Towards the end of Primary School we were given a form. Columns of Secondary School subjects from which we were to choose
The compulsory subjects had their own columns; then came the fun part…
We ticked our choices in pencil, and were instructed to take it home for a parent’s signature
I have zero idea why I ticked Latin. My mother had a very old Latin dictionary. Maybe I liked the binding?
Food and Nutrition, on the other hand, was a definite, positive tick. I really wanted to cook
So I walked home and showed the form to my parents. The horror! Had I erroneously ticked Arson? Shoplifting?
No, definitely Latin plus Food and Nutrition. But this was a problem
My mother, bless her heart, couldn’t cook. Did you read my posts around Christmas time? She was a clever woman who had won a place at university, before it was usual for working class families. But she definitely couldn’t cook
Why I was told not to tick Latin, I haven’t a clue. But I clearly remember why Food and Nutrition was unticked
“I can teach you to cook” said mum, without irony
At age eleven, I knew this was no more than a fantasy. I wanted to cook actual edible food. It wasn’t going to happen
Years later, when I was working and had a wee flat, I began to learn to cook. I’m still learning
Life can be all Rush! Hurry! Quick! How lovely it is to be slow. Making slow bread forces me to calm down, step out of the moment, take my time.
It also tastes particularly good.
I baked my first loaf when I was seventeen. It probably wasn’t very good.
I had a big, thick, general cookbook – I wish I still had it! Purnell’s Complete Cookery.
I really wanted to learn to cook. I genuinely didn’t have a clue. Someday I’ll tell you that story. Why I became interested in the bread chapter, I do not know. It jumped out at me so I gave it a go.
Now these were ancient times, also known as the late 1970s. Possibly dried yeast was available in specialist shops on fancy city streets. Not in the industrial West of Scotland. So I did as my book instructed. I went to the bakery.
That’s the actual bakery. Not the shop where I bought German Biscuits and Sugared Rolls. No, round the back where the bread and rolls were baked.
A block of yeast in a twist of greaseproof paper cost pennies. I became a regular customer at the bakery close to my work.
I have no idea where I bought bread flour. Strange to think how unusual such a product was. There was a Fine Fare near my office. (That was a supermarket) Since Fine Fare was the first place I ever saw aubergines, courgettes, peppers, maybe they had bread flour.
Anyway, home I went to bake my bread.
I liked the sound of a brown loaf that included treacle.
From the start I thought it couldn’t be right. Quite a few tablespoons of treacle. The dough was dark, dark brown and very sticky. Having no experience of bread making, I followed the recipe nonetheless. It baked into a nice little loaf, but so very sweet and dense. More like a cake.
I made the same loaf many times with only a little treacle!
Very soon I had bought more cookbooks and tried many recipes. Then a new book was published.
My education in bread making began the day I bought it.
It’s beside my bed now, as I wanted to re read it before baking bread to sell.
And this is what I learned from Elizabeth David: slow bread can be the best bread. Less yeast is required, and you get such good results.
It’s a lesson I have to re learn periodically. Many times I have rushed home from work, mixed the ingredients and left my dough to rise. As I grow more and more tired, I get angry at the dough for not rising quickly. I’ll be up all night! I must add more yeast! The bowl is going on the radiator!
When I get annoyed with a bowl of bread dough, I remind myself that the best place for it to rise is the fridge; and the best time for it to be baked is the following day. Perhaps the following evening!
There’s a time and place for speedy cooking and baking. But it’s not compulsory.
Slow bread is flavoursome bread.
Thank you for reading my blog. Please comment, especially if you have a bread making story.
Look in your cupboards. You probably have a forgotten packet of dried beans, lentils or broth mix. That’s an excellent meal right there.
Do your beans say Best Before 2011? Ignore! They’ll be fine. You may have to cook them a bit longer, but they don’t go bad. (UNLESS they’re damp. In which case they probably have gone bad, and you’ll need to throw them away)
So you have a packet of beans, lentils, peas, broth mix, and you’re thinking, “Boring!”
Wrong! You’re about to make a tasty main meal or side dish that you’ll love. Let’s begin with lentils as they’re dead easy.
You can buy two types of lentils. Whole and split. A split lentil is what’s inside a whole lentil. It’s that simple. Take the husk off a brown lentil, you’ll find two split red lentils.
Split lentils cook fairly quickly, about half an hour. Whole lentils take a bit longer. You can tell when split lentils are cooked by simply looking. Some completely disintegrate; some look mushy. Whole lentils swell up, but if you’re unsure you only have to bite one – but not while it’s boiling hot!
If you have a pressure cooker, dried beans are a doddle. If not, no problem. They take a while but only need keeping an eye on occasionally. I’ll talk about the stovetop way. If you’re using a pressure cooker reduce the time as per instructions. But please, don’t release the pressure quickly. I have done this and cleaned bits of cooked beans off the ceiling. Let the pressure drop gradually.
Most straightforward of all is in a normal, big pan on the stovetop. Boil beans until soft. This can take between one and two hours, but you can do other things while they cook. Use fewer beans – and a much bigger pan – than your logical brain tells you. They need plenty of water. You can soak them overnight to (slightly) reduce the cooking time. I seldom do. I’m not that well organised. Check on them frequently and add water back to its original level.
Now you can use your cooked beans in stews and curries, in cheese sauce and minestrone. In anything you choose.
Cooked beans freeze well. So if you have a really big pan, boil more than you need today and freeze the rest in portions. My guide to a “portion” of cooked beans is the amount you get in… guess?… a tin of beans! In fact, if you like to reuse and recycle, wash out some tins and freeze your beans in them. Easy storing and measuring right there.
So let’s add a step, making the beans a meal with very little extra work.
You can use bigger beans that take longer to cook, but I suggest trying aduki or mung beans first time.
Heat some oil or butter in a big pan – not too hot – and add your choice of spices, herbs or curry paste. Fry for a few minutes then add some beans. Again, don’t overdo it. They really need space. A layer a couple of centimetres high, over the entire base of the pan, is a good guide. Stir the beans around for a few minutes till they’re fairly hot, then add water.
If you have hot water in a kettle, use that. But cold is fine. It’ll soon heat up. The water should come to about four or five times the height of the beans to start off. Bring to the boil then turn the heat right down. There’s a good chance the water will boil over. My solution is to leave a wooden spoon in the pan, meaning it’s impossible to put the lid right on. Alternatively, don’t bother with a lid at all, but you’ll have to watch the liquid level doesn’t fall too much.
Unlike the plain boiling method, most of the liquid needs to be absorbed into the beans. You don’t want to be draining them. So after 45 minutes remove one bean with a teaspoon, dip it into cold water and bite it. If it’s almost soft, now is the time to adjust seasoning and reduce the liquid to almost none. At this point, don’t walk away! They could burn and you’ll only be having a jam sandwich for dinner.
If the beans are soft, all you need to do is add salt if liked, and turn the heat up slightly until there’s not much liquid left. Now you can add whatever you like to your meal – tinned tomatoes, leftover meat or vegetables, a tin of tuna or anchovies… Or nothing at all. They’ll taste delicious as they are.
If they’re still a bit hard add a little water and test again after fifteen minutes or thereabouts. Once they’re soft, you’re at the seasoning stage above.
Broth Mix – no need tomake broth!
Do you have a bag of this at the back of a cupboard, but no inclination to make Scotch Broth? I know the feeling. But look at it. What do you see? A random muddle of useless coloured things? If you’re like me you will see three side dishes.
Barley, lentils, split peas, and possibly whole peas. If you have a little patience to separate them, you’re on the way to making a tasty meal.
Okay, confession time. See those dinky little peas? I put hem in a small pan with “plenty” of water. I brought them to the boil, got distracted, and burned them. Don’t do that!
Boil the barley until soft, then use as you would any other grain.
I decided the red lentils and yellow split peas should be eaten together. Once cooked, they’re pretty similar. The peas take longer so I simmered them for about twenty minutes, then added the lentils.
If you don’t get many green peas in the mix, keep them in a jam jar and use them another day.
Well I could write so much more. But instead, please ask me any questions that come to mind as you read.
Self catering holidays when my children were young could have been seriously exhausting. To see me through a fortnight of family life up close, I always took my Enamelware Coffee Pot.
Since we have become so used to filter machines, drip pots, espresso makers and French presses, have we forgotten the simplest method? A jug. So simple you can make coffee anywhere. Even by a campfire.
I love enamelware. I’ve been making coffee in enamelware pots since I was a teenager. It’s so easy, and you need no specialist equipment. If you have ground coffee, boiling water, a pot, and a little bit of patience, you can make delicious coffee any place, any time.
You don’t even need an enamelware pot. An old teapot, a charity shop china coffee pot, even a saucepan with a lid will do. But I’ll always opt for an enamel pot.
Here’s my infallible method:
Put the kettle on to boil. To warm the pot, put a little hot water in it, or run it under the hot tap. At very least don’t use it stone cold. Enamelware will lose heat, so there’s no point in being part of the problem.
Put ground coffee in the pot. Any grind will do. No need to worry – use what you have. Even if it’s very fine or course, we’ll make it work in your pot. If you grind your own coffee, or have the choice when buying it, take a medium grind. The amount of coffee is up to you. First time you make it use the recommended measure. Next time you can add more or less.
Pour almost boiling water over the coffee, but only to just below the spout. Don’t be tempted to add more at this stage. You’ll need space for Step 5. The water should be “off the boil”, that’s to say, not bubbling. So boil the kettle as you gather together what you need. It will be perfect when you use it.
Put the lid on, cover the pot with a tea cosy or a folded tea towel (that’s what I use) and leave for about 5 minutes. Don’t cheat. Listen to a couple of songs, read a short article, chop some vegetables. If you think you’ll get distracted, set a timer. More than five minutes is fine, but if you completely forget about the coffee it will go cold.
Now you have to do some work. You’ll need more boiling water soon, so have that ready. Stir the coffee for a full 2 minutes. It will seem like a long time but keep going. It’s worth the effort. You will see and feel the grains sinking, and the liquid will begin to look clearer. When you’ve stirred all you can, fill the pot to the brim with boiling water, put the lid on, cover, and leave for a few minutes.
Take the lid off and stir again, briefly. Cover and leave for a few more minutes. If you have stirred as instructed, you won’t even need to strain the coffee. Handy if you can’t find that strainer you thought was at the back of a drawer! However if you don’t want to risk the occasional piece of ground coffee sneaking into your cup, strain.
Little shops at Christmas time are the best fun. For customers and shopkeepers.
Today I spoke with children, dogs, grown women and men. I suggested they save their money and buy nothing; I sent them to other shops for things I don’t stock; I reduced items on the spot, gave things away and rounded down totals to a nice round number. Christmas shopping in my shop is not dull!
That’s what small shops are good at. We are part of your community. Customers like small shops because they reflect the shopkeeper’s personality. They’re real.
Have a very happy Christmas. And be sure your Christmas shopping is fun.
Let me tell you about my relationship… with coffee.
My parents had an aluminium, glass topped percolator which bubbled and boiled on their Belling electric cooker.
One summer we were going on holiday to South West Scotland. My parents were excited about a brand new drink we were taking with us. Instant Coffee. They were amazed and totally proud of their purchase. Of course, we all loved our cup of coffee. Mum boiled a pan of milk, poured it into our cups, then added sugar and the wondrous coffee powder. I was nine years old.
When I was fourteen my parents took us on holiday to the Netherlands. I tasted cups of coffee so good I couldn’t believe how wonderful it was.
From then on, while still at school, I spent what money I had on little tins of Lyon’s Ground Coffee from the supermarket.
I started work aged sixteen. Wages meant I could up my coffee game. Always in my mind was a goal: to make a cup of coffee as good as the ones I had loved in Holland.
Each month I would make a bus journey to Thomson’s in Renfield Street, Glasgow. I knew nothing about varieties or blends but I loved the smell, and the noise of the beans falling from the hopper into the grinder. My favourite was Full French Roast. I adored the dry, high pitched sound of it being dispensed.
I moved to Edinburgh where my coffee supplier was Valvona and Crolla. Preference: Continental High Roast.
You can tell I like my coffee practically burnt.
Now I have my own shop where I sell coffee. Locally roasted (my preference is your Sumatran, Three Hills!) and always, always a jar of Thomson’s Full French Roast.