I didn’t really know what to expect when I stepped on a plane with final destination Sweden in what was possibly one of the most dreadful moments of my life. My heart was pounding in my throat because I just left my gravely ill and much beloved 15 year old cat in the very loving hands of my husband. I sat on the Copenhagen station platform waiting for a train to Malmo in Sweden, I felt utterly alone and I just wanted to be home.
But suddenly I looked up and there I saw the wonderful smile of Sarah from Vienna. Like me she had a huge backpack, accompanied by a small one, dressed in outdoorsy clothing but in a far better mood than I was. Excited she asked if I was traveling to the food camp and we started talking, trying to figure out delayed and cancelled trains and word by word I was letting go of the overpowering sadness and worry.
We boarded a train and then a taxi which brought us to a beech forest in Skane. We were greeted by Lotta Ranert, creator of Pure Food Camp and one of the two women who brought us all together here and Camilla, the owner. There was cheese to welcome us, cheese made by Cecilia Timner, 20 footsteps from where we were standing, made with the milk of the pale creamy fudge-coloured cows we heard mooing in the distance.
Nothing happens in my brain here before I have made sure we have this fire and it’s going and we can make food and tea.
The camp existed out of a couple of yurts and a big mother-yurt which was the heart of the site. In the centre of that yurt was a warming wood fired stove with water boiler that created a spectacular display of steam, there were pots, pans, crockery and a couple of essentials. Each of our own yurts had a sweet little blue door, painted with illustrations. Two little beds with a duvet and woolly blanket in each yurt, a water container, oil lamps, matches, a kerosene fire and a bowl to hold water to wash ourselves. It was a simple set up but yet it felt like luxury.
Our outdoor loo was of the glamorous sort with a see through roof, wooden walls and an actual toilet seat. Much more than I was expecting but very welcome indeed on moments when going behind a big tree wasn’t an option.
After talking us through how to tend to the oil lamps and kerosene fire, loo and a few other practicalities we were expected up a gentle hill where a large table was set with vintage teacups and plates ready for “Fika”. Fika can be compared to a simple afternoon tea yet less formal and it can happen several times a day. One of the Swedes told us in many Swedish companies Fika is even a big thing, Fika is serious business and should not be skipped.
The kanelbullar (cinnamon swirl buns, see my recipe here), almondbullar and chocolatabullar (balls made of butter, cacao and oats) were passed around the table laughing as if we were at day 5 not hour 2 into the camp week. Tea and coffee came from tall sturdy steel teapots who hung from the smoking open fires. It was supposed to be raining I remembered, but instead here we were, outside, drinking hot drinks and eating all kinds of bullar while secretly gazing around us, taking in the details of the forest, savouring this unique moment in our lives.
The sun was lowering on the sky and Camilla, the owner of the Nyrups Naturhotel that was our yurt camp introduced us to the menu of the dinner we would be cooking on the fires. Two vegetable starters, a main and a pudding, each in a basket, just the ingredients and the suggestion of what to do with them. Sarah from Vienna and I teamed up and went for the main. In our basket we found locally caught perch, potatoes, cavollo nero, a selection of forest mushrooms and a couple of carrots. Sarah did potatoes and pickled carrots while I fried the cavollo nero and the mushrooms in plenty of butter and a touch of fire in a pan I’d love to call my own. When it was time for the fish I thought of a recipe I learned to make a week before by a friend in England, cooked in clay, straight onto the embers. Lacking clay we used every bit of newspaper we could find – although it was meant for starting fires – rubbed the fish with lemony wood sorrel we quickly foraged in the last evening light, a bit of thyme, juniper berries and a healthy doze of pepper, salt and a good knob of butter or two. The fish we wrapped in baking parchment because we did not have a large leaf at hand, then we wrapped each parcel in the soaking wet newspaper. Everyone went in to start dinner while a couple of us stayed behind to cover all the open fires with pans of fish parcels.
By the time we had finished our starters: cauliflower, bacon and potato by Gabriella from Spain, Emily from England and Helen from Germany and beetroot & Swedish halloumi by Kerstin also from England we gathered the parcels and removed the now charred newspaper. The perch was to my great amusement perfectly done, not too far, pearly white and very moist. Everyone got a parcel and as a side the kale and mushrooms I had fried on the fire earlier, parts of the kale slightly crisp because fire tends to lick the inside of your pan. Fire adds a seasoning you can’t recreate, because it’s also the smoke in your eyes, the heat on your hands and arms that add to the taste of cooking food in the wild.The wood sorrel is definitely a new favourite leaf to use, I wonder if I can make it grow in my wild garden at home… Fair haired Titti Qvarnström – our other host and the first female head chef in Sweden to receive a Michelin star – was sitting next to me at dinner and she approved of the fish so that’s good enough for me!
Pudding was just that, a delightful cake skilfully baked in a tin on the open fire by former UK Masterchef winner Keri. The darker bits were the best, we had seconds, drowned in a custard she made from scratch and on a temperamental fire, no mean feat.
By now I bless myself and the stars to be here. This is already an unforgettable trip and were only just started our journey. I realise however that we are all so out of touch with nature. When you have no electricity things become simple and difficult at the same time.
After this feast accompanied by excellent local Swedish wine and beer the last ones standing toast with a traditional herb liqueur Sarah kindly brought us from Austria. Then it suddenly it hits me when I go outside to find a big tree… it’s incredibly dark. Kerstin comes with me because I am a wimp. We head back to our yurts, armed with all the oil lamps we can find because I managed to scare the group with my own fears about zombies in the forest. We all have a laugh but secretly hold to that lamp with a passion.
First night in a yurth, in the middle of the woods, with someone we only just met a few hours ago… My yurt-mate Keri and I decided to keep the oil lamp on while we try to sleep… we can’t face the complete darkness just yet.
The next morning my insomniac self awaited dawn eager to cook breakfast on the fires. I looked out of our yurt, the sky is red, beautiful. I decide a simple bun in my hair instead of my intricate hairdos and no make-up are in order, because we don’t have a mirror, and we’re in the middle of a forest, who cares! I do, but still I go with the bun.
Although I’m now one of the judges on our very own Bake Off in Belgium, I still miss the Great British Bake Off on my television screen every week around this time. As we can only get BBC 1&2, Bake Off has been off-limits to us since its move to Channel 4. GBBO has less viewing figures than when it aired on BBC, that’s partly because they lost viewers from outside of the UK. It seems however that our ‘series one’ of Bake Off Vlaanderen came at the right moment, everyone who misses GBBO in Belgium can soothe their Bake Off hunger by watching us! (if you want to watch it online, you can by going to this page – go to the films with the word ‘Aflevering’ (episode) and there you need to be filling out some details to count viewing figures, the system asks to create a password an to leave your address, just enter 2000 Antwerp)
Luckily there is social media to keep me informed of the happenings on GBBO and this morning I heard from the lovely Lia of the Lemon & Vanilla blog that tonights episode will feature pudding week! The bakers task is to make a steamed pudding and because I’ve published a whole tome on pudding – savoury and sweet – (in my book Pride and Pudding) I thought I’d share with you one of my favourite sweet steamed puddings: the sticky toffee pudding.
When going for a nice long walk in the British countryside there’s only one thing I long for and that is a pub meal ended with a sticky toffee pud accompanied by a Whisky. It’s the ultimate pudding to have after good outdoor exercise. This is definitely an occasion where I leave room for pudding. A delightfully light yet heavy steamed bit of cake batter, always in a pudding basin, never in the shape of a log please, drowned in custard or with a side of vanilla ice cream which is essentially frozen custard anyway.
Many puddings are surrounded by legends and this is one of them. It is said that the sticky toffee pudding was invented in the 1960s by Francis Coulson of the Sharrow Bay Hotel by the majestic Ullswater lake in the Lake District. He called it an ‘icky sticky toffee sponge’….
There’s a lot going on in life but I wanted to share this recipe with you because I find when things get too busy or too complicated, an easy yet satisfying pudding can work like a drink of ice cold water on a scorching hot day. What also prompted me was something my friend Sarah (you might remember her from the pies she made for my launch) showed me online, a link to the making of a summer pudding which created outrage and disgust in the comments section. Foreigners (non-Brits) didn’t understand why you would eat soggy bread with fruit, and the video that came with it made even my stomach turn…
But the fact is that Summer Pudding is one of life’s great things. Bread soaked in fruit juice takes me right back to my childhood. I was a very picky eater but you could always feed me bread topped with mashed up strawberries, the deep red juices seeping into the bread making it hard to get it to your mouth in one piece. It was messy eating but really the only thing I enjoyed to eat.
But what is this heavenly thing you ask if you aren’t British or a pudding nut like I am?
A summer pudding is a delightfully light pudding which is made by lining a pudding basin or charlotte mould with stale white bread slices, then filling it up with lightly stewed summer fruits and topping it off with a juice-soaked bread lid. I always enjoy unmoulding this pudding, to see how the white slices of bread have been tinted by the deep crimson juice. It looks like a fresh red wine stain on a crisp white tablecloth. When ready to indulge, serve with cream, or ice cream, whichever you prefer….
New date for this workshop:
Friday 28 july 2017 – 14h – in the Historical Kitchen of Port Eliot House, St-Germans, Cornwall UK.
Learn about these intricately decorated tarts and their meaning, see how they were made using the original tools.
Growing up in Flanders, Belgium, it feels as if still life paintings have always been a big part of my life. My entire childhood I’ve sat at the dinner table at my parents house, gazing at a dark still life painting with a pumpkin which hung on the wall on the other side of the room. Nothing makes sense in the image, why has the pumpkin such a prominent place on this formal dining table, and why is it on a formal table with china cups in the first place. A pumpkin like this would be more at home in a kitchen scene, on a bare wooden table, ready to be cut, its pips taken out, and the flesh diced for soup or stew.
Mysteries like these in food paintings have always intrigued me. One of my first books was a shabby old artbook with renaissance still life paintings by the Dutch and Flemish masters. All the food in the paintings had such carefully thought out symbolism. Bread indicates humility and catholic faith, a peach means truth and oysters mean lust. A glass of wine with little liquid in it symbolises the fragile nature of life but also wealth. In combination certain fruits and foods can tell a story. A paining with peaches and a butterfly mean hope and faith. Oysters or oyster shells in the vicinity of a woman in a painting means that the woman is promiscuous. If a bun of bread is near, it means she has lost her humility and has given in to the desires of the flesh. Heavy stuff no? An abundance of fish symbolises the catholic faith, but a cat near the fish means doubt, the painting could mean a warning not to take everything for granted when it comes to faith (big lessons to learn here)….
Amazon just bid nearly 14 billion to buy Wholefoods…
There is something about the organic & health food narrative that is increasingly starting to worry me. A couple of years ago you had to go to small often obscure shops for organic food, natural products and local produce, but recently we’ve started to see a lot of mainstream supermarkets jumping onto the bandwagon, introducing a dedicated spot in their shop to organic vegetables and fruit. A great evolution I thought at first. In Belgium a supermarket chain even decided to launch an organic version of their store. They now have 25 large stores and 80 pick-up points, in a country with about 11 million inhabitants this is huge. It sends out the right signal that more people want to make a more conscious choice when it comes to food. In the UK and US we’ve known Wholefoods for some time now but todays news that Wholefoods has been bought up by the big giant Amazon got me feeling more puzzled than excited…
I started to dawn on me that in one of those big superstores organic isle I spotted potatoes from Egypt and pears from Mexico…
I want everyone to eat organic so that more farmers can survive growing organic or biodynamic fruit and veg in a way the land is nourished instead of raped. I want people to eat far less meat but buy more ethically reared meat. Meat from animals reared in good conditions, outdoors on grass instead of concrete, it doesn’t even have to be organic (getting certified organic is very troublesome for animal farms in many countries), kindness in this case is good enough for me. We can no longer tolerate factory meat farms and need to go back to the ancient method of crop rotation. …
I’ve been planning to write about Borough Market for a very long time, the draft has been in my folder waiting for the right moment, and now the time couldn’t be more poignant. After last weeks terrible events where the market was the victim of a senseless attack I knew I had to write this. Now over a week later, the market is finally opening again and now more than ever the market traders and surrounding restaurants and bars need your support.
Most of the traders are very small often family owned businesses. Loosing a week of custom, and getting over the fact that this beautiful multicultural market was soiled with violence is tough. We all know the way forward it to ‘keep calm and carry on’ so please if you are in London, take the tube to London Bridge Station and do your shopping at Borough Market. Meet there for lunch or dinner or after-work-drinks. It’s safe, probably safer than it has ever been. But mostly, it is a statement, that we will not let terrorism dictate our lives.
On my first ever visit to Borough Market 7 years ago, I never thought that today I would be working for them and writing for their mag and website. Now nearly two years ago I became a photographer for the Borough Market magazine called ‘Market Life’. It is beautifully produced and jam-packed with interesting content. Stories about the market traders and their lives, the produce, the provenance and the events at the market which have become plentiful over the years. There are panel talks, tastings, cookery demonstrations and there even is a Cookbook Club. It is such a community. I’ve worked with many of the market traders, sourcing produce for shoots, they’ve been generous with advise and for some shoots they’ve even been on hand to help me. That is why I was especially shaken by the sadness that happened last week. My first thoughts were with the traders and the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes in the Borough Market office. The people I love to work with.
Borough Market is life, it is hope. It is a place where gender, sexual orientation, colour, religion or political preference doesn’t matter. It’s food, only food. That what keeps us alive, that what we live for, that what brings people together. The market sent out a statement and I want to share with you:
Now more than ever, we need to remind ourselves that what we do here matters. A food market has nothing to do with hate. A food market is about sustenance and wellbeing, pleasure and sharing, companionship and family. That’s why it’s important.
This post was supposed to be about the history of Borough Market, but for now, it is about the present and the future……
Although spring is in the air at times and daffodils are showing their sunny faces hear and there, some days are still reminding us it is still winter. On cold grey days like these the central heating never seems to give enough warmth although the thermometer says otherwise. Baking seems to be the only antidote to dreary weather and puddings might just be the most fitting with their warming and filling character.
Puddings it is and although I have just published a 378 page book on the history of pudding… which was recently shortlisted for a prestigious André Simon Award (still pinching myself, and although I didn’t win, I am still chuffed to bits!), there are still so many pudding recipes left to boil, bake, steam, fry or freeze. Today I’m taking you to the Victorian era, when puddings were at the height of their splendour.
During Queen Victoria’s reign Britain was going through a period of industrial evolution and urbanisation. It was also a period of peace and stability. The 19th century saw the birth of the rail network with the steam locomotive as the greatest invention. This made for an enormous change in farming as food could now be transported to the towns more quickly and efficiently. On the land a lot of jobs had been replaced by new farming machines, techniques changed, unemployment and poverty rose as the population almost doubled. With more people moving to cities in search for work, demand for produce was high.
The contrast between the lives of the working class and the splendour in which the Queen lived was enormous. Victoria became queen in 1837 at the age of 18 but before that she lived in Kensington Palace which was at that time in quite a state of disrepair.
We know her mostly from her iconic photograph, in profile, dressed in black mourning clothes, looking stern and cold. She is the matriarch, the embodiment of a strong and powerful woman. But in reality she mourned the death of Prince Albert for the rest of her life and found it hard without him.
To know the story behind the portrait, the story of the woman, the queen and the widow, we were treated to an historical drama titled simply ‘Victoria’ recently. And this is the reason for this posting today. ‘Victoria’ is airing in America in March and that is why for the launch TV station KCTS9 and author Laurel Nattress asked me to recreate a pudding for Victoria and her husband Albert from a recipe by the queen’s then chef Charles Elmé Francatelli….
New Dates april 20-23 2017
In october my friends Giulia and Sarka and I hosted our first Three Acres Creative Gathering. An event born out of our own habit of meeting up several times a year to cook, eat, drink together, laugh and inspire each other. We each live in different countries so gatherings are always planned ahead. This made us think…
On a crisp and unusually sunny first of januari Giulia and I sat by the fire in her Tuscan family home, sipping fennel tea and talking about creativity. We wondered if we could create an event to include others in our usually quite private meet-ups. And so on our next get-together – in London this time – Sarka and Giulia and I decided to make it happen. A creative gathering in the rolling Sienese countryside, catching the very end of summer as a preparation for the cold and dark months ahead.
Our guests came not only from Italy but also from The Netherlands, Ecuador and the USA. A diverse bunch of women, all creative and eager to spend a few days with other creative people. We visited an organic sheep cheese farm situated in a rough rural landscape with the most exquisite view. We tasted the different cheeses with the farms thick fig compote made from their own precious few figs and slices of new season pears in an unusually warm autumn sun outside. The red wine served from a large glass carafe into lemonade glasses tasted like a rich grape juice, we all knew that back home it was already winter and savoured every moment.
In the late 1980’s when I was just a little girl, my parents and I traveled around Hungary and Czechoslovakia just like so many other Belgians did during that time. It was affordable, it was different and there were Balkan travel clubs with meetings where you could get your information much like we get it from Google today. We had the ‘Balkan Club’ bumper sticker and from time to time would bump into people on the road with the same sticker stuck to their car. Travel advise was then exchanged and we would part saying we might meet each other on one of the Balkan Club slideshow evenings. This was pre-internet socializing, using the sticker meant you were from the same group, it opened the door to a conversation….