"The Queen
of Condiments"
Kirstie Allsopp
"The finest jams, chutneys and pickles I have ever eaten"
Clarissa Dickson Wright
"It's just me and a slotted spoon love"
Victoria Cranfield

Ist Neidpath Castle International Chutney festival

I came up to the office/kitchen this morning to print off some labels (great Sunday morning) to be greeted by an answerphone message left the evening before from Lulu Benson co- founder of a chutney festival in Peebles near Edinburgh.  I'd won, can't quite believe it, a jar that only went in at the last minute, which I'd debated with hubby, chutney/relish/chutney/relish, agreed chutney and it didn't matter as in a good cause.  Sod it I've won.  Not competitive me, well of course I am but truly didn't expect to win.  I have never won a chutney competition ever and probably won't again but it won't matter now.

Of course this is the inaugural  event so less competition than next time and it will get bigger and bigger.  So much energy has gone into organisation and  ringing round (which is how I heard of it) with profits going to such a good cause.... The Gurkha Welfare Trust...I would really urge you to check out their website for an imaginative festival menu One World One Chutney it shrieks of hundreds of hours of work and it's a real shame it's so far from North Devon or I would have leapt in the car.

Anyway, Gardeners Relish WON.  Totally and utterly amazing, I love the judges and am so grateful Lulu rang in the first place.

October 23, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Kirsties Damson Jam

Well the programme is aired tonight and I am feeling positively apprehensive.  Positively, because I have been extraordinarily lucky to have had the opportunity to have some air time promoting something very close to my heart....preserving good produce and apprehensive because I came out with some of the most crass comments which I hope will end on the cutting floor.

I take my hat off to Kirstie, she is a damn hard worker with a punishing schedule, a young family and a gift of being nice when tired.  Lets face it, she could be a lady that lunches but isn't.  In case there are any questions, she definitely made the jam  hence she had to get the stones out on the day in the time allocated to filming.

If you want to have a crack at the jam with damsons you may have in the freezer; then count them in, cook them down and leave to go cold.  When you are ready go in with clean hands (they will stain) or thin plastic gloves and count the stones back out.  When they are all out, warm the fruit and add the sugar before cooking to a set........it's the way I do it!

This jam recipe will work with other dark plums, if they are large and the stone can be removed first do it that way, the problem with damsons is that the flesh of the fruit sticks to the stone until cooked.   If using yellow plums substitute lemon zest and use the juice of 3 lemons made up to 290ml with water.  The flavour of a yellow plum is quite different and needs a different boost.

The damson jam recipe is on my brand new website ....exciting!  Hopefully it will all be up and running this evening.  I (substitute  Sam, the IT son-in-law who knows what he's doing) has rejigged the shopping cart so you can buy as many or as few items as you want and included cookery equipment I use to make what I make.  I really believe there is a  resurgence of interest in food that is translating into people having a go.  Brilliant! What better for Christmas than a homemade hamper or, in default, some of our preserves.

I will be putting up a seasonal recipe every month (in the recipe section) in the hope you may be inspired to have a go; I have also posted a couple of boozy recipes on  facebook  and particularly recommend the bramble brandy (still possible) and utterly delicious.  Shamefully my brambles have mainly been diverted from jelly to brandy and worse, they are all gone!

 Click here to view the recipe

October 19, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Quick Blackberry Brandy

I was offered a dram of blackberry brandy yesterday while collecting fruit from near Barnstaple. It was fabulous mellow, slightly sweet with a rich under current of spirit. It was so good I have diverted brambles already picked from jelly to alcohol.

This recipe is quick and ready to drink almost immediately (good after 5mins) but should improve

Equal parts bramble juice and 40% brandy

Soft dark brown sugar.

I used 1 pint bramble juice to a pint of brandy and 4 tablespoons of sugar Put blackberries on a very low heat to release the juice, keep an eye on them as you don't want them to boil, once the juice is liberated take off the heat(could be done in a low oven).

Strain through a fine mesh sieve, the berries could go in a pie and measure the juice, add the same of brandy, sweeten to taste. Really warming and fruity and antidote to any wet day!

September 03, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Disrupted nature

5 hornet queens have woken up and been liberated from the house in the last 2 weeks and still the bats aren't back.  Last year the first queen heralded the bats by a few days, we need them.  Normally midges are awful by now but because it has been relatively dry and cold we can still get around without to many bites, but we will  need the bats, lots of them.

The mayflies were out in April, there are thousands of toad tadpoles in the river.......never seen that before but the level is so low, even with the wet weather of the last few days the levels are still poor but the ground a little less hard.  The rowan has blossomed and the fruit will probably be ready in about a month, 6 years ago the fruit was an August job, then July for the last 3 years but June......how are the birds to fatten for winter?  The rhubarb is nearly over, usually beginning of July.

We are however very luck in comparison to the rest of the South, our trees are green, the lawns not parched and I think the fruit crops will do well.  We have deliberately kept all the grass long as it seems to hold what little rain there is for longer.  The volume of bird song is tremendous even if it is loudest at 5.20am and the carpets of wild flowers in the field just about to break forth is better year on year.  Small blue and holly blue (I think) are on the wing, no marsh frittiliaries this year but loads of orange tip.  Damselle flies are out but no dragon flies yet...

I have received my first batch of Apricots from Arlington Court in May before the gooseberries, totally daft even if they are under cover with many more to come over the next few weeks apparently.

My strawberries are close to ripening but looking out of the window, a squirrel is sizing them up.......he gets up before me and makes deft work of the netting, unlikely to see many of them then....some things never change!

May 30, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Kirstie Allsopp Calling Devon Jam Makers

I have just had a very interesting telephone call from Raise the Roof Productions who are making a brand new Kirstie Allsopp series for Channel Four this May/June in Devon.

They are looking for enthusiastic amateur jam makers in the North Devon area who would like to grow their preserving knowledge and maybe grow a new career with Kirsties help.  They want genuine local talent, humour........it helps when things go wrong and a willingness to try new things.

If this sounds like you email the team at craft@raisetheroofproductions.com

Good Luck!

Spring at last

After the long cold shiver of winter the warmth has brought the world to life.  The morello cherry tree budded in time for a drastic hair cut, sacrificing this years fruit but I couldn't reach last years so it will be worth it.

The frogs and toads have of course been active, the annual toad run once again coincided with the half term holiday and increased traffic but most got to the pond with a little help from a bucket.  The spawn was hit by frosts but there is so much of it, what died was eaten by the frog tadpoles that had already hatched.

The only active butterflies are the hibernating ones, peacock and tortoiseshell although some of the tortoiseshell ones look quite pristine.  Lots of huge bumble bees but their nests are been dug out by  badgers who are seemingly more active than in previous years.  It will be interesting to see if they attack the beehive I am hoping to have colonised this spring.

While inspecting the rhubarb I disturbed a pair of lizards, then once you get your eye in there are loads, I hope they are hungry the flies are becoming a menace warming themselves on every shrub then rising like a swarm of bees........well at least sounding like one.

On a cooking front, I have been joined by Kate to help with the veg  prep, after a month she is already fed up with limes although only afflicted one morning a week.  We are making it for Fortnum and Mason under their own label and hopefully it should be in the store by May.  All chutney needs at least a month of resting to let the flavours meld but the lime pickle justs gets better the longer it is kept.  I found a jar, best before 2005 (one of the first I made and given a 2 year shelf life) it is fabulous and mellow always worth smelling and tasting a chutney before throwing it away!

We are also making a range of seasonal chutneys for Fortnums, the first two are gooseberry and elderflower and rhubarb and orange for Spring.  The idea is to use locally grown seasonal fruit and vegetables.......summer is a little more problematic as everyone does Summer and I have to think of something different that works.  Carrot and coriander is a work in progress!

Just seen a carder bee, the first of the season, I have to go outside, the potatoes need to be planted and the final dead cane cut from the loganberries, long may the warmer weather last!

April 02, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Happy Christmas!

As I write the snow lies thick outside the kitchen so beautiful and yet treacherous.  The small birds cluster around the feeders topped with sunflower seeds whilst the blackbirds filter the last of the apple shreds in the orchard. It is so cold, or at least has been, with minus 16 on the solar panel the other night, that you can only marvel at their survival and keep topping the food. Two snipe flew from the pond as I took the dogs through the field, the first I have seen here.

Time spent sweeping snow before it is walked on is well worth while.....learnt the hard way last winter with many a slip and painful fall.  Good exercise too as we are in a valley and all paths go up hill ........to the wood store which is depleting rapidly.

Last summer we had a skip of waste wood from the local yard destined for landfill, full of charred, nail ridden wood, brilliant for a wood burner, the resultant ash riddled through a blue plastic mushroom box to remove nails before dumping on the compost even some of the nails are reusable..........I may be getting a little too evangelical, but free (discounting chopping etc) heat.

I would like to thank all of you who have taken the trouble to comment on your successes with the boxing day chutney, my loyal customers who buy from me regularly and those who buy occasionally and hope you have a very happy and successful Christmas and New Year.

For those that tell me off/encourage me to get on with it I WILL get on with the book in the New Year.

December 19, 2010 by Victoria Cranfield

Crystallised Spring Flowers

Another very cold night but beautiful day, ah well, I will have to replant the runner beans which have for the second time succumbed to frost.  For someone who  espouses giving time for things to work, I can be pretty impatient!

Before all the spring flowers disappear please try to crystallise some.  I meant to blog about this before but have been suprisingly busy. The Victorians used the technique for many edible flowers but from trying for the first time I would recommend flowers that aren't too tiddly and are relatively simple in shape.

Pick a few primrose heads, these look the most beautiful and/or violets (a little blobby looking when done). Paint both sides with ordinary egg white and dust all over with caster sugar.

I sat the flowers in a bowl of sugar once I had painted both sides with a childs paintbrush (unused by child) and then gently heaped the sugar over the top.  Shake off excess sugar and check the flower is as evenly coated as possible. Place face down on grease proof paper that has a thin layer of caster sugar on it and put in a warm place to dry.  I sat mine on the top of the aga for a couple of hours.

If you want to keep them, store in a small air tight container out of direct light.

I used the primroses to decorate a fruit fool pudding for a dinner party and they truely looked fabulous.  I was suprised how simple they were to make,  the caveat being they taste only of sugar.  This was not the case when I tried the same method using fresh lemon verbena leaves, these were literally good enough to eat.

I am pretty sure, and will try, that this would work really well with herbs such as mint and basil.  If you grow your own please try the flowers of the herbs as they are less strong versions of the leaves but look much better to dress salads.

May 13, 2010 by Victoria Cranfield

Wedding Favours

Last year I was approached independently by 3 brides wanting wedding favours for their guests. We managed to produce colour co-ordinated jars which complemented both evening and breakfast feasts.

It lead me to consider offering this as a service which I am due to launch at the Exeter Festival of Food and Drink.  I can provide a selection of small jars of preserves, chutneys and jellies as wedding favours with:

.     Personalised labels

.     Award winning seasonal flavours

.    A wide palette of natural colours

.    Local sourcing

An opportunity to provide a memorable, tasteful and inexpensive keepsake for your guests, perfect for:

Wedding breakfasts……..damson, raspberry or loganberry, apricot, greengage, marmalade

Lunch or Dinner…….chilli jam, spiced apple chutney or a cool lime pickle

For any time…..flower jellies, spice or herb jellies

.     Minimum order 30

.     Priced between £2.50 and £3.00 each .

     Contribution to delivery £10

If anyone is interested please contact me with your telephone number so I can ring you to discuss what you might want!

Spring in the air and marmalade is in Fortnums.

There is such a pull away from the kitchen to the garden when the sun is out, and hasn't it been fabulous the last few days.  Freezing cold at night with a hard frost meeting the sun in the morning, so I skived.  Apologies to those who have outstanding orders but I needed to save the pond.

We have the remnants of a 17th Century fishing pond complete with towers of frogspawn and a resident moorhen, the stream which feeds it runs parallel to it.  Nowadays when it rains the stream becomes a torrent and rips away at the bank between the pond and the stream ......not helped by the fact the stream is about 5 ft lower than the pond, the damage has been horrendous!

Enter a cook who can do anything, sort of, has a go, it may not be pretty but it will work; maybe.  I have been dry stone walling, using stone dug from a bank on site, with a spade, transporting it in a complaining wheel barrow and standing in the stream (it is low at the moment........that is my excuse to skive) and re assembling and back filling.  Knackering and one of the most satisfying thing I have done in ages....only another 50 feet to go!

AND I have one of my marmalades in Fortnum and Mason, London, as part of their celebration of Artisan Marmalades!

There is a fabulous marmalade festival in Cumbria which I would recommend all marmalade makers consider entering their marmalade into.  All proceeds go to the hospice and this year they had over 800 entries.  www.marmaladefestival.co.uk will give you all the details.

The seville marmalade recipe detailed in a previous blog gained me a silver for the second year running as did my grapefruit and ginger marmalade........the one chosen by Fortnums as one of 7 marmalades to be featured in their store this month.  To have a further puff....the pink grapefruit and a new marmalade (in fact it was the first batch that went) lemon and rose petal also got recommended.  Not bad, though I say it myself!

As I am now guilty of distracting myself with this blog update, I must return to some sort of work .......one of the advantages of the sun is that the solar panels have given me a full tank of hot water .......so no excuses, I will have to do the washing up!

March 07, 2010 by Victoria Cranfield