Category Archives: Food

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs: Garlic mushrooms, pancetta and courgette on toast, topped with a poached egg

After a divine curry last night, both invented and cooked by my father, whose approach to all cuisines is always creative and full of glorious flavour, I went for something rather more conventional tonight.  Mushrooms and garlic are a classic combination.  Some diced courgette, pancetta, finely sliced spring onions, parsley, oregano or tarragon and, if you fancy it, spinach (or wild garlic in spring) are great additions, as is a good dollop of cream or crème fraîche.  The poached egg on top is essential, as it rounds things off beautifully.

The mushrooms and pancetta are fried in butter until beginning to brown, at which point the diced courgette is added until it too is golden. The finely chopped garlic is then added, and when cooked through, some flour is sprinkled over the top of the mixture and stirred until it is invisible, helping to thicken the stock, which goes in as soon as the flour has been absorbed, just a little bit at a time, stirring constantly.

When the sauce reaches the consistency that you like, you might consider adding the following:  finely sliced spring onions or chives, chopped parsley and oregano and a few turns of the pepper mill. I also like to add a slosh of dry sherry  at this stage.   Mushrooms and sherry are a frequent combination in Spanish cooking, and work deliciously together.  I also like to add a handful of spinach at this point if I have some, which cooks through quickly as the egg is poached.   If the sauce is too thick at this stage, again add some more stock or water, a little at a time, and stir well to incorporate anything that might be sticking at the bottom of the pan.

Whilst this is gently heating through, the egg is poached and a slice of rustic bread or sourdough is griddled or toasted.  Poaching eggs is easy if a few basic rules are followed.  The eggs should be fresh and at room temperature.  The water should be boiled, and a glug of white wine vinegar added.  The vinegar helps the whites to solidify.  Create a swirl in the water, which helps to spin the egg whites around the egg yolk, and take off the heat.  It will now poach in the hot water, the whites becoming opaque as the egg begins to cook.  It takes about two minutes depending on the size of the egg.  Drain the eggs well in a slotted spoon or on kitchen paper to remove the traces of vinegar.

Back to the mushroom mix.  At the last minute, a small dollop of whatever cream you have to hand goes in.  I like either crème fraîche or sour cream, but ordinary single or double cream works perfectly well too.  Heat it through gently.  Then place the toasted bread on the plate (buttered if required), spoon the mushroom mix over the top of the toast and then place the the poached egg carefully on top of the mushrooms.  Scatter sea salt over the top of it all, and add a few turns of the pepper mill, and dig in!  It’s incredibly filling, so I don’t serve it with anything else.

Lots of variations are possible. If you have access to wild mushrooms, that makes it even better, but I had button mushrooms that needed using up.  Nearly all herbs will work, including sage, lovage, chervil and marjoram.  Diced aubergine goes well instead of or as well as courgette.  Bits of bacon or parma ham can substitute for pancetta.  Cream sherry can be used instead of dry if you fancy a slight hit of mellow sweetness.  Alternatively, instead of sherry, Marsala wine, which is utterly divine in all sorts of sauces, is excellent with this dish. It is not always easy to get hold of, and must be used with care or it takes over entirely.

A vegetarian version can be done by leaving out the pancetta.  If often do the vegetarian version, and it is delightful.

If you want to make it into a bigger main course, the mix works wonderfully as an accompaniment for pork or chicken.

More adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs

 

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs: Seafood frito misto with tartare sauce

In Italy, frito misto usually describes food that has been given a coating of batter and then deep-fried.  On this occasion I deep-fried my seafood, but it was coated with flour rather than batter, so I may be playing fast and loose with the terminology.  Irrespective, it was delightfully crispy on the outside and beautifully hot and moist in the middle, which is at least in perfect keeping with the spirit of a frito misto.

In so far as tartare sauce is concerned, I often welcome the easy life that sauces in bottles provide, but tartare is always a problem for me as the bottled stuff is so very sweet.  I like my tartare sauce to be creamy but tart, with a lot of acidity.  Too much sugar ruins it for me, and by making the sauce myself I can modify the ingredients to suit my preferences.

This combination of crisp seafood and a soft but tart sauce can be served with whatever you fancy, which in my case is a salad based on garden lettuce and herbs supplemented with shop-bought items like cucumber and tomatoes that I have not yet started to grow (next year).

First, ensure that you have some kitchen roll to hand.  You will be using it a lot.

Next, dig out your eggs and make your mayonnaise (see my earlier post on how to make mayonnaise).  Lemon juice and/or white wine vinegar and a hit of mustard are standard components.  In the final stages of making the mayo, just as it begins to be fully emulsified, I add some herbs.  It’s a personal choice, but I like fresh dill, chives and parsley.  Don’t worry if the sauce becomes very solid, because that’s what you really need.  It needs to be structurally robust in order for the other ingredients to be absorbed without turning it all to liquid.  This is because other solid  ingredients are either wet or acidic.  Acid interferes with the emulsion and makes it much less viscous.

Your sauce should still be thick and gooey, so that when you touch it, it forms peaks like thoroughly whipped cream (just keep adding oil very slowly until it becomes nice and thick).  In the photograph it looks rather too solid for tartare sauce, but you are about to add sour cream and pickled veg to it, which will loosen in up a lot will and provide you with something a lot less viscous.  It is really important to have a good firm  base with which to work.

Sliced gherkins or cornichons and chopped capers are a great combination for tartare sauce.  If you add them straight from the jar, they will add the vinegar from the jar to the emulsion, and will loosen it up, causing it to become runny.  So I drain mine on multi-folded kitchen paper,  wrapping them and turning them now and again for a few minutes.  This removes the excess liquid and leaves you with all of the flavour.  The photo on the right looks a little ungenerous, but I was making a tartare for one.  Once dry, it can be added to the mayonnaise in the food processor and given a very quick whizz.  Remove from the processor and add to a bowl.

Add the sour cream a teaspoon at a time and gently fold it in.  The sour cream is glorious in the mayonnaise base, working with the dill, chives and parsley to provide a deliciously creamy setting for the the lemon, vinegar capers and gherkins, the combination providing real balance.  But do go slowly with the sour cream or you will end up with a soup rather than a sauce.  It will thicken up a bit in the fridge, but not sufficiently to rescue something completely liquid.  Here’s what it looks like, and do remember that although it firms up in the fridge it will relax and become more liquid as soon as it reaches room temperature.

My frito misto was based on seafood, using razor clams, prawns and whitebait, all delivered via Amazon from Morrisons.  Sadly, Amazon doesn’t deliver Morrisons products to Churton, but they do deliver to Rossett, and having a superior parent handily located there, I was able to place an order.  The razor clams are very difficult to source from anywhere else, and both their flavour and texture are unique.   All shellfish need to be extracted from their shells and dried in kitchen roll.  The patting dry will considerably reduce the spitting of the oil.

If you are cooking more than one batch you will also need to have the oven on, so that when you take out one batch and add another, you can keep the original batch warm.

The technique is very simple.  I have a deep-fryer but I rarely use it for fish, because it takes an awful lot of oil to fill it, and once used to cook fish, the oil cannot be used for anything else.  So I do mine in a saucepan large enough to handle whatever it is that I am planning to cook.  The key with floured fish is to get the oil really hot, or the flour falls off and you end up with naked fish and oil swimming in flour.  If you are using a thermometer the oil should be 350F or 180C, but if not just put in a piece of seafood and when it starts to sizzle instantly, you should be good to go.  I do have a kitchen thermometer but its batteries are dead since I moved in, back in February, so I have been using the latter system recently with great success.  Make sure that whatever you throw in is sizzling enthusiastically, because the moment you add another batch of seafood, the temperature will drop.  When you remove the first batch, put it in the oven to stay warm, and allow the oil to heat up again before putting in the next batch.

The fat from each batch needs to drain from the seafood, so have a plate covered in kitchen roll prepared in advance and keep tossing the seafood in the kitchen roll to reduce the oil remaining on the seafood.  It is never going to be a healthy meal, but removing the worst of the oil will improve both the flavour and alleviate a sense of guilt 🙂

Tip it all onto a pre-heated plate, tons of tabasco sprinkled over the top, your salad either on the plate or in a separate bowl (probably best if you have pre-heated your plates) and your tartare sauce on the side, with a chunk of lemon to sprinkle over the top and ENJOY! 

If you want to re-use your oil for another seafood dish, you can filter it through kitchen paper placed in a funnel into a jug or bottle.  The kitchen paper, acting as a filter, picks up all the bits of burnt flour and fish, leaving you with a clear oil.  It will still smell of fish, so seal it well.  I re-use an oil bottle with a screw top for mine.  Make sure that you label it clearly so that you don’t use it by accident for something else.  The fishiness could devastate another dish.  I only re-use it once before throwing it away, which means that this is a special occasion meal.

A lovely summer meal for al fresco dining.

More adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs

Courgettes grown by 9-year-old Harry at the Aldford Village Store

Chatwin’s bread bought from the Aldford Village Store, and a sandwich made with warm home-made tarragon mayonnaise.  The tarragon mayonnaise is warmed by stirring freshly boiled and chopped eggs into it.  For the basic mayonnaise recipe see my earlier post

The managers of the Aldford Village Store, Emma and Will Jones, opened the Aldford Village Store in 2018.  Most Sundays I go up to the store to collect a loaf of brown bread.  It is by far the best brown bread in the area, rich, malty and slightly sweet and so fresh-tasting that it is almost moist, but with more than enough texture for the bread knife to go through it without a fight.  Utterly delicious and a wonderful compliment for egg mayonnaise (made with Churton honesty eggs of course).  The brand is Chatwins, a company based in Nantwich, established in 1913 and at that time their deliveries were made with horse and cart.  It’s not locally-made bread, but it tastes great.

One cannot quibble in any way about how local the store’s courgettes are.  Last Sunday, a basket in the shop had a great crop of green-striped globes and long banana-shaped yellow courgettes, and a label attached to the basket proclaimed them to be “Harry’s.”  I instantly formed a stereotypical vision of an elderly but upright smiling fellow with a deep sun tan, battered broad-brimmed hat, dungarees and probably a pitchfork (I grew up amongst Americans), who had been lovingly tending his courgettes for the last six or more decades.  Nope.  When I asked the friendly girl on the till who Harry might be, it turns out that he is the 9-year old son of the managers, Emma and Will.  Brilliant.

According to his Dad, who I was speaking to a couple of days later when I popped in with my father, Harry is saving up for a Lamborghini, not because his is interested in the brand’s celebrity status, or is impressed by the price tag, but because it is the epitome of fine engineering, and that is what fascinates him.  At a pound per courgette, that’s at least 160,000 courgette sales for a basic Lambo Huracan, 240,000 courgettes for the Spyder version and a horrifically substantial number more courgettes for the insurance, tax and ongoing servicing, and that’s without factoring in the start-up costs of seeds, compost, and his time 🙂   I love courgettes, but I’m not sure that I can eat that many, although we do have until his 17th birthday to try.

To honour Harry, here’s the first of three posts about what I cooked with Harry’s courgettes.  This first one is based on my Mum’s recipe, and has been one of my favourites forever.  Mum’s recipe was for stuffed marrow, but it translates beautifully for Harry’s stunning globe courgettes.

Stuffed Globe Courgette, with thanks to Harry Jones

Oh that globe courgette! What an absolute beauty.  Harry had grown various sizes that were for sale in the store, and this one was about the size of a small galia melon.  I sliced it in half and removed the soft centre, together with the seeds, using a spoon.  I chopped this ready to put it in the sauce that I was just about to cook.

Next, the stuffing and the sauce are both done in the same pan, because the stuffing is also the base of the accompanying sauce.  This is a two-part process.  The first part is simply sausage-meat (or sausages removed from their skins), a finely chopped onion onion, a little finely chopped garlic, the scooped out middle of the courgette, and a lot of sage (fresh or dry) gently all fried in olive oil.  A little liquid is added to prevent it drying out, either hot chicken stock or a mix of chicken stock and white wine.  I also add fennel seeds, just because I love them.  On this occasion I also had lovage growing in the garden and the diced remains of a fennel bulb from the Bellis farm shop in Holt, which always has them, so these went in too.

This rather wet stuffing is used to stuff the marrow, and you will have a lot left over.  The stuffing dries a little when cooking, particularly as 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time you grill it to let it brown slightly.  After heating this stuffing through, I spooned it carefully into the scooped-out reservoir in the courgette half.

To cook the courgette, it is placed in an oven-proof dish full of hot (just off the boil) chicken stock, which is then placed in an oven, either with either a proper lid or a foil tent.   I used an ancient oval Pyrex bowl and covered it in foil and put the whole thing in a baking tray in case the the stuffing leaked.  I take the foil off and grill the whole thing five minutes before serving.  A little butter stroked over the top helps it to brown and crisp, but is not actually necessary.  Normally I do this recipe with marrow rings, which takes about half an hour once the marrow rings are in the oven.  Cooking an entire half globe was always going to take longer, and it took an hour on 220C (static, not fan), plus the five minutes for grilling.

Lovage

The second part of the saucepan process is the sauce that is served alongside the stuffed courgette.  This is done by adding peeled tomatoes and, if you like a bit of heat, chillis to the stuffing.  The chillis can be either fresh or dried.  I find supermarket tomatoes almost completely tasteless, so I use the ripest vine tomatoes that I can find, add a squirt of tomato paste and then a good glug of Big Tom (a spiced tomato drink).  If you don’t mind tinned tomatoes, those would work but I gave up using them a long time ago as they are far too sweet for me.  I also add more hot stock or stock + white wine to the mix, because this is the sauce and needs to be rather more fluid than the stuffing.

Sage

As to quantities, I’m dreadful at writing out recipes, but I used a whole 450g pack of Waitrose sausagemeat as I wanted to make sufficient to freeze down for future meals.  For that amount of sausagemeat, I used a medium-large onion, two cloves of garlic, and added the herbs and liquid to taste.  The first part of the sauce doesn’t want to be too liquid,  as you are going to use it as stuffing, so the trick is to add it in increments and just stop it sticking.  When you start adding stock and tomato to the sauce, it becomes much more liquid, and that’s just a matter of taste.  Again, just add the tomato and stock incrementally until it looks the way you want it to.

The idea of separating out the stuffing and the sauce is to give the stuffing a mild, distinctive flavour all of its own based on the sausagemeat and sage.  In the second part, the addition of tomatoes, chillis and other herbs provides a lovely bold Mediterranean contrast when both are on the plate. You could grate Parmesan cheese over the top, or (before grilling) breadcrumbs for crunch.  I find it sufficiently filling in its own right, but Mum liked it served with a salad and my father likes it with plain white rice to soak up the juices.

It is not an elegant dish.  At least, I’ve never found a way of making it look particularly presentable on the plate, but the flavours rock.  If you are wondering why the stuffing and the sauce look the same in my photographs (congratulations on spotting the far from deliberate mistake), it is because I screwed up.  On this occasion, I forgot to separate the process into two parts and ended up putting the various tomato combinations into the sauce before I had stuffed the courgette with the basic mix, so found myself stuffing it with the tomato-enriched sauce.  That is because I often serve the part 2 version of the sauce over pasta and was working on auto-pilot.  I was more than a little miffed with myself, because it is much better if the two-part process is followed.

The outer peel or rind on the globe courgette is chewy but edible, but on another occasion I would peel it before cooking it.  To serve it, I halved the half-globe.  Short of eating it with a spoon, I wasn’t sure how else to tackle it!  But however it looks, it still tasted terrific, and the Mediterranean feel made it summery.

If you have any sauce left over, it freezes brilliantly, and goes wonderfully over tortellini.  If you have been defeated by the amount of courgette or marrow that emerged from the oven, this can be finely chopped into the sauce before freezing.

I rubbed lemon into the other half of the globe to stop the surface browning, and wrapped it in foil.  It is now in the cold draw in my fridge, awaiting another bout of courgette creativity.

Thank you Harry!

Ferrucio Lamborghini

Sources:

Aldford Village Store
(No website, but they do have a Facebook page):
https://www.facebook.com/aldfordvillagestore

Chatwin’s
https://www.chatwins.co.uk/

Cheshire Live
New village store at Aldford will sell day to day groceries and much more
https://www.cheshire-live.co.uk/news/chester-cheshire-news/new-village-store-aldford-sell-14786194

 

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs: A 3.5 minute soft-boiled egg

Not really an adventure on this occasion, just lunch, but the last time I cooked a soft-boiled egg is lost in the mists of time.  It must have been years ago.  So during a sunny interval after days of changeable weather, with a nice collection of Churton eggs on hand, I indulged.  I almost never have lunch, but the eggs were there, the sun was there, the egg cups were recently rediscovered following the move, and the moment was just perfect.

The egg cups were bought by my mother, because they were such fun, and we had them in the family holiday house for years.  Mum may never have seen the famous Egyptian Predynastic bowl shown below, also adorned with feet and complete with toes, but I would guess that whoever designed the egg cups probably had.

I like my eggs boiled for three and a half minutes, which just sets the egg whites and leaves the contents thoroughly runny.  Absolutely perfect for the dipping of toasted, buttered soldiers.  I remember exchanging animated views with a group of friends years ago about whether the top of the egg should be removed in a clean swipe with a knife,  tapped around the circumference with a spoon, or dismantled with a specialist scissor-like device with metal teeth.  I used a teaspoon to bash a line around the top before scooping it off.  I like a mixed mound of freshly ground sea salt and aromatic black pepper on the side, ready to stir in to the yolk.  Having forgotten the virtues of a  silky, liquid, daffodil-yellow soft-boiled egg, not having had one for such a long time, I really enjoyed the novelty value and it was utterly delicious.

Predynastic pottery sequence by Sir William Flinders Petrie, based on his 1898 – 1899 work in Egypt at the site of Hu (also known as Diospolis Parva)

The Egyptian Predynastic bowl takes a few more lines to explain.  The Predynastic period of Egypt is divided into three main phases, Naqada I, II and III and lasts from c.3690-3238BC.  The Predynastic is distinguished from the earlier prehistoric period by virtue of the fact that the subsistence economy is agricultural (domesticated cereals and livestock), as opposed to merely pastoral (livestock and wild plant resources).  It is the period during which Egypt made the transition from a series of loosely connected ephemeral sites experimenting with the first low-level mixed agriculture to a number of centres of power that eventually coalesced, by fair means or foul, into a single nation headed by a king.  This particular bowl, now in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, is unprovenanced (its origins are unknown because it was bought from a dealer in 1910) but stylistically it belongs to late Naqada I or Naqada II.  It is not the only bowl with feet from the Predynastic, but vessels with feet are very rare and this particular vessel’s form is unique.  If it was used for storing items, these were not preserved.  Very little work has been done on pot residues in Egypt, and most items in museums have been thoroughly cleaned anyway, so what it was used for remains unknown.  There’s more about the bowl on the Met’s website.  

As I have no idea where Mum bought the egg cups, those too are strictly speaking unprovenanced, but they have been with us for a very long time.  The eggs, however, are very precisely provenanced to a small army of hens just up the road 🙂

Churton honesty eggs

Raspberries and strawberries have arrived in Holt, and they are perfectly heavenly

I popped into Bellis in Holt to buy some compost, together with a few flowering pots of this and that in the garden centre on Monday and, blissfully, their own-grown raspberries and strawberries have arrived.  The taste of summer.

Raspberries are my favourites, but the strawberries, small and firm, are wonderful too, and both are being picked in the morning.  Super fresh.  If you are tempted by the strawberries, do go early.  On Monday they had sold out by 11am on Monday and although yesterday I was there at about 1015, they were vanishing fast.

Yesterday I bought a punnet of raspberries for myself and one each of raspberries and strawberries for my father.  By this morning, I had eaten the entire punnet of raspberries without any accessorizing (no sugar, no cream, no anything), and they were truly heavenly – sweet but with a tiny hint of sharpness.  I had the restraint not to eat the ones I had bought for Dad, but it took every ounce of self-discipline that I had 🙂

Dad had his raspberries in the evening with crème fraiche, which I can also recommend.  The slightly tart edge to the crème fraiche is a perfect complement to the sweetness of the fruit, less heavy and rich than ordinary cream, a visual delight and an absolute party on the taste buds.

I have been grazing on some of the strawberries this morning, much like I did on Smarties as a child, but there are plenty left over for a small dessert this evening.  Bliss.

 

Adventures with Churton Honesty Eggs – Ham Horns

In a previous post I talked about the super honesty system in Churton that enables local people to buy free range Churton eggs from a barrow by the side of the road.   On that post I showed photos of how I used one of the eggs in a Middle Eastern lamb baharat, and another two to make a lovage and lime mayonnaise.  On this occasion it is all about ham horns.

This is the weather for al-fresco dining, and I love to eat outdoors so today I made a ham horn with salad for lunch.  The ham horn was an invention of my Mum’s and quite apart from the fact that I like to use Mum’s inventions, it is very easy to make and amazingly filling.  So filling, in fact, that I had to change my plans for my evening meal to something significantly smaller than originally planned.

A ham horn is quite simply a tube of ham stuffed with chopped eggs (and herbs if you fancy them) in mayonnaise.  Sometimes the simplest things are the most delicious.  The ham horn is supposed to be wider at one end than the other to give it the horn shape, and Mum’s were always proper horns, but mine always come out uncompromisingly pancake-shaped.

You can make ham horns with mayo from a jar, of course, but there is nothing that you can purchase in a supermarket that looks or tastes remotely like home-made mayonnaise, especially when additional flavours are added to give it an extra hit of something special.   Unlike the supermarket white mayo, a home made one based on eggs yolks, which are of course deep yellow, transforms the ingredients into a lovely primrose colour.  Mayonnaise is so quick and easy to make that it is well worth taking out five minutes to do it.  If you want a herb mayonnaise, the herbs have to be fresh; dried ones simply don’t work.  The only exception I have found is dried tarragon, which can be soaked in vinegar to release the flavour, and then both the vinegar and the dried tarragon can be used as part of the base for the mayonnaise.  Another way of adding flavour is to used flavoured oil, which can be home made.

I do my mayonnaise in a mini food processor.  Most mini processors have a hole in the lid for precisely this purpose, but mine is ancient and I had to drill a hole into it.  I know that some people use plastic blades for mayo, but I’ve never had any trouble with a metal blade.  I start with a good dollop of Dijon, Senf (German mustard) or tarragon mustard, with a good squeeze of lemon or lime juice or white wine vinegar (depending on what it is to accompany).  On this occasion it was Dijon mustard and lemon juice, with a good turn of black pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt.

The eggs are separated and the whites retained for a future use (and can be frozen).  I have the whites earmarked for a tempura dish, but they are also great for souffles and meringues.  I then chuck the eggs into the bottom of the food processor with the mustard, lemon juice and seasoning and give it a quick spin.  The trick, and it’s the only serious trick, is to add the oil terribly, terribly slowly.  I was using a  Filippo Berio “mild and lighter in colour” oil into which a few weeks ago I had added some sliced lemon, chilli, garlic and lovage, and was a gorgeous shade of sunshine yellow.  If you are new to making mayonnaise, I would suggest that you use olive oil (any) or sunflower oil rather than rapeseed, as the latter is much more difficult to emulsify (thicken).

When you begin to add the oil, the mix in the bottom of the food processor is a dark yellow (thanks to the yolks and mustard).  As you add the oil, in a very slow, very thin stream, the oil and egg yolks gradually emulsify and the dark yellow starts to lighten as the mayonnaise thickens.  This lightening process is the emulsification taking place.  The more oil you add, the thicker it gets.  I have occasionally become so engrossed in adding the oil that I’ve forgotten to stop now and again to check it for thickness, and have ended up with something that can be carved like butter!  On this occasion I stopped on time, with a nice, soft texture to which I added chopped herbs to the food processor and gave it a good pulse.

If, after tasting, you find that you want to add more lemon juice or wine vinegar to add a bit more acidity, just be aware (the second trick) that this will loosen the emulsion, so unless it was already very stiff, you may have to add more oil.  You can also add salt to help thicken it up (the third and final trick).  Do this incrementally so that it is not over-salty, and keep tasting as you do it, but it works.

You can use any herbs that you like, of course (parsley, spring onions, chives and dill are all good options, and tarragon is terrific), but I have recently discovered that lovage and coriander, both strong, highly  aromatic herbs, go superbly together in some contexts.  I’ve always been a fan of coriander in egg mayonnaise, ever since buying a gourmet sandwich in a Turkish café on Leather Lane, near where I worked in Clerkenwell (London), but the idea of lobbing in some lovage was new, and I was so pleased when it worked so well. Lovage is very powerful so be a bit careful with it.  In the mayonnaise, the flavour of the herbs is brought out by the lemon juice (or vinegar if using that instead) in the mayo.

To prevent the top forming a skin, I store my mayo in the fridge with the clingfilm actually resting on the surface until it is needed.  An hour before I am ready to assemble the ham horn, I take the mayonnaise out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.  This is because it becomes more solid in the fridge, and at room temperature it loosens back to the original texture that it had when scooped out of the mini processor.   Just before assembly I peel the egg, chop it up and stir it into the mayo.

The ham I had to hand was thinly-sliced Italian porchetta, which has a lovely flavour but is ultra-thin and very difficult to extract in one piece from the wrapping.  A thicker ham would have  been better, but I didn’t have one.  So instead of a smooth, elegant horn, I ended up with a battered and patched flattened tube.  Still, it tasted delicious.

I made a salad from three types of lettuce that I grow in pots on the patio, and lots of herbs, again from patio pots, chosen with care because I didn’t want an unholy clash with the lovage and coriander in the mayo.  Parsley, oregano, sorrel, and mint accompanied the lettuce and were joined by some delicious little oval yellow tomatoes that Dad gets for me (brand name Natoora), that are tart instead of sickly sweet, and full of amazing flavour.  I like them straight from the fridge, ultra cold.  A dampened piece of kitchen roll laid over the top keeps everything fresh.  I always have a jar of home made French-style vinaigrette in the cupboard (mustard, white wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic clove, freshly ground black pepper, all given a seriously good shake), and I served that on the side to be stirred in at the last minute to prevent the salad going soggy.

When I had finished, and took it all out into the garden on a tray, I had a ham horn, a herb salad and chilled yellow baby tomatoes on a plate with the vinaigrette in a little dish on the side and a tall glass of lovely still lemonade, very cold (not home made but divine).  It was all rather delightful.

The Churton egg continues to rock.
If you want to check out more of my Churton egg adventures, click on
the Churton Eggs label in the right hand margin.
More will be added soon 🙂

Churton Honesty Eggs

When I first started working in the garden at Churton, one of the truly delightful sounds was the brash crowing of a cockerel somewhere to the northwest of my house.

A few weeks later I was walking to the White Horse, which had just re-opened (prior to closing again during the pandemic), and found that at the end of the super row of late 19th Century terraced houses, Rowley Place, there was a wheelbarrow full of eggs in pre-used boxes.  It is an honesty system and lots of people in cars pull up alongside to pop the required coins in the lock box and take away their fresh eggs.  Since the beginning of the pandemic I had fallen out of the habit of using cash, so the first time I bought my eggs there I had to rifle through various jacket pockets and the eternal chaos at the bottom of my handbag to find the right amount of coinage (£1.30 per half dozen or £2.50 for a dozen, at time of writing).  There’s a separate tub on the side for unwanted egg-boxes that are used for boxing up the new eggs.  The sign says that they are mixed sizes, but they have all been of a good, usable size to date, the smallest of them on the larger size of medium and the bigger ones large.

A couple of months ago my neighbour told me that she and her other neighbour had found hen eggs buried in their gardens.  Both her research and mine suggested that they were deposited by foxes.  I have never found any buried eggs, but twice this spring I have found broken hen eggs in the middle of my lawn.  It does beg the question why the fox might steal the egg and not the chicken.  It turns out that I know remarkably little about chickens.  Another scoot around the web delivered me to the American Chicken-Keeping Secrets website, which informs me that free-range chickens roost overnight in the hen-house but can lay their eggs wherever they feel comfortable at the time, so even though the hens themselves may be resting safely behind fox/coyote-proof barriers at night, the eggs may not be:

“For a long time we kept our chickens in a run due to coyotes in the area. At some point we decided to let them out to roam the property.  The longer they were out, the fewer eggs we found in their nesting boxes.  Each day we’d all have to go out searching for eggs. We found them in the dog house, under the children’s slide, way down at the bottom where the slide and the ground meet, inside a cabinet in the woodshop where a cabinet door had been left open  . . . our chickens were creative.”

To celebrate these splendid local eggs, here are two examples of how I have used them.

Lamb baharat with Churton honesty eggs

First, a picture of Thursday’s Middle Eastern lamb, slow-cooked with baharat spices supplemented on this occasion with fresh red chilli, spinach, wild garlic (ramsons), tiny preserved lemons and the eggs, which are hard-boiled and have gorgeous deeply- yellow centres (and I promise that no Photoshop tweaking was employed).  Hard boiled eggs are traditional in some Indian curries and essential in the fabulous traditional Doro Wat and Sega Wat (Ethiopian curry, chicken and beef respectively).  The edible flowers on top of the dish, as well as some of the green leaves, are ramsons from a pot in my garden, and the puddle of sauce next to the plain white basmati rice is Greek yogurt with a good squeeze of lime together with chopped garden mint and chives.  I’ve had the Churton eggs soft-boiled, poached and as a French fennel and cheese omelette, but this dish showcases my first hard-boiled ones, which flaunt the deep yellow yolks, a much richer colour than any I have ever bought in supermarkets, and they have a fabulous flavour.

Lovage and lime mayonnaise made with Churton honesty eggs

The second is a mayonnaise made of a single Churton egg yolk (I saved the egg white for another dish), a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, lovage, sea salt, lime juice and mild-flavoured olive oil.  Unlike the ivory-coloured Hellman’s this was a beautiful primrose yellow before I added the herbs and lime, which turned it green.  I like Hellmans and always have a bottle of it in the fridge, using it splurged on sandwiches or on the side of a quick salad as a guilty kitchen essential like HP sauce and Heinz ketchup, but it has precious little relationship with either the appearance or flavour of real mayonnaise.  The process of emulsifying egg with oil lightens the colour, but it is still unmistakeably yellow.  How can mayonnaise possibly be ivory-white, when based on egg yolks?  Nowadays, the relevant shelf in a supermarket is full of copycat bottles of white emulsion.  Unilever (the producer of Hellman’s) must be grinning from ear to ear, but it somewhat reminds me of the  futuristic film Demolition Man, in which our hero from a previous century, having been invited in hushed tones to dine in the restaurant Taco Bell in gratitude for a life-saving act, is informed that “Taco Bell was the only restaurant to survive the franchise wars. Now all restaurants are Taco Bell.”

The green bits in my mayo are lovage, which I grow in a big pot on the patio.  Growing lovage yourself is the only way to source it, and a little goes a long way as an aromatic flavouring in sauces, as a divine leaf in salad and a distinctive contributor to soups, and chicken, pork or seafood dishes.

Churton honesty eggs