Forget Brussels, it's time for seaweed

Every year it seems one Christmas ingredient seems to get 5 star billing. This year was no different. .As far back as November we were assured that this year there would be a bumper crop, and then quickly followed every recipe imaginable for this humble vegetable, the Brussels sprout. We were told that it can be eaten raw (chopped or shredded), mixed in salads with chestnuts, walnuts, balsamic vinegar or soya sauce, braised, baked or fried with butter, oil, stock or cream, mixed with Serrano ham, lardons or chorizo. This is a very versatile vegetable; someone even had the audacity to suggest just plain boiling the little so-and-so’s. With Christmas and New Year over and done with we can now settle down to some sort of normality. The days are now lengthening and it’s a time to look forward with optimism to the year ahead.

This year the Chinese will be celebrating their New Year on the 23rd January. For the Chinese the year is 4710 and legend has it that Buddha celebrated the New Year with twelve animals and subsequently named a year after each one. 2012 is the year of the Dragon and those born this year are expected to inherit some of the dragon traits, namely passion, bravery and innovativeness. The Chinese New Year is based on the lunar Calendar and after 15 days of celebration and on the night of a full moon the Lantern Festival takes place. The custom was to hang lanterns decorated with messages, or signs of the zodiac, in temples and have evening lantern parades, but the modern practice today, and health and safety nightmare, is to release lit lanterns up into the night sky. Anyone with a thatched or wooden roof the 7th of February is the night of the Lantern Festival and if you are not sure about your insurance cover a night on the roof with a fire extinguisher and couple of buckets of sand or water beckons.

When we visited the Faroes earlier this year we were interested to learn of a long forgotten practice of curing fish using seaweed that was practised in both the Faroe Islands and Iceland many years ago. Richard immediately thought that it would be a good idea to experiment using this readily available natural resource. This super food contains 10 times more calcium than a glass of milk and more vitamins and minerals than any land produced vegetable. If further proof of seaweed being the new super food was needed last week the Daily Telegraph reported that in Heston Blumenthal’s experiment to make changes to the food on offer in his local hospital, he proposed using kelp or seaweed as a healthy flavouring alternative to that of salt. Also by using seaweed the idea was to increase the levels of umami the so called 5th taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salty. We have now finished experimenting and have a recipe and cure that we are very excited about. Any chefs who would like a sample, or would like any more info, do not hesitate to give me a call. Remember this is the year for seaweed - you heard it here first.

Over the Christmas period Severn & Wye lost not only one of the area’s great characters but one of the River Severn’s famous commercial licensed salmon fishermen, Chris Cadogan. Chris had always been a great loyal supporter of Severn and Wye’s and hailed from a long line of Cadogan’s that farmed on the banks of the River Severn. There was nothing Chris enjoyed more than getting his "rank" of baskets ready for the salmon season and when the season was in full swing he spent most of his time down at his riverside hut with his dogs. Here he would regale anyone who cared to join him with tales of the river bank, Oh and of course a drop of cider. Typical of Chris; when everyone in the eighties and nineties were ploughing up their orchards Chris and his son were extending theirs with endangered species of apples and pears. Today they supply many of the major cider manufacturers and have also established themselves in their own right as a commercial, award-winning cider maker.

Which leads me on to the 17th January which will be wassailing day, a celebration of the apple harvest and blessing of the fruit trees that dates back to the 1400’s.Traditionally a wassailing ceremony involves drinking a toast to the apple trees. Villagers would gather round with shot guns and pots and pans to make a tremendous racket to raise the sleeping tree spirit and scare off demons. The biggest and best tree would be selected and cider poured over its roots while singing the wassail song as a blessing to bring a good apple harvest the following year. The tradition is still carried on today in the cider growing areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset and seems like a good excuse for a party and a drop of cider to me and of course a chance to raise a glass in memory of Chris Cadogan.

People have already started to ask me when the elver season begins. Well the season has already begun in France and we expect April to be the month when things will start to get going here. I have already been told that the first big Bore tide is the 10th-11th April, which is predicted already to be bigger than any of the bore tides in the whole of last year. Not only do we hope this provides the elvers with a helping hand up the river system but it will also bring the first of the spring rush of wild salmon. All those who have registered an interest in a tank for a local school as part of our sustainable eel campaign I shall be in touch in the next couple of months. What started out as 2 tanks in 2 local schools a couple of years ago has expanded into a scheme where we hope to locate 50 tanks this year.

Any chefs who fancy a chance of combining a night of elver fishing with the added attraction of experiencing a bore tide, do not hesitate to call me.

More news soon and I wish everyone a Healthy and Happy New Year!

Dai Francis