Time to return to traditional remedies?

I don’t know about you but after yet another bout of the ubiquitous sore throat, cough and cold this winter (or is it just the same one and I never really got over it the first time round?), I’m reaching out for anything which might just boost my immune system or, at the very least, provide a little relief. A friend recommended mixing up a non-alcoholic ‘toddy’ of fresh ginger, lemon, honey, coconut oil and turmeric in hot water and while it didn’t prevent me going back down with the virus, it was incredibly soothing and surprisingly tasty. She also gave me a ‘woodland’ tincture she’d made which included St John’s wort, hawthorn leaves and berries, sloes, pine and rosehips and although I can’t pretend it was delicious, with a base of vodka it certainly wasn’t unpleasant and it got me thinking about other traditional remedies using natural ingredients.

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We know that many prescription drugs are originally derived from natural sources and the World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of the population of some Asian and African countries use herbal medicine are part of their primary health care. We also know that there’s a long history of using plants as remedies although it’s worth remembering that until relatively recently these were the only ‘medicines’ available and just because they have been in existence for hundreds of years, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can be relied upon as effective treatments. Care should always be taken when self-medicating and medical advice sought for serious conditions. Nevertheless, interest in traditional remedies has increased as people have become more health conscious and more aware of the health benefits of natural ingredients and there is undoubtedly more to be learnt about the power of plants. Below is a selection of preparations and potions which are easy to make, using store-cupboard or common garden ingredients, and can be used as remedies for common complaints, not just in the winter season but throughout the year.

It is perhaps not very surprising that the hot concoction my friend suggested I drink was soothing. Honey and lemon have long been favoured as a cold and sore throat tonic and both turmeric and ginger are supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric has also been in the news recently as a possible preventative for several human diseases, including Alzheimer’s, although studies are not yet conclusive. When you are feeling stuffy and bunged-up, you often don’t feel like drinking tea or coffee, particularly with milk which can clog rather than ease congestion, so drinking something ‘clean’ tasting is certainly preferable.

Another remedy for the common cold and a traditional ‘favourite’ is the vitamin C boosting Rosehip Syrup. Ripe in autumn, rosehips can be harvested from the hedgerows when you gather your blackberries and sloes. The syrup was advocated during the Second World War when the importation of fresh fruit was severely limited. The syrup is delicious mixed with water as a cordial or with stronger mixers as a cocktail!

Method:

Gather about 1kg of fresh rosehips. Crush them (a potato masher is good for this) or chop and add to about 2 litres of boiling water. Bring back to the boil and then remove from the heat and leave to steep for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the mixture through muslin or a jelly bag and put aside the drained liquid. Repeat the process with the crushed rosehip pulp by adding a little more water to ensure you extract as much goodness as possible. Put both lots of strained liquid back into the pan and add 750g of granulated sugar for each litre of liquid you have. Bring to the boil for just a few minutes and then the syrup is ready to bottle. Some recipes suggest adding cinnamon and/or cloves to the syrup for extra flavour.   

Ginger is widely reported to alleviate travel sickness and general queasiness. Try crystallising pieces of fresh ginger for ease of use. Chop or slice the ginger and boil gently in water until al dente. Drain and add an equal amount of caster sugar to the weight of drained ginger in a pan with a small amount of water (just enough to wet the sugar). Simmer until the mixture becomes syrupy and then reduce the heat until it starts to crystallise. Tip the ginger into a bowl of caster sugar to coat each piece.  Store in a sterilised jar.

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One of the easiest home remedies must be Peppermint Tea, allegedly good for digestion and symptoms of IBS. Simply steep peppermint leaves in hot water (not boiling) for at least 5 minutes. It is also said to lesson wind and heartburn.

If you suffer from Athlete’s Foot, try making a crushed garlic, salt and cider vinegar mixture to dilute in warm water and then soak your feet (avoid using on broken skin though as the mix will certainly sting!). A few drops of tea tree oil in warm water will act as a less potent anti-fungal alternative!

To improve your circulation and prevent cold toes, try massaging chilli and mustard oil into your feet. Chop fresh red chillis and mix with sunflower oil, grated fresh ginger, black pepper and mustard powder. Warm the mixture gently for half an hour in a bowl resting on a saucepan of simmering water (a bain-marie). Strain and store in a jar.  

At this time of year, there is plenty of advice out there for beating the winter blues including making your environment brighter (either with artificial light or by simply sitting closer to the window and maximising the natural light in your house), keeping active and getting more exercise, particularly outside. We all know that a healthy diet will boost your mental well-being and give you more energy so make sure you balance your winter craving for carbs with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

If all this fails to do the trick, chocolate seems to be the answer to many complaints and certainly enhances my mood!   

And as for that winter cough and cold, it always seems to hit you when you stop and relax.  Perhaps the remedy is to just keep going… 

Next month, ‘free-from’ February. Gluten free, dairy free, sugar free etc.

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The Wedding Caterer

Choose a caterer for your wedding

Outside BarFollowing the flurry of wedding fayres over the last couple of months with couples looking at the countless options for their special day, we’ve been musing about just how little attention is paid to the catering for the meal, despite it being a significant part of most wedding receptions.

Marquee WeddingBrowsing through the pages of the numerous wedding brochures, magazines and websites, there are articles devoted to bridal gowns, flowers, wedding cakes, table decorations, favours and invitations but surprisingly very little on choosing a caterer for your wedding day. There are some obvious reasons for this; many couples concentrate first on choosing their perfect wedding venue and although a menu offered by the venue might be a contributing factor in their choice, more often than not the setting itself is the deciding factor and what is chosen to eat is dictated by the venue.

Strawberry Shortbread HeartFor some couples, (though not usually those we meet!) the food is simply not that important. Many bride and grooms say that they were too excited or too nervous (especially if they have to think about making a speech directly after the meal) to register what they were eating or even eat anything at all! However, the food served on the day will be remembered by many of the guests at your wedding, particularly those who have travelled some distances to get there and it is likely to matter to you in the long-term, as it will be one of the biggest expenses of your wedding.

Fortunately for us, most of the couples we work with at FFO are as passionate about food as we are and keen to take the time to plan a perfect menu to suit themselves and the guests at their wedding.

Why choose a caterer for your wedding? 

First Course WeddingEven if you choose to have a diy wedding, when it comes to the food, unless you are inviting a very small number of guests, you really do want someone else to take on the responsibility of looking after the catering. You and your families will want to be able to relax and enjoy the day without the worry.

If you are planning to hold your reception at a venue that will allow you to bring in an outside caterer to provide your meal then this option provides you with flexibility of menu choice. Many wedding venues offer a package which includes the meal but the food on offer is often limited. At FFO we offer suggestions for wedding menus but are delighted to talk to couples who have their own ideas for the food they would like served at their wedding.

Tips when choosing a caterer for your wedding

  • Canapes Wedding (Photo by Eddie Judd)

    Photo by Eddie Judd

    One of the best ways to ensure you find a good wedding caterer is a personal recommendation from a friend or someone you trust. Listen to people who have directly experienced the service that a caterer has provided ie. as a guest at another wedding.

  • Go for a local caterer, one that is located close to your venue. You don’t want the stress of worrying about your caterer being stuck in traffic to spoil your day!
  • Book early. Caterers tend to get booked up months or even a year in advance. Make sure you find out what the booking process is and when and how your date becomes secure.
  • Establish a good working relationship with your caterer. Go for a caterer you feel you are able to talk to; who understands your vision and shares your enthusiasm and excitement. Choose a caterer who will listen to your ideas but equally, be prepared to listen to them, their advice and experience will count in making sure your day runs smoothly.

Wedding Table SettingCaterers often work closely with other suppliers and more often than not these will be like-minded people and share a similar ethos and style.

Be upfront about your budget. Of course you want to get the most for your money but find out what is available on your budget to avoid uncomfortable haggling. A good caterer will be able to be creative and provide a menu that will suit your needs.

  • Find out if your caterer will supply the silverware, china, glassware, linen, cake stand, cake knife…etc. The hire, delivery, cleaning and return will be an additional cost to bear in mind.
  • Wedding Canapes Ask to try some sample dishes. Once you have made a booking, some caterers will offer a personal tasting experience to help you make your final menu choices. This can be very helpful in giving you an idea of the style and presentation of the food they will be serving on the day. Take into consideration seasonality when choosing your menu as this will help ensure the quality of the food being served. Ensure you check with your caterer regarding any special dietary requirements.

Wedding Bar Inside

Consider your drink options carefully. If you are providing the drink yourself, don’t forget that serving it, glass hire, cleaning etc. will need to be accounted for.

Your caterer will know how many members of staff will be needed to cater for your wedding meal but if you require staff to take on additional duties (eg. as bar staff for later in the evening) make sure you discuss this with your caterer before the day.

Let your caterer look after your guests so you can relax and enjoy your day!

Cordial autumn greetings!

We’ve had a busy summer catering for barbecues, garden parties and weddings etc. and from the Jubilee in June to the Golden Glory in August; it seems there’s been plenty of reasons to celebrate this year!  Although we weren’t able to guarantee the sun (we were caught in a few downpours ourselves over the summer – usually as we were loading or unloading for an event!),  we were able to keep spirits raised by making sure the drinks stayed flowing!

For many, Pimms is the taste of summer! While we certainly mixed a few jugs this year…

…we also stirred things up a little differently!
Click here for our recipe for Limoncello and Mint Lemonade.

Some people might be ready to turn their attention to Christmas but here at ffO we aren’t quite so eager to welcome in the winter just yet (even if the temperature is plummeting and the nights drawing in!).  To remind ourselves that it is still only September, we’ve been getting out to pick the late summer/early autumn fruits around at the moment (during the odd breaks in the rain that is!).

Cordials from left to right: Plum & Cinnamon, Apple & Sloe, Rhubarb & Ginger and Blackberry.

Blackberries, raspberries, plums, damsons, pears, apples and sloes are all in season and a really quick and simple way to savour the taste is by making a fruit cordial.  Basically, cordials are flavoured sugar syrups (this is true in the UK anyway, in America the term is used to describe what we would call a liqueur – in fact both terms have the same origin; the first cordials/liqueurs were alcoholic and used purely for medicinal purposes).  Cordials are usually made with fruit but flowers, spices, herbs etc. can also be used for a twist on a basic fruit flavour; plum and cinnamon, blackcurrant and vanilla, lemon balm and mint, apple and rose, rhubarb and geranium, the flavour combinations are endless…!

Making cordials is not an exact science; quantities can be tweaked, the syrup sweetened to suit personal taste and the fruit, spices, herbs etc. blended to creat the perfect fruit cocktail!  Delicious mixed with sparkling water; they are a fantastic non-alcoholic alternative to offer guests (of course there’s also nothing stopping you from adding them to a glass of prosecco or sparkling wine!).

First, we made a sugar syrup (equal quantities of sugar and water brought to the boil and then simmered until the sugar had completely dissolved) which was then used as the base for each of our cordials.  In some cordial recipes, the fruit, water and sugar are all heated together but by making the sugar syrup separately we were able to control and fine tune the amount of sweetness for each flavour. The fruit (and other flavourings) were then gently cooked until soft and the juice dripped through a muslin cloth before being added to some of the sugar syrup (with some, more delicate, herbs/flowers etc. it is better to add them at this stage and allow their flavour to infuse the cordial rather than heat them with the fruit).  The cordials will keep well in a fridge for a couple of weeks but we find it better to freeze them in small amounts and then use as wanted (you could even freeze as ice cubes).

We’ll be looking out for rose hips to make into cordial this autumn.  Choose hips that are firm and bright in colour and ideally pick them after the first frost for the best flavour.  Or why not use elderberries for another Vitamin C rich cordial (we’re told elderberry and clove is a good combination to try…).

Finally, a quick plug for a great range of cordials available to buy if you’re not into making your own!  We tried these fruit cordials on a quick trip to Norfolk this summer.  Handmade and using only natural ingredients, the flavours in these cordials are beautifully balanced and taste clean and refreshing.  It was difficult to pick a favourite but we particularly liked the ‘Red Gooseberry and Wild Elderflower’.  We notice from their website that the cordials can be found in ‘The Larder’ in Cobham and also now in Fortnum and Mason!  http://www.norfolkcordial.com/index.html