Autumn is upon us and although we haven’t had much in the way of mists, there’s no shortage of mellow fruitfulness.
And that means it’s food festival season. My sister and brother-in-law arrived hot from the annual feeding frenzy in Abergavenny bearing, amongst other things, a pack of squirrel sausages.
Then at the weekend we all spent a happy day munching our way round the stalls and stands at Suffolk’s yearly food and drink festival in Aldburgh.
The place was stuffed with some of the best of Suffolk and Norfolk’s food producers. Aldburgh is where I first met the man known in our house as Jimmy the Lamb and he was there again at the weekend doing, I’m pleased to say, a roaring trade in the autumn sunshine.
There were talks and demonstrations by cooks such as Valentine Warner and (I hope she won’t mind me saying this) the slightly scatty but lovely Thomasina Myers and we attended a special session on sourdough starter cultures.
As my sourdough breads have been a series of disasters, sometimes rising too soon and flopping back exhausted, sometimes sticking glue-like to the proving basket and almost all of them coming out of the oven with the flattened aspect of roadkill, I really needed a helping hand. I could have used the loaves pictured above to mend the garden wall.
Chris Brennan is the founder and head honcho at Pump Street Bakery in Orford, proud members of the Real Bread Campaign and winners of the BBC Food Awards’ Best Food Producer 2012.
Chris talked a couple of dozen people through the basics of getting a sourdough culture started and how to keep it going.
It gave me some pointers as to where I was going wrong and I came home clutching a small plastic tub of “William”, as Chris’s starter culture is known.
Don’t ask me why but people always seem to name their sourdough starters. Chris says he even takes his on plane journeys.
He talks about William in the way some people talk about their pets and I was tempted to ask if it ever had to spend any time in quarantine.
William’s offspring – let’s call him Billy – has now had more feeds than my sister’s labrador and is bubbling away nicely in my kitchen so I’ll let you know if I have any more success with him than I have had with my previous sourdough starters.
Segueing seamlessly now from pets to pests – those pesky grey squirrels that nick every nut in our garden around this time of the year before we can get to them to pick them ourselves. I’m seriously considering putting a camera in the walnut tree to see if I can track where they hide the darned things so I can steal them back again.
My sister’s gift of the squirrel sausages, then, was not unwelcome. We ate them last night with a big dish of roasted Mediterranean vegetables and although one of our more squeamish friends only managed a Nutkin-sized nibble, I thought they were delicious – slightly gamey, dense-textured and altogether tasty. They’re available from Natural Game of Uttoxeter, if you’re interested.
Unfortunately they were so good we’d eaten most of them before I remembered to take a picture …