Archive for November, 2009

Autumn Poems

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Perhaps Autumn is a time for poetry.  So here are a few poems that conjur up the period for me. 

I found the poem by Keats in an ancient copy of “The Golden Treasury” inscribed by my great aunt with the words “Elfie Steenberg July 1 1918″:

Ode To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run:
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With sweet kernel; to set budding more
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen Thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they?
Think not of them, – thou hast thy music too,
While barréd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Or perhaps something more modern from Ted Hughes‘ book of poems “Season Songs”:


Who’s killed the leaves?
Me, says the apple, I’ve killed them all.
Fat as a bomb or a cannonball
I’ve killed the leaves.

Who sees them drop?
Me, says the pear, they will leave me all bare
So all the people can point and stare.
I see them drop.

Who’ll catch their blood?
Me, me, me, says the marrow, the marrow.
I’ll get so rotund that they’ll need a wheelbarrow.
I’ll catch their blood.

Who’ll make their shroud?
Me, says the swallow, there’s just time enough
Before I must pack all my spools and be off.
I’ll make their shroud.

Who’ll dig their grave?
Me, says the river, with the power of the clouds
A brown deep grave I’ll dig under my floods.
I’ll dig their grave.

Who’ll be their parson?
Me, says the Crow, for it is well-known
I study the bible right down to the bone.
I’ll be their parson.

Who’ll be chief mourner?
Me, says the wind, I will cry through the grass
The people will pale and go cold when I pass.
I’ll be chief mourner.

Who’ll carry the coffin?
Me, says the sunset, the whole world will weep
To see me lower it into the deep.
I’ll carry the coffin.

Who’ll sing a psalm?
Me, says the tractor, with mu gear grinding glottle
I’ll plough Up the stubble and sing through my throttle.
I’ll sing the psalm.

Who’ll toll the bell?
Me, says the robin, my song in October
Will tell the still gardens the leaves are over.
I’ll toll the bell.

Autumnal Leaves Falling

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Autumnal leaves are falling everywhere.  They have hung on in there for quite a while longer as we have had a short spell of decent warm weather and very little wind.  But even so, nature cannot be stopped and even the delicate finger-like leaves of our wisteria have turned yellow and will soon have all gone until spring next year.

The River Skell at Fountains Abbey

The River Skell at Fountains Abbey

It’s a time of the year that makes you feel artistic.  I think perhaps the light is softer, making the edges of objects all fuzzy, rather than the sharp precision of winter and summer.   The smells are also old, ancient, the smells of decay; another year over.

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

I am reminded of a painting by Sir John Everett Millais that hangs in Manchester Art Gallery – “Autumn Leaves”.  John Ruskin wrote of Autumn Leaves that it was “the first instances of a perfectly painted twilight”.  I am not sure about the twilight but it does conjur up autumnal smells and sights.

In it, 4 girls stand around a pile of autumnal leaves piled up high – the 2 girls in the centre wearing deep black are Effie’s (Millais’ wife) 2 younger sisters and the others are local youngsters, Matilda Proudfoot and Isabella Nicol.  The setting is Annat Lodge in Perthshire, where the distant hills are a deep purple of twilight in the distance.

In the foreground there is a heap of papery fallen leaves, piled high having been brought there by the girls in whicker baskets.  Yellowish-green, bronze, red are the leaves, mimicked by the russet and deep purples of the younger 2 local girls as their clothes blend in with the colours of the season.  The youngest girl stares wistfully at the leaves and holds a chewed red apple in her hands.

There is a strong emotional intensity as these young girls stare out at us – it is twilight, the end of a year, yet they are just starting out.  The earth is perpetual cycle of renewal (spring) through to growth and beauty (summer) and ageing (autumn) before death (winter).  Then during winter, the earth is actively replenishing itself ready for another year of growth and death, in a perpetual cycle.

But maybe its more a time for poetry rather the visual arts; maybe poets are the more melancholic of the artists.

Recipe For Sweet Chestnuts Foraged At Fountains Abbey

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

We (that’s me and my 2 kids) have been enjoying a few walks this half term break – in the deer park at Studley Royal which is at the lower end of Fountains Abbey and at Brimham Rocks

Both are National Trust places and well worth the visit; in fact I reckon that Fountains Abbey must be one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited anywhere in the world and it’s packed full of history. 

You’ve got the beauty of a tamed natural landscape at the deer park with a small river Skell and seven picturesque little bridges (just where you could imagine trolls lurking beneath) while Fountains Abbey melds the formal landscape of early 18th century with the more natural, romantic-style landscaping around the ruined great Benedictine monastery, dating to the later half of the 18th century.  This site bridges the gap in English gardening from the formalised garden through to the more natural gardens of Capability Brown.

The leaves on the trees – chestnuts, oaks, beeches, limes – have turned to their autumnal hues – reds, yellowy-green, gold – and as they gently fall to the floor, they appear to gild the lush green grass.  

Fallow deer at Studley Roger

Fallow deer at Studley Roger

Fallow deer and red deer graze in decent sized herds throughout the deer park; we followed a small group of about 12 red deer along the higher valley banks of the Skell.  The stag had a magnificent set of antlers and would throw back his head every so often and utter their characteristic guttural bark, proclaiming his dominion over his small herd.

Along the way, we foraged amongst the leaves for sweet chestnuts.  These have a sea-urchin-like, very prickly outside, enclosing 2 or 3 little dark brown soft chestnuts.  The inside of the shells is amazingly soft to touch, just like silk.

Sweet chestnuts

Sweet chestnuts

We brought our small collection of sweet chestnuts home and have roasted them quickly in the oven.  This is a really simple process, stirring up feelings of the hunter gatherer deep inside my bones:

1.  Simply make small nicks/incisions in the sweet chestnuts
2.  Place on a baking tray in an oven pre-heated to 180oC
3.  Roast for about 20 minutes or until the shell is hardened and starts splitting
4.  Leave to cool for a few minutes, peel and enjoy

November Steenbergs Newsletter

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Steenbergs is here to help with all the Christmas baking

Traditionally a family time of year and it’s not just Christmas, it’s the time of year where everyone seems to be baking. This year we’ve pulled together lots of the essential baking ingredients to help you as well as our spice and tea boxes which make wonderful gifts. One person described opening up one of our boxes with the leaflet as just  opening up an “Aladdin’s cave of spices.”  We’ve all the usual news and information as well as an apology and an offer to make amends. Happy November and Guy Fawkes night enjoy the preparations for the end of the year…

Steenbergs tea gets a colour make over

Steenbergs has been selling tea since 2006 – we’ve always specialised in organic and Fairtrade tea but we decided to go colourful for 2009! We’re concentrating on our blended teas, many of them using spices. We’ve also switched the majority of our chai teas to be Fairtrade as well as organic. The new look tea comes in organic Fairtrade black chai (formerly our sweet chai); the seasonal – organic Fairtrade Christmas tea ; organic Fairtrade green chai tea and organic red chai (using redbush as the base tea). The chais or spiced teas are very warming and a great way to banish winter blues. Drink the black, red  or Christmas tea with or without milk or/and sugar whilst the green chai works well without milk but with or without sugar to taste. Have fun and let us know which is your favourite.

Other teas in this new livery are our popular organic Fairtrade English breakfast tea; organic Fairtrade Earl Grey tea and organic green tea with peppermint (formerly Moroccan mint tea). When the Steenberg house runs out of  Steenbergs English breakfast life the morning never quite starts properly until we’ve limped into the office – to begin again. Steenbergs Earl Grey tea is a delicious light tea which we particularly like in the afternoon – weak and black whilst Steenbergs green tea with peppermint is an all day winner. Drink our green tea with peppermint on its own or with a little sugar or honey. It works well as settler as well as making a delicious all day round drink.

Other new teas in the new livery include our organic white tea – bai mu dan or pai mu tan depending on your translation from Chinese – very cleansing and easy to drink all day through, can be an acquired taste; organic jasmine tea – always a winner in terms of calming and relaxing; and organic redbush tea – particularly popular as no caffeine and can be drunk very much as a black tea substitute, our loose leaf redbush tea is naturally sweet.

Christmas and Steenbergs

Spices have long been associated with Christmas in terms of baking, the Christmas kitchen and presents. This year we have pulled together much of the essential items to help you with the baking and created the Steenbergs Christmas baking shop, we’ve also pulled together some ideas for Christmas drinks and Christmas presents.

All our boxes make excellent presents for cooks of all abilities and interests – the choice is wide it’s just choosing which one for which person – whether it’s the Thai box for the globe trotter or the Christmas box, which is a good all round box, or the mini Fairtrade spices box or the storecupboard minis or the Smoke and spice box for the BBQ / grill or bake expert. For advice or help with choosing the right box for individuals please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll even wrap them up for you – don’t forget to let us have a message if you are sending it onto a different address. This year we have revised all our tea boxes to go with the new look tea – so again there’s something for all tastes and interests.

One of the simplest – if a little time consuming – Christmas spicy things has to be making a pomander – this traditional orange studded with cloves and then “set” with orris root makes a great traditional addition to the house. Somehow in our house it almost symbolises the start of the Christmas preparations almost as much as making Christmas cake!

What’s new with Steenbergs

Since the last newsletter we’ve been at Olympia at the Speciality and Fine Food Fair. It literally finishes the day before school’s back so we are always the bleary eyed parents who stagger into school the first day to be greeted by lists and questions! (We’re just trying to get through the day.) The Fair is always a good one in terms of meeting retailers who stock or might stock our products and passing on new products and sharing our enthusiasm – hopefully and news about Steenbergs.

 This year we were showcasing our new home bakery range, our new look tea range and our new look premium range – more about this shortly. All of which seemed to go down very well. We have, as always, added to our stockists list and with the home bakery range and mulled wine sachets going through distributors there should be some Steenbergs products available near you.

We’ve also added additional Steenbergs products to the range including two new single Estate peppers – Tasmanian Mountain pepper – which is roughly 10 times hotter than normal pepper and Madagascan wild pepper – for more information on all our peppers and these two new ones look at our recent entry on the blog. Two new flavoured salts have also just been added – porcini salt and truffle salt – both are intense flavours and will add a wonderful flavour to your cooking. Flowers also seem to be featuring at Steenbergs with Cornflowers, Marigold flowers, Jasmine flowers and orange blossom featuring on the list for the first time – you can use all of them in your recipes and meals – work well in salads and added at the end of meals so that you don’t lose the glorious colours of the flowers.

Organic Fairtrade Mulling wine spices

We now offer organic Fairtrade mulling wine spices in sachets! If sachets aren’t for you we also offer organic Fairtrade mulling wine spices loose in a jar and pre-blended into an organic Fairtrade mulling wine sugar . The joy of the sugar is that it is very easy to simply make a glass of mulled wine or gluwein.

We even offer a luxury version with orange for extra flavour. So however you like to create your perfect mulled wine – we’ve got it covered, we even sell the individual spices to allow you to create your own individual recipe if so desired.

Our tips for making this drink include adding orange juice to the wine – as opposed to diluting it with water – and the odd sliced orange always adds to the ambience and flavour if you are entertaining.

The sachets are going to be available via Suma and Green City distributors as well as ourselves so you should see them around and about, as well as in our stockists and  direct.

Postal strikes

Normally many of our parcels go by post, however, during the postal strike we have made alternative arrangements with courier companies. We won’t send anything by post the day before or the day of a postal strike. Ones sent previously should be fine as the majority go by tracked post which we understand is being given a priority by the Post Office. We will continue to monitor the situation and make arrangements and improvements as required. So it is even more important to leave instructions for deliveries if you are going to be out and not available for signature. Don’t forget that we can send your parcel to work address or leave it in a safe place, if you’ve left us instructions to do so.

New products

Once again there’s lots of new things at Steenbergs online shop. Getting ready for stir up weekend and Christmas baking we’ve got in organic mixed peel and organic glace cherries . Also new is organic Agave syrup and organic tahini. D2W products also seem eminently sensible and their biodegradable food and freezer bags join the ranks of their biodegradable bin bags.

Dried mushrooms – chanterelle, porcini and shiitake are now  available. And to help you with winter puddings we also now stock natural custard powder, as well as vegetarian jellies. If you are making your own – don’t forget our vanilla extract and/or vanilla pods they are ideal for this.

We seem to have gone rose mad  – it must be the end of summer in recent weeks and new additions to the toiletries include the Duchy original rose and mandarin shower wash, and the Weleda rejuvenating wild rose range. All of these have that lovely rose fragrance that somehow just brightens up your day.

Staff choice

The second in our irregular series of staff choices of our products. This time features Lucy, who has been with the company pretty well since it began.
Favourite Steenbergs product: Green tea with peppermint.

This is a brilliant tea and has been very popular with my friends who always ask for it instead of a coffee after a meal.

Favourite non Steenbergs product: Country products Bombay mix.

This is very moreish I have had to restrict myself to a bag a week or there would be no stock left for our customers.

Environmental tip: My husband and I couldn’t understand why our electricity bills were so high, we bought a gadget that tells you how much electricity you are using at any one time and we found out that someone had left our immersion heater on. Whoops. I think we managed to save ourselves £50 since we bought it.

Apology and offer

First of all an unreserved apology. The offer in the newsletter wasn’t properly set up. The mistake was noticed quickly and rectified and we have been through all those who placed an order using the code and refunded the people who were charged the incorrect amount. Some of the invoices are incorrect but the amount charged through your credit/debit cards was correct. Anyone who has any concerns about this should contact us at

However, we know that some of you tried and failed so for those in particular we apologise profusely. We extended the offer for a further few days and we are offering by way of peace offering a free box of Peace Tea to anyone who orders up until 30th November 2009 using the offer code FREE TEA.

Stockists and blog update

New stockists include Jenners Food Hall, Edinburgh, now run by Valvona and Corolla. For a full list of your nearest stockists, click here and tap in your postcode. Whilst every effort is made to keep this list up to date we can only try our best. Our baking range and mulling wine also goes through distributors so we don’t always know the end shop.

Blogs recent blogs have included making our Christmas cake, delivery of our organic Fairtrade mulled wine spices, unusual peppers, Diwali, Kulfi, how our organic audit went (we passed) and Afghanistan. It’s wide ranging and we love to hear back from you via comments or suggestions of topics you’d like us to cover from recipes to spices to organic and Fairtrade issues.

First Attempt At A Coffee Cake Recipe

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

We all like coffee cake, and Sadie in the office has been demanding one for ages (and without walnuts on the top), so we’ve decided to try various recipes to see if we can come up with our favourite recipe.  After all the effort of making it, she said her Gran’s is much better, but then isn’t everyone’s Mum’s or Gran’s cakes better!

This one here is a simple, classic recipe that tastes delicious, but it has a weird twist – some strawberry jam; really it’s a Victoria sandwich cake with some coffee flavours.  I liked it with the jam as I personally find the thick wadges of coffee butter icing too rich and this added some variation, albeit a sweet one, but others thought it too much of a change to a classic taste that just shouldn’t have been tampered with.

By the way, it really is so totally, completely easy to make.

Ingredients – as always please use organic or Fairtrade where possible to save the world and help the poor

Getting the ingredients for coffee

Getting the ingredients for coffee

For the cake:

150g/ 5oz caster sugar
150g/ 5oz butter, softened
3 eggs, whisked lightly
150g/ 5oz self-raising flour, sieved
1½tsp baking powder, sieved
1tbsp instant coffee
1tbsp hot water 

For the icing:

225g/ 8oz icing sugar, sieved
100g/ 4oz butter, softened
1½tsp instant coffee
1tbsp hot water
Strawberry jam (optional)

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 160oC/325oF.  Butter and line 2 small cake tins about 18cm/7 inch in diameter.

2.  Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

3.  Whisking all the time, now add alternately some of the whisked eggs followed by 1tbsp of the flour each time, making sure you do not use up all the flour.

4.  Add the rest of the flour and the baking powder to the mixture and fold these gently into the mixture.

5.  Dissolve the coffee in a mug and then add to the cake mixture and fold in gently.

6.  Pour the mixture equally between the 2 prepared cake tins and bake for 30 minutes, or until ready.  Remove the cakes from the tins and allow to cool on a wire rack.

7.  To make the butter icing, cream together the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy.  Mix the coffee with the hot water and add to the butter icing.

Undecorated but the finished article

Undecorated but the finished article

8.  To ice the cake, put one cake onto a flat surface and spread strawberry jam over the top.  Now spread coffee butter icing on the bottom of the other cake and sandwich the 2 cakes together.  Finally, spread coffee butter icing over the top of the cake. 

9.  You can decorate the cake with walnuts, almonds or how about chocolate coated coffee beans.  Enjoy with a delicious mug of Fairtrade Ethiopian coffee from Grumy Mule, or whatever takes your fancy.

Recipe For Pumpkin Pie

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

What to do with all that lovely pumpkin that you’ve got after scooping out your pumpkin, or just because they are such good value discounted in those shops that have overstocked.  This year we’ve made a classic pumpkin pie – which was deliciously indulgent – and a warming pumpkin soup.

Pumpkin pie with cream

Pumpkin pie with cream

Here’s our Steenbergs sweet and traditional pumpkin pie recipe that has the texture of cheesecake with the warm spices of winter – cloves, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.   It uses Steenbergs organic Pumpkin Pie mix that I invented, so I make no apologies for using it in the recipe, however you can make your own using equal amounts of cinnamon and ginger and half of each nutmeg and cloves.


375g/ 13oz shortcrust pastry
3 medium free range eggs
425g/ 15oz puréed pumpkin (either canned or make it yourself – see later for making your own)
195g/ 6½oz Fairtrade golden brown caster sugar
¼tsp sea salt
3tsp Steenbergs organic Pumpkin Pie spices
335ml/ 11½ fl oz evapourated milk

1.  Preheat the oven to 200oC/ 400oF.

2.  Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 23cm round pie dish, to about 3mm thick.  Blind bake the pastry case for about 10 minutes. 

3.  Now mix up the filling.  Whisk the eggs lightly in a bowl.  Add the Fairtrade caster sugar, sea salt, Steenbergs Pumpkin Pie Spices, pumpkin purée and then evapourated milk.  Give it a good whisk after each ingredient to ensure that it has been mixed through thoroughly.

4.  Reduce the oven temperature to 170oC/ 340oF.  Take the part-baked pastry from the oven and pour in the filling.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the filling has just set; if you insert a skewer into the centre of the pie filling, it should come out clean.

5.  Allow to cool completely, then serve with cream.

6.  If you’re feeling indulgent, how about adding a smidgeon of Jack Daniels to the pie (about 2tbsp).

7.  To make your own pumpkin purée:

(1) chop up the pumpkin, removing all seeds and internal fibres and the skin and dice it into 3cm squares.  Boil with water for about 10 minutes.  Drain then process in your food processor until smooth; or

(2) chop up the pumpkin, removing all seeds and internal fibres, then place onto a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes at 180oC; now scrape out the cooked flesh and process until smooth.