Devon Octopus

While the Spanish gobble up most of the European catch of octopuses (not octopi, look it up) our native curled octopus is much maligned as an unsightly monster from the deep and often left as seagull food when caught up with the rest of the catch. I’ve been unable to find old British recipe references for octopus put they surely must have been eaten as they sometimes get into crab and lobster pots and Westcountry people rarely waste a good meal. They start to come in shore around the coasts of Devon at this time of year and make an excellent eating at a very reasonable price. The native is distinguished from its larger Mediterranean kin and by having a single row of suckers on each arm instead of a double row and no one really knows why. When resting, they curl up their arms tightly hence the name, but maybe they should be called the Houdini octopuses because they can squeeze through tiny gaps as narrow as their beak.

There are many ways to cook an octopus but boiling them for an hour or so in a pot of salted water with some garlic, onion and herbs is the simplest and most versatile if you have never done it before. The cooked octopus can then be cut up and flavoured with a squeeze of lemon, paprika, good olive oil and flaky Malden sea salt and served as tapas, or with plain boiled potatoes, Galician style. At this point you can also flash grill them on a charcoal fire or add them to other dishes like risotto or pasta. I often cook Octopus and then leave it overnight in a flavourful marinade to eat the next day.

Due to their diminutive size I usually allow one for each person eating (about 500g per octopus). They are very easy to prepare and there are many videos on YouTube showing you how, but your fishmonger will do it for you in seconds. You will be left with a hollow head cap and a ring of arms.


Tenderising – easiest way – put then in the freezer and take them out 24hrs later.

Second easiest way – blanch in boiling water for 10 seconds then take them out four times

Having done this you will need:

2 Curled Octopus

I peeled onion

A whole head of garlic cut in half, not peeled

1 ½ teaspoons of salt

Herbs such as – a bay leaf, peppercorns, a bit of fennel, parsley stalks, a bit of thyme

For the marinade

Several glugs of Good olive all

Malden sea salt


Juice of half a lemon or a teaspoon or so of wine vinegar.

Fill a large heavy pot with water, add the salt and bring to the boil.

Add the peeled onion, garlic and herbs.

Add the octopuses, bring back to the boil then lower the heat to simmer and cook until tender. I check after ½ hour then again at one hour, then every 15 minutes. These two took 1 hr 15mins. To test for tenderness use a sharp knife it should go through easily. I sometimes remove the head caps before the arms as they tend to cook more quickly.

I get my octopuses from Gibsons Plaice in Exeter, suppliers of high quality, fresh local fish sourced daily from Brixham Fish Market. Call 01392 495 344.They are very friendly and professional and you can phone up in advance and ask them to find you particular species when they go to market.There is always lots of lovely fresh fish on display at Gibsons’s Plaice 

Kitchenalia Cartoons can also be seen in Devon Life Magazine –  the Devon county magazine (UK) offering hundreds of pages of articles and superb photography every month.Text refs:



Wassail for Twelfth Night

Ale or Cider that is the question? Down in Devon, these days, we tend to make our mulled wassail using cider but in the past, ale was just as common, particularly with Lambswool.

The word comes from Old English, ‘wes’ or ‘wass’ being a greeting and ‘hal’ or later ‘hail’  meaning be healthful. Traditionally, there are two forms of wassailing, one, a house visiting custom and the other which took place in the orchard (or from orchard to orchard) wishing for a bounteous crop for the coming year. However, the tradition has variations around the country. The most important element of all was the ‘wassailing bowl’ which was filled with warming punch of mulled ale or cider to be shared as a communal group. In the Westcountry, the house visiting wassail took place on Twelfth Night and could include musicians as well as singers. It’s easy to see how the wassail tradition would have been a highlight of the calendar in rural communities – women visiting every house, wishing good luck and cheer to all, drinking, and gathering more and more participants along the way -the evening quickly developing into a long night of raucous, neighbourly fun.

Lambswool is sweet – a warming draft and plainly a drink to be drunk outside or after coming in from the cold. I’ve made Lambswool with cider, two types of ale, and one with crab apples in the interest of research! The cider version made with ‘Poundhoouse Crisp’ 4.5% from Sam’s cider from Winkleigh in Devon, is easy drinking, like hot apple juice with an alcohol bite and I give the recipe below. The apple mash floats on the tops and you get a mouthful as you sip, so you feel like you’re being fed and watered at the same time.

The ale version follows the same recipe and needs the higher amount of sugar. This drink is bitter/sweet and, I feel, not really suited to most people’s modern taste as the bitterness lingers after drinking.  I tried two fabulous Devon ales – a personal favourite, the rich & full-bodied ‘Jail Ale’ 4.8% from the Dartmoor Brewery and the paler citrusy, hoppy “Ideal Pale Ale’ from Tavy Ales 4.8%.  The Dartmoor Jail Lambswool  was resonant of toffee apples and Tavy ale was sharper which raised the apple flavour. Both ales made a sweet drink with a clearly bitter undertone which the tasters found unappealing, but I rather like.

Lambswool made with cider


1 ½ litres of ‘proper’ dry cider like Sam’s cider from Winkleigh in Devon/or ale

4 cooking apples – baked and skinned ( or 2 two large)

a knob of butter

½ teaspoon of ginger

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

½ nutmeg grated

100-200g caster sugar to taste

Wash and core your apples then rub them lightly with a little butter. Place them snugly on a lightly greased oven dish. Put them in a hot oven 200C for about 20 minutes or until golden and bursting out of the skin.

Remove them from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Scoop out the flesh and discard the skins. Mash the flesh up with a potato masher. Meanwhile, add the spices to the cider/beer and place in a big saucepan. Beware, alcohol burns off at 78c within 20 seconds, so it is easy to de-booze your punch with speed. If you don’t have a liquid thermometer you can judge this by sight – take it off the heat at the first wisp of steam or dip your finger in the liquid, you should be able to hold it in without burning. Do not let it simmer. Add the warm apple mash which will float on the top like lamb’s wool. Serve immediately.

Crab Apple Wassail

The wassail bowl can also be made filled with baked crab apples if you have managed to save any from the Autumn, which I have.  This drink is referred to in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by Puck.

And sometime lurk I in a gossip’s bowl,

In very likeness of a roasted crab,

And when she drinks, against her lips I bob.

We tried this too, but the apples are quite sour (probably less so to the people of the past, who ate less sugar) and rather woody, so you have to spit bits out! We found Lambswool with its tasty apple froth, was the superior drink of the two.

For a small but perfectly formed selection of West country ales and ciders go the Grape and Grain in Crediton, Devon. You’ll find them at the back of the shop if you can get past the delicious wines on the way.

Kitchenalia Cartoons can also be seen in Devon Life Magazine –  the Devon county magazine (UK) offering hundreds of pages of articles and superb photogr’aphy every month. Everyone who loves Devon will find something to interest them on a whole host of local subjects.

Elderflower Fizz and Cordial

In Summer I like to make elderflower fizz the simple, quick way with nothing but the wild yeasts of the air. The result can be volatile so the best way to bottle Elderflower Fizz is to use old plastic soda or lemonade bottles as you have to let the gasses out occasionally. I’ve done it with swing top bottles but you have to keep your eye on them. The resultant fizz has an alchohol content of 3-5%. If you want to make a finer version you will have to add champagne yeast, use a demi-john with a bubble trap and fiddle about with the bottles quite a bit after decanting. I’m too impatient.

I also make cordial but that is best drunk in the Winter. The fragrance is so redolent of warm summer evenings is seems more special when drunk in the chilly darkness of a winter’s eve.. I make it with lots of sugar so the resultant syrup makes larger quantities, as you need more water to dilute it, I find most recipes too thin. You will need citric acid to bring out the flavour or the sugar overpowers the scent. Drink it now but put some of the syrup in jars in the freezer for the colder months and add it to cocktails.

To make Elderflower cordial

30-40 elderflower heads

3 litres water spring water

2kg caster sugar

1 packet of citric acid (available from chemists)

2 unwaxed oranges, juice and zest

3 unwaxed lemons, juice and zest


  1. DO NOT RINSE the elderflowers or you lose half the fragrance, shake gently to remove any dirt or little creatures.
  2. Boil half the water in a large pan, pour in the sugar and stir to dissolve it . Leave to cool. Add the rest of the water
  3. When ready add the orange and lemon juice and zest and then the flowers. I usually bag them in muslin weighted with marbles as suggested in my cartoon above.
  4. Leave in a cool place COVERED for 24-36 hours, stirring occasionally.
  5. Strain through some muslin and add the citric acid to taste, probably a teaspoon a litre but test it out.
  6. Bottle it or freeze it.

Other things to do with elderflowers:

Make the flowers into fritters

Use the cordial for drizzle cake

Mix the cordial through rhubarb and cream

Make fragrant jelly and entrap the flowers within it

Elderflower ice cubes

Store the flowers in your sugar jar


It’s Nettle Week, let’s celebrate with beer! Nettle beer can be ready to drink in a ten days but you could wait longer for a better brew. The flavour can vary from something similar to ginger beer to pale ale depending on your recipe. Traditionally, you add ginger and other hedgerow herbs such as goosegrass (pictured below) wild sorrel or horehound, for flavour.

Nettles are home to many species of moth and butterfly larvae such as the Red Admiral, Peacock and the Magpie moth and the plant supports over forty kinds of insects.

Nettle Seeds (dried before eating) are supposed to give one clarity of thought, a sense of well being, and heightened energy. I put them in smoothies to add a zing.

Nettle tea aids digestion and is good for the skin, kidneys and disorders of the urinary tract. Steep a few leaves in a mug of boiling water for 5 minutes first thing in the morning, for an excellent mild-tasting herbal tonic to start your day after the night before’s nettle beer drinking.

Nettle Beer

Nettle Tops (approx a carrier bag full or about 450-550g)

Optional – Mix with a handful of sticky wild goosegrass (also called cleavers)

5 lts water

10g of fresh ginger root crushed a little

450g sugar

Juice of two lemons

50g cream of tartar

A sachet of beer yeast


  1. Boil the nettles and ginger (add a handful of the cleavers, horehound, a little dandelion root or a little sour sorrel for different flavours) for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain through a colander lined with some muslin into a sterilised bucket.
  2. Stir in the sugar until dissolved and leave to cool. Add the lemon juice and the activated yeast. Cover and leave for three to four days.
  3. Making sure you leave the sludgy sediment at the bottom of the bucket, siphon the beer into a fermenting jar with an airlock stopper or sterilised swing-top bottles but beware of exploding bottles! You can brew this in sterilised plastic bottles to be on the safe side. Ready to drink in a week but you could wait longer for better beer. The flavour can vary from something similar to ginger beer to pale ale depending on your brew.

Another favourite way to eat nettles is Nettle Gnocci, made with light ricotta rather than potato flour, the recipe can be found on one of my earlier posts here:

Nettles Growing with Goosegrass

It makes green soup and cordial

Or steep the leaves for tea

Or use it

as a tonic

As it’s absolutely free.




The Dartmoor Easter Hare

Jugged Hare by Mrs Beeton (use two or three rabbits as our beautiful hares are in decline).


Two or three rabbits

680g (11⁄2lb) Gravy Beef

285ml (1⁄2 pint) Port Wine

225g (8oz) Butter

Forcemeat Balls – fried or baked

1 Onion

1 Lemon

6 Cloves (I use only 3)

Pepper, Cayenne and Salt, to taste


Skin, paunch and wash the rabbits.

Cut it into pieces, dredge them with flour and fry in boiling butter.

Have ready 900ml (11⁄2 pints) of gravy, made from beef and thickened with a little flour.

Put this into a jar.

Add the pieces of fried rabbit, an onion stuck with six cloves, a lemon peeled and cut in half and a good seasoning of salt, pepper and cayenne.

Cover the jar tightly, put it up to the neck into a saucepan of boiling (simmering) water.

Let it stew until the rabbit is quite tender, taking care to keep the water boiling.

When nearly done, pour in the port wine and add a forcemeat balls (these must be fried or baked in the oven for a few minutes before they are put to the gravy).

Serve with redcurrant jelly.

Very Good.

Time: 31⁄2 to 4 hours. Sufficient for 7 or 8 persons.