Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Making cocktails is hard work

This week I have been making one of my favourite syrups - ginger vanilla.
We have been having some pretty unusual HOT weather here in Fife, and ginger vanilla syrup is a real favourite with sparkling water and plenty of ice. We have been sitting out most evenings with a glass of this in hand or pouring the syrup over vanilla ice cream.
I love everything about this syrup - the spicy ginger blends so well with the smoooooth vanilla. I even love the vanilla seeds floating about in it!
As we do though, we got to wondering if the syrup could be used in an alcoholic cocktail. We tried a few ideas out but quickly realised that, like our lavender syrup, ginger vanilla is a 'less is more' kind of thing so we whittled down the ingredients and settled on a ginger gin.

2 parts cheap gin
1 part ginger vanilla syrup
1 part lemon juice

combine all the ingredients and then pour over ice.
I liked this in a martini glass with a twist of lemon peel.

We did try expensive gin but found too many flavours going on - so save your best gin and stick to the simplest you have - my kind of cocktail!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Ramson season begins

Here in Fife the season for wild garlic or ramsons has begun. Ramsons are also known as bears or wood garlic and these names give the clues as to where this delicious wild harvest can be found. It grows best in the dappled shade of deciduous woods and around the shrubby edges of woodland; often interspersed with bluebells. If you cant find them or are not sure of the identity a good sniff will usually find them out.

The ramson is a member of the allium family and has endless uses in the kitchen including using the leaves wilted like spinach and making variations of pesto with a good hard cheese, pine nuts or walnuts.

All parts of the plant are edible in that they will not do any harm but the bulbs are very small and are not much used in the kitchen It should also be noted that it is illegal in the UK to dig up wild ramsons so be warned!

Luckily it is mainly the leaves that have the best flavour and are most useful in cooking. It is best to collect them as early as possible in the season, concentrating on the smaller younger leaves. I am experimenting this year with freezing some of the leaves - I use ramsons to make a wild ramson vinegar so any changes to the texture caused by freezing will not effect the outcome of the vinegar. I will let you know how the freezing experiment goes. The white flowers are also edible and are a wonderful garnish particularly on egg dishes - very little beats freshly scrambled eggs topped with ramson confetti unless it is an omelette with chopped, wild garlic leaves through it.

This recipe for ramson and walnut pesto is a slight variation on one taken from Denis Cotters book 'wild garlic, gooseberries and me';

100g young ramson leaves including stalks
75g walnut pieces
8tbsp good olive oil
salt and pepper - to taste
a good squeeze of lemon juice - again to taste

put ramsons, nuts and oil into food processor and blend to required consistency. Add seasoning and lemon juice to taste. Fabulous stirred through pasta or with lightly toasted pitta bread.

Enjoy the ramson season. As soon as the tree canopy fills out they will be gone (except for mine - safely tucked away in the freezer).

Thursday, 7 March 2013

spring is coming

I often think that I will have  nice quiet time during the winter months but it never seems to work out that way. I have been endlessly busy sowing seeds  - annuals, perennials and even some shrubs. Sowing them is such a nice job but the excitement when the first seeds start to appear is soon overshadowed by the endless task of pricking out. I am trying to keep to at least 150 per day - seems like a lot but they just keep coming and some days I have to spend all day frantically potting the faster growing ones. It is really time for a second sowing of some and for the less hardy annuals to be started off but I will just have to clear some space somewhere to put them all. The polytunnel is full, the small greenhouse is full, the dining room has no more space and I am gradually filling up the bedrooms. I am hopeful that we may be able to start planting out soon - perhaps under the long cloches that I bought last year.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Busy busy

Well what a busy time I have been having here at the country garden. We had an amazing Christmas season for all the right reasons! Sarah and I got busy early making wreaths from holly, silver pine, cones and plenty of berries from the garden. We have some very productive hollies in the garden in gold, silver and some covered in berries. I am always reluctant to deprive the birds by taking too many berries but this year the holly berries were so abundant that I was able to be generous in all the wreaths and swags that we made. As well as the front door decorations we made plenty of wreaths for indoors - some for advent candles and table decorations but I was very surprised by the number of cemetary sprays that I was asked to make.
Our other big project this winter has been to re-introduce our range of soaps. I have been making cold process soaps for many years developed from recipes written in my grandmothers notebooks. I use a lot of herbs and flowers from the garden and decided to trial these soaps at several Christmas fairs and what a success they were! I learned that pretty pale colours are the most popular - a buttery yellow honey soap and gently fragranced lavender soap were probably the biggest sellers. We also bagged up our lavender in a new range of sachets, dried oranges and cinnamon sticks for home decoration and made pretty hanging decorations from cones and berries.
As soon as Christmas was over it was back to completing the new range of garden inspired foods - fruit vinegars, finishing salts, flavoured sugars, herbal teas, syrups and cordials. We will use the same principles as we do for our cut flowers - seasonal products, low carbon and the minimum ingredients - no preservatives for us!

I will be putting all the new products onto the site over the next few days - a job I am not looking forward to - maybe some urgent weeding will take priority!