Friday 20 November 2015



I love ginger (and not just Tim Minchin!)

...and ginger is one of my vices that is perfectly healthy – I like it with fish, in meat dishes, in jams and jellies, with chocolate or ice cream, ginger wine (with or without whisky) ginger beer..........

I would also recommend that ginger lovers should get a ginger grater.  It's some 30 years since I acquired my first one.  I spotted a Joyce Quen one in New York at what now might sound a rather high price, $4.95  (app £2.50 then which is probably about £7 today).  At the time I hadn't heard of Joyce Quen but now know that she was a famous chef and author in the US, an earlier Ken Hom.
I still have it and use it regularly -

At the time I hadn't seen them in England  but subsequently acquired a garlic grater from the south of France which operates on the same principle

If you need one - and who doesn't I bought one in Tiger in Brighton for £2 

- I can't spot them on the Tiger website but their website is not a webshop and they do have several branches in the UK.  Once you have obtained one, put it to good use!

Having an allotment means that at certain times of the year I have a surplus of rhubarb and marrows. There’s a limit to the number of rhubarb pies and crumbles one can eat; and after a time one tires of stuffed marrows and courgette bake.  I could make courgette soufflé or courgette cake (just adapt a carrot cake recipe) or courgette spaghetti – and have done so and will do again – but when there is ginger why not try Rhubarb and Ginger Jam or Marrow and Ginger Jam? Why not indeed.

John Austin
Hove November 2015

GINGER - Rhubarb & Ginger Jam

Rhubarb and ginger jam


1 kg rhubarb (prepared weight)
Juice of 2 lemons
2 inch piece of fresh root ginger peeled and bruised)
1 kg sugar
100 g crystallised ginger

Remove and discard the leaves and pink base from rhubarb and cut sticks into 2 cms pieces and weigh. Place rhubarb in a large bowl with the juice and grated zest of 2 lemons.

Peel and bruise the ginger and tie in muslin cloth with any lemon pips and add to bowl. Add sugar, stir and leave for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.

Put rhubarb mixture in a large preserving pan - but do not use aluminium - and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the muslin bag containing the bruised ginger and lemon pips and discard.  Stir in the chopped crystallised ginger and bring to a rapid boil without stirring and then continue to boil for app 15 minutes.

Remove any scum as it rises to the surface. Test the jam for setting by putting a teaspoonful of jam on a coild dry plate. If it forms a skin or wrinkles when a finger is drawn across, it has reached setting point. If it does not set, boil for a further 5 minutes and test again.  When a set is obtained leave to cool for a few minutes then pour into sterilised jars and seal whilst still hot.

The following day,if it appears not to have set sufficiently, you could try boiling it up again and then put back in the jars (having washed and sterilised them again).  If it doesn't set,don't worry - just call it rhubarb preserve - it will taste just as good - and serve it on toast for breakfast or afternoon tea.

John Austin
Hove, September 2015

GINGER - Marrow & Ginger Jam

Marrow and ginger jam


1 kg prepared marrow
2 inch piece fresh root ginger
3 lemons
1 kg sugar 
100g crystallised ginger (or preserved stem ginger)
1 Bramley Apple

Peel marrow, remove seeds and discard.  Dice flesh of marrow and steam for 5-10 minutes until tender

. Place in large bowl and add the thinly pared peel of 3 lemons and their juice

Reserve any pips. Peel and core the apple, reserve the pips and core. Chop the apple, put in saucepan with 1 - 2 tablespoons of water and heat gently until softened. Allow to cool and then pass through a fine sieve and add sieved Apple purée to bowl with the marrow.

Take the bruised root ginger, Apple core and pips and lemon pips and tie in a muslin bag and add to the marrow in the bowl.

Stir in the sugar, cover and leave overnight.

The following day, place marrow mixture in a large pan and heat gently whilst stirring until the sugar has dissolved taking care not to break up the marrow pieces.. Add the chopped crystallised ginger and stir ensuring any sugar adhering to the ginger dissolves. Bring rapidly to the boil and continue boiling until the marrow is translucent - continue boiling until a set is obtained or the syrup is thick and golden. This will probably take 30-40 minutes. It is difficult to obtain a really firm set with marrow jam without adding commercial pectin but the apple and lemon should help obtain a "soft set". If you have used "jam sugar", this has added pectin and will give a better set. When you think you have a set, put a spoonful of the jam on a dry, cold plate. If it forms a skin or wrinkles when a finger is drawn across it has reached a set.  Allow the mixture to cool a little, a few minutes only and then pour or ladle into sterilised jars whilst still hot and seal..

John Austin
Hove, September 2015

Saturday 14 November 2015


Lemons preserved in salt 

Preserved lemons are common in Moroccan cuisine, especially tagines, but they have many uses in a variety of dishes There are several different ways of preserving lemons or limes. Some methods involve pickling in spiced vinegar but I think that by far the best method is simply to preserve them in salt and their own juice.

They will be ready to use in about 3 months and once the jar is opened they will keep for at least 6 months in the fridge, provided that the jar has a tight lid and the lemons are covered with juice/salt and they are not exposed to the air.

I recall seeing a recipe from Keith Floyd using vinegar where they can be ready in about 6 weeks - salted for 10 days, then pickled in vinegar for at least 4 weeks. I think the recipe is in "Floyd in Spain”*. I cannot find a copy but I recall he used the recipe on one of his television programmes.
I first preserved lemons whilst staying in Spain when local lemons were on sale in the market at 1€ for 2 kilos. This is the first batch I made in Spain -

January 2015
As there are restrictions on carrying liquids on the plane I couldn’t bring them home and left them for a future visit or for others to use.  But, despite having only hand luggage with a weight limit of 10 kilos I did buy another 2 kilos to bring home and a 2 kilo bag of sea salt.

Here’s how to do it

Moroccan style preserved lemons   - Hamad m’rakhad

12 unwaxed lemons
250g sea salt (coarse – gruesa)
2 bay leaves, 1 cinammon stick for each jar
1 dried chilli for each jar (optional)
1 tsp coriander seeds, ½ tsp black pepper corns,
 ½ tsp fennel seeds (optional)

The proportions of lemons and sea salt are variable – just use as many lemons as you want and as much salt as you need.  You will need glass jars with tight fitting screw top lids or Kilner jars. It is important to use natural sea salt and not table salt which has additives.  You don’t have to buy expensive branded sea salt.  Shop around.  It’s the same kind of salt you would use for encrusting a fish for baking – but make sure it is salt for cooking.

Wash and dry the lemons.  Cut off or trim any hard piece at the stem end or nib at the top.

Make a cross cut in the top and cut down to within 1-2 cms of the base.

Mix half the sea salt with the coriander, black pepper and fennel (if using). Put a dessert/table spoon of salt in the bottom of a sterilised glass jar, enough to cover the bottom. Open up the cuts in a lemon and put in a teaspoon of salt, close it and place it in the jar. Sprinkle over some more salt and then repeat with another lemon pushing down hard to release juices.  Repeat this pressing down the lemons at each stage and adding more salt until the jar is full of lemons. Whilst packing the lemons add a cinnamon stick and 2 bay leaves to the jar and dried chill if using.

The level of salt and juice mixture will probably come about half to three quarters up the jar. At this stage some recipes suggest adding water which has previously been boiled and more salt until all the lemons are covered but if you have enough lemons I think it is better to add more lemon juice and salt.  IF you squeeze lemons for the juice, don’t throw the squeezed lemons away. Cut the peel into shreds and add to the jar.  Screw the lid on tightly.

For the next 2-3 days push the lemons down each day, and shake or invert the jar and add more freshly squeezed lemon juice or salt if needed to ensure they are fully covered. Leave in a cool dark place for 1 month, when the lemons will be ready for use.  It is helpful to turn the jar from time to time and ensure there is a layer of salt at the bottom of the jar – if not add more. Unopened the lemons will keep for 18 months – 1 year.  Once opened, they should keep for up to 6 months in a refrigerator.  Once opened you can add a little olive oil which will float on top to ensure air doesn’t get to the lemons and this will prolong the life.

How to use.
The preserved lemons add an exquisite flavour to chicken, lamb and fish. They can also be added to pasta dishes or mashed potatoes, salads or to liven up a serving of buttered carrots in fact to anything which could benefit from a lemony tang. But a word of warning – go easy on salt seasoning if using preserved lemons as they will give up some saltiness to the dish.  You can always add more salt but you can’t take it away!

To use, take a lemon from the jar. If you don’t need all of it just cut it in half or quarters and put back in the jar what you don’t need, ensuring it is covered in salt/juice.  Take the lemon that you want to use and scrape off all the flesh and discard – it is only the peel that you need.  Having removed the flesh, wash the peel to remove any excess salt and then slice thinly or chop according to your recipe.

John Austin
Santa Pola January 2015 & Hove October 2015

*Floyd on Spain - Penguin books 1993 - ISBN 0-14-014449-8



I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get motivated to go to the allotment on cold autumn or winter days but, having consumed the last of this year’s frozen broad beans and, as we are approaching the sowing season for 2016, a visit is a must.  This year I had a reasonable crop of broad beans and they are one of the few vegetables that freeze successfully.
Broad beans harvested June 2015

Fortunately we had a dry sunny day on Tuesday and I was happy to spend an hour tidying and preparing the ground.

There was a bonus – I was able to harvest some cavolo nero and a mixture of chard and perpetual spinach
cavolo nero 

Perpetual spinach and Swiss chard

and lift the first of the Jerusalem artichokes.

And surprise, surprise the raspberries were still fruiting! (although very much past their best).

Although I had a poor crop of raspberries this year, thankfully there was a plentiful supply of blackcurrants and redcurrants  

My problem with the raspberries is that they were inherited and are a mixture of summer and autumn fruiting varieties and in our changeable climate it’s difficult to tell them apart and this could be a problem when it comes to pruning.  I have been advised that the old canes on autumn varieties need to be removed and new ones should emerge next year, whereas with summer fruiting varieties the fruits should appear on the canes that have already grown this year.  I will see if I can determine which is which and report back on my success, or lack of it, next year.

My priority was to clear one of the raised beds in preparation for sowing some broad beans later this month.  I will sow two double rows  - eight inches apart with two feet between the double rows, one of Aqualdulce and one of Sutton’s dwarf variety.  I find these varieties do well for autumn sowing.  I will sow more, possibly other varieties, from February/March onwards.  The November sowings will crop only a week or two ahead of the Feb/March sowings but (hopefully) might be early enough to avoid the inevitable blackfly infestation!  I will also feel good that something is actually growing over winter.

I also turned my thoughts to runner beans which will probably not be sown or planted out until May but it is advisable to prepare the ground.  Runner beans need a lot of moisture and nutritious soil.  I usually dig two trenches about 1 foot deep and 18 inches wide and 2 -3 feet apart – this is where the beans will be sown.  I pile the soil dug out on each side of the trenches.
First trench dug 10 November 2015
Having dug the trench, I lightly fork the bottom and then fill with organic matter – in my case kitchen waste, peelings etc and any other compostable material which will aid water retention, including torn up newspapers mixed in with the kitchen waste. I also have a 3 tier wormery and will add some of the partially rotted compost from this and some of the “worm Juice”, liquid manure that collects at the bottom, and this will aid the composting process.

I then leave the trenches open during the winter until Feb/March before returning the soil in readiness for planting.

I have only managed one trench, so will have to go back later this week or next (if the rain stops) for the second trench– but the good news (which will encourage me to visit) is that there is still lots of cavolo nero and chard to harvest and the leeks are looking  good too. 
Cavolo nero - as the temperature drops the flavour will improve through the winter

And there is an almost never-ending supply of Jerusalem artichokes - (not to be confused with globe artichokes) which can be boiled, baked, roast or used for soups or frozen as purée

John Austin
Hove 11 November 2015

Friday 13 November 2015


Fresh Gurnard from Kevin’s

I called in to Kevin’s on Tuesday.  I was tempted by the Brill, which is one of our favourites but he had some fresh gurnard which I couldn’t resist.

We are fortunate in living close to Shoreham Harbour where there is a branch of FISH so we can always get freshly caught local fish as well as varieties from further afield.  We are also only a short drive or cycle ride from La Poisonnerie or I can cycle along the Hove front to the Fish Shack on the beach for fish straight off the boat - but the best kept secret is Kevin's in Richardson Road, a traditional, independent fishmonger, a few doors away from an independent butcher and opposite a small bakery and an abundance of coffee shops.

Kevin’s has no frills.  It is a basic, old fashioned, traditional fishmonger’s where Kevin will advise you and prepare the fish however you want it. On the wall he proudly displays his certificate for his entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for winkle-picking! Kevin also sells home-smoked fish "no junk" added!

Normally I would buy whole gurnard and roast it in the oven but these were large specimens which would deliver two generous fillets and Kevin was happy to oblige.

The gurnard is often described as an ugly fish (not to another gurnard obviously) but I prefer to describe it's appearance as striking. It is an excellent addition to bouillabaisse or fish stew but the flesh has an excellent flavour on its own.  It has a firm flesh and will go well with strong flavours such as mushrooms.
I consulted several recipes which gave me some ideas for combinations of flavours and here is what I came up with.

Ingredients (for two)

2 large gurnard fillets
4 thin rashers of pancetta
2 cloves garlic
6 fresh sage leaves
Olive oil, butter, seasoning
1 lemon or lime


Season the fillets with salt and pepper.  Lightly dust the skin side with seasoned flour.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the fillets skin side down and cook until the skin is crispy (about 3-4 minutes).

Add the pancetta, chopped, turn the fish flesh side down and fry for another 2-3 minutes (or until the flesh is firm and flaky) then remove and keep warm.  Continue to cook the pancetta until crisp, then  drain and keep warm with the fish.  Drain the remaining oil and wipe the pan.

Add a knob of butter, chopped garlic and 6 fresh sage leaves and fry gently (do not allow the butter to burn) until the sage leaves are crispy then remove.  Add the juice of 1 lime or lemon to the pan and stir.

Place the fish on serving plates, skin side up with the crispy pancetta, spoon over some of the juice from the pan and decorate with crispy sage leaves.

I'm not a fan of smears and drizzles i.e. so-called fine dining.  I'm more of a rustic/peasant chef and I never understood why fine-diners and posh restaurants stint on the veg. I served this with broad beans and a generous helping of mashed potatoes.

I added the chopped peel of half a preserved lemon to the mashed potatoes which is excellent with fish.   I thought the combination of flavours was fine, although my wife thought the pancetta added little  - but we both agreed that the fish was absolutely fabulous. Thank you Kevin.

Hove, 10 November 2015

Sunday 25 October 2015

A glut of blackcurrants

I suppose it's not a glut - you can never have too many Blackcurrants!

They are of course excellent eaten fresh, with a little sugar (if you wish) and some cream or crème fraîiche or put them in a tart or flan.  Many of my friends would instantly say "summer pudding", especially as we had  rather a lot of red currants and raspberries too, but although the taste of summer fruits is exquisite, I have never really grasped the delight of soggy white bread.

Often we just sprinkle blackcurrants with caster sugar and place straight in the freezer. In that way they are always on hand for a surprise summer dessert  even  in the depths of winter! Redcurrants and blackcurrants both freeze rather well.

This year we have made both blackcurrant and redcurrant jelly - but this year we have experimented with blackcurrant vodka and blackcurrant sorbet.

Blackcurrant  Vodka

We started off the blackcurrant vodka on 13 August and bottled  it a month later on 21 September - it's now in a cool dark place waiting for Christmas! 

I looked up proportions on the internet which suggested 250g currants to 175g caster sugar, but we had more than a kilo of currants, so here's my recipe.

1 kilo blackcurrants
4 litres Vodka litres 

I made it in two batches. With the first batch I added the vodka to the fresh currants but with the second I deployed the sloe gin trick of putting the currants in the freezer overnight. In the freezing and thawing process the skins crack which means the juice is released easier when the vodka is added.

Add sugar to currants; put in jars, stir and pour on vodka tighten lid and shake daily. Leave for 4 - 6 weeks in a cool place, and then strain through muslin.  Pour into bottles and seal tightly. Place bottles in a cool, dark place and leave for at least 3 months before drinking.

Black currant sorbet

200g caster sugar,
200mls boiling water
12 mint leaves 
750 g black currants
4 tbsp liquid glucose

Dissolve the sugar in the water by heating and then boil gently for a few minutes. Add a handful of fresh mint leaves and leave to cool.

When cool remove mint leaves.

Add black currants to the sugar syrup, bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add 4 tbsp liquid glucose.  Whizz mixture and strain through fine sieve.  Stir in the juice of 2 lemons. If you have an ice cream machine use this, but if not,  put in shallow dishes and freeze. Stir frequently, to ensure the slush freezes with a smooth sorbet- like texture. Leave in freezer. Take out of freezer 10 minutes before needed to allow to soften. Serve decorated with fresh mint leaves and cream or crème fraîche.

I was disappointed with the resulting texture - freezing in trays and stirring never quite achieves the desired texture that you get with the constant stirring of an ice cream  maker.  And although the taste was absolutely exquisite and not too sweet, the mixture was sticky and the texture not quite right for a sorbet. I think that next time I will use less liquid glucose.

John Austin
Hove, September 2015

Summer fruits -

Black currants and redcurrants (and raspberries)

We had a very heavy crop of black currants and red currants this year and a reasonable harvest of raspberries, so were busy in September with jam making as well as experimenting with Blackcurrant vodka.

I used to first kilo of black currants for straightforward blackcurrant jelly.

Black currant jelly

1kg black currants
1 litre water.
Sugar 450g/1lb sugar for each 600mls/1pint liquid

Put black currants and 700mls water in a stainless saucepan and simmer gently for one hour. Mash with wooden spoon. Allow to cool a little then put in a jelly bag and leave to strain for  1-2 hours.  Do not squeeze the bag, otherwise the jelly will be cloudy.  Set aside the juice and return the pulp to the pan with 300mls of water and simmer for half an hour. Return to jelly bag and leave to strain, without squeezing for an hour. Mix the resulting juice with the earlier juice that you have set aside and measure.

Put juice in clean pan, warm gently and then and add sugar stirring until the sugar has dissolved. The general rule which my mother used (pre-metric) for most jellies and jams is 1 to 1 i.e  1lb sugar to 1 pint of liquid. For 600mls/1 pint juice I add 450g/1lb sugar.

When the sugar has dissolved, bring rapidly to the boil and keep boiling until you can get a set.  Test by dropping half a teaspoon of the mixture on a cold, dry plate. If a skin forms you have reached setting point.  This usually takes no more than ten minutes as blackcurrants are high in pectin.
Skim off any scum and then pour jelly into sterilised jars and seal immediately.

Redcurrant jelly with port

Less water is required with redcurrants than black currants and even less with raspberries - some recipes use no added water.   This recipe provides a firm jelly suitable for serving with lamb or game dishes.

1kg redcurrants
300 mls water
Sugar – for each 600mls fruit liquid add 450g sugar
2 tbsp port

Basically the method is the same as for black currant jelly but I note that some chefs, including Delia, boil the fruit with the sugar and then strain through a jelly bag.

I followed the same procedure that I used for black currant jelly (as above) but with one exception.  Unlike blackcurrant jelly, I discarded the pulp after the first straining and did not reboil.

When setting point is reached, stir in the port, leave to cool a little then pour into sterilised jars and seal immediately.

Red currant and raspberry jelly

The proportions of red currants to raspberries will depend on what you have available – if you don’t have quite enough, either adjust the water accordingly or you can always add some apples to bulk it out.

1kg mixed raspberries and red currants
200mls water
Sugar – for each 600mls fruit liquid add 450g sugar

Follow the red currant jelly recipe as above, but omit the port.  This preserve is excellent on toast for breakfast or with afternoon tea.

John Austin
Hove, September 2015

Tuesday 13 October 2015


I recall the remarkable thyme-like smell as I walked in the south Hebron hills a couple of years ago. One of the shepherds picked some of the wild herb and gave it to me - "Za'atar" he said. He had tears in his eyes as he told me he was about to lose his home and was facing eviction by the Israeli colonists from land to which he had title that had been his home,his father's and his grandfather's and in his family's ownership since the days of the Ottoman Empire.

My recollection of that day is published by Labour2Palestine.

Za'atar is a thyme like herb growing wild throughout Palestine and Lebanon and is often served with flatbread and olive oil or yoghurt or with the traditional salad, fattoush.  Za'atar is the name given to the fresh herb itself, but is also used to describe a mixture of the dried herb or thyme mixed with sesame seeds and sumac which is now available widely in the UK. It is worth doing a search to find recipes for using Za'atar. It's good with roast chicken for example or roast butternut squash, with aubergines or chickpea salad ...

When I lived in south east London I could buy Za'atar at Turkish, Middle eastern or North African stores. Now I am living in Hove, I am fortunate to have two very good grocery stores a short distance away in Portslade almost next door to each other

John Austin
October 2015