• What is a chiminea and how do I use one?

    Last month I received an email from online retailers chimineashop.co.uk asking if I would like to review a Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea. Recent review requests had either been too poor to feature on our site* or too inappropriate** but a chiminea sounded like an ideal piece of kit for our digging and swigging remit.

    I’ve always fancied having a go on a chiminea to see how effective they are, but have never got round to trying one. Rich, however, is something of an expert having written about the subject for the Independent – an article that included the Extra Large version of the Large model that chimineashop.co.uk were offering up for review.

    The Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea arrived a week later, a heavy square box that clearly meant some self-assembly was required, but this task had to wait for the duration of a holiday and a few weekends of autumnal rain. Eventually an unseasonably warm Sunday came my way and chiminea construction and testing began.

    Initially the instructions looked too sparse for the amount of nuts and bolts laid out on my carpet (they recommend building on a soft, flat surface to avoid damage before transporting outside) but when assembly began I soon realised there’s very little that can go wrong: it’s very obvious where each bit fits. Despite the relative simplicity of construction it still took a little over an hour to fix it all together, with most of the time taken by tightening nuts in increasingly hard to reach places. Only one minor cuss was emitted during a slightly awkward left handed spanner (provided) manoeuvre.

    chiminea construction

    What is a chiminea?

    Before describing how well it performed it’s probably worth briefly explaining what chimineas are. Originally they were a Mexican cooking oven, designed for heating up all sorts of Mexican nosh within the house***, but more recently they’ve been adapted to become a device to provide outdoor heating in the chilly British climate, with the option of cooking being an extra on some models (including the one I was about to test).

    They work very much like the living room stove, with a large belly that contains the fire, lit on a grate above the base, and attached to a chimney that funnels the smoke northwards. Vents near the base allow air to flow through the chiminea and can be used to control the intensity of the fire. Being made of cast iron, our chiminea gets extremely hot (proper gloves are recommended) meaning it retains heat long after the flames have died down.

    How did it perform?

    The instruction booklet recommends that no toddlers or pets are anywhere near the chiminea when it’s in use. I have both so waited for the former to be tucked up in bed before striking the match, by which time it was late and I had already eaten, so the handy pull-out cooking tray would have to be tested another time. However, the dark Autumnal evening provided the perfect opportunity to see how effective it was as a source of heat.

    The fire lit easily enough using the same firelighter and kindling method I use on the stove and there was ample room in its belly to get a good supply of wood loaded into it (you can also use charcoal as a fuel). Flames were roaring in no time and even from the initial knidling burn I could feel the heat. The Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea is a solid, impressive structure that looks perfectly at home in the garden (in Rich’s piece he describes is having “a certain traction engine aesthetic”) and with a glowing red belly of fire it makes a great focal point to an evening outside, with the heat more than taking the chill out of the air.

    The chiminea now sits beneath its custom designed rain cover waiting for the next time I’m ready to stoke up the flames. I’m very much looking forward to cooking on it, so if anyone has any cooking suggestion then let me know and I’ll fire it up again.

    The Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea can be found here

    cast iron chiminea photo

    *a sickly beer flavoured with elderflower syrup

    **the illustrated history of Inter Milan

    ***do not attempt to use one inside. Ever.


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  • How to make beetroot chutney

    Down on the plot, we’ve been busy battling an unwinnable war with the powdery mildew that has blighted our pumpkin patch. We’ve not really been paying attention to the Pablo beetroots that we shoved behind our somewhat out-of-control Jerusalem artichoke jungle, and after weeks of favourable weather, our purple Pablo pals have ballooned to the size of knobbly cricket balls. We usually coax our beets into making a magenta-hued wine, but this year we decided instead to pummel them into chutney. Not just any old chutney, mind…. our effort is fine and fiery thanks to a supporting cast of scotch bonnet and cheyenne chillies, freshly plucked from the bowels of our mini poly tunnel.

    Your sink will look like a crime scene, your family will hate the smell, but your cheese sarnies will never have tasted so good. Here’s how to make it…

    Ingredients (this will make approx 4 jars)

    1 kg beetroot, peeled and finely chopped
    1 tbsp ground ginger
    2 fat chillis
    2 onions
    500ml red wine vinegar. Or cider vinegar/malt vinegar if you fancy.
    2 cooking apples
    500g golden caster sugar
    2 tbs mustard seed


    1. Lob the ingredients into a large cooking pot, put on the lid and bring to a simmer.
    2. Cook for 45 minutes, removing the lid for the last 10 minutes to help thicken your chutney.
    3. Prepare your jam jars by sterilising them. You can do this by either (a) bunging them in a dishwasher at the highest temperature setting. (b) Wash the jars in soapy water, then place them in an over at 140 ºC/210 ºF/Gas Mark 1 for 15-20 minutes. Or (c) use a sterilising solution such as VWP.
    4. Spoon your champion chutney into the jars and if you can resist temptation, allow to mature in a cool cupboard for a month.



    For those wanting a less spicy, ginger-heavy chutney*, try Nick’s effort, here.

    * And in many ways, an inferior chutney.



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  • A guide to types of sherry (and how to drink them)

    We haven’t previously featured much information on sherry. The only times it tends to get mentioned are either when we’re enjoying a whisky that has been aged in sherry casks or if one of our home made wines has turned out stronger than expected, giving it a boozier sherry-like flavour.

    For sherry novices like us, choosing what type to buy isn’t obvious, so we’ve teamed up with sone of Spain’s oldest producers, Bodegas Barón, to find out more about each style and what to drink them with. They own three Albariza vineyards, totalling about 140 ha. in the area surrounding their base in Sanluca, and their portfolio has three levels – Micaela, Xixarito and Soluqua – which refer to the varying lengths of time the sherries have been aged.

    What is Sherry?

    Sherry is a fortified white wine made from grapes grown near the city of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia (the word ‘sherry’ is simply a re-spelling of Jerez for English folk who couldn’t get their chops around the Spanish accent) and there are various styles depending on factors such as the wine’s sweetness, how long the sherry is aged, and levels of oxidisation.

    What are the types of sherry available?

    To give you a guide to the different sherry styles, and how best to drink them, we’ve picked out some of the main types as outlined below…


    These light sherries are the driest available and tend to have around 15% to 17% alcohol by volume. They’re aged in a ‘Solera’ (ageing barrel) and are covered by a ‘flor’ (layer of yeast) which prevents oxidisation. They’ll have an almond aroma and a slight acidic bite to the dryness.

    How to drink Fino: Serve chilled and enjoy with salty food. Great for a tapas starter of salty meats or nuts.


    A Manzanilla is very similar to a Fino sherry in production but is made on coastal regions (Fino sherries are produced inland). It has a similar dry snap to it and most experts will claim the sea air gives it an even lighter feel.

    How to drink Manzanilla: Another chilled serving with salty tapas accompaniments is best and, given its place of production, seafood is its ideal partner.


    To make this sherry the protective Flor used for Fino sherries is allowed to naturally break up, exposing the booze to the air and causing oxidisation. This results in a dry sherry with a darker tone and some earthier, nuttier notes coming through to the palette.

    How to drink Amontillado: This only needs to be lightly chilled and is great with more flavoursome tapas and main course dishes such as chorizo or grilled fish.

    Palo Cortado

    This is an unusual sherry that you won’t find too readily owing to the seemingly random ageing process it goes through. It starts out the same way as an Amontillado (with a flor that breaks up) but by some mysterious kind of Spanish magic it develops a darker, reddish hue and richer, buttery flavours (similar to an Oloroso).

    How to drink Palo Cortado: It’s another dry sherry so can be served in a similar way to Amontillados but we think its special production calls for a special kind of foodstuff: pork scratchings.


    These dark sherries are made from a wide range of grapes and can therefore come in a wide range of styles, from sweet to dry. The protective flor is intentionally broken up during ageing which gives them their richer colour and more intense toffee flavours. They’ll also be stronger, fortified to over 18%.

    How to drink Oloroso: Lightly chill and serve with bolder flavours for leisurely supping. A good Spanish cheese such as manchego is hard to beat.

    Pedro Ximénez

    This sherry is made from Pedro Ximénez grapes, a sweet variety that is allowed to dry in the sun before fermentation. It tends to have a lower alcohol content to other sherries, a dessert wine sweetness and syruppy texture, with lots of rich fruit and molasses flavours.

    How to drink Pedro Ximénez: As with dessert wines this is to be served lightly chilled and either enjoyed as the last course of a meal (especially if you’re skipping dessert) or with a not-too-sweet pudding.

    Sweet Sherries and Cream Sherries

    These categories are sherries that have been sweetened. Anything simply labelled as a ‘Sweet Sherry’ is likely to be a sherry sweetened with Pedro Ximénez grape juice whereas a Cream Sherry is sweetened with the Pedro Ximénez sherry. Confused? Don’t be – just see them as richly flavoured, sweet sherries and get on with enjoying them.

    How to drink Sweet and Cream Sherries: These are the sherries to drink with dessert. Drizzle over ice cream, guzzle with a slice of cheesecake or sup with some custard creams on your granny’s sofa on a Sunday afternoon. Delicious.

    Oloroso sherry paired with cheese

    Bodegas Baron sherry is available from leading Spanish restaurants such as Bar 44 which provide the perfect setting for sherry novices to discover more about the various styles and food pairings.

    This is a sponsored post


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