1. Making my own marmalade.
I grew up around this process; my mum used to make her own every year, but since it started gathering dust in the larder because no one in our family eats toast any more, she has sadly stopped. I decided to pick up the orange baton and initiate myself in the mysterious world of the magical seville after spotting crates of them at the market a couple of weeks ago. I've made twenty jars since then, trying two different recipes. The first was a Waitrose recipe that infuses the marmalade with herbs - I used bay and rosemary. The oranges are simmered whole in water until totally soft, then the flesh scooped out and the peel shredded before the whole lot is simmered again with sugar until it sets. This is pretty easy and can be made in an evening, although I didn't slice the peel finely enough so it was chunkier than I'd have liked. The herb flavour didn't come through as much as I'd like, so I might use more rosemary next time, as it's so good with oranges.
The second version came from Diana Henry's wonderful book on preserving, Salt, Sugar, Smoke. When I saw that it contained blood oranges and grapefruit too, alongside the sturdy seville, it was definitely happening. This was a lot more involved than the Waitrose version and took a good two days to make, including the painstaking shredding of the peels from twelve citrus fruits, the juicing of the aforementioned fruits, and the juicing of a further seven lemons. The result, though, is gorgeous, with just the right consistency and thickness of peel. Lucky I made thirteen jars, really. There really is nothing like warming your kitchen and your life with the smell of bubbling citrus and sugar on a rainy winter's day; I'm definitely a homemade marmalade convert.
2. Mirabilia olive leaf tea.
When I was asked if I wanted to try some of this a few weeks ago, I couldn't say no - I do love a good unusual tea variety, and I didn't even know it was possible to make tea with olive leaves. Apparently it's been made in Abruzzo, Italy for hundreds of years, where the trees are grown in organic conditions and surrounded by clean, unpolluted mountain air that provides the perfect growing environment. The leaves are hand-picked and carefully dried, resulting in high levels of antioxidants - 400% more than green tea. The tea is also completely caffeine free and doesn't have any of that teeth- and mug-staining tannin that you find in traditional varieties. You can find more about it on the website here. But really, what you probably want to hear about is the taste. It's an incredibly subtle flavour, requiring a good steep in hot water to bring out the aroma. The closest comparison, I think, would be jasmine tea - a very subtle fragrance that perfumes the water rather than delivering an assault of bitterness or tannin. I tried three varieties: plain olive leaf, olive lead and pomegranate, and olive leaf with lemon and wild mint. They are all delicious, the pomegranate version slightly 'warmer' and sweeter, the lemon having a slight herbal kick to it. It's not something I'd reach for in the morning to wake me up - I normally rely on a very strong, punchy, tar-scented Lapsang Souchong for that, or a good cup of Yorkshire tea - but it's perfect for mid-afternoon or a relaxing post-dinner pot of tea to help the digestion. If you're interested in weird and wonderful tea varieties, I'd definitely recommend having a try. You can get it in Booths supermarket, Whittards online, Planet Organic, and various independent food stores.
3. Yorkshire rhubarb.
I will never stop appreciating the vibrant beauty of a crate of slender, pearlescent, hot pink rhubarb stalks in the middle of the market during a grey late winter. I still find it hard to believe something this colour actually exists in nature; it seems more appropriate on the walls of a nine year old girl's bedroom than on something emerging from the ground. I'll definitely be heading to the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival next weekend to indulge in everything related to this wonderful home-grown crop, but for now I'm using it in all of my favourite recipes:rhubarb, blueberry and almond baked oatmeal; rhubarb and blueberry breakfast crumble; rhubarb and strawberry cobbler with Cornish gin. It pairs fabulously with vanilla, and with cardamom, especially in this treacle tart with cardamom and poached rhubarb. If you can think that far ahead, try making this ridiculously gorgeous rhubarb vodka. I'll also be using it to make a tart, sharp sauce to marry with a crisp-skinned grilled mackerel sometime soon, and perhaps slicing it thinly into a salad with feta and sultanas to serve alongside roast pork belly.
4. Hanging, butchering and cooking my own pheasant.
I wrote about this last week, in my post 'How to turn a bird into dinner'. Since then I've hung and butchered another brace of birds, and the satisfaction was just as great. I admit, though, there's something a bit surreal about thinking 'Right, need to get dinner ready now' and just wandering out to the garage to return to the kitchen holding a couple of dead animals. As close as one gets to being a hunter-gatherer in the middle of urban Yorkshire.
I have to recommend this fabulous and very seasonal Ottolenghi recipe that appeared in the Guardian last weekend: it's for guinea fowl with seville oranges, but I adapted it to use pheasant breasts and legs. You coat the meat in an incredible marinade of marmalade, soy sauce, wholegrain mustard, worcester sauce and olive oil, tossing it together with red chillies, slivers of seville orange and wedges of fennel before roasting in a hot oven to turn everything gloriously sweet-salty and sticky. It works absolutely perfectly with the gamey pheasant meat - I imagine duck would be good too - really lifting the flavour. It's utterly moreish and delicious, the fennel caramelising down into a meltingly tender morsel while the oranges turn sticky and sweet-sour, everything given quite a kick from the chillies. This might be my new go-to pheasant recipe. It's also delicious reheated for lunch the next day.
5. Using things up.
Not the most exciting concept, but something that delivers a sense of satisfaction unlike anything else you can do in the kitchen. In the last couple of weeks I've been raiding the freezer and cupboards to try and cook without needing to do much shopping. So far this mentality has produced: a delicious tuna steak with persimmon and avocado salad; five jars of apple and sloe gin jelly (made with leftover sloes that had been infusing a bottle of gin for three years - yum); a fig, raisin, pecan and walnut loaf for cheese (to use up odds and ends of dried fruit and nuts in the cupboards; see photo above); a moist and intriguing spiced apple and ginger bundt cake (to use up my ridiculous glut of stored apples from the tree; recipe coming soon); a lovely bacon and mushroom risotto to use up some homemade pheasant stock. Who says this kind of cooking is boring?