From me to you

Thank you all for your lovely support the past year!
I wish you good food and love for the new year 

To make Ypocras

 And then it is suddenly christmas again… it seems only yesterday that it was september and now we are only moments away from januari. It will be march in the blink of an eye and when it's august you will be wondering where those months have gone to.
When you are a child, the days seem to drag on like weeks and the weeks like months but when you are all grown up… you wonder where that hour of free time went to and when you are finally able to start reading that book you've got to read in the summer.

To warm your spirits after the last busy weeks of the year 2013, a year that has brought me excitement, friendship and a new venture of which I will tell you all about very soon - I had mulled wine on my mind.
The sweet scent of the warm wine and spices always transport me back to the christmas markets in Aachen. My parents and I would drive to Germany especially for it each year. Even from a young age I would be allowed half a cup of mulled wine to warm my hands and to bring a rosy blush to my ice cold cheeks. It was one of the highlights of my year, to take in the different scents in the air, the aniseed of the artisan candy being made, the greasy smell of Reibekuchen, the aroma of spices blended with chocolate from the Aachener Printen biscuits and the mulled wine and rum.

Sometimes the very unlikely of foods and drink can be the ones that have been around for centuries and some recipes never changed very much.
Mulled wine or ypocras as its name was for centuries, has been around since the Middle Ages but mulled spirits pre-date Medieval times. I found a recipe for a fine spiced wine in a Roman cookery book that looks a lot like the recipe for ypocras. It is commonly thought that the drink is named after the Greek physician Hippocrates, however this is not so. It is more likely that ypocras has this name because the herbs and spices were strained through a conical filter bag known as a Manicum Hippocraticum - sleeve of Hippocrates. The Old French name for Hippocrates was ypocrate which explains the etymology of the Middle English name ypocras, hipocras, ipocras, ippocras, hvpocras, hvppocra, and many more variations.

Kedgeree and... my first video!

I have something very exciting to share with you... my first ever video!!!
During the summer I was contacted by the guys from Grokker, a new online video network. They wanted me on board for a challenge with Loyd Grossman and because I had never really considered doing video, I thought this would be the perfect moment to get some experience in that area.
Although I was very tired after only 3 hours sleep and nervous of answering questions while trying to explain a recipe in a language other than my own without any form of rehearsal I must say I'm quite happy with how it turned out. The film crew really was a fabulous bunch of people. -Thanks guys- The video here is a trailer, the whole thing is on Grokker here > for which you have to create an account to see it - and if you do... don't forget to click on the heart below the video to let me know you liked what I did there! :) It's a bit of a challenge with a few other fabulous blogger involved, check them out while you are there too.

A small -delicate- detail though... my name isn't pronounced like you can hear in the video, so please don't all start calling me 'Regoela' it's more like 'regular' without the 'R' at the end and a more delicate 'G' like in Italian. It is Latin after all. :-)
Anyway back to the dish, we had to choose a typical main dish of our niche that was able to be cooked in 30 min, prep to finish. So I choose Kedgeree, a recent favourite in our house.

Kedgeree is believed to find its origin in the Indian dish called Khichri and we can say it is the the first Anglo-Indian fusion food. During the British Raj, the Brits in India were craving a dish that would remind them of home. 

Khichri is considered a sick person’s food in India, being less spicy and easier on the digestive system than other curries. It was perfect for the Britons who were still spice-shy back then and couldn’t take the heat of a curry like they do today.

Plum Pudding - Myth and Legend

According to tradition, plum pudding should be made on ‘Stir-up Sunday’.It is a custom that is believed to date back to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer where a reading states 'stir up, we beseech thee'. The words would be read in church on the last Sunday before Advent and so the good people knew it was time to start on their favourite Christmas treat.

It was family affair where everyone would gather to stir the pudding mixture from East to West, in honour of the Three Kings who came from the East. Sometimes coins would be hidden in the dough; finding them on Christmas day would bring luck and good fortune. I think we all know this tale. But is this story in fact a 16th century custom or a Victorian interpretation? 

There are a lot of legends and claims made about the origins of the plum pudding. Some say it was King George I in 1714 who requested plum pudding as a part of the first Christmas feast of his reign. And that it was because of him that Oliver Cromwell's ban on Christmas and its rich festive foods was lifted. George I was baptized 'the Pudding King' because of these myths but there are no written records prior to the 20th century to tell us that indeed this king deserves his regal pudding title. Nor is there truth in the claim that George I was responsible for lifting the ban on the festivities surrounding Christmas. However, this ban, along with other prohibitions, was abolished at the start of the Restoration of 1660, long before George I came along.

The first written record of a recipe for plum pudding as we know it today can be found in John Nott's 'The Cook's and Confectioner's Dictionary' from 1723; there is however no reference suggesting that it is associated with George I or to the practice of Stir-up Sunday. 

An earlier reference in the diary of a British naval chaplain during the reign of Charles II, speaks of a Christmas Day dinner on board a ship in the year 1675, consisting of a rib of beef, plum puddings, mince pies and plenty of good wines. This is the first time a plum pudding is associated with Christmas in a written record.

Hopping down in Kent - Hop brandy

While driving through the rolling Kentish countryside I can't help but shout out 'Oast house' when I spot the somewhat fairytale like conical rooftops of the hop kilns. I nurture my inner child with my endless enthusiasm for things other people might not even notice anymore.

These monuments of agricultural industrialisation were used for drying the freshly picked green hop flowers. They usually had two or three storeys, some with perforated floors on which the hops were spread out. On the ground flour was a charcoal-fired oven spreading warm air through the kiln which is permitted to pass through the perforated floors to dry the hops. The white wooden cowl on the roof rotates with the wind to allow air to circulate and moisture to escape to prevent mould. Although we are more used to seeing round Oast houses, the kilns started out square shaped. The earliest example dates back to the mid 1700's and can be found in Cranbrook.

Hops have been grown in Britain since the the late 15th century and probably even earlier. They were introduced to Britain from Flanders where hopped beer had become the fashion. Hops don't only add bitterness to beer but also act as a natural preservative. In the early Victorian era hop growing became the most important industry in Kent as tastes changed from un-hopped ale to more bitter beer.
The need for hops was especially great due to the late Georgian law forbidding the use of any other ingredients than hops and malt in beer. A year after the law was approved, the drum roaster -used to roast malt- was invented by Daniel Wheeler. By roasting the malt the brewers could legally give extra flavouring and colouring to the beer by creating very dark, roasted malt for the use in Porters and Stouts. 

Of course those large amounts of hops needed to be picked and so each september the destitute families from London and sometimes even further away, came 'hopping down to Kent'. If they were not completely pennyless, they could afford the ticket for the 'Hop pickers Special' train which left from London Bridge. If they were too poor, they had to walk to Kent. For six weeks they would live on site in hop huts to help with the hop harvest. Although the work was rough, it was a time especially the children looked forward to all year. Hop picking in Kent was a welcome change from the slums is which most of these families lived. And although the hop huts were far from luxury, it was still a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the miserable fog in London.

Gunpowder, treason and bonfire parkin

The fifth of november, remember?

One of the most intriguing of English traditions to me is Bonfire night. Otherwise known as Guy Fawkes night it is a feast that commemorates the failing of a plot by Roman Catholic conspirators to blow up the House of Parliament in London killing the Protestant King James in the process.

Although Guy Fawkes is mostly remembered on this occasion, it was Robert Catesby who was chief instigator of the Gunpowder Plot. Catesby turned against the government of Elizabeth I when his father along with so many others Catholics, was prosecuted for refusing to conform to the Church of England. When Elizabeth I died, James - son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots - came to the throne which gave the Roman Catholics new hope for greater religious freedom. When this hope turned pear shaped the English Catholics plotted to put Arbella Stuart on the throne, she was Catholic, James' cousin and a major claimant to the throne of England having both Tudor and Stuart bloodlines. Arbella always stayed close to the throne but never became queen, by blood she had a larger claim to succession and she became known as the 'Queen that never was'.

The seed to the Gunpowder plot however was planted nearly a century earlier by another Tudor, Henry VIII. When he issued the Act of Supremacy which declared him head of the Church of England to be able to divorce the first of his six wives, he started a century of violent religious turmoil. Henry's Church of England wasn't initially Protestant but his son Edward VI instituted more Protestant reforms. Mary I, being Henry's daughter with his Catholic wife whom he divorced to marry Elizabeth's mother Anne, was a Catholic and tried to restore the Catholic faith. She started her five year bloody reign by reviving the laws against heresy and was hated for it. The result was the persecution of Protestant rebels and the execution of some 300 heretics. Elizabeth's accession to the throne on Mary's death was greeted with enormous jubilation from the people. Yet again the Roman Catholics were facing persecution and the plotting to replace Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots began.

This brings us back to Mary's son James and the infamous Gunpowder treason and plot.
On the 5th of november 1605 Guy Fawkes was apprehended while guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar under the house of Parliament. How they found out about the gunpowder in the cellar leads to speculation but it is presumed that someone from within the circle of conspirators of the plot warned someone to stay away from parliament on the 5ft. After his apprehension Fawkes was tortured to give up the names of his accomplices.

Damson cheese and sweetmeats - a memory in a jar

I keep the jars in the stairwell leading down to the cellar, it's quite dark there and I can look at them, neatly arranged on their shelves, every time I need a tin of tomatoes or a bunch of spuds.
They all have labels, some decorated with water-colour images I painted, some just with the date and words of what's in the jar. I will pick up a jar from time to time, asking myself if I should open it or leave it a little longer. Some of my cherry brandy dates back to 1999 and has become precious, if you get to try any or even receive a tiny jar with 2 or 3 cherries, you should know you're on the top shelve of my cupboard.

I love to buy fruit on my trips around England, most of the time I will end up preserving that fruit, to keep it for the colder months it is but also a memory of a lovely trip in a jar.
A year ago I stumbled upon tiny little plums, so small they could be mistaken with a large black olive. It was on an sunlit morning early in autumn, I walked passed the quaint greengrocers in the village I would dream to call home when I spotted the display of Damsons, Victoria plums and cobnuts. I wonder if the plums the greengrocer claimed to be native wild damsons are in fact sloes ...

I took home my brown paper bag of Sussex native wild damsons - at least I believe them to be damsons - and got busy at home making damson cheese on a rainy sunday morning. Damson cheese is an old country recipe, I can just picture the ladies using the leftover embers of the fire to stew fruit or dry flour for pastry.
In my vintage cookery books, the writers suggest to leave the cheese for a few months, or even up to two years. One shouldn't be surprised if it would dry out a bit, it is supposed to add to the flavour.
In her book Dorothy Hartley describes the original native damson as small with black bloomy skin and green flesh. The description sounds similar to how a sloe looks but if anyone out there can shed some light on what the native damson looks like, I would love to hear it.

Workshop food photography and styling in Antwerp for Flanders and Brussels food week 'Week van de Smaak'

I was asked to come and teach a food styling and photography workshop for Flanders' food week, 'Week Van de Smaak'. I'm very excited to share this with you, especially my Belgian and Dutch readers who would be able to attend. 
There are two dates: 17 and 23 november and there are only 3 places left!
Gosh that went fast! So if you would like to attend, send and email to and do it quickly so you don't miss out!

We will also be cooking some tasty food to shoot. On november 17 cookery teacher Daphne from Food for Foodies will be cooking up Asian cuisine and on the 23th we will be exploring the rich Middle Eastern dishes, all in the spirit of the festival's theme 'water and fire'. 

Location of the workshop is Antwerp, Belgium.
All you need is something to take a basic picture with, so even your camera phone.
Note that the workshop will be in Dutch.

*Update* The two workshops are now sold out!

Kentish cherry batter pudding - and one more thing, I just launched my beer blog 'The Queen Beer'!

Batter puddings have been around for centuries. Originally they were named 'dripping puddings' because they were placed in trays underneath large spit-roasts to catch the dripping of the meat. In the 1747 book The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse renamed the dripping pudding to the now more generally known Yorkshire pudding.
'Yorkies' were provided to stretch the meat a little longer, soaked in gravy they are very child's favourite and traditionally served as a filling dish before the main meat dish came to the table rather than accompanying it.

But batter puddings haven't always been the perfect partner in crime to a good sunday roast, they have also been savored as a sweet treats as well. Mostly the rich puddings were just drizzled with a dusting of fine sugar but in the summer season and early autumn when there was a glut of fruit to use up, a sauce of cherries or plums would have been made to accompany the batter pudding.

Although there is no proof of age for the recipe of the Kentish cherry batter pudding, before the second world war there were about 40 000 acres of cherry orchards in Britain and most of them were situated in Kent. This does tell us that there were a lot of cherries about and not all of those cherries would have been exported to other parts of the country. Sadly only 90 percent of these orchards remain today but luckily the last few years Kentish cherries have seen a revival with new orchards being planted.
Cherry trees are kept much shorter now, making it easier to harvest. In the old days, mostly women would pick the cherries standing on high ladders with wicker baskets tied to their waists.

Jolly Jelly, you know what? I'm writing a book!

One would think the dark ages were a dark time... Reading books like Umberto Eco's 'In the name of the Rose' certainly leads us to believe that it was.
But the fact is that there was a love for bright colors that can be witnessed in the illuminated manuscripts from that time. On the table brightly colored layered jellies were made by boiling pig's or cow's feet into gelatin. It must have taken the cook hours to prepare, deriving the colors from blood, berries, vegetables and Essex saffron, the jellies were decorated and scented as magnificent displays of the cooks talent.
Jellies weren't the desserts as we know them now, they would be savoury rather than sweet most of the time, sometimes even encasing whole fish for a dramatic effect. 
Gelee of fleshe -meat jelly- was a traditional Medieval dish and made by cooking pigs trotters and ears, calf's feet and chicken in white wine. The jus and fat would then be reduced until it formed a jelly and the meat served with it.
We still have meat jellies today in the form of 'aspics', covering pieces of meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs with gelatine made from beef bones.
In culinary school, where we are taught the classic French cuisine we had to prepare a seafood jelly which was a terrible waste of perfect seafood and we also used jelly to decorate meat and fish with delicately sliced vegetables to then lightly cover it in gelatine to protect it from the air. Perfect for when you are preparing a buffet but a little old fashioned if you ask me.
But it is very fascinating to think of it, that a medieval practice of encasing foods in jelly is still widely used today, centuries later. Now the sweet jellies are most popular, in bold colors and fun flavours and shapes, it is still a showstopper on your table as much as it was in the Middle ages.

Cherry and almond cake and a walk on Gold Hill in Dorset

As the weather suddenly changed from gloriously sunny to dreadfully grey again, I ventured out to beautiful yet misty Dorset to be a judge on the Great Taste Awards.
After seven hours on several trains I finally arrived in Shaftesbury, one of the highest and oldest towns in England. Shaftesbury, also known as Scaepterbyrg in the Domesday book was either built or rebuilt by Alfred the Great in the 9th century when he also founded the abbey where his daughter Ethelgiva would be the abbess. Although a Saxon settlement, there is reason to believe that a much older Celtic village named Caer Palladur used to exist on this hilltop. 

I walked up and down Gold Hill three times and sat on the cobbled street at the top of the hill to watch the evening spread it's cloak over the valley. After a walk I ended my day with a much needed pint of Chocolate Stout at a local pub and a plate of excellent Devon crab - with Hovis bread of course, as you do when in Shaftesbury. The town and especially Gold Hill has become famous for the evocative Hovis advertisement film in the seventies. The film was directed by Riddley Scott, whom you might know from films like Gladiator and featured a small lad pushing a bike with a basket laden with a loaves of bread up the steep cobbled street of Gold Hill on the tunes of Dvorak's 'New World' Symphony. The advert has been voted Britain's most popular advertisement of all time and shows the power of a good advertising campaign. It's a deceiving plot to convince the consumer that Hovis bread is something more artisan than just a factory made bread. It feeds on nostalgia, showing images of times gone by, suggesting the bread is still being made by the traditional method. It is not. It is made by the fast 'no-time dough' Chorleywood method using not only wheat flour but also a larger amount of yeast, emulsifier, stabiliser and Soya flour. Things that are hardly traditional.

This brings me back to the Great Taste awards and how important the Guild of Fine Food is in supporting artisan and 'real food' producers. We're turning back towards foods that are once more traditionally made with the best possible ingredients out there. Pasture fed beef is now a regular term as well as rare breed pork and raw milk yoghurt. We want quality for our pennies again, and we want to make a difference when we do our food shopping.

Food Blogger Connect London 2013 - My talk on Breathing life into your brand identity

Just over a week ago I did a talk on 'Breathing life into your brand identity' at this years Food Blogger Connect Conference in London. 
Like last year, it were fun food filled days and even the sun came out to play.  A few people who were there and a lot who missed the conference emailed or tweeted me to ask me to write about my talk, apparently branding your blog is a thing a lot of you think about these days. And I get it, us blogger have to be writers, photographers, stylists, web developers and why not also graphic designers.
I had the advantage of being a graphic designer myself, my husband is an art director/ illustrator and we have our own company specialized in unique branding and graphic design called The Tiny Red factory. Although I enjoy photography and writing more than graphic design these days, it will always be a big part of who I am.
So here are my views on branding your blog.

Branding is about asking questions and getting the right answers 
to build your strategy on.
First ask yourself this question:

Why do I blog?
Is it to build a business, to get some kind of income out of it or out of pure fun?
This will determine what kind of blog and branding you are building. Asking yourself questions and thinking about the answers will make for a more solid brand.

The Jewelled Kitchen

Middle Eastern food has always intrigued me, it seems like the meals always come with cozy little candle lights, luxuriously embroidered table cloths and boldly colored serving dishes. The culinary traditions revolve around sharing and giving generously. Spiced meats and sweets remind me of late Medieval British cooking when ginger, caraway, cumin, cinnamon and currants were used in stews and pudding much alike the Middle Eastern ones. 
The aromatics give the kitchens a mysterious scent, almost as if the beautiful women coming out of them carrying trays of oozing food to present to you are bewitching their guests with their culinary arts. 

With anticipation I awaited my friend Beth's book, if there were to be one book about Middle Eastern food I would buy, it would be hers. She who lures people with the tales of perfect Hummus and tasty lamb stews. Drop dead gorgeous and a former miss Lebanon she is a woman who fights every day to change the worlds negative preconceptions about the Middle East.

Summertime at Jamie Oliver's Food Tube party

I was invited to join in on the fun for Jamie Oliver's latest live Food Tube show on monday. After the first taxi stood me up I arrived at location fashionably late.
The back alley of the newly launched Fifteen restaurant - which is amazing, give it a try - was dressed up like a street fair with bales of hay, colorful bunting and artwork on the walls by Barnaby Purdy
Donal Skehan was there to cook up some tasty food along with the totally crazy smokin DJ BBQ, the lovely Chiappa sisters, the sweet Jemma from Crumbs & Doilies and the charming Gennaro Contaldo. There were the two boys of JacksGap who had a chilli tasting challenge with Mr chilli lover himself: Jamie Oliver. Plenty of Yoghurt was at hand to ease the burning flame of the little green devils. I wouldn't have wanted to be in their place, it looked painfully fiery.
It was chaotic, it was exciting and still it was relaxed and layed back at the same time.
And if you are wondering, there was no real rehearsal before, it's just a bunch of people doing what they do best, play with food - or if you're Camden Brewery - with beer!

I had a great chat with Donal who is as lovely in real life as his online persona - because as Jamie pointed out as well, we all feel we know each other from our Instagram feeds and so meeting the first time never feels like a first encounter at all.
I won't lie, meeting Jamie and having a chat with him was a special moment. I would be playing it cool if I didn't admit to it. But not because of his fame, but because of the amount of respect I have for him. Like so many others from my generation and beyond I took my first steps in the kitchen with the scribbles and notes I made while watching The Naked Chef.

My mom wasn't interested in cooking at all but I had a weird need to cook. My first creation were rice waffles smeared with Nutella and butter, layered into a cake. It was a sunday morning in the spring of my sixt year and had woken up before the crack of dawn to surprise my mom and dad with this "delicious" treat - they kindly refused to eat it though :) The kitchen was a mess, the rice waffle cake mysteriously disappeared during the day and I forgot about cooking until the next time I made the kitchen explode with burnt baked beans.

Strawberry Spelt Shortcake, the history of Shortcake in Britain

A Strawberry shortcake can take on many forms, it can be a scone-like cake, a sponge or a thin biscuit but two things remain the same throughout any recipe: fresh strawberries and lots of pretty whipped cream. Strawberries were first cultivated by the Romans in 200 BC but what about the origin of a Strawberry Shortcake?

In Medieval times newly-weds would be presented with a soup made of strawberries and sour cream topped with borage and sugar. They believed strawberries to be an aphrodisiac, yet no biscuit or cake of any kind accompanied the dish. 
Short meaning crumbly from the Old English 'cruma' is a term that came to be in the 15th century, adding a large amount of fat or 'shortening' to flour results in a crumbly or 'short' texture.

In the Elizabethan cookbook The good Huswifes Handmaide 
for the Kitchin. (1594 -1597) one can find the earliest record of the term 'short cake'. Unfortunately none of the manuscripts that survived of this book are complete.

The Prune Tarts at Tudor Court

In 1615 English poet Gervase Markham mentioned 'a prune tart' in his book "The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman".
In his beautiful way of writing he states:
"Take of the fairest damask prunes you can get, and put them in a clean pipkin with fair water, sugar, unbruised cinnamon, and a branch or two of rosemary; and if you have bread to bake, stew them in the oven with your bread..."

He goes on to explain in detail how to finish the prune puree and how to assemble the little tarts he likes to shape into little birds and flowers by first cutting out a pattern in paper to trace on the pastry. The tart cases or 'coffins' as they were called in times gone by, were raised by hand.
During Tudor times pastry had evolved from the Medieval inedible crust -that was there only to hold a filling- to sweet and savoury pastry to enjoy as a part of a dish. Eggs and butter or suet were beginning to be used making the pastry more refined and giving the cook the opportunity to be inventive with fillings as well as with decoration. If you look at Renaissance paintings especially by the Flemish and Dutch masters, you will notice the pies who are depicted on the tables as dramatic centerpieces, sometimes wildly decorated with stuffed swans or geese resting on top.

But it isn't the only change, the Tudor court wanted to show their worldliness employing Florentine sculptors and painters for great artistic commissions, decorating royal palaces and most likely even influencing the kitchen. I can't but help to see the striking recemblance between an Italian 'Crostata di marmellata'. In 1570 Bartolomeo Scappi, an Italian cook mentioned the different recipes for pastry in his book, it would take 30 years before a guide like that was published in Britain. 'Delightes for Ladies' was published in 1602 but Gervase Markham's book a decade later would provide a much easier to follow set of recipes.
It always pleases me to find links between Italian and British cookery, these are my two favourite cuisines and I feel there are a lot of things linking the two together, not only in dishes but also in philosophy. 

Prune tarts bring back memories of my childhood. Normally only eaten on Ash Wednesday in my home town Antwerp, prune tart would be on our sunday breakfast table quite regularly. Our local bakery used to have the best prune tarts in sizes big and small and my mother used to buy a small one for me because she knew it is one of the few sweet things I truly enjoy.

I Love Toscana - my friend Giulia's long awaited beautiful book

Chestnut pancakes with hazelnut spread
Four girls in a little white car, smiles on their faces gazing outside, taking in the views over the gliding landscape of Tuscany on a sunny october day…
One moment will always be in my mind, we drove through a valley and stopped the little white car to look at the miles and miles of vines that were withering under the october sun. My eye spotted little blue jewels, grapes left behind after the harvest on the nearly bear sleepy vines.
With a hesitation I picked a tiny bunch, feeling humble for this wonderful gift of sweetest little grapes bursting with flavour and filling my heart with joy.

That moment was captured and immortalized in a book …

My friends book, the girl with the little white car and the yellow brick house in the Tuscan countryside.


I am so proud of her, so proud to be a small part of the memories in the book.

It is a book to treasure, full of love for a region and her family. This is a book that came straight from the heart and it shows, it shows in every recipe that is beautifully presented in and around her beautiful Tuscan house and it shows in her words …

Watercress and Trout Pie - Fit for a Watercress Queen

Let me tell you a story about a strong independent woman, a working class woman who became one of the most iconic figures in British food history. Her name was Eliza James and she was called 'The Watercress Queen'.
In the late 1800, the little Eliza went from factory to factory in Birmingham with her bunches of wild watercress. As 'the poor man's bread' was so popular with the working class she soon started to sell larger and larger quantities. She worked her way up and moved her business to London where she soon became the favoured supplier of nearly all the London restaurants and hotels. She was able to acquire watercress farms in Hampshire and Surrey making her the biggest owner of watercress farms in Europe. But even when she became part of a well-to-do class, she remained to work at her Covent Garden stall for over 50 years.
Steve - who you might remember from last weeks post - explained that Eliza founded the James & Son company and trade marked the name Vitacress, the name Vitacress was then sold on to Malcolm Isaac who founded Vitacress Salads which is the name of the company today. Eliza's Hampshire farms are still producing watercress to this day and are still a part of Vitacress. The farm I visited was one of the original farms and made me think about Eliza James and her hard work. I think she deserved her title and isn't it just one of the most romantic stories of a working class woman trying to build an emporium out of watercress, to do well by herself and her family.

British watercress and the 'Poor Man's bread'

Steve in one of the watercress beds
'British weather is perfect for watercress' the words of Steve … my host at the watercress farm in Hampshire.
Britain is one of the few countries to grow watercress and has been for hundreds of years. As far back as the 1600's and most likely even earlier it was foraged in the wild where it grew in streams and rivers but as from 1808 it was first commercially cultivated by  William Bradbery, along the River Ebbsfleet in Kent.

The success of the watercress trade is very much entwined with the British railways. In 1865 the 'Mid-Hants Railway' or Watercress Line was opened, it connected Alresford to London giving Hampshire watercress growers the opportunity to get their crop fresh to the London markets. The delicate leaves would be picked by hand by the men and tied into bunches by the women to be placed in wicker baskets for the transport.
At London's Covent Garden watercress would be sold by street vendors who often were children. The bunches of watercress were said to have been formed into posies and eaten like that for breakfast straight away or if you were lucky to be able to afford a loaf, between two slices of bread. In Victorian Britain it was called 'the poor man's bread', it provided the working class with a good portion of nutrition for the day and became one of the first foods for on-the-go. 

The Watercress Line declined during the years of the first and second world wars and gave her final blow to watercress growers in the 1960's with the closure of the line.

Food Revolution Day 2013 - The 'Last Night's Leftovers' lunch

There was a time when everyone knew how to cook, cooking skills used to be passed down from generation to generation but somewhere in the last decades it all went terribly wrong.

There are now millions of people who struggle to cook up a basic meal. If we don't take action now, soon there will be a generation without cooking skills and no knowledge to pass on to their children. It is of vital importance to our health and those of our children to eat well as obesity is spreading like a plague. But it's not only for our health but for community and family spirit, to sit down to enjoy a meal together and talk, to exchange recipes and to keep our food traditions which are historically and important alive.

Jamie Oliver says: “Food Revolution Day is all about people power.
I was amazed and massively inspired by our first global day of action last year. 
For me, this is one day for us all to get together and shout about the importance of food education and the need to share and pass on food knowledge and cooking skills. This is an opportunity to build better relationships with great food, whether that’s through hosting a big event like a farmers’ market or a small dinner for your mates and cooking everything from scratch. It’s about giving people
the knowledge and confidence to  cook using fresh ingredients and to make better choices about what they feed themselves and their families.

For last years Food Revolution a bunch of my food blogger friends and I joined forces for an online 'local food' potluck dinner. We all brought a dish to the virtual table that was local and sustainable. I brought mussels and Belgian fries - remember not to call them French ;)

This year I'm focusing on the workspace as we spend most of our time there. I myself tend to take my lunch box to work containing mostly the leftovers from dinner the night before or a quick spelt or couscous salad. Next to breakfast lunch is the most import meal of the day. It is to provide us with fuel for the work day. 

Inspired by my own lunchbox I came up with the idea of cooking everyone a 'Last Night's Leftovers' lunch pack. 

Madeira cake to get you through the busy days

For years I thought Madeira cake was made with the fortified wine Madeira, I thought it was the English equivalent to an Italian Vin Santo cake, which is in fact made adding the Vin Santo.
Madeira cake is a closed textured cake that was designed in the 19th century to accompany a glass of Madeira and other sweet wines. It was a cake for the upper class, people who could afford to bake a dry crumbly cake that doesn't keep well and had to be enjoyed with a drink of some kind and best within two days before it would get too dry.
Precision and plenty of beating is required to achieve that close crumbly texture. You have to be a patient cook and the ingredients used must be of the best possible quality.

Nourishing Stout and Oat Drink

My mother always told me she and my grandmother loved drinking a Trappist beer when they were breastfeeding, she said that it was nurturing for new moms and that in the old days the nurses would actually bring a beer to the mothers to stimulate the lactation process.
But it isn't just a myth, if a nursing mother drinks a good old pint of beer, the yeast and hops in it will help increase her milk supply. Hops are also calming, so good for the new mom. Brewers yeast is also taken as a supplement to boost the milk supply by mothers who do not enjoy the taste of a lovely beer.

Trappist is a Belgian beer but I think Stout is the prefect beer for this recipe as I've heard stories about mothers receiving a Stout when they have given birth, a Nourishing Stout would have been better but sadly those haven't been brewed commercially for decades. Milk Stout is called that way because it used to contain lactose, a sugar derived from milk. Lactose doesn't only add sweetness to the beer, it also adds calories which is why together with the yeast and hops in the beer it was given to lactating mothers. Although Milk and Nourishing Stouts only became popular after the First World War, the usage of lactose and the mentioning or illustrating of it on the beer labels was forbidden after the Second World War due to rationing.

The only surviving Milk Stout is Mackeson's, I came across it by accident when I was at Tesco's a few months ago, the can still shows a milk churn that has been Mackeson's trademark since it was first brewed in 1907 at the Mackeson's brewery in Hythe, Kent. Mackeson's is now brewed by InBev so I doubt that there is still any lactose in the beer today.

As I am creating this concoction for my friend and fellow blogger Zita who gave birth to a healthy little boy a few hours ago, I am going to make it as nutritious as I can. 

Cornish Splits, some very exciting news and a thank-you

In Cornwall, a cream tea was traditionally served with 'Cornish Splits' rather than scones. Cornish splits are little yeast-leavened bread rolls, they are split when still warm and first buttered, then spread with jam before topping it with a generous dollop of clotted cream. Sometimes Treacle would be used instead of jam, this combination goes by the name of a 'Thunder and lightning' and although I'm not a big fan of treacle straight from the tin, it tasted -and the name sounded- rather good!
The splits are only baked for a short while and when removed from the hot oven, the little warm splits are then piled up in a tea towel, rubbed with a little butter before being covered by another tea towel so they don't develop a crust.
I haven't found any earlier reference to a Cornish split than the receipt in on of my favourite books 'Good things in England' published in 1932 by Florence White, a delightful collection of 853 regional English recipes dating back as far as the 14th century. 

With findings of evidence at Tavistock Abbey in Devon it is believed that the tradition of eating bread with cream and jam existed in the 11th century. In Devon a similar bun is served with cream and jam, going traditionally by the name of a Devon Chudleigh as noted by Florence White and Elisabeth David Chudleighs are made the same manner as the Cornish split, only smaller. Devonians however tell me that the 'Devon split' -as it is called now- is in fact a lighter and more luxurious white bun rather than heavy scone-like bread as the Cornish version.
The Cornish split is a rare treat these days but as they are best eaten while still a little warm from the oven, you get the best split by baking them at home. 

I have another thing to share with you today, my beloved blog has been nominated for the Saveur Magazine 2013 Best Food Blog Award in the 'Best Regional Cuisine Blog' category.
I am still pinching myself, to be a finalist and especially to be selected by the judges in this respected international competition is a great honor. The other four blogs that are nominated have all been blogging quite a while longer than I have and are all gorgeous.

A farmers life for me.

I have a dream... I live in a limestone cottage in rural England that catches the golden color of the sun in its walls and I have a small rare breed pig farm. In my dream I would be getting up early in the morning, jump into my morning clothes, run down the stairs to turn on the fire and slip into my boots to head outside to bring the pigs their breakfast. On my return I will jump in the shower and then do some work on my blog and photography, just after lunch I would check on the pigs again and spend some time with them. Of course pens need to be cleaned and housework needs to be done, but I'm not getting hung up on the less enjoyable things. In the evening I will know that I have yet another day taken care of beautiful creatures, help them give birth, rub their bellies and keep them happy before delivering the best meat to feed a small number of people who respect the work that went into producing this meat. I would have shortened the food chain, I will have made a difference. That is what I want, I keep asking myself  'what am I doing to make things better' Sitting behind my desk designing and creating layouts isn't going to make a difference in the bigger picture of it all. I have the need to do more.

Mahatma Gandhi put my feeling into words perfectly “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

So a few weeks ago I went on a rare/native breed pig keeping course in West-Sussex, because you have to start somewhere ...

Middle Whites, one of the rarest British breeds.
It was a freezing day, my cloths as it appears aren't nearly warm enough to be running around on a farm all day. My pretty red wellies are too small for thick woolen socks or even a triple pair to keep my feet from turning into ice cubes.
Luckily I had a lot of excitement keeping me warm, the cold didn't bother me at all.

The day started by waking up the pigs and giving them their first feed, we walked up the field where the paddocks were divided by gender, breed and age. The pigs were eager to tuck in and it became instantly clear they have a pecking order, if you aren't careful to keep an eye out when you feed them, one pig would be very a very happy bunny and the others would go hungry. Every pig reacted to his or her name when called out, a lovely sight to behold and it shows how clever these animals are.  

Hot Cross Bun and Butter Pudding - Happy birthday to me ...

Here we are again, the day I look forward to the most during the year ... my birthday.
It's the day when I am queen, when I am allowed to wear a crown of flowers and walk around in my widest petticoat no matter where I'm going even if it is a farm or going on a clifftop walk on my favourite Sussex coastal path.
Today - I bloom - like fiery red flower in a colorless world.

It's a big birthday this year -29- for the second time. Some part of me wanted to do a big party, another part just wanted it to blow over. I decided on a last minute posh afternoon tea at Kensington palace with my friends Sassy and Jo when we were gathered in London for Bruno's exhibition.
I had a special dress, made by my friend Jo, you might remember her from her Hotpot recipe a few months ago. Jo designs and produces beautiful bespoke wedding and special occasion gowns and after months of working on the design together it was ready to flaunt when we went for our Afternoon tea.

I call it my England dress, it shows the story behind my love for this country and its ways in an illustration Bruno designed and Jo embroidered onto the dress. I felt tears coming to my eyes when she revealed the dress... Aren't I a lucky lady ...
Jo's craft-wo-manship is exquisite, the detail is amazing. Her brodeuse captured Bruno's every line, flower and every tiny apple. The dress is all kinds of perfect and if you know me -being a perfectionist- I hardly ever find things perfect...
It is a special feeling when a friend makes you a dress, it will never feel completely mine, it will always be hers as well. 
Thank you darling Jo, for making me the most special dress in the world x Thank you my dear friend Sassy for taking these pictures as a keepsake to remember  x

A few of you were eager to see my dress so if you aren't interested in a girl running around in a red dress feeding swans and getting attacked by squirrels - scroll all the way down for a good pudding!

Earlier this week I posted my recipe for Hot Cross Buns, while testing the recipe I had mountains of buns leftover and I didn't want to waste them so I froze them. Now I use the buns to make my Hot Cross Bun and Butter Pudding. I guaranty you that a Bread and Butter Pudding has never tasted better! As the Hot Cross Buns contains spices and currants already, there is no need to add more.
Enjoy lovely people x