Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Never What we Expect.

Yesterday turned out to be not as expected (like spending the day cooking). Beloved returned from the sailing club, even before I'd finished writing my blog (too windy to sail), so as it was a reasonably fair, but cloudy day, he suggested we went out for a drive. He is suggesting this a lot recently, so who am I to refuse, although I nearly did, the urge to cook having already come over me. "Where would you like to go?" asked B. I thought about visiting a couple of places in Cumbria where they had a good write-up re Farmers Markets, but too far up for me to feel it was worth a trip that day. Instead said "Blackpool!" (it just came into my head). Never been there to the best of my knowledge, so thought it worth a look. So off we went.

My choice was the longer, scenic route which led us through very different countryside than around Morecambe. Drop me there blindfold and I would have sworn it was the Fens. The land very flat and what looked liked dykes running in parallel lines across the terrine. Just loved it.
We drove past a field in which were both dark brown and plain white curly fleeced animals that I first thought were llamas, but a sign a mile further up the road said 'alpaca stud farm' so think that was what they were. Then down came the rain. And how it rained! However, as we drove into the outskirts of Blackpool (without any sight of the Tower - had it fallen down?), the rain eased off a bit.

Far be it from me to criticise (as if I do), but both B and myself were shocked with what we saw. Possibly better areas that we didn't see, but the drive through to the seafront was full of the shabbiest retail properties we've ever seen, most of them 'eateries', of the burger, fish 'n chips, Chinese take-away type. Lots of graffiti as well as peeling paintwork.
We eventually caught sight of Blackpool Tower about three streets away from it and I was sadly disappointed. Viewed from Barrow (through binoculars) it looked as high as the Eiffel Tower - and this was what I expected to see. But it was quite short, a bit stumpy with a lump on the top (which I think was a viewing area). It also looked rusty, but B said that was the colour it had been painted.

We first drove up the north side of the prom, north past zillions of hotels, not a sight of the famous beach due to a wall in front of which was the tram-way (even the trams looked more like buses, we saw only one of the 'old-type').
Was hoping to see Norbrek Hydro where my grandfather spent his honeymoon with his third wife (his first wife was my maternal grandma), but didn't go up far enough. We then drove down along the South shore, again no sign of the beach due to the wall and other buildings, but did see a lot of big waves, surf etc at the sides of the piers. We also passed the Tower entrance (covered in banners and a few parked cars stuck in front of the doors, which also spoiled 'the look'. At least was able to imagine my grandfather walkng past it (am sure it was built by that time - 1931), so had a feeling of 'family memories from the past'.
The 'Golden Mile' was again full of 'eateries' plus the usual fun fairs and gift shops, all sadly 'tacky'. We turned off after we had passed the fun fair (at least that look exciting but it didn't look as though many people were there that day, despite the pavements being thronged with holidaymakers all stuffing their faces with burgers, ice-creams etc). People just wandered up and down, nobody really 'doing anything', but then it was hardly the weather, so good for them to venture outdoors at all.

We saw all the 'lights' strung across the road, only they hadn't yet been switched on, and quite honestly don't think we will bother to go and see them once lit, as we had thought of doing. They didn't look impressive at all. But then they wouldn't if not lit I suppose. Still miles of lghts, so don't let my jaundiced view put anyone off.
We were both bitterly disappointed with Blackpool, as it was not what we expected (and after all we are too old to feel the pleasure that the young would get from the place) , but very pleased that we had seen it at all, and extremely surprised at how large the town/suburbia was. All I can say is the famous Blackpool isn't a patch on Morecambe which I now look on with much more favour, being clean, tidy and although not having as much down-market 'entertainment' as Blackpool, is a much better resort in my opinion, being also closer to the lakes, and most of our 'eateries' are way above those we saw yesterday.
Although B and I were complaining about the place on the drive back, had to remind him that when we were younger we would have enjoyed much of what was there. Myself remember well walking along Brighton pier eating freshly fried ring doughnuts, and wearing a Kiss Me Quick Hat, loving every minute of it. I was 17 at the time!

We returned home via a much speedier route (motorways), and the rain began pelting down and it was hard to see even with the wipers furiously wiping it off the windscreen. As it was around 3.00pm, and we hadn't yet had anything to eat, B suggested we stop off and have a meal - this saving me cooking any supper. We decided (near Garstang) to take the road to Glasson, so stopped off at The Stork to have a bite to eat (B dropping me right at the door before parking to save me getting soaked). The place was packed, but managed to get a seat. B chose a main course chicken meal, I had a vegetarian"roast beetroot, grilled courgettes and aubergines with herbs and mixed leaf salad. Plus vinagrette dressing. I chose a half portion, andwhen it arrived it looked as large as B's. Unfortunately what I thought would be a hot dish, turned out to be a cold salad, but it tasted wonderful. By that time was feeling a bit chilly (outside was really wintry weather), so both B and finished th meal with 'Cape Brandy Pudding' (B had his with cream, I had mine with custard), this being a 'light version of Sticky Toffee Pudding'. The owner of The Stork is South African, so that is where the 'Cape' came from, but couldn't taste any brandy in it. To me it WAS Sticky.T.P. but without the rich caramel sauce. At least the pud was very hot, and so was my custard. Have to say 'eating out' was another unexpected treat, so all in all had a very good day.

When we drove back into Bare, there appeared not to have been a drop of rain. Even the seats in our garden were bone dry, so there you go. Morecambe is the place to holiday/live after all!

Now, on to your comments. If the small plums were dark purple Deb, they might have been damsons. If the blueberries were wild they might have been bilberries or sloes. But beware of berries unless you know what they are, deadly nightshade berries look very edible but is also very poisonous.

Thanks so much for telling us about your best crops Woozy. Had bought a pack of petit pois seeds the last time I was at Barton Grange and will be planting them next year. These also freeze well. Good to hear the Desiree spuds crop well. Parsnips are best left in the ground until later in the year, and not pulled until after the first frosts as this is said to 'sweeten them'.

Not sure whether we have been unlucky with our soil Ali, but here in Morecambe our autumn fruiting raspberries have not done as well as expected. Wish now I'd planted the summer ones, as these usually bear well and spread easily, so after a very few years we got enormous crops. The advantage with autumn rasps is that when planted in early spring, they will bear fruit the same year. Summer rasps you have two wait a year to let them get established before they bear fruit.

A welcome to Athyn who is a new commenteer, and not seemingly able to get her comments published, although one (obviously) did manage to come through. Not sure what the problem is Athyn, but keep trying as we hope to hear from you again.

Had an email yesterday from our daughter in Ireland who will be visiting with her husband in mid-September, so will take three days off from writing my blog whilst they are here (as this room will be turned into a 'guest bedroom'), but will let you know a couple or so days before this happens. Meanwhile will keep happily tapping the keyboard to keep myself, and possibly a few of you interested in the culinaries.

Another cabbage recipe begins today's collection as it sounds really tasty. The cabbage suggested is the Savoy or 'pointu' (suppose this means 'pointed type') but a crispy white would also be as good, just not look quite as pretty as the lighter green variety. As smoked haddock is one of my favourite fish to eat, might even cook this for tonight's supper for both of us (as already have all the makings).
Smoked Haddock with Cabbage: serves 4
1 Savoy cabbage
1 1/2 lb smoked haddock fillet
half pint (300ml) milk
half an onion, sliced
2 bay leaves
4 peppercorns
half a lemon, sliced
juice of half a lemon
2 oz (50g) butter
2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
8 halved and grilled tomatoes (for serving)
Slice the cabbage in half, remove central core and any thick ribs, then shred the leaves finely. Cook in a pan of salted water (or steam over the water) for about 10 minutes or until just tender. Leave in pan (or steamer) until needed, then drain and rinse with cold water, drain again.
Meanwhile, put the haddock in a deep frying pan (or large shallow saucepan) with the milk, onion and bay leaves. Slice half the lemon and add this with the peppercorns, then bring to the simmer, cover and poach for about 8 minutes or until the fish flakes easily. Then remove from heat and leave to stand until needed.
Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the drained cabbage, cook for a couple of minutes, tossing from time to time so the cabbage is coated with the butter and heated through. Stir in the mustard and add more seasoning to taste, then put into a warmed serving dish.
Drain the haddock, remove skin and divide the fish into four pieces, place on top of the cabbage with some onions rings. Pour over the lemon juice, then sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot with grilled tomatoes.

As have never been able to make a pickle up to the standard of Branston, tend to have only two home-made 'favourites', one being a beetroot and apple pickle (this has been published previously), and a really lovely colourful one made with sweetcorn and cabbage, the recipe for the latter is being given today. Instead of using fresh corn (from the cob), use frozen corn kernels - or as I do sometimes - use canned and drained sweetcorn kernels. The weight of corn is more estimated than needs to be accurate. Half a small white cabbage is about the right amount to use if you can't be bothered with weighing.
This relish could be made in December as it would make a colourful and tasty addition to the other 'home-mades' we put in the Christmas Hampers we cooks make as gifts.
Sweetcorn and Pepper Relish: makes a good 2 lb (1kg)
6 large corn cobs
10 oz (275g) white cabbage, very finely shredded
1 large (or 2 small) onions, very finely sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, flesh finely chopped
16 fl oz (475ml) white malt vinegar
7 oz (200g) granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tblsp plain flour
1 - 2 tsps made mustard (pref Dijon)
half tsp turmeric
Cook corn cobs in boiling water for 2 minutes, the drain. Cool slightly then - using a sharp knife - strip the corn from the cobs. Put these kernels into a pan with the cabbage and onion. Add all but two tablespoons of the vinegar (reserve this) to the veggies along with the sugar. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolve, then simmer for 15 minutes before adding the finely diced bell pepper. Simmer for a further 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, blend the salt, flour, mustard and turmeric with the reserved vinegar to make a smooth paste, then stir this into the cooked vegetables and bring back to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes until the mixture has thickened, then spoon into hot, sterilized jars, cover and seal with vinegar proof lids. Store in a cool dark place and use within 6 months of making. Once opened, keep in the fridge and use within 2 months.

With our summer causing slow ripening of tomatoes, and many readers growing plum tomatoes, this next recipe will then be ideal, as the tomatoes used need to be slightly unripe (but red) or at least very firm. Don't be tempted to use canned plum toms as they will be far too soft.
As "this unusual summer jam is rarely available commercially", if any is discovered on sale it would almost certainly be very expensive due to its 'rarity', so perfect to make at home both for own use and another addition to the 'food hamper as stored in a cool dry place it will keep for several months.
Plum Tomato Jam: fills 2 - 3 x 1 lb (450g) jam jars
2lb 4 oz (1kg) firm red plum tomatoes
4 oz (100g) whole blanched almonds
1 lb 4 oz (500g) sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) - half pint (300ml) water
8 whole cloves
Remove skins from tomatoes, then place the tomatoes in a heavy pan and cover with the sugar. Leave overnight to help draw out some of the juices, the add the smaller amount of water. The tomatoes should be fairly juicy, if not add more water (but no more than the maximum).
Place over low heat and stir gently with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved (takes about 10 minutes), then bring to the boil and boil for a few minutes, removing any froth that rises to the surface, then reduce the heat and stir in the almonds and cloves.
Simmer gently for half an hour, giving regular stirs to prevent the mixture sticking to the base of the pan (which would then burn and ruin the flavour). Remove from heart and leave the jam in the pan to cool before spooning into sterilized jars. Seal and store in a cool dry place.

One more addition to our larder shelves/Christmas hamper is this lighter in colour - but still very fruity - mincemeat. A useful way to use up fallings from the apple tree (once the bruised bits and maggots have been removed!). Unlike some mincemeat recipea, this one does not need cooking. Once made and bottled, this mincemeat will keep for up to year. Store in the fridge when opened and use within a month.
Spiced Apple Mincemeat: makes approx 4 lb/1.8kg
1 lb 4 oz (500g) sharp apples, peeled, cored, finely chopped
4 oz (100g) no-soak apricots, coarsely chopped
2 lb (900g) dried mixed fruit
4 oz (100g) whole blanched almonds, chopped
6 oz (175g) shredded beef (or veg) suet
8 oz (225g dark mucovado sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tsp ground cinnamon
half tsp freshly grated nutmeg
half tsp ground ginger
4 fl oz (120ml) brandy
Put the apples, apricots, dried fruit, almonds, suet and sugar into a large (non-metallic) bowl and mix together until thoroughly combined. Add the orange and lemon zests and juices, the three spices and the brandy and mix together well, then cover, put in a cool place and leave for 2 days, stirring once or twice a day.
Spoon mixture into cool, sterilized jars, pressing down well to remove all air that might be trapped. Cover and seal. Store n a cool dark place for at least a month before using (unopened up to a year). Once opened store in the fridge and use within a month.

And that's it for today. The one thing about our summer (what summer?) coming to an end, the instinct to harvest and make preserves is now taking over, and with September arriving in a couple of days, we cooks can look forward to autumn and gain far more pleasure out of the cooler days than those who prefer to buy the second-rate rather than make their own. From this time on, our thoughts will turn to making, baking, preserving and whatever culinary delights come to mind. As Spring is for spring-cleaning. Autumn is for cooks (and I know which of the two I prefer the most!),

Hope you will be able to join me again tomorrow - already looking forward to it, and today has barely begun. But the kitchen is calling me. TTFN.