In The Kitchen With Charlotte
A few weeks ago we went to visit Charlotte, a friend of Palava and Yorkshire neighbour. Throughout her life she wore many hats, such as cook, costume designer, theme party planner and mother of three. Now she turns her hat to an experimental gardener in an enormous communal allotment.
We sat down with her while she prepared the following dishes, nettle cheese, nettle scones, and pickled beetroot on sourdough bread with Taramasalata. We scrupulously wrote down the recipes which you can find at the end of the article. But don’t jump right to it, read on to learn more about Charlotte’s inspiring journey, she’ll share a few cooking tips and tricks along the way.
‘My French grandmother was a cook and she was always making amazing interesting dishes. When we went to stay with her we would always help her with the cooking. My Mum was also a cook and taught cookery. . We would watch her cooking as her prepared the next lesson as she tried out a dish 3000 times, we really loved it."
"So I’ve always been surrounded by amazing food”
Although Charlotte was drawn to art, she ended up winning a first prize trip to France at a cookery school. She went on to experiment and refine her cooking for a publisher. There she took the opportunity to use her art skills to create sets, costumes and scenery for the book launch parties. The parties allowed her to create costumes and menu presentations from lilac swans to Mozart dining experiences.
Charlotte started to do big parties from home with costumes and sets, setting up a huge kitchen at home with a row of fridges, freezers, and cooling racks. “So I'd come to you and say, what do you like doing, what would your dream party be. We did one party for people who loved the woods and the outside. So the whole party was themed in a wood.. The table was moss and ferns and old bits of bark, and the waitresses dressed up as wood nymphs. I don't know how I come up with these creative ideas. So that's what I ended up doing ! Along with raising the three children at home"
With her recent move to Yorkshire, she has taken to growing veg and really enjoying it. She found it extraordinary to have an enormous amount of space after living in London and 3 years in the Philippines. The first year she watched the plants with amazement growing wild, letting them have their own life and be free.
"It’s been a joy to just start from scratch with vegetables. When you have your tiny crumb, that's a tomato seed then it's amazing, this enormous creature grows overtaking your greenhouse! "
It was really magical for her to have the space and the time to experiment during the lockdown. You just didn't do anything else. "When you’re out in the garden and hours go by and you haven't said a word, or looked at your phone, you just got on with it and your thoughts just peacefully travel through, it's just heaven! "
Charlotte likes to experiment and learn as she does things and not being scared of sometimes getting it wrong. The process is about reusing everything you have and not letting anything go to waste. "That preciousness of growing something is that there is no time for it to go mouldy, we're eating it in another form in a frittata or in a quiche or as a sauce." She even recycles her Christmas tree by reusing the pine needles to make a Christmas tree cheese.. "You literally add the pine needles to your puree of apples and boil it right down. You could put it in a cake tray and then you cut it into slices." The result resembles membrillo, a quince paste that is practically the national snack of Spain, and great with cheese.
A few things she enjoyed growing this year are patty pan courgettes which grew rather big "these have turned out like little mini saucepans" and will be stuffed with wild mushrooms, rice and herbs, raisins and some walnuts before being baked.
Over winter she will focus on growing winter brassicas from seeds to have salad leaves all winter. She is thinking of digging up the beetroots now, cutting off the stalks, tying them together, and keeping them in a cold and airy room. They’ll last all through the winter like apples.
Having an artist's eye and wanting things to be done a certain way helped her throughout her life to create memorable parties.
"You want it to be beautiful all the time which is impossible with working and raising three children but I wanted it all to be art directed the whole time, which is ridiculous"
Learning to let the garden grow for ‘No Mow May’ was a new thing for Charlotte. She enjoyed witnessing all the bees and the flowers taking over the grass, having a pretty wild spot, this ended up being positive and much less work.
"It’s a bit distressing sometimes to let things be, I am happy when everything is tidy but it’s about letting the chaos in and finding a balance"
What Charlotte cooked for lunch
We were treated by Charlotte to a delicious meal. Composed of foraged nettles, beetroots and tomatoes from her allotment. The cheese was made with unpasteurised milk from a local farm.
Here is how she prepared it.
A basket of freshly picked young nettles (about 200g)
2 litres of raw milk or full fat Jersey Milk
Gently simmer the washed nettles in 200ml of water for 30 mins adding more water if starts to dry out.
Squeeze out the dark green liquid into a bowl and add 1 heaped tsp of sea salt. This is now nettle rennet.
Reserve the nettle pulp for other recipes -pesto, dumplings, scones. Warm the milk in a pan until it reaches 37 degrees C. Then add 175ml of nettle rennet and immediately take off the heat. After about 30 mins the curds should have separated from the whey. Sometimes in colder weather this takes much longer so leave overnight in a warm place (airing cupboard) with the pan lid on top.
Ladle the curds into a colander or large sieve lined with a big piece of muslin reserving the liquid whey/buttermilk for making scones or soups. Draw up the corners of the muslin and tie the muslin ball of curds with some string. Hang this over a bowl. After 3 hours, unwrap the ball, now a cheese and press into 2 ramekins or small bowls lined with young blanched nettle tips.
The cheese can be eaten straight away, sprinkled with sea salt and garden herbs. Alternatively leave in the fridge for a week to get a more tangy taste or use in cooking say a ruby chard quiche or foraged sea herb omelette.
When there are no young nettles about you can use traditional shop bought rennet.
1 tbs chopped nettle pulp
225g self raising flour
Pinch sea salt
25g grated parmesan
150ml whey/buttermilk from nettle cheese making
Heat the oven to 220C gas 7 and grease a baking tray.
Add salt to the flour and rub in the butter, then add the chopped nettle pulp and grated parmesan.
Add the nettle whey/buttermilk to make a soft dough.
Turn it out onto a floury worktop and pat into a 2cm thick round. Stamp out rounds using a 5cm cutter.
Brush the scones with beaten egg or milk and bake for 15 mins.
Served hot, cut open with butter and a little homemade nettle cheese.
Beetroot on Sourdough Bread with Taramasalata
For the Mother I used rye flour and rhubarb, chop up your raw rhubarb into your flour, add warm water, start with a bit of honey, something sugary, and the natural bacteria in the air will do the trick.
Leave it out on the side on top of something warm, put it on a bread board so it's not directly on the heat. Feed it a little bit of flour everyday, strong white or brown flour, then the same amount of warm water just from the tap, and it will start to ferment a little bit after a several day.
You haven’t added any yeast at all but rhubarb and rye flour. Rye flour has its own natural bacteria unlike other flours.
Homemade sourdough round loaf using 300g of ‘mother’ starter
450g strong white flour\50g strong wholemeal flour
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp soft brown sugar
about 250ml nettle whey/buttermilk
Mix altogether, knead for 8 mins, leave to rise in a warm place till doubled in size, knock back and put in well floured coiled bread basket.Leave to prove again till filled bread basket then bake in hot oven for 45 mins.
Make the taramasalata
100g of smoked cods roe
300g stale bread crumbs
1/2 cup of olive oil
juice of large lemon
1 grated red onion
Blend the breadcrumbs, smoked roe and onion together.
Slowly add the lemon juice and olive oil until you get a thick paste - you may not need all the oil.
Taste the taramasalata and season accordingly.
Prepare the beetroots
Thinly slice 3 different coloured beetroots. I grow Bolthardy (red) Chioggia (red and white striped) and Burpees Golden (yellow).
Place in three cups the different coloured beetroots and pour on a simple hot pickling juice flavoured with bay leaves and mace. Leave 30 mins then drain off.
Putting it all together
Toast three thickish slices of the sour dough, cut in half and spread with the taramasalata. Carefully arrange the pickled beetroot on top in a rainbow of colours.
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Conversation and pictures gathered by Bryony.
Article layed out and edited by Amelie.
Charlotte is wearing Esther Navy Fox Jumper, Esther Mint Damson Jumper and Wilma Mustard Corduroy Trousers. Bryony is wearing Cynthia Navy Damson Dress.