Back at the end of summer our apple tree and grape vines were bowed down with fruit. It wasn't supermarket-pretty, but it was ours. The thought of coring and slicing so many tiny apples was more than I could bear, so I picked the fruit that I could reach, added some rosemary from the garden and a finely chopped chilli from our supply in the freezer, and made jelly.
Which went very, very wrong. Despite all those lovely pectin-rich apples, it turned to a plasticy toffee before it passed the wrinkle test or read 106C on my thermometer. I think there is something wrong with that thermometer. I haven't been able to bring myself to throw it out though, so the "jelly" has been sitting in the cupboard, waiting for its moment to come...
Having missed the last few rounds of Cook the Books, the foodblogger bookclub hosted by Rachel, Deb, Heather and Simona, I was determined to participate this time around. Unfortunately, the fact that it was Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle put me off a bit. The only one of her other books that I have read is The Poisonwood Bible. It is brilliantly written, absolutely gripping and quite harrowing. Not a book that would lead you to believe that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle would be a fun time. Which is unfortunate, because Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is indeed a fun time.
Barbara Kingsolver's account of her family's year of choosing local produce reads like The Omnivore's Dilemma-lite. Fewer facts and figures, much more humour and some nice-sounding recipes. I loved the idea of locking your house so people couldn't leave courgettes in your kitchen while you were off dumping courgettes on other neighbours.
The fact that I was reading this book in November was a bit of a problem. As Kingsolver says "Eating locally in winter is easy. But the time to think about that would be in August". Aside from my caramelised jelly and a couple of pots of jam, I hadn't done anything towards preserving foods for the cold months this year. I was thrown on the mercy of the internet to find some local food suppliers and see what was actually available around here.
The first promising lead I had was a farm a couple of miles away that rears water buffalo for meat and milk. I've made queso oaxaca before, using a mozzarella recipe, so the account of making fresh mozzarella was quite familiar to me. I thought buying some raw buffalo milk and making a pizza with homemade mozzarella was a good idea. Unfortunately it turns out that the farm with the buffalo hasn't updated their website in three years and they no longer sell dairy products.
Then I found Hazeldene Farm, a farm specialising in rearing rare breed animals using organic farming principles. Just 12 miles away, through some particularly pretty countryside. We hopped in the car.
The lamb shoulder became a delicious, melting lamb boulangere. Even though the recipe came from Tom Kerridge, whose pub The Hand and Flowers is less than 25 miles from us, we didn't really feel that it said enough about local produce to count for this exercise.
Home Cottage Farm, which "sells apples until the crop is sold out (usually December)".
Spartans, Bramleys, Lane's Prince Alberts and some fresh apple juice. Paul's planning to make me a pie from the Lane's Prince Alberts, which is a local cultivar, and I think the Spartans will become dinky wee toffee apples. But the Bramleys were destined to take pride of place with our local pork chops.
I cored the apples and scored the skin around their equator, then
stuffed them with some of the remaining sausage meat. I also peeled some
onions, scooped out their middles and stuffed them as well. This was a meal where I got to use both my melon baller and my apple corer. Almost unheard of. The apples and onions baked in the oven for about half an hour before I added the pork chops.
I followed Jamie Oliver's pork chop recipe, adding a sliced clove of garlic to the meat when it went into the oven.
I chopped the reserved onion scoopings and browned them in a pan with a little oil, then added shredded red cabbage, some of the apple juice and a spoonful of my caramelised garden jelly. I covered it and let it simmer away quietly until everything else was cooked. It was our part of Britain on a plate.