Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Cider and soup

Having eaten way too much blue cheese this Christmas (Partridge Blue, Dorset Blue Vinney and Cropwell Bishop Stilton), I decided to put the remainder into a soup yesterday. So into the pot went chopped leeks, onion, garlic, fresh sage and parsley, vegetable stock and the aforementioned blue). Soup, it seems to me, always tastes better the day after it is made so we had it for lunch today, served with Dorset Blue Vinney croutons and a glass of my father-in-law’s 2008 farmhouse cider . The cider was a great pairing but winelovers may prefer a crisp, inexpensive, dry white. Go French if I were you, with something light and fresh from Savoie or try a personal favourite of mine - white Saint Pourçain.

At this time of year father-in-law’s cider is often used for mulled cider, a refreshing and (I find) lighter alternative to the ever-popular mulled wine. I use a similar mix of ingredients as I would for the wine-based version – a few cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange zest, sugar and a hearty glug of either rum or brandy. Ladled into glass cups, it is a warming accompaniment for my husband’s delicious sausage rolls or mixed nuts roasted in a paste of sunflower oil and spices.

If you have a favourite food match for cider - do leave a comment on the blog and let me know.

Father-in-law’s cider is made in West Somerset on his isolated farm which nestles in a valley in the shadow of the Quantock Hills. In 2006, he resurrected the family tradition of cider-making which had ground to a halt in the mid-1990s when my husband’s grandfather became too frail to continue with his annual production, made from the cider apples growing in his orchards. There was much local interest when the family cider-making started up again as it seemed to be a tradition that was fast disappearing and this interest, to some extent, spurred my father-in-law on.

Today’s cider is ‘cleaner’ than that of yesteryear, a little weaker and not as dry. Grandfather made his cider in the old-fashioned way, by assembling the ‘cheese’ with straw. The pressed cheese was a treat for his dairy cows who would chase across the fields to chew at it once the pressing was finished. Nowadays, hessian sacks are used allowing a more powerful pressing.

Years ago, the cider was given to the farm labourers after a hard day’s work in the fields, sometimes in lieu of wages, and it was always enough to leave them ‘sozzled’ but happy. My husband remembers many a dubious character turning up at grandad’s farm to buy what was, in those days, relatively cheap alcohol and Grandfather never disappointed, a flagon or two always being available for purchase and very palatable it was too. Indeed, I still feel a little guilty for introducing an Australian cousin, visiting Somerset for the first time, to the art of cider-drinking shortly before Grandfather stopped making it. She eagerly rose to the challenge, so much so that she hasn’t touched the stuff since.

Cider-making day comes round in late September or early October when the apples are ripe to overripe. It is quite an event to behold, attracting a good crowd of locals who cheerfully join in with the labour in return for a decent lunch and the odd pint of last year’s cider along the way. With much laughter and merriment, the apples are picked, pressed and put into barrels, with the finished product being ready to drink by the Spring of the following year.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Flaky Smoked Salmon from the Isle of South Uist

I was excited to receive my parcel of flaky smoked salmon from the Salar Smokehouse today. It's my third year of ordering from and each year it's been a seamless process with a delicious, yet slightly different, salmon product to enjoy over the holidays. The smokehouse is on the shore of Loch Carnan in the Hebridean island of South Uist.

We are not talking thin, smoked salmon here. No, not the sort you put on a blini with crème fraîche and caviar - more like a poached salmon fillet but with smoky flavours. To me, this makes a lovely and refreshing change from the usual Christmas fayre and I like to serve it with a salad of chunkily chopped cucumber with a dressing of dill, lemon juice and good-quality extra virgin olive oil. Add some freshly made lemon mayonnaise and a hunk of crusty bread and I am in heaven!

As for wine matches, I would highly recommend any of the following whites: Pouilly-Fumé and Reuilly (both are Sauvignons from the Central Vineyards of the Loire Valley) a dry Chenin Blanc from Savennières or a Viognier from either the Ardèche or, if you're up for taking the boat out, from the acclaimed vineyards of Condrieu.

Check out Salar's website - They state that their last postage date for Christmas deliveries is 20th December so you may still have time. Do try them throughout the year though. They have some great recipe suggestions on the website - I am sorely tempted by flaky smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for a Christmas morning breakfast or New Year's Day brunch.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Easy no-suet mincemeat

As I'm still suffering, following a bout of winter ailments that have hit our household, I have just barked the instructions for my mincemeat recipe at my husband and he has done it for me. He is the mince pie king after all, being a dab hand with many types of pastry. Christmas Eve is always a flurry of pastry-making in this house when he does flaky pastry for sausage rolls and shortcrust for the mince pies.

This recipe can be used straight away, once cooled, although I prefer to store it in sterilised jars in the fridge for a few days at least to be used between now and Christmas Eve. It will freeze well too - just remove from the freezer the day before you need it and allow it to defrost overnight.


75 ml ruby port
75 g soft dark brown sugar
300 g raisins & sultanas (I like the vine fruits mix from Waitrose)
1 1/2 tsps mixed spice
40 g dried cranberries
1 satsuma, zest finely grated & juice squeezed
30 ml brandy
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 dessert spoon of golden syrup

Pour the port and sugar into a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the dried fruits, spices and the zest and juice of the satsuma. Simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the port is soaked up by the fruit. Remove from the heat and add the brandy, vanilla extract and golden syrup. Give it all a good stir and pour into sterilised jars. Store in fridge for up to 3 weeks.

And to drink with mince pies? Mulled wine is probably best but, on Christmas Eve, when friends call in during the early evening, it'll probably be a glass of Champagne - not a great match but sometimes it just doesn't matter!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Here we go.....

So, here we are in December. The Christmas cake is made and is being fed with rum regularly before its ritual icing on Christmas Eve. The children have excitedly opened the first door of their advent calendars (no chocolate ones in this house though) and I am in a flat spin not having done a stroke of Christmas shopping.

I've been rather neglectful of my blog recently - a succession of seasonal ailments have left us all rather jaded - but that should change this month as there is nothing I love more than talking about Christmas - the food, wines and traditions, so here we go into December. Watch this space.........