Camilla Stephens began her culinary career developing food for (UK-based) coffee chain, the Seattle Coffee Company. When it was bought out by Starbucks, she stayed on board creating tasty treats to be sold across the chain throughout the day. Somewhere along the way, she learned to make really tasty pies. Fast forward several years to 2003 when Camilla and husband James created Higgidy, selling beautiful handmade pies – even though the business has grown phenomenally in its first decade, every single pie is still shaped and filled by hand and the product range now includes a variety of quiches too. There are more traditional recipes such as beef, stilton and ale in a shortcrust pastry case and bacon and cheddar quiche, as well as more inventive recipes like sweet potato and feta pie with pumpkin seeds.

Pete and I aren’t averse to buying ready made meals so we’ve enjoyed Higgidy products at home a number of times. The key to their success is that they really do taste home made.

So we had high hopes for Camilla’s recently-released Higgidy Cookbook, promising “100 Recipes for Pies and More”. We were not disappointed and it didn’t take long for me to bookmark a slew of recipes that appealed: chicken and chorizo with spiced paprika crumble, chinese spiced beef pies, no-nonsense steak and ale pie, giant gruyere and ham sandwich, melt-in-the-middle pesto chicken (filo parcels), hot-smoked salmon gougère (scuppered, on the first attempt, by our inability to find hot-smoked salmon in our local shops), rösti-topped chicken and pancetta pie, wintry quiche with walnutty pastry, smoked haddock frying-pan pie, cheddar ploughman tartlets, cherry tomato tarte tatin, sticky ginger and apple tarte tatin, pear and whisky tart, oaty treacle tart, chocolate snowflake tart and sticky onions!

Of course, many of these recipes are wonderfully hearty and perfect winter warmers at this this cold, dark and wet time of year.

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Pork and apple stroganoff pie with cheddar crust; lamb hotpot

So far, Pete’s made two recipes from the book and we have been delighted with both. The hearty lamb hotpot was a classic; simple to make, tasty and warming to eat. The pork and apple stroganoff pie with cheddar crust was fantastic. Oddly enough, after making (and blogging) an apple pie with an almost identical design on top (which I made before having seen the Higgidy pie photograph) I had been chatting on twitter about trying apple pie with a cheddar crust, so finding this recipe soon afterwards was serendipitous! It didn’t disappoint.

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Higgidy Pork and Apple Stroganoff Pie with Cheddar Crust

Equipment
1 x 1.4 litre ovenproof pie dish

Ingredients
For the cheddar pastry

230 grams plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting
0.5 teaspoon salt
125 grams butter, chilled and diced
40 grams mature cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
2-3 tablespoons ice-cold water
For the filling
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
A good knob of butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 medium leek, thinly slievd
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
600 grams pork tenderloin, cut into 2-3 cm pieces
2 eating apples, such as Braeburn, peeled, cored and cut into small wedges
2 tablespoons plain flour
200 ml cider
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
150 ml full-fat soured cream
150 ml hot chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: We skipped the egg-wash, so our pie didn’t have the pretty glossy appearance of Camilla’s.

Method

  • To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a food processor. Add the chilled butter and pulse until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the cheese, then add the ice-cold water, just enough to bring the pastry together. Shape into a round disc, wrap in clingfilm and put into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the filling. Heat a tablespoon of oil with the butter in a large non-stick frying pan, add the onion and leek, and cook gently for 5 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Spoon into your pie dish.
  • Increase the heat, add a splash more oil, then fry the pork for a couple of minutes only, just enough to brown the meat. Spoon into the pie dish.

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  • Keep the pan on a high heat and fry the apple pieces in the remaining fat, until lightly browned and Beginning to soften. Transfer to the pie dish. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir well, to evenly combine.

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  • Pour the cider into the empty pan and bubble until reduced by half. Lower the heat, add the mustard, soured cream and stock and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and immediately pour over the meat in the pie dish. Give it all a good stir and set aside to cook completely.

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  • Preheat the oven to 200 C / fan 180 C / gas mark 6. Brush the edges of the pie dish with beaten egg.
  • On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to about 3mm thick and drape it over the top of the filling. Crimp the edges to seal. Cut a steam hole in the middle.
  • Decorate the top of the pastry with your pastry trimmings (cut into apple shapes or leaves) and brush the pie all over with beaten egg.

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  • Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the filling is piping hot and the pastry is golden and crisp. Serve with wilted kale.

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The Higgidy Cookbook published by Quercus, is currently available (at time of posting) on Amazon for a very bargainous £7 (RRP £16.99).

Kavey Eats was sent a review copy of the book by Higgidy.

 

Bacon Broccoli-0357

For most of my 40 years, I’ve labelled broccoli as The Devil’s Vegetable (along side celery, which still is). I’ve huffed and puffed indignantly about the increasing prevalence of this vegetable over the years – order a dish that comes with “green vegetables” and 99 times out of a 100 you’ll get a plate of green florets!

But a couple of years ago I experienced a broccoli epiphany.

You see, what I’ve always disliked about the most common broccoli, Calabrese, is the floret at the top – the bit that looks like the canopy of a tree. The stem, of which there is precious little, has always been the best bit.

Back in 2010, buying vegetable seeds for our back garden, we chose some that came with an offer for a free packet of purple sprouting broccoli. I wasn’t sure I’d like it but I could see from the picture on the packet that this variety produced long, slim stems with small florets at the end. Worth a shot, I reckoned. And lo, I found myself avidly eating the foodstuff I’d turned my nose up at for so long. Indeed, in the two years since I’ve keenly anticipated our harvest, lamenting when it’s late or not sufficiently high yield!

More recently, I came across another kind of broccoli that I’m loving – it’s a cross between Calabrese broccoli and Gai lan. (I’ve been ordering Gai lan for years in Chinese restaurants, but didn’t know until recently that it’s known as Chinese kale or Chinese broccoli and is also part of the Brassica oleracea species; I love Gai Lan for it’s long crunchy stems).

In the US, the cross is commonly known as baby broccoli though different producers have registered trademark names including Broccolini and Broccoletti.

Here in the UK, it’s marketed as Tenderstem.

To spread word about British grown Tenderstem and to show how versatile and quick it is to use, the Tenderstem press office have invited bloggers to suggest our own recipes for their “Tenderstem in 10″ (minutes) challenge.

They sent me some to experiment with.

The first portion I fried in a heavy based pan over high heat, to recreate the charred broccoli we enjoyed recently at Paul Merrett’s pub The Victoria – part of a dish of rabbit loin and liver. 5-6 minutes of cooking allowed the stems to soften a little, but retain a decent crunch, and the florets to char enough to provide that smoky extra flavour. We served these over a steaming parmesan risotto. Delicious!

Inspired by the common pairing of Parma ham wrapped around asparagus, the second portion were wrapped in rashers of smoked streaky bacon and fried in the same way as the first. Even with wrapping time, they took less than 10 minutes!

We had these on their own for a light but tasty evening meal, but you could serve them with Hollandaise or with soft boiled eggs if you like!

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Bacon Wrapped Tenderstem Broccoli (Tenderstem in 10)

Ingredients
Tenderstem broccoli
Streaky bacon (smoked or unsmoked, as you prefer)

Method

  • Wrap each stem in a rasher of bacon, starting at the cut end and spiralling up to the end. Press the bacon firmly where you finish.

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  • Place a heavy based pan on the heat, add a little oil and allow to heat up before adding the broccoli stems.
  • Make sure to place the broccoli stems into pan with the exposed end of the rasher at the bottom, so the bacon doesn’t unravel during cooking.

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  • After a few minutes, turn the stems over to allow the bacon to brown on the other side.

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  • Depending on the thickness of your bacon rashers and broccoli stems, the stems will take 5-10 minutes to cook.
  • Serve plain, with Hollandaise sauce or soft boiled eggs for dipping.

Kavey Eats received a complimentary parcel of Tenderstem broccoli.

 

Having been sent a Clonakilty black pudding and white pudding for St Patrick’s day, we ate half of each in a mighty fine fry up.

That left us half of each sausage, already sliced and fried, ready to use.

From the freezer, we pulled out a box of home-grown tomatoes, which I’d roasted with a little olive oil and pureed into a smooth, thick sauce, before freezing. For this quick and delicious dinner, we simply chopped the pudding slices into small pieces and mixed into the tomato sauce. Once heated, we stirred the chunky sauce through some pasta.

Absolutely delicious!

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Pasta with Black Pudding, White Pudding & Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 2

Ingredients
200-300 grams fried, chopped black and white pudding
200-300 grams tomatoes, roasted then pureed
120 grams pasta, choose your preferred shape

Note: we cook 120 grams of pasta when cooking dinner for 2, but understand that some prefer larger quantities, so cook your usual amount!

  • Combine cooked and chopped black and white pudding with roasted and pureed tomatoes. Heat. Once pasta is cooked, stir through the sauce and serve.

 

When we made this and as I wrote this post, I was chuffed to bits my new recipe idea, but of course, like all good ideas, others got there first, as I discovered reading the newspaper a few days afterwards. Do click through to see Niamh’s Spaghetti Corkese recipe.

 

Last time I made Boston baked beans, I used slices of pork belly, but Pete’s not a huge pork belly fan, so I wanted to make a version that he’d enjoy as much as me.

As is so often the case in life, bangers (and bacon) were the answer!

I put bacon in at the beginning, so it could release its porky goodness into the beans. I browned the bangers in a frying pan and added them for the last hour of cooking time. As we had lots of soft white bread to mop up the sauce, I didn’t reduce the liquid down completely, but you can let it simmer a little longer without a lid, if you’d prefer the sauce to be thicker.

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Kavey’s Boston Baked Beans & British Bangers

Ingredients
400 grams good quality pork sausages
2 x 400 gram tins of white haricot beans in water
200 grams smoked bacon, cubed
2 heaped tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons black treacle
2 tablespoons French mustard
200g tinned chopped tomatoes
350 grams shallots, peeled but left whole
4 cloves
Salt and pepper

Note: I had a tin of butter beans in the larder, so substituted those for one of the tins of white haricot beans.

Method

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  • Tip the contents of the tins of haricot beans, liquid and all, into a large casserole. Add the sugar, black treacle, mustard, tomatoes and bacon. Add freshly ground black pepper at this stage, but adjust for salt later, as the bacon will add some during cooking.

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  • Stick the four cloves into one of the shallots, then add all the shallots to the pot.

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  • Cover and cook on the stove (medium heat) or in the oven (140 C) for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

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  • Shortly before the two hours are up, fry the sausages in a hot pan for a few minutes. They do not need to be cooked through, just browned all over.

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  • Add the sausages to the pot and cook for a further one hour, with the lid removed to allow the liquid to reduce, stirring occasionally.
  • Check and adjust seasoning before serving.

I served this with some fresh soft white bread. A green side salad would also be a nice addition.

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I was really happy with my culinary handshake between Britain and Across The Pond; the porky bangers worked a treat with the smoky BBQ flavours of the Boston beans.

Do let me know what you think, and how you get on if you have a go at making this yourself.

 

Chatting to the UK arm of US publisher Rizzoli about titles I might like to review, the pull of the pig drew me towards The Whole Hog Cookbook. Promising “chops, loin, shoulder, bacon and all that good stuff”, author Libbie Summers draws on childhood memories of her grandparents’ hog farm together with “modern sensibilities [that] lend new twists to beloved dishes”.

As the front flap declares, “the best way to honor an animal like the pig is to appreciate every part”.

The book starts with an introduction to the strengths and characteristics of various heritage breeds of pig before sharing recipes divided into chapters for loin, Boston shoulder, bacon, spare ribs, picnic shoulder, leg, offal and slices.

The names of these cuts remind you immediately that the book is an American one, though there are plenty of websites online that will help you translate the names of cuts to their UK equivalents.

That said, the recipes themselves take inspiration from all around the world, including Hangover Irish Crubeens, Spaghetti alla Carbonara (made with guanciale) and Pork Osso Buco, Serrano Ham Croquettes and Rioja Potatoes, Summers’ Aunt Setsuko’s Ham Fried Rice, Crispy Thai Pork Belly, West Indian Pork Roti, Cuban Pork Roast Someone needs to tell Summers, though, that the “scotch” in scotch eggs doesn’t mean they’re Scottish, as she’s called them!

And of course, there are many American-inspired recipes, gleaned from all across the country and adapted and refined by Summers. I’m tempted by lots of them, including Prodigal Chocolate Pig (a moist chocolate cake featuring bacon and rum), Buttery Potted Ham, Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Roast, Grilled Summer Corn Soup, her grandma Lula Mae’s Double Cola-Braised Pork Shoulder, Citrus Sugar Rubbed Ribs, Southern Peanut Soup, Savoury Mushroom and Bacon Bread Pudding…

Summers also provides a number of recipes for side dishes and condiments such as Clementine Prosecco Marmalade, Buttermilk Biscuits, Stout Mustard, Lemon Mint Mashed Potatoes, Creole Mayo, Moon Gate Bacon Jam, Lemon Thyme Custard, Applesauce, Hot Guava Dipping Sauce, Banana Chutney, Butt-Kickin’ Ketchup

I think I might leave the Hot Peppered Pickled Pig’s Feet for someone more adventurous though!

I’ve already taken inspiration from Summers’ South Cackalacky Spare Ribs recipe, though I created my own recipe for the Cackalacky sauce, I used Summers’ rib rub, on beef instead of pork. And I’d never have heard of Cackalacky if not for the book.

Intrigued by two baking recipes, the husband’s disdainfully raised eyebrows at the thought of sweet scones ruled out the Rosemary Bacon Scones (which also feature white chocolate), so I decided to make the Bacon Banana Cookies instead.

Immediately, I was confronted with the other weakness of the book (from my British point of view) – it’s use of cup measures instead of weights/ volumes.

Whilst a cup of sugar is quick and simple, a cup of peanut butter is much more of a pain.

Luckily, Summers doesn’t drive me to complete distraction and mostly lists ingredients such as fruit and vegetables more rationally with numbers of carrots or bananas, though she occasionally refers to onions by cup after peeling and dicing, which surely depends on how small I dice and gives me little guidance on how much to purchase in the first place.

I realise cups are easier for those who grew up with them, and one gets better at estimating how much to buy with experience, but it strikes me as a dreadfully inaccurate way of measuring for many ingredients and makes it difficult when purchasing unfamiliar ingredients.

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image from the book; my cookies

Bacon Banana Cookies

Ingredients
1.5 cups all purpose flour (plain flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
0.25 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
0.25 teaspoon kosher salt (large grained salt, a little like sea salt)
0.5 cup / 1 stick unsalted butter (113 grams)
1.25 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 bananas, mashed
0.5 pound bacon, cooked crisp, chopped (225 grams)

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Method

  • Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

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  • In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, half teaspoon of the ground cinnamon and the salt.

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  • In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together the butter and 1 cup of the sugar.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until they are fully incorporated.

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  • Beat in the vanilla.

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  • Add the butter mixture to the flour mixture.

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  • Then stir in the mashed bananas, beating well after each addition.

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  • Fold in the bacon.
  • Stir together the remaining quarter cup sugar and the remaining cinnamon and set aside.

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  • Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet 1 inch apart.

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  • Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar and bake for 10-12 minutes, until slightly browned.

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  • Allow the cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Cookies will keep for 5 to 7 days.

Note: I missed the instruction to separate out some of the sugar and ground cinnamon to sprinkle onto the cookies before baking, so they were mixed into the dough along with the rest.

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So what did we think?

Pete wasn’t convinced by the flavour combination of banana and bacon – he didn’t dislike it but didn’t particular fall for it either. But I loved it! I’d probably up the amount of bacon a touch more actually, to bring it out even more.

Where we both agreed was on the texture – far more bread or cake like than what we expect from a cookie.

Worst of all, although the recipe advises that the cookies will keep for 5-7 days, after less than 24 hours in a plastic box (into which they were placed only after they had completely cooled down for a few hours) they were already a little soggy!

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Sadly, I can’t recommend this recipe as it stands, however, I liked the flavours enough to want to find a successful version.

(I might try it as a loaf of banana bread though, as I think that would work).

If you have any advice on how to bring banana and bacon together in a cookie that has a texture more like the traditional slightly chewy centred American cookie, please let me know!


Libbie Summers’ The Whole Hog Cookbook is currently available from Amazon for £13.97 (RRP £19.95).

 

Pelmeni-6141

When twitter friend Sabrina saw my plea for authentic recipes for Russian pelmeni she kindly offered to loan me her copy of a charming Russian cookery book called Please To The Table. Written by Anya Von Bremzen and John Welchman, the book includes 400 recipes from the former Soviet Union, “from the Baltics to Uzbekistan”.

PleaseToTheTable-Cover

Why the urge to make dumplings?

Because Pete and I had happily decided upon a voddie and dumplings evening with our good friends, Stephen and Chaundra. As part of her undergraduate studies Chaundra spent a happy six months living in St Petersburg and has been back again since then. Both she and Stephen are big fans of vodka and dumplings!

Chaundra took on the role of vodka master and Pete “volunteered” to make the dumplings. I’ll be posting the results of our blind vodka tasting in a later post, but for now here are the dumplings!

Both the cheese-filled vareniki and the meat pelmeni came out rather well indeed. We ate them with copious amounts of sour cream and hearty Russian salads. And vodka!

Vareniki excerpt
happiness is plenty of vareniki

Cheese Vareniki

Vareniki are dumplings made of a simple pasta dough, which in Please to the Table, is called a noodle dough. They can be filled with almost anything including cheese, fruit and vegetables.

We didn’t count how many dumplings Pete made but the dough and filling recipes state that these amounts should make 50 to 55 vareniki.

Ingredients

1 large egg white, lightly beaten
For the dough
2 cups plain flour, plus extra for rolling
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
7-8 tablespoons water
salt
For the filling
2 cups farmer’s cheese (see note, below)
1 large egg yolk
salt to taste (see note, below)

Note: A quick Google revealed that farmer’s cheese is a very simple, young and unripened curd cheese – it is like a firmer version of cottage cheese, with more of the liquids pressed out of it. We found a Devonshire-made soft curd cheese from Langage Farm that was perfect.

Note: for a sweet cheese filling, omit the salt and add 3 tablespoons sugar.

Method

  • To make the filling, simply combine the filling ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • To make the dough: in a food processor blend the flour and salt, and with the motor running, add the egg yolks and oil through the feed tube, and then the water, in a slow steady stream until the dough forms a ball around the blade.
  • Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Then cover with a linen or cotton cloth and let stand for 30 minutes.
  • Divide the dough in half and shape into two balls. Keep one ball covered with the towel whilst working the other.

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  • On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a very thin sheet, about 1/16 inch thick, making sure it doesn’t tear. With a round cookie cutter, cut out circles about 3 inches in diameter. Gather the scraps into a ball and set aside, covered.

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  • Have a bowl with the egg white by you. Place a heaped teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each circle. Brush the edges with the egg white. Fold the dough over the filling to form a semi-circle and press the edges firmly together with the tines of a fork to seal. Place the vareniki as they are made onto a lightly floured baking sheet, about an inch apart and keep covered with a damp cloth.
  • When you have finished the first batch, roll out the second ball and make a second batch. Add the leftover scraps of dough to the scraps from the first batch, knead into a ball and roll out for a final batch of vareniki.
  • We made the dumplings at home and then transported them to our friends’ house where we cooked and served them.
  • In a large pot, bring lightly salted water to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium, so that the water simmers, and carefully lower a batch of vareniki into the water. (We cooked in batches of 8 as this is how many fitted comfortably inside our largest pan).
  • Boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. When they rise to the surface, they are cooked through, in 6-7 minutes.
  • With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the vareniki to a colander, drain them thoroughly and serve, hot.

Note: The recipe suggests tossing the cooked vareniki in 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter before serving, which we omitted.

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(Meat) Pelmeni

Unlike vareniki which seem to be made with a wide range of fillings, pelmeni are most commonly filled with meat. Traditionally, they are made by the hundreds and stored outside (where the temperatures are below freezing) throughout the long Siberian winters.

Some Russians like to brag about how many they can eat in a single sitting!

Pelmeni can be served in beef or chicken broth or fried in butter. Traditional accompaniments are sour cream and white vinegar.

We didn’t count how many dumplings Pete made but the dough and filling recipes state that these amounts should make approximately 100. Pete halved the recipe amounts below.

Ingredients

1 large egg white, lightly beaten
Salt, to taste, for cooking the pelmeni
For the dough
3 cups sifted unbleached plain flour
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup cold water
For the filling
3/4 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
2 medium-size onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup crushed ice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Method

  • To make the filling, simply combine the filling ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • To make the dough: in a food processor blend the flour and salt, and with the motor running, add the egg through the feed tube, and then the water, in a slow steady stream until the dough forms a ball around the blade.
  • Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Then cover with a linen or cotton cloth and let stand for 30 minutes.
  • Divide the dough in half and shape into two balls. Keep one ball covered with the towel whilst working the other.

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  • On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a very thin sheet, about 1/16 inch thick, making sure it doesn’t tear. With a round cookie cutter, cut out circles about 2 inches in diameter. Gather the scraps into a ball and set aside, covered.

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  • Have a bowl with the egg white by you. Place a scant teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each circle. Brush the edges with the egg white.

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  • The original recipe suggests folding the dough over the filling to form a semi-circle, as for the vareniki, however as you can see from the photos, Pete opted not to fold the circles but instead topped them with a second circle of dough, and pressed the edges firmly together with the tines of a fork to seal. This shape better matches the wonderful pelmeni we’ve enjoyed at Bob Bob Ricard over the last couple of years.
  • The original instructions suggest making one dumpling and cooking it in boiling water, to check for seasoning, before going on to make the rest, but Pete didn’t bother with this.
  • Place the pelmeni as they are made onto a lightly floured baking sheet, about an inch apart.
  • At this point, pelmeni are usually frozen. To freeze, cover the baking sheet with aluminium foil or plastic wrap and place in the freezer until they are completely frozen and then transfer the pelmeni to a plastic bag or box.
  • To cook: in a large pot, bring lightly salted water to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium, so that the water simmers, and carefully lower a batch of pelmeni into the water. (We cooked in batches of 8 as this is how many fitted comfortably inside our largest pan).
  • Boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. When they rise to the surface, they are cooked through, in about 8 minutes.
  • With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the pelmeni to a colander, drain them thoroughly and serve, hot.

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Note: We served them straight away, with lots of sour cream and a little white vinegar. However, the recipe suggests tossing the cooked pelmeni in 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter before serving. It is also traditional to fry them in butter after they’ve been boiled, which Stephen and Chaundra did with the leftovers, the next day.


Please to the Table is no longer in print, but second hand copies can be found in the Amazon marketplace.

 

A few weeks ago, I was invited to Parma by Discover the Origin, to learn more about the production of two of Parma’s most famous products – Parma ham and parmesan cheese, known locally as prosciutto de Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Both have PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, which means that only products made in the area, to very strict and specific rules, can be labelled as Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Our small group were invited to take a tour of two producers, where we learned about all the stages of production of these two very traditional and delicious products. Both Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano have been produced for many, many centuries employing methods that have been honed over time and handed down from generation to generation.

The PDO rules not only control methods of production but also the source and quality of ingredients. There are also very strict quality assurance processes that ensure that any products that don’t quite match the standards, even if they’re pretty darn close, are not permitted to be sold under the PDO names.

We discovered, in the two factories we visited, that producers today are carefully combining modern technology with traditional methods. The advantages to modernisation include being able to more carefully control conditions to produce a more consistently excellent product, and being less dependent on the weather – for example modern refrigeration rooms can produce the exact temperature and humidity conditions that were once only possible during winter.

You can find out more about the stages of creating Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano at the Discover the Origin website.

Below are some images from the Parma ham producer, and a walk-through the production process. I’ll post about Parmigiano-Reggiano soon.

 

Making Parma Ham

The pork, which must be born, raised and slaughtered in authorised farms and slaughterhouses in specified regions, is delivered on a regular basis.

The maestro salatore (master of salt) takes the fresh pork, puts it through a machine that applies a salt wash and massages the meat, and then carefully applies dry salt by hand.

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The hams are then stored (in temperature and humidity controlled rooms) for a about a week. Residual salt is removed, another layer applied and they are stored again for another couple of weeks. The maestro salatore checks and adjusts them daily to ensure that just enough salt is absorbed to cure the meat without making it excessively salty – Parma ham is known for it’s sweet flavour.

The hams are then hung for 70 days, during which the meat darkens. (It returns to a pale pink colour towards the end of the curing process).

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The hams are washed with warm water (in enormous showers that look like car washes), brushed to remove excess salt and then hung in drying rooms.

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The next stage is the initial curing, in large ventilated rooms that recreate the conditions in the open-windowed upper floors of local houses, where hams were traditionally hung to cure over winter. This phase lasts about three months, and by the end of it, the exposed surface of the meat has dried and hardened.

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Hams are marked at various stages of the process. There is a mark to show the originating farm where the pork was bred and raised, and one to show the slaughterhouse where it was butchered. The Parma ham producer also marks the ham, buying special metal pins from The Parma Ham Consortium, that are stapled into the hams.

The consortium was set up in 1963, on the initiative of 23 producers who wanted to find a way of safeguarding the genuine product and image of Parma ham. The PDO was awarded in 1996, one of the first agreed by the EU for a meat product. There are now nearly 200 members and the consortium is a marketing as well as quality assurance body.

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Next, the exposed surface is softened and protected with a paste of minced fat, salt and pepper.

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The hams are then hung again for their final curing, which lasts between 12 and 30 months.

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After 12 months curing, an inspector from the Istituto Parma Qualità (an independent quality assurance body) checks every single ham meticulously, to ensure that it meets standards.

We watched an inspector at work, piercing each ham in at least five spots using a special horse bone needle and sniffing the needle after each puncture. The needle itself is quite specialist; horse bone is porous to just the right degree that it takes in the smell from the piercing, holds it long enough for the inspector to smell it, but allows it to dissipate before the next piercing. The speed at which the inspector worked was impressive!

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Working alongside the inspector, others apply additional fat to complete the protection of the hams.

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Only hams which pass the test are then fire-branded with the Parma ham mark.

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During my short stay in Parma, I sampled quite a bit of Parma ham and really appreciated being able to learn about how it is created. I hope to share some great Parma ham recipes with you in coming weeks.

Aug 072011
 

Now and then we drive past enormous pig farms. Great expanses of mud, not a hint of greenery in sight, rows upon rows of corrugated iron pig huts. and lots and lots and lots of fat pink pigs as far as the eye can see. Not a bucolic scene!

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Jimmy’s Farm

That is not what Jimmy’s Farm, which I was invited to visit as an introduction to the Put Pork On Your Fork campaign, is like at all. Unlike those barren mudscapes, Jimmy’s Farm is the very image of a rural idyll.

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Jimmy Doherty came to the nation’s attention in 2002 when BBC 2 aired a series called Jimmy’s Farm, featuring the story of Jimmy setting up a new business breeding rare pigs at a farm on the outskirts of Ipswich, Essex. As he had no previous hands-on experience of farming, the audience identified with the challenges he faced. Two further series about the farm followed. I missed these, but really enjoyed the episodes I caught of Jimmy’s Food Factory, where he learned more about common supermarket products by having a go at making them himself.

Jimmy’s Farm is currently home to about 600 Essex, Saddleback and Gloucester Old Spot pigs.

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He uses radial paddocks – wedge-shaped pens in a cartwheel around a central area from which one can easily move the pigs from one pen to another – and houses a small group of pigs in each one, allowing them to socialise and giving them plenty of space to snort and snuffle, wallow in the mud and munch not only on their regular deliveries of feed but also on the fresh clover and other greenery that carpets the ground.

It’s the antithesis of intensive farming.

Jimmy is a natural ambassador for the Put Pork On Your Fork campaign, which aims to encourage us Brits to eat more pork. Whilst we do love our bacon, roast pork with crackling and fat pork chops, not to mention Chinese or American style ribs, we don’t really make great use of the rest of the pig and there are many other great cuts we can use.

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As Jimmy told us on the day, whilst we often remark that a dog is man’s best friend, it more commonly used to be said about the pig which is not only a sociable and intelligent animal but one that can be trained to root out truffles before providing many very fine meals indeed.

“Everything is edible except for the squeak!”

Having tried Pierre Koffmann’s signature stuffed pig trotter dish last year, not to mention fallen for deeply delicious pig cheeks, I absolutely agree!

In addition to teaching us how to make better use of pork, the campaign also invites us to show our support for British pig farmers by buying British.

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After a lovely walking tour of Jimmy’s Farm, admiring the pretty paddocks of happy pigs and enjoying the sunshine (the pigs and us both), we meandered through the rest of the attractions including Jimmy’s butterfly house (he used to be an entomologist), guinea pig village, ferret enclosure, chicken safari and pretty gardens.

Central to the visitor attractions is a huge converted barn which houses a deli farm shop and a spacious restaurant, where we enjoyed a pleasant lunch.

 

Everything But The Squeak

The most useful part of the day, for me, was the butchery demonstration and talk by Jimmy and his butcher friend Joe Collier, from Berkhamsted.

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To our surprise, the pork Joe was butchering was a deep, ruby red – more akin to the colour of beef than pale supermarket pork. Jimmy’s rare breed pigs get a lot more exercise than intensively farmed ones and he raises them for 6 months before sending them to slaughter. (Larger intensive farms dispatch their pigs much younger). Plus the breeds themselves produce great, tasty meat!

Jimmy pointed out that one of the reasons some of the rare breeds had fallen out of favour was the dark black hairs on their skin. Modern domesticated pigs have pale white hairs, hard to notice against the skin even if a few hairs happen to remain. These days, customers find the occasional black hair that is left on the skin abhorrent, even though it’s just the same as a white one!

Sadly, I didn’t think to make notes so I don’t remember all the great advice we were given by Joe, but first and foremost was to forge a strong relationship with your butcher to help you make your pork budget stretch further by recommending suitable alternative cuts of pork for your needs.

If only I had a local butcher, I’d be delighted to do so!

Most meat loving food lovers have long, long known about belly of pork, so much so that it (like lamb shanks and feather steak) is no longer as cheap a cut as it once was.

Joe also recommended roasting shoulder joints rather than the more popular and expensive leg.

Chump end is also great for slow roasting or can be chopped into cubes and skewered for the BBQ.

Sheet ribs are apparently often discarded by butchers so you should be able to get these very cheaply, or even free, if you’ve established that good relationship with your butcher that I mentioned earlier!

The same goes for flare fat – highly saturated fat found in the abdominal cavity, surrounding the kidney, liver and other organs. It’s considered the highest quality lard available and is particularly good for pastry. Pete and I have a huge jar of pig fat rendered from a pub hog roast and we use it for roasting potatoes – a great alternative to goose fat!

Here’s a short video, from Put Pork On Your Fork, of Joe and Jimmy running through the various cuts and how to use them.

Why Buy British Pork?

Why is it a big deal to buy British? I did some research on getting home and this is what I learned:

Firstly, British pig farming is in crisis, with pig farmers often making a loss for every single pig they sell, leading many farmers to give up. Why does this happen? One reason is because supermarkets have such strong buying power that they can bully producers to sell at very low prices. Farmers that don’t accept these prices will simply lose business to imports from overseas.

But how can overseas pig farmers produce pork at much lower prices?

The answer is simple, the welfare standards for their pigs and the quality of their pork are simply no match for British standards and British pork.

To give you an example, here in the UK, we have banned the use of farrowing crates. As Chris Wildman of Paganum Produce explains, “farrowing crates do not allow a sow to turn round or move much at all. Intended to protect piglets from crushing but often misused in intensive factory farming units.” Danish intensive pig farming methods (also used in other countries) enable the producers to make cheaper pork products which UK supermarkets snap up.

Whilst we don’t use farrowing crates in the UK, some producers certainly still use intensive farming practices. David Thomas of Chalk Newton tells me that the demand for “next to nothing prices forces farmers to produce the pork in as quick a time as possible to increase product output. To achieve this the farmer feeds animals very high protein feeds to get the animal to the desired weight as fast as possible. Very often these feeds also include medications including antibiotics to prevent illness. Give anything antibiotics on a regular basis (for no real reason) and you’re asking for trouble. These pigs will normally get to the desired weight in half, or less than half the time a free range “high welfare” animal. More quantity less quality.

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Rearing free range pigs outdoors (sometimes referred to as extensive, as opposed to intensive, farming) has its drawbacks. Sow aggression just before and after farrowing (giving birth) can lead to injuries of the sows themselves and also to infant mortality. The latter is also a risk when sows are not restricted in crates and can accidentally crush one or more of their off spring. Additionally, it takes longer for piglets to grow on natural feeds.

The pay off, of course, is that the pork is so much better than the insipid intensively farmed stuff.

What should you look for when buying pork?

In a supermarket, look for a Red Tractor assurance label. Whilst this doesn’t require pigs to be free range it does mean that the animal has definitely been reared in the UK (and can be traced back to the farm of origin) and to an accredited higher level of welfare (free from hunger and thirst, free from discomfort, pain, injury or disease, free from fear and distress and free to express normal behaviour), that rigorous food safety, hygiene and vermin control standards have been met, that farmers have been required to look after the British countryside, take care of wildlife habitats and avoid pollution of streams and rivers and that all staff and contractors are properly trained and competent in achieving the required standards of production. There are also regulations covering medication, vaccines and feed as well as handling of deceased animals and livestock transportation.

Of course, Red Tractor is a voluntary accreditation and one that farmers need to pay for. Many of the smallest, independent farmers do not participate in the scheme but follow the same or higher standards. Ask them about their standards before buying from them directly.

Want to go further?

Look for free range pork. The pigs will have been fed in a natural way and spent all (or most of) their life outdoors. They will not have been fed high protein feeds or given needless antibiotics (medicated only when required not as a catch all or preventative). And they will often have been reared for longer before they are considered ready.

Best of all?

Free range, rare breed pork! You’ll pay more but you’ll be repaid in better texture and flavour.

If you have a good local butcher, ask them for free range, rare breed pork. They should be able to tell you about the breed, the farm of origin and give you lots of extra advice about which cuts are suitable for which cooking techniques.

You can also buy directly from the farm.

Chris Wildman of Paganum Produce rears Oxford Sandy & Black pigs, a breed known for having a friendly and docile temperament, being hardy, and producing excellent pork & bacon. His rare breeds are free range, roaming the beautiful Yorkshire Dales by day, and are Red Tractor assured.

Chalk Newton also rear Oxford Sandy and Blacks and offer an Adopt A Pig scheme, whereby once your adopted piglet reaches 7 months of age, you’re sent a range of pork cuts.

And of course, Jimmy’s Farm also sells his fabulous free range, rare breed pork via his online shop.

I’ve made a promise to myself to be more adventurous about buying and cooking pork and I’ll be sharing some pork recipe ideas in coming weeks.

I hope you’ll join me in putting pork on your fork. And don’t forget to buy British to support our pig farmers.

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image courtesy of Helen at fuss free flavours

 

There’s something deeply satisfying about making a meal of ingredients foraged directly from the earth, not by some faceless stranger who’s sold his lucrative hedgerow hoard to a restaurant chef, but by your own hands.

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Common mallow

Of course, there’s the thrifty delight in a free meal. £3 for a bundle of asparagus or marsh samphire for free? £2.50 for a punnet of raspberries or blackberries for free? A few quid’s worth of leeks or wild garlic for free? £2 for a bag of spinach and rocket leaves or black mustard and sorrel leaves for free? You get the idea!

But it’s more than that, isn’t it?

In today’s society of plastic-wrapped supermarket shopping, there’s a joy in reconnecting with nature as you search, pluck and pick wild food directly from the land.

Of course, across much of Europe and indeed, the rest of the world, wild food is still very much a regular part of the diet and entrenched in traditional food cultures. In my mind’s eye is an image of little old ladies across a hundred different landscapes, carefully guarding and passing on their hard-won knowledge of where to find abundant crops of mushrooms, the juiciest wild fennel, a wide array of herbs, fruits and nuts…

Here in Britain, where is this is the exception not the rule, there’s more than a little romance in that image.

 

Foraging and Cooking

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Caroline and Simon

Simon Day, founder of unearthed, has discovered during his travels around Europe, that many areas still have a thriving wild food culture. Indeed, he has found that many producers of local and regional food specialities, of the type he seeks for unearthed, are very much aware of what the land around them has to offer.

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A few weeks ago, Simon invited a small group of food writers and bloggers to join him on a special foraging and cooking day organised and run by Caroline Davey. Caroline is the founder of the Fat Hen Wild Food Foraging And Cooking School, a few miles from Land’s End in Cornwall.

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When you learn about Caroline’s life, it seems almost inevitable that she should be doing what she does now. Much of Caroline’s childhood was spent living in the Far East, Africa and England; everywhere she made a deep and lasting connection with nature. Whether tramping around in the British countryside picking mushrooms, berries and chestnuts or eating lotus seeds in the early morning mists of Kashmir with Mr Marvellous, the flower seller, Caroline developed a fascination with wildlife and wild food. In addition, her Welsh  mother passed on a love of good food, cooking and entertaining that was very much a part of family life. Studying and qualifying in Zoology and Environmental Impact Assessment lead to a 12 year career as an Ecological Consultant, most of it in Cornwall, where Caroline visited many of the county’s wildest corners to record and document habitats and species. She honed her plant identification skills and developed a deep understanding of natural ecosystems, the impact of farming methods and local wildlife conversation issues. But Caroline felt she needed a more interactive relationship with nature than merely recording and reporting on it. As she taught herself about the plants around us, she wanted to know what they meant to us and how we could best use them. After a year as a freelance forager, during which Caroline became intimately familiar with what could be foraged where and when during the year, she started offering foraging courses a few years ago.

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Our day with Caroline was hugely enjoyable. Waterproof coats and shoes protected us from the rain as we took a walk in the local countryside, learning how to identify a wide range of wild plants and how best to collect them, tasting and collecting as we went. Even in the rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm as Caroline brought nature’s larder alive for us.

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We returned back to the warmth of Fat Hen, located in a converted goat barn and the family farm house kitchen.

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There, Caroline and Simon had arranged for local chef and teacher Mark Devonshire to give us a demonstration of how to use the wild food we’d foraged, in conjunction with some delicious unearthed products such as rillettes and chorizo.

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Simon and Mark

Mark spent 17 years working for Rick Stein at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, the last 8 of which were as head lecturer at the Padstow Seafood School. These days he teaches at Cornwall College where he shares the joys of food with eager youngsters. His latest class were due to graduate just after we attended the course, and his pride in their success and hope for their future was very clear. We sat around the beautiful big table smelling and tasting the tidbits Mark and Caroline prepared and offered.

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After the cooking class, we enjoyed a delicious meal that made full use of locally foraged ingredients.

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Pork Rillettes with Pickled Rock Samphire Served on Soda Bread Toast

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Ingredients
Pork rillettes
Toasted soda bread
Large handful rock samphire, washed and patted dry
300 ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
Pickling Spices
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
Pinch of chilli flakes
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Method

  • Heat up the cider vinegar with the pickling spices in a saucepan until boiling, take off the heat, add the rock samphire and transfer to a sterilised glass jar. Seal and leave for at least a month before eating.
  • Serve the pork rillettes on top of soda bread toast with pickled rock samphire laid on top.

 

Rules for Foraging Safely and Responsibly

Caroline was keen to stress to us a number of key rules for foraging, some of which I’ve paraphrased below.

  • Only pick something that you are 100% positive you have identified correctly. As we saw during the day, many plants are easy to confuse and some are deadly. It’s not worth taking chances.
  • Leave enough for the plants to grow back and use a scissor or knife to cut cleanly.
  • Don’t deplete rare species. There are plenty of common plants that grow in abundance.
  • The exception to the above is invasive plants such as three cornered garlic (Allium triquetrum), which originated in the Mediterranean. Three cornered garlic is a different plant to our native wild garlic (Allium ursinum); both can be foraged and used in cooking, but you can also dig up the bulb of the former without worry.
  • Be aware of pollution. Find out if fields have been sprayed, avoid picking along heavily trafficked roads and next to any paths where dogs are commonly walked.
  • Get permission from landowners before foraging on private land.

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Living as we do in the boonies of NW London, Whole Foods in Kensington High Street is quite a trek, so not a regular shopping destination for me. Which is a shame, because it’s an utterly amazing place with all kinds of food and drink temptations. I could spend hours and hours and hours and hours in there!

Pete and I recently made our way to the flagship store (the American chain now has five London stores) for a Beer & Bangers tasting.

The event was to celebrate a new beer bar selling draft beers to take away.

The idea is that you make a one-off purchase of a “growler” and then have it refilled each time you visit, with draft beer from a regularly changing selection.

A growler is a half (US) gallon jug of beer. But the term originated in the late 19th century when fresh beers were carried home in small galvanised pails. It is said that the sound of CO2 escaping from the lid, as the beer sloshed around in the pail, sounded like a growl.

These days, modern glass growlers are commonly sold at breweries and brewpubs as a means to sell take-out beer. They are generally made of glass and have either a screw-on cap or a hinged porcelain gasket cap, which can provide freshness for a week or more.

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Whole Foods have brought growlers to London in 946 ml and 1.89 litre sizes. The empty bottles cost £3.69 and £3.99 respectively and beer prices range from £3.49 upwards depending on the beer you choose and which size of bottle.

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Beer buyer Gavin Stevens talked us through the three beers currently on tap.

Prepared Foods Head Chef Gerry Beck had matched each one to a Whole Foods fresh sausage from their extensive range. Hand-made in-store daily, the sausages are made from 100% British meat bought from farms that meet high animal welfare standards. Some of the recipes were provided by the head company, but many were developed in store for the local market.

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Our first pairing was London Meantime Lager with a chicken, sage and apple sausage.

Although I don’t usually drink beer, I found the Meantime light and citrusy with no bitterness at all, and a beer I was happy to drink. Gerry agreed and said he also detected a hint of apple, leading to his sausage match. The sausage was mild in flavour, so didn’t overwhelm the beer, but at the same time, packed a lot more flavour than any chicken sausages I’ve tried before. It was also pleasantly moist, which Gerry said came from cooking slowly in the oven.

Our second pairing was Redemption Pale Ale with a pork, cheddar cheese and smoked bacon sausage.

Between all of us we described the beer as very hoppy with a long dry finish, a typically British bitter ale, though not really a session beer as it’s a little too hoppy for that. Gerry explained that the pork in these sausages came from the Midlands, and was full of flavour. He also added that, as there are no nitrates added to the bacon, it remains pink when cooked. I found the sausage very bacon-y in flavour, perhaps a little too much so for my tastes. And when eaten together with the beer, it tasted like frankfurters!

Our third pairing was Brewdog Punk IPA and an Italian-style pork, fennel and garlic sausage.

What an intriguing beer! Double hopped (during the initial boiling process for bitterness and then during fermentation for the aroma), we found this beer citrusy and fruity and refreshing. I was completely bemused that it smelled like mangoes – really, really like mangoes! The sausage was also robustly flavoured with a strong hit of fennel and just the right touch of garlic. This was a superb match, definitely my favourite.

Both these and the pork, cheddar and bacon sausages were really moist and Gerry explained that he’d poached them in beer before grilling them. A great tip!

I also wondered whether this beer might work with Indian food, though that may simply be because of the mental association that came from that surprising mango aroma!

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To finish the session, our last pairing was one of the many bottled beers on sale in the store – Stroud Brewery’s Woolsack Porter with a Lincolnshire sausage.

This was a mild stout, not at all bitter. The Lincolnshire was decent, a good example of it’s kind, but this was the weakest match for me as I felt the beer and sausage didn’t complement each other at all.

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It’s so odd that I’m the one writing about this evening, with Pete being the beer drinker in our house! We both love sausages, but I reckon he’s keener there, too. But, to my surprise, this beer and bangers matching really caught my imagination and I ended up writing copious notes to record my thoughts about each pairing.

Pete was, as you might imagine, suitably enthusiastic about the new Whole Foods growlers, especially given the inclusion of Redemption beer. Redemption is not available in the bottle, nor in any takeaway format directly from the brewery, so this is the first time it’s been on sale to take home.

If we lived locally, I’m sure we’d make more use of this new service; we think it’s a great idea!

Kavey Eats attended as a guest of Whole Foods.

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