Seasonal smells and simmering spiced fruits…..

making-mincemeat

Last year I wrote a lengthy old post about marvellous mincemeat and how I like to use it in the kitchen and also included one of my various recipes for it but a few weeks ago I found up this recipe which I used to use all the time, it’s a little bit different in that it uses vegetable suet and doesn’t use cider which, at the time I was using this recipe didn’t use to drink…well even now, I’m not like a real cider quoffing Worzel but am just happy to have a small glass (anymore then that and I’m sound asleep on the sofa)…. generally  when it comes to making mincemeat you’re just mixing some chopped fruit with something sweet to preserve it so there is a lot of scope for having a tinker with it….It’s really easy to make as it’s just a big pan stir of chopped apples and fruits, plenty of spice and a few generous glogs of something warming to add festive spirit and Yuletide cheer….

I always think this makes for a really nice and fairly easy on the pocket gift if you have friends who like homemade jams and chutneys, it makes a change from those and apart from using it to fill little pastry tarts it also comes in handy with other Wintery bakes…..a generous dollop or so in an apple crumble or plum crumble right lifts those up and I’ll often add a couple of heaped spoonfuls to a bread sponge for a spicy loaf (so good for toasting when it’s chilly out) and have used it to make mini panettone style breads…

I say Wintery bakes but even in Summer I can smear this over puff pastry and quickly make pain aux raisins for breakfast.

homemade mincepies

This will make a generous amount of jars (it depends how large they are but you should get at least 6 x 450g/ 1 Ib jars)…the ingredients list does look rather colossal so you might want to buy them over a couple of days if you have to carry them home…and if you make this in the Autumn (something to try and remember to do next year) then it is a very good recipe for using up windfalls or wildlings that are foraged……

In my last house I used to make a big pan of this, while it was gently simmering and filling the house with it’s spicy aroma, I’d sit on the kitchen step (I had steps leading down to it…no room in there for a chair so a cushion on a step sufficed) and would start making my Christmas present/Christmas card list…..it’s a nice way to ease into the festive season…..admittedly I’ve left it a bit late this year but just taking a few minutes away from a long list of things that need doing to make this always helps me catch my breath and feel calmer…..

cinnamon and fruit sourdough loaf

Ingredients….

2  1/2 to 3 lbs of sharp apples (cooking or wildlings or windfalls) peeled, cored  and chopped into tiny cubes

12 oz currants

12 oz raisins

12 0z sultanas

6 oz almonds, blanched and finely chopped (note you might need to check no-one who eats these has a nut allergy…though you could just leave out the almonds if you want)

3 oz mixed peel

3 oz glace cherries

14 oz dark muscovado sugar

6 oz vegetarian suet

grated zest of a large un-waxed orange

grated zest and juice of a large un-waxed lemon (or 2 small ones)

1 heaped tablespoon of mixed spice

4 or 5 tablespoons of a good dark rum (I like Lamb’s Navy Rum)

4 fl oz Brandy

Method

In a very large pan, throw in the chopped apples and cover them in the sugar, spices and a splash of brandy to stop them from sticking….on a gentle heat gently warm through and allow the apples to simmer…add all the dry fruit, suet and nuts (if you are using them) also add the zest and lemon juice and simmer for about half an hour …

The fruit becomes rather mushy….allow to cool and add the alcohol, I like to use Lamb’s Navy Rum as that is what my dad liked at Christmas, me and my sisters would always have a sip and shudder and go “ugh”…so a few sploshes of that go into remember Dad…..the resulting mincemeat is burnished and beautiful, all in a sticky and spicy dark syrup….

Spoon into sterilized jars and cover…store in a cool and dark cupboard..if you can remember to turn the jars over every few days then so much the better, it will allow the liquidy mixture to permeate better.

If you don’t use the vegetable suet then I would suggest using about 9 fl oz of a medium dry cider……the fruit needs a little lubrication and the suet melts into the sugar to form the dark sticky syrup….

This stores well for a year, however once the jar is opened it needs to be kept in the fridge and used within 4 weeks.

Darker mornings and the delights of a pan of blackberries…..

autumn blackberries

And slowly slowly the year moves on, the weather finally seems to be catching up to the changing hedgerows and trees, mornings are dark and distinctly nippy, cobwebs strew across the raspberry canes and sparkle with an almost frosty dew, the marshes are covered with a low ground mist before the day clears and properly wakes up…..and then what seems but in the blink of an eye, twilight rolls in and then by seven it’s suddenly night….

I think like a lot of people Autumn is my favourite season, partly because I love getting out and having a kick around in the leaves, and the trees here can look so stunning, a breathtaking mix of yellow and saffron, flame, crimson amongst russetty browns, sepia tones and shades that look like gingerbread men….

I also love the food I tend to associate with this time of year, slowly cooked casseroles and hale and hearty stews, sticky fat sausages (vegetarian ones sitting in the pan alongside butter sauteed onions and crab apple jelly as they melt together into a sticky gravy) and blackberry crumble….it’s easily one of my top five favourite foods and while I can’t eat too much of the crumble mix anymore I happily can wolf down second helpings of the cooked fruit…..however it’s been another poor old year here for blackberries* so rather than pick them for just one or two brief tastings of pudding I’ve been making dark coloured jellies which will hopefully see us through the year.

berries in the pan

A couple of years ago my beloved bought me a huge French copper jam pan, it’s a bit of a beast as it’s so big and rather heavy to boot but it’s wonderful to make jams and jellies in, the changing patina of the copper reflects the gently cooking fruit and becomes even more beautiful every time I use it….. a pan of blackberries on the stove, simmering foamy bubbles slowly appear across the surface, welling up from the deep like a great and fearsome sea monster, a dark rich fruity aroma wafts up….my glasses steam over if I get too close as I try to breath it all in…..more than bonfires or the smell of a damp leaf strewn afternoon, this is for me the very essence of the smell of Autumn and is a yearly treat I begin to look forward to as soon as the days become longer and warmer….

Dark glistening berries, purple but often so dark they’re almost jet black, magically become a bright vivid magenta as they bubble and froth…like some Shakespearean witches brew …oh for a pair of tights in this colour to be worn with purple shoes.

purple fingers

The smell of bubbling berries is such a familiar one…even when I lived in the heart of the city I was always able to find some hidden up brambles and pick enough berries for a pot of jam or a tummy warming crumble…..I’m not a very chic forager though, I always seem to end up with the pinkest of fingers, stained like foxgloves and tingling with splinters and nettle stings (I never make foraging sound very attractive, but the rewards more than make up for any pickle or hedgerow tangle I find myself in).

I used to just make blackberry jam but the last couple of years I’ve switched to making jellies using some of the local wildlings and crab apples that grow so abundantly nearby….when I cook my apples I pop in a couple of star anise “stars” which gives the apples a heady almost mysterious aroma, and to the simmering blackberries I add in a few shards of concentrated liquirice juice….both add something that makes the blackberry jelly taste even more blackberry and Autumny.

Jelly or jam making is such a soothing process that always seems to help me ease and adjust into Autumn…gloomy mornings are rather miserable, the evenings get shorter as they draw in so quick all cold and damp outside, almost every day at the momentt I seem to encounter huge hairy spiders as they run across our carpet or lurk by the side of the stove which make me jump right out of my skin when I see them (yes, card carrying Arachnophobe here)…but an afternoon spent slowly stiring a pan full of berries, with the scented steam drifting out into the garden, maybe having enough left over for a crumble to pop into the oven…. and I’m blissfully content and feel I can cope with anything (regardless of how many hairy fast moving legs it has).

apples and quinces

In another week or so I’ll be making apple and quince jelly, I’ve got a bowl filled with small japonica quicne on our front room table and as they slowly ripen the quince smell more and more incredible, very citrussy and sherbety…at night I close the door so when I open it in the morning I’m greeted with a lovely uplifting perfume….

The jelly is really simple to make and is rather marmaladey in taste.  It’s very delicate and it’s easy to see why it was eaten as a breakfast preserve before the fashion for oranges came in…I only made a few precious jars last year but I’m hoping to make enough to give some as Christmas gifts….I have a friend who now lives in London (she’s an amazing cook and has spent this last year studying at Leith’s Cookery School)…in Autumns past she’s been a foraging buddy, and we’ve picked bags of sloes and baskets of blackberries, so I’m hoping to be able to fit in a trip to London before the year is out and surprise her with some homemade preserves made from my solitary foraging escapades.

 

*the year before last we went blackberry picking about the mid twenty something of July right through September and into October, I must have picked in the region of 30 some lbs of blackberries, the hedgerows were fair heaving, and were so laden with fruit…the berries were fat and so sweet and flavoursome.  The first few times we ate the fruit as it was, just a dribble of Jersey cream or yoghurt on top….and even when I made it into jam the seeds were very few and far between…but every cloud has a silver lining, and as the harvest seemed a  bit sparce last year, I experimented more with what went into the jam pan and made some glorious jewel bright amber coloued hedgerow jellies instead.

Hedgerow jewels and a wild pantry……

apple-tree

Even though it’s still warm and a bit muggy during the day (and even the last couple of nights the covers have been kicked off), the mornings are dark and we’re starting to notice a distinct chill in the air…..however this isn’t a post that’s all doom and gloom…..I love Autumn, it’s probably my favourite time of year, the hedgerows are turning the most incredible colours, scarlets and vermillions, flame reds and crimsons as haws and hips and rowan berries ripen.  Even the apples look particularly rosy and bright this year.  A walk down to the shops on even the most overcast and dreary mornings is soon brightened when I spot dew heavy berries, glistening and looking good enough to eat (which they are).

walking-home

I’m incredibly fortunate to live where there are still lots of hedgerows where it’s okay to forage and gather, behind the houses there are numerous walkways where cars can’t fit, just a few hundred metres up from our house there is a mass of hawthorns and wild roses….there is also a lane with an abundance of elderberries and sloes……and this doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of blackberries that grows over out on the marshes and surrounding meadow land.  Wildlings and roses arc overhead and are there to see if you only look upwards.

rowan-berries-sept-2016

For the next month or so, walks and gentle afternoon ambles to stretch and unwind will see me heading out, basket in hand to gather what I like to think of as my wild pantry…..the basket is great, I can fill it with freezer bags of soft fruit like blackberries and elderberries and they don’t squish like they’d do in a tote.  Another essential is a walking stick, good for moving nettles out of the way or for helping reach those higher brambles which always seem laden with the biggest berries.  A little pair of garden pruners lays in the bottom of the basket and these help trim back those eye high nettles or any trailing brambles.  I’m probably never the most smartest dressed person but these Autumn walks see me channel my inner Catweazel….wearing a pair of the oldest jeans which are plucked and snagged and a breton style tee that’s a bit holey and stained from last year’s encounters with some ferocious brambles, when it gets chillier I’ve got a tatty old jacket which is more holes than cloth and a pair of wrist warmers that I bought some years ago now, they’re locally spun and hand knit but sadly no longer have the details of the lady who knitted them.

vermillion-coloured-rose-hips

A few years ago I started keeping a little notebook for my walks, just scribbling and noting down what I noticed growing where, whenever I spotted a lone damson in a hedge, or a japonica growing quite randomly (with some apples thrown in this makes a lovely substitute for marmalade…and if you sit the fruit in a bowl and leave them for a week or so to fully ripen they’ll fill your house with the most beautiful of scents) but somehow this got mislaid, I suspect it got lost or left behind when I was clambering about through a hedgerow last year but for the most part I can close my eyes and tell you exactly where the good things are growing……(rather annoyingly the fence in the above photo has recently been repaired, there were gaps and holes in it which I could squeeze through to gather apples that would have been slightly out of arms reach…….but at least I can still pick the rosehips)

blackberry harvest

One of the nicest jams I made was quite by accident and I ended up calling it a blackberry treacle (I forgot to add the extra water and made a sticky tar like spread…..it was the taste of Autumn, and was delicous spread over toasted cinnamon bread )….the following year I made another batch and added some liquorice (the sort you use for cooking and which you can break down into small glossy shards) for a deeper flavour…the results were amazing and then last year I made a jelly using crab apples, blackberries and a few shards of said liquorice… as dark and wild as any heady embrace with Heathcliffe ….when I used my last jar I really did feel very sad and sulked for days.

apples-and-rosehips

Because last year didn’t seem to be such a good year for the blackberries around here I experimented and tinkered with other hedgerow fruits… haws, rowan berries, rosehips and elder berries are all edible…… and I made possibly my finest batches of jellies of all time.  I also made some fruit syrups and they got me (and my boyfriends dad) through a year of colds and snuffles and sore throats.  It’s amazing how many wild apple trees we have growing here and they all make a good base for jelly and syrup making, adding a note of flavour but also helping them set)…they’re sometimes a bit hard to see at first, but once you start noticing them it seems like there are apples everywhere…..

haws-september-2016

I was a bit worried what this Autumn would bring as the forging over the Summer was a bit quiet, the rubbishy weather meant the plums and cherries didn’t fare too well at all however what I’m seeing as I step out the door really does make my heart happy….a wealth of haws in particular which makes for a very fruity preserve.

It’s best to check in with your local council regarding foraging restrictions in your area, a lot of new rules and regulations seem to have crept in and where you might be able to pick in one place, you might get told off if you pick elsewhere. (I think Bristol bought in some changes the other year and I’ve been told other councils are getting stricter too….in part I think this is because foraging over the last some years has become more popular and that means bushes/shrubs/trees are getting over picked or plants near by are getting stood on and damaged.)

Tomorrow I’ll share some of my favourite recipes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fruity semi-freddo…….

wild cherriesThere’s been a big improvement in the weather this week and it finally feels warm enough for an ice-creamy type pudding…..one of the easiest chilled puddings we like to eat in the Summer is a semi-fredo, especially when we flavour it with fruit from the garden….sadly it’s still a bit early for our raspberries but  a poke about in the back of our freezer has found a little tub of a cherry compote that I made last year with some foraged cherries…..

In the past I’ve used the cherry compote to make a very grown up tasting cherry ripple ice-cream (served with a trickle of dark chocolate sauce…. but I think crisp buttery biscuits would have been nice as well.

fragrant elderflower blossomsAlong with the cherry compote I also found a little tub with a gooseberry and elderflower compote inside and I’m wondering whether to try that in more of a possety pudding for mid-week.

The elderflowers have been a bit slow here this year but I noticed quite a lot of cloudy white billows out yesterday so I guess the week of sun-shine has helped them come on…..fingers crossed if it’s nice tomorrow we’ll head out with a basket and walking stick (helps me reach some of those higher up blossom heads)….

Semi Freddo is really easy to make, however this recipe does use raw eggs so it’s not suitable for children or anyone pregnant..

We buy all our eggs from Folland’s Organics on Norwich market, the eggs there are amazing and well worth the money, if you keep chickens or ducks yourself then your pudding is going to taste out of this world….I’ve wrote my recipe on here before, but this is a scaled down version if you don’t have a whole lot of freezer room.

unwaxed lemonsSemi-Freddo (enough for 4 pudding loving people, or 6 if you just like a taste)

Ingredients….

2 large organic eggs (separate the whites from the yolks)

350ml double cream

25 grammes of vanilla sugar

vanilla pod/fruit compote/lemon curd……

2 small loaf tins

Method….

Line the two loaf tins with clingfilm.

Beat the egg yolks and the sugar together until they become airy and pale in colour.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks.

Whisk the cream until it just forms a soft cloud.

Carefully add half the whipped egg whites and whipped cream into the egg yolks and sugar….and once that has only just come together, gently mix in the remaining half along with the flavouring…( I prefer to put in my flavouring now whether it’s a fruit compote, a couple of big spoons of very sharp lemon curd, a dollop of caramel syrup…….adding it now means the semi-freddo is lovely and rippled)…..sometimes I just use a vanilla bean if I’m serving the semi-freddo with fruit, and then I’ll scrape the tiny seeds out and add them to the egg yolks as I beat them with the sugar.

Gently spoon out the mixture and divide it between the loaf tins, tuck all the clingfilm over the mixture and allow it a few hours to freeze.  I tend to make it in the morning so it has all day in there.

You can take it out of the freezer about 15 minutes before you want to eat it, just leave it out on the side, but I prefer to take it out an hour before hand and then leave it on a shelf in the fridge….turn the loaf tins upside down and it should slide out fine….cut and serve with a drizzle of any remaining compote and some crisp biscuits or fruit.

(you can also freeze it in little silicion loaf tins which work very well too.)

 

 

 

Easy peasy lemon squeezy posset

unwaxed lemons

It’s been absolutely glorious here the past few days, sunshiney and warm without a cloud in the sky….windows and kitchen door are wide open til gone 8…I’d say it feels more like Summer than Spring but suddenly there’s a chill in the air and the evening temperature drops quickly….most nights we have a pudding of sorts, sometimes it’s just yoghurt or a piece of fruit, the boyfriend tends to prefer something chocolately.  But weekends I try to make a bit of an effort and then it’s creme brulees, crumbles and custard, meringues…..come the warm weather though and I start to crave homemade icecreams using fruit from the garden or what I find growing in the hedgerow.

But it’s not quite warm enough for ice-cream in my book yet so this easy peasy “lemon squeezy” posset fits in nicely to the time of year…..it’s lemony flavour is nice and refreshing  but the custardy smoothness of it doesn’t chill like an ice-cream would……

Ingredients (enough for 4)

500 ml double cream

juice of a fat lemon

100 g of castor sugar (vanilla is nice to use but not the end of theworld if you don’t have any)

4 ramekins

method

In a heavy bottomed pan gently heat the cream and caster sugar, stir all the while with a wooden spoon and bring it to a boil.  Allow it to boil for about 3 minutes.

Remove it from the heat and pour in the lemon juice, stir with the wooden spoon or a wooden whisk.  Sieve into a large jug or bowl before spooning into the 4 ramekins.

Allow to cool a little before putting in to the fridge for at least 6 hours before eating……(make sure there isn’t anything aromatic like a stinky cheese in there as this will absorb into the posset…if so, you’ll need to cover the possets with greaseproof paper held in place with an elastic band.

They will keep til the next day but will develop a more tangy lemon flavour.  These ae nice served with cats tongue biscuits or almond ricciarelli biscuits….you could also make up some crumble mix and gently bake that in a warm oven until it turns golden and sprinkle it on top of the posset.

The last of this year’s hedgerow harvest……

autumn blackberries

The last of the hedgerows jams and jellies has been bubbled and boiled for another year, the jam making equipment has been packed away though I know I’ll have to get it all out again in a few weeks for making up a batch of apple rich mincemeat……The pantry shelves are all stacked with different jams made with the wild fruit from within a few hundred metres of my home….Normally I stick to variations of blackberries (prefering a thick treacle like jelly than a seedy jam) and raspberries from the garden, as those are our favourites and as we get older we’ve become more stuck in our ways, but this year the blackberry harvest wasn’t as good as last year (when I ate so many blackberries I was very much in danger of turning into one) so I began to look around me, and began to really appreciate the beautiful hedgerows that are dotted around my village……

Gorgeous rosy cheeked crab apples, wildings, rose hips, haws from hawthorns (the fruits can vary so much but it’s easiest identified by the leaf shape…like tiny oak leaves), rowan berries, and apple roses with hips as big as tomatoes……other fruits I’ve foraged this Summer and used for jams and ice-creams include mirabelle plums and wild cherries and gooseberries from my friend Jan’s allotment…..so while at first it felt like the glass was a bit half empty, looking at all the different flavoured jams I’ve made instead, the glass is in fact full and over flowing.

I’ve also made fruity syrups for sore Winter throats, variations on a rosehip one with haws and rowan berries for extra vitamin C, and a beautiful dark claret one infused with a handful of blackberries and the last of the elderberries.

Along with the jams and jellies, there are boozey filled Kilner jars, inside an assortment of wild fruit, slowly drowning their sorrows in vodka, gin, cognac and brandy….this makes us sound like a right old pair but while neither of us are big drinkers (unless it’s tea) a little glass of something warming on a cold winter’s night hits the spot most pleasantly.

blackberries

The other weekend while the weather was still all warm and sunshiney we went for a bit of an amble over the marshes and were properly treated by finding a row of blackberry bushes just laden down with fruit.  While not as juicy or sweet as the blackberries we picked earlier in the season, these actually had a deeper flavour….many exploded as we picked them (too much rain of late so we ended up with foxglove fingers) or were as hard as bullets when we sampled a couple but that didn’t stop us from a happy hour or so of picking in the Autumn sunshine.

I’ve picked blackberries from this spot before, they’re the last of the berries to ripen up (other bushes were finished weeks ago) and they’re always a bit on the seedy side so are best used in jellies where the seeds are all strained out and just that dark intense juice remains.

We’re pretty well stocked up now for syrups but I made another jelly with the blackberries, this time cooking some wildlings first before tipping in the berries and a piece of star anise…….allowing the fruit to gently simmer and to fill the kitchen with a lovely rich perfume……

Blackberry and wildling jelly

(the basics which you can adapt)

Roughly chop your wildlings (or crab apples), put into a big pan and cover with water (for my 650 g apples I used 500 ml water)….simmer til the apples are soft then add the blackberries (850 g) and a little more water (250 ml) and a piece of star anise (I used a whole “star”)…simmer until all the fruit is soft (my blackberries were very hard so I let them gently cook for about half an hour.)

Allow the fruity pulp to cool and then tip into a big wet and wrung out jelly bag (or pillowcase) and allow to drip (or if you’re impatient squeeze the bag after a couple of hours…)

Measure your collected juice and for every 570 ml of juice you want about 450 g of sugar.  I also add a good squeeze of lemon juice.

On a gentle heat allow the sugar to dissolve into the juice, stir all the while so nothing sticks and then once it’s all liquid, turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil for about 5 minutes, check for a set, and remove the foamy scum from the surface of the jelly.

Pour into sterilised jars and seal……particularly good on tea cakes or fruit enriched loaves.

apples and quinces

The other jelly I made last week was a crab apple and quince one…..I allowed the quinces to really ripen before using them, for the past few weeks opening the living room door in the morning has been a real joy, the sherbety scent of the quinces has perfumed the air reminding me a little of lemony turkish delight (I may have lost my chocolatey sweet tooth but still adore Turkish delight and honey halva)……

I used half a quill of cinnamon as the fruit cooked and on tasting the jelly I think I could have used a whole one, there’s just a very soft, background taste of cinamon and perhaps it could have been stronger….while the jam/jelly bubbled wafts of November seemed to slowly rise up in the steam…..it’s all jumbled in together, slightly spicy, baked apples, bonfires, mouldy leaves (not what my jam smelt of but bringing up memories of kicking through big piles of them stacked up on pavements…)

I finally was very good and allowed the juice to slowly drip through the jelly bag into the waiting bowl below, as it was the last jelly being made I thought I should make at least one the “proper” way…no getting all impatient and squeezing the bag…drip drip drip…slow cooking at it’s finest…while the juice slowly driped, I slowly stitched, and as the stitches grew on my knitting needles, the juice filled up in the bowl…..and was it worth it…well I hadn’t made another quince and apple jelly to compare it with but in looks alone the jelly came out so clear and sparkling…like the most precious piece of flame coloured amber or a transulenct honey.  So maybe yes, for light coloured jellies then it’s worth it….the only problem with using wild fruits is the amount of foam and then fruity scum they produce.*

Quince and Wildling Jelly

(the basics which you can adapt…)

Chop up the quinces (I had about 500 g) and tumble them into a big pan, cover with water (I used about a litre of water), bring to a boil and then turn the heat down and allow the quince to gently simmer for about 30 mins.

Roughly chop your apples (I used about a kilo) and add to the simmering quinces, pour in about another litre of water and pop in a piece of cinnamon.  Allow the apples to soften (about 20 minutes or so) before turning off the heat and letting the fruity pulp cool.

Tip the fruity pulp into a big jelly bag (which you’ve soaked in water and wrung out just before using) and allow the juice to slowly drip drip drip into a waiting bowl below.  Try not to squeeze the bag.

Measure the collected liquid and for every litre of juice you want a kilo of sugar (I use white granulated)…on a very gentle heat allow the sugar to dissolve into the juice, once everything is a hot golden liquid, turn up the heat and keep stiriring while everything comes to a rolling boil….allow to bubble furiously for about 5 minutes, check for a set, remove the foamy scum and then pour into sterilised jars and seal.

This is a nice alternative to marmalade as a breakfast preserve, and I used some in little jam tarts which disappeared incredibly quickly.

*with the foamy scum, it’s best to remove it as it’s all filled with air and apparently stops your jam from keeping so well, but rather than chuck it, it can be microwaved for about 30 seconds or so and it tranforms back into jam…this can then be allowed to cool and served on scones or kept in the fridge for a day or so for toast  or used to fill pastry case tarts….(it won’t keep so it’s best eaten up quickly…like you need an excuse with home made jam).

Kittens, cavalo nero, the calmness of bread making and needing something “purely medicinal” at 10.30 in the morning…..

planting winter greens

Is it wrong to confess to wanting something of a “purely medicinal” nature at 10.30 on a Sunday morning….Pretty Izzy from next door had kittens in the Summer and they’ve just discovered (while watching their Uncle Bob) how to climb up over our fence and creep into our garden.

What’s black, cute and has twelve legs?

The three extremely adorably fluffy kittens I found playing in my kitchen on Wednesday morning.

Up until then they’d just been eyeing the fence but hadn’t worked out how to get over it…ohh, but once they had learnt……

The carefully planted beds of kale and cavalo nero must smell intoxicating, like catnip or something as they won’t leave the beds alone…even putting in lots of pea sticks to stop them from digging hasn’t really deterred them…so next stage is fleece or netting.

I’d like to take credit for the neat planting but it’s all my boyfriends work, including placing pieces of card around each plant to help keep down the slug damage and also it offers a little protection with the digging by kittens.

protecting winter greens from the cats next door

We’ve got a bit of a tangley garden, a little overgrown in parts which the kittens are finding to be the greatest lark to play in…yesterday I spent most of the morning chasing them round pots (which got overturned), retrieving them from my blueberry bushes (which they were trying to nibble) and down from from the big tree in the corner…at one point my boyfriend had to climb up it to rescue a mewling kitty (which 5 minutes later climbed back up and then showed us it didn’t need any help thank you as it jumped on a neighbour’s fence and daintily walked across it.

The high jinks this morning started quite early, this involved getting into what I call our “poly-tunnel” while another jumped on top and was causing the roof to sink down….the best fun ever if you’re a cute, big eyed kitten….and a bit annoying if you’ve spent the previous afternoon planting and building it.

One even half wiggled into the big Mister McGregor watering can, his little bottom peeking out.  Nothing is safe…even the raspberry plants are getting a chew (here they take after their Uncle Bob as he liked to do that do when he he first discovered our garden in the Spring).

And if you’re wondering about Bernard, why isn’t he out there keeping an eye on things, well he’s all fluff and whiskers, a big girl’s blouse and he quickly runs indoors when all 4 kittens are in full force.  (the kittens were a bit hissy when they encountered him, but a clout round their from their mom and Uncle Bob has stopped that…afterwards both mom and Bob nose kissed noses and sniffed bottoms with Bernard, and purred to high heaven as they rubbed themselves around him….poor old boy, I think he seemed rather bewildered by the kitten invasion)

last of the red tomatoes

Luckily the tomatoes seem to have survived the kitten capers….the lovely sunshiny weather of the last week has seen lots of what I thought were destined for chutney, green tomatoes, instead ripen up and were eaten yesterday in a big salad (they were nice and sharp, intensely tomatoey and very good with a little goat’s cheese)…..there’s still quite a lot of tomatoes so any that don’t redden in the last of the Autumn sunshine will no doubt be thrown into a pot of slowly cooking chutney in a couple of weeks time.

autumn bliss raspberries

We’re still picking the Autumn Bliss raspberries (a fruit that more than lives up to it’s name)….I just made a couple of batches of raspberry  jam this year including this lovely recipe… I tinkered a little with the recipe and think if you’re going to make it then you’re better off using raspberries that have only just turned red…the heat breaks them down so quickly that unless they’re still quite firm they won’t stay whole…..a nice jam to make if you grow your own…and obviously perfect for eating while reading Russian novels.

You could of course just add a splash of cognac to this recipe as it’s very similar.

Along with the jam we’ve also made this raspberry liqueur but substituted Marsala for the red wine…the recipe says that afterwards the raspberries can be used for something else, however we found really all you’re left with is a pink seedy pulp so added it to some cream and sugar which I’d bought to a boil (for 3 minutes) and then left it to infuse…strained and poured into little ramekins and made fruity possets. I think lemon and orange ones are the best but these were still nice to have with fresh berries on top.

nasturtiums

This pot of nasturtiums has been wonderful to look at, especially in the mornings before the day has brightened itself up.  The flowers are nearly always full of bees and I have to tap them gently before picking them for salads (I love the velvety feel of the petal combined with that peppery taste).

Thankfully the pot has survived the kittens running around (though there’s been a couple of close wobbles as they clamber up it only to jump down on top of one another) and earlier this morning I saw a little black face peeping out from all the greenery before darting off to join it’s brothers in adventures and mischief.

After what feels like the umpteenth kitten removal (they’ve been all over the garage roof which is on a slope so they climb up and peek over the top), shooing them out of the kitchen (my fault for having the door open but it’s so warm today it’s nice to let in the fresh air and sunshine while the weather is good) and “hey you-ing” as they run out of the house with one of Bernard’s pompom toys in their mouths, I’m starting to eye the bottle of Pomona and I’m wondering if just a small glass, for “purely medicinal reasons of course”, might be just what I need to stop feeling quite so frazzled.

still warm from the oven and smelling nutty and sweet

And in the midst of the chaos that only comes from four little kittens causing havoc and mayhem, there’s the quiet and calm that is bread……allowing the sponge to slowly bubble away, the slightly sharp scent of the natural leaven mixed in with a grated apple and a dollop of honey, a handful of oats and bread flour.

I though to make a loaf this week with cobnuts and apple (they work so well in a crumble how could they not work in a bread loaf) however I’ve now missed the fresh cob season…one of the lovely guys (always smiling whatever the weather, even when they have chilblains and wind chapped fingers) on Mike’s vegetable stall on Norwich Market (stalls 46 and 47, they’re right on the front) said the cobs they’d been offered now were all brown rather than green and you’d be better off buying hazelnuts so it’s a recipe I’ll put to one side for next year.  But if you’re lucky enough to have green cobs where you live then I’d thought to make a paste like this walnut one (though with cobnuts) and adding that to my regular sourdough recipe with apples.

This one is a simple apple and oat loaf but I’m thinking to make a hazelnut bread with brandy soaked raisins…a bit like cinnamon rolls, not so sweet and a little more robust and rural, for next weeks breakfast.  The cinnamon rolls always keep well and I think will raise a smile when one is found wrapped up in a lunch tin as the something sweet for elevenses.

Hedgerow syrups for sore winter throats…..

crab apples and haws

Most of the jellies I’ve made this year have been combinations of crab apples, haws and rosehips.  All of these grow in the hedgerows that dot and line the village I live in (it’s about a forty minute walk to the city so not far from excellent coffee and a brilliant local bookshop)…certainly within a couple of hundred metres from my front door I have the ingredients to make a beautiful fruity tasting breakfast preserve (it’s really quite orangey tasting and being full of rosehips I’ve convinced myself it’s a health food…bursting full of vitamin C)

wild rose hips

This year seems to be a bumper harvest year for the wild rosehips and although I saw them in flower I’m amazed at how many there are.

I’m very lucky because these all grow along the side of grass paths, and children’s play-areas, there are no cars nor are there fields being sprayed with goodness knows what so I feel very safe foraging here.  I try not to take too much from any one spot, even though I don’t see anyone else ever picking (I think I’m known as the girl with a basket* by some of my elderly neighbours) but there’s a lot of wildlife here, no end of squirrels, various little mice, birds and foxes, and where I have the ability to pop down the shops when I’m hungry the hedgerows really are their pantry, their life source over the cold months (especially now most winters aren’t properly cold enough for small animals to hibernate properly) so they really need those berries.

hips from an apple rose

Along with using wild rosehips I’ve also used apple rosehips, these are from some beautiful turkish delight scented roses that grow behind our house near a play- ground (there are so many little parks and places for small children to play it’s brilliant, though I always feel sorry for older children as there is nowhere really for them to hang out).  In the Summer months the rose bushes are a mass of wide open bright pink flowers, they really capture the sun and smell amazing.

Once Autumn starts creeping up, the petals have fallen and the hips have swollen and become round and fat, about  the size of cherry tomatoes.  I try to just pick the firm ones though a few softer ones seem to end up in the bowl as well as the odd ladybug.

an afternoons foraging

There were still loads of elderberries about when I picked these (from the same trees where I picked the flowers for cordial back at the end of the spring)..my walking stick (a bargain from the charity shop and I rarely go foraging without it) comes in very handy, helping me to pull down the higher branches which are covered with heavy heads of black elderberries.

Elderberries are anti-viral and are high in vitamin C so are a really good addition to any winter syrup recipes.

a hedgerow harvest

Along with the elderberries there are also a couple of nicely placed rowan trees nearby so a few bunches of orangey coloured berries were also picked to add a little more flavour and depth to the syrup.

Like the rosehips and elderberries, rowan berries are high in Vitamin C and are very good for the immune system.

a very wee fellow

It’s not only the odd ladybug that travels home with me when I’ve been foraging, when I was picking over the elderberries I found this wee fellow.

the smallest snail I've ever seen

Now I know he’s going to grow up all big and fat and eat my nice winter greens but he was the tiniest little snail I think I’ve ever seen and I just didn’t have the heart to squash him (or fling him over the fence) instead he was carefully placed near the compost bin where there is plenty of greenery (but not our Kale or sprouting broccoli)

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

Making the syrup took a couple of days (I spent nearly a day preparing all the fruit, topping and tailing the rosehips, pinching out the scubby ends of the haws, carefully removing the elderberries (which I found easier not using a fork…)..at this point having the radio on was a big help as it is a bit of a thankless task and seems to take ages.

I half followed a rosehip syrup recipe but used a little less water as I was using apples and elderberries and they have a lot of their own juice.  The fruit simmered until everything was soft, then it’s strained twice before it’s bought to a boil with sugar.

Winter Syrup

Hedgerow fruit (rosehips, haws, rowan, elderberries and crab apples/wildings)

Granulated sugar

Method

Wash and dry your fruit.  Top and tail the rose hips.  Remove the scrubby bottoms of any haws.  Quarter any crab apples (chop smaller any large ones), remove all the stalks from the elderberries.

Weigh your fruit.

I prefer to use mostly rosehips, then haws, rowan berries, elderberries and crab apples in no particular order, just as they are picked.

Weigh the rosehips, haws and rowan berries.  These want to make up the main bulk of the fruit.

For every 100g  of these you want to add a 100ml of water.

With the apples and elderberries, for every 100g of those then add 65ml of water.

Simmer the red fruits first for about half an hour so that they soften before adding the apples and elderberries and their required water.

Simmer for a further half an hour until everything is soft and mushy.

Empty the fruit pulp into a jelly bag (or old pillowcase) and allow the juice to drip for an hour or so. (I’m a bag squeezer, whether you squeeze is up to you)

Empty the pulp and weigh it, for every kilo of mixed fruit pulp you want to use about a litre of water.  Put the pulp and water into a clean pan and bring to a simmer, let it cook gently for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and empty into a jelly bag. Allow the juice to strain through for an hour or so. (again it’s up to you whether you squeeze the bag when it’s stopped dripping.)

Combine the two liquids and measure.

For every litre of liquid you want 500g of white granulated sugar.

In a clean pan bring the liquid to a gentle boil, carefully add the sugar.

Gently heat so the sugar completely dissolves before turning up the heat and bringing to a rolling boil and let roll for about 7 mins.

Turn off, remove any scum that appears and pour into sterilized preserving bottles.

If you run out of preserving bottles then add more sugar, bring the syrup back to a rolling boil and cook until it thickens up as it will then become a jelly and pour into sterilized jam jars.

Store in a dark cupboard away from the light.  The syrup will keep for some months but once opened keep in the fridge and use within 10 days.

I love the colour of the syrups, even if I didn’t know they were full of goodness and Vitamin C, I think just looking at those amber, jewel like oranges and that rich dark claret coloured syrup would do me the wole world of good if I was feeling peaky or under the weather.

The syrup can be taken to relieve sore wintry cough throats (a few neat spoonfuls throughout the day), but also as a cordial with water, as a hot drink with warm water, it can be stirred into yoghurt for breakfast or whisked into cream and made into wintry fruit fools.  It’s also nice poured over apples before they’re covered with a crumble topping and baked in an oven.

The best places I found for preserving bottles were my local ironmongers (the cheapest shop for Kilner products) and also my local Lakeland Plastics where the sloe gin bottles were only £4 and they hold 500ml.

Once the bottles had cooled I stuck on lables as I know I’ll never remember which syrups were which otherwise.

Rosehip and haw jelly, a forgotten sourdough starter and a very nice vegetarian gravy…..

rose hips topped and tailed

While the wet weather has pretty much done for the blackberries around here this year, some of the other hedgerow fruits seem to be going from strength to strength, there’s still rose coloured crab apples on the trees, and the rosehips and haws (the red berries on the hawthorn bushes) are having a very good year, the hedgerows are fair heaving with them.

We’ve got dog roses and apple roses growing within a few hundred metres from home, and what’s nice is that no cars can drive along where they are growing so it’s safe to forage.  While I think everyone knows what a dog rose or wild rose hip looks like, the apple rose are those sort planted by councils that smell amazing in the Summer, like Turkish Delight. The hips they form are round and about an inch wide.

While I plan to make some rosehip syrup I thought I’d make up another batch of crab apple jelly, but a sweet version this time so I picked some rosehips and haws to make a fruit jelly packed  full of vitamin C.

I gave the rosehips a good rinse in cold water and then dried them off before topping and tailing them, discarding the tops and tails for the compost and saving the rest. (If you have sensitive skin you may want to wear a pair of CSI style gloves as the yellow hairs around the hip’s seeds are an irritant and can be used to make a type of itching powder).

haws

The haws were also rinsed off and patted dry on some kitchen roll before I carefully picked off their tiny stalks. If the other end is particularly “scrubby” then you can cut this off or pinch it out with your nails.  You shouuldn’t eat the seed inside the haw but the flesh of the berry is edible, it has the texture somewhat of a ripe avocado but not I think the taste.

Both the rosehips and haws need longer cooking time than the crab apples so to begin with I cooked those first with some water, allowing the fruit to simmer for about half an hour so they’d become somewhat softer before tumbling in the prepared crab apples.  If I’d had any rose geraniums then I’d have popped in a couple of leaves from those for a more rose flavoured jelly.  In all the fruits had about an hour cooking time while they gently simmered.

Rather than use a jelly bag on a stand (all the ones I’ve seen look remarkably wobbly) I prefer to strain the fruity pulp through an old pillow case (though you could easily make one from a double layer of cheesecloth) and hang the pillowcase up from a step ladder so the juice can drip into a bowl set underneath.  If I was patient then I’d leave it to drip overnight………I’m not and gave it about 7 or 8 hours before I ended up squeezing the bag.

rosehip and haw jelly

On squeezing the jelly bag

If you leave the jelly bag (or pillowcase) alone you’ll get a clearer juice that will make for a stunningly clear fruit jelly, the sort that wins big rosettes at village fetes…however if like me you aren’t so fussed and are more concerned with making a couple of extra jars of jelly then go ahead and squeeze that bag by all means.

Rosehip and haw jelly…

In all I used just under 200 g of haws, 500 g of rosehips and then about 2300 g of crab apples.  For every 100 g of fruit I used 65 ml of water.  This was the ratio of fruit to water I used for the crab apple jelly I made last week and so I used that here.

Once the juice is all strained (or squeezed) it’s time to add the sugar.  Sugar to juice is 3:4 so if you use 300 g of sugar you want 400 ml of juice.

Gently heat the sugar and juice together until the sugar is all dissolved and then turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil before checking for a set.

I don’t use preserving sugar , I find the jelly sets perfectly with granulated sugar (it’s also a lot cheaper).

Because the wild fruits tend to have a bit more pectin they always seem to produce a lot of white foamy scum, scrape this off before bottling up your jelly.

This is a really lovely tasting jelly, it’s very fruity and because it’s made using hedgerow fruits the flavour  is hard to place, I think it’s sort of orangey and can only imagine how nice this would be on doorstep sized  slices of white bread and butter, or used to fill breakfast croissants.  I like making bread and butter pudding in the winter (always good for using up odd pieces of bread) and tend to spread a little marmalade on the bread and butter slices along with a sprinkle of vanilla sugar, next time I make it I’m thinking to try out this jelly rather than marmalade.  And the colour is wonderful, it’s a deep amber and even though is rather “cloudy” it’s no less beautiful.

What’s so nice about this preserve is that it isn’t one you’re very  likely to find on any shop shelf, and it’s made using wild fruit that’s all come from a few hundred metres of my home.

Tuesday's sourdough with a forgotten starter

At the start of the week I made a sponge for bread with some sourdough starter  but then various other things took over and I realized the bread wasn’t going to get made after all.  The sponge was placed in a cool room and just left alone until the next day before I added any of the other ingredients.  I was a bit apprehensive but the dough felt lovely to kneed, the sponge had a stronger smell and was stickier to begin with.  The dough proved and rose fine though we thought the bread was paler in colour when it came out of the oven.  My boyfriend assures me it tastes lovely, a little more robust perhaps than the usual bread.  I’ve forgotten “sponges” before made with dried yeast or fresh yeast in little cubes and have walked in on overflowing bowls or yeast sitting there looking very sad and miserable, the ability of the natural starter to cope with last minute crop ups or even the scattiest of minds makes me love using it even more.

And finally, the vegetarian gravy. At least once a week we have roast vegetables and I tend to roast the onions and mushrooms in a separate pan from anything else.  When I was cleaning one of the pans  a while back I thought how rich and nice smelling the vegetable juices were, and with a little extra something added, would I was sure, make a very rich  gravy….. Possibly the thing I miss most being a vegetarian is nice gravy, I’ve tried numerous recipes and have bought umpteen different pre-prepared ones or ones in little card boxes that you just add water to…all fail to please.  So this week I roasted a couple of onions in a large pan (they really need a large pan to make a nice sticky area), with just a glug of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then when they’d gently browned, I added a couple of spoons of the herby crab apple jelly and some water from a hot kettle and stirred, then left it in the bottom of the oven over night.  Next day I had a little taste (so good) then liquidized the onions and the gravy so it became a thick sauce before adding a bit more water and bringing up to the heat.  Along with some vegetarian sausages and a big serving of hot vegetables it was a more than perfect supper on a very cold and wet evening.

Next time I’m going to try it using onions and mushrooms together to get an even more deeper flavour.  I didn’t need to add cornflour or anything to thicken it, and even the boy had a second helping.