As a late comer to making frittata my enthusiasm for this simple dish is as yet unabated. Its versatility is particularly welcome in this hot and muggy weather – it can serve as breakfast, lunch, dinner or an anytime-snack and is just as good hot or cold. And of course, the variations are endless, making it easy to use different seasonal combinations throughout the year.

Facing the annual courgette glut (a bounty I wholeheartedly welcome), a frittata leapt immediately to mind when thinking of how best to enjoy our harvest.

I love the combination of courgette and mint, and knew a tangy creamy goat’s cheese would balance the sweetness of courgette.

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Courgette, Goat’s Cheese & Mint Frittata

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for cooking
500 grams courgette, washed and diced into approximately 1 cm cubes
Salt and pepper
Handful mint leaves, washed and finely chopped
6 large eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper
150 grams of soft goat’s cheese, chopped into small pieces

Method

  • Heat the vegetable oil in large frying pan or sauté pan that is suitable for use on stovetop and under the grill.
  • Add courgettes, seasoning with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper and the mint leaves.
  • Cook for several minutes until the courgette is cooked all the way through.
  • Switch on your grill to preheat, on a high setting.
  • Pour the beaten egg into the pan and about a third of the goat’s cheese, mix gently and allow to cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Use a spatula to pull the egg in a little from the edges of the pan and cook for another couple of minutes.
  • To check whether the base has set, shake the pan to check whether the frittata is starting to come loose; if it hasn’t, give it another minute or two on the hob.
  • Spread the remaining goat’s cheese across the top of the egg and courgette mix.
  • Transfer the pan to the grill and cook for a few minutes, until the egg has set and the goat’s cheese has taken on some colour.
  • Remove from the grill and give the pan another shake. The frittata should now be loose on the bottom of the pan; if it’s not quite loose, use a spatula to help free it.
  • Place a large plate over the pan and flip to turn the frittata out. I like the goat’s cheese to show on top, so use a second plate to turn it the right way up again.
  • The frittata can be enjoyed piping hot, warm or cold from the fridge. Slice into wedges to serve.

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Here are more great frittata ideas:

What are your favourite ingredients to add into a frittata?

Oct 292013
 

I love autumn – the early half, when the leaves on the trees create a riot of my favourite colours and there is still a good chance of sunny days that are chilly but not freezing cold. And it’s apple season too. As I discovered recently, the apple isn’t a native fruit, but it’s become so much a part of our agricultural and gardening landscape that it’s hard not to think of it as a quintessentially British fruit.

Last year, we had such an outrageously enormous harvest from just two trees on our allotment that I spent several days preserving apples in chutneys, jellies and apple pie filling.

This year’s harvest wasn’t quite as overwhelming but I’ve still been enjoying a little more preserving, not to mention apple (and foraged blackberry) crumbles and more apple pies.

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When we’re making a pie fresh, rather than using canned apple pie filling, the recipe we use for the filling is a very simple one taken from Angela Nilsen’s Ultimate Apple Pie. Rather than using her pastry recipe, we usually buy ready-made shortcrust pastry from the supermarket. Pete preps the apples, rolls the pastry and lays the base and lid. I make the filling mix and do the pie decorations. A team effort though I have the easier tasks!

I like to use a mix of cooking and eating apples so that there are differences in the texture and flavour of the fruit, once cooked. This pie was made with four different types of apples; most were from our allotment and garden with an additional one from the shops.

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Last 2 images by Jason Ng, thanks Jason!

Classic Apple Pie Recipe

Ingredients
500 grams shortcrust pastry, chilled
1 kg mixed apples, peeled and cored weight
Optional: large bowl of cold water and squirt of lemon juice
150g caster sugar + extra for sprinkling
0.5 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 egg white, very loosely beaten

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 170 C (fan).
  • Peel, core and slice the apples. You can keep the prepped apples fresh in a bowl of cold water with a squirt of lemon juice added but do drain them well and quickly pat them dry before continuing with recipe.
  • Toss the apples in a mixture of sugar, cinnamon and flour. Mix with your hands to make sure the coating is evenly distributed.
  • Divide the pastry, setting aside two thirds for the base and one third for the lid. Roll out the base and lay into a reasonably deep pie dish.
  • Pile the apples inside, heaping them towards the centre.
  • Roll the pastry for the lid, brush a little water over the edges of the base and position the lid on top. Use a sharp knife to trim away excess pastry and then press down with fingers or a fork to ensure a good seal and make a pretty edge.
  • Roll out the leftover pastry and use a small round pastry cutter to cut out three circles. Use your finger to make a dent in each one, so they look more apple-like. Use the same pastry cutter to cut three simple leaf shapes. Roll or cut tiny fragments to use as stems. Use water to moisten and stick the pieces onto the pie lid.
  • Loosely beat the egg white and brush over the entire pie and then sprinkle with a little caster sugar.
  • Cut a  few slashes or crosses to allow steam to escape during cooking.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the pastry is beautifully golden.
  • Remove from the oven, allow to sit and rest for 5-10 minutes, then sprinkle a little more caster sugar over the top.
  • Serve with custard, vanilla ice cream, clotted cream, double cream or a delicious clotted cream ice cream my friend found in Waitrose.

 

Apple pie is such a classic and yet there are many variations. What recipe or style of apple pie do you prefer and what do you like to serve it with?

 

As usual, time ran away with us down at the allotment and the thickly sown rows of beetroot never did get thinned out or weeded. That resulted in a harvest of lots of teeny tiny beetroots which we were determined to use, as they were our very first home-grown.

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Pete roasted them in their skins before laboriously peeling each one. I heated some white wine vinegar with whole black peppercorns, powdered mixed spice and some Demerara sugar.

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We bottled them in a (sterilised) hinged Le Parfait jar and poured the hot pickling liquid in before sealing.

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No idea what they’re like, but hoping they are good enough to motivate us to make a better job at the allotment next year!

 

With thanks to Le Parfait for sample preserving jars.

 

As you may have gathered from my enthusiasm about visiting the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale recently, I am a big fan of apples and love to enjoy British apples in season.

We planted a Cox’ Orange Pippin in our back garden a few years ago, and inherited a Bramley (cooking) apple and what we think is a Charles Ross (eating) apple tree when we took on our allotment plot a couple of years back. Last year’s harvest was so enormous I made batches and batches of apple chutneys and jellies (including herb, ginger and chilli variations) and learned how to can apple pie filling too.

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So when Waitrose asked me to help them celebrate British-grown apples, now in store, I was happy to say yes.

They sent me a few packs of Estivale, a variety also known as Delbard Estivale and listed by the NFC as Delcorf. This is an early to mid-season variety, originating in France in the 1960s and the fruits are large and brightly coloured with bright red patches amid yellow-green. The flavour is excellent, and pleasantly sweet with just a little balancing sharpness. These apples don’t keep well in the fruit bowl, so should be eaten within a week but you can preserve them in a chutney or combine them with blackberries, also in season, for a quick crumble.

To celebrate this year’s apple season, I’ve shared my recipe for a simple apple and ginger chutney, on Waitrose’s website. You might also be interested in their Facebook competition, where you can submit your own apple recipes to win Waitrose vouchers.

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Alternatively, if you have any favourite recipes for apples, please share them here. It’s harvest time on the allotment already, and the garden ones will be ready soon too. I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy them!

 

Kavey Eats was sent samples of apples for review and given vouchers for the Waitrose Cookery School as a thank you for providing a recipe.

 

Even before our guide Mike Roser took us through the origins and history of apple cultivation, I had it in my head that the National Fruit Collection (NFC) at Brogdale was about collecting and preserving traditional British varieties of apples, alongside other fruits such as pears, plums and cherries.

I was wrong on at least two counts, the first being my understanding of the purpose of the NFC and the second being that the collection is international, not national, in scope.

Not only is it a living museum but it is also a genetic bank and that’s where the importance of the collection lies”, explained Mike, before walking us through pear, apple and plum collections and telling us about the origins of the NFC.

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The Origins of The NFC

The NFC grew out of fruit trials created by the Royal Horticultural Society in the 19th and 20th centuries, first in Chiswick and later at Wisley in Surrey. The original intent of the trials was to collect, categorise and agree nomenclature for the assembled varieties, but they were soon expanded to include research on horticultural methods and cultivation of new varieties. After WW2, when increasing food production was a national priority, the collection was taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods (now DEFRA) who relocated it to a larger site in Kent, where it is today. It is curated for DEFRA by the University of Reading and they’ve appointed FAST (Farm Advisory Services Team) to perform the day to day management. A charity called Brogdale Collections promotes and organises public access to the collection, providing daily tours such as the one we enjoyed.

Today, the NFC is the largest living collection of temperate fruits on one site in the world, conserving over 2,000 cultivars (cultivated varieties) of apples, around 500 pears, over 300 each of plums and cherries alongside collections of currants, gooseberries, grapes, nuts, medlars, quinces and apricots. It is run on behalf of the nation as a resource for scientific research and provides a much-valued gene bank for fruit breeders developing new cultivars. It is also the UK’s contribution to an international programme to protect genetic diversity of crop plants and future food security. (Read more about The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, here). Working with East Malling Research, the entire pear and apple collections have now been DNA finger printed, and work continues on analysing the other fruit collections.

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A Living Collection

As Pete and I tour the apple, pear and plum orchards with Mike, we learn that the collection must be maintained as living trees because such fruits do not “come true” from seed. (The most common way for propagating apples is to graft a short branch of the desired variety, known as the scion, onto suitable rootstock. As the name suggests, the rootstock produces the roots of the tree, governing how large the tree grows overall, and the scion grows into the branches, leaves and fruits of the tree.) At Brogdale, each orchard contains two trees of each cultivar, and the orchards themselves are mirrored every few decades – Mike shows us how much larger the trees in the older apple orchard are than those in the recently planted mirror. He explains that both were grafted to the same dwarf root stock, but the trees in the new orchard also have an interstock that sits between rootstock and scion and inhibits the final tree size and shape even more. Mike adds that much of the creation of different rootstocks and grafting techniques has been carried out by East Malling Research, with a view to increase resistance to pests and disease, control tolerance to different climates or terrains and to shape the ultimate size of the trees.

Today’s growers benefit not just from the genetic diversity of the NFC, which allows them to cross existing varieties to create new ones, but also from this kind of horticultural research that helps farmers take control over their orchards, improve harvesting methods, increase yields and tempt consumers with new and exciting fruits.

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Quince and Medlar, both part of the enormous Rosaceae family, which includes rosa (roses), rubus (raspberries, blackberries), prunus (stone fruits, almonds) plus apples, pears and many more

The History of Apples

The history of apple cultivation is fascinating: wild apple trees (Malus sieversii) originated in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Xinjiang, China) and have been cultivated there for millennia, certainly the apple is likely the earliest tree to be cultivated for domestic use. Recent genetic analysis confirms that our modern day domesticated apples (Malus domestica) descended from these wild Asian ancestors, with some (limited) introgression of genes from European crabapples (Malus sylvestris). Domesticated apples spread out from Central Asia many thousands of years ago.

Although it’s been suggested that the Romans bought apples to Britain, apples had reached our shores long before that, though they were not grown here in large numbers. The Romans introduced sweeter varieties, organised cultivation and created our first apple orchards, though many were abandoned in the centuries after the fall of Roman rule. Apple agriculture was revived by the Norman invasion, who brought with them new varieties and cultivation methods and certainly improved our cider-making skills. Yet, a few hundred years later, production was in decline once again. In the 1530s, Henry VIII was responsible for a change in the apple’s fortune, instructing his fruiterer to identify, introduce and grow new varieties – this resulted in the creation of expansive new apple orchards in Kent.

For the next couple of hundred years there was little innovation or ordered methodology to apple cultivation, but this period soon gave way to the era of botanical exploration in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whilst most of us are familiar with the names of Charles Darwin and Joseph Banks (Captain Cook’s botanist), most of the scientific flora and fauna collectors of that period are little known now. But their impact on the horticulture and agriculture of Britain was profound; many of the species of plants we grow in our parks and gardens today were brought back to Britain by these explorers. There was huge interest and research into which species were and were not related, how they had evolved and from which ancestors, how they should most accurately be categorised and named (the current binominal nomenclature Latin naming conventions were formally accepted during this period) and how best to propagate and grow both native and introduced plant species. It was in this climate that the The Horticultural Society of London was founded in 1804 (by Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood), later becoming the Royal Horticultural Society when granted a royal charter by Prince Albert in 1861.

I talked above about the origins of the NFC. The background to the early fruit trials was a prevalent confusion at the time over the multiple different names many fruit cultivars acquired as they were propagated and distributed from country to country and region to region, especially true of apples. Often, breeders would give existing cultivars new names to boost their sales or based on a local nickname. The plan was that all cultivars in the collection would be verified as correct against published and agreed descriptions and this would then form a living reference library to clearly identify synonyms, unknown varieties and new cultivars.

The first edition of Hogg’s Herefordshire Pomona, a catalogue of apple and pear varieties grown across the county, was published in 1878. In 1883 the National Apple Congress provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine and compare varieties grown across the entire country. Cox’ Orange Pippin was voted the best apple of Southern England that year, and Bramley’s Seedling also came to prominence at the congress.

In the late 1800s, commercial growers were feeling the pressure, forced to compete with imports not only from mainland Europe but also from Canada, the USA, South Africa and even Australasia. In fact, there was even a Fruit Crusade, during which the RHS put its weight behind a campaign to encourage consumers to choose British produce over imported fruit such as “Yankee” apples. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Today, I often find myself discussing the merits of foregoing fruit when it’s out of season in the UK, and the resultant joy of eating locally grown British varieties when their time rolls around again.

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Visiting and Buying from Brogdale

Brogdale is open to visitors throughout the year but tours are offered from March to October only. Entry on a normal day is £7.50 for adults, £2.50 for children or £20 for a family ticket. When a special event or festival is on, those prices are £8, £4 and £20. Alternatively you can buy an annual pass for £22 per adult, including festivals, or £10 per adult, excluding them. Check the Brogdale Collections website for the latest information.

A guided tour will usually include an overview of some of the history above, as well as the chance to learn about and try some of the fruit in season during your visit. Our guide, Mike Roser, has been guiding at Brogdale for ten years, after nearly 40 years working in the fruit industry and supermarket retail management, so the depth and breadth of his knowledge was immense. We learned a huge amount about many varieties of apples, pears and plums and were able to taste some that were ready to harvest as we walked around the site with him.

Another aspect of our visit I particularly appreciated was the onsite shop which sells fruit harvested from the orchards. The harvests aren’t huge for any given variety, of course, but this is a great way to try unusual varieties you will not have encountered before, and to take some home and cook with them too. At the time of our visit, cherries were just coming to the end of their season and plums were at their peak, so I was able to bring back 5 different types of cherries and 12 different plums. I’ll share some notes and recipes with you in a future post.

There’s also a small marketplace with a number of local independent businesses including a lovely little bakery selling cakes and fruit pies, a butcher’s, a drinks shop and a couple of others.

A small garden centre sells fruit trees and other gardening supplies, though make sure you’ve checked first on best times of year to buy and plant fruit trees.

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Pears, harvested for sale in the Brogdale Collections shop

Fruit Identification Service

Brogdale also offer a fruit identification service, for just £20 per variety. This is great if you’ve bought a house (or inherited an allotment plot) and are uncertain about the variety of apple, pear or plum tree in the garden.

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Trailblazer plums (top), another variety (bottom)

 

Our visit to the Brogdale Collection was organised by Lusso Catering, who have partnered with the National Fruit Collection to launch “Forgotten Fruit”, an initiative to promote “the use of ancient and arcane varieties of fruit, most of which have fallen prey to the commercialisation of orchards where crop and fruit size, storability and pristine appearance is valued over character, texture and flavour nuance.” They have pledged to re-introduce forgotten varieties onto the menus they serve to corporate clients across the UK. Many thanks to them for facilitating our visit.

Although much information was provided by our guide Mike Roser, and by Brogdale Collections, I’ve also included  a lot of extra information gleaned from additional reading and research. As such, the blame for any errors is mine.

Nov 062012
 

Tools For Self Reliance Cymru collect old and unwanted hand tools, mostly those used by gardeners, and their volunteers clean, repair and sharpen them. They send their refurbished tool kits to grass roots community groups in Africa.

As they explain, "Tools mean work, and the chance to shape their future, just as important to a young person in Tanzania or Ghana today as it is in Britain."

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In addition to sending tools to Africa, TFSR Cymru also buy tools and items made by blacksmiths in Africa, those they have supported in the past, and bring them back to the UK for sale.

TSFR Cymru also sell a large number of tools that they receive for refurbishment but which are not required by their African partners, either because they are easily made locally or are not needed there. These tools are also cleaned and sharpened, fitted with new handles where necessary and often have much more character than modern tools.

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We encountered TSFR Cymru at this year’s Abergavenny Food Festival when their box of rakes, hoes, cultivators, dibbers caught our eye. When we saw how reasonable the prices were, Pete could not resist purchasing a cultivator, which shall be put to good work in the garden and allotment in coming months.

There were also some smaller gardening and other tools available which would be ideal for gardeners, or as gifts for gardening friends.

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Tools For Self Reliance Cymru are an independent registered charity based in Crickhowell in South Wales, and they collect tools from across Wales.

For those outside Wales, if you have friends and family closer to TFSR Cymru  or are planning a holiday, do look at whether you are able to contribute any old and unwanted tools for them to refurbish. TSFR Cymru have four groups in Wales as well as a network of collectors who also help them gather suitable tools.

 

(There is also a separate UK Tools for Self Reliance organisation which does similar work and may have centres near you).

 

With thanks to Abergavenny Food Festival for press passes to attend the festival.

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