The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

A disaster that introduced us to a new ingredient

Photo: Beef casserole

Photo: Beef casserole

Quite a few people think that we create a new recipe with ease. They imagine us stirring, whisking and happily tasting. Each dish a simple triumph.

The reality is different. We have a lot of fun playing with ingredients but often enthusiasm and daring has us sliding down that slope where the rubbish bin rather than the plate is the preferred option.

This almost happened a few days ago. Danny picked up a couple of packs of reduced price braising beef. We had loads of vegetables waiting in the wings. An eclectic group, ranging from courgette to parsnip.

We decided to make a dish with 50/50 beef and vegetables, simmered in passata and some superb beef stock from the freezer. Danny drifted up to the Rat Room leaving me to add the essential flavoursome additions. I’d had great success adding a teaspoonful of white wine vinegar to a few new recipes. As I was making a large amount of this casserole I thought it deserved a whole tablespoon.

The casserole smelt wonderful as it bubbled away for hours in the slow cooker. I crept downstairs at 01:00 to turn it off.  It tasted great for the first five seconds until the vinegar kicked in.

There was no need to clean my teeth.

Early the next morning I looked up ‘too much vinegar’ on Google. Sugar seemed to be the antidote but I preferred to sauté some more sweet Romano peppers and add them.  It was better but still veered more towards meaty mouthwash rather than stew.

Then I remembered that I’m working at the house of a really good cook who has years of experience and is happy to share her secrets.

As I kicked off my boots to step indoors I casually mentioned my problem.
“I just wondered if you could help me. I’ve made a beef casserole and added far too much vinegar.”
“Give me a moment, Fiona.”
There was a long pause, when she clearly wondered why an apparently sane person would add vinegar to a beef casserole.

Her solution was simple.
“Add prunes. Beef braised with pickled walnuts and prunes is superb. You don’t need the pickled walnuts because they would add more vinegar. Just drop some soft prunes into the sauce. Simmer for a while and I reckon that it should work.”

Our larder is bursting with ingredients but not a single prune. Apart from Devil’s on Horseback, I considered prunes to be a dull, breakfast stewed fruit dish. So when I was leaving, she pressed half a pack of soft prunes into my hand.
“Don’t tell Danny what you are going to do. Let him taste it first!”

At lunchtime I hid the secret ingredient in the barn. Danny was curious.
“It begins with P and ends with S,” I teased.
“Pistachios, Pastis…Pears?”

This evening we feasted on a wonderful beef casserole that would have been fit for a memorable dinner party, if there had been leftovers.

Prunes are now top of the shopping list. A disaster had led us into new territory. Prune shaped and bursting with promise.

  Leave a reply


  1. Had a giggle 2 myself over the syrup of figs,painful as I’m into my 6th week with flu,pneumonia,induced a bout of coughing, hey, well done.
    What a TONIC!
    Must give it a try, the prunes, there again maybe the syrup of figs!
    That’ll sort him out for leaving me ‘home alone’ when I’m ill!

  2. I have a confession! Fell out with my first fella once upon a time. He went out with the lads and a neighbour told me to load a beef stew with prunes and Syrup of figs!!!!!! I then felt guilty about the effects it may have had on his guts so hid it at the back of the fridge. Woke up the next day and he came in drunk and had choffed the whole lot!!!
    NO COMPLAINTS! We ain’t together now but he still tells me how tasty it was!!!

  3. samantha winter

    Hi Fi
    I must confess I do like prunes – the old fashioned stewed version. I will now try them on a savoury dish. I think maybe venison for some reason may be a good partner.

  4. magic cochin

    Hi again – tonight’s venison with pickled walnuts and prunes – WOW! yummy!


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