I'm a great fan of thrift shops. Of course they save money, but they are also a source of old fashioned items that have now been replaced by plastic. Quite by chance I've discovered another product I can add to my thrift shop search list - spice jars.
In researching this week's blog I looked up spice jars with ground glass stoppers, assuming that they would be easily sourced from John Lewis, or a similar store. Imagine my horror to discover that the simple spice jar, of which my kitchen is thankfully well stocked, is now an item of antiquity and only available from secondhand sites like Ebay and Etsy. It is possible to purchase new ones, by special order from laboratory suppliers, but they are expensive and look on the website to be a little more flimsy than my old Ravenhead jars, that I think were originally purchased from Habitat.
So to precede this week's article on storing food for the winter, I must add the suggestion to first find yourself some proper spice jars with ground glass lids. Plastic stoppers will not do for the discerning environmentalist.
I've been harvesting seeds on the plot this week. I grow wild celery, fennel and nasturtium, all of which can be used as a winter long flavouring. And this year I left the French beans (variety Cosse violet) to ripen on the vine.
In July the French beans ran to seed very quickly, so instead of eating them fresh, I decided to leave almost all the harvest to mature. French beans form a creamy, half-moon shaped bean that looks and tastes like a haricot bean. All beans are cultivars of the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris but their colour and flavour varies widely. Beans are a common meal all over the world because they keep so well and have an excellent nutritional profile.
One hundred grammes of cooked beans (made from about 30g of dry beans) contains 8g protein and 11g dietary fibre (44% of the recommended daily allowance) as well as significant quantities of iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. By contrast, French beans, the young green pods of the haricot bean, are something of a modern luxury. They possess quite a different nutritional profile, being packed with Vitamin C but containing a paltry 1.8g protein per 100g. That's why, in the old days beans would have more likely been left to mature to form a protein rich food for the winter.
Harvesting couldn't be easier. De-seed the pods, discarding any damaged beans and store in a dry sack. Don't store legumes in a glass storage jar or a sealed package in case the beans still need to dry out. Beans will keep for years, but are best eaten before temperatures start to rise next year.
My favourite small seeds come from the wild celery (Apium graveolens) that grows abundantly on my plot. This has a wonderful flavour. Seeds are rich in omega3 fats (the shorter chain 'goodies' in the saturated fat stable) They are also packed with vitamins, trace elements and minerals that provide nutrition and flavour. Flavonoids, the volatile aromatic oils that are released when the seeds are crushed, are now associated with all sorts of health benefits from boosting immunity to enhancing mood.
Celery seeds also contain natural sodium and potassium, which is why they make such an excellent condiment. Though salt itself should be rationed, we all need sodium and potassium which serve as electrolytes. They keep the brain synapses firing. Pure salt is very high in sodium, but dilute it with other flavourings and you'll be doing yourself a favour.
Even small quantities of the trace elements found in seeds have great benefit. The more variety you add to your diet the better. But it's best to crush seeds before use, otherwise they tend to go right through you.
HOW TO MAKE CELERY SALT
This old fashioned flavouring has rather gone out of fashion, chased away, I'm sure, because of the unsatisfying dust that is sold in supermarkets masquerading as celery salt. Here is a super quick recipe for the real thing:
Take a few teaspoons of celery seeds and crush with a pestle and mortar. Immediately mix 3-1 or 4-1 with culinary quality sea salt. (I used sea salt flakes from Maldon in Essex) store in a glass stoppered jar (if you can find one) in a dark, cool place.
A bag of beans, or a jar of celery salt is a great gift for my kitchen, but might seem a bit dull as a Christmas gift. However if you are looking for last minute gifts, you can't go wrong with some of the more colourful condiment mixes that are popular in France, but almost unheard of over here. In France sea salt is called fleur de mer and it is prized for its subtlety of flavour and for the trace elements that accompany the dried sea salt. The best sea salt is said to come from Ile de Re - a delightful summer resort island just off La Rochelle. However, I discovered this particular mix in the market in Le Havre (an unsung destination city that I particularly like.)
LA FLEUR AUX BAIES
This recipe mix uses pink peppercorns, baies roses, along with other red and orange spices, which produce a delightfully pink mix once the salt is added. I use this mix to flavour pretty well anything from white fish like cod, to chicken in a cream sauce, fresh asparagus and all sorts of soups. Placed in a pretty jar, with a tasteful label, this makes a very acceptable Christmas present. It's the salt AND the pepper in one pinch - délicieux!
I tsp pink peppercorns
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp white peppercorns
Bruise, but don't completely pulverise them in a pestle and mortar.
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon powdered paprika
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
Mix all the spices thoroughly with a spoon, then add in fleur de mer or flaked sea salt topping up to fill a 150ml storage jar with a ground glass stopper. (If you've managed to find one). The mixture should be approximately 75 - 85% salt.