A new form of scrumping? – Win this great book on living off the land

Stroll along a riverbank and it’s possible to forage for lots of wild food, even if you live in a city. Wild rocket, cobnuts, garlic mustard, barberry, rosehips, the list is endless. Can you get any more organic?

The best way to learn how is to join a nature group or go with someone who already knows. But if you’re interested, especially in making the wonderfully flavoured soups, wines, jams, cakes that come from these foods, then you may want to get hold of Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Forager.

In partnership with Kyle Books we are offering a prize copy of The Thrifty Forager to one lucky winner. All you have to do is email me with the subject ‘Thrifty Forager’ in the subject line. I’ll pick the name out of a hat and contact the winner in the next week. (Competition ends 22.9.11. UK addresses only.)

However, if you want to get your hands on the book straight away it’s available now priced at £16.99. And if you want to hear more from Alys Fowler, then you can listen to her walking along Regent’s Canal with Woman’s Hour’s Jane Garvey.

Herbal remedies are here to stay (some of them)

Did you know that one 1/4 of people in the UK use herbal medicines? That’s over 15 million people!

It might explain why there’s been something of a flurry concerning new laws at the end of April 2011 regularising herbal medicine.

Positives and negatives
The benefit is that herbal remedies must come under safety guidelines. The negative is that not every herb currently used will make the grade, which may put some people at a disadvantage. And, as with other medicines, it also doesn’t prove that the herb will work for you.

What this means
Basically, licensed herbals must now carry a ‘THR’ mark (Traditional Herbal Registration). You’ll see a lot of repackaged herbal solutions on the market.

For example, Higher Nature, a well reputed provider of supplements, has just brought out its Licensed Herbals range. These include:

■ Black Cohosh Menopause Relief
Devil’s Claw Muscle & Joint Pain Relief
■ Echinacea Cold & Flu Relief
■ Feverfew Migraine Relief
■ Milk Thistle (for relief from over-indulgence of drink and food)
■ Passionflower Relax Aid
■ Pelargonium Cold Relief
Rhodiola Stress Relief
■ St John’s Wort Mood Uplift
■ Valerian Sleep Aid

There might still be other ways of consuming herbs which aren’t registered, for example the herbs may well be able to be consumed as food or in teas, as long as they’re not trying to be medicinal – and this too might mean that we see some ‘interesting’ new foods on the market…

How to make your own vegetarian cheddar cheese

Once you start making your own cheese you won’t want to stop.

The big cost is the milk, so see if you can source a cheap option from a local farmer or buy in bulk when the milk is at the end of its sell-by date.

You can use this blueprint recipe to make a mild, soft cheese or a harder, more crumbly cheese. It all depends on how much time you give the cheese to set.

The initial process takes about 4 hours.

Homemade vegetarian cheese
Homemade vegetarian cheese

Equipment
Before you start you will need the right equipment. A thermometer and a cheesecloth – if this is your first time and you have no cheesecloth to hand then clean nylon, a tea towel or table cloth might work. As with the knives, mixing bowls and the pan that you use they should all be sterilised shortly before you being making the cheese. You can do this by cleaning them in boiling water and drying, where necessary, in a hot oven.

* Sterilised cheesecloth or muslin
* Sterilised mixing bowl
* Sterilised palette knife
* 2 large sterilised pans
* Sterilised colander
* Cheese press (to make your own, use a large empty baked bean can with both ends removed, place on top off a chopping board and, once the cheese has been put inside, place 30lb of weights on top)

Ingredients
* 5 litres (1 gallon) full cream milk
* 1 litre (1.7 pints) additional cream (optional)
* 120ml (4oz) crème fraiche or plain yoghurt or buttermilk
* 3ml (half teaspoon) Vegeren (vegetarian rennet)
* 10-20g salt, preferably coarse
* pepper, sugar, margarine or other flavourings are optional

1. Place the milk and cream, and the yoghurt, buttermilk or crème fraiche into the large pan and leave for half an hour. This gives the milk a richer flavour and helps it to acidify.

2. Gently heat the milk up to 28C and maintain this temperature for 45 minutes.

Cheese Curds by Jesse Dill
Cheese Curds by Jesse Dill

3. Add the rennet by dissolving it in a small cup of pre-boiled water. Then mix it in with the milk. Once thoroughly mixed, remove the milk from the heat and leave to cool for 30-45 minutes. The top of the milk will start to congeal and set and the curds will separate.

4. When the curds have set, cut them into small, roughly centimetre size cubes.

5. Over 40 minutes, slowly bring the temperature up to 39C and continue to gently stir. Keep the curds at this temperature for 30 more minutes. Stir every few minutes to keep the curds from congealing.

6. During this time line the colander with the cheesecloth or muslin.

7. Stop stirring for the last 5 minutes so the curds can settle and you can drain the whey off.

Draining the whey by Lorelei
Draining the whey by Lorelei

8. Put the curds into the colander and drain into the second pot. You should collect enough whey to fill the pot 1/3 full.

9. Place the new pot on top of the heat to keep at 39C for 1 hour. For a moister cheese, reduce the time to 45 minutes or even 30 minutes.

10. Remove the congealed curds and cut into long pencil sized strips. Stir in the salt and other flavourings to taste.

Maturing the cheese
Many people like to eat these cheese now. But to make a wheel of cheese, leave the curd in the cheesecloth and put it into the cheese press and leave for overnight. Add a light weight for the first hour and then the full 30lbs after that. In the morning turn the cheese upside down and press for another 24 hours.

The next morning, remove the cheese from the press and allow to dry for a day or two. Rub the surface with salt if you want to encourage a rind to develop.

You can take this a step further by waxing or bandaging the cheese and leaving it to ripen. Leaving the cheese in a cool, dry place at 8–11C for up to 4 weeks will give it a mild cheddar flavour. Three months will give it a medium flavour, and you can also leave the cheese for longer for a more  mature taste.

Turn the cheese daily for the first three weeks, then on alternate days after that. Smaller cheeses will ripen faster.

Good luck!

Make Your Own Elderflower Cordial and Champagne

Summer is here. Fancy a refreshing summertime drink?

Homemade cordial
Homemade cordial

What about making your own?

I love elderflower cordial. My Mum used to make it when I was a child. It’s like summer in a bottle, full of hazy summer memories. Everytime I take a sip of it I feel transported back to summers past, good times of relaxing, enjoying the fleeting two weeks of sunshine that seems alotted to us in Britain.

Return to your childhood with this easy to make elderflower recipe, a must for every picnic or summer teatime. (Makes 2 pints.)

20 heads of elderflower
1.8kg granulated sugar or caster sugar
1.2 litres cold water
2 unwaxed lemons
75g citric acid

1. Shake the elderflowers to expel any lingering insects, and then place in a large bowl.
2. Put the sugar into a pan with the water and bring up to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved.
3. While the sugar syrup is heating, pare the zest of the lemons off in wide strips and toss intothe bowl with the elderflowers. Slice the lemons, discard the ends, and add the slices to the bowl. Pour over the boiling syrup, and then stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth and then leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
4. Next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with muslin (or a new j-cloth rinsed out in boiling water), and pour into thoroughly cleaned glass or plastic bottles. Screw on the lids and pop into the cupboard ready to use.

Elderflower Champagne Continue reading

Top 10 uses of the polystyrene temperature controlled boxes

As a general rule GoodnessDirect no longer use polystyrene boxes to transport our chilled and frozen foods around.  They have been abandoned in favour of biodegradeable cardboard that is specially treated to make them thermally suitable.  However, on the really really really hot summer days (and you know just how many of those we get) we do use the polystyrene options.  Aundrea, one of our customers actually really appreciates the boxes and has written to me with her Top 10 uses.

Top 10 uses for polystyrene boxes:

  1. Bringing on seeds  –  put seedlings in a pot inside and put a sheet of glass on top – ready made glass house that never looses its stable temperature.
  2. I bring my chilled and frozen food back from the supermarket in them to keep it cold.
  3. A hot box,  fill the box with straw and put a part cooked meal in put the top on and the meal carries on cooking,  saves fuel , totally eco meal.
  4. I’ve even put poorly animals in them , without the lid of course as it helps to maintain their body temperature.
  5. Use them as planters in the garden.
  6. Nest boxes for hens.   If laid side on they are just the right size for hens to lay in ( the box side on , not the hen)!
  7. Storing kids building bricks without all the clattering noise of getting them out of  a plastic box.
  8. Packing boxes for  small special valuables when you move house.
  9. I store cat biscuits in them  – they stop the smell getting out.
  10. Keeping food the right temperature on picnics – both cold or hot.
  11. Taking hot meals to my mum. They are still hot when I get there.
  12. Kids used nappies on a journey – they are smell proof as well as heat proof.
  13. Punch a hole in the bottom of the box low down,  bung it with a wine cork and fold  a piece of chicken wire in the bottom.  It makes an excellent wormery and tight enough to keep the worm tea* in.
  14. A window box that keeps plants warm through winter so you can have vegetables all year.
  15. Bring on leeks  and carrots.  If they are planted in the box it makes them straight and tall looking for the sunlight.
  16. A good selection of mixed herbs will fit in one box.  Grow on a  kitchen window, you need never miss out on fresh herbs.
  17. The boxes can be decorated with acrylic paint or anything else really  for all the above uses to match your decor / needs and look great.
  18. Grow mushrooms in them

* Worm tea is the liquid form of worm casting.  Earthworms produce castings, worm tea is produced as water runs off or drips through the castings in the worm beds and absorbs the nutrients from the castings which in nitrogen, phosphate, calcium, magnesium an potash.   Worm tea is a great organic plant foods as well as being a repellent for aphids, spider mites, scale and white flies.  In fact worm tea is so popular you can buy it ready made.

Ok thats 18 and not 10,   but I couldn’t choose between them.   My friends beg them from me, they are specially popular as hot boxes .   So
I will always be really really happy to get my order  in these boxes as its a bit like the ‘a dog is for life not just for Christmas’ slogan – ‘a cold box is for years not just one delivery’.     If other  people moan,  save the boxes for me I am endlessly happy to get them.

Thanks Aundrea, there are some great suggestions here.  I’m especially keen on the worm tea idea, it’s brilliant.

Claim your free land courtesy of River Cottage

I’ve keenly started watching the new series of Hugh Fearnley–Whittingstall’s River Cottage – Spring. I’m very interested in growing my own food and also want to make sure my kids grow up with an awareness of ‘real’ food, both wild and home-grown.

So far, we haven’t gotten much further that a few herbs grown from seed – but you should see our towering Corriander and Parsley crop! Even Rohan, my 4yr old, has grown three very respectable carrots in a pot from seed (and enthusiastically waters them all).

We are terminally stuck in rented accommodation which always puts me off from doing anything with the garden food-wise. We always consider an allotment, but waiting lists for these is always about a year or something silly.

Then we watch episode 1 of ‘Spring’ where Hugh divulges a little-known secret in the UK. Apparently, if six or more people get together (presumably from different households) and write to the council, they can request a plot of land for growning their own produce and the council is obliged to ‘find’ them some land.

This is what Hugh and a gang of Bristol folk did and were given an acre or so of bramble-covered wasteland to transform into vegetable AND live-stock producing land.

This forum thread is a good source of information on it – http://forum.rivercottage.net/viewtopic.php?t=31469

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