Archive | August, 2013

Most Secret

21 Aug

This message is graded Most Secret. Do not pass it on, copy or save it. Regard this book strictly as fiction without any basis in foundation. When asked if you have read it, deny it. Do not recommend it to a friend. You should not attempt to read this book!

However good it might appear to be you should not mistake this book for the truth. Enjoy it for what it is, a rattling good yarn of adventure and spies. You should not buy the book even though it is widely available both in print and in ePub and Kindle formats. You have been warned!


Wine, not whine

19 Aug

Last year I managed to get about a glass-full of wine from the grapes on my vines. It was the worst summer on record. This year I have many times as many grapes and should produce some good wine, once the grapes have fully ripened, probably in late October.

I am never going to be a major producer, and will not even produce enough for my own consumption. A neighbour has a third of an acre devoted to grapes and has his own press. He normally makes about two hundred cases of wine and has won prizes.

Making wine is one of the easiest things you can do. There is yeast already ion the grape skins, so that once you have crushed and pressed the grapes to extract the juice the extracted liquid produced starts fermenting naturally. Bung the juice in a sealed vessel with an air-lock and leave it for a month or two until it has finished fermenting. Siphon off the wine, leaving the residue and bung it in bottles. Of course making very good wine requires skill and dedication, but my wine is pretty good, especially when I manage to keep it over a year.

In my fridge there is a bottle of wine made by my brother in law from grapes from a vine I gave him, from a cutting. He used a recipe which included additional sugar and used a commercial yeast. He said it was probably a bit sweet. As I said above, there isn’t really a recipe for wine, as the grapes start fermenting without any intervention from me. The wine I produce is around 10% alcohol, and bone dry. The grapes are Riesling type (Sylvaner) and are normally presented as a sweetish wine such as Liebfraumilch. Riesling can be used to make desert wines of great flavour, like an Aussie Sticky at nearly 20% alcohol.

On a slightly different topic, the cultivated blackberries are very nearly ready. When they are it will be time to make jam again.

The damsons, little dark purple plums will be ready quite shortly and the apples will be ready soon. Some are falling already. I wish they would keep a little better. They are cooking apples and I will do a swap with some of the neighbours for eating apples. Where we are is surrounded by hundreds of acres of apples used to make cider. Maybe I shall attempt to make some cider from windfalls this year, taking advice from a friend who has just retired after working for a cider company, looking after the orchards. I will let you know how the wine making goes.

More bread

16 Aug

As I seem to have picked up several followers when I do these recipe blogs, I thought I might as well continue with another for sourdough bread.
This one is for a savoury loaf.


  1. 375 grams strong white bread flour
  2. 125 grams wholegrain rye flour
  3. 3 grams salt
  4. 10 grams poppy seeds
  5. 20 grams crispy onions – from a tub!
  6. 125 grams sourdough starter at room temperature
  7. 320 ml lukewarm water

Mix dry ingredients together, add sourdough starter and water and knead to a smooth, elastic dough, for about ten minutes by hand. Place in a vessel to prove. The dough should more than double in size, preferably nearer four times before baking.

Place in a pre-heated oven at 190 deg C for 45 minutes. Turn out and cool on a rack. Best eaten warm but keeps well for up to three days. Enjoy with some good sharp cheese and your favourite condiment.

You can get special raffia bowls to prove the dough in. These are generously floured before the dough goes in. They cost about fifteen pounds each, which is bloody ridiculous for a bit of raffia from a third world sweatshop and I refuse to pay that. Also, you have to turn them onto a baking sheet before baking and half the time the dough sticks to the woven bits. You’ll see that I use a loose bottomed round non-stick cake tin. It is used for both proving and cooking the bread. The result is less rustic than the raffia but a lot cleaner and reduces the risk of disturbing the dough before baking.

This is the dough in the cake tin just before baking

And this is what it looked like after baking and taking the tin away

This is what the inside looks like!

One last rant. The British are inclined to use a serrated bread knife for cutting bread, which rips and creates crumbs. I much prefer a sharp long carving knife for cutting the loaf as it does a much neater job. But then again, you could probably shave with most of my knives. What use is a blunt kitchen knife?

Blackcurrant Vodka

7 Aug

There is a winter treat in the UK, a sort of home-made liqueur called sloe gin. This is made by putting picked sloes, pricked with a fork, (the fruit of the blackthorn) in a large jar with sugar and covering the lot with gin before sealing the jar. This is left in the dark for a few months, then the liquid is drained off and the fruit discarded. It is pretty good, but I have a few variations. Firstly, any clear alcoholic stuff can be used. For example, I like rhubarb rum, made with small bits of rhubarb, white rum and sugar. Raspberry vodka is made in much the same way. With most fruit vodka is preferable to gin as the flavours (botanicals) in gin tend to muddy the flavour. The good news is that you don’t need the best booze, almost any will do as the fruit and sugar smooth out the harshness of the original. I picked almost the last of the blackcurrants and just put them in a clean pickle jar with vodka and sugar. By December it will be a taste of summer in the short, dark winter days of our northern land.

Sourdough bread – slow food

6 Aug

For the past few months I have been making sourdough bread every few days. This is not a bread you can decide to do on the spur of the moment. Sourdough makes use of the wild yeast that is present on almost all fruit and grains. If you want to make this delicious and relatively healthy bread, read on.

Firstly you need to create a sourdough starter culture. I hope you have a week to spare. You will need some strong white bread flour and a large (1 litre) sealable jar, such as a Kilner jar. Exact quantities and timing are not too important, but it helps to stick roughly to these rules.

  1. Weigh out 70 grams of flour and put it into the jar. Add 70 ml of warm water to the flour and stir to form a thick smooth batter – I use a chopstick for this.
  2. Seal the jar and leave it in a warm place for 24 hours.
  3. Add another 70 grams of flour and 70 ml of warm water and mix.
  4. Repeat daily for another 5 days.

The culture should start to bubble after about three days, depending on temperature and amount of yeast present.

The culture is a bit like having a pet. It needs looking after. I call mine Kevin.

‘Kevin’ the culture

After a week the culture should be quite active and is ready to be used to make bread. You should store it in the fridge until required. You should continue to feed the culture every few days – depending on how often you make bread. You can put a grape in the dough if the reaction has not started after three days – take it out once the dough is bubbling!

Take the culture out of the fridge the night before you intend to make bread.

Basic sourdough recipe:

  1. 150 grams of starter culture
  2. 500 grams of flour
  3. 320 ml of warm water
  4. 1 teaspoon salt

I mix this using the dough programme of my bread maker, but by hand is probably more satisfying. I don’t intend to give lessons on kneading here, but I will say that the dough should be smooth and elastic. Place the dough in an oiled baking tin and leave to rise. Dependent on temperature, this can take between three and twelve hours. The longer the rise, the better the flavour. The dough should roughly expand by about 4 times before it is ready to bake. This is dependent on the type of flour used. Wholemeal does not rise as much as white and rye and other grains will also reduce the size of the loaf.

Heat the oven to 180 C before baking. Dress the risen loaf with a little sifted flour or sprinkle some pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or poppy seeds over the top to make the final result attractive. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes and turn out onto a cooling rack. When the underside of the baked loaf is tapped it should sound hollow when it is ready. The loaf should rise a little more when baked.

This is a half size loaf – the whole mixture being 400 grams strong white bread flour and 100 grams rye flour. For smaller loaves reduce the cooking time by 10 minutes.

Enjoy the warm bread with whatever you like. It keeps quite well and makes great toast.

Variations on the recipe involve different flours, and additions such as onion and seeds. More will follow.