Beautiful Blackcurrants August 23, 2016 15:15
Pheasant Plucker would make a very good witch. After all, the concept of a sisterhood of like-minded individuals and the opportunity to concoct new recipes and potions in the company of a cat is an appealing one.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time hunkered over a heavy black cooking pot, bought for 50p at a village fete, stirring with great intensity and muttering to ourselves. In the absence of a cat, Louie the chicken has stood guard by the kitchen door and inquisitively poked her beak in from time to time.
Unfortunately we haven’t been mixing up hexes or evil spells but just making jam. This is the high season for it, and although raspberries, redcurrants and strawberries are more or less over, there is still time to turn your attention to blackcurrants, plums and damsons. A lot of people think there’s something complicated about jam making and are put off by scary-sounding recipes that use terms like ‘jam thermometers’ and ‘test for pectin’ but Pheasant Plucker has no time for any of that. We like our jam quick and easy and on a piece of toast as soon as possible.
Here then, is the easiest blackcurrant jam recipe you could think of. It contains only four ingredients and once you’ve prepared the blackcurrants, you can be done and dusted within half an hour.
800g granulated sugar
Medium size knob of butter
To prep the blackcurrants, remove the stalks and any large, dried heads where the flowers used to be and wash them thoroughly. Put a saucer in the freezer.
Place the blackcurrants in a large, heavy bottomed cauldron (or saucepan) and pour the sugar on top (it’s important to put the sugar on top of the fruit rather than the other way round, so that the sugar doesn’t burn and stick to the bottom of the pan). Then pour in the water and bring to the boil over a high heat.
As the mixture comes to the boil, skim the surface if you need to and add the butter, which will prevent it from frothing too much.
When the fruit reaches a rolling boil, so that it can’t be stirred down, look at your clock and time 10 minutes. In the meantime, sterilise some jam jars by washing them in hot soapy water and drying them in a warm oven. (You could swish them out with some boiling water out of the kettle without too many problems instead of the full sterilising method but to be honest, it’s not really that much effort).
When the jam has boiled for ten minutes, take the plate out of the freezer and pour a teaspoonful of the jam onto it. (Be careful because it will be HOT). Leave it a minute and then poke it with your finger – if it wrinkles a bit and isn’t too runny, it’s done. Use your initiative at this point, you may prefer a slightly runnier jam or you may like it really thick. If you think it needs a bit longer, continue to boil for another five minutes and then test again. I’m of the opinion that it’s better to have a slightly syrupy consistency than a jam that’s too hard and chewy (if you decide it’s too runny when you’ve put it into jars, you can decant each jar as you use it and boil it up again for a couple of minutes in the microwave. It usually does the trick).
When you’re happy with it, let it cool for 5 minutes and then very carefully ladle it into the jam jars. Let it cool further and then seal with some greaseproof paper circles and put the lids on. Once it’s cool completely, store it unopened in a cupboard for up to a year or in the fridge when you’ve opened it.
And that’s it. Delicious blackcurrant jam in the time it takes to learn to fly a broomstick.
Baby Bro's Bunnies March 26, 2016 23:56
When Baby Bro was 16 he appeared home one day with a new pet rabbit. Ma Pheasant isn't the world's biggest animal lover and certainly doesn't like them at close quarters so she wasn't thrilled when he announced his plans to housetrain it and keep it inside. Poor old Ma tried in vain to keep the house in the region of clean when we were all living at home but with a herd of scruffy, clumsy teenagers, it was easier said than done. The thought of a large fluffy bunny added to the mix was probably a step too far but Baby Bro was banking on Ma's easy going nature and she let it slide, on the proviso the rabbit lived outside. Which he did. Sometimes.
The rabbit was named Mayot, which is Lincolnshire for Mate, and whenever Ma Pheasant went out, he was smuggled in for 'housetraining' which entailed him going about his rabbity business and Baby Bro cleaning up after him. He was a friendly little thing and we got used to him hopping about the living room or appearing from underneath a pile of dirty clothes in Baby Bro's stinky bedroom. It was strangely comforting to have him curled up next to us on the sofa, happily dozing away, while we watched tv.
Everything was going well until one day when Baby Bro picked him up to put him back in his hutch outside before Ma got home. Our old cat happened to prowl past at the same time and she glanced in Mayot's direction, licking her lips with possibility. Mayot smelled the whisper of anticipation in the air and, faced with fight or flight, decided to make a run for it. He jumped out of Baby Bro's arms & landed on the floor in a heap, breaking one of his little legs in the process. It was devastating. We took Mayot straight to the vet who said the only way to save his life was to amputate the broken leg, at a cost of over £150 (I'd recently seen a similar operation involving a guinea pig and a pair of scissors on Vets in Practice and so generously offered to do it for half the price but sadly my services were declined). The distant spirit of Pa Pheasant was heard scoffing and humphing loudly in the background at the idea of spending such a lot of money on a rabbit and Baby Bro made the sad decision to have Mayot put to sleep.
One of our aunts heard of Mayot's sad fate and, worried that poor Baby Bro was irreparably heartbroken, bought him another rabbit, this time a little grey doe called Jenny. Alas, Jenny was not the generally chilled out specimen that Mayot was and yearned for wide open spaces and adventure. She made a break for it one morning and was last seen heading for the hills. A few weeks later Baby Bro found out that one of his friends had found a small, pale grey rabbit hopping down the middle of the main road and had stopped to pick her up. She'd taken her home and a few days later, the rabbit had given birth to a litter of kits, half of them pale and fluffy like their mother and half of them brown and wild like their father.
After Jenny, there were no more rabbits. Baby Bro moved onto girls, skateboards and underage boozing but at this time of year with rabbits everywhere, it felt a fitting time to remember Mayot, Jenny and Baby Bro's attempts at housetraining.
Happy Easter everyone xx
Illustration by Hugh Brandon-Cox, from Wandering with the Woodman, 1948
After the Races pie January 9, 2016 22:20
Following on from our last blog post, in Ma Pheasant’s special handwritten recipe book is a mouth-watering dish perfect for these dark, grey, wet January Days. After the Races pie is one of the first recipes scribbled in her psychedelic notebook and it’s probably the one that’s been cooked the most since she first wrote it in, back when she was but a newly married slip of a girl and something called the Jumbo Jet had just been invented.
It’s essentially a chicken and ham pie packed full of slow cooked vegetables that have been allowed to simmer away on the hob for a couple of hours. It is rich, velvety with butter and perfect comfort food for rainy evenings. The antidote to fast food, it’s leisurely food and although it’s not complicated you need to take some time over it as it requires a lot of chopping, stirring and simmering.
After the Races Pie is easily adaptable - if you want to tart it up a bit, a handful of chopped tarragon and the juice of a lemon elevates it in a fairly cheffy direction; heated up the next day with big squeeze of brown sauce on the side is a failsafe hangover soother.
Large knob of butter
4 sticks celery
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley
3 bay leaves
750ml chicken stock
450g cooked ham
750g cooked chicken
1 beaten egg
Roughly chop the onions, peppers, celery, leeks and garlic. Melt the butter over a low heat and sweat the vegetables in it until they are soft (this will take at least half an hour but the longer you take with this stage the better). Add the mushrooms until they’re also soft and then stir in the flour and some salt and pepper. Allow the flour to cook out for a couple of minutes, add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and then simmer gently.
Add the ham and chicken and simmer for a few more minutes. Put the filling into a pie dish, top with the pastry and brush over the beaten egg. Bake in a medium oven for half an hour or until the pastry is done.
And the pie is done. Delicioso.
Mrs H Neave's Apple Chutney November 12, 2015 22:08
Pheasant Plucker’s mother (try saying that three times after a couple of glasses of sloe gin) has a notebook which she’s had since the beginning of time that she writes interesting recipes in. Inside its swirly, bright purple and turquoise 1970s cover, are well thumbed pages, covered in splats and splodges with usually the vaguest of details and instructions (a particular favourite: “cook until done or longer if needed”). Accompanying some of the recipes are brief feedback notes written in the margin – a recipe for beetroot soup has “disgusting!” underlined three times beside it and a complicated dessert has “a complete faff” written determinedly above it, giving an insight into Ma Pheasant’s personal culinary tastes and expertise.
Some of the recipes have been cooked so many times over the years that the book is no longer needed and some of them are cooked regularly but only every so often due to seasonality. One of these is very special to us: Mrs H Neave’s Chutney.
Mrs H Neave was Pheasant Plucker’s great-grandmother. Although we never met her and don’t even have a photograph of her, when we make this chutney every Autumn we like to imagine her cooking it in her farmhouse kitchen in a completely different age to the one we’re in now but using the same processes and ingredients as us. What did she think about as she made it and what her life was like? Who was she? Did she achieve everything she ever wanted? She could never have dreamed that her recipe would end up on a blog a hundred years later.
True to form, the recipe details are spectacularly imprecise (see photo above and note the quantity of onions required) but it somehow always turns out to be delicious. We’ve been cooking this for a few years now so here's the recipe below as we make it, to save you the uncertainty.
1.5lbs apples (strong, sharp tasting ones work best) peeled, cored and chopped
1.5lbs onions, chopped
11/2lb dates, stoned and chopped
11/2 pints vinegar
1.5oz ground ginger (although we sometimes use freshly grated ginger instead)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Put all the ingredients into a large, heavy bottomed pan and stir well over a high heat. Bring to the boil and then simmer away rapidly until the apples and onions have broken down and the mixture is a rich, dark brown colour with a thick consistency. It will smell quite vinegary but don't be put off by that, it will subside. Be careful as it'll be very hot at this point.
While the chutney is cooking, sterilise some jam jars by washing them in hot, soapy water and drying them in a low temperature oven. Transfer the chutney to the jars when it's ready, filling it all the way up to the top. Add a waxed paper circle and then put the lid on. You can eat it as soon as it cools, although it tastes better if you leave it for a couple of weeks to infuse inside the jar.
And there you have it. Chutney just like they made in the olden days.