Thursday, 30 September 2010

They dined on Mince and slices of Quince.

We have dined on mince and slices of quince - albeit in separate dishes, though I'm sure I heard Greg Wallace say something about smoked bacon and quince on Masterchef last night.

For the last few days I've been steadily working my way through the Norfolk Kitchen Quince Mountain. I avoided Membrillo and Jelly this year as we've had lots of those in previous years thanks to the old Japonica Quince, instead I've made the most of the quince flesh in crumbles, cakes etc as that was difficult to do with the tiny Japonicas. Quince upside down cake was a great success, pieces of pre-cooked quince in the bottom of a cake tin with a standard 3 egg sponge mix poured on top and baked at gm4 for about 45 minutes. The secret ingredient is a couple of tablespoons of rose water added to the sponge mix, along with the usual vanilla extract.

Quince Mincemeat also worked well. I took Delia's mincemeat method as a base and came up with this mixture from bits we already had in the cupboard:

225g Quince (chopped into small pieces and poached til soft)
110g suet (I used vegetarian)
400g chopped dates
110g mixed candied peel
175g brown sugar
zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
25g chopped walnuts
2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
a few gratings of fresh nutmeg
Generous amount of Cointreau (because it was already in the house, brandy is in the original recipe) - probably a double measure.

The method is really easy. Mix everything together except the alcohol and put into a covered dish in a very, very low oven for 3 hours. Take it out and stir a few times as it cools to distribute the fat, add the alcohol when it's completely cool. Pot up into sterilised jars in the usual fashion. Delia says this methods prevents the fresh fruit juice seeping out and fermenting as it seals the pieces with fat. I can vouch for it working as I used this method last year and the mincemeat was still fine 9 months after it was made. I tasted it last night and it's really very good, even before it's matured.

I also made Quince Chutney from Pam Corbain's River Cottage Preserves book.

1kig pumpkin, peeled, seeded and diced
1kg quince, peeled, cored and diced
500g cooking/wild apples, peeled, cored and diced
500g red onions, diced
500g raisins
50g fresh ginger (fresh horseradish in the original recipe but I couldn't get hold of any)
500g brown sugar
600ml cider vinegar
Spice bag
2tsp peppercorns
12 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks.

You probably know the drill. Mix everything together, bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for ages til it looks like chutney. Then pot it into sterilised jars etc makes about 10 jars.

Other than these 2 recipes, I've been freezing the quinces. I find it easier to boil the quince whole for roughly an hour or so til they're soft then let them cool completely. Once they're soft, they're much easier to chop neatly, I then pack them into foil trays and stack them in the chest freezer.

I think I'm coming to the end although I may bottle a few in spiced cider or something similar as a change from the plain, frozen ones. I still have masses of the pesky things left so I may begin to distribute them to friends and family - whether they want them or not!

(By the way, did you know that a 'Runicble Spoon' is actually a spork?)

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A nutting crook in hand, I turn'd my steps towards the distant woods

We seem to be in nut season once more, locally at least, the walnuts are tumbling down again. Adam went out to do a tour of our local trees on Saturday morning where he met nut gathering competition in the form of (in his words) a 'proper nutter'. Apparently a broom and a wicker basket doth a proper nutter make. Although I was surprised to hear that our rival was hatless which is a schoolboy error in our book, on a windy day a high velocity walnut can be painful on a bare head.

According to Adam's account, the two men circled each other like wary tigers, exchanging cagey pickling vs drying information, both careful to boast that their respective 2009 nut stores were prodigious enough to have not yet run out.

I pointed out that Adam may have carrier bags rather than a wicker basket but he was, nonetheless, also a proper nutter. He seemed wounded by the suggestion, pointed out his Converse, twisted his baseball cap backwards and claimed to be a 'Street Nutter'.

Yes dear, whatever you say.

Anyway, our walnut foraging tips are:

The best time to go is early in the morning after a windy night. Nuts will have fallen overnight and if you're out at first light you'll beat the proper nutters and catch the worm (or something)

Be wary of getting the juice from the green cases on your fingers. Walnuts are used to make dye and will stain like nothing else. Once your hands and finger nails are black there is nothing you can do other than live with the mechanic look til your skin renews itself and the discoloured nails have grown out. On the bright side, you can measure the new nail growth and plot their progress on a graph.

Further to the above, try to squash any walnuts still in their case with your foot to get them out. Failing that wear rubber gloves to prise them out - not gardening gloves as they're not waterproof and the juice seeps through.

In my humble opinion fresh, wet walnuts have a horrible, bitter taste. I much prefer them dry. I dried mine by putting them in onion nets and laying them on the floor in front of a radiator. If they don't seem to be drying fast enough they can be put into a very low oven with the door open or an airing cupboard may work. Once dry they will keep for ages, we have some a year old which are still fine to eat.

By the way, that poem 'Nutting' by Wordsworth, why is he taking a nutting crook with him if the hazels are in bloom and, presumably, haven't actually formed any nuts yet?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Foraging #Fail

Waaaah! What a day (that's sarcasm by the way). We were over in Great Yarmouth visiting the in-laws and decided to take the opportunity to harvest some Sea BuckThorn berries. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall made Sea BuckThorn Jelly on River Cottage a couple of years ago. Last year we realised that the bushes with silver grey leaves and vivid orange berries which are numerous in the Great Yarmouth area were your actual Sea BuckThorn. Sadly we were a bit too late and the berries had started to shrivel so I added it to my 2010 wish list and patiently waited a whole year to try again.

This afternoon we dutifully pitched up, ice cream tubs in hand, and though the bushes weren't quite as laden with berries as they were last year, there was still a respectable amount so we thought 500g would be a cinch.

Well you know what thought did (as my old Nan used to say)

Picking them is devilish tricky. Hugh warns about the thorns but we didn't find them too much of a problem, the real issue is the fragile nature of the tiny, blackcurrant sized berries. They don't hang in long stalked clusters like elderberries, each little orange orb has a short stalk which seems to be attached directly to a main branch and the slightest pressure causes them to explode at an astonishing velocity. One I popped at waist height splattered orange juice right over my shoulder.

It became obvious very early on that this was going to be a lengthy task and we quickly asked ourselves if it was worth the effort. We tasted a few berries and the refreshing, fragrant, astringent taste was intriguing enough for us to press on.

I'd guess at least 25% of those we picked popped on contact. Very slow, careful, gentle picking for about an hour barely yielded 100g of berries. When the juice had smothered our hands and found it's stinging way into every tiny break in the skin we'd previously failed to notice, we gave up. Regular readers will know I expect to weigh my hauls in stones, not grams, so I was not terribly pleased. Still, I hoped we had enough for me to make a small, half pint jelly.

Back home I got to work. I simmered the berries in a little water til they were soft and then passed them through a sieve, added Cointreau and sugar to counterbalance the astringency and tasted.


Rather disappointing if the truth be told. I was rather heavy handed with both the alcohol and the sugar and the resulting juice seemed to taste merely of sweet oranges. I pressed on with the gelatine and made 2 small glass bowls of fairly insipid orange jelly.

So that was worth the effort then.

Still, at least a took a few nice photos for the blog while we were out there, let's take a look. Nope, that's one's blurred (don't you just hate it when they look fine on the camera screen but the unforgiving laptop screen shows up every shake) and that one, and that one. In fact, the only usable one is the one you're looking at up there.

So that's it, I think I should call it a day before I cock something else up. Time to snuggle up on the sofa with a nice glass of red to sooth my rattled culinary ego. Except there's none in the house and now it's 5.20pm on Sunday which, in this part of Norfolk, means that all alcohol buying options shut over an hour ago.


# Update. The jelly was actually really good in the end!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Allotment vs Foraging # 2

You may remember my recent bleat about the lack of allotment produce we were getting compared to the amount of free fruit we merely rock up and pick with no input on our part at all. Fortunately, our Autumn crops are now coming into their own and beginning to redress the balance. Our pumpkins are picked and have been stored on our old, coverless mini greenhouse frame in the garage, the borlotti beans are ready, the sweetcorn is mostly ripe, cavollo nero is ready to eat, leeks are ready (and have been a revelation, so sweet and fragrant), rainbow chard still going strong and the courgettes are still producing marrows (please, God, let them stop soon!) Oh and the runner beans we now detest are busting out all over in the cooler Autumn weather, I have to confess they're going straight on the compost heap at the moment.

So the allotment brings it's score back up, but foraging fought back with our new discovery - the wild Quince tree. You may recall that last year we lost the wild Japonica Quince which grew right by our house. It caused some distress at the time but our new discovery is even better because it's a traditional Quince tree with the larger, yellow fruit so they're less fiddly to work with and you get more flesh per peel if you see what I mean.

My slightly guilty secret is that the location of this tree is truly exceptional. I would love to blog it but when it comes to foraging discretion is the better part of valour so I'll save that post til I'm in my dotage and the foraging is all behind me. We visited the site at the weekend and came back with (wait for it ......) 25 kilos of Quinces! (what is the correct plural by the way, Quince or Quinces?) Have to admit I felt a bit guilty taking so much in case we've stumbled on someone else's treasured foraging spot, however, we did leave loads of fruit on the tree plus we'll probably give quite a lot away as I'm not sure even I can process 25 kilos so it's not all for us.

So - foraging staged a strong comeback. The main advantage of foraging is the lack of effort on our part. No stress, no pruning, watering or molly coddling the crops. No dealing with local householders raising a petition against our sheds, no fly tipping from said householders and no vandalising of the marker pegs we spent an afternoon measuring out ......

These veggies had better be bloody tasty to make up for the hassle.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Dewberries in Ancient Places

We had a full on foraging day this weekend at my favourite spot - the nameless bridleway opposite our house. It's an unremarkable, workaday little lane, heading off the B1077 into open farmland. It appears on Faden's 1797 map of Norwich so I know it's at least 200 years old - maybe even more.

Residents of Norfolk and Suffolk may not see anything remarkable in that but residents of my home town, Warrington, probably will. Warrington is the kind of place you can leave for 6 months and, upon your return, be unable to navigate to the town centre because the 2 new by-passes have sprung up in your absence. The Golden Square is full of confused ex-pats who drove into the Leigh Street car park and seem to have emerged in a different century. In short: it changes - a lot. Buildings are pulled down and roads are built, the streets are like shifting sand.

So to this urban girl, it seems astonishing that the oldest known map of Diss shows the town centre largely unchanged from today's street plan and I can pick blackberries from a hedge I'm can be confident is at least 200 years old.

The fruit down there is fairly ordinary, blackberries, sloes, crab apples, rose hips and elderberries but it's convenient being so close. Last year I was delighted to discover some dewberries down there. All the foraging books claim that dewberries are common but this is the only place I've ever found them though I suppose it's easy to mistake them for mal-formed blackberries. As they're tricky to pick without thoroughly squishing them so we guzzled them at the roadside - scrummy.

I think I'm nearly done on the jam making front for the year. I've got cooked blackberries straining in the kitchen in preparation for the king of preserves - Bramble Jelly, and on Sunday I made Apple and Blackberry butter which was truly divine. As I have probably mentioned before, fruit butters are a thick jam made of pureed fruit. They're great for filling sponge cakes as they don't dribble down the sides or soak into the sponge, they just sit in an impressively thick, obedient pile. Similarly they're good in jam tarts as they don't bubble and overflow the pastry shell so you can pile loads in. If the fancy takes you, they can even be turned out, sliced and serves as a dessert with nuts and clotted cream.

Apple and Blackberry Butter.
1.8kg cooking/crab apples
1.2kg blackberries
150ml water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Roughly chop the apples cut out any bruised bits but don't peel or core. Cook them with the blackberries in the water til all the fruit is very soft and pulpy. Rub through a sieve. Return the puree to a clean pan with the spices. For every pint of puree (my jam pan is calibrated which makes this part much easier) add 25g butter and 400g sugar. Stir over a low heat til the sugar as dissolved, taste at this point to check the spices and add more if you think it's needed. Turn the heat up and boil til setting point is reached. Pot up into sterilised jars. The yield for me was 7, almost 8, jars.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Tomato Ketchup

The hanging basket tumbling toms had shrivelled to twigs and the Gardener's Delight in the mini greenhouse were suffering from the attentions of next door's cat (which is a whole other post ....) so I decided to chop them down and harvest the remaining fruit. The green tomatoes went into Green Tomato chutney along with the chillis from Willow's chilli plant. It's too hot for me but Adam will appreciate it I think.

I used the ripe fruit for Tomato Ketchup. I've made plum and hawthorn ketchup before but never tomato. I was a bit apprehensive because the other ketchups don't have a precedent whereas the comparison inviting spectre of Heinz looms large over this one. I thought it would probably be infinitely preferable to an adult palate but the children are an entirely different matter. I used a Marguerite Patten recipe although she doesn't specify a spice mixture, that bit's my own.

Tomato Ketchup
450ml white malt vinegar
2tbs black peppercorns
1tbs szechuan pepper
1tbs coriander seed
1.8k ripe tomatoes roughly chopped
225g onions finely chopped
350g chopped cooking apples (peeled and cored weight)
450g sugar
salt to taste

First boil the spices in vinegar, then leave them to steep for 15 mins or so before removing them from the vinegar. Put the vegetables in a heavy bottomed pan and simmer until very soft. Rub through a sieve to remove the tomato seeds/skins etc, return the pulp to a clean pan, add the vinegar, sugar and salt and simmer until thickened.

I'm not really sure of the keeping properties of this ketchup but as the original recipe recommends bottling it, it's safe to assume it doesn't have a long shelf life. This recipe made 2 bottles for me, 1 of which I put in the fridge, the other (in a plastic bottle) I put into the freezer.

I love, love, love this ketchup and had to be restrained from guzzling it neat like soup. It has a really bright, zingy fresh tomato flavour that's a smack in the chops after the plastic gloop of commercial ketchup. The only drawback is that it's very thin and runny compared to what we're used to but I can live with that. Luckily, Willow agrees with me. I invited her to test it, she approached the spoon with caution but her little face lit up when she tasted it. The smugness ended with Xanthe though who refused to taste it and made sick noises - oh the joys of cooking for small children *sigh*

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Egg Rack

Just a quick one today for my fellow chicken keepers. We all know it can be a bit of pain keeping track of which eggs need to be used up first. I've previously solved the problem by keeping old egg boxes (labelled 1 and 2 for when the hens are particularly productive) in the fridge and having a system of going left to right, top to bottom while keeping the box hinge on the left. As a system it functions but isn't immediately obvious to visitors (or my husband so far as I can tell) and isn't particularly aesthetically pleasing either.

I've had my eye on the Omlet egg helter skelter for a while but £20 felt a bit steep so I was pleased to discover this Ebay shop. My egg rack arrived a couple of days ago and I'm delighted with it. The idea is you put new eggs on the left and take eggs to use from the right. When one is removed the others gently roll down to make room for fresh eggs. I love the simple, clean design and the fact that they're individually hand made, well worth the price I think.

Just one tip - make sure you explain to any 6 year olds in the house that although it's true that the eggs roll along the rack, it's probably best not to send them whizzing, theme park style, from one end to the other. This post ends here as I appear to have a floor to mop ....

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Puffball Pride!

Look at what we found! The crowning glory of a great day's foraging which began this morning in a discombobulating fashion.

A few days ago while cruising the highways and byways of South Norfolk I spotted a derelict house with a massively overgrown garden, topped off with pear and apple trees leering menacingly over the road - eat your heart out Scooby Doo. We went back en famille today but only managed a disappointing half carrier bag of pears as the brambles and building rubble proved to be an effective barrier to our efforts. The apples were more respectable at a full carrier bag and we got a tub full of blackberries too. I had planned on sneaking around the back of the house to see if any goodies awaited our attentions there but it just wasn't safe with all kinds of sharp and pointy nasties hiding in the undergrowth. Plus the discarded underwear outside the kicked in front door spoke of nefarious activities I'd rather not get to close too .....

And then!

In the afternoon we decided to take a walk down a bridleway we haven't explored before, alert to new foraging opportunities as always. The fruit was a bit 'meh', crab apples, blackberries, sloes, so far so hedgerow, 'til Willow said "is that a football Mummy?" And there they were - 2 smooth white balls.

My heart leapt into my throat and I could barely breathe as I scrabbled up the bank of loose soil, oblivious to the nettle stings. I've never found a puffball before but it was unmistakable, smooth, white and round with an overwhelming sweet, mushroomy smell. It took application of only the slightest pressure to uproot them and they rolled down the hill (to the chagrin of the earwigs and woodlice) They were surprisingly heavy and shockingly big, the pair of them straining the oversized carrier bag we'd brought with us.

Back home we discovered their combined weight was 4kilos. We sliced open the smallest one first and were disappointed to find it had started to spoil already, luckily the biggest one was still chalky white and fine to eat. You can see the obvious different in the photo.

Naturally we had mushrooms for tea! 2 thick slices were to be used trencher style, I brushed them with olive oil and bbq'd them. A 3rd slice was diced and gently sauteed with leeks and courgettes from the allotment together with a sprinkle of chorizo and garlic. The mixture was served on top of the trenchers with a sprinkle of cheese. I was a bit concerned that the puffball might be nothing more than an oversized button mushroom but fortunately it's rich, woody, wild mushroom flavour did not disappoint.

The size of the thing is staggering, every time I walk past it I have to stop and shake my head. Guess that's mushrooms on toast all round for breakfast.

Healthy puffball.

Manky puffball.