This is the story of a year in my Welsh farmhouse in the foothills of the Cambrians cooking with three of my grandchildren.  There was always something new from the garden or that could be gathered from the hedgerows and woods - nettles, wild garlic, elderflowers, blackberries, blueberries, chanterelles and plenty more.  

 

A Cook's Year In A Welsh Farmhouse (Bloomsbury, 2011)

 

   http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cooks-Year-Welsh-Farmhouse/dp/1408806460

A Cook's Year in a Welsh Farmhouse is a month-by-month recipe-diary of life and cooking through the changing year at Brynmerheryn, the wild and beautiful place where I now live in the foothills of the Cambrians on the western edge of Wales. The house, stone-built and slate-floored, is not grand but old, with signs of human habitation all around. Surrounded by woodland and water with sheep pastured all around, the place is at its liveliest when the grandchildren come to stay. Illustrations are my own watercolours and award-winning photographer Clare Richardson's atmospheric photographs. Clare lives in the Forest of Brechfa about an hour away from Brynmerheryn and is internationally known for her work on people and places (clarerichardson.com)
 

  

While A Cook's Year was always meant to be a book, the story and the month-by-month recipes were first published as a series in Country Living magazine.    The book is seasonal and there are good things in every month, including wild mushrooms such as the most prized of our woodland fungi, penny-buns (porcini) and the handsome charcoal-burner, a member of the russula family,  purple-topped with white underparts.

 

One of my favourite recipes in the book because it's so quintessentially Welsh (and Ceredigion is a Welsh-speaking area) is Jane Edward's way with bara brith...though I must admit that her Welshcakes run it a  close second.     

                                                           Jane’s Bara Brith

Bara means bread and brith means speckled. The speckles are raisins and how many you include depends on the household. Some people include ground ginger and others allspice.  My neighbour and tutor in all things Welsh, Jane Edwards, had this foolproof recipe from her mother, who had it from her mother, which is good enough for me.
Serves 6-8

500g mixed dried fruit and peel
300ml strong hot tea
125g dark brown muscovado sugar
250g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 egg, forked to blend

Soak the fruit and peel in a roomy bowl in the tea for at least 6 hours - overnight is fine.
    Next day, sieve the flour and spices into the soaked fruit (no need to drain), stir in the sugar, spice and egg. Beat all together till smooth.
    Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/gas2.
    Line a small loaf-tin with buttered paper and tip in the mixture. Bake in a gentle oven for about 1 1/2 hours, till well-risen, firm and brown. Cool and store for at least 2 days, till rich and gluey - it needs a few days to develop its characteristic elasticity.
    Slice thinly and spread with salty Welsh butter.

                                       

                                                    Jane's Welshcakes

Neither a pancake nor a biscuit, welshcakes are make with soft pastry-like dough, cut into pretty little two-bite rounds and baked on the griddle, known in other parts of Wales as a planc.   Welshcakes are quick to make and bake and even quicker to vanish once set on the table. They're best eaten fresh but keep very well in a tin.  Jane likes them cool but I prefer them warm. Each to her own. 
Makes about 2 dozen

500g self-raising flour
50g butter
125g caster sugar
125g sultanas and/or raisins
2 medium eggs

Rub the butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers as if making pastry, and mix in the fruit and sugar. Fork up the eggs with their own volume of water (measure with an eggshell) and work the liquid into the flour-mix till you have a soft but still rollable dough - you may need a little more water. 
    Tip the dough onto a well-floured board and roll it out to the thickness of a couple of pound-coins - about 50mm. Cut into rounds with a shell-edged biscuit-cutter or sharp-edged teacup.
    Heat a griddle or a heavy frying pan - get the heat up into it gently and thoroughly, and don’t let it overheat - and wipe over with a butter-soaked rag. Slip the cakes onto the hot metal, wait till the underside is browned and the surface begins to look dry, then turn them gently and brown the other side. Allow  6-8 minutes in all.  Eat them warm spread with salty Welsh butter - or not, since there’s butter in the mix already.   Store in an airtight tin and freshen them up in the toaster.

 

Some reviews for "A Cook's Year in a Welsh Farmhouse":

Xanthe Clay, Telegraph (11.6.11): Elisabeth Luard is a serious contender for Greatest Living Food Writer. Like all her books, A Cook's Year in a Welsh Farmhouse is fiercely intelligent but without preachiness, deliciously pragmatic and laced with flashes of humour."

 

Fork Magazine (Oct 2012) "Luard writes beautifully, and fills her book with seasonal observations, stories of life in rural Wales and of her family and friends.  The wistful photography that adorns the pages pictures her rustic farmhouse, gypsy caravan, homemade jam, wild flowers and antique plates.  This is seasonal home-cooking made with a lot of love, and it shows."

 

Kate Humble, Daily Telegraph (17.11.12) "A lovely book...I spent a contented evening curled up on a sofa reading the November chapter, 'Stocking the Larder'."

 

Ray Collier, Highland News Group (27.12.12) "What attracts me to this book is that if you substituted part of the title and referred to the Highlands you would not realise the difference. There are recipes for venison, pheasant, wood pigeon...sloes, nettles, dandelions, mushrooms, elderflowers...mussels, mackerel. I also liked the introduction to each month with the experiences of the author's everyday life. I very much liked the approach, with a readable text which was well-illustrated." 

 

Food and Travel: 1.8.12:  "Delicious dishes...will inspire you to find and use all sorts of rural ingredients."


 

 

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