Here in West Essex, the weather has sent us on a roller coaster ride since winter rode off into the [rather weak] sunset. After poking their heads through in January, Daffodil’s flowered in deepest darkest February bringing a brightness which had been lacking since the demise of the shooting season (always a low point of the year in our house). We were then treated to a March and early April, which can be summed up in two words: warm and dry. I managed to get sunburnt at our local point to point on 8th April in 22 degrees (an easy thing to happen as I am blessed with the double whammy of red hair and pale skin!). Now as I sit here at the end of April, we have just had a couple of nights of zero degrees and frost, and it even snowed last Wednesday. Good old English weather – it does like to keep us on our toes, and we have had many ‘what the hell?’ moments over the last few weeks.
Everything is currently in need of a good drink; be it in the garden, where we are watering onion sets and peas in the veg patch which are seeming reluctant to put their heads above ground; or on the farm, where crops are growing, but are needing to kick on a bit and to make the most of fertiliser which has been applied. Nothing is ever perfect in farming – the weather doesn’t ever do what we want when we want it, we either need rain to start, need rain to stop or need it not to be windy so you can go spraying. It would be nice for once for whatever it is to align in the stars and for mother nature to say ‘here you go – here’s the weather you need’. Everybody can have a dream, I suppose…?
Kitchen Creations for April
Anyway when all is going out of sync outside, I like to think that I can bring a little saneness back into our lives by creating something in the kitchen, where possible using ingredients sourced from the garden, or locally.
We all love a good picnic and our local Point to Point at High Easter is always a good excuse to pack the car full of food, wine and beer. A great feast is always put together between a few of us, and it usually takes at least until halfway through the afternoon to migrate from the carpark to the races – in fact I can remember a few years where we haven’t seen a horse at all! This year I made that staple of the picnic; Sausage rolls – be it a Pork, Venison and Red Onion Chutney version, which I have been making (and trying to perfect) for elevenses over the last few shooting seasons. So simple and easy to make. The venison I used was local – we have wild deer in abundance around here – and has an earthy, gamey taste, whilst not being too strong. Simple recipe is:
Venison, chopped into small chunks (I used shoulder this time but any cut will do)
Jar of red onion chutney
Readymade puff pastry (as I freely admit I am useless at making it myself!)
1 egg, beaten
Salt & pepper to season
The venison to pork sausage to chutney ratio is an entirely personal choice, and really does depend on how much you like venison – I’ve always found it to be a bit like marmite, you either love it or hate it.
Method: skin sausages and place alongside the venison and chutney in a food processor and mix well, season as desired. Roll pastry out to about half a centimetre depth. Roll mixture into a long rolls and place on pastry. If you are using the ready rolled pastry as I do, you can usually make two long sausage rolls out of a sheet. Wrap the mixture in the pastry and cut to required lengths. Place on baking sheet and brush with the egg, to prevent burning. Bake in oven at 200 degrees for 25 minutes or until the sausage rolls are golden brown.
April has also been the month that rhubarb has become one again good enough to harvest, and we have what is becoming a substantial plant in our garden. It has been mowed a few times – not sure if that has helped it fight back with a serious determination. Now I am not afraid to say – I am in no way a fan of the stuff, however the rest of the world seems to love it, and as such some has therefore been harvested and I have put it in a cake. The recipe I used was for Summery Rhubarb Cake, taken from the amazing Miranda Gore Browne’s lovely book ‘Bake Me a Cake as Fast as You Can’. I love this book, and it is my current go to, when I am in the mood for baking.
So here’s looking forward to May, and hopefully enough rain to keep my Farmer happy, (but not enough to completely destroy our sense of humour), country show time and the start of our preparation for the next shooting season!