Saturday, 29 September 2012

Sunday Foodie Bit! Viticulture UK!

A vineyard on Jersey: still part of the British experience

Wine a British Drink!

A Sunday in the UK.  Clear sky, just approaching dawn, at 6 am still dark, moon is starting to set.  A  male Owl on old Railway Track at bottom of the Garden, no reply to his part of the twit-ter-whoo. Probably a Barn Owl. Cat has some competition for the local rodent population at last, maybe won't have so many presents placed next to and in food bowl!  

Recently I have been blogging about the Great British Apple.  An event of note is taking take place today (30/09/12) at Audley End House, an Apple festival.  This based around the Organic Kitchen Garden at the house and features experiences from the 1880s.  Apples in this scenario would have been important for large estates attached to the house for producing cider.  Cider was used as part of the wages for the estate workers during harvest time.  Greenhouses attached to the Kitchen Gardens would have been employed to produce grapes for the table, and in some houses pineapples.  Wine would not be made from grapes since the fashion was for grapes to be presented to honoured guests.  Viticulture was not an active part of the estate management over time even though wars with France often restricted the supplies of wine.  Alternative sources often were imported from England's oldest ally the Portuguese.  Port and Madeira have long featured in English cooking and may be making a comeback, especially white port, as more people visit Portugal.

Prior to the loss of Aquitaine,  England had control of large areas what is now the premier Red Wine growing region of France.   The red Bordeaux wines we import into England as Claret come from this is area.  England has a rich history of wine making if you go back to the time when half of the western half of France was under English control (do not tell the French this as they conveniently forget this sometimes!).   In fat today a lot of the trade is till controlled by English interests.  

Flag waving over, what is the English wine (this is a specific definition as there is also British wine made from imported grapes) growing experience? The standard argument most oenologists use  to justify growing wine in England is that Romans did so in Chester and if they could do it then we can do it now.  Climate change apart from then and now, it is possible to make decent grape based wine in England.  Hedgerow wine is a different product but can be equally good!    

As I like to blog about Suffolk I am going to concentrate on identifying the vineyards in the local area to me.  Haverhill is a market town on the Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire border.  We have very near to us (about 5 miles) one of the major labels in English wine Chilford Hall.  I have visited this conference/wedding/function hall and vineyard many times.  The wine is prize winning and does taste good, a white wine grown on the Chalk slopes of the start of the Gog Magog hills close to the highest point in Cambridgeshire.  The source of the River Stour is not that far from the vineyard and consequently the soil is well drained.

Very close to Chilford on the other side of the Gog Magogs on the approach to Cambridge is the Gog Magogs Vineyard .  This is a recently established vineyard (in 1995).  I personally haven't yet tried any of the wine but since it has the same basic terroir (can we use that in England, sounds better than soil) as Chilford Hall similar good results could be expected.

A vineyard that I visited about 7 years ago when the original owners were running it is Giffords Hall in Suffolk. My house at school was named after this hall, the other two being after Kentwell Hall, and Melford Hall so has a little connection to me.  A small vineyard operated by just one couple, the tour was pretty eccentric and entertaining as  the process was explained.  Impressed by the passion and knowledge I borrowed the video of the process and used it in Science Lessons to illustrate the fact that science is a very old profession not just a preserve of 19th and 20th Century white coated individuals.  The wine was good too.  Another visit is due I think!

A vineyard  near Wixoe a few miles down the road no longer exists.  Here they may have have been following in the footsteps of the Romans.  Wixoe and the surrounding area are rich in remains of Roman settlement   It is  near here that Boudicca may have defeated the IXth Legion after she sacked Colchester.

Still in Suffolk but a little further away towards Bury St Edmunds (home of Greene King) are the two vineyards Ickworth House and Wyken Hall .  These are two vineyards that I have yet to visit or taste their products but are in my list of things to do in Suffolk.

So these are the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire vineyards within about 20 minutes drive of Haverhill.  Few places have so many vineyards so close!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Sunday Foodie Bit! In a Pickle!

Fruiting and then decay, new life next year!

Season of Harvest!

Fast approaching is the time when fresh British produce will start to disappear off the shelf in the supermarkets!  We are already seeing some of this happening.  Food we are warned will be slightly (understatement) more expensive and certain supermarkets seem to be upping the price already even though there is still British produce about.

We have higher wheat prices on the way owing to poor harvests.  A knock on effect is that feedstuffs will increase for livestock and the price will go up!

So turn back to the traditions of Northern and Eastern Europe and start pickling all that is available now!   May be time consuming but can be rewarding in the fact you have achieved something yourself.  A social element of pickling can also be achieved.  I have many years ago run a pickling competition in the local pub.  I bought a bag of onions (14 lb in old value) and then sold the onions for at a £1 a pint to participants with the money going to charity.

 As Christmas approached the  participants all started comparing their onions verbally.  Seemingly they knew their onions.  All sorts of nefarious advice had been given as to how best to make your onions, varying from chillies to some rich soul suggesting adding malt whiskey.  Participants were     starting to become nervous, stories of people tasting one of their jars and then deciding that they needed to add "improvers" started to provoke grumbles of  un-sportmanslike behaviour.  

The judging night came along on the Sunday usually just after Christmas or there abouts.  The evening had also matured into a cheese  evening!  The range of cheeses brought in as favourites ranged from Stinking Bishop to Shropshire and a very unimaginative Dairylea, but at least they brought their onions!   Washed down with whatever Greene King drink happened to be at hand, the "tasting scores" for each onion were totalled up and then the winner was declared.  The only memorable verdict of the night was that malt whisky is not a good additive for pickled onions! 
Pickling recipes to follow!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Sour dough!

Natural Sourdough!

Ancient Science!

In 1961 the Chorleywood process of making bread changed British ideas of what was a good loaf.  Fifty one years on and 80 % of all bread in the UK is made the Chorleywood way.  

Bread is not a cheap commodity any more with rising costs of wheat and fuel.   So what is the alternative to a Chorleywood process loaf.

A myriad of flat breads have been produced all over the world using different grains.  Soda Breads although considered to be a traditional Irish bread may only really date back to the 1840s.  Apparently bicarbonate of soda was only produced commercially from 1846.  Sour dough bread is a form that seems to be becoming popular again. This is the pre-Chorleywood style of bread using a yeast culture that is fermented and kept going from one batch to the next.

Each sour dough culture is unique to the area in which it is fermented.  The local microbes are adapted to the climatic and environmental conditions.  By introducing airborne  yeasts and bacteria to a flour and water paste a classic colonisation phase is et up.  As the different microbes set up a symbiotic relationship between lactobacilli and yeast.  Move your culture to a different environment and the culture changes owing to different growing conditions.  Truly a local food product!

As we have moved away from random inoculation of bread with yeasts and bacteria we have gone for uniformity of yeast strains.  We are only just noticing the possibilities of  the self-sustaining cultures that restrict growth of other types of bacteria.  Very common bacteria such E. coli that have even found in bean sprouts are rarely (not aware of case) transferred in bread.  Remarkable considering that it is regularly handled by many people in a household, is often exposed to the air for long times and may come into contact  with high risk foods for several hours (sandwiches) before consumption.  A recent discovery may point the way to new antibiotic treatments  Using local yeasts and bacteria in sourdough cultures therefore may be a move that could see bakers becoming attached to ...... pharmacies?   

Suffolk Landscapes!

Ancient Suffolk Landscapes

A superhighway of the mediaeval age.  A packhorse bridge!  This brook might appear to be a small obstacle to travel.  Today the water level is low due to the extraction of water for surrounding houses and farms.  This is on the ancient route between Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge.  The speed of transport is undoubtedly slower (only just sometimes) than the A14.  This is part of a walk that takes in the Icknield Way that can be found in the guide 50 walks in Suffolk (ISBN 0749535652).  As you walk this walk you see the  remnants of the mediaeval industrial structures. 

Malt kilns are evidence of the rural economy gearing up for batch production of a commodity that was seasonal.  Arguably this type of flue structure is one the most common technogical innovations seen in everything that involves heating or cooling.  We even look to the termite mounds of the animal kingdom use of this structure as solution to cooling large buildings.  

There are many great walks around West Suffolk! Over the next few weeks I will blog about some of my favourites within the West Suffolk, North Essex and South East Cambs border area.   

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Suffolk Foodie Bit! The Friday Market!

Wintry view across Haverhill from the "new" market
Tescos (Super?) to the church where old market, stalls
can be found in it's shadow to the right!

Markets Ancient and Modern in Haverhill

Haverhill is a very ancient Settlement!  The new Haverhill Research Park  emphasises the similarity between the modern land use and the past land use of the area.  In developing the area a history stretching back to at least Roman times and prehistoric times has started to be uncovered by the Archaeological dig taking place as part oft he development.  Hints of the use of new technologies in the field of agriculture are being found in this site that echoes the biotechnology focus of the Research Park!

Along the spring line of the southern ridge of the Stour Brook the town of Haverhill developed.  The steeper northern  ridge has arguably a lot thinner soils and even today is known as the Chalkstone Hill.  Looking across to the church from the bottom of the Chalkstone Hill the more gentle rise supplies the bulk of the old town.  Haverhill market reputedly has a charter that goes back to the 1200s.  The positioning of it close to the crossing point of the Stour at Wixoe made it a convenient halt on the route from Sudbury to Cambridge. This local Livestock market originally behind the Bull, Queens Head and Rose and Crown continued  until the late 1960s and early 1970s.

So today I am going have a wander around the market square and have a look at the opportunities to buy fresh produce fresh produce on what was the Peas Market Site!  So a second blog post on this subject soon to appear!


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Suffolk Foodie Bit! Suffolk Hams!

Self designed Logo that goes with my
other activities!  See the Blog

Suffolk Ham Masters.....?

Recently I started following a Facebook page called "Spanish Ham Master".  This is a specialist, trained in the art of carving Iberian Hams.  I was thinking, what have Spanish Hams got that we have to have a trained specialist in just one aspect of Pork serving? 

Looking a little further I noticed the name bellota.  Curious as to the meaning of bellota I did a Google which led me to the Wikipedia article on Jamon Iberico.  Bellota would appear to relate to Black Iberian pigs (or at least 75% cross bred) fed on acorns, bellota.  The process of free range production of the pig takes 48 months on  a strictly controlled diet of ultimately acorns or olives.  The use of the Oak forests (Cork Oak?) on the Spanish/Portuguese border produces the highest grade of this protected Spanish Denomination de origen  product.  A further curing of the ham for 36 months in a dry environement produces a 7 year production lifecycle of the product.  Having had a look at the website associated with the premium product Bellota Ham it retails at £340 per 8.5 kg (£40 per kilo) bone in ham.  Or putting it in time span mode £5.70 per kilo per year from the supplier.  A good figure to keep in mind when comparing different production styles and deciding whether a product is value for money!

So Suffolk Hams, how do they compare as specialist product? Well for a start the end product is a pickled smoked ham that is then cooked.  The process probably  reflects the differences in climate between Suffolk and the Iberian Oak forests.  The process is not geared to a hard and fast Denominacion de Origen regulation, since technically it is a cure so could be produced anywhere.  Ultimately the  pickling process may contain beer, stout or cider.  Recipes for Suffolk Black Hams also include molasses in the mix.  The time for production of the ham takes approximately 10 weeks.  The Rick Stein Food Heroes Supplier Emmetts of Peasenhall     has been offering Hams for sale since 1840.  Doing the production time span figure for the retailer again works out at approximately £27 per kilo assuming using pigs killed that year.  

Why is Suffolk Hams not as visible as Iberico Hams in the Supermarkets?  The Suffolk Ham is an artisan product.  Admittedly more expensive to the consumer, and not as labour intensive.  A real case for celebrating a premium product?  Definitely so!  Denominacien de Origen status, why not? 

I may have made a good case for why Spanish Acorn Ham appears to be good value for money.  However, it needs to be remembered that they are different products and have different seasonal time for eating.  Wouldn't it be great to have a Suffolk "tapas" of air cured Hams, pickled onions, line caught herring roll mops washed down with Suffolk Cider, Dutch Gin or hedgerow liquors!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Saturday Suffolk Foodie Bit ........ Duxford and Almonds!

Part of Battle of Britain flight displaying at Duxford
as seen on Queens Diamond Jubilee

Air Spectacular's annual appearance!

In my part of Suffolk the appearance of vintage aircraft in the sky over Haverhill used to signal the beginning of the annual Duxford air display at Imperial War Museum aerodrome. As Stansted Airport  has expanded the flight corridors have become more restricted.   The free displays I used to see as a child in our back garden from the Red Arrows, as they lined themselves up with old Colne Valley Railway remanant of which still exists,   are sadly not possible.  We still see the odd vintage Spitfire and Hurricane flying below the air corridor but only on rare occasions.

Haverhill being just on the edge of the East Anglian "high" plateau had a number of airbases around it.  Some were RAF and  some later American.  Fighters from the RAF were based at Castle Camps.  Light bombers and Heavy Bombers at Wratting Common, USAAF at Ridgewell.  This was all in the space of 4 to 5 miles from the town.   Apparently the dance halls (there were two on the High Street) could be interesting places on Saturday night when other personnel including the Army were billeted in town!

Surrounded by all the bases, Haverhill had a relatively "quiet war" considering the potential targets.  In March 1941 a Dornier bomber did make an appearance.

A passage taken from the book "Haverhill's Home Front" Compiled by The Haverhill and District Local History Group and Roy Brazier.

Some Haverhill residents still remember this attack, including a lady who had just stepped
out of her bath, and looked out of the window to see the aircraft sweeping low over the rooftops towards her, and she saw plainly the pilot looking down. I wonder if he recalls seeing the lady, and did he report back when reaching his home base that the English people were very short on clothing? The lady straight away ran, downstairs to tell what she had seen, before realising she was still without clothes. "...It was when I was with Mrs. Marsh at Duddery Road that a German 'plane came over very low and started to machine gun houses in our area and down to Meetings Walk, hitting our attic and a brick wall that divides Duddery and Mount Roads. An incendiary bullet struck a wooden post leaving scorch marks ... "

Meetings Walk is of interest to me as until recently I had lived there for 12 years.  An 1896 Victorian terrace built from local bricks, whose clay was dug apparently by the Haverhill Brick Company at the top of the terrace!
Meetings Walk with Old Independent Church, at the
top of the spire is a Cockerel! 

At the back of the houses an access road allows occupants to park car in their garages and on property.  This is an innovation that had not been thought of at that time the houses were built.  At the top of the road

Travel and transport, however, at this time was not a problem.  Haverhill boasted two railway stations.  One serving the line going North to Cambridge and thence all points "globally".  The other servicing the South line along the Colne and Stour valleys.

Meeting Walk in Winter
Haverhill was an important town for clothes manufacture.  During the Second World War Haverhill company Gurteen  was involved in the manufacture of uniforms.  So there is a good chance that the uniforms featured in Parades End currently on TV (IMb entry)   were made in Haverhill.   In fact the Church featured in the photograph was built by the Gurteen family as were a lot the houses (except Meeting Walk) in the area.  Gurteen is a company still going and involved in the town, occupying the Chauntry Mills (at present the home for the Centre for Computing History) that has a working steam engine!

During the wartime the diet of the local workers was restricted to rationing.  Allotments did feature as a  necessary supplement to many peoples diet (something that may make a comeback).  Again a piece from the   "Haverhill's Home Front"

"... we were issued with Ration Books but as my four boys were only little they did not eat much so we had a bit extra for the grown-ups. Our allotment gave us plenty to eat. One favourite meal I made was with onions and potatoes put in layers and served up with brown sauce, that was a 'no meat' meal. Meat was kept in a little meat safe, usually made of wood with a wire mesh front. No fridge or freezer about then ... "

Imported nuts such as Almonds were restricted in their availability and use.  Almond essence, a emulsion of bitter almond extract and alcohol)  started to be part of the dessert menu.  There were even mock almond pastes  that ingenuity and Ministry of Food nutritionists concocted.  Before the import of chocolate Almonds were an important sweet meat in Europe.  Probably the Second World War where chocolate became a luxury rationed item probably drove the Almond out of the larder since there was a greater sugar hit!  American influences post 1942 may have had also an impact!

 A local recipe for Almonds Ipswich Almond  Pudding would have been one of the casualties of the ration book.  Maybe time to revise the use of the Almond in this country!

Ingredients (to serve 4)

1/2  pint (250 ml) milk
5 fluid oz (150 ml) double cream
2 oz (50 g) fresh white breadcrumbs, finely grated
3 oz (75 g) sugar
6 oz (150 g) ground almonds
1 teaspoon (25 ml) orange flower water or rose water
3 eggs, beaten
1 oz (25 g) butter

Step 1:  Heat oven to 350°F or 190C.

Step 2:  Warm the milk and cream together in a saucepan. Put the breadcrumbs into a bowl, then add the milk/cream mixture and leave to stand for approx 5 minutes.

Step 3: Add the sugar, ground almonds and orange water or rose water and leave to stand for a further 10 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Step 4:  Stir in the eggs, blending well. Pour the mixture into a buttered 2 pint (1 litre) pie dish. Dot the
surface with the butter. Set the pie dish in a roasting tin. Pour boiling water into the tin until it comes about a quarter of the way up the side of the pie dish.

Step 5: Bake for 30 minutes.

Serve accompanied by single cream.


I will continue to collect a range of Suffolk Recipes and use of food and vegetables!  Next up should be a blogpost on local ciders, ancient and modern!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Suffolk Foodie: Apples ..... more Apples!

Windfall Bramleys

Autumn's dropouts

Thump!  Another one hits the patio!  It's the sound of Autumn arriving.  Having recently moved back to stay with parents I have been looking at the family tree.  The family apple tree.

The apple tree has long been a feature of our family gardens.  As a child the first thing that happened when we arrived at my Grandfather's North London house was to climb the apple tree.  Whichever cousin (there were eventually twelve of us) arrived for the gathering first, the trick as we reached a certain age was to be the first up the tree!

Harvest time as my grandfather became older involved being sent out with a bag to gather the windfalls.  Large quantities of apples were then transported back (picked or naturally harvested either by wind or own weight) to Suffolk.  As the convenience and availability of apples in shops took over the apples increasingly fermented to themselves and were eventually dumped! 

Little Panther at tree base as I Telework
in the Garden trying sufficiently
early in season to avoid windfalls
A sappling was planted nearly 35 years ago in the parent's lawn in Suffolk.  It was supposed to be a half standard!  Over the years it has spread it's boughs unchecked producing a variety of sizes of apple. It has become a cat exercise frame, a bird feeder support, washing line post, a swing platform for nephew and nieces as well as a slalom hazard for the lawn mower. As it becomes older it is succumbing to various diseases to a greater or lesser extent!

We haven't yet had a transfer of misteltoe as often happens with birds placing seeds from a last meal in a convenient crevice.  This parasitic plant  can reduce the vigour and health of an apple tree.  The season of christmas with mistletoe becoming an economic crop could be one reason to poke about in old orchards.  Old Orchards are becoming sought after as repositories of forgotten varieties that store well and have good taste.

The resurgence of interest in cider is a good example where "artisan" producers are looking to find the mix of good apple that produce juice, enough sugar for natural fermentation but are not necessarily the best for storage.  The variety Sturmer Pippin, very popular in Australia and New Zealand,  was recently rediscovered in the village of Sturmer not 3 miles from where I am writing this blog!  Suffolk has a great tradition of producing good apples and good cider (Aspalls being an example but more on that another day).

Recipe then for windfall apples called Windfall Apple Pudding!

6 oz  (150 g) flour
3 oz (75 g)  cooking fats (Lard etc)
Pinch of salt
Cold water to mix
2 large eating apples
1 egg
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
1 large cooking apple
1 oz (25g) self raising flour
2 oz (50 g) seedless raisins,
Icing sugar for dredging

Step 1:Set over to 375°F or 190 C .
Step 2 :  Put the fats, salt and flour into a bowl, cut the fat into small pieces and rub in lightly.
Step 3: Add about 1 and 1/2  tablespoons water and mix with a fork.
Step 4: Knead lightly and roll out on a floured surface and line an 8 inch pie
plate. Overlap the rim by 1/2 inch (approx 1.5 cm) and turn back the pastry overlap to form a double

Filling and putting it together.
Step 1: Peel, core and slice the apples, mix with the raisins and pile in the
pastry case.
Step 2: Beat the egg and sugar together in a bowl until thick and creamy, fold
in the flour and pour over the filling.
Step 3: Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown.

Dredge with icing sugar and serve with custard or pouring cream.

Tomorrow?  More Apple stories that may involve Chips but only of the type prepared from fruit from the tree!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Suffolk Foodie Bit! All organic?

When is organic ..... organic?

Traditional Suffolk Clay Pot for traditional food.  When we think of traditional food we think of the pre-green revolution era of organic food.  A big question has been raised by a US study of the health and wealth of organic food.

So the question is what is organic?  Is it healthy or a good marketing handle?  An open set of questions that will need an objective set of answers.  

The Green Revolution is the post 1940 spread of technology that increased yield at far higher rate than previously.  As with most industrial shifts it had been slowly happening before somebody put a name to it 1968 (first recorded use).  However, this is a modern  view of the world of agriculture where fossil fuel intensive  high inputs of chemicals coupled to accelerated breeding with efficient harvesting technology produce high yields.  This coupled with modern transport networks results in the movement of vast amounts of carbon, water, phosphates and nitrogen about the planet.  In order to replace the nitrogen first world fertiliser production is then exported back to areas where traditionally either "natural" fertilisers such as locally produced manure was used or more exotically guano ( and superphosphates by  Fisons as well as pesticides).  In the Stour Valley a similar trade in food and manure operated more locally with London ( 

We had pre-1940 produced food in quantities that did vary seasonally (something we talk about in this country).  We had methods of preserving, freezing, pickling, drying, salting etc. .  Did we have the 30 to 40% of food that is thrown away in households then?  Did we have the food rejected because it did not conform to a supermarket specification (curly cucumbers for instance)?  Are we using rose tinted spectacles on a a very complex problem and believing what we are told rather than exercising our common sense?  A misshapen carrot  can equally be as good as a straight carrot, it might not produce great battens but is still useful in a soup or stew!

So a recipe using misshapen carrots for country cooking.

A Farmhouse Vegetable Soup that can serve 4 people. Basic, everyday vegetables make up this chunky, everyday standby soup.


1 lb (454g) carrots, prepared and coarsely chopped
1 lb (454g) onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 sticks of celery, prepared and chopped
1 leek, prepared and sliced
2 oz (50 g) butter
2 lb (900 g)  potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 pint (approx 500 ml) lamb stock
Bouquet garni
Salt and pepper


Step 1: Melt the butter in a large saucepan
Step 2:  Add the chopped vegetables  ( reserve the potatoes for adding at later step)
and cook for 10 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft.
Step 3: Put the potatoes, stock, bouquet garni and salt and pepper into the pan and add
enough water to cover the vegetables. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes.
Step 4: Remove the bouquet garni and serve. The potatoes thicken the soup and may
disappear into the liquid.
Serve with bread of your choice.

In more straightened times this may have been a meal with a cheese known as "Suffolk Bang".  Suffolk Bang was a cheese of close texture and very hard.  The cheese was produced by continuous skimming of the milk in order to leave no cream.  A poem by Robert Bloomfield  "A farmers boy" written in the year1800, describes not only this cheese but also the relationship between the area of the Stour Valley and London (reproduced in Clive Paine' collection A Suffolk Bedside Book  ISBN1-904349-06-04).

And finally a little observation on the efficacy Fisons products.

A lorry and a tractor collided opposite Bugg's Stores in Loddon High Street. As a result the tractor crashed into the shop window, completely wrecking at least half the frontage. The tractor was owned by Fisons, the pest control experts.

As soon as the shop front had been boarded up, the following notice was chalked up in bold letters:


(Reproduced  from the Book  of East Anglian  Humour ISBN 0-948134-59-3)