A miniature garden

Bekonscot was one of my favourite places as a child, living in Penn, Buckinghamshire. In the nearby town of Beaconsfield was the model miniature village of Bekonscot, built in 1929 by an accountant. It was an idyllic vision of 1930s village life, with a railway station, houses, shops, petrol station, a windmill, farm – and of course an airport.

I distinctly remember seeing a face peering out of one of the railway carriage windows as it passed by – my older sister had convinced me that Bekonscot was inhabited by fairies.

Little hills were covered in real grass, or moss, and things weren’t always to the same scale. I remember that puzzling me a bit.

So fittingly, Tim decided to make a miniature garden of micro herbs for a dinner party in Beaconsfield recently. When he suggested it, it made me think of a school project for the local fete – each of our class had to construct a miniature garden in a biscuit tin – I remember circles of card wrapped in silver foil for ponds, and bits of shrubs and hedges stuck into plasticine borders. This tastes a lot better.

Served with crusty bread this was a great opener along with other little dishes.

Tim made a a layer of a kind of tartare sauce, made from mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, chopped cornichons and capers, and white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

Then he scattered a layer of the ‘soil’ – made from pan roasted olives. Pan roasted olives were something his Gran used to do in Cyprus – whilst watching TV she would have them slowly cooking over a heater. She used to do chestnuts the same way. In Tim’s soil mixture he scattered a few bits of oatmeal, for a proper earthy, flinty look. Then he painstakingly implanted the micro herbs into the olive soil before serving – and a squirted a little misting of olive oil dew.

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A miniature garden of micro herbs

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Goes down well with crusty bread

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A spritzing of olive oil as dew

Hand churned butter

Tomorrow Tim will wake up next to an Olympic Shot Putter. Well,  someone who looks like one. Because today we made hand churned butter.

How to make butter

Tim of course did the technical bit. He opened a carton of double cream, and poured it into a meticulously clean jam jar, with a little bit of salt.

Then we both did the leg work. Or the armwork. We shook it for about 18 minutes. It’s really quite amazing how the butter starts to separate from the milk, as the cream warms up with the friction – and the amazing yellow colour that develops.

“I can’t believe it’s not butter.” Or rather, I can’t believe how easy it is to make butter. And cheap, too. Half a 600 ml carton of ordinary double cream has resulted in a slab of lovely home made butter. Later, in a supermarket (hiss boo) I saw Jersey double cream in bottles for 2 for £2. Apparently this butter freezes well, so that could be the next experiment.

Online there are are several recipes that involve mixing machines, sieving, muslin and massaging the last bits of milk out of the butter.

The fluid, not sure if that’s simply skimmed milk, or buttermilk, will turn the butter quickly if left in. This no hands, no machine, method feels more like the traditional churning method, and is what Tim remembers doing as a kid in Cyprus with his Gran. Whether it was just to amuse a young boy and keep him quiet for a bit, who knows?

To make the coriander butter, just chop up and handful and mix into the butter, then level off the top. The coriander will probably spoil quite quickly, even in the fridge, so it’s worth using up asap. It went down very nicely on a roast chicken.

What I loved about making butter is that it has he same miraculous quality as making soap – fascinating how a little heat, produced by the ingredient(s) itself and movement, create the result.

Double cream, shaken not stirred

A bit of shakery-pokery, and voila

Coriander mixed in

Of course, any other herb would be lovely too – coriander is one herb that divides people dramatically, apparently it’s genetic whether you love the stuff or run screaming at its mention.