Cooking on the Wood Fire

fire baked potato

Enjoying this cold wet weekend? I am. Probably because I have a fire and a cold wet day gives me a good excuse to sit in front of it. Last winter Mum suggested I write about how I cook on the fire during the cold months. I suggested people will think I’m a hillbilly. She suggested people think that already, so here goes nothing.

We have a log burning fire whose primary job in life, after giving me somewhere to sit on cold wet days, is to heat our hot water, dry our clothes when it’s raining outside, and heat the house. But it is surprisingly useful for cooking too. The solid metal top is big enough to fit a couple of large pots on and winter will see soups, stocks, casseroles and steamed puddings bubbling away on the top while wet socks hang on the drying rail behind it. Lids stay on the pots to avoid sock on the log fire

Breadcrumbs are another favourite use for the gentle heat of the fire. Leftover rye bread dries to the consistency of concrete pavers on top of the fire. Ground up into breadcrumbs in the mixer and stored in a glass jar, you achieve a best by date of “until hell freezes over”.

A collection of trivets gives you low, medium and high temperatures to expand your fire cooking repertoire. Once your soup has boiled, turn it down by putting it on a high trivet and it will stay warm enough all day to dish up to those silly enough not to be in front of the fire when they arrive in from the cold.

cooking on the log burner

An old school coffee percolator or kettle is a good addition to your fire cooking kit and will boil surprisingly quickly when stoked along by a log of gum or manuka! And your options aren’t limited to the top of the wood burner. Who remembers jiffy pies? (jaffles if you’re Aussie). Those wonderful disguisers of leftover anything – mostly mince with peas in it.  A jiffy iron makes two bits of buttered bread and some mince into a mouth burningly hot and proper pie in minutes (or in a jiffy).

You will find jiffy irons, a double one if you’re lucky, in most good junk shops, cast aside by our unfathomable preference for electric toasted sandwich makers which are impossible to clean and generally seem to be an excuse to melt cheese into an oily mess. No the jiffy pie is definitely ready to make a gourmet comeback. Leftover venison and red wine casserole jiffy pie anyone?

fire toast

The final two treasures in my fire cooking collection are fire toast and baked potatoes. These two are ember cookers. Either will be charcoal in minutes if you attempt to cook them in a full fire. Hot buttered fire toast is about as good as it gets and often accompanies the soup heated on top. Use a good heavy bread, cheap white bread is full of sugar and will burn before it cooks.

Tuck a couple of spuds wrapped in tinfoil in the edge of the firebox and by the time you’ve cooked the rest of dinner they will be ready – or if you stuff them with enough toppings they are dinner. The fire also defrosts blocks of (chicken stock / plums / casseroles) from the freezer, softens butter for baking, warms honey that’s gone crystalised to make it runny again and sets a pot of yogurt left on the hearth overnight.

I wouldn’t dream of leaving something on the electric stove overnight, or while I’m out in the garden, but I’ll quite happily sit something (with plenty of liquid in it) on the top of the fire to do its thing without my presence. This nice gentle cooking is what appeals to me about the fire.

baked potato on the fire

So that is how we roll here in winter. One last thing – I’ve noticed disclosure statements recently on a few blogs so here goes – you should know dear readers that I don’t own an electric clothes dryer and I don’t own a microwave. I don’t own a banjo either but I do own a Metro fire  and although they haven’t paid me to write this article I am sure that when they read it they will. Perhaps they’d like me to write them a recipe book to give away with their fires? Perhaps you’d all like to help me by sharing your favourite fire cooking recipes?


Cooking with Fresh Cranberries

Recipes for fresh cranberries-01

Lessons from the food world, if you’re going to do something, do it properly – no half measures. Products like “Coke Life” which pitch themselves as “slightly” healthier are just doomed. I think consumers fall into two groups – those who care and those who don’t. Those who care aren’t going to be taken in by something “slightly” healthier and those who don’t will keep buying the full sugar, full fat version.

Why am I talking about this? Well because I’ve been cooking with fresh cranberries recently and they are a perfect illustration of a food with no half measures. With health giving properties jumping out of every pore of their festive little skins, they are a truly super food. But, like quite a few super foods, they are not half-hearted in their flavour. Cranberries are seriously tart.

So food producers drown cranberries in sugar to make them palatable. Did you know dried cranberries are 65% sugar? Surely if a product is over 50% something else it should be marketed as Sugraisins not Craisins? Don’t get me wrong, a life of pure kale and bone broth holds little appeal for me. But it’s a bit naughty to try and pass off a sweet treat as healthy by labeling it a “fat-free snack” and “source of anti-oxidants”. I’m in the “those who care” camp and I’m not fooled.homemade cranberry juice-01

I want to eat more cranberries. They’re really good for you and luckily fresh unprocessed cranberries are now within our reach thanks to Wild Ruby cranberry farm. I’ve had a box of their fresh cranberries to play with this autumn and I’ve made some delicious things from them, without 65% sugar. I was really impressed at the shelf life of the fresh fruit. They last for quite a few weeks in the fridge and they freeze very well too.

First up was real cranberry juice. Wow – talk about intense flavour. This super colourful, super tart juice is just like a cordial concentrate I remember being dared to drink neat as a kid. And I did end up treating it like a concentrate. I froze the pure juice in big silicone ice-cube trays and these frozen flavour bombs are brilliant added to a jug of juice and soda water. The cubes slice easily and just a little bit in a glass of soda water is seriously refreshing. Half a kilo of fresh cranberries yielded just under 400 mls of juice and trust me, a little goes a long way.

Frozen fresh cranberry juice-01

Next up I tried making a cranberry sauce to use with roast meats over winter. The sharp flavour of cranberry goes beautifully with most meats, but in particular anything rich like duck, pork, venison or, in our house, mutton. Cranberry sauce is one of those things you definitely don’t want to be sweet – the whole point of cranberry sauce is to bring some acidity to rich food. Most cranberry sauce recipes seem to have forgotten this and it’s hard to find one without loads of sugar.

This recipe is based on one I found on Epicurious which I’ve fiddled with a bit. It is really simple, freezes well and the orange juice and spices go beautifully with the cranberry flavour. The dates add a gooeyness to the finished sauce and a little of the sweetness that sugar would give. The original recipe has 1 1/4 cups of sugar in it but I think it’s nicer without it.

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 strips orange zest
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped dates
  • 500 g fresh cranberries

Simmer water, zest, juice, vinegar and whole spices over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the dates and half of the cranberries and cook until the cranberries start to burst. Stir in remaining cranberries and simmer until they begin to burst. Done. It thickens up a bit on cooling. Freeze it in small punnets and serve at room temperature with hot or cold meats.

Sugar Free Cranberry Sauce-01

Next I had a go at drying some cranberries in the dehydrator. Drying anything intensifies its natural flavours so dried cranberries are super super tart. They dried really well but because they are hollow it was hard to tell when they were done. Next time I’d cut them up roughly in the food processor before drying.

I’ve been using these little bullets of flavour sparingly. They’re a bit intense for a pizza topping or adding to your muesli, but sprinkle a handful on a baking tray with some flaked almonds and pour over dark chocolate and you’ve got your own big slab of yum. A few dried cranberries in the teapot with a couple of dried apple slices make a good approximation of Healtheries Cranberry and Apple tea too.How to make dried cranberries-01

I’ve got a recipe for cranberry ketchup which I’m yet to try but it looks really promising. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what you can do with fresh cranberries. Dianne Sheaf from Wild Ruby has amassed a great collection of recipes on their website that cover baking, desserts, meals and drinks – click here to take a look.

Finally I gave my Mum some fresh cranberries to have a play with too and she made this beautiful cranberry jelly, with plenty of sugar to make up for my efforts and I’ll be the first to admit, its damn fine. cranberry jelly recipe

The Pudding Club

steamed pudding recipes

I have a growing sense that a good portion of our Northern neighbours believe us to be a little bit antiquated here in the top of the South. I had this confirmed to me last week when speaking with someone arranging a business trip south. She asked me what the roads were like here. I politely informed her that they were fine and that we even have electric lighting now.

This weeks blog is not going to do much to dispel the myth of our hobbity ways. I’m talking about what passes for fun here in the winter months. After all there is only so much banjo playing you can take. A couple of winters ago the team here at Country Trading started a Pudding Club. And before you jump to conclusions, no I didn’t know that phrase has an entirely different meaning to folks of a certain era. If you don’t know, go ask your Mum, I’m not going to enlighten you here.

When I was a kid, steamed pudding made a regular appearance most Sundays with its good friends custard and cream and then again cold sliced and buttered in our lunch box and as afternoon tea. So why did they fall from favour? Because in a 2 minute noodle world they took an hour or so to cook? Because the aluminium pudding steamers we all used apparently gave us dementia? Or maybe we just stopped sitting down together for the Sunday roast.

Whatever the reason, the steamed pudding is a dish whose time has surely come again. Good food is good food and it rises above fashion, like a pudding in a basin. It feeds our comfort genes like a warm blanket and a pair of slippers. A tummy full of steamed pudding sets the world to rights.

steamed pudding basins

It is in these winter months that I fondly remember Pudding Club and pull out the steamer to make one of the recipes we tried. We all trawled old cook books and family recipe vaults, asked our Mothers and Nanas. I cooked so many different puddings that I started looking like one!

Proceedings culminated in a pudding evening at the historic Moutere Inn who kindly let us take over the kitchen. The members of Pudding Club with willing family and friends, managed to get through no less than 6 steamed puddings of all flavours during the course of a very memorable night.

I stonkered the crowd with a solid steak and kidney complete with suet crust. Other contributions included a boozy brandy Christmas pudding, date hangi pudding, dainty lemon pudding, sticky toffee apple pudding and a spicy sponge creation called Sinbad pudding. We all rolled home and didn’t eat another pudding for some time. To look at the photo album of all the puddings we made and tested in the pursuit of pudding perfection click here for the Pudding Club Facebook album.

If you fancy making a steamed pudding this winter here are a few tips and tricks and a recipe for one of the classics.  And although we stopped eating them for a while, we did compile a wee steamed pudding recipe book and hunt down some lovely stainless steel pudding basins.

pudding club

Top 5 Tips for Making the Perfect Steamed Pudding

A lot of recipe books are short on method for steamed pudding cooking as it was just something that all cooks knew how to do. Many books just give a name and a list of ingredients. To give a method would have been like describing how to butter toast. But times have changed and we’re not all pudding queens – so here are our top tips for making the perfect steamed pudding:

  1. Grease the steamed pudding bowl well with butter all over the base and up the sides of the bowl before putting the batter in. This helps the pudding come away from the basin at the end of cooking when you turn the pudding out onto a plate. Don’t use marg or oil thank you very much.
  2. Take the bowl and put it upside down on a sheet of grease proof paper and cut a circle out to fit the top of the basin. Grease the paper circle with butter and place it gently, buttered side down, on the pudding batter before putting the lid on the pudding steamer. This keeps the pudding moist and stops it sticking to the lid or escaping should it rise too much.
  3. Most steamed puddings will nearly double in size during cooking so when you put your pudding batter in your steamed pudding bowl, make sure you have enough headroom.
  4. While you are preparing your pudding, put a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a low rolling boil or a high simmer. Put enough water in the pot to come at least half way up the pudding basin, preferably ¾ of the way up. These puddings have long cooking times so check the water level once or twice and top it up with boiling water from the kettle if it looks to be getting low. The Scottish Women’s Institute 1938 Cookbook states that it is best to keep a pudding at a crisp boil and I have found this to be correct.  If it is at a simmer or just hot, the pudding does not rise and fluff up, it ends up stodgy.
  5. In our experience, recipes aren’t that accurate with their cooking times, giving guidance like; “about an hour” when it’s closer to 2 hours.  So to avoid eating raw cake batter, poke a skewer in the center of the pudding.  If it comes out clean or with crumbs on it the pudding is ready. If it comes out with gooey mixture on it then put the lid on and put it back in the pot of water. They are quite forgiving; it’s not like taking a sponge out of the oven.  You can also tell if it’s cooked if the top of the pudding is firm and springy to touch and evenly risen with no sink hole in the middle.

steamed pudding recipe

Caroline Pudding

My dad’s favourite steamed pudding from a book Auntie Margie gave mum in 1963. The book was a fundraiser for the Ashburton Branch of the NZ Registered Nurses Assn (Inc.).  I can still see the cover with the nurse in her white cap and red cape. This is a pudding to set you on the road back to good health if ever there was one. It is particularly fine with a good dollop of Edmonds Custard and a glug of cream.


  • 1 good tablespoon(15 grams) butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 grated apple
  • 1 heaped breakfast cup of flour
  • 1 cup fruit, (half dates, half raisins)
  • 1 good teaspoon baking soda
  • Mix with milk till fairly soft

Put in greased pudding steamer. Steam for 1½ hours. Mum still makes it occasionally and says any leftovers (I don’t remember there being any) butter up nicely as a loaf when cold and it also is good  made in deep muffin tins, baked at 180°C for 15-20 mins for individual puddings.

So there you have it, pudding eating is the pastime of choice in winter months here at the top of the South. And this is a good thing – we need all the padding we can get with the state of our roads!  Some of you North Islanders may even want to give Pudding Club a try.  I don’t think it is illegal to eat cream, butter and sugar in the North Island yet.




Quincepiration – Sweet and Savoury Quince Recipes

quince recipes

My quinces are sitting in a basket waiting for something to be done with them. They’ve been there for a couple of weeks. Quince paste and jelly are great in small quantities, but I feel the quince is a fruit that is worthy of greater things. Quinces remind me of society ladies –  highly perfumed, age well, need a lot of softening up, but add a touch of class to proceedings and are generally worth the effort.

Elizabeth David said “a cook’s greatest ingredient is curiosity” and I’m more than a little curious about what I can do with my quinces this year. I have a great collection of cookbooks so I’ve set about going through them for a little “quincepiration”. I hope you find something in here that you want to try.

quince recipes

First the Sweet Quince Recipes…

If you want a good quince paste and jelly recipe you can’t go past my sisters 2 in 1 recipe from the blog last season. But if you want to venture into different territory here are some stunning sweet quince treats from some of my favourite food writers.

First up is Bevan Smith from Riverstone Kitchen, North Otago. His cookbook of the same name has a couple of my favourite quince ideas.  The photo above is his slow poached quince halves in a sugar syrup with cinnamon and star anise. This forms the basis of a couple of memorable dishes in our house.

I make an amazing quince and almond tart from the Riverstone Kitchen book, where you slather a spreadable quince paste onto a blind baked tart case, layer a lot of these poached quinces onto it and fill it with a frangipani filling topped with sliced almonds.  As you slice through it you get gorgeous pink chunks of quince and a caramel layer of paste along the base. Divine.

I also freeze little blocks of these poached quinces and use them through winter, folded into homemade yogurt with a handful of blanched almond slivers for a beautifully rich breakfast.

poached quinces

Apple and quince are a common pairing and Jane Grigson devotes a whole chapter to them in her wonderful book “Good Things”.  Quince and apple pies and puddings have long been popular, several of her quince recipes have the traditional addition of orange zest and juice which we don’t see so much now. Grating a quince into an apple pie is a popular way to infuse the quince flavour and aroma into it without having to cook the quinces for longer than the apples.

Nigel Slater is another advocate of citrus with quince. Many of his recipes for quince include lemon juice as well as ingredients like cloves, maple syrup, and honey. I like the sound of his maple syrup and star anise poached quince but it is his quince with gorgonzola cream that I’m putting on my make list for this autumn. It looks amazing.

Another sweet treat I’m going to try is quince and honey sorbet from Elizabeth David. Seeing as I have plenty of both and it looks like a simple recipe. As does quince sharbat from Diana Henry, with a little orange flower water. A sharbat is a middle eastern cordial concentrate served with ice and soda or used as a syrup for pouring on ice cream, pancakes or adding to a glass of bubbly.

I’ve also heard that boiled quince quarters with star anise and cinnamon sticks are great for bottling so I might sneak a couple of jars of those in.

Then the Savoury Quince Recipes…

Perhaps less familiar, but more interesting, are the savoury uses for these fragrant ladies. Digby Law gives a recipe for quince vinegar, which I’ve adapted to become one of my store cupboard staples. It captures the colour and unique flavour and fragrance of the quinces. I use it in marinades, dressings and anywhere you need a bit of an exotic sweet/sour splash. It goes really well with poultry and pork dishes.

quince recipes

Quince Mustard

Quinces feature prominently in many of the works of legendary British food writer Elizabeth David. Her last book, “Is there a Nutmeg in the House?” has a wonderful chapter called “Relishes of the Renaissance” and in it, gives a fascinating recipe for a quince mustard relish from Bartolomeo Scappi’s 1570 cookery book “Opera”. The ingredients include grape juice, quinces, wine, tart apples, a little sugar, mustard, candied peels, nutmeg, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. This is like an intense version of what we know today as Cremona mostarda di frutta, or mustard fruits. It is on my “make one-day” list.

Pickled quinces, from Diana Henry’s book, “Salt, Sugar, Smoke” are on my make list for this autumn. She uses a good cider vinegar, sugar, whole cloves, juniper berries, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and lemon zest. They keep for a year in sealed jars and look like a perfect accompaniment to cold meats and soft cheeses. As an interesting aside, the traditional cheese pairing for quince paste was squares of cream cheese and the quince paste was often cut into cubes and rolled in caster sugar for storage at room temp.

Roast Quince and Lamb

Because they hold their shape and stand up to long slow cooking, peeled and cored quince halves are perfect to pop in around your next roast leg of lamb or stew. Jane Grigson points out that this use of quince and meat with spices in Moroccan tagine cookery is very similar to medieval British fare, where the sweet and savoury were less clearly divided into courses and spices and fruits were routinely cooked with meat.  Having an excess of lamb shanks in the freezer at the moment – here is the recipe I’ll be testing from BBC food for sweet spiced lamb shanks and quince.

I haven’t even said how easy quince trees are to grow in all parts of NZ. They’re pretty trees with lovely blossom and don’t need any spraying. Hope you enjoy some of these and I’d love to hear your recipes for quince. Just don’t try and go all healthy like I did over Easter and make a sugar free quince paste.  See photo below. Took forever, looks like cat food, tastes like damp leaves. Definitely in the “add to casseroles” category.

quince paste sugar free

And a little PS.  I’ve finished dealing to the quince now and I have to tell you that Elizabeth David’s quince & honey sorbet is my new favourite quince recipe.  Followed closely by Diana Henry’s pickled quince.  The quince & honey sorbet is ridiculously easy and only 3 ingredients.

Bake 6 quinces on 140°C for an hour and a half in a heavy lidded casserole with no water.  Peel and core and set the flesh aside. Boil the peel and cores in 2 pints of water for a few minutes, strain and add the cooked flesh and 8 tablespoons of honey to the strained quince water. Let it cool completely and blend it well then add 300mls of cream and churn in an ice-cream churn. She also mentions using yogurt instead of cream and I have to say I preferred this as the sharpness of the yogurt cut the sweetness of the honey really nicely.

Quince Honey Icecream-01

Pickled Quince-01




Top 3 Pickled Onion Recipes & How to Grow Pickling Onions

Blog Post Photo

As we head into autumn our annual preserving season comes to an end with the pickled onions and quinces being two last additions to the pantry. I’m something of a pickled onion connoisseur, always on the lookout for the best pickled onion recipe.

A few years ago I found Thanks Shallot, a Blenheim company run by Stephen and Sally Harnett. Stephen grows perfect pickling onions – tight, small and round, not large, soft and oblong. He sells them at the Blenheim Farmers Market each Sunday. He also comes across to the Nelson Saturday market every second week. We used to sell them and one year we gave away a copy of his Great Gran’s recipe with each little 2 kg. sack of onions.

Pickling onions

The recipe started heated discussions among customers about the best recipe for pickled onions so we asked for copies of their favourite recipe and were amazed at how many different ones came out of the woodwork. We shortlisted 8 different pickled onion recipes that covered the main themes and set to work putting down a few jars of each for a great taste off.

One Saturday we lined up the jars, printed the tasting forms and let the onions loose on customers in the store. Thirty-five customers, mostly blokes, took the challenge to eat each of the 8 pickled onions on offer, write their comments and vote for their favourite. They took it seriously. Some brave souls had to go back for seconds just to confirm the winner before they cast their votes. More recipes came forth during the day, rum and balsamic vinegar and also a golden syrup one that sounded nice.

Here are the great taste-off results, followed by the top 3 recipes and some tips on making and growing perfect pickled onions.

Pickled Onion Recipe Votes Overall Verdict
Cider Vinegar, Chillies, no sugar, no boiling brine 1 Takes the enamel off your teeth
Red Wine Vinegar, Coriander, Cumin, White Peppercorns, Honey 1 Too posh nosh and fancy – real pickled onions don’t have coriander seeds.
Malt Vinegar, Brown Sugar, Black Peppercorns (Heather’s Mum’s Recipe) 10 The Classic.  Overall winner.  Good balance.  Many wanted to vote for this one twice.  Everything a pickled onion should be.  Mum will be pleased.
White Wine Vinegar, Sherry, Brown Sugar & Honey – MCT customer CarolJane 9 The inoffensive favourite.  Softened by a bit of sherry and honey, with milder cider instead of malt vinegar.  The sociable pickled onion.  A close second.
Pickled Onions in Curry Sauce from Roy & Dawn Ennor – Richmond 6 Either love them or loathe them – pickled onions in curry sauce are polarising. If you love them apparently you use the sauce on your baked chops – hmmm – a real Aunty Daisy frugal tip if ever there was.
Cider Vinegar, Honey & Black Peppercorns – Alma’s Recipe 5 A bit of both, sweetness of honey and spice of black peppercorns.
Malt Vinegar, Cloves, Chillies, Black Peppercorns – Nan Harnett’s 1 From a time when pickles were pickles. Go, Nan Harnett. 12 whole cloves, 6 whole dried chilies, black peppercorns, no sweet stuff and full-on malt vinegar.
Curry Sauce 1941 Truth Recipe Cook Book – but no flour. 2 Nope – you need the flour to make a good wallpaper paste of a sauce if you’re going the curried route.
Total Votes 35

NZ’s Top 3 Pickled Onion Recipes

1st Place – Heather’s Mum’s Pickled Onions
Soak peeled onions overnight in a brine of 1 1/2 cups of common salt and 4 pints of water. Next day drain and dry onions. Pack them into clean jars and add 6-8 peppercorns per large jar. Warm 750mls of malt vinegar and melt 500gms of brown sugar or honey into it. Cool, and pour over the onions in the jars. Seal and leave at least 14 days before eating.

2nd Place – Sherried Pickled Onions – Carol Jane MCT Customer
Soak 4.5kg of onions in 1 cup of common salt and 10 cups of water overnight (I peeled them and sprinkled salt over them in a crockery bowl overnight) Boil 450g honey 450g brown sugar and 2ltrs of white vinegar. Let it cool completely then add 500mls sherry. Rinse salt of onions and let them drain then pack in clean jars and pour the liquid over. Leave for one month before eating.

3rd Place – Pickled Onions in Curry Sauce – Roy & Dawn Ennor, Richmond.
5lbs Onions
1lb caster sugar
1 tablespoon all spice
1 teaspoon mustard
2 teaspoons tumeric
1 quart vinegar
1 tablespoon ground cloves
3 large teaspoons flour
1 tablespoon curry

Sprinkle onions with salt and leave overnight and then dry. Bring vinegar and sugar to the boil add other ingredients mixed with some of the vinegar and bring to the boil. Fill the jars. Ready in 5 weeks.

Tips on Preparing the Perfect Pickled Onion

  • Preparation is key to achieving the perfect crunchy pickled onion. Customers had theories on whether you soaked your peeled onions in salty brine or dry salted by sprinkling with salt. Sprinklers claimed their method only extracted the juices and didn’t load the onions up with water. I am a sprinkler.
  • Other tips include close peeling at the base and top to hold your onion together and everyone was in agreement on the need to cool the brine completely before adding to the onions so as not to get a soft onion – which no one likes.
  • Theories on peeling them without tears abounded. Light a candle, soak them in warm water (don’t do this – see soft onion above), peel them underwater (the onions, not you), wear goggles (probably the most foolproof).
  • Finally the great question of how long to leave them before you eat them – some say 2 weeks, some 3 and some 5.  I can vouch for the fact that well prepared pickled onions get better with age – up to two years after one exuberant pickling season in our house.

pickled onion seedlings-1

Growing the Perfect Pickling Onion

And when it comes to growing the perfect pickling onion, we managed to get Stephen to share some of his tips with us. Here’s me growing fancy little pickling darlings like “Purpelette”, the Italian flat “Borretanna” and the wee cutie “Pearl Drop” for my pickled onions but what does Stephen grow? Nothing but big old Pukekohe Long Keepers. He tells me he’s shied away from the little dainty varieties that are supposed to grow pickler’s because they often end up with oblong egg-shaped onions.

Stephen plants a late variety and he reckons he is pushing the boundaries of how they should be grown. His regime is treat ‘em mean, he plants them a full two months later than you should (October), gives them no water or rich soil and harvests them in mid to late March. If your soil is too rich they tend to develop thick necks, (as we all do with too much good food), and the bulb doesn’t tend to develop. Deprive them of nutrients and they’ll put all their effort into the bulb and not the tops.

So there you have it, folks, how to grow and make the perfect pickled onion. Visit Thanks Shallot at the Nelson market and see if you can hit Stephen up for his wife Sally’s recipe. I couldn’t manage to get that out of him. She does several thousand jars a year and you can buy those from him too if you’ve done your dash pickling this year. We’d love to hear your recipes and variations too.

Homemade Muesli and Instagram Breakfasts


“They” say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. White toast, dubious “spread”, and jam was my BBF (breakfast best friend) until a few years ago when I started making my own muesli. That went well, if a little fibrous at first. Then I started making yogurt and dehydrating fruit from the orchard and I really thought my breakfasts couldn’t get much better.

On the occasional morning I’d flirt with peanut butter on toast, but the toast had upped it’s game to rye sourdough from Don Rodrigo Sourdough Bakery, the peanut butter was local too from Pics, and the dubious spread was now homemade cultured butter.

It wasn’t until I started eating grapefruit from our tree as they ripened in the winter months, drizzled with honey from our hives, that I realised I’d turned into a total breakfast snob. Picking and squeezing oranges from the tree in the morning, chilled by natures fridge just confirmed it. Yes the kind of breakfasts I eat now could set me up for the most momentous of days. There is nothing I would not be prepared to tackle.

But if you think my breakfasts sound legendary, you should see the breakfasts in Instagramland. Country Trading is a relative newbie on Instagram but I swear it is the breakfast channel. Everyone posts photos of what they’re having for breakfast and it’s not toast. Of the 33 million photos (truly) of peoples breakfasts on Instagram no-one seems to have toast. Perhaps toast is just not an event. From what I can tell here’s what Instagrammers have for breakfast:

  • anything green & smooth in a jar with a straw (weird powder optional)
  • paleo/primal eggs and meat – hold the carbs
  • huge stacks of carbs (read waffles, pancakes etc.) drizzled with goo of varying hues

I haven’t posted a photo of my breakfast on Instagram. I’m resisting the urge to do so. I mean who would talk about what they had for breakfast right? Deeply uncool.

His nibs traveled to Sydney recently and was treated to breakfast by his younger sister at metro-sexual industrial cafe’s serving poached eggs drizzled with truffle oil and coffees with hyphenated names and prices. He came home looking for my muesli and yogurt to kick-start his day. And so does everyone who eats it. I’ve given this recipe to I don’t know how many people and today patient readers I’m sharing it with you.

And before you say OMG that looks expensive to make and my family would rip through it in no time … let me tell you it makes 2 kilos and the price per 100 grams works out at $1.26, (even cheaper if you bulk buy grains and nuts and use your own fruit like I do).  Compare this with supermarket “gourmet” muesli brands at $1.50 up to $2.20 per 100 grams and I think you’re getting a far superior start to your day for a lot less lolly.

homemade museli


  • 800 grams Harraways Rolled Oats
  • 1/2 cup of plain vege oil like rice bran, grape seed or light olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup flaked almonds
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes


  • 1/2 a cup of linseed
  • 3 to 4 cups of chopped up dried fruit
  • 1/2 a cup more coconut
  • 200 grams puffed spelt

Heat the oven to 160°C. In a small saucepan heat the oil and honey gently and whisk together.  My niece likes to add vanilla and cinnamon to the honey at this point but that’s optional. We were trying to recreate Sanitarium Vanilla Almond Cluster Crisp breakfast cereal – with 1/4 of the sugar and it worked really well.

Mix the remaining dry ingredients in a large roasting dish and pour the honey and oil mixture over it. Mix well until all coated (I use clean hands for this but you could use a wooden spoon).

Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes then take it out and give it a good stir with a wooden spoon, mixing all the stuff from the sides and bottom so it doesn’t stick.  Return to the oven and repeat every 5-10 minutes, mixing well until the muesli is golden and toasty and the honey mixture has been absorbed by the nuts and grains. Keep an eye on it towards the end as it can get a bit too toasted quite quickly. Normally it will take around 30 – 40 mins total and 4 or 5 stirs.

homemade museli

When done sit the dish on a chopping board and let it cool completely and it will firm up and absorb any remaining honey. It is not sticky when cooled.  Then mix through the linseed, chopped dried fruit and more coconut.  What fruit, if any is up to you. Sometimes during summer when we have a lot of fresh fruit to hand I don’t add any dried fruit. This time of year heading into the winter months I add dried apples, pears, figs, plums or apricots. For me, a small bowl of this goes a long way and I find it lasts really well on the shelf in a sealed glass jar.

Ultimately this “recipe” is a pretty loose brew that you can add to as you wish.  Toasting it with the oil and honey makes it delicious and adds a moderate level of fat and sugar compared to most store bought toasted muesli so don’t be put off by the 1/2 a cup of oil and honey. It will make everyone want to eat it, including you so don’t be pious.

The best bit about it is how it sets you up for the rest of your day.  I’ll guarantee you won’t be hungry until well past lunch time if you start your day with a bowl of this.  A jar of this with the recipe makes a great pressie for anyone.


Plum Cordial – 1957 Women’s Institute Recipe

how to make plum cordial

A lot of things have changed in the kitchen since my gran’s day but one thing that hasn’t is a lack of space in the fridge/freezer.  Who would love to make their own cordial but has no room to store a big batch of bottles in the fridge? Our grandmothers had the same problem and were a lot better at solving it than we are today. Their repertoire included things like fruit cheeses, cordials, salted vegetables and cured meats that were all stored carefully in a cool pantry or part of the house.

They were helped along in their efforts by books like this lovely publication from 1957 – “Home Made Wines Syrups and Cordials” by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. For the grand sum of three shillings and sixpence you could learn how to make things like “Black Cherry Syrup”, “Rose Syrup” and “Apple Toddy” among other delights.

how to make fruit cordials

I’ve had this little book in my collection for quite a while and have dipped into it for various wine recipes but never really explored the cordials and syrups section. Then after Christmas we were talking about the backlash against the amount of sugar we’re all eating from processed foods and fizzy drinks in particular.

We got talking about making healthy cordials, soda stream and the homemade cordials that Gran used to make. Raspberry and Orange Squash were two of her specialties I can still remember the taste of. She also made Kahlua and I can still taste that too, but that’s for another blog.

homemade cordial recipe

I don’t see the point of making a small batch of cordial if you have the fruit to use up. And there is the same amount of work involved in making a small batch as a big batch, but then you get back to that problem of fridge space so it doesn’t start fermenting…

I consulted the book and the good lady authors expressed the cordial preserving problem succinctly:

“The yeasts naturally present on the raw materials must be killed, otherwise the syrups will ferment in the bottle which may then explode with violence”.

I was thrilled to learn their method for sterilising the cordials was basically the same as the one I use for pasteurising the apple juice I bottle each autumn. Here is my modern method, complete with temperatures and times.

  • clean glass bottles and sterilise in the oven for 30 minutes on 60°C (140°F)
  • fill bottles leaving at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) from the top as contents expand on heating
  • put bottles in a deep pot with a rack in the bottom
  • fill pot with water up to the neck of the bottles
  • heat gently until the cordial inside the bottles reaches 75°C / 167°F (takes ages so have something else to do while you wait)
  • hold it at that temp for 30 minutes
  • carefully remove the bottles and sit on a wooden chopping board
  • sterilise lids with boiling water and screw onto bottles

homemade cordial recipes

The good ladies stoppered their bottles with corks and then sealed them with melted beeswax which is a lovely idea. I usually have an assortment of bottles with screw tops and some with corks. This time for the cordial I used some old milk bottles with rubber bungs that fit them. The good thing about corks and bungs is that if the contents do start fermenting the cork will pop before the bottle explodes.

How to Extract Juice for Cordial

The book gives three methods for extracting your juice for cordial, one involves cooking the fruit and the other two are referred to as “Cold Methods” which, in the ladies opinion, produce “syrups that are fresher in flavour than hot processed syrups but are slightly more difficult to prepare” .

I opted for the cold method to preserve more of the natural goodness of the fruit. This involves putting the fruit in a bowl and crushing it with a wooden spoon or pulper, covering it with a thick cloth and leaving it in a warm room until bubbles of gas form on the surface of the pulp. This initial fermentation helps the pectin in the fruit breakdown and makes the juice run more freely. I used a 10 liter bucket and the electric drill fitted with this fruit crusher attachment which made short work of the plums.

how to make cordial at homeI also followed their second cold method, adding pectin-destroying enzyme which works on the pulped fruit to speed up the juice extraction and break down the pulp. This enzyme is still commonly available today and used in home wine making to clarify wines and extract juice. It goes by the name Pectolase or similar and can be purchased from home-brewing supply stores. The ladies say to use 1/4 oz. for each 8 lb. of fruit pulp, or 1/4 oz. for each 5 lb. of fruit pulp if doing blackcurrants. I would recommend following the instructions on the packet. Sit the crushed fruit and the enzyme in a warm place overnight.

Preparing the Cordial

  • Strain the juice through a double layer of cotton cheese cloth and squeeze every last drop out, it doesn’t seem to make the cordial cloudy.
  • Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of Vitamin C powder for every liter (quart) of juice for a natural preservative
  • The book recommends adding between 3/4 and 1 lb. of white sugar per pint of juice but they weren’t using any preservative so how much sugar you add depends on your taste. The raw plum juice is very tart so I added a 1/2 lb. sugar per pint of juice
  • Whisk the sugar and juice until the sugar is dissolved
  • Pour into bottles and following the process above for pasteurising the cordial.

Flavours & Tips

I added a heaped teaspoon of ground cinnamon to my plum cordial which tasted gorgeous but I probably should have strained it before I bottled it. If you’re going to add spices I’d recommend steeping whole spices in your cordial for a couple of days before straining, bottling and heat treating to make plum cordial-01

The other little pearls of wisdom I gleaned from the good ladies who wrote the book included the following advice for getting kids to drink milk:

“Children who will not drink milk by itself can be persuaded to take it if it is flavoured with a fruit syrup. Care is needed to prevent the milk from curdling so keep the cold milk stirred briskly while slowly adding the syrup. Usually one part of syrup is added to five or six parts of milk.”

Sounds a like like a milkshake to me. Here are a couple of other useful tips they give for would-be home cordial makers:

making cordial at home“Fruits for syrup making should be over-ripe, free from mould and washed clean. Remove any leaves or largish stems”

“Most syrups tend to throw a sediment of particles too fine to be retained in straining cloths. The material forming the sediment is perfectly wholesome, but if a clear product is required, the syrup can be decanted from the bottle when used.”

“No syrup should be kept for more than a year as flavour slowly deteriorates and in any case fresh fruit is then once more available.”

“All syrups should be kept in the dark and as cold as possible to retain colour and flavour.”

“In summer they can be diluted with iced- or soda-water or in winter with hot water.”

I’m very impressed with my first attempt of plum and cinnamon cordial. The flavours are very fresh and I know that the ingredients are strained plum juice, sugar and cinnamon. The juice was not boiled so it retains some of the fruits natural goodness. I know it’s got sugar in it but a little bit goes a long way and I’d rather feed this to family and friends than a supermarket soda any day.

I think gran would approve. I know she’d approve of the version with ice, soda water and a little gin!




Ricotta Stuffed Battered Zucchini Blossoms & New Zucchini Recipes

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Looking for new zucchini recipes? This season deep fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese are one of my new favourites. I’m also enjoying zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) and dehydrating zucchini slices for use during winter.

It stuns me how one plant in the garden can be so prolific. The good old courgette, or zucchini, produces a steady stream of veg from Christmas right through to late February in our garden and while the first few are much awaited and delicious, after a while you do tend to dread their arrival on the kitchen bench.

One plant is plenty for most gardeners. I’ve tried different varieties over the years, yellow, stripey, round and even two tone.  But I keep coming back to the Italian heirloom variety Fiorentino which produces beautifully flavoured, firm zucchini and is consistently prolific. Costasta Romanesco is another good Italian one that Kings Seeds stock.

deep fried zucchini flowers-01

They are easy to grow, need a bit of room, they don’t run like pumpkins but keep sprouting leaves from a central crown that can end up taking up a good square meter in the garden. Plant in rich soil and keep them well watered at the base. Try and keep the leaves dry to avoid fungal diseases. To keep them fruiting keep picking them.

For stuffing zucchini flowers, pick the blossoms in the morning or the evening when they have closed up. The flowers kind of twist themselves closed which makes them easier to stuff as they hold the filling in. Evening is good if you’re having them for dinner because freshness is all with this dish. Once picked the flowers really need to be used on the same day.

You can pick little flowers where the zucchini hasn’t formed and flowers with small zucchini’s attached that you can chop off to use later. Don’t pick any flowers that are brown on the end or in the center.

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Mix up some ricotta cheese with chopped basil, mint and some lemon zest. Put about a teaspoon of the mix in each flower, not ripping the flowers, so they’re not over stuffed, and fold the ends of the flowers together. Set aside while you make a bowl of batter.

Mix 1/2 a cup of white flour with a teaspoon of baking powder and enough beer or water to make a medium-thick batter, too thin and it will run off, too thick and they don’t go crispy. Heat an inch of oil in a small saucepan with straight sides until it is hot but not smoking. Dunk the stuffed flowers into the batter one at a time until well coated and cook them one at a time in the oil until they’re golden and crispy. Put them on a paper towel in a warm oven to drain while you cook the rest.

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To make your own homemade ricotta like this check out our Soft Cheese Kit. I made this batch 30 minutes before stuffing the flowers. It is such an easy cheese to make. Serve them up with wedges of lemon and a green salad. Stuffed Zucchini blossoms are one of those special recipes that you’ll cook once a year when you’ve got a rampant courgette plant in the garden that you want to slow down. It is well worth trying.

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Drying courgettes in an electric dehydrator is also a handy way of processing a glut for use later in the winter months. They don’t take long to dry and are beautiful added into risottos with mint and parmesan cheese or in casseroles and soups.

Dried Zucchini

You can also make zucchini noodles or “zoodles” by slicing your zucchinis through a mandolin. You only need to put them in a colander and pour boiling water over them to blanch them and then dress them with a mix of mint and sesame oil or a dressing of your choice. A bit of chilli is nice too.

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And if all else fails … feed them to the sheep.

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Hope ewe are more amused than her 🙂