Monday, 21 July 2014

Jammy Memories for the World Jampionships #jamjourney14

My Granny made jam. It was kept in a tall dark musty smelling cupboard with a key in the door and a creaky hinge. I can't recall ever seeing her actually making it but I can still picture the jars and jars lined up on the shelves in the dark with their cellophane tops and neat labels. Raspberry, Strawberry and Bramble are the only three I recall. No out-there flavour combinations in the 70's and 80's. My Grandma Corntown's Jam features in a traumatic childhood incident. I was staying the night at at her house and a raspberry seed got lodged in my tooth from a jammy piece. So uncomfortable was it and so distressed was I that I had to be taken home for my Dad to dislodge it. 

Do you jam? Or is it the preserve of the older generation? Whether you're an absolute beginner or an accomplished artisan the World Jampionships are inviting you to join them on #jamjourney14 Team Jam are gearing up in their search for the best homemade Jams and Jellies in the World. Full entry details can be found on their website with categories including Jammy Men, Junior Jam Makers, Women's Institute and First Timers. The class list includes strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, interesting additions, merry berry, jam with chocolate, chilli jam, savoury jam, my favourite jelly and think outside the jam jar. There are lots of hints, tips and recipes to help you on your sticky journey.
As a "less mature jam maker" I was invited by the World Jampionships to blog about my own #JamJourney. Its something I've always enjoyed making but last summer provided me with a bumper crop of fruit and and I managed a particularly large range of self preservation. However upon reading up on jam making on the Jampionships website it would seem that I'm a bit of a fraud as I use jam sugar. I fear I may be excommunicated for that admission. I must learn how to make pectin stock.
There's a wee bit of mystery and ceremony to jam making. I recall well my mum placing a saucer in the freezer to cool before testing the set of jam by dripping on a small amount, placing it next to an open window and checking for the wrinkle. The jam jars warming in the oven. Jam spoons and Crystal Jam Pots. The Jeely bag handing precariously balanced on stools and a walking stick. Dire warnings not to touch it or the jelly would be cloudy. Stained fingers, mouths and scratched legs and arms from bramble picking along the old railway.
For my own Jeely making the walking stick has been replaced with a hockey stick to hold Grannies Jeely Bag. My own kids are now the ones being warned not to touch it. They are happy to come berry picking with me and I have trained them up well in the art of assembly line production with waxed disks, saucer of water, cellophane and rubber bands. My friends keep all their old jars for me and are well used to texts requesting emergency supplies of jars with payment in preserves.
I'll be encouraging some future jammers at a forthcoming Blaeberry Bash family food and foraging event where we'll be boiling up some tiny pots of Blaeberry Jam. Thanks go to Patteson's Glass who are the principal sponsor of Jampionships and have provided 100 mini jam jars. I'm going to have to investigate the pectin content of Blaeberries to avoid having to go down the evil jam sugar route to ensure a set.
I love sharing my jammy makes with friends but at a recent comedy gig I learned that perhaps my pots of preserves may not be being received quite as well as I had hoped. Josh Widdicombes Jam routine had me crying with laughter. But it hasn't put me off making jam. I shall continue to adorn my jars with raffia and chequered cloth. Alas no Jampionship entries from me this year as I don't currently have a kitchen. However with the closing date not until 15th August there's still plenty time to get YOUR entry in. Don't worry. Mr Widdicombe isn't on the judging panel.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Breaking Bread and Baking Bad with #GBBO James Morton

I was very excited when I spotted that Great British Bake Off runner up James Morton (he of the Fair Isle Jumpers and Gingerbread Barn) was to be demonstrating and taking part in a Q&A session at the 2014 Aberdeen University May Festival. I immediately snapped up tickets to both events for myself and boy. Even more excitement a couple of weeks later when I received an email from the University Events Team asking if I would be interested in chairing the events. Without wishing to seem too keen I sat on my hands and waited for at least 5 minutes before replying in the affirmative.
Slight disappointment when James arrived as no sign of any Fair Isle. I duly gave him a telling off. Kyle was delighted to get his very own hands on masterclass before the audience arrived for the morning demonstration session. The demo had long since sold out and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd joined us for an informal bake off followed by some time for questions, bread tasting and the chance to receive a blob of 9 year old sourdough starter. The salient points were - wetter is better, no need to knead and prove it in the fridge. 
The afternoon Q&A session took place in the grand setting of the Kings College Conference Centre. The set up is very reminiscent of the Scottish Parliament with each audience member having their own desk, light and microphone. Thankfully no voting taking place on this occasion. James was very candid about the whole Great British Bake Off experience and shared some top tips for any aspiring contestants. He also confirmed that Mr Hollywood's eyes really are as blue as they appear on the TV. We chatted about everything from his early life in Shetland, medical school, supermarket bread, baking disasters, breadmakers and soggy bottoms.
With our new pet fully house trained and ensconced in the kitchen it was time for some breadmaking of our own. Good job I'd taken Kyle along to the May Festival as I was so busy chairing the events and concentrating on what I had to do that all the technical bread making bits must have gone in one ear and out the other. Thankfully he had been paying close attention and had definitely benefited from his one to one with James.
First attempt was a basic white loaf. A slightly random shape but tasted great and he was rightly very proud of it. Additional equipment was required so I duly ordered up some goodies from Bakery Bits. A proving basket, flexible dough scraper, stainless steel dough cutter and lame blade.
First attempt with our proving basket didn't really hold its shape and turned out somewhat Ciabatta like. Still tasted good with lashings of Ardross Kitchen Raspberry Jam. Diagnosis via Twitter from @bakingjames was overproving. The sharpness of the lame was confirmed by the need for a Peppa Pig plaster. 
Following Kyle's successes I decided that I should really have a bash at this bread making lark myself. Under his expert eye and tutelage I managed to produce a reasonable looking and tasting loaf. Tremendously satisfying but I definitely need to exercise some restraint if I'm to continue making my own bread. How on earth do you resist the temptation to eat it slathered in butter all in one go?
It would seem that James's knowledge of bread is indeed brilliant. Confirmed by the Guild of Food Writers awards where Brilliant Bread won best cookbook. Definitely better value than a breadmaker. Book two's manuscript has already been submitted. Watch this space for Baking Bad.

May Festival Photographs reproduced with permission of Aberdeen University

Friday, 11 July 2014

Coast & Glen Fish Box, Online Food Subscription

A box of fish arriving by post sounds like a rather strange and potentially smelly concept. But the folks at Coast and Glen in Inverness are onto a good thing with this innovative online subscription scheme. Much like a veggie box you choose a frequency, value and state your likes/dislikes and voila - fresh Scottish seafood delivered directly to your desk or door. Made in the Sea by Scotland.

I was intrigued to see how the process worked and jumped at the chance to sample a box. Firstly the cost - you can opt for a £25, £35 or £45 box which can then be delivered on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. The contents of your box is always a surprise - for me that's part of the fun. You can of course choose preferences from the "catch" list on the website but are encouraged to be as adventurous as possible in the first instance. Try something new and reduce the strain on popular species.

Fishboxes can be delivered to any address on mainland UK. You don't need to sign for it, just specify a safe place for it to be left if you're not around. My box arrived well packaged with no sign of any leaks or smells. The insulated pack contains a polystyrene box in which the fish are packed with frozen gel packs. My £35 pack contained Salmon, Turbot, Smoked Haddock and Haddock. All are vacuum packed and have come straight from the boat so are suitable for home freezing.
Pan Fried Turbot Fillets
Crispy Skinned Salmon with Seaweed Flakes
Smoked Haddock and Parsley Flan

I loved how you knew the provenance of everything in your box. Wester Ross Salmon and East Coast Turbot. I was secretly hoping for some lobster, crab or langoustine but alas not on this occasion. Time to cook up the contents of my box. The salmon was sprinkled with Mara Seaweed shony flakes and pan fried to produce a crispy skin. I'd never cooked Turbot before so kept it simple by coating in seasoned flour and frying in  Mackintosh of Glendaveny Rapeseed Oil. Both variants of Haddock went into a delicious Smoked Haddock and Parsley Flan.
Having seen one end of the process it was time to visit the sharp end on a trip the the factory in Inverness. The fish is bought straight from Scottish fishing boats and markets mostly from Kinlochbervie and Shetland. Even the team don't know the contents of mixed boxes until they arrive in the factory ready to be filleted and packaged by hand. This also helps the fishermen as there is no pressure for them to catch certain species, helping to reduce fish being discarded at sea. Because the fish is sourced from smaller, independent fishing boats rather than deep sea trawlers that go to sea for weeks at a time, its not been held in the hold of a boat for a long time thus it has longer 'best before' dates.
Coast & Glen's owner Magnus used to be a fishermen, hence the sourcing of all the fish and shellfish is done from a fishermen's perspective. There's no waste in the factory either as the fish carcasses are used by the fishermen as bait or by chefs as stock. It was great to see first hand the whole process of the boxes being made up ready for dispatch. Customers have the option to add a note to their order for any special requirements and the hands on nature of the whole process makes it possible to accommodate such requests.
A seawater tank in the factory is home to live lobsters, crabs and oysters with the water being changed on a weekly basis brought in all the way from Cromarty. If you get any of these critters in your box fear not as there will be additional instructions. Everything else arrives portion sized, vacuum packed and clearly labelled with no scales or bones for you to deal with. Ocean to plate in less than 48 hours. That's pretty much as close to straight off the boat as you're going to get without putting on your wellies and waders.

Disclaimer : Coast and Glen provided me with a £35 Fish Box. I was not obliged to review positively in return. All views expressed are my own.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Aberdeen Cake Club. Commonwealth Games. Bake to Victory.

The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games provided an ideal theme for our recent Pinnies & Petticoats Aberdeen Cake Club meet. Our 2013 Eurovision night was a huge success and we hoped that Commonwealth countries would provide similar inspiration. I was quick to select Trinidad and Tobago as my country of choice. My lovely friend J lives in Trini so I quizzed her on what would be a typical cake. She came back with a couple of options - Cassava Pone and Coconut Bake. Alas I couldn't track down any Cassava root in Aberdeen so opted for Coconut bake. I used a combination of online recipes, and the one J gave me, to come up with my own variation.
2 cups plain flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2oz margarine
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup coconut milk

Preheat oven to 180 degrees

Sieve flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl.
Rub in the margarine, then stir through the sugar and desiccated coconut.
Add the coconut milk, and mix into a firm dough - you may need slightly more or less to get the right consistency
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead very briefly 
Using your hands and fingers, press out the dough to a rough circle about 1inch/2.5cm thick and then cut into 10-12 wedges. 
Brush the top with some coconut milk and sprinkle with desiccated coconut
Put onto a greased/floured baking sheet and bake till golden brown for about 20-30 minutes. 
Really pleased with how my bake turned out. I suspect it would taste even better warm straight from the oven slathered in butter. We had a different venue for our June meet with Rosie Thistles Tea Room welcoming a great turnout of bakers bringing cakey goodness from throughout the Commonwealth. Lots of interesting stories behind how everyone chose their countries from family members living in or coming from the country, people holidaying there and the Botswana Bake coming straight out of the pages of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
New Zealand - Cadbury's Black Forest Chocolate Brownies
Mauritius - Pina Colada Cupcakes
Guyana - Kurma Aka Mithai
New Zealand - Steak & Cheese Pies
Malta - Bread Pudding
Bajan - Sweet Bread
Grenada/Bahamas - Rum, Nutmeg & Cherry Trifle
India - NanKati, Cardamom Biscuits
Scotland - Snowballs, Teacakes, Caramel Wafers & Shortbread
Scotland - Cranachan
Scotland - Haggis & Filo Parcels
England - English Madelines
England - Coffee & Walnut Battenburg
Tonga - Faikakai Malimali - Banana Dumplings & Coconut Syrup
Wales - Bara Brith
Jamaica - Jerk Turkey Balls & Mango Salsa
Trinidad & Tobago - Coconut Bake
Falkland Islands - Scones
St Lucia - Lime Meringue Pie
Australia - Tim Tam Cake
Australia - Anzac Biscuits
Gibraltar - Gibraltar Rock Cakes
Falkland Islands - Penguin Cakes
Northern Ireland - Soda Bread
Botswana - Lemon and Condensed Milk Cookies

The next meet is 'Picnic in the Park'. This coincides with the BP Big Screen showing of The Royal Opera's La Bohème on Tuesday 15 July. Alas I'll be on holiday at the time so will miss out. All welcome with details on the Pinnies & Petticoats Facebook page. The August meet is 'Say Aye Tae a Pie' on 27th August. I may or may not have a fully operational kitchen at that point which could prove interesting. Might have to procure some Killie Pies to bring along.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Royal Highland Show 2014 - Eat, Drink, Discover Scotland.

As a farmer's daughter the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh has been an annual pilgrimage from a very early age. I didn't quite know how early until I recently quizzed my Mum about my first visit. Turns out I went as a bump in her tummy. A slight bleed resulted Mum being taken from the showground by ambulance and admitted to hospital. Meanwhile Dad stayed at the show for the rest of the week and never even mentioned to their fellow Young Farmers Club friends that Mum was in hospital! Typical farmer. Any fellow farming children must read this hilarious Farmer's Weekly article. 10 thing's only a farmer's child would know. I guarantee it will ring true.
Whilst the Highland Show has always been a must do for the farming community, over the years it has expanded to provide something for everyone. Of course farming is still the main event but it also encompasses an outdoor living and countryside area, shopping & fashion, entertainment, children's activities, renewable energy and food & drink. A girly road trip was in order to attend this year's event. We only managed a day, out of the four day event, which was fantastic but you really need more time to see everything to its full potential.
Plenty of photo opportunities along the way. Where else could you be snapped with a giant haggis, a kelpie and a coo? A highlight is always a visit to the bee and honey tent which is located just as you enter the showground from the west car park. Great fun dressing up as a bee keeper, tasting honey and learning about the vital work that bees do.
We headed to the Food Hall next to get a good look round before it got too busy. Plenty of tasters of both food and drink on offer and a good selection of exhibitors from throughout Scotland encompassing rapeseed oil, cheese, meat, whisky, gin, ice cream, beer, preserves, porridge and more. It would however have been nice to have seen the hall itself kept purely for Scottish food exhibitors and a Visitors Maquee elsewhere in the showground for those from further afield and those selling non food products.
You are always spoiled for choice when you begin to feel peckish. This year the RHASS had introduced a Food Charter policy as part of being a Homecoming Event. In essence this meant that pretty much all food had to be produced in Scotland. This certainly seemed to result in an overall improvement of the quality of food on offer. My favourites were Whitmuir The Organic Place, Summerhouse Drinks, Gooseberry & Elderflower Iced & Light.
Time for a bit of networking and I was delighted to see the showground from the perspective of the Sponsors Lounge and get the opportunity to find out more about Eat, Drink, Discover Scotland. Food and drink have always been an integral part of the Highland Show experience. Within its remit to promote the interests of land-based industries the RHASS has decided to launch the only national food and drink show in Scotland specialising in exclusively Scottish produce.
Eat Drink Discover Scotland will be a three-day foodie extravaganza, with hundreds of exhibitors showcasing top notch Scottish produce, a stellar line-up of celebrity chefs and a packed programme of demonstrations, tastings, talks and sampling sessions. Taking place on 12-14 September, the show will be a flagship event in Scottish Food and Drink fortnight. Advance tickets are now available online priced at £12.50. On the gate price is £15. Under 15's and parking are free.
I've already got the dates blocked off in my diary to attend. I might need all three days to cover it all. Particularly love the sounds of the three cookery theatres. Celebrity chefs, masterchef finalists and Great British Menu competitors take the stage in theatre one. Theatre two is kitted out as a cookery school were you can sign up for a hands-on masterclasses for £25 (or £40 if two of you cook together). Theatre three is home to Scottish food and drink producers who will host a range of skills demos, samplings and tastings such as craft bakery, game butchery, cocktail making with artisan spirits and intricate chocolate work. If that doesn't tempt your tastebuds I don't know what will.
Home from a great day out with sore feet and slightly sunburnt shoulders. Dates for the diary for next year are Thursday 18th to Sunday 21st June 2015. Alas we never met the poster girl but did see some gorgeous hairy heilan' coos with cool air rather than hot air blowing.