If, like me, you are a lover of a good hot cross bun, you may like this spiced Simnel loaf. It is a little challenging, but sliced, toasted and with lashings of butter it is definitely heavenly!

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.

I chose the coldest day of the year to sow my broad beans. The snow had fallen, giving us a real covering of reflecting white, unusual by the sea but quite welcome. Admittedly I worked indoors, on the kitchen table covered with newspaper, had warmed the sowing compost by keeping it inside for a day or two and had soaked the beans for a couple of days until I could see their skins cracking. My brother had given me a sowing pot kit (using up old newspaper) and I’d whiled away the hours by a roaring log fire, creating these individual paper pots, one for each bean. They now sit in a box, protected inside an old plastic bag making a mini-greenhouse and I sit and wait for that first green shoot. They will eventually be hardened off and will be planted into the bean bed. I chose the Sutton broad bean as it doesn’t grow very tall, therefore needs little or no support. That’s handy in a seaside garden. Come June, we’ll be feasting on these little beans with plenty of butter and parsley.

I have a daily routine of checking on previously sown seeds in the house, making sure that they are not over-watered, which might make them rot. I turn every pot each day as the heads of these new plantlets reach towards the light. It may sound tedious but I find it life affirming and these green shoots remind me that spring will come.

Garlic that I had sown in November sat under six inches of snow for nearly a week and on inspection don’t appear to have been affected but we shall see. Last year’s crop I preserved by peeling each clove and simmering them gently in warm olive oil. They were then bottled and kept in the fridge. I find a tablespoon of garlic cloves and oil make a great addition to any savoury dish.

The time has come to remove and use the last of the hundred or so leeks that I planted last year. I feel the urge to make soup! Their raised bed is intended for this year’s brassicas and it’s time to start sowing more seeds. Calvo Nero survived the cold temperatures and snow, as did ruby kale. I’m now waiting for the sprouting broccoli to present us with nutrient-rich green spikes.

My hens have started laying again, herbs are showing, ready to cut to encourage more growth and the temperature has soared. Life is good. I hope yours is too! Get seed sowing - you’ll love the results.

Cockermouth Food Assembly as mentioned last month has a telephone contact for more information. 07814 770 906.

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.


225g strong white bread flour. (keep the bag handy for dusting!) | 350g malted grain bread flour (sieved to remove any grains) | 14g fast-action dried yeast (two 7g sachets) | 25g golden caster sugar | 50g dark brown muscovado sugar plus an extra heaped tablespoon for later | 1 tablespoon of mixed spice | 1 tablespoon of cinnamon | 200ml full fat milk | 50g butter, plus 2 tablespoonfuls and a little for greasing |2 medium eggs | 175g raisins

Take two bowls and add the white flour into one and the malted flour into the other. Add 7g of yeast to each bowl. Stir in the caster sugar to the white flour and the muscovado sugar and spices to the malted brown flour.

In a small pan add the milk, 50g butter and warm gently until the butter has melted. Make a hole in the middle of each flour mix and pour half of the milk mixture into each. Add one beaten egg to each bowl, too. Mix both bowls well until you have a soft, sticky dough in each. If you have a food processor or mixer it is best to use these, as it is tough going mixing by hand!

Turn out each dough on to a lightly floured

surface and knead separately for a good 5 minutes until smooth. You can use your mixer again if you want! Once done put back into the bowls, cover loosely with cling film and leave somewhere warm to prove. Lightly dust a 900g loaf tin with flour. Once the doughs have doubled in size tip out and knead again for half a minute more.

Roll out each dough thinly and to as long a length as you can. Also, try to make sure that the width is the same as the length of the tin. Melt the 2 tablespoonfuls of butter and brush over the malted brown dough. Scatter the raisins and tablespoon of muscovado sugar on top. Place the white dough on top of everything and press together. Brush the top with the rest of the melted butter. Roll up from one of the ends that matches the length of the tin. Place the roll in the tin. Cover loosely with cling film and prove for 20 to 30 minutes. The dough should rise above the top of the tin. You can oil the cling film lightly to stop any sticking.

Heat your oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas 4 and bake for 20 minutes. Tip out the loaf and tap the base - it should sound hollow. If not pop back in the tin and bake for a further 5 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, then slice, toast, butter and eat... yummy!

I’ve just seen the first lambs gambolling in the fields around Barbon, a magnificent time of the year with the promise of spring and summer still to come. The hope of a glorious stretch of unbroken blue sky balminess peeping over the hedgerows before the crushing realisation,


September, that those couple of days in mid-May when we all complained it was too hot were all we got! Hey ho, ‘twas ever thus. With those lambs fresh in my mind, I turn my attention to sheep’s milk cheeses this issue, this most malleable of milks. I say that because, when you consider goat’s milk cheeses, whatever you sample from fresh, young goats cheese to aged, complex varieties, the cheese seems to contain that inherent ‘goatiness’ about it that renders the taste unmistakable. Not so much with sheep’s milk - consider the gulf between firm, drier textured, nutty cheeses such as Spanish Manchego to something like French Roquefort, green-veined, powerful, complex and salty with something like a Greek Feta or Yorkshire Fine Fettle in the middle, salty yes but younger, softer and fresher. I’m guessing that, in a blind tasting, most would not be able to tell that the cheeses are all made from the same source, sheep’s milk.

For lovers of the nuttiness of a good Manchego, if

you’re looking for wonderful British equivalents then may I point you towards the superb Lord of the Hundreds, a square shaped Sussex-made raw sheep’s milk cheese (pictured left) with complex flavours of burnt caramel

and cob nuts. Equally lovely is our perennial favourite Berkswell made at the appropriately named Ram Hall Dairy in the West Midlands. With the British Asparagus season blessedly around the corner, try this shaved on to roasted tender stems and topped with a poached quails egg - divine! Crozier Blue from Tipperary which is, admittedly, a long way is one to try if you like Roquefort, gently salty with a distinctive rich creamy texture. For the brie fans, you must try wonderful Wigmore, another raw milk beauty from Berkshire. Or, of course our own sheep’s milk brie made exclusively for us in Appleby, Bright Blessed Crest but I’ll tell you the full story behind that next edition!

John Natlacen, Owner

ISSUE 424 | 22 MARCH 2018 | 50

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