Archive for October, 2009

For Halloween let’s enjoy Calan Gaeaf

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

It’s Fright Night which seems to be the name that Halloween is now being marketed under.  This is not its first branding makeover as All Saint’s Day was shifted from 13 May to 1 November, and so All Hallows’ Even to 31 October, to hijack and repress the traditional British festival of Calan Gaeaf and the Celtic festival of Samhain.  This was done by Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV in the 8th and 9th Centuries.   Halloween derives from All Hallows’ Even.

It’s a pity that he did this as it hasn’t really worked and this Christian Festival is actually celebrated still as a pagan night; it would have been much better to have embraced Calan Gaeaf like the Mexican Catholics have embraced the El Día de los Muertos or All Souls’ Day, which traces itself back 3000 years to the earlier Aztec, Maya and Totanac traditions.

Both traditions have similar ideas.  These are that Calan Geaaf and Samhain are the end of the lighter half of the year and the start of the darker half of the year, so we are really moving from summertime to wintertime.  The belief was that as the year moves from one phase to the next, the thin gossamer barrier between the Living World and the Otherworld shimmers, stretches and thins and dead spirits can move from the Otherworld to the Living World.

So it’s a time to remember our ancestors and all those who have come before us and pay homage to those that have brought us here.  Lighting a candle inside a carved head pays tribute to departed familial souls. 

But unfortunately some nastier spirits can cross over, so we must dress up in scary clothes to frighten them away, or at least for them to mistake our skeletal costumes for other evil spirits.

Traditionally, the lanterns were carved from a turnip and I remember many a boring day trying to carve out the tough inner of a turnip to carve a very crude face on it.  So as I eccentrically announced this week “the pumpkin is one of the greatest inventions!”  Carving a pumpkin is much simply than a turnip, so allows much more fanciful patterns to be made.  Also, the orange colours are much more beautiful than the white of a turnip and the smell much sweeter.

A pumpkin carved hag

A pumpkin carved hag

Interestingly, pumpkins and turnips only became associated with Halloween in the mid 19th Century.  They have always been around but really they were more a celebration of harvest and thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth rather than anything to do with Fright Night.  Perhaps though these lanterns or jack o’lanterns may protect the home from evil spirits, so they are a quite good co-option.

We enjoy carving quite complicated pumpkin patterns and this year, we have made a hag, a ghoul and a dragon.

We also used some Flying Pumpkin Lanterns, which were great fun.  These are based on Chinese flying lanterns called “Khom Fay” or “Khom Loy”, where the Chinese have had these for 2000 or so years.  Basically, it is a paper lantern stretched over a bamboo frame with a small candle in the centre that gives the lantern lift, just like a mini hot air balloon.  Ours were decorated as pumpkins.

It actually took quite a lot of time for the pumpkin lantern to fill out with hot air and we needed to tease out the creases and edges to let it bulge out fully.  However, when it was ready to go, I could feel it straining at my fingertips and then (after releasing), it shot upwards for about 100 metres, caught the wind and headed northwards at a far lick towards Helperby.  We lost sight of it after about 10 minutes when the lamp flickered a bit and then obviously went out.  Some farmer will have a surprise when he finds a flattened pumpkin paper lantern lying in his field.  Awesome fun.

Carving Your Pumpkin At Halloween

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Carving a pumpkin is really quite simple and (dare I say it) quite satisfying to do.  Here is how we do it in the Steenbergs household.

Firstly, choose a decent sized pumpkin with a good area on the face for you to do the carving.  A too small front face will be hard to carve and be fairly curved in shape.

Next, either draw a pattern onto the pumpkin using a marker pen or get a stencil and attach this to the pumpkin, using either tape or drawing pins.  You can download stencils from the web or buy them from good grocery stores – we bought a set of pumpkin carving safety knives from Booths in Ripon this year which came with some stencils.

I then usually mark around the stencil using a pin or the end of a sharp knife to mark out the pattern.

Marking out the pattern

Marking out the pattern

Put a read newspaper onto the table you are going to use as this makes tidying up much easier.  Now, using a knife cut a circle out of the top of the pumpkin and remove the top lid. 

Next, using a spoon and your hands scoop out all the seeds and the fibrous inner gunk.

Scooping out the gloop

Scooping out the gloop

Carefully and patiently cut out the pattern that you have marked out or drawn on the front of the pumpkin using safety knives if you’ve got them.  I use what looks like a slightly deadly array of pumpkin carving knives, sharp kitchen knives, metal skewers and bamboo skewers to cover all the possible bases while chopping away. 

Finished sea monster

Finished sea monster

The key thing is patience and perserverance.  Sometimes you also need to put your hand inside the pumpkin to give it further support as you are carving away as in the past we have broken off the more delicate bits of teeth or broomsticks and then have had to do emergency repair work using wooden toothpicks to put pumpkin flesh back onto the pumpkin!

As with all things in life, pratice makes perfect so every year you do it the better you will get.

Recipe For Homemade mincemeat – Countdown To Christmas

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

DSC_0652_edited-1Mincemeat is delicious and really easy to make.  The aroma and flavour of homemade mincemeat is fantastic, making the shop-bought commercial stuff pale into insignificance – a travesty of taste, lacking in depth, rich or any booziness.

It’s name harks back to it’s original recipe which used to contain a little bit of mince.  However it has now (thank God) dropped the minced meat and become a wonderful melange of exotic dried fruits, nuts and spices, together with some delicious whisky or brandy, creating an almost invigorating preserve.

The origins of the mince pie lie in the medieval chewet, which was a pastry that contained chopped liver or other meat mixed with boiled egg yolks, dried fruit, and spices.  By the 16th century, the mince  pie was a Christmas speciality.  During the 18th century and by the 19th century, meat was rarely used in the “mince” having been replaced by suet.  Note that I use a vegetarian suet but you can use a more traditaional beef based suet, such as Atora, but then make sure you don’t serve it to any vegetarians or vegans.

It’s simply a matter of collecting and weighing out the ingredients and then bunging them all together, giving them a good stir and leaving them to mature.  The key is getting the best quality ingredients and giving the mixture time to mature.  You should make it ideally 2 – 3 months in advance of Christmas, so mid to end of October to early November is spot on.  In fact, the best time may be mid-October as you can then pick apples direct from your garden; luckily we had a few still hanging on our tree of eating apples today, but then we live quite far north.


Getting the ingredients for mincemeat

Getting the ingredients for mincemeat

175g/ 6oz raisins
175g/ 6oz sultanas
250g/ 8oz currants
85g/ 3oz chopped mixed peel
85g/ 3oz flaked almonds, toasted
500g/ 1lb eating apples (Cox’s are good), cored and chopped but not peeled
125g/ 4oz shredded suet (I  used Community Wholefood’s vegetarian suet)
1tsp organic Fairtrade nutmeg powder
½ tsp allspice powder
½ rounded tsp organic Fairtrade cinnamon powder
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange (or 50:50 orange and lemon)
75ml/ 1/8 pint “good” whisky or brandy (I use Bruichladdich from Islay)

1.  If possible, use organic ingredients and/or Fairtrade ingredients, as they are good for the environment and the people who grow the crops.

2.  Simply mix all the ingredients together and seal in a large tub, or ideally a bucket with a lid.  I used a small bucket that used to contain raw cacao nibs from Barry Callebaut, the chocolatiers.

Mixing up the mincemeat

Mixing up the mincemeat

3.  Stir it once or twice in the maturation period – at the end of November and maybe mid December.  Pot it up into a couple of good sized Kilner-style jars on or about the 20th December.

4.  It lasts for a good 2 – 3 years, so don’t worry if you haven’t used it all in one Christmas period.

New Fairtrade Organic Mulling Wine Sachets from Steenbergs

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

It might have caused me sleepless nights and given me an undue amount of heartache and stress, but Steenbergs new range of Mulling Wine Spices in sachets has finally arrived.  It’s about 1½ months behind schedule and we have been having to disappoint some customers for about a month, but it’s here and looks absolutely fantastic.  I am actually really proud of it.mulled wine cut out

They taste divine and pack a lot of exotic, Chistmassy flavours – cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.  These Steenbergs sachets have stacks more flavour than those of the classic high street insipid, bland infusions.

The idea came out of a germ of a thought in mid-summer as I was thinking about what we needed to do about Christmas products.  The answer was pretty obvious – Mulling Wine spices.  But we already did these as loose spices, spices mixed in with sugar; they were already available via the classic Steenbergs range as organic products, as Fairtrade and in my esoteric versions based around Mediaeval hippocras recipes from the Elizabethan times.

We needed somehow to do them in a more practical packaging and yet to differentiate ourselves from the likes of Schwartz and Shropshire Spice on the retailer’s shelf with great design. 

It also allowed me to test one of my dreams and aims as a spice merchant, which is simply to get some of the blending and packing done for us in India or Sri Lanka; after all that’s where the spices are grown and processed, so they will be fresher packed at source, and the BRIC countries themselves are probably going to be richer and technologically stronger than us in a matter of years not centuries.

From that point onwards, nothing seemed to go right.

The designer designed the packets which were beautiful but then the printers in Sri Lanka couldn’t download the design so it had to be couriered out.  After this, they decided not to look at it again for a few months in spite of daily questioning as to how it was getting along, by which time they wanted a change made, but our designer literally went into labour as we asked her so no amendments were possible.

Our original aim was for one of our tea suppliers to bag the spices, which seems logical, but they were suspended from Fairtrade during the packing so we couldn’t use them and had to change to a contract packer based in Colombo, called Amazon Trading.  The Fairtrade spices from Kerala were late in arriving, then there was some trouble with the process for cutting the spices into tea bag cut, which has now been ironed out. 

Next, just as it was trying to leave Sri Lanka, the paperwork was filled out incorrectly as Mulled Wine so there was a lot of toing and froing accusing us of trying to export alcohol and that we didn’t have the correct paperwork.

That got sorted out and then it was transported to the UK in short order, cleared and immediately has started going out speedily.

It has been a good trial and now all the teething has hopefully been teased out.  The product is still going into store way in advance of Christmas so should sell well as the pricing is good for shops and it looks attractive.  Samples are being sent out to all sorts of possible buyers for Christmas 2010 – yes, bigger stores are already working on 2010.

I also think that getting spices and teas packed at source can work but communications are hard and you probably need to hold more buffer stocks than I had hoped to manage the peaks & troughs and mitigate the things that will naturally just go plain wrong.

Here’s how to make the Mulled Wine:

75cl bottle red wine
100ml   Water
3tbsp    Sugar (ideally light brown)
1          Steenbergs Mulled Wine Sachet
Orange, sliced (optional)
Lemon, sliced (optional)
1tbsp    brandy or sweet fruit liqueur

Put the Mulled Wine Spice Sachet, sugar and water into a saucepan.  Bring this to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.  Now add the wine and any of the optional extras that takes your fancy.  Heat up to just below boiling point and stir gently for 5 minutes, making sure that it does not boil as all the alcohol will evapourate.  Serve warm in mugs or wine glasses.

For a non-alcoholic alternative, replace the red wine with 750ml of red grape juice and replace the water with 250ml orange juice.

Stir It Up – Recipe For Christmas cake

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

It’s time for the Christmas countdown and preparations have now begun in earnest – it’s getting darker and the kids are now on half term. 

We’ve had Diwali and Halloween parties are nearly over – our kids have had Fright Night parties on 23rd and 24th October.  Soon it will be Mischief Night, Trick or Treating and Guy Fawkes Night (or to be more politically correct Bonfire Night).  You may note that my timing seems off, but in Yorkshire, Mischief Night is on 4th November (ie the night before Guy Fawkes Night) rather than on 30th October, the night before Halloween which Canada, Ireland, Scotland and the United States celebrate.

So it’s time to stir it up and get making your Christmas tree (apologies to Bob Marley, although I did make this to his greatest hits album).  As a spice merchant and a complete enthusiast for exotic raw ingredients, the British Christmas is just the best. 

It’s redolent with the smells of a history trail of the exotic and the rare: cinnamon from Ceylon to conjur up the Queen of Sheba, nutmeg, cloves and mace that reminisce of the spice islands, preserved ginger from Canton, dark muscovado sugar that oozes blackly from the Caribbean.  Then there are the dried fruits and nuts that remind us that getting fruits in the dark, winter months was impossible so dried apricots, glace cherries and candied peel, together with almonds were the height of luxury and sophistication even if now they are hidden on the wholefoods aisle in the supermarket.

I love the thick, rich mass of fruits and nuts that are barely held together by the thick gluey flour, sugar and eggs that we flavour with a good whisky.  I like whisky rather than brandy or rum, as it seems more authentic.  I use a single malt from Bruichladdich on Islay with its peaty nose and no artificial caramel colours, so it’s a lighter, less golden colour than the classic blended whiskies.  Note that I don’t use an organic whisky as the only one I have come acrosstastes like kerosene, even if it holds a Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales;  it was so bad that I chucked away three-quarters of the bottle.

Ingredients (I’ve bowed to pressure and this includes Imperial weights now!)

Selection of ingredients for Christmas cake

Selection of ingredients for Christmas cake

275g/ 10 oz softened organic butter
275g/ 10 oz Fairtrade organic soft brown sugar
500g/ 1 lb organic sultanas
500g/ 1 lb organic raisins
175g/ 6 oz chopped candied peel
100g/ 4 oz  chopped glace cherries
50g/ 2 oz organic preserved ginger, chopped
350g/ 12 oz organic currants
75g/ 3 oz organic dried apricots, snipped
175g/ 6 oz organic flaked almonds, toasted until golden brown
275g/ 275g organic plain flour, sieved
1tsp organic Fairtrade mixed spice
½ tsp grated organic nutmeg
2tsp organic cinnamon
6 large free range eggs, beaten
Grated rind of 2 organic oranges & 2 lemons
150ml/ ¼ pt “good” whisky 


1.  Butter a 25cm cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

2.  Beat together the butter and sugar until the mixture is very well mixed and fluffy.

Mixing up the fruit

Mixing up the fruit

3.  In a large bowl, mix together all the organic dried fruits and toasted flaked almonds. Sieve in about half of the organic flour and organic spices and mix well, using your hands.  My daughter enjoyed helping here, getting her hands nice and sticky.

4.  Beat the eggs into the butter and Fairtrade sugar mixture, alternating with the remaining flour and spices. Beat in the orange and lemon rinds.

5.  Mix in the flour-coated fruits and organic nuts, mixing really well, and lastly mix in the alcohol.

Christmas cake - ready for its long bake

Christmas cake - ready for its long bake

6.  Pour into the cake tin, smoothing it even and then hollow out the middle with the back of a wooden spoon.   Cover the cake in a circle of greaseproof paper with a small circle cut out of the centre about 5cm in diameter – this protects the cake during the long baking time as I have found many of the recipes result in a burnt, dry cake, including the iconic recipe from Delia Smith (perhaps modern ovens are much hotter or drier than older models).   My mum even wraps the outside of cake tin in a double layer of baking parchment further to protect the cake from burning – I don’t think that this is necessary unless you are cooking for longer than 4 hours. 

7.  Bake for 30 minutes at 180°C, then lower to 140°C and bake for a further 2½ hours.

Drizzling whisky over Christmas cake

Drizzling whisky over Christmas cake

8.  Take out the cake and cool in its tin. When cold, skewer into the cake in as many places as you want, then pour some whisky or brandy over the cake; leave for a few minutes, then tip out of tin, wrap tightly and store until you’re ready to add it a bit more alcohol.

9.  At the start of December, you should unwrap the cake and pour a little bit more whisky or brandy over the cake and then seal it back up again.

10.  Wrap tightly and store until you’re ready to marzipan and ice the cake.

Exotic Pepper From Around The World

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

I’ve been hunting for some specialist peppers in recent months.  That’s what some of the thrill of being a spice merchant is all about – hunting for the exotic, tracking it down and then getting it in.

We already have a broader range of peppers than anyone else: vine pepper (Piper nigrum), long pepper (Piper retrofactum), cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba), grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta), Sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum), pink pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), allspice (Pimenta dioica).  Vine pepper is what we call the classic black pepper plant;  with vine pepper you get 4 types of pepper from the one vine plant – green, black, white and red.

Now, I have got hold of some wild pepper from Madagascar and bush pepper from Tasmania and I am so very excited, like a little boy in a sweet shop, and cannot stop hopping from foot to foot – a bit sad really.

Tasmanian pepper

Tasmanian pepper

The Tasmanian pepper (Tasmania lanceolata) which is sometimes called Mountain pepper comes from the uplands of Tasmania and South East Australia.  Strangely, the indigenous Aboriginal peoples are thought not to have used these for spicing foods, although this may simply be colonial wishful thinking.  The berries are dark bluey-black in colour and have a 5 – 8mm diameter knobbly round shape, with a ridge around the centre.

In Australia, the Mountain pepperleaf is popular and can be bought ground, having a pleasant, lemon-pepper flavour. 

The berries are sweet at first, but the aftertaste lingers and builds over 5 or so minutes becoming really sharp, pungent and numbing – they are way hotter than classic black peppercorns so use one-tenth of the amount you would normally flavour with and don’t put directly onto food instead use them slow-cooked in stews or soups (they’re just too bitingly hot).  You have been warned!  Another way  it is used is mixed with other native Australian foods to create a bush spices mix of wattle, lemon myrtle and Mountain pepper.

Voatsiperifery pepper vine in Madagascan forest

Voatsiperifery pepper vine in Madagascan forest

The Madagascan wild Voatsiperifery pepper (Piper borbonense) is wild harvested from the forest on an organic cocoa estate, which sits right next to the estate where we get our pink peppercorns on the East coast of Madagascar.  They are called Voatsiperifery deriving from “Voa” meaning the fruits and “tsiperifery” which is the Malagasy for this pepper vine.  The wild pepper vines grow high in the trees, and the fruits only grow on the young, new grown shoots and are hand-harvested from the wild by farmers who go into the forest especially to pick them once a year.

Wild Voatsiperifery pepper

Wild Voatsiperifery pepper

The berries look similar to the comic-book-like bombs of the cubeb pepper (sometimes called Java pepper or tailed pepper) and are 3mm long ovals with a 5 – 6mm long tail.  They have a brown-black colour similar to normal black pepper.

The flavour of these Voatsiperifery peppercorns is earthy and woody taste, with a certain citrus floweriness that gives some freshness to the palate.  The flavours are long lasting.

River Cottage everyday – a recommendation

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Whilst shopping at Booths in Ripon today, I was waiting in the “10 items and under queue” and found this recommendation, and I was so pleased that I bought the book (£8 off cover price to boot):

“Pepper and other spices

Spices remain exotic ingredients – precious, fragrant substances that that must be imported from regions of the world more lush and tropical than our own.  These days, it’s easy to find excellent examples, grown in a way that’s respectful to the environment – and traded in a way that’s respectful to the grower, too.  Fairtrade and organic spices are available in many supermarkets and delis but it’s online that you’ll find the greatest variety – try”

The quote is taken from p 16 of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest cookbook “River Cottage everyday” – that’s a recommendation that’s fine by me.

Recipe For Kulfi – The Perfect Indian Pudding

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Of course, you need a pudding/sweet to round off the indulgence of a delicious, groaning table of delicately spiced Indian food.  Kulfi (Indian ice cream) has been made for ages and was served to the Moghul Emperors at their hedonistic courts in Delhi and Fatehpur Sikri. 

It is harder than the soft texture of British ice creams, but then they do pump them full of air to bulk them out (and so increase profits but add value as “soft scoop”).  And I love their flavours, eucalyptus cardamom, nutty pistachio and almond and tropical mango.

2.25l (4 pints) full cream milk
150g (5½ oz) Fairtrade caster sugar
4 drops Fairtrade organic vanilla essence (Steenbergs is best, but I am very biased)
2 pinches ground organic green cardamom
10g (½ oz) flaked almonds
10g (½ oz) chopped unsalted pistachios
50ml (2 fl oz) single cream

1.  Bring the milk to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer over a low heat, stirring all the time and until it has reduced down to one-third of its volume.  It is important to keep stirring to stop it sticking or burning; whenever a film forms on the top, just stir it in.

2.  Add the Fairtrade caster sugar, Fairtrade vanilla essence, ground cardamom powder and almonds, and stir until everything is well combined.  Simmer like this for 2 minutes.

3.  Transfer to a bowl, add the pistachios and stir in, then let it cool down completely, which will take about 30 minutes.  Stir in the cream and pour into kulfi moulds or yoghurt pots. 

4.  Put in the freezer until solid, preferably overnight.  Get it out of its mould by running under a hot water tap for a few seconds.  When serving, sprinkle liberally with a few more flaked almonds and chopped pistachios.

Easy Tasty Magic – cooking alchemy from Laura Santtini

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

A couple of months ago, a bubbly, cosmopolitan lady, called Laura Santtini, came out of London to visit Steenbergs of Ripon.

I am not sure what she expected but I know she didn’t expect a specialist spice merchant – like Steenbergs – to be working out of a spice godown in rural North Yorkshire, surrounded by fields, with a small brook running close by.  No salad bars, no coffee shops, just a glorious rural idyll.

Anyway, Laura Santtini had this vision of a new way of flavouring foods that she had developed out of alchemic mysteries.  I think it may be her Venetian ancestry coming out in her blood; her father moved to England from Jesolo on the Adriatic Coast.  Her food alchemy is a novel concept and has a lively, mythical magic, which is further enhanced by the names she has conjured up for the range and the mixes she’s developed.

Easy Tasty Magic has slightly louche names like Carnal Sin, International Jerk, On the Game and White Mischief, romantic names such as Alchemic Larder, Renaissance Stardust and Venetian Stardust, together with earthy tags such as Porcini Salt, Salt of the Earth and Truffle Salt. 

The rubs contain a dazzling array of specialist ingredients, for example cornflower petals, Facing Heaven chillis, larkspur, marigold, myrtle, orange blossom, peony flowers, pepperoncino chilli, Spice of Angels.  And the Stardusts contain a smidgeon of edible metal flakes that spread the tinsiest bit of magic onto your food – a special blend made for us in Germany and costing about £18,500 per kilo, so when people say that saffron is worth its weight in gold, it isn’t as it only costs about £650 per kilo.

It’s been keeping us more than a bit pre-occupied, tracking down these ingredients, none of which come instantaneously.  The jars are wonderful and they bedazzle you with their pallette of many colours.

Alchemic Larder boxes

Alchemic Larder boxes

We have been trialling the mixes rapidly over the last few months and packing  and labelling away at breakneck speed.  There are still a few products to complete – Salt of the Earth and the Alchemic Larder boxes – but the range does look truly beautiful and it launched yesterday in Selfridges.

selfridgesphotoIt looks magical back-lit in its specially designed display unit.  Selfridges have the range as an exclusive until early 2010; they can spot a winner when they see one.  Laura has said that it will be available through from January 2010, which we’re really excited about.

Easy Tasty Magic is another specialist own label range that Steenbergs is carefully adding to its list of customers.  We already blend & pack own label spices and specialist teas for, amongst others, Daylesford, Rick Stein and The Natural Kitchen.

For more about Laura Santtini, why not visit her web site at or go dine at one of her family’s iconic Italian resturants via and eat with the stars.

Response from Kabul about Schools, Hospitals and Mosques

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Relating to my blog dated 6 October 2009 (see below for links), I have had this response from Mike Hollis, who is Programme and Strategy Co-ordinator, Department for International Development in the British Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“The answers are:

Education: In the last six months, the UK has refurbished five schools in Helmand province. We also funded the refurbishment of training infrastructure and a teacher training centre in Kandahar province in 2002.

Health: In the last six months, the UK has constructed or refurbished four health centres in Helmand province. Last year, the Bost hospital in Lashkar Gah received approximately £800,000 for a new maternity clinic and college that would not have been possible under the Taliban.

Mosques: In the last six months, the UK has completed three mosques in Helmand province.

The vast majority of our support for health and education is not through direct construction but rather support to the Afghan Government budget. Since 2002, the Department for International Development (DFID) has contributed £360m to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Fund (ARTF). The ARTF is managed by the World Bank and reimburses proven government expenditure on operating costs. The ARTF helps pay the salaries of 320,000 civil servants, including health workers and teachers. A further £165m to the ARTF to 2012/13 will cover 14% of the Government’s recurrent costs in health and education. More information about the ARTF is available at

DFID has since 2003 also invested £32m in the National Solidarity Programme (NSP), which has established over 22,000 elected Community Development Councils across Afghanistan. Through these councils, 47,000 projects have been chosen by local people to improve health, education, water and roads. More information about NSP is available at

My links to the two earlier blogs: