Bonfire, bangers and riots

Two ways with sausages for Bonfire night: Jacket potato bangers and Toad in the hole

Last year on this day I wrote about Guy Fawkes and his connection to the Gunpowder Plot (see Gunpowder, treason and Bonfire Parkin here) and how it came to be that such plot was, well... plotted. I went back to nearly a hundred years before the plot, to see where that seed was sown.
Today I look at the customs that resulted from this failed plot and how it influenced the way we riot and react today to show our dismay, disappointment and disgust for politics and religion.

The trial of the eight surviving conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot was held on januari 27 1606 in Westminster Hall which would have destroyed had their plot been successful. A statute was passed, declaring that deliverance from Gunpowder treason should be remembered every year. From then on each 5th of november there would be a church service at which attendance was compulsory if you were loyal to the King, or at least wanted to pretend to be loyal. It became an annual ceremony to keep the memory of the failed Gunpowder Plot alive. It continued until it was taken out of the prayerbook two centuries later in 1859. But although it was erased from the prayerbook, it was by now rooted into the culture.

In a way the customs of the 5th of november provided a replacement to the pre-reformation holy days of All Saints and All Souls on the 1st and 2nd of November. On these days the churches would be lit with candles, and torches marking the start of winter and darkness. This catholic tradition in its own right had replaced the old pagan rites of Samhain,  which celebrated the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. It literally means 'summer's end' and is the primary festival marking the end and the beginning of the year.

When the christians needed to convert the pagans, they gave them the 1st of November, a day on which they could light candles and make lanterns in hollowed turnips, just as they had been doing for generations before christianity spread. The reformation to Protestantism left the people with an empty gap where their 1st of November celebrations used to be, so naturally they embraced the new bonfire tradition after the Gunpowder Plot failed in the first years of the 1600's. 

Conveniently to the Protestants, the 5th of november could be used as a celebration of the conservation of Protestantism, a date to mark in the calendar alongside the early death of Queen Mary (a Catholic), the long reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Protestant) and the defeat of the Spanish Armada (to warn off the Spanish Catholics). 

When Charles I married the Catholic princes of France, people showed their disapproval of the Catholic queen by burning effigies of the Pope and the devil on the 5th of November. We are now situated 20 years after the Gunpowder Plot and the only effigies that were burnt were that of the pope and the devil, not of Guy Fawkes.
In 1647 was described how bonfires went from simply great fires to spectacles with fireworks and explosives including fireballs. And in 1657 Samuel Clarke's 'England Remembrancer invoked the happenings of the plot. 

After Charles II Restoration in 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary "This 5th of November is observed exceeding well in the City; and at night great bonfires and fireworks." The next years up until the year of the Great Fire in 1666 (which was for a short time also blamed on the catholics) he also mentioned Bonfires and festivities which shows us the normality of these celebrations by this time. On one occasion he is driving home with his wife after going to see Macbeth "forced to go round by London-Wall home because of the bonefires."

Celebrations of the 5th became larger and intense rather than festive after the brother of Charles II Duke of York publicly declared to be a Catholic. This was followed by the Exclusion Crisis to exclude the him from the throne because he was Roman Catholic. When the Tory's started to declare being agains the Exclusion, this created probably one of the first bonfire night riots. In 1682 the 5th fell on a sunday so celebrations started on monday the 6th. Reputedly crowds of people took to the streets attacking Tories and shouting their support for the King's bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth, who was Protestant. This Bonfire night, it was not a celebration of the failed Gunpowder Plot, it was a warning and objection against the possibility of being ruled by a Catholic king.

The next year on the 5th, bonfires and fireworks were banned to keep the calm. But you know what, two years later James did succeed Charles and England had a Catholic King... Needless to say that the Bonfire night celebrations were forbidden although the 'Gunpowder Treason-Day' church service remained.

Under the rule of  James' daughter Mary Stuart and her Protestant husband William of Orange, the celebrations of the 5th commenced and got entwined with the restoration of the Protestant religion in England by William of Orange. That double meaning didn't stick though and years after this, it was forgotten and the 5th was yet again a celebration of the failing of the Gunpowder Plot.
Gunpowder Treason-Day' church sermons changed each year, always highlighting another political event. Leaving the people a reason to take to the streets each year.

By the 18th century the festivities on the 'fifth' became less and less fuelled by hatred against Catholics and more about other political issues. The Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791 made life easier for Catholics, granting them the same rights as Protestants. Of course this sparked resistance leading to a week of rioting in 1780. But eventually the Catholics emancipated, helped by the Irish situation, with Catholic Irish members of Parliament. Of course in Ireland the troubles between the Irish Catholics and English Protestants remained.

Another change happened to the Bonfire night celebrations when anti-catholicism became less acceptable. By the early 19th century effigies of the pope were no longer burnt and the crowds needed another figure to 'blame'. Strangely enough that figure became Guy Fawkes, the person who was least named in contemporary writings about the Treason and Plot. Although Guy Fawkes is mostly remembered on Bonfire night today, it was Robert Catesby who was chief instigator of the Gunpowder Plot (read my previous post to learn more of the plot).

So why did our Guy Fawkes become the figure of Bonfire Night? We can of course not say for certain why, but in 1793 just before the turn of the century, a play was performed at the Royal Haymarket Theatre. The prelude in one act was entitled: Guy Fawkes or The Fifth of November. In 1835 a comic pantomime called Harlequin and Guy Fawkes: or the 5th of November was performed in London's Covent Garden. Many different stories about the Gunpowder Plot were told in plays after that, maybe the truth drifted away and the name Guy Fawkes just sounded best in playwright, maybe it was because he was discovered with the gunpowder...

But now Guy Fawkes has become the Gunpowder Plot, and the night of the fifth got often referred to as 'Guy Fawkes night'. He became the new face of the tradition, the scapegoat of the Plot, the symbol of opposition and disapproval.

Our story takes more turns in the 19th century with Bonfire night celebrations turning violent and dark. Victorian times saw the coming of a different sort of celebration, a night of rioting and criminal behaviour. A night when the honest should stay indoors and the dangerous ruled the streets.
The processions of 'the night of the fifth' would be fired with local social issues of politics and religion. They became manifestations, uprise agains local authorities and they became so dangerous and organised that they needed another organised organisation to contain them. So the police force grew to counter the protesters.

Today we live in a time with organised demonstrations, approved by the local authorities and contained for the safety of the protesters as well as the opponents and those who have nothing to do with it. But when the demonstrations do get ugly today, we see Guy Fawkes appear in the crowds...

Much like in the early 19th century plays about the Gunpowder Plot, a movie was made from a 1980's graphic novel in 2005. 'V for Vendetta' is set in a near-future dystopian society in England, with the main character being 'V' a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, who wants to destroy the corrupt fascist regime and its leaders. One of the authors of the graphic novel commented that "The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I'm happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way." By many political groups the film was seen as an allegory of oppression by government. Anarchists, libertarians and activists of any kind have used the Guy Fawkes mask in their demonstrations after the movie came out. It has been seen in demonstrations agains the G8 summit and in other economical and political protest. It has become the emblem of anonymity and dissent.

The 'Guy' has gained another face, 400 years after he was just one pawn of the Gunpowder Plot. He has now become the face of disappointed people, the face disapproval in modern times. The face saying, we have had enough... For now at least.

On to the food part of this post. Bonfire societies organise the Bonfire parades now in a safe and family friendly manner. The streets of Lewes particulary are the place to be for elaborate bonfire displays. People watch the parade and the fireworks and look forward to warling their hands on hot food and drink. 
For this years bonfire night I give you two ways with bangers which are perfect for bonfire night celebrations at home. Toad in the hole is a traditional meat & batter pudding dish that evolved from the Yorkshire pudding-type puddings and other types of fired pudding.
It is bound to be a succes with the little ones as who doesn't love a good old proper sausage. The other dish is a banger jacket potato, an easy dish that even the most inexperienced cook could make. The potato just needs time to cook in the oven so do that in advance. It's a perfect little bomb of warmth when you are planning to do some bonfiring of your own in the garden!

Toad in the hole

  • good quality sausages, 3 or 4
  • a few sprigs of rosemary (optional)

For the batter  
  • 280 ml milk  
  • 110 g plain flour  
  • a pinch of salt  
  • 3 medium eggs

preheat your oven to max 250° C
Fry your sausages in sunflower oil in a pan until nearly done
Pour 1 cm of sunflower oil into a baking stray or cake tin and place in the middle of the hot oven.
Place a larger tray underneath in case the oil drips over, you don't want extra cleaning afterwards
Make your batter in the manner of making pancake batter
When your oil is hot, you will see as it will be spitting, arrange your sausages into place along with the oil you still have in your pan from frying your bangers
Carefully but swiftly pour the batter into the hot oil, stick in the rosemary sprigs and close the oven door. Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed up and nicely colored.

Serve with mustard, braised red cabbage, jacked potato or mashed potato and caramelised onions if you like

To braise red cabbage
  • red Cabbage
  • a cooking apple, cubed ( for a football size cabbage you need 1 large cooking apple)
  • a teaspoon of cinnamon

Cut your cabbage very finely, and heat some butter in a pan.
Add your cabbage and apple and braise, adding a little water when needed.
When soft, spice with a little honey and cinnamon
Serve warm, o so good with sausages

Jacket potato bangers

For the potato
  • 1 potato per person You need a floury kind like a Maris Piper, King Edward, or for Belgians 'Bintje frietaardappel'
  • +- 20g coarse sea salt
  • good quality sausages
  • 3 onions, braised and caramelised

Wash the potatoes and let them dry
Preheat your oven to 220° C
Put your salt in a tray and roll each potato in the salt and rub it in
Prick your potato with a toothpick a few times to prevent them bursting
Place the potatoes straight on the rack in the middle of the oven
Bake for 1 hour, then squeeze the potato slightly to see if it appears soft inside, if that doesn't appear so, place back in the oven for another 15-30 minutes.
When the potatoes are nearly ready or when you are about to have dinner caramelise some onions, add one teaspoon of pomegranate molasse of balsamic vinegar, whatever you prefer and let it become nice and sticky. You could do this in advance too and just cook the sausages when you need them.
Finally fry your sausages in oil or butter, I prefer butter and oil in this case. Finish them off with 10 min in the oven along with your potatoes to heat them up again or on their final bake.
Then cut into the potato, add some of that caramelised onion, add a banger and serve!
Also very good with braised red cabbage.

Last years Bonfire parkin might take your fancy, find the recipe here > 

Bonfire Parkin

What are you doing for bonfire night?

Weekend Blogawards in Belgium

Miss Foodwise has been nominated for an award in my home country Belgium! 
How about that, very exciting! 

Of course I would love to receive this award here on home turf so if you have a minute, please vote! I thank all of you for your support, not only in voting, but over the 3 years I have been blogging and photographing. It has been amazing, I have met brilliantly talented people, been to amazing places and am now writing like a madwoman on my first book which will be published with Davidsfonds next year!

Workshop 'Krachtvoer' in Antwerp

On sunday 19/10 my friend Loes and I will be teaching a food workshop for children again. We were asked by the Belgian food festival 'Krachtvoer' to come and teach a workshop like the one we did for Food Revolution Day back in may. The theme is 'scarcity and abundance' and we will be showing the kids how you can create some mean flatbreads using up all kinds of leftover fruit, veg, meat and cheese from your fridge. I will be showing them how they can make cheese and Loes will take care of the flatbread dough part.

The white loaf that will make you proud

The power of an image.
I posted a picture on Instagram and Facebook of two loaves of bread I baked on wednesday. I was proud of them, they were beautiful, they were utterly perfect to me.
I had scored the bread this time with little hesitation and fear it would ruin my loaf, and while it was baking in the oven, I watched trough the oven window in true British Bake Off style how my score cracked open and baked into my most proud bake in my life.
Slightly embarrassed by my pride and joy I mentioned that to you the bread might seem plain, but to me they were special. The answer came in the form of that image becoming the most ever likes picture on my facebook and my instagram feed. You loved it too.
So much that you emailed me for the recipe, to go home and bake these loaves yourself, to see it rise, and bake and fill the house with the smell only bread is capable to induce...
Utter joy.

Bread has been a staple since the beginning of time, it evolved from a flat, dense gritty loaf to the small bun sized wheat loaves of the Saxon monks. Wheat and bread was so valuable that often food rents consisted partly of loaves or grain. Wheat and barley would be planted together so if one harvest failed, the barley which was a hardier grain would survive and save the people from the starvation that was luring behind every tree and every sheaf of corn. But harvest failed plenty of times and so bread was made from dried peas and beans. This must have been an very heavy and unpleasant bread but it would provide plenty of nutrition during shortages. Windmills and communal bread ovens can be found in the Domesday book but as they were owned by the manor or monastery, they were not free to use. A portion of the grain or bread dough had to be payed for the use of the mill and oven, therefore the peasants continued to mill the grain themselves using a hand quern that must have taken many long hours of hard labour to end up with a small portion of flour.
People must have suffered from acute toothache with the amount of grit in the bread. Even the upper classes preferred to soak their bread in their all important sauce and have their meat so succulent that it fell of the bone. Chewing would have been difficult if you would have lost most your teeth in your early adulthood.

Bread remains a staple food in the centuries following the Norman conquest and the Middle Ages, but recipes for breadmaking remain unknown from that period except for a mention of the process of bread making in a poem.

Although today bread still remains the most popular base of our diet, it has also become a source of worry with gluten and wheat intolerances becoming nearly as frequent as famine was in ancient times. Although bread has been a staple food for centuries, in the early years it was labour intensive to mill the grain by hand so bread would not have been the thing to fill up the bellies of the poor. They would have had a modest piece of bread, with their pottage, or a piece of cheese but not as plenty as we often have it today.
Wheat has also been modified to an extent that it is easier to harvest, but the quality is less. The need to have everything fast and plenty changed the way we create bread, with added chemicals to make is rise in a fraction of the time if would actually need to break down the enzymes in the grain which make it harder to digest. There is talk of a modern day 'bread belly' with people suffering from the effects from fast factory made bread which has little resemblance to the real bread of our ancestors. In my opinion the modern everlasting, spongy bread, sometimes dyed with malts or molasse to make it appear as a wholewheat loaf while it is not, is a new kind of poverty, the poverty of quality of the most basic of foods. Our daily bread. 

A Visit to the Peak District

Normally for us a holiday starts early in the morning, after not nearly enough sleep. I will repack my clothes last minute and then we're off, to start a long long day.
But not this time, we were travelling with P&O's overnight ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull. We left the house at 4, which left me enough time to change my mind about my chosen wardrobe for our holiday and leave without the usual rush. 
Our plan was to travel to the Peak District, a beautiful national park in the North of England. The ferryboat brought us conveniently to an hour away from where we needed to be and gave us ideas for other trips in the future. Last year we stood still fro 6 hours on our way to the West country, then again a six hour delay when we were heading to the Cotswolds and again when we drove back to Dover.
Needless to say, we were so looking for a way to avoid the dreadful M25, M4 and other M's that get major delays. The Ferry to Hull brings you not only to the gateway of the North and Scotland, it's great when you need to travel to Wales and even the Midland towns like Birmingham. Anything to avoid the traffic around London sounds like music to my ears.

My partner in crime

Our holiday well and truly started when we boarded the ferry and got us a nice spot on deck to watch the sunset while we were sipping a glass of wine and gazing over the wide and peaceful seascape.
When we retired to our hut we turned into our bunk beds and closed our eyes with the knowledge that we were being brought to England without having to drive, or take trains, in the morning after breakfast, we would just suddenly arrive where we needed to be. It was fantastic for B, who is stuck in traffic every day to get to the office, when you're on holiday, you really don't want to spend it driving for yours again.

After a hearty brekkie we left the Ferry and drove into the rainy North of England. We made a two hour stop in Sheffield as it was on the road and we needed a cup of tea and our English magazines. Then we drove on to our final destination, Castleton a quaint little village in the Hope Valley. 

Castleton is an old mining village, first for lead an then when a young boy decided to go and search for lead in Treak Cliff hill, a new site in Castleton that he leased, he excavated an entrance for years but discovered not lead, but a vein of blue stone with yellow streaks. The stone was baptised Blue John, probably an interpretation in the local dialect from the French 'bleu et jaune'. The stone started to be mined and was even used in the first world war as a fuel for furnaces which unfortunately resulted in a lot of precious stone being lost forever. 

What to do with a glut of summer fruit

Hello you lovely lot, I am sorry for not posting as frequently as I did before. Life just has been terribly busy and choices have to be made. It is wonderful, it is glorious but I do need to find a balance so I can find the time again to share stories with you.
I had a lovely few weeks, I spoke at Europe's largest Food Blogger Conference, Food Blogger Connect in London and a week later I was the main speaker at a blogger event in Brussels, for those who I have met there, welcome to the blog!
I am getting ready to leave for London again, where I will be living out of my suitcase while shooting an exciting upcoming cookery book. (not mine, haven't had time for mine!) The week after that I am traveling to Dorset to be a judge in the Great Taste Awards again. Lots of beautiful food and drink to judge and after that some more lovely food at the glorious Great Taste dinner at Brett Sutton's new place.
After that, it is back to London for a week to shoot a book.
So it is fair to say, the next time you hear from me on here will be august... I hope!

To answer some questions I have had from you guys on social media and via email when I posted my cherry brandy picture on facebook, this is what you can do with your summer fruit! I like to preserve mine, to keep for the cold winter and autumn days, to bring a little sunshine on your table. It is sun in a jar, it is happiness. So when you have a glut of fruit, get your jars out and drain them in alcohol or sugar to keep them for when you most need it, when it is chilly and rainy. Here below are some of my recipes for preserves, and at the end I've added some links to other recipes on other websites. Enjoy the summer fruits!

My favourite: Drunken Cherries, or Cherry Brandy. 
We call it Kriekenborrel in Belgium and I have been making it since I was a little girl. In fact my oldest jar is from 1998, which is when I started making them myself. I now have a jar most years, sometimes more than one to give as gifts for christmas (oh yes, I used the 'C' word in summer)
It's just a wonderful way to preserve a cherry, you can use them served with vanilla ice, baked in cakes or puddings and just as they are in tiny little delicate glasses.

Cherry Brandy Find the recipe here
Next up is Raspberry vinegar.
The colour of this vinegar stays lovely and red even a year later, it looks the part on your larder and even more pretty drizzled over a green salad.
The vinegar is also okay to drink, but only by the thimble full as it is quite strong and pungent. As you can guess, this is also a great gift to give someone who will appreciate it.

Raspberry Vinegar Find the recipe here

Sweet Cheese Curd Tarts and the Road to a Book

Those who follow my instagram already know that I have been working on my very own book the last few months. (There is even a # hash tag on it to follow some of the process, I know, how very modern of me.) It is a scary yet exciting journey, one with occasional bumps in the road and one with smooth pathways. I thought it would be easy, I couldn't be more wrong. 

I am fortunate that my publisher was super excited about me to design the book myself and photograph it, which isn't a given thing. They gave me the freedom to come up with a concept no matter how crazy it sounded. They wanted the book to be 'totally me'. This was always something that was made up in my mind. If the book would be designed by someone else and photographed by someone else, it would not be my book. I would not want that book. This isn't a narcissistic urge to just get 'a' book out there, this is an artistic project for me. I have been a graphic designer my whole professional life, I have done numerous layouts for books, booklets and magazines. Not being allowed to design and layout my own book would just feel completely and utterly wrong. But of course, this means doing the work of 3 maybe 4 people all on my very own...
I will have to turn down future jobs to get be able to do this big book project but the book will by no means pay enough so I can pay my bills. All the money from the advance, the layout work and the photography will go to the actual creating of this book. But although I would have liked to at least have some tiny profit, I am also very happy that the subject of my book wasn't chosen for me, and that I can really do what I want. I have had other offers from publishers, who had the subject of my book already decided for me, of course I had to turn them down. As I said, this is not just 'a' book. 

Because of the significance of this project, I often freeze and can't write or cook or photograph. Being a creative creature means you constantly doubt your work, and push yourself and push and push. I ask myself constantly, is this perfect enough. In every word and image I put an enormous effort, the story I tell needs to be right, it needs to transport you. I am not shooting a book, I am creating images that will hopefully whisk you away to my imaginary English cottage with limestone walls and a cream colored coal fired Aga stove. I want you to smell the slightly burnt toast that has the flavour unmatched by any toaster because it has been toasted on that oh so coveted AGA coal fire. 

When I freeze, it is the moment when I am in doubt. Doubt is your enemy.
You must not forget, I started my own business as a freelance photographer/graphic designer/writer in januari, which means I am not surrounded by colleagues anymore, I work alone, and often I will be abroad, alone in my B&B. There's no 'can we have a chat about the concept or designs' like in the advertising agency I worked at. I have to ask myself if it is right, I have to be objective and not let my heart get too much involved in it.
Which is hard, because I am a very passionate person. There is hardly any grey in me, it is either good or bad. There is no 'this will do' in my book - literally and figuratively speaking.

I am writing about this because I know a few people in our little online food lovers community who are also working on a book or book proposal. Sometimes to read someone else saying it is not a walk in the park, helps you to be okay with it, if one a day you wake up and are overtaken by the fear this great project brings with it.
It happens to us all. 

But also because I need your help, I need people who would like to be involved and test a recipe for me, or more if you're up to it. Eternal gratitude to my recipe testers so please get in touch if you want to get cooking for me - my email is on my contact page.

But on to that tart you see here, this is a sweet cheese curd tart with lemon. It is one of the recipes you just develop by accident, while trying to make something else you come up with an equally scrumptious dish.
Sweetened cheese curds have been used as a sweet treat on its own and in tarts for centuries, early recipes like this are the very first ancestors of the cheesecake we know today. Because I have used lard in the pastry, the tart has a sweet yet also savoury hint which is perfect for the likes of me who do not enjoy a very sweet treat.

Food Revolution Day 2014 - keeping cooking skills alive

A Day of cheese making, dough kneading, and pizza baking!
Yesterday was Food Revolution Day and like last year (you can see it here) I got my thinking cap on to see how I could make a difference on this day. Why? Because doing nothing won't change a thing.
Like I said last year and will say again, every day should be a Food Revolution Day, this day is just the moment when we celebrate it, and get other people involved, to spread the word. Knowing so many 'foodies' in my line of work, I is my opinion you can't be a foodie without being a food activist. You can't love food and not want to be a part of a world wide battle for change in food choices. As a foodie you want the best produce, and the best meat is raised stress free and with respect, the best veggies are local and the best grains are those that are GMO and chemical free. You don't want additives, colorings and other types of crap that shouldn't be in food. But is saddens me to see that there are in fact 'foodies' who don't care about where the food came from and how the meat was reared. Or they do care, but don't care to take a stand and try to educate others about the dangers that linger on our supermarket shelves. Anyway, we can't all be pro-active.

Food Revolution Day is the brainchild of Jamie Oliver, who finds it important to use the fact that he is famous for a good cause by getting people involved in this day dedicated to food education. He has been campaigning for better food education in schools in the UK and USA and a change in school dinners. He has also set up Ministry of Food centers where people can come and have cooking lessons for free, just so that they would be able to cook from scratch for themselves and their children. He also has his Food Foundation charity to raise funds for projects in food education.
Why having a day to raise awareness and having a jolly good cook off is important is stated on the Food Revolution Day website here > 

"It's time to take action!
We need every child to understand where food comes from, how to cook it, and how it affects their body. This is about setting kids up with the knowledge they need to make better food choices for life."
Jamie Oliver

This year the focus is on children, they are our future after all and for the future's sake, something has to change in our eating habits. So the plan was, get some kids together!

Nine in the morning and it feels like the silence before the storm. Twenty five 11 year old children are coming to my friends Loes and Krikke's restaurant to learn how to make cheese and bake their own pizza's in an old Flemish wood fired bread oven. To make it all more exciting for the children Bruno has designed another smashing set of goodies, a box containing a diploma, a recipe booklet and a wooden spoon for them to take home as a prize of the day.
They arrive, with a storm, as anticipated. They are eager to learn and we start off with a little talk on what Food Revolution Day is all about. I explain to them that although cooking is so much fun, so many people never cook because they don't know how to. They totally agree that packed meals and processed foods are bad for you and see no sense in why you would buy it - fantastic, these kids understand! All but a few know who Jamie is and think he's cool for getting us all cooking and breaking a world record by hosting the worlds largest cooking lesson. Cheering and jumping up and down follows when I tell them that the record has been broken. I love these kids.

We start with cheese making, we are working with raw milk that came straight from the farm that morning and I explain that this is raw milk because it hasn't been pasteurised. Once the milk has been heated to blood temperature, one of the kids adds the buttermilk, salt and vegetarian rennet and we wait and see what happens. 'Oohs' and 'aahs' when the milk starts to thicken and true amazement when I show them the pot of milk I made an hour before. The fresh pot goes to rest and we transfer the curdled milk to a bowl with cheesecloth to drain. They take turns wiggling the cheesecloth and then comes the coolest part of squeezing the curds. Twenty five little hands squeeze and squeeze and I stop them before there is no cheese left to squeeze, the kids just love to get hands-on and feel every process.

George, the Dragon and the Cottage pie

Wishing you all a happy Saint George's Day with these humble cottage pies. I've been mostly working on my book, stuck with my nose in research and absolutely loving it but in the evening I long for great simple food with pure flavours. This pie is just that, with the best spuds you can find for your mash, decent flavoursome beef and a layer of moist spinach, this is a treat for me. I just wrap it in a towel and relax with a beer and a movie.
Today will be marked by celebrations with a lot of beer in most parts of Britain, often started by a good old pub meal that very likely will consist of a hearty pie.
Saint George's day is the National Day for England although it is not an national holiday in Britain. As you will know, he is the patron saint of England and he is nearly always depicted slaying a dragon.
The origins of George and the dragon are quite obscure, like so many legends are. The earliest written source of Saint George in Britain can be found in the works of Bede, a monk from Northumbria who lived around the end of the 7th century.
It is not a saints day unique to Britain however, the feast of Saint George is celebrated throughout Christian and Protestant countries and all around the 23th of april, the date on which he would have been martyred.
Of George nothing is certainly known, it is most widely accepted that he was a Roman soldier from Palestine who lived in the late 3rd century AD.  
Born as Georgios, Greek for 'worker of the land' he became an imperial guard to the emperor Diocletian, but when Diocletian issued a decree that every Christian soldier should be arrested, George renounced his emperors ruling. He declared himself openly to be Christian and refused to convert to the old Roman gods. Diocletian tortured and later decapitated George for his refusal.
No doubt you will all have been waiting for the dragon slaying moment in this story but unfortunately I will have to disappoint you as there are no dragons in this tale.
The tale of Saint George and the dragon dates from a much later legend during Medieval times. Here the story of George would have been Eastern in origin and brought back from the Crusades. Before the Middle ages George was depicted as a soldier but around the 11th century that changed to the now more popular dragon scene. The first written source is believed to be a 11th century Georgian text that can be found quoted in the book The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition. 

A weekend away in Britain: Dartmoor and Exeter by train

Ditch the car for a long weekend
This online space of mine has always been about my love for Britain, not only British food. Traveling around the country, exploring regional dishes, wandering around small villages and heritage sites is what I love to do most.
So what would I do on this long weekend ahead of us? I would venture out to Dartmoor, the weather is going to be splendid for walking and having a lovely pub lunch outside. And what if you're stuck in traffic with your car every day, or don't have a car, don't know how to drive or just want to get away without your car, just because you want to.
This is a weekend away to Dartmoor and Exeter, without a car, but with plenty of fun.

Day 1: A dinner on a train to Devon
The weekend starts on a friday evening at Padding station in London, we've already spent the day in London browsing book shops and munching our way through Borough Market but the real trip is starting when the train to Devon leaves the platform this evening.
We have a booking on the First Great Western Pullman service, which will wine and dine us until we arrive in Exeter. They journey should have brought us to Cornwall but nature took over in the West Country a couple of weeks ago and the train track at Dawlish got consumed by the sea. Our plans had to change so we decided on a weekend of walking and pub meals in Dartmoor.

I've always had a thing for dining trains, it just oozes Victorian charm and I can just imagine how it used to be on the older and more charming train carriages. We board the train around six and as dinner service is shorter temporary, we are taking our place at our table while we leave the station. It's a full house, or should I say full train to Exeter and dinner service commences with a quick pace. The team on board serving us is professional and witty, it is clear that we have some regulars dining with us today. I heard the Somerset steak has a good reputation so I had to try it and for my starter I chose the Dartmouth salmon with Blackmore Vale Dairy cream cheese. That's the thing with this Pullman dining service, they have sourced the produce from the land and the waters we are travelling past on the train. The menu has been created by Mitch Tonks of the Seahorse in Dartmouth, as is the wine list which is sadly lacking a British wine. I sipped my pint of Tribute when we were approaching Reading, the salmon was delicate in flavour and the cheese a definitely good match, the steak really was devine and cooked medium rare as I asked. The sun was setting and a short while before Taunton we received our dessert, a cheese platter for us as we don't have a sweet tooth. All British cheeses which were at the right temperature, a soft Helford white, a smoky Devon Blue and a Keens Cheddar served with a quince jelly that was so good I finished Bruno's as well.
By the time we left Taunton, we were full and happy and ready to turn in for the night at our hotel in Exeter.

The lady chef of the Pullman dinner service

We were so tired after walking around London all day and enjoying such lovely food on the train, that we had an early night, ready to take the twelve O clock bus to Dartmoor. 

Day two: To the Moors
Busses to Dartmoor leave from the coach station in Exeter, after a walk around town with our backpacks we made a quick stop at the Real Food Store for a piece of cake - which was moist and full of dark chocolate and left us pining for more. The bus trip to Moretonhampstead is about an hour and with plenty of pretty views along the way and locals having a chat with you, it is over and done with in no time. We arrive in Moretonhampstead and start the search for our 13th century farmhouse B&B.
The farmhouse is situated a 20 minute walk out of the village, it's a nice scenic walk and as the weather was so warm for the time of the year, we enjoyed it.

Iconic British Brands - Twinings Tea

Mr Stephen Twining
On a Tuesday morning which felt like midday after a visit to London's fish market, Stephen Twining made me my first cup of tea of the day.
The name of the tea maker really gives away the reason why I made a note of that first cup of tea in my diary. Stephen Twining is the tenth generation of the Twining tea family, a legacy that was started 308 years ago and helped shape this nation of tea drinkers.
Stepping back those 308 years in time, there were over 2000 coffee houses in London. To stand out in this saturated market, one had to do things slightly different. Thomas Twining opened up shop in a London that was going through vast changes after the Great Fire of 1660 destroyed most of the city. Looking at the shop which is still holding strong at The Strand, it looks like the building is squeezed in but it was actually one of the first to be there. The shop used to stand at a corner which made it easy for high class ladies - who weren't allowed into the coffee shops as they were considered masculine territory - to drive their carriages to the side and send their footmen in to buy the tea that had the reputation of being the finest of them all. Because of this increasing amount of interest in buying his teas, Thomas realised that he was actually more a blender of tea and started to market his business as such. Sadly there were no copyrights in the 17th century and so his blends, and those he created especially for lords and ladies, were being copied by others. Today there is only one personal blend left, which is the closely guarded secret of the Queens tea.

The Twining Family played an important part in Britain becoming a tea drinking - devouring - nation when Richard Twining, grandson of Thomas, and head of the tea trade, persuaded Prime Minister William Pitt to lower the then high levels of duty. He argued that, revenues would be greater if taxation would be lower. Tea at that moment in history was a privilege only available to the most well-to-do of society and so important that it was high on the political agenda. The Communication Act of 1784 lowered tea taxes and made it affordable to all those who wanted it in their cup. This made tea finally a part of everyday life.

Of Simon, Nell and Simnel cakes

 I haven't been a pious Christian since I was 6, Lent only means one thing to me, I will have a birthday soon. Easter wasn't something I particularly looked forward to and I was surprisingly unimpressed with the overly sweet milk chocolate eggs the easter bunny brought me nor did I enjoy the big family gatherings in our family as they always resulted into political debates, and dispute. It is most certainly the reason for my aversion to politics and politicians.

This year I'm celebrating the day of my birth, the day before mothering sunday, a day not connected to any other mothers day traditions in Europe or Amerika. Mothering sunday was the day that the girls working as domestic servants or apprentices were given the day off to visit their mother, bringing her gifts like perhaps a Simnel cake. Why it was a custom at mid-lent is not clear, maybe because at easter the servants couldn't be missed in the large manor houses who would most probably have large Downton Abbey style parties gathering to lunch. Another theory is that of coming home to visit the mother church, which appeared to be believed an important custom in pre-Reformation England. 
On Mothering Sunday, the fasting rules were put on hold for the day resulting in the day also being known as a Refreshment Sunday, the other one being celebrated during Advent.

The earliest of references to a Simnel cake I was able to find and verify was in a poem of Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

To Dianeme.  
A Ceremonie in Glocester.
I’le to thee a Simnell bring,
Gainst thou go’st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou’lt give me. 

Here states the tradition that the cake was given when people went Mothering, what is now assumed as going to visit their mother for mothering sunday but what well could have been a reference to the pre-Reformation tradition of visiting the mother church.
At some time along the way of time the legend of Simon and Nell appeared. A story most people have heard from their grandparents.
This legend tells the tale of an old Shropshire couple Simon and Nell. Nell had some leftover unleavened dough for bread making during Lent. Simon reminded her of the last of the christmas plum pudding as the Lenten dough would make a tasteless treat. Nell as a frugal woman didn't want to waste a thing in the kitchen so it was decided to create a cake for when their children would return home for mothering.
Then a dispute arose about the method of baking the cake which Simon wanted to mould and bake while Nell was convinced it should be boiled. Though some versions tell the tale the other way around and claim that Simon wanted it to be boiled since it was a pudding, and puddings should be boiled.
To solve the disagreement which resulted in throwing a baking stool at Simon, it was decided that the cake should first be boiled, and then baked. And from then on the cake was named SimNell.
A beautiful piece of English Folk lore but it is not sure when the legend was first told.

Rye Bay Scallop Week - A day out in Britain

Every year the second weekend of february marks the Rye Bay Scallop Festival. A joyous occasion where the whole town's pubs and restaurants offer Scallop themed menus, demonstrations and evenings of fun and music.
Rye is one of the five medieval Cinq Ports and its catch of herring, mackerel, wiring, cod, plaice and sole used to be reserved for the king's table. King Charles I mentioned Rye in 1628:
“The cheapest sea-towne for provision of fish for our house.”

Today Rye is situated two miles from the sea with the river Rother, Brede and the Tillingham connecting the port to the sea, in medieval times however Rye was almost entirely surrounded by sea before terrible storms destroyed neighbouring town Old Winchelsea and changed the course from the river Rotherin the 13th century. After these events the ships were only able to reach what is now the Strand in Rye.
Rye's economy as one of the most important of Cinq Port towns declined with the coming of larger ships that needed deepwater ports. Rye turned to fishing and smuggling where the Mermaid pub, which is still a buzzing pub in the town, played a key part. By the end of the 17th century the wool trade became important throughout Kent and Sussex and the Romney Marsh sheep are still favoured today for their juicy lamb and wool.

The last decades the scallops have become a main source of income in the winter for the 'Scallopers' of Rye harbour. I met up with retired fisherman John who now does the 'chucking' and sorting of the scallops his sons 'catch' on their overnight boats.

The Foodie Bugle Shop - the online store for British artisan food, homeware, art, vintage finds and other little lovely things.

Silvana de Soissons is the founder and the heart of The Foodie Bugle, an online journal dedicated to good food and creative people. She also accepts articles from other writers with the only condition that they are thoughtfully written, balanced and well researched. Due to the quality of her work for The Foodie Bugle she was honoured with an award by The Guild of Food Writers in the category 'New Media' for the year 2012. She had only been running The Foodie Bugle for a year at that time but it had grown rapidly into a solid brand that is based upon celebrating good British artisan products and creative people - writers, artists, photographers, producers - anyone with an inspiring vision and work ethic.

On the website you'll find a mix of recipes, book and food and drink reviews, stories about British producers, artisan businesses, writers, artists and photographers. And there is also information about food events, including her own The Foodie Bugle Lectures:
"The Foodie Bugle Lectures are an opportunity to bring together food and drink artisans,  growers,  entrepreneurs, writers, bloggers and food lovers, to share experience, knowledge and wisdom over speeches, conversation and a seasonal supper of regional and local produce with wine and ale." 
Hodmedod’s Dried Pulses
The online food journal on wasn't enough for Silvana, she listened to her readers who asked for a print edition of The Foodie Bugle and The Foodie Bugle Print Magazine was born. 
A magazine that is more a coffee table book to enjoy sitting in your favourite nook than something you take along with you on a train. It is beautifully published with quality paper and genuinely interesting content. Silvana has always been an inspiration to me, she is stylish, clever, witty and a tough nut to crack. A woman I would love to have as a mother to look up to, with her cocktail of Italian passion with British solidity and perseverance. I have learned a lot from her, especially when I sent her an article and she gave me her honest remarks on my writing, and again recently on how my writing has evolved. Needless to say I was honoured to be featured by her in the second issue of The Foodie Bugle Print Magazine. 

The beautiful magazine

Proud to have my pictures in the magazine