Friday, 17 January 2014

Mother pans for Spanish gold

Deep in the January slough with Christmas and new year done, the days dark, the rain biblical and seemingly endless - there is a gift from our dear Spanish friends. The Sevilles are here! Turning up slowly at first with just the odd box at the more specialist fruiterers at New Spitalfields market,

but now here in large towering heaps, a brief bittersweet glut. A brutal 5am trip on the W15 bus has got me 35kgs of the rough knobbly wonders. Seville oranges, one of the few fruits left that are truly seasonal. And a short season at that, running from early January to the first week in February at the latest. All the way from Andalucia here they are on a cold and wet East London morning - here as they have been each winter since the fifteenth century to fulfill the British passion for marmalade 

And now filling my kitchen and dining room with their heart warming brightness as I knock up this year's batch of Bitter Orange Rum . This week has been spent boiling, zesting and chopping fruit as the house fills up with orange scented steam.

I won't tell you lies about how quick it is to make your own marmalade having stayed up into the small hours awaiting the perfect set myself. But it will taste divine.

As if marmalade and orange liqueurs weren't gifts enough the blossoms of the Seville orange also make orange flower water a key ingredient in the Ramos gin fizz. A delicate and restorative cocktail for these mid winter days. Close your eyes, imagine warm to your bones, imagine flower scented air.  

50 ml Gin
30 ml fresh lemon juice
20 ml Sugar Syrup
20 ml fresh cream
1 egg white
1 barspoon Bitter Truth Orange Flower Water
20 ml Soda Water

Shake all ingredients except soda water vigorously with ice and strain into a highball glass. Top up with soda water and garnish with a slice of orange.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Wassail Wassail 2014

Even when the year is at it's quietest there is yet much to be done. The first thing is to wish happy new year to the nieghbour's bees, sleeping in their hives in the hedgerow of the lower field, and to remind them that when the spring comes we will need them up in the orchard. The English bee keeping tradition of telling the bees says that the bees must be told all family news, and to this end I wandered down to pass a quiet minute chatting with them about plans for the coming year. Bees attended we then turned to the trees and the winter pruning of apples and damsons.

After consulting John's ancient copy of The Pomarium Brittanicum on orchard care which recommends a gentle winter pruning to remove, crossing branches, dead wood and suckers, we set out amongst the trees. 

A careful cut here and there to strengthen the tree and hopefully encourage heavy fruiting.

All that is left to now get the year off to a good start is to wassail the orchard to wake up the trees.

"Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring,
As you do give them Wassailing.”

Crook Morris will be wassailing the damson orchards of the Lyth Valley this weekend. If you want to hear a joyful racket, watch a neat footed dance and toast the trees with some potent damson beer, (- and who wouldn't want such fun?) be in the Lyth Valley Hotel car park at 11.30 on Saturday 11th Jan. And for wassailing  E17 style catch the Walthamstow Wassail which will toast and sing to the bee hives of Bee17 and fruit trees as it makes its' way from the Nags Head 2pm, via Chesnuts Farm allotments and on to the Rose and Crown for 8pm.

A Hot Wassail Punch

Ingredients; 4 pints of cider, 1 pint of cranberry juice, 1/2 tablespoon of bitters, 2 cinnamon stcks, some allspice berries, an orange studded with some cloves and a cup of fine dark rum

Combine all and heat gently, serve hot from a Wassail cup, and hold in cold hands whilst stamping your feet and singing loudly. (Image by Pauline Baynes )