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:



The Lord of Devonshire, his pudding!


What an excellent thing is an English Pudding! The Lord of Devonshire’s delicious pudding set with bone marrow and spiced custard is the epitome of old English comfort food; three out of four of my guests had seconds immediately. The dish is rich and silky, puffing up when taken from the oven to create a creamy confection of delight. Those who wolfed down two portions one after another, did so with such murmurs of  satisfaction I do believe it would be a pudding fit for the Royal table.

But how did the “Lord of Devonshire” come to have a pudding named after him?

Charles Blount came to court at the age of twenty. He was known to be clever, courageous and amiable but perhaps it was his “beautiful eyes and comely proportion” that first got him noticed by Queen Elizabeth I. She subjected him to an inquisition, with the eye of majesty fixed upon him, then seeing his confusion, gave him her hand to kiss, saying she would bethink herself how to do him good. 1.

Queen Elizabeth was so keen on this comely vision of a man, she liked to keep him at court, sometimes against his wishes, as he up for adventure and advancement. She eventually let him go to serve in several military campaigns abroad and fight under Lord Henry Seymour during the Armada. He was much valued for his intelligence and negotiating skills and was made Lord Deputy of Ireland, then Lord Lieutenant by Elizabeth. James I created him Earl of Devon (not to be confused with the title of the Earl of Devonshire of Powderham Castle in Devon UK) and he reached high favour until he secretly married his mistress, mother of his five children, after her divorce from a miserable forced marriage. James I would not legitimise the secret marriage and they were sent from court. Both died soon afterwards. The love story inspired John Ford’s play “The Broken Heart”.

This pudding recipe was collected, written down and named as the Lord of Devonshire’s (rather than his correct title, Earl) by Elinor Fettiplace, an English aristocrat who wrote a book of recipes in 1604 when Mountjoy was at the height of his powers. The manuscript was rediscovered, edited and published in 1986 by Hilary Spurling and remains a fascinating document of Elizabethan cuisine and household management. It is doubtful Mountjoy would have gone down to the kitchens and made his own pudding but possibly, while out in the field on military campaigns, he might have come into closer contact with the people who prepared his food than the average Lord. At some point he shared his recipe with Elinor or she heard of it from others, and here we have it today.

Bone marrow puddings were still commonly being made in the 1920’s and into the war years, see Good Things in England by Florence White, Persephone books. 

How to extract Bone Marrow

Ask your butcher for a beef marrow bone and ask him or her to saw it into 4 pieces. Simply bake the bones and scoop out the marrow. Sieve it, while still a hot liquid, to remove the bits and you are left with a clear liquid which turns white and solid when cold. Use like butter.

Bone marrow is nutritious and also very good on toast, Queen Victoria was said to eat it every day! (see below for the recipe). Marrow is “a significant source of the hormone adiponectin, which helps maintain insulin sensitivity, break down fat, and has been linked to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity-associated cancers. 2” Marrow is also very good on toast and Queen Victoria was said to eat it every day! (see below for the recipe. So you don’t have to feel guilty. Bring on the marrow fat.

Lord Devonshire – his pudding.

“Take manchet and slice it thin, then take dates the stones cut out, & cut in pieces, & reasins of the sun the stones puld out, & a few currance, & marrow cut in pieces, then lay your sippets of bread in the bottome of your dish, then lay a laying of your fruit & mary on the top, then another laying of sippets of bread, so doo till your dish be full, then take cream & three egg yolks & whites, & some cynamon & nutmeg grated, & some sugar, beat it all well together, & pour in so much of it into the dish as it will drinke up, then set it into the oven & bake it.” Recipe as found. Adaption below.Ingredients – Recipe serves 4 -6

8                                 finely hand-cut stale white bread, crusts removed,

A handful                     dates, chopped (50g)

A big handful               raisins (85g)

1tbspn                         currants (10g)

The beef marrow from a marrow bone

Or butter the bread with unsalted butter if you must

600ml                         single cream (you may have some left over)

3                                  eggs

1/2 tsp                       cinnamon

a good grating              ½ nutmeg

5 tbsp                          sugar

more nutmeg

Method, adapted from Hilary Spurling’s recipe.

  1. Butter a bread loaf tin
  2. Mix the dried fruit together
  3. Take a bowl and mix the cream, eggs, spices and all but 1 tablespoon of sugar.
  4. If using cut marrow bone: bake in the oven for approx 45mins then scoop out the marrow and place it in a bowl. The solids will settle at the bottom, sieve the liquid to remove the solids. While still hot spread the clear liquid onto the bread slices, or dip them into it as I did. If you have to – use butter instead! But it’s not the same at all.
  5. Layer the bread on the bottom, marrow-spread side up then layer the fruit sparingly and repeat until you fill the tin ending with a layer of bread.
  6. Carefully pour the cream mixture on top and then dredge the top with the rest of the sugar and another grating of nutmeg.
  7. Bake at 180 for about 45mins (it will puff up and should be golden brown on top) Serve hot with even more cream if you are feeling naughty. And who wouldn’t be.


Marrow Toast – loved by another Queen

Queen Victoria’s cook, Charles Elme Francatelli, claimed marrow toast was eaten every day at dinner by her majesty while he was in her pay. This is how she liked it.

Sieve the hot marrow (as above) then “season with a little chopped parsley, salt & pepper, lemon juice and the mere suspicion of finely chopped shallot. Toss lightly altogether, then spread it out upon squares of hot crisp dry toast and serve immediately.”

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:

  1. about Charles Blount
  2. Marrow health benefits

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.