Posts Tagged ‘food blog’

Time for Tea with Ronke Lawal, creator of

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Time for Tea – our regular chat with someone who cares about tea – Ronke Lawal, Creator of

Ronke Lawal, creator of

Ronke Lawal, creator of

1. What is your favourite tea to set you up for the day first thing in the morning?
I love a normal English Breakfast tea, milk and one sugar. I have been reducing my sugar intake over the years and so eventually it will be no sugars (but maybe a biscuit or 2)

2. What is your favourite tea to relax you in the afternoon?
Green tea is perfect to relax me in the afternoon. There is a calming quality to green tea which always helps me to take stock after a busy day.
3. What do you like best about Steenbergs teas?
I love the quality of the ingredients in the teas as well as the taste to be honest. There is an authenticity in each freshly brewed tea pot of tea that makes this brand so special.
4. Which Steenbergs tea would you most like to try and why?
I am so lucky that I had the chance to try the tea that I really wanted to taste and that was the Organic Red Chai. It was absolutely delicious, with a depth of flavour that made me want more!

Steenbergs organic red chai is a caffeine free rooibos chai loose leaf tea.

5. Who would you most like to have a cup of tea with and why?
Oprah Winfrey! One day I’m going to take her for a cup of tea and a chat, my treat to her for being such an inspiration.
Your contact details
Twitter: @whosfordinner @ronkelawal

Time for Tea with Helen @FussFreeFlavours

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

The lovely Helen Best Shaw from Fuss Free Flavours imparts her tea habits and desires in this month’s Time for Tea blog spot.


HBS Profile Phoho

1.      What is your favourite tea to set you up for the day first thing in the morning?

I am an afternoon tea type of person – I drink coffee in the morning – but occasionally I’ll have a coconut, banana and matcha smoothie for breakfast.

2. What is your favourite tea to relax you in the afternoon?

It depends – I always drink my tea without milk and usually choose something light – Japanese, Chinese greens and whites.  I always use my Emma Bridgewater teapot, silver tea strainer and use a china mug.

3. What do you like best about Steenbergs teas?

The variety and quality! And that I know that they are organic and FairTrade, or traded fairly

4. Which Steenbergs tea would you most like to try and why?

Steenbergs white tea stars – part of the Steenbergs flowering tea.

The white tea stars – they look adorable – or any of the flowering teas.

5. Who would you most like to have a cup of tea with and why?

Skye Gyngell – who is my favourite chef and writer by far.  I had the most amazing meal at Petersham Nurseries about 6 years ago and can still clearly remember her amazing salt cod.  Her flavour combinations are wonderful, I want to cook everything from her cookbooks.

For more of Helen foodie news, you can contact her via:



Twitter:   @fussfreehelen

Instagram:  fussfreeflavours


Review Of Food Blogs For October 2010 (continued)

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Continuing from the first part of my review of blogs, at Not Without Salt Ashley has been making Homemade Honey Roasted Peanut Butter, which sounds so easy and is something I would never have thought of making, like making Homemade Nutella, which seem to be just timeless purchasing items.  How terrible and consumerist we have all become.  And her Pumpkin Rice Pudding recipe is perfect and will solve the pumpkin problem next autumn, plus also (as you will find out over next week) I have been going through a rice pudding phase myself and need to write up my efforts.

While at Orangette, Molly Wizenberg made a gorgeous sounding Rustic Plum Tart with a so simple pastry; I like plum tarts and cakes but only ever seem to buy them and never get round to making them myself, which seems strange, perhaps one day soon, perhaps?  And Gazpacho is another thing I have never made, so you never just never know.  The use of heirloom tomatoes and the bite of the sherry vinegar sound like a lovely combination – sweet and sour.

Ree at The Pioneer Woman Cooks has come up with an amazing twist on sweet potatoes, which I like to add into mash to give an extra dimension, but she has made a soulful pudding with them by making the sweet potato into a custard style filling and then covering them with a full on pecan crumble crust.  Now that’s different and I am truly intrigued by it.  I love the rich umami depth of Beef With Snow Peas which is a classic stir fried beef recipe that anyone can make at home; I like this sort of dish with some soy sauce infused with Birds Eye Chillis close to hand to dip the beef into.  Then there is Creamy Cheese Grits With Chili which are a real American piece of cuisine and are a great alternative to potatoes, like pap in South Africa or polenta in Italy, and what better to finish off with that Ree’s classic Skillet Cornbread recipe.  Well, there is one thing, she provides a link to an older recipe called Tres Leches Cake, which sounds a must – rich, moist and sweet…what more do you need in a home made cake.

While Luisa Weiss at The Wednesday Chef makes an intriguing sounding Soft Zucchini, Harissa, Feta and Olive recipe.  At Wild Yeast, Susan has been making soudough recipes with two catching my eye – Bread Crumb Sourdough and Soft Semolina Sourdough.

Elsewhere In The Blogosphere – July 2010 (Part 1)

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

With the summer fruit rolling in, Raspberry Jam is being made at A Slice of Cherry Pie, while at Cannelle et Vanille Aran is inspired by a simple bowl of frozen raspberries and bakes delicious Gluten Free Raspberry Scones and a fancy Heirloom Tomato, Rice and Almond Tart – I am a sucker for these types of simple tarts that use beautiful in-season vegetables and I like the idea of trying the unusual base for this tart.  And what could be simpler and more inspiring than the Purple Corn Muffins and Poached Salmon Salad which are gorgeously colourful, full of bright harvest-time colours.

It’s been a weird summer here in North Yorkshire, with temperatures never really rising above 15C, so I have not really felt inspired by classic summertime foods like salads and cold fish etc, sticking more to warm salads and barbecued chicken and other meats.  But Aran’s salad and the Tomato and Einkorn Wheat (or Spelt) Salad at Chocolate & Zucchini makes me feel as though I am missing something important this year.  I have already mentioned the recipe for Almond Cake With Blueberry Coulis which seems a great alternative to my own Almond Cake recipe that took inspiration from many sources, but mainly David Lebovitz.

David Lebovitz’s recipe for Caramelized White Chocolate Cakes are my kind of pudding and would go down a storm with any guests, especially amongst children.  Or returning to the summer fruits theme, Vegan Strawberry Ice cream looks and sounds to die for and on the salads line, a recipe for Classic Salad Nicoise, which is something I have always loved being a sucker for anchovies and their deep, umami and salty taste.  Then David Lebovitz has an intriguing recipe for Cornmeal Cookies that has a photo of the dough being chopped with an evil looking slice that reminds me that I must try some of the sablé recipes that I keep seeing posted on various sites; they’re just something I have never baked and I feel left out and a rural country bumpkin and so “1980s” as my daughter keeps on telling me – her current insult of choice for us out-of-date adults.

At Cooksister, there’s a posted version of South African Milktart that uses cardamom, as well as cinnamon, infused into the milk, which must be one of my favourite combinations of sweet spices.  I love cardamom and for me it is one of those misunderstood and unloved spices that should be used much more in British sweet foods, rather than being consigned to the savoury, curry-style end of cuisine.  She also cooks a whole leg of lamb on a braai with an intriguing rub all over the lamb before cooking, which is similar-but-different in concept to my less sophisticated recipe for Barbecued Lamb at Steenbergs web site.  But I do love the idea of her Coconut Tart as I am always struggling with how to imaginatively use coconut, so this sounds great with flavours that hint back to the almond cake recipes in this round up.

Now at Helen’s wonderful blog – Fuss Free Flavours – I have been inspired by her recipe and photos for Whole Wheat Walnut Bread and Matcha Muffins, which are exquisitely green in colour.  I am inspired not only to think about using matcha in sweet bakery – perhaps fudge or sablé biscuits – but I will look to adding organic matcha tea to our tea range at Steenbergs.  I know where to get it, just have been cautious about buying it as it is damn expensive.  While never having been a fan of tofu, finding the texture just too weird to take, I am inspired by Helen’s rendition of Ottolenghi’s Black pepper Tofu recipe.

There seems a lot to write about this month, so this will follow on in next couple of days…

Pepper – black gold

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Pepper is the king of spices – it has had far reaching effects on trade, voyages of discovery, cultures and cuisines over the centuries.  To me, it embodies the wonder of spices – a distinctive, full-bodied flavour with an almost incredible influence on history.


 Pepper and world history


 Coming originally from the Wayanad plateau of Kerala in Southern India, pepper was probably the earliest spice known to man.  It swiftly became an item of luxury and a store of enormous value that was often used in payment of taxes or as currency.


 Pepper was the Roman spice of choice (they preferred long pepper rather than the black pepper we tend to use) and was even used in ransom demands for the City of Rome.During the Middle Ages, pepper was the most important commodity traded between India and Europe.  Venice was founded off the pepper trade, dominating the overland spice routes to the Orient.


 However, from about 1470 onwards, the Turks began to stop the overland trade routes east of the Mediterranean.  So Portuguese, Italian and Spanish explorers sailed west or south to reach the Orient.  As by-products, America was discovered, as was allspice (Jamaican pepper) and chilli pepper.


 In Britain, peppercorns rents (literally rent payable in pepper) were introduced, becoming a real burden to many people.


When the wrecked Royal Navy ship, the Mary Rose, was raised from the sea bed in the early 1980s, nearly every sailor who went down with her in 1545 was found to have a little bag of peppercorns in his possession.  In 1973, Prince Charles visited Launceston to receive his feudal dues as Duke of Cornwall.  This included a pound of pepper as rent for the land on which Launceston Town and Guild Hall sits, and forms part of the tribute arising out of the grant of the town’s freedom by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, during the reign of King Henry III of England (1216 – 1272).When I worked as an accountant, I did some work for The York Waterworks and their head office was in an old building called Lendal Tower in York.  The annual rental for Lendal Tower is 1 peppercorn payable to the City of York; this 500-year lease was taken out in 1677, so still has many years to run.


On behalf of Portugal, Vasco da Gama won the race to find the sea route to India and the Spice islands via the Cape of Good Hope.  As a result, the Portuguese dominated the spice trade until the 18th century when Britain and the Netherlands took over, and then shared the trade in pepper and other spices, especially nutmeg and mace.


Pepper remains big business.  485,000 acres are given over to pepper growing, producing 325,000 tonnes of pepper every year.  The global export market is worth US$345 million every year.


What exactly is pepper?



Pepper is the dried berry of the pepper vine, Piper nigrum.  There are other peppers such as long pepper, cubeb pepper and pink pepper, but these come from different plants.  

Vine pepper growing in Kerala, India

Vine pepper growing in Kerala, India

The pepper vine is a perennial climbing plant with smooth, woody stems and leathery leaves.  It grows a little bit like ivy (without being parasitic) up a host tree or pole.  The berries grow in long catkin-like clusters of bright green berries, ripening to yellow-orange and followed by bright red berries or fruits.  There are over 100 different varieties of pepper vine – Steenbergs organic pepper mainly comes from Krimunda, Panniyoor and Tellicherry Special Bold vines.

Pepper grows only in rich soil in a moist tropical climate with a pH of 4.5 to 6.0 ideal.  Propagation is normally by cuttings, although our organic pepper vines grow from wild-sown seeds.The vines do not produce a worthwhile crop until their 7th year, but they continue to bear a good crop for at least 15 years.  Each spike produces 30 -70 pepper berries; one vine produces around 3kg of fresh berries every year, yielding around 1kg of black pepper.  Every pepper spike is hand-picked by skilled pickers using tripod-like ladders.

What are the different types of pepper?

Green pepper is the youngest pepper berry.  Whole berries are picked by hand during September/October in India (2 – 3 months before picking berries for black pepper).  These immature berries are soaked in brine to preserve their green colour then air-dried.  They are hot and fiery, retaining many of the characteristics of fresh unripe berries picked straight from the vine; green pepper is the Beaujolais Nouveau of the spice industry – bright, simple and lacking some depth.

For black pepper, the berries are picked whilst still green but almost ripe during December through to February in India; the farmers are looking to pick when 1 or 2 berries in the pepper spikes are turning from green to orange.  After harvesting, the immature green berries are stripped from the stems mechanically and then lightly fermented by drying in the sun, spread out on large concrete yards.  During drying which takes about 7 days, the berry shrivels, taking on the classic wrinkled look and turns a black or dark brown colour; it takes 1 – 2 days to turn from green to brown and the remainder to dry out.

Pepper pickers with pepper drying on concrete drying yard

Pepper pickers with pepper drying on concrete drying yard

White peppercorns are allowed to ripen more fully on the vine, being picked around March in Southern India when the spikes are fully ripened and a colourful orange-red.  After drying, the outer shell is removed in a constantly flowing stream of cool water until the black outer shell loosens (this process is called “retting”), yielding a clean, white corn through rubbing or trampling the dampened peppercorns.  White pepper has a more intense heat than black pepper with a deeper richer flavour.

Red peppercorns are fully mature pepper berries and are rare, as you need to keep the berries on the vine longer and they reduce the yield from pepper vine in the following year.  They are picked in April/May.  The flavour is quite fruity and less intensely peppery than green, black or white pepper; I actually don’t really like the flavour as it seems too sweet and fruity for me, but that is probably just a case of being used to black peppercorns and being conditioned to expect a particular aroma and flavour.

Ungraded pepper is the lowest quality, coming from more than one estate and a mix of pepper species and berry qualities.  Using the Indian system of classification, the basic graded pepper is Malabar Garbled 1 (MG1; size less than 4mm), with the higher grades Tellicherry Garbled Extra Bold (TGEB; size 4.25mm) and Tellicherry Garbled Special Extra Bold (TGSEB; size 4.75mm).

Is organic really any different?

When quality brings no extra money and margins are preciously thin, pepper growers cannot take any chances – the longer the berries stay on the vine, the greater the risk that they will be eaten by birds or the crop will be lost in a storm.  So pepper berries are treated to grow faster, yield more and are picked as early as possible – just like intensively farmed tomatoes.

We sell a relatively large quantity (by volume) of our pepper into the food manufacturing industry and I have never once in the last 4 years (we started in 2003 and only really began selling bulk in 2004) been queried about the organoleptic qualities of the pepper (i.e. aroma, flavour, colour) by a single buyer.  Quality to the food industry means price and low microbial levels on the peppercorns rather than aroma or flavour, i.e. quality actually equates to money and risk aversion and not flavour.

However, at Steenbergs, we do care about the type and flavour of Steenbergs organic pepper, so we carefully select and grade the pepper that we purchase.MG1 is already a step up from other peppers, with peppercorns that are larger and more consistent in flavour that you will typically find in supermarkets.  The Tellicherry grades are even better than the small ones for the same reason that vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh from the garden in August taste better than shelf-ripened tomatoes from the supermarket in January.

Going back to the tomato analogy, a tomato vine produces something that looks like a tomato fairly quickly, but it is only in the final weeks of ripening that the true deep-red tomato colour and its rich, sweet flavour fully develops.  Peppercorns are the same – immature fast-growing pepper is still nice, but it is the slower-growing specialist varieties of pepper that have then been given that extra ripening time on the vine that makes the trip from India to Britain really worthwhile.

We think that the best black pepper comes from Kerala in Southern India, where the best Tellicherry grades are grown.  Indian pepper has a fruity aroma and a clean bite.

Indonesian lampong pepper (from Southern Sumatra) is highly favoured in America where they like its higher level of piperine and lower level of essential oil – I think this harks back to the history of the spice trade where American pepper originally came from Sumatra and was imported into Salem, Massachusetts.  Lampong pepper is more pungent than aromatic, with smaller berries that are grey-black in colour.

Sarawak pepper from Malaysia has a milder aroma than Indonesian berries, but is hot and biting.  Brazilian pepper has a low piperine content and is rather bland.  Vietnamese pepper is light in colour, mild and uninteresting in flavour – but it is very cheap!

Isn’t pepper organic anyway?

Like all agricultural crops, pepper vines are susceptible to pest and diseases, ranging from the destructive fungal disease – quick wilt disease – through to nematode infestations that attack the root systems or pollu beetle attack, to name just a few.  Chemical treatments for these include Bordeaux mixture, carbofuran and methyl bromide.

Post-harvest treatment is, also, common to provide broad spectrum control of disease and insects and target possible fungal growth and aflatoxins.  Treatment is typically fumigation and ethylene oxide prior to shipment and then heat treatment on arrival.  Irradiation (if ever) is rarely used from British spices.

The use of synthetic fertilisers is common, especially among the intensive, high-yield pepper growers in Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam.

I have calculated that 17% of the farmgate cost of farming normal pepper relates to chemical inputs – this excludes any post-harvest treatments.