Rosehip-hip hooray!

The foraged food taster at the MVMNT cafe in November entailed preparation of food and drink on a grand scale, far more than most people would ever undertake at home. Fortunately, we had access to the kitchens at GCDA with all the catering sized pans. It was one of these I had earmarked for the preparation of the large bag of rosehips I had collected beforehand.

Let me tell you, it took over an hour to pick through them all, removing any stalks still attached and discarding any that were too manky to be of use. The original wartime recipe gives  instructions to mince the rosehips coarsely; when I made this at home last year, I snipped them up with kitchen scissors, but there was no way I could face doing that after spending all that time in preparation before I had even started cooking. Instead, I washed them and started cooking them up whole, before breaking them up with a potato masher as I had done with the haws at home. As I had to leave off cooking to get elsewhere, I just had time to decant the juice into jars, straining it through a nylon sieve, whilst the part-cooked rosehips were loaded into a plastic container once they had cooled. Both were taken home and stashed in the fridge for further processing later.

The final stage in the process involved straining the jars of juice again – the contents needed heating to loosen them since they had gelled slightly in the fridge, and cooking up the part-cooked hips to extract more juice, before placing a goodly dollop of the mixture in the nylon sieve and agitating over a large bowl to encourage the juice out. The seedy slurry went into the compost bin. All was sieved again (a very important point) to make quite sure to remove the hairs that can irritate the gut and simmered to reduce the volume of liquid by about half before adding an equivalent volume of sugar. Then followed a lengthy session of cooking down, until finally, a thick paste-like jelly was produced, to be spooned out into scalded jars. This can be spread like jam or mixed with water to make a drink. Foraged food is certainly not ‘free’, if you take into account the time and energy used to process it, but that is not the point. It is about producing something you can’t buy in the shops and engaging with your environment, and having fun whilst doing so.

This is what foraging is all about

Click here to go to GCDA website

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A Taste for Foraging

table and stools outside

Harry sets the stage at the MVMNT cafe

The weather was perfect, as was the setting, when the MVMNT cafe hosted its first foraged food tasting event from 1 – 3 pm last Sunday. During the two hours, there were around 30 attendees, many of whom lingered for a long time as they sampled the various delights prepared from foraged ingredients gathered in and around Greenwich.

Checking out the samples

They were able to inquire about what to look out for, and taste for themselves the kind of food and drink that can be prepared using foraged ingredients. From ‘entry level’ foraging, like making the lavender sugar which encased the bachelor’s buttons (little cakes), using lavender spikes from a local front garden, to rosehip paste made from hips gathered from open spaces; then to quince and nashi pears, which were served as membrillo (quince paste), a quinceade, soft fruit jellies in sugar and as a mixed fruit crumble, all generously donated by residents of Greenwich borough who allowed the GCDA to gather the fruit.

Discussing foraged food

The informal style of the event encouraged lively discussion between committed afficionados of foraging and relaxed conversation with friends catching up whilst enjoying dishes they had never tasted before. It also introduced the MVMNT cafe to a new audience who were able to appreciate its unique, versatile layout which is ideally suited to events of this type. Expect another one in spring.

Plenty to see and talk about

Click here to go to GCDA website

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Hawthorn Jelly, easy to make

books about foraging

this is where it all began

Food is a perennial topic of interest – there are always plenty of people floating about calling themselves ‘food writers’ at any food-themed gathering – and now healthy food and foraging are bang on trend. On a recent walk around Ide Hill, my friends and I were struck by the amazing variety of mushrooms growing in the village, some tiny and bright yellow spikes, some enormous like the toadstools depicted in children’s books and some just like the ones you see in the shops. Possibly edible, but we kept clear, and besides it is not recommended to gather mushrooms after the rain.

hawthorn berries in a bowl

hawthorn berries, washed and ready for sorting

Instead, I was after hawthorn berries, just for the chance of cooking them to see what they taste like. Luckily we took a wrong turning near the end of the walk (to be fair, the book we used is nearly 20 years old, so it is hardly surprising if there have been a few changes since then). This meant we ended up walking along a fairly quiet road – lined with hawthorn bushes. Satisfied that they wouldn’t be coated in poison from passing cars, I gathered as many as I could. The recommended method is to pick the bunches, then process the individual berries at home. This I did by soaking the lot, then picking them over, discarding any black or damaged ones.

hawthorn jam

A lot of berries to make not much jelly – but you can’t buy it in the shops!

I then boiled them for an hour, mashing every 20 minutes with a potato masher and left the pulp to drain in a sieve, without pressing, over a bowl overnight. The next morning, there was a bowl of clear, reddish liquid ready to be cooked up with an equivalent amount of sugar and the juice of a lime. (I left the browny residue in the bottom of the bowl when I tipped the contents into the saucepan). I added the last apple in the house, finely sliced, to help the jam set. Apples are the jam-makers friend, being rich in pectin. This one went to a good home. This jelly has a special taste, and I will be foraging for more hawthorn berries soon.

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Sea Buckthorn, a sharp jelly – mind the spikes!

sea buckthorn

Look out for these next year and try them for yourself

Sea Buckthorn has been around for a long time, but I only noticed it recently when walking about near my home because of the vivid orange berries. Once I found out that the berries are edible I was keen to forage some and have a go at cooking them. When I collected the ones I used, in October, it was impossible to pick them without them disintegrating, so I took short lengths of twigs with the berries attached. I tried a few; they have a sharp, bitter-sweet taste. Upon returning home, I did further research which determined me to go back the next day with a pair of secateurs.

picture of Sea Buckthorn

if you don’t believe me, ask James Wong

Possibly, if I had collected them in September I would have been able to pick whole berries from the branches, but that wasn’t an option. Instead I decided to soak them thoroughly before washing them, then crushed them over a bowl. If you decide to copy this method, be warned, the berries will explode everywhere – on the work surface, up the walls, and over you. Wear an apron. But they will mostly explode into the bowl, leaving most of the seeds behind, if you move down the branch in the direction of growth, as if milking a cow. This will help you to avoid the sharp thorns dotted along the branches, but any open cuts made by them will smart like billy-o on account of the juice. There is a bloke you can watch on YouTube describing how he cooked them for the first time. It is 18 minutes of your life you will never have again, but I will summarise thus – use more sugar, and it takes quite a while before it gets to the setting stage. 

sea buckthorn jam

With the addition of apple and pear, sea buckthorn makes a tart, almost savoury jelly

First, I strained the liquid to remove any seeds and bits of twig that had got into the bowl. Before I even put any sugar in, I reduced by simmering while I got on with the job of cleaning everywhere that had been spattered with bright orange juice. The juice became even more acridly sour as it cooked down, and produced a lot of scum which I skimmed off periodically. The addition of a few small apples and pears, blended in helped a little, but it was crying out for sugar – quite a lot was needed. It occurred to me that raisins would balance the sharpness, but finally I added a tablespoon of demara sugar. Although I lost the beautiful golden colour, at least it became edible. The resulting jelly would complement Middle Eastern cuisine, teamed with apricots, dates and minced lamb, or could add a richness to curry dishes, or go well with cheese. It didn’t turn out quite like I expected, but I would make it again.

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Laziness, and a False Economy


The basic kit, old style

I have just returned from a dental check up. The news wasn’t devastating, but it wasn’t good either. An x-ray has revealed that I have a tiny cavity developing in the molar next to my wisdom tooth. Nowadays, dentists aren’t allowed to tell you that you must have  a particular course of treatment, they outline the possibilities, then let you decide. As I know that cavities don’t close up on their own, alas, the only decision is whether to go for the ‘silver’ or ‘white’ option. The appointment is booked for next week.

electric toothbrush and floss

Now, this is what you need for pearly gnashers – an electric toothbrush and floss, keep it as your constant companion

Americans are generally puzzled and dismayed by the English attitude to their own teeth, satirised in Spike Milligan’s poem English Teeth (three cheers for the brown grey and black!) I tend to think, so long as they are attached to my head, that is a result. Their main purposes are;

1 for eating with

2 for speaking with

3 for looking good, or at least OK

Not for me the filing down to a uniform length and covering with porcelain veneers. I don’t mind too much that they resemble a fine row of Georgian houses conceived not as a terrace, but a series of dwellings thrown up over a number of years by their owners in a bid to outdo one another. Naturally, there is some variation in size and aspect, but the foundations are still sound. If I wanted to have them hoicked into position with a clear brace, I would have to wear a retainer at night, I think forever. But I do feel a bit annoyed with myself about the upcoming dental treatment, as it has been caused by my own laziness.

joke teeth

you have been warned, start flossing now

It is well established that brushing alone is not sufficient to remove all particles of food from between your teeth, even if you use an electric toothbrush, although that is certainly a step in the right direction. It is flossing that reaches the parts that brushing cannot reach, and through laziness I haven’t maintained a flossing regime. And now I have a cavity developing in the very spot where dental floss would have done the trick. For what I am going to pay the dentist next week, I could have bought a lot of dental floss and delayed or even prevented another filling. It is not about vanity; now, it is about money.

Click here to go to the GCDA website

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200 Steps is All it Takes

MVMNT Cafe sign

Trust me, it IS a cafe

Imagine you have just found yourself in the main entrance of Greenwich Station, feeling thirsty, but also wanting to be away from the crowds. You are only allowed 200 steps to reach your goal. The only option is to turn, not left, towards Greenwich town centre, but right, across the forecourt…

The site is bordered by mixed planting, including food plants

Tucked away just below street level is the MVMNT cafe, a short walk along from Greenwich mainline station, and on the approach to Greenwich DLR. From the outside it resembles an art installation – and indeed it was designed by artist Morag Myerscough as a temporary structure and performance space, hosting acoustic sessions, storytelling and poetry evenings. Along the outside of the hoardings that flank the site can be seen the words of Lemn Sissay’s poem Shipping Good, which was commisioned by Cathedral Group.

There is a range of hot drinks on sale – including coffee, Fair Trade of course

I have to ‘fess up that I am not a haunter of coffee bars or tearooms, but I could hardly write a review of the MVMNT cafe without entering its portals, so I nipped out of the office one afternoon in October to experience it for myself. A short flight of steps leads down into the precincts of the cafe, which is bordered on two sides by raked seating which face away from the street and the pavement leading to the DLR. I ordered a medium Americano, in other words, a ‘normal’ coffee. The first thing to say is, yes, the coffee is good and not overpriced (most drinks are sub £2). I also liked the fact it was properly hot, not merely warm. There are a range of light snacks available, and all the staff that I have met are efficient, polite and friendly. This should be a sine qua non, but it doesn’t always obtain in shops.

View of the bar at MVMNT Cafe

The day I went, it was sunny, but also a bit blowy, so I could enjoy the dappled sunlight while at the same time the rustling of the semi-mature trees next to the site distracted from the traffic sounds, not that they are too intrusive. The site nestles slightly below the level of the road, and is planted along the back of its two seating areas with mixed herbs and ornamentals as well as fruit trees. It doesn’t feel like being in a goldfish bowl, although you can see everyone who passes by. When I arrived, there were two businessmen concluding a planning meeting, and by the time I left, two students and a youngish couple had arrived. From the way they greeted the barista, I could tell they were regulars. Plans are in place to cope with cold and wet weather, since at present, the site is very open, with limited cover. It makes a good place to meet, or sit alone with a book for a bit of time out, away from the relentless bustle of Greenwich town centre. It has already been hired out for private functions. For anyone in Greenwich who has a serious coffee habit, the MVMNT cafe should definitely be on their ‘to discover and return to’ list.

The MVMNT Cafe, by Greenwich DLR

Click here to go the GCDA website

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Your Home for Life – Look after it!

walking on the common

The daily constitutional

It is very noticeable that the Nepalese who have recently settled in Plumstead are in the habit of exercising, whatever their age. In an ideal world, we would all be encouraged by our parents to find and enjoy the best sporting activity for our bodies and personalities. But we don’t live in such a world, and sometimes we have to decide to make a positive change for ourselves. I think it is generally agreed that as we age, our bodies start wearing out and not behaving as they did when we were younger. Not to mention drying out and sagging. Certainly I have seen what a devastating effect ‘having a fall’ can have on the confidence as well as the physical body of an older person. Then there is the cumulative consequence of habitual activity or lack of it.


Who needs a gym to exercise?

On the one hand I know someone who played badminton competitively at county level who has had his hips and knees operated on at a comparatively young age as a consequence of the damage done by the demands of the sport on his joints. On the other, I know of someone who is virtually housebound; maybe if she had been more active when she was younger she would still be more mobile. Who knows? I recall a former neighbour who walked with 2 walking sticks when I first arrived in the street, but who, by the time I left 13 years later used neither of them. When I asked her what had happened, she told me she had realised if she didn’t do something she would end up immobile. Going to the gym three times a week had turned her life around.

people in a meadow

Exercise can be a social occasion

Taking the analogy of the body as a home, it follows we can’t all live in a mansion – to some extent we have to accept what we are given, be it a semi-detached, a terrace or a tent. But at least we can do what we can by the way of keeping active. So walking up the hill instead of taking the bus would be like getting the boiler serviced. Changing our diet could be compared to flushing out the central heating system or pushing the hoover round. Or, if your body is more of a tent than a temple, shaking the crumbs off the groundsheet.

Click here for GCDA website.

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