Pumpkins and Squash in the AGA

There are a variety of harvest festivals the length and breadth of Britain, but no Thanksgiving Day.

Never mind, this family will follow traditional Thanksgiving protocol – gratefully serving turkey, stuffing/dressing, gravy, at least one starch, vegetables galore.  And dessert – in particular, pumpkin pie.

In preparation, welcome to Herdy Girl’s Pumpkin-Puree-Fest.  Meet the guests of honour…

This is Blue Hokkaido. Her dusky blue skin hides dense bright flesh, and massive seeds.  After roasting, Blue Hokkaido was the driest, sweetest, and nuttiest of all five varieties.  Surprisingly complex.

Acorn’s dark green coat was a beautiful contrast to his medium flesh, which reminded me of the texture of a not-quite-ripe cantaloupe melon. Once roasted, his flesh was moist, coarse and blandly sweet.

Butternut, hard to cut into, but always consistent. Her flesh was smooth and moderately sweet with excellent flavour.

This fella was an unnamed small pumpkin. We’ll call him Wilbur.

Wilbur was a little soft because he’d sat prettily near the nice warm Aga for a week. He didn’t have a lot of flesh, mostly pith. Once cooked, he didn’t improve. Poor Wilbur.

Lastly, Musque de Provence. The belle of the ball. A good size, not too difficult to cut, dewy fleshed.

Ms M de Provence took an extra ten minutes longer to finish roasting.  Despite her lovely appearance, the result was okay.  Just okay. Sigh.

Onward. Lots to do. Holiday impending.

For roasting, I placed two racks in the Roasting Oven of the Aga – one on the third set of runners and one on the bottom.  I baked the unseasoned fruit for an hour and twenty minutes, turning the trays after 20 min, swapping shelves at 40 min, and turning the trays again at 60 min.  (Ms M de Provence’s tray required an extra 10 minutes roasting, as above.)

Two trays full of fork-tender pumpkin/squash to puree together, after they cool for ten minutes.

I mixed a bit of each type in every whizz-batch.  Five batches smoothly pureed.

Lots and lots of puree.  Lots.

The flavours balanced into a really, truly, completely delicious whole.

I’m freezing most of the puree, so I weighed it into the two most commonly used portions for the recipes I use:

2/3 cup, 150g in metric;

1 & 3/4 cup, 425g in metric, which is the same amount contained in a can/tin of purchased puree.

Any extra was consumed by myself and two happy dogs.

Roll on pumpkin pie, I am ready!

Peace,

Herdy Girl

Lemon & Berry Polenta Cake

A small bowl of summer berries and a lonely lemon were languishing on my countertop this morning…

And it’s Monday. If any day needs cake, it’s Monday.

I have been a little leery of baking cakes in the two-oven AGA.  Today, I set out to conquer my fear, and with one of my favourite cakes – a Lemon & Berry Polenta Cake. It’s a simple cake, and ideal for building confidence in AGA baking skills.

Fragrant lemon and ripe berries are the stars of this buttery, light cake. And I love the polenta-crunchy edge.

When asked his opinion, my Best Beloved described it as, “A light, lemony sponge with fruity flavour bombs. Yummy.”

Guess I’ll go with that!

Peace,

Herdy Girl

Print Recipe
Lemon & Berry Polenta Cake
This is a light, lemony, fruity, delicious cake.
Course Cakes
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Course Cakes
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a two-oven AGA, position a rack at the bottom of the Roasting Oven, and have the plain shelf ready to use. Or set conventional oven to 350f/180c.
  2. Lightly butter a 25 cm cake tin (10 in cake pan) and line the bottom with a circle of baking parchment. Lightly flour the sides of the pan, tapping out the excess. Set the pan aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk or sieve together the dry ingredients - flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well blended.
  4. In a large bowl (using a stand mixer or hand mixer), beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time and stir until just blended. Don't worry if it looks a bit 'curdled', it'll be okay!
  6. Using either a large metal spoon or a spatula, fold in half of dry ingredients, then add milk & lemon juice, then fold in the final half of the dry ingredients.
  7. Pour batter into prepared tin, spreading evenly.
  8. Place cold Plain Sheet on second set of runners in Roasting Oven, and put the filled cake tin on the grid on the oven bottom. Close the door and set your timer for 15 minutes.
  9. During those 15 minutes, combine the berries and the remaining flour and sugar. Also, you may want to have a cup of tea, or check your social media.
  10. When the timer alerts you that 15 minutes have passed, carefully slide the cake out of the oven, leaving the door ajar. Scatter the berries over the cake, evenly. (Discard any remaining flour mixture.
  11. Carefully slide cake back into oven and continue baking it for another 15 minutes. Then turn cake around and back another 5 minutes, or until a cake tester (skewer, toothpick...) comes out clean from centre of cake.
  12. Cool cake in the tin for 15 minutes. Then gently run a knife around the inside edge of the tin to make sure it is loose. Invert the cake over a rack and peel off the parchment.
  13. Lay a flat serving plate on the bottom of the cake and carefully flip the cake once more, so that the berries are on top. Lovely.
  14. Serve the cake warm (if, like us, you have been overwhelmed by buttery fumes and cannot help yourself) or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

You could substitute buttermilk for the milk.  You could also use other fruits: maybe fresh figs with orange instead of lemon, apricots with blackberries... Or you could leave the fruit out and enjoy a beautiful, simple lemon polenta cake.

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Birthplace of a Poet

The Wordsworth House and Garden, a National Trust property near the centre of Cockermouth, is one of my favourite spots to while away a couple of hours.

The National Trust presents the house as it was in about 1770, when William Wordsworth was born there as the second of five children.

William Wordsworth is best known for I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, a poem often memorized in classrooms across the world:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

.
I had garden and house almost to myself on Tuesday morning.

It’s an impressive Georgian house that stands aloof from the busy main street, all sash windows, formal garden, and solid portico.

The dining room was designed and decorated to impress. As it does, even now.

Beautiful, especially with sunlight streaming in those large windows.

There’s an approachable elegance to this house.

Jane Austen was a contemporary of Wordsworth. Can you envision her characters in these rooms?

Even as a modern day visitor, the kitchen’s crackling open fire draws you into the heart of the home. The scent is inviting too: warm spices and fresh herbs, woodsmoke and baked goods.

On every visit, there’s a tasty treat to sample. Often you’ll be offered gingerbread, oatcakes, or rum butter. Delicious.

The family’s bedrooms, though less ornamented, still enjoy the good proportions and natural light that fills this house.

Viewed through the windows along the back of the house, the enticing garden promises to be special.

And it delivers.  Such a magical feel on this summer’s day.

This garden is a lesson in restrained abundance, its carefully laid out beds filled with fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.  New plants, like the Verbena bonariensis above (introduced in 1726), began flooding into Europe during this time period. Exciting stuff!

I could totally bore you with photos of this garden, but I will restrain myself.

You do need to see the view toward the house from the terrace above the River Cocker, though.

Today, this stately Georgian house is peopled by knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and volunteers. In the kitchen, in the garden, at the harpsichord, in the shop and in the café – these folk bring a moment in history back to life and welcome you to enjoy it.

Their sense of humour is also appreciated.

A delightful place to visit.

Peace,

Herdy Girl

National Cream Tea Day 2017

Today is Friday and, more importantly, it is National Cream Tea Day here in Britain. Though it is only a minor holiday, I feel that failing to celebrate it would be rude.

The precise origin of the cream tea is unknown and disputed, especially between the two most south-westerly counties in England, Devon and Cornwall. Historians in Devon claim to have found proof of monks serving bread with clotted cream and strawberry jam amongst the eleventh century manuscripts of Tavistock’s Benedictine Abbey. Definitive proof?  I think not.

I’m of the mind that, in a land blessed with good dairy cream and glistening berries, the combination of baked goods with cream and preserved fruit was eaten long before someone thought to write down the fact.

Besides, look at the variations between cream teas: Whipped double cream or clotted cream? Fruited or plain scone? Jam first (Cornwall) or cream first (Devon)? What type of jam? Tea in cups or tea in mugs?

Oh my…  There isn’t even agreement on how to pronounce the word ‘scone’. Should it rhyme with ‘gone’ or with ‘throne’?  A study by Cambridge University tells us that if you’re from The North (orange) it’s the former, which is the pronunciation I notice used by most Cumbrians.

Map showing that British pronunciation of scone is probably related purely to geographical location, as released by Cambridge University.
Image: Cambridge University

Some folk in Cornwall would say a cream tea should only be enjoyed with a traditional sweet bun called a Cornish Split, not a scone at all.   (See! It’s almost as contentious as barbecue!)

At least aficionados can all agree on one thing – Cream Teas are delicious. Make that two things – it has to be served with tea. (This is where Tavistock’s 11th century claim really fails. No tea. Sorry, Devon.)

In honour of this most delicious day, Best Beloved and I are heading to one of our favourite local spots, Syke Farm Tea Room, also home to the delectable handmade Buttermere Ayrshires Ice Creams.  (Post code CA13 9XA.)

Syke Farm, in scenic Buttermere.

Syke Farm is a working farm in Buttermere, and is owned and run by a local family.  At milking time you can watch the red-brown and white Ayrshire cows (of ice cream fame) going to the barn to be milked. And there are sure to be farm dogs around and about. Or sheep. Or chickens.

A convenient stop for walkers and day-trippers.

They offer seating inside and out. Today was a bit cloudy, so we chose inside and upstairs.

It has been a long week, and we’re ready for a relaxed bit of caloric intake!

Our view before the room filled.

Syke Farm Tearoom is dog friendly, has a wood-burning stove downstairs, and serves a good selection for breakfast, lunch and in-between times.  And the ice cream selection is ever-changing and really good.

They’re often busy, but always friendly.

They even let me take a fresh-from-the-oven photo!

Ahhh, the cream tea.  Not afternoon tea.  That is an altogether different affair requiring dainty sandwiches and pastries.  No, not today.

Today, this:

Today’s cream tea is a lightly fruited scone, clotted cream, raspberry jam, and a bright cup of loose-leaf tea.

Clotted Cream is made by heating whole milk, then letting it rest until cooled clots of cream collect on the surface and the liquid drains away. It’s considered clotted cream once there is a golden crust above and thick, silky cream below. You’ll find it rich and almost-buttery.

Testing Devon vs Cornwall styled scones.

I do have a personal preference for my cream teas. Plain scone. Cream on bottom, if clotted, or on top, if whipped.  As for jam I like something with a sweet-tartness, say damson or a sharp raspberry.

Personal partialities aside, both BB and I really enjoy the cream teas at Sykes Farm Tearoom. Especially when there is a sofa free to lounge upon, as we swirl the cares of the world away with tea and scones.  Happy days.

My half of the scone. Nearly finished off!

Right.  Cream tea enjoyed, now we’ve got to do a bit of moving about.

Happy Cream Tea Day!

Peace,

Herdy Girl

 

Grasmere Gingerbread – Delicious history

If you’re in the Lake District, take the A-591 toward Grasmere, a picturesque village situated by the lake of the same name.

The A-591 runs almost-but-not-quite up the middle of the Lake District. Those fortunate enough to be spending time in the northern lakes may turn off of the A-66 and head south.  If this is you, please turn on some stirring classical music or something from the Lord of the Rings movie soundtrack.  The landscape from that point on is dramatic and memorable.

Once you’re in Grasmere, your first place of pilgrimage should be the Grasmere Gingerbread shop in Church Cottage. (Their post code is LA22 9SW, if you’re navigating electronically.)

A sign on the building notes that Church Cottage was the village school for two-hundred and twenty years  – 1630 to 1850ish. It also says that famed romantic poet William Wordsworth taught there.

By 1854, Sarah Nelson lived in the cottage. She perfected a mighty recipe and set up shop to sell her unique version of gingerbread to Victorian travellers. The new railways brought a lot of people to the Lake District, many of whom would visit the graves of Wordsworth and company in the adjoining churchyard.  Thus, word of Mrs Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread spread throughout the land.

The shop next to the churchyard gate.

Warning!  You may have to queue (that means get in a line, for folks on the other side of the Atlantic) to get inside.  There is fair compensation for your wait – the powerful smell of ginger, butter and sugar fairly wafts out the door.

If they bottled that stuff…

Inside the teeny, tiny shop, you’ll be surrounded by many delicious things, including the gingerbread that is sold no where else but from this bijou shop.

Did I mention the amazing smell?

Hard at work, cap and pinny.

Surrounded by the wonderful aromas, sidle up to the counter and buy a piece to eat immediately and a package or two for the journey.

Perhaps buy a jar of their award-winning rum butter as a gift – for that person whose gingerbread gift you will eat because you cannot help yourself.

Packages of six and twelve pieces are wrapped in crisp paper with their trademark blue label.  Tins are also available, and I understand that you can set yourself up with monthly deliveries. I’m tempted to purchase a bag of the ginger crumbs to sprinkle on my porridge…

Pleasantly old-fashioned packaging.

Make yourself a memory: walk around this pleasant village, eating your delicious gingerbread and not minding the inevitable gingery crumbs. Let it be a full-sensory experience.

This stack of six won’t last long!

Sarah Nelson lived until she was 88 years old, a much-loved member of her community and an early example of a successful business woman.  She is buried in the adjoining churchyard of St. Oswald’s.

Her handwritten recipe is a tightly held secret, and the method for making them is passed from baker to baker.  According to their website, only one living person knows the full recipe!  (This makes me strangely proud of them, in this current age of mass marketing.)

Grasmere Gingerbread is not like any other gingerbread, ginger cake, biscuit or parkin that I’ve eaten.

Sublimely gingery throughout, Mrs Nelson’s gingerbread flaunts a firm, yet chewy, base topped by spicy sweet crumble. There are visible pieces of preserved ginger under the addictive crumbly topping.

Deliciously moreish…

Did I consider attempting to make my own homemade version of this tempting treat? I did.  Then I decided that some things are better enjoyed within their own time and place, and that I’d take any excuse I could to visit Grasmere and The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop.

More on Grasmere Village later. For now, I’m going to polish off my last piece of Grasmere Gingerbread with a cup of tea!

Peace,

Herdy Girl

Iconic Toast?

One thing that kept popping up when I first did an internet search on AGA cooking was toast.  (Pun unintended, but I like it.)

We own a two-slice electric toaster, which lays claim to a coveted spot on our countertop. I do not love it. It is thoroughly unreliable: one cycle and the toast is barely warm, run a second cycle and it inevitably burns.

I like toast, especially crisp Italian sourdough toast coated in salted British butter.  Or wheaty wholegrain toast, buttered and covered in homemade rhubarb and ginger jam.  But really… I kept hearing about ‘Iconic Aga Toast’ like it was an amazing thing.  It’s toast! I may have rolled my eyes.

Sarcasm aside, after a couple of weeks with our inherited AGA, I was intrigued enough to splash out on an AGA Toaster.  It’s a wire contraption designed to secure your bread and suspend it just above the surface of the ever-hot Boiling Plate (BP).

Here it is, in it’s glory. The AGA Toaster.

Lest you think this is frivolous – as a blog post and as a method of cooking – please note that the aim is a fully-rounded working knowledge of how to work with an AGA.

For today’s purposes, one slice of store-bought bread goes between the hinged grids. The whole lot is placed directly on the surface of the BP.

First one side…

A couple of notes: I find that putting the cover down over the toaster presses the toast too close to the surface and burns average breads very quickly. Also, don’t step away from the toast because the line between perfectly golden and incinerated could be a stroll to the sink and back. (Mind you, this is also true of other methods.)

I’ve not timed the process, which will vary with type of bread. Just tip the grid and check your toast – when it has achieved the colour you’re looking for, flip the entire lot over to do the other side.

Then the other.

The handle of the toaster can get quite hot, depending on where you put it. For me, the coolest position is to have it over the left front corner of the range, the handle pointing to an analogue clock’s seven.

When the second side matches the perfection of the first, you’ve finished toasting.  Set it aside on your toast rack for attention in good time, or butter and consume immediately.

(Placing a toast rack on the back of the AGA keeps toast perfectly warm.)

Pretty darn good toast!

There it is: Iconic AGA Toast, complete with tidy pattern of toasty squares.

Cons? Well, you have to have an AGA or similar range, and the wire contraption may or may not have further uses.  You cannot use this method if you’re already cooking something else on the BP.

Pros? Very evenly toasted, every time. Every single time.

Am I glad that I bought the toaster, even though we own a separate electric toaster? Yes, actually, I am. Do I use it regularly? Yes, I do.

The AGA toaster will toast two large slices or four smaller slices of toast, simultaneously. It does a spectacular job toasting bagels on one side, and ditto for getting crumpets perfectly done.

Can you tell I’ve enjoyed testing it?

Lots of things to do with toast, eh?

Peace,

Herdy Girl

Keswick Mountain Festival

If you are able to travel to the Keswick Mountain Festival next year – Do it!

The Keswick Mountain Festival (KMF) is the UK’s largest Mountain Festival – a heady mix of sport, music, food and fun held on the shore of Derwent Water, in what must be one of the most beautiful festival spots in all of England.

Note the setting – doesn’t get much better that this!

Sporty and On-the-way-to-sporty types will have lots to enjoy – taster events and challenging races on foot, bike and water are available to adults and young ‘uns.  There are also exhibitors, food stalls, a roster of impressive speakers, a mix of live music, and the chance to enjoy the surrounding countryside.

This was my first KMT, my Best Beloved’s second. (He’s Sporty; I’m just beginning the journey to rediscover my sportiness.)  We went as a sort-of-a date. So it was primarily dinner and a concert for us – we’ve a fondness for fiddle, whistle and pipes, and the setting is perfect for such.

Among the offerings, we chose to share a pizza from Woody’s Rustic Pizza. What a fun lot of people, and they make delicious flame-kissed, thin crusted pizza pies!

And they kindly let me get a close up of their mobile wood-fired oven in action.

One apology, though.  We practically inhaled our Marguerita pizza – so no photos of it.

Our second share was a Chakalaka Chicken Wrap from Safari, specializing in South African fare. Why?  Equal parts food description and how much fun we had saying ‘Chakalaka Chicken’.

And then we needed a drink. BB went the Taylor’s tent for a beer, I opted for a Yorkshire Tea from the fun folks at Oatopia.

We just had enough time for dessert before the Peatbog Faeries arrived onstage. With the sent of deep-fried dough in the air, it was inevitable…

Churromania!!!!

These convivial folk were entertaining and served up some seriously tasty churros.

From the happy FryMaster…
To she who applied sweetness in the form of cinnamon sugar and melted Belgian chocolate. 🙂

Oh. My. Word.  These were so good.

I wish this photo was scratch-n-sniff. Delicioso!

At that point, we two stuffed people were joined by three lovely family/friends and a jolly lab named Poppy.

Poppy tugged her person up the top of the hill when the band came on, but the remaining four of us joined the jolly crowd to soak in some celtic-infused music and maybe dance a wee jig or two.

Headed toward the stage. That setting!
Quick close-up of the Peatbog Faeries starting off…

Our quick dip into the KMF was much enjoyed by both of us, and we hope to enjoy a bit more of what’s on offer next year.  They’ve not announced the dates for 2018, but I’ll give a shout out when they do.

Peace,

Herdy Girl