Wild hare and blackberry pie

Autumn's harvest in a pie

Autumn’s harvest in a pie

Well its’ been quite some time since I last posted anything, I’ve been really busy with my photography and doing bits with Radio Leicester (click to hear most recent recipe of chorizo sausage rolls and green tomato ketchup) and writing for Metro and then I acquired a stalker so this blog kind of took a back seat for a couple of months. But I’m back, and its Autumn so I’ve been busy foraging the hedgerows to make amazing blackberry and vanilla vodka and now this blackberry and hare pie.

We are very lucky here in Melton Mowbray to have a proper Farmer’s market, you can buy anything from a herd of sheep, a prize winning bull, a few ferrets, some shot game, foraged mushrooms, homemade butter and antiques and collectables. Its all there every Tuesday morning and costs very little indeed, except the prize winning bull that is.

I headed over on Tuesday morning with the intention of seeing what the game auction was like that day, its very hit and miss depending on what’s in season and what the weather was like for the shoots over the weekend. You can normally expect to see a couple of deer, plenty of pigeons, pheasants, partridge, rabbits, hares and wild boar plus mallards, geese, woodcocks and squirrels. This week though it was very quite, there were a lot of pigeon but they weren’t in top condition so I left those (they went at 20p/brace) and hung about for the mallard and hares. I was bidding against an old boy for the mallard but had set my max at £3.50/brace and it went on his bid at that so I came home with a couple of beautiful hares at just £5.

Skinning hares is very easy, if you fancy watching a brilliant video clip then I totally fell in love with this guy being all masterful with an axe in the woods:

You just need to be really careful whilst gutting them not to pierce anything as the smell is really pretty nasty. Go for hares with head shots so your meat is nice and clean and none of the internals have been punctured.

skinning hare

 

Two large hares left me with a great deal of meat that I butchered into legs and fillets and froze most of. I instantly fried off a bit of fillet nice and pink for a bit of a cook’s perk then got to work on this simple pie for tea.

Wild hare and blackberry mini pie  (makes 2 mini pies that each serve one person)

Ingredients:

  • about 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 hare fillets, sliced into bite sized pieces
  • a few tablespoons of seasoned flour
  • about 150g smoked pancetta cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • about 200ml of full bodied red wine
  • 2 handfuls fresh blackberries
  • a bit of sugar if the blackberries are not sweet
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • About 60ml hare blood (optional)
  • 175g puff pastry
  • 1 egg beaten
  • a few ladles of stock made from simmering the hare bones for a couple of hours

Method:

  1. Dredge the hare in the seasoned flour. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the hare, cook over a medium heat to brown and add the pancetta, cook for another 3 minutes then add the diced veg, garlic and herbs. Cook gently for about 5 minutes whist stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the red wine, bring to just boiling then reduce heat to a simmer,add the blackberries and some of the stock until everything is well covered, add the blood also if using and put a well fitting lid on, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hrs or until the hare has softened to meltingly tender.
  3. If the stew seems a little thick simply loosen with some more stock, season with salt and pepper and add a touch of sugar if it needs it, cook uncovered until you are happy with the thickness of the gravy then divide between two small pie trays.
  4. Preheat your oven to 200C. Roll out your puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut into two pieces big enough to cover your pies. Seal the sides and brush with the beaten egg. Make a little hole for steam to come out of then put in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is risen and golden.

 

 

Advertisements

Lychee and Rose cakes & Poppy Bumface gets stuck up a tree

lychee rose cake

Well my posts have been pretty much non-existent as I’ve been away travelling around the UK doing lots of photo shoots recently but I’m back at Wyldelight Cottage and back in my lovely tiny kitchen. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram (hazelpatersonphoto) will be familiar with my cats, Boris and Poppy Bumface. Poppy Bumface is a very strange little creature, mostly antisocial and with a voice like a drunken docker she’s more Oscar the Grouch than lovable kitty. She’s also never been allowed out of the cottage, up until last Monday that is.

The hot weather has meant that the cottage windows have been open and the ever resourceful PBF had managed to climb up and out of the living room window to the wilds of Melton Mowbray. For a couple of days she came back obediently when called, checking in every 20 minutes or so to make sure the cottage hadn’t upped and left it’s little spot tucked away in the town, all was good. Then on Thursday lunchtime she didn’t come back when I called her. I called and called but no little bell could be heard, no squawking meow. I went round the front of the cottage and could hear her crying. It took me a while to figure out where it was coming from but there she was, up in the big lime tree that grows in the park next to my cottage, she was about 17ft up and she was stuck.

lime tree

I called, I rustled her biscuits, I put tuna at the bottom of the tree and she just wouldn’t budge, she just cried. Now PBF is afraid of being alone, she cries if someone leaves the cottage to pop to the shop and she doesn’t like loud noises. I kept popping out to call her and see if she had moved but nothing. I rang the RSPCA and was told she needed to be up there for at least 24 hours before they will investigate. It was getting dark, the wind was picking up, the tree began to rustle loudly and sway and Poppy Bumface went from crying to howling with fear, it really was awful. I went round to the park (at this point I’m now in my Pyjamas), I’m rattling her biscuits and talking to a tree, it wasn’t my most attractive moment, tears welling up in my eyes and obviously having just split up with my boyfriend that was the exact moment he called: “sorry I can’t talk now I’m being a crazy cat woman in the park” is basically how the conversation went…

I didn’t sleep, her terrified howls carried straight through my bedroom window, in the morning I went out to see her. She’d now moved higher up onto a branch, not just any branch though Poppy had found a nice comfy nest to bed down in and there was a rather angry wood pigeon that wanted it back. There really was no chance of her coming down of her own accord, she just kept going higher and higher.

I rang the RSPCA again, she’s only a kitten and hadn’t had any food or water for 24 hrs now and her little voice had gotten so quiet. I was told to carry on waiting. I decided to bake some cakes for whomever managed to rescue her.

Lychee, Almond and Rose cakes (makes 10)

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 120g ground almonds
  • 120g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt (I use Halen Môn Vanilla sea salt)
  • 1 25g tin lychees, roughly chopped
  • 2 tblsp lychee juice

Lychee Rose Buttercream: (really approximate quantities as I just kept tinkering unit it was right)

  • 200g homemade butter (from Maria at Melton Cattle Market)
  • about 2 mugfuls of vanilla icing sugar
  • 2 capfuls rose water
  • 2 tablespoons double cream
  • 1 capful natural red food colour
  • 1 tablespoon lychee juice

To decorate: edible glitter, gold shimmer spray, edible flowers.

Method:

  1. Put the butter in a mug and microwave it for 30 seconds then leave to cool. In a big bowl combine the eggs and caster sugar and using an electric whisk beat until very light and getting quite firm (about 4 minutes on high power) then stir in the cream of tartar and vanilla sees and beat for another 30 seconds.
  2. In another bowl combine the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.
  3. Gently stir the cooled butter into the egg mixture being careful not to knock the air out then the butter, then carefully fold in the flour mixture then finally the chopped lychees.
  4. Divide the mixture between muffin cases in a tin and bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes or until skewer comes out clean when pushed through the centre. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
  5. Make the buttercream by beating the butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy then gradually beat in the icing sugar, add the rose and lychee waters and food colouring and continue to beat and add icing sugar. Add a bit of double cream and keep beating until the mixture is smooth. If it splits just add more icing sugar and bit of cream and keep beating. When the cakes are completely cool splodge a decent amount of icing on top then decorate.

So the cakes were made and Poppy was still up in the tree, except now she was so high I could no longer see her, I could tell she had climbed higher than the cottage roof as her cry was no so quiet. The old lager boys in the park came over to investigate clutching their cans of super strength beer, they wanted to climb up to get her, oh dear this was all going to end quite badly. I stood with them for about 20 minutes saying it was going to be way too dangerous, they were pretty adamant though. They all know mybothr cat Boris as he goes over and hangs out with them on their bench, Boris knows everyone, he has a better social life than I do.

Now at about 23 hours and after another call to the RSPCA Inspector Keith Ellis arrived, I could have hugged him, the CAVALRY! We stood in the garden and tried to spot her, after about 10 minutes she appeared, she was SO HIGH up now, perhaps 40 – 50ft, well above the height of my chimney on the roof, she was now out on a branch. Inspector Ellis called the duty fire chief from Melton Mowbray fire and rescue to come and have a look.

Fire brigadeThe chief arrives, he can hear her but not see her, he calls the truck to come to the park and the boys get out. They can hear her but she is so high up they can’t see her, they go and get the thermal imaging camera…

fire brigade thermal imaging

Then, they spot her. The chief thinks she is too high up to reach but they get the ladder anyway.

melton firemen

It’s pretty rare they do this kind of thing so they were saying that its actually a really good training exercise for them, this made me feel much better.

fire crew rescue Poppy Bumface

As thunder started to rumble a fireman named Dex suits up into a climbing harness and the rescue mission is underway. One of the guys (bottom left picture) mentions to me that when they are called out to talk down someone sat on the edge of a roof they send a fireman that smokes up, apparently most jumpers are smokers and the act of sharing a cigarette bonds the pair together which helps talk them down. He jokes that they should adopt a cat that climbs up and talks down other cats from trees, a smoking cat preferably. Boris volunteers himself by heading over to their equipment and watching on…

boris and firemen

Boris in the centre of the picture supervises the rescue…

Dex comes down the ladder for the grabber then heads back up feeling pretty confident he can get her. It was actually incredibly sweet as I could hear him meowing at Poppy Bumface 🙂 Then I heard her bell and then very slowly Dex started to climb all the way back down clutching a very frightened kitten to his chest, I very nearly burst into tears.

Dex climbs down carrying Poppy Bumface

Dex climbs down carrying Poppy Bumface

And then after 24 hours stuck up a tree, little Poppy Bumface is down!

cat in tree, cat rescued by firemen, poppy bumface

Dex my absolute hero holding Poppy Bumface, RSPCA Inspector Keith Ellis on right

Hurray for Dex! Hurray for Keith, hurray for all the guys from Melton day shift Fire and Rescue, total stars!

2013-06-18_0009

So Poppy Bumface was rescued and the wonderful day shift from Melton Mowbray Fire and Rescue went off heroically with a tin full of the lychee rose cakes covered in edible glitter and flowers (and with 25% off a photo shoot if they wanted one for them and their families, although I’m totally up for taking pictures of semi naked firemen *if* thats what they really want!). Poor Inspector Ellis missed out on a cake though so I owe him one, everyone really was wonderful and yes Poppy Bumface is well and truly grounded for the foreseeable future….

Melton Mowbray Cheese Fair 2013

melton mowbray, cheese fair

 

Last weekend saw the return of the Melton Mowbray Cheese Fair (I’d link to the website but it still only has a list of last year’s exhibitors), it’s actually billed as the “artisan” cheese fair but many of the exhibitors could hardly be called artisan, Long Clawson for example makes over 6,700 tonnes of cheese a year and I’ve worked in one of the other cheese factories that were there and they are about as far from “artisan” as you can get.

Artisan: (from the Oxford English Dictionary)

noun

  • a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.
  • [as modifier] (of food or drink) made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients: Britain’s artisan cheeses

There were much fewer cheese exhibitors this year, many of the artisan producers that were there last year were absent this time round bar a handful, but with the term “artisan” being used so loosely to include huge cheese manufacturers I don’t really blame them for wanting to distance themselves from something that devalues the true meaning of the word so carelessly.

I went along on the Sunday and was pretty shocked, not by the lack of small producers which I’d kinda expected but by the sheer rudeness of so many of the show’s visitors. It seemed entirely appropriate that it was held in a cattle market as people paid their £1 entrance fee many pushed and shoved and grabbed greedily at samples before just walking off. Everyone I spoke to in the days following the event said the same thing: “we saw people literally grabbing the knives off the tables and hacking lumps of cheese off from the producer’s tables and then just walking away.” It was depressing. Full credit to the traders though who I think must have all taken some super smiley pills because they were all incredible gracious and friendly in the face of such rudeness. I would have had people leaving my stall with toothpicks protruding from their eyes and hands after several hours of this so huge respect to all of them.

I gave up on moving around the stalls after my desire to whip out a cattle prod grew too intense and opted for a pint of Natterjack cider to calm me down, then an ale and watched the Melton Ukelele Orchestra who were absolutely ace, they played Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones and it totally made my day.

Things had quietened down a bit by then (perhaps the morris dancing had something to do with it) so I headed round the stalls to talk cheese. It was great to see David from Sparkenhoe there again (middle left on the picture above), THIS my friends is what Red Leicester is meant to taste like, its nutty, creamy, unpasturised and made on their farm using their own herd. Unsurprisingly the hands down flavour winners of the day were the unpasturised (raw milk) cheeses, of which I bought about 8 different ones (Keens cheddar, Chorlton smoked and unsmoked CheshireLaverstock buffalo mozzarella, Teifi’s Celtic promise, and 2 from the same producer whom I can’t remember the name of) which were all wonderful but my favourite of the day was Kent’s Winterdale Shaw which is Britain’s first carbon neutral cheese. Next time I’m down in Kent I’m going to head over to see them, they are a lovely family making great cheese using their own cows, just the kind of people and cheese that make this country’s food heritage something to be proud of.

There aren’t many photos to accompany this post as I pretty much just wanted to get out of there. It’s a real shame as it has the potential to be a good food fair, just drop the word Artisan or ONLY have true artisan products, get out of the cattle market and into a field with some marquees, have lots of other micro breweries, cider makers, artisan bakers, pie makers and celebrate food that is made with love and care and not forgetting MUCH more of the ukelele orchestra 🙂

Melton Mowbray Farmer’s Market Game Auction

Game, foraged mushrooms, veg, just a few of the things you can bid on at the auction

Tuesday mornings are my favourite because I head across the road to Melton Farmer’s Market, eat a bacon sandwich and head into the auction sheds to see what treats are on offer. One of the many things I love about this bustling weekly market is that you never know what you are going to find.

A couple of months ago I nominated Melton Farmer’s Market for the Best Food Market category in the BBC Food and Farming Awards. A couple of weeks ago I was stood in the kitchens prepping Sunday lunch and listening to BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme on the little radio, as I always do, when I heard Valentine Warner read out my nomination. I really like Valentine’s approach to food and cooking, in fact the only cookbook I have in the work kitchen is his “What to Eat Now – Autumn/Winter” book, which sits next to the radio. I recognised my words instantly, Melton Farmer’s market had made it to the final three from hundreds of nominations, I was ecstatic! I’m still ecstatic about it, Melton Farmer’s market is the heart and soul of countryside living and it really deserves to be celebrated.

Earlier in the year I took Radio Leicester’s Ben Jackson to the market. Ben is passionate about the county and it’s wonderful food and we had a blast, as we always do when we hang out together, and I promised that once game season kicks off we would do it again. Well game season is in full swing and yesterday morning off we went to see what was on offer in the Fur and Feather shed.

Melton Farmer’s market never disappoints, you can listen to me and Ben and find out just how easy it is to bid at the game auction by clicking on this link:

Melton Mowbray Game Auction – Radio Leicester (audio)

There were pheasants, partridges, pigeons, rabbits, hares, ducks, venison and grouse hanging on the racks and on the tables were boxes of huge turgid savoy cabbages, bags of onions, plenty of massive squashes, a giant pumpkin and lots of boxes of foraged mushrooms, marvellous!

What I love about the auction is that the people around you love to talk about the food that’s being sold. Recipe tips are exchanged and foraging spots shared. Unlike pretty much everyone else that attends the auction I’m not a huge fan of the blewitt mushrooms which are called Blue Legs here. I prefer the meaty parasol mushrooms and am always the solitary bidder (likewise when I buy squirrels!) so people are always happy to tell me where they’ve seen lots growing.

Whilst there on Tuesday morning we chatted to the bidders around us, swapping hanging and cooking techniques, discussing how the price for the venison was high this week and the price of live chickens so low (just £1 for 4 birds) and that you could pick up two big plump live turkeys for just £30 today. I wish I had more outdoor space I really do, I think my chickens would object to sharing their coop with a huge turkey or two.

Lots of people outside of such a community seem to view game as being something for the upper classes, for the toffs to shoot and eat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Game is cheap, healthy and plentiful. Game isn’t a “food trend” on people’s plates round here, it’s a seasonal feast that’s looked forward to each year and welcomed back into our kitchens with gleefully hungry, open arms.

Pheasants were going for £1.50/brace, Grouse went for a whopping £13 this week as there was just the one brace and the mallards just £1.50. That huge pumpkin was sold to me for a mere £1!

The veg is always top quality and we walked away with the most perfect savoy cabbages and a whopping pumpkin that weighted in at 7.4kg for just £1. So far that pumpkin has been turned into a huge pumpkin and porcini lasagne, 50 yes FIFTY rich and fudgy pumpkin, walnut and chocolate brownies and I STILL have 1/4 of it left to use up.

It’s not just the auctions that draw me to the market every week but in the food shed you will find the wonderful Maria and her homemade delights. Maria’s homemade butter is just incredible and this week her husband Tony, who makes wonderful chilli sauces and wooden chopping boards, had been out shooting and whipped up lots of venison pâte.

In the 3 years that I’ve been living in Melton Mowbray, and using the cattle market twice a week, it has become my main source of food and enjoyment in this town. It never fails to enrich my cupboards, larder and dining table and will hopefully continue to do so for many  years. If you ever get a chance to come over to Melton on a Tuesday morning then make sure you have a wander around all the different sheds; you’ll find antiques, collectables, firewood, building wood, clothes, kitchenalia, not to mention all the ferrets, pigs, sheep, cows, canaries, geese, well the list goes on and on. Come over, come early (auctions kick off about 9:30am), grab yourself a wild boar bacon sandwich from Paul (aka The Roosterman) and take it all in, you won’t be disappointed.

 

East Midlands Food and Drink Festival in Melton Mowbray

This weekend the annual food and drink festival took place at the cattle market in Melton Mowbray. Normally I head over on the Sunday and spend the day drinking wine, cider and beer with my favourite producers, but alas I had to work this weekend so was able to get over for a couple of hours on Saturday to catch up with people and take a few shots.

Booze o’clock

Natterjack cider is usually my first point of call at any Melton food event and this year was no different, although I opted for one of his wonderful apple juices instead of the hard stuff. Booze was everywhere to tempt me and the lovely chaps from CAMRA were making my abstinence all the more difficult with their beer tasting sessions.

Beer tasting, one of my favourite pastimes

Mark from Gourmet Spice was there, he’s ace. I always love seeing him at events and checking out all his new spice rubs, oils and vinegars. His Togarishi spice blend is awesome, the best I’ve found in the UK, blows your head off mind! His new Mango and Green Apple balsamic vinegar is an absolute cracker too. I ended up leaving with a bag full of his new goodies!

The lovely Mark from Gourmet Spice

There was cheese a plenty which always makes me happy. You should definitely seek out Sparkenhoe vintage Red Leicester, it’s made with love and care by the fabulous and local LeicestershireHandmade Cheese Company, it’s the perfect example of an artisan cheese, just heavenly. I sampled their new blue cheese Battlefield Blue, yeah that’s a cheese I could quite happily bathe in…

Handmade Cheese Co new cheese, it’s absolutely wonderful

Good cheese = a very happy Hazel

Plenty of game for sale

I was taking a shot of hanging cured meat when I bumped into the lovely Rachel who organised Melton Pie Fest, yes I’m taking photos of meat because I LOVE cured meat and look how beautiful it is…

Cured meat, come to me baby!

No one went hungry…

The lovely fellas from Pomegranate were cooking and selling an array of Iranian culinary delights

Fluffy cloud meringues, toasties and Chinese food all did well

Fear not, it didn’t take me long to find the macarons…

Pretty macarons, I had a pistachio and a lemon one, breakfast macarons are the way forward

My absolute favourite stand is always the GB Italia stand. Not only are their Sicilian wines, liquors and limoncello divine but Rosemarie is the most awesome lady ever. I only get to see her once a year but I made sure I stocked up on some Limoncello to get me through until my homemade one is ready. Even if you are not interested in food and drink your ticket cost is worth it just to hang out with Rosemarie and her total enthusiasm for life and Sicilian wine will cheer even the grumpiest of souls.

From Limoncello to purple cauliflowers, all my kinda food and booze

It took me ages to find the Great Food Magazine stand manned by editor Matt Wright. I kept asking friends who I bumped into and they all replied with: “he’s somewhere over there apparently, haven’t found him yet”. Well after quite some searching I did eventually find him behind a wicker basket stand (yeah I’m not entirely sure what that was doing there) and he broke my booze abstention instantly by his determined persistence: Matt: “Time for a beer?” Me: “Hell yeah”. I really do have no willpower, actually thats a lie I just got a half from the `Belvoir Brewery stand (located by the Great Food stand, coincidence? I think not) just ordering a half took serious willpower. This was rewarded however by the abundance of free badges on the Belvoir bar that simple said “I Love Beaver”, obviously I picked us up a couple.

Matt was behind the basket stand everyone

I also bumped into Tim Burke who writes all the news for Great Food mag. “Have you seen today’s Leicester Mercury?” He asked, errr no. “We’re in it!” He exclaimed. So thrilled to be featured in their new Food Special as one of Leicestershire’s Food Heroes for this blog!

“News, views and recipes from the Great Food magazine writer, who also contributes to the website Domestic Sluttery. Her own  blog demands a visit, if only for the hugely entertaining About Me section.” Awesome.

Really thrilled to be included, also there was Tim for his blog and Matt for the fab Great Food magazine, celebratory beers were called for.

Also there was the wonderful Just Soaps Of The Earth with her stunning handmade soaps, creams, balms and all manner of treats to make you look and smell better. I couldn’t resist her Kitchen Soap and Patchouli shower gel so I currently smell like my 15 year old self, in a good way, not in a stinky teenager cider and fags way, hmmm actually I probably smell exactly like my 15 year old self.

One is edible, one will make you smell amazing

Ace to see so many lovely friends there with so many new brilliant products, were you there? Did you find something awesome?

Pie Fest in Melton Mowbray

                                                                  Pie me!

Last Wednesday morning BBC Radio Leicester’s Ben Jackson and my fellow Radio Leicester Food Friday cook Penny, met at my cottage to prepare ourselves for a morning of pie eating. We had the enviable job of judging Best Pie in the first Melton Mowbray pie competition open to all the local pubs, cafes and restaurants. You can hear us eating and judging some of the pies on Ben’s show (about 1hr 41mins in).

Don’t we all looks so glamorous in our official pie eating garments?

It took over an hour to work our way through the pies that had made it onto the judging table and guided by Stephen Hallam, Melton Mowbray pie maker extraordinaire, we carefully analysed each pie on a number of strict criteria such as pastry thickness, texture of filling, amount of filling, quality of bake and of course flavour. Some pies that scored highly on one scored low on others and before the figures were added up for each one we really had no idea which one was going to win.

                                             Stephen Hallam and a couple of the pies

                                                        Penny and the winning pie

The winner turned out to be Miss B’s Tearooms Hedgerow pie that had a viennese pastry top and filled with blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and elderflower. It was a cracking little pie and served with a big dollop of clotted cream it was quite frankly bloody lovely!

The pie competition was the warm up for the weekend’s Pie Fest which took over the town’s market place. I headed there on Saturday for a couple of hours in the sunshine to talk and eat pie…

Ian from Hartland Pies with his kickass Melton Mowbray pork pie topped with his very own chilli jam

Luckily I arrived just as the festival opened and headed to Hartland Pies for some breakfast. Their pork and black pudding pie was the perfect solution to my breakfast yearnings but I was totally blown away by his chilli jam topped Melton Mowbray. His pastry is just out of this world, he did tell me the secret but if I told you I would obviously have to kill you so you will just have to buy one and try and work it out yourself 🙂 They had sold out of pies just 2 hours later!

 

                         The lovely Louise from Miss B’s Tearoom with her trophy

Food historian Matthew O’Callaghan gave talks about the history of the pie

Stephen Hallam gave Melton Mowbray pie making demos outside his shop all weekend

                                                       How to hand raise a pie

                                                          Jazz and pies…nice

Gorgeous freehand sewing machine tea cosies made by Createry Studio

                             Hey ladies, how YOU doin’? Mark works his magic

It was an ace way to spend a couple of hours and I’m gutted I had to dash off as I really quite fancied an afternoon sat in the sunshine eating pies, drinking ale and listening to jazz, but then again there is always next year and after the success of this year I reckon it’s going to be bigger and better again.

 

Borage flowers at Sysonby Knoll

The borage field

I found myself on the other side of town at the Sysonby Knoll Hotel recently. I’ve been meaning to go for a while but it was a tweet from them that mentioned a borage field next to the hotel that clinched it. I’m a huge fan of edible flowers so the thought of a whole field was too much to resist, so off I went.

I could hear the borage field before I saw it, the gentle hum of thousands and thousands of honey bees drinking nectar guided me past 2 wooden hives to the most beautiful sight…

As I wandered through the humming field of blue and purple flowers I passed another of my favourite edible wild plants. For as long as I can remember we used to pull the stems of what we called Applesaps and suck the sour appley juice from the stems like straws. They taste just like wood sorrel and I’ve only just found out that their proper name is Himalayan Balsam and its thought of as a highly invasive weed! Their beautiful pink flowers are just stunning and look like orchids but more excitingly their pods explode when you touch them releasing their seeds! There was plenty of Meadowsweet growing along the riverbank too not to mention all the apple trees, sloes and a huge fig tree with a few plump figs hiding amongst the foliage.

I drifted around the beautiful grounds for about an hour and picked a few borage flowers to crystallise later.

Crystallising the borage flowers

The flowers are now carefully stored away for a rainy day that needs brightening up. It really was a lovely way to spend an hour, and when I look at my own precious solitary borage plant in my herb garden, it always reminds me of that sunny afternoon in the blue humming field of bees.

Cream Tea at Stapleford Park

I can’t believe its taken me nearly 3 years to finally get round to visiting Stapleford Park! It’s only about a five minute drive away from my cottage and since we visited on Tuesday I’ve been kicking myself for not going sooner.

My sister and her two children came to stay with me for a couple of days and asked what there was to do around Melton Mowbray. Aha! My sister loves big country houses so we piled into my car and headed out into the beautiful Leicestershire countryside in search of a cream tea.

On arrival we instantly knew it was somewhere really rather special. Beautiful landscaped gardens lead up to the most stunning hotel which just screams indulgence and pampering. My favourite room was the taxidermy room though, I’m a huge fan of dead animals hanging off walls!

The heady scent of lavender and freshly cut grass instantly had us ready to sit down, relax and soak up our surroundings (there are loads of really rather handsome chaps about  which was also rather nice!).

My niece Nyla took an instant shine to the giant chess set and was happily amused in her own little world whilst we got on with checking out the menu, confident that she will one day become a chess master as a result. Sarah and I both opted for the cream tea whilst my nephew Daniel opted for the rare roast beef sandwich which must have been good as it disappeared too quickly for me to try a taste!

The scones were lighter than light, the homemade strawberry compote was heavenly and the Cornish clotted cream was absolutely heavenly although I was a little disappointed to find it wasn’t local cream, Lubcloud dairy make the most wonderful thick cream that would have been just perfect. I could have also done with an extra scone too, 2 of those little beauties just wasn’t enough to scoop up all that lovely compote and cream! I went for a pot of lapsang souchong tea which was served in a beautiful heavy silver plated pot and the friendly (and immaculately dressed) staff happily provided lots of milk for my niece. At £9.50 per person the cream tea is not cheap but everything was beautifully made, the setting was perfect and to be able to wander the stunning grounds in the sunshine made it absolutely worth it.

We had the most wonderful afternoon at Stapleford Park, in fact once we got back to my cottage we vowed that next time we will stay the night (despite me only living 5 minutes away!) and take advantage of their amazing spa and swimming pool. I’m definitely bringing my Dad for a round of golf on their course next time he visits me, mostly because I want to drive around in their golf buggies but it’s been ages since I played golf and what a place to get back into the swing of things (sorry!).

So if you find yourself in the Melton Mowbray area and want to treat yourself then definitely get yourself over to Stapleford Park, in fact just treat yourself and stay there wherever you may be and take me with you!

My beautiful family:

Lets look at that divine cream tea again….

The Olympic flame was in Melton Mowbray today, now what?

This isn’t my normal kind of blog post, there is no food involved, no photos.

If you have ever clicked on the “About” section of this blog then you will know that I had an accident just over 2 years ago on May 21st 2010 that radically changed my life. In the blink of an eye I went from being happy, healthy and earning just under 40k a year to being trapped on a sofa bed, barely able to move without excruciating pain and having an income of £99 a week to live on. This somehow would also have to pay the mortgage on my first home that I had just bought 5 months previously and all the other credit/loans/outgoings you tend to acquire when you are used to earning 40k a year and assume you will always have that coming in.

The last 2 and a half years have been really difficult but I’ve got through it but it’s been tough. Actually it’s been really fucking tough, it’s been crawl up in a ball and cry your eyes out  because I can’t see a way out/can’t pay the mortgage this month/have to sit in the dark because we can’t afford to put money on the meter/can’t afford a pint of milk/stamp tough, yeah you get the idea.

And yes I’ve been low, low to the point that feeling that way feels “normal” and it’s only when you go to see a doctor about something mundane, like a really swollen throat, and they ask you how you are feeling, and you tell them and they get “that look”. That look that says, “this isn’t normal” and then they question you further for their Suicide Risk checklist and you wonder why they are being so concerned about your answers because you feel this every day, this is normal for you right now. Yeah I’ve been there, I’ve been there many times since I was 12 years old and I’m now 34.

We are losing people in our town who feel desperate, alone and estranged. There are things we can do to help as individuals like looking out for one another but there is so much more that we can do as a community.

Melton Mowbray lost many people over the last 14 months, several of them young, who felt alone and unable to cope with their situations. In the kitchen today I worked with a young man doing work experience who told me that his age group are in desperate need. We lost another young member of our community this weekend. Members of our town really are in desperate need, not just our youth, many of us are in need, but it’s predominantly our children, our teenagers and our young adults that are bearing the brunt of our disappearing shops, jobs, leisure facilities and community.

After the torch had passed through the town today and I had closed up the cafe, I walked through the town square where there was still the Torch Roadshow truck playing music. Teenagers were dancing, laughing, shouting and having a whale of a time but the metal barriers were being gathered, the stalls dissembled and the music turned off. Where do they go now?  Lack of staffing has seen our youth clubs closed, the council has shut the leisure centre for the summer to refurbish and because there are no jobs in the town the teenagers have no money.

People talk about our “disaffected youth”- disaffected: adjective alienatedresentfuldiscontentedhostileestranged, dissatisfiedrebelliousantagonisticdisloyalseditious,mutinous, uncompliant, unsubmissive.   The irony is that our young people seem to be the most affected by what is going on around them and their voices are being lost.

I work with a Melton Mowbray charity called Lost For Words that was set up earlier this year when members of the community came together in the wake of losing several young people, to try and give emotional support to everyone who needs it though our free website resource database. 

A person, just holding a piece of metal with a tiny flame, passed that tiny little flame to another person, holding just another piece of metal today in our town centre, and managed to bring our community together for a couple of hours in the rain.  Just think what we could do if we put our minds to it. Our shops are closing and our town centre is dying, lets make sure that we do everything we can to try and save our community and try and prevent another flame from being extinguished.

The Olympic flame passed through Melton Mowbray today and brought a community briefly together, what can we now do to bring it back?

BBC Radio Leicester: I take Ben Jackson to Melton Farmer’s Market

A few of the things you will find at the market during the course of the year

There is SO much more to Melton Mowbray than pork pies and stilton cheese, not that you  ever hear about all the other wonderful producers around here.  The town’s PR people concentrate so heavily on these 2 products and just seem to ignore the rest, and for me it’s “the rest” that actually makes Melton so special. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pork pie (preferably with lots of trotter jelly, a good crust and plenty of black pepper) but you only hear about one shop that sells them in a town where actually, each different butchers sells a different pie.  My Butchers (Derek Jones) sell Baileys pies who were featured in Jamie Oliver’s Channel 4 show Great Britiain which highlighted Britain’s best producers. Another butcher sells Walkers pies who actually won the best Melton Mowbray Pork Pie category at the 2012 British Pie Awards (also held in Melton Mowbray).

I took Ben Jackson from BBC Radio Leicester along to the farmer’s market near my cottage to show him how fantastic not only the food scene in Melton is but also how vibrant and wonderful our Tuesday market is. Its’s a real farmer’s market where you can buy a herd of cattle, a flock of sheep, some wild boar and pheasants along side your bread, home-made butter, veg plants for the garden, home cured bacon and antique furniture!

Maria’s butter and boxes of local mushrooms and game birds

You can hear our trip around the market here, it is 1 hr 39mins in from the start of the programme *WARNING: a courgette plant was harmed in the recording of this broadcast*

Bidding at the game auction and my partridges and pheasants from earlier in the year

I then took him down through the town market to the Fish Man who travels from the Grimsby fish market every Tuesday morning and has the freshest, most beautiful array of fish and shell fish. He had some wonderful wild sea trout from Scotland and plenty of bright green salty samphire which just had to be bought!

I then took Ben to Coco Cakes to meet “the Cake Lady” (also known as Jane) who makes the best chocolate fudge you will EVER taste, sadly she didn’t have any ready though as she had literally just popped it in the fridge to set – sad times.  Luckily her shop is about 20 seconds from the end of my lane though so fudge crisis averted.

A trip to my favourite butchers Derek Jones for some of their incredible home cured and smoked bacon and a few slices of their own haslet and it was time for me to head to work for a day in the kitchen, and Ben to head back to BBC Radio Leicester fully laden with wonderful food goodies, and not a pork pie or piece of stilton in sight.

Pauls Bakery

 Paul’s Soyfoods are entirely organic and in addition to delivering fresh fruit and veg around the country also bake 6 days a week.  I spent an hour one morning watching the two bakers at work, it was fast, unrelenting and beautifully coordinated work and I was really struck by how tactile the whole process was. There are quite a few more photos to come over the next couple of days as I get around to it and I will be heading back to photograph them making their own tofu and tempeh soon.

On the game in Melton

He ain't getin on no plane FOOL!

I am incredibly lucky to live just a few minutes walk away from the truly wonderful Melton Cattle Market which hosts the most fantastic Farmers Market every Tuesday and during Game Season you can take your pick of wild meats as well as all the usual livestock, local veg, homemade cakes, pies, breads, antiques, chicken coops, old bikes, shotguns, Landrovers the list goes on and on! There really is not a lot that you can’t buy at this Farmer’s Market and its one of the reasons I’m always so excited to go.

Melton Game Auction’s glamorous assistant

deer, pheasant, partridge, pigeon, rabbit, hare, duckFab Fungi in the auctionfab fungi