Green is the new red (tomato)

Here in Winchmore Hill, we are very lucky to be a stone’s throw from the Forty Hall Estate which boasts a Jacobian Manor House in beautiful gardens with a farm and farm shop. Even luckier is that the farm shop has a veg bag scheme – Enfield Veg Co – which delivers bags of veg from its farm to drop-off points in and around Enfield. Looking for such a scheme when we moved to N21 last December, I was thrilled to discover that one of the drop-off points is at the Kings Head pub right opposite our Vicarage; handy for picking up the veg on my way home from work and a good excuse for the Vicar to pop in for a pint under the pretence of picking up our greens!

Each week we pick up a bag of around 6/7 items of veg. There are usually a few onions, some potatoes and a couple of carrots, and then the rest is a complete surprise. Most of the time the extra items are veg I would usually buy and cook with but from time to time there are a few bits and pieces I’m not so familiar with.

This week’s anomaly was a bag of green tomatoes. Ok, so I know about tomatoes but these green tomatoes felt very firm and didn’t smell very ripe. Leaving them out of the fridge I expected them to soften and ripen and assumed that I might then eat them in a salad or make a pasta sauce, but even after days they stayed as hard as the day I picked them up. So I took to google for the answer. Most of the results suggested frying sliced green tomatoes which felt like a bit of a waste. After a bit more searching I hit upon a Nigel Slater article in the Guardian all about the green tomato.

I am a relative beginner when it comes to jams and chutneys. The traditional cranberry relish for Christmas is about the extent of my experience so I thought I’d give Nigel’s mixed tomato chutney a go. I had most of the other ingredients in the pantry anyway, including some extremely fiery red chillis which have rather over powered some of my mid-week suppers recently.

And in making this recipe, I’ve discovered that chutneys really are quite easy to make and produce something really lovely. Essentially it’s just chucking all the ingredients in a pan and waiting for it to boil down into a chutney consistency.

Although it did take a little longer than I expected, and about half-way through it still looked like a watery stew of unripe tomatoes, just at the last moment it became a rich, dark and sticky pan of deliciousness. By the end, the whole house smelled fragrant and all that was missing was some cheese on toast.

There was a lot more of the end product than I was expecting. I’d sterilised two old Bonne Maman jam jars and I certainly needed both of them, as well as a mini le creuset pot. They were left out on the kitchen work surface to cool overnight then put in the fridge.

This recipe has converted me to chutney-making. The result was spicy, tangy and rich, and was made from really fresh ingredients. It could have been too easy just to leave the green tomatoes in the fruit bowl and look at them daily wondering what to do with them until they ended up in the compost. In the end they created a chutney, much nicer than something from the supermarket and excellent in a cheese sandwich.

Do you have any favourite chutney recipes? Let me know. This could be the start of a new obsession.


Wheat-sheaf Wars

Nothing like a bit of healthy competition to strengthen a friendship… When you think of Harvest festival, a baking war is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. More like cauliflower fluffy and cabbages green. But not for us.

It started like this:
Elise: Daniel wants me to bake a wheat-sheaf out of bread as a prop for his sermon. Have you done it before? Do you have a recipe?
Alice: No I haven’t, but actually I was going to bake a wheat-sheaf too. Here is the recipe I thought about following:
Elise: No way?! Yes, I saw that recipe and this one too:
Elise: Arg, I don’t do fancy baking, that’s your thing. Yours is going to be way better than mine.
Alice: We’ll see.

And so it began. We won’t always do blogs together; we actually have quite different cooking and baking styles. Alice does fancy-pants, decorative and mainly sweet stuff, while Elise is more of a homely, make it in a big pot and slap it on the plate cook. But every now and then we share our cooking projects.

Elise’s story

Ok, so the recipes I’m looking at say you need a good 4-6 hours. I’ve probably got about 2 . Oh well, nothing ventured… I’m taking the ingredients from and the shape/instructions from (minus the mouse).
Better use the breakfast room table given the quantity of dough needed. Next, find baking tray big enough.


Hmmm, not sure that is big enough. Well, it’ll have to be. Ok, easy bit, make the dough. Much less yeast than a normal bread – don’t want it to rise in the oven and lose it’s shape. Other difference with a usual loaf: no proving time. So straight to rolling it out, after dividing it into three. Roll out first third into a rectangle. Yep, that’s fine. And cut into a mushroom shape. Again, not so bad. Baking tray definitely smaller than the recipe suggest, probably won’t need all the dough. Now, divide the second third into 30 and roll each piece into a long string to make an ear of wheat. Sounds simple. Oh, it isn’t. First one takes a good ten minutes, rolling it between my hands but it looks ok and has stuck to the base. Great. Second also takes ten minutes. My hand hurts a bit actually. Third one, this is taking a bit longer. Sore hand, dough is a bit elastic and has a tendency to snap (when I get impatient and just try to stretch it). And so it continues… By the time I’m at the last few strings, I’ve wasted most of the third of dough because I’ve worked the attempted strings too much and they’ve gone to rubber. But time to move onto the plait to go round the middle with the last third of dough. All fairly straight forward but definitely not going to need all of the third for one plait. I’ll just make some extra ears of wheat to stick on. And it’s finished. Egg-wash and bake.

Recipe says 25 mins in the oven if you want to eat it. Why wouldn’t you want to eat it? Out of the oven it comes 25 mins later. Looks good! Phew! But definitely not edible. It’s essentially a load of breadsticks stuck to a mushroom shaped cracker, and it’s been worked to death to get the right shape. Oh well, it’ll look great in church, when Daniel will use it as a prop and his side-kick puppet, Fr Bear, will take all the credit for having made it.
If Alice’s is edible, she wins.

Alice’s story

The thing is, I’m at a considerable advantage. Elise has made her’s the week before me, and foolishly, she’s also sent me the draft of this blog post before I’ve made mine too, so her frustrations become my key thrashing her in this seasonal baking challenge. So to begin, I am going to tackle the mouse…

Twenty-four hours later, and the wheat sheaf is done. I feel rather guilty. Whilst Elise sweated and swore her way through, I pottered my way around the kitchen after my ParkRun, and became a bit too engrossed by a story on Saturday Live about handwriting to notice any difficulties in rolling out wheat stalks. In fact, it was all rather plain sailing until the door bell rang in the middle of shaping ear of wheat no. 28, and I had to nip across to church to give back the floor scrubber to the man from the tool hire company. He did ask ‘shall I hold your play dough?’ in a slightly confused manner as I battled to find the right key whilst holding aforementioned ear of wheat no. 28, but I wasn’t letting him anywhere near my delicately shaped lobe.

The mouse caused the most difficulties. My school art teacher famously took me to one side after one Year 9 lesson, just at the time when we were picking our GCSE options, to say ‘Alice, if I were you, I probably wouldn’t pick art.’ Well Mr Humphreys, the intervening fifteen years haven’t yet brought out my innate talent. The creature that began as vaguely rodent shaped had developed a severe water retention issue by the time the baking was complete. I’m not convinced 25 mins was long enough, even for eating. It’s definitely not cooked though, but it’ll look alright in amongst the cartons of Ambrosia and Lidl shampoo. And, more importantly, they’ll comment that the previous vicar never made them one…


Alice is clearly the winner for her all round superior job. But we’ll let you be the judge (both of Wheat-sheaf Wars, and of who announced the verdict).

Elise says: This will not be an annual tradition.
Alice says: Next year, I’m going double the size, and double the mice. I might even make one for SPWH too…

Setting the table…

Or in other words, introducing ourselves and our blog. We are Elise and Alice. As you will see from the About section, we are friends, food lovers, cooks and inhabitants of vicarages. Elise is married to a priest, Daniel, and Alice is a priest. We both live in the diocese of London; Elise in Winchmore Hill and Alice in Finsbury Park. On a pretty much daily basis we send messages updating each other on what we are eating, what new ingredient we have bought, what we are cooking for dinner and asking for advice. We talk about food and cooking so much we thought we might start to document some of the recipes and tips we share with each other. We will take it in turns to write a blog a couple of times a month, and we hope that The Vicarage Table might go on tour and some of our other vicarage friends may provide a guest blog every now and then.

We also have a few other contributors… If you haven’t already done so, check out the St Paul’s Vicareggs page to meet the hens that live with Elise and provide eggs for the vicarage and the parish when there are some going spare.

Every meal is an opportunity to give thanks. We give thanks to God for the food that nourishes our bodies and for his spiritual nourishment in our lives. We also pray for those who are less fortunate than we are and who do not know where their next meal is coming from. On our Saying Grace page you can find some our favourite ways to say Grace before a meal, and our Links page provides websites with more information about food banks, soup kitchens and organisations which can help those who go hungry. You can also keep in touch with us through our contact page.

So, here we go. Let’s set the table and get stuck in.