The first highlight for sure was seeing Dave in a black suit and black bow-tie, and me feeling unusually glamorous in Stephanie’s lush black silk dress carrying a sequined bag – all on an extremely cold, bright starlit night for Cornwall. Having your champagne glass constantly filled with fizz is one of life’s pleasures, and it was a relief to be rescued from polite conversation between ourselves by Chris Hines, who founded Surfers Against Sewage and was there to present one of the awards with the promise of a jig (unfulfilled).
It was lovely to meet Collette Beckham from The AONB and talk about dormice over dinner, and as it turned out was presenting the land management award. Having our names called out was a certainly highlight once we knew we didn’t have to make a speech, though not a total surprise as a sweet girl on our table who worked for the CSA slightly gave the game away when she heard we were from Cotna Eco Retreat and kept asking us how we felt, with a running commentary about how long it was until the land management award came up. The award of a sea-green glass plate with a shoal of Cornish pilchards on was beautiful, made by artist Jo Downs. But possibly the main highlight was meeting Michael and Jo from Chocolader – as a chocoholic (reformed) I was agog at how they make their 100% version, and their care for making their chocolate so sustainably. Why does that inspire me more than exporting Cornish sea salt to China I wonder?
I think on reflection, that winning the award will go down as one of the highlights of 2016 for us – in a year of so many shocking losses it is heart-warming to have the recognition for what we have been doing these past 9 years, a reminder of our good fortune to be doing it so close to home, and to have met and worked with so many great people in such a beautiful place. It was inspiring to see all the other people and businesses who are passionately living and working by similar principles at the awards, and gives some seeds of hope for our future.
5 Reasons for a Cornish Yurt Holiday in Spring
1 The light Spring is a great time for a Cornish Yurt Holiday and is favourite time here at Cotna Eco Retreat. March is the month we put the yurts up, a time of new beginnings when everything feels fresh and full of anticipation, and we are already loving the lengthening evenings. Did you know that in Cornwall we have 15 minutes more evening light than London? It wasn’t until the advent of the railways that the clocks were synchronised across the country. And it was for the qualities of this light that artists have been attracted to Cornwall since the Victorian times. We are excited that our favourite contemporary artist Kurt Jackson has recently opened his own gallery in St Just.
2 The birdlife In spring the birdsong sounds more vibrant than ever as twilight starts to fall and blackbirds sing their heart out from their posts, the song thrushes follow their cycle of tunes and the barn owl swoops its circle over the yurt field, ghostly and silent. For the morning person a woodland dawn chorus walk is a must, contact the Cornwall Wildlife Trust
3 The flowers Colour starts to return to the woodlands and hedgerows, starting with the yellow carpet of Primroses, which later gives way to the sea of Bluebells in May and then the pink of Foxgloves and Pink Campion. Caerhays Castle has one of the best collections of magnolias from March – try to catch a clear day when the prehistoric looking flowers are set against the bright blue sky. The Lost Garden of Heligan’s rhododendron collection is impressive, and other gardens include Trewithen, Trelissick and Tregrehan
4 The quiet An ideal time for a peaceful yurt retreat, and if you are lucky enough to pick a clear week, you can still have the coast path or the beaches to yourself and soak up that early spring sunlight, clearer and brighter than any other time of year. It might be still too cold to swim for the less brave, but delicious for a refreshing paddle or adventure above water. Try kayaking on the rivers, or if it’s calm enough, rent a kayak from Ray on Gorran Haven Beach and paddle around the headland. It’s an amazing way to connect with the bird life – cormorants, shags, fulmars or even spot ravens and peregrines that nest along the cliffs.
5 The green Spring is one of the best times to find wild food in the woodland, hedges and fields. Late spring and early summer were known traditionally as the hungry gap, when the new season’s veg seemed to be taking forever to grow, and wild food was picked to fill that gap. Wild garlic is just coming up in our woods, and 3-cornered leek smelling of garlic and looking like a white bluebell, is in the hedgerows. Alexanders are knee-high in the hedges and lanes, while Pennywort studs the stony Cornish hedges. Rachel Lambert’s little pocket book, Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is a good companion identification guide, and Rachel does seasonal foraging walks around Penzance There’s the more upmarket Fat Hen Or just stick around Cotna during your glamping stay, and go for a forage cook and dine session with Dave and Sara: ‘Perfect! I can’t recommend this strongly enough if you are here – it is a great way to learn about Cotna, your hosts and this heavenly spot – as well as taking home some new ideas, vegetarian recipes and possibly a pot or two from Sara’s store!’ Julie & Steve
- Enjoy Cornwall without the crowds – Visit landmarks like The Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan without having to queue or negotiate too many other people. Or walk the Southwest Coastal Path while there’s hardly anyone else around. There are 300 miles of footpath to explore around Cornwall; the north coast with its granite rock and Atlantic swells is wonderfully wild, while the south coast around Gorran and the Roseland is more sheltered and contains some of the most lovely secluded sections. You may have crashing sea-green waves and the spray of white horses, or strike lucky on a calm sunny day when all is clear blue and white light to entice you onto the beaches. But whatever the weather, there are excellent pubs en route, often offering good out of season deals. Our favourites are the fantastic Gurnard’s Head on the north coast near St Ives and Zennor (01736 796 928). Nearer to home there’s the excellent Barley Sheaf pub at Gorran (01726 843330) which offers a warm welcome, local beers and good food. Or there’s The Rising Sun in Port Mellon, an old traditional style pub 30 minutes walk through ancient woodland from Cotna Eco Retreat, where you can sit outside with a pint and contemplate the sea. The other place we’d recommend is the Fountain Inn in the working fishing village of Mevagissey, which does a very good Sunday lunch (01726 842320)
- Hunker down indoors by a roaring fire and read a good book. The firewood at Cotna Eco Retreat is sourced from our sustainable woodland, there’s a big sofa to lounge on in the straw bale barn, and we have plenty of books for you to borrow. Since the last TV series, we are totally into the Poldark saga – 12 books, which should keep anyone busy for at least a month or two! They are extremely well written, and give a deep insight into the history and way of life of Cornwall in the 1800’s, by ‘the incomparable Winston Graham who has everything anyone else has, then a whole lot more’ according to a Guardian review. Daphne du Maurier is a renowned Cornwall based writer, best known for Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel and The Birds. One of her most fascinating books is House on the Strand, involving experiments with psychedelic drugs and time-travel. A more recent book is Rough Music by Patrick Gayle set on a Cornish beach is a good read.
- Meditate Cornwall offers endless space, silence, nature and beauty to inspire and help you reconnect with yourself and the natural rhythm of life. The closest large retreat centre is Gaia house just over the border in Devon, but there are often smaller retreats happening around Cornwall; Cotna Eco Retreat offers solitary retreat space for those wishing to follow their own practice in a very supportive environment.
- Cook and eat seasonal if you are a foodie. What better way to spend your time than use the organic veg from the gardens and poly tunnels at Cotna Eco Retreat, then dine with good a bottle of red or a glass of Cornish ale. There’s always plenty of seasonal veg of one kind or another all through the year, including all-year-round salad leaves, and Sara has found the constraints of using what is in the garden to really develop her cooking. Try out kale and preserved lemon pesto, squash and sage pasta, parsnip and honey cake, leek risotto or south Indian coconut based curries. Order a breakfast hamper of sourdough bread to eat with with organic poached egg and watercress, followed by home-made marmalade – or go healthy with homemade granola and blackcurrant kefir. If you feel you’d like some inspiration on the cooking front, why not learn to make sourdough bread, do a wild forage cook and dine session or learn to cook up a veggie feast? Sara loves to share her culinary skills, while Dave is always keen to pass on his horticultural knowledge through plant ID, woodland skills or no dig gardening. Courses can be tailored for 2-8 people: ‘Perfect! I can’t recommend this highly enough – it’s a great way to learn about Cotna, your hosts and this heavenly spot – as well as taking home some new ideas, recipes and possibly a pot or two from Sara’s store!’
- Talk to the Animals – You will find yourself surrounded by animals, both wild and more domestic for animal therapy! Enjoy bird-watching, meet the wild Shetland ponies on the Dodman point, spot seals swimming or basking on the rocks. Closer to home at Cotna Eco Retreat Kiwi the cat is always available to sit on laps and hang out by the fire – trying her best to prove she comes with the barn (optional of course!); Ziggy cat likes a chat in the garden; Billy and Kuti the spaniels are a hugely enthusiastic welcome committee (mind your shoes don’t go missing!); the chickens and ducks are fun at feeding and egg collecting times; the horses Elderflower and Bos love company and carrots.
Seville oranges are in the shops through January & February so it’s that marmalade time again! My favourite recipe is below – but first a bit of background.
The Seville orange is also commonly known as bitter orange. It has been used to make essential oils, and in Chinese medicine to treat nausea, indigestion and constipation. The name is originally from quince jam, “marmelo” is the Portuguese for quince, and in Spanish the name is what we here call jam.
Marmalade first appeared in Scotland – and according Scottish legend, the creation of orange marmalade in Britain occurred by accident, when a ship carrying a cargo of oranges broke down in the port of Dundee, resulting in some locals making marmalade out of the cargo. The clever Scots also changed our habit of eating it in the evening to having it for breakfast!
So here is what I have worked out as the best recipe to make our favourite marmalade. By squeezing the juice & adding it toward the end of the cooking you keep more of the the lovely tangy, citrus taste.
3lb seville oranges
4 pints water
4-5 lb sugar (depending on taste)
Squeeze the juice from the oranges & lemons then set aside. Scrape out the pith & pulp with a spoon and put in a separate bowl with the pips from the juice. Thinly slice the orange rind & soak in a pan with the water overnight to tenderise the rind. Next day boil the orange slices & water for 1-2 hours with the pith & pulp in a jam bag (this helps add to the pectin levels). After softening the peel add the orange & lemon juice, along with the sugar. Bring to boil & cook at rolling boil for about 20mins. Cool a little & fill sterilised jars. You can it straightaway, best with sourdough toast!
Our squashes at Cotna Eco Retreat seem to be tasting more delicious than ever at the moment, maybe it’s to do with the frosts we’ve had recently. They are the closest taste sensation I can think of to velvet – well OK, apart from chocolate 🙂 Anyway, I have just made the most amazing organic squash breadsticks – they are so easy but my friend Stephanie said they were like vegetarian haute cuisine! Shame they can’t last until the yurt season …
Makes about 14
300g cooked squash (roasted or maybe steamed)
100g organic butter
200g flour (I used white spelt with a little brown mixed in)
2 tsp baking powder
150g plain yoghurt or kefir
2 tbsp milk
A handful of sesame seeds
- Preheat oven to mark 9 / 240C / 475F
- Roast the squash in olive oil for about 20 mins, until soft
- In a bowl mix together flour & baking powder
- Mash squash with the yoghurt & milk,
- Combine squash with the flour and quickly make into a soft dough
- Roll out dough on floured surface into a rectangle to about the same size as the baking tin, Cut it into two down the length of the middle and then about 8 strips on each side
- Melt all the butter in a roasting tin 20X30cm for about 6 mins (careful not to let it burn)
- Dip both sides of each piece of dough into the butter and snuggle them into the aking tin (yes, still with all that butter in there!)
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for about 20 mins. They are totally mouthwatering still slightly warm, but good later on too! We had them with spicy squash soup and for general snacks too
Although Cornwall based, Cotna Eco Retreat does have strong connections with other parts of the world through our many volunteers from overseas, and in particular we have a long- standing connection with Kerala. This part of South India is a particularly beautiful region with its tropical climate and plants and charming and friendly people. At Cotna we have had several Shivananda style yoga courses with Vasudeva from Varkala, and currently offer authentic Keralan style home cooking delivered to our holiday yurts via our friend Shiva’s Coconut Kitchen 01726 844536
We are also sometimes asked for information and advice about travelling on holiday to Kerala so this page gives you some suggestions on travel, accommodation, Ayurvedic treatment, local food and houseboat trips. There are contact details for some of those aspects below, but do feel free to email us if you would like any further help, or if you would like us to get in touch with anyone. Please do bear in mind that things do change quite rapidly in India, so some accommodation or pricing details might have changed!
We would recommend flying into Kochi as it is more central than Trivandrum and there are good places to stay nearby. They are currently building a new green terminal that will be exclusively powers by solar – bring on the day when planes are solar powered too!
Preferred airlines: United Arab Emirates & Qatar Air
Good agents: Flight Centre and Southall Travel
Arrival at Airport
We know a lovely man called Sudheesh who fixes everything for us out in Kerala, and also has a little taxi / rickshaw company. He can pick you up anytime day & night 00 91 9946 627466 and bring you to a great little beach resort called Cherai 40 minutes away. Here you can sleep off your journey and spend a few days if you like, relaxing and readjusting to a new climate and culture.
Cherai is on Vypin island, next to the island of Fort Cochin. It is therefore a good satellite place to stay and get into Fort Cochin for day trips. Cherai is a charming little place, starting to attract more tourism but still very low key and friendly. Cherai beach area consists of a long strip of beach with a small road running behind it and accommodation dotted along either side of the road. The sea is ideal for swimming, warm with no strong currents. You can watch the local fishermen bobbing along on their latest mode of transport, inflated lorry tyres, as they set their nets and check them for fish throughout the day. Further out there are traditional dhow style fishing boats that cross the bay to their harbour at the mouth of the backwaters. And you can often spot dolphins swimming across too.
Our current favourite is Brighton Beach Resort, down the far end of the beach near the fisherman’s village. It is right on the beach and has 5 simple clean rooms at very reasonable rates (£15-20 per night approx, inc breakfast). The cafe overlooks the sea and is a great place to retreat, eat and while away the hours when it is too hot to be on the beach. The food is very fresh and good, and as well as looking at the menu it is always worth asking what they are cooking up that day for themselves that day eg fish & coconut curries. Divya & Krish are lovely, extremely accommodating and helpful. 0091 9946 565555 www.brightonbeachhouse.org email@example.com
There is no shortage of vegetarian food in India, and Cherai is no exception. Most of the cafes are clustered around the junction where Cherai road meets the beach. There is a great cafe called Le Cafe which serves all kinds of delicious snacks and main meals as well as the cool lemon ginger honey drink that is a must try! It is run by The 3 Elephants, the French Eco accommodation in the fishing village, which is also a lovely location for a drink or meal by the backwaters. Chilli Out along the beach is a good western cafe to hang out and eat pancakes, pizza or fresh fish. You can get fresh tender coconut at the stalls by the junction and yummy banana fries. This end of the beach fills up at the weekends with Indian tourists and then they all disappear in a huge traffic jam on Sunday evening! Cherai town is a 10 minute auto rickshaw ride away and has a good supermarket and local shops.
One of the main attractions for us is the Ayurvedic treatment available in Kerala. See section on Ayurveda below) This can range from full Panchakarma detox treatments in Ayurvedic treatment centres to luxurious one-off relaxation massages. Our highest recommendation is treatment by Suni Cheryan, a traditional Ayurvedic practitioner taught by his father through the family’s lineage. He does a detailed and surprisingly accurate diagnosis with his latest reflexology machine, then recommends suitable treatment. This is ideally a 14 or 21 day series of massage treatments, but he is also willing to do shorter term ones as well. It mostly consists of deep herbal oil massage for several days, followed by Kizhi (a muslin bag he beats you with, filled with organic powerful herbs & dipped in boiling oil – sounds like an awful punishment but its actually lovely!). 14 day treatments cost approx £300. Contact via us is best as Suni doesn’t speak all that much English. Sudheesh is a good go-between and translator once you are out here. For some testimonials, have a look at the bottom of this page – he tends to rescue people from imminent operations and steps in when conventional medicine has failed.
People often ask for advice on houseboat trip on the Backwaters. These are largely based around Alleppey. You will be treated like maharajas as you sail down the canals, being fed the most delicious food cooked on the boat. You moor up for lunch and dinner, then breakfast the next morning. Trips are not cheap by Indian standards, but pretty reasonable in UK terms – approx £70 per night for two. The boats are usually beautiful, the team of staff often charming and the views of riverside and bird life always stunning. The downside is that it has become a huge business so there is a large amount of boat traffic on the waterways, particularly in the morning rush hour after boat embarkation. As you can imagine, the ecology of the backwaters has been considerably affected over the years. There is also a lot of hustling by touts who then pocket a big chunk of the boat income, so it is always worth booking in advance. Our contact is Sudheesh in Cherai who can organise trips, Johnny in Alleppey who speaks English, 0091 984 774 3069 or contact us 01726 844867 or Shiva in UK 01726 844536
Varkala is a popular place with travellers. It is a small town known among Indians for being a holy place with an amazing temple at Pappanasam beach where indians come to do pumas for their relatives who have passed on. There is a high clifftop above the main beach, along which there are many cafes, restaurants and shops while accommodation is mainly set back from the clifftop. It is a fun place to hang out, eat all kinds of food, do yoga, shop for Indian throws, hippy clothes, Tibetan Buddhas and Kashmiri silks. Oh yes, and there’s the beach if you ever make it down there! Several beaches actually: the main one, Pappanasam as mentioned, Black Beach and Odayam Beach which is much more peaceful if you want a quiet time. We usually go to Varkala for a few days to shop for yurt accessories. Accommodation often changes out there, and is pretty reasonable as there is so much competition. The latest place we stayed was Sky Land for £4 per night, clean and friendly, above the Tibetan market on 0091 8714 433775. There’s plenty of other places to choose from though! Sandy Beach Resort is good on Odayam beach, approx £15 per night.
Food – there is all kinds of food to choose from – current favourites are Trattoria at the far end of the class on the way to Black Beach, the Tibetan Kitchen does great momos and vegetable rolls, Juice Shack does all kinds of fresh juice and daily specials. You can get masala dhosas down near Pappanasam beach. There are plenty of other places to go, but that is most of our direct experience over the years. We hope it helps, have a great trip and do get in touch if you need any support!
Suni Cheriyan Ayurvedic Testimonials
I first met Suni in December 2013, having heard of him many times through a friend of mine who had been treated by him, following a serious car accident. Her testimonial is below as SJ Hopehouse, as is my own. Suni is a larger than life character who, as well as being a very impressive Ayurvedic masseur and herbalist, is an actor of great talent. He has toured Kerala with theatre productions that he has written, directed and starred in for over 25 years but he has now chosen to focus on his Ayurvedic practice. His goal is to restore the good reputation of Ayurvedic traditional ways in Kerala which he feels have been lost in recent years, and a few of us who have been fortunate enough to benefit from this decision have written of our experiences below.
I broke my ankle badly 3 years ago and continued to have cramping pain in my foot, with my third and fourth toes still looking out of alignment, affecting the ankle joint. I had many consultations and X-rays as well as an MRI scan, and although physio and osteopathy helped overall, it wasn’t until I saw Suni in December that a dislocated fourth toe was diagnosed. He was able to relocate it back into position by gradual manipulation and consequently eliminated much pain and discomfort. I am impressed at the way he is able to diagnose purely though observation and touch and then able to apply great skill through his extensive knowledge of the body and how it works.
I arrived following an accident when I lost all the movement in my hand. The pain was unbearable. After the treatment I got a full cure and was fully recovered from my illness and pain. Now I am doing my job withy any problem. Thanks and wishing all the very best to Sunicherian and his institution.
Shibu PB, Government Employee
I had giddiness and headaches for several years, and I had many injuries to my head and body due to many falls. Finally I couldn’t stand up or walk a single step. Allopathic medicine was worthless for me. Then I heard of Sunicherian through one of my friends. I came to him in a car and they carried me in for the first treatment. Within some days I was able to walk. Now I can walk and run and do all kind of things I express my gratitude and wishes to Sunicherian and his treatment centre for my good life away from being bedridden.
For the last 10 years I had bad back and leg pain. I saw many doctors and used many medicines but there was no reduction in my pain. In 2004 I went abroad and had treatment over there for 10 months. There I started to have numbness in my legs and gradually I was not able to walk by myself. I came back to my native place and started a treatment for 6 weeks in an Ayurvedic hospital near Thrissur but it was worthless. In May 2005 I met another doctor and started medicines, which didn’t help and that July I was admitted to a private hospital, by which time I was fully paralysed, bedridden and unable to walk a single step. After many lab tests, X-rays and scans I had an operation on my spine but this operation was not successful. The doctor in another hospital in Cochin recommended one more op but couldn’t guarantee any success. I came back home frustrated, but came to know of Sunicherian from a friend. He conducted treatment for some time and managed to cure the paralysis and enabled me to walk. Now I am walking very well without anyone’s help and am completely cured from my back pain and cramping pains. I feel great luck to have found SCS Vadama treatment centre in Mala and I will always have love and affection and also send my prayers.
Kunjuvarky Varghese (63)
For the last 20 years I have been treating many people from Kerala, other parts of India and also from foreign countries through my traditional way of Ayurvedic treatment. My father taught me all that I know, he was my guru and I believe that I always have the prayers and blessings of my God and my ancestors. I also have a lot of prayers from the people I have treated and wish that the same blessings and prayers should continue and be there always in the future. With much love and gratitude I thank everybody in the name of God.
Son of Cherian
Parambarya Ayurveda Kalari Marmani Chikilsakam
Sunset on Halloween is also the start of the pagan festival of Samhain, and according to tradition is the night when the veil between this world and the next is thinnest, when the souls of the dead roam the earth. Traditionally pumpkins and turnips, known as jack-o’-lanterns or will-o’-the-wisp, have been used over the centuries to represent supernatural beings and to keep harmful spirits out of the home, or maybe just to frighten people. Pumpkins and squashes are members of a large family called cucurbitaceae, and for several thousand years have been cultivated in the Americas – the name squash actually comes from the Native Indian, askutasquash.
At Cotna Eco retreat we love to grow and eat squashes, all kinds of varieties like Blue Hubbard with its sweet nutty flesh; the beautiful Turks Turban that looks more like a stunning piece of ceramic artwork than food; Butternut squashes that climb in our Polytunnels like those Mediterranean gourds you see on holiday, hanging in Greek tavernas. Now is a great time to eat these earthy sweet foods that can sustain us through winter – winter squashes are rich in vitamin A, which helps absorb protein. Samhain celebrates the darker half of year that we have now entered, so what better way to enjoy those dark evenings than cook up rich orange soups, spicy stews and roasts where the sugars concentrate into thick sticky juices – or even sweets like pumpkin cheesecake or brulee. This year at Cotna we have even discovered a whole new experience with the Spaghetti squashes that we have grown for the first time. I have been happily experimenting with cooking them up into curry and Thai noodle like soup – very exciting J Sadly we didn’t even dare enter our Cinderella coach squash at the Barley Sheaf weigh-in as it didn’t approach Andy Redall’s 85lb giant – so we’ll just have to eat it instead!
Coconut Squash Curry
½ Spaghetti squash
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, chopped
2 -3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green chilli, chopped
1tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Small onion, thinly sliced
2-3 tbsp oil (preferably coconut oil)
2-3 tomatoes, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp coconut, preferably fresh grated (or dessicated). You could replace dry coconut with a tin of coconut milk if you want a more saucy curry
Heat oven to gas 7/220c/425F. Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthways. Place face down on a baking tray and bake for 40 mins. When you remove, scrape with a fork and the flesh will come out in spaghetti-like threads.
Melt oil in frying pan. Add mustard seeds and cook till they pop. Add coriander seeds, fry 20 seconds then add ginger & garlic, then green chilli. Cook for a minute, then add onion. Cook until soft then add turmeric powder. Cook for 20 secs then add chopped tomatoes. Cook for about 5 mins, stirring often to allow tomato to break down. Once you have a good paste add spaghetti squash. Cook for 5 mins then turn off heat & add coconut.
Squash Kale & Sage Pasta
Squash & sage are a great flavour combination and so easy to cook up in this rich pasta dish brightened up with .
½ butternut squash
2 cloves garlic
6-8 shallots halved, or a smallish onion roughly sliced
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp crunch seasalt
Handful of sage leaves
4-5 leaves of kale sliced – cavolo nero if possible
Grated parmesan cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
Heat oven to gas 7/220c/425F. Roast the squash garlic & onions in olive oil with salt for 30 – 40 mins, until soft & caramelised. Add sage after 15 mins, & kale after 20 mins. Cook up pasta for 10 mins in plenty of salted boiling water. Mix roasted veg & pasta together. Add lemon juice & plenty of parmesan.
I haven’t tried this but it looks fab! By Fern Verrow, a biodynamic farm
1 small pumpkin (for about 240g puree)
3 egg yolks
250ml double cream
120g light brown sugar
2 tbsp rum
¾ tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground mace
4 tbsp caster sugar
A pinch of salt
1 Peel and core the pumpkin, then cut it into small pieces. Roast at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for about 20 minutes, covered with foil, until the pumpkin is fudgy in texture. Allow to cool a little, then mash or blend into a fine puree.
2 Set the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. In a pan, gently warm the cream with the spices and rum for 2 minutes. Do not let the cream get too hot. Remove from the heat.
3 Put the egg yolks in a bowl and beat. Add the brown sugar, salt and cream, then beat until smooth and the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the squash and mix thoroughly.
4 Spoon into ramekins and put these into a deep-sided baking dish in the middle of the oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the dish to make a bain-marie, so that it reaches two-thirds up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes, or until set, with a gentle wobble.
4 Allow to cool completely before covering in clingfilm and putting in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
5 To brulee the puddings, sprinkle 1 tbsp caster sugar evenly on to each ramekin dish and put under a hot grill until caramel brown.
The first south-westerly gale of autumn arrived in style last night, blowing away the Indian summer we had been enjoying for most of September and into October – and already the wall to wall sunshine is fading my memory. All the more reason to try and preserve the rich reds, deep purples and soft blacks of summer’s ripe fruits through the darker months to come. Not only will we enjoy the sweet tang of summer but these fruits can provide us with valuable vitamins, minerals and anti oxidants to help maintain our health and fight off the winter colds and flu, sore throats and even the melancholic winter blues. Nowadays we have the luxury of freezing fruit to use in smoothies, on cereal or in pies & crumbles, but I find the tends to be in the form of jams and alcohol, but there’s only so much jam & gin a girl can consume, so I particularly like making vinegars and dips to go with our salads and roasts.
Elderberries gathered on St. John’s eve were traditionally thought to protect the possessor against witchcraft and also to bestow magical powers. While the Romans used the juice as hair dye, the cordial has long been for coughs and colds as elderberries contain vyburnic acid, which induces perspiration and is especially useful in bronchitis and other chest problems. So what better way of using them than in hedgerow vinegar to have with your winter salads or diluted in hot water.
Elderberry Hedgerow Vinegar
Ingredients – 1 good bowlful of hedgerow fruit eg elderberries, blackberries, sloes or hawthorn
Cider vinegar, enough to generously cover the fruit
- Put fruit in a bowl & crush lightly with a wooden spoon. Add the vinegar. Cover the bowl and leave for 4-5 days, stirring / crushing occasionally.
- Pour the fruit & vinegar into a jelly bag or muslin over a sieve. Leave to drain overnight – you can squeeze it a little if you like, but not too vigorously or it goes cloudy.
- Measure the liquid into a saucepan. For every 600ml fruit vinegar, add about 300g sugar (but adapt to your taste)
4.Bring to the boil gently stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil for 10 minutes, removing any scum.
- Cool then bottle & seal when cool. Use within 12 months.
Hawthorn is one of our most abundant hedgerow trees – millions were planted as dividing hedges to fulfil the enclosure acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. It’s in the apple sub-family, and its Latin name is Crataegus monogyna. It is an important medicine for heart and circulatory problems, so is a great heart tonic for all of us through the winter months.
Hawthorn Berry Ketchup
This is a surprisingly rich and spicy dip, with a real depth of flavour
300ml cider vinegar
7oz/170g brown sugar
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Strip the berries from their stalks & wash them. Put into a pan with the vinegar & cook over a gentle heat for 30 minutes. Press the pulp through a sieve & return the pulp from the bowl (not the sieved stones part!) to the pan with sugar & seasonings. Boil for 10 minutes. Bottle and seal. Great with bangers & mash!
The white swathes of Blackthorn blossom herald the start of spring before the green leaves have appeared, though their appearance is often accompanied by a cold spell known as ‘blackthorn winter’. It is the ancestor of our cultivated plums and people have been eating its fruit in the form of sloes for thousands of years. Although best known with gin, it apparently makes such good wine that it used to be, according to Brook 200 years ago ‘much used by fraudulent wine merchants in adulterating port wine … and more port wine was drunk in England alone than manufactured in Portugal.’
This is a great by-product of your sloe gin! Once your berries have done their work & made your gin a rich ruby red, rather than throw them away after straining off the alcohol, you can make them into what must have been the original liqueur chocolate! Just de-stone a good handful of sloes. Lay them in a small container – I use a few hollows of a muffin tin greased with butter. Melt a bar of good dark chocolate with a small knob of butter. Pour onto the sloes and allow to cool. The perfect after dinner treat!
So now that the holidays are over, the yurts at Cotna Eco Retreat are packed away and most of our glamping guests have left Cornwall to the locals, it’s time to get those cauldrons bubbling, the glasses out and the feet up with some dark liqueur chocolates!
As hosts to our lovely guests staying in the yurts, we dread the summer rain in Cornwall. We have definitely observed an August monsoon phenomenon that starts not long after the summer holidays begin, and often ends around the bank holiday weekend before schools go back. This final weekend of the holidays is when some of us locals go camping on Vault beach, and I can only remember one weekend cancelled due to rain in the past 9 years. Frustratingly, the weather is the one thing we can’t control at Cotna Eco Retreat (that and the mysteries of the shower shed, which tends to pack up as soon as we have more than one yurt occupied!) So what to do when the heavens open and you have a young family to keep entertained, long after the novelty of books and board games in the yurt has worn off?
Well, of course there’s always The Eden Project which this year has its Dinosaur Uproar season as well as their regular green activities in and around the biomes. However, beware ‘Wet Tuesday’ when every visitor in Cornwall decides to pay a visit and you spend half your time waiting in a queue. The Lost Gardens of Heligan puts on lots of family activities, this year The Lost Years with lots of traditional children’s games and activities; this is also a good dog-friendly place to go, as long as its not a complete washout. There’s the Maritime Museum in Falmouth, which can be spiced up with a boat trip from St Mawes, and Truro is our other local town worth visiting, with good exhibitions at the Truro Museum (including Poldark’s Cornwall and Kurt Jackson’s Place exhibition this year) as well as plenty of shopping and eating opportunities. There’s a quirky little place near Cotna Eco Retreat called Melinsey Mill, down in the green valley of Tubbs Mill, teapots woven into living willow structures with tea rooms and gallery in a still working watermill. And there are many more summer activity ideas listed here: https://www.pinterest.com/railholiday/101-ideas-for-summer-holiday-fun-in-cornwall-and-b/
Lastly, remember two pieces of advice – first keep an eye out for those gaps in the rain and don’t wait – make the very most of the gap there and then. Second, rest in the knowledge that Cornish weather does come and go quickly and is very localised, so even if Cotna Eco Retreat is sitting in cloud, Mevagissey may be basking in sunshine. So get out there, come rain or shine!