Wednesday, 20 February 2008


Our grand-daughter has spent the last half-term holiday with us, and along with all her other interests she loves to help with the cooking. Even when she was quite tiny she would like to weigh out flour for bread, cakes and pastry. I still use a very ancient set of scales with a copper pan and lots of seperate weights, and she was fascinated by the art of getting the two sides to balance. Most of her activity in the early days was playing with bread dough or pastry, making them into tiny shapes for baking, and subsequently eating. These days however, she is getting good at the job, and even though she is still not keen on very sharp knives or fat that will spit at you, the results can be excellent.

One of her favourite meals is meatballs with tomato sauce and this is how we make it. In a large bowl combine 500g of good minced beef, a thick slice of wholemeal bread,( could be white if that's what is available, and it would be two slices of shop bought sliced bread), half of a large onion, finely chopped, and a large egg, salt and pepper.

Shape the mixture into balls, aim for the size of a large walnut, they always seem to turn out bigger, and put them on a floured plate as you work. When all the mixture is done put a smear of oil around a large shallow pan, and brown the meatballs all over. It really will be best if you have a pan that will take all the meatballs in one layer. When they are browned, take them out and put aside while you make the tomato sauce.

The easy way to do this is to liquidise two tins of tomatoes with the rest of the onion and two or three cloves of garlic, you can add a bit of chilli here if you like it, and I'll admit to adding a Knorr beef stock cube at the same time, do season it well. Or you could just use a jar of passata. Pour the tomatoes etc back into the pan and cook for a while so that the raw taste is gone, the oven should be heating up now, 150-175c, and than add the meatballs back into the pan. Bake for about 45 mins.

We like to serve this with rice, which is why we make quite a lot of sauce.

Cold leftovers are delicious is a buttered soft roll, with salad stuff and mayo, but this recipe does freeze well, as long as you defrost slowly and don't break up the meatballs as you re-heat.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Blast from the Past

I had to have it! We were driving past our local Asda, taking our grand-daughter back to rendezvous with her mother after her half-term break with us and I saw a great big sign outside the store - Delia Smith £8.00 - who could resist. No time to stop then, we had an hour and a halfs driving and no time to spare. I was going to do the prudent thing and look at a copy in a book-store to see if I really needed it. As a collector of over 1000 cookery books I realise that was a silly assumption, but in mitigation I must say that my collection consists of some very old books, handwritten notebooks picked up over the years in second hand shops and those books published by 'Wives of Hartford, Connecticut' '300 Party Dishes collected in the 1930's at the Royal Crescent, Bath' you know the sort of thing. I have always been fascinated by what people eat, how they have prepared and preserved food, so this large collection has been on-going for about 40 years.

So what had Delia to say about food preparation of today. I had heard her on Radio 4 telling us of her opinion of organic food, there have been lots of recent interviews because of this up-coming television series, and as always I mostly agree with her views. But it is nostalgia that makes me want this book, as we are making our way to our meeting place, the Railway Children in the CD player and the continual plip-plip of a nintendo game coming from the back seat I am remembering Delia on the telly.... The Complete Cookery Course. The books of the series came in three volumes, which I later gave to my elder daughter-in-law, even though they were very precious. The combined volume of the three which came out later does not evoke the same memories.

Delia is a couple of years older than me, and I can remember so vividly watching those programmes, my sons still children, living in very rural Devon, nothing but trees and fields around us, as the house we lived in at the time was at the other end of the farm where the dairy herd was milked twice daily, and where most of the work went on. I was an accomplished cook myself, being lucky that my then husband was happy to eat just about anything in spite of having been brought up on very traditional farm-house food. I kept poultry for the table, at that early stage the laying hens were still the preserve of my husband's mother, but there was never a shortage of basic ingredients, milk of course, and from that clotted cream, and when we had too much of that I turned it into butter. I loved my life, even though it ended in divorce some years later, and Delia is part of those early memories.

In spite of plenty of the raw ingredients, our own meat from the farm, we kept Red Devons, as well as the dairy herd, pigs and sheep, my then mother-in-law taught me the meaning of frugality. We never had a lot of cash, my clothes budget was non-existent, so it was important not to waste anything, including food. She was an excellent plain cook, brisket with a boiled suet pudding served along side of it, that sort of thing, but you knew what you were going to have each day of the week, roast on Sunday , Monday, cold meat and pickle, Tuesday would be cottage pie, and so the days went on, delicious but predicitable. Quiche with a salad was quite an adventure then!

Having re-united our grand-daughter with her mum, we arrived back home several hours later, would there be copy left for me!! I can feel my heart rate increasing as we drive into the car-park. YES!! there are some left, not so very many, maybe they have a million boxes full hidden away, I rush though the automatic check-out, feed the £8.00 into the little slots, and rush home to open a nicely chilled bottle of wine while I view the book. I'm enjoying it, I'm learning a lot. Did you know that you could get ready-shredded cabbage and discs of frozen mashed potatoes?

Sunday, 3 February 2008


Seville oranges seemed to be in short supply this year, there were apologies in greengrocers for their lateness, but I did get some last Wednesday and yesterday made a batch of traditional marmalade using my tried- and -trusted recipe of many years. This method was particularly favoured by me because as a busy farmer's wife I used to buy quite a large quantity of Sevilles when I saw them and put them all, whole, in the freezer, dealing with them gradually as I found the time. That the method I evolved seems foolproof was another blessing.

The lemons had been in the freezer since Christmas

Whole orange marmalade using a pressure cooker

Take 1.5kg of Seville oranges and two lemons, place whole in a pressure cooker without a trivet, add .85 litre of water, bring to pressure and cook for 15 minutes. Leave to reduce pressure at room temperature.

When cool enough to handle cut each of the fruit in half, I use the lemon peel in my marmalade, and scrape out the insides into a coarse sieve, over a large bowl. Tip all the liquid from the pressure cooker into a preserving pan, adding a further .85 litres water and 3kg sugar to it. You can put this on a low heat to start to dissove the sugar while you shred the peel as finely as you can, it will be very soft, and sieve all the flesh, pressing down well on the pips and debris to get out as much pectin as possible.

I used to use the coarse plate on a mouli-legume for this job, but as that has seen better days now I used a nylon seive, it works but is much harder work. I have been trying to get a new mouli for ages, but can only find a small one! Because I wasn't convinced that I had got as much extract as usual I put the contents of the sieve in a little water, brought it to the boil for about five minutes and put it back through the sieve. Make sure that the sugar is dissolving while all this is going on, you don't want the liquid in the preserving pan to come to the boil yet, give it a stir now and then.

Put all the extract and the shredded peel into the pan, and once you are sure all the sugar has dissolved bring it to a full boil. It should only take about 15 mins or slightly more to set, so test then.

The result, it makes about 10 jars!