30 December 2014

Roast goose

Goose has been a firm Christmas dinner favourite in the Turpin household since I was a child. We had occasional flirtations with capons and venison, and on one occasion turkey, but time and again we returned to the goose. Roast goose has a great flavour, and provides the appropriate sense of occasion for a Christmas dinner. It has a dark red meat, and tastes a bit like a cross between duck and beef. Goose was a popular Christmas roast in the UK during Victorian times, but during the twentieth century was overtaken by turkey. It has seen something of a return to popularity in recent years.

28 December 2014

Blood Orange Sorbet

December heralds the start of the season for citrus fruits, which are harvested in southern Europe during the winter months. Satsumas, clementines and Sicilian lemons all appear on the greengrocers' shelves. The citrus flavours and bright colours make a great contrast to the brassicas and root vegetables which are also in season at this time of year. One of my favourite citrus fruits is the blood orange, which usually appears in late December. My greengrocers got a single box shortly before Christmas, and I am such a sucker for a blood orange that I bought about half of them. Blood oranges have a particularly fresh flavour, and a great balance of sweet and sour, which epitomise the tangy quality that makes citrus such a great flavour. The flesh of blood oranges is flecked with red, which gives them their name. This strong colour also makes a great visual impact. (Some blood oranges are bloodier than others - the batch I used in this recipe were fairly bloodless.)

Blood oranges and Sicilian lemons

15 December 2014

Roast Partridge with puy lentils

Roast partridge on puy lentils

Partridge is one of my favourite game birds. Many game aficionados get excited about the beginning of the grouse season, and I do too. But it is the unheralded arrival of partridges in early September that really gets me excited about game. Partridge has a pretty long season - from 1 September to 1 February in Great Britain. Like pheasant, partridge has relatively pale, pink-tinged flesh, with a more delicate, sweeter flavour than pheasant. It is a smallish bird, and conveniently a whole bird is just about the right size for a single portion. Like most game birds, it is fairly lean, and can easily become dry. The secret to roasting partridges so that they stay moist is to brown them off in a frying pan, and then pop them in a hot oven for just a few minutes. The same method also works well for grouse and wood pigeon.

4 December 2014

What's in season in December

Particularly since I started growing my own veg, I have quite got into eating seasonally (without being too anal about the whole thing). Partly for reasons of taste, partly because it seems a bit ridiculous to be shipping tonnes of food around the world or growing it in very artificial ways when we have so much food in Europe, partly because I like the idea of supporting local producers, and partly because seasonal produce is what is coming out of the veg patch. Eating seasonally marks the changes in the year. And things often just taste better in season. English strawberries grown outside and harvested in June taste so much better, and are considerably cheaper, than the insipid strawberries stocked by the supermarkets in winter that are grown under hydroponic lights.

14 November 2014

I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's son...

Autumn brings with it an abundance of seasonal foodstuffs. One of my favourites is game. The game season starts with much hoohah on 12 August, the 'Glorious Twelfth', when the red grouse season opens. Restaurants fall over themselves to have grouse on their menus on the evening of the Twelfth, or at latest the 13th. (Given that grouse benefits from several days hanging, and that a huge premium is charged for these mid-August birds, I usually wait several weeks before indulging). The partridge and mallard season opens on 1 September, with pheasants and woodcock following on 1 October.

2 November 2014

Pumpkin tart

I do enjoy a good bit of pumpkin carving at Halloween. And where there are carved pumpkins, there is pumpkin flesh to be used. My favourite thing to make with it is a pumpkin tart - essentially a variant on a custard tart, flavoured with pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon. It is a bit like an American pumpkin pie, but with a lighter, slightly French feel to it.

28 October 2014

Quince crumble

Quinces are one of those funny, old-fashioned autumnal fruits. A relative of both the apple and pear, they look a bit like a large knobbly yellow pear. They are not the most user-friendly of fruits, in that being quite starchy they need a fair bit of cooking before eating. They are, however, delicious, having a fragrant yet tart flavour, which is best brought out by a long, slow cook. They make a great crumble. Because the quinces require cooking before the crumble is assembled, this is not a quick pudding for a weekday evening. It is, however, well worth the effort. This recipe should give about six servings.

cooked quinces

1 October 2014

Green tomato chutney

2014 has been a great year for growing tomatoes. My outdoor-grown tomatoes continued to ripen nicely in the dry sunny weather we experienced throughout September. However, there comes a time every autumn when the longer nights and weakening sunshine mean that the tomatoes stop ripening. In cool wet Septembers that point can come sooner rather than later, especially if the plants contract late-season blight, in which case it is best to cut your losses and pick all the remaining healthy fruit. Last weekend, the last in September, we decided to harvest the remaining tomatoes. I might have been tempted to leave them for another week or so, but we are about to move house, and I thought we should pick them before we left.

24 September 2014

Drying porcini

Most mushrooming expeditions yield enough fungi for a meal or two. Occasionally, one finds a huge number of mushrooms. This poses a dilemma - most wild mushrooms do not keep well, even in the fridge, so what to do with them? Preserving is the answer. (Although, if you know you are not going to have enough time to preserve them, stop picking and leave them to someone else, or to the wildlife.) The main preserving options are drying or pickling. You could also make a big batch of mushroom soup and freeze it.

20 September 2014

Cauliflower fungi

Cauliflower fungus  (sparassis crispa)

One of the most unusual looking of edible mushrooms is the cauliflower fungus (sparassis crispa). When you see one, you understand how apt the name is (at least in terms of appearance, not taste!) Cauliflower fungi are usually found at the base of mature pine trees, and tend to grow in the same place year after year (although in some years they do not appear). I have never found one in the same place twice in the same season, so I assume they only fruit once a year.

9 September 2014

Hedgerow crumble

For the forager, autumn is the season when nature gives the most. Out for a walk at the weekend, we picked some lovely blackberries, which seem to grow more or less everywhere. We also found a hedgerow full of bullaces, which, like damsons and sloes, are a variety of wild plum. Bullaces are slightly smaller than damsons, and usually ripen a few weeks later. They are pretty sharp raw, so best cooked. I decided to make a crumble, to which I also added in a couple of apples. Apples and blackberries are a great combination. There are some fine English apples available at this time of year. I used Discoveries, one of the earliest English apples, which have a lovely floral flavour.

2 September 2014


Piccalilli is one of those curious British foods which, similar to chutney, is an anglicized version of traditional Indian pickles. Like chutney, piccalilli uses vinegar to preserve vegetables. Unlike chutney, the vegetables are not cooked with the vinegar, but rather pickled in a thickened, spiced vinegar solution. The acidity of the vinegar prevents bacterial development, thus preserving the vegetables, which would otherwise start to deteriorate rapidly after picking. Even more so in the old days in British India when no-one had fridges.

31 August 2014

Globe artichokes in the autumn

When I started this blog back in April of this year, my very first post was about my attempts to grow globe artichokes. I thought I would post a brief update about what the artichoke plants have been doing; not least as I have found it difficult to find much information about what the growing habits of globe artichokes are in the UK. I would be interested to hear from anyone else who grows globe artichokes to see if their experiences are similar to mine.

26 August 2014

Wild mushrooms

Autumn heralds what for me is the highlight of the foraging year: wild mushrooms. Although there are a few varieties of mushroom that arrive in the spring and some that will appear during any damp period in summer, the main season for mushrooms in the UK stretches from about mid-August until the first frosts. Visiting my parents over the August bank holiday weekend, I went on my first mushroom hunt of the season, and found a nice array of boletes, chantrelles, hedgehog, field and parasol mushrooms.

22 August 2014

Tagliatelle with courgette, tomato and mozzarella

Pasta forms the cornerstone of many week-night suppers in the Turpin household: it is quick to cook - many pasta dishes can be prepared in under 30 minutes, doesn't create much washing up - two pans max, and is super tasty. This is a classic week-night pasta dish for the summer, when both tomatoes and courgettes are in season and can be picked from the garden. Like many pasta dishes, this recipe is pretty simple and relies on using quality ingredients for really good flavours. This recipe will feed two.

20 August 2014


Tomatoes, like their relatives potatoes and aubergines, were brought to Europe by the conquistadors. Apparently the Spanish originally regarded these small round fruits as more decorative than edible. When the Spanish governed the Kingdom of Naples in the sixteenth century, they took tomatoes with them, and it was the (hungry) Neopolitan peasants who first started eating tomatoes, or so the story goes. Today tomatoes are a huge part of Italian culinary culture, and the habit of eating tomatoes has spread throughout Europe.

13 August 2014

Plum cobbler

Sometime around mid-August, hints appear that autumn is not far off - it gets a little darker in the evenings, and the cooler mornings bring heavy dews, which collect on the spiders' webs that suddenly seem to be everywhere in my garden. It is still summer, but it is definitely late summer. It is at this time of year that I start to think about cooked puddings. Plums, in season in late summer and early autumn, are lovely in a cooked dessert. Victoria plums, in particular, develop a lovely deep pink colour when cooked.

10 August 2014

Plum chutney

Plums are one of the great English summer fruits. When we bought our house, we were lucky enough to acquire a mature plum tree in the garden, and each August it produces a copious harvest. The fruits tend to ripen more or less at once, and we usually pick them over about 10-14 days. I like to eat a few raw, and plums are great cooked in crumbles, cobbler or tarts. There are always far more than we can use, so we preserve the bulk of them. Plums make one of my favourite jams, and they make a pretty mean ketchup too (I was converted to the plum variety of ketchup after a great tip from my friend Lorena, @lolylena on Twitter). This year we also made chutney. Plum chutney is a classic fruity chutney, which makes a great accompaniment to cheese or a pork pie. This recipe will make about 6-7 jars. You'll need a large pan (I use a 28cm stewpan), or use two smaller pans.

6 August 2014

Grilled courgettes preserved under oil

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed a courgette theme emerging amongst recent postings. My courgette plants are producing fruit faster than I can pick them, and I have now declared an official glut. Once a glut is called, the vegetable concerned needs to be preserved for later consumption. Although courgettes, and marrows, can be a useful ingredient in chutneys and piccalilli, this is my favourite way of preserving courgettes as the main ingredient. It involves grilling them slowly, preferably over a barbecue (which of course adds to the fun), and then preserving them under oil. Courgettes preserved in this way make a great accompaniment to cured meats, or cheeses such as ricotta or burrata.

27 July 2014

Stuffed courgette flowers

I recently wrote a blog about growing courgettes. One of the great bonuses of courgette plants is a steady supply of courgette flowers. You can sometimes buy the flowers in season, but they are usually rather expensive. The flowers are great raw in salads, but they also make a great antipasto stuffed with ricotta and an anchovy fillet and deep fried. Courgette flowers usually open in the morning, and close later on in the day. If you pick the flowers late in the day you will have to tease them open carefully. I use semolina flour when I deep-fry courgette flowers, which gives a light and crispy coating.

16 July 2014

Courgette, mint and chive salad

Courgette plants are one of the behemoths of the vegetable plot - huge spiny-leaved monsters, which produce an abundance of tasty fruits. I usually forget how large they grow, and for some reason lost in the mists of spring, this year I planted four plants, which seem to be rapidly taking over my small veg plot. The courgette is however a very versatile vegetable, which can be used in a myriad of ways. I could eat them nearly every day, and frankly with four plants probably will have to over the next few months.

6 July 2014

Strawberry risotto

Last year my wife went to Rome as a friend's plus one at a wedding. I stayed at home and laid a patio with my brother in the late-summer rain. Rome is one of my favourite cities, and my jealousy knew no bounds. I had to cheer myself up with some new-season grouse. There's nothing quite like a plate of roast grouse to warm the cockles after a day of wet landscape gardening. What has this got to do with strawberry risotto I hear you ask. Well, my wife returned from sunny Rome with tales of prosecco and an amazing strawberry risotto that she had eaten.

4 July 2014

Mange tout

Allotmenteers always bang on about how much better everything tastes when home-grown. To be honest, this isn't always the case - I've eaten a fair few stringy beans and woody radishes in my veg-growing career. If there is one vegetable which absolutely does taste better when home-grown, it is peas (including mange tout). Home-grown mange tout always taste better than their shop-bought equivalents. Peas have a relatively high sugar content, but once picked the sugars deteriorate and become starch. This is why frozen peas often taste better than shop bought fresh ones, as the sugars are preserved by the freezing process, and why producers of frozen peas work so hard to minimise the time between picking and freezing. Botanically there is no difference between peas and mange tout - mange tout are simply a cultivar where the whole pod can be eaten.

20 June 2014

Salad leaves

The salad bed, looking a little wild!

We've all bought those bags of mixed salad from the supermarket before: they look interesting, but most of the leaves are fairly tasteless, and once opened, the contents of the bag rapidly turn to mush in the fridge. Many salads are easy to grow, and even a few pots on a balcony can produce enough salad leaves to brighten up a shop-bought lettuce. Given a bit more space, and some judicious sowing, you can be picking home-grown leaves from mid-spring until well into the autumn.

8 June 2014


The first radishes of the season

When I was a child, my parents had a vegetable plot. When I was about seven or eight I became interested in actually growing things, rather than just digging in the dirt of the veg plot. One of the first things I was encouraged to grow was radishes. For many children (or adults) taking their first steps into the world of growing vegetables, radishes are a good place to start. They are relatively easy to grow, provided they get enough water, and the time between sowing the seed and harvesting the bright red roots is probably shorter than any other veg.

31 May 2014

Asparagus fritto misto with saffron mayonnaise

English asparagus is one of the great treats of mid to late spring. It can be grown in the back garden or on the allotment, but requires some hard work before one reaps the rewards. First a bed needs to be well-prepared during the winter, with plenty of organic matter added. In about mid-spring, shallow trenches are dug, into which asparagus crowns are planted. The trenches are then back-filled around the crowns. No asparagus can be picked in the first year, and only a few spears in the second. After that, asparagus can be picked for about 6-8 weeks from about mid-April onwards.

19 May 2014

Elderflower Sorbet

The elder is a slightly scrubby tree commonly found in hedgerows and on waste ground. In late spring it is covered in white flower heads. The flowers have a pleasant taste, and are often used to make wine and cordial. They can also be used to flavour cakes, jellies, ice creams and sorbets.

13 May 2014

Stuffed artichokes

I recently wrote a blog about growing globe artichokes. Since then the artichokes carried on growing, and I harvested the first two a day or so ago. I prefer to pick them relatively small (about the size of a cricket ball). Picking them also encourages the plant to produce more artichokes.

10 May 2014

Saffron buns

Saffron buns are a Cornish speciality and are part of the fine British heritage of enriched bread products. The addition of saffron gives the buns a wonderful yellow colour and warm flavour. Although saffron is often thought of as a Mediterranean spice, Cornwall had a history of saffron growing, (the spice having been introduced to the British Isles by the Romans) and saffron appears in a number of traditional Cornish recipes.

Saffron hot-cross buns

5 May 2014

In praise of the turnip

For many years the turnip has been a deeply unfashionable vegetable - more likely to be found as the butt of a joke on Blackadder, or as cattle fodder, than on a restaurant menu. It is, in my view, a useful vegetable, ill-deserving of its down-at-heel reputation. I suspect that harvesting when too large and over-cooking are both, at least in part, to blame.

2 May 2014

Wild garlic

Until a few years ago, wild garlic grew relatively undisturbed in woodlands in much of the English countryside, picked only by a few aged foragers clutching their battered copies of Richard Mabey's classic 1970s book 'Food for Free'. Suddenly wild garlic is on nearly every restaurant menu at this time of year. I'm a fan of the stuff, and have been picking it for years. It's great it has now become so popular.

28 April 2014

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard is one of the stalwarts of the veg patch. It has a spinach-like flavour, if a bit more robust. Unlike spinach, which runs to seed quickly, chard can be picked over a long period, and, once established, grows in abundance. With its multi-coloured stems, it makes an attractive feature in the veg garden.

26 April 2014

Purple sprouting broccoli

Purple sprouting broccoli

Brassicas seem to adore the heavy clay soil in my veg patch. And when I say adore, we're talking monster, shoulder-height plants. I grow a range of brassicas - cavolo nero, brussels sprouts, curly kale - but my favourite is purple sprouting broccoli. I prefer an early variety that starts to produce florets (which are immature flower buds) towards the end of February, and which can usually be picked through to the end of April. As the season goes by, the florets get more spindly, as the plant tries harder and harder to flower. As well, as tasting great and being reasonably versatile in the kitchen, purple sprouting broccoli provides an abundant harvest at a time of the year when precious little else can be picked from the veg patch.

23 April 2014

The Big Allotment Challenge

A month or so ago, I was approached by a casting producer looking for contestants for the Big Allotment Challenge series 2. I decided against applying- not least as the filming takes place near Reading. Sometimes I find it hard to find the time to tend the veg I grow in my urban garden.

21 April 2014

Growing globe artichokes

Globe artichokes are one of my favourite vegetables. Often in the UK we can only buy them when they are old and large. We tend to boil these whole, and then tear of the leafy sepals and eat them with hollandaise or (as my mum does) with melted butter sauce. I do enjoy eating them this way, but what I really like is cooking them when they are much smaller as an ingredient in a stew, or preserving them under oil, which makes a delicious accompaniment to cold meats. In the last few years smaller artichokes have appeared on the British market, but they are often expensive, and seldom look as good as those one sees for sale in Italian and French markets.