Wild Garlic Season – Ramsons Relish

Ramsons form fragrant spring carpets in shady woodland areas at this time of year. The origins of many place names such as Ramsey Common, Ramsdale and Ramsbottom are derived from this ancient word. The plant is related to chives, and their botanic name, Allium Ursinum, contains the latin word for bear (ursus) as bears are extremely keen on them and dig up the bulbs with enthusiasm. Wild Garlic is easy to find in woods, just follow the aroma of garlic in the air and look for their shiny ovate leaves and white balls of little star-shaped flowers.The leaves taste much milder than bulb garlic and can be eaten raw. The flowers are also edible, have a peppery flavour and are very tasty when fried in batter as tempura.

Seasonal and delicious, Ramsons Relish has many uses –

Sandwiches – An excellent addition to cucumber, chicken or cheese sandwiches

Pasta – use the condiment like pesto

Smoked salmon or pan-fried fish – an excellent side sauce

Mayo – Mix it into fresh mayonnaise and use as a dip

Rice – Wild garlic risotto

Mash –  Mix the relish into mashed potato.

Soup – Use the relish as a drizzle

Salad – Ramsons Relish makes an excellent addition to vinaigrette

Scrambled eggs – stirred into creamy scrambled eggs, divine.

Potato Frittata – one the side, one of the best

A pathway of wild garlic at Buckland Abbey

 

 

Artichokes favoured by a King

In the 16th and 17th century walled vegetable gardens were springing up on country estates all over the land. With fashion comes profit and new vegetables like artichokes were soon grown in the market gardens that developed around London as the middle classes sought to emulate the gentry with tables laden with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Patrick Lamb master cook to “their late Majesties, King Charles II, King James II, King William & Queen Mary, and Queen Anne” gives seven recipes for artichokes in his ‘Royal Cookery’ book published in 1710, and a little later John Nott, chief cook to the Duke of Somerset, among many other aristocrats, listed seventeen recipes in his book ” The Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary in 1723″ so their popularity and status was rising pretty swiftly.

To Pickle Artichokes by John Nott

“Take Artichokes that are not too ripe, because they will be full of strings; when you have pared them around to the bottom, let them be boil’d tender, take them up, and let them stand to cool; Make a pickle of white-wine, good stale beer, a good quantity of whole pepper, and a little salt and put all into a barrel, and keep them close; they will serve for boil’d or bak’d meats for all the year.”

More contemporary ways with Artichokes

Artichoke Pasta – The mint is the key to this recipe. Buy a tub of grilled marinated artichokes (in olive oil), chop them up a bit, pour some of the oil from the tub in a frying pan and fry for about 5 mins. Squeeze on the juice of 1/2 a lemon + the zest and toss with pasta. Finish with a handful of fresh mint leaves. Serve Parmesan in a separate dish.

Simply eat the leaves with vinaigrette, then plunge the whole heart into the sauce dish and gobble it greedily down. Satisfaction.

Green Pizza with artichoke, feta and pesto

Artichoke and wild mushroom pie

Artichoke hearts and potatoes braised with peas in tomato sauce

Artichokes baked with anchovy stuffing
Podded broad beans with artichokes cooked in vegetable stock and white wine.
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Rhubarb Fool (for 4) Rhubarb Gin and Tonic (for 1)

Rhubarb is Mongolian, Siberian even, cousins with the Chinese and with Tibetans on the side. This only seems odd to me because somewhere along the way rhubarb became ‘Britishified’, who would have thought our favoured nursery dishes: rhubarb crumble, tart, pie, rhubarb and custard, had their origins in the vicinity of the Himalayas and the grassy steppes. No one even ate it as a dessert in this country until the eighteenth century.

The Chinese have cultivated rhubarb as a medicinal plant for thousands of years, used to relax the digestion or as an astringent tonic for liver and gall bladder complaints, bad skin and even the plague. It was traded along the silk route and reached Europe in the 14th century and England in the 16th but it was sold only as a medicine.

The first recorded mention of an English food recipe is in Glasse’s ‘Compleat Confectioner‘ of 1760: “These tarts may be thought very odd, but they are very fine ones and have a pretty flavour….To make rhubarb tarts. Take stalks of English rhubarb, peel and cut it the size of gooseberries; sweeten it, and make them as you do gooseberry tarts.” So rhubarb must have begun to be establishes before this was published, but continued to be a bit of a novelty for some years yet. I believe the moment we really took rhubarb into our hearts was when we began to ‘force’ it as a winter foodstuff and that happened by accident in 1815. I love this story.

The horticulturists were growing rhubarb at the Chelsea Physic Garden, in London, as part of their collection of medicinal plants. A bed of rhubarb became buried under the earthy spoil of thrown up by some workman digging a trench. When they came to clear the up the mess they found the rhubarb had produced long thin stems in the light deprived environment. The gardeners ate it. I love that bit, I can just imagine them huddled around the long pink stems “Oi, Dave, come and look at this, do ya think it might be tasty winta vegetable?” They discovered it had a fine and sweet flavour. The news was hastily shared in the trade literature at the time and fervent gardeners began to experiment with buckets and all sorts. Joseph Whitwell, a market gardener from Leeds took up the baton and created a forcing business, constructing candle lit sheds devoted to the plant. His neighbours followed suit and the Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire (between Wakefield, Morely and Rothwell) became famous for early forced rhubarb, with a special train laid on to rush the stems to London from December to March. It was known as ‘Champagne Rhubarb’ and they are still producing it, but sadly the train has gone.

Rhubarb now has a firm place in British cuisine as a dessert but top chefs are rediscovering it as a foil for new flavours (asparagus with rhubarb hollandaise, beetroot and rhubarb salad) and the latest craze, of course, is to add it to gin. I use it in many ways: rhubarb trifle; rhubarb Eton mess; as a savoury vegetable to add the sour element to Asian Lao fish soups; I also enjoy eating it raw with salt and chilli. My favourite is rhubarb fool which is so delicious it’s painful to wait for it to cool so why not make a cocktail while you do. My mother used to make vats of this (fool not the gin) which we scooped up with ginger biscuits and then turned the excess into ice-cream!

Rhubarb Fool (for 4) with Rhubarb Gin (for 1) on the side

I prefer a rougher, sharper fool so I don’t mash it up too much or add as much sugar as some I’ve seen (1/2 weight of sugar to weight of rhubarb, too much) but the choice is up to you.

400g rhubarb, roughly chopped

65g of caster sugar or vanilla sugar

a couple of drops of pure vanilla essence

300ml double cream, whipped

  1. Place the rhubarb in a WARMED pan with the sugar and the vanilla essence. DO NOT ADD WATER. Cover with a lid and heat gently on a low heat until tender which should take about 5-8 minutes depending on your rhubarb.
  2. Now taste for sweetness and add a tablespoon more sugar if you prefer. Drain the rhubarb in a sieve and reserve the juice in a bowl underneath. Allow to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks.
  4. Mash the cooled rhubarb with a fork and add back ½ the juice (rhubarb syrup).
  5. Now make a Rhubarb Gin and Tonic – 50ml gin, about 25ml rhubarb syrup, tonic, a squeeze of lime juice and a sprig of mint if you have some.
  6. Fold the rhubarb into the cream and allow to cool in the fridge for at least an hour which will give you ample time to enjoy your cocktail (or mood-shifter as my husband would call it).
  7. Serve the fool. It won’t last for long.

More Ways with Rhubarb

The tartness makes stewed rhubarb a natural partner for creamy vanilla crème anglaise or ice cream

Bake it with a little water, caster sugar, two green cardamon pods & the zest and juice of an orange.

Rhubarb crème brulee, trifle or Eton Mess

Use it green as the sour ingredient in sour Asian fish soup

Smoothie- coconut water, rhubarb, mango, ginger

Ottolenghi’s Beetroot and Rhubarb salad

PS. Remember rhubarb leaves are poisonous do not eat them.

Rhubarb Gin and Tonic

Mr Percy Parsnip and his Parsnip Pup

Mr Percy Parsnip and his parsnip pup.

Mr Percy Parsnip and his parsnip pup.

To a palate un-jaded by refined sugar, a parsnip, simply roasted, can be as honeyed as a lollipop, and that is how it was often used in the past – in sweet dishes, fritters and cakes but this native root really is born to be the constant companion of roast beef and is an essential part of ‘all the trimmings’. The parsnip caramelises with salty savour in a way the usurping potato can never hope to achieve.  I think they’re so good I often make parsnips chips as a savoury appetiser before supper. They all go, and pretty darn quick.

Parsnip chips

Salt is essential to parsnips so don’t skimp.  They must be salty enough to counterbalance the caramelised sweetness of the root and thin enough to be crisp. Once cooked, I like to sprinkle them with thyme but it depends on my mood, other complimentary sprinklings that I find good are cumin, nutmeg, garam masala, crushed bay leaves or paprika, all of which go down go down a treat. Add some prosciutto dressed with a squeeze of lemon on the side and you have a starter.

Directions: Peel 6 parsnips and boil them for a few minutes so they soften but remain firm. When done, slice the parsnips lengthways into 8 pieces each so they resemble chips. Dry them in a cloth and then shake them up with some flour, seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper. This will give them a crisp coating. Meanwhile heat a large pan (so they lay separately) to smoking with sunflower oil, if you don’t have a big enough pan cook them in batches. Fry them until golden which takes about 5-10 minutes, turning them occasionally with a pair of tongs. Sprinkle with fresh thyme, taste and add more salt if needed. Serve hot.

Other tasty ways with parsnips

Parsnip and shallot tart tatin with ready roll puff pastry

Mashed parsnip cakes coated with egg and Panko crumbs

Parsnip, puy lentil and watercress salad

Curried parsnip and apple soup

Parsnip and parmesan soufflé