Spelt Recipes


Use this recipe as a basic template, the vegetables and flavouring ingredients are infinitely variable.

25g butter

1 onion

2 leeks

Clove of garlic, crushed

Bunch of wild garlic leaves

160g pearled spelt

Approx. 500 ml chicken stock

Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan. Add the chopped onion, leeks and garlic, season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and sweat gently for 5 minutes. Meanwhile bring the chicken stock up to simmering point in another pan.

Add the pearled spelt to the vegetables and stir in enough stock to cover. Leave the pan open whilst this stock simmers away, stirring every now again to prevent the spelt sticking. Add more stock whenever the mixture is getting a bit dry. Begin tasting the spelt after about 15 minutes – it usually takes about 20 minutes to reach the right consistency – soft but still with plenty of substance. Wash and chop the wild garlic and add towards the end of the cooking time.


Frumenty predates the invention of an enclosed oven, but having made the traditional recipe, the similarity with rice pudding occurred to me and also that this would be a much easier method. I tried it, and personally prefer it made this way.

50 g pearled spelt

75g sultanas

1 tbsp caster sugar

500 ml good creamy milk

Cinnamon (or saffron)

Cream for serving

Butter an ovenproof baking dish, ideally one that has a lid but foil can be used instead. Put the rest of the ingredients into the dish, stir and cover. Place in a low oven (120̊ C) and cook for several hours until the milk has been absorbed. Serve with additional cream.




Makes 16-18 ravioli

200 g refined spelt flour

2-3 eggs (depending on size and absorbency of the flour)

Carrier bag loosely filled with young nettle tops



Clove of garlic, finely chopped

200 g ricotta

2 tbsps of grated parmesan cheese (plus extra for serving)

Salt and pepper

Make your pasta dough several hours in advance; the dough will stretch more easily for having rested.

It may be frowned upon in Italy, but I usually make my pasta dough in a food processor and can judge the right consistency by when it begins to come together in a ball. Put your flour into the food processor and crack in two whole eggs. Process, and at this stage the mixture will probably form crumbs. Separate the third egg and add the yolk. Process again. If the mixture has still not formed a ball, lightly whisk the white, to break it up so that you can add a little at a time, and do so until the mixture forms a ball around the blade. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it briefly on a worktop. Put the bowl in a plastic bag and rest it in the refrigerator for several hours (up to a day).

Wash the nettle tops in a sink full of cold water. Lift the nettles out into a colander, leaving any grass or other debris behind. Place the colander in the sink. Boil a kettle of water and pour it over the nettles to remove their sting and wilt the leaves. Refresh by running briefly under cold water. Drain using the back of a wooden spoon to press out excess liquid.

Heat a mixture of oil and butter in a frying pan. Add the drained nettle tops and cook for a minute then add the chopped garlic. Cook for a further minute, leave to cool slightly, and then transfer to a food processor. Process until the nettles finely chopped. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ricotta and parmesan cheese and process again to blend smoothly.

Roll the pasta dough into sheets about 10 cm wide. Place teaspoonfuls of the filling in a line along one (the shorter) sheet leaving a gap about the width of two fingers between each spoonful. Dampen a circle of the dough around each pile of filling. Lay a longer sheet of pasta dough on top of the first using your cupped finger to form a seal around the filling taking care not to create an air bubble as you do so. Cut around each raviolo (you can use a pastry cutter, knife or scissors). Now take each raviolo and seal firmly between your thumb and forefinger. This is another opportunity to check for air bubbles, which you should be able to expel before sealing firmly.

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a rolling boil. Meanwhile melt some butter in a saucepan to serve as a sauce. Drop the ravioli into the boiling water. You will probably need to cook them in two batches, removing the first with a slotted spoon when cooked, but they take only a few minutes. The ravioli are cooked when they have all risen to the surface. Drain, but only briefly, before turning in the melted butter.

Season with freshly cracked black pepper and Parmesan cheese before serving.




Overnight Sponge:

10g fresh yeast (or 5g traditional dried yeast)

300 ml water

500g refined white spelt flour

Blend the yeast in the water then stir in the flour. Cover the bowl and leave at room temperature overnight.


20g sea salt

300 ml warm water

500g wholemeal spelt flour

Overnight sponge (see above)

50g butter

Needles from a 10 cm length of fresh Rosemary

50g raisins

Begin by melting the butter and infusing it with the chopped rosemary needles.

Dissolve the salt in the warm water and then stir in the flour. Add the overnight sponge mixture and melted butter/rosemary. Knead together to make a smooth dough, adding more water if required.

When the dough is smooth and elastic, stretch it out into a large oblong (as large as it will go without tearing). Sprinkle the raisins evenly across the dough and then fold one-third of the dough over, followed by the other side so that the raisins are enclosed. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the stretching and folding. This will incorporate the raisins more easily than kneading as well as giving the gluten in the dough a good stretch. Fold the dough into thirds a final time before placing in a bowl, covering and leaving in a warm place to prove for about 1½-2 hours.

Shape into two small loaves or 16 individual rolls. Push any extruding raisins back under the surface or they will burn during cooking.

Heat the oven to 220˚C whilst the loaves or rolls rise again.

Rolls will bake in only 10-15 minutes, for loaves the oven temperature should be reduced to 180˚C after this time and the bread baked for a further quarter of an hour.

©Suzanne Wynn


I have pinched the title of this article from a book by Richard Mabey.

Unlike journalist Clare Hargreaves, who has pledged to eat solely British produce for a year, we at The Campaign for Real Farming are quite prepared to include some imports to supplement our mainly British diet.  We do, however, applaud Clare’s experiment and her findings, only a couple of weeks into the year, have already revealed that you have to cook from scratch if you hope to avoid undesirable foreign additives like palm oil and soya.  We’re absolutely on the same page here.

Richard Mabey, best known as the author of Food for Free advocates adapting recipes to use the ingredients you have to hand.  Its about embracing the spirit of a recipe rather than authenticity.  I suspect the French would throw up their hands in horror at the mere idea of a “Full English Cassoulet”.  I find it fascinating to note the cultural variations around common ingredients. A Full English Breakfast might well include baked beans, and will almost certainly include sausage and bacon, and so suddenly a Cassoulet with its baked beans, pork and sausage doesn’t sound so French after all.

Yet at the same time I love the passionate discussions that you find in countries like France and Italy where people will argue for hours, even years, over which village makes the best and most authentic version of a dish.  Their pride in their local cuisine is something from which our food culture could learn a great deal.

Cassoulet has become the dish of lockdown 3 for me.  The primary reason for this is the long cooking and the smell that therefore fills the house for a whole day.  It is so comforting and reassuring.  I guess if you have an AGA or similar you might miss some of this delicious aroma, so effective is the seal on their door.  However, on my gas and electric range the anticipation of the evening meal begins around lunchtime!  During lockdown it is essential that the confident cook can adapt a recipe to suit the ingredients they have to hand.  With this in mind, I discuss the main points below before giving what I believe to be a traditional cassoulet recipe but which you should then be equipped to adapt as you like.

I use dried beans more frequently during the gap between the maincrop potatoes beginning to run to seed and the first new potatoes appearing.  Richard Mabey suggests that in the summer it could be made with fresh broad beans, but that really wouldn’t be cassoulet as far as I’m concerned.  I do usually use the traditional French haricot bean (the same one that makes our beloved baked bean) but if you wanted to use a British bean here you could buy dried fava (broad beans) grown and dried in the UK by Hodmedods.  I have occasionally grown enough borlotti beans to dry a few, but generally we eat all our homegrown beans fresh.

The first thing to know about dried beans is that they have to be reconstituted by soaking them overnight.  It’s no good deciding in the morning that you are going to make cassoulet – you have to have done this the night before.

The soaked beans then need to be boiled for 10 minutes to remove any toxins.  Don’t add salt to the water as it toughens the skins and then they will never soften.  For the same reason I don’t use cured pork (bacon) for the long cooking although cured meat can, and traditionally is, added once the beans are soft.  An addition I do recommend if you have it is the herb winter savory – it is said to help counteract the tendency to cause flatulence that beans are renowned for.  Something else that helps is to cook them in an uncoated earthernware pot.  I use the same chicken brick that I use for cooking game, it is blackened from years of use, but I still find it the best pot for cooking beans.


Cassoulet traditionally includes either goose or duck legs, often already preserved in their own fat (confit).  If you don’t have confit then use fresh but remember that they will need a longer cooking time.

Garlic is a dominant flavouring in the traditional cassoulet, and there are no tomatoes as there would be in English baked beans.  If you do decide to include tomatoes, remember not to add them until the beans are already soft.

The traditional topping for cassoulet is breadcrumbs, stirred in a couple of times before finally being allowed to brown – you can think of these as the toast for your baked beans if it helps!

The finished dish is somewhat fatty, so the accompaniment needs to be fresh and plain as a counterbalance.  In its native Gascony the salad would be dressed with walnut oil, which if you are lucky you can buy from https://www.kentishcobnuts.com/ and I usually still have some fresh English walnuts to scatter over.




Serves 4

10 oz haricot beans

piece of belly pork (approx 1-1½ lb)

4 cloves garlic

1 tbsp molasses or treacle

2 sticks of celery


winter savory or thyme

2 bay leaves

2 level tsps. whole grain mustard

black pepper

4 duck legs (fresh or confit)

4 Toulouse sausages

fresh breadcrumbs



Preparation time: 10 minutes          Cooking time: 8 hours



Soak the haricot beans in cold water overnight.  The following morning drain them and cover with fresh water.  Bring to the boil and boil hard for 10 minutes.  Drain and place in an earthenware pot together with the belly pork and flavourings, tying the herbs between the sticks of celery to make a bouquet garni that is easily removed.  Cover with cold water and put in the oven.  Bring the temperature up to 200C/Gas Mark 6 (or start in a cold oven and transfer up to a hot one so as not to crack the earthenware pot).  Once the liquid has got really hot reduce the temperature to 180C/Gas Mark 4 so that it remains simmering.  Cook for 2 hours, checking the water level after the first hour.

Now that the beans are just cooked, reduce the oven temperature to 150C/Gas Mark 2 and continue cooking for a further 3 hours, checking the liquid level occasionally and adding more water if necessary.

Then add the duck and sausages, pushing them well down into the beans and cook for another 1 –1½ hours (the longer time for fresh duck).

Remove the lid and cover the surface with breadcrumbs.  Cook without the lid for a further hour, turning the meat and breadcrumbs three times to brown.

Serve with a green salad, preferably dressed with walnut oil.


Truly Wild Deer

In 2012 I wrote here about the irony that despite large parts of the country being over-run by wild deer, we were importing 1000 tonnes of farmed venison from New Zealand every year.  The situation has continued to deteriorate since then, with the wild deer population in the UK now estimated to be over 2 million, the highest it has been for 1000 years.

Why is this a problem? Top of the list is the impact on trees.  With more emphasis than ever on the need to plant trees to help control climate change it is imperative that our efforts are not hampered by deer.  Deer numbers also need to be kept in check for the health of the herd. When their numbers outstrip the amount of food that is available to them in the wild, they turn to farmers fields, gardens, and allotments.  It is estimated there are up to 74,000 deer-related traffic accidents each year in Britain, and Highways England believes 400 motorists are injured in deer-related accidents every year.  Unless you have been directly impacted by one of these problems it can be easy to underestimate just how many wild deer are hiding in our woods. Even though I see a few during my walks with my dogs, on an occasion when I flew over the same woods in a hot air balloon, I was astounded by just how many we disturbed.

However, wild deer should not be seen merely as a pest but as a valuable source of delicious and healthy lean meat.  A market for wild deer meat is vital for hunters and, with the aim of strengthening this, The Wild Venison Working Group was recently set up.  The group is chaired by The Forestry Commission and involves stakeholders from woodland management, shooting, gamekeeping and venison suppliers.  I have been trying to understand the issues they face in finding a market for wild deer meat and the Food Culture in the UK is one.

Although the number of wild deer is increasing across most of Europe, the rate of increase is kept in check by up to half being harvested by stalkers each year.  In Scandinavia and Eastern Europe hunting is very much a part of their food culture and people retain the traditional knowledge of the appropriate cooking methods required by different varieties, ages, and cuts of wild deer.  In the UK, 50% of venison is purchased from a supermarket, and they will not sell wild deer because of their inconsistencies particularly regarding carcase conformity.  The majority of the farmed deer sold in supermarkets will come from the Red Deer species, which will have been reared in a confined environment, with rotational grazing supplemented by pellet feed, sileage or other crops, especially in the winter.  They may be housed in the winter and the calves are usually weaned.  It takes about 15 months for them to reach the desired carcase weight of 60 kg, although with more intensive feeding this can be achieved sooner.  As with the rearing of other animals, practices vary in their degree of intensity – the UK has 7 deer farms certified organic, however, the lives of all farmed deer differ considerably from one that has existed entirely in the wild.

To meet the supermarket demand for farmed venison, The Scottish Venison Association has for years been trying to encourage farmers south of the border to take up deer farming with them supplying the starting stock.  Ironically, there are no native deer in New Zealand, so most of their breeding stock came from Scotland but the number of farms soon overtook those in Scotland.  The Scottish government recently paid for detailed market research to assist the Scottish Venison Association.  The research covered the whole of the UK and showed that the home market for venison increased by almost 11% in 2019.  The retail market is dominated by two brands accounting for 59% of sales – Highland Game and Waitrose.  Almost 50% of venison is bought in supermarkets, of which a third is sold by Waitrose and is mainly imported from New Zealand.   However, Sainsbury’s (13%), Morrisons (10.7%), and most recently Tesco, all sell venison farmed in the UK “when available”.  Most of this is supplied by Highland Game.


Parkland Venison

A somewhat halfway house between farmed and wild are Parkland Deer.  Keeping a herd of Fallow Deer on your estate became de rigour for large properties, you will find them still on many estates managed by the National Trust as well as larger private houses.  Red Deer are also kept in some larger public parks, Richmond being the most famous example.  Parkland Deer are classified by DEFRA as wild and so can only be culled during their official hunting season.  The herd will be enclosed but the parkland should provide them with a similar habitat to that which they would choose in the wild, i.e. a mix of pasture and woodland.  However, unlike wild deer, which will have to rely entirely on what they can forage, the diet of parkland deer is usually supplemented during the winter and they may even be provided with some shelter.  The supplemental feed may just be sileage and fodder crops grown on the estate, but it could also be in pellets form.  The sight of a parkland deer keeper tipping out a bag of feed is such a long way from what I consider to be wild game that I would quibble with the DEFRA designation, even though it is intended to afford the protection of regulated culling seasons.   “Wild” venison from parklands is however particularly popular with the restaurant trade as it provides them with a consistent product.  I recognise that it is better they buy this than imported farmed venison, but it doesn’t do much to help the control of truly wild deer.

Truly Wild Deer

The term venison was originally applied to any furred game, including hare, although now it is used only for the meat of deer, which still encompasses many different beasts worldwide.  The characteristics and flavour profile vary considerably depending on breed and diet.

Red Deer and Roe Deer are both native to the UK and Fallow have been with us since at least Norman times if not since the Romans.  The rest (Muntjac, Sika and Chinese Water Deer) are escapees from zoos or wildlife parks and are more of a problem in some parts of the country than others.  Chinese Water Deer, for example, are found predominantly in the east of the country, the wetlands of the fens being the closest to their natural habitat.

Wild Red Deer are most closely associated with the highlands of Scotland where their diet will consist largely of heather and berries, but Red Deer are also farmed in the lowlands, where they are more likely to be fed on barley.  So, diet as well as breed will have a significant impact on flavour.

The taste most often disliked in wild venison is usually described as gamey or livery.  Yet some species are more often likened to lamb (or mutton) and beef.  This is particularly so for Muntjac, but opinion is definitely split over whether this is preferable to the more gamey taste of Roe or Red deer.

The texture of wild deer is also much firmer than in farmed or parkland, their muscles developed because they travel over a much wider area to obtain food.  Roe, which is never farmed or managed, has a close-grained texture; whilst fallow deer, usually from parklands, is very soft, some might even describe it as “pappy”.  Its flavour is mild making it an ideal beginners venison.

Red deer have the strongest flavour; they have interbred with Sika deer to such an extent that there may no longer be pure native Red Deer in Scotland, but in any event the flavour of Sika is usually on the strong side.

Chinese Water Deer, unlike most deer which are very lean, have a thick layer of fat across their backs, which prevents them drying when cooked but could also be a factor in them often being likened to lamb.  They are small animals so their cooking needs to be adjusted for this too.

It is really high time that we stopped referring to venison generically when their characteristics can be so different. Roe deer, highly rated in France, are always specified as Chevreuil.   In Sweden Roe, Reindeer and Elk are always specifically named although a generic Hjort is used to cover “other” deer.  It amazes me that sellers, particularly online, tell you that they manage herds of both red and fallow deer but then fail to tell you which you are buying!  Each seller is, naturally, convinced that their venison is best but if a consumer has had a bad experience with venison once they will often write the whole thing off when all they need to learn is their own taste preference.

From field to table

Talking of bad experiences, these can often be the fault of an amateur stalker who doesn’t have the right facilities to process the carcase.  Whilst the problem of poaching still exists, most legitimate stalkers are actually very well versed in all aspects of deer handling, thanks to qualification through the British Deer Society.

The size of a deer carcase brings its own challenges.  A red deer stag could weigh up to 190 kilos, although the hinds (females are usually smaller and lighter than males) come in at between 60 and 120 kilos. A fallow deer will be about half the size and a roe about half again.  The stalker will need a refrigerator large enough to hang the carcase otherwise the meat may spoil; and the skill, space, and equipment to butcher the beast into manageable joints.  They will usually want the customer to take the entire carcase although if they have a sales outlet (such as a farm shop or stall at a farmers’ market) they will be able to sell individual cuts.  As with many other foods nowadays, the onus is often on the seller to do much of the preparation and cooking too.  To overcome a lack of cooking ability it is considered necessary to present game in an easily recognisable, non-challenging format, like sausages and burgers, or sell ready cooked pies and meals that just need heating.  These actions help sell venison, but don’t address the long term lack of knowledge about the meat and how to cook it.


Further Information:

Market Research for Scottish Venison Association:


Waitrose Deer Policy:

A presentation by John Gregson of Waitrose to the Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust was primarily intended to explain their ban on lead shot game.  The lead shot issue is not really in dispute, the various shooting associations having all committed to phasing this out over the next five years and work on alternatives is coming on apace.  The presentation does, however, share a lot of Waitrose’s thinking on satisfying the Millennial market, on which they are clearly focussed.


Wild Venison to Feed Children

The Country Food Trust provides games meals to those in need.  In 2020 they have focussed on the provision of meals to children and also added wild venison bolognese to their range of meals.  It costs them £5 to provide each meal.  You can read more and donate via their website.

Deer Management Training:

The British Deer Society organises courses for those managing and stalking wild deer.  You will also find information, including open seasons, for the species found in the UK on this website.


Deer Farming in the UK

Insight provided by a vet.


Species Tasting Guides:

What information exists mainly comes from the shooting community and you will see from the results of the tasting I conducted for my previous article that opinions vary.  The more this is discussed the better!


Bluebell Woods Wild Venison (Norfolk) https://wildvenison.co.uk/species_taste_guide.php

My cookery tips:



Walnut Recipes

The first of these recipes needs to be made in the summer, before the walnuts have formed a shell – see my article http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/2020/09/british-walnuts

How to Pickle Walnuts

Green Walnuts

Pick Green Walnuts between mid-June and mid-July (21st at the very latest) before the shell has begun to form around the inner kernel.  You can test for this by passing a thick needle or skewer right through the walnut.  Wear gloves when doing this as the clear juices exuded by the walnut will dye anything they come into contact with a very dark brown.

Step 1 – Brining

This is necessary to draw out the toxins.  Make a brine at the strength of 150g salt for each litre of water.  You need sufficient water to completely cover the walnuts.  Prick the walnuts in several places to help them eliminate the toxins.  Over the next few days the water will turn dark – it is a good idea to drain this off and replace with fresh brine every three days.  It will take 9 days to draw out all of the toxins.

Step 2 – Drying

Rinse in fresh water and then leave to dry on a rack, in the sunshine if possible. The walnuts should not be touching and should be turned occasionally.  After two to three days (depending on the drying conditions) the walnuts will turn black and you are then ready to proceed to the next stage.

Drying Walnuts for Pickling






Step 3 – Making the pickling vinegar

Having experimented with different cures I prefer the sweet cure recommended by the WI, although have substituted cider vinegar for their malt vinegar. 

1 litre cider vinegar

500 g dark brown sugar

Teaspoon each of salt, black peppercorns, allspice berries, cloves

1 stick cinnamon

1 tbsp peeled and grated fresh ginger


Heat the vinegar and flavouring ingredients for 15 minutes then leave until cold before bottling.

Step 4 – Cook in a water bath

The presence of sugar in the cure means that the bottled walnuts needed to be preserved in a hot water bath.  Find a pan in which the filled bottles can be completely submerged.  Bring the water temperature up to 88°C and hold it here for 10 minutes.

Step 5 – Maturing

Although hot cures will penetrate more quickly than cold, whichever cure and bottling method you have used, the spices will need a good length of time to penetrate the walnuts.  The walnuts will absorb vinegar so after six weeks if any are completely dry top up with cold vinegar to keep them covered.  They could be eaten the first Christmas after making but will be considerably better the following year and will continue to improve for up to 4 years.


Wow-Wow Sauce

When Dr William Kitchiner, scientist and enjoyer of the good things in life, died in 1827, a friend wrote of him that “to invent odd things and give them odd names was his special hobby”.  This is probably as close as we shall ever come to knowing why the doctor, who invented this sauce, should have called it “Wow-wow”.  The name may be derived from an exclamation at the sauce’s spiciness, or, more fancifully, since it was thought to go especially well with venison, from the warning bark of a deer.  Only Kitchener knew the truth and he took his secret with him.

The recipe first appeared in his Cook’s Oracle (1817).  It would be excellent served with barbequed meats.

Serves 4-6

2 oz butter

1 oz plain flour

½ pint meat stock

1 tbsp vinegar

1 tsp prepared English mustard

1 tbsp mushroom ketchup or port

1 tbsp finely chopped parsley

6 pickled walnuts, diced


Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat.  Stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time.  Gradually add the stock, stirring well to avoid lumps.

When the sauce is smooth, add the vinegar, mustard and mushroom ketchup or port.  Simmer again, stirring from time to time, until you have the consistency you want.

Stir in the chopped parsley and the diced pickled walnuts.  Let the sauce heat through for another minute or so and serve hot.


Use this sauce to dress fresh tagliatelle pasta or to accompany fish.

To dress 1lb pasta:

7oz/200g walnut pieces

2oz/50g pine nuts

2 cloves garlic

10 fl oz single cream


salt and pepper


Pound the nuts with the garlic using a pestle and mortar until you achieve small pieces but not a paste.  Chop the parsley and mix with the nuts and garlic.

Heat the cream to just below simmering point.  Mix with the nuts to form a sauce the consistency of thick cream.

British Walnuts

A fundamental principle of the Campaign for Real Farming is to use British produce as far as possible and import only those foods that we cannot grow here.  Walnuts challenge this principle in that we can grow them, but mostly don’t, at least not commercially.

As the country steps up its tree planting to help combat climate change could walnut trees feature in this planting and at the same time improve our food security?

Almost 40% of the worldwide export in walnuts comes from California, with the UK being their 5th largest market.  Walnuts are rich plant source of Omega 3, and so of special importance in vegan and vegetarian diets, although valued by all for their health-giving antioxidants.  The UK market looks likely to continue to expand whilst repeated drought and wildfires in California throws into question walnut production there.  However, Californian walnuts are sold in supermarkets for less than half the price of the rarely found home produced walnut.  The CBI provides market information for potential new entrants, although personally I would hesitate to recommend growing them from a purely commercial standpoint, although the value of walnut wood is apparently good.

My enthusiasm for English walnuts stems from their culinary attributes.  Californian walnuts are what I had eaten for most of my life until a friend brought a sack back from France.  These walnuts were from Grenoble, the first fruit to receive the French quality symbol that went on to become known as “Protected Designation of Origen”.  Périgord was later also awarded PDO status and is probably the better-known region for French walnuts.  The ones my friend had brought home from Grenoble were a complete revelation to me.  Finally, I understood the fuss about walnuts and from then on Californian just wouldn’t do.

The following year I saw “wet-walnuts” for sale in Somerset and, despite their unappetising appearance, leapt to buy them.  Walnuts are “wet” when they first ripen in September and you could literally squeeze oil from them by hand.  The shells are blacker at this stage, so they don’t look particularly appetising.  When you crack them open the skin is still soft enough that you can peel it away and, as the skin is the most bitter part, you may wish to do this.  Wet walnuts are ideal for pounding to make a sauce – for example to serve with pasta or fish.  However, the nuts won’t store for long unless you dry them.  Walnut oil is very unstable, so even when dried they are best eaten within a few months.  The freshness is probably what made my first taste of Grenoble walnuts so wonderful, and I am now firmly wedded to the seasonal aspect of the nut.  If I see them listed amongst the ingredients of an otherwise clearly summer dish it really jars with me, so whilst some people might see them as a year-round provider of essential nutrients, for me they shout Autumn and Winter.

In addition to the over-riding importance of freshness, the question of the suitability of the trees to a particular area definitely intrigues me.  I accept that the regions of Périgord and Grenoble in France are ideally suited to growing walnuts, but what I can’t say, at this time, is whether we have similarly suitable areas in the UK.

Walnut trees are slow growing but long lived.  They require plenty of space and the land beneath becomes fairly barren owing to the chemical juglone produced by the roots, so it is often planted on the periphery in agroforestry.   It takes 10 years for a tree to start producing a decent number of nuts, and even then, nut production is fairly hit and miss.  No-one seems to be quite able to explain why some trees do well and others do not.  There is an old rhyme that hints at this problem although containing no sensible advice:

A woman, a dog and a walnut tree,

The more you beat them the better they be.

Certainly, walnut trees are unlikely to produce nuts consistently in the northern part of this country and locally in Somerset I have found them to be more forthcoming on the warmer southern flank of the Mendips than on the north, although even here I know ancient trees producing well and others that do not.

In the late 17th century Surrey was at the heart of walnut growing in the UK.  This came about when John Evelyn was asked by the Royal Society to draw attention to the damage done to England’s wooded estates during the English Interregnum and to encourage reforestation. His findings were published in 1664 under the title “Sylva or a discourse on forest trees and the propagation of timber in His Majesty’s dominions”.  He championed the growth of walnut plantations on several family estates, including his own around Godstone, and elsewhere in Surrey, notably at Leatherhead and Carshalton.  The walnut tree was clearly suited to the Surrey soil, although whether it was especially so or just the result of many large estates being found in proximity to the court is not certain. Whilst some people are lucky enough to have their own walnut tree, because of the space required they have always been more associated with large properties.  Their prestigious status is evident from the number of times their presence at a property, even as a single tree, is reflected in the house name.

However, Evelyn’s project came to an abrupt end just two years after his death, when the bitter winter of 1708 destroyed most walnut trees in northern Europe.

Trees were replanted, but commercially it became their timber that produced the greatest value.  Walnut wood is used in cabinet making, marquetry and for gun stocks.  Many trees were felled for this later purpose for the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century.  The same thing happened again in the Crimean War to the extent that one Birmingham arms maker had to transfer his operations to Turin where the supply of walnut wood was more assured.

And so, we find the current position in Britain today is that walnut trees are mainly grown in isolation, if the garden is large enough, an ever-rarer occurrence; or the remnants of large estate plantings might be found around its margins.  Bossington, part of the Holnicote on Exmoor, provides a great example of the latter.  You can find seven walnuts trees of varying ages around the green and more along nearby roadsides.  The once famous giant tree which had dwarfed a cottage beside the green was felled in the 1950s.

Bossington Walnuts

A more recent estate planting exists near Glastonbury.  Roger Saul decided to replant walnut trees at Sharpham Park when he discovered evidence of them having been grown there when it was a monastery.  300 trees were planted in 2004 and 12 years later they were producing enough nuts to sell.  British walnuts (and Sharpham Park’s are Organic) sell for about £20 a kilo. You can also buy British walnuts online from Potash Farm in Kent.

As yet, few people seem to appreciate the qualities of British walnuts enough to create much demand, although I am convinced that when they taste them, especially the young wet walnuts, they will never look back. The most widely planted variety of walnut tree in the UK is Broadview, but If you are thinking of planting there are many modern hybrids available to suit specific requirements – see the websites below.

I do now have my own walnut tree, but don’t get many nuts from it.  Squirrels are the main problem here.  The tree does produce a decent crop, but the squirrels take the vast majority.  In an effort to beat them to it, I have harvested some of the nuts when “green”, in early July, and pickled them.  Pickled Walnuts are the only culinary use for walnuts for which the British have gained any renown, although we are not by any stretch, the only culture to use this method to preserve them.  One researcher identified more than 60 distinct recipes for pickled walnuts from countries as diverse as Australia, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, India, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia and Ukraine.  Two features stood out that distinguish “British Pickled Walnuts” (those originating in British speaking countries): – none of them include garlic and all of them include sugar of some type.  About half of the British recipes include ginger.

The use of pickled walnuts varies is as variable as the recipes, but here in Britain they are almost exclusively used as an accompaniment for cold or grilled meats.  I have given Dr Kitchener’s recipe for “Wow-Wow Sauce” which dates back to 1817 as an example of the particularly British use of pickled walnuts.

You can see my walnut recipes here.


A Passion For Trees: The Legacy Of John Evelyn, by Maggie Campbell-Culver 2006

Potast Farm – www.kentishcobnuts.com



https://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/why-you-should-grow-walnuts-juglans-regia includes a link to companion crops that seem unaffected by juglone.

CBI –  https://www.cbi.eu/market-information/processed-fruit-vegetables-edible-nuts/walnuts

How has Covid impacted on the UK Food Culture?

Although we are still in the grip of the global pandemic Covid 19, the three months lockdown from March 23rd 2020, which in the UK saw all but “key workers” confined to their homes, has now ended and some initial analysis of the impact is possible.

Our food culture is constantly being shaped by changes in our wider social, political, technological, and economic environment. When you look back, the differences between the food culture of one decade and another are quite marked and, whilst Covid is unlikely to prove as significant an event as, for example, the Second World War; this period when all “normal” activity was suspended is sure to have left its mark.  The two other significant influences working at this time are climate change and the role that agriculture plays within this; and our withdrawal from the European Union, leaving us free to determine our own rules, such as how we subsidise farming, but also with whom, and on what terms we will trade.

The Campaign for Real Farming has, since its inception, called for a radical rethink about the way our food is produced and distributed. It has long since given up hope that the level of radical thinking this will require is likely to be achieved by any political party, and instead recognised that change needs to be driven by “Ordinary Joes”.  Covid has already achieved what would have been unthinkable to anyone only a year ago, in that it has forced governments worldwide to put human issues ahead of financial growth; although the desire appears to be a return “to normality” as quickly as possible.  But, having been given the opportunity to step off the treadmill, some of Joe Public appear reluctant to step back on.

The obvious reason for this is a continued fear of catching the virus.  Medicine has made tremendous advances in the last century and we have almost come to expect that it can cure any illness.  Certainly, we do not live with an expectation that a proportion of our family will die prematurely owing to disease.  Beyond this there are many other forces at work, some of which are intimated in this poem, which has been widely shared during lockdown:

And people stayed home
And read books and listened
And rested and exercised
And made art and played
And learned new ways of being
And stopped
And listened deeper
Someone meditated
Someone prayed
Someone danced
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed
And in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways
Dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
Even the earth began to heal
And when the danger ended
And people found each other
Grieved for the dead people
And they made new choices
And dreamed of new visions
And created new ways of life
And healed the earth completely
Just as they were healed themselves.

Kitty O’Meara


Working from Home

Almost 50% of the workforce worked from home during lockdown (compared with about 4.7% in 2019) and many of them have decided that they don’t intend to return to the office.  Above all they want a better work/life balance, having realised what can be achieved by releasing an extra hour or two a day that was previously spent commuting.  Financially, those furloughed on 80% of their normal salary, realised that the cost of going to the office accounted for at least the other 20%. They were saving more than this in transport costs, office clothing, buying lunch and coffees.   On average, people were able to reduce their personal debt by £1000 during lockdown.   Of course, this lack of spending in cafés and restaurants was a major driver in the government wanting people to return to work, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Meal Deals.

Whilst not every job can be done from home, and not everyone wants to work this way, employers too have found that, thanks to modern technology, home working can be remarkably productive.  Providing office space, especially in cities, is hugely expensive and it is predicted that some 20% of current office space will remain vacant.

If these predictions are correct, and estate agents are confirming a rise in enquiries for properties further from cities and suitable for homeworking,  it will surely impact not just on those businesses that currently exist mainly to service office workers, but also on our food culture, which is what I am here to consider!


Home Cooking

Around a third of our household expenditure on food and drink is spent on “out of home” meals.  This caused one of the biggest difficulties for our food distribution system when suddenly all of the food that had previously been destined for the wholesale market was instead required at home.  Meanwhile, those at home found themselves required to cook for the whole family three times a day, day after day.  This came at the time of year commonly referred to as “the hungry gap”, when our winter store of fruit and vegetables is nearly depleted, and the seeds for the current year’s crop not yet planted.  We are more dependent on imports at this time of year than any other, and some produce, most notably flour, became in truly short supply.

People coped brilliantly.  From the National Food Strategy report¹ we learn that people were more likely to have cooked from scratch, eaten together as a family, cooked meals to freeze for later, eaten more healthily, shopped locally, and thrown away less food.  From social media we saw that making bread, especially sourdough, was particularly popular, and it seemed that everyone used up bananas by making a loaf.  If people needed advice they could always ask, and there was usually an on-line video available.  The lessons learnt during lockdown are now there for life, and pretty much everyone now has a repertoire of dishes that they can easily reproduce when the need arises.


Cooking from Scratch

39% of people reported cooking more food from scratch and buying less processed food ¹.  Ready meals have become a key feature of our food culture.  We spend 28% more on pre-prepared foods than France, 64% more than the Spanish, 101% more than the Germans and 178% more than the Italians ¹.

Why does this matter?  Health is usually given as the key reason as ready meals are likely to contain higher levels of salt, fat, and sugar than you might use if you made them yourself.  My brother made a birthday cake during lockdown and was astounded at how much sugar it used (he takes an artificial sweetener in his tea and probably therefore considers that he doesn’t really eat much sugar).  He lost weight during lockdown as a result of everything being cooked from scratch; although he was in the minority – 21%, compared with the 40% who gained weight during lockdown ¹.   However, under such stressful circumstances comfort eating (and drinking) is not unexpected.  A growing awareness of the link between obesity and poor outcomes for Covid sufferers has perhaps already seen some of this initial weight gain being shifted.  It will be interesting to revisit these statistics six months down the line.

My biggest gripe with ready meals is that we lose control of the source of the individual ingredients.  This bothers me most with meat.  Even in restaurants, unless the source of the ingredients is stated (and known to me), I tend to order a vegetarian option.  There is a lot of concern that when we strike trade deals with new countries, we will admit foods that have been produced to lower standards than we allow in the UK.  This is not an entirely new problem, and certainly food labelling does not make things clear. For example, whilst people might select an organic chicken if they were choosing  one to cook, when it comes to the chicken in their sandwich or ready meal they have no idea of its provenance and it is here that the most inferior produce lurks.  However, I would not classify all ready meals as “junk food”.  We might spend nearly twice as much on them as the Italians ¹ (presumably on twice the number) but following a delayed flight home from Italy the fresh produce and comparatively good quality ready meals available at Marks and Spencer’s Simply Food in a motorway service station on the way home made me feel almost proud of what we can find here in comparison to Italy.


Sharing meals at the table

Our tendency to grab meals “on the hoof” is evidence of our weak food culture.  The French spend twice as long eating each day.  Here is an extract from the full table, showing the lowest and highest figures:¹





Country Minutes spent eating per day
USA 63
Canada 65
Ireland 75
Spain 126
Italy 127
Greece 128
France 133



Pre lockdown only 58% of families were able to routinely share weekday meals and long working days, including travel time, were the main reason for this. The rise of not only after-school clubs but also breakfast clubs, evidence the problem.  During lockdown 26% reported eating together as a family more often. ¹. Its not actually as great an increase as I would have hoped, but I have a hunch that those who did have seen the benefits of doing so, it may even be something that they felt guilty about before.  Research from the Guy’s and St Thomas’s Charity in conjunction with Bite Back 2030 ² found that 60% of young people, when questioned about their eating habits during lockdown, thought that the increase in shared family meals had been good for their health and well-being.  Harvard psychologist Anne Fishel cites a daily family meal, during which children have a chance to share their feelings and be listened to, results in children who are more optimistic, do better at school and generally enjoy a higher level of well-being ³.  It is, she says, a warm and welcoming atmosphere at table that is most important, the benefits don’t spring from making a gourmet meal.

I normally look after my primary school aged nephews once a week and have been amazed by their fascination with our dining room and “formal” dining accoutrements such as knives and forks!  You only have to glance around a restaurant to see how many adults today seem never to have been taught to use them.  Laying the table is all part of the occasion and, I have insisted my husband join us even though it is earlier than our usual mealtime because I have seen how important it is to them.  The difference in behaviour between British children in a pub or restaurant and the behaviour of those native to the countries at the top of the table above cannot have gone unnoticed.

The current culture for feeding children seems to be “little and often”, yet our British snacking habit is one of the worst things about our food culture and a big contributor to type two diabetes.  At school too, “cafeteria style” options are now the norm and there seems to be little emphasis on the social side of enjoying a meal together.

I would suggest that if the government wants to tackle our obesity problem, they focus some attention here.


Growing your own

This is another aspect in which the government has a role to play.

Estate agents are already seeing considerable demand for properties suitable for home working.  Rightmove and Savills have conducted surveys into the changed priorities.4   The top priority, stipulated by 71% of property searchers, was a garden and outdoor space.  It is not clear how people intend to use this space although of those that already had a garden at the time of lockdown it was notable via social media how many began to grow their own vegetables for the first time.

The council houses that were built after the First World War always included generous gardens with the expectation that families would grow their own vegetables.  Horticulture is a difficult sector to make profitable on a commercial basis, the vegetables sold in supermarkets are so cheap that one almost wonders why anyone would bother to grow their own, unless of course you consider freshness and flavour within the reward!  People growing their own contributes to our food security but the connection to nature and the seasons is fundamental to good eating.  I would put a return to including gardens within housing plans top of the list of actions that the government could take to encourage the positive food practices that we saw in lockdown.  Where this is not possible, they should look at the provision of allotments.  Every school should have a school garden.  The contribution that gardening makes to mental well-being should amply repay the expenditure.  Even those without a garden should be encouraged to grow something – herbs or salad leaves are perfectly possible in a window box and unlike most vegetables, they are usually overpriced in supermarkets.


Obesity is not only caused by Gluttony

The final element of Part I of the National Food Strategy that relates to Food Culture has to do with our health, and particularly the impact that obesity has on Covid 19 patients.  Even before the report’s recommendations had been delivered the Government had announced a “new obesity campaign” proposing legislation to block TV advertising of “junk food”, displaying calories on alcohol and menus, and ending “buy one, get one free” promotions.

The National Food Strategy report expresses concern that the causes of obesity need to be more thoroughly understood and any campaign more precisely targeted and wholeheartedly agree.

It identifies 6 eater profiles and compares their typical BMI, both current(?) and projected at age 50.¹  This is a useful start point for considering the very varied reasons for weight gain, albeit of necessity still simplified into just 6 eater types.

Dr James Le Fanu, writing in the Daily Telegraph, expressed his own concerns about the likely ineffectiveness of the new Government Obesity Campaign stating that the tenor of the proposals, in attributing obesity to a combination of ignorance and self-indulgence, is patronising, moralistic and – wrong.  Whilst the average Briton may be a stone heavier than 50 years ago but, he cautions, as Cambridge nutritionist Andrew Prentice has pointed out we are eating one fifth less food than back in the Seventies.  The culprit, he concludes is not gluttony but a decline in energy expenditure and cites driving rather than walking as an example.

Exactly so, although the example that I most identify with is the introduction of central heating.  As a child in the 1960’s I vividly remember the ice forming on the inside of my bedroom window and a rapid scramble to dress in front of the living room fire.  Similarly, I remember the reluctance to leave the fire to visit the freezing bathroom when nature called.  By 1970, the point from which weight gain is being considered, 30% of households had central heating installed but the percentage increased rapidly from then – 60% a decade later and 95% by 2018.5  The 1970’s saw a plethora of convenience foods, “junk food”, the like of which I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole nowadays.  Yet I was a skinny child; and didn’t start to put on weight until I hit my 30s.  Of course, no-one would suggest we should abandon central heating, but perhaps turn the stat down a bit?  I find almost every public building unbearably hot and our planet might benefit too!

I’m sure there are changes to be made to our diet, which will also benefit the planet and our health, but the issues are complex and although Covid has provided a tremendous unplanned “teachable moment” we need to ensure we make the right decisions going forward – but I am sure Mother Nature will teach us more than any government could ever do.





¹ The UK has had no formal food policy since the end of the Second World War, but leaving the EU, who had been making the majority of our food decisions, had prompted government to call for a National Food Strategy.  DEFRA commissioned businessman and owner of the Leon chain of restaurants, Henry Dimbleby, to carry out a full review, which is due this Autumn.   Part One of this report, specifically considered the cracks in the food system exposed by Covid and mindful of the trade deals the UK is now negotiating, has been published.  The report contains some useful statistics relating to our food habits during lockdown, which I have referred to throughout this article. You can download the report at https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org/

² Hungry for Change project https://www.gsttcharity.org.uk/what-we-do/our-projects/hungry-change

³ The Family Dinner Project  https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/category/food-for-thought

4 https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/05/revealed-how-lockdown-has-changed-house-buyers-property-priorities

5 https://www.statista.com/statistics/289137/central-heating-in-households-in-the-uk




Raising Agents in Cakes

Everyone seems to be baking during lockdown and whilst all flours are hard to come by, I have noticed people talking of needing self-raising even though they have plain.  Time for a recap on the history of raising agents ending with notes about adding your own to plain flour.


The earliest form of cake making arose as a sideline to bread making, i.e. a little of the dough (which at this time was leavened with an ale barm) was enriched and sweetened.  Although ovens have existed since Roman times, they were not a feature of ordinary households, so many of these yeasted doughs were cooked on a flat iron plate (griddle or girdle) suspended over the fire.  Others were taken to a communal oven to be baked.


Seed Cake, flavoured with caraway seeds, which are much lighter than the fruit usually added to cakes, was one the first large rich cakes to be made using eggs instead of yeast as its raising agent.  By the 18th century it had become a tea-table favourite and it remained so throughout Queen Victoria’s reign.  Madeira Cake was also popular in well-to-do households of the 19th century when it was served to morning callers accompanied by a glass of Madeira wine.


Food historians believe that the use of Sodium Bicarbonate dates back to ancient civilization although there is little record of its use until the late 1700’s.  Once it became widely accepted that it would create carbon dioxide in the presence of certain acids, housewives began making their own chemical leavenings but it was not until a commercial mix, Baking Powder, was developed in the mid 1800’s that it became widely used and many yeast-risen doughs were abandoned.  Compressed yeast was not developed until the late 19th century by which time baking powder was already firmly established as the preferred raising agent.


Despite its age-old use, Baking Powder is a chemical compound and it is useful to consider the methods formerly used to avoid over use of a chemical additive.  By including whisked egg in a cake mixture we can use air as a raising agent instead of carbon dioxide.  Even in creamed mixtures, where the eggs are beaten rather than whisked, provided the correct proportion of eggs is used and the mixture well beaten, little additional raising agent is required.


Although self-raising flour is often stipulated in recipes and has the advantage of the raising agent already being thoroughly blended with the flour, it is an all-purpose mix. By understanding the chemistry involved in the use of chemical raising agents, you could create your own more exact blend dependent on the recipe, the quantity of acid ingredients it contains, and the extent of rise required.  This can be done by adding an appropriate amount of commercial Baking Powder or creating your own from a blend of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar.  The un-combined elements keep for far longer than when blended and you avoid the cornflour or other starch that has to be added to them, which is both a waste of money and not exactly helpful to the cake.  As well as their possible effects on health, too much chemical raising agent imparts an unpleasant taste and can even result in the mixture becoming over-risen and collapsing.


Homemade Self-Raising Flour


I never buy self-raising flour, partly because I don’t make cakes that often, but also because I have often have raw soured milk and can use this in place of some, or all, of the cream of tartar.  Here are some notes to help you blend your own:


  • The active ingredients of baking powder in the UK consists of 2 parts cream of tartar (the acidic element) to 1-part bicarbonate of soda (alkali).  In ready blended self-raising flour, baking powder is about 5% of the total weight, so 250g of self-raising flour is 225g of plain four plus 25g of baking powder (not all of which is the raising agents).


  • Whilst Delia Smith recommends 4 teaspoons baking powder (10g)/200g plain flour, Nigella reduces it to 2 teaspoons/150g flour.  Because I use the separate raising agents rather than baking powder, I can reduce this even further.  I find 1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda plus 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar perfectly sufficient to raise 200g of plain flour in most dishes.  Of course, where the recipe already includes other acidic ingredients, such as buttermilk or sour milk, you can reduce the amount of cream of tartar, probably by half.


  • Remember to make sure that your raising agents are well blended with the flour, and keep the dry ingredients separate from the wet until the final mixing.



Home Cooking 2020

I am always firm in describing myself as a “Home Cook” rather than a chef.  There is a world of difference as the latter cooks to earn a living whilst the former cooks to nourish and cherish themselves and their family.  Pre Covid-19 I had felt increasingly alone in the role cooking played in my life.  It is, nowadays, considered a luxury to be at home full time with the time to cook.  My husband works from home and I see the provision of three meals a day as my responsibility but also my pleasure.  He does treat us to a restaurant meal once a week, a luxury that a previous generation of home cooks would almost certainly not have enjoyed.  But aside from this, planning meals, shopping and cooking are things that I do day in day out.

We live in the country, so having a takeaway is not actually an easy option, nor is popping out for a forgotten ingredient.  I make a weekly trip to the farmers market, and have several foods delivered, but a well-stocked larder and a productive vegetable garden are essential.  Which stood me in good stead when the lockdown came, although garden wise it could not have come at a worse time of year – the period between last years crop running to seed and this year’s yet to be planted let alone ready to harvest.

Suddenly everyone found themselves in the role of home cook.  The scale of the challenge was summed up in one tweet I read in which a mother reported her five-year old’s worried words “you do know that we have a pudding at school every day, don’t you?”.  Not just three meals a day then, but a pudding and other treats to keep the spirits up, were now required of people who had perhaps previously cooked as an occasional form of relaxation.  Another tweet commented on the tedium of the cooking/washing up treadmill when they were supposed to be working from home whilst home schooling as well!

In these first three weeks of lockdown I have posted only what I hope are seen as words of encouragement.  No-one needs any more pressure at this time.  However, I have been thrilled to see an increasing number of people taking up gardening and making bread – sourdough starters seem to be a particular preserve of men who apparently talk of little else!

Establishing a routine in cooking is the first thing that one needs to do to make things easier.  I have already pre-ordered Nigella Lawson’s newest book, not out until October, because I love the title – “Cook, Eat, Repeat”, and its promise to discuss the rhythms that become the essence of a home cook’s life.

Of course, some people may already have vowed never to cook again once this pandemic is over, but I hope that many more will have seized the opportunity to get at least a week’s worth of dishes off pat so that they can confidently return to them whenever the need arises.  In the past, when everyone cooked at home, many existed on a very limited repertoire.  The following extract from Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England illustrates the point:






Hot on Sunday,

Cold on Monday,

Hashed on Tuesday,

Minced on Wednesday,

Curried on Thursday,

Broth on Friday,

Cottage Pie on Saturday.



Using the Sunday Roast as a starting point is very good practice indeed.  Pretty much everyone in Britain loves the tradition of a Sunday Roast as evidenced by how heavily booked pubs are for this event.  Bringing everyone together around the table is the essence of home cooking so how sad it is that this now more rarely happens at home. The central ingredient can be varied, and thus often the traditional accompaniments, but the Vicarage Mutton template can stand up to any meat.

Turning the bones into stock is the logical next step, then using this to make soup.  Note that “cold on Monday” is a perfectly acceptable option.  You don’t have to bust a gut for every meal and as putting a potato in the oven might be all that is required on this day, turning the bones into stock is then easily incorporated.  Depending on the size of your joint of meat, and the number of people in your family, a selection of “reheated leftover” dishes could come next on the list of skills you add to your repertoire.

I rarely cook one dish without having a follow-on in mind.  The follow-on is not always immediate because I have decent sized freezer which helps prevent things becoming too monotonous, and it is always comforting to know that there is something to hand in emergencies – the freezer rather than a take away would be my go-to when I am too busy to cook a meal from scratch. Any casserole would be a candidate for freezing, but a Bolognese sauce would be my top priority as it is so versatile.  It may just be a sign of gluttony, but I always think about the next day’s meals the moment I have finished supper, because then you will remember to remove what you need from the freezer or to soak those beans, etc.  Not planning what to eat until the family is screaming with hunger is a tough call for anyone!

Thus far, everything I have suggested has been based around meat.  Our lunch is usually our meat-free, or meat-light, meal.  One day is soup, usually the same day that I make bread.  I make one batch of overnight risen dough a week and freeze some bread sliced for toast.  This overnight dough is an essential routine, which once established becomes second nature, so use this time to work out how it would fit into your normal routine.  Perhaps make the dough on a Friday night for baking for Saturday lunch?  I also make sourdough, which is just as well now that I can’t get out to buy fresh yeast.  I use the dough for Pizza, one of our lunchtime staples.  Pasta is another lunch staple – quick and easy, with an infinite variety of sauces.

Once you have a week’s meals under your belt it is surprisingly easy to extend your repertoire.  The fundamental techniques don’t change that much although the ingredients might.  My inspiration has always been nature.

The rhythms of cooking echo the rhythms of the seasons.  I learnt to cook this way (The Reader’s Digest Cookery Year was a much-loved early reference).  Ever since, it has been instinctive to record recipes according to the time of year in which I might be likely to eat them.  You will see that my Food Culture section of the Campaign for Real Farming website is organised in this way.  By now, I have a massive database that exceeds the number of meals I could eat in a year, and there are a number of dishes that punctuate the seasons in such a way that life would not feel complete if they weren’t present when their season comes around.

Supermarkets have offered so much choice of what to eat, from all over the world, and catering to every different food intolerance, that it is no wonder that we can become too overwhelmed to decide what to cook.  A period of quiet reflection, with just the ingredients that are to hand, could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.  Growing your own vegetables or foraging for food on your daily walk are both excellent ways to keep you in tune with nature.

I am largely a self-taught cook and nowadays if you are unsure about how to do something there is almost bound to be a video on YouTube that will show you how.  I hope my seasonal recipe collection on this website will provide some inspiration and please do contact me either via the website of @RealFoodSuzie on Twitter if you have any questions.  I hope that home cooking will become for you the pleasure that it is for me.


Herring Recipes

The opportunity to eat fresh herring is quite limited, you will need to ask your fishmonger when they are usually available in your part of the country, but here in the south-west it is usually November.

When the opportunity does arise, the traditional recipe fried, in oatmeal, is hard to beat.  Both male and female herring have roe and although both are edible, it is the soft male roe, known as milt, that is usually preferred to the hard, female roe.  I give a rich, 18th century recipe for these below but they can be more simply served fried on toast having first dusted the roes in flour – spiced with cayenne if you desire.

Finally, I give a recipe for Kipper Pâté, very ‘70s, but nonetheless delicious for that.  It begins by baking the kippers in the oven, which I find perfectly adequate for containing the smell and perform even if I am serving the kippers for breakfast (or lunch or supper come to that!)



The traditional Scottish way with herrings is to coat them in oatmeal and then fry in bacon fat.  They are then usually served with bacon.  The oatmeal coating provides a good crisp contrast to the soft flesh, but here, the addition of mustard both cuts the oiliness and livens up the otherwise bland taste.  I think a celeriac rémoulade as an accompaniment extends this textural and flavour contrast.

For 6

6 herring, scaled and cleaned (reserve any roe)

plain flour

salt and pepper

1 large or 2 small eggs

1½ tablespoons of Dijon mustard

9 oz fine or medium oatmeal (or rolled oats)

sunflower oil for frying


You will need to cook this either in batches or in several large frying pans, alternatively you could use a roasting tin in the oven.  Either way the fat must be very hot before you put the coated herrings in to prevent the coating falling off.

It is easier if you cut off the fins before coating.  Have one plate ready with seasoned flour, then another with the egg and mustard beaten together, followed by a third containing the oatmeal.  Turn the prepared herrings (and separately their roes) on each of these plates in turn before putting them into the hot fat.

Fry for a few minutes each side until nicely browned (the roes will take less time).  Drain briefly on kitchen paper before serving.



This is an eighteenth-century recipe, which is very rich.  It makes a good hors d’oeuvre.


8 oz soft herring roes (from approx. 8 male herring)

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 oz of butter

3 anchovy fillets

4 tbsps double cream

1 tsp capers, rinsed and chopped

salt & pepper

cayenne pepper


water biscuits (or other small crisp biscuit) and watercress to serve.


Season the herring roes with the lemon juice and some salt and pepper.

Heat the butter in a frying pan until foaming.  Drain the lemon juice from the roes and add put them into the pan.  They will firm up and curl as they cook which takes only a few minutes.

Process the cooked roes with the pan juices and anchovy fillets until smooth.  Allow to cool slightly before adding the cream and finally the capers, which should remain in discernible but small pieces.  Chill lightly but not for too long otherwise the texture becomes too firm.  Spoon onto crisp biscuits and decorate with a fine dusting of cayenne pepper and a small sprig of watercress.



This recipe is from Rowley Leigh as served at Le Café Anglais.

Serves 6

2 large kippers

200g/7 oz unsalted butter

Juice of 2 lemons

3 tbsps double cream

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Black pepper


Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6

Place the kippers, skin side up, in an ovenproof dish and place 50g of the butter on top (leave the rest of the butter out at room temperature).  Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and leave to cool.

When cool, peel back the skin and discard it.  Begin removing the flesh from the bones, putting it into a food processor as you do so.  Make sure all the bones are removed, using tweezers for the pin bones in the belly.

Add the strained lemon juice, a twist of black pepper and 100g of the set aside butter.  Process until smooth, add cayenne pepper and the cream, process again and check the seasoning.  You are unlikely to need to add salt.

Put the pâtê into individual ramekins, melt the remaining butter and pour over each ramekin to seal.

Store in the fridge for up to a week.


Herring are a pelagic fish, that is they swim in huge shoals.  This characteristic plays a huge part in their history, even the name herring, from the German word heer meaning an army, reflects the vast shoals they in which they swim.  The trouble with these shoals is that they appear and disappear on a whim.  During the 13th and 14th centuries, Skâne (then in Denmark, now part of Southern Sweden) was the capital of herring until the shoals disappeared, quite suddenly, around the beginning of the 15th century and reappeared in the North Sea.  The shoal tended to migrate around the British Isles in a south-westerly direction, and Scottish “Herring Girls” who had developed a tremendous speed and skill in cleaning and salting the fish, followed the shoal to provide their services.

The traditional way of eating herring fresh is rolled in oatmeal however when the supply of fresh fish is so sporadic preservation is essential.  Whilst the Baltic countries mainly preserve their herring by sousing in vinegar, Britain preferred smoking and kippers became a staple of our breakfast diet.  Our oldest form of smoked herring was the Red Herring, yes it did exist, and was cold smoked, un-gutted, until very hard and dry.  Bloaters replaced the Red Herring, using a lighter cure and smoking them for only a short time so that they remained soft.  Bloaters can still be found and are considered something of a delicacy because they need to be eaten with 2 or 3 days.  Britain did also use an old Dutch cure, applied to the un-gutted fish before they are hot-smoked, a faster process than cold smoking, which also cooks the fish.  Herring prepared by this method are called Buckling, but I have never seen them for sale.

Between 1950 and 1960 the herring catch in the North Sea fell by half, and this was not a result of natural movement of the shoal but over-fishing.  It spelt the end of many of the herring fisheries and our consumption of Kippers obviously fell too.  Until very recently, when it appears kippers are enjoying a revival in popularity with every supermarket reporting an increase in sales ranging from 12% (Waitrose) to 79% (Sainsbury’s Fresh Fish Counter).

Stocks of herring in the North Sea are now back at a sustainable level and rated as a “Fish to Eat” by the Marine Conservation Society.  They are high in Omega 3, so very good for our health, at least one portion of oily fish per person per week is recommended by the NHS.  The third, and perhaps most significant factor in the revival of the kipper’s popularity, is that smoking prolongs the fish’s shelf life.  Preserving, something that was a necessity for these pelagic fish, has allowed people to buy fish miles from the sea even when they have no fishmonger at hand.

Restaurants too are now frequently including cured fish on their menus.  Smoked haddock has enjoyed a leap in popularity at least to that of kippers.  Sharing plates are popular and fish is now often replacing meat charcuterie as an option.  Some chefs are keen to develop their own methods of curing and the release in 2019 of The Whole Fish Cookbook shows the level of innovation that is being achieved and that the nose-to-tail principle need not be restricted to meat.

So, what is the future for herring fishing in the UK?  Although we leave the EU on 31st January we immediately begin a transition period when we have to obey the Common Fisheries Policy again.  Boris Johnson has promised that this transition will not be extended into 2021 and if he is good to his word, and does not barter away our fishing rights as part of a larger deal, we will then have a substantially larger share of the herring stocks in the North Sea – 81% compared to the measly 9% we are currently allocated under EU quota systems.¹

Denmark, who have the lion’s share of the 91% of North Sea herring under current EU arrangements, are demanding that we give them 60% of the fish as their rice for allowing the UK a trade deal with the EU.  The Danes catch 221,000 tons of herring in British waters at the moment, which, when processed, would have a value of around £400 million.  We are, of course, unlikely to eat all of this ourselves, but our fishermen want to grant access only on an annual basis and then in exchange for reciprocal fishing opportunities in areas outside our own waters.

The Danes are not the only country demanding continued fishing rights in our waters, but I use them here as an example here because I am writing about herring.  Actually, there is also some 60,000 tons of West Coast mackerel, worth around £240 million processed, that could also be repatriated predominantly from the Danes and their Sandeel vessels strip, on average, around 200,000 tons of sandeels from the North Sea annually to use as pig feed or to burn in their power stations.  This latter catch we would like to ban entirely as sandeels form the natural base of the marine food chain.

I recently attended the annual Herring Festival in Clovelly, north Devon.  This pretty fishing village, famed for its steep cobble street, is now mainly just a tourist destination.  Yet there are still some fishing for herring and who would like to see a sustainable fishery revived here.  Their story is told via http://www.boatstories.co.uk/fishing-for-clovelly-herring.html  and just as described here, on the day before I attended the festival, seals had stolen the catch from the nets so a second, early morning, catch had to be made.

This is small-scale fishing, but when Radio 2 DJ Sara Cox recently asked listeners what delicacy they missed from their hometown it was heartening to hear “baked herrings from Whitby” and “Arbroath Smokies hot off the smoker eaten on the harbour wall” amongst the replies.  Seems that these regional specialities haven’t been forgotten at all but are just waiting to be revived on a larger scale.

Herring Recipes

¹ Statistics from https://ffl.org.uk/