Monday, 30 April 2012

Rhubarb Jam

I was tweeted last week via a friend Ren Behan to ask if I have a rhubarb jam recipe for Thomas Blythe.  I've been meaning to post this recipe up for some time.  I met Thomas several months ago at St Johns and he made quite an impression on me ..  he's certainly not a chap you would forget.  He was charming and witty and a quintessentially eccentric rogish English gentleman.  So this recipe is for Thomas. 

I delight in getting the balance of the cheek sucking sour wince against the sugary fruit pleasure hit from this exquisite spring treat. These slender pink stalks are charming but only when complimented.  You have to flirt with rhubarb. Alone it is sour.  But by adding sugar you still have to watch out, too little and she’s still sour, too much and you loose her acidic wit.

This fruit tempers the richness of lamb for example and cuts through the sugariness of vanilla cake to accentuate the best qualities of the ingredients around it. I adore the acidity, enjoying bringing it out in slightly unexpected ways to give a burst of sharp sour juxtapositioned against sweet.    It is this contrast and fruitiness is not only fun to cook with but provided the things your taste buds love. Stimulation, interest and contrast.  Get Rhubarb right and it will be love for life. 

This jam, with floral overtones, has a pink hue and natural tartness it’s delicious served over baked scones with a cup of Earl Grey tea, sandwiched in the middle of a vanilla cake, or as the base for trifle. I just love it, full stop. Rhubarb Jam has qualities no other fruit can mimic. Spare jars make superb presents, yet despite my generous suggestion, I confess to a certain reluctance to give them away!           

Makes 9 x 450g jars
Prep time 35 minutes
Cooking time 15 minutes

2kg rhubarb, chopped
2kg jam sugar
Juice of 2 fresh lemons

1 Preheat the oven to 160˚C/gas mark 3 and pop the jars (but not the lids) into the oven.

2 Put a small saucer in the fridge to chill.

3 Place the chopped rhubarb in a large saucepan pan, cover and heat gently for about 10 minutes.  You’re almost looking to ‘melt’ it; heated rhubarb turns from solid chunks into a thick liquid. Stir occasionally and gently stir and keep the pan covered.

4 Once the consistency is liquid, add the sugar and stir. When the sugar is dissolved, bring the jam to the boil for about 5–6 minutes on a good bubble. Take the jam jars out of the oven.

5 While the jam boils, use a metal spoon to (gently!) skim off any froth (like soap suds) that appears on the top. This will improve the clarity of the jam. Take care not to remove too much jam, though.

6 Once the jam reaches setting point it should be viscous enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. To test for setting point, take the pot off the heat and drop a teaspoon of jam onto the cold saucer from the fridge. Leave it for about a minute; if it’s ready, the jam should wrinkle as you run a spoon through the centre. If it doesn’t wrinkle, simply return the pan to the boil and repeat this process about 3 minutes later. Note: take care not to over-boil your jam. This setting point should really take no longer than 20 minutes at most to achieve.

7 Add the lemon juice. Stir well.

8 Ladle the jam into the jars using a jam funnel. After 1 minute, pop the lids on – the heat from the jam will ensure the lids are sterilised. Don’t worry if the jar lid isn’t done up tightly; you can tighten them later once the jars have cooled.


Friday, 27 April 2012

#Giveaway 3 Gertrude Jekyll Roses from David Austin Roses

I use roses in my garden bouquets whenever I can ..  walking in from the garden with trug full of booms is my idea of heaven, and whilst it has been raining for 5 days solid and I am dying to get out into my garden I am having to do virtual gardening  in the warm  .. researching a post on the UK’s top 10 most fragrant roses. 

I’ve been growing David Austin roses since I was young. Twenty years ago ..  when getting drunk on a Saturday night at uni was the norm, my way of recovering was to potter about my student house garden on a Sunday morning.  Of course I still potter about my garden these days in the morning .. but minus the headache!

So I am delighted to offer the chance to win three of these beautiful roses


Please see competition Rules before entering. This giveaway is open to all readers over 18 with a UK mainland address.  The winner will be chosen using an online randomiser and announced on this page on 3rd May 2012 You need to have a profile the allow me to get back in touch however please do not include your email in the actual comment as well.

This competition on behalf of  David Austin Roses and they will be responsible for organizing the prize with the winner. Their decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

There is one main way to enter and there are  5 more chances to win .. . and you must leave a separate comment for each bonus entry otherwise they will not be counted

For a chance to win please comment below and tell me who you would give your garden bouquet to and why.

For a second chance to win please tweet this post using the button below and you MUST comment with your twitter ID telling me you have done so. ( You many do this up to 3 times a day)

For a third chance to win please follow me @VanessaKimbell on Twitter and comment below to tell me you have done so.

For a fourth chance to win tweet me @VanessaKimbell and tell me who you’d give your first bunch of roses to

For a 5th Chance to win like me on Facebook

Monday, 23 April 2012

Tulips from the Garden

Tulips from Thompson and Morgan and my ever essential Hoe from Burgon and Ball 

In October I planted some beautiful tulips, tucked away on the edge of my vegetable garden from Thompson and Morgan just to be used as cutting flowers.  They look so pretty..  of course I wouldn’t normally be so indulgent  .. but  I felt that I could afford to enjoy two vases seeings as I grew them myself  .. so .. I’ve popped a vase in the laundry and in the kitchen and they are just gorgeous!

As the sun shines down and the garden warms up I find myself abandoning the kitchen in favour of the garden and I've spent all of yesterday afternoon hoeing   to keep on top of the weeds and dashing in every so often as a loaded sky threw down an April shower.  Of course I think that the showers were designed as tea breaks  .. and a moment to help myself to a slice of cake!

Thinking about it  .. I suppose it is when I am busy in the garden that I most want  easy simple food so out comes my recipe book Prepped   .. easy food delicious for when you have other things to do than cook  .. that way I can get out and plant all the seeds I have waiting patiently to go in the ground. 

  Although really it comes back to the kitchen in the end as I garden around what I want to eat... I’m essentially a cook who gardens .. so it comes full circle !

Friday, 20 April 2012

Cardamon Rose and Rhubarb Cake fit for a Queen !

Last year  .. youngest daughter snapped picking off the chocolate curls. 

The rhubarb is coming up in the garden and since the rain it's been going a little crazy.  For those of you who have bought my recipes book Prepped you might recognise this recipe .. and I have to admit it is one of my absolute favourite cakes to bake and to eat and one of the very first recipes I developed for Prepped.  I am planning on making this for my first ever clandestine cake meeting in Northampton next week and I shall be making it for the jubilee celebrations for my village. 

I think that there is something whimsical about this cake. Soft, feminine and pink, with floral notes and flower petals. It’s the centrepiece for a summer’s day tea party. It’s really quite simple to make. It’s the combination of flavours that really sets this one apart. The rhubarb jam adds the sour that tempers the sweetness, whilst the cardamom and rose entwine like tangles of roses on your taste buds.  A small slice with a cup of earl grey tea in a dainty china cup -  how perfectly English can you get?

Serves 8 - 10
Prep time 30
Cooking time 25 minutes
Suitable for freezing? Yes before filling or decorating

For the cake
250g butter or margarine (suitable for baking)
250g Cardamom Sugar ( this is sugar that has been infused with Cardamon for about 6 weeks just like vanilla) 
250g self-raising flour
4 large eggs

For the filling
400ml double cream
3 drops of rose essence
80 g icing sugar (sifted)
200g of rhubarb Jam

To decorate
150g Icing sugar (sifted)
50g of White chocolate curls
Edible rose / geranium petals

NB if you don't have cardamon sugar to hand add one level teaspoon of freshly ground cardamon. (No more as it is pretty strong!)

1 Preheat the oven to 180˚C/gas mark 4.

2 Using a hand mixer or food mixer, cream together the butter or margarine and Cardamom Sugar Beat well until white and fluffy.

3 Add 3–4 tablespoons of flour to the mixture, then add the eggs. Adding the flour like this prevents the mixture from curdling. If it does, just keep adding flour a little at a time, beating the mixture to ensure it is evenly distributed. Continue mixing and add the rest of the flour,

4 Divide the mixture between 23 cm round cake tins and bake in the oven for 20–25 minutes, until firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.

5 Once fully cooled you can make the filling. Whip the cream and rose essence and icing sugar until thick.  Spread the jam on the base of one cake and the cream on the other and sandwich together. Mix the icing sugar for the topping and make into a viscous mix about the consistency of custard.  Pour this over the top of the cake and sprinkle the top with the white chocolate curls before decorating with edible flowers.

  • Keep your eggs at room temperature. They get more air in them and you get a lighter batter.
  • If you don’t have Cardamom Sugar to hand, grind about 10 cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar to release the good seeds inside. Discard the green husk and grind the seeds well into a fine powder.
  • Oven temperatures vary, so after 20 minutes take a peek. Don’t do it before, though, or the blast of cold air can deflate your cake!
  • Whenever you grease your tins use a piece of kitchen roll to spread a fine layer of margarine around the edge. To prevent a greasy film from forming on the cake, put a tablespoon of flour in the greased tin and proceed to tap it around surface.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

British Bloggers in Support of British Flowers Challenge grow and supply the most beautiful British Flowers 

I am romantic.  There are always flowers in my house especially when I am expecting guests.  A bowl of roses will sit on the side, or posies of sweetpeas delicately scent the room and while we slice cake for afternoon tea I stop for just a moment and admire them. Of course I always take flowers to friends whenever I am invited along with a pot of my own homemade jam .. and yet I’ve discovered recently that the cut flower industry has an ugly social and environmental impact. It shocked me.  As I started to research I noticed that the consequences written about in environmental publications rarely make mainstream media and like most people in the UK I’ve been routinely buying flowers without giving their provenance a second thought. 

It turns out that many of these beautiful flowers I've been buying have been flown halfway round the world and often come from counties where the workers have been exploited, the eco systems are being ruined and the farms where they are being grown are using high doses of agri-chemicals.  It’s wrong.  Just plain wrong.

We spent over £2.2 People aren't going to stop buying flowers and I want flowers as much as the next person .. however there are some things we can start doing, and so I am going to ask you  .. as you are reading this right now to start a flower revolution with me.   (Don't worry I'm not going to ask anything hippy .. !)

I am starting a campaign to ask that we foodies apply the same principles to flowers as we do to our food and support local, sustainable, seasonal and British. We've had a revolution in the way in which we source and buy our food .. it's time we applied the same logic to flowers. 

Think of the impact we foodies could have if we apply the same standards to flowers.  We’d revolutionize the way people think about flowers. 

It’s not going to be easy.  As I discovered it took quite some looking to find British flowers last week, however I have been researching and there are loads and loads of varieties of flowers all through the year.  But we have a chicken and egg situation and we need to generate interest, build up and nurture our growers and our florists. It will take time and I am discovering some fantastic floriculture already but we still import over 80% of our flowers.  That figure is far to high. 

I also appreciate that like pineapples, banana's, oranges and lemons   . there are flowers that we can't grow here, however like with our food choices the same principles apply and we should look for fair-trade options to be our first choice. 

There are lots of ways we can create change and I'd welcome any other suggestions  but to start with  ..   
  • We can look out for British flowers in the Supermarket.
  • Support our flower growers and buy from florist who stock local British flowers.
  • Look out for local growers at the farmers markets and farm shops.
  • Ask ask ask for British Flowers wherever you go.
  • Bloggers can take part in my monthly British posy round up starting in May. (more info to follow)
  • Sign up and take part on the posy swap at the end of June. (more info to follow)
  • Grow your own..  it doesn't get more local that that!
Over the coming weeks I shall be researching and writing more about British flowers, providing a list of British cut flowers, when they are available and from who as well as some other initiatives.

In the meantime to kick start British Bloggers in Support of British Flowers Campaign I am going to ask my fellow food & lifestyle bloggers to step up and make a difference by growing your own posy.  I am so excited about this because Thompson and Morgan have offered the seeds and a fabulous prize to the best bouquet to make this campaign happen and it’s going to be gorgeous! 

If you’d like to take part please do the following:

  • Choose any THREE varieties of flowers that you would like to grow from the ones featured on this page and leave a comment below to say which varieties you would like to grow and the name of your blog.  
  • I will need your address to post out the seeds to please email it to me at
  • Please add the logo to your blog with a link back to this page.
  • Please tweet this page to say you are taking part.
  • Follow @thompsonmorgan on Twitter

On receipt of the flowers please plant them, love them water them, tend and then make a posy and blog a picture of your bouquet by the 15th of August 2012.  Please email me so I can add you to the round up post.

There is a £100 voucher from Thompson and Morgan to the winner of the loveliest posy

Deadline to apply for he seeds is Thursday 3pm 19th April 2012 so please hurry!

There is a limit of 30 lots available.  seeds will be allocated on a first come first serve basis.

I passionately believe in sustainable Local British food supplied by Artisan producers and I grow my own vegetables in my gardens then if we all apply the same logic to flowers we will change our world for the better.

Take part. Making a difference has never been so lovely. Tell your Friends about #Britishflowers 

More information on each variety can be found in the links to the flowers on the Thomson and Morgan site below. 

Sweet Peas



Thursday, 12 April 2012

William Sitwell’s Book A History of Food in 100 Recipes - Interview

I predict that within six months no self respecting foodies bookshelf will be without William Sitwell’s Book A History of Food in 100 Recipes sitting in a prominent position on their book shelf  .. having been well thumbed ..  Why?  Because it is fabulous, witty, informative, unique and incredibly readable as well as being a really beautiful object in it’s own right.

Descended  from a long line of writers William is acknowledged as one of the UK’s best food writers and as the editor of Waitrose Kitchen, there is not much he doesn’t know about the British food scene. 

He is A list. 

He is also local and in Northamptonshire he is known as a genuinely approachable chap. I’ve heard first hand about the invlauable support and advice William gave to village entrepreneurs as they set up a local food market and that William helped the school recently to get their recipe book project off the ground. I’ve been out and about on numerous occasions as William has been there supporting his local food scene and a neighbour I was chatting with just last week enthused that “William is  just so passionate about local food  he is always going out of his way to help wherever possible .. he is very much  be part of our community” she said adding “we are so proud of him!”

I think it is fair to say that he is one of our local food hero’s. So I was really truly delighted when I was sent a review copy of the book by the publishers, Harper Collins and William asked if I would like to catch up with him at home for the BBC Kitchen Garden Show.

Isobel deciding she was peckish halfway through our interview!

From the moment I got my copy of The History of Food in 100 Recipes I couldn’t put it down.  I sat up in bed reading until my eyeballs could take no more, making notes in the margin.  From bread making in ancient Egypt, cheesecakes in ancient Greece all the way to to the invention of the Kenwood chef and Nigella’s cupcakes each chapter is a story in it’s own right.  I had so many questions and I was very much looking forward to catching up with William to ask about how it all came together.

Of course things never go according to plan and my childcare arrangements fell through at the last minute.  I was so disappointed  ..  I reluctantly  spoke to William expecting to have to rearrange.. but he laughed and said bring the children  along .. really it was ok .. even the dog.

I wondered if he had any idea of the utter chaos he was inviting in?  On the way over I pulled over and give my three children and the poor dog a really stern talking to.  They had better be on the VERY best behaviour I said. Or else.

As it was the children fitted straight in.  William's gorgeous children are the same age as mine and before we knew it the girls were tacking up the pony and off they all went to play. 

It turned out to be one of the most interesting interviews I have ever done  ….  if you listen to the Interviews below you will smile  (- it is unedited on Audio boo). Between chickens, phone calls, the dogs, my daughter ringing the church bell, ponies, burning tomatoes in the aga, and the house being decorated we did actually get in a really great conversation about this brilliant book, and the radio show is on this Sunday at 10am on BBC radio Northampton.

Certainly the challenges of interviewing William alongside five children under the age of 10 and two rowdy dogs means that I can confirm that William is really everything a food hero should be. Taking life in his stride William is a genuine champion of local, British and seasonal food, is passionate about his community: he is also hard working dad who was genuinely devastated to burn his tomatoes he forgot about and took the time to feed my hungry five year old halfway through the interview and has written a brilliantly different recipe book. 

This History of Food in 100 Recipes is a seriously lovely looking book, meticulously researched, full of the most interesting stories about passionate foodies . Whilst I'll admit that I have always found history to be a somewhat dry and dusty subject William brings it all to life.  It is colorful, delicious, funny in places, easy to read and yet there is serious depth to it .. I love it .. so I’ll say just one last thing.  It really is absolutely the best book I’ve read in years  so if you only buy one recipe book this year make it this one and keep it at the front of your bookcase.
The original Books William bought at the auction at Sothebys

The first copy!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Buy British Flowers

British Cut Flowers by The Real Flower Company

I love flowers.  I’m one of those people who always has flowers in the house, however I had an odd moment not so long ago.  It was as if I had been somehow unveiled.  I had thrown down a pack of unseasonal Kenyan grown green beans one of my children had added to the trolley.  “We’re not eating those," I said” they are out of season, flown in and who knows what the people who picked then got paid.. now put them back and lets get a local cauliflower instead!”

I arrived home with my shop and unpacked.  When all else was put away I turned to my treat.  The flowers.  I unwrapped the packet and as I was throwing it the bin I noticed in tiny letters grown in Kenya.  It was January.  How could I not have noticed?  How could I not have questioned?  How far had they have been flown?  Oh they clocked up a sorry carbon trail.  I was horrified that despite considering myself to be a seasonal local All British supporting consumer  I hadn't applied it to flowers !
 As I researched I discovered that one of the main problems is flower miles. We import over 80 per cent of cut flowers. The flowers that I bought were probably picked in the morning, packed into energy-intensive refrigerated planes and flown over 6,000km — or 3,700 miles and sold to me the next day.

I was fairly upset at my choice and took it up with my local florist, but as it turns out flowers flown from Africa, she said often use less energy overall than those produced in Europe.  She referred me to a study that showed that the emissions produced by growing the flowers I bought from Kenya, where it is warm and sunny all year round, and flying them here could in fact be less than a fifth of the carbon footprint than those for flowers grown in heated and lighted greenhouses in Holland. 

Then there is an argument that says  that  by trading with developing countries that we will Kenya for instance there are thousands of people, mostly women, who rely on us buying their flowers for their livelihoods, but on the other hand I read that the Kenyan people are now no longer growing their own food as they grow flowers for export instead.  That can’t be right.  

A report from FIAN says that “for many workers, their insufficient wages constitute a violation of their right to feed themselves and their family" knows Sophie Vessel from FIAN Austria. "Moreover, they are exposed to highly toxic pesticides and do not benefit from any proper protection, which violates their right to decent working conditions” adds Alena Věžníková from Ecumenical Academy Prague.”

Reading deeper it turns out that in India, Columbia and Ecuador, many of the workers suffer from work-related health problems.  There is no regulation of pesticides and certainly substances that we wouldn’t dream of using here because of the impact on the environment and on our own health are being used in developing countries as floriculture increases.

British, ethical, sustainable, seasonal cut flowers that smell divine by The Real Flower Company.

It turns out as I googled that there are lots of artisan flower companies in the UK producing flowers and I called Gorgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers.  She grows and sells British cut flowers as well as running courses on growing your own flowers to cut, and when I asked if we were limited she laughed "there are so many british flowers to choose from and there are british flowers all year round."  She rattled off a list  "Roses, Azaleas,  Carnations, Cornflowers, Honeysuckles, Delphiniums,  Daisy, Iris, Sweet Williams, Freesia, Fuschia, Gardenia, Gladioli, Hollyhock, , Heather, Iris, Jasmine, Larkspur, Lilac, Lily-of-the-Valley, Lupin, Marigold, Orchid, Peony, , Rhododendron, Stock, Sweetpea, , Tiger Lily. 

Daliaha, Sun flowers, Asters, Love in a mist, Cosmos, Cerinthe, Ammi, Orlaya, poppies and sweet peas to name just  a few."

So it's not like we are not spoilt for choice!

I was talking  to Chantal Coady of Rococo chocolates about flowers earlier today and she told me that she really loves the flowers from The Real Flower Company.  " if anyone wanted to send me flowers I'd love them to be from The Real Flower Company.  They are glorious with beautiful blowsy British blooms and they are scented.  It's as though you have walked out into a quintessentially English garden and cut yourself a bouquet and the fragrance is amazing."  

The Real Flower Company really sets the standards.  Based in West Sussex they opened there first shop in London in July 2008 within the fabulous food hall in Selfridges on Oxford Street.  They now offer same day delivery in London (by the greenest form of transport - a delivery trike- to many postcodes!) 

Of course I couldn't afford to buy myself a bouquet of these every week - but my point is the same.  They produce, grow and supply British flowers all year round.  and for those of us who are on a budget you can easily grow your own.  I've bought some incredibly beautiful looking Sweet pea Prima Ballerina from Thompson and Morgan.   - "gorgeous, lightly scented blooms ideal for cutting and are bred by one of the world’s leading Sweet Pea breeders. Each stem averages 4 blooms in a unique tricolour of lilac, purple and cream enhanced by intricate veining on each flower."  and at just £1.99 I shall get them in the garden as soon as it stops raining ! 

In the meantime I think we need to face up to the fact that buying imported flowers is not helping anyone.  It seems appropriate to write about this as a food lover because as we are having a food revolution so many us are now looking at our food in such a positive way.  We support artisan producers, farmers markets, organic, sustainable, seasonal and local. We take such care as we consider the provenance of out food. Many of us have taken it step further and keep chickens, grow vegetables and even cure our own bacon. It’s time we do the same for flowers. Buy British Flowers and grow your own.

Let’s take a stand.

It will be pretty  - I promise. 

For just £1.99 you can grow beautiful fragrant pink sweet peas this Summer from Thompson and Morgan

Monday, 2 April 2012


Daisy Time

By Marjorie Pickthall ( 1883 - 1922) 
See, the grass is full of stars,
Fallen in their brightness;
Hearts they have of shining gold,
Rays of shining whiteness.

Buttercups have honeyed hearts,
Bees they love the clover,
But I love the daisies' dance
All the meadow over.

Blow, O blow, you happy winds,
Singing summer's praises,
Up the field and down the field
A-dancing with the daisies.

I have for the past few months been burning the candle at both ends. And in the middle.  I work full time ghost writing, photographing and doing project work for various food companies, as well as renovating an old Victorian house and the kitchen Garden. With three young children, a village bakery and a radio show.  Life is full!

I have just finished a commission that has changed the way I will be writing.  It will be going into a beautiful glossy magazine and despite being a little nervous about writing it as the subject is contentious I was really surprised at deeply I felt about protecting our food heritage.

In the meantime my blog posts have piled up behind me.  I have Richard Corrigans restaurant to review, The fabulous Baker Brothers book to talk about, some fabulous chocolate from Rococo to suggest for Easter, some delicious vinegar from Wormley food to write about, Charlottes heavenly Gluten free treats to share and Lucas Hollweg's wonderful new book that I have to tell you . All that before I chat about the house, the garden, the cat we rescued and what I've been planting in the garden and cooking.  In fact I have so many posts to write up I have written them down in a list.  There are 18, and I am almost paralysed wondering where to start!

So instead of writing anything at all I am going to sit in the garden with a cup of tea and make daisy chains with my five year old daughter.

It's about priorities.