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Pear, ginger and raw honey flapjacks

August 31, 2014

Pear, ginger and raw honey flapjack recipe on mycustardpie.comAnyone else find that you bring excess baggage back in more places than your suitcase? I’m in danger of developing a serious muffin top and it’s got to go.  I’ve had a wonderful time back in my home country enjoying a really beautiful English summer buy number one on my list since I returned is ‘eat more salad’. Why am I sharing a flapjack recipe? The problem with wonderful thing about flapjacks is that they are folded together with delicious, sticky, rich golden syrup.

Going away for a while makes me look at my house, life and routine with a fresh pair of eyes. I’m on a mission to do a radical clear out. This means ditching old clothes, deleting computer files, donating old books and whittling down the stuff on my kitchen shelves.

KP is the ruthless, organised one in our house. I inherited a strong hoarding gene from both my parents and find it hard to let go of things. We both agree on the topic of minimising food waste though and left-overs are a regular feature on the weekly menu. Some disappointing pears needed to be dealt with, a banana was turning to the dark side and a bulk purchase of oats was toppling out of the cupboard. I’d read about using banana as a binding agent for biscuits so I thought I’d try it out. Now I’m not claiming that these flapjacks are healthier than salad but they are held together with banana, nut butter and raw honey; there is no other added sugar apart from a wee, drizzle of ginger jar syrup (which is optional). They are moist, slightly less sticky and a lot less tooth-achingly sweet than your average flapjack.

Using raw honey is important – I don’t buy any other kind now. Most honey in the supermarket is flash pasteurised with heat which robs it of the most important nutrients. Bulk producers also treat their bees with antibiotics to make them live longer and feed them sugar solution so the bees will produce more.  My first choice is Balqees from Yemen, which is collected by nomadic beekeepers from wild bees that collect pollen from remote areas not affected by industrial agriculture (which Yemen has little of). The taste is rich and toffee like – perfect for flapjacks. UAE local honey is also good (available from The Farmhouse) but it has a much stronger, less refined taste. Or use whatever local, raw honey you can get your hands on.

These flapjacks are very easy to make. Just the thing to have as a reward after the plank challenge or 7 minute workout (yes things are that bad)…. or with a nice cup of tea. The mug in the picture is designed by artist Elaine Pamphilon; her naive-style art follows in the style of Alfred Wallis, a painter from St Ives whose work hangs in the Tate there. Using the mug today reminded me of our last visit to St Ives and the glorious Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. It’s such a tranquil place despite many visitors, a calm, soothing feeling comes over me just thinking about it. We went when the teens were at an age where they were totally disparaging about the modern sculptures. I do hope they grow to love them as much as I do. Otherwise I’ll just have to bribe them with tea and flapjacks.

Pear, ginger and raw honey flapjacks

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 50g unsalted butter plus extra for greasing
  • 6 tablespoons of nut butter (I used cashew butter made in the Vitamix)
  • 6 tablespoons of raw honey
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 ripe pears, grated
  • 2 pieces of stem ginger, chopped (plus 2 teaspoons of ginger syrup – optional)
  • 250g oats (rolled or jumbo)
  • 60g sunflower seeds
  • 25g sesame seeds

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180 C and put a baking tray into heat up. Grease a non-stick, 20 cm square baking tin.
  2. Put the butter and nut butter into a non-stick pan and heat gently to melt. Add the raw honey and stir to combine. Take off the heat.
  3. Add the other ingredients and fold together with a wooden spoon. Tip the mixture into the baking tin and level the surface.
  4. Place on the heated baking tray and bake for 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to 160 C and bake for a further 55-60 minutes until the flapjack turns golden brown and is cooked through.
  5. Leave to cool in the tin then turn out onto a board and cut into 16 pieces. Store in a tin at room temperature for 1 day or up to 4 in the fridge.

Variation: You can use any combination of seeds that you like.

Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden - mycustardpie.com

If you live outside the UK, a flapjack might mean something completely different to you. These are ‘British flapjacks’ which was a staple in our lunch boxes when I was growing up. My Mum would say ‘this will stick to your ribs’ which describes the gooey-er kind made with syrup. You might like to try my recipe for date flapjacks, one that uses fresh blueberries on Tinned Tomatoes, chocolate drizzle flapjacks on Fab Food 4 All or these apple and cinnamon flapjacks on Botanical Baker. With pears just coming into season here in the wider Middle East I’ve entered this for Simple and in Season hosted by Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary this month (for Ren Behan).

Have you been away this summer? Do you feel the urge to change things when you get back? What does ‘flapjack’ mean to you?

Simple and in Season summer round up (July entries)

August 13, 2014

This gorgeous UK summer weather seemed to stretch on and on. I can’t help but think it inspired everyone to create even more delicious things to eat as there were a phenomenal number of entries to Simple and in Season in July from bloggers in Britain and around the world. I popped into see Ren (who I’m caretaking this event for) earlier in the month for a cuddle with baby Matthew who is adorable.  Her Mum showed us typical Polish hospitality and insisted we stay to eat some of the huge feast she was making for lunch. Smacznego indeed.

This collection of wonderful recipes is well worth bookmarking or pinning as a guide to summer eating.

Summer soups

Don a floppy hat and eat these in the garden, whizz one up for a light lunch or treat your friends with a stunning summer starter.

  • What do you do when you find a surprise turnip in your garden? Linzi of Lancashire Food added some delicious extras (including white wine) and made turnip soup.
  • Katharine from Leeks and Lemoni has also been enjoying the fruits of her garden and this pea and mint soup is vivid green and fragrant.
  • Kellie, a cancer health advisor, eats luscious, ripe tomatoes like candy (we do this in our house too). She adds interest and texture to her simple, intense tomato soup with wholemeal maftoul (a giant couscous) and fresh, garden herbs.
  • How cool – in every sense of the word – is a watermelon gazpacho laced with fennel, cucumber, garlic and chilli? I miss my friend Francine of Life in the Food Lane so much since she moved to Houston (and her amazing food).

Seasonal salads

Do you yearn for exciting and enticing salads at this time of year? I know I do and here’s some inspiration:

Light dishes and summer recipes

  • Have you ever cooked with nasturtiums? Me neither, but I’m totally intrigued by Urvashi’s enthusiasm for elevating the leaves to superfood status. Over on The Botantical Baker (how apt) they are a key ingredient in a little gnocchi from Uruguay and Brazil called Nhoque da Sorte. The full story is really interesting.
  • Fish is a lovely light dish to eat during the warmer weather and Sarah from Maison Cupcake transforms basa fillets with bacon and spinach into a frugal meal that will satisfy the biggest appetites. She uses black salt too which I’d never heard of before.
  • When it’s warm you don’t want to spend too long slaving over a hot stove. This is where Louisa from Eat your Veg comes up trumps with Quickie Broccoli Pasta using veg box produce.
  • Ness from Jibber Jabber UK recommends you use her rocket pesto on pasta, baked salmon fillets and even on burgers. Any leftovers you can freeze in ice cube trays and pop out when required.
  • Thrilled that Erum of Total Salads, who also lives in Dubai, submitted this delicious recipe for seasonal vegetable pakoras. I’m sure even vegetable haters would change their minds when they’ve been dipped in chickpea flour and made into fritters.
  • Pesto makes another appearance in ‘My Little Italian Kitchen where Alida stirs a courgette pesto through garganelli pasta with almonds with juicy prawns and cherry tomatoes .
  • Selma from Selma’s Table makes a different kind of fritter combining sweet potato, courgette and paneer in baked fritters. Great vegetarian option at a barbecue.

 

  • Frittatas are a favourite in my kitchen and yours it seems. Sarah of Tales From a Kitchen Shed browned the top of her swiss chard, mushroom and potato frittata with a blow torch. Such a lovely picture in her flower-strewn garden.
  • These Cheddar and spring onion courgette fritters are smaller and less eggy but equally tasty thanks to Laura of I’d Much Rather Bake Than…
  • My Mum used to serve up hearty food on the warmest days and we wolfed it down, and that’s exactly what Jen’s “slightly veg-phobic man in his mid 30s” does with this turkey and chickpea curry (on Blue Kitchen Bakes).
  • The other alternative to warm days is to head out for the barbecue – it can be a bit of afaff though. Not so when you put your
    Barbie-tastic Dinner on a Stick. Such a great idea by Louisa of Eat your Veg.
  • I finally found some rice paper wrappers before I left Dubai so these crab and avocado Vietnamese summer rolls on Franglais Kitchen are well and truly bookmarked. So pretty – thanks to Nazima and Pierre.

 Strawberry fields forever

And if it’s summer in the UK there must be strawberries… lots of ripe juicy ones…

 

Beautiful berries and more

July is the month for an abundance of other seasonal fruit too…

  • Helen of Family-friends-food loves gooseberries and gin. I’d like to meet her as I think we’d get along well. I’ve bookmarked this vegan gin and gooseberry jelly recipe to make for my daughter.
  • Fresh raspberries play a starring role in this giant cupcake that Caroline Makes.
  • An honest nine year old prevented Emma from shoplifting an apricot by accident. She paid for it and then went back later to buy more apricots which she baked into this glorious apricot and bailoni tarte tatin over on A Bavarian Sojourn.
  • Hidden veg are teamed with delicious ripe cherries to make these courgette & cherry cupcakes (gluten free) with cherry cream cheese frosting by Kate of The Gluten Free Alchemist.
  • If you are able to tear yourself away from eating all your cherries raw, a claufoutis is the next best thing in my book. Linda of La Petite Paniere has a gorgeous Clafoutis aux Cerises recipe for you to try.
  • Louisa whips up a gooseberry fool in minutes on Eat Your Veg. There was a delicious fool using pink gooseberries at a recent barbecue. Divine.
  • Ripe red gooseberries also pop up in the middle of these pretty little red gooseberry cakes baked by Choclette on Chocolate Log Blog.
  • My childhood summer hols were spent in our garden and we trawled it for anything edible; currant bushes yielded little jewels and have a soft spot in my heart. Delighted to see blackcurrant frozen yoghurt from Corina of Searching for Spice…
  • … and this simple to make rhubarb and redcurrant cheesecake by Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker.
  • Quince is season in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m bookmarking this caramelised quince and almond cake for when they appear in Dubai; this recipe baked by The Quirk and the Cool for a chilly Sydney winter, is totally up my street.
  • Peach Streusel Kuchen Traybake also sounds very warm and comforting – another entry from  Sarah of Tales From a Kitchen Shed…
  • who also produced a refreshing frozen peach yoghurt and oatmeal recipe to cool off after a curry.
  • This lemon, lavender and almond cake (which is also gluten-free) would also end a meal nicely or stand alone for afternoon tea. Thank again to Helen of Family-friends-food.
  • Like the sound of fresh raspberries balanced on a Cointreau custard in a chocolate shell? Me too… and you can find how to make raspberry Cointreau tarts from Alexandra – The Lass in the apron.
  • ‘Caroline Makes’ something really unique – a Watermelon Fake Cake. I was expecting some carved up coloured sponge cake from the title but she produces something much more surprising, healthy, refreshing and seasonal.

And for all those barbecues (if you are in the Northern Hemisphere in July) something to drink and something to spice up your grills.

  • Take a peep into Ginger and Bread’s garden and pick up a scrumptious recipe for Chancho en Piedra aka Chilean Tomato Salsa which you can slather on bread, crudites, burgers….
  • And talking of slathering on bread, Tandy made this lovely homemade grapefruit curd which she transformed into grapefruit meringue tartlets over on Lavender and Lime.

If somehow I’ve missed you off the list email/tweet/message me immediately. It was quite a task compiling this delectable collection. If you want to enter the current round (August) it can be found over at Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary here.

Thanks to Ren for entrusting her precious event to my hands for a month and massive thank you to every who sent their recipes.

Fabulous fish – learning what to do with it

July 23, 2014

Learning what to do with fish - mycustardpie.comYou know me well enough by now – I struggle to be anything but honest. Try as I might to disguise, my true feelings are always writ large over my face. So at the risk of offending KP I must admit that I wasn’t that thrilled with the gift of a fish course. It took almost two years from receipt of voucher to arrival at the door of Manna from Devon, based in a house perched high above the Kingswear crossing to Dartmouth (Devon, UK). Taking a seat on the outside deck taking in the view of leafy branches and distant fields, with a cup of tea poured from a huge, bulbous white teapot, I discovered that there was a bread course taking place simultaneously. Further salt in the wound as I long to do a bread course.

Why was I so reluctant? Partly as KP wants to eat more fish, so this is one of those presents you give for yourself as well as the recipient (we’ve all done it). It just didn’t set my world on fire.

Standing round a large wooden table, Holly asked the seven of us to confess our fish-based skill hopes, wants and dreams and then we ‘met’ a variety of fish – all fresh from Brixham.

Learning what to do with fish - mycustardpie.com

Gurnard (behind), black sea bream (left) and monkfish tail (right)

Very early on I had an ‘aha’ moment when Holly classified the seemingly endless oceans of fish (in my mind) into white and oily, flat and round, plus shellfish/seafood. Thinking in simple terms rather than getting in knots about the name of the fish (often very difficult to determine at our fish markets in Dubai) instantly opened a door of exploration.

We gutted and filleted mackerel, brilliantly marked, shiny and ram rod firm. We were given clues to the freshness of fish – if you can see a finger print in the flesh then reject them, for instance.  Then was the turn of the triangular gurnard, tougher in skin and with a flotation sac that made us squeal with delight when Holly extracted and popped it. We picked meat out of lobster and learned how to deal with a cooked crab. We made homemade mayo and portioned monkfish tail. We inspected John Dory and cooked megrim sole a la meuniere in foamy butter so its skin became deliciously caramelised. We pan-fried mackerel and poached some in a homemade shell-fish stock with other fish to make a deeply savoury soup. We removed the scales of a beautiful black sea bass with a scaler, table knife and plastic bag). We didn’t all do every stage but there was enough hands on experience to give everyone a go and practice the main skills like filleting and skinning. Thrilled to be chosen to dissect squid for the first time, I chopped off its head, removed the guts (something I handled a lot throughout the day) and beak, scored the skin into diamonds, and portioned the tentacles.  Due to the gentlest of simmering, the squid was meltingly silky within the soup. Fish should be cooked at very high temperatures or very low and slow.

We had several breaks to eat the fruits of our labour: monkfish lightly cooked among stewed peppers, pan-fried mackerel fillets, fish soup with mayonnaise (and the lobster and crab), oven baked plaice and John Dory, sea bream en papilotte and more accompanied tea, coffee or wine (as preferred).

This is not some sterile kitchen; a dog wandered in now and then (not in the food prep area); a baby robin appeared on the deck; a tiny blue tit chick pecked at seeds on the window feeder; the bathroom has seen better days; this is a cookery school run by people who love to cook.  Holly, with quick wit and relaxed manner, passed on her frankly encyclopedic knowledge of fish and fish cookery in an unassuming way. Trained at Leith’s she admitted that growing up in Worcestershire, making a great fish finger sandwich formed the basis of her fish eating experience until she moved to Dartmouth a decade and a half ago. She was quick to acknowledge the role of local fish seller and his generosity of sharing information and passion for his product.

As delicious scents of bread baking wafted up from the basement and the other course members took their places at the table with a wooden tray of local cheese I didn’t feel at all envious. In fact I felt slightly superior in my new position as a fish gutter, scaler, skinner and squid decapitater. But above all, I left Manna from Devon with a new-found confidence to tackle any fish thrown at me. Actually please don’t throw fish … but show me the way to the fish market now.

A few moments of the day on (very bad) video, including making sole meuniere – you get the gist.

More information:

Do visit Manna from Devon and not just for fish cookery either.

Holly gave us a lot of background about how fish is caught, sold and exported in the UK (masses goes to Spain). They obtain their fish, via fishmonger Mark Lobb, from Brixham, one of the most important fishing ports in Europe and the UK’s largest fish market (now bigger than Billingsgate in London). Take a look at nearby Newlyn fish market and a Cornish seafood safari with Helen.

Jude shows you how to cook live lobster here.

Wander round some other fish markets –  start with  Morocco – courtesy of Urvashi and the fish market in Dubai (with me) and then visit a tuna museum with Helen.

I hope to bring you lots of new ideas for cooking with fish once I’m back in Dubai but in the meantime try Kavey’s recipe using firm white (sustainable) fish, chorizo and potatoes; Thai fish cakes and baked mackerel with red onion and rosemary on MCP.

Learning what to do with fish - mycustardpie.com

Looking down over Dartmouth

Do you eat fish? How confident are you about cooking it, what do you like to do with it and what do you find most challenging?

 

Sisterly love – fettuce with butternut squash, sage and smoked garlic

July 17, 2014

I could have told you about how good it felt to walk through the lush, green fields of Gloucestershire, wild flowers swaying in the breeze, a spring in my step, the deep blue sky making my heart sing.  Or how, once again Gifford’s Circus made my face ache with smiling. Or laughter in a country pub where a small dog’s life was nearly imperiled by a game of Jenga. Or being almost moved to tears by the cool beauty of a collection of statues at a famous country house in Derbyshire. So many good things to share from my two weeks in the UK this summer…and more to come…

But right now, all is well with the world because of dinner at my sister’s kitchen table. I could have angled the dish, got the light right, propped and garnished, made better pics and let it go cold. But instead, I picked up my fork and tucked into the smokey, sweet, savoury, food blanket of comfort.  This is a ‘sort of’ recipe, more a recommendation of a simple trio of flavours that work perfectly (quartet if you add the cheese).

We opened a bottle of 2013 La Mascaronne Quat’ Saisons Côtes de Provence rosé (from Raffles in Nailsworth) – light, dry, balanced, soft, perfect summer drinking. As well as the taste, the coral colour went beautifully with the butternut orange.

Our Polish heritage makes us very tolerant of garlic. My sister added both fresh and smoked cloves. The smoked ones are already part cooked and a bit sweet. You can substitute a whole head of ordinary garlic instead of the smoked. Just cut the top off the ends of the cloves, slick with olive oil and roast along with the squash. Squeeze out the garlic when you come to serve. The smoked does add a really beautiful depth of flavour though so I hope you try it.

Butternut squash smoked garlic pasta - mycustardpie.com

Fettuce with butternut squash, sage and smoked garlic

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (optional)
  • 4-5 cloves smoked garlic
  • sea salt (smoked if possible)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a generous handful of fresh sage
  • 250g fettuce (or dried pasta of choice)
  • Pecorino (or similar Italian hard cheese)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Peel the butternut squash, halve it and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into small, even chunks.
  2. Toss the squash in the olive oil and spread over the base of a roasting tin. Add the unpeeled whole cloves of fresh garlic if using.
  3. Put in the oven, turning the squash cubes gently once or twice during the cooking time. After 20 minutes, roughly chop the smoked garlic and add to the squash with some salt and pepper.
  4. After about 30 minutes, stir the sage leaves into the squash and return to the oven. Keep an eye on the sage as you don’t want it to burn, put some foil over the tray if you think this is happening. Cook for another 15 minutes (until the squash yields easily to the point of a knife or skewer).
  5. Boil a large pot of water, add some salt. 10 minutes before the squash is done (or time as per the pasta packet instructions) add your pasta and cook until al dente.
  6. Drain the pasta, stir in the squash mixture and serve with Pec0rino and black pepper.

Variation: For added crunch, toast the squash seeds for about 10 minutes and sprinkle on at the end.

Do you have special memories of a meal that your family shared?

No time to bake? No-knead bread

July 12, 2014

No knead bread - mycustardpie.comIf everyone jumped off a cliff would you follow? I have a very awkward streak which means I would probably wander off in the other direction even if a tornado or a herd of run-away wildebeast was coming. This resistance to going with the masses has influenced many things in my life; for instance my choice of camera (most people seemed to have Canon so I bought Nikon).

This stubbornness had its effect on my food blogging too.  A couple of years ago the raptures dedicated to pages and pages of macarons made sure that I would never, ever attempt to make one. Cup cakes and whoopie pies were equally safe from ever making an appearance in my kitchen. No knead bread made a similar splash and, though far more appealing than the sweet baking fashions, my recalcitrant nature meant that it lingered, untested by me until last week.

I was juggling end of term, packing for the UK, arranging my daughter’s last bits and pieces for Thailand, rushing to client meetings, trying to finish work projects before I travelled, getting three different types of currency from the money exchange and all the usual demands of a busy life. Running down my store cupboard before six weeks in the UK, I was also keen to bake so the easiest loaf was needed and I had a sudden vision of no-knead bread.

Did it fit the bill? Yes indeed, in fact it was the only loaf I could have feasibly fitted in among the chaos. The result was a crusty loaf with a good firm texture with very time or little effort required. I’m now itching to experiment with different flours and flavourings when I return to my kitchen in Dubai.

Most recipes I found online were in cup measurements so I’ve converted the proportions to suit weighing. It makes quite a small loaf so I’ll experiment with slightly larger quantities next time too, however the small amount remaining went stale quite quickly (although made good toast). If you have never made bread, or don’t think you have time to, this is the loaf for you. Be warned – it looks very homemade, but I think this is a good thing. Just slather with good butter and excellent jam.

No Knead Bread

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 400g strong white bread flour (plus a bit extra)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 300ml lukewarm water

Method

  1. Put all the ingredients into a medium sized bowl, mix together with a wooden spoon, spatula or plastic scraper to form a ragged, fairly messy dough. Cover with cling film and leave for 18 hours at room temperature.
  2. When ready to bake, flour your work surface generously. Using a plastic spatula or scraper, ease the dough onto the surface.
  3. Using your scraper or floured hands gently shape the dough into a ball by tucking the sides underneath. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rest until the oven is heated (next step).
  4. Set the oven to 230C (or equivalent) and put an enamelled cast iron casserole inside (or any similar dish with a lid such as Pyrex which will withstand high temperatures) to heat up for 30 minutes.
  5. Cut a strip of foil or baking paper, about 10cm wide and long enough to reach up the sides of the casserole dish.
  6. Carefully remove the casserole from the oven (it will be very hot) and place on something heat-proof next to the dough. Put the strip of paper inside. Using floured hands, quickly scoop up the dough and flip it, seam side down, into the pot. DO NOT TOUCH THE SIDES OF THE POT WITH YOUR HANDS.  Don’t worry if it looks a bit lop-sided.
  7. Put the lid on the casserole and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, replace the casserole in the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Remove from the oven and use the paper or foil to lift the bread out of the casserole and onto a wire rack to cool.

Find more no-knead inspiration:

You can find me rhapsodising (is this a word?) about bread making over on Dima Sharif as part of her wonderful, annual Ramadan series.

Are you a follower or a rebel? Would you be heading over that cliff or running off in a different direction? Bread maker or just bread eater?

Pick farmers markets – don’t pick on them

July 9, 2014

Do you buy from farmers’ markets? Are they a sustainable alternative to supermarket domination or, as recent media reports would have you believe, an expensive luxury?

Farmers’ markets in the UK have been on the rise since the first one opened in Bath in 1997. Is this success as result of people wanting better quality, fresher produce, to support small producers and family farms who were going out of business due to the dominance of supermarket buying policies? Or is this because shopping at markets is a status symbol for the pretentious, wealthy and trendy?  The ‘build them up and knock them down’ mentality of the British tabloid press has led to some unfavourable coverage for markets recently. A couple of weeks ago there was an article by Rose Prince in the Daily Mail. ‘Have you been duped at the farmers’ market?’ screams the headline. This was a follow-up to an equally incendiary piece quoting Jay Rayner who accused farmers’ markets as being ‘costly’ and ‘for snobs’.

Last Saturday I visited Stroud Farmers’ Market which was celebrating its 15th birthday in operation. They sky was grey, there were frequent showers, but the market was packed with a variety of shoppers enjoying the atmosphere, tasting and shopping. This used to be a place where you would never contemplate leaving the ring road. The town centre is now full of interesting independent shops. We enjoyed a cup of tea in one of several cafés which were all doing good business. When interviewed in a local paper, market co-founder Kardien Gerbrands (known as Gerb) recalls “When we started the Made in Stroud shop in 2000 we used to have a joke about whether this year’s tourist had been in. Nowadays we have tourists in all week.’

Because I’m away from home I’m not in charge of the shopping and cooking, my purchases from the market were few and could be considered luxuries not staples.  I bought local cherries from a stall that only sells one type of fruit each week from their fruit farms which changes through the season. I tasted and bought some of the best charcuterie I have ever eaten made from good quality, local pork. A vegetarian millet and onion bake was carried home for veggie teen.  The vegetables on display had been picked that morning and the choice was amazing. I bought some creamy, new potatoes coated with earth (the ones we’d had from the supermarket were like bullets).  The produce available was abundant, fresh and varied. There was quality and variety I had not seen in the supermarket, plus by shopping this way the supply chain is shorter (the opaque and complex way most of our food is bought and sold accounts for scandals such as the horse meat affair).

The findings of Channel 4’s recent the World’s Best Diet demonstrated that the best diets were the ones that consisted of the least processed foods. Looking at the range of produce available at the market, you might conclude that Britain should be in the top ten, but take a glance at the stock and promotions in supermarkets.  It’s estimated that just 1% of men and 2% of women were obese in the 1960s (when there were very few supermarkets) compared to a quarter of the UK population today.

On the day after the Stroud market, I visited another town in Gloucestershire which could do with some TLC. Co-op dominates the shopping choice for food and I wanted some bread for our picnic. There were rows of Chorleywood method, mass-produced sliced bread in plastic (mainly white or blends) or bread rolls that were so stale they were rock solid. I could not buy edible, healthy, wholemeal bread rolls or a small loaf; the choice was simply not available for any price.

Supermarkets have been taken to task by the media in the past, so why should farmers’ markets be immune? Here’s Gerb’s response on Twitter to the Jay Rayner article:

If this blog post seems like commentary from a wealthy ‘snob’ then I hold my hands up and admit to being one. I am privileged to have enough money to make the choice to buy better quality produce; but why should good food (fresh, unprocessed and healthy) be available only to those who can afford it? I grew up in an era before supermarket domination within a family where money was very tight. We wore second-hand clothes and didn’t have a car or a telephone; but we ate really well. Our diet followed these principles long before Michael Pollan coined the phrase “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It was an economic choice; could we eat that way now on a similar budget?

I think the tone of the recent articles is a kind of snobbery. There wasn’t a Range Rover to be seen near the Stroud market; just members of a community enjoying a market that has brought countless benefits to the town and environment.  The BBC Food Programme has documented initiatives where veg box schemes have given local people access to cheap, fresh, local vegetables and fruit. These schemes are run by people who want a change in the way we live; in contrast to the ‘big four’ which are driven by share holder value. Industrialisation of the food supply has been held up by some as the only way to feed the masses but it doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job right now; a third of the world’s food is wasted.

As a tourist to the Stroud market you may think my commentary is not as valid as those who live, work and shop there regularly. However, the farmers’ market where I buy my weekly veg every single week of the growing season has also been under the cool gaze of Rose Prince and The Daily Mail.  I met Rose Prince while she was shopping there although the images printed in article are from the fruit and vegetable stalls next to the fish market in Deira (where they do sell imports from the region) not the market at Emirates Towers (where the produce is all locally grown in the U.A.E); the title of the article inaccurately describes the market as ‘sort of local’.  Shopping direct from the growers saves me money as it is much cheaper than the supermarkets (for freshness there is no comparison). While I do not agree with a lot of what Jay Rayner says, his comments have been taken out of context by the Daily Mail. He does champion ‘big food’ including supermarkets as the only answer; treating food as a commodity is why we are seeing so many problems – read this if you want to know why I think he’s wrong. Also, many market traders have answered back to this well publicised article.

So I’m raising a glass and a cheer for the 15th birthday of Stroud Farmers’ Market and all the producers of good food and produce. It will take more than these few articles to change my mind about farmers’ markets but will their negativity have an impact on others? What’s your experience of farmers markets?

It was raining when I visited  last weekend so didn’t take my big camera and all pics are on my iphone. To see more, read an earlier post about the Stroud Farmers Market.

Simple and in season July – now open

July 1, 2014
Summer pudding

Summer pudding

A new baby is always an excuse for a celebration and how lucky for this particular baby to be born at the end of June. My friend and fabulous food blogger Ren has just welcomed baby Matthew into her gorgeous family. I know from personal experience that a summer birthday is best. Compare my birthday parties in February (a few friends, pitch black outside, going home in the freezing cold) with my sister’s (the lawn full of friends, the sun beaming and a summer birthday tea). That summer tea always included strawberries picked, in abundance, from our garden, sprinkled with sugar and served in cut glass bowls with cream.

So while Ren juggles a new baby, a family, recipe development, and her successful blog, I’m very honoured to take the reins of ‘Simple and in Season’ for this month. It’s an event to share recipes based on seasonal ingredients – a topic very close to my heart.

I’m flying to the UK tomorrow for my annual catch up with my family and home country. A big part of the excitement is the prospect of eating new potatoes, rainbow chard, watercress and, of course, English strawberries.  The Stroud Farmers Market is always a source of inspiration. I’ll be posting from other people’s kitchens and if you’d like to share a ‘Simple and in Season’ recipe…..

Simple and in Season - enter your post on mycustardpie.com

Here are some guidelines:

Read the following and then add your recipe with a link to your post in the comments section below. 

  1. Come up with a dish using any produce that’s in season right now where you live – savoury or sweet, any seasonal produce you fancy including fruit, veg, herbs, meat or fish – it’s up to you.
  2. Post the recipe on your blog and link it back to this page – My Custard Pie – Simple and in Season and to Ren’s Simple and In Season page:
  3. Please feel free to use the image/badge above on your blog post.
  4. Post your recipe by the 31st July 2014.  I’ll do a round-up post of all the entries as soon as I can after that.
  5. You can take inspiration from anywhere – adapt a recipe from your favourite cookbook, try something from a magazine, make up your own creation or share a family favourite. The usual rules apply when using someone else’s recipe; please get permission from the author to post it or adapt it in some way stating how/why you’ve changed it.
  6. Enter as many recipes as you like. You can link posts entered into other blog events or carnivals as long as it involves a seasonal food item (and fits in with their rules).
  7. By entering your post, you are giving me permission to add a photograph to the round-up. I will link back directly to your post when I include you.
  8. On Twitter or Instagram use the #simpleandinseason hashtag or mention @mycustardpie or @RenBehan and we’ll share the love.

I’m very excited to be guest hosting this event and really looking forward to seeing your entries – my guess is a LOT of strawberries :)

What are you making with seasonal produce in July?

P.S. Simple and in Season July is now closed – thanks for your lovely entries. I’ll get the round up as soon as I can (celebrating my daughter’s 18th on 1st August and traveling that weekend so might be a few days into August).

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