Strawberry Fields Forever!

10 Jul

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Summer has finally arrived, and I am able to say that not only because we are able to keep the windows open without wearing a wooly hat, but also because of the evocative sound of the plink and thwack of tennis balls!
Wimbledon is over and the nation is in a collectively, albeit nail bittenly, good mood following Andy Murray’s heroic win on Sunday. I have to admit to not having been able to watch any of his matches in their entirety. This is partly due to the Lovelidor expressing his inner Border Collie and insisting on a maniacally repetitive game of fetch from the sofa to the garden, but mostly to the fact that I find it too much for my nerves and I resort to plotting the progress of the match by listening to the house erupt in cheers, screams and groans from the safe distance of the garden, and then of course running inside demanding “what just happened?!”
These days of course we can watch the match wherever we are, from secret desk drawers and under shop counters to huge public screens, but I remember when you had to watch it when the B.B.C. showed it, and for us this involved dragging the monolithic weight of the television out into the garden and watching Chris Evert in her pretty ribbons from spitefully finger nipping deck chairs. We also would not have dreamed of watching without the balancing feat of a glass of lemon barley water in one hand and a cream river covered mountain of strawberries in the other!
This year, to combat the dreadful spring, I have grown the strawberries tumbling from baskets suspended from a washing line which has been retired from active service. This concussion inducing arrangement, while very pretty, has resulted in a crop of, at an absolute push, six strawberries, not what could be described as bumper! So it has been necessary to go in search of a ‘Pick Your Own’ farm.

Now PYO along with DIY always sound to me more like an admonishment than an invitation and not altogether polite, but I continue undaunted along the winding single tracked lanes . It is glorious in the field, the straw is silky and sunbaked and the strawberries are sweetly succulent and of course I pick too many so I spend the journey home (much of it reversing into the ‘passing places’)reflecting on the possible uses for this greedy glut of fruit. Although there would be nothing wrong with eating them all just as they are with a ‘seize the day’ mentality, what follows are a few ideas to enjoy the strawberry season to its fullest!
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Miss American Pie

4 Jul

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I am sorry to say that I have no claim to the star spangled banner unless of course we count my dual addiction to The West Wing and 24. I am also only able to draw from the experience of a very short stateside holiday that I spent either awestruck by the scale of things, or vertiginous from their height! So with this being the 4th of July I thought it safer to take the wider view that the concept of independence is worth celebrating, and what better way than with a PIE?

I am embarrassed by my ignorance of the great American pie traditions which, while trying to find ‘the ultimate’ recipe, became very apparent. So to address the matter I have spent some mouthwatering hours getting deeper and more deliciously lost in the labyrinth of chirpy American ‘pie sites’ and my mother’s legacy of wilted, torn from a magazine recipes .I have now learned that The Hoosier sugar cream pie, from the Shaker/Amish communities in Indiana, was considered a ‘desperation pie’ for when the apple bin was empty. I have also found out that the wonderfully named Shoo fly pie has its origins with the original settlers of Pennsylvania. They had brought with them staples that would survive a long sea journey such as flour, brown sugar, lard, molasses, and spices, and resourcefully used them to make pies through their first winter until the next growing season. I have also , although not at all in the spirit of shaker simplicity, made a note to myself to soak pecans in bourbon the next time I make a pecan pie in the style of the Kentucky Derby!
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Hang Out The Flags!

29 Apr

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Last year with the Silver Jubilee and the Olympics I think we did rather well at national enthusiasm! It was hard not to succumb to a frenzied bout of bunting clad flag waving. But this year things are pretty much back to normal. It was St. Georges day last week and while there was a flurry of morris dancing here and there, it came and went in a rather self- deprecating ‘lets not make a fuss’ way.

It seems that we continue to be a bit embarrassed by our food. Having been the butt of many jokes by some of our european neighbours we often fail to embrace our own cuisine and the hugely rich culinary heritage of our little island. When I lived in France it was not uncommon for friends to eat before visiting us for dinner (to be on the safe side I suppose!) and for the butcher to part with a leg of lamb with great reluctance, terrified that I might boil it boil it! I was also once treated to the translation of ‘Bon Appetit’ as being Good Luck!
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Humble Pie.

25 Apr

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It seems Winter blinked and Spring jumped out of her hiding place! The temperature is well into double figures and as I walked the Labrador (Lovelydor) along paths spotted with violets I had to remove a jumper on the home stretch. It is also the first day since september that I have not lit a fire. Even so I feel a pie coming on!

Chicken and Leek pie is the stuff of life in our house; the promise at the end of the M4 on a wet friday night , the last night of the holiday’s dish of choice and the medicine for all ills and heartbreak. I have to admit that I am not a fan of the anaemic, skinless chicken fillet and so prefer to roast a whole chicken whenever I can and, as I have been preparing a lots of Chicken in a quince and lemon sauce with Alsace wine for someone’s freezer I have canteen quantities of cold chicken leftovers. Perfect for a pie!
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Brunch Break

15 Apr

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I have been keeping baker’s hours this week, and today was no exception, but with all the cooking done for the events and the market I was free to get out into the garden at first light. With pyjamas and wellies on, a pot of tea under a cosy and accompanied only by the dawn choir of birdsong in their cathedral of beech trees, I make a start on the planting.

The beans which have uncurled themselves and are now reaching joyfully skywards are the first to go under the polytunnels, carefully tucking a little fleecy blanket at one end to stop the draft. I know I sound like an anxious mother but I am new to this! I flirted with
vegetable gardening to get me through a tricky patch some years ago, then like many flirtations it became a dalliance and then a heady passion! Although any skill or success I may have is due to a religious adherence to the RHS allotment handbook and asking very nicely! I have yet to have anything but beginners luck but my annual sense of pride at the tangle of beans and regimented lines of lettuce is disproportionate!
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This Little Piggy Went To Market

15 Apr

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The “Cuckfield Local ” was a lovely event, with lots of gorgeous produce and hand made goodies on offer. It was so enjoyable to see so many families out with their children and baskets (and dogs!) sampling and choosing pies, cakes and bread. I am sure that the sunday lunches in and around Cuckfield today will be the envy of the county, we were spoilt for choice for meats and fish and vegetables, although any plans we may have had to save the divine Italian cheesecake for today’s lunch were abandoned; devoured it straight from the box on the way home!

We had some rays of weak sunshine but towards lunchtime it swiftly turned back to winter and became an afternoon suited only to soup and knitting! I love parsnip soup in any form, whether its combined with the sweetness of leeks and the sharpness of a cox apple or cubed in a barley broth and mopped up with a leek and onion scone, but for a real bowl of sunshine there is nothing to beat Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup.
For a generous potful you will need:
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Thank Goodness It’s Friday!

12 Apr

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It’s going to be a busy weekend for Bailey & Bond, with the Cuckfield Market, a lovely little country market with some delicious Sussex produce available.
So far we have, ready to go, Red Pepper and Goats Cheese Filo tarts (pictured above), Caramelised Onion and Roquefort Tart, the more-ish Parmesan and Stilton biscuits.

A new addition to the stall this month is fresh soups. The flavours are Sussex themed, the first is a traditional local favourite, Parsnip and Cox Apple. As a nod to the town Peas Pottage, we are also serving Spiced Bean Pottage with pine nuts. Both of which are warming and delicious, perfect for a lazy weekend!

We are also catering a couple of landmark birthdays. One of the centrepiece pudding is a vast profiterole mountain, I lost count of exact numbers when the baking went well beyond three figures.

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