Supper club: season's eatings

by Jess Carter

06 December 2017

We munch our way through a rather special party to celebrate a new book and the turn of 2018...

And, boom; it’s suddenly winter. When did that happen ? we all ask ourselves as we reluctantly fire up the central heating, dig out last year’s winter coat and realise we’ve not seen daylight outside of working hours for weeks. Every year it seems to catch us by such surprise. Every year we’re completely blind to the changing of the season until that first shiver causes us to take a proper look at the calendar and realise it is, in fact, almost the end of the year.

This shock is not for nature’s lack of warning, though. Subtle changes happen every day, indicating the progress of the seasons and passage of time – we just don’t pick up on them like people once did. Probably because we’re not really reliant on these triggers anymore: we get the weather forecast on the TV or radio instead of trying to predict it from what’s going on outside; we can buy all kinds of fruits and veg all year round, so there’s no need to work out when we should be sewing or harvesting; and as we can easily whack on the heating when there’s a chill in the air, there’s no need to prepare for the cold weather. As a result, we – as modern human beings – have become somewhat disconnected from nature’s seasonal prompts. Which is a pretty big shame, really – one that Bristol-based gardener and food writer Lia Leendertz tries to help remedy in her new book.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2018 is a handbook that will take you through the entire year, month by month, bringing your attention to feast days, what to forage for and when, seasonal gluts to make the most of, and ways you can get your garden working hard for you all year round – as well as moon phases, constellations, daylight hours and tides.

Bristol-based Lia celebrated the publication of the first of her hopefully annual almanacs with a bit of a do at Hart’s Bakery and, with the promise of good food, great company and a sneak peek at her just-released volume, we wrapped ourselves up in our winter layers and headed out for the party.

This was a laid-back kind of shindig, with people milling around the bakery with drinks, chatting and flicking through their brand new copies of The Almanac . Nibbles came from the book, with Lia’s mate, cook and author Claire Thompson helping out in the kitchen.

“The theme of the evening’s food was ‘eat around the year,’” Lia later told us. “I used recipes from the different months of The Almanac – albeit slightly tweaked to make use of seasonal ingredients.”

To kick off were seedy crackers with whipped goat’s  cheese, quince jelly and quick pickled cucumbers.

“It’s from February, and is in The Almanac to mark Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festival that celebrates a stirring into life after winter,” says Lia.

“In the book I use fresh sheep’s cheese, as Imbolc (which is pronounced imulk) is thought to have been named after ewe’s milk, and the huge importance the start of the milking would have had in the diet of our ancestors. Unlike fresh sheep’s cheese, soft goat’s cheese is available year round, hence me using it as a substitute!”

Soon enough, steaming bowls of goat curry and rice began doing the rounds. The hunks of meat were tender, and the warm spices complemented by a fresh-tasting coconut chutney, and cooling, sweet mango salsa.

“It’s a recipe from the August section, and is in the book to mark Notting Hill Carnival. Goat meat is available all year, but is particularly good and plentiful in August, as increased production is timed to coincide with carnival season and Eid al-Adha. The recipe is by one of the book’s contributors, Natasha Miles, who writes the Food I Fancy blog.”

Dessert was a twist on the book’s crumble recipe, fancied up a bit for the special occasion, and served in large wine glasses.

“For a party, crumble felt too filling and stodgy, so each element was made separately and then combined at the last moment to make a cranachan,” says Lia.

The sprinkling of crumble mix hid delicately spiced fruit, which bathed in apple brandy and was interspersed with dollops of whipped cream. A crisp, dried apple slice crowned the pud, whose end marked our cue to wrap back up and head out into the dark autumnal evening.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2018 (Unbound, £9.99); unbound.com