sow it, grow it, eat it! by Annette Gibbons


Annette Gibbons OBE is renowned as a champion of real Cumbrian food. She hosts Cumbria’s Fine Dining Club and also enjoys her organic vegetable garden.

Public Enemy No. 1 in this garden are slugs. How invasive they have been this summer. Whilst clearing the courgette bed I found half eaten vegetables that had been devoured and were still being devoured by slugs. Horrible little terrestrial molluscs covered in slime.

I’d love to know what use they are in my garden - I suppose the hedgehogs find them tasty. Note to self - encourage more hedgehogs! Actually, the hens are quite partial to a slug or two.

I was looking forward to the first frost, knowing that leeks and parsnips should be sweeter once they’d been chilled. Starch turns to sugars. The leek crop is abundant this year and I’m happy to have planted continuously from May to August giving shafts of leek of progressive size. I had started the seeds in March and I love the fact they germinate so quickly. Leeks are one winter crop I couldn’t do without. In fact, it’s time to make my traditional leek, lemon and chestnut stuffing for the Christmas bird. One of my favourite vegetarian crumbles is a Cranks, creamy leek croustade. If you don’t have a battered old version of the original book as I do, find it on

Kale, (both red and calvo nero) chard and spinach seem to be standing up well so far this winter, though anything larger has succumbed to our Solway salty winds. I shall have to pick the last of the red cabbage soon and braise it long and slow with onion, apples (yes, another use for them) and port on a bed of butter and brown sugar. I often add a few juniper berries, or finish with a scattering of caraway seeds. This dish freezes well and accompanies hearty winter casseroles and roasts. The deep red colour and rich juice make me feel it’s doing us good!

If you have access to fresh manure from your friendly farmer or horse owner, now is the time to put a thick layer on next year’s hungry vegetable beds. Winter will help it rot down and create a useful food source for next year’s crops.

Time to enjoy this year’s harvest but prepare for 2018. Can it be that time already?

Do you enjoy eating out but can’t decide where to go and what to choose?

Annette’s popular Dining Club visits Cumbrian eateries where the evening is planned for you. If you’ve just moved to the area and would like to meet new people who also enjoy good food and wine this is a perfect night out. Long standing locals are welcome too! Ring 01900 881356 to request a newsletter by post or email to have one sent directly to you.

We support businesses in Cumbria, especially those recovering from flood damage.


As promised in the last issue, this is my final foray into the subject of Yorkshire cheeses, with the inspiring tale of Razan Alsous and her Yorkshire Dama Cheese. Razan (pictured) and family came to the UK as a result of the war in Syria in 2012 and immediately started looking for work. However, even with her pharmacy degree and scientific background, she found the process extremely difficult. With three children to think about, she started to consider other available options. Taking into

account her

microbiological background, her husband’s prior career as an electronic engineer running his own business supplying the food industry with quality control labs, alongside the British Government’s support for the creation of start-up businesses, she set her sights on creating her own business making one of her favourite cheeses, a type of the increasingly popular Haloumi or ‘squeaky cheese’ as she calls it! Razan said: “As I couldn’t find a great tasting quality squeaky cheese anywhere in the supermarkets, or local independent farm shops, I had a brainwave - why not create a business and make myself HALUM cheese from fresh high-quality Yorkshire milk!”

“So, with an idea and a start-up loan of just £2,500 from the local Enterprise Agency. We had to adapt the equipment we bought and then finally got the approval to start manufacturing HALUM cheese in June 2014.

“We called our first product Yorkshire HALUM, as the cheese is made from Yorkshire milk and has a firm but squeaky texture when grilled, similar to traditional halum cheese.

After just four months of production, we won the WORLD CHEESE AWARD Bronze Prize 2014/15, highlighting the true quality of our cheese.”

What a journey it’s been! Her cheese won Gold at the World Cheese Awards in 2016/17,

Razan was nominated for Women of the Year in London in 2016 and the business has just opened a swanky new factory in January 2017 to swell production.

The cheese is now available in a myriad of flavours - oak smoked, infused with rosemary or mint, or a chilli variant for those who like to spice things up a bit! We’re starting to use it in our café and it is proving to be incredibly successful. So, why not pay us a visit over the winter months and get your teeth into something nice and squeaky - perfect for a Churchmouse!

John Natlacen, Owner

Do you fancy giving your Christmas cake a little twist? You could try this...

Christmas Cake Twist

You will need: Zest of one orange and 100ml juice Zest of one lemon and 100ml juice 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water 1 teaspoon of rose water | 3 tablespoons clear honey 200g glacé cherries | 200g dried, diced apricots 175g golden sultanas | 140g dried cranberries 100g dried, diced mango | 100g golden caster sugar 280g butter at room temp. plus a little to grease 140g light muscovado sugar | 4 large eggs 250g plain flour | 100g ground almonds 2 teaspoons of cinnamon

To moisten the cake 1 teaspoon orange blossom water 50ml orange juice

Mix together the orange and lemon zests and juice, the orange blossom water, rose water and honey in a large bowl. Stir in all of the dried fruit, cover and leave overnight to soak.

The next day, heat oven to 160˚C/140˚C fan/ gas 3. Grease and double-line a 22cm round or square cake tin (for a flatter cake) or a 20cm round or square tin

(for a deeper cake) with baking parchment. In another big bowl, beat the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, then fold in the flour, almonds and cinnamon.

Tip in the bowl of soaked fruits and any juices left in it and stir in. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin and level the top. If you want your cake flat rather than slightly rounded, make a gradual dip in the centre of the mix with the back of a wooden spoon, so it levels when cooked. Bake for 1 hour 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 140˚C/120˚C fan/gas 1 and bake for another 1 hour 30 minutes for 22cm cakes, or 1 hour 50 minutes for 20cm cakes, until the old skewer test poked into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin, sitting on a wire rack.

While the cake is still warm, mix together the moistening ingredients, pepper the cake with holes using a thin skewer and spoon over the liquid. If you’re making the cake ahead of time, feed once a week for up to four weeks. Keep well wrapped in parchment, inside an airtight container, for up to one month. If you’re not bothered, this cake tastes just as delicious a day or two after baking. However, I have always found the cake to be lovely and moist if you stick with the regime! Bear with it and enjoy your Christmas Cake Twist!

16 NOVEMBER 2017 ISSUE 420 PAGE 30

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