Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Pickled Damsons for Suzanne

This is for Suzanne because I feel bad. A couple of weeks ago she asked what recipe I would recommend for damsons, without a moment's hesitation I went for pickled damsons. They need a lengthy maturation - at least 6 months - but the reward is a rich, velvety smooth, sweet and sour fruit that is just sublime with the (ubiquitous) cheese and cold meats. Though I love them with my favourite breakfast which I hesitate to post in case my followers lose faith in my palate.

After receiving a tip off from Rachel that the damsons in our usual stomping ground were ripe I bobbed off and picked a few kilos (not sure exactly how many due to the temperamental nature of my scales) and skipped eagerly back to the laptop to get my pickled damsons recipe.


Sorry Suzanne - I thought I'd recorded it for prosperity last year but I didn't. Fortunately I still have my scribbled notes in the margin of my Marguerite Patten recipe book so here it is.

Pickled Damsons
2.5 pints white wine/cider vinegar
2.25k sugar
2.25k damsons
5 cloves
1 vanilla pod.

Heat the vinegar together with the spices and allow to cool. Fish the spices out and tip the damsons in, heat til they have softened then pack them into sterilised jars. Add the sugar to the vinegar and boil to a thickish, syrupy consistency. Pour the hot syrup over the damsons and seal with a vinegar proof lid. Makes about 11lbs. Mature for at least 6 months.

I always have a problem with excess syrup when making pickled fruit. It seems that a large quantity of vinegar is needed to cover the fruit at the cooking stage which then requires a large quantity of sugar to make a palatable syrup. The upshot is a surfeit of syrup. I'd love to hear from anyone else with experience of pickling fruit, do you have the same kind of problem? Or are your recipes very different to Marguerite's?

Monday, 30 August 2010

Bring on Autumn!

I'm writing this in the evening of 30th August so I think it's fair to say that I can mention the 'A' word in polite company. As has been previously discussed on here, I always enjoy Autumn, (although come to think of it, the only time of year I don't like is the dead, grey cold of January and February) but this year, I'm looking forward to it more than ever.

A visit to the allotment brought home to me how I've managed to unwittingly plant crops that come to fruition fairly late in the year. Since the broad beans finished I've been existing on a diet of rainbow chard and courgettes from the allotment but waiting in the wings for their Autumn colours are are the eagerly awaited crown jewels of the plot. The recent rain has been a massive boost, quietly fattening the sweetcorn and borlotti beans as well as pushing the cavolo nero skyward so we're teetering on the edge of a full blown Autumnal glut - I can barely contain myself!

We cut our first pumpkins today, the biggest was 6 kilos, which has given the kitchen a pleasing harvest festival vibe. There are another half dozen monsters waiting on the plot so if anyone has any pumpkin storing tips, I'd be pleased to hear them.

The runner beans are also experiencing a renaissance. I read Alys Fowler in The Guardian on Saturday with interest, it makes sense that the reason they didn't set earlier in the summer was the hot weather we had. They're obviously loving the cooler, wetter weather and are beginning to drip with beans which is a mixed blessing, their newly verdant leaves are a sight to behold but how the hell did I manage to forget they taste so vile? Even Adam, aka the human dustbin, refused to eat them today. I had been planning on cosseting them through to a second season as Alys suggests but I don't think I'll bother ....

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Yellow Bullace and Cointreau Jam

I'm slowly working my way through our mountain of yellow bullace. I bottled a couple of kilos in Rose wine syrup with vanilla, not tried it yet though so let's hope it's nice. Another couple of kilos went into this jam/jelly cross, the rest have been temporarily housed in the freezer to be brought out for future ketchup and cordial recipes.

Yellow Bullace and Cointreau Jam
2 kilos of yellow bullace
sugar and Cointreau - exact quantities in recipe.

I simmered the bullace in a little water, didn't need much as the fruit was very ripe and readily gave out it's juice. Once they were softened I rubbed them through a sieve to remove the skins and stones. This stage is very much down to personal taste/patience levels though. I find it quicker than sifting the stones out by hand and removing the skins reduces the tannic flavour making the final product sweeter. This could be a good or bad thing according to your palate and what you want to use the jam for. If it's needed for a glaze for chicken or sticky ribs for example, the extra tannin would be quite beneficial.

Measure the juice and pulp mixture, for every pint add 1lb sugar and 2tbsp Cointreau. Then boil til setting point is reached and pot up in the usual way. Makes about 10 jars.

The final product is a warm, orange colour (though thanks to the camera situation you'll have to take my word for it. A giraffe is not dissimilar though) and it has a warm, orange tainted flavour too.

Monday, 23 August 2010

So much to report, so little time.

After my last marathon post, in the interests of brevity, I'm sticking with the headlines:

  • Turns out foraging with a clutchbag isn't terribly sensible or productive
  • Mulberry trees seem to have a predilection for churchyards
  • Those courgettes are never going to go away
  • It takes an hour, 3 people, a large tarpaulin and a custom built platform to gather 11 kilos of yellow bullace
  • The sweetcorn seem to have pulled through
  • Digital cameras, akin to mobile phones and Willow's DSi, don't appreciate sitting in a puddle of water
  • Indonesian pickle is interesting (evidenced below)

Indonesian Pickle
1/2 cucumber sliced
6oz cauliflower
2 large carrots
1 - 2 chillis chopped
1/2" grated ginger
2 cloves garlic
3tsp veg oil
1/4 pint of nice vinegar (ie, not malt)
2 level tps turmeric
4 tbsp sesame seeds
4oz roughly chopped salted peanuts
4oz soft dark sugar

Cook ginger, garlic and turmeric in the oil til soft. Add the vinegar and bring to the boil. Add the chopped/sliced veg and bring back to the boil. Boil for about 5 mins (depending on veg used, it needs to soften slightly but still retain the crunch) Stir in the rest of the ingredients, heat til the sugar dissolves. Pack into hot jars and allow to mature for a month.

This is from my trusty WI recipe book, 'Jams and Preserves Old and New' though when I made it, I just used cucumber and courgette instead of carrots and cauliflower.

Next on my list to experiment with are the yellow bullace, I'm thinking jam with Cointreau and bottled with pink wine and vanilla.

Apologies for the random photo, see my camera related headline, I'm reduced to using random snaps stored on the laptop til I can get the whole debacle sorted out and further apologies for the layout. Let's just say 'Blogger - ffs!'

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Allotment vs Foraging

The wheel of the year seems to have nudged on a notch and it suddenly feels like we're peering at Autumn. I find myself taking refuge from the chilly air in a steamy kitchen, heated by a bubbling pan, all of which feels oddly familiar.

Fruit is finally ripe in the hedgerows, although it is somewhat eccentric and patchy, certainly not as bounteous as last year. When we were on holiday up north we filled a carrier bag with blackberries in less than half an hour on the way back from the pub, however, back in Norfolk when we visited Wortham Ling we struggled to fill a tea cup. More worryingly, a large number were dusty, malformed stubs, having not even developed to the point of tight green knots like their brethren.

Today, Willow and I went to carry on the cherry plum/yellow bullace harvest. Before our holiday we managed to quickly scrabble 2 kilos of just ripe cherry plums from our usual stomping ground and stored them in the freezer. My intention today was to finish the job but I struggled to find a single kilo of yellow bullace and a further kilo of cherry plums. Whereas last year we easily gathered a total of about 10 kilos in half the time.

I guess that illustrates how bad conditions have been this year which is strangely comforting with regard to the allotment as our harvests there have been well below my expectations. Even though the foraging returns are down on last year, they're still dwarfing the allotment returns - and all for zero effort.

This is the major advantage that foraging has. You turn up, you pick the stuff, you take it home. Then sit on your bottom til next year. Whereas the wan cultivated crops of the allotment demand constant attention like a whiny child, "weed me, water me, protect me from the beastly pests (scream)! "

Yes, but .....

The allotment offers a choice, I get to make decisions rather than exploiting opportunities. Man cannot live by fruit alone and the allotment offers luxuries such as carbohydrates and a savoury balance to the sweetness of all the fruit.

I've come to realise though, that foraging has something to teach me about the allotment. These fruit trees and wild crops just grow, they shrug and get on with it. Why? Because they happen to be growing in the right place with the right conditions. If they seeded in the wrong place with the wrong conditions, they'd just die and no-one would be any wiser, we only benefit from the successful specimens.

So that's going to be my allotment motto for next year. If it grows, it grows. If it doesn't, well then it's obviously not right for my plot. I think the approach to veg growing which dictates hours should be spent on the plot watering and weeding your poker straight rows in return for the thrill of potatoes and turnips is not for me. It's my hope that I can identify a range of crops which will be at home on the plot and not need too much hand holding but also conform to my other criteria - they must be interesting, hard to find or expensive in the shops, or have taste benefits from being eaten really fresh.

I am hopeful that 2011 will be rather more fecund than 2010, thanks to a smattering of additional experience and the love, care and shit we will be lavishing on the site over the winter.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Sunshine on a Rainy Day.

Anyone following me on Twitter will already know of my rather dramatic courgette situation. On return from holiday we found 5 monster courgettes, all roughly 50cm in length and weighing around 6lbs. Willow is pictured struggling to hold one. I have to confess to being somewhat daunted by this embarassment of riches but nonetheless, a glut brings out the best in me to here goes.

Yesterday we had courgette pasta for lunch and nut roast with grated courgette for dinner and I reluctantly prepared Marguerite Patten's Marrow and Ginger jam (obviously replacing the marrow with monster courgette), a recipe I derided last year being, as I am, not a lover of marrow or ginger.

This is the recipe as it appears in Marguerite's book, I scaled it up 5 (yes, 5!) times. This recipe makes roughly 750g of jam.

Marrow and Ginger Jam.
1lb marrow/courgette, peeled, seeds removed and chopped to 1.5cm dice
3tbsp chopped crystalized ginger
1lb sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice

Mix the marrow, ginger and sugar in a pan and leave overnight. The sugar will draw a large amount of liquid from the marrow. Stir well to extract as much liquid as possible. From then on it's standard stuff, heat to setting point and pot into sterilised jars. As there are large pieces of marrow it's advisable to allow the jam to cook somewhat before potting up in a vain attempt to distribute the pieces evenly so they don't all float to the top. I'm useless at getting that bit to work though.

I'm surprised how nice it is. Rather sweet for my taste (I seem to have become accustomed to tart wild fruit) but pleasant enough. It's a delicate, summery preserve, sunshine yellow in colour and, as the bland courgette tones down the fire of the ginger, gently warming on the palate. Very breakfasty I feel.

So that's 2 monsters dealt with, 3 more to go. One more batch of pickle I think followed by courgette bake for tea, then I may resort to stocking the freezer with courgette puree for future soup use.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Holiday time again!

Just a very brief note to say Goodbye for a week, we're off on our annual jaunt up north. The children are visiting my parents while me and Adam brave the haunted bedrooms of the Golden Fleece in York (does anyone know of an establishment where one can purchase oysters and champagne in York?). I really, really hope that by the time we get back the wild fruit will be well on it's way and I can start pickling and preserving in earnest.

See you next week.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Mulberry Granola Crumble

I cooked the mulberries today, originally intending to use the recipe for Mulberry and Pear upside down cake that PattyPan from the Tarragon and Thyme blog sent to me. However, Feathers has decided to moult yet again and seems to be off laying so I was an egg short and had to think again. Crumble? I didn't have any butter in the house or even any marj suitable for cooking (damn you low fat spread with your peculiar after taste) I was also housebound due to playdate/Adam's car needing complications so couldn't get out to the shops.

Hmmm, what to do?

In the end I decided to go for crumble with a granola style topping so I could use oil in place of the fat and this is what I came up with:

Mulberry Granola Crumble.
800g Mulberry
1/2 tsp Vanilla extract
3tbsp sloe gin
sprinkle of brown sugar
100g nuts
100g oats
120ml flavourless oil
50ml maple syrup

Snip the stems off the mulberries and put into an oven proof dish. Add the sloe gin, vanilla extract and brown sugar and mix gently. Combine the rest of the ingredients and spread on top of the fruit. Bake at gm 3 for about 40 minutes. Serve with thick cream.

I loved this dessert. The flavour of the mulberries seems to be really enhanced by heating. I have to admit the topping tastes quite healthy (although I'm sure it's not!) rather than rich and indulgent but I quite liked that as the fruit is quite a rich flavour in itself so it was a nice balance.

I toyed with the idea of making jam with the rest of the fruit but in the end I decided to just freeze them for use in future crumbles/cakes etc as I kind of feel an unusual fruit like this is best enjoyed as it is.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sweet Cucumber Pickle.

Adam and I arrived at the allotment on Friday to discover our didactic cucumber had burgeoned to monstrous proportions, as we still have half of it's sibling in the fridge I knew we'd struggle to get through this one so I decided to turn it into a pickle.

I turned once more to my Norfolk WI booklet 'Jams and Preserves Old and New' from whence my acclaimed Courgette Pickle came and it came up trumps once more with this surprisingly flavoursome pickle. This is the recipe exactly as it is in the book:

Sweet Cucumber Pickle
3 large cucumbers
3 large onions
2 green peppers
2oz salt
1 pint white wine vinegar
1lb soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Peel the cucumbers and cut into 'finger' sized pieces. Slice the onions and peppers finely. Mix the vegetables with the salt and leave to stand for 3 hours. Drain, and rinse very well.

Bring all the other ingredients to the boil, add the vegetables and simmer for 2 minutes (no longer, or the cucumber will be too limp) Pack into sterilised jars and leave for a month to mature before eating.

I reduced the quantities given as I guessed my monster cucumber was probably roughly equivalent to 2 standard cucumbers and so reduced the other ingredients by a third too. This yielded about 4lbs of finished pickle.

I tasted a little in it's pre-matured state and was very surprised at the punch the seasoning packs, it's an amazingly strong flavour though I have to admit I don't think I rinsed my vegetables well enough as it's still on the salty side.

On an entirely unrelated matter, we had a lovely family walk today the highlight of which was the discovery of several new foraging spots. We found more cherry plums, a walnut tree, 2 pear trees and a new quince tree! I think 1st August should go down in Norfolk Kitchen history. Fingers crossed for tomorrow too as Adam is hoping to forage our first ever Mulberries. I think 2010 is going to be a good year for foraging even if the allotment is a bit of a damp squid, errrr, squib.