A couple weeks ago, I found out about the amazing Foodie Penpals program while browsing through recipes on Cooking With Jax. Each month, participants are assigned a new penpal, to whom they ship a box of food-related items--the cumulative value of which cannot exceed £10. Penpal assignments are made at the beginning of the month and participants are left with just over 2 weeks to find out about their partners' culinary/gustatory interests, get shopping (or preparing, whatever the case may be), and drop the package in the mail. The person to whom you send a parcel is not the same person who sends you a parcel, and so each month can see quite a bit of variety coming into and going out of your home.
As anyone who has read this blog (especially recently) knows, I love food. I also love getting packages. I also love food shopping. So, obviously, I signed up for the program right away...and here is my very first Foodie Penpals parcel:
It is from Carl Legge, a permaculturist living in northwest Wales. Since Carl's passion and full-time job is producing and preparing his own food, I knew I could expect an exciting package. Even better, the contents would be ecologically friendly since they are both sustainable and local.
I received Carl's package just as I was stepping out to go host my first Source FM radio show. I decided to open it on my return so that it could act as a little reward for making it through my first broadcast. As soon as I got home, I grabbed a pair of scissors and my camera and dug right in:
The envelope contained a card that was made by Carl and his wife; it showed a beautiful landscape shot of the view from their home on the Llyn Peninsula. Inside the card was a two-page letter describing all the goodies enclosed in the parcel, as well as providing advice on how to use the items or replicate them in my own kitchen. Very handy.
Once I'd removed all the protective bubble packs from the top of the box, I could really start to smell its contents; it was the kind of earthy jumble of scents you experience after walking into a spice shop. I'm actually not sure where the smell came from, since everything was carefully sealed shut, but it made me feel as though I was standing in a bazaar in some warm and arid country. Sigh.
The first thing I unwrapped was a beautiful loaf of sourdough bread that had been homemade from Welsh-milled English Amaretto flour provided by Felin Ganol:
Next up was a selection of homemade canned goods made from homegrown (or hand-picked) ingredients:
Specifically, these include achocha and courgette chutney, dried tomatoes, damson and lavender jam, spiced mango and chilli jam, and blackberry, apple, and chilli chutney. I had never heard of achocha before, so I was glad that Carl provided a description of this ingredient: "The achocha is a rampant vine that produces pods that taste a bit cucumbery when young."
One of the things I particularly like about this selection is how very British it all is. When Carl initially contacted me, he asked what sorts of things I'd like to receive. I didn't really have any suggestions, though I did mention that because I'm American I would enjoy trying some UK specialties--and boy did Carl deliver. In addition to being made by a British person from British ingredients, as I already mentioned, they also reflect the deep British love of things that can go on a cheese plate and/or accompany afternoon tea. Chutneys and jams abound in this country, and I am still discovering new flavors and ways to use them.
Another great thing about all these items is that they are fairly healthful--even though some of the jams and chutneys undoubtedly contain sugar, they also contain lots of fruits and veggies packed with vitamins and minerals. While I'm not a health nut per se, produce is definitely my friend, and I love things like this that taste light and fresh.
Anyway, on to the rest of the box. The remaining three items were thin cylindrical objects that looked like this:
They turned out to be a bottle of damson vodka, a bottle of vanilla essence, and a beautiful blue candle made by Carl's wife Debs--not edible, of course, but included in the hopes that it "could illuminate a meal." The color was specially chosen for me, since I'd mentioned that my favorite hues are blues/turquoises/teals.
I am a big baker, so I'm thinking it won't be long until the vanilla essence finds its way into some cookies or muffins. I only drink rarely, but when I do I tend to like fruity concoctions that disguise the flavor of the alcohol (this is one of the few things about me that is undeniably girly). I'm thinking that the damson vodka would make some great cocktails, though of course I'd also need to sip a little of the raw ingredient just to experience the damson flavoring on its own.
Fortunately for me, I had not eaten lunch prior to opening my Foodie parcel, and so I was immediately able to put some of my new treasures to good use. I sliced off a couple pieces of the bread, smeared them with the blackberry, apple, and chilli chutney, and then loaded them with a thin layer of cheddar cheese. The flavors were both deep and bright (if that makes any sense), and it was a light but filling repast--reminding me very much of the sort of meals I used to read about in Brian Jacques' Redwall series when I was a young girl. The food described in those books is unbelievably appealing; I remember the culinary details of those stories better than any of the characters or plot developments--even 20 years after the fact. I always tried to replicate the menus myself, but without proper British components like damsons and spicy chutneys, I could never quite get there. I hadn't thought about that for ages, but thanks to Carl I've had a childhood dream come true!
All in all, my first foray into the world of Foodie Penpals was a huge success; thanks very much to Carl (and Debs!) for a lovely introduction to the program. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what the mailman will bring me next month.
If you're curious about what I sent to my own penpal, head over to her blog to read all about it!