a couple of chopped apples), 125g muscovado sugar, then 300ml cider vinegar, 100ml water and 50ml tamarind paste (they sell it in Asda in little bottles just this size – perfect!).   Mix everything together then set back on the heat and bring to the boil fairly slowly, stirring regularly to ensure that the sugar melts and doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  If you peer into the pan you will think there is too much liquid.  This is where the alchemy comes in.  Just be patient, turn the heat down a little till it is just boiling but isn’t going crazy. The idea is that all the ingredients meld together, and cook, and combine, some of the liquid evaporates and it all melts into a lovely sticky brown, fragrant and unctious consistency like a thick sauce.  This will probably take a good 30 minutes, but you have to watch it and judge it for yourself. The idea is to have enough liquid to allow it to ease into a jar but not so devoid of liquid that you would need to push it out of the pan.

Cooking good food is not about precisely following a recipe – it is about using your instinct.    So with this recipe, remember that courgette and aubergine contain a lot of water. I prefer to add a little more liquid later than end up with a chutney that is  insubstantial and where the spoon won’t stand up unaided in the pan. That’s my measure of ‘done’!  Scientific innit!  You’ll remember that I said sometimes if I am in a hurry I dont ‘salt’ the aubergine at the beginning – in which case I need to remember to taste the chutney to ensure there is a good balance between sweet, salt and spicy.  No recipe can do that for you – you have to rely on what your senses are telling you.

Your jars – and the lids – must be scrupulously clean. Generally if I am going to batch up some chutney I put the jars through the dishwasher the night before. Just before I pour the chutney into the jars I add 100ml cheap vodka into one jar, swirl it round and pour into the next. And so on. That way the jars have had a double dose of sterilising. And there’s vodka waiting for a tonic at the end.


Here are some tips for bottling the chutney.

  • don’t pour boiling hot chutney into cold jars, warm the jars a little or wait for the chutney to cool down for 30 minutes
  • use wide mouthed jars like Bonne Mamain
  • use a jam funnel which has capacity in its bowl and then funnels it out the bottom into the jar
  • use vinegar-proof lids so that the acid does not corrode the lid.
  • If you dont have vinegar proof lids then cover with jam covers and elastic bands
  • make sure you put some greaseproof rings on top before you lid the jars – it reduces oxidation and the likelihood of mould growth
  • dont use sticky labels unless you love removing them; instead make card labels, use a hole punch and tie round the jar with string
  • store in a cool dark cupboard for up to two years and in fridge once opened for no more than four weeks.  It won’t last that long!

Enjoy your brinjal.



Preserving preamble


OK lovely people.  There is tons of produce out there.  Some of it might be in your garden. Some of you might have a greenhouse bursting with aubergine plants in builder’s buckets (Gill Brown).  There might be an overflow of runner beans in the farm shop. Or the Pick Your Own site is giving away currants and raspberries. Either way, make like your grandma and get preserving!  It’s not complicated.

A couple of decades ago I had a brief sojourn working in Moscow (think 1993; Constitutional Crisis; Yeltsin v Russian Parliament; storming of the Ostankino TV Centre) with 6 other colleagues.  We were delayed for 3 days hanging around in London till the Foreign Office agreed we could go. There’s probably a book in there somewhere – the experiences we had were life changing – and when we arrived with tanks on the streets and snipers on the roof. Most importantly we stayed with local families for the duration of our stay.

My mum had always made marmalade and jam and so had my nan.  But in Moscow I discovered the connection between the joy of preserving  and its place in family history and family stories.  My host Olga (also Dean of Sociology at Moscow State Institute) opened her dresser and showed me all the preserves she and her husband  Viktor had made from produce on and around their dacha just outside Moscow.  As their little dogs Mika and Fella danced around our feet, a rich warm aroma wafted from the depths of the cupboard – bottled plums, tomatoes, cucumbers; bottled blackcurrant juice; pickled and salted mushrooms that Viktor found in the woods and on the hills. And my favourite – a jam made from berberis berries.  Olga, Anastasia and I would sit in the kitchen in the evening, pouring boiling water from the samovar onto coal-black tea leaves in the teapot, taking little spoons of red jam from a shallow saucer to eat and thus sweeten the tea, topping up the teapot again, another little spoonful of jam.  And so it went on.  Companionable. Timeless.  Strangers taking tea, with snipers on the roof and tanks on the street. Ageless and significant rituals of normality.

When our small work group embarked on the St Peterburg  train from Leningradsky Station, our host families packed us generous amounts of  food in paper bags and baskets.  From our culture of plenty we naively wondered why. Eggs, bread, meat, tomatoes, preserved fruit, fruit juice, carrots, cucumbers. Pickles.  We were sworn to silence on the journey because we were travelling on ‘local’ tickets (cheaper) not ‘tourist’ tickets (expensive).  Inevitably the silence didn’t last long because the six of us ended up all over the train in different carriages………  so we negotiated seat swaps where we could, sometimes offering food as an incentive. The most popular incentives were the pickles, jams and juices.  In the end we had a magnificent and memorable trip up to Pskov. It took 15 hours. We hardly slept. We pooled the food. Vodka was involved. Broken conversations with other passengers. Gestures, smiles, lots of laughing.  We crept through deserted isolated stations populated only by lone dogs. Sometimes we stood just staring into the darkness.  And beneath the blinds in the carriages, lifted at the corner, we watched the birch forests slip, slip, slip away in the moonlight. We collected hot water from the boiling samovar in every carriage and were warmly looked after by the attendant – we were offered hot water bottles, blankets, but the train – like the buildings – were desperately over heated and steeped in diesel fumes.  Scalding black tea – sweetened with raspberry jam – was the reviver  Everlasting memories. And everlasting friendships.

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14 years ago I stopped over in Moscow on the way to Siberia (working again). I didn’t really need to but I wanted to. I met up with Anastasia and Olga (sadly, Viktor had died), and we spent the day together before I flew out again over the Urals to Irkutsk. The years just rolled away and we laughed and walked and ate and laughed some more, and commented on how much had changed in Moscow.  There were now MacDonald’s and magnificent eateries.  But the warmth of memory, the companionable kitchen, the samovar, the jam, the dresser full of dacha preserves will last all my life.

Preserved lemons – ideas

I’ve had a number of requests about what to do with preserved lemons following my post a few days ago.  Preserved lemons are easy to do – choose small lemons if you can, and unwaxed. Chop into slices, quarters – whatever – and pack into a sterilised jar with seasalt, lemon juice and olive oil.  Leave for at least two months (turning the jar occasionally). Then you can use them in all sorts of dishes.  Here are a few of my favourites:

Lamb tagine.  Slowly braise chopped shoulder of lamb with lots of onions, tomatoes, a teaspoon of cumin and a 2.5cm stick of crushed cinnamon stick.  Sometimes I put prunes or unsulphured apricots in too.  If you have a tagine then use it, if not a saucepan on a low heat or a covered dish in a low oven will do just as well.  When cooked, take a couple of pieces of preserved lemon, wash the salt off then chop the rind (discard the pulp) into the lamb.  ~Some people put the rind in early but I find this makes the sauce a tad bitter. I prefer to put in at the end and get the ‘bite’ of salted lemon with the meat juices.  I serve this with flatbread.

Or, make a lemony roast chicken.  Pound 2 small preserved lemons (washed and minus pulp) together with 2 cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of cumin and a deseeded red chilli (or keep the seeds in if you want hot chicken) with 2 tbsp olive oil.  Simply smear all over a chicken then roast uncovered and quickly in a hot oven (but add about 150ml boiling water to the pan – perverse but true).  You will end up with fragrant moist chicken with a thick juice in the pan which you can use as gravy.  Serve with couscous and salad.

Or try roast red pepper and fennel salad with preserved lemon and olives (my take on a Moro  recipe).  Roast red peppers on a long fork or skewer over a hot flame until the flesh is soft and the skin of the pepper is black.  This is a bit messy (and don’t even attempt to do this on an electric hob.  Use the grill or your camping stove instead!)  Immediately put the red peppers in a sealed bag or a folded down plastic carrier bag.  After about 10 minutes, slide the blackened skin off the peppers (but leave a bit on, it’s charred loveliness is divine). Slice the peppers into thick slices.  In a thick bottomed pan, heat some olive oil till it’s smoking.  Then add wedges or fans of fennel. Don’t stir it around, you want it to just get golden. Then add a teaspoon of sugar and turn them carefully and cook for another couple of minutes.  They should still be firm. Add to the peppers.  Then add chopped salty Kalamata olives and the rinsed chopped rind of a preserved lemon.  Drizzle with oregano, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.  It won’t need any further seasoning.

Lime pickle

Its cold. Cold nose cold. Which is my way of determining just how cold it is. Time for preserving. In spite of the fact that I had a shed load of work to do, we are going out for dinner, my printer needs to make friends with my new router, plane and train tickets need to be booked – still I have this strong and irresistible January yearning for stirring a preserving pan full of gorgeous ingredients. So tomorrow it will be Seville orange, ruby red grapefruit and lemon marmalade (cut thick and boiled till its as dark as toffee). But today it is date and lime pickle. Perfect with a biryani, in peanut butter sandwiches, with cold meats and with fish curries.

Drop 8-10 limes in a saucepan of salted water, bring to the boil and them simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the lime skin is soft when you pierce it (carefully – squirting hot citric juice is pretty potent in the eye!) Then strain and dry the limes and cut in quarters. Then add a sprinkling of sea salt and two tablespoons of sugar and 1.5 teaspoons of asofoetida (ideally roast the seed in a dry pan then grind it yourself), stir around a bit, cover and leave in a cool place for 3 days. So if you start this on Tuesday or Wednesday night you can finish it off next week end.

On Saturday or Sunday next week, take a big pan and gently heat 2 tbsp sesame oil and add 2 teaspoons of mustard seed and one teaspoon of fenugreek seed and gently cook until they are golden. Then remove the cooked seed from pan, and pan from heat. Then add some more oil and 200g chopped dates (de-seeded) and cook down until they are a thick paste. Remove from the pan. Clean the pan then add about 25ml groundnut or vegetable oil on a low heat add three chopped deseeded green chillis, a 2.5cm chunk of chopped fresh ginger and five chopped cloves of garlic, one to two teaspoons of chilli powder (depending on its strength) and one teaspoon of ground turmeric. Cook until it is a rich red and be careful it doesn’t stick to the pan – if it looks as if it is going to, add just a little water and stir vigorously. Then add 1.5tablespoons of sugar (I use muscovado). At this stage, add 150ml white wine vinegar (please don’t used malted chip vinegar) and stir. Cook this sauce vigorously for five minutes then add the mustard seed and fenugreek you cooked and set aside earlier. Take off the heat and add the chopped limes and the dates and incorporate with the dark marsala liquid. Stir well, cook to boiling point once again and check seasoning, particularly salt and sugar.

This pickle should be sharp and should make your saliva run! There is natural sweetness in the dates so you shouldn’t need more sugar but add some if you want to, depending on your taste.

Pour into sterilised jars and seal carefully. You can eat it straight away and it will keep (if airtight) for 2 years if you keep it in a cool dark place. But it’s best within 12 months.


Dulce de membrillo or Carne de membrillo in Spanish, marmelada in Portuguese, codonyat in Catalan, cotognata in Italian. Anyway you like, membrillo is tart/sweet and made from quince. My favourite method is to add rose scented geranium leaves which add a beautiful soft rose aroma. When you cook quinces they turn from apple green to deep crimson in about 2.5 hours. The membrillo is traditionally eaten with Manchego cheese. It can also be eaten as marmalade – which is a favourite in this house. Or you can make quince jelly, or quince cheese. I’ll tell you how to make them. All start with the same ingredients.

You can also roast quince alongside a joint of lamb – or poach them in a syrup containing rose scented geranium leaves, or a vanilla pod. You can add them to poached apples or pears too. Serve them simply, with fresh cream or icecream and a crunchy tuille biscuit. You won’t be disappointed. Heaven!

I bitterly regret not planting a couple of quince trees when we moved here. Knowing we are likely to move in a couple of years is now putting me off planting them – but maybe, just maybe I will next year.

However. Back to the membrillo. This year I was searching, searching for quince and finally found some last week at the farm shop, very late in the season.

First prepare your quinces. Peel them first. This is easiest with a vegetable peeler. Stand them on end and slice off thick quarters, just clean of the core. Quince do not ripen, they are always very hard – so use a sharp knife and a good strong board. Shave off the fruit that remains on the core and add to the quarters. Don’t waste a bit. Chop each quarter in half and place in a pan containing water and the juice of half a lemon (simply to stop them turning brown). Continue preparing the quince in this way until they are all done. You will notice I haven’t given you any proportions or weights at this stage. That’s because you need to put the fruit into a clean preserving pan and cover with water, bring to the boil and cook for about half an hour until they are soft. Then strain the water off. This is the stage at which you weigh the fruit. Put the fruit back into the preserving pan and add an equal amount of preserving sugar. The amount of cooked pulp I was left with today was 1.4kg. So I added 1.4kg of preserving sugar and then 8 rose scented geranium leaves. (you can leave these out if you prefer)

Bring it slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally, then cook for up to 2 hours on a gentle boil. During this time, the fruit and its syrup will turn ruby red and the aroma will fill the house with a subtle rose scent. After two hours the pulp will be thick and syrupy and at this stage – if you want to use it as marmalade – you simply decant into hot jars and seal. If you want to make dulce de membrillo that you can slice and eat with cheese, then cook it for a further 15 minutes until even more syrupy. Remove from the heat for 15 minutes, then remove the geranium leaves and put the pulp into the food processor and whizz until it is thick and has no lumps.

Turn the oven on to 120C. Lightly oil a heavy dish or metal pan and then line it with baking parchment and scatter more geranium leaves in the bottom. Pour the pulp into the dish and cook, uncovered, for one hour. Take out of the oven, leave it in a cool place overnight to set completely. Then slice into portions (I got 12 portions from 1.4kg fruit). Lift each portion onto a piece of baking parchment and fold the paper over, securing with brown string. This makes a great Christmas present with a chunk of Manchego cheese or a bottle of Port!

However, if you prefer a quince jelly, pour the mixture into a jelly muslin and strain it for 24 hours till all the juice has run through. You might be tempted to push more through, but the more you do that, the cloudier the jelly. Return the juice to a pan with the juice of half a lemon. Bring to the boil again and rest for 15 minutes. Then pour the jelly into jars. Don’t waste the pulp. You can either make some membrillo or jar it up for more marmelade.

If you want to make quince cheese, then for every 400g cooked pulp you will need 65g lemon juice, 125g unrefined caster sugar, 4 whole eggs, 75g unsalted butter, cold cut in to small pieces. Put the pulp into a double boiler and heat it slowly. Then mix the lemon juice, sugar and eggs in a separate bowl. Slowly add the mixture to the pulp, heating it gently and stirring it till it thickens. Don’t be tempted to cook it too quickly or the eggs will cook and you will end up with quincy scrambled eggs! When it is thick, drop in the cubes of butter, stirring all the time. Let the curd cool completely and then pour into hot jars, and seal.

If you have never used quince before then I hope this has encouraged you. Look out for them next year!

The Changing of the Seasons

I love this song by Ane Brun – listen to it here on  Youtube

“He falls asleep on her chest, The best sleep he’d ever met. Nevertheless he dreams of some stranger’s caress. He awakes and he knows maybe someone else is supposed to meet his hazy anticipating  eyes. He draws the curtains aside unfolding the first morning light. He glances at his disenchanted life. Restlessness is me, you see, it’s hard to be safe, it’s difficult to be happy. It’s the changing of the seasons he says ‘I need them’ –  I guess I’m too Scandinavian. The relief of spring, intoxication of summer rain. The clearness of fall.  How winter makes me reconsider it all. Restlessness is me, you see, it’s hard to be safe It’s difficult to be happy. And then she awakes, reaches for the embrace he decides not to worry about seasons again”.

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I can feel the season changing and although I am a summer bird, I welcome the change in the air. I love the deep red/gold of the fields of stubble in the dusk. I love the smell of big dark raindrops on dry earth. I regret and yet I love the dark furrows of the plough on the fields and the long purple shadows of oak trees stretching across grass. It entices me to get in the kitchen with piles of produce – beans, onions, peppers and apples, sweetcorn and beetroot, pots of spices and jars of vinegar.  Out with the preserving pan, dust off the mobile gas ring (much more efficient for this job than my ceramic hob) and off we go.
Pickles and chutneys are the very essence of alchemy.  Making them is not, in my house, a precise science.  Like most of my cooking it is achieved  through the senses rather than the weighing scale.  It depends how spicy, how tart, how hot, how deep, how fresh you want your preserves to taste. And the only way of knowing is to keep making them. Forget. Then remember again a couple of years later.
Piccalilli (thanks to my personal lexicographers Sue and Shirl), this year, was a wonderful blend of runner beans sold at someone’s gateway, cauliflower from my garden – slightly ‘gone over’ as we say in Norfolk – opened up and the edges just about to turn purple, onion and black podded beans.  I made some brine (3tbsp salt in a cup of hot water then mixed with about 1 litre of cold) then sliced all my vegetables into the brine and left them overnight.  In the morning I drained and rinsed them, then put a mixture of spices in the preserving pan.
This is where the alchemy comes in – and you are going to have to choose how to replicate the flavour you prefer.  For me, it was about 3tbsp coriander seed, a large sprinkle of dried chilli flakes. 3 tbsp black mustard seed, 2 tbsp English mustard powder, 2 tbsp ground turmeric, mixed with 750ml white distilled vinegar (absolutely not brown fish-and-chip vinegar) and 175g light raw cane muscovado sugar.  Bring all this to the boil, stirring gently and let it boil away for a couple of minutes. This simply lets some of the rawness of the vinegar calm down a bit.  Then take off the heat and carefully add all your prepared vegetables. Bring gently to the boil again and cook for about 15 minutes.  Lots of recipes tell you to cook for longer, but I think it completely boils the character out of the vegetables.  I prefer my piccalilli hot, yellow, crunchy and tasty, not mushy and pale green. Take off the heat and let it settle and then judge for yourself how thick is the sauce.  The idea is that the sauce is thick but not gloopy. But definitely not runny.  Remember that the vegetables will rise to the surface whilst cooking so there might be more liquid in the bottom than you think there is. So stir it around and see.
In my alchemy rule book I will always put slightly less liquid in at the beginning than I think I need – because not only will the vegetables will rise to the surface but they will also reduce in size).  If you think you have too much liquid you can remove some with a large spoon. Then, mix some of it with a couple of tablespoons of cornflour and return to the pan, bring slowly to the boil for the final time until the sauce thickens. When that happens, cook for one more minute then allow  to stand for a good 15 minutes without disturbing it.
My habit with glass jars, whether for pickles or jam, is to wash them in very hot water, rinse and dry them then put in the microwave and give them a blast on ‘high’ for a couple of minutes.
After 15 minutes you can decant the piccalilli into the jars. When they are full, give each one a sharp tap on the work surface to bring any air bubbles to the surface, then add a lid and you are done.
Green Tomato Chutney. For years – and particularly in the ’80s – my heart used to sink when I heard those words. For I was reluctantly, rather than gratefully, about to receive yet another pale annual offering in a jar from a neighbour who laboured under the illusion that her green tomato chutney was divine.  I could not refuse.  But I did not agree!
Last year, unlike this, I had a glut of tomatoes, many of which I ended up putting into carrier bags and freezing them whole. The red ones have subsequently been turned into passata, tomato soup, tomatoes braised in butter, garlic and basil etc etc. Today it poured with rain all day – a perfect day for green tomato chutney making.
Into  the preserving pan went about 1.5kg frozen green tomatoes, 2kg frozen red tomatoes, 500g frozen green plums, one chopped onion, 6 windfall cooking apples (on the small side, shaken off too soon by last night’s storm), a good sprinkle of chilli flakes, 2 tbsp fennel seed, 1 tbsp cumin seed, 1 tbsp ground cumin,  three fat cloves of smoked garlic from the Isle of Wight, 1 cinnamon stick and two knobbly bits of peeled fresh ginger (don’t chop it up – more on that later), 1litre white distilled vinegar, 1tbsp salt and 175g light raw cane muscovado sugar. Mix it all together and off we go.  Yes. The fruits were whole and frozen. No the ginger wasn’t chopped.
I brought it all to the boil and then settled it down to a gentle simmer for 2-3 hours. Chutney such as this (unlike the fresh Indian chutneys) should be dark and full of flavour.  Cooking these proportions of vinegar and sugar over a long period makes something quite magical happen to the liquid. It deepens and darkens, becomes unctious and glossy.  But – I hear you ask – what happens to the frozen fruit?  It simply reduces itself to a mush, including the skins surprisingly enough. So you don’t need to defreeze and chop. And what of the large knobbly bits of ginger, you retort?  Fish them out carefully and chop them up at the end of the cooking process, then return to the pan. That way you get a hot fresh gingery hit occasionally, rather than simply having ginger in the mix. They will be easy to identify because as everything reduces, the ginger doesn’t – in fact it plumps up in the liquid.    The plum stones also rise to the surface so simply pick them out. By the way, don’t be tempted to use powdered ginger – do you want your chutney to taste like a cake?
The same rule applies as for the piccalilli ie the solids will rise to the surface. so make sure you know how much liquid is really in that pan before you decide to pot it up. Leave it to stand for 15 minutes before you do so.
Remember – everyone’s preserves are different. You can make your mark by using the ingredients you have available and adjusting the spices and seasonings to your own taste. The key is understanding how much liquid to use, and how long to cook.   In my unwritten rulebook the answers to those two conundrums are less than you think for the first, and longer than you dare for the second.

Home made curry spice mixes


On a rare day when the cares of life are absent and my mind is clear; on a cold day when the sky is leaden; in the late afternoon when the light is fading and the fire is flickering I sometimes retreat to the kitchen and mix up some spices.  They have become stocking fillers, people leave the house sometimes and whisper – ‘you don’t have any spare curry mix do you?’  And then I can open the cupboard and there they are in little jars, bright yellow, dark orange, ochre, dusky brown. Fragrant, warm and delicious. Just waiting to be added to dark squash and onion, or pink lamb, or a vegetable biriyani.  Here are a few of my favourites – but before you are tempted, get yourself down to the Indian supermarket and stock up on the ingredients. Make it a job for next week end!

These spice mixes come from two of my favourite books.  Lord Krishna’s Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi which I picked up in the remainders box in Jarrolds about 25 years ago, and Classic Indian vegetarian cookery by Julie Sahni which is a two volume affair.  A note about method – always ‘dry roast’ spices in a medium hot heavy based frying pan and then allow to cool.  Then either grind in a pestle and mortar or in an electric coffee grinder (I use a second hand one kept just for spices which I got free from Freecycle about 10 years ago).  Whatever you do, keep your head out of direct line of fire as the vapour from hot ground spices can be potent!

Mixing your own spices is very satisfying and it is not an exact science, so experiment with small amounts and variations until you get the balance that suits you – inevitably this will apply to heat (as in chilli hotness) but also to the balance of proportion in the spice mix.  It’s a delightful experiment.


8 tablespoon coriander seed, 15 dry red chillis, 1.5 teaspoon cumin, mustard, fenugreek seed, 1.5 teaspoon black peppercorns, 15-20 curry leaves, 3 tbsp turmeric powder.

Dry roast all the ingredients except the turmeric powder, cool spcies slightly then grind in pestle or electric grinder and add the turmeric.  Mix carefully and allow to cool, then transfer to an airtight jar.


This mix has a lovely spicy nutty flavour which comes from the dried beans and peas.  These then add their starch to the sauce and thicken whatever you are cooking.

8 tablespoons of coriander seed, 12 whole dry chillis, 1.5 teaspoons of cumin seed, black peppercorn, yellow mung beans (moong dal), yellow split peas (channa dal), fenugreek seed, white split gram beans (urud dal), 2 tablespoon turmeric.

First dry roast the spices and transfer to a bowl, then dry roast the legumes, stirring all the time until they are barely coloured (about 6 minutes).  Transfer to a bowl.  Then add the turmeric to the same hot dry pan  and roast till it loses its raw aroma but don’t have it on the heat.  This takes a couple of minutes.  Then grind all the spices and legumes together and add to the cooled turmeric and mix well before transferring to storage jars.



This is my favourite. It is very aromatic, with the warmth of cinnamon and clove.  Traditionally it is used to flavour vegetable, rice and pilaf dishes. It is expecially good with aubergine.

Dry roast 4 tablespoon yellow split peas (channa dal) for about 5 minutes then add , 6 tablespoon white split gram beans (urud dal) and roast for a further 8 minutes, stirring all the time.  They need to slowly roast but not burn.  Transfer to a bowl and cool.

Dry roast 3 tablepoon cumin, 4 tablespoon coriander, 3 tablespoon fenugreek seeds; 3×7.5cm cinnamon sticks and about 6 cloves with 4 tablespoon dried chillis (or fewer if you don’t want it too hot). Roast for 6-8 minutes until they are several shades darker then add 2 tablespoon curry leaves and 10 tablespoons of unsweetened coconut flakes.  Mix all these with the reserved peas and beans and allow to cool.

When completely cool, grind them to fine powder and store in airtight jars.



I tend to use Garam Marsala as a final flavouring in a curry dish rather than a cooking spice as such, stir a couple of spoons into the finished dish a couple of minutes before  you take it off the heat.  It adds a concluding top note to the flavour, rather like Parmesan in Italian dishes.

Dry roast 4 tablespoon coriander, 3 tablespoon cumin, 2 tablespoon fenugreek seek with 6 cloves and 1.5 tablespoon black cardomom seed (you might prefer green, but I love the deep medicinal aroma of the black) for about 8 minutes. Add 8 bay leaves broken into small pieces and 8 tablespoon of unsweetened coconut flakes and 6 dry red chilli.  Leave to cool then grind.  Store in airtight jars.


Three fruit marmalade with added spice

Driving to Norwich  I passed three farm shops all proclaiming Seville Oranges.  A lovely task for a cold winter day.  Place 10 Seville oranges, 3 ruby grapefruit and 4 lemons in a preserving pan.  Cover with cold water, bring to the boil then cover, turn off the heat and leave overnight.  In the morning, remove the oranges from the liquour, cut in half and remove the pips (keep them for later) then slice the fruit and then chop as finely or coursely as you like.  I use my mandolin cutter for this as it makes short work of it.P1020752 Then return all the fruit to the pan, add 2kilo of sugar and 100ml extra lemon juice and about 1.2 litres of the cooking liqour.  You might need more but I tend to put in slighly less than I think I need because the sugar makes more liquid.  Then bring to the boil, stirring the sugar up till it is melted, and boil for about 15 minutes.  Half way through you will need to judge whether you need more liquid.  The way I judge this is to look at the liquid in the pan – is it watery or thick and glossy?  If the latter, and the temperature is about 104C (sugar thermometer here), boil for another five minutes or so then take off the heat.  If it is still too watery, boil vigorously for another 10 minutes.P1020753 My added ingredient is about 2 loaded tablespoons of my home made mincemeat. It adds a rich spicy darkness to the marmalade.  You could add whisky, brandy, chopped ginger if you wish.  To test whether it has reached setting point is one of those alchemic moments. I’ve tried the dropping off the end of a wooden spoon trick, and the dropping some onto a cold plate then pushing it with your finger method.  But all in all I think its just a matter of judgement, liquid content and temperature. So that’s what works for me.

P1020755 Leave it to settle for about 15 minutes while you prepare the jars (ie remove dead flies, spiders and dust from the jars you have been keeping in the cupboard, scald them, sort the lids, put jars in the microwave for 2 minutes on blast) then decant into the jars using a half litre jug and a wide necked funnel. Any  other ‘quick’ method results in sticky jars, sticky fingers, sticky work surfaces and bad temper.  Seal with a circle of greaseproof and put the lids on when cold. Otherwise you’ll get condensation on the inside of the lids and mould in about 8 weeks time.

Serving suggestion:  Hot toast with butter for breakfast.P1020756